Angels and Animals

by Carly Berg

After finishing her chores, Lila sat on her porch. The moon was large. It was just after the floods, and the night smelled of Mississippi River.

She was not surprised when a man talked to her from the road. He’d waved a few times before. She wasn’t afraid, because just before that, she had seen the angel.

The man’s name was Tom. He had a busted lip and a devil smile.

*

“What’s wrong? Haven’t you ever been fucked before?” Even then, his black leather voice thrilled her.

The angel came. It could be mistaken for car headlights shining through the curtains, if you didn’t know what to look for. Lila told him it was okay.

He took on a different style, then. Kissing her, touching her until the night candle burned down. Until the first birds of dawn chirped outside and she begged him to sink it.

*

Sometimes he stayed, sometimes he left. She gave him money when she had it. She washed his clothes after the sun heated the well water in the tub, then hung them on the line. He showed up that day and kept her company while she worked in the garden. He helped her pick tomatoes and beans and squash to refill the bins in her roadside stand. In the angel’s light, his black hair shone indigo with diamonds.

*

He made her do dirty, embarrassing things. Bent her over and used her like a boy, tied her legs apart to the bedposts, whipped her with his belt. He was a lightning storm, a good cry, a horseradish bite, poison ivy that felt so good and bad to scratch. He made her like it, he made her love him.

When Tom was gone, a sleek blue-black tomcat stopped by. He came in the late afternoon, when the light was strongest through the window, when the angel came. She fed him scraps and cleaned his catfight wounds and let him sleep on her bed. She wondered if it was him, if the cat was Tom.

*

Summer turned to fall and Tom the man stopped coming by. Tom the cat, the tomcat, came to stay, as much as tomcats stay anywhere. The angel came, and Lila knew that she’d be all right again someday.

#

Carly Berg got the idea for this story from someone she knew who was abandoned as a small child. He said that when the late afternoon sun came through the window, when the angel came, he was not hungry.

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