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Waiting for the Muse

by Srividya Suryanarayanan

In the faint light streaming
Down from the moon
Below a Blossom branch
Sat a Japanese girl so calm
Deep in thought she lived
Waiting patiently for the muse
To visit her wayward thoughts.

Somehow like a gentle
Whiff of the zephyr
Blew the imagination
In a streaming thread
Of creative fervor
In silken sequence
Of wondrous ideas.

Alive in new ways
Her characters jumped to life
Making whirls in emotions
Through an intensely caught moment
Likened to a newly-found music
A story took new shoot
And grabbed our senses.

In the darkness of the calm
The picture and I became one
I felt the features of the girl
Transformed into mine
Under the Blossom branch
I found myself in a Kimono
Waiting for the muse.

?

Srividya Suryanarayanan is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. She welcomes your comments on “Waiting for the Muse” at vidyasuri[at]hotmail.com.

Editor’s Note: Please click on the image below to donate to the Japan Red Cross via Paypal. Every little bit will help with ongoing earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

photo by Rumpleteaser

The Attraction Council

by David Mitchell

Editor’s note: this is the third in a series of planned installments from David Mitchell’s Fulfillment. You can read part one here and part two here.

The Attraction Council consisted of three members: the Heart, the Brain, and the Penis. A fourth member, the Soul, was rumored to exist, but so far as the others knew, he never wished to attend a single meeting. The former three were charged with assessing the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of any potential mate. It was best if they all agreed, but any two had been known to persuade the third on occasion. Heaven knows there are people for whom two—or only one—were employed at any given time.

The three of them sat at a huge, ring-shaped table in the center of an antechamber made of stone, facing a wall from which an enormous computer monitor protruded. This computer was crudely made from spare parts, and it was constantly updated. There were several familiar input devices, and quite a few unfamiliar ones, attached to cables in the ceiling. A microphone here, a keyboard there, a switch by pillar, a joystick near the brazier. Certainly no one used them all at the same time.

The Penis was usually the first to make up his mind, and often the first to bring a meeting into session, but he seldom had much to contribute beyond that. He was fairly short red-haired fellow, broad-shouldered and muscular, and draped in a loose-fitting toga. He exercised daily, obsessively perhaps, and carried himself with pride. He had a bestial face with brutal features; a large forehead, a wide and cocky grin, and a tuft of wiry red hair protruding from his chin for a beard. Small twisted horns sprouted from his temples, and he had the wooly, splay-hoofed legs of a goat. His face and neck had numerous bruises, though he bore them with as much pride as his muscles. A large eye patch covered his left orbit, and the one eye he did have in his possession was huge and never blinked. Depth perception, he insisted, was overrated.

The Brain would actively debate and devise the best strategies, though he was often the second to show up, and his influence fluctuated. He was once a cyborg of sorts, though it was doubtful if his system still sustained anything organic. He was so overworked all of his outer flesh had long rotted away and some of his mechanical parts began to rust. His head was a heavily modified human skull. His eyes were covered in thick goggles grafted onto his sockets that served as magnifying glasses, enabling him to examine everything in great detail, but at the cost of a more comprehensive picture. His nose and maxillae had been replaced with a bulky apparatus that served as a speaker and a respirator. Though he moved his mandible while speaking (it was held in place by a pair of screws), it was purely through force of habit, for his voice was entirely created by a chip. From the back of his head sprouted a thick tangle of wires, jacks, and cables which resembled a pony tail. Since there was little room to cram everything he needed to know into one tiny human skull, he often attached himself to the computer. To cover his body, the Brain draped himself in a long trench coat. Around his neck he wore a red tie, which he constantly cleaned and adjusted, because who wanted to see a gruesome cyborg that couldn’t look professional?

The Heart was usually the last to show his face at the meetings, and to make up his mind, but he held the strongest influence. He had the voice of a child. His over-large head was also round and childlike. His eyes were a pair of protruding black spheres that could be seen behind his transparent eyelids, much like a newborn mouse. His body resembled a child in the terminal stages of starvation. Much of his skin had been burned away, leaving only scar tissue and exposed nerves. What skin he did have was translucent and porous, like the skin of a fetus or a cave salamander. He wore no clothes, and mostly sat still in his wheelchair, heavily drugged so he could withstand the trip, an I.V. linking him to his various painkillers and other supports. He was incapable of standing by himself, yet he was more resilient than the other two, because he had the ability to regenerate under favorable conditions. But of the three, he was by far the least consistent. Lately he was skipping meetings entirely.

I couldn’t really blame him. Finding someone to share these three organs with is a daunting and complicated task. My heart, brain, and penis had each grown quite accustomed to my ex, and no meeting had been called in a long time. The Council seemed to be in permanent abeyance. The Brain and the Penis tried holding a few informal meetings, but as the Heart couldn’t join them, they went nowhere. Only by November of 2007 had the Heart returned, and the Attraction Counsel was once again in session, even if only tentatively. They spent much of their time discussing Tara Sullivan, but by February they realized she was no longer a likely prospect, so they turned their attention elsewhere.

By March of 2008, the Attraction Council was once again working overtime, engaged in a furious debate. For the first time in my life, I was being quartered by four women at once. All four of my limbs were nearly dislocated, but even if the unthinkable happened, the Heart, Brain, and Penis would still be intact, forever scheming about the possibilities in front of them.

“Alright!” said the Brain as he held up a plastic blue crate filled with manila folders, “we all have a lot of work to do here. So many new prospects, so much data to sort through.”

He plopped the crate onto the table. The Brain thumbed through the folders until he fished out the four most recent files. The Heart, wheeling himself closer, was also quick to dig his hands into the crate—but he was searching for one folder in particular, his favorite one.

“OKCupid hasn’t brought us much luck in the past,” said the Brain, “but these three women have each expressed interest in the last two weeks alone. The first subject we have here to discuss calls herself Lux Eternae. She is 21 years old, lives in Auburn, only 24 miles away. She’s currently putting off a nursing degree, but works at a hospital as a secretary and nurse’s aide. Her MBTI type is ENFJ, at least according to one test. And she’s contacted David. She was intrigued by his profile.”

“Why are even discussing her at all?” sighed the Penis, “I didn’t like her pictures. We could be doing better.”

The Brain turned to the Heart, he was gazing lovingly at a picture of Tara. Despite his near blindness, he knew which picture he was holding.

“What do you think?” asked the Brain.

The Heart smiled wistfully.

“I hope we can hang out with Tara again soon.”

“We aren’t discussing Tara,” said the Brain, “We’re discussing Lux Eternae.”

