Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Devil and Ms. Rogers

“Even in August, midnight in Maine shouldn’t be this fucking hot,” Claire mutters into the darkness beyond her back porch. She pulls her thin t-shirt away from her sweat-soaked skin, rests her glass of quickly melting ice against the side of her neck. She feels trails of water make their way south, imagines they hiss and steam against her warm skin, like water dropped into a hot pan.

The heat rolled in three days earlier, the humidity right behind it, and according to the spindly, unattractive weatherman on the morning news who reminds her of Satan himself, there’s no respite in sight. She hasn’t slept in three days, hasn’t been able to brush her hair thanks to the uncontrollable frizz. If it wasn’t for the lake full of cold, mountain fed water down the road, she’d most likely have turned to a puddle of goo on the hardwood floor of her living room by now.

“Am I in Hell?” she wonders aloud. She pinches her exposed skin just to make sure she isn’t. It hurts just as much as it should, which means she isn’t downstairs but is, instead, stuck in a New England weather pattern…which might just be the same thing.

“Thermostat’s broken.”

The voice comes from behind her, from the kitchen of her tiny cottage, and she jumps at the sudden intrusion, drops the glass in her hand. It shatters against the stone steps, ice and shards disappearing into the night. She whirls on the intruder, feels a fleeting moment of panic when she realizes who it is. But then she takes in the ugly Hawaiian shirt, designer linen pants, and knobby toes sticking out of leather sandals and her panic turns to amusement – and disdain.

“Lucy, I thought we agreed you wouldn’t just pop in, unannounced.”

The Devil smiles wide and shrugs, shoulders moving up and down and making the garish purple flowers on his shirt seem alive. “What can I say, Claire? Nobody expects the Devil.”

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,”(1) she says, standing. “Pretty much everybody expects you.”

His smile droops, his lips becoming almost pouty. It’s a strange expression on his pointed face, nearly as disturbing as the Hawaiian shirt.

“Despite the fact that I adore you, Claire, you can be unpleasant at times.”

“And you’re Satan. Standing in my kitchen.” She motions for him to move aside – which he does with a knowing smirk – and she edges past him into the house. She turns her back on him for a moment, just to open a cabinet and retrieve another glass and fill it with ice, and by the time she turns back around he’s found a pile of her mail and is going through it.

“Congratulations on a clear pap smear,” he says, reading from a letter. “What’s a pap smear?”

Claire, mortified, snatches the paper from his hand and frowns her most severe Librarian frown at him. He withers just a bit.

“Don’t do that,” he says. “It makes you look like one of the Crones…it’s terrifying.”(2)

“Did you come by to insult me or do you want something in particular?” she asks.

“So I have to want something to come see you?” He sounds offended; Claire knows better.

“It’s a million degrees outside and I’m low on patience.” She rests the glass against her cheek. “If you’ve got a point, make it soon. Otherwise, you’re getting holy water in the face.”

“I thought we were friends,” he says.

“You’ve got to be kidding me with this,” she mutters, shaking her head. “One minute,” she says, holding up a finger. “That’s how long you’ve got to tell me why you’re here.”

“Or what?” he asks, lips curling into a decidedly devilish smile. “I don’t see any holy water anywhere.”

Claire turns to the sink and twists the tap on, lifts the sprayer, and turns back around to hit the loose tails of his shirt with water from the nozzle. It hisses when it hits the fabric and Lucy screams like a little girl who’s just been confronted by a bug.(3)

“What the fuck is that?!”

Claire smiles, slow and wide, keeps the nozzle pointed at him. “Mike’s house warming gift,” she says. “He blessed the well.”

Lucy’s skin takes on a magenta hue and Claire, knowing what’s coming, sprays him in the chest to prevent him from Hulking out in her kitchen. He screams again, beats at the smoke rising from his ugly shirt. It’s just the distraction he needs; his skin returns to its normal shade of pale.

“I can do this all night, Lucy,” she says. She puts just enough pressure on the sprayer handle for water to dribble out and onto the floor. “Let’s try this again: what do you want?”

He looks up from his shirt. “Goddammit, I just bought this shirt.”

“Lucy…” she warns.

“I need your help.”

“I somehow doubt that.” She points to the door with the sprayer. “Go home.”

He stares at her, his jaw slack and the holes in his shirt smoking. He looks pitiful, which is quite a feat for the so-called Prince of Darkness.

“I asked Ellie, but She told me I was on my own. You’re my last resort, Claire. I don’t know who else to ask.”

“You’re the Devil, Lucy. What the hell could you possibly need my help with?”

His cheeks turn pink, not magenta but pink. He looks embarrassed. “Ilostmylibrarycard,” he mumbles.

Claire’s confused. “What did you say?”

“My library card,” he says, loud and clear. “I lost it.”

“Your library card?” He nods. “You broke into my house in the middle of the night because of a goddamn library card?” He nods again. She stares at him a second longer; then, with the sprayer still in hand, she reaches up and takes a cookie tin down from the top of the refrigerator. She opens it, shuffles through the contents.

“Pecan Sandies?” he asks, surprised. “I always took you for a grasshopper girl.”

“I’m full of surprises,” she says. She pulls out a stack of green cards wrapped in an aging red rubber band. “I’ll give you a temporary card,” she says, taking one from the stack. She lays the sprayer hose over the crook of her elbow and pulls a gold pen from the tin. “Minerva will let you use it for a little while, but you need to find your original.” She prints LUCIFER in large, block letters on the top line, checks the box for restricted access.

He looks over her shoulder. “Restricted access?” he asks, indignant.

Claire hands him the card, carefully avoiding his fingers. “You haven’t used your library card in years,” she says. “You must want access to something you’re most likely not supposed to have access to if you’re slumming it on the mortal plane. So yes, restricted access, and don’t give me any shit about you being the Devil and whatnot. I’m the librarian – I can restrict your access as I see fit.”

He frowns at her. “I just wanted something to read.”

“I know your preferences for non-fiction novels and the like,” Claire says, grinning. “But you’re also prone to episodes of romantic literature and Ellie’s mentioned to me just how uncomfortable that makes Her.” Her grin widens. “She says it gives you ideas.”

He pouts for the second time this evening. “Only good ones.”(4)

“That’s a matter of opinion.” She points the sprayer at him once more. “Now, get out of my house before I do the Underworld a favor and light your ugly ass shirt on fire.”

(1) That's half true. Some people expect the Spanish Inquisition...they're called historians. And anyone who's ever seen Monty Python...

(2) The three Crones. The Fates. He's mostly afraid of them because they share an eye and run around with scissors. He thinks one might have something to do with the other.

(3) A wee little girl. With pigtails. And pink Maryjanes.

(4) Nope. Not even a little bit.

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