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Daydreams of angels, p.9
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       Daydreams of Angels, p.9

           Heather O'Neill

  Lionel called from the telephone in the halfway house. She sat in the kitchen, listening to Michal’s side of the conversation.

  “Where will the animals go? Oh, oh, oh! We can put the wolves in the park. And then we can go and put up signs saying that there are wolves in the park. Keep out!”

  Michal was quiet for a bit.

  “What are we going to do with the tiger, though? It will walk down the street and it’s going to eat children!”

  Michal was laughing and laughing.

  “We can’t put hippopotamuses in the swimming pool! They’ll get chlorine in their eyes!”

  Michal was laughing so hard that he had to cross his legs so that he wouldn’t pee himself. Andrea realized that she had been right about Lionel the first time she had met him: she had struck gold.

  * * *

  Sometimes, after Lionel buzzed for Michal to come down, Andrea and Lionel would shoot the breeze on the intercom in the lobby. Lionel could still make Andrea laugh. But she knew not to let him up. And Lionel knew that it was probably a good thing that Andrea kept him down there at the bottom of the stairs. Neither of them had ever been successful at romance. And the both of them knew that what Lionel and Michal had was bigger than what they could ever have.

  Andrea didn’t really have much of a family. Lionel’s childhood had been different. His family had expected things from him. He had been so clever as a little boy. He knew that he had been born with possibilities that other people had not been born with. He was at the top of his class and his teachers said that he could get an academic scholarship to any school he wanted. He thought life was going to be a breeze.

  That was before he knew that he was a drug addict. He went to parties like other kids. He did drugs like other kids. But lordy, lordy, lordy, all of that crap affected him in a different way than other kids. It possessed him. He should have known that he was cursed at birth. He was like Sleeping Beauty. Even though there were all these good fairies that gave him looks and charm and smarts, there was a motherfucking dick of a fairy who showed up and said that on his sixteenth birthday he was going to prick himself with a hypodermic needle and he was going to walk around in a daze for the rest of his goddamn life.

  Lionel couldn’t bear to be around people who knew what he was like before drugs had taken hold of him. Lionel’s mother said that the way he had turned his back on the family was worse than his addiction. He was heartless.

  * * *

  “Read me something from your journal,” Lionel said as he was walking Michal home from school.

  “Today I had a conversation in class with a boy named Callum. He said that when he grows up, he wants to work on a ship. He says that he doesn’t mind the sea. He also had a dog that died last year. They buried it in the backyard. He said that he thought that he was going to cry, but he didn’t.”

  “Magnificent! You know what you did, my boy? You located an existential hero! You captured Callum in a nutshell. You know Callum in a way that Callum doesn’t even know Callum. When you look at people, you know exactly what they are about. People are going to love that about you. Nobody likes to go about the world being anonymous and unknowable. They want to know that they are being seen for who they really are. You are a man of the people. You are going to be a leader, mark my words.”

  Michal started to skip next to Lionel because he was so happy.

  “Yes sir, I am a lucky man to have found you, my little buddy. I never knew what the point of me was, you know that? Until you came into my path.”

  They passed a funeral parlour on their way, and inside it they were playing a corpse’s favourite song.

  * * *

  Michal got a scholarship to McGill law school. He ran for public office. And later in life when he was a member of parliament, people always asked him how it was that he had come all this way. He had grown up with nothing. He had had a single mother who worked ten hours a day at a grocery store. Where did he find the courage to follow this road?

  “His name was Lionel. He was a heroin addict. He died of an overdose when I was thirteen years old. He had the biggest heart in the neighbourhood. I still owe him five dollars.”


  On that day, God decided to send ten thousand angels down to a shore in Normandy as there was going to be a terrible battle. The soldiers would need every angel He had in His house. All His most magnificent and awesome angels stopped whatever they were doing and headed down to the seashore. Then God found Himself short of angels. He had to do what He hated to do. He had to send some of the cherubim down to take on some of the tasks that His more senior angels usually handled. It was a shame to have to use the cherubim, the angels that were normally in charge of romantic love. They were sleazy and ridiculous. But what else could God do that day?

  One cherub was sent down to Montreal. He was walking around in a tailored suit, with his trumpet case at his side, when he spotted Yvette Olivier beside the merry-go-round and immediately found her lovely. She had on a black jacket that was tight at the waist and flared out at the bottom. She had a bouncy brown bob that she tucked neatly behind her ears. He liked that she had big brown eyes. Angels all had blue eyes, and brown eyes always seemed so simple and honest to him.

  The girl’s cheeks and nose were bright pink and her eyes glowed, but she was dancing about happily on her tippy-toes. She’d been feeling sick and feverish for the past couple of days and her mother had been fretting over her like mad. Her mother had been continuously saying silly things like this wouldn’t be happening if she didn’t stay out when the sun went down, and this wouldn’t be happening if the girl’s father was here and wasn’t overseas in the war.

