Make no mistake about it, Satan is strikingly beautiful. She is tall, seemingly, but in reality, she is no taller than any given observer. It’s more that her presence breaks down the laws of relative height, increasing her stature and dwarfing her surroundings. Her features are delicate, doll-like. Her full, pouty lips appear as if hand painted. And her eyes shift color—from silver to gold—depending on the light…or her will. How do I know all this about Satan? I’ve met her, know her well. But this story isn’t about my association with her. This is the story of Christopher Foster, and the wager he made.
So, picture Satan sitting there, just as Christopher saw her, turned with her long, bare legs crossed at the thigh, running parallel to the bar, her thin torso fluidly bending, seductive, serpentine. With one hand, she rubbed her thigh as if adjusting her short, black dress, her other hand fidgeted with one of her opal earrings. Her red hair was drawn atop her head, revealing the back of her swan neck and making visible a twisting tattoo at the top of her spine. The tattoo appeared to be an infinity symbol, but, like all aspects of her, appearances are deceiving, prejudiced by the perceptions of the weak-minded and the weak-willed. The disproportionate length of her legs and torso, the perfect flow of line and form, gave her the impression of an El Greco painting. But there was one feature that overpowered all else: her eyes—one’s attention always went to her eyes, and it was her eyes that caught poor Christopher Foster.
A word about Chris, a man creeping through his mid-thirties, a man not unattractive, but not altogether noticeable, a man set mid-point along charisma’s bell-curve. Chris and Satan sat in The Dutch Horse Pub, the bar around the corner from Chris’s Mystic Island home. The place used to be known as The Captain’s Quarters, but the name was changed in the early nineties to try and make the place more trendy. It didn’t work. Fred, the drunk that was a fixture on the other end of the bar, virtually homesteaded the barstool he now occupied in the 1970s. Chris had gone into The Dutch Horse Pub merely to relieve the tension brought on by his middle school students’ determination to not learn. He had no intention of meeting anyone, let alone a beautiful woman. He was never the type to pick up women anyway—his sense of small talk dulled by innate shyness and his year and a half of marriage with Molly. But, against convention, common sense, and the tidal pull of his marriage vows, Christopher Foster found himself sitting—although the place was virtually empty—immediately to the left of this woman at the bar. Chris ordered a scotch, seemingly the right drink to untie the monkey-fist knot in his head. Generally, he relaxed in front of the television with a beer, but with Molly away for the week visiting her mother—a woman with a knack for tying monkey-fist knots in her own right—Chris decided to seek the white noise company of bar chatter.
Now, listen, Satan isn’t, as most people may believe, an embodiment of evil. Satan is temptation—temptation stripped to its purest form—and it is man that sinks to evil when answering her siren call. The danger in Satan is not a malignant heart. The danger of Satan is that she is a woman, and man is weak.
The bartender—the same nondescript, stereotypical character that inhabits countless movie and television bars—set a glass of Dewars on a cocktail napkin. Chris sipped the drink, the liquor burning and puckering his lips. He felt the girl to his right staring at him. He didn’t dare look at her, but the more he resisted turning toward her, the more the urge to do so overwhelmed him like an unscratched itch. The girl mercifully broke his torment by speaking first, inviting—commanding—his attention. Satan’s first word to Christopher Foster was harmless enough. She said, “Hi.”
At first, Chris stole quick, sizing-up glances to his right, determining if she was speaking to him. When he finally turned to face her fully, he fell into the two silver pools of her eyes, lost, drowning. He somehow climbed from their depths—almost gasping—and uttered a response. “Uh, hi.” He then retreated to the safety of his drink, regarding the glass like a gambler pondering a bet.
“Let me guess,” the girl said.
Chris looked at her. The smile on her face was that of a child first discovering some miracle of nature.
“You’re a teacher,” she said.
He was going to respond, but the fish scale flicker of her eyes caught him again, dragging him into those silver pools once more.
“Am I right?” she said.
“Huh? Um…yeah. Yeah, I am a teacher. How did you know?”
“You have that exhausted, fear-for-the-future look that can only come from working with America’s youth. Let me guess, middle school?”
Chris smiled. “You’re good.”
“I know people.”
“And what is it you do?”
“Guess,” she said, shifting on the stool, her knees brushing his thigh. She then, with the quick grace of a magician, released her hair, shaking her head, strands the color of sunrise, falling, cascading over her shoulders and down her back, reaching to her waist.
“It’s your turn to guess my profession.”
“I wouldn’t dare.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know. Offending you.”
Her eyes widened, flickering like lightning jumping clouds. “Offending me? Now you have to guess.”
“Nah, really, I don’t think I should.”
“Why would you think your guess offensive?”
“Because I’m guessing you’re no school teacher.”
“On what do you base that assessment?”
“I don’t know,” Chris shrugged, again retreating to his drink.
“Shall we make things interesting with a wager?” she said. She ran her finger along the lip of her wine glass.
“What’s the bet?”
“A drink. A shot.”
