it was the only way she could make up for her own terrible sins, and not be dragged off to hell herself.
every night, after a long day of cleaning rest rooms in a ninety-one story office building, amanda walked the dark streets and alleys of the great city, looking for an abandoned angel.
as the city was very large and dark, she rarely went down the same street twice in her travels, and her fellow humans paid her little notice.
but a couple of demons, who were more perspicacious and alert, noticed amanda one night .
the demons’ names were moloch baalovich and alexander sergeyevich.
they were sitting in a burger king, beside the window with a good view of the street and the people passing by outside, when they saw amanda with her empty shopping cart.
moloch baalovich had noticed amanda before, always with her shopping cart empty.
“i wonder why that human walks around with a shopping cart when she never puts anything in it,” he mused absently.
“i know,” alexander sergeyevich replied. “because she walks the streets all night looking for an angel with broken wings, that she will put in the cart, take home with her —“
“does she have a home?”
“yes, in the basement of the ninety-one story office building she cleans the rest rooms in.”
“just asking. and then what?”
“she will nurse the angel back to health, and when the angel flies back to heaven, it will put in a good word for her and she will not be dragged down into the bottomless pit as she so richly deserves.”
and both demons had a good chuckle at the folly of humans.
“i have an idea,” moloch baalovich said, “ for a good laugh.”
“and what might that be?” asked alexander sergeyevich.
moloch baalovich did not answer directly but pointed to another demon, cleopatra osirisevna, who was seated a couple of tables away greedily devouring a mushroom burger with spicy fries.
“cleopatra osirisevna!” moloch baalovich cried. “i have a favor to ask of you. but i think you will enjoy it.”
“i doubt it,” she replied sulkily, after swallowing a mouthful of fries, “but what is it that you wish?”
“come, cleopatra osirisevna, you know you owe me one.” moloch baalovich described the situation of the wandering sinner amanda, and concluded by saying - “
“you will impersonate an angel and she will find you, pathetic and broken-winged in an alley. she will take you home, but instead of you healing and flying away, you will remain on her hands for long years - long for them, short for you - and instead of becoming more angelic, you will become more demanding as the years go by, eventually revealing your true nature as a demon. a merry jest!”
“but,” interrupted alexander sergeyevich, “ this is behavior humans are all too used to. it is what they usually get from their own children.”
moloch baalovich brushed this aside. “will you do it, cleopatra osirisevna? it is only a couple of dozen years out of your billions?”
cleopatra osirisevna slurped down the last dregs of her strawberry smoothie. “very well. i will do it. but then we are quits, moloch baalovich.”
and so it came about that on the next night the unsuspecting amanda discovered cleopatra osirisevna , in the guise of a golden-haired child with two broken pink wings, in an alley beside a bustlingly busy hooter’s.
amanda put cleopatra osirisevna in the shopping cart and took her through the streets to her little room in the basement of the 12207 washington st building.
the years went by. cleopatra osirisevna, now called “lucy” by amanda, followed the letter if not always the spirit, of moloch balovich’s humorous plan. she tortured poor amanda a good part of the time, but also spent long hours just staring at the ceiling of the little room, and daydreaming, impervious to amanda’s tender ministrations.
but then fate stepped in, in the form of the new and most evil empress, katerina iii caligovna, who instigated a new and terrible persecution against the old believers.
amanda was denounced by a member of the custodial staff at 12207 washington st, who had long resented her as “thinking she knows everything”.
amanda was thrown into one of the empress katerina’s gleaming new interrogation centers.
cleopatra osirisevna aka lucy was arrested by the special police along with amanda, but feeling that the game had gone on long enough and that she had fulfilled her bargain with moloch baalovich, she briefly explained to amanda who she really was, resumed her demon’s form, walked unmolested through the corridors of the interrogation center, and disappeared into the night.
with her beloved lucy gone, amanda fell into despair, but was determined to embrace martyrdom.
at this point the accounts of different chroniclers diverge, and the details of amanda’s end on this unfortunate earth are unclear.
