I get a call on my work phone from a girl named Lyra who claims she’s my goddaughter. She might be, it’s not impossible. I have a couple of godchildren to whom I pay no attention: I’ve forgotten their names and I am long out of touch with their parents, and I don’t know how old they are.
“I’m Adele’s daughter,” she says. “Adele Hawkins? Your roommate from college?”
Adele and I shared an apartment in Cambridge for a year. The last time we talked she admitted she voted for Bush Number Two, so I washed my hands of her. “How is Adele?” I say, though I couldn’t care less, I’m employing good manners while sussing the girl out. “And your father? Goodness, I can’t remember his name.” It was Harold or Arthur, something like that. He was a milky-skinned law student from Sparta, Georgia with an impenetrable cracker accent.
“Neither can Mom,” Lyra says. She has Adele’s snarky voice. “My dad’s name is Howard, he and Mom split up when I was four. Then she married Gary Berenson; I was ten when he left. My current stepfather’s name is Farleigh Bogard, and they’ve been together six years.” She snorts, then sighs, an emotional butting of heads.
“What a ridiculous name,” I say.
“Right?” she says. “Even worse, it suits him.”
I wait for her to tell me why she’s calling. She seems to be waiting for me to speak. We are silent for longer than is comfortable.
“Lyra, I haven’t seen your mother in twenty years,” I say. “And I don’t remember seeing you at all.”
“I have a photo of you holding me at my christening,” she says. “I have the silver porringer you gave me.”
“I couldn’t have given you a porringer because I have no idea what that is.” I can’t dispute a photograph, but I have trouble remembering my younger self as the kind of person who would hold an infant, never mind agree to be its godmother.
“I don’t know what it is either,” she says. “It kind of looks like an ashtray, but you wouldn’t give a baby that.”
“I might,” I say. “Well, it’s been lovely chatting with you, but I must get back to work.” There is absolutely nothing I need to do. My boss is on vacation. My computer’s screen saver image of a nameless South Seas atoll has glowed undisturbed for hours. Before Lyra called, I was texting nonsense with my best friend Javier on my phone and thinking about popping down to the Irish pub next door for a shot of Maker’s Mark.
“No wait!” Lyra says. “I’m in Baltimore. I’m a junior at Hopkins. I thought we could meet sometime for coffee?”
I’m unreasonably miffed she waited three years to get in touch with me until she explains she recently transferred from a college I never heard of. “I rarely drink coffee,” I say, which is inaccurate. I drink several cups before noon every day. Then I have an idea. “What are you doing right now?”
“Now?’ she says. “I guess studying?” She sounds as if she’s answering a game show question, uncertain and hopeful at once. I never studied in college, I had too much else to going on.
“Meet me for a drink,” I say.
“Like a drink drink?
“If by that you mean an adult beverage, then by all means, let’s call it a drink drink.”
“But it’s not even one in the afternoon.”
“Haven’t you heard the expression ‘it’s always five o’clock somewhere?’”
She laughs and I hear her mother again. The pre-Republican Adele. “Okay, where?”
Fortunately, my favorite bar isn’t far from the university. “You can walk there,” I say. “I’ll meet you.”