HAROLD AND PATTY WERE HIGHSCHOOL SWEETHEARTS. They rushed from their senior prom to a damp log cabin lit with a few candles and lost their virginity.
And they stayed a couple throughout college with only one minor spat, which, though conducted in public at a local tavern, was also nauseatingly romantic (something about growing pains), then they got married and had three kids: a sharp-witted boy and two beautiful girls. They prospered across forty years of passion and tenderness, raising their family and their enviously adorable grandchildren, thereby solidifying their claim as quintessential soulmates.
Everything carried out perfectly—almost too perfect. So it was no surprise to their friends that not some fifty years after Patty reunited with Harold in Heaven they opted to file jointly for divorce, listing irreconcilable differences.
They had become different people during the years they spent separated by The Great Divide and Harold had started to need his space. He’d look at his wife and think: who is this person? she’s like a stranger. They’d always liked different things but there were fewer distractions now. When they were alive it was hard to keep things fresh, but at least they had the physicality. Physicality is a good thing. It limits you and confines you in the moment. There’s nothing worse than making love to your wife and being caught drifting off to marvel the battle of Gettysburg. “Yes! Yes… Honey?” she’d say and cringe, “Are you in Gettysburg, again. Goddamnit!” And he knew she was pissed, taking His name in vain with Him so close by.
And there were other things, of course. Like the argument over the house, that’s when it really came to a head. Harold said, “Why do we have to spend all our time in the Third Street House. Why do you always resist my attempts to conjure the house from Georgia? Now that was a house.”
“You like this house,” Patty said, rifling through junk mail with her back to him and eating a perfect peach. “It’s your favorite.”
“Yah, but it can’t be my favorite forever.”
She stopped eating and lowered the mail. “Harold, I’m cheating on you.” She turned to face him.
“What?” Harold walked to her; he felt his heartbeat, again, and that old sensation of blood rushing to his face as he looked deep into those pretty green eyes that held perfectly still. “That doesn’t make any sense. This is Heaven. There’s no cheating in Heaven.”
Patty sneered, flinging the mail across the black granite island and turning away. “That’s what you always do. You always tell me the rules. Use doorknobs. Don’t walk through doors at dinner parties. Haunt the granddaughter in her dreams, not when she’s screwing that wannabe musician and it would do her the most good.”
“There’s no cheating in Heaven!”
She turned back to him, “Harold, I want a divorce.”
“Fine.” Harold stormed out of the kitchen and conjured the siege of Constantinople. His shout echoed across the abyss, “FINE-FINE-fine-fin…”
Harold kicked sand, walking through the dark and musty limestone stables. Black stallions plodded and whinnied—nervous from battle. Blood dripped near the hoof of a brave one that wouldn’t stop eyeing him and Harold was tempted to ride her bareback into the dusty night and forget the effects of rippling the timeline. He sighed and looked down at straw and dirt.
He wondered why he hadn’t immediately demanded to know who she had been sleeping with. He couldn’t think of anyone it could be. Back on Earth the act of sex could only potentially create a unique soul of infinite will and duration. When you had sex in Heaven the stakes were a bit higher than that. Nothing to trifle with. Still he was somehow more troubled by the idea of divorce itself. Divorce was prevalent in Heaven since a lot of the marriages grandfathered into Heaven were done in a spurious manner, sometimes just a few years before The Great Divide was crossed. But he’d never heard of soulmates getting a divorce in Heaven. And that’s what they were, right? soulmates. Their case would be tried by one of the primary emanations of God and that in itself seemed risky. When he had his first brush with God (the Nineteenth Emanation) during Extra Terrestrial and Pre-Hominid Orientation, he thought for an instant he had been dissolved—dissolved down to what seemed his atoms, into a sea of peace.
The idea of divorce didn’t make complete sense to him. And she could afford a much better lawyer. She was a surgeon in her past life and she had taken most of it with her. He had a lot of his money tied-up in his internet business and it wasn’t panning out yet. You see, a lot of old people choose to stay old after they die because they grow to hate the young so much and he was going to teach those old people to make Webpages and file their taxes online. So now he could only afford a decently good lawyer. Someone like Sammy. Sammy the ATM Machine, oh, it was going to be embarrassing.
