It was a year and a half after Judy’s was convicted of the murders of all her siblings and a good portion of the town besides.
Allen was arrested when it came out that he was Judy’s weed connection and Gordon’s henchman, but they promised him a reduced sentence for testifying against Judy, so he’d spent a few months back in prison, but was out in no time.
He enlisted Sam and Dave to watch over Mom while he was away, and they took good care of her. Mom was the first one they’d ever met who got the joke, and they were so pleased that they worked up a routine for her and serenaded her with a new song every time they came over.
Alice visited all the time with the kids, and took Mom along on trips and outings. She and Ben dated for a minute, and got married as soon as Mom felt it was decent, and when Alice told her she was pregnant again, Mom was just as excited as if Alice were her real daughter. Ben met with the board of directors of Rick’s software firm, erased a few files, resigned with a very healthy package, and spent his time being a stay-at-home dad, and mashing up security footage put up on You-Tube.
Gordon’s will, scrawled on the back of an envelope, gave Mom his newly-acquired strip club empire. This was a little hard for Mom to take until the nice military men came back thru town and explained it to her. She was delighted to do her patriotic duty, and let Allen dirty his hands running the business, with the help of a competent management team – Sam and Dave, who continued to report to the FBI.
Judy’s house was in Frank’s name because Judy’s credit had always been shitty. So with the will Mom forced Frank to write, and a quitclaim from Judy, she got it all years before it would have gone to her anyway. The notebook with Frank’s new will was never found. Mom took one look inside the house, complained that everything smelled of mold, and it all went into dumpsters. They fumigated, then rented the house to a stranger.
Mom and Allen got married a few months after Alice and Ben did. She’d put him thru all the tests, and was satisfied that she was finally marrying a like-minded old fashioned upright Christian gentleman, and he did everything to make sure she continued to think that, and counted his lucky stars. Sure, Mom controlled all the money, kept the car keys, and constantly had work for him to do. But Allen enjoyed Mom’s sexual proclivities, and didn’t mind if she had to be right all the time. They got along just fine.
Thanks to the new streamlined federal appeals process, Judy’s journey from guilty verdict to death row and beyond was swift and sure, and before two years were up, she was able to count her remaining time in weeks, then days.
At first she dearly wished she had testified. She knew that none of what the prosecution said applied to her – not the poison, not the childhood animosity, not the welcome mat, not the shot fired at Laurie – never mind the silly serial killings. It was inconceivable that the jury wouldn’t see thru the prosecution’s made-up story, that they wouldn’t see that Judy was behaving exactly like an older sister is supposed to behave, stepping in and taking over and making everything right.
It was obvious that she’d been busy saving her whole family. Well, there was nothing she could have done to help Rick, and all that poison had absolutely nothing to do with her. She only moved the mat out of concern for others’ safety, and the gun went off by itself. Couldn’t they see that? She was convinced that her innocence was obvious right up until the foreman stood up and read an endless stream of counts and guilty verdicts.
Until that point, she was happy with her lawyer’s efforts to prove she was just trying to help. After the verdict, she realized that he’d just been humoring her, while practically winking at the jury – that eager to distance himself from the crazy bag lady smelly mass murderer he was forced to represent.
There was an effort during the sentencing phase to have her punishment include mental health treatment. They made her see several doctors, and forced her to take medication for a minute, but once she was transferred to death row they let her skip the meds, and the infirmary techs sold them to other prisoners instead.
After the celebrity of being in the general population as a serial family killer, she’d been in isolation since she was moved to death row, and spent all her time working on a fictionalized autobiography, a rip roaring according-to-her fantasy of what happened, seamlessly blending truth and fiction to portray a higher reality. What the hell, she was on death row, who was going to care if she made it a screwball comedy? An alien conspiracy? A zombie story? Whatever it was, it would be a bestselling flash in the pan, and all the money would go to Mom, who would insist on playing herself in any movie.
Since all the official evidence pointed at Judy, and nobody was going to believe that she didn’t do everything she was convicted of, she wanted to piece the whole thing together for herself, using what she knew about her family, filling in the gaps with her own informed creativity.
