In a blog entry from 2010, I wrote: Mrs. Davenport, my Third Grade teacher at Las Lomitas Elementary School, was from Oklahoma and proudly one-eighth Cherokee. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in all my eight mortal years. She was astute, funny, musical, athletic, and she enjoyed using words somewhat beyond the official Third Grade vocabulary. We loved Mrs. Davenport because she loved us and had great empathy for our collective predicament: being eight-year-olds.
Today I will add to that description and say she was tall and slender with raven black hair usually worn in a bun, her lipstick ruby red. She was the first teacher I ever had a crush on, despite her being married, if we were to believe the Mrs., which of course we did. She wore glasses, and when she took them off to clean them she was beyond beautiful to me. And every once in great while, she would let her black hair down to redo her bun, and in those moments she was a full-blooded Cherokee goddess.
Mrs. Davenport liked me, and
in contrast to my First and Second Grade teachers did not often punish me for
speaking out of turn or talking to other kids during class. She understood the phenomenal
energy of little kids, and when I and others would become restless from too
much confinement and the mental strain of sitting quietly and listening, she
would say, “Todd, Jody, Wendy, Diana, and anybody else with ants in your pants,
run to the oak tree and back. Right now. Go.”
We would walk out into the
day knowing not to run until we were beyond the wing of classrooms, and then we
would dash across the concrete playground and the grassy playing field to the
largest oak tree in the world, as far as eight-year-old Todd was concerned, the
round trip a good quarter-of-a-mile. One lap usually sufficed to calm us down
for another half-hour of confinement and study, unless Mrs. Davenport discerned
any lingering restlessness in us, in which case she would send those of us in
need on another run to the oak and back.
As far as I know, Mrs.
Davenport was the only teacher at our school to employ this most effective
therapeutic technique, which rendered Attention Deficit Disorder a non-issue
for those of us under her care, though I know
had I been born twenty years later I would have been the poster child for that
popular psychological disorder of today and made to take the requisite drugs.
I never had homework until
Third Grade and it seemed to me that confinement from eight in the morning
until three in the afternoon was enough to ask of us. Why should we sacrifice more hours of our precious lives working
math problems and writing definitions of words? Thus I did not do homework
except sometimes a little right
before school in the morning, which usually sufficed.
Mrs. Davenport did not give
us much homework, but the one assignment she was adamant we work on at home every
day was undeniably worthwhile, yet abhorrent to me. Every day she would write
five words on the blackboard and we were to copy these words into special
binders full of lined paper she’d given us, each word to be printed, then
written in cursive, then looked up in the dictionary, the definition written down,
and the word used properly in a
sentence. As Mrs. Davenport told us time and again with her mild Oklahoma
accent, “If you do five words a night, you’ll have three hundred words done in
three months and be very glad you did.”
A week after our class
began this massive vocabulary-building undertaking, Mrs. Davenport checked our
special binders to see how we were doing. The pages in my special binder were
still pristine. Mrs. Davenport looked me in the eye and said, “You should have
twenty-five words done by now, Todd. I want to see forty-five words done by the
end of next week when I check your binder again.”
In spurts on the bus to
school in the morning, I managed to get about thirty words done by her next
check, and I had not done them well. She wagged her finger at me and said,
“Come on, Todd, buckle down here.”
But I did not buckle down, and my not buckling
down coincided with her ceasing to check our progress for many subsequent weeks,
though every day she would write five new words on the chalkboard and remind
us, “Now be sure to do your five words after school today.”
Then suddenly there came a
Friday when she informed us our vocabulary binders were due the following
Monday. Three hundred words were supposed to have been looked up, their
definitions written down, and each word used properly in a sentence. I had done
a total of forty words. Maybe. So did I buckle down and sacrifice the weekend
in a valiant attempt to do three months of work in two days? No. I waited until
Sunday afternoon and managed to do about thirty more words by the next day, and
I did them poorly.
What I remember most
vividly about Mrs. Davenport’s reaction to my disgraceful vocabulary binder was
the pained look on her face, her genuine anguish at my betrayal of her trust in
My dismal performance
prompted Mrs. Davenport to have a meeting with my mother, after which I was
chastised by my parents and for a few weeks made to sit at the dining table before
supper every night to do my homework, except I rarely had any homework after the vocabulary binder debacle, which binder,
for some reason, I was not made to complete.
Mrs. Davenport soon forgave
me and life went on. I continued to adore her and she continued to be her
charming self and send me running to the oak tree and back a couple times most
every day. She continued to smoke cigarettes on her breaks, I soon forgot about
my vocabulary binder failure, and my mother stopped making me sit at the table
before supper to do homework I rarely had.
I remember one especially
exciting day that year when Mrs. Davenport and another woman teacher intervened
in a fight between two big Eighth Graders, the two toughest scariest guys at
our school. I was not an eyewitness to the fight, but I heard many stirring
accounts of the fight from those who claimed to have seen the bloody drama
The two big guys were
having a slugfest and Mrs. Davenport waded in between them to break up the
fight. One of the boys, swinging wildly, struck Mrs. Davenport on the cheek
under her eye. She tackled him and threw him to the ground before more teachers
arrived to help contain the brawlers. For a couple weeks after she broke up
that fight, she sported a big bruise under her eye, and I thought she was the
bravest person in the world.
Those were the days, the
1950s in northern California, when school was not pre-formatted. Every teacher
had his or her own way of doing things and covering the subjects they were
supposed to cover in that year. Mrs. Davenport had a way of teaching that was
ideal for eight-year-olds. I liken her methods to kindergarten for older kids.
That is to say, along with sometimes
sitting at our desks learning arithmetic together and listening to her read
stories and collective things like that, we were very often not all doing the same thing, the
classroom more like a big artists’ workshop. A group of kids might be working
on a mural about California Indians, some kids might be drawing pictures, some
writing stories, and some reading.
And at recess a couple
times a week, for those kids who didn’t want to go out on the playground, Mrs.
Davenport would sit with the Fireside Book
of Folk Songs open in front of her, singing in her gorgeous voice, and four
or seven or ten of us stood around her singing with her.
She understood that more
than facts of dubious value, kids need experiences that challenge the mind and
inspire creative thinking. Or at least that’s how I choose to remember how I
learned and grew under her guidance sixty-three years ago when she was my
teacher and I had a big crush on her.
I was one of the “smart” kids in my Las Lomitas elementary school classes, learned the minimal info we had to learn with ease, and when in Third Grade we started having homework, I always did mine at the last minute, often sloppily, and my teachers, until Eighth Grade, didn’t require more from me because I was still “ahead” of most of my classmates.
My main teacher in Eighth Grade at La Entrada junior high was Miss Imbach. She was in her early twenties, educated at Stanford and Harvard, and she was brilliant. Within minutes of sitting down in her classroom, I was keenly aware she was a different species than my previous teachers. She spoke to us as if we were intelligent adults and she didn’t seem to care if we immediately liked her or not.
She taught us the art of
outlining, and not in a cursory way. In learning to outline, we diligently practiced
distinguishing layers of specificity, which taught us critical thinking, among
other things. We outlined everything, and constantly. No one-week course in
outlining with Miss Imbach. We practiced outlining for the entire year. This
was also true for diagramming sentences and rewriting sentences and paragraphs.
But a couple weeks into
that school year, before we learned
to outline and rewrite, I turned in my first essay, most of which I’d written
on the twenty-minute bus ride to school. Miss Imbach glanced at my hastily
scrawled pages, handed them back to me and said, “See me after class.”
As I stood before her in
the empty classroom, the other kids having rushed out for recess, she said,
She gazed at me
“It’s what I wrote,” I said
“I’ll give you another day
to write it again. We both know you can do better than this. I want to see your
rough draft and second draft and third draft.”
I was in shock. I’d never rewritten anything. I had no concept of
second drafts, let alone third drafts. In fact, I had no concept of taking time
to write anything. I always just quickly
wrote something related to what we were supposed to write about, turned in what
I’d written, and gotten an A or a B.
Thus at the age of twelve,
for the first time in my life, I sat down to thoughtfully write a few pages
about something, I don’t remember what, and when I’d written those pages, I
read them, which was another first for me. I was horrified. And the fact was, I
didn’t know how to rewrite. I had no
experience of rewriting, nor had any
teacher ever taught me how to even begin
to do that.
I didn’t dare ask my father
for help. He would, I knew, use this as an opportunity to prove how smart he
was and how stupid I was, and it never occurred to me to ask my mother. So I
resorted to my older sister Kathy, a fastidious straight-A scholar, by then a
sophomore in high school.
She read my rough draft and
said, “Gag me with a spoon,” a popular expression of distaste in those days.
She showed me a few tricks, which I applied to my essay in making a second
draft. I read this second draft and thought it better than the first draft, but
still dreadful. My sister agreed, showed me how to eliminate a few obvious
redundancies and how to say a few things more clearly, and I created a third
This all took me hours! I’d never spent even one hour on homework. Ever.
When I turned in my three
drafts to Miss Imbach the next day, she nodded and resumed her conversation
with another student. What? No ticker tape parade? No trophy? No effusive thank
you and congratulations and an A+? Nothing. And two days later when we got our
essays back, my grade was a C-.
To make a long story short,
I became devoted to Miss Imbach, so much so I attended her wedding mid-year
when she became Mrs. McConnell. I loved her as I have never loved another
teacher. She taught me to write, to think, to argue cogently, and to tear
sentences and paragraphs apart and put them back together so they became clear
and pleasing; and we had many fabulous laughing sessions as a class, our senses
of humor lifted by her teaching out of the potty into realms of relative
Indeed, high school for me,
after having Mrs. McConnell for my teacher, was a colossal bore and a waste of
four golden years. I learned nothing
new in four years of Advanced English, and backslid because I could turn in
crap again and get A’s and B’s.
Yet perhaps the most
miraculous thing Mrs. McConnell did for me in that life-changing year was to
pair me with Cyd Jasmin as editors of each other’s writing. That is, Mrs.
McConnell created dyads in our English class, and when we wrote essays and
stories we would exchange drafts with our partners who would then make editing
suggestions prior to our writing our final drafts.
When the dyads were
announced in class a couple months into the school year, I froze in disbelief when
Miss Imbach said, “Cyd and Todd.” Why disbelief? Because ever since Third Grade,
Cyd had been the king bully of our school along with a couple other brutes. I’d
never before been in a class with Cyd, and he had never spoken to me except to
threaten me with bodily harm. And on a few occasions he had inflicted that harm.
Hence, I was terrified of him. Besides, I was one of the “smart” kids and he
couldn’t be smart, right?
Wrong. The first time we
traded papers, our autobiographies, Cyd gave me a typed twelve-page opus that
was so good, so sophisticated and nuanced, I felt like an idiot for giving him
my childish five-page summation of my comparatively silly life.
I could find no flaw in
Cyd’s writing, and his autobiography revealed so much about him and his life, I
understood why he’d become the school
bully and chose to consort with the local toughs.
When I gave him back his
autobiography the next day and effused about how good I thought it was, he
beamed at me and responded in a most un-Cyd-like way, saying he’d really
enjoyed my autobiography, too, and had only made a few suggestions which he’d
written on the last page.
