“No, No, NO!” Lucy screamed, clapping her ears shut.
Her mother pulled Lucy’s hands down and held them tightly.
“Sweetheart, please try to understand,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity for me to spend a few weeks with Kurt. He called just a little while ago and I had to give him an answer right away.”
“But what about our summer vacation? You said we were going to California. You promised!”
“We can go to America some other time, Lucy, and we will. But Kurt would never understand if I turned down this chance to be with him on the ship. It’s such a lucky break that a cabin opened up at the last minute.”
Lucy’s gaze bored a hole through the wall behind her mother. Through it, she could see California. The blue, cold Pacific. Wide beaches. The hilly streets of San Francisco. And the winery of Mama’s friends where they’d planned to spend two weeks. A big, old, white mansion with pillars and a wrap-around porch. And for Lucy, a room of her own, with a balcony. Lucy sighed.
“I was really, really looking forward to it, Mama.”
“I know, honey. I’m so sorry.”
“Why can’t I go on the ship, too?”
“I’ve already told you: it’s a research vessel. Kurt and the other scientists will be working there. They only have a few cabins for visitors. Children aren’t allowed on board. And besides, it would be boring for you.”
“It’s just not possible, Lucy. End of discussion. I don’t want to hear another word about it. Be reasonable about this, all right? Otherwise Mama will get a headache.”
Lucy said nothing. Sometimes she wished she could get headaches, too.
Tacked over Lucy’s bed was a map of the world. She’d drawn the flight route with a red jumbo marker. From Düsseldorf over the Atlantic, straight across America to San Francisco. Lucy took the thumbtacks out of the wall. She folded up the map and cut it into tiny pieces, letting them fall into the wastepaper basket.
“Bye-bye, California,” she murmured.
“I’m going over to Kora’s for a while, Mama.”
“That’s fine, honey,” her mother called from the living room. “Take the umbrella. It looks like it could rain.”
“Mmh,” Lucy answered. So what? Then she’d just get wet. It hadn’t been much of a summer so far. Chilly and wet. In California, no doubt, the sun was shining. Every single day.
“What?! You’re not going to America? I don’t believe it!” Kora’s eyes were wide. “Aren’t you mad? I would be so mad.”
“Ohh…” Lucy grabbed some potato chips out of the giant bag propped between Kora and her on the sofa. “Mad? I don’t know. I just feel empty. Like a busted balloon.”
“I’d be mad,” said Kora.
They kept reaching into the bag, snarfing down chips. Outside, the first drops of a heavy rain shower hit the window pane.
“I didn’t bring an umbrella with me,” said Lucy.
“Stay here. So now what are you going to do when school’s out?”
“You’re not going to be flying off to the Wild West by yourself, are you?”
“Oh,” Lucy said. “No idea. I don’t know what I’m doing now.”
The two friends looked at each other in silence.
“She just forgot to tell you,” Kora finally said. “Right? Yeah, sure. That must be it.”
“I have to be going,” Lucy said.
“Yeah,” Kora said. “Take my umbrella.”
But the apartment door had already slammed shut behind Lucy.
She was as wet as a flounder by the time she got home.
“Oh, Lucy!” her mother said. “Go to the bathroom this instant. You’re making a puddle on the hardwood floor. I told you to take an umbrella.”
Lucy stayed right where she was. Drop by drop, the puddle was becoming a small lake. “Tell me what I’M doing this summer.”
Her mother closed her eyes and rubbed a hand across her forehead. “Lucy, sweetie…”
“You forgot about that, didn’t you,” Lucy said.
“Oh, Lucy!” said her mother loudly. “I didn’t forget. I did NOT forget about it. I just haven’t thought about it yet.”
Lucy shook her head. She could just imagine what would happen if she ever came up with an excuse like that.
Lucy lay in bed. The blue curtains were drawn. Rain pattered on the windowsill. The down duvet was fluffed up around Lucy and covered her up to the tip of her nose. She was holding her dark-brown teddy bear, Theodore, tightly in her arms.
“Everybody else knows what they’re doing this summer,” she whispered in his ear. “But not me. I only know what I’m not doing, Theodore. I’m not going to California.” Lucy pressed her face against his fur and sighed. He smells so good, she thought, and fell asleep.
