Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Not That Kind of Angel, Either

Continuing this week's angel theme is "Chasing Angela," by Terry DeHart, appearing in The Barcelona Review. However, the Angela in the title is certainly no angel, guardian or otherwise; the irony of this name choice reminds me of Arnold Friend, the name of the villain in Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?".

And, like the classic Oates story, DeHart's story is built on suspense. The story opens with Mother and Big Jimmy (Angela's parents) driving through the night to their daughter's aid. We don't know why Angela needs help, but we know we're not going to a bake sale:
Mother knitted while Big Jimmy drove, her skinny arms knotted hard as axe handles, her sharp needles clicking and going too deep, ham-fisted, into the shroud she was making.
Yes, she's knitting a shroud.

After driving all night and all the following day, they arrive:
They stopped in front of their daughter’s house, the Cadillac clicking and popping as it cooled. Big Jimmy pried himself out of the car and opened the passenger door for Mother. They went together up the short concrete walk. Big Jimmy rang the bell, a buzzer that sounded like a jolt of electricity let loose in the air. At first they waited without any sign of emotion, as if they were just stopping by for no reason at all, really. Just stopping by to say hello.

No one answered. They listened for footsteps, creaking floors, opening doors. Mother looked at Big Jimmy. That was all it took, only a flash of worry from her dark eyes, and Big Jimmy opened the screen door and pounded on the hollow-cored door behind it. They waited again, their faces impassive, their eyes stinging. They waited like cops who had just pulled a graveyard shift and then been called to a domestic dispute. They waited like cops and it was ironic because for many years, all their lives really, they had been on the other side of the law.

Mother tried the door herself, turning the knob to see if it was unlocked and then knocking with her sharp knuckles. Nothing happened. A dog barked from behind a fence. A Cessna chugged low across the sky. Mother moved away from the door and Big Jimmy put his right hand against it, arm straight out as if taking a measurement. He ran his other hand through his gray hair, as if to make himself presentable, and then he kicked the door off its hinges.
That's how to build suspense, and how to pay it off, with that great last sentence.

I won't play the spoiler on this one. Definitely worth the read.