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The Same Woman (Yvonne)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before.

The first time they met was in elementary school in 1955. The second time they met was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. And starting in 1966 they were in a relationship that lasted a year until she—her name was Laura then—left him for someone else.

In December of 1969, shortly after Andrew turns twenty-one, the first draft lottery takes place in America and he draws number 344, which means he no longer has to be in college to avoid being sent to the war in Vietnam. However, one of Andrew’s very best friends, Cal, draws number 3 and is certain to be drafted even if he manages to get into graduate school.

When Cal is denied conscientious objector status, he decides to move to Canada rather than go to prison or Vietnam. Cal has a cousin who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia who agrees to house Cal until he gets settled in Canada. Cal asks Andrew to drive him to Vancouver and they leave California for British Columbia in June of 1970, just a few days after they graduate from UC Santa Cruz, Cal with a degree in Philosophy, Andrew with a degree in Drama.

Funded by Cal’s parents, they rent a big orange van to carry Cal’s books and records and clothing and musical instruments, including two guitars, an electric bass, an amplifier, and a drum kit. They stay in motels, eat in diners, and make the trip to Vancouver in four days.

By 1970 the Canadian government is no longer making it problematic for American draft evaders to move to Canada, so Cal and Andrew have no trouble entering the country.

Cal’s cousin Frank and Frank’s wife Jean live in a small house in a suburb of Vancouver. They are both in their early thirties, Frank a surveyor, Jean a piano teacher, and Jean is pregnant with their first child. They are not thrilled about sharing their house with Cal, but they are thrilled about the thousand dollars a month Cal’s parents are giving them for as long as Cal lives with them.

On the evening of their second day in Vancouver, a few days before Andrew is planning to head back to California, Cal and Andrew go to a pub called Angel Alley in downtown Vancouver to hear a lineup of local musicians. The drinking age was recently lowered to 18 in British Columbia, and the place is mobbed with college kids and hipsters.

Cal, who has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was eleven, is keen to explore the music scene in Vancouver. Andrew took up the guitar after his relationship with Laura ended three and a half years ago, and with Cal as his teacher he has gotten quite good.

So…

After a middle-aged woman does a fair imitation of Judy Collins singing Joni Mitchell songs, and three earnest fellows cover Dylan and The Beatles, a young woman takes the stage with her guitar and stands a few feet away from the microphone as she waits to be introduced.

Andrew looks at the young woman and his jaw drops because as far as he’s concerned she is none other than Laura, the great love of his life who jilted him three and a half years ago and moved to England with her new partner—yet here she is in Angel Alley about to perform.

“That’s Laura,” says Andrew, nudging Cal who is conversing with a gal at the adjoining table. “Has to be.”

Cal turns to Andrew. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“Look,” says Andrew, pointing at the stage. “Tell me that isn’t Laura.”

“Sure looks like her,” says Cal, studying the lovely woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white blouse and black slacks and standing at ease with her guitar. “I thought she was in England.”

“Last I heard she was,” says Andrew, his heart pounding. “Three years five months and two weeks ago. But this is definitely Laura. Who else could she be?”

“I didn’t know Laura played guitar,” says Cal, trying to discern the make of her reddish brown parlor guitar.

“She didn’t,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But neither did I until she left.”

Now a big burly fellow with spiky gray hair steps up to the microphone and says, “Without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce Yvonne Garnier.” 

Loud applause and whistling fill the air as the woman steps to the microphone and begins to play and sing. Her voice to Andrew’s ears is Laura’s voice, a sweet woman’s tenor, and he cannot hold back his tears.

When she finishes her first song, Cal whispers to Andrew, “She’s fantastic, but I don’t think she’s Laura.”

“Why? Because she changed her name?” asks Andrew, certain she is his lost love.

“No,” says Cal, putting his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Because this woman has been playing guitar since she was a kid. I’ll bet you anything.”

After a scintillating set of original songs and a few folk classics, Yvonne leaves the stage to thunderous applause and many of those in attendance head for home.

The bartender calls “Forty minutes to closing,” and Andrew and Cal shift their chairs to join the two women and a man—Terry, Sheila, and Chas—at the adjoining table, Terry of great interest to Cal and vice-versa.

“So are you moving to Canada, too?” asks Chas, directing his question at Andrew.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” says Andrew, still under the spell of seeing Laura again. “I got a very high draft number and I’m hoping to get into grad school one of these days, but I am loving it here, so you never know.”

“And he’s gonna visit me often,” says Cal, his eyes full of tears. “Aren’t you, A?”

“Much as I can,” he replies. “Much as I can.”

Now the woman Andrew thinks is Laura emerges from backstage and comes to join them because Terry and Sheila are her best friends, and Chas has been her devoted fan for years.

Chas rises to give Yvonne a kiss on the cheek and Terry says, “Fantastic Evie. You just get better and better.”

“Thanks,” says Yvonne, turning to Cal and Andrew. “Who are these hunks?”

“I’m Cal,” says Cal, shaking her hand. “And this is Andrew. I’m just moving to Vancouver and Andrew drove me up from California.”

“Why don’t you move here, too?” says Yvonne, shaking Andrew’s hand.

“No good reason,” says Andrew, barely able to breathe.

“At least come to my birthday party before you go back,” she says, sitting down to have a beer. “My twenty-first. Day after tomorrow. At my mother’s farm. You’ll love it. Say yes.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, laughing to keep from crying. “Of course.”

But he almost doesn’t go to Yvonne’s party because in the half-hour he spends with her in Angel Alley, he falls in love with her again—or discovers he is still in love with her—and he can’t bear the thought of her breaking his heart again.

The night before the party, he and Cal go out for fish and chips at a place Frank and Jean recommend.

“Using linear logic,” says Andrew to Cal, “I know Yvonne is not Laura. But every cell in my body tells me she is the same person.”

Cal ponders this for a moment. “What do you mean by the same person? They could be twins, but twins aren’t the same person. They may resemble each other, but they have different brains and hearts and personalities and experiences. So what do you mean by the same person.”

“I mean that when we were in the pub with her, I knew she was Laura.” Andrew clears his throat. “I know that sounds crazy because she is not Laura, and I know that because Laura’s mother still lives in San Francisco, not on a farm in British Columbia. And I know that because I called her today to confirm she still lives in San Francisco and to ask her if she’d heard from Laura recently and she said she had, that Laura was still in England with what’s his name.”

“Therefore?” says Cal, smiling at the approach of their waitress with two big platters of fish and chips.

“Therefore she cannot be Laura,” says Andrew, nodding his thanks as the waitress sets the feast before him.

“Anything else I can get you?” asks the waitress, making eyes at Andrew.

When Andrew does not reply, Cal says, “We’re good. Thanks so much.”

“And yet,” says Andrew, staring at his food and seeing Laura/Yvonne playing her guitar and singing, “I know she’s Laura.”

“Did you also know that our very attractive waitress was interested in you? No, you didn’t. Because a big part of you isn’t even here.” Cal sighs in sympathy. “I think you never got over Laura. You never broke the spell. So of course you see her in Yvonne who looks very much like her.”

Andrew closes his eyes. “But it’s not just the resemblance, Cal. Yvonne is two or three inches taller than Laura, and her speaking voice is deeper, and she talks much more slowly.”

“With a subtle sexy Quebecois accent,” says Cal, smiling quizzically at his friend. “So why do you say she’s Laura?”

“I think she has Laura’s soul. Or her spirit. Maybe they’re the same thing.”

“What about the Laura in England?” asks Cal, chewing thoughtfully on a delicious French fry. “Does she share her soul with Yvonne or did it somehow leave her and enter Yvonne?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shrugging. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t know how to else to explain it. Yvonne doesn’t just remind me of Laura. She is Laura. And that’s why I’m not going to the party tomorrow. Because the only way to end this madness is to avoid her whenever she manifests in my life. And I hope she never does again.”

“But you love her,” says Cal, frowning. “Maybe this time she’ll want to be with you and not leave you for someone else.”

“Why would she be any different this time?” asks Andrew, still pained by his memory of the moment Laura told him she’d found a new love. “If she has the same spirit, then she’ll act the same way. Right?”

“Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she’s evolving as you’re evolving. Maybe this time she’ll be ready to make a life with you.”

“I doubt it,” says Andrew, sipping his beer. “Though I do love the idea of souls evolving together. And maybe she won’t even be interested in me this time.”

“Oh she seemed pretty interested in you,” says Cal, loving the fish and chips. “That’s why she invited us to her party three seconds after she met you.”

“Maybe I won’t be interested in her this time,” says Andrew, wanting to sound disinterested.

Cal rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’ll grow wings and become a bird.”

“So what if she breaks my heart again?” says Andrew, abruptly changing his tune. “Maybe that’s part of the evolutionary plan.”

“So you are going to the party with me,” says Cal, laughing. “I hope so. And I hope you do fall in love with each other and you stay in Canada and then I won’t feel so alone.”

Yvonne’s mother is named Charlene. Her farm is an idyllic place, ten acres of level ground seven miles north of Vancouver, eight of the acres in permanent pasture, one acre for summer vegetables, the remaining acre occupied by a big old farmhouse and a rundown cottage and a flower garden and outbuildings for chickens and rabbits and pigs.

Charlene is fifty-two with long brown hair going gray. She speaks English with a strong Quebecois accent and has lived on her farm for twenty-one years, having moved here from Montreal when Yvonne was in utero.

