In the morning of the day after the collective met Steven and Marcel, the backyard of the little old house bathed in sunlight, Eliana is chopping kindling when Marcel comes out the kitchen door onto the deck carrying his clarinet case and wearing a turquoise blouse, green jeans belted with a burgundy sash, red sandals, and a straw hat sporting a long peacock feather.
“I just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by and say hello.” He bows to her. “I hope you’re thrilled.”
“I am,” says Eliana, blushing brightly. “I was just thinking about how I know nothing about you except I like you and would love to hear you play your clarinet and ask you about your sexual orientation and things like that.”
“What a coincidence,” he says, smiling. “As you can see I brought my clarinet, and I know nothing about you except I woke up today wanting to see you again and tell you about my sexual orientation. Among other things.”
“What a coincidence,” she says, putting the axe away in the woodshed. “I was just thinking about how nice it would be to have tea with you and talk about all the things we want to talk about and maybe play music together.”
“I prefer coffee,” he says, plaintively. “Do you like coffee?”
“I love the smell of coffee, but I can’t drink it,” she says, shaking her head. “Caffeine is not my friend. Nor is alcohol. Nor can I tolerate cell phones. They give me horrific headaches. However, I make excellent coffee and would be happy to make you some. Maahiah made cookies this morning. She’s a fabulous baker.”
“I’d love some coffee and cookies,” he says, bowing to her as she comes up the stairs. “I’m so glad to see you again.”
“I’ll make coffee for you and mint tea for me,” she says, taking his hand and leading him to the kitchen door.
They sit at a little table on the porch of Eliana’s cottage with Mendelssohn and Coosi hanging around in hopes of falling morsels, their mugs of coffee and tea steaming in the sunlight.
“I moved out of my parents’ house two weeks ago,” says Eliana, sighing with relief to have finally made the move. “I’ll be twenty-six on the fourteenth of October, and this is the first time in my life I’ve lived apart from them.”
“Another coincidence,” says Marcel, gazing fondly at her. “I will be twenty-seven on the fifteenth of October.”
“My mother says I’m a double Libra with my moon in Leo, if that means anything to you. I wonder if you’re a double Libra, too. I don’t know anything about astrology except there were two kids in school with me from kindergarten all the way through high school, and they were the only people I’ve ever known who really didn’t like me, and they were both Capricorns.”
“My mother is into astrology, too,” says Marcel, sipping his coffee. “I find it silly, but it helps her make sense of the chaos of her life.” He peers into the open door of the cottage. “So this is where you live.”
“Well I will be living here. Starting day after tomorrow. I’ve been staying across the street Maahiah’s cottage while we made some minor repairs to my cottage and sanded the floor and painted the walls and trim. I’m just waiting another day for the fumes to dry before move in.” She sighs again for joy. “Maahiah’s been living on this side of the street ever since Zuzu arrived four months ago. She’s devoted to the baby. And Raaz and Oz are living over here, too, while Tova makes a movie in Portland.”
“Is Tova ZuZu’s mother?” asks Marcel, dipping a cookie in his coffee.
“No. ZuZu’s mother is a woman named Jennifer Badeaux. She’s married to Lucien who is Jahera’s son and Tova’s ex-husband. Lucien is the father of Oz and Raaz and also of ZuZu. Jennifer and Lucien live in Zurich.”
“So why is ZuZu here and not in Zurich?” asks Marcel, frowning.
“Because Lucien and Jennifer thought they wanted a child, but after they had ZuZu they decided they didn’t want her, so they gave her to Jahera. Can you imagine? Giving up such a wonderful child?”
“We all get born somehow,” says Marcel, thinking of his own beginnings. “My mother left my father when I was two, and he raised me all by himself. I didn’t see my mother again until I was nineteen, and now I live three blocks away from here in Montreal and see her every week and only see my father once or twice a year.” He shakes his head. “We never know what might happen, do we?”
“Amazing,” says Eliana, who still has yet to go a day without seeing one or both of her parents. “What a different life you’ve had than I.”
“Everyone has a different life than everyone else,” says Marcel, laughing. “Are you in a relationship, Eliana?”
“Me?” she says, surprised by his question. “No. I’ve never been in a relationship. Though I’ve had lots of crushes and a few sensual adventures that stopped short of the grand finale.”