Sammy was peripherally linked into their circle of friends. It was rumored he liked going by the name Sammy so much that he became Sammy the ATM Machine simply because everything else he could think of was taken. But Harold didn’t believe it. Harold made an appointment and tried not to get annoyed by the fact that his secretary made him wait fifteen minutes in the receiving alcove, just for show. His office was dark brown, somewhat Victorian with leather bound book collections and Sammy sitting attentively in a high-back leather chair between an open-curtained bay window and a handsome wood desk.
Harold smelled cigar smoke. “You look good, Sammy. Life-like.”
“Thanks,” the words issued from his black money slot and green text on his screen flashed with his syllables, “It took me a while to get the arms and legs to look natural and not too robotic. I’m very sorry to hear of this divorce, Harold. Are you sure about this?”
“We’re sure. We’ve talked it over and we think it’s for the best. She cheated on me, Sammy.”
Sammy tapped pale-blue plastic fingers pensively over the lacquered desktop.
“Walk me through the basics of this Sam—”
He raised a hand, “Sammy.”
“Sorry. Sammy. Walk me through the basics. If we both know and agree we want this divorce, why can’t we just conjure it and be done with it?”
“Harold, take a seat. Please.”
Harold pulled a crimson leather chair closer to the desk and sat.
Sammy’s screen seemed to lock with his gaze, “The essence of the truth of these matters is equal parts intention and manifestation.”
“What?” Harold asked.
“We gotta do this thing to prove our case.”
“Now, you’ll be going up against the DEMM; it’s important you know that.”
“The DEMM. The Deus ex Machina Machine.”
“The Eighth Emanation of God. The Deus ex Machina Machine. That’s what the Emanation calls Himself. He creates impossible resolutions. A handy trick in divorce court.”
“Oh.” Harold cringed, “Wait… what do you mean, I’ll be up against?”
“Harold, I’m just your council. You and Patty are going to have to settle things yourselves with the DEMM.” Sammy leaned back into his high-back leather chair and spun a little. “You might have the mistaken idea that a Heavenly divorce is like a material one. It’s not. In material divorce we split up property and assets. In Heavenly divorce we divvy up ideas. She wouldn’t just get the house, for example, she’d get the idea of it, all the memories, textures, nuances and pleasures derived from its contemplation, images and emotions. That’s serious business, Harold. You’ve been together so long, we’re not talking about a legal matter, we’re talking about an amputation of a big part of yourself. When I’m dealing with some octogenarian billionaire looking to extricate himself from the floozy he married just to get one last taste-a-the-tang, I say go for it, but this, this is different, Harold.”
“Why do we have to split up all our ideas, anyway?”
“You earned those ideas together. After the divorce you can’t share them anymore and truly be separated in any meaningful way. We have to separate the spiritual currency.”
“What? You mean ideas are like money? But we still use money.”
“Harold, what have you been doing all this time? Don’t tell me you have all your money in stocks and bonds. Money buys ideas. It’s all the same thing. Money equal ideas. So we have to split it up. You have to think this through.”
“I know. I’ve thought it through. It still just feels right. It feels like the right thing to do. We can’t go on like this, Sammy.”
“Harold,” Sammy leaned forward, green ‘Would you like a receipt?’ text flashing, “Harold, look at me. You’ve been here, what, fifty some years. Take it from me. This place can be overwhelming. You come here and it seems for the first time you’ve got infinite power, infinite choices. But then there are people still trying to tell you what to do and it can be frustrating—infuriating. You just want to show them a thing or two. But you still have to make sound decisions. Let me tell you, Harold, sometimes—sometimes those decisions can stick with you for a long time—” Crisp, green bills flitted out, stacking themselves onto his tray and he swatted at them, cramming them inside a desk drawer. “Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Harold?”
“Yes. Believe me; I really do. It’s just. It’s over. I have to finish this.”
“Okay,” Sammy said. “In that case, the first thing you do when you get into the court room is…”
* * * *
Harold found her sitting alone with her elbow resting on the worn green wood of the dark tavern’s bar. A glass of water with lemon sat untouched near her left hand as she studied a form. She wore her black and white silk suit and her forties-face, her arguing face.
“Hello,” Harold said. He pulled out a stool and sat. “Is this the bar we had our college fight at?”
“Yes. The owner made a recreation of it after he died.” She turned the page on her form. “You’re almost an hour late. Isn’t this important to you?”
“It is. I found the directions you left to this place on the refrigerator door. They were a bit off.”
“They weren’t off. We just think of things differently.”
