Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Karen E. Osborne

Lucy’s breathing slowed. Mack’s Smith and Wesson lay on her lap. She slid moist fingertips along the barrel, sending tingles and ripples up her right arm.

Dawn broke. Fog hugged the hills. Streaks of pinks and mauves just above the grey clouds infused the morning sky. In less than four hours, they’d arrive, a quick stop on a longer journey. Lucy, sitting on one of two terrace chairs, sipped her coffee. A robin flew to a nearby tree branch, its nest lodged on top of the building’s security light. Darting eyes scanned the terrain. Its neck wobbled this way and that.

Was the robin brave, careless, or stupid?

***

            “I smell pancakes.” Mack, showered and shaven, walked into the galley kitchen, grabbed the coffeepot handle with one hand and a mug from the cabinet above with the other. “You’re gonna get me fat.” Lean and wiry, Mack stood as tall as Lucy’s five-foot-ten-inches. A dot of dried blood from a razor nick marred his cleft chin.

            Lucy handed him her cup for a refill. “Banana and blueberry.” She re-cinched the sash of her terry robe. The revolver, hidden, but close, lay under one of the couch cushions. 

            “Excellent.” He gave her back a quick rub. “You okay? Seemed like a rough night.”

            “Bad dreams.” With practiced finesse, Lucy flipped each pancake. Blueberries rolled out of the batter onto the hot griddle. With the edge of the spatula, she scooted them back into their proper places. “Can you heat the syrup?”

            “Whatcha dream about?” He placed the amber bottle inside the microwave and set the timer for one minute.

 “Can’t remember.” Of course, she remembered. Graphic images disguised as dreams more terrifying than the worse violent movie rated triple X for sex and gore.

            The microwave pinged.

            “This visit has you wired.” He retrieved the syrup and placed the jar on the breakfast nook. “Want me to stay?”

From the tone of his offer, she suspected the answer he wanted. “Your team needs you.” If only she could share her secrets and seek Mack’s advice. He might have ideas–different, better ones. She was all out. “I’ll be fine.” 

“What did you guys fight about?”

            “Who knows how things get started?” Her therapist said people repeat family history across the millennium until someone heals and breaks the cycle. “Don’t you have enduring family riffs?”

“Yeah. At the tender age of ten, my sister ratted on me.” He made a pretend mad face, the kind Lucy faked when playing with her nieces. “Got me grounded for a week.” Mack laughed at his own foolishness.

Lucy filled his plate with pancakes, each one overlapping the next until the plate pattern disappeared. What would his reaction be when he found her?

            “I don’t get it.” Mack pulled up a stool. “Three years of not speaking. Never happen in my family. My mom is tenacious. She’d hunt me down and force a family intervention.”

            Syrup dripped onto his chin. Lucy handed him a napkin.

            Side by side, they ate in silence. Across the room, on top of an ordered bookcase, three framed photographs stared back. The first, a picture of Lucy and her sister Maureen when they were four and six, dressed in Easter Sunday patent leather shoes, frilled socks, and matching ruffled pink dresses. Both looked sad. The second and third, Maureen’s girls, Kelly and Ella, sunburned and laughing, horsing around during an August beach vacation.

            “I worry about them,” Lucy said.

            “Your folks?”   

            “The girls.” 

            Mack stabbed the last bit of pancake with his fork. “The giggle-fest with you guys on Zoom is a thing to behold.”

 Lucy connected with the girls at least once a week. They shared stories their mama shouldn’t hear, pictures they drew, and school projects they made. 

“Is Maureen messing up?”

“She learned from the worst.”

“You’re good for them. Let’s plan a visit,” he said.

The Smith and Wesson felt heavy the first time she picked it up. Mack’s license allowed him to own and use it, but she didn’t have one. Before today, Lucy never touched a gun. “Hmmm, sounds good.” The distant whirr of a lawnmower seeped in through the windows.

            “It’s a deal. I’ll do some recon for good ticket prices.” He wiped his mouth. “What are your folks like? You never talk about them.” His brow rippled with worry or confusion. “Just wondering, since their pending arrival seems to be a big ass deal.” 

Lucy and Mack moved in together eleven months ago, after eighteen months of dating. His condo had a stunning, unobstructed, thirty mile view. Lucy loved to sit on the miniature terrace, watching the sunrise. Mack teased his apartment won her over, not him. Part truth, but just a little. Mack treated her with care. He listened, but didn’t push, was a gentle and patient lover. Comforted her but didn’t demand explanations. 

