Toronto |

The Soother

by Elyse Friedman

Irma unfastened the plastic clip on her nursing bra and brought a hard brown nipple to Lucas’s mouth. He latched on and sucked greedily. She watched his hands curl into fists. “There,” she said, “there there...” Irma rubbed the centre of his back with a soft circular motion. She stroked his forehead and the wisps of fine hair around his ears. He gurgled with contentment. “You’re a hungry boy, aren’t you? Yes, you are.” The wind-up mobile turned slowly above their heads. Lucas focused dreamily on the blue geese as they orbited the smiling plastic sun. Music played — tinkling, halting — like Satie on toy piano. His eyes closed all the way. “Shhh,” Irma whispered. “Shhhh.” She fed him for the usual twenty minutes, burped him and checked his diaper. “Ooh, somebody needs a change, don’t they? Yes, they do!” She moistened a soother in her mouth, then slipped the plastic nubbin to Lucas. She opened his diaper, lifted the legs as best she could, and slid it out from under him. It was dry. “Did mugwamps go pee-pee?” She nuzzled Lucas’s ear, blew a raspberry into the folds of flesh where double chin met neck. He shrieked with pleasure, kicked his fat legs in the air. “Okay, enough of that.” She maneuvered him onto his belly, smoothed ointment on his bottom and dusted it with talcum powder. Then she rolled him back onto a clean nappy and did it up nice and snug. “So, my darling, what will it be? Funny Bunny or Oodles of Poodles? Let’s see... How about poodles today?” Irma opened the book and began to read. “Oodles of poodles in puddles of noodles.” She turned the thick cardboard page. “Lambs pushing prams full of apples and yams.” She read the remaining eight pages then closed the book. She checked her watch. It was seven minutes to one. “Okay,” she said, standing up, “that’s all for today, sweet-cheeks.” She kissed his tummy, and slipped out of the room. Lucas sighed. His hour with Irma was the fastest in the week. He lay there for a full minute before sitting up to remove his diaper, which he used to swab the powder and ointment off his buttocks. He lifted the lid on the tickle trunk, retrieved shoes, socks, watch, pinky ring, and his carefully laid out suit. He dressed quickly, then picked up one of the small white envelopes that said To: and From: on it. To: Irma, he wrote, From: Baby Luke. He put two hundred-dollar bills into the envelope and popped it through the slot on the wooden lock box. He exited through the back door. Irma had things set up nicely. Very private. He was all the way at the bottom of the rear stairwell before he realized he still had the binky in his mouth. “Shit,” he said, pulling it out. He looked up at the stairs. Most likely it would just be Irma in there, cleaning up, preparing for the next client. But what if it weren’t? He decided not to risk it. He would bring it along next Tuesday. It was his anyway — that is, assigned to him — and he didn’t want to hike two flights again. Not with the irregular heartbeats he’d been having lately. Not with the chest pains. Lucas stepped into the blaze of day and lit a cigarette.
