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Rimbaud

On a cold clear afternoon in early November, Healing Weintraub, manager of Good Groceries, an organic food co-op in Mercy, is replenishing the banana bin when his co-manager Magdalena Cortez, looking especially lovely today with a red rose in her long black hair, hands Healing a note written on a scrap of yellow paper folded in half, and walks away.

For a fleeting moment, Healing imagines the note says Let us be lovers and live together for the rest of our lives.

He unfolds the note and reads Sheriff Higuera is at the loading dock and wants to talk to you.

“Ah well,” says Healing, placing the last bunch of bananas in the bin. “One can dream.”

*

Ruben Higuera has been a sheriff in Mercy for twenty-two of his forty-nine years. A graduate of Mercy High, Ruben served in the Army for seven years, three of those years in Afghanistan where he was twice wounded. Rakishly handsome and a former bodybuilder, Ruben is married and has two small children.

Healing finds Ruben standing at the loading dock at the back of the store, his hat off, his belt weighted down with various tools of his trade, notably an enormous gun and a long flashlight that doubles as a bludgeon.

“Sorry to bother you at work,” says Ruben, the child of Spanish speaking parents, “but I’ve got a quasi-emergency and I’m hoping you can help me defuse things until we solve the underlying problem.”

“You intrigue me, Ruben,” says Healing, doing his best imitation of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. “May I assume this is about a dog?”

“Yes,” says Ruben, who is one of the most unflappable people Healing has ever known. “A dog and the people the dog is driving crazy.”

“Who might those people be?” asks Healing, who knows just about every person and dog in Mercy.

“Marcus Pontiac and Sara Steinberg,” says Ruben, gesturing with his thumb toward the west end of town. “Will you come talk to them now? I’ll drive you over there.”

“I’ll meet you there in ten minutes,” says Healing, starting back into the store. “I have to clock out and get my things.”

“I’ll wait for you,” says Ruben, pointing to his squad car. “So I can brief you on the way over.”

*

Cruising slowly down the quiet streets of Mercy, Ruben says to Healing, “You know Marcus. Great guy. Poet. Retired from the post office a few years ago. Sara’s great, too. Also a poet. Retired social worker. They’ve been together forever, but only started living together at Marcus’s house seven years ago. He’s been in that place for thirty years. Maybe longer.”

“Longer,” says Healing, nodding. “I remember when he bought that house. I went to the housewarming party with my parents a few years before my daughter was born. So that would have been when I was… twenty-six? And I’m fifty-eight now, so…”

“Right. And Marcus’s next door neighbor the whole time was Maeve Franconi until Maeve died two years ago and her son left the place empty for a year and then sold it to a woman named Anne Pritchard. Remember that name.”

“Got it,” says Healing, enjoying his role as Ruben’s sidekick.

“Okay so Anne Pritchard moved in six months ago after having the place extensively remodeled,” says Ruben, pulling up in front of Marcus Pontiac’s small redwood house at the end of Thimbleberry Lane, a short stub of asphalt intruding onto the headlands, all the Thimbleberry houses situated on the north side of the street, the south side a field of wild grasses and coastal shrubs merging into Mercy Headlands State Park.

“Let me guess,” says Healing, smiling wryly at Ruben. “Anne Pritchard has a dog.”

 “She does,” says Ruben, nodding wearily. “Half Pekinese, quarter poodle, and quarter Chihuahua. His name is something like Rahmbó. Named after a French poet I never heard of. She spells it R-i-m-b-a-u-d. Only she doesn’t say Rim-bowed. She says Rahmbó, with a little accent on the o.”

“Oui,” says Healing, who knows of Rimbaud because Ezra, Healing’s father, used to recite parts of a poem by Rimbaud entitled The Drunken Boat. “Rahm-bó.”

“Almost Rambo, but not quite,” says Ruben, laughing. “Anyway, Anne Pritchard is fifty-two, no criminal record, and she has an excellent credit rating. She’s super smart, a systems analyst, whatever that means, and she mostly works online from home, but occasionally goes to San Francisco to meet with clients. And thank God she takes the dog with her, although if she didn’t take the dog we might be able to grab him for neglect, but she doesn’t neglect him. And the last thing I’ll tell you about her, so you won’t be startled when you meet her, is that she’s very beautiful. Very. Okay?”

“I would think Marcus and Sara would be thrilled to have a lovely woman with a dog named Rimbaud living next door to them.” Healing frowns at Ruben. “Though that wouldn’t constitute a quasi-emergency, would it?”

“No,” says Ruben, shaking his head. “The quasi-emergency is… and I’m cutting to the chase here, okay, because the situation is more nuanced than I have time to explain.”

“Understood.”

“I have reason to believe Marcus is going to try to kill Anne Pritchard’s little dog, because according to Marcus and Sara, the dog never stops yapping. From morning until night and often into the night. And this has been going on now for six months.”

“Have you confirmed the dog yaps constantly?” asks Healing, guessing Ruben has.

“Yes I have,” says Ruben, closing his eyes. “I’ve come by in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Several times. And he’s always yapping.”

“What does the super smart and very beautiful Anne Pritchard have to say about all this?”

“I will let you hear what she has to say.” Ruben brings forth his phone, taps a few buttons, and a woman’s voice fills the car – husky and warm and appealing.

“He’s a dog,” she says, stretching out the word dog. “He barks occasionally, but not all the time. He’s just being a dog. And he’s a sweetie pie. And you know as well as I do, Ruben, there are no laws against a dog barking now and then. And the way Marcus is behaving, calling me several times a day and late at night to complain about my dog is, as I’m sure you also know, a form of harassment. And I will not put up with this much longer before I seek a restraining order against him. So deal with Marcus, not me. I have broken no laws and I will not be intimidated by someone who thinks he owns the entire street because he’s been here since the Pleistocene.” 

“You know,” says Healing, looking at Ruben, “when I first heard her voice I liked her very much. But by the end of her speech I didn’t like her anymore. Does she have a partner?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” says Ruben as they get out of the squad car – a cold wind blowing in from Mercy Bay.

“Why am I not surprised?” says Healing, following Ruben to Marcus’s door.

“Oh you’ll be surprised when you meet her,” says Ruben, turning to Healing. “Because even if you don’t like her, I’ll bet you would put up with her, if only she would let you.”

*

Marcus Pontiac, stocky and somewhat stooped at seventy-two, his white hair short and spiky, opens the door and takes off his sound-blocking headphones.

“Healing,” says Marcus, his Chicago accent muted after fifty years in California. “I should have called you five months ago. What was I thinking? Well… I wasn’t thinking because I couldn’t think. Because that fucking dog never…”

Marcus stops talking and holds up an index finger to draw their attention to the high-pitched yapping of a little dog, a yapping Healing recognizes as a cry of alarm.

“Come in,” says Marcus, beckoning Healing and Ruben to enter. “Sara just made cookies. We’ll have coffee and I’ll regale you with the latest about my demonic neighbor and her putrescent little dog.”

“I have to go,” says Ruben, checking his phone. “School is about to get out and I must make an appearance at the high school parking lot to impede would-be speeders and so forth. Let me know what you think, Healing.”

“I shall give you a full report,” says Healing, bowing to Ruben.

“So shall I,” says Marcus, holding up his index finger again to bring their attention to more yapping.

“Most annoying,” says Healing, nodding in sympathy with Marcus.

“Incessant,” says Marcus, leading Healing to the kitchen where Sara Steinberg, her white hair in a long braid, is transferring oatmeal cookies from a cookie sheet onto a large blue dish, her ears covered by sound-blocking headphones identical to Marcus’s.

Sara removes her headphones and says with her New York Jewish accent, “Hi Healing. Welcome to hell. I never should have sold my place, but we needed the money.” She shrugs. “And life was good here until the horror descended upon us.”

“Do you happen to know if the dog’s owner is home right now?” asks Healing, looking out the window at the neighboring house some fifty feet away.

“Oh she’s home,” says Marcus, going to the window and glaring at Anne Pritchard’s house. “With those little white speaker turds in her ears listening to music, loud, so she won’t hear the little monster yapping.”

“Coffee, Healing?” asks Sara, bringing the cookies to the kitchen table. “I just made a fresh pot.”

“Love some,” says Healing, going to the door that opens onto a small deck. “May I?”

“Sure,” says Marcus, putting his headphones on. “Forgive me for not accompanying you.”

“Be back in a few,” says Healing, going out onto the deck from where he has a partial view of the neighboring backyard, though not of the yapping dog behind the seven-feet-tall redwood fence that separates Marcus’s property from Anne Pritchard’s property – the fence around the rest of Marcus’s property only four-feet-tall, while the rest of Anne’s property is enclosed by a fence eight-feet-tall.

The yapping continues unabated, sharp and piercing, until Healing gets to within a few feet of the fence and says in a low gentle voice, “Hello Bo. What’s wrong? What do you need?”

The yapping stops for a moment, and now resumes with slightly less gusto.

“Oh Bo,” says Healing, speaking gently. “There’s no need to bark. Are you lonely? Tell me what’s going on.”

The yapping stops again, and Healing steps up onto the bottom rail of the fence, which allows him to look over at a small brown and gray dog standing about ten feet from the fence.

Seeing Healing, the dog begins to yap furiously.

“Hey Bo,” says Healing in a low quiet voice. “Aren’t you a good dog. I’m Healing. You don’t have to bark at me. I like you. And I think you’ll like me.”

Rimbaud stops barking and walks a little closer to the fence.

“Look how smart you are,” says Healing, smiling down at the dog. “You just wanted someone to talk to, didn’t you? Someone to listen to you so you could tell them what you need.”

Now Rimbaud comes so close to the fence, Healing loses sight of him, and a moment later Rimbaud starts scratching at a plank in the fence.

Healing steps down from the bottom rail and sees the dog is pawing at a knothole the size of a silver dollar.

“There you are,” says Healing, going down on his knees and putting his face close to the knothole. “How nice to meet you. Oh my goodness. We need to trim that hair away from your eyes, don’t we? Must be an awful bother.”

Now Healing reaches two of his fingers through the knothole and Rimbaud sniffs them before giving them a lick.

“If you’ll stop barking, I’ll talk to Anne,” says Healing, handing a tasty treat through the knothole and smiling as Rimbaud gently takes the treat from his fingers. “We’ll get things straightened out. Don’t you worry, Bo. This is all just a misunderstanding. Nothing to worry about.”

*

Returning to the kitchen, Healing is greeted by Marcus and Sara as if he just slew Goliath.

“What did you do?” asks Marcus, incredulously. “He stopped barking.”

“A temporary fix,” says Healing, sitting down to have coffee and a cookie. “And I must to talk to Anne. Do you think it would be okay if I just went over and knocked on her door?”

“Not a good idea,” says Marcus, grimacing and shaking his head. “Damnit. I should have called you way back at the beginning. Now she hates me and I hate her, though she’s not a horrible person. She’s just… she’s got this fucking dog who won’t stop yapping.”

“It would really be helpful,” says Healing, gazing intently at Marcus, “if you would think more kindly of the dog. He’s essentially blind because he’s got hair in his eyes all the time. The curse of his genetics. And because his eyes are not properly cared for, they are chronically inflamed. And because he hasn’t had a chance to explore the area and learn it by smell, as these partially blind dogs need to do, he doesn’t really know where he is. And he can feel your enmity, Marcus. I know that may sound farfetched to you, but it’s true. And now I will go introduce myself to your neighbor.”

“I’ll come with you,” says Sara, leaving her headphones on the table. “I’ve acted as intermediary a couple times before and she’s at least civil to me, so…”

*

A few minutes later, Anne Pritchard, barefoot in a flimsy green dress, her auburn hair in a ponytail, a quizzical look on her exquisite face, opens her front door and beholds Sara accompanied by a handsome man with brown hair going gray.

“Hello Sara,” says Anne, her eyes fixed on Healing. “What’s up?”

“Sorry to bother you,” says Sara, smiling obsequiously, “but I wanted to introduce you to Healing Weintraub, who is something of a savant with dogs. Ruben… Sheriff Higuera… thought Healing might be able to help us with the dog situation.”

Anne takes a deep breath to quell her anger and asks, “What makes you a dog expert, Mr. Weintraub?”

“A lifetime of consorting with dogs,” says Healing, dazzled by Anne despite her barely concealed contempt for him. “I’ve already made the acquaintance of your charming dog through the fence. We had a lovely conversation, and if I might spend another few minutes with him in-person, I think I could… help.”

“Are you British?” asks Anne, squinting at Healing. “Or are you affecting an accent to try to impress me?”

“My parents are British and sometimes the accent comes through.”

“I apologize,” she says tersely. “This whole dog thing has put me on edge. To say the least. Please come in.”

Healing and Sara follow Anne into her spacious living room where Anne opens a sliding glass door and she and Healing step out onto a spacious redwood deck where Rimbaud, his tail wagging furiously, rushes up to Healing and shimmies in ecstasy as Healing bends down to scratch the little dog’s head.

“Okay, I’m impressed,” says Anne, dumbfounded by Rimbaud’s show of affection for Healing. “That’s never happened before.”

“I’m blown away by your remodel,” says Sara, lingering in the living room. “This is so beautiful. It was always so cramped in here before. Did you design this?”

