All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. I never killed anyone, honest! Never!
AA

4. Secrecy

"No fall this time?”

I laugh as I pull my horse to a stop outside the farmhouse. Catty straightens up from feeding the pigs- to my surprise, she drops her bag and steps towards the fence. I was only planning to pass by quickly, but guess she wants to talk.

“Morning, Catty.” I say, deciding to get off the horse. My new dress- lilac and white- pulls at my legs as I jump to the ground. The green one was finally disposed of after last Saturday. Catty blinks.

“Is everything okay?” I say.

“Oh. Oh- yes. Yes. I was just surprised you… You’re really gonna call me Catty? I thought that was just good manners.”

I smile. “I know nothing of good manners.”

She laughs. “That’s something we have in common. Very well.” She says, looking nervously at the ground. “Then I suppose first names it is. M-Mary-Ann.”

Her words make me feel a little warmer in the roaring, freezing wind.

“Would you like to come inside?” She asks me, impaling one toe of her red boots in the mud. Her tetchiness is sweet.

“Oh, no.” I say. “I won’t stay too long.”

She looks genuinely disappointed. “Okay.”

“How is your father?”

Catty looks up at me. “Pardon?”

“Your father. You said he was sick with the flu last week. Is he better?”

“Oh.” She says. “Yes. Yes, much… much better, thank you. He says he’d like to be back out working soon. Doesn’t want to leave me with the burden all by myself.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“But I won’t allow him.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. The burden isn’t a burden at all. I enjoy it, actually. I suppose after you said so last week, it really is a lovely view to gaze upon. It’s the most beautiful this time of year, don’t you think?”

I cast my eyes out to sea. It may be the middle of summer, and the sky may be light and bare and blue, but the waves are steel-grey white-capped peaks, like mountains, crumbling and rolling and crashing. Its vastness makes me feel small and precarious.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I turn back to Catty with a wry smile. “You should see it in the winter.”

She grins wider, and only then do I realise I’ve let my real smile show. Father used to smack it off me till I learnt to hide it from him.

“Oh.” Catty says after a long and uncomfortable silence, biting her lip to hold back a sudden grin. “I forgot to ask you how you found the sausages. Did you find them in the end?”

I blink, surprised and suddenly nervous as the memory wells up. “The... the sausages? How did you know to ask?”

“You had a certain look about you.” Catty says, smiling. “When I told you about them.”

“Oh.” I look down at the ground, instinctively pulling my cloak around myself. I clear my throat, deciding to do my best to make a joke. “Well, why would you infer anything from that? It wouldn’t be proper for a young rich girl like me to go raiding the pantry for food after dark. Alone. Would it?”

There’s another uncomfortable silence, during which time I resist the urge to clamp my hand over my mouth, and feel my face heating up. Catty’s eyes never leave mine this time. Then, slyly, she smiles.

“You told me you knew nothing of manners.” She says. “And besides, which one of us said a word about raiding the pantry?”

I grin. Why don’t I feel humiliated for telling this girl I barely know one of my darkest secrets? Perhaps, if I make light of it, it’ll seem less dark. I imagine telling Verity or Selina something like this- even though I’ve known them both for over a decade, I’d barely dream of it.

“I’m sorry.” I say, making to get back onto my horse. “I only meant to ride past and see if you were here. I never meant to…” I sigh. “No life is perfect, I suppose.”

I look back at her once I’ve mounted. She looks surprised I’m leaving. Then, as I reach for the reins, she says: “Wait.”

I look down at her. She looks up at me.

“Don’t go.” She says.

The confession of my kitchen raids is the first secret I ever tell Catty St. Clair. It is not the last.

We talk for twenty minutes more, about trivial things like the weather and slightly heavier things like Catty’s old life in London. Her family used to be better off, it turns out, but she and her father lost most of their wealth and ended up having to move out here to work. I nod and grunt my sympathy. Eventually, I look at the time and realise I’m risking a beating if I don’t go home. We’re going to Martha’s, again, so that the engaged girl can be flaunted before me once more. I believe it’s my father’s orders that I be humiliated into submission. Before I leave, I promise Catty I’ll come back.

