By the seventh day of raging fever, hallucinations and feeling breathless and panic-stricken on a ventilator, unable to voice his terror, James prayed in his head he would die and go to heaven.
“It’s not like playing Monopoly where the banker pays you two hundred bucks every time you pass Go,” a disembodied voice rejected James’ plea. “You can’t just throw the dice and expect to roll into heaven. Depends on your review.”
“What review? Who are you? My Guardian Angel or something like that?” James pressed.
“Close enough,” words flashed on the scrim in the back of James’ mind. He felt his hospital bed suddenly sweep into the air like Dorothy’s Kansas home being sucked up by a twister in the Wizard of Oz. He landed in the middle of a giant zoetrope, those pre-animation optical gizmos that make still images come to life when the cylinder spins. Plastered against the walls of this stalled machine were infinite scenes from James’ life from his earliest memories fishing with Pa to making love to Liz, the latest notch on an endless string of girlfriends.
Before James could focus, the zoetrope began to twirl. It reminded him of the Gravitron ride at carnivals where people stand as the wheel spins and try not to puke as they blur from view. But this time James could see and feel everyone as if he saw his memories through their eyes. Love, hate, joy, tears, the kaleidoscope of emotions all blended, and James drank in their essence.
And then the ride stopped and a young woman, her bald head wrapped in a blue silk scarf, a gaping hole in her chest, jumped off and sauntered toward him.
“Cindy?” James grimaced.
“I suppose it was for the best,” the specter smiled sadly. “You’re a player. Still, getting jilted at the altar….”
Though he didn’t witness the debacle, James experienced the visceral pain and humiliation Cindy had felt. He melted while Cindy’s eyes threw daggers at him. James jerked and suddenly felt the ventilator tube forcing air into his beleaguered lungs.
“Poor baby,” Cindy sighed. “You got the virus. Me, breast cancer, stage 4. It sucks, doesn’t it, James? But at least I wouldn’t feel so bad if the man I’ve always loved and who professed to love me had the balls to tell me the truth, why I couldn’t be his one and only? It would give me peace, James. You know how to reach me.”
Cindy patted her hollow chest and slowly faded along with the zoetrope, then the floor beneath him dissolved and James imagined himself floating through wispy clouds, but no pearly gates beckoned.
“I can’t see heaven” James mouthed his thoughts.
“Maybe heaven can’t see you,” a measured voice volleyed back.
“I’m not worthy?!” James bleated his guilt. He began to fall back to earth, twisting wildly while grasping for words of hope.
“You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to pass. A kind word or action along your life’s journey might seem insignificant, but if everyone did their part, imagine what the world you so desperately want to leave behind would be like? Better than when you arrived, huh? Think about it…”
And James was thinking about it when the doctors removed his tube and offered him a phone.
“You want to let someone you love know you made it?” they pressed James.
With a palsied hand shaking like he was about to roll dice at a craps table, James accepted the phone and began to dial.
Marc Littman is a former journalist and now a short story and novel writer and emerging playwright.