An Angel Stepped Down By LaMonte Henderson
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Rated "R" by the Author.
Story of a man and his unwanted guardian angel.
The angel started babbling again but this time I paid him little attention.
He sat lopped-sided on the barstool (somehow making a fool of Newton and his law of gravity) with his fiery red locks of short cropped hair jutting from his slender head at weirdly twisted angles. Sort of like a scarecrow whose straw hair gets caught in a strong gust of wind. It doesn’t quite fall back into place. It just stands there sticking out in all directions. And just like the scarecrow, I bet the angel couldn’t give a shit less.
He wore a puke green cotton shirt complimented by a necktie consisting of every color imaginable (and quite a few I could never imagine even in my worst nightmare, where did he get that thing anyway?). The shirt was tucked haphazardly into a dirty, faded pair of Levi’s 501’s with a small hole in the crotch. Covering his feet were a soiled pair of L.A. Gears. On the stool beside him was a leather motorcycle jacket with a huge Guns-N-Roses logo spray painted on the back.
His puny head hovered over a quarter full glass of Harvey Wallbanger (his seventh) and his screaming tie swam contently in the glass before him. Luckily, I could only see the top of his head, a small side glimpse of his glistening forehead and the solitary pimple bulging with greenish-yellow pus protruding from it. I was spared the view of that eerie baby face and those weird eyes that constantly changed color.
Like I said before, he was babbling. Babbling like some drunkard on skid row. He’d been babbling constantly ever since we left my house and stepped inside the bar. He had a sickly smell of sour milk about him and when he spoke a sordid, slightly stale cloud of air assaulted the nostrils. He looked like a yuppie bum and he was really beginning to piss me off. As if my day hadn’t been bad enough. Here I was sitting next to a yuppie-bum in a puke-green shirt and psychedelic tie, in a pair of filthy 501’s with a hole in the crotch (which he toyed with constantly much to my dismay) that stank AND had halitosis AND was supposed to be an angel! CHRIST! And looking at those dirty fuck’in shoes on his feet, they probably stank also.
I was debating whether he’d forgotten whom the hell I was when he turned and stared at me with those strange eyes (at the moment they were a murky brownish-orange and tear stricken). He opened his mouth to say something but snapped it shut after blurting out inarticulate grunts and barely audible sobs.
Shooting me a look of disgust, he snatched his tie out of the glass and wrung it out on the floor. Then he downed the rest of his drink and slammed the empty glass down on the counter. The bartender, an overweight man with shiny bald head and nickel glasses, glanced our way but said nothing. Instead, he grabbed a dingy towel and began drying glasses.
“… the fuck’in wimps,” the angel spat out, “pretty shitty, huh?”
“What?” I asked but it seemed not to register in that drunken brain of his. He continued he rant.
“And now I’m stuck down here trying to save your stupid ass,” he continued, “and no one up there really gives a shit! Wimps, all of them, No offense J.C. but the rest of them, WIMPS!”
He turned his attention towards the bartender.
“Hey Goldilocks! Gimme a fuck’in drink will ya! What? … Oh, I don’t give a shit. Hey, what’s that green stuff? Yeah, well is it strong? Okay, gimme a double.”
“Listen buddy,” I said but the angel didn’t respond. He was busy watching the bartender mix his drink. Shortly, Goldilocks sat a glass in front of the angel, threw him a quick look of distaste and went back to drying glasses.
“Listen Buddy,” I repeated, “I don’t give a shit about your heavenly problems. Looks like your problems are more earthly to me; Insanity, alcoholism. Man, you really need to get some professional help. And what about this suicide crap! Who the hell said I ever wanted to plaster my brains against some wall? Shit, I’m scared of guns. Never touched one and never…”
But let me start at the beginning. Every story has a beginning, right? Before I met the bum or angel if you prefer, is probably the best place to start. I mean, that’s when the shit really hit the fan.
