Before I died Dad was always telling people how he couldn't imagine meeting a person he didn’t like in a hardware store.
The way he saw it was that you could be sure that anyone who went into a place like had at least enough initiative to try to fix things around the house, which was more than enough to put them ahead of the pack. He liked to think that most people spent their lives laying around gorging on microwave popcorn and watching daytime TV.
Oddly enough Dad's opinion on hardware stores, though strangely relevant to how things were in the afterlife, didn't occur to me for a long time until after I arrived in purgatory.
In fact I can't remember exactly what the first thing I thought when got there was, although in all likelihood it had something to do with the first thing I saw, which was small black poodle, obese in a way that made it look like wrinkly overripe sausage, yipping and chasing its tail and literally peeing itself with joy that someone to play with had finally arrived.
To be quite honest after the shock of that I didn't think anything very coherent for a while- that and how, although the second before it had been eleven on a cold Tuesday night in Melbourne, it was now dawn and I was standing on the beach on a tiny island made entirely of sand with three palm trees clustered in the middle and a limpid green sea all around.
The poodle had a tag shaped like a little bone dangling from its flabby neck that said Fo Fo. I guessed it was from Mexico- I don't know why, just a feeling.
Obviously there were a lot of really weird things about this place, apart from it being a small island that was home to just mem some palm trees and a fat Mexican poodle. The way time worked there is one good example- in some ways it seemed to pass pretty much the same as it had back home, the sun rose and fell, nights were dark and it was easy enough to sleep on the sand, but there were other things that made me wonder if that wasn’t just an illusion- at the end of each day I was as clean shaved as I had been in the morning, and I never got hungry.
But without any doubt the strangest thing was the way that, at intervals of what felt like about a week, a shiny new edition of Space Rock Weekly simply materialized in the sand at the edge of the unmoving sea while I was curled up asleep beneath the palms.
Just as Time magazine once claimed to be the world’s premier weekly news magazine, Space Rock Weekly claimed it was the world’s premier weekly magazine for people with a passion for space rocks. It contained a space rock cross word, reviews of meteor showers and glossy photos of all things related to space rocks and minerals. It had pages of mail order catalogs to which, if you weren’t reading it in purgatory, you could send away and have all sorts of ground up meteorites delivered right to your door.
At the back of most editions was a few pages of ads that encouraged readers to consider availing themselves of other fine products put out by the same company, mostly other special interest magazines with titles like ‘Carp World’ and ‘Golf Ball Fever’.
But although Space Rock Weekly clearly had nothing going for it in terms of writing or content, there were only so many hours a week I could fill with the seemingly doomed occupation of trying to teach Fo Fo to talk, and so I was willing to give it a chance.
You might have thought that a copy of Space Rock Weekly appearing on the beach every seven days would have improved life in Purgatory by adding some of diversion and structure, but although Fo Fo really did enjoy himself when I rolled it up into a tube and used it to play fetch, somehow for me it only made things worse.
For the week before it first appeared there had been no way for me to guess where I was or how I had got there, and so the issue hadn't bothered me that much.
But after the magazines started coming I couldn't let go of the idea that they were somehow a clue, and every night as I lay in the sand with not a sound in the known universe to distract me except Fo Fo's snoring, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Sleep became impossible.
'OK', I would think uselessly over and over as the night dragged endlessly on, 'OK- Just say that if, during my short mediocre life I really had have been some kind of rampant astronomical addict who gone to the telescope store after work every payday and blown the week's wages on the latest star gazing paraphernalia while five children waited cold and hungry at home, then, perhaps, I could see the justice of all this. 'Nice one God', I would have thought, 'that shows me for having pursued my own vile passion for the optical technology without considering others, what a brilliant, unexpected take on eternal damnation- you devious omniscient prick’.
But I hadn’t been a rampant astronomical addict, I hadn't been a rampant anything really. I had been the sort of 25 year old who could be relied upon to wear an ironed shirt each day and spent my working days in an office where registration numbers were shuffled and papers were stamped. Nights often involved computer games.
When I thought about the future I thought about a pay raise. The possibility I would spend the rest of eternity trapped on a small island with a fat poodle just hadn't occurred to me.
It all seemed very, very unfair, and what made it even worse was that just as this place prevented me from getting hungry it also made it impossible to cry.
So time seemed to go on, somehow, and in spite of all the questions that continued to keep me awake we settled into a sort of pattern- Fo Fo the palm trees and I, and if it hadn't been for an article in Space Rock Weekly that finally gave me some idea of where I was things might have continued along more or less the sames lines forever.
The article didn't say directly what had happened to me, but came close enough. Actually it wasn't an article so much as an infomercial, a two page ad urging the reader to buy their own personal piece of space rock history before stocks ran out and the opportunity was lost forever.
The ad said that this was no ordinary piece of history, which was absolutely true because it was selling a bootleg copy of a video that had originally been created to commemorate a 1988 pageant held by the fat poodle fanciers of Mexico City.
The fat poodle fanciers of Mexico city, needless to say, were ladies with grown up children and emotionally absent husbands who took it upon themselves to spend their ample free time and money providing their poodles with high protein milk shakes and ferrying them to and from appointments with canine pedicurists and dietitians.
The link between these ladies and international brotherhood of space rock fans was utterly coincidental and kind of violent.
At the end of the big night in 1988, after the pampered doggies had been pitted against each other in feats of beauty, personality and elocution, the ten contenders for the golden dog biscuit were assembled in a row to await the final outcome. Their tongues were still lolling breathlessly out of their mouths because for the final part of the competition had they had to trot around the hockey field that had been hired for the occasion and jump over little hurdles while being judged on their ability to maintain decorum and posture.
