Short Story – Lucy by Christine Brooks
“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said as crumbs flew out of his mouth hitting her in the face like shrapnel. “She is just going through some stuff right now. I’ll just stop over her house tomorrow for a minute.”
His attention was not directed at her and even as he spoke his eyes drifted deliberately to the television over the bar to catch scores and highlights of teams he didn’t follow.
She said nothing and kept her head down, buttering her roll and concentrating on not passing out. She knew he would be nice enough during dinner, and possibly even nice enough for the rest of the evening, but as the drinks flowed and his attitude shifted ever so slightly, she knew what was to come. It was the same thing that came at a frequency so fast now she barely recovered from one night, before the next toppled over on to her fresh bruises and heavy matte concealer. She didn’t know of his drinking when she agreed to move in, nor did she know that he was using steroids and the last thing she would have ever suspected him of doing was hitting her, but each night as the empty Budweiser cans filled up the empty cardboard case, she knew there would be tears, sometimes his, but mostly hers. His infidelity was something he rarely denied any longer. He was too good for her and she should accept whatever it was he gave. That was his message and most nights he pounded it home in some fashion either verbally or physically.
Some nights she slept alone on their couch, some she stayed with friends, some she slept in her car and once she hid in the bushes that lined his small brick house as he staggered around the yard screaming for her. Lately she became wary of the night, afraid to close her eyes. Sleep became her enemy, so she would fight it off as long as possible and hope to wake with the warm sun on her cheeks instead of his hot breath on her face as he crawled on top of her.
“Here you go,” the nice freckled faced teenage waiter said placing her hamburger in front of her. “Can I get either of you anything else?”
She continued to look down, making sure not to make eye contact with the handsome young waiter, for her safety and his.
“We’re fine. You’ll know if we need something else,” he said slamming his beer down on the table causing the salt and pepper shakers to rumble and topple. “Start eating Lucifer. It looks great.”
She wouldn’t eat though. She wouldn’t react to his nickname for her and she would force her face not to grimace at the sound of his voice when he said it over and over.
“Lucifer, Lucifer, Lucifer,” he chanted stuffing huge pieces of meat into his mouth.
She was mesmerized by the shiny serrated steak knife that was sitting on the edge of her plate in a pool of blood from her rare hamburger. He was talking again and she wished he would just stop. If he would just stop talking everything would be okay. He couldn’t bait her into saying the wrong thing or look at him in a way he found offensive. If he would just stop talking the night would go smoothly. He wouldn’t though, he was already on his sixth beer and even though the waiter smiled when he ordered another, he hesitated as he jotted the order down on his small notepad almost hoping he would switch to soda. At least that’s what she thought. That’s what she wanted to be true, for someone, some one person to have her back, if only there and if only in her imagination.
He was cutting his steak up in huge bites and devouring it, rambling on about the Patriots kicker, as blood dripped from his lips and splattered across the white tablecloth. If only it was his blood, she thought to herself. She stared at the pool of blood on the white plate, swirling the shiny knife around in it. She wondered if she could slip the oversized knife into her pocket without him noticing. She wondered if she would be able to point it at him and she wondered if she could plunge it deep enough into his chest to kill him. She looked up from the blood just enough to see him making eyes with an attractive young blonde at the bar, so she slipped the big knife into her large blue purse and excused herself for the bathroom.
“Are you alright?” she heard a woman ask but she did not reply.
“Excuse me,” she asked touching her arm gently. “I don’t mean to pry but are you okay?”
Still, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t recognize the face looking back at her anymore. It felt like just yesterday that she was tan and happy, days that existed before she met him. Her life now was after she met him and the face that stared back at her was thin and pale with dark circles under her eyes and a deep cut on her chin. A reminder from the night before when he tried to punch her dog and she jumped in the way catching his silver skull ring square on the chin.
“Should I call someone?” the voice persisted. “It’s just…a lot of blood. Are you hurt?”
The face in the mirror contorted to the words blood and hurt so she slowly turned her head towards the voice but said nothing.
“Are you cut? Maybe you could just put down the knife.”
The words hung in the air for a few seconds and then crashed down on her as she processed the tone and the words from the older woman in the bathroom staring at her bloody hands and the steak knife that was now less shiny and glistened with blood.
