Short Story: An Angel Passes By



As I am (slowly) putting my website together and applying for freelance writing jobs I have been going through a lot of my writing and trying to group everything together. I noticed that I hadn't posted this story, which is strange as it quite naturally goes with Autumn's Place and Of Instability and Growing Roots. I wrote them all about the same time and with the same frame of mind.
In any case, everyone needs a Marlena in their lives, just to make everything a little brighter and happier. Not long after I write this one Bat For Lashes released her last album, with the song Laura on it, and it really made me think of my own Marlenas. Cherish those friends forever.

An angel passes by ("un ange passe") is a French expression that always takes me back to moments in the dead of the night during my late teens with the friends I grew up with, that moment when everyone goes quiet, contemplating their own thoughts, and then all go back to their conversations at the same time. That silence that doesn't feel uncomfortable, but warm and fuzzy. These are the people that will always be with you, your own personal angels in your lives. I dedicate this one to those who aren't here anymore.



An Angel Passes By

She stood there in her little babydoll dress, her long, skinny arms wrapped tight around her body, as if she were protecting herself from an invisible force that was about to hit at any moment. Her eyes stared wide into the distance, somewhere away from what we could all see around us and her forehead was creased into a frown of concentration. This is always the image I will have of her in my mind, touchable but unapproachable. Surrounded by a ring of fire keeping her away from the rest of us.

She stood there in her skinny black jeans and black velvet jacket, cigarette smoke encasing her body and a bright smile on her face when she recognized a friendly face approaching her. Nothing fake about her smile – once bestowed upon you, you felt like you were the center of attention for a minute; that no one else existed but you in the world. There are so few people on this earth who have the ability to make you feel this way, that when you meet them you cherish their love for life, long after they have moved on to other places and other people. This is the other image I have of her, happiness and sadness, encased in that body with the beautiful face.

Some people leave and their memories fade over time, until they are remembered only when a photo is found, or a random memory pops into your mind. Other people leave a special legacy behind, one that cannot be erased by time, or alcohol, or drugs or age. All I need to do is close my eyes and conjure up her face and all the emotions I felt every time I was in her presence, even after all these years. Her foot prints can be found all over the world, in the many countries that she traveled to and the many people she met and loved along the way. She was never famous, she never felt exceptional in any way, but she simply made everyone she came into contact feel special for a few moments, and those few moments always lasted forever. Some days I walk through the streets of Manhattan and see a swish of long, blonde hair and a cigarette in a hand and my heart stops for a second. Maybe it is her? Maybe she is still here, walking and talking and dreaming and crying and smiling and just simply present. Maybe I can have one last hug, and this time I will know it will be the last and I will remember it forever. I never knew the last time she hugged me would be the last time I felt her touch and smelt her shampoo and perfume floating around me. If I had known, the last time I told her I loved her I would have looked her in the eyes for more than two seconds and would have made sure she knew that I meant it with all my heart. I hope she knew that before she left.

Marlena was one of those people that you felt had always been in your life, however long you may have known them. She arrived in my life randomly one night, a friend of a friend drinking in a bar that we didn’t often frequent. I didn’t really talk to her that night, she was wrapped up in a conversation with another person who didn’t want to surrender her attention, and then she left abruptly, hugging everyone as she made her way to the exit. A few days later I bumped into her on the street, and she smiled at me and invited me to grab a late lunch with her at her favourite restaurant. She gradually introduced me to all of the people she knew in the neighbourhood and I became part of the family of people working and living there. Marlena always had time for a chat, however tired or overworked she was. She had the ability to make me laugh and smile, even when I knew she was having a rough day. And when she was tired or unhappy, all I wanted to do was make her feel better, a small gesture, a hug, a cup of tea at 3am. Anything to get that look of pure gratitude she would give you on those days. 

