At the house everyone had finished dinner and was smoking and drinking wine from coffee cups at the kitchen table and on the couch beside it.
“We ate downtown,” I said.
“That’s just great,” said Loren. “We cooked yours for nothing.”
Wesley said, “Petra wasn’t here for dinner either.”
“I phoned,” said Petra. “Next time, call if you’re not making it back for dinner.”
“Yes, Mom,” Gus said.
We poured the last of the wine, same as the thick red stuff we’d had with Billy and Lonnie at the rock festival. Some kinda west coast tradition it seemed.
“We saw something downtown,” Gus said. “Almost got involved.” He told them about the posterers and the cops.
“Petra’s pals,” said Wesley. “Or were they the anarcho-syndicalist-fascist opportunists? Otherwise known as the left-wing competition.”
“I haven’t got a clue what that means,” said Gus.
“Neither does Wesley,” said Norbert.
“Sure I do,” said Wesley. “It’s what Petra thinks I am.”
Petra just smiled at him. She never mentioned having seen us downtown.
Gus talked of looking for work the next day.
“Get a trade,” Norbert said. “It worked for me.”
“So I get a trade. Then how do I know five years from now there’ll be any need for it?”
“Industrial maintenance mechanic. Always be needed.”
Picket said, “Why worry bout getting something for your whole life? Really, eh? Forget five years from now.”
“So what you do?” said Gus.
“Drink up. Smoke up. Live life every day. That’s me.”
“He’s got a point,” Norbert said to Gus. “But get a trade.”
Petra said, “And what do you think, Wesley? How can these young fellows make some money? You used to have an opinion on everything.”
Norbert said, “The Professor of Hip.”
“You were a professor?” I said to Wesley.
“Not actually. And I have different ideas now,” he said.
“Remember that demo — what was it? — with the masks?” Norbert said. “These rubber masks. Wesley brought them for us to wear. To make fun of developers I think it was. One of those demos against some office tower going in. So we had these masks.”
Picket said, “Petra was Richard Nixon and I was Daffy Duck, I remember that.”
“Wesley was Nixon,” said Petra.
“LBJ and Frankenstein and Bugs Bunny. Other people had them too. I remember looking around as we were marching and seeing all these crazy faces, like a mob of cartoon characters marching on city hall, shouting slogans. Surreal. People making up these slogans. By the end we were laughing more than shouting. Then at city hall we occupied the — whadya call it? — council hall? I can still see the mayor coming in with his chain of office around his neck, looking so straight and so official and finding Bugs Bunny sitting in his chair.”
“People must have wondered what we were trying to say,” said Petra.
“A comment on the whole system. Wesley used to go on. Like a play?”
“Street theatre,” said Norbert. “Guerilla theatre. Eh, Wesley?”
Wesley focused on his mug, tilting it up to get the last drop of wine.
“It was existential,” said Petra. “That’s what I would have thought back then. Was that only two years ago?”
“Really,” said Picket.
Norbert said, “Times have changed, people.”
“In some ways they haven’t,” said Petra. “The efforts to divert the revolutionary movement into the so-called counterculture. The counter-revolutionary culture.”
You’d think that would kill any talk but it didn’t and somehow it got onto the demonstrations in the States about the war and then into an argument about whether Canada was better on Vietnam than the U.S. cause we took in draft dodgers. It was hard to tell the sides, people kept shifting, but I noticed that all of them, even if they did tease Petra sometimes, they listened to her. All the big political words even. She was wearing jeans and a baggy sweater now. When she leaned back I could tell again that she was female. Then I felt guilty for noticing it. They were all talking so earnest-like but I couldn’t stop watching her. When she leaned forward to make a point, some of her hair fell over her face. Her fingers levelled the air in front of her and flipped over as she talked, then darted to her head to put away the strand of hair and jumped back to cut through more points without stopping her words.
The others dropped out and drifted away to the front room where the TV was on, the first time since we’d arrived.
Petra said it was her turn for dishes and got up. I said I’d help. As we did dishes I asked her, “Do you have to wear those straight clothes at work?”
“What do you mean?” she said and kept working.
“Like I saw you.”
“What are you saying? Flat out.”
“Nothing really. Just having to dress like that for work. Like I saw you today….”
“You think —? All right.”
And something I musta been playing with in my mind snapped into place. “Shit. You weren’t at work. You were with those people putting up posters. You were their other lookout.”
She seemed to be trying to decide something. “As a matter of fact I had been at work today. The same place Loren works but the restaurant part of it. Lunch shift.”
“But when I saw you —”
“It was after work.”
“In any event it isn’t your concern.”
“I was there. I warned your friends the cops were coming.”
“I saw that,” she said. “And that part is worth discussing. Tell me why you did that.”
“I dunno. We didn’t want those people to get caught.”
“Good. Anything else?”
“Well, it was a good cause, being against the war and all, I guess.” I remembered the word on the poster. “Complicity.”
“You mean that?”
“I know more about it now.”
“Yes, I suppose you do.” She wasn’t boasting. Just agreeing, noting to herself that, yes, this was a fact.
I was standing beside her at the sink drying dishes. She was actually a couple inches shorter than me. She just seemed bigger. I could imagine her with some strapping big guy, older, with hard features and strong arms.
Not some skinny long-haired kid like me.
Then I wondered why I was thinking this about her at all.
“And we’re going to become great buddies now,” she said, like another fact in the world.