The Angel of Keeping
No one told her this would be a lifetime post. Now she knows. Until the day she dies (or doesn’t), she’ll have duties to perform. She’ll have to plan and show up to every class reunion, but that’s the small thing, reunions only come every five years; year after year, on a quarterly basis, she’ll be required to solicit and edit the news reported by her former classmates, incidents large and small, none of which she has witnessed. They may as well be fiction: the marriages, the births. It looks like fiction, aligned in the column of the alumni magazine. It’s called Reminders.
She doesn’t read the magazine. She can’t, she won’t. The older classes’ columns are comprised entirely of obituaries.
She was shocked the first time someone asked her to cease all contact; it was phrased tactfully in the email, but it stung nonetheless, to learn that this former classmate no longer wished to hear from her, nor participate in the alumni activities she was compelled to plan and execute. She read the email several times over, thinking she'd gain a new understanding of it as her head cleared up , but the opposite happened, the words started making less sense as words and more sense as marks. This was on a Sunday. She was hungover. And the first text she’d woken up to that day had not been a good one: it was a disinvitation from a brunch date — a brunch date with coworkers, so in a sense a brunch date about television, about television shows she may have watched or should consider watching, so in a sense boring, but this brunch date had been the one thing besides work she was supposed to do this week, so it led her to question what the week had been about anyway. First, the brunch disinvitation, then the email from the former classmate: Please count me out. Had the Angel wronged the former classmate somehow? Had the school? And was all this somehow connected to her coworker’s text? Why would brunch be “too complicated” if she came? The Angel never found out why: the coworker gave notice that Monday, avoided the Angel for a week, and made no response to the “congratulations on new challenges” text she sent along in the group chat. The Angel was fired that December. But it’s all about work-life balance, so in the life column, there’s a series of emails from former classmates who never want to hear from her again. One of these emails was so terse and poorly spelled, the Angel felt entitled not to respond. Then again, two other emails had come from field hockey players (good spellers), and these emails had been harder to accept. Various posters stuffed in various trash cans. Specks of glitter in the gutter-flow.
It could go one of two ways: the editor, who will miraculously outlive her, will someday tap her on the shoulder and inform her she’s too feeble to collect/compile the news of her former classmates, and may now do what she pleases for the remainder of… or she will wait an eternity for the editor to tap her on the shoulder, but the tap will never come, she’ll stay collecting/compiling, typing still with freezing and arthritic fingers…
The last reunion was poorly attended. They had all been (and will all be) poorly attended. But this one seemed more so, because the Angel planned the welcome reception in a cavernous fieldhouse with a dirt floor; she chose this place because the school planned to tear it down next year, and she remembered the joy of practicing there with her teammates on wet days, the shelter they enjoyed together, but it was a big mistake, the women’s heels punctured the dirt, everyone blamed her for their ruined shoes. Her favorite teacher had been fired under a cloud of scandal and innuendo. The food made people ill. That was the first night. She also forgot to plan a lunch. She drank too much and fell all over a guy she never said a word to in high school — a guy whose face she could only recall as clouded matter, and who, even in the present, still denied something of his face, never looking directly at her, even when he was an inch away from her eyes. He was staying in the cheapest place in town. It was a place with a parking lot carpeted in squashed ginkgo fruits. The smell of the rotting fruit hadn’t seemed so strong in the nighttime, or she’d been too drunk to notice, but when she staggered outside in the morning, a hot morning for May, it bowled her over. She turned tail and went back to room 118. She banged on the door with the flat of her hand, got let in, and made a dash for the toilet. There was no way the guy didn’t hear her retching in there. She wished he would just fade away while she was in there — fade away fully this time. Maybe she could walk through the room with her eyes closed and not see him sitting full-length on the fully made bed in his shoes. The fact of this individual.
The day the Angel of Keeping was required to compose the email soliciting class news was always a bad one. Even though she copied freely from her last email, she still felt the need to change around the words a little, just to keep up appearances. Even changing around the words was a grating labor. When she stretched it over a number of days, it only seemed more futile/ridiculous/absurd and smelled more strongly of — Most times her email received no responses. Did we really go a year without marriage, without birth? Reminders could not accept a year without marriage or birth. She got the message loud and clear when dealing with the editor. Chilly exchanges. Oh, but he was an expert at encouragement, wasn’t he, hadn’t he always been, he was sure the Angel could — and would — deliver. She had in high school, hadn’t she? She’d been a capable student, but she also suspected that sometimes the editor was confusing her with one of her classmates, a girl he’d coached on the softball team. What did he care? He was set to retire next year, and in retirement he no longer wished to be her editor, he’d choose a replacement for himself, whenever he got around to it, he’d let her know. In retirement, he could play freely with the memories of his students, think about these people or not think about them, dwell or not dwell on the past; he was free to think about the more attractive students more frequently if he wished; and no one would ever ask him for news. Never would he have to beg someone for news. Someone who’d once yanked the drawstring of the Angel’s sweatpants so hard it gave her a belly ligature, ouch.
Pick up the phone once in a while, the editor suggested. Get em talking ;) She tried. Her former friends were leading interesting lives. Secret keys to secret apartments. The accidental smashing of a vase in a remote temple. Driving across Wyoming without stopping, peeing in water bottles, for no reason. Fits of laughter. Witnessing a person jump off a building. Card tricks performed by a five-year-old with a faraway gaze. They had news — of course they had news — but they kept their news to themselves for the simple reason that they never wished to speak to the Angel of Keeping again.
And what was she supposed to do when the only person who wrote to her was the tooth-perfect boy who’d skied into a ravine? Everyone knew he skied into that ravine — in Courmayeur! Was this someone’s idea of a joke? Hadn’t she written about his memorial service? She’d devoted most of the column to this event. To this tooth-perfect boy. The editor had remarked on the depth of her coverage, gushed praise all over her: very tactful. As well he should! It had been a worthy piece of news — the one piece of news she’d ever felt driven to write about. Accident in the mountains… far, far above the tree-line… too late… doing what he loved. Something like that, nothing about the ravine in particular, but she could see the ravine, the ice-teeth. All the ropes they had to use to lift the body. She could see it, when she wrote it, she could see it, just considering it again; if she saw it, it was fit to keep, but there was too much sometimes, too, she knew that. Far too much to see and keep up with. Seen one wedding, seen 'em all; seen a birth, it’s just orifices, bad outfits, red goo, blood, pain, screaming, more pain, someone else screaming. So now the tooth-perfect boy has been married. Small ceremony in Vermont.
Benjamin Henry DeVries’ work has appeared in Shirley Magazine, Bodega, The Baffler and elsewhere. Instagram.