Conjunctions:74 Grendel’s Kin: The Monsters Issue

A few years ago a friend of mine married a demon. There was a liberal in the White House then and everyone was feeling pretty sanguine.

The demon’s name was Fulmious Mannerhorn Patterlully, and he was approximately 200,001 years old. His legs were blue, his eyes were yellow, he had to gnaw at his own fingernails all day to keep them a reasonable length. He did not wear pants with notable frequency. He was intelligent, gregarious, undying.

My friend was twenty-eight. She was a human girl.

We’d always known about demons. They were the necessary, baleful entities that stood on the porches of history, holding up the roofs of civilization with their knotted backs. They were the reason that the past was visible to us at all.

People kept complimenting my friend on her choice of partner—and I know you get it too. Although people did not say so in so many words, what they meant was that my friend now partook of the powers of the demon FMP, without having to experience any of the drawbacks associated with actual demonhood. The demon FMP could (and, presumably, would) share with my friend his occult understanding of the stock market, his ability to produce fire on demand, his talent for translating himself into a fine mist. He liked to hang, shimmering, from the ceilings of crowded subways, for example. He enjoyed magnetizing coins and possessing small dogs, speaking to us in funny voices through their squinty wet faces. He was an expert in the objectification of souls and had a long-standing social network.

And this was good for my friend. But the demon FMP alone experienced that terrible period in April when demons undergo new growth in their horns, not to mention the insidious agony that comes of eternal life.

My friend seemed to understand the trade-offs, as well as society’s position on the matter. She took it all in stride. “I know he’s an infernal demiurge, but he’s actually just a nice guy.”

Everyone grinned hard.

My friend wasn’t talking to us anyway. She was describing her own happiness, which had its limits. We wanted to believe that she knew more than we did, but, in truth, even my friend did not know where things were going to go.


Now, my friend had mentioned to me, at some point during the time when she was engaged to the venerable FMP but not yet married, that there is a little-known fact about demons, which is that they have two different names, or sets of names, given FMP’s tripart moniker. There is the name by which they are known to humans, and the one by which they are known amongst themselves. My friend said that at some point during a certain particularly poignant night of passion and spooning, the demon FMP had let slip the fact of the existence of his other name, his real name, the name by which he was known among demons.

“It must be hard,” I said, “going all those millennia.”

She was reserved. “I’m not his first human, you know.”

I was doing my best not to imagine whatever it was that transpired between my friend and her supernatural other on the carnal plane. “So, what is it?”

“You mean, his real name?”

I nodded.

My friend seemed to contemplate my lack of inhibition. It wasn’t the same thing as rudeness, and I think that she was wondering if one day this lack of tact would destroy me—or if, because of it, I was destined to live an unusual life.

I kept going. I said, “Wasn’t I there that night you recited Shakespeare to Thom Velez in the motel hot tub? Didn’t I hold your hair until 9:00 a.m.?”

My friend blushed. I could tell she loved me.

“Won’t I be there,” I pursued, “after everything, even when he’s gone?”

“But you realize”—my friend was daintily reaching for her phone— “that he’s never going to, um, your euphemism, ‘be gone’?”

My friend thumbed through something or other.

“I’ll die before him,” my friend continued, gazing into her iPhone 8, which was encased in a piece of plastic designed to resemble marble. “You know?”

So she never did tell me her fiancé’s demon name.

But I still found out. I’m sure you understand I always do.

It was after their wedding. I was in the supermarket, the one at the corner of              and            , assessing the rows of cherry tomatoes. I lifted multiple pints, gazed up into their see-through bottoms searching for fuzz. And then there, suddenly, FMP was. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, it was the blueness of his legs, which appeared weirdly white or violet in the afternoon light. He was tearing pieces off a glistening Danish, popping them into his maw as he engaged a young artist whom I recognized as the subject of a recent Artforum pick in a lazy chat pertaining to the shop and, one had to assume, eternal damnation.

FMP was staring right at me.

I stared right back.

