[The plan here is for some serialized fiction. Begin at the beginning with no end in sight, hoping to recognize it before simply running out of ink, metaphorically speaking. That’s how Charles Dickens went about it, right? Our output will be irregular and we won’t be paid by the word although that might not always be obvious. Assisting with the project, we’ve brought out from retirement legendary editor and small house publisher of arcane texts, B. Louis Penn, who greeted our request for gratis help with a pithy, ‘Ive got nothing better to do aside from waiting to die’. With that bar set appropriately low, enjoy!]
It pretty much came off the rails—
“Just like I said it would,” Avrum crowed hours after the fact.
–during dad’s birthday dinner at the Keg.
“He was going to be low-grade mocking,” Avrum continued, laying out the obvious, “we knew that.” We did, yes. “I mean, has he ever been to a Keg in his life?” A rhetorical question from my brother. Dad was not a steakhouse kind of guy.
“A steakhouse,” Avrum recoiled. “The Keg?” My brother believed he knew steakhouses. “I mean, come on, man. The Keg?!”
We’d had this discussion before the dinner. I couldn’t care less. Neither did dad. This was all Beverli, yes, Beverli, Beverly with an i, Beverli Lee Devine, yes, not a word of a lie, Beverly with an i, Beverli Lee, Beverli-li, the sound it made coming out your mouth when saying it, and Beverli Lee insisted on Beverli Lee, no diminutive abided, no just Beverly, excuse me, Beverli Lee, and don’t even think about Bev which was taken as nothing less than a direct affront. Beverli Lee. Beverli Lee Devine.
“Don’t even with that,” Avrum brushes the idea away with an honest to god swipe of his hand. Every time.
Deny all he wanted.
That was just the plain fact of the matter.
Dad and Beverli Lee had been an item, mostly on with periods of heated cooling offs, for almost 18 months now. As far as any of us knew, the first and only girlfriend—
“Please, would you stop?” Avrum again.
–dad had since mom died almost sixteen years ago. We’d heard about ‘lady friends’ previously, as he referred to them, met a few in passing, mostly by accident, at a restaurant, a movie, dropping in on him unexpectedly, us not his lady friend(s). Circumspect but not in the least bit furtive. All very casual, dad insisted. Cards, bridge mostly, innocent outings, to the movies, restaurants, as I said, dinners and ‘chaste evenings without so much as a goodnight kiss’, dad informed us regularly despite us never asking, not so much not caring as none of our business quite frankly. He seemed happy, or at least, content. That was our only concern.
But then came Beverli Lee Divine.
She sold dad the condo when he decided to move out of the old house, our old house, the one the three of us had been born and raised in, the first house he and mom bought, the house mom died in, the only house they ever owned. What compelled dad to sell it remains purely conjecture. He says it was just time. My siblings remain convinced there was a more forceful, malevolent motivation, a Devine intervention.
My sister’s acid-laced pun.
“She was just my realtor,” dad insists, claiming he didn’t meet Beverli Lee until he started condo shopping.
Overnight, we (Avrum and Lianne mostly) went from gently cajoling our father to finally downsize some, pack up what now seemed like a rambling old house with just him in it, and move out from under the long shadow of the past, to a turnabout indignation at him doing just that. A bit sudden, isn’t it? Should you really be making such a momentous decision this hastily?
“What are you talking about?” dad responded, clearly baffled by the collective mood swing. “I’ve been here on my own for almost fifteen years!”
And as I pointed out to my brother and sister, between us, our stance had only shifted with the introduction of Beverli Lee into our midst.
there was no one particular thing about Beverli Lee that had got our backs up. She wasn’t so young as to make wags’ tongues wag, probably our age, give or take, although it was a little difficult to know for sure because there clearly had been work done. Young enough to be his daughter, pretty much, but that’s hardly an excommunicable offense these days, is it?
“Brassy,” Avrum called it.
“OK, Marlowe,” Lianne mocked.
Strident. Abrasive. Status-seeking.
“OK, hold on,” I interjected. “With dad? What status would she be seeking?”
Our father, as far as his children could honestly assess him, was almost the very definition of straight-laced and button-downed, a retired civil servant with a handsome pension, a member of the middlest of middle-brow golf and country club, the emphasis on golf, he played as much as four times a week, weather and degenerative disc disease permitting. He didn’t dinner at the club. Didn’t seek elected positions from the membership. His social circle made up almost exclusively of work friends and colleagues, both his and my mom’s, a couple college buddies, and a handful of neighbours who still lived in the area he’d recently left.
“I mean,” I continued, answering my own question, “unless there’s such a thing as down-status seeking.”
A more objective observer would look at my dad and Beverli Lee and see an old man latching on to a comet of scorching success and unbridled vivaciousness.
“I’m not sure you’re using that word properly?” says Lianne.
“How would you put it?” I challenged.
My sister thought about it at quip length before answering.
I meant ‘exuberant’ if I’d given it more thought. Lianne’s ‘deranged’ was too narrow. It would not include Beverli Lee’s personal style which, certainly contained some sparkle and gregariousness, a little bit of the razzle-dazzle. The deranged aspect had more to do with her—
“Gestalt,” Avrum says. At my scrunched-up face denoting disagreement, “A German word. Fitting.”
“Is she even vaccinated?” Lianne demanded to know.
The defining character trait of our unsettled, unsavory times.