At the cafe L'Oiseau on Thursday afternoon, Garrison told me some bad news he'd learned from his family in Canada. He'd received an e-mail from his mother late that morning, saying that Julia's husband, Brian Kent, had been diagnosed with liver cancer, and it was in way too advanced a stage. He had, at best, about a year to live.
Though Garrison had always felt an antipathy for his sister, a resentment towards her condescending attitude to him that had continued in an unbroken line straight from his childhood to the present day, he felt obligated, through his feeling of indebtedness to 'God', to forgo those hostile feelings for her sake, to help the family comfort her.
"I will pray to God, and to Mary, for Julia," he said. "That's what I told Mom in my e-mail reply to her."
"I doubt she'll approve of your conversion to the Catholic faith," I said. "She'll say you're praying to Azazel."
"I don't give a damn what she thinks of my beliefs," Garrison said in a slightly shaky voice. "I need God's approval, and that's all."
A few people at the tables near ours were giving disapproving looks to him, for his mumbling. He straightened up in his chair in embarrassment, put his hand on his jaw to cover his mouth's movements, and continued saying what he had to say.
"When Brian passes away, poor Julia will have to support their two sons all on her own," Garrison said in words muffled by his hand. "I think God and Mary can help her."
I chuckled at those over-optimistic words.
"This can be an excellent opportunity for me not only to prove my faith to, and love for, God, but also to prove to those five on the other side of the ocean that I can be a good man. The Catholic faith is driving all the devils out of me."
I chuckled again.
"I talked to Jan about this in the ice cream shop just before I came here," he went on. "She suggested, however reluctantly, that I go back to Canada and visit them. I could really help comfort Julia that way, by being with her in person. I think I will."
"Somehow, I don't think that that will go over as well as you do," I said.
Jan met Garrison in the homeless persons' shelter that night around 9:30. He was wiping the tables clean, still thinking about Julia.
"Hi Garrison," Jan said with a smile.
"Hi," he said, washing and drying his hands at a sink by the soup pot, then hugging her.
"How are you?" she asked.
"Oh, my mind's busy," he said as they walked out of the homeless shelter, arm in arm. "I haven't seen The Five--er, my family--in years; and I'm gonna see them again. Knowing their--abrasive nature, I'm gonna be really nervous around them. Still, it's what God would want me to do, to face my fears, bring about reconciliation between them and me, and give me peace of mind."
"I'll miss you while you're gone," she said sadly, a tear running down her cheek.
"Hey, maybe I can take you with me!" he said, kissing her on the cheek. "You can meet them." He then looked away for a few seconds.
"But, your Daddy no like Chinese people," she said. "He only want you marry foreigner." As she was saying that, Garrison looked back and saw a blonde again, speaking with a European accent.
"Sweetie, in Canada, you'll be a foreigner," he said. "When Chinese people say, 'foreigner', they usually mean white people. Yes, my dad's a bit of a racist, but fuck him. I don't need his approval; only God's." He looked up at the sign of the movie theatre they were going into. Then he looked back down at her: he saw a Chinese girl again.
After his date with Jan, he met with me, and we went to McLean's house to party. The five guys were all there, already passing around a joint and drinking beer around the coffee table.
"Garrison," McLean said as we came into the house. "How are you?"
"Freak," Lee said, then puffed on the joint.
"Talk to God lately?" Steven asked, snickering.
"Don't listen to them, Garrison," Corin said, taking the joint from Lee and toking on it. He then gave it to Garrison, who started toking away with his usual eagerness.
"Yeah," Gerard said. "I'm sorry to hear about your sister's husband. That's awful. We'll pray for her."
"Be thankful your sister has universal health care to help her husband in whatever ways he can be helped," McLean said after gulping down some beer and belching.
"And be thankful for the welfare, so she can support her kids alone," Lee said.
"I'll take Christian charity over the nanny state any day," Corin said. Lee and McLean laughed, and once again began a political debate.
A few more joints were smoked, and beer cans drunk, and Garrison was as stoned and drunk as the other five. The mumbling began, too.
"Lord, being in Canada again," he said. "I'll bet...they'll bully me...about my...Catholicism. Demand I...recant it."
"So what?" I said. "Just say you will, then come back here, and resume being a Catholic."
"Yeah, but what if...they bully me...into staying in Canada?" he said, belching. "Mom might say...Azazel is...too dangerous...for me to...control alone."
"Maybe you shouldn't go, Garrison," I warned.
