Angels in the geraniums

Fiction by Kathleen Thomas

Angels – December 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

The old saw has it that seeing is believing, and I believe that’s true. I myself have seen more than a few things that could go unexplained, unrelieved, except that, well, I saw them. But my stories, until today, have paled in comparison to a woman I knew. Her name was Lucy.

When you think of Lucy, if you were lucky enough to know her as I did, you can’t help but talk to yourself a bit. You’ll be apt to say, “That Lucy, she was just so likely to see things.” As in “seeing is believing.” And with Lucy, it was not just “see,” and not just “things” — but to see things. You know. Things. The rest of the world should be so lucky, so likely.

Anyway, Lucy told me this story the very day it happened, and then I heard the rest this morning from Old Mrs. Doolittle. I did not, I sadly report, see any of the earlier happenings myself, but that doesn’t stop me from believing every word. Especially the words from Lucy.

Except for that ability to see things, she was totally unexceptional in all other ways, a woman growing older, alone since her husband died years before. She had no children, and though she looked the part of the strait-laced dowager, ramrod posture and a somewhat stern expression that came, I suspect, from years of reading and note-taking and — I must say this here — seeing, she was actually very much a good-humored woman who talked to plants and communed with neighborhood youngsters. So when she came to me the day this all took place, with a smile playing at her lips and her eyes flashing with a secret, I never doubted a word. Not about the angel or the water or any of it. Not a word.

Talk had it that Lucy saw Faints and heard voices since she was a child. She’d lived in this small town all her life, born of two parents who were old from the start. Talk had it they were very strict parents, very gray people whose lives were as orderly and trimmed of fanciful leaf as the severe hedge along their front walk. You’ve never seen such a hedge — all sticks and no green. Such a spare hedge.

And talk had it that Lucy was as flyaway as a pile of loose leaves.

Oh, she was as sharp-angled as her mother and as clamp-jawed as her father, but there was a crackling to her. Like, if she were to ever let loose and play hopscotch, sparks would fly from her feet. If she were ever to run, just run, she would spin in her own gust.

Now, I do not believe every word of town talk, but I can picture Lucy as a small child. And I suspect she was as they said. A child alone, seen talking to animals and plants and pieces of concrete.

In her teens, Lucy was even more alone. Her parents died, within a week of one another I’m told, and she took an afterschool job in the library to make ends meet. No one ever considered taking her in, and no one knew what ends she had to make meet. I guess no one cared.

I was not yet conceived when Lucy was a grown woman, when she took the job full-time at the library and spent long days and endless nights bent over stacks of books. But talk around town had it that Lucy communicated with authors and poets and lexicographers and the like, talking with them just like I’m talking with you. Except you’re here, and they weren’t. She talked to the books, don’t you see, and reached through the pages and spoke to those who wrote the words.

Oh, I believe it.

And they talked to her, too. She heard the voices of long-dead writers like Homer and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Browning and Burns. And Dickinson and George Eliot. And Noah Webster and Nathaniel Hawthorne. So they say. And I believe it.

Lucy married late in life. Her husband Jack was was an ordinary man who came to town one day and the next day asked the stern-looking librarian to be by his side. He, too, loved books, and he loved his wife.

Jack worked with his hands, and he died at his tool bench, hammer in hand, an unfinished birdhouse before him. Lucy took that birdhouse, which lacked half its roof and all its perch, and she finished it. Then she painted “Jack’s Birds” over the door and mounted the cozy little abode in the backyard Dutch elm. I cannot tell you the number of times I, as a small child, saw Lucy on a ladder, tea cup in her hand, having an afternoon chat with her birdhouse. She called it Jack.

Whether you doubt at my story’s end is up to you, but I caution you to listen carefully, because if yours is not the lot to see, you might miss out altogether. But if yours IS the lot to hear and thereby see — vicariously, but if you believe, then I think you see — well, you don’t miss out. You decide.

What Lucy told me was fantastic. What she told me was this:

Lucy first saw the angel in a pot of geraniums she had on a shelf under a mirror, directly across the room from the southfacing kitchen window. The mirror reflected window light onto the plant and reflected the plant into the room; Lucy was fond of that interaction. Whenever she turned from washing dishes or even staring out the window, blank-minded and 30 years younger for it, there was the pot of flowers and the image of the pot of flowers. Life imitating art imitating life, she always said of the arrangement.

