Copyright: The characters and situations are copyrighted by me (zuke: February 2004). Please don't use or copy without my permission, except for personal use.
Love/Sex: This story depicts a non-graphic sexual relationship between two women. If this is illegal in your place of residence, or you are underage, please run along now.
Language: Yes, bad words, despite the possibility of God taking offense.
Feedback: I love to hear from readers. Any type of feedback is welcome. Unless it's really mean, which would probably make me pissed off. That wouldn't be good for you or for me. Please write to me at email@example.com
The first time I saw her from across the room I thought she looked like an angel – fallen straight out of heaven and looking for a soul to save. My soul, if I was lucky.
Then I found out I was right.
The evening was getting on. Most of the bar's patrons had paired up, whispering impossible promises in the corner between the jukebox and the pay phone, or propping each other up on the dance floor. I smiled, remembering the time I'd seen a swaying duo accidentally brush another, causing a graceful domino fall of couples onto the sticky floor. I pondered a way to recreate the event without getting into the mother of all bar fights, and decided it was, unfortunately, impossible.
Turning back to stare at the power tool calendar above the cash register, I spotted her. I know she hadn't been there in the seconds it took to survey the bar. But nevertheless, there she was. She was beautiful. Shimmering, golden hair that caught the light like a halo. A white silk shirt and skintight jeans. She was luscious with a capital lush. I wanted to drink her like a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer's day.
I stared at her. Then decided I shouldn't stare, and looked away. Then decided I was damn good at doing stuff I shouldn't do, and stared at her again. Then decided that she wasn't the kind of girl who would be attracted to people who did things they shouldn't do, and looked away. My neck was feeling like an overused rubber band by the time I decided that maybe she was the kind of girl who liked people who did things they shouldn't do, and I was just turning around when I felt a warm hand on my thigh.
My head regained all of its elasticity and snapped down to stare at the delicate appendage that was lightly stroking my leg. Then it snapped up again to stare at the delicate creature who had moved remarkably quickly and was sitting on the bar stool next to me, smiling seductively.
I desperately tried to remember whether I'd been looking away because she was the kind of girl who didn't like people who did things they shouldn't do, or whether I'd been staring because she did. Damn, there were too many double negatives in there.
"My name's Angel," she said softly.
"I know," I replied.
Yes, I know it made no sense. I didn't know her name. But remember, I'd been thinking she looked like an angel, so when she said her name was Angel, I got confused and said, "I know" even though I didn't. Get it? But once I'd said, "I know" I realized how weird that sounded. I looked at her with wide eyes, wondering how on earth I could explain my pre-cognitive abilities. But she just smiled knowingly at me.
That's definitely when I fell in love with her.
Or maybe it was before that. Or, no, maybe after that…. OK, I'm not really sure when I fell in love with her. The whole evening is kind of a blur, actually. And it was just about to get a whole lot blurrier.
"Do you live nearby?" she asked. Her hand had stopped its stroking, and now she was scratching little circles on my thigh with her fingernail. The circles were getting bigger and bigger, which meant nearer and nearer to my private party zone.
"N-n-not too far." I've been told that my aroused stutter is very sexy. You'll have to take it on faith.
"Shall we?" Her head nodded toward the front door, and my head told my body to move. Unfortunately, my body wasn't quite ready.
You have to remember that I had been spending a quiet night at my local watering hole, drinking a couple or six whiskies with beer chasers. Then, an angelic woman was sitting next to me, tickling my erogenous zones with utter abandon and inviting me back to my place. The suddenness of it all, combined with the alcohol and an explosive libido, made me feel just a touch wobbly.
I must have swayed a little because she looked concerned and reached out to grab my arm. I leaned toward her and caught my reflection in the mirror above the bar. The mirror wasn't large and was mostly covered with pictures that had been tacked on to it over the years. It was also obscured with large, ornate gold letters that spelled out "McNaly's". But in the little space left, I could see my face. I looked like shit. I was ghostly pale and my blue eyes were bugged out and bloodshot. I had taken my long black hair out of the ponytail earlier, and it spilled haphazardly over my shoulders. Jesus Christ, I looked like Elvira!
I marveled at how much I looked like Elvira for about thirty seconds before realizing that even though I knew Angel was holding me in her arms, that even though I could feel her pulse pounding in the fingers that wrapped around my bicep, that even though I could feel her warm breath against my throat…I couldn't see her reflection in the mirror.
As far as the damn mirror was concerned, I was alone. Alone and leaning toward someone who wasn't there. I'm sure you know as well as I do that when you lean toward someone who isn't there, you have a tendency to fall flat on your face. Which I did.
I decided to pass out on the way down, before my head made contact with the ugly red carpet with cigarette burns older than the Pope. You may not believe it was a conscious decision, deciding to blame the edge of the barstool that introduced itself to my temple on the trip toward the floor. I personally think I was still conscious after that little contretemps, but you're entitled to your opinion. We'll just have to agree to disagree.***
I didn't expect to wake up in bed. Naked. With Angel next to me. Also naked.
