TWO OF HEARTS, OF WEDDINGS, OF FATHERS
An excerpt from the novel “Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday"
Claudio’s Debt Begins
May 8, 1991
The day Mathilde gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, Claudio called his sister. Congratulations. You’re an aunt now.
Your wife, said Jane, is a Jezebel.
Claudio had prepared all week for this call. So far it was the worst thing about being a father: having to worry about people other than his daughter. Her name is Lucille Spicer-Simone. She weighs six pounds and an ounce.
Why the Spicer?
That’s my wife’s maiden name, Jane. You know that.
There should be no Simone. She’s not your baby. She’s the Devil’s child. A breech birth. The Devil wears a velvet jacket. You love my belly! She spoke calmly in sentences that made a sense in no context, with the panic-free precision of a comfortable articulator. She could have been talking about riding a Ferris wheel or buying a scone from the bakery.
Jane, I was thinking, said Claudio. I know somebody who wants to marry you. We’ve told him about you. I think he’s smitten. It’s my brother-in-law, Sawyer. Mathilde’s brother.
Why in the world would I want to marry someone I’ve never met? Jane laughed. To fill her life with somebody besides Otis? Otis, who was hard on the eyes and harder on the hands and a force as indispensable to her as shelter?
It’s what Sawyer needs. A wife. Sawyer and Claudio had discussed this. Owing a favor was the last thing Claudio wanted to do, but he hadn’t been able to conjure any other options. Because Sawyer and his boyfriend Noah weren’t allowed to marry in New York, Sawyer offered to legally wed Claudio’s sister to get her the insurance to stay in Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx for as long as necessary.
Sawyer translated full-time for a publishing house, and while the salary didn’t make him particularly wealthy by New York City means (his mother, after discovering he was, in her words, one of those appalling homosexuals, had cut him off financially), he had a lovely cafeteria plan, which could extend to any legal kin. Claudio had gone to visit Lincoln and thought it was fine, a perfectly decent home. It’ll do. Walls the color of Jordan almonds and dinner mints. Nurses growing smiles wide as lichen. A hospital for people like Jane. For Jane, it’ll do.
Mathilde can’t know, agreed the two men.
Mathilde had already asked her mother for the money but had been denied. Maybe it was the cancer, which had already had its way with about two-thirds of her mother’s body, or maybe it was the twenty years as a widow, hardened and focused her on the luxury of dying in peace and with status. I don’t believe in mental illness, her mother had said. Everyone these days thinks they have something or other. Nobody was in therapy when I was a girl. Why can’t that boyfriend of hers take care of her? That Otis? It isn’t my problem, Mathilde, and neither is it yours.
There was no other way Jane could be institutionalized. She’d need to commit a crime, said Claudio, who had stayed up late doing research until his eyes felt like they were going to split into fifths. Commit a crime in order to get committed. It’s almost funny. Not ha-ha funny, but, you know, uh-oh funny.
Funny, paralleled Sawyer, his throat enduring a laugh. One other thing you need to promise me.
Anything, breathed Claudio.
Noah can’t know, said Sawyer. Either.
Um. Claudio swallowed. I mean, are you sure?
It would be worse, said Sawyer, if I asked him to pay for her. I can’t do that, you see? Not that he would ever say no. No, the trouble is, he would say yes.
Well, I just don’t know what to say.
Trust me, said Sawyer, we’d be worse off if he knew. I’d never be able to pay him back. It had nothing to do with the sting and guilt of his mother’s rejection. It had nothing to do with how hazardously persuasive Claudio was. Sawyer felt as though Noah already did too much for him. This was Sawyer’s decision, and he chose with his frayed heart: faulty with reticence, a timid belief that even its most pure love came with conditions.
This makes things harder, said Claudio. I don’t want you to lie to your partner.
You’re lying to yours.
But this would be your marriage, argued Claudio, not mine.
It’s a temporary solution. And besides, I already can’t marry the person I want to. I might as well have a selfless marriage if I can’t have an authentic one. Now only to wait for the day Sawyer’s mother died or until Sawyer’s real love became recognized by the state—whichever came first. Or more likely, whichever came last.
Claudio just had to convince Jane to come to New York, go through with the ceremony, and bide her time until it was time to check in. Then, hope. - We’ll know where she is all the time, - Claudio coddled his own mind. She’d have food with vitamins. Clean water. Half-luxuries.
