This was the last time I ever saw an angel.
Martin and Cassie had arranged for a special evening outside the hospital. Bledsoe and Malakovna and all those others of the Hitchcock Psychiatric Hospital in my "team" consented to a carefully supervised outing. Martin even remembered to bring me pants and shirt and a jacket. I'd really come with nothing but that kimono, and I think that one of the nurses told me that it had been incinerated. In a jacket not mine, I walked through the front doors of that leprous white complex, shocked by the cold. Inside, everything is sealed so tightly, the glass so thick, that the snow looks like flour and the birches planted beneath the giraffe-necked lamps of the parking lot sway as if kow-towing to the mountains. And all this time it had only been the wind pushing them around. I had forgotten the wind.
We rode the bus into the small college town full of rich young men and women stalking the broad and generous boulevards, their eyes beady and cunning, under carefully creased baseball caps. Martin and Cassie walked me to the very edge of campus and up towards the great white house built in a Jeffersonian style long after that most inaccurate of natural historians was making fossils of his own in the ground. The fat white pillars out front peeled paint. Natural history. There they lived with some fifteen or sixteen painters, poets, and other ineffectuals determined to go hatless in this campus of our nation's future leaders. As Martin and Cassie bickered over where the sleds had been secreted last winter I found one underneath the long cup-scarred table in the main hall. I walked out the front door pulling it behind me and studied the sky. The clouds were full and thick with a violent violet light all their own. Unmoved, but moving, the sun squat barely perceptible - an angry white circle burning through the gray horizon. From these factors, I deduced that I might be able to see them again tonight. The conditions were right. As I stepped off the porch, the leafless trees spread out their branches in a rich web of parallax and counter parallax. Perfect conditions, the geometry of the elohim folded and unfolded above me, tantalizing like a mote in the eye floating away as you try to see it straight, then floating down, sublimated again, only after you've given up hope.
Martin and Cassie emerged with sleds pulled from somewhere and we walked to the hill at the other end of town. As I floated behind them, in hopes of becoming that mote, they argued over the artistic merits of a movie they had seen by a Finnish director about a Slavic rock band that tours Texas carrying a coffin on their shoulders. Martin, a man who possessed none himself, admired absurdity, and 'felt' the film had 'plumbed the depths of the human psyche in its exploration of the death instinct.' Cassie argued that the rock band couldn't play and the movie was as slow and boring to watch as most Russian film. "It didn't have a beat and I couldn't dance to it." She was a clever and angry girl dappled with birthmarks, full of all the cynicism and bitterness of a child born and raised on couscous and communes by longhaired parents who taught their offspring to save the world.
The two argued like lovers who had already agreed tacitly to part but could not settle on the right scene, the ideal argument, to make being alone again worth the effort. Whenever they reached an impasse, one or the other would look to me, as if checking the vital signs on a promising patient. All they saw were my wide, bright eyes fixing a gaze upon the prophet-headed sky. Then they would look back at each other again, wondering, not without a kind of hope, if this might be the day, this, the argument.
Martin stared at me because I said nothing. I had seen the film, I knew that, but remembered nothing of it, because I almost never remember movies - at least, nothing of the story; maybe just an image or two, or a line of dialogue. It was up to Martin to spot the leitmotivs, the themes, the variations and patterns. He was a perfectly rational man; full of every right and great secular humanist value a good liberal arts education could buy. His expressions of worried concern for his ward were prodigal, running the gamut from furrowed brow and inquiring eyes, searching for that great darkness rumored to lie behind those who are mad, or have been designated so, to a happy wide mouthed affectation of good humor intended to dispel that darkness forever. Perhaps he saw in me one of the best chances of gathering high-grade material for a fine and moving poem to be submitted to the school review as he was likely to find anywhere on campus.
"It's good to see you again, man. We've all been really worried about you. Hey, it must feel good to get out of that place for awhile."
I ripped my gaze from the heaven-bloated skies for a few painful seconds to respond to another human. "Yes. Yes, it's good to be out. Really a great thing, for here am I."
