Back:And there find god in everyone
And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgement the Urim and the Thummin; and they shalt be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth before the Lord...
malach hamavet kulo male einayim (the angel of death is all eyes)
This is the life I have.
Incandescent yellows, fluorescent blue light. Our oasis in the concrete darkness. Open the door and step out of the predawn chill. Nod to the cook in the greasy white smock. Take off my hat. Make my way to Phil, where he sits as usual.
I offer, "Shalom, Rabbi," to Rabbi Herman as I pass his table on the way to Phil. He is with a blonde child. She smiles and waves to me as if she knows me. I can't place her, raise my hand half-heartedly and I slide into the booth opposite Phil. He's reading his kids' compositions, red pencil behind his ear. Wendy sets down a cup and pours coffee into it.
"Some hour to be out with a kid," she mutters to us. Goes to get my cheesecake.
"The strawberry, please?" I say after her.
The child with Rabbi Herman starts singing quietly, but Phil hears her.
"That's nice," he says, looking up over his glasses. "What song is that?"
"Shalom Aleikhem," I tell him. Wendy puts the slice in front of me, sets down a fork.
"Kid bothering you with that yodeling?"
"Shush," I tell her. "Listen. Isn't that pretty?"
"What's he doing with a kid out at this hour?" Wendy says, hand on her hip. "Three a-fuckin-em."
"Wendy, what language from such a beautiful woman?" Phil says. Puts down his papers. Then to me--"Is she inviting angels? What?"
"Don't remember your Hebrew, Rafi?" I say. "Or maybe they taught you something different in Catholic school?"
"I gotta mind to call the cops," Wendy says.
"Sister Wendy, sit here next to me," Phil says, patting the seat beside him. She hesitates, then slides in, smiling. "Did I ever tell you what an absolute knock-out you were?"
"Not since yesterday," she says. Then to me, "Maybe you should tell your friend to stop singing. It's too late for that. Bothers people."
"She's singing for angels. She's inviting them here. You want to stop a child praying for angels?"
"Ain't never been no angels here. Ain't never gonna be." She kisses Phil, then gets up. "They're your friends," she says, and goes off behind the counter.
Phil says, "How's the baby doing?"
And I tell him everything. The pediatrician gave her a clean bill. Two and a half years old at most. We're going to keep her. Jane needs a child. Remarkable how it all worked out.
"There are lots of stories of feral children," Phil says. "The Lobo Girl of Devil River. Remember that clipping I gave you on Oxana Malaya? Raised by wolves. Abandoned kids like that usually die right away, but some survive. Though none I ever heard of have been raised by rats."
"The Wreck was taking care of her," I say. "Still. To survive down there in the cold. A miracle."
Phil says, "See 'um every day in our line of work."
And a familiar chill runs down my spine. Wendy glares at Herman and the child as they finish their pie.
"What exactly is our line of work? I mean, really. Did you ever stop to think for a moment that maybe the same brain defect that makes it impossible for us to sleep makes us have these visions? Maybe we're the victims of genetic chance."
"Genetic chance? Natural selection?"
No. That's not it. "You know what I mean," I say. And I down my coffee. My stomach knots. "What the hell is all this, anyway? Everything is one crap shoot after another."
He takes off his glasses and puts them in his pocket. "Ok, so we're going to have this conversation again. Ray. It isn't luck that brings us here. What are the odds?"
"I'm not a mathematician."
"Billions to one," he says. "It can't happen by chance."
Wendy comes by and warms up our cups. "You boys ok?"
"We're fine," Phil says. "Ray's having a crisis of faith."
"Again?" she says, and she rolls her eyes at Phil and slinks away.
"You both think this is funny, I know," I tell him, somewhere between embarrassed and sad. "But I don't feel like anything. I don't feel like the fire of God or whatever else it was my mother told me I was. I'm just human. Like everyone else."
"You gotta trust it's supposed to be this way," Phil says. "All those pictures of radiant beings on beams of light and women with wings--they're interpretations. Think about it, bud. If God steps in and messes around with things here, what does that say about creation? God abhors Deus Ex Machina because it negates the glory and the lesson of everything. We have to work from within the system."
