Moe was going to die. He knew it was going to happen, he had known for a long time. All the treatments, the cures, the ways to re-grow cells, the immune system boosts, the snake oil bullshit, none of it worked. He lost hope four cures ago, he did the rest just to keep his friends and family happy. He would smile as he rubbed herbs on his feet, he would laugh and make jokes through the pain while he downed elixirs that tasted – to him – like apple cider vinegar, bleach, and what he imagined wax fruit would taste like. His wife would hold him through the sweats and tremors, she would bring him cold towels and water when he couldn’t stop vomiting. He loved her before he got sick, now he felt in debt to her. His friends used to stop by his house and bring copies of his favorite movies and whatever food was allowed on his ever-changing “diet for healing.” Even the neighbors used to bring gestures of goodwill. His friends stopped coming by months ago. They ran out of movies, and it was too hard for Moe to pretend to be happy.
The sickness was bad enough. It was destroying him from the inside out. But, it also added to the depression he already felt all his life. He had seen a few shrinks, had done his share of talk-therapy, but he still never felt like the happy-go-lucky guy that he wanted so badly to be. He had learned to wear what he called The Mask. Only once in a while would Ginny see him drop The Mask and fall to pieces with an anxiety attack, an uncontrollable sobbing fit, or emotional overwhelm. She knew that he battled even though he didn’t want to talk about it. She tried to support him however she could, and he loved her all the more for it.
Jeff had seen him without the mask before. They had been friends since they both had their first legal drink – walking into a random bar on what turned out to be both of their twenty-first birthdays all those years ago. Jeff had been the best man at Moe’s wedding, had stood there in the hospital with Ginny when Moe collapsed at the barbeque that day. And he had been there when the doctor solemnly told Moe that he had not long to live. Jeff was there for his best friend as much as he could be, and Moe loved him all the more for it.
Moe was near the end. More and more it was hard for him to breathe. More and more he found himself tired to the very core. He even found himself praying – which he had not done since he was a young man and still believed in Santa Clause.
“Dear Lord, God, Whoever is listening,” he prayed, “If you care – would you mind healing me? I know I’m close to the end, but I am so scared. I am so damn scared. Am I going to Hell? Have I been a good enough person? I know I could’ve done better, but I think I did my best, didn’t I? I’m sorry, I’m just scared.”
He found himself saying his prayer every day, and soon every few hours. He would say it to himself if Ginny or Jeff were around, if he was alone he would say it out loud. It got longer and longer, asking for more time and asking for comfort or reassurance. He added on more and more, pleading for his wife and friend to be safe, praying for the doctors and nurses that had helped him, praying for the shaman and the holistic healers. He prayed for everyone and hoped that it would help whatever came next.
Moe lost more weight, he suffered more nightmares and was woken up from terror by the pain that ran through his bones. Ginny would wipe his forehead with a damn cloth and help him sit up when he had to retch. Jeff would carry him to the bathroom and read him jokes from the local paper. Moe thanked them every time. He finally resigned himself to not feeling embarrassed by it anymore, and he would try and make jokes about it. Ginny would walk away from the jokes, and he could hear her sob sometimes in the next room. Jeff would smile sadly at his friend and try to joke back. Moe apologized for the jokes, but still made them when he had the energy. He would laugh at the jokes, the sound of his throat hissing and croaking in humor made his wife and best friend smile – even though the jokes were awful.
Moe died on the couch in his home. He sat propped between the woman he had loved and the man who had become his brother. His last words were, “It’ll be okay, I suppose. I know you’ll be okay. But for me, I’m still a bit scared.” With that he drew in the deepest breath he could, the deepest he was able to do in a long time, and he was gone. He had closed his eyes, his brow slightly pinched at the center, and his gaunt face turned toward the open window.
His eyes opened slowly, the morning sunlight waking him. He thought to himself that he must have fallen asleep sitting on the porch. As everything came back into focus he looked at the wood grain of the porch, the stained rocking chair he sat in, the sky that was more hazel than blue. He sighed deeply and scratched the back of his head.
“Morning!” A young man said as he walked by the yard. His eyes fixed on the young man for a moment as he stood, his thoughts still foggy from sleep.