  Of course none of her mother’s assertions made any sense whatsoever because now Yvette was feeling better. Oh, and she had lost a few pounds, which was something that she had been desperately trying to do for a while. Feeling so good to be up and about, she swore she would never take being alive for granted again. She wanted to go by her friends’ houses and tell them how much better she was feeling. She hoped that everyone would be up for going to a nightclub. She wanted to be picked up and swung so high that her skirt would fly up over her behind and when the boy put her down, she would feel his sweat dripping off his forehead onto hers. Since her body still felt a little bit tired and weak from having lain in bed for so much time, she thought that if she went out dancing, she might wake herself up once and for all.

  She had taken a shortcut through the park as the shadows became as long as pulled taffy. There was a cute boy who worked at the merry-go-round and who had told her to come by to see him right before she had taken sick. She hoped that he hadn’t found a new girlfriend, but it was entirely possible that he happened to be as fickle as she was.

  Yvette always had a crush on about six boys at a time. That’s just the way that she was. She was always sneaking out to go dancing with them. Her father had put an extra lock on the front door so that she couldn’t escape. Undeterred, she would sneak out her window and would ride her bicycle down a back alley to find a hiding place where kids were playing records and smoking cigarettes.

  She was the eldest child in her family and all the others were still very young. They were all crazy about her and they jumped around the house like wild little dogs when she came home. She was so easy to love, always throwing her arms around everyone and singing popular songs from the radio before breakfast. Her father yelled at her before he left that she gave him more trouble than all the other kids put together, but secretly, he had admitted to himself that she was his favourite. He had never in his life met someone who was so free.

  She held on to the cast iron gate that surrounded the merry-go-round, waving and laughing at the boy. He didn’t come over, though. She tried calling out to him, but there was no way in the world that she could be heard over the deafening music of the calliope. The sound of the calliope crashed over her voice like a huge wave.

  Yvette started stumbling around with the back of her hand
on her forehead, trying to pantomime that she had been sick. She looked like a tragic heroine in a black-and-white silent film, one who had found out that the evil landlord was stealing her home. The boy, who had the very important task of making the carousel turn around and around, still didn’t seem to see her. Or perhaps he did but he wasn’t in the mood to fall for her charms that day. The unicorns and zebras all looked straight ahead in their circular path, refusing to take notice of the girl either.

  The cherub did, however. He started to laugh out loud at Yvette’s little performance. He clapped his hands together in a smattering of applause. She was a breath of fresh air. He most certainly had a soft spot for girls who were brash. He hated shy and humble girls.

  Yvette turned toward him. She suddenly forgot all about the merry-go-round guy. She considered him for about thirty seconds and then decided: Oh, what the hell. She was going to be in love with this complete stranger for the evening and she would see where it led. She thought he was quite handsome, although she couldn’t put her finger on how old he was.

  They walked down the street together. When the cherub told Yvette that he had liked her mime routine, she screamed in laughter. She told him that she went to the movies as often as she could and that her biggest dream, although she was sure it was impossible, was to be a movie star. She suddenly stopped in her tracks. Then she started fluttering her eyes as if she were blind, with her hands clasped at her chest. She slowly put out her hand and felt the cherub’s face. She was reenacting a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. He thought it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen, and believe you me, he had seen a lot of things.

  There was a little old lady wandering about in her nightgown on the sidewalk across the street. Yvette insisted they go help her. The cherub told Yvette that someone would be along to take care of her any minute now.

  “Are you crazy! We can’t leave the poor sweetheart there!”

  The cherub waited while Yvette took the old woman by the arm and led her back to her building. The old lady jabbered away the whole time. She smiled at Yvette affectionately and they disappeared into the stairwell. It was a few minutes before Yvette came back down.

  “Sorry!” Yvette cried. “I wanted to make sure she was okay. I put her to bed and gave some food to her poor mewing cats and straightened up a tiny bit. I’ll swing by tomorrow to see if she needs anything.”

  “Are you done with your good deeds?” the cherub asked.

  “I would hardly call that a good deed!”

  The cherub took Yvette to a little bistro. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing, taking this girl on a date! There were round mirrors on the wall like the windows of a ship. There were stains on the tablecloth. The menu was written in pretty handwriting on a chalkboard on the wall. Their knees were touching one another’s under the table.

  She wanted to hear words of love. That was okay. That was what he spent all day doing. He had notebooks full of them. He had been coming up with inspired and ridiculous things for men to say for years.

  “You are the girl that I have been waiting to meet my whole life. I feel like I’ve known you forever. I feel like you can read my thoughts and can understand me better than any other human being can.”

  He was feeling a little sickened by his own words. He didn’t think they were good enough for her. He suddenly felt dishonest.

  “Wow! You do have a way with words.”

  “Thank you. I’ve been practising them for about a thousand years, but I’ve never had anyone to say them to.”

  “I’ve heard all those lines before.”

  “Of course you have, but only because I wrote them. I give them away. I want other people to be happy.”

  “What is it you do for a living? Are you an artist?”

  “I do play a mean trumpet.”

  “You don’t! I adore music! I mean it. I’m really truly crazy about it.”

  “Come, I’ll show you.”

