Pen and ink, I guess, doesn't apply anymore. It's the keyboard now-a-days and the internet. Coffee, of course, has a perennial application at all times, old and modern, to fuel the juices of creativity.
I'm an author and a poet in Vineland. I've reserved this little nook for my short stories.
I hope you've got your cup of coffee all warmed up. So, just have a sip, sit back and travel through those things that have made me think and write. Maybe you and I can find a common ground here in this little nook, this little refuge for our humanity, away from the turmoil that's presently going on in the world.
Here are a several short stories you might enjoy:
- N.B. Publication of my short stories in magazines or anthology possible. Just contact me!
- Page 1: Leonardo and Michelangelo at the Pearly Gates: Recognized as the greatest artists of the High Renaissance, they had their squabbles in life and in death
- N.B. To get to Page 2, More Short Stories, the link is at the very bottom of the Leonardo story...I guess you just have to read then, to get there! .
- Page 2: Harry Rittenhouse: My step-mother's dad lived until the age of 103. He was still sharp as a tack with a great sense of humor. Probably making the angels laugh up there in heaven.
- Mom Passed Away: Rosa Hartig died at the age of 92 on January 14, 2012. She came from present-day Serbia and could speak 5 languages.
- Wilma de Jager: Wilma and Jan de Jager were an older Dutch couple who lived right across the street from us in Vineland, Ontario. I took care of their cat when they went on holidays. Wilma died in 2014 of complications from brain tumor surgery.
- Time Portal: My diary comments from 2011 on current events and heavens knows what else.
Leonardo and Michelangelo
At the Pearly Gates
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
[William Shakespeare, AsYou Like It, Act II, Scene VII]
The Players: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Saint Peter, Archangel Raphael, Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X, Salai, Melzi, Einstein
A Short Story
By John Hartig
12 pages 5,695 words
"Hey Michelangelo, what are you doing here?" asked Leonardo, as Michelangelo himself, shimmered into existence. Well, you could call it a sort of existence, as it happened to be in front of the Pearly Gates.
Leonardo arched his eyebrows upwards, eyebrows which were distinctly bushy in this spiritual realm. Always polite, Leonardo answered, "I'm waiting for a ticket to get in."
"So, why are we waiting? What's keeping us outside the Gates?" asked Michelangelo, a bit agitated, if not irate.
"Maybe we've been bad boys!" commented Leonardo.
"Maybe it was the fact that you were gay and liked boys!" accused Michelangelo. "Everyone in Florence talked about the red tunics you wore."
"I was proud of what I was and am!" rebuffed Leonardo. "And speaking of secrets in the closet, I heard a few things about you!"
Michelangelo took a long time to answer but finally admitted, "Well, since we're in front of the Pearly Gates, yes, I was gay too, but at least, I tried my best to follow the church's teachings. I should be rewarded for my hidden suffering."
"It could be that all that doesn't matter to God," said Leonardo, "maybe it's other things we did which are holding us outside the Gates. When I knew you, you were such, what shall I say, a bastard about people."
Michelangelo pursed his lips in disdain. His anger rose and he was about to swear.
“Tut, tut,” broke in Saint Peter. “We’ll have none of that here.” He wanted to hear what the two men were arguing about, especially since they were at the very threshold of the Pearly Gates. “Look,” said Saint Peter. “Neither of you is getting a ticket in until we settle this thing. Bickering is just not allowed in the Kingdom of Light. So let’s settle it, right here and right now.”
Of course, ‘right here’ and ‘right now’ meant nothing there in front of the Pearly Gates. This argument could potentially stretch out forever like a tedious ping-pong match until one or both of them put down their paddles. Saint Peter eyed the two men and sighed philosophically. “Forgiveness is a long and winding road. Sometimes, it never ends.”
He pointed to the Pearly Gates. “As you can see, this is a gated community,” he said, “and we just don’t allow any old riffraff in.”
