Grace Clarkson had seen The Olde Book Shoppe before but never had the time to go in and browse. She had been too busy with last minute details in the publishing of the book she had written. Today, however, she missed her train home to Arlington Heights and had some free time before the next train.
She browsed the display window of The Olde Book Shoppe for a few moments but found nothing that caught her interest. She could, however, vaguely see hundreds of books lining the walls inside the dimly-lit shop, and … there was a narrow stairway to a loft with many books stacked willy-nilly on the stair treads. She smiled to herself as she decided there was bound to be a treasure hidden somewhere in this ancient funny little bookshop.
As she entered the shop, the tinkling bell above the door surprised her and made her think of the little girl in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, who said, every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. She quietly closed the shop door and slowly walked into the interior of the shop, surveying the breadth and width of its offerings.
When she reached the foot of the stairway leading to the loft, she stopped and looked up. Sunlight peeking through the skylight was caught in the swirling dust particles produced by the draft when she entered the shop. The possibilities of finding a treasure hidden in the loft captivated her attention. She grasped the handrail and thought of Dr. Seuss as she carefully climbed upward, avoiding the stacks of books.
She remembered reading to her little girl, Sarah, something Dr. Seuss said about books in all the nooks and crannies. The author of those delightful books most certainly must have climbed stairs such as these.
The skylight provided adequate light for a preliminary search, but the day was waning so the light would not last long; there appeared to be no other available illumination.
As she moved slowly along the balcony, scanning the bookshelves, she felt the presence of someone near which she thought odd. She looked in all directions but saw no one at first. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw movement in a recess at the back of the balcony. “Hello?” … There was no answer. Then she heard someone shuffling across floorboards on the level below.
“Hello,” came a greeting from below. Grace looked over the railing and beheld an elderly man peering up at her over gold-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose. She could not help but notice his kindly crystal blue eyes gazing at her.
“Hi.” Grace smiled.
“I heard you call out. Is there something I can help you with?”
“No, no. I was calling to someone up here who seems to be hiding in an alcove.”
“Not to worry. He won’t answer. He’s quite harmless. Pay him no attention.”
“Quite harmless, you say. I’m very glad to hear that. Who is he and what’s he doing up here … hiding?”
“It’s an angel, and I’m not sure why he’s chosen this place to hide.”
“An angel?” Grace was flummoxed. “You’re kidding?”
“Oh, no, he’s an angel to be sure.
Grace moved to the head of the stairway.
“Oh, please, don’t let his presence discourage you.”
Grace descended the stairs, “I’m not discouraged … I’m freaked out. Who are you?”
“I’m Morris Liebemacher. This is my shop.”
“Morris, you act as if harboring an angel is an everyday occurrence.”
“Oh, no. It isn’t that at all. I just don’t know what to do about him. He seems quite harmless, so I let him be.”
“That’s very generous of you. Do you know anything about him … this angel?”
“No, not really. I’ve tried to talk to him but he won’t say a word. He was terrified the first time I spoke with him, but has since gotten used to me and seems quite calm now. Would you like to have a go at him?”
“No … I don’t think so. I’m not really into talking to angels … terrified or not. I think I would find it … how shall I say … a little disconcerting, being my first time and all. You understand.” Grace raised her eyebrows and smiled.
“Oh, yes, I quite understand.”
“He’s not a you-know-what angel from you-know-where, is he?”
“Oh, no. Indeed he is not. Dark angels are not very attractive and you don’t get good vibrations from them. And they smell funny. This one, on the other hand, is quite beautiful and radiates loving vibrations. Did you notice the smell of flowers when you got close to him?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. How very strange,” Grace looked up into the balcony as she recalled the aroma of spring flowers.
“I came across him one afternoon when the Sun illuminated the alcove he hides in. He’s quite pleasant to look at. If he would only speak and tell us what troubles him. Are you sure you don’t want to have a go at him?”
“No, thanks, Morris. Perhaps another day. Besides, I have a train to catch. Nice talking with you. Good-bye.”
“Good afternoon, my dear. And thank you for dropping by. Please come again.” Morris smiled as Grace moved to the front door. She opened the door and paused when she heard the little bell above the door, looked around, waved farewell to Morris, and glanced at the stairway leading up to the loft as she closed the door. An angel without wings. How quaint. She smiled when she remembered the beautiful aroma of flowers.
