By Jason Dextradeur
There’s nothing else in life quite as frustrating as family. Family are the people you love who love to drive you crazy. And the only thing worse than family is being involved in the family business.
I never wanted to be a part of what my parents did, had absolutely no interest whatsoever. That’s probably not new; you probably know lots of people who don’t want to grow up and become their parents. Trust me when I say that my family is different. They absolutely, wholeheartedly, one hundred and ten percent love what they do, and make no mistake, they’ve always expected me to follow in their footsteps, just like my brother and sister did. So, what is this glorious career that my family embraces with such vigor?
My parents are Fallen Angels.
Take a moment to let that sink in. That’s right; my parents chose to fight against God and were cast out of heaven along with Lucifer and all the others. I’ve known Lucifer since I was a baby. He drops by every so often to see how we’re doing, and it’s always a big deal. My mother gets out the good china, and we have to be on our best behavior. I’ve always thought it odd that the Prince of Darkness expects well-behaved children when he visits his friends. Somehow, there’s a fundamental flaw in that.
Whenever Lucifer would come over, my mother would swoon as he complimented her cooking. That was how I knew he was the Prince of Lies because my mother could burn water. After he’d leave, my father would sit in his favorite chair, kick off his shoes, and smoke his pipe with a contented look on his face.
“Good old Luke. It’s always nice to see him,” he’d say with a nostalgic smile. “He doesn’t visit all the families, you know. Loyalty—that’s what’s important. We’ve fought beside Luke since the beginning, and we haven’t wavered one bit in our commitment to the cause.” Then my father would sit up and stare at us. “Don’t forget that. We’ve stayed true to him all this time, and that’s why we matter, why Luke remains close to us.” We knew this. Of course we knew this. My father mentioned it every time Uncle Luke came over.
Meanwhile, my mother would float as she did the dishes. Normally, she moved like a hippo on roller skates, but after Uncle Luke came to visit, she was as lithe as a Russian ballerina.
So, for my family to find out that I was more interested in chrysanthemums than tormenting souls was quite a blow. I mentioned it during one of our family dinners. We’d been having family dinners on Tuesday nights all my life. Normal British families have their dinners on Sunday. Well, that…doesn’t work for us. We try to avoid any significant days related to the religions that my parents torment. So, Tuesday it is and has been forever.
My mother would spend hours preparing a feast: beans, franks, and black bread. Maybe that’s not a feast at your house, but I believe I mentioned my mother’s culinary skills already.
It was during this sacred ceremony that I dropped the bombshell on them. They took it better than I expected.
“You’re going to do what?” My father leaned forward like he hadn’t heard me. That must have been it. His son couldn’t have said what he thought he’d just said.
“I’m going to open a florist’s shop.”
My mother turned pale. “Oh, sweet Lucifer,” she mumbled.
“By everything unholy, have you lost your mind?” my father asked.
“No, Dad, this is what I want to do. Why do you think I studied botany when I went away to university? I like plants. I want a career working with plants.”
My father was looking at me like he’d never seen me before, like I was some alien life form he was viewing for the first time. Who was this strange creature impersonating his child?
“This is all your fault, Asmodon,” my mother sneered.
“How do you figure that?” he asked.
“He must get it from your side of the family. He doesn’t get it from mine!”
“Excuse me, Lasidora, but didn’t your uncle run off with a fairy?”
My mother stood up and threw her napkin at him. “You promised! You promised you would never bring that up!”
Now my father had to backpedal. He might be a vicious monster who enjoyed torture, but the sight of my mother upset had always been more than he could handle.
“I’m sorry love, I’m just…I don’t know. I spoke in haste and anger and surprise. Reginald George, look at how you’ve disturbed your mother!”
