Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 2

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 2

The songbirds of the garden behind the house awoke to a serene dawn.

Blades of grass were drooping under fat drops of dew, and bluebells nodded, their petals shivering. Angela was setting out for her usual walk in the garden. She had woken up early and was now, full of excitement, dashing towards the ancient stone bench. It was her favourite resting place. She bent the twigs of the smaller shrubs aside and broke her way across the teeming camp of the bluebells. She shivered at the icy touch of the grass that tried to make her stay with a wet grip on her ankles. She ignored the plea and pressed on unfazed. The stone bench came into view in the dim light of dawn, encircled by the vast green forest. To her utter astonishment, someone was already sitting on it. She crept closer and was relieved to find the person was her father. For a good while, he had been watching her daughter’s increasingly regular habit of making a pilgrimage to this secret sanctuary after waking up.

In her heart’s most precious recess, Angela always longed for the indescribable harmony of this place. Ivy created a real jungle with its spreading shoots. Grasses wrestled with each other for every inch of the soil and, up in the air, gently rocking branches joined in happy wedlock reaching to the sky. Nature took it away in winter, but gave back the green foliage in summer. A feeling of unbroken eternity oozed from the garden.

Her father, whose name was Joseph Bergmann, felt from the vibrations of his little daughter’s soul that it was time for their first honest talk, the initial step on her way to becoming an adult. He was a quiet man, contemplative, slow in decision-making, but love poured out of his soul like a cataract. In the winding, eternal river of our life there are stages when we need to talk to someone important to us. For Angela, this someone was her daddy.

The girl climbed into her father’s lap like a kitten, wrapping her little arms around his neck. The man rested his chin on her tiny head.

‘I love you,’ he breathed into her fair locks, but the little girl did not respond.

Minutes passed in silence, father and daughter were breathing at the same time in compassionate peace, listening to the crickets chirping. At last the tinkling voice of the girl broke the solemn silence.

‘Why are you sitting here, Daddy? Are you looking for somebody or something?’

‘What about you? What are you looking for, my dear?’ Her father turned towards her, smiling.

‘Your turn first, Daddy.’ Angela lowered her eyes bashfully, though eagerly waiting for her father’s answer.

Joseph sighed deeply. He may have wanted to gather strength, to find the proper words. He swallowed dryly, his eyes roved around as if he expected to find his answer in the beauty of the surroundings. Which world shall I talk about? Which answer shall I give her? What would be fair and proper? What is suitable? I don’t know. With supplication in his heart, he looked up at the clear sky, where the light early summer breeze entwined threads of gossamer. He knew that the words he would utter would imprint themselves forever in his daughter’s mind as the tip of a heavily pressed pen sinks into paper, or as the stroke of a jeweller’s engraver etches a gem. Life brings final and indelible conversations that are like alpine paths that unexpectedly branch off: when we have chosen which path to take, it is impossible to find a route back from one to the other. Joseph was attempting the impossible: to sketch worlds. Both worlds.

‘Angela, I know how you feel now that you’re sitting with me here, where all is beautiful and fresh. You feel happy and calm, don’t you? You find peace and clarity. I’m sitting here with you for the same reason.’

The little girl fixed her big eyes on her father in amazement. Happiness made her eyes water.

‘Daddy, you know how I’m feeling? Oh, Daddy, do you know everything?’

‘Oh, no, you silly little thing! Only God knows everything. Do you remember, I’ve talked to you about this? He is hidden somewhere behind everything beautiful and wonderful that surrounds you, or will ever surround you. Our whole world is permeated with His being; He fills the world with life. Think about when Mummy is embroidering. Imagine, dear, that the white cloth is our world and God is the coloured thread that fills the empty material with wonderful, colourful patterns. But He is not only the thread; He is also the needle, and the hand that creates the patterns.’

‘Why doesn’t He allow me to see Him, then?’ said Angela indignantly. ‘Why can I feast my eyes on embroidery but not on Him?’

‘My precious, when a fabulous butterfly is swishing at your little face, He is caressing you. Do you remember how your mum takes you to her breast on a sleepy morning? You can feel His love then too. Have you ever admired those gorgeous roses at the garden gate? Then you’ve looked into His face.’

‘Daddy, how do you know all these things? Has God revealed them to you once?’

‘Yes, He’s told me personally,’ he said. He suspected what his daughter’s next question would be, so he continued, ‘I’d been listening to silence for a long time, Angela. I was a child when He spoke to me. I’d heard that He speaks to men in the language of silence. At the end of a day spent alone, the silence suddenly began to speak to me and He revealed Himself. I was with aunty Ann, grandad’s sister, on holiday, and they all worked in the fields the whole day, so I was terribly bored. I asked the silence to tell me something. And my desire was fulfilled …’

‘Just like He spoke to Moses from the burning bush?’

‘Exactly, sweetheart.’ Her logic is impeccable, he thought.

His answers seemed to have satisfied the curiosity of the little girl, at least for now. In silence, they watched the flashing play of silly, gaudy butterflies. The seconds stretched and dropped out of the infinite jug of eternity as languidly as jellied honey from a jar. Father and daughter were together listening to the heartbeat of Mother Nature. Then the little girl began to squirm again in the man’s lap and dug her fair little head into his chest.

