Lucy is sitting on a flaking, purple chair outside the cultishly popular health food café in her local town, half-listening to a theory on how to live one’s life well (‘the simple things!’) that her father has already expounded in detail the day before, and the day before that, when she gets the text from Aisling; Danny has tried to commit suicide. She’s only there because her father offered to pay for lunch, and she finds it difficult to turn down offers which are free, especially if they pertain to food, or sex. This was, naturally, just food.
Lucy finds eating with her father unpleasant, because they’ve already said all of the things they have to say to one another, and new things aren’t occurring quickly enough to sustain further conversation. Or, they’ve said all of the things they’re capable of saying as father and daughter, which is about .001% of the things they hold. Still, she does find him easier to talk to than most people. She also finds it unpleasant because her father eats with great haste, as though at any moment he expects a bell to ring and his plate to be swept away. He only ever uses one piece of cutlery, the fork, and when he tries to scoop up the last scraps, he knocks food off the side of his plate, which makes her want to reach across the table and slap his munching face.
It’s Lucy’s fault that she and her father live together. She’s twenty-five, and refuses to accept adulthood in any responsible, fiscal capacity. Because doing so looks, from her admittedly ignorant perspective, shit. She works little, and not well; much like the way she exercises, or plans for the future. She makes enough money to not die, and to drink supermarket wine on Fridays.
Her father is talking. ‘It’s important, to be happy, I think, to wake up every day with something you’re looking forward to, some kind of treat…’
Lucy watches him as he scans the seating area for people he knows. He loves chatting to people, though he pretends to hate it, because she does, and he feels obliged to be more like her. Lucy regrets that she makes him feel this way. Sometimes she treats him as though he’s an imbecile. And he’s not. There are simply things she wouldn’t discuss with her father. He is a staunchly logical and literal man. She’d never discuss her thoughts on contemporary art or philosophy, or attempt to describe the conceptual framework of the novel she’s working on. He’d think it was contemptible bullshit. And he’d probably be right, which is another reason she wouldn’t discuss it with him.
‘You need to have balance in life, you see. It’s important to work, I think, to have worked hard, for your sense of worth, for your little reward at the end of the day. For it to feel earned…’
Lucy’s father is a drummer, and to him everything has a rhythm, which can be worked out, if you just take a moment and listen properly. He’s aware of the existence of metaphors and symbolism and subtleties, but dismisses them as the refuges of the weak and pretentious. He sees this as a stance shared by comic greats such as Woody Allen and Larry David; denouncers of all things excessively heartfelt and hifalutin. She thinks he’s mistaken. But there’d be no point arguing. And besides, winning for Lucy (because she naturally assumes she’d win) would really be a loss. She does love her father, and so wants to help maintain some of his self-protective walls. She believes this is what we do for our loved ones: fortify their delusions.
Unfortunately for her, Lucy can’t help but share her father’s loves, and his dismissive attitude to the wishy-washy world of art and the expression of feelings, and so she is a torn-up, Frankenstein’s monster of a person, filled with immiscible contradictions and self-loathing. She goes to poetry readings in basements in the city, and scoffs and yearns in equal proportions until her insides feel like curdled milk. Afterwards, in small low-lit bars, she listens to painters and writers discuss the nature of artistic inspiration, and feels a contorted, knotty despair; a reaction to her intense desire to both contribute earnestly to the discussion, and simultaneously beat them up and take their lunch money. A sort of socio-creative masochism. But, as this seems to be how all great artists are posthumously described by their biographers (‘conflicted’), Lucy hopes this means she has a fantastic forthcoming novel lurking inside her.
‘You can be just as happy with a small thing as a big thing, in life, you realise. A good cup of coffee can be as good as a holiday, if you just look at things the right way…’
For Lucy, conversation with her father is like walking through a minefield they both know well. They’re in no real danger; they can choose whether to misstep or not, and sometimes she deliberately does so, just to see the dazzling fireworks of guts when it all blows up. Lucy supposes that this is what is referred to as being close to someone. So close that their muted nasal breathing becomes a constant irritation, like Chinese water torture.
As they sit in the sun over their freshly emptied plates (alas), and Lucy’s father wisely sermonises, nodding in agreement with himself, she interrupts, to tell him the news she’s just received: that a friend from her younger years— Daniel, do you remember Daniel? He would have been at the house a few times?—has tried to commit suicide. He’s in a coma, in a hospital, somewhere on the outskirts of Boston.
But then, of course Lucy’s father wouldn’t remember Danny. All of those pimply, hunched male friends were just a blur to him, to be treated with distrust. Potential defilers of his daughter and robbers of his DVDs and CDs, filing past with their heads down, up to Lucy’s bedroom to drink and smoke weed and talk loudly about Tarantino films or the sound quality of vinyl until last bus time.