On the phone, Jane said I’m still with Otis. I don’t know how happy he’ll be.
Can I talk to Otis? Is he there?
Claudio heard a shuffle. God! somebody yelled. And that same somebody said yeah?
Is this Otis?
Who’s asking? Who was this man, with his pebbly deluge of a voice, with his bewitchment over Jane? Claudio imagined a portly guy with a ponytail, one of those scuzzy alphas girls somehow go gaga over.
This is Jane’s brother, Claudio. There’s a man in New York who wants to marry Jane.
Sure, take her. Otis chortled. Why not?
- My god, - thought Claudio, - he’s killing her. - The possession was as simple as it appeared and yet as intricate as a multiplicity of toxins. Filaments of rage shook loose in Claudio, the marrow of a temper he hadn’t felt in years.
At last Claudio’s rationality, so suffered and industrious, arrived. - I can’t get angry, - he thought. - For Jane’s safety, I do what needs to be done. Get the information. - It was a fucking useful notion. He could have cried.
Do you live together out there? he asked.
If by live together you mean for an afternoon here and there, sure. Otis laughed.
Where’s she normally? Claudio usually sent the money Jane requested to a FedEx office.
Make no mistake; your sister’s a wild child. I want to say sometimes in my lap, sometimes in the sewer, but don’t quote me on that.
Would you hold on a second? Claudio walked over to his desk, where he kept a baseball. He threw it through the closed window. Glass sprayed across the room—splintered, evicted versions of his face on the floors. If being generous only meant being in some amount of control!
Claudio spent seconds tucking the animal back inside himself. In turn he tucked himself tight inside his fear, returning to the line, asking to speak to Jane again. He told her he’d send a plane ticket to the FedEx center, hanging up before his sister could say no or stop or the very worst, please.
He called Mathilde. I miss you, he whispered to his wife.
When he and Jane were children, they once identified the clouds in the sky with nationalities. These are the French clouds, Jane had said. And these are the Zimbabwean clouds and Flemish clouds and the Japanese clouds and the Australian clouds. They were listening to the White Album, emitting snorting sounds, sweet glossolalia, as Claudio dropped the needle. Have you seen the little piggies, crawling in the dirt? The record was so loud, it sounded drunk. The sky bluer than their eyes. Four eyes, opening and shutting themselves, two at a time. Every sound leaving Claudio and Jane left a fracture.
What have you done? You’ve made a fool of everyone.
What Love Spares
May 26, 1992
Sawyer met Claudio and Jane at City Hall, holding a bouquet of slouched sunflowers. Claudio was the witness and the best man. There was no maid of honor.
Where’s your wife? asked Jane.
Uh, sick, said Claudio.
Jane’s eyes broadened, like she’d never considered that other people in the world besides her might ever be sick.
Sawyer’s eyes shimmered with mitochondrial-size bits of moisture. Where the government fails, family steps in, Sawyer said to his (soon squared) brother-in-law.
I’ll repay you for this. I owe you. I owe Noah too, despite his having no idea.
You don’t owe someone if you’d do the same thing in their place.
Jane wore jeans and a windbreaker. She carried perfumes of the street, reedy and itinerant. Claudio walked his sister down the aisle. The aisle was just a space between rows of City Hall seats. They could only fit when they walked single file.
I do, said Jane. She started to feel a little bit married.
I do, said Sawyer.
Oaths were taken. Sawyer kissed Jane with duty, a nonsense kiss, continuing thinking, - I’m rescuing a family - (in an urgent, dissociated way—the way a mother would call 9-1-1 and say a boy is choking instead of my boy is choking).
Claudio thought, - what a family I have. –
Man and Wife
May 26, 1992
The minute Jane saw Sawyer, she felt like lying down. Sawyer was too handsome for her, too kind. She wondered if Claudio told Sawyer what he was in for. Sawyer had sunflowers for her. She didn’t know where he’d gotten them from or how big they’d grow or if they’d still grow despite being uprooted. She wanted to rip them apart because he deserved a woman who knew about botany and astronomy and perfumeries.
When he saw Jane, Sawyer hugged her, breathing in diminishing intervals into her neck. How did he love her all of a sudden? He didn’t let her go until Jane pushed him. It’s enough, said Jane.
Now three people loved her. Claudio, Sawyer, and Otis. But Otis didn’t love her anymore. Sawyer only just started loving her. And Claudio’s attention throughout the years had been so erratic, it seemed like he only loved her when he remembered to. What about yesterday? What if nobody loved her?
