Lucky in the Corner
Mariner BooksCopyright © 2003 Carol Anshaw
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780618340705
Nora is banked and blanketed in sleep. At ?rst, the mayhem outside is
absorbed and accommodated by a dream she is having about the Good
Humor truck that used to troll past her family"s house in the
summers. She and her brother are running after it the way they used
to in real life, jostled from afternoon naps, still in their
underpants, ?sts full of change, yet in the time-pleat of the dream
they are their adult selves, running in their underwear nonetheless.
And then the nostalgic tenor of the dream shifts abruptly as the ice
cream truck explodes.
Nora"s eyelids ?ip open. Her partner, Jeanne, is already out of
their bed, stumbling across the room to the window, which overlooks
the street. "Something bad is happening," she says. Then, when she is
at the window and has rubbed away the frost with the heel of her
hand, she says, "What is this? No, this is very terrible."
Nora pulls the comforter around her and listens to what is now
absolute silence re?ecting off the ice-white night outside.
And then it begins again — a lowercase armageddon, judgment
rendered automotively. A car careens around the corner and hurtles
down their block. Nora understands that this is its second pass; the
?rst was what awakened her. Then there is the gunning of an engine in
neutral, the high whine of reverse, rubber tread crunching
frantically through snow. The slam of steel on steel. A sucker punch
of fender into door. The pull of metal snagged, then stretched,
groaning. Slam and creak overlaid with shatter of glass. Then, a
peeling-off into the wider night, leaving behind the tripped horn of
a wounded car. Which, when Nora makes her way, reluctantly, to the
window, she sees is her Jetta.
It has been struck with such impact that it has left its parking
space and now rests on the front lawn of the house across from
theirs — home to a jumbled assortment of family with two burly father
possibilities, both with furry hairdos and high trucks. A wife who
stands on the porch through all but the harshest weather with
cigarette and cordless phone. Several giant, sullen teenagers. These
familiar strangers are now barely awake, bleary but curious, pulling
on parkas, gathering up their forces as they lumber across the front
yard, their way illuminated by blinking holiday lights.
The storm door downstairs slams as Nora"s daughter, Fern, shouts
behind her, "Hey! Come on!"
More neighbors add themselves to the scene. A small group forms,
bringing to bear on the situation the weight of ?esh and blood, and
Nora turns to see Jeanne pull on pants and a sweater from a pile
on the chair in the corner. She comes back to the window and puts a
hand on Nora"s shoulder, a gesture to release her from whatever
glitch is keeping her still when she should be leaping into action.
Jeanne, of course, can"t know that within Nora is actually quite
busy, gathering up all the false notes she is soon going to need to
pretend she is surprised by what has just happened.
Fern and tracy stretch out on the wide, lumpy futon where they used
to laugh, shaking like bowls of jelly through stoned sleepover nights
as if there were no tomorrow, tomorrow being adulthood. They lie on
their sides, facing each other, languid and silent, listening to the
soft sweep of a sprinkler fanning Tracy"s mother"s garden, green
aroma drifting up in the afternoon heat in the same lazy way a Cubs
game from an unseen radio fades in and out on the soft waves of
On the ?oor beside the bed, Lucky also lies on his side, legs
stretched out straight. Fern had him clipped at the beginning of the
summer, and now his fur has grown back some. He looks like a rusty
lamb. At the moment, he appears to be pondering something, staring
off into the middle distance dogs keep an eye on. Fern drops a hand,
gives him a good scratch behind one ear. She ran over here with him
an hour or so ago, although going on a run with Lucky, who"s deep
into his golden years, means loping together for maybe thirty
seconds, then sprinting on ahead for half a block, then doubling back
and jogging in place while he ?nishes a two-minute sniff of an
especially fascinating blade of grass.
The girls are quiet because Tracy"s baby, Vaughn, is asleep
between them, paci?er fallen from his mouth into a small puddle of
drool on the ?annel bunched next to his face. Vaughn is four months
old. Tracy puts the lightest pressure of a ?ngertip on the edge of
his ear, which causes him to raise his arms and squiggle into a
horizontal dance move, toes clenched.