‘When you were as small a child as I am now, did you know God?’

‘No, I’m afraid I didn’t … Nobody really talked about Him and I thought it better, too – not to be inquisitive about Him. I didn’t think He existed in reality, only in the Bible. But where we can’t see, hear and touch anything, there begins His realm.’

She went on plying him with questions. ‘Really? Daddy, is He capable of doing everything? Can He do everything?’

‘Yes, but it’s not only He who can, we can as well, since He created us in His own image.’

The little girl fell silent and struggled to grasp what she’d heard. Her little face was so serious it was almost comic, but then the wrinkles on her forehead un-knitted themselves.

So she understands. He played with the thought and kissed the top of her head. Angela began to smile.

‘Daddy, I love you and I love Him too. Is He very old?’

‘Nobody knows how old He is.’

‘But when was He born?’ she pressed on, wringing her hand. ‘Did He have a mummy too?’

She understands nothing, yet she understands everything. Tears gathered in Joseph’s eyes. He hugged her tight.

‘He simply is, has been and will be, my dear. This is what I know.’

Is, has been and will be. Her dad’s sentence reverberated in the girl all day long; otherworldly physics kept her little soul busy and worried. That day she was not in the mood to chase the cat. Instead, she solemnly made garlands of dandelions on the lawn. When her mother came out to call her to lunch and asked her why on earth she was making so many of them, she replied, ‘They could come in handy if I met Him and His angels.’

‘Would you really like to give them to Him?’

‘Yes, Mum. Do you know by any chance where I should look for Him?’

‘But you know, sweetie, that He lives in heaven, or else who knows where.’

‘Of course, but surely He becomes tired of so much flying about and descends to earth sometimes? Where does He usually appear? In churches?’

‘No, sweetie, I don’t think He ever descends.’

‘I’m sorry for Him. How do you think He sleeps? He has to take care to keep flying even then, right?’

‘Angela, He never sleeps,’ answered her mother, wanting to close the conversation.

‘And does He send His angels here sometimes?’

The slide in the girl’s hair flashed, and the breeze coming from among the tree trunks played with her fair plaits. They both glanced towards the trees.

‘I think He sometimes sends them—’

‘To look after us?’ cut in Angela.

Tired of questions, Edith sighed, ‘When you’ve woven all your garlands, come inside and wash your hands. The soup is hot. Have your lunch now, and I won’t mind if you make garlands for the whole heaven afterwards.’

Night was already falling when Angela had finished making wreaths, having removed every dandelion to be found. She earned her father’s praise; he called her ‘the most precise weeder.’ The jungle behind their house concealed a clearing the size of a tablecloth, which the little girl ornamented with her garlands, spiralling them in towards the middle. It was really a heart-rending sight, especially from above.

Like a giant falling orange, the sun slid behind the clouds on the horizon. Angela looked at the fruit of her day’s work from her window before climbing into bed. She usually fell into dreams quickly, but, just before she fell asleep, a strange force came upon her. She felt like running around the mossy brick pavement encircling their house and then springing up to heaven. She pressed her eyelids together lest she accidentally open them and become scared, seeing the darkness that always frightened her. Rays from the moon’s bloodless face caressed her forehead in understanding, and she was finally overcome with sleep.

Her parents were not asleep yet. Data and pictures were swimming around on Joseph’s retinas, mirroring those on the monitor screen, while Edith was trying to scrape a layer of fat, which had the hardness of armour, from the bottom of a baking pan. Night padded the corridors of the house with soot-black down, greedily devouring the light of the bulbs. Furniture cracked here and there, the chandelier hung sleepily, only in the carpet were there revels – today, Edith had had no time to hoover up the dust mites.

‘Joseph.’ Edith broke the silence of the sitting room.

‘Yes, dear?’

‘If you’re not writing a poem, could you come out here? This damn pan needs a good scrubbing. I’ll buy a new one soon – this one always gets gummed up. I’ve completely fallen behind with my work.’

‘Is it all right if I come in a couple of minutes? I’d rather work a bit more now. Poems? Bah!’

The silence became tense and began to grip the man’s throat with an iron fist. Ignore a woman? Possible … But is it worth it?

‘All right, my dear, I’ll be with you in a minute.’

Hectic rattling came in answer. Joseph stood up and rushed to the kitchen, but he knew it was already too late for Edith.

‘This is so stubborn; it simply won’t come out,’ she grumbled while pouring another scoop of scouring powder into the baking pan.

‘I’ll help, all right?’

The woman disregarded him and went on with her Sisyphean struggle.

‘Edith, I’m here! Hello!’

‘Fine! You try to scrape off this bloody stuff.’

With a sigh of frustration’, she flung the scouring pad into the baking pan. It skidded along with a helpless splash.

‘The opportunity is all yours, dear.’

The man stepped closer and stroked the woman’s neck.

‘I love having opportunities to be all mine,’ he whispered in her ear.

