My Breakfast with Lucifer
By David Hartley Mark
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O’ Lucifer, son of the morning! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God….”
--Isaiah, 14: 12-14
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host
Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equaled the most high….
--John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, ll.33-40
I had breakfast with Lucifer this morning, following his renunciation by Dr. Ben Carson the second night of the Republican National Convention. We met in Fester’s Diner, a particular favorite of his, when he visits South Florida. I had the cornflakes and milk, with a side of coffee, light, three Equals. He had the fruit plate, with weak tea, no lemon or sweetener.
“Watching yourself, ‘Cipher?” I asked, querying him about his choice.
“Yes,” he said, “It’s my stomach. Can’t keep anything down, really. Running around so much, these days. So much trouble in the world, you know?”
He bent his head and muttered a quick prayer, and then scowled at me.
“The least you could do is say ‘Amen,’” he said.
“Oh, okay—Amen,” I said, “When did you become a praying demon?”
“I always have been,” he said, “What, am I not a creature of God? Do I not do God’s will? I am the Sitra Achra, the Other Side, you know. I cannot work independently of the Most High; that would be Dualism. Like you, I believe God is One. Still, I have been known to manifest certain aspects of human free will….”
In the midst of his theologizing—the Devil can cite Scripture to his purpose, as Shakespeare reminds us—he took up knife and fork, which began to glow red-hot at his touch. The knife-blade melted in his grasp, like Silly Putty, and he quickly dipped it into his drinking glass of ice water, which began to boil.
“Damn,” said Lucifer, “I hate when that happens. (To himself) Calm yourself, Son of the Morning; calm—be calm…There!” He smiled, and I saw the gleam of his canines; they were razor-sharp in the morning light filtering through the left-over Easter decorations adorning Fester’s front windows, along with a stray cardboard matzo or two, left over from Passover. On the next window, a painted-on Moses wielded a shepherd’s crook, looking barely visible after weeks of being rubbed against by Fester’s mostly elderly clientele. Moses appeared to be guarding a painted-on Easter Bunny.
The conversations of hard-of-hearing Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, and others ebbed and throbbed around us; we had to shout to hear each other.
“I love this place,” said Lucifer, raising his voice in the din, slicing a canned peach and forking it into his mouth, “Been coming here for years. I love ethnic food.”
“Does the Florida heat bother you?” I asked.
Arching one eyebrow ironically, he gave me a look. “You remember where I work, right?”
“Oh, yeah, right—do any business here?” I tried to change the subject, while lifting the dripping corn flakes-laden spoon to my mouth.
“Not much,” he said, “Oh, sure, once in a while, some old fella nudges up alongside me, asks me for luck, because he’s going for a day at the track. I usually get him to promise me a day spent in Hell, against his total complement of Afterlife Aeons. Then, I let it go. I love these old guys. They think they’re putting one over me. They’re not.”
“No more signing his name in blood on a moldy parchment treaty, your getting his Eternal Soul after death, forever and ever?” I queried, surprised at his generosity.
The Devil put his cooled-but-permanently-bent flatware down. The knife and fork now lay at a crazy angle, seeming to spell out the initials L. D.—Lucifer Diablo?—or were they D. T.? He took a slow sip of coffee, put the cup down, and looked me in the eye.
“David,” he said, slowly and deliberately, “these are elderly people. Why should I bother them? They’ve lived their lives, most of them, the best they can. Why should I try and hurt them? I have plenty of people coming to—uh—let’s say, ‘do business’ with me, in other places.”
He popped a slice of apple into his mouth, careful to spit a seed into his hand and lay it on the plate.
“Other places?” I said.
“Sure,” he smiled again, “New York City—Washington, D.C.—Damascus—you know. Lately, the Paris account has been ringing off the hook. And the Middle East is always keeping me busy. I don’t mind; that’s where I got started, millennia ago. Yes, Jehovah and me—those were the Good Old Days—you always knew where you stood with the Almighty. We had an understanding….”
His eyes, yellow pupils in deepblack irises, grew distant, remembering. I tried to move the conversation back to more recent times.
“What about Dr. Ben Carson’s—uh—renunciation of you, at the RNC, the other night?”
The waitress came over with two pots of coffee, CAF and DECAF. She smiled at Lucifer; he was a regular, and was known to be a good tipper. He smiled at her, careful not to show his canines, this time. She was in her late forties, a bottle blonde, with a world-weary smile, but happy to face the day and schmooze up the customers.
“How’re you gentlemen doing, today?”
