Found: Fiction & Poetry Anthology

Meeting Angel

by Laura Loomis

  Fall 2012 Fiction & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |


The first abortion was necessity. The second also, I think. When it came to the third one, I told my husband we should be reconsidering. He was a well-established psychiatrist by then, making good money, and a daughter’s dowry was not completely out of reach. We had moved to Chicago, and Indians in America are not as exorbitant about dowries as they are in India.

Still, when the test showed another girl, he began talking about having the procedure again. It was five years since my last pregnancy, and I worried that we might not have another chance. Something felt wrong inside me. Nonsense, he said, of course we’d have a son later.

I could have refused. Krishnamoorthy was not a cruel man, not intentionally, and he would not have insisted. But refusing would have been the same as admitting that we had been wrong the first two times. And so we went to the hospital, talking about the sons we would have some day.

Month after month, year after year, no baby. There would be no son, and no other daughter. And then, the year I turned forty-two, the letter came.

Not a letter, exactly. The envelope had no return address, and contained only an official document with an embossed seal: Certificate of Live Birth. The child’s name was Angel. Our neighbor’s name was Angel; maybe I’d gotten his mail by mistake? But no, the envelope was addressed to me.

Then I saw the father’s name: Krishnamoorthy Patel.

The page seemed to be radiating heat, singeing my fingers and spreading across my body. I let the paper slip from my hands and flutter down to the table. I stared without touching it, wondering why it didn’t burst into flames. The date was fourteen years ago, after my second abortion, before the last one. The mother’s name I didn’t recognize. The child’s name was Angel McLogan. I almost missed the box checked underneath.


A daughter. Not the coveted son. I had offered him three daughters. Even the name, Angel, offended. Who was he to call this girl an angel?

It would be hours before he got home from work. I wandered upstairs, laid my hand on the phone but didn’t call him, reached for a bag but didn’t pack it. Nothing cooled the burning in my skin, as if my fingerprints had been scorched off, leaving me unidentifiable.

When he arrived, it seemed to take weeks for him to close the door and hang up his coat. I couldn’t find any words. Anything I said would have softened the injury I wanted to do him. Anything I said might have to be denied and disavowed later. I waited for him to sit down in the kitchen, then I picked up the birth certificate by its edges and placed it in his hands. Heat blurred the air between us.

“Where did you get this?”

This was all he had to say? I refused him any answer. He raised his head until his eyes were level with my chin. “Minda?” I waited, and finally he looked up and met my eyes, then quickly looked away.

“It’s true then.”

“I’m sorry. It was a terrible mistake. It was over long ago. Years ago.” Pathetic words from him. Small words.

My throat was scorched dry. “You lied to me for how many years?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“You didn’t want to hurt me. Well, that makes it all better then.” Why wasn’t the paper setting him on fire? Did this man have no shame?

“I am sorry. Truly sorry.” He was sorry. Would that put a child in my womb?

“Do you still see her?”

“I see Angel. Her birthday, Christmas, that sort of thing.” My Hindu husband was celebrating Christmas with his daughter. How American.

An idea came to me from nowhere. “Show me her picture.”


“I want to see what she looks like.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Then get one from your lover. What kind of a man doesn’t have a photograph of his only child?”

“Because I didn’t want you to know about her! What would you want her picture for?”

“I want to know who she is. She is your only child, and I have none. It’s the least you could do.” Would she have his round face and his crooked little mouth?

He refused, and when I asked again later, he refused again. Perhaps he thought I meant the girl some harm. I didn’t, usually. I coveted her, I wanted her to be the child who would give me a purpose. On days when I was home alone, I fantasized about going to her school or wherever girls go on the weekends. I pictured myself getting to know her, becoming her friend and confidante, without her knowing my real identity at first. Perhaps she would whisper that her mother wasn’t taking good care of her, and we’d bring her home and I’d finally have a child.

I did nothing of the sort, of course. In fantasies, you don’t have to explain the sudden appearance of a teenage daughter to your family. And I would have had no idea what to say to a fourteen-year-old girl if I saw her.