“Wait…” He muttered to himself. Then he yelled to the young man. “Wait!” He jumped off the porch, ran down the walkway to the sidewalk and after the young man. “Hey! Wait!” The young man looked around, saw that he was the one that was being yelled at and he stopped. He still had a boyish round face with red cheeks and freckles, his hair cut close to his head and parted down the middle. His smile was one of a kid on Summer vacation.
“Hiya, what can I do for you?”
“I’m either lost, confused, or dreaming.”
“None of those are too bad,” the young man winked.
“Right. Look, I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.” He hesitated. He thought back to what he could remember before waking up on the porch. His face tightened and he said in a low tone, “I think I’m dead.”
“Well, you aren’t lost, confused, or dreaming.” The young man said, still wearing his carefree smile. “You are indeed dead.”
Moe walked away from the grinning young man. He heard himself mumble a thank you as he headed back to the porch. When he got back to the steps he saw someone sitting in the rocking chair. It was a man who looked like he was in his early thirties, dressed casually and wearing no shoes.
“Hello!” The shoeless man waved at Moe.
“Umm…” Moe said.
“Do you need some time? They told us that some of you might need some time before we talk to you. I can wait if you need. We do have a lot of time, anyway, so it’s no problem.”
“Umm…” Moe said.
“Sorry,” The shoeless man said, still smiling. “I know I tend to talk a lot sometimes. My name is Daniel, and I am here to help.”
“I need to sit down, I think.” Moe said after a long silence. His knees shook as he lowered himself. Daniel made no move to get up from the chair or to help him. Moe shook his head. “What in the world is going on?”
Daniel, still smiling, went to answer but Moe waived him to silence. Moe’s mind raced with questions, he struggled to find a clear thought. His eyes moved back and forth as he wandered the hallways of his mind. His forehead hurt, his eyebrows were pushed together hard. Where am I? Is this Heaven? Hell? Huh, no pain – not bad. What do I do here? Is Ginny okay? Who is Daniel? Do I have to eat if I’m dead? Are there still calories? What do I do?
Moe stopped his spillover of questions and thoughts only when he noticed that Daniel was humming. The young man was watching the branches of a tree move in the breeze, still wearing a carefree grin. Moe followed Daniel’s gaze to the leaves on the tree. They were green, yellow, orange, red, brown, – dancing in the breeze that, to Moe, wasn’t quite Autumn and wasn’t quite Spring, but was just as exquisite as they come. Moe took in a deep breath. He could smell jasmine, dryer sheets, honeysuckle, and something else that he always associated with his workshop – a mix of wood shavings and dust. He began to focus on the leaves individually, looking at the veins and the curves, at the small tears and the ways the colors mixed. He found time slowing, he imagined his heartbeat calming. Somewhere far in the back of his mind he heard a voice ask if he still had a heartbeat.
“Took you long enough.” Moe was roused from watching the foliage. Daniel was grinning at him.
“What do you mean? “
“Moe, you’re smiling.” Moe slowly looked away from the man with no shoes. He moved his face, lowering the corners of his mouth and holding them down before letting them rise again.
“You needed to smile, Moe.” He looked back at Daniel, a quizzical smile on his face. “Once you let yourself stop long enough to smile you can start to get it.” Moe muttered his question again. Daniel sighed and sat down next to him. “I’ll let the pamphlet explain it all, but for now – how about we just enjoy, hmm?” Before Moe could ask any questions, before his mind could even formulate the thoughts that would become questions, he nodded to Daniel and gently let his gaze go back to what looked like the most magical Maple he had ever seen.
Moe walked in. It looked like a townhouse; a living room, a full bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen – all fully furnished. He strolled around the house, walking the perimeter from room to room. Finally he took a seat at the breakfast nook. He looked out the window at his Staring Tree. On the table was a small pamphlet that just said “Welcome.”
He skimmed the FAQs, and he looked through the News and Perks. He refolded the brochure and set it down when he saw the back was addressed to him.
Welcome! Yes, you have a lot of questions and you aren’t sure what is going on. To make this simple: yes, you are dead. If you need to take a few more minutes to let that sink in it’s all right.
You are going to notice a few things:
- The pain you felt when you were still alive is gone. There is no pain here.
