The angel Marie floated over the pearly gates, her wings working deftly so that she got through as quietly as possible. This was the time that the saints changed shifts outside the gates, and it was her only chance of getting back inside without being spotted. As soon as she was across the great gateway, she took a dive behind an apple tree, blessed herself when she made a little rustle as she landed, and peeked out from behind the trunk.
Saint Peter appeared around the corner and made his way towards the gates to relieve Saint James of his duties. It didn’t look like she had been spotted.
She made the rest of the journey on foot, which was strange and uncomfortable, since angels didn’t usually make much use of their feet. But she couldn’t risk the chance of one of the wandering apostles hearing the flapping of her wings or the rustle of leaves if she snagged a low branch. The ground was soft, like carpet, and the grass tickled at her soles when they touched.
As soon as the garden ended, she ducked for the palace walls so that she was hidden in its shadows. Then with her back pressed against the golden walls, she inched her way towards the gardener’s exit door.
The gardener’s room smelled like mud and fresh-cut grass when she went inside. There was also a pleasant touch of cold wetness in the air. If she could creep past the gardener’s quarters, then quickly make her way into the throne room and kept out of sight behind the pillars, she might just be able to sneak in beside Louise before Miss Arothael noticed–
Marie froze, and hoped that it was just one of those tricks your mind played on you when you stayed up late into the night. But when she turned – very slowly – to face where she thought the voice had come from, she saw a short little man with curly hair and crossed arms looking up at her.
“Saint John!” she said, laughing sheepishly. “How interesting it is to see you– I mean bump into you here!”
The little man did a sideways nod and worked his jaw as he stared at her through intense brown eyes. He was still dressed in his pajamas.
“How interesting, indeed,” he said.
“Well,” Marie said, clasping her hands behind her and taking little steps backwards towards the door, “I’d love to stay and chat, dear Saint John, but I’m very late for choir duty, and I really must get going.”
“Yes, yes you should,” Saint John nodded, then looked at an imaginary watch on his wrist. “In fact, you’re – would you look at that! – two whole hours late.”
He looked back up at her. She bit her lip. This was easily the worst part – the part where it was too late to make any hasty exits, and she had to begin making some very good explanations. Her thumbs twiddled furiously behind her back.
“Would it help if I said I’m really sorry and it won’t happen again?” she asked, offering a smile that came out much too pathetic for her own liking. Saint John shook his head.
“Off to the throne room, you,” he said.
“Off to the throne room?” she repeated, clinging on to the last shred of hope she had. “You– You mean I’m free to go? I’ll just hop in and join the choir?”
“No, Marie,” he said, giving her a smile that was almost pitiful. “You’re going in through the front door.”
“Please, no,” she said quickly, holding his arms. “I will positively DIE of embarrassment.”
“Ten thousand present, including THE LORD Himself.” John’s smile might as well have been a full-on smirk. “I really should hope so.”
And so she was marched through the gardener’s quarters (where the gardener already stood awake, shaking his head at her), down the west corridor, and up to the hundred-feet tall golden doors. Azaraphael and Islington, stationed in front of the doors, peered at her curiously as Saint John pulled her up the steps by the elbow.
“Open up, please,” Saint John said, and the angels did without question.
Marie stepped inside, and realized a second later that Saint John didn’t follow her in. The golden doors closed behind her with a great groaning sound.
The entire throne room was silent. The choir – on either sides of the throne – stared straight at her, as did the worshipers all around the throne, the band, and THE LORD. On the right hand side of the throne, the lamb sneezed loudly.
“Um. Hi?” Marie said, doing a little wave.
MARIE. The voice came. It was like the universe itself became a loudspeaker, and she was standing right in front of it. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
“Ah. Hurm. Now that’s the question, isn’t it? Heh heh,” Marie shifted her foot as she spoke. “Where have I been? Where have you been? We all have to had been somewhere, right? In order to get here? If you can’t remember how you got here, better pinch yourself – might be a dream! I learned that from this really cool movie, it’s called Inception. Have you seen Inception? Really cool stuff–”
GALATIANS CHAPTER SIX VERSE SEVEN PART ONE. WHAT DOES IT SAY?
