The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series) (18 page)

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
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“Honestly, that’s not going to happen.”

“Gammy would be fine, because she can talk to God, but I should know before my mom does so I can prepare her.”

“Why?”

Lindsay hesitated. This man could be her grandfather. She wanted to chart his every feature. She wanted a swab of his cheek cells to look at under her microscope, and DNA testing, which they probably did right here in this hospital. Private labs did testing, too. She wondered how much it cost. “My mom and Allegra are always arguing, but if Allegra dies, my mom’ll be the one who, you know, loses it.”

“That puts a lot of pressure on you, doesn’t it?”

“It’s okay. I’m used to it.”

“Will you promise to call me if it gets to be too much? I can be a good listener. And scientist to scientist, we already have rapport.”

Rapport, Lindsay thought.
An emotional bond based on mutual trust.
“Yes.”

He scribbled on a business card and handed it to her. “That’s my pager. You call it anytime if you need to talk about anything.”

She slid the expensive bond next to the photograph and thought how what he said was like what a grandfather would say. Was this like long-lost twins finding each other? Allegra could have had sex with other men. The sixties, she knew from her mother’s lectures, which she often practiced at home back when she had a teaching job, were the sexual revolution. But it felt like their DNA was talking to each other. Carl Sagan’s voice came into her head. Look closely. Inspect the corners. Don’t hurry.

Which was easy for him to say.

They stopped by the fish tank on the way out, and again Lindsay studied the tetras. It wasn’t a jungle, but they had a good life here. The plants were real and the tank was clean and no predators lurked in the shadows. Lindsay imagined Carl Sagan being Dr. G’s patient, sitting in the comfy chair feeling sick, and watching the fish swim by, flashing their colors. He would have had something to say about those fish. Something only Carl Sagan would think to say. Dr. Goodnough might have even saved his life.

A week later, Lindsay sat at the teak conference room table someone’s dad had donated to Country Day when he remodeled his office. She was trying to concentrate on Mrs. Shiasaka’s questions, but Allegra was still in the hospital, Dr. Goodnough could be her grandfather, and now there was the upcoming Halloween party. She didn’t want to go, but not only was the whole eighth-grade class invited, the party was at DeThomas Farms, Sally’s house. Sally was her best friend, and if she didn’t go, Sally’s feelings would be hurt, and then she wouldn’t have a friend anymore. The invitation was printed on orange paper in black lettering:

Come to DeThomas Farms for an old-fashioned, fun-filled Halloween! Under careful supervision your child will bob for apples, play pin the coccyx on the skeleton, and take a tour of our famous Haunted Greenhouse!

DeThomas Farms, your one-stop shopping spot for:

Unique gifts

Fresh flowers

Imported Christmas ornaments

The DeThomas strain poinsettias (only available here)

Custom Easter baskets

Parties

Weddings/receptions

There was nothing safe about a party if Taylor Foster was there.

“Lindsay Moon, I asked you a question,” Mrs. Shiasaka said. “Are you woolgathering?”

Lindsay startled and dropped her pencil. “No, ma’am, I’m listening. Could you please repeat the question?”

“Certainly. Can you think of an example of human kindness that goes above and beyond normal, everyday manners?”

“My grandmother’s doctor made a house call.”

“A house call. That is unusual in this day and age, isn’t it, girls? Why did he do that?”

“Because she has cancer?”

Behind her she heard Taylor Foster snort, and Cheyenne Goldenblatt snicker. How was cancer funny? Without turning her head to look, she could sense Sally, two chairs down from her, getting mad, or madder, since this morning they’d made fun of Sally’s Vera Bradley backpack, even though it was hot pink and lime green, and those were the popular colors.

“Belva?” Mrs. Shiasaka said, zeroing in on the only girl who was quieter than Lindsay. “We haven’t heard a peep from you all morning. Surely you have a valuable contribution to group discussion.”

