Father Curran slides deeper into depression, and he’s beginning to lose grip of reality. Is he really going to die soon? Or are the men from the funeral home playing some elaborate joke on him? Here’s Part 5:
“I haven’t been in a bar in ages,” Curran says, sitting in the back of the room by the pool table. Van Winkle sits down, after playing with the jukebox. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mister Crowley” comes on, the organ at the beginning blaring through the bar.
“You like to drink, huh?” Curran asks.
“I can’t get drunk. It’s a drawback of the afterlife. I just like the taste.”
Curran is so far out, so long gone that Van Winkle’s talk doesn’t faze him anymore. Fuck it, he thinks. He lights a cigarette and says, “So I’ve been thinking about our discussions. I think I’m ready to hear what this is all about.”
Van Winkle takes a large gulp from his mug. “Good to hear. Most men of faith fight to the bitter end. Atheists have a much easier time with this.”
“What happens if I don’t play along?”
“The DDA will make it hard on you,” Van Winkle says. “You’ll be stuck in an office doing data entry for 20 hours a day. You won’t get to see family members on the Other Side. They’ll take away your stipend. Shit like that.”
Curran leans forward. “Sounds like hell.”
“You could say that,” Van Winkle says.
Curran runs his massive hands through his hair. He’s a bear of a man, a gentle giant who makes Van Winkle look frail and meek. Curran thinks: What series of circumstances led me to sitting in this dumpy bar right now, across from a 25-year-old dead man? “What do I have to do?” he asks.
“It’s simple, really.” Van Winkle finishes his beer and waves to the barmaid for another. “After you ‘die,’ you’ll go through orientation at the Philly regional office. That takes about four weeks. Then you’re assigned a rookie assignment. The first performance review is in 90 days.”
“That’s a lot of hassles.”
“It’s work,” Van Winkle says. “You know how many people die every day in the Philadelphia region? It takes a lot of time to process and transition everyone.”
“Will I feel pain when I die?”
“Yes. But it all happens pretty quickly.”
Curran considers this. Then he thinks of Lisa, mangled in the car accident that took her from him. “Will I see my wife?”
“Eventually,” Van Winkle says. “There’s not much time for leisure, though. We typically get one day off per month. There’s very little time for sleep, too. You don’t need it, though.”
Curran lights another cigarette and laughs. Van Winkle looks at him seriously, but Curran keeps laughing, until his face turns red and tears fall from his eyes. The guys at the pool table look over at him, thinking, “Who is this old nut?”
“Count me in, Mr. Van Winkle. Sign me up for the DDA!” Curran keeps laughing as he says this, unable to control himself. Now he’s holding his side and breathing deeply, saying, “Wooo. Wooo. What a ride.”
The barmaid comes over and says, “You alright, man?”
“I’m fine. Just haven’t heard anything this funny in years.”
“What was the joke?”
Curran turns to her, his eyes wild, and says, “A dead man walks into a church and tells a priest, ‘You’ll be dead in two months.’ The priest says, ‘How do you know?’ The dead man hands him a business card and says, ‘Because there is no death.’”
Curran bursts into laughter again, losing it. The barmaid stares at him, puts her hand on her side. “I don’t get it,” she says while chewing her gum.
Curran stops laughing and reaches for another cigarette. “You will someday.”
To be continued …