The next morning, I try putting on the grey dress for church again and tear it right around the waist. Instead of calling Lula, I simply snarl with frustration and rip the entire thing clean in half to get it off. Then, I put on a day dress and when my father asks, I tell him the truth. That I’m too fat for my good clothes. That evening, he comes into my room and throws out every last one of my tattered day dresses, telling me from now on I’ll wear my best clothes every day. He does it because he wants to hurt me. Because if bribes don’t work, he’ll force me into compliance with threats. I try my best to remain defiant, but God, it’s the most agonising week of my life. The next Saturday, I sneak out of the back door, having salvaged my favourite purple dress from the rubbish bin with Lula’s reluctant help, and make good on my promise to go back to Catty.

My father’s cruelty is not amongst the secrets I share with her- that week, in fact, we talk very little. Again, she asks me to come inside and again, I refuse. I’m frightened to get too close to this girl’s father for the fear my own father will find out. But I can’t help myself from growing closer to the girl herself. I tell her she’s my only friend, and she simply smiles, looks nervously at the ground, and tells me I don’t mean it. I don’t correct her. We’re awkward, and it’s a strange kind of awkward, but not a bad kind. Again, I leave with a promise I’ll come back.

The next week, I start making attempts to curb my kitchen raids. I don’t like it, but Heaven knows those dresses hurt me too much to bear the thought of getting any larger. It’s the first time a scheme of my father’s has worked. I vow it will be the last.

The hunger rips me up and makes me sob in my bed, but I don’t move. As a distraction, I think of my next Saturday. It’s only a short and contrived conversation with a young girl in a muddy garden surrounded by pigs, but I’m using it as an incentive. It gets me up every morning.

Catty and I talk even less that week, but we talk more the week after that. That’s the week a month after we first met. The week I finally tell her about my parents. Well- not about my maniac Father, but about his and my mother’s desperation to marry me off. About the pressure I feel. About the fright. The anger. And Catty listens. Seems to, anyway.

On our sixth meeting, I go to dismount my horse with a smile on my face and prepare to greet her, but she speaks first.

“Can I tell you a secret?” She says.

I drop to the ground and come to stand close to her at the other side of the railing. “Yes.” I say.

She swallows. “My mother died.”

I blink in shock, and feel my heartbeat slowing. “Oh.” I say. “Catty, I, um-”

“Not now.” She says with a nervous laugh. “I don’t… I didn’t mean now. Or- or recently. But it’s the truth about why we, uh… moved away. My mother died.”

I swallow. The words, “I know,” suddenly fall out of my mouth. Then, I realise what I’ve said and splutter as I hurriedly try to think of something better to say.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…” I struggle as she looks at me. “Like that. It’s just… I’m sorry, but it’s what I assumed.”

“No, it… it’s okay.”

How do I respond to this? She’s made me afraid to speak.

“I’m so sorry.” I repeat.

“I just wanted you to know.” Catty says. “I’ve never told anyone before. Anyone here, anyway. And I wanted you to know that I, uh… I feel the same about you that you do me. That we should trust each other. I was just…” she smiles. “Thumbing through all my secrets last night, and that’s the one that fell out.”

My face breaks into a guilty smile.

“Oh.” I say. “Well, thank you, I suppose.”

Is the exchanging of secrets a true mark of friendship? I suppose it is for us. I want to be closer to her suddenly, without this fence dividing us. I suddenly want to reach for her hand on the railing, but hold myself back.

There’s another uncomfortable silence. They’re growing shorter as we get to know one another, but they’re still there.

“Do I owe you a new secret?” I say, hopeful. I’ve got one more.

“No. We’re even now. You confess your, uh… your pantry thing to me, and I tell you something in return.”

I say nothing for a few seconds.

“But can I tell you another anyway?” I ask before I can stop myself. Do I really want to do this? When I started I was going to tell her about my father, but I don’t think I could get that all the way out.

I look up at Catty, who urges me on with her eyes. “Go on.”

“My family, uh… no, never mind.”

