Short fiction by Catherine Leyshon
Kennedy Duncan was the first person to take a suicide selfie in which an angel was visible. He used the iPhone6 now on display in the Science Museum, London: an ordinary iPhone6 upon which Kennedy had, in his final moments before the train hit him, unwittingly managed to capture an angel before the phone was thrown clear and recovered with what was left of Kennedy. Such was the interest, Apple added enhanced slow-motion filming and Angel Cam in the next IOS update. Apps were launched which purported to supply the necessary rendering to expose any possible angel. It was theorised that angels might only be imaged in the immediate post-mortem moment, nanoseconds or less after fatality was guaranteed. Even then, nobody except Kennedy had managed to capture one. There were many fraudulent claims from people who were still alive, and abundant opportunities to add an angel in post-production. Angel Week took off on the Discovery Channel, rapidly outstripping Shark Week in popularity. There were many suicides and unintentional deaths, but in the end, but Kennedy’s Angel Selfie was the only authentic one.
Sofia had watched Angel Week every year since she was six, sitting on her grandma’s couch in Veria, New Jersey, with a can of Dr Pepper in one hand and the TV remote in the other. She saved her pocket money in a pickle jar, graduated high school, hooked up with Rory, and worked in a bar in Veria until, at the age of 26, Rory jumped in front of a train. With nothing left to lose, she blew her savings on a flight to London to stand in front of Kennedy’s iPhone6 in the Science Museum. The dark places of Sofia’s mind were giving her little footing in the modern world. She just wanted Kennedy’s story to be true, so that her angel would also come for her.
Sofia realised she wasn’t dead a long time before she decided to open her eyes. Not to say she felt fine. On the contrary, she was lying on the ballast at the side of the railroad track north of Veria, every muscle and bone aggravated by knobbly rocks. She could smell the attenuation pond, weedy and dank. Movement invited pain, so she remained still. She opened her eyes to a blistering sky, the candid blue of a very hot day, bronzed at the edges. She winced, and turned her head a bit. Her phone was still in her hand. There was a single black-grey feather near it and another floating down from above. They were both smoking faintly. The last thing Sofia remembered was the tumult of the oncoming train, the clamour of a vengeful host, a terrible cacophony of alarm, the air pushed ahead of the engine, raising her hair, the roar of fear, the sound of the end.
A young guy had been sitting on a sofa across from Kennedy’s iPhone6 for a long time before Sofia saw him. Black and white Converse sneakers, skinny black jeans, black t-shirt, and blond white hair. He had a face of unnatural symmetry and eyes of tropical clarity. He was looking at Kennedy’s iPhone6 in its display case as if he might laser a tidy fist sized hole in the glass and take it. There was an odd refractive effect where light bent round his shoulders. Sofia moved round the case and looked at him again. It was an illusion, like looking at him in an aquarium tank. He was just a young guy, good looking, hanging around in the Science Museum.
Sofia looked back at Kennedy’s phone, and put her palm on the glass. She leaned in. The angel selfies hung from the ceiling throughout the room, large format prints on invisible wires, still and frigid. In the energy of the immediate pre-suicide seconds, with the fierce blade of the train imminent, was there in a moment of still, a moment of peace? Or a moment of regret, of the most primal fear in which it was clear that all was lost? None of this was captured in the images. Sofia leaned her head against the glass as if it would conduct the final energy from Kennedy, from Rory. Willing herself to tap the forces of their last seconds, she felt the glass shiver, and she stepped back. The room was still, but sofa boy was gone. Kennedy’s iPhone6 sat in its case, ordinary and extraordinary. It was scuffed up with scratches and cracks, but bore few other traces of what had happened. Rory had left traces, in the shape of his debts. His legacy was a thug called Daryl who made late night phonecalls, whispering the promise of violence down the line. Rory was a loser, even after he was a goner. Rory was a valedictorian for sloth, languishing in the shadows of others his whole short life.
