Says She’s An Angel
I saw her standing outside of a bar on a Thursday night sometime in the late days of winter. She was drunk, I was well on my way, and it seemed like we were both lonely and broken and waiting in the dark for something to fix us. It was raining and there she was, standing alone in the doorway of a watch repair shop across from the bar, dragging on the remains of a cigarette and leaning against the brickwork of the building with her eyes closed. I was being pushed out of the bar, propelled by the owner, who had decided that my hand had no place on his fiancé’s ass, and the force of his last shove put me onto my knees in front of her.
I fell hard and barely felt the kick that found its way into my side as I knelt there looking up at her. She opened her eyes and looked down on me, her eyes bleary but beautiful and her head ringed in cigarette smoke. She stood there against the wall, smoking the last of her cigarette and watching me and all I could do was kneel there, sort of lost in her eyes and without anything to say. She threw the cigarette over my head and then turned her attention back to me.
“I’m not supposed to be here, you know.”
“You’re not? Why’s that?” I replied.
“You see, I’m an angel.”
“Why don’t you go home then?”
She smiled down at me sadly –
“Because I forgot how to fly.”
I heard a commotion behind us and turned in time to see three frat boys as they fell in a jumble atop me, fighting over someone or something they’d forget in the morning. I fell face forward into the mud and by the time I got free she was gone, her halo of smoke and a faint scent of flowers all that remained of her.
I dropped my head, punched my fist into the mud, picked myself up, and headed home.
After that I was doing the bar crawl every day, looking for her. I didn’t know who she was, what her name was, or anything about her but I was drawn just the same. It’s the sort of love at first sight you feel every time you start a new year at grade school and you meet the new girl and you think, yeah, this is the one, this is the one. Or the sort of thing you’d feel at a high school party when you’d end the night making out with some girl in the dark, both of you drunk and sure that this was love but knowing it was something else. And if I had to tell you why I was drawn to her, why I needed to see her again, I dunno that I could tell you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know. I was drawn to her because there was something between us that moment we shared, some fire that I couldn’t extinguish. What that fire was wasn’t for me to question, just to serve.
I spent a month looking for her, my angel, and found nothing. Some nights I’d go alone, some nights I’d go out with friends, but I was out every night that month, searching for her. And after that month I promised my worried friends I’d stop going out so much and start taking better care of myself. See, they thought it was about the booze, which, I guess it sorta was, but it was more about her. It was about that fire. So after that month I’d go out alone, two, three times a week, always looking. Once in a while I’d go home with someone but it never felt right. It felt like I was trying to plug a hole in my heart with something too small. Sure, it was nice, it was whatever, but it was what it was – and that was a fuck. And it wasn’t that I was in love, that this mystery girl was ‘it’, some sort of mythical ‘one’, but in a way she was because she was different. She wasn’t these other girls, so desperate for attention and love and willing to do anything to be told they were pretty. They were sparks next to an inferno.
And so it went.
After the second month I cut my trips to the bars and clubs to a couple times a week, then the third month I stopped going out altogether. It was just pointless. She was gone, and that was that. It felt like a break-up, letting her go, the dream of her, the idea of her, the fire of her, but I had to do it. Fuck. It didn’t feel like a break-up, it felt like death, like the knowledge that someone who was a part of you had died.
It felt like it did when my mother had died.
Or my brother.
Then I met Amy.
I met Amy in the fourth month since I’d seen my angel. She worked for the same company for me and seemed pretty cool, though we’d never really passed more than a couple words the entire time we’d worked there together. My friend Roger was pretty close with Amy and thought we’d hit it off so he set up a dinner party and invited us both and it turns out he was right and that was sorta that. We were together, another sort of fire, not as brilliant but comforting just the same. I was crazy about Amy. She was just such an amazing woman, and had so much going on but no matter how much I cared about her, or devoted myself to her I could never get that angel out of my head.
It felt like my heart was split.
Amy got my heart. This other girl got my soul.
It didn’t leave me with much of anything at all.
It was our six month anniversary and while for most people that doesn’t mean anything but for me and Amy it felt like a big deal. It was a big deal. I was finally getting ready to settle down, she was ready to trust a man again after a life of jerks and losers and she and I were looking at houses together. Things were moving so fast, so fucking fast, but it felt right, like it did when your mother would hug you and tell you everything was going to be ok.
It was going to be ok.
To celebrate our anniversary a bunch of us went out to a local bar, some place new and trendy and not anything like any of us would go to any other night. It was the first time I’d been out in months so naturally I ended up getting wasted, to the great amusement of Amy and our friends. After a while I started feeling pretty sick so I headed for the rooftop patio the place had to clear my head. It was well into fall and getting cool so no one was up there but me, which was a relief. I went to the railing and stood there, hoping to catch my breath and checking out the skyline. As I stood there I remembered that Amy had been talking to one of our friends about getting married, and having kids, and a family and in an instant I was doubled over and puking onto the patio. The vomiting burned like fire and felt like it’d never end until finally it did, leaving me spent and breathless. I stumbled a few steps away from the puke but didn’t make it to a seat and fell hard onto my knees.
“You shouldn’t drink so much, you know.”
I looked up and saw my angel standing there, a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other. She took a last drag on the cigarette then flicked it away and held her hand out to me.
“Just ‘cause I’m and angel, you know, you don’t have to do all that kneeling. Right?”
