DEVIL by Joseph Farley
The phone rang. Wilma answered it.
A voice said, “Wilma, it’s your sister.”
“Don’t tell me you can’t tell.”
Wilma thought she knew, but she was at an age when her mind sometimes played tricks on her. There was a pause before she replied.
“Hi Louise. How have you been.”
“Fine. Just fine. Henry decided to join me in retirement. So we’re spending a lot of time together.”
“You growing closer?”
“We do seem to have more snuggle time watching Netflix.”
“Planning any vacations?” Wilma asked.
“Not yet. It all depends on health and finances anyway. What about you? What are you up to?”
“Right now I’m babysitting my boyfriend’s granddaughter.”
“Babysitting? You getting paid?”
That was Louise, Wilma thought, always about the money.
“No, just helping out while their parents work.”
A young girl tugged at Wilma’s arm.
“Is that your sister?” the girl asked. “Can I talk with her?”
Wilma smiled at her, almost, step granddaughter, “Sure dear.” Then she spoke to her sister. “Hold on, Louise. Devil wants to talk to you.”
“Devon?” questioned Louise.
Wilma handed the phone to Devil.
“Hi,” a girl’s voice said. “I’m Devil.”
The girl sounded sweet as could be.
“Devon?” Louise asked, seeking clarification.
“I can’t hear you well. Did you say Devlin?
“Could you spell that.”
“D E V I L.”
“Oh, Devil. What a lovely name. Nice to meet you. I’m Wilma’s sister, but I guess you know that already.”
The girl’s voice became deep and raspy. “You’re going to hell.”
“You’re going to burn,” Devil said in her sweet voice.
“That’s nice.” The things kids say these days, Louise thought. “How old are you?”
“That’s a nice age. I remember being that young.”
“Better than being seventy two like you are.”
Wilma must have told her my age, Louise thought.
“You’re right about that. So tell me, what grade are you in?”
“Do you like school?”
“No, they keep me chained in the basement while I’m there.”
“Really?” Louise said, dragging out the word. This child was such a storyteller. “I guess teachers are getting strict again. I used to be hit with a switch for talking too much in class. As I recall, that teacher was eventually arrested, but not for hitting kids. It was some other scandal.”
“That was Ellen Muldoon. She killed people.”
“I guess Wilma told you about that too.”
“No, she didn’t. I saw your teacher in hell.”
“Really,” Louise said.
This girl has a strange sense of humour, she thought, must go with the times.
“That’s nice. Guess she had it coming. What’s your favourite subject in school?”
“Math,” Devil said, drawing out the word.
“I was never good at math. You must be a smart one.”
“I am. I’m teaching myself chemistry.”
Louis was impressed.
“I got books from the library.”
“I guess you want to be a scientist someday.”
“Maybe,” Devil said, thinking about the career possibility. “But right now I just want to learn how to make bombs.”
Louise laughed. “Oh, for heaven sake. You are such a comedian.”
“Don’t laugh,’ Devil said, her voice deeper. “Never laugh at me. I never tell jokes.”
Louise smiled to herself. “Right you are, dear. Now let me talk to my sister Wilma.”
Muffled sounds followed before Wilma got back on the phone.
“So how did you like Devil?” Wilma asked.
“She’s a card. Is she always on like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“She told me they keep her locked in the basement at school.”
“She told you about the chains?” Wilma chuckled. “Could be true. It is a Catholic school. But, I guess she likes to pull our legs.”
“Well, you were always a clown at home and in school. The two of you must get along just fine.”
“We do. She really is a sweet girl. A little messed up from her parents’ divorce and that name they gave her.”
“No father in her life?” Louise asked.
“Stepfather,” Wilma said. “And of course there’s Roger, her grandfather. He’s close enough to Devil to be her father.”
“Does her real father see her?”
Wilma began whispering, not wanting the child to hear. “No one knows where he is. Just disappeared. Devil’s mom heard he moved south, but no one knows for sure.”
Louise sighed. “That must hurt her. How about the stepfather?”
“Not very nice,” Wilma said, continuing to whisper. “I’m being kind there. But I don’t think he beats the kids or anything, you know. Just mean. A drinker. Spends a lot of his free time at the bar. Rude. Disrespectful. Nasty.”