Kennedy’s angel selfies were swaying on their gossamer strands in an unexplained breeze. Sofa boy was back, watching. Sofia headed for the exit, through her helter skelter thoughts. She had a flight to catch back to New Jersey. Inside her skull unruly bees applied their little stings of anxiety. They swarmed and dived and zoomed and she tripped a little coming off the escalator. A hand under her elbow steadied her and she came back to the moment. Sofa boy. He was taller than she had thought. Quite the casual Adonis, if you went in for that sort of thing. Sofia muttered her thanks, but sofa boy just smiled and walked on. Then she noticed the silver smear across her sleeve, like silver leaf casually rubbed in where his hand had been on the fabric. She tried to thumb the mark away.
Her hand felt as if it was on another continent. Her phone was still in her hand, the screen webbed with cracks. She had sparkly glass fragments in her thumb. Next to the track, nature organised the boundary of speed and light and air with stillness and slow-growing plants. It was hot and Sofia was thirsty. But movement wouldn’t come. The smoking black-grey feather landed gently on her chest. Pain made her want to sleep, and to abdicate responsibility for feeling and being. Is this what it had been like for Rory? The urge to let go, to not be called upon to have to exist anymore. The sun was well up, forcing its unwelcome heat over her. The ballast aggravated every part of her that touched it. Her phone was in her hand, but her hand was on another continent. The distant colony of nerves and sinews was beyond the reach of the brain’s metropole.
The next time Sofia saw sofa boy, she was in the bar in Veria. Up behind the mirrored optics, he sat reflected. She turned to look to see if he was really there. He looked pretty solid. Same black jeans, t-shirt. A tall glass of ice water stood on the table before him. His reflection in the bar mirror looked not quite right: like a heat haze, electrical interference, refraction, reflection. Light was bending in small ways. Sofia nodded to Cody who was drying glasses.
“Who’s the guy behind me?”
Sofia looked round again. Sofa boy had gone. Astrid came by and bussed his glass to the bar. Sofia could see the silver leaf melting in the condensation on the side. Did Rory owe him money?
“Seen him before?”
“Nope”. Cody was hefting a garbage bag out back but he was old and it hurt to lift it.
“I’ll do it” said Sofia. Out in the alley the air was dense: beer, piss, and vegetable carcasses were stewing in the humid cauldron of bricks. She heaved the noisome bag into the dumpster and wiped her hands on her jeans. Twilight.
Daryl came round the corner just as Cody absent-mindedly shut the outside door and left Sofia there.
“Sofia. Where you been hiding?”
Nasty piece of work, Daryl. Something not wired up right made him ugly all the way through. He was big and mean, unlikeable but also disinclined to be liked. Rory owed him $10,000 the day he jumped in front of a train. Rory couldn’t keep a job, couldn’t pay his rent or his credit card. Ever since Sofia had known him, Rory’s special combination of optimism, naivety and stupidity had been compounded by his weed habit and exploited by Daryl. Daryl knew a sucker when he saw one. But the debt didn’t die with Rory and Sofia was the nearest living connection to Rory’s obligation. She had been reminded of this by phone at 3am at least once a week.
“Heard you were in London”. Daryl was still strolling down the alleyway. Sofia grew roots. The bees in her head set up their buzz, amplifying Daryl’s menace. “Air fare would have gone some way to clearing Rory’s account”.
The fetid smell of him arrived as powerfully as his physical self. Cigarettes, booze, and the melange of the alley. The heat and the stink was being joined by the dark, rising from the alley floor.
“Got nothing to say?” Daryl touched her hair, and she cringed away.
A hand steadied her, but it was not Daryl’s. Sofia sensed someone or something else present. It felt as though someone had arrived in the alley, someone she couldn’t see but whose hand lifted her arm and set her palm on Daryl’s chest. Then a mighty shove, a seismic force through her arms, energy passing straight into Daryl who was powerless against the kinetics. He was on his back in the alleyway in a second. Sofia was inhabited. She watched and felt herself act. She was moving now, bending to a piece of two-by-four amongst the trash. Arms in her arms, barely there, in the gloom, guided the arc of her fists. The wood met Daryl’s head just as he regained his feet. Sofia had never imagined how unyielding a human skull could be, and how much force there was in the connection. It raced up her arms, a shock of recoil, zesty and electric through muscles and bone. Daryl dropped away, and sunk like a stone in the watery gloom of the alley.
Sofia stood panting, the wood dropped to the ground and she followed to her knees and retched on the trash. The backs of her hands were silver bright, and her arms were glistening where the steadying hands had guided her actions. Her waist was chromed where an arm around it had braced her against momentum. Cody came out and hustled her inside with barely a glance at Daryl’s prone form.
