Authors: Victor Lavalle
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Horror
Also by Victor LaValle
Slapboxing with Jesus
The Devil in Silver
Lucretia and the Kroons
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2012 Spiegel and Grau eBook Original
Copyright © 2012 by Victor LaValle
The Devil in Silver
copyright © 2012 by Victor LaValle
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Spiegel and Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and Design is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Jacket design: Keenan
“I wrote these words for everyone
who struggles in their youth.”
—Lauryn Hill, “Everything Is Everything”
Most twelve-year-olds don’t know much about death, and that’s the way it should be. But a handful get the knowledge too soon. You can see it in their eyes, a sliver of sorrow floating in the iris, visible even at the happiest of times. Those kids have encountered that enemy, too soon and will always bear its scars.
For instance, take Lucretia Gardner, now turning twelve years old and having a party to celebrate. The party is to be held in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her mother in Flushing, Queens. Three of her four good friends are invited. The fourth, Sunny, her
friend, couldn’t come because she’s at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis getting yet another treatment for her cancer. Sunny has sent a card, delivered by her despairing grandmother. The note inside reads,
I wish I was with you
. Lucretia knows Sunny probably dictated the words and her grandmother wrote them. Sometimes Sunny’s hands are so weak she can’t even hold a pen. Sunny’s sickness casts a long shadow that Loochie can’t escape.
The three girls arrived together, right on time. Noon on a chilly Saturday in November. Because the birthday girl wanted to make an entrance, her mother answered the door. Mom walked Lucretia’s guests into the living/dining room, where the curtains were drawn open and all the lights were on. Bright balloons had been tied to the backs of the chairs around the dining table. The words “Happy Birthday” were spelled out in yellow cutout letters taped to the wall above the couch. The treats had already been set out on the table and the three girls, without any prodding, picked at a bowl of mini candy bars, ignoring the bowl of fruit.
“Loochie’s just putting on her dress,” Mom told the girls. She asked after their mothers and fathers, and about school. She spoke to each girl—Priya, Monique, and Susan—in turn. The girls answered back distractedly. Fine, everyone and everything was fine. Priya asked politely for a sheet of paper just as the birthday girl called out from the back.
“Yes! Yes!” her mother shouted as she produced a sheet of paper from a drawer.
Priya, whose full name was Priyansha, gave a very faint bob of her head as she accepted the sheet and whispered, “Thank you.”
Then the girl began folding that paper at all kinds of wonky angles. The two other girls watched as if Priya were performing surgery. They turned their backs to Loochie’s mother, the woman already forgotten.
“Hit play,” Lucretia called.
Lucretia had put together a playlist on the computer the night before so her mother found it on the screen, clicked play, and turned up the volume on the monitor’s speakers. As she went to check on her daughter the first song played. It seemed like the obvious pick.
I’mmmm coming up so you better get this party started
Even the three girls, still mesmerized by Priya and the paper, couldn’t help but hum along and sway slightly.
Lucretia stood at the large mirror attached to her mother’s dresser, on which were three foam mannequin heads. Two had wigs on them. The third head was bald because Loochie’s mother was wearing that one, her weekend wig. Her mother had never liked straightening her hair. She kept it in cornrows beneath the wigs because life was just easier that way. There was one wig for work, one for the weekends, and one her mother wore out on some evenings when she dressed up and looked attractive. Loochie always thought her mother looked pretty, even without the store-bought hair, but on those evenings her mother turned the volume higher. She never told Loochie where she was going, or who she was going to see. Loochie understood the woman was going on dates but since they never talked about them she could never really picture what that meant. Apparently it required a special wig.
Mom entered the bedroom, sat on the bed, and watched her daughter get ready.
Lucretia Gardner had actually turned twelve on Thursday. She would’ve been happy to have this birthday party with Sunny alone, the two girls giggling over whatever was on the TV while Loochie fed a few spoonfuls of ice-cream cake to her best friend. Because of Sunny’s
cancer there wasn’t much chance the girls would be running through Flushing Meadows Park like they used to do. Settling down in their favorite spot below the humongous steel Unisphere.