I knew it was weird but I couldn’t help myself. I directed my gaze firmly and robustly back to the bottom of the tomato container I was holding up. I knew very well it was the wrong thing to do. An ambitious parent had long ago instructed me, specifically and in detail, never to look demons in their eyes and look away again without acknowledging the encounter. It was a gross offense. But this was exactly what I had done. FMP had seen me, and I had seen his yellow eyes, which basked calmly and yellowly in their furred sockets. I recalled that line of Edgar Allan Poe’s, “And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.” It’s from “The Raven,” something I once memorized in an institutional context. I often remark to myself regarding Poe’s dorky specificity in this phrase: His eyes (the raven’s) have the appearance of a demon’s (eyes), and, meanwhile, the demon, and not his eyes, is dreaming. . . . Because grammar and syntax are real, don’t you know! Life is not all about magic and deities, even if it sometimes seems like it is, whether due to one’s liquid laudanum habit (have a nice jar of it on your afternoon stroll and get ready to unleash some neo-Gothic lyrics) or one’s best friend’s marriage to a certain minion of Dis. There are facts and rules. Edgar Allan Poe, for one, understood that you do need to know whether it’s the demon who’s dreaming, or just the eyes of said demon. He would never have been so stupid as to do what I just did.

Anyway, there I was staring into the glossy redness of miniature tomatoes, themselves not unlike a bunch of disembodied eyes, when I smelled FMP’s sulfurous approach.

“Well, hello,” said he.

I laughed weakly. “Just researching the ways of very small nightshades!”

FMP reacted with solemnity. “Of course.” It was always difficult to ascertain if he might be joking, and at this moment the ambiguity was daunting, slimy. “I thought I’d say ‘hi.’” FMP smiled, releasing a fascinating, hideous stench from between his peg-like teeth. “By the way, it’s come to my attention that there was something you wanted to know.”

I was sure I did not know what he meant.

“About me? Or have you forgotten so soon? I was extremely touched that you were interested in my True Name.”
The way he said it, it had to be capitalized.

“Um, not sure?”

“Oh no. You’re sure, you shallow wretch. Even if I were not the life partner of a being with whom you are bonded through shared trauma, nearly identical socioeconomic standing and level of physical attractiveness, as well as geographic proximity, I’d still know. It was obvious in your desperate attempt to avoid this very encounter. You’re a coward,” FMP told me. “Yet it alleviates the torment of my archaic burden somewhat to watch you squirm. Thank you for that. I like your superficially independent, spineless style, you immature female specimen,” and here he also reeled off my credit score, Social Security number, number of porcelain versus gold tooth fillings, and the date on which I was currently scheduled to die.

It’s not, by the way, like this was an anomalous encounter with FMP. He was constantly like this, reminding you of your mortality plus vulnerability to identity theft. A lot of people seemed to find this charming, a cool party trick, but it had occurred to me that this behavior must have been going on with him for centuries if not geologic eras, and I didn’t find FMP all that original, even in his omniscience.

“Right again,” said I.

FMP glittered with malice. All his hairs stuck out. He was having a great time. “I know,” he let me know, “that you want what’s mine.”

I shrugged but had to go fondle some nearby fennel in order to hide the trembling in my hands.

“I’m going to tell you my True Name,” FMP whisper-shouted. “Then you will know it!” It was all extremely mechanical and ancient. It was the best and the most unpleasant thing. It is such an event to speak with a demon! “My True Name,” FMP hissed across a heap of broccoli rabe, “is 27.”

“Wait,” I said, “what?”

“Twenty-seven,” FMP repeated.

“As in the number?”

FMP looked annoyed. “No, it just sounds like that.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Twenty-seven?” I repeated.

FMP, aka 27, was glancing around the store. He seemed concerned that he had made a mistake.

“Twenty-seven,” I muttered to myself. “Twenty-seven.” I couldn’t believe it. I think I must have wandered unceremoniously off, because the next thing I can remember I was standing on the sidewalk. And if you thought my encounter with FMP/27 was startling, which, granted, it was, I don’t quite know how to explain the subsequent scenario.

