The house is a museum. Amongst its treasure, countless artifacts of great value and familiarity: Toni Morrison’s Love, Frank McCourts’ Tis, and Angela’s Ashes, Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters and Anne-Marie McDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. A Giller award.
I’m shown a prized collection of beautiful artworks created by his daughters, and unbeknownst to my host, this part of the tour is cause for self-reflection. As the daughter of an artist, who is an artist, neither my father nor I possess a single piece of the other’s work. (Thirteen years later, we’ve maintained this tradition).
In a moment of foreshadowing, he wondered aloud if I had ever been able to purchase a drink without having to validate my age. When I tell him that I’m older than I appear he admits having already surmised this. Of course he has. He’s a storyteller. A world builder. A purveyor of tales.
His attention eventually pivots to the subject of Aretha, a character in my novel who he felt reminded him of the mother in More. I listened intently, quietly acknowledging my gratitude and thinking of my frequent family drop-ins, where I conversed with the backs of my kin as they moved hastily between the sink and stove. Often, I would’ve preferred words over a meal. Wisdom provides much needed soil for growth, and often, it is in the rare, chance encounters that intent blooms. I would not waste a single drop of this opportunity.
At some point I felt the scales of this encounter tip sharply in my favour. In an epic failure of manners and maturity, I’d shown up for my mentorship empty-handed. The horror. My only offer was trust; I spoke of my children and their ages.
No, I don’t believe it, he repeated as we settled into the sitting room. Soon after we were seated, a call came in from a private number. He hesitated, then answered. Hello? Right now? Yes, I’ll be right there. His voice sang with excitement.
As he arranged Friday night plans, I contemplated my own. Now that our chat was cut short, I’d drive home in time for supper. Watch a movie. Get the laundry in. What had I accomplished? Was I ready to shove off on this adventure alone? I grew despondent as I gathered my belongings.
Then, to my surprise, he invited me along.
Before we leave, I’m invited to the study to see the red chair in which he says Malcolm X once sat during an interview. Beguiled, I could barely leave the room.
The taxi stops to deposit us at Bistro 990 on Bay Street, a place frequented by politicians and celebrity guests, and once at the door, we’re greeted by a beautiful, flamboyant young man decked out in a purple tie and yellow vest, his slick black hair, pressed straight. After a brief introduction, the Author introduces me to the wait staff and the Front of House whose name, I believe, was Victor. It’s a bit of a production. Victor, this is Denise Da Costa. Remember the name – she’s going to be a great writer.
I’ve stepped through the looking glass and the evening is going to be fabulous. That he hadn’t actually read my writing turned out to be a blessing.
Pumped with false optimism and pride, I join the author, the young man, and a woman with opinions at a table by the window looking out at the street. They are a party of palpable excitement fueled by pre-drinks. The Author orders another as soon as intros are over.
“Shaken.” He wagged a finger. “With a twist of lemon.”
Next, Part III: Bistro 990