OK, I guess I didn't expect anything one way or the other. But if someone had quizzed me after I passed out and asked me: "Hey, Rory, where do you think you'll be when you wake up?" I wouldn't have said: "I think I'll wake up in bed with a beautiful woman and we'll both be naked."
If you're wondering, I would probably have said, "I think I'll be lying in an alley next to McNaly's, missing a shoe and possibly my wallet, watching some old drunk take a piss behind the dumpster." Well, I'm just going on prior experience. (One time, it only happened one time!).
But I was wrong. I mean, I would have been wrong if the fantasy question had been posed. Which it wasn't. And I'm glad about that.
"Are you OK?"
She reached out toward the side of my face, where I knew a bump was already growing. I probably looked like Elvira with a Faberge egg pasted to her temple. I winced in anticipatory pain as Angel's fingers came closer, but when they made contact, instead of searing pain, I felt a warmth and then the throbbing drumbeat of ouchness suddenly stopped. Just like that my mind was clear and was able to focus on more important matters.
"Did we have sex?" I asked.
I have never once had sex without knowing I had sex. Even when I'd gotten drunk on Jimmy Lewis' science fair experiment and slept with the Varsity volleyball team's starting six in alphabetical order did I not know that I'd had sex with any one of them. To this day I could tell you that, despite losing my sight and the ability to use my left thumb and index finger, Mandy Jameson shouted "Mommy" when she came, and Jenna Greenspan made a piggy noise when I touched her clit.
"No, not yet," Angel replied.
Yes! The record is still holding strong.
I was going to pump a fist in the air but a tongue being pushed down my throat interrupted my action. Again with the suddenness. I briefly wondered where the fire was, then just as briefly wondered why I cared, and finally turned my wondering to what part of Angel's anatomy to touch and taste next. During sex, that's pretty much the only wondering you really need to have.
She was, without a doubt, the best lover I have ever had. She pushed buttons I didn't even know were there. The pinkie toe on my left foot? Well, one suck and I nearly hit the ceiling. I tried my best to reciprocate, but she soon turned me into a puddle of warm squishy stuff, with no power to move. She didn't seem bothered by this as she single-mindedly made love to me. Her eyes gleamed with ecclesiastical fervor as she stroked, rubbed, licked, sucked, and nipped her way across my body.
After only a few moments, I felt like I was floating outside of my body, but at the same time acutely aware of it – of every sensation that she was causing. When I finally came, I roared as I felt my body explode, as if I had turned into some kind of mythical beast – half woman and half lion. I was left exhausted and emotionally drained, and held her weakly, whispering the strongest words of gratitude that I could manage, which probably sounded something like, "Fuck…that was…shit…. thanks…. holy crap…you…. amazing…wow…. I mean…" And then I fell asleep.
I woke a little while later with Angel still in my arms. I could see by the little window next to my bed that it was still dark outside. This confused me, since I usually wake up the "afternoon after". I soon realized that what had interrupted my peaceful snooze were the soft sobs of the woman in my arms. It wasn't so much the noise as the repetitive jerking against my ribcage that pulled me from my otherwise peaceful slumber.
It isn't uncommon for me to reduce women to post-coital tears. And no, it's not what you think. Women cry from the overwhelming emotions of having just experienced the greatest fuck of their lives. Well, that's what causes it was most of the time.
"Hey," I said softly, hoping that the cause of her tears wasn't actually what you were just thinking.
"I'm sorry," she said, pulling out of my arms and grabbing her clothes. She began to dress herself, but her rush and the lack of lighting didn't help. By the time I fumbled on the bedside lamp, she looked like a two-year-old's Dress Me Up Elmo.
"What's wrong?" I asked, wondering how she'd managed to get her head through the sleeve of her shirt.
"I thought this would change how I feel about you," she replied, trying to pull her head back out of the sleeve. "But it just made it worse."
"I don't understand, but I think we need to get that shirt off before it strangles you."
"It doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters," I said as I reached out and started tugging.
"It doesn't matter because I'm already dead."
I have to say, a thousand scenarios went through my head on hearing this pronouncement. The mafia had a hit out on her? She had some kind of time bomb planted in her brain? A psycho girlfriend was going to find out we'd fucked and shoot us both? Whatever it was, I was sure it was a Lifetime movie just begging to be written. I hoped that I would survive to make some money off it.
"Well, let's get you dressed like a normal human and you can explain the whole dead thing," I said, finally managing to get the shirt off her. She held her arms out like a kid and I helped her into her bra and panties, then shirt and jeans.
I didn't put her socks and boots on. I was hoping that she'd come to her senses and we could make love again after ironing out the dead stuff. She did sit on the bed, which was an encouraging sign, but she crossed her legs and looked at me very seriously. The crossed legs were a different sign altogether. They were like the "No Swimming" sign at the beach – you knew it was going to be a looong time before your toes would dip into clean water ever again. The serious look was even worse. It reminded me of the morning my mom woke me to tell me that Elvis was dead. This was a significant event not so much because The King would sing no more, but because from that day forward my mom became obsessed with the family's bowel movements. No loved one of hers would die on the toilet with gallons of compacted shit in their insides (as she so bluntly put it).
