Kissing His Angel
It was as if the air had turned toxic. Every breath caused him pain – actual, physical pain. It hurt to breathe knowing that she... that she never would again.
Everyone wanted to talk... to talk about it, like that would make anything better. They thought talking solved everything. She'd thought so too. But the only one he wanted to talk to was her, and she was gone.
He was so hopelessly tired, but he was too afraid to go to sleep. He would dream of her. He would dream of her, just like he had done every night since he arrived in this town, that day when he first experienced the disarming effects of her dark voice and bright eyes. For years, waking up to the reality of being held back from her by his collar had seemed like the worst imaginable torture. Now, he longed for that old reality. At least then he could sit in the bar and watch her, thinking of what might one day be. Now, there was no hope. There was nothing. He would wake to the truth that his love was dead.
He got out of bed, and walked over to the window. In the soft light, he caught a dim reflection of his face in the glass. Bringing a hand to his split lip, he briefly wondered what Leo was feeling. He had loved her too, and he had lost her. Only, Leo had lost her before she died.
But, then again, Leo had got to have her... to really have her. He had held her, and kissed her, and made her cups of tea, and fallen asleep with her in his arms. He had made her angry, and made her smile, and called her 'baby' and taken her to dinner. The thought of it made him want to go and find Leo, just so he could hit him again.
Peter had barely got to hold her for three minutes together. He had never kissed her. He had never had the chance to explain, to apologise for hurting her, to promise that he was going to make everything right for her, now that they were finally together. She wasn't even his for twelve hours, before she died.
Still, though Peter hadn't had her time, hehad had her heart.
Leo had asked 'Did she love you?'
And Peter couldn't say. She had never told him that she loved him. Peter wondered if she would have, if she'd had the chance.
He sighed deeply. Climbing back into bed, he switched off the lamp, and lay in the pale moonlight. His eyes drifted closed, and the thought of her made him cry.
Suddenly, feeling something stir on the other side of the room, Peter opened his eyes.
And there she was. Just standing there, looking down at him, arms folded, expression unreadable, wearing the same clothes as last night... as when she died.
Peter's heart stopped.
He squeezed his eyes shut. After several seconds, he opened them again, expecting to find the room empty except for himself and the knowledge that he was going insane.
But she was still there.
'Assumpta...' he choked out her name through fresh tears.
Assumpta sat down on his bed, reached out and, with a touch that felt so remarkably, magically real, brushed away the tears.
'Don't cry, my love.'
It was all Peter could do to lie there staring at her. She smiled at him, until her eyes fell on the marks from that afternoon's altercation.
'You fought Leo, didn't you?'
'You great bloody idiot. Now you've a split lip and a stupid looking bruised eye, and it serves you right.'
Peter noticed, with a melancholy sort of gladness, that death hadn't changed her one bit.
'I'm sorry,' he whispered.
Assumpta shook her head, but she was smiling again, and she stroked his hair.
'To answer Leo's question... and yours...'
Here, she paused, to give him a look of intense meaning, before continuing in sweet, earnest tones,
'Of course I love you. I've always loved you.'
It was amazing, really, how high these words could make his heart soar, even coming from... what? A ghost? An angel?
'I love you too.'
'I know,' she said, rising to leave.
Peter wanted to call after her, to make her stay, but he found his voice had been drowned in his emotions. And she was gone.
Peter spent most of the next few days convincing himself that his encounter with Assumpta's ghost was a dream, yet spent the nights praying that he might see her again. He kept trying to call to mind her face, her voice, her touch, fearing above all that he would forget her.
A few days after Assumpta's death, Peter agreed to help Niamh organise a sort of wake for her. What everyone needed, Niamh said, was a chance to say goodbye. Peter didn't want to say goodbye, didn't want to let her go. Still, she deserved to be honoured in this way.
It was to be held in one of Assumpta's favourite spots, a hill overlooking a ragged gorge. It was wild and bright and stunning, just as she had been. Everyone gathered and drank and ate and sang and spoke. Peter felt better while he was there amongst his friends, sharing in the beauty of her memory.
But then they all went home, leaving Peter alone in the darkening twilight. Staring out at the deep green surroundings, he imagined Assumpta as a girl, coming here for picnics with her parents, running and playing, and giving them cheek. He could have brought her here to propose. They could have brought their own little girl here to play. And the beauty of all the lost possibilities made him cry.
And then she was back. Without saying a word, she just walked up to the rock where he was sitting, and she wrapped her arms around him. He held her tight, and there they stayed.
After a while, Assumpta pulled back. She looked into his face, and again brushed his tears away.
'Don't cry, my love,' she said, as though frustrated at having to tell him again.
'I can't help it,' he replied, and they both smiled sadly, remembering the last time he'd said that to her... how happy they'd been, just minutes before she died.
He pulled her close to him again, and she took his tear stained face in her hands. Then she kissed him.
And the whole world span about a million times faster. And nothing had ever felt so pure and right and lovely. And, for a moment, Peter thought he might never cry again.
He didn't care if he was going crazy. He didn't care one jot. He didn't care if this wasn't even real.
All he wanted to do was stay there forever and ever, on that hill, sitting on the rock, kissing his angel.
Peter woke often in the night, stirred by even the slightest sound, thinking that it might be her. Lately, a strange sort of rhythmic beeping sound had been seeping into his dreams, but he hadn't heard from Assumpta since they met on the hill.
It was three nights later when she came to him again. But it was different this time. She stood in the doorway of his bedroom, and spoke in panicked tones. She sounded upset, afraid.
