Everything went to hell on a Tuesday.
It was late and I was finishing the day by balancing the checking account shenanigans of some longtime clients, a charming retired couple whose vices are first-class airfare and international cuisine. It’s probably wrong that I covet their itineraries but I can’t help myself. They joke that someday they’ll take me with them, and I pretend to believe it. Next month, they’re going to Hawaii, so these days we’re pretending more than usual.
After finessing some of their numbers from one column to another, I lined up all the sticky notes on my desk before speed-dialing voicemail. After all the usual noises I hear, “First new message,” and then, “Lucy? I need to speak to you. It’s about your aunt.”
“It’s About Your Aunt” is a mantra I’ve heard for decades. It might mean that my Aunt Maren has lost her passport in Morocco and needs me to sweet-talk the embassy, or it might mean she’s mailed me something that didn’t quite squeak through customs. The caller leaves her name and number, and I sigh as I put the phone down. After a minute, I liberate my feet from the crush of my new and tortuous shoes and pull on a pair of sneakers.
Outside, I turn and walk toward my Murray Hill co-op, 321 square feet of ultramodern real estate, bought a year ago with the help of a lucky investment and financed by a credit union with eccentric staff but stellar interest rates. When I get home I run my eyes over the order of the living room, and something inside me hums a little when I see the angular furniture, the postmodern framed prints on the walls. None of the noise from the street makes it up here, to the fifteenth floor, and the silence is always a welcome surprise.
The phone rings while I’m flipping on the lights in the kitchen and I tuck it under my ear. “H’llo?”
“Hello, Lucy? My name is June. I’m a friend of your aunt.”
“Hi, June. What can I do for you?” I open the refrigerator and pull out the fruity organic energy drink my boyfriend, Oliver, brought me last week, the one that glows a faintly ominous green, and my nose wrinkles as I twist the lid. I really shouldn’t let Oliver buy any more glowing foods.
“There’s been an accident.”
I stop as I’m about to pour the drink into the tumbler I’ve taken from the cupboard, and June, this stranger on the other end of the line, is silent after she makes a coughing sound. “A car accident. In London.” It doesn’t take much for me to imagine my aunt joyriding around on the wrong side of the road, terrorizing the British, but then June says, “I’m so sorry, Lucy...but...she didn’t make it.” It turns out the coughing noise isn’t a cough at all, but the jagged sound of a sob as June cries into the phone.
There’s something wrong with my legs and suddenly I’m on the floor, the air yanked out of my lungs, my right foot folded underneath me. The liquid from the shattered drink spreads over terracotta tile while I try to breathe, but it’s so hard, and I can’t hear with the roaring in my ears. I stare at the pool of green for so long that I don’t know what time it is by the time my head jerks up. I think I might have hung up on June but I’m not sure and I need to call Oliver anyway. Actually, it’s really Maren I need to call because she’s the one who always makes me feel better so I call her number because I’m sure June is wrong. I mean, who is she anyway? Maren has friends all over the world but I’ve never heard of this June person, although there’s something tweaking the back of my memory that Maren said she was staying with a friend named June on this trip, but I must have heard wrong because there is just no way Maren is dead. I’m still not breathing so well and it’s hard to focus enough to see the phone, but thank God Maren’s number is on speed dial. After her familiar rushed voice on the recorded message–I’m always telling her to slow down, I have to remind her the next time I see her–comes on I start talking to her voicemail. After a while I realize June must have called Oliver, because he’s let himself into my apartment and he’s here in the kitchen, carefully watching me sit beside an organic puddle of emerald, talking to my dead aunt on the phone. He takes the cordless out of my hand, and for the first time I notice the bleat of the fast busy signal. He hangs it up so gently that it just smashes something inside of me, and then he holds me while we sit on the kitchen floor, surrounded by all that green, until I figure out how to breathe again
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