Adjusting

By Michael C Keith

It were to be wished the flaws were fewer.

 –– Robert Browning

 

O-2h, my God! There is a Heaven!” blurted Craig Dunlop, sitting up in his coffin, which was floating peacefully in a perfect cloudless sky.

“Well, not really, Craig, but a pretty close approximation, according to some,” said a soft masculine voice.

Craig looked around but could see no one. “Are you God?” he asked tentatively.

“Oh, no. I’m just a facilitator. The boss doesn’t get involved in Adjustments.”

“Boss? You mean Jesus?”

“No, but he was adjusted, too.”

“Adjusted?”

Well, let me explain what happens next, Craig, okay?”

“Yes, please . . . I’m not going to Hell, am I?”

“No, don’t worry there’s no . . . “

“I mean . . . I wasn’t perfect, but I think I was a pretty good person overall. Never did anything truly horrible.”

“Okay, well, that’s why you’re here. We’re going to address your faults. That is, we’re going to have you focus on what aspects of your personality, your character, that were, shall we say, perhaps not among your best. Then we’re going to make the Adjustments.”

“What kind of adjustments?”
“We’re going to purge the glitches, the warts, from your being.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re getting a second chance to live life as a better person, without those defects that made you less than what you could have been.”

“You really mean that? How is that even possible? I thought you just either went to Heaven or Hell. No one ever said anything about this happening after you die.”

“Yes, I know, but it would be too complicated to explain, so let’s just do what is necessary to improve you before . . .”

“Before what?”

“Don’t worry, Craig, nothing dire. I’ll explain after we adjust you. Now here is what I want you to do. Think really hard about what qualities of your personality were not particularly admirable. Qualities you wish you could get rid of now that you’re dead and can look back on your entire life and see everything you did.”

“Wow, this is really happening? Okay . . . okay, well, I had a bad temper, especially when I was behind the wheel. Used to go postal in traffic. My poor wife would get so upset because I was yelling and acting like a crazy jerk. So that’s one thing I’d like to change . . . adjust.”

“Good start. What else?”

“I was a gossiper, and sometimes things got out of hand. Didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt . . . but it did happen a couple of times. Should have kept my mouth shut.”

“Keep going.”

“Sure . . . let me think. I did lie a little more than necessary. Mostly harmless white lies, but there were a couple of whoppers along the line.”

“Never a good thing. More please.”

“Jeez, this isn’t easy. Let’s see. I picked my nose . . . a lot.”

“I’ll grant you that it’s a pretty disgusting thing, but most humans do.”

“Oh, good to know. Now I don’t feel so bad.”

“Don’t stop. Get it all out in the open. It’s necessary if you’re to be . . .”

Be what?”

“Not now. Just keep probing your memory for those things that flawed you as a person.”

“Okay, how about . . . “

“Yes? Go ahead.”

Craig took a long, deep breath. “Pleasuring myself too much?”

“I’m not clear what you’re saying exactly.”

“You know . . . choking the monkey,“ answered Craig, moving his cupped hand back and forth.”

“Oh, that . . . well, it’s another thing most humans do. Not a particularly bad thing, but I guess one can overdo it. Go on.”

“Complain. I guess I could be called a complainer, but it was just that I saw so many things going wrong with the world.”

“How so? Explain, Craig.”

”You know, like the way they kept raising prices on everything and the cops being so quick to give out tickets for going a couple miles over the speed limit. I just got pissed off about so many things. Politicians really got my goat and the lousy products that never worked the way they claimed they would. Maybe the thing I complained about the most was the way people drove like idiots, but I guess I already mentioned how I got so angry when I was driving.”

“Yes, Craig, you did mention that. What else? Don’t stop.”

“I’m losing track of what I’ve told you so far.”

“These were the personality imperfections you’ve cited thus far, Craig. Temper tantrums . . . “

“I wouldn’t call them tantrums . . .”

“Vicious gossiping . . .”

“No, I didn’t say I was vicious, I just . . .”

“You were a boldface liar . . .”

“Not that bad . . .”

“You dug at your nose in public . . .”

“Huh . . . No, I didn’t do it in . . . “

“You overdid the masturbating thing . . .”

“Well, maybe a little, but . . .”

“You were always bitching about something . . .”

“It wasn’t really that bad. Sure, I . . .”

“Is that it, Craig? Can you think of any other displeasing aspects of your personality?”

“I don’t know if I left anything out. Guess that’s about it.”

“Hold on a moment, will you, Craig? Let me do a retro on you.”

“A retro? Sure . . . no problem.”

Craig waited anxiously for the Adjustment facilitator to report back. As more time went by than he had expected, he began to fear that he had failed to cite additional negative qualities to his character.

“Mr. Dunlop?” queried the voice.

“Yes, sir?”

“We’ve done a check and found that you did possess some other minor shortcomings you didn’t cite. But I don’t think I’ll have you try to recall them. We have limited time, so corrections to those have been made.”

“Oh, well, thank you. I’m sorry I forgot . . .”

“Overall, you were not terribly compromised by your character deficiencies, so we’ve decided to reassign you.”

“Reassign?”

“Yes . . . send you on.”

“You mean I’m going to be allowed to resume life on Earth . . . as a better person?”

“You will certainly be a better person, but not on Earth. No, that’s not possible.”

“Well, where then?”

After a pause, the facilitator answered.

“Velop 17.”

“Huh? Velop . . .?”

“Seventeen . . . a nice little planet in the Hoag Galaxy.”

“No, you’re kidding me. Another planet?”

“Yes, one perfectly compatible with your human physiology.”

“No, please, I don’t want to go there. Can’t I just go right to Heaven?”

“Look, Craig, things are not what you believed they would be. That interpretation of the afterlife on Earth is not quite accurate, although things can be, shall we say, heaven-like, depending on where you’re reassigned. Velop 17 is certainly one of the better post-life destinations.”

“No, I can’t go to a different world. You can’t expect me to. That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, there is another option. However, I can’t recall anyone choosing it.”

“I will . . . anything but having to live on strange planet. What’s the option?”

“You can go the ‘dust to dust’ route and simply remain in your coffin.”

“So . . . can you tell me more about Velop 17?”

——————–

Michael C Keith is the author of more than 20 books on electronic media, among them Talking Radio, Voices in the Purple Haze, Radio Cultures, Signals in the Air, and the classic textbook The Radio Station (now Keith’s Radio Station). The recipient of numerous awards in the academic field, he is also the author of dozens of articles and short stories and has served in a variety of editorial positions. In addition, he is the author of an acclaimed memoir––The Next Better Place (screenplay co-written with Cetywa Powell), a young adult novel––Life is Falling Sideways, and nine story collections––Of Night and Light, Everything is Epic, Sad Boy, And Through the Trembling Air, Hoag’s Object, The Collector of Tears, If Things Were Made To Last Forever, Caricatures, and The Near Enough. He has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O.Henry Award and was a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award for short fiction anthology and a finalist for the 2013 International Book Award in the “Fiction Visionary” category. www.michaelckeith.com

 


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