"That wasn't so bad."
"Wasn't so bad? I'm going to hell!"
Edith Gold stared at the strange young man in shock, barely understanding what had transpired. One moment she and Sammy were driving along the freeway on their way home from visiting their daughter, and the next they were in a strange hall facing this strangely beautiful man with sky blue eyes and a quirky smile. She was still half convinced that it was all a terrible nightmare, expecting to wake up any moment to find Sammy snoring away beside her as he had done for the past fifty years. She looked at the young man again, seeing the sadness upon his face. His eyes softened further and he smiled.
"I believe in you, Edie," he said gently and she straightened, looking around her.
"Where are we?"
"You don't recognize this place?"
"Flatbush! This is where Sammy and I lived when we first got married. We had a little place just off--" She turned, smiling. "Can you smell that?"
The gentle young man took in the scent of the air, grinning as he smelled the aroma of freshly baked bread and cake.
"Mr. Stein baked the most delicious donuts." She sighed, and then eyed her companion critically. "You don't look like a Mr. Green to me. Have you a first name?"
"Israfel," he whispered. "Look," Israfel nudged her, pointing out another young man walking along the street opposite, heading for the bakery.
"Sammy," she whispered in awe and Israfel could see the love shining in her eyes.
This was why he had offered to be her advocate, because he knew that someone filled with so much love for her husband deserved to be saved from eternal damnation. She had never meant to be cruel to her Sammy, seeing every push and every nag as a means of giving them both a better life, not understanding that there was more to life than money and material goods. Throughout their fifty years of marriage, Sammy had never once complained, accepting his beautiful wife for all her faults.
"Remember, you have only three days to persuade your younger self the error of her ways."
Edith's eyes widened as she watched her younger self, Edie, step out of the baker's and into her husband's arms, accepting a small kiss on the cheek before pulling away and admonishing Sammy for being late.
"No time like the present," Edith stated.
Israfel held up a finger, opening his mouth to argue differently but Edith had already marched off towards the couple. He sighed, watching as the young couple walked away, hand in hand, so much in love, with their marriage vows still fresh upon their lips. They were oblivious to the woman marching towards them and, although Israfel knew Edith was about to make a big mistake, he took a deep breath and waited. His role was as her advocate. He could not interfere, only give advice if she asked for it but Edith Gold was not used to taking any advice but her own. This was part of what she needed to learn if she wanted to find salvation.
As she made her first attempt to influence her younger self by force, demanding the girl listen to her well intentioned but unwanted advice, Israfel heard a soft whisper upon the breeze and smiled.
"Why do you care so much for these humans?"
Israfel turned to face the Prosecutor. "Why do you care so little?"
"Because they are not worthy of Him. They lie and steal, cheat and kill, and yet He still loves them, more than He loves us."
"Do you truly believe that?"
Astarte reached out and cupped Israfel's face. "One day you will see the truth."
"I already have," he replied, and she sighed in disappointment, slowly fading away.
Edie stormed off, tugging her husband behind her, leaving Edith standing alone and shocked. She turned as Israfel approached her, and he saw the tears glistening in her red-rimmed eyes. She thought it would be so easy, railroading her younger self into changing the habits that would stay with her for a lifetime and condemn her to eternal damnation but Israfel knew differently. If changing a person could be that easy then everyone would be granted a second chance. In truth, very few were granted the chance to go back and amend their actions in the past. Sometimes, it worked and they found redemption but more often, they followed the easy path that led into darkness. Israfel took her hand and smiled at her. He would be her guiding light if she would allow it. All she had to do was ask for his help.
Two days later, Edith collapsed into the seat opposite within her father's small diner that she had started out in as a waitress all those years ago. She watched as Edie waited tables, telling people what to eat rather than allowing them to choose for themselves but no one seemed to mind. Sammy came in, standing just inside the threshold for several minutes and Edie hurried over, berating him for disturbing her at work and demanding to know why he was not at his father's store. The small family dry cleaning business would expand under Edie's business skills after her husband inherited it from his father's estate. She would cajole and nag, push and belittle her forbearing husband into taking out loans to open a second store and hire staff. She would moan and call him useless when he failed to make enough profit each week, insisting he replace lazy staff and work every hour God sent. The birth of their children would merely focus her needs, wanting to provide the best clothes, the best schools, the best home for her little ones and, though it all, Sammy would bow to her wishes even though he gained no pleasure from his life with her. Yet, he loved her with all his heart and so he said nothing.
That path still lay ahead of her for nothing had changed. Her attitude had not softened and Edith had lost every battle waged against her younger self.
She picked up her cup of coffee and took a sip of the hot, creamy liquid. "I always made such good coffee, and the best pancakes. People would come in from miles around for coffee and pancakes." She sighed. "I loved it here. I loved the smell and the background noise of people talking. Some would come in here with a frown or a sad face but they always left with a smile."
"Why did you stop working here?"
"Sammy's business took off and we moved away. Had the children; a nice home, a television. One of the first in the neighborhood," she stated with a grin that faded. "Not that there was anything much on in those days. Unlike today where there are so many channels and programs that you never know what to watch." She shook her head. "I wish you could understand."
She fell silent and Israfel felt her pain, understanding far more than she would ever know.
"What do I do? I've tried everything."
He smiled, grateful that she had finally asked for his advice having virtually ignored him over the past two days except to use as a listening wall, telling him about her failed attempts to knock some sense into her younger self.
"Why did you push so hard?"
She pursed her lips. "At the time, I simply wanted us to have everything. For me, for Sammy... for the children, but it was never quite enough."
"Have you ever wondered if you were simply reaching for the wrong things? Getting what you wanted... but not what you needed."
She pondered over that, sipping at her coffee and smiling as her younger self brought a soft chuckle from a customer who had entered looking lost and alone. She always knew exactly what someone needed when they came here.
"I always loved it here," she whispered with a sigh, and her eyes suddenly widened as she stared across the table at Israfel.
He grinned as understanding filled her, blushing when she half stood and leaned across the table top, kissing him soundly on the cheek. Half an hour later, they were standing before the Judge once more and, this time, a smile played about the Prosecutor's lips as Israfel presented his defense. Neither of the Golds remembered their last time here, for their lives had turned down a different path after Edie and Samuel sold the dry cleaning business that they had both hated and took on the small diner after her father died. They never left Flatbush. They were not the first to have a television set in the neighborhood, and they never had a brand new car but they were both happy for all of their fifty years of marriage.
"And I move that Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Gold should be granted ascendancy."
"Any objections?" asked the Judge.
"No objections," responded the Prosecutor.
The Judge smiled. "In that case, Samuel and Edith Gold, by the divine authority vested in me, I grant you passage to Heaven."
Israfel grinned broadly as the light enveloped them, his work on Earth done for now.