“I have them right here.” Harold dug into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper to show her. “It says Happiness137 Ambivalence228 Malaise092.” He watched for a change in her expression. “It’s the wrong Emotional Address. Happiness137 Ambivalence228? Just because this place has good German beer doesn’t make it Happiness137 Ambivalence228. I ended up in Leipzig.”
Patty looked up, “What do you know about German beer? When have you been to Leipzig?”
“Twenty minutes ago, and when I was thirty-seven.”
“Fine. Whatever. Sorry.”
“Is that another vapor-paper? Didn’t we cover all of that in the preliminary forms?”
“This is the real thing, Harold. It’s the GT-14675 Sep-Prep: Separation Preparation.”
“What are those first four pages for?”
She flashed a wearied expression. “That’s our identification numbers.”
“You wrote down both our identification numbers by hand? At 2,500 numbers each, that’s—”
“Yes, and I doubled checked them. They must really want to discourage people from filling these things out.” Patty closed the form. “Harold, I think this divorce is the right thing to do. But, I didn’t cheat on you.”
“I was scared. I felt trapped. I felt like it was the only way you would listen.”
Harold rubbed his hands over his forehead and cheeks. “It’s not that I expect you to lie, but somehow I’m not really surprised. I didn’t think you would do that to us. What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of forever. But I’m more afraid of us being together forever. When we were alive, the idea of it seemed sweet and romantic but now the reality of it is horrifying.”
“I know,” Harold said. “I feel the same way. But aren’t we soulmates? Isn’t that what soulmates are supposed to do? Live together, forever.”
“How do we know if we’re soulmates? If we’re wrong and we spend forever together, that’s a pretty big waste; isn’t it? And what are we going to be like at the end of forever? We have to change, right?”
“The end of forever?”
“You know. Will we be monsters? Will we still love? Will love have any meaning at all?”
“I think C.S. Lewis wrote something about the goal of the afterlife being the creation of these miniature gods similar to God.”
“I don’t want to be a miniature god. I want a little house and another first child and a crappy job with a stupid boss and stupid friends and chocolate.”
“Well I’m not too thrilled about meeting this Deus ex Machina Machine.”
“What? What’s that?”
“God. You know, solver of impossible problems.”
“That’s not His name,” Patty said. “That’s a nickname. Who told you to call Him that?”
“What? Sammy the ATM Machine?” She smirked. “Harold, this is important. We need to do this right. If you needed money for a lawyer you could have asked. You know I took three million with me. That’s our account. Our money. We earned it together.”
“It didn’t feel right.”
“Harold, we have to make a decision one way or the other. I’ve filled out this vapor-paper. It allows us to do a trial run—to see what the separation will be like. It lets us split up the major ideas that define our life together. But even the major ideas have a bunch of minor ideas that get tangled up and mixed in. I put in our numbers and the form fills most of itself out. We just have to assign a few major ideas to either you or me as a trial run. Our houses were pretty major so I gave you the house in Georgia and I took the one on Third Street. Here,” She moved the form toward him. “The first few pages describe it better. It describes how they get around the problem of vagueness when splitting up ideas between two people.
“They’ve got these Venn Diagrams. The big circle is the major idea: The House. And the small circles are the minor ideas. The black part that the circles share is how much the two ideas are related in the minds of you and me.
“Here’s the important one. When the amount that the two ideas have in common is exactly the same as the amount they don’t have in common, those are the ideas we need to come to agreement about. So we fill out a vapor-paper like this one and decide on as many major ideas as we can. Then the form calculates where all the minor ideas fall and we settle up the ones it can’t calculate for us in court.” She looked up to him. “What do you think?”
“I guess we need to do this.”
She turned over the next page. “We do, Harold.” She folded the stapled pages beneath and set it flat on the bar. “It’s like firing missiles; we both have to have our thumbs pressed onto the thumb ports at the same time.”
“These black spots right here on the page?” Harold asked.
“Yes. You have to hold your thumb down for the whole time.”
Harold pressed his thumb onto the black spot and his vision turned black, then blue.
“Is it working for you?” Patty asked.
“It’s loading. Hold on.”
“What’s it say?” She asked.
“Microsoft… Heaven. It’s booting.”
The blueness flickered black and then turned a darker blue with an hourglass icon with sand running through it and a taskbar moving left to right. His mind rearranged and it was like a flash of inspiration—everything that had changed rose to the surface. He still remembered the Third Street house and that he had lived their in his mid and late twenties. He knew they had raised their first child there but the feeling of his frantic wife needing him in the middle of the night to drive her to the hospital and tell her the shoes weren’t important was missing. Apparently a lot of other things rested on top of that feeling. So, other things in his head had to get reshuffled. He wasn’t sure he liked the reshuffling. He wasn’t sure about a lot of things now. How and why did he ever ask his boss for that raise and promotion?
