Joe was driving along the icy road, thinking over his recent visit with his son, Ed. Ed’s teenage son was going through a tough time and Ed had no idea what to do. “When he’s at home he’s in his room listening to rap music–with his headphones, thank God. He won’t talk to us. He’s angry all the time but I don’t have a clue why. He won’t tell us where he goes when he’s out.” Joe had listened but all he could think of to say was, “It’s probably a phase and he’ll get over it.” It had been on his mind for days.

Joe was worrying over this, wondering how to get the kid to counseling, when he felt the tires skid. Then he hit the brakes hard, swerved, and everything went blank. Next thing he knew, his consciousness shuffled through downy drifts of confusion. Sounds, sirens, footsteps. He felt colder than he ever had before. A fleeting insight: this is it, Joe. You’re done.

He struggled to open his eyes. They felt heavy, yet pain-free. Through closed lids, he felt sunlight brightening, as if a cloud had moved away. He opened his eyes in a squint. Hospital? No. His surroundings were anything but cold and sterile. He saw green trees, shrubs, and roses. He was wearing a white robe, sitting on a plush gold velvet sofa. His feet in slippers rested on a lawn more beautiful than a groomed golf course. In the distance, he saw others, similarly dressed, milling around. The sweet scent of lilacs wafted on a cool, refreshing breeze.

Joe opened his eyes all the way. What the—? He moved his hands over his body. Balding head, face, legs, arms, privates—all intact. Surely, he must have sustained injuries. He had a dim recollection of pain, but it slowly slipped away.

Suddenly, Joe was hungry, famished like he’d just run a marathon (something he hadn’t done for many years). And then he saw the table in front of him, covered with food. All his favorites: french fries, a hot dog piled with sauerkraut, a mound of coffee ice cream dripping with hot fudge, a pint of lager. He looked around. Did he need an invitation? If he was dreaming, why not go for it. He couldn’t get sick to his stomach in a dream, could he?

Joe dug in. The chilled beer had to be the best he had ever tasted. The hot dog was the perfect temperature and covered with kraut and his favorite grainy German mustard. He didn’t feel full, so he kept eating, slowly savoring every morsel.

As Joe wiped his chin with a soft cloth napkin, a man approached. Similarly dressed in a white robe. He appeared to be around Joe’s size and age, with wisps of white hair and a short grey beard; but he glowed with a peachy complexion and emanated a positive vibe. “Hi, Joe,” said the stranger; “I’m Mortimer.” And he sat down beside Joe.

“How do you know my name?” asked Joe.

“I know all the newcomers. I’m briefed before you arrive.”

“Okay, and exactly where am I? Is this a dream or some kind of rehab?”

Mortimer reached over and put his hand on Joe’s arm, reassuringly; “No, Joe. You’re in heaven.”

“Yeah, right,” said Joe. “There is no such thing as heaven. I long ago rejected all that nonsense about ‘Do good things and go to heaven; be selfish and you’ll have fire and brimstone.’”

Mortimer smiled; “Yes, it is a shocking revelation for non-believers.”

“I’m still not buying it. How do you know how good I’ve been anyway?”

Mortimer pulled a shimmering object from his robe. It looked like a cell phone, only lit up in red and yellow. Mortimer looked up at Joe, “Well, I know that back in grade school, you defended a kid who was being bullied. You ended up in the principal’s office, but she praised you for sticking up for your friend. And you were faithful to your wife all those years. You gave money to charities that helped the poor. And you were a good dad to your two children—Ed and Samantha, right? Those are just a few examples.”

Now, Joe was really in shock. This conversation had too much detail for a dream. His dreams usually faded in and out of anything that made sense. And he painfully remembered the times he hadn’t been such a good person. “What about that time I won those tickets to the Queen concert and didn’t even tell my best friend? I took some girl I hardly knew.”

“Nobody is perfect, Joe.”

Joe’s voice trembled as he asked, “So where are the angels? Where are my parents who died long ago, my wife Ellen, my best friend Andy, my last three dogs, my—”

Mortimer interrupted, “Joe, a lot of newcomers think they’re going to meet their departed loved ones here. But it doesn’t work like that. You’re not going to see your parents, your wife, or your pets. But you’ll feel their presence.”

