Frowning Angel

George Salis

Fiction by George Salis

Isaac was learning how to count change, sliding pennies and nickels and dimes across a table, each making a rough whisper. Some were shiny and others dull. There was only two dollars’ worth of quarters. One was almost entirely black and another had a green spot over George Washington’s cheek, like he was really sick. Isaac flipped it over. He didn’t want George Washington to be sick, even though he was already dead.

Now he looked at the proud eagle spreading his perfect wings.

Isaac liked to count change. He liked numbers. When you added them or subtracted them there was always a sure Answer, no guessing, unless he didn’t know the Answer, like the way he had had trouble with telling time, but whether he knew the Answer or not, it was out there, waiting to be sucked out of the air by his Vacuum Brain. That’s what one of the kids called him at his old school. Vacuum Brain. He knew that vacuums sucked, and for a while he was sad that his brain sucked, but then he imagined it picking everything up, like the gleaming machine Mom would softly push over the carpet, humming and gathering. His brain picked up the Answers that floated in the air, the Answers that you sometimes couldn’t see. He became especially good at it after he realized the powers of his brain, and he remembered that it had something to do with his name, something Dad told him, that, a longa time ago, Other Isaac was able to guess where the planets were going to go next. Other Isaac used numbers for that. He had a brain that sucked, Isaac guessed, which is why they shared a first name, although he didn’t understand why Other Isaac wanted to be called Sir all the time, even by people who didn’t know him. Was he really that strict? “Predicted” was one of the big-ish words that Dad used. Other Isaac predicted where the planets were going. He missed Dad. He missed his old town. He missed his blue bike with the golden bell, which he rode downhill while swallowing the air as if it was endless cotton candy. Vacuum Brain. He even missed his old school. But mostly, he missed Dad. He wondered if Dad was among the Answers, invisible, in the air, but his brain wasn’t nearly as sucky as Other Isaac’s, so he didn’t know.

He had found a wheat penny in his pile, dated from 1955, a longa time ago, but after he showed it to Marco, who looked bug-eyed in his big glasses, a kid named Austin snatched it from him and put it in his pocket.

“It’s mine now, twerp.”

Twerp was a new one. He didn’t know what it meant, but he wasn’t going to ask. He let Austin keep the penny. He imagined Twerps were a species of alien. Little Green Men with glowing stems bouncing on their foreheads. Isaac wasn’t green, and he didn’t have a glowing stem. Although he’d prefer to be among the Green Men, on another planet, the Planet of the Twerps, than to have to be around kids like Austin. So far there was just one Austin in his class, but it was only his third day here.

At his old school, he couldn’t count the number of Austins, and it wasn’t because his brain sucked.
Ms. Kimo didn’t see what Austin did. She was helping another group at a table across the room. There were four kids at each of the three round tables. Twelve in all. They weren’t supposed to work in groups exactly, but everyone tried to copy each other. Every now and then, Isaac couldn’t help but look at the Living Doll sitting at one of the farther tables. A girl who seemed stuck in her smile, her cheeks forever blushing. She always wore pretty and poofy dresses, along with a big, matching bow in her Sun-Yellow hair. On the first day, she wore red, then orange, and now a bumblebee yellow. Her bows and dresses, day by day, were turning her into a rainbow.

Ms. Kimo wrote on the board, while saying, “I bought two dollars and fifty-seven cents worth of tomatoes, how much is my change if I pay with three dollars?” And she walked around, listening to the sliding coins—SHHrrr—white, white hands behind her back—SSHHHrrr—watching the kids counting out the change into constellations—SSSHHHHrrr. She was so white, like the most realistic and animated snowman there ever was. She also had a long nose and dark, dark eyes. Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman.

“Good, Isaac,” she said as she looked over him. Although she was nice, like Frosty, the cold of her still made him shiver inside. He kept his head down, studying his personal constellation. It resembled 
a powerful horse with a silver body and copper wings.

“Well done, Marco,” said Ms. Kimo.
She melted toward Austin.
“Austin. Three pennies.”

“Oh,” he said. “The twerp, I mean Isaac took one from me,” he added. He pointed a finger straight into Isaac’s face.

“Is that true,” Ms. Kimo breathed.

“No, no Miss.”

She looked at Marco. “Marco?”

He looked at Austin and Isaac. 

“He took the penny,” said Marco, pointing a smaller finger straight into Austin’s face.

They now formed a Broken Triangle of Blame.

Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman held out her palm, icicle fingers stuck together.
For a second it seemed as though Austin was going to bolt, but then he sighed and got out the penny, laying it on top of the sheet of ice.

Her hand closed into a snowball.

“See me after class, Austin,” she said before inspecting the constellations on the other two tables.
Austin slowly turned his head toward Isaac. He stopped when their eyes met. Isaac looked back down at the winged horse.

“Hey,” said Austin.

“What?” asked Isaac, still looking at the metallic creature, wishing that he was real, that he could protect him.

“You ratted me out.”

“Not uh,” he said, laughing a little, but only a little, because Austin looked like a rat, with two front teeth that rested into the gnawed cushion of his lower lip. His brown hair was furry and slicked downward.

Austin was already Ratted Out.

“It’s not funny,” Austin said. “I had plans. Now I got new plans. I’m gunna look for you….”
Marco was silent. When Isaac looked at him, at his bulging eyes, Isaac knew that he wasn’t going to get any more help. He didn’t blame Marco. Austin was a scary Rat that probably had a disease. Marco was the only person he really talked to so far. He was nice, nicer than Ms. Kimo or Frosty. But he also reminded Isaac of a roly-poly and, as they tend to do, he was rolled into a ball, afraid of the brave thing he had done.


“Now look around the room, Isaac,” said Ms. Kimo.

He hated when she singled him out like that, just because he was new, but he looked around the room as though he already knew what she was talking about. He began to sweat because the rest of the class turned toward him, including the Ratted Out face of Austin.