It has always been my belief that the more of your name your parents use when they yell at you, the more trouble you’re in. For example, if my mother yelled, “Reggie! You didn’t take out the trash.” I knew it wasn’t anything major. If I became Reginald instead of Reggie, then I was probably grounded. Demons don’t really care about surnames. We have them so we blend in with the rest of society, but they don’t hold any special meaning. We pick them up and eventually discard them as the need arises. The last time I checked, my parents had gone through four hundred and fifty-seven of them. So for my father to use both of my real names meant he was about as serious as he could get. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had my own flat to go home to, I probably wouldn’t have been let out of my room for a month.
My mother fled the dining room. She swept into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. My father sighed, clearly envisioning the hours he would have to spend apologizing. Then, he glanced over at the cause of his once and future agony, me, and dropped his napkin onto his plate. He glared at me as he stood.
“This isn’t over. We’ll have a good talk about this later.”
Then he went to the bedroom and began pleading with my mother to open the door. I listened for a few moments as he cajoled and apologized. My mother, the master of guilt, told him to go away.
They continued on while I finished my glass of milk. At twenty-seven years old, I still wasn’t allowed a pint with my dinner, probably owing to the fact that my parents still saw me as the youngest, the baby. They would probably continue to do so until I entered into a proper, respectable profession, like the family business. After I finished my milk, I went into the kitchen and scraped my food into the trash. I had lost my appetite. It seemed wrong to waste food, but honestly, no one outside of my family, except maybe the Devil himself, could possibly stomach what my mother cooked.
It was two months before I was invited back. I knew my parents intended an intervention. I knew how their minds worked. They needed time to recover from the shock, and then they would plan how they could pull me back to what my dad, who loved the emperor from the Star Wars movies, called the “Dark Side.”
I was ready. I even had a counterattack to throw them off balance. In fact, it would probably throw them so far off balance that I wasn’t sure they would recover.
I showed up a few minutes late dressed in my Tuesday best. My mother smiled as she opened the door. She seemed surprised when I handed her a pot with a tulip in it. Then, she looked over her shoulder. I followed her gaze and saw my brother and sister were there, and so was good old Uncle Luke. Mum looked like she wanted to apologize, but I smiled and kissed her cheek. I whispered that I’d be fine and walked in.
Dinner, which was beans, franks, and black bread—please pass the ketchup—was terse. Then, Lucifer brought up the subject everyone had been avoiding.
“So, Reggie. Your parents tell me that you’ve chosen a rather interesting profession for one of our kind.”
“That’s right, Uncle Luke. I’m a florist now.”
He raised an eyebrow and put some beans in his mouth. Disgust registered on his face. I don’t know if it was from my words or the food, but he washed both down with his ale. (Of course the Prince of Darkness could have a pint of Bass with dinner.)
“A florist, eh? I have to admit, most of our kind don’t work much with plants. We tend to become lawyers or bankers, and of course, politics are always a popular choice among The Fallen.”
“I like plants. All of those other professions require more human interaction than I usually care for. To be honest, I like plants more than I like people.”
“But musn’t you deal with people if you want to sell the plants?”
“Oh yes, but you see, there’s a huge difference. Those people want to see me. They come to me looking for help or advice, and it feels good to give it to them.” A worried look settled on Lucifer’s face. I continued.
“You know what that’s like. You might break someone’s spirit and have them join you, but it’s not the same as someone who comes running into your embrace.” The worried look left and was followed by mild shock, which stayed for a while.
My father tried to save his reputation by mentioning his other children. My brother Harold was back from America and had done great work. He’d been in the rural South stirring fear and hatred between whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, liberals and conservatives. My father gushed at how much misery and discontent my brother created. I went to drink some milk to hide my disapproval, only to find it had soured. Harold smiled at me.
My father then went on to discuss Margaret while I went to the kitchen for another glass. Margaret was even busier than Harold. She had been working in the Middle East sowing discord between men and women, Christian and Muslim, Muslim and Jew, and even in some cases, Muslim and Muslim. Lucifer complimented her on all the good work she was doing. My sister smiled and winked at me. I rolled my eyes. My mother tried to come to my rescue, but she fell right into my trap.
