The MISSING ANGEL is the interconnected tale of two lives, that of a 22-year-old girl who wants to solve the riddle of her parents’ death and the story of another girl, who, by way of destiny or just monstrously bad luck, is sold to human traffickers. Interred alive, raped, and tortured she walks into a sandstorm and comes out a different thing. Ultimately, it is the story of how the two come together.
There is a thing confusedly formed
Born before heaven and earth
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change
Goes around and does not weary
It is capable of giving birth to the world
—March 17th. Berkeley, Northern California.
The airmail envelope has an over-sized stamp with the picture of an Italian church on the upper right corner, her name and address embossed on a white label in the center, and no return address. Inside, there is a smaller envelope, the color of a used cigarette filter, which contains two things: a generic business card of OAS, Organization for Advancement of Science, the company her mother worked for in Rome, and a handwritten note, dated seventeenth of March of two years earlier, the day of her eighteenth birthday, and the day her parents were blown to pieces in Rome.
The note reads:
In the lost Theatre, find the Missing Angel
Who goes through the kingdom of death without death?
Hence, if I held my peace, myself I blame not.
Where human passions quell, look to the worst sin of all.
P.S. Happy Twentieth
Despite the anger that washes through her pores like sweat, despite the conviction that this has to be a ruse the words take her back to another time. Riddles were a family tradition: riddles for her birthday, riddles for Christmas, riddles to find the carefully concealed Easter Eggs. Luna can see her mother, dimpled jaw stuck forward in challenge, quoting: Riddles are the enigmas of our lives, truths we dare not look in the eye. Teresa Davila’s riddles were laced with a unique and whimsical voice that is etched in Luna’s mind in indelible footprints, and the Dantesque style of this riddle, the witty and quaint voice of these lines with their erratic rhyming match those footprints through and through. And the Post Scriptum thrown in like an afterthought—that, too, is her mother’s style.
The postmark sprawled across the stamp tells her that this has been sent six days ago. From Rome, Italy. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to concoct this sick joke. She thinks of people who might hold a grudge against her and thinks of Lucien—the silliness and the malice, the pettiness of a simple-minded vengeful boy (they are not men at twenty-two). Lucien, who was denied of what he assumed was rightfully his after two months of dating—couldn’t understand that Luna wasn’t ready yet. Then, just as quickly, she dismisses the idea. This is too subtle for him, too elaborate, too mature. And there is something else: the setup feels feminine, the tone and the handwriting are that of a woman: the flourish of the Ps, the bold upper loop of the Ls, the downward slash of the Y—mirroring her mother’s writing seamlessly—and the immaculate attention to detail down to the color of the smaller envelope, the kind her mother favored in her personal correspondence.
One of the oriental girls is boiling a bag of frozen chow mein down the hall, permeating the entire floor with an organic, fleshy odor. Luna shoves the windows open breathing unevenly and hungrily, gulping down buckets of oxygen. Usually she loves the smell but today it is interfering with her breathing. Kaitlin, her roommate, is at the post-graduation party. Now Luna wishes she had gone too. She craves some form of a distraction that doesn’t come out of a medicine bottle. She imagines getting dressed, hailing a cab, and going. She imagines walking in, throwing herself into her pile of friends, setting off the familiar chain reaction of shallow euphoria, but she knows it will be short-lived. She will end up removing herself from their conversations. She will end up back here, feeling more miserable than before.
A nagging, dreadful sensation is taking shape in her. It feels like coming down with a fever, like being dragged toward something dark and insidious. She turns away from the window and curls up on her unmade bed, pulling her knees to her chest to alleviate the mounting pressure in her back, breathing in and out. Slowly. In. Out. Think positive thoughts.
Drowsiness tugs her downward but sleep won’t come easily. When it finally does, she sleeps badly and wakes up with puzzle pieces of a nightmare glued to her unconscious: school bullies on fiber flex skateboards, their faces rushing at her, grinning teeth, hooting, jeering: Freak, freak. There is a bristling along railroad tracks like thousands of tiny metal strings shaking in a storm and someone murmuring a song, the last note quizzical. The Luna in the dream turns toward the sounds and glimpses a girl climbing a tree, realizing that she is still dreaming. The girl turns, suspended in air, swaying from side to side in a dance of death like a Brazilian Wandering Spider. Her lips move. Luna cannot make out what the girl is saying but her voice is familiar. She sits up a little too quickly, causing the familiar spasms in her back. She takes a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds, trying to think of something other than her craving for painkillers.
There is a glow from the mini-refrigerator in the corner. She checks the inside of her slippers for spiders before wriggling her toes in, and walks to the fridge. She takes a bottle of san Pellegrino, twists the cap open, and takes a sip. On her way back to her bed she brushes against the bookcase and thumps it to make noise, then thumps it again. She sits back on her bed and takes small, steady sips, taking controlled breaths in between, trying not to succumb to the thought of going to the ER to procure drugs.
It’s amazing what sticks to your memory. Of all the articles and newscasts and documentaries that covered the explosion two years ago what she remembers most vividly is a pixilated clip on YouTube. The footage was primitive and blunt, yet hypnotic: a little girl, eyes like the back of two dark spoons, draped in a blanket, crying in front of a smoldering heap of rubble, what was left of the OAS building, and Luna always wondered what, whom the little girl had lost.
She speaks to herself quietly, trying to contain her emotions. Now that she has uttered the words out loud she feels a vacation is just what she needs. There is no rush to begin her job search. She can take some time off, decide whether she wants to look for a job or get her Ph.D. She closes her eyes and visions the riot of color at sunset in Venice, the Duomo of Milan wreathed in its perpetual fog, Rome with its bad-tempered cars. Italy would be the logical choice. She speaks the language, knows her way around, and she could take the opportunity to go to Rome, take care of a few things—sooner or later, she has to claim her parents’ personal belongings—and if the riddle was sent from Rome, perhaps its solution lies there. She can unravel the mystery of it, not that it matters, not that it could be authentic—just for the heck of it, just to solve another riddle for old time’s sake. Just to know who could be so demented to think of something so sick.