Ants and Angels
There’s a whisper:
All the angels are fallen.
Were it not so, we would not exist.
I know of a place. It’s not very big. It’s in the heart, just before you get to the heart of hearts. There’s a little antechamber there where unsavory intentions gather and linger and linger—for no matter how hard they wish and try to, they cannot enter the heart of hearts, I’m pretty sure of that; at least some of the time.
This is the little padded room from where, they say—I read this somewhere not so long ago—where they say that if thoughts could kill, we would de-people (if not de-life entirely) our planet in a matter of months.
This is also the place where I often dwell these days. I call it my grizzly place, sometimes I call it my scary place, or my darkness. This is from where I cannot help myself. But right now I am not there, right now I’m lucid.
Some hold that we were created on the 4th day, but this is not so. We were not created. None of us were. We were all one with Michael, who was as God, and whom some call Sabbathiel. We had not wings then. Nor had we bodies. We simply were.
Dad says God created Texans because he needed people who liked Texas to fill it up with. I have no idea what he’s talking about. What’s there not to like? There’s no better place on Earth. There’s no end to Texas. The rest of the world, and that includes Africa—which is mostly a desert as big as an ocean called the Sahara Desert—could just about fit in our back yard, where we have lots of ants.
Some days my grizzly place is crawling with them—with ants, not Texans—and then I begin to itch and I pour gasoline on them and strike a match to them and see them scurry and fry and flee and leave, all of them, except for the crispy ones which lie upside down and twitch for a while with their little charred and wispy legs before they stop twitching and die and smell bad like something Mother’s left too long in the oven, when she starts swearing and Dad starts swearing too for now it’ll be a while before dinner’s ready, she’s got to think of something else she says, and why does she have to do everything, anyway, while she slips on those big green and yellow and pink here and there oven mitts and pulls that burnt and smoking and smelly thing out of the oven and tosses it into the garbage with a big fat thud and another swear word or two and some mutter mutter which I don’t really make out along with it, where it still smells of smoke and fire, though it doesn’t smell of gasoline, like dead ants do, while Dad returns to pretending to read the paper.
The best thing in all of Texas is Bethe. That’s what I think. At least when I am lucid, like I am lucid now. For then I can read and think and say and dream and write things down, things I don’t even understand when the ants re-invade my scary place and I have to fetch more gasoline.
I burned down a tool shed once.
By the end of the 4th day some of us had turned into stars.
There are those who speak of this. Isaiah, for one, for he gave the Fallen Angel a name, he called him the Morning Star. In other places he calls him the Defiant Star, the Rebel Angel. And in this he is right, of course, though he may not know where or how or why: for to be an angel, you must have fallen: defiant, rebellious. I should know.
Angels have always been superior to man, but not always inferior to divinity.
We were all aspatial at first, neither occupying space nor being enclosed by it nor containing it. We were nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by nothing, suffusing everything, all two million of us. We were God’s engine of war.
Some claim that we have beginnings but have no end. This is false, we have no beginning. In that we are all as Michael, who is as God, who has no beginning.
I think Bethe is an angel. A capital-A Angel. Sometimes, when the light falls just right on her shoulders, especially from behind or from the side, I can make out her wings. They flutter like a million motes of silvery dust when she moves, and when they do everything is right with the world and there are no ants, not in my grizzly place, not anywhere, and I feel nicely lucid.
That’s when I write poems, like the one which was published in a church magazine last year, or the year before that, I don’t really remember. “That was a damn mistake,” says Dad, and laughs. “One day we’ll find out where he stole it from.”
I didn’t steal it from anywhere. It was whispered to me.
This poem was about another angel, not a capital-A one like Bethe. It came to me, the poem did, like a guest brought on the wind and it filled that part of my heart where I often hurt—which is not my grizzly place, but next door to it, through that door, the real heart—and there it whispered and whispered until I had the whole thing remembered.
Then I wrote it down and it came out so nice that Sister Elizabeth at the convent was the only one who believed me when I said I had written it myself, and she showed it to some priest whose name I can’t remember either who liked it so much he went ahead and published it in a church magazine which I think was called The Clarion. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was called, The Clarion. I have the copy of it they mailed to me somewhere around here, though I would have to look for it.
The poem was called “Heavenly Voices” I think it was. I didn’t call it that, I didn’t call it anything for nothing was whispered to me about what to call it, but the priest called it that. Poems should have titles, Sister Elizabeth explained to me. That was last year, or the year before that, before the ants became a real nuisance.
And now Bethe is afraid of me. Not sure what I might do. Alert around me. Tip-toeing, it feels like.
We can converse with each other without the use of signs or words.
We can work wonders. But, says Raguel—who is the self-proclaimed protector of tradition and protocol—not miracles, and then he goes on to define miracles as that thing which angels cannot perform, which I find a bit lame. Wonders, on the other hand, he confirms, we can work.
Saraqael has a better definition. He defines a miracle as creating something from nothing where a wonder, he says, only changes some existing thing or condition. I agree with Saraqael’s distinction, and despite Raguel’s insistent proclamation, I hold that we can create miracles: some things from no things. We all can, even humans, if only they dared to remember (Saraqael is silent on the human issue).
Although some do remember.
And some see us.
Jorge Luis Borges, for his bad eyes, saw us at nightfall, “in that long quiet moment when things are gradually left alone, with their backs to the sunset, when colors are like memories or premonitions of other colors,” he wrote. Few humans have known us better. Had he but believed what he saw, he would now be one of us. But he did not believe, and so he is not.
The Gnostic heresiarchs claimed that the world, which they considered evil, was the work of fallen angels. There is some truth to that, though not much.
Bethe’s last name is Gullifer, which is a name that comes from England and which means wolf army, she once told me. “Wolf army?” I said. “You’d never get that many wolves in one place at one time,” I said. “Not to make up a whole army.” For I was sure I had read somewhere that wolves are loners. Well, everyone’s heard of the Lone Wolf, right? Haven’t they? They run in small packs, is what they do, not in armies. And definitely not in Texas. There are too many guns here, by far. Though they don’t eat cows, wolves don’t, so maybe they wouldn’t shoot at them, not for that, anyway. At least I don’t think they eat cows.
“I don’t know,” Bethe said. “That’s what Grandpa says. I’m not even sure it’s true.” And she looks up at me and smiles, and she smells like grass before it turns yellow; that, and flowers, violets, I think. The most wonderful smell in all of Texas.
Well, come to find out, it is true. That’s what Gullifer means, wolf army is what it means. I checked up on it. This was when they still let me go to the library by myself, before “too many damn books,” as Dad likes to say, got to me.
Bethe Gullifer. Capital-A Angel.
Mom calls Bethe’s house “next door” even though it’s a mile and then some away, which Mom calls a baker’s mile for reasons I haven’t managed to pin her down on yet. That’s not really next door, though, is it? Still, when you stop to think about it, it really is the next house, the next door, literally, at least in that direction. The Capital-A Angel direction.
“Give me Texas any damn day,” Dad likes to say, a lot. “At least we have some space here.” He’s right about that: there’s a lot of space between me and Bethe these days although there were times there was hardly any.