But there was a problem with Judy writing the story her way – it was all first draft, and no editor. And this is a problem because when you die and they go to publish what you’ve written, it’s incomprehensible – notes and shorthand, ramblings and fairy tales, big words used out of context, really bad logical arguments and pungent purple prose. It was as if she’d used a whole bunch of stickies for headings, and filled out the details with a felt-tip in a big notebook.
She exaggerated here and there, like putting dragons in Cindy’s head. For all she knew, Cindy had been ruthlessly sane the whole time she was out killing the dogs and the neighbors. But Judy couldn’t see Cindy doing most of the things she did without being off her head, so she wrote Cindy as a schizophrenic, drug-addled spoiled brat, not much different than she had been as a child.
And Rick. She may have put words into his mouth, and made up some of his actual thoughts, but he was always the same, always self important, always unscrupulous, always out to win at any price. It was easy to write Rick because he was so transparent, such a tantrum-throwing bully. She actually toned down some of the shit he did to Alice, because she just couldn’t stand to write it down.
And Gordon, he was a walnut. Not because he was all that secretive – his style was to tell everybody everything and hide things in plain sight. And Judy always understood him. But she’d never gone as deep into drug-induced psychosis as he had, so it was kind of a stretch. Like with Cindy, Judy really didn’t have a good sense of what they were like inside.
But Mom; well, Mom was an open book, just like Rick was. Her displeasure showed on her face, in the tilt of her head, in the crook of her finger. Judy could see Mom’s resentments pouring off her body like steam. She could hear Mom’s shrill thoughts in her head, could channel her onto the page as if she were in a trance.
If painful, it was mainly easy to write about her family, and they were easy to caricature. But Judy was hardest on herself. And even then, she was really just repeating the voices in her head. People had condemned her for years for being herself. For not doing enough with her potential, for standing up for quirky things and ignoring traditions, for always being out of touch with the way things were supposed to be done, for being an artist instead of having a real job…All that.
And always, out of a sense of fairness, she considered what they thought first. What her family thought, society, the church, government, random other humans. She always wondered if they were right. She always hesitated, second-guessed herself, ignored her own instincts because they might just be right. Fortunately, after a few rounds of this first reaction, she always turned over and said no – my way is what I want to do, so I’m going to do it my way – and at that point she was fine.
Looking back over her life, she made good progress; she achieved lots of small victories over others’ attempts to run her life. But she was always plagued with having to second-guess, to question her own motives, to make sure she wasn’t being as blindly self-serving as everybody around her. And each time, she decided that what she wanted to do was the right thing to do, the only choice that expressed her and made use of her unique gifts to benefit humanity. No matter what everybody else said.
And so, year after year, she’d spent her life plodding slowly along on her own agenda, ignoring – as much as possible – all those voices chorusing in unison: Don’t be stupid, Judy, don’t be wrong. Do it our way; do it the right way and we’ll all love you.
So, as far as being hardest on herself, yes and no. Nobody was more accurate in their criticism of her, nobody had more insight into her agenda and motives. In fact, she was the only expert on her that there was, the only expert on her family, the only expert on the entire story of her life. And she believed that she was a good person. So even at the end, she still decided that she was right to do it her way, and oh well if they didn’t agree.
After lights out, she spent her sleepless death row nights consoling herself that the story of her life would interest lots of people. She had lessons to impart, and advice, and her insights, and her valuable, unique palette of knowledge. So her mission, as a soul about to depart this planet, was to show people that there was another way to understand what had happened. It was her duty to tell people about her way, to show them how good it was to see the world the way Judy Fuchs saw it.
And then Mom came for a visit. Judy was sitting in her cell trying to wrap things up, but she’d taken a diversion, and was busy contemplating the comparison between the United States and her family. The USA as a dysfunctional family.
Her stickie read, every row a little more squinched, “Dad raped an Indian, then they got married and had a bunch of kids, who grew up to hate each other and war between themselves and pass their bad blood down thru the generations. Instead of getting it right and having normal lives. There is no normal.
She was annoyed to hear someone coming down the hall and slowing down at her cell. You’ve got a visitor. Mom.
At first Judy didn’t want to leave her cell. Her work was too important. But she thought for a minute and realized that she hadn’t forgiven Mom or Allen for being the prosecution’s star witnesses. Then she tried to look at it from Mom’s point of view, and realized that Mom had never seen Judy’s good side, and would prefer to go with the voice of authority. After all, Judy’s execution would prove Mom right.