“With the help of an architect, yes,” says Anne, flustered by Sara’s praise. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Like it?” says Sara, joining them on the deck. “It’s genius.”

Healing kneels on the deck to give Rimbaud a thorough massage. “He seems very healthy and strong,” says Healing to Anne. “Is he about four?”

“Yes, four,” says Anne, wringing her hands. “And he’s in excellent health except for the eye thing. I’m terrible about keeping up with trimming the hair away from his eyes. My hands shake and I’m afraid I’ll stab him, so… I think the infection these kinds of dogs get has come back. I need to take him to a vet, but I’ve just been swamped.”

Healing pushes the hair away from Rimbaud’s eyes. “If you have the requisite scissors, I’d be happy to do this for you now.”

“Oh fantastic,” says Anne, hurrying away. “I’ll go get them.”

“You’re amazing,” whispers Sara, grinning down at Healing.

Anne returns with special scissors with which Healing carefully snips away the invasive hair that has been wreaking havoc on Rimbaud’s eyes.

“And now,” says Healing, standing up, “with your permission I will go with Rimbaud on an exploratory stroll around your yard.”

“May we come with you?” asks Anne, contritely. “I don’t want to intrude on your process, but I’d love to watch.”

“Please,” says Healing, crossing the deck and stepping down onto a scraggly lawn, Rimbaud at his heels.

“I’m going to have all this landscaped,” says Anne, gesturing expansively to her yard as she and Sara follow Healing and Rimbaud. “Drought resistant grasses and herbs and the kinds of plants that attract butterflies.”

“We have a butterfly garden,” says Sara, smiling at Anne. “Brings the hummingbirds, too. And you know what they say about hummingbirds.”

“No,” says Anne, frowning at Sara. “What do they say about hummingbirds?”

“They are bringers of joy,” says Sara, thinking of Marcus’s poem about hummingbirds called Bringers of Joy.

Now they come to the place where Rimbaud has been standing and yapping for the last six months, and because it has become his habit to do so, the little dog faces the fence and begins to yap as if confronting a menacing stranger.

“Oh Bo why are you barking?” asks Healing in his gentle way. “What do you think is over there? That’s just Marcus and Sara’s yard. They’ve got a vegetable garden and a pond with big rocks around it, and a low fence between the rest of their yard and the headlands.”

Rimbaud stops barking and comes to Healing,

“You see? There’s no need to bark,” says Healing, scratching behind Rimbaud’s ears and slipping him a tasty treat. “Nothing to fear over there.”

Now Healing turns to Anne and says, “You probably know this, but sight-challenged dogs like Rimbaud learn the lay of the land by smell, and unless they can explore their surroundings and make sense of what their acute sense of smell is telling them, they will be perpetually uneasy. And there’s something about this particular spot that Rimbaud can’t figure out, and it distresses him no end. Now if it was up to me, I’d make an opening in the fence here and allow him to wander to and from Sara and Marcus’s yard so he’ll know what’s going on over there, and I’d also take him for walks on the headlands trails so he can get a deeper sense of where he is and what’s going on in his world.”

“Is that something you could help me with?” asks Anne, moved by Healing’s speech. “I’d be happy to pay you whatever you charge.”

“No need to pay me. I go walking with my dogs twice a day and we’ll come by here every few days and Rimbaud can come with us, and you can join us, too, if you like. In the meantime, I will be happy, with everyone’s permission, to remove a plank or two from this old fence and make an attractive gap here for Rimbaud’s transits between your properties.”

“Fine with us,” says Sara, knowing Marcus will be thrilled with Healing’s solution. “We always had a dog until Auden died two years ago, so it will be nice to have Rimbaud come visit.”

“Wonderful,” says Anne, impulsively taking Sara’s hand. “And we can be friends now.”

“I’m sure you know,” says Healing, smiling at Anne, “that Sara and Marcus are both fine poets and always name their cats and dogs after poets, just as you named your dog after one.”

“I didn’t know you were poets,” says Anne, gazing in wonder at Sara. “So am I.”

fin

The Monster Part Two a very short movie

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The Chosen Ones

Healing is sitting on the sofa in the living room of his little old house on Nasturtium Road, the red brown cat Sakura purring on his lap, the black cat Victoria on the sofa beside him, his three dogs Benito, Carla, and Tarzan sprawled by the fire, a light rain falling on this cold Sunday morning in late October – the dogs and Healing pleasantly knackered after a four-mile ramble on the beach.

The phone in the kitchen rings and Healing is loathe to dislodge the cat from his lap and himself from the comfy sofa until he hears his daughter Tova leaving a message on the answering machine, her voice sufficient to make him go get the phone.

“Oh good, you’re there,” says Tova, who is thirty and lives a twelve-hour drive away in Portland, Oregon. “Got a minute?”

“Hours, days, weeks,” says Healing, putting a kettle on for tea. “We’ve had our morning walk and I’m about to have a pot of Darjeeling. How’s tricks in Portland?”

“Tricks are not going so well here today,” says Tova, who is sitting on the sofa in the living room of the house she shares with four other people and three cats, one of those cats on her lap.

“How so?” asks Healing, ladling two spoonsful of black tea into a small blue pot. “A mere eight days ago I had the pleasure of watching you steal the show as Jenny in The Aardvark’s Revenge and then celebrated your rave reviews with you and the giddy playwright. I was under the impression the show was going to run for three more sold-out weeks. No?”

“The show is going to run for three more weeks,” says Tova, taking a deep breath, “and then in May it will open at the Parker Playhouse in New York, otherwise known as Off Broadway.”

“That’s fantastic. Mazel tov!”

“Except no one in the current cast will be in the New York production because Brandon optioned the play to producers who want movie stars to play Jenny and Justin, and big-time actors for all the other parts.”

“Oh I’m sorry, Tove,” says Healing, knowing how much the play means to her. “But still… Brandon must be thrilled.”

“He’s over the moon,” says Tova, sadly. “And of course we’re all thrilled for him, but it’s heartbreaking we don’t get to go with the play after we all started with it as a rough idea and improvised the thing into existence through a jillion drafts.”

“This is how things work, isn’t it?” asks Healing, feeling Tova’s pain. “The playwright’s dream come true?”

“I guess so,” says Tova, sighing. “But don’t you think it’s so unfair?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” says Healing, filling the teapot with boiling water. “This is how the system works as I understand it. Those movie stars and established actors worked hard to get where they are so they’d be cast in exciting plays, just as you worked hard to bring the play to life. I think the whole thing has been a resounding success for you.”

“I know but…” She laughs a little. “In the Hollywood version I go with the play and become the toast of Manhattan.”

“Right,” says Healing, laughing with her. “And in the Hollywood version, Derek, the guy who plays guitar and sings in front of the Mercy post office, gets discovered by a record producer on vacation here and becomes the next Bob Dylan instead of going back to his sleeping bag in the forest to survive for another day on whatever he made busking.”

“Things like that do happen,” says Tova, feeling better now. “Just almost never.”

“Well I’m proud of you for being such an adventurous actor and brave musician, and I have no doubt your work on the play will bring you all sorts of marvelous opportunities.”

“That’s why I called you, Pa-pa,” says Tova, her sorrow gone for now. “To hear you say everything you just said.”

*

Healing was born fifty-eight years ago in the little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy, and Tova was born here, too. When Healing was a teenager he starred in plays at Mercy High and had parts in plays put on by the Mercy Players Company, a goodly gang of local amateurs, and everyone who saw Healing in those plays felt certain he would become a professional actor, everyone except his mother Naomi who had a premonition that Healing would live in Mercy his entire life.

When he was nineteen, Healing went to San Francisco, attended several professional productions of plays, and sat in on a friend’s acting class. From San Francisco, he took the train to Los Angeles and stayed with a friend who was trying to make it in Show Biz. She took him to plays and movie screenings and improv theatre performances, and introduced him to her acting coach who asked Healing to perform a monologue for him. Healing did a soliloquy from Halston Thomas’s Fragile Beasts, and the acting coach flipped over Healing and said he would be happy to hook him up with an excellent agent.

Healing declined the acting coach’s offer and took the train to Chicago where he went to plays and took a three-day improv workshop. From Chicago he went by bus to New York and stayed with a friend going to Julliard, saw several Off and Off Off Broadway plays, and partied with theatre people. Then he flew to England and stayed with his Aunt Dorothy in Oxford and went to dozens of plays in London and auditioned for admission to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

After an exciting month in England, Healing returned to Mercy where a letter of acceptance from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art awaited him. Yet he chose not to return to London and instead got a job as a landscaper in Mercy, and thereafter had occasional parts in Mercy Players Company productions.

Thirteen years later, when he was thirty-two and the single parent of three-year-old Tova, Healing was in the last play he would ever be in, Harold Schultz’s Golden Cupcakes. He played the comically suicidal Stefan, and in her review of the play in the Mercy Messenger, Mavis Stapleton wrote, “Healing Weintraub once again beguiled the audience with his brilliantly nuanced performance and further cemented his reputation as the Alec Guinness of Mercy.”

One evening when Tova was thirteen and determined to become a movie star, Healing’s parents, Naomi and Ezra, who also lived in the little old house on Nasturtium Road, asked Healing to tell Tova why he chose not to attend Drama school in London or to pursue show biz in Los Angeles.

“I did not feel well in those cities,” said Healing, thinking how best to explain his choice to Tova, who at the time was binge watching Katherine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert movies while starring in the Mercy High production of The Pajama Game. “And of the many people I met who were striving to succeed as actors, I found no one I could identify with in any sort of meaningful way. I was, as the saying goes, a fish out of water, and so chose to come back here where I am more in my element.”

“Which element is that?” asked Tova, sounding very much like the young sarcastic Katherine Hepburn. “Manganese?”

*

In a somber mood after speaking on the phone with Tova, Healing adds a log to the fire and plays his accordion to accompany his memories of Tova growing up without her biological mother who ran away when Tova was eleven-months-old.

Why did Tova’s mother run away? Ezra and Naomi and Healing’s friends thought she’d fallen in love with someone else. Healing didn’t think so, and thirty years later he still doesn’t believe that’s why she left.

When Tova was eighteen, the year before she moved to Portland, and shortly after Naomi and Ezra moved back to England after fifty years in America, Tova asked Healing to tell her again everything he knew about her mother. So Healing decided to do this in writing, and here is what he wrote.

Your mother was twenty-two, or so she said, and I was twenty-seven when we met at a Tuesday night Open Mike at Big Goose. She had, as the song goes, hair of spun gold and was delicately beautiful. You got her slender nose and big blue eyes and lovely figure, though not her golden locks.

She told me her name was Ruth Amelia Lazar and that she grew up in upstate New York not far from Woodstock, her parents intellectual escapees from Manhattan. In my attempts to locate her after she left us, none of this information proved to be true. In any case, she told us she was estranged from her parents and had been moving around America with her friend Sara for some years playing folk music and waitressing.

She had a beautiful voice, a high tenor I would call it, and she was an excellent guitar player. When I brought Ruth and Sara home that night after Open Mike, Ezra and Naomi were instantly smitten with Ruth, as was I. They parked their turquoise Volkswagen van in the driveway, and after a few weeks, Ruth and I became lovers and she moved into the house with us. Sara stayed a few more weeks and then left for Portland.

I was working for Zella Wildflower in those days, doing garden maintenance, and Ruth worked with me. We played music together in the evenings and on weekends, and eventually got a regular gig on Wednesday nights at Poughkeepsie, a café that went out of business when you were three or four. Madison Tolliver, father of your school chum Andrea, ran Poughkeepsie and paid us twenty dollars for two sets and we made about that much again in tips. We performed original songs and folk standards and had quite a following. By that I mean we had about ten regulars, including your grandparents.

I was madly in love with your mother and thought she was madly in love with me. After we’d been together for seven glorious months, I asked her to marry me and she said Yes, but said she didn’t want a legal ceremony. So we exchanged vows and rings in the backyard with a few friends in attendance and carried on.

Your mother said she loved being pregnant with you and I know she was crazy in love with you from the moment you were born until the moment she disappeared, and I still have no idea why she went away.

The note she left said: Tova’s good to go now without my milk and you’ll be better off without me. Please don’t try to find me. Thanks for being so good to me. R

Of course I did try to find her, but she left no tracks to follow. I think she met up with Sara again, though I don’t know that. Just a feeling. I was pretty wrecked for a couple years after your mother left us. I did my best not to bring my sorrow into my interactions with you, though I’m sure you must have felt my distress because I often cried when I thought about your mother.

Your grandparents loved you more than anything on earth and took care of you as if they were your parents, as you know.

*

At noon on the day Tova called feeling down about The Aardvark’s Revenge going to New York without her, Healing’s good friend and co-worker Magdalena Cortez arrives with her nephew Raul who is twelve and writing a school paper about Healing and his pets.

Raul and Healing and Magdalena sit at the kitchen table enjoying the lunch Magdalena brought – spicy carnitas, corn tortillas, refried beans, and rice – the rain falling hard.

“How come you have so many pets?” asks Raul, a handsome lad with wavy black hair. “Did you teach your parrots to talk or did they already know how when you got them? Do they have to learn sounds before they can say words? Don’t the cats try to kill them? Tia says you let them go outside and fly around. How do you get them to come back?”

“Raul?” says Magdalena, smiling quizzically at her nephew. “Why don’t you let him answer a question before you ask another?”

