“Good morning Mr. Goodman. It’s time to get up! Rise and shine my good fellow. It’s a splendid day!”
I open my eyes and focus on the figure standing at my side. He’s beaming down at me with an enormous grin. He looks a little like Winston Churchill. He definitely has the English accent ‒ no cigar, though. The name tag on his white smock reads: SMEDLEY, Social Services.
“Good morning,” I mumble. “Where the hell am I?”
Smedley puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “Mr. Goodman, you are in the hospital, of course.”
I close my eyes and try to remember. Suddenly I feel dizzy. It’s all coming back.
“Oh, yeah,” I say with disgust. “Shit!” I look up at my visitor and frown. “I can’t even kill myself properly.” I’m almost embarrassed that I hadn’t been successful.
Smedley hands a clipboard over to me as he takes a pen from his breast pocket.
“Sir, I’ll need your John Hancock right here on the dotted line, please,” he said.
“What the hell is this?” I grumble.
“It’s a release form, sir. Just a small formality.” Mr. Smedley smiles as he glances at his watch.
I look over the form. It all appears to be a bunch of legal gibberish. I sign it and hand the clipboard back.
“Well, then. Are we set to go, sir?”
“Go?” I asked. “That’s it? What about medication? What about breakfast?”
“Are you hungry, sir? Are you in pain?”
“Come to think of it,” I say, “I’m not. In fact, I feel better than ever.” I find myself smiling. “But aren’t you going to lecture me?”
“What lecture is that, sir?”
“I thought you Social Service people need to lecture guys like me; put me in another worthless program. I mean, I tried to kill myself, for God’s sake! Isn’t some shrink going to sedate me and whip the little boy inside me with a rubber hose?”
Mr. Smedley helps me out of bed and into my clothes and whispers in my ear.
“My boy, I think you’ve had enough of all that rot. Anyway, that’s not my job.”
We walk arm in arm down the hall to the elevator. Smedley pushes the button.
“You’re not turning me over to the cops, are you?” I sheepishly ask.
“I should say not, sir!” Smedley solemnly puts his hand over his heart. He tilts his head and says, “I am simply releasing you.”
The door opens and we stroll into the elevator. The doors close as Mr. Smedley pokes the Lobby button.
The Englishman chuckles and says, “Mr. Goodman, I’m sure you’re delighted to finally get out of here. It sounds as though you’ve had quite a sticky wicket with the whole thing.”
“Pardon me?” I ask.
“Oh, I’m sorry. A sticky wicket is a term that generally…”
“No, no, Mr. Smedley.” What do you mean by finally getting out of here? Exactly how long have I been here?”
Smedley shuffles through the release papers. He clears his throat and exclaims, “Well, my boy, according to this, you’ve been here for exactly fifty-one years, eight months, three days, eight hours and forty-two minutes!”
I laugh and say, “Yeah, right! Fifty-one is how old I am.” I shake my head and smile. “Hey, man, how long have I been in this Goddamn hospital?”
“Oh, the hospital. It says here that you were brought in by ambulance at 11:05 last night. They administered five cubic centimeters of adrenaline and then pumped your stomach. You went into convulsions, swallowed your tongue and went into cardiac arrest. They unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate you and you were pronounced dead at exactly 11:31pm.”
The bell in the elevator dings softly.
I look Smedley right in the eyes and shout, “What the hell are you talking about, you crazy old coot? I’m dead, huh?” I repeatedly push the Open button.
Smedley takes my arm and stops me. “On the contrary, my friend, you are very much alive! Alive and finally free from the bonds of Hell…and now you shall be released.”
The elevator doors open.
I look into his ancient face and say, “Okay, let me get this straight. You say I died last night and now I’m alive. I don’t understand…”
“You, sir, have spent a lifetime of misery in Hell. And now you are emancipated!”
“What?” A weird feeling envelops me “This has got to be a dream!”
Mr. Smedley smiles and says, “Everybody says that, Mr. Goodman, but no, it is not a dream. In fact, this is your first true glimpse at reality… again. Just relax and have a jolly good time.”
“But I don’t understand.” I hold back the tears. I slowly shake my head as I try to comprehend it all. The enormity of the situation slowly sinks in.
Smedley lifts his clipboard and turns a page.
“Let’s see now,” he says. “Ah…’bad Karma in past life,’ naughty, naughty; blah, blah, blah, sentenced to One Lifetime of Hell; let’s see here, ah, sentence is ‘fifty-one years, eight months, three days, eight hours, forty-two minutes and five seconds.’” Smedley puts the clipboard down and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Actually, Mr. Goodman, some poor souls are sentenced to one-hundred years or more of intolerable life on Earth! You got off easy.”
“It wasn’t easy. It was hell,” I said.
“Exactly,” said he.
I peer out of the elevator. I am astonished to see a vast new universe. It is an inexplicable collage of fantastic colors. And within the various hues I see everything that was and everything that is to be, but there is no time. There is nothing but the essence of love. And I feel the awesome pulse of creation throbbing in my very soul. I hear the angelic voice of the cosmic mist calling me home. She caresses me and soothes my troubled mind. I have no needs or desires. I have no perception of self. I have no memory or mundane thoughts. I have no fears. A sense of complete serenity and belonging envelops me as destiny tugs at my weary heart. My lifelong sadness mercifully dissipates as my being dissolves into the energy of the Universe. I am immortal.
Smedley gently nudges my spirit into the vastness. At last, I am alive!