In heaven, there are no angels. There are lots of people, people who have lead average to extremely good lives, but in no way do they share the characteristics commonly associated with angels; apart from being dead, and in heaven.
Now, there is much less to do in heaven than you would think. It's very quiet. Since there are so many people there, its pretty hard to find a type of music everyone can agree on, so it was decided early on to just avoid the argument completely. There is no real architecture in heaven either, so everyone sits more or less indian style on a great plateau of clouds, trying not to be rude by bothering the person next to them.
Basically, you have two options. The first is that you can lay on your back and stare into the sky, relishing in the fact that you have no more responsibility and no chance of physical harm or death. This in itself is very nice, for a upon death a great realization occurs regarding the levity of the matters you took part in while on earth, kind of the way the problems you had in high school seem silly and insignificant five or ten years later. You will feel so silly when you get there.
Your other option is to lay on your stomach, push your face through the soft clouds, and watch the people of earth. You can zoom in on them (after you are dead your eyes become remarkably more useful; retractable lenses whirling around inside your sockets so that you can see through walls and watch ants work - you will see when you get there, it is really quite amazing.), keep track of their lives and perhaps find a story somewhere that is interesting to you, worth seeing through to completion. But, as previously stated, after you're dead these problems seem so nonsensical; you're pretty much over all the stuff that is going on down there. Though watching the living provides some initial entertainment to the recently deceased, this activity is quickly regarded as a novelty.
There was one day that everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone, lay face down watching the streets in a reverential silence, a piercing tension hanging all throughout heaven.
It started very simply - A boy, about ten, who had just died lie face down in the clouds watching his sister playing in what used to be his back yard. The boy had come to realize that the things that transpired down there were of little to no consequence, still he was simply fascinated by the way his tiny existence had scabbed over so quickly, becoming a glossy scar in only a few months, covered by the sleeve of life's daily routines.
As his sister played, the boy noticed a short, white bus slowing to a stop sign at the corner of his street. Once motionless, the side and back doors opened, and out poured a slow parade of elderly women and men, one of which descended from a motorized wheelchair ramp attached to the back.
Out the driver side door leapt a man in his mid-forties, greying hair and thin-rimmed glasses. He was dressed in some sort of faux-security uniform, a zippy blue number with buttons and shoulder snaps, but no gun or anything that would be useful in a confrontation. His slight pot-belly bounced awkwardly above his belt, back and forth, as he dashed around like a sheep dog, attempting to corral the aging flock.
"Mrs. Jenkins," the man called to a red-haired woman leading the pack, "I've told you this before. You can't sit by the door if you're going to open it. When it's time to get off I push the button and the door opens by itself."
"But the door didn't open by itself." the woman explained. The group gathered in an informal semi-circle around them.
"That's because we weren't getting off. We don't get off every time we stop."
The woman threw her hands in the air as she and the rest of the passengers climbed back onto the bus, which took off promptly out of the boy's old neighborhood.
"His name is Tom," pointed out the young dead boy, who was still trying out his new eyes. "Said so on his name tag." The man next to him looked at him awkwardly, saying not a word. The people around him avoided eye contact; not just with him, but with everyone.
Later that night he lay on his back, starring into the the now much closer stars, waiting restlessly for the daylight to return. Not even the slightest whisper permeated the wakeful air of heaven, and most eyes were fixated on the deep sky or wandered around the complacent shapes that filled the cloudy plateau. Someone very far away coughed.
He turned to his stomach and began to search the city for Tom. The boy, so recently deceased, still harbored some phantom of a feeling for the living, a smokey vapor that was dissipating - this was a fairly common feeling. Maybe that is why he felt a tinge of empathy for Tom. The boy had watched him drop off his elderly patrons at a group home, then drive himself back to his one bedroom home beneath a water tower. Standing beside his bed, Tom had swallowed a small pill and gone to sleep; he had been asleep since. In heaven there are no clocks, but on earth it was almost dawn.