            “They’re evil people.” Most times, she deflected questions about them. Even though she wouldn’t tell Mack what she planned, offer a warning, he might remember later what she said.

            “Come on. Evil?”

How could he understand or imagine? Last Thanksgiving, Mack brought her to meet his parents. Seventeen family members gathered. They ate at patched together tables strung from the dining room into the living room. Storytelling and laughing. Everyone held hands and prayed before the meal. They took turns sharing their gratitude lists. Lucy said, “I’m grateful to be here with all of you.” They teased her. “What a politically correct answer.” With a fake laugh, she pretended to agree.

             “They’re not staying long, so it’ll be fine.” Lucy half-smiled to make it appear true. 

            Mack washed his cup, plate, and flatware before reaching for Lucy’s. “I’ll be home as early as I can. Do you want to hit a restaurant for dinner or takeout?”

“Let’s play it by ear.” Cool rage, almost cold, made it easier to pretend. A river of sadness and a waterfall of regret layered under her anger.

Mack wrapped his arms around her. “Time for me to hit the road.” He gave her a sharp look. “Last chance. You’re sure you’re gonna be okay?”

 She smiled and kissed his cheek.  

The idea came to her last week at group–six women, all incest survivors, each with a story. In every case, no matter who abused them, the women asserted family members knew. Lucy’s mother had chosen not to.

During this session, they took turns fantasizing. Ginny, short, square, with a double chin, said, “I’d line ‘em up and mow ‘em down with an Uzi.” She showed her technique with an imagined automatic rifle, spraying bullets at a line of perpetrators. Sue, a woman in her sixties, described strapping her brother to an old-fashioned electric chair and pulling the switch.

The last discussion of the night, however, hit Lucy the hardest and sealed her fate. For four of the women, a brother, who was also raped, molested them. This baffled and terrified Lucy. “Your brothers were children too, abused like you.” She looked at her hands rather than their faces. “Can’t you forgive them?”

Ginny’s fierce stare forced Lucy to lift her eyes. “No, not in a zillion years.”

***

            Lucy almost made it.

A few months ago, Mack and Lucy sat on the terrace. The cool breeze from the east smelled moisture laden.

Lucy said, “I’d like you to come to my graduation.” For six weeks, Lucy and her fellow group members took a self-defense class together. 

“Sure.” He bit into his turkey sandwich. Two Cokes rested on the plastic table between them.

“There’s a final.” She made a wry smile. “And a group-hug at the end.” At first, inviting Mack seemed dumb, since she refused to explain why she sometimes stayed up all night, curled in a fetal ball, or could not make love, or cried afterwards. When she thought about inviting him, she wondered what he’d think. She also worried she’d fail the darn course. He’d come watch her crumble.

Session after session, she learned the techniques, but when it came time to put the lessons into practice, she became undone. Surprising herself, she vowed to succeed. She wanted someone who cared for her to witness her transformation. 

“Is the class tied to your sadness, the things you won’t tell me?” 

She placed her hand on his thigh. “It’s tomorrow night.”

He lifted his fists like a boxer. “Want to practice on me?”

***

            The gym thrummed with adrenaline and conversation. Waiting her turn, Lucy bounced up and down on her toes. Their instructor called on Ginny. She stepped onto the floor. The man, impersonating an attacker, wore a huge fake head with eyes, nose, and mouth drawn around tiny holes for sight and breath. Padding covered the rest of his body. He walked toward her. Once close, he made a grab for her purse. Just as instructed, Ginny dropped the bag before he reached it, screamed, “No,” at the top of her lungs, and swung a sharp knee to his groin. He doubled over, crying out in pain. With practiced speed, Ginny sent an elbow to his chin and a kick to his protected knee. He went down, and she hopped away. A shrill whistle from their coach announced Ginny’s successful graduation. The attacker-actor shook her hand. Applause and bravos followed.

            Next, the coach nodded to Lucy. 

            “Be tough,” Ginny said. “You’ve got this.” 

From the sidelines, Mack clapped and stomped his feet. “Go, Lucy.”

Shoulders back, head up, Lucy walked to the staging area. The attacker came up from behind, swung his arm around her neck, and brought her down hard onto the matted floor. He rolled on top of her. The enormous head loomed above her face. She smelled his sweat and heard his ragged breathing. She was five again. Terror knotted her stomach as she stared up at her father. She sobbed.

The coach, her frame flat and parallel to Lucy’s, said, “Fight him.” 

Lucy remained frozen in time.

“Don’t let him win again.”

“I can’t.”        

“You can.”

“He’ll hurt me,” five-year old Lucy said.

