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Angel on my shoulder

When I was little, I was taught that everyone has a guardian angel assigned to him or her from the moment of birth. I even believed that if I turned around quickly enough, I would catch sight of mine. Of course, that never happened.

I retained my faith over the years, but eventually stopped believing in the existence of an invisible winged being protectively hovering over me to grant my every wish. The cliché “angel on my shoulder” became just that, an outdated expression that belonged in hymns and childish dreams.

I grew up, married and had a child. Although blessed in many ways, life was a constant struggle financially, hitting an all-time low three years ago. My husband lost his job of thirty-five years. We had managed to buy our first home only a year before, and although the mortgage was low, it quickly depleted the small settlement he received as compensation for all his years of hard work.

Jobs were non-existent in our rural area. We maxed out our credit cards within months just trying to survive. Our outlook was bleak, forcing us to face the harsh reality of our situation; we would have to put the house up for sale and rent a small apartment.

We had no equity in our home, so there would be nothing left from the sale to pay off our other bills. Declaring bankruptcy was inevitable, and we began to plan accordingly.

“We need to get the house market-ready,” my husband stated sadly. “We’ll clean the chimney, empty the septic tank and repaint. We’ll also have to file our income taxes so we can declare that debt along with the rest,” he added, rubbing his tired, red-rimmed eyes.

I nodded quietly and got up to get the paperwork. We’d filled out income tax forms several months earlier but never filed. Due to the lump sum settlement, we knew we owed thousands of dollars. Now there would be interest and late filing fees as well. I handed him the thick forms with all our other bills and called the chimney sweep to come the next day.

“Don’t forget, we still have his coat that he left here last year,” my husband reminded me, and I retrieved that too, tossing it on the back of the chair. As it landed, a crumpled piece of paper fell out of the pocket. I bent to pick it up and saw it was an old twenty-dollar bill.

“Wow — that’s ancient!” my husband remarked.

“It’s still money,” I pointed out bitterly, my hands shaking from the temptation to keep it. It was a small amount, but to me, it was a windfall.

I looked at my husband and saw the same thought in his sad eyes. Surely, the owner would never remember it was there, and if he did, well, what proof did he have?

We were silent for a long time. Always of one mind, we reached the same conclusion. I tucked the money back into the jacket. We resumed our discussion of what needed doing, glancing longingly at the coat every so often, but the money remained there.

The next day, my husband went to see a tax accountant to recheck our forms. I waited for the chimney sweep. His fee sat neatly on the table in embarrassingly small bills and change.

He arrived, did his job, collected his money and thanked me profusely for keeping his coat for so long.

“I’m sorry. I meant to come by several times to get it, but just never got around to it.” I waved him off with a forced smile.

After he left, I went to make coffee. It would be weak, since I was scraping the bottom of the can to collect the last grains. I reached for the milk I’d been so sparing with, hoping it would last until we received a small check we were expecting. I’d been too stingy! The milk made a glopping sound as soured lumps fell into my coffee.

It was the final straw! In a rage, I threw my cup across the kitchen into the dining room where it shattered against a mirror. Diluted coffee streamed in rivulets down the wall and pooled with the glass shards on the floor.

“Why?” I screamed at a God who I felt had abandoned me. “We’re good people. We’re honest, work hard, and this is our reward?” I railed. “I know you’re busy. I know we’re not important, but can you at least send one of those angels you want me to believe in to help us out a little? I’m not asking for a fortune! I just want to keep what little we have!” I screamed, tears saturating my face.

I breathed shakily, trying to compose myself. Grabbing a dustpan and a rag, I bent down to pick up the broken glass. As I did so, I felt a gentle, comforting touch on my shoulder. Startled, I whirled around to see a reflection in a small piece of mirror — a beautiful woman’s face surrounded by a bright light. She had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and she smiled reassuringly, as if to say, “Everything is going to be all right.” A moment later, the image was gone, replaced again by glass shards dotted with coffee splatter. I sat back, filled with a warm sense of peace.

I was still sitting on my heels in a daze when the phone rang. I got to my feet clumsily, reaching for the receiver.

“Hello?” I murmured.

“Honey, are you sitting down? You need to sit down!” It was my husband, his voice raw with emotion.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He laughed. “Everything’s right! I made a mistake on the taxes. We’re getting money back — lots of money!”

He went on to explain his error. His jabber made no sense. All I wanted to know was how much our refund would be. When he told me the amount, I gasped.

It was more than enough to pay off all our debts, and still leave us with money to buy food and wood for the winter. I was stunned.

I was replacing the phone when it rang again. It was the chimney sweep. He replied to my cheerful hello with an exuberant one of his own.

“I just called to thank you for your honesty,” he began. “I found something in my jacket pocket that I thought I’d lost forever — a twenty-dollar bill my mother gave me forty years ago for my Confirmation. I never spent it because it was the last thing she gave me before she died a week later.”

“Well, I’m glad you found it,” I told him, guiltily remembering those few ugly moments when I was tempted to steal it for my own needs.

“May angels always watch over you, ma’am,” he told me softly, and I smiled, my eyes filling with tears.

“They do,” I whispered as I hung up the phone.

(Story credit : Marya Morin shared by Shaila Saldanha)

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