45

Having confidence in the persuasive power of a Belgian chocolatier, a gift-wrapped box from whom he holds in hand, Dad makes the acquaintance of Ester Harriet Blumenthal:

gaunt

shrunken around her bones like plastic wrap hugging a turkey carcass

quavery, fragile voice, the chords a trifle frayed

lips drawn parchment-thin, sucked colorless

eye-whites slightly poached

nose raptorial

hands arthritically shaky

—the one she extends to be clasped by her visitor,

soft as a rabbit’s foot.

ESTER

You’ve brought a present! Is that for me? I do believe it’s candy. Sweets to sweeten me up; is that the tactic? Old-fashioned. Hope it works. I don’t get gentlemen callers often, Mister...

DAD

O’Rourke.

ESTER

Indeed. You’re married? Does your wife know who you’re plying with... let me see what we have here... truffles? My! Imported truffles. Pricy ones, too. And yet we’ve never met. I have an elephant’s memory for faces—yours is unforgettably handsome—meaning something I don’t know about makes me worthy of pursuit. I trust you’ll clue me in, unless my advancing years suggest some subterfuge might be better used to extract I know not what. My guess is money. No one ever seeks out women “of a certain age” if they don’t want cash, jewels, property, or her inheritance. We’re not related, are we? Odds are not; O’Rourke sounds none too Kosher. Tut, tut, tut; I’d rather guess, if you don’t mind; respect your elders. We may mix our mental metaphors, now and again, and again, and again, but to indulge a 'sweetened' old lady can win ones wings, don't you know. In Heaven?

Ester points, as if to indicate 'up' augments her meaning.

ESTER (continued)

You believe in Heaven, certainly. Names with O at the start needs must—though we Blumenthals have faith in a slightly different territory, same general vicinity, rules for getting in or sent to the other place much the same, holy wars notwithstanding; jihads or crusades, killing is killing—hardly a 'holy' enterprise; forgive my digression. Why you’ve come-a-calling is the topic on tap. Or should that be “the matter at hand”? Idioms are so numerous it’s hard to know which to choose. In my, well, in my daughters’ era, we always could make do with a vague "whatever." Nowadays, I don’t know; this Home for the Ancient is out-of-the-loop. Without Mediadrome, our brains would have fossilized already. Though twenty-four-seven entertainment, to ones wits, can be terminally numbing, too. But there I go again, wandering from the point. Minds put out to pasture sometimes stray clear into the next county. My Solomon, rest his soul, was like that after he retired. Halley’s Comet, I called him, forever in orbit. Reeling his mind back to anything germane was a total waste of energy; you simply had to wait for his thoughts to come around.

As if this statement were intended as a joke, Ester beams a smile.

ESTER (continued)

Of course I haven’t yet deduced why it is you’ve come, so the point is moot.

DAD

Your daughter.

ESTER

Now you’ve done it; spoiled my little game, presumed that my self-centeredness would string you along indefinitely. Really, Mr. O’Rourke, I knew your interest was not in me. So out with it; what has my darling daughter done to warrant Sinn Fein scrutiny?

DAD

Nothing, as far as I know; I’m simply trying to find her.

ESTER

Because?

 

DAD

Because I’m actually trying to locate her husband.

 

ESTER

Daniel? What do you want with him? And why not look in the phone book? I believe you’ll find them listed. Come, come, this circuitous route seems highly irregular—if a delicious waste of time.

She gobbles another truffle.

DAD

We didn’t know your daughter’s maiden name.

 

ESTER

"We"? Who are "we"?

Dad produces a card from the pocket of his billfold. As Ester squints to read it, he spells out his task.

DAD

Odd that you should mention an inheritance; one is involved. Your daughter’s father-in-law left a small fortune, the existence of which has come to light only recently. Your daughter’s husband, your son-in-law, is named as the beneficiary.

 

ESTER

My "daughter’s father-in-law," I’ll have you know, is very much alive. Off with you, Mr. O’Rourke; I suspect you’re a swindler!

Ester, reaching for a control panel by her orthopedic bed, buzzes for an attendant. Dad, his cover blown (or seeming so), prepares to take his leave, pausing at the door to hazard a hopeful question.

DAD

We are discussing Juliana Blumenthal, are we not?

Ester, chin tucked accordion-fashion against her bird-cage sternum, levels Dad a look.

ESTER

Oh; that daughter. Sorry. I assumed you meant Louise. My mistake; I take it back; you’re probably not a crook. You may, nonetheless, depart, because I will not lift a finger, if doing so might benefit in any way, shape, or form my wayward daughter’s ex.

It is Dad who now beams Ester a please-bear-with-me smile; such blatant animosity is a button he can press.

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