‘Oh, stop messing around! I’m going out into the garden to lock the gate and putting out the rubbish. They’re collecting it tomorrow.’

She went towards the door but stopped short and turned back.

‘If you like it so much, you can have all the opportunity this evening.’

Joseph cracked a mocking smile and began to scrub the bottom of the baking pan with all his strength. He’d always admired Edith, whose head was like the shelves of a library, crammed full and with a complete alphabetical index and chronology.

In her sleep, their little daughter was walking again in the garden. The bluebells were sparkling with fat dew, a group of foxgloves tempted her further with seductive lullabies. She crept stealthily towards the huge oak tree. The crawlers winding around under her feet were familiar to her, she was revolted by them even in her dreams. Snakes, grrr! She had hardly made a few metres when a lukewarm gust of wind shot through the foliage of the trees and hit her face. She glanced up. The sun’s rays drew the outline of a figure that swam with the colours of the rainbow under the oak tree. He was not wearing clothes, but the brightness radiating from his body clothed him. Heat left his skin in waves but did not scorch the clover at his feet.

Angela froze and looked boldly into the eyes of the stranger. Crickets were chirping like mad. After a while, thinking she was losing it, Angela turned on her heels and ran away.

‘Don’t! Please wait, Angela,’ the figure burning in the veil of fire called after her.

Hearing her name, the little girl slowed down a bit but kept going. She dared not turn back.

‘Angela!’ she heard again. A fiery breeze twisted her fringe.

She cried out, and tore the door of the veranda open. She felt a strange shiver, her throat clasped as if in shackles. Inside it was dark and the silence almost knocked her down. The shadows of the vases standing in the windows fell low, lying slyly at the feet of the furniture in the moonshine. She heard thunder although there were no clouds.

‘Angela, trust me, since you know me. Don’t be afraid!’

‘No!’ she screamed and slammed the door.

She scurried towards the kitchen. She was shaking with fear as if she was cold. She felt relieved when she saw her mum, who was cooking something and, without turning, said calmly, ‘My dear, God is waiting for you in the garden, why are you making Him wait? Go back to Him right now, understand?’

The kitchen began to revolve around her.

‘But Mummy! Mum?’

‘Right now!’ Her mother was now shouting in an imperious tone. ‘Your place is outside. It’s about your life. It’s about our lives!’

‘But … Mum…’ the girl whispered, and backed out of the kitchen.

The clothes rack towered above her threateningly, and the tiles clinked ominously under her feet. “Go now, what are you waiting for?” whispered the coat on the peg. She dashed into the garden and, dread spreading in her stomach, she approached the figure sitting on the bench. A whiff of a breeze as dry as dust hit her in the eye and played with her hair, but she did not stop. She got so close that the heat became almost unbearable. The figure looked at her.

‘Are you God? Do I know you? Why’s your body radiating so much heat?’ she asked, and threw open her arms wide.

The face of the fiery stranger began to burn blindingly white-hot, a nacreous lustre appearing on him.

‘I’m the Eternal One. I’m the rainbow arching over rivers, I’m the sunshine and the wind penetrating the world. I’m everything that has been, is, and will be. In your language, I’m God, Father, Maker or Eternal. I’ve given you these names for myself, but none of them embodies who I, in fact, am. If you could name me precisely, I wouldn’t be who I am.’

His voice was ringing, coming from all around with the same strength. Angela’s blood ran out of her lips; she comprehended every sentence despite her youth. The presence of the Almighty lit up a light in her too. She nodded. She instinctively knew that the words she had heard were coming from the depth of eternity, from a world where there is no change and everything is perfect. Her soul recovered. She was scuffling her feet in front of the shining wonder, an otherworldly expression on her face, and drinking up the presence of God like a thirsty wanderer. The sky above her head changed to crimson.

‘So, you know me well, don’t you?’ she asked aloud, in order to out-bellow the muffled hubbub stealing towards them from all around.

It felt as if they were loitering in a crowded market-hall among buyers eyeing goods and sellers offering their merchandise in stentorian voices.

‘Yes, I am the One who searches hearts. I know you as a baby, a child and an old woman all at once. I am the Lord of time and space. I created them. I have no past and no future, I live in eternal present.’

‘Then you know everything, don’t you?’

He nodded.

‘Do you also know what I want to ask you?’


‘But may I ask you?’

‘Yes, you’re going to ask me.’

The little girl laughed shyly.

‘Why haven’t I ever seen you? You’ve surely seen how many garlands of dandelions I’ve made for you. I hoped you’d take them …’

‘Man can’t see me and live,’ the creature of light roared. ‘You’d simply be absorbed by the holiness of my presence; you’d simply be consumed by the fire. But you can stand me in your dreams. I created dreams so that I could talk to people in them. Angela, this is our first meeting, but not the last one. I want you to know who you really are!’

‘Dear God, I don’t understand … Who I am? It’s rather I who should get to know You!’

‘If you’d really like to know me, you must know yourself first!’

Angela shook her little head. She had yet to realize that heavenly teaching is in direct contrast to that on earth: explanations often make you wait for them and, for some, the only answer is eternal silence.