I awoke at four in the morning to the surprising and absolutely nerve shattering sound of slamming drawers and breaking dishes. Annie had finally decided that she’d had enough of my shit, to put it her own words. It was the same old story. Same song and dance, same shit different day and she was absolutely positively one hundred and ten percent tired of it. I saw an open suitcase in the bedroom bulging with clothes. I noticed her big-girl panties on top and reality finally set in. She never took those things anywhere.
Being the male that I am and still half asleep, I made the stupid mistake of asking her “what?” That’s when all hell broke loose.
I was good enough to fuck but not good enough to marry. Why shouldn’t we tie the knot? After all, we’d been living together for over five years now! Five fuck’in years and no fuck’in ring! What the fuck did I think she was? No, she wouldn’t listen. What? I wanted my what? Freedom? Well hell, I should have said that five fuck’in years ago! No, she wouldn’t be fuck’in patient! What the fuck do I think she’d been all these years? No, she wouldn’t keep her FUCK’IN VOICE DOWN! No, she wouldn’t put the suitcase down! I needed to go fuck myself and some other tramp who wanted to waste five fuck’in years for fuck’in nothing! I should go to …Blah …Blah …Blah!
And gone she was.
Later, I got fired from my job at the airport.
After that they repossessed my car.
To put it bluntly, it was truly one fucked up day.
Then I met the angel.
I was sitting at the shuttle stop of the main entrance to the airport waiting for the bus to parking lot D.I was hoping that someone I knew came along so I could bum a cigarette (I’d smoked my last one in the Ramp Crews’ Supervisor’s office about half an hour ago) but of course the people I knew were still working.
The ramp crew supervisor’s name was Jens Muller. He was German. He was also as old as dirt and tough as nails. Nobody knew his real age and hardly anyone knew what the fuck he was saying when he spoke. He had a thick, husky accent when mixed with English created a language all his own. Mullish, some of us called it.
“What did old Jens say? How the hell do I know? I don’t speak Mullish!” It was something commonly heard among the ramp crew, that is, when Jens wasn’t around. Now, the old German prick had quite a few nasty habits. For one, it seemed as if he believed the ramp equipment, luggage, personnel, hell, even the planes and flight crews belonged to him. Everything was his own personal possessions. This of course caused many problems. Not so much by itself, mind you, but mixed with Mullish something simple and harmless could very swiftly become volatile. It didn’t help much that he sprayed a thin mist of spittle when he spoke, either.
Earlier, I had made a remark about his drooling problem after we’d gotten into a pissing match about why KLM flight 237 was taking a delay. He said it had to be OUR fault, that we lost the luggage. I pointed out to him the small fact that the luggage never got here in the first place, that it was still in Spain and that the plane is late because the pilot got sick from all that cocaine and No-Doze he took. And after finally getting fed up with trying to decipher what ever the hell he said, I told him to fuck off and go back to Krautland among other things. Needless to say, an hour and two cigarettes later there remained an empty wall locker, an open position as a ramp agent and an unemployed person sitting at a bus stop who had a strong resemblance to me.
Life could be a real bitch sometimes.
The parking lot D shuttle pulled up and I hopped on. I took a seat in the back next to a window and threw my tote bag on the seat beside me. Aimlessly, I gazed around for someone I knew so I could bum cigarette. Of course none of them had told Jens about his little drooling problem so they still had their little wall lockers, their shitty little uniforms, their shitty little ID cards and most of all their shitty little checks. They were getting ready for Hawaiian Airlines flight 337 and not craving a cigarette on a shuttle bus full of Asian tourists with dead cameras hanging around their skinny necks.
I got off one stop earlier at the RTD bus terminal, not because it was closer but because the smell of raw fish and sweat was overpowering.
I went to the toilet and on the way out tried to bum a smoke from this skateboard freak but he informed me, “I ain’t got no smokes dude. That shits poison.” and skated off.