"OK," I said, dread already twisting my guts, "why are you dead?"
"What do you mean, 'why are you dead'?" Angel asked, annoyance filling her beautiful green eyes.
"Isn't that what you just said?" Maybe I'd misheard.
"I said," she replied, speaking slowly as if I was the village idiot, "it didn't matter if my shirt strangled me. Because I'm already dead."
"And I said, 'why are you dead?'" OK, I hadn't misheard. Maybe I was the village idiot.
"What difference does it make why I'm dead?" she asked, throwing up her hands. "The point is that I'm dead."
"Why?" I asked. I didn't really like being the village idiot.
"Why do you keep asking why I'm dead? Would it matter if I told you I was killed in a car crash or died of cancer or my parachute didn't open while skydiving?"
"Oh," I replied, feeling the trappings of the village idiot fall off me. The truth was wriggling like a ten-pound salmon on the end of my fishing line, but I had a pretty good grasp of it. "So you're saying you're dead."
"Yes!" she shouted triumphantly.
I smiled at my accomplishment, before the words' meaning really became clear. The fish broke the line and swam away, and I stared at Angel with my eyes narrowed in confusion and my mouth twisted in frustration. It was a look that usually worked for me.
"You're dead," I repeated, just to make sure I had it straight.
"Yes," she answered again, this time not so triumphantly.
"As in 'kicked the bucket', 'went to your eternal reward', 'have been singing in the heavenly choir'?"
"Yes, Rory, I'm dead." I had never told her my name, but that fact whizzed by me like a gnat flying past a freight train.
At this point, I realized I'd brought home a crazy woman. It wasn't the first time and I was sure it wouldn't be the last. Now speaking from experience, I have to say that it is extremely tempting to keep a crazy woman around, especially when they're on your side. After all, this particular crazy woman was absolutely fantastic in bed. But that was the way it always went. They'd be all nice and loving and then the next thing you knew, the voices were telling them that you were the spawn of Satan. They'd write messages in lipstick on the bathroom mirror and they'd flush your goldfish down the toilet.
"Hey, you know, it's been a great evening." It was best to just get rid of the crazies when you had the chance. "I'm really glad you helped me get home and you were…you know…great and everything."
"You're throwing me out?"
"No," I quickly replied, knowing it was time to tread very carefully. "I'm just saying…"
"You're throwing me out." She stated the obvious and then added something even more obvious, "You don't believe me."
"I didn't say that," I reasoned…reasonably. "If you feel dead then I suppose I can understand that you consider yourself to be dead. And I'm really sorry that you're dead. You seem like a really nice girl. Maybe you should talk to someone about being dead. Metaphorically or otherwise. I don't mean metaphorically speak, I mean metaphorically dead. It might help."
She stared at me, her eyes narrowing in anger, and I knew that I might soon be dead. And not metaphorically.
"This is just so fucking typical," she said, reaching out and taking my hand. I knew she didn't have a weapon; I would have felt something when I'd gotten her dressed. And she was a good six inches shorter than me. So I only cowered a little when she grabbed me.
"Or we can just hang out for awhile," I suggested warily.
She rolled her eyes and then closed them. She scrunched up her face like I do when I'm trying to open a jar of spaghetti sauce. I expected her to squeeze my hand, but she held it gently - firmly, but gently.
"Think about something you want more than anything in the world," she said. Her voice was strained, matching her face. She was already applying pressure toward something.
Her voice seemed to compel me to do as she asked, though I had no expectations. To be honest, half of my brain thought about something I wanted more than anything in the world and half of my brain was thinking about getting rid of the crazy woman in my bedroom. I could call my friend Annie. She'd gotten a B minus in Freshman Psych.
And then a miracle happened.
I wasn't sitting on my bed anymore. The sudden change in temperature was the first thing I noticed. It was warmer, but a breeze was blowing into my face. I was outside, sitting on something hard. My perception grew slowly. Angel was sitting beside me, struggling even more now. A light sheen of sweat had appeared on her upper lip. I was on a bleacher seat. I was next to a baseball diamond – not a major league team, but a school. Kids were playing baseball. No, not baseball, softball. The Twins were playing the Pirates. Some of the girls wore ribbons in their hair to match their uniform colors. But not me. That was way too sissy for me. Besides, I was a catcher, and the damn ribbons would have been pulled out by my catcher's helmet and mask.
Holy crap, I was sitting in the bleachers watching my eleven-year-old self play softball. What in the name of…
The ball was hit high into the air, curving slightly into fair territory. If I caught it, it would be the end of the game. The only game we would win all season. But I didn't…I mean hadn't. I had thrown off my catcher's mask, hitting the umpire square in the face, gotten under the ball as it fell rapidly toward earth, and then felt it hit my glove. It promptly bounced right back out again and died in the dust, allowing two runners to make it safely home. The Pirates had won, our losing streak held firm, and I was teased for the rest of the summer until my family mercifully moved away.
I watched all of the events unfold before me, remembering each movement as if they'd happened yesterday. There goes the mask. There goes me, waddling with all that stupid gear on. I'm under the ball. It's falling toward me. My glove is open, wavering slightly. I'm squinting into the sun that's threatening to leave me permanently blind.
