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Authors: Yvonne Prinz

If You're Lucky

BOOK: If You're Lucky
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IF

YOU'RE

LUCKY

YVONNE PRINZ

ALGONQUIN 2015

ALSO BY YVONNE PRINZ

T
h
e Vinyl Princess

All You Get Is Me

For Suzie Neto.

“Long May You Run.”

No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.

—SIGMUND FREUD,

Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

One

The phone rang at four o'clock in the morning. Someone on the other end said that Lucky was dead.

And just like that I was big brotherless.

I didn't cry.

Life without my brother had never even occurred to me. Not once. Sure, I'd become accustomed to little pieces of him disappearing: the tip of his finger to a rock-climbing rope; a chunk of his calf to a baby shark; a front tooth to a ski slope. Lucky's body was a road map of scars. Even his face was covered in nicks and healed-over cuts and faint pinkish railroad tracks from long-gone stitches. That was all fine with me, exciting even, because to me he was indestructible, and because he always came home eventually with more stories and more scars. He always came home until now.

The day before the phone call, I was thinking about how every Christmas I would put a fresh box of Band-Aids in his stocking. He always laughed on Christmas morning when he tore the wrapping paper off the little box. I got him Simpsons Band-Aids one year and Scooby-Doo another; Popeye; Cowboys; Spider Man. There was already a box of Flintstones Band-Aids stashed away in my closet for the coming Christmas and I know just what he would say if he were around to open it: “
Yabba, dabba, doo
!
” and then he'd toss it on the pile with the rest of the gear Santa would always bring him. That's how it was: Lucky got gear. I got books. I went digging through Lucky's things that day, the day we got the news, and I found seven unused boxes of Band-Aids lined up in a neat row in a shoebox under his bed. I still didn't cry.

My own scars are different. My body is a desert of soft white skin embellished with small smoothed-over cuts and tears and burns. I don't remember how all of them got there, but the ones I do remember make me wince with embarrassment. I'm the opposite of Lucky. I was born without the thrill-seeking gene. I stick close to home. Heights make me dizzy; the ocean, in my mind, can't be trusted; I despise polar fleece, and I can't see a thing without my contacts in. Some might think Lucky would have been the one my parents worried about, but that wasn't the case. They never seemed to worry about him. It's always been me. Even now, years later, they still look at me with worry in their eyes.

Lucky, on the other hand, had an effortless star quality that made my parents want to be near him. My mom laughed like a teenager when he was around and my dad started making ambitious plans again. There was always stuff everywhere when Lucky was home: camping gear, surfboards, bikes, skateboards, wet suits hanging on the line. There was a happy buzz in our house. Anyone could see that Lucky was my mom and dad's favorite, and I didn't even mind. He was my favorite too. My brother squeezed his big world into our tiny house and made everything seem more exciting, but for me it was more than that. The thing I loved most about Lucky was that he made me feel normal.

Lucky never had much regard for time zones, and besides, it was understood that no matter what time it was or where he was, he should call if there was trouble. The phone ringing in the dead of night was a pretty common occurrence at our house. This time it was different though. Through the wall I could hear the muffled sound of my mom answering, alert even though she'd been asleep for hours. I heard her say “No No No” and then I heard her shake my dad awake. I knew it was bad. She'd never done that before. My dad has to be at the oyster farm by seven.

“My baby!” my mom wailed. The sound was horrible. My heart thumped in my chest but I was paralyzed. I stayed there in my bed, listening.

I heard my dad take the phone. “What is it? What's happened?” he asked.

Lucky had drowned while surfing in Australia at a place called Kirra Beach in Coolangatta in Queensland. I heard my dad talking to them, getting all the details. Then he hung up the phone and started to sob.

Lucky was twenty-two when he died. I'd known him for seventeen years.

Two

“Fog's staying late today,” my dad observed, peering up through the windshield at the gray mid-morning sky as we drove inland in his pickup. I hadn't noticed, but the sky held no hint of summer, which was just around the corner. You get used to that here. From May to September it's like living in a grainy black-and-white film. And it was anybody's guess what time the fog would lose its battle to blue sky and the sun would appear. Some days it didn't appear at all.

We were driving to Santa Rosa to identify Lucky's body, which had made the long journey home to California from Australia by plane.
Where do they put the dead bodies on a plane?
I wondered. I've never seen a coffin bumping along on the airport baggage carousel. They said
identify the body
but of course it was him. It wasn't like I was clinging to any hope of mistaken identity. I knew it was just a formality, but when Dad asked me to go with him I immediately said yes. Lucky would have gone if it was me, and it should have been me. I'd imagined hundreds of ways that it could have been me and not one where it could have been Lucky. I needed to go.

We passed by the Heron Inn on the way out of town. Miles stood on the deep wooden porch, talking on a cell phone. Miles and Jeff, a couple from San Francisco, run the Inn. They bought it seven years ago and gave it an extreme makeover, painting almost everything a pale shade of buttercream with white trim. They hired Marc, a rock-star chef from the city, and they opened a gourmet restaurant that features local produce, artisanal cheeses, and grass-fed beef. They hired me to make their desserts. I'm good with pastry and I work cheap. Miles waved somberly when he saw my dad's truck. News of the tragedy had no doubt spread like wildfire to every one of the four hundred and eleven residents of False Bay, the hamlet where we live on the coast of Northern California.

