Silly Angels and Nasty Demons
Mary started her day by nearly downing a full bowl of Cheerios in near record time, chewing, the art of mastication neglected, until an non-minced Cheerio, a single lifeboat-like assassin, lodged itself in her throat and she choked and choked with no one around to hear the frantic gurgle of liquid and air scuttling and caught between the vacant space and all that redness that made up her desperate face. She backed up, about to pass out, and an amazing force thrust her against the wall so hard that the yauling projectile ring flew across the kitchen counter in frustrated wobbles and smacked so hard against the stainless steel refrigerator as to break it into four small pieces (the cheerio not the fridge), the dog would find later in the afternoon. She regained her modest composure quicker than the red spell of near misfortune faded away from her ridiculous face, finished her jentacular two-percent milk in three uuup-uuup-uuup gulps, and set the empty bowl next to the spoon.
She walked the two blocks to the bus stop while her usual state of stupor transferred even to her mode of walking: unusual swerves, herky-jerky knee bends and soft then hard slaps of the heel of her shoes against the pavement. The neighbor girls stopped, long ago, walking with her because they found her lack of cadence a nuisance and heaven forbid Mary answer a question put to her, or acknowledge she heard the question, or make them feel as if their voices constituted an authority more persuasive than the passing thrush’s squawk at any moving object.Besides, at eighteen, why take the bus when you could drive to school, when you didn’t have to sit with sophomores and juniors and maladjusted senior and put up with the gossip from freaks and geeks, freaks and geeks, geeks and freaks, and Mary. She sidestepped the sign reading “Men at Work,” and in her daydreaming failed to notice the 80s connection that the men were coming or at least working from “a land down under.” She would have walked right into the eight foot deep hole but for some miraculous reason her herky-jerky style one upped itself and flung her two feet to the right and onto two more than important planks of two by four pine spanning the gap and constituting the hazardous walkway for the men at work. Heads, prairie dogging it, but still not surface level, watched in hard-hatted amazement as the girl moseyed across the planks as lissom as a tightrope walker with no net to catch her or him, if, perchance, they slipped and fell, something their cocksureness assured them would not happen, could not happen, even if the possibility were real.
She entered the bus and took her seat two rows back from the pot-smoking driver. Cliché as they come, the driver could have been the character from The Simpsons, but his voice destroyed any further likeness, what with the high pitch and all. She waited for the stop on Elm Street, where she would quickly exit the bus, run across the street and pay with a crumpled dollar bill pulled from her pocket, for a one-dollar taco from the vendor who spoke perfect English but used the Guatemalan variance of Spanish for authentication that the taco had not been Americanized. She descended the steps, refused, or like Mary—failed, to remember years of lectures from schoolteachers down to concerned parents, to look both ways before crossing a street. The minivan packed with children, probably a Mormon family, rolled along at the suggested thirty miles and hour and the mother didn’t see Mary lurch directly into her path until it was too late to hit the brakes. “Damn it,” said the mother, shocking the children who had never heard her use a cuss word. She braced herself for the unmistakable sound of metal colliding with flesh, but at the moment Mary should have been skyrocketed in unrestrained cartwheels over the hood of the van, albeit vans don’t really have hoods like a nice, long hearse or Cadillac, the van veered to the right without the mother’s taking control of the wheel, and in a dash too quick to call natural, what with the acceleration and the screech of the tires occurring simultaneously, and took out the taco stand as the vendor, one Jose Luis Alfaro Diego, Diego the Spanish equivalent of James, as in St. James, put his hands to his head and watched the metal subject of his life’s aspiration, insured, praise the Lord, collapse as the condiments, especially the limes and salsa, went flying through the air and splattered the windshield of the minivan like a modern painting, while he had time to say only, “Ah, Santa Maria,” before the van and his metal cart halted in a crumpled jumble of recyclable litter around a bowed but still rooted oak tree. “Oh my,” the bus driver screamed as he grabbed Mary and escorted her back to her seat. “You are one lucky girl,” he said, leaving the bus and rushing to the scene. “Lucky,” Mary heard others, as the bus congregation started their new gossip.
