This is the sequel to After Rosalind.
The only child of a well-known American poet, Rosalind Peoples always thought she would be a poet, too, but at twenty-five has yet to develop the habit of writing poems. An attractive gal with short auburn hair, a yoga practitioner and dutiful twice-daily walker of her cute brown mutt Bianca, Rosalind lives in Seattle, works in a bakery café called Café Bleu, and shares a small apartment near the university with her boyfriend Zorro Bernstein, an aspiring filmmaker ten years her senior who makes frequent schmoozing trips to Los Angeles and directs videos for musicians hoping to go viral on YouTube.
Rosalind’s mother, Dez Peoples, lives in the small town of Ophelia, Washington, a three-hour drive from Seattle. Dez has published fourteen volumes of poetry with American publishers, and all those collections have been published in German-English editions by a Swiss publisher; and her last four volumes have been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese, yet she still works in a stationery store to make her minimal ends meet. She has been offered teaching positions at several universities but declined the offers because, as she said in a recent interview with a German literary magazine, “All I know about writing poetry is to try to make poems I’m satisfied with, but I have no idea how to teach someone to try.”
Rosalind graduated with a degree in English from the University of Washington, her special interest the comedies of Shakespeare and the stories of Edith Wharton and Isaac Bashevis Singer. “That and three bucks,” her boyfriend Zorro likes to say, “will get you a cup of coffee and no refill.”
On a cold Saturday morning in late October, Zorro is smoking dope and watching a college football game on television in the living room of their small apartment when Rosalind comes in with a letter in hand.
“So you have another dupe in Los Angeles,” she says, throwing the letter at him. “I didn’t open it, but the return address is North Hollywood and she wrote on the envelope See you soon, honey pie.”
“Oh God, Roz. I’m…”
“I don’t want to know,” she says, cutting him off. “I’m going to my mother’s for a few days. Please be gone when I get back.”
Rosalind arrives at her childhood home in Ophelia in time for supper, after which she and her mother sit together on the sofa in the living room, a fire crackling in the fireplace. They sip peach brandy and enjoy the cats Miranda and Gonzalo and the mutt Bianca nestling around them.
After Rosalind vents about Zorro ending their three-year relationship in such a sneaky cowardly mean-spirited way, Dez, who is sixty-three and hasn’t been in a relationship since Rosalind’s father left when Rosalind was a baby says, “A blessing he’s gone.”
“He loved talking about integrity,” says Rosalind, furious with herself for trusting the wastrel. “Artistic and otherwise. Now watch. He’ll end up making horror movies.”
“Was he born Zorro?” asks Dez, who always wanted to call him Zero.
“Born Malcolm,” says Rosalind, making a spluttering sound. “He said the name Zorro came to him in a dream. That should have set off warning sirens but lust made me stupid.”
“As lust will,” says Dez, gazing fondly at her daughter. “So now what?”
“Oh I’m keeping the apartment,” says Roz, shrugging. “Housing in Seattle is insane. I just have to find a good roommate, someone who won’t mind sleeping in the living room.” She grins at her mother. “Want to come live with me?”
“I would love to live with you,” says Dez, a tremble in her voice. “But not in Seattle.”
“You want me to move back here?” says Rosalind, wrinkling her nose. “I love it here, Mama, but not yet. You stayed away for twenty years. Shouldn’t I stay away for at least ten? Prove I can make it on my own? Find my calling?”
“You’ve made it on your own since you were seventeen,” says Dez, getting up to put another log on the fire. “And your calling will find you when you’re ready to be found.”
“Are you okay, Mama?” asks Rosalind, sensing her mother’s disquiet. “Missing Grandma?”
“No, not at all,” says Dez, shaking her head. “She was a ghost those last two years. A very confused ghost. Exhausting.”
“So what’s bothering you?”
“I have to make a decision about something that involves you,” says Dez, her eyes brimming with tears, “and I’m having a difficult time, which is why I’m so glad you’re here, though I’m sorry Zorro ended things the way he did.”
“If he’d just been honest,” says Rosalind, unused to seeing her mother so emotional. “What do you have to decide?”
“Well…” says Dez, heading for the kitchen. “Tea?”
“Mama, what is it?”
“I’ve won a prize,” says Dez, stopping on the threshold between the living room and kitchen.
“The Pulitzer?” says Rosalind, who thinks all her mother’s books should have won the Pulitzer.
Dez laughs. “No. I don’t think I’ll never win that one. This is from a university in Switzerland that gives writers stipends so they can write without having to work at another job. I would be free to do anything I want.”
“Fantastic,” says Rosalind, ever amazed by what her mother’s poetry brings her. “So what’s to decide?”
“I would have to move to Switzerland, to a beautiful house in Lausanne on Lake Geneva.” She pauses. “For five years.”
“You would live in Switzerland for five years?” says Rosalind, stunned by the thought of being apart from her mother for so long.
“If I accept the prize,” says Dez, nodding. “And I’ll definitely accept if you’ll come with me.”
“I could come with you?” says Rosalind, grimacing in disbelief. “For the whole five years? They’d let me?”
“I told them I might only accept if you came with me, and they said that would be fine and they would increase the stipend to accommodate you. Of course you don’t have to, and I may accept even if you don’t come, but I’m not sure I can be happy living so far away from you for five years. This is my dilemma.”
“What about my dog?” says Rosalind, who is so flummoxed she can hardly think.