“I’m surprised,” he says, sounding a little bit sad. “Because when I heard you playing your violin and singing at the wedding I thought This is a woman who really knows about love.” He squints at her. “Are you sexually attracted to women?”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Though I love women.”
“So… why did your sensual adventures stop short of the grand finale?”
“Oh I stopped them,” she hastens to say. “Because none of those men really knew me, and I could tell they didn’t want to know me except sexually, and that felt creepy. I just… I’m not interested in having sex just to have sex. I have girlfriends who like having sex just to have sex, even with people they hardly know, but I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Why not?” he asks, his tone implying he is comfortable having sex with people he hardly knows.
“Because I want sex to be part of a love bond,” she says simply. “Something sacred.”
“My father feels the same way,” says Marcel, shrugging dismissively. “Whereas I am promiscuous and have only ever been sexual with men.”
“So then yesterday was…”
“Unprecedented for me.” He looks up at the sky as if seeking an explanation there. “I’ve never been so attracted to anyone as I was to you. Anyone. But today the frisson is gone for me. I don’t know why, but I am once again as I have always been. I think you are lovely and charming, Eliana, but I no longer want to…”
“I know what you mean,” she says, nodding. “The frisson is gone for me, too. I wonder what that was yesterday. I was ready to marry you and have your children, assuming the sex was good.”
“I know,” he says, making a sad face. “I hope you aren’t too disappointed.”
“I don’t seem to be,” she says, wondering why she isn’t. “Do you think it might have been a glimpse of your future and you’ll become a raging heterosexual later in your life?”
“Highly unlikely,” he says, laughing. “I’ve known I was gay since the first day of Fourth Grade when Mr. Delaney came into the classroom and I wanted to be naked with him. And then I began my relentless pursuit of boys.”
“I was in love with my Fourth Grade teacher, too,” she says, feeling she might cry. “Mr. Carlson. When I closed my eyes he sounded exactly like Nat King Cole who I worshiped, and he had the most beautiful eyes.”
“I worship Nat King Cole, too,” he says, amazed. “In fact when I was eight my father played a record of Nat King Cole singing But Beautiful, and that was the moment I decided to become a musician.”
“I love that song,” says Eliana, petting Mendelssohn. “Now that you’ve reminded me of it, I’m going to arrange it for Deseo.”
“Shall we play together now?” asks Marcel, nodding hopefully. “I’ve been practicing Elgar’s Salut d’Amour for a recital in November. Will you accompany me?”
“I would love to,” she says, moved to tears.
“I think we will always be friends, Eliana,” he says, opening his clarinet case. “I would like us to be.”
“Me, too,” she says, going to fetch her accordion. “I’ll be right back.”
The next morning when Jahera and Healing and the children leave for school at Georgia’s house, Eliana sits on the sofa with Maahiah and ZuZu, the baby now sitting up all by herself.
“You seem sad today,” says Maahiah, looking at Eliana.
“I guess I am a little sad,” says Eliana, catching ZuZu before she topples over onto her side. “When I first met Marcel I thought I’d found the person Naomi said I’d meet one day. Only he turns out to be gay.”
“I’m going to make bread now,” says Maahiah, going into the kitchen and putting on her apron. “Come closer and talk to me.”
Eliana picks up Zuzu and carries her to the kitchen table.
“I loved hearing you play with Marcel yesterday,” says Maahiah, getting out her bowls and bread pans and measuring cups. “It was so beautiful, and Marcel reminds me so much of my dear friend Constantine who died thirteen years ago.”
“How did Marcel remind you of him?” asks Eliana, smiling at Zuzu who is humming for milk. “Are you hungry, baby?”
“Yana,” says Zuzu, smiling at Eliana.
“I’ll warm a bottle for her,” says Maahiah, glancing at the kitchen clock. “She’ll have her milk and then sleep. She’s very punctual. I think she will always be on time in her life.”
“You were just starting to tell me about Constantine,” says Eliana, returning to the kitchen after putting ZuZu down for her nap.
“Constantine DuPrau was a well-known poet and essayist,” says Maahiah, measuring her flour into a big mixing bowl. “I met him in 1972 when we were living in Paris. Jahera was six and Caspar was the foreman on a big hydrology project in Provence and was gone for weeks at a time. I was working as an illustrator, and one of the books I was asked to illustrate was a collection of love poems by Constantine.” She smiles as she remembers. “We met at his editor’s office and after Constantine looked through my portfolio, he asked if I could draw pen and ink sketches of young boys giving flowers to young girls, and young men giving flowers to young women, and older men giving flowers to older women, a progression of twenty or so drawings, the last one to be an elderly man giving flowers to an elderly woman. I said I could do it and asked if he wanted them all to be the same man and woman. He said, ‘No. Make them all different.’ We agreed I would show him the first few drawings before I did the rest to make sure he liked my rendering of his idea, and he said, ‘Bring them to my house and we will give you lunch.’”