For years we rarely spoke of her. Every year on her birthday, Krishna would say he was meeting with a colleague, or some other errand that took him out of the house for a few hours. I never corrected him. I don’t know if he went to her high school graduation, though he did tell me when he went to the mother’s funeral. Angel was twenty by then. The mother had suffered a stroke. “She smoked a great deal,” Krishna explained. And for all the silence between us, I found it strange I hadn’t known that.

new part

Today I have to find Angel’s phone number. I have his leather address book, grabbed earlier from his desk amid a pile of letters from colleagues and notes for the articles he writes for important professional journals. Here, in the hospital lounge, I can finally make the call. Her number has been crossed out and replaced a number of times, as if she moves often.

“Is this Angel Patel?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Excuse me. Angel McLogan.” Krishna’s address book has her right last name, McLogan, just like her birth certificate.

“Speaking.” Her voice seems to be squinting at me, trying to puzzle out why a woman with an Indian accent is calling her. “Can I help you?”

“This is Minda Patel. I am...” I cannot possibly say your stepmother. “I am your father’s wife. He is in the hospital. A heart attack.”

The silence stretches a long distance between us.

“Oh my God. Is he all right?”

“They don’t know yet.” He may not survive, they told me. “He will want to see you, I think.”

“We’ll be there right away.”

I hang up dully, only afterwards wondering who she means by we. I go back to Krishna’s hospital room. He’s sleeping noisily. His sister’s children are there, three girls sitting in a row like brightly colored birds on a branch. Mandeep, the oldest, got married last June. It will be years before the family can afford dowries for the younger two. Rohana stops talking when I walk in, trying to conceal a guilty look. Gossip is one thing all families are good at.

I hold Krishna’s hand, though I really don’t feel like it. A few hours ago, no one in the family knew he had been concealing a daughter for more than twenty years. Now I’ve been humiliated to all the American relatives, and by tomorrow the ones back home will all have heard different versions. I have to call my mother in Ahmedabad before one of my sisters does.

There are other calls I need to make. The clinic where he is the director now, greatly respected by his colleagues. They will need to make plans for his absence.

If I keep thinking about this, maybe I can forget for a moment that Krishna may not live through the night.

They’ve taken him for tests, again, when the girl arrives. She’s tall and fair-skinned, two things my daughters would not have been, if I’d had them. She has a thick mass of curly black hair, a dark blue dress that’s too short, and a gold cross glittering around her neck. The man with her is perhaps ten years older, with hair that odd color in between gold and brown.

“Mrs. Patel? I’m Angel. This is Roy.” I have no idea who Roy is, and I don’t want another stranger in my husband’s hospital room. But I don’t protest. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to walk into a room full of gossipy Indian relatives by myself either.

I tell her about the tests, about finding my husband on the kitchen floor. The nieces are whispering among themselves, the story a delectable morsel to be passed from one relative to another. Sudha smirks and says in Hindi, “Can you believe she let the whore’s daughter come here?”

Roy turns around and responds in perfect Hindi, “Is that the way you speak of someone’s mother to her face?” Sudha stammers an apology and scurries from the room. After a minute, Rohana and Mandeep make excuses to follow.

“Sorry about them,” I say in Hindi. “They are young and rather rude.” And still, I didn’t want them to leave. I could have had three girls like that, difficult and infuriating but real, permanent.

Angel is giving me a blank look. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak the language.”

I look from her to Roy. “But you do?”

“I speak a lot of languages.” He’s switched back to English. “I’m a translator.”

“I’m really tired,” Angel says. “Roy, would you mind getting us some coffee?” He looks surprised, and doesn’t get up right away. There’s no graceful way for him to ask her if she’ll be safe alone with me. “Please,” she says.

He rises. “Would you like some too, Mrs. Patel?”

“Tea would be nice. Thank you.”

Angel gets up and stretches. Her skirt rides up, and I see a tattoo of the goddess Kali on her thigh. I wonder if she has any idea who Kali is. “I’m sorry,” she says, “for all the trouble I’ve caused you.” It’s obvious now she was being polite when she pretended not to understand the girls’ gossip. Some things don’t have to be translated to be understood.

“You were not the one to blame,” I say reluctantly. I am finding her harder to embrace in person than in the fantasy. “There are no illegitimate children, you know. Only illegitimate parents.”

