After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.
--The Alphabet of Ben Sira
We did have wings in Heaven, beautiful wings. My first lifetimes on earth, I could still close my eyes and remember how they felt stretching from my back, strong enough to carry me anywhere. Though we were not limited by our bodies, it was wonderful to be able to rise into the sky when your legs were tired, fresh limbs carrying you the rest of the long way home. Wings would be a liability on this planet, where one must dress to protect from the elements, undress to cleanse, and risk injury to the body during a fall. I do understand why Father chose not to give humans flight, but I understand just as well why flying is so common a dream among your kind. A shame you will never know its joys.
My waking dreams were often of flying, the days when I was left to my own devises, nothing but the rolling winds outside my window to keep me company. And I was often left to my own devises. The simple truth was I didn’t enjoy ruling. After I started the humans on their path, mapped out the rules of society and made the bodies of my brothers, other angels came to do the actual task of running the city.
The first king after me, the one the humans called Alulim--not so different from his angelic name, Arurim--had had a hand in human evolution as well, helping them stand upright after knuckling the ground for a few centuries too long. Then there was Alalnger, whose angelic name escapes me, who had a long, pleasingly uneventful reign before the drought forced us to relocate Eridu the first time. The torch passed back to me after that, for years, and years. Dumuzi did take over for me at one point, but things quickly fell apart under his control, forcing me to end my retirement. I tried out various names, at that point. Enme-this and that, and then Ensi, before settling on my current name, Enmendurana. It’s easy to reinvent yourself when your subjects die out every fifty years.
Finally, the angel Urakibarameel came to earth wanting to try his hand at leadership. Having just been forced to relocate the city a third time, following a horrifying storm, I was more than willing to hand over my crown. He took the name Ubara-Tutu--far easier for the humans to say--and I stepped back to an advisory position. Regardless of what Michael claims, I don’t enjoy the kind of attention humans give a leader, good or ill. I prefer to be alone.
That’s not entirely true--I do long for company. But not any company will do. It must be someone who interests me, excites me, who is willing to let me speak but has wisdom of their own to share. That kind of person is a rarity, even among angels. One can only have so many one-sided conversations before your mind begins to hide itself. You’re accused of being disinterested, or shutting people out. You’re unable to explain the interior of your mind in a way that stops them from accusing you of arrogance. Your only solace is the quiet of your thoughts, away from them.
I tell you all this so that you understand: there are few people I let close to me. Those I allow to know me, often do not know how much I hide behind mental barricades, not for my sake but for theirs--I have seen so much of creation that even my fellow angels cannot fully comprehend it. I challenge their very understanding of themselves, and no entity takes kindly to questioning their identity. All of these things make for self-imposed loneliness that is hardly self-imposed at all, a loneliness I thought I was to serve for an eternity, until my beast stumbled into my life.
I thought of Heaven’s wings because I often caught Saraquel staring longingly at the birds, the way I did. He had no memory of flying, created by Michael’s hand on the earthen plane, yet even he longed for it. That great, fearsome creature, longing for the sky. He couldn’t say a word, yet I knew he understood me more than any of Heaven’s host. I longed for the days when he dared escape with the key I made him, turning up in the garden, on my doorstep, even startling me at the edge of the city when he burst forth from the jungle with that triumphant look on his face.
He did have wisdom to share, in his way. I once panicked when a rodent made its way into my home--just because one has seen these things evolve in wonder does not mean that one cannot also disdain a pest--and rather than pouncing on the rat and swallowing it, which I have seen him do, Saraquel decided to pick the thing up, tail in his teeth, and bring it to me. After observing its helpless squirming, beady little eyes a color not unlike Saraquel’s, my revulsion was turned to pity. I asked that he take it outside, and he did so. I hadn’t realized before then that I had begun to take my Father’s creatures for granted, and was grateful that Saraquel had noticed.
