Edition 21: Home Delivery by Michelle Jager
It’s been different since the angels came to town. That dirty little secret can now follow you around, and while others won’t know what it represents, it won’t be long before they find out. Michelle Jager is back with a dark fantasy that gives wings to your sins. SY
I’m lying on the couch semiconscious and barely aware of the flickering light from the TV. Some perky presenter announces something about a supposed celebrity and her new line of handbags. Half opening my eyes, I see that the remote control is just out of reach—perhaps if I roll just a little I can grab it. But if I roll, I will be fully awake, fully aware. There’ll be no drifting back to sleep. I’ll be forced into reality. And I can hear reality in the next room. Hear it trying to compete with Miss Perky on TV.
It can’t compete.
There is something about Perky’s pitch which is beyond its reach. Babies or cats might stand a chance. Things with vocal chords. But not it.
This should be a good thing, but Miss Perky’s B-B-B-Berocca voice is positively skipping, twirling and high-fiving itself across my brain it’s so faaarking elated. Her Colgate, too-white-to-be-real smile is penetrating my eyelids and slamming into my hangover. Which, mind you, is a fixed state at present, but one I thought couldn’t get any worse.
Of course I didn’t anticipate Miss P’s early morning orthodontic assault and verbal air strike.
Bile rises in the back of my throat. My own stench and her voice are making me nauseous. Her voice, now that it’s there inside my head, is dragging me into the sickening light of day. Well, if light could actually get into this hole. If it could sneak its way past the permanently drawn blinds and curtains, that is.
But it can’t. I’ve made sure of that.
I groan, shift my weight, and pick up the remote. With the press of a button, I abort Miss Perky and her handbag playmate.
No more shrill, god-awful yapping like some kind of coked up Chihuahua, high on a fragile sense of its own self-importance.
No more banal chatter about feeling empowered over designing some piece of crap over-priced accessory.
I try to breathe deeply, try to maintain some kind of sanity. Or at least prevent myself from screaming and running around like a headless chook—it’s a fine line that I’m teetering on and it wouldn’t do to fall off it. Not when I’ve come this far.
I try to focus on myself, turn my attention inwards, on my body, on the beat of my heart. Try to slow down both, calm myself, but without success. I slide a hand into my jocks and have a quick fondle—masturbation used to relax me but there ain’t nothing moving down there now. Hasn’t been for a while. I give up and run my tongue over my teeth. My mouth tastes like a toilet that’s been used by someone with food poisoning. Serious food poisoning. The ring-burning kind where you piss shit, choke on vomit, and pray that you don’t do both at the same time. I caress the grime. Savour it; it’s a beautiful build-up, I’ll give myself that. A work of art. Just like the rest of me. Just like the house.
There’s something comforting about this bodily excess, this build-up of human waste. This miasma created by my very existence. I guess it means I’m still alive, doesn’t it?
Surprises me, then, when I think about it, how the smell used to make me nauseous. Lately, I haven’t even noticed it. I used to wonder how homeless people—you know, the ones that smell of piss and cigarettes—how they managed to put up with their own stink. But now I know first-hand: it becomes part of you.
Perhaps, I think, I was dreaming of a cleaner time.
Dreams are messed up like that. They take you back to a time before everything turned to shit and make you feel safe. And then you wake up to the nightmare that is your life. I wish I could just dream of nothing. Or turn everything off. Permanently.
But I can’t.
Maybe I just don’t have the balls. But I like to think it’s because I’m a fighter. A stayer as my mum would’ve said. In the end though it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, as either has the same result—me, here, with it.
I push back the lid of a pizza box with my toe. Nothing but blobs of left over cheese, smears of sauce, and an oil stain spread across the bottom. There are boxes like this scattered around the room, distributed throughout the house—Domino’s, KFC, Wokinabox, Hungry Jack’s, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme—cholesterol heaven. On top of this I have a fine array of empty whisky bottles to complement the collection.
And glittering amongst the devastation—trophies.
Ok, perhaps not actually glittering. They’ve dulled somewhat over the years. But they’re there, and they’re clean—gotta take a bit a pride in something even when your whole world is going to hell.
If you saw me right now, you wouldn’t believe it. You would say—and rightly so, mind you—get outta here. But they’re mine, all right. And they’re not for bowls, or golf, or cricket, or something lame like that where you can get away with being a fat shit. Nuh-uh. They’re for track and field and footy—Aussie Rules, of course.
