Heaven On Earth by Z.N. Han

Artwork by @Rachcreates_

Time moves like molasses sliding down the side of a jar – in a good way. 

She sure as hell had known her fair share of molasses moments that were not of the positive variety. But as time once again slows down in that inexplicable way, the former assassin feels a peace she had never known before. A pair of brown eyes stare blearily up at her, tiny mouth poised to begin wailing but hesitates, for just a second, to wonder at the wide smile looming above and trails of tears sliding down rough cheeks.

Sometimes, a woman takes a bullet and wakes up the next day only to wish the bullet would have killed her. 

She feels those regretful moments sitting deep in her bones, weighing her down with shame and disgust – and yet something pure and wonderful exists solely because of her. How to reconcile the good and the bad, the black and the white, the terror with the joy… life is a never-ending mystery. 

A new weight sits on her chest now, one that is small and warm and does not like to be moved once she’s been lulled to sleep. Without reason or explanation, the world is anew in soft pastel blankets and tinkling mobiles, 3 a.m. feedings, adorable peach fuzz, and soft stolen kisses on the chubbiest cheeks imaginable.

She tries not to think about having to explain her past, the moment it catches up to her and her newfound paradise. 

“One day, you’ll learn I was a monster,” she says to her daughter.

“But really, I’m just a human — who gets scared, who hurts people, who loves …” her voice always trails off.

She knew little of tenderness before becoming a mother. Her world before was mostly rough edges — the snapping of necks, the echo of a gunshot, too many bruises and brushes with death to count.

It was a living. It was a method of survival. 

But mostly, it was torture.

“I … I didn’t want to be that,” she chokes out.

But did it matter? She did those things — tortured those people, ended those lives, disposed of those bodies. Even if coerced, it was her finger on the trigger.

The baby just gurgles happily.

The former assassin clutches her daughter closer. She allows herself to imagine the joy her own existence brought to parents she never knew. A fleeting spark of hope that grew into the twisted human she would become.

“Mama?” the sound jolts her back to the present. A first word.

Time slows again. She tries to remember everything about the moment, from the dying light of the day to the hand-knit rainbow onesie. It was all brilliant and painfully beautiful, more than her weary and marred soul could handle or thought it deserved. 

Sitting on the floor of the nursery with her daughter, who smiles with drool dripping down her face, the woman thinks maybe redemption is not correcting wrongs but rather living a better life tomorrow than she did the day before.

Is heaven a place on earth? One of her trainers had once asked her that very question, right before knocking her to the ground for insubordination. She thought for sure that she knew hell was. But one cannot exist without the other, so maybe all her time spent in purgatory was finally paying off.

Z.N. Han is a writer and news junkie based in Chicago. A compulsive podcast-listener and Netflix-binger, she enjoys listening to episodes of This American Life and watching TV shows like Parks and Recreation, as well as other similar breaking-of-the-fourth-wall type comedies. When she’s not writing or being a couch potato, she spends her time hanging out with her pet bunny Cookie.

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