The long walk presents him with a delicious opportunity for meditation and the novelty of repetitive motion seems to make thinking easier than it has been for days. Confusion seems to dissipate with every step he takes.
His mind, which is occupied by the confusion of seeing his old home in flames craves the catharsis of solitude and distance. But it’s not distance from the world he wants, no, he knows that seeing the right faces can help but he needs distance from parts of himself. Distance from choices he once thought to be the right ones. And the answers to the questions those choices pose might be in the darkest places he knows – the minds of the monsters who lurk in the night.
And while he’s on his way to see one of the angels he knows, it seems the demons whose touch has burnt him before might make those choices right again.
His pace is steady and purposeful but slow as usual. The impressions that torment him this night move faster than his feet and his heart is resigned to letting them overwhelm him. This is how he deals with undesirable states, by facing them and suffering them properly.
The anguish he endures tonight makes him ignore calls from his business partner, who understandably wants to talk about the project. He can’t bring himself to want to think about what the project shows him. Revelations of human evil and depravity make the minds of his demons more acceptable, less vicious than the world pretends they are. He needs the solace their company offers.
A different call from a former lover, strangely, reminds him of the old man on the red tricycle he saw in the afternoon. The old man’s bliss, his apparent serenity still render him envious.
The call with Michelle, which he took believing it would distract him, ends quickly. All the promises of pleasure don’t arouse him, a dull thought occurs that his body may not work how she needs it to work. Hers is not one of the faces he wants to see tonight, anyway, and it hasn’t been for a while.
He recalls having to tell Danielle about the old man in the red tricycle. “I wanted to be him,” are the words he uses to describe his experience of him to her. Her adorable reply makes him hopeful about what he learns daily, that there are good reasons to see bad things. That understanding humanity’s worst sins can help him find those who need saving.
And then, when a tear of relief runs down his face a cold, brisk wind forces his eyes to close. It is as if the night is telling him to save his tears for when they are necessary. As if the wind wants to remind him that there is still too much to see and understand – that his promises to find those who need saving cannot be broken.
But the wind brings more than the realisation of his inner power and the promise of clarity, it brings with it a voice that is all too typical to those times he’s contemplated his suffering before.
As is the case with all the times he’s prayed for consolation, it is the Devil who answers.
“Why do you want to be him?” Asks the Devil now walking beside him.
“Because he’s blissful, and he moves slowly. He’s happy,” he replies with the confidence one affords a trusted friend.
“Is he?” Asks the Devil, “are you sure that’s what you saw?” He continues to ask.
“Look again,” commands the Devil, and as if taking control of his fractured mind, brings him back to the moment he saw the old man riding a red tricycle. The window of his car glistening in the sunshine, its engine humming softly, and the world of corruption speaking to him through his phone.
“What you saw,” submits the Devil, “was a man who moved slowly because he can’t go faster. You saw a man whose resignation to observe the near end of his life you confused with peace. A man who longs to be released from a life he can hardly bear.”
In his memory, he focuses on the old man’s face, which is, as the Devil says, peacefully sad.
“Understand that what you saw is a reminder of possible timelines you’re loath to entertain.” Says the Devil in a deeply reassuring tone. “And understand that the consistency of this reminder makes your burden of obligation a sweet gift from which you cannot want relief. You will never again want to abandon the noble chances you’ve come upon in life, lest you become a hypocrite in the eyes of those who matter most to you. Lest, worst of all, you become an impostor to yourself.”
“What you saw,” continues the Devil, “is a projection of your need for rest, and you deserve it, but there are those who deserve your promises – keep them – it is the only way you will become the blissful old man you wanted to see on that red tricycle.’
The memory of the old man and his red tricycle fades as he returns to the cold of the night. There are no tears, at least no need for them registers in his mind. The Devil’s words ring true and any judgment of the old man’s circumstances is inadequate. He doesn’t know enough to see if the old man is happy, but being unable to move fast is undesirable. Even more offensive, is the thought of reaching old age with the regret of dishonouring the noble chances he has happened upon in life.
What will he tell Nicole, that faithful and consistent presence, that angel he’s walking towards? “The truth,” he says answering his own question out loud and laughing at his abstraction of the Devil, which has now left him.
The answers to the questions his choices pose were, after all, in the darkest place he knows – his own mind.
He moves forward to assemble his team and make the project what it needs to be. He’s heard of a very special human who can lead him where he wants to go – he calls Dee Steinberg to arrange the meeting.
— The Devil Unbound