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The Same Woman (Maru)

Now and then over the course of his life, Andrew encounters a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, second time 1962, third time 1966, fourth time 1970, fifth time 1978, sixth time 1987, seventh time 1993, eighth time 1998, and the ninth time in 2002.

July 2006. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-eight, Andrew an attractive man descended from Ashkenazi Jews, his brown hair cut short, Luisa a beautiful woman with long black hair, her mother Quebecois and Chippewa, her father Afro-Cuban.

Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been married for nineteen years and live in a lovely house Andrew built thirty years ago near Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty-four, Lily an actress living part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in New York, Owen the new Drama teacher at a private high school in Vancouver.

Andrew has published six collections of short stories and written several plays, one of them made into a movie, four of them now staples of the small theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories and a novella that was made into a movie, and together she and Andrew have written two original screenplays that were made into movies. And though they are not wealthy from their writing, they are in good shape financially and continue to be of interest to publishers and theatre companies in Canada and England.

For the last four years, along with their writing, they have been composing songs and occasionally performing as a duo in various Vancouver venues, mostly living rooms and pubs, both of them guitarists and singers.

But the biggest news in their life right now is Owen being home after six years away. He is currently living in the other house on their property, a small two-bedroom place that was originally a dance studio Andrew built for his first wife Kiki with whom he had Owen.

Owen graduated from Julliard in Drama three years ago with great hopes of succeeding as an actor, though not in the way Lily has succeeded with roles in movies and television shows. No, Owen hoped to become a darling of the avant-garde theatre movement, and to that end he moved to Berlin with his girlfriend Sophie who graduated from Julliard with him.

To Owen and Sophie’s dismay, after two years of scouring the theatre scenes in Berlin, Amsterdam, and London, they found nothing remotely kin to the avant-garde theatre they had studied so passionately at Julliard. And when Sophie landed the part of a goofball cutie pie in a German television sit-com imitating an American sit-com, Owen and she parted ways and Owen moved back to New York where he failed to land a part, avant-garde or otherwise.

Tired of working as a bartender sixty hours a week to pay the rent on a sofa in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with three other people, Owen returned to Vancouver where Dessie, his friend since childhood, is the music teacher at New Foundations, a private high school, and touted Owen for the Drama teaching job there.   

A star among his Drama peers while at Julliard, and having lived for three years in Berlin and Amsterdam and London and Manhattan associating with theatre people and playing his clarinet in ensembles with other accomplished musicians, Owen is by turns angry and depressed about living with his parents again and preparing to spend at least the next two years instructing teenagers in the dramatic arts.

Andrew and Luisa have mixed feeling about Owen living with them again. On the one hand, he’s one of their favorite people in the whole world and they missed having him around. On the other hand, they want him to be happy, and he is definitely not happy being home and becoming a high school Drama teacher, something he and many of his fellow actors at Julliard considered the ultimate failure, especially if one fell so low before late middle age.

Hoping to engage Owen in something other than moping around and reluctantly designing his Drama program for the upcoming year, Andrew and Luisa decide to invite him to perform with them at their next gig, a living room concert at the home of Cal and Terry who live a mile away and have known Owen since he was in utero.

So on a sunny morning in July, Andrew cooking an omelet for the three of them, Luisa making toast and hash browns, Owen sitting at the table drinking coffee and perusing the New York Times, Luisa invites Owen to perform with them at their upcoming show at Cal and Terry’s.

“You know what I’d rather do?” says Owen, looking up from his perusal of the Theatre section.

“What?” asks Luisa, bringing the coffee pot to the table and refreshing Owen’s cup.

“Have a wooden stake driven through my heart,” he says, giving her a blank-faced look. “You could take turns wielding the mallet.”

“Was that a No?” asks Luisa, looking at Andrew who is just now pouring the beaten eggs into a sauté of zucchini and mushrooms. “Sounded like a no, didn’t it?”

“Definitely no-ish,” says Andrew, turning his attention to grating the cheese. “Though one never knows for certain when the reply is metaphoric.”

Owen puts down the paper and smiles falsely at his father. “I don’t mean to imply your music isn’t just the thing if one likes earnestly rendered tunes reminiscent of the simplistic folk music of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, I applaud you two for strumming your guitars and singing your cute old-fashioned songs for your friends. But I’m having a hard enough time adjusting to being back here and preparing to do something I vowed I would never do. Thus to stand with you in Cal and Terry’s living room noodling on my clarinet while you play chord progressions that make my teeth ache would be the last straw and I would then swim out into the ocean and drown. Does that clarify the meaning of my stake-through-the-heart metaphor?”

“It does,” says Andrew, abashed. “I’m sorry, O.”

“Well I’m not sorry,” says Luisa, glaring at Owen. “You’ve been home for two months, and a month from now you start your job at New Foundations, which, by the way, you are incredibly fortunate to have. As you are incredibly fortunate to have a house to live in and food to eat.” She takes off her apron, starts to leave the kitchen, stops, turns to Owen and adds, “The young man who left here six years ago was kind and thoughtful and resourceful and a joy to live with. The petulant little boy who came back is a self-centered, elitist, unimaginative, thankless pain in the ass.”

Having spoken her truth, she storms out of the kitchen.

“She’s right,” says Owen, looking at his father. “I’m a thankless shit.”

“You’re nothing of the kind,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “You’re having a tough time. And you’ll get through this with a new understanding of what you want to do with your life, teeth-aching chord progressions notwithstanding.”

“I didn’t mean that,” says Owen, getting up and going out the open door. “I love your music.”

Alone with his omelet, Andrew recalls the day Kiki said she wanted a divorce and was moving to Los Angeles and giving Andrew full custody of Owen, and how four-year-old Owen would shake his head and say No whenever Andrew tried to explain about Kiki leaving, until finally Andrew stopped trying to explain and a year later Owen came to him and said, “I know why Kiki left.”

“Why?” asked Andrew, gazing at his beloved child.

“Because she found out Luisa was actually my mother,” said Owen, nodding solemnly. “So she knew she better go away and never come back.”

Owen brings Luisa a bouquet of roses that afternoon, and while she stands at the kitchen counter arranging the roses in a vase, Owen thanks her for waking him up.

“I don’t remember exactly when it was I turned into the kind of person I’ve always hated,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table. “A closed-minded, self-centered, holier-than-thou cultural snob, but I did, and that’s probably why I failed as an actor. Because directors could see I was a phony.”

“Sweetheart, you haven’t failed,” she says, setting the vase of roses on the table and sitting beside him. “You’re on a journey. I know that’s a cliché and probably makes your teeth ache, but you are. We all are. And sometimes we find ourselves in a situation we can’t see our way out of and we have to make the best of things until we do see a way out or we discover that what we thought was the wrong direction turns out to be the way we needed to go, if I may mix my similes or whatever they are.”

Owen nods. “My favorite teacher at Julliard, Sig Perlman, used to say if we communicate in any way to the audience that we know what the other characters in the scene are going to say, the scene will fail. And he’s right. Good actors play every moment as if they have no idea what might happen next.”  

At supper’s end a week after Owen and Luisa reconcile, Owen asks his parents if they would be up for hosting a small dinner party, the guests to include his friend Dessie, who got him the teaching job at New Foundations, Dessie’s husband Jonah, a bass player and software engineer, and Maru Stein, the founder and executive director of New Foundations.

“Maybe Cal and Terry, too?” says Owen, having done a complete about-face since Luisa deftly smacked him with the bamboo cane of her honesty. “And anyone else you’d like to invite. Maybe a theatre person or two.”

“Salmon on the barbecue,” says Andrew, who is now helping Owen design the Drama program to be unveiled at New Foundations in September. “Corn on the cob.”

“A fabulous garden salad,” says Luisa, who loves to cook. “And for appetizers, mini-falafels with cashew butter lime sauce and hummus and guacamole.”

“I’ll take that as a Yes,” says Owen, getting up to clear the table so they won’t see him crying, but they do.

The afternoon warm and humid, Andrew is out on the big south-facing deck tending the barbecue—salmon steaks and corn-on-the-cob—when Owen emerges from the house with Maru Stein.

Andrew’s first impression of Maru from twenty feet away is that she is a giantess emanating a brilliant golden light, but as she and Owen cross the deck to him, she shrinks to Andrew’s size and appears to be a lovely woman in her fifties with reddish brown hair cut in a boyish bob, her eyes dark blue. She is wearing a sleeveless magenta shirt, blue jeans, and hiking sandals, her arms muscular, a tattoo of a small red rose on her right arm just below her shoulder.

She shakes Andrew’s hand with a pleasingly strong grip and says with a slight German accent, “A great pleasure to meet you. I have been reading your stories since they first appeared in The Blitz those many years ago, and I must tell you my daughter fell in love with the theatre because of your plays.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, wanting to blurt I love you. “Where is your daughter now?”

“She’s in England, in Oxford, the artistic director of a small theatre company. They’ve done all your plays, most of them more than once.” Maru’s eyes widen as she senses Andrew’s attraction to her. “When I told her I was going to meet you she said to tell you she can’t wait to read your next play. Do you have one in the works?”

“No,” says Andrew, suddenly aware of how close the salmon is to perfection. “To be continued. I must tend the salmon lest I overcook.”

“A rare skill,” says Maru, winking at him as she moves away with Owen to meet Luisa. “Cooking salmon just so.”

Mosquitoes ferocious at dusk, the humans move inside for supper, ten of them around the big dining table: Luisa, Andrew, Maru, Owen, Dessie, Jonah, Cal, Terry, Electra Wickersham, and Mark Kane.

Electra is an actress Andrew has known for thirty-four years. Short and buxom with a gravelly voice, she played the droll sister of the main character in the world premiere of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play based on two of Andrew’s short stories—Andrew’s first adventure in the theatre world of Vancouver thirty-four years ago.

Mark Kane, a stylish dresser in his sixties with a silvery gray pompadour, wrote Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise and got it produced at the Kleindorf Theatre where he was and still is the stage manager. Following the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Mark adapted two more of Andrew’s stories for the stage, but that play lacked sufficient oomph to get beyond a staged reading and Mark has never written anything else, though he loves to talk about what he might write one day.

At the height of the feast, the salmon cooked to perfection, the corn sweet and tender, much good wine consumed, Cal, a professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser, asks Maru what inspired her to found what has become one of the most prestigious high schools in Canada.

“My children,” she says, nodding. “Public high school was a disaster for both my son and daughter. Before high school they were excellent students and eager to play music and make art and build things, you know, and then they were totally shut down by the idiocy of the public high school system, so I got them out of there and homeschooled them. I would have sent them to the Waldorf High School, but lacked the funds, and when they went off to college I thought why not create an alternative school with excellent teachers and get the corporations to fund it so we could give scholarships to low income people, and those who could afford the tuition would gladly pay to give their children an extraordinary experience rather than put them through a system designed to crush their spirits.”

“Well I can attest to the efficacy of your school,” says Cal, raising his glass to her. “I’ve had several of your former students in my classes and they were head and shoulders above most of the other students.”

“I’m very glad to hear that,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “Thank you for telling me.”

“And you will be teaching Drama there,” says Electra, looking at Owen who she’s known since he was a baby. “How exciting for you.”

“I’ll do my best,” he says, frowning and scratching his head. “If only I could remember what they taught me at Julliard. It’s all such a vague memory now.”

Mark and Electra and Cal and Terry and Dessie and Jonah and Maru all laugh, while Luisa and Andrew hold their breaths until Maru says, “Don’t worry, Owen. It will all come back to you in the heat of battle.”

“Be careful, Owen,” says Mark, who has been married three times to women much younger than he and is currently dating a woman forty years his junior. “All your students will fall in love with you, the tall, dark, and handsome Drama teacher just a few years older than they.” He looks at Maru. “How daring of you to hire one so young.”

“Young teachers are a vital ingredient in our system,” says Maru, aiming her words at Owen. “Because the kids don’t relate to the younger teachers as versions of their parents, but as slightly older friends who can help them with their struggle to become adults. And it is a great struggle for most of them because the last thing they want is to turn into their parents, and without someone like Owen to emulate they see no alternative but to rebel or withdraw into their shells.”

Crawling into bed at midnight, Luisa says to Andrew, “What a great mentor Maru will be for Owen.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, closing his eyes and seeing Maru gazing at him. “She’s a powerhouse.”

“She’s one of your special women, isn’t she?” says Luisa, embracing him. “Couldn’t keep your eyes off her, could you?”

“Is she one of your special women, too?” he says, growing aroused.

“Of course,” she says, kissing him.

In late August, a few days before Owen will make his debut as a high school Drama teacher, Andrew and Luisa and Owen throw another party, this one a big potluck attended by several New Foundations teachers, lots of actors and musicians and theatre people, and several neighbors.

Maru arrives at the height of the party with her partner Adriana, a stunning Brazilian woman in her thirties who is the Dance and Percussion teacher at New Foundations. Owen was unaware that Maru and Adriana were in a relationship and so did not convey this information to his parents. Andrew and Luisa are both surprised Maru made no mention at their last party of having a partner, and Luisa is not surprised Maru’s partner is a woman.

Andrew is dizzied by the conflicting emotions arising in him—jealousy and relief and sorrow and happiness—when Maru introduces him to Adriana, an exquisite mix of Afro-Brazilian and Latino.

“I am so glad to meet you,” says Adriana with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever. “I devour your stories and we watch your movies and now I feel like I meet a god.”

“As do I,” says Andrew, looking from Adriana to Maru and back to Adriana. “Goddesses.”

Adriana and Maru exchange mysterious smiles, Owen and Dessie come to greet Maru and Adriana, and Andrew turns his attention to the barbecue on which many foodstuffs are approaching doneness.

He is glad for the distraction of the salmon steaks, chicken thighs, slabs of zucchini, potatoes, ears of corn, hamburgers, sausages, and various shish kebabs because they keep him from gawking at Maru and longing to embrace her.

Why am I so ferociously attracted to her? he wonders as he looks down at the various sizzling things. Must have something to do with how open she is to me and how open I am to her. Only it’s more than that. It’s as if we are two parts of one being separated long ago, which is how I felt when I met Luisa, our attraction to each other a desire to be whole again.

“Honey,” says Luisa, putting her arm around Andrew. “I don’t want to tell you how to cook, because you’re a wonderful cook, but I think most of what’s on the grill now is done. Yeah?”

“Yes,” says Andrew, realizing he hasn’t been tending the foodstuffs at all, but standing at the barbecue appearing to be tending the foodstuffs while off in the clouds imagining becoming one with Maru.

Andrew joins Cal and Terry and Electra at one of the many tables arrayed on the deck, his plate heaped high, a cold beer just opened, and as he settles into easy banter with his tablemates, Maru and Adriana arrive and ask if there’s room for them at the table, room is made, Adriana sits between Electra and Cal on one side of the table and Maru sits next to Andrew on the other, her shoulder touching his, and Andrew is filled with a divine sense of completeness, a feeling, to paraphrase Stevie Wonder, of being exactly where God wanted him to be placed.

“Here we are together again,” says Maru, speaking quietly as she gently bumps Andrew’s shoulder with hers. “How are you?”

“Good,” he says, no longer afraid of how he feels about her. “You?”

“A bit preoccupied,” she says in a way he takes to mean she’s been preoccupied with him, “but otherwise excited about school starting next week.” She takes a deep breath. “Owen tells me you’ve been helping him with his course design. I love what you two have cooked up.”

“Well I got my undergraduate degree in Drama,” says Andrew, recalling those long ago days in California, “and I was hoping to get into Yale and leap from there to the professional stage, but instead I moved to Canada and became a carpenter and a writer. And now I’m sitting with you at the zenith of my life.”

“I know what you mean,” she says, watching Adriana listen intently to Electra talk about the current revival of Ah Wilderness. “This is definitely a peak experience for me, being with you.”

Supper is followed by pie and coffee and tea in the living room, and when everyone is settled somewhere, Luisa and Andrew enter with guitars, Owen with clarinet, and they launch into a lively instrumental Owen recently composed called My Teeth Ain’t Aching No More full of surprising chord changes to which Owen blissfully improvises.

They follow the instrumental with Luisa singing a love ballad she and Andrew wrote called The Thing Of It Is, Owen adding tasteful harmonies to Luisa’s fine contralto.

And lastly Andrew and Luisa sing a song they wrote called So Far So Good about a couple who keep being pleasantly surprised that no matter how old they get they don’t lose the knack for loving each other, the song ending with a stirring clarinet solo that brings the house down.

The day after the party, recalling the moment he and Maru sat beside each other and shared the feeling of being exactly where God wanted them to be placed, Andrew puts pen to paper and out flows the first scene of a play he will write over the next few weeks called Time and Again.

The play is about a man and a woman roughly the same age who meet eight times over the course of their lives, and whenever they meet—on a playground, at the beach, at a party, in a park, in the foyer of a theatre, on a bus, on the street—they are entranced with each other, yet always discover one of them is involved with someone else.

Each scene ends with the man and woman parting ways without making arrangements to stay in touch, save for the last scene in which they are elderly and meet at a neighborhood café. Over coffee and biscotti, they discover they live just around the corner from each other and are both free to unite.

When Andrew finishes the first draft, he gives the play to Luisa and she reads it in a single sitting.

She finds him on his knees in the garden thinning baby chard plants.

“It’s fantastic, A. I think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written.” She smiles down at him. “Do you… will you want me to work on this with you?”

“Always,” he says, looking up at her.

“I wasn’t sure,” she says shyly. “You… we haven’t written a new play in a long time and I didn’t know if you still wanted to do our usual back and forth.”

“Of course I do,” he says, getting up and embracing her. “I’m always just cruising on the surface until you and I run the lines and find out what really wants to be said.”

“Oh, good,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief. “I think this will make a wonderful movie, too.”

