Excerpt Reveal: Craft by Ananda Lima


Excerpt Reveal: Craft by Ananda Lima

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craft: stories i wrote for the devil by ananda lima

Strange, intimate, haunted, and hungry—Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil is an intoxicating and surreal fiction debut by award-winning author Ananda Lima.

At a Halloween party in 1999, a writer slept with the devil. She sees him again and again throughout her life and she writes stories for him about things that are both impossible and true.

Lima lures readers into surreal pockets of the United States and Brazil where they’ll find bite-size Americans in vending machines and the ghosts of people who are not dead. Once there, she speaks to modern Brazilian-American immigrant experiences–of ambition, fear, longing, and belonging—and reveals the porousness of storytelling and of the places we call home.

With humor, an exquisite imagination, and a voice praised as “singular and wise and fresh” (Cathy Park Hong), Lima joins the literary lineage of Bulgakov and Lispector and the company of writers today like Ted Chiang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil by Ananda Lima, on sale 6/18/24

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You probably couldn’t tell by looking at her now, but once, back in her twenties, the writer had slept with the Devil. They met at a Halloween party in a pop-up art space in 1999. She wore a red dress and pillbox hat, like Nancy Reagan. Though the way the dress clung to her curves mocked the First Lady’s performance of propriety. No one got it; the closest she got was “naughty Jackie O.?” But the Devil would get it. She had stood in the red and blue neon lights, holding a drink in one hand, running her finger over her fake pearls with the other, when she’d seen him across the room.

Thinking of that night now, at her desk in the bright morning light, the writer lifted her hand off the keyboard and traced her collarbone again, now bare between the top buttons of her plain denim shirt.

The writer had not been a writer then, at least not openly so. But the Devil had known. He had known the space she had inside her to carry her stories. He had known her hunger. She typed, and her young self took a sip of her drink and looked straight back into the Devil’s eyes.

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━


You probably can’t tell by looking at me now, but once, back in my twenties, I slept with the Devil. We met at a Halloween party in a closed-down store space in Manhattan, Union Square, in 1981. I was nursing my third Snake Bite in the corner. Silhouettes danced to “Memorabilia,” backlit by a makeshift red-and- blue- neon installation stuck to a crumbling brick wall. The Devil was sitting alone on a beat-up brown corduroy sofa. I was inauguration Nancy Reagan: a tighter version of the red Adolfo dress, black gloves, a wig between chestnut brown and dirty blond, topped with a red pillbox hat. He wore an ill-fitting suit, a faded orange wig, and some bad foundation. I walked up to him and asked what he was, yelling over the music. He said he was the future. I told him his costume sucked. He smiled and said he was often misunderstood, scanning the room as if hoping for a specific somebody else to show up. I began spinning the first thread of his story: a woman in a white dress, a cheap Halloween bride costume, would walk in holding a veil in her hand. I imagined him watching as the woman looked for someone too, but not him. As I thought this, the Devil nodded, almost imperceptibly, as if privately approving of something, but continued looking at the room with that slight sadness, that want. I recognized some of what I’d been carrying inside, mirrored on his face.

I thought my friends had stood me up. In my mind, I superimposed said friends, Michael and Angela, over the scene. Michael and Angela as I introduced them to each other at the company Christmas party the year before. Michael and Angela discreetly brushing their hands as they passed each other en route to the elevator, when I first realized they might be together. Michael and Angela the day I found them in the bathroom during lunch break. Those days, I saw Michael and Angela everywhere. I feared the two dancers in the corner, her arms over his shoulders, his pulling her by the waist, were Michael and Angela. Though it was useless to fear it now that everything was out in the open. If it weren’t happening here, it would be happening somewhere else. In her bedroom, in his, in the entry hall of their apartment building because they couldn’t wait, in a taxi on their way here.

I downed the rest of my drink.

“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked the Devil.

The Devil suspended his search and looked at me straight on for the first time. Something awakened in my body. Despite his ridiculous clothes, he looked like a 1940s movie star, with that strong jaw, his nose just the right amount of imperfect. It had been so long since I’d felt anything like that. Even with Michael, the hurt had coiled up around that feeling and all but strangled it. Yet here it was again, that fledgling want serpentining up my bones. I didn’t want to lose it. I wanted it to stay inside me.

