The Devil in Me
First published in Gulfstreaming 2003
There were stars falling down all over the place. They slid in sparkling showers through the thick air – the air was so warm you could feel it.
We sat on the stone wall right on the edge of the cliff looking down at the sugarcane, and we talked. He kept pointing at the falling stars and saying, “look! There’s another one! Quick, make a wish!”
I tipped my head back and hoped he noticed how graceful my neck was and the way my hair swept the small of my back, and I thought – I wish he would love me forever. God, make him love me forever.
He had his knees drawn up to his chin, arms clasped around his knees, and his eyes were full of falling stars. I know, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
I noticed him soon after he’d moved to the island. He drove around on a red motorbike. I started watching for him zoom by. He didn’t see me, hiding behind my mother’s baskets of fresh g’nips and tamarinds – behind the stacks of clear jellies and sticky sugar gums.
“Rainy girl – what you dreamin’ bout?” Neilsa sold necklaces and bracelets made in the Philippines, but she took the tags off and the tourists never seemed to realize cowries didn’t come from the Caribbean.
“Nothing Neilsa.” I studied the basket of g’nips. Tourists loved to try the native fruit, and our jellies sold out before ten a.m. The sugar gums were harder to sell. Flies seemed fatally attracted to them, they swooped down for a taste and got stuck. I never ate them – but the natives, with their sweet tooth, loved them.
“You’s got dem big eyes like you in love with some boy. Tell me, ain’t it the truth?”
“Lordy, don’t you think that it’s hot this morning?”
“You ain’t answered my question girl. I see you get all red – same color as that motorbike gone by. See – you’s doing it again. I say you’re in love.”
“I say you talk too much and hush your mouth my mother’s coming this way.”
Neilsa rolled her eyes but she hushed. My mother was a tiny woman, with gray eyes, gray hair, and a mouth you couldn’t push a pin into. She glanced at the jellies, frowned at the stack of candy, and plucked a dead leaf from the g’nip basket. “Neilsa – don’t you have better things to do than chat with my daughter?”
“Yessum.” Neilsa got up with an audible sigh and left the shade of our parasol to go back to her jewelry stand.
“Neilsa forgot her umbrella,” I said.
“Rainy, if I want your opinion, I will ask for it. We are here to make money, not to chatter. Three clients walked by you and you didn’t notice. How are we going to pay the rent if you don’t pay attention? It’s not as if I’m asking you to do hard labor, or even as if I ask you to do more than your share. It’s fair that I get one day off a week, isn’t it? I work all week long, and Sunday – who does the Sunday market at the cruise ship docks? Who?”
“You do.” I looked glumly out over the choppy water in the harbor. Three cruise ships were anchored at the docks. A seaplane coasted in and landed in a white spray. I watched as it made its lumbering way to the seaplane port just across the street – as it heaved itself out of the water and up the ramp. Doors opened and more tourists spilled out, blinking and pale in the dazzle. A red motorbike zoomed by on the main road.
“Rainy.” My mother never yelled. She didn’t have to. The only daughter of an army captain, she knew how to use tone.
I just nodded and picked up a jar of pale green jelly. “Jelly! Home-made g’nip jelly! Try a g’nip sir? Have you ever tried one? No? Those green things are g’nips. Go ahead, take one. You’ll be surprised at how good it is.”
Rainy season. School starts. Clouds pile up on the horizon and waves dash over the waterfront. Boats seek shelter in the mangroves and houses grow moldy and damp. Geckos invade the living room, ants swarm in the cereal boxes, and millipedes make their slow way across the walls. My sheets are always damp. The walls take on a grayish tinge. The cistern overflows and water pours in sheets off the gutters. Rain batters the tin roof and we can hardly hear ourselves think. My mother stirs sugar into boiling g’nip juice and then curses when she sees it’s full of sugar ants. “Goddammit Rainy – I tell you time and time again to put the sugar away in the freezer!”
I forgot. I draw my knees up to my chin and stare at my homework. It’s math, and the numbers are all muddled in my head.
How many sixteen ounce jars of g’nip jelly can you make from a bushel of g’nips? None, if the sugar has ants in it.
All I can see is his face. Lordy, he’s in my class now. The gods are laughing their asses off at me. Or maybe it’s the devil. In the islands we believe in the devil. When it rains and the sun’s still shining, we say he’s beating his wife. When the boat capsizes it’s the devil playing fool with the waves. When the wind catches the laundry and it flies off the line that’s the devil. Men drink and beat their wives – it’s the devil. Boys and girls hide behind the cinderblock wall and what they do is make devil. Honey – don’t get caught in the back seat with the devil. It’s harder to believe in God. He doesn’t show himself so much. Besides, I believe in many gods, like the Greeks. A god for g’nips, a god for the rain, and a god who rides a red motorbike. He sits three chairs in front of me, and yesterday he looked over his shoulder and he winked at me.
“Rainy, would you mind coming down off your cloud and joining us here in French class?”
