The Stories Of Devil-Girl

The Stories Of Devil-Girl

by Anya Achtenberg


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781932690620
Publisher: Loving Healing Press
Publication date: 05/14/2008
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Anya Achtenberg is an award-winning fiction writer and poet. Her recently completed novel, "More Than The Wind", was excerpted in Harvard Review. Her second book of poetry, The Stone of Language, was published in 2004 by West End Press. Her stories have received awards from Coppola's Zoetrope, the Asheville Fiction Writers Workshop, the Raymond Carver Story Contest and others. She received a 2008 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant for work on History Artist, a novel-in-progress, centering on Devi Mau, a Cambodian woman born of an African-American father at the moment the bombing of Cambodia began. She is working on a book to turn her multi-genre course, "Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World", into a moveable workshop. She has taught creative writing at universities and colleges, for writers' organizations, with drop-out youth, working adults, and in the public schools. She teaches independent workshops throughout the country and online, on essential elements of story in fiction and memoir; deepening characterization; autobiography and autobiographical fiction; and writing for social change. She offers manuscript consultations in fiction, poetry, and memoir. Visit her website Writing Story / Finding Poetry / Freeing Voice: Swimming through the ocean of language at

Read an Excerpt



I was born September the first, my entry into the visible world precisely following the month of August, Devil's Month in Bolivia, far away and not so far from New York, an expensive city because there is always the Devil to pay. I was born here as the one I had violated during another lifetime, I'm sure of it. I was born here to walk the avenue between life and death. To fill out the forms of denial. To rave in the road and stop traffic with my stillness, as some do with their anger. To prowl the bootless alleyways, to drink the spoiled fluids of men. To flail beneath the Devil. To sprout breasts in the lunar lots of Bushwick, where the maws of an old Frigidaire caught my friend Penelope and she froze to a fetus, knees to lips, gray fists clenched.

Devil's month, exhausted and febrile, lay down in me, and I wailed a love song to the Devil, that dapper demon, as I fell from the clutch of my mother's thighs and she waved me away, and something invisible scooped me up and kissed me on one baby nipple, then bit it hard, as I bleated and bucked and shivered in the whiteness of the hospital corridor, fleeing dark as a stain on the Maimonides sheet.

Actually, as I recall, we never made it to the hospital. I couldn't wait, and had for some time been having nightmares of forceps sliding around my tufted skull and squeezing me past thought, or, if not that far, just into the land of deformity. I lived with that nightmare for the last month of my float, and came up pigeon-toed and anxious.

Because of the circumstances and moment of my birth in a speeding taxicab on the evening of the Devil's retreat to gather up force for his next spree, and because of my furious race to be severed from my mother after the nightmare of strangulation I slept with all those months, because of my flight, then, from my origins, my howl moved through all parts of the city, and returned to each neighborhood as I searched for the word my mother said to my first ear at the moment I slipped into hearing the solid world. Repelled so far from the welcoming word and the breast of life, my body was able to measure distance in units of hunger and fear.

Now, understand this, it was because of the silence that spoke in me, because of the daily stories that fed me through the window and the mountainous decay of events in each room that waited for a teller loud enough to be heard, that I have the ability to tell a story. It was because of playing at life in my mind, because of how things shattered, and because of hands. It was because my screams always gave me something to cry about, something to hide and seek. And it was because words also fly away from their origins, and in their dream lives continue to search for them in unbearable whisperings, that I possess the ability to read a man according to his reactions to my storytelling.

Soon, I could measure the distance between a man and his soul, as well as the speed of his flight away from it, by the strength of his punch and the angle at which his knee jabbed into the softest part of my thigh. If he could finish a rape, the taking or the buying peppered with a beating, after a story from my collection, I judged that he had journeyed too far from his soul to ever return home. I soon realized that, for some, a good story only helped to push a rape along. But it was only after a certain someone, a solid businessman with three kids, hurled me through the air into the wall, that I fully understood the power of the word and the limits of matter.

