This week, I present an excerpt from Angelcake: a screenplay I wrote and have been working on converting into a novel off and on for years. In the story, following her accidental death, Judy Stringer is pressed into service as an unlikely, otherworldly suicide interventionist. She must prevent three suicides, or spend the equivalent of three lives’ worth of life expectancy as an afterlife public service worker under a literal boss from Hell: a matronly shrew of a demon supervisor nicknamed Attila the Bun.
Sarah, seventeen, slender and pretty, sits on the edge of the tub gazing stupidly at a positive pregnancy test. She wears a modest sundress and no make up. A low whine escapes from her and she quickly covers her mouth to muffle the noise. Her mother knocks on the door from the outside.
“Sarah honey, come on, it’s time for church.”
“Just a minute, Mom.”
Sarah stuffs the pregnancy test in her handbag, then goes to the sink and splashes some water on her face. She blots her face on a towel and tries to put on a normal expression as she looks at herself in the mirror. She can’t maintain it, her tears return. She opens the medicine cabinet and paws through its contents, looking for prescription drugs. All she finds is a bottle of aspirin. She closes the cabinet, reads the label, and notices Judy materializing behind her. The bottle falls from Sarah’s hand and her face registers awe.
“It won’t kill you,” Judy says, “but it will give you a nasty, bleeding ulcer. And it’s bad for the baby, too.”
Sarah spins around to face Judy and wipes away her tears, her voice halting and hopeful, her eyes glowing. “You know about the baby? Are you…an angel?”
“No, I—“ Judy notes the cross around Sarah’s neck and some religious bric-a-brac around the room. “Not yet, I mean. I’m not officially making with the wings and the harp and all, but I’m in the training program.”
Sarah falls to her knees and clutches at Judy’s dress. “I’ve done such an awful thing…and I’m an awful person!”
Judy pulls Sarah up and they sit on the edge of the tub together. Judy pulls a few sheets of toilet paper off the roll and offers them to Sarah. “And what about the father,” Judy asks. “Didn’t he have a little something to do with this?”
“Well…yes,” Sarah answers, accepting the tissue. “But he wasn’t who I thought he was. He said he loved me! He said…a lot of things he didn’t mean.”
Judy puts an arm around Sarah’s shoulders and gives them a light squeeze. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I really, truly am. But what’s done is done. There’s no use crying about it and suicide is no solution.”
“But what can I do?! I can’t tell my Mom, she’ll kill me!”
Judy chuckles and waves a hand in the air dismissively. “No she won’t. Kids always think that, but it’s not true. She’ll be mad, sure. And probably disappointed, and worried. But she’s not going to kill you.”
“Are you sure?”
Ten minutes later, Sarah and her mother sit at the small kitchen dinette table in silence. Sarah studies her mother’s stunned, blank face for some clue of how she’s taken the news. Abruptly, her mother pounces at Sarah in a rage, knocking Sarah off her chair and bellowing, “How could you?! What were you thinking?!”
Sarah scrambles into the corner, wedging herself behind the table. “Mama! Calm down!”
“I’ll calm down after I’m done with you!”
She grabs at Sarah’s dress and drags Sarah out from behind the table. Judy materializes between the two, affecting her most beatific expression and holding a hand out in front of her in the stereotypical ‘stop’ gesture.
“Unhandeth the child, O mother of Sarah!”
Sarah’s mother lets go of Sarah’s dress and backs away, into her chair. Sarah retreats to the corner. Judy whispers over her shoulder to Sarah, “You were right about her. My bad.”
Sarah’s mother gasps, “Are you—“
Not waiting for her to finish, Judy announces in her most heavenly-hosty voice, “Behold, I am an angel!” Feeling a little blasphemous, she adds, “More or less.”
Sarah cautiously emerges from behind the table and reaches for her mother’s hand. “Look, Mama! She’s an angel sent to help us in our time of need and tribulation.”
Sarah’s mother bows her head in deference and fear. Judy puts her arms out to her sides and does her best angel impersonation.
“Verily, I sayeth unto you, that any mother who so…slayeth her daughter…who is with child…eth…” Judy struggles for words, then drops her arms to her sides, sits in the chair next to Sarah’s mother and says, “Look, can we just talk about this?”