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Spooky Little GirlA Novel
By Laurie Notaro
VillardCopyright © 2010 Laurie Notaro
All right reserved.
The very moment when the cab pulled up to the curb, Lucy Fisher knew that she was seeing something exceptional.
Directly in front of her fifties-ranch-style red-brick house, a woman dressed in flowing white was wrestling with nothing short of a cloud in Lucy's yard. For a ridiculous moment, Lucy's mind determined that it was a dilapidated angel desperately trying to climb back aboard her ride, almost like a surfer that had toppled off a board.
But a second later, Lucy realized it was simply a homeless lady, complete with stolen grocery cart, trying to shove a shimmering white mass into a huge dirty plastic bag, like processed meat into a sausage casing. Lucy sat there, nearly smiling at the curiosity that she was witnessing as the cloud flapped against the woman's head, briefly slapping her face as if she was about to be bound with the wrappings of a shiny Gabor sister mummy.
It took less than a fraction of the next second for Lucy to suddenly--and clearly--realize that the white mass was no cloud at all.
"HEY!" she shouted, furiously popping the door open and flying out of the backseat as if a superpower had been activated. "HEY! What are you doing! Put that back! That's my dress! That is MY wedding dress!"
"That'll be twenty-two seventy,lady!" the driver called after Lucy as she bounded across the street toward her house and the homeless woman.
But Lucy failed to hear him. When she came within an arm's length of the woman, she grabbed two handfuls of satin and lace and tugged the dress out of the woman's grasp as hard as she could.
"Give me that!" Lucy snarled, tugging, pulling. "What are you doing with my dress? Give me my dress!"
"This is my dress now!" the woman, who was twice Lucy's size, hissed back, and she jerked the dress back with all of her might. "You can't change your mind! You can't leave all of this out for the taking and then just change your mind when someone else decides they want it!"
"Twenty-three fifty," the cabdriver called again, this time louder.
"Give me my damn dress," Lucy shouted as she tugged harder. "I just had my last fitting for it. Give it to me!"
"It's mine!" the woman yelled back. "I found it just laying here. Finders keepers!"
"It is accruing twenty-nine percent interest on my Visa, and that makes it mine!" Lucy gathered all of her strength, gritted her teeth, locked eyes with her opponent, and then pulled as hard as she could, producing a shriek from the woman that was loud, high-pitched, and shrill, like she was coming apart.
How did she do that? Lucy thought. How did she do that without opening her mouth?
And then Lucy understood. The satin and lace, once taut between the women, was now slack, although neither had let go. Lucy looked down at the tear, which had screamed as it was being ripped, now frayed, open, and destroyed. The two women looked at the mess in their hands, neither one saying a word.
"Okay, then," the homeless woman finally said as she dropped her end onto the ground. "You win."
"Twenty-five even, and the meter is still running," the cabdriver called impatiently.
Lucy looked up from the white mess in her hands, through the collection of light brown curls that had fallen into her face, and finally saw what the cabdriver saw. What the homeless woman saw. What every car passing on the street in front of her house had seen.
Her life. Spread out all over the lawn, littered in the gutter, spilling out of the bed of her truck that was parked in the driveway. Her brand-new thirty-six-inch television sitting in her front yard like a postmodern flamingo; her laptop bag, with the corner of her computer peeking out of it, flung onto the ground like a stepping stone. Her grandmother's antique rocking chair tipped up against the mailbox as if someone had recently been dumped out of it. Her clothes, her photo albums, her everything, was spread out over the front lawn, on exhibition, for anyone to come and poke at, pick through, gawk at.
A comforter. A lamp. A saucepan.
"If it works, I'll take that TV," the cabdriver said, chuckling. "Or even if it don't work, I'll still take it. Meter's still running, lady."
Lucy turned around and marched back toward the cab. "Pop the trunk," she demanded of the driver. She reached into the backseat, grabbed her purse, and then yanked her suitcase from the trunk.
"Here," Lucy said as she tossed a twenty and a five at the driver, and looked at him with sharpened eyes. "Go rent to own your own flat screen."