“You’ll see that this is a class of budding artists,” she went on.

Covering most of the walls were crayon-colored and brush-painted pieces of paper, stick figures or bubble people playing sports, eating at pizza places, and floating in front of the movie house. Some of the people had no arms, only little hands sticking out of their shoulders like stunted wings, useless to fly with, and some of the girls had bright red, smiling mouths, like clowns. The drawings were okay, Isaac thought. There were also weirder drawings above the chalkboard, patterns and blotches of meaningless color, stuff that made no sense. Pictures of Nonsense. He didn’t like them.

“It’s always great to decorate our room with what makes our class unique. I still keep many of the masterpieces from my past students,” she said. “And today I’d like us to end the class with a portrait of our families. Families are very important.”

Already, kids were scrambling for the boxes of crayons and markers. They would hog the best colors, along with the big boxes that had sharpeners built into them, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to draw the drawing to begin with.
By the time he made his way to the counter, he was only able to get green, brown, yellow, and blue, plus a black marker. He took a single sheet of paper from the tall white stack, and went back to his seat.

He stared at that paper for what seemed like many minutes. He paid no attention to the hubbub around him, the Butting Artists. Marco was quiet. He sat next to Isaac, but he was still rolled up, only his skinny, olive-tinted arms reached out of his invisible armor so that he could draw a mom, a dad, a Marco with big glasses, and two older brothers.

The paper became a white, rectangular hole in the table. When he felt the chilled breeze of Ms. Kimo’s presence behind him, he forced himself to draw on it so that he wouldn’t get in trouble. A few zigzags of green at the bottom of the paper were the grass. He could still feel the coldness around him. A brown Broken Triangle of Blame near the middle of the paper was the roof to his new house. A brown square below it was the front of his house, and a smaller brown square in the middle of that was the door, with a dot, inside and off-centered, for the handle. Goosebumps covered his skin. Puffy blue circles were clouds in the sky. The goosebumps wouldn’t go away. Using the black marker, he drew two stick figures, one taller, with yellow hair—even though Mom’s hair was golden in real life—and a smaller stick figure holding Mom’s stick hand with his, which really meant that they touched with one long finger. But then he stopped drawing ….

He didn’t know how to draw Dad. He didn’t know whether to draw him as he was Back Then or how he was Now. Back Then he smiled and talked to Isaac in funny voices. Now he was Elsewhere. Back Then he’d swing Isaac like a circus man’s monkey and carry him on his back, or arm-wrestle him and be surprised by Isaac’s strength. Back Then he’d read comic books with him, curled into his cramped bed, both of them aping the sounds—KAH-POW!—BAM!—TAKA! TAKA!—and then he’d make sure that Isaac brushed his teeth, even when Isaac didn’t feel like it. Now he was Elsewhere, or Nowhere.

He felt warmer now, only because Ms. Kimo was gone. He put his face in his hands for a second. His fingers smelled like metal. He sat back up and looked at his hands, his fingers. Robot Fingers. Bop bop beep. It was a funny smell and he didn’t like it, not unless he would be given the Robot Powers with it, to grab something with a really strong grip, or bend hard stuff, like pipes. Beep beep bop. He could save people, rather than needing people to save him. Other Isaac didn’t get smelly Robot Fingers because he counted the planets, while Isaac was stuck counting pennies and nickels and dimes, some of which had nasty black stuff on them, like mold, or really sick green spots. He wanted to count the planets instead. He not only smelled like a Robot, he also felt like a Robot. All cold and metal inside. But he didn’t have the Robot Powers.

Later, Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman told him that he could take the drawing home and work on it there if he needed to. He didn’t know why she was so nice to him, but he put it into his Outer Space backpack and zipped up the zippers. Ms. Kimo collected the other drawings and said she’d hang them up for everyone to see tomorrow.

Families are very important.

The class, like a little flood, went out the doors toward the Twinkies and Parent Pickup, the adults outside making sure the kids got there safely. Isaac was one of the last kids to trickle out. He tried not to look back but he did. Austin was sitting at his seat, his eyebrows furrowed with Rat Rage.

The proud eagle spreading his perfect wings was gone.
The powerful horse with a silver body and copper wings was gone.
Bug-eyed Marco, rolled up like a roly-poly, was gone.
Dad was gone.
Isaac wasn’t a Robot. Beep beep bop. Bop bop beep.

No one could protect him.


After about five minutes of waiting for his Twinkie, number 235, Isaac was sticky with sweat. He tried to hide in the small crowd of kids, but it was useless, what with his Outer Space backpack and the red shirt he was wearing, he stuck out like a hammered thumb. Marco had been picked up by his dad almost instantly, and had waved to Isaac as he went away. He looked for the Living Doll, but she was nowhere to be found.

The sun seemed to be weighing down on him, but he was sweating more from the feeling of little pins in his stomach than from the heat. He hated when those little pins came, as if he swallowed a blue, baby hedgehog, or the pink cotton candy in the attic that Dad told him not to eat because it was filled with bits of glass. Isaac wished he had Robot Powers so that he could fight Austin if he had to, but he only had useless fingers that smelled funny. He didn’t know how long Ms. Kimo would talk to Austin, but Isaac felt that he would come around the corner at any minute. He walked to the very end of the circle, the toes of his shoes jutting off the tiny, crumbling cliff of the sidewalk. He craned his neck to see beyond the gate and down the stretch of road.

The dirty Twinkie on wheels was sputtering toward him. He looked back at the school. The small crowd of kids had spread out more, chasing each other, jumping over the benches, while others slapped the aluminum pole of the fence and shook the rusted links. As he walked toward the crowd in order to be one of the first kids on the Twinkie, he saw the Ratted Lurk of Austin, Rat Rage in his eyes.

