They walked in silence, side by side. To Tense, the short walk to the café seemed to stretch and extend to match their pace. Each step appeared to leave the haven of the café neither nearer nor further away.
He began to think. His mind, left as it were to its own devices, raced. This was bad. This was potentially disastrous. A mind such as Tense’s should never, ever, under any circumstances, be left to follow its own path.
What, he wondered, if she were a serial killer? Tense knew from his extensive study of all things serial-killerish, that female serial killers were extremely rare, practically unheard of. Men made the best psychopaths, always had, always would. That was common knowledge. Oh God, he wondered, was he being sexist? Was he displaying a typical male chauvinism by laying claim to masculine supremacy when it came to the sociopathic arts? The whole thing was turning into a whirling vortex of politico-sexual confusion. It was all too much. Faced with the imponderable, implausible, indissoluble knot of self-doubt that threatened to swamp him completely, his mind simply stopped, paused for an instant, and then reset. Only to be attacked immediately and without mercy, by yet another misgiving.
What if, contrary to all evidence, reason and the laws of nature, she actually was an Angel? What then? Could a relationship, a you-know, boy-girl type thingummy-jig, could such a thing be possible? What would it be like, he wondered, in bed with an Angel? What were the proprieties? No doubt there would be some kind of heavenly etiquette of which he knew nothing. There was bound to be an angelic sex protocol which he would be quite unable to follow. The whole thing was doomed. Either the woman with the sunshine smile was a serial killer or a sexually unobtainable Angel. This must, he thought, be the worst day of his life.
Fortunately, while distracted by these primal fears and generally otherwise engaged, the pair had managed to reach to the café. It was open. There was an empty table. They sat down. A waitress approached. Tense pulled himself together.
In a fit of what he hoped would come across as proactive gallantry, Tense began to speak.
‘We’d like two flat white coffees please. One smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, and bacon and eggs for two.’ Across the small Formica topped table, Sally the Angel smiled.
‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’
Tense was thrown immediately and without a moment’s notice once more into a state of total confusion, on the one hand he was buoyed, swept away and captivated by the supernatural smile, on the other, cast into the nethermost pit of uncertainty.
‘Forgotten something?’ Tense wracked his mind, desperately searching his memory for any hint of the missing item.
‘Fresh fruit salad with double cream and vanilla bean ice cream.’ Sally smiled. Tense, momentarily entranced, was of course, quite unable to speak.
‘Will that be all?’ The waitress smiled at Sally. Tense imagined that some feminine or perhaps Divine understanding had passed instantaneously between the two women.
‘I thought you were joking! You’ll never eat all that.’ Immediately regretting his outburst, Tense blushed the deep purple of a Queen Garnet plum.
‘Never doubt the powers of an Angel’, Sally was suddenly serious, almost sombre.
‘But if you’re good I might let you have some of my ice cream.’
A vagrant thought scudded, carefree across the surface of Tense’s mind.
‘Do you have wings?’ he asked, craning to one side in the hope of a glimpse.
N-dimensional isotropic phase space. Apparently that was the explanation. Sally, it transpired, did indeed have wings. Wings which she kept tucked neatly away in n-dimensional isotropic phase space. At least this was what she told him, and he was really in no position to challenger her on it.
Tense wondered vaguely if he too could get hold of a pair of gossamer n-dimensional wings. If, as must certainly be the case given the evidence to date, his personal existence preceded the development and evolution of his essence as a person, then perhaps a pair of winglike extensions awaited him, out there, somehow, somewhere. There must surely be at least one future in which he and Sally fly off into the sunset?
While Tense pondered these weighty questions, Sally stuffed her face. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel wolfed down with a giant slurp of near boiling coffee, was followed with gusto by loud munching on bacon and eggs. Sally paused occasionally, only to gasp for air. Slowly the café fell silent as fellow diners, at first merely baffled, and then increasingly appalled, watched the display.
At last Sally looked up, tiny dribbles of egg yolk making their way sluggishly down her chin to drip, pendulous and proud, into the otherwise enticing cleft of her bosom. Tense, having finally noticed the atmosphere of rapt attention gripping the room, and ever the gentleman, leaned forward, a crisp, new paper tissue in his hand.
To Sally’s evident surprise her new male acquaintance began to dab gently at her chin, removing one by one, the offending rivulets of congealing egg yolk. The process was slow, considered. For some reason Tense felt no sense of urgency.
It was a very gentle and very paternal gesture. Somehow, suddenly, and for that moment only, their roles were reversed. Tense playing the part of mature, confident adult, while the immortal, and one would hope finally satiated woman, messenger of God no less, sat quiet. At last her face was returned to the pristine state of nature.
As one, the focus and attention of every man, woman and child in the café, turned to Sally’s prominent bust. A hushed silence fell across what we must now describe as her audience. Would he or wouldn’t he?
