50

Juliana Blumenthal, closing in on fifty, retains her boyish figure, in spite of having borne twins—a happenstance, of sorts; she had intended no such labor. She and Stuyvesant had agreed on in vitro fertilization. They had hired a "walking-womb" (Stuyvesant’s term for a "surrogate mother") who had signed an ironclad contract then developed "second thoughts," backing out of the deal at the worst possible moment; eggs, from Juliana, already harvested, systematically fertilized, and ready for implantation. Gamer that she was, mom-cum-donor volunteered, allowing dad-cum-donor to return the eggs he had extracted (and surreptitiously altered) to where they had originated, i.e. their natural mother, ova with progenitor (albeit circuitously) reunited. With three ova, to be precise, increasing the odds that one would attach and come to term. Two were the ultimate yield, each blastocyst identical—both devoid of chromosomes from her who gave them birth, Stuyvesant having replaced their nuclei with clones of himself, unbeknownst, to this day, by his former-and-still-estranged spouse, from whom he took Rockefeller, leaving behind the "somewhat superfluous" Sam, well before the pair was properly weaned, mother and father thenceforth disavowing one another’s existence; "Juliana died in childbirth," was Stuyvesant’s fabrication.

"Husband? Husband whose? Sam resulted—not that it’s any of your business—from a one-night-stand."

"Not according to Ester Harriet Blumenthal."

"Oh? You’ve been talking to her?"

Dad O’Rourke, held at bay on the carport, lifts his hands palms-up as if to plead guilty and at the same time signal supplication.

"May I, please, Ms Blumenthal, ask a few quick questions?"

Warily, Juliana invites the intruder in.

"Quick or slow concern me not; who, what, where, and why, are what I want to know—as in: who the hell are you? What do you want? Where is the bastard? And why come to me?"

Dad is led through a living room, a parlor, and a kitchen, outside again, onto a cliff-hanger deck, Juliana’s split-level home clinging to a canyon on the outskirts of San Anselmo, a half-an-hour drive, or so, from the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, county of Marin—median income approaching 500K per annum (Juliana’s 'allowance' plus Hospital Administration salary totaling very much less).

"In order: Dad O’Rourke..."

"Coffee?"

“Yes, please. Private Investigator."

"Cream?"

"Black, thank you. Hired by a client—who must remain anonymous, I’m afraid—to locate your ex-husband, whose whereabouts I was hoping you might impart."

"Assuming that we’ve had contact since the spring of two-thousand-something-or-other, which we have not, as my mother, no doubt, told you. Unless she suspects otherwise, always on the lookout for an excuse to cut us off, disapproving as the holly-roller is of California lifestyles; “Californication” is the term she generally applies. Or were you spared her wont to demonize us 'heathens of the far-left coast'?"

"Found the woman charming, I did, sharp as a tack. And just about as fond of your ex as it appears you are."

"No love lost there, it’s true; we hold that much in common. Can you tell me anything at all about your client’s motivation? Sent you off to find the elusive scoundrel, or commissioned you to kill him? The latter might induce my full cooperation—his 'ushering in' our sons not a mitigating factor, one of whom he kidnapped, I'll have you know, upon splitting for parts unknown."

"So you really haven’t heard a word for the past what; twenty-two years?"

"Vanished. Now you see him, now you don’t. Genius can be like that; unnervingly ephemeral; evil genius worse when it leaves behind stretch-marks."

Dad looks aloft at a red-tail hawk as it arcs on a late-morning updraft, its shadow in pursuit over the opposite canyon wall. Aside from a smattering of rooftops, the habitat seems pristine. Prolonging his distraction, Dad envies the soaring bird:

above it all

detached from complications

connected to fundamentals

lethal when it must be

at other times benign

harmonious in its predator-prey continuum

no questions asked

unlike those whose relentless multiplication ensures extinction

after the competition is crowded out and dies...

Apropos of nothing, Juliana smiles, likewise lost in a reverie, recollections gathering like lint stuck to felt, difficult to ignore or brush off and shed; as Stuyvesant’s nicer traits come to mind, she wistfully digresses:

the van he bought,

for our escape from Massachusetts,

 decked with dozens of daffodils,

after Las Vegas,

empty Campbell’s soup cans clamoring from the bumper,

‘Honeymoon Suite’ in poster paint

scribbled on either panel’s side,

parked off road,

on several unscheduled "love stops,"

en route to San Francisco,

hollering our lungs out in orgiastic unison,

‘CALIFORNIA, HERE WE CUM!’

setting up “house” in a Mission District apartment

—no bigger than the fruit stand underneath—

tacos, nachos, burritos our culinary mainstays

while struggling to get by

well, pretending to struggle;

funds enough we had before he squandered them

on that Godforsaken venture;

science Stuy could do;

business he could not—

business in the category of 'legitimate,' that is;

truth be told his science likewise leaned toward the nefarious.