“I’m okay,” she said wiping her hands on her new yellow sweater and stuffing the knife in her purse. “Excuse me,” she said as she pushed past the white-haired lady and made her way out the front door of the restaurant on to the busy street half expecting to be tackled by police or him, but no one noticed her leave and no one tried to stop her so she walked as fast as she could down the dark street along the ocean’s edge of the small fishing town. Faster and faster she walked, her mind racing as she tried to remember what happened just before she heard the voice. Why was the knife out of her purse in the bathroom? Whose blood was she covered in? And why was the normally busy tourist town suddenly very quiet and very dark. She kept walking faster and faster towards what she didn’t know. No police cars roared by looking for her and he was not chasing her. Her pace quickened and she found herself running through the sudden downpour to a small light she saw just up ahead. As flashes of bright light streaked the night sky and thunder rumbled in across the ocean, she felt disoriented and her walk began to sway almost as if she was drunk.
She was able to cross the small cobbled street and run towards the light as it grew bigger and bigger. Her heart racing, her wet hair stuck across her face and her heels not made for the uneven ground she was now running across, became her enemy. Before she knew it her heel hooked on to a root and she was face down in a mud puddle. Her first thought was to just stay there. Even though she was cold and wet and covered in mud and blood, for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, she was alone and safe.
“Who’s there?” an unfamiliar male voice shouted from the dark swinging a light towards her face. “Is someone there?”
The light now so close to her face she could feel the warmth from it, did not give her the chance to pretend she wasn’t there at all.
“Here,” the shadowy figure said reaching out his hand. “Let me help you up. You took quite a fall there. Come on now let’s get you cleaned up. Come on,” he said with an outreached hand. “It’s okay, come on. I live just over there. Come on.”
Sensing he wasn’t going to leave her alone she took his hand and stood up for a second before nearly toppling them both over as she lost her footing again.
“Whoa, hold on there,” he said catching her before they both fell. “I’ve got you.”
“I’m lost and my shoe broke.”
“Well, you’re found now so come on with you, let’s get you somewhere dry and warm.”
Suddenly, the brooding stranger scooped her up and carried her to the place with the light she had seen. Kicking open the front door he said, “It’s not much but let’s get you cleaned up and take a look at you. Make sure you’re not hurt. You don’t say much do you.”
The small room was both damp and warm as a fireplace crackled and spit tiny embers out at them and a cast iron wood stove sat in the middle of the room casting off more warmth. He sat her down on a wooden chair and poured water from a pitcher into a bowl and wiped her face with a linen cloth.
“That was quite a fall. And now that I can see you that is a lot of blood. Where are you hurt?”
Her head was spinning and fearing she was going to black out she gripped the arms of the chair and looked wild eyed at the handsome stranger.
“My name’s Gabe, but most people call me Wick. What’s yours?” he asked wiping her matted hair away from her green eyes and washing the mud off her trembling hands.
“Lucy,” she whispered. “My name is Lucy,” she said cringing at the thought of him calling her Lucifer.
“Why do people call you Wick?” she asked trying to focus her eyes on his face.
“Why? Well I suppose because I trim the wick,” he laughed.
He continued to gently wash the mud and blood off her face and hands as she looked around the small room for any sign of who he was.
“Where am I? Is there a show in town? And what wick?” she asked quietly.
“A show? I don’t know of any show other than old man Bodin falling off his stool from too much of the drink. As for where you are, well you are in Cape Anne in a small town called Gloucester. I’ve not seen clothes like you’re wearing before. Are you in with the circus?”
“I guess they call me Wick because I trim the wick in the lighthouse,” he added with a chuckle.
“Circus? What are you saying? Maybe I hit my head when I fell,” she said surveying her scalp for the massive bump that must be there but as she ran her hand over her head and through her tangled hair she could not find any evidence of a bump or bruise but still something was wrong.
“I know I’m in Gloucester. I was just up the street having dinner at Minglewood’s.”
“I don’t know them,” he said wringing out the cloth into the porcelain basin. “Are they new in town?”
“What? No, it’s not a them it’s a restaurant. I have to go. My friends are waiting for me.”
