Introduction: Chester, the eponymous focus of this unpublished novel, is a wealthy, hapless idealist who falls in with dubious messiahs promising immortality—with inevitable results.
from Chester On the Beach
Chapter 12: An Angel Appears
As usual, Wanda and I dithered about what we would serve. Wanda insisted that the professor would prefer tea. I insisted he would take coffee.
“Tea?” said Wanda.
“No tea,” said the professor in his rolling, mellifluous voice.
“Of course,” I countered. “Coffee?”
I looked around for inspiration. What would an ascetic like the professor enjoy? Inspiration came from Nathan. “Will you have a Scotch, professor?”
The professor did not hesitate: “No ice,” he said.
After supper, the group of us—Nathan, Simon, the professor, and his bevy of female guardians—sat in the living room. The women fussed over the professor, making sure he was comfortable. The rest of us crowded around, eager to absorb any wisdom he chose to shed.
Simon had a question. “Can you see my ethereal body and tell me how big my wings are?”
The professor held up his hand in mild protest. “No, no, really. Seeing takes so much concentration, more energy than I have tonight. I’m getting to be an old man, you know. I should be in my bed right now. I might have a seizure right here and disturb our kind hosts.”
Simon had been drinking a good deal of wine, which might explain his nagging insistence. He begged the professor to seehim right then. “Chester won’t mind, will you Chester?”
I told him it was all right with me if it was okay with the professor.
To my surprise, Wanda spoke up. She seemed curious, too. “Really, professor. We won’t mind. Tell Simon about his wings.”
Without waiting for the professor to reply, Simon stood and spread his arms, straining rigidly as if nailed to the Cross.
Acquiescing, the professor sighed and lifted his hands to his temples. He joined his fingers over his eyes, spreading them in what I took to be a mystical manner. “I must concentrate, concentrate,” he whispered.
We all waited. Finally, Simon could not take it any longer. “What do I look like, professor? What do I look like?”
The professor looked up, and in the loudest human voice I had ever heard intoned: “You look… like an asshole!”
Stunned into silence, Simon seated himself with injured dignity. “I’d really expected something more… profound,” he muttered.
After midnight, I was helping myself to a bedtime drink when Nathan appeared. “Chester,” he said. “We need to talk about this professor of yours.”
I welcomed his suggestion. “How the professor recognized me in that crowd after all these years I’ll never know,” I began. “When he singled me out to tell me, in public, of his teacher’s interest in me, I thought it was a gesture of pure magic.”
“It was a gesture of pure conniving,” Nathan replied. “The man is the worst kind of charlatan.”
Struck by Nathan’s harsh judgement, I argued “But didn’t you find him charming? And didn’t you think much of what he talked about made sense? I mean,” I finished weakly. “At least he thinks a lot of me.”
Nathan now seemed in a dark mood. “Sure,” he said. “He thinks a lot of your money.”
“But how do you know he’s a phony?” I asked in some desperation.
“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter,” Nathan answered cynically.
Sadly, I realized that Nathan’s angel wings were not as broad, not as evolved, as I’d always imagined them to be.
“I promise you,” Nathan went on. “If you put your trust in that man, he’ll fleece you. In all my life, I have never met a greedier critter. Trust me,” Nathan concluded, “The man is evil itself.”
Of course, I did not agree. But just so that there would not be friction between us, I contrived to play along with him. I attempted to look penitent.
He did not seem satisfied. “You know, Chester, I can see, too. And what I see is you standing there someday by yourself, nobody to protect you. And I see this dark thing creeping up behind you, this ugly thing scuttling along the ground, coming up behind you. It is going to devour you, Chester, with its greedy teeth and its claws. He’s a monster,” Nathan concluded in a whisper, moving his hands dramatically. “He’s a monster that eats little angels like you and spits out their feathers!”
That was a terrible, fearful image, and so unjust. Yet, maybe because of the evening’s drama, I could not help but be rattled by it. I felt scaly hands encircling my neck.
“Well,” Nathan said, brightening. “I’ve got to get going.” He looked at me conspiratorially. “I’ve got a date.”
With his mysterious mood swings, Nathan never failed to surprise me. Tired, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom and listened to the noises in the house. When all was quiet, I opened my special drawer and removed the holy church choir costume. I vested myself. I needed spiritual centering right then. I opened the doors to my balcony above the beach, stepped outside and extended my arms. There was a slight breeze from the sea, and my vestments inflated and whirled about me. “Walawalawala” I intoned fervently. “Walawalawala.”
As always, the cadence of those holy words calmed me. Standing there with my arms outstretched, vestments flapping, it occurred to me that I did indeed resemble my angelic essence. I flailed my arms about as if they were great wings, enjoying the flutter of the surplice, as it seemed to move with a life of its own. “Walawalawala!” I intoned again, louder this time, flapping vigorously, until something below caught my attention and made me freeze. My stomach contracted as I discovered I was neither alone nor unseen.
On the sand below were three strangers staring up at me. I froze, not knowing what to do. Then it came to me that I did know those people: They were Nathan and two of the professor’s women. The women pointed excitedly.
“Look up there,” one shouted. “Can you see it? It’s an angel! I see an angel!”
“I see it, too,” the other shouted. “Oh my god, it’s really true: There are angels!”
The women grabbed each other and danced around the dunes spasmodically for a few seconds until one shouted, “Get the professor. He’ll tell us what the vision means.” They ran off toward the house, leaving Nathan alone.
Nathan stood there grinning at me. He lifted his left arm and waved at me as if at a small child. “Going for a little spin among the stars?”
I did not answer.
He moistened his finger and held it up, as if testing the wind. “It’s a beautiful night,” he observed. “Be careful of the wind shear.”
~end of chapter~
Sandy McIntosh is a poet and memoirist. He is publisher of Marsh Hawk Press. More information is available at www.sandymcintosh.info