Suddenly a transparent, flaming cart appeared in the distance, coming from the direction of the treetops. It covered the distance between them at an incredible speed and took the brilliant figure with it. The creatures harnessed in front reminded her of horses, although they were not. Their bodies were covered in pale golden clouds and kept appearing and disappearing at the end of the harness. Woolly white glowing clouds bulged in their wake.

Angela had never before seen such a snow-white, downy curtain as the one which screened this supernatural stage from her. Her eyes searched the far distance, and it struck her that the glowing did not cease. She scanned the familiar place with inquiringly. Her initial anxiety faded away. The thousands of leaves and heavy branches of the oak tree, together with the tits resting on them, were made of a gauzy white material. She touched a little leaf with interest. The sharp end of the leaf and her fingernail immediately fused. She snatched her hand away as if she had burnt it, but she tried again a little later. Light, wriggling like ants, gave her pins and needles in her fingertip, and spread into her hand as well. Bubbles of energy exploded on her nails and she felt the air vibrating over her skin. She remembered the shining figure. His skin was something like this, wasn’t it? She was enraptured by the picturesque scene, the radiance filtering through the masses of wriggling globules ever more dazzlingly. She became frightened because her skin began to crack and the glow was biting into her retina like lightning flashes. She instinctively jerked her hand in front of her eyes and then she heard her mum.

‘Angela, Angela, dear. Wake up, sweetie! Rise and shine! The sun is upon you!’

She opened her eyes only a crack and looked up with fluttering eyes. The morning sunshine peeping in through the velvet curtains was, like her mother, stroking her forehead. She knew now that her father had been right to say that God is in everything: He’s definitely in Mummy’s smile.

‘Come, love, breakfast is ready. I’ve made some hot chocolate, and Tabby’s meowing for you in the kitchen.’

‘Mum, imagine, I was dreaming about God! It was so good. With Him, everything is radiance.’ Angela was raving and her pupils opened wide with excitement.

‘Well, then, you can tell me about it in a minute, but get up and dressed first.’

Angela briskly threw off her quilt, slid into her beige slippers, and swept like an ejected arrow towards the bathroom.

The pleasantly cool floor of the bathroom was covered with marble slabs that had withstood the test of decades like mirrors. Wounds in its ivory-coloured lustre inflicted by fallen tips of scissors, corners of jars and edges of basins paid tribute to the fact that generations had washed and cleansed themselves above it. When the veranda burnt with the summer heat of the sun, the little girl liked to run there to cool her feet. Silence reigned in the bathroom now, only the tap, bored and sleepy, dripped an occasional drop of water. She kicked off her felt slippers with a careless movement and gave herself over to the coolness of the floor. She sat on the toilet and wondered about her dream. This morning she felt so easy and carefree. She rushed to the washbasin and cried out, ‘How I love being a child!’

Edith’s voice filtered in from the kitchen in answer to this, ‘Come on, Angela, we’re only waiting for you.’

She bellowed a ‘Right away!’ into the silence, shut the tap and cast a glance into the mirror. She instantly turned around on her axis and was about to run to the towel on the peg when she noticed that the tiles were scintillating in all the colours of the rainbow. Something behind her back was reflecting a pale light was towards the ceiling. She stepped back to the washbasin and looked into it. Her mouth hung open in surprise. The water swirling down the plughole was shining, its colours were even reflected in the mirror. It was glowing bewitchingly and silk-like while it circled the drain. The little girl wiped her eyes, blinked and felt pressure on her eardrums. The floor appeared to sway; she even lost her balance for a second. Suddenly, all movement slowed down and she could hear her own heartbeat breaking the silence with its dull thuds. She held her breath for quite a long time; it seemed to her that she did not even need air. She wanted to peel her fingers off the washbasin as they obstinately attached themselves to its edge, but they did not obey her.

My God, what is this? Tears flashed in her tiny eyes and she looked in the mirror. The outlines of the figure she had seen in her dream were reflected from the glass. A peaceful smile was flickering on his iridescent face. She wanted to shriek, but only a groan mixed with rattling broke from her lungs.

‘Angela! What have you been doing for so long? Have you fallen down the toilet?’ She heard Edith’s insistent call, but she was unable to respond.

Her lips were made of lead, her arms were helpless, and her hands were still clutching the washbasin. Then the heavenly face dispersed. There was a push on her body, a flashing impulse in her nerve tracks, and strength returned to her limbs in a tingling flow. Time revved up, droplets of sweat crept down between her shoulder blades. She snatched at the water, swept the edge of the plughole, but saw only drops of plain water on her fingertips.

‘Please, don’t leave!’ she yelled into the nothingness at the top of her voice, ‘I’m not afraid of you any more, really!’

She shook herself and began laughing in ecstasy. Feeling a wave of happiness, she wiped her face on the lavender-smelling towel and ran into the kitchen. She felt her little soles slapping on the tiles with great pleasure.

‘Where are your slippers? You’re going to—’ Edith’s voice came to an abrupt halt as her little girl hit her in the belly like a torpedo making an attempt to drive her fair head into her mum’s cake-smelling apron.

