Merely to watch this ancient welcoming in of Summer is to partake of something as mystical as the changing of the seasons. Legends behind this tradition refer to the battles between Viking invaders and Celtic defenders long long ago. Others insist it is a pagan festival, dedicated to the sun god Bel. But this is a different story, and only happened a lifetime ago. Our little family travelled home to Penzance tired and happy after the Padstonian ceremonies to the loft apartment above our bakery .Though exhausted with merrymaking, I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake slowly becoming aware of a figure standing over my toddler’s bed.
Groggy with tiredness I watched this naked man with curly blond hair watching my sleeping child. Finally I asked:
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
For long moments, he didn’t answer. He continued to survey my firstborn. Then he said.
‘I’m looking after him.’
Bewilderment turned to annoyance.
‘I look after him. That’s my job.’ I was curt. Finally the man turned his head and smiled. A gentle smile touched with pity.
‘Yes. I know. And you do it very well.’ He started walking towards me, but before he reached my bed, vanished. With an unexplained and unexpected feeling of relief, I finally fell asleep.
Next morning I loaded up freshly baked goods ready for my delivery rounds. The bakery van was being serviced, so I’d borrowed a friend’s estate. My favourite part of the day, just me and the kid. We’d share a piping hot jam filled doughnut and sing along to the radio as we negotiated country lanes delivering bread to remote villages. Today I planned to let him sleep, as the car didn’t have a child seat fitted. I actually started the engine, when my midnight visitor flashed into my mind. And for some reason, I climbed back up the stairs, woke my son and dressed him, even though it meant propping him up on a makeshift booster seat.
Returning home, the first indication that something was wrong was a policeman guarding the lane leading to our bakery. Frantically, I insisted on driving through. On learning my identity, he allowed me to pass, radioing his colleagues to advise of my approach. The fire had taken hold in minutes. My bakery, my home was an empty shell. Industrial oils and fats exploded like fireworks. Firemen lined up against a neighbour's wall; they dropped their heads as I walked past. From their blackened faces and slumped exhausted bodies it was obvious they’d given everything before admitting defeat. I wanted to thank them, but my voice wouldn’t work. I could only nod as I passed each one. They nodded back wordlessly. The bakery was gutted. My husband escaped unharmed. Upstairs stunk of acrid smoke, but appeared unscathed. And because I was seven months pregnant with my second child, I wanted a family heirloom. My home, our livelihood was gone. But I wanted the christening shawl. I opened the wardrobe, and reached in. The shawl was crocheted in finest wool. As I picked it up, it crumbled into ash.
Mostly it isn’t fire that kills. Bodies may burn, but long before that, the smoke has done its damage; creeping silently into sleepers’ lungs, asphyxiating more efficiently than any drowning. Had it not been for my visitor, my son would have been left sleeping in his bed. While I delivered bread and fire and smoke destroyed our home. Would my husband have managed to sprint through the bakery, out the door and up the external steep stone steps to our baby? Probably. Maybe. But for tiny lungs, the shortest exposure to a smoke filled room can be fatal.
Much later, when I told my family about the naked man, my husband laughed.
‘Trust you to argue with an angel.’ He said.
My grandmother went very still and pale.
‘It was Bill.’ She said. Bill: Her husband, my beloved grandfather. I’d only known him as an old man, with grizzled hair.
‘When he was young, his hair was a mass of blond curls.’ And nothing would shake her from the belief that her dead husband somehow managed to alert his granddaughter that something catalystic was about to happen.
I know what I saw. Maybe after the Mayday festivities my spirits still ran high – although I hadn’t been drinking. Maybe it was the fancy of a pregnant woman. I saw a man, pink and gold in the doorway of my son’s bedroom. When I challenged him he responded as though it was his right to watch over my son. I spoke to him; he answered.
Do I believe in angels? If they do exist, should they reveal the future? In my novel ‘A Ripple in Time’ a young Cornish maid aboard the Titanic dreams of an angel’s warnings. The Titanic’s fate is averted; dramatically changing world history.
Perhaps my vision couldn’t warn me directly, but its presence disturbed me enough to take extra special care of my son that fateful day. I believe in angels.