bishop unwin states unequivocally that she was admitted to the host of saints after enduring the most terrible tortures with smiling resolve. but sister agatha denise in her “history of the most recent persecution” simply states that amanda was numbered among the slain.
professor davis in his account - the most exhaustive and heavily annotated - does not even mention amanda.
zorina and aaron did not really like each other very much, but they stayed married for thirty-three years, because neither of them wanted to upset their parents by divorcing or getting separated.
aaron worked in the sales and marketing department of a company that manufactured parts for electric can openers and for similar devices with strictly industrial use. it was a very demanding and exhausting job that required that he keep track of a million things, and he resented the fact that no one appreciated him, or took any interest in the details of his day to day existence.
zorina had been a waitress and hostess at a large chain restaurant, but never worked after their marriage. this was in accordance with the unexpressed but clear desires of both their sets of parents.
in the first days of their marriage, zorina made a pretense of interest in aaron’s job, but she gave up after a few weeks.
zorina dreamed of being a great and famous artist of some kind. she could not decide if she wanted to be a painter, a novelist, a poet, a songwriter, a filmmaker, or a conceptual artist.
when she made a few references to her dreams to aaron, he snickered.
“yes, everybody wants to be famous,” was his only comment.
zorina’s dreams were never mentioned again. nor did she make any attempt to act on them - despite the time she had on her hands - for fear of arousing aaron’s ridicule.
neither aaron nor zorina were gourmets. aaron ate in the cafeteria at work - often three meals as he increasingly worked long hours. zorina mostly ate at, or got takeout from, dunkin donuts or mcdonalds or domino’s.
so zorina’s days drifted by, mostly watching television and reading detective and romance novels.
finally aaron dropped dead at work.
his death was ruled a heart attack, but his parents were convinced zorina had somehow killed him and they asked the police to investigate.
the police told them they could find no evidence that aaron’s death was from anything but natural causes.
aaron had not made a will. there was enough money left in their joint bank accounts for zorina to live for about two years. zorina was also eligible to receive some spousal social security benefits - at a reduced rate as she was not at “retirement age”, and a small social security benefit from her own distant days of employment.
rather than look for a job, zorina decided to pursue her dream of becoming a famous artist or writer of some kind.
she decided she would try painting first. if she was not successful after two years, she would write a novel.
a week after aaron’s modest funeral, zorina went to an arts supply store and made a number of purchases. the store was in a section of the city she was not familiar with.
the clerk in the store was a polite young man who answered all her questions about what she needed with a friendly smile and many helpful suggestions.
a week later she went back to the store, and although the friendly young man was not there , and had been replaced by a surly young woman dressed in black, she made some more purchases.
as she was reaching into her purse for her car keys, she heard a voice behind her.
as her name was not estelle, she did not turn around.
suddenly her arm was grabbed from behind. she almost dropped the bag of art supplies she had tucked under her arm.
zorina turned and saw a man she had never seen before, a man about her own age, with a pale angry face and the long white hair and droopy mustache of the proverbial “aging hippie.”
“don’t know me, huh, estelle?” the man shouted. “it’s been a long time, i grant you that.”
the situation was so ridiculous zorina was not the least bit frightened. besides, there were a number of people passing by, in the street filled with respectable businesses.
“i’m sorry, sir, but you are mistaking me - “
“bullshit! i thought i saw you here last week. i almost gave up seeing you again, but here you are. you fucking bitch!”
zorina looked around. surely someone would come to her aid, and tell the man he was out of line.
the man took a gun out of the waistband of his pants - it had been concealed beneath his red and yellow hawaiian shirt - and shot zorina in the chest.
several witnesses called 911. the police and an ambulance arrived in three minutes, while the gumnan stood over zorina, sobbing like a child. the gun lay on the sidewalk beside him where he had immediately dropped it.
zorina died in the ambulance.
the police quickly determined that it was indeed a case of mistaken identity and that there had been no connection between zorina and the gunman, whose name was roger davison.
