Outwardly, the day I graduated from university was much like I had pictured it all those days at the airport, watching the planes fly away and dreaming — that is to say, not in Skye.
In all other respects, there was nothing similar at all.
I had been back to Skye regularly during the holidays and was even considering coming back for a higher degree, since — appropriately — the university in Skye was one of the few in the world that offered a Master’s in obsolete theology, and that was what I had studied. The only other university I knew of was somewhere on the other side of the world, and though I dreamed to fly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fly that far.
I had thought that Skye might change after the mansion was torn down, but it didn’t, not really. No one could bring themselves to build over the site, and so the tourists just came and gaped at the hole, making their own stories about what happened. I liked listening to them.
God wasn’t there anymore. He’d been quietly taken to a small psychiatric ward in Skye, where he anonymously lived with the other patients. Every day, one of his dark-haired archangel sons would come to visit him, slipping in and out like everyone else; slightly ashamed, fiercely loyal.
I’m not sure if the old stories held any more or less weight for me because of what happened. I do know I needed to learn more, which was why I chose to study them, not because I was interested in the stories themselves, but because I needed to contextualize and understand my experiences.
Four years later, I still hadn’t succeeded, and that’s why I wanted to continue learning. During university sometimes it was so maddening, all of the puzzles and riddles, that I had called Gabriel to ask him.
The first time I did it, he wasn’t pleased, and told me I was wasting his time. I might have been insulted, but even then I was learning to deal with the particular rudeness that Gabriel counted as communication. Despite this, though, he stayed. We only stopped discussing because I fell asleep.
I didn’t call him often, but regularly enough, and eventually he stopped complaining. He wouldn’t give me answers, but would debate readily enough. I think in some ways, if I could presume to understand an archangel, he was happy that I was learning the old stories. I didn’t know, and I couldn’t ask, but I imagined that being an archangel in a world where archangels simply didn’t exist could get lonely.
I didn’t tell my friends about him. It just didn’t seem like something I needed to say, and I was worried they’d misunderstand. The only time I’d tried to mention it, my friend only asked if archangels dated humans. The thought of the look on Gabriel’s face if I ever said such a thing made me laugh so hard my stomach ached, and she was so insulted she stopped speaking to me. I didn’t mention it again.
The day I graduated, though, was the first time I called him for no particular reason, not because I had a problem or a question or a riddle. I had hugged my parents and thrown my hat and listened to all the reasons I was going to Go Places, but something just seemed missing and the overwhelming ambiguity of the future was preying on me. So I begged a few minutes to myself and closed my eyes. It was so easy to call him now. I just thought, Gabriel, and he was there.
He hadn’t changed at all in the past four years, except for maybe squeezing in a few more tattoos. As usual, a cigarette was hanging from his fingers.
He surveyed me for a long second. I had meant to explain something, but wasn’t sure what or how.
“Well, you did it,” he said after a moment. “Congratulations.”
Coming from him, it was an enormously kind speech. “Thanks,” I said, and meant it. “I mean — thanks for everything. I don’t think I’d be standing here without you.”
Gabriel shuffled and shrugged.
“I don’t really know what’s next or what I’m doing, but — thanks to getting messed up with you crazy deities, I at least have an idea.”
At that, Gabriel offered me a crooked smile. “Hey,” he said, and it was the gentlest I had ever heard his gravelly voice. “Don’t be afraid.”
And in that moment, I wasn’t at all.
This is the final part of a multi-chapter fiction story entitled “Providence.” To catch all of the chapters, make sure to follow the publication and check the “Providence” tab at the top!