Fiction  April 2017 | issue 496

The Donkey At The Gates Of The Kingdom Of Heaven

by David Rutschman

DAVID RUTSCHMAN is a Soto Zen priest and hospice grief counselor. His work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Waxwing, and Witness. He lives in California with his wife and two young children.

Once, a donkey ascended to the shining gates of the kingdom of heaven. The gates were open. The donkey heard music more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined. Each note was a star going supernova, a pack of wolves running down an elk over snow. The song poured itself into the world. The donkey stood transfixed. Without thinking, he opened his mouth wide and brayed.

Instantly the music stopped. There was total silence.

His bray had been off-key, awful. A donkey’s sound.

Slowly the gates of the kingdom of heaven began to swing shut. The donkey didn’t know what to do, whether he should advance or retreat. The light was blinding. He took one trembling step forward, then another. He couldn’t see a thing.

The donkey brayed again, knowing it would not be beautiful. He was right; it wasn’t beautiful. It was his same old donkey bray. He did it again and again. He couldn’t tell if the gates were open now or closed, or even where they were exactly. He shut his eyes and thought about the entirety of his life. He remembered eating hay, carrying firewood.

He brayed again. He did. He let it rip. He kept his eyes closed and staggered forward, belting it out. Carrier of firewood, eater of hay. He took his whole life’s only song and he employed it — step after step into brightness, into terrible dazzling light.