Lily at the Window
by Russell Gordon Carter
The Catholic Hearth, April 1996

It was on Good Friday, in Harvey Glidden's big greenhouse near the Church of the Redeemer, that Eddie Horgan first saw the Angel.

"These lilies cost a dollar apiece, and I couldn't possibly let you have one for less than that," Mr. Glidden was saying to him, when abruptly Eddie noticed a ray of morning sunlight slanting through a place in the roof where a pane of glass was missing: a band of light clearer and brighter than any light he had ever seen, and at the base of it, among hundreds of potted Easter lilies, stood the Angel.

In spite of the sudden lightness in his head and the furious pounding of his heart high in his chest, Eddie managed to gasp, "Look! Mr. Glidden, look-----there!"

But Harvey Glidden only looked and frowned, and then, after a sharp glance at the boy, remarked, "I'll put in a new pane of glass up there soon as I can. Don't get so excited."

Eddie closed his eyes momentarily. When he opened them again, the Angel was nowhere in sight, but he knew, without knowing why, that it was still in the greenhouse.

"How much money you got?" Harvey Glidden asked.

Eddie fished a dime and a nickel from his pocket and held them forth. "I earned it yesterday, doing an errand for Mrs. Mulvaney, who owns the little food shop down the street."

"And you expect me to let you have an Easter lily for fifteen cents?"

The man's round, florid face went a shade darker.

"Fifteen cents!" he repeated.

"I didn't know what they cost," Eddie said.

"It just seemed we ought to have a lily in the house for Easter. It would look so beautiful at the window, and my mother would love I it, and so would my father. And my I three little sisters, they'd love it, too. Couldn't there be just a small one lying around somewhere, maybe a ' broken one-----"

Harvey Glidden shook his head. He knew the Horgans! A shiftless lot they were, living from day to day-----the father a dreamer, not an earner in the proper sense, and the mother, whenever she had a few extra pennies, giving them to charity or something when she ought to be laying them aside for the future. Impractical people, both of them, and the son likely to follow in the same pattern.

"No, I've got no fifteen-cent lilies," he said emphatically and shrugged a heavy shoulder.

Eddie's clear blue eyes smiled up at him, and the hand clutching the coins returned to his pocket. Then he made his way amid the vast sea of shining lilies to the far door. When he reached it, he glanced backward and again saw the Angel. Close to Mr. Glidden it was standing-----so close it seemed impossible for the man to be unaware of it-----yet Mr. Glidden was bent over a bench, sorting flower-pots, his mind intent only upon his task. Eddie paused, breathless, watching, his heart again pounding high in his chest, and within his slim undernourished body there was a strange sense of joy such as he had never felt before.

The light seemed to have brightened and he had a clearer view of the Angel. It was tall and white and stately like the lilies, and round its head hovered an aura of mingled gold and soft violet. He saw the majestic figure hand over and its hand touch Mr. Glidden's shoulder; and he saw Mr. Glidden straighten and turn his head. The Angel appeared to be saying something to him, but still Eddie knew that the man was unaware of its presence. Nevertheless he seemed perplexed, his big hand slowly scratching the side of his face.

Catching sight of the boy, he called to him abruptly, "Hey, come back here a minute!"

As Eddie walked toward him, the Angel vanished.

"Look,"  Mr. Glidden said, "give me your money and I'll give you a lily for it." Then he picked up one of the smallest of the plants near at hand and, slipping it out of its pot, wrapped a newspaper round the earth-bound bulb. "Here you are," he said.

"Oh, thank you!" Eddie exclaimed, and as he went out the door he could think of nothing except the lily quivering in his hands.

Down the long street with its flowing, grinding traffic, he made his way while the white and gold flower nodded and trembled above his lead. It didn't matter that the plant was small. "We'll have a lily at the window!" he said to himself happily.

Then he thought of the Angel again.

