Judgement Day, by Sasha Thomas
I didn’t have a bucket list, because I never thought I’d need one. I was intent on living life now. Not later when I had a humped back and chin whiskers. I would see everything I wanted to see and do everything I wanted to do. That’s why I was at the Grand Canyon sitting as close as one dared to its edge.
“Can we move back now?” a voice suggested in my ear.
“You know for a firefighter, you’re a big baby.” I teased.
“Eight people fell last year,” he warned, “and you’re too close to the edge.”
I turned my head stared at two big brown eyes under furrowed, thick eyebrows. A single hair poked upward away from the pack. The rebel.
“Eight, young dumb guys, hanging with their bros, trying to prove how manly they are. Look at me, Gavin, I’m old enough to have a mortgage, a retirement savings plan and still remember when Twitter was a noise that a jaybird made.” I kissed him. “I’m fine, I promise.”
Gavin sighed, resigned. He wrapped his arms around me as if for protection and together we took in the view.
Rocks rose to sharp peaks then flattened into plateaus. Unlikely bushes peppered the red sheer cliffs. To my left, the mountains seemed to fade away in layers like a surrealist painting. We sat in silence for a long time and watched the sun make massive shadows on the canyon cliffs. Finally I said the words I knew he wanted to hear.
I felt Gavin’s arms release me. I turned my head to see him take three bum shuffles backwards. He stood up and walked another 10 feet away from the edge.
Bum shuffles weren’t a bad idea. I slid a few feet away from the ledge and stood up. I turned my back to the canyon and faced Gavin.
“Take a picture of me. I want to Facebook it.”
He pulled out his camera as I struck a tree pose. The insole of my right leg rested on my inner thigh making a triangle. My arms above my head, I grinned at Gavin’s iPhone.
“Oops, I moved!” he apologized. “Wait. I’m going to try that burst thing.”
Gavin fiddled with the setting when I heard something strange. Below me I felt the earth crack. The flat rock became a slope and my legs flopped as if I was struggling to keep my balance on an ice rink. I fell hard on my ass and tried to scramble to the flat place, the safe place, the solid place that Gavin was standing on, where the world still made sense. Gavin’s eyes locked on mine and then he was gone. My body plummeted into the canyon. I heard screams but I didn’t know if they were his or mine.
* * *
I opened my eyes. Fluffy clouds the colour of warm lamplight rolled across a grey sky. I stood up gingerly and surveyed my surroundings. A river gurgled a few feet from me. Majestic, red brown canyon cliffs loomed above me. I blinked hard and realized I could see Gavin screaming at the top of the canyon. 4000 feet away and I could see the grey in his 3-day old stubble.
I waved my arms at him, my wrists making X’s as they crossed over my head. I’m here! I’m fine baby! Except I knew it couldn’t possibly be true.
I looked at my arms in the air. I could see the massive cliffs through my translucent hands. I was not okay.
But what was I? A ghost? A spirit? Whatever I was, I still felt and Gavin’s grief tore me to shreds. I knew his despair was my fault. I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. I sat near the edge. I wanted a photo. Maybe I could go to him and comfort him somehow.
I couldn’t. His sorrow was too much for me. I turned my back towards the sound and walked away from the shrieking. My life with my lovely Gavin was over.
But where to go? Death was so open ended. Where were the goddamn pearly gates? Where was the escalator that took you into the lava-filled bowels of hell? If the hardcore Christian were right, the place would be filled with homosexuals, porno and disco balls.
If there was an omnipotent being that thought I would find my way by instinct – it was dead wrong. I needed a sign that said, “Heaven this way” or “Epic party South 5 miles”. I didn’t know where to go so I walked along the river’s edge.
The water was pale blue and dead still. I dipped my index finger in and the water gurgled around it. I plunged my whole arm in and suddenly the water began to flow towards the west.
Finally a sign! I exclaimed.
I jumped in the river without a splash. I lay on my back and began my slow journey westward down the Colorado River.
I closed my eyes for what seemed like a moment. But when I opened them I saw white dots studded in a charcoal velvet curtain. It was night. How did that happen?
It didn’t matter. Today, tonight, next week or next month. Time was an irrelevant construct of the past. It wasn’t a definitive, hard edged line anymore. It was a sandy beach that spread out into eternity.
The banks of the river started floating by me faster. I lifted my head and saw what was ahead. A black hole inside the red-brown stone.
Oh fuck, I muttered, goddamn Christians were right after all.
I lay back and let the river take me to where I had to go.
Inside a warm yellow light banished the blackness of the cave. The river deposited me on the edge of a sandy beach. I saw one path into the cave and nothing else. It was the only way to go.
The path had twists and turns but my feet didn’t hesitate. The warm amber glow kept the path bright. It was calm and serene. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place. It was like something from my imagination.