At breakfast her mother announced: “I’m going to call around today and see what kind of camps there are for kids. How about horseback riding at the seaside? You like the water. Or what do you think about going to the mountains? Austria, maybe?”
“Oh, Mama, couldn’t I go to Italy with Kora and her mother?”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that.”
“Oh, Mama, please!”
“I don’t know if you’d be in such good hands there, Lucy. It all sounds awfully primit– well, let’s just say ‘simple.’ Let me see what else is available.”
Kora and her mother were going on a bus trip to Italy. They were staying in the former schoolhouse of a mountain village. The grown-ups were going to do the cooking. And there’d be courses – for kids, too. Acting lessons! You could even learn to play the drums.
“Do you think your mother would take me along?” Lucy asked Kora at recess.
Immediately after school, Kora’s mother called to see if there was room for another child.
“Uh-huh,” she said into the receiver. “Uh-huh. Really? I see… Well, all right, then. Goodbye.”
“Sooo, girls. Unfortunately, they’re booked up. There’s even a waiting list. Sorry, Lucy. I would have liked to take you along.”
Lucy felt tears welling up in her eyes. She hadn’t figured on there not being any room left for her.
“Thanks, Mrs. Mueller,” she said. “Guess I’ll be going home now.”
Kora walked her to the door. “Too bad, Luce,” she said and stroked Lucy’s shoulder.
Lucy was sitting in the kitchen and knitting dark gray wool into a small square when her mother came home.
“Well, Mama, you don’t have to worry about Italy anymore. There aren’t any seats left on the bus.”
“Oh…! That’s a shame.”
Astounded, Lucy stared at her mother.
“Here’s what’s happening, Lucy. I made lots and lots of phone calls, and then I even went out and asked at two travel agencies. Trips for kids are booked up everywhere. Nobody’s got anything left. I don’t understand it – they keep saying that people don’t have any money these days.”
Lucy put her head down and knitted faster. Nothing left, nothing left, nothing left…
“Lucy! Are you even listening to me? Here I am, racking my brains trying to figure out something for your vacation. What is it you’re knitting now, anyway? That makes me so nervous.”
“It’s for Mrs. Freitag. A lap afghan.”
“You and your blankets. Are you sure she even wants one?”
“Yes, she does, Mama. I visited her after her dog, Rufus, died, and she was really sad. So, I asked her if she maybe wanted a new afghan. That cheered her up. But she wants it made of only black and gray pieces. Because she’s 87 years old, she says, and because she only wears black and gray, because she’s a widow or something.”
“Goodness, how depressing.”
Lucy nodded. “I thought so too, at first. But then I found seven different grays in the yarn shop, and I’m only using a little bit of black. I think the afghan’s going to look like clouds, everything from light gray to gray-black. Not sad at all. Do you want to see?”
“Later, Lucy. Put your things away now. I’m going to make us some dinner. Salad and broiled cheese baguettes – you like that. And then we’ll think about what you can do on your vacation. We’ll come up with something, won’t we?”
Lucy nodded. She went to her room, put her knitting on the bed, and opened the bottom drawer of her dresser. That was where she kept her stash: leftover yarn she’d gotten from neighbors and the mothers of classmates; skeins with the labels still around them, bought with her allowance; and yarn she’d recycled by unraveling sweaters she’d outgrown.
The skeins and neatly rolled-up balls of yarn lay sorted by color in open shoe boxes. Scores of colors. A stranger opening the drawer would think that someone had hidden a rainbow in there.
Lucy knelt in front of the drawer, examining her treasures. She reached for a little ball in the browns. Caramel brown. Like Rufus’ smooth coat of hair.
She quickly put it with the gray yarn for Mrs. Freitag. The amount would be just enough for one square. A little surprise piece. Near the afghan’s border.
Her hand searched through the yarn. Kora wanted a little blanket for her Barbie doll. One made of tiny pink and white squares. Pale pink or cotton candy pink? Or-
“Lucy, come and eat!” her mother called, interrupting Lucy’s decision-making.
“Here, sweetie,” her mother said. “Have some more salad… Well, there weren’t any more spots open, but I was able to get you onto two waiting lists. For a horseback riding camp in Denmark and a summer camp in Austria, in the mountains. Those would be nice, wouldn’t they? The weather’s been so bad. I bet some kid will get sick and won’t be able to go…”
“Hmm,” Lucy responded.
