I was a green-eyed, beehived gorilla. I was the wild girl of Brighton. Nobody knew. I had a nineteen-inch waist and a D cup; they called me The Shelf; I can not account for you girls. After your Grampa broke my nose and my arm, I moved. I lived at the Y. By day I kept up at Girls’ Latin. I kept up my grades, the scholarship, nobody knew. We had uniforms, white and navy. Kneesocks and ascot. I kept mine pressed and clean because I loved them. When I met your father, it was easy not to tell him things. He never told me things, too. About money he in effect lied. It takes one to know one, but that applied to me, not him. The year was ’67. Men like that never saw themselves as prey.
When I met him, did I think house? Did I think bed sheets, yard, breakfast nook? Did I think patio? That, and dog and guinea pig and cat and hamster and turtle and dwarf rabbit and, with some luck, horse. I wanted animals. I wanted a brass knocker and a singing doorbell, the melody 'Que Sera'. A wreath of baby gourds for Thanksgiving, gooseberries for Christmas. There would be a mantel and on it seasonal elves. The Easter baskets would be excessive. I’d litter the house with fat foil eggs, each one oozing a gold sugar yolk. Underfoot for months they’d be. I did, yes, think so, very much. I thought ballet lessons like everyone else thought but also roller skating lessons and ice skating lessons and painting lessons, and a Formica bar in the basement where a person could paint, I don’t know why I thought you paint at a bar, and naturally, then, my thoughts needed you.
You ask about your father. That is half what I thought when we met.
When we met I nursed Dicky Lucy. At nineteen Dicky Lucy rolled a Chevy going eighty. The break was C1, the highest vertebra. When his mother, Mrs. Lucy, hired me on, I didn’t know I was the fifth. I was volunteering with quad vets then, answering phones at Doody Diapers. I wanted weekend work. I’m not a nurse, I said on the phone, I got through one term but then what happened—
Do you chatter? Mrs. Lucy said. His best topic is boxing. Dicky hates world affairs, and when you come wear three-inch heels if you’re under five-five, a cross-your-heart brassiere if you’ve got it, and stockings with seams. Show your figure, but not tarty. Are you any good with a gun?
I fed Dicky Lucy deviled ham on white rolls and floretted his pickles. I maneuvered his straw. I got him from his chair to the tub with the aid of a board. I scrubbed him and shaved him with sting-free kiddie soap. He had such a lot of hair. He was like my father in that. I combed his duckbill with a greasy grab of Vaseline and held a hand mirror to him, combed it four, ten times, until he was well pleased. We played Chinese checkers. I moved his marbles, illegal moves at his word and his voice that drill. My job was to lose and bemoan the loss. My job was to cut pictures from magazines and paste them in an album with rubber cement and no wrinkles at all: muscle cars and Ursula Andress. If the picture bubbled anywhere, Dicky Lucy said burn it. My job was to shoot Dicky Lucy’s pump gun out the window at squirrels in the oaks. How humanly they shrieked. How the cantilevered limbs groaned with their running and sometimes fell. I missed and I missed. What else could I do? Dicky Lucy’s get hims and my aim so poor. My sympathy lay with anything furred.
Dicky Lucy stayed midweek at a hospital in Weymouth, but on weekends, he got dropped at his mother’s. She lived back-to-back to Idy Bridge. Their porches faced off across a shared plot of knotweed that Idy was hard-set and ill-equipped to kill. Ray, Idy’s youngest, was the last at home, work-study at Northeastern. He had a cherry Ford he tinkered with, Dicky Lucy knew well. At four every Sunday, Dicky Lucy made me dial. I hated telephones then the way I now hate cameras. A liar piece, my voice coming at you and pitched all wrong. Like with a gun, I could never seem to aim straight. Even my breathing on the phone to me sounds like a lie.
Why, hello, Ray. I’d say. It’s Jane, at Dicky’s. We were just wondering if you happened to be heading out, if it was not too much out of your way¬—
Weymouth was on the way to nowhere and Dicky Lucy was a hardship.
Dicky Lucy was vain.
And always, yes, your father would come.
Studious Ray; student of how objects transfused power, one to the other, a particulate sharing, like the transfusions, one to the other, blood or germ, of the living. (Ray would correct me on this. Electrical engineering isn’t like that, he’d say.)
And the way Ray hefted Dicky Lucy from his chair at the door to his Ford at the curb, the way Dicky Lucy needled him—some day, I’ll let you work on my toaster, smart guy—that worked on me too.
It was the other half of my thinking.
It began the way things begin for men, with cars.
