Próza - Povídky & Drabbles


Understanding The Human Heart
~by Estriel~

For Cel

"Upon the brink of the wild stream
He stood, and dreamt a mighty dream.”

~ Alexandr S. Pushkin ~

I understand that you want to hear a story about angels. Humans always seem to like stories about things they cannot have, cannot reach... I don’t blame you, though; angels are a rather fetching subject to talk about, indeed.

Now, suppose you want to hear about the bad angels. You know that there are two kinds of angels, right? The good and the bad ones. But the good ones are no story material, trust me – they hardly ever do anything worth telling about. The bad angels, however... But let’s start at the beginning.

When angels were being made, The Creator shaped and formed them out of light and air with utmost care, skillfully carving every limb and every strand of hair, the most perfect of all his creation. And into every single angel, he breathed a tinge of his spirit. The good angels were made first, but the work was straining, so The Creator had to rest after he made the first throng, because not even he can work tirelessly. He reclined and fell into a slumber.

In that moment, The Mischief crept out of the depth of the Heavens, sensing its opportunity. It took the bowl of fire that burned underneath the pot that contained the blend of light and air, the basic tissue The Creator used to make his angels. The Mischief reached into the flames and tossed some of them into the pot like a spice, making the light and air give a quiet hiss and sputter. After that, it returned into its hiding place, cackling to itself at the stunt.

The next batch of angels was made after the break, sculpted with renewed energy and enthusiasm, smoothed and carved into perfection by The Creator’s loving hands, brought to life with a breath of his own spirit. But this second throng of angels had fire burning in their veins, hot and bright, an everlasting imprint of The Mischief’s trick threaded into every particle of their being.

All this happened a very long time ago, before the beginning of Time, actually. Angels have been around ever since, all throughout times, forever keeping The Creator company in heaven, pleasing him with their songs and dances.

The memory of angels is not like the memory of humans, which is like a sieve, memories trickling out as time goes by. Angels remember everything that has happened to them since the moment of their creation. They’ve seen the world as it evolved and changed throughout history while they were stuck in the Heaven. In fact, they are still stuck in there – the good ones, anyway; they never dared to break The Creator’s command that forbade them to descend from the Heavens, never wanted to, never even thought about breaking it.

The bad angels grew restless as millennium after millennium passed, the fire stirring in them, burning and prodding and tugging at their hearts and their minds until all they could think about was what lay out there, all the way down in the world they could only observe from the heights. It must be full of wonders, they thought, what with The Creator being so proud of that particular piece of his creation. Question after question filled the angels’ minds, robbing them of their peace.

Finally, one night while The Creator was soundly asleep, the bravest and most daring of the bad angels crept out and began their descent to the Earth that lay deep, deep below.

You mustn’t think that The Creator did not realize what was happening. He could sense the curiosity and restlessness grow in the hearts of his angels and, that night, he purposely did not hinder them from leaving. He knew they would come back, eventually, because not even all the wonders of the world could hold their attention forever. Not even humans would keep the angels entertained for long – don’t forget that we’re not talking in terms of time as perceived by humans; a couple of centuries on Earth are but a blink of an eye for heavenly creatures who live eternally. Intriguing as they may seem at first, angels would get bored of watching humans go about their lives after a while, just like you would grow tired of watching the leaves of a tree flutter in the wind. Angels would never be able to relate, to understand completely, to feel the way humans feel. And so, The Creator assumed, after a time, humans would become but a bunch of moving objects in the angels’ eyes. We will soon learn that even The Creator can be mistaken, but let’s get back to the angels.

With nothing and no-one to stop them, a group of several bold angels left the Heavens and flew towards the Earth, their whole bodies buzzing with excitement – it really was quite a rush, as you may imagine, to be doing something new, finally, after all this time they spent in Heavens. They explored the Earth, all its beauty and its curious inhabitants, but after a time, the angels returned to the Heavens, just like The Creator has expected.

