The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series) (36 page)

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
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While Otis Redding sang “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” Doc had whispered to Allegra, “When I was in line for the can I heard someone say this is his first time in front of a nearly all-white audience. Look at him, the poor guy. He’s so nervous he’s shaking.”

Otis Redding “brought down the house,” the
Chronicle
would later write, but so did Jimi Hendrix, setting his guitar on fire, and Hugh Masekela, the African trumpet player who later worked hard for the antiapartheid movement Allegra sent money to. Sometime in the late eighties, his song “Bring Him Back Home” had become Nelson Mandela’s anthem. Now
there
was a life well lived. And Buffalo Springfield debuted—the band that came about because of a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam: Stephen Stills happened to be in the car behind Neil Young’s. Tired of waiting, they got out of their cars and started talking to each other, found out they were both musicians, and that chance meeting had laid the groundwork for musical genius. The Mamas and Papas were still intact. Simon still had Garfunkel. Herb Caen’s column always had something funny to say. R. Crumb comic books were affordable, and Allegra was young enough to feel immortal.

These days a good concert ticket could go as high as five hundred bucks. Bands like the Stones continued to tour year-round. MTV videos had choreographers, directors, and could cost as much as making a movie. At the Monterey Pop, though, every act played for free. “Let’s not be sad about anything this summer,” she told Doc. California had its Monterey Pop; New York had its Woodstock. Nothing that happened afterward could compare. The best part about it, being a part of the history of a generation of incredible music, was simply being there. And even then Mariah might have been inside her, growing into the daughter she loved but could never please.

At six, Allegra got up and inspected the tray Cricket had left her. A bowl of soup covered with an inverted second bowl, a few almonds, and peaches sliced so thin she could see through them. The meal was arranged like a still life, too pretty to disturb. She picked up a peach slice and let it sit on her tongue a long time before she swallowed and strained to keep it down.

On the floor basking in front of the fireplace was where Al found her when he walked in at seven
PM
, with Lindsay in tow. She had found
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,
successfully negotiated the stereo system, and was listening to it for the third time.

“Will you look at this, Lindsay,” he said. “Time stops for no one, except your nana. To her, it’s 1967 all the time.”

“That’s okay with me,” Lindsay said. “I’m ready to give this year to the thrift store.”

“Aw, you don’t mean that,” Al said. “Lots of great events took place this year. Hey, you got a grandpa out of it.”

Allegra tried to get to her feet without invoking the wrath of Khan, who’d made a nest in her shirt. But if Lindsay was here instead of home with Mariah, something was wrong. “Hi, honey,” she said. “Your mom have a date tonight? Is that why we have the pleasure of your company?”

Lindsay frowned. “Scotland Weird kind of stopped calling.”

“Uh oh.”

“Let’s talk about all that later,” Al said. “Right now let’s go make ice cream sundaes or root beer floats.”

Lindsay squatted down to pet Khan, who wagged his back end so much he had to adjust his front legs so he wouldn’t fall over. “I don’t like sweets,” Lindsay said.

“That’s because you’ve never had a Goodnough sundae,” Al said. “This is my one culinary skill. My daughter Kaylie loved them. Come on in the kitchen.” He looked back at Allegra, and she saw what mentioning his dead daughter’s name had cost him, and further, she understood why he’d done it. He was fitting Lindsay into the space in his heart that had once held his daughter. “Coming?” he asked.

“Always,” Allegra said.

They sat at the kitchen table, talking. Lindsay had a lot to say, and Allegra listened, hoping to build a bridge to Mariah and Gammy with this beautiful child’s inability to lie.

“On Thanksgiving,” she began, dipping her spoon into the root beer float, “something kind of broke, I think, and I don’t know how to fix it. Mom is so mad. But she’s not really mad at you, Allegra. She’s mad at losing her job, having to move, and really mad at herself for liking Fergus the Freak, because what if he dumps her, and him going to Scotland for Christmas is like step one in that happening.”

“Those are all good reasons to be angry,” Allegra said. “If she needs to take it out on me, so what? I won’t stop loving her.”

“You don’t get it, Nana. I’m not saying it right.” She put her face in her hands and Allegra looked at Doc.

“Let’s review,” he said. “Your mom doesn’t like waitressing. She was a college professor. That world’s apples and the café is oranges. But Allegra’s too sick to work full time, so Mariah in effect is pulling double shifts, which if they’re anything like I had to do in med school, can make a person ferociously cranky. She sticks with it because she wants to pay your tuition. That doesn’t give her much time to look for another teaching job. And she blames me.”

“But you haven’t done anything except show up,” Allegra said.

“Allegra, you heard her. I wasn’t there when she needed me.”

“But that couldn’t be helped. You’re here, now.”