Before Claudio came for her, the day everything changed, she’d told Otis that she was marrying another man. Otis had laughed at her—one of those temperamental and elemental belly laughs. She hadn’t known what to do. Whenever Otis hit her or screwed her, she was all his: his centrifuge. But gauging that reaction, she didn’t know what she was, except for maybe something that was funny.
As Jane married Sawyer, Otis waited outside the whole time, banging on City Hall’s doors, telling Jane the minute she was married he was going to throw her in the dumpster. She wondered why nobody else was saying anything. Sawyer was smiling and adjusting his tie. He looked more like a celebrity than her fiancé. Claudio kept holding her hand.
Maybe it was just happening in her world: Otis waiting patiently to take Jane outside and stab her. He had his floozies with him, all of them, twenty or sixty-eight or something, and they were all laughing at her. The ceremony wasn’t even half over, and Jane felt shattered tears slipping down, changing her face. Isn’t that sweet, Claudio whispered to Sawyer, and Jane knew that in their own way, they were laughing at her too.
Lucy had water in her right lung, drowning in a plaintive fashion. Doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, Children's Ward, told Claudio and Mathilde that their daughter had about nine months to live if she didn’t get a transplant donor in time. The real trouble idled in her heart.
In May, just six months before turning seventeen, Lucy felt her breath reducing even during untaxing activities like opening envelopes or washing her hair. Her feet and ankles amplified to bulgy proportions. She coughed all the time, and her belly engorged.
Mathilde had taken her to the family pediatrician. Lucy loved going to the doctor. Growing up she’d often daydream about her most recent checkup and her doctor’s voice.
She felt the same purposeless and curious infatuation talking to technical support operators on the phone. She loved how present they were, how sincere they could sound. The is there anything else I can take care of for you, Miss Spicer-Simone? and the you have a good weekend. You take care now. It could all mean something.
After a series of EKGs and EEGs, Lucy learned that she had dilated cardiomyopathy. I’m so sorry to say, but it can be a very serious condition where your heart becomes weakened and enlarged. Eventually it won't be able to pump blood like it's supposed to.
Less than a month after the diagnosis, Lucy developed a drowsy lung. Only she ever called it that, christening it affectionately, like a pet or a joke. The cardiologist had listened to Lucy's breathing, then put the buds in Lucy’s ears. Your decreased heart function has begun to affect other parts of your body.
This was Lucy's left lung. She felt pity: a small, paper cut, hair-in-soup pain. She’d never before bothered to distinguish her lungs from one another. She named them Hermione (left) and Blackbird (right), then her heart
How’s it feel? asked her mother the following morning.
Like it’s dragging. Like an ellipsis.
You’re a poet, you know that? Who else compares a heartbeat to a piece of punctuation?
Of course I know it. I’m a poet! Lucy smiled, hijacking her mother’s tone.
A Charitable Meal
October 30, 2010
Sawyer was visiting his ex-wife by himself for the first time. They’d never been alone in the same room before. Claudio usually served as a buffer, in case Jane insisted on any nonsensical, tall orders. Nonsensical, such as, so if you’re my husband why don’t you ever kiss me?
Hi, Jane, Sawyer said, opening her door. Light poured into her room.
Um, said Jane. She let Sawyer hold her hand. Her mildewy-wet palm trapped heat like an attic in August.
Sawyer dawdled. He gulped from his bottle of water. He picked a picture frame up and then set it down. Claudio had brought the picture frame over and put a picture of his daughter Lucy inside, but after he left, Jane had replaced it with the paper underneath featuring stock photography models. A brunette couple with a mackintosh-yellow dog in a garden. The soft glow of a calla lily made the frame’s silver appear dull.
When Lucy got sick, Sawyer and Noah had been in the middle of planning their wedding. Mathilde’s and Sawyer’s mother had passed away a few months ago, and the inheritance allowed Claudio to buy his sister upper-crust health insurance for the rest of her life. Sawyer discreetly split from Jane. Sawyer cited the mental illness, and Jane’s living situation was proof, so Jane didn’t have to sign anything.
(Nobody told Jane she was getting a divorce. They didn’t need to.)
Would you like to leave for lunch? I checked you out for two hours.
I guess? asked Jane. Her cheeks smoldered an inflammatory brick.
