This is a story about a woman named Genevieve. She is a cook for two writers who live in a beautiful house in Lausanne, not far from Lake Geneva. Genevieve is fifty-seven and has blonde hair turning silver. She lives with her husband Henri, a gardener, in a cottage next door to the beautiful house where the writers live.
Genevieve’s parents were bakers with
a small bakery in Lausanne called Bon
Pain. Genevieve began working in the bakery when she was eight. She loved
to bake and she became adept at making delicious breads and pies and cookies. Indeed,
Genevieve might have inherited the family business except when she was sixteen she
fell in love and ran off with a young man to Zurich where she found work in a
restaurant and eventually became an excellent chef, though the young man left
her for another.
She reconciled with her parents when
she was in her thirties and began spending her holidays in Lausanne. On one of
those holidays she met Henri, a gardener, and they fell in love and she moved
back to Lausanne and married Henri. For the first few years of their marriage,
they lived in a small house on a large estate where Henri was one of three
gardeners, and Genevieve was a chef in a fine restaurant.
When Genevieve was forty-four and
Henri was forty-one, she was hired by the University of Lausanne to be the
housekeeper and cook in the house where writers would come to live for years at
a time, and Henri was hired as the gardener and caretaker of the property. They
have lived in the cottage next to the writers’ house now for thirteen years and
hope to live there for many more years.
The kitchen in the writers’ house is
large and airy, modern but not too modern, and Genevieve would change nothing
except have a bigger oven and an eight-burner stove instead of a six-burner.
But these are small things and she is content to wait until either the stove or
the oven needs replacing, which won’t be for some years yet.
Our story begins one winter morning
when Genevieve arrives in the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast for the
writers and finds evidence that a mouse or mice invaded the kitchen during the
“Mon dieu,” says Genevieve, who
speaks French, a little German, and very little English. “Twelve years without
a sign of a mouse, and now this.”
She has a cup of coffee to sharpen
her senses and makes a careful search of the kitchen cupboards and under the
sink and behind the refrigerator. And at the bottom of the wall adjacent to the
oven she finds a small hole in front of which is a tiny telltale mouse turd.
“Monsieur or Madame mouse?” says
Genevieve, speaking to the hole in the wall. “May I have a word with you? I
promise not to hurt you if you will come out and speak to me.”
The whiskered snout of a small brown
mouse emerges from the hole. “It’s Madame. Madame Fifi.”
“Bonjour Madame Fifi,” says
Genevieve, who loves all animals, even mice. “I see you have found a nice warm
place to live. Are you planning to stay long?”
“As long as I can,” says the mouse,
sticking her head out a little further to have a look at Genevieve.
“Are you alone in there?” asks
Genevieve, smiling at the cute little rodent.
“I am presently alone,” says the
mouse, “though I am pregnant, so soon there will be more of us.”
“Ah,” says Genevieve, pursing her
lips. “This is unfortunate and I must ask you to leave before you give birth.”
“Ask all you want,” says the mouse,
somewhat haughtily, “but I’m staying. It’s dreadfully cold outside, the rats in
the woodshed are merciless, and food is scarce, though not in your marvelous
“If you were the only mouse in my
kitchen and you did not show yourself during the day, I would have no problem
with you living here. But I cannot have mice. A mouse, yes. Mice, no.”
“Alas,” says the mouse, “pregnancy
is never my choice. I am powerless to elude the males of my kind, even my own
progeny. So babies will be born.”
“Could you bear them elsewhere and
return here alone?” asks Genevieve, who has grown fond of the mouse.
“Nay. I’m a good mother,” says the
mouse with a note of pride in her voice. “This is my nature.”
“Then I must get a cat,” says
“If you must, you must,” says the
mouse, stoically. “I can only be a mouse.”
So Genevieve tells Henri and the
writers about the mouse, and everyone agrees a cat would be a welcome addition
to the kitchen, mice or no mice.
