“The Family Company,” by Agata Antonow

Apr 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The Zoom meeting starts at three, unless it starts at three-ten because Tori is late logging into her computer. Or at three-twenty because Zven is talking about his kids and his photography business and no one on the screen can get a word in.

But at last it starts and we all look at Tori from our respective screens. His forehead tattoo—LOVE in comic sans font, the V slightly crooked like a gnarly tooth just above his nose—shines gently with sweat under the glow of his circle light. He nods and we all say it: “Wake up, capitalism! Let’s unlock the true, loving power of business everywhere!” I squirm in my seat, thinking about my paycheck, hoping it makes up for me being captured on video saying these words.

Zven leads us through a few yoga stretches and Tori smiles at him, mopping at LOVE. Just one more thing—the barometer readings. We all share how we’re feeling starting the meeting. We hear how exasperated Zven feels with his kids—”barely holding on”—and Chris puffs out her groundhog cheeks as she tells us about her dog. She is full of dog stories for our barometer readings. I’m feeling cloudy with a chance of fed up, but I smile at my Internet camera and say “great!”

Finally Tori spreads his hands wide in the jerky motion of his suburban internet connection. “Big. . . news. . .client. Look at. . . your computers.”

A portal opens in everyone’s computer. My screen ripples in a round circle and the plastic seems to melt away as a passageway to another world opens. Chris watches slack jawed as Satan strolls right through the screen into her kitchen. Zven shrieks and falls from his chair as Satan walks into his home office. Tori smiles beatifically as Satan hops into his bedroom. In my own backyard, Satan arrives in a puff of smoke and the smell of sulfur. He winks at me and glances around. Everyone at the company has his own Satan.

Tori shakes his head. “What an entrance! What a guy! Team, I’d like you to meet Satan, our newest client. Let’s all show him the love we’re famous for, now that he’s part of our family.”

“So glad to be here,” the Prince of Darkness in Tori’s Zoom square says. “I have been talking to Tori here for a few weeks and I just know we’re going to work well together. You see, I need a website and online platform refresh. In today’s world, I know I will be able to reach my best audience if I present a gentler, more loving image. Who doesn’t love love? I love love! And I think, with love, that we can create something wonderful.”

Chris is wildly scribbling notes. Zven has picked himself off his floor. I’m distracted. My Satan (do I now have my own Satan? And how is this one independent of the one in Tori’s house?) is teasing my dog with a leaf. My dog swats at it half-heartedly and rolls over, uninterested in evil. I’m most disturbed by the fact that Satan appears to be naked. In everyone else’s Zoom square, Satan is modestly shown above the waist, but in my own yard, I see his round, naked butt, unnervingly red and hairy, and the long tail that starts just above it and curls delicately over the grass.

“Right,” Tori is saying. “The most exciting thing here is that each of you will get a personal Satan to get to know in the next two weeks. It’s all the same Satan, but different. I won’t bore you with the physics. Anywhoo. Talk to your Satan and learn about his relationship to love so we can reflect that in the platform. Chris, you set up the project and keep everyone on track. Zven, I’ll need you on graphics.” That means I’m on website design.

I flick off the computer after the meeting and look over at the red creature in my yard. I wonder what the neighbors will think. Satan turns around, teetering on his hooves in the grass, and my eyes snap up to his face.

“Hey,” I start awkwardly. “Did you want to talk about the project? Or-or evil? I didn’t even think hell was, you know, a business.” He ignores me and wanders off into a corner, lifts a hoof and pees against my red maple tree.


Living with Satan is hard. First of all, he drinks all the milk out of my fridge at three in the morning. He slurps really loudly, waking me up, and then I have no milk for my coffee or cereal, so I start my daily meetings chanting “Wake up, Capitalism” not feeling very awake. I feel downright grumpy.

During the days, my Satan sleeps like a cat on my porch and I work at getting the right color red for his website. I’m thinking red like a heart. Red like love. The copy stumps me, though. Unlike my Satan, clients are usually chatty, sharing their big values, grand dreams for their companies. They call their business their “baby.” Their clients or sometimes their employees are their “family.”

Tori calls us a family, too. And we sign our emails that way, “from your family,” even if it’s just one of us sending an email to the other.

I stare at Satan’s new website, which so far is just a big red screen—I have the shade right, at least, having copied it off the bicep of the Satan I lived with, sneaking up him once while he sunbathed—and wonder how to write the copy to include both “Lucifer” and “family.” I imagine Morningstar’s family, try to link it to the business of hell, but all I come up with is the image of red Satans around a dinner table in fiery hell, laughing their red asses off at Tori, me, and all of us.

