eedy morning light expanded modestly over the country road, the crooked farmhouse, and everything in between, leaving impressions of greyish yellow where it touched down. Edward had been awake for most of the night and was lying unblinkingly in bed, trying to absorb every change of shadow. He reflected on the darkness beginning to lift in the nooks and crannies of his creaky-floored bedroom overlooking the barn. A shaving of sun entered through a space in the curtains and landed on his cheek. Edward directed his open mouth at the diluted warmth, as though to devour it. Everything was still, unbroken. He wouldn’t get up just yet.
But then Landry started whimpering in his room down the hall. Edward turned over, away from the muted sunshine, and looked at the clock. Landry was right on schedule. His eyes would be open and serious, taking in the mobile and the plushy toys on the rug, gazing from left to right, from up to down. Edward’s wife Lucy had been anxious about Landry’s frenetic eye patterns, but books and doctors and grandparents and other know-it-alls had told her not to be concerned. He’s fine. Such an alert baby. You’re just sensitive because you had to wait to have a child. Nine years must have felt like an eternity. The word blessed got bandied about an awful lot. But no one knew anything in the long run. Lucy had just been worrying about the wrong person.
Edward got up and began attending to his son, tickling the chubby crooks of Landry’s elbows in a greeting, changing him, crowding the used diaper into a forgotten wastebasket that was eclipsed by the rocking horse and was meant for smaller items. The diaper’s plastic bulkiness did a good job of covering an ancient mass of Lucy’s bloody Kleenexes. The only evidence of her last visit. A rainy afternoon. She had interacted with Landry listlessly, and mostly lay on the couch covered with a stiff blanket. It was high time the tissues were thrown out. Edward deduced that he had been saving her gory garbage unconsciously. But now it was diapered, shitted on, it would have to go. Edward recalled happier times, when dark red Kleenexes meant that Lucy had put on lipstick, to go out dancing, or to pose for a formal picture, or to make a joking bright mark on Edward’s neck, vampire-like. But Lucy was the victim now, and not a mock one: her life was being sucked out of her, in that hospital bed, one operation at a time.
Friends and acquaintances reacted badly, rudely, almost, when told of Lucy’s condition. Edward understood their disbelief and disapproval and forgave most of them. Lucy was one of those people who seemed to be exempt from all things unpleasant and undignified. The world had taken a particularly grave wrong turn if she was unwell. Palms moistened and shivers ripped along spines. Everyone took the news very, very hard. Naturally, it made them think about themselves, about their own luck running out.
Lucy had always been so carelessly popular. Especially in high school, with her new hips and her gliding posture and her white Chiclet teeth. With just a smile or a low laugh, she unwittingly destroyed friendships. A teenaged Edward, wretchedly underweight, bones jutting everywhere, had taken it upon himself to dutifully inform her of each cataclysmic adolescent event she caused. Lucy wasn’t feigning ignorance with her detached protests: “You’re kidding, right? They’re fighting about me? That is so hilarious!”
Everyone wanted Lucy. And Edward, unbelievably, got her. But the path to her affections was treacherous. It took years of waiting by her side, listening to inanities that thankfully turned into more palatable musings as her pituitary gland hardened. It took eternities of being the dreaded/coveted Unpopular All-Purpose Male Friend. It took three break-ups in university and two in their mid-twenties. But here it was now, a sixteen year marriage, a parentship. An institution. What he had dreamed of. Without, of course, the bitterness, resentment, infertility treatments, and the terminal disease.
Edward frequently laboured at convincing himself that his Lucy Quest had been admirable. An honourable undertaking, and not a total waste. Only recently had he become capable of thinking more than three thoughts in a row that didn’t concern her. Now his brain was creaking with effort, rusting over, which made him wonder what he could have amounted to if he hadn’t filled it with Lucyness. His irrational, ridiculous need to be with her had consumed him throughout puberty and far, far beyond. Every other endeavour had paled in comparison. Like other human beings, he ate, and slept, and breathed, and worked. Lucy, though, was his driving focus.
He had trouble remembering what had spurred him on so relentlessly. It was her charisma, he guessed. The beacon of worthiness that glowed outward from where he imagined a person’s soul should be. The I was born to be worshiped signal. Scores of people had fallen prey to it. Before she got sick, men still slipped her their phone numbers in the grocery store. Women gave her the once-over and told her without sarcasm that they wanted to be her. To this day, Edward’s dick withered whenever he even minced around the mental stratosphere of infidelity (not that he would cheat on her now, that was heinous, and who would want him, anyway?).
