Tom Hollingsworth – The Ticket
I saw an angel in Sainsbury`s. It was early Tuesday evening. She was by the pasta section looking at green linguini. Nobody appeared to pay her any attention. I suppose that was because she didn’t have an unearthly light or wings. In fact she wore jeans, a Nike tee shirt, and trainers. And she was very pretty.
I think I first noticed her not just because of her looks. It was because as she passed along the aisle, all the people who were in her radius seemed to walk straighter, to lift their heads. And they all smiled.
A red faced young mother suddenly stopped tugging at her small sons arm. He stopped wriggling and crying. It was odd. Mother and child smiled at each other. Then they calmly carried on their way in a peaceful silence. A harassed looking young man talking vociferously into his phone just shut it off. His tone was angry and short. He was clearly mid conversation. He appeared to not even notice his action. He just shrugged to himself looking blissfully happy. He gazed around him briefly and carried on walking up the aisle. But he now seemed to sway to some invisible music. An old woman by the sauce fridge looked at her arthritic hands as they opened like petals on a flower. I saw all of this. I couldn’t miss it. Whatever was going on I just knew she was an angel. I don’t know why I felt so certain. But I was. Despite her Nike tee shirt.
She was deliberating over some red currant jelly. So I made up my mind and quickly walked past the sauce section until I was directly behind her. Before I could formulate what I was going to say she turned around. “You know then“? and I just nodded. Weird didn’t even come close.
Her voice had a hint of being backed by a huge choir. “What gave me away?“ and I felt my face flush. Her eyes were just so blue. So open. So bright. I shrugged and trying to keep my voice even I said “Oh nothing I just have a knack for this sort of thing“. She frowned faintly though her smile remained. She glanced into my basket and sighed. “Look at all that meat, where’s the roughage”?
Without hesitation I picked up the red cabbage. She laughed “Oh you, come on let’s grab a coffee“. Pausing only to pop a small jar of marmalade into her basket she headed for the checkout. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the two suddenly conveniently free tills. The happy and cheery checkout girl. The security guard who laughed as he smilingly packed her bags. In under three minutes we were passing out through the glass doors.
She laughed as they automatically opened in front of her “I always love this bit it’s just like magic isn’t it look woooooo“. We stepped outside and she paused to pat an old small wiry terrier tethered to a rail. I watched as the white cataracts on his eyes faded. He licked her hand and flipped onto his back. His once stiff legs now supple. He wriggled in pleasure. The angel nodded “I do love dogs don’t you? Ah cappuccino“! And pointing with her chin she motioned me towards a nearby cafe`.
The smell of fresh ground coffee hit us as soon as we went in. The old man behind the counter threw up his hands in delight. He grinned. “Que bella“ he whispered his lined face softened and he kissed her theatrically on both cheeks. He wildly gestured to the few people close by to marvel at the moment. He winked at me and in a thick accent he loudly whispered “You a lucky boy “. He bowed and now kissing her hand he shouted. “Douae cappuccinos per bella signorina Tony please” and left us at a small alcove table. It was a relief to put my heavy bag down I nodded toward the old man. “You come here a lot then“? She shook her head. “No not really“. I felt myself smile “Well I suppose you must be pretty busy you know being a… “ I couldn’t finish the sentence but luckily the coffee arrived with some more kissing and greetings and of course another wink for me. She fell upon the cappuccino. Her face looked blissfully happy. And as she put the cup back down a fine white milky moustache hung on her upper lip.
“Oh just heaven “ And I sat back the enormity of it all finally hitting me for the first time. I felt my breath catch in my throat. This was beyond amazing.
My heart pounded. I was sitting having coffee with a living breathing angel. Her face suddenly clouded and she reached over and patted my hand. “Oh now you react, I thought you were very cool. Oh well it’s to be expected I suppose. It’s in your nature really“. She narrowed her eyes. “You don’t think you’re doing too well with your writing right now. That last broken relationship still hurts. Oh yeah and you’re concerned about that almost imperceptible spare tyre that nobody else can see. There’s a lot going on in that head of yours. So why should I be any big deal?”