Henri makes inquiries and a one-year-old
orange and white cat named Francois is gotten from a fishmonger with too many
cats. Francois, a most affectionate feline, is overjoyed to move from a cold
wet shed into a warm house where people pet him and tell him he is beautiful
and feed him well, though not too
well lest he have no appetite for mice.
One morning, a year after Francois
joined the household, Genevieve is alone with Francois in the kitchen.
“Now tell me Francois,” says Genevieve,
scratching Francois behind his ears, “have you killed all the mice?”
“All but one,” says Francois, loving
Genevieve’s touch. “Her name is Madame Fifi and she told me you declared that if she is the only
mouse in the house I am not to eat her, and so I have not, though I have caught
her twice and would have eaten her had she not been the last.”
“But is it not your nature to kill
and eat her?” says Genevieve, astounded by Francois’s story. “How could you
“It is my nature to kill and eat
mice, yes,” says Francois, purring as Genevieve pets him. “But it is also my
nature to be prudent. And since you do not feed me quite enough to leave me
full at night, I very much appreciate the mouthfuls of meat Madame Fifi
provides me when her babies come of age and venture forth from the hole in
search of food.”
“You are a most ingenious cat,
Francois,” says Genevieve, gazing fondly at her pet, “and since I rarely find a
mouse turd in my kitchen, I will leave the mouse situation to you.”
Some months later, on another
morning when Francois and Genevieve are alone in the kitchen, Francois says,
“Genevieve, I have sad news.”
“Tell me,” says Genevieve, bending
down to stroke Francois’s glossy fur.
“Madame Fifi is dead. I came upon
her corpse last night and put her behind the oven.”
“Does this mean there are no more
mice in the house now?” asks Genevieve, gazing sadly at the little hole in the
“No more just yet,” says Francois, “though
Madame Fifi’s lair waits only for another mouse to discover that commodious
“Shall I have Henri fill up the
hole?” asks Genevieve, gazing at Francois. “And feed you more at night?”
“Yes, please,” says Francois,
rubbing against Genevieve’s legs. “There are plenty of mice to catch in the
garden by day.”
“And do you think Madame Fifi will
be the last mouse to live in my kitchen?” asks Genevieve, putting on a pair of
old gardening gloves to pick up the stiff little body and throw the corpse
outside for the crows to find.
“For a time she will be the last,”
says Francois, purring loudly as Genevieve pours milk into his bowl. “But as
I’m sure you know, there are no end of mice in the world.”
On a warm day in August, Rosalind
Peoples is taking a bath in a huge white claw-foot bathtub with enormous brass
fixtures, the bathroom filled with summer sunlight. Rosalind and her mother Dez
Peoples, a well-known American poet, are the guests of Oliver Rochambeau, a
French movie star, at his spectacular estate in Burgundy, a 19th Century
villa surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.
Dez is sixty-eight, Rosalind thirty,
and they are ostensibly visiting Oliver, who is sixty-four, to work on a
screenplay based on Dez’s collection of poems In Lausanne. However, the real purpose of their visit is for Oliver
and Dez to carry on with their love affair—Oliver married, Dez not.
Rosalind wishes Oliver would divorce
his wife and marry Dez, though Dez says she doesn’t want to marry Oliver. For
his part, Oliver loves his wife, the delightful British actress Aurelia Nichols,
and has no plans to divorce her. Aurelia spends most of her time in England
where she is a mainstay on a long-running BBC drama and doesn’t mind Oliver’s
affairs so long as he is a good and loving husband, which he is.
Dez and Rosalind have four months
remaining on a five-year fellowship that has provided them with a lovely house
in Lausanne, Switzerland, along with generous monthly stipends. At year’s end,
barring unforeseen largesse, they must return to America, specifically to the
small town of Ophelia near Seattle, though neither of them wants to go back to
America. They have applied for permanent residency in Switzerland, but have
been told the chances of gaining such status are slim.