Pretending that I'd never had a mother, I told him a story of myself as a little girl who suddenly appeared in a lively neighborhood uptown with absolutely no memory of a home or parents. I depicted my arrival as a remarkable event, but one with no history. I began to speculate on the route of my entry into girlhood, and on the invisible world that rubs up against the one we can see, from which, perhaps, that girlchild had come. He had no interest in talking spirit talk, and while a man's silence sometimes stopped my words, at other times it set my old tongue wagging with stories. I began to tale him, rapidly. This new child, I said, wandered from tenement to tenement, taken in by families from everywhere, a Black family from North Carolina who watched over me fiercely, a Puerto Rican family who surrounded me with questions and with children who matched me story for story, a Jamaican family who taught me secret language, an old Russian couple who hugged me and wept, on and on, the list drove the fellow crazy. He didn't want to believe me, but he began to enter the weave of the fabric I spun, and could see in my Devil eyes and wild hair that this might all be true. He put his mouth to my ear, but I switched and put mine to his, to whisper more tales.

I described myself to him like this, having read it in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and remembering it always: "... unnatural, bereft of a determinable childhood ... no father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses." I began to weep piteously, my eyes parted to slits to see what the businessman would do.

He was like a dead man, soul flown, no fingers of light. His words: the husks of cockroaches, pomegranate seeds sucked bloodless, wisps of breath through the broken flute. Tears called up no kindness from him. He took my clothes and made me cry for real. It's true, I protested, I did wander the streets, motherless.

I hit the wall, the way the kids next door to us in the projects hit the foyer wall, one, two, three, when their father had been drinking. Infants I might have had flew forth from me, and I slid down the wall, shaking off generations, born again into the streets.


Mother and Child

"When the flame turns around, she rushes off and again goes roaming all over the world to seek out the children who deserve to be punished. And she smiles at them and kills them...."

On Lilith, from Zohar: The Book of Splendor, by Spanish kabbalist Moses de Leon)

Now, even before I find the streets and dirty myself with the crass comings and goings of various sectors of the populace who hope to purify themselves in a shower of Devil's dollars, even before I meet hands that without kindness survey my expanse and jab in the flag of ownership that unclaimed children hunt for, even if accompanied by a new world of pain, I am found to be unclean and in need of daily purification.

Mama is a hard worker, and, no doubt disturbed by the presence of the Devil's hand in my beginnings, seeks a cleanliness beyond reproach in me, her smallest daughter. Let me paint a picture of the ritual: water runs into the tub and she crawls over the tiles, bare arms reaching over the cold white ledge, scouring and cursing, hair unpinned, each stain shed from the body calling, steam rising, flesh shaking, while I sit, not yet four years old, pants at my ankles, suspended over distance, chill and porcelain. She rises up onto one foot, then the other, throws down sponge and powder, spilling a dizzy stream of white, digs her hands into the small of her back and curves over, blouse half opened, hair coiling into the air, breasts lifting up from her soft, marked belly, eyes absent from the steamy cubicle, from the harsh disinfectant, from me.

I sit, trapped by the pants twisted at my ankles. When she sees me looking at her, her hands grow strong and red and she sets to work upon me, rips at my hair, pulls me down by my legs, and it is clear this day that she is not my mother, though I recall the distant view of her inside thighs rushing past me before the thud of birth. I lie on the cold tiles and try to stop breathing until she gets tired, smoothes down the coiling hair which I have also, buttons up the old white blouse against her long and pointed breasts. But I can't be still, so I run into the hallway, my own smells still clinging.

Oh, let me tell you, it gets worse when she catches me ... the hottest water, the roughest cloth, some disinfectant ... when she holds me down and opens me up and scours and scrapes, the muscles in her arms tightening, sweat running down between her breasts, her curses whispered now. "You devil," she hisses into me, low, and stops my screams in a towel, leaves the neighbors at peace.

Well, you don't have to hit me over the head for me to figure it out, to guess the guilty party who tried to kill me in my crib, who pulls up the blanket of darkness and crushes it around my throat. Nighty-night.

I know I am in danger. And I know to keep my mouth shut. I see that storytelling's an art reserved for future use. I know I must locate the exact middle of night and hunker down there, silent as a tic.