Traffic was bad. It occurred to Lucas that rush hour was an outdated concept. In Toronto, any hour between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. qualified. He checked his cell phone. In the short hour he’d been incommunicado he’d received five messages. His eldest daughter’s voice clanged in his ear: “So, this fucking asshole is refusing to give us our money back, and now he’s saying we’re going to have to pay for the whole wedding!” No build up. Instantly frantic. Lucas curbed an impulse to pitch the phone out the window. “I told him about mom, but he just kept going on about the frickin’ contract. So can you do me a favour and call him? Please? I’m totally swamped and stressed, and if we don’t get that money back, I don’t know what we’re going to do. OK, call me once you’ve talked to him. His name is John Khodabux. John Kho-da-bux. I don’t have the number handy, but he’s the general manager. OK. Call me once you’ve spoken to him.” No goodbye, just a click. The next message was from Megan, his youngest. She rarely used to telephone, but now that she was single and pregnant and finding it difficult to prepare for a child on the small sums she sporadically received from various arts councils — Lucas wasn’t exactly sure how it worked — she telephoned often. “Hi, it’s Megan. Sorry to bug you; I called the office and they said you were out for a couple of hours, so I thought I’d try you on the cell. Um, I don’t know if you’re going to be in the vicinity in the near future, but if you are, I was wondering if you could pop in for ten minutes and help me install the air conditioner. It’s obscenely hot in here, and I’m not supposed to overheat now. Anyway, you’re probably running around doing some wedding thing for Kate.” Did he detect a trace of bitterness in that? “But if you have a sec, give me a call. If not, I guess I can try to do it myself.” There it was — the threat of self-destruction that so often accompanied Megan’s requests for aid. Only now his unborn grandchild was the principal figure in jeopardy. He called her back before listening to the remaining messages. “Hello?” “How are you feeling, sweetie?” “Exhausted, as usual. And it’s stinking hot in here.” “Well, I don’t want you lifting that air conditioner, OK?” “Yeah, but I don’t know how long I can last in this heat. It’s like a steam bath in here.” “Why don’t you get out? See a movie or something.” Megan laughed. “You know how much movies cost these days? It’s like, thirteen bucks or something stupid. Not to mention the $5.00 to get there and back.” “I can giv—” “Anyway, I don’t have the energy.” “Look, I have to meet Uncle Andrew for lunch, but I’ll swing by after, OK?” “Another invention?” “I suspect.” “Yikes. Where are you meeting him?” “Phipps.” “Is there a drugstore around there by any chance?” “Why, what do you need?” “I’m supposed to get an iron supplement called ferrous gluconate. Apparently, my iron is really low, which is why I’m so tired.” “What’s it called?” “Ferr-ous glu-con-ate. And if you could bring some ice cream? Anything but chocolate or strawberry.” “Vanilla?” “Um...” “How about butterscotch?” “Yeah, I guess.” “OK, I’ll—” “Or if they have Gelato Fresco — the hazelnut. Or the mango-vanilla.” “All right—” “But not the plain mango, ’cause—” “Oh, I have another call; hold on.” Lucas checked the display. “It’s your mother. I gotta go.” “OK. Not the plain mango. See you soon.” “See you. Hello?” Lucas lit a cigarette. “It’s me. Where are you?” “On my way to meet Andrew. What’s up?” “You’re meeting Andrew?” “Just for lunch.” “Oh that’s rich. Listen, Lucas, we’re racking up enough debt with the wedding. Did you know the flowers alone are going to be close to ten thousand dollars?” “Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?” “And now this Khoda — whatever the hell his name is, is saying we’re going to have to pay for everything.” “I know, I got a message from Kate. Oh shit.” “What’s wrong?” Lucas felt a familiar constriction in his chest, accompanied by a burn in the solar plexus. “Nothing. I just — nothing.” “Are you OK?” “I’m fine.” Lucas flicked the cigarette out the window. Coughed. The pain subsided, but the tightness remained. “How are you doing?” “My throat feels funny again. But not too bad overall.” “Good.” “So you’ll call the hotel?” “As soon as I get back to the office.” “And you’re home this evening, right?” “Why?” “The student I hired to do the neighbour’s lawn didn’t show up again.” “Great. Well, can’t you hire someone else?” “I’m sorry, sweets. I called five places; no one could come until Sunday. I promised we’d have it done by Friday at the absolute latest. You know, they’re going to get fed up, and then they’re going to spray, and then I’m going to be back in the hospital.” “All right, I’ll deal with it,” Lucas said. “It’s not that bad. Maybe twenty dandelions.” “Fine. I’ll do it after dinner.” “Speaking of which, could you pop by Whole Foods on your way home and pick up some organic quinoa? “If I have time. It’s starting to look like I won’t though.” “I would do it, but I have help Kate buy more bridal party gifts.” His wife sighed. “If I have time I’ll get it. Anyway, I’m just pulling up...” “All right. Don’t let him sucker you. I’ll see you later.” “Bye.” Lucas checked the remaining messages. They were both from work. He called in, dealt quickly with the crisis at hand, then turned off the ringer on his telephone.
