Chwal: Part 2

Part 1

The winters come and go, and I grow up.  I trade in my crayons for pens, braids for free-flowing curls that blow like a lion’s mane.  Raff don’t age at all, but that’s to be expected.

I’m twelve, finally in sixth grade, and it’s Christmastime.  Granmama’s sitting outside on the front porch, watching the fresh falling snow.  I lounge in the bay window, inky papers in my hand.  It’s pa’s legal pads, all stacked together with my stories, and the smudges bleed over the edge like some battle scene.

Raff smiles, watching me scribbling my next great novel.  I know writers are supposed to wait til their thirties or something to pen the Great American Novel, least, that’s what pa says, but we all start somewhere, right?  Even angels and Zora Neale Hurston – my momma’s favorite author, who maybe I shouldn’t be reading now at such an “impressionable age,” as granmama says, but I do – were in diapers once.  Well, angels wore something, because diapers probably weren’t around back then.

Raff’’s given me one of his feathers to write with, a different one on each of my birthdays.  This is the largest yet, and let me tell you – it’s impossible.  Impossibly beautiful, that is.  All long and plumy-white like something from a dream.  The nib etches lil streams of golden ink, and jack’s rabbit if that isn’t a miracle.

Raff sits crunching sunflower seeds.  “What part are you at, May?”

“The part where Keisha raids the moon base.  She’s freeing the rebel aliens from their prisons so the revolution can start.  It’s like Star Wars but better.  Instead of light sabers, Keisha has a light arrow.  It’s more precise, like a laser beam, with a hundred percent casualty rate when aimed exactly right.”

“Sounds exciting.  Want edits?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.”

He always blushes when I call him that.  But I’m old enough to give Raff nicknames too now.  I like watching him squirm.  Angels ain’t got nothing on me, after all.

Leggie left a while ago, when I started asking questions.  Raff tells me only kids can see him, but I’m not so sure about that.  Sometimes, outta the corner of my eye, I swear I can see the old man sitting in the pews like usual, on rainy days, when there’s a stillness about the place some would call holy, and granmama’s soft snores touch the lights.  Sounds can touch lights, you know.  Raff explained that everything’s just a wave, like in physics, except his explanation is more poetic.

“It’s all a dance, May.  Like butterflies in an Indian summer.  Everyone has their time.”

He draws out his words like a painter.  His time stretches on forever.

I’m old enough now to see the scars behind his eyes.  Like a war vet.  Pa says grandpa came back from Korea and was never quite the same.  He died with that same bruisyness Raff has, the poky bits like a cactus.  Once I cut myself after falling at the quarry, and Raff tore off his robes below the knee and bound it with the fabric, then flew me home.

His legs were criss-crossed with scars, like train tracks over his skin.  I never dared ask him about it, but I have nightmares, sometimes, about what they mean.  I’m old enough to read the Bible all the way through now, after all.

“Raff?” I ask, one day as I’m waiting alone at the bus stop in the rain, and he’s hovering beside me, whistling to a bird in his hands.

“Mmm?”

“Your legs.  Do they hurt?”

He’s silent.

After a while, he asks: “How’s your story going.”

“Good.  It’s about a war.  You ever seen a war?”

Tears prickle his eyes, and I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy in the gut.

“Yes,” he says faintly.  The bluebird in his hand trills sadly as my angel hangs his head.  Raff shields me from the rain with his wings.  “But that’s something you already knew.”

I reach for his shoulder, but he turns away.  “I’m sorry I asked.”

“No.  It’s alright.  You have a right to know.”

“About the blackness?” I ask.  My shoulder bag suddenly seems ten times heavier.  “The Devil’s real, ain’t he.”

“Yes, but not in the way you would think.”  Raff lets the bluebird go.  It shakes itself free of rain and hops down his wing onto my shoulder.  Birds act strange around Raff, more friendly.  “He’s a custodian of sorts.  I think you’re old enough to understand what angels do.  We clean up after people and take care of them.  Well, he deals with the less fortunate souls.  Some people are lost, May.  They’ve fallen by the wayside in life.  He gives them a chance.”

I shiver.  “That don’t sound very pleasant.”

“Some people can be downright nasty, May-flower.  It takes a hard man to help harsh souls.  There may come a time when I have to leave you.  Not for long, but sometimes.  I want you to know that you’ll be safe on the nights the darkness comes, as long as you don’t leave your room.”

Just as he speaks, the bus rolls up.  I sit at the back where I can whisper to Raff.

“You’re leaving?  When?”

“In a while.  Before you were born, I was a doctor.  I help heal souls and the dying.  Your grandmother: she’s nearing her end.”

I stare out the streaky window to the gutter swollen with leaves.  Granmama’s been in the hospital for a while, and I knew it was coming sometime – sooner, rather than later.  “Jack’s rabbit.  She is, ain’t she,” I say quietly.  Raff pats my shoulder in an effort to comfort me.

“I’m going with her.  Whoever’s important to you is important to me as well.”

“Can’t I go too?  Please, Raff.  I gotta know that she’s safe.  She can’t go to Heaven alone, she’ll try to reorganize everything and clean the entire Heavenly Kingdom with that bad back of hers!”

He smooths my hair just like when I was younger.  “I promise on my sword she won’t come into harm’s way.  She’s a good woman, May.  No need to worry about her.  Now finish that math homework.  I’m off to work.”  And like a firecracker he disappears.  I slump into my seat and sit crying for the rest of the ride.  Ever since I’ve gotten older, he’s been leaving me alone more often.  Him being gone is like having a missing limb.

That afternoon I visit granmama’s bedside.  I bring her a bouquet of daisies from the soccer field where I had practice and a few tomato sandwiches I fixed up at home especially for her, with mayo for her aching joints – a silly family superstition, but I swear it works.  The moment I step into the room, I see Raff stroking her hair and massaging out the kinks in her shoulders, caring for her like a nurse.  He wears yellow scrubs just like the hospital staff and looks pretty handsome at that.  I stand speechless and nearly drop my flowers.  My throat burns with a kind of gratitude that is too dang hard to put into words.

Granmama can’t see him, but the rise and fall of her chest eases up as Raff works out the knots and kinks in her frail creaky shoulders, where she carries nearly a century worth of the Laveau’s family burdens.  He smiles at me all gentle as he looks up from his work.  “Hey May-flower,” he says, then leaves the room to give us privacy.  I mouth a “thank you” to him, swallowing back a tsunami’s load of tears.  Granmama looks at me with rheumy cataract eyes.

“May-be, baby doll.  Is that you?” she asks, voice all soft and fragile like tissue paper.  She reaches out with a tremble-spider hand.  I take it and hold it to my cheek, biting back my crying.

“Yeah, granmama.  How you doing?” I ask all forced-bright.

“Just fine, baby doll.  I could’ve sworn on Moses’ staff an angel of the Lord just visited me.  I feel light as a feather.  You scraping by at school?”

“Yes m’am.  I aced a test on negative numbers today.  And look!  Tomato sandwiches, just for you.”

We eat them together in companionable silence.  I talk about how handsome Billy Morse’s gotten and lick bits of mayo from my fingertips.  It’s hard for granmama to eat so I help her in lil bits, wiping crumbs from her neck.  One of those nasty IVs is a thorn in her skin and she near cusses it to Hell, invoking the Lord in a whole lot of creative ways.

“Pray for me, baby doll,” she says, her rickety voice outta breath.  I do, the Lord’s Prayer, followed by an invocation to St. Michael, and then a petition to St. Gabriel for healing.  Granmama’s been collecting prayers all her life, no matter if they’re Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist – it don’t matter.  She writes them down on lil notecards as if they were recipes for some heavenly cook book.  I guess, in a way, they are.  From what I can tell, there’s a prayer for everything.

“I got one, granny.  To Raphael.”

“Who’s he, doll baby?”

“The angel of doctors, granmama.”

“That sounds downright perfect, child.  You’re a darn precious thing to have around.”

Momma picks me up in a thunderstorm after I’m done visiting.  I’m glad the rain hides the tears on my face.

“She’s looking better, momma.  That cancer’s been whipped to submission, hasn’t it?” I ask.

Momma smiles half-heartedly.  “Sure.  Nothing beats your granmama, not even Death himself.  He’d hightail it to the bayou once she got out her knitting needles and used them as pokers for his bony behind.”

“Sure thing!”

We entertain each other with tall tales of granmama’s Lordly wrath late into the night.  Raff sits around munching on cookies, entertained by the talk, and pitches one to me:

“Your grandmother’s tough as nails.  With a look she’d staple the Devil to his throne so he couldn’t move a lick.”

“That’s right, sir.  Raff, what’s A-squared equals B-squared plus C-squared?  I don’t see any squares, only a triangle.  I gotta talk to Leggie about this math stuff if he ever gets back, it just ain’t right.  He should tell God to change it up so it makes a lick of sense.  God messed up geometry big time.”

Raff helps me, and it’s a great distraction from what’s really on my mind.  He notices later on, of course.  Nothings quick enough to fly by Raff, not even those falcons that go hundreds of miles an hour.