Her hand was on another continent. The simplest action, to bend arm at elbow and lift to within her sight the phone that would summon help, couldn’t be done. From this angle, Sofia couldn’t see anything except the singed black-grey feather bobbing on her chest. Pain was arriving from every quarter, every synapse firing to bring news from distant territories. It was hard to believe a projectile so large could have missed a target so small, right there on the railroad tracks, with her back to the bang. Sofia could not have stared down the driver reaching for his brakes and levers, emergency stop, the calculus of speed and distance defining his future life beyond the inevitable impact. What had Rory done – jumped or stood? Offered a laughing, howling face to the sky, throat stretched, head back, arms out in an attitude of sacrifice? Or launched himself from the side of the cutting, away down the railroad tracks, perfectly timed? Once you were on your way, there was no going back. The large, dark feather on Sofia’s chest bobbed and waved.
Sofia sat in the back room of the bar looking at her shining arms. The fingers and palms that had guided her hands with sufficient force to stove in Daryl’s head were clearly outlined. She traced them gingerly. Cody came back through from the bar with two cups of coffee.
“Where’s Daryl?” asked Sofia.
“Gone. His buddies picked him up. Think they were parked further up the block. Came to look when he didn’t come back. Cold?” Cody threw her a Mets jacket and sat down across the table from her. He reached to turn over one of her hands.
“Haven’t seen this for a while” he said, pushing a finger over the silver gilt.
“Seen it before?”
“Yep. Vietnam. Fella got cornered by Charlie. Got left behind in the jungle somehow. We gave him up for dead. Then he stumbles into camp five or six hours later. He’s a bit shot up but he’s covered in this stuff, like a painting or something. There was this one guy, religious freak, said it’s what an angel leaves behind if he touches you”.
“What did the guy say who was shot up?”
Cody shrugged. “Dunno. Never really talked about it. Couple-a-times in a bar in Saigon after a few beers he’d say there was a presence or a force or something. Fought his way out bare handed. Broke a Charlie’s neck. But they say that something happens when you’re in danger. Superhuman strength. Adrenaline. Something”.
It was like Cody was offering her a way out.
“When my wife Gloria died, all kinds of mad shit happened. I wasn’t myself. You’re not yourself. What you did to Daryl – no-one will blame you. Guy’s an asshole. Best thing that could’ve happened to him”.
Cody got up to return to the bar. Sofia dropped her head to her pillowing arms. She didn’t need to look up, she knew sofa boy was there, leaning against the outside door with one foot up. A faint tremor through the wood of the table had announced him. A moment later there were also two police officers heaving burly belted torsos into kitchen chairs, and shifting their holsters to make room.
Officer Bolt went through it. Officer Guzman took perfunctory notes, going through the motions. Justice had been served at the moment the wood crunched the skull. Anybody who had been to school with Daryl could appreciate that he had it coming to him for years. But the nature of it, the force of it, the sheer raw power of what Sofia had done made Office Bolt scratch his head and ask again “and there was nobody with you in the alley?”.
Sofia, her cheek on her folded arms, looked directly at sofa boy leaning on the door. They couldn’t see him, yet there he was, leaning a bit awkwardly as if there was something between his shoulder blades.
“There was no-one else there,” she said “you know what they say. Sometimes when you’re in danger, something happens. Moms jumping over high walls to save toddlers. Farmers lifting tractors off their own broken leg. That sort of stuff”.
Officers Bolt and Guzman nodded sagely, and Officer Guzman snapped shut his notebook.
“Anymore trouble outta Daryl, you know where we are”.
“And we were real sorry about Rory. Good guy. Terrible thing. If you need help…”
“I have help,” said Sofia, looking directly at sofa boy.
“Glad to hear it. You take care now,” and they tramped back through the bar, equipment bumping awkwardly against hips and door jambs.
“So” said Sofia “who are you?”
Sofa boy took a seat at the table, and folded his hands before him.
“My name is Samael”.
The black-grey feather seemed to want to take to the air again, but its aerodynamic came from the collective power of all the feathers, on both wings, not just the one. So it lolled ineffectually in the currents of air rising from the hot ballast.
