Bingo, Deal with the Devil
By Maria E. Schneider
The Devil, down on his luck, shows up for breakfast and tries to make a deal with a couple that is too polite for their own good.
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When the devil arrived in the empty chair next to me, at first I thought it was my brother because we were expecting him. Upon closer inspection it probably wasn’t him because I didn’t remember my brother having a tail or using it to stroke his mustache. If my brother had recently grown horns out the top of his dark curly head of hair, I hadn’t been told.
“I brought my own cup,” the devil said, a red coffee cup magically appearing in his right hand.
Dad glanced up from his paper. “Uh-hmm.”
Mom said, “That’s good. Phoebe just put on a fresh pot if you need more coffee.”
My eyes flicked around the table. I had just brewed the second pot of the day. We sat on the porch, eating breakfast, just like we did every time I visited. Mom and Dad had started the habit on weekends during the warm months when Dad was still working at the paper mill, and I was in college. It was nice to be back during this time of year. The late-spring sun washed over the dewy lawn, the daffodils and tulips leaned forward eagerly, Dad read the paper, and Mom stirred her coffee while she watched the birds at the feeder.
“I’ll just zap it to warm it.” The visitor applied his forked tail to the side of the cup. It sizzled. “It’s the only damn thing in hell that isn’t hot.” He smiled at me.
“Not at the table,” Dad said.
“It’s faster than taking it to the microwave,” the devil replied with a smirk. “May as well use what nature provides, eh?”
“He meant watch your language,” Mom chided. “No cursing at the breakfast table.”
The devil blinked with either suspicion or disbelief. It was hard to tell because I wasn’t going to stare into those handsome golden eyes any longer than I had to. He was a lot better looking than my brother. I tended towards blond men, but his handsome swarthy looks had my heart missing a beat or two even if he didn’t have the good manners to know better than to curse at the breakfast table. He must have spent some hours at hard labor too; his dark blue t-shirt rippled with muscles when he slurped his coffee.
“I’m in need of an extra soul or two,” the devil said. “My quota is running short, and you two look like you’ve just enough years left to manage some good sinning. Live it up and bump your souls up in value enough to make my quota. You’ll get to really enjoy your golden years.” He chuckled with nauseating insinuation.
Dad flicked the newspaper to make the section he was perusing easier to read. “Hmm.”
Mom spotted something of interest at one of the bird feeders and began flipping pages in her well-worn bird book.
There was a long silence. The devil looked at me. I shrugged.
“Let’s see…” Mom said, her hand trailing across the pages.
“It’s a hummingbird,” the devil said.
“Yes, I know,” my mother replied. “But what kind? It’s very difficult to tell the difference between an Anna’s and a Broadtailed.”
The devil glanced back over at the feeder, but it was too late. The bird had flown. I kind of wished I could fly too, but I couldn’t just leave my parents in the devil’s clutches, so to speak. The legs of his metal chair had turned a bright red, matching the end of his tail.
“Uh—” I thought hard, hoping to find a way to encourage the guy to take his business elsewhere.
“What’s it gonna be,” the devil interrupted. “Women? Serving your every whim?”
A picture hovered in the air suddenly, right on the table in front of my father. Scantily clad women sashayed ever so near, throwing kisses and shaking well-endowed body parts. There were blonds, red-heads, and even blue-haired beauties. One lady looked decidedly like an iridescent mermaid.
Dad finally glanced up over his reading glasses, unable to ignore the flickering motion in front of him. His eyebrows shot up, and he grunted. A breezy gust tousled his gray hair so that even it looked surprised.
The devil smiled. The hot babe currently showing her stuff lost another bit of clothing.
Dad snorted. “The stuff on television these days. Can those ladies cook? They don’t look the type to have ever cooked a decent meal in their lives. I bet they can’t boil water.”
The devil’s face froze for more than a moment, but then he rallied, albeit with a slight stutter. “Of…of course they can cook!” The picture changed. Suddenly the women had silver platters of steaming food. The smell wafted across the table. Even though I wasn’t the intended victim, it was hard to keep from drooling.
“Seven course meals!” the devil declared. “Filet mignon. Scallops in cream! French pastries, strawberries in or out of season…chocolate.”
