Short story by Fred Leeds
Submitted for your more than routine consideration, one Charlie Smith, a reformed, once habitual alcoholic. That is how things seem from Charlie’s point of view anyway. To put it more truly though less charitably, Charlie is an alcoholic who is habitually reforming. Today, truth and charity will join hands at last, however, for Charlie has an appointment with destiny. The paper bag which he so casually carries will no longer hold its usual high-proof content but something else altogether. Today, Charlie will peer into his bag and bottle of false salvation and find a miracle.
Our curtain opens on Heaven, where two angels are discussing Charlie’s fate.
“There he is, stoned right on schedule,” says Angel One, who is acquainted with such things. In his days on earth, he had a certain taste for the grape, which he conquered through hard struggle. As he speaks, he pokes a bony finger through a celestial cloud and points to earth.
The cloud clears and Charlie appears, reeling down Main Street as usual.
“You’re right, by God, or should I say by the devil? He does seem rather hopeless,” says Angel Two.
Unaware that he is being monitored from Heaven, Charlie obeys his customary inclination and reaches into his paper bag. To his dismay, it now holds not liquor but an odd, sophisticated-looking camera. “I’ve gone over the edge,” he decides aloud. He tries to pick up the device with a forefinger and calloused thumb, but it tumbles from the bag onto the sidewalk. It bounces toward a tree by the side of the road. Blinking on and off, it ejects something onto the ground: a snapshot of the tree.
The image begins to double, and right before Charlie’s eyes a second tree springs to life. From thin, bare outlines it sprouts leaves; birds swoop onto its branches, lending their winged brightness to the colors of the new leaves; and the tree begins to sing:
“You are the bridge to always was, the source that takes flight in things.”
Covering his mouth with his hand, Charlie thinks, “It’s singing to itself and the first tree at the same time! But how in the world can such a things be happening at all?”
Still dutifully monitoring things from above, Angel One frowns. He records this note in his copy of the angels’ book of accounts: “Mr. Smith becoming involved with occult forces. Mr. Smith must be salvaged by standard means, and soon.” Standing beside Angel One but otherwise in a distinct corner of eternity, Angel Two projects his mind’s eye onto Charlie’s sleeping insight. As if on his own Charlie thinks, “The trees are close, closer than brothers, because they come from Heaven.”
“And I am your brother, Charlie. We are the trees and the bridge to always was, we ourselves. There is another Heaven, Charlie, a human Heaven, a feeling Heaven, a Heaven wherever you are.”
“A heaven wherever I am,” Charlie thinks as he falls to his knees. “Father, please help me, something is happening to me that I don’t understand.” From behind the curtain of time Father appears, but it is Charlie’s earthly father, trailed by bags and bottles. “Drink up, little Charlie. Drink life to the dregs.”
And as before little Charlie cries, “I am not a dreg. I myself am not a dreg.”
Angel One cries out above, unable to bear the rush of Charlie’s awareness and its truth. Angel Two now strides forward now in the full majesty of his difference, in all his unveiled humanness. “You are not the dregs, Charlie. You yourself are the first tree and the second, the angel and the human, the source and its product. Remember the bridge to always was. My own work is done.” He releases his mind’s eye from its hold on Charlie. The camera and photograph, the props that he secretly sent there, now disappear.
Charlie rises from his knees as from a dream, pinches his right hand with his left and laughs. He looks at the paper bag where it lies on the ground, but he can see at a glance that it is empty.