Lindsay took another spoonful of her float. “It’s my fault, too. Next year I go to high school. That means in four years I’ll go to college, which will cost even more if I don’t win the science scholarship.”

In the guest room, Allegra sat on the bed, running her fingers over the blue and white quilt. Slate floors ran all through the house, but every bedroom had a kilim rug. Lindsay opened the bathroom cabinets and said, “Allegra, look. There are towels and toothbrushes and really good lotion. Look at all these fancy soaps. Dr. G’s house is like staying in a hotel.”

“On the surface it might seem that way,” Allegra answered. “But your grandfather is human, just like everyone else.”

“The bathtub has Jacuzzi jets! Can I take a bath?”

It was ten
PM
, but Allegra had already decided she was keeping Lindsay home from school tomorrow. She needed a day to herself worse than any of them. “Just be sure you fill it up to cover the jets before you turn them on,” Allegra said. In case Lindsay was shy about her body, Allegra left her alone to take her bath.

Al came to the bedroom door. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Allegra said back, and they smiled as they heard the Jacuzzi jets turn on. “I’m going to wash her clothes. Anything you need washed?”

He looked at her blankly. “The thing is—”

“Cricket takes care of that, right? It won’t kill her if I do a little laundry now and then. I’ll go check your hamper.”

“Thanks, doll.”

“For what?”

“For not hating me for being able to afford all this. This sure isn’t the same world as the one we fell in love in, is it?”

“Everyone our age says that. Just don’t think you’re going to make a golfer out of me.”

She washed Lindsay’s clothes and rested on the couch until they were ready for the dryer. Al sat beside her, opening his mail. “Nothing important,” he said, and set the envelopes aside and took Allegra’s hand. “It’s great having Lindsay here.”

“It’s always great having Lindsay around. Are you ready to tell me what happened today? How you ended up with her staying here on a school night? What did you do, knock Mariah unconscious?”

He laughed. “Actually, our conversation was fairly civil. I told her Lindsay asked to spend the night, and how nice it would be if she could have some alone time with you. Then I listened to the maternal rulebook, no TV after eight, no internet after eight, and check the homework.”

“Which you have no intention of following,” Allegra said.

“Hey, we’re the grandparents. It’s in the contract we have to spoil them.”

Sliding Doc’s T-shirt over Lindsay’s head, Allegra caught a glimpse of her granddaughter’s body and realized just how much she’d grown since summer. Not so much in height, but as if from the inside out. She carried herself like a woman aware. Her face had thinned out, and her smile had widened. Her little calves had turned shapely, probably from riding horses with her pal Sally, whose neck Allegra wanted to wring for breaking off their friendship. This year of changes has been hard on her, Allegra thought while Lindsay arranged her pillows, yet the sad stuff had given her mettle. All she needed was someone to show her how to use it, and Allegra figured that task fell perfectly to a hippie grandmother.

The spare bedroom had a waterfront view, so Allegra left the curtains open. Lindsay slipped into bed and pulled the quilt to her chin. “This sure is a big house, Allegra.”

Allegra nodded. “It’s humongous. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll get lost looking for the bathroom. So, do you want me to tell you a story, or sit and talk for a while?”

“I’m too old for stories.”

“Oh, honey. We never get too old for stories.”

“Can I touch your new hair?”

“Sure.” Allegra pulled off her baseball cap. “Look how curly it’s coming in. I wonder if it will stay that way.”

Lindsay touched it. “I hate my curly hair. If I had chemo and lost my hair, I’d pray that it would come in straight.” Lindsay stopped smiling. “Dr. G told me the Marinol made you sick. What are you going to take now?”

“I don’t know if there is anything else to take.”

“But you have to gain weight. Statistics show that people who have a BMI of nineteen or lower are predisposed to bone loss, nutrient deficiency, heart irregularities, depression—”

Allegra placed her hand over Lindsay’s mouth. “Why are we worrying about me when Al tells me you have some health stuff of your own going on? What’s all this about stomachaches? You know if you have tummy troubles you can take papaya extract, and drink chamomile tea.” She saw tears glitter in Lindsay’s eyes and reached for her and pressed her sad face against her own. “What is it, honey?”

“I think I have generalized anxiety disorder.”

Allegra sighed. “That damned internet! I wish the world would go back to chalk and slate!”

“You can’t fight the internet, Allegra. It’s here to stay, and once libraries get books on line, it won’t matter where people live, they will have access to all kinds of books. The reason I called Dr. G instead of Mom or you is I knew he would listen and know what to do and wouldn’t make a big fuss about it that would upset everyone again when they aren’t even finished being upset about the last couple of things that went wrong.”

BOOK: The Owl & Moon Cafe: A Novel (No Series)
5.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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