A deal with the devil
Boredom. Have you ever had a serious attack of this human failing? It’s like feeling all emotional and sensual sensations in your body have been poured out of you like water being flushed down the toilet. You feel empty without any interest or feelings in your surroundings. Enthusiasm and curiosity were emotions that belong to the past. Everyday is just an acceptance of your existence.
I am 65 years old. I had recently sold my very successful pharmaceutical business for a handsome sum. One of the conditions of the sale was I would no longer be part of the future. For the last forty years it had been my life, awake and, no doubt, in my subconscious at sleep. I admit, with regret, I have not paid enough attention to my wife and two children, except for providing them with every material comfort and schooling their hearts desired. Our two children have completed their university studies, married and left home to live abroad. One in America and the other in Singapore. I am sitting at the dinner table facing my wife.
I married my wife one year after graduating. She was five years older than me. Like me she came from a single child family well provided for. At the time of our marriage she was working as a senior vice president in a bank. To disclose a little secret, totally with her blessing, I used some of her savings and her position in the bank to finance the creation of my company. But this financial support is not what attracted me to her. She was a good looking woman with an engaging smile. Confident about her place in the world, ambitious, well educated and at times in the early days of our marriage she played the role of a femme fatale. Our love making in the early years, when I had the time or did not feel exhausted, was so intense I wanted to write poems about it, but never did. She had a healthy appetite for nightly activities. Once the children came on the scene it completely disrupted our lifestyle. My wife quit her job saying she was incapable physically of continuing with the bank’s responsibility and the children. The children came first. She was not prepared to put their needs and love in the hands of a third party.
I had no objection as my company was beginning to work well. But through the haze of working all hours of the day I did notice our sexual life became non-existent, also she didn’t pay so much attention to how she looked and dressed. She poured her energy into the love for the children. I felt over a period of a few years she was losing confidence in herself when addressing the outside world. Gone was that dynamic and ambitious profile of the young woman. She had made it her religion to be always home when the children opened the front door. Maybe she was paying a high price for being a generous and gifted home mother. I was mostly absent which I believe influenced the choice of our children to live in distant lands. Today I sat there looking at my wife. The years after the children had left turned her into a hypochondriac, introvert and sad to say lonely spirited individual. Deep down in her soul I imagined she was regretting resigning from her job at the bank all those years ago. The love flame of yesterday towards me barely showed any light.
“My dear, let's go to Normandy for three weeks for a change from this deary English weather. We will go to the coast where the weather patterns are influenced by tidal changes”.
“Three weeks seems too long to be away from my doctors. Let me consult them first”.
We booked into a room with sea view at the Grand Hotel at Cabourg. After the first night I could feel my wife was making an effort to please me but I knew she felt the absence of her home and doctors. I could see my future, without working, acting a nursemaid to my wife. She seemed to have lost all love of life; heralded for me a bleak future. She stayed mostly in our room leaving me to explore the town and beach. The town is known for where Marcel Proust wrote “ A la recherche de temps perdu”. It is also a favorite watering hole for French families in the summer months. Our visit was in the early spring.
I have always been an early riser. I soon found a family bistro open for an early morning coffee. It was situated just off the front about 10 minutes by foot from the hotel. It was a bistro run by a husband and wife team aided by their daughter; who I learnt later was the protected only child. She represented the stunning example of a young French woman, high cheekbones, abundant long brownish hair, and deep dark eyes that seemed to reflect a deep kindness of her spirit. When she laughed it resonated like classical music through your body. She had that enviable quality of innocents and youth like the first blossoms from springtime. I was enchanted by her personality and seduced by her youth. I visited the cafe every morning during our limited stay. We took moments of her leisure time to talk. It has the effect of throwing me into complete confusion of thoughts and a blossoming love for her. Her name was Charlotte.