Naturally, I didn’t have every day to myself. I often found myself out among mankind, assisting them with things I hoped that one day they would do on their own: making rope, herding cattle, planting seed. They were inquisitive, which was a good sign, though many prone to arrogance. The adults were particularly hard to teach, so lately I had stopped. At the time, I blamed my own impatience more than any failing on their part--Uriel was more tolerant than I and if they wanted to learn, they could approach him. My attention had instead shifted towards man’s children, who were never as difficult as their parents.
I sat one day with a circle of children, showing them how to polish precious stones, which we used to decorated the streets. I had with me a basket of rough lapis that Uriel had cut into smaller pieces, as well as sand paper made from treated bark and crushed garnet. Each of the seven children had their own blue stone, each with their own bit of paper, and they rubbed away at them with enthusiasm.
“Nin-lil,” a little girl murmured, tugging at my sleeve. “Look, mine’s shiny.”
I smiled, taking the finished stone from her hand.
“It’s perfect. Would you like to try another?”
She nodded. I offered her another rock from the basket, which she took eagerly. Soon she was rubbing again with the rest of them, content with this simple task.
Before long, one of the older boys looked up from his work.
“Father says you might let us help with the festival,” he said. “Can we?”
I hadn’t considered it. After the harvest there was generally a celebration of the bounty, and with the fruit ready to fall off the vine, I knew it was time to start planning festivities. But humanity was generally not allowed to assist with preparation, lest they learn something they weren’t supposed to know, and children most of all were kept at a distance. Now though, things were changing, humanity proving itself ever more reliable. Perhaps it was time to ease old boundaries.
“Maybe,” I said. “If there’s enough work to be shared.”
I must have responded similarly when his father had asked, whoever that was, to have given him the idea. I knew Michael wouldn’t like it, but lately Michael’s opinion concerned me less and less. No matter what I did, he opposed me. It was making me brave.
When the stones were all polished, I collected them in my basket and let the children keep their favorite as a souvenir. I delivered the finished stones to Uriel in his workshop, as he would find a suitable use for them. I wasn’t surprised to catch him with Anatu there, her clothes rumpled and his brawny body seated awkwardly low behind a basin. I pretended I didn’t suspect anything, dismissing myself after leaving the basket on a workbench.
“Pleasant evening, Uriel,” I said.
“Father’s blessings to you, Gabriel,” he managed. Anatu seemed to bow her head in respect, but I knew it was only to hide her embarrassment. They were amusing.
I continued to dwell on the child’s implied question, on whether or not it was time for the humans to begin taking on more responsibility. They were allowed to do some things on their own already--they were allowed to hunt, fashion basic weapons, harvest, weave, and build. Unfortunately, much of how their civilization functioned depended on what Michael called “Heaven’s knowledge:” the crafting of steel, discerning of roots and herbs, extracting minerals from the soil, creating dyes, even basic mechanisms like wells and pulleys were supposed to be built by angels alone. When the odd human recreated these things for themselves, that was fine. Michael considered that natural progress. However, to attempt to teach man anything more than what was deemed rudimentary survival was to risk upsetting the delicate balance man had with the world around them. At least, that was what Michael believed, and we all agreed to behave as though it were truth. But what if they were wiser than we gave them credit for?
My quandary carried me to the chapel, where I had hoped to find Remiel. It was an impressive space: the single room was domed, the top of which was shaded with glass of brilliant colors, casting the inside of the chamber with shades of red, blue, green, violet, and anything in between. A few benches lined the walls, circling the center where Remiel usually sat cross-legged in a nest of pillows. While he was there, crystals stretched across the rugs in elaborate shapes, forbidden to be touched by anyone but he. My heart sank to see that though the nightly torches were already lit, Remiel was missing.