She smirks slightly. “Too late. Go on.”

“Oh. I, uh… my…” I lick my lips. “It was just something about my brother.”

She blinks. “Your brother?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“That’s because you’re new.” I hasten. “He left.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“No, it was, uh… to get married.” This is only a tiny lie. “Girl’s name’s Bernadette. She’s very pretty.” I smirk. “Knocked up long before the wedding. Nobody but Father seemed to mind. I only minded one thing at the wedding- that I wasn’t allowed to eat anything.”

Catty smiles. She knows about my constant diets, but knows little enough to find it amusing.

I wish I could just find a way to bite my tongue- I barely spoke to Catty about her mother at all, and now I’m rambling about myself again. But I know I’m not going to stop.

“They have three children now.” I say. Talk of my brother has brought memories back up that I’m struggling to fight down. Bad memories. Dangerous memories. “He was of age. He was going to leave eventually.”

“But that doesn’t mean you don’t miss him.”

I nod, silently. “Yes. I suppose.”

“Don’t you ever see him?”

I try not to smile at the absurdity of the thought. Imagine if I saw him again now. What would I say to him? Sorry would probably be a good start.

“No.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t make a fuss. Neither do you.” I say. I swallow. “Catty, how old were you when your mother died?”

“Ten.”

“Oh. So it was…” I pause.

“Five years ago.”

“And I was eight when Duncan left. It was nearly nine years ago. It’s okay to still miss someone after that long, isn’t it? I mean…” I smile. “For all I see or hear of him it is just like he died.”

Catty licks her lips. I realise I’ve offended her.

“I’m sorry.” I say. “I’m so tactless.”

“It’s okay.” She says.

Seems all she ever does is forgive me.

 

 

It was the first time I’d ever raided the kitchen. It was the autumn I turned eight- the very night, in fact, that Florrie had first told me no. And I was angry. Not hungry- not yet- but angry with my father for daring to think he could control me. That year he’d already banned me from going out into the garden, from speaking to the gardener, from picking the flowers. He’d taken away most of my toys and games. He’d forbidden the servants from calling me by my first name, from treating me like a child. He’d forced me to go back to Sunday school and bid that I learn a piece of scripture each week. I read the Bible every evening instead of my children’s books. And throughout all that, just as usual, he’d been calling me devil and demon and telling me I was not his child at all. Well, I decided that night that if I was not his child, he was not allowed to control me. For the last three years, food and Duncan and been my comfort. Duncan used to pinch my cheeks and comment on my eating affectionately- he liked my chub, and so I did too. He was seventeen, practically a man, and so I clung to him. He was nearly always there for me when I needed him, whenever Father sent me away sobbing, but at night, he was not. And I needed to fill the empty space inside me. So downstairs I went.

I was light on my feet back then. My small fingers fumbled with the pantry door-handle. As I walked into that darkened room, a delicious feeling of rebellion filled me up and drugged my veins. It made my eyes hot, and my cheeks and my throat. I remember pausing for a second in the doorway, trying to feel inside me some small scrap of the monster Father kept telling me was there. If I found it, I decided, I would drag it up and out and let it take me.

I felt nothing. It was all me, the first time.

And I loved it. I loved the way that darkness hid me from the room and the room from me, like nothing but me existed. I loved the way the silence stunned me, stifled me. The way I knew, from the sheer absence of bustle and light and life, that I was doing something very, very wrong. I loved the sensation of disobedience, and I wanted more of it, more, more. Even back then I was drunk on evil and defiance. I couldn’t have cared less who found me.

He did. Duncan found me there.

I remember every detail of that night. I remember the hesitation as I started reaching for cupboards- I remember pulling over the laundry stool so I could reach the higher ones. I cleaned out all the lower ones first, though. The first cupboard I opened was empty. The second contained a nearly-full bowl of potato salad. I hated potato salad- hated the insipidness of it, the way it tasted of nothing but herbs and dampness, but I tasted a whole potato, and within a second, delighted by the feeling of eating something I wasn’t allowed to eat, I started eating faster and faster and more and more. I forgot where I was- I forgot what I was doing. I only felt afraid once I’d completely cleaned out the bowl and wiped my fingers all around it to sop up the sauce. I stared. How could I have eaten so much? Nowadays, that would be nothing, but it was the first time I’d gotten a true taste of what my greed could do to me. Nowadays, I’d immediately go for more, but back then I sat, trembling, afraid, for several minutes. In the end, it was the fear of my father that drove me to keep eating.

