Devils Also Believe from Issue 97
The devil’s battle with Santa Lucia was matched when her mother began coughing in the night. It was a bad cough, deep and rattling, waking the devil from uneasy dreams. “Go back to sleep,” her mother rasped, wiping her mouth against her sleeve. The devil lay down, but did not fall asleep. There were signs up in the parks banning public spitting, the druggist on her block had sold out of aspirin and balm weeks ago, Lucia told her the hospital was choked with flu victims, and now her mother was coughing. The bed they shared shook a little as her mother strove to breathe evenly, and the devil stayed awake for hours.
“You have the flu,” the devil said in the morning, and even saying it to be contradicted made her shiver a little. “You’re probably going to die.”
“I have a cold,” her mother said sternly, scraping the devil’s hair back into twin braids. “People still get colds without the world ending.” But the devil was not convinced. Death was no stranger to her house. Her grandmother had succumbed to a fistula when she was four years old, her grandfather to heartbreak shortly after, Mrs. Reilly who used to board with them had been struck dead by a trolley one year ago. Her father was away fighting the Germans, and she knew he could be killed at any time. Most grievous of all, or so she told herself, three months ago the devil’s tabby cat had choked on a chicken bone that Lucia dropped on the kitchen floor and expired. Her twelve years had hardened her.
“If you die,” she said to her mother, trying to make a joke out of it, “will I have to stay with the Amadoris, do you think? Because then maybe I’d like to die, too.”
“If I die,” her mother replied as she dug the comb into the devil’s scalp, “it will be because Mrs. Amadori murders us in our sleep, and not a court in the land would convict her. If you care about my health, you leave those poor people alone.” But this, the devil knew well, was easier said than done.
Lucia Amadori had come into the devil’s life the year before—the worst year of the devil’s life to date. First her father’s conscription papers had come, and then he’d been shipped far away, and then the Amadoris descended on her home. Her own small and white-daubed house, well situated on Sorrento Street, only seven miles from Olay Bay. Once upon a time it had supported her mother and father in one upstairs bedroom, herself in the other, and Mrs. Reilly in the lodger’s room that was once the parlor. Mrs. Reilly had been kind and quiet and used to admire the devil’s pale hair—and never once said it was suspicious, given that her father’s hair was brown. Only then she collided with that trolley, and the Amadori family swarmed into every empty space the house had left, filling it with strange sounds and stranger smells.
There was Mrs. Amadori, fat and frog-faced, her mother who even the devil was directed to address as “Nonna,” a baby who screamed the whole night long, and Lucia. They were all of them terrible, but Lucia was the worst. She was twelve, same as the devil, which meant they had to share a teacher at school, she had awful greasy hair that stained the shoulders of her dresses yellow, and she wanted to be a nun when she grew up, which made her insufferable as well as ugly. She liked to carry around her family’s worn Italian bible and read aloud in pitying tones while giving the devil significant looks. It was Lucia who had bestowed upon her the devil’s fatal nickname.
It began simply. The devil, then called Anne Marie, did her best to convince the Amadoris that they should find a home somewhere else. She unclipped their laundry from the line and blamed it on the wind. She hid the old woman’s shoes. She crept into her former bedroom—she had been forced to share with her mother so Lucia and the baby could have a room of their own—and shoved a rotten herring under each flat pillow. She emptied fistfuls of sand from her pockets into the soup left simmering on the stove until Lucia, nose in her bible, caught her. Lucia tried to hit her with the book and so Anne Marie tossed the remaining sand into Lucia’s fat sallow face. When Mrs. Amadori came down from the bathroom, Anne Marie’s eye had been blacked, Lucia’s right hand was bleeding from where she’d bitten down hard, half the soup was spilled down Anne Marie’s dress, the bible was stewing in the bottom of the pot, and Lucia was screeching that she was a devil, the devil herself in human form.
After this the Amadoris were onto her. “The devil did the washing up,” one might say, “so check for soap,” or “Watch out! The devil has a butter knife,” or “Lock up your soggy book, Lucia! The devil has a look in her eye.” Mrs. Amadori told her mother flat out that she had better keep that devil girl away from the baby, or she wouldn’t be responsible for what happened. Anne Marie’s ears rang from being boxed, but eventually she determined to embrace the name, and not just because of what her mother termed her contrary nature. She had already resolved to make Lucia’s life as hellish as she could get it. If she was going to be awful, she decided, she wouldn’t just be veryawful. She would be terrible, and Lucia would be sorry she’d ever thought of the name.
