By Phibby Venable
An angel was perched delicately on the straight back chair in the corner, but everyone pretended not to see her. At least it appeared that way to fifteen – year old Katie, who couldn’t take her eyes off the golden wings and slim figure.
“Mama, don’t you love angels,” Katie asked, pointing toward the one in the corner. The angel smiled, but her mother was distracted with serving so she barely glanced at Katie, and completely ignored the angel. Her father never looked up. He continued eating while glancing at a book on his lap. Her two younger brothers were sitting at a small table in the corner taking random bites of food while striking at each other with action figure wrestlers. Katie left the table to go stand by the angel.
“What are you doing,” she asked, “why are you visiting?’
“Katie,” her mother warned, “Stop talking to yourself.”
“I am here to help you, Katie. There is a visitor coming,” the angel said.
“What’s your name? Who is the visitor,” Katie asked, reaching out to touch the soft feathers on the finely woven wing.
“Just remember I am here if you need me,” the angel said, and then disappeared.
“I told you to stop, Katie,” her mother said, “I need you to help me clean today. There’s no school due to the snow and my brother, your Uncle Ben is coming for a visit.”
“Mama,” Katie said, “Do you believe in angels?”
“Yes, Katie,” her mother said, “we often entertain angels unaware. Or so it says in the bible. Now I have a list for you. Be sure to check each thing off as you finish it.” Her mother went into the bathroom to clean and Katie checked her list. The boys went out into the back yard to play and Katie had her chores done in a couple of hours. By evening the chores were completed, and just in time, for Uncle Ben showed up a few minutes later. Katie’s mother took him to the guest room to settle in for his five day visit. Katie took the opportunity to go out in the snow. Her little brothers had built a snowman and were looking around the old oak for a piece of bark to use as a mouth. Katie went for a walk in the snow, thinking that snow must have been created in God’s most frivolous moment. Of course, it served a purpose, the same as rain, but it was so beautiful. She thought that if He had chosen a different color, it would not have been the same. The purity and clean covering of the white made everything fresh again. The snow seemed to make people think of fresh starts, especially the first snow when everyone had forgotten the lovely flakes of the year before and had grown used to the stark realities of life. The first snow of the season seemed to touch the heart with nostalgia and longing. It wasn’t a longing for one certain thing, nothing one could name, a feeling mostly that could not be described. Of course , if it snowed very long, almost everyone forgot the miraculous beauty of it, the uniqueness of its creation and found a million reasons to wish it away. Maybe people could only take beauty a little at a time, Katie thought to herself, and if there is too much of anything they forget its value. She walked a bit farther, then turned and headed back toward home.
Uncle Ben was folded into a chair at the kitchen table when she returned. His long legs seemed to rise up around his body so that it appeared he had blended into himself. Coarse gray pieces of hair stuck out from beneath his hat that he always hated to remove, even when he was inside. His eyes were large beneath an overhang of heavy brow. He barely glanced at Katie. His eyes are fastened on his sister, searching her face for answers.
“What is it you think is wrong with me,” he says, “You tell me that, Martha.” Katie saw that the question made her mother uneasy, but like Uncle Ben, Katie too paused anxiously for an answer.
“Well, Ben, I am no doctor and can only repeat what the doctor told us both. You have post- traumatic stress syndrome because of the war. You remember the war don’t you, Ben?”
“Yes,” he said, “I am nervous, not insane, of course I remember the war. What of it?”
“It seems you remember it too well, Ben. You can’t get it out of your head. You shake a great deal, startle too easily at noises, flinch like something dreadful is about to happen. It’s hard to find a job when you act that way.”
Katie’s mother spoke softly but Uncle Ben jerked as though each word swung a hammer. Somehow Katie could feel inside of him. She could sense the shame and fear that rose in a tart sweaty smell through his shirt. She could also feel a great rage building in him that was frightening. She knew that her mother had more to say and was missing the signals from Uncle Ben’s body. Katie could see the blood building behind his eyes, then regressing back inside his head. She also realized she was able to see inside his body and mind. It was a gift that had always frightened and angered her mother. For so many years Katie believed that everyone could see the angel that randomly visited. Now she wondered if anyone did. Uncle Ben’s silence only made her mother speak more harshly for she felt he wasn’t listening to anything she said. Katie tried to intervene for she could feel the pressure building to rage inside of her uncle.
“Mama,” she said, “Uncle Ben has medals from the war. He was a hero.”
“He was a hero when he came home. He could have worked any place he liked, but the war tinkered with his thinking,” she said.
“And he’s right here listening. Please talk directly to me…or better yet, say nothing at all. I’m not sure why I thought I could talk to you. You have no concept of what I am trying to say.”
