An Angel at the Table

December 11, 1991

A short story by Craig Cormick

The O'Neill family had just sat down to dinner when the angel rang the front door bell. Neil O'Neill, with his knife and fork poised over his first plate of casserole and gravy, frowned and looked at his wife, Mary.

She quickly thrust a mouthful of potatoes into her mouth and looked back at him fixedly.

Neil O'Neill considered swallowing his own mouthful of food and staring back at her just as fixedly — but instead he turned to look at his daughter Mary and his son Neil. Both quickly forked in large amounts of chewy casserole that would obviously render them unable to communicate for at least five minutes.

Staring somewhat regretfully at his dinner, Neil O'Neill slowly pushed his chair back and made his way to the front door. As he reached up to the handle, the doorbell range again. Neil scowled. The Mormons always did that! He opened the door and peeped out cautiously.

"Mr O'Neill!", the angel said and stepped over the threshold. "May I?", he said as he walked past Neil O'Neill and went over and sat at the table.

"Good evening", he said to the O'Neill family. "Braised steak casserole, I see", he added, nodding at the meal set before him, and began helping himself to Mr O'Neill's dinner.

Neil O'Neill, still standing at the door, peeped out cautiously to see if there was anybody else there, before closing the door. His family, their mouths full of chewy casserole, their eyes rolling wildly, looked over the angel's broad white wings toward Neil O'Neill. He could only stare back at them, rolling his own eyes, equally unable to speak.

No one moved for a few minutes until the angel cleared his throat and said politely, "Could I have some more, please?". He handed Mrs O'Neill his plate and then turned over his shoulder to Neil O'Neill. "And could you defrost the pie in the bottom of the freezer, please?"

"I prefer angel pie of course", he said, looking back to the children, then broke into a grin. "That's a joke."

The children didn't know whether to smile or not. Neil decided he would. Mary decided it would be better if she didn't.

After swallowing another large mouthful, the angel looked squarely at the younger Neil O'Neill and said, "Could you get me a drink, please?"

The younger Neil O'Neill blinked and then nodded.

"Bring in a bottle of your dad's Chivas Regal", the angel said. "Not the one that you've been sipping from — the one he hides in

He turned to look for Neil O'Neill, who was standing behind him. "The pie is in the bottom drawer of the freezer", he said, "right next to you".

Neil O'Neill nodded and dug out the pie.

"Five minutes in the microwave on medium", the angel said and then turned his attention back to the table. He took another large mouthful of casserole and then looked squarely at Mrs O'Neill.

"This is one of your better casseroles", he said. "As good as your mother's or better."

Mrs O'Neill mumbled that it was just quickly thrown together really, and — for some reason she couldn't quite explain — she blushed.

The angel stared at her a moment, let a broad smile spread across his face — it could only be described as angelic — and patted her on the forearm. "May I tell you something else?", he said.

Mrs O'Neill batted her eyelids, blushed a little more, turned her best profile towards him and, ignoring the presence of the rest of her family, said softly, "Please do!"

"Well", said the angel slowly, "the fact is, your mother used to cook this exact same casserole especially for her husband, knowing full well that he couldn't stand it either".

Mrs O'Neill shot a quick glance at her husband — all too aware of the presence of the rest of her family.

Suddenly the microwave pinged and everybody turned around.

"Um — the pie's ready", Neil O'Neill said.

"Splendid", said the angel. "Bring it over here — and draw up a chair for yourself."

Neil sat down beside the angel, cut and served him some pie and felt — for some inexplicable reason — that he had to make small talk.

"Do you have many home visits?", he asked timidly.

The angel continued eating for a moment before looking up and answering, "Not nearly enough".

Neil O'Neill nodded, not sure what the angel had meant exactly by that.

"Well, you're the first angel we've ever had at our table", he offered, attempting to laugh at the comment, but the chuckle quickly died of loneliness.

The angel paid no attention. Instead he reached out for the largely uneaten plates of Mrs O'Neill and the two children, saying, "Not nd proceeded to add it all to his own plate.

Neil O'Neill tried twice more to interject some banality, but all he could think of were his normal dinner conversation topics: whether the angel had seen any good films lately, or what type of car he drove. He decided that silence would be more sufferable than humiliation.

After the angel had finished off the last of the meal, he pushed his chair back from the table, smiling broadly.

"You left a piece of pie", was all Mrs O'Neill could say.

"Ah — I must watch my figure", the angel said, standing up, "Got to keep the weight down a little — flight mass velocity and all that, you know." He flapped his wings a little to demonstrate the point.

Then he added, "But I wouldn't mind taking some food with me". As he said it, he walked over to the kitchen cupboards, took out two large Superbarn plastic bags from his robes and proceeded to fill them with the entire contents of the food shelves, jars and all. The only things he left behind were Weet-Bix. He tied the tops of the bags together and, holding them both in one hand, strode to the door.

"I've got a few more dinners to attend this evening", he said, "and this will make a big improvement over cold baked beans". He raised the other hand in a short wave and added, "Don't get up, I'll let myself out". Then he was gone.

The O'Neill family sat in total silence for a very long period before anybody moved. Neil O'Neill — the younger Neil O'Neill — poured himself a large glass of his father's Chivas Regal, downed it in one swallow and then poured another.

Neil O'Neill — the elder — was about to say something to him when the doorbell rang again. The family all looked at him. He looked back. They all looked past him to the door. He rose and let their gaze push him along.

As he reached up to the handle, the doorbell rang again. Neil O'Neill scowled. He opened the door and peeped out cautiously. It was the Mormons!

Neil O'Neill looked at them resignedly. "Come in", he said. "I don't suppose your mob eat Weet-Bix, but we do have a little pie left."

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