I walked the one block to parking lot D and headed for row H to start the daily routine of searching for my car. Somehow, it always seemed to be in another spot other than the one you believed you parked it in. Did it suddenly decide somewhere around that it would be loads of fun to watch asshole look for you two rows away? Or did the parking lot signs change letters every so often to break up the monotony of staring at dead cars.
Who the hell knew? I guess it was one of life’s mysteries.
I had searched rows H, I, J and was about to start on row K when I heard this voice (it sounded like one of those surfer dudes from Santa Monica) say, “You can stop looking dude. The Repo-Boys, like, made your day.”
I whirled around and saw this kid in a puke-green shirt and screaming tie leaning against a lightpost in row J. I could have sworn the parking lot was empty a moment ago. But then again, I could have sworn I would be working flight 267 from Singapore today.
Slowly, I started walking towards the guy and as I got closer I thought I saw something hovering over his head. I quickly dismissed it as a reflection from the sun or a trick of the light or something of that nature and stopped a few feet in front of the kid. He was still leaning against the lightpost, his hands thrust into his hip pockets. A black leather motorcycle jacket lay at his feet and dark sunglasses hid his eyes.
“You say something?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He replied and looked up at a passing plane. He watched the plane as it made it’s landing approach and disappeared from sight then pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his front pocket and stuck one between his lips.
“Got a light?” he asked.
“Got a smoke?” I countered.
He gave me one and I lit both our cigarettes, letting the nicotine and tar cut my life short a few minutes more before blowing out bluish-gray smoke. We stood silent for a few minutes, him staring up into the sky and me staring at him. When I could take the silence no longer I said,
“Well what?” he replied.
“Well what, well what? What the fuck did you say!”
I irritably thumped ash to the wind.
“Oh that.” he answered in a flat nonchalant voice, “The Repo-Boys took your ride, man. Did a damned good job too, less than four minutes.”
“What? Repossessed my car? You must be mistaken! I just . . .”
“A black Volkswagen GTI?”
“Tinted windows, a Simple Minds sticker on the right rear windshield?”
“Special edition chrome rims with Wolfsburg logos in the center? Red baby shoes dangling from the rearview?”
“Bose audio system?”
Less than four minutes, dude. Damned good job. Didn’t even scratch the paint when they hauled it on the flatbed. Guys were sure pros. The next bus leaves in ten minutes.”
He turned his face back toward the sky to watch another landing plane.”
I stood dumbfounded for a brief second before reality slapped me like a pimp.
“Wait! … Wait just a fuck’in minute. Who the fuck are you and how in the hell…”
“Did I know it was your car?” he finished.
He took a long drag on his cigarette, blew out a few smoke rings and thumped it absently away. He reached down and picked up the leather jacket. I noticed it had a Guns-N-Roses logo spray-painted on the back. I thought I heard him mumble something that sounded like, “They always ask the same stupid thing.” but shrugged it off.
“I also know about Annie,” he stated calmly, “and about Jens and his drooling problem that you just happened to mention to him a little while ago which got you fired, not to mention all about Marla. I know a lot about Marla. She’s part of the reason I’m here. ”
He started walking in the direction of the bus stop.
“We’re going to miss the bus if we don’t hurry.” He stated in passing.
“What the fuck do you mean WE? Who are you? Are you some freak stalker or something? What the hell do you want from me? You must want an ass kick’in or something! Look you fuck’in freak, I’m not having a very good day and I can really do without your stupid shit. Just get the fuck away from me, okay?”
“I’m an angel,” He called out nonchalantly over his shoulder, “and I know these things because I’m here to keep you from splattering your brains against a dingy living-room wall. Now come on, we’ve got work to do.”
“An angel?” I mumbled.
Old Mr. shock was really working overtime today. First Annie, then getting fired, then having my car repossessed and now this. A nut who thinks this is A Wonderful Life. Do I look like Jimmy Steward? See any bridges around here to jump off of? I’m kinda pissed off but not depressed to the point of suicide. Hell, I wasn’t even sad, just a little disappointed. And mostly I was disappointed in myself. When things were going great I had a tendency of screwing them up, just ask Annie.