But here's how I tell the story in my head, since I have no other way to say it on such nights.

I call it, "Cleaning":

My best friend is Paulette. Her name's so French, but her great, great grandmother was a slave in a place called Down South. Paulette has lots of grandmothers, some with more greats than others, that go like a necklace of beads of many colors trailing up the map of the United States to Bedford Stuyvesant, then to the projects. Oh, I have only one grandmother, and I remember once I had a great one, but her eyes were like the holes in the gray scrapey concrete for the metal fence poles that keep us off the grass, and nothing was in them, and nothing covered them.

One of Paulette's grandmothers lives with her, and stays home with her when her mother puts on high-heeled shoes and perfume like the honeysuckle I used to bite the ends off and drink, before my mother caught me and beat me because, she said, they put poison on the flowers to kill the bugs. But I didn't taste any poison, just the sweetest drops that stayed in the little lines of my tongue till I put my head back and they kissed my throat and I swallowed.

Paulette told me that this grandmother is a cleaning lady and works, most days, in two different houses from six in the morning until midnight. Then she stands in the middle of the kitchen with a big bowl of rice and beans in the crook of her arm, heavier than we can lift, and eats with a tablespoon, cracking each mouthful like a nut. Paulette says it's a joke around the house that as good a cleaning lady as she is, she cleans her plate better than anything else.

My mother is a good cleaning lady, too. My mother uses very hot water, she's not afraid to be burnt. My mother uses steel wool, she's not afraid of getting scratched. She says disinfectant cleans things no one else can see, but the smell makes me dizzy, and my head throbs like I just had a cup of it to drink. When my mother bathes me, I feel it in my teeth. When she scours, the stinging crawls all over my skin and the heat makes me fall like a sack underwater, but my mother is not afraid. "Dirty girl," she says, "dirty girl."

So sometimes I run off to Paulette's apartment and her grandmother tells me stories of the string of beautiful beads journeying to Brooklyn. No one's ever told me stories of so many grandmothers, and when I finally go home, my mother knows where I've been, and she starts cleaning and I could drown, but I don't care, and I tell her so, I don't care.


Mother and Father

Always the dirty child with the Devil in me, I watch to see this first man, first woman, in their thrashings. I listen for their words of anger. I look for what is empty in each to ascertain who has come from whom. I also look for their jaggedness, and study from beneath the furniture to see if the jigsawed edge of her fits his own, and how precisely. I watch the crumbs falling, the hesitant feet, the slipping to the ground of overcoats and dresses, the strange impossible meetings in the nights of darkness I can see through.

I remember once, he cries out. He is choking. And she beats against him, raising her body in a cry of knowledge that stirs the branches outside to strike the window, to enter the room. What does she see when he is inside her? He does not mean to know her or to show himself, little refugee, only to hide for a while, to forget his smallness, to find a place where he would not be hunted. The breasts that fill me with terror would be his sea, his voyage to liberty; the smells she tries to annihilate — the perfumes that call him to climb up out of himself and his brown suits and frayed shirts, out of his slow journeys to the uptown yards where the snakes of subways couple and uncouple and lay their long shining bodies against each other, waiting for him to run his hands over them and know what is missing or needs repair — a light gone dead, a door that will not open, a strap split apart in constant use by hands that clutch and finger it, in the danger and swaying, in the dreaming of the ride. He has not meant to show her anything at all, but whatever it is she sees horrifies her, and she will never again let him rub her roundness, she will never be wet, never let her breasts fall over his chest as she sits above him and comes to him in the waves of the sea.

The sea drains away into the darkness, and I fit precisely into the dry space between the first man and the first woman, hungry, invisible, holy bread swelling in fear and collapsing into smallness each time one of them strikes at the other through my body, red-eyed trembling child. Papa, too, becomes smaller, and walks at night. She no longer looks into his eyes, except years of heart attacks later to search for signs of life. Mama is the word now for absence and anger, the abrupt flash of a gathering storm, the thunderclap that follows the light.

My neck grows out from my hunched body, quite slender above the captive earth, and rough hands measure it, ready to snap it like a dead branch.

I do not yet know what is beginning.



