Authors: Karin Slaughter
Lucy was seventeen by then, still considered a child. Her parents tried to have her committed. They tried to have Bobby arrested. They tried to prevent other garages from hiring him, but he just moved to Atlanta, where no one cared who fixed their car so long as it was cheap.
Two months of hell passed, and then, suddenly, Lucy was eighteen. Just like that, her life was different. Or different in a different way. Old enough to quit school. Old enough to drink. Old enough to leave her family without the pigs dragging her back home. She went from being her daddy’s girl to Bobby’s girl, living in an apartment off Stewart Avenue, sleeping all day, waiting for Bobby to come home at night so he could shoot her up, screw her, then let her sleep some more.
The only regret Lucy felt at the time was toward her brother, Henry. He was in law school at UGA. He was six years older, more like a friend than a sibling. In person, they generally shared long moments of silence, but since he’d gone away to school, they had written each other letters two or three times a month.
Lucy had loved writing letters to Henry. She was the old Lucy in all of her correspondences: silly about boys, anxious for graduation, eager to learn how to drive. No talk of the needle. No talk of her new friends who were so far outside the margins of society that Lucy was afraid to bring them home lest they steal her mother’s good silver. That is, if her mother even let them through the door.
Henry’s responses were always brief, but even when he was covered up in exams, he managed to send Lucy a line or two to let her know what was going on. He was excited about her joining him on campus. He was excited about showing around his baby girl to his friends. He was excited about everything, until he wasn’t, because her parents told him that his darling sister had moved to Atlanta as the whore of a thirty-eight-year-old hippie, drug-dealing gearhead.
After that, Lucy’s letters came back unopened. Henry’s scrawl informed her, “Return to sender.” Just like that, he dropped Lucy like trash in the street.
trash. Maybe she deserved to be abandoned. Because once the rush wore off, once the highs turned less intense and the lows became almost unbearable, what was there left to Lucy Bennett but a life on the street?
Two months after Bobby moved her to Atlanta, he kicked her out. Who could blame him? His hot young fox had turned into a junkie who met him at the door every night begging for the needle. And when Bobby stopped supplying her, she found another man in the complex who was willing to give her anything she wanted. So what if she had to spread her legs for it? He was giving her what Bobby wouldn’t. He was supplying her demand.
His name was Fred. He cleaned planes at the airport. He liked to do things to Lucy that made her cry, and then he’d give her the needle and everything would be okay again. Fred thought he was special, better than Bobby. When Fred figured out the gleam in Lucy’s eye was for the drug and not for him, he started beating her. He didn’t stop beating her until she landed in the hospital. And then when she got a taxi back to the apartment complex, the manager told her that Fred had moved out, no forwarding address. And then the manager told Lucy that she was welcome to stay with him.
Much of what came next was a blur, or maybe it was so clear that she couldn’t see it, the way putting on someone else’s glasses makes your eyes cross. For almost a year, Lucy went from man to man, supplier to supplier. She did things—horrible things—to get the needle. If there was a totem pole in the world of speed, she had started at the top and quickly hit bottom. Day after day, she felt the dizzying spin of her life circling the drain. Yet, she felt helpless to stop it. The pain would kick in. The need. The yearning. The longing that burned like hot acid in her gut.
And then finally, the very bottom. Lucy was terrified of the bikers who sold speed, but eventually, inevitably, her love of the speed won out. They tossed her around like a baseball, everyone taking a hit. All of them had fought in Vietnam and were furious at the world, the system. Furious at Lucy, too. She had never overdosed before, at least not bad enough to end up in the hospital. Once, twice, a third time, she was dropped off the back of a Harley in front of the Grady emergency room. The bikers didn’t like that. Hospitals brought the cops and the cops were expensive to buy off. One night, Lucy got too high and one of them brought her down with heroin, a trick he’d picked up fighting Charlie.
Heroin, the final nail in Lucy’s coffin. As with the speed, she was a quick convert. That deadening sensation. That indescribable bliss. The loss of time. Space. Consciousness.
Lucy had never taken money for sex. Her transactions until this point had always had an air of bartering. Sex for speed. Sex for heroin. Never sex for money.
But now, Lucy found herself in desperate need of money.
The bikers sold speed, not heroin. Heroin belonged to the coloreds. Even the Mafia was hands-off. H was a ghetto drug. It was too potent, too addictive, too dangerous for white people. Especially white women.
