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.

9Likes
33Comments
4099Views

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

3. Sickness

On with the breath-stealing corset. “Never, never, never.” I mutter through gritted teeth as I yank the laces with all my strength. The pressure on my stomach makes me gasp. The modern fashion, even for church, is for half-length corsets that stop above the navel; I couldn’t wear one of those in a million years. Besides, my father’s a man of tradition. No part of my mother or I, save for our faces, may remain uncovered in church- my formal dresses have sleeves that reach to the wrist, under which I still have to wear my elbow-length gloves. Nothing of colour. White or grey. My hair must be wrestled back into such a tight bun as to pull at the skin of my neck and make my head ache worse than any migraine. And my full corsets are accompanied by a fully-laced bodice, one that gives me a semblance of a figure- not to make me look attractive, but merely thinner- and in the process sucks the breath clean out of me. I’ve had this particular grey dress for less than a year, and it’s already at the end of its tether with holding me in place.

But as I look into the mirror I cannot help myself from admiring my figure. Running my hands down my waist and hips to feel the rare firmness. My corset is barely laced, but who’s going to know? Nobody will know I ate an entire baking-dish full of sausages last night- that’s for sure. And that once I’d finished I was already so deep in frenzy that I devoured a half loaf of bread and Lord knows what else before I came around with my lips glued together and two fingers glued to my cheek. Uncomfortably full, and so disgusted I felt sick and wept in my room all night.

As with every day, I pick up my dress, unpooling it from its untidy heap on the ground. Last week it needed nearly half an hour of tugging. The week before, twenty minutes. But I know I can’t be gaining weight that rapidly. Must just be my mind playing games with me.

I fumble my way through the half-million layers of skirt and petticoat. One layer for every giggle and dirty look I’ll receive in the pews. I pull the entire contraption over my head, wriggle my arms through the stiff sleeves, and pull- but there it stays.

“No. No. No.” I mutter to myself, trying to manoeuvre my arms to pull the dress on. I’m stuck. Stuck in the darkness with my arms over my head, unable to move. Just like last week. But there’s nothing to be done- it must go on. There is no alternative- my father picks my outfits every day and he’ll do worse than scold me if I disobey him. So I tug again, and again, to no avail- I can feel my cheeks growing hot and red and my eyes starting to sting.

“No.” I repeat. “No, Mary-Ann; no.” A tear leaves my eye. The flush spreads down to my neck and chest, which I know will be crimson and mottled once I finally manage to get the dress on. When. I’ll look a stress-boiled mess and then everyone will know. They’ll laugh or feel too much pity to do so. Eventually, after ten minutes of useless yanking and sobbing and cursing myself, I try to get my arms out. It’ll fit my waist if only I do the difficult part first, and then the sleeves. It will. It will.

It won’t.

I get one arm out, but not the other. At least now, once the skirts have gone over my head, I can see. I see my red self in the mirror and choke on another sob. Turn away from her. I tug and tug and tug. I start to cry harder. God, just get it off! Off! Just get it off. I have to get it off, not on. I’ll just have to put on another of my dresses. I have no choice. I’ll endure the beating. It’s what I deserve for the terrible things I do in the pantry night after night. Just get it off. It will. It will. It won’t. No, it won’t.

I only have one option. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it but I must.

In my half-on, half-off dress, with the waistline twisted such that it chokes me, I struggle with the bathroom door and manage to fumble it open. I sink down onto my bed to get as far away from the window’s open curtains as I can, bow my head, wipe away my tears and fan my face to cool the redness. I wait for her footsteps along the corridor- she always walks past half an hour after I dress, to help my mother.

“Lula?” I call when I hear her. She stops.

“Lula.” I call again, suddenly panicking. What if she doesn’t come in? Then I’ll be trapped. Have to rip it. And be late.

The door squeaks open. “Miss Lansfield? Are you okay?”

Lula comes in, holding a stack of towels. I do my best to cover myself with my arms, but she sees me, and the faintest prick of laughter in her voice makes my cheeks burn hotter and my anger start to whisper.

