If You Love Somebody
Christmas Eve, and I see the angel. On Main Street between the Five and Nine, and the new burger place. She stands there, anchored by blue plastic ropes, leaning in the breeze.
I watch her. From Freddy’s Burger Bar, with a coffee warming my hand. I watch the light fade.
I want to stay inside. As long as my coffee allows. Cold is an animal that stalks, silent and patient. It paces beyond the frosted pane, where the wind blows, a slim fingered thief, taking warmth pinch by pinch.
On cold days I feel too far behind my eyes, watching the world from a distance, deep in the blackness of my own self. On cold days the world is half empty, half full of indifferent malice. I shiver for company.
I watch the angel, all aglow, bowing with the gusts, this way, that, stung by snow in icy flurries.
She bobs and lifts. I feel low. I feel high. There’s a dial on my brain, one to ten. Blue pills turn it this way, yellow pills, that. Strange to think the world is so arbitrary, that we can be ruled by such simple things. Give Shakespeare a bluey and he’d write a tragedy, a comedy for a yellow.
I know what I should do, but it scares me.
Full dark and I’m walking, leaving the angel to struggle, aching for heaven.
I walk my triangle. Three points of light and meaning, chosen at random. I speak as I walk. I don’t remember starting. I can’t recall when thoughts became words, when my inner voice found exit, but it comforts me to hear it. I speak the words and they anchor me.
First to the Robinsons at number 16, Willow Street. I know their name from a dropped letter. A bill, soaked and limp, one October day. I suppose it could have been for the previous owners, but to me they’re the Robinsons.
Most around here have net curtains. The houses stand shoulder to shoulder and run to the street, their windows two yards back from iron gates. Most hide, webbed behind white gauze. But some live their lives on show, each front-room a stage, a studio set from an altered Hollywood where colour preceded sound. Six lines of lyric bind it for me. Pink Floyd.
[redacted due to copyright laws – but it concerned swimming in a fishbowl and continually rediscovering old fears]
And who’s more lost than the swimmers, drowning in the warmth and light and crush of whatever serves them for normal? I watch the silent show. The clasp-knife feels heavy in my pocket. Wrapped in ice and night I put words on their lips, names to strangers’ faces.
Mrs Robinson, Mary I call her, comes into the room. The boy, Will, jumps from the couch like something bit him. What was on the TV? A racy video on MTV? Mary doesn’t approve. Danger Will Robinson!
“Have you seen him?” Mary asks.
“No Ma,” Will puts his head down. In his hand, the remote. The channel changes.
“Keep looking.” Mary puts a hand to her face. The light is kind to her.
“I’m not even sure I’d recognize him,” Will says.
“Don’t! He’s your father, Will. You’d know.” She glances my way, blind into the night. “If you saw him, you’d know.”
“I’ll keep looking, Ma,” Will says.
“He could pass by any night.” She gives him a tight smile, hesitates, leaves.
Will glances my way, not seeing, and slumps back onto the couch to watch TV.
I move on. Moving on is easy. It’s the staying that’s hard.
I’m saying the words. “Moving on is easy.”
I walk where the lights don’t reach. I used to be scared of the dark.
“He’s your father.” I repeat their lines. “You’d know.”
I think everyone hears voices. Everyone hears the murmur of their own narrative, a constant summary, passing judgement, resolving to act. And then there’s the whisper from further back. The older voice that speaks hard truths, the unvarnished voice of want that whispers the lines which lie beneath our plans. It’s the voice we try not to hear, the voice that reminds us how basic we are, how elemental, how ready to sacrifice. If you can’t accept that both those speakers are you, if they begin to sound like strangers . . . that’s when madness starts.
I have voices, and every one of them talks like me.
It’s getting colder, getting so cold even the noise of my shoes on the sidewalk sounds brittle. I pass a lamp post. The metal has that bluish sheen. My fingers would freeze to it.