The Devil gave me a sly smile and complimented me on my nice family values. I held my fake pearls, feigning shyness, and sat next to him, then stretched my legs over his lap. I grabbed a cigarette and dangled it from my matte-red lips as I fumbled for my matches. He offered me a light. It was as if he held an invisible lighter: there was his hand, and there was the flame. But it was dark, and I wasn’t exactly sober. I leaned in. He moved the fire an inch away from my reach and said I could just say no, smiling as if it were some kind of inside joke. I didn’t know what he was on about, but I had always liked dorks. I pulled his hand toward my cigarette and inhaled.

A heat fluttered up from my fingertips where they touched him. It was so unexpectedly pleasant, the sparkling sensation on my skin, the warmth rising through my veins up to my palms. I let go of his hands while I still could. I took off my red pillbox hat, my Nancy wig, fluffed up my hair. I’d recently cut it like Kim Wilde, though my hair was brown. I slid his wig off, revealing his immaculate black hair slicked back. I covered it with Nancy’s hair while facing him, our mouths inches away as I adjusted the wig and topped it with the red hat. Remaining close, I stared into him and put his orange wig on myself. He didn’t look away as other men would have. Blondie’s “Rapture” started playing. Our lips were on the verge of touching. Deep in his eyes (had they been green?), the reflection of the red neon looked like fire.

I might have stayed there, trapped in the darkness, in the fire. But someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I came back to my body. They had come after all. Angela was dressed up as Princess Diana, Michael as Prince Charles, their hands glued together as usual. Angela adjusted her tiara, leaning into Michael. Their costumes were brilliant, and my heartbeat was choking me. I wanted to vomit.

“And you are?” Angela asked the Devil.

The Devil answered he was the Devil.

“What happened to the future?” I asked.

He said the future was his costume, but who he was was the Devil.

“What’s the difference?” Angela asked.

“And you.” Michael looked at me, my red dress and the orange wig. “Fire?”

“A dumpster fire,” I replied.

Michael and Angela laughed, a little uncomfortably.

The Devil nodded as he repeated the phrase “dumpster fire,” then said he would have to steal it.

“You look great.” Angela smiled at me, but her eyes were filled with pity. Maybe to spare me from seeing it, she looked away. She put her free hand on my shoulder for a few seconds, then moved it away.

The Devil said he’d always liked red as his hand ran up my calf to the back of my knee, just under the hem of my dress. He said, slowly, that red was a picker-upper. My face contorted, overwhelmed with pleasure. He broke contact, and I opened my eyes just in time to notice Angela’s and Michael’s confused looks moving between my leg and my face, then looking away, a little embarrassed. Thank you, I thought. The Devil stood up and whispered in my ear that I was welcome, then told us he would get us some drinks.

Michael had his hands in his pockets. Angela crossed her arms and rubbed her elbows gently. They looked away awkwardly for a few seconds as if they needed time to reassess how to see me. Gradually, they leaned into each other again and looked at me anew.

I wished I could hate them then. But I didn’t. I loved Angela and was in love with Michael. But I resented that they hadn’t been a little kinder to me over the whole thing. And that they’d left me waiting for them in a sketchy party where the Devil could proposition me, steal me away. But the Devil hadn’t done either of these things. What was the deal?

“So?” Angela asked in a mock conspiratorial tone.

“So?” I played coy.

“Tell me more about Prince Charming.” She let go of Michael and joined me on the sofa, locking arms with me.

Michael followed, smiling dimly.

“There’s not much to tell,” I said, pretending there was much to tell.

Except that, supposedly, he was the Devil, I thought.

Somewhere on the opposite side of the room, someone had turned on a fog machine. The room smelled sweet and chemical.

The Devil winked at me as he walked back into the room, a pyramid with four old-fashioneds on his right hand, on his left hand, a flaming B-52.

He leaned down to the sofa where the three of us were sitting now and offered me the burning drink, a long straw turned toward my lips, the flames somehow blowing in the opposite direction. He handed Michael and Angela their glasses, placed the other two on the table, and sat on the armchair beside me. After the first sip, I thought I might throw up. But the Devil reached in and lightly touched my stomach. It felt like flowers were blossoming inside me, emanating from where he had touched. The nausea was gone.

Unprompted, he told me it really was him. He was what he was.