We only stayed 9 days as my wife thought she needed to see her doctor. We arrived back from France both in an ugly mood, me because I was going to miss my breakfast admiring and talking to Charlotte, and my wife because she urgently needed to see her doctor. The first night back home I was awake most of the night with the vision of Charlotte bending over me, taking me in her arms and gently kissing me. I was obsessed with her beauty, youth and gentleness of spirit. It must have been nearing dawn when I heard a voice.
“Your soul called me with a need for help”.
“Who are you?”
“I am the devil. Always ready to help those in need”. I heard him chuckle.
“The devil, what have I to do with the devil? But you're right about one thing, I need help. My life has been turned into a dark and unhappy future of living in a wasteland where nothing grows. I am dying of boredom with a wife permanently ill and to make matters worse I have fallen in love with a young woman that is to me the answer to my future happiness on this earth. How can the devil help me?”
“You say you have fallen in love. Has she shown any signs that this love is mutual.”
“How could she be with a sixty -five year old married man?”
“I might have a proposition for you. In 24 hours your wife will be driven, on orders of the doctor, to the local hospital with a suspected heart attack. Within hours the hospital will announce her death. You will call your two children and arrange for the funeral to take place in five days time. There will then be a three day period of mourning. After which your children will leave for their respective homes. Two days later you will leave for France. Once you have passed French customs and your feet are firmly on French soil I will give you back 40 years of your life. You will become a young man ready to seduce the young woman you say you love”.
“It sounds preposterous” Nevertheless my thoughts suddenly envisaged a flight to happiness.”What makes you think she is not already in love with a young man?”
“What little I know about her is that she has a very protective father who views the locals as totally unsuitable for her daughter. I doubt she is involved with a young man. You arrive as a rich foreigner and would be a very suitable candidate. But first my friend you must make the girl fall in love with you, that is beyond my powers. I only deal in individuals' lives and deaths. Love is in the powers of God.
“This is an idea of fantasy. If I were to accept what is the price?”
“You are indeed a businessman, nothing comes free. I will give you eight years. You will after your efforts of seduction marry the fair lady. Life with your arms wrapped around her will certainly not be boring. But eight years later at midnight on the day I turned back the time clock and you became a twenty five year old man your wife will inherit your forty years.
“That’s diabolical. A thirty three year old man living with a woman forty years older than him. How could she understand what had happened? It might ruin her life.”
“These are questions that I cannot answer. I am only talking to you. It is your decision. Do we have a deal.”
“A deal, a deal”. The price tag was decidedly of devilish reasoning. To capture what I believe would be an exquisite period of my life full of re-found youth and love for a period of eight years. Was it worth the gamble of possibly destroying a person’s life? I asked myself if I was a selfish, egotistical man. A man that was prepared to gamble somebody's else life for a period of intense happiness. It was true for the major part of my life I had pursued my selfish ambitions to create a successful company ignoring the needs of my wife and children. My error was to think material benefits would compensate for this selfishness. Now I would have the chance to redeem myself even if is was such a short period. In the tender morning light it seemed a decision I should take was to accept the deal.
As predicted my wife died a few hours later in hospital. My two children rushed to her bedside. Many tears were shed. The funeral was a somber occasion. A couple of weeks later I was on a plane to France. Once I passed customs I went to the gents and came back out as a young man of twenty five. Two days later I was sitting having breakfast in my favorite bistro in Cabourg. Charlotte, my undisclosed love, came to take my order. As she stopped before me she said.
“Don’t I know you? You remind me of an older man that came here regularly for about eight days, maybe a month ago. You have the same eyes and also the way you speak French. Was your father in France last month”.
“No my father has been dead a few years”
“I am sorry, it must be my mistake. I remembered him so well. We enjoyed each other's company when I was not busy. I was quite saddened when he left. Now for your order”.
