Lucy Ratcliffe could read by age four, and by six had ripped through all the books that interested her in the children’s corner at the neighborhood public library, even some that did not, and a great many of them time and again. At eight she consumed any piece of literature that crossed her path, and hungrily, including the decidedly grownup fiction Bran occasionally left behind when she visited. Lucy was engrossed in her bookish habits like any junkie, and to the point of rudeness: Dinner guests who arrived early and had occasion to greet her before the housekeeper whisked her off to bath and bed were met with jaded silence when they miscalculated this half-pint enigma who possessed the capacity to read while brushing her teeth, or climbing a flight of stairs, or even swinging. What a cute outfit you’re wearing, they would observe, or tell me about that story you’re reading, they might implore condescendingly. Lucy felt no sense of duty or obligation to humor these banal requests, which she frankly found pointless and tiresome. I will never speak like that to children, she would later resolve silently in her bedroom sanctuary before she flipped out the light on her nightstand. She would fall asleep to the clinking of china and silver, and the ebb and flow of the grownup conversation under the floor beneath her, which grew louder with every round of cocktails, punctuated now and then by an explosion of laughter over some silly notion she felt sure was not amusing in the least.
The next morning Lucy’s parents would chide her at the breakfast table for her insensitivity in the company of their friends and colleagues. Then she would plunk her spoon back into the cereal bowl and tuck her hands under her legs, which swung back and forth beneath the wood chair, not quite in unison. Her father would look at her over his glasses from across the table, taking in the braids in her shiny, ebony hair, and giving her a moment to reflect on this misstep.
Then he would nudge in exasperation, “Do you have anything you want to say?” His hands would fiddle with the stuck-together corners of the newspaper while he spoke, but his gaze would remain focused on this complicated child.
“I’m not hungry. May I be excused?”
This was the cue for him to shake his head and ‘hmpf’ before finally leaning back in his chair and burying himself in the day’s news. By now Lucy’s mother would have pushed her chair away from the table and retreated to the safety of the kitchen sink, where she rinsed bits of toast and egg from her plate and commenced to scrub the sink itself. She left the tap all the way open and allowed the sound of the water to reach a crescendo inside her head so as not to hear her daughter leave the room. In her mind’s eye, the three of them lingered contentedly over their morning meal, with the hope and promise of a new day stretching out before them.