“So, Reggie, I know a nice girl I could introduce you to. Her parents are very respectable. They were at the front lines when we all fell.”
“Wow, Mum, that sounds great, but I’ve met a girl, and I like her a lot.”
All the activity in the room ceased. Forks stopped midway to mouths. Morsels of food sat half-chewed, waiting to be finished. My failures with the fairer sex were the stuff of legend. Demon girls don’t have much use for sensitive guys who like to read.
“That’s great Reggie. What’s her name?” Mum asked.
“Her name is Shona.”
“Shona? Have we met her? Do we know her parents?”
“Uh, no, and I doubt it.”
My father was beginning to guess at what I had up my sleeve. He gave me a wary stare. “What’s her whole name, Reggie?”
“Shona Aparna Wasiri.”
Gasps erupted from around the table. “She’s human?” My father asked. By mentioning all three of Shona’s names and making them all important, I had tipped my hand.
“Yes, and she’s a lovely girl.” I said.
My mother dropped her fork as the color drained from her face. My father looked like his food had turned to lead. My sister’s jaw dropped. Uncle Luke appeared to have a mild case of indigestion. My brother, always the quickest of my relatives, brought forth the grenade I’d planted.
“What type of name is that, Reggie? Where’s her family from?”
“India. Her dad brought everyone over a while ago. He owns a small carpet store not far from my shop. She used to work for him while she was in school, but now she’s a graphic designer.”
Good old Harold kept plowing ahead. “India? Oh, please, Reggie, tell me she’s not…”
I pulled the pin and released the handle. “She’s a Hindu.”
That did it. Conversations exploded around the room. My father went red, then white with anger. My brother and sister told me how I was destroying my family’s good name. I wondered about that. Shouldn’t it be our bad name? My mother began telling my father how once again this was all his fault. My father bellowed that I was more like her uncle, and she knew it. That made my mother cry, which made my father even more upset and caused my siblings to increase the volume of their diatribes toward me.
It was during all this that Lucifer simply stood up, wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin, wished my parents a good evening, and left. That brought the shouting to a volume usually reserved for football matches or divorce mediations. My mother ran to her bedroom and locked my father out so that, once more, they went through the drama play of my last visit. My sister picked up her things and followed after Lucifer. My brother continued to berate me.
“It’s one thing to lower yourself with a human, Reggie; plenty of The Fallen have done that. If you want to shame yourself, well, that’s your business. We’ve always hoped you would come out of this funk of yours, but it’s your life you’re ruining, so we can’t stop you.”
“Thank you, Harold. That’s very kind.” He only paused long enough to draw a breath. I don’t think he heard my response, let alone the sarcasm.
“But to go with someone who doesn’t even believe in us? That’s inexcusable! Mom and Dad fought against Heaven and all the Angels. They fought against God! They were thrown out of Paradise! They sacrificed everything for us, and you start dating a non-believer? Words can’t describe how selfish you are!”
It was at this point that my brother threw his beer on me. Then he stormed out of the house, leaving me to listen to my parents argue back and forth about whose fault I was.
After I wiped the ale from my eyes, I smiled and cleaned up after dinner. This was perfect. There wasn’t any question about me being a florist anymore. Of course, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when they came up with a plan to try and intervene between Shona and me, but I’d deal with that when the time came.
My family stopped speaking to me for a while. I’m sure the fact that I embarrassed them in front of Uncle Luke extended my vacation. That was fine with me. It gave me more time with Shona and more time at work with the plants.
It was a warm spring afternoon when The Other Side, as my parents called them, came for a visit. I’d been expecting them. Honestly, I was surprised it took so long.
They looked like three well dressed business types. Their suits were gray and appeared to be tailor-made. The man in front could’ve been a poster boy for a Swedish travel ad. The man beside him was dark-skinned with short hair and deep brown eyes. The woman had dark curly hair and olive skin, and she, too, was beautiful. Of course, none of them really looked like that, and I knew it. They also knew that I knew. They walked in and stood in the center of the store like they were preparing for battle. I decided that wouldn’t do, so I smiled and waved at them.