This first encounter as a young man seemed a very promising start on the road to seducing her. It took many breakfasts that turned into dinners. The first kiss, words can’t describe my feelings. They were between wonderment and ecstasy Many kisses, embraces and cheek to cheek dances resulted in nine months later we were married. I had to explain in detail to her mother and father why I did not have a job and was living in a rented apartment in Cabourg. I told them my parents were dead but they had left me a considerable fortune which allowed me to live a life of leisure. I assured them after our marriage and when we have settled in I intend to look for a job. As a wedding present I told them I was giving their daughter one million euros so she has her own income and does not rely on gifts from me. I also said we intend buying a house down the coast about ten kilometers from the center. It has been vetted by Charlotte and she approves. It has a sea view with a garden leading down to the beach where there is a small jetty for a boat. I also explained that once married I wanted to enjoy being with my wife at home and that would mean her not working in your bistro. Of course I am prepared to cover any costs of employing her replacement. My darling’s parents sat there a little stunned. Her mother got up and kissed me on the cheek saying,”Look after her she loves you very much”. The father shook my hand and gave me their blessing. Charlotte who had been hiding behind the door burst into the room rushing towards me with numerous kisses. I think all eyes were full of tears of happiness.
The marriage was a joyful occasion with several French relatives attending as both her parents can from large families. Nobody came from England. How could I explain I had now reverted to my youth. I was pleased nobody had the idea to research my identity. In fact while I was courting Charlotte I had found a shady lawyer prepared to change my name and issue me with a French passport. Money has a useful side. The sad aspect to all this monkey business was I had to lose all contact with my children. I had hinted at the funeral that I was going to disappear for a while. This remark didn’t appear to worry them.
The wedding night was a night of love, innocent youth and privilege. She was a virgin. Charlotte woke late next morning beside herself with happiness and full of life. As she walked naked across the room with her youthful gait and superb figure I knew we were embarking on a happiness period of my life. For the next three years we traveled, enjoying many of the world wonders. We did what true lovers do, held hands and kissed passionately in the most exotic places. I never looked for a job.
I managed my fortune through my English lawyer never disclosing I had changed my name. In the fourth year her parents had a fatal car accident coming back from a party. This forced us to stay close to home sorting out their affairs. It took my beloved a relatively long time to get over her loss. I bought a small sailing boat so we could spend some time on the sea away from the noise and pressures of our daily lives. We both agreed this was one of our greatest pleasures, lying in each other's arms on the foredeck, often naked. In the seventh year Charlotte was pregnant. My inside was turned upside down as we had planned not to interfere with our love for each other by having children. A boy was born in the faithful eighth year. My body was coiled with anxiety and worry. Charlotte was a radiant picture of joy and tenderness to be a mother, our plan was conveniently forgotten. She took me in her arms with excitable joy.
That night I wrote a long detailed letter to my English lawyer explaining exactly what had happened and in the event of my death what should happen to my fortune. I asked him to carry out my wishes with diligence and as little information as possible. He should realize several areas of my life and decisions remain sensitive for his eyes only. I ended by telling him over the years he has been a loyal and good friend and worthy of any fee he felt justified.
The day of payment arrived. The eight years had been the happiest of my life. I was prepared to pay up and step into the unknown. I set the alarm for midnight. We were both asleep when I heard the first gentle ring of the alarm. I immediately shut off. I turned to my wife to see if she was awake. No, still fast to sleep but instead of a beautiful young woman in our bed there was a woman over seventy years old with all the marks of the aging process. Her hair was quite white, her face shrunken slightly with age showing tell tale signs of darkening patches on the skin. Her skin was losing its elasticity. I lay there dumbfounded. Completely absent of any feeling. What have I done?
The next morning I heard a scream for the bathroom as Charlotte saw herself in the mirror. “What has happened? She cried. Before any answers could be given she heard the baby crying to be fed. She immediately went to him. For him no explanations were necessary, he felt her gentle hands, her smell and the soothing voice. He reached up for the baby bottle and took it in his tiny hands ready for his breakfast.
While my beloved wife fed the baby I went down to the beach and took the boat out. I never came back.
David Nutt 15/September/2023