A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
The buzzing of my phone against my leg partially pulled me from my stupor. The world had descended into a dark fog of passing lights and freezing air as I drove mindlessly through streets I didn't know. The crash had cracked most of the windows, letting the drizzling sloppy snow melt into the car. When the phone started vibrating I sort of snapped back into reality. The angel was in the car next to me, looking out into the night with excitement in its trembling shoulders. I was on a residential street of some type, stopped at a red light. As I looked around, the light turned green, so I pushed the gas and rolled through. I didn't know the neighborhood at all, and had no idea where I was going. I groped into my pocket for the phone, but it stopped ringing before I could get it out.
A big stream of icy water was running up the windshield and down out of a crack onto my hands as I tried to keep the car steady on the road. My hands were freezing, and as I realized that, my teeth started to chatter. The angel next to me let out a sound that I think was a laugh, but I can't be sure. Then it started clattering its teeth together in imitation of mine. We were like plastic skull decorations on Halloween, just smashing our jaws together until our 9 volts ran out.
The phone in my pocket started buzzing again, so I pulled the car over to the side of the road and pulled it out. I hate it when people talk on the phone while driving their car. The caller id told me it was Alicia calling. The unholy glow of the led screen lit the car, casting the our faces in a dull green light. I stared at the name for a few rings, and then answered. "Alicia. This isn't the best time."
The voice on the other end wasn't Alicia's. It was gruff, a deeper voice that seemed to warble and break, like a string pulled too taut on a violin. Emotion rolled heavy in the tone as the person coughed and stumbled over their words. "It's Paul."
I was confused for a moment, going through my mental rolodex for any entries labeled Paul. After a quick run through, I realized that it must be Pauline. Pauline was a friend of Alicia's that used to stay on her couch after a particularly bad break up with her boyfriend. His boyfriend? I always got confused as to how to refer to . . .her? Pauline was a drag queen that Alicia had met on a trip to Burning Man years ago.
Alicia, like most of the planet, had a difficult time in high school. It wasn't that she didn't fit in with any social group, or that she'd felt pressured by a particular group to do things she didn't want to do. Instead, she fit in with pretty much any group she found easily, but only because she had no distinct personality of her own. She would just latch onto to the most powerful character traits of anyone around and go with the flow. Her high school years felt meaningless and uneventful to her as she flowed from one group and one personality to the next.
She had taken a year off between graduating high school and trying college for the first time, to explore the world and try and find herself. I've never understood the concept of trying to find yourself. There is a certain quality I can find worth admiring in the quest for self discovery, I guess, but I think most people already know what they are before they start out. I've always suspected it was more people trying to run away from themselves rather than find anything. You are where you are, nothing to be done about it. Alicia had no distinct and definable character facets she admired in herself, so she basically went looking for them in the desert.
In any case, Alicia found herself a case of the clap and a six and a half foot tall blond valkyrie with an Adam's apple. I always got the impression that she just latched onto the most individual and loudly "Themself Thank You Very Much" person she could find, and then brought them home.
The fact that he (her?) was referring to himself as Paul instead of Pauline was troubling. I looked over at the angel, who was watching me, tip of its tongue protruding from its lips. Putting on my best calm voice, I responded. "What's going on Paul?"
"It's . . .it's . . ." There was a sob from the other end of the line. "It's Alicia, man. She's in the hospital. She tried to kill herself."
If my brain could have shut down my body then, it would have. It would have pressed the off switch on my autonomic functions, folded up my corpse in a neat package, handed it back to God, and said "Thanks for the good game. You win this time." I'd just had too many shocks and ups and downs and ins and outs. My body physically couldn't handle any more stress at that point. My hand on the wheel tightened and jerked, and I said something like "A-hurn. Huhuhuh a-hurn."
I could hear Paul crying on the phone, big heartfelt sobs. I was jerking around and jabbering to myself incoherently, but I wasn't crying. I didn't feel sad, or pained, or anguished. There was just a sensation of overload and haywire brain response. I simply couldn't process the new information and fit it into any kind of priority in my life. So, I just listened to Paul cry through the receiver, and tried to take deep breaths.
