They moved methodically, sorting, stacking and wrapping the coins into neat little towers guarded by paper. They were a testimony to how diverging paths converged, to how differing means all led to the same end. They were murderers, janitors, store clerks, teachers, lawyers, priests, and kings. But in death, it hadn’t mattered.
The hours passed by like a sloth crossing a tree branch. After what seemed like years, they finished their work and moved to the kitchen. They huddled around the table, passing a dusty flask of whiskey from hand to hand. While each waited their turn, they stared at the cracks blossoming from the wood, the flicker of candles casting shadows across the brick walls. Silence soaked through the air, until the alcohol gradually began to take effect, encouraging them to spill their stories like uncorked bottles of wine.
“I got hit by a car. Totally flattened,” a man enlarged by a beer belly half his size stated.
“I got shot right through the heart,” a spidery woman nodded.
“Why, I just got old,” a man with a weathered face smiled. They reminisced, accepting their inescapable fate.
But as the night grew on, a sense of resentment and anger filled the room.
“I got tricked by the damn doors,” spat a young woman through perfectly red lips. “They put you in that room, convince you that there’s a choice. Like it’s your fault somehow.” Her eyes darkened as she explained her past.
She told them how she had driven off a cliff, texting while driving. She told them how the cold, murky water had filled the vehicle as she struggled, and failed to open the door. How it was the scariest moment of her life. How she had suddenly found herself in a small, round room with doors as walls. And hanging from each oak door, was a delicate metal sign. How she had stepped through the one labeled wealth, because why shouldn’t she be happy for eternity?
Several people nodded in agreement and sympathy. They didn’t know what she didn’t tell them. That the car, a glossy red Mustang, had been stolen: lifted off of a former lover, her breaking-up present to herself. She didn’t tell them that her favorite pastime had been to twist words, weave them into rumors, and then watch people fall apart. She didn’t tell them how much she needed that power. And she didn’t tell them why. Instead she buried the memories of broken glass and porcelain and shouts underneath an armory of sharpened words.
A man shaped like a cricket spoke next.
“I just wanted to be happy, you know? We never had enough dough. I guess I just didn’t want to have to worry about it anymore…” he trailed off, took a deep breath before regaining his voice.
He told them how he had lost his job as an accountant, waved good-bye to the bank’s polished marble counters and orderly offices. How the very same bank had foreclosed his house. How his wife had taken the kids and left. How he had gone for a walk to clear his head, and instead became just another stain on the pavement.
But he didn’t mention the whole truth. How he was running into the crowded street, a bag full of cash slung over his shoulder, firing shots into the air. He didn’t mention that he had robbed the bank, was running away from the police when the garbage truck hit him. He didn’t mention how good it had felt.
“And then I was so shocked when I opened that door,” he whispered. His lips barely moving, “I thought I’d be in some mansion or castle, something with servants and all. But it’s not like that. It’s more like a prison, right?”
“It’s plain cruel,” piped in a woman with beady eyes and a light mustache. “You work your ass off your whole life, and then you have to work your ass off your whole afterlife. And all so that a bunch of angels can go on frequent shopping trips.” She inhaled some whiskey before going on, “When I was alive I worked three jobs at once, all fast-food. For years, I stood there, flipping burgers, wiping my greasy hands on an apron. And my husband just kept drinking and drinking the money away as fast as I could make it. It was like having a permanent hole in your wallet that you couldn’t sew up no matter how much you tried. When I got here, I was just so tired. I wanted to make sure I’d be comfortable. I wanted to finally be able to relax. Was that so wrong?” Her thick eyebrows were hunched into a deep frown.
She left out the part where she found her husband snoring on the couch, arms caressing a pack of beer. The part where she snapped, like a rope pulled in too many directions. The part where she let the anger wash over her, fill her up like a balloon. The part where she stabbed her husband through the heart with a kitchen knife. The part where she lived the rest of her life in a damp prison cell with cement walls, not regretting anything.
“It physically hurts,” she continued looking around the room as she spoke, “being in this place, this factory. Having to shape, and print, and sort all their money. Feeling the cold touch of silver. Knowing it’s so close, when it’s never been further away.” Her voice choked and then stopped. The man next to her, patted her on the shoulder. It was an ache they all felt. It came with the door they opened. It came with knowing that it was the wrong one.
Haley Brett writes in Montreal, Canada where she is a university student. Her other work has appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gingerbread House.
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