The last one nearly had me raising my hand. The chocolate was in mounds, flowing around some sort of brownie; a never-ending volcano. A sprig of mint decorated the side of the plate and the smell was…well, it didn’t go with hell, that’s for sure.
Dad gave a sniff and returned his eyes to the paper. “Can they do two eggs, over easy, one slice of bacon, crisp? Or sausage will do if we’re out of bacon. Toast, with the butter spread evenly, not one of those pats in the middle where you end up with a soggy spot and not enough to cover the rest of the slice.”
“And oatmeal on Tuesdays,” Mom said. She reached over and patted Dad’s arm. “He needs his oatmeal.”
Dad smiled at her and gave her hand a pat back. “Hot Ralston’s wheat cereal on Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather. I’d rather eat cold cereal if it’s too warm outside. Just make sure to add pecans. Gotta have nuts in the cold cereals.”
The devil’s mouth gaped. The food platters disappeared with a whomp as though sucked back through a dangerous vortex.
“Saturday is pancakes,” Mom said.
“With fresh Wisconsin maple syrup. I don’t like that Vermont stuff much. Too dark.” Dad moved his hand from Mom’s and turned a page of the paper.
The devil blinked at me again, but I clamped my lips shut so that I wouldn’t ask about possibly trying the chocolate dessert. It was gone anyway.
A bee buzzed its way onto the table. Mom shooed at it.
“Got to get to that lawn today,” Dad said as though the bee had come with a personal reminder.
The devil brightened. “Want to never have to mow it again?”
Now that got Dad’s attention. He whipped his reading glasses off and even sat a bit straighter in the lounge chair.
Out of nowhere a riding lawn mower appeared, shiny green with a blazing red arrow—no, it was a forked tail, decorating one side. A young kid with a dark red cap pulled low over his forehead drove the thing. He steered across the lawn towards the porch.
“Don’t hit the lilies!” Dad yelled as the mower cut close to the big oak tree. He put the paper down and stood up. “Watch the flower bed! You drive too close, you’ll bruise the dahlias because they lean over.”
He hurried to the edge of the porch and yelled more instructions, but he must have decided the guy couldn’t hear, because after a moment, he stomped down the deck and out onto the lawn. It wasn’t really possible to hear much after that, but he waved his arms a lot, found spots the guy missed and when the guy actually ran over a tulip, I thought dad might get to heaven a lot sooner.
“I can get you more tulips,” the devil said. He raised his hand in the air, ready to wave a command.
Mom looked affronted. “Those are Aunt Mary’s bulbs. You can’t go stealing her bulbs!”
Mid-wave the devil stopped. His eyes slanted to her. His mouth opened, but either no sound came out or the mower drowned him out.
Mom continued, “And it wouldn’t be the same if we put in bulbs from someone else. You’d better just have your friend there not run over my flowers.” Her expression was even more threatening than the one I got when I didn’t wash my dishes after eating.
The devil lowered his hand. Instead of more flowers, the mower disappeared.
That left dad screaming at the wind. He caught on fast though. He stopped yelling, but continued to stomp around the yard, inspecting blades of grass. When he was satisfied that the lawn hadn’t sustained overwhelming damage, he made his way back up on the porch and sat down with a big huff.
“I tell you what,” he said. “You can hire that guy, but I’m not gonna pay him. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but that was the most horseshit job of mowing I’ve ever seen. Breakfast is over,” he said by way of apology for the curse word to my mother. “You can’t just go back and forth without any regard to the tracks you’re leaving or the flowers. Some parts are wetter than others, and that machine of yours could leave a real mess if you don’t get someone that knows how to drive it better.”
Silence. The devil didn’t even glance my way this time.
“I’m still gonna have to weed the beds and trim. The guy didn’t even stick around until the job was finished.” He selected a toothpick from the holder in the center of the table and gave a grunt. “Probably too young to know better. Hasn’t been trained right.”
“More coffee?” Mom asked, including all of us.
“Shoot,” Dad said, “I need some iced tea.” He wiped sweat from his forehead. “Then I may as well get started weeding the flower beds.”
