The Angel's Touch
by Dennis Danvers
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
-- Luke 12:6-7
The elevator stops on three as I'm going up, and an angel gets on. He has a
terrible time finding room for his wings and arranging them to his satisfaction,
standing right up by the buttons to make room for them, and they still bump
against the ceiling. He smells sweet and funky like singed feathers baked in
honey, and he glows like the elevator buttons. I huddle in the other front corner
and try to act casual. He follows me off at six and down the hall, all the way to my
"Brian Stark," he says. "I'd like a word with you."
"You have the wrong guy," I say, sliding the key in the lock, turning it, and
leaning on the door. But the door won't budge, not one little bit, like a brick wall.
"No, I don't," he says. "Don't lie to an angel. It angers us." He brushes my cheek
with the feather tip of his glowing wing, and I scream, or try to. The scream won't
budge either, lodged in my throat like a cork in a bottle, and I strangle on my pain.
I brushed up against a Portuguese man-o-war once in the Gulf. That was a lover's
kiss compared to the angel's touch. "I've come to ask you a few questions about
Melanie Waters. Are you going to let me in or not?" He smirks, sniffs. "You
have free will, after all. Yes, or no?"
"Yes," I gasp. My door flies open, and I fall into my apartment screaming.
He steps over me and slams the door behind him. He frowns at the ceiling fan
whirling lazily near one wing and it stops dead, the paddles falling like a blossom
wilting. He stands with his back to the sofa against the long wall and spreads out
his wings, knocking over a table lamp with a crash and then crushing the glass on
my Monet print. He rests his wings on the back of the sofa and seems to relax a
little. I stand before him and tremble.
"Do you love Melanie?" he asks.
"Love her? We broke up a couple of years ago. She dumped me. We were only
together maybe three years." I start to suggest maybe, just maybe, he does have
the wrong guy, but think better of it. My cheek is still on fire.
"Is that a no?" the angel asks.
"I'm not sure. Could you tell me why you're asking?"
"She's about to die, so she's being judged. Weighed in the balance." He holds up
imaginary scales suspended from one of his perfect hands, eyes them like a cat
eyeing a canary cage, a smile like a crescent moon. "Is she . . . religious?"
All I can think of are a few yoga classes, making fun of TV preachers. "Not --
"Exactly not, I should say. No faith." He eyes the imaginary scales once again.
"That leaves good works and the high regard of others to weigh in the balance.
And mercy, of course." He smirks and sniffs again. "Her good works are, as you
are aware, nothing exceptional. She was asked if there might be a single soul in
the vast universe who still loved her, and she came up with you. I told her I
doubted it, but she was quite sure that you were her best bet. Her only chance, you
I had told her I would love her forever, no matter what; that should she ever
change her mind, all she had to do was call and I'd come running. Guys say crap
like that. Who knows if we mean it? She never called, of course. But now there's
this . . . this angel in my living room. The smell is starting to make me nauseous.
There's something like spoiled chicken underneath the sweetness. I need a drink
"You want something to drink?" I ask.
"I don't partake of material substance."
"Is that a no?"
"Don't get cute with an angel," he says, his wings coming off the sofa.
I back up against the wall with a thud. "I wasn't. Honest." A wing hovers
ominously, then withdraws. I desperately change the subject. "I guess Melanie's
in a lot of trouble, huh?"
He smiles. "No more than anyone else. You're all being judged all the time.
That's how we achieve" -- he almost touches the tip of my terrified nose with a
wingtip, but stops just short -- "justice." He draws out the final syllable in a hiss,
like something sizzling. "We weigh everything, then act judiciously." His
feathers rustle like a dry wind through a dead cornfield. His eyes glow and never
His head is beautiful like a snake's, with smooth, graceful lines -- hairless,
featherless. The feathers start at the base of the neck as a down. Skin and feather
are the same marble white. He could've stepped down from a tombstone. He
wears no clothes and has no discernible genitalia. No discernible humanity. He's
the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life. I'm afraid I'm going to piss myself.
No matter what our problems in the past, I can't leave Melanie's fate to this nut. I
clear my throat, try to stand up straight, to keep my voice steady. "I loved her,
sure. Still love her, I mean. I've always wished it had worked out. I really
thought she was the one." It's true. Not every single second, but there were times
when she wasn't smoking or sneaking or promising to quit -- times when her
passion almost met mine, like we were meant to be together. Those were the best
times of my life.
