Publish the Word
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Angelus -- Chapter 29

 

 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Psalms 68:11

                              Chapter 29

 

 

She lay against his chest afterwards, exactly as she had years and years ago and for ten thousand nights of marriage, his voice gentle, wrapping her in a warm blanket.  Why did we ever stop being like this? he asked.

I don't know.

You feel like a girl, he said.  Thin and smooth.  Like Audrey Hepburn with your short hair.  You've never been more beautiful.

I do love you, she said.  That's all that matters.

I don't want to lose you, he said.  If you were to die --

Ssssh, she said, pressing her finger against his lips.  Not now.  I want to enjoy this very moment forever.  Just you and me, together.

David made them a vegetable omelet and told her over breakfast he wanted to spend the day with her, no plans, no phones, just the two of them.  Will you sketch me like you used to when we were dating?  he asked.  Those were our most intense conversations.

So he went out to the studio to turn up the heat for her.  Then he sat on a swivel stool and made grotesque faces -- trolls and ogres to distract her -- as she began to sketch with her charcoal pencils, amused by his antics.  He examined her newest paintings, grading them A plus, the best work you've ever done, he said.  Ava had just completed a silhouette of David's head when a crimson drop fell onto the sketchpad.  She touched her nose.  A jewel of blood came away on her fingertip, a ruby.  She compressed a tissue and held it to her nose.

David noticed she had stopped drawing.  What's wrong?

Nosebleed.  It'll stop.


After five minutes she told him she had  better lie down or her nose would dribble all morning, that she had suffered a similar incident a week ago.

They went back into the house and he sat on the bed next to her, smoothing her forehead with his warm hands.  He said, your skin has kind of a blue tint.  Do you feel all right?

Dizzy, she said, like I might pass out.

David reached across her for the telephone, then fumbled the phone book out of the nightstand drawer.  He dialed their doctor and told the secretary who answered that it was an emergency, he needed to speak to the doctor immediately.  After David described Ava's symptoms, the doctor told them to drive to the hospital, she probably needed a transfusion and he would call ahead.

She lay flat on the back seat as David drove, his voice calming.  Her tendency was to panic and imagine the worst, but she felt his right hand on her knee, and the radio, tuned to an oldies rock and roll station, filled the car with the vacuous music of their adolescence, the doo-wop songs of endless love harmonized by the Drifters or the Coasters or the Platters, the same song over and over.  Patches of sky flew past the window, blue and speckled with clouds, blurring when she tried to focus.

I'm going to feel stupid, she said above the music, when they say it's only a nosebleed.  I think it's clotted.  I think we should turn around and go home.

Put my mind at ease, David said.  Please -- let them check you over.

Ava didn't realize it was December 1 until she started to fill out the clipboard form an admittance nurse handed her.  As she leaned forward to concentrate on the information, a red pellet splattered her name.  She handed the clipboard to David and searched her coat pocket for a clean tissue.


I don't know why we have to fill out more of these, he complained to the woman across the desk from him.  We were just here last month.  Can't somebody examine my wife now?  Our doctor said she needs a transfusion.  He phoned.  Can we please just dispense with all this paperwork until later?

A bearded doctor with wire-rimmed glasses whom she had never met took them to a small cubicle off the emergency room.  He had Ava climb onto the padded table and lie on crinkle paper.  You're the acute myelogenous patient? he asked.

My husband thinks I'm cute, she replied, squeezing David's hand.

I'm going to draw some blood, he said.

I'm an artist too, though I rarely draw blood, she said, waiting for the doctor's reaction.  And I thought you were going to give me blood, she added.

She's quite the comedian, isn't she, the doctor said to David as he swabbed Ava's arm in preparation for the needle.

Couldn't you just hold the syringe under my nose for about five minutes? she said, showing the doctor her splotched tissue.  She didn't flinch or blink or grit her teeth at the prick. She was too numb and cold, her mind free-associating as the doctor's hand released the pressure on her arm and she relaxed, her thoughts strangely comical until she began to shiver.  David left the room to get a blanket.  When he returned, he covered her shoulders and leaned close to kiss her.  I'm here, he said.

And I'm here, she said.  How do you feel about Chinese takeout?

You're delirious, he said.

Sex once a year makes me that way.

Ssssh, he said, kissing her again, smiling, his face against hers.

It was worth the wait, she said.  On a scale of one to ten it was a thousand.  You make me feel desirable again.

You are desirable, he said.  He held her right hand under the blanket.  She moved his hand to cover her heart, winked at him, began to purr like a cat, then said, come on, climb up here next to me.  Come on, under the blanket.  They won't be back for a while.  David placed his other hand over her mouth to quiet her.  He shook his head, frowned at her with disapproval, then kissed her again.

