Lucinda stood enjoying the fragrant breeze and the early summer sun piercing the heavy foliage to lay splashes of warmth on her arms. Everything was in bloom and the colors were, she thought, like the primaries of a beginner's set of Crayolas. She loved spring. But full summer, when the air stood motionless and heavy, too thick almost to breathe, was unbearable. Despite having spent the first part of her life in California — the land of perpetual summer with the periodic peculiar effects of the Santa Anas that often drove otherwise rational people to do irrational things — she'd never tolerated the heat well. Lily hadn't either, and used to say she'd passed her native New England genes to Lucinda. Which was why Lily's first major expenditure on the Connecticut house had been the central heating/air-conditioning system. Her second and last expenditure of any significance was the installation of the swimming pool for Lucinda (Lily herself didn't swim). And that was that. Lily's taste in furnishings had been terrible. Lucinda had grown up with a woman who, while meticulous in most other areas, had been content to live with furniture the Salvation Army would've rejected.
Nearly 30 years before, when Lily's estate finally cleared probate, Lucinda had become the owner of a property that included the old farmhouse and barn on two acres of land (which had the local real estate agents salivating and phoning endlessly, begging her to sell), more money than she could possibly spend (given her limited needs and desires), and a number of cartons of highly collectible memorabilia from her mother's film career. By then, though, Lucinda was in a state perilously close to agoraphobia. With a desperate need to humanize the space that had come to contain her as tightly as a vacuum-sealed, see-through package, she had had the house renovated. But the barn had remained untouched, a repository for rusted-out farm implements, dead lawn mowers and crumbling wicker furniture; the home of nesting birds and small burrowing animals.
At last, in the grip of long-accumulated inspiration, she'd hired an architect — a then-recent graduate whose tidy features flushed with ambitious pleasure at the sight of the massive hand-hewn beams and weathered wood walls. And the previous May the renovation of the barn had finally been completed after thirteen months of noisy saws, migraine-inducing hammering, and workmen moving about to the accompaniment of bad music blaring from the paint-bespattered boom box that seemed to be a vital part of their equipment.
Sometimes now, Lucinda would be drawn down the driveway to let herself into the barn and wander around for half an hour or so, admiring the heavy beams, the wide plank flooring, the loft and steeply pitched roof-that were integral to the original structure. The rough plastering on the walls had been painted eggshell white, in appealing contrast to the age-darkened exposed studs and beams. A kitchen had been created at the far end of the living room, separated from the main area by a long countertop that served both as a work area and a dining table. Three utilitarian bedrooms had been created in the loft, accessible by an open, thick-planked stairway, and were faithful to the overall simplicity of the place. The bathrooms, too, were plain, with white fixtures and ceramic tiles.
Dropping by mid-construction, looking at the uncapped pipes and spools of wiring feeding in from all directions, Lucinda's oldest friend Gin had said, "I don't know how the hell you stand it-the horrible noise, and all the nasty butt-cracks on view. I think construction guys — plumbers especially — love flashing their ugly bums 'cause they're so sure no woman's ever going to say, "Kindly cover yourself, sir. The view is not pretty.'" Lucinda had stared at her for a long moment. Then they'd burst into mad laughter that had bounced back at them from the ribbed roof high above. The barn was now where Katanya and her mother, Loranne, and grandmother, Jeneva, stayed when they came up from Manhattan on weekends. In the past year, the three had taken to leaving personal items in their rooms so that they traveled on the train carrying only small overnight cases or, in Jeneva's case, a Bloomingdale's bag filled with containers of delectable food she'd prepared the night before. Katanya's room had a bulletin board where she'd push-pinned pen-and-ink drawings she'd done, programs from school productions and the Broadway musical in which she'd appeared, and a ju-ju bag she'd bought in an African shop in Harlem that contained, she said, "... my good luck shark's teeth that probably came from a dog, what's supposed to be antelope hair but I think is rat fur, and for-real chicken bones." Several worse-for-wear stuffed animals sat tiredly on the bed, and her dresser top held clustered bottles of nail polish and perfume, hair ornaments and tangles of costume jewelry. There was a poster of Albert Einstein on the wall over the bed and, next to it, one of Savion Glover. It was definitely a young girl's room — but, clearly, no ordinary girl.
See Charlotte Vale-Allen's INside story on writing.