And for the rest of Eighth
Grade and through high school, Cyd and I liked each other. We didn’t become
good friends, but we were always glad to see each other, having for several
months vetted each other’s essays before we rewrote them for our beloved Miss
Twenty-five years ago, when I was forty-seven and living in Berkeley, I had a three-month relationship with a woman who lived in Los Angeles. In the course of our brief liaison, I made two trips to LA and she made a few trips to Berkeley, and at some point I asked her, “Have you ever been in therapy?”
“I have three good friends
who are therapists who talk to me
about their problems,” she replied, “so I’m not drawn to therapy. But I do go
to a psychic and he’s incredibly helpful in that way.”
“In the way of therapy?” I asked,
“Yes,” she said. “He’s
great. In fact, you should have a session with him.”
Never having gone to a
psychic, the next time I was in Los Angeles I went to see the guy. I was
expecting a smooth operator, either a shyster or a wannabe shaman. His house
was in a woodsy neighborhood in the middle of the LA sprawl. When I arrived at
his place there was a hawk circling above his beautiful adobe house, keening. What
was the raptor trying to tell me? Get the
hell outta here?Welcome to the
I’d been instructed to go
into the adjoining studio and wait for the guy, so I did. The place was
gorgeous, white walls, an old table center room, a well-used Rider-Waite tarot
deck on the table, two chairs, arch-topped windows built into the adobe, and
several shelves of fantastic crystals. Seeing all this, I expected the guy to
have long brown hair and a deep voice and a hawk feather in a psychedelic
Instead, in comes a wiry
guy in an old sweatshirt and baggy trousers, short gray hair, barefoot, brusque,
“Hey,” he says, shaking my
hand. “Todd, right?”
“Larry. Sit down.”
“I’m a friend of Renee’s.”
He nods. “So… you here about
anything in particular?”
“No. I’ve never been to a
psychic and Renee said you were great, so…”
“Good,” he says, nodding.
We sit across from each
other at the table and he gives me a long look, and while he’s looking I say, “Gorgeous
He glances at the shelves.
“Yeah, people gave me those. I was never into rocks, but one client brought me
that big amethyst chunk and another client saw it and brought me that giant
quartz crystal and the rest followed.”
“I carry rocks,” I say,
liking him despite his tough guy persona. “Have since I was a little kid.”
“Oh yeah?” he says, his
eyes twinkling. “You got one on you?”
“Always,” I say, taking the
two rocks out of my pockets.
I hand him the rocks and he
looks them over, hands one back to me and keeps the round one, white quartz in
“I can do the reading from
this one,” he says, studying the rock. “Or we can use the cards. They’ll both
get us to the same place.”
“Oh then from the rock,” I
say, amused and curious.
He holds the rock for a
moment, sets it on top of the tarot deck and closes his eyes. “When you were
five? Four? Five. Your mother placed you as a shield between her and your
father. She wanted you to protect her from him, and she kept you there… “ He
opens his eyes. “A long time.”
I gasped, not because he
had reiterated something I’d learned in therapy, but because he’d given me a
hugely important missing puzzle piece in the story of my entanglement with my
mother and my father’s extreme antipathy toward me.
“Of course that was way too
much to ask of a little kid, to protect his mother from his father, but that’s
what she asked you to do. And you did the best you could, but of course it was
impossible, and the impossibility shaped your life.”
I ceased to doubt him and
listened in amazement to his remarkably accurate description of me in the
world, though he never asked for any information about me. Near the end of the hour-long
reading, he handed me my rock and spread the tarot deck face down in a fan on
the table. “Pick a card.”
I picked The Magician.
“So this is you,” he says,
looking at the card and nodding, “which is not surprising. I knew when I walked
in here you were psychic. Are you aware of this?”
“No. I’m aware of being
“This is not guessing, this
is knowing,” he says simply. “You’ll be with people and without knowing how you
know, you’ll know things about them they aren’t aware of or are keeping secret.
Ring a bell?”
“Kind of,” I say, thinking
of times when this might have been true. “And I’m a writer. The stories come to
me unbidden. I don’t make them up. Not consciously.”
“That’s different, though it’s
probably related. I don’t know. And now our time is almost up. Anything you
want to ask me?”
“Yeah, this tarot card. The
Magician. How is he me? Or how am I him?”
“You’re a powerful person.
You have unlimited potential, and your work in this lifetime could be some kind of connecting the
physical world, so-called reality, with the spiritual world. And my guess is
you’re mostly unaware of this unless…” He squints at me. “You a musician?”
“So maybe you know a little
about it from that.”
“And how does one… how do I
access my power and potential?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs.
“I’m not a therapist. I just tell you what I see.”
“Can you tell me,” asks Sweeney, handing the teapot to McDougall, “what this is worth?”
McDougall, a portly man with a gray handlebar
moustache, takes the little pearly white teapot in his big fleshy hands and
nods slowly. “Baleek,” he says quietly. “Irish porcelain. Late eighteen
hundreds. Extremely rare. I’ll have to examine her with a magnifying glass, but
if this is the original glaze, and she’s flawless, I’d say she’s worth ten
thousand dollars. Possibly more. And I’ll tell you right now, I want her.”
Sweeney, a slender man with brown hair turning gray, had hoped to get thirty or forty dollars for the old thing. Desperate for money, he had finally done what he’d been avoiding for three years. He’d gone through the two boxes of stuff left to him by his mother. In the first of the boxes he found only memorabilia—pictures and letters. But the second box contained the teapot, six matching cups and saucers, and a matching sugar bowl and creamer.
“That much?” he says, trying not to show too much astonishment at McDougall’s estimate of the teapot’s worth. “And what if I had the matching cups and saucers and things?”
McDougall gazes thoughtfully at Sweeney, his right eyebrow rising dramatically. “Six cups and saucers?”
“Yes,” says Sweeney, holding his breath. “And a sugar bowl and creamer.”
McDougall carefully sets the teapot down on the table between them. “A complete set of this Baleek, circa 1870, in excellent condition, would be worth at least fifty thousand dollars, and possibly a great deal more.”
“Why so much?” asks Sweeney, staggered by the sum.
“Well, first of all we’re talking about extremely rare and fragile ceramics that are nearly a hundred and fifty years old. A complete, original set outside of a museum is virtually unheard of in this day and age.” He pauses. “Handles intact?”
“Yes,” says Sweeney, turning to go. “I’ll be back with them in twenty minutes.”
“No, no, no!” cries McDougall, emphatically shaking his head. “I will bring my padded carrying case and come with you.”
“Excuse the mess,” says Sweeney, unlocking the door to his apartment.
“I’m used to messes,” says McDougall, following Sweeney into the cramped little room. “In the mud lie the nuggets.”
The place smells sour, the sink full of dirty dishes, clothes strewn about the floor, the squalid bed unmade. On a rickety table by the only window, six cups on six saucers surround a sugar bowl and creamer, each piece the same pearly white as the teapot. McDougall reverently approaches this still life, his eyes wide with wonder. When he is satisfied that the pieces are immaculate, he turns to Sweeney and says, “I will be happy to write you a check for fifty thousand dollars.”
“And I will be happy to accept it,” says Sweeney, his tired eyes filling with tears.
When the rare and delicate tea set is safely packed
away, the padded case closed and locked, McDougall says, “Now, if you don’t
mind, could you tell me what you know about the set and where your mother got
“I don’t know anything about it except that my
mother’s mother was British, so maybe it was hers.”
“You don’t remember your mother using it?”
“No,” says Sweeney, his voice full of disdain, “but
then I don’t remember much of anything about her.”
“When did she die?”
“Three years ago.”
“You were her only heir?”
He nods. “She didn’t leave me anything except a box
of photographs and the tea things.”
“Would it be a terrible imposition if I looked
through those photographs?”
“No, not at all.” Sweeney hands him a well-worn
cardboard box. “In fact, you can have them if you want.”
McDougall takes the box from him. “Have you looked
“No,” says Sweeney, shaking his head. “My mother hated me. She used to call me her big mistake. These wouldn’t mean anything to me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to get to the bank before it closes.”
With the Baleek safely installed in his vault,
McDougall makes a strong pot of black tea and sits down to examine the
photographic legacy of Sweeney’s mother. There are hundreds of photos, and on
the back of each is a note to Sweeney. The largest picture is of Sweeney as a
boy of seven or eight having a tea party with his mother. They are using the
Baleek set. On the back of the photograph Sweeney’s mother has written
Here we are acting out the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland. That’s my mother’s old Baleek tea set, which she got from her mother who got it as a wedding gift in 1872. Amazing none of the pieces ever broke or even chipped a little. In fact, you and I had many tea parties with this set, remember? You even had tea parties with your friends Raymond and Cecily, but nothing ever broke. Proof of angels, if you ask me.
You know, Dearie, I wish I could have left you buckets of money, but all I have is this tea set. I hope it brings you joy. Perhaps someday you’ll pass it along to someone who will appreciate it as much as we did.
Marcia and I are thinking of getting a new rug for the living room, our ten-year-old, four-hundred-dollar Cost Plus rug from India badly frayed from constant heavy use. Marcia has begun shopping around online and I am reminded of my last search for a rug twenty-six years ago.
I moved to Berkeley from Sacramento in 1995. Recently divorced and hoping to revive my writing career and my emotional life, too, I was off to a good start with the sale of my novel Ruby & Spear and a movie option on my novel Forgotten Impulses.
Having a little jingle
in my pocket for the first time in many years, I thought I’d buy a beautiful
rug for the living room of the house I was renting on Evelyn Avenue. To that
end, I enlisted my friend Mindy to accompany me to a Persian Rug store on
Solano Avenue, a store I’d walked by countless times, the rugs displayed in the
window ever-changing and always enticing.
A handsome Persian
fellow sitting at a desk at the back of the shop looked up as we entered. “May
I help you?” he asked, and I said Yes.
When he joined us, I informed him I was looking for a six-foot by eight-foot
rug in the thousand-dollar range.
He smiled faintly and
led us to a stack of rugs. With the help of an assistant he removed the top rug
to show us the next one down and so forth until he came to a rug that elicited
an interested Hmm from me.
“How much for this one?”
I asked hopefully.
dollars,” he said, smiling politely.
Ah,” I said, the sum
petrifying. “I was thinking of something closer to a thousand.”
“I’m very sorry to tell
you this, sir,” he said, no longer smiling, “but our store is not for you
unless you are looking for a much smaller rug.”
This piqued me and I decided
I could spend as much as fifteen hundred if he showed me something I really loved.
I told him so and he sighed. “I have a few flawed rugs I can show you, but they
are only four by six or three by five. I don’t think you’ll like them.”
At which moment another
handsome Persian fellow emerged from the back of the store, he and the first
fellow had a brief conversation in Farsi, the second fellow gave me a
penetrating look and asked, “Are you an artist?”
I said I was a writer
and a musician.
He nodded graciously and
beckoned us to follow him to another stack of rugs, much finer rugs than those in
the first stack. He and the assistant slowly removed the top rug, allowed us a
few moments to contemplate the newly exposed rug, and so on until four rugs
down they uncovered the most beautiful rug I’d ever seen. Or I should say they
uncovered a rug that sang to me, “I’m the one, baby. You know I am.”
“You were meant to have
this rug,” said the salesman, gazing at me knowingly. “This rug was made for you.”
“How much?” I asked
“Because I very much want
you to have this rug,” he said, pausing momentously, “I will give it to you for
“That’s way beyond what
I can spare,” I said, which was true in one sense, but in another sense – the
spiritual truth – I could have spared that much.
“You need to buy this
rug,” he said, gazing intently at me. “It will change your life. This rug has
been waiting for you.”
