‘Listen up, you’ll never believe this!’ he said in a gruff whisper.
I heard him over the bar. He didn’t know I was listening.
‘You’ll never in a million years guess what I’m about to tell you, Bill mate!’ he rambled on, grabbing Bill’s sleeve to make sure he’s paying attention.
‘Well? Spit it out then,’ Bill grumbled. He was a big bloke, slouched against the bar. He had a grizzled face, an eye with a squint, and dried blood in his beard. I’d seen him in here a few times. Thrown him out more than once.
‘I saw her!’ said the other one, with a theatrical wave of his hand. He was nothing like Bill. Short and skinny, fragile looking, like he might snap in two if the wind blew too hard.
‘Who?’ said Bill.
‘The angel girl! The one everyone’s been talking about! Dear God man, have you got wax in your lug-holes?’
‘I dunno what you’re on about, Ed,’ Bill took a chug of his drink.
Ed huffed, leaning heavily onto my bar. His fingers trailed thick, greasy smears across the wood. I forced myself no to push him off and start polishing right then and there. Instead, I poured a slow pint of beer and let the froth settle. I nudged closer, trying to hear the rest of the conversation.
‘Alright then, Bill. You’re too stupid to know what’s going on anyhow.’
‘I am not stupid!’ Bill slammed his tankard down onto the bar, making Ed and I jump. ‘I just been out of town for a bit, s’all.’
‘Bill, I didn’t mean anything by it, you know that right, mate?’
‘A’right. Tell us about this gal then,’ Bill grumbled quietly.
‘Everyone’s been talking about it. Old Sal’s lad saw her first. There, in the wheat field just before dawn. Damn fainted at the shock, he did! But then, he was always a soppy one, Old Sal’s lad. No one paid it much mind, though. Not until Dunstable done saw ‘er too! Aint no one gonna argue the toss with a vicar, now, are they? He said he saw her at the lake. ‘A Vision from the Most High God’ ‘e said.’
‘And Larry the Baker. He saw her too. And Larry’s wife, ‘er mother, their six kids. Saw her at the fair, they did,’ Ed blabbered.
‘So when did you see ‘er?’ Bill took another swig.
‘It were that cold, frosty morning the other day. There she were, bold as brass! Standing by the well, all surrounded by mist and that. Just a girl. Young, like. Pretty. She had this, dark black hair all flowing and really pale skin.’
‘She have big…?’
‘Shurrup! I was visited by an angel from God, you moron!’
Bill stifled a laugh, blowing froth off his beer and flecking his beard with creamy bubbles.
‘Sorry, Ed. Carry on, mate.’
‘She were wearing this dress-thing, all made out of golden feathers, just floatin’ around her. Wings like an angel, gold and glittery. I ain’t seen nowt like it, Bill, I’m tellin’ ya!’
‘Pah! Bollocks! It was the sun coming up you numpty!’
‘No way! I saw her!’
‘It were last night’s mead.’
‘I swear it!’
‘Your imagination playin’ tricks. Bad meat. Fever. Delusions! A ghost?’
‘Bill, she were real! An apparition!’
‘And what would an apparition sent by the Almighty ‘imself be doin’ in our town, huh? Why would a divine angel o’ the Lord present ‘erself to Ed the local piss-head?’ Bill scoffed.
‘’How the ‘ell would I know? Cleanse me o’ my sins? Show me God’s true path?’ Ed spat.
‘You’re talkin’ outta your ass, man,’ Bill chuckled.
‘Yeah? Well, I’ll show you who’s talkin’ out o’ their ass!’
Ed hurled a punch. Missed, and cracked against my bar. There was a howl of pain. Bill, lifting Ed up into the air, threw him bodily across the bar to crash into tables, customers and flagons. There was a collective roar from the tavern’s customers, and in one breath the bar erupted into chaos. Ales went flying across the room, chairs snapped as they were broken across people’s backs, punches swinging left and right.
I ducked below the bar as a bottle hurtled towards me, smashing in a cascade of liquor and shattered green glass. Time to make a sharp exit, I thought, and scurried away in a rather undignified arse-in-the-air crawling run.
As I broke out into the crisp night air, I breathed it in deeply. That story about the angel girl. It had gotten me thinking. I wondered out into the dark streets, past the well, the church, the taverns.
What if it was true? The mists were slinking in again, and my shoes were wet from the moist air. What is there was an angel, here, in this town? To show us the true path to goodness?
I walked a little further, until I reached the square. And I stopped.
She was there. Standing on the far side of the square, shrouded in grey fog, grown dark blue in the midnight shadows.
But that dress. It shimmered like the sunset, bright, burnished gold. Long, delicate feathers lightly caressing her cold, pale skin. Flowing raven locks cascading over her shoulders.
And those eyes. Black as the sky above. Piercing. Staring right at me.
I felt entranced. Transfixed. Paralysed with awe and fear and love. She moved silently, floating towards me until I could almost reach out. Touch that alabaster skin, those soft golden feathers, those glittering eyes. She moved closer, until I was breathing the same breath as her.
In those few seconds, I was hers. Complete, perfectly, and without hesitation.
She pulled closer, reaching for me with those delicate, exquisite lips. Inching closer, closer, closer. Until, with agonising ecstasy, she kissed me.
‘Oh, Bill, man, I am so hung over!’
‘Don’t Ed. Just don’t.’
They staggered through the square, blinking in the harsh, burning light of the unforgiving morning.
‘What did we drink last night??’
‘Mede, ale, beer, cider…’ Bill growled.
‘Uh, I’m gonna throw up…’ Ed clutched his stomach.
‘Fry up?’ Bill whacked Ed forcefully on the back, a small smile creasing under his beard as his friend turned a pale shade of green.
‘They keep a special place in Hell for people like you, Bill.’
‘C’mon, you’ll feel better.’
‘You know, It’ll all come back upppparrgh!’
Bill looked back to see Ed, crumpled on the floor where he had tripped.
‘Look, we don’t have ta eat, man’ Bill replied apologetically.
Ed clawed his way back up, dusty and confused. They both looked down to see what he had tripped over.
‘Bloody Hell,’ Ed cursed quietly.
Staring up at them from the cobble stones were the glassy dead eyes of the bartender.
S J Menary 13/03/2013