‘You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.’
Freddie said this to me, when I was little.
Everyone called my grandmother by her nickname, even my parents, because, as she put it, Freddie, short for Fredrikke was her name. Not Mother, or Grandmother. Just Freddie.
Then she asked me if I loved my brother.
‘Luke is a damn bully,’ I said.
I remember I was staring at the pink marble of the grand old staircase as we walked up together. There were black veins running through it, and they looked like the blue varicose veins on Freddie’s white legs. I remember thinking that the staircase must be getting old, like her.
‘Don’t say damn, Violet.’
‘You say damn.’ And she did, too. All the time. ‘Luke pushed me down this damn staircase once,’ I said, still looking at the marble steps. The fall didn’t kill me, if that’s what he’d wanted, but I knocked out two teeth and got a gash in my forehead that bled like hell. ‘I don’t love my brother,’ I said. ‘And I don’t care what the Devil thinks about it. It’s the truth.’
Freddie gave me a sharp look then, her Dutch eyes a bright, bright blue despite her age. She had given me those blue eyes, and her blonde hair as well.
Freddie put her wrinkled hands on mine. ‘There’s truths and then there’s truths, Violet. And some damn truths shouldn’t be spoken out loud, or the Devil will hear, and then he’ll come for you. Amen.’
When Freddie was young, she used to wear fur and attend parties and drink cocktails and sponsor artists. She’d told me wild stories, full of booze and broads and boys and trouble.
But something happened. Something Freddie never talked about. Something bad. Lots of people have bad stories, and if they wail and sob and tell their story to anyone who’ll listen, it’s crap. Or half crap, at least. The stuff that really hurts people, the stuff that almost breaks them . . . that they won’t talk about. Ever.
I caught Freddie writing sometimes, late at night, fast and hard – so hard, I heard the paper tearing un- derneath her pen . . . but whether it was a diary or letters to friends, I didn’t know.
Maybe it was her daughter drowning so young that made my grandmother turn righteous and religious.
Maybe it was something else. Whatever had happened, Freddie went looking to fill the hole that was left. And what she found was God. God, and the Devil. Because one didn’t exist without the other.
Freddie talked about the Devil all the time, almost as if he was her best friend, or an old lover. But for all her Devil talk, I never saw Freddie pray.
I prayed, though.
To Freddie. After she died. I’d done it so often over the past five years that it had become unconscious, like blowing on soup when it’s too hot. I prayed to Freddie about my parents being gone. And about the money running out. And being so lonely sometimes that the damn sea wind howling through my window felt closer to me than the brother I had upstairs.
And I prayed to Freddie about the Devil. I asked her to keep my hand out of his. I asked her to keep me safe from evil.
But, for all my praying, the Devil still found me.