The Creator took them back without punishment and the angels sang many songs for him, inspired by the countless wonders they had seen in the world below. Ever since, The Creator openly allowed the angels who wished to venture outside the Heavens to go, because it pleased the angels’ hearts and the songs and stories they brought with them upon their return pleased The Creator. That’s how it has been for several thousand years now.

If you’ve ever seen a falling star – as the people on Earth call the phenomenon – you’ve probably seen one of the angels on their way down. The angels’ hair is so light that it flutters around their heads even in the lightest breeze – when they fly at night, the hair creates a streak of light across the dark sky, and they reminisce a quickly descending dot of brightness to the human eye.

Now you know all about how it happened that angels came down to the Earth – or not all, but let’s not linger on the details, because there is a more interesting story to tell.

It’s a story of one of the angels. I shall not give him a name, because angel names are incomprehensible in the human language and a human name would not do him justice. I will just call him Angel – the capital letter is fully deserved, because he was a pioneer of sorts, the one who changed the life of his kind for ever.

Angel had already been down to the Earth several times before our story even began. He found it wondrous, the landscapes varied in color and shape, the seasons that changed the face of the world so often, the endless variety of the flora and fauna. And, of course, the humans.

Angel observed the humans, fascinated by the way they lived their short lives, almost envious of how they filled each day to the brim as if they couldn’t be sure whether they’d have the time to finish what they started in the next one. They probably really couldn’t, Angel realized, the finality of death driving them forward at a speed that seemed incredible to Angel, who was used to the languid pace of things and the peacefulness of everything that took place in the Heavens.

Angel kept coming back to the Earth more often than most of his kin, an inexplicable urge calling him down regularly. Each time, he wandered through lands, watching humans and the way they changed throughout the ages, and they never ceased to astonish him. He watched them be born and die some time later, sometimes he took a liking to a certain family or an individual and followed them all life long, a time so ridiculously short to him. When they died, those special ones, Angel didn’t feel sadness the way a human would upon the death of someone they knew for a long time – it was the natural course of things, like trees losing their leaves in the fall or flowers wilting at the end of summer.

He returned to the Heavens and The Creator always listened to his stories with interest, delighted by his little observations and the details he noticed about the life of humans. You could say that Angel became a sort of a favorite for The Creator, perhaps because he was unusually perceptive on his journeys to the Earth, perhaps because he was more patient than most of his kin where humans were concerned and thus could learn more about them than any of the other angels.

Whenever he left the Earth, Angel was filled with a certainty that he would come back again, sooner or later. He was sure that there were still things for him to explore, things he did not yet understand about humans. He wanted to understand. The deep, ancient restlessness The Mischief had planted into his kind burned inside his veins and Angel figured he wouldn’t find peace until he sated every last bit of his curiosity, found answers to each and every one of his questions, puzzled out every mystery surrounding the human race.

Our story begins on a winter morning. Angel had been wandering the lands of the Earth for a few months already. He had not yet found any human worth following, but the nature of the Earth held enough charm to keep Angel entertained in the meantime. The area he was exploring had a great expanse of fields and gardens, in which crops were raised and apples grown. Angel marveled at the way trees would first bear fruits to please the tongue, then turn golden and crimson and create a feast for the eye, before finally they finally fell asleep under frost and snow.

He had reclined under one of such trees the night before the morning our story begins. Angels do not feel cold the way humans do, so he was in no danger of pneumonia even though it was winter and the temperature had fallen low. Shortly after dawn, Angel was woken up by soft chinking sounds.

He got up and followed the sound – it was not close, but angels can hear things that would be way too quiet for the human ear. He found himself on a frost-covered field not far from a human house. As he gazed against the bright morning sun, he spotted a lone figure standing by a stream that marked the end of the field.

It was a boy, tossing little stones onto the thin layer of ice that had formed on the surface of the water overnight. Some of the stones – the smaller, lighter ones – chinked as they hit the surface. Wherever the boy flung a heavier one – as Angel moved closer, he noticed that he really was flinging them with all of his strength – the ice would break and the stone plunge into the water gurgling beneath.