I did not buy the rug and my fortunes quickly waned. A year later my savings were gone and I was barely making enough to cover my rent and pay for groceries. And every time I walked by that rug shop on Solano Avenue I would think about my beautiful rug and regret I hadn’t been brave enough to take the beauty home with me.
A few days ago the Ziggurat Farm
stories ceased to materialize, which means From
Whence is the final story of the saga that began with the first Nathan and
Del story thirty-five episodes ago.
Over the months of writing and
posting the Ziggurat Farm stories I received word from a handful of readers letting
me know they were enjoying the saga. These communiqués made writing the saga
all the more enjoyable.
In the early morning of December twentieth in their little house on the outskirts of the northern California coastal town of Mercy, the resident trio of Delilah, Nathan, and Celia sit at the dining table listening to heavy rain drumming on the roof, Nathan having green tea, Celia and Delilah coffee.
Nathan is eighty-eight and feeling
chipper this morning after a good night’s sleep. Dressed in old brown corduroy
trousers and a black long-sleeved T-shirt, his hair snow white, he’s thinking
of taking the mutts Chico and Gypsy for a walk once the rain lets up, which he
guesses will be in the early afternoon. After fifty-eight years of living in
Mercy, Nathan’s guesses about the weather are rarely wrong.
Celia is Nathan’s wife. She is eighty-two
and was a nurse for forty-five years until she retired simultaneously with
Delilah coming to live with them fifteen years ago. She is still in her nightgown
and bathrobe, her long black hair full of gray, her winter days filled with
cooking and reading and spending time with Nathan and Delilah and their
friends, her hopes of late pinned on Delilah marrying Gabriel Fernandez, a
charming fellow and good friend of their family.
Delilah is twenty-eight and the only
child of movie star Margot Cunningham who died eight years ago. Unmistakably
the daughter of her famously beautiful mother, Delilah is also still in her nightgown
and bathrobe, her brown hair longer than it has been in several years, though only
a boyish bob. This morning, after a lifetime of wondering, she is both excited
and fearful about the possibility of finally discovering who her father is.
Last night Delilah and Nathan and
Celia went with Gabriel to a party at the home of the very British Constance
and Joseph Richardson next door to Ziggurat Farm where Delilah is the main home
school teacher and Nathan and Celia are the honorary farm elders. Gabriel and
Delilah are not yet lovers, though they are wildly attracted to each other and love
spending time together.
At the party, Raul Neves, chef and
owner of Ocelot, a renowned
restaurant in Mercy, and his wife Caroline, Delilah’s close friend and the
manager of Ocelot, gave a slide show
of their recent honeymoon in England and Portugal. One of the slides was of Raul’s
deceased mother Beatrice. In the photo, which was taken when Beatrice was
thirty-five, her resemblance to Delilah is exact down to the finest details.
And because Delilah knows Raul met her
mother Margot on a few occasions twenty-nine years ago, now that she’s seen
this photo of Beatrice she is convinced Raul is her father.
“Fortunately,” says Nathan, going to
put a log on the fire, “Raul is a wonderful person and you like him and he
likes you. Much better than discovering your father is some obnoxious lout you
“You would think so,” says Delilah,
groggy from lack of sleep because her mind won’t stop gnawing on the possibility
of Raul being her father, “except how will Caroline feel if I ask Raul to have
a DNA test to see if he’s my father? They just got married and she’s pregnant
with his child. She might be devastated.”
“Caroline loves you,” says Celia, getting
up to make more coffee. “She’ll want to know the truth as much as you. So will
Raul. They’re both strong people. Don’t worry.”
“Life is far more mysterious and
fantastic than we could ever imagine,” says Nathan, gazing into the flames. “Raul
and Caroline must have noticed how much you resemble his mother and done the
math. They’re probably wondering the same thing. And if he’s not your father,
“So do I just call him up and say,
‘Hi Raul. Delilah here. Shall we go have a DNA test and see if you’re my father?’”
“Would you like me to call him?”
asks Nathan, returning to the table. “I’d be happy to.”
“Would you?” says Delilah, feeling childish
“Of course,” says Nathan, going to
the phone. “Why else did I reincarnate?”
A half-hour later, Raul and Caroline arrive with a day-old pumpkin pie.
Fresh coffee is made.
After everyone expresses joy over
the much-needed rain and the deliciousness of Raul’s pie, Caroline, tall and
lovely and married and pregnant for the first time in her life, cuts to the
“The first thing I said when I saw
that picture of Beatrice was how much she looked like Delilah. And Raul…” She turns
to her husband. “You tell.”
“When I first looked at that old
photo,” says Raul, ruggedly handsome, his hair a tangle of gray, “I couldn’t see
what Caroline was seeing. The photo is very small and the images I have in my
mind of my mother are from much later in her life, so it never occurred to me
she looked like Delilah. But when I saw the picture projected on the big screen,
it was obvious.”
“So…” says Delilah, feeling incredibly
shy around Raul, “will you… would you… can we have a DNA test and see?”
“If you’d like,” he says, smiling warmly
at her. “But I know you’re my daughter. And it makes me happy in a way I never
knew I could be happy.”
Twenty minutes later, Raul and
Delilah are sitting side-by-side in the otherwise empty waiting room of the Mercy
Hospital lab, Delilah feeling six-years-old, Raul feeling pleasantly ancient.
“Did my mother seduce you?” asks
Delilah, innocently. “Or did you seduce her?”
Raul ponders the question and says,
“When we’re done giving our blood, I’ll tell you what I remember. But not
“Raul Neves?” says a young woman in
blue scrubs calling from the lab entrance. “Ready for you now.”
“Can we come in together?” asks
Raul, smiling at the young woman. “We’re finding out if I’m her father.”
“Oh,” says the young woman, pleased
by Raul’s frankness. “Sure.”
Driving back to Nathan and Celia’s house from the lab, they stop at a vista point to watch the parade of storm-driven waves rolling into Mercy Bay.
“Your mother summoned me to her
hotel room,” says Raul, striving to remember his tryst with Margot. “It was the
night of the last time she came to my restaurant. Each of those times, there
were three or four, I came out of the kitchen and spoke to her at her table,
something I don’t often do, but your mother was a big star and so very
beautiful and I was thirty and full of myself and had a faint hope of adding
her to my trophy list. You do resemble her, you know, though not as much as you
resemble my mother when she was your age.”
“Did you like my mother?” asks
Delilah, who found Margot emotionally impenetrable.
“I was hypnotized by her,” he says
simply. “But I didn’t know her. She was fantastically alluring, but not warm,
not effusive. In our chit-chat at her table we discovered we were both thirty,
so maybe that was a bond.”
“So you went to her hotel room. More
“Just one time,” he says, closing
his eyes to remember.
“You don’t have to tell me more if
you don’t want to,” she says softly.
“I don’t mind,” he says, opening his
eyes and smiling at her. “I understand why you want to know. I would like to
know how it was when my father and mother made me. And now that I have opened
this page of my memory I remember when your mother opened the door of her suite
I was pleased to see she had changed out of her fancy clothes and was wearing a
sleeveless black top with spaghetti straps showing off her beautiful shoulders
and arms, and a short red skirt showing off her beautiful legs, and her hair was
down and she was barefoot, her toenails painted red, and she was impossibly
beautiful. We sat together on the sofa and she drank hard liquor and I had wine.
I don’t recall what we talked about. My restaurant, I suppose, or the movie she
was making. I don’t remember, but I know we spoke for quite some time and she
had a beautiful deep voice, as deep as Caroline’s. Then she told me…” He
hesitates. “I don’t know if I should tell you this. I’m only just now
remembering what happened.”
“You don’t have to,” says Delilah,
though she wants him to.
“No, I’ll tell you. Maybe it will
help you understand her. I don’t know.”
“Whatever you want,” says Delilah,
closing her eyes.
“She told me she wanted me to pursue
her and she would try to elude me. She said when I caught her she would fight to
get away, even though she wanted me. I remember she said, ‘I hit hard. So be
Now he remembers everything.
“She said, ‘I want you to overwhelm me
until I have no choice but to surrender.’ I said, ‘But this is not my way. I
would never force a woman to have sex with me.’ And she said, ‘Then you should go.’
So I said, ‘Okay.’ But then I looked at her and saw how sad she was, so lonely,
and I said, ‘Or maybe you will let me be gentle with you, and also strong.
Maybe you will like that, too.’ She looked away and said, ‘No. Gentle doesn’t
work for me. Just go.’ So I got up and bowed to her like a monk bowing low to a
statue of his god. I don’t why I did that, but I remember it felt good to bow
to her like that. And then I told her it was a pleasure meeting her, which in a
strange way it was, and then I walked to the door and she came running after me
and wrapped her arms around me and we kissed, and then she took me to her bed.”
Early the next morning, a Thursday, Raul and Caroline lie abed talking about the myriad things they need to do today before they open Ocelot at five this afternoon.
“I wish Andrew was not so dour,”
says Raul, speaking of the new cook in the kitchen. “I keep thinking he’ll
lighten up as he gets more familiar with everything, but he remains so deadly serious,
and deadly seriousness does not work well in my kitchen.”
“Shall I resume the hunt for another
cook?” asks Caroline, wishing they didn’t have to get up just yet, the day cold
“I suppose so,” says Raul, tired of
breaking in new employees, life in the hinterlands a difficult fit for many
professional cooks accustomed to city living. “And I’ll speak to Andrew. I keep
waiting for him to relax, but maybe he needs a little prompting.”
“I hate to say this, but I think
he’s intimidated by Maurice,” says Caroline, speaking of Raul’s longtime sous
chef and assistant.
Raul sighs. “Maybe so. Maurice has
become a mean old man, and that won’t work in my kitchen either.”
“I can’t imagine your kitchen
without Maurice,” says Caroline, who has never been intimidated by Maurice because
no one intimidates her. “Can you?”
“I can,” says Raul, getting out of
bed. “Whenever he goes away for a vacation now the kitchen is much happier. But
what can I do? He’s been with me for twenty years.”
“Yes, but if he’s the problem…”
“He’ll have to change or go,” says Raul,
putting on his bathrobe. “I’m making breakfast. Stay in bed my darling. I’ll
call when the coffee is ready.”
“I don’t want to be apart from you,”
she says, getting out of bed and embracing him. “I’ll come with you.”
“Before we found each other,” he
says, looking into her eyes, “I couldn’t imagine letting Maurice go, but now I
can because I have you and our baby and Delilah and all our friends I never had
Seven days later, the twenty-eighth of December, Delilah and Celia and Nathan give lunch to Constance and Joseph Richardson and Daisy and Michael Darling and their almost-two-year-old daughter Jenna. Michael is Caroline’s older brother, an ornithologist, Daisy is the author of a novella entitled Women Farm that Delilah has illustrated with exquisite pen and ink drawings, Joseph is a landscape painter, and Constance is a writer of bestselling murder mysteries; and they are all members of the Ziggurat Farm collective.
When Celia’s incomparable chicken
enchiladas have been devoured, everyone deploys in the living room with pie and
coffee, Celia sitting in the rocking chair with Jenna on her lap, a fire
crackling in the hearth.
Constance taps her mug with her fork.
“We have news.”
news,” says Joseph, nodding in agreement with the adjective.
“So do I,” says Delilah, bouncing
her eyebrows. “You go first.”