And the Georgia house had its problems. The bits of ideas that were left inside those walls seemed the worst part. Rooms didn’t have the feeling she had lent them or they had made together. He didn’t like the cedar deck out back anymore. He knew he used to smoke cigars out there and she would say it would give him throat cancer. He still knew she said it. But something in her words had been removed. It must’ve been hers.
And it was curious that his cherished, two-decker Barbeque grill was gone. It seemed a masculine enough item. Maybe he’d always cooked stuff on it to impress her. The George Foreman grill in the kitchen seemed a poor substitute—a downgraded, instantaneous conversion given at the instant of bachelorhood. He just knew he’d be cooking everything on that thing. The kitchen was really the worst part of the house. She took the plastic silverware trays and his utensils were piled on top of stacks of plates in a cupboard, which he admitted was simpler and easier yet somewhat forlorn in its lack of refinement. The counters had sticky soda rings from glass bottoms with glasses and dishes scattered about. He objected to this since it seemed to go beyond the mere removal of ideas. But maybe the idea of tidiness and cleanliness was more complicated than he thought. Like these qualities of hers were part of some spectrum and the dial got pushed over to the dirty and cluttered side with her absence. Maybe some similar spectrum had been adjusted to fill the cabinets with all sorts of nonperishable items, canned and frozen, bland tasting things to be sure.
White lettering appeared, “Scenario A: Arbitration Lost. Removal of Minor Idea, ‘Walk to Oak Tree on Hill.’” Harold watched a task bar fill. He couldn’t help but wonder where that name came from. Patty wouldn’t have named it that. They’d always referred to it as the argument at the Tavern since that was why he followed her to the oak tree on the hill. They argued over why her favorite beer was her favorite. He had insisted she enjoyed a certain brew for its cost and novelty and that this was why she liked a lot of things. At first he thought he’d let her leave and go wherever she was going but he got this twisting knot in his stomach. He ran to catch up. She made it as far as the hill by the tree. Tornado sirens screamed and whined and green leaves on the huge tree shook with the rising wind. He held her, kissing her lips, realizing he could say, “I love you” without the immature lie stuck inside the words. So he said it again and again until he forgot where he was.
The task bar moved to completion with white text flashing: “Removal of Minor Idea Complete.” He fell in free-fall and his heart burned until he lifted his thumb.
Harold rearranged to his normal state like the waking separation of nightmare and reality. He looked to her. She had already taken her thumb off. Her still face was ashen and hopeless. His dry throat swallowed.
“What do you think?” She asked.
“I hate it.”
“So did I,” she said. “I felt like I was falling.”
“Me too. What was up with that?”
A bartender walked up and asked, “You guys want some more water?”
“Nothing right now, thanks,” she said. She turned to Harold, “What do you think? Should we go through with it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I still care about you. I always will, I guess. But we can’t just keep going on like this.”
“I know,” she said. “We can’t. It’s over. It has to be over.”
“How do we sign the papers?” he asked.
“Just put your thumb in the port: like this,” she said. “And think about your signature.”
“Okay,” Harold said. “I guess we’re done here.”
“How do you feel?”
“I feel different,” he said. “Better—maybe.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Better.” She motioned to pick up her refreshment and her hand swiped vaporously through the glass and water. She looked at her fading hand. “What’s happening to me?”
“It’s happening to me too!” Harold cried. “I’m fading! Bartender! Bartender, help us. What’s happening to us?”
The bartender strolled up and lifted their vapor-paper for his inspection as they faded. “Let’s see here,” he flipped over some pages. “Well, I’ll be… That don’t happen everyday.” He looked up at them. “Congratulations: perfect soulmates—”
“Help us!” they cried, fading.
“The DEMM can’t help but be perfectly fair in these matters. It’s in His nature, after all. Since you’re perfect soulmates and you share every idea equally, it wouldn’t be fair to give any of those ideas to either of you. Sorry—but congrats… we don’t see many perfect soulmates ‘round here.”
“Help us!” they screamed and vanished.
The bartender hummed a fun song from his youth as he bussed their drinks and wiped away the perfect circles of condensation that had marked their existence.