“She’ll go peacefully, May.”

“Oh can’t you tell me when!”

“You know I can’t.  I already told you far more than was proper.”

“It’s not just that though, Raphael.  It’s the other angels I was wondering about.  I ain’t never seen any of them but you.  I got to thinking, you can’t be the only winged man in the world.  There ought to be other angels.  Angels of music, and traveling.  And – and of… of death.”

He sighs like an old wind blowing through an empty carnival.  “In time, May, just wait.  You’ll meet them all eventually.”

I raise my brows.  “I will?”

“I just wish it would be later rather than sooner.”

 

 

Granmama’s funeral is a stately affair, with the entire church gathered on the village green to pray for her immortal soul.  It’s just how she’d of wanted it, with eloquent speeches and an ocean of tears.  Only I don’t cry.  It’s like a plug has been put in my throat to stopper the sorrow.  All I can do is stare at the coffin and her empty face.  Raff is hidden like the sun behind a storm-cloud.  I can feel him, but I see nothing, just darkness in the shadow of Spanish moss swinging on the trees in a storm.

She passed in peace with us by her side.  For days afterward, Raff was gone.  I make the trek down Main Street, up the church hill, out to the graveyard each day, carrying brier roses cut from granmama’s favorite bush out front.  Sunday afternoon is dark as the Devil’s pit.  It storms as I walk to the graveyard.  The trees lining the iron fence stand like daggers against the sky.  The graves go back to Colonial times, as Snake’s Hollow used to be a kind of resort area in Louisiana, a home away from home for New Orleans elite, fabled for its mineral springs that can cure any ailment, so the stories go.  The tourist shop even sells bottles of it.  Now it’s just another small town, but the mystique remains, and in this hundreds of years old graveyard with stone angels and mausoleums, I can believe in the water’s magic, almost as if it has the power to revive my sweet granmama.

I come to her grave – as humble as the woman that shaped my life in so many ways, but stately, elegant, godly, and wretchedly beautiful.

“The sky’s crying for you,” I whisper, my lashes wet with rain.  The stone in my throat dislodges and the tears that pour forth are thick as the Red Sea.  Heaving, I sink to the ground, knees muddy as I kiss the gravestone.  “Granmama, there’s so much I wanted to tell you.  So much I don’t understand.  I feel so, so alone.”

Lightning illuminates the plot.  “Raff?” I cry out, sobbing in earnest now.  “Where are you?  God, oh God, why did you let her leave?”

An engine starts in the distance.  I steady myself, shaking like the Tower of Babel.  The cemetery gate creaks open.

“Hello?”  I rise, bunching my coat close around me for warmth.  Four figures peter in, hidden by the Spanish moss.  My hairs stand on end as I hide behind a stone angel.  Through the vegetation I can see them.  Wings drape around their shoulders like capes.  My jaw drops a country mile as they approach.

“May?” Raff calls, his face brilliant as the sun.  “It’s okay, May-flower.  You’re among friends.  There’s no need to be afraid.”  The clouds part above and his companions step out into the light.  A shaft of sun wreathes them in glory and glances off the halos above their heads.  I sink to my knees in wonder.

“Raff?”

“We’re here to take you home,” he says quietly, coming to me and picking me up off the ground, cradling me against him like he did when I was young.  He hushes me as I sob into his shirt.  The other angels stand back at a respectful distance.  “But first, hot cocoa.  And answers.”

 

 

“I’m what?”

The four angels look at me like I’m Kingdom Come.

Raff watches close, blowing steam from his mug of cocoa.  We sit in a booth in a small country diner, his coat over my shoulders as I stare wide-eyed at the three strangers.  One has hair like saffron threads, another slanted eyes rich as loam, and the third skin like champagne.  Their wings are tucked into their backs, and somehow the waitress can see them.  The four angels have a gravity Raff usually doesn’t, a presence like they’re actually here, with wings hidden from view.

“The Lord’s god-daughter,” Raff says quietly, arm around me as he hugs me tight.  He pushes a slice of apple pie my way.  “Eat, May.”

I pick at it, jaw dropped too far open to chew.  If I’ve learned anything from Raff, it’s that angels are many things, none of which are subtle.  I could kick him halfway to Heaven right now, springing his friends on me like daisies pushing up from a coffin.

“Jack’s rabbit I am.  That’s impossible!”

The angels laugh.  Michael’s stern face is softened by a smile.  He’s the one with the ruddy hair, the general of the angels.  A wicked scar juts over his brow, makes his face thick with ridges, like a mountain.  “Each generation, there’s a child raised by angels.  We’re their teachers.  Soon, May, you’ll inherit the Earth.”

“But why?”

“Because Father needs a guardian.”

“Like a guardian angel?  But that makes no sense!  I’m just a Southern girl that doesn’t know cat clawings from chicken scratch.  I write space operas – my head in the clouds as momma says, not a lick of common sense about me.  How am I supposed to help someone as mighty as God?”

The one with earthy eyes takes my hands into hers.  Gabriel – the messenger angel, I think – whose smile is like a bark whorl.  “God’s old, May.  Older than you can know.  He has places waiting for Him.  He needs someone to look after the world while he’s away.  That’s why you’ve been raised by Raphael.  The time will come when you’ll help others as He helps them.”

“How?”

“By answering prayers,” answers the golden angel.  Azrael, the angel of death.  Weird enough, I feel no fear under her swirling eyes.  Just peace.  “You’ll be a guardian like us.”

“But I’m not an angel.  Not at all.  I’m mortal.”

“Exactly,” Raff says, licking his fingers clean of the remains of my pie.  “Angels were created to serve humanity.  We bowed down before God’s creation out of love long ago.  Well, all but one.”  His face darkens.  “The point is, while we can do many things, we can’t interfere with occurrences directly.  We can help, of course, like I did with your grandmother, but we cannot change things outright.  I could ease her passing, but I couldn’t prevent her from dying.  We must respect the order of things.  But mortals can make choices, and we can influence them.  That’s where you come in.”

“Why?  What can I do?”

“You can make choices.  You’re the Guardian, May, the Guardian of this generation.  There is always one walking the earth, unbeknownst to humans.   To them, you appear an ordinary girl, but in truth, you’re an emissary of God, here to oversee things while He’s away.”

“Where did God go?  I thought He was everywhere – isn’t that kind of His point?”

Gabriel grins, her slanted eyes glimmering with amusement.  She nurses a tall coffee that’s black as sin.  “Even the old man needs a break.  We help Father take care of business.  We’re all different parts of God.  For example, I’m God’s strength.  That’s what Gabriel means.  Michael is God’s general, Raphael is God’s healing, Azrael his help.  It goes on.  And when you were made, sweet little thing that you were, we put something special into you.”

I tap my fingers on the table, nervous.  I glance at Raff in suspicion.  “And what exactly was that?”

Michael’s golden-green eyes focus on me.  “God’s love for the world.  It will give you the ability to take on the pains of this world, people’s suffering, and turn them into joy.”

“I still remember you up in Heaven, cooing away as I held you in my arms,” Gabriel smiles.  “You know the old wives’ tale that the indentation above your lip is God’s thumbprint?  It’s mine.  I cradle all babies before they’re born and whisper God’s Word into their ears.  I press life into their lips and shepherd them on their merry little ways.  You were delightful, and your soul shined just so, thrumming with God’s beauty.  To meet you again, all grown, why, it’s wonderful.”

Gabriel takes my hand.  She runs her fingers over the lines of my palm like she’s a fortune teller. “I can feel it in you, Father’s love.  It courses like lightning through your veins.  Raphael, you’ve been selfish, keeping her to yourself.  She’s too precious to bear.”

Raff squeezes me with his arm.  “She’s darn precious alright,” he grins, pulling my ear.  I fight him off.

“I’m too old for that nonsense, Raff.  I’m fierce now.”  I look at the archangels: “You guys better watch out.  Keep calling me precious and I might smite you with my supposed ‘powers.’”

“You sure are brave,” Gabriel laughs.  “Just like your cat, eh?  Raff keeps coming to work covered in calico hair.  He won’t shut up about how much it sheds.”

“If he’d stop petting her so much, maybe he wouldn’t get so messy,” I say.  I eye Raff.  “So what do you do up there, anyway?  Angels must be awful busy.  I don’t see how Raff has the time to spend with me.”

Azrael smiles serenely.  “We have many roles.  I’m the angel of death: I transport souls to the next plane.”

“I’m Heaven’s general,” Michael says.  He absently touches the scar on his forehead.  “I protect the world from demons.”

My heart races at the mention of demons, and I remember the blackness that terrorizes my nights.  I mask my fear and nod.

“I’m the angel of souls,” Gabriel says cheerily, drumming her thumbs on the table.  “I pluck new spirits from the Tree of Life and send them off to their birthing.  We all do a lot of things: odd jobs.  Answering prayers, for the most part.  I also play the trumpet pretty well.”

The table collectively groans.  “Not that stupid thing,” Raff teases.  “Gabby never shuts up, May.”

