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
"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?"
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?"
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..."
“Yes, please. Private Investigator."
"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
"Found the woman charming, I did, sharp as a tack. And just about as fond of
your ex as it appears you are."
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."
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
above it all
lethal when it
at other times
its predator-prey continuum
whose relentless multiplication ensures extinction
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
the van he
for our escape
dozens of daffodils,
Campbell’s soup cans clamoring from the bumper,
Suite’ in poster paint
scribbled on either panel’s side,
unscheduled "love stops,"
en route to San
lungs out in orgiastic unison,
HERE WE CUM!’
“house” in a Mission District apartment
—no bigger than
the fruit stand underneath—
burritos our culinary mainstays
struggling to get by
pretending to struggle;
funds enough we
had before he squandered them
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,
after he taught
me how to throw my voice,
passengers with operatic gibberish,
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,
in the face of stuffy old conventions,
him way ahead
of me with his radical views on genome,
human beings experiment only on themselves,
arguing it was
obscene for one species to harm another for its own benefit—
munching a chicken tortilla or wolfing down a burger,
my often shrill reproofs of his flagrant inconsistencies,
double-jointed intellect bending both ways at once;
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,
asked me first
to marry him then to bear his 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...
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...
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
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...
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?"
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.