The white-haired, white-clad man frowns at me.
He points to the MRI-looking machine. “Get in.” After a too-long pause, he adds, “Please.”
I am sweating, rather more than I recall doing so a few minutes before when that mugger had me backed up against the wall. I clamber onto the slab, which moves me forward like a conveyor belt. It pauses inside the chamber. I’ve forgotten how to breathe.
Suddenly the conveyor belt tips up at the edges to form a hammock situation. I am being spun, shoulder over shoulder. “Is this normally part of a MRI?” I call out, hoping that St. Peter has a sense of humor. And also hoping that a human voice in my ears will quell the panic that tastes like bile.
The spinning stops. Before I have time to reorient myself, much less to be relieved, the conveyor belt reverses and shoots me back out of the chamber.
I blink into the maddeningly bright reflection from the clouds. St. Peter is squinting at the machine’s screen. Hesitant to incur another glare, I lick my chapped lips instead of asking what’s wrong. You don’t make eye contact with an animal who might see it as a challenge…so I let my glance fall instead.
Peter is wearing sneakers. Black with lime accents. My brain is whirling. Where are the sandals? What about tradition? This is an anachronism and I disapprove.
To distract myself from the disturbing vision of an old man in traditional Hebrew garb and modern neon footwear, I level my gaze at his shoulder. “What’s the verdict, doc?”
“Not accepted at this location,” he reads off the screen, then fixes me with a withering stare.
“What,” I squawk. “What?”
“Will you kindly walk yourself over to the Slide ‘n’ Chute, or must I pull the lever?” he intones.
That was certainly a sentence I wasn’t expecting to hear today. And how could he sound so bored while saying it? “Well, the Slide ‘n’ Chute sounds like a barrel of fun,” I reasoned (no, I wasn’t stalling, why do you ask), “but I do enjoy a good lever-pulling incident. In your professional opinion, which choice makes for better entertainment?”
His frown deepens. I am surprised; I didn’t think it possible.
“I begin to see why you appear here at the Gates at such a young, undeveloped age.”
“I see you were mugged, young and healthy, probably didn’t induce a heart attack, no weapon so you most likely just handed over your wallet without trying to defend yourself. And yet you ended up stabbed.”
“Begging your pardon, Father, I don’t see where you’re going with this line of questioning.” Strictly speaking, Father is probably not the correct term, but heck if I know how to address a saint. They don’t teach you these things before you need it.
St. Peter lifts his bushy eyebrows. “There you go again, too smart for your own good.” He reaches for the lever.
“Sir, can you explain the weird MRI?” I blurt out.
“I’m not a doc or a Father,” he answers. “And I wear the sneakers because they’re the most comfortable shoes humans ever invented in all of time. There, now are you satisfied?”
“Can you at least tell me why I’m ‘not accepted at this location’?”
A stubby finger stabs me in the ribs. “Your brand.”
I have no words ready to mouth to spit back. He heaves the lever, and the slab under me collapses.
“Can you re-Pete that please?” I holler as I free-fall toward the dark lair far below.