Issue 17 / Spring 2019
Lucy and I sit on the porch of the old farmhouse, passing a joint and sipping cheap vodka straight from the bottle. Lucy lives in Industry, across from the school for delinquent boys. We grew up together and she looks good just two years after high school, but I can tell that on her, thirty will look like twelve more. In high school, Lucy was hot-rod sexy with big tits packed into little shirts, thick thighs, and a high, tight ass swinging from hip to hip when she walked down the hall. The rise of her jeans was so low, she had to shave her pubes to wear them. She told us this in a stage whisper loud enough for the new English teacher to hear her. We saw how he pretended not to notice us, and we delighted in how the flush crawling up his neck gave him away, and we looked to see if maybe he was hard, thinking about teenage girls and razors.
Pieces of somebody’s roof lie scattered at our feet, fallen from the rusted-out truck Joseph, the guy she’s been living with, drives to work in the morning. Lucy fingers a piece, stands, and chucks it at the electric fence separating the detention center from the icy road. She squawks with delight as chips of fire fly from the fence with a buzz, while I, seated at her feet, worry the earth with the heel of my boot. Gouged with tracks from where the truck got stuck during a hint of spring they had down here a few weeks back, the ground has hardened again, containing its warm secrets under a layer of crisp, frozen soil.
It’s Friday of spring break, and I’m home from the college I attend not three hours east of here. Both of my parents have been driving me nuts all week with talk about my major and making decisions and grades, and I hadn’t had a hit since Tuesday when I left the off-campus apartment I share with two other girls. Driving to Lucy’s place through an afternoon flurry, I cranked the radio in the old station wagon that used to belong to my mother and opened the window, letting the cold air steal my breath as I drove, singing, happy to be out of my house and on my way to a little bit of high. Outside, the frosted fields stretched away from me, their whiteness lonesome and mysterious.
I arrived at Lucy’s place after going the wrong way down some country road for half an hour, struggling to see the tiny numbers pasted to the black metal mailboxes that grew in clusters at the foot of each driveway. When I finally arrived, Lucy stood with the door open, wearing jeans and a little pink sweatshirt with a hood, her hair a mass of ringlets and her cheeks pinked with the cold. I don’t know why I expected her to be wearing a bathrobe. I guess it was because when I had run into her at the drugstore my first afternoon home, her mother had told me Lucy wasn’t working. “She doesn’t have a phone,” she’d added, pushing her metallic processed hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand. “The line got cut when they didn’t pay the bills for three months running. You know how it goes,” she added and I nodded as if I understood. “Just drive on down. Lucy’d love to see you.” Then she gave my forearm a squeeze and a pat as though she and I were the ones who were old pals.
“How’d you know I was coming?” I asked Lucy as I stepped onto the porch.
Lucy touched her forehead with one hand and wiggled the fingers of the other in the space between us—her homemade sign for telepathy. “You know my old tricks!”
I could tell the farmhouse used to be nice, with a brick chimney and a verandah that wrapped around the front of the place, but it needed painting, and the shutters dangled from the windows like in a set from a scary movie. Inside, there were two gaping holes in the floor of the living room surrounded by mousetraps.
“Varmints,” Lucy explained in a mock southern drawl.
Clothes had been folded and stacked on the shelves of a cardboard dressing unit, and the place smelled like lemon-scented dish detergent that Lucy showed me was a plug-in air freshener.
“Joseph smokes. I hate the smell of it.”
She boiled water for tea, and we talked for a while. She asked me about college and what I was studying.
“Psychology,” I lied, thinking of the little box marked “undecided” on my transcript. You can’t declare a major at my school until you’re off academic probation. Which means an endless round of general education course with stupid names like Designer Genes that I can’t ever seem to pass.
Lucy held her palms over the steam from her tea, warming her hands.
“I always wanted to go to college,” she said.
We’re shivering against the cold of March, so we finish off the vodka, stub out the blunt, and go back inside. She turns on the TV, and we shimmy out of our pants before climbing into the sofa bed that sits in the middle of the living room, still unmade, to watch a talk show. Lucy falls asleep, but the breathy cackle of air leaving her body over the rocky coast of her throat keeps me awake. Outside, the white afternoon has faded to black. We lie there, Lucy snoring, and I, wondering what I’m doing, watching the numbers on an old alarm clock turn over until it reads 6 p.m.