“Still here,” said Austin, rubbing his hands as though sharpening claws.

“Hey,” said Isaac.

“Don’t ‘hey’ me.”

The Twinkie opened its tall door—squeak—yet only a few kids climbed the steps to get inside. The others were staring at Isaac and Austin.

“Leave me alone,” said Isaac. He figured the Rat had told Ms. Kimo that he needed to catch the bus because his parents couldn’t pick him up today, or some other lie. Ms. Kimo probably gave him a short talk only as scolding as warm water, any worse and she’d melt, so she allowed him to go.

“You gotta learn a lesson,” he said.

“OOOOoooohhhh,” said the circling kids, their eyes as big as owls.

“But I didn’t do anything,” said Isaac.

“Ha!” said Austin, more Rat Cough than laugh. “Whadyah think I am, stupid? You got me in trouble.”

Austin had been creeping closer and closer to Isaac, until they were almost nose to nose, yet Isaac had to look up at him. Austin was even more Ratted Out up close. His eyes were dark, shiny beads. His nose, dotted with black specks, twitched every now and then. His breath smelled like the dog poop you sometimes find jammed between the ridges under your shoes.

“Rattus norvegicus,” said Isaac. It was the Latin name of a common brown rat. He knew this because Dad looked it up when he thought they had one or two in the attic. Dad almost always read aloud, whether it was a whisper or in a normal speaking voice or when he was a brave hero in a comic book. Isaac remembered the entry from the Encyclopedia because it was one of the last things Dad had read, sitting in his armchair: The brown rat, Rattus norvegicus (also called the Norway rat) lives nearly everywhere human populations have settled; the brown rat is predominant in temp-rate regions, especially urban areas. Most likely originating in Asia, the brown rat reached Europe a longa time ago and North America a few hundred years after that. Brown rats exploit human food resources, eating and contaminating stored grains and killing pole-tree. They have been responsible for the ex-stinktion of native species of small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and have been implicated in the spread of a buncha diseases among humans, including boo-bonic plague.

“OOOOoooohhhh,” said the Owl Kids.

“You tryin’ ta cast a spell on me?” asked Austin.

“That’s what I think you are. One brown rat,” said Isaac. He knew it wouldn’t help him to call Austin a name, but he was tired of being picked on by Austins, especially Rat Austins. They’ve given enough diseases to people.


“I was gunna go easy on you ….”

“You don’t wanna fight me,” said Isaac, thinking of something….

“Ha! Why not?”

“Smell my fingers,” said Isaac. He held out his hand, trying to hold back the shakes. There must have been gazillions of blue needles in his stomach now, spreading to the rest of his body like the boo-bonic plague.

Austin looked around at the kids, unsure, but sniffed anyway. His black polka-dotted nose twitched left then right, up and down. The invisible Rat Whiskers on his cheeks fanned out.


“I have Robot Strength.”

“Nice try, twerp,” he said. “My fingers smell too.”


HOOT! cried the Owl Kids.

Austin had slammed his open palm into Isaac’s nose.

Isaac stumbled back but didn’t fall. He felt a buzzing warmness. There were tears in his eyes. He could barely see. Everything was melting into Pictures of Nonsense. He didn’t like it.


“What’s going on here,” yelled the Twinkie driver. He was leaning out of the door.

Isaac turned around, broke through the circle of Owl Kids, and ran.

“Wait,” called the Twinkie driver.

Other adults were coming toward him. But Isaac didn’t stop. He ran through the gate, to the left, and around the first corner, until he came to a row of bushes and jumped inside them—whoosh!—like a shape-shifter.


For five minutes Isaac wasn’t Isaac, he was a bush. When he decided it was safe, he slowly pushed out onto the sidewalk, becoming Isaac again. The twigs had given him a few scratches on his arms and he shook the leaves out of his hair. He lifted his arms and sniffed under both. They were stinky and it looked like he peed his pits. He was glad he got away but he was still sad. He was mad, too. His Outer Space backpack felt heavier, or maybe it was just his head.

He didn’t want to go back to school, so he went farther down the sidewalk. The road was lined with houses on each side, all part of the community he lived in, every one the same aside from a slightly different shade of color. His egg-white house was close enough to walk to, about ten houses down and five to the right, but Mom said it wasn’t safe, that she would pick him up if she could, but she had to go to work, so she was only able to drop him off in the morning, kissing him on the forehead and saying, “You’re my only Isaac,” because, to her, there was no Other Isaac who predicted the planets, there was only him. But he still had to ride the dirty Twinkie home, among the hollering kids who shot spitballs from straws at each other and the ceiling and carved bad words into the seats with sharpened pencils—penis mouth, fuk popsikle, num nuts—and other monkey business, everything but slinging poo. Actually, there was a rumor that a kid named Brian, whose brain really did suck, and not in the good way, tossed a hot handful of his turds across the aisle at the Twinkie driver and was expelled, never to be seen again.

Isaac knew he was going in the right direction because down the sidewalk, even from here, Isaac could see the Old Man waiting at the end of his driveway, his lawn covered with strange statues and sculptures. Every morning, when Mom drove Isaac to school, he would see the Old Man in just about the same spot, hunched over his cane, wearing a checkered shirt, staring forward, with the brim of his cap low over his be-speckled eyes. Be-speckled was a word he heard on TV, a lawyer said it to another lawyer, which meant someone wore big glasses, like Roly-Poly Marco. Isaac didn’t know why the Old Man was always there. What was he waiting for, he wondered.

