Professor Chomsky enters the room. It is crisp white. For a time, the sweatered figure stands awkwardly in the silence, hunched, hands in pockets.
“Noam, old buddy, old pal.”
“…Howard? Howard, is that you?” His inquisitive eyes pierce through his spectacle lenses.
By this time Professor Zinn at Professor Chomsky’s side, arms aloft and preparing for embrace. Still guarded, Professor Chomsky croaks, “Howard, I know this is a dream. You are dead.”
“Why, yes! This will be a lot to take in, my friend. I’ve been assigned to, well… I’m sorry about this, because, well, I’m not sure you’re going to like this…”
At this point, a broad shouldered figure sways into sight. It carries another familiar face although time hasn’t been as kind to this one.
“Hah! What a sight! Here’s ‘The Professor’! What did you in? Old age, the FBI, nuclear weapons… surely you didn’t fall victim to one of the ‘Religion of Peace’ crowd?”
“Oh, Christopher! Now’s not the time.”
“But we have all the time in the Universe now, isn’t that correct, Professor?” Again, the name produces a sneer as it passes Mr Hichens’ lips. He nudges the one addressed, spilling red wine.
“Christopher? I haven’t thought about you in a long time.” Professor Chomsky is notably deadpan.
“That’s no way to greet an old comrade and friend. After-all we’re all comrades here.” He produces a hip flask from his crisp white suit and takes a sizable gulp with his free hand. “At least they saw fit to provide complimentary booze.”
“I am afraid I don’t understand what this means.”
Professor Zinn quickly interjects, guiding his friend to the other side of the room.
“Noam, you won’t believe this,” he raises his eyebrows in feigned disbelief and chuckles, “but, well, heh – you’re here because, well. You’ve passed old friend, you’ve reached the end of the line.”
“And!” Mr Hitchens exclaims, finding it quite impossible to be left out, “you didn’t reach the mark, old dog! You’re among the damned, the junk, you’re officially – how should one put it? – persona non grata. Professor – welcome to Purgatory!”
At this point the old Trot splutters, clearly finding the upright position difficult to maintain. Professor Zinn looks up at his colleague, in life and now death, and says, “he hasn’t been taking this well”.
“I am still finding it difficult to accept this as reality,” the taller of the two professors remarks as they walk down a crisp white corridor. His navy sweater draws a sharp distinction with its surroundings.
“Well, old friend, I can’t say it’s not good to see you again but these circumstances could… eh, be better.”
Professor Chomsky scans the side rooms where there are others mulling about, some sit, most stare out of crisp white window frames onto crisp white nothingness.
“Let’s say, for purposes of thought experimentation, I grant you that we are walking in the Antechamber to the Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.”
“To think the gentiles were right, huh? What a thought! Oh, sorry, you were saying?”
“If this scene is not a creation of a muddled mind currently occupying a room of the Massachusetts General Hospital – this is a thought experiment to clarify – then what, Howard, are you doing here? I only knew you to be a good man, an enlightened and moral person. A rare thing. Surely there is no question about where you belong.”
Professor Zinn chuckles, embarrassed as ever by praise, “well thank you, Noam, I’d say the same about you, heh-heh. But it’s not you I have to impress, old friend. You see, my past is far from untarnished.”
The historian’s face shows signs of distress as his thoughts return to his previous life.
“You know about my service in the Air Force? Of course you do, and you do you remember what I told you about what I did in April of 1945? Just before the closing of that war.”
“I do recollect a tragic tale, all too common from that period. You were ordered to drop napalm on a French town. One of the first times that devastating weapon was employed against civilians. Experimental”.
There’s a pause before Professor Zinn picks up the thread, “I was so proud to fight in that war. Heh, marching forward and taking it to the fascists! Eh, you know what us Marxists were like…”
“Howard, it was a horrendous act, no doubt, but you are no monster. You had little idea of what you were participating in, as I remember from your telling. You also did your best to reveal the crime and to negate your role in it following the war. You aren’t a murderer.”
“Intent matters little to the gentiles in matters this severe, as it should be.”
Removing his hand from his well rubbed chin, Chomsky finally responds, “As it should be”.