Saturday, November 5, 2011
Patricia Koelle: Angel at the window
New Christmas Stories
Amazon Kindle Edition
Patricia Koelle: Angel at the window
Julius Farley found it impossible go back to sleep, even though it was only six in the morning and he couldn’t think of a single reason to get up. It was the week before winter solstice. He found it hard to believe that the days were going to get longer again. The garden and the street, in fact all heaven and earth were swallowed by the omnipresent black. Actually he had begun to doubt there would be a daily morning at all. Even when it finally grew light, a heavy grey remained, fog blankets swathing the house.
“Grey. Ghostly. Ghastly!” Julius said to the morning. His voice didn’t push the thick silence aside. The words fell into it and broke on the floor.
Not only the endless nights but also the cold held the country in a steely grip. A dry frost unaccompanied by snow, a cold that seeped into bones and transformed the last yellow rose into a brown mummy.
Julius struggled to remember what it had been like when he still went to work on such early December mornings, waiting for the bus with his colleagues. He had gone on night shifts, too, and had never minded. When had he grown so old? Since Jenny had died? That was three years ago now.
He did not know why, but these days he woke up with the unaccountable impression that he had experienced something terrible in the night. Added to that was a feeling of abysmal loneliness, as if he were the only person alive in this unlit wintry land.
Ashamed of himself, he fought his way out of the tangled blankets, dressed. On top of all other layers of clothing he pulled on his worn favorite sweater, the one Jenny had knitted for him an eternity ago. He still found an echo of comfort in it. He shuffled to the window, opened the curtains a few inches. Unbroken blackness. He almost missed Mrs. Tinselmeyer’s flashing violet electric angel that stole his peace of mind every evening. In the mornings she turned it off. Angels! Julius had no fondness for angels. They got on his nerves. Especially violently violet, flashing ones. But also the eternal blonde, curly-haired, golden-winged ones all dressed in long white gowns that gazed at him with wide open dolly eyes from Christmas tree tops and shop windows, Christmas cards and wrapping paper, out of ads in magazines.
His Jenny with her straight mahogany bob, her mysterious black eyes and her liking for shorts at a time they were still frowned on: she had been the real kind of angel! But there had only been the one.
Julius turned on his TV to chase away the silence.
“Cream cheese, airy and soft like angel’s wings. Heavenly!” purred a woman’s voice, while long-legged blondes wearing almost nothing but wings sprawled on cotton clouds in front of a postcard-blue sky. They were munching hard while grinning broadly as if the right kind of cream cheese was the key to happiness. Hastily Julius turned the set off again. The whistling of the old teakettle kept the returning silence at bay a moment longer.
The gap in the curtains remained open. Outside the lawn lay tiredly in the light of a single gas lantern. Where were they, the comforting heavenly messengers? All busy eating cream cheese? Jenny hadn’t liked tacky angels either. She decorated the house with mistletoe and berries, leaves and fir cones.
“Angels come from heaven, not from the store”, she had said. But there was one thing they had always done until they both turned seventy and began having serious difficulties getting up from the ground.
Snow angels. Because snow came from heaven.
They had grown up as neighbors. Year after year with every first snow Jenny could be found in the garden, throwing herself backwards to the ground and moving her arms and legs in and out, then standing up carefully. Distinctly leaving an imprint in the snow was the silhouette of an angel with wings and a gown. Jenny repeated the action until the whole lawn was covered in angel shapes. She demanded of Julius to help her. But Jenny could never wait until there was enough snow. As soon as there was a thin covering of white on the ground she couldn’t be stopped. When they stood up after making an angel silhouette their jackets and pants were covered in black mud at the back, and the angel shapes were not quite angelically white either.
“So what? Angels are not always white”, Jenny said happily. “But they came from heaven”, and she pointed at the few snowflakes falling.
But it had been a long time now since the last white Christmas, and an eternity since the lawn had felt Jenny’s steps.
Neither snow nor stars could be seen this morning. Clouds hung low. Julius felt a desperate want of air. He opened the window, breathing deeply.
Abruptly, something dark descended from above, barely visible against the night sky. Julius flinched. At first, he thought the wind had torn a fragment of tarpaper from the roof.
But then he saw a movement: the flapping of a wing in the blackberries by the wall. In the weak echo of light from the gas lantern he caught a gleam. A gaze from mysterious black eyes met his.
The blackbird began to sing. Clear, sweet notes rose from the dry brambles, softly at first, then with passion, drifting tenderly to Julius’ ears and straight into his soul. They stole the darkness from the night and the fear out of Julius and spiraled on towards heaven where, as if summoned by the music, the first grey, then blue, then golden shimmer crept over the horizon.
When had he last heard a bird sing?
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