Before cars it would have had to have been horses. Before that, what? What else can men own and strap on and make be fast?
They were neighbors, Dicky Lucy and Ray, and they had gone to grade school and high school together but were not friends. Dicky Lucy was two grades ahead. This was when Ringe & Latin was two schools. Latin trained kids for college. Ringe trained kids for typing and plumbing, woodwork and metalwork and engines and babies. Ray had won some fame in his grade school days as the local whiz kid TV repairman, but it was Dicky Lucy not Ray who went on to Ringe. Mrs. Lucy gossiped with the indiscretion of the long-term lonely.
Sundays Ray would say just I’ll be over.
He was, and took Dicky, and I’d take the train home.
But that day, for no reason, he said my name. And how it feels to hear a person say your name is only of one of two things, happy or sick. The body keeps its decisions streamlined like that.
He said, Jane. You feel like taking a ride?
Then as now a man of small economies.
I packed Dicky Lucy’s Weymouth bag. Within a quarter hour out front the Ford idled. The engine cut out. The door slammed but after too many seconds, into which I read qualm or duty or possibly cigarette. I put down the paste pot. The cement fumes got to me and Ursula, like every trapped thing in there, began to look complicit and paid. She looked professionally malevolent, like she was driving a sled. I held the album sleeve out to Dicky to vet. Not like that, he said, closer. In the light, he said, here. Goddamn, Jane. Turn it this way.
But my technique was good. He seemed disappointed.
I listened for footsteps. Mrs. Lucy waved me over to her ironing board where she chain-played three staggered hands of Patience and offered me ten dollars plus mail-in coupon to dye my hair blonde. I told her I wouldn’t. She pulled the coupon from the socket of her breasts. It was pressed to a pill.
I detoured Dicky Lucy for the window, paused by The Castle (a picture someone had painted on glass in reverse, a feat of perversity that Mrs. Lucy and I took time to puzzle at: they must have painted it outside in, highlights then outer stone then inner stone then black, and when I looked at the painting I heard the turning of a key) then made a stop at Robin Redbreast (from the nun’s same yard sale, sequins on cotton ticking, hand-sewn by girls of twelve in the Philippines! Mrs. Lucy said, aghast and gratified by the human cost of art, and the key fell away to the bottom of a well) and I tried to look like someone wanting air, not escape. I listened for footsteps in the same way the Lucys listened for mine, I imagine. That apartment was tightly crammed with Lucys. They were just two in five rooms but they expanded to fill them. The place overheated. It smelled of pet store. Mice by the pound and interbreeding, although Dicky Lucy kept no pet.
Mrs. Lucy, said Ray—not, how’ve you been, Dick.
What I noticed usually when Ray entered was the disquieting size of his head. It was big. Blockish. Cowlicks feathered it. Yet that day there was something nicely transparent to the structure of it all: Cro-Magnon brows making caves for eyes which were also big and set on the outer reaches of the face, like eyes of the hunted, optimized to see what’s coming, field of view not depth, retiring and appraising but not afraid. They recalled to me the eyes of goats. Below those were the cliff drop cheeks. Caliper legs. The neat and outsized hands of the handy. Ray looked like he would be good with a bow and arrow. My people earned as lookalikes and gamblers, and by habit I asked myself, Who does he look like? The answer you know from the movies I fed you—Tony Curtis minus the dandy, plus Steve McQueen’s straight shooting minus the smartass—is less right than the answer you can’t know, Eddy.
I could smell it on him. Smoke not duty.
Mrs. Lucy ('Queen for a Day' fan and aspirant) said, Ray, before you and Dicky head out, be a doll and fix the set? The picture isn’t right. I keep getting fuzz.
Mrs. Lucy spoke always of heading out not back: like they were two pals, rogues, out to paint the town red. In Ray’s pocket she tucked an envelope she thought I didn’t see.
While Ray folded himself down to the RCA, Mrs. Lucy told the legend of TV Ray. How when Ray was four, the Bridges were the first on the block to get a television set. Ray’s father was a natural fixer. He had been promoted from subway driver to subway inspector and wore a badge like a policeman which he let Ray hold. When the TV broke, the repairman was stealthy. Trade secrets—he didn’t want Ray’s father to watch him working. So Ray’s father and brothers left the room and Ray stayed, the youngest, playing one-man conkers with chestnuts on the floor. When the work was done and paid for, Ray’s father showed that repairman out. Ray, his father said to him then. What have we got? Ray pocketed his winning chestnut (a two-er). Then he asked for a Philip’s head screwdriver, removed the TV’s backing, and indicated the new capacitor.
