Come on. Admit it. You’ve stolen something. Probably after a few beers or on a dare. Or both. You justified it as a souvenir. Now it lives in the back of a closet or at the bottom of a drawer.
It could have been a mug from your favorite pub. A book from an obscure library. Or a towel from the resort where you stayed on your honeymoon—the first one. Whenever you come across it—usually when you’re looking for something else—you cringe. You can’t figure out, one: why you took it to begin with; and two: why you still have it.
But to throw it away would be sacrilegious, especially if you were Aunt Dolores. Her memento was an angel whose sash proclaimed, Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Since it wouldn’t fit in a drawer or closet, she stashed it behind the sycamore tree in her parents’ garden.
She often told us the story of the night she and her friends rescued the statue. That’s the rationale they used—they would never steal an angel. They were drunk. Although they were only 16-years old, they had imbibed a little too much—okay, more than a little too much—and gone to a winter solstice ceremony at the local cemetery. A priestess, billowing in silver regalia, celebrated the shortest day of the year by asking the dead—the ancestors—to light up the darkness with regenerative healing.
Then she chanted something in a strange language. As she spotted the concrete angel, Dolores swore she heard Save Gloria. After the ritual ended and the faithful departed along with the faithfully departed, the kids hauled the statue—now christened Gloria—into Danny’s truck.
After planting the angel in the garden, the gang of thieves regularly assembled to smoke, drink, and offer sacrifices to Gloria. On Christmas, it was chocolates and schnapps; Easter, eggs and mead; and Halloween, pumpkins and cider. Hard cider.
The family called Aunt Dolores eccentric, though she reminded us that her name meant “Lady of Sorrows.” Her mission, she believed, was to rid the world of sorrow. A self-proclaimed wiccan with pale flowing hair, she traveled the world, played the ukulele, and grew exotic herbs. She laughed. A lot.
So did we. Over the years, Mary, Gene, and I—her nephew and nieces—humored Dolores as she regaled us with the characters, antics, and rituals that defined her idiosyncratic life.
She never married, choosing instead a series of boyfriends who, believe it or not, were even weirder than she was. One identified as a shaman, who derived his power from sex. Another believed he had been abducted by aliens. Yet another conducted seances. Gloria was his talisman.
Eccentricity seamlessly dissolved into dementia. By last Christmas, we, as next-of-kin, placed our aunt in the memory unit of an assisted-living facility. Then we sold her property to pay for it.
Dolores had inherited her parents’ house. Clearing it out was relatively easy, but Gloria stymied us. She weighed a few hundred pounds. How did a bunch of drunk teenagers get her into the garden? Eh, right. They were drunk teenagers.
Mary, the eldest cousin, was a devout Catholic. She suggested we bury Gloria. “Isn’t that what you do with relics?”
“Nonsense,” scoffed Gene, the youngest, who had studied for the priesthood. The Catholic, not the wiccan, one. “It’s not a consecrated relic.”
It was beginning to snow. Daylight was fading.
“Hey,” I said. “Isn’t today the winter solstice? Let’s return Gloria to the cemetery. Back to where this all began.” After a few seconds, they agreed.
Gene backed his red pickup into the garden. Using a ramp and pulley system he devised with scrap lumber and an old clothesline, we tried to hoist Gloria into the cargo bed.
First, her wings broke off. We threw them into the truck. Then it was the halo. Tossed that in, too. Then the part of the banner that proclaimed in Excelsis Deo. All that remained was a female figure bearing the word Gloria.
We wrapped it in a tarp and headed to the graveyard. We hadn’t thought through our plan though, because when we arrived, we found not a cemetery, but a construction site. A sign proclaimed that the human remains had been reinterred at the memorial garden across town to make way for luxury condominiums.
Disheartened, we looked at each other. Now what?
A nearby café, decked out with red-ribboned wreaths, offered a reprieve. And warmth.
“Let’s grab some coffee,” I suggested. “We’ll figure something out.”
Within minutes, we noticed first one, then several police officers circle Gene’s truck. Then his phone rang.
A passerby had reported a dead body in the flatbed. The police had traced the vehicle to him.
Rather than explain that this was a stolen angel that fell from grace at the hands of Our Lady of Sorrows, Gene shrugged and, in the moment, came up with the solution.
“We were on our way to the dump. Just stopped for coffee.”
After a good laugh all around, we headed to what appeared to be a haven for dumpster divers, for as we pulled away, I noticed a few kids sifting through the debris.
“Look, it’s Gloria,” a teenaged girl exclaimed. “She needs to be saved. Let’s take her home.”