MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Davy emptied the brooms from his bag. He laid them on the ground according to size. Made of twigs, grass, and feathers, there were twelve in all. He used the largest ones for smoothing the earth in preparation and broadly sketching the outlines. The smaller grass and feather brooms were for finer detail.
He made his angel pictures in the early dawn while people slept. He’d done a small one already that morning, in the patch behind the doctor’s office. He was setting up for his second in the front yard of the parsonage. It was risky. Parson Fall had a fearsome temper. But his yard was the largest, flattest space in town, with the earth raked daily by an odd-job man. It was so perfect for making pictures, it was irresistible. As was Davy’s itch to make pictures in the dirt.
He didn’t take this risk very often. Today he would.
The dog sat on the pavement outside the wire-mesh gate. He watched Davy’s every move with lively interest.
“You can’t come in,” Davy whispered.
The scruffy black-and-white terrier had begun to follow him the day before. Davy hadn’t recognized him from the pack of hardened Brownvale strays, and the terrier wasn’t confused, like a dog recently dumped might be. He had a hopeful kind of air about him, an apparently confident expectation that someone—Davy, for instance—would soon adopt him. He gave a sharp little bark.
“Shh!” Davy cast an anxious glance at the parsonage. But the window blinds remained down.
Parson Fall’s iron heart held great sway in Brownvale. His large congregation lived under his rule. Liquor and dancing were forbidden. The only hymns they sang were those that he himself composed. His black-clad figure was a familiar sight, striding up and down Brownvale streets with zealous energy, sharp-eyed for the smallest transgression. He sat on every board and committee, from the court right down to garbage collection, and would always turn the business to his way of thinking. If a man could be said to be a looming dark cloud, the parson was the cloud that darkened Brownvale.
But he did have the best yard for making pictures.
And Davy lived below the parson’s radar. Davy lived below the notice of most of Brownvale. A mousy-haired, dark-eyed boy of medium height without home or family was not memorable in any way. And Davy took particular care to move around the edges of town, so as not to draw attention to himself.
No one knew he was Brownvale’s angel maker.
He made his pictures everywhere, on any flat, bare patch of ground. Not benign, smiling angels, though. Davy drew the mighty archangels. Heaven’s high warriors of awe. The archangel Michael overthrowing Lucifer, for instance. The twisting power of their bodies. The vengeful fury of Michael’s sword raised high to strike. His pictures splashed like riots upon the ordered streets of the town.
Turn a corner, take a stroll, dash out for milk—you just never knew. Where there had been none the day before, there one would be. An avenging angel. Judgment. Revenge from above. How people took them depended on how uneasy their conscience was that day. They might halt dead in their tracks. They might look up in alarm at the sky above or avert their eyes and scuttle past like a nervous crab. Parson Fall had made Brownvale that kind of place. So, despite their beauty, the angels were widely disliked. It might be thought a parson would approve of fiery angels, but Parson Fall did not. His conscience was uneasy, like all the rest.
Davy didn’t mean to poke at anyone’s conscience. He simply copied paintings from the reference book in the library Renaissance Angels. Had there been a selection of painting books, Davy would have ranged more widely, but there was just the one. As it was, he preferred the archangels to any other. Their warrior fierceness gave him heart.
He rubbed warmth into his hands. So close to Christmas, the mornings were chilly. Then, with quick strokes, working quietly, he used his largest twig broom to smooth the ground.
The dog whined. Davy dashed to open the gate and pick him up. “You have to be quiet,” he said. The dog took that as his cue to lick Davy everywhere.
Then Davy heard it. A rumbling on the road, headed his way. White lights raked back and forth across the gray dawn sky. His heart slammed and he ducked back into the yard to hide. He crouched under the laurel bushes, clutching the dog to his chest, his hand clamped over its muzzle. “Shh,” he whispered.
Davy waited and waited, barely breathing. Then a battered, filthy truck rolled slowly past. Roaming searchlights mounted on a rack on top of the cab scoured the sky and the ground. Davy cringed back from their scraping brightness, pushed himself deep into the waxy stiffness of the laurel leaves.
