Ed stared at the big wooden door.
He rejected the entire premise of this party, but couldn't find a way to opt out. So for the time being, he chose nothing.
He looked around the room at the few people still hanging around, and they were clearly losers. A young woman chewed her cuticles on the sofa in the corner. An old man in his eighties studied a kitschy garage-sale painting on the wall as if it were a Van Gogh.
Ed knew he should already be gone, but each time he checked his internal compass, he found the needle spinning in circles. This place was a joke.
The purple fliers had first come to his attention back when the room was still full. He had noticed a crowd forming as Committee members handed them out, and from a distance the papers looked official. He rushed over to collect his, but the flier just said, “WELCOME!”
He turned to a young man standing next to him. “They needed a piece of paper to say that?” Ed was kidding, but the man looked nonplussed. The man turned the paper over and tapped on the back side.
“This is a party to celebrate you!” the flier said. “Please select a memory from your life. It is essential that you choose carefully, as the choice you make will determine your future placement.”
“Future placement? That sounds serious,” Ed said to no one in particular.
He turned again to the young man. “What do you make of this?” The man only shrugged.
Back when the group had arrived — twenty-five or thirty of them total — the Welcoming Committee greeted them with balloons and hats and noisemakers. Everyone threw confetti and tooted on horns, and someone opened a bottle of champagne.
Ed had been unimpressed. Maybe he’d had too much time to imagine what this would be like, but nevertheless, he’d expected more. It felt like a glorified New Year’s Eve party.
He turned to a lady next to him, a tall 50-something with short dark hair, and said, “Gee, they really pulled out all the stops.” He winked.
“Yes, isn’t this place classy?” she replied, eyeing the cheap wall paneling and 40-year-old furniture.
“It’s better than where I came from. I’ll give it that much.” Ed had laughed, and the lady had laughed, too. She seemed nice.
“How did you end up here?” Ed said.
The lady paused for a long moment. “Oh, breast cancer.” She said the words like they surprised her, and her face suddenly became dark, her thoughts shifting her features. Ed realized he’d made a mistake bringing it up. It was still too raw.
“That’s a rough fight,” Ed nodded. “My wife went that way, too.”
Now, left to his own thoughts on the sofa, Ed enjoyed remembering the lady’s face. The way she looked when she smiled.
Of course, she was long gone now, along with nearly everyone else. She was one of the first to leave. He never even found out what memory she chose.
Ed tried thinking back over his childhood, his years at the shop, his marriage, the days when the kids were little. He got more and more annoyed.
His wife had once complained that Ed didn’t know how to go along and get along, but trying to choose a single memory out of a whole lifetime seemed ludicrous on the face of it.
Is there any moment I can choose to the exclusion of all the others? he wondered. And how will I know I’ve chosen right?
He watched anxiously as person after person exited through the big wooden door at the back of the room. This was a stupid system, but everybody else seemed to be playing along.
In frustration, he approached one of the Committee members and placed a hand on her shoulder. “What kind of memory should I choose? Give me an idea what you’re looking for.”
“That’s up to you, sir,” the Committee member said. “If you don’t know by now, I suppose you never will.” She barely paused to look him in the eye as she walked away.
“If this determines my future placement, shouldn’t I have a better idea of the damned criteria?” Ed called after her. But she was gone.
Sitting on the sofa watching people trickle out, Ed knew all of these people couldn’t be headed somewhere good. He studied them for clues, trying to guess which memories could get him blacklisted. Sunlight dancing on his naked girlfriend’s behind in Korea? The time he won $300 in a hand of poker?
He wished he could throw his cards on the table of this game. He resented the whole damn thing.
When a Committee member strode up to him, Ed hoped it was to offer some help. “Thank you for your participation,” the guy said as he removed the purple flier from Ed’s hand. “The admittance period has ended.”
“I didn’t even make my choice yet,” Ed barked at him. Ed walked up to the heavy wooden door and turned the handle, but it didn’t budge.
As he looked around at the sad little room, at these sad little people, he realized the door was closed for good. Any God this obtuse gets what He deserves from people.
Ed just hoped He knew that.