“Gotta practice for the Apocalypse!” Gabriel says.  She winks at me.  “All hell might break loose pretty soon – you’re growing up to be a head-turner, May, and men are the devil around pretty girls.”

“I’m not letting anyone touch her,” Raff mutters.

I roll my eyes.  “I don’t need two dads, Raff.  Ain’t no way you’re gonna tell me what to do.”

Michael laughs.  The sound shocks me, all deep and rich like dark chocolate.  I can’t imagine what it’s like when they all sing with their sweet-as-honey voices in the heavenly choirs.

“You’ve got a fireball on your hands,” Michael says.

“Yeah, he does,” I say.  “I’m not worth anything if I’m not trouble.”

“Keep that spunk.”  Izrail smiles. “It’ll help you down the line.”

Raff ruffles my hair.  “You’re a headache, a precious, precious headache.”

“I ain’t precious!” I protest.  “My cat’s precious.  You’re precious, in your silly yellow Sunday suit and top hat in church.  I got better fashion sense than you by a mile.”

The angels laugh at Raff’s expense.

I continue: “You’re all chivalrous and fluffy-winged.  You don’t have a bad bone in your body.  But I got a temper, and I know how to use it.  Ain’t nothing precious about me.”

Raff sighs.  “Whatever you say, May-flower.”

 

Fluid Genders and Angels

In my experience with angels, they all have masculine and feminine forms, but their true forms are transcendental and inherently genderless.  Mannerisms may change when they switch between genders – for example, fem!Gabriel is motherly and nurturing and like a valkyrie on the battlefield, while male!Gabriel is charming, witty, and a practical jokester that loves puns.  They may favor one gender over the other, like Michael, or shift easily between them, like Uriel or Gabriel.  An angel like Ariel that may appear as female to the majority of spirit workers may actually appear male to you.  I think it all depends on the lessons you need to learn from them.

Last night I dreamt of Michael’s female aspect, who is very regal and reminds me of Queen Elizabeth.  She has long flowing auburn hair that is usually in a chignon or braid and silvery eyes, usually dressed in white robes or dresses.  In this aspect she is very motherly with me and contemplative, asking me philosophical questions and attending to work in the Heavenly body with utmost diligence.  She is quieter and less forceful than her male aspect, which I mainly interact with, but no less fearsome.  She has an especial love for children and flowers.

Samael’s female aspect is like if Dita Von Teese and Ishtar had a baby.  Femme fatale, dominatrix, with a curvaceous figure, rather voluptuous assets, a tan Kim Kardashian would die for, and insatiable appetite for all things.  She is all fire, impulsive, sexual, energetic, crazy in her passion, literally crazy, does tons of drugs and alcohol, and an agent of destruction.  Long wavy black hair, she often goes naked or in a bustier and skirt and can usually be found vomiting in a bathroom.

Ariel’s male aspect, whereas he is usually female with most spirit workers, is who I dub Blonde Wonderboy.  Snarky, charming, flirty, obsessed with bonfires and the ocean and surfing, a total beach bum and rascal to boot.  He is fun as fun can be and loves going on adventures in the otherworlds and is very boyish in his charms and mannerisms.  An angel of the elements, he is all about nature, and probably an Eagle Scout to boot.  Many times he is part-lion and overlaps with Samael as the Demiurge inspired by the god Nergal.  They have a joint aspect I call Ariael that I interacted with a lot as a child, but now remain quite separate.

Unlike most occultists, I primarily see Uriel as a girl.  Umber skin, hazel eyes, beautiful blondish brown dreadlocks and a toned body like Rihanna.  She looks Melanesian and favors cyan or seafoam robes, summer dresses, or swimsuits.  Her heaven looks like a tropical paradise and she wouldn’t be caught dead without her trusty spear.  She is very motherly and older sisterly and loves taking people under her wing.  An earthy angel, she is extremely grounded and radiates peace.  Don’t be surprised if she is delighted to see you and gives you a peck on the cheek!  Her male aspect works more with children and appeared to me around Christmastime in festive robes, delivering presents.  He literally looked like Denzel Washington and I went, oh god, have mercy, he’s hot.

Finally good old Gabriel.  They are about as gender fluid as you can get, switching easily between male and female aspects.  It’s about 50/50 with people perceiving them as male or female, and I tend to like her female side better.  The male one jokes too much and likes novelty bars ;).

Obviously other angels – all of them – have male and female aspects, as angels are inherently genderless.  My guess is they appear in forms we are most comfortable with.  Raphael and Azrael I’ve never seen as gals, and I can only IMAGINE what Metatron would be like as a woman.  That would make my year.  Michael as a woman is funny enough.  Better start calling her Michelle…

My Experience with the Archangels (UPDATED)

Updated with Uriel, my Khaleesi.

There are a lot of things I love – green curry, mythology, a good book when it’s raining outside, next to a cup of tea, in a blanket burrito, tall tall trees – but nothing gets my heart singing like angels.  I have always adored the idea of angels since I first learned about them as a preschooler and gravitated towards anything with angels on them – Hallmark cards, children’s bibles, classical artwork, stained glass windows in churches.  Whenever I saw them it felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket of energy, my hairs standing on end and skin buzzing with pure love like electricity.  When I was old enough to have imaginary friends, I made mine an angel of lions, destruction, and fire that was a stand-in for the older brother I never had: my best friend, protector, and teacher.

I called him Star after the morning star which to my young eyes, was the brightest thing in the night sky, standing sentinel to the moon.  I would sing to him at night and pray to him and tell him my deepest secrets – in dreams we’d play in heaven with other angels, fight demons, and I’d be carried on his back as we flew across the Milky Way.  Star stayed with me until I was about twelve in dreams – I remember saying goodbye to him officially when I thought I was too old to write stories about imaginary friends anymore, that I should start believing in “real” gods – too bad I never read about Archangel Ariel – angel of lions, fire, and destruction – whose flip side, as the Demiurge lion-faced serpent, is Samael.  Sorry but the Gnostics have been dead for a few thousand years not counting the Cathars.  Also this was the nineties-early 2000’s and I was more concerned with playing Pokemon than researching the occult.

Star had an “evil” side like I swear all small children who like explosions make their OCs have.  Normal Star had tan skin, with azure blue eyes and platinum hair – his evil side, which in my third grade mind was the embodiment of chaos in the universe I had created, was a spirit of dragons, poison and snakes with porcelain skin, red eyes, and black hair.  Right when “Star” exited my dreams he was replaced by a character I named “Samael” that looked suspiciously like his evil side, yet still had the same snark as Star.  Pale olive skin, red eyes, long black hair.  I was still reeling from the fact a name I’d pulled out of my posterior was real (It’s happened twice, with my characters Samael and Ragnar) and that my computer was for some reason claiming a twelve year old had edited the Lucifer Wikipedia page.  This was also the time I had my first vision of an angry ginger angel general who saved my life then thrust me back into my body, so alongside puberty and hair growing in weird places like my armpits, also middle school, life was getting increasingly weird.

After I found out Samael was “real” – as real as a mythological figure can be – I went into denial about angels.  I was still a budding pagan, had been since the tender age of seven when I first got my hands on D’aulaires, so I decided that all Abrahamic religions sucked because the Messiah couldn’t be a woman, and hey, if I wasn’t good enough to be the Messiah, then I wasn’t good for anything.  I also wanted to be the President at this point and was in my angry feminist phase so anything that stank of the patriarchy – read Bible – I abhored.  Still, I devoured Madeliene L’engel’s Wrinkle of Time quartet and fell in love with the angels in those books, from the first to Many Waters, and I continued dreaming of angels and demons who I then wrote about in my stories.  Samael took me on crazy adventures only a drunk would take a young teenager on in my dreams, and through them I met the archangels and archdemons.

To me the archdemons are like the drinking buddies you don’t want to be seen with in public – they’re good to party with, but too crazy for day-to-day interactions.  The archangels are the opposite – kind, the essence of love and compassion, with hidden quirks and complexities, servants above all to humanity and God.  They treat me like a younger sister and I often dream I am a young child playing with them, or that I am in the audience of their Heavenly Council or Michael’s prayer garden.  This is a list of the ones I interact the most with, because I’m bored and still have an hour til my train:

Michael: The head honcho and first angel I “officially” met at the age of twelve, barring Auriel and Metatron.  I’ve written about my vision of him here.  To say he is terrifying is an understatement.  Too tall, I see him as Islamic mystics describe him – saffron thread hair, emerald eyes.  His wings are white and armor golden with a red sash, blue cloak and fashionable tunica and sandals.  This guy reminds me of Thor in that he has muscles on his muscles and basically looks like Hercules.  He’s a lot less huggable than Thor and much more a sad plant man who only ever smiles when he is gardening.  His voice is like thunder, his faithfulness and steadfast love to God keep Heaven together, and he is the most fearsome being you will encounter on the battlefield whose strength is only matched by Samael’s.  I often dream of them fighting or politicking Cold War style minus the whole ping-pong diplomacy portion.  Michael is above all a defender – of the innocent, truth, the oppressed, everyone and anyone – your pet, your wife, your child, that sad dandelion that is dying of thirst in a crack in the sidewalk.  He cares so deeply about everything that he often times grows weary, but he listens to every single prayer to himself and his Father – every single one.  His laugh is rare but the most wonderful sound in the world.  So is his smile.  Some mystics say he hasn’t smiled since his brothers fell, but that just isn’t true.  It’s fast: a small soft quirk of the lips, a crinkle of his ancient eyes, but it’s there.  He listens to prayers, and answers every single one of mine in the most unexpected, but beautiful, of ways.

