Her name was Lucy Gant and the second I saw her stumble out of her mother’s olive green station wagon with a teetering box, I loved her. She squinted against the afternoon sun, tripped on a sprinkler and a stuffed animal fell on the wet grass. She glanced down but did not stop. Even from across the street, where I sat on a wicker chair, watching the new neighbors move in, I saw her gritted teeth as she strode towards the impatient screech, “Get in already, for God’s sake, Lucy, and help.”
She was long-legged, tanned and her hair had a reddish tinge. She strained against her white T-shirt and I shivered. I was fifteen. There wasn’t a female between the ages of twelve and forty in the whole of Lamdoc that hadn’t appeared in my fantasies. But this girl was a goddess, I knew, the one I’d be with for the rest of my life.
She could not see over the top of her load, stumbled again and looked back to the dropped toy. Then she noticed me, across the street, staring. She stuck out her tongue and limped into the house. One of them, mother or daughter, turned on a radio and music blared. “In the Summertime”, Mungo Jerry, my all-time fave, on the oldies station.
I’d been taking a rest from hours of lawn-mowing, licking drops of blood off my fingers from rosebush scratches, but now I had to act. That plush rabbit or dog was getting soaked by their sprinkler. The knight in shining armor would bring it back to the damsel in distress. I reeked of gasoline and cut grass, my T-shirt was ripped and sweaty, but I was certain that entering her house, on a mission of mercy, would change my life.
I knocked even though the door was propped with a box overflowing with pots and pans. The music was too loud. I ended up banging with a fist, then took a step in and yelled, “Hello”.
The mother jerked around, eyes hard and pale, “What the—,” on her lips but then she noticed the wet toy in my hand, long ear hanging. She turned down the volume and yelled, “Lucy, a boy to see you already.”
“Give it a rest for once, Mom,” Lucy came in, pear in her mouth, juice dribbling down her chin. She grabbed the plush object by the tail. I noticed an eye hanging by a thread. “He’s all wet,” she said. “I just made lemonade. Want some?”
I was known at school as Bobby the smartass, who did cartoon voice “What’s up, Doc?” or “Th-th-th-that’s all folks”. This girl dried up my lines. What I wanted to say was “Wanna marry me?” but her mother was standing right there, and I had a feeling she’d heard every line and had little use for anything in pants.
“Yeah,” I said cleverly, “lemonade would be good.”
She swept into the kitchen, her mother snorted and said, “I wish I hadn’t stopped smoking. You got a cigarette, sonny?” I shook my head. “Thought so,” she said. “Gonna help with the unloading at least before she breaks your heart?” I nodded. Unloading I could do.
The rest of that day, the week, the month, were a blur. I saw her first, was the first male in Lamdoc to clap eyes on her and by that smile of fickle Fortune, I became her boyfriend. She could have had anyone: the captain of the football team, the starting center of our basketball team, Cecil Beaton, with the early offer to Yale, anyone. But the wheel turned in my direction, and I was the one to bring in waterlogged Fluffy. I took her hand when she passed me that glass of lemonade, and she did not pull away. I inhaled her lily-of-the-valley perfume. On her it wasn’t the same as on other girls. When we walked along Main Street Mr. Kalsky came out of his drugstore to talk to her. Duke Callaghan, back in town from college for the summer, stopped his convertible next to us, and offered her – us – a ride, and I stewed, my hand around her waist, she flashed that radiant smile with the barracuda teeth, “Bobby, there isn’t a single boy in this whole burg I’d trade you in for,” and her laugh bounced across the store windows and echoed in my heart.
I mowed grass at the golf club, and for half the town. My mother and I would not be eating otherwise. Mother had three sayings for every occasion, and I’d heard a hundred times that “nobody ever drowned in his own sweat” but now I was also blessed with, “love is blind, Bobby, but don’t be blind to your obligations.” Lucy said she needed a job, was desperate for a job, but it was August already; all the summer jobs were long gone, and most of her looking was done in the hammock in her backyard. But whenever I got off work, middle of the day, late afternoon, late evening, she was ready to hang out. That summer was paradise.
Once the school year started and we had different classes I felt a weight on my chest like I was bench pressing a thousand pounds. I broke out in a rash. She told me on the second week of school that Ashley and Maddison were pretty cool and she wore an emerald ring I hadn’t seen before. At the end of a school day I went to pick her up and old Mr. Kieczor, the science teacher who everybody knew knocked up Tiffany Smith, was close to her face, giving her extra help. She was dimpled and I knocked a chair off a desk. My mom said, “Ah, to be young and foolish,” and told me to take out someone else, that “all’s fair in love and war”. I stopped sleeping instead. In the middle of the night I screamed her name, saw the flower of her face squished on the asphalt outside our house.
Thursday after basketball practice she wasn’t home. Her mom let me in, said “I thought…didn’t Lucy say?” but then told me to sit in the kitchen. She had her glass figurine collection displayed in a vitrine, and she picked up something between her thumb and forefinger and for the first time I saw that except for the lines and the sadness, she had the same face as Lucy. “You know, you’re a good kid, Bobby,” she said. “You think you’re in love, and you think it’s gonna last and then he beats you and you run and start all over again but it’s no good, and you always get hurt. The secret – the secret is to appreciate the little things.” She held up the tiny horse. “Look at each strand of that mane, and the way the ears perk up, and the eyes that stare right at you. It’s the details that make it beautiful.” She went to the fridge, poured me a glass of milk. She smelled kind of like Lucy, too. I didn’t say a word. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? Well, that’s okay. Wanna watch The Flintstones while we wait?”
The weight on my chest was going to pop out my eyes. I knocked over the glass of milk on the vinyl tablecloth. “I gotta go. Thanks. Tell Lucy…tell her…” I ran out and heard the door slam. I tore through the halls of the school. Outside the science classroom I thought I smelled her but the door was locked. In one hallway I heard her laugh, but then it wasn’t her. I could ring the doorbells of all her girlfriends but knew there’d be no point. At my house I had no idea what the sounds coming out of my mother’s mouth meant. I threw myself onto my bed and piled blankets on top of my burning body.
When I woke the house was dark and my mother was snoring. My bedside alarm clock said 11:45. I ran to Lucy’s house and rang the bell. Her mother came to the door, shook her head “no”. I stood there without a word and eventually she closed the door. I knew I’d fall down if I continued standing so I leaned against the maple at the street corner. Some of the leaves were falling already and the storm they’d promised started. All the lights in the house turned off, and the coldness of the night made me shiver. I had no other place to go.
Andrew Stancek grew up in Bratislava and saw tanks rolling through its streets. On occasion he has claimed direct descent from Janosik, the Slovak Robin Hood. Other times he has talked of his distant cousins Jerry Lee and Elvis. These could be tall tales.
In the world of reality he writes, dreams and entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House’s The Open Bar, Every Day Fiction, fwriction : review, Necessary Fiction, Pure Slush, Prime Number Magazine, r.kv.r.y, Camroc Press Review and Blue Five Notebook, among many other publications. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The novels and short story collections are nearing completion.
Andrew this is a terrific story, you are so good!