“Arnold Winfield called from London
yesterday,” says Constance, gazing intently at Daisy, “to tell us he is head
over heels in love with Women Farm
and wants to bring out a lavish clothbound edition in September and hopes very
much that you and Delilah will come to England for a couple weeks of publishing-related
“Including,” says Joseph, raising a
declarative finger, “a show of Delilah’s original drawings at the Onyx Gallery
in London, which is a coup of epic proportions, the Onyx an apex gallery. I can
only dream of my paintings hanging
“Oh my God,” says Daisy, bursting
into tears. “I can’t believe it.”
“Congratulations, honey,” says Michael,
hugging Daisy. “England here we come.”
“Mama cwy,” says Jenna, pouting.
“Dome cwy Mama.”
“She’s happy,” says Celia, bouncing
the little girl. “Happy tears.”
“Arnold’s initial offer was 10,000 pounds with
80% to Daisy and 20% to Delilah,” says Constance, beaming at author and
illustrator, “but I jiggled him up to 20,000 pounds. You can arrange the split
however you like. That’s entirely up to you.”
“Thank you so much, Connie,” says Daisy, going to Constance and hugging her.
“Thank you, dear, for writing such a masterpiece and allowing us to show
it Arnold,” says Connie, delighted to be the agent of such a fortuitous collision
of writer and publisher. “A match made in heaven.”
“And what is your momentous news, Delilah?” asks Joseph, feeling certain she can’t
possibly top Arnold Winfield publishing Women
“Well,” says Delilah, standing with
her back to the fire, “I’m sure you all remember the picture of Raul’s mother
from the honeymoon slideshow.”
“Gorgeous woman,” says Joseph, remembering
the shimmery green dress clinging to those admirable curves.
“I thought she looked like you,” says Michael, who finds Delilah
“I thought she was you at first,” says Daisy, still breathless from the news of
her novella finding a publisher, never having published anything before.
“So… what about Raul’s mother?” asks
Constance, smiling curiously at Delilah.
“Well it turns out,” says Delilah,
looking at Celia for courage, “and we just got the results a few days ago, that
I resemble Raul’s mother because… she’s my grandmother.”
“Raul is your father?” says Daisy,
Delilah nods. “He is.”
“Dear God,” says Constance, placing
a hand on her heart. “How is this possible?”
“Well,” says Delilah, laughing
through her tears, “when Raul was thirty and had just opened his restaurant in
San Francisco, my mother dined there a few times and they had a fling, the
result of which was me, though Raul never knew, nor did my mother know who the
father was because she was quite promiscuous at the time. And though I knew
Raul had met my mother long ago, it never occurred to me they might have been
lovers until I saw that picture of Beatrice.”
“Raul never suspected?” says Joseph,
staggered by this astonishing turn of events. “Never saw the resemblance?”
“Not until he saw that picture of
his mother projected on the screen,” says Nathan, gazing fondly at Delilah. “Then
“So the morning after the slide
show,” says Delilah, continuing the story, “Nathan called Raul and he and
Caroline came over, and then Raul and I went to the hospital lab and got our blood
drawn, and five days later… voila.”
“Have you told the farm folks?” asks
Constance, in shock—Raul a god to her and Delilah her favorite person in the
world right after Joseph.
“Raul and Caroline are telling them even
as we speak,” says Delilah, smiling at the thought of her dear friends gasping
“So now what?” asks Michael, dazzled
by the unfathomable workings of the universe.
“So now I’m going to change my last
name to Neves,” says Delilah, giving Constance a hug. “And my middle name to
On a cold clear night in January, Delilah and Gabriel are necking in the living room—Nathan and Celia long gone to bed—when Delilah stops the kissing and says, “Make love to me?”
“Shall we go to a motel?” asks
Gabriel, eager to please his beloved. “I would take you home, but my mother and
sister are there.”
“No, my love,” she says, getting up
and holding out her hand to him. “Here. In my bed.”
“But we might wake Celia and
Nathan,” he whispers, taking her hand.
“If we do,” she says, leading him to
her bedroom, “I assure you they will be delighted.”
On a rainy Monday morning in mid-December on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy, Vivienne and Andrea are working together in the farm office, one of the five rooms in the cottage where Andrea lives with her husband Marcel and their son Henri, a stone’s throw from the farmhouse where Vivienne lives with her parents Lisa and Philip and her brother Arturo.
Vivienne turned twelve in October
and has been Andrea’s office assistant since June when she chose Andrea, the
farm manager, to be her Main Study mentor for home school summer session. Farm
management, gardening, and computer skills were the main focus of Vivienne’s summer
studies, and she proved so helpful to Andrea, so adept at using the computer for
business correspondence and keeping track of sales and inventory, and such a
whiz with the bookkeeping software that has bedeviled Andrea for years, Andrea
now employs Vivienne in the office two afternoons a week at double the wage she
pays the kids for gardening work.
Passionate, meticulous, tenacious,
and seemingly inexhaustible, Andrea was born in Germany fifty-seven years ago, her
German accent now barely detectable after thirty-three years in America. Five-foot-seven,
formidably strong, with long black hair only recently beginning to show signs
of gray, Andrea is fiercely devoted to her friends and overjoyed that Vivienne says
she wants to one day assume the role of farm manager.
Vivienne, olive skinned and slender
with shoulder-length dark brown hair, has recently attained the height of
five-foot-three in the midst a growth spurt she hopes will eventually make her
as tall as her best friend Irenia, who is three years older than Vivienne and
five-foot-nine. Vivienne’s father is a handsome blend of Italian and French,
her mother a pleasing mix of Brazilian Indio, African, and Ashkenazi Jew, and
Vivienne resembles both of them, her girlish cuteness fast giving way to
With Ziggurat Farm Home School on
hiatus until mid-January, Andrea is availing herself of Vivienne’s greater
availability to catch up on long neglected farm business, and this cold rainy
day finds Vivienne and Andrea sitting across from each other at the big table
that serves as the farm office desk, Vivienne manning the computer while Andrea
organizes a big pile of October and November invoices for Vivienne to log.
“How interesting. We just received a
notice from Primero Press,” says Vivienne, gazing at the computer
screen—Primero Press the company handling the printing and distribution of
Philip’s two cookbooks and a volume of Nathan’s poetry, Nathan a dear friend of
the farm and the unofficial poet laureate of Mercy. “They are informing us of a
tidy sum they just deposited into our account at Mercy Savings.”
“For how much?” asks Andrea, looking
up from the clutter of invoices.
“Nine thousand two hundred and
seventy-three dollars and forty-one cents.” She frowns at Andrea. “I wonder if
this could be, to quote my favorite Monopoly
card, a bank error in our favor? Beats the previous monthly record by almost six
thousand dollars. Then again, maybe that sum is correct. The accompanying sales figures for September say we
sold 1723 copies of Philip’s Kitchen
and 1268 copies of Delicious Meals for
the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and 47 copies of Nathan’s book of poems.”
“Impossible,” says Andrea, coming to
look over Vivienne’s shoulder at the screen. “Send Primero an email to confirm
the amount and those totals, and ask if they’ve got estimated sales for October
“Shall I read the email to you
before I send?” says Vivienne, quickly composing the missive.
“Yes, please,” says Andrea, sitting
down to listen.
“‘Dear Wonderful Primero Press.
Andrea here at Ziggurat Farm Productions. Surprised by apparent large increases
in sales in September. Please verify accuracy of numbers. Curious if you have
October and November sales figures yet. Many Thanks, Andrea.’”
“Fine,” says Andrea, smiling at
Vivienne. “Now back to reality.”
“Oh but what if it’s true?” says
Vivienne, gazing at the $9,273.41. “Wouldn’t Papa be so happy to know people
are buying his books?”
“If it’s true and continues,” says
Andrea, resuming her sorting of invoices, “your father can finally stop working
“He does dread waiting tables these
days and traveling to and fro on these cold winter nights,” says Vivienne,
composing an email to Hortensio’s Market in Mercy asking them to please pay for
vegetables and fruit they purchased in September, October, and November. “Though he says it’s more of a psychic strain than
physically difficult. Hmm. Interesting how psychic
and physic are composed of the same
letters in different orders. I’ll track down those word origins later on my own
“We have enough money in the bank
for him to quit now, but he doesn’t want to draw on our reserves,” says Andrea,
handing a stack of invoices to Vivienne. “When you get these entered, we’ll be
done for the day.”
“Well, well, well,” says Vivienne, gazing
wide-eyed at the screen. “This just in from the very prompt Primero. Maybe Papa
will be able to quit working at Ocelot without drawing on our reserves.”
“Tell me,” says Andrea, closing her
eyes and praying those sales figures were true.
“In October Philip’s Kitchen sold 3244 copies, and in November 5225, and that’s
only a partial total for November, with similar numbers for Delicious Ambitious. Which means, if my
calculations are correct, 50,000 dollars will soon be arriving in our bank
account. And who knows what the
totals will be for December when all those frenzied Christmas shoppers get done
snatching up copies.”
“Never mind the invoices,” says
Andrea, leaping to her feet. “Let’s go tell your father.”
On this same rainy December day, Marcel, the wine master of Ziggurat Farms, and Philip, Marcel’s accomplice in wine, invite Raul the famous chef and Boris the wonderfully strong father of Irenia to join them in the gigantic old redwood barn and help stir the yeast in the seventy barrels of wine that have been fermenting since September, to be followed by tasting wine from six test barrels to determine if last year’s wine is ready for bottling after fourteen months of fermentation.
Raul has been longing for such an
invitation because he considers Marcel’s pinot noirs and cabernets among the
best he has ever tasted, and he has tasted the best in the world. Yet he knows Marcel
buys his pinot noir and cabernet grapes from three inland vineyards owned by three
wineries producing wine Raul would never
serve in his restaurant in Mercy where customers pay hundreds of dollars for a
bottle of wine and expect nothing less than world class, which Marcel’s wine is.
And now more and more wine aficionados,
many of whom first tasted Marcel’s wine at Raul’s restaurant, greatly covet Ziggurat
Farm’s incomparable pinot noir and cabernet that Andrea sells for twelve hundred
dollars a case and could reasonably ask twice that. How, Raul wonders, does
Marcel evoke such greatness from the same grapes that supposedly expert
vintners can only rouse to mediocrity?
When all the barrels of fermenting wine
have been stirred for the second time today, the tasting of the previous year’s
“As you can see there is no more
sediment,” says Marcel, dipping wine from the first of the six test barrels, his
ladle made of sturdy glass. “My nose is pleased, the color is good, and the
wine has been transforming for nearly fifteen months, so perhaps this pinot is
ready for the bottle.”
Marcel pours the dark purple wine
into each man’s glass, and Philip says, “May Bacchus be with us.”
“Dionysus say the Greeks,” says
Marcel, raising his glass.
“In Russia we say the wine god is Kvasura,”
says Boris, raising his glass, too.
“In Portugal we call him Lusus, son
of Bacchus,” says Raul, touching his glass to the others.
Now they taste and swallow.
“I know little about wine except
what you teach me, Marcel,” says Boris, having downed his wine in a single gulp,
“but I know this is delicious. No trace of bitterness.”
“Oui,” says Marcel, nodding. “I like
“I love it,” says Philip, grinning at Marcel. “You’ve done it again.”
“It’s magnificent,” says Raul,
shaking his head in wonder. “How do you do it? Why can’t the growers of your
grapes make wine like this? Or even close to this?”