Gabriel: This is more Izzi’s territory, but Gabriel has always been a lighthearted presence in my life.  He/she looks nothing like the actor on Supernatural minus the dark brown hair, but they got one thing right: GABRIEL’S MALE ASPECT IS A HUGE ASS TRICKSTER AND FLIRT.  He has a smile more devilish than Samael and is one of the few that can make Michael laugh.  He’s an angel of water, peace, souls, good cheer and jokes, and messages.  Her female aspect to me appears with long blonde hair and is much more maternal, but is vicious on the battlefield – I mean she razes legions of demons with a flick of her saber, she’s that powerful.  Gabriel shifts between genders easily and is a very go-with-the-flow guy/gal, at least in my dreams.  They often speak in riddles or parables.

Ariel: I get Zadkiel mixed with Ariel and am not unconvinced they are one and the same.  Anyways, he’s like my older brother and main defender besides Michael – for some reason he likes to play with hair – like he will literally braid mine and make me a flower crown and I’ll have to tell him to bugger off in dreams because I’m trying to have adventures.  He loves children and nature, and is associated with all four elements – I see him mostly around ocean settings and bonfires.  He sometimes carries a torch or shoots arrows.  He usually wears white or purple robes and has long blond hair like Fabio.  Lions are his signature animal and most people apparently see him as a woman, but not me.  I get Blond Wonderboy.  He’s also a major flirt and is very playful and creative, but don’t piss him off.  Then he goes all destructo on your ass.

Uriel: The Khaleesi of my heart, queen of my fangirling, I have known Uriel since I was seven and she has almost always appeared as a woman to me: black and blonde dreadlocks, umber skin, freckles, and hazel eyes.  As the Light of God, she is an absolute delight and ball of radiant energy, childish and talkative, but by god do not piss her off, as she is built and trains like an Amazon warrior.  She usually favors cyan blue or seafoam robes or exercise gear, and loves beaches, starfish, shells, and anything tropical.  To me, she looks Melanesian and her heavenly home reflects that – it is a tropical paradise.  I’ve even seen her swimming in a bikini on one of her off days, then practicing on her beach with her most trusted spear.  She is very much an earthy angel to me, the element she presides over, extremely grounded, kind, and kind of a pack mother like a wolf, the animal I associate with her.  In her own words she is good for bringing friends together, settling disputes, and promoting peace and justice.  She always has time to peck you on the cheek or ruffle your hair and will usually treat me like a beloved little sister.  She and Ariel are a Hot Item and she is one of the only ones that can make him take things seriously.  She is usually spotted in Michael’s company and they are very, very good friends, bringing out a softer side in him not many see.  Her male form has golden eyes and looks a bit like Denzel Washington – there I go again with the weird celebrity references.  He appears usually around Christmastime in a festive outfit of red and gold and delights in giving gifts to children and snow.

Raphael: I love him so much I’m writing a whole book about him.  Raphael is like if sunshine were bottled into a person.  Always optimistic, good-humored, loves children, wears bright yellow with a megawatt smile.  For some reason to me he looks like Idris Elba.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe I just like Idris Elba too much and have projected it onto my favorite archangel.  He’s the best cook in Heaven and often tells jokes to lighten the mood in angelic councils.  I mostly dream I’m a child when I’m with him and he plays with me – we build sand castles, he pulls me in a wagon, we play tag.  He will bring out your inner child for sure.  Also the best angel to go to if, like me, your toenail falls off and you’re grossed out to the max and want a fast recovery, as he’s the physician of the angels.

Samael: About 50% of this blog is about Bonebutt so I’m not going to say anything except that he is a piece of work, lousy lazy archangel, stinking wino and obsessed with being “cool”

Azrael: In my dreams, the angels call Samael the “Red Reaper” and Azrael, his much kinder counterpart, the “Blue Reaper.”  Azrael has two forms: a Grim Reaper form with glowing blue eyes like Discworld death, and this chill Middle Eastern Goth dude that is always reading a book with headphones on.  He is soft-spoken, introverted, calm, peaceful, and endless like the depths of the ocean.  For some reason he also likes baseball – as in he has taken me to baseball matches in dreams.  I wonder if it’s an Angel of Death thing because Samael just has this thing for baseball too.  Anyways, Azrael likes to stay out of the spotlight, in the shadow, and chill.  He won’t directly come up to you at a party or whatever but is very witty if you talk to him.  He’s a loner for sure, but one of the kindest angels ever.

Raguel: I’ve only seen him once in passing and got this overwhelming sense of peace and compassion.  He had long chestnut hair and was dressed in a gold robe with Roman sandals, carrying a Very Important Book.  I don’t know if it was the Book of Life or not, but he was in a hurry to get somewhere that was also probably Very Important.

Metatron: Best for last.  The grandpa of the angels.  I’ve known this dude since I was like seven.  I called him the President of the angels because he ran Heaven and drank a lot of tea and was always doing paperwork.  Ain’t nothing Metatron loves more than entertaining children’s precocious questions and tea.  Black tea, specifically, with cream and sugar.  He stirs it a lot when he’s doing Very Important Paperwork and sometimes accidentally spills it.  He is easily distracted as he gets so absorbed in the topic at hand.  He presides over angelic councils and I swear he’s the only one that can make Samael behave, or at least shut up for a period of five minutes max.  Also for some reason to me he looks like Elrond.  Like circlet, receding hairline, everything.  I don’t know if that’s as weird as Raphael looking like Idris Elba but whatever.  He’s very good-humored and very much the elderly British gentleman – obsessed with genteel good manners, likes gardening and formalities, and above all, order.  He can get flustered easily but if he is serious about gaining control of situation, AIN’T NOTHING STANDING IN HIS WAY.

I’ve met lots of other angels in dreams but these are the archangels I know best.  Heaven is like one big bureaucracy, whereas Hell is kinda like if society collapsed into this endless apocalyptic orgy.  I still don’t know which place I like better.

Dreams of a Messenger and Hellish Jazz

I’m sitting in one of Asmodeus’ jazz club-moonlighting-as-a-casino-moonlighting-as-a-speakeasy with Gabriel.  Asmodeus is behind the bar, mixing drinks, green eyes like the kind of acid I used to bubble in flasks in college chemistry.  Or maybe the sparks you get when you set gummy bears on fire.

Deus winks at me and I roll my eyes as he shakes ice and liquor.  He pours something red for Beelzebub and the two talk business in hushed tones.

Gabriel throws back another shot, some upstart band is playing something by Satchmo – Gabriel wipes vodka from his lips and runs a hand through his coal dark hair.  I stir my drink, not remembering how I got here at usual.  I fall asleep in real life and wake up in the astral, usually in a shitty bar, with no memory of where I was before.

We come to a lull in the music.

“Music is about shape-shifting, Allie,” Gabriel explains, swirling the ice in his drink.  His eyes are a cornflower blue and his grin tricky as getting pine sap stains out of jeans.  “Angels and demons change shape all the time – burning wheels, man, monster, blazing bushes: it makes us natural musicians.”

“Like I can change into a hawk?” I ponder, remembering the form I take when I do scouting missions and reconnaissance.

“Exactly.  I prefer being a dove.  More subtle, no one expects you, except expecting virgins.  Michael gave you that form for a reason: it’s the music of your soul.  Sam’s tricky as a snake, hence the black cobra.”

I smell something spice and full of black magick behind me.  “Someone mentioned me?”

“Oh god, not you.” I groan.

I turn to see Samael – or should I say Kalfou, the name he claims in this form, all black dreads and skin like soil and red eyes in a pinstripe suit and tie like blood.  He smells like cigars and cayenne peppers, taps his cane and has a top hat askew.

“There’s no God involved with my appearances, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that, kid,” Samael says, smoking a Cuban cigar.  His eyes blaze as he inhales and puffs.

“You here for open-mic night?” Gabriel asks, stifling laughter.

Samael grins, revealing fangs.  “But of course.”

“Wake up wake up wake up,” I say, pinching my dream-body.  I notice I’m dressed in a siren red halter dress and sparkling black heels.  It’s pastiche as hell.

“Not before my set is over,” Samael growls.  He sits next to me and leafs through a magazine, eyes avoiding the stage.  “I’m a bit nervous.  It’s a new song-”

“You, nervous?” I snort.  “If you were even capable of being embarrassed then maybe I’d believe you.  You’re bullshitting.”

