There was an angel-shaped hole in Spencer’s living room. Wings, halo, sandals, the works. The angel was missing; all that was left was the place where it had been. This was surely a spiritual dilemma, a heavenly lacuna, an essential element that had gone elsewhere: the thing that proved its existence by its very absence.
Spencer could only say what and where it was not, like all the other holes in his life. The Christmas tree hole over there by the unfire in the absent fireplace. The Jane hole, underlining the fact that his daughter was not there, not then, and wouldn’t be coming home for the holidays either. Ditto her mother, the one lost in space and the other lost in time. There were more holes than things in Spencer’s life.
None of the other holes, however, had the spiritual authority and presence of this new hole; none of the old holes whispered and muttered, inviting you to put your ear up close and have a listen, maybe get sucked in.
Spencer wasn’t the kind of guy who needed to be teased into a possibly dangerous situation. He got up out of his chair, walked up to the hole and stepped through.
So, one minute you’ve got your thumb up your ass and you’re hitchhiking to hell, and the next you walk through an angel-shaped hole in your living room. The full moon rises, you’re transformed into a seven-headed hound, and you appear in the basement men’s room of a major downtown department store—a damp, white, clammy, porcelain-and-tile place where you imagine busy busy frantic red handprints to be the one missing decorating touch.
Hairy human males, half-dressed in Santa suits, were hunched over, grumbling, muttering, spitting, and marking their tiny territories. Spencer’s new canine sensibilities were highly offended by their shameless displays, and a deep rumble rose from his chest. But from which head to voice the growl?
His consciousness zipped and zapped back and forth along the line of his seven heads like hands across a ragtime keyboard. Six of his heads hung limp like paralyzed arms, slack-jawed and glass-eyed, but always a different six, so he looked like a nest of snakes rising and falling, which freaked the dressing Santas who ran around yelling and peeing on one another as they fought for the exit.
Once they had all escaped, and the last of their echoes had died, Spencer made his way out of the men’s room and through the long basement hallway and up the stairs and out from behind the luggage display and phony palm trees and around the isles of toys and toddler clothes to come face to face with the Holiday alcove, where a creature who could only have been the angel who left the hole in his living room sat in Santa’s big chair on a raised platform. Everything had been draped in red and green. Passive-aggressive waves of holiday music skulked around the shoppers, who seemed to have been frozen by supernatural icicle beams, which maybe came from the angel’s eyes.
Spencer dragged his dangling and bouncing heads up to the heavenly creature, whose facial features were reptilian and green, and lent credence to the popular theory that the dinosaurs had really been feathered angels who god had called home and then replaced with birds.
“Hello, Spanky,” the angel said. “Crawl on up here beside me so we can have a little chat.”
“Spencer’s the name,” said Spencer as he got up on the platform beside the angel. He dropped down onto his belly, his necks a loose tangle, and the angel reached down and scratched him behind each of his fourteen ears, murmuring, “Spanky Spanky Spanky.”
Spencer sighed, remembering suddenly the time when he’d been wooing Jane’s mother, so far gone in love his teeth ached, and he’d penned a poem in which he referred to her as his ‘sweet angel,’ but he couldn’t spell worth beans and had transformed his one true love, his melancholy maybe, into a sweet angle.
The happy upshot of this mistake was that since he was known as a wheeler-dealer even then, Jane’s mother thought being his ‘sweet angle’ was probably the highest compliment he could come have up with, so she married him, this wonderful angle with all of her impossible degrees, and they bought a house, he made some deals, and she had Jane who grew up, moved away, became a lawyer, and never called or wrote her old man any more.
“One thing to keep in mind, Spanky,” the angel said. “Is that all lives are exactly the same length when viewed from the inside.”
Spencer rolled open an eye and looked up at the angel. “You’re talking about Jane’s mother.”
“Of course,” the angel said. “I’ve come to bring you heavenly comfort in your hour of need.”
“My hour of need was twenty years ago,” Spencer said.
The angel patted him on each of his heads. “We know you’ve been blue, Spanky, so I’ve been sent to tell you that lives are pieces of string. Each one is as long as it is. Viewed from the outside, say you looking at the tragically abbreviated life of a loved one, or maybe me looking down on all of you, the various pieces of string can be seen to be of different lengths. But the experience of living one’s life from the inside is, lengthwise speaking, exactly the same as living any of the others.”
“Boy, that’s a big relief,” Spencer said.
“Think about it,” said the angel. “You cannot have regrets once you’re dead, and if you worry while you’re still alive about experiences you won’t have and wisdom you will never achieve after you’ve died, you’re just spinning your wheels, which is pointless. If you can imagine those missing experiences and wisdom then they are in some sense already a part of your life, anyway. You’ve got to live in the moment, Sparky.”
“Doesn’t that leave you stuck?” Spencer sat up. He marshaled his concentration and got one head under control and used it to point a snout out at the frozen shoppers. “Like them? I mean if you’re always living in a single moment, how do you ever get on to the next one?”
“Spanky, Spanky, you foolish puppy.” The angel leaned down and put out a hand. “Give me five.”
“Put ‘er there, partner,” the angel said, big grin on his green lizard face. Incredibly, Spencer realized, the creature wanted to shake hands, doggy style. More incredible was the shivery smooth feeling that warmed his body when he lifted a paw and put it in the angel’s hand.
The angel gazed deeply into two of Spencer’s eyes. “How long is a moment anyway? Surely it’s some finite length, right? Okay, so the moment we’re talking about here, the moment you must live in, is a lifetime. Each life is a moment, and the moment lasts forever. That ought to be long enough.”
“But what about suffering,” Spencer said. “Why is life so hard for some and not for others?”
“Two words,” the angel said. “Quality control.”
The lizard of the lord gave Spencer a moment to think about the problem of cosmic quality control.
“So let me get this straight,” Spencer said. “The meaning of life is that it’s all string?
“You got it, Spanky,” the angel said. “And you can leave it to the Big Enchilada to tie up all the loose ends.”