“Okay. How come you have so many pets?”

“I was born into a family of dogs and cats and parrots and people, and I love living with animals, so I carried on the tradition.”

“Okay,” says Raul, nodding to acknowledge Healing’s answer. “My next question is: did you teach your parrots to talk or did they already know how when you got them?”

“Excellent question,” says Healing, winking at Raul. “The current residents of the big cage you see there in the far corner of the kitchen are African Greys, a male and female named Bogart and Bacall. I’ve had them since they were a few weeks old. They started imitating sounds they heard when they were very young, and I would guesstimate they started making sounds that might be construed as words when they were about nine-months-old. The first identifiable words they spoke were the names of people and animals they heard most frequently, and the word Hello. Thereafter they became more and more loquacious.”

As if on cue, Bogart says, “Hello,” and Bacall says, “Not again.”

Raul laughs. “What’s loquacious mean?”

“Talkative,” says Healing, laughing. “Voluble, garrulous, verbose.”

“Don’t you want to write his answers down?” asks Magdalena, nodding encouragingly at Raul.

“I’m recording this on my phone,” says Raul, fascinated by Healing. “So… what about the cats? Don’t they want to kill the parrots?”

“I suppose they may have wanted to at some point long ago,” says Healing, trying to recall if any of the current cats in the house ever threatened the parrots. “But they knew not to, and now I don’t think they think about such things anymore.”

Raul laughs. “How did they know not to?”

“I told them not to. Just as I told them not to bother the chickens.”

“And you think they understood you?” says Raul, skeptically.

“I’m sure they understood me,” says Healing, matter-of-factly. “As did the cats who lived here before the cats who live here now. You may be interested to know that Bogart and Bacall are both fifteen-years-old, which is seven years older than my oldest dog and five years older than my oldest cat. And there is a good chance Humphrey and Lauren, the parrots’ first names, will live another fifteen years.”

“And you don’t ever have to hit your cats if they get too close to the parrot’s cage?” asks Raul, still unconvinced the cats don’t want to kill the parrots.

“Never have,” says Healing, shaking his head. “And in answer to another of your questions, yes, I do let the parrots out to fly around, which they love to do. And they always come back because I trained them to come back starting when they were very young. There have been a few close calls over the years, once with a Red-tailed Hawk who tried to catch Bogart, and twice when ravens attacked Bacall. To evade their attackers, the parrots took refuge in the dense foliage of the Japanese maples and thus were inaccessible to the hawk and ravens.”

“I’m amazed,” says Raul, looking at Magdalena. “Have you ever seen them flying?”

“I have,” says Magdalena, smiling at Healing. “It’s a very beautiful sight.”

“Can you show me?” asks Raul, picking up his phone. “I’ll film it and get an A for sure.”

“Not today,” says Healing, shaking his head. “They don’t like to fly on rainy days. But some sunny day you must come back and we’ll let them out and you can film them flying.”

“Okay,” says Raul, turning to Magdalena. “How much more time do we have?”

“Ask Healing. He is your subject.”

“Do you have time to tell me how you got your pets?”

“I have all day and I will be happy to introduce you to each of the dogs and cats and parrots and tortoises, and tell you how each of them came to live here.”

*

That evening, Healing calls Tova to find out how the matinee performance of The Aardvark’s Revenge went and to see how she’s feeling.

“Best performance ever,” she says with a contented sigh. “The audience went wild, standing ovation, etcetera. I’m still a little sad, but not as sad as when I called you this morning. How was your day?”

Healing tells her about Raul and Magdalena’s visit, and Tova asks, “Did you tell them how you got Carla?”

“I did,” says Healing, wondering what made her think of that particular story. “The short version. Raul loved it and said he’s going to use a picture of Carla for the cover of his paper.”

“I love that story so much,” says Tova, passionately. “Would you tell it to me? The long version?”

“Now?”

“Would you? Please?”

*

It was in October of the year when our dogs Merlin and Cassidy died of old age, and the young cat Custer was taken by a hawk, and the old cat China died in the corner of the woodshed. Six years ago.

I was on the front porch just back from a walk around town with Benito, who was only one-year-old and my only dog at the time. I was just sitting down to take off my shoes when Benito gave a little bark at the approach of eight-year-old Timothy Macklin.

Timothy’s father and grandfather and great grandfather and great great grandfather were all loggers. I went to school with several Macklins, as did you, Tova, and you will remember that most of the Macklin boys were big and strong and played football and basketball as if they were fighting for their lives, and many of the Macklin girls were big and strong, too, and married young and had lots of kids.

“I thought this is where you lived,” said eight-year-old Timothy, stopping on the sidewalk in front of our house and waving to me. “You come to our class every year with your dogs.”

“Yes, I do,” I replied, wondering what Timothy had in the paper bag he was carrying. “I’m Healing Weintraub and you’re Timothy Macklin.”

“How’d you know my name?” he asked, incredulously. “Don’t tell my dad I was here, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, seeing he was trembling. “What can I do for you?”

He came to the bottom of the stairs and said so quietly I could barely hear him, “I got a puppy here my dad told me to drown because she’s a runt and her mom won’t nurse her, only I don’t want to kill her and I thought you might want her. I’m not sure she’s a girl, but I think so. You want her? I think she might already be dead. I had her in this bag at school all day and she stopped moving a couple hours ago.”

“Yes, I want her,” I said, coming down the steps and taking the bag from him.

“Okay,” he said, turning to go. “I gotta catch my bus or I’ll be in big trouble.”

“What breed is the mother?” I asked, calling after him.

“She’s a Black Lab,” he shouted, jubilant to be free of his burden. “I know a Dane got to her and maybe a Rottweiler.”

I looked in the bag and here was a pup the size of a small rat, and so motionless I thought she was dead. I cradled her body in my hand, felt she was warm, and ten minutes later we were at the vet and Megan Ramirez was gently forcing some puppy milk replacer into the pup’s mouth and stimulating her throat to get her to swallow, and the little darling revived.

For several weeks I used an animal baby bottle to feed her goat’s milk mixed with raw egg and a tiny bit of sugar until she was ready to eat gruel and lap up water. For the first three months I kept her in a cardboard box next to my bed with a heating pad in there to keep her warm.

I hired Madge Preston and Ruben De Marco to take care of the pup while I was at work, and you came home for two weeks to take care of her, and now Carla is a great big dog, healthy and strong and as sweet as can be, a gorgeous Black Lab Dane.

Timothy Macklin has grown into a charming young man. He’s in high school now and plays basketball and is the drummer in the school jazz band.

Every few weeks in the afternoon after school, Timothy comes to visit Carla. He and I walk around the property with the dogs, or if it’s raining we have tea by the fire and Timothy brings me up to date on his life, and I tell him what Carla and I have been up to.

And many a time when we’re saying our goodbyes, Timothy will feign distress and say, “Now don’t tell my dad where you got Carla or I’ll be in big trouble.” To which I always reply, “Fear not, my friend. Your secret is safe with us.”   

fin

What Comes Around piano solo by Todd

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Most Difficult Cat

The human and canine and feline and avian members of the Weintraub household are in great spirits because Healing’s daughter Tova is home for a week in the middle of May; and by home we mean the little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy where Tova was born and where Healing was born, too.

Thirty-years-old, slender and strong like her father, with short brown hair and a flair for the dramatic, Tova currently resides in Portland, Oregon where she is pursuing a career as an actor and singer while supporting herself as a three-days-a-week veterinarian’s assistant.

Tova returns to Mercy five times a year: for a week in March, a week in May, a week in July, a week in September, and for seven weeks from late November until early January, unless she has a role in an excellent play, not a Christmas play.

Having grown up in a household composed of her delightful father and his zany British Jewish hippie parents, multiple dogs and cats and birds, and a steady stream of artists and musicians and intellectuals of myriad ages and ethnicities, some of whom stayed for weeks and months at a time, Tova has a world view quite unlike most of her age peers in America. She has seven good friends in Portland, five of them lesbians, two of them gay men, while she is a devout heterosexual and aspires to have a male partner, an aspiration she has yet to fulfill to her satisfaction.

“I’m beginning to think, Pa-pa,” says Tova one blustery Saturday morning over blueberry apple banana pancakes at the kitchen table in the little old house on Nasturtium Road, “that heterosexual males cut from similar cloth as thee are as rare as unicorns in Portland. Grandma-ma says American men are emotionally and intellectually stunted by the culture here and suggests I move to England where she says at least some men are not so underdeveloped.”

“Your grandmother met your grandfather in America and they would be living here still had they not inherited a groovy pad in Oxford and a good deal of money,” says Healing, ladling pancake batter onto the griddle. “She wants you to move to England to have you near, not because she thinks you’ll find Prince Charming there.” Healing chuckles as he thinks of his mother, still indefatigable at eighty-four. “In my view, and forgive me for repeating myself, when our hearts are open, the universe provides us with love aplenty wherever we are.”

“I’m actually quite happy,” says Tova, sipping her tea. “It’s my bloody hormones driving me mad lately to find a mate and have a baby, though I’m quite prepared not to give birth to a child.” She looks down at the cat in her lap, orange and white Toulouse. “Though if I don’t have a baby, I will probably adopt one or two.”

The kitchen phone rings and Healing answers.

“Good morning,” he says, keeping an eye on the pancakes.

“Am I speaking to Healing Weintraub?” asks a woman with an upper crust British accent.

“You are,” says Healing, his own faint British accent becoming more pronounced whenever he speaks to a fellow Brit. “How may I help you?”

“My name is Catherine Falstaff,” she says, clearing her throat. “Marcus Wickersham gave me your number. He says you are a magus with dogs and cats, and I am in difficult straits with my cat Sakura.”

“How so?” asks Healing, enjoying Catherine’s way with words.

“I wish to have a second cat,” she says, pausing momentously. “But Sakura will not allow it.”

*

“You should at least charge for travel time and gas,” says Tova, riding shotgun in Healing’s little pickup with Benito the brown Chihuahua Poodle sitting between Tova and Healing as they head north on the coast highway en route to Catherine’s house.

“My paying gig is running Good Groceries,” says Healing, elated to be going on a case with Tova. “Helping dogs and cats is my art.”

“Nothing wrong with making a little money from your art,” says Tova, thinking of how little she makes from hers.

“I usually have people bring their dogs to me so I can watch them interact with our dogs,” says Healing, cruising at his favorite speed of twenty miles per hour. “But I insist on visiting cats at their houses, though I don’t often work with cats. As for travel time and gas, we’re only going three miles north of town, and when we’re done there we can walk on Bethany Beach where magic stones abound.”

“You made a rhyme I want to use in a song,” says Tova, gazing out the window at the passing beauty. “Town and abound. I miss living with you, Pa-pa, and everybody in Mercy. The problem is there’s not much going on here music-wise or theatre-wise, so…” She shrugs. “Even so, I might move back. Would that be okay with you?”

“Of course,” says Healing, laughing. “I’d love you to live here, though as you say, Mercy is not exactly a hotbed of cutting edge Drama, nor are there many venues for chanteuses playing jazzy ukulele, though I’m sure you could gig for tips at Big Goose, Mercy’s finest pub.”

“My friends in the biz say I should give New York a try,” says Tova, sighing. “Or London. Though I’m beginning to think I’m just not a city person.”

“Your grandmother would be ecstatic if you moved to London,” says Healing, making a left turn into Seascape Villas, a collection of opulent homes scattered around the headlands overlooking the mighty Pacific. “And so would your grandfather.”

“I’d rather live here,” says Tova, scratching Benito’s head. “Would you like that, Benny-oo? For me to live with you?”

Benito wags his tail to say he would love her to live with them.

“Aha,” says Healing, parking next to a pristine old silver Rolls Royce with a mahogany running board. “I’ve seen this rig in town and wondered whose it was.”

“You’d want a car like that,” says Tova, getting out of the little truck, “if you had a house like this.”

She is referring to the spectacular redwood and river rock house fronted by a scrupulously manicured Japanese garden accessed through a magnificent wooden gate, the garden featuring enormous granite boulders surrounding a large koi pond, several gorgeous pines with artfully twisted trunks, and a gently arching wooden bridge bisecting the pond, which visitors must cross to reach the gigantic mahogany front door with a fabulous Japanese dragon carved thereon.

The door opens as Tova and Healing approach, and here is Catherine Falstaff, tall and in her sixties with frizzy silver hair, her blouse green silk, her trousers black, her red sandals open-toed, her toenails painted green to match her blouse.

“You are prompt,” she says, giving Healing a steely smile and shifting her gaze to Tova. “I did not expect you to bring a companion.”

“This is my daughter Tova,” says Healing, bowing to Catherine. “She’s every bit as good with animals as I, and she is a highly-regarded veterinarian’s assistant.”

“In Portland,” says Tova, gesturing to the house and garden. “Astounding.”

“Thank you,” says Catherine, beckoning them to enter. “I am a keen Japanophile, as you can see. The house was designed by Akio Kawabata himself, not one of his disciples, and the garden was laid out by none other than Daichi Mifune. And though it may stretch the bounds of credibility to say so, Daichi san himself actually came here to oversee the finishing touches. I’m hopelessly shinnichi, as the Japanese would say. Come have some rare twig tea from Kamakura and meet her royal highness.” Catherine giggles. “Otherwise known as Sakura.”