An hour later, and hungry, and the focal point of high school hearsay, Mary phoned her dad and asked if he would come pick her up. “Not feeling well?” he asked as custom demanded when Mary had one of her weekly wishes to leave school early. “I’ll tell you about it on the way home,” Mary said, though she never remembered to tell him and he never inquired because after the first five or six times in kindergarten he learned that Mary had a knack for actually having honest but fantastic reasons for leaving early. Still lurking in his memory, the time in second grade when Mary’s classroom had been held hostage and a man with a bomb strapped to his chest, held Mary against his chest and pushed the detonator, blowing the entire classroom, especially him and Mary, to smithereens but for the minor detail that the bomb never went off. The bomb squad examined the bomb, detonator and all other pertinent evidence and concluded that there had been no reason, but for the grace of God, the chief’s exact phrase, that the bomb didn’t go off. Mary phoned her dad that day, and even though she had already fielded questions by media, and the entire scene, footage from a helicopter that couldn’t capture what went on in the classroom but showed the aerial shots of an otherwise peaceful and regular looking school, shots he had seen from the TV his entire office had surrounded and watched with atrocious and anxious bewilderment, she sounded calm, and the same as she always did, using one of the officer’s phones, and with commotion in the background, asking if her dad wouldn’t mind picking her up and letting her leave school early. As if school wouldn’t have been cancelled anyways, and he didn’t know that her life had nearly been snatched from her an hour ago. She sounded just the way Mary sounds, just the way she sounded an hour ago when she had asked to leave early. What happened? Her dad probably didn’t want the details, or if he did, it would only to be out of morbid curiosity as to whether this absence rivaled some of her other absences from the past.
Mary is dropped off at home, and her dad returns to work. She decided, actually made up her mind on the ride home that she would set off to the theater, purchase the large bucket of buttered popcorn, a small Sprite, Redvines, with which she would bite off the ends of one and use it as a straw, hunker down in a seat near the back, and watch Sean Penn try his best to play the part of an effiminite. The alarm sounded about half way through the flick. Apparently, and this comes as no surprise to Mary, that is just it, when things out of the ordinary happen everyday, Mary does not appear surprised rather perturbed that another disturbance has occurred. Just like that dumb minivan and the mother who nearly, it’s always nearly, hit her this morning. Once in a while she finds herself wishing that the van wouldn’t swerve or that the bomb would go off. So Mary let’s the alarm ring for about five minutes, but when she can’t stand trying to hear the dialogue over the incessant ringing, she leaves her popcorn on the floor, kicks it over so that the cleaning crew will have something to bitch about, puts her Sprite, now bland and blended with the melted ice, in the cup holder, places the five or six Redvines in one of her pockets for later, and walks, herky-jerky, bumping into every other seat, out of the theater and into the lobby. The smoke clings to her lungs in fine and fashionably ghoulish tendrils. The blaze is most dense at the main entrance. Mary could have chosen other exits, like the one in the theater she sat, that would have led out into the sun that is always too blinding after a movie. The green exit sign, from where she had sat, even appeared enticing, and held the common allure that all exits with green lighting hold, as if the word exit and green should not have gone together but to beguile and remind one who egresses that green lights aren’t only applicable to “go” and had red, a more sensible color for the darkness of a theater been applied to exit, the egress might be stalled by an Israelite impulse and a human condition that remembered red means stop.
Mary moved toward the main blaze and dumbly decided, instead of logically veering into another theater and using a harmless exit, this Shadrach would exercise her right to depart where she had entered, which might make sense had she parked a car out front or had someone she knew been waiting to buy tickets, or so many other randoms that could cause someone to choose a path of danger over streamlined safety, but no, she had zero excuse for her action other than stupidity. The theater had been emptied out, and in the distance a more familiar and gallant ring, one that varied in its quality of sound reached her ears. A large structural piece of the building fell in front of Mary and should have hit her, but split in midair like some invisible but colossal fist punched it at its weakest point so as to land on both sides of her. She reached the flames, covered her face with her shirt, something she had seen in movies, knowing asphyxiation kills more often than actual burns, and gimped through the orange conflagration. She made it outside just as the roof in the main lobby collapsed. “By inches,” yelled a fireman who had almost entered when he saw her coming out. “By feet,” Mary insisted as they took her to an ambulance to check her out. She had come out unscathed and remarkably didn’t even smell of fire, a smell that can cling to clothing forever unless washed. “Well, said Mary, hopping down from the bumper of the ambulance, “I guess I’ll go home now.”
Marcos woke from a nightmare and the stale air in his room reminded him that it takes roughly five minutes for the demons of the night to dissipate. He waited in abject horror for time to pass, slowly, so slowly, tick-tick, one second then two, never intervals of five seconds in the morning. When he made it through the rough patch he went to the bathroom and washed his face. His eyes were too sunken for such a young man and he seemed baffled at how evil sunken eyes could make an otherwise skinny face appear. He looked at the razor on the edge of the porcelain sink then at his arms bearing scars of so many variations they looked like hieroglyphics or some undecipherable code of meaning. He felt the strange impulse to add to the scars. He took the razor in his hand and almost unwillingly pressed it down and across his wrists in a new pattern and just deep enough to draw blood that would run but give him time to make it to the hospital. Marcos felt the thanatonic drive, a force outside of him or in, to cut deeper, but he didn’t want to listen. He wrapped his wrists in a white, shorn towel and drove to the hospital. When he arrived and entered the emergency room, the attendant on call shook her head, as she always did, and pointed him to a seat.