As he neared the Old Man’s house, Isaac looked at the sculptures and statues scattered throughout the yard. In the back there was a small group of mossy elves, green as Twerps, but without glowing stems bouncing on their foreheads, yet they made up for that with pointy ears and pointier hats. Farther up there was a knight in not-so-shining armor standing as upright as can be. In fact, his armor seemed to be made out of broken parts, maybe from cars and radios or something like that. Taking up most of the lawn space were chipped and faded things that looked like they came from the Pictures of Nonsense, the weird shapes he had seen on the classroom walls and through his own tears, when he felt the buzzing warmness. Now they were 3D, even though he didn’t have the red-blue speckles on. At the front edge of the right side of the lawn was the statue that Isaac had tried to look at while Mom drove by but never had much of a chance, partly because he was interested in the Old Man and partly because she drove by too quickly. A great angel sitting on a little column, her eyes nearly closed and her head gently bowed. Her long gray hair wrapped around her shoulders and hugged her buck-naked body like a frozen waterfall. One of her wings was a frame of rusted wire, while the other spread out in all its stone-feathered glory. Isaac stared at her, and she seemed to be peeking up and looking toward the Old Man, who looked forward, outward, somewhere. A Broken Triangle of Ogling. The Old Man stood like a general who had lost too many battles. Whether he was a general or not, Isaac knew the Old Man had to be a Butting Artist, a good one at that, for he couldn’t look away from the angel.

“Like her?” asked the Old Man, surprising Isaac enough for him to gulp a piece of cotton candy, the glass kind.

Isaac nodded, even though the Old Man couldn’t have seen, since he continued to look ahead.
Isaac took a few steps toward him.

“Can you see?” He leaned some and waved his arm.

The Old Man nodded. “I see just fine, thank yah.”

Isaac couldn’t help himself, curiosity got to him like it got to cats, so he asked, “Why are you always waiting?”

“It’s her, you know,” the Old Man said, a thorny toad in his throat. His face, with its deep and rough blackness, turned to look at Isaac, yet the sun made the glass of his speckles holy white. “She’s the angel.”

“Who is?”

“My girl,” he said, lifting his cane up and thumping it on the ground as if to make a point. It was a long and twisted root, like a wizard’s staff. “I’m waitin’ on her. I have been for quite some time now. Say, why’s your nose so red, Rudolph?”

“I’m Isaac.” He wiped his nose.

“Why’s your eyes so red. You been puffin’ the magic dragon?” He laughed a ribbity laugh.

“No,” said Isaac. He put one little fist in his eye and rubbed.

 “Say, don’t you got a mommy?” The Old Man leaned forward on his cane and Isaac caught a glimpse of his muddy eyes.

Mom had always told Isaac, “Don’t ever talk to strangers, honey,” but the Old Man wasn’t strange exactly, only interesting.

“I’m walking home from school.”

“You ain’t doing much steppin’.”

“Are you a Butting Artist?”

“A what?”

“Butting Artist.”

“Budding artist? No, I ain’t that. These here works of art are my girl’s.” He stretched out an arm as if to present them and Isaac thought for a second that he would fall over like a rotted tree. “She told me, ‘Sammy, you can sell all these pieces, they probably ain’t gunna go for much of anything but it’s better than nothing,’ and I was heartbroken more for her than I was for me, even though she was leaving me. She tried so hard to be a, what did yah say, a budding artist, but it didn’t stick. She told me, ‘Sammy, I’m a failure,’ and I said, ‘No, baby girl, you’re great in my eyes, ain’t that all that should matter?’ But she wanted something new, everything new.”

“You’re waiting for her?”

“I’ve nothing else in my life but her. I didn’t sell any of her stuff, ‘course, ‘cause I didn’t try. I burned those yard sale signs a long time ago. Her art is sorta like her children, we didn’t have none, and so in a way they’re mine too. I hope every single day that she’ll come back, but I’ve nowhere to write or call, so I stand here. I’m too old to go anywhere too far. Standing here is all I got.”

“Do you think she’ll come back?”

“She has to.”


“Because…I need her. And standing by her angel form helps some, too.” He hobbled over to her and rested his spotted hand on her knee. “All these works of art are pieces of her, just like any folks’ children. I love them as much as I love my girl, but ‘course I’ve nowhere to put ‘em. She had a studio a few miles from here, though we couldn’t afford it anymore, so she had them moved here before she left. Can you believe it? A yard sale. Like I’d ever dream of parting with our children. They ain’t as pretty as they used to be, Lord knows, but when she comes back she’ll be glad I kept ‘em, I’m sure of it. Oh, look at me babbling to a kid….”

They were both quiet, looking at the angel.

“Maybe she’s like Halley’s comet,” said Isaac.

“Like what?”

“Halley’s comet.” He flung a finger through the sky.

“I don’t know anything ‘bout that….”

“It visited a longa time ago and after lots more time it’ll visit again.”

The Old Man patted her solid knee and then limped back to his general’s spot. “Yeah,” said the Old Man. “Lord knows I’ve waited a heck of a long time. But every last second’s worth it.”

Isaac thought he should tell the Old Man about Dad, but he didn’t know what to say.
The Old Man turned back around. He cracked a half-smile, his teeth like peeling bark. “Don’t she look happy?”

Sunlight sifted through the bare rusted wire arcing from the angel’s back. He thought the light was darker because of it, almost the color of amber.

“Even with one wing?” asked Isaac.

The angel wasn’t perfect, not like the eagle on the back of the quarter or the powerful horse with a silver body and copper wings. She was more like the other side of the quarter. A George Washington who was really sick.

But the Old Man lifted his cane up and down—thump!—and said, “‘specially with one wing.”
Isaac bent his knees a little and looked closely at her downward face, but he wasn’t sure. He saw a frown.


Once Isaac reached his new, egg-white house, he saw how boring the outside was in comparison to the Old Man’s, how empty the inside felt without Dad. His yard had nothing but bushes. He could shape-shift into them if he wanted to, but that was it. He was used to walking up the driveway of his old house and seeing his blue bike with the golden bell near the front door. Now he went up a driveway that had ugly, black stains on the cement from other people who had lived here. Mom was still at work, so he lifted the balding welcome mat—There’s No Place Like Home—and got the spare key. He wished the key was made of bone and fit into the lock of a pirate’s treasure chest, but all it opened was the front door of this rotten egg-white house.