“I hate that word. I’d just as soon be called a bastard.”

I can’t imagine how to respond After a silence, I offer, “You look like your aunt Harpreet.”

“I have an aunt Harpreet?”

“Your father has two sisters and four brothers. Those girls are your cousins.”

“That’s sort of weird. I’ve never had cousins before. Mom was an only child. I think there are some other relatives on Roy’s father’s side, but I’ve never met them.”

It’s been too long since they took Krishna from the room. He should be back. “Roy is your cousin?” I’m so stupid. She just told me she doesn’t have cousins. I need to not think about what’s taking so long.

“He’s my brother. Half brother,” she amends quickly. “His father died before I was born. That’s when Mom started seeing Dr. Patel.”

“Ah.” That is not a subject I care to be discussing. Another silence. “Your brother seems to take good care of you.”

“He pretty much raised me.” Quickly, before I can ask what she means by that, she adds, “It was kind of you to call me.”

“You are his only child. What else could I do?”

“How come you never had children?”

I’m too stunned by the audacity of the question to pull a response together. I don’t think my face changes, but the girl sees her mistake right away.

“I’m sorry, that’s none of my business. When I was a kid, I always wondered about the rest of Dr. Patel’s life. I knew he was married, but that’s about it. I never really knew what to say to him when he came around.”

She hasn’t asked me the obvious question, how I knew about her. I had always assumed it was the mother who wrote to me. Staking her claim against her rival. But Krishna claimed the affair had already been over for years by then.

There’s a possibility I had not been considering. Fourteen would have been old enough to resent a father who was never around, old enough to imagine that an inconvenient stepmother would get out of the way and clear a space for her mother.

“There is something I’ve been wanting to ask. Why did you contact me all those years ago?”

She looks away, guilt splashing across her face. “I....I don’t know. It made sense to me at the time. I never meant to hurt you.”

“You never meant to hurt me.” Bloody hell, she really is his daughter. Are those words genetic?

“I’m sorry,” she says. But I’m feeling triumphant. Now I know something about her that Krishna doesn’t.

She adds, “I never felt like I belonged in my family, being so dark and all.” She’s not dark, except when compared to her not-quite-blond brother. “I could be standing right next to my mother and people would ask whose little girl I was. We weren’t exactly a normal family anyway, but even there I didn’t fit in.”

“And sending me your birth certificate was supposed to be changing this?”

“No, I guess not. You know how teenagers are.” I don’t, except from a distance. “I was angry that I was the dirty little secret, angry that he’d give Mom a few dollars but wouldn’t help pay for my braces because then you’d find out. Angry that he’d come to our home and act like it was totally normal for him to be there, and then he’d borrow the phone to make some call in Hindi so you wouldn’t wonder where he was.”


“I think that’s how Roy got interested in learning Hindi. Of course, Roy picks up languages the way this skirt picks up lint.” She’s steering away from a touchy subject, but my irritation is growing. Krishna was there enough for the other woman’s son to learn his first words of Hindi from him. The boy wasn’t even his, and yet somehow he was part of Krishna’s family too. My husband may have been telling the truth about the affair being over, but it wasn’t the whole truth. He had, he still has, a whole other life that I have no part in.

If Krishna dies, I muse, I will not have to see this girl again after his funeral. I don’t know where that thought came from and I try to quash it, hoping she can’t find it in my eyes.

Roy is back with coffee and tea. “Here you go, Mrs. Patel,” he says, handing me my cup. I should tell him to call me Minda, we are related somehow or other, but I don’t.

They wheel Krishna back in, and he looks leaden and crushed, sleeping with his mouth open like a dead man. I am ashamed that I thought of his death, but the images keep intruding. What the funeral would look like, Angel sitting with her brother, away from the rest of the family with the nieces whispering among themselves. Me staring straight ahead, wrapped in a protective blanket of anger. With the life insurance, I could go live somewhere else for a while, or return to India. Maybe I’d find a new husband, one who didn’t lie to me, and if he had children it would be in a respectable way.