“Angels don’t exist”.
“The state of Daryl’s head suggests otherwise”.
“That was you, right? It was like you were part of me. My arms were your arms, my hands were your hands”.
“Or it was you and I just showed you what you were capable of”.
“What about this?” Sofia held out her silvered hands.
“A guiding touch”. He was tired from the coordination, precision, aim, timing, all that was involved in the act of inhabiting another, dwelling there too briefly to damage them much, but long enough to damage something or somebody else. He was out of practice, hadn’t done it for fifty years. And being fully present in this time and space was wearing.
“Where are your wings?”
He shrugged a little bit and light rippled almost imperceptibly. “They’re more a state of mind”.
“When you were in the alley, you were in me”. Sofia’s head was full of bees, stinging away.
“You want it to make sense. It’s how you understand time and space, but that’s just your version of things”.
Head up, listening. Gone. Just like that. As if he’d never been. Not even the scrape of a chair leg on the floor.
Sofia finished her shift at the bar and walked home to her apartment. Rory’s stuff was bagged up for Goodwill. She had to navigate the pile in the hallway. It insisted that she notice it. Samael was in her apartment, sitting on the floor with his back against the arm of an easy chair, knees up, arms resting across knees, utterly spent.
“Where did you go?”
“To do my job”.
He looked sad, and tired, young and old. Teary and sleepy. If he couldn’t be forgiven, who could? Confession, absolution, resolution, change.
“I was there with Rory when he jumped” he said.
Sofia flushed, hot and cold, shaky hand through greasy hair.
“And Kennedy. And the rest”.
There he sat, confessing angel, on her floor, lit by the dim bulb of a single lamp. Rory, Kennedy, and the rest. It rang in Sofia’s head.
“Look me up if you want. I’m on WIkipedia, apparently”.
“Did you write the entry?”
“Why would I? I was here before the internet, and I’ll be here when you’re all gone, phones and all. You and your selfies. You’ll all be so busy taking photos at the end of the world, you’ll miss it. Apocalypse selfies”.
Sofia sat down on the floor opposite him.
“Kennedy’s angel selfie – that’s real? That’s you?”
“I was there at the last moment, yes. Kennedy and I were in the same time and space for long enough. I didn’t see the phone or I would have gone back and dealt with it. By the time I realised what had happened, it was too late. It was everywhere, just that blurry edge of a wing – not even really a wing as such. More a part of my energy – a smear”.
Samael shifted his back against the chair. The light from the lamp bent a little around his shoulders. Sofia wondered if she reached out she would touch something where there appeared to be nothing.
“All those people after Kennedy… because of the photo…” Sofia shuddered, bees swarmed aggressively. “And Rory. You were there, by the railroad track when he…”
“Of course. Always. I am always there”.
“But you were too late to save him? And Kennedy and the rest?” Bees hiving together in her head. Sofia wrung her hands, twisting the rope of fear.
“If you were there why didn’t they survive? Why didn’t you save them? If you were there, at the moment the train hit, why didn’t you save Rory? You’re an angel, right? An angel”.
Samael looked at Sofia’s hot, red, wet face. He wanted to stay, to explain. But the train had nearly arrived and he had to go.
It couldn’t be what Rory felt because at this point he was long gone, his sentient self dismantled, electrical impulses had stopped firing, consciousness darkened. Sofia wondered how long it took after the train hit. The coroner’s report had said ‘instantaneous’. It seemed like a word that offered comfort, the hope that the victim was utterly oblivious to death’s arrival, gone before any physiological mechanism could register something amiss. But surely it was not so for Kennedy, Rory and the others? As they willfully stood astride the rail, they knew that there would be a lethal instance of harm. Since Rory died, Sofia had asked herself repeatedly why he did not prefigure the pain and by doing so avoid it, step off the rail onto the ballast. Now she knew that you could be held in place by a conviction that what you were doing was right and necessary, not only for you but for others. That the world was better off without you, and you without the world. That you’d take the visceral bang. Your trust in the instantaneousness of death could be more powerful than the fear of pain. She had stood on the railroad track with the approaching train vibrating the rails beneath her feet. Yet here she was, on her back on the ballast, in a non-place between the rail and the attenuation pond, between sleeping and waking. She had wanted to go, and Samael had somehow – against his nature – stopped it. The memory of the racket of the unfurling of his wings awakened her with a jolt.