He had even gotten into a bar fight for her, once. Well, not actually for her—she would have hated to hear him say that. Over her was more like it. Some floppy, plaid-shirt- wearing idiot had slithered among Lucy’s parts. Lucy and this turd swayed boozily to a silly ballad, privates bumping. Jared, the guy said defiantly, when Edward asked. Jared’s punched temple had pulsed insolently. Lucy told Edward he was disgusting, and not to touch her ever again.
How romantic. How ludicrous. But it proved something, didn’t it? A man like him, compelled to violence over another person. Didn’t that cement Lucy’s magic?
Despite all of this history, despite exhibits A through Z demonstrating Lucy’s power over Edward, an essential ingredient in his obsession had eventually thinned out. The Lucy vice loosened its grip in some way, he got free of it. Edward told himself that it was only the passage of time that had drained him of his infatuation, that the nitty-gritties of life had, for obvious reasons, depleted his awe. But underneath this theory, contrary feelings lurked. He tried his best not to acknowledge them. Especially now, when unflattering thoughts about someone so sick seemed like treason.
The conclusion he couldn’t allow himself to reach was that he really didn’t like her. Love had nothing to do with it. Plain and simple, Edward didn’t favour the way Lucy operated, which was, by and large, on a delicate plane between sincerity and falseness. She was too basically good to be nasty, but not caring enough to be truly kind. Her cluelessness over the hearts she had broken in school was genuine, but this was because she wasn’t interested enough to tune into the emotional dynamics of others. She would protest to her dying day (which was looming closely now) that she didn’t know Edward was in love with her until he had made his move. He had stopped caring if this was a lie or not decades ago.
Absently feeding Landry breakfast, Edward recalled without pleasure his and Lucy’s first walk home together as a couple, not as pursuer and pursued. It had taken him five years to amass enough courage to kiss her in front of her locker after last period. She had kept her tongue inaccessible. In the relative calm after the kiss, Edward and Lucy dawdled along their regular route, the leaves crunching under his hightops and her pointy pumps. Birds were singing riotously on the telephone wires. Edward’s hands inside his pockets had stopped shaking.
They had grown up in relatively the same neighbourhood, but his avenue and her lane had totally distinct personalities. Edward’s three-story stood staunchly alongside other similarly imposing residences, bordered by a severe lawn and an immaculate driveway. It was a tight-lipped, inflexible matriarch of a house, brick and historical. Lucy’s newer tan bungalow was the alcoholic second cousin of houses. The shabby, ungenerous property was littered with the skipping ropes and bicycles of Lucy’s four younger siblings and the tools of her mechanic father. The need for additions and repairs seemed to emanate from its foundation. Seven people were crammed into Lucy’s tiny place, while only Edward and his parents wandered aimlessly through their echoey home.
Edward used to envy how unlike her house Lucy was. She was self-contained; she didn’t spill over onto other people for support. Her illness had transformed her into a virtually unrecognisable constant flow of need. How hideous for her. Edward knew she would rather be dead.
Landry was smiling at Edward from his high chair, his cheeks overstuffed with bananas. Edward had been shoveling too much in, distracted by his thoughts.
“Sorry, buddy,” said Edward to his son, slowing down the feeding process. Landry continued to grin acceptingly, making Edward ache all over with too-strong love.
True to perfect form, Landry babbled away quietly to himself while Edward did the dinner dishes from the night before. One of Lucy’s brothers had come over for Mexican food. The meal had been nice. Matthew spent most of it avoiding talk of Lucy. He marveled at the farmhouse, oohed and ahhed over its askew charm, gushed about what a great decision it had been to move. His flattery’s subtext was that the country had bought them time. Lucy was still alive because they had left the city. Edward didn’t think this was true, but he understood Matthew’s location-specific hopefulness. Some months ago, Edward had been absolutely certain that hauling his family out to the middle of nowhere had been the right choice. It was somehow going to counteract the turn of events that had been so stealthily set in motion by errant cells, by science. Staring intensely into the night sky unhampered by tall buildings, Edward would give thanks for the abandoned barn and the burned grass and the isolation. These things were keeping Lucy going, on the right track. On the life track. Death was being avoided this way. But now Edward knew that it wasn’t. Death was coming no matter where they lived. There was no running from it.
Under normal circumstances, Edward was an unwavering city person. Lucy’s disease had temporarily brainwashed him into appreciating dirt roads and smogless air and winding drives with the radio blaring. Besides the turn-of-fortune appeal of it, the move was timely. An ex-boyfriend of Lucy’s from high school had moved into their neighbourhood, an occurrence which stirred up Edward’s only superficially buried feelings of teenage lowliness. These sharp, nostalgic pangs of inadequacy, coupled with his adult shortcomings, both real and imagined, pressed on Edward’s psyche.
