“Happy New Year!” Dad entered my room with a half-filled champagne glass in his hand, finding me sitting on my amp in pajamas, lifelessly plucking the strings of my guitar. He held out the glass toward me. I looked at the sparkling liquid and gagged.
“Thanks, Dad, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Really? You don’t want champagne?” he asked, withdrawing his hand in disbelief.
I shook my head again. “Positive.”
“I see you are more exemplary than I thought,” he said, and guzzled the drink in one gulp. “You should get dressed. I think we’re leaving soon to have lunch at your grandparents’ place,” he added and left my room.
I was still shuddering at the thought of alcohol. Exemplary? If Dad only knew. . . .
Last night after Crass made his move, I awoke lying under a blanket and over a stack of pillows and in a corner of the garage with a throbbing headache, trying to remember what had happened. The party was in full swing with more people still arriving. Sasha noticed me and sauntered over.
“Want some pretzels?” he held out a bowl.
I shook my head.
“Better eat to sober up,” he said, popping one into his mouth and biting down.
“Okay.” I sat up, reaching my hand into the bowl, the world spinning. Rock came over and handed me a can of Coke. I drank and ate, swaying side-to-side, feeling cold and then hot. But when the memory of Crass’ cigarette-stained lips closing over mine returned, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I tried to get up and go outside but I only managed to stumble over a few steps before throwing up all over Kal’s pillows.
The meal Grandma prepared for us was truly festive, though it was more suppertime by the time we got there. Mom cast glances at me from across the table. It seemed she suspected what had happened to me last night, but said nothing. Grandpa was slowly regaining his voice and color had returned to his face.
After we finished eating and everyone retreated to the living room, Grandpa felt enlivened enough to make a sketch for me on a piece of wrapping paper. I sat on the floor by his feet and watched him draw. The television was on, replaying last night’s celebrations.
“Your Mom told me of how supportive you’ve been to her. She really needs you now,” he said, sketching a human figure. “I always thought you were the most mature of the whole bunch,” he added in a hoarse whisper.
Lifting my head, I smiled at his appeasing comment before lightly rubbing his wrinkled hand, lined with bulging blue veins. “Thank you, Grandpa. I try.”
“And you’ve been attending church, I hear. That’s really something.”
I smiled in response. Last time I was there was for the Christmas Eve service, well over a week ago, but after my recent realizations and growing desire to continue with my quest, I had no intention of entering the holy ground for some time. I kept that detail to myself. My playing the role of an obedient Catholic girl must have provided a relief to him. I was one less to manage as the conflict between my parents raged on. I also stopped questioning his behavior at the hospital. But he knew so little of what I’d been through and I knew almost nothing of whatever knew he was hiding. Since
he was feeling better, I decided to take a risk and test the waters.
“Grandpa, I want to tell you something,” I spoke in a quiet, confessional tone. “Weeks ago, I had a peculiar dream. It put strange thoughts in my mind.”
Grandpa peeled his eyes from the paper, his eyes alert, eyelids quivering. “What kind of a dream?”
“I dreamt of a fallen angel.” Grandpa’s hand jerked as if electricity had shot through it, making an intentional line across the body of a soldier.
He took a deep breath and straightened his back, his stern eyes glued to my face. The tension between us grew, like clouds gathering before a storm.
“The dream haunted me and made it hard for me to concentrate on anything. It made me exhausted. That’s when I started to pray. I wanted the thoughts to go away. And they did,” I said in an effort to stir the conversation back to safe waters.
Grandpa kept looking at me with squinted eyes, nodding his head.
“I’m no longer haunted,” I smiled.
“That is very good,” he said and patted my hand, but his austere eyes remained fixed to the space between my brows. I became viscerally aware that Grandpa was looking at something no one else could see.
Slowly, his gaze returned to the paper. He folded it and handed it to me before turning towards the television. I followed suit, but was not in the least interested in the singing and dancing taking place on the screen. I retreated to the cave of my thoughts, digesting the exchange that had just taken place between us. He knew about the angel. His body betrayed him.