Darkness unrolled across the evening and the sun, that greatest of celestial distractions, finally fled the field and the empurpled clouds could glow with their own black and secret light. I could feel that hollow light full of intelligence rising up in my heart like a roiling cloud of hungry mosquitoes over a still and endless lake, legion and alien. It pulled me back to the Alaska of my youth to see a light so heavy with sweetness and wrath. I could hear their voices, Martin, Cassie, but far away, as if through tin cans connected by wire, distant and confidential, winding feebly through the windy baffles of night, the sound dulled and snowbound.
"Looks like snow," Cassie said.
"Yes," I said.
We trudged up the hill, white and silent, behind which lay the golf course frequented by wealthy alumni during their summer reunions. Now it was deserted. We trudged up the white hill, but as I saw the clouds growing closer, denser, flashing with purple and violet and black, I broke into a sprint. I hit the top and collapsed into the snow, my legs tight and trembling with exertion. Back and forth, my arms swushed, leaving angels in their wake. The sky pulsed and sucked like an angry ocean above my head.
The others arrived red-faced and heaving, their steps sinking and sliding as they came. Martin turned and perched his sled at the edge of the hill. Its rounded blue plastic edge hung precipitously over the drop, and we three crept inside, each clutching the legs of the one behind. I sat in front, Cassie in the middle, and Martin last. He pushed off and the sled inched forward, grinding over the packed snow for what seemed an age, as if this were not a cliff and we were not hanging over its edge and never would we fall into the whistling and endless sky. The grating continued until it slipped quietly, slyly into a soothing slide as if a giant gentle hand pushed us from behind until it lifted us whole and hurled us deep into the awful white possibility of open space.
We heaved; we bounced. Cassie cried out. The wind whipped my breath away and hot tears shot from my eyes. Bouncing and heaving, I looked up and saw the clouds roiling in fury, bursting with an inhuman love, smaller than the eye of a needle and wider than stars. I was buffeted forwards and back; Martin grunted from deep within his belly, and I felt a dull wet pain roll through my hip. We bounced again and I flew from the craft and rolled through the snow, my eyes blind with freezing tears and laughter bubbling up from my heaving chest. I rolled and tumbled through powder and landed face upwards staring wild-eyed and sobbing as the dark and monstrous light coalesced into one light, one thought - a single soundless word in my heart resounding through my bones and shaking the sky, as if it held the heavens by the throat - the angel fast upon me. At once, my tiny body pressed between the snow and the clouds was full aware of both that self that screams in the face of a divine reflexion only dimly seen, and that great noise and vacuum above through which wonders pass between the angles in which angels collide and slide and stand still. I lay a long time.
When I stood up I saw Carrie scoop out the snow that had been driven into her socks and gloves. Together we watched the sky as, like a fist unclenching, it released a heaven-full of snow.
"I said it looked like snow," said Carrie.
"I believed you, Carrie. I believe."
Martin wandered over icy fields, brushing away frost and rubbing his thighs and buttocks. "Damn, that was fast!" He smiled at me. "Having fun?"
"Yes," I said and stood, shaking quietly.
We went down the hill a few more times, but it was not like that first time. After four or five more runs, we walked back in silence. They put me on the bus and I continued to tremble with the word all the way back to Hitchcock, where Dr. Malakovna sized me up in a moment and walked me to the med counter to prescribe a needle packed with Haldoperidol. In my eyes burned the fire, the fire next time. And all the woman could do was pump me pregnant with the most virulent form of retardant she had in hope of dousing the flames. She mistook, in my gaze, the reflexion for the original. You can't quench flames in a mirror, so she simply turned the mirror towards the wall.
The anti-psychotics wipe my tapes clean, wipes them with napalm, and what I now know, I cannot say. I sit dull-eyed, slackjawed, watching America's Funniest Home Videos with the rest. And just as some guy gets it in the nuts, and the crowd goes wild, I recall a dull, wet pain shooting through my thigh on a snowbound hill. A snowbound pain that is almost a sound, a word, a will, wraps round my lips like a rubber band until I am gagged, until I gag on this, my own private kryptonite, the source of my power and weakness, left helpless hymnless tongue-tied snowbound tongue-tied still.
This was the last time I ever saw an angel.