As Told by Brian Martin
I was minding my own business, browsing the Neiman Marcus display windows on Stockton in San Francisco when the faint smell of Sulphur invaded my nostrils. Then I felt the presence of someone. I looked at the reflection in the display window and saw the head and shoulders of a very handsome man standing behind me. I wondered who the hell he was and what he wanted. I looked around but no one was there. ‘What the …’
I moved to the next display window and he was still there – in the reflection. But now I could see all of him and almost laughed out loud. He was tall, muscular, and standing there bare-chested in a pair of pink tights.
“You heard me.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Who do you think?”
Then I saw the red spiked tail flicking behind him. “You’ve gotta be kidding?”
“And why would I do that?”
“I don’t have the faintest idea, but I wish you would go away.”
“Why? Am I bothering you?”
“Well, yes, you are.”
“It’s the Sulphur smell, isn’t it?”
I didn’t reply.
“I’m trying to get rid of it but with little success. Sorry.”
“Well, how about going somewhere else to be sorry?”
“Why should I?”
“It’s a codpiece.”
“A pink sequined codpiece? What are you, gay?”
“And what’s wrong with that? It gets a lot of attention.”
“I’m sure it does. But I’m not gay. So go away.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” But I was beginning to wonder with all the attention I was getting from this specter.
“I saw you looking at those handbags.”
“So, what of it? A gift for my mother.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Those are Valentino bags. Big bucks.”
“Your mother isn’t Valentino. She’s Gump’s bargain basement.”
“How do you know my mother?”
“I know a lot more than you think.”
“Well, aren’t you full of yourself?”
“I’m here to help you.”
“Dressed like that? You need some serious help yourself. I hope no one else can see you. I’d be the laughing stock. And even if I were gay, you’d be the last person I’d be looking for.”
“Why not? I can be warm.”
“I’ll just bet you can. A lot warmer than anyone would care to be involved with. Is that real?”
“This?” He grabbed his tail and pulled it up in front of him, “Doesn’t it look real?”
“I haven’t had a lot of experience with tails.”
He turned around and bent over slightly. “Oh my God, it is real.”
“Of course it is. What did you think?”
“You kind of look like a refugee from Mardi Gras. Where are your horns?
“They’re there,” he pulled his curls aside, exposing two bumps on his forehead.
“They aren’t very big.”
“I can extend them when I need to.”
“You’re beginning to scare me. Please go away.”
“I’m not going to hurt you or take you to you know where.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. I know I’ve not been a good person. If you’re trying to scare me into being better, it’s working.”
“I’m not trying to scare you. I just want to be friends.”
“Do you see anyone else standing around?”
“Madge! I’m so glad to see you.”
“What are you doing? You look scared to death?”
“Looking at gifts for my mother.”
“I understand. Hey, I’m on my way to have lunch. Care to join me? We can catch up.”
“I would love to.”
She put her arm through mine and steered me into the Stockton Street crowd. I glanced back at the display window and saw the reflection of the Devil. He looked so lonely and sad standing there by himself, his pink sequined codpiece sparkling in the sunlight. I almost felt sorry for him. I had the strangest feeling this was not the last time I would be seeing him.
“Do you think I’m gay?”
“Are you kidding me? After that weekend in Palm Springs with you and my sister, the devil himself would be jealous.”
“So, that’s the reason.”
“Are you thinking of being a bad boy again.”
“Nothing wrong with that is there?” We laughed.
It finally dawned on me, that sonofabitch was in Palm Springs spying on me that whole weekend. I had to admit, it would have been kind of kinky knowing he was there. Sex with the Devil. Now there was an idea pregnant with possibilities. I kept thinking of that sparkling pink codpiece.
Several weeks went by without you-know-who showing up. And then one morning I got up early and dragged myself into the bathroom. When I turned on the light I almost had a heart attack. “JESUS! What the fuck are you doing here?” He was standing behind me in the mirror’s reflection. I glanced behind, but of course, he wasn’t there. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“I didn’t mean for that to happen. I’m sorry.”
