Kneels Before God
Kneels Before God
"Forgive me, father, for I have sinned."
His voice echoed against the slanting slats of light, weak and feeble in the box of darkness. Confess. Absolve yourself. Clasp your hands over your knees and keep your legs closed so you can scrub yourself clean of the filth from your sins. He closed his eyes and felt that familiar heaviness settle in him, at the very pit of his stomach. He always felt like a dusty road when he did this, dirt clouds kicked up around him from other people's travel, and that he was only confession to throw those following him off his trail. There was no cleanliness to be found here.
"Yes, my child?"
The voice, disembodied and impersonal, hidden by the wall, sounded tired but patient. A parent speaking to his child, to guide him, to protect him from the things he did not want to see, or could not yet bear to. Confess. Absolve yourself. Your child's eyes would be safe, and in being safe, unknowing. Without knowledge, time had no whips, no scorns, and the Eden of your life was without a snake. For some people, this was enough.
For some people, this was truly heaven.
But he was the Angel of the Golden Gates. When he gave unto Adam the flaming sword he knew by the way it was taken it would not be used merely for warmth in the cold night.
For the angel had seen his and her eyes, changed with the knowledge, and the fruit of their knowledge was pain, and the blossom of that fruit was that they walked burning into the night on their own two feet. Aziraphale had watched them leave. Aziraphale would have been lying if he said he did not envy the straight lines of their naked backs, and the way their breath was sweet on the souring air.
"I have coveted that which is not rightfully mine," Aziraphale said, watching his fingers lie still in his lap. "I have lain awake nights and wanted, selfishly."
To want for yourself was to dance that primrose path and find your feet, the soles of your feet, your ankles and your toes, red with blood, you flesh snagged on the flowers' thorns. Confess. Absolve yourself. Perfume that blood and sweeten your hands. The more it is done, the easier it gates, and the less you remember that fire in their eyes, that fire not reflected but burning from within.
Until you woke one morning wanting to taste a demon like apple-flesh on your lips.
"Go on, my child."
And then you saw the signs. The ineffable finger pointing out more clearly where not to go and what not to do than where to go, and what to do there. The surge of childish resentment in you, too strong to rationalize, to soothe with catechism and routine. The hunger that burned like a fire within you and you knew it was not a matter of good or evil but of self. You could not blame temptation, for you had given in to no one but that voice thrumming inside of you. Not an agent of heaven or hell but just yourself. Just the wondering.
"I have questioned the Word of the Lord, our God, hallowed be His Name."
In questioning his own strength he was questioning the Word of the Heavenly Father, the Lord God's own strength, which was wound up in his own. In questioning himself he was questioning the Ineffable, and that, like the Fruit, like the Search for Knowledge, was Forbidden.
"How have you done so, my child?"
Think back to a time and a place before Eden. Think back to the angels, circling lazily like doves in the sky. Think back to their soft, sexless bodies, their translucent skin, the not-veins running beneath, and all the sinew, which was clear as their colorless eyes. Think back to their wings, which did not beat the air, but rather caught it up in their feathers and because they were so light, so without sin, so free in their namelessness that the wind proved stronger than they were. Think back to a time when you, too, could fly; it was as easy as surrendering yourself to the air, and trusting it, like His Hand, to catch you as you fell, and so you rose on His Finger and on His Grace. Think back to the innocence of those times, those creatures. Think back to when you were just as they and there was no you, just a collective of those soaring bodies. Think back to when you belonged among their numbers, without color, without care. Think back to the Word, when the Word was your self and yo ur self was the Word. Think back to a time and a place where there were no complications for there were no thoughts, just endless circles and circles of angels, wheeling through the cloudless sky. Think back to a time when there was no top and there was no bottom to it all, just what was, and It Was Good.
"Ever since the Fall."