When the sun began to rise again, the boy blinked, and scanned Tom's room. He was already dressed and lacing his shoes, his quiet home buzzing with the hum of central air. The van, which he had parked in front of his house, started cheerfully in the promised warmth of a late May morning. Within half an hour, Tom had made his way to a senior living center, where the same five people the boy had seen yesterday slowly boarded the van.
"It's so warm!" Mrs. Jenkins moaned. She sat in the first row, right behind Tom, but off to the side so that she was hidden behind his seat. "Tom, turn on the A.C."
"I apologize Mrs. Jenkins, but the A.C. is broken. I put in a maintenance request."
"Those lazy bastards never fix anything. Damn car'll be a ball of rust before they touch it. At least crack a window."
"No, noooooo . . . " moaned a man in the back row. He smoothed the lapels on his dilapidated brown suit. "My hair, you never think of my hair."
"You both know the windows don't open." Tom knocked two fingers against the bolted down glass panes. "Besides, the museum has very good air conditioning. You're always cold by the time we leave."
Mrs. Jenkins shook her head. "I've been to that damn museum a hundred times, I don't know why we have to go there again."
"I think the museum is nice!" cooed a soft looking woman in the back of the van. She appeared to be wearing some sort of pajama-like gown, and sat in a wheel chair.
"Like hell it is, Ethel, its a crock a shit is all it is."
"No swearing Mrs. Jenkins," Tom reminded gently.
Inside the museum Tom stood in front of a diorama of a prehistoric couple sharing a meal over a fire. Fake fabric flames danced over a portable fan while a spotlight faded from orange to red. For a long time he studied the hard plastic mannerisms of the couple that failed to make eye contact due to the vacant imprecision of their painted eyeballs.
"Damn landscapes don't make a lick of sense," Mrs. Jenkins yelled from another room. Tom was startled by her voice, and hustled away from the scene to collect the now quite scattered passengers.
"I think Tom is dying," the dead boy in heaven said out loud. A few people turned their heads slightly, but in general he was once again ignored.
"No really," he went on, "I think so because he's taking the same pills I was before I died. They tasted awful because they were so strong and they worked really good but they wouldn't give them to me until they were really sure."
"I heard my dad talking to my mom after I died and he said 'You knew, you knew, because his doctor told you the pills would only make him comfortable.' And they did, I really didn't feel anything."
Finally, the insolence of the boy could no longer be ignored by the other inhabitants of heaven.
"What do you care if 'Tom' dies, now or later?" asked a man a few feet away. "Everyone dies."
"Yes, but," the boy replied, "I don't think that Tom should die yet."
Everyone within earshot laughed at this. Even the boy began to question what he was thinking.
"No no, its just that I've been watching, and from what I've seen, you . . . well, I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?"
The laughter reached a fever pitch.
"My name?" the man ridiculed, "There are no names in heaven!"
Now the boy felt completely sheepish and intruded upon, so he lay down with his blushing face in the clouds.
Mrs. Jenkins' voice was piercing the reverent calm of the museum.
"All I'm saying is that that this photograph has clearly been doctored, as the city council building is right here," she argued, pushing her finger into an area of sky in the framed picture, "and therefore this picture has no place in a museum."
"That picture was taken in 1887, Mrs. Jenkins." Tom responded.
"Then why the hell would I want to look at it?"
Tom stood back an examined the rows of black and white photographs, though in reality they were brownish and yellow. The other passengers milled restlessly from frame to frame, reading the scribbled dates in the bottom right corners, examining the stark rolling land, the few wooden buildings.
"Some people like to consider the way things used to be."
"Well, I don't know why." Mrs. Jenkins began to hobble to an adjacent exhibit.
The ride home from the museum visit was a quiet one, though the peacefulness of the silence was a matter of opinion. Some passengers were asleep, though it was barely four o'clock, where as Mrs. Jenkins sat ruddy and awake, her arms crossed.