She took to hissing at Lucia when she got too close, and turned the cross Nonna hung on her bedroom door upside down on a daily basis, knowing the old woman would curse in Italian and drop the cross at least once while trying to set it right with arthritic hands. Lucia was in her class at school, and she made a point of kicking the back of Lucia’s chair and glaring significantly at Lucia and Lucia’s friends when they said she was giving them the evil eye. After a while nobody called her Anne Marie, not even the girls at school. Nobody except her mother, and of course her father, in his letters.
The devil’s father was the best man in the whole world, even if he was a German, like the enemy. He spoke with an accent, but a comfortable, rounded accent, not fast and sharp as the Italians talked. Sometimes she thought about how the Germans in Europe must all sound like him. A whole nation of father-voiced men, all awful enough that the Army needed her pa to go and fight them. His letters came in special thin paper with their special strange stamps and black censored lines, deeply thrilling and always frightening. Her mother read them out loud when they came and then she folded them away into the bedside drawer, in a neat pile tied with brown string. Sometimes she saw her mother read them again to herself, but she never wanted to read them out loud more than once. Also in the drawer rested her mother’s wedding ring, thin but made of real silver, shut up with all her father’s treasures, because the soap at the laundry would tarnish it.
For the most part, the devil hoarded details, reciting them to herself whenever she thought she might be forgetting, all the better to keep her father real and living in her imagination. Her father was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He had huge hands, the lines on his palms stained black with ingrained dirt. He called her bunny and called her mother Edith. He had built the bed in Mrs. Amadori’s room, he had laid the brick steps outside the house, he had carved a little heart into one of the kitchen table legs where only Anne Marie would see it, back when she was small.
The treasure-drawer also would have held the little heart necklace her father left for her mother especially, the one her mother never wore because she feared it would rust or be lost, but the devil was always stealing it for herself. She wore it under her collars at home, drawing it out to catch the light when she went to school. It made a tiny lump just below the dip of her collarbone, and she often pressed a hand against it, the metal warm against her skin.
The devil worried about the cough all day. More than ever the city seemed to be bracing itself, the parks emptying and more druggists selling out of medicine. The flu had left its mark on San Francisco, on Los Angeles, on San Bernardino and Baderville, but it had only brushed San Diego. Mrs. Amadori had left an Italian newspaper on the table that morning—she couldn’t read it, but she could tell what the photograph of a grim man with a doctor’s white coat and metal contraptions signified. Her teacher interrupted their arithmetic lesson to remind them that wearing a neckerchief could save their lives, because it could be wrapped around the face and defend against the deadly germ.
“I think they should burn the bodies,” Lucia suggested during lunch, and all the girls including the devil turned. Mr. Amadori was an Army medic, so Lucia was understood to have authority on the subject. “That way they can’t spread the infection anymore. The germs will turn to ash, is what my father says.”
“That’s stupid,” the devil said. “What about the sick people? You can’t burn them up.” Stop saying foolish things that won’t even help, she wanted to add, feeling even angrier than usual, but Lucia was already drawing herself up.
“Sure you could,” Lucia said. “It’s not like they’ll live much longer anyway. The hospitals are beds of infection, my father says. They all just kill each other quicker.” The devil thought about yanking one of her greasy braids, just to let her know how much of an idiot she was being. But the other girls were laughing, so she didn’t.
“Bet you won’t think so when your pa comes home infected,” the devil told her, although she knew it wasn’t right to say.
There was a strained silence, and then Lucia told the devil that she wouldn’t be surprised if the devil was already sick. “I heard you coughing last night,” she said with cloying sympathy, and suddenly everyone was looking at the devil.
“The flu only affects adults,” the devil argued, because it was true. That was why the doctors were so worried, seeing that it didn’t spread as most sicknesses did. Children and the very old were spared; it was healthy adults who tended to succumb.
“Your eyes do look pink,” Lucia said, ignoring this, and another girl pointed out that the devil’s cheeks were awfully flushed.