And then the ball falls into my glove…and stays there. I caught it. I won the game.
The reality becomes a part of my history. I can remember it not being true, but I know that it is true. Don’t ask me to explain that, because I can't. The simple fact was: Angel had changed the past. And that scared the shit out of me.
My eyes snapped open before I realized they'd been closed, and I watched Angel trying to get her breath back. The sudden trip back to now left me dizzy, and I shook my head to clear it. By the way, shaking your head when you're dizzy isn't a bright idea. You might want to make a note of that.
"Oh my God," I screeched when the nausea passed, "you slipped me a Mickey Thin, didn't you?"
"What?" Angel looked confused, but the color had returned to her cheeks and she'd wiped the sweat from her lip. "What the hell is a 'Mickey Thin'?"
"You know – you spiked my drink. Mickey Thin."
"That's Mickey Finn." Angel rolled her eyes. I hate it when people roll their eyes at me.
"No it's not," I said, crossing my arms. "It's Mickey Thin."
"What are you talking about? It's Mickey Finn. Everybody knows that."
"I don't know that. I know that it's Mickey Thin."
At this point, I probably should have just said, "OK, it is a Mickey Finn" and given up. It was really more important for me to find out if she'd slipped me some kind of mind-altering drug. In fact, it was obvious that she was avoiding the truth. Besides, I knew I was right.
"Do you have a dictionary?" she asked.
You see: total avoidance.
"No," I snapped back. "Just accept that it's a Mickey Thin and tell me whether you slipped one into my drink."
"No, I did not slip you a MICKEY FINN. I am dead and I just performed a minor miracle to prove that to you. I'm an angel."
"Well, you're an obnoxious effin' angel, that's for damn sure."
"Does that mean you believe me?" she asked.
I thought again about what I'd seen. Then I thought back to that day eighteen years before. I had caught the ball. I could remember the team crowding around me, the shortstop hugging me, the coach patting me on the back. But at the same time, I could still remember dropping the ball.
"Yeah," I said. It was more a resigned sigh than a word. Then I was struck by a horrible realization. All of my life's stupid mistakes came back to me in a flood of recriminations. What the hell was I thinking? "Wait a minute! That's not what I want most in the world!"
"I'm sorry," Angel said. "I can only do something like that once. It takes a tremendous amount of energy."
"Well ask the big G for some more fucking energy! If you help me win the lottery, I'll split it with you." I admit I still didn't quite get the whole angel thing.
"I did that to prove I was telling you the truth. I'm not using my power to help you any more. Jesus Christ, I don't know why the hell I'm here."
I had no idea why she was so mad, but I was pretty sure angels weren't supposed to take the Lord's name in vain. Wasn't that a rule? I decided I better not ask, since I seemed to recall reading about vengeful angels and pillars of salt. I turned my attention, instead, to figuring out what an angel was doing in my bedroom.
"I get it," I finally said after thinking about it for a while. "You need me to change my evil ways. To see the goodness in all mankind. To give Bob Cratchitt the day off. Something along those lines."
Ha, those endless hours of watching Christmas movies while Mom and Dad got drunk on rum balls and Asti Spumanti were not wasted after all. I wasn't exactly sure what bad ways I needed to redress, but I was ready to renounce away.
Angel's eyes widened. I was hoping she was amazed at my perception. I was wrong.
"You really are full of yourself, aren't you?" she asked.
Now folks, let me offer a word of advice should you ever find yourself at the other end of this question. We all know that a pathetically defensive "No!" is not the correct response. The questioner will never believe it, no matter how indignant you become. On the other hand, you must never, ever say, "Yeah" in a cocky manner and absolutely, under no circumstances, should you add a little defiant shrug of the shoulders. Never.
"You bitch," was her not so surprising—in hindsight – response. Then she walked away, crossing my apartment amazingly quickly.
"Wait, Angel. I'm sorry. I was just joking." I wrapped myself in a blanket, knowing that the pervert across the street had his telescope pointed right at my front windows, just waiting for my nude streaks. I forgot how cold my floor was, and started a sort of hop-skip-hop run across the room. Then I tripped on the blanket. My pathetic cry of, "Goddammit fucking holy hell Jesus shit" stopped her in her tracks. She paused with her hand on the front door, then sighed dramatically (dare I say melodramatically) and walked back toward me.
"Are you all right?" she asked without a modicum of concern.
"I'll never be able to play the tuba again," I replied pitifully.
"You couldn't play the tuba before."
"You've heard the joke."
She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. She was still angry, still on the verge of walking out of my life. I desperately didn't want that to happen. I kicked myself in the ass and took her hand.
"Tell me why you're here," I said sincerely. "If it's not about me."
"It is about you, in a way," she replied. She kneeled down next to me on the cold floor. "But it's more about me. It's about me forgiving you."
"Why? What did I do?" I cast my mind back to the previous few hours. Did I puke on her? Did I get blood on her shirt? Did I force her into my bed and let her do all the work?
