Annabelle is looking for a sign of God.
She’s five years old and sitting in church with her grandmother, waiting for angels to appear. They ought to twirl down out of the preacher’s words, sparkling. Looking right at her.
They don’t come during the singing. Nor during the snack provided after services.
So Annabelle seeks elsewhere. At fifteen, she studies the face of a boy named Rupert. Her family approves, and they’re allowed to sit on the porch together. His forehead is sweaty. God is in all people. She tries to see Him in the glisten on Rupert’s brow, but mostly she thinks it’s a hot day and maybe Rupert is nervous to be sitting so close. She’s sweating too.
They marry at nineteen and have two kids and a late-term miscarriage that shocks Annabelle into grief. She’s starting to have doubts. No angels arrive to watch her weep.
Her family grows up. Rupert passes at fifty-four, his arteries squeezed shut by the kind of plaque everyone carries, a pale, waxy substance, the doctor explains, that accumulates much as workmen layer cement, until Rupert’s blood has nowhere to go.
It’s raining the day she meets her first grandchild. Soon there are five of them, small and dirty and sweet-smelling. She’s easy with them, more so than with her own children. She calls them devils when they come to her, holding out worms and candy.
Her grown children need her again now to watch their children. She’s starting to worry God is a metaphor. Some days, she’s too busy to worry.
By the time she gets to the end, she’s an old woman. Not as old as she hoped, but old enough.
Now is the moment for that tunnel of light, she thinks, though she’s heard it’s a trick of the failing eyes. Now is her last chance for a sign.
It’s bitter to be disappointed in the end.
Of course, maybe it’s coming after. Maybe she can’t touch it til she’s gone. She has a good hour in the hospital bed before her daughter Cammie arrives. Cammie’s flight back from Houston was canceled, so she’s rented a car, the nurse told her. Annabelle can no longer read her own phone.
But she has a remote control for the morphine, her thumb on the big grey button. She has the radio playing quiet hymns.
Maybe it’s the morphine, but in between bed checks, it comes clear to her. Everything’s that’s eluded her or seemed to. The florescent bulb flickers overhead. It’s what she’s been doing her whole life, without knowing. She needn’t hurry. For just a moment longer, she’s waiting here.