“But I thought of something else, sweetheart: what does a person have relatives for, anyway?”
Lucy jumped up. “You mean I could maybe go with Papa, Ilona, and Christopher? To the south of France? You wouldn’t mind?”
Ilona was Lucy’s father’s second wife, and Lucy’s mother couldn’t stand her. Lucy visited her father every third Saturday, but only when he didn’t happen to be away on a business trip. And she always looked forward to seeing Christopher and playing with him.
She’d been overjoyed when she found out that Ilona was expecting. Lucy had tried her best not to let on around her mother. But there’d been no need to pretend around Kora.
“I’ve been wanting a brother or a sister forever. And now I’m getting one! Okay, I know it’ll be a half-sister or a half-brother, but that’s almost as good.”
Right away she’d started knitting a baby blanket out of the softest yarn she could find. Creamy white and buttery yellow.
Christopher was over a year old now and starting to walk. He was a cuddly little guy with dimpled knees. It was a shame she couldn’t see him more often. She was always afraid he’d have forgotten who she was since her last visit. But if she could spend her vacation with him, they’d be together for weeks!
“The south of France with your father?” Lucy’s mother said. “That’s not really what I had in mind–”
“…but, in this case, it would be all right, I guess. Did they invite you to go along? You didn’t mention it.”
“No, they haven’t said anything, but they knew I was going to America with you. When Papa finds out that we’re not going, he’ll invite me along. Maybe. Or I can ask him on Saturday when I’m there. Or do you want to ask him? Would that be better?” Lucy had skipped out of the kitchen and was prancing around the living room.
“Sit down, Lucy. I want to tell you what I was thinking of.”
Lucy plopped down onto the sofa. Her mother sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. “What do you think about going to Ireland to visit your Aunt Paula?”
“Don’t shout like that, Lucy. And we say: ‘Pardon?’”
“Pardon?” whispered Lucy. She wasn’t able to shout anymore, anyway; suddenly, she felt very weak.
A Crazy Aunt in Ireland
“Aunt Paula? You want me to go to Aunt Paula’s? But she’s crazy!”
“Nonsense, Lucy. Why on earth would you say a thing like that?”
“Because that’s what you always say: ‘Paula is crazy.’”
“Oh, I see. Well, that’s just a saying. It doesn’t mean she really IS crazy. It’s just that sometimes she does things that a sensible person wouldn’t do. You see what I mean?”
“No,” said Lucy.
“Well, anyway, she’s NOT crazy. And I’m sure she would love to have her niece come and visit.”
“But I don’t even know Aunt Paula.”
“Well, then it’s about time you got to know her, isn’t it? Besides, she did come to visit us a few years ago. I’m sure you remember.”
“No, I don’t.”
“No? Well, all right. I guess you were still pretty little. Doesn’t matter. I know you’d love it there with her.”
“But Mama! She lives in a tent because her house doesn’t have a roof!”
“That was a long time ago, Lucy. I have no doubt her house has been fixed up in the meantime and has a roof, too. We’ve had lots of Christmas and birthday cards from her since then, and if she was still writing them in a tent, I’m sure she would have mentioned it. You see, it’s things like that I’m talking about when I say she’s cra–, I mean…different. If a person falls in love with a place they take a vacation in, maybe they go there the next year, too. They don’t just quit their job and give up a promising career and then use up all their savings to buy a ruin and move in! Still, she seems to like it there. I’ll ask her if you can come for a visit.”
“The house is all by itself in the middle of nowhere, you always said. I don’t want to go there, Mama. Please, can’t I go with Papa?”
“I’ve already told you I don’t mind. If they say you can tag along, you’ll go to France. But I’m still going to write to Paula. Actually, we’re running out of time. I’d better check into sending a telegram. She hasn’t got a phone.”
No phone and maybe no roof! Who knew what else was missing? I don’t want to stay with a woman I don’t even know, thought Lucy. Even if she’s my aunt ten times over.
She grabbed her jacket and left the apartment. A couple of girls from her class were at the playground and waved to her. Lucy waved back and kept walking. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now. Except maybe Kora. Lucy changed direction and started running. One street-crossing on a red light, a short run straight through the park, and there she was, in front of the apartment block where Kora lived.