Finally, after tossing a few more of the heavier stones, the boy heaved a sigh and sat down on the ground, black soil frozen solid. His shoulders slumped and he drew his knees up to his chin, a gesture Angel had seen in humans before. He did not know what was troubling the boy, but he wished to console him – a boy this young should be laughing, carefree. Angel did not know much about what sadness feels like, of course, because – like I said – angels do not feel the way humans do. He could recognize it though; humans often got sad. Sometimes, as he had learned, humans would brighten when he came close to them, even if they could not see him. Soothing this boy’s worry suddenly seemed crucial to Angel.

He moved closer, but as he was taking his final step, the one that would bring him level with the boy, the boy suddenly turned around.

Most humans do not see angels, simply because they’re too stubborn to believe what they’re seeing when they encounter one. And over time, angels have learned not to show themselves to humans because, in most cases, humans would be too frightened for the meeting to be pleasant for either side.

Angel did not, generally, reveal himself to humans. The one time he tried, the young woman out of a family he’d been observing at that time just blinked and shaded her eyes as if she was looking into the sun, then turned away from Angel, grumbling.

This boy, however, did see Angel; he looked right at him. Angel was taken by surprise as the boy’s green eyes fixed on him, because he had not consciously made the decision to reveal himself – the boy was but a stranger, after all.

Now would be a good time to tell you a little bit more about angels’ appearance, or at least the way they look to the human eye. Angels are, of course, quite impressive – what with being the most perfect of creation. However, when you first meet one of them, when you actually see one, you’re usually a little bit blinded, because their skin is shimmery, like snow on a sunny day in the mountains. It takes your eyes a moment to adjust to the glow – it almost hurts at first. It is worth the momentary discomfort, though, because angels are a sight beyond anything you may have seen in your life.

Not everybody would think them beautiful in the common sense of the word, because sometimes humans tend to think inside a box and often are unable to find beauty in things they are not used to. Real angels are nothing like those creatures that painters decorated churchwalls with, and not like those little naked cherubs sculptors put onto fountains, either.

Angels’ faces... Well, when you see an angel, you don’t really see the face at first, you don’t think about the face as a whole, because it’s the eyes and only the eyes that immediately captivate you and draw all your attention. Angels’ eyes are dark like wells in the desert. When you lean over the edge of such a well, all you see is darkness below, because the sun’s rays don’t reach all the way down (and they have to dig very deep in the desert, water is not easy to find water in those areas). Their eyes are old, ancient, and filled with memories of all times like those desert wells are filled with water.

Once you tear your gaze away from the eyes, you will notice that angels’ features are sharp, but in the softest of ways – their faces are innocent like children’s, but at the same time carry the features of a person in the blossom of their life, youthful and eternal, timeless. By looking at an angel, you wouldn’t be able to tell a he-angel from a she-angel with your untrained human eye.

Angels are tall and slender, delicately built yet strong, a work of art so elaborate and intricate that all human sculptors would be jealous. Their wings seem to consist of quivering liquid light; don’t ask me how these wings can carry them, because it is a mystery of creation that humans are not allowed to understand. It is a safety measure, in fact, because if humans – curious as they are – were to discover even only a half of the secret of angels’ wings, they would try to emulate them with their earthly materials and many would perish trying to fly on their imperfect imitations.

Now you know what angels look like and so it should not surprise you when I tell you that the boy sat in quiet wonder for several moments once he laid his eyes on Angel. Angel himself was astonished, because it had never before happened for a human to see him up close unless he intended to be seen.
He stood still, as still as he could, and slowly moved his hand in what he had learned was considered a friendly gesture among humans. He did not want to frighten the boy. The boy had seemed upset enough already, after all, and Angel’s intention was to soothe, not scare him.

To Angel’s delight, though, the boy did not look frightened. He scrambled up to his feet and turned around fully to be able to study Angel more thoroughly. His eyes lit up as he looked at Angel, reflecting some of Angel’s own glow, sparkling a brilliant green in the morning sun.