'Don't give up, Peter. Don't leave me. I need you...'
Peter's every instinct told him to get up and go to her, but she was gone before he had taken a single step.
What did she mean 'don't leave me'?
Was he not thinking of her as much anymore?
Was her memory fading because of him?
The candlelight cast flickering shadows over the statues in St Joseph's, as Peter sat, staring, questioning everything.
Why would God give him such a love for this woman, only to take her away? Why would He then torture him with visions of her, making him lose her again and again, never knowing if she was coming back? What the heck was he supposed to do now? Go back to being a priest?
He didn't know who he was anymore, let alone what he believed.
And the scariness of the thought made him cry.
'Don't cry, my love,' came her voice from the pew behind him.
He turned to face her, but her gaze was directed upwards, towards the large, brass crucifix.
'And don't give up on Him, Peter. You're stronger than that. Your faith is stronger than that.'
She turned, caught his eye, and smiled. Then she stood, moved to sit beside him, and rested her head on his shoulder.
Something gave Peter the feeling that this would be the last time he'd see Assumpta, and he wrapped his arms tightly around her. He buried his face in her hair, which smelled just the same as it had in life.
They sat in silence for a long time; then she lifted her head, and gently told him to be strong, to move on, to leave this place for a while.
She kissed him softly, and rose to go.
Helplessly, Peter watched her walk away down the aisle. But then she stopped, and, still facing away from him, said, 'Come back to me, Peter. Don't let me go.'
He was so confused. Hadn't she just been telling him to go? What did she want him to do? If only she'd explain... but she was gone again.
The rain pelted down, and Peter stood on the bridge, right where he had stood on the night she died. He was losing her all over again, and it was no less painful this time around.
To make it worse, the beeping sound was back. Peter was sure he had completely lost his mind.
He had lost Assumpta; he had lost his mind... Had he now lost his faith as well?
Leaning on the bridge, he closed his eyes in prayer.
In the sky, lightning flashed; the beeping grew louder; and Peter suddenly had the sensation of falling.
When he opened his eyes, the raid had stopped; all that remained was bright light and blurry shapes... and the beeping sound. As the shapes began to come into focus, he realised he was in a hospital. He became acutely aware of someone holding his hand, and he turned his head to look at them.
There she was, wide eyed, speechless, staring at him in gratified disbelief.
And she was wearing different clothes.
'Assumpta?' he whispered, his head hurting with confusion.
She squeezed his hand.
'I'm here, Peter.'
She scoffed loudly.
'I certainly am not,' she indignantly informed him, then added, 'and nor are you, though you very kindly kept us all in suspense for nearly two weeks, you cheeky idiot.'
Peter winced, and shut his eyes. It was too much. It was a dream.
A doctor came in to check Peter over, and Assumpta waited outside. By the time she was allowed back in, Peter was a lot more alert, though still not entirely convinced he wasn't dreaming. She sat down in the chair by the bed.
'Doctor said you're looking good – 'fine specimen of a man', he said, though, of course, I knew that already.' She paused to shoot him a mischievous smile. 'Shame they had to shave off all your hair though...'
Peter's hand shot up to his head, where he felt all his hairs present and accounted for. Assumpta laughed, and it was so beautiful to hear that he couldn't help but join in.
'But Assumpta...' he said seriously, 'what happened?'
'You don't remember?'
Peter shrugged. What he remembered was watching her die...
Assumpta took a deep breath, and settled into her chair.
'Well,' she began, 'I was down in the cellar, fixing the lights... and you lot upstairs saw some sparks coming from the wires in the wall. You ran down to me – lightning speed, so Padraig tells me – and you said, "Assumpta, don't touch the fuse box". Well, being sick and tired of you all telling me I didn't know what I was doing, I decided not to take a blind bit of notice. But you rushed over and gave me a great shove. You sent me flying fair into the wall, you know!'
This last part was delivered accusingly, with a very pointed look. Peter dutifully responded with an apologetic smile, though he had no memory of committing the crime.
Assumpta continued, 'Anyway, I was about to shout at you that it was incredibly rude to push me, and that you would be severely punished, when the whole box just blew up. And you were standing right next to it, and you got caught in the arc of electricity, and thrown across the room. You hit your head on a barrel of stout. It knocked you out stone cold. I thought you were going to die. That was twelve days ago, and you've been unconscious ever since.'
All Peter could think to say was, 'Are you okay? Were you hurt?'
'I'm fine, thanks to you. If you hadn't pushed me out of the way... The doctor said that amount of electricity would have killed someone my size.'
'Yeah,' Peter said, all too knowingly.
Assumpta looked at him, questioningly.
How could he explain this?
'I was dreaming... I was dreaming that I didn't get down there in time. You... you died.'
It was still so real... Tears came to his eyes once more.
A wave of understanding washed over Assumpta's face.
'Oh,' she said, as she moved to sit on the edge of his bed, 'that's why you cried.'
'You cried,' she explained, 'every day. You were just lying there, completely unconscious, but you cried. And I'd sit right here, and wipe your tears away...' She paused to do just that. 'And I'd say -'
'Don't cry, my love,' he finished for her.
'You heard me?'
He ran his fingers through her hair.
'Did you kiss me?'
She looked down at him with flushed cheeks and a smile in her eyes.
'I felt it, in my dream. It was like being kissed by an angel.'
Assumpta grinned back.
'I love you,' she whispered.
And, as their lips met again, he felt perfectly at peace, knowing he really could spend forever just kissing his angel.