Friday, March 30, 12:39 p.m.
Lucy eagerly consents to leave her Catholic school and come with me. Her school eagerly consents to release her to me without consulting my I.D. or ascertaining whether her father has given permission for me to take possession of his only child. Lucy’s teacher, the cool jeans-wearing nun, says she remembers me from Career Day and calls me “Mrs. O’Lies.” Only Jack’s sense of urgency, conveyed through multiple notes and text messages, keeps me from energetically contradicting her.
“Where’s Dad?” Lucy asks, as I hustle her out of the school into the parking lot.
“I was hoping you might know,” I say, hunting for the press car. I’m constantly losing these temporary rides of mine, their unfamiliar shapes and colors blending in with dozens of other strange cars.
“He said he’d be home late tonight,” she says. “He told me he’s gonna go out with you after work.”
“Oh my God, he did not say that!” I exclaim, suspending my search to round on Lucy. “He absolutely did not say ‘go out.’ He didn’t. Did he?”
I spy the press car over her shoulder, bite my bottom lip and hoist my purse purposefully.
“Come on, I need to drop you home, then get back to work. The PR guys are coming to pick up the press car in an hour,” I say.
Lucy is infuriatingly slow as she dogs me to the car. She takes long minutes to put her backpack, and then herself, into the front seat. I’m already in the driver’s seat, the engine running, my hands squeezing the steering wheel like I’m trying to wring water from it.
As she buckles her seat belt in slow motion, she says, “I met a priest yesterday.”
“Oh yeah?” I say, whipping the car out of the parking lot. “I don’t have GPS in this thing. Remind me how to get to your house.”
“Could we go to the mall first?”
“No, Lucy, no way. I have to get back to work. Left or right?” I say.
“Left,” she mutters, folding her arms across her as yet unharnessed bosom. I still owe her a bra. I forgot.
“Maybe I can take you shopping this weekend,” I say.
She brightens. For Lucy, brightening involves little more than ratcheting her scowling eyebrows up half a centimeter.
“Where’s Dad taking you tonight?” she asks.
“Lucy, listen to me. I am not, never have been, and never will be your father’s girlfriend,” I enunciate. “We do not ‘go out.’ We are professional acquaintances and that’s all. Understand?”
“Whatever,” she says.
“So, what’s that you said about a priest?” I say, to prevent myself from swearing at her willful density.
Lucy brightens yet more, which means her arms unclench and settle at her sides, her hands clasping piously in her lap.
“It was at Bible Study at the church. Christopher was supposed to go with me, but he called and he’s such a jerk because he wanted to try to convert his roommate again. Again! Last time, the Evil One made him drink a whole six pack of beer and eat a whole large pizza and watch some stupid movie about I don’t even know what gross stuff with girls in bikinis. And by the time the Evil One was willing to hear the Good News about Our Lord And Savior, it was two in the morning and Christopher had to go to bed, coz he had to be at work by eight.”
“So young Christopher plans to try again,” I say sagely. I feel very old and wise. “I presume there will be more beer and pizza?”
“Exactly!” Lucy says, throwing her hands up. “He just wants to sin, so I told him to go to hell.”
“Wow,” I say. “So we’re swearing now.”
She rolls her eyes at me.
“It’s not swearing. It’s where he’s headed if he keeps drinking and watching unchristian movies with that pothead.”
“Ah,” I say. “Straight through the stop light?”
“Right,” she says.
“Right I should go straight, or turn right? Quickly, Lucy, come on!”
“Go right, turn, jeez!”
Instead of apologizing for snapping at her, I say, “So, some priest was teaching your Bible class last night?”
“Well, Father Bertrain was teaching it like always. But there was this other one I’ve never met before.”
Lucy’s normally flat voice has grown curves. I glance at her. There’s color in her pasty cheeks.
“Was he cute?” I say.
She turns to me and glares.
“That is irreverent,” she says.
“Sorry,” I say.
