fiction by Michael. C. Keith
There are three constants in life . . . change, choice, and principles.
–– Stephen Covey
Sigmund Alsop fell from the cloud he’d been assigned and landed on Grace Coulter. Fortunately for her, it was a gentle landing. Unfortunately for Sigmund, it was the third time he’d toppled to Earth from Heaven’s anteroom . . . and in just his first day.
“You’ve put yourself at a great disadvantage, Mr. Alsop,” said St. Peter. “Even up here, three strikes and you’re out.”
“But what about a compassionate and forgiving God? I didn’t fall intentionally. Clouds don’t offer much support . . . your holiness.”
“Sorry, rules are rules, and even though this is Heaven, there has to be process and order.”
“So, you’re saying I now have to remain where I’ve fallen?”
“Until you comply with what’s expected of you. Yes, I’m afraid that’s the way it works.”
“But I don’t even know this woman.”
“You’ll have to get to know her, Mr. Alsop. According to our records, she’s quite a nice person. Single, too, and not hard to look at. You know what’s required if you hope to get back in line again.”
“But I’m not sure I can do it.”
“Well, then you’ll just have to stay in Limbo. I guess there are worst things, although I can’t imagine what they’d be.”
“Mr. Peter . . . ah, I mean Saint Peter, . . . isn’t there anything else I can do to get back up there?”
“No. This is what you must do. There’s no other option, except to remain in a state of abeyance.”
“So I have to find out what her innermost desire is and then make it happen?”
“That’s right. That’s exactly what you must do in order to queue up for Heaven yet again. Good luck, Mr. Alsop.”
* * *
With that, Sigmund found himself alone in a grassy field with the woman he had dropped on. He carefully removed himself from atop her plumpish body and watched as she rose and tried to regain her balance.
“What happened? Who are you? Did you . . .?”
“Please, don’t be afraid. You apparently fell down. I just came to see if you’re okay. I was walking by when you, ah . . . slipped. You don’t seem to have any injuries.”
The woman stood and straightened her dress and ran her fingers through her tousled hair.
“I have been feeling a little lightheaded lately. Maybe I passed out . . . fainted. All of a sudden it felt like a great weight pressed down on me. I seem to be okay though,” said Grace, inspecting her legs and arms for any damage.
“My name is Sig Alsop.”
“Well, thank you for helping. I’m Grace Coulter.”
“So, Grace, is there anything I can do for you? Maybe you should sit and rest for a bit before moving along.”
“Perhaps you’re right. I do still feel a little woozy.”
“There’s a bench,” Sigmund point out. “I’ll join you for a second to make sure you’re okay, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not. I really appreciate your coming to my aid.”
The two sat and made small talk, mostly about the lovely fall weather. Eventually, their conversation deepened, and before long they had learned a lot about each other. It turned out both had owned small retail businesses, and Grace had recently sold hers and was in the middle of trying to figure out what to do next.
“So, do you still have you frame shop, Mr. Alsop?” she asked.
“Ah, no,” replied Sigmund, realizing he could hardly tell her the truth––that he had died of a heart attack just the day before. “I let my son take it over, so I’m sort of where you’re at, Grace. Trying to figure out what to do next with my . . .”
“Life? It’s sure funny, isn’t it? One day you think you have it all figured out, and the next day . . . well, then you realize . . . “
“That you don’t. I thought I had all the answers, and then bam, I’m de . . .”
“I mean, you’re not even sure what the big picture is . . . or the small one, for that matter,” chuckled Sigmund nervously.
Grace looked at her watch, and Sigmund wondered what to say next to keep them engaged. To his great relief, he didn’t have to come up with something of his own.
“Would you care to have coffee, Mr. Alsop? May I call you Sig? I hope you don’t think I’m too forward, because I’m certainly not. But . . . ”
“Yes, please call me Sig, and coffee would be great. I could use a cup. There’s a little café across from the park down the street. I think it’s called . . .”
“Jake’s. I go there often.”
“Oh, yes . . . Jake’s. I’ve been there a couple times myself.”
* * *
Over the next week, Sigmund and Grace met up twice more and had become quite taken with one another. Neither had ever been married, nor had they enjoyed a truly fulfilling relationship.
“It’s so nice to have met you, Sig. We have so much in common. It’s just amazing the way it happened,” said Grace, smiling warmly at him.
“It’s more amazing than you know, Grace. I never expected things would end up this way.”
“You don’t believe in fate?”
“I think I do now. I certainly should after the way you came into my life. Kind of a divine miracle, you could say.”
It was at their next meeting that Grace made a profound admission. “You’re the answer to my prayers, Sig. I’ve always wanted to fall in love. It was my fondest wish, and now I have.”
Sigmund admitted that he felt strongly toward her and was grateful to have met someone to truly love as well.
“Let’s get married, Grace!” blurted Sigmund, in a moment of heady exuberance.
Grace accepted with unbridled joy, and the two began to make plans for a future together. That evening, however, Sigmund had a visitor.
“Congratulations, Mr. Alsop, you did what was expected. You’ve fulfilled someone’s dream, and for that you may now return to your place in the queue,” said St. Peter.
“Oh, but I’m . . . in love, so I’m wondering . . . ”
“I’m afraid that’s quite impossible, Mr. Alsop.”
“But if I leave, Grace will be devastated, and the happiness I brought her will be taken away. Surely that’s not a Christian thing to do. In fact, I would think it’s a great sin to hurt her so much.”
“Hmm . . . well, I do see your point,” stammered St. Peter, “But the decision is not mine. It’s, you know . . . His. Let me get back to you.
* * *
Sigmund waited anxiously for a ruling, which to his great relief came quickly. In the mere minutes that had passed, he had reexamined his situation.
“Well, Mr. Alsop, a conclusion has been reached in your matter,” said St. Peter.
Sigmund clasped his hands in eager anticipation.
“It has long been held that when one has found Grace, one has found Heaven, and you quite literally have found Grace. So the decision is yours. Remain here with Miss Coulter or get back in line. However, you’ve clearly made a righteous choice.”
Sigmund hesitated for a moment and then made a surprising declaration.
“Actually, I’ve decided to opt for Heaven. Grace will just have to deal with it.”
“Really, Mr. Alsop? Are you sure?
“Yes, yes . . . I’m sure.”
Well, in that case, you can queue up again, but not in the same line you were in. Your new line now leads below.”