Michelangelo was somewhat miffed. “Riffraff?” he asked.
Meanwhile, Leonardo smiled quietly at Michelangelo, and nodded, as if to say, ‘if the shoe fits...’
Saint Peter jumped in before things heated up again. He explained, “in the old days, we categorically kept Unbelievers out. But recently, there’s been a change in policy. Belief is not used as a measure any more; it’s Kindness.”
No, Michelangelo didn't like Saint Peter's remarks, at all, or the look in Leonardo’s eyes. Michelangelo came to the Pearly Gates with a bad reputation to begin with for being unkind, a real grouch, during his lifetime. He was a contentious even with his patrons, especially in Florence and Rome. According to him, you shouldn’t base Heaven on just being “kind and nice.” Michealangelo had his own idea of standards in mind. How does God justify endowing Leonardo with divine genius when after all, he didn’t even believe in the same God that the Church believed in? Besides, as everyone knew, Leonardo was gay and never felt guilty about it. If suffering alone was a criterion, as it should be, then Michelangelo should have had a free ticket into Heaven.
Michelangelo was testy, especially since his osteoarthritis was acting up. They weren’t in Heaven yet, where all the pain and suffering for those heavy of heart would one day end. While on earth, Michelangelo had pounded away at marble all day long, day after day, liberating figures like David who were frozen in the marble. That obsessive chore came at a high price. His long gnarled fingers ached. He did lighter work in painting only as a welcome relief because the paintbrush was easier to lift than a hammer and chisel. Besides all that pounding on marble gave him a headache.
He felt that Leonardo had it easy. Everything was easy for him. Leonardo was always a pretty boy with a straight nose and a handsome face framed by tight curls, and he had a muscular physique! Leonardo paraded his homosexuality openly in the streets of Florence. He was a well-dressed dandy and enjoyed life. On the other hand, Michelangelo was tortured by his sexual proclivity through no fault of his own. He kept "the big secret", wearing dark clothes and swearing to a life of abstinence and penance.
Leonardo acted younger than Michelangelo, even though he was 23 years older. He enjoyed designing costumes and the theatrical machinery for parades and pageants in Florence and Milan, so he could regale the royalty and princes there. He would prance around in his red and rose coloured tunics telling his underlings when to bring in the next float or to pull which wire to make a cherubic angel fly. Admittedly the glitter and glitz of such showy pageantry won him the admiration of the art world of the High Renaissance. And because he was good at everything he did, his rival, Michelangelo, cast eyes of Envy upon Leonardo, who eventually became the true definition of a Renaissance Man, excelling in painting, anatomy, engineering, mathematics and even in Michelangelo’s own specialty, sculpture. Oh and before we forget, Leonardo was also an excellent musician, inventing new instruments like the key-board operated bell. His biographer at the time, Giorgio Vasari, wrote, “he sang divinely, improvising his own accompaniment on the lyre.”
The two men pursued their argument, ignoring Saint Peter, taking up their verbal fisticuffs again.
“I don't like you calling me a bastard about people,” countered Michelangelo. "If anyone, you're the real bastard!"
Leonardo deftly swiped the remark away, politely observing, “I prefer the word ‘illegitimate’!”
Leonardo’s own father, Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, made a peasant girl pregnant, a tradition which was a common practice in those days, but Piero never legitimized his son. Maybe that was for the best because Leonardo was apprenticed to Verrochio to become a master painter, and thereby escaped his father’s boring profession as a notary. Leonardo was a laid-back kind of guy. He accepted being illegitimate and being gay. What’s the big deal? You are who you are, you make do, and you got on with life. In this respect, Leonardo was the better man. He had never expressed envy over Michelangelo who was born legitimately within a family of minor nobility.