In that moment, noticing that Angel had focused his attention onto his eyes, the boy wiped at them quickly and stuck out his chin. Angel found him most marvelous, the way he stood there, astride, defiant in a way only humans can be.

When Angel said nothing about the tears, the boy furrowed his brow briefly and then, looking up to meet Angel’s eyes boldly, he asked:

“Are you an angel?”

Angel nearly laughed out loud in delight because – despite being over the age at which human children usually stop to believe in fairy tales – this boy seemed to be perfectly ready to accept Angel for what he was, without any sort of prodding.

Angel smiled and nodded, not sure if the boy would understand him if he spoke – he had never had the chance to speak with a human in words; the closest he had come to communicating was to make humans sense without even seeing. He hoped the boy would understand the smile, the nod.

The boy did, because he smiled in return, no, he beamed and clasped his hands together in what Angel recognized as excitement. The excitement seemed to reverberate through the air, flow into him and it felt – it felt! I’ve already told you that angels do not feel cold the way humans do. They don’t feel warmth, either, and are not familiar with the concept of human emotion at all.

Angel did not recognize the sensation – it was all new, alien, that... feeling. (He, of course, did not know it was a feeling, but I shall use the word to simplify matters for you.) And it seemed to fill him entirely until he was afraid it would make him burst like one of those toy balloons always burst when human children blew too much air into them. The fiery spice The Mischief had added an eternity ago stirred inside Angel and tugged at his every cell, coiling and swirling and engulfing him in what humans would describe as pleasant warmth.

And then the boy spoke again, his voice ringing with hopefulness:
“Can you make it freeze?” he pleaded, waving a hand at the stream behind him. “I mean, properly. With real thick ice, thick enough to stand on?”

Angel had never thought about powers that he may or may not have, or the way they might appear to humans who – as he’d observed – were not capable of some of the things he could do. Some things were natural and effortless for him, they came as easy as breathing came to humans. He’d never seen any reason to linger on these matters and so he’d never thought about the things he could not do; it was unimportant – he did not need anything more than what he had.

Now, however, with the boy’s eyes aglow with expectation, Angel realized that turning water into ice the way the boy wished was beyond his abilities. He had never needed to turn water into ice before. If he had, during one of his visits to the Earth, ever needed ice, he could simply have waited for the next winter or flown to one of those parts of the Earth where winter never ended. It now occurred to Angel, however, that such a solution was of no use to the boy, because waiting is so much harder for humans, since their lives are so short, and because humans cannot move the way Angel and his kin can.

Angel felt the warm balloon deflate inside him as he shook his head, for the first time in all eternity aware of the limitations of his existence. If the warmth before had been pleasant, this... this wasn’t. He wondered if this was what humans felt when something bad happened, if this was what made them cry and wail desperately when someone they held dear died, if this was what made them go around like soulless dolls if what they’d been hoping for did not happen. Angel did not understand how humans could live this way, with such disconcerting sensations; it seemed that every new thing he discovered about them raised several new questions. He ached – not because of himself, he ached for the boy and it was worse than anything he had ever experienced before.

The boy’s smile faded, his head drooped in disappointment. “Oh,” he sighed and turned to resume his earlier seat on the shore of the stream. He rested his chin on his knees again.

Turmoil took over Angel’s heart, because the only reason he had come closer was the wish to soothe the boy... and now he’d made the boy’s torment even worse. He did not understand why the boy craved a frozen stream, of all things – humans usually longed for money, or various material items, or abstract things Angel failed to grasp. But even so, Angel wished he could give the boy what he desired, whatever it may be, just to see the light return to his face, to experience the warmth the boy’s happiness seemed to pour into him.

Angel was glad to hear the boy’s whisper of I’m cold, because it meant he could do something for him. Cautiously, he moved closer and sat beside the boy, enveloping him in his presence and filling it with warmth he knew the boy would perceive. He waited for the tingling bubble to reappear, but it did not come. In fact, when the boy started crying softly, Angel realized that each tear stung him like a spear. That morning, Angel swore never to let the boy down again, to protect his soul from harm with all his might.