“I was a singer, too,” says Charlene to Andrew as she gives him a tour of her farm—the birthday party in full swing at the farmhouse. “But when I got pregnant with Yvonne, I thought, ‘No, I’ve had enough of this struggle. I will go west and live in a quiet place near the ocean. I had some money from my father, so I bought this farm and we have been very happy here.” She smiles as she remembers her first years on the farm. “Of course I sang to my daughter and taught her to play the piano and the guitar, but I never thought she would try to make singing her career as I did. She is more successful than I was, but still she makes her living as a waitress.”

“This is such a beautiful place,” says Andrew, wondering why Charlene singled him out for the tour and not Cal. “How far to the ocean?”

“Two miles,” says Charlene, stopping with him in front of the dilapidated cottage. “Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here. Perhaps you would like to fix up this cottage and make this your first home in Canada.”

“Oh I’m not moving here,” says Andrew, embarrassed by the mix up. “My friend Cal is moving here.”

“Yes, I know,” says Charlene, nodding, “but Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here, too, and if you will do the work on this place, I will give you free rent for two years, and, of course, pay for all the materials. She told me you are handy with tools.”

“I’m a fair carpenter,” says Andrew, intrigued by the cottage. “But I’ve mostly been a landscaper. Built decks and sheds and…”

“Well this is like a big shed, isn’t it?” says Yvonne, beaming at him. “A sophisticated shed with a toilet and shower and kitchen and living room and bedroom.”

“Maybe Cal could live here,” says Andrew, imagining settling down on Charlene’s farm for a while, playing music with Cal and getting to know Yvonne. “Can we have a look inside?”

“It’s falling down,” says Charlene, pushing open the front door of the little house. “You would mostly be building it all over again.”

“I’d need a place to stay while I was doing the rebuilding,” says Andrew, warming to the idea of a Canadian adventure before going to graduate school. “There’s no room for me where Cal is staying.”

“I have an extra bedroom in the farmhouse,” says Charlene, nodding assuredly. “You would be welcome here.”

“But you hardly know me,” he says, taken aback.

“Yvonne says you are wonderful,” says Charlene, matter-of-factly. “That is good enough for me.”

So a few days later, after he drops the van off at a car rental place in Bellingham, Washington, Andrew returns by train to Vancouver and begins a new chapter of his life.

Having brought very few things with him, he moves into Charlene’s farmhouse with a small suitcase of clothing and a knapsack containing notebooks, pens, dark glasses, a few books, a Swiss Army knife, and a camera.

His parents are surprised by his decision to stay in Canada, but understanding, too, and they ship him a box of clothes and shoes. Cal is thrilled with Andrew’s decision to stick around and comes to the farm every day to help with the renovation until a committee assisting American draft evaders gets him a job as a dishwasher and janitor at a college cafeteria, after which he can only help on weekends.

Charlene’s boyfriend Walter, a roofer, outfits Andrew with most of the tools he needs, shows Andrew the best places to buy building materials, and lends his expertise to Andrew when the going gets tricky.

And what of Yvonne? She is delighted to have Andrew living on the farm and staying in her former bedroom. Throughout the summer, she comes for supper a couple times during the week, and every Sunday she spends the day and sometimes the night at the farm.

She is greatly attracted to Andrew, as he is to her, and they spend lots of time talking, playing guitars, going to movies and plays, and walking on the beach. But they rarely touch and never kiss except on the cheeks as French people do when greeting each other and saying goodbye.

As the weeks and months go by and summer turns to fall, the cottage lacks only a new roof to be ready for Andrew to move in. Charlene’s beau Walter does the roofing job with Andrew assisting him, and Walter is sufficiently impressed with Andrew’s skills and strength and amiable nature to tout Andrew to a builder he knows, which results in Andrew being hired for eight weeks of good-paying work that gives him a nest egg for the winter.

Charlene loves having Andrew on the farm and hires him at a decent wage to help around the place a couple hours a day.

Not being in school or working for his father as a landscaper for the first time in his life, Andrew starts writing songs and stories, and he discovers he is much more interested in those art forms than in acting.

On a Sunday evening in early December after the supper dishes are done, Andrew and Yvonne and Charlene and Walter and Cal and his sweetheart Terry gather in the living room to hear Andrew read a short story he’s been working on for some weeks now, The Precipice. This is the first time he has ever shared his writing with anyone other than Cal, and though nervous at first, he grows more confident as he reads.

“That was so moving for me,” says Charlene when Andrew finishes reading. “I was on the verge of tears from the beginning to the end.”

“Really good,” says Walter, nodding in agreement. “Kind of a fable, but it seemed very real, very true. Just great.”

“I loved it,” says Terry, smiling wide-eyed at Andrew. “I know an editor at The Weekly Blitz who might want to publish it. Can I show it to him?”

“I need to polish it,” says Andrew, overwhelmed by the praise. “But yeah, that would be wonderful.”

“You’re amazing,” says Yvonne, gazing at Andrew as if seeing him for the first time. “Will you read it again to us when you finish polishing?”

“I… yeah,” says Andrew, blushing. “It really helped knowing you were listening. I mean… I read my stories out loud to myself, but it’s not the same as reading to an audience.”

“Same with a song,” says Yvonne, wanting to kiss him. “I always think of the audience as the final ingredient.”

The response to his story from his new family of friends ignites Andrew’s writing fire as nothing ever has and he starts waking early every morning to write for a few hours before doing his farm work or going off to a carpentry job. He writes in the evenings, too, if he’s not going somewhere to hear Yvonne sing or visiting with Cal.

Andrew’s parents offer to fly him home for Christmas, and to please them he flies from Vancouver to San Francisco a few days before Christmas, spends seven days in Redwood City with his mom and dad and brother, sees a few old friends, and flies back to Vancouver in time to attend Charlene and Yvonne’s New Year’s Eve party.

The day before the party, Andrew gets a phone call from the editor of The Weekly Blitz, a guy named Joe Ganz. “We would love to publish The Precipice,” says Joe, his voice deep and gravelly. “I can pay you twenty-five dollars. I know it’s not much, but that’s what we pay for feature stories. And I’d love to see anything else you want to show me. We don’t often publish fiction, but this story fits us to a T.”

Which means the New Year’s Eve party is also a celebration of Andrew’s success, and Yvonne asks him to read The Precipice to the fifty or so party goers, many of them artists and musicians and writers.

“Not tonight,” says Andrew, hating to disappoint her. “I’m feeling shy and I’d rather not be the center of attention. If you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” she says, putting her arms around him. “But I really want you to read that story for everyone. It’s just what we need to hear right now. Please?”

So Andrew agrees, a microphone and amplifier are set up, Yvonne plays a beautiful guitar tune to get everybody’s attention, and exactly an hour before 1970 gives way to 1971, Andrew reads his story to the assembled host.

All the usual clichés apply. You could hear a pin drop. They hang on his every word. Again and again he has to hold for laughs. There isn’t a dry eye in the place. And when he reads the last word of The Precipice, there is a collective gasp and the crowd goes wild.

At midnight there is much hurrahing and hugging and kissing, and when Yvonne and Andrew kiss, they cease to hold back from loving each other, though they do not take the physical loving beyond their kiss.

In the days that follow, Andrew gives himself so entirely to his new life, he forgets all about trying to get into graduate school. He works on the farm, takes the occasional carpentry gig, writes for hours every day, plays music in the evenings with Cal, and he and Yvonne start spending big chunks of time together on Saturdays and Sundays, exploring the city and the coast, and reveling in their friendship which continues to deepen in spite of (or maybe because of) their unspoken agreement not to become lovers.

 ∆

One day in early summer, as the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Canada approaches, Andrew and Yvonne sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs against a driftwood log on a gorgeous beach a few miles north of the farm.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, smiling out at the sparkling sea, “I feel married to you. Yet we are not lovers. Which means…”

“Soul marriages aren’t about sex,” says Yvonne, taking Andrew’s hand. “They might include sex, of course, but they aren’t founded on sex.”

“Do you think if we had sex we’d lose our soul connection?” He frowns. “I wonder if that’s why we haven’t. Because we’re afraid we might.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Our souls will always be connected, even if we never see each other again. But I do think we’re afraid that becoming lovers would complicate things. And it would. Sex always changes everything. Don’t you think?”

“I’ve only been sexually involved with one woman in my life, and we started having sex right from the get go, so there was never any question of changing the relationship with sex.”

“I’ve had a handful of lovers,” she says, sounding somewhat bitter about it, “and in every case, the minute we had sex, even really awful sex, they thought they owned me, as if entering my body gave them dominion over me, and I hate that.”

“I think that’s a primal belief among most humans, don’t you? Claiming each other by having sex. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand why people feel that way. Not just men. It’s not just cultural, it’s biological.”

“It’s learned,” she says, angrily. “Taught to little boys from the day they’re born.”

“What is taught to little boys?”

“That they are superior to girls and should be able to dominate them.” She frowns at him. “You don’t think so?”

“My darling, Evie,” he says, smiling at her. “I have two brilliant older sisters and learned ten thousand times before I was seven that girls are stronger and smarter and more capable than boys in every way except, eventually, in terms of brute strength. And I’ve never liked brutes.”

“So if we become lovers you won’t think I’m your exclusive property?”

“You mean will I be okay with you sleeping with other people?”

“Would you be okay with that?”

“Well the thing is, I wouldn’t want to be in a sexual relationship with you if you want to sleep with other people. But I’d still want to be your friend.”

“How is that not owning me?” She pouts. “You would own the exclusive rights to me sexually if I wasn’t allowed to sleep with other people. Right?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “I just wouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with you. You can sleep with a different person every night if you want. Or two. I just don’t want to be involved in that kind of sexual dynamic with you or anybody. It’s not who I am.”

“Hmm,” she says, pondering this. “Because I really want to make love with you, A, but I can’t promise sexual fidelity.”

