Archive for February, 2019

Tober Finds His Way Part 1

Monday, February 25th, 2019

 

Finding the Way

On a cold morning, nine days before Thanksgiving, on the far northern coast of California, nineteen-year-old Tober Quincy stands behind the checkout counter in a big store known as Good Used Stuff, two miles inland from the mouth of the Eel River.

Tall and handsome, with long brown hair in a ponytail, Tober is friendly and thoughtful with a wry sense of humor inherited from his mother and an endearing curiosity about everyone he meets. He has been employed at Good Used Stuff for three years and works thirty hours a week as both a clerk in the store and as a maker of tables and chairs in the Good Used Stuff woodshop. He likes his job, though more and more lately he’s been thinking about shifting entirely to freelance work as explicated on his most recent business card.

October “Tober” Quincy

Composer * Violinist * Carpenter * Gardener

Fruit Tree Pruner * Collector of Special Stones

Reasonable Rates * Inquiries Welcome

Until three months ago, Tober lived with his brother Augie, who is younger than Tober by a year, and their mother Sharon, who is forty-two, in a farmhouse at the end of Snake Creek Road, the nearest town Fortuna, ten miles away. Then in August, Augie moved to Portland, Oregon to attend graduate school in Clinical Psychology at Oregon Health and Science University; and when Tober and Sharon returned from helping Augie get settled in Portland, Sharon decided to begin the process of adopting two young sisters, Amelia, five, and Consuela, four, something she’d been considering since attending adoption workshops in June.

Tober is excited about Amelia and Consuela joining the family and he’s looking forward to helping them adjust to their new lives on Snake Creek Road, though the addition of two little girls to the household means he will be vacating his bedroom—the only bedroom he’s ever known—and moving into the low-ceilinged attic, which is not an ideal bedroom for a person six-foot-three.

Thus he is planning to build another house on their ten acres, though he isn’t sure how big a house to build. What if Augie decides to come home after his three or four years in Portland, or sooner if he changes his mind about becoming a psychotherapist? What if he, Tober, wants to get married and have children? Should he build a cottage that can be expanded into a larger house, or two separate expandable cottages, one for him and one for Augie?

As if this weren’t enough upheaval for one brief stretch of a person’s life, Tober is now six months into his first relationship involving sex. His girlfriend Annie is twenty-three and lives in Fortuna where she is a waitress at Double D Steakhouse and shares an apartment with a hairdresser named Tiffany. In his six months as Annie’s official boyfriend, Tober’s mad love for her has inspired him to write fourteen love songs, two sonatas for piano and violin, one sonata for violin and guitar, and dozens of love sonnets.

Annie, who is always hip to the very latest celebrity gossip and spends hours every day perusing Fashion magazines and Fashion web sites, is forever telling Tober how much she loves him and wants to marry him and have at least two children with him. When she’s not working at Double D, Annie likes to smoke pot, watch television, text and talk on her phone, go barhopping with Tiffany, and have sex with Tober.

When Tober is with Annie, he can’t take his eyes off her, and when they’re apart he can’t stop thinking about her.

But wait, there’s more. Not only has Sharon decided to adopt two children, but six weeks ago she abruptly ended her two-year relationship with Maybe, the owner of Good Used Stuff, which has made the last several weeks at work for Tober quite the emotional challenge.

And so…

On this cold November morning, nine days before Thanksgiving, Tober is standing behind the checkout counter near the front door of Good Used Stuff, re-reading a long handwritten letter he got yesterday from Augie asking him to come to Portland and visit for a few days, after which they will return home together for Thanksgiving.

Now a familiar engine sound of a car in need of a new muffler causes Tober to look up from Augie’s letter and gaze expectantly at the front door until it opens and Annie hurries in accompanied by a blast of frigid air.

Tall and buxom with golden blonde hair, her mother Swedish, her father a big guy from Montana, Annie is wearing blood-red cowboy boots, hip-hugging blue jeans, and a red jacket over a tightly-fitting pink T-shirt with the words EUREKA writ in large red caps on the gossamer fabric directly over Annie’s breasts.

“Hey darlin’” says Tober, coming out from behind the counter to embrace his beloved.

“Hey,” says Annie, holding up her hand to stop him from coming any closer.

“What’s going on?” asks Tober, obeying her signal.

“I’m…” She looks away from him. “I can’t do this anymore. You and me.”

“Can’t do what?” he asks, bewildered.

“Be with you anymore,” she says, still looking away. “I’ve been sleeping with other guys for the last couple months.” She shrugs. “Maybe a few months. I didn’t want to. I mean… I wanted to, but I didn’t want to want to.” She sighs. “I tried not to, but I couldn’t stop myself.” Now she looks at him. “I really wanted to make it work with you, but we’re just too different.” She grimaces. “You’re like from another planet, Tober. Where they don’t have phones or televisions or modern anything. I mean… no offense, but most of the time I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. It’s like you’re from King Arthur or something.” She looks away again. “But I’m really gonna miss fucking you. Sex with you was like way the best I’ve ever had.” She looks at him again. “I’m not just saying that. You’re amazing. But what I’m not gonna miss is feeling like an idiot for not knowing what a sonnet is or a sonata or physics or history or… whatever.” She glares at him. “I need to feel good about myself. Good about who I am and what I like to do. Which is not what you like to do. Except the sex. But it just wasn’t enough anymore, you know, to like… bridge the gap. So now I’m gonna go. Have a good life.”

Never in his nineteen years has Tober gone into shock, but now he does; and the next thing he knows, he finds himself sitting in an armchair by the woodstove in the northwest corner of the enormous store, having no memory of traversing the forty feet from the checkout counter to the stove through a maze of furniture and tools and statuary. Nor does he remember sitting down or how much time has passed since Annie came and went.

He is roused from his torpor by Maybe coming in the back door and tromping to the stove to get warm. Maybe is fifty-years-old, not quite six-feet-tall, with longish brown hair and a lopsided mustache. He is wearing a purple wool cap pulled down over his ears, a puffy orange jacket, baggy brown trousers, and black boots, his face creased with worry.

Tober very much wants to tell Maybe how strange he feels and how Annie’s coming and going was so much like a dream he wonders if it was a dream, but before he can say anything, he realizes Maybe is speaking to him.

“…so I think it would be better if you didn’t work here anymore until I get over what your mother did to me, if I ever can. I hate to do this, Tober, but every time I see you all I can think about is her saying she doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”

“Wait,” says Tober, frowning at Maybe. “Are you firing me?”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” says Maybe, shrugging. “I’m asking you to quit so I won’t have to fire you. I mean… you know I like you. You’re one of the finest people I know. And you’re a wizard at selling things and making things and finding stones and… but I thought your mother and I were gonna get married, and now she won’t even talk to me. And I need to stop thinking about her. It’s killing me.” He grimaces. “I’m sorry, Tober. I just… I need to recover.”

“Do you still want to buy stones from me?” asks Tober, sadly amused that he would ask Maybe about stones at a time like this.

“Oh definitely,” says Maybe, nodding. “But have Titus bring them in, okay? So I don’t have to see you and remember how one day we were planning the wedding and the next day she wouldn’t talk to me. Like I was nothing to her.”

“That isn’t how it was, Maybe.” Tober gets up from the chair. “You guys talked for days and days after she told you. And you called her every night for two weeks, and you came over when she was giving lessons and refused to leave, refused to let her do her work. You need to be honest with yourself about this, Maybe, or you’re never gonna get over her.”

“But she’d never tell me why,” says Maybe, crying. “She just kept saying it wasn’t what she wanted, but she wouldn’t say what she did want, so there was nothing I could do, nothing I could change so she would want me again.”

Titus Troutcatcher, Tober’s mentor and friend and chosen grandfather, is a Wailaki healer and counselor. Titus is eighty-five and lives with his wife Tina in a little house in the forest about a mile inland from Good Used Stuff. He doesn’t charge for his services as a healer and counselor, yet he makes a decent living because the people who come to him show their gratitude with money and gifts.

Tober drives his white electric pickup truck through a light rain to Titus’s place and finds Titus standing at the bottom of the front stairs, looking gigantic in his long gray coat as he throws a tennis ball for Spider and Feather, his longhaired Chihuahuas.

“I thought I might see you today,” says Titus, greeting Tober with a strong embrace, his voice pleasantly gruff. “Thought I heard you calling me about an hour ago. What was going on?”

“Well,” says Tober, already feeling better now that he’s with Titus, “Annie came to the store and told me she’d been sleeping with other men and didn’t want to be with me anymore, and then Maybe asked me to quit because every time he sees me, he thinks of my mom. Then he gave me a thousand dollars severance pay. And now I’m here.”

“Want some chili?” asks Titus, nodding encouragingly. “Made with fresh venison. Horace Waterfall shot that young doe couple days ago. You know the one. She kept jumping his deer fence and eating those late yellow apples. Horace gave us a rear haunch. Tender. I think all those apples she ate made her extra sweet. Tina made her chili yesterday. Pretty spicy, but delicious. Come on in. Get warm.”

They climb the four steps to the front porch of the little pink house and go inside, the dogs rushing in ahead of them. They take off their coats and Titus puts a log of pine and a log of oak on the spluttering fire, and the flames grow large.

While Titus heats the chili and makes toast and coffee, Tober squats by the fire and gazes at the glowing embers and wonders why today of all days he lost both his lover and his job.

“Tina’s in Fortuna,” says Titus, stirring the pot of chili. “At Teresa’s. Might spend the night over there. Her night vision isn’t so good anymore. She shouldn’t drive after dusk. Her great grandson Lawrence, you remember him. He’s six now. Has that big gap between his two front teeth. Red hair. He’s in a school play today about vegetables. He’s a carrot. Type casting. I was gonna go but I woke up this morning feeling like I should stick around here.”

“I’m glad you did,” says Tober, smiling.

“So… Maybe let you go,” says Titus, nodding. “You were ready to stop working there anyway, weren’t you? That was a good first job away from home for you, but now you can go freelance like you’ve been wanting to. It’s a sad situation, him pining for your mother, but now you’re free. Sometimes we need a push to leave the nest, and he gave you one.”

“True,” says Tober, adding another log to the fire. “It was time for me to go.”

A silence falls, both of them thinking about Annie and what they might say.

“So…” says Titus, tasting the chili. “Annie. Beautiful woman. Every time I see her I think of Vikings. You know? A Viking princess. Only without the helmet with the horns. Did you want to marry her?”