"God damn . . ."
Tom sighed, and kept his head facing forward.
"God damn museum . . ."
"Mrs. Jenkins," Tom protested.
God DAMN that crotchety old museum and all of its . . ."
"Mrs. Jenkins, please," he begged, "You can't swear, you're upsetting the other passengers."
"We're all dying Tom."
Tom had words prepared, but closed his mouth. In his training, Tom had been told over and over again to never mention the age or subsequent condition of the people he was to spend each day shipping around.
"Not one of us here have more than five years left, that is except you Tom, which makes this all the harder to understand."
" . . . What do you mean by all that, Mrs. Jenkins?" he asked cautiously.
"What I mean, Tom," she mocked, "Is that if this is all we've got left, if we're one foot out the door as it is, then why the hell are we wasting what little bit of life we've got left?"
"No swears, Mrs. Jenkins."
"Hell isn't a swear and you're not listening to me. If you're afraid we're going to die doing something reckless don't be. Most of us are going to die in our sleep, or in the kitchen making a warm glass of milk, and I don't know about all of you here but I don't want my last sight to be those god-awful floor tiles. And I don't want the last thing I remember to be some shitty black and white photos from before I was even born."
The rest of the van remained perhaps willingly oblivious to the woman's tirade, and this made her even more combatant.
"Is it such a stretch that maybe I want to ride a bike one more time? See live music? Are you in such a rush to throw the lid over us that you're not even going to respond? You think we're already dead?"
"Hell is a swear, depending on context," Tom slowed to a stop in front of the group home, pushing the button that released the door.
Mrs. Jenkins mover her way to the staircase that lead down to the pavement - she turned and looked at Tom sadly. He refused to return this acknowledgement. Sighing, Mrs. Jenkins descended the stairs and walked slowly towards the automatic sliding double doors of the building, the other passengers shuffling single-file behind her. As the door shut Tom pulled away quickly, and drove home reasonably and without exceeding the speed limit.
"Wow, he's only got twelve left." said the dead boy in heaven, watching Tom as he shook another tan pill into his palm. "Those aren't the kind of pills you get refills on."
The boy felt alone as he gazed down upon the darkened town. He remembered taking the pills, counting how many he had left.
A middle aged woman near the boy had been listening and watching this show that the boy seemed to be taking such an interest in. She was roughly three feet away from him, so when she pushed her face through the clouds, she could see him at a comfortable distance.
" . . . Are you watching that man still?" she asked out loud.
The boy jolted and looked over at her, nodding earnestly. "Yeah," he answered, "I've been watching him for a while now and . . ." the boy knew how ridiculous it would sound, "I'm just worried about him."
The woman nodded back, a vague sense of understanding gripping her. "When I was alive, I remember feeling worried about people." she told him. "Not since I've died though."
They shared a confused, but contented smile.
"I had a son once that was your age," she continued, "He was very emotional and had a lot of problems because of it. He could be very selfish, the way he acted; he'd cry and scream over what seemed like nothing, every little change he experienced was met with such frustration and anger. Naturally I wasn't surprised when the first thing I saw from up here was him crying on the sofa, pushing his face into the crevice between the couch cushions like he always did. I imagined that had to be the most jarring and painful experience for him. But when I listened to his sobs, he wasn't crying for himself. He was saying to himself 'Mom, mommy, mom, its not fair, you never got what wanted or what you deserved.' Now I remember feeling that way, before I died, that I had given everything and had never gotten any of it back. I was quiet about it though, back then, I never thought anyone knew that about me. Or why of all people he would care about that. Life is unfair from the beginning, I knew that, yet here he was bemoaning my silly life not being everything it could of been." She stared down into the city with the boy. "For a second I felt like I understood him, but then the feeling faded and I just laughed a little. I just couldn't picture it anymore. But hearing you talk about Tom, I start thinking about it again. I'd like to feel that again, to understand why someone feels a certain way."
