~ The Wings of Angels ~
. . .
The Wings of Angels: by Alayne Gelfand
When the black angel first appeared, it was as a shadow, a giant man with arms and legs like mortar casings, hands wide and charred. At night it would come, slipping through barbed wire, past guard towers. Almost invisible, like a ghost.
Before dawn, men in thick coats with unsmiling faces jolted the workers from their thin, vaporous sleep, herding them from the brief respite of icy barracks into the crippling winter chill of grey Polish mornings. Scraped, chapped heads were counted and lines formed no wider than a collarbone, a sparrow's wing-span. Fed a strained, malicious brew, their day began.
The lucky labored long, hard and cold, supporting those too weak to continue until they caught sight of black wings hovering behind a skeletal shoulder. When the black angel came, no one argued. Who could possibly argue with an angel's kiss, an angel's gift? The lucky labored on.
A strange choreography of brutal design added weight to the day. Without warning the men in thick coats forced lines no wider than a collarbone, selecting this one or that or the other; the one beside you, the one behind, the one standing on your left. Leaving fancy's hand to watch, leaving a few – leaving too few to watch – the chosen danced in terrible step out of their clothes, out of their minds, into showers to never emerge again.
Repeated unpredictably, repeated day after day after cold, grey day. The not knowing ate like the whips of coated soldiers – like the brand on each fleshless arm – at the few, the workers, the undesirable. Not knowing. Not wanting to know. Lined up, selected, left behind to survive. Like a distant drum beat, the pattern reached inside and either dulled all fear or turned dread into a new and fine art form; you either prayed to be chosen or you prayed someone else be chosen in your place. Cowardice on the backs of heroes.
Perhaps it was the black angel who embodied God's answer to a multitude of desperate prayer, to a multitude of anguished pleas, to an immeasurable vista of questioning eyes. Perhaps a blessing disguised was the kiss of the angel.
Replayed in the Children's Block, the scene seemed all the worse, magnified and intensified until horror and atrocity meant nothing. Children without parents, children without understanding, without future, without hope. Children with eyes sunken to the black of angels' wings. Tiny faces seared of expression, nothing but bone and fear, souls suffocated by malignant ash. Children living at Death's foot.
Here, too, choices were made. This one or that or the other; the one behind, the one to your right. Left standing amid rows empty now but of ghosts, witnesses, survivors. Perhaps. Repeated rows lined up by men in thick coats who poked at bone while whittling flesh. This one lives. This one dies. Tomorrow, the same.
The angel, the black angel, always near, always waiting to collect the soot, the ash, to harvest burnt souls as they rose toward an empty Polish sky. A friend, a fiend, a civil servant.
The day the black angel came broke no more or less ordinary than any before. Huge black wings spanning the Gate to Hell, resting – tips to the ground – beside the giant's body and wide, charred hands. Eyes blistered stones, melting beneath the pressure of a world gone mad, a world lost to comprehension.
From the Children's Block they came, perhaps to beseech the angel's kind attention, perhaps hoping to draw his attention, to capture his notice. They came to see, at last, the angel's wings as they fluttered restlessly at his sides, on his back, reflecting green-black in the angel's depthless, melting eyes. Perhaps they came to praise him, perhaps to console.
With morning sunlight glittering him silhouetted, the angel, for a moment, appeared more a man; wings tinged with green, head bent with shame, eyes melting. In sunlight he appeared not as black, not as ravenous, not quite divine.
Beneath the marked Gate to Hell, the angel's voice was heard. A soft, slow, layered note singing from him as though merely the echo of his wings passing the Gate or his eyes melting. Slow and deep, wordless, black his voice was, rising as he drew closer, moved through the Gate. The sound an alien song, a familiar tune. And his wings beat against his back, folded around his huge shoulders to beat against his continent of a chest, fanned the fire of his song to frightening heights.
The children watched, hands outreached, faces pressed upward – little faces of bone pointed upward – into the angel's light, into the warm wind of his wings. Draw closer, they silently begged. Draw closer. Come closer.
Song rising, wings now spread for flight, the black angel waded into the pool of dying children, big arms outspread, big-heart broken, melted eyes glittering down smooth, ebony cheeks. Wings covered the press of tiny bodies, sheltering them too late from the soot and ash of the chosen, too late offering comfort they could not yet feel.
Hands no larger than teacups touched the angel's wings, his legs of green-black, his wide hands. Touched him and brought him to them, into them, into their presence. His melting eyes dripped onto tiny, scraped heads, touching that part of them as well. He moved among them, wings kissing their heads, touching their cheeks, dusting their need with his strong, black wings.
Thin hands braced him, drew the angel upward, encouraging his flight, urging him to sail. Little faces of bone held up to the sunlight as it rained through the spread feathers of the angel's black wings, looking upward toward the light, looking to the realm of angels. Expecting, perhaps, to loose the black angel to the light.
With garrison feet planted, the angel remained. Wings spread, face bent to the sea of children, crying out his mysterious song, the angel remained. Eyes melting, voice raised, fists biting through his wings, the angel remained. He remained as the children, the dying bone children, urged him upward with teacup hands, gave him impetus, gave him trust even in the shadow of the Gate to Hell. Even in that shadow.
Fly! the children cried. Fly, Angel of Death, and take us with you. The brittle voices rose in chorus, in symmetric waves, disrupting the air of a cold, grey Polish morning. Brittle voices no wider than collarbones, perhaps beginning to melt as they sang. Fly and take us with you.
In that cold, grey morning that was in identity the twin to all those mornings passed before, a rushing sound rose, blotted out the raised song of bone children. Rushing like wind through trees, like an army advancing on the enemy, like life rushing to inhabit the void left by death. A sound enough to cast its shadow over the Children's Block and the imprisoned beyond, embracing children of bone and the too few who also survived, the too few who were not taken by ash and soot. The sound rose, encompassed the guard towers, the barbed wire, the barracks, chasing human rats from their cowering corners into a sunlight too bright for their stunted eyes.
Rats ran from the corners, away from the black angel and his minion who now appeared at the angel's back, their own wings spread far enough to stop the rats' fleeing, far enough to hold the rats back. Wings of gold and white and green, wings that spread to enfold and separate the good from the bad, the survivor from the murderer. Wings of so many hues and formations, so many beautiful colors.
When the black angel's eyes had done melting, they raised to view the result of his minion's work, to perhaps view the faces of his children as sunlight finally lit them fully, giving a beginning moment to healing, dusting grey faces in amber. His wings fluttered as he folded them carefully, held them close to his sides – tips to the ground – and let them settle at his back. Glitters from his melted eyes laced the green-black of feathers as sunlight danced across him, across his angel's face, his broad, strong American angel's face.
When the angel did not lift himself onto the wind, did not fly away with the soul of even one bone child, when his beautifully black face split wide, it was perhaps then that the nature of angels was truly discovered.
In form, in fiber, in luster and grace the black angel stood among the no longer dying, touching sunken cheeks, wind-whipped lips, broken spirits. He touched them with his wide, charred hands, touched them all, each one, imparting his angelic mercy, his divinity. As children of bone stood close and tight beside the giant of a man, his black wings spread and, lifted on teacup hands, an angel rose into the sky.
. . .