I originally wrote The Mucky Angel for a “Vintage Christmas” competition back in 2012. Here it is again for Christmas 2015, this time with music from the Memphis Repertory Orchestra and a festive audio visualiser that I put together in Blender. Producing this has been something of a learning process, and there are bound to be a few rough edges, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
The Mucky Angel
It was a cold day in late November when the angel first perched atop the tree. It was not like the angels that had come before. Where once little bulbs had flickered, LEDs now beamed their glorious light out into the sky. Where once a ratty cotton garment had swung glumly in the breeze, elegant synthetic fabrics now fluttered joyfully, wreathing the plastic limbs with silken life. And where once flaking paint had stood for features—eyes and nose—a head of polyethylene looked down upon the crowd, outsmiling the children far below. The angel was a marvel, sparkling with fifty colours atop the tree, but most marvellous of all was the sign it held before it. In shining liquid crystal, the sign blazed out its message to the crowd: “SEASON’S GREETINGS.” And the sign too blinked and flashed.
Yes, the angel was a marvel. And the angel knew this. It knew it in the happy faces of the shoppers, and it knew it in its own light. For nothing else upon that tree could outdo the angel. No bauble held such colour, no fairy light could shine so bright, and no elf or nutcracker could express in its smile such Christmas cheer. This the angel knew, and yet still a little voice whispered in its ear.
“No,” said Gabriel. “You are not a real angel. You are marvellous, but you are not real.”
The angel could not speak, could not change the letters on its sign, but its reply was clear. Beneath the polyester and plastic, deep within the angel’s heart, an electric waltz began. An orchestra of microchips began to play—timers labelled “555” plucking out their staccato beat—and to this tune the diodes danced, a flash of light for every step that met their feet. And though the angel had no voice, the opening notes of We Wish You a Merry Christmas rang out from the speakers placed about the tree. The shoppers and their children all joined in, and in that happy din, the voice of Gabriel could not be heard again.
The angel shone and brought forth music all Christmas long…at least, until the second or so of the twelve days, when it was placed gently in a cardboard box and set at the back of a storeroom in the old Town Hall. But this the angel did not mind, for it had many happy memories of its time upon the tree. It reminisced about the laughing faces of the children, the happy smiles of the shoppers, and the warm gaze shared between a young couple, who paused for just a moment by the tree on their merry way along the High Street. So pleasant were the angel’s recollections of that time that it was almost surprised when its box was opened once again, and there it was! November already.
So all through Advent the angel shone again, the brightest thing upon the tree. And when Gabriel came down to whisper “You are marvellous, yes, but you are not real,” it called up from the speakers the strains of Ding Dong Merrily on High and drowned out the archangel’s voice. And once again it looked down upon all the happy people, laughing children, smiling shoppers. And as always it smiled the same plastic smile to think how much joy it brought them to see that tree, and its dutiful angel right there at the top. Right up until nearly January, this year, the angel maintained that highest perch, dancing motionlessly with its electric light, and blazing always “SEASON’S GREETINGS” from that wondrous sign it held out in its hands.
But in this new year, the angel was not returned to its box. Back into the Town Hall’s storeroom it went, but this time the spiders spun their webs around it, woodlice played about its feet, and one unhappy silverfish found its way into the concert hall in the angel’s heart and died. And so the next Christmas, when the Mayor’s good friends came once again to bring the angel up to its place upon the tree, they found it coated with dust and grime and cobwebs.
“It’ll be alright, Dave,” said one of the men. “Just needs a quick brush off, that’s all.”
But when they plugged the angel in to check its lights, the husk of the silverfish sparked and fried, and half of that electric orchestra would never play again.
“Two hundred quid right down the drain there,” said Dave.
The other man shrugged. “They’re getting cheaper all the time. Stick that old star up there for now, and we’ll get in a new angel as soon as we can. Probably have it even before the lights go on.”
“What about this one, then?” Dave jabbed his thumb at the angel.
“That little park down by Mekka House always looks a bit bare. Put it up on one of the streetlamps? Lovely!”
And so that year the angel did not perch atop the tree. Instead, it spent its lonely days and nights strapped to a streetlamp down by Mekka House, and when Gabriel came down once more to whisper “No, you are not real,” it found it had no speakers to drown out that voice.
But just at the moment when Gabriel came, a toddling child paused in the park to look up and smile. And the angel, as best it could, beamed out that electric waltz—lopsided now, but in that child’s eyes as elegant as always—until the parents called to “Hurry up now, dear” and the whole little family trotted away. But their child would lead them back more than once in the weeks leading to Christmas Day.
Once more the angel was put back in the storeroom, this time with mulch in its clothes and leaves in its hair. It spent the year hoping that it would have next Christmas in the High Street, next Christmas on the tree, and yet when the Mayor’s friends came back in November they looked only at the mulch in the clothes and the leaves in the hair. They did not care how dutifully the angel shone out its waltz and held its lively “SEASON’S GREETINGS” sign. And so that next Christmas, the angel was not placed upon the tree, nor even in that little park by Mekka House, but down a dingy side-street halfway up a wall.
