Lucy woke from a deep sleep, disoriented but aware of light glancing off the walls around her, as if a person outside were trying to get a better look inside the cottage—could it be a flashlight? She lay still and silent, but her heart’s pounding was deafening. She chided herself for not yet having a dog: Get. Dog. Soon. Dammit. If you survive the axe murderer. This line item was already on her impossibly long list, along with the scores of expensive repairs and equipment this house needed; she nudged it right to the top.
Against her better judgment Lucy had decided to sleep in the river room instead of in Bran’s big bed, in spite of the room’s leaky ceiling and the musty air hanging all around her. She had managed to position the heavy old sleeper sofa away from the bad spots in the ceiling, vacuumed it to a fare-thee-well, and then scrubbed its cushions with upholstery cleaner. On that day she had strained against the bed’s rusty hinges, grasping its handles and gritting her teeth; it gave all at once and a section of its metal frame found the top of Lucy’s foot, met with an explosion of colorful language and hot tears of frustration. After the pain finally subsided, she’d spent a long while cleaning out all the cobwebs and spider eggs underneath the sofa. But finally making it up in Bran’s soft, threadbare cotton sheets had been so satisfying. Still, she knew it was possible sleeping out here in this moldy room was ill advised. It was a risk she’d been willing to take for the privilege of waking to the glorious morning view that met her through the north-facing windows, of that bend in the river down below and the city reaching out in all directions across its banks.
Now the light was dancing off another wall. Breathe deeply, stay calm, she whispered to herself, gingerly peeling back the covers and easing a leg over one side of the bed. Lucy gathered her nerve and her wits, and keeping the lights off, crept towards a window where she imagined she couldn’t be seen. But before she reached it a beam of light fell across her face—there it was! From her perch high up on the bluff Lucy could see the light came not from a person, but from a boat on the river below, a tug pushing a massive barge downstream in the darkness. The tug operator was navigating what Lucy imagined was an impossibly heavy payload around the bend, from a rig that looked so diminutive next to it, trying to avoid running her aground in shallow water.
Relaxing a little now, she stepped over to another window, the better to observe the spectacle below; it was just after midnight, but adrenaline had jolted her into wakefulness. She stood there long enough to see the barge downstream, safely around the bend; she watched the spotlight bounce against the river’s opposite shoreline as the tug continued on its way. Nothing to do now except go make a cup of tea and wait for sleep to return to her. Maybe she’d sit at the kitchen table and read for a little bit, or think about dog names. She wouldn’t wait: in the morning she’d start her search.