*

Sakura is five-years-old, large and reddish brown with short hair, aggressively affectionate, and in excellent health. She takes an especial liking to Healing and insists on sitting on his lap while the humans share a pot of the ballyhooed twig tea in the sun room overlooking a stretch of coastline accessible only from Seascape Villas.

“Because most of the houses here are second or third homes and rarely occupied,” explains Catherine, shielding her eyes as she gazes out at the shining sea, “I am one of the few people who ever visit our beach, and even I only venture down there a few times a year. Thus the sands are remarkably pristine and dozens of seals and legions of shorebirds revel in the absence of humans there.”

“Wonderful,” says Healing, stroking the loudly purring Sakura and hiding his distaste for the bitter tea. “Please tell us how Sakura keeps you from having another cat.”

“She becomes a monster when there’s another cat on the premises,” says Catherine, shrugging hopelessly. “Sprays the walls and the furniture, which she never does when she’s the only cat. Rips the upholstery, which she also never does when she’s the only cat. And stalks the other cat with murder in mind. She nearly killed one of them, drove another out of the house through a momentarily open kitchen door and I found him cowering in the dune grass, and she so terrorized the last one he was afraid to come out from behind the washing machine for three days and I had no choice but to re-home all of them, which I believe is the proper term for finding a cat another place to live.” Catherine looks at Sakura purring on Healing’s lap. “And the minute she has vanquished a rival, she becomes the love cat you are now consorting with.”

“Her behavior is not uncommon,” says Healing, looking at Catherine and noting her reluctance to meet his gaze. “Did you have another cat when you got her?”

“Yes,” says Catherine, nodding. “Miyoshi. A splendid if somewhat imperious Siamese. They shared the house with minimal strife. But after Miyoshi died, Sakura has behaved as I described.”

“Why do you want another cat?” asks Tova, who finds the tea undrinkable. “Not that you shouldn’t have as many cats as you want. Pa-pa has four.”

“I’ve always had two,” says Catherine, raising her hand to beckon her servant Teresa who Healing and Tova know quite well. “Bring the cookies, please, Teresa. And we’ll have coffee. The dark roast.” Now to Healing and Tova. “Are you coffee drinkers?”

“Big time,” says Tova, nodding politely.

“Love a good dark roast,” says Healing, setting Sakura down on the floor from where she immediately jumps onto Tova’s lap.

“Coffee for three,” says Catherine, calling to Teresa.

“I trust you followed the usual protocols for introducing a new cat into the household,” says Healing, hoping the coffee will be better than the tea. “Separate eating and sleeping areas and so forth?”

 “Assiduously,” says Catherine, nodding emphatically. “To no avail.”

“These were adult cats?” asks Healing, guessing they were.

“Oh I wouldn’t dare bring a kitten into the house,” says Catherine, aghast at the idea. “Sakura would kill it instantly.”

“I doubt it,” says Healing, watching Sakura drool with pleasure as Tova caresses her. “Was Sakura a kitten when you introduced her to Miyoshi?”

“She was eleven-weeks-old.” Catherine frowns gravely. “Are you seriously suggesting I try with a kitten? Seems insanely counter-intuitive.”

“No, I’m not suggesting you try with a kitten,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I’m merely gathering clues.”

The coffee and cookies arrive, and Healing and Tova chat for a moment with Teresa whose son Diego went to high school with Tova and now works for Google in Argentina.

“Where does Sakura sleep at night?” asks Tova, adding cream to her coffee.

“On the living room sofa,” says Catherine, drinking her coffee black. “She wants to sleep with me, but I’m an extremely light sleeper and she likes to come and go during the night and would be forever waking me up, which is why I keep my bedroom door shut. Happily, she is perfectly content having the rest of the house to herself.”

“It is possible, Catherine, that Sakura will never tolerate another cat,” says Healing, glancing at Tova. “What do you think?”

“I think the best chance we’d have is with a kitten,” says Tova, handing Sakura to Healing. “She’s a big sweetheart.”

“Does she go outside much?” asks Healing, guessing she doesn’t.

“Oh I never let my cats go outside,” says Catherine, furiously shaking her head. “Not since I lost Toshiro to a coyote.”

“Then that will make things even more difficult,” says Healing, gazing out the window at the breakers crashing on the shore. “There are no coyotes on this stretch of the coast, so I assume you lost Toshiro elsewhere.”

“Yes,” says Catherine, grimacing at her memory of Toshiro shrieking when the coyote got him. “On our estate in Ojai. Fourteen years ago. Worst day of our lives. That’s why we moved here. My husband and I. To start anew after Toshiro died.” She smiles to keep from crying. “My husband passed six years ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” says Healing, bowing his head.

“Me, too,” says Tova with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” says Catherine, touched by their condolences. “Jerome had a good long life. He was twenty-nine years my senior, a very successful architect with clients all over the world, his crowning glory a museum of Japanese art in Friedrichshafen.”

*

That night over Mexican Food at Jessica’s Seafood and Mexican, Tova says to Healing, “The more I think about it, the more I think a kitten is the answer.”

“And I keep hearing you ask Catherine, ‘Why do you want another cat?’” says Healing, sipping his beer. “And Catherine replying, ‘I’ve always had two,’ which didn’t strike me as the real answer, however true it might be.”

Tova nods. “She was always one of two with her husband, and they always had two cats, and then he died and now she is one of one. So maybe now she’s only emotionally capable of having one cat and doesn’t realize it.”

“Or maybe she only wants one cat, but feels an allegiance to the patterns of her married life,” says Healing, shaking his head. “No, that’s not it.”

“What then?” asks Tova, yearning to establish patterns of married life.

“There are certainly cats who will never tolerate another cat on their ranch, especially if the ranch is too small,” says Healing, ranch a scientific term for a domestic cat’s territory. “And the interior of a house is not a very big ranch for a healthy cat. I’m beginning to think the solution is to let the cats go outside, and, yes, try with a kitten. Or…” He raises a declarative finger. “Make do with one adorable Sakura.”

*

On their way out of the restaurant they bump into Teresa and her husband Carlos, and Teresa says to Healing, “Did Catherine tell you she goes away for months at a time and the cat is all alone in that big house except for when I come to feed her at the end of the day?”

“No, she did not tell us that,” says Healing, dismayed by this new information. “Where does she go?”

“To Japan and England and Portugal,” says Teresa, nodding. “I don’t think she should have a cat. The poor thing is trapped in the house all by herself for months and months at a time, starving for love.”

*

At nine on the dot the next morning, Healing and Tova return to Catherine’s villa where Catherine awaits them with coffee and cinnamon buns, and when the humans are once again arrayed around the table in the sun room – Sakura blissful on Tova’s lap – Healing says to Catherine, “We neglected to ask you a crucial question.”

“Which is?” says Catherine, perplexed by the urgency in Healing’s voice.

“How often are you here?” asks Healing, gazing intently at Catherine.

“This is my principal residence,” she says, looking away and frowning. “I told you that, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” says Healing, quietly. “But we did not determine if you spend much time away from here. Do you?”

“I do,” she says, her frown giving way to a smile. “I spend the last month of summer and the entirety of fall in England, most of the winter in Portugal, and I’m always in Kyoto when the cherry blossoms burst forth in the spring, and then I stay on in Japan until the last cherry blossoms have fallen.”

“Which means you are rarely here,” says Healing, gazing at Sakura on Tova’s lap.

“That is correct,” says Catherine, her frown reappearing. “What does that have to do with Sakura? She is warm and safe and well fed all the year round.”

“Yes,” says Healing, nodding solemnly. “But she is perilously lonely, and so when you are here she would be ferociously jealous of any other cat who might steal even a moment of your time from her. And though I’m sure you arrange for someone to come feed her, unless someone lives here in your absence, she cannot be happy and healthy hiding in this house all alone with no chance to spend time outside where I’m sure she longs to go.”

“But that is precisely why I want a second cat,” says Catherine, plaintively. “So she will not be so alone.”

“The equation is wrong,” says Tova, her heart aching for both Catherine and Sakura. “She won’t accept another cat if she doesn’t feel sufficiently secure, and she cannot feel secure if you are rarely here.”

“I see,” says Catherine with a heavy sigh. “Well I’m not about to change my equation of going to England and Portugal and Japan. Going to those places is the foundation of my happiness. So I suppose, as painful as it will be, I must re-home dear Sakura.”

*

And that is how Sakura came to live at the little old house on Nasturtium Road, and why every year Catherine sends Healing a check for a thousand dollars in gratitude for his wisdom and kindness.

*

In the beginning of her life on Nasturtium Road, Sakura had some difficulty with big brown Mongo, the largest of the resident cats who twice drove her away from his preferred napping spot on the rocking chair in the living room. However, orange and white Toulouse welcomed Sakura as if he had long been expecting her, and black Victoria largely ignored Sakura as she ignores all the other cats until one day Sakura mistakenly ate from Victoria’s bowl and Victoria made an ominous growling sound that sent Sakura scurrying away to hide behind the kindling box next to the fireplace.

And silver gray Justine, feral for two years before coming to live with Healing, recognized in Sakura a fellow former isolate and now sometimes shares the windowsill in Healing’s bedroom with Sakura, something she will never do with any of the other cats.

Sakura loves being outside, though she rarely ventures far from the house. Recently she has taken to sitting on a rafter in the woodshed where she patiently waits for mice to unwittingly cross the ground below her, and those mice rarely live to tell the tale.

But by far the most wonderful and unexpected thing about Sakura is her love of the dogs, especially enormous Carla who was never much interested in cats and was quite bewildered at first when Sakura insisted on curling up beside her when she lay down for a snooze by the fire after supper.

Nowadays Carla is so accustomed to Sakura joining her by the fire in the evening, that when Sakura does not come and curl up beside her, Carla will scan the room with an expression of concern on her face to say What can be keeping that most delightful cat?

fin

Eva Waltzing piano solo by Todd

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Maurice

Healing is kneeling in the canned-goods aisle in Good Groceries, the small food co-op where he works, lost in a daze of sorrow as he shelves cans of Kale Quinoa soup.

On his lunch break today, a breezy day in April, Healing met Desdemona Garcia at a picnic table on the headlands across the street from Crow’s Nest Books where Desdemona works, the only bookstore in Mercy that sells new books. He and Desdemona have been lunching together at this picnic table, weather permitting, at least once a week for seven months now, Healing in love with Desdemona, and Desdemona seeming to Healing to be more and more in love with him until today when she told him a man named Phil just asked her to marry him and she said Yes.

“Phil?” said Healing, thinking Desdemona must be joking. “Phil who?”

“Nobody you know,” she said, sighing at the thought of Phil. “We’ve been dating for three months and a week and four days. He lives in San Francisco and has a beach house here a mile south of town.”

“What does Phil do?” whispered Healing.

“He’s a lawyer for a corporation that owns lots of other corporations,” said Desdemona, her voice brimming with admiration for Phil. “You’d be amazed at all the big companies they own.”

“And he came into the bookstore and fell in love with you,” said Healing, speaking about himself as much as guessing about Phil.

“Yes,” said Desdemona, smiling dreamily. “He just grabbed a book without looking to see what it was and brought it to the counter and as I was ringing him up he said, ‘Have dinner with me tonight.’ He didn’t ask. He just commanded me. And I had every intention of saying No, but instead I said Yes. I couldn’t help myself.”

*

“How could I have been so wrong about her,” murmurs Healing, putting a can of soup upside down on the shelf. “I thought she was in love with me, but it was Phil she was in love with, and I felt her love for him and thought it was for me. Silly me.”

“Healing?” says Magdalena Cortez, a statuesque Latina in her late forties and co-manager with Healing of Good Groceries. “Your shift ended forty minutes ago. It’s almost five.”

“Oh,” says Healing, turning to look at Magdalena and thinking When did you get so beautiful? I mean… you’ve always been beautiful, but now you’re positively ravishing. I wonder if this is what they mean by the rebound effect. “You look different, Magdalena. In a good way. Not that you haven’t always looked good. You have. I just mean…”

“I’m the same,” says Magdalena, coming closer. “I have my hair in a ponytail when I work, but now my shift is over and I’m going home so I let my hair down. You always leave before me, so you don’t often see me this way at work. Are you okay?”

“Not really,” he says, shaking his head. “But this, too, shall pass.”

“Come for supper tonight,” she says, smiling shyly. “Mi madre es making her chicken enchiladas and guacamole you like so much, and Paloma is home from college for a week and would love to see you. Bring your accordion.”

“Tonight?” says Healing, getting to his feet. “What day is this?”

“Friday,” says Magdalena, laughing. “You knew what day it was when you came to work this morning singing your Friday song. You can stay up late tonight now you have the weekends off.”

“Can I call you?” he says, his head throbbing. “I need to check my calendar. I can’t remember if I have something tonight or not.”

“Just come if you want to,” she says, turning to go.

*

Walking home from Good Groceries, Healing stops at the bank to deposit his paycheck, and while waiting in line for the next available teller, the lovely Gladys Weatherstone saunters by and coos, “Hey Healing. How come you never call me?”

Healing tries without success to smile at Gladys, and a moment later the person in line behind him asks, “Pardon me. Might you be Healing Weintraub?”

“Yes,” says Healing, turning to behold a portly fellow with a wispy white goatee, wearing a red Hawaiian shirt decorated with small blue parrots. “How may I help you?”