Lucy buzzed their signal – one long, three short. Code for: get down here, on the double!
Ninety-three seconds later, Kora opened the door. “What’s up?”
Lucy shrugged her shoulders. “You want to go to Mr. Chang’s for some ice cream? I’m buying.”
“Sure, but I’d rather have hot chocolate. With whipped cream. With cinnamon sprinkled on it. And chocolate flakes. It’s too cold for ice cream. For me, anyway.”
Kora couldn’t afford to go the ice cream parlor so often. She didn’t get a very big allowance. But Lucy always had more than enough pocket money. If Kora was broke, Lucy paid. It didn’t matter what the weather was like: Lucy always felt like eating ice cream. Her favorite was strawberry ice cream with little chunks of fruit in it, covered with a cloud of freshly whipped cream. She ate ice cream even in the winter.
She linked arms with Kora. “What kind of pink do you want for your Barbie blanket? Maybe strawberry ice cream pink?”
“Is that why you rang the bell?”
“No. It just popped into my head.”
They walked into Chang’s ice cream parlor. Mr. Chang was Chinese and made Italian ice cream. The best in town.
“Hi, Mr. Chang.”
“Hello there, Lucy. Hello, Kora.”
“A dish of strawberry ice cream and a large hot chocolate, please,” Lucy said.
They sat down at one of the little round tables. Mr. Chang brought them their order: a high-sided silver dish crowned by an equally high mountain of whipped cream smothering the strawberry ice cream below. And a giant cup of hot chocolate topped with an island of whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon and chocolate flakes.
“Mmmhh!” said Lucy and Kora. They bent over the table and dipped their mouths in the cream.
“It’s about my vacation,” said Lucy. “Everything’s booked up. We started looking too late. But Mama doesn’t mind if I go along with Papa and Christopher. And Ilona.”
“Hey, that’s great! So, it’s all set!”
“Yes. No,” Lucy said. “I don’t know yet if they want me along.” She looked at her friend uncertainly. “We still have to ask them.”
“Oh,” Kora said. “Well, then… But don’t you think your father would be glad if you went along?”
“Do you think so?” Lucy asked.
“Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah, maybe.” Lucy didn’t feel quite so down anymore. “But there’s something else.” She told Kora about the Ireland plan.
“Oh, no!” Kora exclaimed. “That’s horrible.”
“Yeah, I know.” said Lucy.
“I’m afraid not, Lucy,” said Ilona firmly.
Lucy sat on the sofa, looking at the floor, and she could feel her face burning. “I wouldn’t be any bother to you. I promise I wouldn’t.”
“The answer is no, Lucy. Sorry.”
“I could play with Christopher and look after him.”
“We have an au pair for Christopher. You know that. Susan will have enough time for him.”
“Papa, please. Please!”
Her father was standing at the window, looking out into the yard. He turned around.
“You heard Ilona, Lucy. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed, but we’ve had this vacation planned for a long time. Just because your mother suddenly upends her plans doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing. You’d be bored, anyway. The house is a long way from the nearest village. There wouldn’t be any other kids your age around, and–”
“But I’d really like to spend some time with Christopher, and-”
“No, and that’s final, Lucy. Enough of this. You can go and spend a little more time with him now. Susan’s getting him ready for bed.”
Lucy stood up and left the room. In the hallway, she stopped and stared up at the ceiling so her tears wouldn’t fall. She heard Ilona say: “I can’t believe Birgit – sending that child here to beg us like that!”
“I’ll talk to her,” her father said.
Horrified, Lucy put her hand up to her mouth. Now he’d complain to her mother! Would it be her fault?
Quietly, she went up the stairs and opened the door to Christopher’s room. Susan was just putting Christopher in his crib.
“Lucy, come and help me. Your little brother doesn’t want to go to bed.”
Christopher pulled himself up on the bars and looked at Lucy.
“You little monkey,” said Lucy, tickling his neck.
“Grleglre pfhhhh,” he gurgled, and laughed.
“All right, little man,” said Susan, grabbing him under the arms and swinging him up high and out of the crib. “You can stay up for just a little while yet. Sit in the rocking chair, Lucy.”
Susan unloaded Christopher into Lucy’s lap. Lucy put her arms around him. She sighed.