"He"s in a dream club," Fern says, noticing that Tracy"s swollen
breasts are leaking milk through her old Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt.
The Pumpkins are part of their past life when they were stuck in an
edgy, static place. Now everything has changed. Vaughn is a sign, a
sign that anything is possible.
Tracy and Fern have been best friends since seventh grade, but
Tracy won"t tell anyone — not even Fern — who Vaughn"s father is. "He
was a bad idea I had for about one minute. Totally irrelevant" was
what she said when she ?rst told Fern she was pregnant, and since
then she hasn"t added anything to that small piece of non-
information. Fern interpreted the statement to mean Tracy wasn"t all
that sure herself who Vaughn"s father is. She was moving pretty fast
at that point.
Tracy"s boyfriends have all been bad news. For a while in high
school, she was involved with a gang guy, Luis. He weighed about
three hundred pounds but wasn"t fat, that kind of guy. For a whole
summer, Tracy wore vinyl shorts and drove around with him in his low-
rider while he dealt crystal meth, checked out graf?ti in alleys, and
planned ?ghts. Over the course of that summer, she herself became
moody and chemically overanimated. She traded make-up tips with huge-
hair girls. Her own hair got huge, her lips got lined. Fern was sure
she"d lost her, and then suddenly, in the fall, Luis was history and
Tracy was back, her old self shakily reassembled.
The next year, when they were juniors, Tracy disappeared for
three weeks with someone named Don who ran the Tilt-A-Whirl in a
traveling carnival that had set up in the parking lot of St. Ben"s.
She lived in a trailer with him and his little dog through all the
carnival"s stops in Indiana. Her parents freaked; Tracy was calling
them from along the way, but not telling them where she was. The guy
Tracy"s emotional life has been harrowing and exhausting for
years. For a time, Fern envied it. She kept an eye on Tracy"s
euphoria, Tracy"s sufferings, while she herself was only able to
stand on the other side of heavy glass, reaching toward the smoking
beakers of passion and derangement, her hands encased in heavy
protective gloves, shielded from the chemical burn. Then Fern met
Cooper and got some experience of her own. This has put them on more
equal footing; now they both have stuff they don"t want to talk about.
Vaughn is starting to come out of sleep. His lashes ?utter, his fat
hands ball up into ?sts. Everything about him is so new — perfection
awaiting the wear and tear of the life he"s about to live. She tells
Tracy, "If you want to get out — you know, get a break — I could take
him tomorrow." Fern enjoys hanging out with Vaughn, especially when
it"s just the two of them, plus Lucky. A small, nonverbal community.
"Thanks, but I"m on at the store." Tracy works part-time at a
stupid store up on Clark called Aroma One"s Own. They sell scented
candles and soaps, crystal jewelry, audiotapes of waves and dolphins,
and what Tracy calls "spiritual clothing" — fanciful dresses and
capes patterned with celestial motifs. "Thalia lets me bring the
papoose to work. To show what a feminist and nurturing person she is.
But the truth is he"s good for business. He"s a charmball, puts
customers in a warm and fuzzy mood. Which can turn into a candle-
"Then what about coming over? Next week sometime? Friday. I"ll
?x dinner for everybody. Mom and Jeanne.My uncle. They"re all nuts
for Vaughn. They"ll goo-goo, give you a break. Plus it"ll give me a
chance to do my Stepford Daughter impersonation. Like — if I"m
standing there cooking, I must be okay. They don"t have to start
worrying about what"s really going on with me. It saves us all a lot
"We can invite your dad and Louise, too," Tracy says. This is a
joke. Fern hates Louise.
"She has a new gym," Fern tells Tracy. "Some gonzo ?tness place
where they pinch you with calipers to check your percentage of body
fat. She"s moved on to the stationary bike thing. Spinning. She"s a
"What happened to the StairMaster?" Tracy says. "I thought
Louise was Queen of the StairMaster."
"They had to talk with her because she was hogging too many time
periods. If you read history books, all the things Louise does were
once ways they used to punish prisoners. Next she"ll ?nd a place
where they put her in the hold of a ship and lash her to an oar."
