After a career which included writing for technical manuals and marketing pieces, CJ Grant turned her attention to short fiction. She loves the freedom to write anything she wants and is fascinated with good people who do bad and bad people who do good. CJ lives in southcentral Pennsylvania and runs a literary writing group at the high school where she works and enjoys participating in community arts events.
AN ANGEL AMONG US
“This cold snap has taken another life.” The Reverend Applebee addressed the volunteers who worked with him to help the city’s homeless. They stopped ladling soup into small containers for a moment to stand in a circle with him. “The police informed me a fourth elderly man, one we encountered last night, succumbed to the sub-zero temperatures. Heart attack it seems. Please, join me in prayer for him and for the souls of the others who remain on our streets tonight.”
The reverend prayed aloud, and the dozen volunteers bowed their heads. After, a woman in her mid-twenties named Angel addressed the group.
“I grieve for the death of that sweet soul, and the others of the streets who departed this world for the Kingdom of Heaven. They now reap the rewards that were denied them on earth. Tonight, they sit warm, nourished by the love of God.”
Whispered ‘amens’ floated through the prayer circle in response to the woman. Members of the church used words like serene and tranquil to describe her demeanor and gentle blue eyes. A beatific smile graced her features as she gazed into the faces of those around her.
“Thank you, Angel,” Reverend Applebee said and then his voice changed to all business. “People, it’s going to be five or six degrees below zero tonight. We’ll offer rides to shelters for those who’ll accept them. For those who don’t, we have blankets to distribute and of course, soup and hot coffee.” Reverend Appleby pressed his lips together and then added, “Tonight, our brothers and sisters of the streets need us. We can’t fail them.”
“We shall not fail them,” Angel said raising her eyes to the ceiling and speaking in a voice as breathy as the stirring of a butterfly’s wings.
“We’ll work in teams of two again. Same partners as last night, except you, Angel,” Reverend Appleby said. Angel turned to look at him, with a hint of a smile curving her lips. “Tonight, you’ll work with our new brother, Darren. Show him how it’s done, okay?”
“Of course.” Angel turned to Darren. “I’m glad you’ve chosen to join us tonight.”
“Just want to do my part,” Darren said.
Four days earlier, after Sunday service, Angel approached Darren about the church’s outreach to the homeless. She implored him to help with their mission, turning her blue eyes on him, holding him in her spell, as she had with so many others.
“For they are the forgotten of our city,” she said, “and it is our precious duty to reach out and tend the most desperate members of our flock.”
Angel’s eyes had glistened with unshed tears. She spoke with passion about her service as one would about their most holy vocation.
She put her hand on Darren’s arm. “Our mission is blessed and strengthened by your presence.”
The volunteers gathered their supplies into a van and left. Angel sat next to Darren for the ten-minute ride to the east side of town. She explained, “It’s mostly men we find on the streets, although lately there’ve been more women. All ages. We find the women more readily accept our help and offer of shelter.”
“So, we hand out the soup and coffee and then leave these people where they are?” Darren asked.
“We can’t force someone to accept rides to the shelter the same way you can’t force someone to accept our Lord. Each person finds their own path. We give what help we can.”
“It seems we should do more. Like make them go to a shelter.”
“They aren’t very trusting folks, what with the terrible things that have happened to them. I try to talk to everyone. Get to know them, and let them know they’re important. I offer to pray with them.”
“Do we have time for that?”
Angel turned her eyes heavenward emulating the saintly poses in religious artwork. “There’s always time to honor our Lord. When we take the time to talk to Him, He takes the time to talk to us.” The van made a sharp turn and pulled to the curb.
“Our first stop,” Angel said. They joined four other volunteers at the back of the van to fetch sturdy cardboard trays of soup and coffee in Styrofoam containers. Angel shoved a fistful of plastic spoons in her pocket along with some napkins. Darren copied her.
Angel stepped to the sidewalk, Darren at her side, and walked west, while the other teams chose different directions. About a third of the way along the block, Angel stopped at a doorway where a filthy bundle sat under layers of rags and newspaper.
“Sir, would you like some soup?” she asked.
The bundle stirred. Only the whites of his eyes showed through the grimy fabric, though the unpleasant smell told them a human lay under the pile.
“Soup?” the man asked.
“Yes, sir. Like last week when we were here. Do you remember?”
“Yeah. Good soup,” he said pulling a tattered scarf away from his face.
“This week we have chicken with rice. How does that sound?” Without waiting for a reply, she took a cup of soup from her box and handed it to him. After he grasped it, she reached for a spoon and napkin. The man was already drinking from the cup. His face revealed he appeared younger than his voice. Maybe in his thirties.
“I’ll just leave a coffee here next to you,” Angel said. “Our van will take you to a shelter for the night. It’s warm there.”