It was how he looked, because that’s always part of it. But that wasn’t all. There was also this quality about him, a kind of unbelievability, and I think I can point to it in this moment, when it was still fresh. I was probably squinting into a device, trying to refresh my email.

“Hi,” he said. “Sorry to bother you. Were you just in the market over there?” Note that he did not say “supermarket,” just “market.” Note also that he was an otherworldly being. Now that he was present, the light seemed not to originate in the sky but rather from somewhere inside of him. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. “Many apologies.” It’s impossible to describe his voice. It was soft, delicately wilted, but also it was like the mighty crash of apocalyptic hailstorms, jet engines, stampeding mares.

I nodded. Probably I made one of those incoherent noises of assent that have become so popular in postwar America. “Yeah,” I said. “Unhuhn. Mmhmm. Heh!” I was a moron, typical of my time.

The being smiled. “I thought it was you. I’d like to speak with you. I’d like to know you.” Please note how this was extremely direct. He was tactless, just like me.

Maybe I had the wherewithal to reply in words. I dearly hope I did. At any rate, somehow it came to pass that a week later we were having coffee.

And isn’t it clear by now? He was the exact opposite and equal of FMP/27. Oh, the symmetry! Oh dear God! Oh how fearful! How precise! He was an actual angel, and his name was Eric.

Eric was subtle at first. To be fair, we did establish during our second encounter that I was an acquaintance, if not quite ally, of FMP. Eric built that fact out like a custom cabana, a dell we could retire to should we run out of things to say. And it was true that in the beginning Eric did not push me. This was likely much of the secret to his success, that he did a host of other things, but he did not push. I do sometimes wonder, which parts of what occurred were due to Eric’s immutable role within the cosmos, and which had to do with something similar to free will, perhaps the portion of it belonging to me, a minor anthropomorphic pleat in the fabric of eternity? Was any of it, I keep asking myself, “for” me, a human girl?

I, for my part, was twenty-nine and, like everyone else these days, a product of the Enlightenment. I believed that dating (along with everything else) occurred in a wide, wide, secular zone. Sure, there might be devils and angels and true believers, but what did that really matter, now that we had the news? Everything was basically all about information, who possessed it, who didn’t. So, there might be some level at which Eric could bring about my salvation, but that was just one piece of the puzzle, and I was actually more interested in whether he might be privy to anything proprietary regarding me or relevant others: sensitive thoughts, secrets, insecurities, lusts.

The idea of the network, as described in Gottfried Leibniz’s 1714 tract, La Monadologie, pretty much the number one guide to dating ever in the history of the West, furnishes a useful description:

To the extent that I comprehend it, in Leibniz’s conception the world is made up of various shiny, translucent cells (“monads”), and each of these cells can perceive other cells, its own unique identity being constituted by its various perceptions of these infinitely various others. If any one monad depends on something external to itself, then it depends on others, an infinite number of them, and not just an other, since it is only by virtue of the many, the perceptions they provide, that there is such a thing as a one.

If you’re with me so far, let’s make an inference. I think it might be interesting to ask what the responsibility of one monad is to another. I think we can safely say they owe each other everything and also nothing. For what can be the meaning of a pair, a couple, in a structural environment such as this—I mean, for just two monads, given the propensity to reflect and just, like, go on reflecting? What are they to each other?

You can imagine that, if it works for monads that they get their identity by having a unique perspective on all other monads, then if you take two of them and sequester them somewhere (say, Eric’s so-so apartment) in order that they only have each other to work with, the effects are crazy. Each of these two monads, now isolated as a couple, can only take its respective identity from reflecting the other. If we slow the process down such that we can look at it step by step, in time we see something like, monad A reflects monad B, and vice versa (they each become the other, A→BR, B→AR). In step 2, they then each reflect themselves as the other, so if monad A has already become BR and B has become AR, then in the second glance they are BR→ARR and AR→BRR. This can go on for a very long time.

