To the Devil His Due
by Charles C. Cole
Dad had a long life, outliving Mom and all his peers. Though suffering from prostate cancer and a damaged heart, he took his pain medication and blood thinner and held on. Life, for all its disappointments, was all he knew. The monotony of the long battle hit hard.
“There’s got to be another way.”
“Tell me what you want,” I said. “I’m right here.”
“Make it go away.”
“Out, you big bad disease, shoo!”
“I’m serious,” said Dad.
“What’s the worst of it?” I asked. “The discomfort? I thought the Fentanyl patch handled that. Is it the counting down?”
“It’s like being exhausted after shoveling snow from around the car, when there’s a lull in the storm, but you know you’ve got to do it again.”
“Are you giving up?”
“Don’t say that!” said Dad. “I’m just tired. It’s a marathon without a finish.”
“So what’s next, the last big adventure?”
“I want to get better, dunderhead. But it’s not an option, is it?”
“I wish it were.”
“I’d pay any price.”
“Seeing as we’re about through your life savings, I think that ship has sailed.”
“Can we sell something?” he asked.
“Inconveniently, we seem to have buried Mom with all her favorite heirloom jewelry. It seemed quaint at the time, getting her all gussied up to meet her Maker.”
“What about my soul?” asked Dad. “That’s worth something.”
“For whom?” I asked. “You haven’t exactly lived a model life. And it’s probably a bit tattered at this point, assuming it’s still tucked in there somewhere after all your invasive surgeries.”
“It’s still a soul,” said Dad. “It’s supposed to be special: only one per person, the man said. Two must be better than one to some collector. People collect everything nowadays.”
“Assuming you have one, not that you ever went to church, dropping us a block away every Sunday.”
“Somebody had to pick up donuts at Nardones,” said Dad. “That place was always mobbed after mass. They never could keep those things on the shelves. Besides, you never complained.”
“I was a child!”
“You’re a man now,” said Dad.
“Because of donuts?” I asked. He looked away.
“List my soul on one of those web sites,” said Dad. “I don’t want money. I want an exchange, a fair trade. For one pain-free year, they can have my soul.”
“What exactly do they get out of the deal?” I asked.
“You’re good with computers. Just set something up. If we get a serious buyer, let me do the talking.”
“Move them with tears, is that it? Who can resist the bedside pleading of a dying man? Fine.”
“Sorry for the scene,” said Dad.
“No need to apologize. I’ve seen worse. Besides, I might be able to help.”
Dad stood by the open back door, staring at the kids in the park. “I’ll give anything,” he said.
“You want a trade, I get that. Your soul for one year of pain-free health. Can I tell you a story first? I read it on the Internet, so it must be true. It’s about a fellow who actually did that, working through third-party brokers.”
“Someone was buying souls? Sounds familiar. Go on.”
“It wasn’t as hard as you might think.”
“If it was so easy,” Dad interrupted, “then why don’t people do it all the time?”
“Superstition. Old habits. They are, after all, one to a person.”
“What’s its purpose anyway?”
Dad was getting impatient. “It’s only good on the other side. Everyone knows that.”
“That’s the prevailing rumor.”
“How, exactly, do I get my health back? That’s what I want to know.”
“Simple. Hands-on healing. The buyers don’t cure you — they’re not God — but they can buy you time.”
“I thought that was only for Holy Rollers,” said Dad.
“Nope. Hands-on healing just requires a certain professional competence,” I explained. “Or so I’ve heard.”
“Where do I sign?”
“There is a catch,” I said.
“There’s always a catch.”
“As the story goes, an old fellow sold his soul for some reason, I don’t remember what. It doesn’t matter. He found that it was like selling your car without a trade-in. That’s putting it crudely, of course. But the point is that without a car you have to walk, bike or take a cab or the bus. Your whole way of life changes, even your outlook.
“The man who sold his soul discovered he missed the benefits. His soul gave pain its purpose and perspective. It gave him empathy, too, and linked him to others.
“Without it, he could think only of the harm he’d done to others, and he began to despise himself. He had gained something — again, I don’t know what — but without his soul he was reminded of his worst selfish choices. He couldn’t see the big picture anymore. There you go.”
Dad raised his eyebrows in appreciation. Something I had said struck a nerve. “I see, it’s a knife without a handle. Not for me, thanks anyway. I prefer to be blissfully unaware of my mistakes when I die.”
I felt there was more to it than that. “But with your last breath, people a lot wiser than me say you find clarity and appreciate everything that’s come before, good and bad, that’s led you there. Most finally realize they’ve lived a pretty worthy life after all. For the good guys, like you and me, that’s the true purpose of the little weightless organ.”
Dad nodded slowly. “I get the picture. You win. I’ll keep the damn thing. Guess I’d feel pretty weird without it.”
“There you go,” I said. “That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? We play the cards we’re dealt.”
For Dad, there were no more cards. Things went downhill pretty fast after that. At the end, scared and tired and lying in his own bed on his own terms, Dad squeezed my hand. He smiled and closed his eyes. “I did okay,” he said.
Yes, Dad, you did fine.
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole