Story A Day for May, Day 10

angels

Each Other’s Angels

I’m always surprised when someone remembers me. Why would Solomon’s granddaughter remember me? I was no one important, and we were together five, maybe six times. No more.

I had daydreamed about playing fairy godmother to her! I thought: If I get the position at the university, I will be able to take Solomon’s granddaughter on hikes! We could ride the train into the city to watch a play, and afterwards, we’d eat sundaes. She made me light up–so funny, so earnest. Shy, until she saw you were listening with interest–and then, she spoke with sparks!

But I didn’t get the job, even with Solomon’s recommendation. Or possibly, because of his recommendation. He fell so quickly, so fast. But he had been an angel to me.

I was offered the position at the university in the city. Of course I accepted. It was hard for a woman philosopher to find a position, even with the secondary emphasis in gender theory and linguistics. It took thirty-five years and dozens of significant publications before I could pick and choose where I wanted to teach, and that’s what led me back here, a few years after Solomon had passed on.

Sometimes, former students will find me in the library. “Oh!” they say, “I became a teacher because of you!” “I became an anthropologist–librarian–mathematician–journalist–researcher, or yes, even philosopher–because of you.”

And I can scarcely remember their names. Had they spoken in class? Had they ever attended office hours?

“You were so important to me.”

I never knew. Did Solomon know how important he had been to me? Surely, I must have told him.

I remember the first time I met him. I’d just arrived in town the day before. I wandered into the lobby of the Humanities Hall. “We are so glad you’re here,” he said, confusing me. How did he know me from the other entering first-year grad students? Weren’t there dozens of us? Was he glad we were all here? He told me later that my application letter, my transcripts, and the recommendations from my undergrad professors singled me out–plus, my GREs were top-rate, especially in logic. “I could tell you would make it. Those types of students–the types like you–are few and far between.”

He was my mentor, and I was his assistant. But I don’t think I really did much for him besides copy articles I’d hunted down in the stacks and listen. I did a lot of listening. But that was for me, not for him.

When I taught in the city, I often walked through the alleys. One of my research focuses for a few years was the constructed realities of those who live outside of the main consensus reality. And it was in the alleys that I found some of my best subjects.

For about four months, I spoke most mornings with Oskar, a leather-skinned man in a crusty Greek fisherman’s cap, a wool jacket on cold days or a striped polo shirt on warm ones. His corner was behind the pet shop, and sometimes, the store clerk brought out a cat or puppy to sit with him.

Holding a calico kitten in his lap, Oskar told me once, “We are each other’s angels. How does God work? He has no form. He has only this.” He gestured around him to the backs of the buildings on either side of the alley, grimy from exhaust and dirt, to the slice of the bay we could see at the alley’s end, to a dandelion, growing from a crack in the cement. He held out his two hands.

“How does Spirit work, when Spirit has no form? It must enter form. And then, we can do God’s bidding. We become his angels.” Oskar nodded as he rubbed the kitten’s ears.

Who are my angels now? There is a singer in a Korean pop band whom I love–he lights up when he sings. He records videos for his fans with his i-Phone and posts them to YouTube. He is so candid, so fresh, so unrehearsed. In the comments, teen girls write, “I stopped self-harming because of you.” “I used to spend all day in bed. But when you say, ‘Let’s all be happy,’ I get up. I try. And now, I am happy, too.” “Thank you for helping me love again.” We might think this isn’t real–he is an idol, and they are idolizing him.

But I have been observing my own responses–yes, even me, an old lady. His black eyes are soft–he lights up. There is no other way to say it. And what stirs in us? What stirs in him? It is love.

The work of angels is to teach us love.

My students say, “Because of you, I finished school.”

Kate Elder tells me, “You were so important to me.”

I fall in love with a woman on a street corner, whom I will never see again, most likely, and in that instant, she saves me.

We never know when we are someone’s angel. It’s not our doing. It is love, moving through us. It is Spirit. The best we can do is to be ourselves–honestly, openly, generously, bravely. Then, when Spirit needs to work through our form, we are available. It is not our doing–we are only the containers, the medium. We are each other’s angels.


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Prompt for May 10: “Write a story in under 1000 words focusing on creating one brilliant image in your reader’s mind,” from StoryADay.org 
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Story A Day for May, Day 9

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Tea Party

The older woman and her Australian shepherd sat beneath a birch at the dog park. While her own dog, Speckles, raced through the meadow, Kate approached the woman. Kate had entered the park after her, and Kate recognized something in her gait–the way she held her elbow out, the tilt of her head, her long legs and slim build. Funny, the things that stay with a person from childhood.

It was harder to find the Celeste she’d known nearly fifty years ago in the woman’s face, but the light in her eyes was the same.

“I think I know you,” Kate said. “Celeste, right?”

“Yes, I’m Dr. Templeton,” the woman answered. “Were you a student? A philosophy major?”

“No, no,” replied Kate. “But you knew my grandfather, and you spent time with me, long ago.”

It had been during the spring of fifth grade, the season for the school’s annual Mother-Daughter Tea. In second grade, the first year that Kate came to live with her grandfather, she had been permitted to skip the formal event; Grandfather sensed that it was too soon after her mother’s passing to subject her to such a tradition.

