"Does the Devil always smoke?"
He curved his thin lips into a smile and tapped the cigarette against the edge of the round wrought iron table. "You’re wasting time."
The matching iron chair cut into my back as I leaned away from him. "It’s mine to waste."
I waited. The cafe crowd bustled around us, my fellow wait staff hurrying with huge cappucino mugs spilling over with froth, spring-green salads with tofu, and hard iced teas. They didn’t notice that I’d sat down across from a customer. I’m not sure they’d even noticed him. Or the quiet table in the center of lunch rush, trapped in a bubble of thick, molasses sunlight. Which the Devil proceeded to ruin with his noxious cloud of smoke.
He sighed, smoke curling in several long tendrils out through his perfectly white teeth. "Yes. I always smoke. It’s the sexiest thing humans have invented since the Pear of Anguish." To prove it, he slid his long fingers down the shaft of the cigarette and blew a long stream of silky gray. "A cigarette in the right hands can dazzle weak minds for hours. You’ll stare at my lips and fingers while I do anything else l like."
"Plus it kills people and is terribly addictive."
"There is also that."
I studied him, tried to decipher the color of his eyes and the shape of his jaw, but it was difficult to focus. I tightened my fingers around the brim of his hat, knowing if I loosened my hold, he’d snatch us both. "When will I die?" I asked, to see if he would lie again.
"I can’t answer that." The Devil tapped ash from the cigarette again. As if I was boring him.
This was not my kind of game. It never had been. But I’d never expected when I got to work this morning that I would bend over to pick up a hat being tossed over tables by the wind, and realize its owner was the Devil. The silk fedora snapped with energy, and I’d just known, like you know your feet will hit the ground when you roll out of bed. Before I’d always had days of warning that he was close on my heels.
"How did you sneak so quietly this time?" I whispered. He shouldn’t have heard it in the late summer afternoon. Not over all the conversation and blaring traffic.
His glance slid down to the fedora. A cloud slipped over the sun and in the sudden shadow I saw his face clearly. Sharp, plain features, endless gray eyes.
I had to glance away until the sun warmed my cheek again.
"You wanted me to find you," he answered. His hand lay on the table, palm up. "Come home, Kora."
"I don’t have to, yet."
"But you want to. I want you to."
"You don’t own me."
"Is that your last question?"
"It isn’t a question." I shoved away from the table, and the iron chair crashed to the ground.
He was there, in front of me, bursting the bubble of sunlight so all the cafe went still, staring at our argument. Mouths parts, eyes wide, two of the waitresses who’d known me all summer, but not known me at all, stepped forward.
The Devil put his lips against mine, gently, gently, tasting of smoke and graveyards and narcissus petals.
When I pushed away, he let me. His smile curved slowly, and smoke leaking thick and lovely out of the corner of his mouth, even though the cigarette was long forgotten.
I reached out and fanned my fingers through it. The cold, shadowy smoke of Hades. It tingled, and burned at once, and the Devil closed his eyes.
Jamming his hat on my head, I ran, and vanished into the crowd.
image by nils.alsleben