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*****Page 1 – Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce*****

ON THE rolling lawn of Barnaderg Bay Hospital, the long-term patient known as Miss Lucia Joyce sat in a position of slack repose, in a patch of weak sunlight. Her left wrist was braceleted by a canvas posy, the right by a loose cloth only. Her eyes were shut though the left lid fluttered ever so slightly. Her wavy gingerbread-and-gray hair looked as though it had recently been permed. On her lap lay a small copybook and the stub of a wooden pencil.

A mockingbird trilled from its position on the lower branches of a nearby elm tree. In entre chat six the bird leaped into the air, somersaulted, landed on a branch, and then resumed its trilling as it had been doing in tandem to the somersaulting all afternoon a short distance from Miss Joyce’s chair.

The faint sun passed behind a cloud, washing a pale shadow across her face. Her right hand jerked against the restraint and lazily she opened both eyes. They were so blue and clear – her mother’s eyes she had always been told – that they could almost be regarded as aquamarine. Large drops of rain plopped against the crown of her head.

For a brief moment of ecstasy she smelled the rain drenched, fresh smell of her mother’s wet hair. She waited to hear the tone of her voice. By whether or not it was sharp she would know if her mother had finally forgiven her for being such a disappointment.

The charge nurse, Sister Leary, hurried from inside the greystone chapel, where she had been saying her Rosary. Her face showed concern as the rain began to fall; holding on to her white starched hat, she broke into a run. Reaching the clumsy wheelchair, she hurriedly pushed it across the emerald lawn. Miss Joyce’s head bumping as she went.

Miss Joyce showed not the slightest interest in the rain, squinting distractedly at something just out of eye range. Her father had wet her hair with a jug of cool rainwater. Soon he would turn her hair into a halo of soapsuds. His long fingers always made her scalp hum. With the wrong touch, tears of pain sprang to her eyes. While her father sudsed her hair, he would always sing to her in his soft, persuasive Irish tenor voice, his bony body bent over her like a question mark.

She began to hum, her voice sweet but erratic. The bird also trilled noisily.

Her humming continued as Sister Leary ran, barely audible to human ears. Then it trailed off and stopped. The bird grew silent as well.

Sister leaned against the wheelchair in order to push it up the slope into the solarium. She grunted with the effort. Miss Joyce’s head rolled backward, her mismatched eyes showing a flicker of alertness, then disinterest.

The solarium was empty except for a woman who had spent her entire adult life at Barnaderg Bay Hospital. She was Mrs. Angeles, often somnambulist, with canine eyes and dust-gray nose, asleep, drooling onto her woolie.

Sister backed Miss Joyce’s heavy wheelchair against the wall, beside the horsehair couch with cabbage-flowered coverlet and no-longer-white doilies, embroidered and donated by the church ladies from the nearby village to the Handicapped Children’s Home but given by the good sisters there to Barnaderg Bay. Her hair had become wet and tangled.

Mrs. Leary reached under her white starched apron and drew a comb from the pocket of her dark-blue uniform, which was circled by a black belt. At the sight of the comb Miss Joyce recoiled. Mrs. Leary sighed and put the comb away. From the other pocket she removed a packet of Woodbine cigarettes, because she couldn’t afford Sweet Aftons until payday. Then a box of wooden matches.

Seeing the cigarettes, Miss Joyce pinned Mrs. Leary with her left eye and Mrs. Leary loosened the right arm restraint. Miss Joyce’s remarkably pink and outsize hand closed around the packet.

“Flow gently, Sweet Afton,” Miss Joyce teased.

Not one to meet humor with humor, Mrs. Leary sighed once again, “Sorry, dearie, I don’t get paid until next week and neither do you.” Mrs. Leary gave her a pat on her reddish curls. “I promise, dearie.”

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[Photo: Lucia and her father, James Joyce] [[Clairvoyant, available on Amazon as a paperback book or a kindle]]