During her train trip home, she could not get the idea of an angel hiding in a loft out of her head. She chuckled to herself at how bizarre the idea was. The thought of writing a story about the encounter did not escape her creative mind.
By the next afternoon, she had all but forgotten the incident at the bookshop. A few days later she received a phone call from her publisher, requesting that she come into the city and sign some contracts.
She exited the train terminal on Jackson Boulevard and stopped short as she crossed the Canal Street Bridge. The Olde Book Shoppe she anticipated seeing was not there, just the blank wall of the parking structure. The ladies apparel shop across the street was still there but no bookshop. She stood a moment cognizing the situation, then moved quickly toward the Loop for her appointment.
It was high noon when she finished her business and was returning to the train station. As she came up Jackson Boulevard, her pace slowed when she noticed The Olde Book Shoppe was there again – in the distance. “What in holy hell is going on,” she murmured to herself.
It began to drizzle as she approached the front of the bookshop. She hesitantly opened the shop door and found nothing out of the ordinary as the bell over the door announced her arrival. Her thoughts of how this bookshop could disappear and reappear faded as she thought of the visitor in the loft.
She heard shuffling across floorboards before she saw Morris emerge from the back room. “Ah, there you are, my dear. I am so pleased to see you again. How are you?”
“Perplexed would pretty well describe it.” She moved closer to Morris and spoke softly; “Is he still there?”
Morris nodded, “Oh, yes, he most certainly is. Have you come to help?”
“Help? How in the world could I help?”
“You could try and speak with him.”
Grace paused. Common sense told her to run for the hills and never come back. Curiosity and her woman’s intuition told her to take a chance. And there was the added benefit of a possible story. Besides, it wasn’t every day one encounters a good looking angel who smells good. She smiled at Morris and moved to the stairway.
After carefully climbing the crowded stairs, she moved quietly along the balcony and stopped when she saw the familiar movement in the alcove. Thinking he may be nervous about her coming so close, she looked over the railing and whispered, “Morris, would you say a few words to calm him … and me.”
“It’s all right, my friend. She’ll do you no harm. She is here to help,” came the dulcet tones of Morris’ voice.
She continued moving slowly toward the alcove, “My name is Grace. Will you speak with me and let me help you?” The clouds above the bookshop broke, letting the Sun stream through the skylight, illuminating the loft.
Grace stopped when the Angel became visible and was taken aback by what else she saw as the angel pulled back from the light. She turned and quickly descended the stairs.
“Well?” Morris smiled in anticipation.
“Morris, he’s not alone.”
“What’s that you’re saying?”
“I saw a little girl about three or four peering out from behind the angel, and he was holding a baby in his arm. I’m guessing six or eight months old.”
Morris was slack-jawed.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” Grace was breathing hard.
“No, I don’t.” Morris appeared to be as mystified as she was.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, my dear. Were you able to speak to him?”
“No … I was so surprised at the sight of the children, I came right down to you.”
They both saw motion at the loft railing and looked up. “Oh, my dear God.” murmured Grace.
“This has never happened before,” Morris whispered. “Let’s go up and see if he’ll speak.”
They stopped at a comfortable distance from the Angel so as not to alarm him. “Will you tell us who you are?” Grace whispered.
The Angel nodded and moved closer. “You may call me Thomas.”
Grace was struck by the Angel’s melodious voice. “But that’s not your true name … is it?”
“No. It is better you do not know my real name.”
“Ok, Thomas, I have no problem with that … but what of the children? Who are they?”
Thomas was silent.
“Thomas? Who are the children?” Grace’s voice became insistent.
“They are your children, Grace,” came a soft reply.
“What?” Grace grabbed the stair railing. She turned to Morris, “What is he talking about?”
“I don’t know, my dear. Perhaps we should let him tell us.” He looked sympathetically at Grace and then turned his gaze to Thomas.
Grace looked up and waited. Her mind raced into the past as doors of her private world flew open.
“You have suffered two grievous losses in the past. Is that not true?” Thomas’s voice was almost a whisper.
“Yes, I have, but…” she was unable to finish.
“A little girl in an auto accident. And the miscarriage of a little boy not too long ago.”
Grace sat down on the stairs as Thomas’ caring voice overwhelmed her. He waited for her to answer.
“Yes … it’s true … but they died and I buried them.”
“They did not die, Grace. No one ever dies. I have been looking after them since those fateful days.”
“I don’t understand. Thomas? What are you trying to tell me?”
“I’ve been waiting for you, Grace, to tell you that they wish to return to you.”