I know a good place nearby. Do you like croissants?
Who doesn’t like croissants? All buttery and crusty, said Jane. She sounded like she could have conversations about casual subjects.
Jane put on her jacket and her shoes. They walked to the parking lot. Sawyer opened the doors to his bisque-tinted M3, and Jane slid into the passenger’s seat. Hot car, she said, clicking her seat belt in place. The radio played the Four Seasons, “Walk Like a Man.” He stopped in front of a coffee shop called Lulu’s. Next to it was a day care center. They could see toddlers through the windows, playing with blocks and paints. Jane had never seen so many babies in her entire life.
It’s a great place, said Sawyer. We can come here again, if you like it.
Nobody knows we are here, said Jane.
So? asked Sawyer.
He knew she wouldn’t try to do anything like kiss him, because Jane was afraid. She would let anybody do whatever they wanted with her, but no way would she try to get something she actually wanted, even from the man who married her. That was why holding her hand was okay: this security. Deferential Jane, whose vicious tendencies only veered inward, didn’t expect anything from Sawyer, for those with no self-worth don’t expect anything from anybody.
Still, it was somehow true that, Sawyer really loved this woman, but in a way no man he knew loved his wife, even the closeted gay men who still managed to have sex and friendships with their wives. His connubial love was retired, safe. He compared it to the god moment he imagined surgeons experienced during surgery. A filial love, a kind of love for a baby.
Two pain au chocolats, please, Sawyer ordered for the both of them. Jane felt charmed by Sawyer’s display of control. Do you want anything else?
He still hadn’t let go of her hand. - My companion, - Jane thought. She said one orange juice and one pineapple juice, distending her arms like a yogi or stretching cat. I get really thirsty.
I do too, said Sawyer. Make that four.
What could they talk about? He scrutinized Jane’s hair, chin, collarbones. Was she sexy? Could she be? He’d never thought of it before. As he studied his ex-wife he wondered what was afflicting him, not a falling in love but a changing of outlook. Her blues bathed, diluted in the room. Her excruciating sincerity. Her damage. The endless, simple equation of time that she had for him. He felt a glimmer of something that was not pity.
What were you thinking, leaving me alone? Jane spoke with a drowning look on her face. She pushed her hands into her knees and looked deep into their pink pores, like she was trying to find a little god in herself.
I don’t know, Jane, said Sawyer. His heart buoyed.
We could’ve taken care of each other.
Sawyer thought about Claudio and for a moment hated him. He’d pressured Sawyer to take vows with this woman. They’d made a mockery of marriage. Jane was his partner in crime, and she didn’t even know she was a criminal.
It seemed like they had all the right things for you in the hospital.
Jane gave a humid and insulted look. The medicine helps, she said. Not all the time. But I could be a lot worse.
I know, sweetie pie, said Sawyer.
I know a man who can’t even speak, said Jane. He drools. They have to wipe up his shit.
Sawyer thought about Noah. What was he doing now? Likely reading his email or eating. Maybe he was on the subway. Dear Noah. The love of his life.
The waiter came by and asked if they needed anything else. Sawyer said, that will be all, thanks, grinning his faux-grin: enticing, stylized. Nearly mocking, like he was amused to be alive.
Maybe when I get better, hoped Jane, you’ll come pick me up, and then we’ll pick out a house? And maybe have a kid?
Maybe, Jane, said Sawyer. Maybe. He found her revelations attractive and wondered if she herself believed them. They were shiny and flat, like magazine cover girls, more airbrushed than alive. He wanted to tell her something true and appalling for once, sick of lying to her, even for everyone’s good. But instead, he kept his mouth shut and drove her home.
When Sawyer walked Jane back to her room, she’d already reverted back to her passive self. Maybe I’ll see you soon? she asked.
Definitely, Jane, yes, hustled Sawyer. But I’m really busy this week. I have work.
Everyone is always doing work, said Jane.
I’m sorry, Jane, said Sawyer. I really am. He looked for a moment at Jane’s bed, which she’d share with nobody. The unmade bed. The dent of last night’s body, a Jane-shaped dimple. He walked away, looking forward.
