When the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
THE WIND whipped me around, and I saw no more of the graves. By the time I was faced down again the ground was no longer in sight - just a boiling cloud glowing inside with a great light, amber and saffron and powder blue and green gold. I continued to search for Margrethe, but few people drifted near me and none was she. Never mind, the Lord would protect her. Her temporary absence could not dismay me; we had taken the only important hurdle together.
I thought about that hurdle. What a near thing! Suppose that old mare had thrown a shoe and the delay had caused us to reach that point on the road an hour later than we did? Answer: We would never have reached it. The Last Trump would have sounded while we were still on the road, with neither of us in a state of grace. Instead of being caught up into the Rapture, we would have gone to Judgment unredeemed, then straight to Hell.
Do I believe in predestination?
That is a good question. Let's move on to questions I can answer. I floated above those clouds for a time unmeasured by me. I sometimes saw other people but no one came close enough for talk. I began to wonder when I would see our Lord Jesus - He had promised specifically that He would meet us 'in the air'.
I had to remind myself that I was behaving like a little child who demands that Mama do it now and is answered, 'Be patient, dear. Not yet.' God's time and mine were not the same; the Bible said so. Judgment Day had to be a busy time and I had no concept of what duties Jesus had to carry out. Oh, yes, I did know of one; those graves opening up reminded me. Those who had died in Christ (millions? billions? more?) were to go first to meet our Father Who art in Heaven, and of course the Lord Jesus would be with them on that glorious occasion; He had promised them that.
Having figured out the reason for the delay, I relaxed. I was willing to wait my turn to see Jesus... and when I did see Him, I would ask Him to bring Margrethe and me together.
No longer worried, no longer hurried, utterly comfortable, neither hot nor cold, not hungry, not thirsty, floating as effortlessly as a cloud, I began to feel the bliss that had been promised. I slept.
I don't know how long I slept. A long time - I had been utterly exhausted; the last three weeks had been grinding. Running a hand across my face told me that I had slept a couple of days or more; my whiskers had reached the untidy state that meant at least two days of neglect. I touched my breast pocket - yes, my trusty Gillette, gift of Marga, was still buttoned safely inside. But I had no soap, no water, no mirror.
This irritated me as I had been awakened by a bugle call (not the Great Trumpet - probably just one wielded by an angel on duty), a call that I knew without being told meant, 'Wake up there! It is now your turn.'
It was indeed - so when the 'roll was called up yonder' I showed up with a two-day beard. Embarrassing!
Angels handled us like traffic cops, herding us into the formations they wanted. I knew they were angels; they wore wings and white robes and were heroic in size - one that flew near me was nine or ten feet tall. They did not flap their wings (I learned later that wings were worn only for ceremony, or as badges of authority). I discovered that I could move as these traffic cops directed. I had not been able to control my motions earlier; now I could move in any direction by volition alone.
They brought us first into columns, single file, stretched out for miles (hundreds of miles? thousands?). Then they brought the columns into ranks, 'twelve abreast - these were stacked in layers, twelve deep. I was, unless I miscounted, number four in my rank, which was stacked three layers down. I was about two hundred places back in my column - estimated while forming up - but I could not guess how long the column was.
And we flew past the Throne of God.
But first an angel positioned himself in the air about fifty yards off our left flank. His voice carried well. 'Now hear this! You will pass in review in this formation. Hold' your position at all times. Guide on the creature on your left, the creature under you, and the one ahead. of you. Leave ten cubits between ranks and between layers, five cubits, elbow to elbow in ranks. No crowding, no breaking out of ranks, no, slowing down as we pass the Throne. Anybody breaking flight discipline will be sent to the tail end of the flight... and I'm warning you now, the Son might be gone by then, with nobody but Peter or Paul or
some other saint to receive the parade. Any questions?'
"How much is a cubit?'
'Two cubits is one yard. Any creature in this cohort who does not know how long a yard is?'
No, one spoke up. The angel added, 'Any more questions?'
A woman to my left and above me called out, 'Yes! My. daughter didn't have her cough medicine with her. So I fetched it. Can you take it to her?'
'Creature, please accept my assurance that any cough your daughter manages to take with her to Heaven will be purely psychosomatic.'
