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THE COMPLETE TALES OF LUCY GOLD
By KATE BERNHEIMER
Copyright © 2011 Kate Bernheimer
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE GOLDEN KEY
One winter day, when the ground outside my cottage was covered in snow, I went into the forest to bring back some wood. I loaded the wood onto a sled. I was so cold, I thought I would make a fire and sit beside it a while before I went home. No one waited for me in the cottage, apart from the dear spiders and mice. I cleared a space in the snow by scraping at it with a stick, intending to sit down and warm my bones. Soon I uncovered a golden key. "Where there's a key," I thought, "there is surely some magic." You might expect that I desired to dig more, and discover a locked iron box. You might expect me to have wished that this iron box were full of glittering things. You might expect me to have fit the key perfectly into the lock of the box, and that I would have turned it and turned it with hope. You might even wonder what terrible marvels I found in there, what sadness or evil they brought into the world. Yet I had no such desire to discover the sadness or evil. Sure as the forest is made up of trees and dirt and needles and worms, these are now and can always be lucky trees and dirt and needles and worms. It's a trick of the mind, this desire for peace. Yet just the same, I can assure you no story has ever waited for me. Only the darkened night with death by three. All happiness once was taken from me. Please solve the riddle; I can no longer speak.
Chapter Two Under the bed, in a worn cardboard shoebox, lies a stuffed monkey with a pink and smudged face, and a pink satin ribbon taped onto one ear. The monkey wears a pink plastic helmet and used to hang from the ceiling tied to a rope. Lucy Gold, the youngest of the four children, got the monkey from Ketzia, who got it from Merry. The monkey skipped over the brother, as it was pink. (He preferred rose, he always said.)
Lucy abides by favorite things—especially colors. Once, she overheard an angular woman announce to Mrs Gold in the kitchen, "I disdain whimsy," and wondered how anyone could. Lucy prefers whimsy to anything else—except perhaps Monkee, with her almost-gone fur and fraying rope—or was it a noose, as Merry once said? Lucy rejects the creepiness of the noose-notion, and concentrates rapt attention on the goodly essence of the poignant, sad monkey.
Though very young, Lucy has already learned quite a bit about the world that she lives in, the attention that it desires: about her two older sisters who don't get along and about how to get along with both of them well. She sees that the straight-haired one who cries is annoying to the curly-haired one who is mean; and she sees that to avoid annoying the mean one, she must exude charm. To avoid hurting the sad one, she must comfort her lavishly in private.
Lucy has learned that her brother does not have much to do with the sisters, including herself, though he does not seem to have much to do with anything at all except maybe his blocks. He does like having his fingernails painted by Grandma—and who doesn't, with that lamp in the shape of a hand that you rest your own hand upon during the painting? (Glows yellow, gets warm.)
The only naturally sunny child of all the Gold girls, Lucy cherishes the airy nursery room in which she sleeps, with its orange gauze curtains and the heater's radiant hiss. Ketzia and Merry sleep in two newer rooms down the hall: Ketzia's pink, containing a dollhouse, Merry's green and featuring a toadstool lamp. The brother's room is blue. Mysteriously it glows with video games. In summer, a box set in Lucy's windowsill roars. Each night, whether winter or summer, autumn or spring, Lucy lies perfectly still in her sleep: stunning expression upon her face, hands clasped under her chin. On the pink sheets are depicted green fairies, half moons and violet stars.
Here in gilded frame the glorious childhood world: four little children, moving through rooms as through a series of books. Miniature, the tiny, dead-end perfection. Intuitive from the beginning, Lucy softly, easily dreams.
And yet, there is nothing more tedious than hearing about someone's dreams. Consider instead these provocative questions: What is the relationship between the fairies and Lucy? Is it they who breathe life into her, or she who is ascendant for them?
Chapter Three PENNIES, NICKELS, AND DIMES
I'm going to tell you something, so listen. Long ago I learned to be happy. I was happy for all of my days.
I had the birds, who told me the weather, and I had my rooms. When I first moved to the forest, I had denounced everything else. So I often sat at the window listening to the birds and the wind and the snow falling down from the sky. That is all I desired.
Sometimes, a human person would pass by my hut and stare curiously at me through the fogged windows. I would wave him away—gently, of course. I waved "Go away" with no malice, no nerves. A sort of woodland Go-Away trill, if you can imagine.
I had long ago left my parents' house and all childhood trinkets behind—a giant trombone, glittering paints, all of my toe shoes and tutus. I was too blissed out to bring them along. I was that airy-fairy.
I arranged to be awake and asleep according to nature—that beautiful beast, that loveliest monster—each given day. I rose with the sun, and when the sun was finished for evening, my own day was finished too.