We’ve lived here forever, Dad says. This used to be his dad’s house, and before then it belonged to Dad’s dad’s dad. Now it’s “way too big” for us, says Mom, who cannot have any more children. “He saw to that,” Dad says and looks at me with his dark eyes, sharp and hooded as if his lids were wrinkly skin umbrellas. Mom says Dad does love me, of course he does, he just isn’t very good at showing it, she says. I’d say.
I don’t think he loves me at all. I think he wants me dead. In fact, I think there is some sort of race on.
Some call me Gabriel. And they are right to do so, that is my name.
Others call me the Angel of Vengeance. Those that do so are also correct, for my main business is returning favors. I lead God’s engine of war.
Michael and Raphael are my brothers, or sisters; siblings. We are sexless, mostly. We can choose, and therein lies our elegance. We can rise above, or swim within—at will and by our own choosing—that deep and wide and troubled and turbulently ecstatic sea, that toxic sea that Man, especially the clergy, blames on the need to procreate; that fever that devours him and so makes him less than angel.
And that is what truly separates us: Man cannot choose and that is his curse.
Some blame me (or praise me, viewpoints vary) for whispering the length and breadth of the Alcoran into Mohammed’s ear; even Mohammed himself claims that I did.
Let me set the record straight: I did no such thing. The Alcoran was not my doing. I did not even like the man. I believe the whisperer was Raphael. Unless, of course, Mohammed made it all up himself. I don’t think so though. I think it was Raphael: parts of that long and rambling book reek of him and he was hard to find around that time. Away Mohammed-way whispering, I’d wager, calling himself Gabriel.
Some claim I leveled Sodom and Gomorrah on the direct orders of God, and that, on the other hand, is true. I am not above a bit of honest carnage now and then, which, after all, is part of my job description.
But mostly I, like Raphael, like to whisper.
Yes, I’m sure of it now: Dad wants me dead.
Dad has a red-haired friend who is a giant man called Barrel. That’s not his real name, but if you saw him you’d know why he’s called Barrel. “He’s got to weigh three hundred pounds if he weighs an ounce,” says Mom. “All muscle,” says Dad. “Muscle, my foot,” says Mom. “Muscle don’t make you seasick to watch go by.”
“What do you know about seasick?” says Dad, who gets angry and asks dumb questions like that when he’s been outwitted by Mom, which happens a lot.
Barrel probably does weigh three hundred pounds, though. He is an enormous man. But for all that size, which does make him look clumsy, he is not clumsy at all, and he is an excellent shot. And he loves his guns, Barrel does. Keeps them polished and oiled and true. “Does little else with his time,” says Dad. And then he winks and grins at me, but it’s not a friendly grin, and it’s really not meant for me, it’s meant for Mom: “It’s not like he’s busy fending off women.” Ha, ha.
We’re out shooting bottles, Dad, Barrel and I, although I don’t get to shoot. “Probably kill someone,” Dad says.
And I know—and Dad knows, and Barrel knows—that had I not stumbled that day, had I not tripped on that twig, and almost fallen, Barrel would have shot me deader than a lead weight that day. Christ, I felt the bullet. It damn near parted my hair. I had begun to fall as it came. Had I stood upright, it would have found my brain, head on, and that would have been that for me. I know that for a fact, for Barrel is the best shot in our parts, if not in the entire state of Texas. He’s got trophies to prove it, says Dad, and Mom doesn’t disagree, so I’m sure it’s true. When Mom doesn’t disagree with what he says, what Dad says is mostly true.
Dad put on quite an act of being upset that I almost got shot. “What the hell are you doing, man?” he screamed at Barrell. “You almost shot my boy.” And Barrel, too. Although Barrel probably didn’t act so much as really was upset, for I’m sure Dad wasn’t about to pay anyone for a near miss, and there was no way Barrel was going to aim at me and shoot again, not with me not taking my eyes off of him. Barrel didn’t say a word—not even “Sorry” to me, which I think was the least he could have done—but climbed into his pickup truck and then there was a lot of dust, and Dad kept saying “It was an accident, Son, an accident.” Right.
“Let’s not tell Mom,” he said. Right.
I told Mom and she threw a fit. Used a lot of words I’m not supposed to use myself, or even know. Dad looked shell-shocked said over and over again that it was an accident and in the end Mom calmed down and, I think, believed him.
“I don’t think it was an accident,” said I, at which Dad began loosening his belt saying, “I’ll show you what’s not an accident.”
“Okay,” I said. “It was an accident.”
“Don’t you touch the boy,” said Mom
I’ve been wary of Barrel since. I tend to head the other way when I see him coming.
Some say I made love to Mary and so begot Jesus. Mea culpa.
Or as the poet, I think it was Richard Crashaw, once put it:
Heavens Golden-winged Herald, late hee saw
To a poor Galilean virgin sent.
How low the Bright Youth bow’d, and with what awe
Immortall flowers to her faire hand present.
On God’s orders, which I gladly followed—and to be honest, enjoyed. But I was equally glad, if not gladder, to leave that soiling sea below me once done. It is a vicious thing that mist, that pain, that ecstasy, and quite addictive if you’re not careful. It stains your eye. By choice I have not returned to it since, letting that sleeping dog sleep.
I much prefer the clearer vision.
There were no ants in my scary place that day so I had no problem entering my heart of hearts. And here the plan was whispered. It was a very clever plan. A getting even plan. The whisper mentioned returning the favor. Settling the score. Words to that effect.
By the way, when you listen in your heart of hearts it’s not words you hear, and it’s not pictures that you see either. It’s more like little knows. I know that doesn’t make much sense, perhaps, but it’s definitely not words, I can tell whispered words, and it’s not pictures, I can tell pictures from knows. What I’m talking about is like a strong intuition, a notion that you’re certain of; I guess you could say knowtion, which I think is a clever word if I may say so myself, seeing as I’ve beat the dictionary to it.
It is how I imagine it would feel if you were whispered to by an angel. Heavenly knowtions.
And that ant-free day, the whispering angel laid it all out for me, in detail. I then followed his advice, very precisely and very carefully, making sure I didn’t overlook or forget anything.
The truth is that if Dad hadn’t been low on gas—which, yes, I should have thought of that; I should’ve checked the tank and poured some more in (I have bits of it stowed away here and there, for ant emergencies)—so that he had to pull in at Sherwood’s “to get a few dollars’ worth,” I heard him tell Mom later, where of course the car, as planned, didn’t stop but kept right on going and right into the little shop Frank Sherwood keeps with cigarettes and candy and newspapers; well, then he would have gotten past Sherwood’s and down the long hill to Moose Lake Bend and the sheer drop off the bend toward the lake as it veers sharply left (railing busted last winter and still not fixed) at good speed and without brakes, and, well, that would have been that: I’d have won our race.
As it happened, the car only got a fresh dent—hard to make out among the others—though Frank Sherwood’s shop needed patching up a bit (to say the least), and Dad had to explain to Foster Wallace, he’s the local law, what happened.
“Damn brakes just up and gave out,” said Dad.
“You didn’t notice the brakes when you turned onto County Road?” asked Sheriff Wallace, standing on our porch, sunglasses in hand. “You had to stop there, right?”
“The brakes were fine then,” said Dad.
“But were gone half a mile later?” A little skeptical.
“Do you think I’m lying?”
“No, no, just making sure,” said the sheriff.
