Grant Toews set his coffee cup down on the table with a sigh, and shook his head. “Family,” he said. “Can’t live with ’em, can’t disown ’em.”
Andrew Jackson took a thoughtful sip of his own coffee. “Truer words were never spoken,” he said. “Which family were you thinking of in particular?”
“My own, obviously,” said Grant. “I don’t have to live with anyone else’s, do I?”
“I suppose not,” said Andrew.
“But my sister,” said Grant. “Her, I have to live with apparently.” He hung his head dejectedly. Andrew nodded sympathetically. “That must be awful,” he said.
“How would you know?” said Grant. “You’ve never even met her, and I never talk about her.” “Exactly,” said Andrew. “I can put two and two together as well as the next man. But tell me, why must you live with your sister suddenly? You never have before, not since I met you anyway, and that’s got to be 20 years.”
“My sister is…” Grant began but paused as words failed him. “Unpredictable,” he said finally. “Marches to the beat of a different drum- mer who clearly has a very poor sense of rhythm. So periodically she gets herself into one pickle or another and then somebody has to bail her out. And it was my turn.”
“I see,” said Andrew. “What kind of pickle?”
“Oh, just the usual,” said Grant. “Tried out a career that didn’t work for her, never saved any money and got evicted from her apartment for not paying her rent.”
“What kind of career?” asked Andrew.
“Fortune teller,” said Grant. “She had her own business till her licence got revoked.”
“Really?” said Andrew. “Why did that happen?”
“She says she doesn’t know,” said Grant, “and she did not see it coming.”
“Well, I guess that answers my question,” said Andrew. He took another sip of coffee. “So are you in for the long haul, do you think?” he asked, “Or does she have a plan to start over and move on?”
“Who knows?” said Grant. “Yesterday she said she was going to be a comedian, which we all laughed at, and that made her mad. ‘Just wait till you see me headlining the Winnipeg Comedy Festival,’ she said. ‘You won’t be laughing then!’” He picked up his coffee cup. “She’s probably right about that,” he added.
There was an extended silence while they both sipped their coffee and pondered the situation.
“My life is so calm compared to yours,” said Andrew eventually. “Sometimes I feel like my life story is being written by an author who has no flair for drama.”
“It could be worse,” said Grant. “At least it’s not being written by Danielle Steel. Or Jonathan Franzen.”
“I don’t know who either of those people are,” said Andrew.
“Good for you,” said Grant. “If either of them was writing your life story you’d either be in jail or living a life of unrelenting misery. Or both.”
“I suppose,” said Andrew, “that as much as possible we should try to write our own stories, eh? So if your sister shows up you have to decide whether you’re going to write her in or write her out.”
“That’s an interesting idea,” said Grant, thoughtfully. “She’s already in my story. Are you saying I just have to figure out how to write her out?”
“Sure, why not?” said Andrew. “You could have her kidnapped by the Russian Mafia, like in a John Grisham novel, or you could do a Miriam Toews and have her disappear to Mexico or wherever, in a cloud of religious/sexual/existential angst.”
Grant thought about that for a second. “She already lives in a cloud of religious/sexual/exis- tential angst,” he said. “So that’s half the battle. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get her to disappear.” He took a sip of coffee. “Although I wouldn’t want her to actually disappear,” he admitted. “I just want her to be less central to the plot.”
“You’re a good guy,” said Andrew, “and way smarter than you look. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“It’s not easy when it’s family,” said Grant. “People you love, but you still kind of wish they would leave you alone.” He put his coffee cup down and heaved a sigh. “Ah well,” he said. “Into each life a little rain must fall.”
Andrew nodded. “Rain will make the flowers grow,” he said.
“In that case,” said Grant, “I will have a lovely garden soon enough.”
“Don’t expect me to help you weed it. I will admire it,” said Andrew, “from afar.”