“I thought I did,” says Tober, nodding. “But I think that was only because she kept saying how much she wanted to marry me and have children and… I wanted to make her happy. But the truth is, I never really could imagine being married to her, sharing a house and doing chores together and taking care of kids and animals and… never could imagine that.”

“What did you do together when you weren’t having sex?” Titus fills two big bowls with chili and carries the bowls to the kitchen table. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“I don’t mind,” says Tober, who has never had any secrets from Titus in the twelve years they’ve known each other. “We’d go to the beach when it was sunny and she’d sunbathe and use her phone while I searched for stones and… she liked to go out for breakfast, and sometimes we’d go to pubs and… but I guess we mostly just hung out and… you know… enjoyed being with each other.”

“What did you do when you just hung out?” Titus takes the toast out of the toaster oven. “When you weren’t having sex?”

“Well… she would watch television and send messages to her friends on her phone and read Fashion magazines and smoke pot. She smoked pot pretty much all the time when she wasn’t working. Said it relaxed her.”

“Did you smoke with her?” asks Titus, carrying the toast and butter to the table.

“A few times,” says Tober, nodding. “But it’s too powerful for me. Even just one little puff and I can barely move because I’m so overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of even the smallest thing.”

“Yeah, marijuana is a powerful teacher,” says Titus, nodding. “I don’t recommend it for recreational use.”

“I wouldn’t either,” says Tober, shaking his head. “But she smokes all the time and it hardly seems to effect her.”

“The more a person uses,” says Titus, filling the dogs’ bowl with kibble, “the more they need to use to get what they’re after. Euphoria.” He gets two big mugs out of the cupboard. “So what did you do while she was smoking pot and watching television?”

“I’d read and write letters and compose and draw and… like that.” Tober frowns. “Are you implying we weren’t a good match?”

“No, I was just asking,” says Titus, filling the mugs with coffee and bringing them to the table. “Let’s eat.”

They sit opposite each other and share a moment of silence.

“Did Annie teach you how to please her?” Titus sips his coffee. “Sexually?”

“Yes,” says Tober, blushing. “And though I have no one else to compare her to, I dare say she was a very good teacher.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Titus chews thoughtfully on a chunk of venison and thinks of the two women who taught him the ways of love when he was Tober’s age. “Did she show you more than one way to please her?”

“More ways than I ever imagined.” says Tober, laughing.

“Did you like pleasing her?” asks Titus, nodding hopefully.

“More than anything,” says Tober, his heart aching.

“That’s how it was for me, too, when I was nineteen.” Titus smiles. “Nothing else could quite compare.”

“And that changed when you got older?” asks Tober, his eyes full of tears.

“Yeah,” says Titus, nodding. “When I was in my thirties, thirty-three or thereabouts, after my first child was born, that’s when singing and dancing and healing people and teaching the children about the natural world became as satisfying as sex, but in a different way. A spiritual way.”

“I guess I sometimes feel just as satisfied when I’m playing my violin or singing or walking in the woods.” Tober smiles through his tears. “But I’ve never felt so wildly good, crazy good, as when I made love with Annie.”

“Yeah, crazy good,” says Titus, laughing. “That’s a perfect thing to call it. Wildly good. Crazy good. So… was it ever wildly good for both of you at the same time?”

“Yes,” says Tober, his tears flowing.

“Which means her body and her physical energy were good matches for your body and your physical energy.” Titus smiles reassuringly. “And just think, October. The next time you make love with a woman, you’ll be able to please her because of all the wildly good things you learned from Annie.”

“Yeah,” says Tober, using a napkin to daub his tears. “Though I’d rather keep pleasing her.”

“Of course you would,” says Titus, nodding. “I didn’t mean it isn’t sad she doesn’t want to be with you anymore. I just wanted to remind you that you learned valuable things from her, things most men never learn. And in my experience, men who don’t know how to please women sexually don’t make very good husbands.”

“But why did she have to sleep with other men?” asks Tober, closing his eyes. “Why would she say I was her one and only and she didn’t want anybody else but me, and she wanted to marry me and have children with me if it wasn’t true? Why would she lie to me?”

“She slept with other men because it excited her to deceive you.” Titus looks out the window as the rain turns to hail. “Some people need to feel they’re doing something forbidden to get excited. And there are many men and women who find it thrilling to deceive their wives and husbands. I’ve known men who can only get aroused when they have two women in their bed, and I’ve known women who only get excited when they have two men.”

“At the same time?” asks Tober, making a horrified face.

“Oh yeah,” says Titus, nodding. “Some people only get excited when their partner ties them up, so they’re helpless. Can you imagine? Being excited by feeling helpless? Excited that someone has that kind of power over you and might hurt you? It’s true, October. Some people only get aroused when their partner says nasty things to them, and some people only get aroused if the person they’re with is a stranger.”

“Why?” asks Tober, gaping at Titus.

“Because everyone is different,” says Titus, tapping the table four times. “You and I might think everyone should want what we want, and behave as we like to behave, but they don’t. Each person is unique and became who they are through the particular experiences of their lives and the things they learned from others.”

“But why did she keep saying I was her one and only?” asks Tober, his heart aching. “Why did she keep saying she only wanted me?”

“I think she kept saying that so her deception would be even more of a betrayal.” Titus has another sip of coffee. “Betraying you was exciting for her. I’m sorry to tell you this, but that’s how some people are.”

“But why? Why would she want to betray me when all I ever did was love her?”

“Perhaps she was jealous of you. Jealous of your talent and your confidence and happiness, jealous that you were a man and have power and freedom she doesn’t feel she has.” Titus crosses his hands over his heart. “But she loved you, October. As best she could. Only her love wasn’t strong enough to overcome her addictions and the ways of behaving she learned from her mother. But never forget that when you made love with her, she was giving you a gift and you were giving her a gift. And you are both stronger now for the gifts you gave each other.”

Tober gets home at three that afternoon, a hard rain falling, and finds his mother carrying things out of his bedroom and piling them in the living room.

“You’re home early,” she says, surprised to see him. “Everything okay?”

Sharon is five-foot-three and slender with high cheekbones and brilliant blue eyes and lustrous brown hair that falls to her shoulders. She is reflexively friendly, but reticent about being physically affectionate, even with her close friends and her sons, which is something she would like to change about herself.

“Maybe asked me to quit today, so I did,” says Tober, looking over the things his mother has brought out of his bedroom—clothes and books and blankets and a guitar case and two wooden boxes full of ocean-polished stones. “And right before that, Annie told me she doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”

“I’m sorry, Tobe,” says Sharon, going to him. “I thought this might happen.”

“Which?” asks Tober, laughing. “That he’d fire me or she’d break up with me?”

“Both,” she says, giving him the briefest of hugs. “I’m surprised he kept you on as long as he did.”

“Why did you think Annie would break up with me?” He gazes at her expectantly. “Irreconcilable differences?”

“Oh Jean said she saw Annie with some guy in a pub in Eureka a couple weeks ago.” Sharon winces. “I was going to tell you, but then I thought it wasn’t any of my business, so I didn’t.”

“I wonder why you didn’t think it was any of your business,” says Tober, looking at the piles of his things again. “And why are you moving everything out of my room? I thought we weren’t getting the girls until January. Isn’t that what you said you wanted to do? Wait until Augie went back to Portland after Christmas?”

“I did say that,” she says, collapsing on the sofa, “but I changed my mind. The place they’re staying is so crowded and understaffed and… I want them here now.” She starts to cry. “They need to be here, Tobe.”

“Let’s go get them right now,” he says, sitting beside her. “I’ll finish emptying the room when we get back.”

“We can’t get them until tomorrow morning,” she says, weeping. “At ten.”

He wraps his arms around her and holds her as she cries, and when she tries to pull away as she always does after a few seconds, he holds her a while longer and she finally relaxes and enjoys his embrace.

When Sharon and Tober finish dusting and vacuuming and mopping the now empty bedroom, they have supper and make their plans for tomorrow.

“We’ll buy two new single mattresses on the way there,” says Sharon, having a glass of red wine with her spaghetti. “And we can put their beds side-by-side if they want to sleep together, or apart if they don’t.”

“We should take both trucks,” says Tober, visualizing the trek to Eureka. “That way I can stop and get lumber on the way back and the girls can both sit with you without one of them having to sit on my lap. Since they don’t know me very well, we don’t want to freak them out.”

“Good idea,” says Sharon, starting to cry again. “Thank you so much for helping me with this, Tobe.”

“I’m not just helping you,” he says, shaking his head. “They’re joining the family. They’re not replacing me and Augie. Are they?”

“No, of course not,” say Sharon, sniffling back her tears. “They’re joining us.”

“And in a few days, when the dust settles, I’ll zoom up to Portland and get Augie.” Tober smiles at the thought of seeing his brother. “Bring him home for Turkey Day.”

“He’s dying to come home,” she says, relieved to have cried. “I’m sorry about your job, Tobe. I just couldn’t pretend anymore that Maybe was going to turn into someone else.”

“I hope you didn’t stay involved with him just so I wouldn’t lose my job.” Tober considers this possibility. “Did you?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I stayed involved with him because I wanted to see if I could outlast my tendency to end relationships after a couple years, because that’s what I do, or whether he and I really were incompatible in too many important ways.”

“I wonder if a musician can ever be compatible with a non-musician,” says Tober, thinking of Annie who played no instrument and seemed ambivalent about the songs and music he wrote for her.

“I don’t know,” says Sharon, swirling her wine. “I’ve never been involved with a musician, but now that you mention it, that was a big disconnect with Maybe, though certainly not the biggest.”

“What was the biggest?” asks Tober, wondering if it had something to do with sex. “If you don’t mind telling me.”

“No, I don’t mind,” she says, finishing her wine. “Would you pour me a little more, please?”

“But of course Madame,” he says, filling her glass

“I’m not sure I can put this into words, but…” She muses for a moment. “Well the girls, for instance. When I told him I was thinking of adopting a child or two, he gave me this skeptical look and said, ‘Why would you want to do something like that?’ The implication being that there was something suspect about my wanting more children, that they would somehow be a negation of him, a diminishing of his importance in my life. And I realized that his notion of a relationship was one in which your mate should always be the primary focus, not the family, not the community, but only your mate. Whereas my notion of a relationship is an alliance within a larger family and community.”

After supper, Tober carries the vacuum cleaner up the narrow stairway to the attic to get the space ready for his things; and when he bumps his head on the low ceiling four times in the first five minutes he’s up there, he turns off the vacuum cleaner and comes down the stairs into the kitchen where Sharon is sitting at the counter having a cup of tea and making a shopping list for tomorrow.