He left his heavy Outer Space backpack by the door and took off his shoes that used to flash in the dark. Mom didn’t want him to get the carpet dirty, even though it was already the color of a coffee stain. In the kitchen, he climbed on top of a stool by the counter. Having a Vacuum Brain and all, he memorized Mom’s number a longa time ago, and he used the phone on the counter to call her.
Ring! Ring! Ring! 


Pictures of Nonsense filled Isaac’s eyes again and he spoke through a mouth full of air. “Mom. I got beat up.”

He was sobbing.

“Oh, honey. I’m on my way home. Stay there. I just got a call from your principal. Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”


A fine crack grew in her voice as she said, “I love you.”


After Mom came home and talked to Isaac while he held a packet of frozen peas against his nose, she tucked him in for a nap. He dreamt about one of the nights in his old house, or all of those nights as one: snow was something they had defeated together. Dad would build a fire in the fireplace, grunting and scratching himself to show Isaac he was a caveman, and sometimes Isaac was the roaring dinosaur that came after him, while Mom made hot chocolate with little marshmallows bobbing on the surface. Isaac’s most important job was to drag all the blankets he could to the couch and then pick a movie for them to watch. Jingle All the Way was one of his favorites, especially when the main guy becomes Turbo Man and saves his son. Robot Powers. Beep beep bop. Bop bop beep. When he awoke he felt like crying more, until he smelled the smell that was in his dream. Hot chocolate. He could hear Mom in the kitchen. Clunk clink clunk. Clink clunk clink. It had rained a little, scattering droplets on the window, yet it was still light out. When he was younger, he had thought that leftover rain was really the saliva of a big, dark animal with rabies, waiting for him outside, creeping from window to window. On many nights Mom or Dad, sometimes both, would wait by his window and guard him.

The jangling in the kitchen had stopped. Mom put her head through the door, her golden hair tumbling over. She smiled at him.


“Yes, honey?”

She sat down on the bed, next to her child cocooned in covers.

“Are there angels?”

“Angels,” she said. Her thin eyebrows lifted a bit.

“Is Dad one?”

The soft skin under her blue eyes squeezed and her eyebrows came back down. She placed a warm hand over Isaac’s chest.

There had been something wrong with Dad’s heart. Isaac had wondered if someone broke it. He knew it wasn’t Mom because they loved each other so much. It was something else, but he had no idea. Mom had said that Dad was a kind of falling star, so beautiful to see, burning brightly. Something can’t last that long when it burns in such a way. Thinking about what Mom had told him, Isaac had remembered an Encyclopedia entry that Dad read, about how Halley’s comet has lived for hundreds of years, even though its last visit was a longa time ago, before Isaac was born, and it won’t visit again until Isaac turned really old. He remembered that it was oh so far away, yet burned bright enough to see, if you knew how to look. “Why couldn’t Dad be that comet?” When he had asked Mom about it, she cried. 

Now, thinking about his question, she didn’t cry, which made Isaac glad. After a moment she answered him. “He was an angel, honey. He loved us both so deeply. There’s nothing in this world I’d want more than for him to still be one.”


Just in case, Mom made Isaac hold another small packet of peas to his nose while she served him hot chocolate with little marshmallows bobbing on the surface. It didn’t taste as good as he remembered, and they didn’t cuddle in the covers or see Turbo Man save his son. It wouldn’t even snow where they lived now. He thought of the drawing in his Outer Space backpack. Green zigzag grass. Mom and Isaac, black stick figures, living under a brown Broken Triangle of Blame. Puffy blue clouds in the sky. He wanted to tell Mom about the drawing but he didn’t know what to say.

Families are very important.

Later, after dinner, he finished up his sheet of homework at the counter as Mom floated around the kitchen and cleaned off the table and washed the dishes. He imagined her feet never touched the ground.

If everyone has two parents, then how many parents does Isaac have?

One, he wrote.


Ever since Dad went Elsewhere, or Nowhere, Isaac couldn’t sleep, and tonight was no different. He was thankful for the lamp post near his window because at night it gave his room a dim orange glow. A nightlight. More than that, the light was a presence that made him feel safe, guarded, but it still wasn’t enough to put him to sleep, because no matter how many times Mom kissed him goodnight, and she did so a buncha times, he was still one kiss short. When he thought about it he would cry under the blanket. But not always, because sometimes he would, like now, dig his arms out from under the folds of the blanket and lift his hands in the air, beginning to mark the wall with shadows: moving twisting melting blurring. This time, thumbs interlaced, he spread his fingers outward on each side, as far as they could go, like a pair of wings.


“To begin to wrap up this week’s lesson,” said Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman, “we’ll have an easy day today. The movie I chose for us to watch is about the relationship between numbers and letters. Pay close attention, though, because we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

The tables and chairs had been pushed to one corner of the room and the kids sat randomly across the carpet. Isaac sat a little ways back from most of the kids. Roly-Poly Marco hadn’t showed up. The kids began chewing on their buttery popcorn and Cheetos, sounding like a herd of hungry goats. Ms. Kimo turned off the lights, sitting at her desk in the back, and the movie started.