The coach slid closer, breathed hot words into Lucy’s right ear. “You’re a courageous woman staring down her demons. Fight.”

Lucy curled her fingers, turning the jutting joints into a weapon.

“Kick the shit out of him.”

With all her strength, Lucy swung her right hand up and pushed her index and middle finger joints into his fake left eye. He jerked back in pain, giving her just enough room to send a knee to his crotch. Groaning, he rolled off. She scrambled up and sent a sharp kick to his temple. Tears streamed down her face. The coach jumped up and blew her whistle. Mack’s cheers rose above everyone else’s. 

The coach patted her shoulder. “Good job.”

During the car ride home, Lucy cried, but now from relief and pride.

“A guy hurt you, right?” Mack glanced sideways for a second before returning his gaze to the rain-slicked road.

             “Yes.”

            “Rape?”

            “Yeah.” Incest wasn’t the same, but she didn’t feel ready to explain.

            “I’m sorry.” He reached over and rubbed her shoulder. “I figured it was something like that.” 

            Lucy leaned her head back on the car seat. “Thanks for coming tonight.”

“How did it happen?”

To her ears, he sounded afraid of what she might say, or did she color his words with her own expectations?

“Do you want to talk about it? It must’ve been super bad.”

Rain pelted and slid down the windshield.

“I’ll tell you, just not tonight.”

“You kicked some serious butt in there.”

            “I did.” A genuine smile spread across her face. 

They drove in silence for several minutes. 

“Did your folks know? Is that why you’re mad at them because they didn’t help you?”

“I seem sad, but I’m happy.” Standing up to him, even a fake father, accomplished more than months of group therapy. 

“Things work out,” Mack said with conviction.

“They can.” She almost believed it.

That, however, was before the phone calls.

***

             Lucy promised to re-stock their pantry and refrigerator. She didn’t mind food shopping alone. Earbuds in place and her iPhone tuned to a rocking playlist, she moved through the supermarket in time to the music. Since graduation from the self-defense course, she felt lighter and optimistic about the future. Tonight, she’d tell Mack what happened. He’d believe and support her.

The aisles were wide, but not enough. Still moving to the beat, Lucy angled around one cart and bumped into another.

            “Sorry,” Lucy said to the shopper. The woman gave her a no-worries nod. 

Lucy’s cell phone rang. Maureen’s number flashed on the display. “Hello.”           

“Hey,” Maureen said in her breezy way.

They hadn’t spoken in weeks. “What’s up?”

 “Mom and Dad are moving in with me.” Lucy heard Maureen suck smoke into her lungs from an ever-present cigarette, something Lucy begged her sister to stop using around the girls.

            “Are you out of your mind?”

            Maureen answered in her how-stupid-can-you-be voice. “I have kids to feed, an unemployed lowlife husband, a thirty-year mortgage, and an empty apartment upstairs.” Her tone softened. “You need to move on, kiddo. You get what I’m saying?”

            “What about the girls?” Lucy’s grip on the phone made her fingers ache. “He’ll do it to them; you know he will.”

            “Not this crap again. Did you read the article about false memories I sent you?”

Lucy had stared at the email subject line every day for a week. On the seventh day, she hit the delete button without opening the message.

“Your shrink is messing with your mind.” 

“He raped us.” Sobs now slurred her words. “For years.”

“Shut up.” Maureen’s demand felt as cold and hard as the barrel of Mack’s gun. “Do you understand how mad they are with you?”      

Lucy steadied her breathing. Somehow, she had to make Maureen at least doubt. Maureen loved her daughters. “Okay, you don’t believe me. We had a perfect childhood.”

“All parents make mistakes. You don’t get it because you’re not a mom.”

“What mistakes?”

“Nothing happened.” 

“What if I’m right?” Shoppers, with furtive glances, moved around her. She turned her tear-streaked face toward the cereal boxes lining the shelves. “Why take a chance? They’re your babies.” 

            “I can’t talk to you.” Maureen inhaled another lungful of smoke. “Besides, people change.”

“If they want to.” When Lucy confronted her mother, the conversation ended with yelling and being called a lying whore. 

“On the way here, the parentals want to stop by your place. I told them you’d be glad to see them.”

            Lucy swallowed her tears as fast as they rolled down her cheeks and into her mouth. 

            “Mom’s sixtieth is coming up. They won’t be with us forever.”

            With her free hand, Lucy fished in her bag for a tissue.

            “Are you still there?” Maureen asked.