Lucy’s stepfather got into her bed one night while she was sleeping. She woke up with a hand between her legs, she said, his finger in her hole. She kneed him in the balls, and told her mom the next morning over the coffee she’d poured steaming hot into a plastic travel mug gripped between both hands. It sprayed across Lucy’s lap, scalding her thighs through her jeans when her mother slapped her and called her a whore. Lucy didn’t cry or get mad. This is what she told us: She changed her jeans. Poured herself another cup of jo, and said to her mother, who was crying by that time, “How’d you get to be such a cliché?”
“What am I?” Lucy asked us later. “Some dipshit in an after-school special?”
Then she gave us the number of the Center for Youth Services, where she’d taken a room.
“Write it down,” she ordered, and we did.
I visited her there once. The room she shared with another girl was clean and bright, her single cot made up with flowered sheets she’d brought from home, a thick blanket neatly folded at its foot. My mother made me bake her cookies, but she gave them to her roommate, saying it was too easy to get fat eating on your own. She hugged me before I left, pressing her chest against mine and giving my shoulder a squeeze. I could feel her eyes on me as I walked outside and climbed into my mother’s station wagon, the burden of advantage weighing heavily upon me. The following week, my mother received a thank-you note for the cookies, penned in Lucy’s curlicued script, and I wondered how she knew to do such things.
I get up. Pad over to the stove. It’s stopped burning the little pellets that look like mouse turds, so I shovel more in, hit the switch, and stand in my bare feet to watch the fire glow while Lucy sleeps. Eventually I ease back into the sofa bed. I lie there, trying to get a picture of what this Joseph must look like clear in my head. I imagine him as wiry and dark-haired with hollow cheekbones and full, chapped lips. Lucy mumbles something I can’t make out. I slide a hand under her shirt, run its palm across her chest, searching for something, although I’m not sure what.
“God willing,” she’d said earlier, “me and Joseph are going to have a baby.”
I’d looked at her then. Laughed. Saw she was serious and swallowed it.
“God willing?” Lucy didn’t believe in god. She believed in sex and laughter and men and the hereafter of dirt.
She didn’t say anything. Instead she sat very quietly on the step with the half-empty bottle of vodka clenched between her knees, the nub of the joint poised between a thumb and forefinger.
In tenth grade, Lucy fell hard for Neely, a guy she knew from the thrash band we went to see on Friday nights. Older than us, long-haired and skinny—a caricature of himself, really—he’d give us X if we sucked off his friends. In the apartment next to the sound booth after the show, Lucy ran that program, egging us on before she mounted Neely. Slouched against the dusty plaid sofa next to some boy who snored, my mouth feeling chafed and rubbery as I chomped on cinnamon Altoids, I watched them—the straight line of her back, the way her buttocks pumped, her hips moving under his hands. One time, he hit her, right in the middle of it; her head ricocheted sideways and forward before she fell upon him, scrabbling at his eyes with her nails. The next time we saw Neely, little red scabs peppered his face, and his nose was bandaged.
When I asked what happened to him, he shrugged. “She broke it.”
“You’re lucky that’s all that’s broken,” Lucy snapped through her spearmint gum.
I press my hand across her belly and shake her awake. When she opens her eyes, she looks like an old-time movie star, dark-lidded and full-lipped, her blonde hair matted where she’s slept on her new permanent, the little curls snarled. Nothing surprises Lucy: the room smoky from the fresh load of pellets; my face, looming close to hers in the reddish glow from the clock by the bed; my hand in her shirt.
She smiles a little, stretches, and yawns. “I thought you said you had a boyfriend.”
I shake my head, mute. James, the boy at school, worries too much about me, plays nursemaid too often for me to consider him anything more than a friend even though we sleep together regularly.
Lucy wriggles out of her sweatshirt, places her arms around me, and slides her tongue between my lips.
It was just Lucy and I that night in the car. Stoned from trying to burn away the X high, Lucy called “Drill.” We fell from the leather seats of the station wagon, into a street slick with the residue of rain. We were supposed to follow the three college boys we’d met at the party, but we’d been racing, screwing around on the deserted streets in an April drizzle, and they ended up behind us. Lucy and I stood in the street, dizzy and incoherent, trying to trade places, dragging in the dark like zombies from some horror movie. I made my way back inside the car before the light changed. Lucy didn’t. The boys behind us called to her: “Come over here, sweetheart,” “Here, pussy, pussy,” and “I’ve got somethin’ to show you,” they said.