They never found out how come the brakes failed when they did, as the whispered plan was very precise and very clever about what to do, but I think Dad knows. I can tell by the way he looks at me when he thinks I don’t notice. And I know that he’s planning something in return. He’s always planning something. The race is definitely still on.
Michael, Raphael and I are three of the seven angels which the Book of Revelation identifies in Chapter 8, Verse 2:
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God;
And to them were given seven trumpets.
The other four are Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel, whom some call Camael. Making the seven: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel. Please make a note of that.
There are those who say Michael’s real name is Shekinah, the Prince of Light, and I say there is some truth to that.
There are those who refer to me as Jibril, or Jabriel, or Abrael, or Abru-el. The ancient Persians called me Sorush and Revan-bakhsh and “the crowned Bahman,” the mightiest of all angels. Very flattering, and not necessarily untrue. The Ethiopians call me Gadreel.
We seven form a holy brotherhood of sorts, not always harmonious. Rarely harmonious would be more accurate.
There are those who propose that together we seven constitute God. This is an interesting idea, and again very flattering, but it is a false one. God is different from us, though not by much, I give you that, for I am sure that if God had somewhere to fall to (which, fortunately for Him, He does not), He would have fallen by now. One of us then, and much aggrieved.
There has been endless debate—and I believe it is still raging (though that word may be a little too strong) among those who still care about us—about who the seven are, exactly. Other than me, Michael and Raphael, of course, since we are named in the Scriptures. Well, at least Michael and I are. Raphael is named in The Book of Tobit, which is near enough to Scripture to qualify in my opinion. It’s about the remaining four that opinions and convictions differ.
There have been many confusions. Some have placed Anael—Haniel to some—among us, but though Anael is strong, and tall—he is near enough the tallest angel around—Anael is nothing more than a glorified caretaker. He’s charged with keeping the sexual miasma in place, with keeping a lid of sorts on Earth—or ceiling, depending on viewpoint—to make sure no one leaves, or wants to leave for that matter. How do you build a perfect prison? someone asked. “Build one that no one wants to leave,” was the answer. Clever indeed. But ask those men who have visited the moon about the joy of leaving their prison for a while. They don’t talk about that, though. They know they would not be believed.
Anael. Master of the Turbulent Sea, is what I call him, and to his face, though he’s not enamored with the epithet. Still, since what St. Augustine says happens to be true, that “every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel”—including some things not so visible, like the soiling sea—well, then somebody has to do it, and it fell upon Anael to give Venus her glow in the morning sky. He seems to like the job. Does a good job. But one of the seven? No, not even close.
Then there’s Zadkiel. Some claim he is part of the seven. He is not. He is in charge of Jupiter. And that’s about it. How anyone conceived of him as one of us is beyond me.
Some say Orifiel is one of us. Not so. He’s taking care of Saturn.
And some say Uzziel. I have no idea what could have given birth to that notion. It’s repugnant to common sense. I think Raguel or someone actually made Uzziel as a prank. But he’s a well-made prank and is still around, I’ll give him that. But absolutely not one of us.
So, just for the record, and posterity, let it be said by Gabriel himself that the following are, in fact, the seven angels that stand in the presence of God and who were given the seven trumpets: Yours Truly, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel.
I hope that those who care about these things really do make a note of this and do pass it on. Again, the seven are: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel.
It is when I am not so lucid that the ants come.
What I have never been able to figure out is whether the ants come because I’m no longer lucid, or whether I’m no longer lucid because the ants come.
Long ago, so long ago it was like in another life, I used to like ants. I liked to watch them scurry and carry and build and nearly, but never actually—even carrying things larger than themselves—run into each other.
Now I burn them.
“Someone keep those damn matches away from him,” says Dad. “He’ll burn the house down some day. Look what happened to the tool shed.” Little does he know I have a lifetime supply of them hidden in the basement. There is a grocery store next to the library, and I’m certainly old enough to buy matches. I’ve bought tons of them, almost literally.
Gasoline is trickier to stash, because gasoline smells and matches don’t. But gasoline needs to get out of whatever it’s in to get to your nose, so if it can’t get out of whatever it’s in, it can’t get to your nose and then you can’t smell it.
I have two glass jars with tight lids which hold nearly two pints each. Mom used them to preserve jams and stuff, but she has so many of those that she didn’t notice the two gone missing. Or if she did, she didn’t say anything. I have four plastic pint bottles with screw-on caps, the kind that hikers use for water. Good and tight, too. And I have an arsenal of smaller glass bottles with very snug cork plugs which won’t let any air in, or out. They were part of a chemistry set I was allowed to play with before Dad took it away. Not the bottles, though; he didn’t notice they were missing.
With the help of a rubber hose—another thing Dad didn’t notice was missing from the chemistry set, he’s not the brightest of dads—and his almost always just about empty gas tank, all of these containers are now filled with gasoline and hidden everywhere, mainly in the barn. You have to make sure you don’t suck too hard on the hose, or too long, before you stick that end of the hose in the bottle, or you’ll get lots of gasoline in your mouth.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Satan. Since I’m at it, let me put this straight as well.
There is no such angel.
Granted, God has opposition—and deservedly so, for he’s created some pretty ill-advised things over the years. Earth is but one of these.
And one source of opposition, if you can call it that—it’s more like grumbling if you ask me—is the Heavenly Department established to keep an eye on Him and His reckless doings with a view to clean up after Him.
And the name of this Department, this function, is and always has been ha-satan. This is not the name of an angel, not the name of a being of any kind, angelic or otherwise; it is the name of function, an office, if you will.
The angel who occupies this office and whose job is ha-satan—the actual adversary, if you want to call him that, the grumbler—is neither evil nor fallen, well, not fallen farther than any of us. He is simply an administrator, and as a rule an unusually good one at that, charged as he is with cleaning up God’s messes, as it were, running after Him with pail and mop to straighten out His latest ill-begotten wHim. It is a hard job, very hard—God is nothing if not industrious—and of course it wears on you, and now and then you will feel compelled to question God’s wisdom, aloud, albeit very politely.
This, however, is never an advisable course of action, for God does not like to have His wisdom questioned, no matter how respectfully—does not take kindly to even a hint of criticism—and as a result God does not like the office of ha-satan, nor any Director thereof. The fact that He Himself established this Department: long since conveniently and thoroughly forgotten by Mr. Perfect Memory.
So, yes, I guess he is an adversary of sorts—from His viewpoint—our poor Director of ha-satan, but he is but a Servant of God nonetheless, a Functionary, a Personal Assistant (to use the current term), a one-man clean-up crew, and he is not evil. Far from it. For my money, the Director of ha-satan is an exceptional angel, perhaps the greatest of angels, for you have to have the patience of a glacier to deal with Him directly, delicately, and often.
I should know, I held that office once. Those were trying times.
Our current Director of ha-satan is fairly new, you can tell by the enthusiasm which has yet to wear thin (it will eventually, always does). He is also, from what I gather, quite anal, likes to keep the universe clean and orderly, just so, and he still does his job with vim and vigor, cleaning up as needed—which is often, still. Not questioning Wisdoms, yet. Wonder how long that will last?