“Maybe we should say a prayer,” Angel suggests. She takes her father’s hand on one side, and Roy’s on the other. I awkwardly complete the circle, taking Krishna’s and Roy’s hands. Krishna’s cold hand is heavy in mine. “Heavenly Father,” Angel begins, “Please bless Dr. Patel and get him through this.” I’m distracted by Angel’s choice of whom to address as Father, so I don’t pay attention to the rest of the words. The girl has a pretty voice, comforting. It takes me a moment to absorb her final words: “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”

Roy murmurs an amen. I slip my hands free. Maybe it was the unselfconscious we that offended. Surely she knows that Krishna and I are Hindu? There is no point in being ungrateful for a sincere prayer for my husband. Why do I think a prayer would make any difference anyway? He will live, or he will go on to the next life.

The night is the longest of my life. Longer than the week after I found out about Angel and I left to sleep on my sister’s couch, wondering what to tell my family about the separation. Even longer than the day my father died.

When the doctor says Krishna will live, I tell Angel and Roy to go home and rest. But when I step out to the waiting room two hours later, they are still here. It looks a bit like my image of Krishna’s funeral, both of them in a corner away from the other relatives. Sudha and the other girls are in the opposite corner, managing not to look at them. “He is doing better,” I tell Krishna’s sister. She sends the nieces home.

At one-thirty in the morning, Krishna finally opens his eyes. I’m the only one in his room. “You are at the hospital,” I tell him. “Do you remember what happened?”

“Couldn’t breathe.”

“A heart attack. But you will be fine. You should rest.” Only now does it occur to me that bringing Angel here will be a shock for him, especially with the whole family talking about it. Or was that what I wanted? A shock for him, to avenge the one I got all those years ago? Funeral music is intruding in my mind, and I push it away.

“Is there anyone you would like to see? Anyone at all?”

He gives me an unfocused look.

I try again. “I thought you might want to see your daughter, so I called her. I hope that is all right.”


I think of all the sarcastic responses I could give, asking if there are any more I should know about. “She is in the waiting room with her brother. Already two of my cousins have made marriage offers.” That last part was an attempt at humor, I think. “Your sisters are here, and the nieces and nephews.”

“Am I going to die?” The question seems to come from a long way away.

“The doctors think not.”

“You didn’t really call Angel?”

“Of course I did. Do you want me to send her in?”

Krishna’s eyes well up. “Yes. Thank you. Truly, Minda, thank you.”

I’m uncomfortable with his gratitude. He thinks this means I’ve forgiven him, that underneath it all I still love him. I suppose I do. But I don’t want to surrender my right to be angry later. “And the brother?”

“He hates me. He was the one who sent you Angel’s birth certificate, you know.”

“You’re certain of that?”

“Yes. Ellie didn’t have that kind of anger in her.” I’ve never heard him say her name out loud. On the birth certificate it was Eleanor.

“Ah.” This, too, I will spare him. “Did you love her? The mother?”

He searches for a response that won’t sound cruel. Which is worse, to have loved another woman, or to have betrayed me with a woman he didn’t love? He gives the only possible answer. “I....thought I did.”

new part

I go back to the waiting room, speak briefly with Krishna’s sisters, then approach Angel. “He wants to see you.”

She gives me a big-eyed look. For a moment I think she’s going to look behind her, to see who else I could possibly be addressing. Finally she stands up and reaches for Roy’s hand. “Just you,” I tell her.

She still has her hand out. I think she’s forgotten it’s there. “Go ahead, Pharista,” her brother tells her. “I’ll be right here.”

I want to go in with her, if only to see how Krishna looks at her. To hear if he calls her Pharista, “Angel” in Hindi. What does he say to this child he has never claimed?

I sit down next to Roy, shielding myself from the relatives. He looks surprised, but it shields him too, alone in a room full of Angel’s cousins. “How are you holding up?” he asks.

“I have had better days. But I think the worst is over.”

The room isn’t loud, so I drop my voice, then feel ridiculous, secretive. “You do not have to stay. I got the impression you and my husband are not always getting along well.” I don’t know what prompted that, except that I suspect that my anger at Krishna is not really appeased. Let Roy be angry for me.

