Chapter 4d

"No sir," I said, "Not my style." I, of course, took no value from the words I offered, I just had to say something. "He's not the kind of fella I hang around after dark."

Paul said, "You know, dancing might be a little different than just signing your soul over."

I considered. Is the devil a good dancer? Am I asking him to dance or is he asking me? Is he interrupting another dance? Are we on a date? What's the setting? Does he require a soul to dance? Too many questions to offer a real answer.

I say, "What's this about, Paul? What are you getting at here?"

"What I mean," he said, "What I think I mean is that sometimes a little rendezvous with the darkness is needed to give you some appreciation for the light. I don't know, it's hard to explain. It's about testing your luck, maybe, or maybe testing your own moral boundaries. I feel like, if you've danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, you must have seen the darker side of something. Does that make sense?"

"Not one damn bit," I told him. "I don't even know exactly what you were asking in the first place."

"The question was literal," he said.

"Well, then the answer's still no. I've never met the devil nor have I danced in the pale moonlight, no do I care to."

There was a long pause. I was suddenly frustrated with Paul and didn't care to keep talking to him after that. Darren must have picked up that tension because he had moved away from us to clean other glasses, maybe even other things. Paul looked pensive. He said, "How did you come to be here?"

I told him that I had always lived here, that I grew up on the other side of town, that I'd moved away then moved back, but always known this place.

He told me that one can't move away from here, only deeper in.

I thought about it.

It didn't make any sense. Geographically, I was further in here, closer to the city, but I'm pretty sure I left the city at least once in my life. Then again, I could hardly remember which way I needed to go to get to the city. Which city was it, for that matter? Maybe he was right.

I said, "Yeah, this place is different from how I remember. A lot has changed over the years."

"Like what?" he asked.

I looked around the bar and out through the windows. Everything looked the same. I thought about the people who had moved away and who had stayed and the ones who had died as well as the ones who lived. All the same. "Maybe not so much has changed after all, I said."

Paul nodded. "Yeah," he said, "I feel like I've lived here since this place was built and nothing ever changes. What do you make of that?"

"I've always known the was a boring place, Paul, and everybody who comes through here can see it written on our offices and homes and streets. How much did you expect it to change?"

"You're right," he acknowledged, "I wouldn't expect much change here. I wouldn't expect much at all. But you know what I would expect? Let me tell you, for as boring as this place is, I would expect something to change, even if it's just something small. Maybe a neighbor's dog would die or Jimmy Walter would get caught smoking cigarettes by his parents or weed by the police, maybe Mrs. Washam would get cancer..."

"Don't say that," I instructed, "she's not a bad person, just old and a little crabby."

He nodded. "The point is, everything is just the same every day. That's why I asked my question. Maybe if you did take a waltz with some of the more unsavory characters around here you could learn something, pick up some information, maybe you could at least see something change. Hell, you might even be able to make something change.

I said, "By dancing with the devil?"

"Hell, Erwin, I don't fucking know, maybe. It's more than you're doing now, ain't it?"

I was silent. It was more than I was doing then.

"Look," he said, "I'm just saying maybe you should give it a shot, see what happens."

"Yeah," I said, "you realize I still have no fucking idea what you're talking about, right?"

"Not to worry, you don't need to understand, you just need to be able to do it. Maybe if you had danced with him the first time he offered you his hand you wouldn't be so crazy now. Maybe you've still got enough time now, I don't know. I'm just saying you can think about it and give it a shot if the chance comes up."

"Gonna be hard to do," I said, "until you can tell me what you mean."

He said, "Maybe you know better than you think or at least better than you're letting on. You smell like him. It's faded, sure, maybe he hasn't touched you for a long time, but you still smell like him. I'm pretty sure you know exactly what I'm talking about at least as well as I do."

Possible. I had already considered that Paul had absolutely no idea what he was rambling on about and, should that happen to be the case, then yes, I would say I knew about as much as he did.

He finished his beer, shoved his various small belongings deeper into his mail bag and said, "Well, this shit ain't gonna deliver itself," then tipped his little safari hat to me and headed for the door. I finished mine shortly thereafter, thanked Darren, and made for the door myself.

It wasn't until I stepped outside that I realized the sun had set, leaving not so much as a trace of violet or burnt sienna on the horizon. In place of the sun a large gibbous moon shone down on me. The streets were quiet and still. Nothing moved and no insects chirped. I was alone there with only the devil before me, standing in the middle of the street with his hand outstretched, looking at me as if to say, "May I have this dance?"