Fiction: Out of Love by Randall Brown

Lucy believes—the way she trusts gravity, getting old, being lonely—that she does not matter in this world. If she could talk to me, writing her, she could not form the words to ask for help, because she does not grasp the lie at the center of her Self. I want so much to save Lucy, but I don’t know how.

I whisper the terrible truth into her dreams, that in some ways she is right to think she doesn’t matter, because her mother’s drinking has not a single thing to do with Lucy. The same thing would happen no matter what daughter she pushed into her world.

“Lucy, you matter.” But that voice, Lucy knows, is a lie.

There must be something. Some action. Maybe a boy. A boy with a guitar, verses in his pocket, a thousand verses, all about Lucy, not just her thousands of freckles and her green, lit-up eyes, as wide as golf course greens. But about Lucy’s heart. How full of holes her heart is. How he loves the fact that Lucy cannot eat when she is away from home. How her shyness hides a strength, a will to go on, to want more from the world than it can offer her now.

But then Lucy will learn that she matters only when boys love her. It will lead her to an alley with her math teacher, a desperateness in her grip of his shoulder, the pull of him greater than gravity. He will turn aside from her lips. Is he heroic or chicken for changing his orbit? Sick. He must be, but I don’t know him. I only know the black hole it will create inside Lucy.

I’m so sorry, Lucy, I wish there was another way. But you will suffer alone a long time. You will find solace in books, desire transformed to journey.

I love you. I wish that mattered for something.

In college, you are the girl around which they gay men circle Something both safe and hard about your desire for them. They understand invisibility. They love your pink, oval glasses, your wild scarves. They love your laugh, call it a titter. Tittering Lucy. You sometimes take ecstasy, sleep in a pile of men, all wanting something other than you, but it’s okay. The ache of longing is better than the nothingness of before. You will stay in Chicago after graduation. You will work in customer service at a newspaper. The entire city will call you whenever they are missing sections or receiving nothing. You are a smile. A promise that is sometimes broken. You memorize the script until you forgot that part, think the words are your own creation. Eight years will pass like that, Lucy.

And then, when you least expect it, you will hear a whisper. It will say go to 815 West Oakdale. Someone there is missing something. Deliver it. Ride your purple bike. Wear your pink hat and your pink glasses. Knock on that door.

Your mother chose drink over you, a million times before, a million times after. It has nothing to do with you, Lucy. You matter.

Will you go? Will you listen? I wish I knew, but I don’t.

Maybe you do know. Maybe you find me, still writing this story, trying to matter. You peek over my shoulder, point to the screen.

“That’s me,” you say. You rest your hand on my shoulder. You smell like the world before everything falls. “Call it ‘Out of Love.’ That’s how you wrote it. I can tell.”

The ending nears, one too ho-hum and clichéd for readers.

“They’re just jealous,” you say.

Jealous of us. As if we mattered. Imagine that, Lucy, if you can.

Randall Brown teaches at Saint Joseph’s University, holds an MFA from Vermont College, and is the Lead Editor at Smokelong Quarterly. Nearly 200 essays, poems, short stories and (very) short pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (Flume Press, 2008).