His immediate reaction is to be annoyed that Lucy was looking at her phone, but because of the gravity of the news, he checks himself. ‘God, that’s terrible.’ ‘Yes, it is.’ She reads the text aloud, processing:
‘Hey, so iv bad news. Danny tried to kil hmslf. He’s in a coma, watr damge 2 his brain r smthng. This is al comin frm Sarah thru Jen, so bit vague. Apparntly he fel off a bridge ovr ther. So awfl.’
Fell off a bridge? Even after opening with the shocker of it being a suicide attempt (people love telling shocking news as a rule, Lucy thinks, as long as it isn’t their own), Aisling still chose to use the word ‘fell’. Too real to say ‘jumped’, maybe. Or were they (his friends and family, his girlfriend Sarah) holding out hope that it had been an accident? That he’d wandered onto a bridge and stumbled off, Laurel-and-Hardy-style?
Lucy’s father lets out a ‘how terrible’ sighing sound and sits back in his chair. He rubs his mouth with one hand, while the other hand cups the first hand’s elbow, which she recognises as the pose he unconsciously adopts when faced with something serious, and wishes to convey an appropriate physical reaction. ‘God. I can’t believe it,’ Lucy says. Although really she can and does believe it.
Lucy finds herself wishing she’d kept in closer contact with Danny. She attempts, furrowing her brow slightly, to conjure up her already faded memories of him. Sessions, parties, cinema trips. Bus rides, swigging cans, shouting and singing down the back, on the way to gigs or nightclubs in the city. His dark brown eyes and sallow skin. His love of drugs, and his unwillingness to ever concede a point, no matter how clearly wrong he was. When they were fifteen, sixteen, Danny had been the guy they could always be sure would do the dare. One night he’d gone to the nearby petrol station totally naked and bought chewing gum. That had blown their minds.
Now that Lucy thinks about it though, there was definitely a sadness to him. Those black eyes, always up for anything, could be unnerving to be around, especially towards the end of a night. But maybe she’s inventing that now; making a poetry of him, based entirely on this attempted suicide. Maybe that ‘sadness‘ was just evidence of the fact that he was always, always high—or just bored, or preoccupied. Maybe he was just hungry. But then, he has now tried to commit suicide. He’s in hospital with water damage to his brain. So he probably was sad, and maybe you could see it. Maybe, Lucy reckons, it’s just that if you see a sadness in the dark depths of someone, it’s unlikely you’ll tell them. Or even give it that much thought.
Lucy and Danny were never that close, but he’d been good friends with her ex. They’d been in a mediocre post-punk band together. Danny played bass. Lucy had always thought he was good-looking, if not especially bright. And besides, he was shorter than her. Now Lucy wishes she’d been closer to Danny. She regrets not having taken some opportunity to kiss him. In the corner of a party someone had thrown because their parents were away for the night, or down the fields in summer, away from the light of the bonfire. But why? She’d never considered it before, so why now? Why does she suddenly regret they weren’t closer? So that she could have helped him? Somehow prevented this? Talked him down from that bridge over the phone? Lucy has never been the type to do that anyway.
It’s not that she wouldn’t care, she reassures herself. She just wouldn’t know what to say. It’d be so real, like live TV, she’d have no time to think of the right answers. Besides, she is not the person anyone would call. Except maybe her father, but he is far too practical to lend much thought to suicide. To Lucy, the sudden image of her father standing on a bridge considering the murky depths below is so absurd that she smiles, in spite of herself. She looks at him absent-mindedly as he scrolls through his phone, pretending to check for work emails but actually perusing Facebook. There is a line of white foam from his cappuccino in his moustache. This gives her satisfaction, and she says nothing.
Lucy wonders if she wishes she’d been closer to Danny, so that she could be more directly involved in what is an undeniably intriguing occurrence? The thought makes her uncomfortable. She shifts in her seat. Danny, by falling off that bridge, has inserted himself as a violent interruption into the flow of unremarkable events that Lucy’s life was turning out to be. He has done a real thing. A significant thing. It’s something all of their mutual friends will remember now, forever. ‘I think it was when I was in the last year of my Masters, yeah, living in Edinburgh, the year Danny, off a bridge wasn’t it…?’; ‘Well I remember I was in the changing rooms in Topshop, uhuh, the one at the top of Grafton Street, when I got the text about Danny…’ Lucy would love to do something all of their mutual friends remembered.
Lucy overhears a woman seated behind her tell her husband it’s going to rain soon. Her husband grunts. Lucy imagines he might be reading a newspaper. The woman pauses, and then says in an ominous tone that she can smell it coming. Lucy shifts in her seat and folds her arms. Sure enough, at that moment shadows fall across the café’s outdoor seating area and she hears the first droplets land, spattering the grey cement between the tables. The woman says, ‘Ha, look now, told you!’ and her husband says nothing. Lucy’s father contracts his body, hunching his shoulders slightly and scrunching his nose. He is ready to go, but awaits her cue.