“Are you sleeping with anyone now?” he asks innocently. “I won’t mind if you are.”

“I’m not,” she says, pouting again. “I haven’t in over a year. Since a few months before I met you. And every time I’ve been tempted since then, I always think, ‘But I like Andrew so much better than this guy. Why would I ever sleep with this guy if I can sleep with Andrew?’ And then I don’t because I want you instead.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, holding out his arms to her.

They embrace and feel marvelous.

“So let’s make a pact,” she says, kissing his chin. “If we do sleep together and sleeping-together doesn’t last for some reason, we’ll always be friends.”

“Sounds good,” he says doubtfully, “but we can never know in advance if we’ll always be friends. We only know our souls will always be connected, which is not necessarily the same thing as being friends.”

“So how about this,” she says, moving apart from him so she can see his face. “We commit to sexual exclusivity with each other for one year with an option to renew for another year if we both want to.”

“A one-year marriage?” he says, loving everything about her. “Will we live together?”

“Yes. I’ll move into the cottage with you and save oodles not paying rent.”

“But what if we make love…” he says, pausing portentously. “And it’s really bad? Marriage annulled?”

“No,” she says urgently. “If the first time is bad, we have to try to make it better. We have to help each other in every way. Sexually and creatively and emotionally and spiritually.”

“I’m game,” he says, looking into her eyes. “What are you doing tonight?”

She takes a deep breath. “Being with you.”

The morning after their first night together, entangled in Andrew’s bed, Yvonne says, “Laura may have broken your heart, but in the ways of lovemaking she was a very good teacher.”

A few days after becoming Andrew’s lover, Yvonne gives notice she is vacating her apartment at the end of the month and starts moving her things to the farm a carload at a time. What doesn’t fit nicely in the cottage, she stores in the attic of the farmhouse.

After two months of commuting at night to and from the restaurant where she works, Laura shifts from supper to lunches so she can spend her evenings with Andrew. She makes less money, but now she’s paying no rent and can gig during the week, and she’s happier than she’s ever been. Ditto Andrew.

 ∆

In October, they borrow Charlene’s car and drive to California to visit Andrew’s folks, after which they continue on to Los Angeles where Amelia, one of Yvonne’s old friends, now lives and has arranged a couple gigs for her.

Much to Andrew’s surprise, Yvonne loves LA, and on the way back to Canada she says she’d like to live there one day.

“What do you like about it?” he asks, much preferring life on the farm in Canada.

“I love the weather, the people, the energy,” she says, gazing out at the passing scenery. “And if I really want to succeed with my music, that’s the place to be.” She turns to him. “If we got married, we’d essentially have joint citizenship and you’d be free of any hassles about living in Canada and I’d be free of any hassles about living in America. So we could live either place. Or both.”

“Is that a proposal?” he asks, deciding not to tell her he hates Los Angeles, the putrid air, the terrifying traffic, the absence of forests and wilderness, the millions of desperate people.

“Something to think about,” she says, kissing him. “I know you love where we live now, but I’ve lived there my whole life and I’m ready for a change.”

Which is why in the summer of 1973, after two years of living together, Andrew and Yvonne part ways, she to pursue her music career in Los Angeles, he to stay in Vancouver and carry on with his writing.

One evening a few months after Yvonne moves to Los Angeles, Andrew and Cal are in Angel Alley having beer and burgers, and they realize they are sitting at the same table where they first met Yvonne and Terry, who is now Cal’s wife.

And their reminiscence about that fateful evening prompts Andrew to say, “You’re the only person who could even begin to understand what I want to tell you.”

“About Yvonne?” asks Cal, knowing Andrew is hurting terribly from his loss of her. “Tell me.”

“You remember how in the beginning I said she was Laura, not in body but in spirit?”

“I remember.”

“Well I continued to feel that way until about a year ago.”

“What changed?”

“Well… I came home one day and she was on the phone with Amelia, and something was different about her. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but she was different. Still sweet and funny and loving and wonderful, but different. And I came to realize she no longer reminded me of Laura. A particular kind of energy I have never been able to describe was gone from her.”

“Yet you still loved her.”

“More than ever.”

“So where do you think the Laura energy went?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Your guess is as good as mine.”         

fin

the song Just Love

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The Same Woman (Laura)

Andrew meets the same woman every few years and immediately recognizes her. She, however, never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before, though she is always pleased to meet him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen and her name was Sara.

As it happens, she is always his age.

Andrew at seventeen has reached his full height of five-eleven. A basketball player and landscaper, he tips the scales at 170 pounds. The year is 1966, spring is in the air, and being a teenager living in the suburbs of San Francisco, Andrew has fallen under the spell of the counter culture movement that will one day be known as The Sixties.

This being his senior year at Woodberry High, and now that basketball season is over, Andrew lets his hair go untamed and takes to wearing loose-fitting trousers, T-shirts sporting leftwing political slogans such as Power To The People, sandals, and an old suede jacket.

He has taken Drama for three years now and has a big part in the spring musical Once Upon A Mattress. He has applied for admission to Yale because of their renowned Drama department, and to UC Santa Cruz because one of his two older sisters is going there and he has to get in somewhere because the Vietnam War is raging and he desperately wants a student deferment.

And for the first time in his life, Andrew has a girlfriend. Her name is Megan and she is a pompom girl with long blonde hair. Never in a million years would Andrew have pursued Megan. She is very rich, drives a new convertible Mustang, her parents are conservative Republicans, and she and Andrew have almost nothing in common except they are human and go to the same high school.

Megan set her sights on Andrew this past December when he became a starting guard on the Woodbury basketball team, and he was powerless to resist her. His friends are chagrined that Andrew is going with Megan, in small part because she cares more about fashion than civil rights, but largely because she is wholly disinterested in poetry, music, art, and protesting the war, all of which Andrew and his friends are passionate about.

What Andrew’s friends don’t understand is that he has never had any sort of girlfriend, not counting his twelve-day romance with Sara when he was thirteen. And though Megan is not a leftist, she is affectionate, insists Andrew drive her very cool car whenever they go anywhere together, leaves love notes and little gifts in his locker, usually chocolate, and takes him to lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant almost every weekend.

Andrew’s father has a small landscaping business and Andrew’s mother works in a bakery. Until Andrew’s sisters left for college, he shared one of the three small bedrooms in their house with his younger brother. And until Megan took him to an upscale restaurant for the first time, the fanciest restaurant he had ever gone to was a pizza parlor.

Once Upon A Mattress finishes its two-weekend run on a Saturday night exactly a week before the Senior Ball, which is a huge event in Megan’s life. She is chairperson of the Senior Ball Planning Committee and the frontrunner to be crowned queen of the ball. On the same Saturday as the Senior Ball there is an anti-war march and rally in San Francisco that Andrew and several of his friends are planning to go to.

The cast party for Once Upon A Mattress is held at the palatial Helzinger estate in Atherton, home of sixteen-year-old Marvin Helzinger who ran lights for the play and wants to be a movie producer. Megan wasn’t going to attend the party but changed her mind when Valerie Morris, the female lead, gave Andrew an amorous hug during the final curtain call and Andrew seemed delighted.

A half-hour after Megan and Andrew arrive at the party—Megan glued to Andrew as they makes the rounds of his fellow cast members—Andrew’s friend Cal mentions the upcoming anti-war march and asks Megan if she’s coming with them.

“When is it?” she asks to be polite.

The date revealed, Megan frowns at Andrew and says, “But honey that’s the day of the Senior Ball.”

“The march is in the morning,” he says, nodding assuredly. “We’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“Can I talk to you in private?” she says, smiling falsely at Cal. “Excuse us, please.”

She leads Andrew out the front door of the mansion and halfway down the wide walkway before she stops and says,  “You are not going to an anti-war thing on the same day as the Senior Ball. You could get arrested or your old car might break down. You can’t go. I will not allow you to ruin the most important day of my life.”

“We’re taking the train,” says Andrew, stunned by this outburst from his previously easygoing girlfriend. “The march starts at nine in the morning. We’ll get to Kezar at eleven, listen to some speeches and music, catch the bus back to the train station and be home by three. We’re not rioting, Megan. We’re just marching. Mike and Cal are going, too, and they’re both going to the ball, so…”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I can’t risk this, Andrew. It’s too important to me. There will be lots of other marches, but there’s only one Senior Ball. You’ll just have to skip this one.”

Andrew has never had a conflict of any sort with Megan in the five months they’ve been going together. She has never been angry with him, nor has she ever insisted he do or not do something. He wants to please her, but he also wants to march against the war that is threatening his life and the lives of his friends, not to mention the lives of millions of Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.

“I promise I’ll be home by three,” he says, reaching out to take her hand.

“No,” she says, snatching her hand away. “You will not go to that thing. I won’t be able to sleep knowing you might miss the ball. I’ve never asked you for anything, Andrew, but now I’m begging you. Please don’t go to that march. Promise me you’ll stay home next Saturday and take me to the ball and go to the hotel with me afterwards and we’ll make love for the first time in our lives. Like we’ve been planning for weeks. Please. Don’t ruin this for me. Please.”

“Megan…”

“No,” she says sternly. “If you won’t promise me right now that you won’t go to that march I’m breaking up with you.”

And this is the moment Andrew makes his leap into adulthood. Not having gone through any formal transition from childhood to adulthood, he has been suspended in the netherworld of extended adolescence since he was thirteen.

But now he experiences a thrilling clarity of mind and says to Megan, “Then we’re breaking up. Because going on that march is ten thousand times more important to me than going to the Senior Ball.”

“Then you can go to hell,” she says, hurrying away to her car.

