Lawrence stopped in front of the Pearly Gates. There they were, big as can be and shining like new dimes. As he reached to push them open, they changed into a weathered door, and he stood on a familiar cement square, with a rail on one side and a homemade boot scraper on the other. Out of habit, he checked his shoes, but they were Sunday-clean. A large, golden lump of a dog lay next to the house and raised his head to growl something that almost sounded like “hello” before going back to sleep.
Lawrence pulled open the screen door and stepped onto the porch. He shrugged off his jacket and hung it from a nail over the wide wooden steps. As his hand grabbed the handle next to the door to pull himself up, he felt the years fall away, as if he could jump those stair if he wanted to. He stepped into the kitchen and saw a plate of dried beef sitting between the burners of the stove. A few thin slices lay next to the main chunk, and he crammed one into his mouth: perfect!
Just to check, he opened the brown refrigerator; two full cases of beer. He hadn’t wanted a beer in a good long time, but right then a can sounded pretty damn good.
“Hey, Dad. Grab me one of those, too.”
A voice he hadn’t heard in a good long time came from the dining room. Without wondering about it, Lawrence grabbed a second can and came in. The old table had a bright shine and the lamp had all its crystals. The chairs matched, and none were missing the slats from the back. A group of people sat around the table, drinks in front of most of them. He handed the beer to the bearded giant sitting next to the open head spot.
“Thanks. We were just waiting for you.”
“Yup. How’s it going? How’s my family doing?”
“Oh, they’re doing alright. Got a bunch of kids running around.”
“Well, that’s just fine.”
“Becky’s oldest is just like her.”
Jim started to laugh so hard he had to leave the room until he could breath again. Another voice brought Lawrence’s head around.
“Ve thought you might like to play a game.”
“I vas just visiting and they said you vas coming home today.”
The two men shook hands, as if just a week had gone by. Jim came back into the room and sat down, the plate of beef in his hand.
“This is really good, Mom.”
“Tell your father; it’s his recipe.”
Lawrence turned to the voice. He knew that voice. The woman was young and bright, tall and sturdy. He fell back into his chair.
“Hello, dear. How are you?”
“Of course. Now, I don’t mind, since I wasn’t there, but I hope you’re going to knock off flirting with all the ladies now.”
He grabbed her up and hugged her.
“We’ll talk later. Right now, we have guests.”
Lawrence sat back down and drank the rest of his beer. When he finished, a bottle sat at his elbow, full of a dark, red liquid. Jim poured some in a glass and handed it over.
“You wouldn’t believe how thick the chokecherries grow around here!”
“They wouldn’t grow so thick if you’d trim them back once in awhile!” This came from a tall young man with a very serious face. He sat next to a short woman who was busily shuffling two decks of cards together. Lawrence greeted his older brother and sister-in-law.
“Where are the rest of our family?”
“They’ll be along shortly. We’ll set up some card tables for everyone.”
The last guest at the table had been quiet the whole time. Lawrence looked at him but could not place him at all. He leaned over to Jim.
Jim looked down the table and nodded to the man.
“Well, that’s God. He came to tell us you were coming.”
“Does he do that for everyone?”
“Not always, but he thought you might be interested in a game of pinochle.”
“Well, sure, but…”
The man at the other end of the table spoke, his voice like fire and wind, mountains crumbling and seas boiling.
“Are we here to talk or are we here to play cards?”