Twenty Years Before Lucy Went Mad

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It's summer, Lucy is a 29-year-old journalist who lives in Wimbledon. She goes on her first Tinder date... which could have gone better.

Submitted: May 03, 2020

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Submitted: May 03, 2020

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Twenty Years Before Lucy Went Mad

 

That’s Lucy in the fifth carriage of the Jubilee Line to London Bridge, well dressed, long-legged and in need of love. She is looking at her reflection against the black window. She is listening to house music led by a reeling saxophone on her head phones. She is holding herself as still as possible and breathing very lightly in act of resistance to being counted among the crush of commuters. She doesn’t care one iota for the other passengers. She is resigned to her wardrobe of office wear; she is tolerant of her editor’s leers offered as support in their glass windowed twelfth storey offices over-looking London Bridge, a couple of thousand journalists in there.

Now, look at the way she lingers, in those days, on her walk from the station to the office. Some days on her way home, she goes into a cavernous sushi restaurant next to the station, where the lighting is dim and she drinks a Tiger beer and eats Sashimi Mix served on a banana leaf laid across a square white plate. She likes the way the waiter winks and gets her a beer as soon as she sits down. She likes the way he knows what she needs.

Tonight, on her way home, Lucy installs Tinder. The weather hot. She is twenty-nine and has been a journalist for five years. She hasn’t been in a relationship for a while, but she has slept with a few exes and friends. Last summer she met a woman called Marta while she was walking in Italy alone with her tent, and she slept with her too, but that had been a love of sorts. They had met along the Via Alta, at the final Refugio where Lucy stopped for lunch and sat at Martha’s table. They chatted. They both had two bowls of pasta and two beers. Marta was 42 and beautiful and from the nearby town, Belluno. It was a six mile walk to the end of the trail, and the end of eight days walking alone for Lucy.

‘I’ll drop you into town,’ Marta said. Lucy had smiled, one of her real smiles. Marta dropped Lucy into town and that evening she came back to give her a tour of Belluno. They ate more pasta and then she came up to Lucy’s room to see the view and then she stayed the night. It was one of the simplest things. Lucy had told no one.

Now, she isn’t so much tired of being single as unable to shake off a dream scene she has had in her head since early spring. She is in a summer dress on Wimbledon Common and she is laughing. She bends over to pick up a blue rubber ball and she is laughing so much she almost loses her balance. There is someone else there, holding the other bat, laughing too. And as she reaches down for the ball she sees his bare feet in the grass and sun.

A colleague had shown her how Tinder worked months ago, and she had helped him swipe left or right on women’s faces. Fit, fit, fit, bin, bin, fit. That is how it had gone, for each of the faces, fit or bin. She had thought it was funny. She had laughed with him. She had swiped yes for women that she knew he would never date. She had laughed when they sent him a message. It didn’t seem to matter. Nothing mattered in that newsroom. All bets were off. The former news editor had booked prostitutes online and had threesomes with the blonde girl from the TV section.

In the newsroom, Lucy took the side of the men, in their orbit swung power and the possibility of reward. Once, early one, she found herself staring at a bare chested woman smiling kindly out of a page as a man shifted the image around with his mouse, working out where to put the few lines of text. Her nipples were high, optimistic, loving even. They stopped her in her tracks. She had thought that the woman on the page seemed like a kind person. Why would she need to do that? But even as she thought this, Lucy lent down so she was eye level with the sub, smiled, and said slowly, ‘that woman has fucking great tits.’  He had laughed out loud, and Lucy felt the warm glow of approval.

Lucy didn’t dress provocatively, she had never liked wearing heels, and sometimes she needed to run. Still, she had slept with a few colleagues. Once, she had gone for a walk another junior reporter and he had asked her to touch is dick, because, he said, she was driving him wild. They had been walking and holding coffee cups, talking about their jobs. They sat on a bench in a deserted car park and Lucy rubbed his dick as he kissed her and she felt like somebody, and she liked the fact that she didn’t care about who that somebody was, but she knew what he needed and she could provide it without any loss of herself. She had told her sister of the incident by inventing two other people in the newsroom who had done it, and agreed that it was ‘low-level depravity’ in the middle of a working day. ‘Was the girl his junior?’ her sister had said. ‘Probably, wouldn’t be surprised,’ Lucy shook her head into the phone, ‘she must have got something out of it.’

