This story by JD Edwin is the sixth place winner of the 5th Anniversary Writing Contest. JD is a working mom of two who tries to sneak in little dabs of creativity in between office hours and changing diapers. You can read her novel, Sasha’s Gamble, and see her artwork.
The angel on his shoulder died on a cloudy Tuesday morning. He found her unmoving on the pillow next to him when he woke for work and discovered his left shoulder much too light.
He took the day off to purchase a simple pine box from a specialty shop that sold this sort of thing and lined it with lavender silk and white lilac flowers. He arranged her hands over her chest, fingers laced as if in prayer. Her canary-yellow wings he gently pulled open and spread upward, as if she was about to take off in flight. Such tasks were not required of him, but he felt that after all their years together – business relationship as it may be – calling a service to simply cart her away would be much too impersonal.
The next day he attempted to resume as life as usual, though it felt as if something was missing. The coffee he made tasted extra bitter, his shirt didn’t match his pants, and when his first patient of the morning threw up bananas and granola on his shoes, John decided to cut the day short. He went home at noon, milled about without aim around his house, pausing occasionally to glance at the framed photos on the fireplace mantle. Lilah was beautiful on their wedding day, and she was beautiful every day after. Losing her had taken a piece of him in more ways than one, but somehow the last fifteen years had been a little easier with a companion on his shoulder. By the time evening rolled around he had decided that denying his need for an angel was pointless and unproductive. He sat at his laptop over dinner and registered with the most advertised agency of the day. WingTips, it was called. Their tagline touted Let our wings lift the burden off your shoulders. He began with their basic inquiry form.
Name: John Elliot Combs
Occupation: Doctor of Pediatrics
Desired Angel Type:
Here he paused and browsed the choices available. Somehow none of them – therapeutic, general advisory, life coach, grief counseling, advanced psychiatry, handicap assistance, on and on and on – sounded quite fitting. He picked at his left arm, a nervous habit that he never could quite lose. After a long thought, he made his selection.
Desired Angel Type: Other
The first applicant of the morning was a tiny little thing, barely as tall as his coffee mug. Her flowing dress reminded him of the fat little witches in Sleeping Beauty. She flitted about his kitchen on hummingbird wings until she collided with a pile of notebooks and tumbled headfirst onto the counters. Her dress flew up and over and he got an overly generous view of her puffy bloomers.
“Oh dear,” she said, getting to her feet and adjusting her enormous wide-brimmed hat. “I fear I’ve made a mess of myself.” She flitted over to the kitchen table where he sat and landed in front of him. “My, you’re frightfully thin. Have you eaten?”
“Um,” John said. “I…”
“You can’t go about your day not getting a proper meal,” she said, shaking her finger as if scolding him. She pointed to the pile of dishes in his sink and they promptly began to clean themselves. “I’ll just get this tied up here and” – a point at the pile of clothes on his couch, they marched themselves to the laundry basket – “fix you a nice meal” – another point, a pile of old papers winged their way into the trash – “and then we can talk.”
He paused to consider the appeal of a clean house.
“And this,” she said, hovering to eye level with the mantle, “much too cluttered. Let’s get all this old stuff off of here, no point dwelling on the past eh?”
He asked her to leave with words not quite kind.
The second applicant was tall – at least fifteen inches. He sported a pressed black suit over his slim, tight figure reminiscent of classic Wall Street.
“My name is Arcadia,” he said. His wings were long and tapered like a swallow’s, black and shiny as if he had recently slicked them with oil. He came with a briefcase and a laptop and he gave a PowerPoint presentation filled with photographs of important people, projected on the kitchen wall from his tiny Dell laptop.
“I have advised kings and senators, prophets and wise men. I studied under the masters, whose knowledge date back to biblical times. I can put you on the path to greatness and glory with a mere whisper from your shoulder. I only work with the best.”
John drummed his fingers and considered his own life as a common aging physician whose idea of excitement was two brandies with dinner instead of one. “Then why me?”
“Because I see potential.” A shake of his tousled dark hair and flash of pearly-white teeth. “You, sir, have the potential for greatness.”
“Was that your last client I saw in the news?”
Arcadia pursed his lips and didn’t say much after that.
The third applicant was a ball of fur with wings like a baby bat and a snout sticking out from underneath layers of white hairs. It squeaked and grunted and while John had to admit it very cute, he had trouble understanding it.
The fourth applicant was a no-show.
The fifth applicant interviewed with a partner – a little shoulder devil who looked like an underage streetwalker. “Two perspectives for the price of one”, they quipped.
Applicant six was the size of a fruit fly and buzzed very loudly. John accidentally swatted him flat with a medical journal, which he felt very bad about. It was, however, one of the understood hazards of the job.
By the end of the day he was feeling quite defeated, and with each applicant there resurfaced the need for another scotch on the rocks and the urge to pick at that particular spot on his left arm. Just as he staggered across the room to close the window for the night, John heard the soft fluttering of wings. At first he thought it was a wounded bird fluttering about in his yard, but as he leaned out to look, he was greeted by a facefull of feathers and wrinkled linen, nearly knocking him over in his half-inebriated state.
“Sorry!” exclaimed the thing that ran into his face as he stumbled back. “I’m here for my interview. I know I’m late. I’m very sorry.”
Plucking feathers out of his hair, John looked down. She was about ten inches tall, with a round face and brown wings like a sparrow’s. Her hair, honey-brown and wavy, would be quite pretty if it wasn’t tangled in large knots on one side of her head. Her cream-colored suit appeared to have spent the night at a great party and only dragged itself home, staggering and hung over, in time for her to show up to her interview.
John returned to the kitchen table and flipped through his files. She was applicant four, and she was indeed quite late.
“What?” she asked, patting at her skirt and hair self-consciously. “Did I miss something? Is something torn?”
He was swaying on his feet zoning out and staring in her general direction, he suddenly realized. Maybe that last drink was too much. The question was out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
“How do you fly with half a wing?”
She stared back at him, then glanced back over her right shoulder. The right wing ended at least two inches before the left, leaving an awkward joint with a spot bald of feathers.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, rubbing his face to clear his head. “I didn’t mean…”
“How do you doctor with one arm?”
His hand paused mid-rub. He slowly dropped it and looked down at his left shoulder, shortly below where his left arm ended. Several inches below that was the phantom spot he’d been trying to pick at in futility all day.
They looked at each other for a long, silent moment.
“My name is Penny.”
“I can do a 30-day trial.”
“Great.” She ran a hand through her messy hair. “Mind if I freshen up before we talk details?”
He pointed her to the washroom. A few moments later he heard the faucet run and Penny singing a song he’s heard on the radio just the week before.
“These bruises make for better conversation, loses the line that separates…”