Pet Names by Nikki Bausch

Photo by Hector Bermudez on Unsplash

You are Dolly and Mousey, and Bunny, and others. With each new pet name that he gave you, you used to imagine yourself experiencing a quick metamorphosis into that animal or object. Now, you’re nothing, because he fancies himself everything at once—a God, a Man, Lucifer, and he thinks he can strike you from existence. You are his secret—he had said it was necessary because of his fame. He said it was for your protection.

“You wouldn’t want any stalkers, would you,” he would say, insisting you lie about who you were with in the evening. “No pictures. No nothing.”

Now, you see him sending some flowers to a new girl, who shares it all for the world to see.

“Look at me,” she says. “My skin is so clear. I am so beautiful. The Devil sends me flowers. You can be like me too if you buy my Lipsticks.”

He says he knows about the Lipstick Witch’s public outbursts, the ever-growing library of selfies the Lipstick Witch posts online. He says he doesn’t care. She’s special. Different.

“She’s not you,” he says, “She’s more real to me. I can be seen with her.”

You wonder what it is about you that has to be so secret. Is it your brown hair and black eyes? Is it how small you are? Are you not curvy enough? Too pale? Too what? You stare at the Lipstick Witch’s selfies looking for imperfections. Blonde hair, blue eyes, fake lips, fake breasts. She is Perfection in front of a picturesque backdrop of the Swiss Alps in all of them—an illusion like your whole sense of self-worth.

“You are not enough, because you cannot make even the majesty of the mountains more beautiful with your presence,” he says, like a smack.

He never sent you flowers. He never took you traveling on the weekends. He was always in a hurry, and if you weren’t interested in doing what he wanted, then “you could always leave.” You didn’t see the trick the Devil was playing on you, because you were too busy being Dolly, or Mousey, or Rabbit. You are too stupid for your own good in these forms—quit dumbing yourself down. You let him destroy you.

Well, no more, you decide. You shall vanquish him—this demon, or whatever he is. You bet he isn’t the Devil really, just a wannabe incubus.

Dolly

There is darkness and silence, except for the whip of a breeze. For a second, you think you’re traveling in a tunnel. You sway like you’re floating on waves, body vibrating. The whisper of the breeze fades away, as you awake, changing to the murmur of two men conversing. You dream of this moment every night—this morning with the Devil. How can you vanquish him when he is so deep in your head? The moment in time plays out like a scene from a daytime soap opera. Someone is stroking your hair and calling your name. You dream you’ve opened your eyes and you’re looking up at him, Lucifer. He is smiling. It’s the morning after your first panic attack in front of him. He has handled it better than you expected him to the night before.

He sits with you for a bit, touching you in a way that you are tricked to think is gentle, stroking your hair. You want him to hold you. He isn’t the kind of person to do such sentimental gestures, though. He calls you Dolly that day. The other man is hurling insults at you. But you are still half-asleep, so you ignore him. Lucifer is standing up for you, attacking one of his most loyal followers on your behalf. You think it is too good to be true—that someone so famous would think so highly of you. You think he’s saving you.

Aurel leaves for breakfast. It doesn’t matter what Aurel thinks of you, because you’re there to do Lucifer’s bidding—to promote his life’s work, as is the other worthless, mean one. The Devil chose you to take on tour because he saw potential in you, he said.

“It would be a pity if you let Aurel get the best of you,” Lucifer reminds you. “Now, it is time to get up.” He sits back, refusing you further comfort. He rips the covers from you. You think he is being playful. He laughs as you shiver. The window is open and it’s a cold day in Vienna. In the dream, you are wearing the pink and red baby doll nighty set he picked out for you shortly before the tour started. He always says you look the best in those colors.

He watches you. You stand in front of a mirror on the wall in the corner, brushing your hair. You can see him smirking behind you. You think you’ve won something, in that moment. As you relive the dream every night, you feel a pang of regret. You wish you hadn’t sworn to vanquish him. You even miss him.

Mousey

He doesn’t remember you before a show from two years ago—his show. He doesn’t remember the time you sat with him after he was born again and weak from fighting. He could have been gone for good. He won the battle but lost his mortality, reborn into this demonic, inhuman form you know now.

Now it is another show, in a countryside surrounded by flowers and windmills, and more souls to recruit coming from near and far. You wonder how you could have been blind to the fact that he’s been undead this whole time, mummified before you.

He sits in the lobby of the concert hall, after his performance. You approach him and ask if he remembers you from the other shows, from the studio when you were there working on things too. He hesitates. Of course, he does not remember you. You know this.

“Sure,” he says, smirking. You know now he smirks when he’s lying. You knew then too, but you didn’t want to see it. You wanted it to be true that he could remember you.

“May I keep you company,” you ask.

He gestures to a metal chair next to him. “Sit.” You do as he says. You two talk about nothing for the rest of the evening. At the end of the night, you exchange information, “For business,” he says. He doesn’t take you to the hotel with him, which is fine because you have your own nice bed and breakfast in that tiny, Dutch town and he is supposed to be devoted to another girl—a Golden Goddess, who he first called Dolly. In this moment, you are Mousey—his loyal fan, celebrating his return from the dead. You are supposed to be small, compared to his greatness. That’s why he kept calling you that. You decide to take it as a term of endearment, which—you suppose—could potentially also have been endearment in his own way. He still thinks it’s cute how happy you are to see him, how you’ve been hanging on to every word he’s said. You are a novelty to him.

For many years, you would replay this moment in your head, embellishing so that you remember him as funnier, more interesting, and most of all more enamored with you.  

Bunny

You are Bunny, hopping around bubbly backstage after the gig. You are tipsy on rum, spinning around playing a game you made up called, “Do I know you? No, I don’t know you,” where you point to all the strangers, the friends-of-friends, and acquaintances of staff and promoters who are crammed in the tiny, concrete room between two leather sofas and a mini fridge. Nobody notices your game, because everyone else is drunk and all talking at the same time. The Devil paces, neurotic, and you know what it means. He is overwhelmed. You stop your game, your spinning around, your pestering of the cute, new disciple—a much younger version of Lucifer. He is half-listening in to your game but pretending like he doesn’t care as he tends to his guitar. After all, he must compete with you too.

You tap the Devil on his muscular arm. He spins around like you had been, except angry. “What is it?” He towers over you, eyes blazing.

“Is everything fine?” You ask.

He sneers. “Who are you to ask me that?”

Lucifer stomps off, slamming the door before his cult can follow along.

It’s silent suddenly. You realize everyone is staring at you, eyes wide, like they all are thinking the same thing; “is He coming back?” No one ever asks.

About The Author

Nikki Bausch is from St. Louis, Missouri. She is a USTA/Fulbright Austria and Rotary Youth alumna and has been pursuing her masters studies in Vienna, Austria. She is also a visual artist currently working on a cemetery documentation project of temporary graves and tombs. Her written work has appeared most recently in Burnt Breakfast, Pank, Perhappened, and is forthcoming in Peculiars, and Cauldron Anthology. She also writes in German and translates from Czech to English.

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