There was no need for news from the city. News is not usually good, so why seek it? During my lifetime the news has always been bad. May it reasonably request to be called the "news?" I think not. (True news is worth listening for, and more radiant or awful. Anyone can hear it, if she only tries.)
Instead, I spent my days walking the forest dressed appropriately for the weather, whatever it was. When it was summer, I wore little, and when it was winter, I bundled up. It is not that I cared for myself, nor whether I lived or died. I loved life—yes—but not my own personal possession of it in my humble container. Besides, any reasonable person who has the means will dress for the weather. It would only be spiteful to do anything else.
In spring I looked for nests, particularly those of the robins. Robins sometimes nest twice in a season. Isn't that a wonderful fact? Certain facts provide such simple pleasure. I allowed myself the happiness of observing the robins' double-nesting season. Oh the robins—their little red bellies, those dignified coats.
I kept myself occupied thus.
I had no need for money. I had all the wood that one would require for fire, and when the robins' nests sometimes would fail, and fall to the ground, and the robins depart for elsewhere, I had fine little blue eggs for supper. If they'd fallen down freshly, there was no need even to cook them—thus no need to waste any wood on a fire, if I wasn't cold. (Mind you, if the robins did linger, I would do what I could to place the nest back in a tree. Yet I found that more often the failed nests were abandoned, after a few long moments of robin-grieving. And how I grieved with them.) Dearest robins, my precious friends!
Did you ever love something so much you just wanted to eat it?
I was so poor that I slept on a bed made of hay. I had gathered the hay from the barn. When I first was sent to the forest, I came upon the cottage as in a dream, and I went out to the barn and saw what there was to see: a ladder, a bucket, an old dying mare.
I went to the well and filled up the bucket, but the mare did not want the water. What could I do? I gave her my blessing and left her there in a halo of flowers. Gathering hay in my arms, I went into the cottage and made a small mattress. I had nothing to call my own except for the clothes I wore on my back and a few small objects (matchbook, storybook, lantern) and now the thatched cottage and the barn and apparently an old dying mare and some hay and some water.
Lovingly, I cared for the mare every day. There was little for us to do in the woods but keep company there. Sometimes I worked on the clearing, making space for foxgloves and fiddlehead ferns. It is strange, but the fields did not speak to me nor did the flowers! Not even the mare. Before I had been banished, or stolen, I could hear ladybugs talking—dust motes whispering—flowerheads expanding their lungs.
Still, I had my kindness. If a child came along, walking down the dirt road to the clearing, I would feed her some morsels.
And if a child walked down the dirt road wearing nothing, I would give her a burlap sack for her back. I would say, "Here, put this on."
And if a child approached me and told me he was cold—why of course, I would bring him nearer the fire. But not too near!
Happy is as happy does.
And Lucy is my Name-O.
Of course, none of this ever happened. I lived deep in the forest. No child ever did come.
Once, it is true, I found my own self in need of food. I walked down the dirt road to another road and from there, on pavement into the town. I passed the post office, and the postmistress peered out a window. I passed the town hall, and saw a meeting room there all full of men; one hit a gavel upon a table. It seemed the gavel just floated in air a long time before it hit down, very silent. I passed by three churches, their windows closed tight. I passed by a lake, and then I reached the town dump.
Yet once there I had no sense of what to do—the bins were all tightly locked. Even the bears, so great and needful, could not have gotten in them. But there were no bears. They all were gone.
So I turned and walked home. I went hungry until something grew in the ground. That's the whole story: once I was hungry and I walked and I walked, and then I went home to my dying mare.
Obladi oblada life goes on on la la la la life goes on, I sang in her ear.
Whether I ought to have gone on looking for pennies, nickels, or dimes in that pine-needled forest, I don't think so. One should look skyward for stars and leave them home in the heavens. And, looking down, seek the snails in their shells, some of earth's most wonderful gifts to us humans. Those humble residences! Don't dare step on them.
In that forest I found a new and peaceable home. It was different from any I ever had known. It was a new kind of happiness—I kept my ear cocked to the clearing, waiting for someone to come take me home. I was happy when I thought of my mother.
And so I called the old dying mare Mama. Mama! I would say to her. How I love you! Oh my mama my mama my love!
About that, we laughed and we laughed. It was too bad, but we laughed so hard that the mare up and died.
But she died happy, I tell you. And so did I.
Chapter Four By the age of four, Lucy had denounced birthday parties, peacefully intuiting them to be selfish events— she asked instead to celebrate her parents and sisters and brother on June 1 every year.
At the age of five she wrote a letter to Mr and Mrs Gold. It read, "Thank you for your cooperation. No Gifts or Contributions." The phrases had been painstakingly copied (it took several hours) from a letter she found on Mrs Gold's desk from the Temple, inviting her to either a meeting, a funeral, or a bat mitzvah. (Mr Gold was an atheist, while Mrs Gold had tentative leanings; in later years, this reversed for reasons that still are not known.)