“We’re not . . . ? Oh. Well, I . . . ”

The Heart just looked back to the picture.

“Hey, I liked Tara, too,” said the Penis, “If that kiss didn’t wake me up, I don’t know what would have.”

“As did I,” conceded the Brain, “But she’s not looking for a relationship now, and that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you two for the last month. Let’s move on, shall we?”

“Oh . . . right . . .” said the Heart, “we should definitely move on . . .”

He was still glancing at the picture, but before long the Brain snatched it out of his hands, stuffed it back into Tara’s manila folder, and replaced it in the plastic crate.

“Do you have anything to say about Lux? Even on the basis of those two IM conversations?”

The Heart shrugged.

“She’s okay, I guess. I don’t really know. She’s been nice so far. I think we should call Tara again. I wonder how she’s doing.”

The Brain sighed. Then he reached for another manila folder.

“Next subject,” the Brain said, “is a 43-year-old single mother who calls herself Lolly. She lives with her 18-year-old son and his girlfriend, and doesn’t intend to marry every again. She works at King Richard’s Faire, hosts tours at Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, and seems to prefer younger men in their twenties. She self-admits to being a ‘cougar’–”

“‘Cougar’ is one term that comes to mind,” said the Penis, “MILF is another.”

” . . . and she’s taken interest in David.”

“Guys, this is never going to happen again,” said the Penis.

The Brain folded his arms and scratched his jawbone.

“Well . . . at least we can say that Lolly is honest. And did you witness what she brought out in him during their IM conversation? He was actually flirting, and beguiling her about as much as she was beguiling him, with the gift of his words, no less.”

“Right,” said the Penis, “So what’s to debate?”

“There are three members of this Council, not two.”

He indicated the Heart.

“So?” said the Penis, “He doesn’t need to be involved at all. Might be a break for him, too. He sure could use one.”

“A true altruist, are we?”

“No, seriously,” said the Penis, “If he’d stay out of everything until it was a sure deal, we wouldn’t have to protect him all the time. Besides . . . Lolly could probably teach us all a little something, don’t you think?”

“What do you think?” the Brain asked the Heart.

The Heart glanced meekly at the Brain and the Penis, like a child who learned to cope with his parents arguing by keeping silent. He was blushing slightly.

“She sure is beguiling,” he said in a soft voice, “but why does this feel like a deal with the devil to me?”

“Oh, I don’t know, prejudice, maybe?” said the Penis.

“Lolly has been quite cordial thus far,” said the Brain, “Even her profile data suggests that she isn’t likely to be a conniving succubus. A cougar, yes, but a benevolent one.”

“Still,” said the Heart, “I think I’m better than that.”

“What?” bristled the Penis, “This is a cougar we’re dealing with here! Selena Steele eat your heart out! And we’re not jumping at this extraordinary opportunity?!”

“Leave him alone,” said the Brain, “we have more subjects to address-”

“C’mon, why are you always taking his side?”

“I don’t even want to think about what trouble we’d have gotten ourselves into if I’d let your stupidity govern all of our decisions! I’m here trying to negotiate the outside world for both of your sakes–”

“For his, mostly,” said the Penis, “Remember what happened last time you decided he was right and you came up with all those ways of meeting his demands? Like pursuing Maria? Rochelle? Dropping off roses at Serissa’s apartment after she moved out? And let’s not forget the flower we almost gave Tara! Every time you let him do this, no matter how innocent the intent, it FUCKS EVERYTHING UP!”

“Failure always precedes success,” the Brain said, “Are you suggesting we simply don’t think as much?”

“Well, yes. Actions speak louder than words.”

“That’s something Serissa loved to say. Are you forgetting what sort of person we are?”

Officially, it was illegal to mention the name of Serissa during council meetings, but no one protested. The Heart probably wasn’t paying attention anyway.

“No, I’m not,” said the Penis, “but sometimes I really wish he were slightly less moral. Or that he didn’t take sex so seriously. I think we all might be more satisfied in that case. Why don’t we all live a little more, you know? So he says he can’t have a one-night stand without getting attached? I doubt it. I think he could, if the terms were made clear from the start.”

“Ah, but when are they ever?” said the Brain.

“What about here?”

“I . . . don’t think I could do this,” the Heart said softly, “not now, not in the long run anyway.”

“So he’s spoken, then,” said the Brain, “This discussion is over.”

The Brain and Penis exchanged venomous glances for a moment, then the Brain placed Lolly’s file back into the crate and drew another.

“Alright, now the third subject,” said the Brain, “calls herself Losang. She is 31 years old, the age of David’s oldest sister . . .”

“What is it with David and these older women anyway?” said the Penis, “Not that I’m complaining or anything.”

The Heart had no reply to give. He just blushed.

” . . . and she lives in the same town, no less. Somerville, a mere 27 miles away. She’s a practicing Mahayanna Buddhist of the Gelung tradition. She’s currently unemployed, but looking for work, and lives with her mother. She listens to much of the same music as David. And her sex drive is putatively higher than his.”

The Brain glanced at the Penis for a second and said, “We have concluded long ago that such a thing is possible. In theory.”

“She sounds like fun,” said the Penis, “I want to meet her!”

“I like her,” said the Heart, his face looking warmer than before, “I think she understands me—no, she accepts me.”

“And perhaps she’s fallen for us already, in a sense,” said the Brain, “I don’t think any of the others have been quite as aggressive, so we must proceed with caution. Nonetheless, the real possibility of meeting her in person will be approaching soon. We’ll have to spend two days of next week in Somerville cat-sitting for Monica anyway, so we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.”

“Maybe she’s the woman I’ve been waiting for all this time,” said the Heart.

“Me too . . .” said the Penis.

“That’s . . . all good and well,” said the Brain, “and I don’t want to play Devil’s advocate here, but I should point out a little bit of concern I’ve been having about Losang. Quite frankly, she seems too good to be true. Material success was never our primary objective, but she seems to be even less interested in the material world than David, and that’s not a good thing. She’s a college drop-out. Do we know if she plans to do anything aside from attending classes at the Dharma center, metal shows, cat-napping, and smoking green?”

“She’s a blood donor, too,” said the Heart. “I sure could use one. And she walks the neighbor’s dog.”

“Probably,” said the Penis, “Either way, you’re outnumbered, so fuck you.”

“Um . . . well, onto the fourth subject,” said the Brain, as he reached for the last file in the crate, “Her name is Karolina. She’s 29 and goes to the same church as David and his mother, though they’ve never met. His mother apparently gave her his cell phone number after hearing her complaints about not being able to find any good men. But she hasn’t called and we have no further data on her at this time.”