After returning home, from my desk drawer I took out my notes, sketches and the Bible, and put on the only music tape I had in my possession. Nodding to the track I’d gotten to know so well, from the back pocket of my jeans I took out the sketch Grandpa had made for me this evening and placed it open on my desk under a small lamp. His unique drawing style of curved streaks and pronounced shadows, reminded me of the drawing in Daniel’s notebook. I wished I hadn’t lost it. It could be so useful now.
The newest piece was of a soldier looking at smoldering embers of a dying fire in front of him, a common scene during the war, Grandpa had once told me.
“We’d roast potatoes found in frozen fields under the fire,” he said, referring to the fire’s dual function of providing warmth and serving as an oven.
But there was another person in the drawing—a man consumed by ecstasy, dancing around the fire holding a drum and a stick. The man evoked a certain atmosphere, the presence of a spirit, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Was Grandpa familiar with magic rituals? A close examination of the drawing seemed to confirm so.
The Sirrah concert Ben helped organize in our town’s theater fell on the night preceding the full moon. Letting the store clerk believe it was a gift for my mother, I bought myself a new red lipstick for the occasion. After pleading with her all day, Mom agreed to lend me her red leather gloves and her beautiful belted, ivory knee-length spring coat, as long as I wore a thick sweater underneath to protect me from the biting cold. As I was tying my boots in the foyer, Rena came walking in from the garage.
“Going out?” she asked, and I nodded. “You look nice,” she said, and left, leaving me stunned by her generous comment.
I walked trembling from excitement. The live music reached my ears before the building came into view, banging drums and distorted guitars jabbing air molecules. The opening band was already on stage. I reapplied the lipstick, checking for smudges in a random car’s side view mirror.
A crowd of people in black clothing encircled the theater’s walls. I had Rock meet me on its steps, and teased him for being a slacker. While I had the entire Daimonion album memorized to the tiniest lyric and note, Rock never came back to learn the chords. And this is how Rock was, excited in the beginning, his eagerness declining before he even got a chance to get a basic grip on the very thing he was trying to master.
“You look ten years older with that stuff on,” he said, pointing to my lips.
“Exactly the image I was going for,” I said to him, and handed my ticket to the doorman.
Inside, humid scent of agitation, sweat, and cigarette smoke saturated the air. The place was so crowded it seemed that people from all the surrounding towns and villages were here, packing the theater to the brim. It would be hard to run into Ben in these frenzied circumstances, I thought, feeling both relieved and disappointed. Part of me wanted to see Ben and tie up some loose ends, but another part preferred to avoid him.
Halfway down the hallway between the entrance and stage, I had already lost Rock in the thick mass of enraptured strangers, but I caught a glimpse of Mila, edging in the same direction, though few meters ahead. I called to her, standing on my tiptoes, and waved my hand. She turned to look at me, but then quickly turned away aiming for a tall figure that had just
appeared in the doorway. Ben reached out his arm and helping her bypass the line, pulled Mila inside the stage hall. I felt a pang of jealousy and anger. I remembered when it was me who skipped lines and got to see great shows, often without a ticket.
“There you are,” Rock’s voice blasted my eardrum. To avoid getting lost again I grabbed his hand, something I wished that Ben could see. “I brought you something,” Rock said, his check turning crimson, and handed me a tape.
“Who is it?” I asked, flipping it in my free hand.
“Hildegard something-something. Some nun chanting Robin Hood tunes. Ben left it at my house a couple of months ago. And since you don’t have much to listen to, I thought I’d give it to you. It’s not my cup of tea, but I think you’ll like it.”
I let go of Rock’s hand the moment we entered the room with the stage. It felt too awkward and I didn’t want to risk more gossip. We found a spot in a corner where Kal and a few more guys from his New Year’s party had gathered. The music was loud.
Sasha was presently on stage with our town’s band, slapping and plucking the living daylights out of his bass. I watched him but couldn’t get the image of Ben and Mila out of my head. I kept imagining what they could be doing backstage at that very moment.
Mila’s brother’s band took the stage next. They played only three songs, each very long and technically impeccable. While they lacked a vocalist, my music teacher’s guitar made up for the deficiency. His Satriani-esque solos, one seamlessly bleeding into the next, left many standing with their mouths agape. I moved toward the stage until I reached the front row, showering my teacher with awestruck gazes. I even went as far as to imagine him and me in a romantic scenario, and the shock painted on the faces of his sister and her new beau, my lost friend who used to be exclusively mine.
