When it falls to an angel, strictly it will be done.
stand aside as her demons do their worst.
The sly one touches her memory. She takes the bottle by the neck, and the alcohol is like tears in her mind's eyes, blurring the leering face of her "favorite uncle".
The ogreish demon strokes a nerve cluster, and she shivers with misplaced arousal and a shock of reflex shame. Her hand steadies with her intent, permitting her to take up the spoon and the lighter. The spoon is new, copped from the buffet at the hotel. The lighter is new, an expensive and powerful butane device sent by a "fan".
Demons again, mocking her. She hears her name as from afar, "Theix, Theix ...", like the Spanish "t" -- tay. Still, I am not yet permitted to intervene.
I once met Sigmund Freud. He does joinery these days, chairs and tables and cabinets. Nothing upholstered.
She sheds her hiphuggers and finds a bluish thread in one emaciated thigh. The black caul takes form above her, and I feel the single stricture I am assigned as it presses on my awareness. She is not to die, not tonight.
She slumps in her chair, and it slides from underneath her on its casters. I move in under the plummeting cloud of deathliness, driving her demons back into their flames. Most of the substances hacking at the force of her life are malevolent variants of simple sugar. I set to work rearranging oxygen molecules.
Her breathing steadies as water accumulates in her belly, then on the patterned carpeting. She drops into the best approximation of sleep that her battered metabolism will support. My work is caught up and I withdraw, aftercare not being within my stricture. "Strict" is the root of my ways.
I once met Janis Joplin. She has invested her afterlife wholly into her Infant Damnation Project, and she's firm about that.
I take an hour's step back in time, then another.
Not being of substance, I can pick my spot in the crowd.
I like to settle in below the twin Blackstar amplifiers of Waddy Wachtel. It will be some time yet, before the Immediate Family regroups in the Kingdom. I can wait.
Music is more than sustenance to my kind. The fabric of me tends to unravel at every strain within the strictures of a placement. Music is nimble fingers and fine hooks knotting the broken ends of my fibers.
Her vocals are soaring and wild, as though she seeks to escape herself on the wings of her voice. I feel her passion envelop me, kneading my healing substance and restoring my strength like gluten in bread.
I need this, knowing what is to come.
Something is gnawing at me, something I am missing, something about my charge. Now, though, she's acting out.
Theix orders her driver, "Just run us up under the, ah, awning, okay?"
"The porte cochere, ma'am?"
"You don't get no bonus for faux French, beau. D'accord?"
"Y'know, 'mama' and 'ma'am' is just two ways to spell the same word. Maybe you should just call me 'mama'."
"Not takin' the bait. Smart boy."
The driver does not answer.
"And gettin' smarter. Good. Now, Zoot --"
"I wish you'd quit calling me that," her manager rejoins.
"Then get yourself to a tailor's, off the rack ain't workin' for you. In the meantime, you boys jus' go off and have some coffee or somethin'. This is a hospital. They don' need the troop of us marchin' through the halls."
"Ags, the Emergency Room is right off the front desk. I can see from here it's jammed. Just take Rick with you."
"Ah-h ... he don't say much, so I guess. C'mon, hulking monster."
There is only so much I can do, Rick reminds himself. In this, there is kinship between us.
"Jay-sus. You, too?"
The hospital atmosphere reminds me of my nature. Its emanent gloom passes from the young to their families and the staff. These are gallant mortals. Emotionless myself, I observe and my passionless sensation of oppression is lightened. I could commit miracles from the ER to the ICU, but strict is the root of my ways.
Leaving the elevator on the fifth floor, Rick steps to the side. "I'll wait here, ma'am."
"Hulking monster? ' You afraid of a sick, fatherless little girl?"
"I'd be a stranger in that room, an intruder."
"Well, well." She takes a step, places a hand in the middle of his chest. "Mama always said it's the quiet ones."
A sly demon appears over her shoulder, then vanishes at the look on my face.
"Rick, I would like to come to know you better."
"I'll be right here."