“You’re supposed to stay home if you’re sick,” another girl said, and everyone was in agreement.
“You could be infecting us all right now,” Lucia suggested, still alight with her pretended charity. “We should really check her tongue.”
“You live in my house,” the devil pointed out, and then everyone was looking at Lucia, too. Their teacher rang the bell, and they all stood, packing up their things. Lucia tried to pry open the devil’s jaw anyway, and the devil snapped at her fingers.
“I’d burn you up in a heartbeat,” Lucia murmured as they returned to the schoolroom, and the devil knew she wouldn’t be forgiven for the remark about Mr. Amadori. “That’s what you do with witches,” Lucia finished, and shoved past the devil. The devil spit on the back of Lucia’s bare neck, just to prove they would all burn together.
Later that night the devil fought with her mother behind the closed door of their bedroom. They argued in whispers so as not to alert the Amadoris, although the devil’s whispers shook and sometimes flared into half-voiced whines. She was of the opinion that her mother should stay home from work until the cold went away. Didn’t the devil stay home when she was sick? Why should her mother do anything less? “Because I’ve got a job,” her mother said, and the whites of her eyes were pink, and her cheeks were very flushed. “And we can’t afford me to lose it.” The devil felt that this was stupid because they also couldn’t afford a doctor, which was what her mother would need if her cold got any worse, and if they needed money maybe she should stop going to school and just work at the laundry.
“Don’t you talk about that,” her mother snapped, looking truly angry for the first time since the devil had started nagging her. “What would your pa say if I had you working up to your elbows in lye every day? He’d die of shame if he knew, so don’t you even think it.”
The devil flinched. Her mother had a strict rule about how they spoke about her father: they never, ever spoke his name in the same sentence as death. It didn’t do to tempt fate, not when he was sheltering in some faraway trench with only God to look after him.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, and when she dared to look up her mother had put a hand on the bedside table, where every remaining scrap of the devil’s father was kept. She was still coughing. “I’ll bring you some supper,” the devil offered, and went quietly out of the room.
The devil made dinner in an occupied kitchen, Nonna guarding a boiling pot on the stove and Lucia sitting at the kitchen table with her bible, the pages wrinkled and dried into odd shapes. Nonna said something fast in Italian. “She says no funny business today,” Lucia translated coldly, without looking up. She did this sometimes, when she remembered that she wanted to be a nun, and pretended to bear the devil’s hatred with holy equanimity.
“Your face is funny business,” the devil said, and went to look through the cupboard. It was full of Amadori bread, Amadori onions and tomatoes, but nearly bare of food for her. She would have to remind her mother to do the shopping tomorrow. She picked up a tomato to look behind it, and then the old woman was at her side, saying something else in her gibberish tongue.
“Don’t steal our tomatoes,” Lucia said, and the devil glared at both of them and made a show of dropping the tomato on the counter. Eventually she found two eggs that she knew belonged to her, and mixed them up with a little milk to make them stretch further. Nonna continued to talk, and the devil did her best to ignore her until she caught the word madre and the word demone, uttered several times with feeling.
“What’s she saying about my mother,” the devil demanded, dropping her wooden spoon into the skillet.
“She’s not saying anything about your mother,” Lucia said evenly although her cheeks were red, because she was striving as hard as she could for the patience of a saint.
“Well, you make sure she doesn’t,” the devil said, and slammed a cupboard door shut.
“You really are full of spirit today,” Lucia said with practiced condescension. “And making supper for your mother, too. I wonder if it was your coughing I heard last night?”
The devil’s chest went hot and tight with terror. “Don’t you say a word,” she hissed, “you filthy liar. I’ll kill you if you say a word to anyone.”
Nonna said something sharply in Italian, and Lucia shook her head. Her smile was small but nasty. “I could tell her your ma is sick right now,” she said to the devil. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you can’t,” the devil said, her breath coming too fast and her heart drumming just as quick. She knew the sick had been forced out of homes before. Who would shelter a plague-victim? Not even the hospitals wanted them. Her hands balled into fists and she took one dangerous step forward, unsure of what she might do—but Lucia gave her a cool look. “Nonna,” she began. “Penso che—”
“No,” the devil insisted, uneasily aware of Nonna’s black gaze darting between them like a carrion crow’s. “Don’t. What do you want?”