Once the band was through, Ben approached the microphone and announced a brief intermission to give the guys from Sirrah time to set up. I wanted to get away from his sight but Ben already noticed me. Instead of walking backstage, he descended the side stairs while I stood in place waiting, bumping one boot into the other.
“I didn’t think I would see you,” he said, now standing across from me, the tips of his fingers stuck in the pockets of his jeans. “I’m glad you made it.”
He looked different than when I saw him last, more normal and lacking the blue aura, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, our good memories trailing him like a shadow.
“It is good to see you too.”
“You’ve been hiding out.”
“Not really. Just reading.”
Ben paused and looked at me. “I’m sorry, I’ve had my hands full with this thing,” he motioned backstage, “but I’d really like to talk to you, or visit you, if that’s okay.”
“You can walk me home.”
Ben smiled and said he’d meet me by the stairs after the show. We said our goodbyes and I rejoined the circle of my friends in the corner. Rock handed me a glass of cold beer, which I hoped would help me relax before the walk.
By the time I finished the glass, the first notes from Sirrah’s tear-inducing repertoire sounded across the room, evoking ecstatic screams from their fans. Masses of people rushed to the front. I stayed back, swaying to the rhythm of the melancholic tunes enriched with live violin.
As the evening came to a close, Ben joined the band for their encore, guitar strap over his shoulder, and showed off his skills covering Daimonion’s “Night.” I stood in the crowd singing along with Sirrah’s second vocalist, whose velvety voice glided over the notes.
After the concert was over, I waited by the stairs for Ben to arrive and walk me home, declining an invitation to hang behind the theater. Only when most people had already departed and the cleaning crew arrived did he come out.
“Sorry it took this long,” he said, putting on his coat.
“I could’ve just walked alone, but I didn’t want you to look for me,” I said, rubbing my gloves. But in reality, I wanted him to accompany me. The silence between us had grown too stale.
“I keep disappointing you,” he said, idly pacing next to me.
“No, you just have your hands full. Like you said.”
“I know,” he scratched the back of his neck. “But I miss seeing you.”
“Then why didn’t you come over? You know where I live.”
“I thought you didn’t want to see me after what had happened.”
“Only for few days,” I whispered, unsure whether he heard me.
We walked absorbed in our own thoughts until we reached the bridge. Cars were passing us by, mud and water splashing from under their tires. I worried about Mom’s jacket getting dirty while trying to come up with something to say. Ben switched places with me so that I was further away from the traffic, strangely busy at this latehour. I was trying to increase our pace, but Ben kept slowing us down.
“Why are you walking so fast?” he asked.
“Trying to get away from the cars.”
“No, you’re running away from me. Admit it.”
I stopped and turned toward him. “If you want to know the truth, I think you have it all backwards,” I said. “I think that it’s you who’s been running away and not just from me. Clearly, you’ve found yourself a whole new crowd.”
“Oh, Eve, please. Not you. Don’t say that. It’s enough that Rock keeps bugging me about this. I mean… I’m sorry I didn’t come to see you, but I really got the sense that you just wanted to be left alone.”
“And what made you think that?” I asked and began walking again. We were approaching my neighborhood.
“You said that to me that night in the car.”
“That was months ago.”
“Eve, why are you acting so cold? I told you I was sorry!”
“I know. Like a million times already. But those are just words.”
“What else do you want me to say?” Ben asked, scuttling closer to me. We had entered the quiet neighborhood street among houses.
“If you’re this good with words, could you please explain to me why Mila hates my guts?” I turned to him, wringing my arms and walking backward.
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw the two of you tonight. And in case you haven’t noticed, gossip in this town travels faster than the speed of light. Congrats. You’ve found yourself a beautiful girlfriend.”
He looked at the ground, hesitating. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, Ben. Just admit it.”
“It really doesn’t change how I feel about you,” he said, dragging his feet.
I felt a pang of sorrow. “Forget about it. Anyway, thanks for walking me home,” I said, and turned to walk faster. “Goodnight.”
“I promised I’d walk you home so I’ll take you all the way.”