“No,” he says, amazed by this sudden turn of events, “I think I’ll go back to the party.”

As Andrew re-enters the spacious living room filled with happy vibes of triumphant teenaged thespians, Mona Wilson, who did Andrew’s makeup for the play, beckons to Andrew and he hastens to her side.

“Andrew,” says Mona, beaming at him, “this is my friend Laura. Laura this is Andrew.”

Turning to Mona’s friend, Andrew gapes at the lovely young woman and blurts, “Sara? Sara Banducci? Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re here. Did you see the play? I was in that play because of you. Oh my God. This is incredible. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” says Laura, her long brown hair in a braid festooned with white carnations. “Only my name is Laura, not Sara. And though I love the name Banducci, my last name is Rosenstein.”

Andrew looks from Laura to Mona and back to Laura. “I’m so sorry. You look just like a person I used to know.” He gazes at her in wonder. “You could be her identical twin. Down to your dimples when you smile.”

“You liked her, I think,” says Laura, arching her eyebrow. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “More than anyone I’ve ever known. I mean… we only knew each other for a couple weeks but… and then I wrote to her for a long time but…”

“She didn’t write back,” says Laura, pouting exactly as Sara pouted. “But eventually you got over her and now you have a beautiful girlfriend. So alls well that ends well.”

“Actually I just broke up with my girlfriend,” says Andrew, laughing. “So of course in the next moment I would meet you again, only not really again because you’re not Sara, you’re Laura and… where do you live?”

“San Francisco,” she says, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “Why? Do you want to come live with me?”

“Probably,” he says, reddening. “Do you have room for me?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “By the way, you were great tonight. The whole play was wonderful, but you definitely stole the show.”

“I think he’s gonna be a big star,” says Mona, giving Andrew a hug. “And I’ll do his makeup for his entire career. Won’t I, Andrew?”

“I’ll insist,” says Andrew, gazing longingly at Laura. “It will be in all my contracts that only Mona does my makeup.”

A half-hour later, Laura and Andrew are standing on the patio sharing a forbidden glass of wine and looking into the living room where a mob of happy teenagers are loudly reprising all the songs from Once Upon A Mattress.

“What did you mean?” asks Laura, standing close to Andrew, “when you said Sara was why you were in the play? Was she an actress?”

“She wanted to be,” says Andrew, remembering sitting with Sara at the end of a little pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe. “Whereas I had never really thought about what I wanted to be or wanted to try to be. I was just going along working for my father and going to school and playing basketball. But when she said she wanted to be an actress, I suddenly had a vision of myself I’d never had before, though it must have been there all along in my subconscious. Or my unconscious. Do you know what I mean? It was like the idea of being an actor was just waiting to be awakened. Or awoken. I’m never sure which is right.”

“They both work,” says Laura, taking the wine from him and having a sip.

“What about you?” he asks, entranced by her. “What do you want to be?”

“I’d like to be an actor,” she says, nodding. “I’ve been in a few plays. And I love to write, so maybe I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll write a play for you to star in.” She laughs. “Do you smoke pot?”

“I never have,” he says, taking the wine from her and having a long drink. “You?”

“A little,” she says, nodding. “My mom smokes weed on the weekends. She’s a social worker. I have a few puffs now and then, but I don’t want to get in the habit until I’m done with high school. I love getting stoned, but it’s just so sensual, you know, there’s no way I can do anything very linear when I’m stoned, and getting good grades is all about linear thinking.”

“I’m a solid B student,” says Andrew, handing her the wine. “Which is why I probably won’t get into Yale. So fingers crossed for Santa Cruz.”

“Or San Francisco State,” she says, nodding. “That’s where I’m going. We don’t want you getting drafted, Andrew. Absolutely not.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “We don’t want me getting drafted.” He takes a deep breath. “What we want is to kiss you. Is that something we could arrange?”

“Yes,” she says, stepping into his arms.

After their first long kiss he declares, “You are by far the best kisser I’ve ever kissed.”

And after their second kiss she whispers, “Would you like to come visit me at my house? Make love?”

“I… yeah, but… I’m… I’ve never made love before so you’d have to teach me.” He nods to affirm this. “If you want to.”

“I do,” she says, dimpling profoundly. “I would love to teach you.”

On the Monday morning following the cast party, Andrew finds a note from Megan in his locker saying she’s changed her mind, he can go to the march and take her to the Senior Ball, she was just caught off guard and upset when she learned the march and the ball were happening on the same day, but she’s over that now and loves him so much she never wants to break up with him. Never.

Her note, however, comes too late to pull Andrew back into his previous life, so he doesn’t meet her for lunch at their usual spot on the patio outside the multi-purpose room, which means Megan has to seek him out near the water fountain adjacent to the library where he is having lunch with his Drama pals.

“Andrew,” she says, interrupting his conversation with Mona and Cal, “can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” he says, walking with her to a place in the sun out of earshot of his pals.

“Did you get my note?” she asks urgently.

“Yeah, I did but… I think it’s good we broke up. I mean… I think you’re a great person, Megan, but we live in different worlds. I’m… I’m really sorry to inconvenience you, but I’m not going to the ball.”

She squints at him. “Did you hook up with Valerie after I left the party?”

“No,” he says, thinking of Laura. “I did not hook up with Valerie.”

“Oh Andrew,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I made a mistake. I was wrong. Won’t you forgive me? You can do whatever you want. I don’t want to own you. I just want to be with you.”

Hearing her say this, Andrew knows without a doubt that he would have resumed his relationship with her, would have gone to the ball, and would have lost his virginity with her in some big bed in some posh hotel and been miserably entangled with her for months and possibly years if he hadn’t met Laura and arranged to see her again.

But I did meet Laura.

“I’m sorry, Megan. I… no.”

“What if I go on the march with you?” she says, her jaw trembling. “And we don’t go to the ball? Then will you take me back?”

“Oh Megan,” he says, pained to see her suffering so. “This isn’t about that. This is about who we are and what’s important to us. You know almost nothing about my life, and I know almost nothing about yours. We went on dates and you were very sweet to me and I tried to be sweet to you, but…”

“You met somebody else,” she says, glaring at him. “I know you, Andrew. You wouldn’t dump me otherwise.”

“I did not dump you,” he says, his anger obliterating his sympathy for her. “You did the dumping. Remember? You dumped me.”

On the morning of the march, Andrew and Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona catch the train from Redwood City to San Francisco, detrain at Fourth and Townsend, catch a bus up to Market Street, and join the growing throng at 8:30.

At quarter to nine someone taps Andrew on the shoulder and he turns to behold Laura looking great in a purple paisley shirt and blue jeans and carrying a big sign saying Out of Vietnam Now!

“Hey,” says Andrew, embracing her.

“Hey,” she says, blushing. “Come meet my mom.”

She leads him through the crowd to a knot of middle-aged men and women, her mother a pretty gal with curly black hair and large-framed glasses and a New York accent.

“Mom this is Andrew,” says Laura, blushing a little. “Andrew this is my mother Janet.”

“Hello,” says Janet, grinning at Andrew as she shakes his hand. “No wonder she fell for you. You’re only seventeen? You look twenty-two. A handsome twenty-two. You’re coming to visit after?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “If that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” she says, letting go of Andrew’s hand. “We’ll see you at the flat.”

“I’m gonna march with Andrew, okay?” says Laura, giving her mom a quick kiss. “See you at home.”

They make their way back to Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona just as the great crowd begins to move forward, the first chant to be taken up en masse End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home! End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home!  

Five hours later, Laura and Andrew leave the hubbub at Kezar Stadium and walk across Golden Gate Park to an old three-story building two blocks off the park where Laura and her mother live in the ground floor flat.

Elated and exhausted, Andrew and Laura revive themselves with guacamole and chips and Laura says, “Shall we go shopping? For some crucial supplies?”

“Aren’t you gonna show me your bedroom first?” says Andrew, taking her in his arms and kissing her.

“Not until we procure the crucial supplies,” she says, pulling away from him and picking up her purse.

“Just what are these crucial supplies?” he asks, following her out the door.

“Food for supper,” she says, locking the door. “I told Mom we’d cook tonight. Spaghetti and meatballs, vegetables, and something yummy from the bakery for dessert. She’s got three friends coming. Oh. And we need to get condoms. Heard of those?”

“I have,” he says, lowering his voice. “In fact I brought some.”

“How many?” she asks, dimpling provocatively.

“Three,” he says, laughing self-consciously. “Cal gave them to me.”

“We’ll need more than three,” she says, taking his hand. “And we’ll get the kind I like.”

Groceries and pie and condoms purchased, they return to the flat and find Laura’s mother and two of her women friends in the kitchen drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.

“We’ll start making supper in a couple hours,” says Laura, unpacking the groceries. “But first I’m gonna show Andrew my etchings.”

The women laugh appreciatively and Laura’s mother says, “I’ll cook tonight, sweetie. Take your time. We’ll call you when the pasta is perfecto.”

“Thanks Mom,” says Laura, giving her mother a kiss. “I owe you.”

“So much,” says her mother, laughing.

Laura leads Andrew down a long hallway to a bedroom at the opposite end of the flat from the kitchen, a bedroom with a bed not quite as big as a queen but nearly so.

She closes the door and they kiss hungrily as they undress.

And when they are naked and lying down together Laura says, “Now be honest with me, my darling Andrew. How much do you know about a woman’s body?”

“Well,” he says, taking a moment to catch his breath, “I have two older sisters, so I’ve seen the naked female.”

“Yes, but do you know what lies beneath her surface?” she asks, guiding his hand to her sex.

“Not really,” he says, on the verge of his orgasm.

“Oh honey,” she says, caressing his sex and sending him past the point of no return.

