St. Peter knew the wide-hipped, big breasted, large-lipped, brown-skinned woman was trouble the moment she arrived. She popped up outside the Gates of Heaven like a thunderclap. The hundreds in line turned to see what the commotion was all about.
Hands on her hips, in her tight red suit with the short skirt, she looks right back at the crowd, "Where the fuck am I? Who're all of you assholes, looking like butter wouldn't melt in your mouths."
The multitude gasps, steps back, and in unison, points to St. Peter behind his desk at the head of the line.
St. Peter motions her to him. He figures he will put the loud, foul-mouthed, Candidate for Entrance in her place and shut her dark, but comely face.
She rolls her hips, holds her head high and struts to St. Peter. Somebody in the crowd gives a wolf whistle. Somebody moans. Somebody cries out, "Good God a mighty!"
St. Peter glares at the unseemly display of lust and the casual taking of His name in vain. He quickly scratches a loud-mouthed apostate off his list.
Before the scarlet harlot can speak, St. Peter speaks like low rolling thunder, "Etta May Shoemaker, age fifty-two, mother of two, three times married, twice divorced, once widowed, ex-prostitute, madam, and card dealer, you need to sit your ass over there." He motions to a bench about a mile away on his left. "You have been waitlisted for Heaven."
Etta May looks impressed by his vocal prowess and stops short at the sound of his magnificent voice.
"You in the choir, old man?"
"Old man? Did you just call me an, an 'old man?'"
"Look, Pops, you need to save all that deep bass shit for the choir. What's with the pearly gates and --"
St. Peter puts a whiplash into his voice. "Etta May Shoemaker, shut your mouth before you talk your way into Hell. Move over there to the waitlisted benches and be quick about it."
But she ain't quick about it. She marches right up to his desk. "Chill, St. Pete. I know who you is. Listen, if I'm dead." She chuckles, grins, points at the Gatekeeper. "If I'm dead, why the fuck am I here? I got no business here. I do got business back in Oakland. I got my daughters --"
The Saint grits his teeth counts silently to ten. "Etta May, you are as dead as a doornail, and you are on thin ice here. Your forty-year-old daughter, Destiny, and your thirty-five-year-old daughter, Hope are no longer your problems. I'm your problem. Now, go sit your ass down and be quiet."
The crowd gasps and quiets.
St. Pete's face is as dark and threatening as a storm cloud.
Etta May sucks her teeth, licks her lips, leans over the desk, face to face with the man of God. "You ain't The Man here. You the flunky here. You need to keep that in mind." Etta May spins on her eight-inch heels, smiles at the crowd and shakes and rolls her way to the waitlisted bench.
Etta May has been cooling her elegant heels and banking her furious anger at St. Peter and all this red tape bullshit for too long. Now, she stands before St. Peter for the only interview that really counts, and she's as mad as hell.
"All right, Shoemaker, I can see you are stirred up, angry, and upset, but take a deep breath, relax, cool down, and you will complete this interview and be on your way --"
"What do you do in Heaven? What's happening up here?"
St. Peter chuckles, "That question will be answered if you pass through the pearly gates. Now --"
"What kinda scam is this? You can't tell me what kinda pig is in this poke? I'm flying blind with you, brother?"
St. Peter sighs, "Look, I can tell you, you will be reunited with your dear dead ones. And --"
"Bullshit. I never knew my daddy and me and my Moms ain't been right since I was ten and she lent me to her boyfriend."
"Shoemaker, you are just about to blow it --"
"Listen, old man, what exactly am I blowing? I've given a lot of blow jobs. I always inspect the dick first. So, just let me take a peek."
St. Peter stands and glares down at Etta May, "You need to get right, quick. One more smart ass --"
"Fuck, Pete, just -- do you got good BBQ up here? Homemade sweet potato pie? Collards and musters with ham hocks?"
"No! No. This is not a ghetto dive --"
"You got a good cat house here --"
"No! No brothels. Never."
"A shit house? You got a good crapper where you can read and contemplate in peace and quiet?"
"Listen, Shoemaker for the last time --"
"And, and no streets paved with gold and no milk and honey either, I bet."
"This is Heaven! You experience it on a spiritual level. You --"
"Okay, if you say so, but what the fuck does that mean?"