Lucia took a minute to think. “Give me your heart necklace and I never heard a thing,” she decided.
What could the devil do? She loved her father, but he was an ocean away and her mother was feverish and coughing in the next room. And hadn’t her mother betrayed him only a half hour ago? She could always steal it back, she promised herself. With slow, hateful movements, she went to undo the clasp.
“Not now,” Lucia said, smiling at her. “Give it to me later, where nobody can see.”
That night, the devil’s mother tossed and turned in bed, and the devil took a blanket and slept on the floor, one hand pressed to her naked throat.
Lucia wore the devil’s necklace under her collars at home, but the devil could see the little silver line at the base of her neck, and loathed her even more than she had before. In the devil’s nightly prayers, Lucia suffered a hundred terrible fates, struck by trolleys and trampled by donkeys and tossed off cliffs. When Lucia and the devil went to school, Lucia drew the little heart out from under her collar, letting it rest against the third round button on her dress. The sight started up an awful ache in the devil’s chest, bad enough that she wondered if she wasn’t infected after all.
Her mother’s cold got worse. The cough developed a warning little rattle at the end, her eyes were black and unfocused, and she sweated through her shift every night. She conceded that this was a worse cold than usual, but still refused to stay home from the laundry. The devil started crushing up aspirin pills and dropping them into her mother’s water, and did not mention that the shopping had been left undone for a whole week. She didn’t think her mother even noticed, she was that exhausted after work. When the cupboard was bare of all but Amadori vegetables, the devil went to Olay beach instead of school.
She had never done it before, but she knew there were abalone to be found off the pier. She dimly remembered watching her father dive for them, a long metal rasp in one hand, emerging with a net full of fat shells the size of his fists. She couldn’t find the rasp, but she found a butter knife as well as her suit and bathing stockings. She went down to the end of the pier, where the big rocks went down deep.
It was more difficult than it seemed. For one thing, the abalone clung to the rock like they had been welded there, and for another the salt water stung her eyes so that she had to work by feel alone. She held onto the rock with one hand so she wouldn’t bob back up to the surface, forced her eyes open, and hacked madly at the abalone’s tough shells for as long as she could bear before she needed to breathe again.
In this way she managed to gather two medium sized specimens and one rather small one. She didn’t want to leave them on the beach or the breakwater for anyone to steal, but nor could she carry them while she foraged for more. She resorted to stuffing them as far down her stockings as she could, and using her hair ribbons to seal off the top of the stockings. The ribbons dug into her legs unpleasantly, but she ignored it, and sucked in another huge breath of air before diving back down.
She latched onto the rock, the water naturally pushing her legs up over her head. She felt around for a big shell this time, one nearly as big as both her hands put together and pushed the knife as far in as she could, working it back and forth. As she worked her legs were battered against the rocks harder than before, as she was obliged to flex her feet awkwardly in an attempt to keep the shells in her socks from getting loose.
She didn’t have the shell even halfway detached from the rock wall before she ran out of breath, and had to return to the surface. When she did, she found Lucia sitting on her rock, looking down at her. Defensively, she pushed herself away from the rock, treading water a few feet away.
“I’d get out of the water if I were you,” Lucia said, elbows on her knees. She was fully clothed, and her face was shiny with sweat, so she must have run all the way down the pier from the beach expressly to torment the devil. The little heart gleamed at her breast.
“Are you in the Navy now?” the devil asked in as scathing a tone as she could manage while bobbing up and down in the water, the heavy shells in her stockings hampering her kicking feet. “No? Then go away.”
“It’s for your own good,” Lucia said, and pointed at the devil’s arms, where she had scraped herself against the rock. “You’re bleeding,” she said, and there was a strange tone to her voice that the devil couldn’t interpret. “Every shark in the bay is probably headed straight for you.”
“That’s not true,” the devil said, but now she was uncomfortably aware of the scratches on her arms and shins, the blood drifting slowly away into the water. She was too proud to climb up onto the rock, though the thought of something swimming up from beneath made her breath quicken. “Anyway I’m not done yet,” she said to Lucia. “I’ve got one more shell to pry off.”
