It had been a busy week for Isaac and he was ready for a break when Gabriel poked his head round the door.
“Got a job for you Isaac,” said Gabriel, in a tone that meant it was probably a difficult one.
Isaac sighed inwardly. As an angel he was not allowed to show intolerance, however small. “Gabriel, how can I be of help?”
“Monica Price. It’s her time. Do you think you could deal with it?” Here’s the details.
He left a file on Isaac’s desk and walked out before Isaac had chance to question him further.
Isaac picked up the file and opened it. Monica Price, born 1919. Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. Elderly people, Isaac found, especially those of Monica’s age, were more than willing to pass over. They’d done everything they wanted to do, and were often in pain. They’d had enough of old age, and knew it was only going to get worse.
He memorised the address before tucking the main file in his tunic. He turned to his assistants, Benjamin and Jeremiah and gave them the copy. It was standard procedure for assistants to go through the records, find out as much about the person’s life as possible, just in case there was an issue.
“Look at this guys. Don’t expect any problems but you never know.”
Benjamin and Jeremiah were young and enthusiastic if a little unorthodox at times. If there was anything untoward in the file, and there wouldn’t be, not with an old lady, but if there was, they’d find it.
Assisting the dying across the threshold was the sort of job for a trainee angel when the client was Monica’s age. Isaac’s experience was normally for those who weren’t ready to cross, who hadn’t had enough of life and wanted to cling on. Still, Gabriel had given it to him in particular. Maybe this Monica Price was a person of importance, so warranted a more senior angel. Maybe it’s because he was due a break and a quick job like this would fill in the short gap before the end of his shift. Maybe they were short staffed – perhaps there’d been a disaster somewhere, hundreds dead, and there were no one else free.
All these possibilities went through Isaac’s mind as he drifted down to earth, to the centre of England, until he found the care home where Monica lived. He composed himself, put on his most beatific smile, and drifted into the room where Monica sat watching TV.
The appearance of an angel in their room was usually enough to guarantee that the person who had been designated to pass over would be so overwhelmed with the beauty of the angel, they would want to follow them anywhere, even with a one-way ticket. Either that or they had a heart attack. One way or another the crossing was relatively straightforward. That had been Isaac’s experience. What he hadn’t expected was…
“Oh Christ, not another bloody angel. Piss off, can’t you see I’m watching telly?”
Isaac’s beatific smile wavered slightly as he took a step back before regaining his composure.
“Monica dear, it’s time.”
“It’s Mrs Price to you, and you can sod off, I’m not coming.”
“Mrs. Price, I don’t think you realise who I am, my name is…”
“Of course I realise who you are. You’re another of them bloody angels who keep coming to tell me my time’s up and I’ve got to go with you. Well, I’m not coming, and that’s that.”
“You’ve seen other angels then?”
“Ooh let’s see, you’re the sixth. Now go away and leave me in peace.”
She turned the volume up on the TV in an attempt to drown out Isaac. Not to be put off, with a click of his fingers Isaac paused time and stood between the old woman and the TV. “Mrs Price,” he boomed, “you don’t seem to understand. You have no choice. Your time on this earth has run out. Now will you take my hand and I’ll be pleased to guide you over to the other side.”
“My time’s up you say? Are you sure about that?”
Isaac reached inside his tunic and pulled out the file, from which he withdrew an hourglass. “See, Mrs. Price, no sand. All trickled through to the past. There’s nothing left.
The old woman leant forward in her seat, a gleam in her eye. “Are you quite sure of that, young man? Look closer. Just there,” she said, pointing a long, gnarled finger. Isaac looked. “Can you see it? That grain is stuck in the top bit, my sands haven’t run out, have they?” She sat back looking smug.
Isaac shook the hourglass. The grain remained fixed to the side. He tapped the glass. Still the grain did not move.
“The others tried that as well. It’s well and truly stuck, that grain of sand.”
“But it’s one grain.”
“Yes, but it’s my grain, and while it’s still to run, I’m staying put. Now, can I have my TV back please.”
Isaac decided to change tack. “Mrs Price, how long ago was it that the first angel appeared?”
“Well, let me see.” Isaac could see she was thinking, but he suspected it was for effect. She knew exactly when the first angel had appeared. “As they keep bothering me for about a year, and as there’s been five of them, I expect it was five years ago, or thereabouts.”
Five angels, Isaac thought, and none of them had managed to persuade this old woman to give up the ghost, so to speak.
“And what have you gained within those five years? What has happened to make those five years worthwhile?”
“Well, I got my telegram from the queen for a start.”
“And so you’ve got one. Well, that’s nice. But it’ll be a while before you get another one, 2024 isn’t it? A long time to hang around doing nothing for a telegram, especially if you’ve got one already.”
