As I recall, we paid about $45 for the concrete angel. My wife’s best friend had a neighbor who liked to mold sculptures out of cheap concrete. He was a shaggy, middle-aged guy with a nose full of burst capillaries who showed us a few of his sculptures and said he could mold an angel for my wife in about two weeks.
“It’s not as simple as it looks,” he said as we eyed the concrete gnomes, mushrooms and forest animals lining the walls of his garage. “It takes time to do it right.”
The guy made good on his promise and, two weeks later, my wife took home a very realistic depiction of a cherub in flight, one arm held high so that you could hook him to anything sturdy enough to bear his 15-some-odd pounds. We later learned from our friend that her neighbor was a chronic womanizer who practiced his concrete-molding skills on some of his favorite female subjects. His wife found those particular sculptures in a garage closet behind all the smiling gnomes and woodland creatures.
That wasn’t important. What was important is that my wife liked the angel. She hung him from a metal arbor that we put in our backyard, a place where he could keep watch over the starlings, finches and cardinals that frequented our feeders, and where my wife could watch over him through our second-story living room window. She did that sometimes on quiet weekend mornings, drinking coffee and staring out at the birds and the angel and the clematis hanging from the arbor. There were other angels she began collecting soon after we moved into our new home in the northern part of the city. We moved up there after enduring a family tragedy and, in a way, my wife felt the angels might stand guard and keep misfortune from following us to our new home.
One early evening in June, I was spreading black velvet mulch in the garden bed beneath our backyard arbor. It was the end of a long, hot day of watching our one-year-old son, then mowing the lawn, then doing some more yardwork that I’d put off for a few weeks. I had on my ear buds and my iPhone was cranking out Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak album. Everything was peachy: mulch, sweat, bumblebees, The Cowboy Song and occasional sips of water from my giant St. Luke’s Hospital & Women’s Clinic bottle. The only annoying thing, other than the bees, was my tendency to rise up from my work and bump my head against the concrete angel hanging from the arbor. This happened enough times that I started to get a little testy. “Next time I hit my head against that stupid angel, I am going to grab it and throw it as far as I can,” I thought. I might have even said it.
A few minutes later, with “The Boys Are Back in Town” blaring in my cranium, I gathered myself into an upright position and, bam! hit my damn head on that angel again! I knew what I had to do. I picked that cherub up by his wings and tossed him over our picket fence. I took no pleasure in the act. I had told that angel I was going to do it, and damnit, how dare he test me like that! I calmly returned to my work with the mulch.
A few seconds later, I felt a pop on my head. Then another one against my arm. I pulled off my ear buds and looked up at our backyard deck, where my wife and son stood, staring down at me. My wife took another piece of ice from the drink she was holding and threw it at me.
“I saw the whole thing!” she yelled.
“Don’t tell me ‘what.’ You know what I’m talking about.”
“Hi, Daddy!” my son squealed, waving a burp towel at me.
“The angel was hitting me on the head,” I explained. “I had to get it out of the way.”
“Oh, the angel hit you in the head and so you threw it.”
“I tossed it.”
“Hi, Daddy!” my son squealed.
She took our boy inside and returned to finish our conversation.
“You have no idea,” my wife hissed, “What an asshole you looked like.”
“It’s not broken. I just tossed it.”
She went back inside the house and, after a few minutes, I walked around the fence and into the tall grass to retrieve the angel. Sure enough, his little arm, the one that had held him aloft, had broken off from the impact of the fall. I took a deep breath and walked into the house to give my wife the news.
“You were right. It’s broken.”
“I told you it was.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I know how much you like it.”
“That’s okay,” she said in a way that clearly meant it wasn’t.
“I’ll buy you a new one,” I said.
“Good luck finding the guy who made it.”
“I’m not buying it from him. God knows what he was doing with that concrete.”
“It’s really okay,” she said.
I, of course, did eventually get another concrete angel that we could hang from our arbor, though not one nearly as big and majestic as the old one, which now sits grounded in our garden bed as a reminder that I am not perfect and, yes, sometimes an asshole.