“Sorry about that,” he says tearfully. “I… there was nothing I could do. Except let it happen.”

“Don’t ever be sorry for being sexy,” she says, kissing him. “Now here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to explore my body with your hands and your eyes and your mouth, with me as your guide. Okay?”

“Yes,” he says, surrendering entirely to her wisdom and kindness.

Before they sit down to supper, Andrew calls his parents to tell them he’s okay, and when his mother asks to speak to Laura’s mother, Andrew hands the phone to Janet and the mothers talk and laugh.

After supper, Laura and Andrew do the dishes and go for a walk around the block in the cool night air before returning to the flat to resume Andrew’s lesson.

And as they lie in each other’s arms, resting, Andrew says, “Tonight was the Senior Ball. I’m so glad I missed it.”

“Tonight was mine, too,” says Laura, sitting up to look at Andrew. “Guess how many boys asked me to go with them to the ball?”

“A hundred?” says Andrew, feeling so finished with high school he can’t imagine sitting through another six weeks of classes.

“Four,” says Laura, getting out of bed. “I’m starving. Come to the kitchen with me.”

“Shouldn’t we get dressed?”

“If you want to, but my mom sleeps like a log, so…”

Andrew in his underwear, Laura in a skimpy robe, they sit in the kitchen eating cold spaghetti and drinking wine and feeling marvelous.

“Tell me, darling,” says Andrew, affecting a credible British accent. “Have there been many before me?”

“More than five and less than seven,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “One was very good, one was not bad, four were not very good, and I didn’t love any of them, but I liked them, so…”

“That makes me number seven,” he says, feeling jealous of her former lovers, though not very. “Was I good?”

“The best of all,” she says, setting her wine glass down and putting her arms around him. “Because I love you and because you’re strong and beautiful and you get better and better the more we practice.”

“You make me happier than I’ve ever been,” he says, kissing her.

“You know what I think?” she says, closing her eyes.

“Tell me,” he says, loving the sight and the sound and the scent of her.

“I think we should get married in seven years. And if we lose touch before then, we’ll find each other again and be writers and actors together and have two children and a dog and cats and a big garden. Say yes.”

“Yes,” he says, though he knows if they lose touch he may never see her again.

And they do lose touch, though not until they spend a glorious summer together, a summer made of many weekends in her San Francisco flat, and a fall full of amorous visits, he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, she at San Francisco State.

But then she meets Don, a graduate student from Bristol, seven years her senior, and she is so smitten with him that when Don returns to England, she goes with him.

This time, though, she is the one who writes to Andrew every week for months and months, but he is so hurt by her choosing another over him that he cannot write her back and she eventually stops writing to him and he lives on without her.

 fin

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The Same Woman (Sara)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she knew before.

They met for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was in the summer before they started high school. 1962. He was thirteen and so was she. In fact, she is always his age.

Thirteen-year-old Andrew is a handsome lad with hard-to-tame brown hair and olive skin. Five-foot-seven and growing fast, the beginnings of a beard and mustache have recently emerged on his chin and upper lip, prompting him to shave every few days. He is an avid basketball player and has a weekend and summer job involving hard work with pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. Thus he is agile and muscular and very strong for his age.

A few weeks before high school begins, Andrew is given the marvelous gift of being allowed to go with his best friend Jeremy and Jeremy’s parents and younger sister to a little house on the north shore of Lake Tahoe that Jeremy’s family rents for two weeks every summer.

The little house is just a block from a white sand beach. Renters of the little house may avail themselves of two rowboats tethered to the pier at the south end of the beach. Hiking, fishing, swimming, rowing, and goofing around are on the holiday agenda, though ogling girls is at the top of Jeremy and Andrew’s vacation to-do list.

Goofing around on the beach is what Jeremy and Andrew are doing on their second day at the lake, the afternoon warm and windless, perfect for throwing the Frisbee and diving into the lake in pursuit of the enticing disk.

As Andrew emerges from the lake after a spectacular dive and catch, he sees two comely young women, a blonde and a brunette, arriving on the beach, and he is struck by the uncanny resemblance of the brunette to the Alice he knew and loved from age six until he was almost ten. That’s when Alice and her family moved from California to Canada and he never heard from her again.

The young women spread big beach towels on the sand twenty feet away from Jeremy and Andrew’s towels and remove their sarongs to reveal their lovely young bodies clad in bikinis. Now they lather on sun block, don sunglasses, and lie down for a bout of tanning, though both of them are already deeply tanned.

Jeremy and Andrew plant themselves on their towels, gaze longingly at the sunbathing maidens, and Jeremy quietly opines, “Are we in heaven or what?”

“I think I know one of them,” says Andrew, touching his heart in homage to the first girl he ever loved.

“The blonde or the brunette?” asks Jeremy, frowning at Andrew. “And how come I don’t know her?”

“Alice Rivera,” says Andrew, on the verge of tears. “She left at the end of Fourth Grade and you came in Fifth. I told you about her. Didn’t I?”

“I don’t think so,” says Jeremy, shaking his head. “Are you sure it’s her? Wasn’t she only like nine the last time you saw her?”

“We were almost ten,” says Andrew, feeling again how much he loved Alice. “And she was way ahead of the curve, if you know what I mean.”

“Judging by the curves she’s got now,” says Jeremy, grinning, “I do know what you mean. So you’re telling me this gorgeous babe is only thirteen?”

“If she’s Alice, yeah,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Well…” says Jeremy, his eyes widening expectantly, “introduce yourself.”

“No,” says Andrew, looking away from the young women. “I’m too shy.”

However, twenty minutes later in the midst of a splendid game of Frisbee, Jeremy flings the disk a bit higher than Andrew can leap and the swirling disk alights in the sand mere inches from the two young women who have been sitting up for some time now watching Andrew and Jeremy play.

The young woman who Andrew thinks is Alice picks up the Frisbee and smiles enticingly as Andrew comes near.

“Sorry about that,” he says, blushing.

“The old errant Frisbee gambit,” she says, her cheeks dimpling exactly as Alice’s always did.

Seeing those dimples, Andrew blurts, “Alice? Alice Rivera? I’m Andrew. Remember me? Andrew Ross.”

The young woman arches her eyebrow. “Followed by the old name-guessing ruse. But for future reference, Andrew, never add a last name to the first name guess. Because then when she replies, ‘I’m not Alice, I’m Sara,’ you can slap your forehead and say, ‘Oh of course. Sara. I meant Sara.’”

“But I didn’t mean Sara,” says Andrew, gazing in wonder at her. “I mean Alice. Everything about you is Alice. Your face, your eyes, the way you speak.” He takes a deep breath. “Little Hills Elementary. Redwood City. You moved to Canada four years ago and I wrote to you a bunch of times but you never wrote back.”

“He’s very cute,” says the blonde, “but I think he’s a little crazy.”

“I don’t mind a little crazy,” says the brunette, locking eyes with Andrew. “I’m Sara. This is Dominique. I’ve never been to Redwood City or Canada, but we can still be friends if you want. How long are you here for?”

“Twelve more days,” he says breathlessly. “You?”

“About the same,” she says, dimpling again. “And then we go back to Reno and start our first year of high school.”

“So…” He clears his throat.

“Maybe we can hang out,” she says, beating him to the punch as Alice always did. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Jeremy,” says Andrew, beckoning to Jeremy who is standing in the shallows a hundred feet away. “He’s great. You’ll love him.”

“We’ll be the judge of that,” says Dominique, taking the Frisbee from Sara, rising gracefully, and flinging the disc straight as an arrow to Jeremy who catches it with both hands and tumbles backwards into the lake.

The next day, after a morning hike with Jeremy’s parents and sister, Andrew and Jeremy return to the beach where Sara and Dominique await them with a picnic of sandwiches and potato chips and soda pop and chocolate chip cookies.

They are all wonderfully comfortable with each other, and Andrew continues to marvel at how much Sara reminds him of Alice, her facial expressions, her gestures, the timbre of her voice, the way she listens so intently to what others are saying, and how she moves and runs and laughs.

In the late afternoon, they take the rowboats out on the lake, Dominique and Jeremy in one boat, Sara and Andrew in the other, and after a time their boats go in different directions.

“So tell me about this Alice you were in love with,” says Sara, sitting in the prow and facing Andrew as he rows.

“She was…” He smiles as he remembers Alice. “She was beautiful and super smart and very funny and the fastest runner in our class until Fourth Grade when a couple guys could finally beat her. And she was very sure of herself. Self-confident. Just like you.”

“Except she was an idiot not to write you back,” says Sara, pouting in the same adorable way Alice pouted. “I would have. I think you’re great.”

“Thanks.” He blushes. “I think you are, too.”

“You want to make out?” she says softly.

“You mean…”

“Kiss,” she says, nodding.

“Okay,” he says, ceasing to row. “I never have, but… I’d like to.”

“Never have?” she says, moving to sit beside him. “You seem so sophisticated.”

“Well, um, I read a lot,” he says, clearing his throat. “But I’ve never had a girlfriend, so…”

“You’ll have lots,” she says, kissing him tenderly.

“Wow,” he whispers. “That was amazing.”

“Again please,” she says, kissing him again.

After a few more minutes of incredibly pleasurable communion with each other, they jump in the lake and swim in a big circle around the boat before finding each other to kiss some more.

Sitting side-by-side in the rowboat, each manning an oar as they row back to shore, Sara says, “I wish you lived in Reno. Then we could go together and who knows what might happen.”

“I wish I lived there, too,” he says, nodding in agreement. “I’d give anything to live near you.”

“You seem older than thirteen,” she says, finding him ideal in every way.