“My name is August Kittle,” says the man, squinting at Healing. “Our mutual friend Weston Schuster says you’re a savant when it comes to dogs.”

“I’m ready for you, Healing,” calls the next available teller.

“Meet you out front,” says Healing to August. “After I meet with my banker.”

*

“So,” says August, who was born and raised in South Carolina, lived in Los Angeles for many years, and now lives in Mercy, “my dog Maurice is deeply depressed. Deeply. He’s only four, and until five months ago he was one happy fellow, believe you me. And then out of the blue he became morose and hasn’t cheered up since.”

Healing and August are standing in front of Mercy Savings – Healing so sad about Desdemona, he can hardly hear what August is saying, though August is speaking loudly and clearly.

“What kind of dog?” asks Healing, aching from head to toe.

“He’s delightful,” says August, smiling painfully. “Love of my life.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Healing, touched by August’s love for his dog. “What breed is he?”

“Oh he’s a Goldendoodle,” says August, looking up at the sky and sighing. “Half poodle, half Golden Retriever. Incredibly cute puppy and now a handsome adult.”

“Is he an only child?” asks Healing, liking August despite being in shock from Desdemona dumping him for someone named Phil. “No other dogs in the mix?”

“He’s my one and only,” says August, sounding concerned. “Is that a problem? Should I get another one?”

“Hard to know until I meet him,” says Healing, fumbling a handmade card out of his wallet. “Call me and we’ll arrange something for tomorrow. Yes?”

“Oh thank you,” says August, fervently shaking Healing’s hand. “Thank you so much.”

*

After walking his three dogs and feeding his four cats, Healing cleans his parrots’ cage, herds his seventeen chickens into their coop for the night, and hunts up his three tortoises in the vegetable garden and puts them in their terrarium in the greenhouse.

As dusk descends, Healing is standing in his kitchen eating a spoonful of almond butter when a vision of Magdalena’s mother’s fabulous chicken enchiladas briefly interrupts his thoughts of Desdemona.

“Never mind my ravaged psyche,” he proclaims to his dogs and cats. “I’m going to Magdalena’s for supper.”

*

He showers and shaves, dresses warmly, packs up his accordion, and walks through the fog from his little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy to Magdalena’s little old house on Figueroa Lane at the north end of town, arriving just as the legendary enchiladas and fabulous refried beans and incomparable guacamole and scrumptious tomato rice and magnificent garden salad are being served.

A place is made for Healing at the big table in the dining room, he the only non-Hispanic among the dozen diners, and Paloma, Magdalena’s twenty-year-old daughter, sits to Healing’s right, Magdalena to his left.

“I wonder so much,” says Magdalena’s mother Maria, a beautiful woman in her seventies for whom English is a distant second language, “why your name Healing? I never hear this name before you.”

“When my mother was pregnant with me all those fifty-eight years ago,” says Healing, gazing across the table at Maria, “she had several dreams in which she met a young boy, and this made her believe she was going to have a male child.”

“Sí, comprendo,” says Maria, nodding. “I meet Magdalena in my dream before she was born.”

“Did you tell her your name?” asks Healing, turning to Magdalena. “My mother said the boy in her dreams would never tell her his name.”

“I don’t remember,” says Magdalena, who is very happy Healing came for supper. “Did I tell you my name, Mama?”

“No,” says Maria, laughing. “But when I hold la bebe, I know she is Magdalena.”

“So if you didn’t tell your mother your name in her dreams,” says Paloma, who has very short black hair and a ring in her nose and turquoise fingernails and worked at Good Groceries on weekends when she was in high school and thinks Healing is the nicest man she’s ever known, “then how did you get your name?”

“Well… one night during my mother’s last month of pregnancy, my father had a dream in which a boy told him his name was Healing. And my mother loved the name so much, that’s what they called me.”

*

The stupendous meal crescendos with nonpareil flan, after which the party moves to the living room where Healing on accordion and Paloma on guitar accompany everyone singing Mexican folk songs, and for a lovely hour Healing ceases to think about Desdemona.

*

The next morning, Healing and his dogs go for a ramble in the forest east of town, and upon their return Healing encamps at his kitchen table with a cup of strong black tea and a blackberry scone, and he’s just starting to write a letter to his parents in England when the phone rings.

“Good morning,” says Healing, thinking the caller might be August.

“Hola,” says Magdalena in her quiet way. “It’s Magdalena. We have lots of leftovers. Shall Paloma and I bring you supper?”

“Only if you’ll stay and dine with me,” he says, smiling into the phone.

“We’d love to. Que hora?”

“Six?” he says, tickled they’re coming over. “I’ll make a salad.”

“Okay. See you then.”

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?” says Healing, hanging up the phone and looking into the living room where his dogs are sprawled by the fire, the day chilly and overcast. “Magdalena and Paloma.”

The dogs all look at Healing, and Benito, a Chihuahua Poodle, trots into the kitchen and Healing gives him a little treat, which, of course, brings the other two into the kitchen – Carla a Black Lab Dane, and Tarzan, a Siberian Husky Golden Lab.

*

At eleven – dark gray thunderheads massing over Mercy – Healing is waiting in front of his house when August arrives in his small red car with Maurice, a handsome pooch with golden curls.

“Lovely dog,” says Healing, holding out his hand to Maurice and thinking Come rest your chin on my fingers, which Maurice does without the slightest hesitation.  

“I would guess,” says Healing to August, “that Maurice often mirrors your moods.”

“Used to,” says August, gazing sadly at Healing. “Until he got so sad. Now he hardly responds to me at all. Like some part of him just went away.”

“May I introduce him to my dogs?” asks Healing, giving Maurice a tasty little treat.

“Whatever you think is best,” says August, sighing heavily. “He used to like other dogs. Now he’s largely indifferent to them. Please don’t take it personally if he ignores your dogs.”

“If he can ignore my dogs,” says Healing, beckoning August and Maurice to follow him to the backyard gate, “I will consider him the most highly evolved being I have ever known.”

*

Healing and August sit on the deck having tea while Maurice follows Carla and Tarzan and Benito through the vegetable garden and into a copse of magnificent Japanese maples.

“They okay out there?” asks August, standing up and pointing to where the dogs disappeared. “I never let Maurice out of my sight.”

“They’ll be fine,” says Healing, finding August much sadder than Maurice. “They’ll show Maurice the pond and the new section of fence where the bear broke through a few months ago, and then they’ll take him to look across the ravine at the neighbor dogs, and then they’ll snuffle around the woodshed for a time, and then they’ll come back to the house. Please don’t worry.”

“I’ll try not to,” says August, resuming his seat. “So why do you think he’s so depressed? The vets say there’s nothing physically wrong with him. But if that’s true, what could be making him so sad?”

“I have some ideas,” says Healing, nodding. “But first why don’t you tell me a little more about him. Where you got him and what he was like as a puppy.”

“I got him from a breeder in Santa Cruz,” says August, sighing again. “Well… my friend got him for me. Birthday gift. And he was the cutest pup in the whole world, of course. Loved the beach. Loved to run in the waves but not go all the way in. Liked to chase balls. That’s the Golden Retriever. But wouldn’t bring them back. That’s the poodle. And he was the sweetest dog you could ever want until he got so sad. And now he just mopes around and doesn’t want to do anything. Breaks my heart.”

“Does your friend who gave him to you live around here?”

“Not anymore,” says August, shaking his head. “He… he moved.”

“When was that?”

“About six months ago,” says August, pressing his lips together in an effort not to cry. “He moved back to Santa Monica where we lived before we moved here.”

Healing muses for a moment. “Didn’t you tell me at the bank yesterday that Maurice became morose about five months ago?”

“Did I?” says August, squeezing his eyes shut in a vain effort to quell his tears.

“Yes, you did,” says Healing, his own tears about Desdemona finally breaking through.

*

“So what did you tell him to do?” asks Paloma, as she and Magdalena and Healing sit by the fire with the dogs and cats after supper – rain drumming on the roof.

“I didn’t tell him to do anything,” says Healing, sharing the sofa with Magdalena and the cats – Paloma on the floor with the dogs crowded around her. “I explained to him that Maurice is one of the most empathetic beings, dog or human, I’ve ever met, and I believe his persistent sadness is a reflection of August’s sorrow about his dear friend moving away.”

“Was his friend his partner?” asks Magdalena, petting the cat in her lap and the one beside her, too.

“I think so,” says Healing, getting up to put another log on the fire. “I didn’t ask. The important thing is that August now knows that his sorrow and his dog’s sorrow are one and the same, and knowing this he can make a conscious effort to be joyful with Maurice. To play with him and walk with him and commune with him without so much sadness holding sway.”

“Can someone who is really depressed do that?” asks Paloma, looking at her mother. “Just decide not to be sad anymore?”

“It takes time to heal a broken heart,” says Magdalena, looking at Healing as he settles on the sofa beside her again. “A day will come when we can forgive the other person and forgive ourselves, too, and then our heart will heal and we can go on.”

fin

Sorrow piano solo by Todd

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Delmore and Kitty

On a warm Sunday morning in October in the northern California coastal town of Mercy, Tom Gustafson stands at the gate leading into Healing Weintraub’s backyard and calls, “Healing. It’s Tom. With Delmore.”

Delmore is a large friendly brown dog, seven-years-old, a mix of Lab, St. Bernard, and Norwegian Elkhound. Tom is a large fifty-eight-year-old human, a mix of Irish English Scots and Minnesota Swedes, a wearer of plaid shirts and brown dungarees, his graying red hair in a stubby ponytail.

Healing and his three dogs are at the pond in the center of the two-acre property, a good distance from the gate adjacent to the little old house on Nasturtium Road. Wearing a broad-brimmed sunhat and T-shirt and shorts, Healing is sitting on a bench and writing a letter to his parents in Oxford, England, the dogs sprawled about him – the surrounding Japanese maples changing from their various greens to burgundies and magentas.

And though Healing doesn’t hear Tom calling, the dogs hear Tom loud and clear, and two of them, Benito a Chihuahua Poodle, and Tarzan a Siberian Husky Golden Lab, race off to greet the visitors.

The third of Healing’s dogs, Carla, a big Black Lab Dane with glossy black fur, remains with Healing, which is her habit, and Healing completes his sentence about the woman he’s crazy about who is not so crazy about him before going to see what caused Benito and Tarzan to rush off to answer the door, so to speak.

*

“What brings you into town on this fine October morning?” asks Healing, serving Tom strong black tea and bran muffins on the back deck, while Benito, Carla, and Tarzan show Delmore around the property, notably the recently repaired section of fence where a bear broke through in a failed attempt to get at the chickens.

“Oh… various errands,” says Tom, fishing his little Nikon out of his shirt pocket and snapping pictures of Healing pouring tea. “Groceries.”

“Bosh,” says Healing, arching an eyebrow. “You shop for groceries on Mondays and Thursdays. I know because you shop at Good Groceries, thank you very much, and the bank and post office are closed today. So… what’s going on?”

“You know me better than I know myself,” says Tom, looking away in embarrassment.

“We met in kindergarten and have never ceased knowing each other,” says Healing, smiling at memories of Tom as a boy and teenager and young man, an avid photographer since the age of six. “What’s amiss?”

“Susan doesn’t want Delmore coming in the house anymore,” says Tom, grimacing. “Kitty attacked him a few days ago and Delmore jumped away and knocked over a table and broke a Tiffany vase Susan inherited from her grandmother.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Things are not good.”

Healing muses for a moment. “We are speaking of the same Kitty you immortalized in photographs chronicling her love affair with Delmore. Kitten and pup inseparable friends. Cat and dog sleeping entangled on the sofa. Delmore and Kitty calendars ubiquitous. And now dear Kitty is attacking him? Since when?”

“Since a few weeks ago,” says Tom, opening his eyes. “They haven’t been lovey-dovey for the last few years, but they were still sharing the sofa most evenings until about three months ago when Kitty started occasionally taking swipes at Delmore when he came in the kitchen while she was eating. So we stopped feeding them at the same time, and then she started whapping him sometimes when he’d come in the living room and get too close to her. Not all the time, but sometimes. And now she bristles and hisses when she sees him. Again not always, but enough so it’s a problem.”

“Any idea what precipitated this change in her?” asks Healing, sensing a crucial part of the story is missing.

“No,” says Tom, taking a picture of Healing sensing a crucial part of the story is missing. “Susan insists Delmore is the aggressor, not Kitty, and I think it’s more complicated than that.”

“So do I,” says Healing, consolingly. “Let’s have a chat with Delmore and then I’ll zip out to your place and see what’s up with Kitty.”

“I’m wrecking your Sunday,” says Tom, fighting his tears.

“Nonsense,” says Healing, replenishing Tom’s teacup. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than Sherlocking a dog and cat mystery.” He pauses. “Except romancing Desdemona Garcia, and she won’t have me.”

“She’s nuts,” says Tom, smiling for the first time since his arrival. “You’re the greatest.”

*

When he is quite convinced that Delmore is the same sweetie pie he’s always been, Healing arranges to come to Tom’s place in an hour or so, bids Tom and Delmore fond farewell, and goes to find Toulouse, the one of his four cats who is most comfortable consorting with the resident dogs.