The transfusion took three hours, a winding voyage on an icy river, she thought as she floated on the crepe paper raft, eyes shut against the bright sky, her arm tethered but her body swirling like a snowflake in blue air, head spinning and spinning while currents of air swept her along.  David sat beside her with a newspaper.  She could hear him turn the page and fold it, rufflings.  It was their map, she thought.  They were adrift on a floe.  They were surrounded by glaciers.  She could feel ice coming up through her body. 

At last they unstrapped her.  She lay still for another thirty minutes while the nurse in her snowy uniform took her blood pressure and temperature.  She smelled like cloves.  She spoke with an Upper Peninsula accent, slightly Canadian.  She kept asking, how are you feeling, Mrs. Hall?

In the mood for a cheeseburger and onion rings, Ava answered.

Well, that's good your appetite is back, the woman said.

She didn't recognize I was being facetious, Ava thought.  Ava thought perhaps she should say something provocative to embarrass David, but then the doctor appeared beside her, patted her shoulder and said, you should feel more energetic for a couple of weeks.

Ava nodded, her eyes still closed.  She heard David ask, and after that?

Anyone's guess, the doctor said.

What about treatment, like chemo?

Oh no.  Her body couldn't withstand chemo.  Not in her condition.

She heard the silence, David's long, deep silence, his inner voice frozen.  The doctor said after a moment, keep her comfortable and warm, be alert for infections or flu-like symptoms.  Here's our EMT number.  You might want to contact hospice about home care.  Okay?

Cheerful, she thought.  The countdown.  Twenty-four shopping days until Christmas.  And how many days until the new year?  How many days?  Too few.

After several minutes the storm in her head cleared enough for her to sit up and walk unaided out to the car.  David drove them home without the radio or music, his right hand atop hers on the seat between them most of the way.

 

Daybook, December 3

When I leave this life,

may it be in quietude:

a small room, lace curtains,

a balcony above a river, any river,

doves at the eaves, north light,

soft, glowing pears in a porcelain bowl,

your hand in mine

like a painting by Fra Angelico,

and high in the air, near the frescoed ceiling,

the gossamer rustle of wings.  Please,

not on a gurney at County General,

no IVs, resuscitators or the fluorescent

fish-light of strangers, please

not the latex hand of a technician

in half-mask reaching down

to close my startled eyes.

 

For several days her thoughts dwelled on imagined recollections of Eva Braun, as if she could search back that far, but then nagging questions about Hitler and his relationship with Eva would intrude, and the perplexing veneration Eva expressed in her diary would lead to troubling intervals of dozing and dreaming and semi-waking.  How, Ava wondered had the failed house-painter from Austria, a school drop-out who rose no higher than corporal in the military, become the most powerful man in Europe?  How could he plunge over half the world into war and cause the deaths of 50 million people?  How could he possibly be one-half her  - what?  Progenitor?  She would never use the word father in any context.  The idea revulsed her.

She was alone and reading the diary, swaddled as usual in her quilted blanket to preserve heat when all at once the angel was present in the room.  The skin along her arms prickled.  She glanced behind her and saw his bluish iridescence in the vestibule between the front door and living room.  She sat forward on the sofa.  To see him, she thought, still glowing from what realm of light and spirit beyond time was astonishing to her.  As he stepped toward her, she thought of William Blake's Tyger, his two burning eyes and what they beheld.

You were reading, he said, nodding toward the diary on her lap.

Yes.  Eva Braun's diary.  Ava gulped a breath and exhaled to compose herself.  The angel -- he was solid and substantial, she had to keep reaffirming, but so inconceivable and so utterly  remarkable, every time she saw him.  An angel! for God's sake.  She said, I cannot bring myself to call her mother..  She gave birth, but she was never my mother.  I feel sorry for her.  She seemed a prisoner to some tragic fantasy.  But I'm grateful she gave me up.  That took love.

She wept for you until the end.

She did?  I know how part of you dies when you lose a child.  I don't think I'll ever let go of the pain, not completely.  She must have felt the same.  But she's such a puzzle to me.  Why did a sweet, young girl devote herself to him?  He was demented.  What was she, thirty-three when she died?  How did I ever come from them?

The angel stood relaxed, hands at his side.  All of reality seemed suspended, Ava thought.  Or was she still dreaming?  The angel said, who can know the mind of God?  What is now hidden will someday be revealed.  I have no answer to your questions.

But why was he so evil?  she asked.

Because he was so empty.  The evil which resided in him was one of the fallen, a powerful prince of the air.

