Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chapter Fourteen: Revelations

Despite the very cordial phone call, Compass was still nervous about meeting her grandparents. Would they like her? Would they find her charming and delightful and all-round perfect-granddaughter material? Or would they be of the caustic-and-horrible school of family relations, and make fun of her hair? Compass didn’t think she could handle another Mina, much less one who was older and therefore even more seasoned and possessing a wider repertoire of nasty things to say.

It was a beautiful day, one of those rare crystalline days when the rains stopped and the world was clear and bright and in sharp focus. Compass sat at her table on the ferry, sipping a cup of truly awful coffee and staring out the window. There were cormorants, posed like giant bats, drying their wings in the sun, and an occasional buoy sported a seal or two, slick and sleepy, tails and flippers draped over the side, looking nothing whatsoever like a mermaid. The mountains, tops still thick with snow, did their majestic-looking thing in the far off.

She kept her gaze firmly out the window when someone came and annoyingly occupied the seat just across her table. There are plenty of free seats on the ferry, after all, grumble grumble, Compass thought, then realized that a cup of vanilla-scented Starbucks was being shoved at her.


“I was trying to get your attention at the loading dock, but you were all wrapped up and miles away. I brought you some less-burnt tasting coffee. Non-fat vanilla, right?”

In Seattle, knowing someone’s preferred latté arrangement indicated a level of familiarity, if not downright intimacy. Compass blushed.

“Right. Thank you. The ferry stuff’s pretty undrinkable.” She took a careful sip. It was still hot. “Are you following me?”

“Of course. Half the men on this boat are following you. See that guy over there? The one in the Gore-tex jacket? See how he’s furtively eating that scone? Following. And that guy talking on his cell phone? See how he completely refuses to look in this direction? Following. Oh, and the lovely dovey couple feeding each other popcorn? He’s following; she’s a decoy. And-”

“Ok, ok, it’s not all about me. I get it. So why are you going to Bremerton?”

“I don’t know. I was following you. I was planning to spend a sensible day fighting crowds at Pike Place Market in order to buy elephant garlic and chocolate pasta, but then I saw you getting on the ferry, so I decided to see what you were up to. Bug hunting?”

Compass was inordinately pleased by this. Pleased by the company, flattered that he had followed her. She tried to pass off her sudden jolt of happy as caffeine-induced, but she couldn’t quite make it stick. She smiled. “Not today. Well, sort of. I’m going to meet my dead grandparents.”

“Ah. More ghosts.”

“Resurrected. My mom told me that her parents were dead. Seems they’re very much alive and not two hours south of where we sit right now. I’m meeting them in Bremerton for lunch and a quick getting-to-know-you.”

“Wow! That’s amazing. You know, most people’s family size is reasonably constant – the occasional birth or death, usually expected – yours fluctuates by the hour.”

“You should see the family Bible. Cross outs, arrows pointing all over the place, big lumps of WhiteOut. I may have to start keeping notes.”

“How did you find out about them?”

“They called Mina’s house. I answered. Chaos ensued. Hey, are you really not busy today? I mean, could you come with me? Just in case either of them is the devil from which my mother was spawned, I could use someone to help me dodge the pitchforks.”

“Lucky for you, I brought my Wonder Woman bracelets. Are we expecting Satan and his minions?” Mark leaned back in his seat.

“Not really; I mean, they seemed really nice and very . . . grandparenty on the phone, but my mother can also be very charming to people that don’t matter to her. Just in case they start trying to drag me into the nether reaches of hell. . . .”

“I’ll be there. Avoid the pomegranates, though.”

Compass gave Mark a quizzical look. “And I’m the weird one.”

“Didn’t you ever read Greek and Roman mythology? Hades? Six seeds of a pomegranate? Call yourself an English major.”

“English majors tend to stick to texts in English. Call us crazy.” Compass looked out the window and saw the ferry dock of Bremerton in the very near distance. It loomed, inasmuch as a ferry dock can loom. Her heart thumped once, painfully.

“I wish they didn’t call them ‘terminals.’ Makes riding a ferry seem like the last stages of a fatal disease.”

“In keeping with the death-and-hell analogy we’ve got going. Compass, are you sure you’re ready to meet these people? You seem a little hesitant. Hesitant like going-to-the-guillotine hesitant.”

“I want them to like me. I want a blood relation to like me. It would make for a refreshing change.”

There was some gentle bumping and the feeling of very large and heavy water-borne objects being fussed around, and then it was time to disembark. Compass and Mark stood up and started making their way toward the footbridge. Without consciously realizing it, Compass reached down and grabbed Mark’s hand. Had she been looking, she would have seen him smile big enough for his teeth to do that trademarked Disney twinkle.