What would Mom say when he told her about it? Abruptly, it seemed he could see her dark head and smiling blue eyes and hear the soft voice of her: "Yes, of course, Eddie, if ever any of us was to see an Angel, you would be the one! And I don't say it out of foolish pride at all. You're a good boy, and it's only the good boys and girls and the good grown-ups who now and then catch a glimpse of Heaven-----and not many of them, either!" Then maybe Pop would add, "Aye, Eddie, your mother's right. And this lily now, 'twas the Angel made the old skinflint, Glidden, let ye have it at cut rates! Like enough it whispered to him, 'Come, man, let the lad have it!' Aye, and like enough-----"

The abrupt shriek of brakes at a busy intersection destroyed the bright world of the boy's imagining. With a frightened intake of breath, he tried to jump back to the curb-----but it was too late. The car struck him, spinning him twice around, knocking the shattered lily from his hands and sending him sprawling in darkness that enveloped him like a swift flood . . .

When he opened his eyes, he was lying in a bed with a familiar feel to it, and a familiar hand was upon his forehead, and low familiar voices were speaking to him. "Oh, thank God, thank God!" Mom was saying. "You're all right, Eddie, darling! Nothing's broke or anything-----" And then beside her he glimpsed his father and heard him say, "Eddie, we can all thank God for His mercy! The doc says you'll have to be in bed a few days, but then you'll be all fine again."

Eddie smiled upward at the two of them and at his three young sisters crowding close. Then, struggling against the weakness that pressed upon him, he asked, "Where's the lily?"

"The lily?" Mom repeated wonderingly and looked at her husband.

"What lily?" the father asked.

 "It was in my two hands," Eddie said, "the nice Easter lily I bought. I was up at Glidden's greenhouse, and there was an Angel there, and oh, Mom you should have seen it and the beauty of it standin' in a shaft of white light among all the lilies-----"

"Eddie, 'darlin', what is it you're sayin' about an Angel?" Mom asked. "You-----mean-----"

But Eddie couldn't go on struggling against the weakness. He closed his eyes, and again there was darkness and a vast silence . . . and it was while he lay there, hardly breathing, that he saw the Angel for the last time. He was back in the greenhouse, and there was Mr. Glidden and the Angel beside him; and old Mrs. Mulvaney, for whom he had done the errand, was close to Mr. Glidden-----and neither the man nor the woman saw the Angel or knew that he, Eddie Horgan, also was present . . .

"And have ye heard the news?" Mrs. Mulvaney was saying as she picked up the lily she had bought.
"What news?" Harvey Glidden inquired, and the brightness of the morning gleamed upon his broad, perspiring forehead.

"I mean the Horgan lad, young Eddie who everybody likes," Mrs. Mulvaney added. "Struck by an automobile he was! Yest'day mornin'. They say he was carryin' an Easter lily he'd bought from you, though where in God's name he'd have got the dollar is more than I know!"

Eddie saw the man's reddish brown eyebrows go up and his mouth open. "Was-----was he-----"

"No, he wasn't kilt," the woman interrupted him, "but he was hurt, and he's in bed, and he'll have to stay there a while, poor lad!"

Then abruptly Eddie saw the Angel spread its wings, and he found himself standing in the shelter of one of them while a perfume that was more than the perfume of hundreds of lilies filled his nostrils and a light that was more than the light from the sun played all round him. He blinked and looked first at the man and then at the woman, and it seemed incredible that neither of them should see the Angel or himself standing so close to it.

"Well, I'm glad the boy wasn't killed," Harvey Glidden was saying. "He's lucky! Now he can collect damages-----"

Then the Angel bent toward the woman, and Eddie heard her exclaim, "Money! And is that all ye think of, man? Where then will yer own money be-----and what good'll it do ye-----when maybe some day you yerself get in the way o' one of them automobiles and find yerself stretched out cold and ready fer the shroud?"

Harvey Glidden frowned and drew his lips tight together. "That's fool's talk!" he countered with a sharpness that matched her own. "Nobody can get along in this world without money. You yourself ought to know that, Mrs. Mulvaney-----"

"Yes, I know all that," the woman broke in, "but I also know this. You've a bad reputation, Mr. Glidden! Everybody says so. Your prices are as high as ye can possibly make them, and ye're out for all ye can get-----and never mind the poor people who love flowers as much as the rich do, and maybe more! Aye, it's not just Katy Mulvaney who holds such thoughts. Everybody says the same thing. And nobody likes ye. Look now, have ye ever in yer life given any flowers away?"

