clarissa meets the devil and learns he isn’t so much evil as just weird

Story about Clarissa K. goes that she’s tormented day and night with all stripes of baffled sadness on account of she can’t make heads or tails of how it is that she could have all the things in life that a person could ostensibly need and yet still she’s just always incredibly sad and can’t say why (which, needless to say, the inability to explain the sadness only compounds the sadness). She’s about sixteen years old. Lives at home with her mom who’s super religious but she herself personally is not. Tags along with her mom to church though because at first she just wanted to keep the peace, and it’s easier to just go to church than it is to deal with the heckling she’ll get for skipping out, but something else to know about Clarissa K. is that she’s kinda precociously self-aware at sixteen and, without making a big deal of it, she’s got this intuitive appreciation at the moment for how alla this stuff that’s going on in her head is maybe cusping on something, like, irredeemably serious (if you catch my drift) and she’s able to say to herself, “hey it’s probably not a good idea to sit alone in the house all morning while I’m like this”—cuz while things haven’t quite gotten to a point where like she’s looking at razor blades and licking her lips, or fashioning little nooses outta the paper tubes that her drinking straws come in, still. She knows it’s nothing to fuck with.

            So she’s going to church with her mom and twiddling her thumbs through the homily, totally absorbed in her thoughts and her sadness, when it occurs to her that maybe she should try journaling about this shit, or chronicling it in poetry.

            Art!

            Anyway so she goes home that day and starts scribbling. Her deepest darkest thoughts in their verymost nude—best as she can understand them. And it feels good! She’s not tryna be a great writer or anything. It’s like a howl in the night-type shit. She’s just happy to’ve made something.

            But then she shares it on the Internet and people start saying things—most of which’s flattering and commiserative and encouraging, but there’s that element that’s like, “Ever heard of a comma?” Which isn’t necessary, really, but that’s the Internet. Wild west.

            On Sunday she’s back at church with her mom and she’s thinking again about sublimating her lonesome angry thoughts into some kinda creative energy—but she’s also thinking about KafkaSauce69, or whatever the guy’s username was, and wondering if maybe his criticism was legit and if she isn’t just setting herself up for embarrassment by even trying to write.

            Still. She’s thinking it might be good to take another stab at it.

            But so she’s sitting in a pew by herself to think this over after the sermon, her mom is schmoozing around and socializing and making her life more difficult by probably agreeing to help with yet another fundraiser for which she hardly has the time, when suddenly this dude in a salmon-colored suit comes and sits down next to Clarissa K and says “hey girl what’s on your mind” -type shit and she says, “Nothing, not much, jus thinking,” and he says, “Thinking about what?” and like Clarissa’s not unaccustomed to this kinda thing, and she knows what he’s probably getting at and that she ougtha be on her guard against his motives, but she’s also, at the moment, feeling a bit like an overstuffed champagne bottle, emotionally, with the cork wedged just so precariously into the bottleneck and ready to pop off any second. And so here’s this dapper dude all of a sudden, he’s wearing a suit, asking her (with what sounds like serious interest) about what’s going on in her head. And when she tells him it’s nothing he asks about the nature of that nothingness—which literally nobody else in her life is asking. And so she spills the beans. Says, “I’m feeling lotsa feelings, mister!” -type shit. Etcetera.

            And the older man listens.

            Nods.

            Does things with his eyebrows when she gets to the really sad parts.

            And then he opines. Pours his eloquence into her ear. “Something something commodious vicus,” he says.

            Clarissa’s smitten.      

            She gets his phone number and there’s lotsa sixes in it because he’s the Devil, and they go back and forth texting, night and day, for a week. Dude’s asking all the right questions. Edging her toward new ways of thinking. Clarissa starts writing poems about their conversations—and the poems are really good!

Michael Pacher’s unambiguously titled, The Devil Presenting St. Augustine with the Book of Vices

            People on the Internet tell her so.

            And when finally it’s Sunday again and they cross paths at church she’s all on her toes about Oh I found the greatest guy, whatever whatever.

            But when she sees him again this Sunday, she finds that salmon-suit dude isn’t so demure as last time.

            He finds her alone and comes right at her like, “Hey, here’s a proposition.”

            (Again: Devil.)

            She says, “Wait so…we’re not friends?”

            And then he tells her with a laugh, “Oh I’m friends with everybody. Believe me. Pero listen, m’ija, take a sip of this here green drink that I’ve brought along with me to church in this crimson flask of mine and I’ll give you what I’ve got: the utmost powers of self-expression. I’ll help you to explain your troubles to yourself in the most lyrical way. Shakespeare-type shit.”

            Clarissa says, “Well what’s in the drink?”

            He says, “Vodka.”

            She says, “What kind?”

            “Pinnacle.”

            She goes, “Ew no.”

            Says, “It’s sour apple.”

            She says, “Oh, true.”

            The question of whether Clarissa sips the drink because she wants him to like her, or because she’s actually titillated by the offer or because she digs apples or some other dumbass reason, is one of those things she’ll go on asking herself for decades until probably at some point, on a tranquil Sunday morning in her 60s or 70s, the thought will cross her mind while she’s looking at her grandkids and she’ll shrug, because the reasons behind a misfortune can really only matter for so long. Like asking yourself what was the cause of the fire in which you lost everything; eventually all that matters is the ash, and the grace with which you clear it, and rebuild.

            The point is, she drinks it.

            And what happens?

She goes home and, despite the absurdity, she puts pen to paper and tries it out. 

            Born from the sparks of a redwood fallen-type shit.

            Clipped bitsa verse that’d sound Madulin and capital-r Romantic to the ears of some, perhaps, but to Clarissa this shit is rich. It feels to her that this is exactly the right wording for what she’s got going on inside.

            At one point the joy’s just too much and she takes her notebook out to the living room where her mom, after a Xanax and two scotches (or was it the other way around?), is sitting with a glossy gaze before the Tube and she says, “Mami look.” Hands her the Moleskine.

            Mom blinks a few times and takes the little notebook and considers the open page.

            Squints.

            “M’ija no me jodas.”

            Hands it back.

            Clarissa’s crestfallen. “You don’t like it?”

            Mom gestures in a zombified way toward the page. “There’s nothing there.”

            Clarissa looks at the page. Sees her writing. Says, “Mami, you’re blind.”

            But then her mom gets mad in the way she seldom gets mad and makes it abundantly clear that, whether or not the words are indeed there on the page, she can’t see them.

            Which Clarissa figures is a result of either the scotch or the Xanax or the pairing of the two and so she hugs the notebook to her chest and takes it back to her room and in her solitude there she thinks that maybe she should share this poetry on Instagram and so she snaps a picture of it. Frames the shot up perfect on her desk. A candle burning beside it.

            Artful shit.

            Shoots her shot, the shutter clicks, she looks at the photo and sees…a blank fuckign page.

            Tries it again and again and again, and nothing comes through.

            So she writes something else on a different page.

            Shoots a shot.

            Nothing.

            And thus go the terms of her deal with thee Devil. Blessed with the gift of expressing herself on the page like fucking Shakespeare himself (or so Clarissa’s made to feel), the downside is that nobody will ever see it. Nobody will ever hear it. Her gift, for eternity, is the ability to appreciate, in solitude, the poetry of her own private self.

            Meaning perhaps that the Devil, though shady and secretive and kinda just casually bizarre, is not himself such a bad man after all.

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