Samael was back, but being in this stolen corporeal body, in this space and time was draining, a sensation he never felt in his angelic form. Molecules slipped past each other. Unruly atoms agitated against strength of will. Sofia was down by the railroad track where Rory had jumped.
“How come I can see you but the policemen couldn’t?”
“You saw me in the Science Museum. Once I’m seen, I can’t be unseen”.
“But you were looking at me. I didn’t look for you. You wanted me to see you”.
“Can’t it be both?”
They stood together on the railroad track side, buddleias springing from nature’s scrubby afterthought at the edge.
“Why didn’t you save Rory?” asked Sofia, arms folded tightly in defense. “Why didn’t you save Kennedy? Why don’t you save any of them?”
“It’s their time”.
“Why are you there then?”
“I don’t save people. It’s not my job. I hasten. I hasten the end. They’re already gone. It’s euphoric, painless, instantaneous”.
“How do you hasten the end?” tight horror shrank Sofia’s voice. Samael glanced over at her. She was wretched with grief. He had already given up a great deal in the search for forgiveness and compassion, and they still seemed well beyond even his infinite sweep.
A hum in the line arrested them, and the air started to stir ahead of a train.
“I could go now” said Sofia “You could ‘hasten’ me”.
Samael folded his arms and flexed his shoulders a bit but his wings, if they existed at all, remained unfurled.
“I don’t think so” he said. The train poured past, and Sofia rocked back on her heels.
“I’m a coward” she said when a fresh silence admitted the sounds of nature at trackside. “Would you have stopped me?”
Samael shrugged. “I don’t stop. I hasten. I don’t have the power to stop anyone”. He looked desperate and lost. Even Sofia could see it. She put her hand on his arm but he drew a sharp breath and winced away.
“Damaged goods” he said.
“Aren’t we all” said Sofia, and headed back into town.
Hasten them. Euphoric, painless, instantaneous. There was no ambiguity there, and equally no way back, no possibility of reprieve. It was not even that Samael arrived a moment before the train hit. It was more like he created an extra moment. Lying out there on the ballast, Sofia wondered if she was only imagining time passing, if she had become stuck somewhere, not hastened, not saved. Summoning effort, she thumbed the home button on her phone.
Sofia finally hauled Rory’s stuff to Goodwill and then lay down on his side of the bed and stared at the ceiling fan stirring the dense, hot air. The fan faltered momentarily, then resumed.
“What if all he wanted was to know that someone cared enough to stop him?” she asked out loud.
“He wouldn’t have chosen a train” said Samael. They lay side by side, contemplating the ceiling fan. Samael had arrived in a freezing bubble of frigid air which cocooned him, subverting the warmth of the room. He shivered, sending the bedside lamp clattering off the nightstand. Sofia pushed Samael onto his side, spooned in behind him, and pulled the covers over them both. It was like lying down in the Arctic.
“What if that’s all anyone wants? To know that someone cared enough to stop you?” Samael asked. Sofia drifted towards a hypothermic sleep in the sweltering room, lying where Samael’s wings should be.
The bees were so loud, Sofia couldn’t tell if they were real or in her head or both. Marooned on the ballast, her skin fought the heat driving up from below. She lay shimmered in the air thinned by the sun. That’s how Cody found her.
“Oh jeez! Here you are. Here you are. Holy crap!” He peered in, mottled hands on dodgy knees. Sofia opened her eyes, squinted the flare of the sun away, thought she saw Samael in its aurora. But Cody was alone, his eyes wide, trying to take it in. His gnarly forearms held up his torso by bracing against his creaking legs. He wanted to kneel, but a long neglected hip joint would prevent him from rising unaided again.
“Oh jeez. Try not to move” He stood stiffly and looked back down the track. “You were right where he said you would be. Don’t try to talk. I don’t know what to do now. Oh jeez, look at you”.
He bobbed in and out of Sofia’s line of sight like a mental sparrow. She lifted a hand from the wrist, arm welded to ballast.