Like a bullet on the field, I was. Short but fast. And fearless. Those big fellas didn’t scare me. They thought they could intimidate me, look down on me. But when they shoved, I looked them dead in the eye and shoved back harder.
Guess it was a bit of a surprise when I decided to up and go to uni and do teaching. Not quite what everyone expected but it had always been my plan, and up until a few months ago life was good.
I’m a PE teacher, of course.
Or I should say I was a PE teacher.
If I’d just stuck to high school teaching, I would’ve been fine. It was the weekend junior footy league that screwed me up. Give in to a few urges and I end up with a reality check, one that literally knocks on my door and makes itself at home.
Now here I am—two stone overweight and counting, breath like a dead dog, face like sandpaper, and eyes so red I look like I’ve got a permanent infection. I’m the epitome of health and wellbeing.
I look like an old-school sports teacher, one who’s taken to the beer and couch in his spare time, given up on anything physical except opening up the fridge and yelling at the nerdy kids and fat shits on the field to get a move on. Give me a pair of ball-grazing shorts, a whistle round my neck and a polo shirt tucked in to accentuate my gut—used to have a six-pack, now I’ve got the whole keg kind of look—and I’d be complete. The total opposite of what I was.
I hated that type. Piggy, piggy, mean motherfuckers. Chip on their shoulder. Power and a whistle.
I was a great teacher. Was. That bloody word again. Haunting me since it turned up; the angel.
I feel like this one has been created as a sort of homage to my activities. I think that’s the appropriate word, anyway. Homage. Sent down as a tribute to my sins. I mean, I opened the door that morning and there it was, this baby-round face looking up at me—soft cheeks, pink lips, and great big brown eyes plucked straight from Bambi’s eye sockets. And that sweet, warm-milk smell. It was intoxicating.
Of course the child’s face was peering out amongst a load of dirty brown feathers. Covered from head to toe in them and they were dropping off all over the place. The wings were hidden, tucked in close, and it had a couple of bald patches, red and raw like someone had tried to pluck it—don’t blame them, either.
And that lovely smell?
Well it didn’t last, believe me. Bloody angels, they’re filthy little fuckers. Nothing like the ones they talk about in the Bible or those that used to appear in movies or on Hallmark cards at Christmas.
But you know that.
Now we know what they’re really like, there’s no going back. No romanticising.
They’re creeps, too, in my opinion. How they watch us. Watch all of us. People complain about the government, about cops, and Centrelink. Always crapping on about Big Brother and satellites and conspiracies, but step a little out of line with these bastards and BAM! There they are, dropping feathers all over your doorstep and stinking up the joint. That’s if you’re lucky, mind you. I know some poor guy who had one turn up at work. There’s no getting around it then. No hiding the fact that you’ve strayed a little or whatever.
I actually thought I’d gotten away with it, too. Thought I’d somehow gone under the radar. Slipped through the net. Three years I’d been doing junior league. Two years of supposed sin and nobody knew. Nobody was any wiser. My own baby-face, my age, my character—Bazza, he’s a good bloke; could have a beer with Baz—meant that parents trusted me. I had a clean record. Even had a girlfriend for a while. Not that I was much interested. Used to blow her off for a night out with the boys. But all in all if you met me, you’d think I was normal.
A pillar of the community.
An upstanding citizen.
But then most of us seem that way.
It’s shit, when you think about it, that we have to live a lie just to conform to society’s standards. And you know what? Perhaps society has got it wrong. Perhaps all this conformity, this white-picket-fence-movie-romance-family-ideal is bullshit. Not everyone has the same needs and desires. Who’s to say what’s wrong or right?
Well, I guess the angels think they can, but you know what I mean?
Society’s always coming up with some kind of crap to stick on people, just so it can exclude and demonise. Australia in particular is bad for that. Bunch of bloody hypocrites we are, harping on about giving everyone a ‘fair go’. Fair go, my ass. You get a fair go until you drop the ball or look or act a little different and then we just shit all over you. That’s what we’re really into—waiting for someone to fuck up so we can all have a good laugh and feel better about ourselves, even though we’re just as bad. Just as screwed up.
No one’s laughing now, though. Not with the angels doing our work for us. We’re all accountable.
About a year ago they started turning up. And a year ago I reigned myself in for a bit. It was a wakeup call. I was getting sloppy. Plus there were times when, well, I don’t know—sometimes I could justify it. And sometimes I would think, if there’s a hell, you’re gonna burn in it, buddy.
But apparently hell wasn’t enough of a deterrent even when it seemed a certainty. And for a while there, a while, I thought, when they didn’t show up, maybe, just maybe, it ain’t wrong.
