It's a relief to be back to work. At least until the work-experience students start complaining. "He's been listening to the Cure all day. It's like being stuck in the car with my grandma."
"The interns get younger every year, huh," Colleen says to my gape-mouthed expression.
It's been a day for dismal music, triaging all the small disasters that had gone unaddressed in the chaos of my absence. (According to some of the paperwork my job-title is undersecretary for cat-herding, which describes the position about as well as anything.) This week's challenge is a group that wants advising about possible funding sources for sport for the variously disabled, designing adaptive sleds for hockey or whatnot. Since as usual I'm the slowest to duck the bits of the office's mandate covering war-casualties of all stripes and the radical notion that one might spare a thought for the idea of generating fewer of them in the first place, I take notes in their meeting as the suggestions fly, trying to let the words flow through and past without having to reflect upon the larger implications. (My brother's pinned-up sleeve, the anger.) "That's some old-school penmanship," one woman remarks of the tangle of words on the board when I pause to see if anyone has more to add.
"Now if only we could get him to buy a damn vowel once in a while," the irascible intern interjects from her post in the doorway. "How can you spell anything with that many W's?"
"Right, that's just bloody racist," I begin, and then decide she's baiting me again when she lifts one studded eyebrow. Since we've begun going round in circles anyway, I excuse myself and retreat to the rear office, seizing a quiet moment to lay my head down on my desk with a sigh.
Colleen's followed me in, sympathetic shrug when I look up from my funk. "Welcome back from vacation."
"Shouldn't have gone," I say.
"Hey, it's not like you've taken much time off in the last ten years."
I feel myself forgetting how to breathe. After a long, long moment goes by she pats my shoulder. "It's okay, hon, if I was into policing what's going on with people my kids would still be calling me Dad."
Only the obvious seems sufficient. "What do they call you now?"
"Modern of them."
"Well, you know, when they're -- here I'm gonna say 'your age' but you're one of those guys who'll get carded till you're forty. And probably still wouldn't call your parents by their first names. I guess your Grampa Max is too much of an old hippie to let you get away with that, though."
"He's adopted," I say.
I'm spared from having to elaborate upon this bit of obvious nonsense by the reappearance of one of the sled-hockey delegation, the woman who'd complimented my penmanship, face set into the scowl of someone trying their utmost not to admit that they weren't paying the slightest attention how many lefts and rights it was going to take to retrace the way back out. "Typical social-services hippie rathole," she says when she sees the office is occupied. "All that's missing is the bake sale to buy a bomber poster."
"It's in the bog," I say. She shakes her head, incredulous, and heads off in another (wrong) direction. Colleen goes to catch her up.