Left on Oak Street. The long haul up to Western House now, into the wind. I open the knife. It springs straight, but I don’t cut myself. The edge is very sharp. Even with numb fingers I can tell.
Mrs Ogden is the apex of my triangle. Another goldfish, another bowl. I can’t remember why she’s Mrs Ogden. It must have floated up from somewhere.
Mrs Ogden is old. Sometimes I think she’s pretending. She’s Nancy Ogden, seventeen, dressed in wrinkles, hobbling from room to room for the hell of it. Method acting for the school play.
Mrs Ogden comes into her front room clutching a mug of tea in trembling hands. She spills some of it as she sits down. She always does. The chair is tea-colored. Once it might have been white.
She watches the TV, hunched in her chair, leaning over her tea. Maybe the room is cold. She sits very close and stares at the screen as if it might grab her should she look away. The glow lights her face, reds and greens throwing her age into dull relief. She stares like she’s seeing heaven.
After a while she starts to talk. She answers someone on the program she’s watching. Mrs Ogden has no teeth and rarely wears her false gnashers, so it’s a wet conversation. It’s funny, but I don’t want to laugh. I give her the words.
“My boy,” she says.
“He’ll come back when he’s ready.” Her hands are on her cup, knuckles large and white.
“He was always a good boy.”
I walk away. I leave her to her dreams, piped into her house in red and green. I hold the knife in my hand, the blade flat against my wrist, hidden.
I pass the park. A dark space that whistles dry snow at me, tiny grains. I glance at my wrist, where the knife blade lies. The wind has made marble of my flesh, blue mottled with veins. The snow flows like milk across the tarmac.
Some people end their lives with a period, a full stop, heart attack, crumpled metal where car meets tree, something sudden. But most often we erode. We’re taken a spoonful at a time. Sifted away. Without noticing where it starts, or where it ends.
I’m at the last house. The front room is empty, unlit. I can wait.
I don’t remember tripping, but I’m falling through my life. Things have slipped and I didn’t see them go. But when I saw the angel, her blue eyes, the light within her, I recognised the holes in me where something else should be.
The light comes on. My feet have no feeling. My legs have stopped trembling.
She’s there, in a velvet night gown. Just checking the room. She has a strong face, long hair, straight and black. I call her Laura. If I had a daughter she would be like this.
She tells me, “Goodnight, Dad.” She says it as she flicks the switch and closes the door. I didn’t see her lips, but I heard the words, and it wasn’t my voice.
I touch the knife. The steel sticks to my fingers. I have to tear it away. It doesn’t hurt.
The angel showed me the holes in my life. She couldn’t show me what lay in them. Not even her light could do that. I tripped and lost the path. There’s a wall behind me, so high I can’t even see what I might have to go back to.
I know what to do, but I’m scared.
I walk, leaving footprints in the snow. Leaving a trail I can see for once.
I’m up by the car lot.
I can’t see him, but I know it’s Larry. He’ll be deep in his boxes, wrapped in a sleeping bags that might crawl away if he weren’t pinning them down. He’ll try to tap me for a drink.
“Larry!” I call. The name doesn’t come out right. My lips are stiff.
I walk on. I can see the angel now. I start to feel warm as I reach her. She’s beautiful, whiter than the snow. The ropes look ugly on her, the blue almost black against the glowing alabaster of her dress.
I know she’s just an inflatable. I’m not stupid. But she’s more than that. Her eyes see heaven.
The clock at the mall is sounding midnight.
I lift the knife. My arm looks dead. The veins blue ropes sunk into me, holding me here, holding me down.
“I’ve got to set her free.” It comes out mumbled.
The angel leans toward me and I smile. I call her Laura, or Mary. The snow stings my eyes and they blur. I cut the ropes. I need to set her free. I don’t know why I was scared. It doesn’t hurt. Warmth floods me.
The wind gusts and the angel is spiralling away. She’s flying. Or I’m falling. Either way, it’s good. The toll of the bell is dying. It’s Christmas and I’m happy.