Fiction

Dante's second circle of hell

Truth in Fiction
Miriam died. At least she knows that for sure. She has been in an accident while driving with someone. Someone... Yes, but who? She can't remember. But maybe that young woman sitting on that cloud can help her.

Miriam had a clear memory of the way that she died, but she had the feeling that she had forgotten something else, something important.

Now, she was walking on the sky. It was blue, exactly the same blue as when she looked up at it from the Earth. Her feet sank into the soft blue and white of a cloud. Wherever she was, it was silent and peaceful.

What had she forgotten, exactly?

Or whom? 

On the horizon, she saw a table. A white table, standing on the cloud like there was nothing strange about its presence. Next to it were two empty chairs. On the table, tea was set out – teapot, teacups, a silver platter of tempting cakes. All the trappings of a refined afternoon tea. Miriam slowly walked toward it.

She sat. Someone was coming toward her. She felt as if, maybe, she knew this person – or maybe not. Who could it be?

Whoever it was, they seemed like they wanted to have tea with her, so Miriam poured tea into the two teacups.

The strong aroma of the tea and the warmth of the teapot were comforting.

It was alright, the afterlife.

The young woman sat down next to her. She took a sip of the tea and said, 

Leah: Hello. My name is Leah.

Miriam: I’m Miriam.

Leah: I know.

Miriam: You do?

Leah: I’ve already been here for seven days – I’ve had the time to figure a few things out.

Miriam: Like what?

Leah: You don’t remember very much yet, do you?

Miriam: I remember there was an accident. A bad accident. I was in the car, and then I was here.

Leah: Yes, that’s right.

Miriam: But there are still a lot of things I don’t remember.

Leah: Don’t worry. Try some tea. It’ll come back to you, slowly.

Miriam: This tea smells so good, and it’s so sweet.

Leah: Sweet?

Miriam: Bitter and sweet at the same time. The aftertaste is sweet. It tastes like the scent of a flower.

Leah: You were always good at picking drinks.

Miriam: Really?

Leah: Yeah.

Miriam: Seems like you know everything about me.

Leah: I just arrived here before you, that’s why I can remember. It’s okay. You’ll remember everything too, bit by bit.

Miriam: Tell me more about what you remember.

Leah: I know who you are. I know you like scones covered in jam. Every Saturday, you went to the bakery to buy three big scones, and then you ate them all alone, without sharing them with your roommate.

Miriam: I don’t remember that.

Leah: You know, God will punish you for not sharing the scones with your roommate.

Miriam: There’s a punishment for that?

Leah smiled and replied, “Of course.”

Miriam: What else do you know about me?

Leah: Quite a lot of things. What do you want to know?

Miriam: Listen – I want to know what God is going to punish me for. Did I commit any other crimes in my life? Please, tell me.

Leah: Have you heard of the seven deadly sins?

Miriam: I’ve heard of them, but I don’t really remember. I’m not really into religion.

Leah: The first deadly sin is gluttony. You stuff your face with three scones every Saturday.

Miriam: And that’s a sin!? Why should eating be sinful?

Leah: Laziness is also a sin.

Miriam: That’s too bad.

Leah: Do you think you’re lazy?

Miriam: I feel like I am. I mean, I guess.

Leah: And you are correct, young lady. You used to sleep all day long, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday night. You never did cleaned. Your poor roommate had to do everything.

Miriam: And God’s going to punish me for that?

Leah: That depends… if your roommate forgives you, maybe not.

Miriam: And will she?

Leah: I don’t know. Do you remember her?

Miriam: Not really… I can picture someone with a vacuum. What’s her name?

Leah: Don’t worry. It’ll come to you. Try this cake. They made these specially for you.

Miriam: Who’s “they”?

Leah: The angels.

Miriam: Where are they?

Leah: They went to look for something. Don’t worry. They’ll be back when the time comes.

Miriam took one of the cakes from the silver plate. A scone. Because that was her favourite, apparently. She ate it slowly, as Leah sipped her tea and looked out at the white clouds. She smiled and asked:

Leah: How do you feel about dying?