There are no perfect human beings. If perfection really existed it would be a flat, boring piece of blank wood. Imperfections create the depth that makes someone human. As much as Marlena was an amazing person, she was definitely not perfect. She kept herself distant from certain things, and locked away parts of herself deep inside so that you could not even see a glimpse of them in her eyes. She would turn away when someone tried to get too close and shut down, wary of giving herself fully to another, wary of being hurt again, and having to deal with pain, again. But she would cry openly and sometimes let you into what her life had been and what she wanted to hide from. What she had finally got over and what she was still going through. She could be as stubborn as a bull and would butt heads with people with her strong opinions. I could not even count the amount of times I had seen her jump up and smash her fist on the bar shouting “but you aren’t listening to me!!!” and stomp off outside for another cigarette, ranting under her breath about idiocy and hypocrisy. But two minutes later she would be back, buying rounds of shots for everyone and laughing at the argument that had taken place moments before. There was never a boring moment in her presence.

Marlena taught me how to find the perfect beaches near the city, wild places where the waves would drag in shells and crabs and city trash, where you could sleep at night if you felt like it and you knew you were safe. She showed me special places in the city where the walls were painted with so much art you could spend hours just looking at them. I taught her where to find the best bagels and where to go to feel like you were in the middle of the countryside right in the city. She would sometimes disappear for a few days and apologise when she reappeared, always saying she needed time away, time to herself, time to finish a song, time to listen to her own voice in her head, away from others that were always crowding it. She would wrap her arms around herself and frown worries away until she could smile lightly again. Some days I would walk into her work and see how tired she was despite her smile and other days she would jump up in happiness and throw herself into my arms, a little ball of energy that couldn’t stop itself from showing all her emotions. She was just a normal girl, but one who created a special place in her heart for everyone.

“I think it’s time for a pint – who’s in?”

“Marlena – it’s only Noon! We have stuff to do today!”

“I said a pint, not 20, and I could really murder a Guinness right now. We can have it with lunch, that way we won’t feel like we are just drinking. And let’s call Robert and Liza and Sandy and the rest so they can join us!”

“OK – and here goes our productive Monday. Let the fun and games begin!”

Never a boring moment. Being friends with Marlena meant being friends with everyone she knew. And being friends with everyone she knew meant that you never really felt alone anymore. Some people you liked less than others, some you felt great connections with while others remained acquaintances, but everyone had something in common: Marlena. She loved to be surrounded by friends and watch them interact and be around each other. She loved to try and match make but hated it when people tried to do it to her. She didn’t get angry often, but when she did you could never see it coming until her rage had broken free. After you saw that you tried hard not to cross her or upset her. No one wanted to be on the other side of that!

When I put her in a cab that night and hugged her, telling her I loved her, she asked me to text her when I got home, which was always the last question she asked all her friends when they left the bar. Twenty minutes later I got her text saying she was home safe and getting into bed. She never made it out of bed alive. Her heart just stopped beating, gave up and sent her off to another place. There was no real medical explanation for this happening at such a young age, so we all ended up deciding that she was needed more somewhere else, and that she had given us everything we needed and everything she had to give. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t devastated… It took me months and months to stop waking up crying and looking at pictures of her. I found it hard to walk down the streets where she used to always be, hard to be in places where I always wondered if she would miraculously walk through the front door. All of her friends banded together and talked about her and stayed friends, but it was always surrounded by sadness. Her presence was always around, but her voice could not be heard anymore.

Even now, years later, we always hold a Marlena party, a night out together where we drink pints, do shots in her honour and get completely drunk and silly. There are people who just won’t go away, even if they are dead and long gone. Marlena is one of those, an angel passing through lives, making them just that little bit better than they were before she arrived. Cherish those Marlenas as they are special people that may not be able to stay long. 

Catch some of their essence before it drifts away elsewhere – it will stay with you for life.

Writing: The Story of a Dream

Usually when I am having a nightmare I tend to wake up, turn around and go back to sleep, forgetting the nightmare and dreaming or not dreaming of something else. Same thing if I am having a nice dream - if I wake up in the middle I will never go back to it again. For the first time in my life (or I suppose that I can actually remember) a few weeks ago I had a dream that ran through 8 hours of sleep, multiple eyes-open-I-am-awake pit stops and actually had a real beginning and a real end. The nightmare-dream was so vivid and real that I can still imagine the scenes today... In any case, this is not a short story, just the strange dream in words. It was as if I was living a movie that I was watching in my head. I'll just keep this as a reminder of how brilliant our imaginations can be when we let them loose.


