The Waiting Room.
A man finds himself in a white room, unaware of the events to unfold.
“Twenty-seven million six hundred fifty thousand and one,” a woman garbed in clean white attire said surgically.
I felt my chest and my arms and my face and every other extremity I could possibly touch. The last thing I could remember was driving on the highway. It was terribly rainy and it was nearly impossible to see the road. All of the taillights and brake lights in front of me became a sky of blinding stars. It didn’t help that I was incredibly sleepy after a long shift at work.
I wondered where I was now. The room was completely white and the only other person in the room was the woman. I don’t believe I could have gotten in a crash. While I was sleepy and the driving conditions were horrendous, I was too good of a driver to have possibly crashed. Perhaps I was abducted by aliens; there was a better shot of that than me being dead.
“Pretty crazy crash you had, huh? Probably preventable too. Humans drive far too recklessly. It is one of the leading causes of death in the world, you know.”
“What? I’m dead!? But I don’t even remember crashing!” I yelled. If I was dead, it was nice to know I was in heaven and not the other place. I still couldn’t believe it though. Laura, my kids… I never got the chance to give a formal goodbye.
“Yes, dead. You fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into a rock wall going about a hundred and ten miles per hour. Had you accepted Vince’s invitation to stay at his house and have a few drinks you would have woken up tomorrow alive but with a horrible hangover,” the lady said curtly.
“So, this is it? No recitation? No ambulance coming to get me and at least trying to bring me back?” My stomach dropped as I felt a horrible feeling come across my entire body.
“It is resuscitation, Jim, not recitation. Yes, life isn’t always one of those feel-good dramas where a person goes to the hospital after a horrible accident and the doctor tells your family that although you suffered injuries that could kill most people, you should make a full recovery. Nope. You are dead dead. Definitely a closed casket funeral. The big man up top usually discourages us from showing people their final moments, let alone telling them about it but what the hell do I have to lose? We are severely short-staffed, what is he going to do, fire me?” the woman’s agitated demeanor towards her job didn’t help me to feel any better about my situation.
“Dead dead,” I thought solemnly. “…so, how bad was it?” I asked.
“Let me explain this in terms that you may understand… Have you ever seen a plate of spaghetti? Not one of the nice plates they serve at those high-end Italian restaurants… More like a can of Chef Boyardee’s carelessly dropped onto a plate by a five-year-old. Yep, not pretty,” the lady said with a joking tone in her voice.
I shuddered at the thought of the grisly description she had given me.
“And what about the number you had mentioned earlier, what did that mean?” I asked anxiously.
“You weren’t supposed to hear that but it isn’t like I’m going to lose my job if I tell you. Basically, when you die, your soul comes to us. Thousands of angels like myself meet with each soul individually. We go over your life history, give you a painful highlight reel of all the bad you had done in your life and then a cute highlight reel of all the good you had done, you know, to lighten up the mood. Finally, we figure out if you are eligible to go back to your body and continue living. If not, we judge you based on your life decisions and sort you accordingly. Have you heard of Dante’s Inferno? This place is like a purgatory of sorts; nothing like what Dante described but close enough for you to get the idea. This is the in-between,” the angel said lackadaisically.
“So, the number… is that how I am ranked?” I asked curiously.
“Bingo, Jim. I’d give you a sticker if I had one. Yup, dead center plus one. Had you not taken your work buddy Vince home from the bar that one night in twenty-sixteen or declined to donate two dollars to breast cancer research yesterday, you would’ve been toast. Especially with all that masturbating you do… You are lucky you did so many random good deeds throughout your life,” the angel rolled her eyes.
“You know about that?” I was extremely embarrassed that she knew about my private time.
“Everything, Jim. That is my job. Now you know why God can’t hire enough angels to fill positions here,” I noticed the wear and tear on her nametag and realized she must have worked here for a long time.
“So, um, Gloria, is it?” I pointed to her nametag. “I can’t go back now obviously. Where do I end up?” I asked her worriedly.
“See, that is the problem with you human folk, you don’t listen. Sit down, popcorn is to the right of your chair. Here are all the bad moments of your life,” Gloria said, irritated.