What?

A world ruling spirit, the angel said.  A corrupted angel cast from the Most High's presence during the rebellion.

Satan?

No.  In that embodiment he preferred the name Fuhrer, a title of Teutonic origin.  This fallen one needed a host to indwell and he found a home in the son of Alois Hitler, the young Adolf.  I can tell you the details from his own words as described to a tribunal following his Beer Hall Putsch.  He told the group of men that when he was hospitalized in October of 1918, after a mustard gas attack, he felt a supernatural presence come upon him.  He said he heard a distinct voice, like Joan of Arc heard a voice.  The gas had blinded him.  He was feverish.  His soul was susceptible.  And this darkness entered him and flooded his mind, his will and emotions.  His body yielded.  The emptiness was filled.

He was possessed?

Inhabitation is not as unusual as you think.

Why?

Why Hitler?  Or why any human?  There are vast, unseen worlds which co-exist.  Entities and angels in untold numbers engage in unceasing activity.  Though you do not see them, in fact, are not aware of their presence, when they manifest through acts of death or destruction you attribute such acts to fate or insane men or even God -- as if the Most High were responsible for everything which occurs on Earth.  Most of humanity is blind to essential truth.

Ava sat thoughtful, unable to take her eyes from his.  Why did he allow so many innocent people to be butchered like animals? she asked.

The angel stared at her with such intensity she finally had to shift her eyes downward.  She felt as if the very essence of her self was exposed.  He had known her for so long, at every intimate moment of her life, silent and invisible, she thought.  She shouldn't be intimidated now, but as his eyes seemed to probe her, she felt laid open and dissected.

You are trembling, the angel said.

She gazed at her hands and tried to will them to stop shaking.  She felt an upsurge of emotions all at once.  What is happening?  she asked.  Why do I feel so overwhelmed with grief?  She tilted her head back for him to see the pain in her face.  Why do I feel so sad? she asked.  Like my heart is being wrenched out.  She held both hands to her chest against the thudding.


She began to sigh heavily and could not catch her breath.  I'm hyperventilating, she thought, gasping.  I feel faint.  And then she felt the angel's hand on her right shoulder, stilling her. 

He loves you with the tenderness of a father, the angel said, for you have not known a father's love.  He is compassionate toward all men and women.  His love abounds, without limit.  What you have just felt is an infinitesimal fraction of the sorrow the Most High feels for his children.  For the evil they do.  Why do the innocent suffer?  Each person is free to commit good or evil.  To submit or resist.  To love others.

Ava sat and stared at her hands, her thin fingers, the angel's legs as he stood in front of her.  She could hear wind in the chimney flue and sleet pocketing the windows.  She could hear  soft, raggedy breathing, and the clock ticking in her chest. 

I have felt abandoned by my father, she said at last.  And David.  And Jeffrey. 

The wind was fluting a single, high note and she wondered what gave it life and made it seem animate, the wind like a spirit howling to enter the room.  The angel stepped back and sat on the loveseat and she felt contained in an aura of soft light and silence. 

The angel said, you see through a glass darkly.  Plato said, you see shadows.

Why was I ever born? she asked with anguish.  The thought of being Hitler's daughter torments me.  When I found out, I thought, that's why I have cancer.  Why I'm dying -- I'm infected.  My blood is tainted with his and with all that death.

You are not guilty for anyone's deeds but your own.


He raised his hand in her direction and immediately she felt the hair at the back of her neck stand up.  She wanted to believe what he said, she thought, as she began to experience waves ripple through her, impressions and then memories of being a girl again, of her father, his gentleness when she was small.  She knew what the angel said was true.  And she wanted to be free and whole and to be healed.   Her father was singing to her; she could hear his voice.  His face was superimposed over her eyes and he was young, forever young as she remembered him.

After the image faded, she said, Hitler is nothing to me.  Ultimately, he is nothing, is he?  I owe Eva Braun my life, but nothing to him.  He was a shell, wasn't he, devoid of humanity?  I had a father who loved me.  And a mother and a husband -- I love David so much and I shouldn't for what he's done, but I do.  I forgive him.

Forgiveness overcomes evil, the angel said.

            I know.  And I forgive my parents.  They were victims, too.

The angel stayed with her for most of the afternoon.  As they spoke quietly, he seemed never to settle his full weight or sink back into the cushions.  His voice reverberated inside her or was she just imagining it did?  His skin was as poreless and smooth as alabaster with no evidence of a beard though he did have light brown eyebrows.  He did have a completely human appearance, and if she were to pass him on a sidewalk never having seen him before, she would think, what a handsome man, if she noticed him at all.  But she would.  Of course.  Anyone would.

