R.W. Haynes is  Professor of English at Texas A&M International University, where he teaches early British literature and Shakespeare. His recent publications include studies of playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote. In 2016, Haynes received the SCMLA Poetry prize at the Dallas conference of the South Central Modern Language Association. His poetry collections Laredo Light (Cyberwit) and Let the Whales Escape (Finishing Line Press) appeared in the summer of 2019, and another collection titled Heidegger Looks at the Moon came out in November 2021 from Finishing Line.


 Overdue Assignment:

The Call from Heaven

Dramatis personae:

      • George
      • Dr. Bushmills, an angel
      • St. Thomas More

Dark stage with two spotlit patches.  In one, an elderly gentleman with angel wings stands by a telephone which is on a small table.  In the other, a middle-aged man drowses in a chair by another small table, on which is a telephone. The angel dials, and the other phone rings.  The man, startled, picks it up.

GEORGE: Hello? Hello?

BUSHMILLS: This is Dr. Bushmills, George. How are you?


BUSHMILLS: This is Dr. Bushmills, George. How are you? (He smiles.)

GEORGE: Who is this?

BUSHMILLS: This is Dr. Bushmills, George. (Pauses.) How are you?

GEORGE: I’m doing well.  I think.  How are you?

BUSHMILLS: Why, George, I’m in Heaven. Didn’t you know I would be? So, I’m doing very well. As you might expect, everything in Heaven is great.  You can’t beat Heaven for an ultimate destination, George.

GEORGE: I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

BUSHMILLS: George, it’s unbelievable how much fun it is here. Do you remember how Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells him he can’t describe the pains of Purgatory because it would make his eyes—Hamlet’s, I mean–pop right out of his head? Well, that, mutatis mutandis, is what the joys of Heaven are like. How’s Mary?

GEORGE: Isn’t she there with you?

BUSHMILLS: (Explodes into laughter.) Of course, she is! But I mean your wife. How is she? She’s had some burdens to bear as your spouse, you know, not that I’m going to go into that.

GEORGE: She’s doing very well.  She made a big pot of pozole yesterday.  Just the thing for cold weather.

BUSHMILLS: Yes, I love it. We have excellent Mexican food here, too, George, but on earth you have to get it where you can find it. I never liked any of the Mexican restaurants in Athens very much, though they occasionally had their moments.  I had some black bean enchiladas once at El Jalisco that I thought were absolutely splendid.  With sour cream. (A figure approaches, also an angel, but obviously of higher rank, wearing a gold chain of Tudor office. It is, in fact, St. Thomas More.) Then I went back a week later and ordered the same thing, and it was truly horrible.

(St. Thomas whispers in Dr. Bushmills’ ear.)

Oh, George.  It’s wonderful talking to you, but I’ve just been reminded of why I called.  It’s a special dispensation, you know, so I have to get to the point and get off the line. Do you remember our last conversation?  Before this one?

GEORGE: Yes, of course. You were dying of cancer. I called you again, but you couldn’t talk.

BUSHMILLS: And you had the nurse hold the telephone to my ear, and you read to me from the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll never forget that, George. Literally.  It was one of the best things I’ve known you to do.  Very kind. But I mean the previous conversation when I could still talk, though not very well.

GEORGE: Yes, I remember well.

BUSHMILLS: Good, George. And you remember I asked you to do something for me?

GEORGE: Yes.  You asked me to finish your book.  The last four pages.

BUSHMILLS: That’s right. And what happened?

GEORGE: Well, good Lord, Dr. Bushmills.  I’m sorry, but that was an impossible request.  When you asked me to do it I just assumed that I would get your working draft and your notes, and I was willing to do what I could with that material.  Knowing you, I expected the book would be almost done, but…

BUSHMILLS: What happened, George?

GEORGE:  Well, I received word of your death and talked to the nurse briefly, and she said she would write me later.  I sent my condolences to your relatives out West, and I thought some arrangement would be made.  But no one ever got in touch with me, so, about a year later, I tried to contact someone, and all I could find out from your people was that they had had some personal problems and couldn’t deal with this issue.  Someone did tell me that in the process of moving your property across the country things had gotten mixed up and that the laptop your secretary had used to save the text of your book had been damaged.  I wrote a letter explaining my situation and your request to me and my promise to you, and I provided my contact information.  I also had to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to get credit for publishing your work, so I suggested that if your family didn’t want me to finish the book they should get someone else to do it.  And I also told them the truth that I was working on a book of my own and it would not be easy for me to take on the task you had requested.

BUSHMILLS: All right, and?

GEORGE: And that was that.  No one ever got in touch.  About a year later, I wrote your friend Eric McDonald in Athens, and he did some checking and wrote me that your family had found your handwritten manuscript, or a working draft of some kind, but that their lives were full of distractions and that it didn’t seem likely to him that they would be able to help.  So I wrote them a letter simply saying that I wanted to keep my promise and would be willing to do so if possible, but I understood that they might not want me to proceed.  I said that would be my last communication on the subject unless they wanted me to help.  And they never responded.

BUSHMILLS: Uh, George?

GEORGE: Yes, sir.

BUSHMILLS: I have someone with me here. He can’t talk to you, but he’s asked me to tell you not to give up on this.

GEORGE: Who is it?

BUSHMILLS: Well, who was my book about? (Chuckles.)

GEORGE: I don’t believe it.

BUSHMILLS: Oh ye of little faith… (He and his companion smile and shake hands.)

GEORGE: It isn’t Sir Thomas More?

GEORGE: Saint. Saint Thomas More. A saint outranks a mere sir, at least up here.

GEORGE: Is this a joke?

BUSHMILLS: All earthly things are a joke, sort of. I thought you said you had read my book on Erasmus.

GEORGE: Well, I read most of it.

BUSHMILLS: So this brings us to the reason for my call, George. You remember how in Hamlet the Ghost reappears in the Queen’s chamber and says “Do not forget. This visitation/Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.” I suppose that’s as good a way of putting it as any other.

GEORGE: But wait a minute, Dr. Bushmills, I can’t finish your book on More, I mean, St. Thomas.  I have no book to finish.  No text, no notes, no nothing.  And to tell you the truth I only have a few scratchy notes from our last conversation, so I’m not sure what you told me to do.

BUSHMILLS: “The readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”

GEORGE: I always wondered about that passage.

BUSHMILLS: So did I, George, so did I.

GEORGE: So this means that you and St. Thomas will be getting back to me on this?

BUSHMILLS: The readiness is all, George.

GEORGE: I can’t believe this.

BUSHMILLS: Have a nice day, George. My best to Mary. Your Mary (Explodes into laughter.).

GEORGE: Thank you, Dr. Bushmills, and my best to Master More.

The angel hangs up, and his spotlight dims to darkness.  George sits, holding the telephone in his hand and looking at it.  After sixty seconds, his spotlight also dims to darkness.