On her way home now, she began to swipe. She hovered over a face. Through the connections which loaded up in little circles at the the bottom of each profile she saw that he was a friend of an old school friend’s husband. The old school friend’s husband was a decent man. Welsh. Worked in the City. The old school friend had been quiet and smart and always somehow manoeuvred herself into the right place at the right time. Yes, Holly, she would wear a summer dress and hit a ball in a park, and love somebody. Yes Holly and Gareth, and they had children now. Carl. He lived nearby. In his first picture he was on the side of a mountain, smiling. He had five photos, he was dancing, surfing, posing at a wedding and in the final one he was dressed up as a ballerina with a paper lion’s mask over his face, running a race with someone else, a woman, dressed in the same outfit. She swiped right, and they matched.

When Lucy gets off the tube at Wimbledon station she sits on the bench. She doesn’t want to go home. There is nothing to do there. She messages Carl.

‘Are you free tomorrow evening?’

‘For a drink?’

‘Yes, for a drink, in Wimbledon.’

‘No small talk?’

‘I’m a reporter, I’m good at asking the big questions.’

‘Really? Who do you work for?’

 

At work the following morning Lucy was given the job of writing a caption under a female singer who was performing on stage. Her boss sent the instructions on email from his desk four metres away. The picture was attached and the body of the email simply said: CANKLES. Lucy asked the reporter beside her what it meant.

‘Cankles, mate,’ he pointed at the picture. ‘When calves and ankles merge into one.’

Lucy laughed. She went online to find people attacking the singer for having cankles and then wrote a caption about the singer having to fend off ‘cankle abuse’. It was a satisfying trick.

Her sister called at lunchtime but she didn’t pick up. She sat in the canteen and picked through her salad alone at a bench that looked out across South London. She was afraid most of the time at work, of what, she wasn’t sure. She thought of a podcast she’d listened to, about the connection between stress and illness and wondered if she might get cancer, or maybe she had it. It didn’t cross her mind that perhaps her sister had called because she needed her. It had been a long time since she had really considered anyone else’s state to be worse than her own.

She put on her leather jacket as she left the office. It was probably too warm for a leather jacket, even with a sleeveless top on underneath. On the tube the leather stuck to her skin as she lifted her head high to escape the bodies. So many people. But she felt excited. She had had moments of delight since she and Carl matched, a space growing inside her, a little bit of emptiness that was happy and present, and perhaps she could fill. She wouldn’t talk about work; she would leave all that out. She was interested in him. She would just have one, maybe two beers. She wanted to be wide awake. They had messaged for an hour or so the night before and he was funny. She got off the tube and walked to the pub. Summer dress, the Common, two bats and a ball. There was a little breeze and just before she reached the door she shot a few squirts of perfume on her body. Breathe, breathe, breath, say thank you. He was sitting near the window and she saw him straight away.

He smiled like he knew her, got up and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

‘Lucy,’ he said.

‘Well, well, well,’ Lucy said. ‘So far so good.’ He laughed and sat down, folding his arms on the table and leaning across to where Lucy sat down. ‘I was kind of hoping you would be in a tutu,’ she added. He smiled.

‘What can I get you to drink?’

He was more delicate than she imagined. He was very attractive. She peeled her jacket off while he stood at the bar. It was quite quiet, but it was early.

He came back and Lucy saw he had rolled his sleeves up haphazardly. She liked his arms, his brown leather bracelet. She smiled a big smile, a smile she missed in herself.

She asked him about the mountain. He told her about where he’d been, about his dream to buy an island and a motorbike. That he wanted the island more than the motorbike so he was going to focus on that first. Lucy forgot about Holly and Gareth, although she had thought it could be a conversation starter. She told Carl about playing netball at university. He said it was a pointless game because the player can’t move when she gets the ball. Lucy defended the creativity that comes from being hemmed in. She made a case for netball being the most sophisticated of sports and he smiled and bent to her will, then laughing, said that rugby was a case in point for overbearing rules.