“Hello, hello! It’s always nice to see new customers.”
“We’re not here about the plants.” Blondie had a thing for the obvious.
“Oh, I figured that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be customers. So, how may I help you?”
“DEMON SPAWN, WE HAVE COME TO WARN YOU THAT WE ARE ON TO YOUR SCHEMES, AND WE WILL NOT LET YOU TEMPT MORTAL SOULS INTO DAMNATION!”
His booming voice rattled the store windows. I smoothed my hair back in place and gave him an annoyed look.
“Do you think you could say that a little louder? I’m not sure if the tenants on the top floor heard you. Did it ever occur to you that people might be sleeping upstairs?”
He gave me a puzzled look but spoke more quietly this time. “What do you mean, hell-spawn?”
“First of all, my name is Reggie. If you want to communicate with me like a civilized being, why don’t we start with that? I haven’t threatened you, and I don’t intend to. Please call me by my name.”
“Second, did you notice that we’re on the first floor?” They looked around and nodded. These weren’t the ripest tomatoes on the vine. “And what do you think is above us?” They looked around again, unsure. “I’ll tell you. There are apartments. They’re not swank, fancy places that are soundproof. They’re just flats for regular people. And some of those regular people work at night. That means they sleep during the day. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t wake them and have them call the police on me for a noise complaint.”
Blondie looked embarrassed. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright. Now, where were we?”
“We were saying that we’re going to be keeping an eye on you so that you can’t tempt mortals into damnation.”
“Right, that’s what I thought. Listen, I’m not my parents. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not even my brother or sister. I don’t really care for all this soul business. I find most people to be ignorant jerks. That’s why I like plants. If I talk to a plant, it grows. If I talk to a person, I have half a chance of them giving me the bird. So, I’ll leave the souls to those who want them, and I’ll stick with plants and the people who like plants. They tend to be much more pleasant.”
I don’t know if stunned would be a strong enough word to describe how the angels looked when I finished speaking. They stared back and forth between themselves, trying to judge the veracity of my words.
“We’ll still be watching you,” Blondie said.
I shrugged. “I figured as much. You probably won’t be the only ones.”
“What do you mean by that?” the woman asked me. For beings that were supposed to be filled with God’s love, they were awfully suspicious.
“I’d bet that the other team will be watching me too.”
“Why?” She asked.
“They want to see if I’m going to betray them to you.”
“Why would they think that? Have you betrayed them before?”
“Besides becoming a florist? No, they think that because it’s their nature, they don’t trust anyone.”
They seemed impressed by my logic. I guessed you didn’t need brains to follow orders. Was obedience more important than intelligence? I laughed to myself as I thought about asking my family.
“What’s so funny?” Blondie asked.
“I’m picturing my parents’ faces when they find out you came by.”
That brought about nervous foot shuffling and mumbles. By now, I was tired of my angelic spies, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to make some money.
“Now that we know where we all stand, what kind of plants do you want?”
I wondered how Blondie got the lead for this gig. “Well, you’re here. You might as well buy something.”
“I don’t want anything.”
“What do you mean, you don’t want anything? You’re creatures of light, creatures of life. How could you not want to promote life and propagate it throughout His creation? How can you not buy something?” This brought worried looks and more foot shuffling. “Alright, I’ll help you out. Do you want something for indoor or outdoor?”
“Uh, indoor, I guess.”
“Right, I know just the thing.” I reached behind me and grabbed a pot. “Here, this is a begonia. You can hang it in the window and watch it grow. It has wonderful white flowers that will brighten your day. Give it half a cup of water three times a week and turn it once a week so that it grows evenly.” He took the plant and gave me an uncertain nod.
I turned to the angel with the brown skin. “Do you want indoor or outdoor?”
“How about an Easter Lily? The symbolism is perfect.”