Lucia narrowed her eyes. “Well, I’m not going to leave,” she said. “I’ll splash if I see a fin.”
“Don’t bother,” the devil said, and Lucia rolled her eyes.
There was nothing left for the devil at this point but to suck in a breath and dive back down. She could barely find the shell she was working on, she was so busy checking to make sure there weren’t any dark shapes charging at her from below. She gave the shell one half-hearted bash with her butter knife when the water around her went white and frothy, like something enormous had come thrashing through it. She lost all her breath and kicked for the surface, dropping the knife and not caring enough to go back for it. Her empty lungs strained and the water crushed at her limbs, but she made it. She sobbed in air and clawed at the rock, pulling herself out of the water as quickly as she could.
Lucia’s shoes were sitting beside her, her skirt pulled up, bare legs still idly beating at the surface. There was no shark. The devil had lost the butter knife for nothing. “Oh sorry, did I bother you?” Lucia asked. “I just felt like getting my feet wet.”
The devil wanted to push her in, only she remembered the heart necklace and the care she had taken to keep it from rust or tarnish. “What do you want?” she asked instead, shivering in the slight breeze. “Don’t you have enough?”
“I want to talk,” Lucia said. “Your ma. She’s not getting better.”
“She is,” the devil insisted, uneasy.
“I’ve heard coughing the last two nights,” Lucia said, and that unfamiliar edge was back in her voice. It could almost be concern, if she weren’t lying. The devil had watched her mother muffle her sounds into a pillow for hours the night before.
“I only thought she had a cold,” Lucia said, twisting the necklace chain around one finger. “Now she might really be sick.”
“What else do you want?” the devil asked, too exhausted to keep arguing.
The heart disappeared and reappeared in Lucia’s yellow fingers. “I want you to be my friend,” Lucia said.
They went home together, and Lucia did not immediately inform the household that the devil had missed school. She followed the devil into the kitchen, chattering about nothing, and the devil nodded stiffly every now and again. She tried to busy herself by spreading her abalone shells out on the kitchen table. Lucia came and helped her split open the shells.
“I think you should smile at me,” she said, and the devil bared her teeth. “You’re such a dear child,” Lucia said with a sigh. “We’ll have to teach you better ways, of course. Give me that,” she said, pointing to the white slug of the first abalone that the devil was trying to extract with a fork. “You’re doing it wrong.” She used a spoon to work them cleanly out, and instructed the devil to hammer the naked slugs with a rolling pin.
“Don’t boss me,” the devil snapped, and Lucia gave her a sweet smile.
“I’m helping you,” she said, with a deliberate glance at the door, where the devil’s mother would return soon from the laundry. “Isn’t that what friends do?”
The devil swallowed her reply. “Hit it hard,” Lucia said, pointing to the abalone. “It’s a muscle. It needs to be relaxed.” The devil hit the abalone hard, and wondered if it was dead yet, or if it had died as soon as it left the water. Lucia washed out the shells, and ordered the devil to admire the slick rainbows coating their insides.
“Beautiful,” the devil said. Lucia told her to cut the meat, and the devil cut the meat.
“Put it in a pot with fat,” Lucia said. “We’re going to make a soup.”
“I don’t have enough for a soup,” the devil said, her hand tightening on the knife.
“We’re going to share,” Lucia told her, dark eyes on hers, even though they both knew that the devil had done the work. That she had no other food. The devil thought abut her mother clutching a pillow to her face in the night, desperate to remain unheard, and went to get a pot. Lucia added a handful of gifts the devil couldn’t pay back: chopped onion, some precious cream, more fat, some starch, a handful of peas, a careful pinch of foreign spices. “Stir it,” Lucia ordered, and the devil stirred. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?” Lucia asked, and the devil duly agreed.
At this point the front door opened, but there was no sound of someone coming in. The devil left the spoon in the pot and ran to the door. Her mother was leaning against the frame, one hand still on the brass knob, and her eyes were closed. “Are you all right?” the devil asked, ashamed that her voice came out so high and small, especially where Lucia could hear.
“I’m just catching my breath,” her mother said, but she had to be helped inside.
