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The Same Woman (Helen)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known forever, though he has never seen her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when Andrew was six-years-old, and it happened again in 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1987, 1993, 1998, 2002, and 2006.

2012. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both sixty-four, Andrew’s short brown hair mostly gray, Luisa’s long black hair showing strands of gray and white.

Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been married for twenty-five years and live in a four-bedroom house Andrew built thirty-six years ago a couple miles from the beach and ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Andrew has published eight collections of short stories and written several plays and screenplays with Luisa, six of them made into movies, with eight of their plays now staples of the worldwide theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories, a novella that was made into a movie, and two popular Children’s books.

Andrew’s son Owen is thirty and lives in Ireland with his wife Miyoshi, both of them employed by the movie producer and director Nicolas Thorsen. Owen is Thorsen’s First Assistant Director and Miyoshi is Thorsen’s cinematographer.

Luisa’s daughter Lily is also thirty. She and her daughter Jalecia, who is two-and-a-half, have lived with Andrew and Luisa since a few months before Jalecia was born, though now it would be truer to say that Jalecia lives with Andrew and Luisa, and Lily comes to visit when she has a free week or two between acting gigs, which is not often these days.

And for the last four years, Andrew and Luisa have been two of the three parents of Teo and Rosa, delightful five-year-old fraternal twins Andrew fathered with Adriana who, when she conceived Teo and Rosa, was partners with a woman named Maru.

When Adriana and Maru asked Andrew to contribute his genes to make a baby with Adriana, the plan was for Andrew and Luisa to be uncle and aunt to the progeny while Maru and Adriana would be the parents. But when the twins were nine-months-old, shockingly, Maru fell in love with another woman and shortly thereafter Adriana moved with her babies from Maru’s house in Vancouver to the other house on Luisa and Andrew’s property.

Now that Teo and Rosa are in kindergarten, and given Andrew and Luisa’s willingness to shoulder much of the parenting duties, Adriana has returned to fulltime work as a jazzercise instructor and percussionist. And for the summer months, Andrew and Luisa are the primary every-day parents of Rosa and Teo.

On a warm and sunny morning in July—Lily in New York playing the part of a psychic policewoman in a big budget thriller, Adriana booked all day at the recording studio, and Luisa needing a morning sans children to catch up on business correspondence—Andrew loads the trusty red Prius with beach supplies, secures the three children in their car seats, and drives them to nearby Lions Bay Beach for a morning of playing in the sand followed by lunch, a nap for Jalecia, and story time for Teo and Rosa until Jalecia wakes up.

There are only a few other people on the beach today as Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia trek across the sand to set up camp under their big yellow beach umbrella a hundred feet back from the incoming waves.

Umbrella planted deep, Andrew slathers the trio with sunblock and reminds Teo and Rosa not to go into the water over their knees unless he is right there with them. When everyone is sufficiently slathered, Teo and Rosa race to the water with Jalecia in pursuit and Andrew close behind.

After building three mighty sand castles to defend the coast against monsters and pirates, they toss Frisbees for twenty minutes, walk a mile south and back, and hunker down under the umbrella to have lunch.

And at the height of their picnic, an attractive middle-aged woman with shoulder-length gray hair dressed in khaki shorts and blue sweatshirt, expensive camera in hand, approaches their encampment, takes off her dark glasses, and says with a pleasing British accent, “Would you mind if I took some pictures of your children? They are my dream come true.”

“Do you mind having your pictures taken?” asks Andrew, consulting the kids who are engrossed in their almond butter and banana sandwiches.

“I don’t mind,” says Rosa, her recent growth spurt making her a few inches taller than Teo, much to Teo’s chagrin, both of them tall for five.

“I’ll show you my muscles,” says Teo, his mouth full. “After story time.”

“Wonderful,” says the woman, taking pictures of Jalecia who is about to fall asleep as she always does after chasing Teo and Rosa around for a few hours.

“Join us for cookies and lemonade?” asks Andrew, who feels certain he knows this woman from somewhere.