At that moment the angel appeared in front of Katie. She was relieved to see her. Even more surprising was Uncle Ben. He turned and stared at the angel. Then he looked at Katie. He searched her face as though seeing her for the first time. She decided to risk her mother’s wrath because she had to know.
“Do you see the angel, Uncle Ben,” she asked. He nodded. Her mother inhaled sharply, “Stop it!,” she said, “both of you. I can’t take anymore.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about Katie,” Uncle Ben asked.
“You stay away from her. She’s not like you, and she’s not like our mother, she’s just a normal girl.”
“Katie,” her uncle said, “How long have you been able to see into others, how long has the angel been here? Listen, your grandmother was the same way. She said it was a gift. It has always been a part of our family, but only certain ones are chosen. It passed over Martha, but I have it.”
“Stay away from her. It’s all nonsense,” her mother cried.
“You knew,” her Uncle Ben accused his sister, “You knew when she spoke of the angel that she was here to help her.”
“I want her to have a normal life. Not like you or our mother, our grandmother. I haven’t seen anyone with the gift with any happiness or joy in their lives. Look at you, Ben! Look at your life. You had no protection in the war. You were open to all those horrible happenings and it destroyed your nerves. I don’t want that kind of life for Katie.”
“It’s a choice, Martha, and she has the right to make the choice. No matter what happened to me, I would not forfeit this knowing, this sense of connection to a higher being. It brings me hope. The gift did nothing to hurt me. It was the knowledge of humanity and the depravity and stupidity that discouraged my passion. The angel only meant there was hope.”
Katie’s mother stood indecisively looking from Ben to Katie.
“Alright,” she said, “I gave her a normal life as long as I could. Maybe you are right, Ben. Work with her, I won’t say anything more. I imagine having an angel to watch over her isn’t a bad thing. I have my hands full with the boys. Maybe this gift will work out for her.”
Katie could feel the sadness in her mother. She knew that her mother wanted what was best for her. She hugged her mother tightly. Over the next five days she listened to Ben describe the advantages and disadvantages of the gift. He explained strategies he had devised to control the emotional impact and sadness at having access to the feelings of others. He spoke of a young woman he once loved that he had lost because he could see the insincerity and manipulative aspects of her nature once the infatuation had worn thin. He spoke of his time at war when the battle ground flushed red with blood and his friends fell around him torn into a flap of uniforms. Their thoughts and the horror and fear of their impending doom had been too much for him. He had collapsed from the sheer weight of grief and death that had pounded him with a cache of empathy that had almost destroyed him. He told her that the angel would always be available if things truly became too much to bear. She had never left his side at the veteran’s hospital where he was taken after the challenges of the battlefield.
“I’ll teach you all I know, Katie, ” Her uncle touched her hand, and explained further, ” My mother was an impath. It comes to some in the family, sometimes male, sometimes female. My mother stayed in frail health much of our lives, and Martha always felt it was the gift. It wasn’t. She was born with weak lungs, and if anything, she was strongest when she was relating to, and helping others. ” Katie nodded. She herself always felt stronger when she was able to truly help someone.
“You know,” she uncle continued, “Most people in this world are good. They have a light inside that comes at birth. It can be turned up or down. Some turn it toward good, others toward bad. But even the bad and mad people are usually just sad people, outraged because they feel misunderstood, or no-one takes the time to listen. Sadness and rage are partners in a way.”
Katie was relieved to find someone who understood the confusion she was feeling. It was wonderful to embrace a sense of control and to perfect her blocking abilities. Her Uncle Ben taught her all he could. She grew more confident after he left. She knew there would still be moments of knowing that would break her heart, but at least she was prepared. There was also the angel that she could call on if things became too hard. All winter she practiced the techniques that Uncle Ben had shown her. By early Spring she had learned to walk in crowds without the infringement of emotional debris from the emotions around her. She could choose when she wanted to see things in most cases. Sometimes, however, the pain was so great in others that it crossed the barriers straight into her psyche. Still, she didn’t really mind because she realized that to cross her boundaries a person must be in great pain. She learned to bump into them accidentally, to gently draw them out. It was incredible the amount of loneliness she encountered. It made her grateful for a family and friends.
She looked around now with new eyes. There was something inside her proclaiming everything was a gift. The spring flowers that arrived like clockwork on the banks of the river were lush and vibrant with life. She could hear the petals sing toward the sun. The river itself had a deep, rushing voice that propelled it onward against the stones and soil. When the birds sang she realized each of them held an individual song. The nuances thrilled her. Her intensity seemed to hold her body in awe. She wanted to help everyone and everything that she could. Life was a small ship on clear blue and ebony depths. Each person floated a handful of beautiful bulbs. She planned to plant hers as yellow daffodils in a wide expanse of sand.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story