The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
🎧 712: He told her . . .

🎧 712: He told her . . .

What a Piece of Work I Am, Chapter 31 concludes, read by the author

     He told her about Grandmother’s illness: pancreatic cancer. He told her about the trip that they had always talked about taking, and the way that he and my grandmother talked about it, planned it, and imagined it. Grandmother had taken to her bed permanently now. She no longer went downstairs. She didn’t even make the trip from her bed to the chair in the corner, but they continued to talk about th eir voyage to Rarotonga. Grandmother couldn’t seem to stop talking about it. She would nod, and doze, and slip in and out of consciousness, and she would lose the thread of what Grandfather said, but she would always come back to the idea of the voyage.
     “It’s hope,” said Ariane, interrupting him, and surprising herself. She hadn’t meant to speak. It just came out.
     Grandfather was looking at her. He wanted to hear what she had to say.
     Ariane felt herself flush. “It gives her hope,” she said. “It is hope. A trip. You’re always heading somewhere.”
     By now she’d had a little more beer than she ordinarily did, but she waved her bottle at Red to signal for another, and then with an exaggerated, dramatic gesture, pointed one long finger at my grandfather. Red nodded and reached for the rum.
     Grandfather went on. He explained how he tried to give Grandmother something new each evening that would keep her interested and eager, something to continue and elaborate the fiction of their trip to Rarotonga. He had discovered, he explained, that there is a limit to the accumulation of detail when it’s just piling up. He was an engineer, and he loved the ocean and the bay and the beach, so he explained it in terms that were familiar to him.
     He said, “It’s like—something like—grains of sand piling up in a dune.”
     There was interest in Ariane’s expression. (Perhaps she was surprised to discover how much he sounded like me. Perhaps not, but it’s possible.) Grandfather saw her interest, so he went on.
     “Even the most perfect dune—a cone, if any dune were a perfect cone—reaches a point—I don’t mean that it comes to a point—it does come to a point, but—”
     He laughed. It was the real thing, a laugh with pleasure in it. It startled everyone.
     “I mean that if it keeps growing, it reaches a point—a stage—where some of the sand slides down the side. See, the base is too small to support the enlarging cone. So the cone collapses in a slide, and that makes a larger base. And the dune can grow again.”
     Ariane got up to fetch the drinks, and she brought the sugar jar back with her.
     “A demonstration, please,” she said.
     Grandfather poured a cone of sugar in the center of the table, then nudged the leg with his knee, and brought about a miniature avalanche.
     They laughed at what they’d done. The men at the bar didn’t turn to look. They watched in the mirror, but they didn’t turn their heads.
     When Grandfather and Ariane stopped laughing, they sat back in their chairs and thought a bit about the cone of sugar and Grandfather’s problem. Separately, they saw that he was right: the details of the trip to Rarotonga were accumulating in that way. If he and Grandmother kept planning it and planning it, heaping details on details, it would become too big for its base. It wouldn’t be able to support itself, the slightest tremor would make it collapse, and there would be nothing between Grandmother and the knowledge of death.
     They spoke at the same time, their words overlapping.
     “I see what you—” said Ariane.
     “So you see what I—” said Grandfather.
     Ariane was fairly drunk by now. She had a thought, and because she wasn’t thinking quite straight it struck her as funny. She started to laugh, but she was immediately ashamed of herself, because a silence had fallen between them while they pondered the significance of the pile of sugar. She shook her head, apologetically, but then the thought returned and made her laugh again.
     Grandfather gave a snort.
     Ariane looked at him and saw that he was almost amused. Just then she would have given anything to be able to make him laugh again, the way he had before.
     “Sorry,” she said, “but I had a funny thought.”
     He said nothing.
     “Want to know what it was?”
     She began working the pile of sugar with her hands. Grandfather still said nothing.
     “Well, here it is. You should go on the trip. Take the trip.”
     Grandfather didn’t seem to understand. Ariane wasn’t looking at him. She was moving her hands in the sugar, and she didn’t look up.
     “To Rarotonga,” she said. “Go to Rarotonga.”
     Grandfather frowned and pushed his chair back as if he were going to get up and go.
     “Hey,” she said, looking up at him suddenly. She was actually offended. “You don’t understand me. I don’t mean that you should really go. I understand that you can’t. I’m not as stupid as I look. I mean pretend. The thing to do is—to let the trip take over.”
     She had shaped the sugar into a low, meandering esker, with even sides, sides that were easily supported by their base, a structure not likely to collapse.

[to be continued]

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The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The entire Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, read by the author. "A masterpiece of American humor." Los Angeles Times