A Story of a Dream
Two years ago
They sound like loud fireworks, the kind that the city lets off on the 4th of July. But there is no coordination or choreography to these gunshots, mortar shells or bomb explosions. They go on and on and on and then stop. Just when you think that it’s safe to venture out to find lost ones and food and water they start up again. Daytime, nighttime, dawn, dusk; it never ends. The ground shakes, the dead pile up and the pillaging goes on. The electricity has now been out for weeks and radio communication is sparse: batteries have all but disappeared from any of the shops; shops that have no owners or employees anymore, and practically no food, dry or fresh.  All that is left of my apartment is a shell of a building, first it was attacked by snipers and then a large bomb finished it off. Troutman St, Jefferson St, Bushwick Ave – they all look like a war zone in the Middle East, not like the residential part of Brooklyn that they were six months ago. I fled with my cat, a blanket and a few belongings last week, over the Williamsburg Bridge to join some of my friends in Union Square. Our places of work have been closed for weeks, all of the alcohol gone, rats roaming over the Lower East Side eating the crumbs of what has been left behind to rot. 

What happened? One day everything went about its business as normal, the next nuclear missiles were flying all over the world, hitting the most random of targets and setting off what would become a war that no one could make any sense out of. No strategy, just a race to see who could kill the most people off in the shortest of time. Instead of uniting in fear and politics this country has become its own civil war zone, groups of people fighting against each other for no other reason than a need to be bigger and better. The government has long since disappeared into silence, maybe dead, maybe hiding, and we have no way of communicating with anyone within the city, let alone outside of the country. I have no idea how my family is faring, and now my only thoughts are on survival. Survival of myself, my cat and my close friends, the ones that I have been able to remain in contact with.

A few of us have created a little fort in front of Union Square, piles of boxes and bricks, a safer place to sleep, especially when we are huddled in numbers. There are fewer bombs dropped on Manhattan now, but the sniper dangers still exist and we are all scared of what could happen to us at any moment. Food is so scarce and the last bridge went down a few days ago, so, unless one of us can find a boat we are practically stranded on this island that has no light, no public transport, scarce food supplies and no working hospitals. I’ve seen people throw dead bodies into the rivers, just because there is nowhere to bury them on the island and the stench of the rotting flesh was beginning to putrefy the air over the city. We have nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. People are setting up homes in the tunnels of the subway lines, in broken down and bombed out buses and houses. Our Union Square spot is unsafe but none of us have been able to find a safer place to rest yet, our main concerns are staying alive and finding food and water. Those who didn’t know how to shoot rapidly learnt and we use bottles of whiskey and cigarettes, stolen from our bars when we knew that we would never go back to work in them again, to barter for food and firearms.

Two Years ago
Two days ago the fighting got worse again, and a group of heavily armed individuals moved into Union Square just as a general protest was starting up. I hid in our shelter with Luna while the sounds of explosions get louder and louder. At one point someone broke in and tried to carry me away with him, obviously not with any honorable intentions in mind, but I fought and screamed and a good Samaritan heard my cries and fought him off for me. We ran away down a side street and hid there until the fighting moved away. I went back to find my friends and grabbed those who had made it through, probably never knowing if those who are unaccounted for are dead or alive, hiding out somewhere else. We had become so used to having instant communication via text messages that now we don’t know how to handle the fact that once someone disappears you may or may not ever see them again.

One year ago
Seven of us found an apartment in an unfinished government subsidized housing building up in the far northern area of the island. It was supposed to be one of those high-end buildings with a pool and a gym and laundry rooms and upscale appliances in each apartment, constructed for families in need of a cheaper rent. Of course there is no running water and no electricity, but we are making do, the seven of us and my little cat, who has survived all of this with us. She roams around the building, but always makes it back within a few hours, sleeping in my arms or in her travel bag, the same one she used to refuse to get into. Now it is her safe spot. 

