Before you get to St. Peter

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    “Jesus Christ,” the man said into the phone.

    “Yes?” The voice on the other line answered.

    “I’m having the busiest day, can you take some of these interviews off my hands?”

    “Come on, Tom, you know I don’t handle interviews myself.”

    “I know, but I just thought, this one time8212;”

    “No exceptions, you need to get these last few in or out. I know it’s Easter, but I can’t resurrect your job performance,” he replied with a small chuckle.

    Tom sighed at hearing the joke for the 15th time and replied, “Fine.”

    Tom picked a folder up off his desk and examined the contents and sighed heavily. He was not happy with his afterlife. He had a mundane office that he rarely got to leave. The wallpaper was colored brown. Brown. This was the best his boss could do for him, he asked for blue, wasn’t in the budget apparently. His chair needed to be replaced. He wanted one that he could adjust to his desk’s height since his chair sat low to the floor and made him appear shorter than he was to incoming candidates, who often commented on his misconstrued height. He had a Dell computer, but he wanted a Mac. He never got one while he was living and thought he could at least get one here, that was, unfortunately, not the case and he despised his PC with every fiber of his being.

    Tom pressed the button on his desk intercom, “Carol, can you send the next person in?”

    “Certainly, Mr. Clark.”

    “And can you call my wife and tell her I’ll be home a little late tonight.”

    “Certainly, Mr. Clark.”

    Carol was his secretary, handpicked by God to help him with whatever he needed. She was so helpful that Jesus often joked that she must’ve come from Tom’s rib. Tom hated Jesus’s sense of humor. His arsenal of jokes was nothing but Biblical puns and references, which he got enough of at the daily church services. He also did not care for Carol as she was not his first choice for the secretary position. She was like his wallpaper, boring and made him dislike his job even more. He thought in Heaven, he would get a beautiful secretary, unlike the “Carol” he had while he was living, but he had Carol. Tom assumed that they had to do away with attractive women in the workplace in Heaven so that there weren’t any “wives being coveted”. He laughed to himself at the witty reference, but his laughter quickly turned to a realization of hypocrisy as this was the kind of joke he would hate to hear from Jesus.

    A man in his younger twenties entered the room and looked around confused at the absence of clouds, angels, or any combination of the two.

    “Mr. Aldridge!” Tom said putting on a fake smile and getting up to shake hands, “Welcome to Heaven, I’ll be your interviewer today, please have a seat!”

    “Heaven?”

    “Yes, Mr. Aldridge you passed in your sleep 20 minutes ago, but rest assured you lived a very long life and it’s good to see you looking young again!”

    “But, I’m 85.”

    “Yes, but now you look 25, as most people do when they enter Heaven.”

    “I’m sorry mister…”

    “Clark.”

    “Mr. Clark, I’m sorry, but this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

    Tom was slowly losing his positive attitude after hearing this for the 1,563rd time today, “Well, I can assure you Mr. Aldridge, this office is better than what you’d see in Hell, and what’s on the other side of that door,” he continued pointing with his thumb to the exit behind him, “Is what you’re probably looking for. But first we need to go through some things and you’ll need to answer some questions so that we can find out if you’re the right fit for what we’re looking for here in Heaven.”

    “Wait, I don’t just…you know…get in?”

    Tom frowned, “I wish it were that easy Mr. Aldridge, but Heaven is where you get to live for eternity, we don’t let just anyone in, we have standards.”

    “I thought the way I lived was supposed to be my…test or whatever.”

    “Everyone thinks that, Mr. Aldridge,” Tom said opening a file on his desk, “Now let’s have a look at your resume here.”

    “Resume?”

    “Yes, we here at Heaven keep track of everything important in your life, good or bad, and compile it into a “Life Resume” of sorts. Sorry you won’t be able to lie on this one as you did in…1978,” Tom said pointing to a spot on the paper.

    Tom gave a cryptic smile to Mr. Aldridge as he watched him shift uncomfortably in his chair as he did in the interview he would come to receive in 1978. This was actually the only part of the job Tom liked. Evaluations. He had the power to tell people no. You can’t get it in. Sorry, you just missed the cut. It made him feel exclusive, special, part of the elite God-fearing demographic. Plus he actually got to push a button on his desk to drop people to Purgatory (recommendations for Hell had to go to Jesus). He thought a button opening a hole in the floor in front of a desk only existed in movies and cartoons. Numerous days in between candidates he would practice the lines he said to people he would send to purgatory. Being a large movie and TV fan, he liked to incorporate quotes and catch phrases into them: You are the weakest link, goodbye or Hasta la vista, sinner! and sometimes he would squint his eyes, run his fingers along the edge of the button and say You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky. Well do ya punk? And then he would push the button imagining the look on their formerly hopeful faces as they fell from the clouds.

    “Well there are some very impressive things on here. Tell me what was your religion again?”

    “I was a Christian, sir.”

    “Denomination?”

    “Non-denominational.”

    Tom did not take his eyes from the resume as he replied, “Oh, that’s a shame.”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “We generally prefer Protestants, but being a non-decider doesn’t help your case and just shows us that you are incapable of commitment.”

    Tom glanced again at Mr. Aldridge who seemed unable to sit still in his heavenly chair.

    “Could be worse though,” Tom continued, “You could be a Mormon,” he stared at Mr. Aldridge for a few seconds and then laughed while Mr. Aldridge joined in uneasily.