Of the angel. Well, she said it was smallish as angels go, at least judging by paint put to canvas by Michelangelo and Raphael. No immensity to it, no; Lucy’s angel was perhaps the size of one of those pixie-things but without the attendant cuteness. She told me it had basic angel trappings, except in miniature — butterfly-size gossamer wings, long (four to five inches) and flowing robe, a dime-diameter halo, a harp of matchbook dimensions. My own basis for comparison tells me if you had a Jill doll in your girlhood, or if you beheaded a Jill doll in your boyhood, you know the size of this heavenly being.

That she was not startled says something of Lucy. She’d never encountered an angel before, be assured, but she took it quite in stride.

She was pouring water from a spouted can onto the geranium leaves when the angel shook itself, causing a stir in the blossoms and a most enchanting sound to come from somewhere inside the pot. Lucy thought it must be the roots, harmonizing. Oh, God works in mysterious ways, all right.

“Well, of all the things I never expected to find in my flower pot,” Lucy said. You see what I mean about her taking life in stride? “Did I pour water on your head?”

After a few moments, a good bit of lifetime if measured by butterfly standards (if we’re to measure by size) and certainly long enough to get the dialogue ball rolling by any other standards, the angel slowly moved its wings, but it said nothing. Lucy thought it odd that the celestial messenger was so quiet, but she reasoned that maybe the notion that angels talk is all wrong. Maybe they’re mute, she told me. I’m not so sure about that, but I’d like to know.

“I’ll certainly try to be more careful,” Lucy said. There was something about her discovery, she told me, that caused her to believe she’d find an angel in her flowers each day thereafter, if there were to be days thereafter.

Though she wished the angel would share God’s secrets with her, Lucy said she was otherwise quite happy the day had taken such a turn. She had made plans to clean the screened-in porch — one of those chores that always took considerable advance planning — and this was ever so much more enjoyable. If she came through it alive, that is to say it she came though it not an angel herself — or slave to Satan, for that matter — it would be an experience well worth telling a friend or two. Believers.

And if she didn’t come through it alive, if she found herself strolling the streets of Heaven, that would be dandy as well. To Lucy’s way of thinking, this angel thing was going to turn out just fine either way. She walked to the stove and put a kettle of water on for tea. Hell, for Lucy, wasn’t really a viable concern.

“Tea?” She said she asked the angel without hesitating. She thought about the doll’s tea set she still had. Somewhere. It was a doll’s tea set meant for a daughter, and there was no daughter. Neither was there — no surprise — a reply, only a small shake of a small head, and a gentle sigh from the geraniums themselves.

When the kettle whistled, Lucy made an entire pot of tea in readiness for a long chat. Then she pulled a chair to the shelf and made herself comfortable.

“You know, when I was a child of seven I saw my first ghost,” she said confidentially. “But you, you’re a first for me. I’m trying to put it all in perspective.” And the angel said nothing.

“So it would seem there is no perspective,” Lucy recounted to me later that day. “There’s only here and now, no matter where you are or when.”

Sipping her tea slowly so as not to burn her tongue, Lucy said to the angel, “I’ve seen far too much not to believe in you, little one. Ghosts and voices. I’ve seen and heard and felt far too much. I’m too small not to believe.”

Even though she towered over the angel, Lucy always perceived herself as a tiny speck in the Big Scheme of Things.

“I know that. And you know what else? I know I’m smart to believe. There’s much to learn, to touch, to feel, to see, but there is even more to believe.”

Lucy said she was working on that thought, and I could imagine her squinting mightily to concentrate and only halfseeing the angel, when yet another rather extraordinary event flashed into her life. Here she was, seeing thinks again.

Well, if the angel part of the story caught my attention — and it did — this next “thing” made me gasp.

She said it was a fireball — basketball-sized and round as you please, with a center the color of a gas range pilot light and a shell of campfire red — and it jumped from the burner under the still-simmering kettle and danced across the kitchen floor, lighting up the room with a red-to-bluish glow. I suspect Lucy gave the spectacle a sidelong glance while she kept the angel in her line of vision. To SEE all of it.

There was no reason for Lucy — and for me as well — not to believe in the fireball, to doubt her eyes, her warming shins or her ears. The fireball popped — didn’t sizzle a bit — and rolled around the kitchen’s hardwood floor. Then it cut sharply at the wide door to the living room, turned and bounced across the carpet.

Not a sideburns of singe was left; not a spitcurl of smoke. The ball bounced and rolled to the front door, which was open to the fresh spring day, and it sieved itself right through the screen.

When Lucy last saw it, the fireball was on her sidewalk, headed to a child’s chalk hopscotch out front. And then it vanished. She believed it vanished up; that was her belief.