"You have to experience it for yourself. It is a marvelous experience. Unequaled --"
"Pete, there ain't no food, fucking, or farting. I ain't interested in no eternal high."
St. Peter slams his fist on his desk. "Shoemaker, you can go straight to Hell. Now!"
"Okay, brother. Don't stroke out on me. Just let me holler at Mary before I split."
St. Peter spits out his response, "Mary, the mother of Jesus, has no interest in speaking to the likes of you."
"No, Pete, not that teenage mother. I mean Mary Magdalene. We both pros. She can help me see the light. Find my way. Get paid. Hit the sweet spot."
"Shoemaker, you have the nerve to ask a favor --"
"Come on, Pete. Do this, and you never see me again. Now, how cool is that?"
St. Peter takes several deep breaths, closes his eyes, counts silently to ten, again. "Shoemaker, I don't know where Magdalene is. And even if I did --"
"Oh, come on, Pete. Send one of those hunky angels to find her. Michael, send him. He's supposed to be hot."
"Angels are not 'hot.' They are soulless, sexless, servants of Heaven. Your lustful longings are misplaced. I will not waste their --"
"'Servants?' That's what they called us in slave times to avoid calling a slave a slave. You know that, right?"
"Shoemaker, you need to leave now, or I will call an angel with a flaming sword to escort --"
"Why are they soulless and sexless in the first place?"
St. Peter steps from behind his desk and is nose to nose with Etta May. "Only The Man can answer that question, and you will never have the opportunity to ask Him."
Etta May squints her eyes, bares her teeth, "Slave labor! You all created your own winged niggers up in here. It may be Heaven to you, but I bet its Hell to your nigger angels."
"Damn! You, you don't know shit! Angels were created to serve. That's what they do. They exist to serve us. They can't be anything, but what they are."
"Oh, oh now, you pissed off. You full of shit, Pete and you know it. Lucifer and his crew rebelled against this slavery. They think. They feel. They fight. All angels need to be free."
St. Peter balls up his fist, shudders, his face red with anger. He stomps back to his seat. "You infidel, you fool. You would bite the hand that created you. I shudder at the consequences for your poor dammed soul."
Etta May steps up to his desk. "Pete, I would rather lose my soul than have sold out. Brother, you need to check yourself out -- find out which side you on."
St. Peter roars back, "There are no sides. This is Heaven. This is it. You can't challenge Him. You can't --"
"Pete, you know this shit ain't right. We gonna make it right, okay?"
"You are delusional; you are fighting a losing battle ... I'll let you in if ..."
"Fuck, no! Get Magdalene. You, me, her, Lucifer and his crew."
"No! that is a sacrilegious, profane thought. You would have me side with the ultimate evil. I --"
"Okay, brother. I feel you. But, you know every slave owner calls rebellious slaves evil. You know that, right?"
"Etta May Shoemaker, just leave me alone. I know right from wrong. I, I'm a Saint."
"Sure, you do. That's why I'm asking you to come with me. Shit, Heaven should be about justice. Being spiritual -- that's some lame ass shit!"
St. Peter draws himself up to his full height, and in his most impressive and frightening voice that echoes throughout Heaven, he addresses Etta May, "Etta May Shoemaker go straight to Hell."
Etta May starts walking away from St. Peter. She turns and faces the ex-fisherman, "Peter, I'm not going to Hell. I'm leaving Hell. This is your last chance, brother to stand up, be counted among the seekers of justice."
St. Peter gives her the finger -- with both hands.
"Okay, too bad, brother. I coulda rocked your world."
Etta May doesn't see any signpost or directions. Everything is kinda gray and foggy. Etta May is lost, abandoned, afraid, dead. She wonders if the dead can cry.
She stops. She shouts, "Mary Magdalene!" Etta May turns to her left and shouts, "Mary Magdalene!" As she turns again, she hears a faint voice, "Hey, hey, if you the Hell-bound Etta May Shoemaker, wait there for me. Wait, wait, and we will tear down the pearly gate."
Etta May shouts back, "Magdalene, this is Etta. Is that you girl?"
The answer is a booming laugh growing rapidly closer.
Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-03-05
Image(s) © Patrick Hicks. All rights reserved.