“Right, well, okay – I hope this doesn’t sound stupid, but I was hopin’ you could tell me what happened to me just now?”
“Certainly.” St. Peter turned to the desk and pulled a thick, leather-bound book onto his lap. He tipped it open and skimmed over the last page. “Let’s see . . . you were delivering an address of some sort to a joint session of parliament when –“
“Parliament?” George interrupted, scratching his head. “Oh, you mean congress.”
“Sure, okay. As I was saying, you were giving a speech when a group of Saudi terrorists flew over your Capitol building in an Iranian plane and detonated a North Korean atomic bomb. You were vaporized in mid-sentence.” St. Peter held the book up closer to his face and squinted at the page. “No harm done, though; it doesn’t look like you were really going anywhere with it.”
“Then all the members of the House and Senate were killed, too?”
“Oh, yes,” St. Peter said as he clapped the book shut and placed it back on the desk, “I’m afraid it’s going to be a very long day.”
George shuffled his feet, heaved a nervous sort of sigh. “What can I do for you, then?”
St. Peter rubbed his index finger under his nose. “George, I’ll be honest with you. When I first got here, I had to greet every new arrival personally. I had to read over what the book said about them, and then direct them accordingly. But now, we’ve streamlined things. It’s a much more efficient operation. Instead of leaving it to me to do one at a time, people are automatically sorted and directed, except for special cases. So the so-called Pearly Gates are a bit of an anachronism these days. Like your Ellis Island.”
George nodded along. “I don’t know what Ellis Island is, but I think I’m following you.”
“I hope so George, because what I’m getting at is this: you’re one of those special cases.”
“Oh. Well, okay then. Any special reason you chose me?”
“Chose you to be a special case? Oh, I didn’t choose you, George. That’s not within my authority. I’ve been instructed to escalate your case.”
George stared ahead vacantly for a moment. “Well, all right. As long as it’s not one of those old fashioned ones that chew you up if your pants leg gets caught at the top.”
St. Peter smiled graciously. “George, will you pardon me just one second?” He got up and walked back behind the desk. He sat down and removed a glass and a bottle from a drawer, and placed them on the desk in front of him. “No, you know what?” he said, and picked up the glass and put it back in the drawer. St. Peter opened the bottle and took a long, slow drink of the amber liquid inside. He exhaled sharply, recapped the bottle and returned it to the drawer. “George,” he said, folding his hands on the desk, “what I mean to say is that your case will be handled personally by the Creator.”
George swallowed. “Jesus? You mean Jesus wants to speak to me?”
“He’ll be there too, yes, but I was actually referring to God.”
“But they’re the same, just different persons of the one triune God. Ain’t they?”
St. Peter shook his head. “No, George, that’s completely wrong. But, I believe they’re ready for you, if you’d like to go on in now.”
George pointed at the gates. “Just go right through there?”
“That’s right, George, that’s the way. I’m glad to see that Harvard MBA wasn’t wasted on you.”
“You’re welcome, George,” St. Peter said with a smile. “Run along now.”
George pushed open the gleaming gates and stepped through them. He felt grass beneath his feet, and looked down to see a vast green lawn spreading out as far as he could see. Seated atop a distant hill were two figures, silhouetted against the sky. George walked up the hill to them. Seated to the right, in a beautifully carved wooden throne, was a bearded man with long white hair, his face lined with age, his eyes as patient and kind as George had ever seen. To the left, a stocky, deeply tanned younger man with curly black hair and a thick, uncombed beard. George licked his index finger and ran it across his eyebrows.
“George Walker Bush, born July 6, 1946 on the Gregorian calendar, 43rd President of the United States,” the older man said.
“Okay, that sounds about right,” George said.
“I’m God,” the older man abruptly announced.
“You’re my creator?” George asked, in awe.
“I created the universe. I had nothing to do with you.”
“Then where did I come from?” George asked. “Where did men come from, I mean?”
“From homo erectus, about 200,000 years ago,” the younger man said.
God gestured to the younger man. “George, I don’t believe you’ve met my son.”
George looked at the man seated at God’s right hand. Immediately he bowed his head. “Forgive me, Lord Jesus.” There was silence. George looked up. Jesus leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs and cracked the knuckles on his right hand. “Lord, if mankind really did evolve from monkeys, does that mean we don’t have souls? How can we have a soul if we’re not made in your image?”
“You didn’t evolve from monkeys,” God said. “At least, not directly. You obviously have a soul, because here you stand. And you are made in my image, as is every other conscious being in existence.”
George blinked. “Then, what about —”
“You’re not here to ask questions,” God said. “You started a war, didn’t you?”
