Lillian had to go shopping. She left Ángel with her mother, a harmless enough move, so she thought. Her mother would watch her favorite TV shows, too engrossed in them to fuss about this or that. Ángel would read. Thing was, though, that Lillian’s mother had an old school way of looking at baby-sitting. The baby had to be within eyeshot. So she forced him to sit in the living room with her while the TV blared at its usual volume. Ángel didn’t mind, though. He was used to all sorts of noises.
“You sure do read a lot,” she said.
Ángel kept reading.
Her eyes returned to the TV, but kept darting back to the little bastard. She so wanted to call him that, but she promised Lillian that she wouldn’t.
“Why do you read so much?” she said.
“I like to, Grandmamma,” he said.
And then he kept reading.
“Don’t you ever watch TV?” she grumbled.
“Sometimes,” Ángel said. “I like to watch the telenovelas.”
“That Spanish stuff? Why do you watch that?”
“To learn Spanish,” he said.
She didn’t like it, but she didn’t say anything else.
Ángel taught himself Spanish from some of the books he read. He figured that since his name was in Spanish that he should at least learn the language. His mother wholeheartedly supported him and got him what books she could to help him learn. Between that and the telenovelas, he picked up a good ear. He knew how to talk dirty in Spanish, a fact his mother didn’t know.
But he wasn’t studying his Spanish at the moment. When his mother got the crates of books from her former employers, he couldn’t wait to tear into them. He had read every other book they had in the house several times, to the point where he could practically recite them from memory. So the new material was welcomed. Many of them dealt with ancient history. He learned about whole species of animals and plants that didn’t exist anymore. He read about when the last of the Arctic ices melted and how whole countries disappeared as a result. Richer lands built their nation on stilts, much as The Betters lived in the good old USA. But the poorer nations went under the rising waters. He also found some stuff on the Great Whale Wars. This happened only 50 odd years ago, when the whales, it seemed, went on the attack and started to destroy oil platforms. To counter it, the Betters sent their best militaries out to destroy the whales. Only a handful survived.
But what he really wanted to study was the whole history behind the Harkness Avenging Angel. His mother had her own theory, which she told him when he was younger. It involved a large angel that rose 500 feet or more in the air, sort of like a billowing storm cloud with eyes of lightning. Its wings created a terrible wind, harsh enough to blow out windows, and its lightning eyes would set buildings afire. “That’s the true Harkness Angel,” she said to him. She implied that Great Aunt Matilda had seen it once. Great Aunt Matilda apparently didn’t think much of the whole plastic HAA business, either, but she made more of an effort to go through the motions than Lillian has, much to her mother’s disgust.
To Ángel, the story of the giant angel sounded more like a fairytale than anything else. He liked fairytales, but they were often so divorced from reality. He sought the truth.
“What is a Harkness Angel?” he said aloud, without thinking.
“What do you mean what is a Harkness Angel?” his grandmamma groused. “It’s sitting in the damn kitchen.”
“No, Grandmamma, I mean what does a real one look like.”
“You can hear them at night when they fly over. Don’t you hear them? They go HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK. They keep you up half the night with their hawking and bright lights while they look for people to kill off for revenge. See? If you went to school, you’d know these things, instead of sitting around here learning es-span-iol.”
“But have you ever seen one?”
“I don’t have to see ‘em! I can hear the things over my house! Why do I need to see ‘em?”
“Don’t you ever wonder, Grandmamma, what they look like? Do they look like the angels we have in the house?”
“Well of course they do! Boy, you sure ask dumb questions for someone who’s done so much reading. They’re big and they flap their wings hard. That’s what makes the HAWK-HAWK sound. That’s how they got their name. Now quiet so I can finish my show! They’re just about to put the gloves on.”
She watched The Jerry Springer IV Show religiously. After the show’s guests finish screaming their disagreements at each other, Jerry the IV brought out boxing gloves for them to put on so that they could knock themselves silly while the audience rooted. “Queensbury rules, ladies! Queensbury rules!” he reminded them, though invariably it turns into a free-for-all with them rolling on the floor. He said Queensbury rules in almost every episode, but no one knew what they were. He never bothered to explain.
Ángel had no use for the boxing match, so he went back to his books. His grandmother was enthralled. “Use the heel of your shoe, missy!” she screamed at the set. At this point, Lillian returned. “Oh, there you are,” her mother said. “You’re just in time for the big fight.”
“I can’t understand why you watch that stuff, Mother.”
“Because it’s real! Ooo! Look at that blood! He’s gonna have a hard time with Kumbaya at the end of this episode!”
Jerry the IV always ended the show holding hands with the guest in a semi-circle and leading them and the audience through the song Kumbaya. No matter how bad the violence got, he always ended the show this way.
“Mother! I don’t want this on in front of Ángel.”
“He’d see it for real if you let him go to school! Maybe it will toughen him up a bit. This show is real life, my dear. You can’t hide from it.”
“Momma, have you ever seen a Harkness angel?”
“Ángel, you know I haven’t, but I told you about Aunt Matilda . . .”
“No, I mean one today, the ones that fly over the house. Have you seen one of those?”
Lillian looked at her mother who rolled her eyes and switched the channels. “Did you get my potato chips?” she asked. Lillian handed them to her out of her shopping bag.
