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The Pearly Gates: A Modern Noir

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It was a life or death situation.  Any mistake would prove fatal.  Years of experience should have left me prepared, yet I felt helpless as I gawked at my fate barreling toward me.  I thought I had planned properly, thought I had taken advantage of every precious second, but the moment was upon me, and I had no answer.

Did I want chicken or steak in my burrito?

The gentleman inside the food truck was starting to give me the look , which any New Yorker knew translated loosely to ‘Hurry the fuck up.’

“Number Two, with steak, please.”

The ‘please’ was my personal ‘fuck you too.’

I walked the obligatory few steps away from the window to allow the next person to order while staying close to eventually collect my bounty.  Nothing like the thrill of having your name called when there was hot food involved.

The streets were busy.  Friday afternoons in the city meant the usual foot traffic, the suits leaving early for the weekend, and the club minions that were ready to bar hop all hours of the night leaking onto the scene.  I personally was looking forward to coasting through my last hours at the Mirror before heading home to bask in the glory of sweatpants and a Lord of the Rings rewatch.

I know.  Party animal.

Sure, everyone my age seemed to be getting married and having kids.  Joke was on them.  My burrito was as heavy as a newborn, much quieter, and way more delicious.  The foil was peeled away before I was even halfway back to the office, and I was in a meaty, cheesy heaven by the time I walked in the door.  The cubicles on the floor were buzzing and vibrating with energy, and I broke briefly from my food-induced trance; a big story just dropped.  The hunger of curiosity began to trump any others, and my meal was hurriedly placed on my desk before I ran to the nearest group of coworkers.

“Damn, the Times got to it before us.”

“They always do.”

I walked up to the group, nudging my nearest coworker, “Aw, come on, share with the rest of the class!  What’d I miss?”

“Miranda Priestly is in a coma.”

The news hit like a punch to the gut.  Ringing in the ears.  Weak knees. Breathless.

Miranda Priestly...what?

“Apparently, they found her passed out in her house.  OD’d on drugs.”

They gestured to a nearby computer, headline flashing across the screen.  Priestly’s Botched Suicide.

The vision came easily enough, as any headline like that would inspire with a decent enough imagination.  I remembered the pristinely clean townhouse, almost sterile, morgue-like...it was oddly fitting now.  She would be alone, always alone, staring down the Book, the representation of what had left her alone all these years, her single burden to carry, finally crushing her under the enormous weight of it all.  Finally choosing to make her exit with a bottle full of pills easily procured by a woman of her wealth. The money, the fame, and the loneliness would be her final companions as she collapsed on the floor.

The picture froze abruptly in my head.

No, that wasn’t right.  That wasn’t the Miranda I knew.

The flashbacks rewound, and moving images danced once more. The icy ferocity in her blue eyes only softened by a glance at the picture frame of her children.  The absolute and unwavering dedication to a living embodiment of art.  The pinnacle, the beacon, of what she loved, from which she would never be torn, at any cost.  At every cost.

The fire of life was unquestionable and burned in every one of my memories.

Suicide? No, not that wasn’t right at all.

That wasn’t the Miranda I knew and loved.

Loved. I felt sick to my stomach. That’s why I had left, after all.

“Hey, Andy, you OK?”

But a coma?  Locked away?  Gone?

“Oh, shit, that’s right.  She’s your old boss.”

‘Boss’ didn’t cover the harshness of my feelings I had felt then and still felt now.  The brutality of expectations, the conquering of boundaries, the cold sting of rejection.

But there she was, clearly in my mind, standing tall in her suits with a gaze to kill, smiling seductively in her gala gowns, quietly crying and vulnerable in her robe at the Paris hotel...all Miranda, all swirling together to form...what?

“Did you think she’d ever be the type to try something like this?”

Miranda frozen in place, a crystal statue, now unmoving.  Comatose.

I cleared my throat, trying to focus on the people in front of me.  “You mean kill herself? No. Never.  It’s a mistake.”

Another in the group scoffed, “Kinda hard to beat the truth that she had a bunch of meds she wasn’t prescribed in her system with an empty pill bottle and a healthy dose of liquor.”

“Hey, man, take it easy.”

“No, it’s alright,” I muttered, “I’d probably say the same thing if it was anyone else.”

They gave me a look of pity when I offered some lame, unrememberable excuse and retreated to my cubicle. Not my smoothest exit.

But Miranda Priestly in a coma from a botched suicide attempt was a little shocking. Supposed botched suicide attempt.  She would never leave the twins or Runway behind like that.

Would she?


“Two orders of Chicken Lo Mein.  Only one girl.”

“I like to have some lunch the next day.”

“You used to come here with a man.”

I sighed, “Mrs. Chang, that was over a year ago.”

She glared at me from her position behind the counter.  “Men don’t want girls that eat two orders of chicken.”

Brutal.

“Thank you, Mrs. Chang.  See you later.”