“So do you,” he says, madly in love with her. “If I hadn’t thought you were Alice, I would have thought you were sixteen.”

Two nights later, Sara and Dominique come for supper with Jeremy and Andrew and Jeremy’s parents and sister. Sara and Dominique tell Jeremy’s inquiring mother what they already told Jeremy and Andrew, that their mothers are blackjack dealers in a big casino in Reno and every summer take a quasi-vacation by coming to Lake Tahoe with their daughters for a month of dealing blackjack four nights a week at a casino on the north shore. Sara’s father is a fitness trainer in Florida and she rarely sees him. Dominique’s father is a pit boss in a Reno casino. Dominique has an older brother; Sara is an only child.

“And what do you girls aspire to be?” asks Jeremy’s mother, who expects both her children to get at least PhDs.

“I might be a psychologist,” says Dominique, smiling warmly at Jeremy’s mother. “But I’m really into music, too, so maybe I’ll get a job with a record company or manage a band or something like that.”

“I want to be an actress,” says Sara, nodding assuredly. “I’ll try for Yale, but I’ll probably go to Nevada State. I sing, too.”

“How wonderful,” says Jeremy’s father, an electrical engineer. “When I was thirteen all I wanted to be was fourteen. Beyond that, I knew nothing. I think it’s great you know the direction you want to go.”

“Subject to change,” says Sara, winking at Andrew. “My mother wanted to be an actress, too. It’s a long shot, but why not dream?”

Three days after Dominique and Sara come for supper, Dominique and her mother have to go home to Reno to take care of Dominique’s grandmother who fell and broke her hip. Jeremy is devastated because he and Dominique were planning to lose their virginity together and now that won’t happen.

Andrew and Sara have no such plans, though their bouts of kissing and caressing sometimes verge on sex. But they both feel too young and too unsure and too afraid. In almost every way they seem to be of the same mind, and this is something Andrew has never experienced with anyone before.

On a beautiful evening, five days before their idyll must end, Sara and Andrew sit side-by-side at the end of the pier. They are dressed warmly for the cold that descends upon the lake every night as summer gives way to fall. Jeremy is with his parents and sister in the little house, making fudge and playing Monopoly.

“The problem, dear Andrew,” says Sara, with a credible British accent, “is that you’ve set the bar so dreadfully high, I despair of ever meeting someone as fine as you again in this one brief life I am given.

“Well I’m going to be an actor, too,” says Andrew, his British accent atrocious. “You never know. We just might meet again at Yale or Nevada State.”

“But truly, Andrew,” says Sara, dropping the British accent. “I can’t imagine ever meeting anyone I like as much as you. We just… we just go together so well in so many ways.”

“Want to count them?” he asks, putting his arm around her.

“No, I’ll get too sad,” she says, sighing. “If only we were twenty-five. That’s when I want to get married. But that’s twelve years from now. Who knows where we’ll be twelve years from now?”

“We’ll both know because we’ll write to each other and call each other and visit each other during the summers and…”

“No, we won’t,” she says shaking her head.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re thirteen. We’ll try to stay in touch, but after a few letters saying how much we miss each other, we’ll get all tangled up in high school and… meet other people.”

“No,” says Andrew, defiantly. “I’m gonna write to you every week for the rest of my life whether you write me back or not. Every Sunday. I won’t let myself eat until I’ve written you a letter and put a stamp on it and mailed it.”

“You’re so sweet,” she says, kissing him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says, crying. “I’ve never known anyone as wonderful as you.”

Sara comes for supper on Andrew and Jeremy’s last night at the lake, and during supper Jeremy’s mother asks Sara if she’ll be coming to the lake again next summer.

“Probably not,” she says, shaking her head. “I have to get a job and there’s a summer Drama program I want to get into if I can. But if I don’t get in, maybe I’ll be back. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well just so you know,” says Jeremy’s father, “we’ll be coming back here for the same two weeks next year and hope to drag Andrew along with us.”

Andrew escorts Sara home after supper, both of them crying as they hold hands and walk along under the starry sky.

“I never got to meet your mother,” says Andrew, sniffling back his tears.

“She would love you,” says Sara, giving his hand a squeeze. “I will try to write to you, Andrew. I will. But I might be too sad.”

“I know we’re gonna see each other again,” he says, his heart about to burst. “I know we will.”

“I hope so,” she says as they arrive at her house. “But no matter what happens, I’ll never forget you.”

Andrew writes to Sara every Sunday for seventeen Sundays, and Sara writes to him a few times, too. But when ten of his letters to her go unanswered, he skips a Sunday and then another, and when he tries to write to her again, he cannot coax a single word from his pen.

But he does see her again. Four years later. Her name is Laura when they meet at seventeen, and he knows her the minute he sees her, though she will claim she’s never seen him before.

fin

song

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Banana Blueberry Apple Jacks

Here is my recipe for 9 big delicious gluten-free banana apple blueberry pancakes.

One: Put a cup of sorghum flour or millet flour or a half-cup of each in a medium-sized mixing bowl

Two: Add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda

Three: Add a cup and a quarter of rice milk or almond milk

Four: Mix using a fork or soft spatula until smooth

Five: Add two eggs

Six: Mash a banana with a fork (on a plate) until the banana is the consistency of baby food and add this to the mix

Seven: Peel an apple and grate the peeled apple into the mix

Eight: Stir all this up really well

Nine: Mix in three or four teaspoons of olive oil

Ten: Chop a bunch of blueberries in half and add those

Eleven: Oil your frying pan and get it hot

Twelve: Scoop a brimming quarter cup of the batter for each cake into the frying pan. My pan makes three at a time.

Thirteen: Cook for two minutes, flip, cook for two more minutes. (I use a timer for this step.)

Fourteen: Serve with yogurt and syrup and top with more blueberries.

Note: You can use strawberries or huckleberries or peaches or any kind of fruit instead of (or with) blueberries

Bon Appetite!

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The Same Woman (Alice)

You know those movies like Groundhog Day wherein a character keeps waking up and reliving the same day over and over until he learns whatever the universe wants him to learn? Well that doesn’t happen to Andrew. What happens to Andrew is that every few years he meets the same woman, and though he always recognizes her and is glad to see her again, she never recognizes him as someone she’s met before because though she is the same woman, she always has a different identity than the one she had when Andrew last knew her.

This has been going on since Andrew was a little boy. And now Andrew is seventy-seven. The last time he met the woman was four years ago and he’s beginning to think he may not meet her again before he dies.

If this seems impossible to you, imagine how it seems to Andrew who never would have believed such a thing was possible if it hadn’t happened to him over and over again.

Does the woman age? Yes. She is the same age as Andrew. Does her place of origin change? So it seems. Does her appearance change each time they meet? Not really. The way she wears her hair changes, though she is always a brunette, and her clothing changes, her style choices change, but her face and body and personality do not change except in the ways faces and bodies and personalities change as we age.

Andrew first met her when he was six and starting First Grade halfway through the school year at Little Hills Elementary School in Redwood City. He was an old hand at starting school without knowing any of the other kids, having gone to two kindergartens in Texas and another First Grade in San Mateo.

One of the things he learned from his time in those three other schools was that there was no need for him to try to make friends because he and his future friends would effortlessly find each other in the course of going to school together.

At Morning Recess on Andrew’s first day at Little Hills, three girls approached him as he waited in line for a turn on the swings. One of those girls was the person he would meet again and again throughout his life. Her name was Alice, and Andrew had already decided she was one of the four cutest girls in his class.

Alice was flanked by Lynn, the tallest girl in their class, and Gina, another of the girls Andrew felt was among the four cutest. Lynn had glossy blonde hair that reached her shoulders. Alice and Gina both had brown hair cut an inch or so below their ears. They were all wearing skirts and blouses and tennis shoes and Andrew thought they were marvelous.

“Hi Andrew,” said Gina, smiling at Andrew. “We’re in Mrs. Bushnell’s class with you.”

“I know,” he said, blushing. “I saw you.”

“We want to know if you’re like the other boys,” said Gina, her smile changing to a frown.

“What do you mean?” asked Andrew, hoping they didn’t want to see his penis. At his three previous schools there were girls and boys who wanted to see his penis, and Andrew had not been cooperative in this regard. He much preferred girls and boys who left his genitals out of the social equation.

“Would you let girls run in races with boys?” asked Lynn, who had by far the deepest voice of any of the kids in their class.

“Why not?” said Andrew, sensing a possible tricky situation developing.

Another thing he’d learned at those three other schools was to avoid tricky situations whenever possible because they often ended badly for someone who might be him.

“Because,” said Alice, jutting out her chin and pouting at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable, “the other boys won’t let us race them because I’m fastest and Gina is faster than all of them except Biff.”

“I don’t know anyone here,” said Andrew, who was by then next in line for a turn on the swings. “Except my sisters. They’re older than me. One is in Third Grade and one is in Fifth.”

“So you think girls should be able to race with boys,” said Gina, stating this as a fact rather than a question.

“Okay,” said Andrew, hurrying to claim the just-vacated swing.

And he thought no more about girls racing with boys until Lunch Recess when he was in line to play Four Square and two boys who were in the Second Grade confronted him.

The bigger of the two boys was a few inches taller than Andrew and twenty pounds heavier.

“Hey turd face,” said this bigger boy, “why did you say the girls could race with us?”

“I never did,” said Andrew, shaking his head.

“Yes, you did,” said the boy, giving Andrew a shove.

Andrew took a deep breath and replied, “I said girls should be able to race with boys, not could. This is my first day here and I don’t know all the rules. Please leave me alone.”

“Maybe I don’t want to, turd face,” said the boy, shoving Andrew again.

