L ucy is dead and it doesn't matter. What does matter is that her father is still alive. He is alive and his daughter is dead and it still isn't enough to make things right.
I went to kindergarten with Lucy. Our finger-painting easels were pushed together chummily, and she didn't laugh when, thanks to a miscommunication with the teacher, I wet my pants and urine slurped toward her shoes. This made us friends, and what made us best friends was the day my parents decided to build our new house across the street from hers. Together we tilted over the deep, dirt socket where the basement would go, and my beloved Bonne Bell lip shimmer slipped from my shirt pocket and tumbled into the hole. I couldn't do a single thing right. Maybe I still can't.
I don't remember much of what Lucy looked like. She was somewhat freckled and sometimes blond and occasionally tall. Her father, however, was a large man—completely and always—made in the shape of an upside-down bowling pin. He had a long, draggy moustache and the look of a schnauzer that spent all day snout-down in a slimy bowl. Schnauzers are my least favorite dog, but I like them more than I like Lucy's father. I didn't like him back then, and I like him less now.
Because she is dead, I try to remember the good things about Lucy. She collected reptiles, and had no fear of snakes or the squirming worms they ate. When Lucy went to summer camp in 5 th grade, her snake escaped its terrarium, and Lucy's mother, a squeamish aerobics instructor, paid me five dollars to hunt it down. I spelunked the closets and crawled under beds, but my ears kept casting about for the heavy footfalls of Lucy's father. I was afraid of what he would do if he found me, wrist-deep in a pile of neckties. No one knew how much he hated me except for me.
That Lucy's father hated me left me with a certain paranoia of being hated. I went out of my way to wedge myself into everyone's good graces, agreeing and smiling back any foul mushrooms of dissent. When the most popular girl in class scowled at me for wearing red leather boots just like hers, I vowed to never wear them in her presence again, for the sake of our respective positions on the hierarchy. When Lucy somehow ended up as the popular girl's best friend, I ceased my telephone calls and retreated to the school rejects: a girl with webbed toes; another who sported her brother's hand-me-downs and a pair of black lips, the latter induced by her passion for licorice ropes.
Lonely, and never a lover of licorice, I read books to search out stories of other girls who might be hated. But they were never hated, not by adults. They might be stuffed in a burlap sack and kidnapped, or roasted in an oven and eaten, but those options seemed more tolerable than being hated. To be snatched, to be gobbled—both were almost a type of love.
Perhaps that's why boys made for a welcome change. In 8 th grade Arts and Crafts an inky-haired Megadeth fan made fine work of my upper thighs, massaging them beneath the table, his fingers shoving higher, past the hem of my shorts. I kept still, watching how his forehead creased with hormones or genius. It felt good to be someone's muse. But whenever I spotted him in the lunchroom he was an utter philistine, busy spraying chips between bursts of laughter, and if my shy eyes caught his they were met with deliberate blankness, as if he had clapped them on vapor. From a distance I noted the way his bangs bunched over his brows, making him look a little like a Schnauzer. I was developing, no doubt, and what I developed was a strong dislike of Schnauzers.
Later, Lucy's father started building antique cars in his garage. Every day, from sunrise until sunset, high-powered tools screamed and gnashed at our windows, and the neighborhood stank of gasoline. Soon, everything came to taste of gasoline. Even my favorite flavor of pizza pocket, piping hot from the microwave, had the tinge of burnt rubber. I fed it to the garbage disposal, and the metal blades churned up something inside me. I could hate Lucy's father. I could hate him more than he ever hated me. The realization came with a hearty satisfaction all its own.
By the time I was old enough to drive, I was speeding by Lucy's house with my middle finger held high and a chorus of angry, tattooed girls wailing from my car. Lucy's father barely looked up from his blowtorch, his expression hidden behind protective face gear. He had hated me first, but I hated him most, and if not bound by the law and a need for parental approval, I would have done more to make him know it. I soothed myself by staring at him from my bedroom window, mouthing a mantra of woof woof, motherfucker while sucking down lemon drops.
Even as an adult, all moved out and with a life of my own, I still thought of Lucy's father. I would spot some teenaged boy in a Megadeth shirt, smell gasoline, or come across a schnauzer tearing up someone's garden, and rage would grip me. It gripped me in a way that felt cozy; it was like being gobbled up whole and I felt delicious.
I thought about letting it go, once. Lucy had just put a gun to her head and the timing seemed right. I had a rare fit of benevolence that prompted me to drag most of my belongings out onto the corner and watch from the porch while passers-by hauled off my sweaters and dining room chairs. I felt lighter and lifted. I wrote a poem in the funeral home's online guest-book, went on a diet, and engaged in vigorous sex with my next-door neighbor. None of those things lasted—not even the poem, which, when I checked back a few weeks later, had been deleted. Gone, like vapor.
I could explain what happened with Lucy's father—what happened to make me so certain that he hated me, and thus made me hate him in return. I could explain but I won't, and here's why.
There are very few things I can call my own—the sourness of lemon drops, the distaste for Schnauzers—but the most important of them all is what I know about Lucy's father. It's a secret, and once I show it to someone, they will try to rationalize it, they will try to suggest that I am over-reacting. They will rob me of my tragedy, which is all mine for the keeping. I know how to make it last.
The last time I saw Lucy's father was a year ago, mere months after Lucy died. He was in the grocery store, clinging to a cart as if it were a walker. His salt-and-pepper hair and whiskers had both gone chalk white. He was fatter than I remembered, shorter somehow, but I knew him at once. Me, he didn't know at all. I was fatter, too, and I liked to stamp the full weight of my feet to let others know that I knew what they were thinking. I stamped and stomped after him through the aisles until he turned around, but he only puzzled at me, asking if I could show him to the salsa.
I pretended to lead him to the salsa, but it was really the dog food aisle. He looked over the colorful bags that were cavorting with puppies, and he seemed to shake—a bowling pin about to tip over.
Woof, woof , I thought, and even though the voice in my head was triumphant and shouting, I couldn't bring myself to bark out loud. The noise was trapped inside me.
Maybe he heard me struggling, because he looked at me then, his ears pricked up.
Woof, woof! Woof, woof!
But my lips stayed shut. They always do.
Leslee Rene Wright lives in Denver, Colorado, where she writes poems and stories, and avoids misanthropy whenever possible. Her work is forthcoming from, or has appeared in, Necessary Fiction, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Blue Mesa Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and others.