Jane, making no sound, walked into the room she’d spend the rest of her weary life in. Thinking about the entire happy day, now that she was home, made her blue. She shoved the light on and hung up her jacket. She liked feeling her pulsing in the hand he’d held. She made her way to the bed and to the curtains, to her dresser and the picture frame and back to her bed. She touched everything Sawyer had touched. She picked up the picture frame, remembering how he’d bowed his handsome fingers around it. His fingers: gentle, like mini-cigars. With zigzaggy, zooty strokes on his palm. She kissed the frame. She tried to press it to her soul, but didn’t know where her soul was.
Preparation for the Surgery
November 2, 2010, 7:02 a.m.
Another name for a heart donor when (s)he’s brain-dead is a beating heart cadaver.
The cardiologist had warned Lucy long ago that sometimes the donor’s heart may be deemed unsuitable. Lucy waited to hear the bad news, wanting to assume the worst. That way, what she heard would either be good news or something she already knew.
A string of hours passed, thumping rain and dead leaves visible through the window. After the cornflower-into-marigold sunrise, the heart from Oxford, Mississippi, was reckoned proper for Lucy.
They waited for the new, melancholic heart to ship south to north. Hospitals had rules to respect its donor’s privacy. Just as well, for Lucy had nothing in her that could find out any more information about the body. - A body, - she thought. Nothing could be worse than calling a person the body.
November 2, 2010, 10:16 a.m.
The paramedics and doctor-specialists and nurses rushed Lucy to the emergency room, ready to take out the old and sew in the new heart. They’d done transplants before, which was so bizarre for Lucy, who felt the same empty she felt in the past flipping through a stack of scenic vacation pictures with no people. This was her life. For the professionals, it was one day’s work. Everything was platitude with high-stakes jobs. Lucy’s old heart palpitated, one of the last times the old heart would be doing this.
Lucy could feel the pressure from the surgeon when he asked her, are you ready? Would she ever be? The anesthesia evanesced, made her vanishing and susceptible. The surgeon told Lucy he was only there to help.
November 2, 2010, 3:26 p.m.
On the operating table, Lucy dreamed of the beating heart cadaver, deciding he was a boy. He smelled scummy and animal, like a sheep. It’s a boy, Lucy said, as though he was being born, recognizing the new heart nesting bluish and strictured among his ribs. Drip. He reached inside himself for his heart, and plucked it. There came a light sound of ripping, for his heart actually had strings.
The boy pushed the Southern heart through her throat, past her collarbones, let his hand hang still for a shattering second down her esophagus. Shelving it like a bottle of Riesling. She didn't choke, but his arm tickled. The heart pulsed, nuzzling Lucy, dwarfing her body. The beat felt heavy and collective, a curlicued round of applause.
A big mouth, the boy sniffled. Then the generous sucker played her bones, one at a time, like a pianist pressing keys or like a cancer inflaming her. When he kissed her humerus, they both started laughing. She looked down, and she was clothes-less naked. Such an emblematic, clichéd, dreamer. Then she looked at the boy. He was even more naked. His body was carnage, a lather of color, a meaty confetti. His insides reflected off her: elucidated, clocklight-toned. Lucy felt something complicated, like love.
November 2, 2010, 5:25 p.m.
Lucy was alive, with somebody else's heart inside of her. - Hallelujah, - she thought. Then - thank the Lord. - Though she didn’t consider herself religious, she had so many pious words and phrases engrained in her mind during her most despairing times, often invoking the word god without consciously realizing whom she was talking about.
The heart is in, said the surgeon, with tourmaline skin and a dazzling accent, who was buried beneath scrubs and a mask. He told Lucy that she’d remain in the Intensive Care Unit until likely the next week, when her body would be safe to leave the comfort and sanitization of isolation, strong enough to survive on its own.
Lucy sneezed, felt the pleasure of winnowing effluvia, but nobody else was in the room. Bless me, she said.
November 2, 2010, 6:12 p.m.
I’m sorry, Jane said to her brother.
For trying to kill yourself or for not succeeding? Claudio asked his sister.
Succeeding? asked Jane, now among the micro percent of the time she could be cogent, even clever: you have a pretty cheap idea of success.
I didn’t do anything, Claudio said.
It doesn’t take very long to bleed to death. Jane had cut a main artery, and minutes had counted. Now she was safe in the hospital, had just gotten her arms stitched up in the ER. They were in a ward just two floors above where Lucy was recovering from her surgery.
I was thinking about how it’s my birthday next month, said Jane, and how I so badly wished I never had one.