Afterward, he could barely remember the movie because he never truly watched it. He had focused all of his attention at the edge of his right eye, where the Living Doll, the Rainbow Girl with Sun-Yellow Hair, was sitting. They both had been leaning backward on their outstretched hands, legs straight, as if on the beach, covered and then not and then again by the blurred light of the TV in the dark. He remembered well one image of the movie—a big, brown dog with a giant pocket watch on the side of his belly, with the hands of the clock on Roman numbers reading 8:67, singing a song of salmon—because his Vacuum Brain had sucked up each square of color at the instant of shock, the instant when the Living Doll had rested her black-stockinged legs atop his smooth shins. From then on he stared at her sparkling, red shoes, like those of Dorothy. This trapped point of view caused the edge of his eye to play a trick on him. He saw how at the most fragile angle—following up from her Dorothy shoes to her glistening legs to her leprechaun green dress—her face, not the TV, projected the multi-colored squares of light to the point where her features were not exactly melted, but softened, while microscopic Twerps of dust played in the twin sunbeams of her eyes. This, along with the gentle pressure of the soft underneath of her black-stockinged legs, made him feel funny. Not all cold and metal inside, like he was used to by now, but something opposite.

When the credits rolled, Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman flipped on the lights and the kids stirred and stumbled as if waking from a dream. Isaac stood up and saw that the Rat was stone-staring with Rat Rage at the spot he and the Living Doll had been, pacifically where their shins had been stacked like Jenga blocks. Then the Rat’s dark eyes flicked toward him, pupil-less.


With class over, Isaac snuck beyond the gate of the school so he could pay the Old Man a visit. As he got closer and the Old Man became less of a shadow against the sky, he saw that the Old Man was dressed up in a fancy white suit with a red flower next to his tie. He leaned on a shiny cane the color of cream. He was still in his same general’s spot, looking forward, outward, waiting for his girl.
Before Isaac could say anything, and before the Old Man turned to see if it was really Isaac, he said, “Today’s the day.”

“What day?”

“The day,” he said. “She’s coming back. I can feel it.”


“All these long years, and today’s the day.”

The Old Man shook a little all over. Isaac wondered how many blue baby hedgehogs, how much glass cotton candy was in the Old Man’s stomach. But Isaac was unsure of how the Old Man could really know. Maybe the Old Man was like Other Isaac in that he was predicting something. Not the movement of planets, but the return of his girl. His Halley’s comet.

“I can’t imagine how much she musta grown as an artist,” he went on, “all these long, long years…she’s got to be famous by now.”

“Do you think she could look at my drawing?” Isaac asked without thinking.
The Old Man turned to look at him and the dim sky allowed Isaac to see through his speckles and into his maple eyes. “Drawing?”

“Uh, yeah,” he said. He had no choice but to take it from his Outer Space backpack and show it to him.

The Old Man held it up to his face with one eye screwed shut. “Hmm. That’s your house alright, or at least one of these houses, and your mommy. Hmm. Where’s your daddy?”

“I don’t know.”

The Old Man inspected Isaac now with both eyes open, one grey caterpillar eyebrow raised. “A boy gots to know where his daddy is,” he said with a pump of his cane. “Mine ain’t here no longer.” This time he stared a little upward and then outward. “Somewhere over those clouds, I reckon.”

The Old Man didn’t seem sure of where his dad was either, which made Isaac sad.
Families are very important.
The clouds that they were staring at weren’t white or puffy blue like in his drawing, they were gray as smoke from a chimney.

Isaac put his hands in his pockets. “It’s gunna rain?”

“Lookin’ like it,” said the Old Man. “On and off for the next few days, I’d say. I love the rain.” He gave a smile to the sky.

“But everything gets all dark and wet.”

“Well…ain’t that true. Don’t forget, though, when it rains there’s music.” 

“Music?” asked Isaac, thinking only of the big, dark animal with rabies.

“Music,” he said with another beat of his cane. “You’ll see. Just wait. When it rains tonight, give a good listen.”

“Okay,” said Isaac.

“You should run along now, boy. This is gunna be a big moment for me. I’m already sweatin’ like a pig.” He folded up Isaac’s drawing and put it in his jacket pocket. “I’ll show it to her, don’t you worry.” He put his hand to his chest.

Isaac wondered what other art his girl had made and if she was really famous. What was the limit of her power? Maybe she had sculpted Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman during some winter a longa time ago and brought her to life, maybe she had cut, stitched, and painted the Living Doll, so that Isaac could have someone new to love.

Maybe she had created all there ever was.


His Mom had gotten off of work early and waited for Isaac at the end of their black-stained driveway, but since he hadn’t taken the Twinkie, he went outside, startling her for a moment, and told her that he was dropped off half an hour ago. He felt bad telling a lie. It wasn’t something Dad would do, or even Other Isaac, but he liked the Old Man and wanted to see him and talk with him. When Mom hugged Isaac he felt like crying but gulped the ball of tears.

Clink clunk clink. Isaac sat on the big sofa and watched cartoons on TV while Mom made dinner, but he kept getting distracted by the image of the Old Man finally being with his girl, his Halley’s comet. Clunk clink clunk. She wouldn’t be a girl anymore, she’d be the Old Woman. They wouldn’t have grown old together, but they would grow older. He in his suit, she in her dress. In time they would go Nowhere together, or Elsewhere. He felt both sad and happy thinking about it. Clunk clink clunk. Clink clunk clink.

“Dinner’s ready,” said Mom.

He hopped up from the couch and went to the table, following the saucy-meaty scent as if it was a string pulling him by the tip of his nose. Pasketti. His favorite. She asked him about school but they ate mostly in silence. Whenever their eyes met she would give a drowsy smile. Earlier, the Twinkie had driven by their house and he hoped that Mom hadn’t heard it from the kitchen.


Mom looked up at him. No smile. He thought she would say something about the way he was eating, but then she forked some pasketti in her mouth. It hung there for a moment, yellowish and red. Sluurrpp. They laughed. Now they were both slurping their pasketti. Vacuum Brains.

“I want to show you something,” said Mom when they finished eating.

She went to her bedroom and returned with a shoebox. Isaac leaned over and looked at it, then at Mom. She nodded and he opened it. Inside was a carpet of square pictures. She picked one from inside.

“This was when you were only six months old,” she said and handed it to Isaac.
Dad was lying on the couch in a gray sweater and Isaac was curled atop his stomach, dreaming in blue pajamas. Dad looked a lot younger in the picture and he had a thick mustache.