That’s when I got my home delivery.
So there I am, staring down at this angel standing on my doorstep. Utter disbelief. Early morning, air’s cold and I’m in nothing but my jocks and still I don’t move. I looked at it. It looked at me. We just kept looking at each other for what felt like forever. And then I looked down the street. Checked to see if anyone else was out and about, see if anyone else had happened to hear that knock. But the street was deserted. Not too surprising, really. I mean it was that early. There was even a faint star visible in the sky. It winked at me from up high, and in that moment I reached out and pulled the angel inside.
No one had seen my angel.
And no one’s gonna see it.
People see an angel hanging around your place and they start thinking, “What’s going on here? What’s young Baz been up to that he’s gone and got himself an angel sent down?”
They start investigating. Making enquiries. Sticky-beaking. They send in the big guns—old sheilas shifting around behind closed curtains and drawn blinds, peeking between the cracks; old fellas supposedly tending their gardens but doing more standing and staring than actual work. The neighbourhood-watch out in full force.
And who can blame them?
You know how it goes. I’m sure you know someone who’s had an angel or at least someone who knows someone. We’ve all heard the stories anyway. Seen a politician on TV who has one of the little sneaks tagging along behind. You can’t look at them in the same way, no matter what they say. For all you know it could just be something like dodging on their tax payments. Could be that they’ve been screwing around behind the Mrs’ back.
Or it could be that they’ve gone and killed someone and the body is rotting out in a barrel somewhere.
See what I mean? You have to know. I would want to know.
It’s not fair when you think about it like that—same thing for someone who’s gone and got a little nookie on the side and same for some bloke who’s decided to hack up his nookie with an axe. No rest for the wicked as they say. Not till you fess up and take your punishment, anyway.
In my case that’s not an option. Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.
So first things first: I up and quit my job at the school. Tell them I’ve decided to change paths. Go back and do more study. Better myself or some such crap. I’m meant to give four weeks’ notice, which technically I do. We’re just coming into the summer holidays so I take a couple of sickies and I’m free and running. Well, as free as I can be given the circumstances.
Same goes for junior league.
After that I shut myself in, hide away in my own house. Close the blinds and curtains, lock the doors and windows. Block the world out. Food and drink aren’t a problem. We live in the wonderful age of the telephone and the internet. Everything is delivered straight to your door. Minimal contact. I’ve got savings so I can hole up a while, like in one of those sieges in historical movies.
Except that I’ve locked myself in with the enemy.
I’ve got to keep an eye on it, don’t I? Make sure it doesn’t worm its way out, attract unwanted attention.
I started out pretty well. Plenty of fruit and veg, balanced diet. Home gym out the back. Thought I’d maintain my fitness for, you know, for when it was all over.
For when the problem was solved.
Not sure how I expected the problem to be solved. Had the thought in the back of my mind that it’d just disappear. But of course it hasn’t.
It’s still here, banging away in the other room.
The devastation that is my house is partly me, partly it.
When it moved in, it began in the bedroom—pulling things out of drawers, photos out of frames, sheets off the bed, throwing shoes and clothes, and leaving a trail of dirty brown feathers behind it. I followed it around picking up after it, putting everything back in its place, just so it could do it all over again. I didn’t know what else to do. Room to room it went, me running around behind it under the impression that I could still maintain some kind of order.
After a while, I just gave up.
The only time I leave this hellhole is late at night. It’s not so much to get out, as to be honest, being outside makes me anxious. Just keep thinking what’s it doing? Can anyone hear it? But I need booze to get me through and if I run out, there’s a bottle-o round the corner. Nice and convenient. Quick dash in and out and back again, legging it all the way back to the safety of my fortress.
My hand shakes every time I put the key in that door, and once inside I’ll pause for a moment.
Pause and listen.
Sometimes there’s silence, and for a second I think it’s given up and gone back to wherever the hell it’s come from. And then the banging starts. But other times it stays quiet and I walk around the house like I’m stepping on broken glass—softly, softly, catchee monkey—until there it is.
And it leaps into the air, flying around madly, stopping my heart, getting caught in the curtains and sending feathers everywhere. They rain down, an endless storm, and I run for it. I run, overwhelmed by the thought that it might not stop and I’ll be buried, smothered in the rotten smelling things.
But that feeling of being smothered doesn’t go away. Not here, not in this house. The drink helps. Helps block it out, muffle it. Accept it to a certain degree. But I can’t escape completely. It won’t let me.
