Unearthly Page 15

I waited for her to go on.

“That’s what he was, Clara. I want you to understand. He was an angel.”

“Right,” I said. “An angel. Like with wings and everything, I’m sure.”

“I didn’t see his wings until later, but yes.”

She looked dead serious.

“Uh-huh,” I said. I pictured the angel in the stained-glass window at church, wearing a halo and purple robes, huge golden wings fanned out behind him. “Then what happened?”

This really can’t get any weirder, I thought.

And then it did.

“He told me that I was special,” she said.

“Special how?”

“He said that my father was an angel and my mother human, and I was Dimidius, which means half.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Come on. You’re kidding, right?”

“No.” She looked at me steadily. “It’s not a joke, Clara. It’s the truth.”

I stared at her. The thing was, I trusted her. More than anybody. As far as I knew, she’d never lied to me before, not even those little white lies that so many parents tell their kids to get them to behave or believe in the tooth fairy or whatever. She was my mom, sure, but she was also my best friend. Cheesy but true. And now she was telling me something crazy, something impossible, and she was looking at me like everything depended on my reaction.

“So you’re saying . . . you’re saying that you’re half angel,” I said slowly.

“Yes.”

“Mom, really, come on.” I wanted her to laugh and tell me that the angel stuff was some kind of dream she had, like in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy wakes up and finds out the whole Oz thing was a big, colorful hallucination from getting conked on the head. “So then what happened?”

“He brought me back to Earth. He helped me find my grandmother, who was by that point hysterical, convinced I’d been crushed. And when the fires burned through our neighborhood, he helped us evacuate to Golden Gate Park. He stayed with us for three days, and then I didn’t see him again for years.”

I was quiet, bothered by the details of her story. About a year before, my class had gone on a field trip to a San Francisco museum because they opened up a new exhibit about the great San Francisco earthquake. We’d looked at all the pictures of the broken buildings, the cable cars thrown off their tracks, the blackened skeletons of the burned up houses. We’d listened to old recordings of people who’d been there, their voices sharp and quivery as they described the terrible disaster.

Everybody had been making such a huge deal out of it that year because it was the hundred-year anniversary of when the quake had happened.

“You said there were fires?” I asked.

“Terrible fires. My grandmother’s house burned to the ground.”

“And when was this?”

“It was April,” she said. “1906.”

I felt like I was going to throw up. “That would make you what, a hundred and ten?”

“A hundred and sixteen, this year.”

“I don’t believe you,” I stammered.

“I know it’s hard.”

I stood up. Mom reached for my hand, but I jerked it away. Hurt flashed in her eyes. She stood up too and took a step back, giving me some space, nodding slightly as if she completely understood what I was going through. Like she knew that she was unraveling everything.

I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs.

She was crazy. That was the only explanation that made sense. My mom, who up to that point seemed like the best mother ever, my own personal version of the Gilmore Girls, the envy of all my friends with her beautiful auburn hair and fabulous dewy skin and quirky sense of humor, was actually a raving lunatic.

“What are you doing? Why are you telling me this?” I asked, blinking back furious tears.

“Because you need to know that you’re special, too.”

I stared at her incredulously.

“I’m special,” I repeated. “Because if you’re a half angel then that would make me what, a quarter angel?”

“Quarter angels are called Quartarius.”

“I want to go home now,” I said dully. I needed to call Dad. He might know what to do. I needed to find my mom some help.

“I wouldn’t have believed it either,” she said. “Not without proof.”

At first I thought that the sun must have come out from behind the clouds, suddenly brightening the ledge where we stood looking out, but then I understood, slowly, that this light was stronger than that. I turned and shielded my eyes from the sight of my mom with light beaming off her. It was like looking at the sun, so intense my eyes watered. Then she dimmed slightly and I saw that she had wings—enormous snowy wings unfurling behind her.

“This is glory,” she said, and I understood the words she said even though she wasn’t speaking English, but a strange language like two notes of music played on every syllable, so eerie and alien it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

“Mom,” I breathed helplessly.

Her wings extended like they were literally catching the air and pushed down once. The sound they made was like a single heartbeat low in the earth. My hair blew back with the force. She lifted off the ground slowly, impossibly graceful and light, still glowing all over. Then she suddenly shot out over the tree line, tucking her body up and moving fast across the entire length of the valley until she was only a bright speck on the horizon. I was left stunned and alone, the rock ledge empty and silent, darker now that she wasn’t there to light it.

“Mom!” I called.

I watched her circle around and glide her way back to me, more slowly this time. She swept right up where the mountain dropped off and hovered, treading the air gently.

“I think I believe you,” I said.

Her eyes sparkled.

For some reason I couldn’t stop crying.

“Honey,” she said, “it’s going to be all right.”

“You’re an angel,” I gasped through the tears. “And that means that I—”

I couldn’t get the words out.

“That means you’re part angel, too,” she said.

That night I stood in the middle of my bedroom with the door locked and willed my wings to appear. Mom had assured me that I’d be able to summon them, in time, and even use them to fly. I couldn’t imagine. It was too wild. I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my cami and underwear and thought of the Victoria’s Secret models in the Angel commercials, their wings curled sexily around them. No wings appeared. I wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole idea. Me, with wings sprouting from my shoulder blades. Me, part angel.

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