He finds Toulouse, a small orange and white cat, perched on the windowsill in the living room watching nothing much happening on Nasturtium Road.

“Toulouse, mon petit chou,” says Healing, sitting on the big gray sofa and bringing Toulouse onto his lap. “Help refresh my memory regarding your psycho-physical connection to the dogs.”

Toulouse purrs loudly as Healing massages her, and when she is deep in a trance of pleasure, Healing makes an airy whistling sound to summon his dogs.

A few moments later the dogs enter the house through the open kitchen door and trot en masse into the living room. Toulouse opens her eyes when the dogs enter, yet never ceases to purr, even when Benito and Carla come close to receive little treats from Healing.

“You are to these guys what Kitty has always been to Delmore,” says Healing to Toulouse, continuing to pet him. “I wonder what changed her.”

Carla and Benito soon wander away to resume their outdoor activities, and Tarzan is about to follow them when Healing says, “Oh stay, Tar. Come closer and I’ll pet you.”

Tar is still wary of the resident felines, never having known a cat until he joined the household seven months ago. And the cats are much less trusting of Tarzan than they are of Carla and Benito with whom they have been consorting since the dogs were pups and they were kittens.

“Come on, Tar,” says Healing, continuing to pet Toulouse. “Don’t be afraid.”

And because he wants to please Healing, Tarzan overcomes his trepidation about getting too near the cat and comes closer.

When Tarzan’s snout is within a few inches of Toulouse, Healing feels the cat stiffen for a moment and then relax as the petting continues and the dog shows no interest in the cat.

“Trust,” says Healing, petting both Toulouse and Tarzan. “You each trust me, and through me, each other.”

*

Tom and Susan live four miles north of Mercy in a beautiful home on the dunes overlooking Four Mile Beach and the Pacific Ocean. A renowned photographer, Tom and his first wife Helen, an architect, built the house, raised their two daughters there, and when the girls went off to college, Helen filed for divorce and moved to Santa Fe.

Helen’s withdrawal from their marriage was a terrible shock to Tom and he was quite depressed for three years until he met Susan at a Photography workshop at which Tom was the main attraction. He fell madly in love with Susan who is nearly thirty years his junior, and to his amazement she fell in love with him, and now they’ve been married for seven years.

After a lengthy honeymoon in Europe, they returned to Mercy, got the puppy Delmore and the kitten Kitty, and zealously resumed their photography careers, Tom ever successful, Susan ever aspiring to be.

“They are not exactly peas in a pod,” says Healing, speaking to Benito who is riding shotgun in Healing’s little white pickup as they head north on the coast highway, the deep blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Benito always accompanies Healing when he goes places in his truck, which is not often since nearly everything Healing could ever want is within walking distance of their little old house on Nasturtium Road. “Yet I think they are quite happy together. Or they were. I haven’t seen much of them these last few years. They are frequent flyers, if you catch my drift.”

Benito looks at Healing and raises his right eyebrow, which he always does when he detects a trace of doubt in Healing’s voice.

*

Susan answers the gigantic front door of the spectacular house at the end of a short road intruding into the dunes. She is twenty-nine, the age of Healing’s daughter Tova who lives in Portland and is an actress and veterinarian’s assistant. Healing is rarely jealous of other people, nor is he inclined to pursue women vastly younger than he, but every time he encounters Susan, he experiences both a pang of jealousy and a gush of lust, for she is, as his British father likes to say of attractive women, one of your more glorious female types.

“Long time no see,” says Susan, her brown hair tumbling over her sleeveless red T-shirt and falling all the way to the unbelted waist of her faded blue jeans, her feet bare, her toenails painted red. “Stay for lunch?”

“Love to,” says Healing, laughing at his pounding heart. “I’ve got a dog in the truck. Benito. My little one. May I loose him to run around outside? I am told there is a ban on canines in the house.”

“No problem,” says Susan, giving Healing a searching look. “Kitty doesn’t leave the house anymore now that Delmore wants to kill her.”

“Surely you exaggerate,” says Healing, returning to his truck to let Benito out. “Kitty and Delmore have been lovebirds from the get go.”

“Not anymore,” says Susan, coming with him. “I’ve saved her from death several times now.”

Healing opens the passenger door of his truck and says to Benito, “Stick around the house, okay? You can’t come inside. We’ll take a walk on the beach after lunch.”

Benito jumps down from the truck, takes a sniff of Susan’s toes, and rushes off to find Delmore.

On their way back to the house, Susan says, “Do you know as much about cats as you do about dogs?”

“I know dogs are far more emotional than cats, much more like us humans,” says Healing, watching Delmore and Benito disappear around the far side of the house. “Dogs want each other, and in lieu of other dogs, they want a human or humans to bond with. Cats want meat and warmth and safety more than they want each other or humans. Cats stay with us because we feed them. Dogs stay with us because they identify with us.”

“I think Kitty identifies with me,” says Susan, opening the front door. “Or I identify with her.”

*

Healing and Tom and Susan have sandwiches at a table on the deck overlooking the beach, only a few people strolling on the vast expanse of sand.

After catching up on the latest photography news – Tom putting the finishing touches on a large-format book of photos of flowers growing in unlikely places, Susan making frequent trips to the south of France to chronicle the changing seasons there for a calendar company – Healing asks Susan for her side of the Kitty-Delmore conflict.

“When they were four,” says Susan, gazing intently at Healing, “right after Tom published his book of photos of them, Delmore became… aloof. Didn’t want to have anything to do with Kitty.”

Tom shakes his head. “That’s not true. I photographed them being lovey-dovey for two years after the book came out. For all the follow-up articles and calendars.”

“Rare moments,” says Susan, giving Tom a disparaging look. “You were always in a panic about getting enough shots for the calendars because they were so rarely together.”

Tom shakes his head again and resists his impulse to argue with her.

“And when did the actual fighting begin?” asks Healing, remembering the arguments he had with his wife during their brief marriage that produced their daughter Tova, his view of reality and his wife’s view of reality so entirely different, they often had no idea what the other person was talking about.

“The fighting began a few months after he started growling at her,” says Susan, glancing at Tom. “At first she didn’t react to his growling, but then she started hissing when he’d growl, and that made him lunge at her and she’d defend herself or run away.”

“I understand,” says Healing, nodding. “And when did he start growling at her?”

“I don’t know exactly,” says Susan, shrugging. “Maybe six or seven months ago?”

“Why did I never see any of this?” asks Tom, frowning at Susan. “I was the one who was here most of the time while you were in France or New York or London or Los Angeles. They may not have been lovebirds anymore, but they tolerated each other and still shared the sofa most evenings.”

“Not when I was here,” says Susan, shaking her head. “She didn’t want to be in the same room with him.”

“Might I have a visit with Kitty?” asks Healing, finding the tension between Tom and Susan hard to bear.

“She’s in there somewhere,” says Susan, gesturing toward the house.

“Probably in the living room,” says Tom, getting up from the table. “Shall we come with you?”

“Yes, please,” says Healing, looking at Susan. “I just want to refresh my memory about her.”

“Fine,” says Susan, petulantly. “And you’ll see the problem is the dog, not the cat.”

*

Kitty, a large gray tabby, is in the living room sitting sphinxlike on a sofa next to a large picture window with a view of the dunes. She looks up as Healing approaches, reaches her paws out in front of her, extends her claws, and arches her back in anticipation of him petting her, which he always has in the past.

“You remember me,” says Healing, speaking quietly as he pets Kitty before sitting down next to her, which prompts her to climb onto his lap and roll onto her back exposing her tummy, which Healing gently rubs.

“Hold that pose,” says Tom, going to get his camera.

Susan watches Tom depart and says with mild disdain, “He who takes pictures of everything.”

“You don’t?” asks Healing, innocently.

Susan shakes her head. “As Tom likes to say, there are two kinds of photographers. Those who take pictures wherever they are, and those who go places to take pictures of things they’ve decided in advance to take pictures of. He is the former, I am the latter.”

Tom returns with a camera and gets lost in shooting pictures of Healing and Kitty.

“Join me?” says Healing, bouncing his eyebrows at Susan.

“Must I?” she says, pleased he asked.

“You must,” he says, nodding.

So she sits next to him, puts her arms around him, and gazes seductively into the lens of Tom’s camera.

“Fabulous,” says Tom, clicking away.

“And now with your permission,” says Healing, growing serious, “may we bring Delmore in?”

Susan stiffens and pulls away. “Absolutely not.”

“But honey,” begins Tom, “we need…”

“I will not have that dog in the house ever again.” She gets up from the sofa and glares at Healing. “He terrorizes the cat. What’s the point?”

  “The point,” says Healing, speaking quietly, “is for me to see how the cat and dog relate to each other.”

“They will fight,” says Susan, clenching her fists. “And she will run away.”

“I promise they won’t fight,” says Healing, calmly. “I promise.”

“You’re insane,” says Susan, walking out of the living room and down the hall to her studio. “And I won’t help you torture sweet Kitty.”

When Susan’s studio door slams, Tom says, “Maybe you should go, Healing. This isn’t helping.”

“Tom, please,” says Healing, feeling sure they’re on the verge of solving the mystery. “Bring Delmore in. Not Benito. Just your dog.”

Tom gazes forlornly in the direction of Susan’s studio and says, “Okay.”

*

Alone with Kitty, Healing whispers to her, “Your old friend Delmore is coming to see you now. Good old Delmore.”

Now Tom returns with Delmore on a short leash. “Here we are.”

“Release him, please,” says Healing, and Tom does so.

“Now what?” asks Tom, fearing the worst.

“Take pictures,” says Healing, continuing to caress Kitty.

“Will do,” says Tom, raising his camera to his eye.

“Come here, Del,” says Healing to the dog. “Come say hi to Kitty.”

Delmore approaches cautiously, his last interaction with Kitty catastrophic, and Healing feels Kitty stiffen as the dog comes closer, though not nearly as much as Healing thought she might. And while Healing continues to pet Kitty, she raises her face to Delmore as she has a thousand times before, and the sweet dog oh so delicately touches his nose to hers, and never does she stop purring.

*

Susan returns to the living room as Tom is shepherding Delmore to the front door and Healing is following with Kitty cradled in his arms; and when Delmore sees Susan, he gives her a baleful look and growls, to which Kitty responds by hissing.

*

Two months later, on a cold clear morning in mid-December, Healing and his dogs are walking on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River, the dogs off leash, when who should they meet but Tom and Delmore.

The dogs greet Delmore by frolicking around him, and when Tom falls in with Healing, the four dogs run off in pursuit of gulls.

“What news?” asks Healing, bumping shoulders with his old friend. “How go things between Kitty and Delmore these days?”

“They are pals again,” says Tom, taking a deep breath. “And Susan is now settled in her new digs in Los Angeles, divorce proceedings underway.”

“You okay?”

“I’m sad,” says Tom, nodding. “But I’m also relieved.” He scrunches up his cheeks. “I don’t want to make Susan the villain, which she’s not, but…” He struggles to find the words.

“She’s someone who goes places to take pictures of things she decided in advance to take pictures of,” says Healing, raising his arms to the sky. “Which is not at all the kind of person you are.”

“Indeed,” says Tom, taking pictures of Healing and the crashing waves and the marvelous dogs racing across the sand.

fin

Broke My Heart piano solo

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Lisa

Healing Weintraub has lived in the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California for his entire life and has been the manager of Good Groceries for the last twelve of his fifty-seven years. He was married briefly when he was in his late twenties, which marriage produced his daughter Tova who Healing raised with lots of help from his parents and no help from Tova’s mother who fled Mercy when Tova was eleven-months-old and has never been heard from again. Tova is now twenty-nine and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Healing’s parents, Naomi and Ezra, met in San Francisco, both having come from England to California to partake of the cultural renaissance known as The Sixties. Ezra lived in a Haight-Ashbury commune and worked as a gardener and dog walker. Naomi lived in a commune on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley and sold her jewelry and batik scarves on Telegraph Avenue. They met at a potluck in Golden Gate Park, fell in love before ever speaking to each other, and were astonished to discover they were both from Oxford, England, both were Jewish, and both wanted to live far from the madding crowd.

Six months later, Naomi and Ezra were married in a quasi-Buddhist ceremony on Mount Tamalpais, after which they drove north in Ezra’s Volkswagen van, broke down in Mercy, and stayed here for forty years until Naomi inherited her parents’ house in Oxford along with a tidy sum of money, which prompted their return to England where their daughter Jean, Healing’s older sister, lives in Devon with her archaeologist husband and two children and raises Schnauzers.

Healing stayed in Mercy because, as he said to his parents when they beseeched him to move with Tova back to England with them, “There is nowhere else on earth I would rather be than here. Yes, America has gone insane, but Mercy, thank goodness, is not America.”

*

The big (relative term) grocery store in Mercy is Walker’s, a fine store where most Mercy residents and most Mercy tourists get their groceries and booze and fish and meat and junk food. However, when it comes to organic produce, much of it locally grown, and organic bulk foods and the very best herbs and spices, Good Groceries is the place where locals who care about such things go shopping.

And though he enjoys his job at Good Groceries and loves his fellow employees, Healing would quit the job in a minute if he had a cool million in the bank. However, he doesn’t have even a tepid ten thousand in Mercy Savings and so has no intention of quitting his job.