“Nah,” the man said. “Got no use for a shelter.”
“Well, then, God bless and keep you.” Angel nodded to Darren and they moved on.
Angel asked Darren to approach the next two people they found. When they came to a fourth man, she stepped forward. “Let me. I know him well.
“Sir?” Angel called, “Mr. Compton?”
A disheveled bundle stirred under a bench and began coughing as furious a sound as any human could make.
“Mr. Compton, are you all right?” Angel asked.
“Gots the pneumonia, girly.” Mr. Compton hacked again, his whole body shaking with the coughing fit before settling back against his sack of worldly goods.
“Your cough sounds worse than ever. Oh, Mr. Compton, please let me help you. Let me take you to the shelter or hospital tonight?”
“Now you knows I ain’t none for that, girly. This here’s my home. I stays here.”
“Mr. Compton, don’t you have any family that could take you in? It’s awfully cold tonight.”
“Ain’t got no family. Ain’t got nobody.”
“You have me, and you have the Lord.”
“The Lord done give up on me, girly. I do for meself.”
“It pains me to see you suffer.” Angel’s face crinkled, and she seemed close to tears. “I want to help you. I’d do anything to relieve your suffering.”
Mr. Compton made a scoffing sound, but then softened. “You is a good girl. Your smile is help enough.”
Angel made that beatific curve of her lips again. Her eyes took on a faraway look and she swayed in place. After a moment she said, “Well, Darren has some soup for you, and I’ll fix up a coffee the way you like it. One sugar, one cream. I’ll pray to the Lord that you find your rescue and salvation.”
Angel turned away to prepare a coffee for Mr. Compton. Before handing it to him, she raised the cup to the sky as if it were a chalice, closed her eyes, and moved her lips in silent benediction. Angel handed Mr. Compton his coffee, and then she and Darren were on their way.
“I didn’t know we could fix up the coffees to order,” Darren said.
“We don’t usually, no time really with having to get to everyone we can, but I’ve known Mr. Compton since the beginning of winter. I carry a sugar and creamer for him.”
The pair found five more people in need before moving on to another block. The group ran out of supplies within the hour and returned to the vans.
Back at the church, Angel asked Darren, “Will you come with us tomorrow night? We’ll be going to the neighborhood by the rail yard.”
“I guess, though this is more difficult than I thought. It’s hard seeing all those folks out in the cold. I’m not sure I can do this night after night. I mean, it seems there should be something more we can do.”
“Pray on it,” Angel said. “That’s what I do. I talk to our Lord, and He talks to me. Helps me to see what He sees, so I know what to do.”
Darren wrinkled his face. “God talks to you? You mean like directly?”
Angel closed her eyes and swayed while humming a hymn. Her upturned face glowed. “I talk to Him, and He talks to me.” Even with closed eyes, Angel drifted away toward the church sanctuary.
* * *
The volunteers went into the city on Thursday and Friday night. They weren’t planning a Saturday mission, but Reverend Appleby sent a text to all volunteers. ‘Tonight, the temps will drop to eight below. Please come out with the vans. We need you.’
Later that evening, Angel stood next to Darren in the circle of people around Reverend Appleby. She swayed and her hand brushed Darren’s, just a whisper of contact. Her eyes held a reverent glow matching the faces of the saints in the stained-glass windows. Angel seemed to listen to a voice other than Reverend Appleby’s.
“I have sad news tonight,” the reverend began. “The police informed me one of our brothers of the street died Thursday morning.”
Angel closed her eyes and allowed her head to loll back.
“Mr. Compton suffered a heart attack on Wednesday night in the hours after he received comfort from us. In the freezing cold, without medical care, he died alone.”
Angel found and grasped Darren’s hand without opening her eyes. She smiled as if looking at a most beautiful sight, swaying to music only she could hear.
“We’ll pray for Brother Compton’s soul and for all others we seek to serve this night,” Reverend Appleby said.
Angel continued swaying increasing her grip on Darren’s hand. She hummed a hymn to herself during the prayer. After, Angel again added her own words. “I rejoice for Brother Compton, who is healed and rests in the arms of our Lord. He now knows the joy of heaven. Our Lord called him home as He shall call all of us one day.”
A flurry of gentle ‘amens’ followed Angel’s words. She kept her grasp on Darren’s hand. Her other hand clasped a bottle of powder deep in her pocket. Her Lord gave her that miracle. When He commanded that one of His children come home, Angel became his earthly hand of mercy. The blistering cold and miserable conditions of the victims never led the authorities to look further than a coronary for a cause of death—just as her Lord promised her.
Angel opened her eyes and met Darren’s gaze. “Brother Darren? You’ll walk with me tonight, won’t you? There’s so much of God’s work to be done.”