[Readings] Colored Angel Levine, By John Edgar Wideman | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

Colored Angel Levine

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The story will be published in the collection Look For Me and I’ll Be Gone next month by Scribner. Dedicated to Bernard Malamud.

A colored angel named Levine said to him, I have come to help you. But he had only half-listened to Levine. The name, the color wrong. Don’t match. Unnatural. Beyond belief. He lost the angel until he desperately needed him and searched desperately for him and searched and searched and at last finds him and pleads for help that the colored angel had once long ago offered. A happy ending to my story, please, Levine.

When he steps on the water of the colored angel’s voice, it does not give way. Feels solid as sidewalk, firm enough under him to place his other foot on the water, which could not be water, he was thinking even as he mounted it and stepped again, as if he could walk on water as easily as he crosses the kitchen floor. Accepts the ease of walking on water, accepts the oddness of pushing back in his chair from the table and standing up and no longer being a grown-up, old Jewish man. A boy again, surely, as he hears the boy’s mother say his name, or rather say the name for him he hadn’t recalled for years, more years than she’s been dead.

But walking on water is impossible because water doesn’t work that way, does it. You can’t just walk on it, there is nothing to it, your feet get soaked, you splash, sink, you drown if water’s deep enough and you are not careful and believe you are that boy again, there again in the morning with your mother in the kitchen, you pushing back from the table and rising up and turning to go get more milk from the icebox to fill you up, fill your cereal bowl that sits behind you now on the table, sitting there still plain as day again after all these years of never thinking of it once, bowl there, you see it with eyes in back of your head, a gleaming white bowl circled by three deep-blue bands, your favorite bowl even though a tiny, spidery crack looked to you sometimes like somebody had nibbled the blue rim and you wondered who, how, why when you had nothing better to think about those mornings before school, only a cereal box to read, a box read so often that nothing happens, words go nowhere, so you sit hunched at the table munching or crunching or just letting milk sog the flakes or sweet crumbles or pops or nuggets in the bowl until you can just about drink them down, going down easy, swallowing them easy as walking on water would be if a person could do it, he thinks, walking on water as solid as the kitchen’s shiny linoleum floor that holds him up this solid moment he walks across it as if his life is not sinking, drowning. He hears his mother’s long-lost voice, and he’s sure she will be waiting, busy moving about the kitchen till he gets back and sits himself down again, finished doing whatever a boy thinks he needs to get up and do.

Simple as that, a colored angel promises.


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