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry I upset you, but they’re coming. So, deal with it.” Another hit on the cigarette. “Play nice, for me. I need them for rent and babysitting since I don’t have a steady paycheck like you.” She sneered the words.

I’ll help you.”

“What? You’re moving here, giving up your job and the new, cool guy?” She made a sound between a laugh and a snort. “Be serious.”

Maureen didn’t know the whole truth. Lucy never told her how he used them together, how he forced Lucy to take part in something impossible to understand, something she didn’t have words for. What if Lucy told Maureen about everything Lucy remembered? Would she accept it? Or would she hate Lucy the way Ginny despised her brother?

“Turn them away,” Maureen said. “See how that works for you.”

            “You were Kelly’s age.”

            Maureen’s scream pierced Lucy’s pain. “Stop it. It didn’t happen and if it did, I don’t care. You’re making me sick. I can’t stand it. Just stop.” The phone clicked off.

            A large woman wearing a manager’s badge came over. “You okay, miss?”

            Lucy gulped tears, sobbing loud enough to alarm everyone in the vicinity. “I’m sorry.” She blew her nose into the already sodden tissue. “I’m fine.”

            She hurried from the store, leaving the cart of groceries behind. Still on the move, she dialed her parents’ number. 

            “Hullo.” Her mother’s voice caused Lucy’s throat to constrict. “Is that you, Lucy?”

Lucy swallowed, breathed. “Yeah.” She dashed through the parking lot. A car horn blared. She spun out of the way. Waved an apologetic hand.

            “Lucy?”

            She reached her Toyota. “How are you?” With a push on the key fob, the door unlocked.

             “Fine,” her mother said without a shred of warmth. “You?”

“Good.” It seemed strange to love and hate at the same time.  

“Did your sister warn you we’re swinging by?”

            Lucy sagged against her car. “Don’t let him hurt your granddaughters.”

“Maureen told me you were over this lunacy.”

            “He’ll listen to you.”

            She waited for her mother to respond. A full minute passed before her mother said with each word enunciated, “We’ll see you on Saturday morning. Can’t wait.” The phone went dead.

            Lucy slid down the side of the car onto the puddled asphalt and wrapped her arms around her torso.  

***

             The sun, high in the sky, warmed Lucy’s face. She stood by the open front window overlooking the parking lot. Most of the spots stood empty. The revolver lay on a side-table. After Mack left, Lucy searched the internet for shooting instructions. Detailed directions and a YouTube video came up with the first query. She practiced without bullets, gripping the gun with both hands for stability. She released the safety and fired at the couch. Despite warnings about the power of the recoil, it felt easy enough. Next, she put it at her temple. She pulled the trigger. In the movies, people often put the gun in their mouths. Lucy tried it. The barrel hurt her tongue. It tasted sharp and sour. Again, she squeezed the trigger. She tried a third position, placing the barrel under her chin. People said death comes so quickly, there’s no pain. Could she do it?

            At 10:56 AM, the blue van pulled up. Vanity plates declared her parents Road Warriors. Lucy watched her father step out and stretch. Cupping his hand to shield his eyes, he peered at the building. Her mother came around and stood next to him. They looked healthy. Older, but still fit. 

            The doorbell rang. Lucy lifted the loaded revolver. The bell chimed again. She thought about Mack. Would his revulsion overwhelm every other emotion? Would anger and hatred prevail? Did he love her enough that this would break his heart? Images of her nieces caused her to tremble. How would Maureen explain what happened to Grandad, Grandma, and Auntie?

“Come in. It’s unlocked.”

The door swung open, and her father stepped inside with her mother behind him. They stopped moving. Her father looked puzzled, and her mother gaped. Lucy gripped the gun’s handle with both hands, feet apart for balance, the gun’s sight lined up on her father’s chest, where his cold, dead heart should be. She fired. The recoil sent her back a step.

Her mother’s scream shattered the air. She fell onto her husband. “You shot him.”

Lucy pointed the gun at her mother. Grief swept over Lucy-for her parents, Mack, Maureen, and the girls. What about Lucy’s group, her band of fellow survivors? Would Ginny think Lucy was a scourge or a hero, stupid or brave, like the robin on the terrace?

Still kneeling next to her husband, her mother’s groans and yelps ripped into Lucy. She lowered the gun. Revenge wasn’t her purpose. Peace descended. Today, she ended the family curse. She prayed they’d all understand. And maybe they’d forgive her.

 The hot barrel seared her skin. She pulled the trigger.

1 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! This story really packed a punch. I love the nods to nature in the midst of the unnatural. Beautifully done!

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