I can tell from the way she twists her fingers around each other in her lap that he was indeed cute. I smell a juicy scene straight out of “The Thorn Birds” coming.
Salaciously, I prod, “So…?”
“I had to go to the bathroom,” she says, staring at her fingers. “I thought I was the only one on that side of the building. The church is pretty deserted that time of night.”
“How late at What time of night was it?” I say.
“Six-thirty,” she says. “When I came out, he was standing in the hall. I didn’t notice him at first. I bumped right into him.”
Lucy’s voice is soft. I’ve never heard her sound like this. She sounds like a real, live girl.
“It was so embarrassing! I knocked him down. I was in a hurry to get back to Bible Study. I felt so bad,” she says.
“You knocked him down? Actually down to the ground?” I say.
“I felt so bad. I tried to apologize and help him up, but he said, ‘No need, Sister.’ Like I was a real nun.”
Lucy sounds flattered beyond words.
“Just how old was this guy?” I say.
“Pretty old. Thirty. Thirty-five maybe. Not as old as my dad.”
If she adds, “Or you,” I will put her out on the side of the road here in Ballard and let her find her own way home through this Norwegian neighborhood, overrun with bad drivers darting around in their kitschy Volkswagens.
Lucy continues, “So then, he said, ‘Actually, maybe I could use a hand after all.’ And…so…I…”
She falls silent. I glance at her. She’s studying her hands.
“What? You helped him up?” I say.
Lucy nods mutely, her pale face turning a genuine shade of pink.
“He held his hand out,” she nearly whispers. “And I…grabbed it.”
Wow, he must have been so goddamned cute! A handsome, thirty-something priest gazing up at her from the floor, offering his hand. Their hot palms touching…“palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” and all that. Sorry, Shakespeare.
“I helped him up and he smiled at me, even though I’d profaned him,” Lucy says.
I start to reply, then realize that I’m puzzled by how exactly she “profaned” him. Was it the blundering bump to the floor or the evidently erotic touching of hands?
“He said his name is Father Anthony and he’s new at Sacred Heart of Jesus. When I told him my name, he said…he said that he was looking for me,” she says.
“Whoa,” I say. “Hold on. What do you mean, he was looking for you?”
“I do a lot of volunteering at church. I know where everything is. Father Anthony said that the moving company made a mistake and his stuff got stashed in the basement. He said someone at the rectory told him to get me to help find it.”
Lucy is positively beaming.
Suddenly, this cute, young Italian stallion priest is making my skin crawl ever so subtly.
“Who told him to get you, exactly?” I say.
“So anyway, I told him that I bet they stuck his stuff in the basement storage closet where they keep the church Christmas decorations. They’re always sticking random stuff in there,” she says.
“Who’s ‘they?’” I demand.
“Y’know, stupid people,” she says.
“So you and the priest went into some storage closet together?” I say. “Alone? How much did that profane him?”
Lucy darts a hostile glance my way.
“We did not go into the closet together,” she says. “Only bad kids from the weekend catechism class do that.”
I can imagine.
So I do: Catholic schoolgirl skirts skidding up under eager, groping teenage hands. Tongues sliding over braces. Awkward, dusty fumbling in the dark under the benevolent eyes of the three wise men from the Christmas crèche.
I must be smirking, because Lucy’s eyes widen in horror.
“I just took him to the basement and showed him around!” she says. “It’s huge, you can get lost real easy if you don’t know where you’re going. There’s all this stuff—old pews and broken pianos and these huge paintings of the Madonna that got water damage and this massive bronze bell that used to be in the tower before they put in that mechanized chime thing. I checked the storage closet where they keep the church Christmas decorations—by myself! But his stuff wasn’t there. He waited while I checked.”
“Where did he wait?” I say.
“He sat on this bale of tracts the church had printed in foreign languages for mission trips,” she says.
“He sat there watching you dig through the closet?” I say.
Her Catholic schoolgirl skirt riding up before eager, priestly eyes?