‘Gently does it, sweetie! You’ll end up hurting yourself, and me too. Your head’s like a boxing glove. You wild little thing. What were you shouting in the bathroom?’

‘Oh, I was only shouting into heaven,’ the girl answered with smouldering pride and embraced her mother’s hips. ‘I love you!’

‘I love you too, my Angela. Hmm, into heaven? I see … Well, you have to shout really loud to be heard up there, it’s quite far away.’

‘It can sometimes come quite near, Mum.’

Angela cast a glance at the curtain, which fluttered mysteriously in the draught and revealed the face of the sun for a second. The cat was circling hesitantly among the chairs, meowing and shaking, perhaps demanding food. Angela’s father was busy with the tap on the gas cooker which had stuck again, and stepped on her tail. She meowed loudly and took to her heels as swiftly as the wind. However, she came back after a few minutes. Why should she leave this island of tranquillity after all? She could freely stretch her limbs here, rub her back on warm hands and scrounge things. Tabby, however, was disturbed by something that had been hanging in the air since Angela’s dream. She yawned long, plodded back behind the chairs and listened.

Edith stacked freshly cut slices of bread into a basket and took the snow-white napkin on which she had put the chopping-board to the window. She shook it out, watering the grass under the window with a rain of breadcrumbs. Joseph saw this.

‘So this is why there’re so many ants here, my dear. Don’t dump the breadcrumbs under the window, all right?’

‘I don’t usually. The bin’s full,’ she replied with defiance spreading on her face. ‘Don’t argue all the time, I know what I’m doing.’

‘All right, forgive me. But there’re really so many ants around.’

‘Then put out some insecticide to destroy them instead of destroying my nerves.’

The man sighed. The lady is being shrewish. The air was steamy from the apple strudel in the oven. The aroma of cinnamon was spread everywhere. Angela sat down on her little chair but was not hungry.

‘What’s wrong, dear? Tell me if some ugly thought is disturbing you. You worry too much about things that have no meaning at all.’ Her mother was pulling her leg.

‘Only my dream … but I’ll tell you all about it. Can you butter half a slice for me?’

‘Of course, sweetie, even two, as I don’t believe you’ll last until noon with half a slice. And your dreams shouldn’t worry you, they’re usually only a silly hotchpotch.’

Angela’s features contracted.

‘But this was real, Mum. And God is also real, not a fairy tale.’

‘Sure, sure … Shall I butter you two slices?’

She got no answer. Angela was immersed in her secret dream world. Edith stopped pestering her. She knew well that there are moments in children’s lives when they must be allowed to daydream. The only thing that disturbed her was that such moments seemed to proliferate in Angela’s life. She had brought up the matter of a child psychologist with Joseph once, but he had laughed at her, suggesting it was she who should go to a shrink.

She shrugged and buttered two slices of bread. She turned towards the oven, to find the ideal moment to take out the apple strudel – when it was baked through but not yet burnt. She gave a tired sigh and started to brood over her own childhood, so long gone. She had been sitting just there in the middle of cooking smells, just as her daughter was doing now. Memories rushed to her mind, joys and fears from old times. She had been brought up in a family greatly influenced by the bigoted, religious morality of the times. Her parents demanded to know all her thoughts. They managed to stifle her rebellious fantasies, but could not wipe them out. To this very day, she did not understand her parents and, although she respected them, she had lost interest in churches and religion forever. For her, God was only a misbegotten caricature created by the church with which to effectively threaten badly behaved children. She remembered the love letter her mother had discovered, flourishing it triumphantly as she bore it into her room, and her own impotent rage when her mother tore it up under her nose. She’d felt as if her heart had been torn up and her life had been taken away. Thinking of it now, the rage, which had later been reduced to ashes of grief, burst again into flame in her heart like fire aglow. She pushed the hot baking tray back violently and slammed the oven door on it. Tears sprang into her eyes, but she wiped them away secretly with her wrist.

‘Have you forgiven your parents for chasing your love away?’ Angela asked her.

A tempest blasted Edith’s soul. She turned back. Angela’s eyes looked cold now, like those of a fighter who has surprised his enemy in his sleep, without shield and weapons.

‘Not yet, Angela. But how …? That’s astonishing. How do you know about it? Has Daddy told you?’

Her voice faltered. Then the pressure cooker whistled, startling them both.

‘No, because Daddy doesn’t know about it either, does he?’

‘No,’ Edith replied, petrified with bewilderment, and turned towards Joseph.

‘No, I really didn’t know about it, Edith. It’s astounding how Angela knows about it. Hmm … this gas tap is really stuck.’

‘Well, then. Tell me all about your dream, Angela,’ said her mother angrily, hoping to get this over with quickly. ‘I want to know exactly what your dream was about and what this “God” told you.’

‘I don’t feel like it any more. You’ve called it a silly hotchpotch anyway.’

Edith felt she had fallen into a trap, one her parental authority could not yank her out of.

‘Are you playing with me?’ she asked Angela, and her eyes flared up.


