“Mrs. Forbes at school said that when Mother died she had gone to heaven. That was because Mrs. Forbes is very old and she believes in heaven. And she wears tracksuit trousers because she says that they are more comfortable than normal trousers. And one of her legs is very slightly shorter than the other one because of an accident on a motorbike.
But when Mother died she didn’t go to heaven because heaven doesn’t exist.
Mrs. Peters’s husband is a vicar called the Reverend Peters, and he comes to our school sometimes to talk to us, and I asked him where heaven was and he said, “It’s not in our universe. It’s another kind of place altogether.”
The Reverend Peters makes a funny ticking noise with his tongue sometimes when he is thinking. And he smokes cigarettes and you can smell them on his breath and I don’t like this.
I said that there wasn’t anything outside the universe and there wasn’t another kind of place altogether. Except that there might be if you went through a black hole, but a black hole is what is called a singularity, which means it is impossible to find out what is on the other side because the gravity of a black hole is so big that even electromagnetic waves like light can’t get out of it, and electromagnetic waves are how we get information about things which are far away. And if heaven was on the other side of a black hole, dead people would have to be fired into space on rockets to get there, and they aren’t or people would notice.
I think people believe in heaven because they don’t like the idea of dying, because they want to carry on living and they don’t like the idea that other people will move into their house and put their things into the rubbish.
The Reverend Peters said, “Well, when I say that heaven is outside the universe it’s really just a manner of speaking. I suppose what it really means is that they are with God.”
And I replied, “But where is God?”
And the Reverend Peters said that we should talk about this on another day when he had more time.
What actually happens when you die is that your brain stops working and your body rots, like Rabbit did when he died and we buried him in the earth at the bottom of the garden. And all his molecules were broken down into other molecules and they went into the earth and were eaten by worms and went into the plants and if we go and dig in the same place in 10 years there will be nothing except his skeleton left. And in 1,000 years even his skeleton will be gone. But that is all right because he is a part of the flowers and the apple tree and the hawthorn bush now.
When people die they are sometimes put into coffins, which means that they don’t mix with the earth for a very long time until the wood of the coffin rots.
But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burned and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn’t ask at the crematorium because I didn’t go to the funeral. But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up into the sky and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds over Africa or the Antarctic, or coming down as rain in the rain forests in Brazil, or in snow somewhere.”
Mark Haddon, The curious incident of the dog in the night-time