The dogs ignored the delighted squeak and gibber of their owners until Fo Fo heard his name called and obediently trotted forward to receive a trophy and a dog biscuit.
That was the cue for the lights to dim and the 'dance of the sugar plum faeries' to start playing over the PA system. As far as we know the bit where the space rock, later judged to be no larger than a tennis ball, terminated its multi billion year journey by ripping through the atmosphere and landing directly on top of him wasn't planned by anyone.
In spite of the noise, which was heard as far away an Arizona, and the catastrophic effect it had on the hockey field's playing surface, none of the other dogs were hurt. The ladies too, though shocked and showered with grass and soil and bits of Fo Fo, were physically unharmed.
And that is how Fo Fo became the only living creature in history known for sure to have been vaporised by a meteorite. By sending a self addressed envelope and a money order to a Post Office box in Nashville you could have it all on tape.
The fellow who wrote the infomercial called himself Howard Johnston. He was the same man who wrote most of the articles in Space Rock Weekly. He warned his loyal readers to not be taken in by a superficially similar but ultimately inferior product that he had recently become aware was being flogged by some charlatan in Melbourne, Australia.
There was no disintegrating poodles in this video- in fact it showed nothing but smoke and flashing lights and police officers urging people to stand back from an enormous crater which had just appeared in the middle of a suburban street one very ordinary Tuesday night.
This crater, Howard said these charlatans in Melbourne claimed, was all that was left of the meteorite that had vaporised me.
Howard wrote that anyone who believed that and sent away for the tape was wasting their money. He said that hundreds of people went missing in Melbourne each year, and that it was just a coincidence that I had vanished that same night. He said that he knew for a fact that I had faked my own death and was working as a cowboy in Patagonia.
I would like to say that the reason I tried to bury myself in the sand was because I couldn't stand the thought of what my disappearance and the idiot rumors put about by assholes like Howard Johnston would do to my family.
But it wasn't.
It was true that I could picture how exactly how what had happened would destroy them- I could see Dad alone in a room lit only by the computer trying to find out about Patagonia and Mum doing that thing she did where she smiled a lot and pretended everything was OK in a way that was cheery and brittle and made it painfully obvious that it wasn't.
But I had a solution to that which was easy enough, to just think about something else. What really bothered me, what set me racking my brain for a way in which someone who was already dead could commit suicide, was was the unfairness of the situation for me.
So this was purgatory, and it was a frigging filing cabinet. A waiting room for judgment day or whatever it was came next, if anything came next and this wasn't it for eternity.
Dad's theory about the hardware store might have worked for everyone else, but not for me. If there were no other people here I couldn't have anything in common with them. If it had have been a heart attack or a car accident or a heroin overdose or sleepwalking mishap, or even if I had have electrocuted myself trying to get bread out of a toaster with a knife, there would have been at least some others and, you know, it could have been the start of a conversation.
“So you liked toast?”
“Yeah, with jam usually.”
“Wow, me too! We have so much to talk about...”
But instead I just had to be the only living creature since the dinosaurs and with the exception of a single fat poodle to get hit by a meteorite.
The hole in ground didn't even seem like a good idea at the time, and it didn't get any better when I actually tried it. No matter how I scooped away at the sand I somehow I could only make enough room to bury my head, and then instead of the dark stillness I had been hoping for I just felt uncomfortably cold and utterly stupid. After about twenty minutes, when Fo Fo started licking the soles of my feet, I gave it away.
“Where's the good doggie?” I asked choking on self pity and sand as I rolled up onto the beach.
Fo Fo was pleased to see me, he wagged his tail franticly and jumped on my belly.
“Who's a good doggie?”
By that stage I'd convinced myself that I had taught Fo Fo to bark a recognizable hello, but I might have just been kidding myself.
I hope that telling you this makes it easier for you to understand my feelings about Near Earth Object Absalom 5-the enormous space rock that was detected in 2008 and was predicted to hit the Earth in 2009, obliterating the lives of millions of people who as fellow meteorite victims would become potential friends for Fo Fo and me.
I was really pretty messed up.
For me the worst case scenario was that Absalom 5 would somehow miss, but Space Rock Weekly assured me that it was very unlikely. Even if it hit Antarctica as some said it would it was sure to wipe out all the scientists working there, as well as New Zealand- and though not ideal that would still be much better than nothing.
In retrospect, considering that Space Rock Weekly promoted the opinion that I was an Argentine cowboy, and that the imminent destruction of the Earth by a giant space rock gave them relevance and respect of a sort they had previously never even dreamed, it was a probably mistake to place so much credence in what they said.
And considering that I did choose to believe absolutely in what they said about the impending extinction of life on Earth, and woke up on the morning that it was supposed to happen absolutely certain that by the end of the day there would finally be people to talk to, I was really surprised by the way I felt when I found out that Near Earth Object Absalom 5 had glanced off the troposphere and hurtled safely away into deep space.
'Well' I thought reaching out and scratching the top of Fo Fo's head for five long seconds 'good for them'- and somehow it was OK.
It's another morning in Purgatory, and I can tell the sun is about to rise, because though my eyes are only half open I can see the color of the light, and that same very dark blue the way it always is just before dawn.
Fo Fo is barking, that's what's woken me, and its weird, because he never barks at night, and I think I can hear something from down at the beach which sounds almost like waves.
I sit up and look out into the dark and see what might be the shadow of a person down there, or perhaps I'm just dreaming.
I won't stay here for ever, that much I know for sure.