The Pearly Gates looked less…well…pearly than I had imagined. Sure, Saint Peter stood before them, there was a distant echo of angels singing, and a faint scent of flowers floated on a warm, gentle breeze. But sitting atop the brilliant gold of the Gates twisted a menacing spiral of barbed wire.
I stepped up to the pedestal as Saint Peter called out my name.
He seemed to sense my confusion. “This is the back entrance. It’s for people who…might not make it in.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I felt like I had been pretty virtuous in my life and earned a spot in eternal paradise. Or maybe I just really didn’t want to take a spot in eternal damnation. “So basically, I’m still on the line?”
“Oh, no – your place is secured. I merely need to ask you a question, and we don’t like causing traffic through the main entrance.” Saint Peter reached into his robes and withdrew a golden scroll. He unraveled it and began to read. “On the 24th of August, in the Year of our Lord 2019, Joseph Stephens departed his mortal life by means of an elevator malfunction.”
I was a little annoyed at being reminded of the circumstances of my death, which were both less glorious and earlier than I had wished in life, but I kept my mouth shut.
Saint Peter continued, “It has come to our Lord’s attention that this was the result of a mishap on the part of Joseph Stephens’ Guardian Angel, who was meant, but failed, to protect his charge from the accident.” Saint Peter looked up from his scroll into my somewhat baffled eyes. “Before you enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must decide your Guardian Angel’s fate.”
I stared at Saint Peter. “You’re joking.”
He looked surprised. “I assure you, I am not.”
I thought it unlikely that a saint in charge of admission to Heaven would lie, so I didn’t question him further.
“What are my options?” I asked.
“Whatever you wish. You can banish him to a mortal life, take away his status as a Guardian Angel, or force him into eternal poopy-scooping service in Hell.” Saint Peter paused, thinking. “You may also forgive him and grant him total exoneration of his sins. It has happened occasionally, that someone has chosen that path. Please, take your time.”
He dismissed me with a wave of his (I suppose) holy hand. An old woman stood behind me, so I stepped out of her way to let Saint Peter deal with her admittance.
I sat down on a puff of cloud to consider my choices. I had very little experience in making decisions, but what little I did have told me to make a pros and cons list.
On the one hand, the angel had hurt my family greatly in not saving me. I could only shudder, thinking of the grief they must be suffering even now; I imagined my dad’s wretched tears, my mom’s shattered smile that would crumble at the news of my death, my wife’s life as she would try, and perhaps succeed, perhaps fail, to adjust to a life without me.
And because of this angel, I would never know the joys of fatherhood, the quiet happiness of growing old with the woman I loved, or the simple moments in between that count for just as much. I would miss every Christmas morning of pancakes and carols played too enthusiastically, but still adorably, by my child on the piano. I would miss every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, miss Easter picnics, miss…
But on the other hand, I did not know for what reason he had missed the moment of my death; perhaps he had been saving another, destined to be more important than me, or perhaps preventing some cataclysmic war that would have killed millions. Who was I to judge? The greatest responsibility with which I had ever been entrusted was my dad’s twenty-five-year-old station wagon when I was, myself, twenty-five. I could not imagine holding the fate of a human—thousands of humans for all I knew—in my hands.
I glanced at Saint Peter, but he was busy shuffling papers and sorting out the business of admission to heaven for the old woman.
I rose from my puff of cloud and approached him. It seemed the woman had gained entry, for she thanked Saint Peter heartily and practically skipped through the gates in a manner that seemed to defy the frailness of her frame.
Saint Peter looked up from his papers as I approached. “What did you decide?”
“Can I talk to him?”
Saint Peter sighed. “It would require much paperwork, and it is rather busy today, so you’ll forgive me if I say no.”
I glanced around. Now that the old woman had passed through the gates, there was no one to be seen.
“Really?” I asked, trying hard to keep the sarcasm from my voice.
“He is unavailable.” I raised my eyebrows. Saint Peter sighed and continued in a more genuine tone, “It isn’t allowed; I’m sorry. You have to make this decision entirely on your own.”
A memory crept suddenly into my mind, of my grandfather telling me to forgive a second-grade bully. I remembered him wiping my tears and saying, “You can only judge a man after you’ve seen him lose to the turtle and beat the hare. If that went for guardian angels as well, I had no business passing judgment on mine if I knew so little about him.
I put my hands in my pockets and tried to look as casual as possible. “I think I’m going to forgive him. You know, no punishment, just a warning…a ‘don’t let it happen again,’ that sort of thing?”
Saint Peter shook his head absentmindedly as he continued to sort through his papers. “Off to Hell, I’m afraid.”
My stomach dropped. Too many words of outrage tried to force themselves from my mouth at once that I stood mutely, staring in utter shock at the saint. Off to Hell?
A half-growl, half-choke finally escaped my throat and Saint Peter looked up. His brow furrowed. “Wait. You decided on forgiveness?”
“Then you must forgive me, as well; it has been a long few centuries—I’m far overdue for a vacation. I must have misheard you. If you have chosen forgiveness, then it is with great pleasure that I can open the gates and welcome you into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
My heart leapt as the barbed wire dissipated into mist and the gates swung open. The scent of flowers floated more pungently on the breeze and the angel choir sounded a little clearer.
I turned, bemused, back to Saint Peter. “And if I hadn’t chosen forgiveness?”
He winced. “You would have gone the other direction, at least for now…but you would have gotten whatever revenge on your guardian angel you desired. From my view, you made the right choice, though; he’s really a lovely chap, your angel.”
I bowed awkwardly (I was never taught the proper etiquette to use when speaking to a deceased saint) and walked through the gates. My granddad stood just inside, his arms outstretched. As I ran towards him, he winked, and I knew suddenly who had been my guardian angel all along.
Megan Meyerson is a senior in high school and has been published in Surge (“A Flower’s Dream”), NEATE’s The Leaflet (“The PB&J Showdown”), and Daedalus (“A Look Beyond”, “The Devil’s Appointment”, and “Vader Takes a Taxi”). She was also a finalist for Bluefire’s $1,000 for 1,000 Words Contest, has been awarded an honorable mention from the Connecticut Student Writers Contest, and has won 1 National and 20 Regional awards from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is most inspired by J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brönte, and Gail Carson Levine. She enjoys writing, playing squash, baking, and roughhousing with her two dogs.