“Great,” said the Penis, “You know, I really can’t wait to meet Losang.”

“Losang!” the Heart said giddily, “She’s so compassionate! Om Svasti!

The Brain knew when his voice wouldn’t be heard. But they would listen to him again eventually. He closed Karolina’s folder and decided it was time to adjust his red tie again. And a second, third, and fourth time in the same minute.

?

While wandering the mystical, labyrinthine woods of cyberspace, I rode a white horse. My horse was barded in blue-green plating. My armor, 15th century Gothic by design, also had a blue-green tint: the cuirass, pauldrons, greaves, and vambraces. My helmet was a sallet with a jawbone visor and a pair of wings at the top. When the visor was up-turned, the bevor still covered my chin, but you could otherwise see most of my face. Over my armor I wore a blue tabard adorned with an Ichthys. In my right hand I held not a lance (which would have been no use in a forest), but a goblet. I was certainly a knight-errant of sorts. I’d long forgotten who sent me on my mission in the first place, where I was supposed to go, or who I was supposed to deliver the goblet to. I sat with impeccable posture, always gazing at the empty cup. I never rode quickly, but my horse never seemed to stop either, so I usually had to keep him in a light trot.

Tonight, however, he had a very good reason to stop. To my right was a shoreline I could see a good distance away through the leaves and branches, and to my left was a dark and shallow cave under the roots of a gigantic tree. Gazing out from the cave were the beautiful eyes of a large cat. We stopped and stared at each other in mutual fascination, me in the sunlight, her in the shadows.

“Busy?” the cougar asked. Her voice was patient, relaxed, and utterly confident.

“No, not exactly,” I said with a smile.

“How are you doing?”

“Well . . . I’ve found myself in a most peculiar situation,” I said.

“I’m listening . . .”

“I’m being wishboned between two women at once. It’s never happened before in my life.”

“I don’t understand. You’re pulling a wishbone . . . ?”

“I’m the wishbone!”

“Oh? How do you find it?”

“Kind of flattering, really. A little frightening, too.”

“Ah. Well, human nature being what it is, I have to ask  . . .”

The cougar flicked her tail a bit.

“Am I one of them?”

“Oh, but of course,” I said.

“I’m flattered.”

“Well, I’m not really sure what to do. The other one seems to be really into me already.”

“Ah. Well, human nature being what it is, I have to ask  . . .”

The cougar placed her paw outside the cave, as if stretching.

“Is this other one younger than me?”

“Older than me!” I said. Then I added, “She’s the age of my oldest sister.”

“No clue.”

“She’s 31.”

The cougar’s claws became visible for a moment, then she retracted them.

“Still . . . nonetheless . . . younger than me. It would make no difference to me if you pursued us both. Does your friend know about me?”

“Well, I mentioned you once. She seemed kind of ambivalent.”

“In other words, you’re worried that you might drive her away because of your association with me?”

“Maybe.”

“I understand. I’m not at all angry, you know.”

Maybe I was visibly tense to the cougar, I’m not sure. My visor was up, but my armor was still on. Nonetheless, I sighed in relief.

“Would it be best for you if I left you alone?” she said after a moment.

“I wouldn’t want you to go,” I said.

“I wouldn’t want to go either.”

“Well, in that case, I really hate to admit it, but probably, yes.”

“I understand. It has been pleasure to talk with you, even for the brief time that we did. If you ever feel comfortable enough to talk with me again, please feel free to do so.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll do that.”

My horse had been turning slowly and anxiously at various intervals for some time now, so I pulled harder on the reigns and made my way toward the shore, onto the beach, and into the sea. Along the way, my horse metamorphosed into a hippocamp, the front hooves sprouting fins and back legs fusing to transform into a fish’s tail. I was making my way toward Somerville, seeking my heart’s desire.

?

Now it was time to call Losang. The computer decided to close our Instant Messenger window at random intervals and toss me out of OKCupid altogether, so feeling frustrated, I picked up my cell and went downstairs. There was no air conditioning in the computer room, and I’d had enough of it. I found myself reclining on the futon in my cozy basement, talking on the phone, to my amazement, with another woman who would not judge me. I was pleased to find out that her I.Q. must have been at least 50 points higher than what her online syntax suggested. She spoke with a faint New England accent and tended to giggle randomly. There was a genuine human kindness behind her voice, and a complete lack of pretension. This voice contained the wisdom and humor of someone who knew what it meant to suffer, but not to become cruel or jaded. Of course, I didn’t like most women, but I spoke to her for hours, and effortlessly.

“I don’t either,” Losang chuckled. “My friends are all guys.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t try to play the game of pretending that I’m what they should want or wasting my time going after beautiful women who’re constantly being hit on.”

“You’re what I want,” she said. “You’re hot, you’re sweet, you’re smart, and you have good taste in music . . .”

Losang was referring to the photo she’d seen on my profile, where I was wearing a Blind Guardian shirt. She told me I looked hot in that shirt, and that it would look even better on her floor. Only by happenstance had she come across it. Inevitably, at some point, I mentioned Serissa, though I tried to stop myself.

“Hey, it’s alright,” she said. “I care, OK? If talking about it is what it’s going to take to get it out of your system, then go ahead. My purpose is to attain enlightenment and free all motherly sentient beings from suffering. I never refuse a friendship from anyone, unless they’re trying to kill me or something. My ex is my best friend now, and I like him better that way.”

“I wish I could be friends with my ex,” I said.

“I wish you could too,” she said sadly. “I was with him for seven years, then, April Fool’s of all days, he breaks up with me. He said he’d just as soon fuck a stranger off the street. That was more painful than anything I’ve went through, and my dad died when I was 14 of a brain tumor, let me tell you.”

“That sort of reminds me of something my friend Tara told me,” I said, “We were sharing our shitty breakup stories. Her younger brother died in a horrible car accident some time ago, but she said it was even more painful when her ex broke up with her, and she felt shitty about that, too, because she didn’t know why.”

Losang seemed thoroughly delighted by all of my insight, though eventually, I got back to Serissa. I told her a little about Serissa’s abusive background, her spiritual crisis, and the hell she put me through during the last two months of our relationship. Speaking openly about it wasn’t difficult, but I was trying to kick my habit of revealing everything at once.

“I feel so bad for her—well, I feel bad for both of you, but still.”