I don't feel like talking anymore. I'd get angry if I could, but it turns to fatigue. Time to go rest the mind a bit before work.
I toss a few bucks on the table. Get up.
"I love ya, bud," Phil says. "Bless the lord you're here."
"Bless the Lord for you, too" I say. And I do. I just don't get it sometimes. "You think we'll get a vacation some day?"
"Sure," Phil says. "Call me after the apocalypse. I know a nice beach in Tahiti. Beautiful bronze topless women everywhere. Everyone speaks French. Ooh la la."
The child waves to me on my way out, and I wave back. I think I hear Herman whisper, "That's him," but I'm not sure.
"Shalom haver," Herman says as I leave, and I offer both of them my peace.
Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other elohim: wherefore I will save you no more.
Mid day. The sky is cloudless white with summer haze. No forgiveness in the heat. There in my mind is my mother's voice:
Where you come from there is no time. There's no cause and effect. So, this world will seem strange and uncontrollable to you, and you won't know why. They will try to make one what is many, and many out of one, and you, my poor son, will bear that weight.
Then I feel the blast. See it superimposed on Micah's face. We're talking about his finding work with his limited skills when it overtakes me.
"Are you ok, Ray?" he says.
And I'm not. Very much. Something sharp and electric swims through my guts searing tracks. I feel sick. I have to get up. Go to my bed in the back of the shelter. Find my things. My bag. All I can do to think.
Sister Martha: "Ray, what is it? Let's go to the clinic."
She's got to do something for me before I can't speak anymore. "Give this to Jane. For the baby. Tell her I love her. Please." And I know this is the something bad--the long shot that should never happen. The one roll of the die that kills us.
Now I have to go. But which direction? Out of the shelter. Left? Right?
Martha behind me: "Ray. Ray. Please. What's wrong? You look sick."
"Just--give my things--everything to Jane for the baby. Let her know I loved her. Even though I couldn't say it."
She sees my face, promises as I start down the street. Fire in my mind obscuring the street. The traffic. Pedestrians. All engulfed in flames.
Now I'm seeing something--metal. Tiny metal doors. What the hell?
To my feet--"Master, where are you sending me?" Doors. Locks. Combinations.
Lockers. The school. St. Andrew's.
I'm nearly to the side entrance at the grammar school when the windows go. Fire and light force me away in a shower of tiny particles of glass like snow. My ears ring. The ground moves upward and smacks against my side.
Now I'm standing, hearing the screaming. The children. Thick salt trickling into my mouth and there in my mind is my mother's voice, guiding me, taunting me, moving me forward.
"Elohim is plural. Try as they may, they can't redefine it."
"I hear you, mother, but I've never understood you," I say to the smoke. "God, guide thy servant's hand..."
Up, to the doors, into the darkened smoke that fills the lungs with painful drowning.
And I can't see anyone. Isn't anyone here?
Passing through a door I see figures. Someone lying on their back. Phil kneeling next to him.
"Phil." I call him through the coughing. He turns to look up at me, his eyes red with tears. Two come running toward me. Kids. They're only kids.
One with a gun. Screaming. Out of his mind in rage and fear. "Outta my way, motherfucker."
The gun thunders. Shot goes wide. The other kid turns a gun on Phil.
I use the smoke. Project the flames. Take the arm of the first kid, force one hand against his elbow, the other at the wrist, force it backward till I hear the snap.
Pain changes everything. The kids mind goes from rage to terror. Pictures of killing in his mind. People he's already killed. More he wants to.
Point the gun toward his knee. My finger over his, pull the trigger. Now he just wants to survive. Wants his mother.
The gun is free and the other boy is firing. Over and over. Down toward Phil.
And I shoot toward his knee. He aims a gun toward me and I drop mine as he goes down. Firing until his gun is empty. Sirens blare. The pain hits him. Why did he do it? When was he ever so angry to make this happen?
Phil. Blood drooling from his arm. His legs. Torso.
His lips move. I can barely hear him over the shouting. The bullhorns. Whining police cars.
Phil says, "Malach hamavet," and grabs my arm. Pulls me toward his lips. "Adonai ekhad. Shalom haver."