And then, because she wasn't sure what else she should do, she rolled her suitcase to the sidewalk in front of her house, with her tattered wedding dress shoved underneath her arm, stood there for a moment, and wondered what the hell was going on.
An hour and forty-five minutes earlier, Lucy's plane had touched down on the runway in Phoenix after returning from what was supposed to have been a fantastic weeklong vacation in Hawaii. She had left Martin, her fiance, and her job as a dental hygienist to travel to the tropical paradise with her best friend and co-worker, Jilly, and their friend, the office receptionist, Marianne. Instead, the trip defied their expectations as soon as they arrived. Their luxurious boutique accommodations were nothing more than a roadside motel with a museum-quality collection of insects; the discount-brand sunscreen Lucy had purchased was cheap for a reason; and it was suspected that either the pig or some shellfish the girls gobbled at the luau could have rightly benefited from a little more time in the cooker. Lucy spent the majority of her seven days in Hawaii fighting off ants and mosquitoes in a shabby motel; watching her skin burn, bubble, and peel like a paper label off a jar; and trying to master a lopsided, dirty toilet with missing floor bolts.
None of that, however, could hold a candle to the trip's high point, which began when she was simply having some drinks in the motel bar with Marianne, who was on a mad prowl for a vacation fling. The receptionist was less than versed at the art of flirting and might have been more successful in making a match had she invested in a hairbrush and attended to the area of her upper lip, which didn't look so much like a lip as it did a pelt. While that sort of fur growth is great on a kitten, Lucy thought, it just didn't reap the same snuggle rewards on a woman who often had Cheetos dust clinging to hers. Lucy never had too many problems attracting men; she only had trouble attracting men who weren't already married, weren't unemployed at the moment, or weren't just going into or just coming out of rehab. Her warm, strong eyes were clearly her best feature and made her look openly approachable, followed by a definitive straight nose and genetically predisposed perfectly aligned teeth. She looked friendly and fun, and was just unpolished enough to look like she knew how to relax and have a good time.
And that's just what Lucy was trying to do, that last night at the hotel bar. She just wanted to relax and have fun, but as the night mercilessly dragged on, she began feeling tired and weary.
After too many rounds of drinks, Marianne finally zeroed in on a target and tried desperately to capture the attention of a man sitting on the opposite side of the motel bar, despite the fact that he was wearing a T-shirt that stated DEFINE GIRLFRIEND.
Lucy breathed a sigh of relief when the guy finally sent Marianne a drink and then asked if they wanted to join a poker game upstairs. Lucy reluctantly agreed after much persistence and arm-tugging from Marianne, under the condition that Lucy was going to stay for five minutes only. She had had her fair share of slushy umbrella drinks and wanted nothing more than to go to bed like Jilly had hours earlier, but she also knew she couldn't let Marianne go alone. The moment they stepped foot into his room, it was Marianne who shot back down the hall toward the elevator without any warning, shrieking that she'd left her key card at the bar and that she'd be right back.
Suddenly, a beer was in Lucy's hand, and she sipped it. Not only was it warm and bitter, but it tasted downright odd. Skanky guy, skunky beer. She sat in a side chair, waiting for Marianne's return, and when the guy leaned back on the bed and smiled at her, Lucy's stomach flipped. She stood up to say she was going to wait for her friend in the hall, and the nausea of the undercooked shellfish hit her again. Luckily she was able to make it several steps and shut the bathroom door behind her before getting sick. After splashing cold water on her face, Lucy finally stumbled out of the bathroom ten minutes later to find that Marianne had still not returned, the television was off, and the guy was smiling at her.
"You know, if you brush your teeth," he said as he sat up, "we could still have a good time."
Lucy wanted to vomit all over again. Her pulse pounded in her temples. She looked at him, picked up her purse that was sitting at the foot of the bed, and then opened the door to find Marianne coming down the hallway with her key card in her hand.
"Hey," Lucy said to the guy before she shut the door, "Define 'asshole.'"
By the time the plane touched ground in Phoenix, Lucy didn't want anything more than to simply go home. She couldn't wait to fall onto her own creaky couch, pet her dog, Tulip, and crack open whatever cold drink she could find in the fridge. She was excited to see Martin, and hoped that they could spend that night watching old movies on TV, their favorite way to spend any night.
