I owe this story to my daughter Diana. We were talking one day and she gave me the outline for it. I asked her permission to write it up. She graciously agreed. Diana this one’s for you.
It came to her at the end of a horrible day, concluding the last miserable week of a wretched month. Sara Jones was sixteen at the time, and she thought of it for the rest of her life in capital letters: “THE DREAM.”
During the thirty-day stretch of torment preceding THE DREAM, Sara discovered she had failing grades in three of her six high school classes, and her parents were divorcing. Her closest friend moved to Australia. In a two-word text (“Wr dn”), her boyfriend broke up with her. The next day he sent Sara a snap chat video of him and her older sister making out.
On the morning of the day of THE DREAM, Sara awoke to a warm breeze fluttering the curtains on her window carrying with it the sweet scent of blooming lilacs. Red-tinted morning sunlight winked through the moving curtains. The clatter of pans being removed from a cupboard and dishes placed on the dining room table drifted up from downstairs. Sara luxuriated in the prospect of a perfect late spring Saturday confident that life had dealt her its worst. From here on out, all the cute boys would flock to her, the queen bees grovel at her feet, especially that bitch Corinne, and all things designer would be on sale.
Sara stretched and shrieked in agony as someone dragged cheese graters across her arms and shoulders. Two hours later, at the hospital, a surprised ER doctor (“highly unusual in a person your age”) diagnosed the red blotchy welts on her arms and shoulders as shingles.
Home from the hospital, Sara stared at the sandwich on the plate in front of her in an opiate-induced haze that reduced the fire on her arms and shoulders from a 10 to 9.5, as her mom announced they were moving from their home near Boston to Meadow, Utah.
That evening, her pain having subsided somewhat, 6?, 6.5?, Sara insisted on taking her dog Patches on their nightly walk. Ten minutes into their stroll, Patches darted away after a passing garbage truck, ripping the leash from Sara’s hand.
Sara hobbled after Patches, her pain inching up the scale. Patches caught up with the truck just as it hoisted a garbage can upward. Somehow, Patches’ leash became caught in the truck’s machinery yanking him off the ground. He sailed high over the truck’s edge and in a million-to-one-no-one-would-ever-believe-it-if-you-wrote-it-in-a-story moment, arced right into its compactor. Patches’ squeals sounded high over the compactor’s motors crushing the trash, and Patches, into a solid cube of refuse.
That night, after hours tossing and turning gingerly on her bed, Sara finally rested her head on her tear-soaked pillow and collapsed into oblivion.
She found herself seated on a park bench beneath a cloudless, robin’s egg sky. Her pain had vanished. A breeze caressed her smooth unblemished skin, stirring the trees behind her into whispers. The breath of wind perfectly balanced the sun’s heat into glowing warmth enveloping her entire body. Glancing down, she ran her hands across the Gucci Silk Duchesse Dress she’d been admiring just the other day.
A wide, manicured lawn stretched from the bench down to a sparkling lake. The scent of new mown grass and honeysuckle transported her back to a magical summer she had spent with her aunt and uncle. This must be a dream, she thought. But it was unlike any dream of Sara’s young life. This dream lacked the vagueness and indefiniteness of a dream. Reality pervaded this dream; she was more alive than when she was awake.
Maybe she had finally achieved her goal and was in a lucid dream, something she had attempted many times before without success. She turned her head to the sky and imagined herself floating upward from the bench into the heavens.
“It’s not that sort of dream.”
The voice startled Sara. She lowered her head. “Grandma, what are you doing in my dream?” She had a horrible thought. “You’re not…dead are you?”
“No, I mean, yes…wait just a second.” Her grandmother lifted her left hand palm upward and using the index finger of her right hand appeared to manipulate something on her palm as if it were a touchscreen. “That shouldn’t…where is it? Ah, there’s the problem. Now I just need to…there that’s got it.”
Her grandmother disappeared replaced by a tall woman with a kind, familiar face. Sara was certain she had met her before and affection was associated with the meeting, but she couldn’t place the circumstances. The woman wore a simply tailored, blindingly white gown. Her hair, each strand neatly in place, was the color of fresh, untrammeled snow. Her attractive face was tanned and lined, but not heavily, just enough to project mature wisdom from a well-lived life. Her age was indeterminate; she could have been thirty or sixty.
Sara stared at this new apparition with narrowed eyes. “You’re not my grandmother then?”
“No,” the woman shook her left hand and frowned at it. “My appearance generator is supposed to produce an image that is authoritative yet comforting, without being overly familiar. I’m afraid the familiarity setting was just a little high.”