‘I mean you can only pass the ball fucking backwards,’ he said, as he got up and nodded at the empty glasses. They would have two more pints. There would definitely be a kiss. When he sat back down, the sun on Lucy’s back felt like a promise.

‘So, what are you doing this weekend?’ she asked.

‘Oh family stuff, sometimes I just wish it was all easier.’ Carl looked down at his fresh pint, tried to say something but didn’t.

‘Oh,’ Lucy felt him change. She felt responsible, she wanted to make him feel better. She almost took his hand. ‘I am really close to my brother and sister… it’s shit when things are tough...’

‘I know, but I guess, as you can probably work out from the very fact that I am here, my wife and I aren’t really getting on.’ Lucy tipped her head to the side. Then she laughed. ‘Yeh,’ Carl went on shaking his head at the table, ‘I mean on a basic level we don’t like the same music, but it runs much deeper than that.’ Lucy was quiet.

‘Does your wife know that you are on a date?’

‘Well, it’s hardly a date, is it?’ Carl pulled his head back in disbelief, in a way that reminded Lucy of Chandler from Firends. ‘It’s Tinder.’

‘It’s still meeting someone else.’

‘I know, it’s complicated for me, but you really don’t have to worry about it. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. This isn’t your problem at all.’ Lucy could feel the blood pumping in her eyeballs. She wanted to get to the sushi place and see the waiter. She smiled and imagined the waiter putting down her Tiger beer. ‘Did you think this was like a date, date?’ Carl looked sorry for her. Lucy didn’t like that.

‘No, I...’  

‘I mean it’s Tinder.’

‘Yeh, we all know, it’s… not...’ Lucy smiled. ‘Look, it’s hard.’ She looked at the barman moving around behind Carl. Carl looked crestfallen. ‘It’s cool, sorry, it’s hard, marriage, and it’s cool you are getting a break, I just, sorry…’

‘Look don’t be sorry, my wife and I don’t get on, we’re in the same house, but I reckon she’s texting an ex or something.’

Lucy had run out of herself. Somehow her anger wasn’t there. It never was these days.

‘Have you ever heard of cankles?’ she said suddenly.

‘What?’

‘Cankles, half calf, half ankle, when the ankle doesn’t go in?’

‘Oh!’ Carl drank hard from his glass, ‘Yes, terrible luck for the canklee.’ Lucy nodded.

‘I wrote a brilliant picture caption at work today, all about a canklee.’

‘Tabloid journalist to the core!’ Carl laughed.

‘I know. And the trick is,’ Lucy leaned in, smiled, and realised she was feeling drunk, ‘the trick is, find the people who abuse her for having fat ankles, and write about them being terrible people, which means we get to make the cankle joke without actually being the one that made it, and everyone is happy.’ Carl smiled in admiration.

‘I never read the tabloids,’ he said. ‘I mean, I grew up in one of those lefty Guardian reading households, and I suppose I just always saw the red-tops as gutter-press. But when you said you were a tabloid reporter, it sort, of, I don’t know, it kind of turned me on.’

‘Really?’

‘I mean your photos, you look almost innocent, and then, when you told me what you do, it was just, like, mystery. Hot mystery.’

‘I actually wanted to write for a camping and caravanning magazine when I graduated, but I got a little side tracked. I just thought it didn’t seem good enough, plodding around in stupid fucking campsites, after all my education.’

‘Look, you got ahead, and if that was getting side-tracked I’m glad because you are in a perfect side-track right now. If you want it.’

‘I liked your pictures.’ Lucy finished her pint, ‘You looked…’

‘Hot?’

‘Yes, especially you and your running partner in tutus and masks.’ Lucy laughed. Carl shifted back on his seat and folded his arms. Lucy was drunk. ‘It’s my round,’ she said. ‘I’m going to have just one more. One for the road.’

‘Great, ok, yeh, I’ve got to be back before ninish.’

‘Cool,’ Lucy walked up to the bar and stared at the lights on the taps. She looked at the barman. He looked M?ori. He reminded her of a girl she knew at university who had a thick, strong body and a massive smile and dark, smooth skin. She was from Wolverhampton.