To my surprise, a plain white chair and bag of movie theatre popcorn appeared behind me. Gloria and I sat in the chairs as a projector and screen poofed into reality just as the chairs and popcorn had moments before.
The movie began to play.
“JIM JACKSON: BAD MOMENTS, A MONTAGE,” popped up on the projector screen in black letters.
“October sixteenth, two thousand and four. You took the Victoria’s Secret catalog out of the mailbox and proceeded to… well you know, for the first time,” Gloria giggled. I frowned.
“Ugh, drinking ’til blackout on your eighteenth birthday… You puked all over your best friend’s couch and pissed everywhere in the bathroom other than the toilet. Not good.” Gloria said, shaking her head. I winced.
“Cheating on your high school sweetheart after two months out at college? I don’t know why you humans ever try to make long-distance relationships work out. Hey There Delilah is just a song, you know,” Gloria rolled her eyes again. I frowned.
“You know, I probably could have made a separate highlight reel for all the times you’ve masturbated. And the things you chose to masturbate to sometimes? Questionable.” Gloria’s disapproval made me put my head between my hands and sigh uncomfortably.
“I’m surprised you had the energy to have any premarital sex with all the private time you chose to enjoy. Shannon Smith, she was your first. The same girl you cheated on your high school sweetheart with too. Jenna was such a sweet girl, too… You men really need to learn to keep it in your pants,” as Gloria ran through these moments of my life, I felt an ever-increasing feeling of regret.
“Hitting on some guy’s girlfriend at the bar when you knew she had a boyfriend? Are you mad? Oh, and now you are getting punched in the face… now kicked in the stomach… You definitely deserved that,” Gloria stated triumphantly.
“…And finally. Yelling at your wife this morning for forgetting to pay the electric bill on time. We are all human, Jim… Well, at least you and the rest of humanity are. She was really torn up about that too. You should’ve given the lady a break! Moms stay busy too, you know,” I began to cry as Gloria shut off the film.
“Oh, will you stop crying! Jeez, you would think someone was cutting onions in here. Okay, that was all the bad. Nothing you can do about it now since you are dead and all. Ready for the good?” Gloria asked in a cheerful tone.
I was definitely going to make it up to Laura after I got off. That is why I was driving home in that storm anyways. I couldn’t have left us that way but that is what happened and I’ll never be able to make it right again. The thought of it caused a pain in my heart like a rail spike going through my chest.
“… Alright, Jim, I have thousands of other clients waiting, are you ready to watch the good stuff or what?” Gloria’s dejected expression told me she inured to the emotional aspect of her job.
“Yes, I’m ready sorry I was — “
“Thinking about it all? Yes, everyone does that. It’s all over now. Nothing you can do about it now. Humans are a funny lot of people; you do things you regret and then sulk about it, many times when you know it was the wrong thing to do! Alright, buckle up cowboy, because you are definitely going to love this,” the usual apathy Gloria had been expressing during our time together quickly changed as she pulled up the next movie.
“JIM JACKSON: GREATEST HITS - 1989–2019” The words appeared boldly on the screen with fanfare that seemed to come out of a classic blockbuster movie opening.
“Bah, the old ‘you tell your mom you love her for the first time’ you were four years old. This is most people’s first good moment. Boring,” Gloria said blithely. I smiled big.
Mom looked so young and happy back then.
“Fourth Grade. You saved Mrs.Thompson’s infinitely adorable Scottish Fold out of a tree. I love Scottish Folds. And so did Mrs. Thompson! Fun fact, Mrs. Thompson was a widow; that little cat was the only thing that kept her smiling every day after her husband passed away. Good on you, Jim!” Gloria clapped her hands giddily.
I never knew Mrs. Thompson ever had a husband but I was super young back then. She always made the best pies. I’m glad I saved Scottie knowing all I do now.
“Oh, I LOVE this one! Sixth Grade. You spearheaded a fundraiser for breast cancer research at your school! You challenged everyone at your school to sell the most chocolates and promised everyone you would sell the most. And you did! Your mom was so proud of you for that,” Gloria said sweetly between bites of popcorn.
