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!”
“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?”