Now, Satan as fallen angel was brought into lore by a scribal error when by sloppy hand or translation the definite article, ha-, was dropped in I Chronicles 21, and as a result, suddenly: enter Satan, The Dark Lord, Evil Incarnate.
My guess is that Satan was (and still is) too good for business to pass up, and is why the Christians embraced him so gladly, and so fully, and why he persists to this day.
And as to Hell, his supposed abode: don’t get me started. Sheer fiction.
Ironically, some say that Satan’s greatest trick has been convincing Man that he does not exist. Wonder who thought that one up, for I think the greater trick still is convincing Man that he does.
The Hebrew Bible, incidentally, says nothing about evil powers conspiring against the goodness of God. That all started with Christianity, whose marketing department, from what I can make out, needed a catchy and incendiary campaign to reach and convert the sinning masses.
Besides, as is well known, good versus evil is something the Christians lifted outright from Zoroastrianism, who literally owned the copyright on it. Any enterprising lawyer worth his salt would have Christianity tied up in court to this day.
Enough about Satan.
Something’s not right.
I set fire to our cat today. The sad thing is that I liked her. No, really.
Her name was Brownie. She was a large, golden-yellow and white and, of course, brown female with twice as many whiskers on one side of her head as on the other. She was always like that no matter what Dad says about “Someone’s probably plucked half her damn whiskers,” and always loud enough for me to hear. And then he laughs, as if that was supposed to be funny.
I’d known her since she was a kitten, lopsided whiskers and all. She was the reason Bethe used to come over so often, to play with Brownie. Her mom (allergic to cats) would drop her off in her big black Cadillac. “Stupid color for a car in this sun,” Dad used to say, but to me it was the greatest color, the black car that brought Bethe, so big it almost looked like a boat coming up our long drive to the house trailing a cloud of dust, bobbing up and down with the potholes Dad was going to fill in someday, when he wasn’t so busy doing nothing, as Mom calls it.
What made me like Brownie even more was that she seemed to know exactly what to do, when we played with her, to make me bump into Bethe and get those little jolts you get from touching someone you like.
It was just that she no longer looked like Brownie. She no longer looked like a cat.
She looked like a very large ant. Cat-sized.
When I was done, when she finally stopped her awful screaming—which sounded more like they came from an injured child than from an animal—and the ants had all left my grizzly place, I saw that she was not an ant after all, but that she was Brownie. Good thing Mom and Dad were out, she was very loud.
All black now, though. And not moving. And the smell.
The holy Yehudi claims that “the virtue of angels is that they cannot deteriorate,” by which he meant that we cannot descend from good towards evil, or as he more aptly puts it, that we cannot fall. That is not true. That is how we became angels in the first place, by either account.
Officially (God’s Version):
In the beginning, or shortly thereafter—on the 4th day, this is what He tells us when He condescends to hold forth on the subject—He conjured forth the ur-angel by Divine Magic. This ur-angel was a large, shimmering bundle of life eager to do his bidding. Then, on his Divine Command this ur-angel split asunder into two million little pieces: behold the angels.
Looking, we found in each shard a surprised and amazed copy of ourselves, shimmering back at us as from a mirror. God liked this, for He would sit and watch us shimmer while reminding us that we were not really of Him, but of a lower order. Fallen. Yes, that was the word He used. As in fallen (off some heavenly wall) and broken into two million pieces.
Unofficially (The Truth):
I do not think He is on the up and up. I don’t think we are created at all. I think we have always been one with Michael, who was as God, and who I think may be, perhaps, another God. A brother God.
Michael does not want to talk about it. I wish he would.
Still, we are fallen, for even though we are not of matter, we can now be seen. And that is proof enough that at some point we have stumbled from essence and into form.
They found out, of course—cats (as I had vaguely suggested) don’t run away, especially not at her age, and especially not Brownie—and now they’ve locked me in my room.
A couple of days after Brownie’s accident—which is how Mom refers to what happened to her—she and a Dr. Drew came to visit me in my upstairs prison. A “regular doctor,” Mom said so many times that I knew he was no regular doctor. Mom then left and he asked me many questions, some dumber than others, and I told him nothing about ants.
Then he pretended to mull things over before he gave me some pills that I, in turn, pretended to swallow. They were blue and there was no way that I was going to eat those. I do not trust pills. I’ve seen what they do to Mom when she’s sad. She gets clumsy, and then she falls asleep, sometimes even at the kitchen table. And her pills are blue, too.
There are no ants in my room and that is a good thing, for it is upstairs and I’m very afraid of heights. I’m so afraid of heights that I could not climb out my window if my life depended on it. Say if I were to start a fire in here. I would probably burn up with the rest of my room (and the rest of the house, I guess).
The door is still locked, so it’s a good thing I have my own bathroom. “What’s wrong with the cellar and a pot to piss in?” I heard Dad ask loud enough to wake the dead as soon as Dr. Drew had gone.
Well, I can tell you what's wrong with the cellar. There are ants down there. Lots of them.
The other big debate about us angels is whether or not we have free will.
I know the answer to that question: I have free will and so does Michael, swears Michael. Which in my book is proof positive that God is not quite on the up and up when He claims to have created us (which He still, to this day, maintains whenever asked), for had He done so then, naturally, we would not possess free will.
To me it is very plain that something—or someone—who has been created—that is to say, and let’s be very clear about this, who is the outcome or result of some creator’s creation—cannot possess a free will, since any such will, clearly and by definition, is bestowed upon the createe by the creator and is limited or not limited in scope and power to exactly the extent allowed for by the creator. There has never been, nor can there ever be, a created thing with a truly free will. I’m not sure there can be a created thing with will, period. There can be a created thing with the illusion of will, free or otherwise, yes, but the free will of the created is myth, pure and simple. So thinks Gabriel.
And Gabriel knows how to tell free will for true angels possess it.
Ergo: we were not created, whatever He, or anyone else says.
“Someone’s here to seeee you.” Mom’s voice almost yodels of innocence just outside the door.
I already know who, since I saw the big black boat of a car bounce up the long drive, the potholes getting worse each year Dad puts them off until that always tomorrow when there’s not so much on his filled-to-the-brim-with-more-important-things-to-do plate. I’m not sure how much longer that old car—ever more boat-like with age as the beat-up suspension swings her hull back and forth as well as up and down as it labors—how much longer she can take it. It wasn’t Bethe’s mom driving though, it was Bethe herself. Seventeen now, her own license and all.
Mom turned the key and opened the door.
Honestly, I felt like an animal in a zoo. Like something that Bethe had come to gawk at and to be afraid of. To be alert to. I had no idea what to do with my hands so I found my chair and sat down on them.
“Hi,” she said, and waved that brief five-fingered fan wave of hers.
“Hi,” I said.
Mom stood by the door. Bethe took a careful step into my room and then looked back at Mom in a way that asked her not to leave. Mom gave no indication of going anywhere and Bethe looked relieved.
“So,” she began, turning to me. “How are things?”
“Things,” I said, looking first at Mom, pointedly, and then at Bethe, “are about as good as they can get when you’re under house arrest.”
Bethe smiled briefly as if at a slightly embarrassing joke, a quick inspection of her feet, a glance in Mom’s direction (who did not look at Bethe but at her own feet), then back at me.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked. It sounded like she meant that.