“When I lost my substitute teaching job in March,” I explained, “I was feeling horrible enough about it, but then my ex sent me an email ultimatum: I had to tell her in 24 hours what my new plans were to find another job, get a car, and move out of my parent’s house. ‘I don’t know’ wasn’t an acceptable answer, and if I didn’t reply in that time, she’d take it to mean I had no further interest in her or the relationship. It’s not like I wasn’t already concerned about all of those things anyway, so I called her up, crying, not knowing what the hell was going on. She said she was feeling like some sort of sick combination of mother, chauffer, chef, babysitter, and whore.”

“That’s a pretty abusive thing to say to someone you profess to care for.”

“Uh . . . what?”

“I said that’s a pretty abusive thing to say to someone you profess to care for.”

A beat. Verbal Abuse. I’d heard the term before, but all of the sources describing this occurrence used the male pronoun to denote the abuser, and the female pronoun to denote the victim, with the occasional cursory note that the genders were sometimes reversed.

“You still there?” she asked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m still here,” I said, “I’m just little stunned. I mean, you’re right and everything. I just never really put it into those words.”

“I understand.”

“Ah, if you were here right now,” I said, “I’d hug you.”

“Awww . . .”

“And silly me, I’d probably get too excited and want to do more.”

“I wouldn’t stop you.”

?

David Mitchell writes like the lovechild of J.R.R. Tolkien and Woody Allen in a world where swordplay and sexual humiliation frequently co-exist, placing a poultice on our psychic wounds with his wit and grace. Oh, and he knows a lot more about dinosaurs than you do. He welcomes your comments on “The Attraction Council” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.

photo by wickedsoul

Alicia, drawing nearer

by Stevie Howell

Wind hurls down the main street of our home town like a bowling ball, and we’re the pins slipping on
varnished ice
and falling down.

Doors with their backs to the cold, warm at least on one side. And I wish I were a cross country skier
sipping something hot facing a fire,
but I’m not.

I ran, and I’ll never return. It will stay winter there, and the bridge won’t burn.
And the kindling won’t cure, and you’ll shiver for a spark.

And you, girl, were as fair as a drift. But I was adrift in the dark.

No, it never seemed fair when a master hitched his dog and barked ‘stay there.’ And my heart sunk as the animal plunked his velvet body
on the concrete – those blinks and stares.

Home is where the heart is, it’s locked in a drawer somewhere, beating a tell-tale wing on wood
about an untamed feeling for which
there is no word.

And lately, I’ve been thinking that knowing me is like drinking steam.
Is it something mystic, or am I just plain mean?

Don’t look for me,

Alicia,

with the light on

a window

becomes a mirror,

you’ll only see

your reflection

drawing nearer.

?

Stevie Howell is a professional editor and writer from Toronto. She invites you to visit her website, Only Connect!.

photo by Victor Bezrukov

The Old Dog

by nick johnson

history will do its tricks:

lie, roll over, play dead & fetch

to keep us safely in our place.

but it’s greener where the dog defecates,

someone pleads, citing the unlatched

gate, a sign from god. I’m trying to believe

something other than a tombstone awaits

with our names.

?

Nick Johnson is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. He welcomes your comments on “The Old Dog’” at njohnson-lee[at]cca.edu.

photo by Cielo Katie

The Angel

by David Mitchell

Editor’s note: this is the second in a series of planned installments from David Mitchell’s Fulfillment. You can read part one here.

I was in my room staring at a blank open document on my computer. I was alone, but it didn’t feel that way. I’ve often found that imaginary friends are more consistent than real ones. The issue of their reality becomes moot after a while. Mine was a robed being with golden skin, huge feathery wings, and the head of a ram. He held a huge sword in his hands, a zweihander to give it a proper term. This Angel was truth, reason, sanity, and clarity, should I have allowed myself to see and hear him. His greatest pleasure was to see me succeed, but he never interfered with my actions. If God spoke to me at all, it was through this Angel, not so much through prayer. Though I’d only seen him twice in the past two years, I had not thought to say hello this time. If he were anyone else, that would have mattered, but as the Angel always knew what I was thinking, there was never any need to speak to him directly.

About three years ago, the Angel, as I’d chosen to imagine him, was only a diminutive being who perched on my right shoulder, while my left was inhabited by the vilest of demons, who only fed me lies and half-truths. These were usually lies of the most plausible kind, uttered during my weakest moments. The Demon was a miniature Baphomet to my miniature Gabriel; a bloated and rotting being who wanted me to succumb to despair and self-pity as much as the Angel wanted to elevate me to my greatest heights. Each whispered his rhetoric into my ear whenever I was confused about something.

One night after experiencing heartbreak over a deferred hope which lead to a misunderstanding, I seriously considered hiring a call girl. After the Demon and the Angel struggled to direct me, they eventually descended into verbal abuse, and finally into combat. I ultimately decided I wasn’t that desperate, and chose instead to continue my correspondence with a girl who I’ll call Serissa. When this happened, the Demon tried to me convince me of the futility of my actions once more, but the Angel smashed the pommel of his sword into his chin, forcing him to bite his tongue off. Serissa then became my first girlfriend. Two years and two months later, she was no longer a part of my life, and in the following semester, I was trying to remember what my life was supposed to be about to begin with.

The Angel took his leave of me the night the Demon was defeated, though I hadn’t seen the last of him. I didn’t even notice how much more powerful he appeared than before. He was no longer a tiny creature that perched on my right shoulder. He wasn’t cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or cool. He was fearsome, he was formidable, he was huge, and he was a warrior. I can’t objectively give the Angel a height, but were I to guess I would say he stood about seven feet tall. And though he never completely unfolded his wings in my presence, I would guess his wingspan would have been at least 25 feet, about the span of a Pteranodon. I didn’t even want to think about the cutting capabilities of his sword. That weapon was slender-bladed and elegant, but with a compound hilt, a flaring ricasso, and a silvery sheen about it.

When he spoke to me, it was in a sing-song voice that was both silk and gristle. He had a faint accent that sounded somewhere between English and German, but perhaps it was a slight lisp instead. Either way, he spoke with a fierce intelligence, and his voice was sharp and penetrating like his weapon. He choose his words carefully, because although he often hid from me the things I wanted most to know, he was incapable of telling a lie.

This being may well have stood in my bedroom during the months that followed the breakup, and I wouldn’t have summoned enough energy to care. In addition to pining over Serissa, I was contemplating whatever else I needed to write, if only to break myself out of the bad spell of writer’s block which had been plaguing me for almost a year.

I looked at the scrap of paper where the Oracle advised “Write, write, write,” but I had no will write about anything except this story. This was the one story I always brought up, yet never wanted to talk about. But how was I going to begin this mess? I was indeed writing constantly—rehearsing pages of unwritten prose in my head, but I could almost never bring myself to sit in front of my computer for long enough to channel these thoughts in a cohesive manner. I would instead be held at bay by such enriching and intellectually stimulating distractions as computer games, Internet porn, and message boards.

