"Mike, where do you think you're going?" she calls.
He ignores her. He is going on twelve.
She runs a hand through her hair the way Dad does, loving its silky shortness. A pixie cut is a far cry from a crewcut, but it's also mercifully far from the waist-length braids she endured until this spring. She accidentally cut one off during crafts in school. Maman still loves her but will probably never forgive her.
Her mother waits in the Rambler. She wears the sunglasses she got on the French Riviera last summer. She looks like a movie star. Madeleine watches her adjust the rearview mirror and freshen her lipstick. Black hair, red lips, white sunglasses. Like Jackie Kennedy -- "She copied me." Mike calls her Maman, but for Madeleine she is "Maman" at home and "Mum" in public. "Mum" is more carefree than Maman -- like penny loafers instead of Mary Janes. "Mum" goes better with "Dad." Things go better with Coke.
Her father waits with his hands in the pockets of his chinos, removes his sunglasses and squints up at the blue sky, whistling a tune through his teeth. "Smell the corn," he says. "That's the smell of pure sunshine." Madeleine puts her hands in the pockets of her short-shorts, squints up and inhales.
In the car, her mother blots her lips together, eyes on the mirror. Madeleine watches her retract the lipstick into its tube. Ladies have a lot of things which look like candy but are not.
Her mother has saved her braids. They are in a plastic bag in the silverware chest. Madeleine saw her toss the bag in there just before the movers came. Now her hair is somewhere on a moving van, rumbling toward them.
"Here you go, old buddy."
Her father hands her an ice cream cone. Mike rejoins them and takes his. He has chosen chocolate as usual. "'I'd rather fight, than switch.'"
Her father has rum 'n' raisin. Does something happen to your tastebuds when you grow up so that you like horrible flavours? Or is it particular to parents who grew up during the Depression, when an apple was a treat?
"Want a taste, sweetie?"
She always takes a lick of his ice cream and says, "That's really good." Bugs Bunny would say, You lie like a rug, doc, but in a way it isn't a lie because it really is good to get ice cream with your dad. And when each of you takes a taste of the other's, it's great. So Madeleine is not really lying. Nyah, tell me anuddah one, doc.
Maman never wants a cone of her own. She will share Dad's and take bites of Mike's and Madeleine's. That's another thing that happens when you grow up; at least, it happens to a great number of mothers: they no longer choose to have an ice cream cone of their own.
Back in the car, Madeleine considers offering a lick to Bugs Bunny but doesn't wish to tempt her brother's scorn. Bugs is not a doll. He is . . . Bugs. He has seen better days, the tip of his orange carrot is worn white, but his big wise-guy eyes are still bright blue and his long ears still hold whatever position you bend them into. At the moment, his ears are twisted together like a braid down his back. Bavarian Bugs.
Her father starts the engine and tilts his cone toward her mother, who bites it, careful of her lipstick. He backs the station wagon toward the highway and makes a face when he sees that his rearview mirror is out of whack. He gives Maman a look and she makes a kiss with her red lips. He grins and shakes his head. Madeleine looks away, hoping they won't get mushy.
She contemplates her ice cream cone. Neapolitan. Where to begin? She thinks of it as "cosmopolitan"--the word her father uses to describe their family. The best of all worlds.
Outside the car windows the corn catches the sun, leafy stalks gleam in three greens. Arching oaks and elms line the curving highway, the land rolls and burgeons in a way that makes you believe that, yes, the earth is a woman, and her favorite food is corn. Tall and flexed and straining, emerald citizens. Fronds spiralling, cupping upward, swaddling the tender ears, the gift-wrapped bounty. The edible sun. The McCarthys have come home. To Canada.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...