Tense retrieved another tissue from the box on the Formica table, and paused. You could have heard a pin drop. Slowly Sally glanced down, noticing for the first time the streaks of yellow goo coalescing in the confluence of her upper torso.
She looked up. Their eyes met. Sally observed the tissue in Tense’s hand and fixed Tense with a look honed through all the ages of mankind. A look which said, ‘Don’t move a fucking muscle. Do not so much as twitch or I shall smite thee as thou hast never before been smitten’.
Tense complied. Sally reached forward with deliberate precision and retrieved the tissue from Tense’s outstretched hand. Swiftly, and with movements of such agility and deftness as to call into question Sally’s regular eating habits, she removed the offending liquor. The assembled diners, as one, began to breathe again.
It was of course at this moment that the waitress appeared.
‘Fresh fruit salad with double cream and vanilla bean ice cream.’ She placed the bowl on the table and left.
The groan produced by a café-full of diners driven way beyond their comfort zone by a very hungry Angel, hung in the air like a stultifying smog.
Tense, as was his habit at these times, took refuge in his own inner world.
If, he thought, man exists, and if in the process of existence man defines himself and the world through his own thoughts, and if he wanders lonely as a cloud between choice, freedom, and existential angst. Then surely, somehow, this was all his fault.
Sally glanced up briefly from her desert, let out a powerful, reverberating and extended belch, and set to work.
At last Sally looked up, dabbed the corners of her mouth delicately with a clean white tissue, and smiled.
‘Hungry, were you?’
‘Been a while since your last meal had it?’
Sally paused, calculating, ‘About a thousand years I think. What year is it?’
Tense was not sure how to respond. If Sally was having a little joke then she certainly was persistent.
He tried another tack, ‘So what brings you to Earth?’
‘Oh, I’m just here to replenish my grief.’
‘It needs replenishing?’
‘And why is that?’, Tense felt his consciousness shifting kind of sideways in an attempt to accommodate Sally’s peculiar world view.
‘One can become a tad blasé. ’
‘Yes’, Sally paused, and for the very first time, frowned slightly.
‘Being disembodied you see.’
Tense shook his head slowly. He didn’t see. He most certainly did not. He was, finally, and perhaps a little late in the day, beginning to suspect that he’d picked up a nutcase.
‘No bodies you see.’
Tense stared blankly at the exquisite object of his desire.
‘In Heaven. We don’t have physical bodies in Heaven.’
‘No. I suppose not.’
‘And after a while one begins to forget what it’s like.’
‘Having a body?’
Sally and Tense sat staring at each other, separated by a growing gulf of understanding and a thousand years of hunger.
‘Humans are embodied you see,’ Sally leaned forward, suddenly intense, ‘It’s the human condition.’
Tense paused for a moment, mulling over what he had heard. He had always, at least for as far back as he could remember, considered life, embodiment, indeed making sense of anything, to be a kind of desperate compromise between the embarrassing vagaries of the physical body, the bewildering misconceptions of the mind and a desperate attempt on some spiritual level to discover or impose meaning and significance upon an otherwise listless and disinterested universe.
To be fair, he could see that after a thousand years without a physical body, a slap up feed might be in order.
‘What were you doing in the super market?’
There seemed to be nowhere to go from that. So Tense sat silent, wondering what revelation the next moment would bring. He was not disappointed.
‘Humans have bodies for a reason you know?’ Sally reached for the menu as she spoke, ‘there is a purpose to containing the spirit in flesh.’ Sally paused, observing Tense carefully, weighing things up. At last she appeared to come to her decision.
‘It’s a bit like sonnets’ she said, ‘or haiku’.
‘I see’, Tense did not. He had no idea what this crazy, gorgeous woman was on about.
‘Setting limits forces creativity.’
‘It does. Definitely. You see being forced to write a sonnet within the rules of sonnet writing, or a haiku within the rules of haiku writing, creates the boundaries within which creativity can flourish.’
‘I see’, and he did, sort of.
‘That’s the thing about embodiment,’ Sally checked that Tense was following before continuing, ‘embodiment, imposes severe limitations on the human spirit, providing the opportunity for transcendence of one’s self and of self-detachment.’
This was all getting a bit much. It was about to get worse.
‘Humans live in four dimensions, but have freedom of movement only in three, whereas Angels live in five dimensions, but have freedom of movement in four. That’s the main difference really. Oh and immortality of course. That makes a difference.’
‘What about God?’
‘Yes, How many dimensions does he get to swan around in?’
‘Don’t be cheeky!’ Sally gave Tense a very old fashioned look.
‘The Creator gets to do whatever he, she or it wants.’
‘It’s alright for some.’
‘Well when you create your own universe you can make the rules. Until then accept your limitations.’
Sally turned her attention once more to the menu.
It was going to be a long day.