“When we’re further along we’ll show it to Nick,” he says, referring to Nicolas Thorsen, the filmmaker who made their previous movies.

“You amaze me,” she says, looking into his eyes. “Just when I thought we might never write another play, you come out with this heartbreaker.”

“Is it sad?”

“Oh my God, yes,” she says, her eyes full of tears. “The sadness of missing their chance to be together over and over again when they’re so right for each other. It’s hilarious, too, and I’m so glad they get together at the end, but… I couldn’t help wishing they’d taken one of those earlier chances.”

“But maybe they weren’t ready for each other until the last scene,” he says, walking to the house with her. “Maybe the promise was not to be fulfilled until they learned whatever they needed to learn along the way.”

“Maybe so,” she says, taking his hand. “But I’ll bet lots of people who see this play will be emboldened to take a chance if they ever get one again.”

A month after school starts, Owen implores Andrew to help him cast and produce the first play of the year, a sappy television sit-com masquerading as a play he inherited from the previous Drama teacher called Don’t You Wish?

Knowing how overwhelmed Owen is by his daily teaching load, Andrew agrees to lend him a hand with the play and enlists Electra and Luisa to join them for three afternoons of auditions. Once the play is cast, Andrew shows up at the New Foundations multi-purpose room every weekday at 3:30 to assist Owen in managing the cast of fourteen and the especially rowdy crew of twenty-two.

Now and then Maru stops by to watch Owen directing the kids and to sit with Andrew and watch the play take shape.

Don’t You Wish? is such a big hit, the initial two-night run is extended to a second weekend with a Sunday matinee, the four hundred seats sold out for all five performances.

Fortunately for Andrew and Owen, no one blows the whistle on them for their extensive rewriting of the dialogue, the three entirely new scenes they wrote to replace those they found ruinous, and the new and completely different ending they invented—their creative tampering bringing them closer together than they’ve ever been.  

The winter play at New Foundations is A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of (seemingly) thousands. Electra and Andrew and Luisa help again with the auditions, and this time both Luisa and Andrew assist Owen with the many afternoon rehearsals, which in the beginning resemble riots and eventually, miraculously, result in three acceptable performances.

Andrew and Owen severely edit The Bard to bring the running time down to ninety minutes so they can include three hip hop songs composed and performed by teenagers in togas and accompanied by energetic ensemble dancing choreographed by Adriana.

And finally comes the spring musical, Guys & Dolls, with Dessie conducting the student orchestra and coaching the singers, Adriana choreographing the numerous dance numbers, Andrew and Luisa again assisting Owen.

Dress rehearsal and Performance #1 are epic disasters, Performance #2 begins promisingly but quickly devolves into chaos, Performance #3 has a few startling moments of cohesion but is otherwise another catastrophe, and Performance #4, with only a few dozen people in the audience, is a stirring triumph from start to finish.

Summer cannot come soon enough for Owen and Andrew and Luisa, and when school finally adjourns in early June, Owen does nothing for a week but sleep and mope around while Andrew and Luisa fly to Montreal to attend five staged readings of their play Time and Again. The cast is stellar, several play directors from Canada and England and Australia come to hear the play, the audiences rave, and Nick Thorsen, who sits in the first row for all five of the readings, offers a pittance for the screen rights, which Andrew and Luisa gleefully accept.

As June becomes July, Maru and Adriana invite Andrew and Luisa over for supper at their spectacular new house in one of Vancouver’s ritziest neighborhoods.

After supper they retire to the living room, Maru pours a rare Spanish peach brandy, and Adriana says with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever, “I know this will come as surprise, but we want to have a child and for you, Andrew, to be the father.”

Luisa purses her lips and frowns.

Andrew clears his throat and says, “We are speaking of artificial insemination.”

“If you prefer,” says Adriana, who grew up something of a wild child in Brazil and has few of the scruples common to North Americans. “Or we could make the baby, as we say in Portuguese, naturalmente.”

“Um,” says Luisa, scrunching up her cheeks, “I would have a problem with that.”

“Then artificial,” says Adriana, nodding. “Or you don’t do anything if this seems too…” She looks at Maru. “How do you say it?”

“Much to ask?” guesses Maru. “Too much of an entanglement?”

“Too big a commitment?” says Luisa, looking at Andrew.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, searching for the right words, “I can’t imagine knowing I’m the father of a child and not wanting to be involved with the child in a big way. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh we want you to be involved,” says Adriana, nodding emphatically. “We love you. That’s why we choose you for the father.”

“Well,” he says, looking from Adriana to Maru, “I’m flattered, of course, but… we weren’t planning to spend our late middle age and elder years raising a child. Spending time with our grandchildren, should that ever come to be, yes. But not… co-parenting.”

“You would not be co-parenting,” says Maru, shaking her head. “We will be the parents and you would be uncle and aunt. Or grandparents.” She shrugs pleasantly. “We don’t expect you to say Yes. But we love you both and we admire you and so we thought we’d ask. If not you, we know a few others we may ask, and if no one wants to do this with us, we will go with the unknown.”

“Have you thought about adopting?” asks Luisa, who certainly understands why they would want Andrew’s genes in the mix.

“I’m only going to have one child,” says Adriana, gazing at Luisa who has become her dear friend. “And then we see. Maybe we adopt, maybe we don’t. But I know I want one child who comes from me.”

“There’s nothing like it,” says Luisa, tears springing to her eyes as she thinks of her daughter Lily. “We’ll let you know soon.”

“Thank you,” says Adriana, taking Luisa’s hand. “We are honored you even consider doing this for us.”

At midnight, neither Andrew nor Luisa able to sleep, Andrew gets out of bed and says, “Chamomile tea?”

On their way to the kitchen, Luisa says, “Who am I to judge them? I made Lily with a man I slept with once, a man who never even knew he made a child with me, a man I didn’t even like.”

“It’s not about judging them,” says Andrew, turning on the kitchen light. “It’s about marrying them without any legal right to the child.”

“What do you mean?” says Luisa, filling the kettle. “Marrying them?”

“I mean what if five years from now Adriana leaves Maru and moves back to Brazil or her next partner turns out to be a psychopath and by then we’re in love with the child and powerless to intervene? I’d be devastated and so would you.”

“Adriana won’t partner with a psychopath,” says Luisa, waving the thought away. “But you’re right, in a way we would be marrying them and I don’t want to be married to anyone but you.”

“The fact is, we don’t want another child. If we’d wanted another child we would have had one or adopted one. But if we had a child with them and fell in love with her or him, which of course we would, then we’d want to be with the little pooper every day, which would mean being deeply involved with Maru and Adriana for the rest of our lives and I don’t think we want that. Do we?”

“Might be wonderful,” says Luisa, anguished. “I love them. And I’d love to see the child you’d make with Adriana. But something doesn’t feel right about this.”

“I agree,” he says, terribly upset. “It’s… emotional extortion.”

“No, it isn’t,” she says, annoyed with him. “They said they don’t expect us to say Yes. How is that extortion? What doesn’t feel right has nothing to do with them. It’s about we want, and we don’t want this. Right?”

“I’d be seventy-eight when the child is twenty,” says Andrew, smiling at the thought of mixing his genes with Adriana. “I wonder what Owen and Lily would think if we did this.”

“Maybe that’s what doesn’t feel right,” says Luisa, making their tea. “Complicating our already complicated life.”

In the morning, they continue discussing the possibility of joining their lives with Adriana and Maru and the yet-to-be-born child, and the more they think out loud together, the more they warm to the idea.

“But I would only go into the little sperm-catching room,” says Andrew, putting his arms around Luisa, “if you came in with me and inspired my contribution. If you know what I mean.”

“Then it would be our gift and not just yours,” she says, surrendering to the momentum of creation.

A few days later, Andrew and Luisa go to tell Adriana and Maru they are willing, and Adriana and Maru burst into tears.

“We just now check my fluid,” says Adriana, embracing Luisa, “and right now I ovulate. So because it will take some days to arrange things at the clinic for Andrew to give his seed, we wait for my next time to try.”

“Why wait?” says Luisa, surprising herself and all of them, too. “Why not now? Naturalmente.”

“We would love that,” says Maru, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “A sacred tryst.”

And before Andrew’s rational mind can rise above the fervor of the moment, he and Adriana go to the bedroom and Luisa and Maru go out into the garden and sit together on the bench by the lily pond holding hands and praying—this ritual of procreation enacted again the next day and the next.

In December, during the Christmas holiday, Adriana five months pregnant, she and Maru come to Andrew and Luisa’s house to tell them they have just seen the ultra-sound of Adriana’s womb.

“It isn’t what we planned,” says Maru, her eyes sparkling with tears, “but we are happy to tell you we are going to have twins. Fraternal twins. A girl and a boy.”

That night Luisa dreams the boy is named Teo and the girl is named Rosa, and when the babies are born they are given those names.

fin

Wedding Song

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The Same Woman (Donna)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, the second time in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, the seventh in 1993, the eighth in 1998.

2002. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-four and have been married for fifteen years. Successful writers of stories, plays, and screenplays, they live in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty now. Owen is studying Drama at Julliard and playing clarinet in a modern jazz quintet called Sentimento. Lily is a Psychology major at nearby Simon Fraser University and still lives at home, though her burgeoning career as a movie actress has greatly slowed her academic progress.

Six years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was made by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Thorsen who became Andrew and Luisa’s good friend. When Luisa’s autobiographical novella Rainy River was published four years ago, Nick bought the movie rights, Andrew and Luisa wrote the screenplay, Nick directed, Lily starred in the role of the young Luisa, and the movie was both a critical and financial success.

Since then, Nick has made two more movies from original screenplays by Andrew and Luisa, Low Overhead and Yum City. Low Overhead is a romantic comedy set in an anarchist bookstore in Toronto and Yum City is a dramedy revolving around the denizens of a Bohemian café in Montreal. Both films did well in Canada and England and Europe, but neither film did much business in America.

Now Andrew and Luisa are back to writing stories and plays and staying out of the limelight, which neither of them cares for. Lily, on the other hand, has had several movie and television roles since starring in Rainy River and is seriously considering moving to Los Angeles. And Owen recently announced he will either stay in Manhattan after he completes his studies at Julliard or move to Berlin with his German girlfriend Sophie who is also studying Drama at Julliard.

On a drizzly September morning a few days after Lily returns from five days in Burbank playing the part of a clairvoyant skateboarder in a television murder mystery, Andrew and Luisa and Lily are having breakfast together and Lily says, “You don’t want me to move to LA, do you Papa?”

“Of course not,” says Andrew, gazing forlornly at her. “I want you and Owen to live nearby for the rest of your lives. But I know that’s unreasonable, so if you want to move to LA, I give you my blessing.”

“It just makes so much sense right now,” says Lily, who has blossomed into a rare beauty, tall and slender with honey brown skin. “I don’t want to live there forever, but with the parts coming so fast now it seems like a smart thing to do.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says Luisa, who left home at sixteen. “And if you want to continue your studies, you can always transfer to a university in Los Angeles.”

“But I don’t want to make you sad, Papa.”

“Life is sad,” says Andrew, remembering how sad his mother was when he was twenty-one and told her he was moving from California to Canada, his mother who died two years ago just a few months after his father died. “I want you to live your life the way you want to. I’ll eventually adjust to you not being here and write you lots of letters.”

“And we can talk on the phone every day,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“Is this move imminent?” he asks, having imagined her making the transition to Los Angeles over the next year or so.

“Soon,” she says, crying. “Next week.”

Andrew keeps up a brave countenance while Lily packs to go and when Lily’s friend Janelle arrives to drive with her to Los Angeles, but as their car grows small in the distance, Andrew breaks down.

When Andrew’s grieving continues unabated for several days, Luisa suggests he see a psychotherapist, which he does for a few weeks, but he gains no relief. The psychotherapist refers him to a psychiatrist who prescribes an anti-depressant Andrew doesn’t want to take.

Two months pass and Andrew remains deeply depressed. Desperate to help him, Luisa asks Andrew’s best friend Cal to encourage Andrew to give the anti-depressant a try.

Cal comes for a visit, he and Andrew chat for a while, and Cal says, “I think you should talk to our rabbi. I think she could help you. I really do. She’s very insightful, very kind, and I know you’ll like her.”

“Does she see people who aren’t in your shul?” asks Andrew, who is descended from Jews but never practiced the religion.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk with you. Shall I give her a call?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, wearily. “That would be good. Thank you.”   

“Come in, come in,” says Donna, ushering Andrew into the spacious one-room studio adjacent to her house in a neighborhood of newish houses on the northern outskirts of Vancouver. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

“Cal brought me,” says Andrew, unable to decide where to sit. “I’m not driving right now. Wouldn’t dare.”

“You’re depressed,” she says, taking him by the arm and leading him to the sofa. “Sit down. Or lie down.”

He sits and faces her for the first time.

“Cal said I would like you,” he says, smiling painfully, “but he didn’t tell me you were gorgeous.”

“Stop it,” she says, her eyes widening in delight. “You came to solve your problems, not hit on the rabbi.”

“I wasn’t hitting on you,” he says, laughing for the first time in many months. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so beautiful.”

“So now we know you like tall middle-aged redheads with big bosoms,” she says, her Los Angeles accent influenced by the Yiddish inflections in her parents’ speech. “I’ve seen pictures of you on your books, so I knew in advance you were handsome.”

“I feel better already,” he says, closing his eyes. “Not really.”

“No, you feel awful,” she says, sitting in a high-backed armchair, her red Hawaiian shirt featuring green and yellow parrots, her skirt long and black, her red hair in a braid. “Old demons have risen up and taken control of you.”

“Old demons?” he says, opening his eyes. “I’m sad about my children moving away, but I don’t think this is anything old. I’ve never been depressed like this before. Well… I had a little breakdown sixteen years ago when my first wife left me, but I wasn’t depressed, I was just very upset.”

“In my experience,” she says, watching him carefully, “a depression as severe as what you’re experiencing is almost always rooted in some old sorrow. Sometimes so old it began before you were born and was passed down to you. Was your mother depressed?”

“She worried a lot,” says Andrew, nodding. “And I guess, yeah, sometimes she was depressed. But who isn’t sometimes depressed? Introduce me, please?”

“I like it when your Jewish self comes through,” she says, smiling.

“Why is that good?” he asks, feeling certain he knows her from somewhere else.

“Because being Jewish is a big part of who you are. And I happen to think the more we inhabit our true self, if there is such a thing, the happier we will be.”

“I think we’ve met before,” he says, frowning. “Did you have a child at the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church in Squamish?”

“I have one child who grew up in Los Angeles,” says Donna, thinking of her daughter, a veterinarian in San Francisco. “And I’ve only been in Vancouver for nine years, so I know we didn’t meet at the Montessori.”

“I’m sure I know you,” he says, wondering if they might have been briefly involved in the days before his first marriage. “I just can’t remember how?”

“You know me and I know you,” she says, after looking at him for a long moment, “because we have what I call a soul bond. I’ve only had a few of these in my life, and I’m just being honest here, but if you weren’t happily married and I wasn’t happily married, we’d probably fall in love and have a relationship. Who knows if it would be any good or how long it would last, but we might have one. However, you are happily married and so am I, so why not use our special connection to get to the bottom of what’s haunting you.”

“Haunting,” he says, relaxing a little for the first time in eons. “And old demons. You think I’m possessed?”

“We’re all possessed by something,” she says, pleased to see him relaxing. “The ideal is to be possessed by thoughts and feelings that make us glad we’re alive, and not by visions of gloom and doom or thinking we’re not good enough.”

“I think I’m good enough,” he says, most definitely not feeling good enough.

“So what’s going on in your life right now?” she asks, handing him a glass of water. “Your children have moved out. What else?”

“Before Lily left we were writing, my wife and I, and enjoying being home and not being so crazy busy making movies and travelling all over the place, just, you know, working. Yeah, things were fine. And then Lily moved to Los Angeles and I just… gave up.”

“Gave up,” says Donna, considering Andrew’s choice of words. “What does that mean to you? Giving up?”

“It means I gave in to my sadness.”

“What else?”

Andrew wants to say stop striving but he’s afraid to say those words out loud.

“There’s not a right or wrong answer,” she says, aware of his reluctance to say what he’s feeling. “We’re just looking for clues.”

“Okay, well, giving up could mean… taking a break from writing. From…” He struggles. “Striving.”

“What do you think you’re striving for?” she asks, noticing how his chest barely moves as he breathes.

“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “Happiness?”

“Are you not happy?”

“Not right now,” he says, looking down. “Definitely not now.”

“When was the last time you can remember feeling happy?”

“Long time ago,” he says, his heart aching. “Not that I have any reason to be unhappy except for the kids being so far away.”

“What do you mean by a long time ago? Before you were depressed?”

“Oh long before that.”

“A year ago?”

He reacts as if someone slapped his face.

“What was that?”

“I think I know what this is.”

“Would you like to tell me?”

“I’ve been writing things I don’t want to write,” he says, afraid to look at her.

“Hmm,” she says, considering this. “I think maybe that’s a symptom and not the cause.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why have you been writing things you don’t want to write?”

He freezes. “Why do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she says, smiling at him. “That’s something we can delve into next time if you haven’t figured it out by then.”

“I’m better now,” he says, looking around the room as if a blindfold has just been removed from his eyes. “The fog is lifting a little.”

“Good,” she says, getting up from her chair and offering him a hand up. “I have homework for you.”

He takes her hand and she pulls him to his feet.

“What’s my homework?” he asks, the word homework making him laugh. “I really do feel better.”

“Every day until I see you again on Friday, four days from now,” she says, walking him to the door, “I want you to spend at least an hour naked in bed with your wife, not when you go to bed at night, but a separate time during the day.”

“Because?” he says, smiling curiously.

