“This way to the coat check window,” the angel Tiferiel said as she guided the newly arrived souls toward their final destination.  “You won’t be needing your winter coats anymore. Ezeriel will issue you a gossamer robe – one size fits all.”

            Amazingly, it did.

            “Perhaps you can give this to someone else–someone who has need of it,” an elderly woman said as she patted her threadbare overcoat.  “It’s a little frayed around the sleeves, but it’s still warm and it’s served me well.”

            “I’ll see what I can do,” Ezeriel promised noncommittally. Privately he thought it uncanny how certain souls intuited that angels recycled their clothing.

            “Well I don’t ever want to see this old thing again,” a brash young woman announced as she handed Ezeriel her flamboyantly styled red jacket with a black feather boa still pinned around the collar.

            “I should say not,” Ezeriel smiled, then waited until Tiferiel had ushered the souls through the great, scintillating doors that shimmered like cascading water. Then Tiferiel hurried back to the coat check rack and the two angels dug eagerly through the coat pockets.

            “Nothing,” Ezeriel noted as he turned the pockets of the threadbare coat inside out. “Not even lint.  She won’t be coming back.”

            “This one will,” Tiferiel said and emptied the contents of the red jacket onto the counter. “Just look at this!” she held up the key to a bus station locker as well as unscratched lottery tickets, a movie stub and a handful of gum wrappers wadded into a tissue blotted with red lipstick.

            “You’re right,” Ezeriel nodded as he examined the contents, then slipped them into the pockets again. “Someone will be wanting these.”

            “Or not,” Tiferiel corrected.  “But they’ll have to deal with them anyway.”

            Ezeriel hung the coats up as a worried young woman approached the counter from the opposite side of the shimmering doors.

            “They said I could go back, just for a little while,” she said hurriedly. “Just to see if everything’s all right.”

            “Of course you can, if that’s what you want,” Tiferiel told her and allowed her to choose a coat from the rack. The woman took a black and white checked poncho with a matching scarf. 

            “I can still return, can’t I?” she asked anxiously as she bundled into her winter clothing.

            “Of course,” Tiferiel nodded.  After the woman left she added under her breath, “Everyone always comes back.”

            “They never know what they want, do they?” Ezeriel mused. “One lifetime’s too long, another’s too short.  One person is bitter and another is relieved when it’s over.”

            “I find it strange that they try so hard to get here, but after a while they’re not satisfied. They remember something they’ve forgotten and make up an excuse to go back.  ‘It’s just for a moment,’ they all say.  Then one thing leads to another and before you know it, they’ve wasted another lifetime and when they do return, there’s still junk in their pockets.”

            “I’m glad we don’t have pockets,” Ezeriel said.  “I’m especially glad we don’t have anything to put in them.”

            “I guess we’re lucky,” Tiferiel nodded, unwilling to admit that she secretly envied the souls they escorted. She wondered what it was like to care so deeply for someone or something that you would willingly descend to the lower depths to retrieve it again and again.  The contented ones, the ones who didn’t go back, were the only ones who came with nothing in their pockets, not even lint.

            “Don’t tell me you wish you could join them!” Ezeriel was aghast.

            “We’re angels, we don’t know how to envy,” Tiferiel retorted. 

            “We’re not supposed to be curious either,” Ezeriel reminded her. “But I’ve had my moments.”

            “What do you think it’s like, to be in control of your own volition?” Tiferiel mused.

            “Free will is a dangerous thing,” Ezeriel shuddered as if he knew more than he was willing to share.

            On a whim Tiferiel took the old woman’s green, threadbare coat and tried it on.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Ezeriel asked in alarm.

            “Don’t worry, the pockets are clean,” Tiferiel reassured him.

            “Take it off–it’s dangerous!” Ezeriel pleaded.  When Tiferiel looked at him quizzically he explained that he had tried on a lint free coat once and had plummeted down to the temporal sphere.

            “What was it like?” Tiferiel sounded intrigued.

            “I saved a child who was drowning,” Ezeriel remembered. “But so many people needed help, I felt overwhelmed. I took the coat off and the temporal sphere slipped away. For a moment, though, I was afraid I’d never get back to the safety of our coat room.”

            He closed his eyes and shuddered. Then he realized that Tiferiel hadn’t answered him.

            “Where are you?” he looked around in alarm. The angel was gone.  

            Seconds later a new contingent of souls arrived and crowded around the coat check counter, demanding his attention.

            “Thank you!” an elderly man stepped forward and shook Ezeriel’s hand before surrendering his trench coat. “An angel just like you helped me turn the wheel of my car just as I was having a heart attack, and saved me from hitting a pedestrian who was standing on the street corner.”

            “It wasn’t me,” Ezeriel murmured as he exchanged the coat for a gossamer robe.  “But it was someone like me.”

            “I want to thank you, too,” a shy young girl said as she handed Ezeriel a torn and bloodied cloak. “You sat beside me in the darkness after an earthquake brought down my house and buried me in rock and timber. You held me in your arms and whispered that I shouldn’t despair.”

            “You’re safe now,” Ezeriel promised as he handed her a robe.

            “You breathed into my mouth and helped me say the words, ‘I love you,’ one final time,” a middle aged man smiled. “It doesn’t sound miraculous, but it was,” he added and flexed his hands, staring at them with incredulity. “I had Lou Gehrig’s disease,” he explained. “I’ve been paralyzed for months.”

            Ezeriel found himself envying Tiferiel as he took the man’s cardigan and handed him a robe in exchange. 

            Secretly he thought that he too might descend once again into the temporal world, and this time he would stay longer and try to answer more pleas for help. But first he would have to wait for another serviceable coat to come to his counter. He needed one that was slightly threadbare, with empty pockets free of lint.

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