“Carpet tiles.” Lucas stared across the table at his brother Andrew, who was smiling like a conspirator. His eyes were shining. There were cake crumbs in his beard, and a chocolate icing smudge on his dress shirt. “One square foot each — to begin with, anyway. It’s like a do-it-yourself area rug. You get me?” “Um—” “Say you’re living in an apartment, and you want a rug that’s 4 x 6. OK, you buy 24 carpet tiles, maybe 12 beige and 12 cream, and you put them together in the pattern you desire — like a checkerboard, if you want. Say you move into a house someday. Now you need an area rug that’s 9 x 12. No problem, you just buy 30 more carpet tiles and add them on. Maybe you want some chocolate brown in the mix. Fine, you buy a dozen in brown, and get creative with the pattern. You see what I’m saying?” Andrew forked a chunk of cake into his mouth. “How do they stay together?” “A patented Velcro-like system.” “You have a patent?” “Not yet. I have to make the prototype first. But the fastening system isn’t the beautiful part; the concept is the beautiful part, don’t you think? I mean, tell me this isn’t a beautiful idea.” “It’s not bad.” Andrew waved his fork. “Oh, I forgot the best part! Say Rover or Grandpa loses bladder control in the middle of the rug. Not a problem. You just buy a couple replacement tiles and chuck the offending stains into the garbage. Is that brilliant, or what?” “It’s actually a pretty good idea, Andrew.” Lucas was surprised. His brother had concocted countless “brilliant” ideas over the years — everything from a hot dog vending machine to a home polygraph test. Only once before had one seemed clever and potentially viable — the spouted paint can, “For clean and easy pouring.” Lucas had funded that one to the tune of five thousand dollars. It worked well, but nothing ever came of it. The industry didn’t want to mess with the standard. And his brother overlooked the fact that manufacturers wanted their cans to spill. They sold more paint that way. “Well, I’m gratified.” Andrew said. “The man who hates all my ideas likes this one. It must be good.” “I don’t hate all your ideas.” “Everything but the paint can.” “That’s not true. I’ve supported many other projects of y—” “OK, you don’t have to rub it in.” Andrew pulled out a package of cigarettes. He withdrew one, and placed it between his lips. “Got a light?” “What are you doing? You can’t smoke in here.” Andrew sighed and took the cigarette out of his mouth. “You can’t even smoke in bars; what makes you think you can smoke in a cafe?” “OK, fine. Relax.” Andrew rolled his eyes, and stuffed the cigarette back into the pack, as if Lucas were personally responsible for the smoking bylaw. Lucas had a flash of reaching across the table and squeezing his brother by the throat. “I have a couple cartons for you in the trunk,” he said. “Great. What kind?” “The usual.” Lucas worked for a large tobacco company. He was a manager in the marketing department. His middle child, Leo, despised him for it. On the rare occasions when they hooked up for lunch or coffee, his son insisted on paying for himself. He didn’t want a dime of Lucas’s “dirty cancer money.” Even though Leo was generally joyless, and seldom pleasant to be around, Lucas had to give him credit for acting in ways which supported his copious convictions. Megan and Kate, on the other hand, frequently berated him for his work, but seemed content to benefit from the proceeds of tobacco sales. Andrew pushed his plate away. “You want to step out for a smoke?” “Yeah. I have to go anyway. I have to drop by Megan’s place on the way to the office.” “How’s she doing?” “She’s fine. Tired.” “I can’t really see Meggie as a mom, for some reason.” “Oh, she’ll take to it, I think,” Lucas said, trying to mask his uncertainty. He stood and carried both trays to the counter. His brother followed. As soon as they were out of the cafe, they lit cigarettes. “Car’s just up here; why don’t we go get the smokes?” “Cool,” said Andrew. As they walked in silence, Lucas could feel the hamster wheel turning in his brother’s head. “So, Lukey,” he said as they got to the Lexus. “How’d you like to save my life, and partner with me on this carpet tile venture?”
