Disclaimer: I do not own The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The novel is by Mitch Albom.
Summary: He sat on the pier, facing the sea. Slowly, she sat with him to hear his story… and her own. For the stories are all one. — Amy or Annie, Eddie
Tale of Boardwalk
The ocean waves were lapping up against the wooden boardwalk where he perched.
She had arrived from the sea.
Heaven was a new thing to her.
The voice in her throat was stuck tight. As she emerged from the ocean, she did not notice how the waters, although from the sea, were free of salt. The gasp that would've sparked from her mouth was lost in her current condition. Although she knew that her death was coming, being here was a surprise.
The sky was dark. It was nighttime.
Children's screams and laughter echoed throughout the area. Stars glittered in the sky and she recognized the pier. Ruby Pier. The place where she used to go to during the summer until that fateful day when the accident had happened and the manager of the place was killed. The most she had done was bring her children there and wait for them on the edges of the street, the tip of her toes just daring to touch the woody, worn texture of the boardwalk. They would go; she would not. She would not go in.
Half of her body submerged in the sea, she faced a man that was on a bench in the midst of it all, his dark figure ominous in the surrounding excitement and jubilance. But then, the dark sky began to lighten little by little. At first a pitch-black dark, it became a faded gray—like pain that had been washed over with water… A color that was found in the intricate designs of Chinese painting. It continued to go on like that for awhile until the sky—and even the areas around them—was a pure white.
The rides and the food stands that were part of the amusement park seemed to be a light, pastel color as it slowly faded into the background, the voices and the sounds getting fainter and fainter until it became muffled. Hushed.
It was them and the white.
And then she felt the texture of her hands.
She was baffled as she pulled them up in front of her eyes, longing for a closer look to see if it was true or not. Sure enough, her hands were the smooth skin of a child's. The webby, thin, bony hands that she had possessed at her time of death were gone. They were replaced with the hands that she had as a child.
Quickly she looked up.
The man's face that had been shadowed by the darkness was now visible in the light.
He was smiling.
The word came at her at a fast rate and she longed to reply—to ask questions, to wonder where she was and what she was doing here. Better yet, she thought, what is he doing here? I don't know him… Yet as their eyes locked she felt something come up from deep within herself and her thoughts froze in her mind. He seemed familiar.
"I had to experience this too, you know." His voice was gentle. He did not move from his spot, and it was clear it was his age that stilled him; she could tell it would be a tedious chore for him. A lone emotion bubbled inside of her: irritation. It was as if he were talking to a child with that voice, and she was certainly not a child mentally… Physically, yes, but she had plenty amount of knowledge in her… Yes—she did. What could he possibly know that she didn't already?
"I know it's hard, being here for the first time," he went on. "But you're a child right now… You don't know what you are going to go through… Everyone's time in heaven is their first time." It surprised her how he knew what she was feeling at that moment and her guard relaxed. The latter of his message caught her ears, and her eyes widened.
That's what he had said, right?
So this was heaven…
He chuckled, his old body jiggling slightly. "You can't talk when you first get here…" He looked up to the sky although there was nothing to look at, really. There were no clouds and no colors that mingled with one another—just a blank white. "You know… my first person told me it helps people listen… So…" He turned back toward her, his gentle smile still there. "You'll listen to me, right? I mean, there's nothing else you can do."
The waters rushed up against her and the girl panicked: Was she going to drown? Her eyes closed as she felt the waves move about her… but as she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find that she was perfectly dry and that she was now sitting in front of the man on the bench on the boardwalk. The sudden act shocked the words out of her mouth, even if she was not able to speak.
Heaven… This wasn't what I imagined it would be, she thought to herself while looking at her surroundings.
"This isn't your heaven," he remarked, clearly reading her thoughts again. He chuckled as she spun quickly around to look at him. "Relax…" he said, patience laced in his speech. "Besides… You know it already, don't you?"
Something twitched in her heart and her eyes focused on the intricate designs the wood of the boardwalk had. Her blonde curls came down across her face, hiding most of it but shining with all its glory in the bright light.