“Our secret,” says Marcel,
matter-of-factly. “Maybe you’ll find us out as we taste.”
Marcel jots a few things in a small
notebook, they rinse their glasses, and he ladles out wine from the next
“This is also a pinot?” asks Raul,
holding his glass up to the light and noting the wine is perhaps slightly darker
than the first one they tasted. “From the same grapes?”
“Oui,” says Marcel, tasting.
“Ah,” says Boris, nodding. “This is
maybe just a little sweet. Yes?”
“You have good taste buds, Boris,”
says Marcel, nodding. “And I think the oak comes through a bit more in this
“I like this even better than the
first,” says Raul, frowning. “But it’s the same grapes. Correct?”
“Oui,” says Marcel, winking at
Philip. “Now we taste the third pinot from those same grapes.”
They rinse their glasses and Marcel
ladles out the wine.
“This is the darkest yet,” says
Raul, tasting the wine. “And maybe the best. I’m not sure. In any case I want forty
cases, whatever your price. Tell Andrea.”
“We shall,” says Philip, clinking
glasses with Marcel.
“We begin bottling tomorrow,” says
Marcel, jotting a few more thing in his notebook, “should either of you want to
help me and Philip and Lisa and Henri and Vivienne and Irenia, and with any
luck Arturo. Now let us taste the cabernet.”
“One moment, my friend,” says Raul, raising
his hand to forestall Marcel. “These three pinots are subtly different from
each other in color and taste, though you say they are made from the same
grapes and spent exactly the same amount of time fermenting in the same barrels
in the same old barn two miles from the same ocean. How can they be the same grapes? And why can’t those wineries make
better wine from these same grapes when you can make this nectar of the gods?”
“You promise to tell no one?” says
Marcel, smiling at Raul.
“I promise,” says Raul, nodding solemnly.
“We buy from three vineyards we have
chosen after some years of tasting the grapes at many vineyards. In each of
these vineyards we have found what Lisa calls sweet spots, groups of vines
producing grapes that taste especially delicious to us and are far superior to
the other grapes in that vineyard. Who knows why? More water? Better soil? We
don’t know, but we visit these sweet spots every day in the last week when the
grapes are approaching ripeness, and when the grapes taste perfect to us, we
pay extra for those particular vines to be picked just for us.”
“And those vintners haven’t
discovered your secret?” asks Raul, frowning. “How could they not?”
“Not only have they not discovered
our secret,” says Marcel, chuckling, “but they say we only imagine these grapes taste different than the others. Yet to us
there is no comparison.”
“They’re fools,” says Raul, having
known countless fools masquerading as experts. “But even so they must have tried
your wine and tasted the difference.”
“Not that we’re aware of,” says
Marcel, shaking his head. “They think we are silly amateurs.”
“They snicker when we come to claim
our grapes,” says Philip, shrugging in acceptance of the fact. “Each to his
“Then they are more than fools,”
says Raul, shaking his head. “They’re idiots.”
“But enough about them,” says
Philip, rinsing his glass. “Let’s taste the cabernet.”
Marcel ladles the first of the cabs.
“This is more, how do you say it…
earthy,” says Boris, feeling a little drunk. “I like it very much.”
“This is the best cabernet I’ve ever
had,” says Raul, also drunk. “I want forty cases of this, too. So… your grapes
are the best ones grown in those vineyards.”
“The best for my taste and for
Philip and Lisa,” says Marcel, rinsing his glass. “They are my co-tasters in
“So you buy these special pinot
grapes and special cabernet grapes from those three vineyards,” says Raul,
awareness dawning. “And you mix the three pinots together? And the three
“We do,” says Marcel, ladling out
the second cabernet. “But we mix them in three or four different proportions to
each other, this year three. Each mixture has a different proportion of each
grape to create subtly different flavors and sometimes slightly different
“You create these proportions by
tasting the grapes in various proportions,”
says Raul, nodding in understanding.
“Yes,” says Marcel, delighted with
the taste of the second cabernet. “We sit around the table with our mouths full
of various combinations of grapes, the kids, too, and we write down our
reactions, and eventually we discover the proportions we like best. Then we
crush the grapes from each vineyard separately, and when we know exactly how
much juice of each grape we have, we figure out how to distribute all the juice
to create these proportions in the barrels. Then Philip and I and Henri worry
over the wine every day like mothers worrying over their first babies, we stir
the yeast two and three and sometimes four times a day, and we baby the wine as
no big winery could ever afford to baby a wine, and the fermentation takes
place in this old redwood barn with the ocean breezes keeping the air sweet and
cool, and… here we are.”
At which moment, Andrea and Vivienne
rush in with the news of Philip’s cookbooks selling like hotcakes.
A few days later, Lisa and Andrea and Vivienne go for a bathe after supper in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse, the water a delicious ninety-nine degrees.
“I wish Irenia had spent the night
tonight,” says Vivienne slipping into the warm water. “She loves it when all the
women bathe together.”
“Tonight we wanted it to be just the
three of us,” says Lisa, smiling at her daughter, “because we want to tell you
something we’ve been waiting to tell you until you turned twelve.”
“Is this about sex?” asks Vivienne, excitedly.
“Because you know, Mama, I do know
how all that works, even before
Caroline gave us an excellent lecture on mammalian reproduction.”
Andrea laughs. “This is not about
sex, sweetheart, though it is somewhat related.”
“Then why did you wait until I was twelve?”
asks Vivienne, frowning.
“We chose the age a long time ago,”
says Lisa, moving across the tub so she’s sitting next to Vivienne. “We almost
told you a few other times, but then we didn’t. And now we want to. It’s
nothing bad. Don’t worry.”
Vivienne gasps in her dramatic way.
“Was I adopted?”
“No,” says Lisa, putting her arm
around her daughter. “You came out of my womb, and Philip is your father.”
“Then what could it possibly be?” asks Vivienne, perplexed.
“When Arturo was thirteen months
old,” says Lisa, speaking quietly, “I stopped making milk and could no longer
breastfeed him. He was almost ready to stop, so it wasn’t hard for him to
switch to goat’s milk, and by the time you were born fifteen months later, my
milk was renewed and I breastfed you until you were three months old and then
my milk began to wane again.”
“Because you were forty-four?” ask
Vivienne, nodding sympathetically. “And that’s a little old for being a
“That was maybe part of the reason,”
says Lisa, looking at Andrea, “but mostly I couldn’t make milk because I lost so
much weight after Arturo was born and couldn’t gain it back, so I had very
little body fat, which a woman needs to get pregnant and to make milk. In fact,
we didn’t think I could get pregnant again after Arturo was born, but luckily I
could and you were born.”
“But you were too skinny to make
enough milk for me,” says Vivienne, nodding in understanding. “So then did you
give me goat’s milk? Is that what you’ve been waiting to tell me? Because I
love goats, Mama. I do.”
“We didn’t give you goat’s milk,”
says Andrea, smiling fondly at Vivienne. “We gave you my milk.”
breastfed me?” says Vivienne, gazing in wonder at Andrea.
“I did,” says Andrea, crying. “From
when you were three months old until you were almost two. Henri was
fourteen-months-old when you were born and I had plenty of milk for both of you.
And then he weaned himself at eighteen months, and I continued nursing you for
“Did Mama ask you to?” whispers
Vivienne, starting to cry.
“No,” says Andrea, coming to sit
with Vivienne and Lisa. “One morning I was holding you and you were fussing
because you wanted to suckle. I rocked you and sang to you, but you would not
be appeased, so I gave you my breast and then you were happy, and so was I.”
“I don’t remember,” says Vivienne, embracing
Andrea, “but I’ve always thought of you as my other mother, and it turns out
In the early evening a few days before Christmas, Gabriel Fernandez comes to Nathan and Celia and Delilah’s little house on the outskirts of Mercy to drive the four of them to a dinner party at the new home of Joseph and Constance next door to Ziggurat Farm.
Gabriel is thirty-four, a Mercy
native and backhoe operator. Nathan is eighty-eight, a retired arborist and
poet. Celia is eighty-two, a former nurse now gardener and cook, and Delilah is
twenty-eight, a musician, artist, and the main teacher at Ziggurat Farm Home School.
Nathan and Celia became Delilah’s
guardians when she was thirteen, her movie star mother, the late Margot
Cunningham, having brought Delilah to Mercy hoping to establish a better life
for her daughter far from the insatiable celebrity hounds, and Margot’s hope
was realized when Delilah moved in with Nathan and Celia.
Margot died when Delilah was twenty,
Delilah’s father unknown even to Margot, because, as Margot confided to Nathan,
any of several men might have impregnated her around the time Delilah was
Delilah and Gabriel have been dating
for two months and have yet to become lovers, both of them wary of rushing into
a sexual relationship and possibly wrecking their lovely friendship.
Nathan and Celia sit in the backseat
of Gabriel’s new electric car and Delilah sits up front with Gabriel.
“I thought for sure we’d get one of
these,” says Nathan, who rarely drives nowadays and is thinking of selling his
old pickup truck. “But we hardly go anywhere and Celia’s little old Toyota
still runs, so we probably won’t get one. Not in this lifetime anyway.”
“I went to a tractor show in Santa
Rosa last year and tested some amazing electric ones,” says Gabriel, who reveres
Nathan and Celia. “I couldn’t believe how quiet they were, but I just bought a
new tractor and backhoe two years ago and the best electric ones are incredibly
expensive, so… not for a few years.”
“This car is so comfortable,” says
Celia, resting against Nathan. “I could go to sleep.”
“Mi madre says the same thing,” says
Gabriel, driving slowly up the curving road through the redwood forest to
Joseph and Constance’s house. “By the way, she says hello and wants to know
what we can bring bring for supper on Saturday.”
“Nada,” says Celia, who makes a
prayer every morning and every evening that Delilah and Gabriel will marry
before Nathan dies. “Just your wonderful selves.”
Following the lavish supper in Joseph and Constance’s gorgeous new house, the twenty guests move into the living room where Raul and Caroline give a slide show on an enormous television screen—photos from their October honeymoon in England and Portugal.
After several pictures of the two of
them visiting Raul’s old haunts in London where he became a culinary superstar when
he was in his twenties, the pictures change to the city of Aveiro in Portugal where
Raul was born and lived until he was a young man.
“My mother’s name was Beatrice,” says Raul, narrating. “This is her grave in Aveiro.”
A picture appears of his mother’s large
gray marble headstone standing in an old cemetery.
“She was seventy-four when she died,”
he says, the picture changing to one of a small house in a neighborhood of older
homes with tile roofs. “This is where she lived for the last thirty years of
her life. Caroline wanted to know what my mother looked like, but because my
mother refused to have her picture taken after she was forty, the most recent one
I have of her is when she was thirty-five.”
Everyone oohs at the photo of a
strikingly beautiful brunette in a shimmering green dress showing off her
splendid figure as she kisses the air in the direction of the camera, an
amorous look in her eyes.
Now the next slide appears – Caroline
in sunhat and shorts and a sleeveless shirt, walking on a pier in Aveiro,
several men ogling her as she goes by.
“My beautiful bride turned many
heads in Aveiro,” says Raul, laughing. “The men there have very good taste in
Another picture appears – Caroline
standing at the end of the pier looking out to sea.
“I used to fish here when I was five
and six-years-old,” says Raul, on the verge of tears. “I would come with my
grandfather, my mother’s father. My father was a fisherman and I liked to come
here and fish while we waited for his boat to come in. He died in a storm at
sea when I was seven. Here is the only picture I have of him.”
