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Angels Unawares

In December of 2016, Writer's Digest ran a short story contest of 1,500 words or fewer. This is my entry: (No, I didn't win.)

Having slept soundly for an hour, the puppy suddenly stirred awake. He scrambled clumsily to his feet and scampered to the front of his cage. Just then, the latch popped loose and the door opened slightly. The puppy plodded forward, pushing the door open as he went by. No one in the mall pet shop noticed as he waddled straight out the front door. Disoriented by the suddenly cavernous space, the pup sat down, looked up at a startled woman, and yelped.

Bonnie was in a hurry that frustrating evening. How could an argument in the morning, she wondered, upset the entire day? Yet, here she was, facing one more exasperating moment. She was rushing from store to store in search of an appropriate gift for a birthday party, to which she was sure to be late! Worse, she found herself approaching the heart of that morning's argument with her husband: The "Get A Pet" store. She longed once more for the warmth and love of a pet, but Matt was adamantly against the idea. "I've picked up my last piece of poop!" he had proclaimed.

"I cannot look in there." she thought as she approached. Just then, an adorable puppy bounded out of the shop! He sat right in front of her, looked up with baleful eyes, and yelped. Smitten by his plea, Bonnie bent down and petted him. "Poor little guy," she said softly, "what are you doing out here?"

With his tail wagging briskly, the whimpering puppy stood on his back legs and tried to climb up on Bonnie. With that, she scooped him up in her arms and stood up, the puppy licking her face as she rose. "Let's get you back where you belong," she said. "I think he's right where he belongs" a voice replied. Bonnie looked up to see her husband standing there, smiling. "It's not what you think," she started, "he came running out the door toward me." "I know," Matt replied, "I saw it all as I came walking up."

"What are you doing here?" Bonnie asked. "I knew you'd be in here somewhere looking for a gift," Matt replied, "It dawned on me I should help you, and then we'd go to the party together." Bonnie looked down at the happily squirming puppy. "I'm sorry about this morning," Matt said. "Me, too," Bonnie replied. Matt reached out, petted the puppy, and said, "Maybe this little guy ought to come home with us." "Are you sure?" Bonnie asked, her eyes glistening. "Sure, I'm sure," Matt replied, "Besides, he'll be a good excuse to go for more walks with my girl". Bonnie kissed him on the cheek as Matt put his arm around her shoulder. They walked together into the pet shop.

"And that," said Ariel triumphantly, "is how it's done!" Haziel smiled. "You timed that latch perfectly," the younger angel replied, "But I had some nudging to do, too, to get the husband here on time." "Good job," Ariel replied, laughing. "It 'dawned on him', indeed!"

The two angels, unseen by the humans walking by, glimmered warmly as the loving couple approached the counter inside the pet shop. "That seemed easy" Haziel said. "Well," Ariel replied, "It's not hard to get a couple to fall for our hints when they are already leaning into love." Haziel nodded. "I think you're ready for your first solo, Haziel." Ariel said solemnly to his protege, as they rose up and out of the mall. "Remember, we help where we can, and with as light a touch as possible."

The scene shifted for Haziel as the mall faded away and the earth turned beneath him. He found himself standing beside an oak tree, its dry brown leaves rustling in the chill November air. A gray sedan, Sara's sedan, sat parked beneath the tree. Though he had never seen the car before, he knew it with an easy familiarity, for divine illumination had settled upon him like dew.

The angel studied the dirt road Sara had used an hour or so ago to reach this forlorn spot. Most people never noticed the turnoff as they hurried along the winding, two lane highway a quarter mile away. But Sara and Bill had discovered it shortly after they started dating. After that, they came here often.

'They would park here', he thought, 'and wander... over there.' He gazed up the path as it cut through long brown grass, till it was lost in a copse of trees. The angel lifted a few feet off the ground and flitted forward across the field and into the shade of the woods. He followed the dirt road till it swerved to the left. Haziel landed at the bend in the road, and hesitated. For a moment, he glanced further up the path, knowing Sara had pressed on in that direction. But this spot, with its opening in the trees, drew his attention.

A further knowing unfolded in his mind. Sara and Bill had always stopped here. She called it their "tree walled garden". Though dead and brown now, Haziel knew three seasons of wild flowers greeted the couple here, between winters.

Haziel was suddenly aware that Sara dabbled, now and then, in poetry. He saw her ply these lines in her mind one day, as she had walked back to the car:

I come here often with my friend
Yes, with my friend to this road's bend
Yet, perhaps, someday, who knows when
I'll with my friend come to this road's end

WHILE Bill was content at that field, Sara would often glance up the road and ponder where it went; where it ended. "She knows now," Haziel thought, "because she's there." The angel took to flight once more.

Sara sat quietly crying on a rocky ledge overlooking a river far below. In fact, Haziel saw, she was perched on the edge of a cliff with her legs dangling over the side. She had walked the dirt road till two large boulders marked its abrupt end. Looking around for a few moments, she spotted the ledge and wandered toward it. She was drawn to the sudden wide opening, after her hike beneath the trees.

"I didn't expect this," she thought to herself as she gazed at the river far below. "Just like I didn't see this coming," she thought – 'this' being her sudden breakup with Bill. He seemed so awkward when he stopped by her apartment earlier. Pondering his discomfort, she hadn't understood what he was saying at first.

"Are you, are you, breaking up with me?" she suddenly asked. "Yes, I am, Sara," he replied, "I'm sorry." And, with that, he turned and left. Stunned, she watched as he walked to his car and drove away. She was still staring through a torrent of tears, long after he was gone.

Haziel, standing nearby, frowned as he saw Sara lean forward, seemingly drawn by the rolling water below. All of this seemed too depressing to him. "Too brown and depressing," he thought to himself, "from that oak tree by the car, to all these bare trees and dead flowers…" Then, he stirred and moved.

A light breeze glanced across Sara's face. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, drinking it in. She listened as the breeze stirred the leaves of a tree nearby. She sighed in reply and opened her eyes. A lovely tulip tree stood nearby, resplendent in yellow, its leaves shimmering in the light breeze.

"How did I miss that?" she thought, "What a lovely tree!" Sara stood up and walked toward the tree, and away from the edge of the cliff. "I knew I always wanted to come here," she said to the tree, "I just didn't know it was to see you."

"It's not as if I haven't tried," she thought. Yet, Bill had always stopped them at their walled garden. "What else has he kept me from?" she asked herself, gazing up at the yellow poplar swaying gently in the breeze. She swayed gently with it for a few moments, then turned and walked briskly back up the road, heading for her car.

After she passed out of sight, Haziel came out from among the barren branches of the yellow poplar, dead brown leaves strewn about its base. Drawing near to Sara, he followed close behind. She was working on the lines of a new poem. In fact, it flowed quite smoothly, with no further help from him. He listened as she recited it out loud.

I've tried walking this road with a friend
Yet we always wander elsewhere
With something else there to do
And never reach its end
I've never been with this road's end
When I was with a friend, too.

"That poem isn't exactly true, is it?" Ariel said with a smile, as he appeared at Haziel's side, "She had you." Haziel nodded silently, his eye glistening, as Sara drove away.

© Matthew Schilling February 2017

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