The boy nodded. He felt like he should introduce himself.
"I would tell you my name," he said, "but for some reason I can't remember it."
"That's ok, I don't think anyone can." she confessed. "There are no names in heaven."
Accepting that as reason enough, the boy turned his attention back to to Tom's sleep. In contrast to the night previous, Tom clenched his fists and moaned quietly, privately into the dark room. He was having a dream. In the dream he was holding a glass store-front door open for an endless line of people who walked through it at a slow, constant pace. His arm was burning with pain; for what seemed like years they walked on while Tom waited for a break in the line, where he could cut in. Finally a sizable gap appeared - quickly he pivoted into place, but as he turned to face the doorway, he finally saw what lay on the other side. It was too late, he was being swept away by the crowd. Tom writhed his sheets into a spiral, until finally he sat straight up and hollered loudly.
"That would be frightening." said the woman, and they boy agreed, for they could also see dreams.
It was was almost dawn - Tom could see bluish light just beginning to creep into the room. He set his head back down on his pillow, pulled the sheets around him back to their original positions as best he could, closed his eyes and waited for his alarm to go off.
That morning the van started with a tired rumble, the wheels ticking slowly into motion, the engine groggy and unwilling to accelerate. Tom tested the gas pedal, pushing it sharply, which wielded mixed results.
"You've been driving the same route for 20 years, how it is you can manage to show up late is beyond me," Mrs Jenkins yelled from her seat, inches from Tom's ear. "So mad I could spit but these damn windows don't open."
Tom ignored her, his mind still wandering the alcoves of the previous night's dream.
"Where are we off to today, Tom?" Mrs. Jenkins asked in her feistiest tone. "Tell me Tom, will we be visiting the museum again?"
"Ooooooh I love the museum," caroled the quiet woman in the wheelchair. "Why not Tom, we haven't been there in ages."
Mrs Jenkins looked at her in horror - "Jesus Christ Ethel, I . . . oh, Ethel . . ." She laid a hand on the woman's knee. Ethel clasped the hand happily and smiled vacantly back at her.
"Tom, look what you're doing to these people." she lamented.
"I don't set the schedule Mrs. Jenkins," Tom explained, his eyes fixed on a left turn onto a larger city road. The van accelerated predictably to the minimum speed, its lethargy of the morning seemingly cured. "Also, don't take the Lord's name in vain."
"Ohhhhh Here it comes again." Mrs. Jenkins spat on the carpeted floor of the van.
"Did you just spit?" Tom asked, at last turning his head.
Mrs. Jenkins spat again.
"Harriet, stop it," protested a woman seated in the back row. "That is disgusting. Tom, can you open a window?"
"My hair's a mess Tom, its really fine with me today."
"Tom," Mrs. Jenkins pleaded, "Is it so much to ask for a little air? To feel the wind in my hair again?"
"The windows do not open for your safety." he responded.
Mrs. Jenkins inhaled and puffed her chest full of resolve, unwilling to concede to a statement so maliciously arbitrary. "Do I have to break one then?"
Tom sighed. Still denying Mrs. Jenkins the confrontation she craved, Tom began to answer her without turning. "Do you really think that-"
The base of an aluminum walking cane flew past Tom's ear, making a loud THWACK as it bounced off the curved glass of the windshield. Tom ducked and jerked the wheel blindly, swerving the car into an adjacent, thankfully unoccupied lane. Mrs. Jenkins stood in the center of the van's narrow isle, gripping the can's handle like a loaded gun. Taking another deep breath, she thrust the cane forward again, this time producing a small crack where it hit. "Cover your eyes, Tom!" she hollered.
"Harriet NO!" Tom scanned the busy street for a place to pull over.
"I WANT TO LIVE!" she shouted as another forward shove enlarged the crack, spidering horizontally across the width of the windshield.