Now another thing Andrew learned at his previous three schools was that when someone bullied you and you didn’t fight back, the bullying continued until you did fight back. And to be effective, the fighting back had to be more than merely exchanging a shove for a shove. To stop the bullying, fighting back had to transcend the initial assault.

So before the boy knew what was happening, Andrew curled his right hand into a fist and slugged the boy really hard in the center of the forehead. And before the bully’s pal could react to Andrew slugging the bully, Andrew punched him equally hard in the forehead, too.

Both boys were staggered by the blows and yowling in pain when two teachers intervened. Mrs. Dalrymple, a large Second Grade teacher with curly red hair, took charge of Chad, the boy who had initiated the conflict, and Chad’s cohort Biff, while Miss Nakamoto, a petite First Grade Teacher with long black hair, escorted Andrew away from the scene.

And following close behind Andrew and Miss Nakamoto were Alice and Gina and Lynn, Alice declaring loudly, “We saw the whole thing, Miss Nakamoto. Chad and Biff started it because Andrew said girls could race with boys and they know I’m the fastest and they hate losing to me.”

Which is how Andrew became friends with Alice and was not so secretly in love with her for the next three years until she and her family moved to Canada and he never saw her again, except he did, only the next time she was thirteen and named Sara.

But before we get to Sara, we will end the Alice chapter of Andrew’s life by saying that at Lunch Recess on the last day of Fourth Grade, Alice approached Andrew and said she wanted to speak to him in private.

They walked across the playground to the big oak tree and Alice stood very close to him and said, “I’m really gonna miss you, Andrew. Every time I think about not living here anymore, I think about you and how much I like you.” Then she frowned and pouted at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable. “I think I want to marry you. Would you like to marry me?”

“Yes,” said Andrew, without the slightest hesitation. “We’ll send each other letters and talk on the phone and visit each other during summer vacation and get married when we’re eighteen.”

“Okay, good,” said Alice, sighing with relief. “I’ll give you my new address in Canada.”

“And I’ll give you mine,” said Andrew, brimming with happiness.

Andrew wrote to Alice three times that summer after Fourth Grade. But she never wrote back. He was heartbroken until the beginning of Fifth Grade when he fell madly in love with Sharon Goldfarb who toyed with his affections for half the school year before going steady with, you guessed it, Chad.

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Little Movies Goes eee

Several weeks ago I announced the publication of Little Movies, my new book of fourteen short stories, refined versions of stories I posted on my blog a couple years ago. I said I would let you know when the e-books were online, and now they are. So…

I am happy to announce again the publication of my new book Little Movies: tales of love and transformation. I began the publishing process before the current crisis overtook us and now the book has come into being. Dramatic and often funny, these stories illuminate the transformative power of kindness, generosity, honesty, and love.

If you prefer your books in three-dimensions, handsome paperback copies of Little Movies may be ordered from your favorite bookstore or purchased from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $16.95. 

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164718357X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i7

Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-movies-todd-walton/1136701682

If you prefer e-books, the debut e-book versions are just $4.99. 

Apple http://books.apple.com/us/book/id1512512099

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088C4T77G

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-movies-todd-walton/1136701682?ean=2940162720911

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/little-movies

For those of you in England, the book is available in paperback or kindle from Amazon UK or from Waterstones.

And for those of you in Australia and New Zealand, the book is available in paperback and kindle from Amazon Australia.

Word-of-mouth is my sole means of promoting the book, so I hope you’ll consider sharing this announcement with your friends who love fiction and short stories. And if you do purchase Little Movies and enjoy the collection, I would be grateful for a review on the site where you purchased the book. 

Big thanks to those of you who have already ordered the book! Looking forward to hearing what you think of the stories.

Todd

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Those People

Maybe we were just moving too fast before the pandemic and before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect to notice what was going on. Maybe we weren’t here as much before we began sheltering in place and were less attentive to the state of the kitchen counters. Maybe we were entertaining guests before the pandemic, so the size of the mess didn’t strike us as unusual. Or maybe the perpetrators became more cavalier about their behavior as more and more time passed and we didn’t catch them at their dirty work.

In any case, we could no longer avoid the truth that far more dishes and cups and silverware were being used every day in our house than Marcia and I could possibly generate on our own.

We first became aware of the scope of the problem a couple weeks into sheltering-in-place when it dawned on us that washing the dishes after supper had gone from being a pleasant fifteen-minute affair to a grueling forty-five-minute marathon.

“Where did all these dishes come from?” I asked Marcia. “We had toast and tea for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and veggies and rice with one of your stellar salads for supper. Yet the kitchen looks like Julia Child and Guy Fieri just had a five-course cook-off in here.”

“Does seem like lots more dishes than usual,” Marcia opined. “Maybe we should start doing the dishes after breakfast, too.”

So we tried that, and at first it seemed to help a little, but then there came a night when virtually all our plates and bowls and mugs and glasses and pots and pans were stacked on the counters and stove top, all in desperate need of washing.

“This is hard to fathom,” I suggested, as I took a break after scrubbing the third frying pan of the session. “Almost as hard to fathom as life returning to what we used to call normal one day.”

“I know for a fact,” said Marcia, perusing the mountain of dishes yet to be washed and rinsed and dried and put away, “that I used almost none of these dishes today.”

“And I know a similar fact about my usage,” I replied. “Which can only mean one thing.”

“Other people,” said Marcia, her eyes narrowing, “must be coming in here and using dishes when we’re not looking.”

“When we’re in our studies or on walks or working outside,” I said, nodding in agreement.

“Let’s start doing the dishes after lunch, too,” Marcia suggested. “That should give us more data from which to determine the who and how and what and when of the situation.”

And so we instituted after-lunch dishwashing to go with after-breakfast dishwashing and after-supper dishwashing, yet the plague of dirty dishes continued.

We came to think of our nemeses as Those People. We even wrote a song about them that begins, Those people they get a thrill, using dishes willy-nil. We assumed they were people. Dogs and cats and skunks and deer can’t open refrigerators, take out pumpkin pie, cut pieces and place those pieces on dishes, fetch forks, pour cups of coffee, and so forth. Those are the kinds of things people do. Right? Right.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Don’t be silly, Todd. Obviously you and Marcia were generating all those dirty dishes and you just hadn’t been aware you were doing so much generating because the getting and eating of food is a largely unconscious act.

We thought that, too, and decided to do an experiment to prove conclusively whether or not we were Those People. We vowed to each use one bowl and one plate and one fork and one spoon for an entire day, and to rigorously not allow ourselves to use anything else, except, of course, the things we cooked with. If we were the only people generating dirty dishes, then by day’s end there should be, at most, two bowls, two plates, two forks, and two spoons to wash, and a pan or two.

And for a couple days that proved to be the case, but then the extra dishes began to proliferate again: and we knew it had to be Those People.

It was shortly after our experiment in Spartan dish usage came to an end that we began hearing the clanking and clinking sounds in the kitchen, and one afternoon, responding to a particularly loud outburst of clinking and clanking, I dashed into the kitchen and found a woman and a man sitting at our kitchen counter eating scrambled eggs and drinking coffee, another man making an elaborate sandwich, a boy eating a bowl of granola, and a girl eating chips and salsa and guacamole.

They were all startled by my sudden and unexpected arrival in the kitchen.

But before I could ask, “Who are you and what are you doing in our house?” the man making a sandwich said, “You may not be aware of this, but you’re almost out of mustard.”

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Vito’s Birthday Surprise

an adventure starring Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus

There are three best friends named Jeremy, Doofus, and Vito. They live in the same neighborhood. Doofus likes building interesting wooden structures and eating pizza. Jeremy likes playing Frisbee and singing. Vito has a big workshop and likes building machines and engines. They all love hunting for treasure.

One day Jeremy comes over to Doofus’s house and says, “Hey Doofus. Guess what happens five days from now?”

Doofus thinks for a moment. “The sun comes up. We ride bikes. I take a bath. We have pizza?”

“I mean something special,” says Jeremy. “Something about Vito.”

“We go on a treasure hunt?” asks Doofus. “And then go get pizza?”

“Maybe,” says Jeremy, “but that’s not the special thing.”

“Tell me,” says Doofus, frowning. “My head hurts from guessing.”

“It will be Vito’s birthday,” says Jeremy. “Let’s make him something really special.”

“Like a giant pizza?” says Doofus.

“Better than that,” says Jeremy. “A super duper treasure-hunting machine.”

“Oh but Vito is the best machine builder in the world,” says Doofus. “He’s the smartest, strongest, fastest, and cutest. How could we ever make a machine as good as the machines he already has?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Jeremy, “but I think it would be fun to try.”

So they get lots of wood and bolts and nuts and build a structure as big as a giant house and they put forty-seven wheels on it. Now they make twenty-four engines with levers and gears and wires and batteries and attach them all over the inside of the structure.

“Wow,” says Doofus, admiring their work. “Let’s have a pizza break.”

After a lunch of delicious mushroom and cheese pizza, they get back to work.

They add five digging arms, a big saw arm, a telescope, wings, propellers, and a control panel with seventy-nine buttons and forty-three dials and nine screens.

Now they take the machine for a test run and fly down to the beach where they dig a giant pile of sand and using the special sculpting arm they create the biggest and strongest sand castle ever made that no waves can ever knock over.

In the sand castle they make bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a gigantic playroom with swings and a slide. They like the sand castle so much they decide to live there. They build a second sand castle where they keep the machine.

Now everything is ready. On Vito’s birthday they go to his house and tell him they have a surprise for him if he will agree to be blindfolded so he won’t know where he’s going.

