Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 28

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

= = = = = = =

"Of course you can stay here," I told him, "as long as you want – till you get yourself straightened out," I added, thinking if I left the invitation open-ended, he would feel I'm setting a trap, expecting he'll move in with me and stay. It hadn't occurred to me his soured expression had more to do with my choice of the words "straightened out."

I didn't want to remind him he'd already told me his place in San Patroclus was likely to be foreclosed on, since he wouldn't be able to keep up with the mortgage after losing his job and without someone sharing the expenses with him (how did he and Leo manage the realities of their relationship?). But I knew it was more likely he'd get another job in the area there, hopefully within commuting distance but these days, one could never tell. I just wanted him to know he had an option to fall back on, here (not that he'd like spending his winter in Maine, I'm sure).

We stayed up till well past midnight (only 9pm by his California-primed body clock though he had managed to mitigate any jet lag by spending a day in New York before flying up to Boston). He gave me more of the details about his being laid off but less about the break-up with Leo (it was, apparently, a break-up, not a separation).

Perhaps he felt uncomfortable talking about such things with his father. The photo of his mother as a child did not make it any easier for him, sitting there beside us in the den. The wine (which he brought with him: what would I know about good wine?) and the fireplace may have bridged the comfort gap but only just.

He found it surprising that I had adjusted to the house in Maine – not the isolation, which he knew, as I got older, I preferred. Though he was inclined to keep to himself, the logical, analytical one, he still needed the presence of others if only for their quiet support: he was not one to enjoy being by himself.

Millie would have been the "wild and crazy" one, had she lived, the opposite of Stephen. I sat there wondering what impact she might have had on him as they grew up, balancing him, helping him find something more to the center. Listening to my son, watching him as he talked, I never missed my wife and daughter more, not to be there to help him – us.

He used that word again, this time in a more light-hearted manner, how I preferred to live my life "hermitically sealed," away from everything beyond the unavoidable necessity of teaching my classes or composing my (not only to him) unintelligible music.

Admittedly, I had trouble relating to children, even my own, though I thought I had been there for them when they were growing up – apparently, not enough.

Rather than try to cook something at home which on a scale of holiday feasts would only be laughable, I decided we would go to the Balbec Inn overlooking the cliffs on Cape Edmund. It was one of the better restaurants in the area, a little more expensive than my usual haunts, but this was, after all, an occasion. Early in the afternoon, the clouds hung dramatically over the bay, not exactly dark after yesterday's dreary rain, not exactly muscular, the preface to an on-coming storm.

Stephen, not surprisingly, barely noticed the view: he lived within sight of the Pacific and one ocean was so much like another. It was no more than a backdrop for a building he considered "quaint." History and its appreciation never aroused his enthusiasm before but had I taken him to something more functional, he might have found it "squalid." At least here, the food might pass muster.

"Yes, I like truffles," he responded as we cautiously tested the menu. While I thought it obvious to order the turkey (the choice was between chestnut stuffing and one with truffles), he was more inclined to try the salmon florentine. Having ordered, I discovered the need to visit the men's room and left him alone with his drink.

There were a few other people in the restaurant I recognized, none of whom I actually knew. Most of them looked like tourists staying at the hotel, older couples who no longer had families to deal with on this family holiday. Not far from our table sat a grandmother speaking quietly in French with her pale young grandson who peered out at the sea with wide, all-encompassing eyes.

As I worked my way back to our table, I noticed a woman standing there speaking to Stephen. She had just taken her coat off and draped it across a chair at the table next to ours.

Even from the back, I could recognize her: of course, it would be her. How could it not be?

"Sybil, what a surprise," I said, trying to sound cheerful. She was alone, it seemed, or maybe she was waiting for her date to show up. The waiter had placed her at a table for four.

"Proteus? What are you doing here?" Not only did she seem genuinely surprised, she was visibly confused. Perhaps she had hoped to avoid me as I, though for most likely different reasons, had hoped to avoid her.

"Happy Thanksgiving, I guess," I added, pulling my chair out before sitting down. "I take it you've met?"

"You two know each other?" I wasn't sure she was relieved or disappointed.

"You could say that. Stephen, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, Sybil Icarus. Sybil, this is my son, Stephen. Are you waiting for someone?"

"No, actually – no, I'm not," she said with some embarrassment. Dining alone on Thanksgiving Day was not something one cared to confess. Whether she was here to dine among strangers who wouldn't know her or here to, perhaps, meet one of them and start another relationship, I couldn't tell.

And frankly, couldn't care about though it was amusing she may have been trying to pick up my son.

"So, then," I said, indicating an empty chair across from me, "why not join us? We've just ordered."

Stephen very gallantly stood up and pulled the chair out for her as she draped her coat around its arms. From over her shoulder I could see he glanced at me with an expression somewhere between a smile and mild disapproval. Never very good at reading faces with only a flash of a glance, knowing Stephen, I would take it more as "disapproval."

"You didn't say your son was coming out for the holiday," she said as our waiter handed her the menu. I chose not to point out that, actually, I had but she too busy not listening at the time.

The small talk was amusingly strained. Without much effort, she proceeded to tell us about driving in to Portsmouth in yesterday's miserable rain looking for bargains only to find a hat she bought then, arriving home, discovering she didn't like it after all and would now have to drive all the way back to return it. Clearly, there was no justice in the world.

For my part, there was little to talk about: frustration over a new piece of music that refused to gel made rather boring commentary. Since they'd both met him, I mentioned that Henry Jordan was writing a novel, but since I could tell them nothing about it, their interest died quickly.

In the course of dinner – she thought the truffle filling too dry – Sybil had apparently more wine than was wise. As she became more talkative, her conversation, however, did not improve.

"So you've met some of your dad's friends? You must know Dr. Aelius, then...?"

"No, sorry," Stephen said, shaking his head quizzically.

"No doubt you know Madeline LeMare, I imagine?"

"No, I'm afraid not," he said, sipping his drink cautiously.

A tall thin man with thick coke-bottle glasses who'd been standing over at the bar stumbled past us on his way out the door, muttering something unintelligible about gas, it sounded like.

"Then surely you've met Joyce Diotimopoulos...?"

"No, doesn't ring a bell..."

Sybil was right: the truffle filling was too dry.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

No comments:

Post a Comment