“Because I want you to,” she says, opening the door and stepping out into a light rain with him. “Just be naked with her and see what happens.”

That afternoon, after telling Luisa about his session with Donna, Andrew suggests they take off their clothes and get in bed together, and Luisa is happy to oblige.

After holding each other for several minutes, he kisses her and she returns his kiss and they make love for the first time in many months.

Preparing supper together, Luisa says, “I’d like to go see Donna. If you don’t mind.”

“I’d love you to,” he says, sensing his depression hovering nearby, waiting to take him over again.

The next morning after breakfast, Luisa makes some business calls and Andrew walks the mile to Cal’s house to pose the question: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

Cal, who is usually home on Tuesday mornings, has gone to deal with a crisis at the university where he is a professor, so Andrew chats with Cal’s wife Terry and they commiserate about their children living so far away, Terry and Cal’s daughter living in Hawaii, their son in England.

And while telling Terry about his session with Donna, Andrew asks the question he was going to pose to Cal: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

“Why do we do anything?” says Terry, pressing down the plunger of her French Press. “Why did I become a photographer? Because I fell in love with taking pictures and then figured out a way to make a living from it.”

“But then you gave up photography,” says Andrew, thinking of his guitar and how he hasn’t played in years, though he used to love playing.

“Yeah, because I hated shooting weddings and taking pictures of people I didn’t know.” She serves him a cup of coffee. “I got into photography to take pictures of rivers and clouds and birds and insects and people I loved. And now I don’t even want to take a picture of my grandchild. If I even touch a camera now I feel physically ill.”

“I’m sorry, Terry,” he says, remembering her as a young woman so in love with taking pictures she brought her camera everywhere. “I had no idea.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” she says, adding cream to her coffee. “I’m just giving you my two bits. Why did you write things you didn’t want to write? Maybe you thought you had to, or you thought you wanted to and then you changed your mind but it was too late, or you needed to prove something, or you wanted to make a ton of money. What difference does it make? To me, the more important question is how do you want to live your life from now on?”

Andrew walks home lost in thought and finds a note from Luisa on the kitchen counter.

I called Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this afternoon. Me   

Waiting for Luisa to get home, Andrew decides to play his guitar, but on his way to get his old Gibson out of the closet he remembers he gave the guitar away to a friend of Lily’s right after the kids graduated from high school.

“Three years ago,” he says, noticing his writing notebook on his desk and wondering what he was working on when he stopped writing months ago.

He opens the notebook and the pages are blank save for a short paragraph on the first page, all the lines of the paragraph crossed out except the last line.

nothing that would do anybody any good

 ∆

Home from her session with Donna, Luisa comes out on the back deck and looks down at Andrew digging potatoes for supper.

“Nice spuds,” she says dreamily. “Cultivate here often?”

“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you like Donna?”

“I love her. She’s my favorite person in the whole world now, right after you.”

“Did she give you any homework?”

“Yes,” says Luisa, beckoning him to come inside. “I’m supposed to make sure you do yours.”

Friday morning, feeling well enough to drive, Andrew arrives at Donna’s a few minutes early and finds her picking tiny winter roses in her wildly overgrown garden.

“Good morning Andrew,” she says, smiling as he approaches. “How are you today?”

“Much better,” he says, wondering if she’d like him to tame her wild garden. “How are you?”

“I was so glad to meet Luisa,” she says, leading the way to her studio. “Such a sweetheart.”

“Yes, she is,” says Andrew, noting the crude way someone has hacked a passage through the overgrowth to the studio door. “By the way, I was a professional gardener in my storied youth and I would be happy to get your garden under control if you’d like me to.”

“First things first,” she says, opening the door. “First we get you out of your depression, then we’ll talk about taming my garden.”

Andrew sits cross-legged on the sofa and watches Donna arrange her roses in a green glass vase.

“So…” he says, smiling at her, “how was your week?”

“My week was variable,” she says, sitting in the armchair and crossing her legs. “Monday was good in large part because I got to work with you. Tuesday was a mixed bag, the high point meeting Luisa. Wednesday crises abounded and carried on into Thursday. And so far today things have been mostly quiet and now I’m meeting with you, so there’s at least a chance I won’t flee the country by the end of the day.” She raises an eyebrow. “And you?”

“I did my homework,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “and I pondered the question of why I spent the last few years writing things I didn’t want to write. And as I’m sure you expected, one question begot another and as of this morning the question has evolved into what would I be if I wasn’t a writer?

“That’s interesting,” she says, not sounding very interested, “but before we think about that one, I’d like to go back to the original question of why you spent three years writing things you didn’t want to write?”

“Oh,” says Andrew, deflated. “Here I thought I was being so clever getting to the bottom of things.”

“No offense, sweetheart, but I think you were avoiding getting to the bottom of things.”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, his limbs growing heavy again. “I guess I was.”

“Which is perfectly understandable because at the bottom of things is the cause of your terror.”

“Terror?” he says, squinting at her.

“Yes,” she says softly. “So first tell me what you wrote that you didn’t want to write.”

“Screenplays,” he says gruffly. “We wasted four years of our lives writing eighteen of those things. Three were made into movies and the other fifteen were crap and I hated writing them.”

“Did you ever not hate writing screenplays?”

“Oh in the beginning I loved it,” he says, remembering the thrill of working with Nick on Rainy River and Low Overhead and Yum City. “But then it was just this horrible grind, this… forced march to get those fucking things done, and I had never forced my writing before. Never.”

“You wrote those screenplays with Luisa.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, reacting to a sharp pain in his neck.

“So if you didn’t want to write those screenplays, why did you?”

“Because I wanted…” He hesitates. “Because we were successful with the first three, we thought…” He hesitates again.

“You started to say ‘Because I wanted’ and then you stopped yourself. What were you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” he mutters, looking away.

“Come on, Andrew,” she says gently. “Why did you keep writing those screenplays when the writing was no longer a spontaneous outpouring?”

“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at her.

“No,” says Donna, sensing how frightened he is. “But I’ve read your books and I’ve seen your plays and I’ve watched your movies, and they are all so full of truth and joy, I doubt very much you didn’t want to write them. So I’m guessing it’s the ones that came after those three you didn’t want to write, yet you wrote them anyway because you wanted…”

“A huge success,” he says before the muscles in his throat and chest and stomach and groin tighten violently. “So Luisa would never…” The pain is so intense he cannot speak.

“So Luisa would never what?” shouts Donna. “Say it, Andrew!”

“Leave me,” he cries. “Never leave me.”

And having confessed this to Donna, his terrible pain is washed away by a torrent of tears.

Seven months later, on a balmy evening in August, Andrew and Luisa have Cal and Terry and Donna and Donna’s husband Howard over for supper. They eat on the deck overlooking the garden—a gorgeous mackerel sky presaging rain.

Howard, a short balding man ten years older than Donna, tells the story of going to the airport nine years ago to pick up Donna, who was one of three finalists to replace Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein, the shul in danger of dissolution, only a few dozen diehards keeping the little ship afloat.

“By the time we got to her hotel,” says Howard, his accent distinctly Toronto Jewish, “I wanted to marry her. Not only is she beautiful, she’s funny. Instinctively funny. Have you noticed?”

“Were you similarly smitten?” asks Cal, who idolizes Donna and can’t imagine what she sees in Howard.

“I was too preoccupied with my interview that afternoon and my trial Torah reading the next day to fully appreciate Howard’s magnificence at our first meeting,” says Donna, smiling sweetly at her husband. “But I liked your car.”

Everyone laughs and Howard says, “This is what I’m talking about.”

“It’s her timing,” says Luisa, clinking her glass with Donna’s. “You have impeccable timing.”

“Leaven the bitter truth with humor,” says Donna, sipping her wine. “Else we will only know the bitterness.”

“That’s true,” says Howard, looking at Luisa. “So how did you two meet?”

“We each had a four-year old going to the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church not far from here,” says Luisa, taking Andrew’s hand. “And after my daughter bothered me night and day to make a play date with Andrew’s son, I finally did, and Andrew and I fell in love. Then he divorced his wife and we got married.”

“You make it sound so simple,” says Andrew, recalling the terrible shock of his first wife leaving him, his nervous breakdown, his parents coming from California to save him, Luisa there to meet him when he emerged from his desolation.

“And how about you two?” asks Howard, looking at Cal and Terry.

“Terry and I met a couple days after Andrew and I got here from California in 1968,” says Cal, putting his arm around Terry. “Thirty-four years ago. I was dodging the draft and Andrew drove me up here, and one night we went to hear some music and Terry was sitting at the table next to ours. She and I got talking and we’ve been together ever since.”

“But we didn’t sleep together until the third date,” says Terry, kissing Cal. “He was shy.”

“Fantastic,” says Howard, shaking his head. “Isn’t it amazing how people find each other? It seems so random, but I don’t think it is.”

“What do you think it is if not random?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy and thinks about this sort of thing all the time.

“I have no idea,” says Howard, shrugging. “But it can’t be random or Donna would never have given me the time of day. Look at her. She’s beautiful and brilliant and funny and a rabbi, no less, while I’m a schlemiel on my good days.”

“Howie?” says Donna, raising her eyebrow. “Who put himself through college and optometry school? And who is one of the most sought after optometrists in Vancouver? And who held the shul together until I got here and we turned things around? You. Schlemiels can’t to that.”

“You’re right,” he says, shrugging again. “But I still don’t think it’s random.”

“Do you think it’s random, Donna?” asks Andrew, who also wonders what she sees in Howard. “How we meet our partners?”

“I don’t think it matters if it’s random or not random,” she says, looking up at the white clouds turning gray. “I think what matters is we are made of love, and the more we inhabit that truth, the more fulfilled we will be.”

When darkness falls, they move into the living room and Andrew lights the fire. Luisa serves pumpkin pie and decaf, and Cal and Terry request that Andrew read one of his stories.

“I will,” says Andrew, fetching his new guitar from its stand by the piano, “but first Luisa and I are going to sing a song for you, the world premiere.”

Now Andrew plays a sweet run of chords and Luisa sings the first verse of their new song—these last six months given to making music and gardening and walking on the beach and traveling to visit their children, neither of them writing unless the spirit moves them, both as happy as they have ever been—Andrew joining her on the chorus, their voices made for each other.

Lounge Act In Heaven

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The Same Woman (Margot)

Throughout his life, Andrew meets women who are immediately familiar to him, though he has never seen them before. He met the first when he was a little boy in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, and the seventh in 1993.

In 1998 Andrew and his wife Luisa both turn fifty and celebrate their eleventh wedding anniversary. Their children Owen and Lily both turn sixteen and enter their junior year of high school. Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live with Owen and Lily in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Two years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was a resounding success and prompted a big American publisher to bring out new paperback editions of Andrew’s four collections of short stories. Adding to this good fortune, theatre companies in England and Canada began staging four of Andrew’s previously unproduced plays, and now Luisa is about to publish her first book, a story collection entitled Rainy River and other stories.

At the height of this propitious ferment, Andrew and Luisa’s literary and theatrical agents Penelope Goldstein and Judith Perlman announce their impending retirement. Penelope is seventy-four, Judith seventy-five, and they recently celebrated, as Judith put it, “Our fiftieth year of working together and living together and encouraging each other to keep up the good fight.”

So in April, Andrew and Luisa leave Owen and Lily in the care of friends and fly to Montreal to meet with the three young agents to whom Judith and Penelope are selling their agency, and to meet with two older agents recommended by Judith and Penelope in case Andrew and Luisa are not inclined to go with the younger agents.

Andrew and Luisa arrive in Montreal in the late afternoon, check into their hotel, and have supper with Jason Moreau who directed Andrew’s two most successful plays and is currently directing the first production of Andrew’s newest play, The Carpenter’s Song, which will open six weeks from now, after which Jason will celebrate his eightieth birthday and retire from directing unless, he says with a twinkle in his eyes, “You write another play too good to resist.”

The next morning, Andrew and Luisa take a cab to the Goldstein Perlman Agency, soon to be renamed QBP after the three new principals, Rory Quarterman, Jean Bateau, and Sylvie Pierre, who gather in their elegant conference room to introduce themselves to Andrew and Luisa.

Andrew likes Sylvie, a long-limbed gal with short red hair, and Luisa likes Jean, a petite brunette, but Rory, who handles theatrical works and movie tie-ins, is appalling to both Andrew and Luisa. His smiles are forced, he rolls his eyes at things Sylvie and Jean say, and twice during the half-hour meeting leaves the room to take calls, much to the chagrin of Sylvie and Jean.

Lunching with Judith and Penelope after the QBP presentation, Andrew and Luisa express their misgivings about Rory.

“Welcome to 1998,” says Judith, greatly relieved to be getting out of the business. “Before this era of Young Adult novels, dystopian fantasies, vampires, wizards, and fifty million cookie-cutter murder mysteries, Rory would have sold real estate or cars. He doesn’t read, you know, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you weren’t already successful, QBP would have nothing to do with you. You’re both too old, you don’t crank out murder mysteries, and you seem intent on writing things for intelligent adults.” She laughs. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Which is why we thought you might prefer Margot Mounteney and Kelly Vogel,” says Penelope, who is looking forward to puttering in her garden, walking the dogs, and spending winters in Hawaii. “Margot is your age and Kelly’s a little older, she’s brilliant, he’s mad for plays, and they both care about the quality of the writing they represent, which makes them throwbacks to that bygone era when we first came into the business.”

“And they’re barely surviving,” says Judith, with a warning in her voice. “You would change their lives if you signed with them, which is not a reason to do it. But you would.”

The next morning, after breakfasting with Jason and two young directors eager to make Andrew’s acquaintance, Luisa and Andrew take a cab to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel in an old three-story office building in a quiet part of the city.

While Andrew and Luisa wait in the small reception room, they chat with the agency secretary Darla, a charming woman in her early seventies with a British accent, long gray hair in a bun, and pince-nez suspensefully balanced on the tip of her nose.

“I love all your plays,” says Darla, gazing at Andrew and Luisa sitting close together on the small sofa across the room, “and I especially love Their Summer Holiday. I enjoyed the movie, too, but the dialogue in the play just crackles and I’m a huge fan of crackling dialogue. Crave it.” Her eyes widen. “I must say you are a very handsome couple and the light is excellent right now. Would you mind terribly if I took your picture?”

“We don’t mind, do we?” says Andrew, checking with Luisa.

“Not at all,” says Luisa, who is ready to go with Mounteney & Vogel based on their secretary.

Darla gets out a small Leica, takes several pictures and says, “Oh these will be lovely. The light is just perfect. Lovely, lovely.”

“I feel anointed,” says Luisa, beaming at Darla.

“Will you send us your favorite?” says Andrew, hoping he likes Margot and Kelly as much as he likes Darla.

“I will,” says Darla, putting her camera away. “And I will brag and tell you that my photos of authors have appeared alongside many book reviews and have graced several book jackets.”

Now a man and a woman come down the hallway from their offices and stop on the threshold of the reception room—a lanky fellow with short gray hair and a slender woman with shoulder-length black hair, the man wearing wire-framed glasses and a gray tweed suit with a red bowtie, the woman wearing a scoop-necked black dress, her reading glasses attached to a necklace of colored beads hanging around her neck. 

“Welcome, welcome,” says the man, bounding across the room to shake Andrew and Luisa’s hands, his accent the vestigial Scottish of Newfoundland. “I’m Kelly Vogel and this is Margot Mounteney.”

Margot crosses the room to greet them, her beauty more apparent as she draws near, and Andrew feels he has known her and loved her forever.

They gather in Margot’s office, Margot at her desk, Kelly a few feet to her left, Andrew and Luisa in small chairs facing them, the desk largely free of clutter, though every other space in the office is piled high with manuscripts and correspondence.

“I have a computer,” says Margot, her accent mildly British, “though I still mostly write by hand and my mother types everything up.” Her brown eyes sparkle. “Darla is my mother.”

“The heart and soul of the agency,” says Kelly, nodding to affirm this. “She’s currently training her replacement, a great young gal named Vanessa, but we’re not looking forward to Darla retiring.”

“Penelope gave me the galleys of your Rainy River and other stories,” says Margot, smiling at Luisa. “I was enthralled from start to finish.”

“Margot and I both handle books,” says Kelly, laughing nervously, “but plays are my passion. We aren’t a big agency, obviously, and we job out movie stuff to another agency with offices here and in Los Angeles, but we’re very good with foreign rights and we have great relations with editors in Canada and New York who still care about good writing.”

“I’m sure you would do well with QBP,” says Margot, unconvincingly. “They’re very up to date with their methods and sensibilities, whereas we are among the remnants of the old way.” She shrugs pleasantly. “And that’s our high-powered sales pitch.”

“I would just add,” says Kelly, putting his hands together in casual prayer, “that with us you will always be happy.”

“A bold assertion,” says Andrew, liking Kelly very much.

“I don’t mean you will always be happy,” says Kelly, laughing. “I mean you will always be happy with our efforts on your behalf, even should we fail.”

Andrew and Luisa invite Margot and Kelly to lunch, and when Margot hesitates to accept, Luisa intuits the hesitation is about money and adds, “Our treat. We’re feeling flush. Please take us somewhere you love.”

They walk a few blocks in the gentle spring sunlight to an old high-ceilinged restaurant called Leo’s and are greeted by an energetic man with wavy white hair and a thick Italian accent who claps Kelly on the shoulder and kisses Margot on both cheeks.

“You stay away too long,” he says, smiling fondly at Margot. “We wonder where you were. It will just be a moment for Juan to make your table ready. Is so good to see you again. And you bring friends. A celebration perhaps. Right this way, please. The lamb is so fresh I think they play in the meadow this morning.”

He seats them at a large table in the far corner of the mostly empty room, hands them menus and says, “We have a red wine we just get from Bordeaux to make the tears come to your eyes. Pellegrino for your table?”

