“You made some very good pre-birth decisions. Your stocks are way up.”
Nordrum Hafringer sat flipping through papers in a manila envelope. Across the broad wooden desk sat his clients, Mr. and Mrs. Gulnck. They exhibited nothing but middle aged plainness. He with neat gray hair and thin glasses, her with a small beehive hairdo and a round, drawn in face, clutching a hand bag in her lap. They watched as Hafringer’s finger stopped on a page.
“Ah. You chose India. Your Squalor and Disease portfolios went through the roof!”
Mr. Gulnck nodded. “Cynthia and I wanted to make sure we got the full range of life experience. As long as we were going to be living, you know? Right, dear?”
“Yes,” Cynthia said. “It’s just, all that time thinking you were a real person, thinking you matter. It seems such a waste. But it is important.”
Harold took Cynthia’s hand. “But we’re back, now, honey. We can get back to our real lives.”
Hafringer said, “Yes, that’s why we’re all here. Now, I see you invested heavily in Pain and Suffering. Good thing. You scored a 98 percent P&S rating. One of the highest I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, yes. Though it was iffy there for a while. That whole ethnic cleansing thing, that was terrible,” said Cynthia.
“Well worth it though,” said Mr. Gulnck.
“Absolutely. Mr. Gulnck, let’s see… Ah. You were a rice farmer for sixty two years. That is just awesome. And you had fourteen children. No wonder your P&S was so high, Cynthia.”
Mr. Gulnck cleared his throat. “How did our Spirituality Index do?”
“Let me see… Ah. Well, it did suffer a bit, but still a good square number. 47. But, under the circumstances, quite good. We usually see that. A P&S as high as yours usually lowers the SI a bit.”
Harold raised an eyebrow. “Wait. I thought high pain and suffering would lead to higher spirituality?”
Hafringer nodded. “Yes, it does, up to a point. SI is like a bell curve. Too much — or too little — suffering, and your SI takes a hit. See, if you don’t suffer enough, you have no reason to believe. But if you suffer too much, you stop believing. But don’t worry, your SI was still very good, and the high P&S more than makes up for it.”
Cynthia said, “Our friends the Wackermans lived as Americans. I don’t even see why they bothered. P&S of like 4%, Spirituality Index of 2. They hardly doubled their investments.”
“Yes, well, some people don’t like the idea of sitting in an Indian rice field, in starvation and squalor for sixty years. Not that there aren’t some nice places in India… you actually died of starvation, right, Mrs. Gulnck?”
“Oh, yes. It was dreadful.”
“Well, it’s all over now. As I compute it, you should have a fourteen hundred percent return on your original investment. Congratulations. Well worth the trouble, I would say. I’ll get the paperwork through and get you the check. Welcome back to Heaven, Mr. and Mrs. Gulnck. And, if you ever choose to live again, please come back to Hafringer and Associates.”
They rose and shook hands. The Gulncks walked out of the red brick building towards their car. They walked side by side down the cold, barren sidewalk. The breeze blew a hot dog wrapper past them. They got in the car and buckled their belts. Mr. Gulnck checked his mirrors then pulled out into traffic.
Cynthia wrung her hands in her handbag. She turned to her husband. “Harold, why do you suppose God encourages people to live? You can make such an awful lot of money. What does he get out of having so many people suffer so?”
Harold stared straight ahead. “I don’t know, Cynthia. He’s just a sadistic… um, he likes to watch people suffer, I guess. But he’s the one in charge. It’s not up to us to question his motives.”
“I suppose. Can’t help but feel a little sad. If you could just go through it knowing it wasn’t real, being able to remember your real life, here, the whole time.” She wiped at her eyes with a tissue.
“I know. But it is worth it.” He turned to her despite the heavy traffic. “Isn’t it?”
She put the tissue back in her purse and smiled. “I suppose. Now we have to pick up a cake for the Wackermans’ party tonight.”
Harold smiled and turned back to the traffic.
Matthew Wimmer grew up in Indiana, got his Masters degree in astrophysics in Alabama, and now teaches astronomy and physics at a community college in Kentucky.