Mr. Kite, the gangmaster, was behind the wheel of the truck. Day or night, you never knew when he might be roaming Brownvale on the hunt. Vagrants and homeless down-and-outs were his quarry. Young or old, it didn’t matter. So long as they could work, Mr. Kite would snatch them and sell them on. The Town Council, well pleased to be rid of these vexing problems, slept easier in their beds thanks to Mr. Kite.
He steered with one hand, oh so casual. His jaws churned a plug of tobacco as his head turned from side to side, following the track of the searchlights. A bloodhound drooled next to him on the seat. Behind them was a rack of tranquilizer guns. In the cage on the truck bed several figures crouched, clinging to the bars. They’d been too slow or unwise or just plain unlucky. A cold shiver ran over Davy’s skin.
He held his breath till the rumble of the engine disappeared and the lights faded once more into dark, then he crawled out from the bushes with the dog. Dodging Mr. Kite was a regular challenge.
Davy returned to his picture. He’d planned which one he would sweep at the parsonage today. No archangels. No, he would sweep something gentler. Something more suited to Christmas. Tolmeo’s Angels Among the Magi, from page fifty-two of Renaissance Angels. But he wanted to try another painting first.
He’d seen it only once, the day before.
The cold wind billowed Davy’s jacket as he leaped up the stone library steps. Slapping through the door, he found it quiet as usual. Apart from the library bums, that is. The little gaggle of Brownvale down-and-outs were there, as always, keeping warm.
Howard had set up camp by the revolving stand of paperback romances. Feet up on his duffel bag, reading glasses perched on his nose, he was so engrossed in the pages of Forever Amber that Davy had to say his name twice before he looked up. Howard peered over his glasses. “Ah,” he said vaguely.
Davy kept his voice low. “Mr. Kite was in town this morning. Mr. Kite, Howard. With his truck. If you see him, you run and hide. Run and hide, sailor. And that’s an order.”
Howard saluted—“Aye aye, Captain”—and returned to his book.
Davy sighed. There was little chance that Howard would remember. Though Davy lived his life on Brownvale’s sidelines, he did have his own small circle of society. Mainly Mr. Timm and the library bums, and Miss Shasta Reed, who ran the Bellevue picture house on Main Street. Plus a few elderly folks he odd-jobbed for.
Mr. Timm was busy packing history books in cardboard boxes. Davy slipped around the counter into the librarian’s private room to wash his hands in the cracked china basin. Mr. Timm’s little room always felt too personal. The fraying collar and cuffs of his overcoat on the hook. The onion sandwich in wax paper on his desk. After drying his hands on the thin towel, Davy headed back into the main room, plucked Renaissance Angels from the REFERENCE ONLY shelf, and took it to the study table.
There was a free chair next to Jewel. The oldest of the library bums, Jewel had a chin full of hairs and a shaking complaint that gently wobbled her head all the time. Her lips moved as she read a children’s picture book. Her crabby finger kept her on track. “I like to read,” she told Davy as he sat down.
“Me too,” he replied. He began to turn the heavy pages. Francesco Maffei. Brueghel the Elder. Raphael. The name of the painting, the artist’s name, and some dates. Mr. Timm called those things the “attribution.” There was a full-page color picture for each painting. Davy lingered so his eyes could drink them in, memorizing each little detail. He stopped, frowning. He’d never seen this one before. Three times a week for the past four years: that’s how often he’d studied Renaissance Angels. But, until that moment, he’d not noticed this particular painting.
It was a night scene in a forest. A man stood watchful guard on a body. He wore no armor, not like the archangels did. He had neither wings nor a halo. But he was a warrior, formidable, like them. Tough and battle-hardened, his hands gripped the pommel of his sword. By his side was a magnificent hound the size of a small pony, with a rough coat and a noble head. The pale body they guarded was maybe that of a friend or a comrade, laid out in death on a great stone slab.
The colors were dark and somber. The dog and the man stared out of the picture, eyes straight ahead. There was something odd about them. What was it? Davy peered more closely. Yes, whichever way he shifted, their eyes seemed to follow him. There was a challenge in their steady gaze. A direct challenge. As if they knew him and expected something from him. It was unsettling. It was unlike any other painting in the book. Davy looked for the attribution, but there was none. No title, no artist, no dates, not a word. Just the painting, speaking for itself.
He took it to the counter. Mr. Timm was checking off a printed list. Davy spoke to his bald patch. “Something’s happened to the book,” he said. “It’s not the same.”