“Love to,” she says, coming under the umbrella and kneeling a few feet from Andrew. “I’ve seen you and your children here many times, often in the company of a beautiful woman with long black hair. We’re renting a house, my daughter and I, just a half-mile north of here and I walk this beach every day.”

“Half-mile north?” says Andrew, looking in that direction. “In the little enclave of houses just back of the dunes? I ask because I helped build three of those forty years ago.”

“Yes, in the enclave,” she says, gazing intently at him. “Ours is the one with the observation tower accessed via the spiral staircase. My daughter and I call it the crow’s nest.”

“That was the last of the three houses we built there,” he says, recalling those difficult years when his initial success as a writer lasted but briefly and he returned to carpentry to support his first wife, Owen’s mother, and Owen. “Best of the three by far.”

“It’s a wonderful house,” she says, raising her camera to capture Teo and Rosa gazing solemnly at their father. “We’ve lived there for five months now, my daughter and I, and every day we marvel at where we are. We’re from London and plan to be here another year and a half.”

“Poppy?” says Teo, continuing to gaze solemnly at his father. “Can we go see the house you built?”

“Yeah, we’ll go by there,” he says, noting the children have finished their sandwiches. “Are we ready for cookies?”

“I want a cookie,” says Jalecia, her face and hands smeared with almond butter.

“First we wash,” says Andrew, extracting a washcloth from one of his bags, dousing it with a splash of water, and deftly wiping Jalecia’s face and hands. He douses a second washcloth and gives it to Teo who cursorily wipes his face before passing the washcloth to Rosa who takes a bit more care washing her face and hands before handing the towel back to Andrew.

Cookies dispensed, Jalecia takes a bite of hers and offers the rest to the woman. “Want my cookie? I tired.”

“Thank you,” says the woman, taking the cookie. “My name is Helen. What is your name?”

“Jalecia,” she says, yawning majestically.

And with that the little girl lies down and promptly falls asleep.

“Just like me every day at three,” says Helen, laughing merrily. “The requisite nap before tea.”

“I’m Andrew, by the way,” says Andrew, certain now he has never met her before, but feeling he knows her. “And this is Rosa and Teo.”

“He’s our father,” says Rosa, pointing at Andrew, “but he’s Jalecia’s grandfather.”

“That means I lose the bet,” says Helen, looking from Rosa to Andrew. “I guessed your were the father of all three, and my daughter guessed correctly.”

“To be explained further when young ears are distracted,” says Andrew, dispensing two more cookies to the twins.

“We know what that means,” says Teo, giving Andrew a disparaging look.

“Can we tell stories now?” asks Rosa, nodding expectantly.

“Such is our tradition,” says Andrew, smiling at Helen. “You’re welcome to stay, but I warn you the stories go on for a good long time.”

“Thank you, but I should go,” she says, handing him her card. “I so appreciate the opportunity to photograph your children, and should you want to show them the inside of the magnificent house you built, please give me a call.”

When the kids are asleep that night—Jalecia in her bedroom in the big house, Teo and Rosa in their bedroom in what the children call the little house, Adriana in the living room of the little house entertaining her current love interest, a Moroccan woman named Hadiya—Luisa googles Helen Lesser photographer and learns she is a photojournalist and fine art photographer, sixty-four, and has a forty-two-year-old daughter, Diana Isaverb, a poet and painter.

“I’d love to meet them,” says Luisa, coming into the living room. “Shall we invite them for supper?”

“I think maybe we should go look at the house first,” says Andrew, sprawled on the sofa, exhausted from his long day of taking care of the kids. “I know you’ll like Helen, but something tells me we might want to meet her daughter on their home turf before we have them over here.”

“Why?” asks Luisa, sitting down to rub Andrew’s feet. “You think Diana might be crazy?”

“No, not crazy,” says Andrew, yawning. “Just… there was something about the way Helen said my daughter that made me think Diana was a child and not an adult, though Google says she’s forty-two. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do,” says Luisa, wistfully. “I have a daughter who’s still a child at thirty and gave us Jalecia to raise because she doesn’t want to stop being a child.”

“We could put our foot down,” says Andrew, loving Luisa rubbing his feet. “Demand she spend more time here.”

