"Not to mention all the exercise in the Robinson Crusoe act he did here at the house," Hugh said to Steve, as he put the bags in the back of the wagon. "I don't think we realized how much physical work Dad's done here over the past year."
"I do," Steve said. "Totally immersed himself in renovating this place."
"Well, I did go down to the Canada Employment and hire a plumber, or an electrician or some plain labourers when I needed them."
"What did they think of this old character with a straggly beard and long hair pulled back with an elastic, plus the dress pants cut off at the knees and held up with a bit of rope?" Steve asked, when they were settled into the car seats.
"Nobody said anything. They got paid. That was all there was to it," Syd said as he ran his hand over the neatly cropped grey stubble on his face.
"Never thought you'd keep the long hair," Steve said from the back seat, scrutinizing Syd's straight hair just short of the collar, "although your Italian barber does a better job than you did. Can't decide if I like the beard or not."
"Neither can I, so it comes and goes."
Syd took one last look as Hugh pulled away. "Garden'll keep until I get back."
"But will that lady?" Steve asked with glee.
"What lady?" Hugh was navigating his way onto Avenue Road, and waited for an opening to make the left turn to take them north to Highway 401.
"I said forget it," stated Syd.
"That's the proverbial red flag in front of the bull," Hugh commented. "I'm not letting up on this one. Come on Stevie, spill the beans on the old man here."
Syd slunk down beside the door as Steve leaned on his elbows over Hugh's shoulder.
"You know my answering machine is still here at the house. I had to give up my Toronto number; Dad transferred his number from the apartment to the house here; and I've given Dad's number out so I can keep in touch with my city friends. Dad either passes along the messages, or if I'm in town, I let myself in the house and check the machine.
"Well, last week," Steve's voice was full of high spirits, "there was this message for Dad. Maybe I shouldn't have said lady, because," Steve watched Syd slide lower in the corner, "because in the most breathy, sultry voice, she made the most unbelievable ... fabulous suggestions ..."
"Lascivious?" Hugh prompted.
"Yo, and she was wanton and lustful, too," Steve added with a whoop of laughter.
This was an old game of gotcha the boys had played with the encouragement of their mother. If someone came up with a big word, the other added a supposedly agreeable comment that was really the same meaning. The first time, it had happened by accident. Hughie had learned the word "miscegenation", and used it in reference to attitudes in the United States, at which point, in all innocence, Stevie had replied, "Ya, and they don't like black boys marrying white girls."
"Something to do with that big bed of Dad's!" Hughie hooted. "He was packing and I suggested he find someone to share it!"
"That's it. A woman. Shirley. Don't we know a Shirley somebody from the church ... Wallace?" Steve was reaching for memories.
"Her husband died just before Mom did?" Hugh was trying to put a face to a name.
"Now stop it. Both of you." This was Dad speaking.
With broad grins both boys looked expectantly at Syd as he drew himself upright into a posture of authority.
"I can't say there is nothing to this. How shall I put it? There is nothing to me having anything to do with this woman, but ... well, you know I haven't been to church for a while."
"Which was because Mom wasn't there any more, we thought." Hughie, the elder spoke for both of them still, on occasion.
"No. That's not the case. You know I'm no Bible-thumping Christian but it has a place in my life, I like singing and Thursday night choir practice for an hour and a half and the Sunday morning service for an hour is not a big tax on a person's time, even for me, the former high-powered executive that I was!" Syd said it with a self-depreciating tone. "Anyway, it was always a social outing with a broad swath of people. I was grateful to have it after your Mom died.
"However it came to my attention that I was being categorized as 'out of mourning'. Much to my surprise, and horror, I was being pursued by some of the widows in the congregation. All of these ladies had been friends or acquaintances of your mother's, and I discovered there had developed a pecking order as to who had the first shot at me." Syd's face coloured in disgust and mortification.
"Can you believe it? Attractive well-to-do matrons, rushing me like a college football hero. I felt worse than I had as a shy teenager. When I got home there were always two or three messages on the answering machine ... even before I moved out of the apartment ... some simply asked me over to dinner and to talk, or go to a concert. Others plainly making a pass ... and frankly, I didn't even expect Shirley Wallace to know about what she suggested let alone propose doing it." Syd shivered. "I have absented myself from church."
"It's that serious," Hugh said.
"It's that serious," Syd repeated emphatically.
"Why don't you look for some young woman?" Steve suggested. "Surely you met some single ones before you retired. There are tons around. One of your buddies still at the office should be able to introduce you to somebody."
"Huh." The sound from Syd was not a laugh, not a grunt, but definitely negative in connotation. "First and most importantly, I'm not interested. I'm what you might call a reconfirmed bachelor."
"You shouldn't close your mind completely," encouraged Hugh. "Get out and see what's around."
"Well, I did." Syd shook his head. "Remember I told you, years ago when you were beginning to date, how I met your Mother? Old Kenny at the tea dances after Saturday afternoon football game at University? He'd pick out a girl, dance with her and chat her up. If he didn't fancy her, he'd dance her over to me, make the introductions and go find another? Well, one of my colleagues from the office asked me out on a foursome for dinner. He said he had a blind date for me. It turned out the guy didn't bring his wife, but two younger women. He gave them the Old Kenny routine: picked the one he wanted, and `fixed me up with the other'! It was one of the tackiest situations I've ever been in."
"We never heard this one," Hughie said.
"No. There was no point."
"So what did you do?"
"I spoke to the waiter with cash and asked him to move dinner along at a comfortable pace, and not to offer after-dinner drinks. Then I offered to escort my date home, and included the other young lady as well. Both accepted, gratefully. My buddy was furious. It's ended our association. He's talked to a few other guys. Says I'm over the hill."
Syd didn't tell them the comment the colleague made as he escorted the girls away. Hard to tell if it was envy or just what, but he said, "There's Syd, never the star but always the winner."
The car approached the Airport Terminal.
"Good thing we persuaded him to take this trip," Hughie jerked his thumb back at Steve, "he needs something, anything, new in his life."
"Don't worry about me," Syd reassured them both. "I can take care of myself."
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