Of course, early childhood is a time of firsts, a bright season of introduction to what grown people take for granted. And, as most adults know, the excitement of beginnings, of new things, must be balanced with a steady and comfortable routine so that a child feels secure. Now, I'm not bragging, but my Mama is clear about all this. She is reliable. I know what to expect. And, she is in touch with a higher power.

I know this because Mama calls on God when I'm bad. She tells Him exactly what's to be done. My mother knows, and I have been taught, that it was this God that spilled us here, like canned beans into the fry pan, at the edge of Brooklyn, near the miles of warehouses with their guardian gangs of dogs, from out of the shtetls in what they call the old, old country. This is a wrathful God, but, if you say so, he'll whup your little bottom and whack you upside the head. So, when my mother clutches at the cloth around her pounding chest and raises her eyes to the damp patches on the ceiling, where I guess God lurks, I listen real hard, like when I've just spilled the milk or the orange juice, and I watch to see what happens.

That's when my mother calls directly on God for action. She follows the milk sliding across the floor, or the juice running down my shirt as it makes a road to my pants, and her eyes open wide, like she sees God moving right there in the spill, and then she yells loud to tell Him just what to do. God comes to me in my father's big hands, and in Mama's red ones, and I know He comes to do just as she asks. I guess He thinks that'll make her stop screaming so everyone in the projects can go to sleep or study their mathematics or hear Lucy on the TV make her loud sound that's not like my mother's loud sound.

When my mother calls on God, I know I'm that close to never leaving our little 4A apartment again. No more cheerful little outings, even to the red-bricked public school. My mother prays to God to take me away from her. She tells Him to carry me out in a box. I never saw a box big enough to hold me and my fast-growing bottom, except once when the neighbors got a new refrigerator and left the carton near the trash. I climbed in to see if there was complete black darkness inside. I couldn't see my hands or my feet, though I could see a silvery wavy line, like a feather falling close to the light of the moon, but when my mother peered into the box, her nose sniffing me out in the darkness, as sure as the warehouse hounds, she howled to the streetlamp, "In the name of God, take this Devil away from me!" I knew I had to jump out quick, right out of the box, because it would have been too easy, her prayers could be granted in a God's breath. My sister says Mama can't really get God to carry me away, it's just a curse, but the curse repeats itself in my dreams, and when I wake up, sometimes she's standing over me, ready to slam down the lid.

So I know just what to expect, from Mama and God both, when I am very bad. What I don't know is why, when my mother calls on God, he answers. In synagogue she has to sit upstairs in the balcony, as if she's dirty, too, and the men are the ones doing all the praying down below, in another language.

Well, maybe I'm doing some of the praying, and to show it, I rock back and forth and move my lips with no sound coming out. I raise my eyes to the slit of light shining up there where the roof needs fixing. I let my breath hum the notes of the black skullcaps way below. I know I must be one of them, one black note in God's house. This is how I pray, but then I just get to thinking, trying to figure out the difference between a prayer and a curse, and which is the more reliable.

I do not think anyone will pray for me. I guess I'd better learn how.


Excerpted from "The Stories of Devil-Girl"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Anya Achtenberg.
Excerpted by permission of Loving Healing Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Mother and Child,
Mother and Father,
The Birthday Girl's Requests,
Falling in Love,
Lesson in the Elevator at A&S,
First Try,
Coffee and Wine,
Search for the No,
Marriage Rituals,
Devil-Girl Goes Home,
On the Way to School,
Education, or Getting Into the Pictures,
Hurricane, or A Family Visit,
Greeting the Millennium with Devil-Girl,
Milagrito (Little Miracle),
Notes for The Stories of Devil-Girl,
About the Author,

