Bones of a Dark Angel
She sat at the back of the bar, alone, as was her practice.
The bar was virtually empty, save a regular or two, as it should be at 10 am on a Sunday, she thought to herself.
The emptiness is what she wanted. It was lonely and tired. But it asked nothing of her. She lifted her glass to toast what she wanted, and drank.
The bartenders name is Jack. He’s reaching his 60’s. He stands a good 6ft tall and is built like an iron worker. A thick chest, strong jaw, but with soft eyes that open to his heart. He’s washing and wiping behind the huge wooden bar as was his practice.
He knows Maddy and he leaves her be. She’s a great gal, but quiet and likes her privacy. He knows she carries burdens, but also knows she doesn’t wish to share them. And so he just watches over her quietly and from a distance.
A younger man walks into the bar and she watches as he looks behind the bartender into the mirror lined paradise of happiness in bottles. She likes to know what people drink. She thinks it tells her something about them. This guy orders scotch on the rocks.
Huh, she thinks. Woulda never guessed it.
Scotch is a mature and elegant spirit. In her mind, it did not match this younger man’s aura, but who was she to judge? After all, that is why she comes here, isn’t it? To escape the judgment of others?
No. To escape judging them…
The young man begins to take in his surroundings. The dark paneled walls covered in dingy pictures, cheesy quotes, bar jokes and marketing signs about a thousand years old. He notes the pool table and the old juke box behind him. There’s the older couple at the end of the bar looking wrinkly and sour, sharing their final years in those two seats and finally, the business man at the other end of the bar, reading financials and sipping his Vodka Cranberry. Then he spies Maddy but Maddy knows how to be observant without being obvious. Her eyes dart back to her laptop as if she was never looking at him, spying on him, summing him up, and using him for her imaginations sake. Her eyes lift. He’s talking to Jack. She sees Jack glance at her locking eyes with him. Jack understands. He shakes his head at the young man, and she sees Jack straighten up and puff out his chest a bit. He’s protecting her. Maddy feels a soft and silky warmth fill her center. Jack is simple, she thinks, but his heart is large and capable of loving more deeply than most. She knows this the same as she knows a Rose is a Rose. She just recognizes it. She doesn’t understand it, but it fills her every time she looks at him. And she just accepts it. She needs it. She needs to feel safe.
In any case, the young man can’t help himself. He’s a young man after all. Young men rarely show discipline. He walks towards her.
Her heart begins to race, but she softly breathes it back into rhythm. In her mind she begins to prepare for the possibilities. She senses her body stiffen and realizes her shields go up involuntarily, instinctively without thought or perceivable action on her part.
The young man has a double shot of Patron glistening and sparkling against the dim bar light in one hand and his Scotch on the rocks tinkling in the other. Maddy looks up and past the young man to Jack who winks and shrugs as goes back to wiping out glasses. Jack also knows that Maddy doesn’t mind a free drink now and then.
The young man, now closer, isn’t looking all that young. He’s in his late 30’s she judges by the beginnings of the crow’s feet around his eyes, and the pockets forming at his jaw line. Not a bad looking man actually. He’s tall, straight, thick, maybe 190. His hair is still dark, his hands look strong, and he has a kind smile. But there’s something in his eyes. Familiar. This kind of familiar sets off alarms. She hears them inside of her head.
“Hello Maddy” He slides into the booth and sets the drinks down.
“I’ve been looking for you for a long time. “ He smiles warmly, kindly.
“Get in line.” She fires back. “What do you want?” Her eyes narrow, like daggers aimed at his heart, should he make the wrong move.
He winks and his eyes sparkle, glimmer. Like an adventurer who’s come to the end of a journey to find his treasure. X marks the spot.
“Drink first” he smiles.
Maddy reaches for a place inside of herself that she only calls upon when she is bracing for the worst possible outcome. A place telling her it’s ok to die. Dying is good. It cools her already cold heart and numbs her mind.
She tips her glass at the young man and focuses all of her attention inward. She drinks the Tequila in one throw back and closes her eyes, letting it slip into the depths of her scarred belly, washing over all the pain, adding to the numbness that she was calling upon.
A reckoning has come, she thinks slowly, calmly. She knew it would. She knew someday she would have to turn and face the wind. No better place to reach the end, here in this godforsaken place that she considers her home.
The tequila begins to do its job. She opens her eyes to look deeper into her benefactor/nemesis, and she moves her pawn two steps forward.
“So, friend, why would you be looking for a lonely old woman sitting in the back of a bar on a fine Sunday morning?”
He sits back and sips his scotch elegantly. He pulls a cigarette from his coat pocket that she now notices is tailor cut and quite expensive looking, and offers her one. She takes it. It’s her brand. He lights it for her and she smiles with her mouth, but her eyes continue to brandish daggers aimed at each of his kill spots.
