Well, never mind - she was here now, right where she belonged. She was perched neatly in a straightbacked chair in a small,warmly lit foyer. Hands folded, she waited for her appointment with the Usher.
Never before had she felt so grateful for all her arduous work as a Christian -- the years of Bible study, fasting, prayer, self-denial, avoiding TV and movies, her pure vegetarian diet. How lucky she was to have that record behind her! She shifted slightly in her chair, settling comfortably against its hard straight back.
When the Usher appeared, a medium-sized man wearing a simple white robe, she sat up instantly with an expectant smile. At last -- her moment of reward!
"Great news!" said the Usher warmly. "You're going straight into the Pre-Heaven seminar."
"Wonderful." she said, standing up. "I can't wait!" As she followed the usher down a long broad hallway, she quietly confided her happy anticipations.
"I've been going over and over Scriptures in my mind while I sat waiting." she whispered to the Usher. "And I'm quite certain I can answer any questions they present."
"Well, this isn't exactly a seminar on the Bible, ma'am." said the Usher. He smiled, and his deep brown eyes crinkled slightly at the corners.
"Oh?" She was taken aback. "No questions on the Bible?"
"Not exactly." replied the Usher. He paused in front of a large handsome oak door, opened it up and motioned her inside. "Here we are." he said encouragingly.
She entered the room, stared, and then stopped cold.
It was a palatial setting. Dominating the room was a long mahogany dining table, laid out with painstaking care. A lake of lavish flowers bordered by tall lean candles formed the centerpiece. And seated at the table, in resplendent high-backed chairs, were numerous guests dressed in evening clothes. At the serving end of the table perched a huge, succulant roast, surrounded by what looked like candied yams. Small bowls of premium chocolate were placed at each setting, nested beside fine crystal goblets holding fine wine. Hand-painted porcelain containers filled with cigars and cigarettes were placed at even intervals along the exquisite lace tablecloth. At the table's end stood a pitcher of high-cholesteral eggnog. And a few feet away from the table, beaming down on the guests like a giant watchful eye, was a large-screen, wall-mounted television screen. It was broadcasting vivid pictures of a political massacre in South America.
She was stunned. Her entire body froze: she found to her horror she could not even move her feet. Gently, the Usher helped her over to her appointed seat. Her fellow guests barely looked up -- they sipped wine and chatted amiably, waving away brief gusts of smoke with their hands. Occasionally a burst of laughter rose up like a kite and hovered over the table. Gunshots echoed from the TV.
Eyes wide, face white, hands clenched in a knot, she turned to the Usher. "How can you possibly put me in a place like this? I have refused alcohol and meat and tobacco and sweets and TV for the last 20 years! What kind of cruel joke is this? I deplore this room! It disgusts me!"
"Oh, yes." said the Usher kindly. "That's why you're here. You see, in Heaven there is no fear allowed. This little exercise in meat and mayhem is being held to free you of your disgust."
"But that's monstrously unfair!" she cried, trying to control the tears sneaking into her throat. "And I suppose my husband, who guzzled hot dogs and beer and watched war films every day of his life -- I suppose you've raced him into Heaven straightaway?"
"Oh, no, of course not." replied the Usher quietly. "He's in the Pre-Heaven class, just like you."
"Well, he's certainly not here." she snapped, waving her hand over at the assembled dinner guests.
"That's right, he's not." said the Usher, enfolding the distraught woman in a soothing smile. "He's next door at the all-vegetable table, listening to a Bach cantata.