He looked at Blondie, who shrugged. Seeing that I wouldn’t take no for an answer, he accepted his new roommate.
“And what would the lady like?”
“Something for outdoors; I have a house.”
“Do you? Good for you,” I said with a smile. “How about some marigolds? I love marigolds. They smell great, and they have wonderful blooms.” I picked out some yellow and orange specimens. “A highly underrated plant, the marigold.” She smiled when I gave her the flowers.
“All right, my winged friends, your total is forty-five pounds.”
The other two looked at Blondie, and he sighed, looking exasperated. Apparently, they left their wallets in Heaven.
“Do you take credit?” he asked.
“I take credit from humans. From the supernatural, I prefer cash.” He gave me a wry look and passed me a fifty.
“Keep the change.”
“Oh, well, thank you very much. I don’t think I will, though. It might throw off my bookkeeper if I had an extra five lying around. There’s an animal shelter down the street, maybe I’ll give it to them on my walk home.”
They turned and began to leave. Blondie stopped in the doorway. “We’ll be back.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I love repeat customers. And if you have any questions regarding the care of your plants, stop by whenever you like.”
Uncle Luke’s team showed up later that afternoon. They were as subtle as the angels. Again, there were three of them. The first looked like the leader of a biker gang. The second looked like a Goth punk with a blue Mohawk and a sleeveless union jack shirt. The third was a female skinhead with flaming skulls tattooed on her temples.
“Well, hello there. How may I help you? Here for a funeral arrangement?”
The biker, the one standing in front, looked at the other two and shook his head. “Not quite. We want a word with you.”
“Words are free. Plants will cost you.”
“We’re not exactly good with living things.”
“There’s always time to work on it.”
“Sure, whatever.” He shook his head again. “Back to business. The boss wants you to know that we’ll be watching you.”
“Oh, I get my own personal voyeurs? That’s a bit naughty, isn’t it?”
“Not like that.”
“Really? You mean that if I leave here and go on a date with my girlfriend, and things go well, and we go back to my place, you won’t be watching?”
He smirked. “We’ll be watching.”
“You and the angels. I’ll have to put on quite a show for such an esteemed audience.”
“What angels?” the leader asked.
“The ones who came in earlier today. Three of them, dressed in suits. Bought some plants. You didn’t see them?”
“No. How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“You don’t. Why would I lie?”
“Cuz you’re one of us?”
“Touché. Point to you. I’m not lying. They said the same thing you did. They would be watching, I wouldn’t be allowed to corrupt souls, yada yada yada. I’m guessing you don’t mind the corruption part; you don’t want me selling secrets, right?”
They gave me a stern look. “You’re too smart by half,” the leader said.
“You say that like it’s a character flaw. I’ll tell you what I told them. I’m not interested in souls. I prefer plants, thus the shop.” I said with a sweep of my hands, showing the variety I carried in stock.
“So now that we know where I stand and what you’ll be doing, what type of plant would you be interested in?”
“We don’t like plants; we don’t like living things,” the leader said.
“Oh? Aren’t you a living thing? Living things can be useful. Sometimes, they can be used to inflict suffering on others. Surely, the boss has told you some of his success stories with that?”
They began to look uncertain. Uncertain is good. Every salesman loves uncertain. The leader still held back, though.
“We don’t need any plants.”
“Need? I agree; you probably don’t need any. But life is about more than just needs, isn’t it? There’s a certain joy to be taken from life, don’t you think? We’re so much more than our basic instincts, right? I have just the plant for you. Wait here.”
I left him standing with a refusal lodged in his throat as I went into the back of the store. I returned carrying his treasure.
“Here we are,” I said with a smile.
“What is it?” He looked at the plant with a mix of disgust and uncertainty.
“This is a Venus flytrap. It doesn’t need much water, and it feeds itself. Do you know how?” He shook his head. “It catches and eats insects! Isn’t that great? It’s just what you’re looking for. It inflicts suffering on another being in order to survive. How cool is that?”
