Angel for Hire

 

The bruise had started to fade.

Explaining it to other people meant lying, because admitting how it had been caused was too shaming. At least Sophie could now visit the hairdresser to have her roots touched up without the awkward chit-chat about everything bar the embarrassing elephant in the room. She only became blonde because He insisted. Refusing would have meant yet another confrontation in which she always came off worse.

Time to go online and see if eBay listed that football strip He wanted. It was impossible without the name of the club, which she had forgotten given all the other things on her mind. She only remembered that an angel had been in its logo. How could Sophie, a woman who loathed football, be expected to find the exact shirt from all the pages available?

A thumbnail for Angels' something-or-other popped up. Right colour, but on a Ken doll. So in frustration Sophie clicked on all the other angel links. They advertised everything from dodgy software to a book about Los Angeles' law enforcement.

Then an unexpected item caught her eye.

Guardian Angel

Allow us to solve the problem of your dangerously demanding child.

Sophie often surreptitiously went online to see how other mothers coped and read articles offering advice, but had never come across anything like this before. And then there was the “cost - Very Modest” in bold print, and then only payable for a successful resolution. Surely there had to be a catch - there always was.

But Sophie was desperate.

Should she, shouldn't she? What if He found out? Fortunately He only used his own computer. Her laptop was far too slow for online gaming. If only He had been a little better at them she might not have needed to put in so much overtime to pay the bills that were ratcheted up.

Some extraordinary scams found their way onto eBay, so she checked the Guardian Angel's rating. It was a 100% with many appreciative comments, some almost incoherent with relief.

Sophie clicked the angel wings icon over the large, friendly face of a Staffie terrier, which opened the link to the terms and conditions:-.

Services are only for those in genuine need.

A brief summary of the problem is required with application.

Well that was easy enough.

Sophie typed in the message box, 'A growing, greedy son with a violent temper when unable to get his own way.'

She filled in her name, address and secret email - no phone number, just in case the monster boy answered it - then clicked send. In her heart she knew that this was an exercise in futility, yet doing it made her feel a little better. And if it was a ploy to sell something else, she couldn't afford it anyway. It was as much a she could do to pay off the interest on the loans needed to keep her son happy.

That brief moment of relief faded as she pulled on her coat to leave for the evening shift. He was up in his room, probably leaving malicious messages on Facebook pages users had dedicated to deceased friends and family members. So Sophie silently left, pulling the front door to without a sound.

By the time she returned at midnight, the fridge had been raided and a chilled six-pack consumed. He was now snoring on his bed. At least she and the neighbours would get some sleep that night. Sophie could have popped into His bedroom and removed the speakers as a precaution, but that would have only triggered a violent tantrum the next morning. It was too soon after the last assault to provoke another, so she went to bed.

The morning shift did not start until ten, so Sophie waited until eight o'clock before getting up and going down to the kitchen. He didn't usually demand breakfast until she was about to dash for a bus anyway and there was no movement from upstairs. Perhaps He had wandered out in the night, drunk, and fallen under a taxi? She should have been so lucky! Sophie scolded herself for thinking such a thing. He may have been a monster and destroyed her marriage as well as peace of mind, but He was her son after all. Wasn't that why she put up with all the aggravation?

She made a coffee, which was half way to her lips when there was a knock at the front door. The electric meter had only just been read and it was too early for the post to deliver yet another expensive electronic toy.

Mug in hand, Sophie padded out to the narrow hallway see who it was.

Standing on the pavement was a scruffy man accompanied by a Staffie terrier with a smiley expression.

'Sorry love,' she said, 'Can't spare anything I'm afraid. Everything I make is spoken for before it leaves the pay packet.'

Behind the beard appeared a genial smile that disconcertingly resembled that of the man's dog. 'I know, madam. It is I who have come to help you.' He handed her his card. On it were the angel's wings and smiley dog logo.

Now what should Sophie do? Invite the man in and risk her son descending on them like an enraged demon, or leave him chatting on the doorstep to give the neighbours yet something else to gossip about? God only knew that they were entitled to do that.

She made a snap decision. 'Come in.'

The tramp and his dog followed her into the kitchen where she made another coffee. 'Sit down. Dog like some water?'

'He only drinks lemonade.'

'Got some somewhere.' Sophie pulled out a half-empty bottle from a cupboard. 'Must be flat by now.'

'He won't mind.'

The dog enthusiastically lapped up the lemonade from the basin she placed on the floor.

Sophie sat at the table facing the visitor. His eyes were a startling blue, yet his skin - that which was visible under his tangled beard and unkempt hair - an amber gold.

'I really hope this isn't a joke,' Sophie whispered. 'I'm too near the edge, and a con like this just might tip me over.'

'I appreciate that. How long has your child been a problem?'

'Since he was born. We thought the boy would grow out of it. Been seen by the best specialists. They couldn't find anything to account for the way he carries on. We never spoiled him. When he was seven he knifed his young sister over a toy, so they took the poor little kid away for her own safety. Only manage to slip away and see her now and then. If he knew he would get jealous and probably knife me as well - not that he hasn't tried. He's just too old for me to manage any more. He was a nightmare before – now it's hell! Broke up our marriage, he did...' Sophie started to become tearful.