“I’m not gonna live up there, Mom,” he says, taking a sip of her tea. “I can’t stand up straight without bashing my head. I’m gonna call the Bernsteins and see if I can sleep down there until I figure out where next to lay my head.”

“Take my bedroom,” says Sharon, anguished about dislocating Tober, especially with everything else he’s going through. “I’ll sleep in the attic.”

“No, you need to be near the girls,” he says, picking up the phone. “And as you may recall, the first time you floated the idea of adopting a child or two, George and Lisa both said I could stay at their place if it got too crazy up here. Besides, they’re hardly ever there now that Cecily and Felix have moved to LA and San Luis Obispo.”

He punches the number of their closest neighbors—the Bernsteins having built their house on Snake Creek Road twenty-two years ago, three years before Sharon moved into the farmhouse when she was seven months pregnant with Tober.

Cecily, George and Lisa’s daughter, is a year older than Tober and was his childhood pal and first crush. She lives in Los Angeles now, pursuing a career as an actress. Felix, George and Lisa’s son, is Augie’s age and matriculated at Cal Poly a year ago.

George, fifty-seven, an investment broker turned artisan furniture maker, answers his phone on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Hey, George, it’s Tober. Got a minute?”

“Yeah, yeah. What’s going on?” George grew up in Los Angeles, the child of Chicago Jews.

“The big news up here is we’re picking up Amelia and Consuela tomorrow morning and they’ll be taking over my bedroom, so I was wondering if…”

“Yes,” says George, excitedly. “Move down here. We’d love it. We’ve got three empty bedrooms and Lisa’s gone half the time now at the beck and call of her royal highness, who, as you know, has been on the verge of stardom for six years. And counting. Be that as it may, I’d love for you to live here. Come on down.”

“Thank you, George,” says Tober, gratefully. “I’m gonna sleep in our living room for the next couple nights until the girls get settled, and then I’m driving to Portland to get Augie for Thanksgiving, and he and I may both crash at your place, if that’s okay.”

“Absolutely,” says George, ecstatically. “Can you hear Lisa shouting hurray? We’re leaving for San Luis and LA next week and we’ll be gone all through December and into New Year’s, so… you know how to get here.”

Sharon gets home with Amelia and Consuela at noon the next day, and Tober arrives an hour later with the new mattresses and lumber for building platforms for the mattresses, the platforms to have drawers underneath for the girls’ clothes and toys and extra blankets and whatnot.

Amelia, five, the older of the two sisters, is shorter and stockier than four-year-old Consuela, who is quite tall for her age and very slender. They both have shoulder-length black hair and big brown eyes. The people at the adoption agency believe the girls’ mother, a prostitute who went by the name of Candy, was part Latina, part Anglo. Amelia’s father was Mexican and Consuela’s father was African American. The girls have been in foster care since their mother died when Amelia was four and Consuela was three. The whereabouts of the fathers is unknown.

Tober enters the house and finds Consuela and Amelia and Sharon sitting at the kitchen table having blackberry smoothies and bowls of rice and vegetables. Both girls are wearing dark blue sweatshirts and gray pants and brown shoes, and both are chattering away in Spanish with Sharon, who is fluent in that language.

When the girls see Tober, they fall silent and look down, wary of making eye contact with him.

Sharon gets up from the table, takes Tober’s hand, looks at the girls and says in Spanish, “Amelia? Consuela? You’ve met my son Tober. He’s your brother now. He’s a very nice person and he speaks some Spanish, but you must help him learn more Spanish words and he will help you learn more English words.”

“Hola Amelia,” says Tober, smiling at the little girls. “Hola Consuela. Welcome home.”

“Gracias,” says Amelia, taking a peek at Tober.

“Hola,” whispers Consuela, still not looking at him. “Hermano.”

The girls take an immediate liking to the big farm dog Igor, a sixty-pound Black Lab Australian Shepherd mix, and Igor seems delighted with them. Consuela especially loves the dog and asks Sharon if she may give him some food. Sharon explains that they feed Igor in the morning and late afternoon, but not in between, and they never feed him from the table during breakfast or lunch or dinner.

Consuela ponders this information and looks into Igor’s eyes. “When it is time for you to eat,” she says, petting him, “I will feed you.”

Having located a cache of Augie and Tober’s childhood jackets, and confident Amelia and Consuela are dressed warmly enough for the bitter cold, Sharon and Tober and Igor give the girls a tour of the immediate vicinity of the farmhouse—the dormant vegetable garden, the orchard, the old barn, the woodshed, and the chicken coop wherein Amelia finds one egg and Consuela finds two.

In the late afternoon, after Amelia and Consuela have had a nap on their new mattresses, George and Lisa come up the hill to meet the newest members of the Quincy family. Lisa presents the girls with two big bags full of clothing—dresses and shirts and coats and pants that Cecily wore when she was four and five and six.

When Sharon explains to the girls that these clothes are theirs to keep, they take turns choosing an article of clothing and solemnly carrying it into their bedroom where Consuela puts her choices on one of the mattresses and Amelia puts hers on the other. The first thing Amelia chose was a shimmery red skirt, Consuela’s first choice a black long-sleeved T-shirt.

When Tober tells George about his plan to build platforms for the beds with drawers under the platforms, George insists Tober avail himself of George’s state-of-the-art woodshop.

And when Tober shows George his design for the platforms, George says, “Hey why don’t I help you with this? I’m in between projects. We could knock this off before I leave for LA. Be fun working together, don’t you think?”

   fin

Pruning & Practice

Monday, February 18th, 2019

peeler on pause

 

 

Pruning

Before I touch blade to branch

I walk twice around the tree,

studying the relationships

of the boughs. Then I cut

to enliven the tree

with spaciousness. 

 

 

 

Big Muddy RIver

 

Practice

At last atop the mountain

we catch our breaths and look back

at the sound of avalanche—

the path of our ascent vanishing

beneath a great collapse.

 

And when the fury settles

only cliff remains—the path no more.

So now our only hope of return

is along the razor’s edge

traversing the abyss

to another peak,

the further side

invisible.

 

Or we may remain here. 

 

 

quartet

Maybe’s Good Used Stuff

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Maybe's Fire

Dylan Russell, forty-seven, widely known as Maybe, owns a store called Good Used Stuff on Highway 211, two miles inland from the mouth of the Eel River on the far north coast of California. Quite a few locals call the store Gus, and more than a few of those locals think Maybe’s name is Gus.

Maybe started telling people his name was Maybe when he was three-years-old. He was born in a small town in British Columbia, the middle child of his mother’s five kids. His mother’s name was Sylvia Bresson. She had her first two children with a man named Alvin Stillwater. Then she married a man named Clement Russell, and almost exactly nine months after she married Clement, Maybe was born.

So one day when Maybe was three and trailing after Clement in the hardware store, the clerk asked, “That your boy, Clem?”

And Clement shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

Titus Troutcatcher, Maybe’s neighbor, calls Maybe Raven; and Leona Chan, a bartender at Gypsy’s, calls Maybe Turq because most of Maybe’s shirts are turquoise and the exterior of Maybe’s house and the wooden floor of Good Used Stuff are both painted a soothing pale turquoise.

Unbeknownst to the public—and even Maybe sometimes forgets about this until tax time—the official name of Good Used Stuff is Found Treasure. That’s the name that appears on Maybe’s business license and on his business checks, which he rarely uses. And the reason no one knows Found Treasure is the official name of the business is that the first sign Maybe put up on the south side of the building, the side facing Highway 211, on the very first day of business nineteen years ago, was GOOD USED STUFF, the words hastily scrawled with a fat black felt pen on an eight-foot-length of butcher paper.

Two days later, business booming, Maybe put up a second somewhat smaller butcher-paper sign that said Buy Sell Trade. The next day, he put up a third sign that said Local Produce & Art, his fourth sign said Exquisite Driftwood & Rocks, his fifth Chairs & Tables, his sixth Potted Plants & Wood Carvings, his seventh Tools & Furniture & Whatnot.

Six months after opening shop, when Maybe finally finished carving the letters of the large wooden sign he had intended to affix above the front door of the storea massive plank of white cedar with ornate Gothic letters spelling Found Treasure—everybody in the county was calling his store Good Used Stuff; and Maybe had come to prefer that name, though the store carried as much new stuff as used stuff.

So he placed the finished Found Treasure sign on the biggest table in the store along with several other one-of-a-kind signs, and a wealthy couple from New York City bought the Found Treasure sign to mark the driveway of their beach house in Amagansett; and they were gleeful to get the sign for a mere three thousand dollars plus exorbitant shipping costs.

The aforementioned seven butcher-paper signs have since been replicated as handsome wooden signs that are affixed to the outside wall facing Highway 211. The largest of these wooden signs is a fourteen-foot-long, two-foot-tall rendering of GOOD USED STUFF securely bolted to the wall above the very wide red front door.

Good Used Stuff occupies a high-ceilinged room seventy-feet-long and fifty-feet-wide, essentially a barn with lots of windows and no loft. Three large fans hang above the airy space, their swirling rattan blades circulating the heat rising from an enormous black woodstove that dominates the northwest corner of the vast interior.

One of the many interesting things about Good Used Stuff is that a surprisingly large percentage of tourists who stop here do the following: they get out of their cars, gaze in wonder at the surrounding giant redwoods, climb the four steps to the long front porch, enter the store through the very wide red door, give the contents of the enormous room a cursory glance, and immediately skedaddle because they perceive the store to be nothing more than a repository of useless junk. Maybe calls these people Superficialists and makes no effort to override their first impressions.

Maybe’s house is not visible from the road or from Good Used Stuff unless one is standing on the roof of the store; and then one can see his house over a little rise a hundred yards to the north, a two-story turquoise building centered on a massive wooden platform suspended twenty feet off the ground in a ring of seven gargantuan redwoods.

The extra-wide front door of Maybe’s house, painted a fanciful magenta, opens onto a first floor featuring a large living room, kitchen, and bathroom, while the second floor has two small bedrooms, a large study, and a small bathroom. A wide metal stairway rises from the forest floor to the spacious deck surrounding the house, the wideness of the stairs and the extra-wide front door intended to enhance the schlepping of furniture up and down the stairs and in and out of the house—one of Maybe’s passions being the frequent changing of his home decor.

