A warm, sparkling light hits Maude in the face with such intensity that she jolts awake; she now has sympathy for the chocolate chip cookies she used to bake on the dashboard of her Hyundai Accent (a cost-saving measure, since she never did have her own stove).
“Where am I?” she says to no one.
Maude squints as she takes in her surroundings: she is floating above Nurse Debra, who leans over a 60-year-old woman and weeps.
“Jesus Christ, that’s me! How can I be down there, if I’m up here?!”
“You are dead, Maude,” comes an omnipresent reply.
“Is that you, Morgan Freeman?”
“Uh, no. He is still alive.”
Within seconds Maude is sucked up into the nebulous glow. When her ascent finally stops, she is left standing in front of enormous gates. Everything is hazy, but she knows where she is.
“I’m in Heaven, aren’t I?”
“Yes, Maude. Welcome to the light.”
“I feel so young! My arthritis really is gone!” Maude begins to do the Moonwalk with glee.
“Maude, you need to stop.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she replies like a little girl. Still, her toes are tappin’; she hasn’t felt this great since before she went to college!
Maude struggles to see the images in front of her: ghost-like shapes are beyond the gates, but she doesn’t know who they are. “Are those my family members?” she asks the disembodied voice.
“Yes, and you will be able to see them…soon. But first, you need to do something for us.”
Suddenly, two full-bodied men appear before her, dressed in black and holding clipboards. The pearly gates slam shut behind them. Maude’s eyes widen like two empty coin purses as she notices the logo on their lapels: “Department of Education/Aspire Resources.”
“What the Sam Hill are you doing here?” she demands.
The man on the left carefully combs through the paperwork on his clipboard, stopping once he reaches the desired form. “Ma’am, my name is Franz. We noticed in our records that you recently received a Loan Forgiveness letter from us, stating that after 25 years of on-time payments, we were writing off the rest of your student loan debt.”
“Yes, I remember that…vaguely. But I guess I died right after I found out.”
Franz sighs with annoyance. “Yes, you did die before you got the addendum to that letter, informing you that we’d sent the Loan Forgiveness letter in error. Due to recent budget reform, your Income-Based Repayment plan got re-calculated, and you actually still owe us about $3,000.”
“What?! I never did understand how any of these repayment plans worked or how they were calculated! This doesn’t make any sense!!”
Man on Right is offended by her words and drops his clipboard by his side. He lunges toward her just as Franz restrains him. Maude stands firm with her hands on her hips. She’s tired of this shit!
“Hans, let me take care of this.”
“OK, Franz,” Hans says as he pushes the greasy, horn-like hairs back down on his head.
“So how the hell do you expect me to pay you back this money, now?!” Maude demands.
Hans and Franz exchange a knowing glance. “Well,” Franz begins, “we’ve already arranged for our partners down South to take half the payout from your life insurance policy from your beneficiary. And whatever Social Security money you were hiding from us in your checking account will also be garnished.”
“What in tarnation? Nurse Debra is my beneficiary!! You people took everything from me in life and now you’re taking from me in death? And what do you mean, ‘down South’?”
“We are referring to the Department of Education/Aspire Resources in Atlanta – your old remittance address. But don’t worry: With the money left over from your policy, Nurse Debra will have enough to bury you in a cheap pine box, like a true Yankee. She could also just have your delinquent ass cremated – it might be cheaper. But that still leaves a balance owed of $1,000.”
“But I don’t have any money here!”
“We know that, Maude,” Franz replies through gritted teeth. “But we’ve arranged for you to perform hard labor in Hell until the balance is paid in full, at which point we – I mean, He – will let you through the pearly gates. You’re welcome.”
Maude Moonwalks away from the men with great speed, which confuses them. The handcuffs Franz is holding start to rattle as she runs back toward them like a cat pouncing on two injured mice. She jumps into the air and dropkicks them both to the ground with the ease and power of a woman who’s got nothing else to lose. As they lie on the cloud in agony, Maude plucks the key to the pearly gates from Franz’s pocket and then kicks them both off the cloud. Maude gives them the finger as she watches them hurtle toward where they belong.