The Handbasket

The sounds and smells of the city washed over her like a rain of emotional baggage. Large, heavy baggage, the type you buy for a field trip to Africa. It pelted her, like bricks thrown by angry orphans, until she had to close her eyes and turn away. The city was there, right there where she had left it. Feeling a jag of hysterical laughter bubbling closer and closer to the surface she realized she had left the city right where it was when she died.

Except if she died, she reasoned, she wouldn’t be standing there, on 93rd street, back to Central Park, just staring. People moved in and out of buildings, cabs, and each other’s personal space with the usual ease. Lisa stomped her foot and swore.

“You realize,” a voice near her fairly cooed, “you’re dead, yes? Yes? If not, so sorry, sudden shock. Yes, so sorry.”

“I’m dead,” Lisa said, “no, I knew that. But if I’m dead then why am I here?” She turned and looked at the source of the silk voice. He stood easily nine feet tall, with his forty or fifty arms each leading her eyes in different directions. Lisa had never talked to a tree before, but then, she was new to the entire being dead oeuvre.

“This is Heaven, yes very much so. So sorry, is that a sudden shock as well? All these shocks, all sudden. Yes, so sorry.”

“Stop. Apologizing,” Lisa spat and stopped her foot just before she kicked the tree. “Just explain. This is Heaven? You’re a tree? I’m dead? Heaven is the Upper West Side? That’s fucked up.”

“Yes, yes, no shock, not sudden, sorry, sorry, yes. Of course I am not a tree, look like tree to you, but not. And yes, New York, the world, Earth. Heaven. So sorry.”

Lisa gave in and kicked the tree-not-tree. Then they talked. She learned, according to the tree, that here she could wish for anything. Her desires would be fulfilled. Not instantly, of course, but in time, and always richly. It was the secret, the tree-not-tree claimed, of fame itself. The world, all the endless versions of it, was both Heaven and Purgatory. Heaven for those selected who could realize their dreams of being movie stars and singers and world leaders. Purgatory to everyone else who moved through the world as if it were perfectly normal, until their sins were washed away or made worse and they were passed on from judgment.

“What you remember, Earth, so sorry biggest shock yes, was never old life, don’t remember life, do you, no, of course not, start fresh. So sorry, yes. Purgatory and now earned Heaven. So sorry, real life, no clues.” The tree-not-tree, who eventually wanted to be called Kevin, found his rough bark scraped by the toe of Lisa’s shoe once more. A swift kick was the only response she gave him to that bit of news. Still, they talked and she learned all about her dreams coming true no matter what, her ease to fulfillment and eternal happiness. The more she learned the more she thought. The more she thought the more she wanted an axe. Until.

“Wait, if all my dreams are easily realized then I will never struggle, right? That’s the thing of it. Ease and comfort.”

“Oh yes, ease and comfort forever. Never want, never extend reach.”

Lisa’s eyes tightened. “This is my reward? I can be as famous as I want, have everything I ever ask for, though I can’t explain why…”

“Oh, no, no, so sorry, wrong, you can!” Kevin said, branches shaking, “Can tell, but then, so sorry yes, you know how it is, taken for lunatic. Can do, probably shouldn’t.”

“Huh,” Lisa chewed her lip, “but here’s… I mean I have to do nothing but want it, and I will have it? What about the reward of the just, the feeling of earning a treasure? No! This isn’t Heaven, is it, you bark-faced bastard? Is it?!”

Kevin the tree-not-tree laughed, leaves falling off branches as he did. “So sorry. Big shock.” His roots ripped free of the soil, cobblestones shattering. “Most do not work it out until much later. No, not Heaven. Not at all. So sorry. But still, anything you want.”

“All sugar will, what was it, taste like ashes in my mouth? It will be worthless.”

“Like your soul. So sorry.”

Lisa took in her situation, for real this time, and shook her head. If she couldn’t change her fate, her location or her destiny she could at least do one thing.

Kevin, the tree-not-tree, screamed high into the daylight as Lisa walked away, pocketing her lighter and smiling.

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