Days passed, then weeks, and Angel remained by the boy’s side. Sometimes he observed the boy from afar, too ashamed that he had failed to make him happy, sometimes he ventured closer to try to soothe some of the boy’s pains, shush bad dreams away while he slept. Sometimes, Angel came closer when the boy laughed to listen to the sound and it was almost as good as that first time, when the boy had looked at him with hopeful, trusting eyes.

Angel understood the reason for the boy’s curious request for ice some time later, when temperatures dropped and solidified the ice on the stream. The boy came out in the morning like he did every day. He tossed stones first, smiling quietly when even the heaviest pieces stayed on the surface instead of breaking through. Then, smile growing wider, he tapped the ice carefully with one foot, stomped a little. Finally he stepped onto the ice and stood motionless for a moment, dubiously observing the smooth surface as if he expected it to crack under his feet. When it didn’t, he dared a few slow steps, then launched himself into a slide, laughing when he nearly lost balance. Then he sprinted back to the house and came out carrying a pair of old skates. Angel sat by the stream and watched, basking in the glow of the boy’s happiness as he skated on the narrow stream all day, so long that his lips nearly turned blue in the harsh winter wind.

Angel stayed with the boy and watched him grow – it took years of human time, of course, but to Angel it was but a while. The boy was aware of his presence, Angel was sure, but he did not always acknowledge it. Sometimes he called out to Angel at night and let him bring sleep when it wouldn’t come on its own. Or he let Angel warm him and soothe his bruises when he came home shivering and sore after a long hard time spent on the ice. Even if it hurt sometimes, skating was the thing that made the boy happier than anything else. Angel could sense it, because whatever the boy felt now, he felt, too – in a different way, certainly, a little bit like the rippled reflection you see when you look onto a water surface.

The boy stuck to the ice, dancing on it, pursuing it the way other human children pursue science or mathematics. Angel stuck to the boy because it seemed to him that whatever there was left to learn for him, he would learn from the boy. And, also, because the boy’s presence filled him with a purpose, gave a direction to his wanderings of the Earth.

The boy never asked anything of Angel – that one time, when he’d been but a child and asked Angel to freeze the stream for him, was the only request the boy had ever made. When he called on Angel, it was without any request, but Angel knew what the boy needed and was happy to give it, happy that he could.

One thing that always puzzled Angel was the way humans mated, the way it seemed so essential to their lives. With the boy, Angel finally seemed to gain an insight into that peculiar part of human existence. When the boy – a young man by that time – found himself a mate for the first time, Angel could feel him radiate with something he could not pinpoint, it was a feeling beyond his feeble, blurred grasp of human emotions. It filled the boy with happiness so profound Angel almost got jealous – though, of course, he did not know the concept of jealousy – because he himself could never satisfy the boy’s cravings so perfectly and completely.

Then, one day – it was after a period in which Angel watched the boy’s glow fade bit by bit as time passed – the boy came to him with a request once again. He was in tears, curled up on his bed, and the pain rippling through him, the pain of which Angel only perceived a fraction, was so strong that Angel wondered how come it doesn’t rip the boy apart in the same way that sea-storms turn boats into broken wrecks. Angel knew where the pain came from, or rather from whom, and, for the first time, he felt a burning anger, loathing even, for a human being.

The boy looked at Angel through his tears, blindly reaching for him even though he could not really touch. Humans and angels are made of a different flesh, therefore physical contact in the way humans understand it is impossible.
And then the boy spoke between sobs: “I hate myself,” he said. “I’ve been awful.” Angel wanted to protest, because he was sure the boy could not do anything to deserve such harsh judgment. But the boy went on before Angel could speak to him, speak without words, because words were not necessary as Angel had learned throughout the years.