Through the rearview mirror, I watched her climb into their car, slamming the door behind her. The light turned and the boys pulled into the lane beside me before revving their engine to pass.
“Call me later!” Lucy shouted when one of them rolled down the window for her, but I never did. And she didn’t call me. I didn’t talk to her again until a couple months later, at graduation. We passed each other in the hallways at school, sat next to each other in class, borrowed tampons during “emergencies,” but there was something about the abandonment on that empty street in the middle of the night that had fractured us. Maybe because it had just been the two of us that her departure felt like such an insult. Maybe it was just that even when I felt sorry for Lucy for doing the things she did, I still felt sorrier for myself for not doing them.
I spent the rest of that year working at the coffee shop on the corner near the high school; piercing my tongue; dyeing my hair black, then blue, then black again; going out with guys who played their guitars badly. If Lucy had taken the time to look in my direction, she’d have mocked me, exploding the stereotype of the life I was crafting for myself. My mother, of course, didn’t know what to do with me, but she was thrilled I was free of “that Lucy,” although it was difficult for even my mother not to like her. Lucy was personable in ways I had never learned despite my mother’s careful training.
Out the back window that night, one of them—the boy with the short hair and the preppy, collared shirt—gave me the finger as they pulled away and I drove home alone.
We kiss, a spicy scent rising between us until Lucy, still high and a little drunk, yawns and falls back asleep. Lulled by the sound of her breathing, I lie there, staring at the ceiling, tracing the outline of a large coffee stain that looks like a mushroom cloud. I hear a noise and the door opens. A guy with ruddy skin and blond hair crosses the room, a tool belt slung over one shoulder. When he sees the two of us in bed, he pulls away the covers and slaps Lucy’s ass.
He grabs a hammer from a loop at his waist and aims the handle at my head like it’s a gun. I take a sharp breath. He smiles.
“Bang,” he says.
I exhale. “You must be Joseph.”
“I know it.”
He walks to the fridge, takes out a beer, and sips it.
Lucy pulls the covers over her shoulders. “I thought you were going out with your dad?”
“Changed my mind.” Joseph tosses his work gloves on the table. Pulls a wad of money from his jacket pocket. “Got paid.”
Lucy is out of the bed, standing with the sheet wrapped around her full figure. She looks like a stone goddess from the textbooks in my Ancient Civilizations class. She goes to him, kisses him on the cheek, and nuzzles his neck. Over her shoulder, Joseph stares at me, and I cannot figure out whether he’s excited to have me there, half naked in their bed, or if he really would like to put a slug in my head. I cast around for the sweatpants I’d shed when I slid under the covers earlier. Joseph spots them first, scoops them off the floor, and holds them out to me, yanking them away from me as soon as I reach for them. After a couple of tries, I feel stupid, so I stand there in my T-shirt and underwear, waiting for him to hand them over.
“You want coffee, baby?” Lucy moves into the kitchen, flicking on the fluorescent tube over the sink.
Joseph holds up his beer. “Nah. I want to know more about your friend,” he says, without taking his eyes from mine. He tosses the pants at me. I catch them and slide into them.
“There’s nothing to know. Lucy, I gotta go. Thanks for the tea.”
By the time I’m dressed, whatever the longing that brought me here has burned itself away in the light of Lucy’s life with this yellow-haired boy and his hammer.
“It was good to see you,” I say to her. “Nice to meet you, Joseph.”
Wrapped in the sheet, she turns, crosses to me with a stuttering shuffle, presses her body against mine, and gives me a wet kiss on the mouth. “It was good to see you. Call me some time,” she says with a broad, toothy smile.
In the cold, on the way to the old station wagon, I listen as the soles of my boots crunch and squeak against the frozen hillocks of grass rising like mines from the soft ground beneath me.
Driving home, I remember Lucy doesn’t have a phone.
Trish Annese holds a BA in English Literature from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA in fiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as an English instructor for over twenty years and is also a creative writing instructor in the SummerWrite program at the Writers & Books Literary Center in Rochester, NY. She enjoys directing and performing in plays and musicals, traveling, meditating, and yoga.