We have started to organize ourselves into a larger group of like-minded individuals, other people who don’t agree with the fact that this is the way that the world is going to revolve from now on. The group of right-wing people who have taken control of the island are only concerned about power and wealth and killing anyone who won’t agree or act according to their rules. Anyone who is part of the ruling party has running water and electricity again, while we continue to live day by day, in fear of being caught and killed. There is no way that I can live like this, hiding in a hole, not doing anything but surviving. We meet up in established safe houses, communicate via message drop offs and plan actions that will overthrow the “government”. I remember when we used to complain about our democratic government, back before this war and chaos, but at least we had our freedom. Now all we have is each other and our plans to do everything we can to create change again. I always wonder what life is like in the rest of the country and in other countries. Have whole nations been wiped out, places taken over by dictators and despotic rulers hell bent on creating a world that only belongs to them? Have other countries managed to build themselves back up in unity again? 

If we have to resort to physical violence to stop the horrific happenings around us we will. I am no longer against the use of explosives and guns to bring some kind of good back into what is becoming pure evil. They don’t hesitate to torture and main us if they capture us, one of us died in their hands, his head stuck on a pole in the middle of Union Square, right wear the public demonstration was squashed last year, as a reminder of what they are capable of. There are other families who are also squatting in the building but we all tend to hide from each other, as no one dares trust anyone except for those close to them. And even then our greatest fear is that at some point, as we grow, a mole will find its way amidst us and will quash our revolution before it is even underway. We are mainly in the planning area now, uniting different groups together so that we can act as one. Politics are put to the side for now; it is going to be the People against this evil that has penetrated our world. We remain positive that we will be able to overthrow them, as it will be a mass against a small group. They may be armed to the teeth but we are not afraid to die to ensure that we have a better life again. 

I walk around the city in constant fear that I will be caught and taken in, randomly questioned about why I am not working in one of the work force groups around the island. Every foot I take outside is a risk, and the alleyway of steps near our home is full of lurking shadows. I carry meeting notes and maps and important information around with me, information that I leave in drop boxes and secret pick up locations. If I were to be caught I would be tortured. Or if I were attacked by a random stranger for money or food or just because he/she felt a need for violence, and were found with incriminating documents they would surely sell me off to the party, for a few crumbs and a feeling that they helped find another one of us revolutionaries. Luckily there are more and more people who feel like us, and not as many people who live for fear and violence.

Now
It’s finally over. Or maybe over isn’t the exact word to use, more like there is a new beginning in the air. The party was brought to his knees and we have put a group of people in their place, not a real government, just an interim group of people who will bring back some kind of normal life to this island while we create new political parties and voting systems. The streets are safer nowadays and some cars have returned, although it will take a while to get the electricity and water running everywhere again. We now have boats running over to Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey and a preliminary mail service on horseback has been set up. I still have no idea what has happened to my family and they all probably assume that I am dead, but in the future I hope to make my way across the States to find them, once I am happy with the stability of life in New York. I can only assume that there are nuclear bomb craters all over the States, cities that have been wiped out and other cities that are fine, just cut off from everywhere else. Or maybe there is nothing left out there?

I still can’t really walk down the street with confidence and without an inkling of fear. There still are shadows in the corners and lurking conflicts. The streets are much safer than they were last year, but there is still a lot more work to be done. People will not feel completely secure until we have a strong and healthy government in place, and this is something that may take a while. Sometimes I wish I had kept a lower profile as I know that there is a price on my head out there somewhere, but it was necessary, just for the greater good of this city. I’m just ready to leave for a while, travel and find out the fates of my family members and other missing friends.

Now
While waiting in line for food rations near the old Post Office building in Midtown she was killed by an acid bomb. He came out of nowhere, pushed me aside and threw the bomb at her stomach. Amidst all of the chaos he got away, and she died fast, with so much sadness in her eyes. I will continue the mission she was so invested in, and I will also search for her family members so that they know exactly what she accomplished and how she helped a cause that was necessary. Résistance toujours!