Ilsa stood before St. Peter, wringing her hands nervously. She had been reluctant to make the request, and now that she had, she worried that a denial would also come with a black mark against her name on the roll book.
Surely her request would be viewed as something other than selfish. She only wanted to return for a day to bring some joy to her husband, not for anything that would primarily benefit herself. Rick, she was convinced, was at loose ends and had been since she left for Heaven nearly two years ago. He needed her, for comfort, to ask her forgiveness for slights, real or imaginary, and to answer all those nagging questions that he wished he had asked while she was still here. St. Peter would almost have to honor her request... wouldn't he?
And he did.
"You may leave tomorrow at 9 in the morning. All returns are for a twenty-four hour period, so that will give you one night with Rick. You'll have to return to Heaven promptly at 9 the next morning. If you were returning to satisfy your own needs, because you miss Earth, we would not have granted your request. But since it is an altruistic motive that inspired you to ask for permission to travel, you are entitled to go."
Ilsa thanked St. Peter and rushed back to her quarters to hurriedly pack. With a little help from her roommates, none of whom had returned to Earth on a twenty-four hour pass, she reached the Pearly Gate well ahead of her departure time. Security sent her baggage through a scanner without incident, but when Ilsa walked through the electronic detector, bells and whistles sounded and she had to endure a complete pat down. Subsequently it occurred to her that the problem had been the artificial knee, with its metallic parts, that had sounded the alarm. Never mind, she was cleared for lift off and before she knew it the clock chimed nine times and she was on her way.
The journey to Earth was uneventful although airspace seemed awfully crowded with soles departing Earth for Heaven. As far as she could tell, she was the only one going the other way. At first she had tried waving to some of those passing by on the way up, but they seemed oblivious to her greeting. No doubt their minds were on other matters, mostly wondering if they had the right entry credentials.
By 10 she was home, standing at the front door of the house she and Rick had designed and hired a contractor to build nearly fifty years before. In the past she would have simply walked in the back door but under the circumstances thought better of that and decided to ring the front door bell, and knock, since he was hard of hearing, and greet him that way.
This was going to be a shock and she realized that she had not prepared an explanation of why, and how, she was here. If lucky, she wouldn't have to explain anything because rick would not question her return. He'd just accept it, not because he comprehended what was happening but more likely because it wouldn't occur to him that this was out of the ordinary. He'd heard about the right of return by which all those in Heaven could come back for one day. He'd seen Our Town.
Oh, she thought, this wasn't like Our Town. In that scenario the girl was allowed to pick one day in her life and return to relive that day. Ilsa's situation was quite different from that, although what she was about to do was what really happens to folks on that return. She was returning to Earth and life with Rick as it was on this day. This was now, not ten or twenty years ago.
As she had contemplated the return, there were times when she wished that it was like Our Town, because there were specific days that she would have enjoyed reliving. A lot of them. Well, not that many. Most had been pretty hum-drum. But such days as the first time she and Rick met, or when he presented her with a ring and asked her to marry him - that had been in a laundromat when they were putting their collective wash into a machine, the first birthday for their first born, their daughter's wedding, stuff like that. The problem was that even if she had been given an Our Town type of return, she couldn't decide which day she wanted to relive. She knew, however, which days - and there were a lot of them - she did not want to live through for another twenty-four hours.
All that ran through her mind as she pressed the bell and knocked loudly on the door.
Rick welcomed her, not with amazement but as though he expected her to come back. There was a hug and a kiss, but he seemed to know that she only had one day and he didn't want to waste too much of it on mushy stuff.
"This 'one day back.' Is that a calendar day or twenty-four hours? Will you be here overnight or have we in essence already lost about ten hours?"
Ilsa was a little perplexed by his question. Yes, she too wanted to make the most of the time allotted. She didn't want to spend it napping, although the long but swift trip from Heaven had left her a little sleepy. But couldn't Rick have talked more about how he missed her than as though he had a schedule to meet?
She explained the rules, noting that she would leave tomorrow morning exactly at 9. Then she tried to explain to him why she had asked the right to return, the explanation she had given to St. Peter. Rick nodded his head in agreement although it wasn't clear that he even cared to hear her reasoning.
"Thanks for coming back,Ilsa. I have thought of so many things I should have asked you while you were here but it was too late by the time I thought of them. Now you're here and I can ask those questions."
Ilsa was pleased. Rick no doubt had wondered when, precisely, she had come to California, how she had come, when she first met her life-long friend Lillian, what it was like to leave her home at 18 and make that journey. Oh, so many things he must have wondered about after she left, things he never asked when she was here, or, if she had told him once he had forgotten.
"Let's sit on the couch, like we used to do, and I'll tell you everything you want to know."
"No, rather than do that here, let's do it on the service porch where I can show you what I want to know."
That confused Ilsa. Why the service porch for a discussion about her life? But she followed him through the house she had planned so many years ago. It looked exactly like the day she left it twenty-four months before. Nothing seemed to have been changed. The windows in the sliding glass door, however, were never that dirty when she was here, and the marker she had put on the corner of a wall to indicate where the molding - still in the garage two years later - was to go was still in place. Nevertheless, he seemed to be keeping the place in reasonable order.
When they reached the service porch, Rick opened one of the cabinets.
"There is so much I want to ask you. I've wished we could have had that conversation during your last days but you slipped into a coma and we never had that talk. So now we can."
Finally, he was going to ask her about the guys she dated before he met her, something he had never asked before. Or had he found those letters from an old boyfriend that she had secretly kept for over fifty years, ones that she intended to discard some day but she had fallen ill so quickly that she never had the chance. Maybe he was going to confess to her some indiscretion he had years ago, but she doubted that a guy with his personality would ever have had one. Whatever it was he wanted her to reveal, she was ready.
Rick pointed to the middle shelf of the open cabinet, lined with bottles and cans of various sizes and shapes.
"Which of these do I need to keep? Seems to me that a lot of it has probably expired. Which ones can I discard? To make it easy, let's go through each of these items - there must be a hundred at least on this shelf - one by one, and then move on to the other three shelves in this cabinet. But the biggest job is in the garage. You left me with a couple dozen paint cans, and hundreds of smaller items that I have no idea what they can be used for. O. K., let's get started."
Rick had hardly finished and was turning back toward the cabinet when he heard the screen door open and then slam shut. Ilsa was no longer visible as she aborted her visit twenty-three hours early and joined the other soles headed toward Heaven. Maybe St. Peter would understand. Rick certainly didn't.