“Sure. No problem,” says Vito, letting them blindfold him. He’s so smart he guesses they are taking him to the beach. When they get to the beach, they remove his blindfold and shout, “Happy Birthday!”

And even though Vito could easily build a bigger and better sand castle and a much bigger and better machine, he really likes the ones Jeremy and Doofus made for him. Now they go into the sand castle and there are lots of people waiting to shout SURPRISE!

Now everybody sings Happy Birthday to Vito and they have a huge birthday pizza followed by ice cream and chocolate cake. On the cake are five lit candles. Vito makes a wish and blows out all the candles with one breath.

“What was your wish?” asks Doofus.

“I wished everybody in the world could be happy,” says Vito.

“Yay!” says Jeremy. “That’s the best wish of all.”

The End

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Diego Kelly Gets A Glimpse

Think of this as a fable or a fairy tale, but whatever you do, don’t think this could possibly be true.

Diego Kelly is sixty-four. He has an older sister Luisa and a younger brother Juan. Their mother Maria was a hairdresser, their father Jerome a forklift operator. Diego and his siblings were born in Gilroy, California and called Gilroy home until their parents divorced when Luisa was twenty-five, Diego twenty-three, and Juan twenty. After the divorce, their mother moved to Fort Bragg, California while their father stayed in Gilroy.

Diego learned to play the guitar when he was six. From then on, until four months ago, writing songs was the central focus of his life. He dropped out of college after two years and moved to Los Angeles where he pursued a music career until he was thirty-three and discovered that several of his songs had been recorded by other recording artists claiming to have written his songs. Four of those stolen songs became huge hits, and when Diego’s many attempts to prove he’d been ripped off came to naught, he had a nervous breakdown.

Thereafter he lived with his mother in Fort Bragg until she died when Diego was forty-seven. She left him her little house and that’s where he lives today with his brown mutt Zero, his orange tabby Twyla, and his black tabby Magdalena. He makes his minimal living as a counterperson in a coffee house and until four months ago he had never in his life stopped playing his guitar and writing songs.

Important things to know about Diego are that he is kind and generous and friendly and fully recovered from his nervous breakdown, though he still sometimes feels mighty sad about having his songs and a successful career as a musician stolen from him.

So…

On a cold October evening after a long day behind the coffee house counter, Diego is in the kitchen of his commodious little house making quesadillas and guacamole and drinking a beer when someone knocks on his front door. Thinking the knocker must be Stella, a lovely woman he’s been courting for six months now without much success, Diego calls, “Come in” and the door opens admitting a most unusual person who is not Stella.

We will use the pronoun she when referring to the unusual person, though she is not obviously male or female. She is tall and strikingly beautiful, entirely bald, the dome of her skull perfectly round, her sparkling blue eyes enormous. She is wearing a gray tunic giving no hint of breasts, and black jeans giving little hint of hips, yet her facial features and the graceful way she moves makes Diego think she is a woman.

“Hello,” says Diego, hoping his visitor isn’t crazy. “May I help you?”

“Diego Kelly?” says the unusual person, her voice deep and giving no hint of gender.

“Yes?” says Diego, using the gentle tone of voice he uses when dealing with unhinged customers he occasionally encounters in the coffee house. “Who are you?”

The unusual person blinks three times and says, “Zah.”

At which moment Diego’s dog Zero enters from the backyard through his dog door, looks at Zah, and quite uncharacteristically does not bark or growl.

Zah smiles at Zero and says, “Dog.”

“You got that right,” says Diego, smiling curiously at his unusual visitor. “Here’s the situation, Zah. I’m in the middle of making supper and expecting a friend to arrive any minute, so…”

“No one will arrive,” says Zah, gazing intently at Diego. “Your time is suspended.”

“Okay,” says Diego, now convinced his visitor is a bit off kilter. “What can I do for you, Zah?”

She gestures to Diego’s sofa. “Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego takes a moment to assess Zah, and feeling no threat from her says, “Would you care for a beer?”

Zah blinks three times. “No thank you. Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego carries his beer to the sofa and sits down.

Zah crosses the room and sits next to Diego.

Diego waits for Zah to speak.

“You have not played your guitar in four of your moon cycles,” says Zah, gazing at the fire crackling in Diego’s fireplace. “You were writing a new song and stopped playing.”

Diego freezes. No one in the world knows he stopped playing the guitar four months ago, and no one in the world knows he stopped writing a new song.

“How do you know that?” he asks with a tremble in his voice.

“All is known,” says Zah, nodding. “Every sound is heard. Why did you stop writing your song?”

“Well…” says Diego, remembering the precise moment he put down his guitar and gave up on that oh so beautiful song. “I didn’t see the point in writing yet another song no one will hear. Or another song only a few people will hear because I force them to listen to me. I’m done with that. I’ve written hundreds of good songs. All for nothing. Why write another?”

“Your new song will be a vital thread,” says Zah, her voice full of urgency. “Your one hundred and sixty-seven songs are each vital threads. You are heard throughout the universe. Please resume writing your songs.”

Diego laughs. “Oh I get it now. I’m dreaming. A lucid dream. I love these. Excuse me while I make love with Stella and she won’t care I’m a pauper.”

Zah blinks three times. “You are not dreaming. Your song is a vital thread. Please resume writing your song. I will give you…” She blinks three more times. “What do you want, Diego Kelly? Tell me what you want and I will give it to you and you will resume writing your song.”

Diego places a hand on his heart and says sincerely, “All I ever wanted was for people to hear my music and… love me.”

“Your music is heard throughout the universe,” says Zah, nodding. “Your music provides vital threads in the Zantar Dimension, the Gorzoi Complex, the Zintaphor Range, and the Rezmigal Vortex. Without your vital threads the Borzon Cascade cannot…” She blinks. “Function.”

“Oh gimme a break,” says Diego, hot with anger. “I’m heard throughout the universe but not here on earth?” He glares at Zah. “I don’t know who you are or how you knew I gave up on that song, but I’m done writing songs nobody hears. Now get out of my house.”

Zah rises. “I will go now. You cannot be replaced, but if you will not resume writing your songs we will find other ways to continue. Know this, Diego Kelly. Universe created you to write songs to be vital threads. That is why you are here now in your body. Goodbye.”

And Zah disappears.

“Wow,” says Diego, getting up from his sofa and returning to the kitchen. “Doesn’t get much weirder than that.”

Now Stella arrives and gives Diego an unexpectedly long and loving hug followed by a tender kiss.

“To what do I owe…” begins Diego.

“You’re just the greatest,” says Stella, kissing him again. “Why I didn’t kiss you four months ago, I’ll never know.”

fin

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Ongoing News

These three beautiful does are sisters. Seen from our north-facing living room window, their mother is partially visible far left center, obscured by the deck railing. The four of them come to visit us every day and are not terribly afraid of us if we keep our distance.

We don’t feed the deer, though I occasionally throw an apple core out there for them. The resident ravens know of these occasional apple cores and frequently get to them before the deer come around again. Our neighbor Defer does feed the neighborhood deer, which explains why many of them make his yard their base of operations.

Every year, save for one of the eight since we’ve lived here, the mother of these three does has given birth to twin fawns. One of these three young does gave birth last year for the first time. We have yet to see any fawns this year, but the time is fast approaching when fawns emerge from their nests to follow their mothers about.

 As reported in a previous news report, I am splitting rounds of bull pine and stacking them to dry. This is a view of the stack from the west.

And this is a picture of the second track of pine that will soon be as high or higher than the stack to the left. I stack firewood this way to create lots of air space around the pieces to hasten the seasoning process. We want that wood ready to burn when we move it into the woodshed six months hence in October.

This is the most recent jigsaw puzzle Marcia put together. I helped a little, and by a little I mean I placed three or four pieces where they needed to go. Marcia very much enjoyed assembling this jigsaw puzzle and I found it delightful to walk by and see our precious world coming together.

This is Vito the day before he turned five feeling happy about getting to preview his birthday cupcake, photo courtesy of Vito’s mom Clare. Vito is my story pal. We talk on the phone every day since I can’t visit with him in-person due to the dang virus. The phone visits started out with me telling him versions of stories we invented together before the pandemic and those stories have evolved in all sorts of surprising ways since the daily phone sessions began.

These stories all involve three boys who are best friends: Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus. Vito is quick to point out that the Vito in our stories is not him, but another boy who just happens to also have the name Vito. And purely by chance, I’m sure, the Vito in these stories is possessed of intelligence, strength, and magical powers second to none.

This is a picture of Vito’s dad Nick. For Vito’s birthday, Nick arranged a Zoom gathering. Vito’s aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfather and friends came together on a dozen computer screens in California and Philadelphia and England to wish Vito a happy fifth birthday. We watched Vito open presents and eat a birthday cupcake. We also watched each other watching Vito.

I took a picture or two of the screen during the Zoom party. I found the experience both sweet and strange. This new way of gathering holds little appeal for me, though I did enjoy seeing all those people focusing their loving attention on Vito.

Later on Vito’s birthday, Nick and Clare drove Vito over to get his birthday presents from us, those presents being two of the Vito-Doofus-Jeremy adventures printed out in large type for his folks to read to Vito and for Vito to read when he is a little older. They brought birthday cupcakes and a jigsaw puzzle of England for Marcia.

Vito was sequestered in the car and Marcia and I were wearing masks at the start of the visit, but eventually Vito negotiated his release and got out and ran around and climbed on things while we kept our masks on and maintained the required distances between us all. A fun visit, minus hugs at the end.

Vito and his mother and father are moving to Switzerland in a few months to live there for many years. They are eager to make the move, but enjoying their last few months here in Mendocino. We are hoping to have a few more in-person visits, however brief, before they depart.