I was playing marbles with Lisa Perkins in the front drive and mum was hanging out washing in the back garden when the Devil moved next door.
He didn’t look like your archetypal image of Old Nick. When the Devil moved into 84 Primrose Avenue he looked quite young and dashing.
Mrs Jagger had lived at number 84 before him. She’d gone to stay with relatives because she’d fallen over so many times. She hadn’t been particularly religious as far as I was aware, never a regular church-goer, but I don’t think she’d have liked the idea of Satan himself moving into her old home. She’d always kept a tidy house.
‘Good morning!’ the Devil said cheerily. ‘I’m your new neighbour.’
‘Hi,’ said Lisa, and I couldn’t believe how calm she sounded.
Satan’s eyes – which were a murky hazel rather than fire-red – rested on my rigid face for a second, before he let himself into Mrs Jagger’s old house, shutting the door behind him.
Number 84 and our house – number 82 – were chalet houses, which meant the front doors were at the side, and facing each other. Only a low brick wall separated the two driveways, and during Mrs Jagger’s time there, I had often jumped this and let myself into her house, calling out ‘it’s only me!’ so she wouldn’t panic. She would always be sitting in her armchair, white hair peeking above the backrest, American tan tights pulled up just past the hem of her tweed skirt. She seemed to always be watching cricket – whatever time of year – and there were only three channels back then.
She would have seen that our new neighbour was the Devil – she was a good judge of character. Unfortunately, no-one else spotted it. In fact, most of the people of Primrose Avenue took a real shine to him – particularly the females and two men at number 69.
But what they failed to see when they admired his thick dark hair and lightly tanned skin, his ability to look effortlessly stylish in fashions of the 70s that made everyone else look ridiculous; was the black, swirling aura that clung to him like an oil slick. It was the blackest, densest most toxic substance I had ever seen, and although my experience of seeing auras was limited, I knew it could mean only one thing - the Devil had moved next door to me and mum.
I came home from school one Tuesday to find the Devil sitting at the dinner table. He grinned at me as I entered the room. His teeth were unnervingly white. He looked like one of the impossibly amicable men from my mother’s knitting patterns – even the striped tank-top he was wearing looked like something my mother would knit – but without the imperfections.
‘Hello, Daniel,’ he said. ‘I popped round to borrow some sugar.’
‘There’s a shop two minutes up the road that sells loads of sugar,’ I said, throwing my school bag in the corner of the room.
‘Daniel!’ my mother was standing in the doorway between the dining-room and the kitchen. She was carrying a floral patterned tray on which sat a pot of tea, two cups, on saucers and a plate of biscuits.
‘I’ve never seen that teapot before,’ I said.
‘Of course you have,’ said my mum, flashing me a warning glance before setting the tray down on the table. As she leaned across the Devil, her shoulder passed through the vile aura and I winced. I half expected her blouse to burn. But she straightened up apparently unscathed.
I noticed she wasn’t wearing her usual headscarf and her blonde hair had been unleashed, big curls frothing around her plump face. She was also wearing lipstick – something she hadn’t bothered with since my dad had died.
I began to wonder if the Devil’s visit was as impromptu as he’d claimed.
I’d known a man might eventually try and replace my dad, but I hadn’t expected it to be so soon, and I’d never imaged the man would be Satan.
‘Adam says he’ll help you mend your bike if you want,’ said mum, sitting next to the Devil and pouring tea for them both.
‘There’s nothing wrong with my bike,’ I said.
‘It has a flat front tyre and a broken chain,’ said Satan. ‘I saw it on my way over, lying in your driveway.’
‘It was fine when I left for school!’ I stomped to the front door and up the driveway to my Raleigh Racer, which was in the state described by the Devil. And I knew who had vandalised it.
‘It was you, wasn’t it?’ I stood in front of him with my arms folded, scowling.
‘Daniel!’ my mother was on her feet, as if I had suddenly burst into flames and needed extinguishing.
‘It’s okay, Gill,’ said the Devil. ‘I should go.’
‘But your tea,’ mum looked from the Devil’s passive face to the steaming cups and back again. In that split second Satan had managed to flash me a look of hatred, which was switched off the moment my mother’s eyes settled on him again.
‘We’ll do it another time. I think Daniel wants to spend some time alone with his mummy.’
I knew what he was doing, trying to rile me by treating me like a baby, so I forced myself to stand firm, hugging myself into submission, until mum had shown the Devil to the door.
I was sent to my room for the rest of the evening, to ‘think about how rude I’d been. It meant something in those days to be sent to your room. I didn’t even have a portable TV, let alone a computer or a mobile phone.
Before I went to sleep I prayed, which I didn’t do often, but these were extreme circumstances.
‘Dear God,’ I murmured. ‘I think Satan fancies my mum, and I think she quite likes him too. Please can you do something? Amen.’
But the Devil kept coming back. I started to notice items of his creeping into our home – a book left open on the arm of the sofa; a red scarf hanging like freshly butchered meat from a hook in the hallway; a paisley patterned cravat draped across the back of a chair. He even made that look stylish.