“John Khadabox, please.” “That’s Khodabux. I’ll put you through now.” “Dad!” “One sec, Megan.” “John Khodabux’s office, can I help you?” “I’d like to speak to Mr. Khodabux, please.” “May I ask who’s calling?” “Lucas Monahan.” “One moment please.” Lucas watched his daughter unpack the drugstore items he had purchased, the ferrous gluconate and ice cream, also some extra items he figured she could use: toilet paper, Kleenex, dry roasted peanuts, Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, a Vanity Fair Magazine. He thought she’d be pleased, but something was wrong. She looked angry. There were tears swelling in her eyes. “John Khodabux speaking.” “Yes, this is Lucas Monahan calling with regard to the Kate Monahan/Jeremy Fish wedding.” “Yes, sir. What can I do for you today?” “Well, what you could do, sir, is keep our initial three-thousand-dollar deposit, refund the rest of our money, and call it a day.” “I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I can’t do that. But I would be happy to provide you with a copy of the contract—” “Forget the contract, OK? The contract doesn’t take into account my wife’s debilitating condition, does it? A condition that was diagnosed long after my daughter booked the ballroom at your hotel.” He saw Megan roll her eyes. She didn’t believe her mother was genuinely ill. “Don’t you think a mother should be able to attend her own daughter’s wedding?” “Of course, sir.” “Well, my wife won’t be able to attend our daughter’s wedding without getting sick from the pesticides sprayed in your kitchen and ballrooms.” “We don’t spray in the ballrooms, sir.” “You spray in the adjoining kitchen, do you not?” “Yes, sir.” “And in the guest rooms.” “Very rarely, yes.” “And on the grounds? In the outdoor areas, on the grass?” “Of course.” “Well, my wife is extremely sensitive. There’s no way we can have the wedding there.” “I understand, sir. And I apologize for the inconvenience. Of course, you’re free to hold the wedding wherever you wish.” “I realize that. But if you’re holding us to the full cost of the event, we won’t be able to have it anywhere but City Hall or perhaps our backyard. Are you saying, given the extenuating circumstances, that you still refuse?” “I apologize, sir, but this is why we have contracts. Your daughter booked the room over a year ago. The catering department has finalized the menu, arranged for staff...It’s too late now for us to use that room. Had your daughter cancelled more than thirty days before the event, perhaps, we could have done things differently.” Lucas could feel his blood pressure rising. He had a vision of driving fast to the luxury hotel, and placing a gun in John Khodabux’s mouth. Instead, he said calmly: “Well, that’s very inflexible of you. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write you a cheque for — what is it, thirty-two thousand dollars?” “Roughly, sir. Thirty-two thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four remaining on the balance.” “Fine. I’m going to write you that cheque. Then I’m going to write a letter to Mr. Samuel Black, the chairman and founder of your hotel chain. In that missive, I’m going to explain my wife’s condition, and how my daughter’s wedding was totally ruined by your hotel, well, you specifically. I’m also going to send Mr. Black photocopies of the letters I have written to all the local and national newspapers about this sad affair. I have a friend at the Toronto Sun who specializes in this kind of story — you know: the little guy getting screwed by the unfeeling corporation. Maybe I’ll ask him to run a photo of my daughter in her wedding dress, and my wife in her wheelchair, looking sad in front of your hotel. What do you think? Would that be good for business, or your career?” Silence. A small puff of exhaled air. “All right, sir. I think I see your point.” “Oh good. That’s good. Thank you for being so understanding. Now, how do we resolve this?” “We can forego the remaining balance, and simply keep the money deposited—” “No, no, no, no. We’ve already paid for forty percent of the wedding. That’s ridiculous. No. I’m prepared to forfeit the three thousand dollars initially deposited, but that’s it. End of story.” Lucas waited. He could hear the general manager breathing on the other end of the phone. After what seemed like an unnaturally long interval, he spoke. “All right, Mr. Monahan. If your daughter would like to get in touch with me, we can make arrangements to refund the most recent deposit.” “That’s great. Thank you very much. Listen, why don’t you keep an extra five hundred, and buy yourself a nice bottle of scotch.” “It’s not necessary, sir.” “Well, I’ll leave it up to you. Thank you kindly for your time, Mr. Khodabux.” “No problem, sir.” Lucas hung up the phone, feeling smug and triumphant, but his daughter’s sour face made the fizz of success evaporate. “Wheelchair?” she said. “So I embellished a little.” Lucas laughed. Megan did not laugh. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” “Well... no, it’s nothing.” “What? What’s the matter?” “Look, I appreciate you bringing me stuff, I mean, didn’t even ask for half of this, but the thing I did ask you to get is wrong.” Megan looked as if she was going to cry. “I specifically said not to get the plain mango. I don’t like the plain mango.” “You said mango-vanilla.” “Yeah, together — mango and vanilla swirled together.” “I know. I looked for it, but they didn’t have it, honey. So I got mango and I got vanilla and I figured you could mix them yourself.” “Whatever. It doesn’t matter.” “It’s exactly the same thing. Except this way you get twice as much.” “Fine. It doesn’t matter.” “Honey—” “Let’s just do the air conditioner.” “All right.” Megan’s bedroom was small and cluttered and smelled unfresh. There was a futon on the floor, covered in threadbare burgundy sheets and a crumpled beige duvet that had numerous stains and cigarette burns. Next to the bed was the new crib. Blonde wood with crisp white sheets, a pretty gingham bumper in apple-green, and a Winnie the Pooh mobile. Lucas found the contrast touching and a little sad. “I think you should move,” he said. “Oh please, don’t start.” Megan tensed. “I’m not in any shape to start packing and hauling boxes.” “You wouldn’t have to haul boxes. I’d hire a mover.” “Dad, I don’t even have the energy to do laundry, let alone pack up this place!” “All right. Forget it.” “I can move in a year, when the baby is old enough to give a shit one way or another. And anyway I don’t want to over-prepare, just in case something happens.” “Like what?” “I don’t know. Not every birth is successful.” “Well, yours will be.” “I hope so. But it’s not unheard of for women to die in childbirth, even in big city hospitals.” “Meggie, you’ll be fine, I promise. And so will the baby.” Lucas reached out to touch his daughter’s belly, but she pulled away. “Sorry, I just — I don’t see why people think they can just touch my stomach all of a sudden.” “I’m not ‘people’; I’m your father.” “Anyway...I don’t like it.” “Fine.” Lucas surveyed the ancient air conditioner sitting on the floor below the window. “Are you sure this thing still works?” “I think so. Yeah.” “Get me a cloth; I’ll clean it up a bit.” Lucas scoured the grime off the air conditioner, and then vaccuumed out the dust. It took him close to half an hour, and even without his jacket and tie, he was sweating heavily. “OK,” he said, “let’s get this sucker in.” He bent down to lift the thing. “Wait,” Megan said. “You have to build a platform first. The window’s too tall for the air conditioner.” “Oh.” “Here.” She handed him a plastic bag full of bits of wood — small chunks of 2-by-4 and 1-by-3. “Ryan used these.” “This seems kind of flimsy... Do you have a tape measure?” “Ryan took it.” Lucas emptied the bag onto the floor. He selected a couple of similarly sized pieces of wood and began assembling a platform on the window sill. Megan sat on the futon and watched. “I can’t believe Mom almost cost you thirty-two thousand dollars.” “More than that,” Lucas said. “It’s all in her head, you know.” Lucas didn’t know, but he wondered. His wife’s environmental sensitivities had flared up shortly after the violent death of her long-time lover — a depressive Greek who hanged himself — and had been worsening ever since. “Whether it’s psychosomatic or not is completely irrelevant. Your mother isn’t feeling well, and you should have empathy for her. She’s had a tough year.” “Helping plan Kate’s wedding is so tough?” “I’m talking about one of her closest friends passing away.” Megan didn’t respond, and Lucas couldn’t tell if she knew that Alex had been more than a