Samael winces.  “You’re a cruel mistress.”

“I’m not your mistress and you literally look like an evil Bob Marley with none of his talent.”

“Give him a chance,” Gabriel says.  “Maybe he’ll surprise us!”

Asmodeus gets up on stage and reads from writing off his hand.  “Next up is my good friend Sam.  Sam, get your butt up here.”

Sam tosses his cane over his shoulder and sidles up to the stage’s piano.  “This is for Allie, who never believes in me, neither my music or my actual existence.”

I drown myself in more drinks as the demon on my shoulder serenades me.

The Idiot’s Guide to Hell, by Aym the Disgruntled, Upon Threat of Samael the Git

I think teenage me was high off sugar when I wrote this???

Angels and demons, though immortal, shave.  They are men, after all.

Michael uses a a straight razor.  He does not like mirrors.

Samael, always hungover, draws 666s in the shaving cream and sings like Tom Waits.  He likes to practice his smirk.

Gabriel, the hip one, uses an electric razor so his skin is cherub-soft.  Metatron has a beard.  Most archangels are clean shaven.  It goes along with the professional environment and hierarchy as old as dirt.

Demons are another matter.  Most follow their fancies, excluding Beelzebub.

Beelzebub never whistles.  His bathroom is spotless and silent.  Like Michael, he does not smile.  He stares into the dusky mirror and makes clean, precise cuts with his sword.  The foam blends with his off-white skin and iced hair, which is sensibly cropped.

He wears moth-eaten gray suits each day, with a pocketwatch and black handkerchief.  Butterflies and larva hitch rides on his tie.  When he descends from his tower, he carries his ledger and cane, a merciless device that sheathes his sword.  Its pommel is a silver spider, for he is Baal Zebub, the Lord of Flies and Souls.  Like gnats, the Departed fall into his web.  He sieves through the good, which are useless to him, and ensares the most wretched of souls.

Samael is the funnel.  Baal the spider in wait below.  When Samael is drunk, he addresses Baal as Lord of Butterflies.

To Beelzebub’s chagrin, the epithet stuck.

No one knows how Lucifer shaves.  Women dream, perhaps, but all who have seen are dead.

Once they shave, archangels require breakfast.  Gabriel is a pill without his juice.  It’s usually fig or pomegranate, but he will settle for cranberry.  At lunch, he drinks lemonade.

The archangels eat together on occasion.  Metatron takes Earl Gray and asks about the weather, which he is genuinely interested in.  Michael drinks Red Bull and watches the sun rise, listening to his brothers.  Before its invention, he chugged coca tea.

Raphael drinks Tabasco sauce.  Only the bravest of souls, and dragons, dare to enter his kitchen.  He and the Reaper trade recipes, as Raphael’s cooking is to die for.

Hell’s coffee machines are perpetually broken, and the bane of Duke Aym’s existence.  Their meeting room is notoriously understocked, and visitors from other pantheons gripe about official visits to Dis.  Gabriel, usually annoyingly upbeat, sours at the lack of juice boxes.

Once, when the Court of the Sanhedrin held council to judge the Damned, Gabriel and Aym staged a rebellion against the lack of caffeine.  Soon Penemue’s Department of Clerks went on strike, Beelzebub’s Accounting department followed suit, and the Damned ran away with the buffet food.  Soon, half of Dis was in the palace, and a party was soon underway.

Demons are not good at taking orders.  Samael’s calls for order were silenced by Gabriel’s horn, and the drunk Messenger blew the Reaper halfway to Abaddon.  It wasn’t until Lucifer entered the Sanhedrin, frowning even more than usual, that the Council and cohorts fell silent.  With a voice like ice, he declared the Court adjourned.  It was the only time in eternity the Judgment had been called off.

Disillusioned with the Empire he fell for, Lucifer retired to Pandemonium to grab drinks with Beelzebub.  The two were so depressed they forgot to don disguises, and were subsequently swarmed by mobs of fangirls.

Demons are scared of two things: boredom and estrogen.  Every action they take is to avoid these, especially emotional women.  It is slash fan-fiction, not binding spells, that is most effective against their advances.  Pink accessories and Disney songs are also very potent.

In the Idiot’s Guide to Hell (penned by Aym the Disgruntled upon blackmail of Samael the Git), restaurants are ranked with negative numbers and vie against each other to be outrageous.  Potential tourists are advised to steer clear of them and instead frequent establishments that serve mainstream fare.  A good way to avoid food poisoning and possible devouring is to avoid restaurants with human pillars of salt by the doors.  These morbid salt shakers are sure indications that only the most twisted of Fallen are welcome here.

The Idiot’s Guide is deliberately written to trick you.  Read its advice and do exactly the opposite.  Street lights in Hell are rigged to cause collisions: instead, cross in the middle of the road and drive on roofs, if possible.  Minor devils enjoy hitching rides on traveler’s backs in a Gogol-like fashion, and for the price of carrying them, you can get the local scoop on Dis.  Several entrepreneurs have started Rent-an-Imp companies that are supposedly doing stellar.

It is almost impossible to census Hell’s profits, as 99.8% of business is conducted on the Black Market.  Any legal dealings are taxed at 66.6% with co-pays of virgin blood.  Only dishonorable demons operate under the law.

Angels interested in day-trips should wear funny hats to disguise their halos and wallow in mud to hide their scent.  To most demons, angels smell like Lysol, and the scent has been known to cause mobs.  Elves are welcome as long as they bring Keebler cookies.  Gods must go through customs, and demi-gods require chaperones.

All of Hell is inappropriate for minors, but Belial and Asmodeus are more than willing to give them an unforgettable stay.  Tour groups to the Court of Lords are welcome, and many nobles will personally incinerate your Bible for you and autograph your hand with the ash.

What about mortals in Hell?  Are you shitting me, child?

There are no mortals in Hell.  Most demons do not believe in their existence.  Daemonic theologians have debated mankind’s existence for centuries, and the general consensus is that Man is an outdated idea created by demons afraid of the Light.

You are a girl?  A human?  You, my dear child, are mad.

Humans are monkey’s tails, and that is the end of that.

Chwal: Part 1

I have a big brother in the sky. His name’s Raff, he likes ice cream, and his eyes are yellow like the sun. He’s real tall and takes me out flying with him to catch lightningbugs. He’s got these big old white wings that are fluffy as my kitty.  Sometimes, when it’s dead winter and I’m shivering, he’ll wrap his wings around me like a blanket. I know I can always count on him to make me laugh when I’m crying or tickle me awake when I nod off in church, like now.

Raff’s perched by the edge of my coloring book like a bird: “May-flower, time to wake up: Sunday school’s over and you knocked over your juice when you nodded off.  The sermon’s soon.  Don’t worry, I cleaned up the spill.”

“Aww, Raff, why did you ruin my dream?  I was like Princess Leia, except instead of being captured by Dark Vader-

“Darth Vader, sweetheart.”

“Yeah!  That scary butt.  Instead of being his prisoner, I beat him up really good with a pink light saber.  It went pow-pow and sliced him right in half!”

Raff frowns like he just smelled an onion from granmama’s garden.  “That sounds unpleasant.  I think I should start taking you to more kid-friendly movies.”

The sermon starts, and Raff goes away to do whatever the silly fool does.

He’s up there in the sky, I’m guessing, going about his heavenly business. He tells me it’s real important, but I dunno if I believe him. My pa’s a real businessman – a lawyer, he dresses up in a suit and tie and everything, but Raff wears these silly outfits like you see on those Christmas cards, with those funny looking angels flying round the manger of baby Jesus.  Except those angels are all white, and Raff’s brown as a sun-baked potato. I told him so later that night: angels are only pretty blonde women in white dresses that sing soprano, and he laughs so loud I think the sky’s falling.

“We’re not all white, May.  Look at your Papa.  He’s one of the most holy men around.”

Raff’s sorta right, I guess.  Papa Leggie is a nice old man with a fine long beard and skin the color of wrinkly wood, with a big long cane he carries everywhere with the keys to Heaven clinking on the grip.  

Raff says he’s something like a saint.   I don’t know about saints, but Leggie’s a real charmer.  He laughs a lot and says he likes my curls, and sometimes, he even lets me play with his dog.  It’s a white dog, real fluffy, and real little just like me.  Leggie likes sitting in the park and watching flowers grow.  I say: Leggie, what are you doing alone?  Why don’t you have a wife?  You must be awful lonesome.  But he ain’t.  He’s happy, in his quiet old Papa ways.

Momma don’t believe me when I tell her about my friends. She tells me I’m just indulging in childish fantasies, and oh honey, isn’t our child just so precious! Sure I am, but just because I’m precious doesn’t mean I’m lying. That’s the problem with grownups: they’re stupid. They can’t see what’s right in front of them, the silly coots.

