The day he was Judged, Arnold Lorry was in the middle of telling off a bum. Any other morning, he normally would have handed over all the change in his pockets, up to and including pound notes. He had a great love for his fellow man, and a great sympathy for those who’d fallen on hard times. It wasn’t easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, he imagined, if you hadn’t any decent boots. And besides, “there but for the grace” and all that, right? That morning, however, after a wretched commute, a dressing-down by his boss, spilling tea on his best slacks, burning himself in the process, and realizing he’d lost his pair of tickets to the match that weekend, he was in a rather foul mood.
The beggar had thrust a dirty hand out, without so much as a “Please” or even a “Help a fellow out, sir?” or anything at all, and Arthur had already given everything he had to a man on the previous corner. “Sorry, chap,” he murmured. “Sorry, but I’ve nothing left,” he said, and there was true apology on his face, though it was hard to muster, considering the day he’d been having, but the bum wouldn’t have it.
“Don’t need your sorry!” he snapped. “Just wanted a fucking fiddypee, is all.”
“I gave every last piece to the man round the last corner, mate,” Arnold said, shrugging politely, a frown creasing his forehead.
“S’not true,” the bum said plainly. “You’ve more in your fold, I’ll wager.”
“Well yes,” Arnold said, now distinctly uncomfortable. “I’ve another tenner in there, but it’s for the Church plate on Sunday…” His voice trailed off, and he looked at the bum, frowning as he thought of the face his sainted mother would make if he didn’t have the note to drop in the plate on Sunday. “So I’ve nothing else to–“
“Liar!” the bum snapped. “You’ve fifty quid behind your ID. You keep it there for emergencies, and you know I need it more than you do!”
Arnold’s face went white, and he grew rigid, the instant the bum shouted at him. “Don’t presume to call me a liar, sir!” he said right back, his hands clenching into fists. “Whether you need it more or not, I worked for it, I earned it, and I’ve already given to another man, and to the Church, and to charity, and I donate time and money and I won’t have you telling me what to do with my emergency fif–” And just then, Arnold realized what the bum had said, and his voice gave out. How had the man known how much, and where he kept it. He frowned, and his voice grew hard and angry, and he leaned in, his lips in a thin line as he snarled, “I don’t know how you know about my money, or where I keep it or why, but I’ll thank you to stay away from me, and out of my business, you filthy rag. You take your pennies and you buy your fucking bottle or your snort or your cunt for the night and you keep your grubbing fingers out of my pockets, I don’t owe you anything!”
The bum stepped back, and Arnold felt every bit of himself tremble as the grime fell away, revealing massive wings, snowy white, a halo of golden curls, and pure, glittering raiment covering what was obviously an angel. “Arnold Lorry,” the angel proclaimed, “you’re an ungenerous man, selfish, and a liar to boot. How say you?”
Arnold fell right to his knees, his heart thundering in his chest, trying to move up to his throat. “Oh, oh, oh my dear sweet fucking merciful Christ,” he babbled, staring up at the angel, tears streaming down his face. “I’m an awful man, but you see, I swear, I give. I give always. It’s just a bad day, can’t a bloke have a bad day?”
“No,” the angel answered, with a shrug, his voice apologetic. “I already gave to the man before you; I’ve no mercy left.”