The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

The following is an excerpt from The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, published by McSweeney's Books.

I am the recording angel, doomed to watch.

Never mind my sin. Here is my expiation and my reward: to orbit Jemma Claflin from her birth to her death, and fix my eyes always on her face the way better angels always look upon God’s glory. I fell back to earth and back through time to the night of her birth, and, bound to her heart by chains of air and spirit, have never since been more than a few hundred feet from her body. Whenever I tried to flee—there was a whole world to rediscover and witness, after all, and all the curving ways of time lay open before me, and a billion anguished lives called out to me to come and watch them, instead of a toddler with peas on her cheek—the chains would pull tight, hooks in my flesh. In all my years of watching I have never hated her, but I have often been bored, and if there are doodles in the margins of her book, and gaps in her story, if I have looked away from her to watch my brothers and sisters at play among the stars and missed here or there an episode of her life, if I have watched her brother, always burning bright to me, even though I knew his story, past and future, already by heart, it is because I am neither a perfect angel nor a perfect witness. I put off perfection with my mortal form, and what a relief to do it.

Never mind, for now, the quotidian discoveries of her infancy; do not look at her yet toddling after her brother, or trudging, head down, through her education. Beauty pageants and swim meets and drugs smoked or snorted under her brother’s tutelage are not the place to start; neither are the flights with her father over the Chesapeake Bay, or the nights drunk-diving into the past with her mother, or the nights she skated over the frozen river to crawl into her lover’s house and lie with him in his single bed. And look away from the funeral years; ignore the miracle her brother wrought. Consider her instead on the edge of her own greatness, separate from and grander than Calvin’s. There she is on the night of the storm, attending a birth, waiting while the rain falls and the clouds are heaping and piling in the sky and I am sighing all around her, finally. Finally!

From The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian. Copyright © 2006 by Chris Adrian. Published by McSweeney's Books. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.