Should the Heavens Fall




Should the Heavens Fall

 

            “Daddy, you remember my friend Marcie who used to be in my class at school?”

“Red hair and freckles? Sure.”

Neve sat swinging her crossed feet back and forth beneath the weathered garden bench while Patrick, her father, snipped away, pruning his beloved grape arbor of last year’s canes.  She plucked a few diehard fruits still clinging to the vines and popped them into her mouth.  Having been taught it was impolite to spit in the presence of others, she surreptitiously ejected the seeds as soundlessly as possible when she thought her father wasn’t looking but, being out of practice, didn’t propel them very far.

“After her grandmother died, I heard her uncle – I think it was her uncle – say ‘when you’re dead, you’re dead’ and that belief in an afterlife should be stamped out.”

Patrick considered this.  “Hmm. Sort of like smallpox.  Well, if your friend’s uncle plans to do the stamping, he has his work cut out for him.” He tossed a handful of hard, dry sticks into the wheeled bin.

            “But that isn’t what they teach in Sunday school, is it?”

            “No, it isn’t,” Patrick replied as he continued to snip. “Funny you should mention that.  Just recently I was thinking about a professor of mine whose views lined up more or less with those of your friend’s uncle.  The only value, meaning or purpose to existence, according to him, lay in improving our earthly lot and that of generations to come. And the only way we continue after death is in the memories of those who loved us while we were alive.”  He paused and made a vaguely circular gesture with the shears. “All else was flapdoodle.” 

            Neve frowned.  “But what happens to the memories when the people who do the remembering themselves pass on?  After a while nothing’s left.”

“If he took that into consideration, he didn’t bother to share his conclusions, at least not with us.  As rational as his ethic might appear on the surface, it does have some flaws, one of which you yourself just pointed out.”  He winked his approval.

“What are some others?”

In spite of the cooling onset of autumn, Patrick’s brow bore the sweat of honest labor.  Taking a breather, he sank onto the bench next to his daughter.

“Well,” he shrugged, “there’s always this, farfetched though it might seem.  While most of us myopically go about our self-absorbed lives, those nail biters at NASA don’t scan the skies twenty-four/seven/three-sixty-five just to fill the time between launches.  Any minute some tetchy asteroid could get bored with the routine and decide to go into business for itself.  With us in its crosshairs.  And if Marcie’s uncle and my old professor are right, all that value, meaning, and purpose get converted to rubble faster than you can say cosmic cataclysm.”

The sound of a door opening and closing again could be heard in the near distance.  Sammy came running around the corner of the house and in one vault sprang onto the bench to snuggle between the two.  Patrick removed a glove and pulled a treat from his jacket’s pocket.

“So. You do believe in an afterlife.”

“More yes than no,” he conceded.  “And while we’re on the topic, I’ll state my reservations about the term ‘afterlife’.  I’ve never liked it.  Smacks of afterthought, aftermath, after effect.  Something tacked on, secondary, also-ran.  But ‘future life’ – that’s the official subject heading used by libraries, I’ll have you know, and I’ve spent many hours in libraries – ah!  That way true possibilities lie.”

“So: no future, no point?”

“‘Fraid so,” he sighed, and fed a second biscuit to the dog. 

The sun, previously quite bright, was now becoming dimmed by clouds, but Neve reflexively shaded her eyes as she tilted her head back and squinted at it.

            “Any fireballs coming our way?” her father asked.

            “Not that I can see.”

            “In that case, your hard-working papa would dearly love an iced tea, sugar, no lemon,” and he grinned as his daughter began her trudge to the kitchen.  Moments later he also looked up.

            “Not yet,” he told Sammy, who was grunting with pleasure at having his ears scratched. “Maybe not ever.”        

 
Edna Horning
 

Edna Horning was born and reared in Alabama, attended college and graduate school in Virginia and Georgia, and is now a retired reference librarian living in in Columbia, South Carolina.  She has published fiction and nonfiction in BewilderingStories.com, MonthsToYears.com, ArielChart.blogspot.com and authored the entry for “Babette Deutsch” in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Poets, 1880-1945.

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