“Do we have a bet?” she said.
“I guess. But I don’t want to be patronizing by saying you must be a model or an actress, although you very well could be. And I certainly don’t want to suggest you’re a stripper or something, but I’d say you definitely make your living with your looks.”
He suddenly wondered where had his innate shyness gone?
“You said it,” she said.
“So which is it?”
“Which is what? Which profession is mine?” she said.
“If you can’t really guess, then I can’t really tell.”
“But you said, you said it,” Chris said, “suggesting I guessed correctly?”
“The it you said was nothing. You never guessed at all. You made assumptions, not wanting to patronize or offend. You were being safe, not taking responsibility for what you say. If you can’t state your true thoughts, then I don’t want to hear them.”
“What a jip,” Chris said. He sipped his drink. “So who won the shot?”
“We’ll both do one,” she said, and when Chris looked up, he found the bartender standing before them as if conjured from thin air. “Two shots,” the redhead said to the bartender. “Of what?” she said to Chris.
Chris raised his hands in a helpless, clueless gesture.
“Shall we go for flavor or damage?” she said.
“Maybe a little of both.”
“Two Red Deaths,” she said to the bartender, her eyes not leaving Chris.
“Our liquor license is only good for three-liquor drinks,” the bartender said.
The girl’s gaze flashed onto the bartender. “Is that really a problem?” she said, her eyes a deep gold.
“No, not really, I guess,” the bartender said, whisking bottles from a speed-rack with the quickness of a gunslinger.
“Red Deaths might be a little more damage than taste,” Chris said.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, just dangerous.”
The drinks appeared before them.
“Maybe we should have a taste for danger,” she said, holding the shot between her thumb and forefinger.
“What should we drink to?” Chris said.
“I chose the drink; you choose the toast.”
“To a taste of danger,” Chris said, raising his shot.
“Amen,” the girl said, clinking his glass with her own.
They drained the drinks.
“Danger never tasted so sweet,” the girl said, licking her fingers where some of the drink had spilled.
“So now what? Are you going to guess my name, too?” Chris said. He placed the empty shot glass across the bar, as if trying to distance himself from it.
“I wouldn’t want to amaze you with my powers of perception.”
“Yeah, all right,” Chris chuckled. “Well, I bet I can guess your name in less tries than you can guess mine.”
“Do we have a bet?” he said.
“You’re on,” the girl smiled. Her hand extended toward him. He took it, her fingers, caressing his palm, seemed to run down his arm and grip his sex. He shifted on the stool, not wanting to release her hand, but needing to. He lifted his scotch to occupy his hand.
“All right,” he said, lifting the glass toward his lips and grinning, “take your best guess. What’s my name?”
All expression slid from his face. He lowered the scotch. “How did you do that?”
“Lucky guess,” she said.
“No, really, how did you know my profession and my name?”
“No, really,” she said, her gold eyes leveling on him, her childlike smile vanishing, “it was a lucky guess.” Her tone had such conviction that he pursued the subject no further. “So,” her smile returned, “you have one guess for my name.”
“I don’t have a chance.”
“There’s always a chance,” she said, her eyes flicking silver again.
Chris drained his scotch. He slurped an ice cube between his teeth and took the opportunity to have a good look at her. He started at her stiletto shoes, making her long legs look impossibly longer, and then he moved up to her ankles, noticing on one of them the tattoo of a cross—three nails were driven into its points, but a crucifixion victim was noticeably absent. From her ankles, her contoured legs were an endless journey to the rolling hills and planes of her hips and stomach and breasts. He abandoned this journey before reaching her eyes. He looked over her shoulder, avoiding her gaze. “Charlene,” he said, “No. Serena. No. Alana. It’s something unique. It’s…”
“I’ll give you one hint,” the girl said, “it’s the name of the first woman.”
“The first woman of what?” Chris said.
“The first woman, period.”
“Did someone recently rewrite Genesis without my knowledge?”
“Yes,” she smiled, “only, not recently. Eve was Adam’s second wife, made from his rib—an unimportant, nonvital extension of his body. She was created to be subservient, to honor him and bear his children. Lilith, on the other hand, was created along with Adam, made from the same earth as Adam. She and Adam were equals, each with independent, strong wills. But we know what happens to strong willed women. Adam found her to be difficult, labeled her a bitch, and had God cast her from Eden.”
Chris raised his eyebrows. “If Lilith and Adam were equals,” he said, “then why did God cast out Lilith and not Adam?”
“How the fuck should I know?” the girl said. She sipped her wine. Her eyes were two gold suns partially eclipsed by the black holes of her pupils. Those two pupils reflected no light; they were wells and Chris was falling into their bottomless depths. Her voice brought him back. “You owe me a drink,” she said.
“All right, Lilith, what will it be?”
Chris scowled. “Okay, let’s see…how about…I don’t really know any drinks…um, I don’t know, how about Sex on the Beach?”
“It’s not the warmest night for that, but Black Rock Beach is a short enough walk,” she said coyly.