"Mrs. Jenkins, you are about to lose privileges for the whole group!"
The van shook wildly as it began to veer off into the overgrown field the highway bordered.
"We HAVE no privileges! Fresh air is not a PRIVILEGE Tom." Mrs. Jenkins yelled. "FREEDOM is not a PRIVILEGE!"
The van and all its contents leaped suddenly as it hit a lump in the field. Tom skidded the car to a stop as the passengers cupped their hands to the back window panes, attempting to make out the shape of what lay in the dirt, about thirty feet behind them. Bolting from the driver side door, Tom was careful not to step in the tiny trail of blood that lead from the back tire to the small furry mass - there, turned over several times in the dirt, was a young rabbit, feet twitching as though they still chanced escape. Behind him the doors to the van opened, and the wheelchair ramp began to lower.
"You forgot to open the Door, Tom." Mrs. Jenkins called to him.
"We don't . . ." Tom was shaking, "Every place we stop we don't . . . THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE YOU, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU DO!" The crowd slowed their approach as they saw the unfamiliar twist in Tom's brow. "You act and you don't think at all what it might mean for someone else! You just storm your way through everything without an ounce of courtesy and PEOPLE GET HURT. THINGS get hurt."
"And I suppose your way is flawless?" Mrs. Jenkins retorted. "To just keep scurrying out of everybody's way, just keep smiling and doing everything someone else tells you to, well that is a perfectly AWFUL way of life and I think you know that Tom, how can you even get out of bed in the morning?"
"How can I . . ? This . . ." Tom gently stroked a tiny, crushed paw, "This is a baby. It never had a chance to live. It was on its own side of the road, but its dead because of you."
"Oh, so I was the one driving now. I was the one that tried to slow down and stop everything, just as things were beginning to happen."
"What was I supposed to do?!" Tom exclaimed, standing.
"Keep up with it, Tom. Things move fast and you've got to accept that. You can't stop the current, if you try to do that you're going against what the world's got planned and THAT'S how things get HURT Tom. YOU are the reason things are hurting."
Tom stared down into the lucid, half-open eyes of the now dead creature. Tom turned and walked slowly, silently back to the driver's seat of the van, and pulled the door shut.
"Oh, you've really done it this time Harriet." said a short, pudgy woman. "He's probably going to go drive off a cliff."
"Maybe he's going to back into you, Harriet." said the man in the brown suit. "You should move." But Tom simply sat inside, without even starting the van.
"No, I don't think that's it at all."
The boy and the woman in heaven had been so focused on the unfolding events, they had failed to notice a man a yard or so away, watching right along with them.
"All that - see it reminded me of this conversation I had with my father once." the man continued loudly, scratching a scruffy, greyed beard with both hands. "I was probably nineteen, and I was asking him for money again. I was trying to tell him that I couldn't make ends meet just pickin' bugs off the grape vines and he said 'Well who's fault is that?' and of course at the time I said 'Hoover!', or 'Old man Baker!', or anything but myself. And he said to me, 'When you were born your mother and I were livin' in a tree trunk outside the old ranch with no money for any damn cigarettes or gin and I made it work. The problem is YOU."
The woman and boy nodded attentively to the man's story, waiting patiently to hear exactly where this all was going.
"Well he never gave me another penny after that and I hated him for it and he just became another part of my list of things that were keeping me in that horrible place I was in. It wasn't til years later that that list became so long that I was forced to admit to myself that maybe it wasn't the whole world trying to bring me down; that maybe I was doing that all by myself." He pointed a scrutinizing finger down to Tom from the clouds. "When it hit me, I had a moment like that. Cried like a damn fool. For a while. But when I was done with all that, you know what I did the very next?"
"What?" the woman and boy asked in unison.
