It’s about an angel who lives on Ludlow Street. Not far from me, just across Delancey. He’s lived there for so long he can’t remember why God put him on earth. Every night the angel talks aloud to God, and every day he waits for some word from Him. To pass the time, he walks through the city. In the beginning he’s in the habit of marveling at everything. He starts a collection of pebbles. Teaches himself difficult math. And yet. With each day that passes he’s blinded a little less by the beauty of the world. At night the angel lies awake listening to the footsteps of the widow who lives above him, and every morning on the stairs he passes the old man, Mr. Grossmark, who spends his day dragging himself upstairs and down, upstairs and down, muttering, Who’s there? So far as he can tell that’s all he ever says, except for once when out of nowhere he turned to the angel as he passed on the stairs and said, Who am I? which so startled the angel who never speaks and is never spoken to that he said nothing, not even: You’re Grossmark, the human being. The more sadness he sees, the more his heart begins to turn against God. He starts to roam the streets at night, stopping for anyone who looks like they need an ear. The things he hears-it’s too much. He can’t understand it. When he asks God why He’s made him so useless, the angel’s voice cracks trying to hold back angry tears. Eventually he stops talking to God altogether. One night he meets a man under a bridge. They share the vodka the man has in a brown bag. And because the angel is drunk and lonely and angry with God, and because, without his even knowing it, he feels the urge, familiar among humans, to confide in someone, he tells the man the truth: that he’s an angel. The man doesn’t believe him, but the angel insists. The man asks him to prove it, and so the angel lifts his shirt despite the cold and shows the man the perfect circle on his chest, which is the mark of an angel. But that means nothing to the man, who doesn’t know from the mark of angels, so he says, Show me something God can do, and the angel, naive like all angels, points to the man. And because the man thinks he’s lying, he punches the angel in the stomach, sending him tottering backwards off the pier and plunging into the dark river. Where he drowns, because one thing about angels is that they can’t swim.
- nicole krauss