“But that’s impossible,” Grace replied as tears welled in her eyes.
“Nothing is impossible.”
“You have separated from your husband, the father of these children. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is. The loss was more than Charlie could bear. He was so unhappy, I let him go.”
“He is not doing well. You need to find him.”
“I don’t know where he is.” Her tears overflowed their banks and cascaded down her cheeks.
“Not now, Grace. Tears will not help. Be strong and vigilant.” Thomas moved away from the railing.
“Wait! Thomas! I want to see…” Grace rushed up the stairway to the balcony. “Thomas, please,” she looked in all directions, “Morris, where is he?”
Morris joined her at the head of the stairway, “I’m afraid he’s gone, my dear.”
“Maybe he’s…” Grace hurried to the back of the balcony and the alcove where she first noticed Thomas. The scattered afternoon sunlight danced through the balcony as the moving clouds overhead broke apart. Grace turned and looked at Morris and plaintively asked, “What am I going to do?”
“I believe Thomas gave you the answer, my dear. Be strong and vigilant.”
Grace turned and looked into the empty alcove. As she was about to leave, she stopped, bent over and picked something up from the floor. “Oh, my God,” she murmured. She turned and ran to Morris, “Look, Morris.”
“What is it, my dear?” Morris was pleased to see the joy on Grace’s face.
Grace held a small bracelet of colored beads, “This belonged to my Sarah. I placed it in the casket with her.” She turned and looked back to the alcove, “My baby boy!” She turned to Morris, “Do you think what Thomas said is true? Will they come back to me?”
Morris smiled and took Grace’s hand and helped her down the stairs, “Yes, my dear, I do indeed believe him. Thomas would not have come all this way if it were not true.”
“I wonder,” Grace spoke softly, “why didn’t he tell you in the beginning why he was here?”
“Who knows the ways of Angels? I thought of many reasons but never suspected that this would happen. I am very pleased for you, my dear.” Morris led Grace to the front door and opened it. “Time for you to catch that train home. And be vigilant for the return of your husband. I’m certain Thomas has already given him a nudge.” Morris broke into a wide grin.
“Thank you, Morris.” Grace embraced him; “Thank you very much. God bless you.”
“And you as well, my dear.” He closed the door, looked up and smiled at the sound of the little bell tinkling above the door.
Grace paused at the display window and waved. Morris waved back and then rubbed his hands together in delight as Grace made her way to the train station.
When she reached the Canal Street Bridge she paused, looked back and smiled to herself when she saw The Olde Book Shoppe was no longer there. She was convinced that a miracle was happening and she was … somehow … part of it.
The phone was ringing as Grace opened the front door of her home. She ran into the kitchen and grabbed the phone from its cradle. “Charlie?”
There was a second of silence, “Grace? How did you know?”
“I was hoping it was you. How are you? Where are you?” She held the phone so tight it began to hurt her hand.
“I’m okay. I’m in California.”
“Yes, I’m staying with my brother.”
“I thought you didn’t like Neil.”
“I know. I decided to make my peace with him. I did a lot of thinking as I drove across the country.”
“He’s been very understanding and supportive. We’ve had some very positive conversations. I realize now I made a mistake in leaving you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
“Charlie, there’s nothing to forgive. You’re my life. I miss you terribly. And I realize now I made a terrible mistake. I want to try again.”
“But when our son was lost, you said you never wanted that pain again.”
“I know. But I was wrong. Are you coming home?”
“You bet I am. I called … to make sure you were for the idea.”
“You were about to say something else. What was it?”
“I was told to call you.”
“That’s just it, I don’t know. I stopped at the market to get a few things and a man came up to me and told me to call home.”
“Thomas,” Grace whispered.
“Who did you say?”
“Nothing, Charlie. When are you leaving?”
“I’ll be here.”
“How’s the book coming along?”
“It’s done and being published. I signed the contracts this morning. And I have other news.”
“It’s good news. I’ll tell you about it when you get home.”
“Goodbye, for now, Grace. I love you.”
“I love you, Charlie. Hurry back to me.” She placed the phone back in its cradle and sat down, overcome with the events of the day.
“I have good news, Grace,” Doc Geffert settled back in his chair.
Grace and Charlie held their collective breath.
“I heard two heartbeats. Congratulations.” Doc Geffert smiled at the happy couple.
