The day my father sold his soul, he made us pancakes for breakfast.
This was a habit of his, using food to say ‘I’m sorry’. Over the years, we came to associate sugar with shame and butter with betrayal. Until the age of twenty, my sister was unable to pass a McDonald’s without bursting into tears.
It’s called ‘conditioning’. Or, at least, it is if you’ve studied psychology.
He broke the news causally. “Hey, kids, I’m afraid we’ve run out of clean mugs, so if you want a drink, you’ll have to wash one up. Also, I sold my soul.” For a few minutes, the enormity of the situation didn’t register. Partly because we were still half-asleep - stunned by the thick tendrils of light which crawled lazily over our faces, probing, first tentatively, then forcefully, into our eye sockets, squeezing into the space in our brains occupied by our dreams, forcing the half-formed visions out of our ears - but partly because of our father’s accent. He spoke the way the English think the Americans think the English speak. When he got into arguments, when he turned to walk away, the other guy would beg him to continue.
It’s called ‘charisma’. Or, at least, it is if you like him.
The obvious question came first (as obvious questions so commonly do); what had he sold his soul for? What’s the metaphysical exchange rate like at the moment? Could our father play guitar now? Did Peter Cook grant him seven wishes? The answer was so far below whelming that the region of underwhelming appeared as a small dot if we craned our necks, and used a pair of binoculars. Our father had sold his sold his soul for a pint of milk and a packet of blue rizzlas. Not to the devil. To Tesco’s.
Every little helps.
“Basically,” he said, “I was at the self-checkout. The stage where you have to say how you want to pay. Well, instead of selecting cash, or card, I accidentally pressed ‘intangible spiritual essence.’”
“Couldn’t you press to go back?”
“Oh, yeah, sure I could”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t have any change.”
Our father turned back to the stove, ladling another spoon of batter into the pan. No-one spoke. The sound of a metal spatula on non-stick coating cast a shadow on the air.
It’s called ‘awkward silence’. Or, at least, it would be, if calling it something wouldn’t defeat the point.
“Do you feel any different?”
“Not really. But when I went to leave, the automatic doors wouldn’t open for me. I had to wait for someone else to walk past, and follow them out”
“Is that all?”
“It’s probably unrelated, but I can also speak French now”
“Did you get a receipt?”
“Why don’t you get a refund?”
“I thought of that. It would make sense. But I can’t”
“The milk’s been used.”
He set the pancake down on the table.