A FIX ON HEAVEN
“It’s all angels and heaven and light and just peaceful.”
“It’s nothing like all the books and movies. Maybe just clouds and not having to work or worry about money. Like having the best dream where you don’t want to wake up.”
“In heaven, every day is Christmas and you get everything you want.”
The old ladies think it’s all those people they miss who died and they’re all their best, youngest selves without even any makeup.
You’re trying to get a fix on heaven and I’m trying to help, but heaven is hard to pin down especially since I wasn’t raised on it the way you were. Even if you did walk away or something worse. So I search the Internet, ask strangers, try to find the truth. It’s not like you can visit first to see if it’s even worth all the trouble. Or maybe you just want to know where you’re going to end up since you started doing only good things and flushed away all the whiskey and cigarettes, replaced them with poisons, radiation, bandages, wigs, machines.
There’s a lot of heaven on the Internet. There was that boy who said he'd been there after he died and came back, but it turned out he made it all up. Or maybe he made up the part where he made it all up to protect heaven from the rest of us who don’t belong there or even deserve to know.
You tried church for a while but it was too mean, too heavy and small and all about the past. You were looking for the future. You were looking for light. And it was so hard to get there when your body was so broken by something they couldn’t fix. How do you fix your body when it’s your body that’s killing you? Kill the other body that’s trying to grow in yours. Well, that’s what the doctors prescribe.
There are so many different heavens – the shopping-all-day-for-free heavens, the videogame heavens, the all-you-can-eat-and-never-get-fat heavens – I can’t even count them all. But people do seem to agree on where heaven is: Up. Just beyond the reach of our dirty fingers. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, rays of gold sunlight. Somewhere you have to fly or float to get to. Rockets would be involved.
Except that now we’ve all been there with machines and instruments we’ve seen the pictures. Not right inside heaven, but close enough to see the shape and curve of it, the blue circle of the world drawn around the black of everything else. If we could go there, all the way up, you’d see that heaven isn’t a place you can get to with rockets or prayers. It’s only the edge of what forever is. And sharp.
Our dog is dying at the foot of the bed, trying to dream herself and us into tomorrow. I sleep as lightly as I can to wake if she needs anything, resetting my clock to canine.
But it’s you who wakes me in the middle of the night barking, crawling over the comforter, your claws extended. When you won’t wake, I hold you, lightly at first, then clenching like a fist as you struggle, barking louder, growling, finally waking yourself with a hard shake. Eyes round you scan the room still on all fours, sniffing the air, whining. I ask what you were dreaming and you say, voice a quick wisp of fear, the dogs, they’re here, aren't they?, then collapse back into the sheets, the pillow, all the soft tools of sleep, leaving me to the dark and the dog thing still panting and twitching in her sleep, like this is the dream we need to wake ourselves from.
It's hours before I can find sleep and then I snatch only torn-off bits of it, waking at every sound, expecting dog pain or the end. The next morning you smile, suspicious. No I did not, you laugh, then joke: Maybe I was possessed. We laugh together then stop and look at our toast, drink our coffees, touch each other to make sure.
After breakfast I carry the skeleton fur down, dancing and turning so I don't knock her head, her tender paws on counters and corners. The day is cloudy, cast in that gray light that glows sticky from the air, the ground, everything but the heartless sun that doesn’t bother to rise. The yard is filled with the sharp brown blades of winter sticking up through muddy ground like a threat. The dog thing looks at me with cataract eyes, wags a little, then limps away on brittle legs and I can’t help it, I start crying again. You'll know when it's time, they say, but that's only ever true looking back. Now is never the right time for never again so I have hardened enough to insert needles, to hang jellyfish bags of IV fluid from door handles, to scratch behind soft ears until there is a full blister of fluid under skin and fur.
That night, I wait for you to rise up barking, wagging, dreaming, but you breathe through. The dog does too. I jerk awake the next night, but it's not panting or whining or dog sounds that woke me. It’s you or not you. I should shake you into consciousness, push you away, but your tongue is already on me, in me, lapping at fur, claws digging into my thighs. I should wake you but your eyes shine and I want this dream.
We stand around the hole panting, our shoes seized in freezing mud, all hollowed out and raw. It will take us hours to dig through the frozen ground to the place that's deep enough to hold all of her, and maybe not even then.
After you left I got this terrible headache. And my temper, it got so bad I snapped at the cats for things I thought they must have said, what that crook of the tail really meant. I'm not sure when I realized it was withdrawal, or if I did, but found myself lighting up from a pack you'd left behind.
I didn't smoke it, or at least I didn't inhale the white curling ghost that looked nothing like you. Just left it burning on the end of the scarred coffee table, filling up the room with something I needed. Something I had missed terribly with parts of me I hadn't even noticed, from the moment you walked out – this chemistry of paper and plant and other things, things manufactured, toxic things once translated by your body and exhaled to be consumed and locked tissue tight in my own.
I wonder – though sometimes it’s more like hope – if there is some chemical moment I managed to leave in you. A hint of shampoo, or the lotion I always used that you hated. The smell of too much garlic (you said I put too much in everything). Maybe you find yourself crying outside Italian restaurants. No. That's not like you.
I light several more, setting them on end in a loose circle, a smokehenge. Grayyellow haze finds all the empty spaces, coloring the walls and furniture with its nicotine beige. Ashes fall to the floor in whispers and sighs. This is something you would never leave behind, something you would have taken with you if you could.
I bring one to my lips, to feel its texture, knowing that somewhere else in this city your lips are touched just like this again and again. We are entangled across distance and city blocks whether you like it or not.
Collapsing back on the ugly green sofa that you insisted I buy and then left me with, I feel good for the first time in weeks. The headache is gone, the anger receding, the world contained within the limits of the half-empty apartment tastes just like that first kiss, all smoke and hazy heat waiting to be filled.
Melissa Moorer was struck by lightning when she was eight. Her work has been published in luminous journals like Tin House, Electric Lit, Hobart, The Offing, Cosmonaut's Avenue, The Butter/The Toast. She was Assistant-Editor at The Butter/The Toast where she wrote "This Writer's On Fire" for Roxane Gay. @knownforms if you twitter.