From time to time, I dream of angels.
I should be more precise: from time to time, in my dreams, I am visited by one angel – a hard-drinking woman of indeterminate age who identifies herself as my guardian angel, whose intense gaze lingers in waking memory like an afterimage in conscious moments. She made appearances in recurring dreams starting close to a decade ago – returning most often in times when there was a love interest in my life.
Alethia first appeared to me at the turning point my first heartbreak whose aftermath still echoed in memories years after (and once again, more recently).
The business of transcribing dreams, especially those a decade old, are fraught with its own oddities; in the language of dreams – there is almost no exposition because things simply understood in the dream sound utterly alien to an outside observer – but recent events have brought Alethia back into my near-waking hours, so I thought I would go back to what I meant to write when she first appeared to me.
The seaside coffeeshop allows a light salty breeze through its antique stained-glass windows and in the instant-exposition world of dreams, I already knew who I was seeing.
The woman seated alone in the shop wore a white shirt and dark denim trousers – hair tied back in a loose ponytail and leafing through manila files. She looks vaguely Eurasian, with reddish tones in an otherwise black mane of straight shoulder-length hair. Her face had an androgynous beauty to it – willowy frame nearly my height, topped by a face of hard lines and angles – with brown-hazel eyes that can bore into a man’s soul and miss nothing in its sweep.
Upon seeing me, she motions to the empty seat across her and I settle in.
“Huh.” I began, after a pause “You know, I was kind of expecting someone-”
“Taller?” She interrupts with an impish insouciance. “Male?”
I laugh. “Ok, ok – I didn’t really know what to expect. I know WHAT you are but up until now, never really imagined any particular form – but now that you’re here, I can’t imagine any other that would be fitting.”
Silence. Her expression is curious … playful, waiting for me to speak again.
“So … what do I call you?”
She puts the folders down, smiling. “I’m sorry, this must all be very confusing for you. Here,” and at that, she presents a translucent business card, shimmering with ever-changing colors, like the surface of a soap bubble; the card’s printing is in an elegant, undecipherable glyph, vaguely reminiscent of Hebrew.
The only thing I can read is the single word below where the name on a business card should appear; the line right under a long string of symbols, in san-serif font in English read:
she says, extending her hand to shake mine. “My true name is unpronounceable in any human language, but ‘Alethia’ is a good approximation. You know what I am – but I am still working on getting to know you, since I’ve taken on your case two months ago after you drove your most recent G.A. to early retirement.”
She flips through her files casually then props her head on steepled hands. “You seem to have a knack for driving your G.A.s to resign their posts or requisition ‘less stressful’ assignments.”
“Resignations? Retirement? Christ, I have a thousand questions I want to ask, but you’ve just given me another set of things I’m dying to know.”
Alethia takes out a flask and pours what looks to be a liqueur into her coffee.
The heat lifts the aroma of the drink to my nose and the smell is unmistakable. Kahlua.
Say whatever else you will – my guardian angel has excellent taste.
“Rookie G.A.s don’t have much choice in who they get assigned. The hapless schmucks that drew you? Lightweights. That, and let’s just say you have a way of being extremely hard those closest to you.”
I must have given an incredulous look in response, because she pauses and looks at me with her steady gunslinger’s stare.
I begin a retort, then think better of it, and acknowledge her point with a nod.
She leans forward. “Me? I volunteer for the hard cases that others give up on.”
“Hard cases? So what – you’re like, The Cleaner of guardian angels?”
She raises an eyebrow. “The Cleaner?”
“Did you ever see La Femme Nikit- nevermind.”
Her quizzical expression remained fixed on me. She’s expecting an answer of some sort beyond a dismissive ‘never mind.’
“Human movie.” I continued, after a pause. “Blood, bullets, a story of redemption over a pile of villains’ bodies. You’d like it.” I say, realizing at that moment I actually have no idea what a centuries-old ethereal being would actually enjoy.
Alethia smiles warmly. “I don’t watch a lot of your movies, but I do love those kinds of stories. Your hunch about me is quite right.”
“Your intuition about others is your gift. False modesty doesn’t suit you.”
She goes back to her files. “Impressive. You know, most humans take several decades to rack up a rap sheet this length. I can see why your former G.A.s turned in their early resignations.”
I drink from my cup. “Does this happen a lot? G.A.s resigning from the posts, I mean? And how many did I go through before you came along?”
She shook her head and held up four fingers as she took another sip from her fortified coffee.
Questions pour from me like rain. “So what’s your role in my life exactly? How does this all work? Are you always around? Does everybody get assigned a G.A.? Why is there so much misery and pain in the world if so many of you running interference on behalf of your human charges?”
We palaver, and it turns out my estimate of a thousand questions was a wild overestimation – but prompted a fascinating exchange nonetheless. My questions about God. My apostasy. Heartbreaks and triumphs. She ducks thrice as many questions as she answers, speaking in measured tones, a bare hint of amusement at my incessant curiosity – confirming something about me that she gathered through tertiary sources and crystallized into fact by our dialogue.
I learn from our animated conversation she is an old soldier in a millennia-spanning war for souls, a war that is going rather badly for her side in recent centuries. Even in this, she maintains her comportment – steel in her soul, a smile on her face.
“Tell me – how long did my last G.A. last on the job?”
I snort. “So how long do they give you, before you quit?”
Her eyes shifted from playful to serious in an instant – voice lowered as she leans forward: “I’ve been at this job for over two thousand years. Two thousand years – and I have not quit an assignment the entire time. Others will do what they do – but as for me, I will not leave you nor forsake you, not for so long as you live. ”
“My role is not to make your life easier. It is to forge you into someone worthy of your potential. You were right about my liking stories of redemption -I’ve built my career shepherd those like you – those born with great promise, saddled by tragedies and scars, to realize flourishing lives whose gifts bless lives across generations. I will warn you now: there will be times you will not like me or what I do, and I am prepared to accept that. There are things I know that I will share if I think it can help, and other pieces of information I can’t or won’t let you know. But I will never lie to you. I will never fail you.”
“I volunteered to be assigned to you because I saw what others missed – that yours is a life sown with the seeds of greatness, and the seeds of destruction. My job is to weed out the the latter so the former can flourish; My job is to see you, all of you – for what you are, what you can be.”
I nod. I look at the table – the letters on the tab of the manila folders Alethia was leafing through, and realized with a bolt of clarity that they were initials of ex-girlfriends.
And … my then-current love interest.
I reach for her folder and she slaps my hand and slammed the folder shut. “HEY! Do you know how many rules I am breaking by just meeting with you like this? Did we not just cover this?”
“I won’t mollycoddle you or shelter you from every disappointment; only through adversity can you learn resilience. There is steel in the soul of every great man, forged in sorrow, tempered through the fires of tragedy and heartbreak that would break lesser men. I’ve dedicated my life to building great men – and I will be damned if I fail with you.”
I take it in – I take it all in, and lean back.
“Alethia. It’s a beautiful name. You know, if I ever have a daughter, I’d like to name her aft-”
“Oh, you will.”
“Cool – wait … what? WHEN? With WHO?”
“Oops. Said too much. Don’t you have an early class to go to? Someone you need to say a few things to?”
And then I awoke.
Old habits die hard – even in dreams.
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