“Sometimes you must simply accept,” she announced to me in recounting. And you really can’t argue with that.

And so it was that when the frogs poured from the sky an instant later, landing lightly on her windowsill or hitting the grass with a bit more insistence, Lucy did not question. She accepted. She accepted when the huge wave swamped her house, bubbling over and around but not into it, and she absorbed (good choice of words, I think) the sight of dogs paddling through the aquarium-clear water that must have been a hundred feet deep. She waved at her neighbor, Mrs. Doolittle, as the old lady gracefully swam past the kitchen window. The postman delivered a letter in the box by the door, tipping his hat and issuing a stream of bubbles as he mouthed, “Good day.” The screen was all that separated the ocean from Lucy and the angel, but not a drop entered the house.

Lucy accepted. She believed.

And when the legion of angels, the host of heavenly beings, God’s cherubim and seraphim and all the angels in between with Michael up above, began moving out of the drapes and from under the sofa and through the walls and — yes — from the other flower pots in the house, Lucy said she sat very quietly, waiting for whatever would come next.

If it was going to be heaven, so be it. She just sat, waiting and wondering, but mostly waiting. She accepted.

By and by, the water outside subsided, Lucy noticed, and the kettle whistled softly on the stovetop. And the angels settled down and spoke silently among themselves. It was as though Lucy were not even there, she said.

“I believe,” she said, maybe out loud and maybe not. She didn’t make it clear. But she repeated,”Oh, yes. I believe.”

When she was quite sure she would not be missed, at least not for long, she ran to me and spilled it all out in a rhapsodic tale.

And that’s how I got this story, as I said, the very day it happened, and I told no one until now. Nor have I seen Lucy since. She came, she told me the story, and she left, saying the little angel might still be in the flower pot and the rest of them could be filling the house to the rafters. But today Mrs. Doolittle came by, and she told me her own story. It is this:

Mrs. Doolittle, who had not seen Lucy in almost a week, stepped over the damp welcome mat this morning and knocked on the open screen door. There was no answer, and so she peered inside the empty house. She is not one to pry, she’ll be the first to tell you, but she was very concerned about Lucy. What she saw, through the arched doorway from living room to kitchen, was a chair pulled up to the shelf with the geraniums, a teacup perched on the shelf.

“Lucy? Lucy,” she said she called, and I could, in my mind’s ear, hear her old-lady voice like cat bells in dry leaves. She said to the empty house, “I’m on my way to the bakery and thought I’d bring back some shortbread if you’ll join me for tea.”

Still no answer, and the old lady let herself in, taking care not to slam the door. She made sure to tell me she had not slammed the door. Nothing seemed out of place. But Lucy was gone, completely and most assuredly not there. Mrs. Doolittle walked from room to room, noting that all seemed in order. Perhaps Lucy had just gone out for a walk, although the weather had turned a bit cool, a brief return to late winter.

And then the old lady saw it, but she didn’t really SEE it, if you understand what I’m telling you. It was a gold-foil covered matchbook with curious scrollwork on it — a bit like a little harp, she told me, if you looked at it (saw it) just right. And she noticed a single butterfly wing on the shelf by the geranium pot, a wing that must have been plucked with such care to preserve the delicate coating and irridescent design.

“Odd,” she told me. But she smiled when she said it, because the wing and the matchbook were so like Lucy. So odd. And I smiled myself.

What Mrs. Doolittle didn’t see was the tiny halo, but of course she wouldn’t have known that’s what it was. If she had seen it, Mrs. Doolittle would have thought it was simply Lucy’s wedding band, a band so old it had worn smooth and shone with years and years of love. Lucy’s husband Jack, dead twenty years, had placed that ring on Lucy’s finger. That’s what Mrs. Doolittle would have seen, would have thought. She wouldn’t have seen a halo, an angel’s halo that went with an angel’s wing and angel’s harp.

But of course Mrs. Doolittle has yet to believe. She will soon, however. I have reason to tell you this, and I suggest you close your eyes and listen hard and see what I’m saying. Because as Mrs. Doolittle walked out my door, closing it behind her without slamming it, I am quite sure I saw a tiny head move from around a pot in my foyer, a pot containing grape ivy vine. And I’m mostly certain I saw that head give a shake and cause a brief harmonizing of roots.

And you know what else? That small head had a rather stern expression on its face — stern as though it had spent a millennium reading and taking notes. And then it smiled, and its eyes flashed a secret.

Kathleen Thomas, who grew up a Lamartian and once edited the Summit County Journal in Breckenridge, now lives and writes in Hartsel.