“You just gonna stand there with your mouth open?” he said in that calm voice. I heard him clearly even though he didn’t turn around and never slowed down. “I’ve told you we got work to do. Besides, the bus will be here soon. ”
“Look angel-boy,” I shouted after him, “I don’t know what mental institute you broke out of but I think you need to go back and get your medication. I think its starting to wear off.”
I turned and started walking in the other direction. Suddenly, I decided that taking the long way home wasn’t such a bad ideal. Also, I thought that having the house to myself wasn’t going to be all that bad either. It would be quiet for a change. I could think about my next move in peace, look for a new job in peace and just be alone to purge the crap clogging my “rational decision making” pathways.
I also made a mental note to lay off the weed. When I chanced a peek over my shoulder, angel-boy wasn’t there. Automatically, I whirled around (probably making sure no one else was there to think I’d escaped from Bellevue Mental Institution more than anything) and quickly surveyed the parking lot.
Angel-boy was nowhere to been seen. Had he been there at all? Was he just a figment of my over-stressed imagination? Was I cracking up? Was I still dreaming?
Yeah, that had to be it I tried convincing myself. This was all a dream. My alarm would go off soon, I’d be shocked back into the real world and Annie would be snoring beside me; I’d go to work to face another day of Jens’s drooling and my car would still be parked in parking lot D when I finished work. Business as usual, same shit different day.
And all this might have been plausible had not I turned around.
“We’re gonna miss the bus.”
“Holy Frick’in Christ!” I screamed.
Angel-boy’s face was just inches away from mine and for the first time I noticed how perfect his skin looked, well, except for a small pimple protruding from his forehead, and how pale he was. He also had a creamy milk smell to him, like puppies or kittens had. But what I noticed most was how eerily young he looked. He reminded me of a life-sized Japanese anime doll.
I took in all of this in a split second.
“Hey man, what the hell’s wrong with you!” I screamed, taking two steps backward.
“I’ve just about had enough of your crap! You like going around talking crazy angel crap and scaring the shit outta people? You think that’s funny, huh? I bet you wouldn’t think it was funny if I were to put these Nikes up your ass! What the hell’s wrong with you? You scared the crap outta me, scheeezzzz!”
“Sorry, I’m still learning how to do that.” He simply said.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity and strangely, my anger just vanished. Poof! It was gone just like that. It’s hard to explain but all of a sudden I felt like this kid could be an angel. Don’t ask me why, he was definitely not my ideal of what an angel should be like. I thought angels were dressed from head to toe in white, not like some James Dean reject. I couldn’t picture an angel smoking Lucky Strikes. I thought angels were holy and biblical and talked like the people in those ancient roman movies. Oh my Son, thou hast forsaken thy Father. Stuff like that. Angels didn’t say words like “dude” and phrases like “hey, man”. And most of all, I thought angels had wings.
We kept staring at one another.
What if this kid was an angel? What if his prophecy was true ? Was I going to become so depressed from all of this crap going on in my present life that I’d go down to the nearest Pawn Shop, purchase a gun and blown my head to mush? That was hard to believe. I really hated guns. No, that wasn’t true , I was deathly afraid of them. So much power in such a compact contraption. It was scary. Any idiot could pull a trigger and you’d be another statistic. Violent crime ran amuck in Los Angels and guns could be bought on just about on every street corner. The cops would never get the situation under control, gang warfare was spreading and anybody could be a target. I could hear some hardened Officer making his report now,
“Yeah we got another one down here. Your tell’in me, that’s twelve this week, Lopez. Better call the body bag boys. What? Don’t know. Poor sap just got his brains splattered all over the kitchen wall.”
I’d be just another notch on Los Angeles’s violent crime totem pole. Black male found dead in apartment because his girlfriend left him, he got fired, his car got repossessed and he’s one hell of an unlucky bastard, story at eleven.
