Zygmunt Frankel




Of course I don't ride a black horse, or have wings, or look like a skeleton, or carry a scythe. (And I don't see why they keep dressing that skeleton in a shroud: to cover non-existent sexual parts, or to keep him from catching cold?)
No; when I do take human form, say for a closer look before final decision, I change into someone so ordinary and inconspicuous that no one would take me for a spy, let alone the angel of death. I am soberly dressed, speak with the local accent, have some small change in my pocket, and, for a finishing touch, my hair may be thinning or my belly protruding or I may have a wart or a pimple somewhere on my face. I am quite unrecognisable.
Sometimes two people, one of them old but otherwise fit, sit in a caf¯ talking. A couple of tables away a most ordinary-looking customer is reading his morning paper over a cup of coffee. And then I glance over the edge of the paper and the first little slip of mind creeps into the conversation. It may be a hesitation over a date or a name, or the repetition of a question answered a few minutes before. It may pass unnoticed or be made light of, but the sclerosis of the brain has set in, and from now on the way is down.
Those, of course, are among the easiest and least tragic deaths. People who die senile have been granted ample time to achieve the things they have achieved and to attempt the things at which they failed. And, as their life ebbs, I often give them back their childhood and youth, something their scientists and magicians have been unable to do so far. They believe that their long-dead relatives and friends are still alive and well, and they ask after them, or, mistaking an identity, talk to them again. I give their poor fading brains the gift of turning back human time before they slip out of it altogether.
Of course it can't always be done all that mercifully. I can't let everyone who gets born reach ripe old age after decades of multiplying left and right. When there were just a few of them living in caves I used to thin them out with wild animals, falls from cliffs, and drownings in fast streams. Later on, I had to add hunger and disease. Wars were always good, and nowadays there are also road accidents. Modern science doesn't make much difference; what they subtract by birth control they add by prolonging life; and so long as scientists do not know or care whose life they are prolonging and whom they are preventing from getting born, why Rembrandt was a genius and all his brothers and sisters mediocrities, it can't be of much help to me.
From time to time the goddess of fertility, that little helper of hers with bow and arrows, and myself, all three disguised as a human family, get together for a business meeting at some roadside inn. We order a glass of beer for me, coffee and cake for the lady, and a large ice-cream for the boy before getting down to business. If the two of them overdo things it means more work for me later on. On the other hand, with all that contraception and longevity around, it is particularly important for the little brat to pick his targets well and shoot his arrows straight, because mortals don't know enough about what they call heredity and genetics to be trusted to pick mates for themselves. We pat him on the head and buy him another ice-cream, and the people at the other tables beam at us, their hearts warmed by such a charming family scene.
And all the while, all over the place, the invisible threads of our spinning reach out, intersect, entangle. A rich and cultured man at one of the tables is suddenly struck dumb by the swaying of a stupid waitress's hips, or an old man's speech is marred by the first senile slip of the tongue. But nobody sees the web. Theoretically, one day, they might be able to design and program computers capable of spinning such threads. And then they won't need me any more. They will have become angels of death themselves.


Nobody knows me. Or pretends not to, and looks the other way when I pass. I am not listed. The mortals know all about the other angels, demons, and gods: Gabriel the God's messenger, Raphael the healer, Uriel the angel of fire, Israfel of death, Posseidon the ruler of the seas, Hades of the underworld, Apollo the god of disease, Ares of war, Athena the goddess of learning, and Aphrodite of love. But of me, they know nothing and prefer to know nothing. It's an old trick, a silly superstition: pretend not to see something and it will disappear. But I am not disappearing because it isn't true, and I - well, I am the angel of truth.
I am the most guarded, supervised, censored, and distrusted of all the angels. The others are sometimes allowed to overdo things; there have been cases of too much war, too much death, too many diseases, too much learning, even too much love; but there has never been too much truth in the world. They won't let me.
They won't let me because truth is too heavy for most human shoulders and too blinding for most human eyes. It is not a pair of dumbbells for morning exercise or a candle on the table of a smart restaurant.
People imagine heaven and hell as two separate and different places, but they are not. It is a large lush lawn where the dead recline comfortably with food and wine within easy reach. And all the while they hear the truth, and some of them are hurt by it worse than by boiling pitch and flames, while to others it is more beautiful than music, and they are happy.
On this earth, I sometimes let a child know that his parents are not his real parents, or a father that his son is not his real son, or a child that his parents are stupid, or parents that their child is. For ageing women I take the form of a mirror. I sometimes let a nation discover that the ruler it had chosen or allowed to take power has led it into disaster. And sometimes I pursue people to the very end, letting them know that they are sick and dying, stepping aside only when it is time for them to face the angel of death.
And the bitterest truth is that they often prefer him to me.

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©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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