Five months ago, Dez published In Love Poems, her sixteenth volume of
poetry. The book of seventy-seven love poems came out in German, French,
Spanish, Italian, Danish, and Portuguese editions simultaneously with the English
edition and is a great success in Europe.
The screenplay of In Lausanne has yet to materialize
because Oliver and his movie sidekick Paul Descartes and the several writers
they hired over the last year and eight months have failed to come up with a
story line uniting the poems into a movie Paul and Oliver want to make.
Rosalind was in love with Paul for several
months after he and Oliver descended upon them in Lausanne to secure the movie rights
to In Lausanne, and Paul was likewise
smitten with Rosalind. But unlike Oliver, Paul is not one to have affairs, and he
remained faithful to his then-fiancé now-wife Mariana Borba rather than succumb
to his attraction to Rosalind.
After recovering from her
infatuation with Paul, Rosalind met a charming Swiss fellow named Leon, and
they have been lovers for seven months now. Leon is a piano tuner and pianist a
few years older than Rosalind. He says he will gladly marry her, which would
allow her to go on living in Switzerland but won’t solve Dez’s citizenship
dilemma; and Rosalind wouldn’t think of staying in Europe if her mother is
exiled to America.
Hunger eventually overcomes the
pleasure of lolling in the warm bath, so Rosalind climbs out of the tub and
stands at the second-story window overlooking Oliver’s vineyards. As she gazes down
at the vines heavy with grapes, she is startled by a vision of how to shape the
forty-two poems of In Lausanne into a
comedy drama she knows Paul and Oliver and Dez will love.
“Oh my God,” she says in English, which
she rarely speaks now that French is her everyday language. “How did we not see
Rosalind finds Dez and Oliver on the
veranda having coffee at a big dining table shaded by an enormous blue umbrella,
both wearing floppy sunhats and short-sleeved shirts and dark glasses.
Dez has the dreamy look of a woman
well loved and appears to Rosalind to have shed ten years since she and Oliver
began their love affair a year ago.
Oliver, his mother British, his
father French, a rakishly handsome fellow with curly black hair going gray, greets
Rosalind in English with a Devonshire accent. “Ah fair Rosalind. Did you tell the
kitchen what you want for breakfast?”
“I did,” says Rosalind, sitting
across from Oliver and Dez. “Merci.”
“I’m taking your mother to see
Cathedrale Saint-Etienne today,” says Oliver, smiling warmly at Rosalind.
“Would you like to join us?”
“No merci,” says Rosalind, glad to see her mother so relaxed and happy. “I’m working on something I hope to dazzle you with when Paul and Mariana come tomorrow.”
“Is this about the screenplay?” says Oliver, excited. “Tell us.”
“Not quite yet,” says Rosalind,
nodding graciously to the young woman who serves her coffee. “I want to make
sure I’m not imagining things before I make my presentation.”
“I know there’s a movie in there,” says Oliver, making a fist and
thumping the table. “But it eludes us.”
“Thank goodness I don’t care,” says
Dez, gazing at her lover. “Though I’d love to see you as the gardener and Paul
as the man who is forever lost.”
Oliver frowns. “I, the gardener? No,
I see Paul in that role.”
“Either way,” says Dez, looking at
Rosalind. “Who do you see as the gardener, darling?”
“I’m less concerned with casting
right now,” says Rosalind, sipping her coffee, “than with narrative flow.”
“Plot,” says Oliver, beseeching the
sky. “The elusive plot.”
“Elusive?” says Rosalind, arching
her eyebrow. “Or too obvious?”
“If you find a viable plot for this
movie,” says Oliver, raising a declarative finger, “we will hire you to write
“Then I’ll finally have a career,”
says Rosalind, making a goofy face at her mother. “Other than attendant to the
“I prefer duchess,” says Dez, making an equally goofy face at her daughter.
“Far too much responsibility being a queen.”
