As far as Janice was concerned, the devil never showed up as she would have expected—blistering red skin with a goatee, a harpoon tail and a pitchfork that would make even Neptune covet his neighbor. Instead, he wore blue jeans with a faded circle in the back left pocket, the leggings frayed where they met the heels of his Tony Lamas. The devil also wore a t-shirt he found while filling up at a truck stop, the shirt sporting larger than life letters and announcing a profound snippet of philosophy: THE PURPOSE OF LIFE… ME. And though the devil carried the same maniacal laugh as she might have expected, deep and phlegmy, it wasn’t from a sadistic pleasure in torturing poor souls who made wrong choices in life; rather, he laughed at idiot shows on the tube. Like the one tonight, How to Train Your Monkey.
The show was just one more in a recent rash of pseudo-reality programs, this one purporting to shadow trainees during their first day on the job. The job never really existed, though, the trainee the only person kept in the dark. Built more on the contrived, the show focused on awkward moments and facial expressions that told viewers everything. Tonight’s program followed a bright, young man by the name of William, who in turn followed his trainer around The Plaza Hotel. The elevator doors opened, and the two men stepped off, the trainer pushing a cart of food. At one point in the discussion Young William frowned, not quite sure he heard it right. Did his trainer really say to ignore all the screams from Room 704, that it was common for their “special” guest to have under-aged women inside?
Sitting in his recliner, the devil laughed.
Janice’s smart phone buzzed in her lap. She glanced down and read the text.
PMT CONF. WHEN? PLS ADVISE.
Janice thumbed the touchscreen keyboard.
On the television, Young William followed his trainer down to Room 732. The trainer knocked once, but then didn’t wait for a response. He simply opened the door. Once inside, Young William discovered that they had just interrupted the hotel guests, a semi-covered man and woman, who were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. As if he were a waiter at a luxury restaurant, the trainer proceeded to tell the guest about their dinner, lifting the lids from each steaming plate of food. The guests nodded their approval—the woman even cooed over her pecan-crusted lobster tail—and the camera panned to Young William, whose eyes danced around the room, at anything but the naked guests.
In the recliner, the devil slapped his leg and howled with laughter. Janice frowned and watched as he lifted up his own cell phone and started typing. She imagined the text he was sending to his buddies, probably something about how fine the actress looked with nothing on but a smile. Janice rolled her eyes and looked away.
Back when they stood at the altar, citing their vows before the rent-a-priest, Janice imagined things much differently. She imagined the better, not the worse. She imagined the richer, not the poorer. They were reasonably well off—the devil owned and operated a construction business—but their relationship had been bankrupt for years. Nowhere in those dreams did thoughts of endless fighting ever enter the picture, him screaming that she was a nag, a bore, a drain on his emotional and financial needs. Nowhere did she ever see the countless episodes of adultery, real and electronic, his attempts to escape the reality of their wrecked marriage.
Her phone buzzed again.
IN 2 HRS. CONF.
She typed back.
Clicking the SEND button, Janice felt a brief sense of regret, like maybe she shouldn’t do this. After all, what did it say about her? But it was too late now. The money had already been transferred.
Janice couldn’t take credit for the idea. Her friend at work, Sheree, gave it to her.
“Here,” Sheree had said from the cubicle next door at the office. Janice heard a few clicks from Sheree's keyboard, and a moment later a message appeared on her monitor that a new message had arrived.
"What is it?" Janice asked.
"Something called Craig's List. Check out the Personals. You'll find all sorts of people looking for people. Maybe you can find something. It may cost you, but it'll be worth it. After all, a woman's got to have some living to do as well, right?"
Janice searched and searched, but she could never work up the nerve. Then one day, a personal caught her attention. Without realizing what she had done, she had already grabbed her phone and texted a message. It took only a few minutes for the man to respond. One message after another, and things went from there.
The show on the television continued, Young William now down in the kitchen as the cook picked his nose while working up the next order. William flinched, and the devil laughed some more.
The show finished, and Janice grabbed the remote control. She put the television on mute.
"Do you mind going to the store?" she said.
The devil looked at her, his eyebrows pinched.
"But the next show's about to come on."
"I'll record it for you." When he didn't immediately respond, she added, "Please. We're out of beer, and I forgot to get you some."
He sighed deeply, but grabbed his keys and stood.
She waited for the front door to shut before grabbing her phone.
HUSBAND LEAVING. AM WAITING.
A moment later, her man responded back.
ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. HAVE A HAPPY LIFE.
Janice grabbed the remote and leaned her head back. She flipped over to her home decorating channel, smiling as she did so. No more cheating. No more screaming. No more name calling. It was going to be a happy life indeed.