“estelle” was tracked down seven hundred miles away, a grandmother taking care of her wayward daughter’s three children.
aaron’s parents were having none of it. they were more convinced than ever that zorina, in collusion with her lover roger davison, had murdered aaron.
when they got no satisfaction from the police or the district attorney, they hired a private detective to investigate aaron’s death.
she was often dismissed from her posts for dropping and breaking things.
but she always managed to find a new post because the housekeepers who interviewed her were impressed with her humble ways - so different from the manners of the saucy creatures they had to deal with these days.
the housekeepers also liked that she was not likely to attract attention from the master of the house, or any young masters who might be on the premises.
yolanda performed her duties promptly if not always efficiently.
she never spoke unless spoken to.
yolanda had a dream, which she never shared with anybody.
she dreamed that someday she would meet herself.
her other self would be the mistress of the house, or perhaps one of the daughters.
and when they met, and recognized each other, they would trade places.
and yolanda would no longer be a servant but mistress of the house.
or at least, a young miss who spent her days taking drawing lessons and music lessons, instead of carrying objects up and down stairs, and sometimes breaking them.
one day, shortly after yolanda had found a new position, the housekeeper told her to take a tea service up to “miss claudia”.
miss claudia was a daughter io the house who had just returned from the continent, and yolanda had not seen her before.
she knocked on miss claudia’s door and was told to enter.
picking up the tea service, she pushed the door open and went in.
miss claudia was looking out the window at the rain, and yolanda placed the tea service on the tea table.
when miss claudia turned around, yolanda recognized her immediately as herself.
and miss claudia recognized yolanda. “you!” she exclaimed. “i have been waiting for this moment.”
“as have i,” yolanda managed to stammer.
when miss claudia just stared at her without saying anything further, yolanda timidly ventured. “are we to trade places then?”
“no,” miss claudia answered slowly. “i know that that was the original plan. but on reflection, i have decided that i would rather remain miss claudia , and that it is better that you remain a servant girl.”
yolanda could only nod in agreement.
she looked past miss claudia out at the rain.
the dream was over. she would always be a servant.
“i only hope,” miss claudia added kindly, “that you mend your clumsy ways, so that you do not finally get turned out of doors, and perish miserably in the streets.”
then floyd and gary and hakim were not ernie’s friends any more.
so they became his ex-friends
ernie could not understand it.
he felt there must be some misunderstanding.
somebody must have been talking behind his back.
since floyd and gary and hakim had been his only friends he did not know who the talker behind his back could be.
he wanted to know.
the protocol for dealing with ex-friends was firmly in place.
but ernie was desperate.
he felt floyd had been his best friend of the three.
they had shared mutual enthusiasms for the teachings of master j and the novels of harold parker and e ashton flournoy.
surely floyd, if ernie made a really passionate and heartfelt plea, would at least tell him what the charge against him was and who had instigated it.
protocol or no protocol.
but ernie hesitated.
it was a bold step! and ernie was not a bold person.
he decided to get some nourishment first, to get his strength up.
and maybe get a night’s sleep after that.
unable to concentrate on anything, ernie paced up and down in his cell until feeding time.
his heart started racing and he lay down on his cot to try to calm himself.
he thought he heard a sound outside in the corridor!
but of course that was insane - just paranoia brought on by his emotional stress.
there was no one outside in the corridor - had not been for almost two hundred years - one hundred and fifty years before ernie was born.
it was feeding time - his head would be clearer after he was nourished.
and today was chocolate day - ernie’s favorite.
he sat down at his station and attached the feeding tube to his arm.
the warm glow of the chocolate soothed his melancholy soul, but a pale afterglow of paranoia remained.
he wondered if the upcoming two hundredth anniversary had affected his brain in some subtle way - or maybe the brains of floyd and gary and hakim.
two hundred years! since any human had invaded another human’s personal space.
how ridiculous to think he had heard anything in the corridor.
ernie had always taken it on faith that there even was a “corridor” - of course he had never seen it or been in it. he had been told it was still possible to activate the ancient cameras to show “real time” pictures of the corridor.
with a sudden boldness perhaps brought on by the chocolate, ernie decided to contact floyd.
the result, of course, was what he should have foreseen.
an instantaneous message - you may no longer contact this person. this is your only warning.
in a sudden panic ernie wondered if he would be reprimanded or punished.