The little bell above the door signaled my retreat as I exited the restaurant. My ex-boss was in a coma, and a girl couldn’t even get some comfort takeout without hearing about another ex.

Sometimes I fondly wondered what Nate was up to in Boston.  He deserved to be happy...in Boston.  Let me tell you, your ex moving to a whole other state really helps with the healing process.

Time and space added clarity to the blurriest, most chaotic memories.  It was fine when he had to work late at the restaurant on my birthday.  It was not fine when a gala kept me late on his birthday.  After a few drinks with Lily (it took a lot of begging, but she eventually forgave me), even she started to see that maybe he hadn’t been the most supportive of what was honestly a huge career move. One sucky year, and we would’ve had it made.  One year with Miranda, and I could’ve gone anywhere in publishing, a crazy opportunity for a journalist.

Miranda.

Well, Nate had maybe been right about one thing.  The person whose calls you always take...that’s the relationship you’re in.  I always took her calls. And maybe that had meant something. Why else did it feel like the world, my world, was holding its breath after today’s news?  As much as I told myself I would never see her again, there was always the possibility.  Walking across the street, noticing a town car in passing...there was always the chance.

Not anymore.  The reality stung, but at least I had calmed somewhat since my minor panic attack in the office.

Maybe I would have a glass of wine or something.  In her honor.  

Whatever the real reason, the reality remained the same.  The Miranda in my mind was gone with little hope of returning.  As I climbed the stairs of my apartment building, more slowly and out of breath than I would’ve preferred, I focused on that fact.  The sooner I accepted it, the sooner I could move on from it.

After fumbling with my keys and struggling not to drop my Chinese food, I opened the door and stepped into the threshold of my dark, tiny apartment.  As I shut the barrier behind me, my heart leapt.

Something in my living room suddenly moved.

A figure turned in the streetlight pouring through the window.  My hand instinctively flung for the light switch.

Miranda Priestly stood before me.

Glowing white hair, steely blue eyes, crisp suit.  Her head held regally high, hands on her hips, poised to certainly issue some scathing remark.

She was very much alive, very beautiful, and incredibly terrifying.

“Holy shit,” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

A sole eyebrow twitched upward at my outburst. I swallowed.  It was definitely her, in the flesh.

But why?

“What are you doing in my apartment?  How did you get in here?” I asked, my voice still gravelly with shock.

Her voice was smooth as silk as she quipped, “My, aren’t we welcoming and hospitable.”

Oh, no.  That might’ve worked on the old Andy, but she was not going to show up and boss me around.

I sighed, dumping my bags on a side table by the door.  I looked more squarely at the woman before me and firmly stated, “You’re all over the news.”

“When am I not?” she replied airily.  As if this was all just a new game for us to play, like all the times before.

I snapped back, “You’re supposed to be in a coma, laying in the hospital.”

“Really, Andrea, do I look comatose to you?” Miranda calmly asked, gesturing down her form with her hand.  When her arm moved to place her hands on her hips, however, the elbow went directly through the wall to my kitchen.  She paused as she left it there, slowly moving her forearm into the same space, turning with ease as her entire limb simply phased into the plaster.

She muttered, almost amused, “Hm.  This is taking some adjusting.”

Oh. My. God.

A breathless wheeze escaped past my lips, “I’m going crazy.”

“I should say so. No respectable person wears leggings as pants beyond their front door.”

“You’re not real,” I almost shouted, firmly pointing at whatever cruel hallucination was before me, “You are laying in a hospital room, and I am obviously way too tired and freaked out about it.”

“Still running away from our problems, I see.”

“Ok, first of all, you’re not even here, so this isn’t happening,” I reasoned, starting to pace across my den, “Second of all, if you were somehow here, you’d be trying to kill me. And third of all, I did not run away. From Runway . Or you. Maybe I ran away from Runway . But that’s different than you,” I paused in my pacing to glance back at the not-Miranda, “God, I’m so tired.”

It merely shrugged, “Some would say Runway and I are one.”

“Right. Now my imagination is giving me riddles.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the smart girl?” the mirage questioned with a raised eyebrow.

My eyes narrowed. “Smart and fat, apparently.”

“I tell people what they need to hear, true or not.”

“You are telling no one anything because you are once again, not real,” I huffed, crossing my arms.

“And yet you speak.”

It had a point.  I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath.

“Miranda Priestly is in the hospital in a coma. Brain dead. From a suspected overdose. She is not in my apartment.”

I focused on the darkness of my eyelids, letting the words settle in the room.  I focused on the rise and fall of my own chest in a quiet apartment.

I opened my eyes.

The woman before me rolled her eyes before impatiently asking, “Are you quite done?”

I collapsed onto the couch before me.  Miranda Priestly was here.  How?

“You died. And now you’re haunting me,” I croaked.

“If I was dead, you would know. The celebration party would be hosted at Vogue , all of New York invited,” Miranda drawled, taking a step towards the couch, very much ignoring a small chair that stood in her way.  Her body moved through it like air, a commodity my lungs were very much lacking at the moment.