When Oliver and Dez motor off to the
cathedral, Rosalind sequesters herself in her bedroom with a copy of In Lausanne and writes the titles of the
forty-two poems onto pieces of white typing paper, one title writ large per
page. Now she numbers the titles 1 to 42 and lays the pages out on her
queen-sized bed in seven rows, six pages to a row.
After studying the arrangement of
pages for some minutes, she moves Poem #7, The
Gardener Goes Fishing, to where Poem #1 is, and moves Poem #1, The Unlikely Rose, to where Poem #14 is,
and moves Poem #14, The Cook and the
Mouse and the Cat, to where Poem #2 is, and continues reordering the pages
until all the poems have changed places.
Satisfied with the new order of
poems, she renumbers the pages to match their places in the modified sequence,
gathers the pages in their new order, sits down on the bed, and slowly leafs
through the pages to confirm the new sequence does, indeed, make an intriguing
story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Walking in the olive grove in the late
afternoon, Rosalind considers whether she wants to write a screenplay based on
her mother’s poems, and she decides she does.
And the moment she makes her
decision, she feels something shift inside her.
“I know what I am,” she says, looking up at the myriad silver leaves. “I’m a story teller.”
Paul Descartes, a beautiful Frenchman
in his thirties famous for his comedies, and Paul’s Portuguese wife Mariana
Borba, also in her thirties, famous for her beauty, arrive at Oliver’s villa
the next morning to stay for a few days and unwind after six weeks of filming a
big-budget thriller in Miami.
During lunch on the veranda, Mariana
says in French, “This was the last American movie I will ever be in. Paul is
contracted to do another, but I would rather make movies about real people, not
violent cartoons. I did not become an actor to be in cartoons.”
“The Americans are very good at choreographing
car chases and scenes of violence,” says Paul, nodding in agreement, “but their
stories and dialogue are idiotic. For example, in the movie we just made, which
they are calling Secret Killers—original,
no?—the hero played by Lloyd Carter, a rogue government agent fighting a host
of villains, says to me, ‘We go through that door, our chances of surviving are
not good.’ And I reply, ‘What else is new?’ We shoot the scene this way seven
times and it falls flat every time. So I say to the director, ‘What if instead
of What else is new? I say Then why go through the door?’ And when
I suggest this to him, everyone on the set laughs.”
“A big laugh,” says Mariana, laughing at her memory of the film crew
laughing uproariously at Paul’s rejoinder.
“And Lloyd,” says Paul, continuing, “gets very
excited and says, ‘Yes, then I will say You
got a better idea? And I say, ‘We could go for coffee at a nice café.’ And
again, everyone on the set bursts into laughter. And the director glares at me
and says, “This is not a comedy.” And I say ‘Yes, I know, but you do want a
laugh here, don’t you?’ And he says, ‘That’s none of your business. That’s why
we have writers.’ So I shut up because they were paying me more money than I
have ever been paid to be in a movie and we did the scene again with What else is new? And that was that.”
“You could not pay me to go to this
movie,” says Mariana, shaking her head. “Though they paid me a fortune to be in
five scenes with Lloyd. In three scenes I wear bikinis, in one scene a transparent
nightgown, in the last scene… nothing.”
“For that,” says Oliver, nodding
thoughtfully, “I would go to this movie.”
“Speaking of movies,” says Paul, turning
to Rosalind, “Oliver tells me you have a new idea for In Lausanne? I so want to
make this movie, but we have yet to find the story that ties everything
“I found it,” says Rosalind, smiling
at her mother.
“And if you like her story,” says
Dez, looking at Paul, “Oliver promised Rosalind you would hire her to write the
“Yes, of course,” says Paul, nodding
emphatically. “What is the story?”