'But her doctor said -'
'And in the meantime shut up and let's get on with this parade. Special requests can be filed after arriving in Heaven.'
There were more questions, mostly silly, confirming an opinion I had kept to myself for years: Piety does not imply horse sense.
Again the trumpet sounded; our cohort's flightmaster called out, 'Forward!' Seconds later there was a single blast; he shouted, 'Fly!' We moved forward.
(Note: I call this angel 'he' because he seemed male.
Ones that seemed to be female I refer to as 'she'. I never have been sure about sex in an angel. If any. I think they are androgynous but I never had a chance to find out. Or the courage to ask.)
(Here's another one that bothers me. Jesus had brothers and sisters; is the Virgin Mary still a virgin? I have never had the courage to ask that question, either.)
We could see His throne for many miles ahead. This was not the great white Throne of God the Father in Heaven; this was just a field job for Jesus to use on this occasion. Nevertheless it was magnificent, carved out of a single diamond with its myriad facets picking up Jesus' inner light and refracting it in a shower of fire and ice in all directions. And that is what I saw best, as the face of Jesus shines with such blazing light that, without sun glasses, you can't really see His features.
Never mind; you knew Who He was. One could not help knowing. A feeling of overpowering awe grabbed me when we were still at least twenty-five miles away. Despite my professors of theology, for the first time in my life I understood (felt) that single emotion that is described in the Bible by two words used together: love and fear. I loved/feared the Entity on that throne, and now I knew why Peter and James had abandoned their nets and followed Him.
And of course I did not make my request to Him as we passed closest (about a hundred yards). In my life on earth I had addressed (prayed to) Jesus by name thousands of times; when I saw Him in the Flesh I simply reminded myself that the angel herding us had. promised us a chance to file personal requests when we reached Heaven. Soon enough. In the meantime it pleased me to think about Margrethe, somewhere in this parade, seeing the Lord Jesus on His throne... and if I had not intervened, she might never have seen Him. It made me feel warm and good, on top of the ecstatic awe I felt in staring at His blinding light.
Some miles past the throne the column swung up and to the right, and we left the neighborhood first of earth and then of the solar system. We headed straight for Heaven and picked up speed.
Did you know that earth looks like a crescent moon when you look back at it? I wondered whether or not any flat-earthers had managed to attain the Rapture. It did not seem likely, but such ignorant superstition is not totally incompatible with believing in Christ. Some superstitions are absolutely forbidden - astrology, for example, and Darwinism. But the flat-earth nonsense is nowhere forbidden that I know of. If there were any flat-earthers with us, how did they feel to look back and see that the earth was round as a tennis ball?
(Or would the Lord in His mercy let them perceive it as flat? Can mortal man ever understand the viewpoint of God?)
It seemed to take about two hours to reach the neighborhood of Heaven. I say 'seemed to' because it might have been any length of time; there was no human scale by which to judge. In the same vein, the total period of the Rapture seemed to me to be about two days... but I had reason later to believe that it may have been seven years - at least by some reckoning. Measures of time and space become very slippery when one lacks mundane clocks and' yardsticks.
As we approached the Holy City our guides had us slow down and then make a sightseeing sweep around it before going in through one of the gates.
This was no minor jaunt. New Jerusalem (Heaven, the Holy City, Jehovah's capital) is laid out foursquare like the District of Columbia, but it is enormously bigger, one thousand three hundred and twenty miles on a side, five thousand two hundred and eighty miles around it, and that gives an area of one million seven hundred and forty-two thousand four hundred square miles.
This makes cities like Los Angeles or New York look tiny.
In solemn truth the Holy City covers an area more than six times as big as all of Texas! At that, it's crowded. But are, expecting only a few more after us.
It's a walled city, of course, and the walls are two hundred and sixteen feet high, and the same wide. The tops of the wall are laid out in twelve traffic lanes - and no guard rails. Scary. There are twelve gates, three in each wall, the famous pearly gates (and they are); these normally stand open - will not be closed, we were told, until the Final Battle.
The wall itself is of iridescent jasper but it has a dozen footings in horizontal layers that are more dazzling than the wall itself: sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, amethyst - I may have missed some. New Jerusalem is so dazzling everywhere that it is hard for a human to grasp it - impossible to grasp it all at once.