I can do no good here but to impose the revenge of God, and God never seeks revenge.
My heart is dying. Flames crawl up the walls and the ceiling. The wounded boys cry.
This is where I'll stay and watch everything burn. If it be God's will I die today, then this humble servant accepts his fate.
But I can't. The flames reach the boys and their minds go white in fear. So I grab their arms and drag them out to the police, to the EMS, to live where so many others will die today.
I'm sorry, dearest friend.
I'm not what you thought I was.
Onimancy is a form of divination based on the observation of the archangel Uriel.
Oil of olives is placed on the palm or nails of a young virgin child.
If money is sought the face of the child must be turned to the east.
If divinating about romance, the child must face south.
For robbery, west, and for murder, south.
The child must repeat the 72 verses of the Psalms which the Hebrew Kabalists collected for the Urim and Thummim.
--Shepard, Leslie A., ed.
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3rd ed.
Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991.
And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slain.
The old woman spat at my feet and went on into the crowd of hundreds who had gathered for the funeral of the two slain teachers.
I had on my suit that I had worn only a month ago for Gary's funeral. Something made me want to burn it.
Jane, holding the child, followed the woman a step, then came back to me. "What does that mean?"
"Nothing--" I said.
With the child in one arm she somehow managed to open her purse and pull out a paper tissue. She dabbed it under my eyes.
"I thought angels aren't supposed to die," she said.
"They're not." I had to look at her when I said it. I wanted it to sink in that this is how we bleed. That nothing good could come from such a lie that was my life.
The crowd filed into St. Andrews church. Walking up the stone stairway felt like forcing myself through muck. The thought in my mind that I can't go inside fought how much I loved Phil, and the respect that demanded my presence.
"Do you believe I love you?" I said to Jane, and she said she did. "Do you have the stones I gave you?" And she said she had them. I told her, "I can't speak in here. I can't pray. It's complicated, someday I'll tell you why but for now, you have to be my voice."
She furrowed her brow for a second, then said, "Ok. What do I have to do?"
"When it's time, say what comes into your heart. That will be my prayer, and then we'll hear the answer together."
So I stood when it was time, and sat when it was time. When I knelt I stared at the crucifix on the wall and the two coffins underneath, interlocked my hands to a fist and pressed my forehead against it to try to stop the waves of anguish that came from within like sickness.
And when the ceremony paused, and crowd fell to silence I heard my Jane's voice, barely above a whisper, as if it were my own:
"Oh Lord, we are unwise and imperfect. The depth of our sorrow steals our love from us until when we look at your own upon the cross, we wonder if this isn't the fate you have intended for each of us. God, will you not be happy until each of us is crucified?"
There was a light tapping against my shoulder. At first I thought I'd imagined it, but then it came again harder. I turned to see the child beside me in the church aisle. She was blonde and her eyes shone brilliant blue.
She said, "Come with me, angel. Bring your family."
I took the baby from Jane and we found our way out of the side of the church so no one would see. The child led us down the block a few doors, and there in a vacant lot, behind a thick stockade fence was a tiny plot of grass the people had planted to make a safe place to play.
The tiny park was full of the children of the people attending the service. A number of teenagers acted as guardians, and as we came in the children made a space for us.
"I brought him, the good angel," said the girl, and she began to hop in circles as if dancing to her own music.
A couple of the babysitters came over and started a song. Jane and I sat on the grass, and the baby propped herself up against Jane's shoulder and stood on fat wobbly legs, bending her knees and bobbing up and down while the children sang "Because, Jesus Told Me So," "My Guardian Angel Watches Over Me," and as it was Friday, "Shalom Aleikhem."
All the while we clapped and smiled, and I did my best to keep from crying so as to not upset them. But then I saw that on one of the brick building walls beside the lot they had put up posters and painted to make the place look nicer. One of the posters was a billboard for travel. A bronze woman stood on a Tahitian beach.
"What are the chances?" I said to Jane, but she didn't understand, I was too sad to explain, and she was nearly out of tissues.
And two doors down they loaded the caskets into hearses.
Back:And there find god in everyone
Forward: Beneath the city