Maybe is five-foot-ten, fit as a fiddle, with longish brown hair, pale blue eyes, a slender nose, kindly lips, and a broad chin. He shaves every three or four days, and now and then grows a mustache, though he never keeps his mustaches for long. A wearer of khaki trousers and the aforementioned turquoise shirts, Maybe wears brown suede loafers when working in Good Used Stuff, sturdy boots when moving heavy things or operating a chainsaw or using an axe, and otherwise goes barefoot.

Friendly and thoughtful and a preternatural money maker, Maybe has not had a steady girlfriend since he moved to the Eel River watershed from Canada twenty years ago when he was twenty-seven. His reputation among local gals is that he is relationship averse. However, when the aforementioned Leona Chan, she who calls Maybe Turq, spent the night with Maybe for the first time four years ago, she asked him if the rumors of his relationship aversion were true.

Maybe pondered Leona’s question and replied with his slight western Canadian accent, “No, I love being in relationships. I just no longer have any preconceived notions about how long they should last or what form they should take. I used to aspire to lifelong monogamy. But after being married for seven disastrous years to a woman I should have spent two happy days with and not a minute more, I find it much more satisfying to let relationships be whatever they really want to be.”

And thereby hangs this tale.

A few miles inland from Good Used Stuff, at the end of a dirt track that goes unnamed on official maps of the area and is known to locals as Snake Creek Road, there stands an old farmhouse lovingly renovated by the current owners, Sharon Quincy and her sons Tober and Augie, both young men born in that farmhouse.

Sharon is thirty-nine, a New Jersey transplant, five-foot-three, strong and pretty with short brown hair and dark blue eyes. A former ballerina and grocery store clerk, Sharon is currently a violinist in the Eureka Symphony, a teacher of violin and guitar, a gardener and beekeeper, and plays guitar and violin and sings in the Snake Creek Quartet.

Tober is sixteen, six-foot-two, broad-shouldered, with long brown hair and his mother’s dark blue eyes. A home-schooled high school graduate, Tober is a gardener, carpenter, collector of stones, plays violin and sings in the Snake Creek Quartet, and recently started working at Good Used Stuff four days a week from eleven in the morning until closing time around five.

Augie is fifteen, a muscular five-eleven, with short red hair and emerald green eyes. He, too, is a gardener and carpenter, plays guitar and sings in the Snake Creek Quartet, and is attending classes two days a week at College of the Redwoods in Eureka with thoughts of becoming a chiropractor or a psychotherapist or both. Or neither.

Every Thursday afternoon for the last fifteen years, Sharon has delivered several dozen eggs and several jars of honey to Good Used Stuff, for which Maybe pays considerably less than Sharon sells her eggs and honey to the many people who buy directly from her. Maybe displays the large blue and brown and speckled eggs prominently on the Local Produce table, doubles the price he pays Sharon, and never fails to sell all the eggs by Friday afternoon and all the honey by Sunday.

He would gladly buy more eggs and honey from her every week, but because she can make so much more selling her produce to customers happy to pay twelve dollars for a dozen of her delicious eggs and twenty-two dollars for a big jar of her ambrosial honey, she does not sell Maybe more than she does.

Why, you may ask, does Sharon sell any eggs and honey to Maybe if she can make so much more money selling them otherwise? Because fifteen years ago when she was new to the area, had two babies to take care of, didn’t yet know many people, and was desperate for money, Maybe bought her eggs and honey and gave her cash she desperately needed. And until eleven years ago, when she started working as a checker at Ray’s Food Place in Fortuna, the money Maybe gave her was her only steady income.

Moreover, several times during her first few years of living on Snake Creek Road, Sharon borrowed money from Maybe to help her get through particularly difficult times, and when she would try to pay him back, he would say, “Oh just bring me cookies next time you make a batch for the boys,” or “How about a bag of veggies when your garden’s going good?”

Which is why she continues to sell eggs and honey to Maybe at a discount and will do so for as long as her chickens keep laying and her bees keep making honey.

So… 52 times 15 is 780, which is the number of times Sharon has brought eggs and honey to Maybe, give or take a few times.

And every single one of those times, Maybe has looked at Sharon and thought, “God what a lovely woman, what a splendid person.”

And every single one of those times, Sharon has looked at Maybe and thought, “What a charming man, what a generous soul.”

Which is to say, they have admired each other and liked each other from the moment they met, and the thirty-three times in those fifteen years when Maybe attended parties on Snake Creek Road, fifteen of those parties at Sharon’s house, they always had a fine time talking to each other and singing together and a few times dancing.

Yet though they have both been single for all but two of the fifteen years they’ve known and admired each other, neither has ever initiated any sort of anything the other might construe as the other wanting to even see about the possibility of possibly embarking on some sort of relationship beyond the friendship they’ve had from the outset of knowing each other.

It isn’t that Maybe hasn’t fantasized about making love with Sharon—he has, many times—nor is it that Sharon hasn’t daydreamed about being lovers with Maybe—she has, many times; but something has kept them from tampering with the undeniably sweet and satisfying connection they have with each other.

Furthermore, neither of them has ever told anyone, even their closest friends, about their imaginings of a relationship with the other, and so their separate secrets are a bond they feel when they are with each other, though neither is conscious of the other’s dreaming of a deeper intimacy between them.

On a warm day in early September when Tober was six and Augie was five, Sharon took them to a beach near the mouth of the Eel River, and while Sharon and Augie built a sand castle and flew a kite and threw a ball for their two dogs to chase, Tober searched for what he called special stones, his favorite thing to do whenever they visited the ocean.

Augie sometimes searched for stones, too, but he was more interested in flying kites and watching shorebirds and trying to understand why some waves were small and other were large, things like that. He appreciated the stones Tober found, but hunting for them was not his bliss as it was Tober’s.

And on that warm summer day, after several hours of culling the deposits of small stones exposed by the extremely low tide, Tober found four special stones, one jade stone as big and perfectly round as a golf ball, one radiantly blue stone the exact size and shape of a large chicken egg, one brilliant reddish orange stone the exact size and shape of a silver dollar, and one emerald green stone as big as an almond shaped like a teardrop.

At Tober’s request, Sharon made him a small black velvet pouch for these stones, and he carried the pouch of stones in his pocket whenever they went anywhere away from home. When Sharon asked him why he always took the stones with him when they’d go away from Snake Creek Road, he said the stones were protection against anything bad befalling them. When she asked him how he knew this, he said he didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure it was true.

Then six months after Tober found those four special stones, on a cold Thursday afternoon in March, Tober, now seven, and Augie, now six, went with Sharon to deliver eggs and honey to Maybe at Good Used Stuff.

The boys loved going to the gigantic store and seeing what Maybe had acquired and gotten rid of since their last visit. If Sharon wasn’t in a hurry, they might get to visit the woodshop where Diego Fernandez built tables and bookshelves and chairs, and Thomas Morningstar carved statues of animals and masks. And Diego might let them use the lathe or help them make something out of wood scraps, and Thomas might give them a carving lesson.

But on that day six months after Tober found those four special stones, after Sharon earned a brand new hundred-dollar bill for her eggs and honey, Maybe said, “Hey come see the amazing thing I got in trade for an antique sofa.”

Sharon and the boys followed Maybe to an area of the store where objects too large or too heavy to display on tables stood on the floor with enough space around them so customers could easily circumnavigate each of the objects; and here was a massive quartz crystal boulder weighing several hundred pounds, half the crystal pink quartz, half white quartz.

“Wow,” said Sharon, dazzled by the crystal boulder. “Wouldn’t that go good in my garden? How much are you asking for that Maybe?”

“Hard to say.” He shrugged. “The worth of things, you know. A mystical conundrum. What is the price of something beyond compare? Two thousand dollars?”

Augie looked up at Maybe and asked, “May we touch it?”

“Sure,” said Maybe, winking at Augie. “Thanks for asking.”

The boys placed their hands on the crystal, and after a long moment of silence Tober said, “It’s very beautiful, but it doesn’t have a lot of energy. Maybe it wants to be outside.”

“What do you mean by energy?” asked Maybe, frowning curiously at Tober.

“I mean like this one,” said Tober, getting his pouch of stones out of his pocket and handing Maybe the radiant blue stone that looked exactly like a chicken egg if a chicken egg turned to stone.

“That is one beautiful rock,” said Maybe, feeling nothing from the stone except coolness and smoothness.

“Can you feel the energy?” asked Tober, watching Maybe expectantly.

“No, but it feels good,” said Maybe, handing the stone back to Tober. “And it’s very beautiful. Where did you find it?”

“About a half-mile north of the mouth of the Eel,” said Tober, returning the stone to his pouch and wondering why Maybe couldn’t feel the energy coming from the stone.

“You have others like that?” asked Maybe, smiling hopefully at Tober.

“Not like that one,” said Tober, shaking his head. “But they all have energy.”

“Do you know Titus Troutcatcher?” asked Maybe, looking at Sharon. “He lives about a mile from here with his wife Tina.”

“We’ve heard of him,” said Sharon, wishing they could stay longer but needing to get home to herd their forty chickens into the coop and milk their two goats before dark. “He helped Fiona Marsh with her migraines. She hasn’t had one in two years since she went to see him.”

“Titus would be very interested in those stones,” said Maybe, wishing they could stay longer but sensing they needed to go. “He could tell Tober a lot about them. I’ll invite him to come by next Thursday to meet you.”

“That would be great,” said Sharon, telling her sons with a nod in the direction of the door that it was time to go. “I’ll set aside an extra hour for next Thursday.”

“In the meantime,” said Maybe, escorting them out to their truck, “if you ever want to sell me any stones you find, Tober, please keep me in mind.”

“I will,” said Tober, knowing his mother was always in need of money.

Then the following Thursday, Titus Troutcatcher, an elderly Wailaki man, was there to meet them when Tober and Augie and Sharon arrived at Good Used Stuff.

Big and thick chested, with long gray hair in a ponytail, his nose reminiscent of the beak of an eagle, Titus felt an immediate affinity for Tober and Augie and Sharon, and they felt similarly about him.

“You have the biggest hands I’ve ever seen,” said Augie, after shaking Titus’s hand.

“I’m seventy-three,” said Titus, chuckling. “You’re six, August. When you’re seventy-three, you’ll have big hands, too.”

“How did you know my name is August?” asked Augie, looking at Sharon. “Did you tell him, Mom?”

“No,” she said, smiling at Titus. “But what else would Augie be short for?”

“My whole name is October,” said Tober, who thought Titus was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen. “I was born in October and so was Augie, but there couldn’t be two of us named October.”