Miriam: I don’t feel anything. Nothing at all. Maybe I’m still confused.

Leah: Hmmm.

Miriam: You’ve been here longer than me. Tell me what you think about death.

Leah: I thought it would be scarier. But it’s quite peaceful here. The weather’s good, too.

Miriam: That’s true, the weather is good.

Leah: What were we talking about five minutes ago?

Miriam: My seven deadly sins. I remember them a little better now. Envy’s on the list, too, right?

Leah: Yes, but you weren’t very envious. God can’t punish you for that one.

Miriam: Alright.

Leah: But it’s one of my sins. I was envious and angry. I’m going to have to pay for that now.

Miriam: What were you envious about?

Leah: I was always jealous of my girlfriend, envious of everybody she talked to. I wanted to keep her all to myself. I didn’t like it when she spent time with other people… it made me really mad.

Miriam: I can’t imagine you like that. You look so…

Leah: Calm? Believe me, I’m a different person when I’m angry. You didn’t like it when I got annoyed.

Miriam: Oh… we’ve met before?

Leah: Yes.

Miriam: That’s weird. I can’t remember you.

Leah: You will.

Even if it was a world after death, it was quite a nice place. Miriam was happy that she hadn’t run into some guy with red skin and a pitchfork, or any of the other scary things her grandmother used to tell her about. Her grandmother had once lived in Myanmar and been a Buddhist. She liked to tell her about myths from faraway lands, and her stories gave Miriam nightmares.

She explained what she was thinking to Leah, who smiled.

Leah: Have you ever seen the painting of Dante’s Inferno?

Miriam: The what?

Leah: The painting of Dante’s Inferno. It was painted with his poem as a reference.

Miriam: I told you, I’m not really into religion.

Leah: For me, that’s scary. And maybe that’s what’s waiting for us after this peaceful cloud place.

Miriam: That does sound scary. Do I have many more sins to go?

Leah: There are another three: greed, pride and lust.

Miriam: Did I commit all of them?

Leah: Some of them. I don’t think that you were greedy. You didn’t hoard things for yourself. You were considerate.

Miriam: That’s good. I would have been upset to find out I was greedy.

Leah: But I’m greedy. I was always thinking about money. I never gave a cent to anyone, and did everything I could to save.

Miriam: Why?

Leah: For the woman I loved. She was a dreamer, she never thought about the future. She didn’t make much money, so I had to be the responsible one. That’s why I was always worrying about the future. If something had happened to her parents, how would we have lived? I know that it was needing to make more money that turned me into a greedy person.

Miriam: You just did what you had to do. God should forgive you.

Leah: I don’t know. I don’t know what God would think about it.

Miriam: What about the other two? Did I commit those sins?

Leah: Do you remember what you did before you died?

Miriam: Nope.

Leah: You were an actor, or at least you were trying to be one.

Miriam: And is that a sin?

Leah: I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you were a very bad actor. You didn’t get a single role. And every time a producer picked someone else, you came home angry. You said that they were blind, and that they couldn’t see how good you really were.

Miriam: And that’s wrong?

Leah: All wrong. I never told you this, but you had no talent. You were arrogant to think you were better than the rest. It was probably both envy and pride. You were angry with those producers. You were envious of other actresses for having the change to be on stage, unlike you.

Miriam: That’s sad… I must have had a miserable life.

Leah: Not at all – you had a happy life, actually. Very happy, even.

Miriam: But I was never successful. How could my life be so happy if I was never successful ?

Leah: A happy life and a successful life are two different things. You had a good family. Your parents supported your dreams. They kept giving you money, even though you never got any roles. They sent you money until you were 27.

Miriam: 27?

Leah: Yes. That’s how old you were when you died. They held a huge funeral.

Miriam: I’d like to remember more about all that. About my parents.

Leah: Don’t worry, you’ll remember your parents soon. They’re so sad that you died so young.

Miriam: It was an accident. I was in the car with someone.

Leah: Who?

Miriam: I don’t know.

