A longtime resident of Melody, a small coastal town in northern California, Joseph Ross is seventy-four, healthy, friendly, attractive to women, and thrice divorced. A few months ago, after three years of marriage, his fourth wife asked for a divorce and went to live with her daughter in Los Angeles.
Joseph has no children of his own, but he helped raise the son of his second wife and the daughter of his third wife, and both children grew up loving Joseph and thinking of him as their father, and now their children think of Joseph as Grandpa Joe, which makes Joseph very happy.
As Joseph sees things, the main reason his marriages didn’t last was that he never stopped being on the lookout for a soul mate, even when he was married. He was never adulterous, but his wives and girlfriends, none of whom was his soul mate, sensed his desire for a soul connection with someone else and they felt betrayed.
One warm afternoon in early summer, Joseph goes to the town beach with his dog Lucille, a seven-year-old Golden Retriever, and after Joseph tires himself and Lucille out by throwing a tennis ball into the ocean thirty-eight times for Lucille to retrieve, they sit on the sand and look out to sea and think about life.
Joseph thinks about what to buy at the grocery store for supper, and he thinks about a woman he was madly in love with forty-five years ago and how he believed she was his soul mate, though she apparently did not share this belief because she married someone else and broke Joseph’s heart. Which brings up for Joseph the questions: what is a soul mate and can we have more than one in the course of our lives?
As he ponders these questions, his ideas about supper shift to getting take-out instead of cooking tonight, possibly fish & chips.
Now someone says to him, “Excuse me, would you mind if I shot some pictures of you and your dog? You’re so wonderful together and the light is perfect right now.”
Joseph turns to see who is speaking to him and beholds a beautiful woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair wearing a green T-shirt and red shorts, her feet bare, an expensive camera in hand.
“No, we don’t mind,” says Joseph, guessing the woman to be in her late twenties and therefore not a potential girlfriend. At seventy-four, Joseph knows better than to pursue anyone younger than mid-sixties. “We will try not to pose.”
“I was just going to say that,” says the woman, firing away with her camera. “I’m Carmen. Who are you?”
“This is Lucille,” says Joseph, gazing at Lucille who gazes at him. “And I’m Joe. Nice to meet you, Carmen.”
“Likewise.” Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. “Oh God. Perfect.”
Now Carmen comes closer, kneels in the sand a few feet from Joseph and Lucille, and continues firing away.
“I should be taking your picture,” says Joseph in his easy-going way. “You’re the gorgeous one and the light is exquisite.”
“Great,” she says, handing him her camera. “Fire away.”
So Joseph, who has a camera exactly like Carmen’s, fires away, and Carmen, as far as Joseph is concerned, makes loves to the camera with her eyes and face and body, though she isn’t posing.
The more he looks at her, the more he realizes she is not making love to the camera, but rather showing him her soul, and he forgets he is seventy-four and says, “I’ve dreamt my whole life about something like this happening to me.”
“What do you mean?” she asks tenderly. “A woman kneeling before you and baring her soul?”
He lowers the camera. “Is that what you’re doing? Baring your soul to me?”
“Feels that way,” she says, returning his gaze. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
“Nor to me,” he says, raising the camera to his eye. “Though I doubt my feelings because I just remembered I’m seventy-four and you are twenty-seven.”
“Thirty-three,” she says quietly. “I don’t think soul connections have anything to do with age, so don’t doubt your feelings, Joe, and I won’t doubt mine.”
Picture taking over, Joseph and Carmen sit on either side of Lucille and watch the waves breaking on the shore.
Carmen tells Joseph her last name is Fernandez and she lives in Santa Rosa and is a photographer and videographer. “I pay my bills shooting weddings. The rest of the time I write and direct and shoot and edit short films. My ultimate goal is to make feature-length movies, but for now I’m happy making shorts.”
“What are your movies about?” he asks, remembering when he was thirty-three and driven by similar ambitions.
“What all my favorite movies are about,” she says, smiling at him expectantly.
“Which is?” he asks, arching his eyebrow.
“You tell me,” she says, closing her eyes. “I’ll think my answer and we’ll see how close you come.”
So Joseph closes his eyes and hears Carmen’s thoughts as if she is speaking aloud.
“The quest for a meaningful life,” he says quietly. “And on our quest we meet soul mates who help us discover who we really are.”
“Word for word,” says Carmen, opening her eyes.
“I suppose we do learn who we are through our relationships with others,” says Joseph, opening his eyes. “If we’re lucky.”
“If we’re ready,” she says, nodding.
“Do your movies have happy endings?” he asks, no longer believing in happy endings.
“My movies have hopeful endings,” she says solemnly. “I want to give people hope.”
“Hope of what?” he asks, hearing bitterness in his voice.
“Hope of finding meaningful ways to relate to each other and maybe meeting a soul mate or two along the way.”
“As we have met today,” he marvels.
“As we have met today,” she echoes.
On the way home from the beach in his old pickup truck, Joseph and Lucille stop at Murray’s Seafood and Joseph gets two orders of fish & chips because one order is never quite enough and he likes scrambling eggs with the leftovers for breakfast the next day.
Murray, a jovial fellow in his sixties, having heard about Joseph’s wife moving away, asks with some concern, “How you doin’ Joe?”
“Great,” says Joseph, still exhilarated from his time on the beach with Carmen. “Just great, Murray. How are you?”
“Good. I’m good,” says Murray, relieved to hear Joseph is handling the demise of his marriage so well. “You still taking pictures? Making movies?”
“I took a little break,” says Joseph, stretching the truth—he hadn’t held a camera in seven years until he held Carmen’s camera today. “But I’m getting back into it.”
“Hey why not make a movie here,” says Murray, gesturing magnanimously to the interior of his shop and surprising himself with the suggestion. “A funny love story set in a fish shop.”
“If you’ll be in it,” says Joseph, imagining the movie beginning with Murray arriving at his shop in the morning and unlocking the front door, “we’ll make it.”
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to be in a movie,” says Murray, beaming at Joseph. “My dream come true.”
Driving up the hill from town, the divine smell of fish & chips making Lucille whimper in anticipation of a treat, Joseph wonders if Carmen will contact him.
She tried to give him her card but he said, “No. I’ll give you my card and you can contact me if you want to. Okay?”
“I get it,” she said, looking him in the eye. “And I want you to get that I’m calling you tonight and we’re going to be friends. Who knows, maybe we’ll make a movie together. What do you think about that?”
“I will try not to think about it,” he said, his heart aching. “If you call me, you call me. If not, se la vie.”
Sitting at his kitchen table eating fish & chips and drinking red wine and listening to a baseball game on the radio, Joseph hears the phone in his office ringing, but he doesn’t go to answer.
“The machine will get it,” he says to Lucille, who is sitting on the floor hoping for a few more treats.
Joseph sips his wine and imagines the opening scene of the funny love story set in Murray’s Seafood; a faraway shot of the front of the shop, morning sunlight reflecting off the glass door, a woman walking by with her dog on a leash, Murray arriving in his van with a load of fresh fish — the day just beginning.