When we finished the sweep around the Holy City, our cohort's flightmaster herded us, into a holding pattern like dirigibles at O'Hare and kept us there until he received a signal that one of the gates was free - and I was hoping to get at least a glimpse of Saint Peter, but no - his office is at the main gate, the Gate of Judah, whereas we went in by the opposite gate, named for Asher, where we were registered by angels deputized to act for Peter.
Even with all twelve gates in use and dozens of Peter deputized clerks at each gate and examination waived (since we all were caught up at the Rapture - guaranteed saved) we had to queue up quite a long time just to get registered in, receive temporary identifications, temporary bunking assignments, temporary eating assignments -
Yes, I thought so, too, and I asked the angel who booked me about it. He/she looked down at me. 'Refection is optional. It will do you no harm never to eat and not to drink. But many creatures and some angels 'enjoy eating, especially in company. Suit yourself.'
'Thank you. Now about this berthing assignment. It's a single. I want a double, for me and my wife. I want -'
'Your former wife, you mean. In Heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage. I
'Huh? Does that mean we can't live together?'
'Not at all. But both of you must apply, together, at Berthing General. See the office of Exchange and Readjustments. Be sure, each of you, to fetch your berthing chit.'
'But that's the problem! I got separated from my wife. How do I find her?'
'Not part of my M.0.S. Ask at the information booth. In the meantime use your singles apartment in Gideon Barracks.'
He (she?) sighed. 'Do you realize how many thousands of hours I have been sitting here? Can you guess how complex it is to provide for millions of creatures at once, some alive and never dead, others newly incarnate? This is the first time we have had to install plumbing for the use of fleshly creatures - do you even suspect how inconvenient that is? I say that, when you install plumbing, you are bound to get creatures who need plumbing - and there goes the neighborhood! But did they listen to me? Hunh! Pick up your papers, go through that door, draw a robe and a halo - harps are optional. Follow the green line to Gideon Barracks.'
I saw his (her) lips move; she (he) may have been praying. 'Do you think it is proper to run around Heaven, looking the way you do? You are quite untidy. We aren't used to living-flesh creatures. Uh... Elijah is the last I recall, and I must say that you look almost as disreputable as he did. In addition to discarding those rags and putting on a decent white robe, if I were you I would do something about that dandruff.'
'Look,' I said tensely. 'Nobody knows the trouble I've Seen, nobody knows but Jesus. While you've been sitting around in a clean white robe and a halo in an immaculate City with streets of gold, I've been struggling with Satan himself. I know I don't look very neat but I didn't choose to come here looking this way. Uh - Where can I pick up some razor blades?'
'Razor blades. Gillette double-edged blades, or that type. For this.' I took out my razor, showed it to her/him. 'Preferably stainless steel.'
'Here everything is stainless. But what in Heaven is that?'
'A safety razor. To take this untidy beard off my face.'
'Really? If the Lord in His wisdom had intended His male creations not to have hair on their faces, He would have created them with smooth features. Here, let me dispose of that.' He-she reached for my razor.
I snatched it back. 'Oh, no, you don't! Where's that information booth?'
'To your left. Six hundred and sixty miles. ' She-he sniffed.
I turned away, fuming. Bureaucrats. Even in Heaven. I didn't ask any more questions there because I spotted a veiled meaning. Six hundred and sixty miles is a figure I recalled from our sightseeing tour: the exact distance from a center gate (such as Asher Gate, where I was) to the center of Heaven, i.e., the Great White Throne of the Lord God Jehovah, God the Father. He (she) was telling me, none too gently, that if I did not like the way I was being treated, I could take my complaints to the Boss - i.e., 'Get lost!'
I picked up my papers and backed away, looked around for someone else in authority.
The one who organized this gymkhana, Gabriel or Michael or whoever, had anticipated that there would be lots of creatures milling around, each with problems that didn't quite fit the system. So scattered through the crowd were cherubs. Don't think of Michelangelo or Luca della Robbia; these were not bambinos with dimpled knees; these were people a foot and a half taller than we newcomers were like angels but with little cherub wings and each with a badge reading 'STAFF'.