“Hey, Satan,” I say quietly to the still, red form in my bay window. “What’s your philosophy on love? Are you a family? Can you love?”

Satan snores on. We co-exist, him prowling at night and me working in the daytime. I get used to him and his silence. I leave out bowls of milk for him, just so he doesn’t keep leaving the fridge open. But he develops a new habit: he keeps taking items from one part of the house and hiding them somewhere else. I find my hairbrush under the couch. My toothbrush is in the microwave. I spend twenty minutes one morning looking for my keys only to find them in the toilet tank. Very funny, Satan, you trickster.

“Hey, Morningstar, Tori said today that the goal of the website is to use love to attract more souls. Tori said bad capitalism and evil don’t work any more—customers only respond to love. Are you sad to give up evil as a marketing strategy? You’ve been using it so long.”

Tori is all guns firing because this is a big client. He texts me all weekend and all day. “What is it with the red on the website? How could you think that is a good idea? I had to redo the banner myself.” At night, his messages get ruder, what Zven calls his “toddler mode.” I don’t know why I hired you. I don’t know why I hired Zven. He’s a moron. Do I have to do everything by myself?

In meetings, Tori explains what his Satan taught him. “Lucifer is simply a businessman, and his business is customer care. Right now, he wants love to be his calling card, his call to action. He offers hope, and the payment is souls. In the third quarter, his goal is to make a 30% increase in the number of souls collected. He’s very mission driven, but also values-driven. He wants to change the world by offering real hope and creating an alternative for the afterlife—one that’s more authentic.”

Tori’s Satan seems large and more lively than mine. He’s grinning and nodding while mine is curled at my feet. Is my devil somehow defective? Maybe he is not as “mission-driven?” Or just lazy? I dimly remember Sunday school and learning about the sin of sloth.

Tori ends up redoing part of the website, telling me he “had” to because he didn’t like my work. I stare at the orange-red color which feels all wrong, but know I can’t say anything because Tori is my boss and an artist. A few people called his summer show at the University of Guelph student gallery “brilliant.” If I try to redo his work, he’ll sulk for weeks, so even though the website looks awful now, I have to leave it and keep working on the copy. I notice in the “about us” section Tori has added a picture of his tattoo—a picture that makes it obvious it was done by someone in a cheap tattoo parlour two years ago on a drunk night when Tori was feeling bad about himself and his prospects as an artist.


Things don’t really start falling apart until my devil starts to whisper. I find him beside me in bed, turned toward the wall, when I wake up.

He starts to whisper, at length and urgently. Spittle falls from his lips and it’s hot enough to make his pillow sizzle.

“Wait. Wait. I can’t understand you.”

I scramble from my covers, trying to get out of range in case the bed goes up in flames, but he doesn’t even slow down. He’s still talking. It may be gibberish. Or some old language long forgotten. He could be telling me the secrets of the universe, but each time I ask him to speak English, he ignores me.

Over the next week, I’m sleeping less and I can’t eat. It’s as if some poison has entered my house. When I work on the website, I can almost taste it—a skunkweed sharpness that makes me queasy. The dog is hiding under the bed most of the time and the devil stirs more often now. I find him on my stairs, fingers wrapped around the railings, staring into my kitchen. He perches on the front stoop, pointing at passing cars, until my neighbor complains: “Well, really, if you’re going to have demons at least have some respect for your neighbors and ask them to get dressed.”

While I feel my eyes start to get as red as Satan’s website, Tori seems to perk up. His smile gets wider and whiter. He becomes almost jovial. There are three days where he almost lives up to the stupid tattoo on his forehead. He sends us gift cards for Starbucks. He sends texts. “Good job, team!”

I work on the copy. “With millions of years under his belt, Satan knows more about love than any other being on Earth. Now, with innovative new processes in Hell, He’s ready to welcome you. . .”

The more I work, the more I realize love doesn’t fit anywhere. The ice cream parlour where I buy my ice cream isn’t about love. It’s about me getting a half-melted, four-dollar cone from a high school student who won’t even look at me. My dentist claims in his emails he genuinely cares for me, but the email is the same for every patient. The man running for mayor for the third year in a row writes on his campaign posters how much he loves this city, but once he’s elected he’ll go right back to hibernating until he needs votes.

Love in business is stripped of every part of its meaning, until it’s only consonants and vowels, all sharp edges of lines with nothing behind them. You can see right through the word to the snips of gossip. “I love Zven, but there’s tension with him on this project. . .” And a week later, Zven is laughing with Chris, who got him bumped off a project. That’s all love, too—an empty word, so often repeated so you don’t notice the steak knife in your back.

