2017 minus 67: Dinner for two

Posted: 26 October 2016 in 2017 minus, fiction, writing

As I mentioned last week:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 


DINNER FOR TWO

This year, the restaurant was in London. Had you asked passers by how long it had been there, of the many answers you would have received, none would have been remotely accurate, whether weeks or years.

But, as the door opened and the demon stepped in, he reflected that for a place that had only been in existence for moments, it looked well-used. He closed the door and shivered briefly at the sudden drop in temperature, then stood straight. The grime on the windows looked ancient, and indeed it was, having been borrowed for the occasion from a run-down eighteenth century home in one of New York’s less-wealthy boroughs. The legs of the six small tables, on the other hand, were brightly polished and showed that their owner cared about such things. The demon idly wondered from where they had come, but the interior was not his responsibility. The demon did not smile, but there was a liveliness in his eyes that sat well among the pleasant features he displayed. His look around the interior was deceptively casual, but then much that the demon did was deceptive.

He sat at one of the tables, pleased that the rules forbid the manifestation of any form of wing. Though not, he thought to himself, as appreciative as his dining companion would be. He did not bother to look at the watch adorning his wrist; it did not function, any more than the spectacles that were tucked in the breast pocket of his tailored suit. Both had come from a lawyer condemned to a lower level of hell who no longer required them. But they were appropriate for this annual meeting and the demon was very particular about being appropriate.

The door opened again, and the demon shaded his eyes from the bright light that suddenly illuminated the room. Then it faded as the angel shut the door behind him. The angel moved across the restaurant and sat in the chair opposite the demon. No greetings were exchanged beyond a sharp nod from each of them; every possible variant had been exhausted during the thousands of similar past meetings and served only to annoy the demon and irritate the angel.

As soon as the angel sat, they both were aware of a third presence as a waiter strode up to the table and dropped two menus on the table before waiting, a pen in one misshapen hand, a small notepad in his other. The demon ordered first, as was the custom; the angel winced at the order, as was also the tradition before ordering himself, after which the demon laughed, a surprisingly low pitched contemptuous laugh. But this was also convention and ignored by the angel.

The waiter turned away from the diners and then completed his rotation, by which time both pen and pad had gone, replaced by two plates, with an identical pinkish substance on each which the waiter gently placed before the angel and the demon, flavoured individually for the diners: dover soul for the demon, prayer in brandy for the angel.

Then the waiter vanished as if he had never been there, and neither the angel nor the demon gave voice to wondering if he ever truly had. Over dinner, they discussed many things they had individually been assigned to discover, and several things they had not. At one point, the angel asked after his previous employer and the demon answered with great delight about the suffering He endured, but the angel understood that the demon was lying. Later, as they were finishing, the demon reciprocated and asked after Lucifer. The angel did not answer, which was understood as an answer in and of itself.

As they finished, the demon handed over a list of names to the angel, requests for clemency. It was a long list and the angel’s countenance grew grim as he read it.

They stood up together, and the angel offered to settle the bill. The demon then shook his head, almost amused, and pulled out of thin air three essences of individual damned souls. He threw them gently to the table and they vanished, silently screaming. Paid in full, the demon said. There was a moment’s silence before the angel nodded, sadly, and a small ball of purest white appeared between them. The tip, the angel said, and it too was pulled into the table.

Then they left through the same door, the demon turning left, the angel leaving in the opposite direction.

And from behind a screen, the owner of the restaurant smiled at one more year of peace treaty between heaven and hell, moved forward in time one year and re-opened for business in Delhi. And waited for the door to open once again.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with – finally – some thoughts at last on the US Presidential Debates; I should have calmed down enough by then.

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