- You may be confused as to why you aren’t panicked, worried, scared, anxious. There is none of that either. There is no suffering here. Mind, body, spirit, you do not suffer here. You may experience side-effects such as happiness, joy, tranquility, Zen-like states of being, and the extreme urge to smile and/or appreciate things (stop and smell the roses).
- This is not Heaven or Hell. This is simply what comes After – and when your number is called, you will meet The Maestro. You will receive your number after you are considered “integrated.”*
- You may find that the ways that you used to spend time no longer work. Reading books, while still fun, will not elicit the emotional response they used to. Books, movies, sports – all are welcome, but a part of the excitement of them was the anxiety and thrill. Neither of those exist here, sorry. You are still welcome to indulge in these, but you may find more fun in tree watching, kite flying, or hopscotch.
- While you have the ability to try and contact your still living loved ones, it is discouraged. When contact is initiated there are usually complications.
- You will notice that your appearance will gradually change – you will become how you see the best of yourself in your mind. Don’t be alarmed by the changes.
- You may have the urge to eat, sleep, bathe, or even use the restroom. None are necessarily needed, but you are welcome to do any of them.
- If you have any questions, feel free to ask Daniel.
*Integration is a gradual process that happens as you become accustomed to being here. It does not mean that all questions have been answered, but rather that you have come to a state of acceptance – and that you have come to terms with what is. Once you are seen as Integrated you will receive your number. What happens when your number is called is not a topic of discussion, questions will not be answered.
He nodded at the brochure, assuring it that he understood what he read. His mind couldn’t wrap itself around most of the statements – but one thing Moe had always had was patience. He was willing to wait. After all, he thought, it’s not like I don’t have time. I have all the time in world. Or afterworld. Either or. He smiled wanly at his joke.
“I guess I’m alright.” Moe looked at the young man. He was still barefoot, still had that grin on his face. “You know, considering that I don’t have any pain and I can’t exactly worry about anything anymore, I think I’m doing alright.” Daniel turned his smile and gaze back to Moe as they walked. The street reminded Moe of a painting that was in a diner he would see when he was a kid. Perfect Americana; the trees were healthy, the street was clean, the air was clear, even the clouds looked a little too perfect. Moe guessed the temperature to be around 80 (Fahrenheit) but the breeze and the shade made it cooler for him. He wasn’t uncomfortable in any way, he knew he wouldn’t be, but he still enjoyed wearing the cardigan outside. Something about it gave him a sense of true comfort, it was like the weight of a blanket at night or a familiar face in a crowd.
“The Main Street at Christmas.” Daniel said. Moe looked at him, puzzled. “The painting – we went with something that brought people a comfortable feeling and memory, that was the start of it. Before that it was based more on a street in Hedbury. Took us quite a long time to update it to the other – and it’s only been like this for 40 years, I think…” Daniel looked around the street, the smirk never leaving his face. As soon as Moe’s memory found the painting he started to see the similarity. The only difference is that it wasn’t Christmas time, it was some kind of Spring/Autumn. He looked at the buildings and the trees. The only thing that was missing was the giant church steeple.
“There’s no church?”
“Of course not.” Daniel said flatly. He turned to see Moe’s face in shock and he chuckled. “You weren’t a church-going man, Moe. Why would you need a church?”
“What about the others?” Daniel looked at him trying to figure out the question. “The other people that have died. Don’t they get a church? Synagogue? Which is right?”
“Oh, them!” Daniel laughed. “You see them a little here and there, and they see you a little here and there. As you get more used to this place and how it all works you may meet some people. You never know. But, you didn’t go to church, so you don’t need one.” He continued strolling as he talked. “I know you’re curious about which one was right. About your ideas and beliefs about ‘God’ – and they will all be answered when your number is called. Until then, just relax and stop worrying about it.”
“There is no worrying here.” Moe said matter-of-factly.
“It’s a joke, Moe.” Daniel said, nudging him with his elbow, “loosen up.” Moe shrugged, shook his head, and went back to taking in the street as they walked on.
“So is this the same for everyone? The same street, the same town, the same weather?” Moe reached for his face, the corners of his mouth were still turned up. He nodded his approval.