This time, the angel could not have argued with Gabriel, even had it had a voice. Soon, it knew, the whisper would come: “No, you are not real.” But the toddling child came again.
“Mummy!” she cried. “It’s here! It’s here!”
“Of course, dear! I told you we’d find your angel again.” But she too looked up disdainfully at the grubby robe, the mulch, the leaves. Nevertheless, they would return several times before Christmas day, to come and see the angel on its wall.
And so once more there came the time when the angel had to be put back in the storeroom. Here the spiders spun their webs again, and a family of mice made their nest in the angel’s hollow heel, broken open by some careless soul who, looking for some other thing, had knocked over a ladder. And when the Mayor’s friends came to decorate the tree once again, the angel knew it would not be chosen to take that brightest space up at the top.
“Might be time to chuck it, don’t you think?” Dave gave his companion cause for thought.
“Naah. The lights still work, don’t they? Set it up high somewhere and no one’ll notice the shabby patches. It’ll be a lovely Christmassy thing up in some forgotten corner.”
But when the angel was set to shine out once again, it transpired that the ladder had done more damage than had first been thought: this year its glorious sign could only say “SEASON’S GREE,” and this brought little cheer to those who passed beneath. Yet the angel ignored Gabriel’s words, waiting instead for the little child who would seek it out. But this time it was different.
“Here’s your angel, sweetie!” said the father, boots caked in snow. The angel was not nearly as close to the High Street as it had been before.
The little girl wrinkled her nose. “It’s mucky,” she said, squinting up at the mould and grime. “I don’t like it.”
“Oh…” the mother reached down to pat her on the shoulder. “It was never very pretty. But you were so much smaller when you saw it before. You liked it anyway.”
The angel didn’t listen to what else was said, and soon the family walked away. After that they did not visit anymore, and when the Mayor’s friends tried the angel in the next November, its little lights would hardly shine at all. Dave took the ladder from the storeroom and set the angel up above the side door of the Town Hall, in the little alley by the bins. That way, he considered, he would hardly have to carry it when January came.
No shoppers passing by stopped to gaze upon the angel then. No little child sought it out. Not even Gabriel came to whisper “You are not real,” because there could be no question now. But still the angel smiled, and still it watched, looking out over the low roof of the next building. And here it saw a curious thing.
There was a man who did not trudge towards the High Street, did not amble about the town. Always he came and stopped at this one little place. A place, the angel knew, where a jeweller lived. He came first with sketches, and then with a piece of paper that the angel’s eyes could see bore a most thoughtful inscription. And seeing this, the angel knew a gift was being made. The angel’s smile meant nothing to it now—because even when it wanted to, it could not frown—but when at last it saw that man pass by the house arm in arm with a laughing woman, it was as happy as it had been all those years ago, atop the tree. Sometimes the woman passed right by the jeweller’s house on her way into the town, and the angel itself could have laughed then, to see her so oblivious to the gift being made.
At last, just a few days before Christmas Eve, the thing was ready. With plastic eyes the angel watched as the man knocked on the door. The jeweller stepped outside—the item already in her hand, so pleased was she with how well it had turned out—and showed the man what she had made. It was a necklace, so elegant and glittering bright that the angel was reminded once again of its shining days upon the tree, though thanks to sleet and frost no lights shone now. The angel wished that it could see the moment this gift would be given. And at that moment, the person for whom it had been made just happened to appear upon the street.
The angel saw as she saw—this woman’s lover holding a gift, standing before another smiling woman—and watched helplessly as she turned and fled. Looking back as the man said his goodbyes, the angel could see how it had seemed. The woman ran, crying, into the alley where the angel watched, and tried to dry her eyes. Oblivious, the man turned out onto his street, beginning to make his happy journey back home.
The angel would have called him, but it had no voice. For several years it had not even had speakers playing music, and now it had no lights. It was a grey, mucky thing, dangling from the bricks of that Town Hall. But the computer in the angel’s heart was moved by what it saw, and one by one every circuit, every chip, began its song. Faintly at first, the LEDs began to flash. Then brighter. But still the man would not turn his head to look. It was coming up to Christmas, and there were a great many lights about. But still the angel tried, and the lights shone brighter and brighter. Soon they beamed out a glory that had never before been seen, not even at the top of the Christmas tree. The angel strained to cast out yet more light, and in this struggle its very frame began to burn.
It started slowly—a lick of flame where the mains cable met the angel’s heart—but soon it spread. Polyester clothing and synthetic hair, all began to burn as the angel exceeded its old light. The woman looked up and ran out into the street. The man looked out and ran towards the alley, phone already dialling for the fire brigade. There, at the entrance to the alleyway with the Town Hall bins, they met. And as the angel melted from its fastenings and fell down upon the frosted ground, it saw that all would be resolved.
Gabriel came down to the smouldering heap and spoke. “You are not marvellous anymore,” came the archangel’s voice, “but you are real at last.” And they went together to a place even higher than the top of the town Christmas tree: a place where real angels dwell.