Angel-boy didn’t move. He seemed to be looking me over but it was hard to tell with those dark glasses. I continued to stare at him and a million questions raced through my mind but one kept pushing it’s way towards my mouth begging to be asked.
“If you’re an angel, where are your wings?”
Angel-boy’s shoulders slumped and he let out an audible sigh. His weight shifted effortlessly to his left side and he shoved his left hand into his back pocket again. In his right, he still held his leather jacket.
“I knew you were going to ask me that! Why does everyone wanna see wings? Where are your wings? Where are your wings (he said this in a baby’s voice)? I guess you wanna see me in white robes and a halo too.”
“Well?” I asked, “Haven’t earned them wings yet, halo doesn’t fit anymore? Are your white robes in the cleaners?” and burst out laughing.
“Look man, I was sent down here to save you, not to be humiliated by your sorry ass. I didn’t want to come down here anyway. But if J.C. says you go save asshole from doing this or that, you don’t ask questions, okay? You just get down there and do what He tells you to.”
“No wings, huh? Probably because of that potty mouth.” I started laughing again.
“Okay, okay. If I show you my wings can we get this show on the road?”
“If you show me some wings, I’ll do whatever you want me to.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Did this psycho actually believe he was an angel?
My brief moment of stupidity in thinking this kid could actually be an angel had passed and I was really starting to have some fun. My day was beginning to look a bit brighter already.
Angel-boy slowly raised both his hands toward the skies and brought them together in a slowly arching circle. He stood that way for a moment and when nothing happened I started to say something smart-assed but thought better of it. Slowly he lifted head skyward and began to quietly chant something. I had no ideal what he was chanting but the sound reminded me of this documentary I had seen about Stonehedge. It brought to mind to mind Druids and magicians, mystical powers from a long gone people.
I took another step backward.
From behind him, two large, white triangular shaped objects slowly spread into wings to either side. They flapped once then hung suspended. Angel-boy lowered his head and hands and a wry smirk slowly spread across his slender face.
“How’s that Mr. Comedian? Those white enough for ya?”
Words that seemed dying to spew forth a few seconds ago suddenly sparked and died in my throat. All I could manage was a weakly and sickly, “Wow!”
My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. My heart started racing like crazy. My legs felt like steel girders and my feet like cement blocks. I felt light-headed and short of breath. All I could do was stare at those wings. The world surrounding me started to disappear. They looked so smooth and pure white, so majestic, so imperial, so…
“Wait a second,” I spat out, taking a step towards Angel-boy and looking a bit closer, “those are paper wings!”
“PAPER WINGS!” Angel-boy screamed at me. “PAPER WINGS! What the…? You know how hard I had to work to earn these frick’in things? And you, Mr. Oh, I’m sooooo sad, Oh, I don’t know what to do now that she’s gone, go and disrespect ‘em and call ‘em paper! What are you, a wing expert? Maybe you should just blow your fric…”
“Well, if their not paper,” I interrupted, “where’s the feathers, huh? Wings have feathers every idiot knows that. Yours look like white cardboard or something. What’d you do, make ‘em in angel craft class and glue ‘em on? Come here, let me see.”
I advanced towards Angel-boy.
“Hey, get your filthy hands away from my wings!” he shouted, quickly throwing up both his hands in an effort to ward me off and took two steps backward.
“What’s the matter? You scared they might fall off if I touch them?”
“Fall off! Wings don’t fall off, stupid! I had to go through the services just like all the other angels. What do you think this is some sort of…”
“Well, let me see.” I interrupted.
I took another step forward and reached my hand toward his wings.
Angel-boy took another step back and stopped, then he cocked his head for a brief moment, concentrating on God knew what and spat out,
“Bat wings don’t have feathers, idiot. Neither do insect wings nor flying squirrel wings nor flying fish wings or, flying lizard wings…”
“Okay! Okay!” I said, “You’ve made your point.”
