Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

Almost Heaven
by Shelly Quigley

I know I must be clinically dead because the last thing I remember was the plane trembling violently like a washing machine with an unbalanced load before it went down. I think briefly of my husband Chester. Chester, poor dear, loved to travel. I guess that was his last trip. Mine, too, apparently.

And here I am in what seems to be an upscale hotel room lying without Chester in a king size bed surrounded by six satin covered down pillows. I am lying under a quilt so generous there is no possibility of exposed feet in the night. The faint odor of lilacs mingled with honeysuckle permeates the large but cozy room.

Someone placed a steamy cup of Cappuccino on the French Provincial night table. I reach over and timidly take a little sip, careful not to spill any on the comforter or I certainly will not be welcomed back again to this lovely place. The coffee is exactly the way I like it with just the right amount of half and half to turn the dark liquid the right shade of murky beige. It was obviously freshly brewed. I call out, "Hey, is anybody there?"

I pull the lavender robe tightly around me with unnecessary modesty because a search of the suite reveals that I am quite alone. The carpeting, a dark verdant green, is three inches thick and my bare feet luxuriate in it. I grew up in a housing project where the floors were the color of dog shit highlighted with confetti-like flecks of color. They were always cold as an ice cube when you first got out of bed.

The suite consists of a large living room, a well equipped, ultra modern kitchen with an ample dining area, a bedroom and a bathroom. One of the living room walls is entirely covered with books. I am amazed to notice that a row of books consists of selections I recently read about in the New York Times Book Review and hoped I would get a chance to read someday. The others are books by my favorite authors; numerous classics and British murder mysteries that I seldom had time to enjoy when I was alive.

I stand before a full-length mirror, which covers one of the ample closets and notice that the figure in front of me is familiar, but somehow altered. I notice, with the detachment of an artist considering a garden he is about to paint, that I am quite beautiful in a lavender robe, which exactly matches the bedclothes. The robe is the same one I recently admired in the window of Veronica's Attic but declined to consider buying because it cost a week's salary. My eyes shine with youth and vitality and my cheeks have a gentle radiance. I let the robe drop to the carpet and notice that my body is perfect without a trace of cellulite. My thighs, which Chester lovingly called saddle bags, are now well proportioned with no bulging below the hip. I had those bulges all my life and forty years of steamrooms, exercise, starvation and wishing them away had no effect. I had to wait until I died to finally get rid of them.

A whooshing sound from the bathroom catches my attention and I open the door to reveal an oversized marble Jacuzzi surrounded by a dozen scented aromatherapy candles burning on the lavender mosaic rim of the tub. This is very strange because I already searched the bathroom and noticed no candles burning a minute ago. I step into the Jacuzzi, sit back and relax while the soothing water, adjusted to the perfect temperature, swirls around me.

Serene and composed, I objectively ponder my situation. Obviously, since I am dead and things seem to be going well, I must be in heaven. I always believed in an afterlife, but expected something less substantial with happy angels floating through diaphanous clouds while an invisible traffic controller directed them so they wouldn't collide. So heaven is familiar and prosaic, like life, only better. I get it. We get everything we wanted on earth. I think I'm going to like it here.

After a half hour of languishing in the bathroom, I dry myself off with an inch thick lavender bath sheet and wonder what I am going to wear, since my luggage must have gone down with the plane. I open the closet door and discover that I have nothing to worry about as there is an abundant supply of boutique and designer quality outfits and my biggest challenge is deciding what to choose. I select an Indian shirt and a pair of new but incomprehensibly broken in jeans and sandals. Everything fits perfectly.

"Now, what do I do? Do I call room service?"

I think about waffles and maybe a little bacon on the side. I wander into the kitchen and see that the table is set with a crystal platter of waffles under a blanket of crisp lean bacon strips. This must be the complimentary celestial breakfast. I eat leisurely and decide to take a walk, since no one would expect a dead woman to go back to work or look for another job.

The halls must have been soundproof perhaps due to the thick carpeting, because there is a complete absence of noise. Not like back home with inconsiderate neighbors yelling at their boisterous kids, rumbling motorcycles and unruly barking dogs. The elevator descends smoothly to the first floor where the lobby is so magnificent; I involuntarily suck in my breath like a child seeing the ocean for the first time. It is decorated in a combination of marble, Victorian lace and maroon velvet. The comfortable chairs sit empty no doubt because everyone is at work. Incongruously, there is a video store along one wall of the lobby, which I almost miss because it has no marquee. Among the new releases are movies currently in the theaters, including a few that haven't been previewed yet. There is no sales clerk, however. Not like back home where Larry, the owner, always stuck his two cents in and recommended films that turned out to be awful. Who needs his opinion anyway?

I move through the soundless lobby to the street. The weather is ideal with a perfect cloudless sky and just enough of a breeze to ruffle the blooms on the magnolia trees that line both sides of the street. I notice a Veronica's Attic; a Carney's Basement and a few of my other favorite boutiques within walking distance. I cross the street to the Starlight Coffee Shop where just like back home, tables are arranged in little cozy groups ready for either intense philosophical conversation or the awkward, halting dialogue of the first date. I pour myself a cup of steaming coffee out of a carafe on the counter and look around fruitlessly for someone to acknowledge, but the counter help must be out to lunch.

I drink my excellent coffee in silence and walk down the street again. I hear something peculiar. It is not so much a sound I hear as the absence of sound; the complete dearth of traffic noises. At the same time I realize that I hadn't passed anyone on the street. I hear no children playing, no high heels clicking, no laughter, no arguments, nothing that attests to the presence of humanity. I look up and down the street lined with stores that contain everything I could possibly want. I press my nose against Kato's Fine Seafood Restaurant and know before I look I will see no customers inside. I run to the antique store next door and notice, with mounting alarm, that it, too, is empty except for beautiful furniture and porcelain collectibles. The Infinity Travel Agency further down the street promotes free trips to anywhere in the world on its posters, which also promise in large garish letters "ONLY YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL." As I read the ads in the window, the breeze shifts and I begin to feel a little warm. If I concentrate, I can smell the faint odor of brimstone mingling with the scent of magnolia and when I realize where I am there is no one to hear my screams, which echo off the buildings and down the street as far as the ear can hear.

Bucks County Writers Workshop