*

“Crazy weekend,” says Brenda, standing next to Healing as they restock the vegetable shelves together on a cold Monday morning in September.

Brenda is one of the fifteen full-time employees of Good Groceries, a worker-owned co-op started in the 1970s by four escapees from Los Angeles. A beautiful Latina in her twenties, Brenda’s work outfit consists of a battered gray Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a dark blue T-shirt, baggy brown corduroy trousers, and red running shoes, her curly black hair tied in a ponytail.

“Do tell,” says Healing, dressed in faded blue overalls and a black San Francisco Giants sweatshirt, his British accent capricious.

“The moment I got here on Saturday morning, people started dropping things,” says Brenda, arraying gorgeous heads of butter lettuce from Middle Ridge Garden. “First it was customers dropping avocados and spilling rice from the bulk bin, and then that guy who makes those nut bars that always fall apart so people want their money back?”

“Arnold Bickerstaff,” says Healing, pleased with the zucchini they got in this morning from Lacewing Farm.

“Yeah, that guy,” says Brenda, rolling her eyes. “He came in for his weekly supply of nuts and the bottom fell out of one of his shopping bags and walnuts went everywhere, and when Magdalena came running to sweep them up she ran into Sara, not the Sara who teaches Pilates but the Sara who reads Tarot cards? And that Sara grabbed onto the honey shelf to keep from falling and she knocked down five big jars of honey and three broke and there was honey all over the floor and the walnuts.” Brenda gives Healing a look of retroactive dismay. “And that was just the beginning of what happened on Saturday, and Sunday was crazy, too.”

“Holy moly,” says Healing, glad he doesn’t work weekends anymore. “Thank goodness no one was hurt.”

“I mopped over there again this morning,” says Brenda, placing the last head of lettuce on the shelf. “And the floor was still a little sticky.”

“Excuse me,” says a short plump woman wearing an expensive brown suit, yellow shirt, and burgundy tie, her gray hair cut in a boyish bob, her accent faintly German, her eyes obscured by enormous dark glasses. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m looking for Healing Weintraub.”

“You have found him,” says Healing, smiling at his twin reflections in the lenses of the woman’s dark glasses. “How may I assist you?”

“My name is Margaret Schlesinger. My friend Mitzi Goldsmith suggested I consult with you about my dog.”

Healing extracts a business card from his wallet and hands it to her. “Please give me a call. I’ll be home this evening and look forward to hearing from you.”

“Thank you,” says Margaret, frowning at the handmade card – Healing’s name written in uneven block letters, each letter a different color, each digit of his phone number a different color, too. “I apologize for disturbing you here, but Mitzi didn’t have your phone number with her. We were just at the bakery and she said you worked here. I’m quite desperate about my dog Lisa. The vets could do nothing for her. Please forgive me.”

“Nothing to forgive,” says Healing, reassuringly. “I’m glad you found me.”

When Margaret is gone, Brenda says, “I wonder what kind of dog she has.”

“What kind do you imagine?” asks Healing, resuming his careful stacking of the zucchini.

“A fat little bulldog,” says Brenda, laughing. “I know that’s not nice, but that’s what I imagine.”

*

As it happens, Margaret’s dog Lisa is not fat or little or a bulldog, but a medium-sized shepherd mix with a dark gray coat splashed with black and white. Healing guesses Lisa is half Australian Shepherd, quarter German Shepherd, and quarter some sort of spaniel. He makes this guess as he comes down the four stairs from the front porch of his little old house on Nasturtium Road to greet Margaret and Lisa who have just arrived on this cold foggy Saturday morning in Margaret’s shiny green Volvo.

“Welcome,” says Healing, pleased to see Lisa wagging her tail as he approaches them. “How are you this morning, Margaret?”

“Not good,” she says, wearing her dark glasses despite the fog. “She didn’t eat a thing this morning. I’m so afraid I’ll lose her.”

“I understand,” says Healing, nodding sympathetically. “As I mentioned to you, I have three friendly dogs, and with your permission I’d like to see how Lisa interacts with them.”

“Yes, of course,” says Margaret, wearing a fine gray suit today, her shirt pale blue, her tie emerald green. “Mitzi told me a little about how you helped her dog Lucille.”

“Ah yes. Lucille who had the habit of nipping at the heels of delivery people,” says Healing, offering Lisa the back of his hand to sniff.

Lisa licks Healing’s hand and smiles at him, and Healing rewards her with a delicious little treat she happily gobbles.

“Mitzi said you cured Lucille in one visit,” says Margaret, clipping a leash to Lisa’s collar. “Oh if only you could do that for my Lisa.”

Healing squats beside the dog and whispers, “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. We’ll figure things out. Come meet my dogs.”

Keeping Lisa close, Margaret follows Healing to the gate leading into his deer-fenced backyard, and on the way Margaret espies two of Healing’s cats sitting on the inside ledge of the big picture window in the living room.

“I see you are a cat person, too,” says Margaret, disdainfully. “I don’t like cats. I find them diffident.”

“You would not find three of my four diffident,” says Healing, glancing at the window to see which ones are there — Mongo and Toulouse. “But one of the four, Justine, is extremely standoffish. She was feral for some years before coming to live with us and she may never trust anyone but me, and me only somewhat.”

“Do you have any other animals in your menagerie?” asks Margaret, sounding sarcastic, though Healing doubts she intends to sound that way.

“I do,” says Healing, pleased she used menagerie, which is one of his mother’s favorite words. “Three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens along with my four cats and three dogs.”

Healing opens the gate and reveals those three dogs sitting on their haunches some thirty feet away and waiting impatiently. They are Benito, a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Tarzan, a big four-year-old silver gray Siberian Husky Golden Lab, and Carla, a five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur, by far the largest of the three.

“You say they are friendly?” asks Margaret, her voice shaking. “I got Lisa from the pound when she was ten-months-old. She was starving and terrified of other dogs. Now she is three and has had virtually nothing to do with other dogs since then.”

“My pooches are exceedingly friendly,” says Healing, holding up a hand to tell his dogs not to approach yet. “May I handle Lisa now?”

“Yes, of course,” says Margaret, surrendering the leash to him.

“Those are my dogs,” says Healing, touching the top of Lisa’s head as he speaks to her. “They are very much looking forward to meeting you, and I gather the feeling is mutual.”

Lisa gives a little shiver to say Yes.

“Go meet your new friends,” he says, unleashing her.

Lisa walks slowly toward the waiting dogs and Healing gestures for them to approach her — Carla the first to touch noses with Lisa, Benito second, Tarzan last, after which the requisite sniffing begins.

*

When the dogs are comfortable with each other, Healing says to Margaret, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea and some chocolate chip cookies I made this morning? Get out of the cold?”

“Can Lisa come in with us?” asks Margaret, alarmed by the invitation.

“Of course,” says Healing, leading the way to the deck on the east side of his house. “My dogs love being by the fire after our first walk of the day.”

“How many times a day do you walk them?” asks Margaret, watching Lisa follow Tarzan into Healing’s big vegetable garden.

“At least twice,” says Healing, going up the two steps onto the spacious deck. “And one of those is usually a beach walk.”

“Lisa, come here,” says Margaret with a touch of hysteria in her voice. “We’re going inside to get warm.”

“Oh they’ll come in on their own,” says Healing, opening the kitchen door. “We’ll leave the door open for them.”

“Lisa!” shouts Margaret, ignoring Healing’s suggestion. “Come here. Now! You’re not well. We don’t want you catching a chill.”

And seeing how distraught Margaret is, Healing makes an airy whistling sound and the dogs come running.

*

With Carla and Benito and Tarzan and Lisa happily ensconced on the living room rug, the fire crackling, Margaret sits stiffly on the edge of an armchair and watches Healing set a tray on the coffee table in front of her, a tray laden with a pot of strong black tea, two teacups on saucers, and a plate piled high with cookies.

“What do you take in your tea?” asks Healing, his British accent always more pronounced at teatime. “Milk? Cream? Sugar? Honey?”

“Sugar and cream,” says Margaret, eating three cookies in quick succession. “Forgive me for being so anxious, but I’ve been terribly worried about Lisa and haven’t been sleeping well, and… anyway, thank you for meeting with us today.”

Healing fetches a little pitcher of cream and a bowl of sugar. “Of course you’re anxious. You’re worried about your friend.”

Margaret puts four heaping spoonsful of sugar into her tea and adds a splash of cream. “So you are a baker, too.” She gobbles three more cookies, takes another cookie, and settles in the armchair with her tea. “Delicious. Thank you.”

“Tell me about Lisa,” says Healing, who doubts Margaret is aware she just ate six cookies and is now swallowing her seventh.

Margaret gulps her tea as if dying of thirst and leans forward to refill her cup. “May I?” she asks, pouring the tea without waiting for an answer. “Such good tea. You must tell me where you got it. And these cookies are fantastic.”

When she is settled in the armchair again, three more cookies eaten, her second cup of tea nearly gone, Margaret says, “I got Lisa two years ago, just two months after my partner Denise died. We were together for twenty-seven years. I’m sixty-four.” She takes off her dark glasses and Healing sees her whole face for the first time, her eyes light blue. “We always had a dog, sometimes two, but when the last one died the year before Denise died we didn’t get another one because she was too ill and I was consumed with taking care of her.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” says Healing, bowing his head.

“Thank you,” says Margaret, fighting her tears. “Might I trouble you for some more tea? This is so delicious.”

“I will make a fresh pot,” says Healing, carrying the tray of tea things to the kitchen and leaving behind the cookie plate with a solitary cookie remaining. “Please continue. I can hear you perfectly well from the kitchen.”

“Well,” says Margaret, smiling at Lisa sprawled on the rug next to Tarzan, “when I got Lisa from the pound she was so skinny you could see her ribs, and oh my God you should have seen her eat those first few months. And she grew strong and healthy again, and her recovery was my recovery, if you understand what I mean.”

“I do,” says Healing, returning with a fresh pot of tea and another plate of cookies, the first plate empty now. “Dogs heal us and we heal them. I believe dogs and humans evolved together for that purpose.”

Margaret fills her cup with tea, adds four heaping spoonsful of sugar and a splash of cream, eats two more cookies, and takes another cookie with her as she resettles in the armchair.

“But after a year of so,” she says sadly, “most of the time when I would go to feed her there would still be food left in her bowl, which never happened during the first year. No. Never. That first year when I ate, she ate. I thought she might be tired of the food I was giving her, so I got a different kind, and for a few days she went back to eating all her food, but soon again she would leave some. And then…” She pauses momentously. “Then she stopped eating any food in the morning and I knew something must be wrong with her, so I took her to the vet. They did a blood analysis and said she had low iron, so I switched to an iron-rich food, but it didn’t help. And now…” She pauses again. “Now she only eats once a day in the evening, and even then not very much for a dog her size.”

“Extraordinary,” says Healing, looking at Lisa and thinking Come here, cutie.

Lisa looks up at Healing and he says aloud, “Come here, darling.”

She comes to him and he picks her up and cradles her in his arms and smiles down at her as she smiles up at him.

“That’s amazing,” says Margaret, making herself another cup of tea with heaps of sugar. “She would never let me hold her like that even if I could, but I’m not nearly as strong as you are.”

Healing sets Lisa on the sofa beside him and she jumps down to resume her closeness with Tarzan, wrestling with him a little before shutting her eyes to take a little snooze.

“So… what is your assessment of her?” asks Margaret, eating two more cookies and settling back with her tea.

“I think she is a marvelous dog,” says Healing, choosing his words carefully. “Healthy and happy. You’ve taken wonderful care of her. I think what is going on springs from your misunderstanding of the kind of dog she is. I don’t know if your previous dogs were shepherds, and if they were perhaps Denise took care of them more than you did. In any case, once this kind of dog is full grown, they tend to be very self-regulating when it comes to eating, and they only need to eat once a day, not counting the occasional little doggy treat, and by little I mean a single nugget once or twice in the course of a day. But because Lisa was starving when you first got her, and because she was still growing, she ate voraciously until she attained her healthy weight, after which she began eating only enough to maintain her weight, and that is what she continues to do now that she is full grown. This is what I think is going on.”

Margaret gazes open-mouthed at Healing. “Are you telling me there’s nothing wrong with her?”

“Nothing at all. Except…”

“Yes?” says Margaret, expectantly.

“I think she could use more exercise, perhaps more than you are prepared to give her.” Healing waits a moment for this to sink in. “Where do you live, Margaret?”

“In Southport,” she says, breathlessly.

“And you come into town how often each week?”

“Three or four times.”

“Then I propose you bring Lisa here on days you come to town and she can join my dogs for our longest walk of the day, which during the week will either be before I go to work in the morning or after I get home in the afternoon. On weekends we usually take our big walks mid-morning. She’ll get good exercise and get to socialize, too, which is what dogs need in order to stay physically and emotionally healthy. And of course you are welcome to join us.”

“Are you sure?” says Margaret, trembling. “That seems a great imposition on you.”

“Not at all,” says Healing, loving the sight of Tarzan and Lisa resting side by side. “Tar joined our family six months ago and has been longing for a special friend. He and Lisa are obviously smitten with each other, so you would be doing us a great favor if you brought Lisa to walk with us a few times a week.”