Waiting for the trio of girls to emerge from behind the security gate was Warren, Jilly's broad, tall, bearded, and jolly husband, who had agreed to give Marianne a lift home, too. Lucy looked around for Martin but didn't see him anywhere.
"I'm sure he's just running behind," Lucy said, and smiled, although she couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed that he wasn't there to meet her. He'd probably had a late truck come in at Safeway, where he was the manager of the produce department and had to unload it. That's Martin. Got busy, lost track of time, forgot to call. Probably doesn't know he's late, she thought. I wonder if he even remembers that I was coming come today. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that man was having an affair with a head of cabbage.
Warren came forward with a huge grin and gave Jilly a kiss on her freckled cheek and a quick squeeze before he picked up her bag.
Lucy flipped open her phone and speed dialed Martin's number.
"Just what I thought," she said, and laughed a little when it went straight to voice mail. "I'm sure that there are five hundred heads of lettuce demanding his attention."
Jilly nodded and smiled. "Nah. I bet he's down at baggage claim, waiting with a big bouquet of flowers," she reassured Lucy. "You just wait and see. Martin, forget anything? You're insane, or your blood alcohol level still hasn't recouped yet."
But when they descended the escalator to baggage claim, there was no bouquet of flowers waiting for her, no Martin. She tried his cell again. Straight to voice mail.
"What should we do?" Jilly asked Lucy after she saw her hang up again. "Warren brought the truck . . . so there's only room for three of us. . . . I could have him drop us off and then come back."
"I can be back here in forty minutes," Warren confirmed.
"No, that's silly, that's silly," Lucy said, shaking her head. "I'll try him again, and if I don't get ahold of him, I'll take a cab. How much could it possibly be, ten, fifteen bucks?"
"Are you sure?" Jilly asked, tucking a strand of her straight strawberry blond hair behind her ear. "Warren doesn't mind."
"I'll take a cab." Lucy laughed. "I'm a big girl. I should have called him this morning to remind him. He just forgot. I'll see you at work tomorrow. I swear I'm fine."
"All right," Jilly agreed, hesitantly. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I'll see you guys tomorrow," Lucy said firmly.
"See you tomorrow, Lucy," Marianne called as she waved. The three of them started for the parking lot.
The cab had circled the Safeway parking lot two times when the driver asked Lucy if she wanted to go around again. Martin's beat-up red Ford Ranger truck was nowhere in sight. Lucy had figured that the cab could just drop her off at the store, Martin could run her home, and they'd save a couple of bucks, but it wasn't working out exactly as she had hoped.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Maybe I should run inside and see if he's on lunch or something."
"Your dime," the driver said. "Meter's running."
Lucy could see her fare was already almost twenty dollars, and she didn't have much more than that in her purse. If she ran around Safeway for several minutes, she wouldn't have enough to pay her fare if Martin wasn't around, let alone a tip.
"Just take me home," she said, sighing.
After Lucy had rather unsuccessfully won the tug of war over her wedding dress and the cab had driven away, she found herself standing in front of her house, shaking her head, trying to make sense of things. She fished her house keys out of her purse and started up the driveway, dragging her suitcase behind her, the ruined dress under her arm. As she passed the bed of her truck, she saw heaps of her clothes, shoes, purses, everything from her closet. On the lawn was her television, computer, books, photo albums, a blanket her grandmother had crocheted. Everything she owned, everything that was hers. Lucy's head spun like she had downed a six-pack and gone on a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. Her mind searched for any reason that could clarify the scenario. Had they been robbed and everything out here was not worthy of stealing? Or worse, had some part of the house caught fire and this was what had been saved? Did Martin have some sort of yard sale, after which he had neglected to bring anything back inside the house? Were they being evicted, was the house being foreclosed on, had he stopped making payments and not told her? What was going on, what had happened? Where the hell was Martin?
Excerpted from Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro Copyright © 2010 by Laurie Notaro. Excerpted by permission.
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