Mom always waited until their father got home and wailed about what they’d done to her. It was the same now. Mom thought she was the one who’d been wronged, by them all, and wanted everyone to know that she had suffered horribly because – despite everything – her children had all turned out to be monsters.
But Judy went down to see her anyway. Mom was busy cleaning her part of the visiting room with disinfectant wipes, and sat fussing with the handset for awhile before actually meeting Judy’s eyes. She looked annoyed to be there. She gave the impression that she had finally given in to Judy’s incessant begging and stopped by for an interminable fifteen minutes; even tho Judy hadn’t seen her since the trial.
But that was just Mom, and Judy tried to tell her she was actually happy to see her, and asked how she was doing.
After proudly reciting the litany of just how well things were going with everybody’s life except for her daughter’s, Mom’s face changed. She looked almost sorry. She looked almost guilty.
She quietly confessed thru the handset that she should be where Judy was sitting.
Judy immediately rose to give Mom her seat.
“Hah. No, really,” Mom insisted, glad it wasn’t remotely possible. The germs.
“No really,” Judy replied, thinking of Frank’s death. She sat back down, vaguely disappointed. “Why do you think we should trade seats?”
Mom started to tear up. “Because it’s all my fault that everything happened this way.”
Judy consoled her. Mom was in shock seeing her only child days from a painful death. “No it isn’t, Mom,” she said gently. “You’re not responsible for how everybody turned out. You did your best to raise us. It might not have been good enough, but you were damaged yourself, so the deck was stacked against you.”
Mom agreed that she couldn’t win with kids like hers. “Besides,” Judy continued, “with kids like us you’re lucky to be alive and sane.”
Mom shook her head and started to sniffle. “But you don’t understand. It’s not luck at all. God did all this.”
Sure, Mom.” Judy got that barely tolerant tone in her voice. “God is in back of it all. I know. You can stop trying to make me feel better about being punished in error.”
“No,” Mom protested. “God did everything. And I asked Him to. So it’s all my doing.” She burst into tears. Life was so hard when you were God’s chosen.
Judy tried to be patient, but she wished Mom would leave so she could go back to being the center of her own universe and concentrate on dying. “Mom, what are you trying to tell me?”
Mom sniffed back a sob. “I prayed that God would give each of you what you deserved.” She started crying again, loudly. “My children – even you,” she reached a hand to the glass, “played their father against me at every opportunity. They always went behind my back, they never listened to me, they never gave me the respect I deserved, every one of then plotted against me, right up until the day they died.” She sniffed. “For all I know you’re still plotting against me yourself.”
You were batshit crazy when we were growing up, Mom!” Judy almost shouted thru the handset. “We were just kids, not demons from hell. We’re only pale reflections of the evil that lives within you.”
She glared at Judy, then patted her hair and smoothed her jacket, as if she hadn’t heard the outburst. “So I asked God to smite all of you,” she said, smiling faintly.
Judy sat and stared at her mother.
“I guess I could have prayed for something a little more merciful, but I have always prayed to God that you would get what you deserved.” Mom sat back in her chair and sighed. She was satisfied with this. It showed what a moral person she was. And because God listened to her, it meant she was right.
Judy fought with herself for some time after Mom left. She felt betrayed. Her mother said she loved her, and she was sorry, and she prayed for a miracle, but it was obvious that she only wanted to punish her for being Judy. That had never changed. Mom had been like that for as long as she could remember.
So Judy spent some time hating her Mom for it. And then she felt really sorry for herself because Mom didn’t love her, and her sister and brothers were dead, and Frank was gone, and there was nobody left. And she was going to die. And in the end, Judy just wanted to be loved, so she was sorry, and didn’t hate Mom anymore, and wanted Mom to love her.
Then she thought about what Mom had said. Could all these deaths be explained as miracles?
Mom wished Judy would learn her lesson, so here she was facing capital punishment.
Mom always wanted somebody to slap Rick upside his head for being such a bully, so there he was, beaten to death in public.
Mom wished Cindy would die of embarrassment for the cheap, trampy way she looked, and for thinking she was too good for her family. Cindy pissed herself before she died.
Mom wished Gordon would learn to stand on his own two feet. And he did in the end, but it only got him an exploded head.
