Dinner is all about mismatched cutlery and drinking wine-in-a-bag out of water glasses from the Super 8. We’re eating ham steaks and a potato salad that’s made the way it’s meant to be made, which means you can feel your arteries congealing with every bite. Outside, there’s a full moon rising above the lake.
When I was eight years old, I spent every day of one summer vacation swimming in that lake. Until somebody told me it was bottomless, and about the Cavallo twins who disappeared in their rowboat. After that, it would creep me out just walking beside it. One night I couldn’t sleep because I could hear the sound of lost children calling from beneath the water. That’s when Great Aunt Ruth introduced me to the joys of late night Ovaltine and Chinese Checkers.
At night, after the children have gone to bed we gather like conspirators about the formica kitchen table with a bottle of whisky and a shiny silver toaster for making strawberry Pop Tarts. We play euchre and sevens and oh shit. Great Aunt Ruth is smoking wine-tipped cigarillos, and wearing her rhinestone cat-eye glasses and the Rehab Is For Quitters t-shirt that was her birthday present from cousin Shelly. Uncle Frank has the Tony Bennett records out, and the sentimental Irish love songs.
I’m slow dancing with Patty, the crazy lady from across the street who shoots squirrels from her bedroom window early in the morning. Ernie has had one too many Crown Royals, so I bite my tongue when he tries to bait me about the same-sex marriage issue. Sometimes he’s a windbag, but basically he’s okay, and he’s a good step-dad for Cora’s two kids. Somebody finds Gordon Lightfoot’s Greatest Hits, and we drink a round in honour of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Lying in bed, I listen to the sound of the clock ticking in the hallway. I think about the day when some of us will have to gather here at the kitchen table to sort through the jam jars filled with foreign coins, the shoe boxes full of black and white photographs of dashing men and glamorous women smoking cigarettes, standing on train platforms and sitting on World War II motorcycles. There will be kitchen drawers haphazardly filled with immigration documents and christening records. There will be decks of playing cards and newspaper clippings referring to events of obscure significance.
But that time is not yet. Not just yet. Because Ruth has a hand full of diamonds, and she’s going alone.