“Well there could have been,” said Titus, nodding, “but it’s better you have different names. Less confusing.” He nods graciously at Sharon. “These are fine boys. You’re a good mother to them.”

“Thank you,” said Sharon, her eyes filling with tears, for she had never before felt so strongly acknowledged for her devotion to her children.

“If they want to learn the ways of the animals and the plants and the nature spirits around here, I’d be happy to teach them.” Titus looked down at the boys. “You like the forest and the creeks and the rivers and the ocean and the tide pools, don’t you? I’ll teach you how to catch trout, too. That’s my name, after all. Troutcatcher.”

“Okay,” said Tober, nodding eagerly.

“When?” asked Augie, nodding eagerly, too.

“We’ll start one of these days,” said Titus, turning to Sharon. “With your permission.”

“Yes, fine,” said Sharon, wanting to hug him, but restraining herself. “I’ll give you our phone number.”

“And I’ll give you mine,” said Titus, looking at Tober again. “Now what about these stone people you found?”

“They’re not people,” said Tober, giggling. “They’re just ocean rocks.”

“Hmm,” said Titus, considering this. “When my people talk about trees, we call them standing people, and when we talk about trout and salmon, we call them fish people. My people are the Wailaki. We’ve been around here for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. Since long before Christopher Columbus and anybody from Europe got over here. We call those stones you picked up stone people because we think all things are related to us and to each other and are part of our community. But you’re right, October, stones are not human beings. But they aren’t just stones. We think they’re alive, just like you and me and your brother and your mother and Raven are alive. That’s how those stones you found could call to you, because they have power. And they have power because they’re alive.”

Tober nodded humbly and offered Titus his pouch of stones.

Titus gently placed his enormous hand on Tober’s shoulder. “Let’s bring those stone people to the table over there by the stove and we’ll see what they have to say to us.”

So they sat down at a low round table near the crackling woodstove, Titus with his back to the stove, Augie to Titus’s right, Tober to Titus’s left, Maybe and Sharon across the table from Titus; and Tober gave Titus his pouch of stones.

Titus set the pouch on the table in front of him and undid his ponytail. “So…” he said, scratching his head, “what I like to do is invite Great Spirit to be with us, if that’s okay with everybody, because Great Spirit knows everything and we want to know what he knows about these stones.”

“Who is Great Spirit?” asked Augie, wrinkling his nose. “Is he the same as God?”

“We don’t use the word God,” said Titus, shaking his head. “We say Great Spirit.”

“Who is he?” asked Tober, imagining a giant gray cloud in the sky.

“You guys ask good questions,” said Titus, grinning at Tober and Augie. “Great Spirit is all there has ever been, all that is, and all that will ever be.” He shrugs. “My grandson calls Great Spirit the Great All Everything.”

“Is he a man?” asks Tober, doubting that everything there has ever been could be contained in a single person.

“No,” said Titus, chuckling. “We just say He because that’s how we were taught, but you can call him she if you want. Great Spirit doesn’t care.”

Tober nods. “So how do you call on Great Spirit’s power?”

“In many ways,” said Titus, holding out his hands palms up. “For now we’ll just say, ‘Oh Great Spirit. Come to us. Be with us. Please tell us what you know about these stone people October found near the mouth of the Eel.’”

Then Titus opened the pouch and poured the four stones onto the table.

The radiantly blue stone the shape and size of a large chicken egg stopped nearest to Maybe.

The brilliant reddish orange stone the shape and size of a silver dollar stopped nearest to Sharon.

The emerald green stone shaped like a teardrop landed near Augie.

And the jade stone as big and perfectly round as a golf ball rolled over to Tober and bumped his hand.

Titus took a deep breath, looked at each of the stones, and said, “These are powerful stones, October. You’ve been given the gift of seeing their power. Tell us how you found them.”

“I was just walking along, looking down,” said Tober, remembering that sunny day of the very low tide, “and when I saw one I liked the shape of or the color, I picked it up.”

Titus nods. “But why did you keep these four and not a hundred others?”

“Because these have lots more energy,” said Tober, nodding. “Lots.”

Titus picked up the stone nearest to Maybe and asked Tober, “Do you feel a strong vibration in your hand when you hold the stone?”

“Yes,” said Tober, pleased that Titus understands. “Stronger than from just a regular stone.”

“That’s wonderful, October,” said Titus, closing his fingers around the radiant blue stone. “What you’re calling energy, we call power.” He opens his fingers and gazes at the stone. “For instance, this stone has the power to quell fevers and anger and is good for sleep.” He looked at Maybe. “You need this stone, Raven.” He handed the stone to Maybe. “You should trade October something very valuable for this stone.”

“Okay,” said Maybe, clasping the stone. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Titus picked up the stone nearest Sharon. “This red stone is a heart healer. Heals old wounds and recent wounds, too. Makes your heart stronger. I don’t just mean the heart muscle, but your heart’s spirit. You might want to borrow this stone from your son, Sharon, and hold it on your heart before you go to sleep and when you wake up in the morning.”

“Okay,” said Sharon, her tears flowing again. “I will.”

Then Titus took up the emerald green stone. “You see how this one is the color of your eyes, August? This stone is very powerful and will help you be brave, not that you aren’t already brave, you are, but this will give you even more courage and strength if you carry it with you.”

“Can I?” asked Augie, whispering to Tober.

“Yes,” whispered Tober, nodding emphatically.

Lastly, Titus picked up the perfectly round jade stone and turned it over and over in his hand. “This stone is a most powerful healer. Heals everything.” He gazed intently at Tober. “I could use this stone to help people who come to me for guidance and healing. May I keep this stone for three years from this day? I promise to take good care of her.”

“Of course,” said Tober, smiling brightly at Titus.

“Why of course?” asked Titus, touched by Tober’s generosity.

“Because you’re going to teach us the ways of the animals and plants and nature spirits of this place,” said Tober, his eyes wide with delight.

“And how to catch trout,” said Augie, picking up the emerald green stone and kissing it before he puts it in his pocket.

Nine years have gone by since Augie and Tober and Sharon first met Titus, and now they can’t imagine life without Titus and his wife Tina.

Titus taught them 10,000 things, at least, and then he initiated them into manhood when Tober was twelve and Augie was eleven. He taught them how to make fires without flint or matches, how to make spears and bows and arrows and snares, how to fish, how to hunt, and which mushrooms and wild plants are safe to eat, which are poisonous. He taught them many songs, told them hundreds of stories about animals and people and nature spirits, taught them how to predict the weather, and then he taught them ten thousand more things, at least.

In those nine years, Tober found hundreds of powerful stones and gave some of them to Titus, gave some to his friends, and sold many more to Maybe who sold them for great profit at Good Used Stuff.

Tober has been working for Maybe for six months, ever since he got his driver’s license and he and Augie bought a good used electric pickup truck. So now it is Tober who brings the weekly allotment of eggs and honey to Good Used Stuff, which means…

“How’s your mother doing these days?” asks Maybe, a few minutes before closing time on a Friday evening in April. “Been a couple months of Thursdays since I last saw her. She okay?”

Tober looks up from tallying the cash in the till, one of the many jobs Maybe prefers someone else do. “She’s well,” he says, his voice a deep baritone now. “And quel coincidence, she asked about you this morning.”

“She did?” says Maybe, trying not to sound too happy about that. “Well… say hi for me.”

“I’m glad you reminded me,” says Tober, putting a rubber band around thirty-seven twenty-dollar bills. “Because I was supposed to invite you to the potluck tonight. We’ve got a gig in Arcata tomorrow night and we want to rehearse in front of an audience. There’s gonna be tons of food, so you don’t have to bring anything.”

“What time?” asks Maybe, hoping to sound nonchalant.

“Six,” says Tober, putting the cash and coins in a metal box and handing the box to Maybe to put in his safe in the tree house. “You don’t have to let us know if you’re coming. Just come if you want to.”

Maybe locks up the store, locks up the woodshop, and hurries home to feed his cats before he showers and shaves and gets ready to go.

As he’s shaving, he laughs at himself for being nervous about going to a potluck at Sharon’s house where there will be lots of other people and…

“I’m not nervous about going to the potluck,” he says to his reflection. “I’m nervous about seeing Sharon after two months of not seeing her and she’ll know how much I missed her.”

He almost doesn’t go to the potluck. He almost stops at Gypsy’s and has a few beers and plays darts and asks Leona to sleep with him, though he doesn’t love Leona and she doesn’t love him, but they like each other and they’re both lonely and…

He speeds past Gypsy’s, and a mile further along makes the turn onto Snake Creek Road.

Ellen Nakamoto, twenty-eight, a bassist in the Eureka Symphony and the bassist of the Snake Creek Quartet, a statuesque redhead, her father half-Swedish and half-Japanese, her mother entirely Irish, is in the kitchen with Sharon when Maybe arrives bearing two bottles of good red wine.

“I’m so glad you came,” says Sharon, blushing a little as she takes the bottles of wine from Maybe and sets them on the counter. “I’ve missed you.”

“Me, too,” says Maybe, laughing nervously. “Missed you. Too.”

They both move to hug each other, both stop themselves, shake hands instead, and when their handshaking would usually end, Sharon changes her grip so she’s holding hands with Maybe and leads him into the dining room where a mob of people are serving themselves from a great many dishes of food on the big rectangular table.

Sharon gives Maybe’s hand a squeeze and says, “Help yourself. Shall I bring you a glass of that red you brought?”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding eagerly. “That would be great.”

After supper and before dessert, the quartet assembles at one end of the living room—Augie and Sharon with their guitars, Tober with his violin, and Ellen with her big reddish brown string bass.

“Thanks so much for coming,” says Tober, gazing at the thirty or so people crammed into the living room. “This is an excellent simulation of the electric atmosphere of a gig. As you know, we’re opening for Eliot Williams and the Skydivers at the Arcata Playhouse tomorrow night, the show is sold out, and we’re all very nervous except for Ellen who never gets nervous.”

“Not true,” says Ellen, shaking her head and laughing. “I just hide it better.”

“Anyway,” says Tober, continuing, “they want us to play for forty-five minutes, and our plan is to open with a tune you’ll want to dance to, and finish with a quartet Sharon composed called After the Rain. So… with no further ado, here we go.”

Augie begins by strumming a series of catchy chords with a fast samba rhythm, his playing excellent, and Sharon plays jazzy accompanying chords on the second iteration, her playing superb. Now Ellen adds a groovacious bass line for the third iteration, and lastly Tober plays a lovely violin solo atop the rollicking rhythm as preface to Sharon and Augie singing a tight harmony on the first verse, their conjoined voices a rare delight.

