Harlequin Babies

Laura Valeri

Lucy finished her round of depositions early. She could have gone home. Tonya would have surely appreciated help with dinner, but Lucy felt caught in an impulse that was growing alarmingly frequent. She drove, listening to the end of an Indigo Girls song, wanting nothing more than to keep driving, not towards home, but rather, towards the end of the horizon.

For years, the song had been a time-travel inducer, bringing back that rich sense of freedom and possibility that she’d felt when she first met Tonya. At the Lilith fair on a rainy Sunday, twenty years or so ago, they had danced under the rain, screaming along to the same song now playing on the radio. Lately, though, Lucy had been stuck in a low-grade anxiety, feeling that she was becoming indistinguishable from the noise around her, her print on this chaotic world fading. Even this song couldn’t shake her out of it.

A ding from her phone made Lucy turn off the radio.  At a red light, she retrieved her phone. It was a text from Tonya: Dinner at 6 ok?

Lucy typed: Meet me at the beach? Bring wine.Her thumb hovered on send for seconds, then touched the delete. She typed, ok.

The light turned green, and Lucy drove.

The first night she and Tonya had made love, it was on the roof of Tonya’s trailer, and just before they’d began kissing, Lucy — bookworm  Lucy, who had been an honors student since the 6thgrade — confessed a secret admiration for the grandmother she had never met, a woman the family had disowned when she became pregnant with Lucy’s mother. At 16, Lucy’s grandmother had hopped on the back of her sweetheart’s Harley and rode the coastline all the way to Belize, making love on beaches and river banks and under the thick tree canopy of the jungle, where she eventually conceived. Lucy confessed that she had admired that courage, the ability to cast off all expectations and obligations, and that she hungered to see parts of the world like her grandmother had seen, naked and raw, not the sanitized tourist versions. Tonya had promised her that they would travel, that they would see Belize. “And Brazil, and Botswana and all countries that start with a B, just for starters.”

Lucy had not thought of that in years. They never did go anywhere very far.

The stoplight on North Florida Avenue had turned green, but instead of taking the interstate south towards St. Petersburg, Lucy took the northbound entrance. She did not allow herself to think of what she was doing. Like her grandmother, she did not want a destination, only a journey.

She thought of how, soon after they’d met, Tonya had accepted a job teaching Biology at a prestigious prep school, and Lucy had begun law school. They moved in together on the outskirts of St. Pete, where they had lived ever since. They got along so easily; it was as if they’d slipped into a dream together. They shared a weakness for old sitcoms and liked to joke that Lucy was the Oscar to Tonya’s Felix’s in The Odd Couple. Lucy was not exactly a slob, but once she was roped into tests and papers for Torts, Contracts, and Civil Procedures, her home world dissolved at the same rate at which the complexities of law engulfed her mind. Practical chores like toothbrushing, showering, and laundering clothes became the casualties of caffeine-driven all-nighters with tomes on her laps and her fingers stained with highlighter ink. Each A was earned at the expense of an aspect of domestic order or personal hygiene.

Tonya, on the other hand, designed color-coded index cards to keep track of her students’ excuses for missed homework. She sheathed every page of every course packet in plastic. At home, she coated the burner plates in fresh aluminum foil weekly. She cleaned out the microwave every Monday and swept behind the refrigerator on the first of each month.

She and Tonya had once discussed visiting a fertility clinic, but Lucy was busy growing her practice, and Tonya was busy “grading one hundred and twenty-eight quizzes, midterm exams, lab reports, projects, and sundry assignments every week, plus chaperoning the senior prom every year, and advising two student clubs.” Soon they stopped talking about children, too, and settled into a pleasant routine of Friday night dinners out, and a bike ride on weekends. They had done well for themselves, but their lives held no prospect of change.

Lucy had seldom thought of children or families, her own having been a dysfunctional parade of alcoholics and bipolar sufferers who refused medications until forced by law. But now in her early forties, Lucy wondered whether her life had made a difference to anyone. The world she inhabited, the tidy townhouse, the shining SUV, felt increasingly alien and surreal. It was turning her into a scan of someone else, or a photocopy that had lost details of the original.

Her Saturday mornings were only reprieve from the screaming divorcées and broken children who were the casualties of what felt like a mostly useless career. She had dreamt of championing gay couple’s rights to adoption and marriage, but in the end, behind her fabulous degree, she was still bookworm Lucy. She was happy when she sat on her stool in the square patch of their back yard with her hands in the dirt, weeding, fertilizing the hydrangeas, and arranging new growth of the Confederate jasmine on trellises. The work allowed her to forget the lies of the world, her sense of self dissolved and diffused with the smells of soil, of flowers and grass, grounding her into the earth.