“Not quite. You see, this weather and this place give you a sense of familiarity, some comfort, and they are as close to ideal as we can get for you right now. For other people it might be a hot Summer day, or three feet of snow. It might be something more like San Francisco or Taiwan or Cape Town. It may even look like Rivendell or Oz or something like that. We have an endless amount of places that people end up, they’re called Constructs. But, it all depends on the person. This is what works for you and a few hundred other people.”
“So, this isn’t Heaven?”
“You read the Welcome Pamphlet?”
“Then you know the answer.”
“Can I ask something else?”
“Is it something I can answer?” Daniel quipped playfully.
“I hope so…” Moe took in a deep breath, more to steady his voice than anything else. “What about animals? I hear birds and I see them. I saw some butterflies and fireflies. Do pets come here? What about eco-systems? Do we have those in these places?”
“You’re like a child!” Daniel giggled boisterously. “So many questions!” Moe couldn’t help himself, he laughed with the young man. He felt his cheeks flush a little, but he didn’t feel embarrassed at all. “First off, yes, you will see animals that you associate with this place. It is all part of the Construct. We don’t have eco-systems, we run on something much different that I can’t even begin to explain to you – maybe The Maestro can, but I don’t know how to describe it.” Daniel blew the air out of his cheeks, took a moment to blow horse lips and chuckled at the feeling of it. He invited Moe to join him in the act. Moe could only do it twice before he broke into an unstoppable laughter. Both of the men laughed until there were tears streaming down their cheeks. Moe couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed so hard, or at something so ridiculous. Slowly they gathered themselves, wiped their faces, and began to make their way along the sidewalk again.
“That was absurd!”
“I almost forgot… What about the pets?” Daniel’s smile dropped. He looked away from Moe. Moe didn’t know what to think – he had yet to see the shoeless man without a smile on his face. His mind raced for different answers. “Tell me, please?” He asked. “If it’s bad I can take it. It’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Moe…” Daniel took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. He looked deep into Moe’s eyes. His face twitched, just a slight movement in the cheek.
“You’re messing with me aren’t you?”
“Absolutely” Daniel said. The smile bloomed back onto his face.
“So, it’s not bad?”
“Not really.” Daniel shrugged his thin shoulders. “You see, animals – especially pets – are what we call ‘clean souls.’ They don’t have to go through this part of it. They go to another place. You may see them, you may not. I don’t really know.” Moe tried to ask what Daniel meant but was cut off. “This is where I reside, Moe. I am here to help people like you. I don’t know The Maestro, we’ve never met. I don’t know what happens after. All I can do is help you here and answer your questions the best way I know how.” Moe nodded and they continued on in silence.
The two men walked along the street, slowing down here and there to admire a tree or a house. As they made their way up a hill Moe noticed, not for the first time, that he didn’t have to fight to catch his breath. He knew he didn’t even have to breathe if he didn’t want to, but he enjoyed the habit of his former life. He looked down at his hands. The hands that were rough, grey, liver-spotted, and swollen with arthritis were healthy. They opened and closed with ease. He absent-mindedly patted his breast pocket and felt his glasses case. He knew he didn’t need them anymore, but he had found a book of crosswords in the apartment. When he was a young man he would enjoy doing crossword puzzles in the morning before Ginny woke up on weekends. He had rekindled that hobby toward the end of his life and he had needed his glasses to see the fine print. He had decided that he liked the feeling of putting on his glasses and using the light of dawn to do the crossword puzzles. He never completed any – before or after his death – but that didn’t stop him from enjoying them. I think I could get used to this, He thought as they came to the top of the hill. I miss Ginny. I miss Jeff. I hope they’re doing okay.
“Is time the same here? Like it is on Earth?”
“What do you mean, ‘on Earth?’ where do you think you are?”
“Are you messing with me again?”
“Okay… Do you know?”
“Moe, you’ve been here for a week – at least in our time. Right?” Moe nodded. “ You’ve been gone for about a month for them. There’s no exact difference, but that’s what it is right now. Time is even wonkier here than it is when you’re living. It gets even more complex depending on where and when you are – I heard a lot from The Chancellor, The Visionary, and Jenny.” Moe looked at him and Daniel held up his hands saying not to ask.
