by Beverly Forehand
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
I really want a cigarette right about now, but I fight the urge and turn over the engine. It purrs, swear to God, purrs and starts without a hitch for once in its sorry mechanical life. And then I notice that the A/C is actually working and even the seats seem a lot more comfortable.
Sure. It makes sense. Archangels, they’re the rock stars of the celestial realm. And the one thing that They always demand is perfection. I don’t know what gave it away first — the perfect hair, the tight white leather, or the flaming Sword. A toss-up, really. But, any fool knows perfection when he sees it. So, I shift into “D” and off we go on our merry adventure.
And although I wasn’t really expecting any sort of explanation, I unfortunately got one.
“I know you’re not one for rules, Chuck,” She says, “So I expect this little task will be a walk in the park for you.”
I say nothing and keep my eyes on the road. I’ve found it’s best not to commit early on.
“Well,” She says confidentially, “I have always been one for rules, as it were, and I have to say that I really, really don’t care for this situation.” She smiles. “But, as they say, we all have to do our jobs, whether we like them or not.”
“Really?,” I ask, “And I don’t suppose you could clue me in on just what my job is, could you, Red?”
She smiles, “Red, I like that.” She says, “It’s mildly charming. And well, yes, I guess I could fill you in, as you say. We’re having a problem with the rules — or some of US are, anyway. I should say that I’m wholly against this, Chuck, but I do follow the rules, so when I’m told to do something, I do it. No questions asked.”
“Funny,” I say, “but it sounded a bit like a question was in there somewhere.”
She says nothing but gestures with her Sword, still flaming, but of course, not ruining the interior, “It was so simple in the beginning, wasn’t it, Chuck?” She asks. “Just the Word and the Sword and the Rules. That’s all there were. You obeyed or you faced the Wrath of the Divine. But now it’s gotten, oh so complicated.”
I shrug. “Nostalgia can be a bitch. Life has always seemed pretty damn complicated to me — past and present.”
“Yes,” she says, “I suppose, but at least they used to fear. You know, the common man. We had that, at least.”
I push in my lighter, but it doesn’t seem to be working, and I can only imagine what will happen if I try to light a cigarette on the Sword. Nothing good, I can tell you.
I just drive, and after a while She says, “Stop. Here.”
So I do. We’re in front of a building that looks like it should’ve been condemned, but of course it isn’t. There’s a kid with a dog, both kind of skittish looking, sitting on the stairs outside, but he hustles off when he sees my car stop.
There’s just something wrong with the building that can’t be explained by decay and the general malaise of the place. It’s as if the air has gone bad, and when I look at Her, She has this sad, half-smile on her face. “You know, Chuck,” She says, “They say there’s a place for everyone in Heaven and Hell, but that just isn’t true.”
“No,” She says, “And what do you do when Heaven won’t have you and Hell doesn’t want you?”
“I ask myself that question every day.”
“I suppose you do.”
“I guess there’s some particular reason we’re stopped here,” I say.
Red just sits there, staring ahead. Then finally she nods. “Here’s the thing, Chuck,” she says slowly, “There are rules. You know? And the rules are there for a reason. But then there’s Right and Wrong too. And sometimes when you play by the rules, you can’t be Right or Wrong.” She looks at me with that intense stare and I almost think for a minute that She looks, well, kind of sad.
“So what rule or rules do you want me to break?”
She smiles again. “Always right to the point, eh, Chuck? That’s just it exactly. There’s even a name these Mortals have for it — a loophole, I think.”
All I can think at this point is that I really, really want a cigarette. I just can’t find anything to do with my hands, and this is a time that would usually merit a long drag. Instead, I just put both hands on the steering wheel and look straight ahead.
“I’m not asking you to break any rules, Chuck. Really, it’s not as if you have any rules to break. It seems as if you generally do as you please. And let’s face it, you always have. If you hadn’t, then you might be sitting right where I am right now. There was a time, Chuck...”
“I didn’t know we were here to reminisce. Just get on with it. Whatever it is that you don’t want to do, or you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t do. Whatever it is that you think you want me to do instead. Just spit it out.”
Instead, She opens the car door and steps into the street. And I follow Her into the building. It’s just about what I expected, given the outside of the place. Peeling paint, scuffed floors, graffiti, and that general feeling of utter despair that you get from places like these. There’s a carved a banister at the end of the hall that hasn’t been polished in half a century, and you know that this place really has seen better days. Maybe in the 1920’s it was really something. A real showplace. And the folks that lived here were on top of everything. Even buildings can fall from grace, I think.
So, we climb right up the stairs and walk to the end of the hall, kicking pizza boxes and last week’s trash out of the way as we go. Finally, Red stops in front of a door and nods.