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The Stories Of Devil-Girl 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
queenpanda1982 More than 1 year ago
The stories of the Devil-girl (reflection of America Series) By Anya Achenberg The stories of Devil Girl is a book that either you love to read or not. It is a unique read unlike any other i have read before. Devil girl undergoes many trials. She suffers, as she questions her life and finds self reliance. She is jewish, but she learns no one will pray for her. As she leaves the only home she ever known she finds that not everyone can be trusted. She gets an education and becomes a teacher. This book is recommended to every woman and man, to see just how bad this world can be. The devil girl character shows that you can always turn your life around and become better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The stories of the Devil-girl (reflection of America Series) By Anya Achenberg The stories of Devil Girl is a book that either you love to read or not. It is a unique read unlike any other i have read before. Devil girl undergoes many trials. She suffers, as she questions her life and finds self reliance. She is jewish, but she learns no one will pray for her. As she leaves the only home she ever known she finds that not everyone can be trusted. She gets an education and becomes a teacher. This book is recommended to every woman and man, to see just how bad this world can be. The devil girl character shows that you can always turn your life around and become better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lindaroseLR More than 1 year ago
"The Stories of Devil~Girl (Reflections of America Series)" By Anya Achenberg us one of those books that you're either going to love or hate. I have read over six-hundred books from August to now and this is the ONLY book that I have hated. It is uniquly boring- it bores you to tears, but you want to keep going to see if the book gets better (it doesn't, just so you know.) I read it twice just so that i could try to see if it was better as you try it again. Anya Achtenberg is a great writer- but i didn't like the story line. Then again, maby i am just being biased because I am more accustomed to Teen Fiction.
Tyler_TichelaarTT More than 1 year ago
Reading Anya Achtenberg's novella "The Stories of Devil-Girl" is a unique experience. Describing "The Stories of Devil-Girl" is difficult. Readers really need to experience the language for themselves. To give a taste of the style, here is a passage from the novel's opening when Devil-Girl describes the circumstances of her birth in New York: I was born here as the one I had violated during another lifetime, I'm sure of it. I was born here to walk the avenue between life and death. To fill out the forms of denial. To rave in the road and stop traffic with my stillness, as some do with their anger. To prowl the bootless alleyways, to drink the spoiled fluids of men. To flail beneath the Devil. To sprout breasts in the lunar lots of Bushwick, where the maws of an old Frigidaire caught my friend Penelope and she froze to a fetus, knees to lips, gray fists clenched. Devil-Girl's first memory is of someone trying to strangle her-someone she later believes must be the mother who clearly does not want her. Her father is not much more friendly. When she leaves home and begins giving men what they want so she can survive, she compares herself to the monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" who was "unnatural, bereft of a determinable childhood." When Devil-Girl learns about Lilith, the woman in Jewish tradition depicted as Adam's first wife, driven from Eden as evil, she takes on a similar identity. Devil-Girl encounters perverts and sadists who relish the chance to use and abuse her. But despite her negative experiences, Devil-Girl has a hopeful spirit; she senses there is some good in her, and she becomes a kinder version of Lilith; while the mythical Lilith sought children to punish and kill, Devil-Girl will ultimately find others like her whom she can protect and nurture. Devil-Girl undergoes many trials. She suffers, she questions life, and she finds irony in the way her mother calls upon God and he answers by fulfilling her curses. Devil-Girl knows no one will pray for her, so she decides to learn how to pray herself, but ultimately, she learns self-reliance. She is Jewish-she knows those who have escaped the holocaust, seen the numbers tattooed on their arms. But a young man who wants to fight for Israel tells her, she has done nothing for their people-he calls her "Lilith" and "Whore of Babylon." Devil-Girl, however, comes to realize her people are not limited to Jews but to anyone who has suffered like her. In a few places, I felt the episodic writing did not always make the transitions in Devil-Girl's life clear, but at the same time, the poetic language would probably have suffered from too much detail. If I have a complaint, it's that the book is not longer; wishing a book to be longer is a good thing; I felt I would have liked to get to know Devil-Girl better. Achtenberg has stated that her book is partially autobiographical. Like Devil-Girl, Achtenberg is Jewish, from New York, and a teacher. But whatever else of the story is autobiographical is transcended by the creation of Devil-Girl as a fictional everywoman. Her character speaks to us, it makes us see the world anew, a world often ugly, but nevertheless, one where hope can lead to change. For more information, about Anya Achtenberg and her poetic, socially relevant writing, visit - Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of the award-winning Narrow Lives