“Well, what’d they say about your plan?”
“They don’t want me along.”
“I’m sorry, Lucy. Are you really sad now?”
“I can see why. You know what? I’ll write to you from France and tell you what that little brother of yours is getting up to. Would you like that?”
Lucy nodded several times. Her eyes filled with tears. But she didn’t want to cry. She nodded again.
Susan patted her leg. “Good. It’s a deal.”
Christopher had fallen asleep in Lucy’s lap. Susan carefully picked him up and laid him in his crib.
“So, then you’ll be going to Ireland, won’t you?”
“But I don’t want to go to Ireland.”
“Beautiful country,” Susan said. “Very green from all that rain. And the people are friendly.”
“I don’t like rain,” Lucy said.
“Oh, Irish rain is very special, you know. They have lots of different kinds of it there. And rainbows, of course. Ireland is famous for its rainbows.”
“I don’t want to go to Ireland.”
Susan smiled. “When you pout, your lip sticks out just like Christopher’s.”
“Really?” said Lucy. “Just like his? Well, we are related, you know.” She hurried into the bathroom. But by the time she got to the mirror, her pouty lip had disappeared. She heard the front yard gate shut and ran to the window. “Mama’s coming! I have to warn her. Bye, Susan.”
Lucy threw Christopher a kiss. She hurried down the stairs but stopped in front of the living room door. Too late. Her mother was already in there. She heard her father say: “…that’s why I have to tell you, Birgit, if you’re not able to make arrangements for Lucy, you’ll have to cancel your trip. You can’t–”
“Of course I’m able to make arrangements for Lucy, Markus. She’s going to Ireland to stay with Paula.”
Lucy sank down on the bottom step. She had to go to Aunt Paula’s! Suddenly, she started feeling queasy.
“Oh, really?” her father said. “Lucy didn’t say a word about that. Well, that’s fine, then. How is Paula, anyway? Still hasn’t had enough of the simple life?”
“She sounded cheerful enough. Somehow she manages to make ends meet. Seems like she’s still puttering around with her mirrors. Glues seashells on them. She sells them. To tourists, I guess.”
“Good Lord,” Lucy’s father said. “Sounds awful. And she always had such good taste. But if it brings in a little money… And you? Lucy says you’ve got a new boyfriend. Is he the right one this time?”
“Yes, Markus, I think he is.”
“Well, I hope you’ll be happy.”
Yes, Lucy thought. I hope so, too. Since the divorce, her mother had had two boyfriends, but both times it had fallen apart after just a few months. For weeks afterward, her mother had been sad and would sit at the breakfast table with her eyes red from crying. Lucy had worried about her.
She crossed her fingers on both hands and shut her eyes tight. She hoped things with Kurt would go well. Then she’d finally have time to worry about other things: about her awful D minus in needlework class, for instance, all because she couldn’t sew that ugly vest or that stupid pillowcase; or about seeing Christopher so seldom; or about how she could visit more often without her mother or Ilona being dead set against it.
“Paula called today,” her mother said in the car on the way back. “Imagine that. She’s even got a telephone now. She’s really looking forward to your visit.”
Lucy crossed her arms and turned her head away. Shipped off to an artsy-craftsy aunt in Ireland!
“So, everything worked out after all,” her mother said. “I’m so relieved. Now we can concentrate on getting ready for our vacations. Only two weeks to go before we leave. We’ll go shopping on Monday. How does that sound? We like to shop, don’t we, Lucy-bug?”
At home, Lucy’s mother got a note pad and started to make lists. She loved making lists – shopping lists, birthday lists, guest lists.
“We still have to get all kinds of things for our trips, sweetie. For the ship, I’ll need to stock up on moisturizer and makeup and what-not, get some new swimsuits, and so on. Get a piece of paper and write down what you think you’ll need for Ireland.”
“Tomorrow, Mama. I’m going to bed now.”
“Oh, my goodness. Is it already nine o’clock? Okay, off to bed you go. I’m going to work on this a while longer.” She sat over her lists, humming.
Lucy closed the living room door behind her. She didn’t want to make any list for Ireland. She didn’t want to go to Ireland.
“I don’t want to go to Ireland, Theodore,” she whispered to her teddy bear in bed. “I don’t want to go, but what I want doesn’t count. And I don’t need a list. I’m taking you. And my umbrella. Because it rains all the time there.”
