Last Judgement, Stefan Lochner, panel painting, 1435
Stefan Lochner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

To begin with, it was a perfectly normal Tuesday: the usual saunter into the office, greeting people en passant – even if, in some cases, it was still only a frowningly vexed look, stepping aside. As usual, he too stepped aside as the door slid open, to let others through.

‘You all right, Dan?’ The security man looked strained. He shook his head. Yea… ‘cept something feels not the same…’ He tailed off, still seeming anxious.

‘Coming down with something?’

He shrugged by way of reply.

Up in his office, his P.A. having as always, beautifully timed it, brought in the cafetière, set down the tray, and began to pour his first cup. Something distracted her, and, while a quantity of it went into the saucer, a larger quantity ended up on his lap. While they both staunched the flow with tissues, he saw that she was quietly sobbing.

‘It’s all right, Kate, honestly, all right. The little blighter been kicking you all night?’

‘No, Mr. Carmichael… I had the best night’s sleep for ages.’ He wondered why ever women never had proper handkerchiefs, just tiny scraps of tissue, or even tinier scraps of something embroidered and too delicate to receive – and contain –  a good blow – to say nothing of mop up spills…

When she came back from her little room, she still looked haggard, eyes anxiously darting left and right, so he said, very gently, ‘Look, Kate: if you want to go home, I’ll happily sign you off for the day…’ Unfortunately, this called forth more tears, great silent drops, falling, and failing to be forestalled by the oblique movements of her index finger as, unprompted, she subsided into a chair.

When he got back from having slid the sign on his door from ‘Open’ to ‘DO NOT DISTURB’,he could see that she was somewhat composed.

‘Mr. Carmichael, I had a dream in the night. Most of my dreams are rubbish – broken up, scattered fragments of yesterdays, or … just rubbish…’

‘A frightening dream…?’

‘Typical woman, you’ll think, can’t make up her mind. It was both  – terrifying, rather than frightening – and at the same time infinitely reassuring. You’re going to say’ (he wasn’t) ‘a pre-view of labour and birth’. No, there was a promise of a happiness beyond anything I’ve ever known, a scent of the ‘Spring Freshness’ all those adverts with their sunlit pictures of clothes-lines in orchards, with the blossom on the apple-trees. Yet suddenly, I was filled with guilt and horror. Why?’

He felt sure that she did not wish him to attempt an answer.

‘I know I shouldn’t be the judge of this, but I dare to think I’m not a great sinner – that, perhaps, my sins are more of omission than actual commission, but…’

They both looked downwards at this.

‘Then, today, as we ’ she gave her barely-perceptible bump a fond smile, and maternal rub, ‘came into work this morning, I thought I could catch faint snatches of that dream-aroma. Tell me, am I going potty, or did you…?’

He’d moved to the window, where a peculiar light seemed to have been growing, then turned and made his way almost reluctantly back to his chair, sitting, nose, upper lip, and prayer-like finger-tips together.

‘ Kate, you’re definitely not ‘potty’ – or, if you are, I’m going potty too. I dismissed it on my way in this morning… yes I’d passed at least one Hamamelis Mollis and several Viburnums giving their unregarded all – “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air” – and a Daphne or two, but there seemed to me an unaccountable newness, as well as these intermittent bursts of fragrance, in our dull, stale world – and now, just look at that literally fantastic light.’ The light was blooming, beaming, flooding in and round everything. Typical male that he was, he turned to the less-embarassingly prosaic. ‘I know I referred earlier to ‘the little blighter’: you’ve not had one of those ultra-sound things…?’

‘I found myself saying no, not giving Alex a chance to have his say. I just thought ‘let the little thing have some modesty, some privacy, for Heavens’ sake!’ besides…’

Silently, this praeternatural light had drawn them to the window, where they both saw scurrying movements, people in panic, people lost, people falling to the ground.

‘My father,’ he quietly observed, ‘as an ARP warden, once saw, as he put it, what seemed like the entire cat-population of the Town, streaming for the hills, before the sound of the bomb or its shock-wave ever reached him…’

So now, wave upon wave of milling people, headed for the North, colliding, obstructing, trampling, careless of others, mob-minded.

He would have put an arm round his PA’s shoulder, had it not seemed utterly out of place.

The sound, when it came, was both unbearably strident and infinitely calming: to those heading for the hills, it seemed to add demonic urgency to their muscles, allowing quite portly old men the agility to leap over piles of the gasping fallen, only for them, in turn, to be trampled down.

Somehow, they were both on their knees.

To some, no doubt, the trumpet-sound was like the worst siren or klaxon-warning imaginable; to some, perhaps, it was like the sound of the Shofar, as sounded in Jerusalem before AD 70; Richard Wagner might have heard it as all, and more than all, he’d ever imagined – and probably felt compelled to go and get his instrument-makers to come up with yet more fantastic Horns and Tubas. Certainly, many of the scurriers they saw were now out of their wits, desperate to hide themselves, yet every object – hoarding, bus-shelter, row of cars, line of bins, shadowy car-park entrance, disintegrated, dissolved, and disappeared; so too, did their clothing, smart city-suits becoming thread-bare, then rags, then not even rags. As, astounded, he watched, he saw that his own hum-drum but neat suit was being transformed- perhaps it was the light which now had a strange intensity, far beyond even the most Californian brightness, not burning but calming and assuaging. As he seemed to be floating, he looked around, and saw Kate floating too, smiling radiantly as she clutched to herself a tiny child; just a little further off was his Wife, as on their Wedding-day, and their two children plus a third form, Cherub-like, which it took him some tearful moments to recognise as the little miscarriage…

From what seemed now like fathoms of depths away, the cries of (he thought) all those rat-like scurriers were dwindling, dwindling into a barely-audible noise, like the distant rustling of fallen leaves.

He was conscious now of an upwards movement, if upwards was the right word. Dan, he saw, was ahead of him, turning towards him, smiling triumphantly, and, Londoner that he was, giving him the thumbs up.

The upwards movement seemed ineluctably to continue, and he found he was in a long corridor, still imbued with that radiance of earlier, still redolent of that incense-like fragrance. Ahead, were some doors, lustrous and gleaming.

The man at the door, who seemed huge, and rough – great hairy, muscular arms and hands like hams – he felt ought to be addressed as ‘Sir’: this, however, elicited a bellow of a laugh, and a friendly bat on the shoulder that nearly sent him flying.

Without a word, he took a key from his waist, unlocked the gate, and virtually thrust him through, decisively locking behind him.

In here, although such terms as ‘in’ – as before with ‘upwards’, and ‘now’ – seemed somehow quaintly out of place (as did that thought ‘out of place’), he was aware of being simultaneously among a great company, and yet alone.

Just as he was beginning to shudder, a powerful hand on his right shoulder re-assured him.

Despite the all-powerful light – perhaps because of it – his senses spoke to him of an august figure just out of sight, to his right.

His unuttered question was answered, ‘Your Guardian Angel.’

© Jethro 2022