We traversed the last few blocks without uttering a word. I felt bad for saying all those things to Ben, but also relieved for not having to carry it inside me anymore. Part of me was feeling victorious that tonight Ben chose to be with me instead of Mila. But the idea of holding hands with him still felt odd, even though, deep down, I wanted him to wrap his arms around me and beg me to forgive him. Maybe even try to kiss me. I was as confused as Ben.
“Hey, Eve?” he asked, as my body turned toward the stairs of my house, “I hope you are not mad. But if you are, I completely understand.”
“Why should I be mad?”
“Because obviously I failed you. I hope you can forgive me one day.”
I shrugged, pausing with one foot on the first stair. “It’s okay,” I said. “You are not the only one to blame.” This was his last chance for him to do something, make a move. I waited counting to ten.
“Thank you for saying that,” he said, when I was half way through my count. “I should let you go. Goodnight.”
I sped up the stairway, opened the front door to my house, and went inside without looking back at Ben. After shutting the door behind me loud enough for him to register my emotion, I leaned into it and tightly closed my eyes. I felt like crying. I could picture Ben still standing there at the bottom of the stairs where I saw him last, looking up after me.
What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I stay to talk with him more? How could I be jealous of Ben and Mila while resenting the very thought of becoming Ben’s girlfriend? How could I blame him for choosing to be with her if I was incapable of reciprocating his feelings? Why the hell did it hurt so much? What was wrong with me?
I took off my boots and making sure it was pitch dark all around me I looked out the small foyer window through the lace curtains. Just as I suspected, Ben was still there standing in the street. His hands were in his pockets, legs slightly apart, head facing the door behind which I had just vanished. I didn’t have the nerve to go outside and invite him in, even though part of me wanted to do it.
After turning away to catch a few solid breaths, my racing heart calmed. Seeing Ben stand there was a confirmation that he really must have felt something for me, must have cared. All those thoughts made me feel better. But as much as I missed Ben, I knew the old days were gone, and that precious thing we had before—whether born of innocence or ignorance—had died. Let him mourn now, I thought. I had already done my grieving. I needed to move on and get a fresh start. There was no point in trying to mend something this damaged. One more time I turned to look through the window. But Ben was no longer there. I felt a jolt of guilt and disappointment.
In the living room, Dad was sleeping on the couch with the television still on. I turned down the volume and walked into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. As my water was heating up, I climbed onto the counter and with trembling hands reached toward the highest cupboard to take out a partially drunk bottle of port wine and a crystal chalice, parents’ wedding gift. Back in my room, I placed both items and my steaming tea on my desk and tiptoed into to the basement to retrieve a tall votive candle with a blackened wick, not used since my first communion seven years ago. I was going to improvise. But first I needed to calm my nerves.
After taking a relaxing bath, I rubbed fragrant oil into my warm skin, while directing my thoughts toward Sariel, the one whose presence I intended to invoke this very night.
Unlike Ben, Sariel not only didn’t have a body, he also wasn’t at the mercy of moody ebbs and flows that come with having one. He was also exclusively mine.
I put on Mom’s old nightgown, which I had found in a basement closet, and looked at myself in the mirror. It was white, trimmed with lace, and made me look like a young woman. I brushed my hair, reapplied the lipstick, and left the bathroom. In my room, I queued the tape Rock gave me. The music was perfect: soothing, saintly, and uplifting. Adjusting the volume so I wouldn’t wake anyone up, I lit the candle, opened the window, and gazed at the moon.
“Sariel,” I whispered, raising the wine glass toward the moon. “If you are real, and if you still want me, come to me. I am ready.” I drank the wine and set aside the empty glass. Reclining on my mattress bed and listening to the chants, I spread my arms open and repeated the words from my dream.
Rise up and fall in love. . . .Rise up and fall in love. . .
For the longest time, nothing happened. I only felt the gentle caresses of the night air swirling over my skin. But before sleep took me away, I knew he had arrived. He was here, in my room, though I didn’t dare open my eyes. Suspended in the hazy state between dream and reality, I floated, offering my body to his feathery caresses. And when I awoke the next morning and stretched my arms wide, my hand came across something soft and light.
On the pillow next to me rested a long, snow-white feather.
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