“I’m a horrible person. How could he possibly love me? How could anyone love me?” the boy whimpered and buried his face into the pillow, his thin frame shaking. Angel touched the boy with his presence, soothing, warm, a touch filled with all the positive, affective emotions he had learned to express. The boy looked up:

“Can you love me?” he asked, eyes red-rimmed and glittering with tears. This time, he did not wipe them away, nor stood up defiantly. Instead, he added: “Please.” His voice was cracked, on the edge of breaking, like a car window that had been hit with a stone but did not shatter quite yet. “Can you love me?”

Angel was confused. He had heard humans talk about love, of course, had made assumptions about what seemed to be the greatest of all emotions. He wanted to love the boy, wanted to learn and understand. He summoned every drop of feeling he could find inside him, all those sensations and thoughts that seemed so strange to him, and so wondrous, and offered them to the boy, reaching out to him with utmost care and focus.

The boy closed his eyes and Angel almost thought he’d succeeded, that he had learned how to love, taken that important step towards understanding humans and the way of their hearts. But then the boy sighed and tears spilled from underneath his closed eyelids, wetting his eyelashes. And Angel knew he had failed to fill the boy’s request once again, the crucial one.

He hid away in shame, blaming himself for failing the one person that had filled eternity with meaning. He knew he would never have the chance again, that there would be no other boy, no second try at loving someone. Angel realized that he would never be able to come back to the Earth, because everything he’d look at would remind him of a feeling, of his failure and of the boy whom he could never grant what he wanted, needed.

It was a peculiar sensation, leaving – it made Angel ache like he’d never ached before and he wished he could stay. But what point was there in staying, what need did the boy have for an angel who could not protect him and his heart from harm. That was, as Angel had learned, what humans expected of angels – protection and help when everything else failed. What good was he when he could not give the boy that.

And so Angel returned to the Heavens, joining in with the rest of his kin and pleasing The Creator with his stories once again. But even despite all their glory the Heavens seemed empty to Angel, and boring – having tasted the sweetness of feeling, Angel could no longer find rest in the Heavens, could not content himself with not being surrounded by the constant ripple of joy and fear, of happiness and pain, of hope and disappointment and all the other emotions that spice up the life of humans. Catching the reflections of the boy’s feelings, letting them vibrate through him like melodies... Moments in which he had shared feelings with the boy had been the most precious ones in all eternity.

Angel was filled with a deep longing, the Mischief’s fire in his veins stirring again, its flame growing brighter as it fed on Angel’s memories of all those things angels were not supposed to experience.

Finally, Angel descended down onto the Earth once again to seek out the boy. What he had forgotten was time; it is very easy to forget time when you’re eternal.

During Angel’s absence, decades had passed on the Earth. In place of the boy he had left, Angel found an old man. Age had turned the boy’s hair gray and his body tired, so tired that he could no longer take the ice. But there was joy in his heart, and profound happiness, when Angel came close enough to sense the boy’s feelings, so he must have found something – or someone, Angel realized – that made him happy. And when the boy noticed Angel’s presence, there was still the same glow in his eyes, the same amazement that had made Angel feel the first time they had met. Angel was happy.

Our story ends on a bright winter morning, many years after it had begun. That morning, the old man who had once been the boy wishing for ice passed away. In that moment, when the boy’s heart struck its last beat and the last breath left his lips, Angel understood.

It spilled through his veins, a searing fire, more glorious and more dangerous than anything Angel had ever seen or heard or felt in all eternity.

The moment the boy closed his eyes for the last time, his Guardian Angel burst into flame, invisible to a human eye, but burning bright to safely guide the boy’s soul into eternity, the best guide you could ever imagine, because he loved.

---

This was the story of Guardian Angels, because that is what became of the bad ones, the bravest and most curious ones. Those were the lucky ones who, after hearing Angel’s stories when he came to the Heavens that one last time before his final journey to the Earth, devoted themselves to the human race and tasted the blissful flavor of a living heart.
The human heart is fragile... and yet stronger than the firmest steel; a greater mystery than all the secrets of the Heavens. And, most importantly, it is aglow with the same fire that courses through the angels’ veins, flame calling flame so together they can burn bright for eternity.

~fin~


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