The follow fiction may be incomprehensible if you have not first read this.
Rosie Goldstein died when she was twenty-six. She was riding her bicycle. Rounding a corner, the bumper of a city bus, level with her ribs, caught her there and yanked her torso from her hips.
As she pulled away from her two halves, she thought: This should hurt. Instead, she felt beautiful. Not the way she felt, in life, when men looked—though she strove for those looks, that beauty, as much as she strove to hide the effort. That beautiful was assigned. This was like mineral water, coursing through her.
She also thought: Lauren.
Underneath Lauren sat meeting Jonathan in their dorm room the last day of Orientation Week; the gape from Jonathan, and Lauren’s “Stay away from him Rosie,” when Jonathan finally left. She had stayed away. Because Lauren asked, but also because Jonathan—Toches ahfen tish, you shmedrick, dating Lauren while not so secretly pining for Rosie, intermittently avoiding the whole mishegas by ignoring them both. Okay, so maybe, every now and then she held his eyes for a moment longer than necessary. It was the only joy life rendered her capable of understanding until she took that corner and the bus released her. Jonathan wanted her more than he wanted Lauren. As long as she rejected him, he would always want her more. Which hurt Lauren.
In life, that had been important. In death, Rosie saw a garden. Inside it sat the righteous. An effervescent garden, first tropical, set lushly with Buddha statues, then English-rose precise. Gazing into the garden was like eating freshly caught shark, like understanding that the way a man could make her feel had little to do with the way she felt about him. Then something from another’s—or another—life. The milky scent of an infant’s scalp.
She would not enter the garden. Inside it sat the righteous.
She thought: I never believed that shit. Yet she kept herself from entering.
“Oh, but you are,” said the voice.
After a moment, Rosie answered, Not yet. I’m not righteous yet.
She was sucked sideways. It felt like being pregnant. She had never been pregnant. In death, she couldn’t sit, could not lay flat for the plank against her ribs, and down through her vagina.
“How long will you keep yourself out?” asked the voice.
She thought: Don’t you decide that?
How equitable. How long do most people get?
“Lifetimes. But that’s there. Those who do their work there go directly in. Not too many. Even fewer, the stubborn, sad ones who labor where you are for what you used to term a year. Generally, it falls somewhere between.”
Rosie met others waiting. They experienced the voice differently: a long-dead grandmother, a favorite teacher, or something else entirely, the childhood pet, a wave. She wondered if death reflected the views an individual held about death in life.
The voice answered, “In conjunction, of course, with that which is death.”
Death was the mineral joy that flooded her initial release. She wanted only that.
“As you might have guessed,” said the voice, “there are a few hoops.”
Beating her from inside like a reverse piñata came the ache of everything Rosie had been denied the last time around. Some were laughable, never had big boobs, but others—never gave birth. Again, with this motherhood business. She hated kids. Why did their lack thump harder than the other big never, never fell in love. She could see her family mourning, felt nothing. How could she feel nothing? They were her family.
In death, she watched Jonathan go directly to Lauren for comfort. Her previous self thought, Bastard. Her current self understood.
Boom, sucked sideways. She thought: So when you learn something, you graduate. The lateral pull hurt much more this time. The tightness against her ribs forced itself down her arms, out her legs, against something she had never—could never; yes, say it: Uncle Ethan.
It ripped her open, heart to clit. Rosie wept for what used to be a month. For her whole life. For each time she had slammed down the truth. It didn’t really happen. It didn’t happen that often. It was just his finger. We only see him on holidays. From her clit to heart, she scarred over a crusty brownish red.
She hurt back. Hurt Lauren, hurt any woman able to open flower-like to what Ethan just took. Just took.
This hurts too much.
The voice: “I know, baby. I know.”
Boom again, into a game of Shoots & Ladders. Shoots & Ladders zipped her past dead grandmas and old pooches into a pond of San Pellegrino floated with lilies, with cardamom and candleless flame. Relaxing in the ripples, Rosie discerned glimmers of lives that could be, depending on the decision she made now.
She thought: No one should have to go through that, like with Ethan.
A young doe chewed at the grapevines growing along waters edge.
Show me the hoop.
Rosie found herself in a purple clearing where hundreds of stars flickered moments: Rosie and Lauren on the bed, the salt waters of ninth grade; here and there, a shimmer from the pool’s surface, as if it had already happened. Her parents were there, twinkling alongside their parents and grandparents, and her brother’s children, not yet born. They would name the first after her.
A line of scarlet connected that child to Ethan. He sniffed her newborn scalp.
Rosie’s snapped the string to pieces
Ethan showed no fear. Rosie growled her best growl. Nothing. She sat on her haunches and waited for him to initiate. It was his fault.
She dipped her head in acknowledgment. He bowed deeply in return and dissolved into potentiality. And the star that had been Rosie Goldstein spun away.