'Please rest assured that my services encompass problems of this nature.' The dishevelled visitor seemed totally confident in his claim.

'I don't see how. Everyone has tried. Because there's nothing wrong with him, he would need to maim or kill me before the police intervened.' The tears were now flooding down Sophie's cheeks. 'How did this happen? I'm not a bad mother... My daughter's a lovely girl...'

'You are a generous and worthy woman inflicted with an aberration that could have been born to anyone. Had your child been disabled I have no doubt that you and your husband would have lovingly tended to his needs, whatever the cost. But there is no reward for nurturing a creature you cannot love, however hard you might try.'

There was no point in wishing herself back to those unenlightened times, so Sophie choked back the tears with the help from a mouthful of coffee. 'I don't mean to be rude, but what could you do about it?'

'Life has the most unexpected way of balancing things out.'

'I've lost a beautiful daughter. Even if he wasn't here, I could never take her back now. She's too happy with the family that adopted her and I would never do that. And even if you can do something, how do I pay you?'

'In the way you least expect.'

Sophie raised her eyebrows and backed away slightly.

'Nothing salacious or illegal, I assure you.' The visitor finished his coffee. 'Now, about your son.'

Something occurred to Sophie. 'That's odd. He would normally be down here like a shot as soon as he heard voices, hangover or not.'

The visitor's mouth formed a knowing 'Ah.' He had obviously anticipated that.

Sophie could tell that this “angel” knew more than he would admit. 'Just what is my son?'

He smiled sympathetically. 'Just a mishap, a very unfortunate mishap.'

'But he's my son...'

'Genetically maybe. Unfortunately some personalities can slip through into identities never intended for them.'

Sophie could barely grasp what he was saying. 'But he's not the only one like it. There are so many there's even a support group. I daren't join it in case he found out.'

'Owing to the increasing numbers, filtering their allocation has become a problem lately. Thank goodness for the Internet.'

His mystifying words took on a watery quality as Sophie unaccountably found herself dozing off.

When she woke it was still half past eight.

She had fallen asleep, head resting on the kitchen table next to her mug of coffee. After being exhausted by all the stress, was she now starting to hallucinate, or could that visitor and his dog have been real? If so, they must have wound back the hands of the kitchen clock. And yet there was that basin on the floor licked clean of lemonade and other mug on the table. Then she noticed the card with the smiley dog and angel wings beside it. On its reverse was a note, “Thank you for the excellent coffee. Payment received and matter now dealt with.”

Sophie tucked it in her dressing gown pocket and quickly rinsed out the visitor's mug before He came down.

Still disorientated, she made another coffee and went into the living room to rest in an armchair.

Eventually her thoughts cleared and she became aware of the changes. Her ghastly son was no longer in the photo taken with her husband when the boy had been an infant. The chair by the door where He always dumped washing was empty. All the discarded electronic toys, footballs and folder of Nazi insignia from which He was selecting a tattoo, had also disappeared.

Sophie rose, half hopeful, half fearful, and padded up the stairs to her son's bedroom. There was no skull and crossbones “keep out” sign on the door. She warily nudged it open and peered in.

The computer, sound system, horrific posters and Coke stains on the wall were all gone. The room was exactly as it was before becoming his; light, airy with faded flower wallpaper and lacy net curtains fluttering in the breeze from the half open sash window. And - best of all - He wasn't there!

Sophie wanted to burst into tears - of relief. No guilt, no regret, just relief.

It wasn't possible to wind back the years He had robbed her of, but at least she had her life back. Perhaps every record of her son had also disappeared from the files of the agencies called in to help her. If not, she could always tell them that He had left to join some right wing commune. They would believe that.

After a shower, another cup of coffee, and a phone call to say that she wouldn't be in to work that day, Sophie sat at the kitchen table deep in thought.

There was a knock at the front door.

Perhaps the devil offspring had changed his mind and come back?

Perhaps the angel had returned to demand real payment.

At that moment Sophie would have handed over her life's savings if she had any. She pulled herself together and went to answer it. Standing on the pavement was no tramp and his dog, or her ghastly son.

It was the husband who had left ten years ago.

'Ben?'

He looked sheepish. 'I've come to say sorry Sophie. I should never have bailed out like that, but you know I would have killed that little sod if I'd stayed.'

Sophie had wished so many times that he had.

'He's disappeared from all your photos, hasn't he?'

Ben looked startled. 'How did you know?'

Then she noticed the five-year-old clinging to his trouser leg. She was a pretty, slight thing with huge hazel eyes. 'Who's this then?'

'Hamida. Her mother's...' He hesitated.

'How?'

'Honour killing for shacking up with me … three years ago,' Ben whispered.

'Oh Ben … I'm so sorry.'

Sophie didn't know what else to say.

As the angel had said, 'Life has the most unexpected way of balancing things out.'

Not only had she been relieved of a nightmarish son, but was being compensated with a beautiful daughter to cherish.

'Come inside Hamida. I'm making breakfast. Do you like scrambled eggs on toast?'