"I went down to Old man Baker and told him I'd been pickin' bugs long enough and that knownin' how everything worked around there that it was about time I started helping with the planting. I told him how much I wanted a day and he said that'd be fine. Then I threw the other boys one hell of a party, and emptied all my gin down their dumb happy throats and I never touched the stuff again. Two years later I met the love of my life and she never knew that sad, wretched part of me. Would of never happened had I stayed the person I had been. When I realized that I was so . . . well I remember feeling so thankful for that."
" . . . Do you think that it will be that way for Tom?" the woman asked.
"Who knows? That sure as hell ain't me down there. Who knows how he'll stomach it."
Tom was sunken low in the driver's seat, watching the nervous activity of the seniors in the left mirror. His face was a little wet; humid stillness hung in the cab like the first moments after a sudden summer rain. Slowly the group approached and re-entered the van, in a polite silence. Finding their seats they looked to one another uncomfortably, waiting for someone to speak.
"I had a dream last night." Tom said abruptly. Surprised, the passengers listened courteously. "I was holding a door open, for a long line of people. I was just trying to be polite. But the people just kept coming and coming. I kept looking for a break in the line, where I could cut in, just someone to hand the door off to - but when I finally got my turn to enter, I saw what was beyond the door . . ."
"What was it?" asked the man in the brown suit.
" . . . Nothing." Tom replied. "Just a blank, a white void." He pulled himself up in the seat, making eye contact with his passengers in the rearview mirror. "All my life I've told myself that my time is coming, that if I just smiled and kept my head down my turn would come. Well, that was it. I'm just like the rabbit. Everything, over before he even had the chance to live."
"Never the CHANCE to live?" Mrs. Jenkins slapped her knee. "Tom, you are middle aged. What about life has been kept from you?"
"I understand Tom, I do." said the woman beside her. "But that's all anyone gets. Just a - a blank space."
"She's right Tom." agreed the man in the suit. "Nothing's ever going to be given to you. You want something, you have to stand up and take it."
"It's the same damn thing I've been telling you since the day I started riding in this damn hearse." Mrs. Jenkins hollered. "Nevermind what you've got out of life. What have you fought for? Don't tell me we're the first people to point this out to you."
Tom fiddled silently with the air vent above the steering wheel.
"Tom, you talk to people besides us, don't you?"
He sank lower into the seat.
"Tom, do you even know our names? Do you know who this man is?" Mrs Jenkins pointed to a nervous looking man in the front row. "We're the only people you talk to and you don't even know who we are."
"I know who you are."
"No Tom you don't, not without a name. Do you know why we give things names? Because they are important. Because you value them, and you want to be able to find them again. Because they're not objects, Tom."
In heaven the boy, the woman, and the man took a look at each other.
"It makes a lot of sense, what she's saying." said the man.
"Do you think that we should give each other names?" asked the boy.
The woman smiled at him. "Would you mind if I called you Gregory? That was my son's name. Is - is that an alright name?"
"Yes!" exclaimed the boy, henceforth known as Gregory. "It sounds perfect to me." he turned to the man. "Vincent was what I was thinking for you."
Vincent smiled and smoothed over hair, as if he was wearing a new suit. "Well if a Vincent's what I've made of myself, it's a Vincent I shall be. And what about you lady, what will we be calling you?"
"Helen!" Gregory suggested with his index finger.
"Oh that's a lovely name." the woman agreed.
"Are you giving each other names?" The head of a young girl popped out below the clouds, her long, bristly red hair hanging in bright bunches down towards the earth.
"Yes we are." Helen replied. "Would you like one?"
The young girl giggled. "When I was alive I named everything, stuffed animals, blankets, cups . . . it was really quite ridiculous. My mom had to put sticker labels on everything so that she would know what I was talking about. So yes. I would like one, if you feel like giving one to me."
"I do . . . Erica!" Gregory threw his finger at her as if the name needed to be caught.
More heads popped below the surface of the cloudy ground, loitering awkwardly, waiting to be invited into this new ritual.