The next slide appears – a handsome
man with curly brown hair playing a guitar.
“His name was Goncalo. Besides being
a fisherman, he played the guitar and also the trumpet and the violin, and he sang
like an angel, or so I thought when I was a boy.”
They show many more pictures, the
last one taken just a few days ago—Caroline and Raul holding hands on the beach
at the mouth of the Mercy River.
“Though you can’t tell from this
picture,” says Caroline, her voice shaking with emotion, “we have it on good
authority that I am pregnant, and assuming all goes well our baby will be born
“Hallelujah!” cries Joseph, turning
on the lights, everyone rushing to congratulate Caroline and Raul, everyone
except Delilah and Gabriel, Delilah still in shock from seeing the picture of
Raul’s mother, which very well could have been a picture of Delilah.
“Que paso?” asks Gabriel, gently putting
his arm around Delilah. “Are you okay?”
“I’m… do you think I look like Raul’s
mother?” she whispers.
“Yes, very much,” he says quietly. “And
I’d love to see you in a dress like the one she was wearing.”
“Well,” says Delilah, still
whispering, “Raul once mentioned to me that he met my mother a few times when she
dined at his restaurant in San Francisco. Twenty-nine years ago. He didn’t say
anything about them being lovers, but it’s possible they were. She was prolific
in that regard, as was he, and as I told you, she had no idea who my father
“I see,” says Gabriel, looking
across the room at Raul surrounded by jubilant friends. “So you think maybe
Raul is your father?”
“Now that I’ve seen his mother,” says
Delilah, gazing at Raul, “I think maybe so.”
The first day of October. Evening. Fall in full swing. No rain yet this season in the Mercy River watershed of northern California.
After supper at Ziggurat Farm, two
miles inland from the little coastal burg of Mercy, Lisa and Philip and their
children Arturo and Vivienne find they are just the four of them in the
farmhouse tonight. Irenia, who is fifteen and shares a bedroom with Vivienne four
nights a week, is home with her parents in Mercy, and Marcel and Andrea and
their thirteen-year-old son Henri have retired to their cottage for the
When the dishes are done, a game of
Hearts ensues on the living room floor in front of the fire with Alexandra, a
six-year-old Golden Retriever, and the pups Jargon and Cordelia and Max
sprawled on the floor around the humans.
With Vivienne slightly in the lead
after the first hand, the second hand dealt, Arturo, who turned fourteen in
June says, “I really need a smart phone. It’s imperative I have one.”
Lisa and Philip have been
anticipating something like this from Arturo for some weeks now, ever since
school resumed and Arturo got the lead in the play at Mercy High where
homeschoolers are allowed to participate in after-school activities. But Vivienne,
who is three weeks away from turning twelve, is shocked by her brother’s demand.
“You can’t be serious,” she says,
gaping at Arturo. “You know we can’t have cell phones until we’re eighteen, and
even then we won’t be able to use them in the farmhouse when Delilah’s here
because microwaves make her physically ill.”
“So she claims,” says Arturo, haughtily. “All my friends say that’s ridiculous.”
“Well all your friends are morons,” says Vivienne, glowering at her
brother. “Are you accusing Delilah of lying? Because if you are, I will never
speak to you again until you take that back and apologize.”
“It’s impossible for microwaves to make her sick,” cries Arturo, throwing
down his cards. “How could she even walk down the street?”
“You know she has to be in the same
room with an activated cell phone to be adversely affected,” says Lisa,
frowning at her son. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me is we’re
relegated to living in the Stone Age because one person claims
microwaves make them ill? That’s insane.” He glares at his father. “Why can’t I
have one? I’m cut off from my friends, from society, from a vast treasure trove
of information and cultural stimuli.”
“How are you cut off from your
friends?” asks Philip, accustomed to his son’s penchant for hyperbole. “Or from
society? Or from information or cultural stimuli?”
“I can’t text my friends and they
can’t text me,” says Arturo, grimacing as if in pain. “I have no way of knowing
what they’re doing or telling them what I’m
doing, andwe can’t share videos. I
might as well be marooned on a desert island.”
Vivienne looks at her parents and
says, “He’s clearly suffered some sort of brain damage. Maybe you should take
him to the emergency room. But I will have nothing to do with him ever again.”
And with that, she stalks off to her
“Arturo,” says Lisa, who has a deep
loving bond with him, “tell us what’s really going on. Okay? You can’t have a
smart phone, and not because of Delilah but because we don’t want you to have
one yet. You know you can use the telephone any time you want to call your friends.
You also know you are better educated than anyone your age in Mercy except for
your fellow homeschoolers. You also know perfectly well you are not being
deprived of anything except a portable device for accessing the internet, which
you can do from our home computer for an hour every evening. You can’t text back
and forth with your friends, but you certainly can send them emails. So tell us
what’s really going on and then please apologize to your sister for what you
said about Delilah.”
“You can’t possibly know what it’s like not to have a phone when all your friends have them,” says
Arturo, his eyes full of tears. “I’m a laughingstock.”
“That’s not true,” says Philip,
shaking his head. “When I picked you up tonight after your rehearsal you were
surrounded by admirers and having the time of your life.”
“Okay I’m not a laughingstock,” says
Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “But I feel cut off, disallowed, life passing
“What is passing you by?” asks Lisa,
who lived in extreme poverty for the first ten years of her life. “What do you
lack besides a portable computer for looking at videos and texting your
“I lack being part of the modern
world,” he says, his jaw trembling. “And Dolores Ramirez…”
Lisa and Philip wait patiently,
Philip trying not to laugh, Lisa knowing this was the underlying issue all
“What about Dolores?” asks Lisa, speaking
quietly to encourage her son.
“She said she won’t… can’t…” He bows
his head and sobs. “…go steady with me if I don’t have a phone.”
On the fourth day of October, after
two days of Arturo histrionically refusing to attend home school classes,
Philip drives Arturo to Mercy High where they meet with the principal and
Arturo is given an aptitude test, the results of which suggest he will learn
nothing in high school he doesn’t already know, and he is enrolled as a junior,
his first day of school tomorrow.
The fifth day of October dawns sunny and warm, the coast clear of fog.
Today is Delilah’s twenty-eighth birthday.
She has lived with Nathan and Celia in their little house on the outskirts of
Mercy for fifteen years and intends to live with them until they die. Nathan is
eighty-eight, Celia eighty-two. Delilah is a musician, artist, and teacher.
Nathan is a retired tree pruner and locally renowned poet, Celia a retired
nurse, now a housekeeper and gardener.
For Delilah’s birthday breakfast,
Celia makes pancakes while Delilah sets the table for four, their friend
Gabriel Fernandez to join them. Gabriel is thirty-four and has been a fan of
Delilah’s music since he first heard her play thirteen years ago, and in just
the last two weeks he and Delilah have begun exploring the possibility of
embarking on a relationship.
Celia assisted at Gabriel’s birth at
Mercy Hospital, and Nathan remembers Gabriel as a determined little boy going
door-to-door asking for empty pop and beer bottles to redeem for money at the
grocery store. When Gabriel’s father died, Gabriel dropped out of high school
and went to work for a landscaping company to help support his ailing mother
and younger siblings. Nathan planted fruit trees for that same landscaping
company and Gabriel was often assigned to work with Nathan, a pairing they both
enjoyed. When Gabriel turned eighteen, he joined the Army and was sent to the
war in Afghanistan. Upon his return, after recovering from the post traumatic
stress, he opened his now-thriving business as a backhoe operator.
Gabriel, tall and handsome, his long
brown hair in a ponytail, arrives promptly at nine and presents Celia with a jar
of his homemade blackberry jam and gives Nathan a new pair of leather gardening
“So you won’t be jealous of what I’m
giving Delilah,” says Gabriel, handing Delilah a small white box adorned with a
“Gads,” says Delilah, blushing
brightly. “It’s not a ring, is it? We hardly know each other.”
Gabriel laughs. “Not a ring. Don’t
“What if it had been a ring, hija?” says Celia, comically slapping her
forehead. “Think how embarrassed he would be.”
“He wouldn’t be embarrassed,” says
Delilah, giving Gabriel a coquettish smile. “He’s too suave to be embarrassed.”
“I’ve been called many things in my
life,” says Gabriel, confiding in Nathan, “but never suave until now.”
“Yeah she calls me things I would
otherwise never be called, too,” says Nathan, laughing. “One of her many
Delilah opens the box and finds two earrings,
each a long slender turquoise stone clasped in silver, the stones nearly
identical but not quite.
“Oh their exquisite,” says Delilah,
her eyes brimming with tears. “Thank you, Gabriel. I love them.”
“My sister Carmelita made them. I
bought the stones in New Mexico a year ago when I went to see the aspens turn
yellow in the mountains near Santa Fe. I got them from a young woman on the
plaza there. Un Indio. They are not too heavy, so I think they will be okay.”
“How were the aspens?” asks Nathan,
wistfully. “We’ve never been, though we always meant to go.”
“Yellow beyond yellow beyond
yellow,” says Gabriel, watching Delilah take off her small silver earrings and put
on the turquoise. “Whole mountains covered with a golden yellow only nature can
A few days later, while Celia is
making supper—Delilah spending the night at Ziggurat Farm—Nathan kneels on the
hearth building a fire.
“How did the sketching session go today?” he
asks, having spent the afternoon fishing with Celia’s brother Juan.
“We had fun,” she says, pausing in
her chopping of green onions. “All the women and girls from the farm were there,
eleven of us and baby Jenna. We wore skirts and T-shirts with the sleeves
rolled up. In Daisy’s book the women wear skirts and shirts without sleeves, so
this was as close as we could get to that.”
“Did Connie direct?” asks Nathan,
referring to the very British Constance who lives next door to Ziggurat Farm
and usually takes charge of anything she’s involved in.
“No,” says Celia, shaking her head.
“I thought she would, but she only made a few suggestions. Mostly Joseph and
Delilah directed us. But first they served us wine.”
“There was wine?” says Nathan, amused.
“Eleven drunk women in the garden of Eden. That’s probably the real story, not
that nonsense about Adam and Eve and a snake.”
“Henri and Marcel poured a glass for
each of us, including Vivienne and Irenia and Alma, and then Joseph posed us in
front of the snow peas. He had two easels with big canvases, and Henri and
Delilah had their big sketch pads, and the three of them sketched our first
pose for maybe five minutes and then Joseph posed us another way and they
sketched us again and Delilah took pictures.”
“And all the while you were drinking
wine?” asks Nathan, lighting the fire.
“Yes. Marcel kept filling our
glasses, except not so much for Irenia and Vivienne and Alma who got very
giggly after just a little.”
“I wish I’d been there,” says Nathan,
smiling at the thought of the female bacchanal.
“Then Delilah posed us in groups of
two and three and took lots of pictures while Joseph and Henri sketched, and
when we were sleepy in the sun, Gabriel arrived and Delilah posed him with
different women and took lots of pictures. Then Daisy wanted a picture of
Delilah with Gabriel, so they stood together and Daisy took lots of pictures
and so did Joseph. I can’t wait to see them.”
“Did Gabriel take off his shirt?”
asks Nathan, joining Celia in the kitchen. “Wasn’t that the burning question of
the day? Would he or wouldn’t he?”
“He did,” says Celia, smiling as she
stirs the beans.