Saint Peter stepped in because Michelangelo was still in a belligerent mood. “Now boys, we don’t have name-calling beyond this point.” He drew a line across the doorway of the Pearly Gates. They sparkled and the air beyond them shone and shimmered with a soothing warmth. The two artists shut up and kept their own counsel. They wondered how long they’d have to stand outside the gates, or if they’d ever get through.
Saint Peter said, “You know guys, it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or not, what matters is your heart and soul, and in the depth of things, your kindness towards all living things.” The two men seemed somewhat chastened. But there still was something hard in Michelangelo’s eyes which was unyielding.
Maybe this friction, this unspecified tension between the two men, came from birthrights, from genetics, from temperament and from the difference in gifts? Maybe all this made them each a puppet in a cosmological play, even more than masters of their own destinies? Who knows? The fact was they didn’t like each other. Physically, personally, nor how they approached their art.
Michelangelo with his long bony face and receding hair line. Leonardo with his straight nose, pretty face, long curly hair and muscular body. Temperament-wise, Leonardo, was an easy going sort of person, who often did not finish his commissions. He put his curiosity first in studying the flight of birds and how water currents swirled, before he considered the size of his income as a painter.
Michelangelo painted like he sculpted with strong striking lines. Leonardo, on the other hand, used the ‘sfumato’ style to create less distinct lines, softening them, sometimes even smudging them with his fingers tips to create an ephemeral look in the features of faces, like the smile of the Mona Lisa. Sometimes he left a fingerprint on his work. He imagined God doing the same thing when He smeared the cosmological gases of space into existence and into the shapes of stars, planets and even galaxies.
All this being said, Leonardo was quite happy with his place in the universe and his sexuality. He flaunted this with flashy clothes, and had a young man, Salai, 28 years younger, as his companion. Michelangelo was a devout Christian and was tortured by his secret sexuality. He often wore dark clothes and apparently imposed celibacy upon himself. He was grumpy and grouchy all the time.
Michelangelo’s nose was out of joint in more ways than one. In fact, it was permanently disfigured because he got into a fist fight, actually more on the other guy’s part. That other guy was Pietro Torrigiano, a young artist who was drawing alongside Michelangelo in a Florentine chapel. Michelangelo made a remark and boom! Torrigiano popped him in the nose with such force that he gave Michelangelo an unattractive bump there which he had to live with for the rest of his life. Michelangelo also earned an unsavoury reputation for bad body odour, going unwashed for days. He had stooped shoulders, as a stark contrast to Leonardo’s straight muscular physique.
But Saint Peter did not take stock in such comparisons as the three of them stood there in front of the Pearly Gates. He wanted to weigh each man on the scales of Faith, and more importantly on their soul and inner fibre. Leonardo had no personal religious practice, didn’t think about God much or Religion. He liked to think about big questions, what were stars made of and why was the sky blue? He wanted to describe the tongue of the woodpecker. Who would think of such things? Such questions to Michelangelo were of no use, and well, just not practical. And yet for such questions, Michelangelo was secretly envious of Leonardo who was blessed with the curiosity to ask such questions.
“It’s you who are envious of anybody finding out your secrets,” accused Michelangelo. “Why else do you write in mirror image in your notebooks?”
Leonardo explained, “That’s easy. I’m left-handed and by writing from the right to the left, I avoid smearing the ink on my page. Besides, I enjoy doing things that nobody else can do. I love riddles and brain-teasers.” Michelangelo could only come up with a silent look of disdain.
Saint Peter, by the grace of God, knew all of this about the two men. “I’ve got a difficult job,” he said, “being Saint Peter. You may think it’s an easy job, but you just try filling my shoes!”
It seemed like no time at all had passed by when the two men started throwing disparaging remarks at each other again. Michelangelo looked like he wanted to take a swing at Leonardo’s nose so that they’d both have, at least, a level [or rather unlevel] playing field in the ugly probosci department. However, Saint Peter, ever vigilant, and also a stout fisherman, intervened. He spread his arms out in the form of a cross, and by sheer force, kept the two men apart.
