Once you reach a certain age, the heliphone starts ringing. It always does around or a while after midnight. Nowadays, it rings more often. Past loves are calling in from the afterlife. The other night it was Amalia.
“I didn’t see you at my funeral. Why didn’t you come? Why not bring me any flowers? After all, we spent some good times together.”
“Oh, dearest Amalia! Your voice sounds just like before. Australia was a bit far for me. Where are you now?”
“Much farther than Australia. You remember that day in the dunes?”
“Wonderful. I often dream of it.”
“So how come you didn’t marry me?”
“Blame it on my immaturity. I didn’t realize how good you would’ve been for me.”
“That figures; you were proposing all over the place after you left me. Are you any happier now?”
“It would’ve been nice to share our lives. If I’d had more than one, I would’ve done it.”
“I’ll keep a seat reserved for you here then. Till soon.”
The heliphone broke off. That “soon” gave me the shivers. I got up and made myself a stiff Martini. What did she know?
Earlier this week, I got another call from Irene.
“Nobody came to my funeral. Only Cindy, you remember, our bridesmaid, and that bloody husband of mine who’d left me alone most of the time. Why did you divorce me? “
“Probably for the same reason your second husband left you alone.”
“We had so much fun together, don’t you remember that sofa?”
“I do, delightful, but you embezzled my money.”
“Come on. All that paper’s just monopoly money. You can’t take it over here.”
“Where’s over here?”
“The purgatory. I don’t know why they put me here. It’s always cold. I spent time enough in jail.”
“Terrible. It surprised me you got married again.”
“I got him the same way I got you.”
“By pretending he’d made me pregnant.”
“Yeah, I remember that. I think purgatory is fine for you.”
The line broke off. I shivered again and took another Lorazepam. Was I lucky I got rid of her. She took all my money and still keeps calling me. That heliphone is a nightmare.
Mid-week wasn’t any better. It was Marilou, the fat girl from Switzerland, who I heard via the grapephone had suddenly passed away.
“I got heart trouble because I was overweight.”
“I’m so sorry, Marilou. I guess you’ve got plenty to eat now and can’t die anymore.”
“I still hate you. You only made love to me in the Alps because you got high rubbing my big boobs. You were a pervert.”
“I remember you telling me that. I broke my back, lifting you all the time because you couldn’t stay up on your skis.”
“I offered you my millions of Swiss Francs, but you only wobbled in between my boobs, said ‘Ahhh,’ and left me.”
“You told me the Swiss tycoon you married did it for your boobs too.”
“He was supposed to go before me. Now he’s got all my money and married an ultra-slim pin-up from Vanity Fair.”
“Are you calling him too?”
“His phone is off the hook. I hate Vanity Fair.”
The heliphone died away. Marilou was one of those sad moments in life you want to forget but keep being reminded of. How did she get my number?
Last night was the worst ever. It was Anita from Norway, my biggest regret in love life.
“I wish I’d married you,” Anita said.
“A bit late to tell me that now. What happened?”
“My husband murdered me.”
“Oh, no! Why?”
“Because I kept dreaming aloud at night mentioning your name, saying that I loved you.”
“I hope they put him on death row.”
“Death row does not exist in my country. But hell does here.”
“Awful. You think I could do anything?”
“Go to his prison and poison him. I want him in hell right now where they’ll knife him with red-burning forks every second.”
“But they’d catch me and put me in prison as well.”
“Don’t worry. I’m told we have our ways up here and I’ll protect you.”
“But I won’t get you back, Anita. What’s the point?”
“You’ll be here soon enough, darling, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
That was enough to whip me into a frenzy, and I swallowed two Lorazepams, but I stayed awake all night, shivering.
* * *
I’m on my way to Oslo now with a dose of cyanide wrapped in foil paper and my heliphone in my pocket to get word where that prison is.
Sitting cramped in my window seat, I wondered why the moon had this mocking smile on his face. My heliphone didn’t ring. Maybe because of secret regulations between Heaven and air traffic control?
I still didn’t know the whereabouts of Anita’s husband’s prison. I stumbled through customs on arrival at dawn. A voice told me that the cab driver would know. “Oslo fengsel,” he confirmed. After going through town, he turned into a long driveway lined by leafless trees and snow-covered grounds, ending at a somber red-stone building. “You wait,” I said and went in. The guards watched me, quizzically. I’d dressed as a priest, my faith-inspiring white-collar shining trustingly behind the white scarf around my neck. I didn’t speak a word of Norwegian but had many times mumbled Anita’s husband’s name, Wilhelm Lassen, that bloody Viking.
I sat in the bare visiting room when Wilhelm Lassen entered, accompanied by a guard, and took the only other seat across the steel table, his face one question mark. The guard left and shut the door. I gazed at Lassen’s hands. As I’d suspected, he didn’t wear rings in prison. I hoped he spoke a bit of English.
“My name’s Father John,” I said. “I’m bringing you a final word from Anita.”
The man’s face grew grey; his lips tightened; his eyes squinted. “Anita dead,” he said with a rolling accent. “I did do nothing. She suffered breath shortage. Who are you?”
“Her confessor when she lived with you in Geneva. She left this small package with me to hand you in case she’d die before you.” I pulled a blue jewelry box from my pocket and handed it to him. In it was a golden ring I’d dipped with a tweezer into a small base with liquid cyanide in the airplane toilet a short while before landing. A friend at a chemical factory gave me the deadly stuff, believing I’d use it to kill persistent mice in my basement. If Wilhelm slid the ring on his finger, his skin would absorb the cyanide, and death would follow soon.