I had to sell the most. Mom wasn’t feeling too good then. She told me about her condition and how she might not always be around. I just wanted her to get better again. She was always in and out of hospitals; no one deserves that.
“Ah, high school now. You stood up for Jerry Jenson when all of your friends were picking on him. Uncharacteristic behavior for a high schooler. It is so funny he ended up becoming one of your best friends. You threatened to beat the snot out of Ben Billips if he said another word about Jerry; not so nice behavior but hey, you got your point across… look at that! Jerry ended up hanging around with all of you guys. A PSA for bullying prevention if I’ve ever seen one,” Gloria snickered as she watched the movie play.
I knew I should’ve called Jerry for his birthday… I got a Facebook notification last week and I was just so swamped with work I never got around to it. He was the best man at my wedding, always sent texts to check on the kids once they were born… I should’ve stayed in better contact with him.
“Oh… there you are with your mom in hospice care… give me a moment…” Gloria materialized a box of tissues to wipe her eyes. “You bought her carnations that day and stayed with her until her final moments. I’m sincerely sorry, Jim… You did a good job that day. You always loved your mom so much,” Gloria continued to wipe her eyes with tissues; I guessed I was wrong to assume she didn’t care about her clients.
“Okay… your twenty-first birthday. You won’t believe how many of these end up in the bad highlight reels. Instead of going out with your friends that night you stayed in and had drinks with your dad. I’m sure that made his day. With your mom being gone and all, your dad always loved spending time with you,” I nodded my head as Gloria sipped from her soda cup.
Dad really took it hard once mom passed. I did too but dad was never really the same after mom passed, even if he tried not to show it. I didn’t know that one drink meant so much to him…
“Hmm, this is a good one. The day Laura Lane became Laura Jackson. Look! Jerry was there dancing up a storm before the wedding even started and Vince from work was sipping from his flask thinking no one could notice… Laura’s parents didn’t like you much at first but you grew on them. Look at you in your handsome suit saying ‘I do’! Beautiful wife, by the way. You definitely caught yourself a good one… and Vince and Mr. Lane are already at the bar. Look! There is your dad shaking your hand congratulating you on the man you had become… and now Mr. Lane just fell out of his chair giggling after him and Vince had an impromptu drinking contest… Mrs. Lane was not happy about that,” Gloria and I began to laugh heartily. After a heavy snort escaped her, Gloria composed herself quickly.
“Ok. Sorry about that. I think this will be a good way to round this out. Look, there you are with your two kids, what were their names again?” Gloria asked.
“Ashton and Jamie,” I said as tears began to fall from my eyes.
“See? There you are reading them The Little Prince,” Gloria said.
“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…” I mouthed the sentence as I watched myself read it to my kids.
“You were always busy working but you still made time to spend with your kids. Many people don’t do that nowadays, you know. Welp, that was the end of the good highlights. What did you think?” Gloria inquired.
I wiped the tears from my eyes before I answered.
“I — “
“You loved it, I know. I make the best highlight reels in this place and they STILL won’t give me a promotion… ugh,” Gloria growled under her breath.
“What happens now, Gloria?” I asked nervously.
Gloria looked down regretfully before she spoke.
“You get a first-class ticket to hell! All amenities are paid for down there, by the way. You’ll have complete access to Satan’s lovely pools of scalding magma, free, twenty-four-hour access to the lashing stations all around the resort, and a lovely mix of restaurants that specialize in everything from animal excrement platters, battery acid smoothies, and a demonic favorite; steaks made from your own flayed body roasted to extra well done. I hope you enjoy your stay!” Gloria patted me on the back and laughed as I instantaneously began to heave and beg for mercy at her shiny ivory shoes.
“WHAT?! Gloria, please. You have to do something. That sounds horrible, I can’t — “
“I was kidding! You watched the reels! You aren’t Hitler! Can’t you humans catch a joke! Get up and stop all that gurgling, I would hate for you to vomit all over my freshly polished shoes,” Gloria proceeded to help me up laughing all the while.
“…Okay. So what actually happens now?” I asked, still visibly shaken from her twisted joke.
“Well, you can’t go back now, unless you want to look like one of the zombies out of The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, you are so exceptionally in the middle that putting you in heaven would be impossible and putting you in hell wouldn’t be fair,” Gloria said in a professional way.