"Yeah, I know; it'll break...the bank for me,...ruin all the...saving I've been...doing all these years, but sacrifice...is what being...a Christian is...all about."
"Look at Garrison over there," Lee said, toking on another joint and sneering. "Talking to himself again." The others joined in sneering.
Seeing the embarrassment on Garrison's face, I tried to comfort him by saying, "Don't worry about those assholes. They're as much freaks in their own way as you are."
"The ridicule...I'm sure to get...from my brothers...and sister...for being a...Catholic will be...a worse thing...to blush at," Garrison said.
"Speaking of freaks, your family are the biggest freaks of them all," I said. "They have a lot more in common with these five sitting here than they have in common with you." I'd hoped he'd take the hint I was trying to give, but he didn't seem to get it.
"Yeah, I suppose," Garrison said almost automatically, as though not even hearing his own words; still, when he looked around the room, he thought he saw, for a few seconds, his father and mother, Reynold, Fred, and Julia, instead of, respectively, McLean, Lee, Steven, Corin, and Gerard. A few seconds later, he saw those five guys again, drinking from their beer cans.
A few hours after that, I took him home, and he fell, fully clothed, on his bed, and soon went to sleep.
This was his dream.
I, Garrison Mauer, am in my old Toronto home again. I am at my current age of 39 and a half. Jan is with me, and I'm introducing her to everyone in my family, none of whom is being very warm to her.
When I see my father coldly looking at her, I look back at her and notice she has changed to her sometimes blonde-haired, blue-eyed look. Then I look back at him, and see him smiling approvingly.
"What's with this conversion of yours to the Pope's religion, Garrison?" Mom asks, visibly annoyed. "What's with your praying to God and to Mary?"
"More phoney gods to pray to," Dad snorts.
"Reynold!" Mom snaps at Dad scoldingly.
"The Catholic Church doesn't respect women, Garrison," Julia says with a sneer to mirror Mom's. "How could you betray us like that? Especially when I most need my family's love to be unified, to help me in my suffering." She starts crying over her soon-to-die husband.
"I say we beat the devil Pope out of him," Fred says.
"I agree," Reynold Jr. says. "Sounds like fun. Long time no beat, Garrison." My brothers then grab my arms.
"Don't!" Jan says, who's looking Chinese again when I look back at her. My dad frowns again.
"Let me explain!" I shout, struggling and pulling my arms free of my brothers' grip. "The Catholic faith has helped me, Mom, in ways your Lutheran faith never did."
"It's your Lutheran faith, too," Mom says, frowning. "The Catholic religion is that of the Devil."
"No, it's not," I insist. "Catholics believe in Jesus, too. We don't worship Mary or other saints, as you claim we do. We just ask the saints to help us pray to God, since their faith is so much more perfect than ours. I don't feel any Satanic influence anymore. I hallucinate much less. I do charitable work, too, ladling out soup to the homeless."
"It's true," Jan says. "I see him do it in China."
"Really?" Mom says, looking gently in my eyes and smiling...something she rarely does to me, but does all the time to my brothers and sister.
"Yes, Mom, really," I say. "God's making me good." Just then, I open my mouth wide, and we all can see the spirit of Azazel coming out of it in a colourful cloud of smoke.
Having watched the expelled spirit's smoke dissipate into the air and disappear, Mom then pauses a moment. She smiles at me again, and, hugging me, says, "Son, I'm proud of you."
"Charitable work?" Dad says, but in McLean's voice. "Caring for the needy? That sort of thing is best handled by the State." I look at him, and see McLean now.
"He's right," Mom says, but in Lee's voice. "Government welfare's better than Christian charity." I look at her, shocked to hear her say such a thing; but now I see Lee instead.
"Christian charity is such a joke," Reynold says, but in Steven's voice. "Talk to God lately, Garrison?" He chuckles to himself, and the others chuckle with him.
I look over at my brothers and Julia, but see Steven, Corin, and Gerard, all laughing at me. I don't see Jan anywhere. Then I look back at McLean and Lee, and see my parents again. They're also laughing at me. I look back at the other three, and see my siblings again, still laughing at me, louder and louder. Their mouths are all wide open in their laughing, and I see the spirit of Jan coming out of them in colourful puffs of smoke, for each member of my family now has a marijuana cigarette in his or her hand.
The image of Jan in the smoke slowly disintegrates in the air. She says, "Garrison...I miss you...come back...I love you...Don't leave me..." Her image is gone completely.
Garrison woke up suddenly on Saturday afternoon with a groan of terror.