Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine
Conversation with the angel

By Robert Haydon Jones

Inspiration piece

The first thing Terry did when the doctor told him he was okay to leave the hospital was to call the barbershop. Gina, the cutter he had been using ever since he grew his beard again, answered and said he could come right over. Gina had just returned from a month at her home in a mountain village near Naples. She didn’t even know Terry had been at death’s door.

When Terry came in — the small, two-chair shop was bright in the mid-morning sun. It was the Tuesday after Labor Day. The holiday weekend had been hot and sticky. But overnight, the temperature had touched the 40’s. The air had freshened. So now, the warmth of the bright sun had just the hint of a cool underlay. It was the best weather you could ever ask for.

Terry had to sidle through a cluster of Latin women gathered about the first chair. A little boy about three was up on a booster swaddled in the striped barber sheet. It was obviously his first time. Tony, the owner, was snipping away gingerly on the child like he was working to defuse a bomb.

Every time he snipped, the knot of ladies would comment in a sort of ragged, rolling, chorus – for Terry it sounded rather like the rolling, “ole’s” that could suddenly engulf you and connect you like a laser to the matador during a series of veronicas on a particularly good day in Ronda with a particularly good bull and no wind.

Gina was waiting for Terry at the second chair. She was a petite blonde in her early forties with a pleasant, guileless, newly tanned face and a lush, lithe body.

“My beautiful Terry,” she said.

She put her arms around him and hugged him long. Gina was a very nice armful. She smelled very good. Terry hugged her long right with her. It was mighty fine.

Terry told Gina that she looked real good. The time away in her mountain village had obviously been good for her. He had never before seen the sun on her face. Her body had tightened up and she had lost weight where women want to lose. Gina lived in a furnished room in a rust belt, remnant town an hour away. For the past ten years, she had been waiting for the alcoholic man she loved to get sober, move out of his mother’s house, and marry her.

Gina trimmed Terry once a week. Over the years she had come to trust him. He talked to her the way he imagined a good father from a mountain village near Naples would talk to his daughter. Terry also listened very hard before he talked. A year back, Gina had started going to Alanon. Six months later she got a Sponsor.

Gina was doing a lot better. She knew Terry had really helped her. He was the only trustworthy man she had ever known. Her father, a Grappa drunk, beat Gina and her mother every Saturday night. Some times he messed with Gina. She was glad when he died.

Gina trimmed Terry’s beard back down close the way he liked it. Down close, he still looked like a threat. It didn’t take long. Tony was still snipping away on the little boy as Gina used the blower to clear the hair off Terry.

Gina whipped off the sheet and said, “Terry, you’ve got your handsome devil back. All those ladies out there don’t stand a chance.”

Terry said, “Well, I intend to give them no mercy.”

Tony said, “Women don’t really want mercy. They say they want mercy but they really don’t.”

Tony wasn’t looking at Terry and Gina. He was looking at the little boy.

Gina started to say something but stopped. Terry walked over with her to the cash register past Tony and the kid and the knot of women. He paid Gina, tipped her, booked his next session, said, “Gratia mille,” and opened the door out into the sun.

Gina said, “Enjoy the day, my beautiful Terry.”

Tony said, “Remember, Terry, women don’t really want mercy.”

Terry said over his shoulder, “No prisoners – no mercy.”


The angel had appeared after the nurse finally cleared the room of the crowd of people who had come to say goodbye to Terry.

They had jammed the room and pressed in on him. The word was the end was near. Everyone wanted to get close to Terry – to squeeze his hand – to retell a special joke or reminisce about a special time. They wanted to say goodbye to good old Terry one-on-one as he lay propped up on his deathbed in the drab hospital room.

Terry worked hard at parceling himself out. He squeezed hands back. He smiled at the appropriate times. He made the small talk. He was quiet when he thought that was what they wanted. Terry wanted to do the best he could with this part of it but it was hard. He was worn down an hour before Visiting Time was over.

Finally, Ethel, the burly Charge Nurse, shooed everyone out. Terry was grateful. He was exhausted.

Ethel said, “Terry, you need your Meds and you need your rest. You’re in a real fight here – you need all your strength. I’m hoping you’ll get some good sleep this night.”

Terry said nothing. Ethel poured him Diet Ginger Ale to wash down his meds. Terry savored each swallow. The Ginger Ale was an arrow down decades of his memory to his many hospitalizations as a child. He wondered why he never drank Ginger Ale at home when he loved it so much in the hospital.

Just a few minutes after he let the last of the iced Ginger Ale slide down his throat, he felt the darkness looming and he let go and floated straight down into it.

When he woke up, he saw the Angel sitting there in the bedside chair nodding at him holding his hand up palm side out like he understood that Terry was shocked to see him again.

“Jesus,” Terry said, “ You were real! Christ, I thought you were a dream I kept having when I was a kid when I was sick. I mean I sort of kept believing in you even after I stopped believing in heaven and hell and all that. I sort of prayed to you for years after I stopped going to Mass.

“I kept saying, ‘Please and ‘Thank You’ prayers to you long after I signed the book at the Unitarian church. I even wrote a story about you – about my Guardian Angel, who took care of me when I was little. I wrote you looked liked a tough young Irish guy who would mix it up with the bad guys on my behalf if it were ever necessary. That is what you look like. So I did see you.

“Actually, I remember thinking you looked a lot like the image of the United States the cartoonists were using in the Forties. You were young and brawny and you looked like a good guy. Just like you look now. But I never thought you were real!

“I’m so friggin scared. What’s going to happen to me?”

The Angel continued to nod as Terry talked and then smiled sweetly with just his lips as if everything Terry was saying was perfectly okay.