“And?” asks Nathan, arching an
“As you would say, marido, he was
not even a little bit unbeautiful.”
In the late morning on the tenth of
October, Delilah is playing her piano in her bedroom, practicing the music she
will play for the processional and recessional at the wedding of Raul Neves and
Caroline Darling three days from now.
Raul is the famous Portuguese chef
and owner of Ocelot, a world-renowned
restaurant on the headlands in Mercy, for which Raul buys copious quantities of
vegetables and fruit and flowers grown in the Ziggurat Farm garden and
greenhouses. He also teaches culinary history to the homeschoolers and is the
godfather of Caroline’s niece Jenna, who is nineteen-months-old and lives next
door to Ziggurat farm with her parents Michael and Daisy.
Caroline is a former professor of
Botany and deeply entangled in the life of Ziggurat Farm. She teaches natural
science to the homeschoolers, takes dance classes with Delilah at the rec
center, and is the hostess and manager of Ocelot.
She is Michael’s younger sister by two years, and the older sister by ten years
of Thomas, a professor at Cornell who was in a relationship with Delilah—the end
of their liaison six months ago severely traumatic for Delilah.
The phone in the kitchen rings and
Delilah stops playing to go answer. Nathan and Celia are working in the garden,
and Celia comes in to answer the phone, too. There are no cell phones in the
house, the old landline phone sufficient for their purposes—microwaves toxic to
Delilah’s nervous system.
“Hello?” says Delilah, answering the
phone a moment before Celia comes in from the garden.
“Delilah,” says Thomas, calling from
New York. “It’s Thom. How are you?”
Hearing Thomas’s voice, Delilah drops
the phone and bends over in agony.
“Who is it?” asks Celia, holding her
“Thom,” says Delilah, hurrying down
the hall. “I’m gonna vomit.”
Celia picks up the phone and says
tersely, “What do you want, Thom?”
“I want to come to Caroline’s
wedding and she said I can only come if Delilah says it’s okay. And… I want to
try again with Delilah. I made a terrible mistake breaking up with her. I was a
fool. Can I please speak to her?”
“No, Thom,” says Celia, listening to
Delilah retching in the bathroom. “She doesn’t want to talk to you. She was
sick for a long time after you broke up and she’s just getting well.”
“Please Celia. I really need to
speak to her.”
“No. She has a new boyfriend now. Don’t
come to the wedding. Goodbye.”
On October eleventh, still shaky
from Thom’s call yesterday, Delilah meets with Caroline and Raul at Constance
and Joseph’s house to play her music for them on Constance and Joseph’s
magnificent grand piano, and Caroline assures Delilah that Thomas will not be
coming to the wedding.
“I wish I wasn’t such a wimp,” says
Delilah, grateful for Caroline’s assurance, “but I am.”
“I should never have told him to ask
you,” says Caroline, furious with her brother for interfering with her wedding.
“I didn’t want him to come. I should have just said so. He’s never cared about
me. He was just using this as an excuse to come beg you to take him back.”
“I’m glad you told him to call me,”
says Delilah, breathing a big sigh of relief. “I needed to vomit him out of me,
only I didn’t realize it until I did.”
October thirteenth is a glorious day on the far north coast of California, warm and sunny, the afternoon sky brilliantly blue with puffy white clouds.
“I am a born again Ziggurat Farm
person,” says Raul, as he and Caroline walk hand-in-hand on the path from the Ziggurat
Farm garden to the pond at the northeast corner of the farm. “I was a
narcissist among narcissists until I fell in love with Andrea and Lisa and their
garden, and Marcel and his wine, and the beautiful farm children adopted me as
their uncle, and Philip became my brother.”
“I was born again here, too, and
they are my family now,” says Caroline, both she and Raul in their wedding
finery, Raul in a magnificent white suit with a turquoise tie, his shaggy gray
hair somewhat tamed, Caroline in a long white skirt and a fiery red sleeveless blouse,
her short brown hair festooned with tiny white flowers placed there by Vivienne
They stand on the shore of the
recently revived pond that Caroline and Michael are restoring with the help of
the homeschoolers—the water cold enough for trout they hope to plant here in
the spring, hundreds of mosquito fish patrolling the waters, frogs newly
arrived, water lilies multiplying, the shallow north end seeded with reeds.
“I marry you,” says Raul, holding
both of Caroline’s hands and smiling into her eyes. “What’s mine is yours.”
“I marry you,” she says, her voice
as deep as his. “What’s mine is yours.”
Now they stand together in joyful
surrender until they hear the gong sounding on the deck of Joseph and
Constance’s house up the hill from the pond, the gong their cue to come and be
united in the presence of their friends.
When Raul and Caroline have exchanged
their vows on the sun-drenched deck, Philip presiding, a hundred witnesses
moved to tears, Philip nods to Nathan who rises from his chair and recites a
poem for the bride and groom.
Sometimes we just know, we do. It’s
not a matter of
figuring something out or uncovering
No great revelation need come to us,
no cosmic event or
scrape with death is necessary to
convince us. We just
know, as naturally as breathing and
thirsting for water,
in the same way we dream of places we’ve
except in our dreams. There is no
mystery about how
or why we know the other is a
kindred spirit. We know
the moment we hear them speak, the
moment we see
them seeing us, and they know, too. So
when you do
recognize the other as the one you’ve
for without knowing you were waiting,
recognize you in the same way, by
marry each other. Amen.
On Monday October 25 the five homeschoolers are gathered in the living room of the farmhouse about to begin the school day with an hour of working on math problems suitable to their various levels of mathematical proficiency, Delilah and Larry’s father Arthur available for helping anyone desiring assistance.
“Before we begin,” says Delilah,
standing in front of the chalkboard, “I would like to welcome Arturo back into
our midst. He has decided to resume school with us after a three-week sojourn
at Mercy High.” She smiles at Arturo who is standing in the kitchen with Lisa
and Philip. “Your seat awaits you.”
Arturo goes to the table he shares
with Alma near the chalkboard, but does not sit. “May I say something?” he
asks, fighting his tears.
“Please,” says Delilah, sitting down
“I would just like to say…” he begins,
fighting his tears “how very sorry I am for the negative things I said about
this school and Delilah and living here on the farm. I was gravely mistaken and
I regret any ill feelings I may have engendered in any of you, and I hope you
will forgive me.”
“Was it as horrible as Seventh
Grade?” asks Larry, who is fourteen and was literally wasting away in public
school when he was able to escape the nightmare of public school in Mercy and
enter the educational nirvana of Ziggurat Farm School.
“Ten times worse,” says Arturo, who
fourteen months ago begged his parents to create a home school. “Nay. A hundred
“Unimaginable,” says Larry, who was a
victim of bullying for all his seven years in public school.
“How do the other kids stand it?”
asks Vivienne, who has refused to speak to her brother for three weeks after he
accused Delilah of lying about her extreme sensitivity to microwaves.
“I don’t know,” says Arturo, unable
to restrain his tears. “The teachers are all bitter beleaguered jailers
spouting erroneous claptrap, the kids comatose or hyper, and I saw no evidence
of anything that might be construed as learning.”
“Why did you want to go there?” asks
Alma, who is thirteen and was deemed incapable of learning until she came to
ZFS and proved to be brilliant. “You knew in junior high what a nightmare it
“I’m in the play after school
there,” says Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “And the Drama kids are great
and… they hate school. They live for
three o’clock and the joy that follows, and I wanted to be part of their gang,
and I still can be, I just won’t have a cell phone.”
“You called us stupid losers,” says
Henri, frowning at Arturo. “You said Delilah was a fraud and we were missing
out on real life, that this was fake here and you were going where it was
real.” He takes a deep breath. “That really hurt me, A. I won’t speak for
anybody else, but you really hurt me. I thought we were best friends and now I
don’t know what to think. I mean… I’m glad you’re in a gang of kids who love
Drama. That’s great. But why did you have to say such horrible things to us?”
“I was desperate to be part of the
bigger world,” says Arturo, passionately. “I’m so sorry, Henri. I really am. I
don’t know what got into me. I just… lost my mind.”
“Okay,” says Henri, going to comfort his
friend. “I think we all want to be part of the bigger world, if only the bigger
world wasn’t so ruined.”
“I wish all the Drama kids could
come to our school,” says Arturo, embracing Henri. “They’d love it here.”
“Not only the Drama kids would love
our school,” says Irenia, solemnly. “All the
kids would love to learn this way. We are so very lucky.”
On a warm sultry afternoon in early September, Delilah is alone in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy. A musician and artist and teacher, her twenty-eighth birthday a month away, she has been battling severe depression for five months now as her body numbly goes through the motions of life.
Her depression ensued when her
boyfriend Thomas, a professor at Cornell, ended their brief and mostly
long-distance relationship—Delilah’s only experience of a sexual romance—and her
sorrow has proven impervious to the love and concern of her friends.
Submerged in the big tub, her eyes
closed, she startles when Andrea and Caroline, two of her closest friends, emerge
from the changing room and join her in the tub, no one speaking.
A few minutes pass and Delilah
murmurs, “I should go,” and moves to get out.
“Stay a while longer,” says Andrea, her
words more command than request.
“Okay,” says Delilah, subsiding.
“When I came to San Francisco,” says
Andrea, her German accent barely detectable after thirty-four years in America,
“I was twenty-three and knew nothing about love. Not even a little bit. I had
never been in love or been loved, and my sexual experiences were few and ugly. To
my surprise and delight, American men were interested in me, and not just for
sex, but for sharing life, too. In Germany I lived in the same working class
neighborhood of Hamburg for my whole life and either the men there weren’t
interested in me or I wasn’t interested in them, but in San Francisco lots of
men found me attractive and I felt the same about many of them. After some
months of dating and enjoying the novelty of being so popular, I chose James
for my boyfriend. He was a guitar player and singer and worked as a concierge
in a small hotel. He was funny and sweet and I enjoyed him very much, though I
never imagined marrying him. Then one day I met Marcel. He was a waiter in a
restaurant near the restaurant where I worked. We went for coffee and I knew
immediately I preferred him to James. But I didn’t tell James right way, not
for a few weeks. Then one night when James was at my apartment, Marcel called.
When James asked who that was on the phone, I told him it was someone I liked
very much and maybe we should break up. He was devastated. I had been meaning
to tell him about Marcel, but I was waiting for the right time, except there is
no right time to tell someone who loves you that you don’t want to be with them
anymore. Then a year passed and I was very happy with Marcel, and one day I heard
from a mutual friend that James suffered terribly for a long time after I broke
up with him and he finally moved away because it was too painful for him to
stay in San Francisco where we had been together. So… I did to James what
Thomas did to you.”
“You’re a horrible person,” says
Delilah, blubbering. “I always suspected you were.”
“I know you did,” says Andrea,
gliding across the tub and embracing Delilah. “Now your suspicions have been
“I’m James,” says Delilah, clinging
to Andrea and sobbing.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” says
Andrea, holding her. “I’m sorry you were so hurt.”
“Being in love,” says Caroline who
is forty-two and about to be married for the first time after many short-lived
affairs, “is not the same as love. In fact, being in love isn’t love at all.”
“Then what is being in love if not love?” asks Delilah, amazed to feel her
“Being in love is imagining the
other person is who you want them to be,” says Caroline, joining the embrace. “A
passing fancy. But love has nothing to do with what we imagine. Love is real.”
“Love is when two are one,” says
Andrea, thinking of Marcel.