“Oh, goodness.”

“I…” I say. “I’m sorry. I need help.”

“Oh, honey. Don’t worry. Come here. Stand up.”

She walks over to me and I stand up, wiping away another tear. “Just rip it.” I say.

She looks at me. “What?”

“Rip it!” I say, suddenly anxious. “Rip it. Rip it. It won’t go on. Please, get it off.”

“But this is-”

“Get it off me!” I sob. “Please. Please. I can’t.”

“It fit you just fine last week.”

“No, it didn’t.” I sob. “Lula, it didn’t. Please.”

“Your Father…”

“Yes, my father. I know! I know. But I have to take the beating. This won’t fit me. There’s nothing I can do to make it fit me anymore.”

“I…” Lula pauses behind me, her hands in the fabric at my waist. I understand why she’s frightened. If Father finds out she ripped this dress, she’ll be fired. “I’m sure it’ll fit.”

“I’ll take the blame.” I panic, wondering about the time. “Of course I will. It’s not your fault I’m this way. Please. Please. Rip it. Just rip it.”

“It’ll go on.” Lula says, stroking my hair. “I promise you. I’ve gotten women into dresses tighter than this. Just you see.”

I breathe in, trying to still my ugly sobbing. I’m frightened of the way it’ll feel once it’s on- it’ll hurt. But I nod. “Okay.”

“All we have to do is tighten your corset a little way.” Lula’s voice wobbles. “See? It’s far too loose the way you’ve done it.”

Actually, it’s so tight I can barely breathe, but I agree.

“Oh. Really? Okay.”

“Come on. Cheer up, honey. You’ve worked yourself up into a state. Relax.” Lula’s fumbling with the laces of my corset. I know she’s begging me to calm down because she’s trying to protect me from my father, so I nod.

“Okay.”

“Three. Two. One.”

She yanks, and I gasp. Lula ignores me.

“See? Completely fine.”

“Y- yes.”

“Now for the dress.” Lula’s hands are cold when she reaches under the dress around my shoulders. “Three. Two. One.”

She pulls, and it doesn’t budge. She pulls again, and again, and I bite my lip so hard I nearly draw blood. There is no worse humiliation than this. Then, suddenly, it’s on.

I look down at myself.

“Oh.”

“See? Not a problem.”

I look at her. “Thank you.”

“It was a doddle, darling.”

“No, it wasn’t, Lula. What am I going to do?”

She licks her lips nervously. “About what?”

“You know what about. About all the weight I’ve gained.”

“Don’t be silly, sweetheart.” She comes before me and starts to lace me up; even though I can at least do that, I let her.

“I have.”

“No, of course you haven’t.”

“Yes, I have, Lula!” God, her denial makes me feel worse. “And it’s going to send my father mad with shame and my mother mad with pressure! They’ll never be able to get me married off.” I sigh. “What man would marry this, for Heaven’s sake?”

“Oh, you needn’t worry.” She says, averting her gaze from mine. “No man will look enough to mind.”

“Really?” I raise an eyebrow.

“Yes, men aren’t concerned with such womanly trifles.”

“Then why do we insist on marrying them?”

Lula doesn’t reply; she just bends to pick up her towels from the floor. I feel another stab of anger, but push it down. My cheeks still burn. “Now, hurry up and see to your hair. I must go and help your mother.”

 

 

After fifteen minutes or more of trying to calm the red from my skin, splashing water over it, and of wrestling my hair back, I make my way downstairs to the sound of voices.

“I simply don’t understand it.” My mother says. I can’t help but wonder what she’s doing in the kitchen.

“Me neither. I just don’t see how they’re getting in!” Florrie- she’s laughing, but Mother is not.

“Goodness, I hope they won’t spread to the rest of the house.” Mother clears her throat.

“Don’t you worry, Mrs Lansfield; we’ll catch the rats if they’re down there. I’m sure they won’t spread.” Florrie chuckles again. “And if they do, I’m sure they’re perfectly friendly.”

Before I can stop myself, I walk into the doorway of the kitchen. Both women turn and see me; Florrie catches my eye and twists her mouth.