“There’s good ones and bad ones whether they make you or raise you. I’ll pray for her.”
“What religion are you now?” Wilma asked. Louise had tried many in her life. Her sister had a hard time keeping up.
“Nowadays, I’m sort of between Presbyterian and Buddhist, but I am also interested now in the Hopi religious practices.”
“They never should have invented YouTube. It is the wrong toy for a mind like yours.”
“What about you?” Louise asked.
“Me?” Wilma chuckled. “I haven’t been in a church in forty years. Have no time for that nonsense. I do watch a lot of cartoons with the kids. Laughing is as good as any religion.”
“How often do you have to babysit?”
“Three or four times a week. After school for the most part. But I’ll have both Devil and her brother this weekend so their mom can get away for some special time with their stepdad. It’s their anniversary.”
“A brother?” Louise asked. “Is he there now?”
“No,” Wilma said. “He prefers visiting his real grandmother if he can. I hear there’s no lock on her liquor cabinet.”
“What’s the brother like?”
“Dominic? He’s a good boy. Quiet. Most of the time he’s here he’s playing video games. I guess that’s what all the boys do these days. Just kill things on their PlayStations and what not. But he does good in school, when he’s not staring out the window.”
“You used to stare out the window a lot,” Louise reminded her.
“Thought I would see something better out there than in school.”
“Did you ever find what you were looking for? You never married. Is Roger the one?”
“I’m too old to care about a ring,” Wilma said.
“Don’t tell me that.”
“It’s true,” Wilma said. “My life has been full. I am starting to regret not having children. That comes from babysitting Roger’s grandbabies. Devil saw me crocheting and asked me to teach her. That’s been fun. And the boy, he likes burning things, so I showed him how to use the fire pit in the back yard.”
“How old is he?” asked Louise.
“Ten. That’s old enough. If they want to play with fire, teach them to play safe.”
“I used to watch the campfire when I was in Girl Scouts.”
“I did too,” said Wilma. “Nothing wrong with burning junk mail, fallen branches, dead animals and so on.”
“Squirrels for the most part. It’s pretty rural around here. I had a problem with squirrels getting into my garden. Roger bought me a pellet gun. Now we take turns, me and the grands, pop those little buggers whenever we see them going near my peppers and tomatoes.”
“Sounds like you’re having a second childhood,” Louise mused.
“We could all use one.”
“Well, I’ve got to go. Hubby just came back from the store. I should help with the unpacking.”
“Okay, Louise. It’s been great talking.”
“We should get together sometime. It’s been a long time.”
“We should,” Wilma said. “Come out and visit if you can handle the eight-hour drive.”
“If we plan ahead we’ll make it.”
“Sounds good. Good bye.”
Wilma sighed. It had been nice talking with Louise. With their brother in the grave and their little sister who knows where, what remained of the family should stay in touch. She looked around. It was quiet. Too quiet. Wilma wondered what mischief Devil had gotten into. The kid was alright but you had to keep an eye on her. And keep her hands busy. Idol minds and the Devil’s workshop and all that.
Wilma searched through the house. She went through every room, but could not find Devil. She looked out in the yard for Devil but did not see her. She called her name. Her voice drifted through the trees surrounding her property. “Devil! Devil! Where are you? Come back.” There was no answer.
Wilma went back inside. She went to the living room to find her purse and get her car keys. She was thinking the girl had gotten out of the house and was out somewhere making trouble again, like when she scrawled quotes from Revelations on her neighbour’s car. As she reached her keys, Wilma heard a giggle. She looked up at the ceiling. There she was. Devil was clinging to the ceiling by the nails of her toes and fingers.
“I wondered how long it would take you to find me.”
“Devil! I’ve told you before. Don’t climb the walls and ceilings. There are plenty of trees outside you can climb. Look at those divots you’ve made. Your granddad will have to plaster again.”
“Sorry, Granny Wilma. I was bored.”
“I know,” Wilma said soothingly. “I know. How about we have some real fun now? I’ll teach you a cross stitch.”
Devil dropped to the floor. Eyes as big as her smile.