One morning I wake up to this foul smell. The bastard had smeared shit across the floor and walls of the bedroom. Done it as I slept. Guess it felt it had to up the ante, what with me not caring about it throwing my stuff around anymore.
This, I have to admit, came as a bit of a surprise as I didn’t know that the little prick could piss or shit. I’ve never even seen it eat or drink so how could anything come out of it? Perhaps it wasn’t even its own shit. That thought scares me more as it means the fucker got out…
Can’t think like that. Start thinking like that and you lose the last threads of sanity. And then where are you?
Anyway, so there’s me, bucket of hot water and detergent, down on the ground, scrubbing like hell and it’s in the middle of the room watching. Standing there, staring. Big eyes taking it all in. Just as I’m about done, it disappears. This should’ve sent alarm bells ringing but I was too wrapped up in what I was doing to think ahead.
Next thing I know, the contents of the bin have been upended over me and the floor. We’re not talking paper and cans, not your recyclables. We’re talking banana peels, chop bones, potato skins, cheese rinds, tea bags—and stuff I couldn’t even identify. Not just that but a sour smelling liquid that had gathered at the bottom and was dripping all over the place.
It was rank.
And you know what? The very next day it did the same thing in the kitchen. There was even crap in the fridge. I had to throw out a heap of food. Bags of it.
Just as I finished, the bloody thing snuck up real close, so close, that when I turned, its face was level with mine. And it was grinning.
Rows of white baby-teeth greeted me. And then they parted and a thin pink tongue like a magpie’s flickered out and hot, evil-smelling breath wafted over me like a moist fart.
Streams of yellow-piss bile all over the floor, all down my shirt. Bastard. Could’ve rung its filthy little neck. I nearly went to.
But you mustn’t do that.
Bad things happen to people who kill angels. No one knows exactly what, and it doesn’t always happen straight away, but soon enough for it not to be a coincidence. Like that actress who stabbed one to death with her stiletto on the red carpet. You know, what’s-her-name—Berlina Hyatt. That’s it. How could I forget?
Now that was an Oscar’s show worth watching.
You could see the rage in her face from the very beginning. Trying so hard to remain calm, but every time a camera flashed the thing would fly in front of her face or pull at her hair. And where is she now?
Nobody knows what it was she actually did to have an angel. That mystery disappeared with her, although there’s a lot of speculation. It’ll be one of those conspiracies like the death of Marilyn Monroe or the moon landing.
Sometimes the angels leave a little present behind, a lump of something glistening on the path outside the person’s house, or front doorstep. Like cats do. Something meaty, something they say has traces of human DNA. But not wholly. Who knows what happens? But the message is there—we don’t take this shit lightly.
You can’t even ask an angel because they don’t speak, or not that I’ve ever heard. Probably wouldn’t be quite so bad if it could talk. Could at least have a chat about god knows what. I guess just that—God. Does he exist? Is this his doing? And if it is, what the hell is his problem?
Or I could try asking it what happens to angel-killers and about life after death and all that shit.
But then again, maybe it’s for the best, this silence. Maybe I wouldn’t like what it had to say. Maybe it’s better not to know. There’s something final about that kind of knowledge.
You know what really gives me the creeps?
That it doesn’t blink. It doesn’t sleep. Aside from the occasional smile or frown, it doesn’t do much to indicate what’s going on upstairs.
And so I keep wondering, what is it thinking? Is it thinking? Does it enjoy torturing me? Can I outlast it? Out-think it?
And this is what’s on my mind as I sit on the couch after the silencing of Miss Perky. It’s then I notice that the silence seems to have extended throughout the house and I think what the hell is it up to now?
As if in answer, I hear a smash and that fluttery noise it makes when it flies about in a panic and brushes up against stuff.
I hate that sound.
It’s unnatural—something trapped where it shouldn’t be, something fragile. Something that’s going to leave a load of feathers and shit everywhere.
I get up, rub my eyes, scratch my ass and ready myself for whatever crap it’s pulled. I figure it can’t be worse than the shit-smearing incident.
I am, of course, wrong.
My angel has pulled the plaster and tiles from one of the bedroom walls. An exterior wall. One facing the street.
A wall it has just begun to pull bricks from.
Bright shafts of light blind me as I stand there, eyes adjusting, brain trying to take in the scene before me. Terror rises up with remnants of last night’s whisky. Dizzy, I puke on the floor. I start coughing from the acidic burn in my throat and the dust flying around from the angel’s handiwork. I cough and cough until it’s all up.
With the pressure released I feel, well, I feel rejuvenated.
