Tag Archives: Blues Story

Obligations

For two years, Britney lived in a small house in an unincorporated township outside of town and had to drive forty-five minutes to work as a hotel night clerk. She was renting it as a favor to a friend who needed a roommate to help cover the lease. Her neighbors were mostly survivalists and hermits who didn’t like talking, but all of them told her to be careful driving in winter, especially around the crossroads. There were wolves and worse. Some said that there were an unusual number of alien abductions in the area.

Britney never saw any wolves or aliens, but one night during a snowstorm in her second winter her car went off into the ditch next to a crossroads far from home and town. She’d forgotten her cell phone and considered whether or not it was safe to walk back. Then the Devil rolled up in a pickup truck and offered to pull her car out.

That’s what he called himself, at least, the Devil, but he looked more like a sickly, tired Brad Pitt impersonator. He had bags under his eyes. Either way he pulled her car out. She asked, jokingly, if she now owed him her soul. Actually, he said, he wanted to give her his. He wrote on the back of a parking ticket from his truck “My Soul” and gave it to her with a wink and then drove off.

This became a fun story to tell at parties and she kept the note with her to show people. The only ones who didn’t think it was funny were her neighbors who, laconic to begin with, stopped talking to her altogether. Of course people asked her if she felt different, more evil, if she had some sort of power, but of course she didn’t. What good would a soul, even the Devil’s, be to anyone? The only thing that had really changed was that she inexplicably became good at playing blues guitar. She was nothing special, but she was good enough to start playing in a band.

She moved out of the house in the summer and into an apartment a few blocks from the hotel where she worked and could suddenly afford to live because of a promotion and raise. People knew they could rely on her to cover shifts no one wanted, and she was usually the first one the others called when they were sick. Things were looking up. She finally could buy better food and work the hours she wanted.

Then, one night, the Devil checked in. He didn’t recognize her and he looked a lot healthier than he had months before when he pulled her car out. She asked for his name and he said, “The Devil,” with a smirk.

She said, “I have something of yours.”

He looked confused for a moment and then his face went pale. Without another word, he turned around, walked out the door, and didn’t come back.

Younger people with degrees in hospitality kept taking jobs above her and so Britney stayed in middle management, but at least she had a low stress job. It was never supposed to be permanent, but was becoming so. One of the managers, a friend who was no longer there, had roped her into it in college because he was understaffed and needed someone reliable.

Once a week, she played in a house band at a bar called the Parallelogram and one night, she spotted the Devil in the crowd. He sat alone at a corner table nursing a Moscow Mule and studying a mess of papers. Unlike the last time, he looked thinner, more tired.

Between sets, Britney walked over to him and said, “I don’t really think you’re the Devil.”

“What if I’m not?” he asked with a shrug. He recognized her this time, and seemed completely indifferent about her presence.

She pointed at the pile of papers on the table. “What are those?”

“Contracts. What else?”

“Didn’t you get out of that business when you gave me your soul?”

“There ain’t no rest for the wicked. Whether or not you have a soul doesn’t change anything,” was all he said and she went back to the stage.

Even though she hated the commute, Britney loved the solitude of living in the country and was finally able to close on an old family farmhouse. It took a lot longer than she’d planned because new management hadn’t given her a raise in years and cut her benefits, but she got by. All the land around the house now belonged to an industrial operation. They grew some corn hybrid and she never seemed to be around when anyone was actually working in the fields, but sometimes she caught a glimpse of someone walking behind the rows.

One day in late October a snowstorm came through. Even before it hit, people were comparing it to the Halloween Blizzard, so she left early and took her time driving to work, arriving without incident. Outside the hotel, though, she saw the Devil sitting in a beat up Dodge Stratus trying to turn the engine over. He was bald and skinny, like he was going through chemo, and he looked like he was on the verge of tears. “Need help?” she asked and brought her car around to jump his.

When his car was running again, she reached into her pocket and offered him the piece of paper that said, “My Soul.” “Do you want this back?”

“You still have that?” he asked, gawking.

“Well yeah, why not?”

He shook his head. “Everyone’s just so careless about this stuff, these days. Even me.” He stared at the paper for a few moments, took it, and then ripped it up.

“I think I’m going to try to get out of this business again. It’s becoming way too Glengarry Glenn Ross, you know?” he said. He walked over to the passenger’s side door, dragged out a banker’s box full of official looking documents and sat it down on the curb next to a public trash can. “I’m not my job.”

After he’d left, Britney picked up the box and took it inside with her. By the time her shift was over the roads were impassable, so she stayed at the hotel. Because there was nothing else to read, she perused the crumpled and messy contracts, marveling at the numbers and obligations. Neither a businesswoman nor a lawyer, Britney felt an odd sensation come over her, a compulsion, and the beginnings of a scheme.

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