“You’re not dead then?”
“Certainly not, I’m an angel, and I’m here to deliver a message.”
Sara cocked her head and eyed the woman. “Where are your wings?”
The woman waved away her objection. “Popular misconception based on past abuses of appearance generators by some of my more whimsical compatriots.”
Sara rolled her eyes. She was already tiring of this part of the dream and wished she’d move right to the part where she could fly and change things around. “Fine, whatever, give me the message and leave, so I can get on with my dream.”
“Sara, I really am an angel.”
Sara regarded her with skepticism. “An angel? I don’t think so.” Sara again surveyed the surrounding beauty. “No, you’re part of my dream, a particularly annoying part, at the moment.” Sara turned her gaze back to the woman. “But I can’t seem to make you disappear so, if my subconscious has a message for me, I—”
The woman transformed into a brilliant pulsing ball of light brighter than anything in Sara’s experience. Sara screwed her eyes closed and averted her head at the change, but the light shone through as if her eyelids were no barrier at all. Parting her eyelids a fraction, Sara found to her surprise that she could look at the light directly despite its blazing intensity. Moreover, compassion, acceptance and kindness flowing from the light in great waves, overwhelmed her, filled her with awe, drove her to her knees and bowed her head. The light winked out.
Sara raised her head. The woman was back. She reached down and helped Sara to her feet.
“Sorry about that. It’s against the rules, but I had to convince you, and I’m really rather busy at the moment.”
Sara shook off her confusion. “Wow. Okay, you’re an angel. But…” Something the angel had said when it looked like grandma. “I asked if you were dead and you said yes.”
“Ah, well,” the angel said with chagrin, “about that, I’m afraid there was a slight miscommunication. I’m not dead as you can see.”
Sara stared at the angel, understanding flooding her mind. “Grandma’s dead.”
The angel nodded. “It happened just after you fell asleep. You’ll receive official word when you wake up.”
Sara tried to feel bad, grandma had lived with them for several years when she was younger and, during that time, had prepared most of the meals, taken her to dance and cheerleading practice, and tucked her in at night with hauntingly beautiful lullabies. But, hey, everyone dies, and an immensely powerful being had a message just for her.
“So, you have you have something to tell me?”
The angel squared her shoulders and seemed to increase in height. Her voice rang out reverberating through the immensity of the landscape of Sara’s dream. “Sara Jones, you have been weighed and found worthy. Your exemplary responses to the extreme challenges of your young life have garnered you the blessings of heaven on earth. In two years on May 18 you will purchase a lottery ticket at the convenience store on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and 58th Street. It will be the sole, winning ticket for a prize of Eight Hundred Fifty Eight Million Five Hundred Ninety Thousand Three Hundred Twenty-Six Dollars and Four Cents. You will use your wealth to alleviate the suffering of millions of your fellow beings and at the end of a long and blessed life in others’ service will be received into the Divine Presence to dwell eternally in everlasting glory.”
Sara was stunned. Sure, she’d had a difficult month, but she couldn’t bring to mind any way in which she’d been particularly noble and, in fact, now that she considered it, some might view sabotaging her boyfriend’s chance to make the varsity basketball team so he could spend more time with her or kicking Patches when she found out about her grades to be less than exemplary. Ah well, gifts and horses and all that.
“Okay,” she said, drawing the word out. “I just have a few questions.”
The angel huffed, glanced at her right wrist and actually tapped her foot with impatience.
“So, you said something about al..al—”
“Alleviating the suffering of millions of your fellow beings,” the angel finished quickly, clearly anxious to be about some other business.
“Yeah, that. But I can use this money for myself too, right? I mean, since I’ve been so good and all.”
The angel stopped tapping her foot and narrowed her eyes fractionally. “Yes, certainly, as long as you don’t go overboard.”
“Meaning your compassionate heart should warn you of excessive selfishness and act as a natural brake on any self-centered impulses you might encounter. Look, is that it? Because I really have to go.”
Sara knew she should have a million questions, but her mind blanked. She shook her head.
“Wonderful. I look forward to meeting you at your life’s end.”
Sara opened her eyes to sun streaming through her window.
The next two years dragged. Sara quit high school because what, after all, was the point? She refused to move with her mother to Utah, instead passing the time living with friends and distant relatives–the length of her stay determined by the time it took her host to stop recognizing Sara’s superiority and fulfilling her basic needs, which admittedly from a certain cramped perspective could be seen as substantial, but which Sara more realistically understood as barely adequate to her divine position.
