And so, last Tuesday morning, at the intersection of Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive, when he was run over and killed by a beer truck whose brakes had failed, Paco felt reasonably confident that his soul would rise up into heaven just the way Father Trujillo had told him it would. He did not even mind so much the fact that he was dead, except that last Tuesday night would have been the first game of the World Series. Perhaps, Paco thought to himself, they have cable up here.
During his lifetime, Paco had thought a lot about heaven. He'd envisioned the moment of his arrival countless times: little blonde, curly-haired angels with rosy-red cheeks would be playing harps and trumpets and floating on clouds; St. Peter would be wearing a magnificent, flowing white robe and sitting on a large ornate throne; the pearly gates would sparkle brilliantly in the sunshine. St. Peter would check his Book of Deeds to be sure he had the right Paco Mondragon, trumpets would blare, the gates would open, and Paco would float on through.
Unfortunately, Paco's vision of heaven was nothing like the scene before him. There was no Saint Peter. No chubby-cheeked little angels. No Book of Deeds. There weren't even any pearly gates. Just an old, worn out wooden desk with nothing on it but a neon pink post-it note and a brass bell. The engraving on the brass bell said Algonquin Motor Court, Oneonta, New York. The post-it note said RING BELL FOR SERVICE
In all of Father Trujillo's sermons about heaven, Paco couldn't remember a single one in which the kindly priest had ever mentioned a ring-bell-for-service post-it note. Nonetheless, he took the metaphysical equivalent of a deep breath, closed his eyes and rang the bell.
"Whadya want, kid?" said a voice.
A stubble-faced, slightly overweight man in garishly plaid pants suddenly appeared from around the corner of a cloud. He was driving a golf cart and clenching a chubby, blunt-tipped cigar between his teeth. A collection of smoke rings, all perfectly round, encircled his head.
"I'm, uh, looking for Saint Peter," said Paco.
"That'd be me, kid. What can I do for you?"
"Well, sir, I'm here to see about getting into heaven."
Saint Peter blew another smoke ring and tapped the ashes off his cigar. "Didn't they tell you?" he asked.
"Tell me what?"
"We sold the place."
"What do you mean, you sold it?"
"I mean we sold it. We don't own it any more. You know, that kind of sold. Bunch of developers bought it. Lock, stock and barrel, as they say. Put in a golf course, condos, clubhouse - you know, the usual stuff. Really did a nice job."
"But why on earth would you sell heaven?"
"Well, it wasn't my idea, of course. It was The Big Guy. You know how impulsive He can be at times - burning bushes, floods, plagues of locusts - that sort of thing. Anyway, one day He got to thinking how He was kind of getting on up there in millennia, and maybe it was time for Him to retire. So He did. Just like that." Saint Peter snapped his fingers to emphasize his point.
"Oh, yeah. He and Moses and a couple of the apostles bought a condo in Miami. Nice place. Top floor, of course. Nowadays, you want to be close to God, you move to Miami." Saint Peter blew another smoke ring.
"But I'm dead. I can't move to Miami."
"So, what do you want to do, kid?"
"I dunno. I'd never thought about a heaven without God," said Paco.
"Well, you should have, y'know. You people didn't think He was just gonna hang around here forever, did you?"
"Uh, actually, we did."
"Well, I don't know what to tell you, kid, but He's gone now. Living out the golden years in Florida, just like everybody else. Playing a little golf, doing a little fishing. Got Himself one of those metal detectors, you know. Likes to walk the beach looking for lost coins and jewelry, things like that. Says it keeps His mind occupied." Saint Peter stole a glance at his watch. He looked impatient. "Look, kid, I've got a tee time in twenty minutes. You want in or not?"
Okay, so heaven wasn't exactly the way Paco thought it would be—in fact, it wasn't anything like he thought it would be. But it was still heaven, after all, and it seemed to Paco that it would be far better to plan on spending eternity here than in that other place Father Trujillo was always preaching about—the place with the fire and the brimstone and the pitchforks. Besides, it had been a very long day, and he just wanted to settle down once and for all.
"Yeah, I guess so," said Paco.
"Good choice, kid. Good choice. Lucky for you we had a place open up only last week. Nice little timeshare overlooking the third fairway. Great views. Maintenance free neighborhood. A real gem, I tell you, a real gem."
"Uh, did you say timeshare?"
Michael Pelc lives and writes from Nokomis, Florida.
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