Angel

A Retelling of Eveline by James Joyce

Jordan Souza

August 15, 2023

She looked out the window like someone accustomed to waiting. The rain was a gentle assault. Angel thought, without any real conviction, that she ought to mow the lawn. Few cars passed. A mother pushed a stroller. The mother’s face was matte and contoured, like she was waiting too.

Angel sat, her face pressed against the pane, for longer than she intended. The cul-de-sac was calming—the rhythm of Subarus backing out and pulling in, the mail carrier with her prim blue pants peeking out under her poncho, oblivious to the rain. Across the wide street were homes that looked exactly like her own. Angel’s family, her parents, Tyler, and baby Ryan, moved into the subdivision when it was a simple row of two-story homes facing thick woods. The window she sat at now once looked at those woods, which were both dense and vast. In every season, Angel played under the incredible height of the pines, on the soft trails made by their needles. She didn’t care that brambles cut up her legs and mosquitos bit her ankles. Tyler would play too, quiet and acquiescing to his role: baby, dad, pirate. Ryan, though he could barely walk, came also. Much of the time was spent getting him to spit out rocks. The neighbors were there. Christianne, with her shining blue eyes, and Rodney, so big and dumb. They were in college now, but the plan was for them to return as insurance brokers or teachers. Each night when it was about dark, Angel’s mother would come out gripping a spatula like a switch, yelling for them to hurry up before she locked them out. Christianne would smile at Angel, embarrassed on her behalf.

Paul, Angel’s father, bought the home because he loved the forest. Their mother said they couldn’t afford it, he was only a Biology teacher, and they would be better off in a condo with a pool. Still, Paul wanted his children to understand the patterns of birds, the lifespan of insects, and the lives of green things. He wanted them to have a reverence for soil. But he died in the living room on a medical bed, staring out at the plyboard beginnings of a new row. “Just shut the blinds,” Angel’s mother said.

Angel pulled her face away from the window and surveyed the living room. How strange that she would never see it again. The glass bowl of shells and the coasters no one used. For the first time, she imagined her life entirely apart from this home.

Upstairs, her mother’s snoring mingled with the sounds of daytime television. Finally, she was asleep. It had been a long night. Angel had come home at two am and was just about to fall into a deep, drunk sleep when she heard her mother stammering down the hallway for a heating pad. Though blurry, Angel rose and dug under the sink for the ancient, bulbous bladder of plastic. She knew Ryan wouldn’t get up—even if he were still gaming. People thought her mother was ill, Lyme disease maybe, but Angel knew it was a self-inflicted suffering meant to keep Angel immured.

On the mantle was a framed oversized photograph of the family. It was Angel’s father who had insisted they have it taken. They drove the ten minutes to the Sears at the town center. Each was dressed in their color-coordinated best. On the way, Angel’s mother smoked with the windows barely down and complained about wasting money. “And for who?” she asked. They chose a backdrop, a nondescript swirl of blue and gray, an approximation of the ocean, some sad simulacrum.

In the photograph, Angel’s mother’s eyes are lifeless, like sheet metal. Paul smiles a real smile—hopeful without cause. His hands rest on Tyler’s shoulder. It was the last photograph of Tyler, besides the stiff, unsmiling one of him in uniform, before he was shipped off and killed. He wore a wrinkled green button-down, too big in the chest. Next to Tyler is Ryan, barely twelve, rapscallion, and bed-headed. Angel faces the camera, her chin slightly down but her eyes pointed, looking.

The photo was taken the same spring when her lacrosse coach shoved her into the utility closet and pressed her against the Husky shelf. Like this one, that day was rainy and dull, until the closet eclipsed her world and made everything different: riven and unmendable. Unlike the statistics, Angel did tell someone, her mother, who called Angel a liar, then, after scanning her narrow body up and down, a tease. The coach was transferred. Angel quit lacrosse.