Across the road from the Inn, Ralph walked along the shoulder. His droopy-faced bloodhound, Boris, trotted alongside him. Ralph wore black rubber boots and mechanic's overalls. He owns the only gas station in town. He looked over his shoulder and waved as we passed. My dad lifted two fingers off the wheel.

I stared straight ahead at a tiny plastic surfer adhered to the dusty dashboard. Lucky stuck it there ages ago. It bounced back and forth on a little spring, riding endless waves as the truck bumped along. My dad looked over at me a couple of times, but I never turned my head except to glance out my window at a wrecked car on the side of the road. Weeds had overtaken the twisted metal and the rusted exposed engine. It had already been stripped of anything valuable, but at the last second I saw a shoe, a ladies' black patent-leather pump, on the driver's seat. It seemed to be in perfect condition.

When we'd left the house, my mom was still lying on the wooden floor in Lucky's bedroom with one of his T-shirts draped over her face. Rocket, Lucky's dog, lay next to her. The knowing look in his eyes said everything. Rocket hadn't left my mom's side since she went in there shortly after the phone call came. A glass of water sat next to her on the floor untouched. She shouted out words from time to time but mostly she cried out like an animal in pain. I'd had enough of it. I couldn't take it anymore. I put my headphones on and listened to the Clash. I put a rolled-up yoga mat and a blanket next to her. Her long hair was splayed out on the floor around her head, and her eyes were focused on the ceiling. Her feet were bare and blue with cold.

As we drove inland my dad struggled for things to say. Eventually he gave up and fiddled with the radio. He found music but it was sad. Then he found the news. A reporter spoke about a river that had swelled over its banks after days of rain somewhere in Alabama. Several families had been overtaken in the night when river water rushed into their house. All of them had drowned.

“It was their own fault,” I finally said.

“What's that?”

“Those people. How could they go to bed with water rising all around them?”

My dad turned the radio off.

Lucky would never have done anything so stupid. He lived to take risks but he knew all about danger. He'd studied it till he was an expert. He knew about tide charts and compasses and wind direction and rogue waves and offshore currents and avalanches and riptides. He knew all of that stuff. So how does a guy like that drown? Why didn't someone save him? Lucky had a million friends. Where was everyone?

A man in a white lab coat with a defeated demeanor and eyebrows like black caterpillars led us to a cold room lit with flickering florescent lights. Lucky was laying on a metal table with a white sheet draped over him. My dad and I stood on either side of him. He looked as calm as I'd ever seen him. His stillness was more disturbing to me than anything. Lucky lived in a constant state of motion. He never slept much but he never seemed tired. Sleep was a waste of time for him. He went to bed late and got up early. He embraced all those tired bumper sticker slogans:
Make today amazing, smile and let it go, life is a highway, BE where you ARE . . . . blah
,
blah, blah.
I'm nothing like that. I take refuge in sleep. Sometimes I sleep ten hours at a stretch. For me, sleep is a place to hide.

There was a greenish raised bruise on Lucky's forehead with a jagged crimson line running through it, probably from his surfboard. His old scars had taken on a purplish hue and stood out more than before against his pale skin, especially the one on his chin, stitches from I don't remember what fall. I noticed that the thin black cord that he always wore around his neck with the silver charm that said “Fearlessness” in Sanskrit was gone. I wondered if maybe it was in an official manila envelope with his diving watch and anything else they found on the body. Maybe they handed it to you like on TV.
Here's what's left of a life,
the man in the lab coat would say solemnly.

Looking at Lucky, I thought of all the times I'd said to him, “I wish you were dead.” I said it so often that it meant nothing to him. He'd never said anything so mean to me, even when I went crazy and did awful things, even when I ruined birthday parties and family dinners and vacations.

My dad left the room before I did. He was pale and shaking. He sat on the wooden bench in the corridor with his face in his big weathered hands. I could see him through the window in the viewing room.

“Lucky,” I whispered, bringing my face close to his until a sour chemical smell burned my nostrils. “Lucky, wake up.” I ran my finger through one of his sun-bleached blond curls and then I touched his lips. They felt like cool paper. If he were alive he'd for sure have bitten my finger. Anger washed over me. I resented being left behind. I was always the one left behind. How many times had I said good-bye to my brother? Hundreds, probably. The thing that bugged me the most was that I knew I wasn't enough. I could already feel the gaping hole he'd left that I couldn't even begin to fill. And what about me? How would I cope without Lucky to hide behind? People here knew that if they said things about me they would have to contend with Lucky eventually. He always came to my rescue. Now what would I do?

“Why'd you have to die, asshole?” I blurted, and I turned and started to leave but then I couldn't. My last words had to mean something. I tried to think of something to say, maybe something about life's journey or how I would always remember him. It all sounded so trite in my head. I thought maybe I should tell him I'd see him in heaven, but I didn't believe in that, and I was pretty sure he didn't either. Finally I leaned in and whispered “I love you,” and then I quickly left the room.

BOOK: If You're Lucky
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