Van Morrison is crooning from the jukebox [expositing how] marvelous a night it was for a moon dance in the background, but what usually calms her nerves is causing them to prickle down her back starting at the nape of her neck.
“Tell me your story, son” she says as she sits back and releases the smoke from her lungs in curls and whispers into the stale air of the dark corner of the bar. She continues to keep her composure despite the boiling and bubbling thoughts and possibilities that were splashing around inside her head.
Worthy opponent? Let the games begin…
She watches his body tense and then relax as he sits back. His eyes fill with something painful, she notes as he cast them downward and his brow furrows a bit.
Becoming easier to read, she thinks.
“When I was a little boy” he starts. He looks back up and into her eyes, and she felt his energy shift from strong confidence to something like fear and loathing.
He’s hurt, she thinks. He’s vulnerable. I can kill him right here and now and move on. I don’t need to hear his story. I don’t need to know how and why he found me.
“I was abused by my father”
Maddy shifts in her seat. This is not what she thought it was, she begins to realize. And a shield drops. This makes her uncomfortable but she lets it happen.
As she does this, her gut pushes back. She watches a man enter the bar and sit uncomfortably on a stool. He takes the time to look over his right shoulder at the dark corner that had kept Maddy safe for the last year.
Something’s not right, she tells herself.
“It was never quick and always painful” the young man continues.
Maddy brings her attention back to the man sitting across from her. She wishes with a futile desperation that she did not have to play this game today. She draws her breath in slowly and deeply as she surveys the game board in front of her.
“I had no way out. No other family. My mother had died years before, you see. Heroin overdose.” He stopped and pulled a cigarette of his own. He kept his eyes anywhere but hers.
The pain is too revealing, she thinks.
She knows he’s vulnerable, but there’s something more…
I know this man…
There was something undeniably familiar when he was approaching her. It was disconcerting then, but all of her alarms were ringing now. She knew him, but she didn’t know how and this was not allowed. It gave him the advantage and she could not have that. She searched him with her eyes, his nose, his mouth, his cheekbones, his brow and finally his eyes, the giver of truth.
I know him. It’s faint, distant, but remarkable. Where do I know him from?
She cursed herself for her weakness, but shielded her eyes and guarded her expressions, knowing he had the superior position.
“I had a place that I would go to. My secret little hideout” the edges of his mouth turn up into a soft and gentle smile. “A little cutout between some fences. There was a tree that had grown in swirls instead of straight up. I loved that tree!” He laughs a bit, a deep boyish giggle as his eyes light. He looks up and to the left in recall.
Maddy gives him his space. She’s not sure where he’s going with this and she figures if she gives him another moment or two, she’ll have all of her moves worked out before he can strike.
He drew on his cigarette and returned his gaze back to her. “There was a young girl, maybe 15, soft and beautiful. Sweet, you know? She would come talk to me there in my little hideout. She would ask me questions about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what I liked to do, my favorite baseball team, stuff like that. Stuff that drew me out of my hell…”
It hit her. Not slowly, but all at once.
“Stop” she said flatly.
“I can’t. I’ve come too far to do this. I’ll finish”. He told her. He was gaining strength now, becoming stronger and more solid. His vulnerability was disappearing quickly while Maddy’s resolve was weakening. Her heart rate picked up and the Tequila was wearing off.
She looked to her protector, the bartender, who had no idea what was about to unravel in the back corner of this dark little universe. She raised her hand and Jack quickly complied by pouring another drink for her.
Maddy was on the edge of panic and it was showing in little cracks. Her eyes squinted nervously and the edges of her mouth were unable to hide behind the fake smile that looked so real only moments ago.
Her Queen had been captured, leaving her King wide open.
Jack came around the bar and Maddy noticed more people had filtered in. The mood had changed, the energy was static and Jack himself looked nervous.
“Maddy, you ok sweetheart?” he asked her in his strong voice, trying not to sound shaken.
She nodded to the bartender, in her best game face. Jack was easy. Maddy didn’t have to work too hard to fool him.
The young man looked up at Jack who was now exerting large amounts of testosterone.
“You just let me know if you need anything, hear?” Jack shot a hard look at the young man sitting across from Maddy and then went back to tending to the crowd that was oddly gathering on what was once a quiet Sunday morning.
Madeline did what she could to smooth out the cracks that had begun to show, forcing upon herself a slight smile while glazing her eyes.
The shot went down smooth and hit her right where she needed it.
Michael watched her every move, noting her balance returning as the drink settled in her stomach.