“I will make my presentation after
lunch,” says Rosalind, sipping her wine. “Lest we be too distracted by this
When everyone is seated in the
living room, Rosalind stands before them and says, “Once upon a time there were
four people. A charming fellow who is forever lost, a woman who is a cook and
speaks to animals, a man who is a gardener and speaks to plants and insects and
birds, and a woman who has a dog and is looking for love. In fact, they are all
looking for love.
“At the beginning of our story we
spend some time with each of the four people and we are fascinated and amused
by their eccentricities and kindness to others. Then each of them sets out on a
journey. The woman with a dog is the only one of the four who knows she is
looking for love, but they all are, and that becomes clear as we watch them on
“Then the woman who is a cook meets
the fellow who is forever lost and they fall in love, and the gardener meets
the woman with a dog and they fall in love, too. However, through a series of
delightful twists and turns, the gardener becomes paired with the woman who is
a cook, and the man who is forever lost becomes lovers with the woman with a
dog, and in the end they are neighbors, all of them good friends. The final
scene is a supper in the home of the woman who is a cook, our foursome very
much who they have always been, only now they are together and content.”
Having told the story, Rosalind presents
Oliver and Paul and Mariana each with a list of the forty-two poems from In Lausanne in the order of the story
she just told.
Paul quickly reads the list and
jumps up to embrace Rosalind. “You found our movie,” he cries. “It was there
all the while.”
“Fantastic,” says Mariana, the next
to embrace Rosalind. “Now this is a
movie I will gladly pay to see.”
“Oh you won’t have to pay,” says
Rosalind, looking into Mariana’s eyes. “Because you will be the woman with a
Upon their return to Lausanne, Dez
gets a call from Karl Fleury, the sponsor of their fellowship from the University
of Lausanne, asking if he might come see her.
Karl comes to lunch the next day and
during dessert Karl announces that because of Dez’s valuable contributions to
Swiss culture, attested to by a petition signed by hundreds of Swiss artists
and writers and academics, Dez and Rosalind have been granted permanent
residency by the Swiss government.
“And,” says Karl, his eyes sparkling,
“the university would like to offer you a three-year extension of your
fellowships and residency at The Writer’s House.”
“Oh Karl, dear Karl, thank you,”
says Dez, rising to embrace Rosalind. “Now I won’t have to kill myself.”
“You’re not serious,” says Karl,
startled into nervous laughter.
Dez Peoples is sixty-six, an American poet living in Lausanne, Switzerland with her daughter Rosalind, who is twenty-eight, a photographer and writer. They have lived in Lausanne for three years and have two years remaining on a fellowship from the University of Lausanne that provides them with a lovely house and monthly stipends more than sufficient for their needs.
Six months ago, Dez published her
fifteenth volume of poems called In
Lausanne, the American edition appearing a month before the German, French,
and Spanish editions came out in Europe, after which In Lausanne became a cause
On a glorious afternoon in April,
Dez and Rosalind return to their house from a long ramble along Lake Geneva
with Rosalind’s cute brown mutt Bianca, and they are just sitting down to a
late lunch when someone knocks confidently on the front door.
Genevieve, Dez and Rosalind’s charming
housekeeper and cook, answers the door and says in French to the two men waiting
there, “May I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Oliver Rochambeau,”
one of the men replies, his voice a resonant baritone. “And this is my friend
Paul Descartes. We would very much like to speak to Dez Peoples. Is she at home
“Madame sees visitors by appointment
on Thursdays,” says Genevieve, who has made this speech many times to those wishing
to see Dez. “I will give you a card with the number to call to make an
“Oh is there no possibility of
seeing her today?” asks the other man with some urgency, his voice a pleasing
tenor. “We are only here for the afternoon and then we’re returning to Burgundy.
We would only take a moment of her time.”
“I’m very sorry,” says Genevieve,
who has the feeling she knows these men, but can’t remember where she’s seen
them before. “Many people wish to speak to her.”