Singing on the streetcars, cable cars, subway trains,

weird duets,

after he taught me how to throw my voice,

mystify fellow passengers with operatic gibberish,

profane oratorios,

lyrics drawn from nursery rhymes, commercials, and juvenile inanities;

"Mary had a little lamb—ram charger, built tough to last—knocked up from behind"

amazing what we thought was clever way back when,

bravely flying in the face of stuffy old conventions,

him way ahead of me with his radical views on genome,

his insistence human beings experiment only on themselves,

arguing it was obscene for one species to harm another for its own benefit—

this while munching a chicken tortilla or wolfing down a burger,

shrugging off my often shrill reproofs of his flagrant inconsistencies,

his blatant contradictions,

his double-jointed intellect bending both ways at once;

aggravating, mostly, was my short-lived life with Stuyvesant,

who could light the darkest night with his mind's outrageous brilliance,

who made me feel intelligent simply because he liked me,

chose me,

asked me first to marry him then to bear his child;

and my child;

one a piece.

"Not that he left only anguish in his wake. Sam, my pride and joy, is a ringer for his father—without the hang-ups. Raised him myself, so steered him clear of 'Finkisms.' Sam doesn’t know a thing, by the way, about his deadbeat dad, Dad. Odd moniker; is that your real name?"

Wrested from his own digressions (spiraled into space on the hawk’s invisible vapor trail), Dad regales his hostess with an unexpected anecdote:

"When I was but a lad, too green for fraternizing with girls yet ripe enough to be fretting about them, a fair-skinned representative of your gender took to walking her dog Toby past our house on LaSalle Street from her house on Tremaine. A collie, I think it was, though the pooch was of passing interest. What captivated me was the lass who held Toby's leash. Kathy was her name, her full name Katherine Ann McManus."

Vision focused inwardly, Dad recollects...

"Blond hair, periwinkle eyes, figure like a dumpling on the verge of metamorphosis; namely bumps for breasts that very soon would warrant a training bra. Snooty disposition, I concluded, being several times snubbed; nothing I could say impressed her in the least."

nward glance turned outward, Dad regards his audience; Juliana, enamored of Irish lilts, pays flattering attention...        

"The gift of gab, if not entirely wasted on her, was needing some support, some man-of-action prop to reinforce the suit I was dimly aware of pressing. My prowess riding a bicycle—newly acquired—came to the rescue. Timed to Kathy’s early-evening lap of the block with canine Toby, Chauncey O’Rourke—my given name—approached on his second-hand bike, gaining momentum to perform his latest triumph—'Look, Ma, no hands'—grinning ear to ear while attracting the apple of my eye who watched me watching her—instead of where I was going—and witnessed my collision with the rear of a curb side car, parked to foil my ploy and to break both collarbones in the bargain. Ever break a collarbone, Ms Blumenthal?"

"Can’t say that I have."

"Break one; they give you a sling. Break two; they give you a contraption that holds your arms like so."

He demonstrates, elbows bent, hands and forearms in front of him as if to pass a basketball from the center of his chest...

"This position remind you of anything?"

"Well, it’s a bit crab-like."

"Close. For six lampoon-filled weeks I looked like a crawfish, pincers opposed—crawfish east of the Appalachians; we lived west where the critter is called crawdad, the name that’s stuck ever since, though it shrank as I expanded. By the time I’d finished high school, Crawdad was shortened to Dad. Chauncey fell by the wayside—along with my mangled ten-speed—nevermore resurrected; 'Dad O’Rourke' I was, am, and will be till life runs its course."

"And the moral of this story?"

"Show-offs earn their billing."

Juliana laughs. Dad sustains his grin—fond of the telling, fond of the reminiscence—and lifts his mug of coffee to salute the gaffes of youth. Juliana raises hers, as well.

"To nicknames," Dad proposes.

"Bred of puppy love," Juliana adds.

They “clack” mugs and slurp.

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