Before he could object, I handed him the plant and turned my attention to Captain Britain, as I thought of him.
“You need a different type of plant altogether. Am I right?” He shrugged, looking confused. “I have just the thing.” I pulled him aside and showed him his prize. “This is Belladonna, also known as Nightshade. It’s a beautiful plant, but it can also make a deadly poison. I’m not going to tell you how, but you seem like a smart lad; you must have Internet access.” I shoved the plant into his arms and returned to the front.
“And for you, my dear, a cactus.” I smiled at the woman before I reached back and brought forth a specimen that stood about a meter tall and was covered with sharp spines.
“Why a cactus?” she asked.
“It matches your appearance. Everything about you says, ‘Stay back! I’ll hurt you.’ This cactus is similar. If you don’t handle it with care, you’ll get stuck.” She frowned but accepted the pot as I rang up their purchases.
“That will be sixty-two pounds.” Again, the two deferred to the leader. Doesn’t anyone carry a wallet anymore?
“Do you take credit?”
“Not from you. Cash only, my friend.”
He frowned and handed me the money. He surprised me by having exact change. Then, they took their purchases and headed toward the door. Like clockwork, the leader turned and looked at me.
“Let me guess, you’ll be back?” He frowned and walked out.
It ended up being a late night. Two orders came in at the last minute for weddings later in the month. After I finished all my paperwork, I swept and did a quick bit of dusting. It was near dark by the time I got outside and locked up.
I turned around, and there stood my mother. She was dressed all in black, and she looked like she didn’t want to be there. She looked embarrassed.
“Hello, Reggie. So that’s your store?”
“Yes. I was just closing, but you can come in, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s alright. I’ve been watching you all day. I know what it looks like.”
“Oh. Really? All day?”
“Yes. I liked the way you handled the representatives. Wouldn’t take no for an answer, would you?”
I chuckled. “They interrupted me and were taking up my time; the least they could do was buy something.”
She smiled but was a little sad. “This is what you really want, Reggie?” I nodded. She stared at me, but I didn’t flinch. “Alright, then. As long as you’re happy, I’ll support you.”
“What about Shona?”
“Easy, Reggie. One step at a time. I haven’t even met this tart yet.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. “Mum, she’s not a tart.”
“No, I’m sure she’s not. You’ve never been that type, not like your sister, who is pregnant by the way.”
“Really? Who’s the father?”
My mother rolled her eyes and sighed. “Who knows? She won’t say. I don’t know how I raised such stubborn, disobedient children.”
“It must have been Dad’s fault.”
“That’s what I was thinking.” She smiled, and then we hugged. “Why don’t you come to dinner on Tuesday?”
“Will Dad be okay with that?”
“You let me handle him. You just show up.”
“I’ll be there.”
“You can bring your Indian tart, if you want.”
This time, I rolled my eyes. “She’s not a tart. I’ll bring her, but I don’t want anyone to scare her away.”
“Well, who would scare her?”
“A house full of Fallen Angels? Gee, I wonder.”
Our conversation continued as she walked me home. I was at dinner on Tuesday, and the food was terrible, but I was glad to have it. Shona came and met my parents. Once she found out about us, she passed out—twice. She took three days to herself and then called and said that she didn’t care who my parents were, that she loved me. I proposed the next day.
We’re married now with a couple kids of our own. We go to my parents’ every Tuesday for dinner, along with my brother and sister and their new and ever-expanding families. And while we’re there, my Dad asks when I’m going to quit selling pansies and start doing some real work with the rest of the family. I just smile at him, until Shona or Mum change the subject, usually by bringing up the most recent cricket match. Some things never change. But some things do, and I’m glad for it. And while Mum slaves feverishly in the kitchen every Tuesday, Shona, the kids, and I stop somewhere and grab a quick bite first, because I think even Uncle Luke would admit, it’s not like becoming a grandmother turned Mum into a cook.