“What you need, Michelangelo,” said Saint Peter, “is some anger management.” In the twinkling of an eye, the archangel, Raphael, appeared. “This is fitting,” explained the keeper of the keys, “Raphael is the angel of healing, and what you need, Michelangelo, is healing of your soul. You have been battered and twisted by the church’s teachings, so that your soul is sick and unhappy with itself.”
Saint Peter continued, “I know Raphael here is also the name-sake of your bitter rival in Rome. Raphael, the painter.”
“Therefore you need to learn forgiveness and humility,” said the keeper of the keys, “or you will never get into Heaven. Even here your Envy and your Anger will grease the slippery slope to the Eternal Abyss.”
Michelangelo put a rein on his feelings, and nodded his head in submission. Deep down, he did want healing. Leonardo meanwhile had not said a word the whole time. He was ever the observer of details and facial expressions. He itched to sketch Michelangelo’s face, but found that in this spiritual realm, which was devoid of time and space and matter, he had no pen and paper at hand.
In another twinkling of an eye, Pope Julius II appeared. “Long time no see,” he said to Michelangelo. “It’s been years, since I commissioned you to do the Sistine Chapel!” The whole sequence of events seemed out of synch to Michelangelo because the pontiff had died in 1513, whereas Michelangelo himself had died in 1564.
“Well, what’s time anyway?” asked Saint Peter, “except an illusion.”
“Sometimes God makes people appear here or there in an instant. He must have His own reasons for doing that...even though I can see Leonardo asking, why? In the long run of things, what does it matter?”
“Hey,” said Saint Peter as an afterthought, turning philosophical for a moment, “That reminds me of a joke. Did you ever ask yourself what is Mind?” After a brief moment, he said dismissively, “...uh, no Matter.” With perfect comedic timing, he next asked, “What is Matter?...uh, never Mind.” The Saint chuckled at this stand-up routine which was so out of place in front of the Pearly Gates and in front of such a poor audience. All the faces stared blankly at Saint Peter.
“Gee,” he affirmed, “I’m working in front of a tough crowd!”
At least, At least, Michelangelo was coming around and showed an amused smirk on his face. Leonardo was merely amused, showing a tiny hint of a Mona Lisa smile. Julius II looked like he was ready to kill somebody. He, in fact, had earned nicknames like "The Fearsome Pope" and "The Warrior Pope" during his lifetime. He had ridden into battle and slain people to protect his power. He had a daughter out of wedlock, and was reputed to have had homosexual lovers. No sense of humour there, only serious plotting and killing to maintain his hegemony over other city states. No time for jokes or laughter.
“Let’s get on with it,” he cajoled, “the Pearly Gates are right in front of us, within our very grasp!”
Julius II thought he could simply march on through the Pearly Gates, no obstacle there, because he deserved to seize the Heavenly Prize and Eternal Bliss. After all, look at what he had done for God and Man, and the historical heritage of the Roman Catholic Church. It was, after all, on record!
Julius II had commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel back in 1508. The ceiling was originally dotted with golden stars set in the background of a blue sky. How unoriginal was that! Michelangelo was hard at work on the ceiling for four agonizing years, redoing the fresco which inspired ecstasy in its admiring onlookers. It was painful work for his back and joints. Raphael meanwhile imitated Michelangelo’s style but painted far below in secret and in safety decorating the papal rooms, while Michelangelo stretched and strained on the scaffolding high above. Michelangelo disdainfully dubbed Raphael a plagiarist.
Somehow Leo X next appeared at the Pearly Gates. Poof! He stood there beside Julius eyeing his predecessor up and down. “I thought you were dead!” he said. “I got news for you,” said Julius, “we’re both dead.”
“Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do!” exclaimed Michelangelo when he saw the new pope pop up out of nowhere.