As for the in-laws, Mom couldn’t help but give her children priority, as bad as they were. Consequently, nobody was good enough to marry into her family, and she despised them all.
Even Frank, whom she’d wished would leave her alone and crawl off into a corner.
Alice at least gave her some grandchildren, but she was so mousy she would irritate a saint, and Mom wished that she would stop being Rick’s ornament and do something with her life.
Bill was a waste of space, and she quite frankly wished he would just eat shit and die.
As for Laurie, Mom didn’t have time to get to know her, but her first impression was that Laurie was just going to cause trouble, and she sent up a quick prayer to keep the evil from her door.
And as for Allen, Mom wished for a real man, which Judy had to struggle to find a definition for, given Mom’s kinks and her slow suffocation of Dad over the years.
Finally, Mom always prayed that she would get the respect and attention she deserved, and so she made out like a bandit when everybody died. She was famous. They were making a movie about her. She had a featured advice blog and call-in show, and millions of fans already.
God is great.
After Mom’s visit, Judy didn’t feel like working on her autobiography any more. She felt like the goodness had drained out of life, and everything turned black overnight. Suddenly it didn’t matter about writing things down. Nobody was going to read her distilled wisdom; nobody was going to publish the contents of her stickie-infested notebook. Nobody would be able to understand what she had written. Nobody would understand her point.
Because there was no point.
The world wouldn’t even pause when she was gone; her death wouldn’t affect anything. Why should it? Her life had never affected anything. The minerals in her body would have a more lasting effect on the world.
Whatever Judy was going to be able to take with her, it was going to be what she had in her head right now. Thoughts, opinions, attitudes, baggage, buttons, memories, dreams. And the mountain of illusions and delusions and misconceptions and prejudice. Judy was a blend of anger and resentment, hope and joy. The main thing she had produced was philosophy and a certain fanciful body of rules to live by. A blend of first do no harm and fuck them if they can’t see the joke.
It really hurt that at the end of her life, she could look back and see nothing, a wasteland. Because all the things she’d studied and mastered, all the things she know, all the things that interested her – none of it could be passed on, none of it would ever be known, it would never be shared with anybody. She couldn’t understand why she was so upset about it – we’re just a scum on the side of a planet on the edge of a speck in the universe, why would one life be any different?
The end of her life was all about being alone. About the things she was inside. The reality was that these things were there for her only. And even if she hadn’t gotten all the use out of them she wanted, it was over now, and everything was going to vanish from the world.
She only wished she could still feel joy at being alive. With the world as black as it was, she could only wish that there was something that moved her. But Frank was gone, and she was going to be wiped out soon, and there was no good reason to look forward to anything. Except for death.
Now that her execution was so close, she kind of looked forward to it. The idea of spending the long years of the rest of her life in prison was horrifying to her. Not that she couldn’t have a decent, comfortable, dependable life in prison. But it’s not the life she wanted. Her real life had been wiped away, and maybe out of spite, she didn’t want to live if it meant being in prison.
People kept telling her to make the best of it, to live life to the fullest, even on death row, and that’s why she put so much energy into writing her memoirs. But she didn’t care anymore. She felt wretched, and powerless, and weak, and stupid, and she hated her life. She didn’t want to live if that’s what she was going to have to put up with forever.
But in the end, this attitude washed out of her too, and Judy spent her last hours waiting quietly for death.
She felt great the next morning, calm and alert, and living in the moment. The thoughts and feelings in her head were all curious and excited, and she bubbled over, happy to be alive, and wanting to live right up until the moment she winked out.
She was really curious about what it would be like. And she asked a million questions when the medical tech came to discuss the procedure. Sterilized equipment, alcohol prep – did she want music? Three drugs. One to put her to sleep. One to paralyze her. One to stop her heart. She asked which drugs, and they discussed dosages as if her doctors were recommending a course of treatment. Finally she ran out of questions, and it grew awkward.
Painless oblivion – that was the message she was supposed to take away. Judy said thanks for her concern and assured the tech, almost bashfully, that she was really innocent of all charges. When the door closed and the footsteps receded, Judy felt she had made a friend.
What determines the quality of death? Does the kind of life you lead determine how you die? Or how accepting you are of life in general? There are two ways to die, one where you give up the ghost easily and just drift away from your body toward the light, and the other where you have to be pulled violently out, squeezed until your spirit pops out. Is it your ego that holds you inside your body until the pressure is too great?