Lucy sits still. Although she is keen not to become cold or wet, she feels obliged to take a moment to think about Danny. She feels it would be indecent to get going too soon. It’s probably already odd, she realises, that she hasn’t even cried a bit. She tries very hard to think about him. To really consider the boy she knew. Danny, with whom she danced in stuffy, crowded living-rooms, talked with on train platforms and played basketball with on the courts behind their old primary school. She tries to picture him now, lying unconscious, on a lung machine (that breathing thing, whatever on earth it’s called), with water swilling around his brain. A tiny creature in a sterile hospital room in the wide-open, sprawling United States of America. But she can’t get to him. She is sitting here with her father outside this café growing cold and he is off somewhere, far away, and she can’t get anywhere near him.
She watches the speckle-feathered thrushes fight for the last crumbs of scone on the table next to hers. The tanned, dark-haired waitress bustles over to gather up the plates and cups, shooing the birds with her dishcloth. Lucy watches her father as he attempts to catch the waitress’s eye. He leans forward and back, trying to enter her line of vision, hand poised to wave. He has been shamelessly flirting with her for over three months now, and she has resorted to pretending not to see him, or responding in her native Spanish, feigning confusion. She escapes inside, and he wilts slightly, before resignedly turning back to the table.
Lucy can’t imagine Danny doing it. Actually stepping off, falling through air. She wonders what it felt like. She could never ask him. She wonders how they got him out of the water. She wonders who found him, and how they got word to his family. Would they be flying over to him? Would he definitely recover? Would he have brain damage? Would Sarah stay with him, if he does? Lucy breathes heavily in and out through her nose, frustrated by the lack of information given in Aisling’s text. She frowns as she scrolls down through it again. No, nothing more.
She tries again to reach for Danny. She closes her eyes, and pictures his physical body. His chest rising up and down, each of the thick, dark hairs of his eyebrows. She wonders if his skin would feel cool or warm, were she to lay her hand on his arm, his cheek? She wonders would they have washed his body? Would someone have lifted and sponged his heavy limbs, or run their soapy fingers back and forth through his hair? Or would he still smell like the river? Like sweat?
But Lucy can’t seem to concentrate hard enough on any of it. He slips away from her and is replaced by the rain, the cold, the taste of coffee in her mouth. She knows it happened, but feels nothing to correspond with the knowledge. The fact just sits there in her mind, a lump of nothing. If she were shown a photograph of Danny, maybe. Or if she could listen to his mother or his girlfriend Sarah talk about him. Could see them tearing up. Then the reality of the image, their emotion, would surely seep into her. Lucy doesn’t consider herself unfeeling. She reads poetry. She cries at sad films, and Trócaire adverts. Recently she’d sobbed watching a television show about mistreated dogs. Her father had rushed into the living-room, afraid something terrible had happened.
But now, nothing. To Lucy, Danny’s just a notion. She feels no more than she would feel were he a stranger she’d read about in the newspaper, or a story heard on the radio. She checks inside herself, has a feel around, but there’s nothing there, no matter how much she wills it. She’d love to be moved by this. She would give anything to be shedding tears, to require comfort, and to actually mean it. This is exactly the sensation Lucy undergoes when she watches the news and sees images of of death and carnage in foreign places. A strange sudden awareness of the lack of any feelings, where there surely ought to be some. The sensation makes her feel a little nauseous, and she unintentionally puts her hand to her stomach. Her father glances at her. He probably thinks it’s grief.
‘I can’t believe someone actually went and did it,’ is all she manages to say into the pause, as her father fidgets, growing restless, thinking of the next thing to be done in his day, but not wanting to be too hastily unfeeling. ‘Yeah. It just goes to show, people…’
And he’s off again, full throttle on a tirade of platitudes. Lucy recedes back into her own thoughts, picking up her cup and knocking back the last dregs of her coffee, nodding at moments when she senses a pause requiring affirmation. When he has finally finished imparting wisdom, Lucy—as a conclusive statement which works sufficiently well to mask that she wasn’t listening—says ‘It’s all just too terrible to think about.’ to which he agrees, nodding, ‘Yes, yes.’ Wise words all round.
