Your With the Angles Now
by Brenna Ehrlich
The things that people write on a person’s Facebook page after they die – they sound way too much like the things people write in your yearbook. They do. Like, “You were an amazing friend. RIP” (“You’re an amazing friend! LYLAS!”). “I’ll miss you, buddy. See you on the other side.” (“See you next year!”) “You’re with the angles now.” Well, that one you probably wouldn’t find in any yearbook – but the egregiously poor spelling is certainly a constant. It’s a performance of grief, you know? Things you say to look like a compassionate human being or whatever. But everyone knows that the things you write when someone dies – and in their yearbook – are bullshit. Everyone knows that people are basically glad it’s not them who’s dead.
The words – the ones I had just been skimming in electric LED blue – hop through my brain like ticks out in the backwoods as I click closed the front door of my house now, careful not to wake our dog, sleeping under the kitchen table, worn out from hunting for forgotten scraps. Outside, the air reaches down my throat and stuffs it with cotton. Sweat drips down my face and onto my T-shirt. “You were taken from us too soon,” the words wriggle in my skull, “I wish you had called me. I wish I had helped you.” Bullshit.
The windows in the plasticine housing development across the way have long since blinked out into blackness and the only sounds on the invisible night highway that I can hear are the distant roars of motorcycles, the phantom riders shifting gears with skeleton hands into some past-midnight dream. The trees ahead seem to be screaming silently, rearing their heads back into the night sky. Above them all, past the forest, the church pierces the clouds, which look ready to burst with rain. It’s almost 3 a.m., but it won’t be chiming come the hour – the bell won’t. They took it down after it happened. They took out all the rope and the machinery and now the church is as mute as the trees. “You were my first kiss. I won’t forget you. I’ll see you again someday…” Sure, sure.
I know I should be scared. I know it. The trees are dark. My feet keep catching on unseen creeper vines, underbrush as old as our old town and older. I keep seeing shades out of the corner of my eyes, silhouettes disappearing into pockets of black. When I first really understood what death was I used to sit up in bed at night thinking of graveyards – of what my tombstone would look like grey and wet and rising out of the earth like some kind of unnatural mushroom, reaching toward the sky. How it and the dirt would protect me from the rain, but not from the idea of never being able to think again – and the idea of not knowing that I couldn’t think because I had lost the capacity to be. “Your light. Your goodness. You will be missed.” Garbage.
The firefly dance of flashlights ahead burns into my retinas. They bob and weave close to the ground and a murmur sets up – the kind of wordless collection of words that I imagine ghosts using when everyone has gone to the sleep for the night, when the mourners have left all the damp tombstones behind to the bats and the phantoms trying to remember how to be. For a second I think I can see a shadow of a person against the glow of the night sky, standing up where the bell used to hang, where the hours used to toll. And I think of him there. I think of the rope and the distance to the ground and how he must have imagined all the years of congregations congregating below where he stood. The years of whispered prayers and collection plates and confessions behind screens of latticed wood. How in the future, how in the days to come, they would all think of him when they prayed and fumbled for change and told the priest how they had fucked someone else’s wife. I wonder if he smiled when jumped. “Thanks for the memories. See you again someday.” Not likely.
As the trees thin to the clearing, the voices grow more distinct, but I ignore what they’re saying – voices issuing from the hoods of black robes turned toward the hoods of other black robes. Voices rising with giddy excitement veering toward mania, others choked with sobs. Voices all not quite old enough – some voices that have not yet broken the barrier between childhood and adult. My feet sink into the moss and I feel dew winding up my ankles, I feel earth gripping at something in the center of my chest and pulling down. I exhale and the air seems colder. I feel like I should be able to see my breath. And then… the night rings – it rings from the direction of the steeple. But it doesn’t sound like any church bell I’ve heard. It’s garish. And clashing. And final. The hooded figures around me still. Stop murmuring. Become statues made of fog. “Your with the angles now. I know your looking down on me.” In hell.
A figure in the middle, he – I know he’s a he because I recognize his class ring, his hairy knuckles from throwing punches and grabbing ass – he pulls a bowl from under his robe and passes it around. Scraps of paper flash in the moonlight. Flashes of paper followed by ripples of sighs laced with sunshine, piercing the darkness radiating from the hooded figures that fall next in line. The bowl comes closer, glinting in the moonlight, as the words ripple in my head, “Your with the angles now. Your with the angles now.” The words crawl like wood ticks as the bowl comes to me and I reach in and try not to cry.
Brenna Ehrlich is the founder of small label/press, All Ages Press, author of the YA novel PLACID GIRL, and managing editor of the Talkhouse Music. She likes moshpits and cats.