Open after Dying
Fiction, 800 words (6 min)
Parts of this were co-written with GPT-3.
You will have noticed that this is not the Heaven you were expecting, unless you were born in a cubicle and it is all you have ever known, and even then maybe you would expect more. But here we are.
Pick up the pencil. But there is no paper, you exclaim! Write on the desk. Anything: a grocery list. A short poem. Now watch the words fade as if from memory.
Open the drawer (left). Inside should be a single photograph. If you wrote a grocery list, maybe it will show someone plucking seedless oranges from a stall. When you are satisfied, open the right drawer and deposit the photograph inside. Close the drawer. Write something new.
Some of you speculate: why this? There is a Central Limit Theorem passed around the water cooler: that, principally, God is Lazy; and, consequently, He can run the world minimally by merely averaging the opinions of one hundred billion individual dead. Are you surprised that there is no perfect system? No grand Rule? Think about it, but not too hard. Write something new.
Yes, your memories remain: as clear as they were before. Try not to focus on them. What is the point of memory, after all, once you are dead? To a first approximation it does not even exist: there is only the photograph: there is only the dribble of lucidity, mercifully thin, from your mind to the desk and back again.
If you indulge the memories, conjuring visions of friends and family, you may discover that your death—like everything else—is a disappointment. This is what happens when you die in the living room: you are forgotten. You are bought in a yard sale. You are donated to Goodwill. They are kind with the boxes, labeling you as a laptop or a fish tank. Old Christians cram you into a corner, behind the phonograph record boxes that are never purchased, never unpacked. Maybe it is better that way; to vanish into the black hole of memory. Let the glitter of the old days recede. Write something new.
The moments before death are often as bad. Maybe you didn’t see it coming, and the final moment is something benign cut short; or maybe you waited months for it, confined to a bed or rotating series of beds. Loved ones orbiting your cooling star, waiting to be released from your gravity into distant reaches. Either way, almost always, a disappointment. But at least you are left with an ending.
With practice you will forget even the most painful of your life’s moments. First to go will be the lost loves, entire futures that never appeared. Next will be the grave mistakes: the ways you hurt others, hurt yourself. Then the lesser missteps, which you worked around or through, and the successes, hills and valleys you traversed with some degree of momentum and dampening. This is the merciful order of things. Write something new.
You may never truly forget the centerpieces of your life: children especially cling to consciousness. (You’d have a better chance removing your living room fireplace bare-handed, brick by brick.) You may worry about leaving them behind. But don’t write about them. It won’t work, anyway; the system is not so granular.
If you are lucky, each thought you put to paper will leave you; so that, over time, you will empty yourself out, unpacking the troublesome and heavy, releasing it into the world like so many caged doves. What is the point of keeping it? Write something new. What is the point of contemplation, of painful memory, of shambling self?
Write something new. Maybe you will forget the way you spoke to your wife before you married her, or after you married her. Write something new. Maybe you will forget missing calls from your grandmother. Certainly you will forget your consternation, your anxiety, your nights of willed distraction. You will forget the incredible weight of being.
Write something new.
Maybe you will forget that you are from God, or, worse yet, he is all of you; and you couldn’t possibly know, much less forget, that souls can only be created, never destroyed—so that God, perhaps without realizing it, in the still of a primordial night, created a kaleidoscopic hall of Mandelbrot mirrors that can only grow more terrifying, splinter further, creating infinite complexity and doubt and connection and possibility and weight.
You feel only a pinprick, which makes this a paradise, or the closest approximation you will ever get.