“Do I even want to know?”
“Let’s not get into it.” They turned to face the setting sun. Somewhere in the distance was a lake reflecting all the colors of the sky. Moe had been watching the sun rise and set every day since his arrival. He loved the colors, he loved that they were always different, and he loved that they seemed to last for hours here. He silently wished that he would be able to share these moments with Ginny when her time came. If he was still here.
“You miss her, don’t you?” Daniel broke the silence. Moe nodded, keeping his eyes on the watercolor sky. Somewhere deep inside him he felt the slightest twinge.
“There are no words, Daniel.” The barefoot man let out a thinking sound, then they let the silence come back. When there was just a little bit of glow left on the horizon the two men turned and walked back down the hill. The walk back to Moe’s building was quiet. The two of them didn’t speak, they didn’t have anything to say – and Moe was learning to be with the silences. Moe had stopped trying to fill the space with mindless chatter. He began to take in the details of moments, as he walked he focused on the feeling in his feet and all the different colors he could see.
“Can I see her?” He asked the question before he could finish thinking it. Daniel stopped dead in his tracks and took in a lot of air. Moe found himself shocked at his own question. He looked back at Daniel and wondered if the barefoot man thought he was crazy. Then, he decided that he didn’t care.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Daniel said slowly avoiding eye contact with Moe.
“I’m not hearing ‘no.’”
“Moe, it’s possible to see her, but… It may not work out how you want it to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, first off, you’re dead. Secondly, you don’t have a body anymore. Third there’s the matter of –“
“I don’t know that I care.” Moe looked around them and saw no other soul in site. “I miss her, Daniel. I want to tell her about this – I want her to know that I’m not suffering. I want to tell her not to worry about this, about death. Yes, the dying part is heavy and painful, but this, this… Daniel, nobody knows about this. It’s all about Heaven and Hell, and repenting for sins, and suffering in eternal damnation! I haven’t been able to walk this much in years! This is an amazing place, and I want to share it with the woman I love so she doesn’t feel scared all her life.”
“You don’t understand. It’s not that easy.”
“No, you don’t understand!” Moe’s voice raised. “I had a life, a wife, a best friend – now all I have is some young guy with no shoes who knows it all.” Moe took a deep breath and let it go slowly. Impulsively he put his hand over his chest, but he already knew he wouldn’t feel any rhythm. There was an echo from a time where he had to be aware of his blood pressure. Old habits die hard, even when you’re dead. “Dammit, this not being able to be really upset is a little upsetting.” The men exchanged a sidelong glance before they broke into laughter.
“I’m sure it takes some getting used to.”
“I want to see her,” Moe said flatly. He looked over at Daniel, whose smile was starting to wane. “What, did you think I forgot that quickly?” Daniel gave a slow acquiescing nod and they walked on in silence.
When they got back to Moe’s Daniel began to go over the basics of what Moe would have to do, and what he would be able to do. Daniel spoke slowly as he sat on the floor in the middle of Moe’s living room floor. Moe was locked to every word. He didn’t ask Daniel to repeat any part of it, he had it chiseled in his brain. At the end Daniel gave him a brief recap and Moe nodded. Daniel looked at him, Moe almost didn’t recognize the young man without his smile.
“Repeat it back to me.”
“All of it?”
“Every word, Moe.” The corner of Daniel’s mouth pulled up. “Please.”
“Well? How did it go?” Daniel asked without taking his eyes off the tree. Moe had just slammed back into his breakfast nook. His eyes darted around the room, heaving breaths shook his body.
“Yes, I know.” Daniel paused, smacked his lips.
“I couldn’t even talk to her.” Moe shook his head. “I frightened her.” His face contorted. “They had me exorcised.” Daniel sighed, finally breaking his gaze from the tree. Moe twitched and shifted in his seat. “What is happening to me?”
“I told you that you would have to readjust to your return here. It’s like a growing pain, or a pulled muscle, or a kind of… Spirit puberty.” Daniel laughed dryly at Moe’s crinkled expression. “When you leave, it all comes back. All that pain, all that agony, all that worry. For every moment you were gone, it builds up. So, when you return to that place, it all doesn’t just come back. It’s like you have an interest bearing account full of your bad vibes. And now it’s like you have a hangover from them. It’ll pass. But, fair warning – every time you visit the other side, it will get worse.”