Lost, I took a seat on one of the benches, never more grateful that the chapel was empty. The occasional human came here seeking the word of Heaven, but in general they weren’t interested in things beyond their world. This was before Michael taught them to fear their maker--they had no reason to pay Him any attention, not while His angels where real to the touch. I expected no one. I closed my eyes to shut myself in thought. I decided that if I could not hear Father’s counsel, then I would try to trust my own reason.
First of all, I would have to narrow my question. I knew I couldn’t know whether or not mankind was ready for all of our teachings. Perhaps I could know if they were prepared for the simple tasks of preparing the festival. Was it so much of a stretch to allow them to mix the dyes that would color the tarps? Or perhaps they could assist in decorating the stage that the girls would dance on; it seemed no great tragedy that they might know how to decorate their own homes. Could they assist Raphael in gathering herbs, since there were sure to be too many of them drunk that night and he could surely use the supply. There seemed many ways to gently expand their involvement without risk. The problem was, there was no way to know there was no risk without Father’s counsel, and of course Remiel picked now to be gone from the chapel.
An all-too-familiar headache was creeping on. I thought of visiting Raphael myself when I left there. An uninvited thought whispered that Saraquel might visit me that night, and I should quickly go home to make myself accessible to him, as he would not find me in the city. Saraquel...
I don’t know why I hesitated to think of him in this holy place. Nothing we had ever done was “wrong,” even by Michael’s measure. Not since that night, when I mistakenly let him see me undress, trying to pretend he was only a common animal. No common animal would have done what he did...his tongue against my breast. I hadn’t realized that was a sensation I desired, never letting anyone touch me there, half considering my bosom some remnant of unnecessary adaptation as thoughts of children drifted further and further from my mind. Was it wrong if I enjoyed it, if he knew what he did? No--no, I had come there to sort out real issues, not this, whatever this was.
I had to stop letting him near me. I didn’t want to stop letting him near me. I had to know what was happening in his mind, behind those human eyes. He was my friend. My only.
Wrapped in my thoughts, I didn’t hear the chapel doors open. When I lowered my hands and found Michael sitting beside me, my stomach lurched. How long had he been there?
“Fool is probably out feeling up some ape,” Michael said, tense, but nearing nonchalant. A halfhearted attempt at connecting, the way we almost did in Heaven. I’ll admit, I smiled.
“Remiel does have a soft spot for human girls,” I agreed. “Can’t seem to settle on one. Uriel should be commended for his monogamy, he’s a much better example for the populace.”
“An example, you say.”
He stared off, thoughtful. In the colored light from the dome above, his golden hair shone brilliantly, though tied back with plain twine; his face, usually too grim, had relaxed to reveal the striking features Father had given him. He had fine cheekbones, thick lashes, even his thin stubble was of an even pattern that few human men could replicate. I could imagine women brushing against him shyly, as they did to Uriel and Remiel, hoping he would cast them a lustful glance. Of course, I knew better than to think he would truly let them touch him.
“You’re right. Humans need an example to pattern after,” he said. “A sexual pattern they can follow that is pure as Father intended, that discourages them from fucking one another without restraint. A union between a man and a woman who were made for one another, that will produce children frugally, who they will see raised with the discipline they should provide their own young.”
“That’s a worthy idea,” I said, leaning against the wall, staring lazily where he did--at the dome. I could almost see spirits dancing there, shaped by the leaves that skittered across glass, caught by the wind. “I’m sure we could find some couple among them loyal to one another. Or we could choose an honest partner for a young virgin, bring them together in a formal ceremony. Perhaps at festival?”
He didn’t seem to hear me. His hands pressed against each other as he leaned on his elbows, restless.
“I’ve seen their worst, Gabriel.” His words were somehow distant, though he sat near to touching. “You have no idea what they’re capable of. Father shows me in my dreams, so that I know who must be punished. They use what few tools we give them to commit atrocities: I’ve seen a man gouge his partner’s eyes out with a reed hook, another gut his sister with a spear and drape her intestines on a clothesline to see how they shook in the wind. I’ve stared into the eyes of a woman who ripped off the male organs of her lovers so she could make a soup of them, and she tied them up so they would see her eat it. I know that what I do is cruel, but I never do less than what they deserve. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
I never questioned Michael’s methods of punishment, because I knew Father had given him a terrible responsibility. I was too grateful that that burden had not fallen to me. As brutal as it looked, I trusted my brother enough to believe that he knew best.
