Smoke

Posted: September 23, 2012 in Choirs
Tags: , , , , ,

Turk waited. Turk always waited. He always thought several seconds into the future. Several seconds was all that he needed, and it was always more than enough time. Turk loved time—he found it to be fluid and malleable. That always gave him an advantage over the people he managed. He also hated time. It was fickle. Human beings never realized that. They thought it was constant, unrelenting, and fixed. And that is why he hated people.

Turk would much rather be stalking some virtuous soul, laying carefully planned snares to trap even the holiest among men. But after Hell’s most recent reorganization, everything changed. If Hell wanted to remain competitive, it had to modernize like the rest of the world. It had to become more efficient. Hell had to catch up to the 20th century. Satan outsourced temptation to the humans themselves; and demons had become little more than project managers. Evil had become nothing more than a franchise.

And so Turk found himself sitting on a park bench, watching people walk by him, oblivious to everything except their own narrow experiences, as he waited for Deborah Jennings—not to tempt her, but to manage her.

He noticed how rushed they all were. “Such busy creatures,” he thought to himself, “hurrying everywhere, but going nowhere.” Turk marveled at how they ignored everything around them. Moms pushed their kids along in jogging strollers while chatting on their phones; men in suits typed away on laptops, managing their stock portfolios. A homeless woman pushed a cart full of garbage from trash can to to trash can. A young couple sat under a tree eating a picnic lunch. Horns blared and sirens screamed in the distance. And no one noticed the demon who sat among them. Turk had long since given up wearing disguises. His horns rose from his skull like two obelisks and flames flowed up and down his body, and nobody acted like anything was out of the ordinary. In this day and age, demons were just another part of the landscape. They had lost their shock value.

Deborah finally showed up. She was late, as usual.

“Deb, tell me something, what’s the point of being a temporal being if you’re never on time?” Turk snorted a small sulfurous cloud from his nose. “I do have other appointments, you know.”

“Don’t start with me Turk, I’m in no mood to deal with you today, OK?” Deborah sat down and fumbled through her purse to find a cigarette. Her hands shook. “You got a light?”

Turk extended a small flame from his finger. Deborah lit the cigarette and wrapped her narrow red lips around the butt as if giving it a kiss. She inhaled deeply and exhaled a gray cloud of burnt tobacco.

“You know, smoking is very unattractive, Deb. You should think about quitting.”

“Thanks, dad,” she said, taking another long drag and sending another dirty cloud of tobacco smoke into heaven. “but I’m a big girl.” She crossed her legs and smoothed the wrinkles in her skirt. She looked away from Turk and sat silently.

Turk thought it ironic that Deborah smoked. Everything about her was so smooth, so clean. From her tightly pulled back hair, to her polished face and the designer sunglasses perched perfectly on the bridge of her nose, to her impeccable business suit—none of them suffered from any wrinkle or blemish. Yet, she polluted her lungs and heart with tar and she smelled like ash.

Deborah ignored Turk, favoring the dirty incense of her cigarette to Turk’s company. Turk didn’t mind. He knew she was a lonely woman, which she compensated with multiple lovers. Whenever one of those relationships became complicated, she called Turk. They would meet at the park. She would smoke a cigarette in silence for a few minutes, before spilling her heart out to him. It was a familiar ritual that Turk found boring and uninspired. Sitting on a park bench, listening to the petty complaints of a lonely, miserable person who was too afraid to love was not much different from Hell. Turk smiled at that thought. Humans were so afraid of Hell that they created their own.

“I fucked up, Turk. Big time.” Deb finally spoke.

“I kind of figured. What’s up now?”

“Remember that guy Bill I was seeing?”

Turk nodded.

“Well, I just found out he’s married.” Deb dismissed a column of ash hanging precariously from the end of her cigarette..

“So, that makes you an adulteress, huh?” His body flared with excited flames as he chuckled.

“You can be such an asshole.” Deb said in a sharply wounded voice.

Turk wished she would remove her sunglasses. He wanted to see the tears in her eyes. He hated sunglasses. Even when they had their eyes open, humans still felt the need to protect them from the light. He wondered if she thought she was clever, that by wearing sunglasses she could hide her tears from him. Such games amused him.

Deborah dismissed a cloud from her defiantly pursed lips. “I don’t fool around with married men, Turk.” she said.

“Well, apparently, you do.” Turk followed the cloud of smoke ascend like a polluted prayer. He knew the thoughts carried with each gray cloud that escaped her lungs: the carcinogens of resentment, sorrow, and loneliness. And the illusions she had created for herself—independent, vibrant, sexy—dispersed as quickly as the smoke from her cigarette.

“So, how did you find out?” Turk asked.

“His wife called me.” Deb flicked the dead ash from the cigarette. “She found out somehow. I don’t know.” Deb paused as she nursed her cigarette. “I don’t sleep with married men. I don’t ruin marriages.”

“Of course you don’t, Deb. He’s the one who ruined his marriage. You didn’t do anything. Stop beating yourself up over it.” Turk realized that these words were more powerful than any archaic incantation. He simply told her what she wanted to hear.

Deborah said nothing.  She was being thoughtful, and nothing aggravated him more than the idea of “thoughtfulness.” It was an illusion humans created to disguise the fact that they lack self-control over their base impulses. He took a perverse pleasure in appealing to that particularly human conceit. So he let her think, to let the ideas of justification, righteousness, and indignation simmer for a while in her heart.

“Deb, this is on him, not you.” Turk tried stirring her with his words. “You’re the victim here. He lied to you just as much as he lied to his wife. And on top of that, you’re the victim of her anger. She shouldn’t be mad at you. She should be mad at him. He betrayed both of you. You didn’t do anything to her. How could you have? As far as you’re concerned, she didn’t exist. If she had, you would have known about her.”

Deborah communed with the toxic incense of her cigarette. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.”

“It’s not about right or wrong Deb. That’s got nothing to do with it. It’s simply reality.” Turk loved that line. Reality: it is what it is. Morality, judgment, conscience—all these things could be dismissed with a simple wave to so-called reality.

Deborah exhaled a cloud of smoke, which quickly evaporated in the wind, leaving only a noxious memory. Turk watched her linger quietly in some corner of her mind. He grabbed the cigarette from her hand and took a long drag. He burned brightly as he inhaled, his body rolling with the fiery embers of Hell.

“Not bad. Tastes like home.” Turk said, exhaling a dark cloud into Deborah’s face. He flicked the dirty butt of the cigarette to the ground. Its tobacco consumed, it no longer served any purpose, other than dirty litter.

Deborah got up from the bench, smoothed out her skirt, and adjusted her sunglasses.

“I gotta go,” she said as she looped her arm through the strap of her purse. “Thanks, Turk. You’re a good friend.”

“Hey, no problem. That’s what I’m here for. Talk to you tomorrow?”

Deborah shrugged and walked away, joining the faceless people who walked through the park—men in their suits talking on their phones, young women jogging with music blaring from their earbuds, and people eating their lunches, reading books or newspapers or their tablets. All of them distracted by realities of their own making, oblivious to the demon who sat among them.

“They make it too easy,” Turk said to himself.

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