Think back to the time and the place when those wingless things plummeted downwards, comets in the bright sky. Think back to that tearing inside of you as you took up the sword and you took up the flame and learn what it was to punish, your brethren what it was to be punished, with and by the Hand. Think back to when you were His fingers, reaching out with His will, and as easy it was said, it was done. Think back to when the brightest star fell and you watched him sparkled, watched them that fell with him Know. Think back to when you stood over another colorless body and watched the veins turn blue inside it, the sinews red, this the first color you had ever seen, and deep inside of you, you thought it was beautiful, more beautiful than all the marble of Heaven. Think back to this time, this place, when you did not question the Word, even as you saw fire not as a theory but as a reality that hurt your eyes and clouded your heart with the thick gasp of smoke. Think back to when you thou ght you were the lucky one, and felt in your angel soul the hole that had wormed its way inside of you when you weren't looking inside yourself, but watching the bitter burn of Justice, the worm inside you writhing as you lacked pity, compassion, for those who had sought Knowledge and Found it and Changed.
"The fall, my child?"
Think back to the time and the place of Eden. Think back to the beasts of four legs, tusks rooting in the earth, shapeless mounds of fur that scuffled along through the very beginnings of the grass, and trampled the flowers, and smelled, the first smell that ever graced your senses. Think back to the trees, which rose up, knotted in their wood and stooped in their branches, or the young saplings, willowy, like the angel bodies swaying in the breeze. Think back to Eve laughing, that laughter the sound of the brook babbling on and on about happy nothings. Think back to when you could listen to the babbling brook for hours upon hours and forget the sound of Lucifer's laughter, your own heart pounding with excitement at hearing it, or forget the way Belial's eyes glistened with bright tears that were both sad and wondering both, and Beelzebub was not pushed, but leaped forward of his own free will. Think back to the very first doe, with its soft doe eyes and its soft doe nose, and the way that it felt when it snuffled against your hand. Think back to Adam, who did not know how naked he was. Think back to Eve, who did. Think back to that One Tree, emerald slide of snake hidden amongst the leaves. Think back to that place you loved so, but will never see again, for it is all covered in thorns, now, and you have forgotten the way there. Think back to that night, and the way it rained as you had never seen rain before, and you shivered beneath it. Think back to that look you saw, reflected in Adam's eyes, just as strong as in Eve's, the same look Belial had when he went Below and the same look Beelzebub had as he followed him Down.
"Ever since the Fall, only I didn't know it then. I was foolish. I did not understand myself. I did not want to try."
Wipe your eyes and your mind and your heart clean. Remember nothing. Forget who you are and who you were and never know who you could have been. Don't think of the way you love language and hot cocoa and rainy afternoons, because they are the most delicious shade of gray to be found in the world, and a pleasant evening at the Ritz with a bit of perfectly aged Cointreau.
Confess to what you have Agreed.
"But ever since then, Father, I have Doubted. I have wanted to Know, for I realized you are nothing if you do not Know. And I have ached to Know, like this, until I forget most of who I am, and all of who I was. But even this, even this is preferable! For I am wondering in a way that is my own. I own it. This is why I question myself. This is why I question my motives. I wonder, Father. I wonder why when it is not my place to ask such questions of the world. Or even of you."
His hands had begun to tremble with excitement. His voice was a whisper but it seemed to echo in the cavern of the Confessional as he himself echoed with this sudden passion. He felt colors. Black behind his eyes. Blue in his fingertips. Red in the very center of him, where all the blood boiled and seemed not to flow, but rather to rage beneath his skin.
"Earthly possessions. I wish to own myself. I wish to own another. I wish to have touches to my skin and kisses to my name. I will never fly again, father, my father, for I have sinned."
Think back to the angel that you were, when the Golden Gates opened wide and you did not ask what it was that you were doing. Think back to when you were a child, young enough and naïve enough to know what you must do just by remembering the shine of the sun in your eyes and the way it was when you had done it right, even if you had never done it before.
Aziraphale had been too long from Heaven. Aziraphale had been too long on the earth, where things were not black and they were not white but they were a delicate shade of wet-pigeon gray.