“How did he remind you of Marcel?” asks Eliana, having one of Maahiah’s cookies.
“Well… I fell in love with him the moment I met him,” says Maahiah, laughing. “I was not happy in my marriage so I hoped to have a love affair with him. But when I took the first two drawings to his house and his wife Gloria led me through their apartment to the patio and Constantine rose from the table to greet me, he was obviously homosexual. Yet when I first met him, I thought he was a man who loved women.” She marvels at her memory of that moment. “It was a great mystery to both of us, for he had been attracted to me, though he never before had wanted a woman.”
“But he was married to Gloria,” says Eliana, frowning.
“Oh in those days many gay men were married to women because it was not socially acceptable to be openly gay. I’m eighty-two, remember.”
“Did he like your drawings?” asks Eliana, hoping he did.
“He loved them,” says Maahiah, resuming making her dough. “The book was a big success, and from then on I remained very close to Constantine and Gloria until they died.”
“Did Caspar like Constantine and Gloria?” asks Eliana, remembering Maahiah’s deep-voiced husband who died a few months before Ozan and Raaziyah were born.
“No,” says Maahiah, shaking her head. “This was before Caspar became famous for his book Décollé, so he was terribly jealous of Constantine’s success. They were my friends, never his. And they loved Jahera and she loved them. We saw them every week when we lived in Paris, and after we moved to Chambéry, Jahera and I would spend April in Paris with them every year, and in the August we went to England with them and rented a house in the Lake District. And for many years we went to Greece with them in January.”
“Caspar didn’t mind?” asks Eliana, seeing Maahiah in a whole new light.
“Oh he hated it,” says Maahiah, pausing again in her labors. “But I told him if he objected, I would leave him. He was a very difficult person, angry and depressed for most of his life, and Jahera and I needed to have time away from him with people who loved us.” She adds water to the dough. “When Caspar was eighty he said he couldn’t bear for me to go away anymore. By then Constantine had died and Gloria was quite elderly, so I would only visit her in Paris for a few days every month. And when we moved here, I called her every day until she died.”
“My lover,” says Maahiah, her tears falling on the dough. “The great love of my life.”
Eliana embraces Maahiah. “How wonderful you loved each other for so many years.”
“I’ll tell you something else,” whispers Maahiah. “It will be our secret, okay?”
“Okay,” whispers Eliana.
“I never thought I would love anyone again as much as I loved Gloria. But then…” She hesitates. “This is only for you to know. Promise?”
“The moment I met Shafi, I fell in love with him. And I have loved him ever since. He knows it, and Jahera knows, too, though we never speak of it. They don’t mind, and I know he loves me, though we will never be lovers. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the feeling we share when we cook together and bake together and sing together. And when he puts his arms around me every morning and every evening, too, I am filled with his love.”
Three days later, the afternoon sky overcast, Steven and Marcel arrive at the little old house for a beach walk and supper. Tova has been home from Portland for twenty-four hours and will be returning to Portland in forty-eight hours.
When Tova and Steven shake hands, Tova knows she wants to spend the rest of her life with Steven, and Steven knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with Tova; and they both dismiss their knowing as a trick of the mind resulting from being wildly attracted to each other.
Home from the beach, the children and Marcel accompany Eliana to her cottage to try out her new sofa and armchair and bounce on her new bed and gaze in wonder at her magical Navajo rug. Jahera and Maahiah and Healing make supper, William builds up the fire and wrestles with the dogs, and Jean plays with Zubina on the sofa.
And though Tova doesn’t invite Steven to walk to the pond with her, that’s what they do because they are desperate to be alone together.
“So…” says Tova, sitting with Steven on the old wooden bench. “What do you make of what’s going on between us?”
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he says, taking off his glasses and blinking at her. “This is way transcendent of finding you incredibly attractive, which I do. Find you incredibly attractive. But then there’s this astonishing familiarity that…”
“Would you please put your glasses back on?” she says, breathlessly. “I may swoon.”