(Mrs. Lucy didn’t say it then but later how that same week was when Ray’s father died. One morning he was inspecting subways. The next he said to Idy, his wife and alarm clock, give me five minutes. He pulled the covers over his head and never woke.)
Ray like his father liked to fix things. You enjoyed watching him work the way you enjoyed watching him spoon up chowder. You begged tastes from his bowl though you hated clams. If I fixed you your own you wouldn’t touch it.
Ray tried to show you about fixing. That it takes not talent but willingness to break what you hoped to fix. He knew defeat as disinterested, a condition of life and not of people. You hated to hear it. The way some stake all on the existence of the divine, you staked all on the existence of talent, and found, in its absence as in its presence, proof. Ray has less interest in failure than anyone I know. I think failure must be the bad hobby of narcissists, as the devil is bad hobby of the devout.
What I’m saying is that your father was no baby. Ray had this easy rectitude he didn’t know about. Mine was a forgery. Not to say fake. But those of us who must forge it admire that not knowing.
This all made Ray maddening to would-be bullies. I could see that.
And I could see it in Ray’s back how he hated this story of Mrs. Lucy’s. What he would not say lodged low on his spine. Where quite suddenly I wanted to touch.
Dicky Lucy watched me watch Ray at the TV and snapped his gum. His tongue was strong; he liked to bodybuild what he could. He enjoyed toothpicks. He opened wide for me to lay them in. He spat them out in his can. He was always working something around in his mouth.
Goddamn, Ma, he said. We don’t have time to goose around. TV Ray, what say we split.
Ray fiddled the tuner and rose. That should do it, he said to Mrs. Lucy. (After and not before it was true. The allergy to exaggeration. I say in twenty years you never took me to a movie. Well, Ray says. I thought we saw three.)
Jane will join us, Ray informed The Castle.
Dicky spat in his can. He flashed big gums. A date for TV Ray, he said as if to himself. He looked for me but I was not there. I was halfway down the stairs with the bag.
Sure she will, I heard him say.
I always left before Ray lifted Dicky. When I lifted him for baths we played the match on the radio. It was important to have near us the loud and comfortable sounds of regulated hitting. Dicky couldn’t even compose an arm. They were arms once given to showboating (the first day Mrs. Lucy put me in a chair with a shoebox of photos, smiling pimpishly or maternally or both, and did not budge until I’d thumbed through each, and I learned that mobile Dicky had been stocky, pro-camera, pro-Elvis, pro-prom, and a wrestler, never without well-placed sidekicks; that Dicky Lucy favored the stranglehold). Now those sleeves waggled, light nearly as sleeves.
I know nothing about cars. Sometimes I walk to the wrong one and wonder for a minute why my key won’t work. I suppose Ray’s was beautiful. It shined in that street in a way that seemed to please him. As he brought Dicky Lucy out, he kept his eyes down as if in modesty. Maybe he had just washed it. I don’t know how to desire a car. What non-people earn that checkbox, beauty? For men like Ray and Dicky Lucy, it’s what they can put their hands on and ride: cars, horses, girls, boats and motorbikes. They would never speak of beauty in a table or a fish or another man’s baby. For women it’s what they can put in a room, and their body is another kind of room. We learn to desire pearls not oysters. Husbands not men. We learn to want what we can affix to ourselves. For men, we practice a weird rehearsal, desiring ourselves as if we were men in order to learn how to be desired.
Dicky said, You kids take front.
Ray took Mass. Ave to Fresh Pond Parkway to 2. I had been passenger on this route in all brands of jalopies, with all brands of unfitness to operate vehicles. It was a losing experience that had made me duller not sharper. In car passenger seats I had to right the urge to be luggage. My job as Lucy’s nurse and Ray’s date was to be a person. I hoped to find a hawk so I could point it out Look.
Dicky Lucy said: The radio’s broke?
The window’s broke?
Your foot broke?
Ray found a station Dicky did not fault. He took the Ford to seventy. The hood hiccupped and the dashboard too.
Don’t stay mad, Ace, said Dicky Lucy.
Dicky Lucy said: Ace, tell us a story. We had us some good times in high school, tell her . TV Ray, my only friend. God we were tight. You don’t love me no more like you used to, Ace. At night I cry. Tell her how you used to hang around the woodshop hoping to see me. Dicky, you use to say, Dicky, teach me how to live, teach me what it means to—
Knock it off, said Ray.
Dicky went quiet back there. The Ford jittered on to some dated music. I dated it to their high school years--maybe. I could only pretend to know like I could only pretend to musical taste. It took me time to figure it out: Music is what you find in high school, and where you find it is, my hunch, at friend’s houses. My high school years lacked a house so they lacked friend’s houses since you did not accept what you couldn’t return. So they lacked music. How little I knew had a way of offending people.