She wasn’t sure that she wanted to be knocked out, because she really wanted to be conscious when she died. At least, if death were really painless. Would she just wink out? If they were going to knock her out with drugs first, then wouldn’t she miss the final moment?
Gordon would want it that way – lulled to sleep with a narcotic, he wouldn’t care what they did to him. Cindy too. And who knows about Rick? They wouldn’t want to experience death personally, they would argue for not experiencing it at all, or paying someone to do it for them. They were normal people; they avoided death like any reasonable person would.
But Judy was really looking forward to her moment of death, sort of. At least she wanted to be conscious when she died, to see the light. Of course, being conscious when she died was something she associated with a really quick deaths, like hitting a bridge abutment at 75 miles an hour, when it would only hurt for a microsecond. She didn’t really like the idea of being conscious when a big bolus of potassium attacked her heart muscle and set it on fire.
So maybe she didn’t really want to be conscious while they shot her veins full of caustic chemicals. Maybe dying in a drug induced coma was preferable. But this worried her, because there was evidence that you weren’t really asleep. Some people were wide awake and suffocating, paralyzed, in agony to the last.
Which was the point, she supposed. Why get any peace from an angry world? Maybe being drawn and quartered was a harsher punishment, but not being able to speak was very close to being the worst thing Judy could imagine.
In the last hours before they came to take her to the execution chamber, Judy wrote a long rambling letter to Mom, who would after all get her notebook when she was toast. Just like the letters she left under Mom’s pillow when she was a little girl. She was always tongue-tied trying to argue with Mom. Mom was too quick with a comeback, and so determined to get her way that Judy could never make herself understood. She was sure that if Mom could understand and consider Judy’s point of view, then she would approve, and let her go about it her own way.
Which never happened. Judy often left origami-folded letters on Mom’s pillow when she went to school the morning after some horrendous fight. She always found them in the wastebasket later, crumpled but still folded.
Just like her story. Unread – nobody wants to know – why did she bother – too late now.
Mom did read Judy’s story, some months after Judy’s effects were given to her. She went thru and annotated Judy’s logical and moral fallacies with appropriate Bible passages. Mom had many emotions and thoughts as she deciphered Judy’s mentally disturbed scribbles and notes. Mainly she felt faintly queasy the whole time, as if she might absorb Judy’s sickness by touching the pages. Mainly she thought about how they should have known Judy was a time-bomb. They should have recognized the signs and done something about it before people started dying. Mom felt personally responsible. She’d naturally assumed, but should have made it clear to God, that Judy was oldest and should get her punishment first.
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin are death.
Exodus 21 – Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
Leviticus 20:9 – If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.
Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
Exodus 22 – You shall not allow a witch to live.
Deuteronomy 21-22 – And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
You must purge the evil from among you.
Jeremiah 36:31 – And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity.
Jeremiah 21:14 – But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.
Ezekiel 18:20 – The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
1 Samuel 15:23 – For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Romans 6:21 – What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
Jeremiah 16:18 – And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things.
Psalms 94:23 – And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.
Isaiah 13:11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
Psalms 92:7 When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:
Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Judy was walking down a country road. Her dog Pluto was off in the bushes, sniffing and catching up, then running past and stopping to sniff again. She was enjoying the sound of the birds and the feel of the warm sun and the wind, and the colors of the trees and shrubs and fields she passed.
She slowly realized that Pluto had been dead for decades, and that she had been recently tied to a gurney and peered at by people in gowns and masks. So she must be dead too. But it sure was nice, so she kept walking, and Pluto kept frolicking alongside her.
Soon they came to a big, high, smooth and shiny stone wall that went on and on to one side of the road. Finally there was a drive made of gold, and a huge ornate pearly gate gleaming in the sun. She went up to a massive desk next to the gate, where there was an imposing old man in white robes, with a halo on his head.
She shuffled, then coughed, then called out softly, then peered around the desk and up at him and shouted. “Excuse me, where am I?”
“This is Heaven,” the man answered.
“Duh, I guess,” Judy said. “Um, do I tell you my life story, or show you some ID?” She patted her pockets, and found her keys, but must have left her license at home. She felt for her stickies to write herself a note to get it next time.