They walked along the footbridge and through the ferry terminal, coming out into bright sunlight on the other side. There, arm-in-arm and grinning, were a pair of the most adorable muppet grandparents Compass had ever seen. She hoped fervently that they were hers.

They were. Grandma Ginny was short and round and smelled like honey. Compass had feared an awkward to-hug-or-not-to-hug moment, but instead she was enveloped by her grandmother who held her fiercely and sobbed down her shirtfront. It was the longest hug Compass had ever been involved in, and she was loath to let it end. Finally, there was a male throat-clearing – either Mark or her grandfather, she didn’t know – and the two women came up for air.

Her grandfather was taller, a little taller than Compass, with an elegant beaky nose and bushy grandpa eyebrows over eyes that can only be described as “twinkly.” Compass would discover later that this was largely due to cataract surgery, but the twinkle went to the bone, so it didn’t matter. He put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a long looking over. Then he smiled. “Hello, granddaughter.”

“Hello, grandfather.” He pulled her in close. He smelled of wool coats and arthritis rub and held her as tightly – if rather less damply – than Ginny had. Compass emerged from this second-longest hug to find Mark engulfed in a Ginny hug of his own.

Once they were all untangled, they headed to a cafe nearby for more coffee and conversation. Ginny and Arthur moved slowly but steadily. They had to be in their early 80s, according to Compass’ calculations, though they both looked years younger. It was a good half-mile walk to the cafe, and they chatted about the lovely weather and the beauty of the Northwest as they strolled.

Once seated at a table, there was a lengthy discussion over the menus about food choices. Arthur favored the Idaho farm-boy breakfasts of his youth: lots of grease and an assortment of dead animals, but Ginny wouldn’t hear of it. She’d gotten him as far as 84 by sheer will-power alone, she told Compass, and she wasn’t having him go off the rails now. He ended up with the vegetarian egg-white omelet and two pieces of whole wheat toast. Once the coffee was poured and the menus retrieved, the real conversation could begin.

“So could you fill in a blank or two for me?” Compass half-expected a cloud to roll over the sun at this point, but it didn’t and she chose to see this as a good omen.

“We can try,” said Arthur. “We had a hint about you, not long ago, only we didn’t see it for what it was.”

“A hint?” Mark took a mini-muffin from the basket in the center of the table and started peeling off the paper wrapper.

“Your father called. He does that, from time to time, usually when he’s drunk. Last time must have been five or six years ago, and we had pretty much decided he was dead.”

“When did he call?” They knew who her father was! It was more than she could have hoped for.

“This must have been . . . what was it, Ginny, maybe six weeks ago?”

Ginny nodded, her face pale. “He called us up, roaring drunk, shouting down the phone for us to give us ‘the girl’s’ number.”

“We thought he meant Willy’s number,” said Arthur. “We kept giving him Willy’s number over and over, but he just kept shouting, ‘No! No! The girl’s! The girl’s!’”

“We realized after we talked to you that it must have been your number he wanted,” said Ginny.

“So he knows about me?”

“I guess he does,” Arthur said. “I wish now I’d listened closer to all his rambling phone calls over the years. I used to just set the phone down and read a magazine. I might have known about you sooner if I’d listened.”

“He wants to get in contact with me, then.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Mark picked up another mini-muffin and began peeling it. The first one sat naked and uneaten in front of him. The question was addressed to her grandparents.

“Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” said Compass, already a little defensive of her father.

“That’s actually a very good question,” said Arthur. He leaned forward as if to communicate a confidence when the food arrived. There was an impatient silence as the food was arranged on the table and all the condiments asked for and arrived one-at-a-frustrating-time.

When the waitress was finally gone, Compass couldn’t wait any longer. “Why would it be a bad idea to meet my dad?”

“Sweetheart, we think he may want to contact you because he thinks you have something of his. Something he wants very very badly.” Ginny put her hand over her granddaughter’s. “We just don’t know how far he’ll go to get it.”

“You think I could be in danger? From my father?” Compass pulled her hand away and put it in her lap. “I don’t believe this. Is it because he’s a drunk? That’s OK, I’m very good with drunks.”

Arthur was attempting to cut his omelet, but it kept wiggling away from his fork. Finally he set his utensils down and stared Compass straight in the eye.

“He’s not a drunk, granddaughter, not really. He’s a jewel thief.”

Breakfast went downhill fast from there.


NuclearToast said...

<gasp> He wants the DRAGONFLY?!?!

Ash said...

I love it!

Fav parts:

“Just in case either of them is the devil from which my mother was spawned…”

“I want them to like me. I want a blood relation to like me. It would make for a refreshing change.”

“That’s OK, I’m very good with drunks.”