"This isn't your heaven," he said.
"I'm your first person."
She looked up, surprised. My first person? she thought. What did he mean by that?
"God…" He sighed, seeming to relive a memory. And he was. The Blue Man was much better at this than he was. "This is God's greatest gift," he said, echoing the words that the Blue Man had said to him before. "Knowing what your life is all about… Knowing its meaning… Knowing what you did for people." As if on instinct, he brought his right hand up and pointed to his heart.
"This is what it's all about.
"You'll meet five people, you know," he continued. "I'm the first one… I've been waiting for a while, you know." Seeing the surprised look on her face again, he smiled. "I had to do this too… When I first came here, I mean. So don't be afraid. It isn't so hard. Not after a while." He paused for a moment, thinking of the other things he would have to explain. Remembering another thing, he spoke once more, "Each of us will teach you something… Five people, five lessons… Do you… Do you understand?"
But… she thought, who are you? Do I know you?
Did she know him?
The man sighed as if disappointed. "I guess you would've forgotten… It's been a while." A chuckle. "Not like we met in the best circumstances anyway." He reached into the pocket of the grubby uniform he had on and drew out a packet of pipe cleaners. Slowly he opened the plastic wrapping and drew out three bright yellow ones.
"You liked the rabbit, right?"
The girl's eyes widened and the yellow seemed to fill her eyes as she watched him begin to construct a pipe cleaner animal. The way he looked… That's why he seemed so familiar. As if her recognition were the key, her voice now seemed to crack out of its shell and she could feel something melt away in her throat. Her words seemed as if a newborn was forming them as she struggled to get out what she was trying to say.
"Eddie…" she began, her voice hesitant. "… Eddie Maint'nance…?" It came out in a hoarse whisper.
He added the tail to his creation and held it out to her.
It came back to her.
The ride… the shadow… The screams and the running.
The sheer force of the pressure she was feeling… the act of feeling afraid of something she didn't know was there or not.
And then there was the push…
And the scraping of her arms on the concrete as the ride smashed into the ground, a grotesque figure in the entanglement of it all and her heavy breathing. Sirens roared in her ears and everything came in a blur as she tried to hold onto something, but could not find anything to hold onto except for herself.
The pipe cleaner bunny was abandoned on the ground.
"… Eddie Maint'nance?" she repeated, not as shocked as she could've been when she heard her voice come out as one of an eight-year-old. She eyed the pipe cleaner figure in front of her… then, slowly, she took it in her fingers and relished in the soft texture it held… the innocence of a child she used to be.
He stuffed the pipe cleaners back in his pocket.
"That's me," he repeated.
In spite of herself, she began to cry.
The tears came down in small rivulets and her voice came out in choked sobs. Was she here for punishment? What was she here for? She killed him, didn't she? If she hadn't been standing under the falling cart… But she was afraid… She was so very afraid that she couldn't move even though her mind was screaming at her to do so. She thought—she hoped that she could stay very still and not be killed.
How foolish I was, she thought to herself. How very foolish.
But then Eddie's voice came back to her in the comforting whisper of a grandfather—a guardian. "You're here to learn what your life was all about…" He sighed and cocked his head to the right. "You think you killed me… and in a way you did. But there was a heck of a lot of things that added to that, you know?"
The girl relaxed and, finding her voice, began to speak. "What is this place?"
"I told you: it's heaven."
She shook her head.
"I mean… this place."
"I don't… recognize it."
He laughed this time and shook his head. "You wouldn't. You weren't born yet."
"What is this place?"
"The Stardust Band Shell."
"I met my wife here, you see."
"Ah… I… see…"
The man shook his head. "No. You don't, because this is not your heaven." He smiled at her, showing that his reply was, by no means, meant to insult her. The water began to lap gently at the sides as a breeze began to come in, carrying a hint of ocean salt. "Would you like to know how I died?" The topic was gruesome, but there was not a way to avoid it as the water rushed up above the boardwalk, consuming him, consuming her.
