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  • Dream of Shadows

The Weekend by J.V. Gachs (September 2021)



The Devil licks the thin paper. Slowly. Eyes fixed on his own hands. He finishes rolling the cigarette, puts it in his mouth, lights it, and only when the smoke fills his lungs does He look up at me.

"Tell me, what mattered to you an hour before we met this afternoon?" His deep voice a mere whisper. Strangely familiar.

When the alarm clock went off twelve hours ago, the most important thing for me was arriving to work on time. Being sharp during the meeting. Getting the deal. Securing the promotion and the pay raise.

Had I known the Devil himself would offer me a deal before sunset, I would not have hesitated. I would have known what to ask for.

Despite my boss' efforts to turn my workplace into a torture chamber, I was eager to make it. If only to prove I could climb that ladder. My soul felt already on sale, anyway. But the hours passed and the meeting went to hell, in such a spectacular way. Just the perfect excuse the company had been waiting for. I was fired, effective immediately.

I tried hard to convince myself that these things happen sometimes. I couldn't have done more or been better prepared. The client simply didn't share my view. That's it.

Only, deep down, I knew it wasn't true. I've been distracted lately. Clumsy. Unproductive. Plain lazy, is how my mother would put it, with her usual disapproving look. How could I give my hundred percent under the constant surveillance of a man who wanted me to screw up as much as he wished to screw me? If He had asked me then, I would have gladly given up my eternal soul for the pleasure of seeing the building go down in flames.

The Devil takes a puff and leans back in the chair, still looking at me. His many rings and bracelets tinkle in a peculiar way as He plays with the smoking paper booklet from which He has cut a corner to use as a filter. I try to remember where I have heard that sound before.

Six hours ago, I finished the paperwork and left Human Resources. Hurt, but, deep down, relieved. I managed to hold my tears until I reached the corner. My first impulse: calling Ernesto. My life has been revolving around his schedule for years now. Accommodating the scarce free moments he finds for me has deprived me of sleep, working hours, family meetings and seeing friends. It has also granted me an absurd abundance of lost minutes looking at walls thinking about him.

When I dialed his number I wanted – needed – to tell him what had happened, to hear his voice telling me that everything would be all right. Even if it was a lie.

No one answered.

As I hung up, I saw an e-mail notification. I didn't open it. The subject line was all I needed to see. "Cottage."

Perfect. I would have to face this alone, while he spent the weekend in a perfect country house, by the fireplace, eating roast turkey and homemade mashed potatoes. The answer would have been simple then, when my heart was aching as if a murder of crows were pecking at it. But now, under the warm light of the Devil's eyes, Ernesto’s small heart melting for me or his miserable throat choking on a turkey bone no longer look worth wasting my one wish.

I lean over the table, steal the cigarette from his lips and take a puff while He tries to hide a crooked smile.

"I guess an hour before I met you, I cared about... A lot of bullshit."

He responds by raising his glass to me, satisfied, and drinking it in one gulp.

Four hours ago, I went to the supermarket to buy wine, ice cream and pizza in large quantities. My plan for the weekend: watch romantic comedies on TV, eat until I throw up and cry until I'm dry. When I pushed my self-indulgence-filled cart into the ice cream section, He was there, leaning against the refrigerator door between the Cappuccino Commotion and the Chocolate Chocolate Chip, as if He had been waiting for me.

I guess you don’t run into the Devil by chance.

He had short, curly red hair, Frank Zappa's mustache, jeans, vest and the moves of a snake. In the two-liter ice cream section, I didn’t expect to find a six-foot leprechaun who suggested I substitute the pizza, wine and ice cream with homemade pasta, absinthe and sex.

Now that I think about it, I can't remember the terms of the conversation. As if more than a thousand years has passed since that encounter and the details have ceased to be important. I just know that it was so tempting. Fluid. After all, the Devil is, and always will be, a gentleman to whom you never say "no."

I've been trying to decide for two hours now what I want to sell my soul for and haven't found anything truly worth it.

I put down the cigarette and serve two more glasses of absinthe. The sugar burns blue when the music stops. The record spins mute.

I get up to turn it over, but He grabs me by the waist and draws me to him.

I let myself fall on his knees. Up close, it is almost possible to see the flames burning in his eyes.

"Tell me, and what is important now?"

"Do you need an answer right away or can I think about it?" I ask, putting my arms around his neck.

"I suppose I could wait a couple of days, give you time to ponder your options," He whispers, bending over to bite my lower lip.

I respond by kissing him for the first time and feel that, oddly enough, my tongue recognizes his taste.

It's Saturday morning, and we haven't slept at all. My legs are shaking and my hair is a mess.

While He's making coffee naked in the kitchen, I pick up the phone on the nightstand and write an email to my ex-boss telling him everything I think about him and his shitty company. Send.

Five in the afternoon. He cooks the fresh pasta with salmon that He promised me when we met.

I am exhausted and covered in sweat. I look at myself in the mirror on the door. Without make-up. No lingerie. Just me. I smile.

I leave a message on the answering machine to Ernesto, saying that I never want to see him again, and, as a farewell gift, another to his wife.

When I hang up, I see that my mother has written me several messages.

I go to the kitchen. I hug Him from behind while He cuts the fish. I throw my cell phone into the pot of boiling water He has set for the pasta.

He laughs.

Sunday. We wake up in my bed. I feel renewed. I am the first morning of spring. I am light. I am a force capable of devouring the world. Reality awaits me outside this cage. Room. I already have an answer for him.

"Anything?" I ask, leaning on his chest.

"You only have to ask and it will be granted."

"Do I have to sign with my blood on a big fat book or something like that?"

"You just have to say it out loud," He says, caressing my lips with his fingers.

"I want to always feel exactly the way I do now."

The Devil licks the thin paper. Slowly. Eyes fixed on his own hands. He finishes rolling the cigarette, puts it in his mouth, lights it, and only when the smoke fills his lungs does he look up at me.

"Tell me, what mattered to you an hour before we met this afternoon?" His deep voice a mere whisper. Strangely familiar.


THE END

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J.V. Gachs is a Spanish writer, currently working as a Latin and Greek teacher. Her short stories have been published in Spanish and US magazines.

Find more from her on twitter (@jvgachs) or on her website at jvgachs.com.

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