“Why couldn’t I talk to her? Why couldn’t she hear me?”
“I told you, there would be difficulties.”
“I know,” Moe whined. “I didn’t know how difficult though.” Daniel gave a knowing look. “All I wanted to do was talk to her, to hold her.” Moe drew in a deep, unneeded breath and let it out in a shudder. “All I did was scare her.” His head dropped. He folded his arms on the table and put his face in the crux of his arms. “I don’t even know exactly what happened.”
“Would you like to?” Slowly Moe turned his head and looked up at him. “Come on, then.” Daniel had him sit on the couch in the living room. Moe watched as the young man went to the cabinet that held a television. Moe hadn’t watched television since he had arrived – and only a handful of times in the last few months of his life. He sat quietly as Daniel set up what looked like a strange reality show. But, he recognized it. It was his old house. The screen showed his old kitchen, from nowhere he saw himself appear. He was fuzzy, out of focus, and he could see through himself. On the other side of the kitchen, the door swung and Ginny walked in. Moe saw himself wave at her. She didn’t wave back.
“Ginny, baby.” Fuzzy Moe said. Ginny stopped for a moment, shook off a shiver, and continued on with her task. “Ginny?” She took a deep breath, blew it out and walked out of the kitchen. The recording skipped ahead to the living room that Moe passed in. He saw his wife sitting on a different couch. He understood, nobody would want to keep a couch that someone had died on. He saw himself on the screen – still out of focus – and he sat next to her. On the coffee table was his crossword puzzle book and pen. He reached for the pen and tried to write a note to her on the book cover. The pen floated up, then the book started to flap it’s covers like wings. Ginny watched, frozen in shock. When the remote control started to float around, she screamed and ran out of the house. The show skipped ahead again. Moe saw himself in his old bedroom. It looked different. The bed looked off, his old dresser was gone. He watched himself sit on the corner of the bed.
“Oh, Ginny. How can I do this?” As if he had summoned her, she arrived in the bedroom. Moe watched himself whisper to her, he stood up off the bed and paced. As he walked back and forth he heard his voice get louder. He saw the blankets, sheets, pillows start to move with his disturbance. He watched the closet door open and slam. Ginny backed to the door, her face cringing and her hands held up in front of her. As she left the room a man came in. Short, thin, wearing all black. He started to chant something that Moe couldn’t understand. He recognized the language as Latin. The man was a priest, he had met him when he was planning his final moments – and what would happen to his body. Moe watched as the man chanted – he could still feel the ringing in his head that it caused. He watched himself on the screen as he started to go from out of focus to blipping out, disappearing and reappearing like a show going in and out from an antennae. Finally, he was gone.
He knew that when he disappeared on the screen he had returned to the Great Wait – as he called it.
“So, what do I do now?” He looked at the young man without shoes, he was lounging on the couch and his arm off the edge hung casually. Daniel looked up with a start, like he had been caught daydreaming.
“What am I going to do, Daniel?” Moe took a deep breath in, closed his eyes, then let them open. He didn’t exhale. He didn’t need to.
“You have a choice.” Daniel said, looking around the room. “You can try again, fail again – hopefully, as the saying goes, you’ll fail better. Or,” His eyes met Moe’s. “You have to know.” Moe’s head cocked to the left. “You saw her face, Moe. You saw her eyes.” Daniel’s voice took a sharp tone. “She was scared.” He said slowly. All the youth and joy had left his face. He looked like something otherworldly to Moe. “You will keep scaring her. She won’t know it’s you, and when she finally does –she’s going to ask you to leave her alone.” The barefoot man’s voice became a harsh, angry whisper. “She wants you to rest in peace, Moe. Maybe you should let her rest, too.” A bird whistled outside the window and Daniel looked towards it. By the time Moe looked from the window to his keeper, Daniel had changed back to the grinning kid that Moe had first met.
“So what, I’m supposed to just leave her alone? Forget about her?” Moe’s voice was flat. He sounded like someone asking themselves if they should get milk at the grocery store. Daniel sat watching him silently. “I mean, do I just give up? I don’t want to hurt her. I didn’t mean to frighten her. Jeez Louise, what do I do?” Moe started to chuckle, the sound had a hint of humor to it. “It seems, my friend, that I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.”
