To the reader:
Eddie is an elderly war veteran, a widower who has worked his whole life at Ruby Pier, an old seaside amusement park. His job as the head of maintenance -- the same job his father once held - is to keep the rides safe. Although Eddie, a strong, quiet, barrel-chested guy, is beloved by the kids who come summer after summer, he sees his life as a string of meaningless days. He has done nothing significant, he feels, and has no hope of ever changing that.
On his 83rd birthday, a hot summer afternoon, Eddie is killed in the first accident to occur in all his time at the pier. A cart comes loose from its cable and Eddie dies trying to save a little girl before she is crushed. The following excerpt from "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" picks up after his last moments on earth, when everything goes white, then black.
The sky was a misty pumpkin shade, then a deep turquoise, then a bright lime. Eddie was floating, and his arms were still extended.
The tower cart was falling. He remembered that. The little girl -- Amy? Annie? -- she was crying. He remembered that. He remembered lunging. He remembered hitting the platform. He felt her two small hands in his.
Did I save her?
Eddie could only picture it in a distance, as if it happened years ago. Stranger still, he could not feel any emotions that went with it. He could only feel calm, like a child in the cradle of its mother's arms.
The sky around him changed again, to grapefruit yellow, then a forest green, then a pink which Eddie momentarily associated with, of all things, cotton candy.
Did I save her?
Did she live?
is my worry?
Where is my pain??
That was what was missing. Every hurt he'd ever suffered, every ache he'd ever endured -- it was all as gone as an expired breath. He could not feel agony. He could not feel sadness. His consciousness felt smoky, wisp-like, incapable of anything but calm. Below him now, the colors changed again. Something was swirling. Water. An ocean. He was floating over a vast yellow sea. Now it turned melon. Now it was sapphire. Now he began to drop, hurtling towards the surface. It was faster than anything he'd ever imagined, yet there wasn't as much as a breeze on his face, and he felt no fear. He saw the sands of a golden shore.
Then he was under water.
Then everything was silent.
Where is my worry?
Where is my pain?
Eddie awoke in a teacup.
It was a part of some old amusement park ride -- a large teacup, made of dark polished wood, with a cushioned seat and a steel hinged door. Eddie's arms and legs dangled over the edges. The sky continued to change colors, from a shoe leather brown to a deep scarlet.
His instinct was to reach for his cane. He had kept it by his bed the last few years, because there were mornings when he no longer had the strength to get up without it. This embarrassed Eddie, who used to punch men in the shoulders when he greeted them.
But now there was no cane, so Eddie exhaled and tried to pull himself up. Surprisingly, his back did not hurt. His leg did not throb. He yanked harder and hoisted himself easily over the edge of the teacup, landing awkwardly on the ground, where he was struck by three quick things.
First, he felt wonderful.
Second, he was all alone.
Third, he was still on Ruby Pier.
But it was a different Ruby Pier now. There were canvas tents and large grassy sections and so few obstructions you could see the mossy breakwater out in the ocean. The colors of the attractions were firehouse reds and creamy whites - no teals or maroons --and each ride had its own wooden ticket booth. The teacup he had awoken in was part of an old attraction called Spin-O-Rama. The sign was plywood, as were other low-slung signs, hinged on storefronts that lined the promenade:
El Tiempo Cigars! Now, That's A Smoke!
From The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. Copyright 2003 Mitch Albom. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Hyperion.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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