The Man with the Purple Halo
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in Southword Literary Journal.
The man sold The Big Issue at the entrance to the laneway that led to her office. He was there three out of four weeks and he wore a fuzzy purple halo with silver streaks through it. She had seen it many times before so it stood to reason that she knew what she was talking about. It was affixed to his head with a line of galvanized wire, most likely a coat hanger in a previous life. When it rained, he wore it and nothing else—not even an umbrella—over his head and she had to admit that he did keep remarkably dry on winter days. She was concerned, though, that the conductive wire might convert his halo into a lightning rod and she would one day hear news that he had been struck down by the very thing that protected him.
When she laid eyes on Him, however, his halo was golden. The glow was so warm and glorious that she could not tear her eyes away. She had never seen a golden halo before—only blue, grey, black and, more recently, purple. It was magnificent. She was pleasantly surprised when the man attached to the halo approached her and asked if he could court her. He was perfectly handsome and winsome and old-fashioned, just as she had always imagined her One to be.
‘Of course,’ she answered, and she floated to her feet on the strength of his forearm.
They dated for a month or so in absolute bliss. In fact, everything progressed so well that he sat her down one day and gave her his heart. He reached right into his chest and pulled it out before her very eyes, presenting it to her on a platter sprinkled with rose petals. She was so overcome with happiness that she cried diamonds—which she intended to sell. They would be set for life.
Mere days after she had received his heart, their relationship underwent its first real test.
‘Can I try it on?’ she asked.
‘It’s made just for me,’ he protested. ‘A perfect fit.’
‘Please,’ she begged sweetly. ‘I don’t have one.’ She paused before adding sotto voce, ‘You have already given me your heart.’
He hesitated briefly then, predictably, assented and removed his halo slowly from its home atop his mane of brown curls. ‘Sure. I don’t see what harm it could do. What’s mine is yours, my darling.’
His words and tone purveyed consummate generosity but he looked pained and opened his mouth several times as though about to protest while she forced the too-small circlet over her head. She either didn’t notice or she pretended not to notice its lack of fit.
‘There’s no wire. It floats. By itself,’ she observed in amazement. ‘It’s miraculous! This is far superior to others I have seen.’
‘Yes,’ he said flatly. It was on a lean because she had bent it while she was stretching it to fit. When she handed it back to him, there was something different about his demeanour.
‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, placing the halo back on his head. ‘I think I bent it a little. I’m sure it will straighten out.’
‘Maybe.’ His response was uncharacteristically sullen and made her feel truly guilty for the first time in months.
‘I could try ironing it out for you,’ she offered. ‘Or we could give it a wash and lay it flat to dry. Actually, no. A wash might shrink it. Do you know what material it’s made from?’
‘It’s OK. Really,’ he said, and she could hear the falseness in his voice but that didn’t bother her as much as the fact that, while still golden, the halo had lost some of its former glory. Her guilt lasted for a moment more and quickly turned to silent indignation as she realized that it had always been his decision to lend her his halo.
The next night, he wasn’t home for dinner. This was very unlike him. He usually called to let her know if he was going to be late and the phone had not rung. He rolled home after eleven to the beat of her tapping feet interspersed with clichéd complaints that sought no real response.
He forgot to take his halo off before bed that night and found it worse for wear the next morning. She attacked him with, ‘You don’t look after anything properly,’ and he slunk out to work without the breakfast she would ordinarily make for him, his head bent down so far that his chin touched his chest. Even though she wanted to prepare him breakfast she wouldn’t. She would not even look at him, willing him to feel her pain.
That afternoon, as he walked through the door wearing a tatty tweed jacket and hunched shoulders, she struggled even to feel pity for him. His halo was dull and fragile today. No gold, just a chalky grey. It looked like it would flake apart if she touched it, or if a strong breeze hit it at just the right angle it might disintegrate or fly away.
‘I’ve packed your bags’—she presented him with an old carpet bag to match his battered jacket—‘and I think you should go,’ she whispered. She couldn’t look at him and it seemed that all he could do was stare. She felt a searing sensation at the top of her head, not dissimilar to the burn of the peroxide to which she subjected herself every six weeks, and she knew it was his eyes she could feel, glaring, judging. She felt indignant self-righteousness well within her and knew instinctively that she was doing the right thing.
‘I don’t understand,’ he said.
‘Just go,’ she rasped her final order. ‘Now.’
She turned her back towards him and sobbed inwardly until she heard the front door close behind him, then she wailed aloud. Eventually she became silent and, after several hours of dissecting the situation with tear-stained abjection, she considered that this may be God’s way of weeding major genetic errors from humanity before the next generation had a chance to grow. She realized that people like her were just too broken to keep a relationship intact. So she decided to stop looking for a One and she determined to preserve the relics of her lost love.
She had the diamonds of her last relationship set into a bracelet and matching earrings, which she wore every day, and that would suit her well enough for now. She had His perfect heart embalmed and mounted on her bedroom wall. She froze her own angry heart and locked it in a razor wire box that cut into her when she twisted the wrong way or bent down too far and, although it would cause her to cry out, she wore her pain as a medal.
The next day, she and her diamonds wandered outside of her office and down the path that led to The Big Issue seller but he wasn’t there. In his place, stood a scrawny man with a fuzzy beard and drooping face under a yellow baseball cap.