My heart was now thumping strongly enough that I could feel it in my throat and I tried to speak but nothing came out. She grinned and sipped her coffee “Okay so I’m a you know what, big deal“ Her voice lowered conspiratorially. She touched my arm. It was like a wave of calmness suddenly washed over me. I sat up straight “But you’re here in a….a coffee bar! It’s not what you expect“ She just rolled her eyes “What’s wrong with a coffee bar they do great cappuccino and besides all that stuff in your head, it’s just stuff, this is 2014 for goodness sake“
She leaned back and regarded me with those blue eyes. I slowly breathed out and thought for a second. The old man whisked by and I could see an extra spring in his elderly step. She caught my eye and shrugged and smiled. “Can’t hurt can it“?
We talked. It seemed as if hours went by. And I felt my heart grow lighter with each passing minute. Things were okay in my life. Nothing wild to report. Just regular work and stuff. Things were the usual, friends and family, a couple of bills that made me wince. But on the whole I was I guess, normal. I wasn’t broke. No major problems just everyday living. But I was struggling inside. It was my stupid brain. Although I wished I could meet someone special. I felt a little lonely most days if I’m being honest. So who did I meet? An angel. Great. But she was so beautiful. I mean drop dead gorgeous. Her figure was amazing. I tried to push the last thought from my head before she could see it but I caught a slight flush bloom across her cheek.
Look, I was only human and besides I was getting fed up living on my own. My last girlfriend had been oh nine months ago but it just hadn’t worked out.
Carrie had been great but I just couldn’t be who she wanted. I’d tried but you can’t be something other than who you are. She said she loved me and she did but not enough. She’d talked about being friends. We’d been together for years. But we’d grown apart. It was no-ones fault it was just what it was.
But it hurt so much it was unbearable. It knocked me flat some days. I tried to not show it to my friends. But they knew. They knew. And I knew love. And I missed being loved. It just seemed to be avoiding me and to be honest sometimes I doubted if it would ever bother to find me again. Life huh? Just a bit off a crappy roller coaster ride sometimes. My head ached briefly. I was having a day off. And I was having coffee with an angel. Figures eh!
“I’m not very religious“ I ventured. She snorted. “So, neither am I“ I sat back completely confused. She playfully waved her spoon at me “Penny for them“. I must have looked bemused because she added “Thoughts, penny for them“ I began to apologise but she shook her head and grinned. I hung my head and sighed when without warning she reached her hand out and stroked my face. Right then I wanted to kiss her just reach across the table and pull her into my arms and I felt my legs tremble. I saw her face flush and I knew she felt my thoughts and nervously she laughed “Now now. Be a good boy. Why don’t you finish writing that book of yours then“ I stared at her and smiled shaking my head ruefully.
“How did you know“? She raised an eyebrow. I gave a low chuckle. “Oh yeah right. Ah I don’t know. I mean I sent my damn stories to every magazine I could think of and not a bite. My book, well that was really just a dream. I just don’t think I’m supposed to be a writer“. I sighed again and in my head the old desire to write flared briefly. She looked at me piercingly “Well I’ve read it“ I held my hands up “But it’s not even finished, I need to finish that last chapter…”. She cut me off and shook her head with a mischievous twinkle in her eye “I’ve read it, last chapter and all, it deserves to be written. It’s a wonderful story“.
Before I could reply she grimaced suddenly and I saw her turn momentarily pale. Her face lined with a passing pain and she reached out and squeezed my hand. I held her soft fingers, and she shook her head as my face filled with concern.
“It’s okay, don’t worry, someone else just stopped believing “ She breathed in heavily “It’s a bugger when it happens though, it gets me right here“ She gestured to her heart. Her skin was silky soft and she squeezed my hand again. I was in awe. She lowered her eyes. “It’s a tough old world and sometimes people just can’t keep believing in angels anymore“ And I saw a wetness about her eyes. “But you have to believe in yourself”.
Visions of my rejection letter file swam before my eyes. I nodded “Well I guess people just wear down. They can’t be strong. Sometimes giving up is all we can do“. As the words came out I felt terrible as she looked at me mutely. What a thing to say. I needed to say something that would make everything better. She smiled wanly and I saw she was holding a large sheaf of paper. It was my book. I could see the title page. I had poured my heart out onto those white surfaces.
