Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Visit

My father and his girlfriend are in Quebec City. I am alone and sitting still, enjoying a suddenly quiet apartment.

The three of us engaged in nothing but small talk for the first three days. I know all about her house in Sarnia, her children, her grandchildren, her garden, her car, her cottage, her bad knee, and her vitamin pills. On the first day, she asked me if I was having a good summer. I said that I wasn’t, but that I was hoping it would get better. She hasn’t asked me anything since.

My father is happy and full of new experiences to relate. A disconcerting number of these concern life at the casino, which is apparently the sole source of entertainment in his adopted city. I can’t help but notice that she has a lot more money than he does, and that he is doing his best to ignore this fact.

He has also adopted his girlfriend’s family as his own. He is giddy with stories about her children, about how well he gets along with them and the things they do together. It is as though he has discovered what a normal family is like and is determined to make up for lost time.

For three days, our family did not exist.

On the third night, after his girlfriend went to sleep, he asked me if I had heard from my mother, phrasing the question in the negative: “I guess you haven’t heard from your mother...” He asked me this as he was getting ready for bed, pausing in the doorway of the kitchen as I sat at the kitchen table. I said that I had, and waited for his response. He stayed where he was, and remained there as we talked.

Watching him, I knew that he did not want to be having this conversation, that his body was pulling him away from what he has left behind. I could see him struggling with it as he stood awkwardly in the doorway, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, neither in the kitchen nor out of it. For almost an hour, he would not sit down.

At moments, he wasn’t my father but a man who was about to leave.

Finally, he pulled out a chair and sat down across from me, lighting one of the cigarettes he brought with him from the reserve. I lit one of my own and moved the ashtray to the centre of the table, where we both could reach it. We continued talking until four in the morning, when it started to feel better between us.

When I woke up, they were already on their way out the door. “We’re going to Quebec,” he said. “Don’t know when we’ll be back.” I waved goodbye and promptly went back to bed.

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