By Sue Harper
Sarah kept seeing something out of the corner of her eye. It was almost there when she looked aslant, and then it disappeared when she tried to look at it head-on. It was like a flutter, a disturbance in the air, as though someone was stirring the ether with a large spoon. She said aloud, ‘Oh, show yourself, for goodness sake! Are you playing games with me?’ And she heard a voice say, ‘Playing games is a very serious matter indeed.’
The voice seemed to come from inside a bush. She pushed some twigs and leaves aside and was shocked to see a strange face looking out at her. Well, not strange exactly, it was recognisably human, but she had not expected to see a young man perched on a nest. She asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he replied, ‘I’m your guardian angel.’ He struggled out of the bush and shook himself. He certainly had wings, though they were somewhat bedraggled. They looked strong enough to fly, but he was obviously reserving that for later.
Now, Sarah was tough: too tough for her own good probably. Parts of her had healed over, like an old wound, a cicatrice, and the damaged skin was no longer so sensitive. She had contradictory feelings about the angel. Firstly, she clearly had had less privacy than she thought. Had he been watching her at her most vulnerable, when she was making love or in the bath? That was creepy. And secondly, if he had been guarding her, he’d made a very bad job of it: she could have done with some respite from the tsunami of loss and disappointment that she had experienced latterly. So she was not well disposed towards him. All the guardian angels that she’d seen in films were insufferably smug. So she showed him her Resting Bitch Face. That might scare him off, perhaps.
It didn’t. He looked at her steadily and sat on the ground, inviting her to do the same. Then, in a quiet voice, he told her the story of her life. It was accurate. What startled her was not that the facts were right, but that he had understood her emotional landscape: the repeated patterns, the high and lows, the doubts and certainties. Why hadn’t he helped her, then? Wasn’t that what guardian angels were supposed to do? Rather sharply, she said, ‘Well, where were you when I needed you?’
He considered this. ‘I held back,’ he said. ‘You needed to find things out for yourself. That is what a real guardian angel should do.’ And then he proffered his hand, and she took it. ‘Now tell me what you’ve learned.’ Sarah repressed the urge to retort ‘I have learned never trust any man with wings’, but instead she considered it quietly. She felt the words start to come, and every time she made an utterance, he stroked her palm or tapped it lightly with his finger. Then he sang her words back to her:
Everything that lives is holy, waiting for the light to come
Space and silence are our watchwords, and we’re marching to their drum
Love will only come unbidden, you can’t force it into life
Every stone will teach you something, every book contains a knife
Sing the dawn and weep the sunset, wrap yourself against the night
Just in case its cold will kill you and its frosts destroy delight.
He had turned her words into a melody she had never heard before. What should she say to him? It was a difficult decision. But the truth was best told now, if ever. A list of questions tumbled pell-mell from her: Did angels wear underpants? How many of them could dance on the head of a pin? Had he seen her that one time she thought she had found the right person? Had she looked silly in her neediness? And after her questions came the admissions: I am lost. I am lonely. It is dark.
The angel took her hand again. He said, ‘Here is my last gift to you. Listen. It is this. You are your own map. You are your own fellowship. You are your own light.’ He started to fade, and his edges became fuzzy. Soon Sarah could not see him any more, but she hoped that he was still there. For a while anyway.