While I’m not saying that this is really what happens in romantic relationships, it might be what people have a tendency to think is going on. This is also how they decide who is the bad person in the relationship and who is the good. Of course, given the monadical model, they’re basically the same person, if not entirely composed of each other. However, few couples recognize this simple point. There’s always one person who wants to feel worse about themself, and this, my secular Enlightenment–inheriting friends, makes all the difference.

But Eric and I didn’t talk about ethics or psychology or the structure of the cosmos. He was an angel and thus already good.
I was, as noted, but a human girl.

Eric rented a junior one bedroom. And indeed it was so-so, but it overlooked a park where some of the few birds that continue to inhabit New York City sang. I remember the first time that I learned that the etymology of “angel” brings us to a Greek word for messenger, go-between. It makes sense. Demon is more insoluble. It was inherited wholesale and just means “demon,” though without some of the negative connotation. I often wondered if Eric had looked these histories up too, or if he knew what these terms meant innately, without research.

Eric had a job. By this I mean he went to work every day at a small IT company with an office overlooking the Holland Tunnel. I think this was part of the reason why people were so much bigger on the sort of relationship my friend and FMP had. FMP was completely consumed by his role as a tempter of souls and artisan of fate. He was vaguely famous and didn’t require a day job. I’m not trying to say that, as an angel, Eric was some kind of excessively dreamy idealist—it’s just not entirely clear what he and his team were trying to do.

Eric bought all his clothes from AmazonBasics. He was often online. Far from being tactless these days, sometimes he did not speak at all. He went down to the park. He watched.

I pondered Eric’s muscular, winged form. It was often walking away from me. He was a sort of intergalactic male model, I thought: quiet, strong, chrononautic.

To return for a moment to the shape of the world: in an early essay, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” the great twentieth-century critic and mystic Walter Benjamin maintains, on the one hand, “Every expression of human mental life can be understood as a kind of language,” and, on the other, “Speechlessness: that is the great sorrow of nature . . .” In Benjamin’s account, nature mourns the incompleteness of human speech, its petty enumerative names. Speechless herself, nature receives the story of the creative word of Genesis, turning a melancholy face toward mankind, who can only supply a “hundred languages . . . in which the name has already withered, yet which, according to God’s pronouncement, have knowledge of things.” I found myself thinking a lot about this notion, in those days of Eric, who was so graceful and perfect and taciturn. In other words, I found myself thinking about how everything regarding human systems for organizing the world is basically fallen and repetitious. This was weird for a number of reasons but primarily it was weird because, you know, the Enlightenment! We’re not supposed to have these sorts of thoughts anymore.

Also we’re all supposed to be OK with the notion that we can’t fully know one another. I think about it like this: Leibniz says that the irony of being human is that you’re just like everyone else. You have all the same stuff everyone else has, just in a different order. The reason it is in a different order is that you have some sort of discrete origin, you were born in a time and place and that’s what makes you, you. This difference is arbitrary and the system is designed in this completely infuriating way that makes it impossible to know about it—which is to say, your difference—as a kind of content. Which is why medieval Europeans all look like dolls in their paintings. There wasn’t anything unknowable about them. They were the puppets of God, and they didn’t have psychology or newspapers.

However, one of the few interesting things about being a woman is maybe the Enlightenment didn’t happen for you. Like, you know how to speak and read and participate in democracy, but maybe you aren’t really any better off. There are analogies between being female and being left-handed, I think, or being an animal. While I was with Eric, I thought a lot about the limits of psychology—or, as I privately referred to it now, “monad chatter.” Monad chatter is going on in the world and meanwhile the world sits glumly by. We monads cannot get over the fact that we can’t fully know one another. We’ll surveil each other until the cows come home and pretend it’s for marketing or science or spy craft. But really all this data is just a burnt offering to a god who withdrew long ago, leaving us the mute earth and also the vestiges of good and evil. And I guess we’re free to care about, or even date, these vestiges, if we so choose. . . .
As time went on, things were more and more placid and even quieter, but on occasion I caught Eric looking at me in a certain way. It was hard to say what sort of way this was because, having managed to fall deeply in love with him, I was more than a little confused.

