Whenever Mary Elisabeth brushed her long and flowing white hair, which she wore in a bun, except at night, she always remembered her grandmother. She remembered her grandmother at other times too; like when red birds happened by to rest on a limb outside the kitchen window, and church bells echoed in the sweet Sunday morning air, and when she felt the invisible brush of an angel’s wings. Her grandmother believed in angels and so did Mary Elisabeth.
“Most of the time, we never know they are angels,” her grandmother whispered to the little girl who sat in her lap curious and wide eyed. Her grandmother always whispered when she said something important. That was so long ago, though, all the time in between seemed to have passed like only seconds on the old clock which sometimes woke her with its ticks and tocks. The clock had been her grandmother’s, as had the brush and mirror which still kept her company after all these years.
“Most of the time, we never know they are angels,” she remembered her grandmother saying, explaining that it had to be that way, for reasons which only God knows.
“And maybe the angels, too,” Mary Elisabeth said, asking.
Her grandmother nodded, lips thinning and turning up in one the sweetest smiles Mary Elisabeth would always remember.
The only angels Mary Elisabeth had ever seen, until then, she told her grandmother were those in the graveyard when they took flowers there for her grandpa and her little brother. Would they look like those angels? she wondered out loud, her grandmother listening.
“Sometimes, and sometimes they might look like the beggar man we saw in raggedy clothes down by the railroad crossing.”
“Is that why you gave him grandpa’s coat?” Mary Elisabeth asked.
After all these years she still remembered her grandma giving the poor shivering man the coat her grandpa had worn when it was cold. She gave him some of their Sunday dinner too.
“No,” her grandmother answered soft and sweet, fingers brushing through her granddaughter’s hair.
Mary Elisabeth remembered promising her grandmother, she was going to look to see if the beggar man had wings the next time they passed that way; to see if he was an angel after all.
It was a promise Mary Elisabeth wasn’t able to keep. When they passed that way again, the beggar man was gone.
“He’s gone to where angels go,” her grandmother told her seeing the disappointment in Mary Elisabeth’s face that Sunday morning as they walked to church.
An old woman now, Mary Elisabeth sometimes sifted through her memories for the angels she might have seen in all those years gone by so very fast.
She was sure there were many, many angels which passed her way.
One was a little girl who sat beside her on the school bus one afternoon the winter her grandmother died. The little girl, she never saw again. She remembered the toy red bird the girl gave her as they traveled in silence, staring through icy windows at the coming dusk.
Another time, an angel walked into fiery flames and returned with her baby safe in his arms from the house burning down around him. Then, he was gone.
“To where angels go,” she heard her grandmother’s memory whisper in her ear that morning, church bells ringing, her house on fire, and tears of joyful relief spilling from her eyes onto the smiling baby she held close to her heart.
And just that very morning, she again saw angels; a man and his son walking in threadbare coats and worn out shoes, through a chilling wind and ankle deep snow.
They were so hungry. She gave them the casserole she was taking to church. There would be plenty of casseroles at the church dinner, there always were. Hers wouldn’t be missed.
It was what her grandmother would have done; and like Mary Elisabeth, she wouldn’t have looked to see if the hungry and cold, father and son, had wings before she did it.
She would see her grandmother soon. This made Mary Elisabeth smile at the face looking back her from her mirror. Sometimes, it was her grandmother’s face she saw in the mirror and sometimes the face belonged to the little girl she had been all those years ago.
This is a work of fiction dedicated to our angels, the angels we know and the angels we don’t.
Edward Reed 2019