The Stepping-Off Place by Brendan Scott
I have this recurring day dream where I’ve died and gone to heaven.
I’m standing in line, in the clouds, though the footing is firm enough. My hands are sweaty. My heart is playing the kettle drum. I see the gates gleaming.* A line of people stretches out behind me horizon-like into eternity. Just ahead of me stands Adolph Hitler and just behind slumps Jeffery Dahmer.
Not good company, but maybe good placement, I think. I’m a saint compared to these guys.
Just then I hear my name.
“Eugene, Eugene C. Scott.” The angel sings my name like notes off a blues guitar and waves me forward, smiling.
“Here! Here I am!” I shout, flapping my arms, ducking out of line, and running through the gate, leaving Adolph and Jeffery behind.
Then the day dream reverses and darkens.
I’m on the same cloud, in line, heart stuttering, sweat dripping. This time I’m in line between Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Good company, but bad placement, I think. No saint compared to these two.
I square my shoulders and stand straighter like my mom used to tell me to. But it does no good. I know I’ll never measure up.
I hear a sound like nails on a chalkboard. “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott?” The angel is pointing like the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.” Away from the streets of gold, I slink.
The dream comes one final time.
The gates rise in the distance. People are scattered about. There are blue patches in the clouds and through them, I see home, my last home. Not wanting to fall through, I move away and bump into someone.
“Sorry,” I mutter. He grabs me. I look. It’s a dark skinned man with a beard.
“Jesus,” I say (not like the cuss word, though, like the name). “You’re not British.”
His face crinkles into a smile.
“What are you doing out here?” I ask, peering at the gates.
Just then the blues guitar plays my name: “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott!”
Jesus pulls me under his arm.
“He’s with me!” he shouts and walks me through the gates.
*I realize heaven may or may not be in the clouds and that the streets of gold and gates of pearl are probably metaphors to help us see that what is valued here is building material there. But bear with me.