“He’s not the marrying kind,” my friend said. “He dresses like an undercover cop.”

I assumed she was jealous or in some other way annoyed by my righteous mode of affiliating myself with the deific. Also, I had begun to consider her immoral. Why was she consorting with a demon when we all knew demons were the one thing rendering this perfect universe impure?

My friend, meanwhile, was looking up at me with a mixture of recognition and pity. “So I guess you’re going to play this one out to the bitter end?”

“I guess so!” I yelped, pitying her right back.

When I got home from the New American Restaurant that evening, home now being Eric’s so-so apartment, where I kept a small pile of belongings neatly stowed in discarded Prime packaging, Eric was hunched at his desk. He was filling out some sort of online form that he minimized as soon as I walked in.

“Hey, you!” he said.

“Hi there.” I hopped over and stroked one of his translucent feathers. I felt the usual electric charge and began drooling. I wondered if he felt like going to bed.

“In a minute. I was just thinking, remember that day when we first met?”

I said something about how could I forget but he ignored me. I think, anyway, that it was a rhetorical question.

“You were in the market that day. Do you remember?”

This was not a rhetorical question. I nodded.

“You spoke to someone there. That person is important to me.” Eric paused. “For my work. I mean, my real work. Do you remember?”

I nodded again.

“And who was that?”


“Yes and no,” said the angel, his eyes vibrating softly. “What was his real name?”

Of course, all is fair in love and war but you don’t know how fair it really is until you become intimate with a being who looks pretty much exactly like a human but is not a human at all. At this point, I would not have denied Eric anything. I couldn’t have. He represented my salvation. I could barely speak. He explained things. I don’t mean, by the way, that he explained things to me, with his voice and words and so forth. I mean, he explained everything that had happened, his presence did. He explained why I had had to go through what I’d gone through, all the years of isolation, my strange inability to find individuals to whom I could relate. My bizarre talkativeness. This had all happened because he was here. And now he just was.

I said, “Oh, you mean his real name,” as if I knew exactly what was going down, as if I had known all along and was even waiting for this moment. “I’m surprised you never asked! It’s 27, of course.” I was terrified but manifested confidence. I put my hands on my hips. I stared bravely into the abyss that was opening up around me.

Eric raised an eyebrow. “Thanks,” he muttered, stepping out an open window. He was evidently going to work.


I never saw Eric again. And I never saw my friend again, either. FMP, I heard, was reduced to a coal briquette. All in all, given these atypical goings-on, it’s been a strange spring. I’ve realized how little I know of the ways of the world, how much there is that has come before. Yet I feel that I have made a lot of progress, that I’m slowly comprehending more. I marvel, and I try to be tough. I try to grow. I still have Eric’s so-so apartment, by the way, and sometimes I go for walks in the park. There really is something lovely, something touching about survival.

On that last point, a few final remarks. Even more recently, over the past few days, maybe the last week and a half, I’ve been experiencing these headaches. They’re brief, but when they strike they’re like nothing you’ve ever known, believe you me. They feel like something stiff and sharp is trying to bore its way out of your skull. I mean, what’s weird about it is it feels like it’s coming from the interior.

It’s made me start thinking more carefully about demons. You do see them now and then, doubled over in some discreet location, given the month. I think, too, as it can’t be avoided, about Eric, an angel, whom I’ve come to regard less as a self-idealizing sociopath than a sort of amphibian, although he definitely put one over on me.

I’ve been told by numerous acquaintances that I’m looking pretty good. Their softballs, re: breakup weight loss, sail over my head.
Sometimes it’s because I’m dealing with a migraine, but at other times it’s because I’m lost in thought.

Immortals, I’m thinking, they’re just like us.


Lucy Ives is the author of two novels: Impossible Views of the World, published by Penguin Press, and Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World, published by Soft Skull Press. Her first collection of short stories, Cosmogony, was recently published by Soft Skull.