[What now feels like the penultimate chapter. Desperate to get up to speed from the very beginning? Part i, part ii, part iii, part iv, part v, part vi]
* * *
Quiet reigned at the outset of our ride home. The designated driver for the evening, I’d wanted to keep my wits about me for what I imagined might be something of an awkward dinner, my estimation being magnitudes off. Avrum sat in the passenger seat, sneaking constant glances over his shoulder at dad in the backseat, humming tunelessly and looking out the window at the passing scenery, serenely, I’d label it, with a slight, tight smile. Beverli Lee had in fact left her car in the lot. We’d checked to see if it was still there, dad musing about a possible ‘ambush’. It was impossible to know if he was joking.
“She does that Uber,” he tells us when we confirm that she’s not lying in wait, ready to pounce out at us from inside her Tesla. “Beverli Lee’s a sensible girl sometimes. Although you’d never know it from tonight’s performance, would you, boys? I guess you’re going to have to drive me home now.”
I guess so.
“What the hell was that all about, dad?” I demand to know, breaking the silence.
And, of course, he responds with a “What?”
“Are you being serious right now?” I reply, back edgy, catching and holding his look in the rearview mirror.
“I’d call it something of a spectacle,” Avrum chimes in, turning and looking at dad.
“Oh, that!” is dad’s answer, as if all that had happened is someone dropping their fork on the floor at the restaurant and requesting a new one from the staff. “A little contretemps, boys. Beverli Lee tends to get, how would you say?, aggressively defensive when she feels she’s operating in hostile territory, and, frankly, I don’t think you two did anything to make her feel in the least bit welcome tonight, if you want to know the truth.”
Avrum and I just turn and stare at each other (briefly, on my part, as I was at the wheel and we weren’t in a Tesla). Us? We had been the problem here? We took turns laying out the case that, in fact, he, dad, had been the one acting weird and hostile and disengaged throughout dinner. He’d been the one responsible for creating the inhospitable dynamic at the table. Monosyllabic, grumpy and curt…
Etc. & Etc.
“I don’t remember ever seeing you act like that,” Avrum says. “Ever.”
Dad slouches in his seat, looks out the window and appears to be once more shutting down communication.
“I wanted you two to try and make an effort at being friendly and interested in Beverli Lee. Not just barely and, noticeably, let me add here, tolerate her presence. She told me beforehand that you guys wouldn’t want to go to that restaurant, that’s it’s not your scene—
“—that we should go somewhere else. But I told her, no. If that’s where she wanted to go, that’s where we’d go. Maybe you two needed to be taken out of your comfort zone a little bit, you know.”
So OK, this whole blow-up didn’t just spring out of nowhere, it sounds like. A simmering situation. There’s no way either of us could deny not being cool, in the square use of the word, to Beverli Lee’s presence in dad’s life, in our lives. ‘Barely tolerate her presence’? Is that how dad put it? That seemed a little harsh.
“But it was your birthday dad,” Avrum replies, a little off-point, I think, perhaps even proving dad’s claim against us. “Why did it matter where Beverli Lee wanted to have dinner? Or us for that matter?”
“And did you really tell her that one of us said we’d seen her at the Freedom Convoy, dad?” I ask, overriding Avrum. “Seen some picture of her there?”
Dad crumples a little down into his seat, and returns his look back out the window. To the point that I’m unsure if he’s going to answer the question. Clearly, Avrum thinks likewise.
“What? You pleading the fifth here?” he asks dad.
Of course, he hadn’t told Beverli Lee that, I automatically assume. Why would he? His silence simply a stalling tactic, giving himself time to figure out how to best excuse or explain Beverli Lee’s behaviour, her outburst at the restaurant. Probably embarrassed too, I figured. An awkward recognition of the total unsuitability and incongruity of their relationship, made painfully obvious tonight. ‘What was I thinking?!’ dad’s probably thinking, I’m thinking. ‘How’d I allow myself to get into this position? Drag my kids into such a tawdry and sordid display. With a mouthy, opinionated, right-wing nut realtor no less!”
“Sure,” dad finally pipes up. “I may have… hinted that one of you told me you’d seen her at the thing. On TV. The news.”
I look over at Avrum, a little flabbergasted and mildly suspicious. Again, Did you? He’s equally accusatory, it strikes me, although he says absolutely not afterward, looking in my direction. I still think there was some of that with him. Simultaneously then, we’re both thinking Lianne?
“Guys, please,” Lianne essentially snorts the question. “I told you. No, and no. If only I were that conniving…”
“Why would you do that, dad?” Avrum eventually gets around to asking, as plaintively as he could make it.
“I thought it would be funny to see what happens,” dad says without looking at either of us, still out the car window.
“And was it?” I demand to know, pushing aside my instinct to pull the car over and kick him, let him make his own way home. But he didn’t even know how to do that Uber.
“It sure as hell was entertaining,” he says, now actually grinning but not making any eye contact with either of us. “You got to admit.”