Terrence is washing his SUV when he sees a brown man in a short, white cape on a scooter. The scooter is loud, but Terrence can still hear the cape flapping in the wind. The man is headed toward the Thompsons’ house, the only black family in the neighborhood. Terrence always says hello if he passes them when walking his dog. Terrence wonders if they wouldn’t be happier in a black neighborhood.
Michelle is pruning the azaleas in her front yard when she sees a man in a puffy white coat on a bicycle. He is headed next door to the Thompsons’. Michelle is surprised to see a white man visiting black people. Michelle has always wondered how a black family could afford a house on this street. Michelle wishes they’d found another house somewhere else.
Rick is mowing his lawn when he sees a black man in a tiny white car drive up the street and pull into the Thompsons’ driveway. Rick doesn’t speak to the Thompsons. Rick gave his teenage son a dozen eggs to throw at the Thompsons’ house on Halloween. Rick has friends who have friends who can do a lot worse. All Rick needs to do is make a phone call.
Jackie Thompson is getting the mail when she sees an angel flying up the street. He’s heading straight for her house. In the moments before he arrives, she sees the neighbors watching. Jackie knows they’re all worried about property values. She doesn’t want to think what they’ll say about angelic visitors.
The angel lands softly on the front lawn. Hello, Jackie says to the celestial being. She isn’t afraid. She’s curious. The angel smiles and plucks a small, iridescent feather from his wing and places it in her hand. As the feather touches her palm, Jackie knows the angel’s name, which isn’t a word but a resonance. She knows how old the universe is. She knows the deafening music of a planetary birth.
She knows other things, closer to home: that Terrence embezzles funds from the charity he runs; that Michelle cheats on her taxes; that Rick hits his wife where no one else will see the bruises. And Jackie knows exactly how justice will find each of them.
She knows that she was chosen because a light inside her burns so bright, all the white people in the world can’t extinguish it. She knows that as the light grows brighter, it will leak out of her, changing her, changing everything.
When she comes to herself, the angel touches her cheek then flies-pedals-drives away. Trembling, Jackie takes the mail into her house and puts it on the kitchen counter. She carries the feather upstairs and places it in her jewelry box. Then she climbs onto the bed and curls up tight, gasping through her tears at the impossible beauty of the universe, and the fierce radiance of who she’s about to become.
Claudia Wair is a Virginia-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Reflex Fiction, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Writers Resist, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at @CWTellsTales.