Or maybe they were indeed angels; I never have been sure about the distinction between angels and cherubim and seraphim and such; the Book seems to take it for granted that you know such things without being told. The papists list nine different classes of angels! By whose authority? It's not in the Book!
I found only two distinct classes in Heaven: angels and humans. Angels consider themselves superior and do not hesitate to let you know it. And they are indeed superior in position and power and privilege. Saved souls are second-class citizens - The notion, one that runs all through Protestant Christianity and maybe among papists as well, that, a saved soul will practically sit in the lap of God well, it ain't so! So you're saved and you go to Heaven you find at once that you are the new boy on the block, junior to everybody else.
A saved soul in Heaven occupies much the position of a blackamoor in Arkansas. And it's the angels who really rub your nose in it.
I never met an angel I liked.
And this derives from how they feel about us. Let's look at it from the angelic viewpoint. According to Daniel there are a hundred million angels in Heaven. Before the Resurrection and the Rapture, Heaven must have been uncrowded, a nice place to live and offering a good career - some messenger work, some choral work, an occasional ritual. Fm sure the angels liked it.
Along comes a great swarm of immigrants, many millions (billions?), and some of them aren't even house-broken. All of them require nursemaiding. After untold eons of beatific living, suddenly the angels find themselves working overtime, running what amounts to an enormous orphan asylum. It's not surprising that they don't like us.
Still... I don't like them, either. Snobs!
I found a cherub (angel?) with a STAFF badge and asked the location of the nearest information booth. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. 'Straight down the boulevard Six thousand furlongs. It's by the River that flows from the Throne.'
I stared down the boulevard. At that distance God the Father on His Throne looked like a rising sun. I said, 'Six thousand furlongs is over six hundred miles. Isn't there one in this neighborhood?'
'Creature, it was done that way on purpose. If we had placed a booth on each corner, every one of them would have crowds around it, asking silly questions. This way, a creature won't make the effort unless it has a truly important question to ask.'
Logical. And infuriating. I found that I was again possessed by unheavenly thoughts. I had always pictured Heaven as a place of guaranteed beatitude - not filled with the same silly frustration so common on earth. I counted to ten in English, then in Latin. 'Uh, what's the flight time? Is there a speed limit?'
'Surely you don't think that you would be allowed to fly there, do you?'
'Why not? Just earlier today I flew here and then all the way around the City.'
'You just thought you did. Actually, your cohort leader did it all. Creature, let me give you a tip that may keep you out of trouble. When you get your wings - if you ever do get wings - don't try to fly over the Holy City, You'll be grounded so fast your teeth will ache. And your wings stripped away.'
'Because you don't rate it, that's why. You Johnny-Come-Latelies show up here and think you own the place. You'd carve your initials in the Throne if you could get that close to it. So let me put you wise. Heaven operates by just one rule: R.H.I.P. Do you know what that means?'
'No,' I answered, not entirely truthfully.
'Listen and learn. You can forget the Ten Commandments. Here only two or three of them still apply and you'll find you can't break those even if you were to' try. The golden rule everywhere in Heaven is: Rank Hath Its Privileges. At this eon you are a raw recruit in. the Armies of the Lord, with the lowest rank possible. And the least privilege. In fact the only privilege I can think of that you rate is being here, just being here. The Lord in His infinite wisdom has decreed that you qualify to enter here. But that's all. Behave yourself and you will be allowed to stay. Now as to the traffic rule you asked about. Angels and nobody else fly over the Holy City. When on duty or during ceremonies. That does not mean you. Not even if you get wings. If you do. I emphasize this because a surprising number of you creatures have arrived here with the delusion that going to Heaven automatically changes a creature into an angel. It doesn't. It can't. Creatures never become angels. A saint sometimes. Though seldom. An angel, never.'
I counted ten backwards, in'Hebrew. 'If you don't mind, I'm still trying to reach that information booth. Since I am not allowed to fly, how do I get there?'
'Why didn't you say that in the first place? Take the bus.'
Sometime later I was seated in a chariot bus of the Holy City Transit Lines and we were rumbling toward the distant Throne. The chariot was open, boat-shaped, with an entrance in the rear, and had no discernible motive power and no teamster or conductor. It stopped at marked chariot stops and that is how I got aboard. I had not yet found out how to get it to stop.
