Mrs Murdoch & the Angel
It starts with a greeting at a front door.
“Good morning. Mrs Murdoch?” The Archangel Ephrahim was waiting at the door.
Mrs Murdoch looked the Archangel up and down. “And who are you in your fancy get up?” she said, eyeing his long white robes, his clipboard and the large pair of wings sprouting from his back.
“Ephrahim,” said the Archangel. “The Archangel Ephrahim,” he added. “God sent me. I have come about your complaint.”
“My complaint?” said Mrs Murdoch. She hesitated. “That was months ago.” She examined the Archangel once more. “I suppose you had better come in.”
She led the Archangel into her living room. “Nice place,” said Ephrahim, looking around. “Spacious. Love the chandalier. Have you been here long?”
“It’s up for sale,” said Mrs Murdoch flatly.
When the Archangel was sitting comfortably, she said, “So, this is about the letter I sent.”
That’s right ma’am,” said Ephrahim. “I have it here.”
Hidden behind the top sheet on his clipboard he found a neatly typed letter, paper-clipped to the envelope it had been sent in. “If I can read it to you, ma’am, just to verify its authenticity and to remind ourselves of the nature of your complaint.”
Mrs Murdoch thought this was probably a good idea, not least to remind herself of what she had said.
“Here we go,” said the Archangel.
“Dear God,” he read, “I am writing in order to register a formal complaint. As you are well aware, my husband, Frank Murdoch, was taken from me on 21st February. Frank was fifty three years old and in good health, until the train hit him.
Frank was a good man. He did not smoke, swear or blaspheme. He attended your church every Sunday and was always generous with the collection plate as well as being a regular volunteer for all church-based activities. He raised both of our children in the one true faith and, I believe, he troubled you rarely with unwarranted prayers.
In taking my husband from me so untimely you have left me emotionally distraught, not to mention the financial hardship I now face.
I do not know what you are able to do to correct this state of affairs but it is all so unfair.
This is not how it was described in the brochure.
S. Murdoch. (Mrs.)”
The Archangel leant towards Mrs Murdoch offering her the letter. She waved it away.
“I am well aware of what I wrote,” she said. “Do you work in the complaints department?”
“Customer Services,” said Ephrahim, the friendly, assuring smile back on his face. “I have been asked to review your case. I have a few questions, if you feel able?”
“Is this how it normally work?” asked Mrs Murdoch.
“To be honest,” said the Archangel, “this is new to us. As you can imagine, competition in the religion industry is very heavy. All sorts of churches are offering all sorts of special deals. At the Holy Name Reform we have decided to make frontline customer services a priority. As I am sure you are aware, other churches tend to contract out the answering of prayers to call centres. It is cheaper, certainly, but too many parishioners were finding themselves uncertain whether their prayers had even been heard. “
“Yes,” said Mrs Murdoch, recognising the feeling. “Tell me,” she said, “I’ve always wanted to know, is there only one true God?”
Ephrahim leaned in closer. “Between ourselves?” he said conspiratorially.
“Strictly,” said Mrs Murdoch.
“There’s only one God,” said Ephrahim, “but religions are a bit like gas companies. There’s only one gas pipe but there are lots of gas companies, all selling you the same gas.”
“And God knows about this?”
“Of course,” said the Archangel, “as long as people buy the gas he doesn’t much care how it’s sold. But let me assure you, we at the Holy Name Reform Church care deeply about you, your loved ones and your unique belief system. “
“You said you had some questions?” said Mrs Murdoch.
“That’s right,” said the Archangel. “You say you husband did not smoke, swear or blaspheme. You didn’t mention whether he enjoyed a drink?”
A very indignant Mrs Murdoch replied quickly. “He wasn’t a tee-totaller,” she said, “but Frank only ever drank in moderation. Very moderation,” she said, not at all sure if this was grammatically correct. She moved on quickly. “And he certainly hadn’t been drinking on the day he was taken from me.”
“No,” said the Archangel, “I am sure. These questions are only a formality but you know what paperwork is like. I’ll come to the train in a second,” he said. “You also mention that Frank was in good health but our records show that your husband had high blood pressure and he was treated for a stomach ulcer, what, about three years ago?”
“Mr Ephrahim…” began Mrs Murdoch.
“Archangel Ephrahim,” smiled the Archangel, gesturing over his shoulders with a nod to his wings.
“Archangel Ephrahim, said Mrs Murdoch, correcting herself, “my husband’s blood pressure was not a cause for concern and the stomach ulcer had been treated successfully,” she said. “And may I remind you, it was neither his blood pressure nor a stomach ulcer that killed him. It was a train.”
“I apologise,” said the Archangel. “Just one more thing. We at the Holy Name Reform know that your husband was a good church man, and we assume that the brochures you mention are the standard ‘God Is Love’ and ‘God is Life’ variety?”
“That’s right,” said Mrs Murdoch.
“I can see how they may be misleading,” said the Archangel. “Which just leaves the question of the train,” he said.
“You should know about the train,” said Mrs Murdoch.
“Well we do and we don’t,” said Ephrahim.
“It was a chartered train,” said Mrs Murdoch. “Chartered by the Holy Name Reform Church to take parishioners from the whole region to the National Congregation in Sheffield. It was the first time Frank had ever missed a National Congregation in twenty years. The only reason he couldn’t go this year was because his mother was not in good health. He was on his way to see her. He went out the back way, across the field, though St Michael’s Wood and he was crossing the train line by the Dog and Pheasant when he was hit. If it hadn’t been a charter train then the barrier would have been down, but it wasn’t.”
“And he didn’t hear the train coming?” asked the Archangel.
“I don’t know what he heard,” said Mrs Murdoch, “I wasn’t there. The question is, was God?”
The Archangel Ephrahim flicked through the papers on the clipboard. He studied one for a moment before looking back to Mrs Murdoch. “I’m afraid I am unable to answer that question at this time,” he said.
“So,” said Mrs Murdoch, “where does that leave us?”
“I think I will have to speak to my superiors,” said the Archangel, “but I am instructed to ask what you had in mind, assuming we could come to a ‘no fault on either side’ agreement.“
“You know what I want,” said Mrs Murdoch.
“I’m sorry,” said Ephrahim, “but we don’t do resurrection in the Holy Name Reform; especially after, what, three and a half months?”
Mrs Murdoch thought for a moment. The Archangel Ephrahim knew that she already had a figure in mind. “He was a good earner,” she said, “and had a good few years ahead of him.”
“I can’t make any promises,” said the Archangel, rising from the sofa.
Mrs Murdoch also stood. “I still go, you know;” she said, “to the Holy Name Reform. I’ve got a lot of friends there who all thought Frank’s going was a bit… on the swift side. And they wonder if Someone,” she said slowly and deliberately, “Someone did something out of spite because of Frank not going to the National. Some of them are talking about going to the Mutual Baptists. They’ve got a special on redemption at the moment.”
“Just leave it with me, Mrs Murdoch,” said the Archangel Ephrahim.
They said their farewells at the door.
Two weeks later as she made her way to church Mrs Murdoch quite literally bumped into Angus Thelwell. He was suitably apologetic and offered to escort her to the service. Mr Thelwell was a businessman, a homeowner and a very recent widower.