After about five minutes, I managed to say "What hospital?" Paul sniffled a bit, and then let me know Alicia was in the University Hospital near the college. Strange, because that wasn't the closest hospital to her apartment. It was the cheapest place in town, definitely, but in an emergency I think they try to get you to the closest place regardless of cost? Unless she'd requested it, which would mean it wasn't such an emergency.
If it was a stunt, some attention seeking effort, it wouldn't be the first time. About six months after we first started dating, I got a call from her Dad. She'd taken about twelve Valium and then guzzled a few shots of vodka. Then she called her Dad and just left the phone line open while she cried and vomited. They ended up rushing her to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. I stayed with her in the hospital overnight. It was strange. I knew that I should be there, was supposed to be there, but it was clear she didn't want me there. She was completely unresponsive to me the entire time. The next day she was packed off to spend two weeks at the Sunshine House up in Newberry. When she got back she acted like the whole thing never happened. Whenever I brought it up, she would just go quiet, and then change the subject. Her Dad and I talked about it once, and he said she'd done it once before that, when she was eleven. Same result. She goes away, comes back, ignores the fact that it ever happened.
The closest I'd ever gotten her to talk about it was when she was drunk on her birthday. She rambled about someone she called The Longfinger and his pristine white coat. Alicia said that she'd lie in bed at night in the Sunshine House, and listen to Longfinger walk the halls, scraping his finger along the floor as he walked. She'd listen to him come closer and closer, and then see his finger worming its way underneath the door and across the floor to her bed. If she put her head underneath the covers and closed her eyes, The Longfinger wouldn't be able to find her. When she talked about him to her doctors, they wouldn't believe her. They ended up extending her stay the first time in, so she just shut up about him until they let her out.
I'm not a dumb guy. I know what was probably going on with her up at Sunshine House when she was a kid. It seemed to explain a lot about the way she behaved with me, the hot and cold, on and off nature of things. But, I'm also not a psychologist. I didn't know what to do or say to her about it. So I avoided the subject, never asked her about it again. What was I supposed to do? Nothing I said could take away that whatever happened had happened. I didn't want to screw things up and make them worse, so I said nothing. I guess years later she was still trying to hide from The Longfinger.
I said, "Thanks." He(she?) mumbled something in reply, and then I hung up. The streets around me were dark and devoid of any helpful markers or signs to let me know where I was. The angel wasn't any help either; it just stared at me and blinked. I pulled the car back onto the street and decided to just drive straight until I came across something helpful. After about ten minutes of driving, I passed an all night gas station and pulled in to ask directions.
I got out of the car and leaned up against it for a minute to catch my breath. The first thing I noticed when I put my head against my knuckles was that they were swollen and bloody. In fact, my whole front was covered in dark blood. Panic started to kick in again, so I forcibly bit my lip to bring myself back down to a place where I could handle things. I grabbed a fist full of paper towels from the window wash platform near the gas pumps and cleaned myself off as best I could. The soaped water stung my knuckles pretty bad when I wiped the blood off, but it was better than walking into the gas station looking like Jason Vorhees. Then I grabbed the pizza guy's jacket out of the car and put it on and zipped it. I had to tug it out from under the angel, and it hissed at me for a minute. It stayed in the car when I went to ask directions.
The attendant looked at me kind of funny when I went in, but he was able to direct me back to the highway. Turns out I was only a few blocks from the onramp, and if I'd just kept going I could have made it myself. When I turned to leave, he called after me and pointed down at my shoe. "Hey man, I think you stepped in something."
Attached to my shoe was a bit of . . . something. I don't know what it was, kind of meaty and bloody, hanging off the bottom in a long tendon like string. I stared at it for a second, and then reached down and pulled it off of my shoe. It was slimy and felt like terror. I managed to choke out "Thanks, man." Then I lurched out the door and back to my car before vomiting into the snowy grass. I dropped the whatever-it-was and jumped into the car and drove away as quickly as possible. The entire time I was praying the attendant was high or stupid or both. TV and movies told me that was a safe bet.