Suddenly feeling very out of place and confused, she got up quickly and made her way to the front door. Her sudden movement caused him to jump nearly knocking over the small table that held the pitcher and basin.
“Okay Lucy, but it’s pretty stormy out there you might be better off staying here for a bit until it passes. Cape Anne is known for some strange storms that come in off the Atlantic with lots of energy and no warning.”
“No,” she said sharply, reaching for the handle, “I have to go.”
“Here,” he said gently touching her shoulder, “at least take this,” he said handing her a small embroidered handkerchief. She looked at the dainty handkerchief with the initials GW sewn in in a flower pattern, tucked it in her pocket and opened the front door.
She stood in the doorway as if between two worlds. Thunder clapping and blue and white flashes streaking across the black night sky warned her of the dangers of going back to where she came from. He stood patiently waiting for her decision but offering no advice as to which way she should turn. Finally, she turned back around, shut the door and said, “Would you mind if I stood by your fire to dry off a bit before I go back?”
A giant smile crossed his unshaven face his blue eyes sparkling with kindness as he helped her out of her coat.
“I think that is a wonderful idea. Here, come sit,” he said kneeling down to help her out of her soggy broken shoes.
She inhaled a deep breath and took in every detail of his space. Along the walls moss grew around the sconces that held stumpy white candles and the one picture that hung of an all-black ship flickered with life from the glow of the fire. Nearby, the lighthouse groaned every few seconds to steer ships away from danger of the jagged coast.
Outside, fog enveloped the keeper’s small house and atop the cottage a copper weathervane spun wildly searching for direction.
“So,” he said in a low voice so as not to startle her, “when are you from?”
Still mesmerized by the room that felt both empty and full of life she answered him without looking at him or completely listening to him.
“I’m from a small town in Rhode Island called Narragansett.”
“Not where,” he said draping a wool blanket across her damp shoulders. “When?”
His words broke her concentration and she smiled almost as if she knew she was out of place and answered, “I was born in 1987 so that makes me thirty-three. When are you from?” She asked playing along as a smile so broad came across her face so fast it almost hurt her cheeks.
“Well,” he answered adjusting her wool blanket and pulling up a small stool next to her so he could warm his hands by the fire, “I was born in 1855 and it’s 1890 now so I guess that makes me thirty-five.”
She should have been curious about his answer. She should have been confused but thinking he was an actor of some sorts, she played along with what she thought was part of his script. She felt comfortable with him, even if it was a game, and even as he looked deep into her eyes when he spoke, she felt at ease.
She sat by the fire in a wooden rocking chair surveying him. The handsome stranger stood close by in tall black boots, dark wool pants and a gray shirt with a flap across the front with suspenders over it. On the small table by the door a small stack of books held his large key ring full of silver skeleton keys.
“So, do people come here for tours or something?” she asked anyway.
“People? I’m not sure who would want a tour of this old place. Quite honestly you are the first visitor I have had since I took over as keeper a few years ago.”
“Well, I guess I’m confused then. How do you stay in business if tourists don’t come to see your costume and lighthouse?” she asked staring at the fire so long her eyes blurred the flames into different shapes.
“Tourists?” he asked squinting his eyebrows at her.
“Yes, tourists. You know the people that pay to see you dress like this and do your lighthouse duties.”
“Well, I’m not sure I guess. I stay in business because I trim the wick of the light and keep the boats from crashing into the coast. As for my costume, these are my clothes, but you friend are dressed in clothes I have not seen before. I am afraid that your shoe is broken though but the cobbler might be able to fix it in the morning.”
“Maybe I hit my head harder than I thought,” she said rubbing her hand through her damp hair still searching for the egg that must be there.
“No, I don’t think that is what has you confused,” he said reaching for her hand and holding it as he continued, “I have heard stories of birds of passage ever since I was a small boy. If you aren’t in town with the circus then you must be a bird of passage.”
“Birds of passage?” she asked with a shiver.
Noticing her chill, he got up and went to the table that held the small basin and unlocked the bottom cabinet and pulled out a green glass bottle.
“That’s what you are, right? A bird of passage,” he asked handing her a small glass with orange liquid inside. “This will help take the chill out,” he said extending the small glass to her.