She nods and turns to the desk. "I'm Aggie Melpins, here to see the ward nurse."
"Aggie ..." The admin assistant looks up, down, up again. "You're Theix. You're here. You must want, uh ..."
"To see the ward nurse. Please."
"Yes. You're here. I ... I'll get Nurse Tellis."
"Just wait, wait here! I'll be right back! With Nurse Tellis. Don't go anywhere!" The assistant flees.
Aggie turns, watches the assistant round a corner, then catches her bodyguard's eye and raises her palms. Rick nods, once.
Nurse Tellis leads us into a private room at the end of the hall. The space is filled with dolls and people and toys and medical equipment and light. "Lucy Ann, you have a visitor. Theix, this is Lucy Ann. She's ten years old, and she's your biggest fan on the entire ward."
Lucy Ann's mother rests a hand on her daughter's shoulder before the child can surge from the bed and its monitors and drips.
"Thee-ix? Is it really you!?"
"Yes, but I call myself ... it sounds like 'tay'."
"Then what's the 'x' for?"
"I don't really know. It's Greek to me."
Lucy Ann sat nonplussed.
"My mom spelled it with an 'x', but she taught me to say ... Okay, my full name is Agatha Theixna Melpins. Can you say ..."
A touch on my shoulder leaves me with a fragment of eternal hope, mine to keep. Danny Thomas passes by to leave a tiny gem with each member of the family and the staff. His is a flickering presence, briefly plain to me as he hugs the little girl. There are so very many children's wards to be visited.
As the two parse together, I feel my stricture lift from Theix. Immediately, it settles over the child, with a specific change. This little girl is not to die of metastatic carcinoma. As certain other strictures accumulate to bind me to her welfare, I set to work shrinking malevolencies and mopping up poisons. I am not distracted by the frequent giggling and camera flashes.
"Can I hear you sing?"
"I thought you'd never ask. What would you like to hear?"
"Mama's favorite. I want you to sing with her."
Having done all I can until Lucy Ann makes good on her renewed appetite, I wrap up my work and settle back to listen.
"Favorite song. Which is?"
Drawn and pale, Lucy Ann's mother begins in a quavering voice.
By the rivers of Babylon ...
Low and firm, Theix comes in under the older woman. Their voices begin to rise, and I feel myself strengthen. Then, a voice twangy with bourbon and smoke fills the interstices of the melody. It is Janis who manifests at Theix's side. The song flows along the walls and sets the windows to vibrating. It rises in triumph, then subsides. The room is quiet.
I don't hear irony when Janis says, "You've done a man's job, and you're not done."
And I who have nothing of human vulnerability, I feel rewarded.
"Lucy Ann? Lucy Ann, I'm sorry. I have to go now. I'm so sorry!"
"No! No, don't be! You came, that's what matters. You came!"
"I'll make you a promise. Listen carefully. Wherever I'm playing, you come to the box office ...
It all happens at once.
Theix rounds the doorway. Her stride down the hall is long, her shoulders back and head held high. Janis' arm rests unfelt over her shoulders. Then she is thirteen steps from the crowded foyer. I watch the blood vessel burst in her medulla. She stumbles. Her knees give way and she collapses camel-fashion, proning out limp.
Now, as she stands over her corpse, she can feel Janis' comforting embrace. She looks about her in all ways, comprehension rising in her eyes. Just once, I push hard against my new strictures.
Her face is ... not vacant, but too full of moments seen from the new height. Her gaze lights on me for a split second, then it's something else and they flicker and resume their sweep.
Rick comes pelting out of the foyer. "Theix? Theix! Nurse!" He drops to his knees and slides to a stop, spreading his arms above her. "Give her some room! Somebody call a doctor!" Janis reaches down and strokes the back of his head. Her comfort is nothing that he can feel in the moment. There will be other, quiet moments.
"Mama, what's happening?"
"We'll ask the nurse when she comes back."
"Okay. I'm hungry. Can I have some ice cream?"
I turn to put my work in front of me. Now, and for the foreseeable future, I have a man's job to do.