Edward first noticed Charles emerging from a freshly renovated house a few blocks from his own. Amid his preparations for the country move, Edward caught glimpses of Charles, and these sightings made him seethe. Ages ago Lucy had mentioned offhandedly that Charles lived in Spain. The nerve of him to surface all of these years later, a foreign country under his belt, sitting in Edward’s coffee shop or prowling along the streets that lined the park where Edward took Landry to play. More and more Edward thought about what it would be like to knock Charles’ block off.
Charles had been one of those cruel, testosterone-fueled, stupid man-boys. He deemed certain girls titless and ugly. He called Edward names, too. Charles and Lucy first kissed at a party, one Edward had not been invited to. Lucy allowed Charles to feel her springy little breasts through her nightgown one morning when she was home from school with a cold; Charles promptly told everyone he had banged her. As Edward surveyed a dog-walking Charles through his about-to-be-taken-down living room blinds, he struggled to identify any residual malice in his former classmate’s face. Charles had always been handsome, with his cheekbones and browny skin and sexy mouth snarling in insult. As a grown-up he remained an appealing physical specimen, but now his features were calmer, softer, his forehead smooth and open. The guard of hatred was gone.
This disappointed Edward; part of him wanted Charles to stride down the sidewalk, kicking toddlers and grabbing old ladies’ asses. There was the chance, Edward consoled himself, that Charles remained angry and brutish in his personal life—maybe he was a wife-beater, or a deadbeat dad. Or maybe he was so maladjusted that he lived completely without companionship. Just him and his leash-straining beagle. Somehow Edward doubted this last scenario. Charles had always been a winner, in spite of or because of his baseness. And things like that, Edward knew, never really changed.
Edward made sure to avoid Charles at all costs. Lucy was already quite sick and had stopped her regal wanderings, so she and Charles didn’t connect, either. When rhyming off tidbits of news to her as she lay, diminishing, in their large, deep bed, Edward never mentioned him.
In her healthy incarnation, Lucy coordinated swanky high school reunion dinners every June. The reunion part was something of a joke. Almost everyone on the guest list lived in the same city and kept in regular contact. But the invitees cheerfully went through the motions, enjoying the façade of it all, their stomachs churning excitedly as they sucked in their fat and put on their earrings or ties for something official.
Even if Edward hated Lucy’s guts at the moment, even if he despised the smell of her and wanted to throw her over a balcony, he felt that never-tiresome puff of pride every time he walked into the agreed-upon restaurant beside her. The in-crowd had grown to include the not-so-in (this was where Edward belonged, since he was there by default). The mixing of the I-Was-Invincible with the I-Wasn’t-Very-Popular-But-Now-I’m-Rich-So-I-Get-Invited-Anyway crowds filled Edward with a kind of glee.
Edward endured Lucy rubbing her bare leg against the clingy dress pants of the jocky men (Charles noticeably absent, probably getting laid in Spain) and got the familiar twinge of murder. But she stumbled home with Edward without fail. People got drunk and said too much or too little, but at the end of the evening, no realms had been overturned. The New Order remained.
Lucy invited Lindsay, her best friend, to the dinners, even though they had met in university and Lindsay lived in another city. A dental surgeon with a slight stoop and a laugh like the bleat of a newborn, Lindsay was endlessly fiddling with her bra, trying to shift her breasts to a more cleavage-friendly position. It exhausted Edward to reminisce false-fondly with her about their shared tropical vacations. His only memories were of himself and Lindsay’s husband, Ron, rendered prostrate, yawning unstiflyingly as Lucy and Lindsay whooped and chatted under beach umbrellas. Ron was never at the reunion dinners. Lindsay’s flirty posing suggested that she wanted to be there alone. Edward was grateful for Ron’s absences. It would have been impossible to hide the fact that he was generally ignored.
These events did give Edward an opportunity to watch his wife admiringly, jealously, and to surreptitiously consider Maggie. Maggie had been another popular, fascinating girl—she was Lucy’s runner-up. Her hair was prone to frizziness and her nose was too pronounced, but Edward liked the fallible nature of her beauty. It was sad, and strange, it could be shattered. Maggie’s mouth was a straight unsympathetic line that rarely smiled but her hands danced when she was pleased; she would snake her arms around people and whisper to them importantly, making them feel chosen. Then she would wander away and reject them if they pursued her. This had been her trademark in high school and she had carried it over; the effect remained devastating, even though her face had become craggy and her torso brittle-looking through her veily tops. Edward didn’t think of her sexually, but wistfully, distantly. She reminded him of a movie he had seen once and didn’t wish to see again, only parts of it. A sunset, or a camera trick, or an especially well-shot action sequence. Not a big deal if he missed it, though.