But then I just knew that this was Dr. Drew’s doing. Something supposedly “good” for me. And that really hurt. Badly. My heart of hearts plain flooded with humiliation and sheer hurt and without looking at her I asked Bethe to leave, and after that I didn’t say another word. Just sat on my hands and stared at the wall, and at the poster I have of Dali’s melting watch.
She said a few other things, probably also scripted by Dr. Drew. Mom said a few things. Not sure what they were. Then they left.
Mom did not forget to turn the key.
I walked up to the window and looked down at Bethe getting into the car. She looked up and saw me, as I stayed put, holding back the curtain. We looked at each other a little while. Then she waved to me, for real I think, an unscripted wave, and that was sweet. Then she climbed back into her boat and shut the heavy black door with a squeak and a thud I could hear all the way up to where I stood. Needs oiling, that door. I wondered if her mom had given her the car, or if she was only borrowing it. She drove off and bounced all the way out of sight, dust chasing.
Origen claims that we “multiply like flies.” That is simply not true, and if I could find him (I have kept an eye out), I would like to do things to that man.
How could we? We don’t have a reproductive system. We do not even have intestines. Angels don’t eat. Have you ever seen an angel eat? Well, there you are, then. I rest my case.
And while I’m at it. These wings are purely for show. Like the back seats of certain small cars, cosmetic. They are not what you might term “functional wings.” We fly by anti-gravitational levitation. We do this simply by disagreeing with gravity. That is all there is to the flight of angels. Man has yet to figure this out; has yet to learn how to disagree properly.
And as a rule we don’t flap them. Looks stupid.
Sometimes when I find my scary place ant-less and not so hard at all to navigate, then, once in my heart of hearts, I sometimes hear whispers that sound like poetry. That’s when I’m very awake. The real me. No matches, no gasoline, no fire, no six-legged things scurrying for safety. No remorse.
And sometimes, like with “Heavenly Voices” that was published—I told you about that, right?—I write them down.
This was whispered to me a little while back. It has no name. They don’t come with names.
I found myself a cockroach
and scurried for a while
then someone stepped on me
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself an oak tree
and rustled for a while
then something needed building
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself an eagle
and soared it for a while
a long long while in fact
till all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a tulip
and flowered for a while
then someone liked me
way too much
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a howling wolf
and hunted for a while
but hunger hunted me as well
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a terrorist
and terrored for a while
then one neat hole
between brown eyes
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself an undertaker
and buried for a while
then too much dead
plain got to me
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself an angel
and harped away a while
but praise and sweetness
made all go very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a Chevy truck
but found no heart
and pulled and pulled
to get back out
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a peeping Tom
and voyeured for a while
but caught the drooling
in my throat
and all went very dark
and I forgot
I found myself a baby boy
and grew it for a while
and now it's grown
and writing down
all I have found
lest I forget
I hide these whispers—I bet you Dr. Drew would love to get his hands on this collection—I hide them in a large yellow envelope which I slip in between my mattress and the bed springs for that way I can hear them crinkle at night when I shift in my bed. It’s comforting to know that my lucid thoughts and whispered knows are in a safe place, even while I sleep, nestled in these poems that I sometimes write down.
Other times I don’t care a thing about them, much less understand them, but that’s when there are ants everywhere.
What language do we speak? Well, if you’re to believe the Scriptures, the odds would favor Hebrew. The truth is, we don’t speak. We don’t even use telepathy, or the crude thing Man calls telepathy, which in my book is nothing but a primitive form of radio, and hurts the head.
Too much static.
When angels talk they simply know in a different place. These are not thoughts, or words, or pictures, as much as knows. A know is like a notion that you’re certain of, I think is the best way to explain it. A knowtion, if you will.
Some angels say these knows have different colors depending on subject matter, urgency, and emotional content. This is sheer make belief. A know is both colorless and emotionless. It is simply a notion that you’re certain of. A knowtion.
And that is how we angels talk.
My room has been ant-safe until today. It no longer is.
The ant came driving a large black car bouncing up the long drive to our house where it stopped in a cloud of dust (it hasn’t rained for days, maybe weeks, I’m not sure). It stepped out, scaly back and crispy whiskers and all. Mom, towel in hand, came out to meet it and I almost yelled out a warning from my window—it might hurt her, eat her—but Mom could take care of herself, apparently. Not only that, she could talk to the thing, even invited it in. And then this happened:
There is a knock on my door. I think I recognize it as Mom’s. I say I think so, because I’m in my grizzly place and I can’t get out. I don’t answer. The key turns. Mom looks in. Behind her, almost as tall as Mom, it stands: the head, from this close up, looks almost hairy, like it has a thin, wispy pelt. Actually, it’s more like the fields of down you see on a baby’s face, only a little thicker. Other than that there is nothing baby-like about this thing at all.
The compound eyes look like two enormous pincushions, stuck so full of pins there is no room between their heads, and they all look at me, sizing me up, much like Dad does when he’s about to be funny, although I don’t see him too much nowadays, his idiot son safely locked up in his room and kept away from matches and all. They don’t move, these little pinheads, but they follow me nonetheless as it tilts its head towards me, the better to size me up.
Here’s the scariest thing: the thing smells like Bethe. Of fresh grass and violets. A windy field.
The two whiskers are really antennae, that’s what they’re called, and these are a good three feet long each, bent like elbows, and swinging slowly back and forth trying to detect me, sense me, sum me up.
Its jaws are enormous and hungry.
I am too scared to scream.
She must be a queen ant, for I can see her wings flutter in the sun behind her like sheets of dust. That means she has not mated yet. I know, for I’ve looked them up. I’ve read all I can lay my hands on when it comes to ants. I’ve even found that they don’t have real hearts. An ant’s heart is more like a long tube which runs from their neck almost to their rectum. Never knew that before. So this one, entering my room now, has a heart at least three feet long and all evil.
Mom says something about “see” and “again” and then I finally find my voice and let it loose and the scream that fills the room is so full that it surprises everyone, me as well.
The black car races down the drive much faster than the potholes will forgive, boiling a cloud of dust behind it. I don’t think that suspension will hold up much longer.
Christianity condemns us on and off. The arrogance.
The Church Council at Laodicea, which took place between the years 343 and 381 of this your Common Era—not an overnight affair, in other words—condemned all Christians “who gave themselves up to a masked idolatry in honor of the angels.”
After that it went back and forth for a while. Despised, revered, despised, revered. Then, finally, at the 2nd Council of Nicaea—this would have been the year 787, travel arrangements apparently made beforehand, for the thing only took a year to wrap up—there was a ratified change of heart and we were soundly (and somewhat surprisingly) confirmed as objects of veneration.
And we’ve been pretty much legal since, by Christian standards.
I must confess I’ve never been able to establish whether we’re good for Church business, or bad—which is what all this back and forth usually boils down to—for there seems to be little or no correlation between Church finances and the legal status of angels.
That said, our popularity seems to be waning of late, for not many prayers come our way nowadays. Not that we’re listening out for them, or even care that much about prayers, but I can tell that the number of prayers heading in my direction is off.
I know I speak for Michael and Raphael too when I say that while we care for Man—and we do—we choose the ones to help, and it’s not based on prayer. It’s based on merit.
It’s eaten Bethe. That ant has. Swallowed her whole.