The next year, and the year after that, he escorted her. He looked so dapper, with a felt hat, a tie, and red suspenders, that she endured the torture of a dress, with a scratchy slip underneath, tights, and shiny shoes.

In fifth grade, the tea landed during a time of her grandfather’s closed door. Kate schemed: When all the girls filed out to form the line to greet the arriving mothers, she would duck aside–she’d bring her play clothes in a bag–and she’d race to the meadows. She and Baron would spend the day at the beach. No one would miss her. That was a fact.

But the week before the event, her grandfather opened his door.

“Suppose it must be close to time for that tea party,” he said.

She tasted dread, and her feet grew heavy.

“Of course I can’t take you.”

She hopped, just a bit.

“But I know someone who can.”

He said it in the way that meant, this is how it will be: no resistance, no questions.

“What do you want to wear?” he asked. “Do you need money for the salon?”

She said she’d wear her black slacks, a white shirt, and a tie.

“I suppose you’ll want to be borrowing one of mine then,” he said. He opened the door to his room, and she followed. It felt warm and dark with the shutters drawn against the spring sun, and it smelled oddly delicious–like books and black ink. His bed was half-covered with open notebooks and sheets of paper, save for a little nest of his pillow and covers in the corner. He led her to the closet, where inside the door hung all his ties. She fingered them. Wool. Polyester. Cotton. At last she settled on a black silk tie, with embroidered butterflies on it–pink, purple, yellow.

“This one.”

“Your mother gave me that,” he said, sliding it off its hook and gently placing it around her neck, where the silk felt cool and liquid. “She always had impeccable taste. Like you.”

Kate looked away.

“Can I show you something?” her grandfather asked. He took a notebook from his bed and read to her a poem about a willow and the moon.

“It’s sad,” said Kate.

“I’ve been working out, very unsuccessfully, what suffering is about. What do we gain? What purpose does it serve?”

“When I hear that poem, I feel soft here,” Kate said, bringing both hands to her chest. “When I’m sad, it makes me soft. It makes it easier to love other people, don’t you think? Even those who are mean to us? When I hear that poem, I can love everyone, like the moon does.”

Her grandfather kissed her on the top of her head, then motioned her out the door, which he closed after her.

The next week, the night before the tea, a tall young woman arrived when it was getting dark out. She wore her chestnut hair in a loose bun, and tortoiseshell glasses low on her nose. Grandfather’s door remained closed.

“I am Celeste Templeton!” she said. “I’m one of your grandfather’s doctoral students. I am here because he has asked me to be your escort tomorrow, and I want to make certain that is acceptable to you.”

Celeste suggested a trial run, so, with Kate’s help, she made a pot of Darjeeling, a platter of cinnamon toast, and a bowl of peeled and segmented tangerines. They practiced holding out their pinkies and laughing discreetly behind their napkins, even when they told the most outrageous jokes. And then, just to get it out of their systems, they pretended to be cowboys at a bar so they could drink tea out of jars and throw their crumbs to the floor and laugh until the tea came out of their noses.

“I like being a cowboy better than a lady,” said Kate.

“Me, too,” said Celeste.

The next day, when Kate, in her black slacks, white shirt, and black silk tie embroidered with butterflies, stood in the line to greet the arriving mothers, she found that Celeste had dressed to match, wearing the same dapper style her grandfather always had, even down to the felt hat and the suspenders. They sat at a small round table near the window with a faculty wife and her daughter, who was in the gifted program with Kate, and who might, on occasion, be called a friend. They talked about books, about cellos, about hawks, about where to find the best pollywogs, about which trees in Ratchet’s Forest were most climbable, and about the purpose of suffering. And all three of them thought that Kate’s answer, that it makes it easier for us to love others, even those who have been mean to us, was a good one.

“I remember you,” said Celeste Templeton in the dog park. “We had a most delightful tea together, didn’t we?”

“That we did!” laughed Kate. “Do you remember what we wore? I was such a Tomboy!”

“And I was such a Butch!” laughed Celeste. “Still am, when the mood strikes. I was sorry to hear about your grandfather, though it was so long ago, now.”

“Not so very long,” said Kate, thinking that the decade of grief had only just ended. “You were very important to me,” Kate said softly. “You gave me something–showed me something. Thank you.”

Celeste gestured across the street from the park, to a small gray house surrounded by flowers. “I live there,” she said. “Maybe some afternoon, you’d like to come visit. I would imagine you have all sorts of questions about your grandfather, and with you, I would be happy to share.”


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Prompt for May 9: “Establish, within the first couple of sentences, your character’s desire. Put them in a situation that conflicts with that desire. Tell us how it works out,” from StoryADay.org 

Author’s note: I like the technique of thinking about the prompt before I go to sleep and waking up with a story. Even if it doesn’t fit the prompt, it points in a direction I enjoy going and might not have thought of without the prompt. Guess that’s why it’s called a “prompt” and not a “dictate.” Also–as I’m sure you can tell–this is turning into a novel (or at least a collection of inter-connected short stories, what John Keeble calls “sprung fiction”), rather than isolated short fiction.
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