Over the other side of the water, suddenly, were skyscrapers. Gerry wanted to exclaim holy crap, holy crap! over and over again, but he didn’t. Steel and concrete of that mass should have bored a hole through to the other side of the earth but instead the city was floating. His father guided the car into the overgrown thicket. Someone good at spitting could have hit the ad for Chase Manhattan. A drizzle started up.
“Upper East Side,” announced his father. “Look, Gucci. Prada.”
“Are you impressed by that kind of stuff?” said Gerry, his throat tightening almost enough to choke off his words.
The retort was swift. “I’m just pointing out the sights, Gerry.”
His father parked the car and the engine shuddered to a stop. Gerry took his time examining the seatbelt mechanism. His hands were shaky.
“Listen, I’ll tell you now and get it over with,” said his father. “Shelley wants to divorce me.”
He sighed deeply. Click! went Gerry’s seatbelt buckle. The belt whirled itself into its holster. Now it really was dead quiet. The burden of creating motion and noise shifted to the humans.
Gerry said nothing. Shelley was what they called a trophy wife. Everybody back home in Calgary, especially mom, had predicted that the marriage wouldn’t last.
“I need to walk,” his father announced.
The rain was congestion in the air, a lingering flu. Father and son armed themselves with umbrellas but their adversary was so feeble that they didn’t end up using them. They crossed Park Avenue. Gerry was holding his cell phone in the depths of his pocket. He imagined texting mom a message. Shelley dumped dad. WTF.
They trooped down the paths of the park, passed under a stone bridge, and crossed the length of a green meadow. Neighbouring office towers peered down like guardians over a crib. The clouds were breaking up. A group of young men was standing around, talking loudly and listening to a jukebox. His father quickened his pace but Gerry recognized it was Public Enemy on the jukebox and wanted to idle.
“Come on, Gerry,” said his father, like he was calling after a pet.
Gerry stood his ground and glared, but it took a while for his father to turn around again and by that time Gerry’s glare had lost its intensity.
“What’s your deal?” said his father.
The hip-hop guys were watching the mini stand-off. Gerry gave up and forced himself to catch up to his father.
“This weekend is gonna suck,” he said.
The declaration popped out of him like an unexpected burp.
“Why would you say that?” his father asked.
“Just – everything,” said Gerry.
They went down a set of steps into a small stone tunnel. Two women had set up music stands and were taking out their instruments, one a cello and the other a violin. The two men rushed through the tunnel, Gerry’s pronouncement in their slipstream. The women’s music started up but the men didn’t linger. They reached the steps on the other side. The clouds had parted sufficiently for the sun to peek through. The weather’s speed surprised Gerry. It wasn’t like the prairies where the huge sky gave warnings far in advance.
They approached a large, circular pool with a fountain in the centre. It was as pretty as a postcard, the trees gently swaying in the background, toddlers chasing after each other, and the clarity of the fresh sunlight on the water. They stopped several paces from the pool and watched a teenage girl point her camera at the water. In front of her there was a large turtle seemingly raising its head so she could take its portrait.
“She shouldn’t be doing that,” said his father.
“Why not?” Gerry asked. “Can’t somebody have fun in this world?”
“It’s fun until the damn thing bites her finger off.”
If his father hadn’t been around, Gerry would have stepped in and asked the girl if she wanted her photo alongside the turtle.
“Where are we going dad?”
“Let’s eat at the boat house,” his father replied.
“I’m not hungry,” said Gerry. “They gave me some crap on the plane.”
“Well that’s great, Gerry,” his father said, sarcastically. “Here in New York, it’s almost six o’clock, and some of us are anticipating dinner-time.”
Gerry was suddenly conscious of the turtle pulling itself out of the water and lumbering over the rocks. The teenage girl was half-shrieking to her friend with excitement.
“I’ll skip dinner and have a beer,” Gerry said, successfully holding his voice steady.
His father shook his head.
“No Can Do,” he said. “You’re not in Calgary, kiddo. Drinking age here is twenty-one.”
Gerry glanced toward the girl again, partly out of curiosity, but mostly because he needed to rekindle the confidence behind his eyes. When he turned back to his father, he pulled his cigarettes out of his inside pocket with deliberate slowness.
“When did you start up that grotesque habit?” his father asked.
“Two years ago,” said Gerry.
His father shook his head.
“Don’t blow it in my face.”
He took a couple of steps and then stopped, pulled at the fabric of his trousers to lift the hems, and sat down on a bench, on the very edge, where the rain had already dried up. His gaze settled upon the girl. She was crouching down and her bare bronzed legs folded out perfectly. She was firing off shot after shot of the lumbering turtle.
“They lure you in and then they get you,” said his father. “Like Sirens on the island.”
It took a couple of seconds for Gerry to realize that his father was talking about women. He lit up his cigarette. He saw the teenage girl point out her finger to try and touch the turtle’s shell.
“She just can’t help herself can she?”
“Do they really bite?” said Gerry.
“If it’s a snapping turtle, then yes. That’s their nature.”
A plume of smoke wafted from Gerry’s cigarette into his eyes. He blinked away the stinging sensation. Once his vision had cleared, he saw the teenage girl touch the turtle’s shell and quickly snatch her hand away. “I did it!” she called out, triumphantly.
Then the girl jumped up and showed her friend the photos she’d taken. The turtle was lumbering back to the water.
His father shook his head. “I swear she was going to lose a pinkie.” He seemed almost disappointed. Gerry wished his father could stop staring at the girl.
“Let’s go, dad,” he said.
But his dad acted like he hadn’t heard.
“They fool you by looking like angels,” he said. “You end up believing a whole bunch of things about their personalities that end up being mostly wrong.” He shook his head. “It’s fucking hopeless.”
He was still staring.
“Come on, dad,” Gerry said, realizing that he was the one who’d have to be the adult. “Let’s go get dinner. I think I’m going to be hungry after all.”