Margot nods and their host hurries away.

“Was that Leo?” asks Andrew, looking from Kelly to Margot.

“That was Joe,” says Margot, putting on her reading glasses to peruse the menu. “Leo was Joe’s older brother who died when Joe was a little boy in Italy.”

Now a middle-aged woman with reddish brown hair and a lively bounce in her step comes to the table and fills everyone’s glass with bubbly water.

“We missed you,” she says to Kelly and Margot before turning to Andrew and Luisa and gasping, “Oh my God, you’re Andrew Ross.”

“I know you,” says Andrew, smiling curiously at her. “But I can’t quite…”

“Gina DuPrau,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “I was in the first Montreal production of your play Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise. A million years ago.”

“You were not just in the production,” says Andrew, holding out his hand to her. “You were Ariel and you were brilliant, and you changed my life forever in the best of ways.”

“I’m so glad to see you,” she says, taking his hand. “And while we’re holding hands I’ll tell you I love Their Summer Holiday. The play and the movie.”

“This is my wife Luisa,” says Andrew, transferring Gina’s hand to Luisa’s. “And you know our agents Margot and Kelly.”

“What did you say?” says Margot, startled.

“Our agents,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water. “We knew the minute we met you.”

“Oh dear,” says Margot, covering her mouth. “I might cry.”

“Me, too,” says Kelly, fighting his tears as he raises his glass.

Now they clink glasses and drink and Andrew says to Gina, “We would love a bottle of the red wine from Bordeaux that Joe spoke so highly of.”

The good wine poured, lunches served, Margot says to Luisa, “Your bio in your story collection says you were a chef before becoming a writer. And though I’m sure you already know this, I will plant the seed that a novel or a novella and stories set amidst the culinary arts would be an easy sell in the wake of Rainy River.”

“Or a play set in a café,” says Kelly, who is pleasantly tipsy and no longer nervous. “The Time of Your Life with espresso. God we need good plays.”

“With a part for our waitress,” says Andrew, who had a crush on Gina when she was starring as Esme twenty-five years ago, but he was too shy to ask her out. “How did she not become famous? Did you see her in the play, Kelly? I’ve never seen another actor so completely own an audience as she did.”

“I went seven times,” says Kelly, loving the wine. “And she would have become a big star had she not married that horrid man and had two kids with him and then he left her with nothing. And she’s been starring here at Leo’s ever since.”

“We never know what’s going to happen, do we?” says Margot, looking at Luisa. “We didn’t think we had a chance against QBP, and now here we are celebrating with you.”

Gina comes by and asks, “How we all doing?”

Everyone raves about their food, another bottle of the same good red is ordered, Gina goes to fetch the wine, and Andrew says, “Speaking of never knowing what’s going to happen, with your permission I would like to tell a rather long story.”

“Permission granted,” says Margot, nodding regally.

Gina returns and shows the bottle to Andrew.

He nods his approval and says, “Have you got a few minutes, Gina? I would love for you to hear the story I’m about to tell.”

She opens the wine, pours a bit in each of their glasses, sets the bottle in the middle of the table, glances around the now full room and says, “I’m good for a few.”

“Excellent,” says Andrew, having a sip of his wine. “So… my two stories that became Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise were two of the very first stories I ever wrote. They were first published in The Weekly Blitz, a Vancouver free weekly, and then a wonderful guy named Mark Kane turned those two stories into a play and got the play produced at the Kleindorf, a small theatre in Vancouver. We got good reviews, the play ran for seven weeks, and I made seven hundred dollars, so I was not about to give up my carpentry gig. Then a few weeks after the play closed at the Kleindorf, Mark called and said someone named Jason Moreau wanted to stage the play in Montreal if we were open to honing the dialogue with him. We said we were open to honing and Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise was a big hit, mainly because of Gina’s extraordinary performance.”

Kelly and Margot and Luisa and Andrew applaud Gina, and she bows comically low and bumps her head on the table, to which she reacts by hopping around on one foot as if she stubbed her toe.

“But then,” says Andrew, when their laughter subsides, “because of the play’s success, Penelope and Judith, who were Jason’s close friends, agreed to represent me and soon thereafter sold my collection of short stories The Draft Dodger and other fables which launched my writing career. And I have no doubt it was your performance, Gina, your revelatory interpretation of Esme that made the play a hit and fueled my launch. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“You’re very welcome, Andrew,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “And though I appreciate your praise more than you will ever know, I will modify a line from that long dead British guy and say, ‘The play’s the thing wherein you captured the hearts of your audience, and I was but the lucky mouthpiece for your words.’”

First thing the next morning Luisa goes to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel to sign the contract making her their client, after which she spends the rest of the morning at her publisher’s working on the page proofs of Rainy River and other stories, meeting with Sales, and posing for promotional photos before going to lunch with her editor and the editor-in-chief to celebrate the stellar pre-publication reviews for her book.

While Luisa is thus occupied, Andrew meets with Penelope and Judith and signs various documents pursuant to transferring his contracts to Mounteney & Vogel, after which he goes to see Margot and Kelly to sign the contract making him their client.

However, Kelly is away from the office schmoozing with a theatre director and Margot is on the phone with a hysterical client, so Darla visits with Andrew until Margot is free.

“Do you have a new play in the works?” she asks, sharing a pot of strong black tea with Andrew, her desk their table. “Or a novel?”

“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, doubting he ever will. “And in the two years since the movie of Their Summer Holiday came out I haven’t started anything new, though I did manage to finish the play and the collection of stories I was working on before the movie came out. But nothing new has come to me since.”

“I suppose an enormous success like that can be a shock to the system,” she says, sipping her tea. “Are we the agents now for that play and collection of stories?”

“Yes and no. The book has already been sold, but the contract is now with you. The Carpenter’s Song and other stories. And the play is opening here in Montreal in about seven weeks.”

“Oh The Carpenter’s Song,” she says, beaming at him. “I live three doors down from Jason Moreau and we often walk our dogs together in the morning. He’s absolutely thrilled with your play. Says it’s your best yet. I didn’t realize it was based on a short story. You’ve done that before, haven’t you?”

“A few times, yes,” says Andrew, glad to know Darla and Jason are friends.

“And when you were writing the story, did you sense it would make a good play? Or do you think all your stories would make good plays?”

“I would say everything I write comes to me as scenes I watch and transcribe.”

The phone on her desk rings quietly and she answers, “Mounteney & Vogel. Who’s calling, please?”

Andrew removes to the other side of the reception area so as not to intrude, and a framed photograph on the wall captures his attention—Margot standing between two handsome young men, the younger Margot in the picture closely resembling a woman Andrew was madly in love with when he was in his early twenties.

“That was yet another of our writers calling in distress,” says Darla, beckoning Andrew to return to her. “That’s what Margot’s doing right now, trying to talk one of our writers out of burning the manuscript she worked on for three years before she ran out of ideas and now she can’t figure out how to wrap things up.”

“The literary agent as psychotherapist,” says Andrew, considering this. “I’ll keep that in mind for my next nervous breakdown.”

“I suppose all writers live in fear of running out of ideas,” says Darla, nodding sympathetically. “Do you?”

“No, because I don’t write from ideas. I know many writers do, but the few times I’ve tried to write a story or a play from an idea, nothing would come to me. Not a word.”

“So does that mean when you were writing your book of stories about carpenters you didn’t first have the idea to make such a collection?”

“No,” he says, recalling the thrill of those stories pouring forth. “In fact, I wrote the first four stories without really knowing they were separate stories because I didn’t read those pages until I was nearly done with what turned out to be the fifth story and it dawned on me I might be writing separate stories with recurring characters. So then I read the pages and discovered they were, indeed, five stories, each about a carpenter, and each of those carpenters knew the others. But even then I didn’t think I would write more stories about carpenters because, as I told you, if I write from a preconceived notion, nothing comes.”

“So let me ask you this,” says Darla, lowering her voice. “Can you tell from the writing if the writer has decided ahead of time what to write, or if the writer writes as you do without forethought?”

“Always,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Can you describe the difference?” she asks expectantly.

“Give me moment,” he says, musing for a time. “In one I hear the words being manufactured by a mental machine, and in the other I hear a spontaneous song. Like a child singing as he plays, free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be.”

“I remember Margot singing those kinds of songs when she was a little girl,” says Darla, writing on her notepad free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be. “How happy she was.”

Andrew treats Margot and Darla to lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and over green tea and fortune cookies Darla tells the story of how she came to Canada fifty years ago, pregnant with Margot.

“I was a lonely young woman living at home with my parents in Devon, writing a novel in feeble imitation of Jane Austen, a novel full of the romance I longed for, when along came Paul Westerby, a dashing Canadian vagabond travelling about with knapsack and easel, painting not-very-good landscapes of the English countryside. He romanced me and slept with me for a few glorious wine-drenched months, and when I told him I was pregnant and we should marry, he fled back to Canada and I pursued him.”

“Did you travel by boat?” asks Andrew, especially enjoying Margot’s enjoyment of her mother’s tale.

“No, I flew to Montreal,” says Darla, pouring more tea into each of their cups. “It was 1947 and air travel was very expensive and still quite an adventure, but my mother gave me the money because she was just as eager as I to run the rogue down.” She laughs. “My father, on the other hand, was a severe melancholic and reacted to my pregnancy by staying home from work and moping in the garden. He was a reluctant accountant and preferred a dark corner of the pub to the desk in his office.”

“And where, Mother, did you finally run the rogue down?” asks Margot, gently steering her mother back to the main story.

“In the snooty suburbs of Toronto,” says Darla, disappointed all over again despite the intervening fifty years. “My dashing vagabond turned out to be the pampered son of a wealthy cigarette magnate, his mother a humorless socialite. Paul refused to see me, and his mother took his side, so I appealed to Paul’s father and he said he would arrange for an abortion, except by then I was four months along and wanted to keep my precious child, so he gave me ten thousand dollars, which was a fortune in those days, and I moved to Montreal and we’ve lived here ever since.”

“Did you ever meet your father?” asks Andrew, finding Margot more and more attractive the longer he’s with her.

“A few times,” says Margot, exchanging glances with her mother. “He came to visit when I was seven and took us out for ice cream. Then he came again the summer after I graduated from high school and gave me a check for five hundred dollars, which I immediately spent on clothes.”

“He was running the family business by then,” says Darla, making a sour face. “Rich as Croesus and smelled like an ash tray.”

“And the last time we saw him,” says Margot, pausing for effect, “was just a few years ago when he came to the agency and asked us to find a publisher for his autobiography.”

“Did you?” asks Andrew, amazed by the audacity of the old rogue.

“No,” says Margot, looking at her mother. “But we read the manuscript with great interest.”

“Did he do justice to that momentous summer in Devon?” asks Andrew, feeling sure the rogue must have. “Your love affair and…”

“Not a word about me,” says Darla, shaking her head. “And not a word about Margot.”

“Yet he wanted us to find a publisher for his badly written book of lies,” says Margot, closing her eyes. “An arrogant humorless man with a perpetual sneer on his face.”

“But when I was twenty-one,” says Darla, remembering back to that summer in Devon, “and he came tramping across the field of ox-eye daisies overhung by a blue blue sky full of snowy white clouds, a strapping young man with an easel on his back, smiling like a sunbeam, I could only think to love him.”

They return to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel and Andrew has his first meeting alone with Margot.

“Will you be coming back to Montreal?” asks Margot, sitting down at her desk. “For the opening of your play?”

“Yes,” he says, sitting in a chair on the client side of her desk. “I’ll be back in four weeks.” He raises two fists. “For the final push. Last minute dialogue tweaking and anything else Jason wants me to do. And then we’ll stay for dress rehearsal and the first few performances.”

“Oh so Luisa’s coming with you,” says Margot, sounding relieved. “Wonderful.”

“She’ll be here for dress and opening night and the party after,” he says, nodding. “And I’ll be here for two weeks before she comes. We wanted to bring the kids for the whole shebang, but they refused. Said they didn’t want to miss the last few weeks of school. Can you imagine? When I was sixteen I would have given anything to skip school and hang out in a big theatre watching professional actors bring a play to life. But they love their teachers and their friends and wouldn’t think of missing the last days of school before summer.”

“Will you be staying with Jason?” she asks, reluctant to meet his gaze.

“That’s the plan. Just three houses away from your mom.”

“And me,” she says, looking at him. “I live with her.”

“Oh,” he says, the frisson between them profound. “I… I wouldn’t have guessed that. I had you living with some lucky guy, a professor of… I don’t know… Archaeology.”

“Oh really,” she says, laughing. “A lucky Archaeology professor. Not an unlucky professor of Literature?”

“I really like you, Margot,” he says, laughing with her. “And I have to tell you… the moment I saw you I had the feeling I’ve known you and loved you forever. And when I told Luisa that, do you know what she said?”

“What?” asks Margot, holding her breath.

“She said she felt exactly the same way, that we are a trio of soul mates.”

“Then I won’t be afraid of you anymore,” says Margot, coming around her desk as Andrew rises to meet her—their embrace both a confirmation of their love and proof they need not be lovers to be as one. 

fin

Love’s Body

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The Same Woman (Jennifer)

Every so often throughout his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he knows, though he has never seen her before. He met the first of these women in elementary school in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, and he married her in 1987.

In 1993, Andrew and his wife Luisa are both forty-five and have been married for six years. Their children Owen and Lily are both eleven and in Fifth Grade. They live in a beautiful house Andrew built not far from the ocean about ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Andrew wrote a collection of short stories when he was in his mid-twenties that launched a string of successes for him, and at the height of his good fortune he met and married Kiki, a dancer and choreographer with whom he had Owen. When the exigencies of fate removed his star from the firmament of Canadian culture, Andrew returned to carpentry to pay the bills and ceased to write.

When Owen was four and going to kindergarten, Andrew met Luisa whose daughter Lily was in school with Owen. The marvelous simpatico Andrew experienced with Luisa inspired him to start writing again. A few months later, Kiki got involved with somebody else, divorced Andrew, and gave him full custody of Owen.

The following year, Andrew and Luisa were married. When Andrew’s literary star began to rise again and his income was sufficient to cover the financial needs of their family, he convinced Luisa to give up her cooking gig at a popular restaurant and become his assistant and collaborator.

The business end of publishing books and producing plays holds little interest for Andrew, but for Luisa the commercial aspects of publishing and show biz are endlessly fascinating and she has become quite learned about the interconnected complexities of publishing, theatre, and the movie business. Indeed, her expertise regarding these interconnections has resulted in their most lucrative contract yet.

Two years ago, Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday ended a long run in Vancouver following a successful premiere run in Montreal, and now the play is being performed in small theatres across Canada, America, England, and France.

Their Summer Holiday is a whimsical romance about a single father and his adolescent son spending a few magical weeks in a coastal village populated with colorful eccentrics and an alluring French woman with whom both father and son become enchanted.

The play was thought too quirky to be made into a movie until Luisa convinced Andrew to create with her a movie synopsis of the play focusing more on the love story and less on the eccentrics. Their elegant four-page synopsis, refined over several months, was pitched by Andrew’s agent to a select group of actors and producers, the movie rights were subsequently optioned by a big Hollywood studio, and Andrew and Luisa were contracted to write the screenplay.

They finish the third draft of their screenplay on a Friday in early April, each new draft written in response to notes from the film’s two LA-based producers, a fast-talking fellow named James Skidmore and a somewhat slower-talking woman named Jennifer Zindel, both of whom will be arriving in Vancouver in mid-April to spend a few days finalizing the script with Andrew and Luisa, filming to begin in September.

Most week days Andrew and Luisa wake to a 6:30 alarm, stay in bed for a while talking, take quick showers, make breakfast for the kids, and then one or both of them bicycles with the kids to the public elementary school three miles from their house, unless it’s raining or snowing or too bloody cold, in which case one of them drives the kids to school.

When Owen and Lily have been safely delivered to the halls of learning, Andrew and Luisa have coffee and breakfast over which they plan their morning and early afternoon. This planning session sometimes leads to a return to bed before the commencement of one or more of the following: writing, gardening, business correspondence, music making, beach combing, shopping, visiting friends, and going into the city for business or pleasure.

The kids get home from school by 3:30, have snacks and debrief with Luisa and/or Andrew, do their chores and homework, help prepare supper, eat supper, practice music for an hour, and gather in the living room with the adults for some sort of group activity, musical or otherwise.

Both Owen and Lily are studying piano with Luisa and both of them love to sing. Lily plays the guitar, Andrew her teacher, and Owen plays the clarinet, his teacher Chas Lowenstein who happens to be Andrew and Luisa’s renter and lives next door with his wife Betty.

Lily and Owen are both avid readers, excellent students, and aspire to be writers and musicians. They are each adept at walking on their hands, juggling three tennis balls, and throwing Frisbees with remarkable power and accuracy.

When the kids have gone to bed, Luisa and Andrew like to sit by the fire with cups of tea and talk about their children and anything else that comes to mind.

One evening after supper, a week before the movie producers are due to arrive, Owen and Lily and Luisa and Andrew gather in the living room for a game of Charades and Owen says, “Today Miss Tucker gave us the choices for our final big project of the year. We can either do a ten-page report on some important event in Canadian history or…”

“A ten-page biography of someone famous,” says Lily, taking up the recitation. “Or five two-page book reports on books from her list of acceptable books or a ten-page family history.”

“We have a week to decide,” says Owen, pursing his lips and gazing thoughtfully at the fire dwindling in the hearth. “Then we have to turn in a detailed proposal and once Miss Tucker approves we have to write a first draft, a second draft, and a final draft.”

“History repeating itself,” murmurs Andrew, thinking of the three drafts they’ve done of their screenplay.