Leo X caught Julius up on the latest papel news, remarking that his investment in Raphael, the painter, was paying off. “The kid’s got talent and is doing a marvelous job which everybody is admiring,” he said. Michelangelo only harrumphed at that with obvious disdain.
Raphael, the archangel, tut-tutted at Michelangelo, who immediately simmered down. Leo X, as every history buff knows, depleted the papal treasury in his huge expenditures on art for the papacy. He was also the pope who excommunicated Martin Luther in 1521, not taking the Reformation seriously. “That’s just a phase,” he said.
Leonardo remained quiet, observing all the details about what was going on and making his own quiet judgments about things. He wished he had his invaluable notebook in his hands. When Leo X popped in, Leonardo thought that the Pearly Gates were already overly crowded, when poof, yet another historical figure popped onto the scene, completely out of synch with both time and space.
Einstein blinked into existence, and said, “Hello.”
Michelangelo raised his eyebrows and snidely asked Einstein, “What? You forgot to comb your hair?”
“You need to talk!” countered Einstein, “you stink!”
Saint Peter stepped in, backed by Raphael, his formidable archangel. Archangels don’t come in small sizes, you know.
“Either I’m at the end of the universe, or I’m in a place where time and space don’t exist,” surmised Einstein. “Hey, this place could use a restaurant here at the end of the universe where a fellow could get a cup of coffee and a bagel.”
The two popes having had little to say up to this point interjected. First Julius, “I’ll have you know, we are at the very foot of the Pearly Gates!” Not to be left out, his successor, Pope Leo, added, “Can you believe it, we are only a stone’s throw away from Heaven?”
“But I don’t see any stones,” said Einstein. Leonardo, tired of being quiet, finally remarked, using the familiar form of address, “Look Albert, it’s just a figure of speech.”
“I know,” said Albert, “I’m not stupid.”
Somehow through supernatural intuition, Albert knew who all these people were. “This is quite an august assemblage," he said. "Is this really the end of the universe? And are we really in front of the Pearly Gates? Why are we all just standing around? Why not crash the gates?”
What a remark! You’d almost think Pope Julius had said it. Generally Einstein had a reputation for being a reasonable soul. But then again he came up with the idea for the nuclear reaction which would make an Atomic Bomb possible, which in fact, was the case when the Americans levelled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. So, there was, at least, some kind of gate crashing capacity within the brain of this allegedly peaceful man.
He said again, “Why are we all just standing around? Why don’t we crash the gates?”
This got Saint Peter upset, and he finally spoke out, obviously irate. “Gate crashing? We'll have none of that here!”
Thunder and lighting reverberated across the sky at that very instant, or what purported to be a sky and an instant. The Pearly Gates shook and shimmered but only momentarily.
“Fascinating,” said Einstein. “It would appear that there is an Intelligent Design after all. God does not play dice with the universe.”
Einstein, like Leonardo, was an observer. They observed each other. Finally, Einstein said, addressing Michelangelo, “Now, don’t get me wrong, Michelangelo, I’ve always liked your work. David was simply divine. But some of your paintings? Well, I hate to kvetch, but they look stilted to me, like that Doni Tondo, for example. The lines are too chiselled, like they’re sculpted in stone and not painted.”
Einstein was treating Michelangelo like an apprentice art student. He lectured, “ Lines, like the universe, should be fluid and not solid.”
Einstein pointed at Leonardo. “Now there is a man who knows what I’m talking about. He knows a thing or two about soft lines and how to make a woman’s face both beautiful and ethereal.”
The archangel put his hand on Michelangelo’s shoulder soothing the storm rising up in Michelangelo. The great artist took a deep breath. He counted to 10. Anger left him like the sweet breath of spring.
“Still,” conceded Einstein, “you did good work, Michelangelo.” With that concession, he turned his back on Michelangelo and again addressed Leonardo, heaping more praise upon him. Michelangelo counted to 10 again, with the archangel’s supportive hand on his shoulder.