Dinner rolls around, and granmama sits on the porch sipping on sweet tea and talks on and on about Satan and how I better watch out! – otherwise he’s gonna come snatch me up because you’re playing on the wrong side of the street again, you silly child, so come back to your granmama and stay away from the traffic. She doesn’t like me playing over there, but I do it anyway when she ain’t watching. Raff helps me cross the street.  Mostly I just don’t wanna eat dinner because I know momma made peas again, blech.  Guess I’ll feed them to Raff or Leggie’s puppy.  I don’t know why they like peas?  I bet the mean old Devil grows them in his garden just for me and delivers them straight to momma’s door.

Why this Satan man would want me, I don’t know: maybe it’s because I’m just so precious, like the diamond on momma’s wedding ring. I ask Raff if that’s so, and he laughs again, then wraps me up in his big old arms and tells me: “Honey, I’ll never let that fool get you. Satan’s scared of little girls.”

“Well,” I say, “he should be.  I’m mighty fearsome.”

I tell that to granmama and she says: “Child, how do these silly ideas get in your head?”

I tell her Raff said so, and she just smiles.

She never believes me either.

 

 

It’s some holiday or something, and church is awful boring. We sing these silly songs and clap our hands and sing, Alleluia!  Praise the Lord!  The granmamas shake like Kingdom Come and belt out the lyrics.  It sounds oh so beautiful, and I like to dance to everyone’s song.  

I don’t know what an Alleluia is. I ask Raff, and he says it means we’re praising God. Then I ask Leggie why God wants all that praise, and Leggie smiles a bit and says He don’t need it, but people do it anyway, so it’s fine by Him.  Leggie’s real close with God, he tells me they’re poker buddies.  Don’t know how I feel about that, but I guess it’s okay to gamble if you’re a saint.

I ask Leggie if God goes to church, Leggie says no, so I tell him God’s a bad Christian. Granmama says if you don’t go to church, Satan’ll get you, so I tell Leggie God better watch out.

Leggie gets this sorta sad look on his face, so I tell him I’ll protect God because Satan’s scared of little girls. Leggie smiles then and lifts me up, up, so high in the sky, I’m flying with the stars. It’s awful cold up there, so he gives me a special blanket that feels like a kitten’s kiss.

I have a little kitten, y’know, and she kisses me all the time. It’s cute as a button. My kitten is just so dang adorable.

I tell that to Raff, and I ask him if he thinks so. He pets my kitten’s back and watches her purr, like a lil fire engine, then tells me she’s gonna be a mean fierce momma cat someday. I ask him if I’ll be a mean fierce momma, and he tells me not to rush my childhood.

I hate it when adults say that, and I tell him so. He tells me he ain’t no adult, but I don’t believe him. Tell me what you are then, I say. He tells me he’s an angel, just like before, and I laugh so hard I almost fall down the porch stairs.  Ain’t no angel got a five o’clock shadow!

 

 

Raff’s pretty gentle, but he’s got edges.  Poky bits like a knife.  The kind I use to mush my gross nasty peas with.

Raff’s covered in scars he says he got in a war, and his face is awful fierce sometimes when he ain’t smiling. He shows me his sword, and I say it’s cool, but not as cool as a light saber. I have a little blue light saber – my second favorite color, there were no pink ones, a shame! – that lights up and makes blasty woop-woop noises, just like Dark Vader’s.  I wonder if there’s a Light Vader too, a princess of the galaxy, except her armor is white like Leggie’s fluffy puppy?

I take out my light saber and show it to Raff. He has to admit my light saber’s darn fierce, but then he says wait, honey, watch this, and fwoosh! His sword lights on fire! I scream and giggle and tell him he’s gonna burn himself, but he doesn’t and just holds it all superhero-like, and then I gotta admit, it’s almost as cool as my light saber.

My kitten don’t like the flames though, she cowers and mews, so Raff puts it away and goes back to petting her. Raff likes cats a lot. I tell him he better find a wife soon, otherwise he’s gonna be an old cat lady, just like Leggie and his dog, and he looks at me all funny and says: I can’t be an old cat lady, honey, I’m a man.

I say no you ain’t. Men don’t have wings. Raff says: I know, honey, I’m an angel and a man, and I says: no, you’re an old cat lady, you silly fool. Now go dress up in a nice suit like my pa and find yourself a job, then a girl, then buy a house and stop squatting on my roof.

I’m still working on him, but I think with a little training, Raff’ll make a nice husband for someone someday.

I just gotta find the right woman for him.

 

 

It was raining awful hard today, so I just sat at my table, bored as anything, drawing Raff with a crayon.  He posed for me real nice, all still as a painting, and I just feel so bad, because he don’t know what I’m gonna do.

“Raff?  How do you spell batch-a-lore?”

He looks at me all funny.  He’s always looking at me funny, head sideways, lips squiggly like chicken scratches.  Maybe I’m a funnyman like Bill Cosby.  “And why do you want to know that, May-flower?”

I start stumbling over my words, then cross my fingers behind my back to save myself from the sin of lying.  It’s awful hard, lying to an angel.  Something about it ain’t right.  “Because I’m drawing a storybook, and this is the prince.  The princess’ll only know he ain’t taken if he’s got batch-a-lore on his crown.”

Raff takes a slow sip of his Coke.  I steal him food from the fridge every morning.  Momma always wonders where the mac and cheese went then gets all huffed up at my pa.  Mac and cheese is Raff’s absolute favorite, next to my granmama’s gumbo.  Yum yum yum!

“You’re a funny kid,” he says, ruffling my hair like a momma bird.  Then he tells me how to spell it, and I write the word real careful in big blocky letters, just like my teacher taught me to.  Her name is Missus Lovelace, and she’s sweet as anything!  She makes us apple pie and lets us play with hamsters.  She even let me bring my kitty in for show and tell, once.  That was before it peed on the carpet.  Oh well.

It’s still nasty as mushed peas outside.  The Devil must be beating his wife – that’s something my granmama says when it rains.  I tell Raff that, and he bursts out laughing.

“The Devil’s scared senseless of his wife, honey,” he tells me.  “All men are, deep down.”

Since we’re on the topic of women, I just gotta ask.  “If Satan’s gotta wife, then why are you and Leggie alone?  The dirty old Devil ain’t got nothing on you.  He’s not a pinch as pretty like your fluffy wings – all he’s got is gross spidery bat wings and fangs – and, and slimy scales!”

“I don’t need a wife – May, why in the world are you doing drawing hearts on that paper?”

“Nothing,” I say, real real guilty.  I cross my fingers even tighter.  I hope God doesn’t look down on me from his poker game with Leggie and see me lying to an angel.

Raff gets this look like he knows I’m up to no good, and in that moment, I swear, he’s just like Santa Claus.  I pray to the Lord I don’t get a big stack of coal for Christmas.  I really really want another light saber or maybe a cassette player.

“Let me see that,” he says, and before I can hide it in my jumper, he snatches up my drawing.  He reads it, and his eyes get wide as the moon. “Raff – heart, another heart- illegible?  Oh – eligiblebachelor?’ Eligible bachelor?  And more hearts?”  He looks at me mighty scared.  “Raff the eligible bachelor?  Is this a personal ad?”

I look down at my sneakers.  “No,” I mutter.

“Now May, look: I appreciate your wanting to help me, but this is way too far.”  The scars on his pretty face twist into a kinda smile.  “I like the way things are.  You’re the only girl I need.”  Then he tousles my hair and hands back the paper.  He delicately takes a crayon in his long, thick hand, just like he’d break it, he’s so so strong, and draws a crown on himself.  “There.  Now I’m a real prince.”  He crosses out ilegible bachelor, then draws a lil girl right next to him, holding his hand.

“That me?”

“It sure is,” he says, writing my name in beautiful teeny-tiny letters next to his.  He makes crayons look like a painting.  I add a big red bow in my hair, then the picture’s perfect.

“I don’t wanna be a fairytale princess, Raff.  They’re boring.  They sit around in towers waiting for dumb knights to save them. Real princesses are like Leia: they got guns.”  I launch outta my seat, and grab my lightsaber from my dresser.  “I wanna be the one that slays Jabba the Hut, and I want a flaming sword like yours!  You can’t beat up aliens in a dress, or climb trees, at least.”

My kitty’s curled up on Raff’s lap, purring like an engine.  He pets her absentmindedly, watching my antics – that’s what my momma calls them.  I think they’ve got something to do with ants?  

I swoosh my lightsaber through the air, chopping an alien to bits.  “See!  Just – like – that.”  I punctuate my words with vicious lil thrusts, stabbing it again and again.  The dragon dies, and I run up the tower to save Raff.  I bow, then draw him a pink paper flower.  “Here you go, m’lady.  I saved you!”

Raff pales a bit, which is funny, because he’s so darn dark, and his face turns the color of pa’s tea.  “I ain’t a princess,” he says, all low I nearly shiver.  

I giggle like a maniac, then draw a dress on him.  “Now you are, Raff-ay-el.”

“You’re as bad as Michael-” Raff begins, then freezes like a snowman.

Something clatters in the kitchen, and my granmama comes out with her afternoon sweet tea.  Quick as a minnow, Raff disappears.