"Do you all want names too?" Vincent called to them.
"What is going ON?!" came a man's voice from the topside of the clouds. The group pulled their heads back up to see an infuriated older man standing with clenched fists, a seeming-giant compared to the rest of heaven which was seated politely.
"We're giving each other names," Vincent explained, "so it will be easier to talk."
"About what?" the man exclaimed. "What is there to talk about? We know everything. We understand everything."
"We don't though!" Gregory interjected. "I don't understand how Tom feels. None of us do." The crowd of people that had begun to watch Tom, some openly, some in private, all nodded in agreement. "I know that when we cam here we realized a lot of things, but we forgot things too. And I think the things we forgot, the understanding, is more important than the knowing."
Inside the van, Tom had just finished being introduced to the people he had been driving around for some time now. Mrs. Jenkins was the only one he could really name, the rest - five others in all - he knew only by their faces.
Now he knew that the pudgy woman who sat beside Mrs. Jenkins was Ariel, who before now he knew simply by her regular rotation of cat-themed sweaters. Her hair was tall and permed like a Southern beauty queen, thick blue eyeshadow creased in her wrinkled eyelids.
On the other side of Mrs. Jenkins sat Benjamin, a quiet Asian man who would divert his eyes if you ever tried to talk to him. No one had ever heard him speak.
The back row had two people; Ethel and Rodger. Ethel was the soft-looking woman in the wheelchair, the one often confused by the previous day's events but nevertheless thankful that they had happened. Her skin was a translucent white, with blue veiny lines around her eyes, nose and mouth like a newborn kitten.
Rodger, the man in the brown suit, was a classic gentleman. Never had anyone seen him wear anything less than a tasteful three piece, even if the only trip he had planned for the day was to the kitchen. He was notoriously stubborn but a kind person nonetheless.
And Tom was a middle-aged mystery, even unto himself. The questions considered most basic, favorite foods ands season, took ages for him to answer; and even then, they were guesses at best. The passengers watched him, fascinated and confused, as he attempted to name a hobby.
"Umm . . . " he fretted, "Sometimes when I'm driving I count the dashed yellow lines for as long as I can. Does that count?"
"Absolutely not." Mrs. Jenkins answered.
"Tom," Ethel said slowly, "Maybe we should go about this differently. Tell us what you do know. A memory perhaps, that even you have been unable to set aside."
"From whenever, Tom. Your choice."
Tom pondered this, tracing the cracks on the windshield with his index finger. "My uncle had a motorcycle, when I was young. He wanted to show it to me, but my mother wouldn't let him. I didn't really have a reason to question them. But one night when my parents were having a party he came to my room and woke me up. We went downstairs through the back hallway into the garage . . . I think he was really just going to show it to me, let me sit on it and what not, but I must have looked just enthralled by it, because he put a finger to his lips and opened the garage door real slow . . . Outside was just the purest, blackest night. The kind I wasn't allowed to go out in. He held my hand and walked me out to the middle of the street, then went and pushed the motorcycle out of the garage. He sat down and pulled me up on his lap, right in front of him. I heard his hands clicking some switches, but I couldn't see anything, it was so dark. Then all of a sudden the whole thing came to life beneath us. I was so scared at first that I wanted to jump off, but the growling beneath me became so steady and calming . . . I relaxed and we just shot off into the night." Tom was looking now far beyond the windshield, deep into the sky. "We probably just went around the block, but it felt like we drove for hours. The night landscape was so perfectly vignetted by that single headlight - you could see nothing more than the circle it illuminated, once frame at a time. I believe it was the only time in my life that was able to focus on that exact moment, without thinking about what might happen, or what already had. When we got back we pushed the bike into the garage and he said to me 'that's something they'll never let you do, or even forgive me for if the found out, but something that needed to happen.' He said that when I was older I would understand."