Silence. We took to staring at each other again and angel-boy seemed visibly relieved.
“Can I still touch ‘em?” I asked.
Angel-boy sighed deeply.
“Well okay, you can touch ‘em just this once. And I’m warning you! Don’t try to pull ‘em off either! You have no ideal how much that hurts!”
I eagerly closed the distance between us and reached for his wings.
“I’m not playing, man! Just touch ‘em, don’t pull.” Angel-boy warned.
When I reached for his wings they flapped nervously then settled and were still once more. Angel-boy was looked at me from the corner of his eye and I caught a glimpse of a brownish-red eyeball behind those dark glasses.
“And I didn’t say, Oh, I’m sooooo sad, Oh, I don’t know what to do now that she’s gone, either.”
“Well, you still whined like a wus.” Angel-boy said.
“How do you know all this? Were you there this morning, maybe hovering in some corner flapping those paper wings?”
Angel-boy ignored the sarcasm.
“No, I wasn’t there. I’m an angel; we have access to some very important info, if it has to do with one’s case, mind you. Take yours for example. I know all about you. Everything you ever did or said. All I had to do was go to the archives and grab your files once J.C. gave the okay. Remember the time you hid Annie’s video, ‘Waiting to Exhale’, because you wanted to watch the basketball game instead of, how’d you put it, ‘some chick -flick?’” A smirk spread across that baby face. “That wasn’t very nice. It’s all in there, everything.”
I touched one of his wings. It felt very soft, very smooth and very real. It reminded me of a sanded down bird wing. But instead of feathers, a smooth, pure white membrane stretched from the tip of his wing to the small of his back then disappeared into his shirt. Five elongated finger-like appendages began at the top center of his wings and ran the length of them, becoming thinner and ending at the bottom, seeming to merge and disappear. It looked like a huge white bat-wing. It also felt very strong.
“Can you fly?”, I asked.
“Well, that’s a stupid question. What? You these are just for show? Of course I can fly. All angels can fly. But we don’t have time for this nonsense, we’ve got to get started.”
Angel-boy discreetly pulled his wing away from my hand.
“Get started with what? Don’t you just wave your hands or something and everything’s just hunky-dory? Show me the error of my ways and I promise not to do it again?”
“Wave your hands.” Angel-boy mumbled, “No, it doesn’t work like that. Show you the error of your ways is not to far from the truth but I’ll explain that later. For now we’ve got a bus to catch. There’s something at your apartment you have to see.”
“What’s at my…”
“Just come on.”
Angel-boy once again started walking towards the bus stop. Reluctantly, I followed. There was so much I wanted to ask, so much I wanted to say. It wasn’t everyday that an angel, no matter how weird he or she may be, decides to pay you a visit. I hadn’t been to church in such a long time, I’d forgotten what the inside of one looked like. But I did believe in a higher power, always had. I just didn’t think that my not helping the local preacher pay for his new Lexus through my generous donation when the collection plate came around nor me showing up in church every Sunday when I sinned they rest of the week meant that I was damned for all eternity.
I believed that believing in God was not something isolated to the walls of a building. If you believed it was in the heart. He was all knowing, all seeing, right? Well, couldn’t He see the goodness of a person’s heart even if they didn’t go to church every Sunday?What great deed could a church do to you personally if not belonging to their congregation meant you were going to hell? And some of the worst wars in history had been raged in the name of God. I doubted very seriously that God just got pissed one day and said, “Hey, I want you to murder hundreds of thousands of people. Tell ‘em I said it’s in MY NAME. Oh yeah, why you’re at it, burn hundreds of innocent people as witches. You got, Buddy, in MY NAME. Go on now, get busy, there’s a lot of kill ‘in to do.”
While walking towards the bus stop, Angel-boy raised his hands; started chanting again and his wings disappeared. When I caught up to the angel, he had stuck another cigarette in his mouth and was patting his pockets for a lighter. He offered me another; I declined, and gave him my lighter. He lit his cigarette and handed my lighter back. I told him to keep it.