Wait a second. I stopped and looked around. I had seen this before. In my yoga class. My instructor liked to end the class with a few minutes of guided meditation. Her soothing voice encouraged us to envision a place that made us feel good. “Go to your happy place” she’d said. This warmly lit cave was mine.
And suddenly I knew where I was going.
The pier jutted from the sandy beach onto on a turquoise lake. I stood at the pier’s edge and watched bright white sunbeams dance on the lake. It made no sense. A sun inside the cave? Caribbean blue waters in the Colorado river? I looked up at the sun and squinted against the impossibility of it all. But it was there, because I imagined it. The power of possibility was both comforting and disconcerting. Is this what Judgment Day was all about?
Then I looked into the water and I saw.
It was like re-watching scenes from a movie I barely remembered. The sequence started with a cute, chubby baby crawling on the floor. The baby reached a black cat with white paws and batted the unsuspecting creature on the nose. The cat meowed and gently retaliated with its clawless paws. Giggling, the toddler bounced the cat’s head like a basketball until the poor creature finally had enough and strode away.
Now a pre-schooler, she raced intently across a sandbox towards the last empty swing in the playground, but another kid beat her to it. He sat on the swing, unaware of the instant misery he had caused. The girl reached the swing and shoved him to the ground, “Mine!” she declared. The boy picked himself up off the sand, stunned. He ran away crying. The girl ignored his tears and pumped her legs making the swing go higher.
I chuckled, remembering how great I had felt about claiming that swing. I didn’t know any better. Was I going to be judged for that? I was a kid. When I saw something I wanted – I went for it.
The scenes flashed faster and faster. Now I was at school, stealing an extra slice of cake and then denying it. Then I was hiding all of my toys under the bed and telling Mom that my room was spotless. Then I was 16, trying to convince my Dad that no I hadn’t had anything to drink at last night’s party and that I probably smelt like booze because everyone else was drinking.
Another scene flashed from the water’s depths. I was sitting at my parents’ mahogany dinner table. This one was a moment I remembered well.
I had just told my parents that I had quit my job. The one that had benefits, a steady pay cheque, and even a pension. They were flummoxed at my explanation.
“I’m going to South America.”
“So? Book yourself on a tour for two weeks and then come back to your life.” My mom barked.
“Two weeks isn’t enough. I don’t want to stay in a resort. I want to travel all over the continent. Meet people. Live a different way of life.”
Dad glared at me in silence. He took a long slug from his frothing beer. “Why can’t you just do things like normal people?” he muttered and stormed out of the room.
From the pier, I remembered how guilty I had felt for disappointing them. Self-doubt marched along my skin as insistent as ants. Maybe I was being stupid.
I saw my image take a deep breath and placed my right insole on the inside of my left inner thigh. Balancing on one foot I raised my arms softly above my head. The tree pose was my favourite even back then. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I knew going to South America was the right thing to do. I could feel it. This wasn’t a mistake like everyone thought. I felt scared, but I felt right.
Another scene. This time, I saw myself sitting on a battered and bruised sofa in the house I shared with Gavin. I was drawing in a sketchpad. My hand was unsure and hesitant. After several moments I stopped and stared at the page. My content expression became a grimace. Then abruptly I ripped out the page and tore it carefully into long shreds.
The scene faded but the feeling of defeat stayed with me on the pier. I didn’t feel bad that I had ripped up the sketch. I felt guilty because I had given up on something I loved to do.
Suddenly I understood what this was all about.
The scenes came quicker now and so did the feelings. Shame, pride, guilt, delight. As soon as the emotion had registered – it was on to the next faded memory. I saw myself be brave and I watched myself be safe. There was no hiding behind dogma, religion, politics or policies. There was no justifying the ends and means. It wasn’t about what my parents told me was right, or what my friends thought I should do or about pleasing others. I was being judged all right. My actions up against my values. Not what I said I valued, not what I was taught to value. But what I actually believed.
Then I saw that final moment of my life. I watched the rock crack and the ground fall out from under me. I plunged into the vast abyss that I so longed to see. My body smashed onto the clay ground. My torso split open and red insides spilled out onto the rocks like a sausage bursting from its casing.
I watched a shimmer hover above my decimated body. I knew it was me, deliberating whether or not to go to Gavin. It was my last chance to comfort the person who meant the most to me and I let it go. Even in death, sometimes I was a coward.
And now it was too late to offer any comfort. Time was different in this middle world. What seemed like a day could have been a season or a decade. Gavin wasn’t sobbing on the ledge. He was in the middle of an entirely new life. One without me.
There was no going back. No reincarnation, no karma. Justice was a construct that we created to make life feel fair. Judgment Day had come after all. I just never thought the judge would be me.
Sasha has dabbled in many arts: Indie filmmaking, stand up comedy, ice cube making. Now after many years of superior procrastination she is pleased to be writing short fiction.
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Tags: death, Sasha Thomas