Reuben would never see this photograph, Angel realized. Thank God he’d never come into this house, with its carpet the color of old people’s skin and the sectional so lumpy it resembled a soft potato. He wouldn’t see her room which hadn’t changed since she was eight. Powder blue walls, a white IKEA bed, a twist of fairy lights around the headboard.

They met at a music festival. For one four-day weekend yearly, acreage on the town’s perimeter became a maze of makeshift stages and camping grounds. Food carts drove over sodden grass, and shoddy beer gardens rose, charging five-dollar entry fees to the sweaty masses. Angel had never thought of going to the festival before, but when Jenny from high school texted out of the blue to say that Tara was sick and there was an extra wristband, Angel said yes. She climbed into the back of Jenny’s Jetta and looked at the girls she once called friends, each of their unchanged faces aglow with bronzer. Like her, they still lived at home, and went to the community college, unlike her.

Reuben played bass in a band called The Flats. Just to the left of the stage, slightly back, he stood during his set. Her friends pushed to the front, their halter tops pinching their breasts together like water balloons. Angel stood with them, flat-chested and bored. From her vantage point, Reuben was the second most attractive member of the band, just behind the drummer, who was taller with plush lips that she could imagine kissing her neck. But Reuben’s hair was honey-colored and wavy, an invitation to loosen up. He saw her in the beer garden after the show and brought her a bottle of Heineken. They drank under an oak tree illuminated by a string of market lights. He was from New York.

At first, she liked being seen with Reuben and the feeling of being chosen, plucked out of oblivion. Then she began to like him, to really like him. The Flats were staying past the festival for a residency in Portland. In crowded bars on small stages, Reuben made a point of staring at her during the love songs. A radiating beam was cast upon her of all people. They had sex on the twin bed in the Airbnb he shared with his bandmates, and though it was her first time, she never told him. He told her everything, how he feared being forgotten and how he loved her. What she loved was the way he described New York with its subways and loud voices, people constantly vying for attention. An endless buffet of adventures and smells and sounds. She wanted that life and him too.

Once her mother heard about Reuben, she told Angel she was wasting her time. Angel was a disappointing cliché—a groupie for a one-note band. So the affair was a secret. As long as Angel did all the shopping and cooking, forked over half the mortgage and utilities, and ensured Ryan made it to his part-time job, then her mother didn’t care. It was as fine a life as anyone could ask for: one with family, food, and shelter. It wasn’t so bad at all.

After deep cleaning the kitchen, Angel put two letters on the counter: one for her mother, and one for Ryan. She was unsure if either would open them.

Out the window, she saw the Uber, a white Prius, and in the back of it, Reuben. She lifted her duffel bag into the trunk. His knees bounced up and down, and he faced her squarely like the road didn’t exist. He clenched her hands and called her angel face. His voice was warbled like she was listening to him from under bath water. At some point, he took her phone and checked in for her, all the while talking about a place in Prospect Park where they’d go for bagels every morning. He couldn’t wait to show her his place, small but warm, a third-floor walk-up in Park Slope. Of course, she could change it all. He just wanted her there.

Then they were at the airport. People swarmed, seemingly unable to make sense of the wayfinding symbols: Gates A32–C74, Domestic, Connections, Ground Transportation, Baggage.

“Our gate’s this way,” Reuben said. Angel stopped moving. The security line was bisected by a lunging police dog smelling people for drugs. Reuben looked at Angel from the security line, “Aren’t you coming? Why aren’t you walking?” A man stuffed into a TSA uniform told her to move it, but she stood, gripping the fabric barrier reminiscent of a seatbelt. She heard nothing but saw Reuben’s mouth moving, his figure getting smaller and smaller as he backed away from her, moved by the swell of travelers. She was a cornered creature, paralyzed.

Angel’s eyes were empty, without love, regret, or acknowledgment. And it dawned on her that maybe she didn’t love him or anyone at all.

About Jordan Souza

Jordan is a writer based in Portland, OR. She also serves as a prose editor for Cordella Magazine. A recipient of the Make Learn Build Grant from RACC, Jordan has completed a novel about the limitations of home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or spending time with her husband and two daughters.

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