“Good morning, Mary-Ann.” Mother says.

“Morning, Mother.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yes.” I lie. I see Florrie raising an eyebrow at me slightly, from behind my mother. “Thank you. And you?”

“Impeccably.”

I wonder if she’s lying too. Hope not.

“We’re just dealing with the trivial matter of the missing food,” Florrie says.

“Goodness.” I say, keeping up the act for the sake of my poor Mother’s denial. “Again?”

“Yes, again. Must be half the city’s vermin under these floorboards, eh, Mrs Lansfield?”

Mother retches slightly, then presses her mouth into a smile. “Indeed.”

“How much went missing?” I ask.

“The sausages I was keeping for lunch.” Florrie says. “Half the fruit in the basket, though they left the apple cores. And half the bread. And half the butter from the tub.”

I nod, feeling sick. Mother looks at me nervously.

“How could they have gotten in?” She asks Florrie. I know she desperately wants an answer.

“Oh. The… the grate in the scullery, perhaps?”

Mother looks relieved. “Oh. Oh, yes, of course.”

Another voice comes from directly behind me; a heavy hand lands on my shoulder.

“You’d better block up the hole then, hadn’t you, Florence?”

My father.

“Oh. Yes.” Florrie says, looking up past me. “Good… Good morning, Sir.”

“Good morning to you too. And to my beautiful daughter.” I feel his fingertips digging into the soft part of my shoulder. I’m too scared to turn and look at him. “Vermin in the pantry, you say?”

His voice is playful, challenging. I swallow.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well, block it off. And if you happen to find a rat, squash it dead.”

“Y… Yes, Sir.”

My blood chills at his words.

“Order the girl to buy some poison at market today.” Father gestures to Lula as she bustles in with a stack of saucepans.

“Of course, Sir.” Lula says, keeping her head down.

I turn to look at Father, trying to shrug off his hand as Mother approaches us. He looks right into my eyes, his grin twisted. He’s so tall, like my mother. He’s already wearing his top hat- a signal to us which means we’re making him late and ought to be leaving for church before he loses his patience. His dark sideburns blend with his hair in the light, making his face look strangely thin and misshapen.

“How are you this morning, Mary-Ann?”

“Well, thank you, Father. And you?”

“I could be better. After all, we seem to have a vermin problem.”

I scowl at him.

“Florence?” Father raises his voice. “Have you thought about questioning your girls about this?”

“About what, Sir?”

“About the missing butter, you daft woman.” He growls. “It’s not cheap. Whoever’s eating my food is costing me a lot of money. If it is a who.”

He squeezes my shoulder tighter.

 “What? You- you mean… you think it was a person?” Florrie says with a light laugh. “Quite impossible, sir. You see, the amount that went missing-”

“Yes, Henry.” Mother walks up to him, attempting to get between him and me. “She couldn’t have eaten all that; it’s quite absurd. Florrie says there are rats-”

“It’s impossible. You see, we would have heard anyone leaving their bed.” Florrie says.

“Yes.” Mother finishes. Underneath the shame, at these words, I feel a slight stab of pride. Still, I choke it down and try to look calmly up at Father. Suddenly, I feel his hard finger poking me in the stomach. Mother can’t see- she’s at his other side. I look down and stifle my gasp as he pokes again, harder.

I grit my teeth. Some days, I’m sure he knows it was me. I wonder whether he enjoys letting me destroy myself, so that he can bully me for it. Still, that wavering of pride comes back. It couldn’t have been her, they said. She couldn’t have eaten that much. She couldn’t have managed to be that quiet. Oh, yes, I could. And I have to admit I do enjoy the defiance, despite the humiliation it’s brought me. The rebellion and the humiliation alike only serve to make me hungrier.

 

 

Religion may have brought comfort to many millions, but it has also brought death to many millions more. Why does God require our constant worship? Why does He deserve our constant worship? Mine, anyway. He’s made me rich. He’s made me beautiful. But He’s also made my father cruel and my mother weak and He punishes those who wish for anything more than the light of His love. He punishes every scrap of darkness. He Himself is a religious fanatic. And here in the modern era, we tend to frown upon religious fanatics.

