”No Angel” by Bernie McGill
”No Angel” by Bernie McGill
”No Angel” is a short written by Bernie McGill in 2010 in the anthology ”The Best British Short Stories 2011”. In ”No Angel” we follow Annie, our main character, through her experiences with seeing her dead family members, mostly her dead father. The story takes place in a contemporary Northern Ireland, where the fights between Protestants and Catholics have turned violent. And has cost catholic Annie her brother, Robbie, which later cost her, her mother. The short story’s story is told in a first person narrative, where we through flashbacks follow Annie, as she tells bout her encounters with her father, starting just two weeks after his funeral. We only sees the events through Annie’s eyes, and we only hear her thoughts, not much are mentioned about her, other than she briefly dated Thomas, a protestant, who her dead father did not approve of, because of their religious difference. Her brother Robbie, however is described as being seventeen, three years young than Annie, build like a stick, mad about his guitar, and never knowing when to keep his mouth shut, a quality which Annie admired, but it might also have been what got him killed. Annie also remarks that Robbie never kept his head down, and because of this he might had seen the mallet coming, before it hit him in the face, and left on the road after being hit by a car.
The short story is as mentioned earlier told through flashbacks, and the story starts as an in media res. It does not indicate much of the time through the story, and Christmas week, is the only recognisable time indicator. So it is impossible to tell over how long a time the story takes place. The flashbacks themselves are not told chronologically either. The first one is in which Annie’s dead father appears, two weeks his funeral, but also about twenty-two years after her mother died, and about twenty-two years and six months after Robbie died. And although the second flashback takes place after Annie’s first encounter with her dad, the third flashback takes place at Robbie’s funeral. And the fourth takes place about two months before Robbie is killed. This jumpy composition makes the short story fast paced, and intensifies the excitement and anticipation on what happens next. It is not only religion which makes an appearance in the short story, Annie has to deal with the supernatural, in the form of being haunted by her dead family, mostly her father. But Annie is surprisingly calm in this unnatural situation. Even when her father visits her the first time, where she is alone in the shower, does she still not freak out, or even gives the smallest indication that something out of the ordinary.
The only thing, which indicates that this is not, an ordinary meeting between Annie and her father is the notion that the water turns cold when he arrives. Which is pretty much the tone throughout the short story. Annie is not ever surprised by the visits, and the only time she gets freaked out is when she is locked in a coal house by an invisible force. This normalcy with the not-natural, might be something she is used to, we read in one of the flashbacks where Annie and her mother are sitting together, and in search for a sewing basket, Annie comes across her dads shotgun under her mothers bed, and when confronted and questioned as to why there are a shut gun under her bed, the mother calmly ask Annie to tread the needle for her, and says that people have been driving up in their yard at night, and that it is more convenient to have it close, in case someone tries to get in – shoot first, ask questions later. The tone of the short story is calm, and maybe a little somber. There is not really any point in the story in which Annie seems to be really happy. But given her situation it is understandable, she is after all the only living member of her close family.
Some of the themes in this short story are sadness and loss. Which is also why the tone is so sad. Annie misses her family, this is seen throughout the story, but mostly when she asks her father “Daddy, do you ever see…?” only to have him disappears before she can even finish asking the question. She means to ask him whether or not he has seen the rest of their family. This could also be why she is so calm when he visits her, simply because she misses him, and perhaps are happy to see him, even if it hurts every time he leaves her. Another theme is acceptance and letting go, because in the end she finally lets go of her family and the grief the memories of them brings with them, and accepts that they are gone, but that does not mean that they are gone. This can be read in to the sentences “Will you leave me alone now?” which she asks her father, when she sees him and the rest of their family, in their finest clothes and looking like she remembers them. She might also be referring to the grief when she says “you”, because she is finally ready to move on with her life, without feeling so sad all the time.
But it is not only Annie who has a hard time letting go. Her whole family has not been able to move on, but where stuck in a place between heaven and earth. It is especially her father who seems to have the hardest time letting go, and leaving Annie behind alone, this is seen in the last paragraph, when she asks if he is going to leave her alone, and he looks down at his hands and says that he was right about Thomas not being right for her, before he finally says that she knows where they are, and that is according to the short story the last time she saw him. Maybe because he finally was ready to let her go, and move on with Annie’s mother and brother, knowing that she knew that they were okay, and they will always be with her, even in death.