Apparently everyone in the City rode these buses (except V.I.P.s who rated private chariots). Even angels. Most passengers were humans dressed in conventional white and wearing ordinary halos. But a few were humans in costumes of various eras and topped off by larger and fancier halos. I noticed that angels were fairly polite to these creatures in the fancier halos. But they did not sit with them. Angels sat in the front of the car, these privileged humans in the middle part, and the common herd (including yours truly) in the rear.
I asked one of my own sort how long it took to reach the Throne.
'I don't know,' I was answered. 'I don't go nearly that far.
This soul seemed to be female, middle-aged, and friendly, so I used a commonplace opener. 'That's a Kansas accent, is it not?'
She smiled. 'I don't think so. I was born in Flanders.'
'Really? You speak very fluent English.'
She shook her head gently. 'I never learned English.'
'I know. You are a recent arrival. Heaven is not affected by the Curse of Babel. Here the Confusion of Tongues took place... and a good thing for me as I, have no skill in languages - a handicap before I died. Not so here. 'She looked at me with interest. 'May I ask where you died? And when?'
'I did not die,' I told her. 'I was snatched up alive in the Rapture.'
Her eyes widened. 'Oh, how thrilling! You must be very holy.
'I don't think so. Why do you say that?'
'The Rapture will come - came? - without warning. Or so I was taught.'
'Then with no warning, and no time for confession, and no priest to help you... you were ready! As free from sin as Mother Mary. You came straight to Heaven. You must be holy. ' She added, 'That's what I thought when I saw your costume, since saints - martyrs especially - often dress as they did on earth. I saw too that you are not wearing your saint's halo. But that's your privilege. 'She looked suddenly shy. 'Will you bless me? Or do I presume?'.
'Sister, I am not a saint.'
'You will not grant me your blessing?'
(Dear Jesus, how did this happen to me?) 'Having heard say that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I am ,not a saint, do you still want me to bless you?'
'If you will... holy father.'
'Very well. Turn and lower your head a little - 'Instead she turned fully and dropped to her knees. I put a hand on her head. 'By authority vested in me as an ordained minister of the one true catholic church of Jesus Christ the Son of God the Father and by the power of the Holy. Ghost, I bless this our sister in Christ. So mote it be!'
I heard echoes of 'Amen!' around us; we had had quite an audience. I felt embarrassed. I was not certain, and still am not certain, that I had any authority to bestow blessings in Heaven itself. But the dear woman had asked for it and I could not refuse.
She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. 'I knew it, I knew it!'
'That you are a saint. Now you are wearing it!'
I started to say, 'Wearing what?' when a minor miracle occurred. Suddenly I was looking at myself from outside: wrinkled and dirty khaki pants, Army-surplus shirt with dark sweat stains in the armpits and a bulge of razor in the left breast pocket, three-day growth of beard and in need of a haircut... and, floating over my head, a halo the size of a washtub, shining and sparkling!
'Up off your knees,' I said instead, 'and let's stop being conspicuous.'
'Yes, father.' She added, 'You should not be seated back here.'
'I'll be the judge of that, daughter. Now tell me about yourself.' I looked around as she resumed her seat, and happened to catch the eye of an angel seated all alone, up forward. (S)he gestured to me to come forward.
I had had my fill of the arrogance of angels; at first I ignored the signal. But everyone I was noticing and pretending not to, and my awe-struck companion was whispering urgently, 'Most holy person, the angelic one wants to see you.'
I gave in - partly because it was easier, partly because I wanted to ask the angel a question. I got up and went to the front of the bus.
'You wanted me?'
'Yes. You know the rules. Angels in front, creatures in back, saints in the middle. If you sit in back with creatures, you are teaching them bad habits. How can you expect to maintain your saintly privileges if you ignore protocol? Don't let it happen again.'
I thought of several retorts, all unheavenly. Instead I said, 'May I ask a question?'
'How much longer until this bus reaches the River from the Throne?'
'Why do you ask? You have all eternity before you.'
'Does that mean that you don't know? Or that you won't tell?'
'Go sit down in your proper section. At once!'
