Ian C. Smith
Tobias in the Toilet

Son, self-possessed, overbold, likes speculative fiction; Dad, much older, is thankful son reads, closing some of the gap he feels always separated them, many of twenty-something Son’s activities falling between irksome and baffling, but always fervid. Son knows all the spate of sci-fi movies from dystopian to disappointing Dad eventually catches on TV so they share a subject for discussion.

Dad, who prefers literary fiction, essays, poetry, bought Ulysses at Son’s vexatious age, having started to read his newspaper’s books pages. Noticing many references to Joyce he thought it time he discovered what such regard was all about. He thinks the last time he threw a book across a room was after trying to relate lyricism to his idea then of that fabulous beast, the English language.

Holidaying together in the family shack, Dad walks the edge of an ebb tide recalling how, when he picked up that upside down hurled book, he discovered another story starting from the other end, two for the price of one. He read all of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, felt he understood Joyce although he knows now this understanding was preliminary.

He finds aspects of movies he can honestly praise after checking Google’s likelihood of flimflammery. Son, nudged towards Tobias Wolff’s account of his Vietnam War service, enjoys the book. Dad spots it in the toilet where Son reads, then tells him Wolff, a handful as a kid, turned out well, alert as he talks, sharing their view of the beloved harbour overlooked by a mountain, of how his own beginnings, tattooed on his brain, turned out.