“I’ll probably do a biography of either Mendelssohn or Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald,” says Lily, wrinkling her nose. “I was going to do the book reports, but Owen and I already read all the books on her list two summers ago and she won’t let me do To Kill A Mockingbird because she says we don’t get that until high school even though Owen and I read it last summer.”

“I might do the family history,” says Owen, looking at Andrew, “and if I do you’ll need to remember back as far as you can and then I’ll call Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Zeke and Grandma Kaylia and ask them to remember.”

“I was gonna do a family history,” says Lily, shrugging, “but there’s only you, Mama, and you only remember Grandma Lily so there won’t be ten pages unless I write about Owen’s side and he might already be doing that.”

“Well don’t forget I also remember Grandma Lily’s mother,” says Luisa, smiling at her daughter. “Your great grandmother.”

“You do?” says Lily, excitedly. “I don’t remember you ever telling me about her.”

“I did when you were little,” says Luisa, thinking of her mother and how much she would enjoy Lily and Owen. “But not for a long time.”

“Like what do you remember about her?” asks Owen, who thinks Luisa is the most wonderful person in the world, right after Lily.

“Her name was Ziibi,” says Luisa, closing her eyes and seeing her sturdy grandmother shooing chickens into the coop at dusk. “Ziibi means river in Ojibwe. My mother and I visited her a few times when Ziibi was living in Baudette, a town in Minnesota just across the border. She had an old house on the Rainy River and raised rabbits for meat and pelts, and she rented out a room in the house to an old Chippewa man named Ray who was deaf and smoked a pipe. I stayed with her there without my mother for six weeks the summer I was thirteen. I remember she’d get the barbecue going and I’d pick ears of corn from her big garden and she’d set them on the coals in their husks, and then she’d walk out to the river with her fishing pole and right away catch a big fish, a trout or a pike or a walleye, and clean it in no time and cook it right up. Most delicious fish I ever ate.”

“What did she look like?” asks Lily, eager to know. “Was she as brown as you?”

“No and my mom wasn’t so brown either. I never met my father, but I must have gotten my darker brown from him. He was from Cuba, but I don’t know what he looked like because my mother never showed me a picture of him, though I think she had one.”

“My mom got her brown from Grandma Kaylia who was from Barbados,” says Owen, who hasn’t seen his mother in four years. “My mom’s dad was Chinese, but he died before I was born so I never got to meet him.”

“Ten pages won’t be enough,” says Andrew, knowing Owen longs to see his mother.

Andrew and Luisa meet the movie producers James and Jennifer at Tangelo’s, a trendy restaurant a few blocks from the famous Hotel Vancouver where James and Jennifer have booked a suite on the fifteenth floor.

James is slender and balding and nattily dressed, has a strong Chicago Jewish accent, laughs explosively, and only grows serious when discussing the script for Their Summer Holiday.

Jennifer is short and buxom with shoulder-length bleached blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Raised in New Jersey by Yiddish-speaking grandparents, the first thing she says to Luisa and Andrew is that she hates the name Jennifer and wants them to call her J.

Luisa and Andrew both order fish and chips and beer. James and Jennifer both order gin and tonics, garden salads, and shrimp scampi, and they both give their waiter ultra-specific instructions about how to make their gin and tonics, how to prepare their salad dressings, and how they want their linguini and shrimp cooked.

As Jennifer hands her menu to the waiter she says, “If you overcook my shrimp or serve me a shitty gin and tonic, things will not go well for you.”

To which James adds, “As for my gin and tonic, when in doubt err on the side of gin.” Having said this, he laughs explosively.

When the drinks arrive, Jennifer holds her glass aloft and says, “Here’s to the best script I’ve ever worked on.”

Glasses are clinked, drinks are drunk, the gin and tonics are declared delicious, and Jennifer says, “We are so close to signing Paul Sydney to direct I can’t tell you. The only wrinkle with Paul is he wants to shoot this in Thailand, turn it into a tropical fairy tale with half-naked Asian beauties and sampans. But we really don’t want to go that way.” 

“Thailand?” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling. “You’re kidding.”

“You know what I just realized,” says James, pointing at Andrew. “This movie is a whodunit. Only nobody gets murdered.” He arches an eyebrow. “But maybe somebody should.”

“This is not a whodunit,” says Jennifer, glaring at James. “This is a brilliant coming of age story meets gorgeous mid-life crisis love story.” She pauses. “We’re thinking a few songs sung by the characters might really work in this film. One song for Leo, one for Jonah, one for Louise. Not a musical really, but quasi.”

Andrew recalls his agent Penelope Goldstein saying Have no illusions, Andrew. By signing this contract you are giving them permission to do anything they want with your story. Yes, you will write a screenplay, but they are not obliged to use it. Do you understand?”

“I’m sure you’re aware there are three wonderful songs in the play sung by those characters,” says Luisa, taking a deep breath. “But after we sent you our first draft you said nix the songs.”

“Not those cutesy folk songs,” says James, shaking his head. “We’re talking Elton John, Randy Newman. Big time movie songs.”

“A quasi-musical?” says Andrew, locking eyes with Jennifer and connecting with something deep inside her. “Is that what you want, J?”

“No,” she says, flustered by this unexpected breaching of her usually impenetrable defenses. “I want to shoot this just the way you wrote it, but my job…” She glances at James. “Our job is to get this movie made, which always means deviating from the source material. It just does. For instance, if we sign Marc Laredo, and pray God we do, he’s gonna play Jonah a bit fay, though Jonah in your script is definitely not fay. He’s a serious romantic, ultra-sensitive, thoughtful and kind, yet wonderfully masculine, too.” She laughs self-consciously. “Somebody stop me. I sound like Pauline Kael on Ecstasy.”

After lunch they move to James and Jennifer’s suite on the fifteenth floor of Hotel Vancouver and array themselves on comfy chairs around a big coffee table.

“Drinks?” says James, bouncing his eyebrows. “Coffee? Brandy? Martinis? Champagne? Cannabis? Cocaine?”

“Coffee would be great,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew and saying with her eyes We’ll get through this, darling. Please don’t tell them to go fuck themselves.

James calls room service and orders coffee and cookies, scripts are gotten out, and pens are poised.

Jennifer, still a little woozy from Andrew’s deep dive into her psyche, clears her throat and says, “I wasn’t kidding when I said this is the best script I’ve ever worked on. However, there are two large problems we need to solve before we can sign the likes of Marc Laredo or Shirley Stone who, as you know, got the ball rolling when they both flipped over your pitch.”

“And what are those problems?” asks Luisa, noting Andrew’s growing disquiet.

“Leo,” says James, throwing up his hands. “He’s got more screen time than Louise. And by the way, we found a brilliant unknown to play Leo. When we tested this kid he practically melted the camera. British. Of course. Gorgeous. The young James Dean meets the young Johnny Depp. Eighteen but plays thirteen no problem, and he’s a far better actor than Marc or Shirley will ever be, but even so we can’t have him upstaging them.”

Andrew is about to say something when the coffee and cookies arrive and Jennifer makes a pretty show of serving everyone.

“And the second problem?” asks Luisa, bracing herself.

“Jonah and Louise,” says Jennifer, adding a huge amount of sugar to her coffee.

“Ah,” says Andrew, pretending to understand. “So the two big problems are the three main characters. Anything else?”

“Andrew?” says Jennifer, looking at him and pursing her lips as if wanting to kiss him. “We love the whole not-liking-each-other-at-first turning into a crazy funny love thing. It’s genius. And I don’t use that word lightly.”

“Academy Award stuff,” says James, winking at Luisa. “You can start writing your acceptance speeches now.”

“But then you leave us hanging,” says Jennifer, clasping her hands. “Do they get together at the end? We never find out.”

“What are you talking about?” says Andrew, looking at her as if she’s insane. “Jonah and Leo pull up in front of Louise’s house in their big old convertible and she comes down the walk wearing a quasi wedding dress and dragging her gigantic suitcase and Leo and Jonah jump out of the car and load her suitcase on top of all their stuff and she gets in beside Jonah, and Leo gets in beside her, and off they go and we track back into an aerial view as they speed along the coast highway and make the turn inland. How is that not getting together? She goes with them at the end.”

“Was there a love scene I missed?” says James, flipping through the script. “I can’t find it? Where is it?”

“The whole movie is a love scene,” says Andrew, horrified by these people.

“Of course it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”

“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie. “Maybe.”

“Some people will get that the whole movie is a love scene,” says Jennifer, smiling sadly at Andrew. “But most people won’t get that unless we show them Louise and Jonah sealing the deal. Kapish?”

“If this was an arty French film,” says James, smacking his copy of the script with the back of his hand, “or even an arty British film, okay, be subtle. But this is a big budget American movie. Subtle won’t fly. Big budget movies can’t afford to be subtle. At the very least we need passionate kissing and the tearing off of clothing, though much better would be the onset of hot sex and exclamations of ‘You’re the best yet, babe,’ or words to that effect.”

“Who would say that line?” asks Andrew, getting up to go. “Jonah? Who would never in million years say something like that? Or Louise who would never in a million years say something like that? Hey I have an idea. Let’s have a parrot watching them fucking and he can say You’re the best yet, babe. Are you truly not aware after reading three drafts that Jonah and Louise never state the obvious?”

“Hey,” says James, waving his hand to dispel Andrew’s outrage. “We’re on your side. But we didn’t spend all this time and money not to make a movie. Right? And though I totally respect your desire to have a movie made that is a hundred per cent true to your vision, that will never happen unless you write and direct and produce your own movie, and even then it won’t turn out the way you want it. I hate to tell you this, pal, but every movie you have ever loved did not turn out the way the playwright or the novelist or the screenwriter wanted it to. They don’t. They never do.”

“Thank you for enlightening me,” says Andrew, feeling as rotten as he has ever felt. “I think the best thing for us to do right now is go home and discuss all this and meet with you again tomorrow.”

“We’d be happy to come to your place,” says Jennifer, getting up and holding out her hands to both Andrew and Luisa. “We are truly honored to be working with you on this movie and I know we can create something fantastic together. I know we can.”

Andrew is too upset to drive home, so Luisa drives, neither of them saying a word until they are free of the city.

“I wonder why they waited until we’d written three drafts,” says Andrew, wishing he and Luisa had never created the enticing synopsis, “before telling us to shrink Leo’s part, expand Louise’s, and finish the movie with sex. Couldn’t they have told us that after the first draft?”

“Maybe they didn’t know what they wanted until now,” says Luisa, wishing she’d never suggested writing an enticing synopsis. “Or maybe they thought we’d be more likely to agree to those changes if we thought a long delay would jeopardize the chances of the film getting made.”

“I couldn’t make those changes if I wanted to,” says Andrew, looking at her. “Could you?”

“No,” she says wistfully. “It would ruin everything.”

“It’s like one of those dreams where you win the race,” says Andrew, laughing despite his angst, “and then you step in a pile of shit and no matter what you do you can’t get the shit off your shoes.”

At supper, Owen and Lily want to hear all about the movie producers.

Luisa and Andrew exchange looks and Luisa says, “They took us to a snazzy new restaurant called Tangelo’s and they were very particular about the proportions of the ingredients in their gin and tonics and their salad dressings and about how to prepare their scampi, and then we went to their snazzy suite in the Hotel Vancouver and talked about the screenplay, and then we came home.”

“The key word here is snazzy,” says Andrew, who is slightly drunk. “They were both very snazzy people, Jennifer perhaps a bit snazzier than James, and they want us to rewrite the screenplay so Louise has a bigger part than Leo and in the end Jonah and Louise have a big sex scene.”

“Yuck,” says Lily, disappointed with their synopsis of the movie producers. “I thought you were done writing the screenplay.”

“So did we,” says Luisa, making a mental note to check their contract about compensation for any writing they might do beyond the third draft.

“When you say snazzy,” asks Owen, frowning at Andrew, “do you mean he’s handsome and she’s beautiful? Because they sound stupid.”

“I would not say James is handsome,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But I would say Jennifer is beautiful, though for my taste she wears too much makeup.”

“And if you meet her,” says Luisa, smiling at the children, “call her J because she hates the name Jennifer.”

“We might meet them?” asks Owen, sounding worried. “When?”

“There’s a slight chance they’ll be here when you get home from school tomorrow,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew. “We’re still negotiating the location of our next meeting.”

Andrew barely sleeps that night and rises early to have a cup of tea and think about life before he makes breakfast for the kids and bicycles to school with them, the day sunny and cool.

He gets a flat tire on the way home and has to walk the last mile, and as he pushes his bike along the country road something shifts inside him and he lets go of needing to defend the screenplay.

When he gets home he finds Luisa sitting at the kitchen table, still in her nightgown, writing in her notebook.

“What are you writing?” he asks, sitting beside her.

“My dream from this morning,” she says, writing the last few words. “Want to hear?”

“I do,” he says, closing his eyes to listen.

“I’m walking behind my mother on a slender trail following a fast-flowing river through a forest of tall trees. Now we emerge from the forest and come to a corral in which there is a beautiful brown horse.

“My mother says, ‘This is the horse you wanted when you were a girl, but we lived in the city and had no place for him. He is young and wild. You can tame him or let him go.’

“‘I want to let him go,’ I say. ‘But where is the gate?’

“‘There is no gate,’ she says, handing me a saw. ‘You have to make an opening for him.’

“So I take the saw and start sawing one end of the top plank, and I hear someone else sawing and look up and see you sawing the other end of the plank, and I wake up.”

Jennifer and James arrive at one, the day turning cloudy.

Luisa serves lunch on the deck overlooking the garden: chicken quesadillas with homemade guacamole and a garden salad dressed with olive oil and white wine vinegar and a splash of lime.

James raves about the food and the salad dressing and says to Luisa, “You should open a restaurant. I’ll invest heavily.”

“Luisa was the chef at a restaurant not far from here,” says Andrew, gazing fondly at his wife. “I ate her ambrosia for years before I met her.”

“Do you miss it?” asks Jennifer, wrinkling her nose at Luisa. “Working in a restaurant?”

“I sometimes miss the comradery,” she says, looking at Jennifer. “But I don’t miss the pressure. The relentless pressure to produce.”

“Speaking of pressure to produce,” says James, playing a drum roll on the edge of the table with his index fingers. “How soon can you make those changes?”

“We can’t,” says Andrew, relieved to be saying so. “We understand why you want them, but you will have to find someone else to do that for you.”

James and Jennifer exchange looks of surprise and Jennifer raises her hand and says, “Hold on now. Not so fast. We will be happy to pay you for two more drafts.” She puts her hand on her heart. “We love your characters and we love your dialogue and we want to get this right.”

“The thing is…” says Andrew, looking at Jennifer and connecting again with something deep inside her, “we are too much in love with the story and the characters to betray our love.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says James, pointing with both index fingers at Andrew. “You guys are too close to the material. And fortunately, we know some of the best finishers in the business.”

“Would you at least be willing to vet the final dialogue?” asks Jennifer, clearly upset to be losing them. “We really want the dialogue to be consistent.”

“We’d be happy to,” says Luisa, a moment before Andrew can say No.

“Mahvelous!” says James, raising his glass. “Here’s to wrapping this puppy up and signing some sexy A-list stars.”

Andrew and Luisa accompany James and Jennifer to the big shiny black car they hired for the day—the driver waking from his after-lunch snooze and jumping out to open doors.

“We’ll be in touch,” says James, giving Luisa a kiss on the cheek and shaking Andrew’s hand. “You guys are special.”

“Thank you so much,” says Jennifer, pecking Luisa’s cheek and intending to peck Andrew’s, except he embraces her.

“We are of one mind with you, J,” he says, holding her for a long moment. “And we know you will represent us well in the battles ahead.”

“What a wonderful thing you said to her,” says Luisa, holding Andrew’s hand as they watch the big black car roll away. “I think she probably would make the movie the way we wrote it if only she could.”

“I do, too,” says Andrew, feeling light as air. “I also think we should go to the beach now and take the kids out for pizza tonight.”

The movie based on Their Summer Holiday is not filmed in Thailand or anywhere else in September because in July the American movie studio that optioned the movie rights and paid Andrew and Luisa to write three drafts of the screenplay and then paid two other writers to write three more drafts, drops the project after the overseeing studio exec reads the sixth draft and says, “By page five I wanted to vomit.”

A year and a few months later, in October of 1994, a maverick Danish filmmaker named Nicolas Thorsen options the film rights to Their Summer Holiday from Andrew and Luisa for five thousand dollars, writes a new screenplay based on the original play, has Andrew and Luisa tweak his screenplay, and makes the movie for two million dollars.

A charming thirteen-year-old from Bristol plays Leo as if born to the role of a preternaturally kind and imaginative person.

A beguiling French gal with red hair and emerald eyes plays the part of Louise with an irresistible mix of innocence and savvy.

A droll self-effacing fellow from Oxford who reminds everyone of the young Rex Harrison plays the part of Jonah.

The three songs from the play are performed in the movie by the three main characters accompanying themselves on ukuleles.

And the movie ends exactly as Andrew and Luisa imagined it would, except when Louise gets in the car she gives Jonah a marvelous kiss—an unscripted kiss that turns out to be cinematic genius.

Their Summer Holiday, the movie, is released simultaneously in England and France in October of 1995 and is an instant success. By December the movie is playing all over Europe, and in the spring of 1996 Their Summer Holiday opens in a hundred theatres in North America and becomes an art house sensation.

That same spring, Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Lily are in the throes of mighty change. The kids are now in Eighth Grade, Lily fast becoming a young woman with suitors galore, Owen falling in love every few weeks but too shy to approach the girls he’s smitten with.

Luisa and Andrew are writing a play together, a comedy drama set in a bookstore, Andrew is working on a series of short stories about carpenters, and Luisa is writing a quasi-autobiographical novella about the six weeks she spent with her grandmother on Rainy River.