but a second message reassured him. it simply said - you may contact other friends or attempt to make new ones, using proper procedure.
ernie breathed easier. surely there would be no such message - or even the previous message “this is your only warning” if he were to be punished.
he decided to get a good night’s sleep. perhaps a dream would guide him to the right path.
tomorrow he would attempt to find a new friend or two - perhaps another acolyte of master j, or another enthusiast for e ashton floury.
and he would forget floyd and gary and hakim, much as he had loved them.
well, maybe not the loneliest - there are billions of lonely men in the world, after all - but certainly in the top fifty or one hundred.
walker had one peculiarity that separated him from most of his similarly afflicted comrades.
he had nothing to say and no desire to talk.
only to listen to other people.
and to look at them. this is where the problem lay.
walker had a way of staring at his fellow humans - whether they were speaking to him or not - that they generally found quite disconcerting.
starting with his mother.
walker’s earliest memories were of his mother shouting at him - “jesus christ, will you stop staring at me like that!”
and of his mother complaining to her friends, as they sat around in her cigarette smoke filled kitchen,
“this kid is going to drive me nuts the way he just stares at me all the time!”
eventually walker ran away from home.
as he had no marketable skills or qualities, and no friends, he became a homeless person.
fortunately the city of moderate size he found himself in had a relatively tolerant attitude toward the homeless (and no superabundance of them) and had shelters and soup kitchens and such so that his daily life was not as wretched as it might have been.
he spent his days walking the streets.
his habits of staring at people and “invading their space” in cafeterias and park benches and buses, often caused him grief, and he learned from bitter experience to try to curtail his proclivities.
sometimes he rode the subway, getting on it and riding on it continuously to nowhere as much as the fare system permitted.
and then one day in the subway he had a revelation.
he realized he could watch people’s reflections in the subway windows - and they did not notice!
it was almost as good as watching them directly, and nobody challenged him.
and so he began riding the riding the subways for hours - panhandling to get fares when he had to - often long into the night, when the watching got a bit more interesting.
on more than one occasion he stayed on the subway so late he was not able to get a bed at the homeless shelter he frequented.
he enjoyed watching the parade of faces, even when he could not hear or understand what people were saying, as was often the case because so many spoke languages other than english.
he never got up and followed anybody, no matter how interesting he found them, and so far as he knew he never encountered the same person twice, though he might have.
and then finally the spell was broken.
one chilly evening he got off the subway near the shelter when he heard a deep voice behind him.
“hey you! you with the green hat!”
walker was wearing a green oakland a’s baseball cap and he turned around.
he was confronted by a heavy-set and heavily bundled up woman carrying two shopping bags in each hand. she had been on the subway car and walker had watched her on and off for at least nine stops, as the car had been almost empty and there were few people to watch.
“you were looking at me! all the way from 14th street! thought you were so sly!”
walker was stunned. “i was not! i was not! i - i was looking straight ahead -“ he managed to squeak out as she advanced on him.
“yes, straight ahead at me in the mirror, motherfucker! what did you think you were going to see! hey!” the woman knocked walker down and he fell flat on his back on the filthy sidewalk..
“sick-ass perverted motherfucker! “ there were no other people in sight and she began kicking him with her heavy boots. ”i bet you look in people’s windows too! and up little girl’s dresses! you’re lucky i’m just kicking your ass and don’t call the cops !”
walker couldn’t get up and covered his face and let her kick him in the ribs.
finally - or maybe suddenly - he heard another voice. a man’s voice. “hey, hey, lady, what are you doing there? you want to go to jail for assault and battery? first degree murder?”
the kicks stopped and walker managed to scramble to his feet and start running.
the last thing walker heard was the man’s voice - “just looking at you?” he glanced back and saw the woman struggling half-heartedly with the man. the man was wearing - a uniform? a transit policeman’s uniform?
but he didn’t look back after that and made his getaway.
walker never went back on the subway after that. in fact he was cured of his desire to stare at people.
he started spending his days at the library. he became especially fond of books about ufos, astrology, satanism, and arctic and antarctic exploration.