LUCILLE

By: Claudio Fedele

 

Disturbing silence darkens your sight

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright

We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

The maid had left the manor just a bit more than five minutes before. She had given the last, final touch of polishing to the silverware, thinking about how she had always done at her best at what she had been paid for. For years. Lucille, mother of three children and wife of a husband of sterling character, left Grant’s house in the middle of the afternoon. She had put the broom and the other tools in the cupboard under the staircase of the luxurious manor and, finally satisfied, she had headed towards home.

She had been in that job for fifteen years, so no one could teach her how to polish a lamp or clean a carpet, or even suggest her some basic tricks to do the chores at best. Lucille Jones was born to do what she had done her whole life, with commitment and elegance. She loved to breathe in the smell of “the great manor,” as she called it, but most of all she loved touching the luxuries she could not wish for herself, with her own hands. Ancient objects, treasures that had been bought in auctions in the furthest places around the world, collections of rare artefacts. Every time, she would completely fall for all that, almost as though she was entering for the first time into the British Museum. She was the daughter of two working class parents and had grown up in a British suburb as many others had. She had always wanted to become a literature professor, one day. This ambition had fallen because of the uncontrollable chain of terrible events that then forced her to leave school. Her father, a coarse man who drank too much, had left Lucille and her mother on a cold morning in January, many years ago, and he had never come back. Mr Jones had always been quite a bizarre bloke, at least, according to the neighbours and his colleagues, but no one could have suspected he would go that far.

The rest of the family was forced to make ends meet in disparate ways to survive poverty. Lucille learnt when she was very young, at her own expense, what it meant to starve to get a slice of bread, or to stop in front of doors of a restaurants and crave a bowl of hot soup.

The years that followed her father’s leaving were the worst. Her mother could barely find a job. Every now and then, she gave French classes to a guy that lived three blocks away, but she and her mother knew that a “je suis” couldn’t solve the financial problems they had, nor could it change a damn thing at all.

“My dear, please, go away. Go to London or Liverpool. Find a job and a good husband, that will love you and make you feel special.” These exact words, which her mother would utter in tears, were progressively more frequent in their small house. They were undesired guests. Day after day, from being murmured or cried in the worst moments, they became like a holy ritual that Monica Jones would repeat every time she sat for dinner, when she had the chance to actually eat something. She did not want her daughter to suffer or beg for money on the street to buy a stale piece of bread at the local bakery. She wanted her little daughter to live the best life, maybe not in sumptuous luxury, because she had never really liked it and it was also quite unlikely that her daughter could reach it, but she wished at least for the warm and comfortable serenity of having a family of any kind. She could not find this all in Righton, not now, not ever. It was not easy to convince Lucille to leave the place where she had grown up and where she had spent what she would always remember as the more turbulent years of her life. The opportunity came when her mother, a simple, but elegant woman, was lucky enough to find a job in a hospital, not that far from the town centre, as an assistant.

She had an unlimited contract of employment, an unexpected surprise. Every morning, Monica took bus number 4 and she headed towards the hospital, to come home tired, but satisfied, at 6 o’clock, when she started making dinner. “Times are a bit calmer now, Lucy, you can leave this place. You have a fixed wage; I can cope with everything by myself. Don’t renounce anything because of me. I know that your father and I did not manage to give you the life you have wanted since you were a child, but we did our best. I did my best. Now you can have a future by yourself and leave this infamous town. Don’t come back here, unless you want to come visit me when you want, or for Christmas. Go to London, find a job and always pray to be able to count on yourself only. If you are lucky, as nice and bright as you are, you won’t have difficulties in finding a husband, but please, please take this decision seriously. Don’t finish up like me. I have loved your father, only God knows how much I loved him, but I am still suffering. I am not angry at him anymore for what he did, mind you, it was his choice. Life taught me that fifteen years of marriage bring you nowhere. Times change people and show them for what they really are. Don’t dwell on illusions. Please, go, and when you arrive, send me a postcard or a note. I hope I’ll be able to come visit you soon and walk beside you in Hyde Park meadows, to visit Saint Paul’s and to go up and down the rooms of the National Gallery.”

At 23, Lucille Jones left her mother to her reassuring destiny. She took the train to King’s Cross and left the place where she had grown up and where she had learned what joy and pain meant. Now, a new beginning was waiting for her, a solitary adventure made of dangers and traps. She was ready, she knew she was, and she wanted to challenge herself. Still, she was as scared as she was excited. She had found a nice job as maid in an old house at the end of Zone 1. The wage was more than sufficient to let her rent a studio flat that was 20 minutes far from the heart of the City. She could not complain, she was lucky. But luck had never featured in her miserable life in the past, so she could not expect much. Therefore, considering herself as a privileged girl that had been touched by something as strange as luck provoked in her many emotions that she thought were too difficult to describe. She needed to be careful. Her destiny could try to rip her off.

A month after setting foot in the Tube for the first time, Lucy was already used to many of the areas that London could offer to her with generosity. The streets, the lanes, the complex webs of alleys and roads were a kaleidoscope; she spent her spare time trying to find places that could genuinely and vaguely take her breath away. She loved to hang out in libraries and churches, not to pray, but to experience their eternal stillness. Living by herself was very satisfying as well. No hours or limits, no running to be home for dinner or going to bed late feeling like a revolutionary rebel brat. Everything was simply before her eyes, waiting for her curiosity to penetrate that universe, rich in energy and constantly changing.