"She slept with other men," the angel says.
He doesn't have to remind me, but I've come to terms with that. "Man, one time,
and they were really drunk, and I was being a total jerk at the time, and --"
He shakes his head. "Men. And the time you know about -- that you've forgiven
-- she was sober, and your bad behavior never entered her mind."
Even if he wasn't an angel, I'd know he was telling the truth. Part of me always
suspected. I believed her only because I had wanted to. "That lying bitch!" I say.
It just comes out. Guys say crap like that sometimes.
The angel gathers in his wings and starts for the door. "Thanks for your time.
We'll be in touch."
"Hey! Wait! Come back! You can't just leave!"
He whirls around and stretches out an imposing wing aimed at my other cheek. I
fall to my knees. "Please?" I whimper. He likes that.
"That's better. Show a little respect. You want details? Very well. As you have
always suspected, you love Melanie more than she loves you. This is because she
has always loved Warren, with whom she's had an ongoing affair, hoping he
would someday leave his wife Ursula. But of course he never did. The encounter
you know of with Clifford was just a pathetic attempt to make Warren jealous.
We see a lot of that sort of mess. It almost sorts itself out."
He points a fiery feather at my groin, makes a little curlicue in the air like a kid
playing with a sparkler. "Warren's prostate problems prompted his abrupt exit
from the material plane some months ago."
"You -- you killed him?"
He looks at me like I'm a complete idiot. He fills me completely with the
knowledge of my idiocy. "We kill every living thing. Even the little sparrows. If
you had paid attention in Sunday school instead of drawing pictures of spaceships,
you'd know that. No faith. That's your problem, too. What do you people need
with spaceships after the mess you've made of this planet? Not to mention your
so-called personal lives."
I'm not prepared to defend the human race, or myself either. I'm terribly curious,
however. I think I want the whole story, or maybe I don't, but it's like a car wreck,
and I can't look away. "What kind of guy was this Warren character? Did I ever
"You picked Melanie up at the airport after a conference in Cleveland. She
introduced him as a colleague who also attended. They actually spent the week in
Cancún. He was a selfish pig, quite successful."
"And Melanie loved him?"
"But he loved his wife?"
"Not particularly. He preferred having both wife and mistress."
"So what's going to happen to Melanie?"
"The 'lying bitch'?"
"You caught me by surprise. Sure I'm . . . upset. That doesn't mean I don't care
what happens to her."
"How touching. She's attending to matters herself, now that she's finished" --
smirk, sniff -- "praying. She fell to her knees, asked if anyone in the world could
possibly still love her. I was dispatched to find out -- to answer her prayer. It's
one of my duties. I believe you answered the question quite succinctly."
"You can't tell her that."
"Too late. I already have. She asked herself and God -- I don't know why she
had to drag Him into it -- 'Dear God, would Brian still love me if he knew the
truth?' and she actually heard, though she thought she only imagined, your very
words, in your own voice. Amen, as we say."
"What's she going to do?"
"She's weighing the efficacy of pills or gas. She's reading drug labels at the
moment, but the print is too fine, and her tears make reading difficult. She'll end
up going with gas."
"You have to stop her!"
He draws himself up like a cobra about to strike. "I what?"
"I mean, would you please stop her?"
"I'm not that sort of angel, thank God. You need an angel of mercy. You could
--" smirk, sniff -- "pray for one. Or, since you love her so, you can do it. Go
ahead, Loverboy. Save her." He bursts out laughing, a hawk-like screech, and
leaves, slamming the door behind him.
I run out in the hall, but there's no sign of him except for his funky smell. What
the hell kind of angel is he? But I don't have time to think about that. I run back
in and call Melanie. I get her machine. She's screening, of course; she always
screens. I imagine her, head in the oven, listening. "Melanie, this is Brian. I want
you to know I love you. I have always loved you. And I always will love you.
No matter what. Got that? I'm coming over."
It usually takes twenty minutes to get to her place, but I make it in fifteen, even
though my elevator gets stuck on three, and I have to run down the stairs, and I
miss every light, and her buzzer is busted, so I push every other button and beg,
plead and cajole someone into letting me in -- careful not to pray or even mention
His name. The elevator in her building is out of service altogether. I sprint up the
stairs and bang on her door, breathless, gasping. "Melanie! Let me in!" I shout.