"I raise flowers to sell, not to give away." Again Eddie could see the tightening lips and the deepening frown. "This is a business I'm running, Mrs. Mulvaney. Have you yourself, down at your little store, ever given any food away?"

"Aye, I have that!" the woman replied. "To the children sometimes when I like the looks o' them. And even also to the grown-ups when I know there's a lack o' spare cash at the end o' the week. Aye, more than once I've undercharged or actually given stuff away! And if I hadn't I'd have more money than what I've got in the place where I keep it-----but I wouldn't be happy. I'd be like you. And folks'd be callin' me what they call you-----and I'd rather be dead than be called some o' them names!"

And turning abruptly, she strode toward the door . . .

Harvey Glidden watched her until she had gone, his face dark, his eyes sullen. Then he picked up a flower-pot and knocked his trowel angrily against it, sending dry earth cascading to the floor. "The likes of her to talk to me the way she did!" he said aloud. "What's got into her anyway? And what did she mean by hinting that I'm not happy? Of course I'm happy! Why wouldn't I be? I'm making money, and plenty of it!"

But Eddie could see that he was not happy; and it occurred to the boy that never had he seen Mr. Glidden smile.

Then a strange thing happened. The Angel fluttered its wings, setting the lilies to quivering and swaying, as if a sudden breeze had swept through the door that Mrs. Mulvaney had left open. Again the stately figure bent over the man, and as a soft whispering filled the greenhouse-----the kind of whispering a gentle breeze might have made among the swaying flowers-----Harvey Glidden turned and, with lips parted, looked inquiringly this way and that, and in his eyes there was something new.

And it seemed to Eddie that Mr. Glidden had seen the Angel.

Then the light swiftly faded, and once again it was as if the brightness of the world itself had gone out.

Eddie awoke to the sound of far off bells and the gold of Easter morning sunlight upon the lace curtains. He yawned and stretched and then lay back, listening, and thought of the church where the bells were ringing and of the good people who were answering their summons. While he lay motionless, he could also hear his mother and father in the kitchen and smell the coffee his mother was making. He could smell something else, very pleasant . . . very familiar . . .

Recognition came in a way that made him catch his breath. There were lilies right there on the window sill-----tall, beautiful lilies.

"Mom!" he called excitedly. "Mom."

His mother came hurrying into the room, and his father close behind her. "Mom, where'd the lilies come from?"

"Oh, is that all?" Mom gave a quick, nervous laugh and smoothed the coverlet. "How are ye?" she asked. "Yes, how are ye?" Pop added.

"I'm fine," Eddie said. "But the lilies, where'd they come from? Oh, they're so beautiful!"

"Well, now-----" Mom began, but her husband put a hand on her arm and said, "Let me tell it." Then, seating himself on the edge of the bed, he said to his son, "Eddie, do you know what day this is?"

"It-----it feels like Easter, somehow," the boy replied. "I guess I slept a long time, didn't I?"

"Aye, all day yest'day you slept, and this in truth is Easter morning. And, Eddie, on this brightest of all days the Horgans are rich! Oh, not in money of course, but in something else-----we're rich in lilies!

Those big ones yonder in the window, that's just some o' them. There's more in the two front windows. And another in the living room window. And still another in the kitchen for your mother to look at whilst she's at the sink. And, Eddie, guess who sent them to us!"

Then Eddie remembered the Angel and the different look in Mr. Glidden's eyes, and he replied, "It was Mr. Glidden, wasn't it?"

"Well, now, there's a bright lad for ye!" the father exclaimed. "Right off he knew the answer! And yet-----" He pursed his lips while his blunt fingers slowly ruffled the gray, thinning hair above one ear-----"and yet, up till now, no one of sense would ever have said old skinflint Glidden would be after givin' flowers away-----not him! Lad, how did you know it?"

"Because I was in the greenhouse when the change came over him," Eddie replied-----and then, while his parents listened in awed silence, he told the whole story.

His father listened carefully, and, at the end, nodded sagely." 'Tis very like," he murmured. " 'Tis very like. Now go to sleep, lad." And his mother wept for joy on that lovely Easter morning.