“I think it’s time,” Daniel was nodding, “for you to draw your number.”
“How do I do that?” Moe asked, caught off guard.
“Here we go.” Daniel hoisted himself off the couch with a grunt that was more for show than anything else. He walked over to the kitchen, opened a drawer and got out a piece of paper that looked to Moe like a postcard. Daniel rifled through the drawer and came out with a pencil. For a few minutes all that could be heard was the breeze outside the window and the scratching of the pencil. Moe found his thoughts solidifying to acceptance about his wife. “Alright,” Daniel walked over to him. “Sign here, initial here,” Daniel wrote two X’s on the paper. “I know it says ‘Date’ here, but it’s mostly to mess with people.” Moe and Daniel exchanged a look before they broke into laughter. Moe signed his name, initialed, and wrote a date with five numbers for the year.
“You tried again, didn’t you?” Moe nodded, hugging himself. His face was scrunched as he adjusted to the spirit puberty. “That’s a more than a half-dozen times.” Daniel scolded. He smiled, but the smile held pity.
“I had to.” Moe said. “She has to know I’m not trying to hurt her, or scare her. She has to know that I’m still there in some way or another.”
“Maybe you didn’t notice because time is different here, or because you were trying too hard,” Daniel helped Moe off the floor and into the breakfast nook. “She doesn’t live there anymore, Moe.” Even though he was struggling with the leftover feelings he felt his face contort to look at Daniel.
“It’s our house,” Moe said. “It’s where we live – it’s where she lives.” He corrected himself.
“Not anymore.” Daniel said softly. Moe asked, begged, pleaded with the young man to tell him where she was. “Moe, she moved… In with Jeff.” Moe’s eyes squinted as he took in the words. Moved in with Jeff. His eyes darted around the room. “It’s been four years, Moe – since you came here. I know it doesn’t feel like that –“
“Six months, eight days. I don’t know how many hours, the days here feel like they go on for more than 24 hours. I only counted the sunrises and sunsets.” Moe stared at nothing on the wall, his eyes glassy. “Four years?” Daniel nodded. “You don’t look a day older,” He said to the barefoot young man. His voice had no inflection. “Any way you could speed up my appointment? I’m done with this trying.”
“No need to hurry it up,” Daniel said, wearing his usual happy but casual expression. “It’s coming up at the end of the week.” Moe nodded, finally looking at Daniel like he was seeing him for the first time that day. “It’s Tuesday here.” He answered Moe’s unspoken question.
The odd couple spent the rest of the week walking back up to the hill for dawns and dusks, talking about little things – Daniel had Moe describe things from his life like salad dressing, the exact feeling of jumping into a cold pool on a hot day, and why people always looked in pain when they had to use the bathroom or were in the midst of physical pleasure. Moe laughed more than he thought he would that week. He stopped trying to see Ginny, he didn’t even try to hate Jeff. Daniel told him that he was trying to perfect the way things were; how food looked, smelled, tasted, sounded, felt. He wanted to understand as much about the thing called “The Human Condition” and the existence of the living as he could – but he didn’t want to overwhelm anyone. He talked to Moe about all he had learned, his successes (sidewalks and sunsets were a bull’s-eye the first time around), and his failures (they laughed at how awful the green apples were the first few thousand times). Moe barely felt the week slip by. Finally, on Friday afternoon he shuffled down the street with Daniel at his side. Daniel led him down a different turn around a corner they had never been down.
“Where are we going?” Moe asked.
“They called your number, so it’s time.”
“Oh, okay.” And so the promenade continued. When they got to a building that looked like an old fashioned office, Daniel stopped at the bottom of the steps.
“There you go.” Said the shoeless young man.
“See you in a bit,” Said Moe as he started up the steps. He always left Daniel with this farewell. Usually Daniel would reply Not if I see you first. Moe turned when he didn’t hear anything. Daniel stood at the base of the stairs with a melancholy smile that didn’t reach his eyes. Slowly he shook his head. Moe came down the steps slowly.
“What? What?” Moe asked, unsure of what was going on.
