It took a good, strongly brewed fresh cup of coffee being waved under his nose, but eventually the priest came around, his eyelids flickering as he regained consciousness. I had the pretense to keep my hand ready to clamp over his mouth if he started screaming.
The man didn’t scream, but his eyes shot wide open as his memory booted back up, and he shot upright in the booth and twisted his head around. I watched, feeling a little guilty, as he stared at the various angels, devils, and other celestial beings in the shop, his eyes looking as though they were about to explode out of his head.
“It’s all in your heads, really,” Gabriel had told me once when I asked about the curious fact that my occasional human customers never seemed to notice how they were surrounded by white robes and halos. “Before you opened up this shop, did you even believe in angels?”
“Not really,” I confessed.
I felt a little guilty saying this to an archangel’s face, but Gabriel just nodded. “You probably passed a dozen of us before opening this coffee shop,” he explained. “But your brain ignores what your eyes tell it, because it’s easier.”
The priest’s eyes had been doing an excellent job of lying to his brain, it seemed. He turned to me, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, but no sound came out from between his lips.
I gestured to the cup of coffee I had set in front of him on the table. “Drink some, it will help,” I told the priest.
The man’s hands shot to the cup, clutching it like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. He lifted it up to his lips, not even bothering to use the handle, and took a deep draught. The scalding liquid had to burn on the way down, but he showed no outward reaction.
After several sips, I could see slight hints of color returning to the man’s face, although he still looked abnormally pale. It also didn’t help that the angels, treating this exciting new event like any other good piece of street theater, were crowding around, popping their heads up over the barriers between booths to stare at the priest. With the halos bobbing above their heads, they weren’t especially subtle.
“Father, what’s your name?” I asked, just to get the man talking.
He stared back at me, still clutching the coffee cup with both hands. “Helms – Father George Helms,” he replied, sounding as though he was unsure of even this fact. Now that he knew that angels are real, maybe his name is wrong! Maybe the whole world is turning upside down!
“Well, Father Helms, I know this is a shock, but don’t you feel a little better about your own problems?” I pressed, giving the man my best encouraging smile. “No need to worry about losing your faith now – the evidence of it is all around us!” I illustrated this point by swatting at an angel hovering nearby with the rag I used to wipe down the counter.
Father Helms, however, looked anything but at ease. “But… but what are they doing here? Is this the apocalypse?” he asked me, his face losing another shade of color at the thought.
Before I could respond, one of the angels let out a chuckle. “The Apocalypse?” he sniggered, properly pronouncing the capital letter. “That thing’s been botched so many times, no one remembers when it’s supposed to go off.”
I stared at the angel in disbelief. “Is that supposed to help the poor man feel better?” I asked.
“Um. I mean, maybe?” the angel tried, looking confused. He clearly hadn’t expected anyone to comment on his remark.
But now, the others were all looking at him as well. The angel seemed to lose an inch or so of height, his halo dropping down to hover barely above his hair. “I mean, they call it D’oops’day!” he protested as an excuse.
I pointed at the seat in the booth, across from the priest. “Sit.”
The angel sat.
And the angel told us a story.