The lights of the highway streamed past me in a blur. I kept my eyes focused on the road in front of me, only moving them to check the exit signs. A crack in the windshield opened up enough that the wind made a high pitched whistling noise as it blew into the car. After a few minutes it picked up a harmony, and I realize the angel was whistling in accompaniment. It wasn't the rising and falling trills of breath of a normal whistle, but rather a single long howling note that wrapped around the wind and carried it deeper into my ear. The noise was maddening, it felt like my flesh was trying to crawl into the inside of my body to get away from it. My ears rang, and my ears started watering. I had to keep wiping them just to see.
Luckily, the hospital was only a few exits away. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have made it. The parking lot was almost empty at that time of night, so I was able to roll up close to the door. The angel was out of the car before I was, though I didn't see it open the door. Maybe angels don't need doors, I'd never really thought about that. I got out and tried to shut the door behind me, but it must have been bent a bit, because it didn't close, just bounced back open. I just left it there and turned to go into the hospital. The angel planted its foot on the hood of the car and gave itself a boost into the air, gliding through the air and landing on my shoulders. The force of it drove me to my knees, skinning them bloody on the pavement. I slumped over and heaved on one sob, and then choked it back. My hip was a knot of muscle and pain, but I pushed myself to my feet anyway and staggered through the double sliding doors.
I must have looked more like a patient than a visitor into the lobby. There was no one behind the front desk though, so I got lucky again. I looked around to see if anyone was coming, and pushed through the swinging half door to get to the attendant's computer that was still on. The menu was pretty simple, so I was able to find Alicia's room number quickly. As I stepped back out into the hallway, an older woman in a flower print set of hospital scrubs came out of a room and turned toward me. "Sir, can I help you?"
I replied, "Um . . . no, no thank you. I think I'm ok." Then I turned and started limping down the hallway. Behind me I heard her call out. "Sir, visiting hours are long over. You'll have to come back tomorrow. Sir? Sir!" I limped along faster, gritting my teeth against the cramp in my leg.
Her room was on the first floor and easy to find. At first, I was confused, because there was an empty bed closest to the door, in front of a drawn green curtain. I was so tired I was having trouble jumping to simple conclusions, such as Alicia being behind the curtain. The attendant had surely called security, so I knew I had only a few minutes with Alicia before they arrived to throw me out, and not finding her frustrated me. The angel hissed and bobbed up and down on my back. After a few seconds I finally got the idea to check behind the curtain, and there she was.
Her eyes were closed, and some sort of scary plastic tubing was going into her mouth. A heart monitor pulsed gently in the background. Alicia has always been kind of pale, but her skin was almost translucent. A thick sheen of sweat covered her face, and some mucus and spit leaked out of the corner of her mouth. She looked, in a word, horrific. This was not a grab for attention.
Immediately the self-recrimination began in my head. I thought about the call a few days earlier, where I'd hung up on her, and then not answered again. She'd wanted my help. I had assumed that she just wanted me to pick out a doctor for her. I guess she was looking for a different kind of help. A few more grooves in the guilt section of my corroded brain. I'd decided that I was going to change things at last, and be more self motivated. More like more self absorbed. She'd needed me, really needed me that last time, and I'd blown her off.
Then, the counter reaction set in. This wasn't my fault. This was the result of a life time of bad behaviors and poor choices on her part. I'd helped her as much as I could, but in the end, I didn't make her swallow whatever it was she'd swallowed to get here. She guided herself along this path, and if I'd kept enabling her, I would have been denying her the chance to choose real change for herself. She'd had that opportunity, and she'd chosen to go down the same old dead end path once again. I was angry at her that she was here, and that I was here, and she hadn't learned.
Then I felt guilty for being angry. Then I felt angry for feeling guilty about being angry. The cycle continued in my mind as I reached out and held Alicia's hand. It was cold and clammy. There was none of the give and take you expect when you touch another person. The hand was limp in mine, just another object in the world to manipulate with my monkey thumbs. I put it to my forehead, and felt tears leak out of my eyes.
