…if only; A Purgatory by Gabe Bogart

Relationships are complex; platonic, familial, or romantic. They’re just weird
sometimes. There’s so much to know about a single other being, let alone learning
yourself and how to expose that to the world in the way you feel in your own skin. It is
possible, it’s too difficult, or…well just damn near impossible to truly communicate the
self to another being. In a pure, unadulterated way. There are no forms to fill out. Dating
service surveys are truly bullshit.


During an “average” human life – whatever average actually fucking means – we
engage in nearly countless relationships. The barista we occasionally flirt with. A father
we’ve long since become estranged from. A sibling or five. Your best friend from high
school or your current best friend, if they’re not the same person. A coworker or five
hundred. An anti-social cashier at a truck stop on a road trip. Grandparents, some of the
first to really see you come into the world as your mother rests off the labor. Your high
school bully. The person you bullied in high school. Friends you made in a pandemic.
The person who was willing to drive a stranger – a refugee – across a border in the
middle of a war-torn night. The doctor who reads your family’s last signature ever
concerning your terrestrial existence.


~

And so you cross the Rainbow Bridge. All those relationships left behind; stuck
behind God’s cruel idea of a one-way mirror. With you stuck in the interrogation room.
Who still puts ashtrays in these rooms? It’s the 21 st century. God, disembodied,
says, “Bill Hicks was right. These aren’t clouds, this is smoke.” Then Judd Nelson is
projected on the hollow green wall, “Smoke up, Johnny!” This place is too damn weird.
But you also realize that God’s response, Bill Hicks, Judd Nelson – hell, even the
ashtray – are tailored to occasional observations of your life.


This time, God is partially disembodied, his unattached hand reaches out from
nowhere and places a large tome on the table in front of you. It’s crimson red cover and
gold-embossed title are a stark contrast to the fading-olive-gunmetal-grey institutional
palette of this room. The gold foil embossing seems to melt into an almost sentience
and it moves and stretches until it finds the form in the language you are most familiar
with. The graphemes come to illuminate the words “The Book of Ezekiel.”


“What do you want me to do with this?” you inquire, assuming God, or anyone, is
listening.


“You must open it,” a somewhat curt response from the Almighty.


“You want me to sit here and read The Book of Ezekiel? Need a book report on it
later?” some of your earthly cynicism remains.


The walls are humming and then trembling, as God booms out, “OPEN IT!
There’s no time for this, there’s a very long line behind you. So, as a courtesy to Myself
and the neverending line of souls behind you, please for the love of ME, open it!!”

Rightly put in your place, you comply. You unlock the clasp and having barely
lifted the cover, out pops a four-winged, four-faced angel. It is a cherub, but it is not the
fat little boy you came to know on greeting cards. It’s four faces are those of an eagle, a human, an ox, and a lion. It says nothing, closes the book, tucking it under its arm, and
begins spiriting you through the left wall of this room to, somewhere else.

~

The cherubim, with your hand in theirs, escorts you directly into an extremely
tasteful and comfortable therapist’s office. Or, at least, that’s sure what the fuck it looks
and feels like.


“Oops! I made a swear, is that bad here?” you ask the cherubim, with a slightly
sardonic tone.


As the cherubim takes its seat, all four faces speak at once, “Your language is of
no concern to us.”


“What are we doing here?”


“You are here to make one very important choice. A choice that could very well
determine the direction of your afterlife; concerning the amount of thought and
introspection you put into the choice. It is a final karmic test for this life you’ve just
departed,” the cherubim pauses, allowing the eagle, ox, and lion heads to look deeply
into you. The human head is busy sharpening a dulled talon.


Sitting there, you begin to wonder if the pause is indefinite to the point of
excruciating.


“Well?! What’s the choice I have to make?”


Then, flashing across the wall are images of moments from your life. Moments
where you failed other people (and yourself). Instances that carried deep regret for you,
despite your constant protestation that regret is a silly emotion. A lover that you
abandoned in a moment of pure idiocy; they might have truly been your soulmate. A
friend you betrayed, ever more deeply so, because you never copped to the betrayal,
even though they suspected as much. There are so many choices, so many
relationships you didn’t show up to in the right way.


The cherubim sees your distress, “It’s okay, every life is filled with these flaws.
It’s part of the fabric of life. Even angels and gods have them. How else do we learn?”


“So,” quadraphonically booming from all four of the cherubim’s mouths, “you
must choose one person. We will transport you back to the realm of the so-called living
and you can make your apology or amends. Then we will transport you back here to
discover your path in the afterlife. This depends on whether the apology is accepted or
not.”


Almost muttering to yourself in confusion and anxiety, “Who do I choose…?”


Gabe Bogart lives in Seattle, Washington, where he patiently awaits the return of the Seattle Supersonics. He learned to love words in his senior year high school creative writing class and from his sister and mother. It’s been a long time since he took a major road trip and he’d like to do it next in a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport. His work has appeared in Pareidolia Lit, Hencroft Hub, Collective Realms, TERSE. Journal, Fahmidan Journal, acloserlisten.com, and thesianetwork.com.

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