"Hey," I said defensively, "it was your idea to have sex. I'm sorry if it's against your religion or something, but I don't see how that's my fault."
"It's not about the sex." She waved her hand dismissively. A little too dismissively, if you ask me. "In fact, it's not about something that happened in this lifetime at all."
"Oh," I replied knowingly, even though I had no idea what she was talking about.
"You killed me."
"Killed you?" I squeaked. "Killed as in…?"
"What do you mean 'as in'?"
"I mean," I clarified, "under what context?"
"Does it really matter?" she asked.
"Of course it matters. Was it self-defense or a horrible accident or—"
"OK," she interrupted my hopeful babble, "killed as in knocked me over, held me down with your knee on my chest, pulled out a gun from your coat pocket, and shot me between the eyes."
"Oh." There didn't seem to be a better response.
"Does that provide you with enough context?" she asked, twisting the knife just a wee bit more. "Or do you want me to tell you what I had for dinner the night before?"
"No thanks," I said weakly. "That'll do."
"I said, 'no thanks.'"
"With green beans," she added.
I could feel myself going green. It wasn't a nice sensation at all. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
I didn't puke, but I did lock myself in the bathroom for a while. I had to think. How do you cope with a beautiful woman telling you that you killed her? Maybe I should have puked, but it usually makes me feel worse and there's all that clean up and brushing of teeth. It was better that I just sat on the toilet and thought about what Angel had told me.
I really can't imagine killing someone. Now, I know I'm not perfect. When I was a kid, I stole a whole carton of Laffy Taffy from the drugstore. It was green apple flavor, which I didn't even like, so I gave it away to all the kids in the neighborhood. Another time I was given a twenty back in change instead of a five and I didn't say anything. I figured Mr. Safeway could afford it, but I know deep down that the clerk was probably blamed, and the difference came out of her wallet. So, yeah, there's lots of stuff that I'm guilty of, but murder is on another level altogether. It's definitely in the top ten of all sins. In fact, it's number one, isn't it? Or is number one the golden calf thing?
Hang on, though. It wasn't really me, was it?
I shot off the toilet and opened the bathroom door.
"Hang on!" I shouted indignantly. "It wasn't really me, was it?"
I faced those accusatory green eyes without a shred of guilt. I wasn't going to take the blame for what some other person did. I didn't kill anyone.
So why did those eyes make be feel so bad?
"It's not that simple," she explained. Sadness and defeat replaced accusation in her expression. She looked toward the floor, her shoulders sagging. I wanted to take her in my arms and reassure her that everything would be OK, but indecision and confusion kept my feet firmly planted.
"Can you try to explain it to me?" I asked tentatively.
My gentler tones seemed to give her a little confidence, and she looked up at me again. "Maybe if I showed you what happened…"
"Yes," I replied quickly. "Take me back and show me my other life. I'm sure we can figure out this whole misunderstanding."
"I can't take you back. That would take way more energy than I have." She walked to the side of the bed and picked up a bag that I hadn't noticed before. After rummaging inside for a minute, she pulled out a video tape. "But if you have a VCR, I can show you."
"Um, OK. It's right over there."
It goes without saying that I was way out of my element. Pretty much from the time Angel had walked into my life, the rules of my universe had lost all meaning.
Much like I had felt when Madonna kissed Britney Spears, my only response was to throw my hands in the air and say, "OK, whatever." What else could I do but go with the flow?
"This is the story of your life," Angel explained as she turned on the VCR and TV and loaded the tape.
"No DVD's in Heaven yet?" I asked. Just because I accepted things, didn't mean I couldn't be sarcastic. "What's the deal, they've got a budget crisis? Did the bottom fall out of the harp market?"
"Just watch," was Angel's only response.
So, wishing that I had a big bowl of popcorn, I sat down on the sofa to watch. Angel sat next to me, which I thought was an encouraging sign, until she hugged a pillow and leaned in the opposite direction. This made it impossible for me to do the "yawn, stretch, end up with arm around other person's shoulders" move that I was so good at. It probably wasn't that kind of movie anyway.
Now I'm not a film critic, but I have to say – at the risk of being struck down by a thunderbolt from on high – God needs to brush up on Her filmmaking skills. It wasn't like She didn't have enough talent up in heaven to exploit. But Jeez Louise, everything about the film needed work – direction, editing, lighting, makeup.
"It's not supposed to be an Oscar contender," Angel pointed out, as if reading my mind. (OK, she probably did read my mind.) "It's supposed to show you what happened in your previous life."
Although Angel kept calling it "my life", I watched the story unfold as if it was happening to someone else. Hell, it was happening to someone else. Other than the fact that Anna Josefina Picoccini bore a striking resemblance to yours truly, there was nothing similar between us. Anna was born in 1919 (the movie flashed convenient dates before every major scene). Her parents were Italian immigrants who had arrived in New York the year before. She grew up in Hell's Kitchen and had a horrible life, suffering all types of abuse – I think you can imagine most of it without me boring you with the details. Having one of us bored stiff is enough, believe me.