There was not a way to avoid it.
She was tumbling in the waters now, choking although she wasn't. Her eyes were closed, feeling like she was dying again when she wasn't.
Her eyes opened.
Slowly, she took in her surroundings… Ruby Pier… all those years ago.
She had nearly forgotten what it had looked like.
Eddie—the man was sitting on thin air.
He nodded his head toward a group of kids in the corner of the theme park nearby the trash cans. They were just hanging out, just talking. The girl vaguely recognized them, but other than that, they were complete strangers to her. She did not know who they were.
She had wanted to ask what they were doing… because it seemed like they weren't doing much. But she didn't ask. Not because her voice was no longer there or because she couldn't form any words for the question precisely. It was simply the fact that she felt like no questions were supposed to be asked at this point. As if there was something that would be revealed in time if only she had the patience to wait.
Eddie and the girl followed the group of boys to the different attractions at Ruby Pier. Flying Falcon… It was a fast ride she remembered. She watched as one of them stopped for a moment to slip something into the pocket of his jacket, then sliding it off his shoulders and tying it across his waist.
"Nicky! Let's go! Line's getting longer!"
"Yeah, yeah…" The man named Nicky raced across the dark pavement, his sneakers beating on it like a drum but with a completely exotic tune. The jacket across his waist jiggled violently as he ran.
They watched as a few of the boys littered on the ground, as they disrupted some of the activities of the other customers. In short, they were typical teenagers having a typical summer night out. The sky was cloudy, the stars barely glimmering through the thick blanket that devoured the world.
Then they came to Eddie's Free Fall.
The boys piled into the car one by one, all of them laughing. A majority of them gave off a shocked, "Whoa!" as the car took off with a sudden jolt. It rose slowly up the beam, finally stopping with an even bigger bump at the precipice of the ride. She watched as the jacket on Nicky's waist quivered once more and a shiny item caught her eye as it fell through a small crack on the ride, disappearing into the contraptions. The car then came down in a torrent and the boys cried out until it came to a halt at the base.
The boys got off, laughing, and they went on to other attractions, other rides. They bought alcohol and drank their fill as they carried the rest in a brown paper bag. At last they converged at the parking lot in front of a car. Eddie and her watched as Nicky untied the jacket from his waist and fished in the right pocket for the key. A few moments passed and he withdrew his hand with nothing in its grasp.
"Yo, Nick… we goin' or what?"
"Shit… I can't find it."
"The key… I can't find the key…"
The voices faded and the lights faded and the sounds faded as she felt herself being dragged back into a void of white and sea. She expected herself to be at the moment where Eddie would dive to save her from the falling car, but it didn't happen. She opened her eyes and she found herself on the bench next to Eddie by the sea.
"I thought you were going to show me how you died."
Eddie let out a small sigh and shifted in his seat. A hand came to rub the back of his neck. Talking of your own death was awkward, she supposed, especially when you were in heaven. "The cable of one of the cars snapped," he explained. He turned to her. "Didn't you see the thing that fell out of the boy's pocket?"
In all honesty, she didn't. Regardless, her mind turned back to the conversation the boy, Nicky, had with one of his friends. "A key," she said finally. "Was it a key?"
"It fell through the shafts… Wrung itself in the wires… Snapped it…"
She didn't know what to say. She wanted to comfort him, but she felt that there were no words. Her well had run dry.
They stared at the sea some more.
At last she opened her mouth. "Are you angry?"
"What do you mean? At who? Them?"
Eddie sighed again. "Not really. Maybe I would have if I had known back then. But when you're dead, things are different. You see things differently that you forget about who you were before—"He gestured to where they were, the place, his heaven. "—this.
"But I'm not angry. I can't be. He made a mistake… It's a part of his story he may never even know about. But sometimes a story needs to go wrong in order to evolve another."
"What?" The girl was confused.
"I'm sorry," Eddie said hastily. "I'm new to this whole thing."