And then, one Saturday morning, I found him urinating in the bathroom, dressed in my mother’s pink bathrobe. Even Satan couldn’t carry this look off.
He grinned over his shoulder at me, still pissing. ‘Morning Daniel. Sleep well?’
I backed away, mouth ajar, then turned and fled through the front door.
Out of habit, I leapt the low brick wall that separated our house from his, and something caught my eye. Mrs Jagger’s key was in the lock of the front door to number 84. I knew it was her key and not the Devil’s because she kept it on a key ring with a fob shaped like a yellow duck.
I couldn’t remember climbing the step to the front door of number 84, but I had and the yellow duck key fob was right in front of me. I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see the Devil framed in the door of my house, black aura squirming around the pink robe, but he had probably slipped back into bed beside my mother. This thought alone was enough to make me turn the key and enter number 84.
‘Only me!’ I called for old times’ sake.
‘Come in!’ came Mrs Jagger’s familiar voice.
My heart hammered and I stood nailed to the spot.
‘Mrs Jagger?’ I called, my fingers still gripping the key in its lock.
‘Yes! Come in!’ she sounded impatient.
It was as if The Devil had never moved in. Mrs Jagger’s belongings filled the room – her jumble of ornaments lined up on the mantelpiece – chipped china dogs, a cracked mirror with a gold ornate frame, and an assortment of wooden animals; her musty smelling sofa and armchair – green cushions breathing out clouds of dust whenever someone sat on them – were all in their usual positions; and so was Mrs Jagger. Her fluffy head poked up just above the back of her armchair and I noticed how her white hair shone almost like a halo. The TV was showing a cricket match.
‘I know this is weird,’ she said. ‘But just go with it.’
‘Sit down and take some deep breaths.’
‘We need to talk about Satan and how to get rid of him.’
‘The agreement was that we would both live as humans for a couple of months – just to remind ourselves what it was like,’ explained Mrs Jagger, as she sipped tea from a chipped cup with a flower design. ‘He had a house in Sweetcroft Lane – much nicer than this place – and I came here and created myself a persona and a past.’
‘But I’ve known you for years,’ I insisted.
‘No you haven’t. A man called Bill Wigmore lived here before me. I just made people forget. It wasn’t hard. He didn’t have any family or friends. The Devil did the same. Moved into a house that was empty, a bit of trickery and everyone thought he’d lived there for ages. But the deal was we didn’t get too involved and we only stayed a couple of months, then we either made people forget we’d ever existed or created a plausible reason for leaving. He went back on the deal. I should never have trusted him. But we both felt we needed to find out what had gone wrong at grassroots level.’
I tried to say something, but no words would come out.
‘Have a sip of tea, Daniel,’ suggested Mrs Jagger.
The warm brew did the trick and I managed to croak: ‘So he really is the Devil, and you’re….’
‘Bloody angry,’ said Mrs Jagger, hoisting her short, stout frame out of the chair. ‘It’s bad enough he stayed past the agreed date, but to move into my house! Well, I’ve thrown him out of my home once before, and I’ll do it again.’
‘What if I don’t want to go?’
We both turned to see the Devil standing in the living-room doorway. He had changed out of my mother’s bathrobe into a pair of flared jeans and a loud shirt with large cuffs. It looked good on him.
‘We both know you broke the rules,’ said Mrs Jagger, straightening her tweed skirt and picking a piece of fluff from her pink blouse. ‘The deal was we lived as humans for two months and then went back to doing what we do. We also agreed not to get involved.’
‘And how are you supposed to learn what it’s like to be human if you don’t get involved?’ demanded Satan. ‘Being human isn’t about standing on the sidelines, staying neutral. It’s about feeling – love, hate, loss, pain, sorrow – what did you learn about the human condition by sitting in a chair all day watching TV?’
The Devil did have a point.
‘I’m sick of existing in some ethereal place, never directly interfering. Becoming human wasn’t just a game for me, I really want it. I want to live and die like a real person. I want to have a relationship and I want to have some influence over this boy’s life. You can make that happen can’t you? You can make me a real human – not this fake shell of a person with a shelf life of a few months. Please let me live. Let me get involved.’
‘Is this some convoluted plan to get back into Heaven?’ asked Mrs Jagger. ‘Live a sinless life and slip through the pearly gates like nothing ever happened?’
‘I’ve no intention of being sinless,’ said Satan. ‘Like I said, I want to live. I’m giving you permission to make me human. Think how much easier that would make your job.’
Mrs Jagger looked pensive.
Satan officially moved in with us six months after arriving in Primrose Avenue. He didn’t look quite as dashing any more. His lush hair had thinned and his tan faded, despite the hot summer. He also seemed to have developed a bit of a belly which meant horizontal stripes no longer complemented him.
But mum seemed happy and he didn’t interfere in my life too much.
Mum and Satan were married in the spring of 1977.
It was a registry office do. Mum didn’t want a big fuss the second time around.
If you enjoyed this story, check out the much longer novella of the same name. I enjoyed writing this story so much, I expanded it by around 20,000 words, adding lots more details about the Devil's evil, often deadly, antics during that hellishly hot summer.
Here's a link if you're interested.