Thursday, 25 December 2008 - 10:05 pm

The angel

Everything looks so strange; it’s like walking in another world.  I have no idea where I am most of the time.  Going down one street after another, stepping in through what was once a business frontage and right through into the bowels of places that were once private, looking for the signs and sounds of someone still alive.  It’s not the city I knew.  It’s not the city I grew up in.  I used to say that I could walk around here blindfolded; now, my eyes are wide open, but there’s nothing familiar about it at all.

I stepped on the face of an angel today, fallen from its place atop a tree.  Its beautiful wings cracked.  It almost made me cry.

I didn’t recognise the bookstore at first.  I was up ahead of the others, scouting, stretching my legs a bit, and all of a sudden there was a gap in the line of buildings.  The gap was filled with a messy pile of remains, like a pudding that had collapsed in on itself, with the body of a helicopter puncturing the middle of it.  The chopper was crumpled up, like a child’s toy dropped carelessly.  I could just see the radio network logo on its side – it must have been one of those traffic ones that were always buzzing around.

It wasn’t until I saw the shard of the big, un-glowing logo by my toes that I realised what I was looking at.  There was no mistaking that logo – I saw it every day.  It was emblazoned across the shirt that I tore up for bandages yesterday. 

The bookstore’s gone.  All of it, crushed into a scrappy heap.  I knew every person working in that building; I said goodbye to them yesterday, on my way out to lunch.  It had had never occurred to me that they might have been gone.  Everything I’ve seen over the past day has been so alien and strange; I guess I hadn’t thought it could get so personal.  It had never occurred to me that a single stroke could have smote a part of my life so thoroughly. 

And now it’s gone: my job, my future.  And all of those faces are dead, ones I had resented and laughed with and joked with and respected.  All of them, wiped out like condensation on a mirror.


I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it.  Dillon appeared at my elbow and said something to me – it was him who saw the hand up there in the rubble.  I saw it move and told him to go get help.  Then I was scrabbling up onto the heap, ignoring the way it slithered under me.  The firemen had told me it was dangerous when it did that.  But someone was still alive in there and I had to get to them.

It was Harry.  I had to heave a chunk of masonry away to get to him, but all I could get free was his head and shoulders.  He was awake, though, and he smiled when he looked at me.  I tried to shift the lump lying on his chest, but it was bigger than a horse; there was no way I was going to move it on my own.

But Dillon was getting help.  The firemen would be here soon, and they’d get him free.  Harry was so pale, though.  So pale and quiet.

I gave him some water and held his hand while he talked to me.  I’ve always liked Harry; he’s gotta be about sixty and only works at the bookstore because he loves books so much.  The managers often complained because he worked so slow, but no-one had the heart to fire him.  He’s the one who talked about having a little store, who infected me with that notion until I wanted to make it my own.  He talked about books as if they were alive and gave me my dream.

He’d come to work at the store after his wife died, made himself at home, and became a fixture.  He was the one who always came to you when you were upset and asked what was wrong.  He was the hand on your shoulder, the good advice and the sage stories when you needed them.  He was everyone’s grandfather, though he’d never had kids of his own. 

Today, he died there in the ruins of the books he loved so much.  We talked while we waited for the others to come, and his voice got thinner and thinner.  He smiled at me and he said that he was old and not strong enough.  He held my hand so tightly.  I tried to be strong enough for him, but I couldn’t help it; I begged him to hold on, to stay with me. 

I cried when he told me that it was all right and sighed and stopped.  He let go of my hand and I couldn’t get him to hold it again.  I curled up over him, but there was no protecting him any more; there was just me, and I couldn’t do anything except cry over him.


A fire had blown up between the bookstore and the emergency workers; that’s why they took so long to get to me.  They were way too late.  It wasn’t their fault.  I guess I was too late to help him, too.

I was useless.  One of the firemen had to put his arm around me and help me off the store’s remains.  He stayed with me until I calmed down, and Dillon was there, patting my hand.  They were so patient with me, even though there was so much to do.  So many other people to help, and save.  So many who could still be saved.

I’m ashamed that I broke down.  At least it means I’m not made of stone, right?  It wasn’t until the calls came over, asking for extra hands to get some people out of an upper floor, that I managed to pull myself together again and be of any use.

Now, I’m crying again, as if something broke in me and won’t heal up. 


I can’t get that trodden-on angel out of my head.  I can’t believe that it’s Christmas today.  Christmas is a dream that someone else had, a long time ago.

I wish Dad was here.  I wish I knew if he was okay. Matt – I have to see Matt again.  And Amber – she wasn’t working yesterday, she wasn’t in the store when it came down, she has to be all right.  Even Cody – I hope Cody is okay.  He tore my heart out, but I don’t wish him dead.  And Bree and Tarisha.  I hope they made it.  I hope somewhere they’re making it through this.

Peace on Earth is a distant illusion today.  Maybe I’ll just wish peace to Harry, and hope that I see those faces alive again. 

Goodbye, Harry, sleep well.  Merry Christmas.