"Half-Formed Angels Fall from the Sky" by Lynn Veach Sadler

My beautician May-Belle feels sorry for them.  She says God’ll be in the middle of creating something new or performing some latter-day miracle, and something will come up that Saint Peter, Saint Michael, or even the Virgin Mary Herself can’t handle, and God will just have to go.  Being God, He can’t kill or destroy the unfinished under His hand.

“Why, if He’s God, can’t He just finish them in the flick of an eye?  Are they flat-crushed in their left state?”  I ask myself but never May-Belle and am off imagining them falling through the air.  “Do they float faster for being flat-crushed?”  I realize I’m not paying proper attention to May-Belle, who knows it.  May-Belle is nice (and knowledgeable), but I’ve found it doesn’t pay not to listen to her.  Carefully. You can put on this I’m-listening self, and May-Belle will still know.  You’ll know she knows.  She’ll yank your hair and say “Oh, excuse me” all butter-wouldn’t-melty.  May-Belle has ears in every hair-root of her head and wigs.

These half-formed angels free-float, but, not being full angels as yet (as ever, actually), they start descending.  Easy-like, May-Belle says.  God wouldn’t just crash them kerplunk! God is not mean like most humans May-Belle knows.  He wouldn’t allow even unfinished, raw angel bits to end up like smashed frogs in the road anticipating rain by the smell in the air.  Frogs have highly developed smell cells May-Belle says.

I’m careful driving now not to mash frogs.  I quit trying to get my husband Sam to avoid them because my “nagging” just made him go after them hard.  And squirrels.  I mentioned it once as I recall, and this is the reaction I’ve triggered.

I’m somewhat afraid this road-frog-hunting Sam now busies himself with gave rise to that new Country-Western song about frogs not being able to jump through the ozone layer anymore.  I’d hate to think I set off anything like that.  I could always pretend it wasn’t really my fault but May-Belle’s.  But I’m not very good at pretending about myself to myself.

May-Belle has this liberal streak a mile wide which does not fit beauticians as I know them, and I’ve been knowing beauticians a lot longer than I’ve known Sam.  But all beauticians seem to go in for the off-color.  Stories and hair.

One time when I arrived for my appointment, right on the nickel, May-Belle was finishing up her customer-before-me and holding the last-two-customers-before-the-customer-before-me spellbound with her jokes.  When I came in, not a one of them said a word to me.  May-Belle just motioned for me to sit, and the rest seemed put off by my interruption.  May-Belle was saying, “So the woman gets out of her bathtub and starts to dry herself off with this big old fluffy towel—”

“Probably one of those new sheet-towels,” I was thinking but didn’t dare say a word.  Not a word. I knew better than to interrupt these ladies again, believe you me.

May-Belle goes right on.  “All the while she’s drying, she’s looking at herself in the mirror.  Taking little mirror-peeks by quick-pulling the towel away.  She looks at herself and looks at the mirror and decides to go whole-hog.  She says, ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, make my t—ies size 44.’”

Only May-Belle didn’t put in blanks.

It should of rhymed anyway.  Like in “Snow White.”  “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

The mirror obliged the lady.  I don’t know what she’d done for the mirror.  May-Belle never said.  But in my experience, mirrors and all don’t do such deeds without some sort of tit for tat.

When the lady’s husband came home, he takes one look at her frontage and can’t believe what his eyes are seeing.  He thinks she’s stuffed them or something.  To celebrate their good fortunes—both of them think they’ve met with good fortune—they have a good time, just the two of them.  Then the lady’s husband takes a bath, and, when he stepped out, he decides to try his luck with the mirror.  He went, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, make my p—- reach the floor.”

May-Belle didn’t use blanks.

The lady’s husband sure-enough gets his answer.  Suddenly his legs become short and stubby.  Can you imagine!  I mean, personally, I don’t want to imagine it happening.  I try not to picture him sitting there with his wish come true only gone in the wrong direction.

May-Belle’s ladies laughed fit to kill, and I laughed a little bit with them to be polite and keep them from thinking I was thinking them nasty-minded.

I know she doesn’t mean to, but May-Belle intimidates me.  Sam says I’m just too mealy-mouthed for words, and he’d use same with reference to my relationship with May-Belle Summerlin.  But I’ve always thought there’s a difference between being nice because it’s the thing to be and saying hard-bold things because they’re hard-bold.  I think it was being brought up an only girl-child and having my daddy drip disappointment looking at me.  Mama advised keeping down-quiet as the best way to get along in this man’s world.

I admire May-Belle, though.  I’m soft-core liberal myself.  I believe all the stuff May-Belle believes but can’t come right out and say it.  I wish I could.  I’m not sure I should lay claim to soft-core liberal since I don’t preach it.