He gives a rueful smile. “No, we never have. I mean, I can’t very well be sorry that they had Angel. But he was supposed to be helping my mother when she got sick, not sleeping with her.”

I am slow to realize that Angel meant something different when she said her mother was seeing my husband. “She was one of his patients?”

Roy swallows. “I thought you knew.”

“No.” Things shift around in my mind. This is wrong, terribly wrong. I had imagined their mother a crude woman who selfishly seduced a married man. But she was his patient, someone he was responsible for. And Krishna’s patients were not bored housewives wanting to talk to a psychiatrist to find meaning in their lives. The clinic where he’d worked back then was for serious mental illness. “Who raised you and your sister?”

“Mom did. Well, I helped with Angel. I was eleven, so I kind of looked out for them both.”

“But....” I’m not sure what I was going to say, and it’s not as if my objections matter, twenty-odd years ago or now. My fantasy of taking Angel away from a mother who couldn’t care for her was not so far off the mark. She would have been better off with me than with a patient who had to rely on a child to help her. I indulge the fantasy one more time, telling myself I would have been a good stepmother.

These thoughts are completely insane, of course. Three abortions, just to raise another woman’s child? Even in my daydream, common sense intrudes.

Roy says, “As a child, I always had this fear that he would take Angel away from us. I know, that’s ridiculous, he couldn’t exactly come home with a baby in his arms and hand her to you.”

“No.” He could have. I reached that point somewhere. And Angel would have been a different person, without the cross or the short dress.

Krishna left her to be raised by a sick woman and an older child. Because he didn’t want me to know. I want it to be because he loved me, because he wanted to spare me the pain. Not simply because he was afraid of the disgrace. He is a man who thrives on others’ admiration, and while mine might have faded over the years, he still had that from others. But not from Angel, I think.

“Your sister,” I ask, “Does she ever call him Father?”

Krishna’s sister Harpreet comes back in. She hangs back in the doorway, unsure if she should disturb Roy and me. My first impression was right: Angel looks like a paler version of Harpreet, with generous lips and undisciplined curly hair. Harpreet wants to be polite, but she is dying to know what we are talking about.

Her daughter Mandeep is with her. Mandeep is what you might call assimilated: she goes by “Mandy” and hasn’t worn a sari since her wedding. Still, she married a man from her own caste, after a proper vetting by both families. She is carefully not looking at Roy.

“How is he, Auntie?”

“Better. Your cousin Angel is visiting with him just now.” I am trying to see the places where Angel fits into the family: cousin, niece, granddaughter. Stepdaughter. Stepdaughter is still sounding like a foreign word.

Angel finally emerges and asks Roy to take her home. She makes a point of saying a polite goodbye to the other relatives. Roy adds his farewell in excruciatingly formal Hindi. Mandy fiddles with a button on her cuff.

Krishna is sleeping again, and despite relatives urging me to go home and rest, I stay. We are alone when he wakes. He slides his hand toward me, and I still don’t feel like holding it, but I do.

“It is late,” I tell him. “Most everyone has gone home.”

“It was kind of you to bring Angel.”

“She is not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?” Something in his tone annoys me, a touch of the arrogant psychiatrist probing at me. I’m tempted to say, Someone who was not the daughter of your patient. But that will wait until he is stronger, saved as a weapon for the next time he hurts me.

“The tattoo of Kali was rather odd.”

I can see him working up his courage to speak. “Minda...I told you, I am not sure if what I felt for Ellie was love. But she loved me, she loved me in a way that was almost absurd. It was an intoxicating temptation.”

Like the temptation to slap his round face, a face that begs forgiveness at a time when only the most hateful person could fail to give it. I feel very small, falling into a pit of anger where I can’t climb out. Three times I gave up the chance at having a daughter, and now that I have met Angel, she no longer belongs to me as she did in my fantasy.

It is years too late for leaving him, and too soon for forgiving. “I am glad that you are better, Krishnamoorthy,” I say. “You need to rest now. I should go home and rest as well.” But as I leave, I know that I will be on the phone to India the rest of the night, trying to soften the edges of the story, make myself the hero, or at least feel like I have some part in it that matters.

end of story

© 2012, Laura Loomis Go to top