by Alan Frackelton
“So how was the party?”
“Hectic. Lots and lots and lots of people. I had a great time.”
“Glad to hear it. Sorry again I couldn’t make it. Stuff to do.”
“Yeah, you said. Wanna let me in on the secret now?”
“I’ll think about it. Did you see much of Neil?”
“Of course. It was his party.”
“Right. So are you coming over tonight?”
“Sure. What time?”
“Okay. See you then.”
* * *
Danny had been planning this for over a month. The perfect gift for Maxine. He was sitting on the sofa when she called, sitting forward, looking at it, a tall dark wooden box that might have contained an expensive bottle of... something. Wine maybe. Or champagne. But that wasn’t what it contained. Although now, after the phone call, he thought that a bottle of champagne was a good idea.
It was a quarter past three. He’d suggested about seven, which really meant half past, because Maxine was never on time for anything. So he had plenty of time. He could get the champagne at the off licence at the bottom of the road. The thing in the box, his gift for her, had been expensive, but he could still afford a decent bottle of Moët.
After all, tonight would be a celebration.
* * *
Danny met Maxine four months ago, at one of Neil’s parties. He didn’t believe in love at first sight, but still, he’d known. Nothing happened that night, and he didn’t see Maxine again for nearly a week, but he’d been thinking about her, and he told her that, and then something happened. Later she used the word amazed as if it terrified her. But she was smiling.
One night she asked him about dreams. He told her about the only dream he could remember. I was somewhere, a forest, and there was an itch under my skin that didn’t hurt but I couldn’t stand it, I started to scratch at my belly where the itch was until it bled but even then it didn’t hurt, it felt wonderful. When the wound was big enough thousands of butterflies poured out of it, out of me, they just kept coming and coming until the forest was filled with them. Then I woke up.
“If I had that dream,” Maxine said, touching precisely the place on her own belly, “it would be angels.”
She spoke the word “angels” as if it was the word “amazed.”
* * *
About a week after that, Maxine showed up at Danny’s flat. It was a surprise; she had told him she’d be busy that day. As soon as she was through the door she said, “Shh. Just watch.” He watched her turn around, take off her top, and then turn to face him again.
Dozens of tiny angels and butterflies poured up out of a wound in her stomach. Swallow tails and monarchs and pale clouded yellows. Azaziel and Gabriel and Sammael. “You can touch them,” Maxine said. “The guy told me the colours will hold for about twelve hours. After that they just wash off.”
Later, after she had named all the angels for him, she told Danny the story of the Petrified Angel. What it was. What it could do. There was a rhyme she’d read in a book, years ago. She couldn’t remember all of it. “If love be true,” she said, “It cannot harm you.” Something like that. Then Danny kissed the colours on her stomach again, and she closed her eyes.
* * *
Tomorrow was Maxine’s birthday.
He had found the perfect gift for her.
* * *
Danny had hunted everywhere for it, not even sure if it really existed. It took time, and money; all of his savings, and eventually he even had to sell his car. But a few days before Maxine’s birthday he called a certain phone number, and he was asked certain questions, which he did his best to answer. Finally the voice on the other end of the line gave him an address, and a day and a precise time when he was to be there. Be careful, the voice said. Then Danny hung up.
The first time he saw it, in the back room of a shop in the East End of London, he experienced his only moment of doubt. What he was looking at was so beautiful, frozen grey skin and wings under a dome of glass, and those eyes, waiting. He had to look away in order to remember what he knew. But after that it was easy. Danny said yes. And the bargain was sealed.
* * *
It was twenty-five past seven when Maxine arrived. Smiling, she blamed delays on the Northern line. She kissed Danny with all of her mouth and the tips of her fingers on the back of his neck, no pressure at all but contact that moved like fire through him. She started to remove her jacket but stopped when she saw the box.
“You remembered!” She kissed him again. “Can I open it now?”
“Of course you can. I want you to. That’s why I asked you to come over.”
“Look at this. Champagne too. It’s wonderful.”
She sat down and started to examine the box, placing her hands on it.
“Do you see those metal clips, at the bottom of each side? Slide them across, and then you can lift the box free. Be careful though. There’s glass underneath.”
Danny was aware of her hands, how carefully they moved, but he was watching her face. She undid three of the clips and then looked up at him and then unclipped the fourth. She gripped the sides of the box and started to lift it.
There was light on the clean curved edge of the glass. There was light beneath the glass. And then the light was everywhere.
It happened in an instant. Maxine touched the glass, gasping. The moment her fingers made contact the glass shattered, and then all that light was everywhere, in the room, surrounding them.
And the Angel opened Its mouth and screamed.
* * *
It had been an accident, finding out that Maxine was still sleeping with Neil. Danny had had some spare time one afternoon and decided to spend it with her. She’d told him she’d be working from home that day, but she wasn’t answering her phone, he called twice to say he was on his way but each time all he got was her voice mail.
He had to park at the top of her road, and he was still sitting behind the wheel of his car when her front door opened, and then Maxine appeared, followed by Neil. She kissed Neil, her fingers on the back of his neck, and Neil’s hand moved over her T-shirt, then under it, where the angels had been, and she moved like she was laughing. Neither of them noticed Danny. He watched Neil drive away and Maxine go back inside, closing the door. Then he drove home.
* * *
Afterwards, he found Maxine lying twisted on her side on the broken glass beneath the coffee table. Petrified, her face still held the shock of what he had done. The grey dry sticks of her arms frozen in her last effort to defend herself.
Danny picked her up. He held her.
The Angel, Its heart renewed by love, spoke his name.
Before he even turned around, he felt Its breath on him.
Copyright © 2007 by Alan Frackelton