The Angel

by J. David Stevens September 15, 2006
story art

I’m on the bridge looking into the river. “Banana frittatas,” the angel says.

“What?”

“Random thought. It takes your mind off jumping.”

“I wasn’t going to jump,” I say.

“Of course not,” the angel replies.

He’s a shopworn angel, middle-aged and prone to coughs. He’s been hanging around several days now, intent on preventing a suicide that I’ve never intended. I ask when he’s going to reveal what the world would have been like without me, but he says that jazz is overrated. “Most lives are piss in the bucket,” he notes, “if they make the bucket at all. Things happen, or maybe they don’t. It’s a crapshoot.”

I would have liked a Hollywood angel, old enough to appear wise and kind, or burly young and buff with thunder. My angel’s wings are wrinkled and leathery, eight inches long at the base of his neck. They look like a skin growth.

I ask if he can fly, and he shrugs, wings twitching. “I get around.”

“Looks tough.”

He nods. “It’s easier after the frost, but before allergy season.”

Upriver, fall has already coaxed the shoreline into umber. My angel looks melancholy wistful, and I fear he’s missed the mark with me. I’m no Katie Couric, but suicide? A few more days, and I think he’ll pack it in too.

“Here’s the thing,” he resumes. “The real enemy of truth is indifference.”

“Here’s the thing,” I tell him. “There aren’t better lives, just different ones.”

He feigns incomprehension, but the spark in his eye suggests a sudden hope that he’s pegged me right, after all. “You could pretend to jump,” he tries.

I shake my head. “It wouldn’t be the same.”

“No, I guess not.” Further up the bridge, there’s a shriek of car brakes, women screaming. “Did you hear a splash?” my angel asks.

But I don’t hear half the things he does. He sniffs the air then slings his forearms back over the rail. A barge passes under the bridge. He coughs, brings up some phlegm, and spits at it.

I feel like we’ve reached a point here. It’s not simply that I want him off my couch or out of my fridge in the wee hours. I feel genuinely bad for the guy. He’s a decent sort, just with a lot on his plate: agnostics, for example, and libertarians. “You’re doing the Lord’s work,” I tell him.

But he knows my game and doesn’t want that rep: pitied seraphim, God’s own nebbish. “Not so much,” he allows, as the cars on the bridge resume their aching dance home. “But it’s a living.”

About the Author:

J. David Stevens is the author of Mexico is Missing and Other Stories and The Word Rides Again: Rereading the Frontier in American Fiction. His work has appeared in Harper's Magazine, The Paris Review, The North American Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Mid-American Review, Tin House, ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, The Prose Poem, and others. He teaches writing at University of Richmond.