|Each evening for a week, Jenny slipped on her darkest sunglasses and, still squinting, peered through her blackout curtains to watch her new neighbor, Carl. He sang from his window across the apartment quad and up one floor, his voice filling the gap and pushing through her window, and as he sang, she imagined ways she might kill him.
His voice was gravelly and he had terrible pitch, but his emotion was consuming. His breath was deep, expectant. His tones came sometimes in hitches and jerks, other times in long scratchy wails. His singing sounded less like a song than like a prayer. And this is what enraged her. The last thing she wanted was for God to appear in her apartment complex, to get anywhere near that close to her. With sight like hers, the revelation would be devastating.
Already she had to keep the shades drawn at night and had ordered heavy blackout curtains. She slept with a thick eye mask and the blankets drawn over her head, and she woke several times a night soaked in sweat. Because the angels were already peering in at the complex, spectral flames and electric lights arcing into the air between the buildings. Few others could see them—the woman below Jenny, down in 2B, complained of migraines more than usual, so she might have a sense of the angels without knowing for certain what they were—but Jenny was inundated by light, was drowning in it.
And enough was enough.
She began following Carl wherever he went. The angels followed, too, but they kept their distance and in the daylight their electric tendrils faded into the blue sky. Also, their attention was focused on Carl, so as far as she could tell, they hadn’t noticed her.
The first day, Carl went to the corner store and the gym. In the store he’d bought a water bottle and she’d bought a small coffee. In the gym, he moved from machine to machine. She’d hated walking the treadmill—she’d walked enough that day already—but it was easiest on and easiest off and easiest from which to watch him. To her relief, the angels had drifted away elsewhere during the workout in the gym. But they came back as Carl, and then Jenny, returned to the apartment building.
The second day, Carl went to work at the library, and the angels stayed outside then, too. He spent most of his day at the reference desk or in meetings, and the one time he slipped away into his office, he left his door open. She thought about following him into the restroom, but someone was always in the stacks near the restroom doors and she couldn’t sneak in without being seen. That evening, the angels were waiting for him at the apartment.
The third day, Carl took a detour through the park. The angels lingered but they were more distant than usual and seemed distracted by the children in the play area. This was good. If she could catch him alone on one of the farther paths, near the trees—
But when they got there, the sidewalk was occupied: a middle-aged woman in pink sweatpants was holding a small terrier in her hands, pushing the terrier’s ass into the nose of another dog. The other dog was backing away.
Carl stopped and laughed, not cruelly but quietly, and said, “What in the world are you doing?”
The woman dropped her dog and blushed. “He’s shy,” she said. “He has trouble meeting other dogs.”
Carl stopped to chat and Jenny was forced to pass them by.
The fourth day at the library, the building was packed. Story hour brought in parents who milled around in corners while their kids laughed and squealed in a side room, and a nearby high school had brought the whole freshman class on a field trip. The angels were watching through all the windows, fascinated.
And each night, Carl’s haunting rasp echoed out into the complex. No one complained. Some people even poked their heads out their windows, leaned on their elbows with their chins in their hands, applauded when he’d finished, utterly unaware that the night sky was ablaze with a score of angels and, behind them, the faint pink glow of God getting nearer. Jenny was wearing sunglasses all the time now, even in the night, even indoors with the curtains drawn.
But the fifth day was different. She followed Carl directly to the library, no detours or obstacles, and when he arrived he headed immediately upstairs and into the dark rear stacks. A whole row of Qs, all sciences and maths, everyone trying to explain everything in numbers and patterns. Carl disappeared down this row and knelt near the floor, his back to Jenny, rummaging among the books.
He never did this. Shelving was for teenage volunteers and part-time staff. Yet here he was, alone, away from everyone, in the dark and the quiet. Jenny came up behind him. She reached into her purse, all her keys separate and tucked into different pockets so they wouldn’t jangle together, all her change at home, all her cellophane-wrapped candy thrown away. The only thing in the purse was an old clothesline, soft with years, but sturdy.
She wrapped an end around each of her fists. The florescent lights overhead grew brighter—Carl was humming to himself, and the lights weren’t the lights but the angels sifting in through the roof, up in the drop-ceiling, heading toward her.
As she threw the rope over his head and snapped it taut against his neck, the angels came through the ceiling tiles. She closed her eyes against them but her pinched eyelids screamed in milky red light. She could feel the electricity of them dance across her skin. Her hair floated off her head. But she could also feel the throb of Carl’s pulse through the rope, and it was this, not the angels, that made her arm hairs stand on end.
She held her breath.
She could feel his legs kicking against the floor, but the carpet was thick, made to muffle the steps of patrons, and his feet made no sound. Then his hands fell from the meridian of the rope on his neck, and he slumped so she stooped with his weight.
The light was bright and cold, the angels swarming around her. She buried her eyes in her arms and bent face-down over the floor, like a three-year-old hiding from her parents. She couldn’t tell if the low hum came from the angels or the overhead lights. Her molars screamed with pain and her ears felt like they might pop, as though she were on a descending airplane.
Then the room went dark. Even with her eyes smothered and her face in the carpet, she could tell the light had left. She opened her eyes inside her arms, then she sat up. The light was gone, the angels dispersed. She sat on the carpet for several minutes, trying to remember how to breathe. Carl slumped against the QHs, his head purple and at an odd angle. His eyes were open and wet, his lips parted, a thin line of blood running from his nose. She reached and pulled his eyelids closed, used his sweater sleeve to wipe away the blood. She pulled the rope gently from the groove in his neck-flesh and coiled it and slipped it back into her purse. She stood and smoothed her pants legs, shook out her hands. The rope had pressed dark lines into the backs of her hands, and she pushed her fists into her pants pockets.
She left by the front door. Outside, she took out her sunglasses but the angels were nowhere, the light of God withdrawn. She held her sunglasses in her fingers and looked up at the sky, bright and blue, a handful of clouds adrift up there, one of them obscuring the sun. She slipped her sunglasses on just as the cloudcover moved, and she whistled as she walked the several blocks back home, but hers was a tuneless whistle, of no interest at all to celestial beings.