Leah: It’s okay. Soon, everything will make sense. You’ll remember the person in the car, your roommate, your friends, your happy life, the person you love…

Miriam: I loved someone?

Leah: Yes. That brings us to the last sin…

Miriam: Lust…

Leah: That’s right, clever girl. You remembered. Actually, it’s the first deadly sin. But, anyway – let’s talk about it.

Leah: To be honest, I don’t know if this last sin is really wrong.

Miriam: I don’t think any of them are. Eating scones, sleeping on Sunday, wanting to succeed in your career, saving money for the future, being jealous of your partner; none of that is really that bad.

Leah: You might be right. Tell me if this is right or wrong.

Miriam: What did I do?

Leah: You fell in love… with a woman.

Miriam: So what?

Leah: It is sin. Same-sex love is sin.

Miriam: God! What year is this?

Leah: 2023, and you should know better than to take God’s name in vain in this kind of place. He might suddenly have the urge to appear.

Miriam: Well, what I mean is this is 2023, and same-sex love should not be on the sin list anymore.

Leah: Well, this might be one of your sins.

Miriam: I refuse to accept that.

Leah: You won’t accept that you love women?

Miriam: I refuse to accept that it’s a sin. When they take me to face the heavenly court, I’ll shout it out loud – I’ve done nothing wrong! Being a lesbian, gay, trans – none of that is wrong. 

Leah: You can’t appeal the angel court’s verdict.

Miriam: If you can’t argue against an unjust verdict, then it was never justice in the first place.

Leah: You’re going to insist that loving women is right?

Miriam: Absolutely !

Leah: Even if insisting will land you in hell?

Miriam: I don’t know. I can’t just keep my mouth shut because I’m scared. I’m going to give those angels a piece of my mind!

Leah: Miriam, you don’t even remember the woman you love.

Miriam: I can remember some things.

Leah: Do you ?

Miriam: A few things have come back to me… Dark brown hair that smelled sweet, her favourite perfume…

Leah: Scent is always the strongest memory.

Miriam: I remember her tanned skin, her strong arms, her laugh…like a bell.

Leah: She must have been so happy.

Miriam: She must be sad, now.

Leah: Why?

Miriam: Because I died.

Leah: Do you think she’s upset about your death?

Miriam: Of course. I remember that she loved me very much. And I… I think we loved each other.

Leah: What did your parents think about it?

Miriam: They didn’t approve.

Leah: Neither does God.

Miriam: Maybe. I remember that I didn’t care what my parents thought. I lived with her. We wanted to go see the sea together. The sea… we rented a car. I remember now! We had an accident!

Leah: And you died.

Miriam: Is my girlfriend still alive?

Leah: …

Miriam: Leah, please.

Leah: ….

Miriam: Tell me she’s alive.

Leah: What’s her name, Miriam?

Miriam: I don’t know. I can’t remem… No, I can.

Leah: You remember it?

Miriam: Yes…

 Miriam looked into her eyes and said sadly.

“Her name is Leah.”

Leah said nothing, so Miriam continued.

“It’s you, Leah. Why did you get here before me? We should have come together.”

Leah’s face was emotionless as she answered. 

Leah: I died in the car, but you didn’t. You were helped, Miriam. You were in the hospital for seven days. You fought. But in the end, you followed me here.

Miriam: I did fight. But that’s not the whole story. I knew that you were gone. The doctor or the nurse whispered it in my ear. So, I stopped fighting, to come here…to be with you.

Leah: Miriam, did you know that the second circle of Dante’s Inferno is reserved for people who are madly in love, who cheat, or can’t control themselves? Loving too much will send you straight to hell.

Miriam: That’s bullshit.

Leah: You think so?

Miriam: Yes.

Leah: But it’s the rule, here.

Miriam: I don’t care.

Leah: Even if you don’t care, you’ll be sent to hell anyway.

Miriam: But even if I am, you’ll be with me, won’t you, Leah?

Leah was silent for a second before speaking.

“If loving too much is really a sin, I will be in hell, forever, with you.”