Edward drives to the hospital to visit Lucy after the dishes are done, Landry strapped carefully in his car seat. The radio stays turned off. It’s been a cold winter, and Landry’s sweet-smelling head is trapped inside a snug hat and a puffy coat hood. Both are fastened tightly in bows under his double chin. If Landry were older, he would process the thought that the roaring in his flattened ears makes him feel like he’s in a seashell.
Edward stays put and starts planning the gathering he will have after she dies. It won’t be long now, in the spring, most likely. Maggie will come. Couples and trios will pour out of the slanted farmhouse, onto the field and into the neglected barn, chuckling and being social, because this is the way it always happens, unless it’s a horrific crime, or a child. But it will just be Lucy, and they will be prepared. We Loved Lucy. There will be a big turnout, and widespread overestimation of how warm it is. People will be so happy not to be dead that they will pretend that the weather is milder and more summery and more life-affirming than it really is. Foolishly dressed men and women will mill around, with their thin cottons and their sandals and their babies who are too young to leave with a breast pump and a relative, and the light of the moon and the lamplights inside will be huge and yellow like cats’ eyes. And everyone will keep saying “I’m so very sorry” to Edward, between their chatty and vibrant and laughter-punctuated conversations, and the universe will swell with the weight of their condolences and their goosebumps. Maybe that will feel somewhat good, Edward thinks, and forces himself through the doorway holding Landry, towards his foes.
Foot pumping the brake around corners because the roads are slippery, Edward is remembering something positive about Lucy. How she used to look down at him as he spoke (Edward being slightly shorter), her pupils appearing to dilate with interest, with comprehension. Yes, yes, I know exactly what you mean, I couldn’t have put it better myself, her eyes would be saying, making him so incredibly happy. Edward would ramble, he would digress, and her eyes would remain lively, never faltering; she wouldn’t allow the lids to narrow them or the corners to slant them impatiently. That had been lovely.
But then he remembers how Lucy liked to tell people he looked like Jughead. “You’re smaller and skinnier, though, hon,” was always the smirking tail-end of the jab.
And what about the week before, at the hospital, when she had said to him in her flat, ill voice, “What are you going to do, Edward? I’m your only friend in the world.”
“Landry’s my friend,” Edward had said defensively, aware of how pathetic this sounded, your own baby your only pal. Lucy’s chapped mouth had grimaced in agreement.
Edward moves on to tabulate the banal things that used to consume Lucy before she became too tired to talk much. Number three on his list is facial wrinkles. That had gone on interminably, the crying over them, the painstaking documentation of them.
“You’ll make them worse if you bawl or count them or be mean,” Edward would say. “You’re only speeding up the process.”
“Shut up, prick!” Lucy would scream from her station in front of the mirror from the cosmetics company, everything magnified to the zillionth degree. But Edward knew what she meant: he had been staring into her face since she was fourteen. Every year it would accumulate more lines, just like his stomach would get paunchier, his neck skin less elastic.
When Landry was born, Lucy started comparing her skin with his. Troubling. She would stare at the rolls and rolls of film they took of him, saying, “Look, Ed, look, he’s got nothing! Lucky bastard. I’m a hag, a mess.”
Lucy’s kind of crazy, but she’s not evil, she’s not even bad, Edward assesses, entering the city limits, turning into the hospital, finding a parking place, and extricating Landry from the confines of the car seat. His wife compared her skin to her wonderful son’s when Landry was tucked in his crib, bathed and patted and kissed goodnight without a hint of competitiveness by Lucy. Edward had been glad that Landry wasn’t a girl. Then, it might have gotten ugly. But it doesn’t really matter now.
There are already visitors in Lucy’s room. Edward can hear sounds that are un-nurselike as he makes his way down the hall, Landry in his arms. Two men are hovering over Lucy’s bedside, broad shoulders touching. Edward breathes out heavily, lowers Landry to ribcage level. How annoying. One of the men is sobbing convulsively. His pink scalp shines through his brushcut.
The visitors are Mike and Geoffrey, more fucking high school people, although not ex-boyfriends. Will Edward ever be free? Soon. The thought is more like a seizure. Edward hesitates, shifts Landry down some more, wants to turn away. Landry strains into the open doorway, and Edward feels like fleeing. Does Landry instinctively want to be in the room with his mother and her two popular friends, without Edward? It’s another in-club, this hospital room, the beeps and tubes and needles and trays replacing roughly thrown basketballs and invitations and stolen cookies from the cafeteria that no one shares with Edward. Edward knows that Lucy is looking at him and Landry with her blurred vision and thinking the same thing. You can go now, she’s saying. Pass him over. He’s one of us.