Ray would pick it up, Dicky Lucy said louder than necessary, but we’re flat maxed out. Fifth gear’s shot to hell, a real pisser.
Dicky shouted: We’d like to open her up, Jane, but we can’t do it. Cannot. Want to and can’t. The clutch is a bitch.
There’s nothing wrong with it, said Ray and pushed it to ninety.
Dicky said: Easy, ace. You’ll muss my hair.
We had the left lane all to ourselves now. The car had assumed a syncopated rolling motion that seemed not exactly bad and at least rhythmic. It rolled along to Chuck Berry and I tried to think of something I heard someone say about Berry to repeat. Berry is the best, I imagined myself saying but I’d have had to shout it and possibly defend it. I looked for any bird of prey at all.
Did I mention that being driven in cars, when car or driver is off, makes me want to disappear? To be a glove of myself? To stow away in the glove compartment? Every bit of blood in me gunned for my feet, slammed there, flip-turned, gunned for my heart. It’s a terrible thing to feel your blood doing laps inside you. If they could induce it they would torture with it. They’d make nonbelievers pray. I found myself praying to Franny, help.
Dicky said: Having fun yet, Jane?
Ray held steady to Yankee Division Highway when up from the floor came the thick and dire smell of burnt hair. Ray sat up straight. He set the Ford south. My silence seemed a bad agent, a bad hand on the wheel. Berry was out on parole, I thought to say, or was it the other, and then Berry was gone and it was Cline strung out wailing 'So Wrong' and I had nothing on Patsy Cline.
Dicky said, Let’s vote. Can we? Who thinks this date’s a pisser? Can we speak our hearts? At this juncture, I feel that I can. I say this date’s a pisser and I say you’re not speaking your hearts and I love you kids like I love myself. That’s what hurts. Ray, let’s turn it around. Let’s go the long way, show Janie a good time.
Yankee Division was the newish beltway, the first of its kind. It had a residual hick feel then. For stretches there was nothing but state-owned trees. The road’s shoulder banked sharply down to softwoods.
The car floor palpitated. In relief I saw it down there near me. Mrs. Lucy’s envelope.
Is that yours? I could say to Ray at last.
As I reached for it Ray said leave it but I said I had it and Ray took a hand off the wheel to beat me to it and Dicky crooned I've seen the light, darlin, I'll make it right.
The car pulled right, jumped the shoulder, and nosed-dived the bank. Each rut in the bank telegraphed itself to our spines as pine needles rushed to enfold us. Dicky’s voice vibrato-ed. The last thing I heard was a high-pitched hooting from the rear, a sound I could not place until later at Mass General as Dicky Lucy’s laughter.
We all survived this, no one unchanged.
The dashboard snapped two of my ribs, my collarbone, and, rebroke my broken nose.
Dicky regained sensation in his feet. A medical anomaly, unwelcome to both the doctors who could not explain it and Dicky who could not scratch the toes that itched him.
Ray, protected in the enclave of the floor space, came out of it intact, all eight points of his cranium accounted for, but carless and amorous. I was in Rehab two weeks, on each day of which he visited. Ray sat sweating on a green shell chair by my bedside in the same navy suit and navy-striped tie, elbows propped on knees. He suffered to converse with me. He brought me maple candies molded into the shape of maple leaves. Somehow, in his romantic detective work, he had hit upon the bad information that I loved seahorses, and each day brought me a different seahorse-themed token—statuettes, jewelry boxes, pendants, pins. I had been much in hospitals throughout my childhood, and his solicitude, and his mistake, touched me with its excess. It was a brand of excess I craved. I asked him to remove that suit. I asked him to roll up his sleeves and side-part his hair like Eddy. We weren’t much for talk, and shared a distaste for ceremony. I conceived Ruth that second week in Mass General. The Brighton courthouse was our second date.
When Mrs. Lucy advised a week after my discharge that I find a husband, since care for Dicky in my fragile state was impractical, I was not quite truthful. I said that I would try.
Kim O'Neil lives and writes in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her M.Ed. at Lesley University and her M.F.A. in fiction at U.C. Irvine. In between, she worked for a decade as creative director of a Boston animation studio best known for the Comedy Central series Dr. Katz, where she created art for Cartoon Network’s Home Movies, FX’s O’Grady, and ABC’s Science Court, among others. Currently, she teaches writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 'Dicky Lucy' is a chapter from her novel Fever Dogs, due for publication in 2017.