Luisa laughs at the absurdity of demanding anything from Lily, and Andrew laughs with her.

Two days later, Andrew calls Helen to make a date to bring Luisa and the kids to see the house, Helen invites them for lunch a few days hence, Andrew accepts, and Helen says, “There’s something I need to tell you about my daughter Diana before you come. Is this a good time?”

“Yeah, fine,” says Andrew, going out on the deck overlooking the garden where Luisa and the children are picking snow peas and pulling carrots.

“I was a single mother and Diana my only child. She never knew her father. He was a charming Turk who seduced me when I was on holiday in France and I never saw him again.” She laughs self-consciously. “But that’s not the main thing I wanted to tell you.”

“Tell me as much as you like,” says Andrew, loving the cadence of her speech. “I have at least another five minutes before the kids come charging in from the garden.”

“Good,” she says, clearing her throat. “So… Diana and I were extremely close until she was eighteen and took up with a much older man I didn’t approve of. We quarreled and she left and didn’t speak to me again for thirteen years, though I was aware of her because she became a fairly well-known poet and artist, and then we got to be friends again when she was in her early thirties.”

“What prompted the reunion?”

“She came to a show of my photographs,” says Helen, opening a sliding glass door and going outside, the ocean roaring faintly in the background. “Then she called and said she liked the show and wondered if I would take the author photo for her next volume of poetry, and I did, and we got close again. And then six years ago she had a child, a boy named Nathan, and two years ago when Nathan was four…”

Andrew waits for Helen to stop crying.

“Sorry,” she says, clearing her throat again. “He died in a car crash and Diana had a breakdown from which she has largely recovered, but she’s still quite dependent on me. I tell you all this because I know meeting your children will be very emotional for her, in a good way, but if you would rather not come, I completely understand. She’s a lovely person, but still fragile, so…”

“We’d love to come,” says Andrew, wanting more than ever to visit them. “Was your daughter involved in the accident?”

“No. Her ex-husband was bringing Nathan home after having him for his one weekend a month and didn’t put Nathan in the car seat and…”

“Was her ex-husband killed, too?”

“Yes,” says Helen, whispering. “I don’t think Diana would ever have recovered if that horrid man was still alive and Nathan gone.”

Having been warned multiple times by Luisa not to touch anything without first asking permission, Teo and Rosa climb out of the car and gaze in wonder at the spectacular two-story house with a fanciful observation tower rising ten feet above the peak of the roof, the ocean’s roar muted by massive sand dunes to the west of the house.

“It’s like a castle,” says Teo, running ahead of everyone to ring the doorbell—Rosa and Jalecia and Luisa and Andrew catching up to him just as the door opens and here is Helen in a blue paisley dress, and Diana, a strikingly beautiful woman with dark olive skin and black hair in a short ponytail, wearing red pedal pushers and a black T-shirt.

“Welcome,” says Helen, beaming. “You must be Luisa. This is my daughter Diana.”

“Hi,” says Diana, her eyes darting from child to child. “Come in, come in. We just took the bread and cookies out of the oven.”

Teo follows Diana and Helen into the house and stops abruptly to gawk at the immense room with a vaulted ceiling and huge windows looking out on the dunes.

You built this, Poppy?” he says, gaping at his father.

“I did,” says Andrew, entering with Jalecia holding his hand. “With Max and Rico.”

“You built a temple,” says Diana, smiling shyly at Andrew. “For those who worship the dunes.”

They dine on the big deck outside the kitchen, Diana sitting between Rosa and Luisa, Jalecia on Luisa’s lap, Teo across the table from Diana.

Helen serves lunch and explains, “I’m finally taking my sabbatical after twenty years of teaching Photography at Westminster College. We’ve wanted to come back here for thirty years, ever since Diana came with me on an assignment to take pictures of the orcas for a nature magazine and we stayed in a beach house near Nanaimo for a few days.”

“I was twelve,” says Diana, watching Teo happily devour his chicken sandwich. “But I never forgot the wonderful time we had here.”

A moment later, Luisa transfers Jalecia from her lap to Diana’s lap, and the little girl stays with Diana for the rest of the meal, Diana overjoyed to be holding her.