I went back and tried to find a seat in the after space. But my fellow creatures had closed in and left me no room. No one said anything and they would not meet my eye, but it was evident that no one would aid me in defying the authority of an angel. I sighed and sat down in the mid-section, in lonely splendor, as I was the only saint aboard. If I was a saint.
I don't know how long it took to reach the Throne. In Heaven the light doesn't vary and the weather does not change and I had no watch. It was simply a boringly long time. Boring? Yes. A gorgeous palace constructed of precious stone is a wonderful sight to see. A dozen palaces constructed of jewels can be a dozen wonderful sights, each different from the other. But a hundred miles of such palaces will put you to sleep, and six hundred miles of the same is deadly dull. I began to long for a used-car lot, or a dump, or (best yet) a stretch of green and open countryside.
New Jerusalem is a city of perfect beauty; I am witness to that. But that long ride taught me the uses of ugliness.
I never have found out who designed the Holy City.
That God authorized the design and construction is axiomatic. But the Bible does not name the architect(s), or the builder(s). Freemasons speak of 'the Great Architect, meaning Jehovah - but you won't find that in the Bible. Just once I asked an angel, 'Who designed this city?' He didn't sneer at my ignorance, he didn't scold me- he appeared to be unable to conceive it as a question. But it remains a question to me: Did God create (design and build) the Holy City Himself, right down to the smallest jewel? Or did He farm it out to subordinates?
Whoever designed it, the Holy City has a major shortcoming, in my opinion - and never mind telling me that my presumption in passing judgment on God's design is blasphemous. It is a lack, a serious one.
It lacks a public library.
One reference librarian who had devoted her life to answering any and all questions, trivial and weighty, would be more use in Heaven than another cohort of arrogant angels. There must be plenty of such ladies in Heaven, as it takes a saintly disposition and the patience of Job to be a reference librarian and to stick with it for forty years. But to carry on their vocation they would need books and files and so forth, the tools of their profession. Given a chance, I'm sure they would set up the files and catalog the books but where would they get the books? Heaven does not seem to have a book-publishing industry.
Heaven doesn't have industry. Heaven doesn't have an economy. When Jehovah decreed, after the expulsion from Eden, that we descendants of Adam must gain our bread by the sweat of our faces, He created economics and it has been operating ever since for ca. 6000 years.
But not in Heaven.
In Heaven He giveth us, our daily bread without the sweat of our faces. In truth you don't need daily bread; you can't starve, you won't even get hungry enough to matter - just hungry enough to enjoy eating if you want to amuse yourself by stopping in any of the many restaurants, refectories, and lunchrooms.' The best hamburger I ever ate in my life was in a small lunchroom off the Square of Throne on the banks of the River. But again, 'm ahead of my story.
Another lack, not as serious for my taste but serious, is gardens. No gardens, I mean, except the grove of the Tree of Life by the River near the Throne, and a few, a very few, private gardens here and there. I think I know why this is so and, if I am right, it may be self-correcting. Until we reached Heaven (the people of the Rapture and the resurrected dead-in-Christ) almost all citizens of the Holy City were angels. The million or so exceptions were martyrs for the faith, children of Israel so holy that they made it without ever having personally experienced Christ (i.e., mostly before 30 AD), and another group from unenlightened lands - souls virtuous without ever knowing of Christ. So 99 percent of the citizens of the Holy City were angels.
Angels don't seem to be interested in horticulture. I suppose that figures - I can't imagine an angel down on his/her knees, mulching the soil around a plant. They just aren't the dirty-fingernails sort needed to grow prize roses.
Now that angels are outnumbered by humans by at least ten to one I expect that we will see gardens - gardens, garden clubs, lectures on how to prepare the soil, and so forth. All the endless ritual of the devoted gardener. Now they will have time for it.
Most humans in Heaven do what they want to do without the pressure of need. That nice lady (Suzanne) who wanted my blessing was a lacemaker in Flanders; now she teaches it in a school open to anyone who is interested. I have gathered a strong impression that, for most humans, the real problem of an eternity of bliss is how to pass the time. (Query: Could there be something to this reincarnation idea so prevalent in other religions but so firmly rejected by Christianity? Could a saved soul be rewarded, eventually, by being shoved back into the conflict? If not on earth, then elsewhere? I've got to lay hands on a Bible and do some searching. To my utter amazement, here in Heaven Bibles seem to be awfully hard to come by.)
