a story

An Encounter in Time

     There once was a boy, and he sat one afternoon in the middle of his living room holding a toy tractor. He knew it was his living room, but he did not know why. He studied the toy tractor in his hand, studied it with the seriousness that only a boy of one year can afford to lavish on such a small, commonplace object of devotion. He knew the tractor was his, you see, just as he knew the living room was his, though he knew not the words Tractor, Living, or Room. He had also just realized that were he to set the tractor on the floor and turn away from it, the tractor would remain where he had placed it. This was a new thing, as though the world were coalescing around him as he moved through it, forming itself ever more permanently so that he could for once take his eyes off something without it slipping from being. That freed him up so that he could do something like study a toy tractor with such seriousness without worrying that those other, larger people who somehow held the key to his world would slip from being. He did not know it, of course, but he was on his way to forgetting the transience of all things, setting himself up for the grief of loss later when people and things would in fact slip from being into…well, that’s for another time. For now, we have a tale to tell of this boy who could finally stand on his own, but who for all that could not simply amble down the hall and into the wide world. Little did this boy, barely one as he was, realize that he was about to be visited by someone, someone only he could see, someone at once terrifying and delightful.

     The boy, you see, was about to be visited by an Angel, and not just any Angel, o no, but one of those we call Archangels, though again, only the boy could see him as an Archangel. To the rest of the other, larger people in the household he would seem like their neighbor John, a kind fellow to be sure, but one who never seemed to be able to hold his life together.

     Suddenly there came a light tap tap tapping on the front door. The boy did not look up from his tractor. There was another, louder rap rap rapping on the door, and what sounded like someone falling against it from outside. The boy’s father, one of the larger people in the household, appeared from the kitchen, drying his hands with a dishtowel and muttering incomprehensibly. He opened the door, and in fell John, his clothes wrinkled and hair mussed from sleeping on his couch the night before.

     ‘O, sorry,’ he said as he rose and stood all unsteadily. He was obviously and even painfully drunk. No, this was no hangover – he long ago had passed three sheets to the wind. It would be a long while before he got them back. The boy’s father helped him to a chair in the living room.

     ‘What brings you by?’

     ‘Hmm?’ John asked, looking up a bit befuddled. ‘O yes, I just wondered, have you any…the…th…thea?’

     ‘Thea?’

     ‘Yeth…th…no, tea…tea…have you any tea?’

     ‘Would you like us to make you some tea?’

     ‘No no…no no…loose leaf tea…I was sitting…,’ at this the room seemed to pitch and roll, causing John to sway first to the front then to the back, then from side to side, as if he might fall out of the chair, but he gallantly pulled it together at the last second. He continued, ‘I was in my apartment…thinking…thoughts…and realized I wanted some tea. But I have no tea, so I came…to search…for tea….’

     ‘I think we have some Earl Grey.’

     ‘Good, good….’ At this, John spied the boy in the middle of the living room. ‘Young Master Elias! You’re so big!’

     His voice had changed, though the boy’s father seemed not to notice. Instead of the slurred drawl of a drunkard, John spoke with a poise and clarity that gently drew the boy from his revery. As the boy turned to the source of such a kind summons, his father stopped in mid step – all was suddenly still, so silent, and the boy was as it were embraced by a sentient kind of light that spoke to him as it were. It seemed to the boy that John smiled at him as no one had ever smiled to him, not even the larger people who lived with him.

     ‘Yes my young friend, you are so very big of a sudden, as you would say of course.’

     The boy started to laugh and clap his hands while speaking his barely year-old tongue in return.

     ‘That is so,’ said the Archangel. ‘You are very perceptive to notice. Not a lot of the larger people would you know.’

     The boy laughed as he awkwardly stood to walk over to John. He was taken up in an ever more intense embrace of light and laughter as they spoke of many mysteries, though of course John never used words quite exactly. The boy understood that this strange creature was his friend, would always be his friend. In fact, he had been Young Master Elias’s friend from long before time began, as we would say of course. ‘I thought it time we got to know each other,’ he told the delighted child. John told him of the wonderful and terrible world into which he had been born, and of the One who had made this fabric of gossamer to show, in its own way, His truth, beauty, and goodness. This One, who was strangely Three (the boy laughed with pleasure when he heard that), would always be Elias’s ultimate Friend, the One who had set John as a protector for the little one until the day of his death. ‘O yes, that,’ John said. ‘We’ll have more to say about that later.’ And the boy understood it all.

     Then John said it was time for him to leave. Young Master Elias’s lower lip started to quiver a little, and he made as if to cry. ‘O no no no, my friend, I’m always around, though you won’t always be able to see me, and you have your mother and father who love you, and all their friends who are looking out for you.’ And there was another sort of embrace of light, and John as it were placed what you might call a finger on the boy’s chin and lifted the boy’s face to his own. ‘One last thing. This is very important. Don’t be afraid, no matter what happens. Don’t be afraid. It’s ever so much harder to protect you when you’re afraid.’

     At this, all the many sounds of the boy’s world returned in a rush, sound upon sound – the air conditioner in that window with its wheezing compressor, the cat scittering across the kitchen floor, and of course his father’s voice.

     ‘Just sit there and rest, I’ll get that tea.’

     John seemed to snore for a moment, then roused himself. ‘Wha…? O, tea…good, good…need some tea. I don’t exactly feel like myself right now.’

     Young Master Elias stared at the drunkard slouched just so in his wrinkled clothes and mussed hair for a long time, then returned to his study of that toy tractor. If anyone had looked closely, they would have seen that he never ceased to smile that whole evening.

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