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Short Story: Lucy

“Psychic/Medium $25” – turquoise cursive curled on a black A-sign outside a brick-walled shop.

Michelle had dragged me here because, “You never know” and “What if?” and “Come on, Lucy, it’ll be fun – if you hate it, I’ll pay for yours, too,” even though I knew I’d be paying for both of us because Michelle never had any cash on her.

Whatever. I gave in. I always gave in to Michelle because she’s my best friend and kind of like a sweet stray cat I unofficially adopted and also the free spirit part of me secretly wants to be and to be honest, today I’m just out of fucks to give.

My estranged mother died 10 years ago today and I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal because I’ve always been over it, but I woke up this morning and realized apparently it’s a pretty big fuckin’ deal.

She left when I was three – just took off one day without a word, leaving my dad to work two jobs and parent three kids – so I never had any real memories of her anyway. Then when I was 19, my sisters and I each got a hefty cheque in the mail from her estate. Apparently, she’d come from money – dad never knew about this so I guess she hid it well – and had left all of it to us and charity when she died. I never cashed the cheque. I was perfectly fine with not having any attachment to her until this 10-year anniversary caught up with me and filled me with this weird combination of raw loss and pure rage that I didn’t know what to do with – so I called Michelle, and her solution was to take me out (on my dime) for dim sum and bubble tea and a movie, and if all that failed, a drink (or four). The psychic was an unwelcome detour between bubble tea and the movie.

“Come on, you go first,” Michelle said, pushing me through a colourful bead curtain – of course there was a colourful bead curtain – toward the dimly lit backroom of an antique store.

“Michelle, I…”

“It’s a half hour of your life – you’ll live.”

We got to the backroom, half-drunk bubble teas in hand, where an old, dark-haired woman covered in rings and scarves sat laying out tarot cards at a small wooden table. Candles and crystals all over the place; incense burning on some sort of shrine thing behind her – this was like every psychic scene from every cliché movie ever – with a colourful bead curtain to boot.

“Which one of you would like to go first?” She asked, without looking up.

“She will!” Michelle shoved me forward.

The woman looked up at me.

“What kind of reading would you like?”

“Um…”

“I think just a general read would work for her,” Michelle answered for me. “Ya know, see what you pick up. I’ll wait outside!”

The woman and I made awkward eye contact. I gave her a forced smile.

“Please have a seat,” she said.

I sat down across from her at her table and set my bubble tea on the floor.

“What’s your name?”

“Kelly,” I lied. She pursed her lips like she knew.

“Do you have a specific question you’d like to ask?”

“Sure, how ‘bout, ‘will I find love this year?’” I winced at my own sarcasm.

“Alright,” the woman said, gathering her tarot cards into a stack. She handed them to me.

“Shuffle these and think about your question as you shuffle.”

I sighed. “For how long?”

“Until you feel they have been shuffled enough,” she said simply, not entertaining my tone.

I sighed again and took the cards, beginning to shuffle. I could feel the woman’s eyes on me.

“You know, Lucy, your mother never actually died.”

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The other side of freedom

They don’t tell you freedom can be lonely – it wouldn’t sell as well if they did.

When freedom (a.k.a. living on your own) is new, you get so hyped up on the prospect of eating Oreos for breakfast, naked, that you don’t stop to think about the things you’ll miss.

That hits you later, when you’ve eaten so many Sour Patch Kids your tongue is raw and the novelty of not having a parent around to tell you what to do or a partner to keep you in check has worn off.

You realize how much you miss your mother’s cooking and your family’s weird, hilarious inside jokes. You get stuck in a pitiful rut of sadness and self-doubt and all you want is for someone to hug you.

Instead, you have a screaming hot shower so you can cry without the neighbours hearing, and scrub the sour patch sugar out of your teeth. You put yourself to bed, cry it out some more, and finally fall asleep. Overnight, the loneliness passes and leaves you stronger, and tomorrow the freedom tastes better.

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Sticks and stones

Everything had been pretty okay since starting Kindergarten at the age of five. Miss M was the most amazing teacher I’d ever had (also the first, but that’s besides the point) with her huge smile and her long, flowing auburn hair.

Grade One was fine, with Miss A, who was sweet as pie. Then came Miss W, who had the longest blonde hair I’d ever seen (down to her bum), helming Grade Two, which would have been a good year, I think, except it turned out to be a very short-lived grade.

I was finishing my work too quickly, they said, sitting around twiddling my thumbs and not being “challenged”. “She’s a bright kid; we want to bump her up to Grade Three.”

So I left Miss W’s class and the kids who weren’t mean one day, and joined Miss C and her Grade Three class the next, an almost-seven-year-old armed with nothing but the unconditional love of her parents and a nervous belly.

My differences – the only white kid in the class and one of about three at any given time in the whole school, bright and mature for my age, a good student – were always previously apparent but never much of an issue. In Grade Three, they became bull’s eyes.

This class was rougher, tougher, older, taller. This class came with a Queen B, and I’d never even seen a hive. She was wide-eyed, mouthy, conniving, obnoxious, and unpredictable. She would have been a Queen B in any school, in any part of the world, but the deeply entrenched culture of Yap, this small Micronesian island, meant an intrinsic caste system – and her lineage – worked in her favour. Every single kid in the class was wrapped around her little finger – boys and girls alike – even those who didn’t really like her, because they were bound by her high-caste status and their lower-caste parentage to kowtow. She was badly behaved and a poor student, but managed to wrap the inexperienced missionary teachers around that finger, too. She was a mistress of the waterworks and a pro at the fake smile. She got what she wanted, and apparently what she wanted more often than not was to pick on me.

Now, I will preface this by saying that the bullying I faced was minor compared with a lot of others’ experiences. It never really got physical, except for a little pushing once, and it could have been so much worse. I’m grateful it wasn’t more serious, and my heart goes out to the kids who endure so much more than I did. However, that said, everything is relative, and you only know what you know. Her level of bullying was all I knew at seven years old, and it was enough to ruin three years of my school life.

It was little things that added up, one on top of the other: Making fun of words I said or how I said them, the fact that I raised my hand in class. Snickering and giggling at anything I did. Snide comments day in, day out. Never talking to me or playing with me or including me and preventing the other kids from doing so, too. Smearing a Lip Smacker chapstick over all the movie star magazine clippings I’d papered the inside of my flip-top desk with. Trapping me in an outhouse bathroom stall. Tag-teaming with another, bigger girl to repeatedly block my path and make me late for class. Little things, every day, that piled up and up and up throughout the week, so that it became my normal to get in the car when Dad picked me up from school and, finally safe from laughing eyes, unload the tears that had amassed throughout the day.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am for my parents. Our stable home life offered a crucial balance to my school experience, their love and support a never-questioned constant to counter the pendulum of uncertainty and unhappiness on which I swung, Monday through Friday from 8 to 2:30.

Toward the end of my time at that school, we found out Queen B had a pretty awful home life of abuse and alcoholism, which didn’t excuse her behaviour, but did make it easier to understand. Hindsight 15 years later helps, too.

Bullies only hurt us because they’re already hurting more themselves. Knowing this doesn’t make what they do okay, but it does make it easier for us to forgive them. Bullies aren’t bad kids. They’re kids in need of love.