“It’s going to be ok. I’ll help. The ambulance crew will get me up again. It’ll be fine”. Cody sat. Like a crane falling over on a construction site, he seemed to break into pieces to the ground, only to reassemble himself on his hip, arm taught against the horizontal lure of the hot rocks. His spare hand took hers and gave it a squeeze. Sofia could see the flash on his hands, the silver blush across his palms and the beginnings of a handprint on his shoulder. A big bright, lustrous, argent tattoo on cotton. He looked beaten up.
“Daryl turned up at closing time with his buddies. There was a hell of a scrap. Never been more scared in my life, except maybe in ‘Nam”. Cody stopped and chuckled. “Daryl’s face is now a bigger mess than even you made of it”.
It was a war story, fueled by the adrenaline of victory, taking place at precisely the moment when Sofia had stood with her back to the train, clutching an old shirt of Rory’s, trying to give meaning to the urge to know what Rory had known, to ask questions of the world: do you want me in it? Is it my time? Does anyone care enough to stop me?
“I’m there, behind the bar, and I know there’s a gun in back. But I haven’t fired it in twenty years. It would probably have blown up in my face. It’s looking bad. Daryl was smashing up the place. Then I felt it. Like back in the jungle”. He glanced at Sofia. “That was me, by the way, the guy who got left behind in the jungle, came out covered in this” he craned to see the silver on his shirt. “For forty years I was sure I’d imagined it”.
A hand through Cody’s hand threw back the hinged bar top onto a tray of glasses which exploded under the force. A chair in Cody’s gnarly fist, a knee, an elbow to Daryl’s face, already dazed with blows. Silvery residue building across Cody’s hands and arms. Cody knew what to do. He yielded to it, and let Samael take his time.
Sofia had stood at trackside in the dark then lurched towards the rails. After Samael had gone, she had awoken alone in her bed in a sweat-chilled drench to a dozen menacing voicemails and some evidence of violence to her front door. Fear had stalked grief. Samael had been gone for days, so thoroughly absent that he felt like the product of a grief-mangled mind. Unable to process the logic of Rory’s decision, incumbent to his debt, suffering afresh the violence that attended the passing of that debt to her, driven by the need to see through Rory’s eyes, and feel what he felt, and vanish like he had, she set out to the railroad tracks carrying the conflicting hope that someone would care enough to stop her. But who would that be? It was not Samael’s job to save, just hasten. She’d settle for hasten, if that is what it meant to leave the world as Rory had left it.
The cops arrived. Officers Bolt and Guzman stood in the doorway looking around incredulously.
“Ok Cody? Everything under control?”
Daryl’s wing man was lengthwise on the floor. Daryl and the rest scurried through the back, doors slamming, shouts from the alley. Cody, breathless now he had been returned to himself, wiped his hands and face on a bar towel and leaned over to serve himself a beer.
“Everything is fine, officers” he said, “Just a minor disagreement”.
“We’re going to check outside, make sure the squad car picked them up. I’ll radio the ambulance” Bolt was all business. Cody lifted his glass to their retreating backs. He ached now, bad. From the back room came a sound like someone falling off a ladder. Cody limped round the bar, feet crunching on broken glass. Samael had materialised on the kitchen table, and was rolling off it, unsteady feet, the swagger of exhaustion. He braced his arms on the back of a chair and dropped his head. His black t-shirt was further blackened with sweat, and he was blowing like a clydesdale.
“Where’s Sofia?” he asked.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t been in” Cody organised his stiff joints into a chair. “What I don’t understand is, why not just get inside Daryl and walk him off a bridge? Or just fly up and drop him from ten thousand feet? Not that I’m not grateful but that mess will take some dealing with” he nodded in the direction of the bar.
“It doesn’t really work like that” offered Samael, beaded sweat gathering and dropping off his nose. “For one thing, you have to want it. You have to have the fight in you. I’m not really doing anything. I’m just facilitating”.
“Like you just hasten. Yeah”.
“In the end, it’s all about energy”.
“Maybe. Call it anything you like. But you’ve got to want to do whatever I’m helping you to do. Like in the jungle”.
“Maybe not so much that one Charlie” Cody shuddered. Samael was looking at him with a cold certainty in his eyes, a confident knowing, cruelly applied.
“You did want it. I felt it. You also wanted to kill Daryl just now. Lucky for you the goon squad arrived”.