Pie and ice cream follow the rehearsal, everyone high from the fabulous music, and Maybe finds himself sitting at the kitchen counter with Titus and Tina.

“Seems like just the other day they were little boys just starting to play their instruments,” says Tina, her long white hair in a braid plaited with little yellow flowers, “and now they’re big men playing and singing like angels.”

“Remember the day, Raven, when I came to meet Sharon and October and August for the first time?” says Titus, sipping his coffee. “You wanted October to show me those four stones, and he gave me that round jade stone I used for seven years until I gave it back to him, and then he returned it to the ocean.”

“They’re gonna steal the show tomorrow night,” says Tina, enjoying her pie. “I know they are.”

“Hard act to follow,” says Maybe, no longer nervous about being around Sharon, their former comfort with each other restored. “Wish I’d bought a ticket.”

At which moment, Sharon comes in from outside, having escorted Ellen to her car; and though neither she nor Maybe has ever done anything like this before, he holds out his arms to her and she walks into his embrace and they hold each other for a long sweet moment, and Maybe says, “I was just saying I wish I had a ticket for tomorrow night.”

“I’ll put you on the guest list,” says Sharon, kissing his cheek. “We had one seat left.”

Now she gently pulls away and saunters into the dining room.

“That was nice to see,” says Tina, bouncing her eyebrows at Maybe. “Are you two…”

“No, no, no,” says Maybe, ardently shaking his head. “We’re just good friends.”

“A good friend makes the best wife,” says Titus, gazing fondly at Maybe. “Be brave, Raven. Trust your heart.”

       fin

Augie and Tober’s Quest

Monday, February 4th, 2019

morning show

On April seventeenth, just a few days ago, Sharon Quincy asked her sons Augie, twelve, and Tober, thirteen, if they will approve whole-heartedly of her marrying Alex, a dear friend of the family.

“And,” she added, “if either of you has any reservations about my marrying him, I won’t.”

Sharon and Tober and Augie live at the end of Snake Creek Road, a mile-long dirt road in the coastal mountains of far northern California, four miles from the mouth of the Eel River, the nearest town Fortuna, ten miles away. Their ten-acre homestead is energy self-sufficient and they grow and raise and catch most of their food. Augie and Tober were born in the old farmhouse, and they were home-schooled by several excellent teachers who live nearby. Both young men passed their high school equivalency exams last year and are now pursuing independent studies, separately and together, with the guidance of their mother and other mentors.

Tober is nearly six-feet-tall and appears to be much older than thirteen. His dark brown hair was never cut, not once in his life, and reached nearly to the ground until last year when he decided to shave his head after being initiated into manhood by Titus Troutcatcher, an elderly Wailaki man who lives two miles west of where Snake Creek Road meets Highway 211. Tober’s hair is now four-inches-long and he looks forward to having it long enough again to wear in a ponytail.

Augie is stockier and a few inches shorter than Tober and keeps his auburn hair cut short. He, too, was initiated into manhood last year along with Tober and two Wailaki boys, Jacob Morningstar and Leon Kingfisher. Titus thought it would be wise to initiate Augie with the older boys because, as he explained to Sharon, “Augie is an old soul and he’ll be happier becoming a man with his brother and Jacob and Leon rather than waiting a year to be initiated alone. We want him to be happy about becoming a man so he will enjoy his manhood.”

Tober and Augie are both skilled carpenters and gardeners and fisherman and hunters with bows and arrows, both play violin and guitar—Tober favoring the violin, Augie the guitar—and both are thoroughly knowledgeable about the abundant edible and medicinal plants growing in the Eel River watershed.

Sharon Quincy is thirty-six, five-foot-three, and strikingly pretty with shoulder-length brown hair and dark blue eyes. She works twenty hours a week as a checker at Ray’s Food Place in Fortuna, plays violin in the Eureka Symphony, gives violin and guitar lessons, and is nearly as fluent in French and Spanish as she is in English.

Alex Redfield is forty-five and met the Quincys four years ago. A professor of European History at Humboldt State in Arcata, Alex is Scottish, Oxford-educated, witty and charming. For the first two years of his involvement with the Quincy family, neither he nor Sharon wished to become romantically entangled with the other. But they enjoyed each other so much and shared so many marvelous experiences that they eventually fell in love.

And because Alex was such an important friend to Tober and Augie, Sharon and Alex strove to create a relationship that did not much alter Alex’s friendship with Sharon’s sons; and they were successful in this regard until two months ago when Alex returned from a month in England and Scotland with news that he has been offered a professorship at the University of Stirling in Scotland, and now he has asked Sharon to marry him.

In order to assume this professorship, Alex must make a four-year commitment to Stirling. He badly wants this job because it will greatly enhance his academic credentials and assure the publication of his second major work about Queen Elizabeth I, a book he’s been working on for several years. However, he does not want to leave Sharon. He wants to marry her, and for her and her sons to live with him in Scotland for the next four years, and possibly longer, after which the family will return to California. However, if Sharon does not agree to move to Scotland with him, Alex says there will be no marriage and he will move back to Scotland without her.

To Alex, who is flabbergasted that Sharon would ask her young sons to make this decision for her, Sharon explained, “I was never allowed to make my own decisions about what I did with my life until I quit the ballet company when I was twenty and finally escaped from my mother who used me from the day I was born as an expression of her own ambitions. And I have made it a guiding principle of my life to relate to my children, within reason and according to their capabilities, as my equals. You and I may think it would be a marvelous experience for them to leave this place they love and to leave all their dear friends to go live on a college campus in Scotland for four years, but they may not think so. They are men now, though they are still in the throes of transitioning into being adults in this society, and I believe uprooting them at this time, if it is against their wills, would be a great disservice to them. And that is why I have asked them to make this decision.”

To ponder their mother’s question, Tober and Augie decide it would be best to absent themselves from their mother and Alex by backpacking through the forest to the coast where they will spend the night and fast for a day before heading home. They have made many such treks with their mother, two with Alex, four with Jacob Morningstar and Leon Kingfisher, and seven just the two of them.

Per their mother’s request, they will carry a cell phone to call her in case of an emergency, though cell phones rarely work in this remote wilderness.

They leave their house on Snake Creek Road on a cool cloudy morning, each carrying a backpack containing a sleeping bag, tarp, water bottle, water filter, matches, cooking pot, food, fishing pole, a pair of shoes, a knife, and a bow and arrows. Their hooded down jackets are waterproof, their shirts and trousers are made of sturdy cotton, and their feet, tough as leather, are bare.

Before entering the forest, they stop by their closest neighbors on Snake Creek Road, the Bernsteins, to say goodbye to Cecily, who is fourteen, and Felix, who is twelve.

Cecily, her curly brown hair sporting subtle red highlights, announced six months ago that she intends to become a movie star, which will necessitate her moving to Los Angeles as soon as possible, though her parents are so far not cooperating with her plans.

Felix, who rarely brushes his mop of frizzy brown hair, is not much of an outdoors person and recently declared his intention to become a theoretical physicist. He did not participate in the labors and ceremonies of the Wailaki initiation into manhood because he is preparing for his bar mitzvah and dislikes sleeping outside and killing things.

Cecily is adamant that Tober and Augie should go to Scotland and experience life away from Snake Creek Road, which, now that she wants to be a movie star instead of a wildlife biologist, she decries as creatively limiting, whereas Felix doesn’t want Augie and Tober to go anywhere before he leaves for college some years hence because Augie and Tober are his only friends, not counting his parents.

“We’ll be back in three days,” says Tober, standing beside Augie on the Bernstein’s deck watching Cecily and Felix eat pastries and drink coffee at a small round table overhung by a big yellow umbrella.

“Have a mahvelous time,” says Cecily, winking at Tober in the manner of her movie star persona, a latter day Claudette Colbert. She’s wearing dark glasses and high-waisted beige pants and a peach dress shirt with cuffs unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up. “No offense, dahling, but I’m hoping to be long gone by the time you get back. I’m very close to convincing Ma-Ma to drive me to LA. Tremendous career momentum manifesting even as we speak. Wink, wink.”

“To visit your Aunt Lydia?” asks Tober, who keeps hoping Cecily’s movie star fantasies will fade away and she’ll become his tomboy girlfriend again.

“To live with dear Lydia, dahling,” says Cecily, taking off her dark glasses to show him the fire in her eyes. “So I can finally get my show on the road. Time’s a wasting. Fingers crossed.”

“But I’ll be here when you get back,” says Felix, who is dressed as per usual—black-framed glasses, gray MIT sweatshirt, brown Bermuda shorts, turquoise high-top tennis shoes, plaid socks. “We might go to the movies in Arcata tomorrow, but otherwise I’ll be here. Don’t get hurt out there.”

Tober and Augie head west through a forest of hundred-year-old redwoods and Douglas firs, and a half-mile along they come to where little Newt Creek merges into Wild Turkey Creek. They know the woods within a half-mile of both sides of Snake Creek Road as well as they know their bedroom, every fern and tree and stone familiar to them; and they have countless times followed Wild Turkey Creek westward to where it joins the mighty Eel two miles from the sea.

But today they head south away from the confluence of creeks, climb a steep slope populated with big trees, surmount a rocky ridge, and descend into a fern-clogged gulley they know little about.

The nameless creek at the bottom of this gulley is barely a trickle, and after a few hundred yards of slogging westward through thick stands of ferns arising from the mucky ground, they are about to change direction and head south again to see what they can see from the next ridge top, when they arrive at a large pool of crystal clear water set in a wide vein of gray granite, the pool about thirty-feet-long and ten-feet-wide; and they decide to shed their packs here and share an orange.

“I guess I’m kind of mad at Alex,” says Tober, taking off his clothes to have a dip in the pool.

“How come?” asks Augie, rummaging in his pack for an orange.

Tober thinks for a moment. “I mean… why did he have to tangle up marrying Mom with moving to Scotland? Feels so… extortive.”

“It is extortive,” says Augie, peeling the orange. “He seems so desperate now, and his sense of humor is completely gone. I mean… he was never desperate before he came back from England. I wonder what happened to him over there.”

“Mid-life crisis?” says Tober, wading into the pool. “Oh my God, Aug, this water’s warm. Incredibly warm.”

“A hot spring?” says Augie, leaving the half-peeled orange on his pack and stripping off his clothes.

“Getting warmer as I move downstream,” says Tober, the water up to his waist. “There’s almost no flow at all. I wonder if this is even part of the creek.”