Mr. Timm inscribed a tidy check mark. And then another.
“There’s a page I never saw before; it wasn’t there till now. Another painting. Everything else is where it was, but”—Davy held out the book—“it’s different, Mr. Timm. Is it a new one?”
“New!” Mr. Timm looked up. “When did I last have money for new books? Money for anything, for that matter? Cast-offs, donations, paint peeling off the walls…” He flicked a despairing hand at the stacks.
Only then did Davy see that the shelves were noticeably thin of books. It seemed that, faced with Christmas closing, Brownvale readers had been borrowing the maximum eight allowed.
“It’s just that it’s changed,” Davy said. “I mean the book, Renaissance Angels. Mr. Timm? Are you okay?”
The librarian had taken off his spectacles to pinch the bridge of his nose. He smiled wearily as he said, “I’m just tired, son. Come back tomorrow; tell me then.”
Davy frowned at the picture he’d just swept in the parson’s yard. He’d done it all wrong. The warrior on guard ought to have an air of expectation, of active waiting. And the hound … He hadn’t gotten him right either. But the more his mind’s eye tried to see the unexpected painting, the more hazy and far away it became. He needed time to study it properly.
He grabbed the large broom and brushed it all aside under the laurels. Then he smoothed the earth for his planned picture, Tolmeo’s Angels Among the Magi.
With Mr. Kite gone, Brownvale was once again quiet. Davy stood in the winter dawn and closed his eyes. He brought the Tolmeo to his mind and set it there. Then he sent it flowing through his body and began to sweep.
He swept swiftly, in a kind of rush. Bending, turning, reaching. It was as if his brooms were part of him. He’d done the Tolmeo enough times that his body remembered it. That’s how it always seemed to Davy, anyway. That the paintings, once learned, stayed inside him.
And though he was sweeping nothing more than the dry brown earth, he imagined pulling colors down from the eastern dawn sky. The haze of pink bleeding into gray, turning purple. Deep scarlet, brilliant yellow, burnished gold. From his eyes, through his body, down his fingers into the earth and into the picture he was sweeping. The hues melting and shifting. The light glowing. Dirt was dirt—Davy knew that—but he felt that his pretending somehow gave his pictures extra life.
He’d shut the dog out of the yard again after Mr. Kite had passed in his truck. While Davy swept, it had been running back and forth, whining. Now, just as Davy finished, the dog leaped over the gate. He flew at the broom in Davy’s hand, seized it, and took off.
“No!” yelled Davy.
He chased after him around the side of the parsonage and down the service path where the garbage cans were kept. In the parson’s study, the shade was halfway up. The lights were on. As Davy went to grab the broom, he saw the parson through the window.
He was there in his study filling a hip flask from a whiskey bottle. His movements were brisk, as if he’d done it many times before. The flask full, he slipped it into his back trouser pocket. After a quick nip from the bottle, he hid it inside a hollowed-out book. The book went in the cabinet, which he locked with a flourish before hiding the key above the door. Davy stared, open-mouthed. Parson Fall was a secret drinker. What a two-faced old humbug. What a fraud.
The dog dropped the broom and barked. The parson looked up at the noise and saw Davy there, standing at the window. Davy turned to run and hit the garbage cans. Metal crashed, the dog yelped, and Davy’s quiet life in Brownvale exploded.
* * *
DAVY RAN IN A PANIC back to the yard to collect his brooms. As he scrabbled on the ground, the front door shot open and spat the parson out. With one leap he vaulted the steps and grabbed Davy by the collar. Davy went flying to his feet. A slight boy of thirteen was no match for a grown man, and the parson had been an amateur boxer. Mindful of the early hour and his wife asleep upstairs, the parson leashed his fury. “Shut up that dog,” he said.
The dog stopped his noise at Davy’s frantic hushing.
“I didn’t see anything. I swear I didn’t,” Davy said.
Parson Fall thrust his unshaven face into Davy’s. With sour whiskey breath he hissed fiercely, “You are gone. From this moment. Understand? I’m calling Mr. Kite and if he finds you, by God you’ll wish you’d left town when I told you to.”
Mr. Kite. Davy had dodged him once today already. His luck might not hold out a second time.
“Please, I won’t tell anyone, not ever,” Davy said.
