The car approached the station, and Mary felt a shooting thrill of excitement when she saw that they were the third car in line. She fingered the gold cross that hung from her SUV’s rear view mirror, and smiled. She was a plump woman who had perpetually red cheeks, and frizzy brown hair that made it look like she used curlers (“I don’t, I swear,” she’d tell her friends.) She was a single mother with two kids in the back seat. Six and four, Rosie and Ronald, plump and smiling just like her. They thought they were going on a trip.
Mary felt a little guilty about lying to them, so she turned in her seat and made kissy faces at the four year old, Rosie. Then Mary noticed Ronald looked nervous.
“You okay, babydoll?”
“I guess so.” He fidgeted with the straps of his blue overalls. There was a yellow spot of mustard on the corner of his mouth.
“It’ll be fine. It’ll be like a roller coaster, but we go up-up-up! And there will be bright lights and kids to play with, you and your sister will love it.”
Ronald considered this, brow furrowed under curly bangs that needed to be trimmed, but that didn’t matter much anymore.
“Power Rangers be there?” he asked.
“Of course. It’s a great place, we will all be happy there.”
“Oh-kay Momma.” That appeared to have settled the matter, because he started playing with his Pokeball toy.
Mary settled back into her seat and puffed out a breath. Anxious, flickering thoughts flashed in her mind. What if she was wrong? What if everyone was wrong? Was this really what was best for her, for her kids?
Her thoughts stopped mattering just as Ronald’s hair had stopped mattering, because now she was second in line, and the guy at the level crossing station was waving her forward.
Steve watched the lady in the green SUV turn around and talk to her kids. He had glimpsed her fingering the cross draped over her rearview, and she reminded Steve of a baseball player at the plate, crossing his chest for luck.
There was a feeling in his gut as he waved her forward, a feeling like he’d drunk too much milk and gone outside on a hot day, and it was spoiling in his stomach. Little kids in the car, oh man. Both of them sitting in car seats, buckled in tight like they were about to be shot into space, each one chubby like their mom, looking out the windows with blank, hopeful looks. Mom probably told them it was an adventure. A big theme park.
It had been seven years since researchers had discovered that Heaven did exist. Five since the world discovered that it wasn’t a sin to kill yourself, and that most everyone went to Heaven. Steve didn’t know the full workings of the science behind it, but what he’d gathered from an article on Facebook was that they’d built a machine that could trace souls, and they traced a soul as it went to Heaven. They managed to get data back, somehow, and a full report was issued. It said that Heaven lived up to the hype. Steve found it ironic that the same article also claimed global warming was hoax, but that sort of thinking was above his pay grade.
A huge business erupted around sending people to meet God. Suicide booths and hitmen for hire exploded in popularity, and, just like everything else that was profitable, huge corporations were founded and they employed minimum wage losers like Steve.
His company had purchased land that was on a cliff. They installed a level gate, and charged people to drive off. The draw was the group deal; Families who wanted to do it together, or couldn’t bring themselves to eat bullets or wear rope necklaces. Steve often saw kids packed into minivans, fresh from a trip to Disneyworld, grinning and ready to trade one heaven for the next.
Steve took the woman’s cash ($500, all in twenties) and waited. And waited. The car in front of her finally drove off and Steve heard the tinkling, crunching impact as the little Volvo became a compacted soda can on the rocks.
He waved the chubby woman forward, and the little boy thought Steve was waving at him, so he waved out the window as the SUV passed under the candy-cane colored barrier. Steve smiled and adjusted his wave to the kid.
“Oh God,” Steve thought. “I’m going to be sick.”
The spoiled milk feeling gurgled in his gut, and a wave of dizziness almost knocked Steve off his feet. He ended up leaning against the wall of the station, taking his cap off and fanning himself.
His coworker, Jerry, a genuinely psychotic individual who enjoyed his job quite a lot, waved the next car forward and took their cash.
Steve watched the SUV sit at the cliff edge for a few minutes. He could see in through the back window. The mother was sitting stiffly, gripping the steering wheel and staring straight ahead. Then she reached up and took the gold cross off of the mirror and slipped it over her head.
“No,” Steve whispered.
The SUV revved up, the engine whining like it was a dog about to be put in a crate, then lurched over the cliffside. The SUV was bigger, heavier, so instead of a crunch there was more of a CLUMP as the vehicle slammed into the rocks. There was a broken pile of corpses and metal down there, like the cluttered bottom of a child’s toy box; detached limbs, wheels, shattered windows, all coated in a sticky substance that was either raspberry jam or blood.
Steve wanted to stop thinking about the SUV, wanted to stop thinking about those kids immediately, so he pulled his little radio out of his back pocket. He cranked it about six times and extended the antennae.
The Mets were playing Los Angeles. It was 3-2 in the bottom of the 5th.
This was how it was done, Steve reflected. This was how people did it. This was how people forgot the world around them and how it was full of death and bad shit. They picked a thing; baseball, knitting, writing, video games, children, baking, drugs, stamp collecting. They picked something and let it absorb them. Steve wasn’t from New York. He didn’t even like baseball that much. He just picked the Mets one day and decided: “I support this team.” He knew the stats, the players, everything. He knew everything about a game played by millionaires, in stadiums he couldn’t afford the tickets too. He got riled up about a sport that was as meaningless as he was.
“Because that’s how you do it,” he thought, and started waving more cars through.