She laughed and it was beautiful. She looked different. The rings beneath her eyes were gone. She didn’t look as pale. And she was smiling. I stood and found myself on legs made of lead with roller skates as feet. She guided me over to the railing and I leaned against it.
“I’ve been looking for you.” I told her.
“I know. I always saw you before you saw me.”
“Oh? Were you avoiding me?”
“I suppose I was.”
“You know why.” Her smile faltered and she shook her head from side to side.
“Do I? Why don’t you tell me anyway?”
“Because I can’t help you.”
I was confused.
“You can’t help me what?”
“I can’t help you fly. We’re both angels, you and me, that’s why we’re drawn to one another and maybe if we’d met somewhere else, maybe where we belong, it might have been different. We might have been something else than strangers. But you’re content here, in your life, and I’m not. I wanna go home. I need to go home, and I can’t take you with me.”
I had suddenly run out of words. She was crazy, it was clear. I didn’t know if she was drunk, or stoned, or what, but she wasn’t right, whatever we coulda been, we weren’t it, and never would be it and that was all there was. The other stuff, the other stuff was crazy but just the same, it hurt to hear.
She leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the mouth.
“I am leaving. That’s why I came out here, why I wanted to talk to you. I wanted you to know. You know, while you were looking for me, I was following you. That second, that second we shared out there, I dunno what happened but we found one another, like lost lovers after a long war. I think that’s why it took so long for me to find my wings – because I was hoping you’d find yours too. It never happened though and instead you found, well…”
“So, you must have remembered how to fly? Right?” It was all I could think to ask.
“Yeah, well, more or less. I realized I’d never forgotten how to fly so much as lost my wings. After that it was just a matter of making new wings. It took a while, months, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, the pain, the agony, the loneliness. Nothing matters but going home.”
“Would you like to see them? Before I leave? I, I want you to see them.”
I felt sick again. The air, though it came out in visible puffs from my mouth, felt heavy and warm. I started to wobble, started to reel and suddenly found myself on my ass looking up into her eyes and unable to look away. She stood there in a blue velvet dress, a long black trench coat covering her but unbuttoned and I could see the curve of her throat, the swell of her breasts and I cursed the weight of my body, wanting to be wherever it was she was going. Needing wings as I’d never needed anything before. She knelt now before me and ran her hand against my cheek, which broke my gaze. Someone in the bar screamed, someone else laughed and all I could do was sigh at her touch.
“This isn’t sad. It isn’t. It isn’t. We walk that path that’s before us, and sometimes we walk it whether we intend to or not. Wherever you are, wherever I am, this is where we’re supposed to be. Life’s a little bit fate, a little bit luck, and a lot of choice. All you can do is choose your path before the choice chooses for you.”
And I said the stupidest thing then –
“I think I lo….”
And she smiled sweetly and leaned in and kissed me again, longer now, with a fire that burned my cheeks and chest. With a fire I had thought I’d forgotten.
“I won’t tell you that you don’t, and I won’t tell you that I don’t feel the same towards you but I’ll say that if you do feel it then share my joy and tell the world about me, about the angel who went home. Inspire the world with what I was and what I became.”
She stood and took a few steps back from me and shrugged off her overcoat. It had started to rain, like the first time I saw her, and it took my breath to see her again, as the angel she meant to be. The blue velvet caught the rain and became black but seemed to shimmer, a beauty that was rivaled only by her smile, which radiated even more brightly. She arched her back beneath the lights of the city and as her wings revealed themselves I couldn’t help but gasp.
They were beautiful in their sacrilege.
She turned slightly and I saw her wings more clearly and she smiled to have me see.
Her wings were made of layers and layers of paper, but not just any paper because as I looked I saw hymns, and Genesis, and the saints, and the sinners, and Revelations, and all of destiny and damnation. I looked and saw the pages of dozens of Bibles sewn and glued together, layer after layer after layer, built up until they looked like nothing less than what they were – an angel’s wings. The bone-work of the wings were made of wooden crosses, again, glued and stitched together and woven into the wings as if they had truly sprouted from the wood. And tying it all to the body were a million stitches that ran from her shoulders down to the middle of her back, meeting her long, dark hair and spreading outward. I couldn’t imagine how she had done it, how she had managed to stitch them to her skin, or how agonizing it had been but there they were, her wings, and I wept to see them, having never seen anything as beautiful in my life save perhaps the angel they belonged to.
The wind picked up and the rains stopped and she laughed as she turned to me.
“They’ve opened the gates. They’ve opened the gates for me!”
She ran at me then, her hair free, her wings opening, her smile almost too bright to behold. I reached for her and grazed the soft velvet as she went past me, over me and out over the city, her wings spread. I stumbled to stand and caught a glimmer of something darker than black but it was swallowed by the darkness and was gone. I fell against the railing and wept as the rains began anew. I hugged myself in the rain and ran my hands over my shoulder blades, crying harder as I did.
From the rain came Amy, running to me, frightened for me, and then when I turned to her, of me. She stopped running when she saw me, then ran to me and embraced me and I collapsed in her arms, happy for the path I had chosen but hating it too.
Hating how heavy my body was, how leaden my legs felt, and that the wings I needed to fly I’d never know how to make.
Amy took me and walked me towards the bar, towards the darkness, and towards the warmth of our bed and I let her – happy for the path I had chosen but hating how leaden my body was, how my legs were made of stone, and that the wings I needed I’d never know how to make.