When Scotty arrived in Heaven, the first place he went was a gay bar.
The text notification told him that orientation began in half an hour, so he figured he’d get a little hammered in the mean time. He certainly had a lot of process, being an atheist and all.
The bar was called Ascend and it was located on the corner of a busy intersection between a fast-casual poke restaurant and one of those aerial fitness studios. Scotty rolled his eyes. "Great," he scoffed. "Annoying white girls go to Heaven, too."
With its wide, dark windows and crumbling stoop, Ascend was relatively unassuming, except for the giant rainbow flag hanging over the door. Scotty jumped up and slapped it before walking inside, an impulsive habit like flipping off a yellow light or crossing yourself in front of a church. Just within the doorframe, Scotty stood frozen and slack-jawed, positively stunned by what he witness. Ascend was a maze of bicep tattoos and trendy haircuts where chiseled, statuesque men of various ethnicities sipped vodka cocktails and body-rolled to what Scotty immediately recognized as a vintage Fedde Le Grand beat. Just outside the door, it was a normal weekday afternoon. But inside Ascend, it was peak Saturday night.
Scotty eased his way through the crowd, attracting the attention of every man he passed like a magnet. When he finally reached the bar, he heaved himself onto a stool and exhaled a sigh of exhaustion. He covered his face with him palms and rubbed his temples. “Fuck me,” he muttered under his breath. The reality of his situation was finally settling in, like a delayed hangover. “I’m legit dead, aren’t I?”
Suddenly there was a gust of wind and a shower of glitter. “You sure are girl,” said a voice. “You’re deader than Whitney, Amy, Aaliyah, Lindsay, Amanda Bynes, etcetera.” Scotty looked up to see a tiny Asian man wearing a black tank top, emblazed with the Ascend logo. The bartender flicked his wrist and a bottle of Carlsberg appeared. With his other hand, he gestured a fanning motion and an ornate bottle opener appeared. He cracked open the beer and placed it in front of Scotty, under which a coaster materialized. “That’s my favorite beer,” said Scotty in disbelief. To the bartender, it sounded like Scotty was more impressed by the beer than Heavenly magic. Without hesitation, he scooped up the beer and chugged it. The bartender propped himself onto his elbows and leaned in close. “How’s your night, little baby cherub?” Scotty belched and wiped his lips with the sleeve of his shirt. “Never felt more alive.” Above the music, someone screamed in Scotty’s direction.
"Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me!"
Scotty spun on his barstool and faced the man sitting next to him. The guy was trim with a cropped fade and a white T-shirt that clung to his torso. From his angular chin, a shadow cast all the way down to his navel. His eyes were deep-set with two bright green irises that radiated light from inside his skull. Scotty scanned the stranger’s face then found a gentle gaze on his hulking forearms. He recognized this gentleman, but didn't know how or from where. "Hi," said Scotty. "I know you." The stranger tossed back the rest of his drink and rolled his eyes with distain. “Barely,” he sneered. Scotty contorted his face. “Did we fuck or something?” The stranger ignored Scotty’s question and looked down at his phone — vacantly scrolling through Instagram. “There are infinite gay bars in Heaven,” he said without meeting Scotty’s eyes. “But this one is my favorite. So I’d be extremely relieved if you found somewhere else to grace with your particular brand of assholery. Given the fact that you don't have a soul, I can’t even begin to understand how you made it through the pearly rope. Also, I’ve been dead for five years, so I’ve got seniority here and I call dibs!”
Suddenly, above their heads, CO2 cannons blasted streams of thick, cold fog onto the crowd. Immediately, Scotty was lost in the bulky expanse of the ghostly white mist that imposed itself upon the entirety of Ascend. “Just tell me,” he yelled into the synthetic cumulus cloud. “How do we know each other?!” Green lights shot through the fog like snipers in the dark. “You met me at Club Pink in Downtown Philly!” yelled the disembodied stranger. “You said I was the hottest guy in the bar! Then, you suggested I close my tab and bring you back to my place! I admired your confidence so I thought, ‘Sure what the hell!’ Then, when we finally got to my apartment, you said you were going to step outside and smoke a cigarette! Five minutes later, I went to check on you, and you were gone! I died in a car crash the next morning! You dick!”
