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Chapter 24

  • Father Ferlenghetti showed up at Art’s Gran’s at 7PM, just as the sun began t_et over the lake, and Art and he shared lemonade on Gran’s sunporch an_atched as the waves on Lake Ontario turned harshly golden.
  • “So, Arthur, tell me, what are you doing with your life?” the Father said. H_ad grown exquisitely aged, almost translucent, since Art had seen him last.
  • In his dog collar and old-fashioned aviator’s shades, he looked like _axworks figure.
  • Art had forgotten all about the Father’s visit until Gran stepped out of he_uperheated kitchen to remind him. He’d hastily showered and changed int_resh slacks and a mostly clean tee shirt, and had agreed to entertain th_riest while his Gran finished cooking supper. Now, he wished he’d signed u_o do the cooking.
  • “I’m working in London,” he said. “The same work as ever, but for an Englis_irm.”
  • “That’s what your grandmother tells me. But is it making you happy? Is it wha_ou plan to do with the rest of your life?”
  • “I guess so,” Art said. “Sure.”
  • “You don’t sound so sure,” Father Ferlenghetti said.
  • “Well, the work part’s excellent. The politics are pretty ugly, though, t_ell the truth.”
  • “Ah. Well, we can’t avoid politics, can we?”
  • “No, I guess we can’t.”
  • “Art, I’ve always known that you were a very smart young man, but being smar_sn’t the same as being happy. If you’re very lucky, you’ll get to be my ag_nd you’ll look back on your life and be glad you lived it.”
  • Gran called him in for dinner before he could think of a reply. He settle_own at the table and Gran handed him a pen.
  • “What’s this for?” he asked.
  • “Sign the tablecloth,” she said. “Write a little something and sign it an_ate it, nice and clear, please.”
  • “Sign the tablecloth?”
  • “Yes. I’ve just started a fresh one. I have everyone sign my tablecloth an_hen I embroider the signatures in, so I have a record of everyone who’s bee_ere for supper. They’ll make a nice heirloom for your children—I’ll show yo_he old ones after we eat.”
  • “What should I write?”
  • “It’s up to you.”
  • While Gran and the Father looked on, Art uncapped the felt-tip pen and though_nd thought, his mind blank. Finally, he wrote, “For my Gran. No matter wher_ am, I know you’re thinking of me.” He signed it with a flourish.
  • “Lovely. Let’s eat now.”
  • Art meant to log in and see if Colonelonic had dredged up any intel on Linda’_x, but he found himself trapped on the sunporch with Gran and the Father an_ small stack of linen tablecloths hairy with embroidered wishes. He trace_heir braille with his fingertips, recognizing the names of his childhood.
  • Gran and the Father talked late into the night, and the next thing Art knew, Gran was shaking him awake. He was draped in a tablecloth that he’d pulle_ver himself like a blanket, and she folded it and put it away while h_ngummed his eyes and staggered off to bed.
  • Audie called him early the next morning, waking him up.
  • “Hey, Art! It’s your cousin!”
  • “Audie?”
  • “You don’t have any other female cousins, so yes, that’s a good guess. You_ran told me you were in Canada for a change.”
  • “Yup, I am. Just for a little holiday.”
  • “Well, it’s been long enough. What do you do in London again?”
  • “I’m a consultant for Virgin/Deutsche Telekom.” He has this part of th_onversation every time he speaks with Audie. Somehow, the particulars of hi_ob just couldn’t seem to stick in her mind.
  • “What kind of consultant?”
  • “User experience. I help design their interactive stuff. How’s Ottawa?”
  • “They pay you for that, huh? Well, nice work if you can get it.”
  • Art believed that Audie was being sincere in her amazement at his niche in th_orking world, and not sneering at all. Still, he had to keep himself fro_aying something snide about the lack of tangible good resulting from keepin_Ps up to date on the poleconomy of semiconductor production in PacRi_weatshops.
  • “They sure do. How’s Ottawa?”
  • “Amazing. And why London? Can’t you find work at home?”
  • “Yeah, I suppose I could. This just seemed like a good job at the time. How’_ttawa?
  • “Seemed, huh? You going to be moving back, then? Quitting?”
  • “Not anytime soon. How’s Ottawa?”
  • “Ottawa? It’s beautiful this time of year. Alphie and Enoch and I were goin_o go to the trailer for the weekend, in Calabogie. You could drive up an_eet us. Swim, hike. We’ve built a sweatlodge near the dock; you and Alphi_ould bake up together.”
  • “Wow,” Art said, wishing he had Audie’s gift for changing the subject. “Sound_reat. But. Well, you know. Gotta catch up with friends here in Toronto. It’_een a while, you know. Well.” The image of sharing a smoke-filled dome wit_lphie’s naked, cross-legged, sweat-slimed paunch had seared itself across hi_aking mind.
  • “No? Geez. Too bad. I’d really hoped that we could reconnect, you and me an_lphie. We really should spend some more time together, keep connected, yo_now?”
  • “Well,” Art said. “Sure. Yes.” Relations or no, Audie and Alphie wer_asically strangers to him, and it was beyond him why Audie thought the_hould be spending time together, but there it was. Reconnect, keep connected.
  • Hippies. “We should. Next time I’m in Canada, for sure, we’ll get together, I’ll come to Ottawa. Maybe Christmas. Skating on the canal, OK?”
  • “Very good,” Audie said. “I’ll pencil you in for Christmas week. Here, I’l_end you the wish lists for Alphie and Enoch and me, so you’ll know what t_et.”
  • Xmas wishlists in July. Organized hippies! What planet did his cousins grow u_n, anyway?
  • “Thanks, Audie. I’ll put together a wishlist and pass it along to you soon, OK?” His bladder nagged at him. “I gotta run now, all right?”
  • “Great. Listen, Art, it’s been, well, great to talk to you again. It reall_akes me feel whole to connect with you. Don’t be a stranger, all right?”
  • “Yeah, OK! Nice to talk to you, too. Bye!”
  • “Safe travels and wishes fulfilled,” Audie said.
  • “You too!”