Worst of all, perhaps, I was plagued by an entity far more horrible than the foul, rotting Demon that lost his tongue more than two years earlier. This one resembled the 21-year-old Serissa, complete with grey eyes and eleven earrings in each ear, except she wore a long metallic gown, a spiked circlet around her head, and carried a broadsword. Even her earrings were sword-shaped. She also floated about six inches off the ground, and her feet never touched the floor. I hated seeing her, but whenever she was in the room, I could never take my eyes off her, even if the Angel was right there with me. It became nearly impossible to listen to him in such circumstances. Thank God for his infinite patience. I knew I would continue once the pain of writing was surpassed by the pain of not writing.

A little about the real Serissa first, who still lives. I don’t know where she is now, nor do I wish to. I don’t know if she’s in a better psychological state than she was when I was last in contact with her. In no sense will I claim to be objective about her. No story about a relationship can make such a claim. Still, as I must write about this one to preserve my sanity, I’ll do my best to be honest.

I met her during my last semester as an undergraduate at Bridgewater State College. At that time, she was a precocious 19-year-old with poor posture, a quick wit, an androgynous personality, and a dress style which exuded a brand of sexy that fell somewhere between Goth and Catholic school girl. She had light hair and pale complexion. She always wore eleven earrings in each ear and stud in the right side of her nose. She spoke with intensity, never smiled except in deference to social convention, and had the tendency to extend her middle finger (sans cuticles) if you had a camera in your hands. My friend Jeff, who stood at least a foot taller than Serissa and probably outweighed her by 100 pounds or more, would later tell me that he found her intimidating.

I never found her intimidating, though. And she never thought I was creepy, even if she heard Marina and Candy make that exact claim. At this time I was a 23-year-old virgin, and worrying that I was outstaying my shelf life. The day I met Serissa, a mutual acquaintance introduced us. She was passing through the lounge on campus while we were using a public computer kiosk to spam a racist message board with interracial porn pictures. While she didn’t look directly at the monitor, she was amused rather than offended, so I took the opportunity to practice my conversational skills with her. I ended the exchange with “I’ll email you,” and though I had no goal in mind other than making sure I could get her email address, this began a correspondence.

What I didn’t know was that Serissa had never been in a relationship either, and she was attracted to me (“It was your largest sex organ,” she would later say). It still took her a while before she had any idea what to do about this. I, on the other hand, learned that she was a an ambitious student, a voracious reader, a skillful writer, and greatly delighted in puns—especially if she could inflict them on unsuspecting people. When she read my fiction and gave positive feedback in an email, I asked her to marry me. Since that failed as I knew it would (but generated a laugh, I hoped), I asked her what she thought of dating instead. Her default reaction was that her issues would have made any relationship impossible.

She behaved something like a neighbor’s cat back then. If you approached her or tried to touch her she would back away startled, yet if you headed away from her she followed you and remained close. This happened once when I invited her to a public ceremony outside the art building on campus. This was the unveiling of The Bridge volume 2, an annual student-run journal of arts and literature which I’d helped edit for two consecutive years. I had work published in both volumes. Two years later, whilst taking graduate courses, I would have a memoir published in the fourth volume, about the Angel and the Demon, which would mention Serissa at the end. It would be entitled Half-Born. It was a warm spring day and we were standing on the grass to hear the readings of poems and see all deserved contributors receive their awards. I smiled, seeing that Serissa was still at my side. I placed one arm around her, but before I could thank her for staying with me, she jerked herself away.

But with more time spent in my presence as a friend, Serissa would cave in eventually. When she brought up the topic of dating again without any suggestion from me, I told her I would date her only on the condition that she let me touch her. Deciding to overcome her touch issues was like turning off some internal switch to her, but the interaction felt awkward. A tentative and deliberate rub from her on my shoulder as I put my arm around her waist on the love seat, and she would quickly ask, “Task analysis?”

In our first photograph together, I was wearing a white T-shirt with a slain Cupid on the front, above a caption that read “Love Sucks.” Serissa was wearing a shirt she custom made for herself, which read “Pessimism allows me to predict 10 out of 9 failures.” Sadly, I don’t think this picture even exists any more. The second earliest picture of the two of us, I believe, was taken at the Stone Zoo in front of a cage of apparently vicious camelids, where a nearby sign warns, “We Bite.” The animals aren’t discernable in the picture, but we are. For the next two years, Serissa’s little world—the apartment she shared in East Bridgewater with her cat—became a part of my world as well, a private sanctuary where we played strip chess (Serissa usually won—she told me I treated my chess pieces like people), Munchkin, watched movies, posted together on the same message boards, introduced each other to new music, ate microwaveable pizza, occasionally went out for ice cream, and made love (a difficult task to accomplish at first—Serissa had vaginal agenesis, which meant it took nine months of veritable blood, sweat, and tears for her to gradually dilate herself to the point of making sex possible. Though the fact that she lacks a uterus, as we shall see, is one of the better arguments for the existence of God). All of this happened while Serissa was finishing her undergraduate work and I was attempting to figure out how my BA in English might actually help me.

Frequently, Serissa fell apart in front of me. The Angel appeared to me during one of her frequent and disturbing panic attacks—a result of post-traumatic stress, in which I was powerless to do anything for her. I hated seeing her like that, but not for the reasons she supposed. I would sit on the love seat in her apartment appearing to be calm, and she would return from the bathroom or wherever she would go to vent her frightening rage and panic, not wanting my comfort or even presence. She’d sit by me and sometimes beat her own leg until it left a mark, even if I tried to stop her. It was better when she rubbed an ice cube on herself instead, at the suggestion of her therapist, as it fulfilled her need for self-hurt but did her no bodily harm.

I often sat in silence because I was permitted to do nothing else, and while making no further gestures, I prayed, because it was the only thing I could do for her. On every occasion my prayer was answered, and Serissa managed to calm herself down again in a matter of minutes. Her savagely disciplined mind enabled her to do this, and once she decided on something, that decision was always final.

On one occasion, while I asked God to guide Serissa out of her panic and despair as soon as possible, I heard the Angel’s voice speaking to me. He suggested that perhaps I should be the one to aid her. He said nothing else, and I had no idea how to do that, nor was I presumptuous enough to have any illusions about fulfilling a dual role as a therapist. She certainly wouldn’t have wanted me to think I was. But perhaps my aid came from being the calmest and most stable person in her support system.