My father looks down at me. I fix my eyes forwards and try to listen to the words the Priest is saying.

“…Women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.” He says. A strange image of my mother downing wine from a bottle comes into my head and I stifle my laugh with a cough, which attracts stares from the young woman in the pew in front of us. “…and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

I understand now why my father recently forced us to switch churches. He and this Priest could form an excellent friendship. I begin to doze off, despite my better judgement- it’s common for my father to ask me questions on the sermons afterwards, to check if I was paying attention, and if I was not, to strike me or pinch me hard.

So God thinks a woman should be weak and a man should be brave and bold. I wonder how many of England’s people are truly happy with that idea. Can’t be that many of them- in my short time on this Earth I’ve met an awful lot of iron-willed women and even more lily-livered men.

I would hasten to guess that Father may be a madder religious fanatic even than God himself. He uses his Bibles like a shield, fending off every retort and discrepancy with something the Lord said once as though he thinks the Lord’s word is the last and only. Granted, all of God’s judgements together do make a pretty heavy weapon, but what Father doesn’t seem to realise is that if his book contained only the parts he heeded- the parts preaching hatred and prejudice- it wouldn’t even be thick enough to fend off a fly.

My mind tries to drift but is pulled back into clarity- not by the Priest, but by the twisting, constricting sensation in my chest.

Over the next few minutes, it grows, turning mildly acidic and quickening my breath as I attempt to unwind it to no avail. Feels like thread wrapped around my organs. Feels like embroidery- tight, cold, precise jabs. In, out, in, out, in, out. It builds. I steady my breathing. Do my best, to, anyway. Before I can stop myself, I’ve gripped the edge of the pew tighter, lightening my knuckles, reddening my chest and throat and cheeks. At a point, my head seems to fill with sloshing water and the Priest’s words drown, ringing in my ears like the low rumble of thunder. My eyes grow hot; my chest, where the pain is, grows cold.

I fidget in place. Quick as lightning, my father grabs my wrist, just barely digging his fingertips into the white softness where my veins are. I clench my teeth. The pain worsens. Father isn’t hurting me- only threatening me.

“I don’t feel well.” I whisper to him. Mother looks up from Father’s other side, her eyes wide with worry, but she bows her head again and ignores me.

Father leans over and hisses, “Sit still.”

I look up at him, jaw set in defiance. “I may fit.”

“You won’t do anything of the sort.”

“I may.”

“You won’t, or you’ll get-” Father cuts himself off as the woman in front of us turns. I vaguely recognise her as another of Mother’s irritating friends- her dress is green, and she’s wearing a frivolous hat with a wide brim. The little boy of six or seven next to her turns too.

Once they’ve turned back, I clench my jaw harder and barely sniff as the pain heightens.

“Please, Father.”

Father looks up anxiously as more people turn to stare at us. “Please, Mary-Ann.”

I know I can’t leave. Wish I could. Wish he’d understand that my absence from church would save his face as well as mine, but he doesn’t.

 

 

Mother was right. I’m a very poor embroiderer. Perhaps it’s because I frequently get bored and begin stabbing the needle at my fingertips. Never drawing blood- just barely threading it through my thinnest layer of skin and letting it sit. Like a claw. A delicate claw. A lady’s claw.

“Miss Lansfield?” Lula says, knocking on my bedroom door.

I sigh, and put my handkerchief down, pulling the needle away from its thread and pressing it into my hand. I know why she’s here, but I pretend I don’t.

“Come in.” I say brightly.

She enters.

“Your Father would speak with you in the study downstairs.” She says. My heart sinks, but I smile and nod, standing up.

“Okay. Thank you, Lula.”

“No problem, Miss.”

I wait until she’s left, and I hear her footsteps walking away in the direction of my mother’s room instead of the stairs. Then, I silently tuck the needle into my sleeve, bundling it up in my hand with my cuff. Just in case.