friend to her mother. He was certain, however, that nobody knew that he knew they had been more than friends, meeting once, sometimes twice a week at the Intercontinental Hotel on Bloor. Lucas had hired a private detective to confirm his suspicions. Not that he wanted to confront his wife. No. He just wanted to know why she was suddenly looking so well and feeling so breezy, and at the same time having frequent, guilt-induced nightmares. He’d thought about reassuring her, telling her that he knew, and that it was all right, but ultimately decided against it. He didn’t want to rob her affair of its illicit allure. Franny had always been a devotee of anything European, particularly French — perfume, fashion, cinema, sensibility. She had a collection of Hermes scarves, for example, which she treasured and wore often. She loved Chanel and Dior. When they went out for a nice dinner, they went to a French restaurant. When they went on vacation, they went to Paris or Provence. Franny spoke French fairly well. She could tell a good croissant from a bad one. Lucas presumed that having a lover on the side, a Greek lover at that, made Franny feel sophisticated and a little less like a suburban Canadian housewife. She started to take an interest in the world again. She bought season tickets to the symphony. She joined the Art Gallery of Ontario. She drove downtown and stood in line for hours to see subtitled movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. She was vital again, very much like the young woman he’d wooed and married. Then the melancholy Greek went and offed himself (seemingly, because he had written a 1200-page novel that thirty-seven consecutive editors had declined to publish). Now Franny hid in the house most of the time, worrying about the ways in which the environment — everything from power lines to perfume — could be depriving her of health and happiness. It was tragic. And there was nothing Lucas could do except try to be compassionate and understanding when she began evicting everything in their home that wasn’t 100% cotton or natural, including recently installed wall-to-wall carpeting, and half their furnishings, or when she had her “attacks” — almost every time they tried to go out for dinner or to see a movie. They never traveled anymore. Airplanes made Franny sick. So did trains and boats, and long automobile rides. She didn’t dye her hair anymore. She no longer wore make-up. Lucas thought she was still beautiful. He loved his wife. “OK,” Lucas said, eyeballing the space in the window. “Let’s see if this works.” “It worked last year,” Megan said. “Do you want help lifting?” “I don’t want you lifting anything, sweetie.” Lucas bent at the knees and got a hold of the air conditioner. He managed to hoist it up and prop it on the edge of the makeshift platform, but as he tried to slide it into place, pieces of wood began to move forward underneath it, and just as his brain processed the fact that the platform was actually too low, leaving a large gap at the top of the box, gravity and poor planning sucked the teetering metal box from his grasp and sent it plummeting to earth. “FUCK!” “Dad!” Megan emitted a cross between a gasp and a scream, and then proceeded to sob vigorously. Lucas leaned out the second-storey window. The air conditioner had landed on the lawn, crushing nothing more important than the ironic garden gnomes of the ironic film students who rented the flat on the main floor. Lucas’ fear turned instantly to rage. He had an impulse to put his fist through the glass, but a sharp burn behind the solar plexus caused him to sink back onto the futon, and take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. His heart was skipping beats. He had to cough a few times to regulate it. “All right,” he said, tamping down his anger. “It’s OK. Nobody got hurt, and that thing was a piece of crap anyway. I’m going to get you a new one, OK sweetie?” “What, now?” Megan wiped a blob of snot from her nose. “Yeah. Right now.” Lucas comforted his daughter who was still crying a a little. She allowed him to embrace her for a couple of seconds, but then pulled away saying: “You stink like cigarettes.” Lucas took out his wallet and removed two twenties. “Here,” he said, placing them on the dresser. “Give this to the people downstairs when you see them.”