That night she dreamed she was standing on a little island painted frog-green, and it was rocking like a boat in a stormy sea. It was pouring rain. She was wearing rain boots that were way too big for her, and she was huddled under Mama’s pink umbrella, Theodore tucked securely under one arm. In spite of the umbrella, they were both soaking wet, and she was chilled to the bone.
A Mean, Dirty, Rotten Trick
In the following days, Lucy’s mother was a cheerful whirlwind of activity: she arranged for someone from the garden center to take care of the plants on the roof-top terrace; she had herself vaccinated against tropical diseases; she picked up some foreign currency at the bank, and she took Lucy on a shopping trip to Düsseldorf.
She bought two bikinis and a one-piece swimsuit, six sundresses, one evening dress, sandals with silver straps, two pairs of sunglasses, a hat, and three different kinds of sunscreen. Lucy got yellow rain boots, a red rain jacket, and a green, broad-brimmed rain hat.
“Adorable!” squealed both the saleswomen in the children’s clothing boutique.
Lucy’s mother nodded. “My daughter’s going to Ireland.”
“Oh, I see,” one of the saleswomen said knowingly. “Lots of rain. And redheads everywhere you go.”
Lucy stared into the mirror and thought she looked like Paddington Bear. She’d rather get wet and catch pneumonia and die young than run around looking like that!
In English class, Miss Schmitt asked about their vacation plans. “Where are you going to spend your holidays?”
“I’m going to visit my aunt in Ireland,” Lucy said when it was her turn.
“Don’t forget your umbrella,” Miss Schmitt reminded her.
Kora asked why all Irish people had red hair.
Miss Schmitt said that not all Irish were red-haired, but many were; why that was, she didn’t know. And Mr. Heymann, who taught geography and liked to spend a lot of time in restaurants when he was on vacation, asked what sorts of regional foods there were where they were going.
Everyone knew something – everyone but Lucy. She hadn’t the faintest idea.
Mr. Heymann knew of only one typically Irish dish: mutton stew with cabbage and potatoes.
Lucy made a mental note not to touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Kora and Lucy had started going to Chang’s ice cream parlor every day after school, even though Lucy’s stomach was feeling a little funny.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t eat any ice cream,” Kora suggested.
Lucy shook her head. Lately, she’d constantly been feeling slightly sick to her stomach. Even at night whenever she happened to wake up. The ice cream was helping her fight it, she was sure.
“I’ve heard of people being bitten by the travel bug,” said Kora. “Maybe you got bit by one of those.”
Today, Lucy shoveled down her ice cream in a hurry; she wanted to eat another dish of it before she went home.
“Because one week from today I’m flying to Ireland, Kora. And I doubt if they’ll have an ice cream parlor in the middle of nowhere. I have to stock up now.”
There was an open suitcase in Lucy’s bedroom. “I’m starting to pack,” her mother said. “We’ve both got an appointment with Stefan later on to get our hair cut.”
Lucy took a look at her suitcase. A couple of woolen sweaters, thick socks, and her flannel nightgowns were already in there.
“Phooey,” Lucy muttered, kicking the suitcase shut. She sat on the bed, her back to the suitcase, and continued sewing together the patches for Mrs. Freitag’s afghan.
Stefan was quickly finished with Lucy’s hair, as always. Washed and cut off straight at the shoulder. As usual, Stefan and her mother had tried to talk Lucy into getting blond highlights.
Mother and daughter had the same ash-blond hair. Lucy’s mother thought it an unbearably boring color that needed sprucing up with a few honey-blond highlights. She couldn’t understand why Lucy kept refusing.
As Lucy’s mother paid, Stefan handed Lucy two little bottles: shampoo and conditioner.
“Travel-size,” he said. “Have a great vacation. But aren’t you kind of scared to be traveling all alone?”
“No,” said Lucy. “Thanks for the shampoo and–”
“Nonsense, Stefan,” her mother interrupted. “What do you mean by ‘all alone’? We’re flying to London together. From there I’ll put her in the plane to Ireland, where her aunt will pick her up. You can hardly call that ‘traveling all alone.’”