“You have a dirty mind!” Lucy cries.
My God—she can read my thoughts!
“He talked to me,” she says. “He was nice.”
“Sorry,” I say.
And I am. Given how instantaneously she latched onto me, I think socially awkward Lucy must be starving for attention from an adult—any adult. Considering Jack’s habit of drinking himself into oblivion every night, is it any wonder she would gravitate toward a father figure that actually has the title “Father?”
“What did you two talk about?” I ask.
“My mother,” she says.
I am surprised.
“Really? You told me you can’t remember her,” I say.
“I can’t,” Lucy says. “But I read Dad’s articles about her getting killed.”
I feel like I’m sinking down to the darkest depths of the ocean.
“Oh Lucy, why did you do that?” I say.
“And then Father Anthony told me why he decided to become a priest,” she says.
“What did you tell him about your mom?” I persist. “Did you tell him about your book, where you pasted her face onto Saint Agnes’s body? What did he have to say about that?”
Lucy loses a bit of her preternatural pink.
“That’s private,” she says. “You can’t tell anyone about that.”
“Have you told Christopher?”
She hesitates, then slowly shakes her head.
She shakes her head.
Wow. I should feel honored to be her one and only confidant. Instead, I get that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling that always comes over me when I sense that people are trying to get too intimate with me. I get this feeling all the time with Lucy’s dad. I’ve got to cut these lies out of my life.
O’Lies, I mean.
“He told me why he became a priest,” Lucy says again. “It was really interesting. Wanna hear?”
“Left on Leary, right? I mean, I go left on Leary, correct?” I say.
“Left, yes, turn left,” she says. “Are you coming over for Easter dinner this Sunday? I can make a ham. I know how, with pineapple and cloves. I make one every year for me and Dad. We don’t eat much, so we end up having ham sandwiches for months.”
“I’ve got an Easter egg hunt thing with my daughter at the park. Sorry,” I say.
Lucy looks stricken.
“But I’ll take you to the mall Saturday to get you a bra. Several. You should have several bras. Okay?” I say.
“So, the cute priest had an interesting reason for becoming a priest?” I say.
“Turn left here,” she says.
I turn. The silence stretches taut between us
“Could you maybe stay for dinner after the mall on Saturday?” she says. “With me and Dad?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got a family of my own,” I say. “I kind of want to spend time with them, if you understand.”
I don’t dare look at her. I feel like a rejecting monster. Now she’ll go use meth and get pregnant. I’ll forever represent the ruinous turning point in her life. She’ll always recall my closed, unaccepting face. At least I’ll be remembered.
“So…why’d he become a priest?” I say into the awful silence.
“Here’s my house,” she says.
She grabs her backpack as I brake.
“So, I’ll come by Saturday to take you shopping, maybe noon? Maybe two or three? I don’t know, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do this weekend. Can I call you?” I say. “Maybe next weekend would work better.”
Lucy doesn’t answer. She opens the car door and gets out. She hefts her backpack onto one shoulder and turns back to me. She leans into the car, bracing one hand on the door frame exactly like her father did the night I liquored him up and then left him.
“He said it was Easter. He was my age. He wanted to know what it was like to be crucified,” she says. “He was nice. He wore a weird cassock, though. Green. Evergreen with a mint green collar. I’ve never seen one like it.”
I have moments when things assemble themselves in my brain and I suddenly get it. At this particular moment, with the force of a Mack truck, the pieces of the puzzle violently come together in my stunned brain.
The priest is bad news.
The priest is phony.
The priest is the stalker.
Lucy is in his priestly sights.
Lucy cannot stay in this insecure white trash Ballard enclave tonight.
“Lucy, get back in the car,” I say. “Now!”
My “mom voice,” generally ignored by my kid, shocks Lucy and impels her back into the passenger seat with alacrity.
“You can’t stay here alone,” I say. “I don’t know for sure if your dad is coming home tonight. Is there someone else you can stay with? Not me! But maybe Christopher?”