‘So then?’

Angela lowered her eyes but knew she had won the game for now. They won’t smack me even if I don’t say anything, and Daddy will defend me anyhow.

Upset, Edith dropped the dishcloth she was holding onto the table and stormed out into the bathroom, miffed. Joseph followed the scene from the corner of his eyes.

‘Wow, madam’s riled!’ he called after her. ‘But next time,’ he said to Angela, ‘you answer when you’re asked.’

After all this, Angela paid no more attention to her environment. She ate her bread listlessly. She was sitting on her little stool, dangling her feet and smacking her lips ostentatiously. A few minutes later Edith returned, looking as if she had cried. Joseph implored his daughter with his eyes. Angela only smiled. She knew what to do.

‘I’m sorry, Mummy. Shall I tell you about my dream, then?’

‘Yes, tell me if you’ve made up your mind to do it at last,’ the woman answered in a muffled voice.

As Angela talked, the little girl transformed before their eyes. She chattered away, galvanized, about a radiant being, whose eyes were as gentle as that of her father’s, and was exulting in how God’s brightness had filled up everything. Her little body was burning feverishly. Her parents saw her open up properly for the first time in a long while. As she talked, they felt almost as if they didn’t belong near her. Their daughter was overflowing with some unfamiliar, heavenly energy. Invisible power was emanating from her, her thin voice was splitting the place and the air was almost scorching. Tabby ruffled her tail like a scrubbing brush, spat and then bolted out. The stuck tap of the cooker sprang back into place and the cracked jug in the middle of the table split. Its contents, lots of dry kidney beans, poured out onto the white tablecloth. Terrified silence ensued. The only remaining noise was the desperate humming of a stray wasp hitting the windowpane. Edith cowered by the cooker. She dared not even move. Joseph cast a glance at her but was scared by his, wife who looked as if she had seen a ghost. He forced himself to stand up as he knew that he, as head of the family, should say something wise and reassuring, but, apart from stupid platitudes, nothing came into his mind, so he kept silent.

He caressed his daughter’s forehead, which was remarkably hot. Maybe she has a fever. She must have caught a cold from sitting on the lawn for so long yesterday.

‘Wretched old jug!’ Angela cried out, then cast a coltish smile towards them and stormed out to the veranda. She tried to catch the scampering cat but could not, almost tripping over her as she tried.

‘We should talk to her more often …’ Joseph broke the silence at last.

With precise movements, he gathered the beans that had been spilt over the tablecloth and poured them onto a rose-patterned plate. Edith was trying to make sense of what had just transpired.

‘She’s found out about my thoughts!’ she roared. ‘It’s true, word for word, but has she dreamt the rest? Has she exaggerated it to get attention? Unbelievable. Could it be true?’

‘Why couldn’t it be true?’ Joseph was losing his patience. ‘Haven’t you seen what’s happened? No one would be capable of speaking with such empathy if it were only pure fiction. Surely not a six-year-old. And that jug? Do you think it was broken by the wind?’

‘It was already full of cracks.’ Edith fought back, but her eyes were already smiling.

Joseph sighed and dug his fingers among the beans.

‘If that explanation makes you happy, Edith, I’ll let you believe it.’

‘I may be acting like Sarah in the Old Testament, Abraham’s wife, who laughed at God because He promised her a child in her old age. That was an absurdity too.’

She mumbled something else to herself but Joseph did not understand it. He embraced his wife tightly.

‘Keep your chin up, my dear. I know common sense contradicts all we’ve heard today but if we only believed what we can see … Oh, and by the way, the dandelion garlands were gone from the grass by this morning. The ones she made yesterday, you know. Has next door’s dog scattered them, perhaps?’

But, at that very same moment, they heard Angela hollering in the garden. ‘Have you taken them? I knew you’d take them away!’

Both parents looked out of the window and saw the girl jumping towards the sky with arms thrown wide open. Reverential silence followed, but they remembered this event and Angela’s words, which hung over that morning like the smoke of frankincense, for a long time. The apple strudel was cooked and the stove needed attention no more. Somehow, its tap never got stuck again.

The family soon had lunch and went for a walk in the nearby forest. The branches closing in after them gently concealed the departing group from sight, and the eagle owl in the thicket, which they had woken up with a start, sleepily closed its eyes again. Forest and field relaxed as they absorbed the wonder of one special child’s presence.

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 1

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 1

Angela first saw the light of day on a foggy November afternoon.

The mist condensed into droplets on the acacia trees stretching by the fence of the clinic and dripped onto the pavement. The last of the sere leaves also tumbled languidly to the ground. What did they know about the wonderful event that had just taken place in the delivery room inside the building with the cracked plaster? The life of the leaves had come to an end with the autumn but, for Angela, the great race of existence had just begun.

It was 1988, and an ideology that had powerfully permeated the ways of thinking in Hungary for decades was crumbling. Socialism was departing with a soft melancholy. The red star fell and withered, swept away by a fresh gust of wind from the west. It had no more life left in it. There were no fires, uproars or revolts, yet lots of hearts caught fire. ‘Revolution!’ they shouted a year later. ‘Freedom!’ Yes, freedom. It marched in with merry pomp, yet was frighteningly unfamiliar. It was marched in on a golden cart but it brought privations to many.