“I’m drooling.”

“Yes,” she said. “You did that a lot. Whenever you stirred he’d rub your back or your stomach until you were fast asleep.”

“Can I keep it?”

“Of course. Look at this one.”

Mom and Dad sitting on a white rock among many others, in the background a big old building made mostly of chipped pillars.

“That’s the Acropolis,” she said, “in Greece.”
In the picture, Mom’s hair was Sun-Yellow, like the Living Doll. She was smirking. Her eyes were mysterious but she held on to Dad and he held on to her. His smile was so big that his mustache smiled with him.

“Can I keep this one, too?”

“Yes, honey.”

She looked at another picture for a long while and Isaac craned his neck to see. Mom in her wedding dress, holding a buncha roses and staring right into the camera. She was as beautiful as any angel and that’s when Isaac fully realized that she was one.

“Can I keep it?”

“What? Oh,” she sighed. “You can have all of them, but on one condition.”

Isaac waited.

“That we look at them together every night before bed.”

“Okay,” he said and ran to his room with the shoebox of pictures.

After Mom tucked Isaac in she cleaned off the table and washed the dishes. Clunk clink clunk. Clink clunk clink. All the while Isaac waited for the rain to come. He had been sleeping and dreamed that he was among fluffy clouds. He was digging through them, deeper and deeper, darker and darker, looking for Answers when lightning struck and he awoke to blackness. The power had gone out and the orange glow of his room, his nightlight, his guardian, was no more. It was raining. Isaac was scared but he listened for the music. The covers held him tight. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. He heard nothing. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Only a sound like the TV when it doesn’t work, when the color is faded from it. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. He watched the gray-lit slobber slapping against his window then he cried beneath the covers until sleep swallowed him.


Isaac hadn’t taken part in the talk about the movie because he knew that 8:67 was a weird number for a clock to read, plus no one mentioned that the Robot Dog, whose name was Tock, sung a song about a fish, only about the importance of time. So he had remained quiet and waited with Marco for recess.

Not counting his bug eyes, Roly-Poly Marco was less like a roly-poly as he and Isaac sat together on the big tire swing. Ms. Kimo the Snowwoman stood near the brick wall, watching everyone, and Isaac wondered how much heat she could take before she would begin to melt. Austin and most of the other kids, including the Living Doll, were playing tag beyond the slides and jungle gym.

Marco had said he wasn’t at school yesterday because he was sick, winking a big round eye, which told Isaac he had faked it. 

“So what’d you do?”

Whispering, Marco told Isaac about his dad visiting him from a faraway place called Rome.

“Why was he there?”

“I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but since you’re my friend….”

Isaac smiled and gripped the chains that held up the tire swing. “Tell me.”

“My dad was there to battle at something called a Collie-see-um.” His eyes were even wider than usual, taking up most of his face. “He fights big tigers and soljures. And the judger of Rome always gives him thumbs up at the end,” Marco flicked up his thumb, “because he’s the best fighter ever.”


“He brought me back a sword holder. It’s what he used to win his biggest battle. Soljures and tigers and bears and elephants as big as a house. He told me the judger of Rome sent him back over here, just to give it to me and….” He frowned, looking at his feet.

“And what, Marco?”

“Oh. It’s, it’s just that he isn’t staying for that long.”

“How come?”

“He has to go back and fight.”

Nearby, a boy named Mick swung across the monkey bars like he had practiced with jungle vines. A girl, whose name Isaac couldn’t remember, slid down a yellow slide and shrieked because her finger was shocked by it. Ms. Kimo went over to make her feel better and walked her from the playground.

“I wish my dad was the best fighter,” said Isaac.

“Yours lives with you, at least.”

“Not, uh.”

“Where is he?”


Marco leaned forward. “Where?”

“I don’t know.”

His head titled. “How not?”

“He’s Nowhere.”

Marco pulled back and his eyes shrunk. He and Isaac were silent. After a few moments, Isaac told Marco about what had happened after school two days before, and he could tell Marco felt guilty about it.

“It was all the Rat’s fault.”

Marco let out a fizzy laugh every time Isaac called Austin that. He tested out the name for himself: “The Rat.”

Isaac smiled. Maybe he liked Marco so much because he was from Little Lee, where pizza was invented, Marco had told him. Marco was a Twerp just like him.
“Did he hurt you bad?”

“Only a bit,” said Isaac.

Some of the girls were screaming like excited dolphins as they were tagged. Austin the Rat still wasn’t ‘it.’

“He really is a Rat,” said Marco as Austin and the rest of the group were coming closer with their game.

Isaac looked at the Rainbow Girl with Sun-Yellow Hair, the Living Doll. Today she wore an ocean blue dress and bow that flapped and bounced as she ran. Her Dorothy shoes spread rays of red light. Isaac admired how she never stopped smiling and how her cheeks were always like sugared hills.

He turned back to Marco, who gave him the extra bug-eyed look, where his olive-tinted lids drooped over. That happened every time he was thinking deeply.

“You like her?” Marco asked.


“You know,” he said. “Isabelle. You like like her?”

“Not uh,” said Isaac, looking down into the center of the big tire where their feet hung. When Isaac finally looked back up Roly-Poly Marco was still giving him the extra bug-eyed look.


Austin had grabbed Isabelle’s arm. She tried to get away and when Austin the Rat let go Isabelle stumbled back, her dress and bow flopping up and down. Isaac scrambled out of the big tire swing and began to walk over. The Owl Kids were perched around the park, ready to begin their hooting if need be.

“You’re ‘it,’” the Rat told Isabelle the Living Doll.

For the first time ever, Isaac saw her pout, bottom lip curling over crumpled chin, but when she saw Isaac standing there, as if to protect her, she smiled again, with teeth like polished opals.