By the time she reached her early teens, she was a petty thief, picking pockets, shoplifting, getting into fights, etc. etc. etc. When she was fifteen, Anna joined a gang. She killed for the first time when she was sixteen – a rival gang member in a knife fight. It was brutal and bloody and I had to turn away. I was glad I didn't have that popcorn. The film showed a few more scenes of Anna becoming more than just a petty thief. She got involved in bigger crimes and became more important in her gang, eventually taking over leadership.
"You were the first woman to lead a major gang in New York," Angel pointed out. I tried not to scowl. I never did like people talking during movies.
Once Anna had drawn blood, she changed – dramatically. Killing became easy and – from all appearances – downright fun. By the time she was eighteen, the death toll had risen dramatically and I was swallowing really hard. I don't like blood unless it's hidden away doing its thing, not spurting from slashed arteries or pooling in a crimson flood under a body slowly growing stiff.
Just when I thought I might end up puking after all, the film showed a new scene of Anna walking down the street. Music was playing. It was winter and a light snow was falling. This was different than most of the movie's previous scenes. It seemed almost peaceful. Anna looked calm. A little wary, but when you were the leader of a New York gang who killed for sport, I don't suppose you could ever let your guard down.
The music grew louder and as Anna turned a corner, there in front of her was a Salvation Army band. Standing in the middle and belting out a hymn was Angel.
Their eyes met and the sexual tension was obvious – despite the really bad camera angle.
Anna stopped for only a moment before moving on. That's all it took. That was the beginning of the end for Angel.
"I loved her the minute I laid eyes on her," Angel whispered. I could see the love in her expression. I felt a pang of jealousy for Anna…me…whatever.
But it was a love that went terribly wrong. Angel was a crusader. She wanted to save souls. She wanted desperately to save the soul of Anna Picoccini. Saving the soul of a homicidal maniac sure isn't easy. Well, let's face it, Mother Theresa would have trouble with that little task.
Angel did her damndest, though. And Anna certainly fell hard for the little golden-haired crusader. Things were going pretty well and I was thinking maybe Angel had been kidding and everything would end happily ever after. Then Angel made a mistake I'm sure she's still regretting. She decided to turn Anna into the police.
"It would have been her salvation," Angel explained. "I had to stop her from her evil ways."
The gang was planning a bank robbery. Angel was hoping Anna would be caught and sentenced to life in prison, where she could rethink her life and repent.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me!" I shouted. "Were you completely insane?"
Angel began to cry, and I felt like a total shithead, but turned back to the film to watch the inevitable unfold.
The bank robbery happened, and even though the cops had been tipped off, they only managed to catch two of the gang. Anna got away, a bullet in her shoulder courtesy of the NYPD, and anger tearing apart her soul. She knew someone had squealed. She found Angel, who pulled the bullet out, sewed Anna up, and then confessed everything.
I threw my hands in front of my eyes and watched the rest through tiny slits between my fingers. It happened just as Angel had described: Anna knocked Angel over, held her down with a knee on her chest, pulled out a gun from her coat pocket, and shot Angel between the eyes.
"Do you want to watch the rest?"
"No," I said miserably.
"You died three years later. Ruptured appendix. You were hiding from the cops, so couldn't go to a hospital. It was a painful death as each major organ failed one at a time. It was thirteen hours of agony before you breathed your last."
"Okey dokey then."
What else do you say when you've just seen yourself from a previous lifetime kill the beautiful girl sitting at the other end of your sofa? Think on that a minute and then tell me you would have had a better response.
"I loved you so much," Angel said, the tears falling in a continuous trickle down her soft, round cheeks.
"I know you did," I replied.
"If only you loved me as much as I loved you."
Talking about Anna as if she was me was really starting to bug me.
"Well, she was a homicidal maniac," I pointed out. "It wasn't exactly a match made in heaven."
"But it was. Don't you see?"
I shook my head firmly in the negative, causing her to sigh.
"We have been struggling to be together for many, many lifetimes," Angel explained. "This was our last chance. If I could have turned you toward the light, we would have gone on to live together for eternity in Paradise. I failed, and now I'm damned to limbo unless I forgive you."
"Whoa!" I shouted, throwing my hands in the air. "Back up the truck because I think you just lost your load of live chickens. Can you explain that to me slowly and in English please?"
"Sorry, I know I'm throwing a lot at you at once."
"That's the understatement of the century," I grumbled. "You're reminding me of the time the pitching machine went crazy at the batting cages."
"OK, it's like this: we've had many lives together. In each life, we learn more and more about ourselves – both as individuals and as a couple. In the last few lifetimes, it looked like we were never really going to get it together. Even if we had some good times, something would always go wrong. It was usually your fault."
"I find that hard to believe," I interjected indignantly.
"Believe it," she snapped. "Anyway, before my last lifetime, the one you just saw, I was told I had one last chance to steer you onto the right path. If I succeeded, we would move on to paradise. If I failed, I would get to move on, but you would have to try again until you got it right. Even if you did manage to do that, we would never be together again."
"Well, maybe it's for the best," I reasoned. Although once I said it I felt a pang of regret. Deep down, I understood the truth of what I'd thrown away.