But May-Belle has this streak I don’t go along with—though it’s fascinating.  It’s what passes for “New Age” stuff in our parts.  It also has to do with May-Belle’s longings to be a “genuine entrepreneur.”  May-Belle says “wine” on the end of genuine and makes “preneur” sound like “ma—-,” but her heart’s in the right place.  She’s always coming up with a selling scheme, and “May-Belle’s Beautician’s Parlor,” which is what she calls her place of business, has every shelf crammed full of something for sale.  Mostly something with nothing to do with beauticianing.  Like children’s toys her daddy makes from old tobacco sticks—smoking pigs and such.  You have to light up the cigarette in the pig’s mouth and pump his tail, but that little rascal will smoke if you do.  That Duke lady President stated recently that North Carolina’s economy will have to produce smoking pigs to survive, but May-Belle and her daddy thought of it a long while back, and it isn’t exactly making them rich.

May-Belle believes in natural treatments.  She carries two special lines of health goods and hopes to produce her own “May-Belle Medicinals and Hair Care Products from the May-Belle Medicine and Beautician Parlor.”

May-Belle knows a lot of medicinal lore she passes along to her customers.  She says babies will be born, no matter if it requires they’re early or late, on the full moon.  They just wait around for it.  I want to ask her how they know.  Do they send out little telescopes through their mamas’ navels to check on the state of the astronomy?  May-Belle knows, though she’s divorced now.  I’ve never had any, but I’m interested, as a woman, in the baby business, so I asked if her seven came to term on the full moon.  Guess what she said?  “I don’t remember.  Besides, when the labor pains start, you don’t remember s—!”  As per usual, no blanks for May-Belle.

May-Belle has had three women customers her age all going through the change at the same time.  She was telling me about it against my time.  She says they sweat gallons.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear anymore because I was taught that women “dew.”  They don’t “s—-.”  But I didn’t tell May-Belle.  She might think I thought I was above her raising.

One of these going-through-the-change customers of May-Belle’s got so hot, she took off everything but her panties and just lay there on the bed on top of the covers “dewing.”  Then, in the middle of the night, the cat had to be taken out, and she went outside with him just like she was.  (Which I wouldn’t have the nerve to do no matter how deep I was in going through the change.  I wouldn’t sleep like that in the first place.)  The door locked behind her, and she had to stand there “buck-naked” (May-Belle is the only woman I know who uses that term.) and beat on it to wake her husband up to let her in.  I wanted to know which door she went out of and came back in and what the cat was doing while she was framming on it, but May-Belle was so into her telling I couldn’t interrupt.  She relates all this to the full moon, too.  She says that none of them are taking hormones, but she has some pills she recommended after testing them on herself.  May-Belle also claims people, especially women, are closer to having nervous breakdowns on the full moon than whenever.

All that women stuff was all right with the customers, but I couldn’t understand how they could be so accepting of her half-formed-angels-dropping-from-the-sky.  Or at least of what became of them or they became.  I liked the idea.  I think it’s downright beautiful and like God to think of it.  And I think that if everybody would just listen to May-Belle explain it before they get their feathers ruffled, they’d see how beautiful the concept is.  But people aren’t tolerant.  I’ve never found them so.  I wish I could say otherwise, but my experience doesn’t permit same.

I’ll admit, when I first tuned in May-Belle’s angels-dropping, I thought she was telling me her version of my mama’s version of Mother Goose—when it snows, Mother Goose is plucking her geese.  Which didn’t make too much sense, either, since I couldn’t figure out why Mother Goose would pluck fellow geese, a plucked goose being something on the order of a plucked chicken, which was just about as dead a duck as could be wished.  Still, I did enjoy thinking of the little snow feathers dancing their way down like down.

But since I got my childhood story of snowflakes all mixed up with May-Belle’s angels-falling, I can half-way understand the big mix-up in our town.

Suddenly there’s all this news in the local paper about the B-I-G Christmas Parade coming.  The idea, the paper said, was May-Belle Summerlin’s.  The theme was “Angel Babies,” and all local groups can enter, and there’ll be prizes for the entries best fulfilling the “Angel Babies” theme.  Sam went on and on about how stupid it was to set the whole deal square on these stupid “Angel Babies,” and I just listened and looked at him from under my eyebrows when he wasn’t looking to see if he had a clue.  He didn’t.  And I wasn’t about to set him straight.  He was already too straight in my book.  Tolerance is not high on Sam’s grace list.

I tried to feel May-Belle out on the subject, but I could never get to May-Belle’s Beautician Parlor at a time anymore when I could catch May-Belle alone.  Her customers were as excited as pie, and I didn’t want to play Doubting Thomas or Judas Iscariot.

Sam kept asking me about the plans for the BIG PARADE, but I had to hear from Essie May Sutton in May-Belle’s Beautician Parlor that Sam’s own Eastside Swamp Hunting and Fishing Club was having a float.  I didn’t say a word to Sam.  Which is one of my failings, but I thought in my heart of hearts, when the juice to stew in about this collected, Sam ought to be left to stew in it.