Every fibre of my being was twisted into each word. Not a sentence existed without all that I had ever felt flooding from me. The story had occurred to me one night on the bus home from town. I had imagined a man who one day awoke to realise his present life was not his true life. His wife, his children, his job had been his constant for over twenty years. But at some point he had been a totally different person. He had left another home one morning and the life behind him had faded. A muddle of drink and shabby rooms had followed. Then, a chance meeting with another lost soul had pointed him to a new direction and twenty years on he was suddenly remembering everything that had gone on before. A whole other life. A wonderful engaging and intriguing tale. I loved writing it. I’d felt so happy when I sat before my computer each day. And I’d started sending out the first chapters to agents and publishers. But something had happened with the last rejection letter. I just couldn’t face those last four thousand words. And I was so close I knew it. The angel giggled again. “I can see it too”.
The pages were gone. Her eyes were calm. “So still not a believer? “ I felt the old desire to finish my story. I coughed to clear my dry throat “But no one wants it. I sent it to everybody I could think of. What did I get? Zip all that’s what“. The cafe seemed suddenly stuffy and I saw she looked angry.
Her face reddened “Who said the world owed you a living? Life’s unfair that’s it. Bottom line, you’ve got a gift so use it. So what if some people don’t want it. They’re idiots right? That’s just an opinion and you know it’s the wrong opinion. I can feel it within you“. Angrily she slurped at her cappuccino which I realised had suddenly filled itself up again. The little outburst had caught me completely by surprise and I waved my hands about “But it just gets you down“ I shook my head as she levelly regarded me.
“You think you’re the only person to not be recognised“? I shrugged and she slowly shook her head. “Some of the greatest artists ever died unrecognised, their work never seen. Biacetti, Van der Huerk. Stories to make you believe in the most fantastic theories of life and space and time. Bob Jennings, Karl Voltschein, J Khan. Never heard of them right“? I nodded and she looked smugly satisfied “That’s because they just gave up. Rolled over and didn’t want to play anymore. Left their wonderful work in a drawer. Just gave up“. Those eyes pierced my heart. Her face became calm. “Finish it“.
Her words ran right through me. What was it my father used to say? If you don’t buy a ticket then you don’t get to go on the ride. His face filled my mind. I smiled. The damn book had to be finished. She was right. I had to keep sending it out no matter what.
The room felt charged and inside of me something had changed. She knew. Her answering smile lit up her face. And the café. And the street. I heard a choir from somewhere. I closed my eyes briefly and when I opened them, she was gone. Somewhere in my head I felt her say goodbye. And it felt so riven with happiness I nearly cried. Most goodbyes normally seem so final. But unsurprisingly not this one. The odd thing was that I just didn’t feel any sense of loss. I knew without really thinking about it that it was fine. A sudden thought popped into my head. Was all this just so I would keep on writing? A chance meeting? Divine intervention even? I felt numb. What strange elemental and universal force had brought me to that supermarket? What had driven me there?
Then from behind me I heard her voice giggle “Don’t be so dramatic, you were low on tea. You caught the bus remember“? I spun round but the booth behind me was empty. The old waiter whisked my cup away with a gliding grace attained over countless years. He still seemed younger. Impulsively I grasped his arm. “Do you believe in angels“? Realising as I spoke how mad I must have seemed. But he didn’t register any surprise. “You crazy boy, of course. There’s one for everyone“ And he walked away laughing and shouting something to Tony behind the coffee machine whose great round face cracked into a huge grin.
I went home. I had things to do. Like my father used to say time to buy a ticket. A week passed. And I worked like a man in a dream. It all came to me. The perfect ending. I just knew it would. The following Monday the girl behind the post office counter smiled as I pushed my parcels through to her. I had finished my book and it was the very best I could do. Chances were that it would be hailed as a masterpiece. Or conversely even left on various publishers reject piles. Who would know unless I had set the story down? Unless I sent it out into the world and never gave up. You don’t buy a ticket you don’t get to go on the ride. Besides it didn’t matter. Like the angel said you just had to believe. I believed. It wouldn’t change the world but what mattered now was I truly believed.
Maybe sometimes that’s all we need.
Maybe sometimes it’s all we can do.
Maybe sometimes that’s all we have left.