New Year’s Angel

E.E. King

 

 

The first time Able saw Ana, he thought she was an angel. Maybe because the light outlined her in gold and lit a halo around her hair. Or possibly because her smile was so radiant she seemed more than human. But probably, it was due to the large, white wings strapped to her back.

It was a New Year’s masquerade, so the gods and goddesses, devils and mermaids were clearly costumed humans. But Ana’s wings fluttered so realistically Able thought she had fallen from the skies.

Able was dressed as a troubadour in black, silver-studded pants, a slouching hat drooping over one eye, a thin, curling mustache, a mandolin slung over one shoulder, a black bolo with a gleaming silver clasp, and a black and silver mask.

It might’ve been the mask that gave him courage, because without even stopping to straighten his bolo, he walked right up to the angel and asked her to dance.

It was awkward, waltzing with a hat over one eye and a mandolin over his back. It was difficult to avoid bumping her wings against other dancers. But despite the challenges, Able could have sworn their feet didn’t touch the ground. And later, as the clock struck twelve, when he asked for a New Year’s kiss, she gave it to him without hesitation. Her lips were as soft and fragrant as rose petals. She tasted of orange blossoms and a happy future. Able was so filled with joy he could have died, but now there was too much to live for.

They were married in February, when the Monarchs butterflies wake from their winter sleep and mate in mid-air. Almost immediately the males die, and the females follow, after laying their eggs.

As with the Monarchs, so it was with Able and Ana, order just slightly reversed. She grew heavy with child, and Able, who’d thought she couldn’t become any more beautiful, discovered he’d been mistaken. She was so radiant he nearly had to put on sunglasses to look at her. She was so filled with joy, no one in a twenty-mile radius felt sorrow. And on New Year’s Eve, she gave birth to a baby girl.

While Ana was in labor, Able shared in the pain of every contraction. When at last after a very long labor the child was brought into the world, Able and Ana were both drained empty.

Ana had the will to live but not the strength. With her last warm breath, she named the baby Emma. Able died too, just not physically.

He took what care he could of the baby, but talking to her with a voice raw from crying, looking at her with eyes red from sleeplessness, wavering from lack of feeding himself, with no life in him there was none to give her, and Emma might have wasted away like her mother, if not for a minor miracle, or perhaps just an odd coincidence that began not very far away…

A young dove had just laid her first egg in her newly made nest of jumbled twigs perched on a rooftop ledge. The nest was the dove’s first ever, and the egg tumbled out, breaking on the ground below like a dream in morning light.

She felt a cracking beneath her feathers, which she feared was the breaking of her heart. She’d stopped eating days before she laid her egg, so her crop could store milk for her hatchling. Now she was weak and there was no one to feed. She spread her wings in despair and stepped out into the air, but a warm current circled her and carried her up.

She let herself be taken, mind empty of all but sadness. After a long while, over the air currents came a faint sound, like wind twanging telephone wires, or the swish of laundry in the breeze, or a heart crying like a small, lost bird. The dove now had a purpose, and she rode the air stream until it brought her gliding through an open window into Emma’s room.

She saw that this hatchling, wingless, beakless, crying, would never fly. Yet she nestled beside Emma in her crib, offered her nutritious dove’s milk, and cooed gently. Young Emma thrived.

Meanwhile, Able couldn’t stop praying for death to take him. But death would not. He was destined to live. Finally, one day, in his semi-delirious state, half starved, sick with loss, he heard the flutter of wings and thought his New Year’s angel had returned. He staggered into Emma’s room, and the beating of white wings at the head of the crib filled him with wonder.

But it wasn’t Anna. What was this? A bird? Perched on Emma’s chest?! He chased the interloper out and slammed the window.

Turning to Emma, seeing her healthy and smiling, his heart broke again, and in the breaking, opened so wide that love for his child flooded in. He was filled with remorse for starving her of love. He thanked whatever Gods there were, but not the Gods who had let Ana die, that his heart had been opened. He began to lavish on Emma all the love his shattered heart could give.