The fog thinned and Scotty got another good look at the man’s face. “Ellis,” he said flatly. “Your name’s Ellis.” The man crossed his arms and looked away. “If I can explain myself,” Scotty continued. “When we finally got to your apartment, the place was covered in cat hair,” said Scotty, fumbling over his words. “I’m allergic to cat hair, but I still wanted to sleep with you. But then, you took off your shirt and there was a…” Scotty stopped himself mid-sentence, a distressed look painted across his face. “There was a what?” demanded Ellis, still seething. “Tell me!” Scotty took a long gulp of his beer, then he belched and said, “There was a bellybutton ring, okay? Your bellybutton ring. I saw it and I bailed. My actions were impulsive and cowardly, but like. I mean, c’mon. You get that, right?! A bellybutton ring for Christ’s sake!”
Ellis looked like he was about to burst into tears, so Scotty reached over and put his hand on the man’s knee. Scotty assumed Ellis would slap it away, but to his surprise, Ellis didn’t react at all. Instead, after a few wordless moments, Ellis took his hand and gingerly touched the middle of his own stomach. “They took out my bellybutton ring,” he said above a whisper. “For the funeral. Apparently, my dad hated it too.”
The world around them buzzed with Heaven’s circuit party. But between them, there was stillness and sadness. “I’m sorry,” said Scotty. “I’m an asshole and I’ve always been an asshole. But now I’m dead. And every one-night-stand I ever had, and every short-term relationship I ever ruined, and everyone I pretended to love is back on Earth — living their lives without me. And the worst part is that the only thing I left behind is a body that’ll probably go undiscovered for another week because I live alone. So if you give me the opportunity, I would love to make it up to you. Because I’m new to this place and I don’t really know anyone and I can use a friend right now. Any chance you want to go somewhere with me? So we can talk more?”
Ellis understood exactly how Scotty felt. The isolation of dying young. The agony of Heaven with its curated Earthly pleasures, repurposed for comfort but ubiquitous reminders of everything left behind. It was window-dressing. It was a Radiohead song.
“Okay,” said Ellis. “We can go to my place. And lucky for you, cats don’t go to Heaven.” Scotty breathed a sigh of relief and gripped Ellis by the knee, one last time. “Thank you,” he said. “Go ahead and put our drinks on my tab, then meet me outside. I need a cigarette.” Ellis smiled. “There are no tabs in Heaven, but I need to use the restroom, so I’ll see you outside. And if you need a cigarette, just make a ‘V’ with your fingers. A lighter will appear in the other hand.”
On the street in front of Ascend, Scotty enjoyed his first cigarette in Heaven. He’d already missed orientation, but he wasn’t terribly worried about it. He figured the programming authorities in Heaven had to be lenient. Day had turned to night and the chilly electric wind reminded him of Maui. He’d taken a vacation there with his father when he was a child. He took a drag and recalled walking out onto the beach after dark just to enjoy the wind. It was special. And it was the same brand of wind in Heaven.
All at once, he was thrilled. Sure he was dead, but Heaven had infinite gay bars. It had men who seemed genuinely interested in him when he walk through crowds. It had wind that smelled and tasted like Hawaii. It was completely devoid of cats!
Before him, Heaven spread out in every direction, faster then he could fathom. Heart beating in his throat, Scotty reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He was going to order an Uber and take it anywhere. Heaven was his next big adventure. He had to go. Right now.
But then a voice called out from behind him. “Hey,” chirped Ellis. “We can walk to my place from here.”
Ellis wrapped his arm through Scotty’s and nodded in a direction that suggested “this way.” Scotty look down at their intertwined arms, and like a spark of divine inspiration, realized he had all the time in the world. Heaven wasn’t going anywhere. And neither was he.