Lucy recoils in virginal horror. Her hand goes to her throat. What a great saint she would make.
“Okay, not Christopher. But a relative? An aunt or uncle, maybe?” I say.
She shakes her head.
“Or a girlfriend—a friend who is a girl?” I say.
She shakes her head again.
“Grandparents?” I say.
“My grandma,” she says eagerly. “Can I?”
“Yes, let’s do that, let’s have you stay with her for a night or two,” I say. “Where does she live?”
“Real close,” Lucy says with more excitement than I’ve ever heard in her voice. “Go to the end of the block and turn right. What’s wrong? You look mad.”
“I’m not mad,” I say. “Your dad is worried about you. I didn’t get it at first. Nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine. But don’t tell anyone where you’re staying tonight, okay? No texts or emails or Facebook or whatever you kids are using now.”
My God, I sound like I’m older than her grandma! Maybe I should be the one to stay in whatever active senior living community she occupies. I’ll fit right in.
“I haven’t seen my grandma in so long!” Lucy enthuses, glowing and looking nothing like her usual dour self. “This is so great! Can I stay all weekend? Can I? Dad never lets me stay at her place. This is so cool!”
Her enthusiasm and Jack’s historic reluctance do not bode well. I confirm that my uneasiness at Lucy’s uncharacteristic joy is well founded as I pull into the parking lot of the Ballard Memory Care Center.
Alzheimer’s. Lucy’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s.
“Okay,” I say. “Maybe this won’t work after all.”
I take a deep breath, drawing on all my internal reserves.
“Maybe…maybe you can stay with me. God, what will my husband say?”
When Jack turns up killed or arrested, I’m going to end up her default foster mom. Crap. If I’d wanted a fifteen-year-old daughter, I would have had fun in high school and turned up pregnant at seventeen instead of being grade-grubbing and dull.
“No, no, it’s fine, they have guest rooms. This is so cool! Is Dad staying at your place tonight? This is so cool!” Lucy says.
She bounds out of my car and jogs to the entrance, which is dominated by frosted glass and neutral beige siding. I follow uneasily. And not just because I’m suddenly wondering where, exactly, Jack plans to hide out tonight, now that his home is compromised. Not with me, that’s for sure! My God, what would my husband say?
Lucy presses buttons, gabbles at some unseen receptionist, and gains admittance.
“Come on!” she urges. “I haven’t seen my grandma in ages and ages!”
The door buzzes, granting us entry into a realm of urine smell, loud TVs and wandering old folks. I tighten up inside. Lucy appears to be in heaven.
Grandma O’Lies’ nursing home, like Lucy O’Lies’ Catholic school, is unconcerned with who I am and why I have Jack’s daughter in my possession. The overweight nurse at the duty station waves us by, recognizing (or pretending to recognize) Lucy, all grown up since she was last here. We take a sterile-looking (but not sterile smelling) hallway of white tile and white paint to a room labeled “O’Lies, Marion. DNR.”
I remember that acronym from my fourteen-year-old hospital candy striper days: Do Not Resuscitate. Jack’s mom, never to be revived. Oh God…poor Jack.
Lucy yanks the ergonomic stainless steel door handle with one hand and beckons me to follow with the other. I do so apprehensively. If I pretend I’m working and this is just research for an article, it will be so much easier.
Grandma O’Lies lies in a hospital bed replete with bags and tubes and electronic monitors. Her face is slack, her eyes taped closed. A feeding tube snakes down one nostril. She’s dead to the world.
Lucy is oblivious. She eagerly grabs her grandmother’s skeletal hand and commences an animated, one-sided conversation. Jack told me his mother kept Lucy for “a while” after his wife died. I naively assumed it was for a couple months. Was it longer? A year? Two? More? How long did Jack spend sunk in his drunken hell? When exactly did he pull himself together, miss his abandoned child, and come to collect her?
And where the hell is he right now?