Flint and Feather
Sophie found the angel hiding behind a tombstone in the cemetery.
Usually she liked to dawdle, to look at the squirrels bounding through the grass so fluidly, or perching, head down, from the yew trees, as if puzzling at the inscriptions under the moss and lichen and ivy on the grey stones, trying to make out the features on the statues draped with the traces of rain and the seagulls and the centuries of wear.
But today she was in a hurry, skipping along the path and humming to herself when she saw the flash of light like sunlight flickering from behind the clouds and illuminating the flower beds, the grassy verges, the bench bleached grey with age, the walls of split flints. For a moment everything took on a brightness, a relief, and then faded again as the light disappeared, becoming pale shadows of this other, better, reality.
She looked over across the patchwork of old graves to where she’d seen the light and saw white robes and feathers sticking out from behind the twin graves of Robert and Elisabeth England, 1829-1857 and 1834-1869, respectively.
It could have been someone had just dumped stuff in the graveyard. People were always doing that, she sighed. Or the squirrels threw things out of the rubbish bins when they rummaged through. But the white sheet was glowing like something from an ad for washing powder. And as she looked, the feathers twitched.
So she stopped, stepped over the stones laid down at the edge of the path, and walked to the tombstones, taking care to walk between the graves, even the small ones. The idea of walking on dead people made her tummy go all woozy and funny.
The angel was bent in two, holding tight to a great shining sword as if the grip of nausea, as if it was about to fall, to sink to its knees and bury its face into the grass and moss and clover and daisies.
“I know what you are,” said Sophie blowing a bubble, bursting it with her tongue and pulling the pink gum back into her mouth. “You’re an angel.”
The face turned and looked at her.
It was a terrible face. Not horrible, but terrible. The eyes seemed to look right through her and see only dust. Yet it wasn’t that it was disagreeable to look at, it just seemed only partially there, as if she was seeing it and at the same time the skull and nerves and tendons and muscles and blood vessels underneath as well as the faces it had been, and the faces it would be. The features didn’t belong to a boy nor a girl, but both at once. And neither.
The angel pressed down on its sword, puling itself up until it towered over the girl. It pulled on its immaculate robes and stretched its wings, and seemed to settle a little, decreasing in size, becoming a mite less menacing. But still it gripped its shiny sword.
“You may call me that,” it said. But its lips didn’t move as it spoke, and its voice was like the dry rustle of wind on leaves.
“You all right? I mean, you sure you’re not lost or anything?” asked the girl. She saw a white feather lying on Elisabeth England’s grave and couldn’t decide if it came from a seagull or from the angel. A seagull surely, whoever heard of an angel losing its feathers.
“I am not lost. No,” came the voice. “I am exactly where I need to be.”
“Right, I’ll leave you then,” said the girl, hopping from one foot to the other. “I’ve got to be going off to school,” she added by way of an explanation.
“Ah,” said the voice. “But I came to see you. It is not appropriate that I accompany you to school.”
Sophie looked the angel up and down.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
They stood for a while in the graveyard, facing each other. Sophie thought of all the warnings that people were always giving out: parents, school, on the telly… But an angel?
“Let’s go get a drink,” she said.
They walked out of the churchyard, round the corner and into the McDonald’s.
Indie saw Sophie come in, holding the doors open for the old man bent almost double as he pressed down on his walking stick. He wasn’t her Granddad, that she was sure. Just one of the crumbles that wandered around town, taking in the sun on the sea front and smelling funny. She stifled a yawn before Mehdi noticed, and switched on her smile. She’d wanted to leave school, earn some money for herself. Instead she’d just exchanged the dark blue uniform for a polyester top and slacks, and Mehdi the Manager’s pep talks for morning Assembly. And there was the smell of grease that she just couldn’t seem to wash out of her hair.
Sophie and the old man arrived at the counter.
“Hi Indie, you good?”
“I’ll take a Coke,” said Sophie.
“Super..?” asked the other, mechanically. “And for..?”
Sophie turned to the angel.
“What d’you want?” She felt into her bag and reassuringly brought out a purse. “S’alright. I can pay.”
The angel looked around, a little lost under the muted neons and plastic.
“Milk?” it suggested.
Behind the counter, Indie’s smile melted to a frown.
“Get him a latte,” suggested Sophie.
Indie tapped the command on the till, took the coins that Sophie set down on the counter, and set down a tray.
“Go and find yourself somewhere to sit down,” said Sophie to the angel. “I’ll come and join you.”
“Family?” asked the other girl as she plunked down the two cardboard cups.
“Nah. Found him in the churchyard. Looks a bit lost.”
Indie replied with the sort of look you give someone who always manages to find stray kittens, birds with broken wings, and old folk lost in the street. And who always manages to find them adorable.
“Rather you than me…” she said.
Sophie shrugged, then carried the tray over to the window, nodding to a couple of girls seated on the side a they looked over. In a couple of minutes, she was sure, Indie would wander over to wipe their table and gossip.
She sat down.
The sword stood against the table and the angel was gazing at the street outside.
“So what are you doing here then?” she asked, pushing the cup and the sugar and the small plastic stirrer over towards the angel.
“I am doing that which must be done.”
“Like a guardian angel, looking out on people? Checking they’re alright and all?”
She sucked at the cold sweet liquid.
“I do not think so,” came the voice, still that voice.
Sophie wondered why everyone else in the place didn’t turn and stare when they heard the voice. It was like stones moving, like water rushing past.
“I do not know of any guardian angels myself.” And then, seeing her face, the angel added, “But I have no doubt that they should exist.”
But not here. But not now.
“What do you do then?” asked Sophie as her straw started making gurgling noises among the ice cubes at the bottom of her drink. The coffee in front of the angel was still untouched.
“I have crushed civilisations and razed cities. I have confounded His enemies. I flown higher that the Sun. I have peered into the Pit and I have rejoiced.”
“Oh,” said Sophie. “I didn’t know angels did that sort of thing.” She paused. “I didn’t really know much about them. I supposed you just floated around singing. And harps. Something with harps, no?”
“I have no harp. I have a sword and I have my armour. But I have no harp.”
“Oh well. I imagine it’d just get in the way anyway.”
They both look out at the street, the passers-by, the occasional car rounding the corner. The shops, the signs. The birds sitting on the roof.
It was a very ordinary street, just round the corner from the churchyard.
“I think I’d better be getting off to school now,” said the girl. “Been lovely meeting you and all that.”
“Yes,” came the voice. “It is time.”
Sophie got up, waved at Indie who was in the corner wiping the tables, and pushed open the doors onto the pavement. he looked back at the table in the window where they’d been sitting but the angel wasn’t there. There were just the two cups on the table.
She glanced at the road and stepped off the curb.
The car that hit her came speeding round the corner. She was knocked to the side, spread out across the road like an abandoned doll.
The angel stood over her and with a sigh, cut her soul free with his great sword. A single white feather fell onto the tarmac.
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Last edited: Monday, May 17th, 2010blog comments powered by Disqus