Listening for Lucca

I’m obsessed with abandoned things.

Left- behind things, unwanted things. Forgotten things.

When Lucca and I got to the park, a small lamb waited on a bench.

The lambie was stuffed and half- full of plastic beans and fluff. He was gray and worn; chew marks creased his nose. He was small enough to hold in one hand.

No sign of the lamb’s owner. There was only one other person at the park. He wore a top hat and formal jacket, very hot clothes for sweltering July. He was reading the paper, and every once in a while he took out a pocket watch to check the time. I could see him only out of the corner of my eye; I didn’t want to be caught glancing his way. I wasn’t sure if he was really there, but people dress
in all kinds of funny ways around here, so I tried to tell myself he was just someone in old-fashioned clothes. Not something else.

Because from time to time, I get these glimpses of things, almost like . . .

The lamb, I reminded myself. I sat down beside it and waited. I’d let Lucca play for half an hour; if no one came for the lamb by then, I would take it home.

That was always the gamble. What if someone came back and their special thing was gone?

But I always think: they forgot. The lamb could sit there, fade in the sun and rot in the rain. It might take the owner ages to remember that he’d even had a lamb. Then it would be too late and all a waste.

My collection of rescued things drives Mom crazy. I started it about a year and a half ago, sometime after Lucca stopped talking. Mom used to tell me not to bring home junk I’d found, but I insisted that these carefully selected items weren’t junk, though I couldn’t explain it any better than that. I cleaned them and set them neatly on my shelf and made sure dust didn’t gather on them. How was it that they had come to be lost?

Sometimes things need rescuing.

Mom seemed to be hoping that when we moved I wouldn’t take my collection with me. She’d limited the number of boxes I could use, thinking I might pick other things instead, but it was actually the first thing I packed.

“Siena, what if you don’t have room for the important things now?”

“This is an important thing. I’ll leave behind my winter clothes if I have to.”

Mom had let out an exasperated sigh. Moving to our own house on the New England coast would not be the time to leave winter clothes behind. I knew that would push her buttons.

I also knew what Dad had told me, which was that the moving truck would be huge. So Mom was full of it. We could bring everything we wanted. Dad had said so.

I watched Lucca climb up the green- painted bars and zip down the slide. He made some kind of low superhero noises and zoomed around the climbing structure on foot. “Whoosh, shwoosh, whoosh.”

This time was the last Lucca would play here. I’d played in this park every day when I was little, too. It hadn’t changed, except for the color of the painted bars, from orange to beige and green. I knew every corner, from the cozy hiding spot under the slide to where to turn on the sprinklers in the summer. I was tempted to go for one final climb-and-slide myself, but I stayed put, watching. Lucca didn’t mind playing alone. Maybe he even preferred it.

I kept track of the half hour on my watch.

“Come on, Lucca. It’s time to go home.”

The word home hung in the air, as if testing itself.

I scooped up the lamb. Lucca pointed, asking about it.

“It’s dirty,” I explained. “We can’t play with it.”

When I didn’t hand it over, he shrugged and took my other hand. We walked back to our apartment.

In my room, I found the box with the other collected items in it. A pocket watch with a broken face. A Brooklyn library card that said Hannah Stone in little-kid writing. A shovel- and- bucket pair from the beach. Three unmatched earrings. A participation ribbon for an unknown event. A silver spoon, except it probably wasn’t real silver, because it didn’t tarnish. And a hundred other things. I dropped in the lamb and folded the cardboard flaps back down.

I looked at my life, packed up in a dozen boxes. My life, and all these little pieces of other lives. I was their protector. They wouldn’t be left behind again.

Our apartment would become an abandoned thing. One too big to collect.

The movers were coming in the morning.

* * *

The upstairs hallway has the glow of daylight but no direct sunshine. The ocean breeze blows in through the open windows of the four bedrooms. I put my hand on the banister and follow the railing to the stairs and then down. At the bottom, I look right and left into living rooms on either side and step through the grand front doorway onto a painted wooden porch. From there I can see the ocean. Everything’s calm and beautiful, but the breeze chills my arms and makes the hair on them stand up.

I awoke, still in my bed in Brooklyn.

Back around the time Lucca had stopped talking and I’d started collecting, I’d also started dreaming about this house, this big old house by the sea.

Today we were going there.

* * *

Mom was arguing with Lucca over sealing up his toys in boxes.

“But that’s how they’ll ride in the truck to our new house,” she said. Then, “But we have to close them in so they stay nice and safe. We have to shut the boxes!”

Arguing between them is Mom getting louder and louder, and Lucca not saying anything but using his body to show what he wants. I didn’t go into the tiny office that we’d converted into his bedroom, but from Mom’s shouts of “Lucca, get up! Get off!” I pictured him slung across the boxes. I guess I wasn’t the only one trying Mom’s patience during the packing process.

I got dressed, grabbed my notebook and music, and yelled to Mom that I was going.

We’d made this deal: I didn’t want to see our apartment empty and abandoned, and Mom wanted as few people as possible underfoot, so she told me I could sit in the coffee shop on the corner until it was time to go.

“Bye!” I yelled.

“Wait!” She hurried after me. “Here’s a twenty. And take your brother!”

I hadn’t expected that. But Lucca’s tiny sneakers pounded to catch up, and soon his hand was in mine.

At the coffee shop, I set up Lucca at a table by the window. It was so early no one else was sitting down yet, just getting coffees to go. I bought juice and a muffin for me and a slice of some kind of loaf cake and a yogurt for Lucca. He ate happily for a long time while I wrote and listened to my music. Eventually he finished eating, so I tore pages out of my notebook and showed him how to fold the paper into little dogs and then draw their faces. His little figures hardly resembled dogs, but he lined them up so they could see out the window. He tapped the glass for me to look—the little paper pups were watching the real dogs outside going for their morning walks.

Later, there came another tap on the window. It was Dad, outside. Time to go.

Bye, Brooklyn.

© Suzanne M. LaFleur, Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2013