Cupid is as Cupid Does
Charles C Cole
I’d been having dreams about my half-rosebush receptionist, Calendula, so vivid it felt as though someone else was projecting them into my mind. I looked out my office window in thought and spotted Cupid hovering about three feet off the ground outside a popular hair salon below, watching the customers spruce themselves up. I quickly joined him. He was not surprised.
“The things they put themselves through,” gushed Cupid, his eyes sparkling with mischief, “just to be a little more attractive to an intimate partner.” He squinted one eye slightly and a woman staring at a magazine of beefy bodybuilders sighed and hugged the publication to her chest.
I frowned in his direction. “Or for a job interview. Or graduation pictures.”
A bright red, embarrassed flush briefly tinted his cheeks. The woman blinked and went back to reading her magazine. Cupid cleared his throat and looked sideways at me. “Or that. It never ceases to amaze me!”
“Even though you often have a hand with inspiring them?” I teased. I took my fedora off and ran my fingers through my hair then settled my hat back on my head. A strand of hair escaped and dangled in my eyes.
“Do I strike you as a venture capitalist?” Cupid glanced about, then lowered his voice and leaned in close. His volume shrank to a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m just a voyeur. I neither invented, nor profited by, the cosmetics industry, the alcohol industry or the surf-and-sun industry.” He straightened back up and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Besides, I can’t be everywhere at once. Don’t blame me.”
I faced him, looked straight down my nose at him and raised both eyebrows. “Maybe they’ve learned from some of your more famous examples.”
He sighed, tired of my prudish reprimand. “Heard you were looking for me, Detective.”
“Is that why you’re hanging out in my neighborhood? Waiting to be discovered? I’ve got a door that opens and closes. Even works for non-humans.”
“I don’t do offices. Something about the tedium smothers my charm offensive.” He curled his lips. “So, here I am, not hiding. Speak your mind.”
I turned and glanced up at my office window, hoping Calendula didn’t see me. She’d made such a difference in my life and here I was confining her to the sweaty fantasies of a teenaged boy. “I’m off my game. Pondering things that’ll only lead to trouble.”
“Thinking outside the box is your oeuvre. What makes this any different?”
“Passionate daydreams with the absolute wrong person at highly inconvenient moments. An intense, not-safe-for-work fantasy right up your twisted alley.”
“Sometimes romantic obsession is organic, I’ve told you. I can’t take credit for every well-intentioned wrong turn, though the credit does tend to, inevitably, come my way.”
He was being evasive. I was not entertained. “I know this is your doing because it’s between a human and an exotic. And only you are ready for that!”
He looked me right in eyes. “There are always exceptions to the rules. Ask Calendula.” I felt the thrust of his accusation.
I was this close to grabbing Cupid by the shoulders and shaking loose the humanity still in him. But it would have been disrespectful, not my MO, and inciting worse retaliation. “Just tell me why you zapped me!” I finally sputtered.
“I rarely kiss and tell; it ruins the mystery.”
So, it was true: my turbulent emotions were not my own. Add a generous dose of mischievous demi-god and stir. Cupid was over-calm in his response, as if he were play-acting for a critical audience watching nearby. I knew better than to look about. Nonetheless, I found his “cool” provoking.
“I know a genie who owes me a wish,” I threatened, through gritted teeth. “I could take away your power.”
He paused, considered, resumed a little more thoughtfully. “Friend, and I consider you a friend, I can no more tell you what to do than you can tell me.”
“Is it true?” I demanded. The words escaped me like a hiss.
“I can neither confirm nor deny my involvement, as your politicians so eloquently put it.”
We were suddenly distracted by a couple arguing. A female customer stormed onto the sidewalk, clearly unhappy with the service. I recognized her as a longtime regular. The owner of the pizzeria was not giving an inch, following her outside as if he could win her back by arguing louder or longer. She tried to leave, but he grabbed her wrist. He pulled her close in an attempted kiss, but she brushed him off. Wounded, he lowered his eyes to his feet, his chin drooping, his hand massaging the nape of his neck. He retreated to the door, then held it open for her return. They went back inside the pizzeria, out of sight.
“You?!” I asked.
“A little intense, but love won,” he responded.
“What happens now?”
“That’s up to them.”
My patience was done. “I believe I asked you once if you’d ever done a job under duress.”
“Did you? Nasty question. I’m nobody’s puppet. Or collaborator. I’m the original free agent. The fun in my work is in the utter randomness.”
“I’m asking again: Have you ever done a job under duress?”
“We’re all capable of doing things we’re not proud of, even me. Sometimes it’s harder to not do something than to do it. The true skill lies in forgiving yourself and moving on without the clunky, guilt-tainted baggage.”
I was desperate. I blurted: “I feel like I’ve been poisoned, betrayed by someone close to me.”
“That sounds dreadful!” said Cupid, looking at me with the grave concern favored by my late grandmother. He placed a surprisingly gentle hand on my shoulder and added: “If it’s what you think, it’ll pass. Don’t be melodramatic. You’ll survive.”
“Why?” My friend shrugged, almost helplessly.
I thought about his previous tragi-comical crush on a nearby human barista. Maybe I could yet distract him enough to loosen his secrets. It was worth a try. “You’re right. I’ve been through worse. Here’s to celebrating survivors! How about coffee? We could see old familiar faces and raise a sentimental toast to human foibles.”
“Can’t. Gave up coffee,” he said, surprising me most that morning. “It wasn’t working for me.”
Fine. Let’s go at this another way. “You’ve got the power to put the whammy on someone. Good for you. It’s a blessing or a curse, depending on other factors. Can you reverse it?”
“I honestly don’t know what that means,” he said.
“Can you make the feeling so overwhelmingly intense that the participants are disgusted by their own behavior, knowing immediately no good can come from it, and the spell shatters?”
“Interesting. Clever. Never tried,” he admitted.
“Try. For me.”
“Joe, I would say self-awareness is the key to the cure. Nobody knows Joe Avery like you do. If something’s out of character, don’t do it.”
I liked Cupid and his Teflon optimism. For the most part the world had not crumbled into chaos over doomed love affairs. I would not have trusted his powers with anyone else. Further, I would much rather have him as an eccentric friend than an impetuous adversary. I decided the best course of action, for all concerned, was to let it go.