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Albert P. Hoffman

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'Today we are gathered here to celebrate the life of Albert Patrick Hoffman ....' speaks a priest in the near empty church of St Martin's priory.

A closed coffin stands angled before the steps which lead up to toward the altar and the small attending congregation sit up towards the front of the church taking positions either side of the main aisle.

Albert had lived an unexciting and lonely life. Apart from one brother and his family, Albert has no living relatives and it has been three years since the brothers had last talked to one another. Despite such things Albert always had a good heart, he was a good guy, but like anyone else, he was not perfect and hasn't always done the right thing.

Letting so much time go by without talking to his brother was just one example of having not always done the right thing, another was when he accidentally killed Missus Brady's cat when he was leaving his driveway one morning a number of years back. When Missus Brady asked him if he had seen her cat, Claudette, he replied that he hadn't, being unable to tell her the truth.

He had known love three times in his life, but as it turned out, each time the love seemed to be one-sided. Sometimes Albert thought of his first love, Linda. At the time they were together, Albert couldn't believe someone so beautiful could be in love with him. He loved her so much that after only three months of being in Linda's company, Albert asked her to marry him and she accepted his proposal.

Five more memorable months passed and as far as Albert was concerned, things were great, that was until he came across Linda in the arms of another guy one summer evening. Things had been too good to be true and this loss, this disaster, had become a difficult thing for Albert to get past.

Sometimes second chances come along and sometimes they come along in the most peculiar of ways. Albert would more than found out just how peculiar second chances could be as he was to get a second chance of his own, not necessarily a second chance at love or even life but possibly to put one or two things, maybe even three things, right.

When Albert awoke on the morning of January 19th 2010, he was surprised to find that neither himself nor his bed were within the confines of his own bedroom. They were both in a bright wide open space surrounded by a thin grey mist. As Albert got up out of the bed, still in his pyjamas; the mist began to lower and rest just about covering his ankles, strangely enough, his first thoughts at that moment were 'how peculiar?'

A bright golden light soon appeared in the distance and to his left, this light began to grow quickly, it got bigger and bigger, growing large as it seemed to be coming towards him from having been some way off in the distance and it kept coming until it stopped just feet away. What it was that had stopped those few short feet away were two enormous bright golden gates, gates surrounded top and bottom by cloud. Standing next to the gates was a bald-headed man with a long grey beard holding a scroll. This man and all that he is had arrived as part of the package that was and is these enormous bright golden gated shrouded in cloud.

This white robe wearing man stepped forward, opened the scroll and began to read, 'Albert Patrick Hoffman, born March 17th 1949, deceased January 19th 2010 ...'

'Deceased? What do you mean? Deceased?'

'... Please let me finish, it has been decided that before you can enter the gates of Heaven that you ...'

'... Gates of heaven? I'm dead? Wait, are you ...?'

'Yes, gates of heaven, yes, you are dead and yes I am Saint Peter. Now if I can continue ... it has been decided that before you can enter the gates of heaven that you Albert P. Hoffman must prove the sincerity of your heart.'

'Prove the sincerity of my heart? What? You mean you are not letting me into heaven? You are sending me back, right?'

'Yes, but only for a period of twenty-four hours, twenty-four hours in which you have time to put some things right, to alter what is your life. So use your time well, for I will see you back here very shortly.'

Albert awoke once again as if what he had just experienced was some sort of a dream. In this moment of wakening both himself and the bed he lay in were in his own bedroom. Before he could try to assume what just happened was indeed a dream, he would hear the voice of Saint Peter speak out from above and each spoken word would echo somewhat.

'Remember, you have twenty-four hours, use your time wisely.'

It had been no dream. What had happened was very real. Twenty-four hours can seem to pass very quickly, especially when there is a lot that you want to do within that time so Albert did not delay with getting himself up and ready and he soon went out into the great wide world and all of a sudden it looked so different to what he had known it to be. Sure, in a way he was viewing it in a new light.

About ninety minutes or so after leaving his home Albert arrived at Triennia's hospital, a nursing home where former neighbour Missus Brady now resides. Missus Brady is eighty-three years of age and has been living with dementia for a couple of years now and is being very well looked after by the staff of Triennia’s hospital. Albert soon sits next to Missus Brady out on a garden bench.

'Hello Missus Brady, how are you today?'

Missus Brady looked at Albert with such a faraway gaze that it appeared as if she were looking right through him.

'I have to tell you something Missus Brady; some years ago there was an accident. I was unable to tell you about it back then because honestly it truly was an accident. As I left my driveway one morning I hit Claudette, I didn't mean to, I didn't know she was there. I didn't have the guts, I guess, to tell you what had happened. I know this doesn't make up for what I have done but I got this for you.'

Albert hands Missus Brady a newborn kitten, so small, alert and full of curiosity. She holds it lovingly and as Albert stands to begin moving away, Missus Brady speaks the name 'Claudette' and smiles. Albert, looking back, smiles too.

A three-hour drive would be next on the agenda after the visit with Missus Brady. Albert was eager to get to his brother's house. He had brought gifts for the family, the only family he has in the whole world. When the front door opened and the two brothers were revealed to one another there would be a moment, a moment in which seemed to take an eternity to get passed. The silence would be broken with the two brothers grabbing one another in an embrace fuelled by emotion.

A renewal of brotherly love was never something which would have been in doubt, a first step just needed to be taken and taken it had. Albert stayed for dinner, the chat was unending, the laughter loud, the feeling, the best Albert had felt in a very long time. It soon began to get dark and time came for Albert to leave. His brother told him that he would call up and see him the next day. Albert smiled and said that he would like that very much.

Oh how peculiar second chances really are. It often takes one to become appreciative. On his journey back home, a broken-down car at the side of the road with a lady standing next to it caught Albert's attention so with Albert being Albert he felt more than compelled to pull his car over to see if he can be of assistance.

'Can I help you madam?' he asked.

The voice came back, 'Albert, is that you?'

It took Albert a few seconds.

'Linda?'

In all the years which had passed, the two had more than had their appearances altered though as it would seem neither had forgotten their shared past. The two had both been just nineteen years old when they had been together. The odds that Albert would come across his first love like this after all these years like this are like... well maybe not so far-fetched given Albert's current predicament.

He would, of course, give Linda a lift back into town. Linda apologized for how their relationship came to an end, stating that being young was no excuse. Despite having married the man she left Albert for and having had two children, and now also being a widower, Linda indeed never forgot Albert. For her there always was at least a little regret in the decision she had made all those years ago. She told him that if he didn't mind, she would like to see him again.

Albert smiled; he has been doing a lot of that since waking from his almost heaven experience. He hasn't felt this good since, well maybe since when he was nineteen and living with the belief that Linda would marry him.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end

The following morning, Albert's brother arrived at Albert's residence, letting himself in with a key that had been left for him under the matt at the front door. Calling out Albert's name would go without reply for Albert would soon be found lying in his bed with a peaceful, to say the least, smile on his face. The funeral took place a few days later and was attended by Albert's remaining family, as well as being attended by his lost love Linda and even Missus Brady had been brought by some of the nurses from Triennia's hospital.

Back at the gates of heaven, Saint Peter asked a question of Albert, 'How do you feel?'

'It took my death for me to feel this good about my life' was the reply.

'So Albert P. Hoffman, it is with great pleasure that I can say to you… Welcome to heaven.'

The two enormous bright golden gates opened to reveal a staircase. As he began his climb Albert would speak loudly and to himself in a jovial manner.

'It's 2010 and there is a stairway to heaven, can heaven not at least get with the times and get an escalator? The things ya gotta do in life and death.'

 

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