"How can you say that?" I could see the anger returning – the spark in her eyes, the rush of red to her cheeks. Strange as it may seem, I think that was really the moment that I fell in love with her.
"Maybe you should just forget about me and move on to Paradise," I said (while a voice in my head shouted "No, no, no!"). "Why haven't you?"
"Because I can't forgive you. And until I can forgive you, my anger won't let me earn my wings. I'm stuck in fucking limbo."
"Well, you might want to consider losing the potty mouth," I suggested. "I'm pretty sure they don't like that kind of thing in heaven."
"What the hell do you know about it?"
"I'm just saying…"
"Well don't!" she snapped.
"Maybe if you just—"
"How could you have thrown our love away like that?"
There comes a time in every argument with a woman – and believe me, I've had too many to count – when the anger reaches such a level that one of only two outcomes are inevitable: tears or fists. I prefer the former, but have dealt with the latter enough to know when to duck. Angel surprised me, though. She went for both at the same time, sobbing and flailing her arms about, landing one stinging blow on my chin before I could get out of the way.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I repeated, still not feeling in the least bit guilty for killing her, but wanting both the crying and the punching to end as soon as possible. They did, eventually, leaving Angel breathless and exhausted, but in my arms. Things were looking up. I handed her a tissue.
"I thought if I made love to you," she said as she wiped her nose, "that I would remember all the good times. But it just made it worse."
"It meant nothing to you, did it? I was just another notch on your bedpost."
"No way!" I protested, hoping she didn't look too closely at my bedpost. "It was the most beautiful experience I've ever had."
Angel pulled out of my arms and impaled me with a look that left me immobile. I instantly regretted the butterfly collection I'd had as a kid.
"Look me in the eye and tell me that our lovemaking meant anything to you other than the pleasure that you gained from it."
You might have noticed that my answers to her questions over the course of the evening hadn't been the best. In my defense, I have to say that I was experiencing more outrageous things in one night than I'd experienced in my entire life. And believe me, I put the rage in outrageous. But I knew this one was the most important question of them all. I knew my answer had to be just right. I thought about it, being careful not to think too long. I struck an intelligent pose as if I was simply collecting my thoughts rather than struggling for an answer in a free-falling panic.
"Sweetheart," I began.
"I knew it!" she screeched.
"You didn't let me say anything!" I screeched back. You have to admit, that wasn't fair. Not that I was in any way close to figuring out what I was going to say, but still…it just wasn't fair.
"You are still a selfish, pathetic, heartless, egomaniacal—"
"Hey, at least I'm not going around killing people for pleasure in this lifetime," I pointed out. "Give me a little credit for learning the error of my ways."
"What did I ever see in you? " She was still pretty strident. I was starting to get a headache. "I could have gone on to Paradise ages ago, but nooooo, I had to keep trying to change you. But you know what? You're irredeemable. Hopeless. Absolutely fucking hopeless."
"I'm sorry. You don't deserve this. Don't deserve to be lumbered with me."
We sat there then, both immersed in our misery. She was facing an eternity in limbo, and I felt low enough to limbo underneath a cockroach. What a pair.
"I should just go," she said with a heavy sigh. "There's no point hanging around here."
"Wait! Isn't there someone I can talk to about this?"
"What the hell do you mean?"
"You know, Saint Peter or someone." An idea was brewing in my brain like a pot of French roast. "I have to convince them to let you go on to Paradise without this stupid forgiving business. I don't deserve to be forgiven, and your eternal life shouldn't hinge on that. Maybe I can convince them that I brainwashed you or something."
"Brainwashed?" She wasn't quite on the same page yet. In fact, she was still looking for the library.
"Yeah, those religious people know all about brainwashing. I'm sure they'll believe it. I'll say I brainwashed you in one of our earliest lifetimes together. You're not responsible for falling in love with me at all."
"I'm not?" she still looked confused.
"Well, you are. But only we'll know that. It was a horrible mistake and you shouldn't have to pay for it for eternity. That's all I'm saying."
I could see the wheels turning as she considered what I'd suggested. She looked hopeful for a few seconds, then her shoulders slumped.
"They'll never believe the brainwashing excuse. They can read your innermost thoughts. They know everyone's motivations."
I thought about some of my innermost thoughts, not to mention my motivations. OK, I was going to Hell. But this wasn't about me. It was about Angel.
"Can they read my innermost thoughts and motivations right now?" I asked, looking around as if I expected to see some old guy with a long white beard and huge wings sitting in the corner of my living room.
"Oh yeah." Angel nodded. "I'm sure this whole escapade is the most entertaining evening they've had in a long time."
"Good." I stood up, just to get that much closer to heaven, and shouted toward the ceiling. I was hoping it didn't matter that the Rodriguez family was between God and me. "This is Rory Jennings. I just want to tell you that what you're doing to Angel isn't fair. She needs to go to Paradise. She deserves it for putting up with my shit for so many years. It's not right to make her forgive me because I don't deserve to be forgiven. So here's the deal: send her on to Paradise and I'll go to limbo for the rest of eternity. In fact, you can let me get hit by a bus tomorrow. Whatever it fucking takes. How's that sound? Oh, and excuse the swear words. I know how you hate that."