He puts his glasses back on. “Any precedent in your life for what’s happening?”
“Not exactly,” she says, closing her eyes to stop seeing him. “I felt something like this when my children were born. And I remember when I was seven my father played a record of Ella Fitzgerald singing Early Autumn and I knew I was going to be a singer. And when I was ten and went to Drama camp and went up on the stage for the first time and looked out at where an audience would be, I knew I was going to be an actor.” She opens her eyes to make sure he’s still there. “But I’ve never had anything like this happen with another adult human being. Until now. With you.”
“I feel like all the cells in my body are being rearranged,” he says, gawking at her. “Maybe we made a pact in a previous life to meet again in this lifetime and it’s taken us all these years to find each other. Not that I believe in reincarnation. But what else could this be?”
“God I want to kiss you,” she says, laughing hysterically. “Though I think it might kill me, and I need to get back to Portland and finish the movie. And I was also hoping to live until my children become adults. So maybe we should wait until I get back from Portland. To kiss.”
“Nonsense,” he says, kissing her.
“What’s nonsense?” she asks, sitting back dizzy from his kiss. “That I’ll die if we kiss?”
“No, that we should wait to kiss,” he says urgently.
“We didn’t wait,” she says, kissing him again.
“Now I know what this is,” he says, sitting back from her. “This is a lucid dream. How long will you be in Portland?”
“Fourteen days,” she says, standing up. “Otherwise known as a million years. Will you wait for me?”
“To do what?” he asks, standing, too.
“Well first of all,” she says, taking his hand as they walk back to the house, “I think we should have orgasms together, which will calm us down and help us think more clearly about how to proceed.”
“I would like that very much,” he says earnestly. “But how do you know I’m not already in a relationship?”
“You can’t be,” she says, dropping his hand as they come in sight of the house. “The more germane question iswhy aren’t you in a relationship?”
“Why do you think I’m not in a relationship?” he asks, taking her hand again. “And why aren’t you? In a relationship?”
“How do you know I’m not?” she asks, thrilled he isn’t afraid of being seen holding hands with her.
“Because,” he says, stopping to look at her, “you would never do this with me if you had a partner. Nor would I do this with you if I had one.”
“True,” she says, nodding in agreement. “So… how shall we proceed?”
“Now? Or when you get back from Portland?”
“I think now we should restrain ourselves,” she says, taking a deep breath. “So we don’t confuse the children. And when I get back from Portland we’ll be together constantly. Yes?”
“When you get back from Portland,” he says, looking into her eyes, “we will get to know each other and see what happens.”
“I went too fast, didn’t I?” she says, remorsefully.
“No,” he says, laughing. “You’re wonderful.”
“It’s the endorphins, isn’t it?” she says, laughing with him. “Those horny little molecules.”
“It’s more than endorphins,” he says, taking her in his arms. “Much more.”
When Darby and Marjorie arrive for breakfast the next morning they find Healing making waffles, Jahera frying bacon, Eliana making coffee, Raaziyah playing with Zubina on a blanket amidst the dogs on the living room floor, Tova on the sofa with Ozan who is showing her the many drawings he made while she was gone, and Maahiah in the rocking chair knitting with a cat in her lap.
“What a delightful domestic scene,” says Darby, as he and Marjorie shed their coats. “Oh and the coffee brewing and bacon sizzling and waffles nearly ready. I tell you this is the stuff of divinity.”
Tova gets up to hug Darby and Marjorie, and Marjorie says, “You look fantastic, Tova. Things must be going well with the movie. Yes?”
“Wonderfully well,” says Tova, who hasn’t once thought about the movie since she met Steven. “The director wants me to be in his next movie, too, and another director came and watched the filming for three days and now she wants me to be in her next movie. We’ll be solvent for decades.”
“You look positively radiant,” says Darby, giving her a quizzical look. “Don’t tell me you’re in love. Or do tell me.”
Tova laughs. “I can’t hide anything from you, can I?”
“Who is he?” asks Darby, eager to know. “A movie star?”
Tova looks around at everyone – Ozan on the sofa, Raaziyah on the blanket with Zubina, Maahiah in the rocking chair, Eliana, Healing, and Jahera in the kitchen – and she says, “He’s Steven Bishop, the potter. Lives up Baskerville Road. You’ll fall madly in love with him when you meet him. It’s impossible not to.”