I'm about to knock the door down, standing on the other side of the hall, set to
charge, wishing I had shoulder pads, when she opens the door, her phone still in
"I got your message," she says. She looks awful, like she's been crying for days,
her hair a rat's nest. She's wearing a big t-shirt from Maine with lobsters all over
it. I bought it on a camping trip, one of our golden times, when she wasn't
thinking about Warren, I guess. "I was going to kill myself, and then I got your
message. I love you too, Brian. I really do. Come in."
She reaches across the threshold and grabs my hands. I step inside and take her in
my arms, holding her close, never wanting to let her go. My eyes sting with tears
of joy and from the gas. She's thrown all the windows open -- that's what took
her so long to get to the door -- but the smell of gas is still pretty strong. The
place is a total wreck.
"I'm so glad you're here," she says, clinging to me with a passion I never felt from
her when we were together. "I told myself, if he comes, he really, really loves me.
Oh God, I'm so glad you're here."
"Me too," I say, holding her close and kissing her. She returns my passion and
tenderness, as if, like Plato said, we're two halves of a single being, reunited,
made whole. It's a dream come true. My tears of joy reach my wounded cheek,
and I wince in pain.
"What did you do to your cheek?" Melanie asks, touching it lovingly, her face full
of concern. But I'm grateful for the pain that has brought me her love. It's true. I
have always loved her.
"It's a long story," I say, not wanting to go into the whole angel business and spoil
the moment. If I tell her about the angel, then we'll have to talk about Warren and
all of that, stir up feelings that don't matter anymore. Warren is dead, and I am
alive, and Melanie is in my arms. Maybe I won't tell her about the angel at all.
The Lord moves in mysterious ways, right? There's no reason she has to know.
"It looks awful," she says, still peering at my cheek, squinting at it. "You should
have it looked at."
"I will. I will. I can't believe --" I can't stop kissing her. It's all true. I'm
absolutely crazy about her. I will never stop loving her. I don't care about the
past, only this moment together, and all the moments to come. I tell her this and
more, in a rush of relentless adoration. I've always held back before, not wanting
to face the fact she didn't love me as I loved her, but now those days are over.
Maybe it's too much, all at once, such an outpouring of love and devotion, that
makes her feel like she has to confess when she never had before. Maybe she, too,
has always been holding back.
She looks into my eyes. "I love you too, Brian. That's why I have to tell you
something. There's something you must know."
I feel dizzy. I'm not sure whether it's the gas or a sudden instinctive panic. "It
can wait," I reassure her.
"No, no, I need to tell you now. I owe you the truth. I can't let you love me
without you knowing who I am, how I deceived you. It wouldn't be fair."
"I know the truth. I know who you are. Life isn't fair. It doesn't matter. Honest.
"You're just saying that. You don't know. There's something I've never told
She breaks from my arms and paces back and forth, weaving a little. I'm starting
to get a headache from the gas. Even though we're standing by her open door, it's
still pretty strong. There's no circulation in her place, and I'm breathing heavily
after all the stairs I just climbed, not to mention our passion. I start to turn on her
ceiling fan, and reach for the switch, but notice the blades lying on the floor in a
heap. Melanie has stopped her pacing and is digging around in the pockets of a
coat hanging on a peg by the kitchen. "I'm going to need a cigarette for this," she
says. I groan inside to hear she's started smoking again, but I try to hide my
disappointment, bracing myself for her confession, trying to decide if I should tell
her about the angel or not, when I realize what's about to happen.
"Stop!" I scream.
The cigarette is in her mouth, the lighter in both hands. She tucks in her chin in a
gesture I remember from the old days when I dared to come between her and
lighting up. Maybe I should just let her do it, I think for a split second -- blow us
both to kingdom come. "The gas," I say, and her eyes open wide with
"Damn!" she says, throwing cigarette and lighter to the floor. She's wobbly and
"Let's get out of here," I say. I put my arm around her waist, snare her coat from
its peg and hustle her out the door.
I take Melanie to my place, get her cleaned up, get some food in her, put her to
bed. I clean up the mess the angel left. It turns out that the screws holding the fan
paddles in place unscrewed themselves. It takes me an hour, but I find every last
one. I'm standing on a stepladder tightening the last screw when she comes out of
the bedroom in my bathrobe. She looks beautiful.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
"Putting the blades back on."
"Mine fell off too. Ker-plunk. What makes them do that?"