“Hey, Judy,” said Lucifer, gently touching her wrist, the one on the hand holding the CAF coffeepot, which began to bubble and steam, though her hand was completely unaffected, “How’s my sweetheart, today?”
“OK, Prince of Tippers—I mean, Prince of Darkness,” Judy smiled, “Hey, really sorry about that thing on TV last night.”
“Hey, it happens,” he said, “I don’t pretend that everyone understands me.”
“Have a nice day, gents,” said Judy, topping off our coffees, and went over to the cab drivers at the next table.
“So, what’s this about Saul Alinsky?” I asked, when Judy was out of hearing.
“It was a joke, that Alinsky thing,” said Lucifer, putting his cup down and steepling his fingers, “and the problem is, some people, they’re not like you and me. They don’t get jokes. See, Alinsky was street; he was an organizer. He was never a Communist, Anarchist, what-have-you. And religious? Please. His religion was helping people, poor people. What, I should mess with poor people? What have they got that I would want? Now, rich people is something else….”
“So what would a guy like Alinsky have to do with you?” I asked, surprised.
“Exactly,” said Lucifer, nodding his head vigorously, and waving at a toupee’d man who had sat down at the next table, “could you excuse me a minute? That fella is Manny; he and I had a deal on Wall Street, and he owes me some vigorish—be right back.”
While the Prince of Darkness talked to Manny, a slightly overweight octogenarian with space shoes on, I checked my cell phone for the news. It wasn’t good, mostly; people hurting each other, killing each other, inflicting pain on each other…. I sipped my coffee, looked around, listened to folks laughing, arguing, sharing their lives—it made me feel better.
Lucifer slipped back into the booth. “Well, Manny didn’t have the scratch, so I gave him an extension.”
“That’s it?” I asked, surprised, “No demons to torment him? No Erinnyes, Furies, demons of the St. Anthony type?”
Lucifer’s eyebrows, two sharply-angled lines like an old transvestite’s, lifted a bit. “Excuse me?” he asked.
“You don’t torture people any more?” I asked him.
“Where have you been living, Dave?” he asked, “The Thirteenth Century? The Inquisition? We—I—don’t do that sort of thing anymore. What do you take me for?”
“Well, Sipher, come ON,” I said, spreading my hands in mock-resignation, “I mean, you ARE the Devil.”
“What, you think I don’t know?” said Lucifer, looking down at his plate, and disappointed to find it was empty, except for an orange peel and the cherry stone, “Oh, I get it. You think I should be whipping people for their misdeeds. No, that’s all in the past, and I’ll tell you why. Hey, Judy— (Calling to the waitress) Are we allowed to smoke in here? No? Damn. (Turning to me) Can we walk? I really need a cig. Naw (more to himself)—too damn hot, out there. Man needs to cool himself off, once in a while….”
And he sat there, the most powerful demon in the universe, nervously drumming his fingertips on the aged formica table, which slowly took a beating from his powerful hand, and began to become indented.
“Can I ask you about the Alinsky thing?” I said.
“Alinsky? Alinsky? Oh, yeah—“ he said, “That Ben Carson business, again. You know, that guy has no sense of humor. Either that, or he doesn’t get us—you, me, the particular sense of humor, of irony, that we share. He—Alinsky, that is—was using me, not as a Symbol of Evil, but because I rebelled. I mean, think of it: those kids back in the 1960s, they were rebelling. They wanted to change things, make them better. That was Alinsky’s idea, too.”
“So he wasn’t selling his soul to you, the Devil?” I asked.
“How can you sell your soul to someone you don’t believe in?” asked Lucifer, “I mean, really. It was a joke, that dedication to me that Alinsky wrote. The whole rebellion thing. It was about the hippies. And you know what’s really sad? He didn’t get it. Dr. Ben Carson just didn’t get it. Instead of thinking about a guy, Dr. Saul Alinsky, Ph.D, for heck’s sake, a Jewish guy, who wanted to organize and help people, he bought into this idea that Alinsky, and, by extension, all Jewish people, are evil—(Looking around, seeing the waitress) Judy! Can we get the check here? (To me) Sorry, Dave-man: gotta scoot: big appointment in China; they’re putting some poor yutz of a poet on trial for the crime of thinking for himself. Amazing that they still need me over there, even though they don’t acknowledge me, officially, but I have all those Politburo guys in my corner, ideologically—it makes me laugh, sometimes—it’s all free will, you know?—Jumping Mephistopheles, I need a cigarette, and quick—hey, Dave, could you pick this one up?—I’m due in Beijing in six minutes—I’ll get it next time, OK?”
A puff of smoke, and the slightest whiff of sulphur.
And he was gone.