Over The Bridge and Back
John W. Smithwick
“What happened, Alley?”
Alley lifted her head. His voice sounded distant even though he was sitting just across the table from her.
She forced her eyes open and blinked a couple of times. Slowly, he came into focus. He was young; he could have been in college. His dark hair was shoulder length and he was wearing a white pullover shirt. She noticed the shirt had no pocket. Why would she notice that, she wondered.
His voice was stronger now. She straightened at its sound and placed her hands on the table, locking her fingers.
“Answer me, Alley. What happened?”
She glanced away trying to remember. She slowly shook her head. “I wish… I mean… I don’t know.” She exhaled and rested against the back of the chair. She unlocked her fingers and pulled her hands back and rested them on her lap. “It happened so fast. Slipping like I did. I had no chance to react. It was quick, too. I remember that. So quick.” Her voice grew softer. “No chance.”
The man silently studied her. “What is he waiting for?” she thought. “What else am I suppose to say?”
“You said you slipped. Tell me about that.”
Alley closed her eyes and started to visualize the events of the day.
“It was my sister’s wedding anniversary. Five years. She and Bob. There was a small party aboard their boat. Just family. We were on the river anchored off Point Hamilton, just having fun.”
“Were you drinking?”
“Yes. But I’m 19. I’m allowed to drink.” Alley paused for a moment then continued. “I had a couple of beers but that’s all. I wasn’t drunk. I want you to know that.”
“Anyway, I had already been in the river a couple of times and was getting ready to go in a third time when I slipped.”
“Were you a good swimmer?” he interrupted.
“Yes. I’m on the college swim team. I love the water. People would joke and say I must have been a fish in a past life.” She grinned. “I would answer, maybe.”
He smiled. “Probably not.”
Alley grew more serious. “I slipped. I remember now. Everyone was at the stern of the boat but I was near the bow. I decided to go into the river for another swim. I started to climb over the railing when I felt my foot slip on the wet deck. I went over head first.” She touched the side of her head. “I remember hitting my head and falling into the water on my back. The wind got knocked of me and I started to sink.”
Alley started to cry. “And I sank, and sank. I remember seeing the bottom of the boat. And the fish. A lot of fish. And then…”
“Nothing. Until I heard your voice and opened my eyes.”
Her eyes widened as her mind processed the seriousness of the events. She quickly looked around. “I’m really dead, aren’t I? God, I don’t believe it.” She caught herself. “I’m sorry. Can I say that?”
He smiled. “That’s ok.”
“Then I’m dead?”
“Are you God?”
The man grinned. “No. But you may call me Peter.”
Alley again looked around. She felt she was in a room but could see no walls. Nor door. The room was bright but when she looked up, she saw no light. Nor a ceiling, for that matter. She saw and touched the bare table, the chair she was sitting on and the tile floor that went on forever, until it ended at the walls she couldn’t see. She saw Peter who looked real enough. “This is heaven?”
“It can be, if that’s what you want.”
“But aren’t there suppose to be clouds and harps and angels?”
Peter laughed. “You may have the clouds and harps if you’d like, but I’m afraid angels have other work to do.”
Alley was puzzled.
“Alley, heaven is what you make it. It’s what you believe in. You create your heaven when alive. Some believe heaven is gold streets and mansions. Others believe it is like a school with history books where you review your life and confront your sins. Some believe it’s where you strive for perfection. Others believe it’s where you meet those who passed before you and you rekindle past friendships. For others, eternal love or bliss, or the knowledge of dark eyed virgins. For some it is all those things, or just some. Heaven is both limitless and limited. Heaven can by anything within the boundary of your mind. There are no surprises in heaven. It’s what you’ve created though you may not realize it.
“Do you mean heaven is what I imagine it to be?”
“Can I change my mind if I don’t like it?”
“That won’t be necessary if you’re true to your thoughts.”
Alley grinned. “But no clouds or harps.”
Peter suddenly became serious. “Clouds and harps are fine if you think eternity is a cartoon,” He paused, then continued. “I know what you want. I know what everyone wants. I’m here to help them find it.”
“Do you mean people sometimes choose the wrong thing?”
“There are many kinds of hell,” he answered.
“Do I have to decide now?”
“Time doesn’t exist here, so take as much of it as you need.”
Peter stood. “You already know what you want. All you have to do is realize it.”
“I want to be with my family,” she cried.
Peter smiled. “We will meet again.” He then turned and walked away. Alley watched as he disappeared into the wall that wasn’t there.
Bob cautiously peaked into the hospital room. As a first-time father he wasn’t sure if there was etiquette he should follow. He didn’t want to startle his wife, nor did he want to disturb her if she was resting.
Carole saw his mass of hair even before his face. “What are you peeking at,” she joked. “Come in and say hello to your new daughter.”
Bob entered and went to her bed. Carole pulled back the blanket shielding the baby girl’s round, red and smiling face. Bob extended a finger and gently touched her cheek. “I think she smiled,” he exclaimed. He touched her again. “She did!”
Carole raised the blanket-wrapped baby and handed her to Bob. “Here. Hold your baby daughter.”
Bob took her and gently rested her in his arms. “She’s beautiful. Just like her mother.” He handed her back to Carole. “What are we going to name her?”
“I’d like to name her Alley, after my sister.”
“I like that,” Bob answered. “Maybe she’ll be a swimmer, too.” He brushed back the few strands of hair that had fallen across the baby’s forehead. “When you get older we’re going to have to tell you all about your aunt Alley. She would have loved you.”
"I just wished she was here," Carole added.
Bob leaned over to kiss his wife's forehead. "I'm sure she's watching."
If either had noticed, they would have sworn that baby Alley smiled.
John W. Smithwick is a writer living in Florida.