Every cloud has a silver lining. Ariadne’s had two, and they were itchy.
She sighed, irked by another night of restless sleep and a morning without coffee. They only served holy water Upstairs. Rumour had it, top-ranking angels had access to plantations owned by a minor saint, but chances of Ariadne reaching that tier were slim. She needed to improve her miracles. She sighed again, twisting her long, blond hair.
“Now that’s a sound I don’t like to hear,” said Barbara, her line manager, landing in a sweep of feathered wings. “Perk up, Ariadne. It’s a new day, and miracles await!”
Ariadne couldn’t help wincing at the chipper smile on Barbara’s round face, who responded with sharpened eyes.
If looks could kill, Barbara would be serving Downstairs, Ariadne thought. But the moment passed like spring rain, and the sun shone again.
“Which would you like today?” said Barbara, withdrawing a gossamer parchment from her breast pocket. “Failed first love; grocery store hold-up; baby with bronchiolitis? No? Well, let’s find something more your style.” Her manager glanced up.
At least she said style, not ability. Though they both knew her angel game was poor. As it turned out, a life lived on the ‘average good’ spectrum continued much the same afterward.
Ariadne listened to the list of minor miracles awaiting assignment. One caught her attention. “Oncology patient?”
Barbara hesitated. “Are you sure? You’ve not been to a hospital before; they can be difficult the first time.”
But Ariadne nodded. “Absolutely. I’m ready.” She smiled brightly.
Barbara beamed in return. “Alrighty then,” she said.
A flash of light transferred the job across, and Ariadne launched herself from the cloud with an excited flutter.
Even hospital coffee was better than none at all.
The patient was a pale, skinny Irishman, dying of lung cancer at thirty-three. “I swear I never smoked that much,” he joked when Ariadne, in nurse’s uniform, snuck a look at his chart.
She raised an eyebrow. “Says differently here, Mister MacAllister.”
“Colm, please,” he said. His smile was stunning once, she thought, though now it held long-fought pain.
“Comes with running a successful Internet start-up at nineteen,” he added. Not a boast: a statement of fact. “The smokes helped me keep it together, working hundred-hour weeks over the years.” He held his eyes closed, lying on the bleached pillowcase. “Not that it matters now.”
Ariadne nodded, releasing the chart and moving to his bedside. “What does matter, Colm?”
His manifest listed one friend and no family. Does anyone ever sit with him?
Thin brows quirked at the question. “Why, I ‘spose the warmth of the sun through the window might count. The sound of a gorgeous woman’s voice.” His lips curved. “And what’s that smell? Floral, delicate, divine…”
Taken aback, Ariadne giggled. “My perfume? I make it myself, from flowers in the Garden.”
“Is that so? Well, it’s as beautiful as its maker,” he said, eyes opening. He turned towards Ariadne, clear blue eyes staring past her head in slightly the wrong direction.
She held back a gasp, leaning over to tuck the sheets more neatly around him.
“You’re a charmer, Mister MacAllister,” she said, though their expressions matched in strain.
“Takes one to know one.”
She laughed. And realised she hadn’t done so for a long time.
The next time she came, they discovered a shared love of Friends.
“Though I missed the final season,” Ariadne said.
Colm insisted she come back at the end of her ‘shift’ to watch some with him. The bedside chair was hard and cold, but the room warmed with their enjoyment.
“You’re a natural at narrating the scene,” he told her afterward.
“I guess watching people is my job,” she replied.
The following visit was a foggy morning, and Ariadne described the shapes the mist made on the hospital windows, the hidden landscape outside. They talked about their favourite books, and places to travel, and what they wished they’d done in lives too full of other priorities.
An orderly came round with ‘cancer crud’.
“It tastes better with company,” Colm winced.
Rain fell. Ariadne brought in a classical guitar. She helped Colm hold it between his wired arms, strumming Spanish melodies with his long fingers.
“Never thought I’d make music again,” he said. He handed back the instrument. “Won’t ever be as good as when an angel’s by my side.”
Ariadne protested. “I’m only a nurse.”
He gestured toward the wall. “Well, nurse. Take down that ticking clock, will you? I want to stop time and spend it all with you.”
The coffee remained awful, but it was still coffee. Ariadne woke happier, and smiled more frequently Upstairs. A fact Barbara noticed.
“How’s your miracle?” she asked one evening, while Ariadne tended the Garden.
She looked at the flower in her hand. Snipped it as a gift for Colm. “He’s wonderful.”
The room had darkened when she placed the bloom beside him.
“Divine, that smell,” he murmured, and fell back into sleep.
The chart said days to live. But Ariadne did not notice.
This story came about as a writing challenge to create a 2-part serial in a genre opposite to my usual (I went for romantic comedy). I also had four constraints: include a foggy morning, a timepiece, the phrase ‘if looks could kill’, and a limit of 850 words.
Original version appeared on Reddit/ShortStories.
As a longer piece, and a two-parter, I thought it would be nice to post this as a seasonal special. Next (and final) episode comes out tomorrow. Hope your week is going well! 🙂