The white pearly Gates of Heaven shone in front of her, as did the enormous golden lock that held them closed. Sarah turned to her left and saw that the Gates continued farther than her eyes could see. She looked right and saw the same thing. She twisted clockwise, did a slow 360-degree turn and saw white fluffy cloud and blue horizon in every direction. That’s all she saw. She was completely alone.
“Hello?” she called. “Is there anybody around? Can I come in?” There was no answer. She stepped forwards, looked around, still didn’t see anybody so she reached out and took hold of the massive golden lock. It felt cold and heavy. She tugged it. The lock didn’t open. Her hand still held it when she started to feel that she wasn’t alone. Sarah felt watched, under surveillance. Acting on instinct she looked up to see if there was a camera but there wasn’t. Then she looked to her right and there was St. Peter.
“You look a bit disappointed,” St. Peter said.
“I just didn’t think it would look so … predictable.”
“It’s nicer inside,” St. Peter said.
Sarah waited but St. Peter produced no key. The Gates did not open on their own. No trumpets blared.
“I can’t wait to see it,” she said.
“Oh Sarah! You’ll love it!”
“Can I go in?”
“Well. Yah. About that. There’s a trick to that.”
“Is there a judgment?”
“Well no, not exactly. All you have to do is put your hand in there,” St. Peter said. His voice had been soothing but as he said those words it quaked with fear. He extended his index finger. With great reluctance Sarah looked where he pointed. The lock had vanished and in its place was a wasp’s nest.
The nest was large. A handful of wasps circled the opening. Several more flew in. The buzzing sound that came from inside it was loud. And then it got louder. And then it was all Sarah could hear.
“Why do I have to do that?” Sarah asked.
“Why do I have to do that?”
“Sorry. Again? The wasps, they’re so loud!”
“Why do I have to stick my hand in there?”
“Do you want to get into Heaven?”
“Then put your hand inside the wasp’s nest.”
“So you can get into Heaven!”
“But why? What’s the symbolism of wasps? Of stings?”
“If you want to get into Heaven put your hand into the nest. Every second you delay is only making it worse!” That seemed to be true. As Sarah watched, twenty more wasps flew into the nest and none flew out. Those that circled the opening grew in size. They raised their asses into the air, presenting stingers that looked like fish hooks.
“Eternal reward,” St. Peter said. He looked impatient. “It’s all you have to do for lifetime in paradise.”
Sarah nodded but still she hesitated. She bit her lip. Then she extended her fingers. Several wasps landed on her hand. She kept it perfectly still, then made a fist and thrust it inside.
The first stings felt like needles, heated and stabbing. They began to come quicker. The pain was more than anything she had felt before. She screamed, loudly. It felt like her hand was on fire.
Then the pain began to change; each sting caused not her body to hurt but her heart. Sarah began to feel emotional pain. This was far worse. A wasp stung her and she relived the death of her father, when he was 41 and she was 14. A second sting caused her to feel vividly, perfectly, the shock of walking into her own bedroom and seeing her husband on top of another woman, naked flesh, clothes on the floor. The next sting filled her with the shame of watching her son being handcuffed and led away. Sarah felt the sting of when she was fired for stealing and had no way to prove her innocence, of being diagnosed with breast cancer, of her mastectomy, of each of her miscarriages. And the buzzing from inside the nest kept getting louder and louder.
“Can I take it out?” she shouted.
“Have you suffered enough?”
“You tell me …”
Sarah looked back at the nest. The pain made it difficult for her to concentrate. She wasn’t sure how to measure the degree to which she’d suffered. She wasn’t sure how much suffering was enough. She had already suffered so much. Her life had been nothing but suffering: low paying jobs, raising young children on her own, god-awful apartments and unfaithful husbands and never enough time. All of it she had endured because she believed it was right, that God had a plan, that suffering led to redemption.
“Have I suffered enough?” she demanded of St. Peter. He shrugged. More wasps stung her. She felt the death of her sister, the foreclosure of the three-bedroom house she’d briefly owned, when she got raped in her last year of high school.
She didn’t know how much more she could take. She thought about the suffering she was enduring, she thought about the suffering she’d endured. None of it had led to redemption. All that suffering had gotten her was more of the same. It had just caused her pain. Just like these fucking wasps, Sarah thought. She paused. She closed her eyes. She savoured the last sting, then she pulled her hand out of the nest.
When it was completely removed, the Gates of Heaven swung open.
Click here to recommend:
Ways Into Heaven
An online microfiction serial by Andrew Kaufman