“Oh! Oh oh oh, I know this one! Hold on, let me try and think. Ahh, it has something to do with punctuality, right? No, no, wait. It has to do with honoring your promise. Honor! Honor thy father and mother, right?”
PAUL. WILL YOU PLEASE.
A short, balding man in a brown outfit close to the front turned to look at her. She couldn’t really see, but guessed that it must have been Saint Paul.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked,” he recited.
Marie wished, for a fleeting moment, that she had been in hell with Lucifer instead.
“I’m sorry!” she said quickly. “I’m sorry – it won’t happen again, I promise! I know I was wrong, and I should have been here earlier. Honest. My word is good. Search me and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.”
Another man close to the front – this one tall with curly dark locks and skin the color of burnt honey – turned and scowled at her. She gave King David a small salute and mouthed “sorry” at him.
I AM NOT UPSET THAT YOU’RE LATE, MARIE.
“Really? Great! For a moment you had me worried there, since you stopped the whole–”
I’M UPSET THAT YOU TRIED TO HIDE. DOES THE WORD “OMNISCIENT” MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU?
“Oh! I know this one. I really do, this time. It has something to do with all-knowing!”
MARIE. YOU ARE GROUNDED.
“What? No!” Marie’s arms went slack by her sides. “This– You can’t do this! I didn’t even do anything wrong! I mean, Hazel missed choir duty last month and she didn’t get grounded. This is so unfair!”
She could feel Hazel staring daggers at her all the way from the front. She pushed the feeling aside. Her self-preservation came first in the big scheme of things.
“Come on now, Lord,” she pleaded. “What was it – you’re good and just, right? You wouldn’t make me go… down there! Not even for an assignment! I’m a fragile creature – you would know, you created me – I won’t be able to take it! I’ll break into a thousand pieces! A million! Please don’t do this to me. Please please please!”
Only silence came from the throne. She didn’t even hear the doors opening behind her.
“Let’s go, Marie,” Azaraphael said, tapping her shoulder. “We’ll be keeping your wings, now.”
“Please,” she said one last, desperate time. She tried to scan THE LORD’s face for any trace of emotion, but only found a brilliance like burning copper where His head should be. Azaraphael began pulling her away from the throne, and once she was out, Islington pulled the doors shut once more.
“Miss? Miss, are you okay?”
Marie looked up lazily at the kid. He was probably on his way to class, or something. The sky wasn’t even bright yet. What business did people have in classes so early in the morning anyway?
“Don’t mind me,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Just sitting here, trying to get my life figured out.”
“Aren’t we all, miss,” the kid said, shrugging. “Aren’t we all.”
She rolled her eyes as he walked away. She hadn’t even had a chance to look at herself in a mirror. She probably didn’t – chances were, she looked like a stray hobo. Sure, the leather that wrapped around her feet and the cotton that made up the material of her clothes were far superior to anything that could be found on earth, but it would be her face that sold the whole hobo identity: a faraway, absent kind of look and the dazed way she reacted to everything.
She couldn’t sit here for long, of course. Even when grounded on earth, there were things an angel had to set herself to doing. She heard a vehicle coming up the road and then slowing beside her. There was the sound of a window being wound down, and then:
“Miss, you need any help?”
“I’m fine, officer,” she sighed, getting up to her feet. “Just had a little fall, that’s all.”
She didn’t see, but she imagined the officer nodded. “Be careful out on the streets these days,” he said. “Muggers, robbers, even the ice on the ground might have a mind or two to kill you. Watch your step, okay?”
The police car drove off ahead of her. Marie stuck her hands into her jacket pockets.
And then she began walking.