Four months behind. Down to the last pair of twenties in her wallet. Six months since the last solid job lead. And then Hayden had to go and bump her head while tumbling around on the monkey bars, a good thing in hindsight, which led to one set of tests, then another. The tumor had shone like a brilliant pearl on the scan.
Maria’s chase for a solution ended here, at a cafe, with a leathery scrap of paper and a smudged phone number. One of the last twenties was broken for a cup of coffee. Refills were free, at least. She had found him through a friend of a friend of a friend. Or was it a cousin of a friend? Or the client of an old workmate’s uncle? Maria realized that she had no real idea how she had ended up here, just that it had seemed as natural as floating along in traffic, and at the same time as unnatural as stopping in traffic and lighting your car on fire. One phone call was all it took, a ten second conversation, and now Maria sat buzzing on caffeine, waiting to meet the answer incarnate.
What does the devil look like, Maria wondered. It was the kind of question asked in a bad philosophical exercise. Now Maria posed it as plainly as asking where the toilet was. Would he be tall? Handsome? Well-dressed? Would ‘he’ even be a he? The whole affair was beginning to feel like a blind date.
But Maria recognized him at once. It wasn’t his age, which was appropriately advanced, yet seemingly merely a cosmetic thing, not like true age which comes from a deeper property of humanity. Nor was it his clothing — plain, muted, in many ways old-fashioned but at the same time flashy and charismatic. It wasn’t even the knowing smile and hinting in the eyes, the kind perhaps reserved only for lovers or politicians or talented magicians. It was, rather, that Maria recognized herself in him, as if she were meeting another version of herself, one had always been there, at major decisions, and now had finally decided to make herself known.
The man smiled. He had perfect teeth. He sat down.
“What can I do for you?”
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