Serissa often wondered why I would even put up with her at all once I saw what an apparent basket case she was. The thought of leaving her never occurred to me. It wasn’t as if she was physically attacking me, so I never felt threatened. I never claimed to completely understand her, but I accepted her as she was.

“You’re such a good person!” she might say, “I’m so glad I have you,” or “I’m so glad you’re you,” perhaps in pained relief when my patience and restraint shined through when everyone else in her support system seemed to fail her. She would also say, on occasion, that I was “perfect,” and express her guilt that she was “slowing me down”. I always brushed these things off.

It took her two years to discover that I was not perfect, though when she changed her medication, her opinion of me seemed to plummet. Even the Oracle had given Serissa an oblique warning about a month earlier, telling her to be careful when switching medications. Either way, once my presence was no longer intrinsically rewarding to her, it soon became easy for Serissa to divine why it was I tolerated her at all. It couldn’t have been that I was the good person she knew, or that she was lucky to have me in her life. The answer must have been that I had low standards, that I was pussy-whipped, and I loved her because I got what I wanted from her. Her merciless sense of logic was capable of proving these things. She accused me of lying by quoting me out of context or pouncing on my semantics. She was a student of Psychology, and inexorably cynical about all human motivation, so she could come up with any number of plausible reasons for what she thought was my dishonesty. When you don’t believe in true altruism, you won’t see your relationship as anything other than an exchange. She no longer knew what she was getting out of this exchange. At this point the relationship became about nothing except her, and what she could gain from it. “What do you want?” I asked her helplessly over the phone, to which she replied, “What do you have to offer?”

I remember these miserable trips to East Bridgewater, in which, after a day fraught with vituperations and cold silences over one misunderstanding after another, I lay in bed next to Serissa, on my back, while she lay on her left side away from me as she always did, her ear—pierced by eleven earrings—resting between two pillows, and another between her knees. The cat often rested either to my right or at my feet, and sometimes I’d stroke him if I couldn’t fall asleep, or leave the room and surf the web before I felt tired enough to rejoin her. Usually, while lying back, I prayed silently in my head, thanking God that she was in my life. This was now the most peaceful moment of the visit, and during the last two months, I also had to reflect with wearying despair that I now felt more alone with her than I didby myself. I was on trial almost every waking moment. The Angel also appeared to me at this time, and told me the relationship was in its final stages. I didn’t want to listen to him then.

A month after the inevitable breakup, when I had seen the Oracle, I scoured the library for books on breakups. I picked up a title by John Gray, the author of that stupid Mars and Venus series, and tried adopt some of his ideas for letting go of Serissa. Forgiveness was a major theme in his book, as well as remembering your ex with love. I decided to take his advice and mourn for her as if dead, the logic being that we shouldn’t remember the dead with bitterness or pain.

One day I went out to perform my own healing ritual. My ex lived in an apartment at a far end of the town where our campus was located. She moved in shortly before our relationship began, and moved out shortly after it ended. I’d only ever seen these places when she’d lived there, so I wanted to get a more concrete experience that there was nothing left for me in that end of town. I drove in my own car whilst listening to a mixed CD she’d burned me. I bought some roses and a card and visited the ice cream place we would always frequent. Then I went to her vacant apartment and dropped off the flowers and left. I felt curiously at peace during the departure.

Later that evening, I attended an orientation meeting for graduate students at the Bridgewater campus, where I saw Serissa in the auditorium. I wanted to talk to her but she didn’t seem very receptive, so I wrote her an email and said it was okay for her to talk to me if she wanted to. She replied by expressing concern that I was still in a vulnerable position, and concern again that I was clinging to some sort of false hope of getting back together with her. I told her that I was just hoping we could be on good terms. But foolish me, to prove this, I went ahead and told her about what I’d done the day before. Her response was . . .

I winced, swallowing blackened nausea. As I sat there at my computer, contemplating the blank, open document before me, the specter of my ex-girlfriend said to me:

I did indeed feel like your whore.

I sighed, closing my eyes and letting the rage and bitterness wash over me. Then I took the risk of turning around in my chair, after pushing my glasses up from where they had slipped, and faced the ghost herself. Her old medication affected many things, not the least of which was her sexuality.

“I’m sorry that’s how you felt. But that’s not how I treated you, and the fact that you can’t make that distinction speaks volumes about that twisted nettle of pathologies you call a brain. Fuck! Why didn’t I write that to her?”

I’d never deleted the email she sent me, but I never referred to it, either. Reading it once was enough, because the specter would not go away. Were it not for her ridiculous paranoia that I might be stalking her, I was certain she would be sleeping soundly at the knowledge that she had beaten down and crushed my soul. But she was likely enjoying her life now more than I was enjoying mine. Issues or not, she at least conveniently viewed the social contract as an exchange, and her newly discovered extroversion enabled her to negotiate that well enough. While the conditioning by which I found her attractive was probably still in effect, she had the ugliest soul of anyone I’d ever known.

Inevitably, a flood of memories returned to me, spread out over the events of the last year, though Serissa’s ghost wouldn’t stop her assaults. Her strategy of simple repetition and non-recognition was primitive but maddeningly effective. She was more than glad to share her results of the relationship autopsy, founded in her Truth, which was rather different from mine.

You were either dishonest, or had a pathologically unreliable memory.  Either was intolerable.

“At around January I knew it wasn’t going to last,” my father said to me from the bar stool he sat on, “but I didn’t want to say anything. I knew you had to experience it for yourself.”

It was the worst day of my life, and as promptly as I’d returned home on the train my father had taken me to a Mexican restaurant only a block away from the station. He’d heard of the breakup before I even arrived (I made a brief call back home on the train), so naturally, this was his response, the most selfless, loving action he could take. Give or take two weeks, he would become sick of seeing or hearing me fall apart and wish me to move on. Both he and my mother were relieved this relationship was over. Right now, this was the best he could do. But I was so detached from my surroundings that I began to dip my tortilla chips into my tropical margarita and eating them.

Your complete and utter lack of drive and/or goals in life- except, of course, when you were utterly driven to get laid.  Obsessed.  Consumed.  Desperate.  And putting forth a valiant effort.

“When you told me that she said you were ‘using’ her I knew something wasn’t right,” Jeff said sadly as we walked along the sidewalk in the moonlight, “but I didn’t want to say anything.”

After the Zyprexa was out of my system, my self-esteem finally started to lift. As my self-esteem increased, I started to become less and less attracted to you, and to wonder more and more just how much better I could do.

“That’s understandable,” said Professor Walker, “We’re attracted to different people depending on what level we’re at.”