“What’s that smell?”
“You can smell it?”
“Smell it. I feel like I’m standing knee deep in it.”
“I guess I overdid it a little. Sorry.”
“Is that you? Smells like coconut and sandalwood.”
“Yes, it’s an oil I use to make my skin look more attractive to you.”
“No, I’m not kidding. Do you like it?”
“No, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you.”
I moved to one side to grab a washcloth and noticed, “Where is it?”
“Oh, that. I decided it was a bit much. Do you like it better this way?”
“Is that all of you in there or is that padding? Please tell me it’s padding.”
“No, it’s all me.”
Holy shit. All I could think of was what it would look like if it was erect. He could really hurt someone with that thing. “Is that a wet spot?”
“You scared me when you yelled. It’s just a little pee.”
“Gee, I’m really sorry about that. How come I can only see you in reflections?”
“Materialization is a little complicated. I’m working on it.”
“Well, don’t work too hard.” God, the thought of him actually being physically present made me more than anxious.
“You don’t like me, do you?”
“Oh, forgive me. Am I being too obvious?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, you are.”
“Then why don’t you GO AWAY.” He was silent and looked hurt. “Please don’t take that personally. It’s just that you’re scaring the hell out of me.”
“Scaring the what out of you?”
“Metaphorically speaking that is. You do know what a metaphor is, I hope.”
“Yes, I do and that’s the reason I’m not leaving.”
“Your anger in wanting to get rid of me is only a cover-up for your desire to be with me.”
“Oh my God, you are crazy.”
“About you, yes.”
“This is insane.” I turned out the light and went back to bed. As I pulled the covers up under my chin I kept seeing his muscles glowing in the light. Maybe I’ll try that sandalwood and coconut oil the next time I decide to be naughty. Then I thought of that erection. Jesus, I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that thing.
Dawn had already broken when I opened my eyes. I got up and peeked at the bathroom mirror. Thank God, he wasn’t there. But I’m sure he would pop up when I least expected him. If I could only think of some way to discourage him outside of kneeing him in the balls. I’ll check with Madge. I’m sure she’ll know of a way, woman of the world that she is.
“Mornin' Brian, what’s happening?”
“Yes, Really. We need to have lunch today. I need some street-wise advice on how to get rid of hell and damnation. He’s working on materializing. I’m going to be in real trouble if he shows up in the flesh or whatever it is devils show up in.”
“Well, he’ll certainly stop traffic if he’s wearing those pink tights and that sequined codpiece.”
“He’s toned that down a little. No codpiece.”
“What does it look like without the codpiece?”
“Well, let’s put it this way. Unless you’re interested in being ploughed like an Ohio cornfield, you don’t want to get too close.”
“Oh my, that’s kind of exciting.”
“What? Oh, yeah. Okay, meet me at Box Lunch around noon and we’ll talk.”
“It’s on Powell, sixty something.”
“No reflecting surfaces I hope?”
“No, I think you’ll be safe.”
“See you then. Bye.” She sounded as if she might be interested. Maybe I can steer him over in her direction. She’s a good sport. Willing to try anything once. Palm Springs was proof of that.
I caught a glimpse of him in a window of the old Woolworth building as I walked down Market toward the corner of Powell. I tried quickening my step to avoid him. I was practically into a full gallop.
“It’s not going to work.”
“You heard me. I’m not interested in her. It’s you I want.”
“And it’s me you aren’t gonna get.” I kept sprinting.
“I remember Palm Springs and know what you like.”
“So, you did eavesdrop, you devil.”
“Hey, it’s what I do. Actually, I just happened to be in the neighborhood.”
“Oh, I’m sure of that.”
“You’re pretty handy with those ropes and those knots. Where did you learn that?”
“I think maybe I’d like to have you tie me up.”
“Oh Jesus – get away from me!” I dashed into Box Lunch and practically fell into Madge’s lap.”
“What’s with you?”
“He followed me. He knows about the ropes.”
“So he was in Palm Springs, just as you suspected. How sweet of him.”