I leave my room, needle in hand, and make for the staircase. The sky is indigo-painted with dusk, but smothered by clouds instead of stars. The countryside means a beautiful view of the stars on clear nights. It also means nobody can hear a scream, or a sob, and that the house is stifled by loneliness and utter silence. Prison.

Once I’m downstairs I go straight to Father’s study. Despite the overwhelming urge to batter the door open with a CRASH that’d send him flying up to his feet or even flying back off his chair onto the carpet, I knock.

“Come in.” He says. I clear my throat. I wonder if, if I had burst in like a lunatic, he would’ve laughed. Sometimes he does.

I open the door and see him sitting at his desk, the yellow candlelight just barely craning high enough to lick his chin. He, unlike me, is still wearing his Sunday best. His shoes are off, tumbled next to the door, and his hair is unkempt, like he’s been running his hands through it.

“Good evening, Father.” I say. I wouldn’t dream of greeting him with a hello, nor he I.

“Sit down.” He says. I walk across the room and oblige him, folding my hands into my lap. “Do you want a biscuit?”

I look at him strangely as he gestures to the tin in front of me. My hunger seizes my hands and latches them onto it, even though I know full well that he’s joking. I take the lid from the tin to see it empty. Then, I hear him laughing as I sigh.

I replace the lid and put the tin down. Then, I start to laugh too. He’s right- I’m ridiculous. We both are.

“Of course you do.” He says. “Of course you do.”

“Of course I do.” I echo with a smile. My laughter irritates him. He was, after all, trying to hurt me. I find the way I behave with my father utterly bizarre. He is, in a lot of ways, easier to talk to than Mother. He laughs with me. And I enjoy that he hates me. I enjoy the fact that if we were both better people we would likely be the best of friends.

“Anyway, Mary-Ann.” He says, locking his gaze with mine as his expression sobers. His voice sounds caring and patient. “How did you feel in church today?”

I sigh. No point in lying. “Hideous.”

“How so?”

I twist my mouth and lean forwards, resting my elbows on the desk and my chin in my hands. “There was a pain in my chest.”

“A burning?”

“No; a sort of tightness. Like there was a finger stuck into my heart, and it was twisting.” I swallow. “And I started to feel sick and faint and light. And I began to flush.”

“You looked as though you were burning up. Turning the colour of raw meat.” He says with a sniff. “What of the way it felt?”

“Why are you so obsessed with burning?”

“I’m not.”

“I’ve been on this Earth for sixteen years. If I was going to burn, Father, would I not have already burned?”

“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

“But I thought…” I look down and kick the mahogany of the desk. “That this was not the Lord’s work.”

There’s a long silence. I’ve irritated him. He drums his fingers on the desk, once, twice. Then, he speaks again.

“I think you’re getting worse, Mary-Ann.”

I swallow and nod. The sick feeling in my chest worsens. I’m afraid. Not of the Devil. Not of God. Not of him. Of me.

“Your ridiculous antics in church…” Father says, and I stare up at him. “Are a humiliation to yourself far more than they are to me or your Mother. I know that you see yourself as a deviant, Mary-Ann… you don’t want to do as I say. But I will force it upon you if necessary- let us hope it remains unnecessary. Defying God, and defying society will only hurt you more in the long term. Stop fighting. Give in.”

“Maybe I should stop going to church if I’m such an embarrassment.”

He blinks. “What?”

“If it humiliates you so to be seen with me in public then do not bring me.” I hiss. I twist my mouth further, wondering if I dare continue speaking. I’m too used to this to be afraid. “Don’t you think after all these years it’s about time you locked me up like a madwoman?”

No, Mary-Ann!” He slams his fist down on the table, startling me back. “I will not give up on you. I will not give you up to your wicked ways. I am your father.”

“How generous of you.” I drawl. To my surprise, he smiles at my sarcasm. Slightly.

There’s a period of silence.

Father clears his throat. “It’s time we-”

“Pray.” I finish, clutching my sleeve tighter in my hand. I offer him the other. “Yes.”

The sooner we get it over with, the better.

