My ascent into heaven was, I am sorry to say, something of a disappointment. To begin with, the angels who bore me aloft, away from mortal clay, were a shabby bunch. Their wings were threadbare and caked in dust, their golden locks were greasy and unwashed, and as for their faces! As pockmarked as Stalin’s, and as charmless!
Things got no better when, after much puff, we eventually fetched up at the pearly gates. The pearls themselves were tarnished, and I suspected they had been eked from infected oysters, ones with the bivalve mollusc equivalent of human scrofula. They were stuck to the gates with some kind of heavenly gum or paste which had an unbearable stink and further discoloured the pearls. Whatever this stuff was – a sort of sticky ectoplasm? – it lacked adhesive heft, for quite a few pearls were either loose or had fallen from the gates and were scattered in the gutter. I had not expected gutters in heaven, nor drains, nor sewers, which is I suppose a mark of my naiveté.
I cannot bring myself to go into detail about St Peter. Suffice to say that his resemblance to Stalin was starker than that of the angels. The appraisal interview in which my time on earth was picked over in forensic detail was a sore trial unto me, not because I had wallowed in moral squalor, but rather because it acted as a reminder of the tedium and waste and sheer futility of my life. Also, I was kept standing throughout, when all I wanted was to rest my weary bones – my weary dead bones, remember – sprawled on a sofa or divan. And not only was I kept standing, but kept standing in a puddle, because the nearest drain was blocked, clogged up with heavenmuck.
At long last Stalin – sorry, St Peter – waved me through the gates. I thought I would be escorted by the tatty angels, or at least one of them, but they were sent back down to the terrestrial plane to gather up another poor dead sod. So, all alone, I stumbled into the light. The cloudy clumps beneath my feet were treacherous. It was like walking through a marsh where all the water had turned to gas. Here and there I spotted harps, abandoned, rust-covered and with broken strings. Clearly they had not been played in living memory.
But I realised of course there could be no such thing as living memory here in heaven, where we were all dead. At least, I was. I couldn’t see another soul in the entire expanse of misty light which stretched as far as I could see. Hey-ho. I picked a cloudy clump at random and lay down upon it, and I waited for trumpets and hosannahs. Then it started to rain.
Twenty-five billion years later, fully rested, I sat up and peered into the mist. The torrential rain had slowed to a drizzle. Off in the distance, I saw a wall had been erected. I heaved myself to my feet and squished through the milky clumps towards it. As I approached, an angel of the Lord appeared, carrying a step-ladder and a bucket of gum or paste and a brush and a large roll of paper. I watched the angel erect the step ladder and clamber up it and spread paste upon the wall and unroll the paper and stick it up and brush it smooth and descend the step ladder and pick it up and carry it and the bucket and the brush away, vanishing into the mist. When I got closer, I saw it was a gigantic poster of Stalin. Not St Peter, but Stalin himself. Under his grim yet avuncular countenance, there was a slogan. Unfortunately I cannot read Russian. I felt sure the words were egging me on in the valiant struggle for a Utopian workers’ future, with tractors and electrification and rallies. I struck a determined pose, staring forward, pointing at nothing. For there was nothing, just the poster on the wall and the endless expanse of white misty milky light, in heaven.