He left the hospital bandaged up. No room in the psyche ward, besides he had an uncanny way of escaping that ward even though it had its share of cameras, locked doors, and staff. He walked downtown and looked in shop windows, seeing his own reflection in a muddle of black shades, making it hard to tell if he saw himself at all. A broom handle unwound from the bristle, and really a stick, descended from behind as he looked at the spindling chicken in the window. Five dollars for a chicken…Bam, the handle cracked and splintered over his head. A man in an apron, holding the shortened but sharp stick stood over him and yelled, “You ever steal from my store again and I’ll kill you,” as the blood, as head wounds are prone to do, gushed down his face and into his eyes. Marcos shielded his face out of instinct and looked at the man, realizing he had been hit for some misunderstanding, the man had confused him with someone else, but he didn’t say anything as the crowd gathered. He got to his feet and stood eyes to eyes with the man. The man breathed heavily and the veins in his temples protruded while his cheek bones were clinched so tight every muscle seemed outlined for an artist to draw a study on the human face in rage. Marcos grabbed his head where he had been hit, and pulled his hand away red and dripping. “Caught red handed,” an unsympathetic bystander shouted and drew a few laughs. Marcos stepped beyond the man and walked away without saying a word in his defense. What would it help him? he thought. I am always guilty. I haven’t done a thing in my life of my own volition, and yet, I am the guilty one. He walked home and dressed his wound.
By five Marcos felt restless and even though he appeared as haggard as a civil war soldier laid up in the hospital, he needed fresh air and what did a few more stares matter to him? He had gotten it his whole life: the strange glance from others, as if he were unfit to make up part of their society. He walked to the bridge off of Oak Street. Willows lined the river and the wind blew through the leaves and rippled the water the back against the current. He watched an old man walk his dog along the bank. How prosaic, the dog rustling through the tall grass looking for something to play with and the old man, held up by a stick, ambling on the path of dirt. The two finally made it to concrete and approached Marcos. The dog jumped up on the cement railing of the bridge and barked at the water. The old man tried to say something to Marcos but he had no teeth and all Marcos heard sounded like “grrmmnppiing ggruuumma grppping lllllell.”
“The dog is going to jump,” Marcos replied.
“You can tell by the hind muscles.”
Marcos didn’t need this, but he saw, as he saw lots of things before they happened, what the outcome would be. He took off his long sleeve shirt and revealed a body covered with scars. Scars from knife wounds, bullets, razors, a shovel, an ax, barb wire, burns, and other things, a whole history of distinct scars and each one remembered. He took off his shoes as the old man muttered more gibberish. His socks went next. He was unbuckling his belt when the dog jumped. The two looked over the bridge and watched as the dog tried to paddle but couldn’t do more than splash because of panic. Marcos jumped in and retrieved the retriever, brought it to the bank and lifted it out of the water as he surfaced as well, revealing scratch marks up and down his torso where the dog had continued to try to paddle. The police were stationed at the bridge by the time Marcos made it up the slippery path. The man hugged his dog, and with perfect diction exclaimed that Marcos had thrown the dog into the water. “Why would I throw a dog into the water only to jump in after it?” Marcos stated, but then turned quiet because he knew, he knew. He was surprised when the police, who knew, they knew him by name, address, scars, and so many priors, let him go.
His wet pants hugged his legs and the water ran into his shoes and sloshed. Halfway home he saw it. In the bushes, glittering like a disco ball, a twelve inch blade with a wooden handle. He picked up the knife, not sure what he would do with it, and walked towards his home.
Mary undressed as if eyes were on her, and not the eyes of angels, which never bothered her, but something sinister. Her underwear seemed plain to her and she wished she has something sexier, more revealing on. She sat at the edge of her bed, about to turn off the light when she smelled something wet. The smell came from her closet. “What do you want?” she said, realizing an intruder stood in the closet. Marcos opened the closet door and with eyes so dark and so full of desperation they would have caused someone other than Mary to shiver, he stared at her and raised the blade. Mary walked toward him and placed the blade between her breasts. “I’ve been waiting for this,” one of them whispered, but so low it would be impossible to tell which.
A young boy held his father’s hand and walked down the street. Dusk had fallen and window lights carried an awe of comfort over humanity where the dusk threatened to swallow everything else. “Dad,” the boy exclaimed. “I just saw six angels fly from that window up there.”
“You ever repeat such nonsense again in your life, and I swear to god, I will kill you, William.” The boy didn’t say a word the rest of the walk home, just felt illuminated by what he had seen.