CHAPTER 9: ANGEL IN THE RAIN
The front door was bashed open with a thunder clap, and Marie shot upright in bed.
From behind her bedroom door she could hear raised voices, something heavy being carried, grunts and curses, and she felt a stab of ice in her as she thought the cottage was being robbed. Then, her door swung open and she screamed as the grizzled face of Sylvie’s father, the blacksmith D’Arbe, shot into her room like a jack from a box.
She screamed and he shouted in fright before realising who she was. Then he muttered to himself “Wrong room…” and was gone as suddenly as he had entered, leaving the door to slowly close of its own inertia.
But right before it closed, Marie could see through the rapidly shrinking opening a mob of townsmen carrying her father into his bedroom, behind the, Toureil barking orders “Lay him down on the bed! Careful! Careful you asses! He’s not a sack of potatoes!” And she had just enough time to see her father’s face, white as marble save for the hideous red scar running down his nose and his blue eyes lolling sightlessly, and although she did not actually hear herself, she screamed at the sight of him. And then, with malicious relish, the door clicked shut, cutting her off from the kitchen, and leaving her in the darkness again.
She sprang to her feet and ran into her father’s room. Dawn was just breaking, but there were great grey clouds in the sky, and the only light coming in through Luke’s bedroom window was grey and miserable. Her father lay on the bed, arms splayed in either direction, his head thrown back, the four wounds, the face and the three in the chest, seemed more black than red in the dim light.
Doctor Toureil was examining Luke’s chest, whispering to himself, old formulae, old tricks, what did he know about stab wounds? Remember you ass!
As his callused old fingers probed Luke’s chest, his hands were shaking terribly.
“Lawrence…” Marie cried.
“Not now, dearest…” said Toureil “Get me something to staunch the bleeding.”
“Idiot! Blankets, sheets, anything, something I can wrap around the wounds, is that so hard!?”
One of the men left the room hurriedly, and Marie could hear the sound of her sheets being torn up in the next room.
“Not now Marie! Luke! Luke, old friend, can you hear me? I need you to stay awake, come on now, stay awake…”
It was only then that Marie realised that there was a strange sound coming from her father. He was whistling, his breaths were huge and painful looking, and only one side of his chest was rising.
“Damn his eyes.” breathed Toureil “He got the lung. The little wretch got the lung.”
He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and Marie knew the mannerism. He had rubbed it right before his wife had passed away.
“No! He can’t! Not yet! He’ll go to Hell!”
“No! No! He’s killed people! He’s killed people, Lawrence but he’s not a bad man, he’s not a bad man, he had to do it, please Lawrence, he’ll got to Hell!”
“What’s she talking about, Toureil?” said Monsieur Provais.
“Nothing! Marie, go to your room and do not come in here until I say so, do you hear me?”
“But it’s a sin! The priest said…”
“The priest, oh God…Jacques…the priest…the…the…last rites, go! Go! Get the priest!” said Toureil and before Marie knew what was happening she had been pushed out of the room.
Trembling, she sat down in a kitchen chair, the wood freezing against her bare legs, for she was still in her night dress.
This was not happening.
She was not sitting at this table.
Her father was not dying in the next room, out of her sight, about to leave her forever.
None of it was real.
She was unable to turn her eyes to that cruel door that her imagination could conjure a million terrible things happening behind. Instead she looked out the front door, still gaping wide after being forced in. The dark of the night was giving way to a grey and terrible dawn. Clouds as grey as nothing else was grey hung in the sky, so charged with rain and thunder that looking at them made your eyes itch and water.
She was suddenly conscious of a pain in her hand, and looked down to see that she was still holding her mother’s bone comb. She had clenched it so hard that the teeth had bitten into the soft flesh of her palm, leaving bitter, tiny, red weals in the white flesh.
For a second, Marie could only see white. Then the thunder roared like a horde.
Then it began to rain, rain so heavy that any more and it would no longer have been rain, but a solid falling grey ocean.
From behind the door, her father gasped in pain. She couldn’t stay here in this kitchen, she’d go mad, she knew it. Her head felt like it was on fire, her limbs felt like ice, her heart like a huge moth in her chest, trying to find an escape, batting its wings on her ribs. With a strange snarl of misery and rage she ran headfirst into the pouring rain.
Within three seconds she was soaked through. She was blind, the rain and her sopping hair plastered over her eyes making it impossible to see.
She could hear no sound over the downpour. Her bare feet sunk into the muck up to her ankles, and with each step she took huge globules were pulled up and sent flying through the electric air.
She ran on. She was trying to run until she died, or she reached a place where her father wasn’t going to die.
She got as far as the meadow, when she broke her toe on a vicious piece of rock sticking out of the mud. She screamed in pain and went headfirst into the muck, getting a mouthful of clay that tasted more like water. Then, her pain and misery was suddenly forgotten as she realised she had let the bone comb fall out of her hand when she slipped. Desperately she felt around for it in the sodden earth and in spite of everything she felt a thrill of joy as its now familiar smooth surface brushed the tip of her ring finger. She grabbed it and brought it close to her face so she could see it. It was slick with mud, and she ran her thumb over it until it was white again, and the dim carving of the angel was just about visible.
Ridiculously she began to talk to the little thing as she lay there, almost up to her chin in mud.
“Don’t worry…don’t worry” she kissed the angel “I’m not going to lose you…”
And it was then that she realised she was not alone.
Slowly, she lowered the comb, and over the horizon of its white back she saw a figure standing in the rain. It was draped in a grey hood and cloak, and had its back to her.
Peeping out from under the hem of its cloak, was the tip of a perfect white wing.