“Madge, you gotta help me. His persistence is wearing me out.”
“I talked to a friend this morning and she told me, now get this – the devil hates red hair.”
“What does that mean?”
“What do you think it means?”
“No, I can’t go around with red hair.”
“Well, that’s the best I can do.”
“Red hair.” I mused.
“All of it.”
“All of it?”
“Yes, all of it.”
“You mean …?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can. Remember that ad years ago for Breck hair dye. That cute perky Doris Day type with the banner that read Buy two and have a snatch to match.”
“I never saw that.”
“Nevertheless, that’s what you have to do.”
“You can put highlights in it. That should drive him crazy.”
“Thanks, you're a big help. Okay, where do I buy it?”
“Walgreens. There’s one just down the road apiece.”
“Down the road apiece?”
“I’m from the South, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember, and all those rednecks you used to hang around with. Oh, Madge, what am I gonna do? What if he doesn’t object to red hair, with or without highlights?”
“All I can say is - brace yourself, honey.”
“Sure you don’t want to have a go at him?”
“If he’s willin’.”
“He already told me, he’s not willin’.”
“Well, if worse comes to worse, can I watch?”
“Let me make a video of it. It will be better than Rosemary’s Baby. It will go viral in minutes. The whole world will want to see it. A new cult, with you as the star.”
“Oh God, I can just imagine my mother’s reaction.”
“I thought your mother was dead?”
“She will be when she hears about this.”
“This gets kinkier every minute. Let’s have lunch. I’m starved.”
“I’ve lost my appetite. All I can think of is that corn field.”
“Good afternoon. May I have your orders, please.”
“Yes, I’ll have a corned beef sandwich and iced tea, and he’ll have two eggs with a very large sausage.”
“God Dammit, Madge. This isn’t funny. Make mine a BLT on whole-wheat toast and hold the mayo.”
“Anything to drink?”
“Give him a screwdriver.”
“Madge! No, make it a crappachino or whatever the hell you call it.”
“Thank you. Comin’ right up.”
“Relax. It may never happen.
“Relax my ass. It better not happen.”
“Well, if it does happen, you better relax your ass.”
“You’re just full of happiness aren’t you?”
“Of course I am, it’s part of my charm. You said he knows about the ropes. Maybe he’ll let you tie him up. Use him as a corn field.”
“He already suggested that.”
“Brian, who knows, you might enjoy it.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“You enjoyed tying up that bellboy in Palm Springs.”
“That was a joke.”
“He didn’t think so.”
“Well, he didn’t have a sense of humor.”
“I can see it now, hellfire and damnation as a wedding motif. I love it.”
“Why do I even talk to you?”
It seemed as if ages had passed since I first saw the Devil in that department store window. His persistence had worn me to a frazzle. He seemed to be everywhere. There was hardly a moment when I was at peace. My hopes and prayers that he would go away and stop bothering me came to naught.
I know I’m not a good person, but what I’m going through should be reserved for Jack the Ripper, not me. Even the stalwart Madge wearied of my complaining. I was hopeless, hapless, and miserable. What I feared most was the day he would be able to materialize. I knew I would be defenseless against him. The one question that persisted was, why me? I did not understand and didn’t know what to do.
I arrived at my apartment and was in the kitchen thinking about what I should have for dinner, not that food appealed to me. My appetite seemed to be non-existent. I was about to open the refrigerator when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I shuttered and knew - it was him. He had figured out how to materialize. I was afraid, very afraid.
I turned and fell against the refrigerator door. The blood drained from my face as I beheld him standing in the flesh before me. He was wearing that damned pink sequined codpiece again and his skin shimmered in the kitchen light. His horns were longer and protruded through his curls. They were black and shiny. His tail wrapped around my left leg. This was it. Hades was the next stop. He looked magnificent. Oh, sweet Jesus, have mercy on me.
I was so overwhelmed, the tears began to well in my eyes. I was losing control and could not help myself.
“Brian? Are you crying?”
I shook my head as I began sobbing uncontrollably.
“Why, for heaven’s sake?”
