Black Stones

Amy Bonnaffons

To whom can we turn in our need? Not angels, not humans. . . .

—Rilke

I.

At midnight, Sarah awoke to find an angel hovering above her hospital bed like a hummingbird. Aside from his large white wings, he looked like a regular naked man—but abnormally good-looking, with dark eyes and hunky shoulders, like Antonio Banderas. He wore a grave expression on his face.

“Oh,” said Sarah. “I get it.”

The angel shook his head. “Don’t worry, you’re not dead yet,” he said. “This is just a preliminary visit.”

He stilled his wings and floated downwards, landing next to her, on his side. He folded his wings behind him and propped his head up on his elbow.

Sarah rolled onto her left side to face him. The rough blanket grated her skin, and she felt the ache in her abdomen where they’d cut her open. But then the angel reached out and touched her shoulder, and an amazing thing happened: all of the pain departed her body, in a great vertiginous rush so strong that she let out a little moan of pleasure.

“Open your mouth,” he said. He slowly transferred a hard object from his tongue to hers. It felt smooth and round, like a stone. “Swallow it,” he instructed, and she felt the little stone making its way down into the dark swamp of her insides.

He reached out and ran his warm calloused hand down her side, and her body rose like bread. She could feel his straight and purposeful penis pressing into her leg. She started moving her hand in its direction.

But just then, as if this gesture reminded him of somewhere else he had to be, the angel leapt off the bed. He hovered above her again, beating his feathered wings.

“I’m going to come back tomorrow,” he said. “I’m only authorized to give you one stone each day.”

“I want you to stay,” said Sarah. “I want to suck your cock.”

“I know,” he said. He glanced down with a slight shrug, as if to acknowledge, who wouldn’t? “You can, eventually. And then, when you’re ready, I’ll perform intercourse with you, and you’ll die. But everything has to happen in a certain order. That’s what they told us, anyway.”

“This is a stupid system,” she said, bitterly.

He stared at her for a moment. “Maybe,” he said. “But it’s the only one there is. The only one I know of, anyway.”

She closed her eyes, because it hurt to look at him. She kept them closed until her pain returned; when she opened them, he was gone.

II.

She couldn’t hold even a smoothie down. She shook her head no.

Her husband John leaned back in the folding chair, the glass in his hand, the straw dangling off the side like an unanswered question.

“This is what I get for being a smart-ass,” said Sarah. “When you don’t take life seriously, death starts to take you seriously. It assumes you’ve been playing for the wrong team.”

“Don’t say that,” said John.

“What, death?”

He closed his eyes. “Please stop.”

“Maybe we could have a safe word,” she said. “You know, one of those phrases to prevent kinky sex from going too far. Like broccoli, or beeswax, or surfboard.”

“Surfboard,” he said.

He reached out and took her hand between his palms—the first time he’d touched her all day—and narrowed his gray eyes behind the black-framed glasses, as if trying to bring her more sharply into focus.

“Go home,” she said. “I’ll fall asleep in a minute, and then you should go home.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“No.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “I mean—I’m sorry. For, you know—”

“Surfboard.”

He cleared his throat. “I do love you, you know,” he said. “Very much.” She recognized the tone from his tort law classes. This Is A Very Important Thing, what I’m saying. Pompous and insincere. But she noticed that his hand, holding hers, was shaking.

She closed her eyes. She could have said something to ease his suffering, but she found that she didn’t particularly care to.

She could still feel the angel’s touch, humming inside her like brandy.

III.

The angel returned just after midnight.

“Is it tomorrow already?” asked Sarah, turning to face him.

“Yeah.” He leaned in and gave her another stone. She swallowed.

“Can I ask you something?”

“OK,” he said.

“Is karma real?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

She frowned, and propped herself up on her elbow. “I’ll tell you one thing,” she said. “For all the sexy ways they portray it in the movies, it’s not very sexy to be the other woman. Because you’re always the other woman. Never the woman, even if he ends up with you. At first John said he wanted kids with me. But now he comes back depressed from the custody visits with the kids he already has. It’s terrible: he takes them out for lunch and they don’t even talk to him; they just pull the batting out of rips in the diner seats while their ice cream melts.”

“What’s custody?”

“King Solomon. They cut the baby in half and nobody’s happy.”

“Whose baby?”

But she didn’t answer. Her eyes had gone somewhere far away.

“Now,” she said, finally, “he’s disgusted by my body. My skin feels like paper. I smell like sour milk.” She lay back down, and pulled the blanket up around her shoulders. “He tries to hide it, but I can tell.”

The angel stretched his wings, then folded them back again.

“I feel sad,” he said, finally.

“Can you hold me?”

“Well—”

“I feel like it’s the least you could do.”

He got up and lay down next to her in the bed, climbing underneath the thin coverlet. He wrapped his arms around her.

“This is very uncomfortable for me,” he confessed. “It just makes me want to have sex with you, and I can’t do that. We’re still in Prelims.”

“I’m dying. My needs matter more than yours right now.”

“I guess you’re right.” He pulled her a bit closer, and started to pat her lightly on the head. “Does this feel good?”

“Sort of.”

He patted for a minute or two, and then he stopped, resting his arm down the length of her side.

“I want to say the nicest possible thing to you,” he said.

“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she whispered.

“You’re beautiful. I really want to have sex with you right now, because you’re so beautiful. But I can’t.”

She still said nothing, but her rib cage rose and fell more rapidly.

“Do you want me to tell you anything else?” he offered.

“No, thanks,” she said. “That was fine.” But her voice was small and tight and faraway.

A thin strip of lemon light showed beneath the industrial-gray hospital blinds. This meant the angel was already late for his next client—high school girl, car accident. After that he was supposed to visit a housewife counting the pills in her cabinet, contemplating suicide.

The black stones lay tucked in the folds of his wings, waiting. But he couldn’t bring himself to leave.

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