“Fuck you angel boy. When are you going to take some responsibility? Hasten not save? Facilitate? Sounds like corporate bullshit”.
The red blush of cellulitis was mottling Samael’s arms.
“I don’t know and I don’t care why you helped me in the jungle. But why help Sofia? What’s going on there? You’re not long for this world in that body, so you might as well get the whole thing off your chest before you go back wherever you came from”.
Samael hesitated, then sat down.
“I’m an old man. I’m not easily shocked” said Cody.
Samael smiled in spite of himself. “Old, Cody? I’m an angel. You don’t know old”.
“Yeah well my hip joints say different”.
There was a clatter from the alley. They both knew that the police and the ambulance crew would be along at any moment.
“When I hasten, it’s someone’s time. The end is inevitable, unavoidable. But not Rory. I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have hastened him.” A glance at Cody. Pursed lips, brief nod. “The train was coming. Rory was on the track. What I do when I hasten, it makes no sense to you humans. Space and time are a mess. I hastened him and then I suppose the best way to describe it is that I saw Daryl when it was too late, pointing a gun at Rory”.
“I’d already hastened Rory. I was seeing something that had already happened”.
“Daryl made him go to the railroad track. Because of the debt”.
“I think so, but…”
“It definitely wasn’t Rory’s time. But Rory wanted it. Rory was ready. Rory wanted to go”.
Cody shook his head. “What a goddam mess” he muttered.
Samael stood suddenly, knocking over the chair. “Sofia’s at the railroad track” he said. “She’s there now – where Rory jumped”.
“You better go do your job” said Cody, “unless at long last you can see you have a choice”.
And just like that, Samael had gone.
The ambulance crew were picking their way over the ballast with a backboard. Cody raised a mottled arm in greeting.
“What the heck, Cody? First your bar and now out here?” called out Arnold, the paramedic.
Sofia was hoisted skyward on the backboard. Arnold put her phone on her chest. The ambulance was waiting at the level crossing for Sofia to be gingerly put in, Cody behind, off his high and aching like hell.
“Heard about the fight?” asked Arnold, nudging his buddy. “Took out Daryl and his crew single handedly”.
The ambulance driver leaned over the back of his seat.
“Got your radio on Arnie?”
“Heard some chatter. Wasn’t listening. What’s up?”
“Found a body”.
“Out at the coast. Totally marmalised. Looks like a jumper”.
“There ain’t nothing to jump off of out there” Arnold was busy with straps, keen to get off. The railroad tracks gave him the creeps. He had found Rory, and a couple of others before that. “No one jumps round here unless they jump in front of a goddam train” he said, and shuddered.
“Who was it?” asked Cody, holding a black-grey feather, smoothing its delicately barbed quill.
The driver spoke to the radio and received a staticy reply. “Sounds like… I think it was Daryl. Wearing the same gear but – you know – hard to know. Looked like he’d been dropped”.
“Like I say, nothing to jump off of at the coast”.
“No, dropped – like, out of a plane or something. Mashed up. Like he fell from ten thousand feet”.
More static. “It’s him” said the driver “found a wallet and ID. He escaped custody, not sure how. Looked like he had been on the beach since the early hours”. Just after the train missed Sofia.
Sofia opened her eyes, startled by the ambulance door slamming shut. Daryl was gone forever. The bees in her head had been silenced by morphine, and in the ensuing calm she recalled with absolute clarity the arrival of Samael at the railroad tracks in some form unrecognisable to her: energy not matter, five hundred miles high but near at hand, the moment of redemption for both of them in the last nano-second before the train hit, when Samael saved Sofia. Then he, whatever he was, was gone and she was out cold on the ballast, the train diminishing in the distance, a sleepy driver rubbing his eyes.
Cody was at her side, pressing the feather into her hands, tears stuck in the grooves of his face, shakily whispering “Samael must’ve dropped Daryl. He saved you and he took Daryl”.
Sofia pushed her phone towards Cody. The home screen was awash with jumbled icons, the operating system fried by a dose of supernatural energy. But there in the wallpaper was an image: a suggestion of momentum, nothing focused, a chaos of dimensions, too much to process, visual and visceral, material and cerebral, what the near end would look like if you could make it still and capture all its affective qualities. And there, in the middle, the hint of a wing.