May-Belle’s Beautician Parlor’s float was the last one in the parade, the GRAND FINALE, because May-Belle had come up with the idea.  Sam had sneaked off on his own, not bothering to tell me he was part of the Eastside Swamp Hunting and Fishing Club float, which was called “Snow Rabbits at Bay.”  But I recognized his feet sticking out big as always from under his white rabbit costume.  Their whole float, which kicked off the parade, probably because they were all men in the Eastside Swamp Hunting and Fishing Club and May-Belle and the other ladies wanted to show how tolerant they were of members of the male persuasion, was done in white snow.  Except for the parts of the “rabbits” that showed, like Sam’s work shoes (I wouldn’t of worn my work shoes on a parade float.), it was hard to tell the rabbits from the “snow.”  The two hunters were shooting from two “blinds” at the back of the truck cab.  Most of their bodies were covered up.  I guess they were lying stretched out, but they couldn’t of been because they were close to the cab.  Their guns looked real and weren’t white, but the two rabbit hunters were dressed in white.  I made a note to ask Sam if real rabbit hunters shot from blinds and wore white, but, with what happened and all, I never asked him.  But I do know we don’t have enough snow ever to do more than kiss the ground for about ten minutes.  Which was a big thing the men folks had against May-Belle’s theme from the get-go.

There were ten floats altogether—and about ten million snow babies.  I think the Westside Swamp Ladies Craft Club must have had at least two million on their float alone.  The Garden Club had a whole garden of the little porcelain figures growing out of tulip-looking leaves.  Miss Etta’s Kindergarten Play School had nothing but snow bunnies tumbling out of giant broken-open eggs and baskets.  The Beta Club from the high school had students dressed up in different white costumes and acting out different children’s activities.  This had to be the whitest White Christmas this side of Bing Crosby.  A few floats had angels and white gauze and some other variations, but generally speaking, snow babies were the thing.

Which was just what I’d feared.  Thank goodness Senator Helms hadn’t been able to accept his invitation.

Everybody was getting pretty bored with snow babies, and my heart leaped with the thought they might go on home instead of waiting for the mayor to make his winners announcements from the reviewing stand.  But it was not to be.

This little ripple of excitement just ripped of a sudden and moved down Main Street like a cyclone.  May-Belle’s Beautician Parlor’s float had been seen by the first spectators.  She’d decorated it in her ex-husband’s barn.  May-Belle and Petrie were still on good terms, but he was married to a girl that used to waitress in Petrie’s Bar & Grill Parlor.  I don’t know whether Petrie even knew about it.  He just did the heavy stuff and left the decorating to May-Belle.

Up over everything was this waist-up Princess Di with big white angel wings.  There was this life-size cardboard Tom Hanks all eaten-away-looking from AIDS in that movie Philadelphia.  May-Belle had strung that “invisible” wire from four poles at the corners of the truck bed and had all these little waist-up figures seated on white angel wings and looking like they were flying.  Things being normal, she should of won hands down.  I couldn’t see them all as the float rolled by, but she had Jim Nabors, Rock Hudson, a British Royal Family member I still can’t name, that Ellen from TV, and the Tiptoe-Through-The-Tulips Man.  I think May-Belle had him wrong because he married a “Miss Vickie” in a TV wedding, but I was young and might not remember right.  Knowing May-Belle, I’d bet she rooted out every known one since Creation.

The clincher was the big sign on the back end of the float which said “Complete An Angel.  Help Homosexuals.  Homosexuals Are Half-Formed Sweet Angels Who Never Got To Grow Up.”

I’m sorry to report May-Belle had to move out of town.  She still has her shop, but I’m the only regular who’s regular now.  They come back only when there’s some big event and Lu Lu on the other end of town is booked solid.  May-Belle bought a little trailer which Petrie hauled over to the Wildwood Artist Colony about twenty miles out of town.  It’s been there forever, and people used to call it the “Wild Beasts” Artist Colony, but they’d pretty much forgotten about it until it took in poor May-Belle, which was a wonderful thing to do, though I don’t expect too many of the ladies from the Wildwood Artist Colony go in for beauty treatments.  Petrie won’t let May-Belle starve, and she keeps on working away but is kind of low-down in her spirits and not the bright spot in my life she used to be.  She did win this “Gays Salute Citizen Angels Award” from a national homosexual organization.  Her story made quite a splash and put our town on the map.  You may have seen May-Belle on Oprah.  But, would you believe?  Petrie and his young wife and I were the only three that went when May-Belle’s award was presented.  Not one of her seven children.  Sam forbid me to go, but I just looked at him hard and went.

Notes about this story:

It won First Prize in the Talus and Scree Contest, 1998, and was published in Talus and ScreeAn International Literary Journal.  It is also featured on the Talus and Scree Webpage.

As a play, Half-Formed Angels Fall from the Sky was a Panelist’s Choice in Playwriting, Eighth Annual Last Frontier/Edward Albee Theatre Conference, Prince William Sound Community College, Valdez, Alaska, June 9-19, 2000, and the winner of the Gilbert Theater 2001 One-Act Play Competition.  Production, April 2002, Gilbert Theater, Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Former college president Dr. Lynn Veach Sadler has published widely in academics and creative writing, has a story in Del Sol’s Best of 2004, won the 2006 Abroad Writers Contest/Fellowship (France), has published a novella, and has a novel and a short story collection forthcoming.  A play on Frost was a Pinter Review Prize for Drama Silver Medalist; one on Iraq won Wayne State’s 2008 Pearson Award.

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