Next cupboard- nothing. Next- nothing. Next- three apples. I ate the cores too. The frenzy consumed me and the next few minutes- or hours, for all I knew- were a black blur of grabbing and shoving and chewing and swallowing. And then, all of a sudden, arms were around my waist, lifting me off the stool and into the air.

I yelped, swallowing my mouthful of the goose leg I was eating, and once I was set back onto the ground I turned to see Duncan kneeling before me, his eyes and mouth agape with fear. Even now, I don’t know why he was so afraid. He wrapped me into a hug.

“What are you doing?” He asked. I shook my head and went to take another bite, but he slapped my hand away from my mouth. I frowned.

“Nothing.”

“Whatever will Father do if he finds you down here?” Duncan didn’t let go of me, and I didn’t make him.

“I don’t care about Father.” I said, and I meant it. I didn’t care about anything then but eating. “I don’t care.”

“Ssh!” Duncan was suddenly nervous. In my head, I saw a flash of Father coming down and finding us both. He’d punish us both this time, instead of just me. Right then, I know, I know, I hated my brother more than I’d ever hated before. A part of me was deathly afraid of what I was doing and wanted him to pick me up and carry me back upstairs to my bed and stay there with me, holding me all night. Another part of me wanted to scream and hit him, tell him to go away, to do Lord knows what else to him. He’d caught me. He’d interrupted me, ruined me. He’d destroyed the way the food made me feel- he’d taken my strength and smashed it, to make me weak again.

“God, how long, Mary-Ann?” He asked me.

“How long what?” I hissed.

“How long…” He pauses, taken aback by my aggression. “How long have you been doing this? How much do you eat?”

The humiliation brought blood into my cheeks and fire into my chest.

“Never before. This is the only time.”

“That’s not true.”

My blood started to boil. How dare he not believe me?

Then, his hand latched onto the half-eaten goose leg in my hand and tried to pull it away from me. I snarled and tried to pull it back; he was surprised at my fight. I didn’t need that food- I needed none of it- but he was trying to dictate what I could do, and I was not going to let him.

“Give it to me.”

No!” I yelped, starting to cry as I fought back. “Give it back! Give it-”

He tried to clamp a hand over my mouth. “Ssh! You must be quiet or Father will-”

“I don’t care about Father!” I roared, and sunk my teeth into his hand.

Duncan screamed and let go of me. I had bitten him hard, and there was a stomach-churning moment I was unable to detach my teeth. His hand came free with a flurry of blood that stained his nightgown sleeve scarlet. Even as he clutched it and whimpered, looking from the wound to me, I giggled, noticing there was blood around my own mouth. It tasted strange.

I said innocently: “I’m a vampire now.”

It was a game we used to play- we’d smear our mouths with jam or tomato juice or strawberry jelly, saying it was blood. The vampire game. I loved it. Father did not.

And now that I had giggled, I supposed Duncan didn’t either.

We’d been growing apart for a while. He’d become afraid of the way I spoke about Father. That hatred is all stuck inside me now I’ve got nobody to confess it to. Duncan left the very next morning, without warning, saying he was going to move in with Bernadette. Mother begged him to reconsider, but Father let him leave, watching the way he looked at me before the door swung shut behind him. Father saw the bandage, too- Duncan showed it to all of us. He claimed he’d broken a candlestick in his room and even presented the broken candlestick as proof when prompted. I knew he must have broken it that morning, just to keep me safe. If I’d have run after him, latched onto his legs and wailed and sobbed that I was sorry, he probably would have come back. But I didn’t. I’d hurt him, and I wanted him far away before I hurt him again. Before I wanted to.

 

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