When Candle arrives Granna is talking on the telephone. She appears at the sliding door with the receiver held to her ear on her shoulder. Her cap of silver hair is messy, maybe a little wet. A seal's whiskers show up on her chin. She unlocks the latch and invites Candle inside. She continues her conversation.
‘Oh, yes. He'd get up. He would or he wouldn't have breakfast, if he did, most of it goes in the scrap bucket. Then he starts drinking for the day.’
‘Oh, Elmira, I know. How much does yours drink?’
‘Oh, well, mine would be into seven boxes a fortnight — twenty-four per box, that's one-hundred-and-sixty-eight, divided by two, divide that by seven — twelve bottles of beer a day!’
‘Yes, pickled is the word you're looking for, Elmira. Pickled. The same as mine.’
The stippled ceiling of Granna's flat looks something like the surface of an ocean. The half closed blinds and net curtains let the morning sun in, and trap it there, filling the cool rooms with syrupy and befuddled light. The household items seem tentatively installed. A purple glass table lamp. A scratching post for a non-existent cat. A television on mute. One of Sylla's vases, emerald and glistening, stands on the counter.
From her armchair Granna watches Candle. He's in the kitchenette fussing over a cup of tea, banging cupboard doors, hunting for the sugar he normally doesn't take. One of Granna's eyes, glaciated and blind, still follows the other in its trajectory. She sits in her armchair quietly, her feet sinking into the sand-coloured carpet. She looks relaxed but her hands are held in a tense diamond. Candle can tell she is about to tell him something. In his first memory of Granna, she's in the yellow bath. She blows bubbles through that same diamond of her hands held together. She slowly blows into the diamond, her lips puckered in one exhalation, until she is whistling one note of music. Nine times out of ten the bubble fails, but if it survives the note of music is captured in a bubble skin, and it floats out in front of Granna, towards him. When it popped Candle could hear the note of music evaporate.
He takes his tea and sits down in the chair next to her.
‘Candle,’ she says. ‘When your mum told me you had become a homosexual — I was concerned. I wanted you to be sure of what you were doing. But I never loved you any the less.’
‘I know, Granna,’ says Candle.
‘In my life I have had passions for the same sex,’ continues Granna. ‘In my case the passions were fleeting. I want you to be sure. I want you to be kept safe.'
‘I know, Granna.’ Candle sips at his tea. ‘Thank you.’
‘Here are some things. For your dress ups.’ Granna brightens. She hands Candle a cardboard chocolate box. Candle opens it to find a shimmering cache of junk jewellery.
‘Oh, Granna, I don't — I'm not a —’
‘Shhh.’ She puts her finger up, as if to Candle's lips.
‘My wedding ring will go to the girl in Undine's belly, of course,’ she says. ‘She's definitely having a girl.’
Candle investigates the contents of the box. Dulled broaches, clip-on earrings, fake pearls.
‘Thanks, Granna. These are lovely.’
‘I want you to have this.’ She produces a folded kimono. She eases herself out of her chair, and opens it out between her and him. The colour is hot rust. With wispy fish-like shapes and bare branches embroidered on.
Candle almost gasps. He almost puts a hand to his mouth. He rolls a plastic pearl between his fingers. He almost reaches to touch the silk.
‘I want you to have it. It was a wedding gift, but I've never worn it myself, and men can wear kimonos too, you know. Or you could hang it up on the wall.’
She hands it to Candle, who instinctively holds the heavy fabric against his body.
‘I'd like to wear it,’ he says.
‘You'll look beautiful.’ Granna is back in her seat. She fidgets. ‘And, yes, men can look beautiful too,’ she says.
Candle leans in to kiss her on the cheek.
‘Oh, well, it's just a little something,’ says Granna. She momentarily holds the tip of her tongue between her lips, like cats sometimes do. ‘Now let's go to the café. I'd like one of those pink slices with the jelly crystals on top and I'd kill for some scalding hot tea.’
They take a bus to Aqua-rama Underwater World on the outskirts of Anchorite.
The aquarium café is out front. A wheelchair-friendly ramp descends past a mural of a life-sized orca and calf — animals Aqua-arama doesn't exhibit — down into the main aquarium. Rib has a job inside, showing visitors through the complex. He dropped Candle at Granna's on the way to work this morning.
‘Can we go in?’ Candle can smell the otherness of Aqua-arama coming in waves up the ramp.
‘Another day,’ says Granna. ‘I'm hungry.’
A grimacing tiki recommends the chowder at the café entrance. Inside a man in a dolphin-in-dungarees suit is taking his break. His dolphin head sits on the table in front of him like a trophy or a centerpiece. He smiles and nods at Granna. ‘Ahoy, ma'am,’ he says.
‘Toodle-oo,’ she replies cheerfully and keeps walking to the service counter. Candle wonders if she's forgotten the exact meaning.
They order a pot of tea between them. Granna's slice is on the house. She chooses a table by the window.
‘I couldn't hear a word she said,’ says Granna, of the girl at the counter. ‘I hate it when they don't speak up. It gets on my gate.’
Candle is almost certain the expression is, ‘it gets on my goat.’
‘Granna,’ he asks, ‘can you tell me about Wet Pete?’
‘What about him?’ She had extended her neck to peer out the window, but she retracts it back between her shoulder blades, like a turtle.
‘Is he true?’ asks Candle. ’Do you believe in him?’
Granna picks up her dessert fork and divides her pink-iced slice in two.
‘Yes he is,’ she says. ‘And yes I do.’