The Devil Can’t Smile
I always hated those shows on TV with a little devil and angel on a person’s shoulders. They always make it seem like the devil is just some kind of overly negative nuisance; the devil is always the one in the wrong in those shows. It’s as if they believe there’s nothing good about balance in someone’s personality. There would be nothing good about somebody being perpetually positive. They need negativity to reign them in sometimes, or they’d basically all be a bunch of unfeeling monsters, smiling in the face of hardship. Humans need their devils.
That’s why my human absolutely needs me, no matter what she thinks.
“Oh, Sam!” Ann calls to me from the other shoulder, her high pitch and sing-song tone bringing a frown to my face, not that I would be physically capable of smiling. “Good morning!”
I glare at her. Ann is my opposite. The angel. The so-called “good one.” She fits her role annoyingly perfectly; she has white clothes, fluffy wings, and a glowing halo. She’s so bright that it hurts me to look at her for too long. She smiles at me when I meet her gaze.
There are times when Ann and I can’t function at all and have no recollection of the time when we’re not awake. This almost always happens when the other takes over. Ann likes to call it sleep. I don’t think it should sound so gentle.
“We learned such great things in therapy while you were asleep,” Ann goes on. She wags her finger at me with a playful grin. “You’d better watch out!”
She winks at me. I shiver. Her tone makes it seem like she’s teasing me, but to me it just feels like a threat. If she were capable of making her voice anything but joyful and supportive, I’m sure it would have been.
I decide to ignore her and focus on our human. She’s looking down at her phone, scrolling through Instagram, wasting time as usual.
A notification pops up at the top of the screen.
“Look, look, our new friend is texting us!”
I roll my eyes.
“Great, him again,” I mumble.
I can sense Ann staring at me, and I purposely don’t look over. I already know that she’s making the closest expression she can to a frown‒a blank face. On any human, it would be a normal expression. On an angel, it’s somewhat terrifying.
“He’s our friend. He likes talking to us,” Ann says.
“He likes talking to us because he likes to see how pitiful we are,” I snap.
“No, he likes us because we’re fun and interesting!”
Ann’s voice is perfectly chipper, but after sixteen long years of watching over our human together, I know that she’s angry.
“Maybe that would be the case if we were fun and interesting around other people. We can’t function around other people, and you know that. We’re awkward and annoying and cause conversations to die.”
Our human’s thumb hovers over the notification. She bites her lip, and she stares at her phone as if her touch could set off a bomb.
After a moment, she taps the notification. She smiles at what he sent.
I sigh. Ann cheers.
I decide to just leave the conversation to Ann. The last thing our human needs is to have her negativity exposed in front of him again. It’ll just make things awkward, and she’ll spiral into more dark thoughts. She doesn’t need that now. That’s been the cause of all her previous mess ups with him. She always gets too carried away by the things I say and opens up too much about everything to others. It’s only a matter a time before she scares the new friend off.
Though it might be better for her friend if he runs while he still can.
“Aw, he’s so sweet!” Ann chirps. “We should tell him how happy he makes us!”
“Don’t overdo it,” I say, but Ann ignores me to go whisper in our human’s ear.
Our human can’t see us or hear all of the things we say, but what we say often ends up causing her to have similar thoughts. We influence her without effort.
Whatever Ann tells our human makes her start typing a lengthy paragraph. I scowl. Who in their right mind would send something like that randomly?
“You shouldn’t send that.”
“Why not?” Ann is leaning as far forward as she can, eagerly watching our human’s fingers dart across her keyboard.
“It’s too long.”
“He won’t mind.”
“He’ll think it’s annoying.”
“He’s nicer than that. He understands us. He always says things to make us feel better when we’re sad.”
“You are never sad,” I practically spit the words out at her. “And there’s a difference between understanding and sympathy. Sympathy doesn’t last forever.”
“Well, I still think we should tell him that he makes us happy.”
“And I still think it’s too long. If you’re so desperate to stay friends with him, then don’t be annoying and scare him away with an essay full of overly affectionate text.”
Our human starts frantically pressing the backspace key. She types out the bare minimum, still kind but not as sappy. Then, she makes the mistake of adding five exclamation points at the end; I cringe.
“Too much. Way too much. We seem either too fake or too desperate for attention.”
Our human deletes three exclamation points. If I could smile, I might have just now.
But I can’t. I was born into this role just like Ann was born into hers. I didn’t have the freedom of having my own emotions, my own way to express things. I have to play this devil. I have no other way of living. My face muscles and jaw literally lock up when I try to smile or say something positive. If I could be supportive, maybe I would. But I can’t.
But sure, TV people, I’m the inconsiderate villain that should just be brushed off in the end. The angel and the human are the only possible ones who face injustice.
This is why I hate those shows so much.
I look down at our human’s phone again. She types out another message while Ann eggs her on, her fist raised as she pumps it up over and over again, shouting cheers in her ever-peppy voice. The message she’s typing out is extremely direct; I dislike it instantly.
“Don’t send that. What are you writing, a love letter? He’s going to get the wrong idea and start avoiding you. He’s going to think that you’re creepy and weird.”
“Sam!” Ann exclaims, though her sense of urgency is completely erased by the way she practically sings my name. I roll my eyes.
“Being this honest is just stupid. Nobody likes us when we’re honest. People like us when we pretend that we’re normal and worthy of talking to them even when we’re not. It’s a terrible idea!”
“Shut up, brain,” our human snaps suddenly.
Ann starts to laugh.
“Uh oh,” Ann calls out as she claps her hands together with a grin. “It’s what we learned in therapy!”
She says “therapy” the same way our human’s mom used to say “airplane” before shoving a spoonful of disgusting food into our human’s mouth. I scowl at her.
“What are you‒”
“Shut up, brain,” our human says again, cutting me off. “It’s not true. Shut up!”
She slams her fingers into her keyboard, typing out the rest of the message and hitting send before I can tell her not to.
A sudden wave of fatigue hits me. My body feels like a bag of sand; heavy, but with no support at all. My eyes start to slip shut and rage starts to build inside my chest.
Why? Why does this always happen? Why do I get shut down as if it’s some kind of punishment for trying to do what I believe is best? I may make our human isolate herself and make her cry, but the more she listens to me, the less she is hurt by others. When she listens to Ann, she makes stupid mistakes and regrets them later. Why am I the bad guy here?
The only thing I can hear is Ann’s laughter when everything goes black.
* * *
When I awaken, everything is quiet. Our human has a solemn expression and is holding her phone in her hand. I glance over at Ann, who also appears glum–or at least as glum as she can be.
“What happened?” I ask. Ann doesn’t look at me.
“He hasn’t answered.”
“Has he read it?”
Ann just nods. I sit up straight, and I crack my knuckles.
“Ann,” I say slowly, “it’s your turn to sleep. I’ll handle this.”
“Are you going to say something mean about our friend?”
“No.” I stand up and get myself as close to our human’s ear as possible. “I’m just going to make sure we never make the same mistake again.”
“If we … just … wait a little longer …”
I glance across the way. Ann is passed out and face down against our human’s shoulder. I take a deep breath.
It’s my turn now. I’ll make sure she never even thinks about doing something so stupid ever again.
A human needs their devil, no matter what they or anyone else might think.