Last Tuesday the devil bought me a cup of coffee.
I had found myself caught in one of those fierce summer storms that seem to come up out of nowhere and I had taken shelter before it got really bad, “storm” and “bad” being relative terms of course.
I stumbled in right when the hailstones went from bad to apocalyptic…baseball sized, which was doing a number on the cars in the parking lot based on the crash and boom of dented metal, cracking safety glass, and dull roar of car alarms going on as the door closed behind me.
The “please seat yourself” sign was on display at the front by the cash register, so I went ahead and found a booth pointed away from the ebb and flow of the parking lot destruction. A flickering television over the sundae bar was flashing an extreme weather advisory.
The Greasy Spoon had that cross section of the population you get when people get caught unawares right when the storm, scratch that, a storm is going to hit. The Asian couple on holiday, the young family with a fresh baby, a couple of long range truck drivers, middle aged middle manager, retired farmer and his wife and a cluster of teenagers.
An ebony waitress came forth from the clattering kitchen. Her rich complexion stood out from her neon green gingham uniform, (“LaShonda” her name tag askew), long dragon lady gold nails tapping on her pad.
“Would you be interested in hearing about our specials today?”
“No. Thank you. I’d just like a cup of coffee, please.”
“Regular or Decaf, hon?”
“I’ll have that right out for you.” She moved briskly away from me toward the front of the restaurant. “Folks, go ahead and sit yourselves down any-“
It is at that point that the lights flickered and went out, just for a moment, but long enough to make an impression. There was a startled giggle from one of the other tables. A gasp. A crash from the kitchen. And then the lights came back on, and the devil was sitting at my table.
Now I say “the devil”, but in hindsight I suppose you could say “a devil”. I’m not big on occultism or meta-physics.
The television gave a couple bursts of white noise and static and then gave up the ghost.
It sounds odd now, but it did not feel strange to see this red skinned, horned, forked tail figure sitting across from me. He was dressed exactly as I was, he had a similar haircut. The most striking difference was his goat pupil eyes – which took me back to all of those 4H events I used to participate in as a kid. County fairs, farm field trips, animal husbandry seminars.
A devil sat there, he appeared to be working on a piece of chocolate peanut butter pie and had his own empty coffee cup waiting to be filled. LaShonda walked up with two pots of coffee. Without a word she filled up my cup with regular and the devil’s cup with decaf. The devil nodded politely in thanks and LaShonda headed out into the rest of her territory. My eyes followed her and I saw each occupied table had their own devil, sitting opposite working on their own slices of pie, plate of onion rings, or ice cream sundae. Each diner with their own surreal reflection.
The sky outside had gone a murky grey. The hail stones had been replaced with torrential rain, sapping all the color out of the day.
The devil. My devil snapped his fingers – which brought my attention back to him. He had finished his pie and coffee and was summoning the ever prompt LaShonda. She was earning a good tip.
“How are we doing? Everything satisfactory?” The slow way the words rolled from the waitresses’ full ripe lips it sounded like she was talking about an industrial complex next door (“Sa-tis-Factory”).
My devil smiled and nodded. The smile was a little unsettling, whether it was the greasy sheen of the teeth or the fact that there appeared to be too many packed into that hard grin is tough to say.
“Can I get you anything else?”
My devil gave an almost invisible nod in my direction. Evidently this was my cue to speak.
“Just the check please.”
I reached for my wallet, and found it missing. There was a moment of panic until I found myself caught in my devil’s strange alien gaze, goat eye pupils large and laughing. I had the sense, the feeling, that it was all okay. That he was going to take care of it. That he was going to take care of everything.
“This all happened last Tuesday.” I said again.
“Last Tuesday, by my calendar, that is June 19th.”
“If you say so.”
“What happened next, after the devil said he was going to take care of everything?”
“I don’t remember.” I said again.
“We have eye witness testimony putting you at the diner “The Greasy Spoon”, leaving by the front door as the fire trucks were arriving to put out the fire. Those firemen first one scene saw you walk out the front door. Do you remember the fire?”
“No.” I said again.
“The waitress. We found her dismembered arm. Her hand, in rigor, clutching your wallet. Defensive wounds on her hand and arm, your skin under her fingernails. You don’t remember any of that?”
“No.” I said again.
“The other bodies in the cafe? The children?”
“All I remember is that he told me he was going to take care of the bill. That is it. Last Tuesday the devil bought me a cup of coffee.”