Scared, Lucy thought. Maybe I’m just scared, and there’s nothing wrong with my stomach – it’s not a travel bug bite. And it wasn’t the hour she’d be spending alone in the airplane that was bothering her, either: it was the three weeks afterwards.
The afghan for Mrs. Freitag was finished. There was hardly any black in it, and most of the grays were light hues. The one brown piece looked like a little smart-aleck there in the second row. It made Lucy smile whenever she looked at it.
“Look, Mama, I’m finished. What do you think?”
“Very nice, Lucy. Only that one piece doesn’t really go with the others. Didn’t you have enough of the other yarn?”
“Yes, I did. I just think it looks… I know it doesn’t go with the others. But I liked it because…well… I’ll just take it down to Mrs. Freitag now.”
Her mother nodded. “But don’t stay too long. I need you to get a few things at the store. Cheese for the lasagna tonight, deep conditioner for my hair, and – here, I’ve made a list for you.”
“Lucy – oh, my, it’s gorgeous!” Mrs. Freitag had spread the afghan out on her couch and was admiring it. “So carefully done, and the colors flow so well! You’re quite the little artist. I love it. Thank you, thank you.”
Lucy felt herself starting to blush. “In case you don’t like this one piece here – the color doesn’t really match – I can change it. But I can’t do it until I come back. I thought at first – but then it isn’t really…”
“Change it? Over my dead body, child. It has to be there. It’s what gives the afghan that special something. And Rufus was that color, wasn’t he? Caramel brown.”
Lucy beamed. “I have to go to the grocery store now. Bye, Mrs. Freitag.”
“Good bye, Lucy. I’ll think of you every time I use the afghan. Very often, in other words.”
Lucy hummed as she hopped up the steps on her way to the sixth floor. In her room, she glared at the open suitcase, which was filling up day by day, sometimes hour by hour. Underwear. Mountains of it.
She ran into the kitchen, where her mother was busy cranking out lasagna noodles on the pasta maker.
“Mama, I think you gave me way too much underwear.”
“Well, we don’t know if Paula has a washer. It’s better to take plenty along.”
“But still – I’m not going to go through that much underwear in three weeks. Shouldn’t I take some out?”
Her mother wiped off her hands on a kitchen towel and sat down. “No, just leave everything the way it is. Come and sit down.”
“I wanted to go to the store now.”
“Yes, in a minute. I have something to tell you. Hmm, you know… Well, I packed so much underwear because you’ll be spending more than three weeks in Ireland.”
Lucy was dumbstruck with fright.
“Let me explain. You see, I’ll be on the ship for almost four weeks. That’s just the way it is; it won’t drop anchor any earlier. And after we do land, Kurt and I want to spend a few days in Cape Town. We’re lucky that Paula can take you in for five weeks.”
Lucy felt as if her throat was closing up. “Five?” she croaked.
“I knew you’d get upset. That’s why I didn’t tell you earlier. But you’ll see – once you’re there, it really won’t matter much if you stay three weeks or five.”
When her mother stopped talking, Lucy stood up slowly. She took the shopping basket, the pocketbook, and the list, and she left the apartment. As she went down the steps, she made sure to hold on to the railing. Her legs felt weak and shaky.
In the park, she sat down on the first bench she came to.
Five weeks. More than a month! That was too much. And it was mean. A mean, dirty, rotten trick. Lucy stood up, grabbed the basket, and then, scowling, stomped off to the grocery store.
She’d picked up most of the things on the list: apples, romaine lettuce, one organic lemon, Gruyère cheese. She was pushing her cart along the refrigerated shelves, looking for diet yogurt, when she suddenly stopped in front of a stack of butter wrapped in gold foil. Irish butter. Lucy stretched out her arm. With her thumbnail, she cut long, deep strips in the foil of the top package.
“There. That’s better,” she muttered. It looked awful.
On to the cosmetics section. She threw two packages of deep conditioner for hair into the cart and slowly pushed it by the hair dye. Some brands had little hanks of hair hanging from the shelf that showed how your hair would look afterwards. And they had really interesting names: Espresso, Wild Orange, Salmon Pink, Red Chili Pepper, Irish Red. Lucy opened her eyes wide. That was new!
She took a box of Irish Red from the shelf and tossed it in with her other items. Now she was in a hurry.
The Greenest Wind
Translated from the German by Rebecca Heier