• Keri Heath

Headlines


After a while, they wouldn't let Lucy use the press anymore. Every time she got her hands on it, the words got up off the papers a few hours after they landed on the doorsteps and started walking all over town.

Twice, the police found the entire obituary section hanging out by the grocery store, calling out funerary information to the people going to buy milk and eggs. In April, the Sunday crossword ended up scattered all over Main Street, 6-across strewn beside the cafe and 12-down laying in front of one of the dress shops. The news was everywhere. The paper delivery guys were pulling stories out of trees and gutters until lunchtime. No one could find the sports section. All the stories kept moving around. As soon as anyone got close, they'd go scooting off down the road.

The press supervisor, Darryl, called Lucy into his office.

"It's getting worse," he told her. "We can't keep this up. People are canceling their subscriptions."

Lucy sighed. "I know. But I've been working on it. I really have. I think I've got a strategy for getting it under control."

Darryl chewed his pen cap. "You've got to focus, Lucy. I know you try to work hard, but you've got to get this issue sorted out."

"I do focus. It just sort of...happens."

"I know," Darryl said. "But you can't keep this up."

"You're not..." Lucy bit her lip. "You're not firing me are you?"

Darryl sighed. "I'm not going to lie to you. Management is starting to lean that way. I don't want to do it, but you've got to show me some progress."

Progress. Right. Lucy could do that. No problem.

She left work that night in the soft hours between the night and the morning. She liked this time of day, after most people had gone to bed but before most people had woken up, when the streets were muted and the world seemed empty and still. After the churn of the press, she could hear herself that much better.

Lucy parked on the street and cut the engine but she left her headlights on for a moment. There it was, hanging from the iron fence around her neighbor's house - the center story from two days ago. The crisp photo of a man dumping pink shrimp into a bucket fluttered in the wind, its corner stuck through with a fence post. The headline - Shrimpers face tough season and choppy waters - had gotten torn in one corner.

Lucy sighed. That was the day it was really bad, when basically the whole paper walked off the pages. Lately, she'd gotten it down to one page or only a few stories here and there, but that day, nothing had gone right. She'd just felt off, for no particular good reason.

Lucy gathered up the center story and took it in the house with her. She didn't feel like convincing it to go back on the page just yet, so she put it in a bowl and set it on the kitchen table. The story spun and spun in the bowl like it was chasing its own tail.

Lucy took off her shoes, made herself a cup of tea and sunk into the armchair. In the house across the street, the lights were still on and the soft thud of music underlined the otherwise silent night. Lucy had to remind herself it was a Saturday, that the college kids that rented that house were probably unwinding. She often forgot what day of the week it was. And as she thought about it, she realized she couldn't put her finger on exactly how many years she'd been at the paper. It wasn't many, but still, she couldn't remember. She wondered what that meant, or if it meant anything at all, or if, like was wont to happen at this time of night, she was just letting her mind race to places it had no reason to go.

Lucy's skin was slick with the fine sheen of sweat that arose every night after working by the machines, but she drank the hot tea anyway.

When she'd finished her tea, Lucy walked back into the kitchen. The story was still squirming in the bowl. She stood there, her empty mug in hand, staring at it for a while, watching the words all mix together.

Then, with sudden swiftness, she picked the bowl up and strode to her front door. Lucy flung the door open onto the steamy night and, holding the bowl with both hands, catapulted the story into the sky. The lede tumbled over the paragraphs and the captions wound up into a ball. Then, a wind caught up the tangled mess and dragged it up. As it got higher, the story unfurled and flattened out. Lucy leaned against the doorframe and chewed the inside of her lip, watching the story until it drifted gently out of sight.

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