I just shook my head, unable to speak. He moved closer and put his hand on my shoulder. I placed my hand on his and held it close.
“Brian, you have to tell me.”
I managed to gain a little control, “You’ve won. I’m yours. Take me to hell if that’s your wish. I can’t resist you any longer.” The sobs were so pitiful, even I felt sorry for myself.
He took my hand and pulled me away from the refrigerator. “Brian, I’m not going to take you to hell. I’m not going to take you anywhere.”
“Then why? Why have you put me through this torture? You know me better than I know myself. My weaknesses, my shame.”
“Weaknesses, shame? Nonsense. You’re a vital wonderful human being.”
“I am?” I could not have been more astonished.
“Yes, you are. Somehow you’ve forgotten that. You’re living your life to the fullest which is as it should be. Yes, you’ve made mistakes, but who hasn’t. The saving grace is you’ve learned from them. You’re a good person, Brian. Your goodness . . .” He paused and looked at me with a frown. “Now why are you crying?”
“I thought you showed up to punish me and take me to hell.”
“One of your faults and you have a few – don’t kid yourself about that – is that you don’t listen. I told you from the very first I wanted to be your friend.”
“I guess it was the pink tights and that codpiece that threw me. And that tail.”
“I was just having some fun. But it did appeal to you, didn’t it? Come on, admit it.”
“Yes. That’s what frightened me.”
“Don’t worry about it. It was just your feminine side responding, and probably a little bit of your naughty side.”
“I was very angry when I realized you were watching me in Palm Springs.”
“No, I think you were really pissed off at me, right?”
“Yes.” I began to laugh.
“That’s better. No more tears – ever. And that’s why I’m here. To remind you never to forget that you are a wonderful person.” He put his arms around me and pulled me into an embrace. I could smell the sandalwood and coconut oil as he mashed my nose against his naked shoulder. I could even taste it. For some reason, it tasted pretty good. Then I noticed something I did not expect. I could smell him, his body odor, and it was familiar. It finally dawned on me, he smelled like me. How was that possible?
I pulled away, looking him square in the face. His eyes were twinkling at me.
“I love you, Devil. I want to be with you.”
“At last. You sure have been a hard nut to crack.” We laughed.
He held both of my hands and stood close, gazing at me and smiling.
“What are you going to do with me now that you have me?”
“I’m going to tell you the truth.”
He paused and smiled his beautiful smile. “I’m not the devil.”
For some reason, I knew he wasn’t lying. I gave a sigh of relief. “You’re not?”
“No, my friend, I’m not.”
After a long pause, I hesitantly asked, “Well, then who are you?”
He raised his hands, held my head and drew it close as he kissed both of my cheeks, then whispered in my ear, “I’m you, dear boy, I’m you.”
As he said those words I could feel him dematerializing. A tingle shot through my body. Then he was gone and I was alone. I fell to my knees in utter awe, trying desperately to comprehend what had happened.
I fell asleep from exhaustion and lay on the kitchen floor for I don’t know how long. Dawn had already broken when I opened my eyes. I knew it was over. He was gone and I’d never see or feel him again. A profound sadness overwhelmed me.
I reluctantly got to my feet and dragged myself to the bathroom. As I turned on the light I saw my image in the mirror, then joy ripped through my chest as I heard a whisper, “Good morning, Brian.”
“You’re not gone,” I gasped.
“Of course I’m not gone.”
“But, where are you?” I looked intently at the reflection of the room hoping to catch a glimpse.
“Look into your eyes and you’ll see me. I’m there as I’ve always been.”
I ran my hands over my face, feeling every contour with my fingertips, touching every portion. The faint scent of sandalwood and coconut filled my nostrils as I looked into my eyes and suddenly, I knew. I smiled as I saw a twinkle in my eyes I had never noticed before. I stood there for I don’t know how long as the wonder of what had happened sank in.
As I left my apartment building I laughed aloud when I remembered the first time I saw the reflection of my beloved Devil in his pink tights in that department store window. I could not stop smiling.