Upon A Shoulder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

As you know, sitting on every person's shoulder, is a tiny angel, and a tiny devil. They whisper their own agendas into your ears--but what happens if they fall in love?

It was an ordinary day, the type of day where something might happen, but likely wouldn’t. It was four PM on a Tuesday, and Jerry was eating Fruit Loops.

Jerry was the manager of a small apartment complex in Los Angeles, California, and surfed in his spare time. He woke up every morning at four, drank black coffee from a Winnie The Pooh mug, and forgot to brush his teeth. He hit the waves by six and came back by ten for the highlight of his day: a bowl of cereal. Here we find him now.

For Jerry, the day was proceeding in the best possible way. Nothing was out of the ordinary. That was, until someone knocked on the door. Jerry sighed, resigning himself to a soggy breakfast, and then waddled to the door.

His yellow smile was met with a scowl that was cracked like the surface of Mars. Before him stood a curly headed girl that looked, as Jerry would have said, like a damn dirty hippy. She was one of Jerry’s tenants.  Her sink was acting up again, and god damn it, she was going to have something done about it. Jerry prepared himself for a fight.

 

But now let's leave these two behind; let them bicker in the doorway. Something more interesting is happening elsewhere. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.

 

Steve stood impatiently, some eight million miles inside the Earth. He was Jerry’s devil—a young devil, relatively speaking, with curly hair that framed his face on either side. His most noticeable feature was the thin mustache he was trying in vain to grow upon his upper lip. 

At the moment, he buzzed with anxiety, looking up through time and space at Jerry’s blank expression. His foot tapped against the burning embers. The thought would come at any moment, thought Steve. He couldn’t wait. 

It was Steve’s job to help Jerry with his problems; he was his personal devil. When it was time to make a decision, Steve would appear in a tiny poof of smoke. Humans are simple creatures, and need assistance weighing the pros against the cons.

Finally, the moment came in a snap.

Steve was off in an instant, sucked backwards and inwards and he traveled from his world to yours. It felt like he was sliding through the center of his own bellybutton. 

A moment of blackness, tinted by a green haze.

Suddenly, daylight was everywhere. Steve found himself sitting crosslegged on Jerry’s clavicle. The world solidified like shimmering water.

Steve was invisible, and about the size of plastic army doll. He scrambled to his feet.

As he did so, it dawned on him that he wouldn’t have a second chance, that this argument was his best shot. If not now, when? He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths; it was do or die. With this, he swaggered towards the back of Jerry’s head. 

Steve leaned over as far as he could, a handful of shit-colored hairs clutched in his hand. He saw her in the distance. 

She was dressed tastefully; she wore a silk nightgown the color of forget-me-nots. Flaxen hair draped about her pale skin. Her name was Mary, and she was an angel. 

Steve was in love with Mary.

She looked at him, and they gazed into each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity, but only to Steve. Two and a half seconds later, Mary had begun to look for anything else. Steve continued staring, counting her freckles—stars torn from faint constellations. 

As he counted, a heavy breeze began to blow, a wind that felt nearly tangible and faintly warm. It blew across Steve and Mary, speaking in an immortal rumble.

It told them to begin. They did.

Mary rose to her feet, a yawn pulling her up like a string. Her eyes pointed ahead, she floated over to Jerry’s left ear. She leaned in close. “This girl is young Jerry,” she said. “Remind her, very gently, that you are doing your best. She will understand.”  

Mary’s words felt beautiful in Jerry’s ear, whereas Steve’s retort was like a burp—involuntary and heinous. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't help it.

“Tell her to go fuck herself!.” he shouted. “Jerry! Lay down the law!” 

Mary closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose. “No Jerry, take the high road.” 

Steve tried so very hard to keep his mouth shut. He didn't want to argue with Mary. His words pushed against his lips like a mop of Black Friday shoppers until he could hold back no longer.

“Hit her!”

The conversation erupted.

“Peace is preferable to violence.”

“An eye for an eye!”

“Do not hit this woman.”

“You should hit this woman!”

Mary was flustered. She shot a harsh look at Steve. “Steve, you cannot just hit someone who doesn’t—“ 

Silence—an anti-crescendo. Steve’s mouth dangled wide. Had she just said his name? She did! She knew his name. Mary, an honest to goodness angel, knew who he was. 

“That’s me!” Steve shouted, his voice nearly squeaking. His skin tingled, his heart thumped, and his hands dripped with  sweat.

