THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILBy Nicola Manning
He’s the devil in a flat cap.
He must be. You’re certain. You see him every day, perfect red pinstripe business suit, hair slicked back behind his ears in exactly the same way. It seems like it never gets messed up, never one strand out of place. Even the briefcase in the window is crimson to match. You see him on the seven thirty train from Brighton to London. You know morning commutes, filled with tired eyes and women who overslept fixing their business make-up for the day. Greasy croissants crammed into yawning mouths. Too many iPads, too many laptops. Here, no one takes a break. No one ever stops. Moulding our lives around our jobs instead of our jobs around our lives.
He must be the devil because he never eats. Never breathes too loudly, never yawns or sighs. Always takes short little steps to the end of the carriage, to the same seat every day. He must be the devil because he’s never falling apart at the seams, never not perfect, and the devil’s in the detail.
You’ve imagined him in every other role you can think of – husband, lover, son, brother – and all of these scenarios end up with him turning goat. Somehow, it’s the only thing that fits. Somehow. So you carry on. Watching him from behind your tired eyes and your greasy croissants and your running five minutes late, wondering if he’s watching you in turn. You feel like you’re preparing for something bigger. Longing for something extraordinary to break up the numbness of your life. Endless moments of the same faces, the same journeys, the same sincere frowns. Nothing ever changes. No one ever morphs.
You’re stalking the devil. One day, driven to it by god or monotony or whatever, you decide to confront him. You pluck up the courage to sit across from him. He spends the whole journey staring forwards. Not at you but through you, his breathing shallow, his knuckles curled white around the edge of the table. A look in his eyes like he knows all your secrets. Is this the last time you’ll see him? By the time the train reaches Victoria you’re determined to follow him, but for some reason you’re rooted to your seat. You watch helplessly as he leaves the carriage and melts into the crush of commuters. There one second, gone the next. End of the line.
You notice a change. One abandoned cup, sitting on his side of the table. It must have been behind his briefcase. Jagged teeth marks around the rim, although you didn’t see him drink from it. No. Too far apart to be front teeth. Something else. Some other teeth.
Is it his?
It can’t be anyone else’s.
Slowly, slowly you pull off the lid and tip it towards your lips. It’s gone cold. Tastes acrid. Bitter, no sugar. It’s just cold coffee. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Slowly it takes you over.
End of the line.
This page was amended on 20/09/2013
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