A few minutes later the bus pulled up and we hopped on. I paid for us both and the journey home began. We hardly spoke; Angel-boy seemed content staring out of the grimy window(I had a lot of things on my mind and the silence was fine with me) but had I paid a little more attention to that baby face of his I might have caught a glimpse of what unpleasant events were in store for me. I might have seen Marla and the bad aura that surrounded her. I might have seen the pimps, the dog with the massive head and huge teeth or the filthy living room with blood on the ceiling fan. I saw none of this hidden behind Angel boy’s eyes, of course, and we rode home thinking our own thoughts. But little did I know how intertwined his thoughts were with mine. They were really the same thoughts surrounding the same story, just different versions. Mine were the beginning, his were the in-between. Neither of us knew what the ending would be. He knew one ending to be avoided, but once again, I wasn’t listening.
You see, when you’re caught up in your own self-pity, things sometimes become invisible, for better or worst, and what you think you see sometimes isn’t the thing that’s actually happening. You see a mirage, so to speak. You want it to be there so your mind places it in exactly the right spot to make it believable. You follow me? Let me explain.
Take Marla for instance. I should have seen her coming from a mile away. But as things were, I never did. Maybe it was Annie’s leaving me before the sun even came up this morning or perhaps getting fired by some German with a drooling problem. Maybe it was running into an Angel who smoked Lucky Strikes and God knows (no pun intended) what else he did (I’d find out later that I really underestimated what else he did), but the fact remains; I didn’t even see her coming. What I did see was the type of woman I should avoid like the plague but I’m hopelessly attracted to; the type of woman that has been nothing but trouble for me my whole adult life. The type that had legs for days (I’ve always been a sucker for that), a 38DD chest, small waist line and wide curvy hips with long flowing black hair and large lips painted in dark red lipstick. Simply put, a woman like Jennifer Tilly.
I’m a man, need I say more?
Regardless, the bottom line is this; was I wasn’t paying attention to anything but my own grief. So when things started happening, they really started happening.
When we got to my house, Mrs. Irene (that’s all anyone’s ever called her for as long as I can remember) smiled at me and threw the angel a curious glance from across the mid-height brick fence that separated our properties.
She said nothing. Instead, she continued watering the dead grass she called a lawn and waved a skinny hand our way. An empty glass sat on the front porch and her glasses were slightly askew upon her nose. As she swung the water hose back and forth, wetting more sidewalk than grass, she stumbled and almost fell twice; a sure sign that she’d been drinking again. It was still early, somewhere around eleven thirty, but I knew from experience that by four she’d be plastered, ranting and wanting to kiss and hug and pinch all the cheeks of unsuspecting kids that happened to stray to close. We were all still kids to her, she’d known us since the day we were born and even if we lived to be two hundred and fifteen and a half, she’d still be alive, drinking Vodka and wanting to pinch your cheeks and kiss you, of that I had no doubt.
But somehow the smell of old people and Vodka always turned my stomach and I found out early in life that if you just kept walking, waved your hand like the Queen of England and grinned stupidly as you dashed into the house, you stood a slight chance of making it into your own four walls without becoming a cheek-pinch victim.
And that’s exactly what I did.
The angel on the other hand didn’t have the experience I’d had with Mrs. Irene, so it came as no surprise that he fell for the oldest trick in the book; Mrs. Irene said “hello”.
“Hello yourself,” The angel said as she staggered over to the brick fence.
The water hose hung limply from her liver spotted, gnarled hands. Water dribbled from the end but I don’t think she noticed. She found the angel was a bit more interesting.
“Aren’t you Tammy’s cousin from Idaho?” she said as her head cocked to one side and stared as if her eyes refused to focus. “My God child, look at how you’ve grown. How old are you now? You must be at least sixteen. Come over here and give Aunt Irene a hug.”
The angel paused briefly then shrugged and walked around the fence.
He hugged the old woman.