“I retaliated after my country was attacked by terrorists.”
“Yes, in a limited military action in the nation of Afghanistan,” God said. “Wrong war. I was referring to the conflict in Iraq.”
“There was evidence of chemical or biological weapons, and a possible link between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terror network,” George explained.
“There was no such evidence and no such link,” God said. “You started a war, didn’t you?”
“Forgive me, Lord, but I suppose I did.”
“How do you feel about the veterans of your country’s military?”
“I hold them in the highest respect, of course.”
“Tell me, please, how many veterans of your military are currently homeless?”
George shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lord, but I don’t have that kind of information.”
“Over 200,000, is the answer,” God said.
“You were the chief executive of your country’s government.”
“Shouldn’t you have that kind of information?”
“Forgive me, Lord, but how could I possibly be as knowledgeable as you?”
“You don’t need to be omniscient, George,” God said. “I just Googled it. Did you know that numerous organizations have lobbied your legislature for assistance on this issue?”
“I was not aware of that, Lord.”
“Sending men and women into armed combat in a hostile location far from their homes and families, while hundreds of thousands of their fellow soldiers pass nights huddled in doorways or sleeping in dumpsters – these things don’t play on your conscience, George?”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to –”
“You invoked the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, quite often to justify any number of your administration’s policies, including the unrelated war in Iraq, as well as to rally supporters during your campaign for re-election. Yet you made no public statement of any kind regarding the homeless veterans living in your country. In fact, at one point you even proposed a decrease in pay for soldiers, didn’t you?”
“That wasn’t my –”
Jesus held up his hand. “George, did you do all these things or didn’t you?”
George looked down at the grass. He nodded.
“Then George – look at me, George,” Jesus said. George looked at him. “George, my question to you is, how the fuck can you have a soul?”
George looked to God. “If you give me a chance to make you understand, I can –”
“Don’t talk to him, George” Jesus commanded. “You’re talking to me now.” Jesus rose from his chair, removed his watch from his left wrist and gave it over to God. “I’ll handle this.” Jesus walked up to George and stared him dead in the eye. “You held the most powerful, visible, influential position in the entire world. You had the ability to affect positive changes that are usually totally out of an individual’s reach. Yet, you spoke more words against gay marriage than you did against poverty, or disease, or intolerance. And when humanity had more than enough wars already, you started another one.”
“Lord, please, I beg your –”
Jesus drew back and punched George in the side of the head. George fell backwards and rolled to the bottom of the hill. Jesus approached him and delivered a sharp kick to the ribs. “Drop that ‘Lord’ shit already. You call someone ‘Lord’ if you live on his land. I’ve never even been to Texas.” Jesus reached down and grabbed George by the hair. He yanked him to his feet. “Begging for mercy might be a good idea,” Jesus suggested.
“Jesus, please,” George cried, “if I had known the war and the veterans thing would have pissed you off so much, I would have done things different, I swear! Give me another chance and I can make it right!” George doubled over as Jesus punched him in the stomach.
“This isn’t It’s a Wonderful Life, motherfucker,” said Jesus before he took a step backwards and kicked George square in the side of the head, sending him spinning to the grass again. Jesus stood on his neck with one bare foot. “The war pisses me off, don’t get me wrong. But in case you’re wondering, the gay marriage thing is the real reason for the beat-down.”
“Why?” George managed to quack.
“Why? Let’s see, I lived with my mother until I was like 30, I never so much as kissed a girl on the cheek, and I traveled the world sleeping with twelve other dudes – you figure it out.” George’s eyes went wide as those little plates that you put under coffee cups – George couldn’t remember what they were called. Jesus pulled him to his feet again and shoved him back through the gates. He kicked George past St. Peter, seated calmly behind his desk, and over to the edge of the cloud. George looked over the edge. Below, he could see nothing, only endless yawning darkness. Jesus grabbed George by the collar and yanked him to his feet again. “It looks dark from up here, but trust me, you’ll have plenty of company down there.” Jesus pushed him forward until George felt his feet teeter-tottering on the edge. “And when you get there,” Jesus said, tapping himself on the chest, “you tell them it was courtesy of this kike faggot right here.”
Jesus shoved him into the abyss, stood there and watched him fall until there was just the infinite black. “Who’s next?” he asked St. Peter from the edge.
“Dick Cheney,” St. Peter answered, glancing at the big book.
Jesus turned around and walked back through the gates.
“Going to be a long day,” St. Peter said.
“Yes,” Jesus said, feeling the grass on his feet, “but a good one.”