I only looked on somberly while I sat in his office, so he continued:

“Relationships are like writing,” he said, “Your first relationship is like your first draft. You might look back at it and say to yourself, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ And you just try again, having learned from your mistakes. There’s no secret to finding love. Just identify what it is you want and go after it.”

I nodded. Then he asked:

“Are you still keeping a correspondence with Tara Sullivan?”

I blinked. I didn’t recall ever having mentioned that I was on good terms with Tara. But I had no reason to think about her at the moment. Did I?

Your desperation to get laid, and to be in a relationship.

“Give her some space,” said Father Ted, “Have you tried contacting her again since?”

I was sitting in a chair directly across from him. No need to hide behind that silly screen. My pain was clear for him to see.

“The last time I did that she completely tore me apart,” I said.

“I’m sorry.”

Father Ted then spoke of the one person in the universe who could never misunderstand me or reject me, crucified on the wall to my left. He spoke in a thick Ghana accent, so I didn’t understand everything he said, but I think I understood his main point. I desperately wanted to understand both of them better.

The fact that you not only do stupid things like your little bouquet-and-card dropoff, but that you also confess them to me and anyone who’ll listen.

“The worst thing you did,” the Oracle said to me over the phone, “was express your love for her.”

“And she hates me now because of it.”

“I don’t think she hates you. That’s not what I’m getting. She sounds like someone who must have a lot of pain in her.”

Regarding the breakup, I was indeed emotionally fine, however, I was aware that that Reiki woman had implanted you with the type of false hope that you cling to like a tick on a dog’s ass.  If I had not been aware of this, I might have made the grave mistake of actually talking to you; however, I feared that I would further this false hope with any sign of friendliness.

“Trying to get metaphysical there Dave?” Ben said with a smile.

I wasn’t sure he was using the word “metaphysical” correctly, but I said nothing. It was nice to be his house talking to him, as I hadn’t seen much of him in the past two years. After whatever heart to heart discussion we had, we had plenty of awful 80’s B movies to choose from in his collection.

“I just did it for myself,” I said, “and I was honest about what I did to try and let go.”

Ben shook his head.

“Girls will just think you’re crazy if you do stuff like that,” he said.

“And she was manipulative in ways she’ll probably never own up to.”

“Yeah. Girls are like that.”

“But that’s not OK,” I said, “I kind of get the impression that when I revealed my insecurities to her she just saw it as a sign of weakness or something.”

“You can never do that,” Ben said, shaking his head.

I was mystified. I knew innately that my ideal mate would also have to be my best friend, and our relationship would be rooted in the symmetry of souls, not the attraction of opposites. What was the worth of a relationship if you needed to wear a mask and hide your weaknesses all the time? I think most people see it as a game, or conquest of sorts. How depressing.

“I haven’t gotten laid in two years,” he said.

“I’m sorry.”

“I kind of feel like I have to get laid every so often to preserve my self-esteem. I think every time you have sex, there’s some little part of you that’s afraid it’ll be your last time, you know?”

I nodded. That was a sentiment I sympathized with, but didn’t entirely share. Not at the time, anyway. But Ben, shorter than me and bald since the tender age of 18, nonetheless had more success with women than anyone else in my circle of friends. When dating multiple women at the same time, he would later confide to me that he felt like a relationship was a trap of sorts. It was on that point that we were most divided.

The fact that you viewed my body as a plaything that you should have full access to at any time.

“You don’t have a malicious bone in your body,” Monica said, shaking her head incredulously. “She’s crazy, David, and you have to realize that.”

Your job at Shaw’s , and the fact that I had to schedule everything around it.

“Yeah?” Lisa said as she scanned groceries at the cash register. “Well in my line of work that’s what we call a paranoid, psychotic bitch!”

Lisa then turned to greet the next customer with a jovial grin, just as all polite Shaw’s employees. I did not envy her position, even it paid slightly more than mine. She had to stand still for longer periods of time. I was standing at the end of lane, preparing to open the plastic Shaw’s bags for whatever items drifted my way. Perhaps later I’d be outside collecting carriages from the parking lot, or emptying the recycling machines.

I couldn’t help but notice the women who came in line to checkout counter, and their men. Without exception they were taller than me, more rugged in appearance, with squarer jaws, barrel-shaped chests, and more solid demeanors. They usually had more tightly cropped haircuts than me, and some kind of facial hair, too, like chin strap beards. And they sometimes wore their caps backwards. I wondered how much of their success was genetic.

Your own mother once told me in an aside that you aren’t stupid (she volunteered this information without any such implication from me), but that you have to actually give a fuck about something to actually get it done.

“What?” said Tommy, “She wrote you a list??”

I nodded. I was standing by the paper towel roller. Tommy was standing by the sink. The Men’s room of the campus library was an odd place to make new friends, I admit, but Tommy had a strange light in his eyes, and an intuitive understanding of the sort that made me know he was someone I could trust. He was almost like a male version of the Oracle.

“Yeah,” I said. “A list of all the stupid mistakes I made during the relationship, of everything she hated about me, which was more or less everything about me . . .”

“Wait a sec,” said Tommy, “Did you ever hit her?”

“No.”

“Did you ever intentionally embarrass her?”

“No.”

“Did you intentionally put her in harm’s way, like driving drunk while she was in the car?”

“No.”

He smirked and waved his hands in front of his face.

“You didn’t do shit.”

The fact that I let you masturbate yourself into me for as long as it was physically possible, sometimes while crying from pain, sometimes while crying from unhappiness, sometimes while angry at you but knowing that as soon as we reconciled you’d start wheedling at me to fuck so it was best to get it over with, sometimes with some kind of dim pleasure, but usually while staring at the ceiling or the bedspread and wishing to God you’d hurry the fuck up.

“I feel sorry for her just hearing about what you’ve told me,” Tara said as we drove back from the movie that night.

People usually felt sorry for Serissa when I told them that she was physically and verbally abused by her adoptive father, and that toward the end she was turning our relationship into a twisted reliving of that one. Serissa hated it when people pitied her. I never pitied her, but did wonder if she knew the difference between pity and compassion. Of course, I felt neither for her now. I just wanted her to die. I stared grimly at the dark road as it unfolded before us.

“I think the things she said to you were horrible to say to anyone,” Tara continued, “It really doesn’t sound like it was you. It sounds like it was her.”

The memoir.  You will never convince me that it wasn’t horribly insensitive and insulting for you to even submit that to the workshop, let alone to The Bridge.

“It’s not you, Dave,” Eric said over the phone, “It’s her. Trust me on this.”