I’ve had time to think about this. The big black car, big as a boat, speeding away. That was Bethe’s car. For sure. And Bethe was inside the thing that drove it, inside the thing that came to my room and stood behind Mom and didn’t say anything, just looked at me. I could smell her from under the scales and the thousand little pincushion eyes. The windy field.
It’s swallowed her and turned her into one of them, and now that I’ve had time to think about it, I can see only one way to rescue her. But to do that, I must get out; and since my door is still locked, that means out the window—and that means impossible. But I must get out or Bethe will suffocate inside that giant ant, sure as the door is locked.
I must think my way through this, step by step, what I must do: I must open the window. Pull my chair up to it. Climb up on the chair. From there, step onto the window ledge. Is there, I wonder, anything above the window, like another ledge, to grasp? I don’t remember.
I just opened the window to take a look, making quite sure to not look down. Nothing. There’s nothing above the window to hold on to. Not really. There’s the top of the window’s frame, maybe half an inch wide, but I’m sure that’s not wide enough to give me a good grip.
Then I had to look down. I had to see if there was anything but wall beneath the window, wall and distant earth far below, to see if there was anything wide enough for feet. No. Nothing at all, nothing even vaguely wide enough for feet.
So there is only the window ledge, and I must stand on it and hold on to the frame and ease over to the drainpipe on the right, the blocked one. “It damn well never rains here, anyway,” Dad says, which is not true. It rains, and quite a lot when it does, and then the gutter above my window overflows and rainwater streaks the dust away from the glass in sheets and rivers. “I wish you would just clean out the thing,” Mom says, and Dad doesn’t answer.
So I would have to stand on the ledge, then somehow—even though it is not wide enough—grasp the top of the window frame, ease my way over to the very edge of the window, over towards the drainpipe, plastered first against the glass and then against the wall, like Spiderman. And not look down. And not fall into the sea of ants below.
And reach the drainpipe with my fingers. Grasp it well. Climb down. Silently. Find the ground. Kiss the ground. Go to the barn. Find and retrieve at least a couple of pints of gasoline, then get matches, and something to hit it with, from the basement.
And all this in the dark.
To save her.
I know it can’t be done.
But it must be done.
But it can’t be.
Let me restate that: It’s based on merit and on an ability to hear us. Not many can. For we can only whisper, the way we talk among ourselves, in little knows.
Over the years, many have claimed, and some still do, that we intervene physically in the business of Man. This is not so. But we can advise. Well, there was that thing between me and Mary, but those were special circumstances, God’s orders, and I had to become part Man to carry out His instructions. Not that I minded. Not at the time, anyway.
The thing is that we see things better than Man does. We see the consequences of his actions better than he does. We understand his motives and desires better than he does, and we sense his compulsions better, far better than he does. He is often—if not most of the time—bent on his own destruction.
So, to help those who merit help, and who can hear us, we sometimes whisper advice and directions.
I did it.
It was very hard, and I’ve never been so afraid in all my life.
I am filthy, I think, but it’s too dark to say for sure. I did soil myself, though. Wet and warm at first, colder now, and itchy, big wet stain I’m sure; too dark to see, though. I’m very embarrassed about that, and I’m still very much afraid, but I keep thinking of Bethe, who really is a capital-A Angel, and of how I must let her out of that horrible, scaly prison.
I keep thinking of how I must manage this, somehow, even though the ants have arrived by the thousands now and crawl everywhere in my grizzly place, over each other, up all the walls, all over the ceiling, dropping to the floor on top of, and to become a part of the black and moving, tentacled carpet so eager to get to me. I close my eyes to them, shut my eyes as closed as I possibly can, and head for the barn.
I found two plastic bottles of gasoline where I thought they would be. About a pint each. I thought about it, about the size of the ant that had swallowed Bethe and two pints, would I need more? But then decided that two pints would be enough and stuck them in my jacket pockets. They almost didn’t fit. But did. Very snugly.
Then I got inside our house, no problem. “What idiot is going to rob a place like this, anyway?” Dad says. “So why did you have to get it then?” Mom asks. “What good is an alarm that doesn’t work?” Dad neither answered nor fixed it. I was counting on that. I counted correctly.
Got down to the basement, no problem. Found some matches, no problem. Rummaged around (quietly) a bit for something to hit it with and I found just the thing.
It’s a long walk over to Bethe’s house. A short drive, a long walk. A long mile, even across the fields.
I used to take this dark walk now and then before they locked my door. Weeks or months ago, don’t quite know which. Nowadays there are only two times for me. Before they locked the door and after. I live in after. Everything else is before.
So, this was before they locked the door. When I would leave my room as silently as possible, undiscovered. Mom and Dad usually still watching television, Dad making fun of some “stupid idiot” or other on the screen, so they didn’t hear me come down the stairs and sneak out the back door.
I’d walk all this way just to sit and look at her window. Not to see anything, no, not like that, not like her undressing or anything, no—what, are you crazy? No, just to sit and see the light in her window and know that the shadow finding the curtains now and then was cast by her. Just to sit there when she turned out the light, knowing that she was falling asleep, and wondering if she, too, had a grizzly place to try to keep the ants out of or to try to stay away from whenever the ants won.
So, I knew the way well. I knew which was her window, and from visiting I knew how to get to her room. And there would only be her mom and Bethe, or what used to be Bethe, in the house. Bethe’s dad, who spoke Spanish as well as any person from Mexico or Spain I’d imagine, left years ago for Buenos Aires “chasing some Argentine skirt,” said Dad, which Mom never contested, so it must have been true.
It did not take as long as I thought it would take to get there. Funny thought: could my legs be longer now? No, it wasn’t that long ago since I took this walk last, not that much before they locked my door that my legs could have grown longer. Crazy thought, that.
The house lay big and dark, like a giant’s forgotten toy left outside through the night to gather moisture and for someone to get yelled at for leaving out all night.
I walked up to the kitchen door as quietly as I could and slowly pressed down on the handle. It made a little sound like a squeak, like a mouse. I startled and stopped. I tried to figure out how loud it might be. I heard it well over the crickets. But then, I was so close to it. Was it loud enough for them to hear? That’s what I couldn’t decide.
So I stood there for many silent breaths, not moving, just listening to the crickets and the thousands of little night noises that appear only when you don’t do anything but listen. And I didn’t hear what I was listening for, footsteps. Not too loud then, the door handle.
I tried it again, slower. The same sound, slower. I stopped and listened, again. No footsteps.
Then I pressed it all the way down, fast. A quick squeak, then nothing. I stand with the handle in my hand, as far down as it can go, listening. No footsteps. I push the door slowly, it’s not locked. It opens easily without squeaks and I listen for an alarm. There is none, or it’s not set, or it’s like ours, broken, for the house remains dead quiet.
Good thing I know the inside of the house real well.
The boy hears me just fine when he’s lucid, but now, with ants all over his antechamber, he doesn’t hear a thing. I see him enter the shadowy kitchen and I see what he has in mind. The thing he means to do is not right, and I cannot, I must not, let this happen.