Joe felt a wave of love coming to him from somewhere. “Well, that’s a disappointment, but Okay” he said. “I’ll play along. What am I supposed to do here?”

“All the pleasant activities you can desire,” and Mortimer gestured towards the table still full of food, “You like bocce, right? There’s bocce and tennis and bowling. Any movie you want to see. Just think of a book title or author and it will be available to you.”

Joe instinctively thought of a dark Stephen King book which surely wouldn’t be approved, but there it was on the table next to the food.

Mortimer smiled. “What kind of music do you like? Eighties rock, right?”

And suddenly Joe heard one of his favorites, Eye of the Tiger.

Mortimer continued, “And you’ll have opportunities to meet new people. Good people, whom you will like. Would you like to meet some folks?”

“Wait a minute,” said Joe; “Where’s God? Don’t I get to meet him? And are there churches? Do we have to pray?”

Mortimer chuckled softly, “Joe, God isn’t a singular being. He is everywhere. And we don’t need churches—or mosques or temples. Here everyone believes what he wishes about religion. The only thing that’s important is that you’re here because you’ve done your best to do good. You’ll probably have more questions later, but for now, how about meeting some of the other residents?”

“Okay,” Joe answered.

Mortimer raised his arm and Joe found himself in a shimmering mist. As it dissipated, he saw two men and a woman around his age sitting at a small table sipping from wine glasses. One of the men called out, “Hi, Joe, why don’t you join us?”

Joe walked over to the table and took a seat. He shook his head and sipped from the glass in front of him—his favorite red blend. “This is going to take some getting used to,” he said.

“We’re here to help you with the transition,” the woman said; “I’m Sarah. And this is John and Will.” Sarah had dark hair, although she appeared to be in her seventies. Maybe hair dye wasn’t needed in heaven? The two men, who looked a lot like Mortimer, shook hands with Joe.

Joe’s head was spinning. Could heaven really be a place where everything was fine and dandy? With no problems or concerns? He thought about the wars raging on earth, the violence, the hatred. He asked the group, “So what can we do to help the people on earth?”

Sarah reached over and touched Joe’s hand, “We all had that concern when we first arrived, but the problems on earth have to be tackled by the living. Our turn is over and we’ve earned our rest.”

Joe thought about his last conversation with Ed. He wished he had said more. Wished he had advised Ed to get Davey to a therapist, somehow. Davey could be on drugs or contemplating suicide. How terrible that Joe had missed his chance to intervene.

They sipped their wine and John, Will, and Sarah told Joe about their favorite activities, inviting him to join them later. Will said, “Joe, it’s always good for newcomers to take time to rest. You’ve had to absorb a lot of new information in a short time. We’ll see you later.”

They disappeared and Joe found himself alone. A cozy-looking recliner appeared next to him. He got up from the table and positioned himself in the chair, feet up, head resting comfortably. His disbelief was beginning to fade and he wondered how he would know when and where to show up for bocce. He closed his eyes. A soft voice forced Joe’s eyes open; “Dad? It’s me, Ed. Are you awake?”

Then he realized he wasn’t in a recliner, but on a bed in an unfamiliar white room. His vision was blurred and his head ached, but he saw his son standing over him. He tried to remember the details of what he had just experienced, but he had trouble remembering.

“Dad, you had an accident. You’re in the hospital. But you’re going to be Okay.”

Ed grabbed Joe’s hand and squeezed. Joe wiggled his legs and moved his arms. He looked up at his son and, despite everything, knew they had to talk. He remembered what he was thinking about when the accident happened; “Ed, we need to talk about Davey. That’s more important than me bumping my head.”

Ed smiled, “That can wait, Dad. I’m just glad you’re still with us.”

“I almost wasn’t,” answered Ed, “And it can’t wait. Let’s do it now.”


Lenore Hirsch is a retired educator who writes poetry, essays, and fiction. Her books include My Leash on Life, Leavings, Laugh and Live: Advice for Aging Boomers, Schooled: Confessions of a Rookie Vice Principal, and Connection:Stories. She lives in Napa with her canine buddy, Chewy. See