“This is it, Moe. Once you go through there, you go somewhere else. You don’t come back this way.”
“But… But… What about you? What about when Ginny or Jeff come? They’ll need someone.”
“I’ll be here for them.” Daniel said assuring him.
“Did anyone ask you to be here for me?”
“Yes, but it’s harder with you. Moe. Moses The Orphan. It’s always harder with orphans. But, I did my best.” Daniel sighed.
“You did wonderfully.” Moe said, tears in his eyes. He smiled at the young man. “Thank you, my friend.”
“Goodbye, Daniel.” The two embraced for a long moment before pulling away and laughing while they wiped at their eyes. Moe gathered his gumption and walked up the stairs. He turned back when he reached the top and Daniel still watched him. Moe motioned do I knock? Daniel laughed and shook his head, he waved Moe on to go through the old wooden door. Moe checked the knob, it turned easily, and in he went.
“Moe.” He gently corrected. The woman behind the desk nodded and told him to take a seat, it would be a few minutes. He sat and looked for a book or magazine. He saw some, but they were all talking about things that he didn’t care about or were in languages he didn’t speak. Before he could pick one to look at just for pictures the woman called his name and told him to go through the door and get comfortable.
The room looked to Moe like a psychiatrist’s office in a 1960’s film. Moe looked at the chaise lounge, the padded chair, and the loveseat. He decided to plonk himself down on the lounge. He started to whistle a song he remembered about a bridge – and then the door opened. A man stood before him. The man looked like he was the lovechild of Carl Jung and Chico Marx.
“Hello, Moe, good afternoon. Please, don’t get up.” Moe could only look at the man. He could barely speak, let alone get up.
“Are you?… Are you?…”
“In a way of speaking, yes.”
“Exactly as you imagined, yes. We discovered a long time ago that if I take on whatever image you have in your mind for me it makes all this easier.”
“That makes sense.” Moe shrugged as he pushed himself up to a sitting position. “So, what now?”
“Now…” The Dr. moved to the padded chair, got out a notebook and pen. “Tell me everything that has happened.”
“What do you mean?” Moe asked.
“I don’t know what’s going on there,” The man gestured to his left. “So, if you could fill me in. Just on the big stuff to start – are there any wars going on? Any catastrophes?”
“Don’t you know?” Moe asked, confused. “Aren’t you all-seeing, all-knowing? Omniscient?”
“Boy, would that make it all easier.” The Dr. chuckled. “Everyone thinks that – but no. I don’t see anything. I only know what you people tell me.”
“Yeah, he told me a lot, but that’s all old news.” Moe’s eyebrows shot up. “Look, I would try and answer your questions – but we only have a short amount of time and I have questions, too. So, ask me something and I’ll ask you something.
“Didn’t you create the Universe?”
“No, it’s much more complicated – and I don’t think you’ll get Supernatural Physics or Deity Mathematics. My turn: Do you know Maggie? Lived in Here, Iowa?” Moe took a moment to register what had been said and asked. He shook his head. He didn’t know every person in the world.
“Where am I going now?”
“Where do you want to go, Moe?” The man asked and smiled. “Do you want to go to a Heaven that is lush and green fields? A place where it’s all white, with clouds and winged angels and harps? Do you believe you deserve to burn? Do you think you need to ‘cleanse your soul?’ Do you believe in reincarnation? Where is it that you want to go, Moe?”
“You don’t decide, do you?”
“That’s two questions in a row, Moe.” The man chided. “I don’t decide, no. Are you still have problems in the Eastern Center?”
“The Eastern Center?…” Moe thought for a moment. “The Middle East, you mean. Always. People have been fighting over that sandbox for as long as they’ve believed in you.”
“Longer, actually.” The Dr. said dryly. “I hate that people hurt each other. I don’t see a point to it.”
“Didn’t you give the real Moses the Ten Commandments?”
“Nah, that was an Angel – Daniel’s brother, actually – but even that didn’t work out well.” The Dr. Chuckled, “You know what they say about good intentions.” And he laughed. “Have you decided where you’re going, Moe?
Moe though about the question. He rolled it around in his mind this way and that. Finally, he took a deep and unneeded breath before he said, “Yes.”