*

And that is how Lisa and Margaret came to be regular visitors at the little old house on Nasturtium Road, and why Carla and Benito and Tarzan think of Lisa as a member of the pack, especially Tarzan who is in love with her, as she is in love with him.

fin

Always Love guitar/cello/vocals

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Healing Weintraub

Healing Weintraub has a way with dogs, and he’s good with cats, too. A lifelong resident of Mercy, a small town on the far north coast of California, Healing is fifty-seven, not quite six-feet-tall, and has short brown hair going gray. He makes his living as the manager of Good Groceries, a small worker-owned food cooperative.

When not working at Good Groceries, Healing can usually be found on his two-acre property at the south end of town where he lives in a hundred-year-old house and has two dogs, four cats, three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens. He takes his dogs on walks twice a day, sings in the community choir, plays the accordion, works in his big vegetable and flower garden, and gently pursues Desdemona Garcia, who works at the bookstore and adores Healing, but can’t imagine being in a relationship with him.

Another thing Healing likes to do is help people with their dogs, and vice-versa, and thereby hangs this tale.

*

On a sunny Sunday morning in July, Healing leashes his dogs Benito and Carla and takes them for a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, a patchwork of little old houses and newer mansions. Healing’s house on Nasturtium Road is one of the little old houses, a two-bedroom bungalow wherein both Healing and his older sister Jean were born and raised, and Healing’s daughter Tova, his child from a long ago marriage, was also born and raised. Tova now lives in Portland, Oregon where she is a veterinarian’s assistant and actress.

Benito is a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Carla a large five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur. Both Benito and Carla know Healing has a dog consultation later today, and they know this because they listened intently to Healing speaking on the phone yesterday with a woman who wanted to bring her dog to meet Healing, the conversation ending with Healing saying, “Good. Then we’ll see you and Tarzan tomorrow.”

When they reach the edge of the bustling commercial district of Mercy, Benito and Carla and Healing turn around and head for home via the overgrown dirt and gravel track known to locals as Nameless Alley, a fabulous place to pick blackberries in August. And knowing the dogs are curious about the upcoming consultation, Healing tells them what he knows so far.

“His name is Tarzan,” says Healing, speaking with a trace of the British accent he inherited from his very British parents. “He’s a four-year-old Siberian Husky Golden Lab. His primary human, a young man named Brian, went off to college a year ago and left Tarzan behind. Brian is the only child of Joan, an interior decorator, and Larry, a venture capitalist. They live in a fancy neighborhood in San Rafael and now that Brian is gone they’ve hired someone to take Tarzan for a run every morning. Otherwise Tarzan just mopes around in the backyard. Joan told me that a year ago Tarzan started barking and growling at Larry whenever he sees him, and Larry is furious about the situation and wants to have Tarzan put to sleep.”

Benito frowns at Healing to say Larry bad, and Carla makes a whimpering sound to agree with Benito.

*

Later that morning, Joan and Larry arrive at Healing’s place in a silver Mercedes station wagon, and Healing goes to greet them. Joan is in her forties, a platinum blonde wearing dark glasses and a silky purple blouse and blue jeans. Larry is in his fifties, chubby and balding and wearing a crimson Harvard sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice,” says Joan, shaking hands with Healing.

“You’re very welcome,” says Healing, offering his hand to Larry. “Thanks for making the long drive.”

“Long drive is right,” says Larry, giving Healing’s hand a cursory shake. “Four hours to get to the middle of nowhere.”

“Having lived here all my life,” says Healing, laughing, “I tend to think of Mercy as the center of the universe.”

Larry snorts. “And you purport to know what dogs are thinking?”

“I purport to understand dogs,” says Healing, not at all surprised by Larry’s skepticism. “I was born into a family of four humans, counting me, and five dogs my mother and father and sister related to as equals, so I’ve always related to dogs that way, too. If you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” says Larry, shaking his head. “We only got this one because our son was depressed and the psychologist thought a dog might help. He loved the puppy, but after the dog wasn’t a puppy anymore, the depression came back. Meds finally fixed it and now he’s in college and we’re stuck with the dog.”

“Angela said you helped her so much with… oh…” Joan grimaces at not remembering Angela’s dog’s name. “Her dog.”

“Herzog,” says Healing, smiling at memories of the affable pooch. “A charming bull terrier cocker spaniel.”

“He barked all the time,” says Joan, smiling obsequiously at Larry. “And after Healing worked with him he didn’t bark so much.”

“Barking is not the main problem with this one,” says Larry, sneering at the car wherein waits Tarzan. “He’s vicious.”

“Can’t wait to meet him,” says Healing, moving to the back of the car. “Shall we?”

“He doesn’t like strangers,” says Larry, lifting the rear door and revealing Tarzan, a large silver gray dog sequestered in a travel cage too small for him.

Tarzan growls ominously and Larry backs away.

“I’ll get him out,” says Joan, showing little fear of the dog. “We don’t know why, but for some reason he started growling at Larry.”

“He growls at everybody,” says Larry, glaring at Joan. “Not just me.”

Joan opens the door of the cage and clips a short black leash to Tarzan’s collar – the dog baring his teeth at Larry.

“Look at him,” says Larry, backing further away. “He’s a psycho. This is stupid. We should just have him put down.”

“Hello Tar,” says Healing, speaking quietly to the dog. “I’m Healing. Very glad to meet you.”

Tarzan looks at Healing and his snarl subsides into a solemn gaze.

“Shall I bring him out now?” asks Joan, anxiously.

“I’ll do,” says Healing, taking the leash from her.

“I’m warning you,” says Larry, pointing at Healing. “He hates strangers, especially men.”

“Hey Tar,” says Healing, speaking soothingly to the dog. “Aren’t you beautiful. Yes you are.”

Healing gives the leash a light tug and Tarzan moves out of his cage and jumps to the ground where he gently takes a treat from Healing’s hand.

“We’re good now,” says Healing, placing a hand on Tarzan’s head and turning to Joan. “There’s a nice café five blocks from here. Café Brava. If you’ll leave Tarzan with me for an hour we’ll get things figured out.”

“How much is this gonna cost?” asks Larry, amazed by Healing’s ease with Tarzan.

“Nothing,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I don’t do this for money.”

What?” says Larry, grimacing at Joan. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“I didn’t know,” says Joan, fearfully. “I’m sorry, dear. I honestly didn’t know.”

*

After Larry and Joan drive away, Healing leads Tarzan through a gate into the backyard where Benito and Carla await them.

“Tar,” says Healing, stroking the dog as he unleashes him, “the big girl is Carla, the little fellow Benito. They’re both very nice and eager to meet you.”

Tarzan bristles as Carla approaches, for she is larger than he.

Carla wags her tail and smiles as she comes near, and Tarzan ceases to bristle.

Now Benito rubs noses with Tarzan, and after a bit more sniffing of Carla and Benito, and they of him, Tarzan understands that Benito and Carla are the owners of this place and are fine with him visiting.

“Let’s show Tar the pond,” says Healing, gesturing for the dogs to come with him.

As is his custom, Benito races ahead while Carla walks beside Healing on his right, and Tarzan walks on Healing’s left.

They traverse the vegetable garden and enter a grove of sixty-year-old Japanese maples surrounding a large pond from which Carla and Benito drink.

Tarzan walks to the water’s edge and gazes in wonder at the sparkling pool before tasting the delicious water.

Healing sits on a wooden bench and holds out his hand to Tarzan. “Tell us about your life, Tar. We want to know all about you.”

Tarzan comes to Healing, and Healing asks, “Did Larry hurt you?”

Tarzan gazes forlornly at Healing and sighs profoundly.

Healing rests his hand on Tarzan’s head and senses the dog’s anguish and exhaustion from living in constant fear of Larry.

“Lonely without Brian?” asks Healing, stroking the dog’s back.

Tarzan barely reacts to the name Brian, and Healing understands that even before Brian went away, Tarzan was neglected and afraid.

Now Carla approaches Tarzan and caresses his snout with hers, and Tarzan makes a low moaning sound that speaks of his life with a woman who doesn’t like him and a man who hates him.

*

When Larry and Joan return to Healing’s house, they find Healing waiting for them on his front porch without Tarzan.

“Where’s the dog?” asks Larry, grimly.

“He’s in the backyard with my dogs,” says Healing, coming down the stairs. “I think he’s a good dog and I would very much like to have him if you will give him to me. I don’t think he can be happy with you in the absence of your son or another dog, and I don’t imagine you want another dog.”

“He’s so lonely,” says Joan, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes,” says Healing, knowing she is speaking of herself, too.

“You want him?” asks Larry, gaping at Healing.

“I do,” says Healing, nodding. “Very much.”

“Great,” says Larry, clapping his hands. “Now that was unexpected.” He beams at Healing. “What a relief. I didn’t really want to put him down, but things were getting untenable. I insist on giving you some money. He costs a small fortune to feed.” Larry laughs. “This is so great. Thank you.”

*

And that is how Tarzan came to live with Healing and Carla and Benito in the little old house on Nasturtium Road.

fin

On the Way Home piano/cello duet

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Author Interview

Interviewer: Aren’t you afraid the title of your new collection of stories Why Are You Here? might be a bit overwhelming to prospective readers? The magnitude of the question?

Todd: The title is not Why Are You Here? The title is Why You Are Here, and it is not a question.

Interviewer: Oh. Wow. Somehow my brain flipped those two words around and made it a question. Ah. Now I see. So… Why You Are Here. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit presumptuous suggesting you know why we are here?

Todd: Why You Are Here is the title of one of the stories in the collection, and the title of that story comes from something one of the characters in the story says.

Interviewer: What does the character say?

Todd: He says to another character, “How marvelous it must be to know why you are here.”

Interviewer: Why does he say that? Because the other character claims to know why he’s here?

Todd: The short answer is Yes.

Interviewer: What’s the long answer?

Todd: The long answer is… why not read the story?

Interviewer: How can I get a copy?

Todd: Handsome paperbacks can be ordered from any bookstore in the world, including your favorite actual bookstore. And there are many online booksellers offering the handsome paperback and nifty E-book editions. I will append some handy links.

Interviewer: Excellent.

Todd: If you enjoy the stories, I hope you will rate Why You Are Here and other stories and consider posting a review, even just a line or two.

Interviewer: For instance?

Todd: For instance, five stars would be good, and something like… These enchanting tales will change your life in the best of ways.

Interviewer: Can that be true?

Todd: The short answer is Yes.

Handsome Paperback Links

Alibris (14.55)

Bookshop (16.95, supports actual bookstores)

Barnes & Noble (16.95)

Amazon (16.95)

Nifty E-Book links (5.99 from all sellers)

Apple Books

Google Play

Amazon Kindle

Nook Book

Kobo Books

Post a Review at Goodreads

Thanks Muchisimo!

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Todd’s New Book

Dear Friends

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book Why You Are Here and other stories — fifteen tales of self-discovery, love, survival, friendship, creativity, and the quest for meaningful ways to spend this precious life. Set in the town of Mercy on the north coast of California, these stories may be read as stand-alone creations or as interconnected tales. The stories in Why You Are Here and other stories first appeared on my blog and were refined for this collection.

Reader reviews and readers telling friends about the book constitute the entirety of my sophisticated sales strategy. So if you do get a copy of Why You Are Here and other stories and enjoy the collection, it would be fabuloso if you would write a rave review, even just a line or two, and/or rate the book, and tell your friends. If you order the collection from a bookstore or a site that doesn’t post reviews, Goodreads would be a great place to rate the book and post a review.

Handsome paperbacks with a gorgeous cover featuring a photograph I took of a crashing wave may be ordered through Your Favorite Local Bookstore or purchased online. Below are links to online stores selling the paperback and E-book editions.

Links for Handsome Paperbacks

Alibris ($14.55 and accepts reviews)

Bookshop ($16.95 and gives portion of sales to support actual bookstores)

Barnes & Noble ($16.95 and accepts reviews)

Amazon (price varies, accepts reviews)

­Links for E-book editions

Apple Books ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Barnes & Noble Nook Book ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Amazon Kindle ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Google Play ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Kobo Books ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Many Thanks!

Todd

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Speak Your Feelings

When I was eighteen, I began doing daily writing exercises of my own invention with the goal of becoming a good enough writer to one day sell stories to magazines and possibly publish a novel. I was going to college at the time, 1967, and the main obstacle to my writing practice was that I was going to college, which only allowed me an hour or so a day for my writing, the rest of my time taken up with classes, reading, playing basketball, searching for food, tossing the Frisbee, and wooing fair maidens.

One evening my eccentric and unpredictable roommate looked up from the math proof he was working on and asked, “Will you read me what you wrote today?”

Prior to this request, he had seemed indifferent to my writing practice, and though I was somewhat suspicious of his request (he was majoring in Sarcasm), I acquiesced and read him a few pages of a quasi-story about a persnickety young man who was unsure of how to dress for a party at which he hoped to impress a particular fair maiden.

My roommate closed his eyes and seemed to go to sleep, and I marveled at how different the words I’d written sounded when read aloud, as if I’d never heard the words before, which, in fact, I hadn’t.

And from that moment on, I made it my practice to read aloud every draft of everything I wrote, a practice that greatly improved my writing.

As for my roommate, he opened his eyes at the conclusion of my little story and declared, “That was based on me, wasn’t it? I do make a fuss about which shirt to wear.”

Wait! Don’t Go a very sh0rt little movie by Todd