We stopped outside the square building. Lucy’s hand clamped around mine. When I look back, I think that was one of the last times she held my hand. She was twelve then. I remember because I had decided I would tell her when she turned twelve.
The winter cold crept in through the collars and sleeves of our coats. There was a feeble layer of snow on the ground. Too thin for Lucy to take her sledge out that weekend.
‘Sidney Lust’s drive-in theatre,’ Lucy read aloud from the large lettering lined and studded by lightbulbs. I looked up at the two theatrical mask faces on the building wall; one with an upturned grin, the other with a downturned grimace. I wondered how Lucy would respond to my words, whether there would be tears or smiles.
‘Sidney Lust’s drive in,’ I repeated, ‘I used to come here a lot in the summer I turned seventeen.’ I noticed how I tried to keep my tone light and cheerful but a hidden weight pulled it down.
‘Did you? What movies did you see here?’ Lucy had that great knack of showing interest no matter the topic of conversation.
But I didn’t tell her about the movies, because memories of all the nights I’d spent there, sitting in a car seat, gazing up at the stretch of screen, scooping popcorn into my mouth, all blurred into one. Into the night I spent there with Stevie, the night Lucy was conceived.
And that was what I answered with. I had avoided discussing it for years, wanted to wait until she could make sense of it, until she could swallow the fact that she was a result of a careless teenage fumble in the backseat of a Ford Fiesta.
‘I was just an accident. You didn’t want me.’ Four years later, her sixteen year old voice rings through the apartment followed by the slam of the front door.
I didn’t see Lucy for three weeks after that stormy exit. Every night, exhausted from the desperate phonecalls I had made to ascertain her whereabouts, I would lie awake in bed, tears striping my cheeks, wondering what I could have done differently.
When she was a little girl, she used to sleep by my side, enclosed like a small warm animal in the folds of the duvet.
I must have fallen asleep that Thursday evening because I woke up to find her sitting on the edge of the bed, with her denim jacket still on and her backpack by her feet.
She looked down at me sadly, must have seen the heavy rings under my eyes. We didn’t say anything, there was no need in that moment. She reached for my hand and held it. Her palm was clammy and unwashed but the contact of her skin with mine pricked my throat with tears.
She said I could make her breakfast and comb her hair after she had showered. I was still in my dressing gown, sipping my morning coffee as I waited outside the bathroom door. I listened closely to the thick, humming rush of water that confirmed that she was there.