If You Hold Yourself Upright

Alison McCabe Click to

mccabephotoAlison McCabe‘s fiction has appeared in Tin House online, American Short Fiction, Hobart, Third Coast, and other journals. She’s currently at work on a novel and becoming a licensed therapist. For more, visit alisonfmccabe.com.

It had her since birth. Enough was wrong with Lucy’s heart that, even after the doctors dug in, rearranged, and patched everything up, her pulmonary valve leaks now, four decades later, at her niece’s Bat Mitzvah party. Uncle Sy and the cousins lift her niece up on a folding chair above the crowd, and Lucy can feel the seep, a stiffness in her chest. Her calves are tight too after half an hour of dancing, and the music chants a drum-driven prayer in her head. The sound is like a gong, or a deep-sea diver one hundred feet down,  shouting go go go into the black.

Cyanotic defect, the obstetrician told Lucy’s mother when Lucy was born. Tetralogy of Fallot. Meaning Lucy turned blue. Meaning Lucy blacked out. Ventricles, arteries, aortas—none of them worked the way they should. When Lucy was old enough to hold herself upright, she learned to squat during tet spells, to increase resistance and decrease the likelihood of brain injury or death.

Watching her niece today—now hoisted on the chair and, before, bent over the torah, Adonai on her lips—it brings Lucy back. She too had been thirteen once. A dirty rotten stay-out, her mother used to call her when late returning home. Her mother always assumed Lucy was out with boys. If only it were true.

She had her girlfriends, their sleepovers, MASH games and Never-Have-I-Ever. It’s what everyone had then. Then, there was no rush.

In eleventh grade, Lucy had her flour baby. She wrapped the Gold Medal all-purpose five pound block in a paper grocery bag, tucking and sealing the corners like a gift. With a marker, she drew eyes, a smile. On the sides of the bag, tiny half-moon ears. Lucy didn’t stop there. A diaper out of an old undershirt. A baby rattle stuck in, like gun in holster.  A bow atop the head.

She’d left her flour baby in the girl’s locker room during gym one afternoon and came back to find it had sprouted a Sharpie moustache. Against her better judgment, Lucy cried. For the remainder of the semester, she didn’t let the sack out of her sight.

Lucy babysat the neighbor kids until she turned twenty-nine. It’s not that she felt she outgrew the job, it’s that the neighbor kids had grown up.

At thirty-six, Lucy started a blog that hosted a recipe swap every Tuesday. One week she featured Homemade Apple Fruit Leathers made from an organic Gerber blend. When the supermarket cashier asked girl or boy, Lucy said one of each.

At thirty-seven, Lucy told her hairdresser she’d like to try bangs.

At thirty-eight, she paid a psychic $19 to find her Mr. Right.

At thirty-nine, Lucy bought a Fit Bit.

At forty, she adopted a cat.

Last night at the temple oneg, the night before her niece’s Bat Mitzvah, a man asked for Lucy’s name and number; she didn’t give it. Now she thinks, why not?

Lucy. She was named after Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis was named after a song and, though there are not diamonds in the sky, Lucy looks up at the speckled square ceiling above her, above her niece who grips the chair’s edge with a force so strong Lucy grows tired just watching it, and Lucy imagines a moon. Like Armstrong on that cold, faraway rock, like presidents, like wartime generals, Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis stands in our history books, has been standing for forty years since archeologists uncovered her bones along the dusty Awash Valley plains in 1974.

If you hold yourself upright, how far can you go? Tet spells aside, Lucy wonders. Three million years ago, Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis took her first step. Man followed suit, made fire and bricks from clay. Ancient cities were built, burned, buried, and flooded out. Icecaps melted, are melting, icebergs float free. One hundred years ago, the Titanic sank and, with it, 1500 passengers. Lucy knows this no thanks to the history books she’s long forgotten, but thanks to DiCaprio, whose eyes she has drowned in herself and whose name alone tastes lewd. This is it, Lucy thinks, as far as she can go.


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