After lunch everyone goes up the spiral staircase to the observation tower where Rosa and Teo take turns looking through the telescope and complaining the other is hogging the telescope, and from there the party moves outside and everyone climbs to the top of the dunes from where Teo and Rosa race down to the seaside bottom and trudge back up to the top three times, Jalecia watching from her perch on Poppy’s shoulders and Helen taking pictures of the kids while Luisa and Diana return to the house to set the table for tea and cookies.

“You’ve made us very happy today,” says Helen, as she and Andrew trail Teo and Rosa and Jalecia to the house. “Thank you so much for coming.”

“Our pleasure,” says Andrew, taking her hand. “Let’s do this again soon.”

“We would love that,” she says, bowing her head and weeping.

“You’ve had a hard go,” says Andrew, resisting his impulse to embrace her. “It’s good to cry.”

“Oh we cry every day,” she says, looking up at him, her face radiant. “We flood the temple with our tears.”

After tea and cookies, Diana takes the kids to see her studio adjacent to the house, a large rectangular room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the dunes, two large tables in the center of the room, and seven large canvases hanging on the walls, none of them yet touched with paint.

When Andrew and Luisa and Helen arrive in the studio doorway, Rosa rushes over to them and says, “Guess what? We’re going to draw and paint with Diana and make things with clay. Not today, but maybe soon.”

“I’m going to paint a gigantic spaceship,” says Teo, defiantly. “And make rockets out of clay for blowing up aliens.”

“What if the aliens are friendly?” asks Andrew, sounding concerned.

“Then we’ll invite them for lunch,” says Teo, frowning thoughtfully. “Once we find out what they like to eat.”

For the rest of the summer, every Tuesday and Thursday morning after breakfast, Andrew or Luisa drops Teo and Rosa and Jalecia off at Helen and Diana’s house to make art and play on the beach, followed by lunch, and then Andrew or Luisa picks the kids up and brings them home.

When kindergarten resumes in September, Teo and Rosa and Jalecia spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with Diana and Helen and sometimes stay for supper, sometimes not.

For Andrew and Luisa these hours without the children are golden hours of writing and music making and interacting with other adults and lolling around.

For the children, these hours with Diana and Helen are golden hours of drawing and painting and making things out of clay and playing on the beach and eating sugary things forbidden at home and being adored by the wonderful Helen and Diana.

For Helen these hours with the children are golden hours of taking pictures of the kids and reading stories to them and feeding them and being the grandmother she loves to be.

For Diana, these hours with the children are her salvation.

Once or twice a week, Helen and Diana come to Andrew and Luisa’s for supper, and when the kids have gone to bed, the adults gather in the living room to talk.

On a stormy evening in October, the kids fast asleep, Andrew and Luisa and Helen and Diana sit by the fire enjoying tea and pumpkin pie.

“Hard to believe,” says Helen, gazing into the flames, “that a year from now I’ll be in London again, teaching Photography and wishing I was here.”

“But you’ll be staying, won’t you?” asks Luisa, looking at Diana with whom she has grown very close.

“I don’t know,” says Diana, anguished. “I love it here so much, but I can’t imagine staying without Mum, so I might go back, too.”

“Or you could stay here and I’ll be back in the summer,” says Helen, smiling bravely. “But lets not think about it now. We have all winter and spring and summer again before I have to go.”

“You know, of course,” says Andrew, sounding very serious, “that you’ll have to take the kids with you.”

“They much prefer you to us,” says Luisa, sipping her tea. “They tell us every day.”

“At least twice,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Because we spoil them,” says Diana, smiling sublimely. “Because we give them candy and chocolate and aren’t the ones who make them go to bed before they want to. Because we are doting Aunty and Grandma and not Mama and Poppy.”

“We love that you spoil them,” says Luisa, getting up to put another log on the fire. “We are too overwhelmed to spoil them, and their mother… as much as we love Adriana, is like my daughter Lily and prefers her children in small doses and not all day every day.”

The humans fall silent, rain drumming on the roof.