The dove refused to leave. It fluttered outside the glass, feathers falling from its wings like snow in summer. Each day she visited, beating against the pane while Emma cooed and reached out for her until he relented and opened the window.

Emma grew healthy and strong. Able had to accept the strange white dove who stayed by his daughter’s side, and fluttered above her as she tottered about the yard, flapping her arms like wings.

“Mama,” she cried reaching toward the dove. “Mama.” Those were her first words.

“No,” Abel said, his voice choking, “Mama is not here. That’s just a dove.”

“Mama,” Emma insisted. “Mama.”

He worried the bird might carry some disease. Wasn’t there an avian flu? Or maybe it had some other malady that made it so tame. Could birds carry rabies? Didn’t that make animals fearless? Sometimes he tried to chase it away, but the dove never let him get close. She would spread her wings and become a flash of white in the sky.

“Mama,” Emma cried as the bird departed, reaching her arms up to the heavens in a way that made Abel’s heart ache.

He worked hard, raising Emma, with love and care, teaching her all he knew. Each year they built an altar for Ana in the backyard, framed by white wings that fragrant flowers trellised up. Butterflies gathered, dusting it with fragrant pollen. And always the dove perched above it.

Though Able was still young and handsome, and women wooed him with sweets and smiles, he felt no response to any of them. How could he, after wedding an angel?

Emma grew up strong and fearless. At seventeen she left for college where she studied ornithology.

Still, the dove visited each day and Able fed it. He had grown to love its white feathers, which reminded him of Ana. Now that overwhelming shock had receded, he could look back at the good times.

Emma became an ornithologist, not one who killed and stuffed birds. She only studied, photographed, and released them. Except for ones she found injured. These she nursed in her aviary. She married a young lepidopterist, not one who pinned his catches to boards. He only studied, photographed, and released them. Except for the ones he found injured. These he nursed in his lepidopterarium.

 

On New Year’s Eve, Able dressed as a troubadour and sat by Ana’s grave.

“Our little girl is grown and flown,” he said. “Married a fine young man. I know they’ll be happy. You’d be proud, I think…But maybe you’ve been there all along to see her grow. Now…”

He sat silent, as feather-soft snowflakes began to fall, nesting in his hair and blanketing Ana’s grave.

He heard a flutter and looked up. Someone was there. The dove? No, in the light of moonbeams flickering through bare willow branches, Able saw his New Year’s angel.

He opened his arms. She wrapped him in her wings, soft as rose petals, scented of orange blossoms and dreams. All night long they danced.

Waltzing amidst the willows, hat over one eye and mandolin over his back, her wings brushing the tombstones, their feet never touched the ground. And later, as a distant church clock struck twelve, he asked for a New Year’s kiss, and she gave it to him without hesitation. Her lips were as soft and fragrant as rose petals. She tasted of orange blossoms and a happy future.

In the morning, on the snow, lay a troubadour’s mandolin and masquerade angel wings, dusted with feathers soft and bright as those of a real angel. And no footprints anywhere.

 

“New Year’s Angel”, © E.E. King, first published here in Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, December 31, 2023
E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist – She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals.
Ray Bradbury called her stories, “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought-provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.”
King has won awards  for art, writing, and environmental research. She’s been published widely. Her books include Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, Electric Detective, and Blood Prism.
She was the founding Director of the Esperanza Community Housing’s Art & Science Program, worked as an artist-in-residence in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sarajevo and the J. Paul Getty Museum’s and Science Center’s Arts & Science Development Program.
She’s worked with children in Bosnia, frogs in Puerto Rico, raised egrets in Bali, butterflies in South Central Los Angeles, lectured on island
evolution and marine biology on cruise ships in the South Pacific and the Caribbean, painted murals in Los Angeles and Spain. Her landmark mural, A Meeting of the Minds (121’ x 33’) can be seen on Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles.  Check out paintings, writing, musings and books at www.elizabetheveking.com https://twitter.com/ElizabethEvKing

 

Illustration by Fran Eisemann, using public domain stock.

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