'The information booth was right where it was supposed to be, close to the bank of the River of the Water of Life that flow's from the Throne of God and winds through the grove of the Tree of Life. The Throne soars up from the, middle of the grove but you can't see it very well that close to its base. It's like looking up at the tallest of New York skyscrapers while standing on the sidewalk by it. Only more so. And of course you can't see the Face of God; you are, looking straight up one thousand four hundred and- forty cubits. What you see is, the Radiance... and you can feel the Presence.
The information booth was as crowded as that cherub had led me to expect. The inquirers weren't queued up; they were massed a hundred deep around it. I looked at that swarm and wondered how long it would take me to work my way up to the counter. Was it possible to work my way there other than by the nastiest of bargain-day tactics, stepping on corns, jabbing with elbows, all the things that make department stores so uninviting to males?
I stood back and looked at that mob and tried to figure out how to cope. Or was there some other way to locate Margrethe without stepping on corns?
I was still standing there when a STAFF cherub came up to me. 'Holy one, are you trying to reach the information booth?'
'I surely am!'
'Come with me. Stay close behind me.' He was carrying a long staff of the sort used by riot police. 'Gangway! Make way for a saint! Step lively there!' In nothing flat I reached the counter of the booth. I don't think anyone was injured but there must have been some hurt feelings. I don't approve of that sort of action; I think that treatment should be even-handed for everyone. But, where R.H.I.P. is the rule, being even a corporal is vastly better than being a private.
I turned to thank the cherub; he was gone. A voice said, 'Holy one, what do you want?' An angel back of the counter was looking down at me.
I explained that I wanted to locate my wife. He Drummed on the counter. 'That's not ordinarily a service we supply. There is a co-op run by creatures called "Find Your Friends and Loved Ones" for that sort of thing.'
'Where is it?'
'Near Asher Gate.'
'What? I just came from there. That's where I registered in.'
'You should have asked the angel who checked you in. You registered recently?'
'Quite recently; I was caught up in the Rapture. I did ask the angel who registered me... and got a fast brushoff. He, she, uh, that angel told me to come here.'
`Mrf. Lemme see your papers.'
I passed them over. The angel studied them, slowly and carefully, then called to another angel, who had stopped servicing the mob to watch. 'Tirl! Look at this.'
So the second angel looked over my papers, nodded sagely, handed them---back - glanced at me, shook his head sadly.' 'Is something wrong?' I asked.
'No. Holy one, you had the misfortune to be serviced,' if that is the word, by an angel who wouldn't help his closest friend, if he had one, which he doesn't. But I'm a bit surprised that she was so abrupt with a saint.'
'I wasn't wearing this halo at the time.'
'That accounts for it. You drew it later?'
'I did not draw it. I acquired it miraculously, on the way from Asher Gate to here.'
`I see. Holy one, it's your privilege to put Khromitycinel on the report. On the other hand I could use the farspeaker to place your inquiry for you.'
'I think that would be better.'
'So do I. In the long run. For you. If I make my meaning clear.'
'But before I call that co-op let's check with Saint Peter's office and make sure your wife has arrived. When did she die?'
'She didn't die. She was caught up in the Rapture, too.'
'So? That means a quick and easy check, no searching of old rolls. Full name, age, sex if any, place and date of we don't need that. Full name first.'
Margrethe Svensdatter Gunderson.'
'Better spell that.'
I did so.
'That's enough for now. If Peter's clerks can spell. You can't wait here; we don't have a waiting room. There is a little restaurant right opposite us - see the sign?'
I turned and looked. ' "The Holy Cow"?'
'That's it. Good cooking, if you eat. Wait there; I'll send word to you.'
'You are welcome -'She glanced again at my papers, then handed them back. '- Saint Alexander Hergensheimer.'
The Holy Cow was the most homey sight I had seen since the Rapture: a small, neat lunchroom that would have looked at home in Saint Louis or Denver. I went inside. A tall blackamoor whose chef's hat stuck up through his halo was at the grill with his back to me. I sat down at the counter, cleared my throat.
'Just hold your horses.' He finished what he was doing, turned around. 'What can I - Well, well! Holy man, what can I fix for you? Name it, just name it!'
