Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 51 of 64

22.

Linda’s first meeting with Art’s Gran went off without a hitch. Gran met them at Union Station with an obsolete red cap who was as ancient as she was, a vestige of a more genteel era of train travel and bulky luggage. Just seeing him made Art’s brain whir with plans for conveyor systems, luggage escalators, cart dispensers. They barely had enough luggage between the two of them to make it worth the old man’s time, but he dutifully marked their bags with a stub of chalk and hauled them onto his cart, then trundled off to the service elevators.

Gran gave Art a long and teary hug. She was less frail than she’d been in his memory, taller and sturdier. The smell of her powder and the familiar acoustics of Union Station’s cavernous platform whirled him back to his childhood in Toronto, to the homey time before he’d gotten on the circadian merry-go-round.

“Gran, this is Linda,” he said.

“Oh, it’s so nice to meet you,” Gran said, taking Linda’s hands in hers. “Call me Julie.”

Linda smiled a great, pretty, toothy smile. “Julie, Art’s told me all about you. I just know we’ll be great friends.”

“I’m sure we will. Are you hungry? Did they feed you on the train? You must be exhausted after such a long trip. Which would you rather do first, eat or rest?”

“Well, I’m up for seeing the town,” Linda said. “Your grandson’s been yawning his head off since Buffalo, though.” She put her arm around his waist and squeezed his tummy.

“What a fantastic couple you make,” Gran said. “You didn’t tell me she was so pretty, Arthur!”

“Here it comes,” Art said. “She’s going to ask about great-grandchildren.”

“Don’t be silly,” Gran said, cuffing him gently upside the head. “You’re always exaggerating.”

“Well I think it’s a splendid idea,” Linda said. “Shall we have two? Three? Four?”

“Make it ten,” Art said, kissing her cheek.

“Oh, I couldn’t have ten,” Linda said. “But five is a nice compromise. Five it will be. We’ll name the first one Julie if it’s a girl, or Julius if it’s a boy.”

“Oh, we are going to get along,” Gran said, and led them up to the curb, where the red cap had loaded their bags into a cab.

They ate dinner at Lindy’s on Yonge Street, right in the middle of the sleaze strip. The steakhouse had been there for the better part of a century, and its cracked red-vinyl booths and thick rib eyes smothered in horseradish and HP Sauce were just as Art had remembered. Riding up Yonge Street, the city lights had seemed charming and understated; even the porn marquees felt restrained after a week in New York. Art ate a steak as big as his head and fell into a postprandial torpor whence he emerged only briefly to essay a satisfied belch. Meanwhile, Gran and Linda nattered away like old friends, making plans for the week: the zoo, the island, a day trip to Niagara Falls, a ride up the CN Tower, all the touristy stuff that Art had last done in elementary school.

By the time Art lay down in his bed, belly tight with undigested steak, he was feeling wonderful and at peace with the world. Linda climbed in beside him, wrestled away a pillow and some covers, and snuggled up to him.

“That went well,” Art said. “I’m really glad you two hit it off.”

“Me too, honey,” Linda said, kissing his shoulder through his tee shirt. He’d been able to get his head around the idea of sharing a bed with his girlfriend under his grandmother’s roof, but doing so nude seemed somehow wrong.

“We’re going to have a great week,” he said. “I wish it would never end.”

“Yeah,” she said, and began to snore into his neck.

The next morning, Art woke stiff and serene. He stretched out on the bed, dimly noted Linda’s absence, and padded to the bathroom to relieve his bladder. He thought about crawling back into bed, was on the verge of doing so, when he heard the familiar, nervewracking harangue of Linda arguing down her comm. He opened the door to his old bedroom and there she was, stark naked and beautiful in the morning sun, comm in hand, eyes focused in the middle distance, shouting.

“No, goddamnit, no! Not here. Jesus, are you a moron? I said no!”

Art reached out to touch her back, noticed that it was trembling, visibly tense and rigid, and pulled his hand back. Instead, he quietly set about fishing in his small bag for a change of clothes.

“This is not a good time. I’m at Art’s grandmother’s place, all right? I’ll talk to you later.” She threw her comm at the bed and whirled around.

“Everything all right?” Art said timidly.

“No, goddamnit, no it isn’t.”

Art pulled on his pants and kept his eyes on her comm, which was dented and scratched from a hundred thousand angry hang ups. He hated it when she got like this, radiating anger and spoiling for a fight.

“I’m going to have to go, I think,” she said.

“Go?”

“To California. That was my fucking ex again. I need to go and sort things out with him.”

“Your ex knows who I am?”

She looked blank.

“You told him you were at my grandmother’s place. He knows who I am?”

“Yeah,” she said. “He does. I told him, so he’d get off my back.”

“And you have to go to California?”

“Today. I have to go to California today.”

“Jesus, today? We just got here!”

“Look, you’ve got lots of catching up to do with your Gran and your friends here. You won’t even miss me. I’ll go for a couple days and then come back.”

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