The notion of his sister without a birthday made an endearing and terrible sense to Claudio. He made the choice not to picture the strange idea any longer, instead thinking of her moment of birth. How stupid and happy his family must have been. How much like a family. Mom always used to tell me that right before you were born, he said, I had told Mom that I changed my mind and didn’t want a sister anymore. And then I saw you. And there you were. And I said we can keep her, but let’s give away any others.
Precious, derided Jane.
What on earth triggered you?
Life gets to you sometimes, Claud, she said. You of all people should know that.
I have children, said Claudio. It’s a different way of thinking.
It’s easier to forget what your favorite food is or what color you look best in or what makes you depressed.
I’d love for forgetting to come easy.
And you realize you don’t really even need the time for yourself.
I see what you mean, said Jane. But a child is never fully safe.
You’re right, said Claudio, and this was the saddest truth he’d ever confirmed.
You’re a good man, Jane said to her brother. If I ever had children, I’d be scared of hurting them.
Like you said, you think of them before yourself.
Claudio closed his eyes. Jane was sick. Life was hard for her. Naturally she’d want to spare her potential children the suffering. It wasn’t because she wanted to hurt them. In the hospital, too frail to touch, lying with her arms in white bandages like shackles, it wasn’t that she wanted to be damaged. He had to keep reminding himself of this.
Why didn’t Sawyer visit me more often?
Claudio was not expecting this. I always told you, he wanted to. It was just a matter of finding the right time.
What time would that have been? Jane looked at her ripped wrist as though she were wearing a watch.
As soon as you felt better, pivoted Claudio.
Speaking of feeling better, how is Lucy? Why, with this timing, you’d think God had some big idea for our family.
God? Claudio asked in the voice of a small boy. Then, he said the only words left he had for his sister.
Please, just stop hurting yourself. And stop letting yourself be harmed.
Easier said than done.
Do something nice for me, he said, and Lucy. Keep yourself alive, if only for that.
If only for that. Jane laughed.
You know I don’t mean it, said Claudio. You have lots of other reasons to be alive.
Let me sleep, said Jane. She reached for the cup of water on her nightstand. As she sipped, one of her bandages flipped open, exposing a skin-fizzling bruise. It looked fake, like a special effect.
You’ve slept enough.
I don’t like being awake.
You’re afraid of being awake, he said, in a way that made them both want to cry.
Claudio felt his phone buzzing. It was a text message from Mathilde: I need you. She always thought she did. Claudio sat down on a visitor’s chair and played with his hands, moving his wedding ring up and down the knuckle.
Sleep tight, he told his sister. I have to go. I’ll be back tomorrow. Then he looked at her for as long as he could stand it.
Before you leave, said Jane. I wrote a note. Before. It was supposed to be for you. You can still read it, if you want. She motioned toward her nightstand, where the staff had moved her measly belongings. Open the frame. Underneath the picture of those people I don’t know.
Claudio did as he was told, without asking any questions, and without reading the note just yet.
I just wanted somebody to understand, I guess, even for just a little bit. But none of that matters anymore. Nothing is how I imagined. For one thing, I’m alive. I had no idea that would happen. So night night.
Good night, Jane, said Claudio.
Jane crossed her arms, wrapping herself in her elbows. Her brother had good intentions, but what good did it do her? You’re not my hero, she announced to the shut door, because Claudio had already left for his other family, the family that mattered to him. She scratched one scarred hand with the other, then switched. Residual blood on her arms flaked asymmetrically, like batter.
A few minutes later, she heard a rustle at the door, but her brother hadn’t come back, of course. It was her doctor, who asked how her arms felt. Jane said they’re the only things that still hurt.
April 7, 2011
Claudio took Lucy to Mass only because she asked him to. None of my business what helps you, said Claudio.
I believe in god, Lucy continued. Would you ever?
It’s too hard for me to.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I believe in rock and roll.
I think most people go to church, or temple, or mosque, because you can turn to each other and go, peace be with you, said Lucy, taking a seat in the back pew.
- Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people. - The people, who were there for a reason, sitting down and craning their knees and taking Communion.
Lucy received Communion, though she knew that technically she couldn’t take Communion unless she’d recently been to Confession and been absolved of her sins. But the last time Lucy had gone to Confession, the priest had told her to say a bunch of prayers. And she’d probably sinned since then. Would these infractions matter to her God? The oddest and worst parts about religion were the technicalities. The God Lucy believed in probably had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, but she didn’t know how else to find him (Him? Her? her? It? Like polytheists or Shakespeare conspiracy theorists, them?). She said, more to herself than anyone else, heavenly Father.