I blink and find myself sitting in school. Christmas has come and gone, the Rainy season has ended, and Carnival is just around the corner. The boy I love is sitting behind me. He tugs my hair and says – what cloud were you on, cloud nine? I laugh with the others, but I have no idea what he’s talking about.
We have no television – my mother calls it an idiot box. Her idea of sex education is summed up in three words: don’t do it. I go to Catholic school, wear a plaid skirt and a cross around my neck, as if that will ward off the devil.
Carnival lasts for two weeks. For the parade, the girls in our school dress in red flared skirts with green blouses – we’re hibiscus. Boys wear yellow shirts with black stripes – what were the nuns thinking of? My mother snatches me out of the parade and marches me to the marketplace.
“Sit right here, I have some people to see. It’s busy today – we should make a lot of money. The parade was almost over anyway.”
I blink back tears and hold a jar of jelly to the light. “Try a g’nip?” I ask the tourists walking by.
A boy in a striped shirt sidles up to me. “Was that your mom?” he asks.
I nod, looking nervously at her stiff back as she marches out of sight. “Her father was in the army,” I say.
He makes a face. “Poor you.”
I can’t speak. My throat has knots in it all the way down to my stomach.
He tilts his head and stares at me. “My God you’re beautiful,” he says.
The bottom drops out of my atheism. God exists – he’s there, in blood and bones and skin. I can only tremble. I hide behind a curtain of hair. He reaches down and sweeps it away. “No, I mean it. You have the most amazing eyes. And your name – Rainy – it suits you somehow.”
I stare at him – mesmerized like a snake in front of a dancing mongoose.
“Will your mother let you go to the movies with me?”
“Of course.” I lie. Something has happened to me. God has just appeared in front of me and given me a backbone. I smile. There is a fantastic lightness in all of my bones, and I feel a wicked heat in the pit of my belly. God and the devil walk hand and hand on my island.
“Neilsa – will you ask my mother to let me stay overnight with you? Tell her your grandmother is coming from St. Kitts, and you want me to meet her. Tell her anything – but tell her it’s for Saturday night, when Carnival is over, otherwise she’ll be suspicious.”
Another thing – I can’t go to the Carnival village and I can’t go hear the Carnival steel drum bands. My mother believes that the devil mingles with that teeming crowd; perhaps munching a curry patty and drinking an icy beer. She believes the devil and music are somehow related. She likes Neilsa well enough – Neilsa is from down island and wears a gold cross. She goes to church every day – and my mother thinks that this make her a good Christian woman. My mother has never realized that to the natives, God and the devil live in the same house.
“You have fun Rainy!” Neilsa waves from the doorway, a huge smile on her face. Before I left, she pressed something into my hand. It’s a little foil package and when she tells me what’s in it, I nearly drop it. But I stuff it in my pocket and kiss her.
The boy I love picks me up from Neilsa’s house with his red motorbike. He and I ride through the hot night until we get to the drive-in theater. During the day it’s a cow pasture. We park next to a loudspeaker and put the kickstand down after checking the ground for cow pies. There’s a stone wall behind us, and in front of us the screen comes alive with ‘Enter the Dragon.’ It’s been playing there for two years now, but still draws a big crowd. We sit on the stone wall. We talk. The movie screen casts a flickering light over his face, and then the electricity goes off. That happens often, so there’re just few groans and only two cars start up and leave. Into the sudden darkness, there comes a shower of meteorites.
Afterwards, we drive back to his house. It is enormous – modern, with black marble floors and a chrome refrigerator in the massive kitchen. I notice a note on the door. “There are TV dinners in the fridge – heat them in the microwave. Don’t eat all the ice-cream. Have a good weekend. I’ll see you Monday – Love mom.”
“My mom is never here,” he says, opening the fridge and taking out two cold beers. “When my parents divorced she got custody of me, and my dad has my brother.”
“Does that bother you?” I asked.
“Not really. They only used to fight all the time.” He shrugged. “Probably better like this.”
We sit in a leather sofa and listen to music. A fish tank is lit by a tiny halogen light. The house leans out over the ocean. Outside there is a stone stairway leading down to a private cove. The boy I love stands up and flips a switch. Lights come on inside the water – it’s beautiful.
“Want to swim?”
I nod. The beer is making my head swim. I’ve never taken a sip of alcohol before. I put the empty bottle down and stand up. He runs his hands over my sides, then lifts my shirt over my head.
“It’s better without bathing suits – you’ll see.”
I take the foil packet out of my pocket.
The rocks still holds the heat of the day. The water is tepid. I dive in and float a minute on my back, my hair spread all around me. I feel a hand on my thigh and I look up at the crazy moon and I smile. Don’t do it suddenly has no meaning. The devil is in my belly, and God is splashing like an otter by my side. There are shooting stars in the heavens, and when he slips his hand behind my neck and draws me to him, I kiss him deeply.
There is no tomorrow, there is no mother, there is only the devil in me, and the deep blue sea.