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Dancing Angels


God@heaven.com

by Susannah Indigo





"You mean 'Thou shalt not kill' doesn't matter?"

God laughs. "Not exactly, Cassie. You can't go wrong obeying a Commandment. But haven't you ever noticed that the Commandments are a bit outdated?" God takes another sip of wine and so do I. "If those things were written by such an all-knowing God, why wouldn't things like 'Thou shalt not watch television and rot your brain' be included?"

I can't tell if God's joking. "Then why do you let this myth go on?"

"I give people splendid brains and souls and I expect them to be used. Anyone who would choose a two-thousand-year-old story over the real world is not using the gifts I gave them."

I want to take notes. "God, why am I here?"

Looking around God's living room, I notice there are no family pictures in sight, but there are lots of candles. Mostly black. Green velvet curtains drape the walls and ceiling. I imagine this is what an opium den must look like. An impressive wine rack covers the far wall. The top of the bookcases hold what looks like a hundred little music boxes, all decorated with little girls in pigtails and short skirts. The ebony- colored piano not far from where I sit sparkles in the candlelight. Does God play piano? Or just any instrument he wants? I can't help but notice a Good Vibrations catalog on the piano. God obviously has a fetish or two going.

"I need you," God says. "You'll see."

I certainly know how I got here. My 'Thelma and Louise' dreams, too many of them. Too many problems, too many visions of heading off a steep mountain road to take care of them. I didn't mean it. I swear I didn't. And I never imagined that I'd get to heaven at all, never mind be forced to remember all the details of my flaming departure from real life. I look down at my body. It's still young and intact -- a miracle.

God hugs me, as though my thoughts are visible. "By the way, Cassie, as I recall, the Ten Commandments thing got started in a creative writing class centuries ago. I think the exercise was 'Define the world as it should be.' They should have stuck with the 'write about sexual fruit' exercise."

I can't help but laugh. God is full of charm, almost as though he invented it.

I always rated people back in real life on how much attention they paid to my bookshelves. Anyone who could walk into my house and ignore my thousands of books was obviously missing a soul. Now I can't control my curiosity and I peek at God's bookcases. What does God read? Doesn't he know it all?

"Please, God, forgive me, but may I browse your books?"

He smiles, almost benevolently. "Of course, dear. I suspect you know that's one of The Three Suggestions."

"The Three Suggestions?"

"Yes, Cassie. Curiosity is number one. I give every child an unlimited curiosity and desire to learn. It's their job, along with their parents and teachers, to make sure they don't kill it off. Wasting my gifts -- that's the deadliest sin."

I was browsing as he spoke. Lots of poetry, the full works of Shakespeare, a shelf full of erotica, a wall of nothing but great fiction.

"Hey, God, you have great taste."

"I do."



When I leave God's living room he sends me down the path to Jimmy. I have in my hands a complete organizational chart of heaven. Jimmy, it says, is the Director of Small Sins.

The org chart is titled "God@heaven.com", which concerns me. How exactly did God get on the information highway? Maybe he gets AOL disks in the mail like everyone else. Images of God logged into hot chat rooms late at night make me laugh -- perhaps he uses his real name as a pseudonym.

A frantic looking little man sits in front of a bank of PCs, moving from keyboard to keyboard. "Jimmy?" I ask.

He looks me up and down. "Howdy, ma'am." He seems friendly. In fact, he looks like the average executive I used to work with on earth. Questions are boiling over in my mind.

"Jimmy, does killing people really not matter? Is there a Director of Big Sins too?"

"No. That's just God's little joke. He'd like to think that people are only small sinners." Jimmy frowns. "You're supposed to get a complete packet when you arrive that explains all of this."

Hey, this is just like my old life.

"Big sinners never make it here. They're just atomized when they go. There's no hell. What a bother that would be to keep track of. All this forgiveness crap they tout down on earth is hogwash -- sorry, kill somebody on purpose, even yourself, and you're atomized when you go. Not exactly cruel, just practical. If we could just figure out a way not to pass on some of those genes."

I decide to finally take notes. Maybe this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I killed myself on purpose, so I must have done something right somewhere in my old life to get this free field trip to heaven. I reach down inside the pocket of my big white silk shirt and find the notepad and pen I always carried there.

I look around. There's a list on a messy bulletin board over Jimmy's desk:

Top Ten Small Sins For 2001

10. Self-absorption
9. Mistaking laughtracks for humor
8. Neglecting to dance
7. Tuning out the voices of children
6. Less than one hour of music per day
5. Destroying your temple with Big Macs
4. Surfing the Web instead of the ocean
3. Running from love
2. Smug righteousness parading as religion
1. Forgetting to live while alive

"Jimmy, do you guys watch Letterman up here?"

He looks a bit chagrined. "Only when Nightline's not on."

"So, Jimmy, why am I here? I drove off a cliff, but I guess you know that. Shouldn't I be atomized?" My voice is calm as I discuss my being or nothingness. Once you've gone up in flames, everything else seems pretty ordinary.

"You're here to help us, Cassie. You became available and we need you."

"From what's happening on earth, I'd say you need a whole lot more than me. Do you guys know what's happening down there? And, hey, are there any women in charge up here?"