In the end, having run out of friends and family willing to take her in without compensation, Sara resorted to promises of extravagant wealth which she delivered with such sincerity and conviction that she managed to remain housed and fed until two years had passed.
On March 18 two years after THE DREAM, Sara stood across the street from the convenience store on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and 58th Street. She was poised to collect her reward and begin living a fabulous life. She’d already planned her first purchases; she had her eye on several exquisite Louis Vuitton dresses, Prada handbags and shoes and, of course, homes in New York and Los Angeles and probably a private jet for the commute. Sure, she probably should help people too, but there was plenty of time and money for that later.
Sara waited for the light to change. Across the street, a young woman her age walked towards the convenience store. She looked familiar. Just before entering the store, the girl paused and turned toward Sara. Their eyes locked. It was like looking in a mirror–if you fixed the hair disaster and gave her decent clothes and some makeup.
The girl smiled and turned away. Sara frowned. Just as the light turned green for her to cross, Sara’s phone text alert sounded. She pulled the phone from her pocket. Ugh, it was from her mother and long. She didn’t have time for this–destiny awaited. She crammed her phone back into her pocket.
Distracted by the riches across the street and angry at her mother for annoying her on the cusp of greatness, Sara stepped out into the street without seeing the car on her left whipping around the corner in a right turn and catapulting her thirty feet in the air.
Sara opened her eyes. She was on the bench from THE DREAM, but on the lawn before her a woman sat behind a desk glancing through a folder. Sara rose from the bench and marched up to the desk. “Where am I?” Sara said.
The woman closed the file and regarded Sara coolly. “You’re dead.”
Sara laughed. “That’s not possible. I can’t be dead. I’m supposed to win the lottery and live a long life and go to heaven. There must be some mistake.”
The woman smiled with indulgence. “You are,” the woman glanced down at the folder, “Sara Jones correct?” Sara nodded. “Then there’s been no mistake. Where did you get this idea you’d win the lottery, live a long life and go to heaven?”
Sara gaped in astonishment which quickly turned into indignation. “The angel, she told me. Two years ago in a dream in a place just like this. She promised me.”
The woman frowned and opened the file again studying the contents carefully. She glanced up at Sara. “An angel you say, in this place?”
Sara nodded vigorously. “Damn straight,” she said her voice rising, “an angel in this place.” They’d better straighten this out fast so she could get back to her plans.
The woman pursed her lips in disapproval then looked straight ahead. Her eyes lost focus. Moments later the angel from THE DREAM appeared next to the desk adjusting her dress.
“Finally,” Sara said. “Tell her what you promised me about the lottery and get me back to earth.”
The angel held up her left hand forestalling Sara and turned to the woman at the desk. “What are we looking at?”
The woman held up the folder and pointed to its contents. The angel studied the folder glanced at Sara and at the folder again and shook her head. The angel walked to Sara, took her gently by the elbow, and led her to the desk. “I think we can clear this up. Please place your hand on the desk, Sara.”
Sara laid her hand on the desk. The angel and the woman behind the desk leaned forward and studied her hand. They sighed in unison. The woman leaned back in her chair; the angel straightened up. Sara looked from one to the other. The woman looked away; the angel fidgeted with her hands.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” the angel said finally. “Sara, there’s been a mistake.”
“Mistake?” Her voice squeaked despite her attempt to sound calm.
“Yes, about the lottery ticket. It seems you are the wrong Sara Jones. It’s a common name and you both look so much alike. I assumed you were the one.” The angel glanced at the seated woman. “I mean, what are the odds really?”
The woman nodded in sympathy. “Even for humans the resemblance was remarkable,” the woman said.
Turning to Sara, the angel said, “I should have sequenced your DNA before discussing the lottery ticket with you.”
Sara collapsed to the ground along with her shattered dreams. She wasn’t going back to earth to live in luxury; she wasn’t going back at all. She was dead–before all the good stuff. It wasn’t fair. She thought she should cry, she wanted to cry, but in whatever form she was, that was denied her.
After a time, she again noticed her surroundings–the perfect weather, the impeccable vibrant landscape–and remembered the second part of the angel’s promise. She levered herself to her feet and stood tall. She was strong. This reversal wouldn’t defeat her. She looked the angel squarely in the eye.
“Fine,” she said, “I forgive you. Let’s just skip to the part about eternal happiness in the Divine Presence.”
“Ah, well,” the Angel said, “about that….”