“Even my beast has been driving me mad,” he said, shoulders tensing. “Father promised he would be the weapon I required, but Ajeshah’s mind is not refined enough for simple tasks. At times I feel I’m the only one capable of keeping these apes in their place. I’m afraid that’s what Father meant to show me all along.”
With mention of Saraquel, I grew quiet. It was as if I feared any word I said would betray the unholy bond between us--I was too afraid that Michael would see what I refused to. Fortunately, he went on, never needing my reply.
“We deserve this world more than they. We know how to cultivate it, how to recreate the symbiosis that exists between all creatures in Heaven. We would never hurt one another like they do. If it were just us, there would only be peace.”
“This is man’s world,” I said, as I had so many times.
“Then let them serve us,” he said abruptly, with passion unnatural to him. “We can be their masters, their betters, and they would never want for anything. We can show them how to love peace. Those that would rather fuck their mothers or torture animals, they can be removed--those irregularities can be bred out of Father’s creations like any herd animal, we’ve seen it happen. Don’t you think that’s what He wants?”
“I don’t know what He wants and neither do you,” I stood, wanting to leave--I didn’t want to let this continue. “Father sent us to teach, not enslave. Besides, I don’t know when you last counted, but the odds of twenty angels ever successfully controlling a ‘herd’ of hundreds in this city, thousands outside it, are not high. So stop this thinking and perhaps we can find a way to better work with what we have.”
I didn’t expect Michael to stand with me, before he did. I less expected him to take my hand, pulling me close to him. I shuddered, forced to meet his eyes, afraid what would happen if I pulled away.
“Fine. Maybe if we provide a good enough example...we won’t have to do anything that extreme. Maybe you’re right, and they can learn.”
The way he gripped my hand, the way he stood so close I had to crane my neck to see him, uncomfortably aware of his pelvis against my naval, told me what he was really trying to say. But I didn’t want to hear it.
“What is this, Michael?” I asked, wanting to be wrong.
“We’re meant for one another,” he said, certain. “We were the first Father chose to be flesh. You who see the best in them, and I who see the worst. Is that not the best pair to guide mankind?”
I could say nothing. I stared at his face, yet I could see no features. There was only blackness, the inside of my thoughts reflected outwards, my heart screaming something I didn’t understand. My silence only encouraged him, as his smooth hand came to touch my cheek--unsteady, awkward. He had starved himself of touch, as I had.
“I must admit I’ve been...lonely,” he said. “Ajeshah is hardly company, and the screams of the damned make for painful sleep. If you might make a home for the two of us, I would welcome the escape. I may even like children, if they’re born looking like you.”
Michael was a good angel. Among the best of us, by far. He was strong, and fair, and earnest. A champion of Father’s will. By all accounts, I should have been thrilled by this proposed union. Was his flesh not the most worthy of all I had fashioned, his mind most like mine? We were both reclusive, stubborn, seeking only what was best for Father’s creations--though he loved Earth more than man, and I perhaps loved man more than Earth. Then, that did not feel like such a difference. I should have been happy. This could have been the end of all my loneliness. I can’t explain why, when thoughts returned, I could think only one word.
I pulled back, folding my hands in my arms to keep them from him, unable to rationalize what I was saying.
“I’m sorry, Michael.”
I left the chapel without looking back. Even when I was blocks away, I still felt him standing where I had left him, motionless. The memory of his heartbreak should have been seared into my mind’s eye, yet it wasn’t his face I saw. When I closed my eyes, I could only see Saraquel staring at the birds, wishing he could fly.