  He didn’t know why, but he felt like he really wanted to bowl this girl over. He knew that he already had her eating out of the palm of his hand, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted to impress her and impress her some more. He wanted to show her everything that he was capable of. He wanted to turn himself inside out for this girl.

  He didn’t have any money though, so she picked up the cheque.

  As they were walking down the street, he took out his trumpet. Because he was a cherub, he played different types of tunes than, say, a seraph might. Although impossible to put into words, his melodies sounded most like a baby cooing in its sleep, a girl laughing under the covers, a moan escaping from someone’s lips while making love. She clasped her hands together when he was done, in awe. The angel was out of line and he knew it. Humans aren’t supposed to hear angels playing while they are still on earth. They are supposed to experience it in heaven, as part of their welcoming reception, so to speak, as a reward for a lifetime of being truly good. But that was what the girl was. She had the biggest, truest heart that he had ever encountered and she deserved to hear all the songs in his repertoire. If she wanted, he would stand there and play them one after the other until the very end of time, when there was no more planet or any people on it.

  “That was the most beautiful trumpet playing that I have heard. Really! And I’ve been to all the downtown clubs! You could go to America with playing like that. You could have your own record. You should be famous really.”

  And if the angel were a human, he would have blushed. They walked down the street happily, arm in arm.

  “I’m glad you haven’t enlisted. My father’s a major. He’s overseas, but we get letters from him all the time.”

  When she mentioned her father, she took a tiny gold cross that was hanging on a chain underneath her sweater and gave it a little kiss. He supposed she thought that that would make her father safe. The sweet girl had no idea, did she? If she knew how many angels God had sent down to France that morning, she wouldn’t have much confidence in her little trinket.

  What a day, what a day, what a day, the cherub thought. Even though he proudly considered himself above human concerns, he was momentarily taken aback by the sheer solemnity and horror of what was about to happen.

  Well, he was certainly going to have a more pleasant time because the girl was clueless. She had never known any real hardship in her life. Because she had no idea what it felt like to grieve, her face was an unreservedly happy one. The sun was setting as they hurried back to her place. He hid in the alley behind her brick house until she leaned out the window and gave him the signal. A black cat rubbed up against his leg. Its tail waved, like the hand of a magician’s assistant exhibiting that there was nothing. Then, since Yvette had poked her head back inside, he opened his two wings, which were small like those of a dove, and they emerged through the slits in his jacket. He flew up to the landing of the fire escape and squeezed through the bedroom window to be with her.

  As his wings folded themselves back into his jacket, the cherub paused for a second to take in the condition of the girl’s room. It was cramped and messy and had pink wallpaper and a skinny bed with a brass frame. There were some pairs of dirty stockings hanging off the bed frame like the arms of swimmers holding up their bodies on the side of a pool. There were postcards of Boris Vian stuck on the wall above her bed and an aquamarine-blue record player at its foot. There were records lying everywhere with the faces of the singers on the covers, looking like they were crying out in pain, as if they were terrified of being stepped on. For a girl who was so tidy about her physical appearance, she certainly was a slob about other things.

  She hopped from foot to foot, saying, “Shh! Shh! Shh!” Or else her mother would come in and kill them both.

  Having sex was one of the few things that humans were good at. Lord, they made an entire production of it. He liked all the excitement. Her pulse was wild and she was acting as if it was a matter of life and death. He could tell that she didn’t even really love him but, rather,
was just mad about the whole game. He could almost burst out in laughter about how much human beings liked sex. She went behind the closet door and came out with a black lace bra with little pink bows on it and a pair of underwear that almost matched, and a garter belt holding up a pair of nylon stockings that had a hole in one of the thighs. How did they come up with this stuff on their own?

  She bent over the bed with her ass in the air and she asked him if he would spank her just a couple of times. He loved it. He loved it.

  * * *

  As Yvette and the cherub rolled off of one another and fell into a happy slumber, the sun was about to rise on the other side of the ocean, in France. The armada crossing the Channel from England was quite something to behold. The ships were like buildings with hundreds of little windows and doors and populated by cooks and janitors and doctors. They were like a whole little city that had somehow drifted off to sea. It was a lot like Noah’s Ark. Except there were no animals. Instead, two of every kind of young man had been piled onto each boat: two jokers, two jocks, two nerds, two ladies’ men.

  Major Olivier was standing in the landing craft as it pushed out onto the water ahead of the fleet. He and his boys stood in two lines, as though they were children waiting to be let back in after recess in a schoolyard. He was thinking about how his daughter back in Montreal would go crazy for so many of the young men here. These boys were her age and she would be able to find something good about each one of them. She was so pretty that she attracted all the most popular boys, but she gave all sorts of kids the time of day. He once saw her waltzing around the ballroom with a skinny boy with a lazy eye. She found some lovely quality in them all.

  Lately he found that he was seeing all the boys in his company through Yvette’s eyes. He laughed at all their jokes and each and every one of them broke his heart. It was terrible that some of them were going to die. Some of them were a pain in the ass and some of them weren’t his cup of tea, but none of them were anywhere close to being rotten. Not one of them deserved to live or die more than the other.

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