“But, what about…”
“Everything looks okay. I don’t anticipate any problems. Grace, you might take it easy this time. You’re not in your 20’s any longer. Get as much rest as you can. No use tempting fate.”
“I will, and thank you for this wonderful news.”
Grace gave a sigh of relief as she approached the Canal Street Bridge, The Olde Book Shoppe was there. She stopped questioning its appearance and disappearance. She needed answers to the questions weighing on her. She hurried across the bridge.
Her heart leapt when the little bell above the door tinkled its greeting. She closed the door and waited, straining to hear those slippers shuffling across floorboards in the back room.
There they were. He was coming. Grace walked toward the curtain divider and waited.
“Good morning, my dear. How glad I am to see you again,” Morris grinned as he extended his hand in greeting.
“Good morning, Morris.” Grace took his hand and held it for a few seconds.
“I have a little surprise for you,” Morris played the moment.
“You do?” Grace was almost breathless.
“Yes, I do.” He smiled. “He’s back.”
“Oh, Morris, I was hoping…”
“He’s quite different now.”
“Well, he’s been talking his angelic head off. He told me about your husband’s return and the blessed event.”
“Are the children with him?”
“No, he is quite alone.”
“I must talk with him.”
“Shall we pay him a visit?”
Tears welled in Grace’s eyes as she anticipated seeing Thomas again. She and Morris walked to the staircase.
“Where are all the books?”
“I had to clear them away. The traffic has been nonstop. You’re not the only one seeking an audience with Thomas. He’s turned into quite a popular fellow,” Morris laughed as they mounted the stairs.
Midway up the staircase Grace stopped and looked up, “Thomas.”
“The children, where are they?”
“Where do you think?”
Grace placed her hand on her abdomen. “I don’t understand.”
“Morris will explain. It’s time for me to leave.” He smiled. “Thank you, Grace.”
Thomas smiled warmly, “For my wings.”
The sunlight from the skylight intensified, filling the room with a brilliant light as Thomas faded from their view and they heard the faint flutter of wings.
“Morris, he’s gone.”
“Not really, my dear. Angels have a habit of being everywhere, especially when they are needed. Come, I’ll make tea and we’ll talk about your children.”
“Why did he thank me for getting his wings?”
“He told me this was his first mission. You were part of it, and it was successful.”
Grace smiled at the thought of having helped an angel.
Morris poured hot water into two cups and seated himself at the round table.
Grace pushed her tea bag down into the hot water with her spoon, “Thomas said you would explain everything.”
“Yes, and it’s a very simple explanation. When adults such as yourself pass away from this plane of existence it may take eight hundred to a thousand years to absorb all of the experiences gathered during a lifetime before the soul is ready to be reborn again. For a child such as your Sarah and your son, there was no such accumulation to be dealt with. Their souls are pure and they were ready to return. You must have greatly impressed them with your love to have them waiting to come back to you. It’s very unusual.”
“But I do wonder about the sex of these babies. My doctor said it was too soon to tell. He offered to do an ultrasound, but I refused.”
“I wouldn’t be concerned. Thomas seemed quite confident about that.”
They continued in conversation until Grace noticed the hour. “Oh, Morris, I must go . . . my train.”
“Yes, of course.”
She sipped her tea and set the cup down, “You have no idea how comforting it is to know this. How can I ever thank you?”
“No thanks are necessary. I am just happy that your children and you will have a second chance. I thought you would bring Charlie with you.”
“Oh, no. I decided early on that he would have a tough time accepting what has happened here.”
“Ah … I understand.”
Grace got up and walked to the bookshop door, “Thank you again, Morris.”
“It has been my pleasure.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“I’ll be here if the need arises, but I think you will be quite busy for a while.” He laughed as he opened the door.
They stopped and looked up at the sound of the tinkling bell.
“Thomas … every time I hear a bell, I’ll think of Thomas,” Grace smiled. “Goodbye, Morris.”
“Goodbye, my dear.”
“Oh, Morris, before I forget. I’m not sure what I will name my son, but his middle name will definitely be Morris,” Grace grinned as she walked away.
“Delightful, my dear. Thank you.” Morris closed the door and watched Grace walk toward the Canal Street Bridge. He rubbed his hands together in delight and punched the air with his fist, “Yes!”
Grace did not pause as she crossed the bridge. She knew The Olde Book Shoppe was gone but most assuredly not forgotten.
She heard the sound of distant thunder as a summer storm approached, or was it the flutter of angel wings? She smiled at the thought as she entered the train terminal.