Suddenly Fern is tired of trashing Louise; she ?ips back to her
dinner plan. "I"ll make my peasant spaghetti."
Tracy sits and picks up Vaughn, who has started to fuss. She
gives him a breast — her left, which in the old, pre-Vaughn days had
a small gold ring through the nipple.
Fern stretches half off the futon and reaches for a stack of
CDs, ?ips through them to ?nd a Lucinda Williams disk, then plucks it
from its case and sets it into Tracy"s boom box. Fern has only
recently tuned in to Lucinda Williams. She has developed an ear for
songs of murky obsession. They wait until the music starts.
"Lucinda sings the way I feel," Fern says. "Like she"s learned
so much from experiences with guys, but she"s also ready to do
something stupid again in about ten minutes."
"Yeah, Lucinda"s cool," Tracy says. She reaches down with her
free hand and touches the side of Fern"s neck. "This, too," she says,
meaning Fern"s tattoo. "Way, way cool." Fern herself already has
serious doubts about the tattoo, which is a small black ankh. When
she got it done a few months back, it seemed so ancient and mystical,
so Egyptian and all. There was also the bonus that her mother would
hate it, but there"s only so much she can get off on that. Lately
Fern has been thinking there are probably too many people with
tattoos, that they"re becoming cheesy personal statements along the
lines of bumper stickers. She"s grateful for Tracy"s reassurance,
though. This is one way in which Tracy is always a good friend. She
can ?gure out exactly the thing Fern is having doubts about and boost
"Does it seem to you that things are moving pretty fast?" she
"It seems to me like they"ve stopped entirely."
"But in terms of change around us. Vaughn, big change. My dad
marrying Louise after all those years alone. Louise and her Bible-
beating family and that hideous wedding with the minister telling
them that Dad was the farmer and she was the mule pulling his plow or
something like that. And — bam! — now these religious nuts are part
of my family. Same with Jeanne. Before she came to live with us, she
was just this Frenchy person my mother was sleeping with. But then
all of a sudden she was, like, my assistant mother."
"I envy you," Tracy says. "I still have my same nightmare
parents. Worse, they still like each other; they"ll never get
divorced. But you, you got a nice big divorce. Lots of drama."
"Well, it"s true, and as it turned out, it"s cool. It got you
Jeanne, who is way cooler than your father."
"Yeah. Right," Fern says. Tracy ?at-out likes Jeanne and she"s
probably right. Still, Fern likes to appear to be keeping her
suspicions up, on principle, the principle being not to let her mother
push all the pieces around on her and totally get away with it.
Actually, when it"s just the two of them together, Fern likes
Jeanne ?ne. It"s only when she has to witness Jeanne"s devotion to
Nora that Fern"s sentiments starts wavering between contempt for
Jeanne for being such a fool and pity for Jeanne for being such a
fool. Sooner or later, Fern knows Nora will betray Jeanne, the way
she betrayed Fern and her father. She will become distracted and walk
away toward whatever is distracting her, forgetting even to look back
over her shoulder. Sometimes when she is with her mother and Jeanne,
Fern gets a mild chill, as though a draft is passing through the
room. Jeanne can"t feel this cold air, is incapable of imagining
Nora"s treachery. That"s all right. Fern imagines for her.
"And Louise," Tracy is on a roll. "Even Louise might not be all
that bad. I mean, she gave you that check for your birthday."
"It wasn"t a check. It was a dorky savings bond. I have to wait
until I"m retired or something to cash it in. When I"m ninety, I can
stand all stooped over in line at the post of?ce and get ?fty dollars
for it." She stops herself. "Oh man, do I sound like a total whiner,
Vaughn lets go of his mother"s breast, appears totally satis?ed
for a split second, then bunches up his face in distress.
"Burp alert." Tracy hoists him over her shoulder and starts
patting his back in time to the music.
What"s actually bugging Fern is her own dead standstill in this
great ?utter of rearrangement. It seems she should be able to come up
with some large, surprising event of her own. Instead, in place of
actually being able to create a dramatic future for herself, she has
become adept at making up one to suit the occasion or questioner.