‘Are you from New Zealand?’ Lucy said as he came over.

‘Yip. What can I getcha Sherlock?’

‘Just two more, was it Staropramen? I actually don’t know what he is drinking.’ The barman looked over at the table where Carl was on his phone.

‘Yeh two Staropramen.’ Lucy wanted to cry. She smiled.

‘I know a girl from New Zealand,’ she said, smiling even harder, thinking of the girl just like him from Wolverhampton.

‘Oh? Whereabouts’

‘Christchurch,’ she lied.

The barman raised his eyebrows and nodded.  Lucy had a friend who had just settled in Christchurch when the earthquake hit. She came back to the UK on the first flight out, met her now husband, Jacko, or something, and bought a house in Tooting within a year. ‘I suddenly realised I was lucky, beyond my wildest dreams,’ she had said when she got back, ‘living through a tragedy, surviving it all, it made fall back in love with the details of my life.’ Or something, she had said something about the beauty of the detail.

‘We are luckier beyond our wildest dreams,’ Lucy said as the barman placed the beers in front of her. He laughed.

‘You might be, having pints on a Wednesday. But I’m working.’

‘No it’s just what my mate said when she survived the earthquake in Christchurch. I’m on a date and it is a total fuck up.’ She took the two beers.

‘Doesn’t look like a fuck up,’ the barman nodded at the drinks. Lucy made a face. ‘If it’s shit, just leave. Why stick around?’ He turned to open the dishwasher.

‘Because I was momentarily in love with him and he has just broken my heart,’ Lucy said.

‘Sure,’ the barman laughed.

Lucy put the beer on the table.

‘So, how long have you been married?’ she said.

‘Sorry?’

‘How long have you been married? Do you have any kids?’ Carl stared at a point on the floorboards and then turned back to Lucy.

‘Do you really want to know about this?’ he said gently.

‘I guess I do, because I have asked,’ Lucy said, matching his gentleness. The barman and the third beer in front of her offered a new perspective. This didn’t matter either. Nothing mattered. And when she accepted that, she didn’t hate her life and how she had come to live.

‘It must be really tough, still living together and leading separate lives.’

‘We are still sort of together, but just… you know…’

‘Testing new waters,’ Lucy said.  

‘Do you like me?’ Carl said, suddenly. ‘Does the wife thing bother you? We were just getting on so well, I felt I could tell you,’ but I just suddenly feel a bit at sea.’

Lucy watched the barman for a moment.

‘The woman in the running photo, on Tinder, with the tutu, and the mask, is that your wife?’ Carl looked crestfallen again, but now Lucy didn’t care.  ‘She’s fit, I don’t get it? Why don’t you just bang your wife? I find a way to enjoy banging her again?’

‘I’ve been honest. I just wanted a… hook up. That is what Tinder is. My wife isn’t your problem, so I don’t see what the problem is.  If you want it, I want it, so let’s… see how all this goes.’

‘Yeh I know.’ Lucy could see herself swiping, fit, fit, fit, bin, bin, fit, bin women’s faces. She had done it. Pea-brains. The lot of them. This was going to make the best story in the office. Especially the bit about the barman telling her to just leave. He was lovely. Lovely.

‘I’m going to go,’ she said suddenly, drinking as much of her beer as she could.

‘I’ll come,’ Carl said.

‘It’s ok.’ Lucy wanted to find something else to drink, go home and be alone. The evening was still bright, the streets were decidedly fleshy, Lucy thought.

‘It will be tennis season soon,’ Carl said. He took her hand and stopped at an alcove in a red stone building.

‘Will you give me a kiss?’ he said.

Lucy closed her eyes and moved her face towards him, her brain was loose, delicious, drunk, she wanted to feel someone close to her. His lips felt tiny and cold.  Her hand shot up to his chest to push him away.

She opened her eyes to see the stranger’s delicate face.

‘I have to go,’ she said as her skin seemed to blister with fear.

‘Message me,’ he said, ‘message me anytime Luce, I’m here, for whatever you want anytime, if you want. Only if you want.’

‘Yes. I will. Thank you. Carl. Thanks.’  

 

 

 

 

 


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