Lucia appeared and watched them, her stupid eyes enormous in her head, and the devil finally said—”Are you going to help us or not?” Slowly, as if she was being physically compelled, Lucia came and offered the devil’s mother her other arm. They got her up the stairs together, the devil panting with shame, her mother breathing hard with effort, Lucia for once in her life silent.
“I think I will rest a while,” her mother said vaguely, and lay down on the bed slowly, as if each motion pained her. The devil stood there for a terrible minute, just looking at her mother’s chest rising up and down, until she remembered Lucia was watching too. She grabbed the other girl’s arm and dragged her out, shutting the door gently behind them.
“She’s sick,” Lucia said in a horrified whisper. “She’s really sick, oh Lord, are you crazy? You need to take her to the hospital.”
“Your own pa says the hospitals make it worse,” the devil accused, and saw the truth of it on Lucia’s face. “She just needs to rest. I’m going to get her some more aspirin, and she’ll sleep, and she’ll be fine in the morning.”
But Lucia was shaking her head, eyes still huge. “No, no, you’re crazy. I’m gonna tell.”
“You can’t,” the devil said, and her grip tightened on Lucia’s arm, fingernails digging in. “You can’t, or she won’t get better. What do you want? I can get you anything.” Lucia tried to pull away, but the devil didn’t let go. “You want a ring?” she offered in desperation, the last thing she had of any value. “Made of real silver.”
Lucia only looked at her helplessly, and the devil shoved her back into the wall. “Wait,” she said, and went back into the room where her mother slept. She retrieved the wedding ring from the drawer before she could argue herself out of it, and then she was pressing it into Lucia’s hands.
“Keep it,” she said, her throat aching with the hurt of her own betrayal. “But leave her alone.”
Lucia made no promises, but she kept the ring. None of the Amadoris went into her mother’s room that night. Just the devil, eyes burning and stomach tight, a bowl of fragrant white soup in her hands.
“I think I will stay home tomorrow,” her mother said after accepting the bowl of soup. “Rest awhile.” She put a spoonful of broth to her mouth. It was worth the ring, the devil told herself, breathing through her mouth so she didn’t have to inhale the mingled odors of her mother’s sweat and the salty soup. Worth a hundred rings.
Her mother only ate that one spoonful. Later the devil coaxed her into swallowing three more aspirin pills, although it brought on a coughing fit that must have hurt her throat badly, for it turned into a half-voiced sob near the end.
Mrs. Amadori left the bathroom when the devil finally left the bedroom. There was a frown on her wide face, deep lines creasing around her mouth. “Your mother,” she said in her thick-accented voice. “She is well?” A thin, cracked sound came through the devil’s bedroom door.
“She’s sad,” the devil lied, and bit the inside of her own cheek, hard enough to draw blood. “It’s my father.” Mrs. Amadori’s face changed, and the devil fled.
The devil’s mother stayed home from the laundry. She did not look in the bedside drawer. The single bowl of soup was barely touched. She complained of a headache, but tossed away the cool cloths the devil tried to bring her. The devil was so exhausted that she found tears springing to her eyes, which Mrs. Amadori took for a sign of grief. “Is he wounded?” she asked with real sympathy, even as the baby cried in her arms and Lucia almost cut herself, where she stood slicing cold water bread. “Or—?”
“We got the letter yesterday,” the devil mumbled, squeezing her eyes shut. “I can’t—my mother wants to be alone.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Amadori said with understanding, and Lucia abruptly left the room. “Don’t go far,” Mrs. Amadori called after her daughter. “Still school today.”
Lucia and the devil left for school together, but by silent agreement they turned around the corner and walked to the beach instead. Lucia had threaded the wedding ring onto her necklace chain, and it shone silver in the sun, brighter even than the heart. They sat on the breakwater, watching the waves crash in and roll out. It occurred to the devil that Lucia looked terrible, waxy-skinned with deep hollows under her eyes. But she couldn’t be sick. The flu affected adults. Everyone said.
“It’s a lie about your father,” Lucia said after a while, and the devil nodded. “I think that’s a rotten thing to do. Lying about him.”