Which is how Lucy ended up being tricked out by a black man with a tattoo of Jesus on his chest.
The spoon. The flame. The smell of burning rubber. The tourniquet. The filter from a broken cigarette. There was a romantic pageantry to the whole thing, a drawn-out process that made her former affair with the needle seem woefully unsophisticated. Even now, Lucy could feel herself getting excited at the thought of the spoon. She closed her eyes, imagining the bent piece of silver, the way the neck resembled a broken swan. Black swan. Black sheep. Black man’s whore.
Suddenly, Juice was at her side. The other girls cautiously moved away. Juice had a way of sensing weakness. It was how he got them in the first place. “What it is, Sexy?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled. “Everything’s dyn-o-mite.”
He took the toothpick out of his mouth. “Don’t play me, gal.”
Lucy looked down at the ground. She could see his white patent leather shoes, the way the bell-bottom of his custom-made green pants draped across the wingtips. How many strangers had she screwed to put the shine on those shoes? How many back seats had she lain down in so he could go to the tailor in Five Points to have his inseam measured?
“Sorry.” She chanced a look at his face, trying to gauge his temper.
Juice took out his handkerchief and rubbed the sweat off his forehead. He had long sideburns that connected to his mustache and goatee. There was a birthmark on his cheek that Lucy stared at sometimes when she needed to concentrate on other things.
He said, “Come on, gal. You don’t tell me what’s on your mind, I cain’t fix it.” He pushed her shoulder. When she didn’t start talking, he pushed her harder to get the point across. He wasn’t going away. Juice hated when they kept secrets from him.
“I was thinking about my mother,” Lucy told him, which was the first time she’d told a man the truth in a long while.
Juice laughed, used the toothpick to address the other girls. “Ain’t that sweet? She been thinkin’ about her mammy.” He raised his voice. “How many’a y’all’s mama’s here for ya now?”
There was a titter of nervous laughter. Kitty, ever the suck-up, said, “We just need you, Juice. Only you.”
“Lucy,” Mary whispered. The word nearly got trapped in her throat. If Juice got pissed off, none of them would get what they wanted, and all that they wanted right now, all that they needed, was the spoon and the H that Juice had in his pocket.
“Nah, it’s all right.” Juice waved off Mary. “Let her talk. Come on, girl. Speak.”
Maybe it was because he said the same thing that you’d say to a dog—“speak,” like Lucy would get a treat if she barked on command—or maybe it was because she was so used to doing exactly what Juice told her to do, that Lucy’s mouth started moving of its own volition.
“I was thinkin’ about this time my mama took me into town.” Lucy closed her eyes. She could feel herself back in the car. See the metal dashboard of her mother’s Chrysler gleaming in the bright sunlight. It was hot, steamy, the sort of August that made you wish you had air-conditioning in your car. “She was gonna drop me off at the library while she did her chores.”
Juice chuckled at her memory. “Aw, that’s sweet, girl. Your mama takin’ you to the liberry sose you can read.”
“She couldn’t get there.” Lucy opened her eyes, looked directly at Juice in a way she’d never before dared. “The Klan was having a rally.”
Juice cleared his throat. He cut his eyes to the other girls, then zeroed back in on Lucy. “Keep going.” His deep tone wedged a splinter of cold into her spine.
“The streets were blocked. They were stopping traffic, checking cars.”
“Hush now,” Mary whispered, begging for Lucy to stop. But Lucy couldn’t stop. Her master had told her to speak.
“It was a Saturday. Mama always took me to the library on Saturdays.”
“That right?” Juice asked.
“Yes.” Even with her eyes open, Lucy could still see the scene playing out in her head. She was in her mother’s car. Safe. Carefree. Before the pills. Before the needle. Before the heroin. Before Juice. Before she lost that little Lucy who sat so patiently in her mother’s car, worried that she wasn’t going to get to the library in time for her reading group.
Little Lucy was a voracious reader. She gripped the stack of books in her lap as she stared at the men blocking the streets. They were all dressed in their white robes. Most of them had their hoods pulled back because of the heat. She recognized some from church, a couple from school. She waved at Mr. Sheffield, who owned the hardware store. He winked at her and waved back.