I really take a look. That’s the thing about being what we are. If we want to, we can look right down to the grain. This place had the stink of evil. Real evil.
It’s the kind of place that children and animals shy away from. The kind of place where even the Jehovah’s Witnesses wouldn’t have the balls to ring the doorbell. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, but its “unrightness” hangs in the air like demented static electricity. Even I, Chuck the Demon, don’t want to knock on that door.
But the Angel with the flaming Sword gives me a nudge, and I find myself knocking. Even if I didn’t already know something was wrong, I would when the door opens right up, just like he’s been waiting. Just like he’s glad to see us. He’s even smiling — at least, that’s what I guess that twist of the mouth is that he’s making. And then he invites me in. The Angel follows.
That’s the thing about Angels. Not just anyone can see them. Sure, they can be seen when they want to. But they can’t hide themselves from some: children, saints, and madmen. I can tell by the way that this guy is being careful not to look over my right shoulder that he knows perfectly well that Someone holding a flaming piece of steel is standing right behind me. But he’s deciding to be “nonchalant,” so I figure what the hell, I’ll just play along.
Despite the fact that I’m standing in the middle of his apartment, this guy just keeps smiling. He doesn’t even ask what the Hell I’m doing here, which would’ve been number one on my need to know list. Anyone can see there’s something seriously amiss with this fellow. He isn’t exactly a personable madman. You’d never hear his neighbors saying, “He was such a nice quiet man. I would never have imagined that he could do such things.” One look at this guy just sets you to imagining, and you can tell he’s imagining, too.
“You were the Angel of Death,” She says behind me.
“You know what that entails,” I say. “It’s no more than a pick-up job.”
“Still,” She says, “You are a Demon, Chuck, and you were an Angel. There are some things that are never forgotten.”
I say nothing, but when I turn She’s holding out the Sword. “I could tell you,” She says, “I could show you what is, and was, and is to come. But, I think you already know all that.”
“Its not my job,” I protest. “You know that.”
“Yes,” She says, “I do know. But, it is Right.”
“Then you can do it.”
She just shakes her head. “It’s Wrong, too, and that’s where you come in.”
All the time, the maniac just keeps staring at me and Her and the Sword. Only his eyes move, except for the funny little twist of his lips. I close my eyes and feel the Sword slide into my hands, just like old times, and the flame on it stays true against all odds. “This isn’t fair,” I say to everyone and no one.
And right before I swing she says, “Nothing ever is.”
When it’s done, we walk out of the apartment and I notice that She’s careful to shut the door behind Her. The lock clicks with an unnatural loudness and I realize that I can hear my own breath. Hers too.
The Sword is dull now. I try to hand it back to Her, but She shakes her head. So, I carry it downstairs and put it in the trunk of the car. It lies there, just a piece of gleaming metal. Still, it bothers me a little to close the trunk on it.
We drive for a while in silence. Until I flick on the radio, but we’re between stations, so I turn it back off. She sits, staring dead ahead at first and then turns her head to watch me.
I punch in the cigarette lighter and give it a second or two and then light up. She doesn’t say anything, but I can see her make a polite little cough into her hand. “You did the Right thing, Chuck.”
The thing is, I know that. It was the right thing, but it wasn’t the fair thing. Even though I may break the rules all the time, I know in my little black heart that they’re there for a reason. And they’re there for everyone, good and bad. That’s why they’re the rules.
“This won’t be forgotten, Chuck,” She says.
But we’re in front of my apartment, so I just get out of the car and start walking.
She follows me up, of course, right into my apartment and stands there looking perfect and divine. There’s something so utterly devoid of all reason, of all mercy, of all hope in Her that I just look away.
But finally, I have the courage to say it. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you since we first met,” I say.
The Angel is quiet, but looks at me with that earnest, intense stare that She has, just daring me to continue.
So, I take a breath and figure, hey, what the Hell, so I say, “It’s just this — I really, really hate you.”
The Angel smiles, really smiles, for the first time since I’ve met Her. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“I’m not surprised,” I say.
She smirks, “Yeah, well, I bet you thought you were the first.”
“Don’t think this lets you off the hook,” she says, “You still work for US.”
I nod, “Yeah, I guess you Both have me on retainer.”
She turns and walks through the door that I have to say I don’t remember her ever opening, but there it was, open. She stands for a moment in the frame, letting the dramatic lighting of the dying day catch all her best angles. “I’ll see you soon, Chuck.”
I let the door slam before I say, “God, I hope not.” But I know She heard me just the same.
Copyright © 2007 by Beverly Forehand