a rare one on winedrunk
Milo Dabrowski awoke in a lounge chair overlooking a vast span of cobalt colored ocean. He stared up into the sunny sky. It was just as blue; the hot sand around him a rich beige color. Milo got up and looked around. There was nothing but paradise as far as he could see. It was humid as well; the kind that made you ill. Milo hated this kind of heat. He passed summers indoors, happily destroying the Ozone layer with air conditioning. To him the sun was a flaming ball of carcinogenic gas in the sky. He’d once heard that the world would end in exactly eight minutes if the sun ever burned out. Milo imagined those eight minutes as one long and glorious symphony of time.
There were a few other people wandering the beach. Nestled above were rows of condominiums painted pastel. Milo looked at it all and sighed. This was paradise to some, but not for him. It was like he always said to his wife: give me an overcast world with a daily chance of rain and maybe, just maybe, I could believe in heaven. He loved the gray. Milo had no clue how he’d gotten on this beach. It was surely not by choice. Greta must’ve dragged him here on another one of those marriage saving vacations. He stretched and yawned, covered his eyes with his hand, saw a bamboo cabana alcove in the distance, and went trudging through the hot sand in search of a cold drink.
“Hello, Milo,” the voice next to him said. Milo had just gotten his bottle and settled his lounger near a sliver of shade that seemed to keep moving away.
Milo set down his beer and looked to his left. Resting right next to him was an overweight man, naked to his waist, a plate of Buffalo wings on his bulging stomach. It was Edgar Patterson, his boss. Christ, Milo thought, taking in the fat, grinning, shirtless man with his red babyface and those man boobs that stuck against his belly. Had he gone nuts? Was he on some kind of working vacation with Edgar Patterson? Milo put down his beer. “What in the hell are you doing here?”
“What do you mean?” Patterson asked, in that doughy way that he had of talking. He took a wing, sucked off all the skin and fat, the chicken meat, and started chewing and snorting.
“I mean what are you doing here?” Milo gestured toward “paradise.” “While I’m on vacation with my...wife?”
“You’re not on vacation with your wife.”
“I’m not?” Milo smiled. “If I’m not on vacation with my wife then who am I on vacation with?
“Do you even know how you got here?”
“Not a clue.”
“What’s the last thing that you remember?”
“I remember making love to a beautiful girl. It was the best sex I’d ever had. She kept begging me for more. I’d never had a woman talk that way.” Milo felt no shame or embarrassment. It would be good for the fat bastard to hear a tale of unbridled sexual pleasure. “And then I woke up here on the beach.”
“She was paid to act that way.”
“Then she deserves an Oscar.”
Patterson had another Buffalo wing, taking the whole thing in one slurp.
“Can I have one of those? I’m starving,” Milo said.
Milo took a wing off of Patterson’s plate. But it tasted like nothing to him. “How can you eat this?”
“Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in you,” Patterson said.
“About the woman?”
“I’m just kidding. I’m all for infidelity. In fact, I encourage it.”
“You?” Milo didn’t even know that Edgar Patterson had a monogamous sex life to speak of, let alone the hutzpah to endorse extra-marital affairs.
“Why not me?” Patterson said. “Besides it’s good for business.”
“You mean at the office?”
Patterson waved his arms around. “Here.”
Milo looked around at the sand, the blue water, and the blue sky. He leaned in closer to his boss. “What do you care for here?” Then Milo got a creepy feeling inside of him. “You haven’t gotten us involved with sex tourism. Am I some kind of guinea pig? Because I swear I tell them that you drugged me and had me dragged down here.”
Edgar Patterson sighed. “For goodness sake, Milo, haven’t you figured it out already? You’re dead.”
“Dead?” Milo said. “That’s one-hundred percent not possible. If I were dead my wife would’ve texted me the news with about ten joyous emoticons.”
“Think about it. Would you be in a place like this with me? Would you be here at all if you were still alive?”
“True,” Milo said. Then it hit him. He remembered making love to that beautiful woman, working harder and harder to please her. But then he had to slow down once the pains started in his left arm and in his chest. And then? Milo slumped in his seat and put his head in his hands. “This is just terrible.”
Patterson put his stained hand on Milo’s shoulder. “It’s not so bad here.”
Patterson laughed. “Guess again.”
Milo grabbed his waiting beer. He drank the thing until it was gone. Then walked back to the alcove and ordered another one from an angry looking bartender.
“Be careful with those,” Patterson said, when Milo returned. “There’s no alcohol in the drinks we serve down here.”
“It’s all a part of the experience. There’s no taste to the food, no alcohol in any of the drinks, and you’ll always stay sober and hungry. You should see some of these people. They eat and drink all day, thinking that’ll help them numb some of the sadness. But, of course, it just hits them harder.” Patterson shook his head. “You should see the complaint letters I get.”
“You know this does nothing for my lifelong ethos of atheism.”
“Sometimes it pays to believe what you can’t see.”
“How could I believe when it seemed as though everyone spouting the word of God was some kind of right wing psycho, or a nut job in the subway?”
“Blessed are the meek?”
