One Last Tune for Lucy
There's an empty house on an empty hill, full of gleaming ceramic china in glass cabinets, the floors polished with beeswax. Lucy sits on an old rocking chair that was once her mother's and her mother's before hers. But Lucy knows there's something wrong with this picture. Her fair brow creases and clouds pass over her face, her hands close like a lattice across her corseted midriff. She is no longer empty; she feels it keenly, the echoes of it reach every part of her body— a small but sure kick.
Echoes rebound through these walls. Empty walls, empty rooms, with nobody to fill them. Lucy remembers the sound of footsteps. Pitter patters. Tip taps. Clatters and bang, bang, bangs. Father always made a lot of noise. An open person, he was open in his footsteps. Father would never sneak. It was she who tip, tap, tipped across the oak floor, to her brother Billy's room. But it was not always so; she remembered when they would race across the room, set the house reverberating to the sound of their heels, their fibulas, tibulas, bouncing on the balls of their feet into their daddy's arms.
She had emptied the house like a jar full of coins. Her mother, gone to the east. Her father, to the west. And her brother… her brother she would never see again.
On the old rocking chair, stroking her belly, Lucy thinks about other sounds too. Strange, how difficult thinking has become. She can only remember the residues, about the things left behind. Echoes. Just like her. Not her brother bolting the door, only the grating sound, unpleasant to her ears, as he slides the mechanism. She doesn't remember him kissing her, only the kiss. Only the feeling on her lips, only the softness. Only the wail of the springs screaming against their bodies. The linen bedsheets, the goose feather duvet, the silk throw pillows. Why can she feel the silk against her skin? Ah! That's right, she was naked. Father had brought her back a marvellous turquoise chiton from his travels in Greece. That was the best thing about it, no clasps to undo, buttons to fiddle with; Billy was simply able to unwrap her like a gift.
Lucy's hand moves over her belly as if strumming a guitar. Twang. The baby kicks. Twang. Too bad he'll never be born. Twang.
There's nothing left in this empty house but the reverberation of footfalls. Nothing but the clinking of the silver carousel, the swish of a bright sari, a music box with the words Baldzo Welhuizen, Holland inscribed into the bottom, a groove for her forefinger to run. She traced the lines of a man's life in a single swoop. She thought, what kind of man is Welhuizen? Does he have children? Was this a gift for his little girl? Did he hope that bright glitter of a gift might make her forget that this is only a pacifier, a nanny, when he is gone for months upon end?
Her father in the sitting room. At times, he seemed as insubstantial as a wraith in the mist, a figure hidden by the smoke of his own cigar. And she, dancing in through the door like a ballerina, ablaze in twirling skirts and scarves, rustling like paper foil. Her headscarf slipped like water from her hair.
She said, Father, why do the Indian girls cover their hair?
The wraith stood from the armchair, smoke blurring its edges. It stroked her lovely fair hair, lifting a stand so that it fell, like an oriental fan, from its fingers. And it said, It's because they all have ugly black hair and are so ashamed they cover it. But you my Lucy, you must never cover your beauty. You must show your fair hair for all to see.
And her father kissed her, a bristly kiss on the forehead, and in that moment she felt so loved that she didn't care that he was never home. Didn't care she was never allowed outside. Didn't care that he said when she was older she'd go with him to India, but no matter how many years passed, she would never be old enough…
A kick. She was sure of it now. Ah, and again! Like underwater percussion beating against her sides. The drummer on the drums; Baam! Baam! Baam!
Baam! Her brother's felt glove on her hand.
Baam! Closing round her wrist like incisors. "Sister, I love you."
Baam! Capturing her lips, sinuous arms twisting down to the hips.
That February, they had been the most beautiful couple at the winter ball. And Billy had eyes only for her.
Baam! The slow fall. Baam! The soft embrace. Baam!
A child's heartbeat, ticking beside her own. The frog that kicks off the side of the muddy bank with strong legs. And she had been happy; a new toy for her to play with! Someone who would always love her, and not just dress her up and put her on a shelf. And she would not need to wind it up with a key! She would love it always, and Billy would, would-
-At the ball, he had watched her all night, and he crushed her hand under his. And he smelt so much like Father these days, that awful tang of cloying tobacco. Later, she would taste it on his lips. And he had said to her- she can feel his hot breath in her ear right now- You are the most beautiful woman in this room, Any of these men are yours for the choosing. But—his hand tightened on hers—I will not give my dear little sister up to just anyone.
He said he loved her, so why—so why--?
How thrilled Billy would be, when she told him the news! Striding down the corridor with his sword in hand, flushed from hunting, stinking of sweat, she gathered him to herself. Bending like a ballerina onto the tips of her toes to whisper it into his ear.
She caught only the sheen of silver, the shhing of metal. It wasn't till later, watching the scene over and over in bemusement, that she realised something; Good God. He's only gone and killed me.
Lucy stands from the rocking chair. She can hear something, a quiet tinkling, notes trickling down a brook. She tap, tap, taps down the abandoned corridors, opens her bedroom door, creaking out a cry of age. Inside, the music box is playing Clair de Lune.
She crosses her legs and sits on the carpet, Then, as though she cannot bear it any longer, she snaps the music box shut.
In the study, the floorboards are warbling out the sound of her father's pacing feet. Bed springs are still wailing out a lamentation. And the kicking—most of all, she can still feel the kicking.
It's nearly time for her to leave. But Lucy thinks she will stay and listen to the echoes of her life, just for a little longer.