On Tuesday mornings, just for fun, Andrew and Luisa write screenplays together, acting out the parts and imagining how Nicolas Thorsen, who is now their hero and friend, might film the scenes.

In the fall of 1996, Jennifer calls Andrew to see how he and Luisa are doing. Several times in the course of their conversation she refers to Their Summer Holiday as the one that got away, and though she recently had a big hit with a serial-killer flick and has a prostitute-becomes-a-princess film about to open in thousands of theatres, she insists Their Summer Holiday is the best movie she’s ever seen and would love to work with Andrew and Luisa again some day.

When she’s done dropping the names of all the big stars she’s working with, Andrew asks, “So what’s going on with you apart from the movie biz?”

And after a moment’s hesitation she says, “I wonder if I’ll ever be in a relationship with someone who really understands me, really gets me. Like you get me, Andrew. Someone like you.”

fin

One Fell Swoop

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The Same Woman (Luisa)

Over and over again in the course of his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known before. He met her in elementary school in 1955, fell in love with her briefly in 1962, had a relationship with her in 1966, and lived with her in British Columbia from 1970 to 1973. The last time was in 1978 when they became pen pals for six years until she broke off all communication with him.

1986. Andrew is thirty-eight and his wife Kiki is forty. They celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary, their four-year-old son Owen begins attending pre-school, both Kiki and Andrew get their first personal computers, and Andrew becomes Owen’s sole parent for long stretches of days and weeks so Kiki can pursue her burgeoning career as a modern dance choreographer.

Owen and Andrew are unhappy about Kiki spending so much time away from their home on the outskirts of Vancouver, and Andrew wishes Kiki was content to work with dance companies nearer at hand, but she is not and has signed contracts to create dances for companies in Montreal, London, New York, and Los Angeles over the next two years.

They had hoped Andrew’s success with his writing would continue and they could afford for Andrew and Owen to accompany Kiki on her various choreography adventures, but when a giant corporation took over the publishing house that had done so well with Andrew’s first two collections of short stories, his run of good fortune ended. His third collection was taken out-of-print a few days after the book was published, and then the corporation cancelled the publication of his fourth collection, after which his sales figures branded him an author who doesn’t sell.

Having spent the considerable profits from his earlier successes on doubling the size of their kitchen and building a spectacular dance studio for Kiki adjacent to their house, Andrew has taken up carpentry work again to pay the bills.

Kiki is unhappy about the situation, too, but creating dances for the best modern dance companies in the world has long been her dream and she doesn’t want to miss her chance. Knowing how quickly Andrew’s fortunes changed, Kiki is determined to strike while her iron is hot.

Andrew’s best friend Cal and Cal’s wife Terry and their children Felicia and Scott live a mile away from Andrew and Kiki and Owen. Felicia is ten and Scott is five and they are Owen’s best friends and idols. Their daily presence in Owen’s life, along with Terry as a willing mother substitute, makes Kiki’s long absences easier for the little boy to handle.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in April—Kiki in New York after a brief stint at home following seven weeks in Los Angeles—Andrew is sitting at the counter in the magnificent kitchen he built especially for Kiki, overseeing Owen and Scott and Felicia making oatmeal raisin cookies, when the phone rings.

Before he picks up the phone, Andrew prays the caller is his literary agent Penelope Goldstein calling from Montreal with good news, though he hasn’t heard a peep from Penelope in three years.

“Hello,” he says, imagining Penelope sitting at her desk piled high with manuscripts, her glasses perched on the tip of her nose.

“Hi,” says a woman with a musical voice. “May I speak to Andrew Ross, please?”

For a flickering, Andrew thinks the caller is Carol Savard, his great friend and correspondent who two years ago severed all ties with him because, as she wrote in her final letter to him, “The intensity of my desire to be in a relationship with you makes it impossible for me to sustain a relationship with anyone else.”

“This is Andrew.”

“My name is Luisa Morningstar. My daughter Lily is at the Montessori school with your son Owen, and she asked me to make a play date with him. Is that something we might arrange?”

“Probably,” says Andrew, struck by how much she reminds him of Carol Savard, though she sounds nothing like Carol. “Can you hold on a sec?”

“Happy to. Or you can call me back.”

“Good idea,” says Andrew, flustered by the feelings arising in him. “He’s currently baking cookies.”

“So O,” says Andrew, speaking to his son at bedtime, “I got a call from Lily’s mother today wondering if you’d like to have a play date with Lily.”

“I’m playing with Scott and Felicia after school tomorrow,” says Owen, pursing his lips and shaking his head exactly as his mother does. “We already planned it.”

“Right, but there are lots of days when you don’t play with Scott and Felicia. Maybe you’d like to play with Lily on one of those days?”

“Would you be with me?” asks Owen with a touch of worry in his voice.

“If it’s at our house, of course I’ll be with you,” says Andrew, knowing Owen doesn’t like going new places without Mama or Papa or Terry or Cal. “And if it’s at Lily’s house I will definitely be with you the whole time for the first few times you go there.”

“Okay,” says Owen, nodding.

“You don’t have to have a play date with her. Only if you like her.”

“I love her,” says Owen, gazing at his father. “She’s so nice and she’s the best dancer you’ve ever seen.”

“Better than your mother?”

“Maybe a little,” says Owen, pouting. “When’s Mama coming home?”

“In two weeks,” says Andrew, fighting his tears. “And this time she’ll be home for a good long while.”

“How long is a good long while?”

“Lots of days,” says Andrew, his heart breaking. “Lots and lots of days.”

The next morning on his way to the beach house he’s building with two other carpenters, Andrew drives Owen to the Montessori kindergarten that occupies a former Methodist church four miles from their house. Owen puts his knapsack and jacket in his cubbyhole and he and Andrew wave to the head teacher Mrs. Chandler who is on the phone in her office.

A sturdy middle-aged woman with short gray hair and rosy cheeks, Mrs. Chandler waves back to them and mouths the words, “Good morning Owen. Welcome to school.”

“Want to introduce me to Lily?” asks Andrew as he accompanies Owen out the back door of the schoolhouse and through the children’s vegetable garden to the large playground.

“Okay,” says Owen, who is usually among the first children to arrive at school in the morning. “She’s always on the swings when I get here. Unless it’s raining.”

And sure enough, on the middle swing of three, the two other swings not yet taken, is a beautiful four-year-old girl with dark olive skin and big brown eyes, her long black hair done in four intricately woven braids, swinging higher than most children dare to go and singing Frère Jacques.

On the following Saturday at ten in the morning, the sky full of dark gray clouds, Luisa brings Lily to Andrew and Owen’s house for a play date.

Luisa’s exquisite face and her dark olive skin remind Andrew of the famous bust of Nefertiti. She is exactly Andrew’s height, five-eleven, and exactly his age, thirty-eight, and she wears her glossy black hair in a ponytail—her movements and gestures full of grace.

Following a quick tour of the house, during which Owen and Lily stay in Owen’s room to look at his stuffed animals and books, Andrew and Luisa sit at the kitchen counter and share a pot of tea.

“You have my dream kitchen,” she says, gazing around the splendid room. “This is bigger than the kitchen at the restaurant where I cook.”

“Which restaurant?” asks Andrew, mystified by how much she reminds him of his former friend Carol Savard, though she looks nothing like Carol and sounds nothing like Carol, and yet…

The Crossroads,” she says, looking at her watch. “I’ve been the breakfast and lunch chef there for nine years now. I drop Lily off at Montessori at 6:15 and pick her up at 3:30. I have a special arrangement with Mrs. Chandler.”

“I’ve eaten your delicious food many times,” says Andrew, who usually drops Owen at school a few minutes after seven, which is officially the earliest a child is supposed to arrive. “Do you pay Mrs. Chandler?

“Yes,” she says, nodding. “Only way I can manage.” She looks at her watch again. “Speaking of which, would it be okay with you if I left now and came back at two? I know I said I’d stick around for the first date, but I am so far behind on so many things at home, a few hours alone would be a godsend.”

“Sure,” says Andrew, disappointed not to have a longer visit with her. “If Lily’s okay being here without you.”

“Oh she’s used to me leaving her with people she hardly knows,” says Luisa, getting up. “But I’ll check with her to make sure.”

Andrew accompanies Luisa to Owen’s room where they find Lily and Owen sitting side-by-side on Owen’s bed looking through a big picture book of Australian marsupials.

“I’m going now, honey,” says Luisa, smiling at the sight of her daughter with Owen. “I’ll be back at two.”

“Okay,” says Lily, looking up from the picture of a mother koala and her two babies. “See you later.”

“Good luck with your catching up,” says Andrew, escorting Luisa to her little old Toyota station wagon. “We’ll see you at two. Or thereabouts.”

“You’re a prince,” she says, beaming at him as she gets into her car.

At three-thirty, while Owen and Lily are giving each other impromptu concerts on the piano in the living room, Andrew calls Luisa and gets her answering machine. He is more than a little peeved she took thereabouts to mean an hour and a half late, but when he hears her answering machine message, he’s glad he felt the need to call her.

She sings in her gorgeous voice, “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather,” and follows those words by saying, “but I do know I want to talk to you, so please leave a message and I’ll call you back.”

Andrew saunters into the living room, waits for Owen to finish his improvised piano piece, joins Lily in applauding and asks, “Is your mom a singer, Lily?”

“Yeah,” she says, taking Owen’s place at the piano. “I am, too.”

When Luisa finally shows up at 4:15, Andrew is too angry to accept her apology and she bursts into tears as she leaves with Lily.

“Papa?” asks Owen, watching the little station wagon drive away. “Why was Lily’s mother crying?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, still seething.

“Can we go to Cookie’s for pizza?” asks Owen, smiling hopefully at his father. “With Lily and her mother?”

“I think you’ve seen enough of Lily for one day,” says Andrew, fixing himself against the idea of asking Lily and Luisa to join them for pizza.

“What do you mean?” says Owen, frowning. “We weren’t tired of each other.”

Andrew closes his eyes and breathes deeply to calm himself.

“Please Papa?” says Owen, taking Andrew’s hand. “Can we ask them to come with us?”

“Okay,” says Andrew, opening his eyes. “I’ll call and see.”

He leaves a message on Luisa’s machine and she calls back fifteen minutes later. “We’d love to meet you at Cookie’s,” she says breathlessly. “At six?”

“Six,” he says, resisting his impulse to add and don’t be late.

Andrew and Owen arrive at Cookie’s at ten minutes past six, the place jammed as always on a Saturday night, the din fantastic. Luisa and Lily are already there, Lily wearing a pretty white dress with red polka dots, Luisa wearing a beautiful turquoise shirt and a long black skirt and looking fabulous.

“We’re under-dressed,” says Andrew, sitting beside Luisa in the booth—Owen and Lily on booster seats across from them.

“You look fine,” says Luisa, watching his face. “Are you still mad at me?”

“About what?” says Andrew, studying the menu.

“Oh good,” she says, smiling. “I’m dying for a beer. Want to split a pitcher?”

Along with their extra large deluxe vegetable pizza with extra mushrooms, the children have lemonade and the grownups enjoy their beer.

 “So tell me how you came to be the renowned chef of The Crossroads,” says Andrew, enjoying Luisa’s company. “Spare no details.”

“I thought you might ask me something like that,” says Luisa, smiling shyly. “So I rehearsed my answer. The first part of it anyway.”

“How prescient of you,” he says, giving her his full attention after confirming that Owen is happily devouring his third piece of pizza.

“I was born in Toronto,” she says, exchanging smiles with her daughter. “My mother, who died seven years ago, was part-Chippewa, part-French Quebecois, and she was a fantastic cook. She worked in a hotel kitchen and had a brief liaison with a man from Cuba. He was an engineer working on a dam north of the city and was staying in the hotel where my mother worked. He was unaware he had conceived a child with her until she wrote to him in Cuba, and once he knew, he sent her money every few months for as long as I lived at home, which was until I was sixteen.”

“Papa?” says Owen, politely interrupting. “Can we go look at the fish?”

“Can we, Mama?” asks Lily, nodding hopefully.

When the children are safely stationed at the big aquarium and gazing in wonder at the neon tetras and swordtails and goldfish, Luisa continues her story.

“I started working in restaurants when I was thirteen,” she says, nodding in thanks as Andrew pours her a second glass of beer, “and I’d been playing piano and singing since I was a little kid, so… to make a very long story short, my life until I had Lily was always some combination of singing and working in restaurants. And now my life is entirely restaurant work and taking care of Lily, though we do sing together and I’m teaching her to play the piano.”

“And Lily’s father? Where is he?”

“He was a guitarist I used to perform with,” she says softly. “And after a few years of successfully resisting his advances, one night I didn’t resist and Lily was made, though I didn’t want to believe I was pregnant until I was almost three months along, and by then her father had moved to Seattle.”

“Did you tell him you were pregnant?”

“No, because I was planning to get an abortion. But then I had a vivid dream in which my mother came to me and begged me to keep the child, so I did and named her Lily after my mother. And then when Lily was two, I decided to contact her father and tell him, partly because I needed money and partly because I thought he should know, and that’s when I found out he had committed suicide after a lifelong struggle with depression.”

The children return from watching the fish, ice cream is ordered, and Luisa asks Andrew, “So your wife is a choreographer and you are a carpenter. How did you meet?”

“At a party in Montreal,” says Andrew, remembering the moment he met Kiki—love at first sight—at the height of his success.

“Were you living in Montreal?”

“No, but Kiki was. She grew up there.”

“So what were you doing there?”

“Oh… visiting friends,” he says, in no mood to rehash the rise and fall of his writing career.

She arches her eyebrow. “Why don’t I believe you?”

“I don’t know,” he says, caught off guard. “Why don’t you?”

“Because you looked away when you answered. As if you were ashamed to tell me.”

“Ashamed,” says Andrew, considering that as he finishes his third glass of beer. “Yeah maybe I am a little, though not about why I was in Montreal.” He makes a disparaging face. “It’s a long boring story.”

“I’m sure it’s not boring,” she says, splitting the last of the beer with him. “Maybe next time you’ll tell me.”

“Next play date?” he says, liking her very much.

“Yeah,” she says, liking him very much, too. “Next play date.”

That night, after Owen falls asleep during the bedtime story, Andrew sits at the kitchen table with the intention of writing a letter to Jason Moreau, the director of the Montreal production of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play based on two of Andrew’s short stories that was a resounding success nine years ago and helped launch Andrew’s writing career.

But instead of a letter to Jason, out comes a story about a man and his young son who spend a week at the beach one summer in an old falling down house, and the fascinating people and animals and birds and curious conundrums they encounter there.

He writes for five hours without stopping, uses up two Bic pens and most of the ink in a third, and finishes the seventy-page opus at one in the morning barely aware of what he has written.

After breakfast the next day, Andrew walks with Owen to Scott and Felicia’s house, and while Owen and Scott build towers of wooden blocks in the living room, Andrew has coffee with Cal and Terry in the kitchen—Cal a strapping fellow with curly black hair who has known Andrew since they were in high school together in California, Terry a pretty redhead who fell in love with Cal the day after he got to Canada seventeen years ago.

“What news of Kiki?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University, his specialties Ethics, Skepticism, and Socrates.

“She’ll be home in a couple weeks,” says Andrew, weary from his long night of writing. “We spoke a few days ago and she said everything was going gangbusters and she loves New York and misses us, but she’s glad she’s doing this, and… like that.”

“How long will she be home for?” asks Terry, a fine art photographer who makes most of her money shooting weddings.

“Little less than three weeks,” says Andrew, smiling bravely. “And then she’s off to LA for seven weeks.”

“You gonna take some time off while she’s home?” asks Cal, who dearly loves Andrew and worries about him.

“No. She’ll be working seven days a week on the new dances for LA, so there’s no point in my taking time off.” He bounces his eyebrows. “But guess what?”

“You started writing again,” says Terry, nodding excitedly.

“How did you know?” asks Andrew, laughing.

“I can hear it in your voice,” she says, getting up to make a fresh pot of coffee. “What are you writing? A play?”

“A story,” says Andrew, having yet to read what he wrote last night. “First thing I’ve written in… God… three years.” He frowns at Terry. “What about my voice is so different?”

“You seem calmer,” says Cal, nodding assuredly. “Happier.”

“You sound like you again,” says Terry, smiling fondly at him. “The old sweet you.”

Leaving Owen to play with Scott for the day, Andrew returns home and sits on the living room sofa reading the seventy pages he wrote last night.

When he finishes, he takes a deep breath and reads the whole thing again.

Now he gets up and goes out into the garden and lifts his arms to the sky and says, “Thank you. Thank you for coming back to me.”

That night Andrew writes for another four hours and produces another fifty pages. Again he has only a vague notion of what he’s writing, but he is filled with joy to be the conduit for whatever so urgently wants to come through.

Monday night, after a long day of roofing the beach house, Andrew reads the pages he wrote last night, and is again filled with gratitude for the story he has wrought.

Now he takes up his pen and writes for another three hours.

Tuesday night, pleased with the previous night’s creation, he finds the flow of words has ceased, so he takes up his guitar and plays a lovely pattern of chords he has never played before, and after playing the pattern a dozen times, he sets down his guitar and writes a chorus and four verses as if copying them from a page hanging in the air before him.

Now he plays the pattern of chords and sings the words, and loves the song more than any song he’s ever written.

Wednesday night, no words come, nor music, so he wanders into the kitchen to put a kettle on for tea and thinks I should call Luisa and set up a play date for Saturday or Sunday and the phone rings and it’s Luisa.

“I was just thinking of calling you,” he says, sitting down at the counter.

“Really?” she says, smiling into the phone. “Why were you thinking of calling me?”

“Well… to set up a play date for Owen and Lily.”