“You would bring Bianca,” says Dez, calmly. “And the cats would stay here with whoever I rent the place to. Cat lovers, of course.”
Rosalind has been to Europe twice with her mother, once when she was eleven, once when she was thirteen, their trips paid for by Dez’s Swiss publisher. And they certainly would have gone to Europe a few more times except Ernestine, Dez’s mother, began to falter mentally and Dez would neither take her to Europe again nor leave her in the care of others and go without her.
The next morning, Sunday, heavy rain keeps them inside, and after breakfast they play Scrabble by the fire.
“Is this what we’d do in Switzerland?” asks Rosalind, smiling sleepily at her mother, neither of them having slept well. “Play Scrabble and loll around?”
“If we want,” says Dez, using all her letters to spell gigantic and taking a seemingly insurmountable lead.
“But seriously,” says Rosalind, her head throbbing. “In Seattle I have to work six days a week to pay the rent and buy food. If I didn’t have to work… what would I do?”
“You can get a job in Switzerland if you want,” says Dez, grouping and regrouping the letters on her tray. “Or you can travel. Take pictures. Build birdhouses. Raise rabbits. Work in the garden. The house has a lovely garden and a big lily pond. You could write a play. Take piano lessons. There’s a fine piano in the house. You can do anything you want. Or nothing. We just get to live in a wonderful place and not worry about money for five years. What a concept.”
“I feel like such a failure,” says Rosalind, spelling fritz, the z landing on a triple-word-score square, which makes the seemingly insurmountable lead suddenly surmountable. “I’m twenty-five and I haven’t done anything with my life except make lattes and live with a phony jerk and pick up dog poop and ride on your coattails.”
“When have you ever ridden on my coattails?” says Dez, frowning. “You had after-school jobs in high school, got a full scholarship to college, and you’ve supported yourself ever since.”
“You know what I mean,” says Rosalind, disconsolately. “My resume reads BA in English, University of Washington, used to take pretty good pictures, daughter of brilliant poet. I don’t deserve a five-year dream life in Switzerland. I need to make something of my life. Become something.”
“I didn’t publish my first poem until I was thirty-nine and you were two,” says Dez, spelling index, the x on a double-letter-score square. “Until then my resume was BA in Dance, San Francisco State, three years with money-losing dance company, waitress.”
“Yes, but you were always writing poems,” says Rosalind, spelling alarm. “You knew what you were. A poet. What am I?”
“So let’s say you don’t come with me,” says Dez, getting up to answer the loud knocking at the door. “And you stay in Seattle working as a waitress. Why would that be a better way to make something of your life than living with me in Switzerland?”
“I would not be dependent on you,” says Rosalind, closing her eyes and seeing the picture she took of Dez twelve years ago, standing at the prow of a ferryboat plying the waters of Lake Zurich.
Dez opens the door and here is Becky Fletcher and her adorable children, Wade who is four and Jenny who is two. Becky was Rosalind’s best friend in elementary school and high school.
“I should have called first,” says Becky in her booming voice, “but we were driving by and saw Roz’s car, so… hey Roz.”
“Hey Becky,” says Rosalind, coming to give her old pal a hug. “Oh my God. Look at your gigantic children. They’ve doubled in size since August.”
“Tell me about it,” says Becky, laughing uproariously. “Can you believe it?”
“Come in, come in,” says Dez, smiling at the little cuties. “I’ll make some cocoa.”
“Oh don’t go to any trouble,” says Becky, who would clearly love for Dez to go to some trouble. “I should have called first.”
“It’s fine,” says Rosalind, helping Becky out of her sopping raincoat. “Come get warm by the fire.”
“I like cocoa,” says Wade, frowning gravely. “Only not too hot or I burn my mouth.”
“I have to pee,” says Jenny, doing a little jig.
“First we pee,” says Becky, scooping up Jenny and carrying her down the hall to the bathroom, “and then we have not-too-hot cocoa.”
And in this moment of Becky disappearing down the hallway with Jenny, and Bianca coming to sniff Wade as he takes off his raincoat and drops the soggy thing on the floor and follows Dez into the kitchen, Rosalind decides to go to Switzerland with her mother, though she doesn’t realize she’s made her decision until some days later.
Only when she gets back to her tiny Zorro-less apartment in Seattle and she’s sitting on her ratty futon and the traffic is roaring by outside her too-thin windows and another long week of making lattes and clearing tables awaits her, does she realize she’s made up her mind.
“Mama,” she says when Dez answers her phone. “I’ve decided to come with you and be your fellow artist in Switzerland, though I have no idea what kind of artist I’ll be.”
“Oh darling,” says Dez, who has only called Rosalind darling a few other times in her life. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Why are you proud of me?” asks Rosalind, mystified by her mother’s choice of words. “I haven’t done anything to be proud of.”
“If you knew you as I know you,” says Dez, vastly relieved that Rosalind is coming with her, “you would know why I’m proud of you.”
“I would have to tell you the story of your life,” says Dez, crying for joy.
“Tell me one thing.”
Dez closes her eyes and waits for a memory to emerge.
“A year ago when you took that marvelous picture of me for Ordinary Amazement, you dressed me in a long gray skirt and a white blouse and stuck an overblown yellow rose in my hair and had me stand in the vegetable garden while you went up on the roof of the house and took picture after picture of me looking up at you, my fearless daughter moving around on the steep roof with the sureness of a practiced acrobat, never doubting you’d get something good.”