Lucy told Juice, “We were on a hill near the courthouse, and there was a black guy in front of us, stopped at the stop sign. He was in one of those little foreign cars. Mr. Peterson walked right up to him, and Mr. Laramie was on the other side.”
“That right?” Juice repeated.
“Yes, that’s right. The guy was terrified. His car kept rolling back. He must’ve had a clutch. His foot was slipping because he was so panicked. And I remember my mama watching him like we were watching
or something, and she just laughed and laughed, and said, ‘Lookit how scared that coon is.’ ”
“Jesus,” Mary hissed.
Lucy smiled at Juice, repeated, “Lookit how scared that coon is.”
Juice took the toothpick out of his mouth. “You best watch yourself, gal.”
“Lookit how scared that coon is,” Lucy mumbled. “Lookit how scared …” She let her voice trail off, but it was only like an engine idling before it was gunned. For no reason, the story struck her as hilariously funny. Her voice went up, the sound echoing off the buildings. “Lookit how scared that coon is! Lookit how scared that coon is!”
Juice slapped her, open palm, but hard enough to spin her around. Lucy felt blood slide down her throat.
Not the first time she’d been hit. Not the last. It wouldn’t stop her. Nothing could stop her. “Lookit how scared that coon is! Lookit how scared that coon is!”
“Shut up!” Juice punched his fist into her face.
Lucy felt the crack of a tooth breaking. Her jaw twisted like a Hula Hoop, but she still said, “Lookit how scared—”
He kicked her in the stomach, his tight pants keeping his foot low so that she felt the toe of his shoe scrape her pelvic bone. Lucy gasped from the pain, which was excruciating, but somehow liberating. How many years had it been since she’d felt something other than numb? How many years had it been since she’d raised her voice, told a man no?
Her throat felt tight. She could barely stand. “Lookit how scared that—”
Juice punched her in the face again. She felt the bridge of her nose splinter. Lucy staggered back, arms open. She saw stars. Literal stars. Her purse dropped. The heel of her shoe snapped off.
“Get out my face!” Juice waved his fist in the air. “Get outta here ’fore I kill you, bitch!”
Lucy stumbled into Jane, who pushed her away like a diseased dog.
“Just go!” Mary begged. “Please.”
Lucy swallowed a mouthful of blood and coughed it back out. Pieces of white speckled the ground. Teeth.
“Get on, bitch!” Juice warned her. “Get on outta my sight.”
Lucy managed to turn. She looked up the dark street. There were no lights showing the way. Either the pimps shot them out or the city didn’t bother to turn them on. Lucy stumbled again, but kept herself upright. The broken heel was a problem. She kicked off both shoes. The soles of her feet felt the intense heat of the asphalt, a burning sensation that shot straight up to her scalp. It was like walking on hot coals. She’d seen that on TV once—the trick was to walk fast enough to deprive the heat of oxygen so your skin didn’t burn.
Lucy picked up her pace. She straightened herself as she walked. She kept her head held high despite the breathtaking pain in her ribs. It didn’t matter. The darkness didn’t matter. The heat in her soles didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
She turned, screaming, “Look at how scared that coon is!”
Juice made to run after her, and Lucy bolted down the street. Her bare feet slapped against the pavement. Her arms pumped. Her lungs shook as she rounded the corner. Adrenaline raced through her body. Lucy thought of all those PE classes in school, when her bad attitude had earned her five, ten, twenty laps around the track. She had been so fast then, so young and free. Not anymore. Her legs started to cramp. Her knees wanted to buckle. Lucy chanced a look behind her, but Juice was not there. No one was there. She stumbled to a stop.
He didn’t even care enough to chase her.
Lucy bent over, bracing her hand against a phone booth, blood dripping from her mouth. She used her tongue to find the source. Two teeth were broken, though thank God they were in the back.
She went inside the booth. The light was too bright when she closed the door. She let it hang open and leaned against the glass. Her breath was still labored. Her body felt as if she’d run ten miles, not a handful of blocks.
She looked at the phone, the black receiver on the hook, the slot for the dime. Lucy traced her fingers along the bell symbol engraved in the metal plate, then let her hand move down to find the four, the seven, the eight. Her parents’ phone number. She still knew it by heart, just like she knew the street number where they lived, her grandmother’s birthday, her brother’s upcoming graduation date. That earlier Lucy was not completely lost. There still existed her life in numbers.