She tsk-tsks, shuffling about, reprimanding me for the “Uncleanly state of my room!  And May, it might as well be a pig sty in here, for the love of the Lord.”  I wish right then I could disappear, just like silly old Raff.

The Devil may be scared of his wife, but even angels are scared of grannmamas.

 

 

Church was awful boring today.  The reverend droned on and on about sin and salvation, and I think: h’oh Lord, make him stop.  Leggie’s sitting in the back, humming to himself, reading the newspaper, and all the while I wait for him to butt in and correct the minister.  But Leggie just chuckles at the Sunday funnies.  They’re the best part of the day of the Lord, he told me.  Leggie says you can learn a lot more about the world from comics than you ever do in church.  Leggie says God likes Peanuts and that’s why Leggie’s dog is called Snoopy.

I start humming to myself under my breath.  Making sure no one’s watching, I take out my pretty red crayon and start drawing hearts on granmama’s hymn book.  She’s snoring like a groundhog in February, hiding under her big purple hat.  It has this kinda dead-looking plastic bird on it.  I feel a little like the bird.  

Momma and pa don’t notice me drawing because they’re too dang busy listening to the reverend, trying to get a slice of their own salvation.  I guess salvation is like apple pie at a family reunion: the folks here sure are trying awful hard to get it, and there doesn’t seem enough to go around.

“May, sweetheart: listen,” Raff whispers, gently taking the crayon away from me.  He’s sitting all solemn-like at the end of the pews in his canary yellow Sunday suit.  How can I take him seriously in that suit, I tell you, it’s gotta be a joke!  I glower, leaning against Raff’s strong arm and poking him in the side.

 “Raff, you gotta get a job.  I don’t need a stupid babysitter,” I tell him, trying to get my crayon back.  But he hid it real well in his pocket, and there’s no hope – just none at all.  I sigh.  “I’ve been on this green old earth nine years.  And I work more than you on an honest day.  I don’t need to listen to a silly reverend, and I sure don’t need you stealing my crayons.”

Raff draws his lips real thin and sighs, mussing my hair.  “You’re my job, sweetheart.  I look after you.”

I cock my brow all sassy, just like Leia.  “I don’t need any looking after.  I can tie my shoe, braid my hair, and cross the street all by myself.  You don’t even do that.  You just fly over like a fat New Orleans pigeon!”  

I like to feed the pigeons in New Orleans.  They’re real pudgy and squeaky.  So fat they can’t even fly!

“A pigeon?”  Raff tickles me with his wing, and I scream, laughing.  He smiles bright as the sun.  No one can hear us when Raff doesn’t want them to.  Not even my granmama, who has ears like a submarine spy ship.

Nobody notices me when I’m talking to Raff or Leggie either.  Dunno why.  

Raff might not be good for much, but he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.  I like Raff anyways.  He’s kinda like my kitty: cute in a scruffy way.  Sometimes he forgets to shave and I gotta remind him.  His kisses are scratchy then.  What a mess!  I don’t know what he or the cat would do without me.

“Yes sir.  I’ll babysit you!” I say, smacking him with the Bible.  He bites his lip and sits ramrod straight.  “That’s it, Raff.  Sit all nice and straight, mister, like my daddy, and ask for God’s forgiveness.”

“Why?”

“Because, silly, you sinned.”  I show him how to pray.  “I’ll pray for your forgiveness:  Dear God.  Hello.  I really like Snoopy – she’s cute as a button.  Maybe Leggie will let me play with her in the park today?  Thanks a bunch.  And Mr. God, I’m sorry Raff is no fun.  Please forgive him for stealing my crayon and momma’s mac and cheese.  Amen, Mr. God, and please save the funnies for me.”

I wink at Leggie.  He has to keep himself from bursting out into laughter.  Raff don’t look none too pleased.  

“I am too fun,” he insists.

“No you ain’t.  The last time I tried to get ice cream, you started yapping about how ‘Bad ice cream is for you, so why don’t you just go eat your vegetables?’  Everyone knows peas are gross, Raff.  Now I dunno what angels eat, but it sure ain’t quality food if you think peas taste good.”

He don’t know what to say to that.  As momma says, Raff ain’t the shiniest penny in the pail.  But it’s okay.  I take care of him.  

Sometimes he comes to school with me.  I sit with him at the table all the way in the back, where the toy kitchen is, and help him with his math.  I’m awful good at math.  I can add and subtract like nobody’s business, and Raphael asks me bunches of questions.  He’s teaching me this funny language that he calls our secret code, and lemme tell you, it’s the most beautiful sound in the world!  All clear and clean like a good wind or rain.  He speaks it a lot with God when he prays.

Miss Lovelace’s passing out snacks now.  Me and Molly run up and grab the best chocolate chips, then bring them back to the girls at our table.  Raff’s sitting on the beanbags, sleeping like an owl.  I think of drawing a mustache above his lip, but then I remember the Golden Rule and think that I’d hate to have one.  Mustaches are only for distinguished gentlemen.  That’s what granmama says.  

I say they’re only for gentlemen and God.  Raff’s got no business going around unshaved.

Halfway through my cookie, Raff wakes up.  Billy Morse is pulling my braids and I’m hollering at him.  Miss Lovelace is too busy dealing with another dumb boy, so I get out my lightsaber from my backpack and thwack Billy on the head right hard and good.

“May!” Raff says.  “Don’t break that Golden Rule I told you about.”

“Then why else do we have lightsabers and swords?” I groan.  He takes my lightsaber away from me and slips it into his robe, then doesn’t give it back to me til we’re back in my room, the silly coot.

“To remind us what the cost of failed peace is.  Swords and lightsabers aren’t for fun, sweetheart.”

“Jack’s rabbit they ain’t!  What else are we gonna slay the bad guys with?”

“Kindness, May.  You kill your enemies with kindness.”

And I ain’t got nothing to say to that, so I just sit there, looking at Raff.  He laughs at my expression.

“What is it, May-flower?”

“You may not look it, but you’re pretty smart, Raff.  For a wifeless fool.”

 

 

Later that night Raff tucks me into bed and helps me read Nancy Drew.  I wanna be Nancy Drew because she’s always solving mysteries and going on bunches of adventures.  I’d have her spy-glass and precious skirts, except I’d take Raff along with me, and my kitty.  

I tell him I’m gonna be Sherlock, he’ll be my Watson, and we’ll go around saving lost pets.  He asks what I’m gonna pay him, and I say I’ll give him granmama’s cookies, because the old fool’s always stealing them anyways.

Raff blushes.  “I’ve never stolen from you.”

“Oh yeah?  I’ve seen the crumbs on your lips.  I know my kitten doesn’t eat chocolate chips.  She only eats oatmeal raisin, and granmama never makes those, only Missus Lovelace.  See?  I just solved a mystery.  Hah!”

“There are greater mysteries than that.”

“What?  Is Leggie’s puppy missing?  And don’t spout silly Sunday school nonsense at me, Raff-ay-el.  I see straight through that molasses.  Angels don’t have halos, God doesn’t smite nobody, and the Devil’s a big old sissy.  If I were some big mighty God, I’d come down as a little girl and give Satan a real good scare!”

Raff suddenly looks all concerned like pa does when I give the kitty makeovers with momma’s lipstick and my cute little markers.  “May, don’t say that.  I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Aw, horseradish, Raff,” I say, punching him in the arm.  “We’re gonna find that Devil-man.  It’ll be our greatest adventure yet!  I’ll beat him up real good with my lightsaber and let you finish him off with my squirt gun.  Then we’ll marry the old fool off to granmama and he’ll be too scared to torture even his peas.  Granmama says all men are the Devil, but she’d make a Christian out of even him.”

“What is it with you and marrying people off?”

I sniff and cross my arms.  “I just want them to be happy, Raff.  Is that really too much to ask?”

He buries me under the covers and tickles me.  I scream: “Stop it, you fool! Stop!” but he just laughs and turns out the lights, then climbs outside to sleep on the roof.  

Sometimes he snores real loud and the roof shakes, and I have to throw rocks up at him.  It’s hard getting them over the gutter but worth it for his screams.  He wakes up crying like a little girl, speaking our secret language, and I cackle like Alice’s Mad Hatter and go back to bed.

But sometimes I’m scared, and I need Raff.

I can see a darkness others can’t.  

Granmama might call it sin.  

I’ve seen it in the eyes of killers, on people whose souls are downright nasty.  They’re black, I tell you, black as tar, and I cry when I think about it.  Sometimes the blackness creeps in at night, when the dogs howl, and the lights turn off in the streets.  Raff shuts the windows and bolts the door, and I’m not allowed out of my room.  

Granmama sings feverish hymns in her sleep and Raff hides me under his wings, his face all fierce like a lion.  When I was little I used to cry, but I ain’t very little anymore, so I make him feel better.  He won’t tell me what it is, but I know he’s scared to death by it, so I make up stories about me and him.  He listens and braids my hair and just holds me like he thinks I’m gonna slip away.  He asks me to sing and I do, and no one else can hear us, not in the whole wide world.