“Calm down, dear boy,” the Angel said. He had a faint accent, like a remnant brogue. “I’m here to help — just as I have been all these years. You’ve nothing to fear. I’m ready to stand up for you as best as I can when the time comes.“

“Really?” Terry said. “Even though I stopped believing in you? I’m thinking that I would have lived my life a lot differently if I had known you were real. Come to think of it, I’m thinking the truth is I thought you had left me because I didn’t measure up. I think that’s the way it went down. I stopped believing in you after I felt you had forsaken me because I wasn’t a good person.”

“Well,” the Angel said, “you were the judge — not me. I didn’t forsake you. You did. And that made things worse. Believe me, fighting the darkness isn’t easy. I can’t do it all for you on my own. This is no automatic. Unless you’re open to me and work with me, it can be really tough. But I’ve been here with you all this time even if you didn’t know it.”

“I wish you had told me.”

“God knows I tried.”

“You really will help me? They said my chances are slim. They wanted me to have the Last Rites. I told them I’m a Unitarian. I had a great talk with Frank, my minister. You know what he told me? He told me to enjoy myself. The process. The fight. Truth is, I am sort of enjoying it. Is that crazy?”

“No,” the Angel said, “that’s not crazy. You’ve always been a battler. Plus you really do like the attention. You’ve been pretty much alone the nine years since Karen died. You reveled in that full room tonight. Maybe that’s the crazy part. Figuring that death is a reasonable price to pay for company.”

“So,” Terry said, “I’m assuming you know they say I do have a chance, a slim chance but a chance. Will you help me in the here and now as well as in the here after? Even though I didn’t believe in you and sort of forgot about you? Even though I’ve done a lot of bad stuff – like with those prisoners?”

“Well,” the Angel said. “I’m sitting right here in this chair with you, aren’t I?”


Terry’s Mercedes was about a block from the Barber Shop. Penny Kincaid was standing by the car looking the other way down the street. Terry walked up to her and said, “Hi Penny.”

She gave a little start and said, “Hi, Terry.”

Terry knew Penny from their time together in the Unitarian Choir. She had been widowed twice. She was in her early fifties. A green-eyed, freckled, Irish face. A contralto. She had a laugh that was a pleasure to hear. She had a dancer’s legs. She won tennis tournaments at the Country Club.

She told Terry that she needed to talk to him and would it be okay for them to get in the car? They got in the car and she asked Terry how he was and he said he was ok. She didn’t know he had just escaped from the hospital by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.

She told Terry that she had been laid off her job as a legal secretary some months back and had been unable to get another job and had pretty much burned through her savings. She told Terry that she had liked him in the choir before they had their spouses die on them and that she liked him now. She told Terry that she liked the idea of him taking care of her – and her taking care of him.

Terry didn’t say anything.

Penny made eye contact with him and smiled.

“I really would like to take care of you, Terry,” she murmured.

She leaned down and put her head in his lap.

Terry reached down and gently guided her head back up.

“Hold on a minute,” he said.

He pulled out his wallet and extracted a wad of hundred dollar bills.

“Here, Penny, take this,” he said. “I want to pay you up front.”

Penny blushed deep red. Her green eyes were blazing.

“Terry,” she said. “That’s not what I had in mind and you know it. You’re treating me like a whore.”

Terry put the wad of bills into her hand and gently guided her head back down on his lap.

“Well,” Terry said. “You’re sitting right here in my car with your face in my lap aren’t you?”


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  1. Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:49 am | #

    A nostalgic roller-coaster of a story with a bitter-sweet finale, leaves you reeling for a bit.

  2. Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:08 pm | #

    The chief has reemerged from his wigwam!
    This is a deep and touching story with trademark RHJ wit. I don’t know what exactly is in heaven, but I would like to believe that somewhere inside, Gina is waiting to be hugged.
    It would actually be great if a few Ginas are waiting to be hugged. But I wouldn’t want to push my luck.
    No mercy!

  3. Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:02 pm | #

    Using dialogue as a literary form of interaction, the writer skillfully explores, within Terry, the linkage and impact of simple words spoken on consciousness, self-development, and personality.

  4. Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm | #

    There comes a time when every man has to visit the cutter. Good stuff.

  5. Posted December 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm | #

    Nice twist in the ending. How awake we are when death stares us down, and how coma-like we can be when we’re alive. Solid stuff. Nice painting, too.

  6. Posted December 23, 2013 at 6:38 am | #

    Not the Devil but the Angel is in the details.The Jones sagas keep me balancing on slippery crags breathless.A childs first haircut and a bereft woman are neat packageing for this story.

  7. Posted January 13, 2014 at 5:58 am | #

    Congratulations. These narrative victories keep accumulating like a string of pearls. A real estimable body of work.

  8. Posted January 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm | #

    This story gave me hope; when the angel told Terry that “he was here to help” I felt a weight come off of me- I believed that I would be ok.

    RHJ creates the most minimalist and emotional scenarios- never ever ever predictable; like going to a new 3rd world country with brand new sights and sounds; always surprising.
    Not sure I get the end- Terry, after all that was still a bit of a “bad boy;” healed or not.

    Who else comes up with this stuff?

  9. Posted February 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm | #

    This story gave me hope; when the angel told Terry that “he was here to help” I felt a weight come off of me- I believed that I would be ok.

    RHJ creates the most minimalist and emotional scenarios- never ever ever predictable; like going to a new 3rd world country with brand new sights and sounds; always surprising.
    Not sure I get the end- Terry, after all that was still a bit of a “bad boy;” healed or not.

    Who else comes up with this stuff?

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