“Money?” the devil offered weakly.
Dad turned to him. “You want to pay me to do my own flowers? That’s nice, but I guess it’s a little strange. If you have extra money to be giving away, just put it in the bank. That’s what I always did. It’ll come in handy in an emergency. Never know when one of the kids might get in a bind and need something.” He smiled at me with fondness. I felt the urge to kiss his forehead, but I didn’t want to embarrass the devil.
Then again, he already appeared embarrassed and quite annoyed.
Even though it wasn’t clear if Dad was telling the devil to put the money in Dad’s account or the devil’s, I guessed, “If Dad gives the money away, it probably doesn’t count as much.”
“Doesn’t count at all.”
I decided to urge him on his way. “Well, you tried.”
“There must be something you want!”
Mom smiled. “Oh certainly. There’s nothing better than a spring day. It is such a nice day, isn’t it? In just a few weeks the tomatoes will be ripe. I love a fresh tomato, don’t you?” She turned to me and said, “If you’re staying for dinner, we should start on the potato salad. I bought some nice red potatoes, and Marma up the street brought us some eggs from her chickens.”
“Will you be staying for dinner?” she asked the devil.
He tried to speak, but only a puff of smoke came out. He sucked it back in and sputtered, “That’s it? The only thing you can think of that you want is a nice spring day and a dinner guest from hell?”
Mom lowered her head, studiously inspecting her hands in her lap. I knew she was trying to find a polite way to tell the devil that no one wanted a guest from hell. She found inspiration in a single cat hair floating on the cuff of her shorts. She picked it off and held it up. “I always wanted a cat that didn’t shed. The stuff gets all over everything this time of year.”
The devil brightened. “A Sphynx?”
A picture of a hairless cat floated in the air above my mom. The cat looked bald and kind of angry about it. Or maybe it didn’t like being exposed to us because it crouched in that defensive way that cats have when they would prefer to be hidden from prying human eyes.
Mom jerked back. “Oh heavens no. I didn’t mean that. I want our dear Pixie, just with no shedding! Why would I want a different cat?”
The devil snapped his teeth together. “I don’t change the laws of creation. Or the laws of physics. It has to be something that exists.”
“Not much of an inventor, huh?” Dad asked. “Ever think about investing in some extra schooling? They teach just about anything in college these days. Get yourself a decent career.”
I thought it sounded like a great idea. I leaned over and suggested, “It’s a lot easier to sway the young. You might want to peddle your wares in a college dorm. You could get a lot of cooperation in exchange for a six-pack of beer. ”
“Too much time to repent,” he hissed back.
The assisted living place a few blocks over came to mind then, but sending the devil there seemed mean and wrong. What could I do? My parents were so polite, they might agree to take something from the list of temptations just to make the devil happy and go away.
The devil drummed his fingers on the table. The plastic directly underneath melted slightly, leaving dimples in the smooth surface.
Desperate, I blurted out, “1504 Weston Street. It’s an assisted living place.” It might work out, especially if the devil went tonight. “Go tonight at four. I promise, there will be lots of souls.”
He cocked an evil eye at me, distrusting. “Old people?”
I nodded, giving him my best innocent look. “Some maybe only have days. We’re talking guys that shouldn’t be buying green bananas.”
He rubbed his hands together. “Good. Good! I won’t bother you folks any longer then.”
He left a puff of smoke and a rather sulfurous smell behind.
I wrinkled my nose.
Dad fanned the air with his paper, while Mom used her napkin. “I didn’t want to complain in front of that young man, but he should buy a different kind of soap and use it in copious amounts,” Mom said.
Dad nodded in agreement.
After the air cleared, Mom stood, leaned over and gave me a kiss on my forehead. “It was nice of you to try and help him make friends. He should have a wonderful time. Those folks wouldn’t miss their bingo night for anything, and they’ll be happy to include him.”
“No, nothing will tempt them from bingo. He’ll have a devil of a time,” I predicted with a smile. “He probably shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to try and make his quota.”
“The trick,” Dad said, “is wanting what you have. Not getting what you want.”
Mom and I smiled. Maybe Dad had noticed the tail after all.