I lunge forward and make a grab at the little fucker. It moves out of reach and goes into overdrive, gets this crazy strength from somewhere and is pulling bricks out left, right and centre, flying here, there and everywhere, wings going like the clappers.
And the hole is getting wider and wider, the room is ablaze with sunlight, and I’m getting madder and madder, jumping all over the place trying to get at it, and cursing all the while but trying to keep my voice low.
“Come here, you little jerk,” I growl.
Admittedly not the best approach but given the circumstances…
And suddenly I catch hold of a foot. I catch hold of a foot and it’s a shock to us both. Neither of us moves. It’s got a hand on a brick right in the middle of the wall, and I’ve got a hand wrapped around its foot. And then I pull.
With that brick comes the whole wall. Everything is falling and crumbling and crashing around me. It’s all noise and a blur until—silence.
The air clears.
And it’s me and the angel standing out in the open and I can see it’s still holding that bloody brick.
I slap the brick out of its hand and grab hold of both arms. I’ve got it in a real tight grip and I think there’s no getting out of this, you bastard.
And then it looks at me.
Looks at me with those big eyes. Looks right into me, and for a moment I feel I want to cry. Because for a moment I think it’s just a little kid. Just a scared little kid. And I want to stop and put it on my knee and stroke that soft cheek—like I used to with the others. You know, before all of this. So I let go of one arm and reach a trembling hand out towards its face—
And then those eyes change. They narrow right down and stare into me again but in a different way to before. Its whole body puffs right up and it lets out this horrible, high-pitched shriek, like nothing I’ve ever heard. A bag of cats couldn’t do it justice.
Somewhere in the background people are starting to gather. I can hear voices murmuring and I’m sort of aware of their presence but not really taking notice. Not really caring.
Because I’ve seen red.
So much red that I can’t really see, can’t really think, just feel. Feel myself tearing and ripping and biting. Feel feathers and flesh coming apart in my hands. Feel bones as brittle as a bird’s break and splinter. Feel all of this until there is nothing left to feel, nothing left to hold on to.
I stand very still and I breathe.
In the air is that smell, that goddamn sweet smell from the beginning. Like warm honeyed milk. It brings tears to my eyes; it’s so sweet. So perfect.
It’s now that I feel the eyes, I mean, really feel them, and that I realise they all know I have, or had, an angel. Right up until this very moment when I tore it apart in front of them.
Not that it matters anymore, them knowing. Who cares what my neighbours do or think now? They can throw me in jail, even. Won’t make much difference, won’t be there long.
I drop to the ground. Too damn tired. Nothing to do but sit and wait. So that’s what I’ll do. Kind of a relief, in a way, for it to be over, out in the open. No more hiding.
There’s part of me that thinks, hopes, that perhaps I’ll be safe with all these people hanging around watching, with all these eyes on me. Safe in the bright light of day.
I hear this kid’s voice cut through the quiet. “Mum, mum,” it says, “mum, what’s he doin’? What’s he doin’ that for? He got lice or summin’?”
I don’t hear her answer, though, because I’m concentrating on something else inside my head. I’m scratching, pulling at my ears because I can hear it. It’s soft and distant, but it’s there. A buzzing, whining noise, like a mosquito.
More like the sound of thousands of birds, of thousands of wings, all moving very fast. I fight the urge to leg it, to just get the hell out of here, to leave these people behind and try and outrun whatever’s coming.
But there’s no point, is there? Because you can’t outrun what’s inside you.
It’s then I notice it, caught beneath my fingernail, soaked in blood—a small downy feather.
I pluck it out and blow on it. Make a wish, I think, watching as it floats into the air, curling round, up and up, into a sickeningly clear, blue sky.
And I start laughing.
I can’t stop.
I’m positively pissing myself as I sit covered in blood and filth amongst the rubble that was my bedroom, with that sound ringing in my ear, getting louder and louder, closer and closer. As I sit feeling that pain in my gut, in my head, in my ball-sack, like tiny mouths pecking and chewing at my insides.
Make a bloody wish, Baz.
Michelle Jager is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing at the University of Adelaide where she is working on her first novel. Previous publications include ‘Jar Baby’ in Midnight Echo Issue 8, and ‘Bones’, nominated for an Australian Shadows award and appearing in the award-winning ‘Australiana’ edition of SQ Mag. Her latest obsession is photography. In particular, she enjoys taking photos of dead, odd or forgotten things and unsuspecting passers-by, which she then, naturally, displays on Instagram: michellejager80