By Barbara Sibbald
— What about me? Fiona asks her dad.
— Do you think I neglected you too? he asks.
— Let’s sit down a minute. The dishes can wait. Would you like some Glenmorangie? Or Bowmore?
— How about another wee piece of that apple cake*, says her dad. It’s really delicious.
— I’m glad you like it, says Fiona. She decides not to mention that it’s her mother’s recipe.
She sets the plate in front of him.
— Thanks, he says, taking up his fork. So, do you think I neglected you too?
— It was a bit different for me, says Fiona. I was in my last year of high school when you left, so I was ready to go anyway. Though I did have to listen to Mom complaining about you for six months or so. She was such a mess when you left. She just couldn’t accept any responsibility.
— And do you see her role?
— Sure, I do now, in hindsight. But at the time, it was all pretty bitter and she didn’t hold back with me — probably because I was older than Neil and I was her daughter. She talked about everything: your sex life, your drinking, your flirting. All of it. I had to hate you. That was the choice she gave me: hate you or hate her. And since I was living with her at the time, I had to take her side. Besides, she was so pitiful.
— And now? What do you think of her now?
— She’d drive a saint to drink! She’s so negative. And it’s quite incredible how self-centred she is. You know, when Neil tried to commit suicide, all she could think about was getting to her bridge club. Oh and the cost of the taxi.
— And what do you think of me?
— I don’t really know you that well. I mean, I was surprised that you even did the dishes.
— We really haven’t had much to do with each other for what, 25 years?
— Yeah, she says.
There is a long pause. What am I supposed to say now? wonders Fiona. That he was a crappy father? That I’ll never forgive him? Her dad swirls his scotch.
— And what about Gavin? he asks, obviously anxious to change the topic as well. You’d like him in the will too?
— I don’t know about the will, I expect you’ll live a long time, but we could use some help with his education fund. We’ve saved a bit, but we bought the house and Gavin will have tuition, books…. It’s all really expensive now, not like when Neil and I were in school. Plus, if he goes to another city and needs living expenses…. Well, we won’t have enough. I’d hate to see him graduate with debt.
— It would be nicer if he graduated with a little nest egg to get him started.
— Well, that would be ideal. There are sometimes a lot of expenses after university: a car, moving, all that. But I’m more concerned about university itself.
— And how much will Gavin contribute?
— He’s already got summer work and he’s only fourteen. He’s got something lined up at the corner store, stacking shelves and cleaning and stuff. Plus he’s got a regular Saturday night gig, babysitting a little boy around the corner. That kid adores Gavin, and he’s so sweet with him.
— Well, so long as he’s putting in some money too. You always did. I think it works out better when the kid is investing too.
— Yeah. People appreciate things more when they have to contribute.
The thought of Lorelei’s lay-about kids flashes through Fiona’s mind, but she opts not to say anything. No sense in antagonizing Dad.
— Don’t worry about Gavin, Dad. He’s a hard worker, a straight-A student. He doesn’t know what he wants to study yet, but I’m sure he’ll want to get his undergrad at least.
— And what do you think I should do about Lorelei’s kids?
Ah, so he’s asking.
— That’s not the way she sees it, he says in a soft voice.
Fiona glances at his profile, taking in the flapping jowls and pouches under his eyes. When did he get so old? she wonders. Lorelei’s really doing a number on him.
— Maybe you could sit down with an accountant or a mediator and hash it out, she says. Find something that’s fair for everyone.
— I like the mediation model, he says, suddenly brisk and professional, losing a decade in five words.
— I wish mediation had been more mainstream when I was practicing full time. It can save so much time — court time and lawyer time. Plus money.
— And it removes the emotional stuff. It’s logical and fair, says Fiona, but she wonders: is he truly going to stick up for Neil?
— Do you agree that Neil needs your help? she asks.
— Yes, yes, I know that living with his mom wouldn’t be healthy for him. It certainly wasn’t for me!
He chuckles, then catches himself, perhaps realizing that making fun of Fiona’s mother might offend her. He glances at Fiona: she’s grinning at him. He smiles at her.
— And I’d really love to be able to help Gavin, too, he says. He’s my only grandchild, after all, and I haven’t actually spent much time with him.
No time, thinks Fiona, but she bites her tongue. He pauses.
— That’s one of the things about getting old: all the regrets, a lifetime of regrets come home to pummel your heart.
— Well, here’s your chance to do something about it, says Fiona.
— And it’s because of you. Your courage in writing that letter and trying to put things right. Thank you, Fiona.
She pats his hand.
— You’re welcome, Dad.
*Apple cake with hot caramel sauce
½ cup pecans
5 medium apples, to yield 1 ½ cups chopped (use firm applies like Northern Spy or McIntosh)
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup flour
½ cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup evaporated milk
Fresh unpeeled apple slices
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Place pecans in food processor and process until fine (or finely chop).
- Peel, core and quarter apples. Place in food processor and process until medium (or chop).
- Place butter in large bowl, add sugar and beat by hand or with mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until blended. Add soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and mix quickly. Add the flour and just blend, then fold in the apples and nuts.
- Pour mixture into greased 9-inch-round cake pan and bake 30 minutes (or until the top springs back when touched). Cool slightly. Centre may sink a bit, but don’t worry.
- Make the caramel sauce: melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, stir mixture with a whisk. Remove from heat, add vanilla and milk. Stir with whisk.
- Serve: Cut the cake into eight wedges. Ladle a large spoonful of hot sauce on to each wedge. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and two apple slices.
Note: The sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated over hot water. A refrigerated cake will keep for a week.