"You didn't see what caused it?"
"It just happened. I had my eyes closed."
"I don't know if you'd call it praying. I was out of my mind with grief. Would
you get down from there? You're making me nervous."
I step down from the ladder, take her in my arms. "Is this better?"
"Much. Oh Brian, you've been so good to me. There's still something I have to
I've had a little time to think about this, and I've decided there's no hiding from
the truth. "No there isn't. I already know. You were upset because Warren died
of prostate cancer and never left Ursula after all those years. You only slept with
Clifford in a pathetic attempt to make Warren jealous. But when you tried to think
of one person in the universe who might still love you, you thought of me. I know
She pushes herself away from me, gathers the robe tightly around her. "Brian, you
mean you knew about Warren all along?"
"No. I just found out a few hours ago."
"How? Did you have someone following me?"
"Of course not. An angel told me."
"That's not funny. Tell me how you know."
"I told you. If you'd had your eyes open you would've seen him too. He was at
your place. That's why the fan blades were on the floor. He doesn't like them
because of his wings or something. He just backed out all the screws -- zip! I'm
surprised you didn't smell him. You can still smell it in here actually. I think it's
gotten into the sofa cushions. We'll have to change them."
She's staring at me, wide-eyed, speechless, faithless like the angel said. She'll
never believe I saw an angel, not ever. I have about two seconds to convince her
I'm not totally insane.
"Clifford told me," I blurt out. "I promised him I wouldn't let on to you. I went
round to his place, all jealous, and he told me about Warren."
"That was ages ago, and yet you stayed with me," she says. "And, oh no, when
you met him at the airport that time . . ."
"When you went to Cancún."
"You knew about that too? How did you ever manage? I don't understand. You
never said a word."
I can see this isn't entirely a good thing in her eyes, pointing to a pathological
spinelessness, but what's the alternative -- spouting nonsense about an angel
showing up at my apartment in answer to her prayers? "I -- I had faith in us," I
say. "I always believed things would eventually work out."
She embraces me, seemingly accepting this sophism. She points at the wall.
"What happened to the Monet?"
"I'm tired of the impressionists, aren't you?"
Luckily she is, and we go shopping together for a new print.
While we're out, a terrible storm blows in. Acting on an hours-old complaint
about a gas smell, Melanie's landlord goes around to her place, finds all the
windows open with the rain pouring in, the carpet ruined with burns and melted
wax from some depressive late-night ritual of self-loathing, the brand-new ceiling
fan on the floor in pieces, and a smell like bad chicken and cigarette smoke.
Long story short, Melanie is evicted and moves in with her true love, me.
And it's wonderful, except for one thing.
She can't get over that I supposedly knew about Warren all along, so
conversations like this become the staple of my day:
"So when I signed up for that dance class on Wednesday nights and bought the
shoes and leotard and everything, but never practiced even once, you must have
known I was meeting Warren. There was one time he stood me up, some stupid
thing with Ursula he couldn't get out of, and I just sat in the car and cried. You
were so sweet when I got home. You could tell I'd been crying. I told you I fell
doing a difficult move, and you iced my ankle. You must've known, and yet . . ."
Yeah. Saint Masochistic Brian-the-All-Knowing must've known and now gets to
hear it all. It seems her life has been one long furtive attempt to screw Warren.
There are no details she sees fit to spare me. Blow jobs in elevators, previous
suicide attempts, daydreams about murdering Ursula, shrinks she's gone through
attempting to deal with her obsession. "I spent weeks talking to Daphne about
whether I should tell you or not, and it turns out the whole time you already
One evening -- after a vivid account of her meeting Warren in a Target parking
lot for a quickie and her subsequent remorse she couldn't go shopping with him --
she's so upset she has to take to bed.
I bang my head on the kitchen cabinet. "God, I can't take this anymore!"
"And how's that mercy plan working out for you, Loverboy?"
Apparently anything passes for prayer these days. I smell him before I actually
turn and see him. The scar on my cheek, not quite healed after months, begins to
throb. I once saw a marble cemetery angel that had been worked over with a
sledge hammer. I wondered why anyone would do such a thing. I'm beginning to
develop a theory. But all I have is a wooden spoon, and he still scares the crap out
of me. "It's doing okay."
"So you were taking the Lord's name in vain, were you? You didn't really mean
what you just addressed to Him?"