 Looking back upon that moment, Steve would remember clearest of all the twinkling of Mary’s eyes. He would remember how they looked like the surface of a great blue sea, and not, thankfully, how they seemed to scurry backwards into her skull.

“I’ll be right back Jerry,” said Mary as she scuttled out of sight.

What to do, the poor fellow. Mary had turned and gone, and Steve was all alone. He’d blown his only chance. In a cloud of desperation, Steve did the thing he could; he started to climb. 

Dangling off the back of Jerry’s neck, Steve began to think.

Devils never get to be children. Being a child requires innocence, and devils have none. Instead of lingering on this fact, Steve’s mind wandered back to his earlier days.

 

Steve was a good devil. He’d get the job done and he’d get it done well. Steve’s human would do the worst thing he possibly could, every time and without fail. If he didn’t, Steve always said, he’d eat his shoe.

This was Steve’s life until he saw her through the fence. He had looked sideways, just for a moment, and caught his first sight of Mary through the goldenrod bars. His mouth hung open like a wet garage door.

She was the cutest baby he’d ever seen. 

She was the only baby he’d ever seen. The powers that be don’t let baby angels near Steve’s part of town. They didn’t want to accidentally corrupt their impressionable children. But on that day, a nanny had taken a wrong turn, and changed Steve’s life forever.

Mary’s eyes caught Steve’s for the very first time. Little blue globes.

The second time they met was no accident. Steve watched from afar as she grew older, and he stayed the same. By the time they both looked fifteen, they would pass each other on either side of the fence, murmuring pleasantries.

“Nice weather out, isn’t it?” 

“It is, isn’t it?” 

 

In the present day, Mary shouted down at Steve. “Please stop!” 

He didn’t.

In desperation, she leaned into Jerry’s ear. “Jerry, please. Just apologize and we can all get on with our day.” 

Steve gasped. He didn’t want to get on with his day at all. He shouted from the back of Jerry’s neck. “No! you need to tell this woman what’s up.” 

“No. Jerry, please.” 

Steve swung his leg wide and pulled himself up onto Jerry’s shoulder. He saw Mary in an instant, pressed very small, against the far side of Jerry’s ear. Her fair skin now glistened with sweat. 

“Oh God,” she said. She turned quickly away from him, shoving her face in Jerry’s ear, and said, “Jerry, please just hit her. Oh please, oh please just hit her.”  

Steve stopped in his tracks. “What?”

“Jerry, she deserves it. She’s got such a bad attitude.” Mary was almost spitting now. “She’s a stupid bitch with a stupid face and if you don’t slap her right now the entire world will completely spin out of control.“ 

Steve was puzzled. “Um, I think she means—“ 

“We will all hurtle into outer space.”

“You know, Jerry. If you just consider her point of view—“ 

“The citizens of the sun will back in the unfiltered light of the sun if you don’t—“

Steve grabbed Mary by the shoulders and she stopped talking in an instant. She’d never admit it, but the warmth of his hands felt soothing against her skin. 

“I’m sorry,” she said. 

Steve fought the urge to check over his shoulder “You don’t have to be sorry. Why are you sorry?” 

“I don’t know exactly.” 

They stood there for a long time, searching for the right words. It was difficult. They’d never been so close before. The world swirled below them in a spiral of couches of and air conditioners.

Finally, the world caught up. 

“Steve! Let me go.”

He apologized quickly and pulled his hands away. Though it made his insides turn to do anything nice, he stepped back a few steps, giving Mary some room. 

His thoughts were racing; how fast it all was moving. The thump of his heart cried hysterically against his ribs. Was that a moment they just had? Was it possible that Mary felt the same way he did? 

It was. Of course it was. All those moments meant as much for Mary as they did for Steve. She was the one who got them assigned to the same human. But unlike Steve, Mary could not be so forward with her feelings. It wasn’t in her nature. 

She’d treasured the last few years. Say Jerry ordered a pizza: Mary would argue for two slices with a glass of water, while Steve would argue for eight slices and a pitcher of beer. If the neighbor’s dog was barking, they’d argue about that. They saw each other three or for times a day, all in all; but Steve had never caught on.

“It is Steve, right?” She knew the answer.

Steve nodded dumbly. 

Mary smiled—a glistening row of teeth. “Mine’s Mary.” 

She stretched out her hand, the other one wrapped self consciously around her middle. Steve looked at her for a moment and then smiled himself. He extended his hand. 

 

Meanwhile, Jerry lifted his great pork chop of a hand high into the air, and slapped the shit out of the girl standing in his doorway.


Submitted: August 20, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Michael Austin Elliott. All rights reserved.

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