A weak, yet commanding, squeak ripped the thick air of the delivery room. It was the voice of Angela, who had just been conjured out of the birth canal. Truth be told, she had not really wanted to be born: she had felt a lot better inside. She had to come, though; had to toil, strive, slide and cry. Was this life?

She felt her head coming off as if a giant was pulling at it from outside. Her bones were almost crushed in the mole tunnel she had to squeeze through. At the end of the canal the midwife was waiting for her like an angel surrounded by fiery tongues of flame, shutting the way back to the garden of Eden forever.

‘She’s outside at last,’ the doctor on duty sighed as the light pouring out of the bulbs of the ward ran along her smock. ‘A girl!’

The warmth and silence that had protected Angela were at an end. The new tenant of Planet Earth was greeted by a strange brightness. Air spread painfully into her lungs as she took her first breath. Her eyes were burning. Fuzzy figures were bowing over her, occasionally screening the sparkling light.

‘Swabs, please! Help me to hold …’

The doctor was searching for forceps on the sterile tray. The fingers of her rubber gloves rubbed together squeakily.

‘More swabs, please. That one … swab it with propanol,’ she ordered the midwife while she clicked clamps on the umbilical cord.

In the neighbouring cubicle, somebody was still in labour. Angela’s mother turned her head weakly towards the screams but could see only the curtain. Her glance met that of the assistant beside her, who nodded, smiled and squeezed her hand.

‘It’s all right now, dear. The worst is over. Now she only needs to be brought up.’

She said it quietly, but the doctor caught her words. A smile flashed in the corner of her mouth.

‘Yes, the bulk of it is yet to come,’ she remarked, and cut the umbilical cord with an emphatic gesture. ‘But the bulk is the most wonderful part, dear.’

Angela, meanwhile, was trying to keep her eyes shut to lessen the stabbing lances of the floodlights. She pressed the air out of her lungs with all her might, then drew it in again. She then realized that it went in and out more and more easily. Suddenly, hands grasped her. She shuddered at the fingers crawling over her moist skin, and the neon tubes clinging to the ceiling began to move. Reliable, warm hands were taking her for a bath. She was shaking, which made her feel hungry for the first time in her life. Although she was still unable to understand what her senses told her – her eyes perceived only blunt outlines and piercing light, and her ears caught only incoherent hubbub – she had one distinct feeling: love was emanating towards her from the hands that were holding her so gently.

Love is such a strong and positive feeling that every living being is able to sense it. Husbandmen and peasants of old used to know this forgotten truth …

The man sitting in the waiting room before the labour ward was reading. He was holding the most recent issue of one of the esoteric publications piled on the glass table. He stood up with the magazine in his hands and walked about in agitation while his eyes ran over the lines.

They loved their animals and caressed the leaves of their plants after watering them. At home, they loved their children and ageing parents so they could live longer. People calling themselves civilized are made civilized by ‘forgetting’ to express their feelings, especially when they are positive and honourable …

The man shoved the paper back onto the table, but it slid and thudded on the floor. He was not interested. He pressed his forehead to the window in the door but could see nothing but the light-green curtain screening off the delivery room. The curtain gawked back at him, creased and sullen. He did not dare to knock or ring the bell, so he stood there like a dog, wistfully, expecting snippets of information to be tossed to him instead of gristle. Still no movement, only the unnerving, humming background noise of the hospital, and the smell of chlorine. His stomach tightened, a reaction that suddenly reminded him of his nursery school. He used to hate going to nursery school, he used to hate being separated from his parents.

After a few minutes, he despondently crouched back into the carmine imitation leather armchair, which had probably been placed in the waiting room especially to ease the agony of worried young fathers. It did not ease his agony though. It could be an electric chair as far as I’m concerned. He flicked the armrest with a finger. Part of him was recognizing the experience as a solemn occasion. I’ve never had a child … A new being … and it’s mine. He picked up the paper he had tossed away and decided to read through the article, however tense he was.

… The heart of the infant senses these colourful ‘love birds’ flushed towards her. She cannot name them, yet she is sure they belong to her. They rest on her shoulders, on her head, and relax her with their angelic melodies. They fill her with the ancient energy of the universe, a divine energy, a ray of hope arching through the cosmos, rattling through even the darkest of spaces. It overthrows dead chaos and rearranges it into life. It is energy which helps the enormous orcas in the oceans to leap out of the deep, stretch towards the sun and scatter hundreds of droplets of water …

‘What a stupid text! My God!’ he broke out. But then the curtain behind the door was drawn aside. A nurse with a green hairnet was smiling at him foolishly through the glass and waving to him vigorously. She only opened the door a crack.

‘The wee one has arrived. Congratulations, sir! It’s a girl. Have you already named her?’

The man nodded and straightened up happily.

‘Angela,’ he said, putting the force of his entire being behind the words. He was overcome by an ancient, exalted feeling as he pronounced it.