"Well I hope its sinking in now!" Mrs. Jenkins yelled, standing. "Now, let's finish what we've started!" With a tremendous breath she threw the cane back into the windshield, but it bounced off the curve of the glass and produced no results.
"You can't break a windshield that easy." Tom said. "They're designed to not break. Besides, we can't do that. We can't destroy a van just because."
"It's not just because you moron!" Mrs Jenkins shoved the cane into the glass again. She was panting heavily.
"Just stop it Mrs. Jenkins. You can't break it by yourself."
"Well then," she said, sitting to catch her breath, "You're going to have to help me." Shaking, she reached out and dropped the cane into Tom's lap. "If you want to feel that way again, the way we all do, you've got to fight for it."
Without a word, Benjamin unhooked his seatbelt and removed the cane from Tom's lap. Slowly, and aiming with great care, he pulled the cane back and slammed it forward with a single, focused THWACK. Exhausted by this simple action, he returned to his seat as Ariel stood and took the cane from him. Tom began to feel weak as he watched the squat woman conjure so little force out of herself, breathing heavy as she levied her futile attack. Hesitantly, she handed the cane off to Ethel, who beckoned for it desperately. Cradling the cane in her lap, she rolled slowly to the front of the van; Mrs. Jenkins held her chair steady as she raised the cane slowly, like a lead pipe. Withe every ounce of strength conceivable, she let the cane meet the glass with a soft tap.
"We can't, Tom." Mrs Jenkins let go of Ethel's chair, as she was generating so little force that the wheels did not even rock. "Though we desperately want to, we aren't able. You can Tom. You can feel these things again, it's still possible for you. Outside that glass is a whole world, filled with just, well, everything, waiting to be embraced. Open up the glass and feel it!"
Tom starred past the sparse cracks, out on to the road. In his mind, he overlaid that one dark night, the deep ocean of possibilities that had filled the dark spots just beyond the reach of the single headlamp.
Clasping his hands around Ethel's, he pulled the cane back with her, and slammed it forward with such velocity that every window in the entire van burst into innumerable shards, a shower of slivers so tiny and bright that the sky looked as though it was raining pure sunlight.
In heaven, Gregory, Helen, and Victor were holding hands. Whether their combined thoughts and feelings had anything to do with the events happening on earth, I can't really say. People on earth, and in heaven, are capable of incredible things. But by this time dozens people had names, and stretches of them lie face down, observing Tom.
Mrs. Jenkins cheered. "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" She high-fived Ben. "Now we're cookin' with gas!"
A cool spring breeze passed through the van - Tom laughed. He sat down in his seat - his hands still shaking, he shifted into drive. "Where are we off to first?"
"Oh for crying out loud." Mrs. Jenkins shook her head, exasperated. "Don't ask me, Tom. You have to ask yourself that."
"Oh, of course Mrs. Jenkins."
"HARRIET for crying out loud."
Tom nodded. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, and he could think of no way of using it. "No, uh - I guess no place in particular comes to mind."
"Oh for Chrissake . . ."
"Well, someone else," Tom suggested, "Does anyone here have someplace they'd like to go? Someplace they can . . . recapture this feeling we're chasing?"
Rodger raised his hand. "I've a place I'd very much like to visit again, if its alright with everyone."
"Sure Rodger." Harriet replied. "Where do you want to go?"
"See," he explained, "There's a cafe not far from here where I met my wife. I'd like to have my usual - that is a coffee and a croissant - one more time. They won't let me have coffee anymore, they say it makes me restless. I have to pour warm water into a mug and make believe like a damn fool."
Harriet shrugged, weighing the idea's adequacy. "It's a start. Restlessness - that's a good thing! People need to be restless, its what keeps them moving!"
"Do you remember where it is, Rodger?" Tom asked.
"Like I could forget a place like that."
The group cleared the remnants of the windows from their seats, and buckled up as the van began to roll in the direction of Rodger's index finger.