Avrum and Chava own a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home in North Ossining, not far from the maximum-security prison down by the river. They have 2.5 acres, iron gates, their own artesian well, and biodegradable, earth-friendly deer fencing protecting their garden.
Avrum is a retired lawyer and Chava is a former social worker for the department of corrections at Sing Sing, where they first met.
In their fifty years together, they have led cautious, well-organized lives. They are vegans, fermentationists, grow their own fruits and vegetables. They use no plastics. They stopped using aluminum pans and deodorants years ago. They have no cell phones or a microwave. Their home is rid of mold, lead, polyfluorocarbonate aromatics, errant asbestos fibers, and radon.
They look like two well-pressed Dickensian waifs from Bleak House. Each of them is thirty pounds under weight. They consume no more than 800 calories per day and walk eight miles each morning to remain in strict calorie balance.
Their yoga instructor finds them existentially intimidating.
When they turned fifty, each assessing their risks, Avrum had a prophylactic prostatectomy and she a precautionary hysterectomy and full bi-lateral mastectomies.
They are friendly and sociable, literate, kind, careful, and caring people.
One recent evening, they were heading north on the West Side Highway after attending the final performance of the entire Ring Cycle at Lincoln Center when they were sideswiped by a gypsy cab with its lights off and were sent careening into the guard rail. When their front and side airbags deployed, given their light weight and small size, they were instantly crumpled and suffocated.
At the moment of their death, they are surrounded by a halo of warm mauve light.
A reassuringly back-lit vision of a sixty-something woman with neatly trimmed hair, a string of pearls, and a tastefully tailored white pant suit, appears before them.
She speaks slowly in a vaguely mid-western accent, “Don’t be alarmed,” she tells them. “Just try to relax. You’ll be all right. I promise.”
They look at one another, unsure.
“You are not dying or dead. You have been granted a reprieve; a permanent stay of execution so to speak; a lifetime dispensation.”
“Why us?” Chava asks.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t offer this to everyone. You’ve both lived exemplary lives of service, chaste, positive thoughts, and quiet restraint: Model citizens. No felonies. Frankly, just what we are trying to encourage.”
Avrum asks, “Wait, we’re not dead? Isn’t this Heaven?”
“No,” she tells him, “We did away with the heaven idea eons ago. It just wasn’t giving us the kind of results we were looking for. I don’t have to tell you about the present state of affairs: debauchery, gluttony, sloth, tax-fraud, sexual harassment, drones.”
“What if we take this offer, what happens next?”
“Well, nothing changes. Everything stays the same. You just agree to maintain your lifestyle. You stay forever just as you were fifteen minutes ago before the crash. We need folks like you to set an example for other couples.
“Nothing changes? Our bank account?”
“Investments? Health insurance?”
“Same. My God, think of all the books, movies, bar mitzvahs, operas. No pressure to do anything you don’t want to for-ever. You just agree to let us use your names and testimonials in a little subtle internet advertising promoting The Good Life and the launch of our new product line.”
“Think of it. Your home will be free and clear after the mortgage expires. Of course, you’ll need to have the wiring upgraded and the appliances repaired, replace the boiler, the roof when needed, you know the usual maintenance every hundred years or so.”
Sensing their hesitation, she adds, “I know this will work for you. For you both. What do I have to do to make this deal happen?”
“Look, not to rush you but if you just put your thumb prints right here, you are free to go. You’ll never see me again.”
Chava and Avrum look at one another. He reaches gently for her hand, “I’m in,” he says, “Let’s take it.”
“Congratulations, Avrum. This is so you!”
“Wait,” Chava says. “What if we decide not to take the offer? I mean, what happens if we say no?”
“Well, no one has ever actually said no before. I guess you just get the usual, you know, one last meal of your choosing and then, well, it’s lights out.”
“A last meal?”
“Chava, what are you saying?” Avrum whispers.
“Shush! What could we have?”
“Anything?” Chava, lowers her eyes. “Well,” she says quietly. “Could I have three eggs, scrambled, wet, homefries, and wheat toast, no wait, make that pumpernickle toast, with butter.
Arum looks at her. He is aghast. “Chava, don’t do this!” he implores.
“Is that all?” The woman asks, looking toward Avrum.
Avrum shakes his head, “ Nothing for me.”
“Can I have a side of bacon, too?” Chava says.
“And a regular coffee, light and sweet?”
“Chava, bacon, yet? Please!”
“Oh, Avrum,” she tells him. “ I’m sorry. I love you. I do. We’ve had a good life. What more could I ask for?”
She looks into Avrum’s warm grey eyes, smoothens her hand against his rough cheek and turns to the woman in white.