A Deal with the Devil (The Devil Trilogy #2) by Amelia Wilde



Thirty-three years ago

They should call the church Our Lady of the Long Wait.

That’s what I do in the big stone building with the high steeple and the bell you can hear from ten blocks away. I know that because we live ten blocks from here. Compared to our apartment on the fourth floor, the church is huge. It’s still not big enough to be exciting. Which is why the waiting takes so long.

I wait for the long service to be over. I know it’s almost over when people start shifting in their seats. Sometimes their clothes rustling on the pews sound like waves. That sound means it’s time for the priest to raise his voice and tell everyone to go in peace. Ite in pace.

Probably the only thing that will ever be big enough to be exciting is the sea. I wish I were swimming. Any other day of the week, I would be. Any other night too. My mother never looks angry when I wake her up and tell her I can’t sleep. She only nods like she understands how my bed is too still and our street is too quiet. She says we can’t move closer to the sea, because we can’t afford it. So I pretend not to hear the waves until I can’t pretend anymore, and then I wake her up.

And she is never angry.

The service is over now, but I wait on a hard pew toward the back. It’s made from old wood. You can tell it’s old by how scarred it is. Hundreds of people have sat here, waiting for their mothers to be done with confessing. I don’t know what she says to the priest in there. She hasn’t ever sinned. Unless getting out of your bed late at night and standing at the edge of the sea is a sin. I don’t know how it could be. The sea is at least as big as God. That makes it just as strong. So who’s to say?

I trace the dark lines in the wood of the pew and try to decide who is in charge of sinning. According to the nun who teaches Sunday school, it’s God. I don’t believe her all the way. I still think the sea has something to do with it. Maybe if the sea thought you had sinned, it would come up onto the shore and cover you up the way the curtain on the confessional covers my mother.

Would that be a good thing or a bad thing, to be covered by the sea? Bad, because you’d drown. But why would the sea take you if it thought you were a sinner? The sea takes things it loves.

My legs ache from dangling off the pew so I get up and go over to the confessional.

It’s a big, dark box with three doors. The middle one, where the priest goes in and out, is covered by a lattice. I want to run my fingers over it but I don’t. I know better than that. Two doors on either side of his are covered in curtains the same color blue as the Virgin Mary’s gown. The one on the left hides most of my mother. I can see her feet through a gap at the bottom.

A sound comes from inside the confessional. Sounds usually do, since people are talking in there. I’ve been inside. You have to confess before you can have your first communion. So I’ve done it. And I know it’s supposed to be private, but I get low to the floor and put a finger at the side of the curtain. I’ll confess about it later. Right now I want to know what that sound was.

It happens again while my eyes get used to the dark inside the confessional.

My mother is crying.

Her shoulders move, but she’s trying to be quiet. Probably because she’s in the confessional. It makes my heart beat faster to see her cry, and hear it. I want to sneak behind the curtain with her and put my head on her knee. She would stroke my hair, and she would stop crying.

But I don’t go in. Something makes me stay where I am, holding my breath.

My mother’s rosary is held tight in one of her hands. She circles her thumb over one of the pearls, like she’s praying in her head so she doesn’t interrupt the priest. She always has it with her. Always, always. She always says, “If anything ever happens to me, you keep this hidden, and you keep it safe. But most of all, Poseidon, you keep it.” I don’t know what she means when she says anything. I don’t want to know.

I’m watching the rosary so hard I don’t hear what she says to the priest. I hear him answer, though. He speaks in French. I only understand it a little, and what he says doesn’t make any sense. Meet the ship. What ship? And pay the money. What money?

We don’t have money. If we did have money, we would live in a house in the countryside, or by the seashore. That’s what she says.

My mother pinches her lips together like she does when she doesn’t want to cry, but she’s already crying. She folds something in her hand. A white envelope. She passes the envelope through the lattice between her and the priest. I can’t see his face. My mother bows her head and takes a deep breath. She lets it out slow. “My God,” she says. “I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.” I follow along with the words until she stops and the priest starts. Her hand makes the sign of the cross. “Amen,” she says.