They explore the pool, wading and swimming, until they locate a strong upwelling of extremely hot water erupting from a fissure at a depth of about four feet.

“Wow,” says Tober, floating on his back above the upwelling. “A hot spring of epic proportions, and not a whiff of sulfur.”

“Titus and Tina,” says Augie, grinning at Tober. “We have to bring them here.”

“And Mom,” says Tober, yawning. “It’s so relaxing. She’ll love this.”

“What about Alex?” Augie arches an eyebrow.

“He’d love it, too,” says Tober, sadly. “Don’t you think?”

“I guess so,” says Augie, getting out of the pool and resuming his peeling of the orange. “Only I don’t really want to bring anybody here who doesn’t want to live here. I know that’s selfish, but that’s how I’m feeling right now.”

“What about Cecily?” asks Tober, emerging from the pool and perching on a large rock at the water’s edge. “Shall we bring her?”

“She’ll hate it,” says Augie, handing Tober half the orange. “Or she’ll say she does. I wonder what happened to her. She changed even more than Alex. She used to love it here. She used to love going on adventures with us. Now suddenly she feels creatively stifled and wants to go live in a giant city.”

“She got hooked on movies and television shows.” Tober shrugs. “The minute they let her start watching them on the computer. The day she turned twelve. And now she hates it here.”

“She got unconnected from nature,” says Augie, knowing his brother is heartbroken about Cecily wanting to live somewhere else.

“Maybe that’s what happened to Alex, too,” says Tober, fighting his tears. “He used to love being here. But ever since he got back from England he hardly goes outside anymore. And now he wants to go back there and take us with him.”

“Mom,” says Augie, nodding. “He wants to take Mom with him. He’d love to leave us here, but Mom never would until we’re older, which is why he resorted to extortion.”

“He’s like a totally different person now,” says Tober, shaking his head. “He used to be so interested in what we were doing, our music and our hunting and fishing and gardening, in what we were studying. And he used to love going on adventures with us.”

“And now he doesn’t,” says Augie, finishing his orange. “And there’s nothing we can do about it except wonder why.”

They dress and put on their packs and take a few minutes to memorize the location of the hot spring before they follow the stream westward.

They reach the ocean in the late afternoon and walk south on a remote beach for a mile until they come to a large stream flowing into the sea; and they follow this stream inland for a few hundred yards to a copse of pine trees where they make camp.

While Tober gathers firewood, Augie assembles his fly rod, casts his line into the stream, and immediately hooks a fat brook trout.

By the time Tober has constructed a ring of large rocks and has a fire going therein, Augie has caught and cleaned two trout and skewered them on long sticks for roasting over the fire.

“I’d be surprised if anybody has fished here in a very long time,” says Augie, as he and Tober cook their fish. “They rose to my fly before it touched the water.”

“Wailaki people probably camped here,” says Tober, thinking of their mother working at Ray’s Food Place in Fortuna, chatting with customers as she rings up their groceries, and how after work she’ll either drive home or go to Arcata and spend the night with Alex. “These fish you caught probably hatched here and got this big without a human being ever trying to catch them.”

“I don’t want to move to Scotland,” says Augie, slowly rotating his fish over the coals. “Be fun to visit there some day, but I don’t want to live there. I want to live here.”

“Me, too,” says Tober, his thoughts turning to Cecily. “We might live other places when we’re older. Travel. But we’ll always come back here. This is home.”

“The thing is,” says Augie, frowning thoughtfully, “Mom was so happy having Alex as her boyfriend, and if he goes away she’ll be sad. I hate to make her sad.”

“Then she should go with him,” says Tober, inspecting his trout to see if the flesh is cooked how he likes it. “We’ll be fine on our own. Everybody on the road will check up on us, and Titus and Tina could come stay with us a few nights a week. They love our house.”

“Except Mom won’t go without us,” says Augie shaking his head. “You know she won’t.”

“That wasn’t even the question,” says Tober, angrily. “Of course we approve of her marrying Alex if she wants to, but not if it means we have to live in Scotland for four years. Why would he make that a condition for marrying her? It doesn’t make any sense. What does moving to Scotland have to do with loving someone and wanting to be with them for the rest of your life?”

“Nothing,” says Augie, sitting cross-legged on the ground. “Shall we eat?”

“Yes,” says Tober, sitting on a large rock and closing his eyes as Augie makes the prayer of thanks.

“Great Spirit,” says Augie, looking up at the white clouds tinged with pink. “Thank you so much for these good trout who gave their lives so we may live. Thank you for guiding us to the hot spring this morning and for helping us find this good place to camp. Thank you for our mother and for Alex and Titus and Tina, for all our friends and relations. Thank you for everything you give us.”

Waking in the morning to the sky dappled with row upon row of small fleecy clouds, no scent of rain in the air, they stow their gear under tarps and go out to the beach where the extremely low tide has exposed thousands of stones.

“Holy moly,” says Tober, as they walk among the stones. “Some of these are near-agates, and the shapes are exquisite.”

“You’re the stone man,” says Augie, bending down to pick up an egg-shaped blood red stone the size of a walnut. “Think we can sell some of these to Maybe?”

“No doubt,” says Tober, picking up a perfectly round blue green stone as big as a billiard ball. “He’ll give us at least five dollars for that red one you found. Maybe more. And this one…” He contemplates the stone in his hand. “Ten. At least.”

They spend the morning filling tote bags with stones and carrying them back to their camp. They make a dozen trips to and fro, finding hundreds of stones from which they will cull a few dozen to take with them.

Seized by hunger after their morning’s labor, they discuss whether to break their fasts or not, now that they have agreed they don’t want to go to Scotland; and they decide to desist from eating a while longer until they come up with a well-stated response to their mother’s question and codicil: will they approve whole-heartedly of her marrying Alex, and if they have any reservations about her marrying him, she won’t.

Now the myriad clouds scurry away, and Tober and Augie shed their clothes and wade out to a big flat rock in the middle of the creek to sunbathe.

“Okay, so we don’t approve whole-heartedly of Mom marrying Alex,” says Augie, feeling drowsy on the warm rock in the sun, “because we don’t approve of his extortive tactics. Right? Because if he really loved her, he wouldn’t put conditions on their love.”

“You know what just occurred to me,” says Tober, sitting up. “Maybe Mom asked us to decide because she knew we’d say we didn’t want to leave, and that would give her an excuse not to go because she really doesn’t want to go, but she doesn’t want to say that to him and hurt his feelings, so this way she’ll be able to say she’s staying because of us, not because she doesn’t love him.”

“Or maybe she doesn’t love him anymore,” says Augie, shielding his eyes from the sun to look at Tober. “Now that he’s so gloomy and weird.”

“I think she still loves him,” says Tober, hugging his knees to his chest. “But maybe she doesn’t want to marry him now because he’s more like…”

“A visitor,” says Augie, lowering his hand and closing his eyes. “Scotland is his Eel River watershed. He likes it here, but this isn’t his element. Remember how he said he liked going to those islands off the coast of Scotland and staying for a few days? But he never wanted to live there.”

“He’s a town person,” says Tober, thinking of how most of Alex’s stories are about Edinburgh and London and Oxford and Paris. “He loves cities. Maybe he finds life boring here. Like Cecily does now.”

“And the other thing,” says Augie, growing angry, “is how condescending he was about our initiation. The fasting and the days of aloneness and learning the songs and prayers and dances, making our new bows and arrows, killing our deer. He dismissed it all as…”

“Silly good fun,” says Tober, using one of Alex’s favorite expressions.

“Exactly,” says Augie, sitting up. “We don’t want to make him into a villain, but I don’t think he really believes we’re men now. Like Titus said, Great Spirit knows we’re men now, but most people think we’re still children.”

“You think Mom still thinks we’re children?” asks Tober, sliding off the rock into the cold stream.

“No, she knows we’re men,” says Augie, joining his brother in the stream. “That’s why she asked us to make this decision.”

“Might be good to talk to Titus,” says Tober, sitting down in cold current, the water coming up to his mouth.

“If you want to,” says Augie, shrugging. “But I think we’ve got this figured out.”

“So how do we say it?” asks Tober, spluttering the water with his mouth. “‘We don’t approve wholeheartedly of you marrying Alex because he’s using the threat of ending your relationship to get you to marry him and force us to move to Scotland, which is emotional extortion and he should be ashamed of himself?’”

“That’s pretty good, Tobe,” says Augie, climbing back up on the rock. “Only maybe we don’t need to be quite so accusatory. We could say we feel he’s threatening her with ending their relationship to force her to go to Scotland, and that gives us reservations about her marrying him.”

“Right,” says Tober, starting to shiver. “All we need is one reservation.”

In the mid-afternoon they get ready to go; and to erase any obvious proof of their having spent the night here, they disperse the ashes from their campfire and fluff the ground where they slept.

Now they take a last look around to make sure they haven’t left anything behind, walk out to the beach, and hike north on the yielding sand for a half-mile until Tober stops and takes off his pack.

“We either have to leave some of these stones behind,” says Tober, sweating profusely, “or I need to eat something. I’m running out of gas, Aug.”

“Me, too,” says Augie, taking off his pack and kneeling in the sand. “I vote for eating.”

“Handful of nuts and raisins and a chocolate bar sounds pretty good to me right about now,” says Tober, smiling hopefully at his brother.

“Quel coincidence,” says Augie, feigning surprise. “I just happen to have a bag of nuts and raisins and two chocolate bars.”

“No,” says Tober, feigning amazement. “Really?”

“Yep,” says Augie, unzipping a pocket on his backpack. “End of fast coming right up.”

Titus and his wife Tina live in the deep forest a quarter-mile off Highway 211, about two miles from the mouth of the Eel. Titus is a big craggy Wailaki man, seventy-nine, with a large nose shaped like an eagle’s beak, deep-set black eyes, huge hands, and long gray hair he wears in a ponytail except when he’s communing with Great Spirit.

An herbalist and healer, Titus was apprenticed to a Wailaki medicine woman when he was nine and stayed with her until she died when he was nineteen. He then joined the Army and served as a medic for four years, after which he returned to Fortuna and worked for his brother as a house painter off and on for thirty years until he’d had his fill of town life and retired to his little house in the woods.

Tina is seventy, Latina, small and pretty with long white hair. Tina and Titus have been married for twenty years. Tina was married once before, Titus twice. Tina retired from the postal service seven years ago and now spends her time cooking and sewing and keeping house, gathering herbs and wild mushrooms with Titus, and helping her daughters and granddaughters with their kids.