“I just love how you used the technique of sfumato,” observed Einstein, “I guess God did something like that in creating galaxies. He smudged quirks and quarks into the Big Bang and then let them play, popping in and out of existence in all the shimmer and shine after the first millisecond of creation. Nothing is really real and there are no definite lines anywhere on the quantum level.”
Einstein finally proclaimed, “E=mc²,” with conviction.
“What’s he talking about?” asked Leo X, looking at Julius puzzled.
Raphael happened to have taken a special course on that very subject some eons ago. He said, “Einstein is correct. It has to do with the theory of relativity, quantum physics and sub-atomic particles.”
Raphael harrumphed to get everybody’s attention, since the popes weren’t listening anyway. Raphael drew himself up and assumed the mien of a guest lecturer. “After all,” he said, “I was there some 13.82 billion years ago when God held a full-day seminar on this very topic for all of us angels, even the fallen ones. If I recall, the agenda for the day was ‘Understanding the Inexplicable Universe’ and ‘Why Everything Was the Way it Was’.”
Raphael faced Einstein and qualified, “Though God had a knack for making everything clear, much clearer than you, Albert!” He reminisced, “Ah, I remember it like it was only yesterday.” Einstein felt somewhat slighted...but then God was God, and Einstein was only a mere genius.
The popes, meanwhile, raised their eyebrows. What are these guys talking about? Was it just crazy talk or plain heresy? Pope Leo and Julius came to an agreement, “Wait until we confront God about this matter, once we get passed the Pearly Gates, of course!”
At the mention of the Pearly Gates, two more figures popped up out of nowhere. Salai and Melzi. Leonardo felt like he was at a family reunion.
“Boys!” he exclaimed, “I’m so glad to see you!” He went over and hugged both of them.
Sadly, he felt a certain tension between the two young men. Salai was his long-time lover, younger by 28 years, and Melzi was, best described as his adopted son, the son he never had, younger by 39 years. When Melzi came into the fold, Salai was obviously jealous.
Of course, it was a miracle that both young men were still that, young, exactly how Leonardo remembered them. Salai died in 1524 at the age of 44, unfortunately from a cross-bow duel, and Franscesco Melzi died in 1570 at the age of 79, some 21 years after Leonardo’s death. But years and dates did not matter here in front of the Pearly Gates, because it was devoid of time and space. Einstein, himself, used to say, “What is time anyway, but a number that doesn’t count.” Jack Benny, the deadpan comedian, was 39 years old until he finally died at the age of 80, the day after Christmas in 1974.
Saint Peter internally quipped, So what is time? It doesn’t matter...oh well, never mind! However, he figured his comedic timing still needed work, so he kept quiet.
Anyway, there they all stood at this point in time and place with however they looked whenever they were young or younger. Well, maybe that rule did not quite apply to Einstein. It seemed like he was always old. Photographs of him always showed him with a mustache and crazy hair. The hair defined the man, like he had just put his finger in an electric socket and instantly discovered electricity.
“Boys!” Leonardo addressed Salai and Melzi again, “I’m so glad to see you!”
Leonardo was not surprised to see his former secretary and scribe, Francesco Melzi there, in front of the Pearly Gates. Leonardo had taken the young boy under his wing when he was a mere youth of 14. It was never clear if there was anything sexual between the two. However, there was trust and affection there. Melzi had a steady temperament and became a good artist, as was expected if you were a protégé of the great master.
Salai, on the other hand, was another story. Leonardo took him into his household when Leonardo was 38 and the boy was only 10. Salai became a life-long servant and again an artist, though of mediocre quality. Things might not have become sexual between the two until Salai himself turned 15. Salai was described as a pretty boy with curly hair and “a devilish little smile.” His nick-name, in fact, means “Little Devil” or “Little Unclean One.” Leonardo had written about the boy as a thief, liar, obstinate and greedy, and yet kept him on in his employ for some 20 years.