In the space across the room, people danced to the end of “Primary” by the Cure: a couple; a group of five in a circle, jumping up and down; and several lone figures moving slowly but somehow in rhythm. The fog was thick and made them look like shadows walking in front of an old movie projector or the shapes on the walls when the power went out and my aunt used a flashlight to tell us stories. As they danced, I imagined the beginning of their story. Each of them would have lost something: the person in the middle had a recent breakup, the next one a job, the one in the corner a friend, whom she had visited in the hospital for months. Maybe they were all here, unknowingly, to meet the Devil. The Devil himself, the real one, as he had just told me, who was watching me now, pleased.

“Why do you keep saying that?” I shouted over the music.

He said he liked being honest.

“That’s not what I hear.”

He shook his head and looked away from me, as if a little disappointed. After a few seconds, he sighed, looked back at me, and began talking again. He said I should reconsider my sources. History was written by the victors, scapegoating, etc. “Boys Don’t Cry” came on, to squeals of approval on the dance floor. The Devil had perfect teeth. As he talked, he had this look, a wounded look under the slight frown. His eyebrows were perfect. I wanted to run my fingers over them. I leaned just a little closer, wondering what he would smell like. And he was so tall, I thought. Like Michael.

The song ended and this time was not followed by another straightaway. It felt quiet for a second. Then, as if someone had turned up the volume of the ambient noise in the room: A woman dragged a chair to sit with a new group forming next to us. Loud laughter broke out from a loose circle of people waiting on the dance floor. “No! No! Not true!” said a tall skinny guy, also laughing. The fog had mostly dissipated.

The Devil wanted to know what was so special about Michael.

Michael had spilled a little of his drink on Angela’s leg and tried to wipe it off with his sleeves. They both laughed. With his hair like that, he did look a little bit like Prince Charles, though skirting the opposite side of the ugliness threshold, like a good-looking actor begrudgingly made to play Prince Charles. Angela messed up his hair, and it pained me. Why her? Why was I not enough? They locked arms and drank in a pretend nuptial toast. I countered the Devil by asking what the Devil would be doing there, hanging out with me.

A song finally came on: “Faith” (someone was on a Cure bender). But the tempo was much slower than the previous songs, and the people dispersed from the informal dance area into the rest of the party, except for three stragglers, eyes closed, as they slowly danced to the long intro.

The Devil continued: It was his favorite night, he got around, it’d been a good year, he too deserved to celebrate, yadda, yadda, yadda. He didn’t seem to want to get into his devilish ways. He paused. I stepped closer, feeling an urge to nuzzle into his neck like a feral but needy kitten. Plus, he said, he liked spending time with kindred spirits.

“Meaning?” I frowned. I might have been a little messed up at that moment, but I wasn’t Devil level. I was not evil.

He sighed, paused, looked at me, and said he was not evil. Then he continued moving through each point as quickly as he had been before: He was often, lazily, offered up as a solution to the problem of evil. But he wasn’t it at all.

I squinted at him and said I was more interested in what he had meant by “kindred spirits.”

He apologized for the rant (he didn’t even like talking about himself, preferred to listen, but this, pet peeve, sore spot, etc.). Then he told me what he meant: He also tended to want most what he couldn’t have.

I looked at Michael, and the snake coiled tighter inside me.

The Devil put a hand on my shoulder and loosened the snake’s grip just enough so I could keep breathing.

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

Pardon me if things get a little fuzzy from here on. All this was decades ago, and things get distorted like a cassette tape jammed and unraveled. Sometimes I feel like my memories merge a little with dreams, movies, music clips, maybe just absorbing their atmosphere, the shape of their threads, their hopes. And I’m sure I had some trouble remembering that night, even the next day. Boy, could I drink then. I was so young; in the pictures my face has that aura, that thing you can see clearly when looking at old pictures of celebrities when they were younger in those “look at how they aged” posts, some magical glow sparkling from their full cheeks. Also, in my old pictures, there’s a sadness in my eyes, though I wonder if anyone other than me can detect it. I can almost feel it, a phantom pain that allows me to imagine it, even though I can’t conjure it back completely.

I remember the red light in the room. One of the red bulbs in the corner started flickering halfway through the night. I remember closing my eyes for a few seconds, spreading myself from the sway of the alcohol, inhaling and exhaling as I heard the voices: the Devil, Michael, and Angela. I can still hear the Devil, his calm radio-host voice asking someone (who had he asked?) what their story was. I remember the four of us doing shots together and laughing. Angela and Michael warmed up to the Devil. He had his ways. The four of us danced to “Tainted Love.” The Devil was a great dancer, goofy in the right way. Michael somehow had the Nancy wig now. Angela was still in Diana’s. They were already becoming the same person. The Devil flicked his finger, and the TV turned on to MTV. It played a new song, “Thriller,” though it wouldn’t come out until 1982.