He moves over to the door leading from the kitchen to the hallway and pushes it slowly outward. It opens without a sound. He stops at the edge of this lesser gloom and stands very still, listening for movements, anything. The porch light casts a sallow shadow onto the carpet and illuminates his thin legs from the shins down. He closes his eyes and listens to his own breath, to his own heartbeat, but not to my whispers, for his heart of hearts is closed to him, barricaded by his ants. Then he starts walking again, very carefully, each step a little eternity, each breath a little lifetime.
He does not hear me, and I cannot whisper any louder.
Her mom sleeps in the large bedroom on the ground floor. Bethe sleeps upstairs. “I have my very own floor,” Bethe said to me one day. Then asked me, “Where do your parents sleep?”
“On my floor,” I said, which I thought was clever, and she thought was clever too, and we both laughed. This was before her dad ran off to South America and married “that black woman” as Dad called her, although he had never set eyes on her, not even a picture. That’s what Mom said, anyway. So, how does he know what color she is, she wants to know. Her clever question, as usual, shuts him up.
But now I have forgotten which door leads to her mom’s bedroom. I can make out two of them in the hallway’s yellowed darkness, and I’m not sure which one to be my absolute quietest outside of. So, I am my absolute quietest outside both of them to be sure, and I reach the foot of the stairs without making even the tiniest sound, but it took a while.
I pat my jacket pockets softly and feel the gasoline bottles, and the book of matches. The thick iron ring I’ve brought to hit it with weighs heavy in my other hand.
In truth: we have form but we are immaterial. At least in terms of atoms and carpets and the stairs that he is about to climb. And that is my problem now. I try to touch his shoulder, I try to prevent his feet from ascending, but when a thing so different from another as to be no thing at all touches the thing that is, then the thing that is does not feel the thing that isn’t. How could it, there is no contact. It is very frustrating. Not even the great Gabriel.
He climbs the stairs, one by slowly one. Waits after each step and listens for sounds other than his heart and lungs.
I whisper again, but there is not much boy left now among all the ants, and he does not hear me.
In the face of human tragedy, even the Archangel Gabriel is powerless.
Unlike our stairs at home, when I climb them slowly these do not creak. I place each foot softly on the next step up, then shift my weight and rise in a slow, breathless motion. I hear my pant legs whisper, one against the other, but that’s about it—except the ants, of course, which I do my best to ignore. I’m being very brave about that.
My left hand is on the banister, to steady my climb and to tell me that this, what I am doing, and what I am about to do, is real, and is the right thing to do, is what I must do. For she is a capital-A Angel and that ant has eaten her all gone.
I finally reach the landing. It took a long while, too. Her room is to the right from here. All the way down the hall. I can make out the window at the far end. It is a lighter dark, framed by this darker dark of the ceiling and the walls. Her door is to the left of that window. I can make it out, too, from where I stand. The handle, the door. It is closed, of course.
Again I pat my jacket for the bottles of gasoline and the book of matches. Again, I feel the weight of the iron ring in my right hand. It’s a good ring, heavy enough. Maybe a hammer would have been better, yeah, probably would have been the best, but Dad never puts things back, so it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The ring will do just fine though, I’m sure of that. It is quite heavy and very solid. Dark iron. Just have to hit it a little harder, that’s all.
The floorboards here on the landing creak little wooden sighs under my weight and I walk extra slowly. It probably takes me five minutes to reach her door, that’s how slowly. I finally get there and turn to face it. A little wooden sign hangs on a golden hook at eye level. “Bethe’s Room,” it says. You can’t see the golden of the hook, that’s how dark it is, but I know the color from before.
And I listen again for house noises. I hear nothing. Just those from outside the closed hall window. Crickets mainly. Lots of them in Texas, and they never seem to sleep.
And now I listen harder, as with my whole body, not only with my ears, for any sound from the other side of the door, from inside her room. I hear nothing at first. Then, I think I hear her, or it, breathing. Softly, slowly. Asleep. Devoured.
And, too, I think I hear a flutter somewhere in my heart, as of a poem rustling inside an egg, feeling for fissures in the shell that binds it. So faintly as not to exist. And then it does not exist. It is just my imagination playing tricks among the carpet and walls of restless ants.
He has reached her door, and I whisper as loudly as I can. But the whispers of angels are soundless: no matter how I will them, they make no sound. Only in his heart of hearts, and it is empty of him. Still, I have no choice. What is about to happen, must not happen. Not to her. Not to him. So I whisper again, and again.
Her door does not have a handle, it has a knob. White porcelain, with a blue flowery pattern on it. Of course, I cannot see the colors it’s so dark, but I know from before and I imagine these blue flowers as I shift the iron ring to my left hand and then let my right hand find the knob’s cool, glassy smoothness. Like ice almost. I ease it to the right and hear the latch bolt slip back, hear metal parts move at my touch, but so close to soundlessly that a foot away there would be no sound at all. I twist it all the way, and then I push. The door swings open on no-noise hinges. Bethe’s mom takes better care of her house than Dad does ours, or maybe this is Bethe’s doing, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I find my eyes fully adjusted now to the different darknesses and as the door swings inward it reveals her desk, her silvery lamp, her bookshelf, her wall, her pictures in frames, her night table and its drawer, her bed light, her bed, and then Bethe. No, not Bethe, but the ant. In that order.
The thing is very still. But inside it she is breathing, I hear her clearly now. Slowly, evenly. It’s funny how you can recognize a breathing, but I can. This is Bethe breathing inside that giant ant. Asleep, or maybe awake and silently scared to death, inside the still ant. Even the antennae are at rest.
It is her breath, and it is her smell, that very green grass among the violets and the wind, and I take her in with every cell I own and I try to ignore the thousand lidless eyes that see nothing now in sleep. Its jaws—though they don’t look hungry or dangerous now—move slowly as if chewing something in its sleep. Dreaming of eating, I bet.
The rest of it lies under the fine blanket, forming the contours of the giant ant body like a small mountain range with hills, valleys, rivers and streams: a softly breathing countryside. Other than that, nothing moves (except those slowly chewing jaws, so slowly now that when I look again, I’m not even sure they move anymore).
Then it stirs. A small sound escapes the ant throat and it sounds like Bethe screaming from somewhere deep underneath the scales. She must have heard me coming, or smelled me, for I think she screamed for help.
I take a first step towards the bed. Softly, not to wake the ant. For it would eat me too, easily.
Maybe we don’t exist at all. Maybe we imagine ourselves. I have thought this more than once.
And maybe I am just imagining myself whispering into his heart, over and over and over, to wake up, to wake up and look, to see that what he thinks are ants are not really ants at all, but exiled memories of bad things done to hurt others, now come back, like vengeful little armies, to infest his heart. Retribution.
For all the effect this is having I might as well be imaginary.
The giant insect moves again before I get all the way there. Another plea for help escapes its throat. And if there was ever a doubt as to what I have to do, it is now dispelled. She is still alive in there. Alive and breathing, and she can hear that I have come, and she begs me to let her out. She cries for me to kill this thing that holds her hostage, this thing that has eaten her all gone and that would eat me too were it to wake up.
I tap my pockets again for the response of two plastic bottles of gasoline and find it. And I weigh the iron ring in my left hand, then in my right. My plenty heavy enough iron ring.
He weighs the iron ring in his left hand, then in his right. And still I whisper.
Where do you strike an ant’s head? It doesn’t seem to have any temples, not really. That’s where I had thought to strike. Or the back of the head. But the back of the head is buried in pillow.