    Tom stopped laughing abruptly, “The last time you went to church?”

    “A few months back.”

    “I see and the real last time you went to church?”

    Mr. Aldridge paused and replied, “10 years ago.”

    “Reason for leaving?”

    “My wife passed and I stopped going, she used to make me go…Can I ask…is she here?”

    Tom then did a 360 in his chair towards his computer and typed in “Mrs. Aldridge”, once the search results came up he asked without turning, “Cause of death?”

    “Oh, it was cancer.”

    “Narrow that down please, “Aldridge’ is a common last name and cancer is a common cause of death.”

    “She died of brain cancer, May of 2000 at St. Mary’s Hospital.”

    Tom typed in a few more things and then turned around to face Mr. Aldridge, “She is in Heaven, Mr. Aldridge, let’s hope she can give you a good reference.”

    Tom enjoyed checking references. The things people said about who candidates thought were their loved ones was a beautiful sort of ironic humor. Sometimes he would mess with candidates head’s, pick up his phone and pretend to be talking to someone he had already spoken to in regards to their wholesomeness. He’d witnessed candidates scream in anger at the phone and cry at the lack of testimony to their good behavior. Give the phone, I’ll kill that bitch, I was a wonderful husband! or How could he say that, my own brother?!? Tom would then hang up, say a line, and push his button.

    Mr. Aldridge laughed thinking this remark was a joke, but Tom stared at him until he stopped, “Did I say something funny?”

    “No…I just…I just thought you were kidding.”

    “I am an interviewer, Mr. Aldridge, and like any good interviewer I need to check up on your references. With that said I hope you two had a strong marriage,” Tom said pausing for a few seconds to stare at his interviewee while waiting for an answer to a question he hadn’t directly asked, “Well? Did you?”

    “Oh! Of course we did, loved each other very much.”

    Tom looked back down at Mr. Aldridge’s file and said quietly, “We’ll see.”

    Mr. Aldridge shifted nervously as Tom waited for him to confess what he already knew, “We fought a decent amount…but we were still happy.”

    Tom lowered his head, but kept his gaze fixed on Mr. Aldridge in an attempt to pry out another confession.

    “I had an affair once…”

    “There it is!” Tom exclaimed happily as he began scribbling on a piece of paper, “See doesn’t it feel nice to confess? Maybe you should have gone to confession a few more times, then again that would’ve made you Catholic.”

    “Is that going to keep me out?”

    “Well adultery is a sin, Mr. Aldridge. Did you ever tell your wife?” Tom asked already knowing the answer.

    “No, too guilty.”

    “Of course you were,” Tom said still writing. “Just out of curiosity, was the affair with a secretary?” He asked, thinking of the unattractive (for some reason, in-her-40s-while-in-Heaven) Carol outside.

    “No,” Mr. Aldridge replied looking at the floor, unaware that he could be dropped through a hole from where he was sitting.

    “You were a doctor I see, lot’s of work to help the uninsured, that’s helpful…I suppose.”

    “I also donated to cancer research,” Mr. Aldridge replied eagerly, trying to get his string of good qualities noticed.

    “No one likes a bragger, Mr. Aldridge.”

    As he slumped back in his chair, Tom continued scribbling on the folder. He was drawing a picture of Mr. Aldridge. Like his “phone calls”, the notes were fake, a means of making the candidate nervous, which was working well on Mr. Aldridge. Tom liked letting people go through the door behind him a lot less than letting them fall. It gave him less power and plus, when he did let them proceed to Peter, he was forced to recite a verse from the Bible as he let them through. It changed every now and then, but usually it was Psalm 23. Such a cliché. It pained him to recite it so much that he sighed and recited it hastily in only a few seconds while he let people in.

    “I don’t feel like things are going very well, Mr. Clark,” Mr. Aldridge said looking away from Tom.

    “No, I wouldn’t say they are,” Tom said as he finished shading the areas around Mr. Aldridge’s face. He got ready to pose the only real question he enjoyed hearing an answer to, “Why do you want to go to Heaven?”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “Why do you want to go to Heaven? You’re a non-denomination Christian, have attended church sporadically throughout your life, and you have definitely not abided by good Christian values, you know, with the adultery and all. So why do you feel Heaven is the right place for you?”

    Mr. Aldridge sat silently for a minute, “Well I was a Christian my whole life, I always thankful of God and Jesus for everything I had and—.”

    Tom raised his hand cutting Mr. Aldridge off, “Stop. Answer me this, why were you a Christian.”

    Mr. Aldridge looked at the armrests of his chair, “I don’t know…I guess, it felt safe.”

    “Safe?”

    “Yeah…you know,” he raised his eyes from the chair looking at Tom in the eyes for the first time, “I thought it was a no-lose commitment. Taking a chance and believing in God to get to Heaven seemed safer than not believing in him and going to Hell.”

    Tom instantly leaned back as if instantly blown back by the surprisingly obvious, but never before heard answer, he thought for a second, smiled at Mr. Aldridge and said, “Well, Mr. Aldridge, today’s your lucky day because you’re not going to Hell.”

    Mr. Aldridge’s eyes widened and a smile began to break out, “Really?”

    As Tom thought of an especially witty line (that Jesus just might appreciate) and chuckled to himself for its ironic ingenuity, he reached across the desk for his favorite button, “Surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your afterlife, but you, unfortunately, will not dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”