“Well, I’ve seen off two of my children.”
Isaac raised his eyebrows as if impressed. “Really, makes you feel good does it, to know your children have died before you?”
“I’ve still got one. My daughter.”
“So, you’re hanging around until she dies too are you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“And what about your grandchildren Mrs Price? How many is it you’ve got? Six?
“And three great grandchildren too.”
Isaac began to pace. “Tell me, do you intend to outlast them too? Your grandchildren and your great grandchildren? I mean, I dare say some of those haven’t been born yet. Do you intend to outlast all your family? Do you think if your daughter was dead that you’d get regular visits? Maybe occasionally from the grandchildren, but the great grandchildren?”
Monica Price pursed her lips, looked steadfastly forward and stubbornly said nothing. Isaac paused in his pacing.
“You see, Mrs Price, we have a problem here. A soul cannot move on entirely until all those that meant something to that person have passed on as well.”
“What a load of rubbish.”
“Is it? Haven’t you seen others while you’ve been sitting here? Your parents, your grandparents? Your children.”
“They’re not real. They’re just memories.”
She was partly right there. The visions people saw were not real, but neither were they memories. They were visions manufactured by the hereafter to tempt people to pass through.
“No, they’re waiting for you. And what about Frank?”
Monica’s sat up, pulled herself in, looked away. “What about him?”
“Don’t you want to see your husband again?”
“No I bloody don’t. Why would I want to see him? He was a bloody pest.”
Ah, thought Isaac, I’ve hit a nerve there.
“Ah yes,” said a voice, “you were a bad girl there, weren’t you Monica?” Isaac tried not to show surprise at the new addition to the party. Dressed in black, wearing yellow demonic contact lenses, smelling of ‘eau-de-brimstone’, Jeremiah popped into view. It probably meant that Benjamin was close by. These two did like to dress up, and Isaac knew from experience it was best to go with the flow.
Isaac pulled himself up, raised his eyebrows. “I think you’ll find this one is ours.”
“Are you sure,” teased the Jerry-demon.
“Quite sure. Now if you please you should go.”
“Oh, you don’t now, do you,” grinned the Jerry-demon. “You don’t know that she killed her husband.” And here he leaned forward, grinning and leering at the old woman who suddenly looked frightened. “So, shall we go, Monica dear?” And he politely held out his hand.
Monica Price looked pleadingly at Isaac who was running through his memory of Frank Price’s death. “Nonsense,” he said, “Frank Price died of a heart attack and fell downstairs.”
“Not quite right,” the Jerry-demon said, wagging a finger at Isaac. “They had an argument, she pushed him down the stairs and he broke his neck.”
I think you’ll find the autopsy said he had a heart attack.”
“Oh that. Well, if you were 79, wouldn’t you have a heart attack if your wife pushed you downstairs?”
Jeremiah was looking directly at him now, and a quick wink and Isaac understood it was time to bring the next player in.
“Well, if you don’t believe me,” he said, stepping aside, “perhaps you’ll believe…”
As Isaac stepped aside, an old man, or rather Benjamin dressed as an old man, stepped out.
“Oh Frank, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to push you.”
“Don’t be daft woman. You didn’t push me.”
“But I did. I remember.”
“No. I was standing at the top of the stairs when I got a pain in my chest. You’d got your back to me. I reached out to you, ‘cause it hurt so much that I couldn’t talk. You just brushed my hand away.”
“But if I hadn’t”
“If you hadn’t, I might have caught hold of you and pulled you down too. I could already feel myself falling.”
“And all this time I thought…”
“Well, no need to worry about that now. So, are you coming?”
“He was pushed,” shouted Jerry at Isaac.
“Fell,” replied Isaac.
“Come on love, isn’t it time to decide?” Ben-Frank reached forward, tapped the hour glass and the final grain of sand finally let go of it’s hold on the side of the glass.
All four of them paused as it fell slowly to the bottom of the glass.
“Fell,” said Isaac triumphantly.
“So love, which is it to be?”
Both Isaac and Jerry held out their hands.
“Monica dear, you know you’re guilty,” teased the Jerry-demon.
“Mrs Price, the last grain of sand has gone. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” said Isaac.
Monica Price pulled her spirit out of her now dead body and turned to Isaac.
“You can call me Monica,” she said, taking his hand. “And you,” she said turning to the Jerry-demon, “you can sod off.”
Benjamin and Jeremiah watched as Isaac and Monica Price glided towards the wating glow. “Job well done, don’t you think,” said the Jerry-demon.
“We make a good team,” said Ben-Frank. “But can I be the demon next time?”