“One night” he drew on his cigarette and spoke through the smoke, “he beat me real bad. I had lost something that he had wanted. And he just broke.” Madeline could see the memory coming alive in his mind as his face twisted and his eyes blinked and squinted. “I went to bed that night knowing I wouldn’t wake up again. I closed my eyes and prayed.” He shook his head and drew in a deep sighing breath.
“It must have been 3 or 4 am when I woke up. And there she was. That soft and beautiful girl who had been filling me with hope and happiness for the last year, standing over my bed, pushing the blood clumped hair out of my face with her soft hands. But her eyes… there was something so…” he trailed off a bit and shook his head once more in his own disbelief. “She told me, it gets worse before it gets better. She told me to rest. That tomorrow would be bad, but it would get better. I was strong and meant for great things. I’ll never forget it…” tears fell now. Not with his permission and he shamefully wiped them away.
“When you woke up, Michael, you found your father dead in his own blood letting from his huge belly”
Face the wind, Madeline…
Michael drew back. He didn’t expect this, she saw it in the wildness of his eyes.
“Yes, I did. Lying where you had killed him.” He shot back.
“He killed himself, I did nothing.” Her eyes would not let his go. She had loved this boy and she didn’t want to hurt him. He needed him to understand that. She pushed what little energy she could spare from the center of herself, hoping he would feel it somehow.
“He was your first, Maddy, but not your last. I’ve done some interesting research…” He picked his eyes up from the floor to see if she would blink.
Tired, so fucking tired…
The young man was buzzing with emotion, so many all at once, Madeline was unable to feel him out.
“What is it to you anyway, kid?” she needed to pin point his interest. “Why do you care? He would’ve killed you if he hadn’t killed himself first.” She left herself blank and disinterested, hoping to bring his emotions down to a low boil.
He butted his cigarette and sipped from his glass. His eyes still lit with excitement, while Maddy was drawing her energy back inside of herself. It was taking more strength now than she wished to exert.
Taking this moment to scan the room, that was strangely beginning to buzz, she noted now that there were two men sitting together at the bar, large, awkward and out of place. She caught Jack eyeballing them with deep suspicion as he washed and wiped things.
I’m in danger…
The bar began to shift. The energy, the light, the darkness, the people, were shifting, like the changing of a season, something was not right at all and Maddy felt herself slip slowly, lightly into a dull haze. Something was building in the stale smoke filled room. It was beginning to smell electric. She recognized this smell, but could not place it. Without sanction her instincts kicked her in the belly.
She drew in her breath, as was her practice, to slow herself down, but it was too late
I’m a monster…
“Your father…” she spoke softly but with an undefinable coldness, “was not the first…”
It’s the smell…
Michael’s right hand began to move in slow motion towards the inside of his jacket. The room, it seemed, drew in its own breath.
But then time stopped. As if time never was.
A burst of light that had no beginning, heavy, and constricting, consumed her. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see
The two men who sat out of place at the bar moved inside of the lightening that now filled the space, they were there in front of her.
They didn’t speak, but she could hear them.
“No. Remember yourself Madeline”
This repeated in her head in hollow echoes.
It repeated in the coppery smelling air.
It repeated behind her eyes and inside of the buzzing between her ears.
She watched in veneration as the light began to compress into a single point.
The large and awkward man to her left pointed at her chest and the light disappeared inside the center of her body.
Her arms flew back against the booth as if a bomb had exploded in her lap and her eyes blazed white.
Just as soon as it had started, it stopped. The two men were back at the bar sitting uncomfortably and out of place, both looking over their shoulder at Maddy in the dark corner of the bar.
Michael’s hand, now in real time, withdrew from the left breast pocket of his jacket with an envelope.
He set it on the table in front of Maddy. He looked her in the eyes, with tears brimming in his own, and as he slid out of the booth he said, “Thank you Madeline Angel”.
The room began to breathe again, and the smell of sour whisky and beer was filling her nostrils.
The envelope, Maddy…
With a very weak and shaky hand she reached for the envelope. She inventoried the bar once more with the envelope in her hand. Jack was wiping glasses as was his practice. The sour and crinkly couple were bickering about the game on the TV in the same two seats they would eventually die in. The businessman had finished his Vodka Cranberry and put his newspaper down now looking up at the game. One of the two large and awkward men threw a $20 bill on the bar while the other with his hand on Michaels back, looked to Maddy with a strange and peaceful smile as they got up to leave.
Open the envelope Maddy
His words floated in her mind, but his mouth never moved.
She slowly lifted the lip that was tucked inside of the envelope. There was no letter. No money. No key. No explanation.
What she found was a single white feather, 12 inches in length and singed around the edges as if it had barely escaped fire. She turned the envelope upside down and let the feather slowly cascade into her hand.
I’m not a monster…