July 1, 2011, 12:00 p.m.
Lucy’s uncles wed at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. Seven songs intro the reception, a prosperous mixture of Motown and current pop that’d date itself within a year, Lucy reached for her cell phone, dialing the number she’d memorized. She excused herself. On the corner of the West Side Highway, she specified.
The appetizers had been served, and dinners were brought out on silver plates. It was an eat-dance-eat-dance wedding, not eat-eat-dance-dance as she’d predicted, so it would be a little bit harder to slip away. But Lucy didn’t need dinner, and if her timing went as planned she’d be back in time for cake cutting. Lucy coughed into an embroidered napkin with a gold-calligraphic SW & NW. Sawyer would be taking Noah’s last name, which was Whistler. Their initials were no different from directions.
Lucy peered down the long undercurrent of highway. It wouldn’t be long before people would start to notice she was missing. Finally, she saw what she needed, its yellow lights unblemished, and its window curled down.
Good evening, miss, said her cab driver.
Will You Walk Away from a Fool and His Money?
July 1, 2011, 4:56 p.m.
Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center
I wanted to see if you ate dinner yet.
Nope, said Jane.
Well, asked Lucy, you hungry?
That place you were telling me about, said Lucy, the one you went to with Uncle Sawyer. Do you remember the name?
No, said Jane. It was orange. It was next to a day care center.
I’ll look it up on my phone, said Lucy. She named some restaurants, and Jane recognized one, so Lucy gave the address to the driver, and the driver took the pair to their coveted café. He waited in the parking lot after Lucy promised to pay for his time. She’d pay for the entire evening.
This is the place! said Jane, glad to domineer, to have experience. See the day care center next door? Get a load of all those babies. And here we are, with the orange walls.
What’s good here?
The croissants, of course. You can’t pass them up, said Jane.
They ordered. The croissants arrived on ceramic plates, thin flaky strips arranged in a lattice art. They delivered their conversation in enriching, simple scraps, talking about their favorite songs and favorite songwriters and favorite words. Jane said her favorite word was always. When it came time for the bill, Lucy held out her credit card, the waitress told them it was on her.
Why do you think that is? whispered Jane.
We must look like nice people, Lucy told her aunt.
I like that, said Jane. I love you Lucy. God should bless you.
Thank you, said Lucy. So. I don’t want to go home after this.
Do you have anywhere you have to be?
Well, said Lucy. I don’t have much time. So I’d rather be here.
They walked back to the car. Drive us back to the city, I guess, said Lucy. But would you stop in front of the highway by Fifty-ninth Street? By the Hudson River Park. There’s something beautiful over there. They got out of the car, anticipating the sunset. The sky was a carnival of ruby and salsa, suffusing into a low point of blue. This could have been a nice place for a picnic.
Look at this sky, insisted Lucy. They looked at the sky and listened to the city.
Lucy, there anything I can do for you?
You had this evening with me, said Lucy, and that’s more than enough.
I mean, to help you heal.
I’m not sure.
I tried before, said Jane, but nobody would help me.
Tried? asked Lucy.
Well, said Jane, I know my brain isn’t too good, chemical imbalance and such, and I wouldn’t trust my lungs or my liver, on account of my drinking and smoking way back when, but I think my heart’s okay. Nobody ever told me there was anything wrong with it. And I figure, why not give a perfectly good one? They have those operations nowadays, don’t they?
What? asked Lucy.
I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad, I even tidied up before I did it and wrote a little love note, saying good-bye, in poem form. In the poem I don’t write about what I’m about to do, I write about other things. That’s how you write a poem, you know, it’s a kind of code. The poem’s still underneath the picture frame in my room, the one with the couple and the dog. I slid it behind the picture so those hospital worker fuckers wouldn’t steal it. It’s still there because I’m afraid to move it.
Anyway, I wrote the note and there was no other weapon in the room, they’re real strict about that sort of thing, so I used the only thing I could have used. Next thing I know, I’m awake in a hospital I don’t recognize and your father is there, telling me I disappointed you and the whole family, and I just can’t fucking explain a thing. I hear you’re in the hospital too, two floors above me, and I don’t know why. And I think that maybe God’s decided to punish both of us because I tried to take care of my dying and your living all on my own.