"Do you know what limbo is like?" Angel asked. She had a strange look in her eyes that I couldn't quite figure out.
"Um…" I tried to recall what I'd learned in Sunday school, but I only went once and all I could remember was singing a song about fishing. "I'm not exactly sure."
"It's nothing. Pure nothingness. No light, no dark, no sensations. You just have your thoughts and the knowledge that your life is over. Your hopes, your dreams, your desires can never be fulfilled.
"I don't care," I said. "If it means you can go on to Paradise, it's worth it. Be honest, Angel, it's really what I deserve."
It's funny. When you perform a selfless act, you don't really think about it. Well, you really can't think about it, can you? You'd start thinking about whether or not you should really do the selfless act, in particular what was in it for you, and then it wouldn't end up to be selfless at all. So what I said actually came straight out of my heart and soul. And believe me, I was as shocked as everyone else.
Except for Angel. She looked at me like no one has ever looked at me before. Her gaze held so much love I felt like I'd taken off, flown around the world, and landed back in her arms. I was in her arms, pretty darn quickly, and she proceeded to squeeze the life out of me.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," she said, kissing me.
"No, no, no," I said between kisses. I wanted to shout, "Yes, yes, yes", but I knew it was a mistake. "You have to go on, sweetheart. I've made my deal and I'm going to stick to it."
Man, once I get on a selfless kick, there's no stopping me.
She looked at me and I saw forgiveness shining from her face. It was the happiest and saddest moment of my life.
"I love you," I whispered as her form became like smoke in my arms. Right before she disappeared completely, I saw realization and then sorrow fill those beautiful green eyes.
"Well that sucks," I said to my empty apartment.
I spent the rest of the next day waiting to get hit by a bus. I kind of wanted it to happen. I knew it would be really painful, but it couldn't be any more painful than the way I was feeling at being separated from Angel.
How was this possible? I didn't even know her the day before. I couldn't remember any of our lifetimes together. But I could feel her living deep in my heart. I could feel the half of my soul that had been torn away - the half that had golden hair and green eyes and could be a real pain in the ass.
By the end of the day, I realized that I wasn't going to get hit by a bus. Oh, that would have been too easy. I was going to live a long life. I'd find Angel's grave and place flowers on it every Valentine's Day for the next seventy years. I'd probably live to be a hundred like my Nana, who's still flirting with the nurses in the Seaside Villa Senior Living Center. Worse than that – I'd be the Old Maid Aunt that everyone pities. I'd have to spend holidays with my niece's family. My niece is eleven and I already know she's going to marry a podiatrist who'll talk about ingrown toenails while we eat turkey. And all that time I'd just be biding my time until limbo.
Ain't life grand?
I couldn't go back to my empty apartment after work, so I ended up in McNaly's. It reminded my of Angel, but then everything reminded me of Angel, so it didn't really matter. I tried to drink away my memories, but only succeeded in making them pound against the inside of my brain. At some point I got into an argument with someone (or maybe just with myself) about all of the world's religions. I made several suggestions as to just what God/Buddha/Mohammad/et al could go and do (it wasn't nice and probably condemned me to Hell instead of limbo). I was eventually tossed out and found myself in the alley missing my shoe.
"I think you dropped this."
I turned to see a hand holding a size ten red Converse Hi-Top. It looked vaguely familiar. Not the shoe – that was definitely mine. I mean the hand.
It was difficult, but I forced my eyes to follow the hand up the arm to the shoulder, then up the neck and onto the face, where I struggled to focus.
"In the flesh." She smiled, and I was suddenly sober. It must have been the last of her heavenly powers.
"What? Why? How? When? Where?" I think I made it abundantly clear I didn't understand.
"I couldn't leave you," she said with a shrug. "So I made a deal. We have one more last chance. And you better not screw up this time."
"I won't," I promised sincerely. Then I motioned to the world around me. It was starting to drizzle, and a man was pissing behind the dumpster. "You traded Heaven for this? Are you crazy?"
"I want to be with you. We'll make Heaven a place on Earth."
"You're quoting a Go-Go's song?" She really was crazy.
"It's Belinda Carlisle, actually. And you were supposed to swoon and fall into my arms."
"I would have." I took her hand instead and led her out of the alley. "But you ruined the moment by quoting a bad pop song. And it's by the Go-Go's."
"It was recorded by Belinda Carlisle in her solo period."
"OK," I conceded. "I don't actually care who it's by, it's a crap pop song. I can't believe you're quoting a crap pop song at a moment like this."
"You know," she said, crossing her arms and scowling, "I could give the word and I'd be right back up in Paradise."
I rolled my eyes in the appropriate direction. "You're going to threaten me with that all my life, aren't you?"
"You got it, babe."
"I can't wait." I smiled and felt my face nearly break in half. Damn, I felt good.
"Oooh Heaven is a place on Earth." Angel sang hopelessly out of tune.
I walked away, with Angel on my arm, thinking the only thing one can think in a situation like that:
Why the hell didn't I ask her to sing before I made this kind of commitment?