I shift the iron ring from my right to my left and back to my right hand, and I wonder where on earth do I strike this thing.
Etymologically, angel means messenger. How appropriate. And how ironic, too, that my message cannot reach him. Were he lucid he would have heard me long ago, but all he can hear now is what he’s inflicted on others down through the eons, now come back to crawl all over his grizzly place, deeds of many a lifetime—for of course Man lives again and again, only he chooses not to remember. Man is as old as I am.
They are angels, twice fallen.
Then he raises his right hand to strike.
I lift the ring now and try to find a spot to land it. I don’t want to strike the eyes, the thousand little dark points inverted to sleep, and I don’t want to break either of the antennae, though why this concerns me I am not sure.
I cannot find a good place, and I lower the ring again.
Then it stirs and shifts onto its right shoulder and turns away from me with a little moan. I see now that it has a neck and a nice expanse at the back of the head for a heavy iron ring to strike.
Again I lift it, and this time it lands just fine.
I hear the impact. Feel the crushed muscle and ruptured blood vessels. I see the blood welling up as from the earth, spreading darkly on the pillow.
And still I whisper.
For a moment I thought it had stopped breathing, that I had killed it with the blow. But it was the rush of blood to my ears that made it hard to hear. Now I hear it again, which is a relief, because I don’t know whether Bethe can get out unless it’s alive and burning and running around the room coughing her up, I’m sure that is what must happen. Maybe she’d be trapped forever if I had killed it. That’s a bad thought.
Then I look at the ring in my hand. I have struck it now, and the ants in my grizzly place are panicked as if I had hurt a deity of theirs. Many rush out leaving others in confused outrage. Others still seek to pull me down, but the weight of the ring is my hold on the world and I won’t let them pull me under.
As I watch, the neck starts to bleed and a small lake forms on the pillow.
It moans, but does not move.
I place the iron ring on the floor, on the carpet where it makes no noise, then I have a little trouble getting the first plastic bottle out of my pocket, it’s so snugly in there, and now the ants in my grizzly place can tell what’s coming next and still more of them clear out, leaving only those too confused to know direction, and those still trying to get at me, to know fire.
And still I whisper. For I see his memories scurry around and away and perhaps exposing enough of the boy within to hear me.
He pulls out the first of his plastic bottles of gasoline and touches the smooth surface gently, as if it were the key to her release. To see, to know, that this boy will burn her, kill her from love is almost more than I can endure.
And then Gabriel, second only to Michael in the ranks of angels, finally realizes what message to bring. I should have seen it earlier, and could perhaps have prevented much soiled linen.
For he does this from love.
The bottle is smooth in my hand. Smooth and warm from snuggling in my pocket all the way here. I twist the cap open (boy, I had shut it hard, but finally I work it free) and now I let the smell out. It is very strong and it rushes out and up into my nose and down countless tiny corridors towards my heart and the ants go positively frantic at the scent.
I empty this first bottle onto its head and shoulders.
The second bottle I empty onto the blanket that covers its long body and long, tube-like and evil heart.
You love her, I whisper. You love her. And I know this into his heart of hearts time and time again as he empties his two bottles of gasoline over her body. You love her, I whisper still. I know it with all the strength of angels, but the rustle of feet of a thousand fleeing memories are as strong, for still he does not hear me.
He finds the book of matches and brings it out.
You love her, I whisper, you love her. Do not do this, you will kill her.
The smell of gasoline is almost overpowering. I’ve scared them all away. My grizzly place is suddenly empty and I can hear the wind in my heart of hearts whisper what I already know. I love her, it says, and I know that, or I would not be here.
I find the book of matches and bring it out.
All it takes now, and I know this from lots of experience, is one spark. One tiny flame, and this monster will burn and crumble and start coughing and let Bethe, like the Phoenix, rise again. Bethe, for whom I would walk the Earth from corner to corner without shoes. Bethe, for whom I would bring the stars down and string into a necklace, if only I could, the way I can in my poems, the way I can in the whispers I sometimes hear like the wind right now telling me how much I love her and not to hurt her. Not to kill the girl I love, sings the wind.
He hesitates. He fingers the book of matches, then lets it come to rest in his left hand, right thumb poised, though, to fold back the cover. Fingers at the ready to bring out a little paper match to set the pyre.
He hesitates again. As if listening, as if hearing.
Do not do this, I whisper, you will kill the girl you love. You will kill the girl you love.
“No,” I answer the wind in my heart. “No, I will not kill her. Just the opposite. The opposite.”
I hear them clearly, the little knows that come to me with poems and plans to kill Dad, but I cannot agree. They want Bethe to stay inside this wall of scales forever. They do not want me to let her out.
“No,” I say again. “You don’t understand. I must let her out.”
Look at her, it whispers, look at the girl you love. Are you sure you can see her?
“Of course I can’t see her,” I say. “She’s been eaten by an ant.”
Look again, sings the wind, look again.
And then Gabriel, second only to Michael, has the second revelation of the evening. None too bright for an Archangel. And none too soon.
“Touch her hair,” sings the wind.
Which makes no sense at all, for the ant doesn’t have any hair.
“Touch the pillow,” says the wind. “Above the little dark lake.”
“Because you love her. Because you must make sure what you see is really what you see.”
And because these winds have brought me what happiness I have known, apart from Bethe, I find myself trusting them, and I reach for and I touch Bethe’s hair.
He holds a handful of rich, dark hair and leaning down, brings it to his face where he can smell it. He drops the book of matches to the floor, forgotten now, and then drops himself onto his knees while scooping up another catch of hair.
He falls forward among the curls, and sees her.
There is hair where there shouldn’t be any hair.
It’s as if the ant didn’t swallow all of her. I lean down and bring the hair to my face and I smell it as if Bethe were all Bethe again, the grass, the new and green and windy grass with that touch of violet, and all of Bethe here again letting me smell her hair over and over.
I kneel, the better to touch, the better to smell, and I take another handful of hair to bury my face in. It is the most wonderful smell on earth. Then I see her neck. It’s hers now, Bethe’s. Not the ant’s. Pale, but dark and swelling where the ring landed, ruptured, blood still trickling, but not gushing, the lake spreading still, but slowly, and Bethe moans again and moves her head slowly towards me, then opens her eyes and screams.
Whether from pain or from seeing me, I don’t know.
The he sees her, like she is, bleeding but not mortally. She moves and wakes and screams and sees him and screams some more. Her mother comes rushing in, and shortly the room is full of people, ambulance, police. Parents.
Dad seems pleased enough. I can just hear him, “Damned idiot should’ve been locked up long ago,” and he’s got his wish. Mom cries whenever she comes to visit. Especially when I ask her about Bethe, how is she doing.
Come to find out, much later, she moved away. Out of state. Not even in Texas anymore. But doing fine, apparently.
He is safe where he is. At least for now.
I whisper little poems to him now and then, which he writes down and puts in a large envelope and hides under his mattress, much to the amazement of the doctor who retrieves and reads them after the boy has fallen asleep sometimes, and convinces himself anew that the boy in his care is a genius—which I take as a compliment.
I tell him though that he must not tell the doctor about me. Not if he wants to see the outside of this place anytime soon.