“It’s the Catholics fault. They were always going on about when you die, if you lived a good life, you’d go to heaven and there’d be everyone you ever knew just waiting there for you. I thought who in their right mind would want to die and go somewhere and see all of the people you spent an entire life trying to get away from.”
“That’s a good philosophy,” Patterson said. “It’s wrong, but it’s a good philosophy.”
“So you don’t see everyone in heaven?”
“You’re more likely to run into those people down here.”
“Great. Like who?”
“Ex-girlfriends and wives, neighbors that you had problems with; bullies from your childhood; tax auditors; people who talk in movie theaters. There are a lot of players from the Dallas Cowboys down here.” Patterson smiled. “Old bosses.”
“So you’re dead too?” Milo asked.
“Nah,” Patterson said. “I’m simply the manifestation of Edgar Patterson, your old boss at Roadways Travel Agency.”
“But the real Patterson will end up here one day, right? I mean the man should have his own island in hell.”
Patterson laughed. “He’s not coming here when he dies.”
“Edgar Patterson is a lazy, slothful individual. The man sits at his desk for hours playing solitaire and eating bags of potato chips by the dozen. He sleeps all afternoon while I do his work. And then he takes all of the credit for it with those guys up in corporate.”
“He’s never cheated on his wife with a prostitute,” Patterson said.
“That’s because no woman would take him.”
“You’re just mad at him because he put you on probation.”
“I was only making fun of Jesus Christ. How would I know that it would offend him?”
“He’s a sensitive man.”
“He’s a Jew,” Milo said. “He doesn’t even believe in Jesus.”
He got up off of his stool and began pacing. Milo looked down at his clothing. He had on Khaki pants that were flooded to the ankles, and a tight red t-shirt with the phrase, While You Were Staring at My Butt, I Farted, written on it in puffy blue letters. “I don’t believe this. I die and I’m stuck in hell wearing these clothes, and Edgar Patterson gets to live on eating wings and farting in his chair. Let me ask you something, if this is hell, why is it a sandy beach?”
“Because you hate sandy beaches.”
“I really do. And sun.” Milo stopped moving and felt his sweaty brow. “There’s no shade and the heat is almost unbearable. I gotta hand it to you. This is actually what hell is for me.”
Patterson smiled. “I’m pretty excited by what we came up with.”
“So are you the devil?”
“That’s kind of hard to explain. Let’s just say that there’s one main devil, and a bunch of us who act as his conduits.” Patterson thought for a moment. “Think of the devil as kind of like a company president, and the rest of us as his board of directors.”
“Great. Corporations run the afterworld as well.”
“Will you always be in the form of Edgar Patterson?” Milo asked.
“Except at your home. At home I’ll be your wife. Only forgive me if I nag you constantly. I have to. It’s in the contract.”
“And I don’t get to meet the real devil?”
“He’s mostly retired now. He takes on the big ones when they come down here.”
“Like Jerry Fallwell?”
“Fallwell went to heaven.”
“You’re shitting me,” Milo said.
“I shit you not. He did Gore Vidal though.”
“Vidal is down here?”
“Most artists are.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s wherever his hell is.”
Milo sat back down on his lounge chair. He picked up his beer and had a good pull. The brew had quickly gotten warm. “I’ll never see another gray day.”
“Or feel cool air, or see an autumn leaves fall, or see a Super Bowl….I could go on if you’d like,” Patterson said.
“Don’t you want to be surprised?”
“Would you want to be surprised in a place like this?”
“True. Let me think.” Patterson bit his bottom lip, letting his big yellow teeth fall over the flesh. “You’re going to have to get a job.”
“Doing what? Carrying large boulders up hills only to watch them come back down again?”
“Nothing as Sysiphisian as that. You’ll be working back at the travel agency with me.”
“Who needs a travel agent in hell?”
Patterson raised an eyebrow at Milo. “Lots of people do. Especially all of the families going to Disney.”
“They have Disney here?” Milo said.
“They practically bankroll the place,” Patterson said. “But that’s not all. We’ve got constant traffic here. Smog. We’ve got undercooked food with E-coli and Salmonella. There’s no aspirin or good drugs. We play twenty four hour news networks and reality television all day and all night on warped tube sets that never shut off, that seep through the walls and floors and ceilings of your noisy neighbors. Our cell phone connections are bad down here. There’s no WiFi. All of our prostitutes are diseased. There’s no pizza, but there’s a McDonald’s on every block. Dogs bark non-stop, and babies always cry. There’s…”
“Okay, enough,” Milo said. “I think I get the idea. But if this is my personal hell, why are there all of these other people around?”
Patterson laughed. “People aren’t that original. Plus there’s simply not enough room for you to exist in your own world. So some aspects of hell are shared.”
“Like that bartender back there?”
“A failed actor,” Patterson said. “He spent years telling everyone how famous he was going to be, and how he’d never have to bartend again. They really hated him at his job.”
“What happened to him?” Milo watched the bartender slamming down glasses and throwing bottles, none of which broke.
“He was on his way back from an audition for a show that would’ve made him a star.”
“What did he do to end up here?”