She felt dazed as she listened to his words flutter inside her.  He told her about herself and her mother and Eva Braun and about her father and the boy who would become filled with so much death he deluded himself into believing he was a messiah.. What seems so horrifying to you now is merely a moment of cosmic history.  Wait until you see time in its entirety.

Will I understand all this in heaven?

Heaven, he said, is not as you envision it, but more, so much more.  A thousand years is as a day.  And a thousand days are but a pebble on the shore of eternity.  There is no death or sickness or sorrow.

And as she listened, she felt lifted by his words, consoled and weightless as she closed her eyes, a feather, bathed in warmth.  No sickness or pain, she thought.  Angels as far as she could see.  Jeffrey and her mother and so many others, a million candles in a sea of light.

 

He was gone when she awoke.  Several new bruises, like pink and blue asters, had bloomed on her arms.  She felt drained, ninety years old.  Her knee bones seemed to unhitch from their sockets when she stood up, tottering toward the kitchen.  She splashed her face, then brewed peppermint tea.  She ate an over-ripe banana, its sticky honey like glue in her mouth.  David would be on his way home, she thought. 

She contemplated telling him about the angel, but his mind was steel.  He was grids and numbers.  She was space and color.  How they every managed thirty-some years together was a mystery, but they were insync again, David as considerate as when they first met.  He had bought her red chrysanthemums in a crystal vase.  He massaged her into sleep.  He phoned just to ask how she was feeling.  But the angel was a leap in logic beyond, and soon she hoped she could tell David she wasn't crazy, but --

She began to spend more time in bed, not ill, but weak, as if some nearby power plant were draining off her vital energies.  After David left in the mornings, she lay half in this world, half somewhere else.  The wind knocked incessant and unbidden at the windows, rattling the glass.  The sun vanished behind a low ceiling of clouds for nearly a week, and the flat, grey light from the sky seemed to seep through the walls and cover everything with a fine potter's dust.  A winter shroud, she thought, the birds gone mute and the air too chill to venture out.


But on a Thursday morning, or a Friday, she wasn't certain, she pulled her wool leggings and boots over her lined jogging suit and bundled in her goose down parka, then slogged up the hill to her studio.  She had been thinking about Eva Braun's diary for several days.  She had it tucked into her hip pocket.  Once inside, she sat in her coat as the small furnace roared behind her.  She skimmed the pages and remembered when she first read the words addressed to her.  She thought of the naive and expectant woman so eager to bear a child, but paralyzed to tell anyone she was pregnant.  What if she had sought an abortion?  Or perhaps worse, what if she had carried her newborn into the bunker?  Would Ava have perished like the six Goebbels's children?

Ava understood sacrificial love.  She knew what a mother was compelled to do for her child.  And so, without hesitating, she began to tear the yellow-edged pages from the diary and shred them into strips.  For history, she said aloud.  For posterity.  War and remembrance, forgiving and forgetting.

Confetti for the pulping bin, she said.  She would recycle these fifty-year old German words into immaculate, cold-pressed sheets and then into new memories.  She would fill untouched fields of snow with her tracks, scrimshaw on ivory, veins and bones, new life.  She wondered if she would meet Eva Braun in heaven.

After submerging the paper in a soaking vat, she put on her stocking cap and gloves.  Her outdoor studio was a quarter mile farther into the woods along the frozen path and she was panting, wearing down in the cold, but the austere and serene landscape drew her on.  She had the key to dispose of, its metal geometry like a Zen koan in her pocket.  She would never know what lock it opened.  Perhaps it was Pandora's key.  It might reveal an elegant lady wrapped in diamonds or a tiger or the antechamber to hell.  It's secret door would never shudder from the key's cool insertion.


When she reached the stream she had to crack the ice with her heel.  It splintered, then finally gave way.  Water as transparent as air opened underneath her foot.  Water flowing from subterranean springs, flowing to where, she didn't know, eventually the bay which joined all the waters of the world and evaporated in time and flowed in upper air currents as vapors and barometric moistures and fell and rose and was reborn again and again for nothing was ever lost, was it, the law of physics at the heart of everything, she thought.

She stooped to inspect the stream's depth and then content, she dropped the key.  It rotated as it fell, then tumbled when it struck the bottom and came to rest between two slabs of shale four feet down. 

Goodbye my Nazi fortunes, she said.

She glanced up the hillside to the rocky outcropping, but didn't see her angel.  She exhaled her brief fog, searched the sky momentarily and then, fortified internally, trudged back toward her on-coming footprints.

.