London wasn’t only the city that she had always loved as a girl. It was something more. It could be compared to a high-speed moving train or to a motorbike that could shoot up and down a beautiful boulevard full of trees. Every detail had an incredible appeal and every shop in Regent Street was just inimitable. Lucille was aware that all these sensations, as days, months and years passed, would fade away, and that the routine would make even the most exciting entertainment as flat and meaningless, but now she just wanted to enjoy the present. And she had a point.

Even her love life had an incredible improvement, to which she had never been used. At the beginning, it was weird to get to know the fact that she was so desired by men, but as time passed, she started being more at ease with guys of her age. During her first months in London, she had many relationships, which all started with nights spent at the pub and which ended with the first rays of light on the next day. Someone, in the old town, would think that her morals and self-respect had gone to pot, but Lucy had told herself more than once that, if she had found her soul mate, she would have committed herself to a solid and stable relationship.

The chance arrived quite early. It had Colin Hardy’s face. He was tall and slender, a perfect gentleman, produced by Britain to represent all the values that every respectable British citizen was worthy of. Everything began one night, in one of the most famous pubs of the City, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, that was also one of Lucy’s favourite places. It was said that, once, great writers would spend their nights sitting at the tables and on the sofas of that rest temple that was always packed with tourists during high season. High quality beer, comfort in every corner and a tranquillity that was quite unusual to find in London. The perfect place. There were also rumours that Charles Dickens had the habit of sitting in front of the fireplace and talking loudly about what he was writing, almost as though what he was jotting down on paper had the power to have a conversation with Oliver Twist’s father and many other characters. Another urban legend was about a famous movie star that one night, as he was tired, ordered a beer and never paid the bill. There was also someone that said that, during the night, the ghosts of the people who had owned the pub decades before would awaken, and that every now and then the alley would resound with the joyful cries that these people would utter when still drunk with life and light heartiness.

Lucille didn’t believe in everything that was said of that place, but Colin did. They met casually, in the most typical way: she was leaning on the door, waiting for a new friend she had met on her job. Colin was striding towards the door, trying to look for a comfortable spot where he could drink and eat something. He had his head in the clouds and was mumbling about his job as a part-time teacher. She was lost in the reading of an ordinary flyer, which had been given to her at the tube stop in Piccadilly Circus by a young man with a beautiful orange cat between his arms. Colin was completely in his own world. An unexpected bump in the road, caused by a badly placed stone, had provoked his temporary loss of balance, which led to a collision that was similar to two meteors crashing together.

And there it was, the perfect accident that began such a passionate and difficult love story.

He charmed her with his academic knowledge of medieval literature and his obsession for ancient books; she bewitched him with her seducing intelligence that made him want to listen to her for hours. That girl knew what she wanted, thought Colin, all the time. The casual encounters became dates, the dates became the beginning of a relationship that in which they spent hours telling each other their most intimate secrets. The wooden tables of the pub were substituted by the white sheets and the beers by glasses of wine of dubious quality drank with no reason at all. The habitual chitchat of the customers became the Beatles, David Bowie and Blondie heard on the radio on Sunday mornings. Lucille had difficulties in understanding how much she loved Colin, because her fear of not being loved back was like a threatening shadow that would stretch above her, but she had no doubts on the happiness she felt in his company.

Months passed. Lucy became a Hardy. He proposed to her in front of the door of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, after a night spent discussing how uselessness and ugliness the umpteenth cover of an 80s masterpiece, recorded again for the new generation but lacking any artistic value. When he had finished his argument, Colin had taken her hand. He had bent down that much that he shivered, thinking of how his trousers could just rip open on the least noble part of his body. He felt a warm pleasure when it did not happen.

“Hey, little mermaid, will you marry me?”

The answer arrived late. What did marriage mean? Why did Lucille fear the facing of such a decision, a similar situation? Was it her mother’s or her father’s fault? Was it her own fault? Was it destiny’s fault? Was it worth trying?

“Yes.”

A murmur, almost more imperceptible to her than to him, who was on his knees before her. The moments spent in silence had contributed to a tense, unnatural atmosphere. The air was full with excitement, fear and indecision. They were facing the final proof, whose verdict would be the evidence of what they really felt. Still moments. Then the answer and a promise. It was done.

Lucille would not be a Jones anymore. Once more, she was in front of a decision and she had chosen to put her past behind her. She must, or better, she wanted to look forward. She often asked herself how her life would have been if her father hadn’t left her and her mother on that cold January day. Lucille loved to build up stories in which she was the protagonist, where she would imagine being in another place, with other people. It was a habit that, for years, she had indulged in every time she would get on the tube. The sound of the train in the galleries, the voices of the travellers, the mechanical voices. All those shades and details made it pleasant for her to lose herself in long digressions where, for a short period, she wished she was someone else, or maybe even herself, but in a different context.

When she would arrive home, though, Lucille really knew which were the reasons why, at the end, she couldn’t wish for a better life. Her house was a typically British, two floor house in London’s centre, which they had been able to buy because of Colin’s pay increase. Their wages, together, had allowed them to buy a small car and a motorbike. Now, both of them, after temporary fights, lived together with their three daughters.

They had everything they wanted. They had become a whole thing of many things. Nothing could challenge her serenity. At least, until it ended. After all, as she knew, life is nothing other than a poker hand with the goddess of luck. But, from the moment she had first left her house in Righton, good luck had never abandoned her.

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