“So it’s been you all this time. These damn angels everywhere. Even here in my yard, right under my nose. What do you mean by it?” The parson shook him hard. “What do you mean?”
The dog began to bark again.
“Nothing, I swear,” Davy said.
A shade snapped up smartly. A window slammed open. Startled, Davy and the parson looked up. Mrs. Fall leaned out from her upstairs bedroom window. She was in curlers, wrapped against the chill in a woolen housecoat and shawl. “Parson Fall,” she said. “Explain yourself, sir!”
The transformation was instant. Quite something. Slipping a friendly arm around Davy’s shoulders, the parson smiled in fake fatherly concern. “The boy’s little dog went in the garbage cans, my love. I was anxious to quiet him, my dear, before he woke you.” His tones oozed oily servility while his arm tightened like a vise around Davy.
Mrs. Fall said to Davy, “The parson’s concern for my welfare is directly proportional to his need for my money.” She looked down at Angels Among the Magi. “So you’re the one who makes the angel pictures.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
She gestured him forward. The parson shoved him to go and stand beneath her window. Davy looked at her curiously. Mrs. Fall was rarely seen about town. It was said that marriage to the parson had made her a chronic invalid. She was certainly thin and pale, with a fretful, pinched face, but her voice was strong enough. Her words stabbed sharply at the morning air and the parson winced, like he could feel every one.
Mrs. Fall’s frown softened as she gazed on Davy’s picture. “I saw the real thing once,” she said. “Angels Among the Magi. When I was a young woman, I made the ocean crossing with my father to the old countries. We visited the great museums and important sites of culture.” She turned her eyes to Davy. “This is very similar, apart from the colors. How do you know all these paintings?”
“I copy them from a book,” he said.
“What is your name, angel boy?”
“Davy David, ma’am.”
“Take my advice, Davy David. Don’t spend your life sweeping dirt. In the meantime, though, you’re welcome to make angels in my yard. Mr. Fall won’t have paid you; the parson is a philistine. A Tolmeo angel at his feet and he’d sooner step on it,” she said. “Hold out your hand.”
Davy caught the coin she let drop. It was heavy.
“Thank you, ma’am. Thank you!” He collected his brooms, shoving them into the bag any old way.
Mrs. Fall glanced at the sky, pulling her shawl around her more snugly. “There’s a wind on the rise,” she said. “You’re without your coat out of doors, Mr. Fall, sir. Do oblige me by catching your death.”
Throwing his wife a look of pure dislike, the parson slammed back inside. With a dry smile of triumph, Mrs. Fall let her window down.
Davy shouldered his bag and hurried from the yard. As he urged the dog out and turned to close the gate, he saw Parson Fall standing at the front window, staring at him. Davy flinched. The parson’s face was dark with plans for retribution.
The matter wasn’t closed; Davy knew it. He’d have to figure out pretty quickly what to do.
* * *
MRS. FALL WAS RIGHT. The wind was on the rise.
A breeze brisked through the front gate and circled the parsonage yard. It nosed around the edges of the Tolmeo magi, then moved on. Like it was in search of something quite particular.
Under the laurels it found what it was seeking. And what it sought was the raised ridge of earth, the swept-aside leavings of Davy’s forest scene, the strange picture of the warrior and his dog.
The breeze lifted a drift of that earth and whisked it off down the street. Past the whispering church, the library’s murmur, and the bakery’s yeasty warm breath. Past the hum of the movie house and the buzzing window of First Electric, with its TVs that few could afford.
It came upon the little black-and-white dog, sitting on his own. The breeze kicked him with a bit of dust to make him sneeze and, with a quick nip at his tail, hurried on.
It flew the earth from Davy’s picture over to the far edge of town, where Main Street became the road east to other places. It flew it to the boarded-up museum, a tall gingerbread villa from Brownvale’s prosperous days. The building’s girders groaned with tiredness from holding up the walls. Creaks crept along its floors and up and down the stairs. The glass-cased exhibitions, forgotten by the town, sighed as they dreamed of their living times.
The breeze dashed up the path and slipped under the front door. It set its dusty load down in the entrance hall. And there, on the checkered tiles, the earth began to whirl in an urgent dance.
Text copyright © 2016 by Moira Young
Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Hannah George