“Yes,” says Caroline, thinking of
her lover Raul. “Oneness.”
A few days after her soak with Andrea and Caroline, Delilah wakes to the familiar sounds of Celia and Nathan beginning their day.
“I’m better,” she says, rising with
ease and about to put on her usual trousers and T-shirt when instead she puts
on a dress, a light summery thing, and waltzes down the hall to the kitchen.
Celia is making coffee, her long
black hair full of gray, not surprising for one who is eighty-two. She smiles
to see Delilah in a dress and says, “I dreamt
you were wearing a dress and playing the piano.”
“Shall I play something now?” asks
Delilah, looking from Celia to Nathan who is sitting at the kitchen table sipping
his tea and musing over a blank page.
“Yes, please,” says Nathan, nodding
emphatically. “I’ve been missing your morning concerts.”
So Delilah returns to her bedroom,
sits at her beautiful teak upright, and improvises a jazzy-sounding waltz
unlike anything she’s ever played because she is now unlike anyone she has ever
Nathan and Celia stand in the
bedroom doorway, thrilling to Delilah’s music and rejoicing in her transcendence
In the late morning on a warm humid day in mid-September, Delilah rides her bicycle up the steep curving road through the forest to Ziggurat Farm. Winded from her two-mile climb, she stands on her pedals and glides along the farm drive to the sturdy new bridge spanning a newly made creek bed that will soon carry the flow of a recently resurrected spring.
However, before that flow is
directed into the new channel, Gabriel Fernandez, a local backhoe wizard, must finish
extending the channel another fifty yards to connect it with the original creek
bed descending through the forest to the Mercy River.
Delilah watches Gabriel sculpting
the ground with his backhoe, and she wonders if he only likes her because he
loves her music.
Gabriel is thrilled to see Delilah
watching him, and he wonders if she only likes him because he loves her music.
Now Daisy arrives on the bridge with
her eighteen-month-old daughter Jenna on her back—Daisy married to Michael who
is Thomas’s older brother.
Delilah and Daisy and Jenna are
rendezvousing for a walk up the hill to the Richardsons’ new house to meet with
Constance and Joseph about Delilah illustrating Daisy’s novella Women Farm—Constance and Joseph keen to
send the book to a publisher friend in England.
“Isn’t this amazing,” says Daisy, standing beside Delilah and looking down at the newly made channel. “In just another few days there will be water flowing under us.”
“Down,” says Jenna, reaching out to
“In a little while, Jenna,” says
Daisy, having just spent twenty minutes with Michael wrestling the baby girl into
the backpack. “When we get to Connie and Joseph’s.”
“Now!” yowls Jenna. “Down now.”
“I’ll carry her,” says Delilah,
wanting to make the baby happy.
“Okay,” says Daisy, sighing. “If you
will hold her up, I will extricate myself from the straps.”
Once on the ground and set free,
Jenna toddles off in the direction of the farmhouse where she hopes to find the
big girls she adores and their puppies.
“Not that way, honey,” says Daisy,
chasing after her daughter. “We’re going to Joseph and Connie’s.”
“Vinnie,” says Jenna, her way of
saying Vivienne. “Puppy.”
“Joseph and Connie have two puppies,” says Daisy, dragging Jenna
away from the farmhouse. “And cookies.”
“Cookie,” says Jenna, ceasing to
So up the hill they trudge, Delilah
carrying Jenna on her hip.
At a turn in the path, Delilah looks
back at Gabriel on his tractor far in the distance, and not expecting him to
see her, she raises her hand in farewell and he raises his hand in response.
“Isn’t he the most beautiful man?”
says Daisy, sighing. “Please don’t tell Michael I said that.”
“Tell Michael,” says Jenna, glowering
at her mother. “Cookie.”
“When I was reading your book,” says
Delilah, setting Jenna down for a moment, “I kept thinking of Gabriel as Man.”
“Maybe you can use him as a model
for Man,” says Daisy, picking up her daughter.
“Maybe so,” says Delilah, smiling at
the thought of Gabriel posing for her in the garden.
Joseph and Constance have been in their new house for six weeks, and to say they are thrilled is a vast understatement. For forty years they fantasized together about designing and building their dream house, yet never believed they would until they decided to move back to Mercy from England and were searching for a house to rent or buy when they found these twelve acres for sale adjacent to Ziggurat Farm, the housing site already cleared, a paved driveway from the highway completed, a prolific well dug, a large foundation poured.
Now seven months after purchasing
the land and designing the house, they wake each day in their glorious master
bedroom and hurry down the wide hallway to the huge high-ceilinged room that is
kitchen, dining room, and living room opening onto a vast deck overlooking a meadow
surrounded by a resurgent forest, their dream come true.
“I imagine most of these drawings
being portraits of the women and Man,” says Constance, confident of her
imaginings, “whereas Joseph, and correct me if I’m wrong, dear, imagines
landscapes with human figures seen from afar if at all.”
“I prefer leaving things to the
reader’s imagination,” says Joseph, sauntering after Jenna as she toddles
around the living room in pursuit of the adorable black and white puppies Alec
and Merula, most of the furniture yet to arrive. “Illustrations should evoke
“What do you think, Daisy?” asks
Delilah, who has read the manuscript three times and feels somewhat overwhelmed
by the thought of trying to illustrate such a masterwork.
“I hadn’t imagined there would be
drawings, “ says Daisy, sitting at the big dining table with Constance and
Delilah and enjoying herself immensely. “But I love the idea. I think there
could be landscapes and closer views
of the women gardening or cooking or hunting.”
“When I read illustrated books as a
boy,” says Joseph, following Jenna to the table and lifting her onto Constance’s
lap, “I had a hard time imagining myself in the stories if the illustrations
were too obviously not me. Do you know
what I mean?”
“I do,” says Delilah, who has been
drawing with near photographic accuracy since she was a little girl. “I was
thinking we could assemble the females of the collective in the garden for an
hour or so of sketching and picture-taking. That would give me more than enough
material to get started.”
“Who will pose as Man?” asks Joseph,
frowning thoughtfully. “Philip? Marcel? They both have youthful physiques, and
if the face is not too specific…”
“We were thinking of Gabriel for Man,”
says Daisy, exchanging looks with Delilah.
“The backhoe fellow?” says Joseph, excitedly.
“Now that’s a stroke. He’s the right age and darkly handsome, and he’s got the
flowing locks and requisite muscles.”
“Wouldn’t we like to see him without a shirt on?” says Constance,
loving having Jenna on her lap. “Speaking of Adonis.”
“Think he’d do it?” asks Joseph, arching
an eyebrow. “Seems rather shy.”
“He doesn’t have to take his shirt
off,” says Delilah, blushing. “Only if he wants to.”
Delilah leaves Daisy and Jenna visiting with Joseph and Constance and walks down the hill to the farmhouse to give Henri a piano lesson. Seeing Gabriel is done for the day and nowhere in sight, she pouts and says, “Darn. Next time no matter what I’m talking to him.”
She enters the farmhouse and is happy
to find Henri, who just turned thirteen, giving a piano concert for Philip and
Andrea and Gabriel, the three of them sitting at the dining table.
Delilah tiptoes to the table and
sits next to Gabriel who is listening raptly to the lovely samba Henri’s been
working on with Delilah, his playing not yet masterful but getting there.
When he finishes playing and acknowledges
the applause with a gracious nod, Henri says, “Now you play something, Delilah.
“Would you?” says Gabriel, turning
to Delilah and placing a hand on his heart.
“Okay,” she says, getting up and crossing
the room to the piano.
“Don’t start yet,” says Vivienne, coming
in the front door with Irenia followed by three seven-month-old puppies—Jargon
with pointy ears, Cordelia the biggest, Max the runt with a stubby tail.
“We are parched,” says Irenia as she
and Vivienne take off their work boots and leave them by the door. “Please wait,
Delilah, until we have water.”
When at last Vivienne and Irenia are
settled on the sofa with Henri, Delilah closes her eyes and thinks of Gabriel
who has attended every concert she’s ever given since his return from war thirteen
years ago, her music holy to him.
She imagines they meet on a dance
floor, he and she the only dancers, and as they dance together she plays a
variation on the jazzy-sounding waltz she improvised for Nathan and Celia a
week ago, this time the music profoundly romantic.
On the morning of the Autumnal Equinox, the day sunny and cool, fifty people gather on the Ziggurat Farm drive to witness Gabriel remove the last few feet of soil keeping the headwaters of Mammoth Creek from resuming their original course.
Two state park officials have come
from Sacramento to join five park rangers from nearby Egret Estuary State Park
at the rejoining ceremony, two of those park rangers and Michael and Caroline
having completed a survey of the creek bed from where it begins on Ziggurat
Farm to where it joins the Mercy River, a descent of two miles through a forest
of second and third growth redwoods, only a few problematic log jams found along
the way, those obstructions subsequently removed.
Also present are three members of
the local Pomo community, a dozen local environmentalists, the six Ziggurat
Farm homeschoolers and their ten parents, as well as various neighbors and
friends of the farm including Constance and Joseph and Nathan and Celia and
Nathan stands on the farm drive a
few yards north of the new bridge and addresses the fifty witnesses. “I was
asked by the farm folks to say something before Gabriel performs the miracle.
Why me? Because Celia and I are the only ones here who remember the creek as it
was a long time ago before the spring got jammed up, and I’m the more verbose
of the two of us. So here’s a little poem I wrote to commemorate this moment.”
We were young lovers just married
when last we stood on the old bridge
looking down at the quiet stream touched
Now we are old lovers standing on
this new bridge
looking down at the dry creek bed
the water to flow beneath us again,
waiting to glint off the water once
Same lovers, same place on earth,
same source, same delight to be here,
everything eternally new.
He nods in thanks for the applause
and turns to watch Gabriel mount his tractor, start his engine, and with his
mighty backhoe remove the last obstacle to the creek resuming her original course—everyone
cheering as the sparkling water flows under the bridge and emerges on the
downhill side going strong.
During the celebration following the return of the stream to her natural course—coffee and tea and muffins at the picnic tables near the farmhouse—Delilah approaches Gabriel and asks him if he’d be willing to pose for some drawings for Daisy’s book.
“What is the book about?” he asks,
finding her surpassingly lovely as always, though especially so in her light summery
“It’s called Women Farm,” she says, feeling quite naked in her dress and enjoying
the feeling. “A fable set in the future when society has collapsed and is evolving
anew, a chaotic time when groups of women band together for protection and live
mostly apart from men.”
“And who am I in the story?” he
asks, looking into her eyes. “A bad man or a good man?”
“Oh you’re good,” she says, nodding
emphatically. “All good.”
“So it really is a fable,” he says, smiling wryly.
“He’s an innocent,” she says, meeting
his gaze. “Would you like to come for supper tonight? Celia is making her
famous fish tacos and I’ll be making my less famous but nonetheless delicious
“I can’t tonight,” he says, sounding
disappointed. “My mother’s birthday.”
“How about tomorrow night?” she asks,
“Yes, I can,” he says, nodding. “Que
“Come at five-thirty,” she says, breathlessly.
“We’ll eat at six.”
“Bueno,” he says, holding out his
hand to her. “I was hoping you and I would share a meal one day.”
“You were?” she says, taking his
“Of course,” he says, growing
“Why of course?” she asks, never wanting to let him go.
“Because,” he says quietly. “You
“I do know,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “I do.”