Father looks down at my hand, and then grasps it in both of his. He holds it high, bracing our elbows against the desk. “Lord,” he says. “Absolve my daughter of her wicked ways.”

I sigh, looking down at the ground as he continues to ramble and beg. I wonder what he means by wicked ways. I’m a mess, sure, but not wicked. I’m not.

Still, the heat comes back into my cheeks.

“Take away all about her that is masculine and boisterous, that hurts her femininity and makes her unnatural.” Father continues, as I press my spare hand into my chest. “Make her meek. Make her amenable. Make her a credit to this family, to this name, to Your name. Make her see.”

See? See? See what? I choke back a wavering of sickness. There’s no pain, but I feel panic rearing up in me all of a sudden, kicking at my chest. All of a sudden, I’m desperately averse to his words, like if he talks long enough he’ll preach me out of existence. The words are poison to me. They’ll make me ill. They must stop. I let out a moan as his voice rises and my heart starts to hammer.

“Lord, we beg of you! We both beseech this of you!”

“I don’t beseech him.” I whisper. The reply comes out of me without conscious thought, like it’s not me speaking.

“We want our sins made clean!”

My voice rises, saying words I’m sure I didn’t think of. “Even if I had sins I’d want them to remain.”

“We beg of you!”

“No, only you beg. I beg nobody.”

“My daughter needs you, Lord! She needs you now more than ever. Find it in your heart to forgive her wickedness. Reach out with your unconditional love-”

“Why is the only love I’m worthy of unconditional?”

“Mary-Ann, be silent!” Father clenches my hand tighter. My head’s a blackening furnace now. I feel angrier than I can bear. Maybe this is the monster coming to the surface, again. Maybe I should welcome him. “Lord, forgive her blasphemous words and ways. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

“I know perfectly well what I’m saying.”

“No, you don’t.”

“You’re pathetic, Father, you know.” I say, but my voice jerks up into a whimper as he crushes my fingers together with his. His voice grows higher, as does mine. “Father. Father. Father! Please!” I shout over his prayer as the panic seizes me. I feel hot and stinging all over- I’m crying. “Father, please. You-you-you’re hurting me!”

“Hurt is necessary. Hurt is the evil coming out.”

“It’s never worked!” I try to sound strong, but the anger has brittled and broken. I’m frightened now, a child, at his mercy. “Father, it doesn’t work! When has it ever worked? When will you ever learn I can never be cured? Please. Please. Stop, I beg you!”

“I won’t. The Lord must know to save you.”

“He must know by now and yet he does nothing!”

“He will save you if you ask him!”

“Save me from- from what, Father?” I cry out again as he crushes my fingers harder. “No! No. No. Please, please stop! I’m frightened!”

“Good. The fear makes you meek.”

“I don’t want to be meek! I want- I want- Let go of me!”

“Never.”

“If you want the Lord to save me so badly then why hasn’t he come already?” I sob. “Why? Why? Why won’t he come? He’ll never come to save me, Father.”

“He will.”

“He won’t.” I open my mouth wider and realise I’m breathing so hard, so sharply, that it’s making me light and dizzy. Maybe I’m going to fit again. Maybe I want to.

“The Devil did this to you, Mary-Ann- the Lord will make it better.”

“He can’t fix the Devil’s work!” I say. “If we want the Devil’s work undone then maybe we must pray to him to save me.”

“The Devil saves nobody.”

“He saves me, sometimes.” I say softly, feeling a little of the heat retreating from my face. “Sometimes he saves me.”

“You’re every rule’s exception, Mary-Ann.” Father says, his voice a little quieter, his grip a little looser. “That’s why we must pray for you.”

I snarl: “I will not pray with you.”

Father lets go of me with one hand and strikes me, hard.

“You will learn to fear God.” He tells me, his voice soft with anger.

I gasp and look up, my cheek stinging. I want to snarl again. He’s wrong- fear and pain don’t breed weakness. They breed only depravity. I feel it festering in me.

And so, I let him continue. I stop retorting and drop my head, my flush slowly dissolving. I know full well he’ll never stop. I just like to fight.

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...