The Jealousy of Angels
I was working at the Saturn plant outside of Nashville and had hit a kind of rough patch, but there were also good things, like this girl I was dating—June—and I kept telling myself that it would be all worth it. We were going to make it big, her and me.
Then these angels came, a whole band or regiment or whatever it is they've got up there. The angels said that her beauty was unsurpassed by any human ever before or after, which of course I told them I already knew. They didn't seem impressed. Thought they were better than me—it was obvious. Then they said she was too beautiful to even live and that they would take her life. I told them I thought that was some bullshit.
The Archangel Gabriel related the following:
And God so loved the world, that He gave unto them His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall live forever and never die. This made the angels cry in jealousy, and sob, their faces hidden, their voices muffled by the sleeves of their dampening robes. In the absence of their interminable praise-songs it was suddenly clear just how drafty and solemn the high-arched domes of the Heavenly Vault had been built, footsteps and shuffling wings echoed creepily, and the balustrades—gilded and with their Roman columns—suddenly seemed gaudy and more than a little sad. This suddenness was contradictory to what Augustine had written about the eternal unchanging nature of God and the old saint was filled with shame, stalking to the far reach of some gray neglected cloudbank where he sulked and remembered how great it had been to be an official in Africa in the good old days, when the Church first aligned with Empire. So a conference was called and handbills passed out and an ad hoc committee formed to facilitate the meeting and eventually an accord was reached. The angels would return to their singing and to watching over humans—with a thirteen-and-a-half percent increase in pay and six extra vacation days per annum (the proceedings were partially in Latin, for nostalgic reasons). As well, the angels' union would draft a team of seven (naturally, this being the Number of God) from their membership, and these would go down to earth and take away the most beautiful of all God's beloved humans and that that token gesture would reset the balance in the question of who God loved best and then all business as usual could continue for all time, until the inevitable and imminent Apocalypse that is like a slow train coming from a short ways off.
Gabriel made a flourishy gesture that I took to mean he was finished relating. Michael was stroking June's hair and sniffing behind her neck. He had big fluffy white wings and tiny little white fangs, which I said I thought was odd but Gabriel said all angels have them. In the far corner of my living room, Satan the One They Call Deceiver had appeared; he had his arms folded over his chest and commented that if the union had been so powerful in his day he might have never left the industry. Then they killed her with some angel spell and her soul poured like holy smoke from out the top of her head and some underling got out this device like a wet/dry vac and sucked her soul into the holding tank, where it would wait until they got back to Heaven for June to be one with God. The wailing of her spirit grew faint as they passed through the ceiling and then the roof of the apartment building. They left her corpse behind and I didn't know what to make of that or what to do with it, so I put on the TV to clear my head.
Satan asked would I mind if he stuck around and watched the news?
A baby had been miraculously saved after falling fifteen stories, when the back doors of a pillow truck burst open at just the right time.
An old Hassidic widow about to lose her home to the bank had discovered, buried under a floorboard, seven hundred thousand dollars in plundered Nazi gold.
The angels, it seemed, were already back on the clock.
The news went to commercial. "Big business, big unions," Satan said, "it doesn't matter. They just want to keep the wheels turning. Screw whoever. What about the guy who invested in all those pillows? Or the descendents of those Nazis? Don't they get theirs?"
"Or me," I said, "or June! Don't we get ours?"
"You can fill out a complaint form," Satan said. "It'll take 'em a while to process it, always does. And it's a pain in the ass. They really put you through…" He kind of trailed off.
"Forget it," I said. "I've got enough trouble showing up for work on time."
"That's always it," Satan said. "They keep your day filled with the piddling shit so you don't have the time or the heart to go after the big stuff."
"I'm trying to watch TV," I said. "You want a beer?"
And he said okay, and we watched TV, and that was it. God signed a big contract, the angels stole my girlfriend, Jesus' 800-number was busy when I tried it, me and Satan split a six-pack of Harp; I was late for damn work the next morning. You'd think the whole business at least made me glad to know that Heaven was real and that I would see June again in Heaven, but honestly knowing the truth was no comfort at all. If anything it just made me scared. Narrow gate and all that. And like I said, the angels in their fervor had left me to deal with June's body. You think a guy like me knows how to make that sort of problem go away? And Who do you think stuck around and offered to help?
The Best Girl: A Story With A Moral
Tommy was like "Warren, don't come in here with that hippie bullshit, just relax and we know what we're doing. Besides, the girls don't care. Do you girls?"
The girls sort of mumbled that they didn't care. Or maybe they said that they did. It was unclear. They were distracted. Karen was trying to slip into a patent leather body suit and I thought it was constricting her breathing but she didn't seem to want my help. Jessica (in a rented French maid getup) was helping Karen zip up the back of the suit.