“I’ve started writing again,” says Diana, glancing shyly at Andrew and Luisa. “First time in… three years.”

“That’s exciting,” says Luisa, resuming her place on the sofa beside Diana. “We could have a reading. Andrew just finished the rough of a new story and if we set a date he’ll feel compelled to rewrite it. You could read some poems, I could read a story, and Helen could give a slide show.”

“When you say a reading,” says Diana, anxiously, “you mean…”

“A few friends here in the living room,” says Andrew, reassuringly. “We’re introverts. Quite the opposite of our children, the older ones and the younger ones, but we do like reading for our friends.”

“Speaking of slide shows,” says Helen, pausing momentously, “I showed my publisher some of the pictures I’ve taken of Teo and Rosa and Jalecia, and they absolutely love them. So what we’re thinking, with your permission, is to make a book of photos of the kids accompanied by Diana’s poems.”

“Assuming I haven’t lost the knack,” says Diana, feeling a sudden resurgence of doubt.

“I’m sure you haven’t,” says Luisa, matter-of-factly.

“I’m sure, too,” says Andrew, nodding in agreement.

“Why are you both so sure?” asks Diana, on the verge of tears.

“Everything about you makes us sure,” says Luisa, smiling at her.

“You speak in poems, Diana,” says Andrew, raising his cup to her. “You are the knack.”

As often happens when Andrew and Luisa decide to have a party, a few friends quickly becomes more than a few, and on a cold clear night in December, forty people crowd into the living room for hors d’oeuvres and wine and beer as prelude to the show.

Andrew and Luisa open with a song, Andrew reads a funny story about a sour old man sweetened by the coming of a cat into his life, and Luisa reads a story about fishing with her grandmother when she was a girl and how her grandmother tried to teach her the facts of life by describing how pike procreate.

And lastly Diana reads a lovely narrative poem that begins with the first time she saw Teo and Rosa and Jalecia on the beach with Andrew, and ends with her arriving at Andrew and Luisa’s house to read the poem to those who are here, the body of the poem telling how making art with the children has empowered her to release the spirit of her son from the prison of her grief.

Six months later, in June of 2013, Adriana informs Luisa and Andrew she is moving to Spain with her partner Hadiya and will take Teo and Rosa with her unless Andrew and Luisa want the kids to stay with them.

Andrew and Luisa insist the kids stay with them, and in mid-July, Adriana flies away, after which Teo and Rosa move permanently into the big house.

And while Andrew makes needed repairs to the little house before they have the interior repainted, Luisa informs several friends that she and Andrew are looking for someone wonderful to live in the little house and help with cooking and cleaning and shopping and taking care of the children.

Two weeks after Adriana flies away, Andrew goes to pick up the kids at Helen and Diana’s and finds Diana waiting for him in the driveway.

“Feels like I’ve been out here for hours waiting for you,” she says, laughing anxiously. “The watched pot and all that, only in this case I watched the road.”

“What’s going on?” he asks urgently. “Kids okay?”

“Yeah, there fine. They’re with Mum in the kitchen.” She fights her tears. “I want to live in the little house, Andrew, and help take care of the kids.”

“We thought you were going back to England with Helen,” he says, opening his arms to her. “That’s the only reason we didn’t ask you.”

“If I can live with you and Luisa and the kids,” she says, stepping into his embrace, “then I won’t need to go back. It was living alone I was afraid of.”

Helen stays with Diana in the little house for the last week of August before she flies back to London, and during that week she takes another thousand pictures of the children.

On the beach the day before she is to leave, Helen stands with Andrew watching the kids playing in the shallows.

“I will miss the children,” says Helen, raising her camera to capture Rosa holding Jalecia’s hand as a gentle wave breaks against their bodies—Teo much further out than the girls, the water above his waist. “But I will miss you most of all.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” he says, keeping his eyes on the children. “Very much.”

“I’m glad to know you’ll miss me,” she says, lowering her camera to gaze at him. “Having missed you all my life.”

“You mean someone like me?” he asks, looking at her.

“No,” she says, raising her camera and taking picture after picture of his face. “Specifically you.”

 fin

One Last Time

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