“So, I’m just stuck here with you then?” I asked, confused and unnerved by what the future could hold for me.
“Well, for special cases like you, we reserve a special way for you to go back to the world and prove your worthiness of getting accepted into the kingdom of heaven,” Gloria said cryptically.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Hey, Eric, would you open up your wall for just a moment? Thanks,” Gloria exclaimed into the seemingly closed-off room we were in.
Suddenly, the wall beside us opened up to show another angel with a cockroach on the ground.
“What was that guy in here for again? Died by execution? Serial killer? Rapist? Put his pet iguana in the microwave?” Gloria questioned.
“Yeah, he kept begging me for the reincarnation program. I told him he would have to start as a cockroach and work his way through all the pests animals before he could get to all the neutral animals and then the good animals. I told him it would take at least five hundred years. He agreed and poof! There he is now. I’m about to send him back down now,” the other angel explained as the wall began to close again.
“You’ll turn me into a cockroach?! I don’t know about that,” I said hopelessly.
“No, you dingbat. You didn’t do anything SUPER bad like that guy. If you didn’t live a pious life on Earth as a human and you don’t want to go to hell, we can put your soul into an animal and send you back to Earth to live out a new life to prove your worthiness,” Gloria stated calmly.
“And since I like you, Jimbo, I can turn you into a dog and send you back like that,” Gloria said.
“A dog? Are there any perks to that?” I asked.
“You remember that animated movie All Dogs Go to Heaven? Yeah, that’s how it works. The dog is the last animal you must become to prove your worth. I always wondered why God chose dogs instead of cats but alas, I don’t make the rules here. Didn’t your wife say something about adopting a Golden Retriever? I REALLY like you, Jim. Normally, we aren’t allowed to do this but for you, I’ll make an exception. I send you back as a Golden Retriever where your wife will come and adopt you in the next week. You can watch over your family until you inevitably croak of old age and then we’ll meet again to see if we can’t put you in heaven. Deal?” Gloria explained kindly.
“Will I forget who I am? All my memories? I’ll just be a dog?” I asked.
“Yeah, basically but your soul will still remember all the important stuff. You’ll just be a dog but your heart will guide you in the right direction. And you’ll get to be with your family. It is the best I can do,” Gloria said.
I sat back in the chair and thought deeply for a couple of minutes.
“…Okay. I’m down. I’m ready.” I said courageously.
“Sweet. I think your wife will want to name you Jim, you know, to honor your death or whatnot. You’ll be able to play with your kids all you want! Who knows, you might even like it more than being human,” Gloria jested.
“Alright, thank you for all your help again — bark bark bark!” halfway through my sentence, I became a dog!
“What was that Jimbo? I don’t speak dog. Now don’t go humping any legs or fire hydrants while you are down there; I know your history,” Gloria said giggling.
“Bark bark, bark bark!” I barked.
“Alright, Jim, go be a good boy to your family. I have to meet with my next client now but it was nice having you! You honestly are one of the best clients I’ve had in all my years of working in this place,” Gloria patted me on the head as I started to feel myself disappear from the white room.
“Bark bark bark bark bark bark!” I barked encouragingly. I really did hope she would get that promotion she wanted.
I opened my eyes, panting and wagging my tail happily at what I saw.
“Oh, aren’t you a good boy! I think we’ll name you Jim. I wish you could have met him… I know Jim would love you just as much as we will,” the woman in front of me said bittersweetly.
“Bark bark bark bark!” I barked. I could just feel somewhere deep in my heart that I would love these new people.
“What do you say, Ashton, Jamie? Is this the dog you guys want?” the woman asked cheerfully to her kids.
“Yes, yes! We will love him so much! Thank you, mom!” the kids said, giddy with excitement.
As they took me out of my cage, I knew that this was the family for me. For whatever reason, I thought of a desert knowing there had to be a well out there somewhere.
I didn’t know why I loved this family so much already but I believed that is what made it so beautiful; knowing they loved me just as much without knowing why.
Sometimes, it is those little, inexplicable feelings that make things beautiful.