“Tag me!” said the Rat. Most of the boys hovered around Isabelle. If only they could be touched by the Rainbow Girl with Sun-Yellow Hair. When the Rat saw Isaac, his eyebrows furrowed.

Isaac was unaware of Roly-Poly Marco, of Austin the Rat, of all the Owl Kids. There was only the Living Doll. He knew what he had to do. As soon as he heard the first wa-waa as the hem of her dress broke against her thigh in a deep blue wave, he turned and ran faster than he ever did before. OOOOoooohhhh. His world was light and sound. The crunch crunch crunch as he sprinted across the pebbles as if they were fire-breathing coals and then the confetti-colored slides with crackling static welcomed him as he mounted the lowest platform and climbed up higher-highest and ran past the mysterious Xs and Os of the turning Tic-tac-toe tiles and leapt from the platform onto the red-black-red-black rubber mulch that squeaked under shoes that used to flash in the dark. He turned to see if she was gaining on him. The opal teeth of her smile reflected scattered light. Isaac dodged the trees in the small forest near the playground and every time he looked back her bow and dress changed color, from redorangeyellowgreenblueindigoviolet to violetindigobluegreenyelloworangered and back again. His world was sound no more, only light, the light of the Living Doll. He ducked in time to avoid a hanging branch. When he turned around again he saw colors he had never seen before, colors that made him think of sci-fi, Other Isaac words, like metowelick and purrlessant. The colors of angels.


At the sound of his name that entered his Vacuum Brain as the color of the deepest ocean current, where a see-through creature called Sadness dwells, his feet stopped and turned his body around. The face of the Living Doll, the Rainbow Girl with All-Colored Everything, came to rest an inch from his face, as close as people are before they kiss in the movies.

Her eyes. His eyes.
They didn’t blink.
Her nose. His nose.
They inhaled each other’s exhales.
Her lips. His lips.
They were puzzle pieces.

“Why won’t you tag me,” he managed to say.

“Because,” she said, with breath like golden water, “then you’d be ‘it.’ I want to chase you forever.”

“Why do you—”
Her pink lips pressed against his for a buncha seconds.

“Tag,” she said. “You’re ‘it.’”

And the Light of the Living Doll disappeared from the forest.


As Isaac walked through the small forest in a daze, the forest seemed to grow larger, more maze-like, and between the towering trees blundered the Rat, bigger and hairier than ever, hunched over on muscled stilts as crooked as a dog’s hind legs, angry enough for steam to spurt from gaping nostrils. Foam ringed his mouth like rabies and horns curved from the side of his head.

“What were you doing,” said Austin the Bull-headed Rat Man.

Isaac wasn’t going to answer him. He couldn’t say anything to change his mood. That was something Isaac could predict, not the planets, but the unchangeable rage that was about to explode. He would have to fight.

The bellowing Bull-headed Rat Man galloped toward him—PHOOMPH!—and they fell to the ground, wrestling. GRRRrrr! HARUMPH! BREE! Isaac ignored the hot drool dripping on his face. MOOOooo! POW! AHH! After Isaac was struck he had grabbed the wooly wrists of the beast, using all his might to push its arms back. He twisted left then right. Isaac’s eye pulsed as if laser power wanted to escape. Beep beep bop. Bop bop beep. But he didn’t have special powers. All he had was the memory of Dad. Dad’s Brainiac Thoughts, Caveman Strength, Tiger Balance, his Venus Flytrap Patience, Court Jester Humor, his Orangutan Happiness.

WHUMP! He overtook the beast and began beating on his snout. BANG BANG BANG! The beast rolled over and Isaac stood up and pounded his back as if on a steel drum. BONG BONG BONG!
“Stop,” wailed Austin the Bull-headed Rat Man. “Stop!”

He was curled into himself, crying.

Isaac navigated out of the forest by the pale trail of heat left by the Rainbow Girl with All-Colored Everything, like the way a black road in the distance turns a sliver of the world into a swaying curtain.


Isaac was glad that the weekend had finally come. He wanted to talk to the Old Man and the Old Woman every day. He was sad that he hadn’t been able to hear the music, but he didn’t know if the problem was with his ears or not. He wanted to tell the Old Man about the Living Doll and Austin the Rat. The Old Man would probably say, “You should take boxing classes, son.” Would he call him son, or did Isaac add that on his own? Isaac wasn’t sure about boxing, but he knew Dad wrestled in high school and, for the first time, Isaac considered that as something he might do in the future, maybe even going to the Collie-see-um to fight. What would the Old Man say about the Living Doll? “You found Isaac’s comet, hold on to her tight now.” He didn’t know what he found, if anything, but, ever since, he felt so many blue baby hedgehogs in his stomach that sometimes he got really dizzy.

The sky was darkening further, getting ready to hush him forever. The Old Man wasn’t waiting at the end of his driveway. Isaac walked through the lawn of strange statues and sculptures—past the angel, the 3D Pictures of Nonsense, the knight in not-so-shining armor, the mossy elves that were green as Twerps—and knocked on the front door. He rang the doorbell. Nothing. He looked in the windows but it was oddly dark inside. It began to rain, a drop here, a drop there, and then slowly everywhere. Isaac walked to the edge of the driveway and looked forward, outward, somewhere. He smelled the wetness in the air. He turned and saw a puddle with a rainbow sheen, metowelick and purrlessant, sliding down toward him, under and around shoes that used to flash in the dark. He began to hear it, the music, as the droplets fell or bounced against the art pieces, a growing and continuous song, with some hidden and mixed meaning in each drop. Ping ding ping. Ding ping ding. He looked at the great angel on the lawn’s edge, and although the rain fell down her stone cheeks like tears, he saw her mouth curve into a smile, her eyes open, her face upward. He saw that she was happy, crying joyfully.

Table of Contents, August 2016