There’s a moment of silent respect. They linger, half gone already, thinking of the evening ahead. Large drops are falling regularly now, sploshing on the purple table and leaving dark round stains across her father’s shoulders. An old man who had been sitting at a table near theirs, sighs theatrically, picks up his mug, and walks inside, holding his folded newspaper over his head. He gives Lucy an eyebrow arch and smile, as though to say, ‘Typical rain, aye?’ Lucy looks past him. She wonders what she should do about Danny. Send a card to the hospital? Hi Danny, heard you fell off a bridge, hope you’re feeling better, and that the weather is nice in Boston, xox. A sad animal with a bandage on its head. Get Well Soon! Probably not. She breathes deeply through her nose and sits up straight. Time to go. Her father is off to pick up a six-pack of Guinness, before meeting a few friends to jam. They are hoping to stage a gig in the town hall: songs from the eighties, with all profits going to a charity. They haven’t decided which charity yet, but Lucy’s father is leaning towards cancer. As well as drumming in the band, he’s been asked to sing a few songs, and so has been practising around the house, slapping his hands on the armrests along with the music, or humming under his breath.
Lucy had intended to return to the library after lunch to keep ‘researching her novel’, which seems to involve a lot of online reading about atemporality and Taylor Swift’s childhood. That morning she had typed ‘Lena Dunham success how’ into Google. But she quickly allows herself the excuse of this upsetting news to go home and watch a film curled up on the couch instead. She reasons that even if she doesn’t, on the surface, feel upset about Danny, deep down this has no doubt affected her greatly, and so she ought to take the time to sit with it, and ‘mind herself’.
That night Lucy sits idling on the couch while the end credits of The Odd Couple roll up the television screen. She has completely forgotten about Danny. She texts Aisling:
‘Hey gurrrl, we should defo get brunch in town on Sun after Sat night. We cud go 2 the Rumbelly, sure it’s jst around the cornr frm K8’s place!x’
Just as it sends, a text comes through from her father:
‘Hey Lu, told the lads wat hapend to ur friend. We thought it might be gud to do the gig 2 raise money for him? Wat u think? Hope u’r ok, it’s very hard. Luv dad, x.’
Anxiety rises in Lucy’s stomach. She had completely forgotten. Her father had been talking about Danny, and making plans to help, and she’d been thinking about the weekend. She worries that Aisling will get her text, and be disgusted at how she can think about something as trivial as brunch when their childhood friend lies fighting for his life all alone across the Atlantic. Lucy feels ashamed. She start concentrating as hard as she can on Danny, out of guilt, as punishment. As she’s rinsing out her teacup, and returning the biscuit jar to the shelf, and brushing her teeth, and pissing, and washing her hands and face, she tries again to picture him. She wonders if he’s bruised, or if anything is broken, or if, from the outside, he simply looks like he’s sleeping. As she cleans her retainer, she wonders why Danny did it. What was going through his head? What was the last straw, for him? Was someone rude to him on a train? Did he have a fight with Sarah? Did he get short-changed for his groceries? Or had it been growing in him, slowly, all these years? Should Lucy have seen it coming? She wonders if there’s anything she could have done differently, anything a bit nicer she could’ve said. Then she thinks how egotistical it is of her to think she could’ve made any difference at all, and she sighs, pointedly. She pauses. Why can’t she feel anything real about this? What’s wrong with her? She look in the mirror forlornly, but it’s no use. No tears come.
He must have felt so alone. He probably pictured Ireland and allowed himself to see all his old friends here having a great time without him. Like people in a Swedish insurance ad or something. Which isn’t the case. People are just mildly unhappy everywhere, Lucy thinks. Geography doesn’t make a difference. Although of course it can make things worse, if you’re somewhere war-torn or disease-ridden or something. But when it comes to melancholia, she imagines one place is as good as the next.
She wonders if Danny had been drinking. Lucy thinks that if she ever tries to commit suicide, she will definitely have been drinking. Did he think about how they’d react? The ‘folks back home’. As he was walking to the bridge, or planning it in bed the night before, lying awake in the dark, slightly too hot in the close Boston summer. Did it cross his mind? What did he think they’d feel, all of them back here? Did he think it would make a difference? Lucy composes a reply to her father, saying yes she’s okay, just shook up, finding it tough, but that the gig sounds great.
She resolves, as she presses the send button, to be heavily involved, to do lots of fundraising, to really be at the forefront in raising money to help Danny. She pictures herself on a picket line with her fist raised, shouting passionately. She is wrapped up in gloves and a scarf and there is a poster of Danny’s face strapped to the barrier before her. She will become his champion, and will make sure Danny gets better. People will wonder at her generosity, and Danny’s mother will personally thank her, grasping both of Lucy’s hands, tears welling in her eyes. Maybe, afterwards, she could even write a book about it.
Also, she resolves she will be kinder to her father from now on. He is a good person. She’s too hard on him. Maybe he is wise, and she’s the imbecile. She will buy him lunch next time. She will listen when he speaks. Then, as she is shutting the hall door, Lucy receives Aisling’s reply:
‘Eeeh, YES. Sounds brill. Also, wat’r u wearin Sat? Can’t tel how dressy 2go, stressin bout it all day. P.S. Jst 8 an entire bag of jelly snakes :/’