“Saturday or Sunday?” she says, her voice a salve for his lonely heart. “Either or both work for us.”

“Then Saturday,” he says, picking up a pen and writing on the notepad he keeps by the phone they called each other simultaneously and each got a busy signal. “You want to come here again or…”

“Yeah we like your place much better than ours. And this time I’ll stick around and we can have a visit.”

“Oh good, and I can tell you what I was doing in Montreal when I met my wife.”

“And I can tell you my Montreal story,” she says, her kettle whistling in the background. “When I was singing with a band from hell. Shall we do ten o’clock again?”

“Perfect,” he says, his kettle whistling, too.

The date made, Andrew brews a cup of chamomile tea, fetches his notebook, takes up his pen, and writes like a madman until well after midnight.

Saturday is a marvelous and scary day for Andrew, his five hours with Luisa confirming what he already knew but dared not admit: she is undoubtedly the inspiration for the best stories he’s ever written and the best song he’s ever composed, and most terrifying of all, he’s in love with her and she with him.

Yet neither of them makes the slightest attempt to seduce the other, and at visit’s end they both honestly express how happy they are to have found a new friend.

By the time Kiki arrives home from New York in early May, Andrew has completed and rewritten eleven long short stories, composed four new songs, and written two drafts of a play based on the longest of the new stories entitled Their Summer Holiday.

After a weekend of family fun, Kiki gets to work on her new dances, Andrew resumes his carpentry gig, Owen goes to preschool for six hours every day, and everything seems to be fine.

A Saturday play date is arranged for Lily and Owen, Luisa brings Lily over for the day, and Kiki and Luisa immediately hit it off, though a few minutes into the play date Kiki has to take a call from her producer in Los Angeles and Luisa has to hurry away to The Crossroads to fill in for the weekend lunch chef, and Andrew is left to supervise the children.

Walking with Owen and Lily in the nearby woods, Andrew thinks about Kiki leaving again in two weeks, and he is overcome with sorrow.

On a Saturday night two days before Kiki departs for Los Angeles, Andrew and Kiki throw a small party. Cal and Terry bring Felicia and Scott, and Luisa comes with Lily. The five dancers Kiki has been employing to help refine her new dances come with their partners, and Andrew’s old pal Joe Ganz and his wife Melinda come—Joe the editor and Melinda the art director of the free weekly The Weekly Blitz in which Andrew first published the seventeen short stories that eventually became his first and most successful book The Draft Dodger and other fables.

After much eating and drinking, the party goers move en masse to Kiki’s studio where Kiki and her five dancers perform several minutes of the two dances destined for the stage in Los Angeles—a thrilling display of strong limber people doing amazing things with their bodies in time to thunderous polyrhythmic music.

Following the dance show, everyone returns to the house where Joe Ganz requests Andrew read one of his new stories. Andrew is reluctant to comply until Kiki nods encouragingly, and Andrew says to the assembled host, “Well… the new stories I’ve been writing are all quite long, but I think the first ten pages of one of them makes a good little story within the larger story, so… I’ll fetch those pages.”

Everyone finds a seat and Andrew stands on the hearth and says, “So this is the first part of a story I’m calling Their Summer Holiday.”

Now for the first time since the collapse of his writing career, he reads to an audience and feels again the thrill of deeply connecting with others through his words, his final sentence eliciting loud applause and shouts of Bravo and Joe Ganz saying, “Oh please let me run that, Andrew. It’s so fucking good.”

Two days later, Kiki flies to Los Angeles, and this time her going barely disturbs Owen, perhaps because he has adjusted to the new reality of her coming and going, and no longer fears she might never return.

But for Andrew this is the hardest time yet because he knows that after seven long weeks without her, she will return for a scant few days before flying to London where she will stay for two months before returning for a few weeks before going to Montreal for seven weeks, and then to Los Angeles again, and New York again… on and on for another year and a half.

With her every success—and Kiki’s dances are most successful—more offers come, and when Kiki returns in mid-September after her two months in London she proposes they expand the two-year plan to a four-year plan.

“Are you serious?” says Andrew, aghast at what she’s suggesting. “What about Owen? What about me? We’re in the prime of our lives. Our child is about to turn five. Is this what you want? To live apart from us for another three years?”

“What I want,” she says, taking a deep breath, “is a divorce. And for you to have custody of Owen.”

They are standing in the kitchen when she says this to him—Owen and Scott in the driveway racing around on scooters.

“Divorce?” he says, stunned. “What are you talking about?”

“I met someone, Andrew,” she says, trying not to cry. “I never in a million years thought something like this would happen. I never ever wanted to hurt you. But it happened. And now I need to go this other way. I’m so sorry.”

“You need to go this other way,” he says, sitting down to keep from falling over. “Is that what you’re gonna say to Owen?”

“I will explain it to him,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh good for you, Kiki,” he says bitterly. “And of course he’ll understand because he’s four-years-old and a four-year-old can easily understand why his mother would abandon him because she needs to go this other way.”

Kiki leaves the kitchen.

Andrew bows his head and closes his eyes and hopes to wake from this terrible dream.

At the end of September, two weeks after Kiki asked for a divorce, she oversees the loading of her belongings into a moving truck to be driven to her new partner’s house in Los Angeles while she flies to Montreal. Her new partner, a composer of music for movies and television, is in his early sixties and has five grown children from his three previous marriages.

In the wake of Kiki’s going, Andrew takes a month off from carpentry work to be available to Owen all day every day, and during this break from work he has the idea to convert Kiki’s dance studio into a two-bedroom rental unit.

To pay for the conversion, he takes out a fifty-thousand-dollar loan on his house and hires two excellent carpenters to help him do the work, which involves adding a kitchen, expanding the bathroom, and putting up internal walls to make two bedrooms and a living room out of the big open space.

A month into the transformation of the dance studio, a few days after Thanksgiving, Andrew comes within a tiny fraction of an inch of cutting off his thumb with a circular saw, and this terrifying brush with disaster makes him realize he needs to take time off from carpentry and get some therapy.

In order to afford this, he does something he has never done before. He calls his parents and asks them for a loan of five thousand dollars. They are happy to oblige and do him one better by volunteering to drive up from California and stay with him and Owen for a month or two.

“Makes sense to me,” says his father Zeke, seventy-four and recently retired after fifty years of landscaping. “Why else did I stop working?”

On a rainy afternoon, two days before Christmas, his parents having arrived in early December, Andrew gets home from a revelation-filled three-hour session with his psychotherapist and finds his mother Gloria in the kitchen making supper with Luisa: spaghetti with a seafood sauce, sautéed vegetables, and a big green salad.

“Who knew she was a gourmet cook?” says Gloria, pointing at Luisa. “I invite her to stay for dinner and she turns out to be Julia Child.”

“Did we have a play date today?” says Andrew, sitting down at the counter and gazing at Luisa. “I completely forgot. I’m so sorry.”

“We didn’t have a play date,” says Luisa, filling a glass with cold beer and setting it before Andrew. “But your mother called and said Owen was pining for Lily, so we came over and… is this okay we’re here?”

“Of course,” says Andrew, downing the beer in a single gulp. “I’m delighted to see you. I never get to see you enough. And how did you know I was pining for a beer?”

“Maybe she’s clairvoyant,” says Gloria, stirring the noodles in a big bubbling pot. “And maybe you don’t see her enough because you don’t call her enough. Not that it’s any of my business.”

“I would have called her enough, Mom,” says Andrew, taking on his mother’s New York Jewish accent, “but I’ve been very busy having a nervous breakdown. So sue me.”

After supper, while Gloria and Zeke play Go Fish and Slap Jack with Owen and Lily in the living room, Andrew and Luisa do the dishes together, Andrew washing, Luisa drying.

“So how have you been?” asks Andrew, smiling at Luisa. “You never stay to visit anymore when you bring Lily for a play date, so now I’m hopelessly out of touch with you. Have you fallen in love with someone?”

“Yeah,” she says, drying a dish. “I fell in love with a married man.”

“Oh Luisa, don’t do that,” he says, wincing.

“Don’t do what?” she asks, stopping her drying.

“Have an affair with a married man. You’re fantastic. You’re beautiful and smart and talented and… there are thousands and millions of unmarried men who would love to be…”

“Who said I was having an affair with him? I said I’m in love with him. And until recently I have been studiously avoiding him because he was married and I didn’t want to… you know… be a home wrecker.”

“Oh,” he says, dropping the scrubber into the soapy water. “I see.”

“You do?” she asks, setting the plate down.

“I do,” he says, opening his arms to her. “Now I see.”

They make love for the first time in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1987, hoping not to wake anyone with their ecstatic communion.

But Gloria wakes and rejoices her son has found such a lovely partner.

Luisa and Lily move in with Andrew and Owen at the end of February just as Andrew completes his work on the rental unit and rents it to Chas and Betty Lowenstein, retired schoolteachers who become instant grandparents for Lily and Owen.

On a rainy Friday morning in early April, the kids at kindergarten, Luisa cooking at The Crossroads, Andrew is sitting at the kitchen table writing a new story when the phone rings.

Feeling certain this is Luisa calling to say she loves him, he picks up the phone and says, “I love you.”

“How sweet of you, Andrew,” says a familiar voice he doesn’t immediately recognize. “How did you know it was me?”

“Penelope?” he says, wondering if she still thinks of herself as his agent. “How nice to hear from you. I’ve been meaning to call you and see if you got the stories I sent. And the play.”

“I not only got them,” she says, pausing portentously, “we have an offer from Smith & Harte to publish the collection. And Jason has arranged for a staged reading of your play at the Ovid and possibly a production if the reading goes well.”

“We have an offer to publish my book?” says Andrew, trembling. “What about the data base that says I don’t sell?”

“Oh Smith & Harte don’t care about that,” she says, laughing. “They’re now the play thing of the wife of some incredibly rich computer person, and she’s desperate to publish your stories. They’re offering a ten-thousand-dollar advance, which is less than I’d hoped for, but that horrid database is a problem with most of the other houses so I think we should take their offer and hope for good reviews and a nice fat paperback sale. Yes?”

“Yes,” says Andrew, his tears flowing.

“She wants to fly you out here to meet you and introduce you to your editor, a young woman named Candace Wollitzer who looks like she’s not yet out of high school, but apparently she’s a huge fan of Draft Dodger and says Extremely Silly Ariel changed her life. You can stay with us or with Jason. He’s so looking forward to seeing you. He’s been terribly depressed since Freddie died, and your new play has revived him. Oh Andrew, I’m so glad you’re getting another chance. I think these new stories are your best yet.”

“I’ll be coming with my new partner Luisa and her daughter Lily and my son Owen,” says Andrew, looking out the window as the sun cracks the overlay of gray clouds and sends a heavenly beam to bathe the room in golden light.

fin

song

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The Same Woman (Carol)

Several times in the course of his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known before. And though the woman never recognizes Andrew as anyone she knows, she is always drawn to him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955, and again in the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. Then in 1966 he was in a relationship with her until she left him for someone else. And from 1970 to 1973, he lived with her in British Columbia before she moved to Los Angeles.

In 1978, Andrew is twenty-nine and living ten miles north of Vancouver in a spacious two-bedroom house he built on three acres not far from the ocean. He recently became a Canadian citizen and has been in a relationship with a woman named Leslie Revere for seven months.

Leslie is thirty-eight, an aspiring playwright who makes her living as a secretary in the biggest talent agency in Vancouver. She just started dying her brown hair auburn and is determined to get her weight down to 125, though she looks fine at 140. Desperate to get out of the tiny apartment she shares with another woman in a noisy part of the city, she wants to marry Andrew, get pregnant, and quit her job.

Andrew, however, does not want to marry Leslie. They were good friends before they became lovers, but now whenever they spend more than a few hours together, he feels invaded and overwhelmed and creatively squished.

So why doesn’t he end his relationship with her?

Because two years ago she introduced him to the playwright Mark Kane who adapted two of Andrew’s short stories, Ariel Gets Wise and Extremely Silly, into a play that had a critically-acclaimed run at the Kleindorf Theatre in Vancouver and was subsequently staged with great success in Montreal, which success led to Andrew’s first book, a collection of stories entitled The Draft Dodger and other fables being published in Canada and England, and soon to be published in America.

Thus for the first time in his life, he has enough money to devote himself entirely to his writing and music, yet he cannot write or compose anything because he is consumed with the dilemma of how to end his relationship with Leslie without seriously damaging his new connections in the theatre world, a world he greatly enjoys being part of.

Inspired by the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Andrew has started writing plays along with his short stories, Mark Kane is nearly finished with a new play combining two more of Andrew’s short stories, and several eminent Canadian directors are eagerly awaiting anything Andrew writes.

But what makes Andrew’s dilemma even more difficult is that Leslie has written twenty plays over the last fifteen years, none of which have been produced despite her tireless efforts to convince actors and directors and theatre companies to take them on. This makes Andrew’s success both a source of pride for Leslie because she introduced him to Mark, and a thorn in her side because Andrew was so instantly and hugely successful in contrast to her many years of failing to have a play produced.

To get some distance from Leslie, Andrew decides to fly to Montreal to meet his literary and theatrical agent Penelope Goldstein in-person for the first time, and to visit Jason Moreau, the director of the Montreal production of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise.

Despite Andrew arranging his trip on the spur of the moment, Penelope says she’ll throw a party for him at her townhouse in Griffintown, and Jason says he’ll throw a party for Andrew at his beautiful old house in Little Italy.

Penelope and her partner Judith Perlman, also a literary agent, insist Andrew stay in their guest room for the night of the party, and Jason and his partner Frederick Holmes, a choreographer, insist Andrew stay in their guest room for as long as he likes.

Leslie is terribly upset Andrew didn’t invite her to accompany him to Montreal, but she hides her displeasure for fear of slowing the momentum she hopes will carry them into marriage and pregnancy, not necessarily in that order.

Andrew’s best friend Cal drives Andrew to the Vancouver airport on a cloudy morning in May. Cal is about to get his PhD in Philosophy from Simon Fraser University and lives with his wife Terry, a photographer, and their two-year-old daughter Felicia in a house not far from Andrew’s. Cal and Andrew were pals in high school in Redwood City, California, roomies at UC Santa Cruz, and came to Canada together in 1970 so Cal could evade the draft and not go to Vietnam. Andrew then fell in love with a Canadian woman named Yvonne and ended up staying in Canada, too.

“I’m surprised Leslie’s not going with you,” says Cal, glancing at Andrew as they drive through a sudden downpour. “She lives for this kind of thing, doesn’t she?”

“I didn’t invite her,” says Andrew, testily. “I don’t want to be in a relationship with her anymore but I can’t seem to work up the courage to tell her. So I thought I’d run away for a week or two and see if that might empower me to break her heart.”

“You don’t owe her anything,” says Cal, giving Andrew a doleful look. “She didn’t write your stories. She introduced you to Mark who was already a big fan from reading you in The Weekly Blitz. You went to a party with her and she knew Mark because she knows everybody and he took things from there. Right?”

“It’s more complicated than that, Cal,” says Andrew, shrugging painfully. “She was my great advocate and…”

“Oh bullshit,” says Cal, tired of listening to Andrew rationalize staying in a relationship with someone he doesn’t love. “You’re just afraid she’s gonna badmouth you to her theatre friends if you break up with her. So what if she does? Your success comes from what you write, not from who you know.”

“I wish that were true,” says Andrew, wistfully. “But it’s not. My stories helped me get into the castle, but now that I’m in, believe me, it is all about who you know among the chosen few. And if the chosen few don’t like you, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest playwright in the world, they won’t have anything to do with you.”

Cal grimaces. “But your own experience disproves that. Your stories won the day, not Leslie.”

“If not for Leslie, I would never have gone to the party where I met Mark.” He gazes out at the rain. “No. They lowered the drawbridge for her and let me in because I was with her.”

“I’ll never believe that,” says Cal, shaking his head. “I will always believe you flew over the ramparts on the magic carpet of your wonderful stories.”

“Which is one of the many reasons I love you,” says Andrew, smiling fondly at his dear friend.

The truth is Penelope and Judith love Andrew’s short stories because they are great stories. And they love the play that sprang from two of those stories because Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise is a great play. They very much hope Andrew’s success continues, but they have no expectations it will.

Penelope and Judith attained their success as agents by working incredibly hard for decades, and though they know as well as anyone about the potency of personal connections in the publishing business and the theatre world, they are of a generation of agents—both of them in their fifties—who represent uniquely talented writers regardless of who those writers know or don’t know.

Forty people come to the party at Penelope and Judith’s townhouse, mostly middle-aged editors and middle-aged writers, a few younger editors and younger writers, and a handful of theatre people. Penelope and Judith take turns introducing people to Andrew, and eventually he meets everyone. He is praised many times for his story collection and for Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, eats his fill of fabulous hors d’oeuvres, and is beginning to long for the end of the party when a couple of latecomers arrive, the man middle-aged and heavyset, the woman Andrew’s age and the doppelgänger of Andrew’s last great love Yvonne, a beautiful woman with olive skin and lustrous brown hair.   

They are Larry and Carol Savard, Larry a successful actor, Carol a novelist.

“I am in awe of your stories,” says Carol, who Andrew immediately recognizes as another manifestation of his soul mate. “I’ve read The Draft Dodger and other fables three times and I’m about to start again.”

“Oh I’m so glad,” says Andrew, looking into her eyes. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.”

“There’s talk of a movie being made of your Silly Whosit play,” says Larry, surveying the room. “My agent says most likely made-for-television, but possibly a cute little feature. I’d love to play the silly girl’s father. Keep me in mind.”

“I will,” says Andrew, laughing, “though this is the first I’ve heard…”

“Hate to cut you off,” says Larry, half-snarling and half-smiling, “but I must say hello to Jim and Kathy. Haven’t seen them in ages,” and off he goes leaving Andrew alone with Carol.

