[Here we are, the final post in a story we’ll call ‘Devine Justice’. Not the type who likes to start at the end and work their way backwards? Go all the way to the beginning with Part i and work your way forward. Enjoy!]
* * *
We drove in more silence. What was there to say? Dad seemed to have orchestrated the imbroglio at the Keg—
“Imbroglio?” Lianne inquires.
“More bloodbath, I’d call it,” Avrum says.
A little over the top. But that’s our Avrum.
“Aren’t you tired of the same ol’ same ol’, boys?” dad asks eventually, in a tone difficult to tell if rhetorical or not. “We absolutely sure that we’ve got things so figured out?”
Is he really looking for an answer from us?
“Have we switched topics here, dad?” Avrum asks, with a little edge to it.
“Not at all, Sonny Jim,” dad states emphatically.
“It’s all connected. Everything’s connected,” dad continues, “I’ve been reading lately…”
Dad has been reading a lot lately. Not that he wasn’t a reader before but mostly on the literary light side, let’s call it, in no pejorative sense of the term, his heavy reading and understanding almost exclusively work-related, grasping with the complexity of municipal finances and such. In his downtime, it was mostly spy thrillers, your LeCarrés and… the only name that springs immediately to mind, not being my genre of choice.
“Yeah, yeah. You’re highbrow.”
“And you don’t eat meat.”
Nowadays though, dad’s neck deep in non-fiction, the gamut, philosophy, cosmology, anthropology and a heavy dose of history with something of Marxist bent, to hear him explain it.
“This was not what we were taught in school,” he’ll inform us. “None of it. None of us. Me, your mother, you or Avrum or Lianne and your generation. None of us. None of it.”
Point taken. Dad insisted on it.
“The world’s on fire,” he’ll tell us. Literally and metaphorically, he emphasizes. Both! Glaciers melting. Sea levels rising. Weather of biblical proportions! Mass extinctions. Democracy under siege and all our politics gone to shit!
“How did it happen?” he asks. “What did we do wrong? Where did we go wrong?”
Our perceptions and belief systems must be challenged. To their very core.
“Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead,” dad recited. “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”
“What the hell’s that?” Lianne asked.
Blake. I had to look it up.
If there’s anyone to make you feel poetic, it’s brother Avrum.
Enter, Beverli Lee Devine.
“What can I tell you,” dad says as we near his house. “She challenges me.”
“My entire life, Avrum,” dad’s ready for him, “has been one of seeking out and living amongst the like-minded.”
Grammatically correct or more Blake effect?
“Consensus first. Consensus last. Consensus always.”
“I don’t see that as a bad thing necessarily—”
“But that’s not how Hegelian dialectics work, Avrum!”
“He did not!” Lianne rebuffs our recount of events.
“I’m surprised you don’t know this,” dad then says.
Dad doesn’t know my brother all that well, this suggests to me.
We’ve turned onto dad’s street, a couple blocks from his condo. Tonight’s conversation feels like it’s just got started, though. To be continued, but there is one thing I just have to know right now.
“Is Beverli Lee part of this, dad?” I ask
“What do you mean?”
“Is she aware that she’s part of this…” struggling for the right word to indicate some neutrality. “… part of this experiment of yours? Does she realize she’s the Hegelian antithesis?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
But Avrum’s annoyance is washed under by the tsunami of dad’s laughter which carries on as we pull in and round the circular laneway to the front entrance of his building. I put the car into park, cut the ignition as dad’s laughter shows no signs of subsiding. Avrum and I alternate looking back at him, at each other, out of the windows at the goings-on of the evening.
Until finally, laughter slackens to chuckles to mirthful snorts to spent delight. Dad looks over across the backseat out the window to his building’s front doors.
“I wonder who’s on the front desk tonight?” he says out loud for some reason. Taking off his seat belt, he reaches for the door handle where he rests his hand in mid-unlatch.
“Listen. I will not say a single, solitary bad thing about that lady. Beverli Lee’s many things but knowledgeable about German philosophical idealism is not one of them, and you’re not one to be casting aspersion, my youngest son. You,” he slaps me on the shoulder, “evidently our money spent on your education did not go entirely to waste.”
Tapping me affectionately on the shoulder, dad opens the car door, puts a foot out onto the pavement while pulling his phone from a jacket pocket. He pauses while pressing through to his messages. A lot of them, apparently, if his low whistle of awe is any indication.
“Seems the indefatigable Ms. Devine had more to say on tonight’s brouhaha, boys.”
“More than I’m prepared for this evening, what with it still being my birthday and all.”
Lost in the hullabaloo.
“Thanks for dinner,” he says, creaking and groaning up and out of the car. “Remember to keep tabs on your old man. There will be that one morning I don’t wake up. If I’m lucky. Night night.”
He shuts the door as we mumble our Happy Birthdays to him. We watch as he shuffles and shimmies a little toward the building. He opens the front door, turns and blows us a kiss. We continue watching. He makes his way through the lobby door and walks to the concierge’s desk, striking up a conversation with the young lady, Wanda, I think her name is, Wendy maybe, sitting behind it. I start the car. Dad turns, looks at us and waves, and disappears toward the elevators.
Avrum and I continue to look out at the lobby, empty except for Wanda or Wendy. As I eventually shift the car into D, Avrum wonders, “Do you think…” and then just fades back into silence.
It’s good, I guess, that in his advancing years, dad’s embraced uncertainty except for, it seems, that whole Hegelian idealist dialectics—
“You’re just making up words.”
—while many people of dad’s vintage have retreated into a shell of rigid belief and conviction. One could even argue that we’ve all, as a society, retreated into our respective shells of rigid belief and conviction. (Thesis: an aging population becomes more conversative. Antithesis: With age comes wisdom. Synthesis: Cross your fingers until every single one of them dies off.)
“Yeah, yeah. We get it. You’ve got a Wikipedia depth understanding of Hegel.”
But what good comes from being open-minded and open-hearted in the face of obdurate close-mindedness and hard-heartedness, toxic and dangerous levels of the latter in fact? Be reasonable in the face of unreasonableness. What kind of acceptable synthesis comes from that sort of standoff?
Dad discovered the perils of that dynamic a few weeks after the Commotion at the Keg, off on a ‘dirty weekend’—
His words! He’s old not dead.
—up in cottage country with Beverli Lee.
After a flare up during a spa treatment, dad wouldn’t say about what or what kind of spa treatment they were having, Beverli Lee stormed out, got in her car and drove back to the city, leaving dad stranded up north.
“I can take a bus back, but they only run—”
You made your bed, dug your own grave, whatever.
“You couldn’t pass up the opportunity to gloat a little, could you,” Lianne accuses me.
Sure, there might’ve been a little of that. I am not a magnanimous man by nature.
On the drive home, dad remained circumspect about the circumstances that led to Beverli Lee’s fiery departure. I didn’t press. Not my business. He didn’t seem in the least bit distraught about it.
“The essence of experimentation, son,” he said as the skyline of the city appeared up on the horizon, “is trial and error. Failing’s a key component. You hope for success but plan on failure.”
There were a whole bunch of qualifiers I felt needed to be added to his line of argument but perhaps not right now.
“In the end, though,” dad continued after some quiet contemplation, “all you need, all anyone really needs is that one big triumph. Problem is, most of us don’t recognize when it happens.”