“No, dear. You know we aren’t supposed to look out at night. It’s curfew.”
With Lillian home, Ángel could return to his room and read without the blare of the TV in his ears. He picked up his books and went there.
Curfew was at 1 am, thirty minutes after the bars closed. Night noises included sirens, gunshots, and rabble-rousing by curfew scofflaws, otherwise known as Death Jockeys. Anyone caught out past curfew was likely to be killed if not by other scofflaws then by the police, so the story went. It was also after curfew that the Harkness Avenging Angels came out to do their night’s work. When they flew over, that didn’t mean that the avenging was about to happen. Folks knew when the angels were in an avenging mood when the bright lights came on. Some rubbed their HAAs when they saw a glimpse of the light through their shut curtains, one last plea to the angel.
Lillian hated hearing the HAWK-HAWK noise overhead half the night. It unnerved her. She never thought the genuine Harkness, the one her Great Aunt Matilda described, made such a noise. She imagined it making more of a deep booming sound like distant thunder. Thinking about that helped to calm her so that she could sleep, despite the HAWK-HAWK noise.
Ángel learned to ignore the sound of the Harkness Angels, since he had hear them all of his life. When he couldn’t sleep, though, he took a small flashlight under his covers and read. That afternoon, while his mother and grandmother watched the evening news infotainment show, he thought he had found a book that talked a great deal about the Harkness Avenging Angel. He had to put the book down and go to dinner, and then he had to do the evening chores, which included reading to his mother to show what he had learned for the day. He tucked the book under his mattress so that he could take it out again after everyone had gone to bed. As he read it tucked away under his covers, his eyes grew wider and wider with every word.
Lillian’s mother slept in the living room, usually falling asleep in front of the TV. She did so that evening. A timer had turned it off at 1 am. About an hour later, she groggily arose to go to the kitchen and get some water. She saw the HAA on its little shelf and took it down.
“Damn fool!” she said softly. “If you ain’t gonna rub it right, the least you could do it dust it off some. Look at it! It’s filthy!”
It wasn’t really that filthy because she had been cleaning it every night during her visit. But she considered any speck of dust sacrilegious, so she dutifully wiped, wiped, wiped, wiped it’s little wings to make them appear clean.
On this particular night, two things happened as she wiped, wiped, wiped, wiped, wiped the HAA clean. First, a Harkness flew by. HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK. The noise grew louder, like was getting closer. HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK. It got louder still. HAWK-HAWK-HAWK. And then the light appeared, brighter than she could ever remember seeing it before.
“Someone’s gonna get it tonight!” she said.
The second thing to happen was that Ángel appeared in the kitchen door suddenly. He stared at his grandmother as she cleaned the HAA, as the HAWK-HAWK-HAWKing got louder and louder still.
“Grandmamma!” he cried. “Don’t do that! Stop rubbing the Harkness statue!”
“What? What are you talking about, boy?”
“STOP IT, GRANDMAMMA! STOP IT!!”
“I’ll knock you for a row of stumps if you don’t stop that fool yelling!”
He dashed out of the kitchen towards his mother’s room. He ran in without knocking.
“Momma! Momma! Get up, Momma! Hurry!”
She turned with a start. She had actually been asleep and didn’t know about the hovering Harkness Angel until Ángel woke her.
“We have to get out of here! Grandmamma’s been rubbing the HAA! We have to go!”
“What are you saying, Ángel?” Lillian asked.
“Momma! I read about it in the book! We have to get out of here before they kill us!”
A bad dream? Was it a bad dream that had him carrying on so? Lillian had never known Ángel to have a bad dream or to carry on like that. If one had occurred, just a bad dream or just him carrying on, she might have brushed it off. But the two together, along with the earthshaking HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK-HAWK gave urgency to his pleas.
“We have to go, NOW!” he screamed.
Lillian’s mother appeared at the door.
“That boy’s gone loco. That’s what the Mexicans say, isn’t it? Loco?”
“Mother, we better get out of here. Let’s go down to the cellar.”
“The cellar? What for?”
“Just come on, Mother.”
In addition to the HAWK-HAWK-HAWK of the flapping angel over head, they now heard a most peculiar sound.
“HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA!”
It seemed to be coming from the plastic Harkness. The HAA was laughing at them.
“Leave it, Grandmamma!” Ángel said, slapping the plastic Harkness from her hands.
“What is wrong with you?” she yelled.
Lillian opened the door to the stairway that led to the cellar beneath her tiny apartment. The laundry for the building was down there. They went through the laundry room and into the furnace room. Ángel climbed into the giant furnace, which hadn’t worked in years, and beckoned his mother and grandmother to do the same. Reluctantly, they did.
Upstairs, the HAA started laughing again, louder than ever.
“HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA! HA HA HA HAA!”
Finally, a hail of bullets riddled the apartment above. They could hear as the TV exploded and things crashed onto the floor. It sounded like the whole roof had collapsed. Then, the light vanished. The HAWK-HAWK noise went away. Silence.
Lillian looked shell-shocked, her mother perplexed.
“What was that? What went on up there? Did you do something?” she said, looking at Ángel. He took one thing with him: the book he had been reading in bed.
“Momma, they sent the Angel after us! They sent it because Grandmamma has been rubbing the Harkness!”
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.