‘Hmm … a beautiful name,’ the nurse replied. ‘Well then, fine. Patience, sir, your wife will be transferred to ward two soon, you can meet there.’

‘And my daughter? Can’t I even see her?’

‘But of course!’ The nurse laughed as the question sounded stupid to her and she had heard it infinite times. ‘For the next five days you can see her, sir, through a TV link. So, go over to ward two and keep your chin up, you can see her often enough afterwards – you can even change her nappy.’

She shut the door in his face and felt especially proud that her job allowed her to tell a man where to go.

After she left, the dividing curtain flicked open for a second and he caught sight of his wife. He greedily absorbed the sight. She’s there! How is she? My poor darling. It must have been so painful. But it’s done. Hallelujah! His wife also caught sight of him. Space shrank between them. The unseen bonds between them, which had been multiplying since they had met, became even stronger. The strongest was sweetly cooing in the wheeled cot beside her mother’s bed.

On the whitewashed wall of the delivery room hung a battered clock showing the time in shaky numbers: fourteen minutes past seven. That was the time when the light pink wristband was put on the newcomer’s wrist. ‘Angela,’ read the lustreless paper ring that was to become her inseparable companion – at least within the hospital precincts.

‘God’s messenger, that’s what her name means,’ the old pastor, who was spending his last days on earth in the neighbouring ward, told Angela’s mother, Edith, a few days afterwards. He could not know that his words were a prophecy.

The doctor sat deeply in thought at the ECG machine and threw her rubber gloves into the waste bin. Her work was over for the day. The baby had been delivered, the placenta was outside and the episiotomy was sewn together.

‘I have no kids, but it must be wonderful,’ she whispered to Edith. ‘As this small life is growing, she’ll get cleverer and smarter. In the end, she’ll be like you …’

‘Thank you for everything, doctor. I wouldn’t have managed without you.’

‘Eh,’ the doctor waved her hand and stood up. ‘In the old days, women delivered on their own.’

In the neighbouring cubicle the other woman cried out again.

‘Have a look at her!’ the lady doctor snapped at the assistant, then turned back to Angela’s mother. ‘Edith. That’s your name, right? Believe me, nature solves the issue of giving birth without us well enough. We only give it a hand.’

‘You’re an angel,’ whispered the woman.

‘Now, now!’

The doctor left, her long coat fluttering above the chessboard-like tiles of the hospital.

‘Fag break!’ she hollered, with both hands up high. ‘I’m passing the rest over to you. Watch out for them. I’ll be back in five minutes.’

Angela cried out at the loud voice.

‘Look at the sweet little pussycat, she’s begun to weep,’ the assistant said in her rich alto. ‘We have to take her to the infant ward right away. You’ll get your treasure back,’ she turned to the mother, ‘but only for feeding. Good luck!’

Edith turned to the nurse and, with a relieved laugh, wiped Angela’s eyes that were gleaming with tears. She touched the softest velvet on earth with her fingertips.

‘It’s me. Mum. This is me, Angela … I love you …’

However, the word ‘mum’ did not yet mean anything to Angela. Her life was still a clean slate, her soul was untouched, like a spring deep in a cave.

Later, Angela woke up one morning to see that the white walls, the dazzling rows of light and the nurses were gone. The world had become dark, quiet and desolate. From then on, she felt she was dying when her mother put her in her cot and left her alone. She squalled at such times.

Days went by, and ‘Mum’ began to mean something to her: warm embraces, kisses, sweet milk, peace, dreams. Meals were celebratory occasions, which she anticipated with a joyful, leaping heart because they stopped the pain in her stomach instantly. So she cried when she was hungry and her stomach hurt, and cried when she was longing for hugs. She sometimes cried for the sake of crying. She always thought of the time she spent in happy and ecstatic embraces with her mum. Their hearts were clinging to each other so strongly that they could still feel like one body, although physically they had been parted. After the darkness and silence of the womb, Angela, was frightened by the noisy outside world. In the lost sanctuary, she had been able to float about in circles of silent sighs, but her experiences told her that every day she was getting further away from that quiet garden of Eden and there was no hope of return. Strange challenges had to be faced – growing, walking and teething. Fevers and the nightly horrors of darkness were only trifling additions. Only two things seemed permanent: Mummy and Daddy. To her, both were sweet.

Angela’s childhood was filled with lots of photos, knee and elbow injuries, and a number of playthings. The majority of those playthings seemed, however, superfluous because her real playground was the garden surrounding their house. She kept re-touching the vast green forest in her imagination: she placed kobolds, pixies and ghosts in it. It was a mythical fairyland, all her own. Relatives, friends and neighbours alike thought Angela was an exceptional little girl. She was a wide-open book but, at the same time, unapproachable and closed, like a strongroom inside the earth. Those who knew her described her as being inclusive and open at first, but noted that, after a while, she would retreat into the secret labyrinth of her soul, leaving them wondering what had happened. Radiant smiles and grace kept swapping places with grim turns of spirit; chatter and the silence of the desert strained against each other. She was both an azure sky and a madly expanding, pitch-dark universe.

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