On this point alone Leonardo might have been accused of pedophelia. Who knows? The mores of the Italian High Renaissance was more open about sexual misdemeanors than most people know about or would tolerate today. Leonardo raised many young protégés. Was this a good thing? Or was he linking his homosexuality to humanitarian acts of kindness in that class-conscious society of the High Renaissance? God only knows.
When he was 24, Leonardo was arrested along with three other young men and charged with sodomy. It came from an anonymous allegation and involved a 17 year old boy named Jacopo Saltarelli. No witnesses appeared and the charges were dropped. The case was probably dismissed since one of the young men was married into the rich Medici family. It is also interesting to note that the young men received a strong warning, “with the condition that no further accusations are made.”
A modern student of history can appreciate how acceptive Florentine society was in the matters of sex. The Germans, for example, being less tolerant, used the slang word “Florenzer” as an insulting term for homosexual.
Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince about political opportunism had a son, Ludovico, who had a boyfriend. Machiavelli asked his friend, Florence’s ambassador to the Papal Court, at the time, what to do about his wayfaring son. The ambassador’s reply unveils a lot about the broad attitude about sexuality in those days:
"Since we are verging on old age, we might be severe and overly scrupulous, and we do not remember what we did as adolescents. So Ludovico has a boy with him, with whom he amuses himself, jests, takes walks, growls in his ear, goes to bed together. What then? Even in these things perhaps there is nothing bad."
According to his contemporaries, Leonardo was pleasing in conversation and showed generosity in his blessings. Leonardo’s biographer, Vasari, wrote, “He was so generous that he sheltered and fed all his friends, rich or poor.”
So in terms of sin and pedophelia, only God knows. There are not enough written accounts to convince the church that Leonardo was destined for Hell. To later historians and theologians, Leonardo made a better candidate for Heaven than a lot of popes.
When Leonardo died in 1519 on French soil, he bequeathed half of his Milanese vinehard to Salai and the other half to Melzi. Leonardo was 67 years old, and as legend would have it, he died in the arms of Francis I, King of France. When Salai himself finally died, 5 years later in a crossbow duel, somehow the Mona Lisa turned up in the inventory of the man’s estate, a sign that Salai’s sticky fingers had never really reformed.
That’s why Leonardo was somewhat taken aback when Salai popped in at the Pearly Gates.
“I thought you’d gone to the other place?” asked Leonardo.
“Well,” said Salai, “you can never tell who ends up in Heaven. What are these popes doing here?”
The popes snubbed the remark, ignoring the implication.
“Oh,” said Saint Peter, “don’t any of you take anything for granted. Things could still swing one way or the other as long as we are standing outside the Pearly Gates.”
Leonardo thought, As long as the Pearly Gates are the dividing line, maybe I can go back to earth for a second chance, maybe I could still come back with an earthly breath, take back my vitality and finish that horse, “Il Cavallo.”
He looked beseechingly at Saint Peter and the archangel. But they both knew what he was thinking and they both shook their heads, to indicate a clear, No!
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Saint Peter finally. “You had your 67 years, and you used them up. Unlike the centenarian you dissected, that was all the time in the world that God gave you.”
“It was worth a shot,” commented Leonardo. “At least I learned one thing through my 67 years, and you can quote me on this, “As a well-spent day brings a happy sleep, so a well-employed life brings a happy death.” Actually Leonardo had written that down some 30 years earlier when he was only 37 years old.
“Unoriginal,” said Saint Peter, “but well worth remembering.”
“I think I used my time well,” concluded Leonardo, looking at Michelangelo, Salai, Melzi, Einstein and the two popes. The two popes were disinterested, and were instead eyeing the light beyond the Pearly Gates with envy.
“Well,” said Saint Peter, “Now comes the moment of truth. Who makes it beyond the Pearly Gates and who doesn’t.”
