Bernard picked the worst possible outing for him and his new grandson.
His grandson wasn’t “new” exactly; he was sixteen, but then Bernard hadn’t known he had a daughter, let alone a grandson, until two weeks ago.
DNA found him, and he was surprised to discover that his clumsy liaison with Anita, in the front seat of his vintage Ford, had produced a child. He wasn’t even sure, at the time, that they consummated the act.
The boy’s name was Andrew, and they were to be thrust together for a Saturday afternoon at the insistence of his daughter Emily, whom he’d talked to a few times on the telephone but never met. She had a nice soft voice, and was full of questions, and readily answered any of Bernard’s questions about their lives and about her mother. He learned that Anita Day was dead. Bernard felt sorry, in some little honeycomb of his heart, right next to the mild resentment that she hadn’t told him of his daughter, and his sense of nostalgia for something he’d never actually had a chance to experience.
Emily and Andrew turned up at Bernard’s house at 1:20 pm. He had cleaned it up, with the help of a neighbour, since things like the floor boards and the tops of cupboards and the frames of pictures hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. The floors were adequate, since Bernard had a Roomba that he won in a raffle. It just toodled around the house by itself most days, a companion that he started to feel kindly towards, when he’d had a few too many glasses of beer.
He made sure the cats stayed outside, in case one or both of his new family had a problem with cats. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
Emily was 39 years old, very stylish and fit, and fair of face, like her mother (as far as Bernard remembered) and her son. Andrew was a good foot taller than Bernard and bore the unshakeable glumness of a teenager, but was mostly cooperative when Emily told him to say hello to his granddad, shake his hand, and so on.
“I guess this is awkward,” Bernard said, when Emily had driven away.
“A bit,” said Andrew.
“Do you like cats?” asked Bernard.
They went to the backyard where four cats were sunning, running, digging in the garden, and sleeping. “They aren’t all mine,” Bernard said. “Just two of them, the tabby and the grey. The other two are just visiting.” The trees were full of birds, chirping, trilling, squawking. Bernard had never really noticed how noisy they were.
Andrew played with the cats for a bit, and they seemed to like him, which was good. Then Bernard said they could maybe go to the zoo for the afternoon.
“The zoo?” said Andrew, as if it was a foreign word.
“My grandfather took me there when I was a boy. I thought I would carry on the tradition,” said Bernard.
Bernard had been eight and a half years old, and was utterly enthralled with what he saw, and what his grandfather told him on that day. He told him that porcupines had 30,000 quills, that crocodiles can’t stick out their tongues, that flamingos had to turn their heads upside down to eat. Oh, and he also told Bernard that he and grandma were getting a divorce, but that’s another story for another time.
But this time, on this visit with his new sixteen year old grandson, Bernard felt a sense of deep dread and foreboding as soon as his taxi pulled into the parking lot.
They didn’t stay long. Bernard suggested a visit to White Spot instead, remembering the constant and voracious appetite of teenage boys.
It was a good day, a great day in so many ways. Meeting his daughter, his grandson, walking, talking, learning about one another. Noticing that Andrew had his great-grandmother’s eyes. Watching him scratch the back of his neck when he was nervous, just like Bernard. Eating burgers with special sauce with the same concentrated gusto.
Then there was the zoo. All those animals. Alone in bed that night, Bernard tried to summon up all the good memories of the day, but all he could think about was the brume of sorrow that enshrouded that place, the zoo. He would have to do something about it.