I was explaining the importance of this fact to Father Angleton on the day he came to visit. Here’s what I told him, word for word. “I respect what you’re trying to do here. You want me to hire some of those homeless bums and put them to work. Unskilled labor. Well it’s not going to happen. See, one of those bums ripped me off last year, to the tune of fifty grand. The cops found him OD’ed on smack. He’s marking his days in Hell, not prison, Father. No more.”
Father Angleton didn’t like this much. He told me how he was just trying to take care of his boys, how a lot of them were strong and capable if they could just get some food in their bellies, yadda yadda. Listen - I go to church. I pay tithe, I pay taxes, and the Good Lord asks a lot less for the blessings He’s bestowed on my business than the government has. I’m saved. I’m forgiven. But I’m not an idiot.
I gave Angleton a little too much room there. “If God has blessed your business,” he insisted, “then you owe it to Him to pay His children back. Have a little faith.”
That’s when the backhoe hit us both.
I wake up here, in Heaven. I mean, there’s no mistaking it. Pearly gates, just how I’d pictured it, with iron bars between the sinners down below and Paradise up beyond. Saint Peter, waiting there with his white beard and white robe and white skin and white book. And he runs a wrinkled old finger and a perfectly clean fingernail down the list of names until he hits mine.
The gates open. Like it’s any surprise. I’ve been a good man. I deserve this.
“Hey, Peter,” I say on the walk in. “My mom and dad are dead. There’s no way they’re in the other place, y’know? So when do I get to meet 'em? And my grandparents. And, y’know, everyone!” Only Saint Peter shakes his head at me sadly. Something’s not right here, because everything else here has been so completely expected.
“Mr. Macdonald, this is most assuredly Heaven. And yes, your parents and grandparents have not been condemned to hell. But the notion that you could meet anyone else here is unthinkable in your present state.”
“Whaddayamean, my present state?” I demanded. “This is Heaven. I died, here I am, right?” His eyes bored into mine, and another “right?” passed my lips without a shred of conviction behind it.
“Mr. Macdonald, some explanations are in order. You did accept Jesus as your savior, it is true. Or, perhaps, you did at one time, in a flash of fervor brought on by your desire to impress the woman who became your wife. Since then you have found your charitable spirit eroded by the meanness of the world around you. You have lost faith in the goodness of man. You have abandoned hope for a future in favor of a comfortable present in which to enshrine your past glories and lay to rest the corpses of your future dreams.”
“Most of all, Mr. Macdonald, you have let fall love, the one redeeming force that could have saved you from your present fate.”
I sputtered. “Wait. Wait a minute! Father Angleton - Thomas Angleton. He got hit too. He must have died too, right? So he’s here, right? Let me speak to him. Let me–”
Saint Peter raised a hand sternly, cutting me off like he’d punched me in the gut. “Mr. Angleton has been sent back with a purpose, like all truly good men. The Lord is Love. Love is the law here, and until the world’s people can be saved, there is an infinite need of love such as his. He will be incarnated into a new life, his memories of this one gone but his burning need to help others firmly in place. When he dies again, he will remain saved. But you…”
The Saint’s gaze peeled away my arguments, my protests, my defenses. He had my soul by the balls as he spoke further. “Perhaps one on one million souls is pure enough to be accepted into Heaven proper. Here we stand by the reliability of our product. It is the perfect society that we are building. The society to outlast eternity itself. We cannot make use of inferior building materials. You understand.”
I could say nothing. I felt like I was falling. And he was still mechanically reciting things I suddenly realized he’d said a thousand times before, to a thousand guys like me. Thousands? Uncountable millions. Merciful God.
“Mr. Macdonald, you will remain in Heaven until such time as we can find a use for you. Until then, you will find a harp, and clouds, if you like. I wish you luck.”
And then Saint Peter passed through the pearly gates, back out to his watchpost. And I rattled the heavy iron bars of the gates for the first of many a time, and wept, and began to mark my days.