On his way to the Home Depot, Lucas checked his messages. There was one from Kate, wanting to know if he had called the hotel. Another from his wife, wanting to know the same thing. And there was one from his boss, Jane, wondering when he planned to mosey on back to the office. That was the word she used: mosey. Rather snide, he thought, for someone who invariably relied on him to solve every problem in the office. He called her back, but she was on another line. He left a message saying that he’d had a family emergency he had to deal with, and that he would try to make it back as soon as possible. Lucas checked his watch, it was already 4:03. He added that there was a chance that he may not make it in today, but that he’d be there early the following morning — by 6:30 a.m. at the latest — and that he could now be reached on his cellphone if need be. He turned the ringer back on, and called Kate to fill her in about the hotel. Franny was with her, buying bridal party gifts so he didn’t have to phone his wife with the news. Lucas then called Andrew and asked him to meet him at the hardware store. He figured since he’d just pledged three thousand dollars to his Carpet Tile pipedream, he could ask his brother to ferry the new air conditioner to Megan’s, and install it. His brother, who claimed to have just had a manicure, somewhat grudgingly agreed. Still, by the time Lucas picked out and paid for the air conditioner and a suitable piece of lumber on which to prop the thing, it was five o clock. He would not be returning to the office. He would however, have just enough time to boot it to Whole Foods, grab some organic quinoa, and make it home by the expected hour — six o clock or shortly thereafter. Lucas deeked and darted the Lexus through the rush hour crush. He was standing in line at the store when his cellphone rang. The number on the display was unfamiliar, but he answered just in case it was his wife calling from somewhere other than home. “Hello?” “Hey, Dad, it’s me.” “Hey, Leo, how are you doing? Long time no blab.” Lucas handed the quinoa to the cashier who placed it on the scale and weighed it. “Yeah. That’s true... Um, actually, Dad, I’m not doing so good.” “Why, what’s wrong?” “$7.48,” said the cashier. Lucas handed her a twenty. “Well... it’s kind of a long story. The thing is, are you free right now?” “Why, what’s going on?” “Well, I sort of need you to come to the police station on Dundas Street, um, 255 Dundas West. Otherwise they’re gonna keep me here all night.” “Keep you for what? Are you OK?” “I’m fine. It’s just — I’ve been assaulted and arrested and I need you to come get me out of here.”
Lucas called his wife and told her that he had a work emergency to deal with. He did not tell her that their son, the pacifist, had been arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm. Apparently, Leo had tackled an undercover security guard on Yonge Street, just outside of Consumers Drug Mart. He scuffled with the guard — who had been trying to get Leo’s girlfriend, Perdita, to return to the store office with the nail polish she’d just slipped into her purse without paying — and inadvertently broke his thumb. Lucas was able to convince the police to release his son, pledging to escort him to his appearance before a Justice of the Peace the following morning at 9:00 a.m. So much for getting to the office by 6:30. Jane was not going to be happy. There would be words. Lucas lit a cigarette as they exited the station. “Look, Dad, I just want you to know, it wasn’t my fault. That fascist fuck assaulted Perdita.” “What do you mean ‘assaulted’?” “We’re walking out the door, and all of a sudden this fuckin’ skinhead gorilla is all over her, grabbing her arm, trying to yank her back in.” “Yeah, well... she stole from the store.” “Why, ’cause she’s black?” “Nooo. Because she’s a thief.” “Perdita is not a thief.” “Fine. Because she wanted free nail polish.” “Uch! She just put it there ’cause her hands were full of stuff — stuff that we bought! She didn’t want to drop it. Believe me, Perdita can afford all the nail polish she