By Duke Harten
The Factory, unfathomable in size and complexity, is where humans are made. This is the first lesson each angel learns upon arrival. The second lesson: God likes to delegate.
“Here’s the thing about Heaven,” says Dex to Raleigh, who’s just arrived after plunging ninety feet off a steel girder and breaking his neck. “It’s heaven.” He drains his Budweiser and lights a cigarette. “Big Man ain’t much for babymakin anymore. Long as we meet our quotas, he’s plenty satisfied to let us carouse.”
“Carouse?” says Raleigh.
“Drink and smoke and rabblerouse,” says Dex. “Picture the best foreman you ever had. Now imagine he tells you to do some riveting.” He pauses and frowns. “Though I guess you boys don’t use rivets much anymore…Oh, well. You know what a rivet is. The analogy holds up.” Raleigh nods. He’s glad to have been placed with Dex. Archangel Patty explained that pairing two construction workers facilitates the onboarding process better, for instance, than a seamstress training a bullfighter.
Dex coughs. “You’re sent off to rivet. An important task, of course. The building wouldn’t stand without it. But the foreman ain’t going to stand over your shoulder muttering attaboys if he has bigger fish to fuck. Catch my drift?” Raleigh nods again. “Good. Because God’s got a heaping plate of fish in desperate want of fucking.” He offers Raleigh a cigarette.
“So we create people?” says Raleigh, watching the assembly line scroll past bearing naked infants.
Dex yelps with laughter. “Create people? All on our own? Hell, no! What you think the Factory so fuckin big for?” He points to the sign some way down the aisle. “See that? ‘SKILLS,’ it says. Some people work in Bodies, some people work in Intelligence, some in Charm, ex etra. We work in Skills.”
“Oh,” says Raleigh. “Got it.” He watches Dex open another beer. “So these ones,” he says, motioning to the infants drifting past. “What happens to them?”
Dex shrugs. “Looks like they ain’t gettin no fuckin skills. Come on, let’s get to work.”
- - -
Archangel Patty is, by archangel standards, a homely archangel. But she has a knack for personnel, so Gabriel appointed her as Deputy Overseer of Mental Faculties Staffing, Human Factory Q6. (Archangels Matilda and Gwen both grumbled about being passed over at first, but hey: Eternity’s a long time.)
“Lookin good, Patty,” says Dex. He stamps his cigarette out against the doorframe.
“Spare me, Dexter.” Patty looks up from her paperwork and then glances at the clock. “You’re thirty minutes late.” She holds up a hand to stop his protests. “I don’t care if we’re going to be here literally forever—it’s the principle of the thing. Sit.”
Dex knows she means the chair, but he reclines on the fainting couch and lights another cigarette. His voice adopts a posh inflection: “I assume we’re here to talk about the young Raleigh, then.” Smoke curls upward to join the growing yellow stain on Patty’s ceiling.
“I read your progress report. You seem concerned that Raleigh is overeager about—how do you put it—‘soft skills’.”
“He’s a nice kid, Patty, really. But he’s a little loony. I mean, listen to this. Other day I give a set of triplets some Math and a little Science. One of em is slated to die pretty early—thirty-five or something—so I go easy on the stats. But Raleigh wants to give him Painting. ‘Painting?’ I say. ‘The fuck do you wanna give him Painting for?’
“‘For joy,’ he says. For joy! Can you imagine? The other brothers, both of em, they’re MIT material. And he wants to give this kid Painting. ‘You know who got Painting?’ I says to him. ‘Hitler got Painting.’” He laughs.
Patty steeples her hands and looks at Dex. “I pulled your file,” she says. “You’ve been here eighty years.”
Dex chuckles. “A sobering thought. You got anything to drink?”
“In that eighty years, you’ve distributed Mechanics, Athletics, Math, Science, Memory, Logic, and Navigation more than any other angel. And with inconsistent results, I might add. Do you remember giving Athletics to a child without double-checking what Bodies had assigned him? He ended up weighing three hundred pounds and pitching for Boston.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Or how about giving Math to the guy who was a marked man over in Diseases? They made that Russell Crowe movie about him. Or there’s the—”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” says Dex. “What’s your point?”
“My point,” says Patty, “Is that maybe you want to consider some measure of compromise.”
Dex rolls his eyes. “Fine, Patricia. You’re the boss. Kid wants to ruin a bunch of lives with Dance and Acting and Song—he can knock himself out. Maybe he’ll start a fuckin poets’ colony.”
- - -
Paul Scripps is the eighth of nine children. (Irish Catholic, go figure.) His eldest brother John graduated valedictorian from East Jepsen High School and went to UC Berkeley where he majored in robotics. He now designs intelligent home systems for the Hollywood elite. Number two, Sarah, won a full scholarship to Brown and majored in linguistics. She’s overseas, helping translate important religious documents. The twins, Matthew and Mark, were recruited out of Yale by the FBI for cryptanalysis. And so on down the line: Isaac is a corporate litigator, Rachel is in management consulting, Thomas owns a web design firm. The littlest, Grace, has just been accepted to Harvard Business School. B. School, she calls it. Paul grimaces at the thought.
“I don’t know, Rory, maybe I’ll just go back to school.” Paul and his roommate Rory take turns crumpling rejection slips from the fat sheaf between them and lobbing the wadded paper at the trashcan. Some are Rory’s: impersonal no-thank-yous from literary agencies who didn’t like his novel. Though we were very impressed with the quality of your work, we are unfortunately unable to offer you representation at this time. Some are Paul’s, bland form letters declining to produce his one-act play: We receive dozens of submissions every year and, though we give each one careful consideration, we have decided to pursue other opportunities at this time.
“We have to keep at it,” says Rory. “It’ll happen for us. We’ve got the talent.” He sinks a shot and raises his arms in unenthusiastic triumph.
“Do we?” says Paul, more to himself than to Rory. He stands and stretches. “I’m going for a walk.”
The air has begun to change: fall is surrendering to winter, and Paul tries not to think about the heating bill. He pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and calls his mother.
“Paul!” she says. “I was just thinking about you. I ran into Donnie McLaren’s mom at the store and she asked after you. ‘A big-time writer in NYC!’ I said. I told her about your one-act and she was just thrilled. You know Donnie’s writing for SNL now? Two peas in a pod!” Paul inhales sharply. He can imagine Mrs. McLaren hunched over the phone, gleefully relating to her son the story of Paul Scripps, failed playwright and general hack.
He groans. “It’s not even produced, Ma. It’s not even accepted anywhere.” His mother clucks this away; she and Mr. Scripps are so used to their children’s success that it hasn’t occurred to them Paul might not make it big. It’s an inconceivable notion, his failure. To his parents, Paul’s success is like spring: even when the groundhog casts a shadow, still it looms in the offing.
“You’ve got a lot of your uncle in you,” his mother says warmly. “It might take longer for you than for John or Sarah or the twins. But you’ll get there.”
“Mom, Uncle Raleigh fell off a beam and snapped his neck before I was born. He never published a single word.”
“Yeah, but he had the talent,” says Mrs. Scripps.
- - -
“How’s your little experiment?” says Dex. He burps and pats his pockets for cigarettes.
Raleigh looks at the ground and kicks a pebble.
“Thought so,” says Dex. He laughs. “What you should’ve done is give the kid Hospitality, too. World always needs good waiters. And no way is he falling off a fuckin building waiting tables.”
Raleigh holds his hand out for a cigarette. Dex raises an eyebrow, then shrugs. “Things’ll kill ya,” he says.