In addition to finding the garish festivities of birthday parties a sort of moral embarrassment, Lucy believed she had already gathered enough gifts of consequence in her life—she felt no need for further attachments to toys; those she had were so beloved and spectacular, so shamefully in excess already. In a metal trunk at the foot of her bed—the very same trunk Mrs Gold had taken to camp when she was young, which either was or was not a camp where you might have been killed—Lucy kept her favorite belongings. This trunk that resembled the treasure chest of a pirate, and also evoked danger: Lucy did not want to add to its collection.
Among the items in there: a sewing kit, a plastic doll, a knitted skirt. The sewing kit and plastic doll had been Merry's first and then Ketzia's, and were rather broken. The sewing kit held needles and thread all tangled in a glinting mess. This treacherous bundle was itself rolled up inside the knitted skirt, which Grandma had made. (Yellow, pom-poms, and fringe.) The doll, naked and dirty, had eyelids but under, no eyes; by the time she'd been passed down to Lucy, they'd either fallen out or been removed, possibly during a game her sisters played called The Punish, a game about which they both spoke with great fervor and pride.
The missing eyes of the doll did bother Lucy, so for her ninth birthday she reluctantly and with feelings of guilt did ask for a present: that the doll-eyes be fixed. Mrs Gold took the pretty, unnamed, and blind creature to the Doll Hospital in the town center. With Lucy at her elbow, she had, by telephone, arranged for an operation. The delivery and operation took place while Lucy was at school, but the Doll Hospital was very real; this was not just a story. Everyone in town knew about the Doll Hospital. It had brought the town very great fame at one time.
But the Doll Hospital botched the procedure (so rare of those well-trained and fine dolly doctors! so unexpected!): the doll stared malevolently, not sweetly, somehow, when it returned home, by mail in a carton.
Oh, our dear and resourceful Lucy! Ever the optimist here.
Using her magic, Lucy pronounced the doll dead. Then the sewing kit simply came in handy to sew the lids down. The poncho came in handy to wrap the doll corpse; and the pirate's chest came in handy as the doll's coffin. Came in handy, thought Lucy with a shudder—what a terrible phrase. (Perhaps just the word handy was wrong.)
Thus, on the eve of June 1, after no birthday cake—for none was requested—and no birthday song—Lucy lay in bed in a pink flannel nightgown, rubbing the cold soles of her feet together beneath the pink coverlet. A slight breeze blew the orange gauze curtains ajar, letting some moonlight into the room. In the pink-orange haze of her mind, Lucy thought of the doll.
And Lucy Lucy Lucy she heard—the sound of a breeze sliding in through the window, scented with lilac. Her little body gave a small, floral shudder. From then on she was enchanted, you see.
Chapter Five THINGS CAN ALWAYS GET WORSE
Once upon a time, a dark force took my spirit away and replaced it with nothing.
This happened when I was employed by Magic Movies, and soon after I was no longer employed and became impoverished in material ways.
Too grateful for a happy childhood to ask my parents for money, I stood in line to receive free supper downtown. (At the time I didn't realize that one could rummage for berries on bushes or bake bread out of dirt. And now I understand that fairies choose to live simply on air.)
One day—I am not proud to report this—weak and befuddled by hunger, I complained to the sky. Raising my fist high I denounced not only humans, who deserve it of course, but also the entire planet itself.
And for good reason, as soon as I raised my fist and proclaimed my frustration—a hump just like my grandmother's grew on my back! And then on top of the hump, a small donkey grew, and on top of the donkey, a bird.
"Oh, dear," I thought.
I was a little bit worried, but more for the animals than for myself. I had no way to feed two mouths in addition to mine. How would I care for these darling creatures? No matter the hump. I rather liked the lift it gave to my soul.
And, I considered, it was true that until then I had suffered from loneliness, for I was the only happy person I knew. Now I could imagine I might become slightly less happy too! Perhaps this was a blessing and I would better fit in with a malcontent culture.
But no! After a few moments of such lunatic thinking, I was happy again and only worried for the donkey and bird.
After that, any time I did find a piece of bread or apple to eat, the donkey and the bird would snap their mouths at the bread or apple and take it from me, the donkey with her sweet glittering eyes, the bird with her pretty beak. What choice did I have as a good soul but to feed them?
The bird was easy to carry, but the donkey was heavy. All day long she would sort of lean her head forward upon my shoulder and turn her head, and stare into my eyes with great adoration.
"I really care about you," I told her. "I really like you a lot."
Excerpted from THE COMPLETE TALES OF LUCY GOLD by KATE BERNHEIMER Copyright © 2011 by Kate Bernheimer. Excerpted by permission of FC2. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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