We meet on the internet, the Jackal and I. I had fallen asleep with my laptop open and dreamed of a devil, sitting in a bathtub, smoking a clove cigarette and crying his pithy heart out. I dreamed the lavender smoke left deep claw marks in the nicotine-stained tile. I dreamed the mildew shrank from it. When I woke up, it was not yet morning and my computer was blinking at me signaling an email.
Subject line: When I saw my devil I found him serious, thorough, profound, and solemn: it was the spirit of gravity.
I don’t know how he latched on to my contact information — I don’t have many friends. I don’t go out much — but he began his email with such antiquated politeness that I felt an impulse to respond. His words are so deeply sick, each syllable a pixelated cancer. The two of us are trapped, in too small apartments, in a sinking, stinking city, in a myriad of tiny hells with doors to other hells. There are no exit signs. This sulky demon, banished from a balmy hell into meat locker lower Manhattan writes to me once or twice a week and I feel for him, I really do. We email back and forth about our daily lives. I have told him about
Subject line: the terrible ones who carry about in themselves the beast of prey, and have no choice except lusts or self-laceration. And even their lusts are self-laceration…
the wounds I find raised up on my arms like flea bites in the morning, the same shape but much
larger than the motes of caustic morning light in the dead eyes of handsome strangers that stich themselves into my sheets, often, for weeks at a time. The Jackal, as he signs his toxic letters, makes his feeble living pressure-washing murder scenes in the kind of disco dungeons you would think only exist in the very bottom layers of Amsterdam red light silt and ash but really flourish in Alphabet city. He spends business hours in the places where cheap velvet furniture is lust-stained and the furtive moaning behind doors, shackled to keep their starving secrets to themselves, is never really quieted, even after a pretty twenty-something has had her swooning throat slit. He has described to me, in detail, the girl skin in the dust on the plastic chandeliers. The flecks of blood that spackle the smeary crystals catch more light than the cheap, swaying prisms do. He told me that he hates himself sometimes, when flakes of their pretty faces fall around him like ash or rain.
Subject line: Adequate was he for his deed when he did it, but the idea of it, he could not endure when it was done. Evermore did he now see himself as the doer of the deed.
Once I asked him why New York, why the service industry? Why only the aftermath of massacre and not the execution? Afterwards, I didn’t hear from him for weeks, nearly forgot him, and then one night, he sent me a despairing mess of an email. In it, he confessed that he had been condemned to his messy nine-to-five drudgery by his higher power because he has been caught — not suffocating infants while they slept or whispering atrocities into the ears of sleeping virgins, his hands wrist deep in their innocence — dropping the change from his morning coffee into the quaking cup of a homeless man on one of his first mornings in Manhattan. He had come to New York City, as most do, for
Subject line: The dream — and diction — of a God; coloured vapours before the eyes of a divinely dissatisfied one,
greatness. He had come with the admirable task of stripping the sanity from affluent metropolitan politicians and to ready the world for evil’s ascent from its crystalline abyss. He had come to paint the walls of midtown penthouses with blood, to scorch the skins of socialites to ash and write juvenile obscenities on the walls of Saint John’s Cathedral with their charnel dust. He had come with such high hopes for himself. It was almost a shame that a few dirty coins would count as an act of goodness to his God. When I finished reading his sorry letter, I poured myself a glass of wine and wrote him back.
My email smeared across the flickering computer screen, changing my apartment into a blue, goldfish bowl hell, illuminating the silvery twenty-something sinking into my bed, the line of his razor wire jaw distorted by the tangle of my sheets, his tongue thick, his fingers splayed and curved like the cracks in his lips. I had no idea when he had arrived, how long he had been there or when he would be leaving. I wrote to the Jackal about fire, about ardent fire, the necessary kind that consumes and cools and leaves, in its aftermath, a smoldering promise in its charred, cracked womb. I understood his sadness and why his hands were always cold, why his memories of home and his upwards fall from gore and grace, were blurred, the sound of his own weeping slurred in his mind. I still can’t remember if, in one of my silent rages, I had turned the gas burners on and locked my family in.
Subject line: a long, long cry, which the abysses threw to one another and passed on; for none of them wished to retain it: so evil did it sound.
But, as I told the Jackal, you never remember what started the fire. You remember the warmth of
the flames and the gentle press of death on your shoulders, as your whole world blossoms into
frothing flowers and reaps a harvest of cinders. He is a dear confidant of mine; for all that he came from a dream, into my waking world without permission. For my birthday, he sent me a buxom subway rat with its lights pulled out and strung around its neck. It was the best gift I received that year. As it were, our birthdays — I had asked once how devils are born, and his description beggared reason — are only a week apart. For his, I had sent him a William Sonoma gift card. I am quite sure he used it to purchase the flaying blade that smeared red stains on the cardboard gift box left on my seedy doorstep that, although it attracted the ardent attention of a thriving family of flies, did not startle my landlord.
“Life is only suffering”: so say others, and lie not.
After all, this is New York City.
*All italicized text attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.
AMBER RAMBHAROSE is finishing her final year as an undergraduate at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she spends much of her time searching — unsuccessfully — for a sound in the Southern United States that is as soothing as the screech of subway trains. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Virginia Literary Review, Cicada Magazine, and Camroc Press Review.