Aware of a presence beside him, he looked up from his glass. It was George, one of the Head Angels. George looked nothing like you might imagine a superior Angel to look like. His appearance was more like that of a janitor, which was exactly what he had been. Heaven didn’t discriminate. Since his death, almost thirty years ago, George had managed to win the much coveted role through countless good deeds.
Sitting beside him, George spoke in his usual gruff, Texan drawl
“It’s hard, isn’t it?”
Jack could only nod. He didn’t trust his voice not to break.
“It’ll get easier, trust me.”
The cliché was easier to believe coming from George, he had left behind a wife and two young children.
“Listen,” George said earnestly, “You’re due your first mission. I was leaving it a while, because things are hard, but you’re ready now.”
“I don’t…” Jack began to protest.
George shook his head. “You‘re ready, trust me.” George stood, indicating for Jack to follow him.
Heaven wasn’t how people imagined it. Not how it’s depicted in paintings or movies. There are no white fluffy clouds, nor angels playing harps all day. It was pretty much like Earth. A quieter, better Earth. How Jack imagined the world would be if you took away all of the bad.
Jack followed George into his office, taking a seat before it was offered.
“Here.” George handed over a stack of sheets to Jack. Glancing over them, Jack stopped, confusion clear in his expression. Staring back at him was a picture of Holly, his girlfriend. The pages stapled behind the photo included a very detailed description of her life and background.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s your first mission.”
“But, it’s Holly.”
George nodded. “Who could possibly do a better job at helping her?”
Jack looked back down at the papers in his hand. Words failing him once more, he nodded.
“Don’t look so scared.” laughed George, “There couldn’t be an easier task for you. Now, work out how you’re going to make her smile again.”
The next day Jack arrived at the Mission Office early. George greeted him with an encouraging smile as he passed Jack his Angel Pack, containing everything he would need to complete his mission. Without a backward glance, Jack stepped onto the moving walkway, which took him down to Earth. To Holly.
Holly was sitting on her bed when Jack found her. Just sitting, staring at nothing in particular. Her bedroom, once full of light and colour, was dingy and dark. A musty smell clung to everything. Empty cups and glasses were strewn on every available surface. She was dressed in one of his t-shirts, it had stains down the front and was crumpled but the faintest hint of his aftershave lingered. It broke his heart to see her like this. At a complete loss at to what to do, he just sat there watching her.
He watched as she moved from one room to another in a zombie-like trance. It almost seemed as though she was the one who had died. She drank nothing but coffee, strong and black until dinner time when she exchanged her coffee mug for a glass of whisky. She never got dressed, she never opened the curtains. She never did anything, except for sit and drink and stare.
As the sun began to set, she moved into her bedroom, where she pulled out a notebook. Furiously the pen trailed across the page, tears pouring down her cheeks. Ripping out the page, she put it into an envelope, and wrote Jack across it in her neat, curly writing before placing it in a drawer. Peering over her shoulder, he saw that the drawer was filled with over ninety letters. One for each day since he had died.
Putting away the notebook, she wrapped herself up in her duvet and sobbed. Loud, angry, gut-wrenching sobs which only stopped as she drifted into a fitful sleep.
As Jack returned to heaven, George was waiting for him with a warm smile.
“It’s useless. I can’t do it.” Jack held up his hands in despair.
George, relentless as ever, followed. “Of course you can.”
“I can’t, you should see her. She’s a mess. I can’t make that better!”
“You did great!”
“I did nothing.”
George shook his head with a sad smile. “You did more than you even know. See?” he pointed at a monitor which showed a picture of Holly, still curled up asleep.
Jack studied the picture for a moment. “What?”
“This is the first night she’s fallen asleep before the early hours. Just you being there is helping her. You‘ll see.”
“I thought I was supposed to do something.” Jack replied.
George guffawed. “You watched too many crappy TV shows down there. We’re dead people, not miracle workers.” On that final note, George left Jack staring at the monitor.
The next day, as Jack arrived in Holly’s bedroom, he got more than a faint feeling of de ja vu. She sat on the edge of her bed, staring. Staring, staring ahead at nothing in particular. He watched her all day as she went through the same macabre routine. Every night he waited until she was asleep before retreating back to heaven. George maintained his stance that Jack was doing great, but Jack still couldn‘t see it.
One morning, about three weeks into his mission, he arrived in her bedroom, to find it empty.
Panic flew through him. What had she done? What had happened? Hearing a sound, he turned to see her emerge in the doorway, her tiny frame wrapped in a towel, her dark hair hung, wet around her shoulders. He couldn’t help but smile as she opened her wardrobe, pulling out some old jogging bottoms and a t-shirt. . The rest of the day was spent in much the same way. She drank far too much coffee, even more whisky and ate not nearly enough food. As the sun set, she still went through her bedtime routine of sobbing whilst writing letters she would never send.
Over time, Holly slowly showed signs of improvement. Half heartedly eating half a slice of toast, became finishing an entire cheese sandwich. Ignoring her phone became replying to occasional texts. She stopped drinking as soon as it went dusk, and just stuck with a drink before bed.
She still cried for half of the day, but slowly, surely she was improving. George had been right, just his presence was enough to help her heal.
A few months later, Jack arrived just in time to see her shoving college books into her bag and he knew his job was done. Filled with a bittersweet mixture of emotions, Jack returned to Heaven. His first mission, a success.