Lila was fanciful, her mother often said, a trait Lila assumed she would, or should, outgrow, though she didn’t want to. She liked her thoughts, how they surprised her and led her on stories. She had learned not to share, at least not often. She was eleven years old today, the cake had been served, and soon would be the time for games. Now, though, a creature like a white luna moth sailed down from somewhere above and alighted on a dark limb of the hackberry tree. She didn’t say Look, but she glanced around to see if anyone noticed.

James, one of her friends, put his paper plate on the folding table, and headed toward the hackberry. He wheeled in a circle, eyes catching Lila’s, then faced the tree again. Lila wanted to join him, but to keep everyone else from noticing the creature, she headed toward the house. At the door to the sunroom, James caught up with her and followed her inside.

“What is it?” she whispered, the screened door now between them and the other kids.

“I’m afraid to say.”

Lila nodded. “I couldn’t tell for sure. A tiny person. With wings.”


“Fairy wings don’t look like that.”

“It’s not a fairy,” James said, again focused on the bit of white in the hackberry tree, as was Lila. “What do you want to do?”

“I want everyone to go so I can see it up close,” Lila said.

“You might scare it away, too.”

“You didn’t. You got a closer look than I did.”

James loved Lila. She had pale blue eyes, white eyebrows, pink lips, tiny ears. She was, his mother had said, almost albino. James had looked up albino and believed Lila was something else, better. Her bones were little, too. Fragile, his mother said. He agreed with fragile.

The screened door opened, and Mary, a school friend, leaned in, brown face, dark wiry curls. “What’s up?”

James stepped outside. “Lila needs us to go home.”

The kids knew Lila was sometimes ill. They gathered up their party favors and wished her happy birthday again.

Lila followed them to the side gate. “I’m truly sorry,” she said, a phrase of her grandmother’s. “Thank you for coming.”

Feeling guilty at her deception, Lila feared to look where the creature had settled, and waited until she was very close.

The creature openly stood at the juncture of limb to trunk, appearing almost translucent against the dark bark. Winged. Face and hands bare, the body and feet covered in a blurred white, closely fitting.

“Are you an angel?”

No response.

“Will you come down here?” Lila held out her cupped hands. Then, she held one arm out. “Here?” She touched her shoulder. “Here?”

The creature flew over Lila’s head toward the abandoned, cluttered table, and lowered there, wings settling delicately and smoothly. The long hair, too, flowing into place, blurring like the clothing. The blur could be, Lila thought, that the creature wasn’t real, like a movie being played on the wall of her room or on a sheet, only outside. Television pictures could be seen in the yard if she looked out a certain window while their television was on. So how did a person know what was real and what wasn’t? Maybe all of it was real, at the same time, overlapping and crossing through.

“You’re not afraid of me,” Lila said, walking slowly to the table. The angel remained. Lila sat on one of the folding chairs and in a few seconds leaned forward, closer. She was afraid even to breathe, the creature was so beautiful. She wanted to touch it. She placed her wrist against the table edge, then over the edge, close, closer. She raised her fingers very slowly, expecting the creature to step back. “May I touch you?” Lila asked. Silence, but no movement. One finger to the tiny foot, one to the tip of one wing. A thrill went through Lila’s whole body. Her fingers felt the slightest resistance, like silk mist, the texture of air. She withdrew her touch carefully, reluctantly. She loved that feeling. She was going to cry and didn’t want to. She shuddered and the creature started a little. “I’m sorry,” Lila said. “Can you speak?”

A smile and upturned hands.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she said.


Her mother.

“Have your friends left? So soon?

She was coming over. Lila’s eyes darted from the creature to her mother and back. The little being was gone! She glanced around frantically.

Her mother was stacking the paper plates, crunching soiled napkins together.

“I was going to clean everything up,” Lila said. “Let me do it.”

“It’s your birthday. I thought you kids would come in.”

“I don’t want to come in yet. Can I stay outside?”

“If you’ll tell me why everyone left.”

“I don’t know. Something James said. Or Mary.”

“But everything’s okay?”

Lila nodded without looking at her mother. “They all thought it was nice.”

She was instructed to go inside and take it easy. Through the sunporch window she watched her mother fold the card table and chairs and store them in the shed. Lila searched the trees and shrubbery for a sliver of white or a blur of movement. What if the creature had been shut in the shed? Could it go through walls? It had simply flown like a bird or a moth or any winged creature. It might die in there. Lila trembled, chilled. Was it gone forever? She hadn’t held it or heard its voice. She felt as if her body had shriveled, wrinkled all over, turned weak and sad. What if it were an angel? Maybe some of them were tiny. Started out tiny.