“I wish Sunny was here,” Loochie said quietly.
Her mother leaned forward and smiled tightly. Loochie could see the woman’s reflection in the mirror. “It’s good for you to spend time with your other friends, too, especially now.”
“She’ll get better,” Loochie said.
Her mother nodded but her smile dropped. “Well, when she’s back from Tennessee you can have another party. Okay? For now, you’re being rude to Priya, Susan, and Monique. Don’t keep them waiting.”
Loochie remained still in front of the mirror.
“Aren’t you glad I invited your other friends?” Loochie’s mother asked, a little too eager.
“Yes,” Loochie said, but that was a lie, one she told only to make her mother happy.
“They’re all asking after you,” Loochie’s mother said, though Loochie guessed that was a lie, too. Mom reached for her daughter’s hand, the one that wouldn’t stop patting at stray strands of hair. She pulled Loochie close, into her lap.
“You’re nervous?” her mother asked.
“No.” Loochie lied again.
The truth was that Loochie knew something about each of those three girls in the living room, facts that she’d heard in school and discussed privately with Sunny more than once. Monique had breasts. Loochie didn’t have to hear about that. She could see them plainly. Everyone could. But she’d also heard that Susan had had pubic hair since she was ten. And Priya, maybe most shocking of all, was the first girl in Queens (or at least their class) to have her period. Meanwhile Loochie was developing at a glacial pace. Compared to Priya, Susan, and Monique she was still a child. The only person maturing more slowly was Sunny and at least Sunny could blame it on her sickness. Loochie had no good excuse. Those three girls waiting in the living room were blooming but Loochie still felt like a seed in the mud.
Mother and daughter looked at each other’s reflection in the dresser mirror. Was her mother thinking the same thing as she was? That they should cancel this party right now? Probably not. The three foam wig-heads watched them both.
“Did they ask about me?” Loochie asked.
“Of course they did,” Loochie’s mother said. “They can’t wait to see you. And you look beautiful, like an emerald princess.” She rubbed Loochie’s shoulders lightly. “I better get the cake.”
Loochie stood up. She smoothed the front of her dress. It was green with ruffles on the top and shoulders. When she’d slipped it on this morning the taffeta felt stiff on her skin and her chest was itchy and tender. She felt a little better in the gown now. She even liked herself in it.
From the living room Loochie and her mother heard the next song start.
Lucky you were born that far away so we could both make fun of the distance
Loochie’s mother did a little hip swivel, poorly, in honor of the Shakira song and Loochie, mortified, grabbed her mother’s elbow. “Please don’t dance in front of my friends.”
Her mother put up her hands and said, “I won’t, I won’t.”
Then her mother opened the bedroom door and led the way out. Loochie followed.
Their apartment was shaped like a capital letter H. Loochie’s mother’s bedroom sat at the top of the left side and it fed directly into the kitchen. Step out of the kitchen and you found their bathroom just to the right. And, at the bottom of this side, Loochie’s bedroom. Her door was shut now. It had an orange and blue Mets pennant taped to it, a gift from her older brother, Louis, to commemorate the team’s 2000 National League championship. It was starting to show its age, but Loochie kept it up. Louis had taken her to one of the games. He was grown-up and didn’t live with them anymore. She reached out and touched the pennant lightly, trying to calm herself. She could feel her heart banging against her ribs.
A small walkway, hardly a hallway, connected this half of the apartment to the other half, the right side of that H. The right side of the apartment was just one room, a living room and dining room combined. The space had seemed humungous to Loochie when she was a toddler,
like a long runway for her stubby legs, but by now it felt tiny. There was a dining table in the middle of the room and farther up a sofa and television. At the far end of the room, the top of the H, were three windows that faced the street. The three girls sat in a tight circle on the floor between the dining table and the sofa. Loochie felt embarrassed that there was so little space in here for them. All three girls lived in bigger apartments.