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Heaven and Hell


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I would like to dedicate this story to Dr. Richard Erno.  Wherever you are, Dr. Erno, thanks.
  Heaven and Hell

                                                            2000 Linda Eisele-Lockett


     Dr. Erno had not been a religious man, so, after he died, he was surprised to find himself, uh, not exactly conscious, but aware.  He had no body, but he had intelligence and he could feel.  He couldn't feel heat or cold, exactly, but he could feel emotions: satisfaction, joy, regret.  His awareness alternated between something like unawareness, which might be the equivalent of what people wished for him when they said, "May he rest in peace," and awareness.  The state of awareness was evoked by two circumstances: either someone called him, or someone's life was experiencing the direct effects of the consequences of his existence.

     Having had children, Dr. Erno was aware a lot for many years.  He had been a good father.  When his oldest daughter had her baby, she named it after him.  He had been aware, then, and it felt like heaven.  When his son died, he was aware of that, and it felt like hell. 

     During the first year, he was aware a lot because everybody was calling him.  They were grieving, and that was hell.  He wished he had known about death in advance; had been able to let them know what was coming.  But how could he? 

     When his wife packed up his clothes and gave them to the Good Will and when she bought new pictures to hang on the walls, he was aware, and, strangely, that felt like heaven. 

     He had had students for years teaching creative writing classes at a large university.  Once, a former student published a book, dedicating it to him.  He was aware that his influence had led to the young man's success and that was heaven.

     After the first year, the calls and events came less frequently.  Months went by before anyone thought of him or before something he had done had a ripple effect where an event could be directly attributed to him.  His grandchildren didn't know him.  Great grandchildren came.  He was only vaguely aware when they were born.  There was one whose mother named it after him and he felt that.

     Many years later, Dr. Erno was aware of a faint call from far away.  One of his descendents?  No, they were fine.  Somewhere on earth across a great ocean in a foreign land where people didn't even speak English, he heard someone whisper,  "Dr. Erno.He felt someone's sense of deep and utter loss.  As his awareness grew, he recognized a woman by her spirit.  She was that girl from his creative writing class.  She must be over sixty.  He heard her again:  "I've been reading your stories.  Why didn't I read them before?  They are perfect.  I found one line in the seventh which didn't belong, but otherwise there is not a word out of place.  I remember when you told us how a poem is like a drop of water hanging at the end of the tap in the moment just before it falls, when the balance between surface tension and gravity peak.  How I wish I could talk to you.  I have learned so much.  I have been writing for years.  We were so much alike, but I never knew it.  You left behind your stories.  Now I see them.  Too late.  I cannot tell you how I feel,"  she wept.

     After all these years of peace, Dr. Erno knew once again the taste of heaven.

The events in this story are fictional.  Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is simply good luck.