“The future is here,” the Devil toasted.

“It’s not even the future,” I replied.

Angela and Michael stepped farther away, to give us some space, or maybe have each other for themselves. I put the Devil’s orange wig back on him. For a second, his skin seemed to glow a strange orange, like a cheap but radioactive tan. But maybe it was the neon lights, maybe I just imagined it.

“I like him,” Michael mouthed at me from across the room.

Angela nodded and gave me two thumbs up.

As I adjusted the wig, I touched the Devil’s skin and felt that delicious, strange heat again. It spread, running up my arm, about to reach my elbow. I had closed my eyes. He moved away from my hand, bringing me back.

We watched Angela and Michael dance. I fantasized about asking the Devil to split them up but did not say anything.

The Devil said he could, easily, if I wanted him to.

I didn’t respond, some of the heat still in my fingers.

Suddenly, Angela and Michael were arguing. I only heard fragments of what they were yelling at each other. I heard Reagan’s name, and “I was just saying,” and “he did nominate the first woman.” I don’t remember who had which position. Angela stormed out.

I walked to Michael. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. She just—” He looked toward the door.

The Devil sat on the sofa, took a sip of his drink.

Then my hands were in Michael’s. I was startled. There was no supernatural tingling, just his hands, but it was harder to believe than the Devil. I grabbed on, squeezed. I never wanted to leave those hands. He looked at me as he had looked at Angela earlier that night. He was moving closer. I inhaled as the snake coiled tighter in my chest. I realized I was crying. Because it was too much, and because it wasn’t really happening. It wasn’t Michael. It was the Devil puppeteering him.

“I love you,” Michael said blindly. He didn’t seem to notice I was sobbing.

I let go of him and turned to the Devil. “Stop.”

The Devil shrugged.

Michael ran out after Angela.

I sat next to the Devil. He rubbed my back, careful not to touch my skin directly. I nestled my eyes on my wrists.

“It will never happen, right? I mean, for real?”

The Devil asked me what I thought. Rhetorically, he clarified.

I knew the answer.

The Devil then said I didn’t have to answer him but asked if it did happen, would I still want Michael?

I began to hiccup.

The Devil told me there, there. This time, while rubbing my upper back, always over my clothes, he accidentally touched the bottom of my neck. I tingled with pleasure, suddenly wanting him.

“Would you, please?” I pointed to his finger on my neck, panting.

The Devil noticed, a little embarrassed, apologized, and moved his hand away. I rubbed my neck where he had touched it, closed my eyes, savoring the last of the warmth until it disappeared.

The Devil sat on the couch, deflated. He tried to make people happy, he really did. But it didn’t work. In his eyes, the flame wilted. I could feel some of his sadness along with mine. That viscid darkness. Our two miserable, lost souls.

In the next gap between songs, I heard Angela and Michael laughing. It pained me, yet their being back together was somehow right. I gave the Devil a sorrowful smile, mirroring his. He flicked his index finger up. “Time after Time” started playing. He told me it would come out in 1983. We both took a swig of our drinks.

There was more to it, the Devil said, to the two of us being kindred spirits.

“What is it?” I asked, genuinely wanting to know the answer.

Stories, the Devil said. We both craved them.

I didn’t know what the Devil meant exactly. I had not thought of myself like that before he said it. But I knew as I heard it that it was true.

“But you seem to know things. Everything.”

The Devil said stories were more than knowing things, facts. There was no soul in that. It was in the telling and the words, the spaces between them.

He looked at me. I probably looked confused. He sighed and stopped talking.

I asked for elaboration, but he dismissed me with a wave of his hand, took another swig, and looked at the room. Another couple dancing very close and a group of three friends dancing out of rhythm.

We sat still, slumped side by side on the sofa until the song ended. The Devil sighed, lifted his index finger as if to pick the next song, but seemed to give up halfway through. When he lifted his finger again, it was to fill both our glasses. He looked so pathetic. I ran my hands over his wig, and it was as if I wanted to comfort us both. And in my pity for him was also growing this new compassion for me, for both of us. My pain was OK, existing as it was. I was OK. And so was everyone.