Belva Satterly was president of the grammar club and allergic to wheat. She was one of those girls who got B’s but was okay with it. Lindsay tuned her out and tried to imagine various responses to the awful comments that would come her own way at lunchtime. Cancer! It’s catching! It’ll eat her up in no time! This year all her classes were like art. Paintings, essays, Science Fair, hair style, backpack, it all had to be perfect, even if your mom was a waitress even though she hated it, and since you were the one who balanced her checkbook, you knew how little money there was to live on.

In her backpack, Lindsay carried a jumbo-size bottle of Pepcid bought with the fifteen dollars Gammy had slipped her so she could take Sally to the movies to make up for Lindsay practically living at DeThomas Farms. Tums didn’t work anymore. The Pepcid directions read:
Do not take for more than fourteen days in a row without consulting a physician.
Every thirteenth day, Lindsay skipped one.

“Girls, attention please,” Mrs. Shiasaka said over the chatter. “If you could choose any person, living or dead, to have dinner with, whom would you select, and why? You have ten minutes to create your brainstorming cluster. That way we’ll have time for all to share before nutrition break. You may begin as soon as I put on our creativity enhancement.”

That meant playing a CD during class. Music supposedly assisted the linear thinking part of the brain to release creative answers. Lindsay Moon knew Country Day’s CDs by heart. The adagio that made Avril cry, the album that had Pachelbel’s Canon played every which way there was, and R. Carlos Nakai’s CD of flute music. Why couldn’t they play Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons
so she could hear “Winter”? Allegra had it. Maybe she could burn a copy, but wait, wasn’t that stealing? If everyone in the world took one thing like that the economy would suffer and eventually collapse and then where would humanity be?

She tapped her pencil against her fingers. When she’d signed up for this course—“an interdisciplinary approach to human ethics and alternative evolutions in decision-making”—it sounded useful. Who wouldn’t want a chance to learn something that might help a geek like her prepare for whatever fresh hell came her way in high school? But so far, “Life Paths, Life Questions” was pretty much like every other class at Country Day—another “circle of learning,” as Country Day did not believe in desks in rows.

The facts were this: Allegra had been pregnant in 1967. In most cases, a person became pregnant by having sex with someone, someone they knew, unless they were on LSD or worse, “taken advantage of,” which was Gammy’s way of saying raped. Sometimes you could tell when people were having sex, like if they couldn’t keep their hands off each other or made a lot of eye contact. Sometimes, though, you had to snoop around your mother’s cosmetics, looking for birth control pills. When you didn’t find any, then you had to consider the possibility of condoms, which the man was supposed to always carry, and that pretty much made it impossible to draw a conclusive conclusion about your mom having sex. Allegra had either skipped the birth control or had something like condom failure, which, according to statistics, was a three percent chance.

Then, as if he had been hanging around in her head all this time listening, and just now decided to speak, Lindsay heard Carl Sagan’s voice. It seems you have a grandfather paradox of your own, Lindsay.

The Pachelbel Canon burst forth from the speaker, cello, this time, and Mrs. Shiasaka said, “You may begin.”

Mechanical pencils clicked, but not Lindsay’s. She waited for Carl Sagan to say something else. But three whole minutes went by, and nothing. All kinds of clustering thoughts arrived, Occam’s Razor, for one. But first Lindsay had to fill in the center with Carl Sagan’s name, and she was embarrassed and no way was she going to open herself up like that when other girls made jokes about her liking him already. The thing was, Mrs. Shiasaka knew when you weren’t “passionate” about your subject. “Well, that is a good start, is what that is,” she would say. “However, I think if you try again,” she’d continue, patting a shoulder, smiling right down at you so you saw that her top teeth were perfect and white, but the bottom ones, like the true portrait of Dorian Gray, were all yellow and crooked, “I think you’ll uncover gold.”