“I know who you are,” he said.
She stopped fishing in her pockets and waited for him to tell her what to do, but he continued writing in his book.
“Um,” she said, nervously, not knowing what to do next, “I’m pretty thirsty. Do you have any water?”
“Of course,” the man said, shutting his book with a snap. “Come in and I’ll send for some ice water. In a crystal goblet.” The gates began to open. Harp music played softly. Bells tinkled.
“Great,” Judy said, making for the gold drive. “Come on, Pluto.”
The man gestured, and the gates stopped. “No pets, miss,” he said. “They have no souls.”
“Judy stopped with one foot on the gold drive, staring into the distance. Fluffy clouds, rounded hills, sheep, shady trees. There were people in the distance, walking toward the gate. They looked familiar.
She remembered the morning long ago when she lost whatever religious tendency she might have had. She was talking with Mom about Heaven. She must have been eight, maybe eleven. She wanted to know what Heaven was like, whether it was all clouds or was it a real place, whether you could fly, if you had to eat everything on your plate and could you have two desserts.
Then she wanted to know would Poochy and Snuggles be there, and Mom told her that dogs and cats couldn’t go to Heaven because they had no souls.
Judy turned away from the pearly gates, and she and Pluto started on down the road.
“Wait, Miss,” the man at the desk called. She paused and looked back. “Your loved ones are here.”
The group had reached the gate. Rick was there, and Cindy. Gordon called to her, “Judy, come on. It’s great in here. We’ve saved a place for you.” He waved a bag of weed. “I’m holding.”
But Judy didn’t see Frank, and turned away down the road. Pluto went back to the gate and wagged his tail and sniffed them, but caught up with her as Judy walked away.
She walked and walked, wondering why she didn’t just go back and hang with her family. But the day was so pleasant, and if felt so good to simply walk, to simply breathe, to be alive in every pore and nerve. So she kept walking, and Pluto walked alongside her.
After many miles, she came to an old farm, with a broken-down fence and hay that needed mowing. A dirt road stretched off into the woods at the other side of the field, where a bit of smoke rose from a farmhouse she could just barely see thru the trees. As she came up to the dirt road, she noticed the farmer just inside the fence, leaning against a tree and staring up thru the branches at the birds.
“Hey, there,” she said, coming up to him. “What’re you doing?”
“Oh, waiting for you,” he said.
Judy leaned against the tree and looked up. The branches spread out all around, dividing the space equally for 50 feet in all directions. They stood and looked at it in silence for awhile.
Then Judy realized she was thirsty. “I’m Judy,” she offered in a croak, the first time she’d spoken for hours. She leaned over and shook the farmer’s hand. It was warm and soft, and calloused around the edges. “We’re kind of thirsty,” she confessed.
“Well, help yourselves at the trough,” he said, gesturing at a watering trough hidden from the road, just over the dirt road from the tree where they were standing.
She walked over, and gave Pluto some water in a bowl, and drank some herself, and came back to stand with the farmer. They talked about the weather and how pleasant it was to be alive.
Then she remembered her family standing at the pearly gates. “Can you tell me where we are?” she asked.
“This is Heaven,” he said.
“This is Heaven too?” She thought. “Oh, I get it. This is the employee entrance.”
The farmer laughed. “No.”
Judy’s face fell. “Aw. I kind of wanted to work in Heaven. I could be a cook.” She thought for a moment. “I’d love to be a gardener. I could take care of all this,” she gestured at the tree. “That’d be great.”
“No, it’s not the employee entrance. The place with the gold street and pearly gates is Hell.”
Judy looked around. She liked the look of this place better, to tell the truth. The other place was too manicured, too perfect. “But why do you let them use your name like that?”
He leaned his head back and looked up the tree trunk. “We let them pre-screen people for us.” Then he looked at Judy. “Frank’s waiting for you on the porch,” he said, nodding down the dirt road. “Nice guy.”
Judy looked at him and smiled, a big grin. The farmer reached into his back pocket and took out a flask of whisky, took a swig, and passed it to Judy. Surprised, she took a drink, then another.
Then he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a joint, and they stood there under the tree, smoking and drinking, talking about her life.
“So,” the farmer said as he took the joint from Judy and prepared to hit it. “What do you want to do next life?”