“Did I say something wrong?” asks Andrew, looking at Carol.

“No, that’s just Larry,” she says, smiling bravely. “A busy bee visiting many flowers.”

“Ah,” says Andrew, not really understanding what she means.

“So how are you handling your sudden success?” she asks, sounding as if she really wants to know.

“Well…” he says, deciding not to tell her she could be the twin of Yvonne who was the twin of Laura and so on back through the great loves of his life, “I haven’t made tons of money from the play or the book so my life hasn’t really changed much except I get lots more mail and I don’t have to pay my bills with carpentry work for the next year or so.”

“Or maybe never again,” she says, her voice and Quebecois accent identical to Yvonne’s. “I think there are at least three really good movies in your collection and before long you’ll be writing the screenplays.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Andrew, bowing to her.

“Are you Jewish?” asks Carol, smiling quizzically.

“I am descended from Jews but not raised in the religion,” he says, returning her quizzical smile. “Why do you ask?”

“My Jewish grandmother says from your lips to God’s ears all the time. And so does my mother who gave your book to everyone she knows for Hanukkah and Christmas.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t read your novels,” he says, amazed by how much she reminds him of Yvonne. “But I will. What are their titles?”

“Oh I’m not published yet,” she says, blushing. “Getting closer, according to Judith, but no takers yet.”

“What are your novels about if I may ask?”

“Love,” she says simply. “And the myriad impossibilities therein and thereof. I think you’d find them kin to your stories only much more convoluted, which is probably the problem.”

“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, sensing her sadness. “Started a few but they either turned into short stories or trailed off into nothingness.”

“Oh yes,” she says, laughing a beautiful hearty laugh. “I know all about things trailing off into nothingness. And now if you’ll excuse me, I better go be with Larry before he becomes apoplectic with jealousy.”

“Of course,” says Andrew, looking across the room to where Larry is loudly telling a man and a woman a story involving lots of gesturing. “A pleasure to meet you.”

When the last guest has gone home, Penelope and Judith and Andrew sit in the living room sipping brandy from crystal snifters and Judith asks Andrew, “Did you get a chance to talk to Carol Savard?”

“Briefly,” he says, relieved the party is over. “She seemed very nice.”

“She’s a doll,” says Judith, the child of Yiddish-speaking parents. “And a very good writer, too. She was a waitress before she married Larry. Shared an apartment with two other women and wrote like mad on her days off. And then… oh never mind.”

“Tell, darling,” says Penelope, pouring more brandy into Judith’s snifter. “Andrew won’t gossip. Will you, dear?”

“Never,” says Andrew, smiling mischievously. “Though I might put this in a story. Well-disguised of course.”

Judith sips her brandy and says, “She’s hasn’t written a word since she married Larry two years ago. And I know I could sell her novel if she’d do one more draft.”

“I wonder why she doesn’t,” says Andrew, in his tiredness confusing Carol with Yvonne who was a prolific songwriter.

“Married the wrong man,” says Penelope, swirling her brandy. “Scared away her muse.”

“I remember the day she told me they were getting married,” says Judith, sighing. “We were having lunch and strategizing about who I should send her novel to next, and she said, ‘After I’m married I’ll have lots of time to write.’ But then the problem of not enough time became the problem of too much Larry.”

“Always tricky when we make a pact with the devil,” says Penelope, wagging her finger at Andrew. “Don’t you do that. Promise me.”

The next day, a Thursday, Penelope and Judith take Andrew to breakfast at an eatery around the corner from their townhouse, and while they wait for their food to arrive, Judith says, “We would ask you to stay on with us, but we have a dear friend coming in from England today. But next time you come to Montreal you must stay with us for at least a week.”

“You’ll love your room at Jason and Freddie’s,” says Penelope, signaling their waitress for more coffee. “We know their house very well because we were each other’s beards for twenty years until we all came out two years ago.”

“Beards,” says Andrew, frowning. “You mean…”

“We posed as heterosexual partners,” says Judith, sipping her coffee. “I with Freddie, Penelope with Jason. But now, thank God, we don’t have to do that anymore.”

“Much to our surprise, coming out didn’t hurt our business at all,” says Penelope, waving to an acquaintance being seated at a nearby table. “Or Freddie’s. Dance, you know. But Jason can’t get television gigs anymore. No one cares in the theatre world, of course, but television and movies are way behind.”

“You can’t be gay and direct television shows and movies?” asks Andrew, finding that hard to believe.

“It’s not about being gay,” says Judith, enjoying Andrew’s innocence. “It’s about being openly gay.”

The party Jason and Freddie throw for Andrew on Saturday night is very different than the party at Judith and Penelope’s. The music is louder, the air is heavily scented with cannabis smoke, and many of the hundred people filling the house and spilling out into the backyard are in their twenties and thirties. There are dancers and actors and musicians and theatre people, many of them making no secret of their homosexuality and only a handful of them interested in meeting Andrew.

Freddie, a handsome fellow in his early sixties, notorious in his youth for supposed liaisons with famous ballerinas, introduces Andrew to a striking young woman named Kiki—long black hair, carob brown skin, wearing a black skirt and red sandals and a green T-shirt with juxtaposition of elements in tension writ in white letters across the chest—a former ballerina now a modern dancer, her mother Afro-Caribbean, her father Chinese.

Kiki and Andrew take to each other instantly and Kiki suggests they gravitate away from the loud music to the backyard where they stand under a lantern suspended from the branch of a maple tree talking about Montreal and Vancouver and finding each other splendid.

And Andrew thinks I would love to have a child with this woman.

He has never had such a thought about any woman he’s ever known, and he wonders why he never wanted children with Yvonne or Laura, both of whom he loved with all his heart.

“Are you free at all in the next few days?” he asks, holding out his hand to Kiki. “I’d love to see you again.”

“Yeah, I’m free,” she says, smiling brightly and giving his hand a squeeze. “We could have lunch tomorrow. Or supper. Or…”

“Let’s start with lunch,” he says, feeling a gush of joy.

“I’ll give you my number,” she says, rummaging in her handbag and bringing forth a notebook and pen. “How long are you here for?”

“Not sure,” he says, imagining moving to Montreal and courting Kiki. “Jason and Freddie said I could stay with them as long as I want to, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

“Tell me again how you know them,” she says, tearing a page from her notebook and handing it to him. “I was too busy gawking at you when Freddie introduced us. Are you an actor?”

“No, I’m a writer. I wrote a couple stories that were made into a play Jason directed.”

“Oh my God,” says Kiki, putting a hand on her heart. “Did you write Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise?”

“I wrote the two stories it was based on, but I didn’t write the play.”

“I went four times,” says Kiki, putting her other hand atop the hand on her heart. “Gave me the courage to end a very bad relationship I was stuck in. Thank you so much for writing those stories.”

“You’re welcome,” he says, finding her impossibly lovely.

At which moment, Carol Savard emerges from the house and makes a beeline for Andrew and Kiki.

“Andrew,” says Carol, as she comes near. “We met at Penelope and Judith’s party a few nights ago.”

“I remember,” he says, surprised to see her again. “Do you know Kiki?”

“No,” says Carol, shaking Kiki’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” says Kiki, sensing Carol’s urgency to speak to Andrew. “I have to go, Andrew. Call me in the morning?”

“I will,” says Andrew, exchanging quick kisses with her.

Alone with Carol, Andrew asks, “Larry here?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s in England for three weeks. Making a movie.”

“Ah,” says Andrew, nodding. “So you have lots of time to write.”

“Yes,” she says, clearing her throat. “I’m wondering if… I’m wondering if you’d like to spend some time with me. I felt a very strong connection with you at the party and…” She starts to cry. “I’m not talking about having sex. I just need to talk to you.”

“I’d be happy to spend some time with you,” he says, feeling the deep and inexplicable bond he has with her.

At breakfast the next morning with Freddy and Jason in their sunny kitchen, Jason opines, “How could anyone be married to Larry Savard?”

“No one can be,” says Freddie, shaking his head. “He was married four times before Carol and none of them stuck for more than a few years.”

“Let me rephrase that,” says Jason, striking a thoughtful pose. “Why anyone would want to marry him, I can’t imagine. And don’t say for money. No amount of money would be enough to live with that horrible narcissist.”

“We were stunned when Carol told us she was marrying him,” says Freddie, grimacing. “We frequently dine at Baskerville’s, the restaurant where Carol used to be the star waiter. We always requested her and I often said to Jason if I liked sleeping with women I would marry her in a minute if she would have me. So sweet and kind and funny and smart and very sexy. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, nodding. “Very.”

“Beware of her,” says Jason, pointing at Andrew. “You’ll fall in love and try to save her and stop writing. And I need you to write a new play for me. The sooner the better.”

“Speaking of narcissists,” says Freddie, laughing.

“I am not a narcissist,” says Jason, indignantly. “The world is dying for good plays and Andrew is one of the few people I know who can write them.” 

Kiki takes Andrew to lunch at a café a few blocks from Jason and Freddie’s house, their attraction to each other growing by leaps and bounds. For dessert they split a piece of pumpkin pie and share a cup of coffee, black, and Andrew presents Kiki with a signed copy of his book The Draft Dodger and other fables, to which Kiki responds by bringing forth a copy of his book she just bought.

“You can make this one to my mother,” she says, handing him the book. “She came to your play twice with me and she’s dying to meet you.”

“Do you ever get out to Vancouver?” he asks, gazing in wonder at her. “To dance?”

“I have gone there to dance,” she says, nodding. “And my sister lives there and we miss each other, so I try to go out there at least once a year.”

“Would you…” he says, but nothing more comes out.

“Visit you when I’m there?” she says, nodding. “Oh yeah. But what about tonight? My friend Juliet is singing with her trio at Honey Martin starting at nine. You’ll love her and probably want to marry her. I can come get you or we can meet there.”

“I have a supper date,” says Andrew, madly in love with her. “But I could meet you there at ten.”

“Perfect,” she says, smiling rapturously. “I’ll save you a seat.”

Before Andrew leaves Jason and Freddie’s to meet Carol for supper, he and Jason have tea in the living room.

“I was not kidding, Andrew,” says Jason, clearly distraught. “Larry Savard is famously violent, and I wish you wouldn’t have anything to do with Carol until she is long free of him. She’s probably afraid to leave him for fear he’ll kill her.”

“I’m just having supper with her,” says Andrew, attributing some of Jason’s upset to his tendency to exaggerate.

“Well make sure that’s all you do,” says Jason, emphatically. “Don’t even kiss her cheek.”

“But how would Larry know? He’s in England.”

“We know two of his ex-wives, and when they were married to him, whenever he went away he had them watched.”

“That’s crazy,” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” says Jason, throwing up his hands. “He’s crazy.”

In a quaint Italian restaurant, Andrew and Carol sit at a table with a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth and a candle stuck in a round-bottomed wine bottle covered with melted wax.

After a bit of friendly chitchat, Carol says, “I felt such a strong jolt of recognition when I met you. Not that you look like anybody I’ve ever known, but there was something about your voice and the way you listened to me. I can’t explain it except to say I felt I knew you and you knew me, and I thought if anyone could understand what I’m going through right now, you would. And I thought maybe you could… I don’t know, shed some light on my predicament or give me some advice.”

“I recognized you, too,” says Andrew, wondering if they are being watched. “And I feel a similar affinity with you. So please, tell me.”

“I wonder if we could go somewhere more private,” she says quietly.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says, sipping his wine to moisten his very dry throat. “Jason told me your husband is famously jealous and famously violent and had his previous wives followed whenever he went out of town. And though I’d love to go somewhere more private to hear your story, to be honest with you I’m afraid to do that. I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize, though I can assure you no one followed me here. That happened a few times at the beginning of our marriage and when I found out he was paying people to spy on me, I told him if he ever did it again I would leave him. So he no longer does. And I understand why Jason and Freddie may think I’m afraid of him, but I’m not.”

“So what is your predicament?” asks Andrew, lowering his shoulders and breathing a sigh of relief.

“I haven’t been able to write anything since I married Larry. But if I leave him… he’ll kill himself.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“No,” she says, falling silent as their supper arrives.

When their waiter departs, Andrew asks, “If he didn’t tell you, how do you know?”

“How do we know anything?” she asks, locking eyes with him. “Why did you and I recognize each other?”

“We just do,” he says, nodding.

“Yes. And I have sat with Larry on many a night watching him drink himself into oblivion, knowing that if I leave him he will die.”

“So he does tell you. Maybe not in words, but with his thoughts and actions. And how is that not extortion? Emotional extortion.”

“What if it is?” she says, shrugging. “What would you do? Knowing if you end the relationship you would cause his death? And please don’t say you wouldn’t have gotten into the relationship in the first place. You don’t know that. You might have. And if you did, what would you do if you knew that leaving him would kill him?”

“I would tell him,” says Andrew, jabbing his fork into his spaghetti, “that I would help him find a good therapist and a good rehab clinic, and if he wouldn’t make the effort to heal, I would leave him.”

“Knowing he will kill himself,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“What are the alternatives, Carol? Going on living in the hell you’re in? Killing your self? Never writing again? Sacrificing your life so he can go on drinking himself into oblivion every night while you watch? Wait for him to die of liver failure?”

“You would leave him,” she says, folding her arms. “And let him die.”

“They are not connected actions,” says Andrew, angrily. “He is choosing to die rather than trying to get well. And by leaving, you are choosing not to be present for his suicide.”

She sits back in her chair and muses for a long time.

Andrew eats his spaghetti, drinks his wine, and thinks Tomorrow I’m calling Yvonne and ending our relationship.

“Andrew?” says Carol, leaning forward in her chair.

“What?” he says, softening.

“Do you like living in Vancouver?”

“I do. I live in a house I built ten miles north of the city. Beautiful place. Good friends. Yeah, I love it.”

“Are you involved with anyone?”

“I’m just ending a relationship and hoping to start another,” he says, seeing no need to hide the truth from her. “Why do you ask?”

“Because if I leave Larry, I’d love to try being in a relationship with you.” She smiles shyly. “If you want to.”

He thinks of Kiki and how he loves her, and he says to Carol, “How about we write to each other and see where that takes us?”

“Okay,” she says, smiling bravely. “I’d love to be your pen pal.”

The next day, after a fabulous night with Kiki in the pub listening to her friend sing, Andrew calls Leslie and ends their relationship. She is most upset with him for breaking up with her by phone and not in-person, but by the end of their conversation she says she understands why he had to get away from her to work up the nerve to tell her.

“I can be terrifying, I know,” she says, laughing a little as she cries. “But I hope we’ll still be friends. I think you’re a great person, Andrew, a rare person, and I’d like to keep knowing you whether we sleep together or not.”

“I love being your friend,” he says sincerely. “I think you’re a rare person, too, and you have helped me in so many ways.”

“As you have helped me,” she says, weeping.

Andrew stays another two weeks in Montreal, a week with Jason and Freddie, a week with Kiki in the house she shares with her mother, her father no longer alive.

He makes the trip back to Vancouver by train rather than fly, which gives him five days of rolling across Canada to write and write and write, stories and poems and letters and dialogue flowing unabated from his liberated pen. 

In the spring of 1980, Andrew and Kiki wed in Montreal in Freddie and Jason’s backyard, Andrew’s parents and brother and sisters having made the long trek from California, Kiki’s mother and grandparents and sister on hand, Andrew’s best man Cal, of course, and Freddie giving the bride away.

Carol comes to the wedding with Judith and Penelope, for she and Andrew have become great friends via the postal service, her first novel Simply Love about to be published, her marriage to Larry a thing of the past, Larry still alive and about to wed again.

In a letter to Carol dated July 14, 1981, Andrew writes from Vancouver that Kiki is three months pregnant, they are adding another bedroom to their house, his second collection of short stories Suicide Notes From My Friends is selling very well, and his play Exactly Random will begin rehearsals next week, to open at the Kleindorf in September.

“I know I have tried to elucidate this to you before, Carol,” he writes, “but I will try to put the ineffable into words again because I am overwhelmed this morning by how deeply connected I feel to you, though deeply and connected are inadequate descriptors.

“I often feel you are here with us. We will be in the garden or making supper or walking on the beach, and I will be aware of you on a cellular level. Especially when I play music.

 “But the awareness of you is never intrusive. Your presence never impedes the flow of my music, never interferes with the flow of words onto the page. In fact, your spirit is a divine impetus. Dare I say you are my muse?

“Yes, Kiki inspires me. I write poems for her and passages in my stories and plays just for her, but she is outside of me, wonderfully so, whereas you are in my bones.

“Which is to say I think our souls were one soul incubating in the womb of God when by some miracle we divided into two halves and became twin souls loosed into the human swirl.”

fin

love song

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The Same Woman (Yvonne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ∆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is taught to little boys?”

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

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

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

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

“Would you be okay with that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They embrace and feel marvelous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ∆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I remember.”

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

“What changed?”

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

“Yet you still loved her.”

“More than ever.”

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

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

fin

the song Just Love

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The Same Woman (Laura)

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

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

As it happens, she is always his age.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When is it?” she asks to be polite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Megan…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did meet Laura.

“I’m sorry, Megan. I… no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” says Andrew, embracing her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many?” she asks, dimpling provocatively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So much,” says her mother, laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shouldn’t we get dressed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 fin

song

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The Same Woman (Sara)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry about that,” he says, blushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So…” He clears his throat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean…”

“Kiss,” she says, nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fin

song

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Banana Blueberry Apple Jacks

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

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

Two: Add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda

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

Four: Mix using a fork or soft spatula until smooth

Five: Add two eggs

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

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

Eight: Stir all this up really well

Nine: Mix in three or four teaspoons of olive oil

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

Eleven: Oil your frying pan and get it hot

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

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

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

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

Bon Appetite!