"Of course, Cassie. God's the original equal opportunity employer." Jimmy kicks back in his big black swivel chair and puts his feet up on his desk. "The truth, Cassie, is that we've got a bit of a snafu here."

Snafu? Does he know what this means?

"Yes, dear."

I forget that they can read my mind when they want to.

"Situation normal, all fucked up, indeed. The guy who made that up got the red carpet welcome to heaven, just for his imagination."

Obscenities and wine in heaven. Who would have guessed?

"It's our network. We're running Novell Version 3.14159265..., the infinite user version. But it's been fouled up for a long time. Every time I think it's fixed, zap, another disaster hits."

Now I get it. I made my living unscrambling organizations and designing networks back on earth. A consultant, they called me. Maybe my title makes God think I have all the time in the world.

"You're going to fix it for us, Cassie. But first, the dance."




God is handsome. I can't help it. He's wearing a tux and I have a weakness for men who can dress. God looks tall and strong, but he's bald. God's bald. My mind can't quite wrap around this concept. Everyone here is dressed to the nines, including me. Where were these people when I needed them in my rat-race life back on earth?

"What color would you like to wear, Cassie?" they asked me. "Red," I told them, "always red." I looked down and found myself in a red taffeta strapless gown worthy of Hollywood.

The music is perfect. It sounds live, but I can't tell where it's coming from. The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey" begins to play, and I dance to the rather appropriate words of "I will survive" with every man who asks me. I dance with the women too. There seem to be no limits here.

It's impossible to be depressed while you're dancing. How could I have forgotten this? More music, less thinking -- maybe that was all I ever needed. I remember. I remember the concerts at Red Rocks I never had time for, the music all around me that I forgot to hear. I remember the love I shied away from, the fears that ran my life. Most of all I remember the things I meant to do, the risks I should have taken, the heights I dreamed of reaching. I had gifts that I never even opened.

I don't know if anybody cries in heaven.com, so I slip into the ladies room to get a grip. I will survive. On the way out, I notice there are endless stalls and no line -- another miracle.

I get bold and ask God to dance. He does not step on my toes. "Is this a special event?" I ask him.

"No, it happens every night. There's always a reason to dance." He looks at me wisely and holds me a little closer. "Don't fear intimacy, Cassie, that's the second of the Three Suggestions. Take the risk and stay open to your feelings."

"Yes, God." What else can I possibly say. The room glimmers in reds and golds and silvers. "I've never seen so many mirror-balls, God. This room is spectacular."

"Thank you. I designed it myself about ten years ago. The whole head-of-a-pin thing didn't work out -- we were bumping into each other all the time."

It occurs to me that if I fix their network maybe they'll let me stay forever.

"Why me, God? Why not summon Bill Gates to help you?"

God snorts. "Bill Gates. I suppose he's too busy. Or else I'm too envious of him."

"Envious?"

"Yes, it's a tough job here sometimes. There are days I'd like to be a billionaire on earth and show off my imagination." God twirls me smoothly into the beat of the next song.

I hug him. I could get into this place. I'm not letting this guy go until I know some more. "What about prayer? What's the story? Why doesn't it always work?"

"Oh, Cassie, there's no way I can listen to everyone's prayers. I give you beauty and laughter and love. Prayers are for a sense of community and hope. I do answer all my email though, just like Mr. Gates."

I suddenly find that I am as joyful as a child and out of burning questions. I can almost remember what hope feels like.

"Relax and dance, dear," God whispers. "I can't explain everything. Hell, sometimes even I pray."



I spend days wandering around heaven looking at workstations, loading backups, taking notes. I've seen worse messes. I really know within a day exactly what their problem is. This scares me. How could I know more than God?

After a week of dancing in beautiful ballgowns, I start to feel guilty. I call a meeting with God and Jimmy and promise to reveal the problem. God shows up in shorts and sandals and dark sunglasses. He opens a bottle of champagne for us to share.

I don't even know how to approach this. I want to make it something more complex. I want to make it so profound that they'll let me stay here and dance forever because they can't go on without me. I want God to forget how I got here.

He smiles that damn benevolent smile, so I tell the truth quickly, before they start reading my mind. "You just need to upgrade your system. You have to move up from the Infinite Version to the Millennium Version 2.001. You must have forgotten to mail in your software registration cards."

God and Jimmy both laugh. "I guess we suffer a bit from the final of the Three Suggestions," God says a bit sheepishly. "St. Thomas Aquinas named it "acedia" for us -- inertia, laziness, forgetting to move forward when you need to. It can be deadly."

We finish the champagne and God walks me to the door.

"Thank you, Cassie. I know you'd like to stay here. I'm sorry, you can't, but I'm a nice guy. I'll let you go back to your old life and try again if you promise me one thing."

"Yes?" I'll do anything. I want to live. It's that simple.

"Don't waste your gifts. Live by The Three and your spirit can be as alive on earth as it has been here."

"I promise, God. I'll miss you."

"You can email me, Cassie. You can even log into heaven.com if you want to visit."

This is great. "What's the password?"

"Love."





©2001 by Susannah Indigo
Indigo

Susannah Indigo is the editor of Slow Trains. God@heaven.com was a finalist in the Moondance International Film Festival's short story division in 2000.

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