Forger (excerpt)

Transient

It sits in the tiny basement of the house on Anacapa Street.  There isn’t much else down there.  A workbench where Cleve solders a wire in the exposed guts of his hi-fi, a sewing table where Paulette pointlessly alters Mary’s ballet outfit to accommodate a growth spurt that will drive her off the stage and into sulky adolescence, four shelves of canned goods, and the transit.  John has seen a picture of a sea captain squinting into a sextant, and that’s what he takes this for, another something left behind by the previous owners, like the newspaper printers’ sheets stapled to the walls, stiff as x-ray film and browning at the edges, which tell old stories you can make out slowly if you read backwards.  But the transit is actually his father’s.  John is about nine years old when he realizes this.  When he’s told, rather.  He goes downstairs after dinner to get a can of water chestnuts Paulette will need for Saturday night’s dinner party hors d’oeuvre, and there’s Cleve in his bathrobe standing alongside the tripod-mounted instrument.  He seems to be waiting for John.  As if the time is finally ripe to let his son know where he came from, information to be handed down to a boy who’s reached a certain age.  And he tells John that he worked as a surveyor to pay his way to an engineering degree.  Just a mile down Castleton Boulevard from John’s school is a twenty-five year old housing development.  For this town, that’s yesterday.  I measured it when it was just a lemon grove, Cleve tells John.  Using this.  And he lifts John up so he can look through the scope and see the crosshairs.  It’s like the submarine captain’s view in the movies, John thinks, and he can’t square it with lemon groves or that patch of ugly identical houses his mother calls The Barracks.  But before Cleve can answer the questions John hasn’t yet put into words, Paulette is demanding water chestnuts so she can get something done before bedtime, and John is back about his task.