“Fuck it,” I said, standing up from the couch. I calculated a clear path for us through the crowd. I would need to make it to the other side of the room, turn left for the back door, and reach far enough up the enclosed stairway where it was dark. I readied myself to make a run for it. Then I grabbed the Devil by the hand.

The heat started rising, warm little snakes uncoiling, traveling up my veins from where I touched him, wildflowers blooming from within my skin, my breath; my heart accelerated, and I walked as quickly as I could, the Devil following, letting me guide him. I pushed through a couple in our way; we were almost in the main room. The heat had folded, rounding around the contour of my shoulder. It was approaching my neck and breasts, my knees were weak, but I kept going. We made it out of the room. By the time I reached the back door, I was moaning. I forced my eyes back open. People were staring, smiling. Some guy fist-pumped the air. But I wasn’t able to care; the heat was overwhelming. My hands trembled as I twisted the doorknob to the stairway. I barely made it up the first few steps on the stairs, crawled up them in a tangle, while ripping his shirt open, unbuckling his belt. Somehow, we made it to the darkness.

It was pure sensation, but also fully embodied. I was my body and his body. And a garden, honey, heat, sweetness, stars, and cosmic dust. Earth, as in dirt and as in the whole planet. I was spring, and the snakes in my veins were green. When they traveled up to my chest, they eased their purple-coiled sister, hardened around my heart, who slowly loosened and let go and turned green too. They swam in golden water and became gold; they swam in lava, then champagne, where they became air and effervesced, bubbling together, erupting into the air and leaving behind the surface of a lake at sunset, where I floated, bruised but free.

It is hard for me to fully understand it now. It was all immediate, all feeling; I could only understand it while I was feeling it. A little like the pain I had for Michael. I take my word for it that it was a real thing. I wish I could say it didn’t hurt after that. It did. And after Michael, it happened again. The Devil had been right about my wanting what I couldn’t have. But at least from then on, I knew myself. And eventually, it didn’t hurt. And eventually, I learned.

At the party, the Devil had asked what was so special about Michael. Today the Devil and I would shake our heads at that young version of me, like the frustrated parents of a teenager. Immersed in the present, it can be hard to know where to look. Sometimes you need the distance to fully appreciate the view, to see mountaintops surrounding the creek and know that if you had kept going farther to the left, you would have seen a canyon so vast, it is hard to believe you missed it. You can see it all together from afar, even though by then, the sound of the water, the mist, and the soft moss are gone.

I saw the Devil twice after that, but he didn’t see me. The first time, much later, at a bar. The Devil was wearing a dark forest green shirt that suited him perfectly, telling a beautiful blond about a decade younger than me something hilarious. There was no jealousy. Seeing him like that made me happy. I looked away for a couple of seconds as a man squeezed next to me at the bar to order a drink, and when I looked back, the Devil and his girl were gone. The man who had squeezed in turned out to be Peter, who later became my husband.

Michael and Angela broke up in the summer of 1983. Our friendship had cooled a little by then, fizzling out until we lost touch at the end of the eighties. About a year ago, she found me on social media. It was so strange to see her profile picture, to recognize her features within that aged face. It was hard to understand it, not having experienced it gradually as I did with my own. I tried to picture my face today and subtract from it my face when she’d known me. It was hard to see either one with any precision.

Later, Angela DMed a scan of a photograph of the two of us together that Halloween, as Nancy and Diana. We were beautiful and had that puppy quality, that youth-soaked snout. I wished I could explain to myself in 1981, and myself now, how time worked. Its mind-boggling speed, even when each day can be slow like a trudge through tar. How you blink, and here you are. How those silly nights feel like some freaky moving Escher picture of a mountain peak appearing to get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, but somehow still there in its full size. I ended up unfriending and blocking Angela a couple of months later. She turned out to be one of the 52 percent. She was ecstatic about the election. It was too much for me to witness.

The second time I saw the Devil was at the inauguration. Peter was in the shower. I absentmindedly turned on the TV; we had no interest in watching it. I was about to turn it off when I saw him. The camera moved from a close-up to a wider shot, and he was there, next to a red-haired woman, three rows behind the podium. He had not aged. He frowned slightly, a serious, focused expression. He looked at his watch. The camera cut to a tighter shot of the inauguration ceremony, and he was gone.

Copyright © 2024 from Ananda Lima

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