She paused, following my stare at her legs, before glaring at me and asserting, “Not dead.”

“Not alive either,” I muttered, glancing up to meet her gaze and finding myself out of excuses for how this couldn’t be real, “Holy shit.”

“You already said that.  I’d argue there’s nothing very holy about the situation.”

I stood up, hesitantly taking a step closer.

“Should I call the ghostbusters?” I deliriously questioned, reaching my hand out to touch Miranda’s arm, an act I never would’ve considered under normal circumstances.  It passed through uncontested, and a chill stung at my fingertips.

Freaky.

“If you do that again, I will find a way to haunt you once this is all resolved,” she barked, drawing her arm away from me as if I was the foreign entity in my apartment.

There was no doubt.  The way she talked, the way she walked, the way she threatened and insulted...it was all classic Miranda.

“If you have any idea what’s going on, now would be a great time,” I said, clearing my throat to hide the hitch in my voice, “They said it was an overdose.”

Questioning eyes peered at me from beneath heavy lashes as she muttered, “Do you believe that?”  But before I could even answer, she was already turning away to glance at the wall and saying, “I was at home after work.  That’s all I remember.”

“How did you get here?”

She pursed her lips and shot me a nasty look.

“Oh, come on.  I think the ‘don’t ask Miranda anything’ rule doesn’t apply right now.”

She sighed, bringing her finger to her temple.

“I woke up here.  A few minutes before you came in here.”

“Why here?”

“Do you think if I had a choice, I would have actually selected this ?” she gestured incredulously around my apartment.

I scoffed, crossing my arms, “Sorry we can’t all live on the upper East side.”

She huffed, returning to the scathing review of my wall. She closed her eyes, took a quick breath, and stood a little straighter, turning back to me.

“The sooner we resolve this, the sooner I can return to my body and continue on with my life.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Um, ‘we?’”

“I require assistance.  You were an assistant,” she explained as if it was obvious, vaguely waving towards me.

She really had the most unique way of pissing me off sometimes.

“Right.  Do you remember how that little arrangement went last time?  You seemed keen on reminding me a few minutes ago.”

She blinked before deadpanning, “Would you really deny the request of a woman lying in the hospital?”

I barked a laugh, dramatically leaning my ear towards her, “Were you requesting my help?  I seem to have missed the ‘please.’”

Miranda, for what it was worth, remained her coolly calm self.  She simply stared at me, and I remembered what it had once felt like to be under her gaze.  To be devoured and inspected and analyzed and terrified she could read every thought.  Always so intense, like it was a matter of life and death.

I guess this time it was.

She slowly, softly stated, “I will ask again.  Do you believe I attempted to take my own life?”

Miranda laughing at a gala, Miranda spitting scathing insults in the office, Miranda crying in her hotel room.  The visions all came again, all at once, like earlier that day.

I knew this woman.  Always the enigma, the mystery, and yet...

“No,” I answered resolutely, “You would never.”

“You are likely the only living individual to think so,” she declared, eyes still firmly locked on mine, defiance almost blinding like crackling lightning in her pupils. “I will not leave my children behind like this.”

Miranda, back again to challenge me to the impossible for her. Even worse was the pounding in my chest, the excitement, to be by her side again, to answer the call and serve faithfully.

“Please.”

Oh, damn her stupid, pretty, ghost-face.

I sighed, my arms dropping to my sides, defeated.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know what happened.  You didn’t cause this...so someone did,” I muttered.

Damn Miranda Priestly who could walk through walls and back into my life.  And damn my curiosity.

Miranda did a terrible job hiding her smirk from winning.  “Quite the investigative instinct, as expected of a journalist.”

I groaned, “I knew it was going to get me into trouble one of these days.”

There was no way I could eat after this. I scooped up my food and retreated to the kitchen, lingering in the act of throwing the cartons in the fridge. The cool air helped clear the mind.

Alright, game plan.  Solve the case of a possible attack against one Miranda Priestly while avoiding some less than platonic feelings involving the aforementioned party.  Again. Then life could go back to normal.

Easy, right?

I closed the fridge and poked my head out the woman side-eyeing my secondhand furniture.

“Well, since my takeout is now cold, and I’ve lost my appetite now that I’ve learned ghosts exist, I’m going to go to bed.  We’ll start in the morning,” I explained, gesturing vaguely around the living room while hesitantly before trying, “Make yourself at home?”

The specter glared.  Apparently spirits didn’t lounge?

I hastily retreated to my bedroom. My idiotic heart was fluttering…and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because Miranda could go through walls.

I hadn’t seen her in so long. And even for a dead woman, she looked as radiant as always.

It was pathetic, really. Here I was, once again answering the summons.  No matter how absurd, how outrageous, how impossible.

Solve a murder.  Help a ghost.  Don’t mention feelings.

Do the impossible for Miranda Priestly.

Holy shit.