It Coulda Woulda Shoulda Been a Wonderful Life
Ellis stood on the platform edge, watching a grey-black ball of mouse dart around and under the tracks. How the mighty are fallen, he thought to himself. He didn’t know where he’d got that from — read it somewhere, probably, or maybe it was the title of an album he owned — but it neatly summed up his current situation. Him? On the tube? Public transport? Unthinkable. He accompanied the thought with a melodramatic sigh. He supposed there was something poetic — or did he mean metaphorical? — in his enemies driving him underground like this.
But he wouldn’t let them get him, couldn’t let them win. He’d have the last laugh. They’d find the money already gone — where to, if he was honest, even he couldn’t say — and soon he too would be well beyond their reach. He didn’t regret any of it — well, possible the business with Wilson, but Wilson was going to go to the authorities and no-one likes a tell-tale — and even the thought of the inconvenience his actions were about to cause sweaty crowd milling about the platform besides him only added an extra thin veneer of satisfaction.
Ellis smiled at the tracks, and, as if in harmony with his thoughts, the rails began to hum.
‘Hello, Ellis,’ said a voice at his shoulder.
Ellis started. He hadn’t seen the woman approach; didn’t know how he could have missed her. She was tall and slender, real supermodel material and looking the part, too, wrapped in a tiny gauze dress, hair and makeup straight from the cover of a magazine.
Still, her sudden appearance had startled Ellis, so he could hardly be blamed for being less than polite.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘What do I look like, Ellis?’
He looked her up and down (not for the first time). ‘One of them slutty angels from the deodorant ads.’
‘That’s what I am.’
‘The other thing.’
Ellis thought about this for a moment. ‘Bollocks,’ he said.
‘The human mind is incapable of comprehending our true appearance, so to save itself from certain insanity it instead substitutes some other image which will allow it to make sense of what it sees. Until very recently that was, more often than not, the likeness of Henry Travers. Right now I’m just pleased that you aren’t seeing Misha Collins.’
‘Exactly. Ellis, do you know why I’m here?’
‘To show me the error of my ways?’ he snarled.
‘I’m so glad when I don’t have to waste time explaining things,’ smiled the Angel, and took him by the arm.
Ellis immediately recognised the room they now stood in as his study, although when he’d last seen it it had contained far fewer policemen. A woman with a serious expression was directing their actions.
‘You’ll find more papers in the cabinet there — wait a moment and I’ll find you the key — and there’s a safe behind that hideous painting. The combination’s twelve oh-five nineteen-ninety-two, which is almost our wedding day, but not quite. He never could be bothered to get that right.’
‘What are you doing?’ screamed Ellis, running at and then through her.
‘They can’t see you and you can’t interact with them,’ explained the angel with a sigh. ‘I thought you understood how this worked?’
‘That’s my wife,’ said Ellis in disbelief. ‘What’s she doing?’
‘Looks a lot like revenge to me.’
‘What? Why is she doing this?’
The angel raised an immaculately plucked eyebrow.
‘That’s my wife,’ repeated Ellis. ‘She loves me.’
‘Oh, no,’ said the angel. ‘She doesn’t do that. Hasn’t for a long while, although I doubt even she could tell you exactly when she stopped. Maybe it was after your third affair, or the second time you hit her. A long while, either way.’
‘I — ’ began Ellis, but the angel cut off his protest with a finger to his lips.
‘I’m on a tight deadline.’
The room they now stood in was dark, lit only by a wedge of flickering grey-blue TV light, streaming around a half-closed door. A cot was squeezed between bed and wall. A baby’s sawing cry filled all the remaining space.
‘Strewth,’ said Ellis. ‘Make it stop.’
The angel moved to the cot, and as it did the crying subsided, sliding through happy gurgling into silence.
‘Thank you.’ Ellis looked around him at the room. ‘So why are we here, then?’
‘I thought you might like to see your son,’ said the angel, and the darkness in the room increased.
Ellis looked from the angel to the doorway, where a young woman stood, blocking off much of the light from beyond. She stood silently for a moment, listening intently, before withdrawing, happy that all now appeared to be well. Ellis followed her and watched as she rejoined a man on the small sofa, sinking back against him as he wrapped his arms around her. Their eyes remained on the screen as Ellis moved to stand unseen between them and it, regarding them casually.
‘Her.’ He said it quietly, almost thoughtfully.
‘She was an intern.’
‘I remember. Daddy issues.’ He smirked.
‘You took advantage of her.’
‘We both had a good time. No-one got hurt.’
‘She bore your child.’
‘Yeah, well, I offered to pay to have it sorted out.’
‘But she couldn’t go through with it.’
‘I did right by the kid. So who’s he?’
‘Five figures — low five figures, I might add — in return for a legally-binding promise that the child would never find out who his real father was. Your solicitors made it clear that this was the best deal she could expect, and if she didn’t sign she could expect far worse.’
‘He’s provided for. What more could I do? Now who — ’ Ellis jabbed a finger at the man on the sofa ‘ — is he?’
‘Her boyfriend. Are you jealous, Ellis?’
‘Me? Get away. I just don’t like the idea of strange men in the same house as my little boy.’
‘A child you have yet to lay eyes on,’ the angel reminded Ellis. It looked down at the man. ‘He has been in love with her for as long as he can remember. He watched as she ran around with you, waited until the inevitable happened and you cast her aside. Now here he is: with her at last, but raising another man’s child. He can’t look at the boy without think of you and her together. Neither can she. Can’t look at him without thinking about what might have been, if only she’d been a little more careful. Maybe you would have made good on your promise and left your wife.’
‘Silly cow. I was never — ’
‘The child will grow up with both parents hating him in their own way. That is the cancer you’ve planted in this family.’
‘Now that’s not — ’
The angel looked up, its eyes meeting Ellis’. There was no need for physical contact this time. The room they now stood in was better lit than the last, but only just. Pools of warm light fell across light-coloured furnishings, serving only to emphasise the surrounding gloom.
A woman sat in a deep armchair, unmoving, her legs drawn in under her and her eyes, red and ringed from crying, focused on some distant, desolate sight only she could see. Ellis leant down next to her, putting his face next to hers, examining it closely.
‘No,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to give me a clue.’
‘You killed her husband.’
Ellis drew back sharply, and then recovered almost as quickly, painting a huge grin across his face.
‘Well, well. I never realised Mrs Wilson was such a looker. Maybe I should pay the grieving widow a call, give her my condolences, if you know what I mean.’
‘You really are a piece of work,’ said the angel. They were back on the underground platform. A warm breeze blew from the tunnel mouth, ruffling the angel’s hair and its gauzy dress.
‘So what now?’ asked Ellis. ‘Is that it for your bit? One of your colleagues going to be along in a minute for the next instalment, are they? What’s it going to be, than? Show me the future? Or take me back to when I was just a young lad?’
‘I’m afraid not,’ said the angle with a slow shake of its head. ‘That would require time travel, which is impossible given the laws of physics. Are you a religious man, Ellis?’
‘If it will help straighten out whichever silly little misunderstanding we’re having here, then sure, why not.’ A thought suddenly occurred to him. ‘Hey, you’re not recruiting, are you? Is that what this is all about?’
‘No, Ellis,’ said the angel, somewhat sadly. ‘I can assure you that we already have more than enough undesirable followers.’ It continued quickly, before Ellis could object. ‘Personally, I blame Hollywood. They’ve given people some very strange ideas about us. If you were to read the source texts, even those watered-down versions in the Old Testament, then you would learn what we really are.’
‘Which is the righteous fury of a vengeful god,’ said the angel, and pushed Ellis from the platform.