“You’re one to talk about rotten,” the devil said, and hurled a rock the size of her fist at an incoming wave, where it settled with hardly a splash. My father is tall, she told herself. He has brown hair and blue eyes. He made the brick stairs, the driftwood bed, the little carved heart on the kitchen table, he called me bunny and my mother Edith and he’s alive, just there over the water.
“What if she dies?” Lucia asked, which was of course the question the devil had been refusing to consider for days, ever since that first frightened joke.
“She’s not going to die,” the devil said fiercely. “She hasn’t vomited, not at all.” What if she died? What would become of the devil then, motherless and fatherless, everything she had in the world hanging around Lucia’s neck? “She’s not that sick,” the devil added, the lie bitter and uncertain on her tongue, and for a miserable moment she was glad she had lost her treasures. She felt too worn, too fragile and afraid to keep them safe.
Lucia sighed, the heavy sound mingling with the surf, and they stayed there all morning, caught by the wind and spray.
That night Lucia betrayed her, as the devil must have known she would. But after all, what more could she do? What was left for the devil to give up? Mrs. Amadori flung the door wide open around eleven o’clock at night, Nonna at her side, Lucia a pale shadow behind them. The devil was sitting by the window with a candle and her slate, which fell from her fingers at the sight of Mrs. Amadori’s face—it was not angry, as she had thought it might be. Mrs. Amadori looked devastated, as though the war were almost lost instead of almost won, as though her sister and not a stranger lay upon the bed. The devil swallowed down the sob that wanted to come up. It hurt like swallowing a rock, like finding yourself airless and underwater.
The devil’s mother slowly sat up. Her dress, the devil saw, as the Amadoris must be seeing it, was stained and yellow, the shadows under her eyes black as night, a horrible crust of something at the corner of her mouth. She looked like a specter, thin and wasted. Nonna let forth a fluid stream of Italian, and Lucia gasped. The gasp was too much. How could Lucia breathe, when the devil could not? How dare Lucia feel horror, or shock, or fear—whatever it was she felt—when the devil was swallowing stones, was crushed under the weight of water? “Edith,” Mrs. Amadori murmured, and the devil picked up her slate and threw it as hard as she could at Lucia’s head. She missed, and it hit the door inches away from Lucia’s eyes. “I’ll kill you,” the devil screamed. Only then Mrs. Amadori turned that terrible look on her, and she couldn’t bear to be in the room any longer.
She ran out the door, pushing past Mrs. Amadori and the old woman and Lucia. She left her mother there, and could not pretend the wind in her lungs felt like anything relief. She flew down the stairs and out the front door, and she was halfway down the street when she realized she was barefoot, and she was not alone. Lucia had followed her, also in her nightgown. They must look ridiculous, she thought, two barefoot girls panting at each other under a streetlamp, rows of dark houses there to witness.
“I’m sorry,” Lucia said, and was trying to work the clasp of the heart necklace off, but her fingers couldn’t quite do it in the dark. She was crying, and the devil thought maybe she really would kill her. “I’m sorry, but I also have a mother.”
“I don’t care,” the devil said, and she went to give her a shove, but Lucia took a step in and somehow it wasn’t a push, just her hands on Lucia’s shoulders.
“Maybe she’ll get better,” Lucia whispered, gripping the devil by her forearms, “People do get better, sometimes. Maybe she will.” And the devil pressed her hand against Lucia’s chest, felt all the silver tangled there, and beneath that the frightened beating of Lucia’s heart. “You can take it back,” Lucia said, but the devil didn’t take it back. Everything she had—almost everything she loved—was right there around Lucia’s neck. When she lost her mother and when she lost her father and her white house and her name, Lucia would possess them all. Lucia, jealous and greasy-haired, who no one could move, who no one could make vanish. The devil would know. How could she lose anything, if Lucia had it all? The thought made her wretchedly, shamefully grateful.
“I want you to keep it,” the devil said, and Lucia’s heart beat faster under her palm. “Keep everything.”
“I will,” Lucia agreed, and she pulled the devil in closer, held her like the devil was a baby, only the ring and the heart and the devil’s shaking breath between them. “I’ll keep it all,” and the devil knew she meant I’ll keep you from disappearing. A stupid vow, a child’s oath, nothing anyone could keep. “I swear,” Lucia said, and the devil dug her fingers into Lucia’s arms. She could not help believing her.