There's something a little different about the angel today. A little less smirk
maybe. My kitchen's small. Last time he was here he would've pulverized the
spice rack, but now he's got his wings tucked in like a pigeon's. "I only meant
that her obsession with her dead lover can't be good for her healing, and I only
want what's best for her."
"Oh my. You're almost getting good at this."
"Good at what?"
"The Lord's work, of course." Smirk, sniff. "Mister Mercy, I call you." He
I think it was a sledge hammer. It might've been a chain saw. A jack hammer.
"Thank you," I say.
"Nasty work, mercy. You couldn't pay me." He screeches with laughter. Angel
humor, I suppose. "But I didn't come to exchange pleasantries. You're in the
brotherhood now, so to speak. I must keep you informed. Justice, as you know,
thrives on truth."
"And what truth would that be?"
"She's screwing Clifford again."
He gives me a brotherly, you're-a-total-idiot look, and my wound begins to ooze.
"She confronted him about telling you about Warren, which he denied at first, but,
opportunist that he is, eventually confessed to it when he realized she saw it as a
strange bond between them, an erotic one as it turns out. Surprise, surprise. Oh
yes, she sneaks cigarettes in the basement. Her pack is on the circuit box."
He watches my reaction with the greatest interest, like a cat watching a songbird. I
try to emulate his marble serenity and choose my song carefully. I know this
creep. This is definitely a trap. "Clifford. Tsk. Tsk. She must be terribly
His eyes narrow. "You're concerned about her?"
"Of course. I suspect she's consumed with self-loathing."
His feathers ruffle. "As well she should be. You should return her fate to me.
Much easier on everyone, wouldn't you say?"
I smile. I couldn't possibly contradict a member of the brotherhood. I just smile
what I hope is a merciful smile. I'm glad there are no mirrors in my kitchen, or I'd
gag on my own sweetness.
He's aghast. "But she's hopeless. Completely faithless. A wanton Jezebel."
"Confused, heart-broken, a victim of a patriarchal society that teaches her to loathe
her own sexuality." As pissed as I am at Melanie, I'm not going to let this harpy
have her. He can't wait to wrap her up in those fiery wings of his and teach her a
lesson she'll never forget. "I'll talk to her."
"You'll talk to her?"
"Yeah. That's what I said. You got a problem with that?" I don't know where
this comes from, but it's all I can do to keep standing after the words leave my
mouth. I fully expect him to incinerate me in a heartbeat.
But he doesn't. He steps back. He opens up the window and flies away as if he'd
been a pigeon on the windowsill.
Over dinner I come right to the point. I tell her an angel has informed me of her
latest indiscretion with Clifford, and I have just one question to ask her.
"An angel?" she says. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Have you been screwing Clifford?"
"Well, yes. It was stupid. But an angel, Brian, really -- "
"I haven't asked my question yet."
"I thought you just did."
"I don't have to ask about Clifford. I already know about that. Like I know about
the pack of cigarettes on the circuit box. My question is, have you ever been
faithful -- to anyone?"
She hesitates. "That depends upon what you mean -- "
"It's a fairly straightforward question."
She stops to think, boyfriend by boyfriend. "Well, since you put it that way, I
don't suppose I have, actually."
"So it's not anything personal then? In fact, I would be foolish to expect anything
else. You cheated on all your boyfriends with Warren, and with Warren on
everyone else. Why should things change now that Warren has exited the material
She gives me a baffled look. "I guess you could look at it that way."
"I prefer to, yes."
"And you're cool with that?"
I shrug. "I'd rather not hear about it."
"I thought this angel tells you everything I do." I note the slightest dip in her
skepticism. How else could I possibly know?
"He'll only tell me if I care."
"You didn't care about Warren, apparently."
"I didn't know until the angel told me. I only dragged Clifford into it because I
knew you wouldn't believe an angel and I didn't want to lose you. But it doesn't
matter if you believe. Look. Warren was an ass. He's dead. He has nothing to do
with us anymore. But how about I trust you? I mean, Clifford? C'mon."
She smiles. "You know what I think? I think you're the angel."
"Maybe I am." Smirk, sniff, kiss.
This marks a dramatic turning point in our relationship that I can't fully explain.
The Lord moves in mysterious ways. We've remained completely devoted to one
another for many wonderful years now. Melanie's even quit smoking.
There's no way to be sure of course, short of consulting with the angels. But why
in Hell would I want to do that?