Leggie don’t come back for days after that blackness, and when he does, he’s got ten more lines on his face.  Pretty soon he’s gonna look like momma’s garden gnomes.  He won’t tell me where he goes or what he’s seen.  It must be mighty fearsome if it makes Leggie scared, just like Jabba the Hut.

 

 

We’re eating oatmeal one day, and it’s gummy and gross because momma made it wrong, so I spit it down the sink.  Raff eats what I don’t want, and in between spoonfuls he asks the darndest question:

“May, have you heard of destiny?”

I puff out my lips and roll my eyes.  “Sure I have.  Destiny’s what all heroe ha’ve got to do.  I don’t know exactly how they get them, but I figure it’s some kind of instruction book, see?  Like pa’s car manual, except it’s written in pretty gold ink and looks like a fairy tale.”

He finishes the last little bit of gross oatmeal.  He don’t seem to get what I’m saying, so I try to explain it easier to him.  Like I said, Raff’s pretty slow.  Anyone who eats peas and actually likes them has gotta be missing a few brain cells I’d guess.

“All heroes have got quests, Raff, and before they get them, they need to know their destiny.  Except sometimes, they don’t find out til the end, and by the time they slay the dragon, they realize who they were all along.  Knights don’t know nothing, anyways, not like Yoda does. They don’t need to kill something to find out who they are.  That’s why Snow White’s queen had a talking mirror.  It told her who she was every day!  She didn’t need a silly knight, or some loony prince.  Except one day, the queen’s destiny changed, and she wasn’t very happy about that.  So lemme ask you, Mr. Raff-aye-el, are you happy with your destiny?”

He looks all shocked and bites his bottom lip like a rabbit.  “You’re very wise, May-flower,” he says finally.

“It ain’t hard to be smart.  I’m not some dumb grownup.  You’re only kinda one, so at least you know something.  Now take me flying, or you ain’t getting chocolate chips ever again, I swear on granmama’s Bible.”

Raff’s better than an airplane because he can talk.  We fly out to the apple orchard past the pancake house, and I eat so much fruit I think my stomach’s gonna explode.  I’m moaning and acting out under the tree like it’s Kingdom Come, and Raff finds a bee’s nest and whispers the little buzzers to sleep, then coats his wings with honey.

“Watch this,” he says, then he fans his wings out in the sun, like he’s drizzled in maple syrup.  Suddenly, the butterflies come from every corner of the woods.  They land on his feathers like he’s a buffet.  I gasp and go catch them, and he puts them on my nose and in my hair.  The honey makes them stick.  “Here you go, sweetheart,” he teases, making me a crown of orange ones.  “A tiara fit for a princess.”

“That’ ain’t very funny, Raff.  Look, here’s a halo for you, so you can finally be an angel.”  I take a bunch of yellow ones and stick the bugs on his head.  “Now you’re finally fit for God’s marching band.”

He smiles kinda funny.  “You think so?”

“Yep, I sure do.  All you need is a bed sheet and you’ll be ready for the Heavenly Choir.  How’re your hallelujah’s doing?”

“Pretty good, I think.”

He makes me a wreath of daisies and puts it on my head.  I twirl around and chase after a lil precious squirrel.  

“What do you think makes me an angel?”

I shrug.  “You help people.  That’s what angel’s do.  Momma’s an angel, pa too, except they don’t got fluffy white wings because they’re not dead yet.  You got them because you died, I guess.”

“Is that it?”

“Yep.  Though you can be a devil at times.  Can you reach that apple up there?  And did you make the sandwiches?”

He pulls the PB and Js out of his robe.  I don’t know how he fits so many things in there.  It’s just so strange, like all the things Raff does.  I have half the heart to tell him he should be a magician, but he takes himself too seriously.  That would break his pride, and momma said a man without his pride is nothing.  

Raff puts peanut butter on my apple slices then sticks raisins on them, just how I like, and my full belly grows like a balloon, with room for more food, because who can turn down even more yummy dessert?  

“Y’know, May, I’ve never been a man.  Not really.  It’s… different.  Up there.”

“Mmhmm.  Over the rainbow.  Just like in the song Satchmo sings on momma’s records.  You guys have bunches of bluebirds and golden doors and rivers of jewels, just like in Revel- revelah- um, how do you say it?”

“Revelations.”

“Dang, that’s a mouthful.  The people that wrote the Bible have to make everything difficult, don’t they?” I say, bits of peanut butter falling out.  It’s the chunky kind, with nutty bits, and they stick to my shirt.  Raff wipes them off.  “I think Heaven should be an apple orchard.  Oh, and it should have lots of cute animals, too.  And maybe waterslides, and bad guys, so it doesn’t get too boring.  Are there light sabers in Heaven?”

“If you want one, I’ll make one just for you.  I’ll even make it pink, out of starlight.”

“M’kay.  I’ll pay you in chocolate chip cookies.”

We watch the clouds roll by.  

“What’s it like?”  I ask.  “Sitting on one?”

Raff fans us with his wings, scaring away the swarming skeeters.  “Hmm… like a kitten.  Curled up beneath you.”

“Well that seems worth waiting for.  No matter how many Sunday schools I gotta go to.  Raff, does everyone go to Heaven?”

“Of course.  Anyone who tells you differently, sweetheart, they’re lying, or they don’t know God.  But even we forget sometimes.  There was a time that I was young.  That’s why I wear my scars.  To remind myself, each day, what I stand for.”

“Then what does the Devil do?”

“The less pleasant things, I suppose.  Someone has to do them.”

“So there’s no Satan?”

“No.”

“Then what does granmama go on about?”

He lures a white butterfly into his hand and puts it on my shoulder.  “Sometimes, May, people need someone to blame.  They get old and set in their ways, or their minds aren’t open like yours.  They’re afraid of differences, of change.  From that comes pain, war.”  A wind picks up around us, and Raff closes his eyes.  “Others have nasty lots.  They suffer, ask God why, and then… then there’s no reply.  Just silence.  It’s the hardest lesson of all.”

I don’t know why, but I find myself crying.  Raphael dabs my eyes.

“Oh May, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Tell me there’s a happy ending.  I need to know.”

He hushes me and fixes me another apple slice.  “Of course, sweetheart.  Sometimes, it just takes a while.  For humans, life seems long, but in the end, it’s a dance.  They switch partners, change songs, and move on.  In order to have summer, one has to go through winters.  It’s like… the dark nights.”

“The black?”

“Yes.”

“I hate that.  I hate it I hate it I hate it!  What is it, Raff?”

He hangs his head.  “People’s sorrow.”

The apple farmer’s wind chime rustles in the distance on the dusty old barn.  I shiver, thinking about it.

“Even it has a place in the world.”

“What does it do?”

“It takes their pain away.  Then it moves on, and people wake up.  You can’t hide fears in your dreams.  All your sufferings come out.  It’s like Confession each night, a cleansing.  Then, the blackness goes away.  It’s cleaned by the morning sun, and poof!  All troubles are gone.”

He scrunches his face up like he’s lying, but I don’t press further.

Sometimes, with Raff, there are things better left unsaid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annunciation

I woke with God’s first kiss,
a stream of light through the
window. I had dreamed of
dear Joseph and his
callused hands on my
skin, tracing psalms
between my thighs.
Hair matted
from sleep, I brushed
back a lion’s mane.
Morning prayers.
Sleep-grit in eyes –
a dove flew
into my room.
The hopeful thing
hopped on my bed
nestled by my pillow
and looked upon me.
“Why, little bird,
do you visit me?”
I asked, stroking
its downy breast.
The moment I
touched the bird,
heat licked my skin –
I screamed, and, in
a flash of plasma
a being appeared,
terrible to behold.
“Fear not,” said the angel –
a flaming wheel given form,
with hair of the desert,
his eyes the Sea of Galilee.
His feet burned, brimstone,
and his breath was like
spikenard and myrrh.
I would have run,
had I not been petrified,
mesmerized by his beauty.
My heart was a gazelle,
it leapt out of my chest,
into his slender arms.
“Who are you?”
I breathed.
“Gabriel, a messenger
of the Lord, my
jitterbug lamb,”
he said, voice a bell
the kind that tolls
when death is near.
“Why have you
appeared to me?”
He came closer,
cupped the dove
with pianist’s fingers.
“Fear not, Mary,
for you are a dragonfly
in God’s jazzy hands.”
I trembled, I shook,
I fell like Babel’s tower.
“God? But why?”
Gabriel smiled.
“You will conceive
a son, Jesus, holiest
of holies – his jams will
play scat, beep-bop, across
nations.”
My womb stirred.
“But I have known no music.”
Gabriel offered me the dove.
I took it with molasses hands.
“The Holy Ghost shall come
upon you, play for you,
his saxophone rouse your soul.”
I knew then, what the
music of God was. His
holy sound filled me,
and I yearned for
divine communion.
Gabriel’s lips met mine like
lilies blooming. He tasted
sweeter than Joseph,
like rain and manna.
No act of song or
creation is sinless –
we are all the children
of God. But my son,
especially so.