Gold. Au on the periodic table of the elements. Gold had made people go crazy all the way to Alaska. Gold was the most precious metal. You could save a tooth with a gold crown. Gold was popular for wedding rings. It came in white, yellow, and rose. She wondered what a ring might look like on her mother’s finger, if she married Fergus the Freak. They’d move to Scotland. Lindsay hoped she didn’t marry that weirdo. No way did she want to live where people talked funny and never went to the dentist. Lots of times, rings were passed down in families. Gammy claimed not to remember where hers was, and neither Allegra nor her mom had ever married, so there went that possibility.

CARL SAGAN, she printed. Things to ask him:

  1. At Cornell University, did you get a special office for being so brilliant and famous? How many windows did it have?
  2. What was it like working for NASA, inventing the Pioneer Space Probes 10 and 11, and then Voyager I and II? Did you worry about accidents like what had happened to the
    Challenger
    ?
  3. What do you mean, I have a “Grandfather Paradox” of my own? A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself, but might be true. Isn’t Dr. G the opposite of that? Or were you speaking “figuratively”?

She would take him to dinner at Tillie Gort’s because anyone who cared about their health ate mostly vegetarian, and he would like their salads as much as she did. When it came time for important questions, she would open her mouth, and out would come only the stupid things that made her want to cry and didn’t matter at all when you compared them to scientific theories.

  • 4. Why are people so mean to each other?
  • 5. Why do they lie, and judge each other on stupid things like your backpack?
  • 6. Why does anybody spend even one second being mean when there is cancer in the world just waiting to get you?
  • 7. If I ask Allegra about Dr. G, will she tell me the truth?

Mrs. Shiasaka sat in her armchair opening her mail. At the window, a tree limb brushed the glass. On the counter below, Geico the iguana ran up and down the dead branches inside his cage. Lindsay worried that Geico was lonely. Six of the ten girls in this class belonged to Taylor Foster’s clique: Cheyennes one and two, Avril, Siouxie, and Hannah, but Hannah was absent today. That left Frankie Post and Madison Kerrigan, who always wore black nail polish and gothic crosses under their uniform blouses. During lunch, those two huddled beneath the cypress trees reading tattoo magazines. Last year, when Taylor called them vampires for refusing to play volleyball in the sun, they’d answered,
We’re Wiccans, bitch. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your distance.

“Time’s up,” Mrs. Shiasaka said. “Finish what you were writing and turn your paper facedown on the table. Who would like to be our initial presenter?”

No matter what, it was bad to go first. If you did, then whoever came after you had the chance to give a better answer. Taylor’s hand flew up. “I chose Britney Spears,” she said.

After pausing one terrible moment, Mrs. Shiasaka said, “That’s an interesting choice. Share with us the reasons that led you to your selection, Taylor.”

“Um,” Taylor said, as if sensing Mrs. Shiasaka was not on board, “first, we could have our dinner at Kobe Sushi because sushi isn’t fattening, and Britney needs to stay in perfect shape, which I do, too, since I have similar ambitions. I’d ask her about when she was my age, thirteen—”

“You are
so
not thirteen,” Sally said.

“I am
almost
thirteen,” Taylor fired back. She took a ragged breath, and Lindsay could feel the whole room collapsing inward, like a vacuum was sucking the air out of it. “Because when you’re a celebrity you have so much wealth that it’s easy to help poor people or make a Make-a-Wish dream come true for a child with a fatal illness.”

“And then win humanitarian of the year,” Sally said.

Mrs. Shiasaka shot Sally her “first warning” look and Sally handed it right back to her. “What? I was just verbalizing a potential chain of events.”

As soon as Mrs. Shiasaka turned her head, Sally rolled her eyes. “Watch me sink Taylor’s boat,” she whispered, and raised her hand. “Mrs. Shiasaka?” she said.

“What is it, Sally?”

“May I ask a question?”

“That all depends. If it is a respectful inquiry of the subject at hand, certainly.”

“Well, it’s more like a thought than a question.”

“Is it an unbiased observation that will lead to deeper discussion?”

“I’m pretty sure of that,” Sally said.

“Do you promise not to curse?”

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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