Tommy, Joey, Ronnie, and Stevey had convinced their girlfriends, Karen, Jessica, Samantha, and Berenice that it would be fun to hold a competition to see which was the "best girl" of the lot—best body, sexiest outfit, technique; that kind of thing. Since I was the only guy in our group of friends who didn't have a girlfriend at the time they had asked me to come out and be the unbiased judge. But now I'd gone and raised some questions and Tommy was getting exasperated. I knew I should just stop questioning and be helpful.
"What happens to the winner?" I asked. I tried to meter my voice so it sounded neutral, even friendly; the voice of an ally or at least a collaborationist. "Is there a prize?"
"Yeah, Warren," Joey said. "We take the winning girl and grind her into hamburger then we have a fucking barbecue. Jeez! What a jerk you are!"
"All right all right, I'm sorry I said anything," I said, sorry I'd said anything.
Karen placed first in looks and costume, but Berenice did the best pole-dance and the best lap-dance. She was a dancer. Samantha gave the best blowjob, it was determined on a 3-1 ballot. (Samantha's mournful, sunken eyes.)
By this time I had been disqualified as a judge for declining my blowjob, obviously handicapping my ability to pass judgement thereupon. I will say, however, that from the looks on the boys' faces during the "event," Jessica probably got, err, shafted, in the judging on that one. She placed first only in one category, pubic hair, because she shaved all of hers off and the boys thought that was a fine thing. I was reminded of what a strange-looking organ the vagina is, when you get right down to the skin of it, and the apparent, confounding appeal of razor rash.
It came down to Karen or Berenice, who each had two first place rankings, so for a tie-breaker the boys developed an anal sex category and after a rigorous round they determined that Berenice had experienced more discomfort. And they said that was very good. They gave her the round and the competition, then invited her to say a few words. I was curious to hear what she would say, if she would thank her competitors for being the best damn competition around or if she would thank Jesus or her mother. Then Tommy came out of the shadows with a sledge-hammer like the one John Travolta used in Carrie when he slaughtered the pigs and he whacked Berenice on the head and she died and then fell over.
At the barbecue I caught more shit for being a supposed "hippie" because I wouldn't eat a Berenice-burger. I had declined as politely as I could. "Jeez, Warren," Stevey said, his arm around his girl, "even Jessica's eating one." And she was. Jessica was looking at her burger with an expression like sour envy; chewing each bite to a ragged chunk of perfect suet before she'd swallow. Most of the people at the barbecue were people I didn't know, but I saw Ronnie—who had been dating Berenice—sitting on a lawn chair over by the pool. He was on his fourth burger. I supposed it amounted to comfort food.
I went inside to defrost a Marie Calendar™ chicken pot pie in the microwave. Tommy came through the kitchen to grab another twelve-pack of Coors™ ("Here's to Twins"®) and saw me leaning over the sink, dripping the excess steaming goo from the pot pie into the stainless steel basin. Splat, splat. A burger in Tommy's free hand.
"Hey remember when I killed Berenice?" he said, and I said yes, that I remembered. "Didn't I look just like John Travolta in Carrie?" he said. I told him how I'd thought just that thing at the time.
"You know, though," I cautioned, "Carrie ended with a sweeping and justified act of savage magical vengeance." Tommy looked at his burger for just a second like he expected it to bite back or poison him then he looked at me again.
"Yeah, but that was a movie about an ugly chick," he said. "Berenice was a good-looking girl, she didn't have anything to be angry about."
"She sure was beautiful," I agreed, "but whether she was angry…well I guess you killed her before we could find out. Maybe she was riled up for world peace or equal wages for women in sports or something. You don't know."
"I don't know lots of things, Warren, but I know you're just a bunch of hippie bullshit. Sometimes I wonder why we're all still even friends with you." Tommy looked away from me in disgust, but happily down at his burger, like it had whispered him a foul joke he'd really enjoyed: What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Nothing, you've already told her twice.
"I'm not going to kill you," I said to Tommy, "but I want you to know that I think you should die. I'll be glad if you do. It'd be justice."
"Maybe. But don't hold your breath, Warren. There's lots of people running round this world who should be dead but aren't. Same way as there's lots of dead people who ought to be living. I don't want to die, even if I do deserve it, and just playing the odds I figure I'll probably live to some nasty old age." He laughed and ate and laughed.
And he was right, was the thing, he probably would. Death, like love and money, is not distributed according to the known and reasonable strictures of a rigorous meritocracy. This is why we shouldn't believe in God, but it's also why most of us do.