You’ll never convince me that you were trying to do anything more noble than getting your rocks off, so don’t bother.

“Monica was telling me that she told Kevin about you and Serissa,” my Mother said.”And he said it didn’t sound like it was you, but her.”

I don’t think you’re a danger to me right now, but as I said, your behavior has already gone beyond what I could have predicted, and it’s walking a thin line- it is inappropriate and unnerving.  It has also gone beyond what is healthy.  I would suggest seeking some kind of help.  Even just checking into the counseling center, if you can.  I’m not objective, and I know it, but I also know that you’re showing signs of some kind of breakdown.

“Healthy behavior?” I wondered. “What the FUCK do you know about healthy behavior?! Rather than tell you my side of the story, which I’m sure you have no interest in hearing, why don’t I remind you of the COLD, HARD, FACTS concerning your sanity as it compares to mine:

  1. I’m not taking anti-psychotics. You are.
  2. I don’t have a history of self-mutilation and the scars to prove it. You do.
  3. I haven’t spent a significant portion of my life in a Germaine Lawrence. You have.
  4. I don’t walk around with a disability card in my wallet. You do.
  5. I’ve never been expelled from a primary school for attacking another student. You have.
  6. I didn’t come from an abusive background. You did.
  7. As you yourself admitted, you display more of the telltale signs of potential future dating violence than I do.
  8. Hell, my personality is nothing like the personality of the typical rejected stalker, anyway.”

Fuck! Why didn’t I write that to her?”

In closing, whatever you do, do NOT contact me.  Do not seek me out.  If you see me on campus, you can be DAMN sure that any interaction between us will indeed be awkward, no matter how hard you try for it not to be.  If you threaten me in any way or if I feel threatened, I will seek help.  We are not friends.  We will never be friends.  You have made it clear to me that that is impossible.

“Alright,” the Angel sighed, his wings lifting with his shoulders, “I’m the only one still listening, and I’m just a humble malakh. What do you want me to do for you?”

I sighed too. I wanted him to tell me who and what awaited me in my future. I wanted him to tell me how to make the best use of my time. I wanted him to tell me what to do with my life. I wanted to either be in the past—so I could be with Serissa again and not make the same mistakes, or be in the future—at a time when I knew for certain what to do and how to do it, and when I would have the love of someone else. I wanted to know how to recognize this other person. I wanted the Angel to behead that damned specter with his sword. I wanted the real Serissa to die soon, die painfully, and burn in hell. She was the only person in the world I hated.

“You don’t hate Serissa,” the Angel said sadly. “You hate what happened, but not her. You must forgive her eventually. In so doing, you will forgive yourself. In a sense, Serissa will help you to become holier. Because you will forgive, grow in virtue, and become kinder. Forgiveness will give you a freedom she will never have.”

Forgiveness? It’s easy to forgive someone who knows they’ve done wrong, and who feels genuine remorse for their actions. But how can you forgive someone who could care less if you were crushed by a steam roller tomorrow? Someone to whom your forgiveness would mean nothing in the first place, and who was probably telling herself that she never really loved you anyway, when even you know that’s a lie?

Forever when she thought of me she would confabulate a doppleganger, a beast with all my worst traits, all my mistakes and regrets in our dealings, which I would not recognize but to which would nonetheless be ascribed my name. This doppleganger would be fused, for good measure, to the memory of her abusive adoptive father, whose name I did happen to share. Never did she refer to me by it until she taught herself to hate me.

“That is her problem,” said the Angel, “Not yours. She has revealed nothing about you, but much about her own darkness. Remember what your Lord said when he hung naked from an olive tree on the outskirts of Jerusalem, spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, his scalp pierced by a cap of barbs, and his back reduced to a canvass of bleeding flesh ribbons?”

I waited for the Angel to finish.

“He said, ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’ The same is true of her.”

I was certain she did know what she’d done, and she didn’t care, which was worse. Her rigid, compulsive, reactive response gave her a sense of power, too. So what if that would normally cut her off from life? Or did it even do that? She had much to look forward to without me. Despite her frailty, she was ambitious, independent, and self-reliant. She’d just been admitted into a Masters program. She had her two friends Candy and Crystal, and though she was easily more intelligent than the two of them combined, she became about as cruel, shallow, and materialistic as they were sometime around her medication switch. Forgive her because she knew not what she’d done? The authority of that statement hinged on an event about which it was now intellectually fashionable to doubt if anything of importance or authenticity was known at all.

“Importance? Authenticity?” scoffed the Angel. His wings stretched slightly. His was voice was like a whip to me, “If it indeed happened, then there is no issue of greater importance, and no truth more authentic. Trust me, David, I would have slain every lorica segmentata-clad thug were I given the word, and with the same sword which dealt the murder-stroke that cost that blasted Malebolgian his tongue. That fiend never knew how you were going to act, but he knew what disturbed you. I can feel that you have not yet severed all vestiges of his lies. Let me be here with you, therefore, not to bring peace to your troubled mind, but a sword. Let me sever this confusion now!”

He tapped his sword into the floor for emphasis. Then he folded his arms while resting them across the hilt guard.

“You have the privilege to be purified through suffering, and healed through Grace. Not only did your God suffer worse than you, he found the means to turn the greatest possible evil—the act of deicide—into the greatest possible good—the salvation of mankind. You profess to believe this, yet you cannot believe that he can bring forth lesser good from lesser evil? For your life no less?”

The Angel backed away slightly. I couldn’t tell if the lamp was lighting the room any more, or if he was. I couldn’t see the ghost of Serissa anywhere, either. But I lowered my gaze in sobering acceptance. His work done for the day, the Angel backed toward the door.

“And just so you know,” the Angel said, casually, turning slightly as he walked away, “Humility is honesty. Self-pity is sin. I know it’s one of your favorite movies, but try to forget what Scorcese and Kanzantzakis said on the subject and re-read the New Testament. You will not find a single moment in which Jesus feels sorry for himself.”

He stepped through the threshold of the door, and vanished without a trace, his enveloping light shrinking into a tiny pinpoint, then winking out. I was left with a blank, open file to stare at, and a clock that continued ticking away. But I was saddened, exhausted, overwhelmed, and it was getting late. Maybe I would write tomorrow instead?

?

David Mitchell was born on Holy Saturday in 1982 in Sagniaw, Michigan. He lived in Pittshburgh between the ages of 5 and 9, Georgia for one year, and then in Massachusetts. After deciding against paleontology in high school, he juggled visual art with writing for the first few years of college, then settled on a major in English. He now lives in San Francisco. David welcomes your comments on “The Angel” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.


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