Once, Aziraphale had watched a pigeon make a nest on the windowsill outside of his bathroom. In the sunshine her feathers did not seem dirty and she sat over her two pale eggs with her head bowed low and her round, bird-body oddly protective, despite its vulnerability. And in the rain, she sat there still, feathers soaked through, flesh soaked through, soaked down to her skeleton. Her eyes, beady and red, blinked all around her, daring anyone to take this suffering from her. It was suffering. At least, she told him, blinking twice and rearranging herself, this suffering was her own.
"My son, you do not know what you say."
There was a time, yes, when he said what he remembered saying, and that was what it was. But now was different. He had forgotten of the very first brook, dancing clear in the soothing sunlight. He had forgotten, too, of Heaven, and of having no memories other than that you Belonged and you Were and you need know nothing else at all.
He had memories of himself, now. Memories he had made alone and with a friend. And he had desires, something that ached like hunger in the depths of his belly, though angels did not need to eat or drink. Angels did not, in fact, need anything to survive. It was as if he were paying an endless penance.
For flight, for the gift of being light as air, it was not worth it.
"I know what I say. I know what I say better than once I did and I am not afraid to say it. I am not afraid to Know."
His hands on his legs.
And what if his hands were his own?
You couldn't help but wonder, sometimes. Couldn't help but want to know, when thinking back only got you to feeling lonelier than a road that went nowhere at all, and took the long route to get there.
He lifted his head.
"My child. You question yourself and you question Me. You will not get off lightly. Certainly more than three Hail Mary's and a candle to light for those souls that have been lost." In the tight box he was trapped in, Aziraphale tried to move onto his knees. "That is not necessary, My child. Stay where you are."
"I did not know," Aziraphale tried to explain, to defend himself, but though humans could lie to themselves angels could not. You could not lie to Him. Angels were made of his breath and the flesh of his palms.
"But you did Know that My voice speaks in all voices, My eyes see from all eyes, My ears hear from all ears."
"Why, then, do you Question me? Why do you Question my motives?"
"Love," Aziraphale said, and the air shivered in agony.
"My child, you do know Know what Love is."
Aziraphale thought of Eve handing Adam the apple, the light in her eyes. She wanted him to Know as she did Know the wonderful, exotic taste. And so, Aziraphale had drawn for himself the conclusion that Love was knowledge, and Love was also Damning. Love was the Apple. Rather, Love was sharing the Apple, lip to lip and thigh to thigh.
Aziraphale thought also of riding in a sleek black car with the wind in his hair and his rear end on the very edge of that perfectly upholstered seat. Love was like flying backwards, you were so heavy with it, and you couldn't rely on anyone or anything to catch you. You trusted Luck equally, or perhaps a little less, than you trusted Love, and nothing else but the strength of your feelings. Yours.
Love was like Falling.
"I Know," Aziraphale said, his hands clenched tight into fists. Knowing belonged to himself, just as this confused mess of emotion, twisted and unsure, was his own because he named it Love and in naming it, too, was his own.
Then you must know how much it hurt when he fell, my brightest star, and I lost him, said the Voice, and Aziraphale felt the Words like the deepest river of sorrow he had never known, a despair that was greater for not being his own, but belonging to the loneliness of the birght, aching sun, singular, scorching, forever misunderstood in the vast blueness of the sky.'
"Forgive me, Father," Aziraphale whispered. He did not want to be protected, but he knew suddenly he needed to be or he would not be able to even stand under the weight of his heavy heart.
Being an angel was like going to church regularly on Sundays, only without the middle men. Everyone needed that sheltering hand. The Fallen no doubt knew that, too, and mourned their losses secretly, as if they were nursing old wounds.
"Three Hail Mary's," said the priest's tired voice, "and light two candles for those less fortunate."
Aziraphale stepped out of the box he was in and thought for a moment, as he looked up through the winking light caught on his spectacle lenses, that he could rise to the rafters and hold hands with the gilded Cherubim, light as a song.