Wilhelm opened the box and stared at it. “My wedding ring?” he asked. “I thought I’d lost it. Rar,” (‘strange’) he muttered. Then he shifted it onto his ring finger, looking sad.
The guard came in and warned me my time was up. I stood, said farewell to Wilhelm, and left as fast as I could. The cab driver took me rapidly to the airport, and I grabbed the first flight out to Amsterdam to erase my footsteps, hopefully having left pandemonium at the Oslo fensel. In Amsterdam, I got the last seat in a crowded United flight to Washington; mission accomplished, I reckoned.
Back home at night, the heliphone rang. It was Anita.
“Thank you, Johnnyboy. He’s nicely burning in Hell, screaming his lungs out.”
“But won’t I be punished?”
“No, you’ll be rewarded in Heaven when you get here in a while. Can’t wait.” Her heavenly voice drifted away.
“Crime pays in the afterlife,” I whispered and fell asleep, uncomfortable about Anita’s eagerness of my forthcoming passing.
Wilhelm’s death was reported as a suicide.
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The Friends are mad. Their chats at the Hullahoo Bar have become louder and louder. Everybody’s mad nowadays. Even the waitresses. There we go again.
Frank, from one side of the counter: “That’s so typical, Melissa! When you lose your argument, you start calling us names. So I am a misogynist, a bigot, a homophobe, a white supremacist, a racist, what have you. Well, your tribe’s a bunch of leftist hooligans that destroy America!”
Melissa, from the other side of the counter: “You destroy America! We want Medicare for all, you dump Obamacare, and we’ll all die of the climate change you started!”
Ted: “You, Melissa, belong to that loony Alinsky bomber crowd of community organizers that want to fundamentally change America! We heard Obama say that.”
Tom: “Yeah, elections have consequences, he said. Well, we had new elections! We, the irredeemables, want to keep it the Founders’ way!”
Melissa: “You’re so wrong. What did those Founders know then anyways! Socialism is good for all, look at Sweden. You are zealots, wackos and have been doing a nutjob. You’re obstructing the welfare state!”
Tom: “Nonsense! Sweden is not even socialist, but a market economy with a hefty welfare system paid for by high taxes.”
Caitlyn: “A country of ten million people, less than New York State, and we have 330 million. Their system wouldn’t work here and they’re trying to trim it down because it’s too costly.”
Ted: “Melissa’s side screams that the rich will pay for everything and then there won’t be any rich left and we’ll all end up miserables and deplorables!”
Mary, loud and shrill: “I’m miserable already, so I don’t give a hoot if the rich get miserable too!”
Cindy, even louder: “Why don’t you commies and socialists all move to Russia and China, and see for yourself what misery means. Leave us alone with our hard-earned freedom and prosperity!”
Caitlyn: “No, better you move to Greenland and start your Kibutz in zero temperatures there without stealing our tax money!”
Ted: “All you commies want is equality and free goods. Sounds so nice in the beginning until tyranny takes over and life becomes one stinkhole for all!”
Tom: “Except for those in power who live like the rich they destroyed. It has been tried many times over and failed. Look at Venezuela. Get wise!”
Waitress Jane: “If you want your beer, Mr. Wise, you better give me your tip first before you run out of money.”
Tom: “Thanks Jane, but with Melissa’s socialism we have already run out of money. And you haven’t even smiled.”
Jane: “Here’s your beer, Mister!” Jane plunks the glass down, fakes a smile, scoffs, trots away, kicking her splendid bottom left and right.
Melissa, from the other side of the counter: “You see, Tom, how you treat Jane, misogynist!”
Caitlyn: “You know how you were born Melissa?”
Melissa: “What you mean?”
Caitlyn: “Well, I presume your mom and dad made love, no? Was he sexist and misogynist too?”
Melissa, shouting: “You’re changing the subject, Caitlyn. We have different times now!”
Frank: “Precisely! Your socialist communal band of hippies wants us to live in shabby tents, pee and excrete on the street, and yell at each other!”
Mary: “I live in a one-bedroom shack with mice and cockroaches skirting over the floor because I can’t find a job!”
Frank: “Crazy, there’re six million job offers to be filled. Ever looked around?”
Jason, putting a beer in front of Mary: “If you need a job, come over, Mary, you’ll earn good bucks here with your smile to pay for a better place.”
Mary: “If Trump hadn’t stolen the election, us people would’ve had a free home from Hillary!”
Ted, crooning: “Take that Jason offer, Mary! One more woman employed, the highest number since decades!”
Mary: “I don’t want to be employed by the Trump machine, the way he talks about women. He must be impeached.”
Caitlyn: “That’s all you guys want, impeach, impeach! You’ve been screaming that since he was elected. Ever thought about what America wants?”
Melissa, shouting: “We want one party for the U. S.! Democrats are good enough for democratsy.”
Frank: “Okay, Melissa, go take a ride on Biden’s Malarkey bus.”
Melissa: “It’s ‘No Malarkey’, buthead!”
Frank: “Would Biden know the difference?”
Jason comes to the counter: “There’s somebody in the back offering free drinks, except large sodas.”
Everybody looks to the back.
It’s Mike Bloomberg in jacket and tie, waving and smiling.
All Friends cheer and order more beers and double small sodas.
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