I felt the weight of the angel shift on my back, and suddenly Alicia's hand was yanked out of mine. The pressure of feet on my shoulders toppled me backwards onto my ass. I opened my eyes to see the angel perched on the side of Alicia's bed. It looked back at me, and hissed. "Suicide is a sin."
And then, finally, I had had enough. I had been ricocheting around like a pinball in some kind of Hellish machine since that day behind the 7-11. Always its voice in my ear, its feet on my back, hissing and whispering and pushing me into things. I stared at it, into those black pits of eyes, and finally cut my marionette strings. Ignoring the pain in my side and legs, I stood up, as tall as I could, and said, "No."
It laughed at me. Not the coughing snicker I'd hear before, or the whispery choke of its reedy voice. A full throated, belly shaking laugh. I felt the shame of it in my gut, and my face flushed. It spoke to me again, this time in a much stronger and deeper voice than I'd heard before. "No? You think to deny me, who pulled you from the pitiable creature that you were, and freed you to righteousness? You will tell me no, you who are nothing, would be nothing without me? No?" It laughed again. "I think not. If you won't do it, I will." And then it turned to Alicia and put its hands around her throat.
I lunged for it. It was really more like a lurch, but I'll call it a lunge to make myself feel manlier. My knees kind of collapsed forward and I thrust both hands out as I pitched forward. I managed to snag the edge of its wings, and pulled down off the bed on top of me. It weighed far more than I remembered when I had dragged it out of that alley, especially its wings. The angel flapped them around and buffeted me with them. The sound was deafening; an exploding thunderclap in my ears each time they rose and fell. It tried to worm its way over onto its belly so that it could get its arms around me, but I grabbed its left wing with both hands and held on for dear life.
"What the hell?" A shouted voice came from the door. I turned instinctively to look, and standing in the door way was a guy dressed in a blue uniform. I think it was a cop, but I'm not sure. The angel took advantage of the moment to elbow me in the chin and smack my head into the floor. I lost my grip and it jumped back up onto the bed. The elbow had knocked one of my front teeth loose, and my head was ringing from the hard floor, but I couldn't let it get any closer to Alicia. I heard the cop say, "Take it easy - shit!" I crawled up onto the bed after the angel, and the cop jumped toward me.
I managed to get my arms locked around the angel's waist, and it flapped its wings a bit, picking us both up into the air about a foot. The cop grabbed onto my leg and started trying to tug me off the bed, so I held on tighter. The angel reached down with its long spindly arms and started scrabbling at Alicia's neck. Her stories of the Longfinger came back to me then, and I shouted and kicked the cop in the face, knocking him back. I planted both of my feet on the bed, and still holding onto the angel, hurled myself over the other side of the bed.
We hit the big picture window together and it didn't even slow us down. The air turned into a web of glinting razors and darkness. A hundred lines of fire whispered across my flesh as I sailed through the air holding onto the angel. We crashed down to earth as one, the breath exploding from my lungs as its knees drove into my stomach. I puked, maybe on it, maybe on the ground, I'm not sure, and lay gasping for breath. We had landed on dead grass, not concrete, which was probably a type of blessing. I managed to roll onto my back, and the angel was standing over me. It looked down at me with an expression I've only seen once before in my life. It was on my own face in the mirror, as I stared at myself in self-loathing. Then it flexed both of its wings and leapt into the air, taking true flight at last. It hung over me for a moment, the unrestrained power of its wings pushing me against the grass, sending bits of broken glass skittering and rolling away. It flapped the great breadth of its feathery mantle once, and then twice, and it was gone.
Left in its place was the gaping face of the cop, also staring at me. Our eyes locked for a moment, and the confusion I saw there showed me I would never again be a part of any world governed by his authority. I was too far removed, too apart for that. I took advantage of his confusion and scrambled to my feet, and then sprinted toward my car, bleeding all the way. His shouts trailed me, and I trailed the angel, both of us destined for failure.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009