The shining figure appeared on the horizon. Leah glanced at it. 

Leah: Here comes the angel.

Miriam: Don’t worry, Leah. If we have to go to hell, at least we’ll go together.

Leah: …

Miriam: Why do you look so sad?

Leah: Remember that day at the sea? You said that we rented a car. Why did we rent it?

Miriam: What do you mean ?

Leah: I have a car. Don’t you remember my old car, that I drove you everywhere in?

Miriam: Then why did we rent a car?

Leah: Do you remember our car?

Miriam: It’s white. But…but… I was driving a black car.

Leah: You were in the black car, Miriam, but I was in the white one.

Miriam: I don’t understand. Why?

Leah: We weren’t in the same car.

Miriam: I get that, but why?

Leah: Why? Think, Miriam.

Miriam: I…I don’t know!

Leah: I wanted to talk to you about the second circle of Dante’s Inferno.

Miriam: Stop talking about all that. I’ve never read it and I was never interested in it.

Leah: It’s the hell reserved for those who cheat, who have a partner but still love another person. Do you think that’s wrong?

Miriam: Of course. But…

Leah: What is it? Do you remember something?

Miriam: I remember someone…who had black hair, wavy like the ocean.

Leah: Go on.

Miriam: He had strong hands. He told me we should go to the sea, to see how beautiful and blue it is.

Leah: Just like we wanted to.

Miriam: Um. Yes

Leah: So, who did you choose to go with?

Miriam: I… I went with Cain, to the South Sea. We rented the black car.

Leah: Yes, Miriam. That’s right. And I was in my white car, following you.

Miriam: …

Leah: Chasing you and your lover in my old car. It was very old. Do you still remember it?

Miriam: …

Leah: You tried to get away. But you lost control, hit a tree, and then my car hit the back of your car.

Miriam: No! Stop, Leah!

Leah: Cain survived. Aren’t you happy?

Miriam: Enough! I said stop!

Leah: The airbag in my car was in bad condition, so I had no protection. That’s why I came here immediately. But you… you didn’t come here for me.

Miriam: Stop it, right now !

Leah: If you really wanted to be with me, you wouldn’t have gone with Cain in the first place.

Miriam: I don’t want to listen to this anymore!

Leah: I’m telling you the truth, Miriam.

Miriam: Shut up!

Leah looked at the angel. The gold shining light was coming closer and closer. They could finally make out the angel’s body. It carried a golden chain in its hand.

Miriam was paralysed with fear. In her heart, she already knew what the chain was for.

“The second circle of the Inferno. If I can go with you, I will, Miriam, my love.” Leah said. Her voice was calm, and as cold as the ocean. A tear was on her cheek, blue with the reflected light of the sky. “But yes, you’re right. My love isn’t a sin. God forgives people who love, whoever they are, whatever their gender, but he doesn’t forgive people who cheat.” 

“Stop! That’s enough!”

The angel was close now. It stood behind the tea table. Its face was peaceful while it put the chain around Miriam’s neck, saying nothing.

Leah looked at Miriam sadly; then she repeated her promise.

“If loving too much is really a sin, I would go to hell, forever, with you.”

Her tear dropped on the collar of her shirt as she spoke.

“But it seems like you don’t need my love.”

“Leah, help me!” cried Miriam as the angel forced her to stand up and start walking, pulling her behind it.

“I can’t help you.” Another tear ran down Leah’s calm face. “I’m sorry.”

“Leah!” Miriam screamed. “Help me! I’ll never cheat again. Don’t you remember our promise…”

“One day we’ll go see the sea together,” recited Leah tenderly. Tears were still running down her cheeks, but she looked calm. “What a pity that we can’t anymore.”

Miriam was dragged further and further away, until all Leah could see was the light radiating from the angel’s body.

Leah stood up, her gaze fixed on the horizon. Her tears were still flowing. Her face was still serene. She whispered a final sentence, which Miriam would never hear.

“If loving too much was really a sin, then I would be with you in hell, Miriam. Because I love you, no matter what. I love you…forever.”

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