A Life Named Lily
Lily was, it seems, not the prettiest girl that old Ben had ever met. Her hair was that awkward shade of carrot red. She was a bit too tall, which back then meant wearing low heels and stooping when you danced with a guy. These days, it means you get to suck in your cheeks and strut down a fashion-show runway with nothing but a billion-dollar wisp of sequins twinkling between you and an indecency charge. But back then, tall girls were considered gangly.
Her skin was pale. Not like porcelain or alabaster — at least old Ben doesn’t fluff up the past — but more like a really good sheet of typing paper. Her eyes were a perfectly nice but not terribly remarkable brown. And she had a tiny scar on her left cheekbone from when her brother hit her in the face with a garden rake when they were kids. (According to Ben, he insisted to his dying day that it was an accident.)
So I asked Ben what made her so attractive to him. I mean, for someone to fall dopey-drool in love with someone, she must have something going for her.
“Her life,” Ben said. “I don’t know any other word for it.”
Lily spent every moment, from the instant she opened her eyes in the morning until well after she crawled into bed at night, trying to wrangle all the little spangles and sparkles of laughter, intensity, fantasy, action, loving, weeping, and cosmic profundity that every day of earthbound life has to offer. She jumped into people’s arms, giggling and shrieking with joy. She collapsed into bitter tears at the tiniest glimmers of betrayal or unfairness. She fell in love quickly, thrilled to its peaks and explosions, and then felt the weight of every planet spinning around every sun crumble down on her chest and shoulders when the relationship faded from glorious ecstasy to mundane co-existence. She trusted strangers, she hated enemies, she loved beauty, and she hunted ducks.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you just say that she hunted ducks?”
“Right, ducks,” Ben said. “She loved the mallards. Such a gorgeous shade of blue-green around their heads. And wood ducks. Elaborately beautiful and impressively colored. She loved them both enormously.”
“And so she hunted them?”
“Absolutely. She’d hide in this duck blind that she had built at the edge of a wildlife refuge. The unsuspecting little birds would see the open waters, the stately trees, the waving grasses, and they’d land for a bit of rest during their long migration. And my sweet Lily would blow them to pieces with a shotgun.”
“Hold it,” I said. “She’s shooting ducks in a wildlife refuge?”
“Yes. I asked her about that once. She looked at me with that impish grin of hers and said, ‘That’s only the law.’ That’s how she saw things. Laws were rules that mortals made for other mortals to follow. They didn’t apply to her.”
“So she broke the law, killed beautiful birds, and — ”
“And ate them,” Ben cut in, removing his glasses and cleaning them on a grimy handkerchief. “She wouldn’t dream of shooting something unless she intended to put it to good use.”
“And ate them. This lover of life and admirer of beauty would hide in a duck blind, poke enormous cartridges filled with explosives and little pellets into the back of a cracked-open shotgun, watch patiently for an innocent little duckie to land on the water, just to catch a few minutes of rest before it rejoined its relatives, friends, and lovers in the great flock migrating by, and then — ”
“BLAM-O!” Ben said it so loudly that he startled himself, and then he laughed, quietly but intensely, until tears brimmed out of his red and rheumy eyes. “Blam-o.”
Ben met Lily at the Community Kitchen in Eastport. He was doing volunteer work there, scrubbing pots most of the time and occasionally dishing out potatoes and ham to the homeless and alcoholic shells that staggered down the line. They’d smile, or nod, or say “Thank you,” and then they’d shuffle off to find a chair in the cavernous room and sit down to eat. Ben had started volunteering there while he was taking business classes at Eastport Junior College. “I thought I should contribute a little something to the community,” he said.
“And Lily was there, too,” I deduced cleverly. “She was passing out the hot buttered rolls, and you were hauling out a freshly scrubbed tray for her to serve them on. Your eyes met, and blam-o — love at first sight.”
“Hell, no,” Ben said. “She was in line. She was one of the bums we were feeding. She’d stop by every Thursday evening around six, and she would take her boiled green beans and her day-old white bread and her bratwurst or whatever it was that day, and then she’d sit with a bunch of fat men who would laugh loudly every now and then. She could tell dirty jokes with the best of them.”
“She was homeless?” I asked.
“Every Thursday, she’d be there,” Ben said. “She’d give me a big smile — the same smile she gave everyone — and then she’d take the plate and head over to the fat-guys table. But her eyes sparkled in a way that no one else could match. Not even the hollow creatures who ambled past the warming tables for their nightly hash could miss it. Her eyes danced with a secret smile that made you feel better from across the room.”
I was beginning to figure it out. “Rising Businessman Rescues Homeless Girl From Life of Poverty and Despair.” He took pity on her, fell in love with the way she kept her humor and dignity even after being chewed up by a world that rewards the cunning and punishes the sensitive. They chatted over boiled cabbage one evening, found out that they both like music and long walks outdoors in the rain, and so they —
“No, damn it!” Ben said. “Quit trying to guess the damn story. The fact of the matter is that she wasn’t poor at all. She was the daughter of the Methodist minister in Eastport, and she ate at the Community Kitchen every Thursday because she spent most of her food allowance on whiskey. Each week, she’d set aside the cost of an evening meal — and, I later found out, three or four lunches — and buy a bottle of hooch that smelled like it was made in a paper mill. Then, on Friday and Saturday nights, she’d buzz around town in some guy’s car and drink this horrible booze straight from the bottle. It was never the same guy twice. Most of them ended up getting a stern lecture from the judge about the foolishness of cruising the town common with an open bottle of whiskey and a half-naked drunk girl hanging out the window shouting catcalls to anything in pants. After the lecture, each guy would swear off dating for a while, and Lily would move on to the next victim. And I was serving her chipped turkey on Thursday nights, feeling sorry for her down-and-out condition.”
I wrote all this down, and then asked the question that had to be asked.
“So how did you end up with her?”
Ben smiled. He has a pleasant, soft kind of smile. It seems charming in an old man.
“All the other boys in Eastport had been used up,” he said. “I was the only one left.”
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — BinoMan211: Great babe! Got any pictures?
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