Lucy will swim out too far. Just three weeks after she becomes a certified lifeguard. She won’t want to be a lifeguard, but her parents argue it will look good on her college applications.
She will ignore the lessons she learned in her training to impress a boy named Rick. He has a brother in college who sells Adderall. He also has a Jeep, so she thinks she just might date him, or at least let him feel her up.
They will have a sandy kiss on the beach one night. She’ll strip to her bra and panties and prance into the sea. She’ll swim the illuminated lane laid out by the moon. She’ll expect Rick to follow, but he won’t.
The undertow will bully her. Her skinny arms will tire. Her kicks will become more spread out as fatigue overtakes her. Waves will slap her face just as she inhales. Salt will burn her throat. Make it raw. She’ll no longer see the shore when a buoy bell tolls nearby. If she could just get ahold of it, then she might stay afloat. The last thing she will see is the blinking lights of two planes flying toward each other in the cloudless sky. For a moment, she thinks they will collide, but they don’t.
Two days later, a crab fisher will find her floating face down. Knots of seaweed in her hair and the straps of her B cup. Her skin like pristine ice. He’ll place two fingers on her wrist, just in case, but will find no beat. So preserved by the salt she’ll be, he’ll want to wrap her in a blanket to warm her.
But Lucy will ignore her death. Will go on living as if it never happened, ticking all the boxes of life.
There will be a wild phase. She’ll wake up in the apartments of guys whose names could be Jim or Steve or Jay. Who almost always sleep on mattresses on the floor. She does ecstasy for a year. Gets a tattoo of a swallow on her hip. She thinks about taking part in protests, but never finds the time.
She’ll graduate from Baruch, not at the top of her class, but respectably. She stays afloat as a financial analyst. Her friends will ask what a financial analyst does time and time again but can never seem to remember. She’ll never need to look at prices at Whole Foods. Or wonder whether she can afford gas for her Land Cruiser. She’ll hear people say things like the struggle is real and she’ll respond, I hear that, even though she doesn’t relate.
She’ll marry a man named Ben who she meets at a farmer’s market. She’ll be a dollar short on a jar of honey, and he will offer up his last. Ben will be an engineer. She’ll tell her friends he has an eye for detail, which is weird to say since he won’t notice that she’s already passed away. He’ll give her his mother’s engagement ring. A sapphire, not a diamond. On their wedding day, he’ll say she looks breathtaking. His voice will shake. As she walks down the aisle, she’ll think her bouquet smells like a funeral parlour. Their marriage will be considered a harmonious one, exemplary even. People will not only invite them to dinner parties, birthdays, weddings, but will be disappointed if they can’t come.
Even children become part of their plan—two girls—Rory and Charlotte. Rory will never think that there’s something wrong with her mother. She’s inherited her green eyes and cold hands. But Charlotte suspects something. A feeling that’s always dancing on the tip of her tongue. When Lucy hugs her little girls, she feels Charlotte go rigid all over. They will never discuss what’s wrong. The words refuse to form the idea.
The family will vacation every year. Greece and Scotland and Belize and the Maldives. There will be photo albums, lots and lots of photo albums. When the need for a nostalgic remedy strikes, they’ll take them out and point at the moments they house and say, do you remember that day? I can’t believe we made that boat! And when she enters a different country, its immigration officers will stamp her passport, never noticing they are granting a dead person permission to enter their borders.
It will be a day well into her seventies when she finally remembers. Ben will have already died of a heart attack. Rory will live in London with her husband and two kids, and Charlotte lives only an hour away but hardly visits. Lucy will be at the sink washing dishes. She’ll suddenly want to submerge her hands in the sudsy water. Squeeze the sponge until it’s wrung dry. Her death will be reflected back at her on the surface of the water—that illuminated lunar path. There will be no sadness or anger. Maybe a feeling of foolishness for having not noticed up until now. She won’t dwell on the realization for long because a drip in the faucet will distract her. I should call the plumber, she’ll think, but below this, existing but unspoken, she’ll know that it would be more satisfying to fix it herself.
Notes from Guest Reader Sumita Mukherji
‘Lucy Ignores Death’–it plunges the reader into the action of the story, and as the emotions continue to evolve and develop, it keeps the reader grounded in that action, which intensifies the emotion. Also, the magical realism is written plainly and helps the reader access Lucy’s world and be drawn in to the story’s mysteries, delights, and surprises