I was up the stairs and searching for my keys before I noticed the angel wasn’t behind me. I quickly glanced about then walked across the patio and back down the stairs. I looked around and finally spotted him listening intently to Mrs. Irene.
He was sitting on the top step of her front porch holding a tumbler and smiling at her. She sat in her rocker facing him; her lips were moving rapidly and her hands flailed in the air, spilling her drink all over the porch. As I watched them, Mrs. Irene stopped talking and they both looked at me. When I approached them, the angel pointed in my direction and they both burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked when I reached the porch.
“Nothing,” Mrs. Irene said. She was fighting to keep a straight face.
I looked over at the angel. He quickly looked up at the sky.
“What?” I asked again, the agitation in my voice showing a bit more than I expected.
They were both silent.
The angel raised his glass toward Mrs. Irene and downed the contents in one gulp and
I thought I noticed him wink at her.
I looked over at the old woman; she was staring intently at my face.
“What? What’s the matter? I got something on my face?”
Slowly she rose from her rocker and silently walked over to me. She was still staring at my face. She stopped about a foot away from me. Without warning one of her gnarled fingers shot out and poked my cheek. She pushed firmly and a mischievous grin spread across her drunken face. She lowered her hand and looked over her shoulder at the angel then back at me.
When I touched my cheek and looked at them they both burst into hysterical laughter.
“You two are fuck ‘in nuts!” I screamed before whirling around and stomping off.
“See… see …” I heard Mrs. Irene say, “told you he would! Now pay up!”
I glanced back just in time to see the angel hand over a couple of bills to the old woman. She promptly stuffed them into her bra.
“He’s not Tammy’s cousin you know!” I yelled at them then quickly climbed the stairs to my apartment. When I reached the top I looked back again. Mrs. Irene stood alone on the porch. She waved at me with one hand, the other covered her mouth.
“Stupid idiots!” I mumbled.
I opened the front door.
The angel was sitting on the couch. He had his bony legs crossed. A cheetah was chasing an antelope through tall grass on the television. The angel had another cigarette stuck between his lips.
“Nice woman, that Irene lady.” He said as I entered.
“She’s a drunken idiot. You are a fuck’in nutcase! I guess you would think she was nice. Your kind of people, huh?”
I was still pissed, I hated being the laughing stock.
The angel aimed the remote at the television and pressed a button. Some guy dressed like a pimp was about to crack some other guy over the head with a shovel.
“What was that crap all about?” I screamed at him.
The angel giggled.
“She said that you had no sense of humor. She said that if she poked you in the cheek, you’d stomp off like some spoiled little brat. She used to do that to you as a kid, mostly because it really pissed you off, but actually, it was a sort of cheap entertainment. It really pissed you off and she thought it was funny back then. I bet her that you wouldn’t stomp off now but wow, I like, lost and stuff; had to fork over three dollars.”
He aimed the remote at the television and tapped another button.
“You really are humorless; Boss man said it would change, though. I guess it’s gonna take more time than I originally thought.” He said matter-of-factly.
He changed the channel again.
I stood there for a moment.
Perhaps, I was trying to convince myself that this was a bad dream and that I’d wake up eventually. Perhaps, I was simply trying to put into perspective the vast meaning of an angel sitting on your living room sofa channel surfing. Whatever I was pondering at that moment, it didn’t faze the angel. He paid me no attention, but paused briefly at a rerun of Little House on the Prairie and pointed at the screen excitedly.
“Well I’ll be. Michael really was on the Television.” He blurted out. “You know, the last time I was down here they only had black and white television and just a few channels. None of this color cable stuff. Back then I would sometimes catch a glimpse of ‘It’s your Life’ or ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.” He crossed his bony arms, hunched up his shoulders, which made his neck seem to disappear, then stuck out his lips.
“Tonight, we’ve got a really big shooeeww, ladies and gentlemen, a really big shooeeww!”
It was a terrible impression but it was still recognizable.