Open 2021 Open Stories - Henri Colt


My Guardian Angel
By Henri Colt


Maurice lazes by his sleeping bag on a stretch of sparkling green grass across the village beach. Dozens of raucous sea gulls compete for food with tourists on the board walk, but Maurice is not a tourist. He used to live in the village, in a cottage with a real kitchen and a back yard and a barbecue. He lived less than a block from his children’s school, and not a mile from the small shop where his wife worked as a salesperson.

That was before the pandemic.

After Jenny died, Maurice sent the kids to stay with his mother in the city. He had become ill himself, and could not muster the strength to care for them and keep his job at the gas station. It was hard enough coming home after work to a house where his wife’s smile had kept the family together and him off the bottle. Now, the house was empty. The bourbon had changed to wine, and there was never enough of it.

After he lost his job, he could no longer pay the rent. The landlord said his own financial situation forced him to move back into the home, but he gave Maurice a month to vacate the premises. Maurice went to the bank to ask for a loan, but his credit was poor.He had used all of his savings, and maxed out his cards to pay for Jenny’s hospital bills and the six months of rehabilitation he needed after his stroke.

He did not die from the virus, but its effect on his immune system plugged up his arteries. He spent four weeks in the intensive care unit before he returned home, still able to walk, but his thinking was not as clear as it used to be.

A lanky, old fellow with long brown hair and a surgical mask flopped down beside him on the lawn. His voice was hoarse, his tone was cantankerous. “God damn fools around here don’t wear masks or listen to the Governor,” he said, pointing at the crowd of young people gathering by the lifeguard station.

Maurice thought of his own mask folded neatly in his shirt pocket and stared dumbly at the old man. His face, or what he could see of it, was tanned and wrinkled.
His hair was streaked with yellow as if it had been bleached by the tropical sun, and his eyes were a grayish-blue with flecks of gold.He must be a surfer, Maurice thought, someone from around here with lots of money.

The old man spoke as if no one was listening. “I usually crash at the shelter,” he said, “but the cops won’t bother me here, and the view is unbeatable. Most days, I buy food at the market and take the shuttle to surfer’s cove. It’s free, you know.” His raised, bushy eyebrows beckoned a response.

Maurice turned his head the other way. He didn’t want to be within six feet of a stranger, especially without his mask. A policeman rode past on a bicycle. A couple of pelicans hovered over the grass like protecting angels. Protecting what? Maurice did not want to get sick again, but the way his life was going, if he did, maybe death would be a blessing. He got to his knees and stuffed his sleeping bag into the shopping basket he had swiped from the supermarket.

“Where are you off to so fast? The old man grabbed Maurice by the elbow. “I didn’t scare you, did I?”

“Please let go of me, sir.” Maurice shrugged his shoulders and pushed the man’s hand off his arm.

The old man chuckled. “Everyone has gone berserk since the pandemic,” he said. “There ain’t no humanity left nowhere.”

Maurice started to leave. The old man’s raspy voice was barely audible.

“Sit down, why don’t you?”

With a glance over his shoulder, Maurice saw the man pull a small watermelon from the plastic cooler he had been carrying. His eyes widened with anticipation.
What they shared next was round, lifelike and swollen, smooth, and plump. The shiny red fruit seemed to glitter like a ruby, and when the old man offered Maurice a piece, it was juicy and firm at first bite, but quickly turned soft and sweet. Its white crust seemed little more than the protective layer of a speckled jade shell. For a man who had lost everything, even its seeds were succulent.


Henri Colt is a physician-writer whose passions include mountaineering and tango. He is the editor of Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies (Oxford University Press). His short stories have appeared in Rock and Ice Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and others. He is also an ActiveMuse nominee for a Pushcart Prize.


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