“Made a deal with the devil to become famous.”
“But he never became famous.”
“Are you kidding me? His murder was scandal in the L.A. rags for months.”
“That’s a trick.”
“So is life.”
Milo was silent. The weight of his situation began to bear down. “Look, I understand that I might’ve cheated on my wife one or two times, but was that really enough to land me here?”
“You cheated on her ten times, Milo,” Patterson said.
“You gave her a venereal disease.”
“A touch of hepatitis C.”
Patterson pulled a piece of paper out of the back of his pocket. It was stained with ketchup and Buffalo wing sauce. He handed it to Milo. “That’s a list of everything that got you placed down here.”
Milo began to read the list. “It says on here that I broke eight of the Ten Commandments.”
“You did,” Patterson said.
“And this stuff about the neighbor’s dog. I only gave him Benadryl.”
“It wasn’t just Benadryl.”
“I fed him a sleeping pill or two.”
“Or the whole bottle,” Patterson said.
Milo looked at the list a second time. “Running red lights? Aren’t you getting a bit petty now?”
“One of those caused an old lady to die across town because the person you cut off was so angry that they drove without thinking and hit her.”
“So you say.” Milo handed the list back to Patterson. “Isn’t there somewhere I can go to dispute this? Like to some kind of lawyer or mediator?”
“All of the lawyers are in heaven,” Patterson said.
“Figures. So there’s nothing that I can do to try and get out of here?”
“Well,” Patterson said. “You remember how I was always a big Revolutionary War buff?”
“You used to talk my ear off about that stuff. I got addicted to Excedrin Migraine as a result.”
“You never listened.”
“That’s a shame,” Patterson said. “Because there is a way for you to get out of here.”
“What?” Milo said. “Anything. I’ll take it.”
“It’s a little something that the boss has us do to all the newbies.”
“The suspense is killing me.”
Patterson smiled. “Milo, I’m going to give you three questions from the Revolutionary War. If you can answer two out of the three, you get to leave here and go up to heaven.”
“Two out of three?”
“Bring it on.”
“Okay.” Milo sat there in his stupid get-up, rubbing his hands in anticipation. This should be a snap, he thought. Milo was no patriot but three questions about the Revolutionary War should be a cinch. “Name the French aristocrat who became a general in the Revolutionary War.”
“French aristocrat,” Milo said. A statue in Union Square came to him. He used to meet this blonde named Charlotte there. They had some of the best afternoon trysts of his life. But they always met by this one statue of a general. Milo would stare at it as Charlotte prattled on about her job, reading the name over and over and wondering when they’d leave and go to her apartment to have sex. “Lafayette.”
“Score one for Milo,” Patterson said. “One more answer and you’re free to go. Are you ready?”
“You bet your life, big boy.”
“Name the Massachusetts statesmen who nominated George Washington for commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.”
“John Hancock,” Milo said instantly.
“You don’t even want to think about it?”
“Think, schmink. I’m one up.”
“That’s too bad because it was John Adams who nominated George Washington for the post of commander-in-chief.”
“Damn it,” Milo said
“Last question,” Patterson said. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
“On what day did the Revolutionary War begin?”
“Are you serious?” Milo asked. “That’s your last question?”
Milo laughed. “Well, get ready to pack my bags buddy, because this boy is heading uptown. The Revolutionary War started on July 4, 1776. Even the dumbest kid knows that.” He got up from his chair. “Feel free to send someone along later with my bags.
“Not so fast,” Patterson said, grabbing Milo with another of his wing-stained hands. “The Revolutionary War did not begin on July 4, 1776.”
“Yeah right. Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to bullshit a bullshitter, Patterson?”
“I believe you told me that.”
“Well, it’s good advice. Now where’s the train out of this joint?”
“You’re wrong about the date.”
“It’s July 4th. Independence Day.”
Patterson chuckled. “That’s when the Declaration of Independence was signed. The war actually started on April 19, 1775, with the battles at Lexington and Concord.”
“Take me to a library and we’ll see who’s right.”
“There are no libraries,” Patterson said. He got up off of his lounge chair. The space of flesh where his man boobs had rested was now red and sweaty.
“Get one of your history books,” Milo said.
“I don’t have history books because I’m not the real Patterson.”
“How do you know I’m wrong?”
Patterson sighed. He chuckled again. “It doesn’t really matter. I was pulling your chain. There’s no three question contest to get out of hell.”
“You lied to me?”
“Are you surprised?”
“I guess not,” Milo said. He sat back down and slumped into himself. Total resignation took over. His fate was accepted and sealed. Milo took his beer. He downed the whole thing.
“I told you to be careful with that,” Patterson said.
“I know there’s no alcohol. So what?”
“You’re still going to wake up with a massive hangover,” Patterson said.
“They always say that. But when the vomiting starts they sing a different tune.” Patterson smiled. “See you at work tomorrow.”
“But tomorrow is Saturday,” Milo said, as Patterson began walking away. “I….shouldn’t I be learning some kind of life lesson here?”
“Be kind?” Patterson said. Then he shrugged.
“But…” Milo began.
Then he just let the fat man go.