“I have never heard that. I don’t even know what that means,” she said reaching for the small glass filled with what she didn’t know.
“It’s good. See,” he said taking a large sip from his glass. “You’re very nervous for a bird though, but I guess I would be too. I think I will call you Lucy bird,” he said standing up tall and stretching his large hands towards the crackling fire.
“What did you just call me?” she asked standing up so fast the blanket flew off backwards and her glass smashed to the floor.
“Where are my shoes?” she asked frantically trying to put on her coat as he stood there not knowing what he had said to upset her this much.
“Lucy bird. I called you Lucy bird. Hey now, it’s alright. What’s going on? I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He placed his hand on her shoulder and asked again, “What’s going on? What did I say?”
She turned around to tell him what she thought he said, but instead, collapsed into his arms sobbing. She cried so hard she began to physically sob, her chest heaving with the pain of so many failures.
He held her tight, so tight she could feel his heart beating against her chest, perfectly in time with her own. Finally, after what felt like a lifetime to them both, she whispered, “I thought you said Lucifer.”
“Lucifer?” he asked quietly, “Why on earth would I call you that?”
She wanted to answer. She wanted to explain that he called her that — often. She wanted to tell him how much it hurt. She wanted to tell him that she thought of killing him, before he killed her in one of his rages. She wanted to say all of that but instead sunk deeper into his hug and breathed slowly, in and out, as he did.
Slowly, without saying a word, he led her by the hand to a small wooden bench that sat against the mossy wall. They sat on the wooden bench that looked more like a church pew with high sides as flashes of white lit the small room as lightening stabbed at the ground just outside the lighthouse keeper’s house.
She was tired now and rested her head on his shoulder. She knew almost nothing about him or how it was she had gotten to 1890, if that was even true or possible and if it was how would she get home? She only knew that as they breathed in together with him she felt safe and whatever force brought her there would return her. But to what, she wondered.
As the glow from the fire began to fade and darkness was coming over them, he whispered, “I won’t let anything happen to you.” And with those words she drifted off to dreams of a new life that existed without violence and heartache.
She dreamed of lilacs and fields of daisies and with each inhale of the sweet scent she could feel the flowers bringing her home. She wanted to stay with Gabe, in the small room with his arms around her, but even in her dreams he was fading. She wanted to wake, but her dreams held her tight and even as she tried to jump from her mind to him, she knew she was drifting farther from his embrace.
“Are you alright?” a voice asked.
She didn’t know who the voice belonged to but she knew that the moment she opened her eyes, he would be gone.
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to pry, but are you okay?”
Slowly she opened her eyes to her reflection in the oval mirror and a woman she didn’t know touching her arm in concern.
She stood there looking at the woman in the mirror who was unrecognizable. The woman staring back at her didn’t have a cut on her chin. She didn’t have dark black circles under her eyes from months of not sleeping and her skin was glowing instead of its usual pale hue.
She didn’t want to speak, holding on to the last hope that somehow, she could go back to him but she knew he was gone. Was it all a dream? Had she had another psychotic break and imagined it all? She looked down at her yellow sweater which seemed brighter and was not covered in blood.
The older, kind woman was still touching her arm waiting for a reply.
“Yes,” she finally answered. “I’m okay.”
She stood there for a long time looking at the woman in the mirror and wondered about Gabe. With the realization that she was back in 2020 her heart sank knowing he was by now, dead. Finally, slowly, she left the ladies room and made her way back to her table. She was ready to face him. She was ready to leave him and although she feared for her safety when she told him, she had a new-found strength that she could not explain.
She stood up tall, pushing her shoulders back and returned to the table only to find him gone.
“Excuse me,” she said to the young waiter. “Do you know where he went?”
“Who?” the freckle faced young man asked.
“The man I was dining with. Do you know if he left?”
“Man?” he asked. “You came in alone. Are you expecting someone?”
She paused for a long moment before answering him. On the table lay a black menu with gold letters that read GW next to a small green glass that held one single daisy.
“No,” she said as a smile came across her face, “I was mistaken.”
“Oh, okay,” he smiled and turned back to the busy restaurant with his tray. “Your fish will be right out.”