“Have you been queuing long?” She was feeling a bit confused and had turned to the man behind her.
“I don’t know, it seems like an eternity but my watch has stopped.”
“So has mine.” She shook her wrist, peering again at the lifeless dial.
“Mine too.” Another voice.
“That’s odd.” She felt even more confused. “And look at the length of this queue. When do the gates open?”
“He says they’re always open.”
“That chap over there. The one with the halo.”
“Is he in charge?”
“Seems to be.”
“Do we have to pay?”
“I expect so.” He shrugged. “You don’t get anything for nothing, these days. Still. I expect you’ll get in cheap, being a senior citizen.”
“We’re moving.” She shifted her handbag to her other hand. It was making her arm ache; it was so heavy, “Why is it taking so long if the gates are always open. What’s the hold-up?”
“He’s dishing out our Gunny-bags.”
“What are they, when they’re at home?”
“Don’t you know? What religion are you, then, if you don’t know about Gunny-bags ?
“And they never told you about Gunny-bags?”
“Well I never. I thought the Pope was supposed to know everything. It just goes to show.”
“What are they, then?”
“Well, by rights, you’re not supposed to take anything with you when you go. You’ll have to hide that handbag. But, when you get to the gates, St Peter does give you your own personal Gunny-bag in which are stored items collected over the years and you are allowed to take them in, That is, if there aren’t too many.”
“Really! That’s interesting but I wish they’d get a move on. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a bit puffed out. That climb was a bit steep.”
“Jacob’s ladder, you mean?”
“Yes…and no handrails. You’d think they’d have had handrails or even a Stannah stairlift. After all, when you’ve just died, you’re not exactly feeling your best, are you?”
“No, and Rigor Mortis doesn’t help, either.”
“You’re right. Oh, it’s my turn next.”
“You can’t take that handbag, Madam.”
“But I never go anywhere without it.”
“There’s always a first time….Gabriel, another one for the pile. Now, let’s see. Where’s your Gunny-bag?”
“That big one over there has my name on it.”
“I’ll say it’s big. What, in Heaven’s name, have you got in there? He opens it and peers inside. “Why,” he looks slightly shaken. “It’s full of worries. How did you manage to collect so many?”
“I do have seven children.”
“That’s no excuse. We’ll have to get rid of some of this lot.”
“You can’t do that. I’ll get withdrawal symptoms. I’ll have you know that I am a fully paid up member of the League of Anxious Mothers.”
“Really. And what rights does that give you?”
“We share our worries. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, they say. And every year we assemble and travel to the tomb of the unknown worrier. It is very moving.”
“That’s more than can be said for this queue. Can’t you get a move on?” The man behind was stamping his feet to ease them, remarking that the damp cloud he was standing on was getting to him. He added that he had been dead for twenty-four hours and he was still waiting. Turning to his neighbour, he grumbled. “It’s worse than the N.H.S. Look at the queue behind us.”
St Peter apologised. “Sorry. Yes, there is rather a lot. It must have been the ‘flu epidemic.” Turning again to the woman, he continued. “Now, Madam, let’s see what we can get rid of. This is much too heavy.” The woman responded with a bit of spirit. “You leave those worries where they are. There’s plenty of other memories to lighten the load…lots of laughs, for instance.”
“There’s the time I put the baby’s plastic knickers through the mangle…and they exploded…And that bad winter, when, every morning I had to give our Gerbil the kiss of life as it was always frozen stiff, with its legs in the air. We had no central heating then. There was the year that I dropped the Christmas turkey, straight from the oven, into the dog’s basket and I had to re-pluck it before I could dish it up. Luckily, the dog, sensing danger had just moved out of range. Nobody ever knew, at least, not until now. Then there was the time, in a fit of dire economy, we dyed the faded living room carpet maroon and the little ones all had beetroot red knees and bottoms, for simply ages. So you see there are plenty of things to lighten the load…and there’s the Abacus.
St Peter was beginning to look all of his two-thousand years. “Spare me any more, please.” Then, sighing and shaking his head, said “These still don’t outweigh the worries.” Wearily, he tried to explain. “It’s all a question of weight, you see. Anything over the limit has to be discarded.”
“But, the Abacus…for counting my Blessings. That must be worth considering.”
“Hmmm…perhaps…wait a minute. What are all these letters? There’s dozens of them.”
“Oh, they’re my letters of thanks. I wanted to deliver them to Him, in person as I couldn’t rely on the post. I know they’re usually pretty good but I didn’t know the post code.”
St Peter was defeated. He shrugged. “I give up, you can go through,”
The man behind heaved a sigh of relief.
“About time, too. My feet have gone dead standing here, while you two argue.”
St Peter, ignoring the remark, turned and called after the retreating figure as she trundled off with her Gunny-bag.
“Hold on a minute, Madam,” he called. “Can you play the harp?”
“No but I play the piano.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve heard you…right…you’ll be with Les Dawson’s lot. Turn left at the end of that cloud.”
© Marion Sharville