I’ve never been a big church goer myself, but my Ma, she raised me right and taught me to be a God-fearing man. I had a Bible somewhere in the house, and maybe I read it on Christmas if I could find it, but not much else. Maybe I believed, but there wasn’t much practical use for things like that way out here. If you couldn’t touch it or chow it down at meal time, it wasn’t of no use to ya.
Besides, my Ma always said that it wasn’t always God you needed to fear, but sometimes the Devil, too. See, the Devil ain’t a bad man but he has a job and he does it, she’d say. He can’t help if that’s a bad job or what. That always made a might big bit of sense to me. Like that poor kid down the road, the one who shoveled the horse shit on the weekdays and drove the hearse for funerals on weekends. No one liked the jobs he did, but he did him anyway ‘cause he had to feed himself. It didn’t seem to me like the Devil was all that bad of a guy, really. I always thought that maybe he’d like fishing a bit.
So one day the Devil showed up at my door with a guitar, a bag over his shoulder, and a shiny new pair of boots. And he said, I need a place to stay for a while, mister, would you mind? And I looked at him real long and hard and I said, Sure you can stay here, Mr. Devil, as long as you don’t keep me up at night and don’t bring no sin in the house.
So the Devil stayed for a while, all through winter. He said he liked the winter because it didn’t snow all over the place, like it did in some other places up North. He played the guitar and sang his songs and didn’t put his feet up on the tables, so I liked him well enough. I learned a few things about him, too. Sometimes he’d sit out on the porch on the swing and just watch winter as it went on by. He only liked his coffee as black as I could make it, and could actually paint a pretty picture not too badly. He liked to paint fences and dead, gray trees as they reached for the sky. Somehow, I had a feelin’ he was making a joke that I was missing when he painted things like that, but I never minded. I wasn’t too smart, anyhow, so it wasn’t like it would be hard to make me miss a joke.
Spring wasn’t his favorite, I knew, but he never complained. He didn’t spend as much time outside, which was good because he never looked quite right in the fields of pink and yellow in green, and he always looked a bit sick after he went outside. The paintin’ stopped and he was a bit difficult to deal with, but once I told him that spring never lasted too long, he was right as rain. The rain came in before too long and changed his mood right around, anyway. He liked the spring rains an awful lot and spent more time outside.
It was around summer time that things started going south. When things started getting hot, he’d get all cranky and fussy and fidgety until I finally told him I wasn’t gonna give him no more food if he didn’t behave, so he shut up for a while and things were okay. But then one mornin’ he’d come down for some grub and he’d be all fussy again, and we’d go through it over again. It was mighty frustrating and though he said he wanted to stay with me, I wasn’t too sure things were gonna keep working out. It’s so hot, he would complain to me for the millionth time. How do you people survive out here? he’d ask. Well, Mr. Devil, I don’t quite reckon I can tell you. We all just do, I suppose, ‘cause we were borned here and it’s home. No place beats home, you know? He would sigh and nod and look all wistful for a moment, and then he’d get up and wander away.
One morning, he came downstairs sweatin’ something terrible and swearing and generally carrying on. Apparently a ‘possum had come in through his window that night, and he was still hot, and he really did look pretty darn hot, like the skin was peeling off his bones. He wasn’t gonna stay here another minute, I could tell, and pretty soon he went upstairs to pack his bags. He shook my hand and thanked me for the time he had spent here, and promised he’d come visit again sometime, and told me I was always welcome to visit him. You know the path to find me, after all, he said with that grin and all his white teeth. And then he was gone, out the door in a rush with his guitar over one shoulder. I swear, I never saw a man move so fast down the road, like the hounds from Hell were chasing him.
I guess Texas was just too hot for the Devil.