wants. She has a very good job. She just forgot about it, ’cause we were debating something on our way out.” “Uh huh.” “God, you’re such a racist!” “I’m not a racist, Leo.” Lucas sighed and flicked away his cigarette. “I’m sure Perdita is very nice. Are you bringing her to the wedding? I’d like to meet her.” “I was going to. But not if everyone’s going to think she’s a thief.” “I don’t think she’s a thief, OK. I believe you. And nobody else needs to know.... if we’re lucky, that is. Shit, Leo, did you have to break the guy’s thumb?” “It was an accident, Dad. I was just trying to keep him off of her. Anyway, that fuckin’ animal doesn’t need a thumb. It’s probably not even opposable.” Lucas tried to smile as he embraced his son. “All right,” he said, “I have to go. We’ll clear this thing up tomorrow morning. If need be, I have a very good lawyer.” “You’re not paying for my lawyer, Dad. I’ll get legal aid if I need a lawyer.” Lucas wasn’t in the mood to argue about his dirty tobacco money. “Fine,” he said. “We can figure it out tomorrow. Do you want a ride home?” “In the car that cancer and heart disease bought? No thanks. I’ll walk.” “I’ll see you in the morning then.” “Yeah.” “Don’t be late.” “I won’t.” “And, Leo...” “What?” “Maybe you should take some of the piercings out.” “I’ll think about it,” Leo said, as he walked away.
When Lucas arrived home he found his wife stretched out on the sofa with a compress over her eyes and forehead. “Sorry I’m so late,” he said. “I got the quinoa.” “What time is it?” she asked, without lifting the compress. “Almost seven-thirty.” “Oh. I’m sorry, I couldn’t make dinner. I don’t feel well.” “What’s wrong?” “Oh you know, every store we went into there was someone drenched in perfume, or the rugs had just been cleaned... My head is killing me. I just feel over-loaded.” “Do you want something to eat?” “Thanks, but I couldn’t eat with this headache. And my mouth is sore. The mucous membranes again. I think they’re reacting to something.” “Well, I’m going to grab a bite. I’m starving.” “Wait,” his wife said, as he moved toward the kitchen. “You have to do the dandelions while it’s still light out.” “Oh shit, I forgot.” Franny sat up. “Please, Lucas. I’m afraid they’re going to spray.” Lucas surveyed his wife, small on the big straw-coloured couch across the room. She did look afraid. Her bangs, damp from the washcloth, were sticking straight up. He was reminded of a baby bird surrounded by nest. “All right,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.” Lucas changed out of his suit, took a piss, then went to weed the neighbour’s lawn. At first he was quite thorough, digging deep to get the absurdly long dandelion roots, but as the light faded and he grew increasingly famished, he began to rake them from the grass with his fingers — which meant he would be back in two weeks to do it again. Luckily, the neighbours spared him the indignity of coming out to watch him on his hands and knees, although he did notice a couple of discreet peeks through the living room blinds. It was 9:25 and dark when he returned to the house. Franny had gone to bed, but she’d left a note on the kitchen table: Jane called. Wants you to call her at home, up till 11:00. P.S. You should probably sleep on the pull-out. Don’t think I could handle cigarette smell tonight. Lucas bolted some cheese and crackers, and six or seven fistfuls of cashews. He went down to the basement and made up the pull-out couch. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to his boss. Lucas stretched out on the bed, and stared at the ceiling fan. He thought about Irma. He thought about the mobile with the blue geese. That’s when he remembered the soother. It was in his jacket pocket. He fished it out, and took it to the bathroom to rinse clean. Then he locked the door, turned out the light and curled up in the tub. Lucas put the binky in his mouth. Very soon he would get up and return Jane’s call. But now, for just a moment, Lucas closed his eyes. He thought about the soft music and those blue geese, moving slowly, slowly around the smiling sun.