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Ex Angel

I notice the scars on her back. I wasn't born yesterday. She's a made-over angel. Wasn't meant to be, maybe, or maybe she fucked up somehow. She slumps over the gleaming bar like she doesn't want to be disturbed, but I can't stop my feet from trudging over, leaving traces of soot.
She doesn't look up. Don't think she sees me, though the fluorescence casts my shadow over her clutched hands on the alabaster countertop.
"I couldn't help but notice you," I mumble.
Her response, slow. "Go away."
Her skin is molten rivers down her neck. Milky brown velour. Maybe all angels are like this. Last night's flames swim through my mind. Impossible to shake them; but I'm off duty. Someone else fights tonight's fires.
The angel's back has healed but not well. Ridged suture lines make my fingers itch. Maybe they remind me of burn scars.
"Were you born human?" I whisper. I've always wondered this. I've wondered so many things about angels but never met one to ask.
"No," she whispers back. We've created a conversational reverie. We'll keep the volume low.
"You fell?"
"Well," I say. "Now you're like the rest of us."
She lifts her chin and stares at whiskey bottles overhead, her glass half-empty. Have I offended her?
"What's your name?" I say.
She shakes her head. So faint a shake I nearly miss it.
I take the adjacent stool and lean in to see more of her face. Liquid skin over her cheekbones. Eyes: glassy cyclones.
"Did you do something wrong up there?"
"Yes," she says.
"Will you tell me?"
She grips her hands on the cheap glass. Looks at me. "I didn't watch over you." But she's staring through me.
She looks away. "You. Humanity."
"Is it only your job to watch us?"
"On that shift, yes."
"I didn't know you had shifts."
"You don't know much."
"So tell me."
She sighs. "What's the point?"
I shrug. "It helps to talk."
She laughs. Unclasps her hands and opens them. No crease lines on her palms. Molten skin. I touch but she pulls away.
"I'm only stopping by," she says.
"If you need a place to stay," I start. I mean it to be innocent but how could it be?
She holds out a hand. "I don't."
"Where will you go?"
"None of your concern."
I flag the barman for a drink. "What were you doing?" I ask when I sip. "Instead of watching over us."
She shakes her head. "I... was distracted."
"By what?"
It surprises me, no question. "Love?"
"Yes. Happy?"
"No. I mean, sure. Love. Sounds great, I guess. I wouldn't know."
She gets closer, eyes slit but wrinkle-free. "You lie."
"No." I sip. "Never been in love. Saved that for my... optimistic friends."
She resumes scanning the bar.
"Sorry to disappoint," I mumble.
The silence grows. "Was it another angel?" I say. "The one you love."
"He could have been," she says quietly. "Born at the wrong place. Instead of working, I watched him sleep."
"Romantic. Down here, you get arrested for that." I force a chuckle.
"A grown man sleeping off an exhausting day is not important, nor dangerous," she goes on. "What's dangerous was the baby sleeping in the house down the street."
"What's dangerous about it?"
"It stopped breathing. And it died."
I signal for another drink and when it slides into my hand I down it. The jukebox stops and voices travel but I'm thinking. The baby story is familiar. But babies die all the time, everywhere. Don't they?
"Could you have prevented it?"
She shrugs. "Maybe."
"You're beautiful," I say, my drink talking for me. But not just the drink.
She turns away, grasps a beige raincoat. She pushes off the stool, heads for the exit and I clamber to catch up before she's at the door.
"I'm sorry. Was that offensive?"
Her fingers wrap the handle and she pulls.
Out in the street, I chase her--the most obnoxious thing. It rains like thick mist and I tongue water off my lips. Store lights illuminate the angel's perforated back. Droplets form along her sutures. She speeds ahead, I half-run. She's opium to me. I grab her wrist. Her bones are sturdy. I wasn't sure last time but I'm sure now: she winces. My grip is weak but I release.
"I'm hurting you?"
"You're killing me," she says. Her face points down, eyes at my boots.
"When you touch me, it rips me into shreds. I'm not like you. I won't be here long."
"Your voice," I say. "It's reverberating."
"Because I'm mad. I'm lost." She turns but not quick enough to hide her flowing eyes. She's crying.
"Are you here to find him?"
"No point."
"Your arms," I whisper. "What's happening to you...?"
"They're unraveling."
I can't step back. The mist flows over us in waves, mixes with her liquefying ebon skin.
"You're pixelating," I say. I don't want to use the word melting. There are no flames here, only rain.
"No," she smiles. "I'm unraveling into dimensions you can't see."
"Are you dying?"
"I am," she whispers.
"But," I turn to look behind us as if the answer lies there. "Back at the bar, you--"
"I always had mere moments."
I reach. My hand meets resistance, but my fingers push through her flesh, silky sand, cool chocolate magma.
She closes her eyes and I can't withdraw.
I have more empathy for her than for any human being I've known. "I'll find him," I suggest as she fragments before me. "I'll tell him you fell, for him, to Earth, gave your life."
"You make it sound so noble," her whisper says.
"Isn't it?"
There's no reply. Her face is a mass of photons swimming on my retinas, unconstrained but vaguely human. She radiates light, heat, and I bask in it. I'm selfish, happy it'll be me who witnesses her last moments; the man she loved will never know.
He'll know, she's telling me, but how it happens I don't understand. There's only an aura left, a feeling, warmth inside of me. A shining sidewalk. Stark streetlight shimmer.
My heart trips.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 26th, 2016
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