Lila took a fruit jar from the pantry shelf and a small dish towel from the kitchen. She stored them in her bedroom closet, then joined her mother, doing little assigned chores, baby chores, as her mother cleaned the house and prepared supper. In Lila’s mind, she was outside, waiting on the angel. She would gently capture it, just slip the jar over it and then hold the towel beneath until she could get it in the house and carefully reverse the jar. She wanted to talk to the angel a few minutes, to make sure it was all right and had a place to go. Maybe to know where that place was, and how it was, the color and the flowers and trees, and houses, if there were any, or just nests? Made of what? What did angels eat? Mostly to know why it had come and what she, Lila, could and should do now. She couldn’t lose it forever. Not forever.

In the alley behind her house, James sat on the ground between hollyhock bushes along the fence. It was twilight. He had reported home, but, since this was summertime, was allowed more play, and immediately headed back. Joining Lila would have been better, but from the yard’s rim he could be participant without offending her or stealing her pleasure. He knew what that was like, to have a good thing so suddenly ruined that even the memory wasn’t ready. He was given a ukulele that looked like a tree instrument, blooming all over with painted flowers, and he knew how it sounded when his uncle played it. That’s how he would someday play. But his father fooled with it, and one of the strings broke, a pale yellow string, and they didn’t have any extra strings. James didn’t want to play it any more but he couldn’t explain why. It was like someone broke a promise. He wouldn’t do that to Lila.

Lila had fallen asleep on the sofa, but woke on her own bed, because her mother carried her there. She was on top of the coverlet and a quilt lay over her. The room was dark, though not yet nightlike. Thunder rumbled. She remembered the angel, so small and delicate. She had to bring it inside or know it was safe. In the shed? What if an angel had to have special food or even special air. A certain amount of sun only, or maybe a certain amount of moonlight. There was so much to know. She got up quietly and folded the quilt as a sign of good behavior. From the closet she took the fruit jar and towel. She stowed the lid in the corner of the closet. Lightning cracked and the room startled bright, furnished with huge strange things. Lila wasn’t frightened, only worried. Angels in lightning.

Her mother was watching television. Lila crept through the study, kitchen, sunroom. At the screened door she watched the sharp display of three lighting flashes and then, in the quiet shine of having seen everything, propped the screen door ajar with a flat stone and ran toward the shed. There was no lock, only the flat, slotted plate, already free of the loop. She tugged the door open just when lightning and thunder came together, and she jumped into the shed, a jumble of unknown.

“Are you here?” she whispered, not because she needed to, but because a normal loud voice couldn’t be right for an angel. Though no answer came, she was certain the angel was in this place. She felt it, like an almost happiness, an almost wonder. She didn’t want to miss it. She didn’t want to give it up. She didn’t want to make a misstep. She dropped the towel.

“I have a jar for you to get in if you would like to come inside with me for a little while,” she said. “I would bring you back outside whenever you wanted. I would get you anything you needed.”

When there was still no answer and something was fading from her, she said, “Please don’t go. I’m not ready for you to be gone.”

Behind two large green trashcans and a wheelbarrow holding potting soil, James was tortured by his own presence, sure that he was destroying what Lila most needed, would want most in her entire life. He dare not speak or make a noise. He could see the silhouette of her shoulders, her finely shaped head, could smell the richness of water on grass and dirt, and felt both joy and pain at being closed in this dark place with Lila. He shaped “Please” with his lips.

The jar Lila held glowed. It was a white glow, transparent, and there was the angel, the wings shifting a little like fog or clouds, the long hair flowing, too. James thought he heard music from the jar. Lila hadn’t put it down, but held it up, her eyes bright, her lips moving as if talking or singing. She hugged the jar. The rain was steady now, the thunder just a bass rumble moving away. Lila listened to the sound of the angel. The night settled in, the light in the jar dimmed, was gone. Lila stayed where she was and James waited. When she picked up the towel and left, closing the shed door behind her, he continued to be quiet so that he not disturb what still was. Then, he pushed against the door with his shoulders until the flat latch slipped off the loop. He crossed the wet yard, breathed in the heavy moist air of summer, and ran down the alley.