“You sure do play hard to get.”
“Two tequilas,” she said to the bartender, who again appeared before them as if from thin air. She then turned to Chris. “I don’t play at what I’ve already won.”
“And what game is that?”
“Life’s a game?”
“What do we get for winning?” Chris said, lifting the shot of tequila and picking up the lime that was set before him.
“You win the only thing you can take with you when it’s done,” she said. She took the lime from his fingers.
“And what’s that?”
“Memories,” she said. She ran the lime along the contour of her neck. “The one with the best memories wins.” She sprinkled salt along the same contour she had run the lime across, and she pulled back her hair, offering her neck to Chris.
Chris stared at her, paused, started forward, paused again. He looked helplessly into her eyes. She arched an eyebrow. He leaned in, licking the salt from her skin, and he downed the shot. He reached for the lime in her fingers, but she jerked it away, placing the wedge between her teeth and smiling—the smile not so childlike anymore. Chris stared at her, paused, started forward, paused again. He blew out a stream of breath, took the lime’s exposed half in his teeth, and tugged. Her mouth, unyielding, met his, her full lips brushing across his. He pulled away, feeling lightheaded—unsure if it was the alcohol or her kiss.
“Whoa,” he said—it was all he could think to say.
The girl again licked her fingers, grinning.
“I suppose that now I have to put salt on my neck?” Chris said.
“Why dull the taste,” she said, draining her shot and sliding the glass across the bar’s top.
Chris watched the glass come to a stop, and said, “So who’s winning?” “Winning what? Life?”
“Not you,” she said.
Chris twitched his head, lowering his brow. “What makes you say that?”
“You can’t win if you don’t want to.”
“What makes you think I don’t want to?”
“The way you skirted the issue of my profession, the way you always defer the choice of drink to me, the way you hesitated licking the salt from my neck or taking the lime from my teeth. You’re afraid to live life, never mind win at it.”
“What? Just because I hesitated taking a body-shot means I’m afraid? Did you ever think that maybe I hesitated because I’m a married man?”
“Of course happily.”
“What’s your wife’s name?”
For a panicked moment, he couldn’t remember. “Her name? It’s… Molly.”
“Are you sure?”
“What? Of course I’m… hey, look, what are you implying?”
“If you’re happily married to Molly, then why are you sitting here beside me?”
“What do you mean?”
“The bar’s virtually empty, why did you choose to sit beside me?”
“Jesus, I was just sitting beside someone to talk to.”
“Why didn’t you sit beside that guy over there?” she said, motioning toward Fred.
“What? Look, you need to get over yourself, all right?”
The girl stared at him, silent for a moment, and then, nodding slowly, she turned her bare legs away from him. Facing the mirror over the bar, she pulled up her red hair again. Chris could now see that the tattoo that had appeared as an infinity symbol was, in fact, a twisting configuration of three sixes, or nines, or both. She stood from the stool and began to walk away. Before Chris could conjure the words to bring her back, she turned to face him, leveling her gold gaze upon him. “Well?” she said. “Are you coming?”
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if Chris followed her or not? Do you really need to ask? Of course he followed her, and that night, pure attraction became pure desire, and Chris swam freely in the silver pools of the girl’s eyes. When it was over, Chris lay in his bed, his will a desolate landscape leveled by a force of nature, and he looked up at Lilith. She was sitting up in the bed, her body outlined in the dim light. Chris saw another tattoo, this one cupped in the small of her back. At first, he thought the tattoo was of horns, but upon closer inspection, he saw that they were wings—upside-down angel wings.
“What do these mean?” he said, tracing the tattoo with his finger.
She shifted her upper body to face him, the sweeping hourglass of her torso turning, and she placed her weight on one hand, her long hair falling over the front of her shoulder. Her gaze fell on him, direct and undeniable. “Those are my angel wings,” she said, pouting.
“Why are they upside down?”
Her eyes lowered, her full lips looking incapable of ever producing that childlike smile, and with a voice, solemn and distant, she said, “Because I’m no angel.”
Now, listen up, because here’s the moral of this tale—surely, a story of a man’s dance with Satan would have a moral. Surely, there has to be a price for sin. What was Chris’s price, you ask? Was it his soul? No, not in the direct sense, anyway. True, Chris did lose part of his soul that night, but Lilith didn’t take it. Was the price of his sin Molly discovering his infidelity? Actually, no, Chris and Molly remained together—seemingly happy—till death they did part, old and gray, Molly never the wiser to Chris’s betrayal.
But don’t worry, Christopher Foster did pay. He paid the highest price of all: the memory of the redheaded girl, the image of her eyes regarding him over her shoulder, her hair cascading, lips pouting, that perfect gaze carved into his memory. And to his dying day, old and gray, that image never left him, his longing to hold her again growing stronger with each sunrise and sunset. And, true enough, when he died, memories were all that he took with him, but with that one memory, there also came the longing, and he was never quite sure if he had won or lost.