At dusk, having stopped at Good Used Stuff to sell some of the stones they found this morning, Augie and Tober arrive at the gravel driveway leading to Titus and Tina’s place. Maybe, the proprietor of GUS, as the second-hand store is known to locals, gave them fifty dollars for seven of their stones, and they intend to give Titus and Tina forty of those dollars for a consultation with Titus and the privilege of camping on Titus and Tina’s land for the night, though Titus would gladly give them a consultation for free, and Tina loves having them around because they always do lots of chores Titus is slow to get to.

As Tober and Augie come in sight of the red one-story house, Titus’s two scruffy longhaired Chihuahuas, Spider and Feather, come trotting down the driveway to greet the young men.

Titus is chopping wood for kindling on the west side of his house, and when he sees the young men approaching, he leaves his axe sunk in the chopping round and goes to welcome them.

“I was hoping I’d see you today,” he says, his voice deep and quiet. “Been a long time. Eight days. Or is it nine?”

“Nine,” says Augie, shaking Titus’s hand. “But we think of you every day.”

“I’m glad,” says Titus, turning to Tober. “I see you’ve been to the beach. Sand in your hair.”

“We spent the night three miles south of the mouth,” says Tober, gripping Titus’s enormous hand. “Camped by a good trout stream and found some beautiful stones. We brought you some.”

“I’m grateful,” says Titus, beckoning them to follow him into the house. “Tina’s picking up pizza for supper. She’s in Fortuna at Teresa’s. I’ll call her and tell her to get plenty.”

Augie and Tober follow Titus from the house to his small studio where he helps people seek guidance and healing from Great Spirit.

They sit in a circle around a low round table in the middle of the room, a big brown ceramic bowl in the center of the table. Titus sits on a low stool, while Tober and Augie sit cross-legged on small hand-woven rugs.

Titus undoes his ponytail, strikes a match, and lights a wand of ceremonial sage. Now he counts seven of his slow heartbeats, shakes out the flames, and drops the smoking sage into the bowl.

Holding his hands over the dense white smoke, Titus calls, “Oh Great Spirit. Come to us. Be with us. Listen to these young men and lend them your wisdom. They are good men, generous and kind. I vouch for them. Please help them.”

A silence falls as the room grows hazy with smoke.

“You speak first, October,” says Titus, pointing at Tober. “Great Spirit is listening.”

“Thank you, Titus,” says Tober, holding his hands over the rising smoke. “My brother and I are seeking clarity about a question our mother asked us.”

Titus nods. “Say the question as you remember your mother saying those words to you.”

Tober thinks for a moment before speaking. “Will you approve whole-heartedly of my marrying Alex? If you have any reservations about me marrying him, I won’t.”

Titus turns to Augie. “Now you, August. Say the question as you remember your mother asking it.”

Augie holds his hands over the rising smoke and says, “I want to know if you will approve whole-heartedly of my marrying Alex. If for any reason you don’t approve, I won’t marry him.”

Titus gazes intently at Augie. “How did you answer her?”

“We said we would go to the ocean, and fast to seek clarity,” says Augie, looking into Titus’s eyes. “And we did. We were quiet for many of those hours and we talked about the question for some of those hours, and we decided we could not approve of her marrying Alex because he wasn’t acting in a loving way, so we didn’t trust him anymore. And then Tober suggested we consult with you.”

Titus turns to Tober. “Have you more to say about this?”

“Yes,” says Tober, nodding solemnly. “We loved and admired Alex for three years until we became men and he kept treating us like children, as if our initiation was meaningless to him. And then he went back to England and Scotland for a month at the beginning of this year, and when he returned he wasn’t interested in us anymore. He only wanted to be with our mother. So we honored this until he asked her to marry him on the condition that we move to Scotland with him, and if we won’t go with him, he says he won’t marry her.”

Titus looks at Augie. “What else?”

“He used to be so happy about being part of our family, part of our community. You could see how happy he was, how excited he would get when we’d go into the forest or to the beach to hunt for stones. But now his eyes have no light in them. He’s so different now, if he didn’t look like Alex, I would think he was someone else.”

“An unhappy someone else,” says Tober, nodding in agreement. “An angry someone else.”

Titus waits to see if either of them has anything more to say.

When they both remain silent, Titus says, “His soul got caught in Scotland when he went there for those two months, and he returned without his soul.”

Augie nods. “That seems right to me.”

“To me, too,” says Tober, nodding.

Titus clears his throat. “A person disconnected from his soul is always afraid. Why is this? Because our soul is the source of our courage. Without our soul, we can only act out of fear. He wants to reclaim his soul, but he doesn’t know he left it in Scotland, not consciously. We always want to be united with our souls, but sometimes we can’t be, and when we have no soul we are pathetic and frightened and weak. Greed and hatred and violence take over when we lose our souls. Sadly, many people lose their souls and never get them back in this life.”

“So he needs to go back to Scotland and find his soul,” says Augie, urgently.

“Yes,” says Titus, nodding slowly. “But he must go without you, and without your mother, or he will never find his soul.”

“Why must he go alone?” asks Tober, frowning gravely. “Maybe we could help him.”

“You have a generous heart, October,” says Titus, smiling, “but he must go alone because if he is living off your souls, his soul will find no place inside him to live.”

“He has been living off our mother’s soul,” says Augie, giving Titus a wide-eyed look. “I know this is true.”

“This is the most important moment in his life,” says Titus, holding his hands over the smoke again. “But this is no business of yours, and it’s not your mother’s business either. Alex brought this crisis with him four years ago when he came here from England, though he thought he was escaping his crisis by traveling to the other side of the world. But when he returned to England and Scotland for those two months at the beginning of this year, his soul stayed there so he would have to confront what he has been avoiding his whole life.”

“What has he been avoiding?” asks Tober, holding his breath.

Titus takes a long slow breath. “He has been doing the bidding of his father and mother his whole life, though it was never his soul’s desire to be what they wanted him to be. He was never initiated into manhood, so he never severed the ties that bind us to our parents in childhood. It was only when he joined your family that his parents’ hold on him began to weaken, and that’s when he became confused because he had never felt so free before. And his freedom frightened him. He was afraid to feel so powerful and so different than he had ever felt before, so he went back to Scotland and found a way to end his freedom, though he didn’t know that’s what he was doing.”

“What should we do?” asks Augie, holding his hands over the rising smoke. “Shall we tell him what you just told us?”

“No, my son,” says Titus, chuckling. “He must awaken to this truth on his own, with his own power and the power Great Spirit will lend him if he asks for help.”

“But what if he doesn’t?” asks Tober, fighting his tears.

“Then he doesn’t,” says Titus, nodding. “Many people don’t, my son. The world is full of people separated from their souls. That’s what makes so many humans cruel and selfish. That’s why people do such terrible things to each other and to our mother earth. They have lost their souls.”

The next morning after breakfast, Tina drives Augie and Tober home on her way to Fortuna to babysit her grandson.

Sharon isn’t home when they arrive, but they find a note from her on the kitchen table.

Dear Tobe and Aug,

I hope you had a good journey. I want to apologize for asking you to answer a question I never should have asked you. The first night you were gone, I went to Arcata to be with Alex and we got into a ferocious argument about my leaving the decision up to you, and in the course of the argument I realized I don’t want to marry him even if he stays here and we never go to Scotland. I realized how deeply troubled he is about something that has nothing to do with me or you, something about his self-identity, about not liking who he is, though he adamantly denies this.

When I told him I won’t consider marrying him until he reclaims his joy, he called me a New Age idiot, so I left and came home.

Yesterday he came here to apologize and tell me he was going to take the job at Stirling. He said he wants to see you before he leaves in a few weeks. He said he’ll call you.

I’ll be home around five-thirty. Lasagna and a big salad for supper.

Love you,

Mom

That afternoon, Tober wanders down the hill and finds Felix pacing back and forth on the sunny south-facing deck of the Bernstein’s house, reciting some of the Hebrew text for his bar mitzvah.

“Cecily home?” asks Tober, hoping to entice her to come to the hot spring he and Augie discovered on their way to the ocean.

Felix shrugs. “They left for LA this morning. My dad’s driving her.”

“Your dad?” says Tober, collapsing in one of the two deck chairs. “I thought he said she was too young to go.”

“You want some lemonade?” asks Felix, heading for the sliding glass door. “I’m parched.”

“Okay,” says Tober, stunned by the news of Cecily’s departure.

Felix brings Tober a big glass filled with ice cubes and sour lemonade and sits in the other deck chair.

“She just kept after them,” says Felix, gulping his lemonade. “You know how she can be. All day every day, week after week, month after month, until finally they relented.”

“So… what will she do when she gets there?” asks Tober, who has never been to a city larger than Eureka, which seems like a huge metropolis to him, though only 25,000 people live there.

“She’s going to live with Aunt Lydia in Brentwood and go to auditions and get parts and be a movie star.” Felix shrugs. “That’s the plan anyway.”

“She can just go to auditions?” asks Tober, knowing nothing about show business. “Anybody can just go? I could just go? Just walk into wherever they make movies and they’ll give me an audition?”

“Well, no,” says Felix, shaking his head. “She got invited to audition because we made a video. An audition reel. With Dad’s Nikon. Cecily and I edited it on Mom’s computer. She did a scene with Lisa and one with you. Remember?”

“You mean when she pretended to be lost and I was chopping wood?” Tober frowns. “You put that on the video?”

“Yeah. And three monologues and a song.” Felix finishes his lemonade and sucks on an ice cube. “Then she mailed the video to Aunt Lydia and she showed it to a friend of hers who’s a talent agent in Beverly Hills, and the agent got Cecily three auditions. One for a television commercial, one for a sit-com, and one for an indie.”

“What exactly is a sit-com?” asks Tober, who has never watched television and has only been to the movies twice in his life, each time a mind-boggling experience.

Sit-com stands for Situation Comedy,” says Felix, pursing his lips as he does when making a guess. “They… you know… a bunch of actors act out scenes in a humorous situation.”

“And what’s an indie?” asks Tober, his heart aching from the loss of Cecily.

“It’s a type of movie,” says Felix, taking off his glasses and cleaning them with a pale blue handkerchief, something he often does when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “Where most of the action takes place indoors.”

Meanwhile, Augie is in the vegetable garden picking lettuce for tonight’s salad and humming a tune that came to him this morning.

Now he sings, “Searching for the magic stone, searching together, searching alone, we dream of love and think of home.”

     fin