"I was never that good of a teacher."
Eddie drew in breath, collecting his thoughts with the vacuum of his breathing. "Fate," he said. "Let's start with fate."
"Fate," she repeated, a small intrigue creeping into her features.
"Think about…" Words trailed off as he came to a pause, finding his own mental footing. "Think about what would have happened if none of those pieces lined up," he said at last. "Think about Nicky, the key… The ride. Think about what would have happened if the key had been put somewhere else. If Nicky hadn't been the one driving. If the weather had been stormy instead of sunny—"
"If I hadn't been there." The words slipped out involuntarily, and the girl looked down at the instant of their conception. God, if she hadn't been there.
At the silence that followed, she picked her gaze up from the wooden ground to look up, meeting the eyes of Eddie. She expected a reprimand, a pat on the back. Maybe.
"If you hadn't been there," he said.
"I could've gone in with my children," she found herself saying, "whenever they asked to go in the summer. I could've felt—" She stopped, a hand unconsciously placing itself over her heart, wringing the rough fabric of her t-shirt.
"Less guilty?" Eyes closed and she nodded. "And I wouldn't have died." The nodding stilled, and Eddie said nothing more as he let the words sink in.
"I was old," he said. Looking up, she realized that he had left the bench and was now standing on the edge of the pier, staring at nothing. "I just turned 83, you know. There's nothing to feel sorry for, but…" Another pause, and his next words came with the hint of a smile.
"Funny how you wouldn't have met him, you know? If none of this had happened."
She was older.
She was standing by the sea. And then, soon, there was someone standing beside her.
Her husband, but he wasn't then. Not yet.
He asked if her she was all right, and she shook her head no. In summer days like this, she found herself remembering more than she would like about Ruby Pier and what had happened there. Within minutes, she would find herself by the sea, wishing for the waves to pull that memory out of her when they receded back into that grand body of water.
Later, when they were old and graying, they would joke about that moment.
"Looked like you were going to commit suicide," he commented over a breakfast of eggs and bacon.
Maybe she had been. But no longer, she knew, returning his jibe with a smile.
"Funny," she echoed.
"Funny how we're all connected like that," Eddie said.
A smile surfaced on her face as she pieced together the puzzle that had been handed to her by the whiskered old man with a linen cap and a crooked nose. "This is the lesson."
The old man before her turned and bowed; when he righted himself, she saw her joy mirrored. "Yes."
"The heart of the story—"
"—of all stories—"
"Me," she said. "And others."
The grin never left his face and he unfurled an aged hand out to her, beckoning her. "Good teacher?"
The world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.
The girl left the bench, placed her hand in his own. "Good"—a small chuckle—"Good, Eddie Maint'nance."
Beneath the pier, she felt the waters begin to rise. Pools formed below her sandaled feet. The sounds of the amusement park began to return, and in her hands she felt the pipe cleaner bunny, yellow like the sun on a summer day.
In summer days like this...
"I'm sorry," she said suddenly, the backdrop beginning to fade and fold over—a page of a book. "I'm sorry."
He took both her hands in his own, squeezed and then let go. It never left, that smile.
"I was 83."
The waters rose, the tide came in, came out, and away she went.
A/N. This has been an idea in my mind for awhile ever since I re-read the book while creating fanfiction. I wrote this nearly three years ago, but did not finish it until now. I tried to add Mitch Albom's style of writing into it, but I'm not sure if I succeeded very well or not, heh. The last line regarding Eddie's description ("whiskered old man with a linen cap and a crooked nose") is lifted from the book, as is the lesson Amy or Annie learns ("The world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.").
For those of you confused: It's supposed to be Amy or Annie (who Eddie saved at the beginning)'s first time in heaven and Eddie is the first person she meets.
Also, I changed by pen name from Phonyu to 815, just in case if there's some befuddlement in terms of Author Alerts. (After nearly 4 years of absence, I felt a change was in order...?) 8U Sorry for any potential confusion.