'Luke! It's good to see you!' '
He stared at me. 'We have met?'
'Don't you remember me? I used to work for you. Ron's Grill, Nogales. Alec. Your dishwasher.'
He stared a-gain, gave a deep sigh. 'You sure fooled me. Saint Alec.'
'Just "Alec" to my friends. It's some sort of administrative mistake, Luke. When they catch it, I'll trade this Sunday job for an ordinary halo.'
'Beg to doubt - Saint Alec. They don't make mistakes in Heaven. Hey! Albert! Take the counter. My friend, Saint Alec and I are going to sit in the dining room. Albert's my sous-chef.'
I shook hands with a fat little man who was almost a parody of what a French chef should look like. He was wearing a Cordon Bleu hat as well as his halo. Luke and I went through a side door into a small dining room, sat down at a table. We were joined by a waitress and I got another shock.
Luke, said, 'Hazel, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Saint Alec - he and I used to be business associates. Hazel is hostess of The Holy Cow.'
'I was Luke's dishwasher,' I told her. 'Hazel, it's wonderful to see you!' I stood up, started to shake hands, then changed my mind for the better, put my arms around her.
She smiled up at me, did not seem surprised. 'Welcome, Alec! "Saint Alec" now, I see. I'm not surprised.'
'I am. It's a mistake.'
'Mistakes don't happen in Heaven. Where is Margie? Still alive on earth?'
'No.' I explained how we had been separated. 'So I'm waiting here for word.'
'You'll find her.' She kissed me, quickly and warmly which reminded me of my four-day beard. I seated her, sat down with my friends. 'You are sure to find her quickly, because that is a promise we were made and is precisely carried out. Reunion in Heaven with friends and loved ones. "We shall gather by the River -" and sure enough, there it is, right outside the door. Steve Saint Alec, you, do remember Steve? He was with you and Margie when we met.'
'How could I forget him? He bought us dinner and gave us a gold eagle when we were stony. Do I remember Steve!'
'I'm happy to hear you say that... because Steve credits you with converting him - born-again conversion - and getting him into Heaven. You see, Steve was killed on the Plain of Meggido, and I was killed in the War, too, uh, that was about five years after we met you
'Yes. I was killed fairly early in the War; Steve lasted clear to Armageddon-'
'Hazel... it hasn't been much over a month since Steve bought us that dinner at Rimrock.'
'That's logical. You were caught up in the Rapture and that touched off the War. So you spent the War years up in the air, and that makes it work out that Steve and I are here first even though you left first. You can discuss it with Steve; he'll be in soon. By the way, I'm his concubine now his wife, except that here there is no marrying or giving in marriage. Anyhow Steve went back into the Corps when war broke out and got up to captain before they killed him. His outfit landed at Haifa and Steve died battling for the Lord at the height of Armageddon. I'm real proud of him.'
'You should be. Luke, did the War get you, too?'
Luke gave a big grin. 'No, sir, Saint Alec. They hanged me.'
`No joke. They hanged me fair and square. You remember when you quit me?'
'I didn't quit you. A miracle intervened. That's how I met Hazel. And Steve.'
'Well... you know more about miracles than I do. Anyway, we had to get another dishwasher right fast, and we had to take a Chicano. Man, he was a real bad ass, that one. Pulled a knife on me. That was his mistake. Pull a knife on a cook in his own kitchen? He cut me up some, I cut him up proper. Jury mostly his cousins, I think. Anyhow the D.A. said it was time for an example. But it was all right. I had been baptized long before that; the prison chaplain helped me be born again. I spoke a sermon standing on that trap with the noose around my neck. Then I said, "You can do it now! Send me to Jesus! Hallelujah!" And they did. Happiest day of my lifel'
Albert stuck his head in. 'Saint Alec, there's an angel here looking for you.'
The angel was waiting just outside for the reason that he was taller than the doorway and not inclined to stoop. 'You are Saint Alexander Hergensheimer?'
"Your inquiry concerning a creature designated Margrethe Svensdatter Gunderson: The report reads: Subject was not caught up in the Rapture, and has not shown up in any subsequent draft. This creature, Margrethe Svensdatter Gunderson, is not in Heaven and is not expected. That is all.'