Saint Peter touched a red button on the wall beside the Pearly Gates, and all of a sudden, a black hole opened up creating a whirling chasm exactly where the two popes stood.
“No, no!” yelled Julius. “I’m too important to be sucked into nothing.” Likewise Leo hollered, “I was the head of the Church, the first in line for Heaven. We’re both too important to be sucked away like this!” But despite these papal objections, they both slipped into the event horizon of the black hole, and were stretched out and vanished into the Abyss never to be heard from again.
“As the first among the lineage of popes,” commented Saint Peter, “I’ve always wanted to say this to a few of my colleagues, ‘you are excommunicated from Heaven forever’!” So for Julius and Leo there was no bang, not even a whimper when they were sucked out of sight.
Salai ever inquisitive about wrong things stepped too close to the spinning vortex. He was starting to be sucked in.
“I don’t want to go there,” he yelled. “I’m sorry for all I’ve ever done...well most of it anyway.”
Leonardo had no thought for himself. He stepped forward to grab hold of Salai’s pink tunic. “I need help,” yelled Leonardo to the others. Michelangelo and Melzi stepped forward to give a helping hand. Einstein set himself in motion. He pitched in and grabbed part of Salai’s tunic and yanked. They all pulled together, and with a mighty heave-ho, they got Salai free from the sucking power of the black hole.
“Hey,” griped Salai, “you ripped my tunic.” Then he smiled and nodded to each and everyone of his friends. “Thank you,” he said.
Leonardo pointed to Salai’s ripped tunic. “You’ll have to get that fixed. I like your choice of colour, though. Gives you a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.”
He then turned his attention to the black hole. Ever the scientist, his curiosity was piqued by such a phenomenon, but he did not venture closer to its spinning power. The vortex was turning counter-clockwise. Now why was that? he asked himself. Why not the other way around?
Before he took his next breath, the hole snapped shut with the popes somewhere inside forever. Salai could have been there too, so easily a victim to the unknown forces of the universe.
Out of the way of danger, Leonardo asked himself again: Why did this black-hole spin counter-clockwise? Maybe for a counter-productive life? That was as good a theory as any. He was so glad that the vortex had not claimed Salai. But on the other hand, he thought, Good riddance to bad popes.
Saint Peter said, “Alright people, the show’s over. Let’s get down to business, the business of Eternity.” He expressed gratitude to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Melzi and Einstein for saving Salai from a fate worse than death. “You were Good Samaritans saving Salai from the brink of damnation. Greater love hath no man...well, you know the rest of the story.”
Saint Peter instructed the archangel, “Give Michelangelo a helping hand, will you? He’s still a work in progress. And by the way, take Salai under your wings too.”
Raphael smiled and nodded. He felt like hanging out a shingle, The Psychiatrist Is In - 5 cents.
All of a sudden the Pearly Gates shimmered and melted away into another dimension, and Leonardo, Michelangelo, Salai, Melzi, and Einstein took on new bodies of light. Leonardo thought he not only heard but saw music, the Music of the Spheres. Einstein imagined himself playing a pretty tune on his old violin. They all made it to the other side of eternity into the light, except for the two pontiffs who were lost in the Abyss, who presumed all along that they were the ones who deserved Heaven more than anybody else.
*Thanks to Walter Isaacson’s book of 2017, Leonardo Da Vinci,
it was not only a great read
but also gave me the idea for a short story,
Leonardo and Michelangelo at the Pearly Gates
*musical ability: Walter Isaacson p. 117
*Saltarelli allegation: Walter Isaacson p. 68
*Google: "ambassador's letter to Machiavelli"
*Leonardo’s generosity: Walter Isaacson p. 130
*Salai: Walter Isaacson p. 131
*comparison Leonardo and Michelangelo: Walter Isaacson p. 373
*Melzi: Walter Isaacson p. 385, p. 445
*"well-spent day...happy sleep": Walter Isaacson p.513
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