The young woman checks her reflection in the mirror. The shadows under her eyes have grown longer. The shadow over her shoulder has grown teeth.
“I can make those go away,” says the imp. “The lines around your mouth, too, your crooked teeth. I can make you so beautiful that it will break strangers’ hearts, just to see you.”
“No thank you,” says the young woman. “I don’t mind them so much.” She is too tired to fight the imp off. She has been tired for a while. She’ll probably be tired for a while, yet.
“Liar,” says the imp, curling up against her back to sulk.
The woman goes about her day. She works at the job she doesn’t like but doesn’t hate. It doesn’t pay very well, but it’s within walking distance from her apartment, and she likes the hours. She eats a grapefruit on her lunch break, one of the ugly ones sold for fifteen cents even though it tastes just like the others. She goes to the bathroom twice during her shift. She does not look in the mirror. She buys groceries for dinner on her walk home.
Here, the imp unfurls and licks its lips as they approach the register. “I can make you rich,” it offers. “I can make you so rich you could buy the whole world and still have some left over.”
“The whole world isn’t for sale,” says the young woman, pulling the beat up debit card from her beat up wallet.
“Isn’t it?” says the imp. The young woman ignores it, as she usually does. The imp continues to ply her with little temptations, as it usually does. Some days it’s easier to decline than others.
This is the way of it: when a person bumps into her on the subway, the imp offers to make her untouchable. When her supervisor makes her drag herself into the office on her day off under threat of unemployment, the imp offers to make her powerful. When she doesn’t have enough money for both the jelly and the peanut butter, the imp offers to make her rich.
When she lies in bed for two days, incapable of standing because the air itself sits around her like a compression chamber, the imp curls around her like a shawl and offers to make her well-rested. The young woman nearly cries, she is so tired, but still she does not say yes. She does not say anything. The next day is Monday. She gets up and goes to work, and the imp is blessedly quiet.
When the men follow her for three blocks, leering and making pornography noises, the imp offers to make her invisible. This is the only time the young woman hesitates before saying no. The men go shock-quiet and rush off a moment later. The young woman doesn’t know what the imp has done to frighten them, but she hopes that it haunts them for a very long time.
The imp has been with the young woman since she was a girl. It slipped in through the crack in a window, like a bat or a opossum, looking for a warm place to bed down. It found the girl in her room, but it did not approach her immediately. It took some time for it to face her, though she could feel its eyes on her in the dark whenever she laid down to sleep, listening to her cry. It was not the shadow-thing she was afraid of, but everything else. The imp, for its part, was drawn to her both out of hunger and curiosity. Most customers were afraid of it, even if they weren’t quite sure what the imp was. But when the girl locked eyes with the shapeless weight watching her from the closet, she did not run or call for help. She watched it watching her until her eyelids dropped like anchors into water.
The next day, she secreted a can of tuna fish into her room, and left it just inside her closet. The imp was greedily pleased, though this was not the kind of meat it ate. The fish began to rot and play host to maggots, so the girl threw it away. That night the imp crawled into her bed, nestled right up against her pillow. This was when the offerings began.
Now, the young woman lays her groceries out on her little counter. She’s planning to make bread with herbs in it. She found the recipe in a magazine and has been looking forward to trying it all week. She has never made bread before, but there’s an inherent calmness in the thought of it.
“You don’t actually want to make bread,” the imp tells her. “You don’t really want to go lay on the beach, or plant a garden, or wear an expensive dress. You want what you think those things will give you. You think they’ll make you happy. But sooner or later you’ll realize that you hate sand, and you’ll lose patience with how long it takes for things to grow, and you’ll regret spending the money on that dress so you won’t even get to enjoy it. You’ll stare at the ugly loaf of bread and wonder why you even tried. And then what will you do?”
“I’ll make some soup to go with it,” says the young woman.
“I can make you happy,” says the imp. “I can make you so happy, you’ll forget you were ever this tired of your miserable little life.”
“No thank you,” says the young woman. “I think I’ll try the bread first.”
“You’ll never get rid of me,” the imp hisses, flicking one of its tongues at her ear.
“Maybe not,” she agrees. She bakes a loaf of bread with herbs in it. It is ugly, not at all like the picture in the magazine, but it is hers and so it is lovely. She cuts two slices and butters each side before holding one out to the imp, an offer of her own.
The imp hesitates. It takes a bite.