All our business clients are drinking this love stuff, though. It’s heady. They trade stories about it like baseball cards at conferences. “We give badges.” “We’re all about our people.” “We host retreats for our team.” And their people get paler and fainter each day, echoes of who they were.

Finally, I can’t handle it any more. “We’re writing a website for Satan, you fucking morons. Satan! He’s not about love!”

Tori grabs his heart and his eyes go wide, as though what I have said could push him into cardiac infarction. Chris holds her dog—a white shih tzu with cross eyes and brown crud leaking from his eyes—in front of her, as though the limp creature could protect her from the words I’m saying.

My Satan starts to chuckle. His tail wraps around him tight and he throws back his head and roars and roars. “Love!” he shrieks. “Love!”

I’m fired, of course. “You just don’t understand love,” Tori tells me, his voice dripping with faux sadness. His head is down, so I can see the top of his bald spot on my screen. His Satan is behind him, smiling and almost purring like a cat and Tori can’t quite hide the smile on his face. He’s enjoying this.


My Satan doesn’t leave, though he stops sleeping so much. I had expected him to leave after I was fired—isn’t he the company Satan, on loan to me, and to be returned with all my files upon my termination? I don’t worry about it. I throw out every book I have about a kinder, better capitalism in the trash and start eating ice cream for lunch. But Lucifer hangs in there.

One night, I find my Satan pissing on the books I had tossed into the trash. I stop on the way to the bathroom and genuinely smile at him, though the next morning I swear a little as I carry the sodden bag of trash to the garbage bin.

A month into my new state of unemployment, I’m sitting in a blue bathrobe on my front stoop. My Satan brings me a local newspaper, like a faithful dog. On the front page is news of Satan’s latest project—a museum dedicated to love. There on the cover is Tori, smiling and sweating.

“Can you believe this?” I ask Satan, but he is rolling in the grass.

On the museum’s opening night, I slip into a red dress—the right color, the color of blood and hearts, the sticky love of life. I leave Satan in my house, though he tries to follow me. I hear his pitiful howls as my heels click down the sidewalk.

The museum is about three blocks away. It’s a modern building. I had seen it built in the past week, though I hadn’t known Satan was the one bankrolling it. For a guy with no pants, he sure has deep pockets.

The outside of the museum is glittery with lights—a bright red heart, in the wrong pinky-red color, and a dollar sign. Business and love in all their garishness. The woman at the door is wearing a pink dress and her hands are damp as she tears my ticket in half.

Inside, the cold air hits me like an android caress. The whole place is shiny and rounded. I feel like I’m inside an egg.

“Hi!” A young woman with a big bowtie on the back of her head says to me. She’s wearing a t-shirt with the logo of Tori’s company and she’s not someone I’ve seen before. “Welcome to the exhibit. You’ll need to wear this sticker inside.”

I take the map and the sticker she hands me and head further into the white space, crumpling the sticker in my hand. I trace the names of the exhibits on the museum map with my finger as I walk. “History of capitalism, the good business has brought, changing the future with companies, Satan’s role in the future.”

I stare at the pictures of phallic towers piercing the sky. The “changing the future with companies” exhibit is in another room. Unlike the white room, here the walls are red, covered in hearts which are purple-red, streaky as though half bled out. I see a picture of Tori’s Satan and beside it a TV monitor, which clicks on as I walk by.

“It’s time to get serious about business and its future,” Satan says on the screen. “We need to leave behind the empty promises of capitalism in the past and recognize the love which has been part of companies for all of history. Take my own business. I am here reclaiming my rightful place as a loving business. Few people know this, but my enterprise is really run like a family . . .”

There are only two other people in the exhibit—an older couple in long coats. She is leaning heavily on a walker that squeaks across the shiny floor. I watch as they walk towards another door, this one small and with a picture of Satan and the words “Satan’s role in the future.”

I wander the halls, seeing how every business is linked to love. The values of this oil firm. The scholarships offered by the state mining company. Satan’s caring for the world. Behind Zven’s blurry, off-centre pictures of business leaders and shiny offices, I picture the ground ripped open to pull out diamonds and oil running sticky over the ocean. Maybe they’re right after all. Maybe love really does belong in business, just like any other word, like cash or value or wages. Maybe it’s love that’s been the problem all along, this word that can mean wedding cake or the amethyst bruise over your left eye. Love has a price.

I walk out into the street, where the lights are flickering on, one by one. My Morningstar is standing by the fire hydrant. He tucks his tail around himself when he sees me. Slowly, we walk home together.


Agata Antonow is a writer based in New Brunswick, Canada, in a small town known as the French Dry Capital of the World. She has been published a few times.

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