Rosalind, who has been listening
from the kitchen, appears with appointment book in hand, smiles at the two handsome
men—one of whom she guesses is fifty-three, the other thirty-five—and says in
her fair French, “Hello. I’m Dez’s secretary. Would you like to make an
appointment to meet with her?”
“You can only be Rosalind,” says the
younger of the two men in fair English. “You are just as your mother describes
you in She Walks Her Dog, only much
“I am Rosalind,” she says, sticking to French. “Who are you?”
“I am Paul Descartes,” he says,
bowing to her. “And this is my colleague Oliver Rochambeau. We are hopeful of
securing the film rights to your mother’s book In Lausanne.”
“Ah,” exclaims Genevieve, clapping her
hands. “Now I know who you are. The funny detectives. These are my husband’s
favorite movies. Please don’t leave. I must go get him.”
“Well,” says Rosalind, pleasantly disarmed,
“you may as well come in. We’re just sitting down to lunch. Please join us.”
When Genevieve’s husband Henri comes
in from the garden, Dez insists Henri and Genevieve join them for lunch, which
prompts Genevieve to open an excellent bottle of French chardonnay to go with her
Oliver tastes the stew and says, “Mon
dieu. I have never tasted better.”
“Incroyable,” says Paul, gazing
wide-eyed at Genevieve.
“The fish was caught this morning,”
says Genevieve, blushing. “And the onions and potatoes and herbs came from
Henri’s garden just this morning.”
“A genius cook for a genius poet,”
says Oliver, raising his glass to Dez. “To your extraordinary poetry.”
“To Genevieve,” says Dez, raising
“We are in the book, you know. Henri
and I,” says Genevieve, smiling at her husband. “I am the cook in The Cook and the Mouse and the Cat, and
Henri is the gardener in the seven poems about the gardener.”
“I love the gardener poems,” says
Paul, grinning at Henri. “You’re immortal now.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” says Henri, shivering
with delight to be praised by his favorite movie star. “I’m just a gardener.”
“When I read your poems in French,”
says Oliver, gazing at Dez, “they are like little mysteries, you know. Addictive.
And they always make me smile at the end. But when I read them in English they
are great comedy. I assume you wrote them in English.”
“Yes,” says Dez, who is having a
most extraordinary experience sitting across from Oliver, her attraction to him
overwhelming. “I only write in English. So far. Though I have begun to dream in
“We are told,” says Rosalind, tickled
by her mother’s infatuation with Oliver, “that the German and Spanish
translations are funny, too, but the French translation is more nostalgic, or
as you say mysterious.”
“French humor is so different than
English humor,” says Paul, gazing at Rosalind as if seeing a vision. “Not the
physical comedy, of course. But the languages are so different. Did you laugh the
first time you read these poems?”
“I did,” says Rosalind, profoundly
smitten with Paul. “I had no idea Mama could be so funny in writing. I mean…
she’s very funny in… in life, but her poems before In Lausanne were never so funny.”
“The first time I saw your movie The Stolen Jewels,” says Henri, gawking
at Oliver, “I laughed until I cried. The scene where you keep handing the food
under the table thinking Paul is there and he has long ago crawled away and it
is those two big dogs who keep nudging your leg and you keep feeding them? I
have watched that scene hundreds of times and I always laugh so hard. This is
genius to me.”
“We have a DVD,” says Genevieve,
pouring out the last of the wine into Dez and Rosalind’s glasses. “Sometimes we
just watch the cooking scenes and laugh.”
“I am so happy to have met you,”
says Henri, getting up from the table and bowing to Oliver and Paul. “Please
excuse me. I must finish in the garden before dusk.”
“I will go now, too,” says
Genevieve, following Henri. “We hope to see you again.”
“What a charming couple,” says
Oliver, switching to English. “And what a cook is Genevieve. Be careful some
rich movie star doesn’t steal them away from you.”
“Oh they are not ours,” says Dez in
English. “They are attached to this house which we’ve been given for five years
by the university, after which other writers will take our place.”
“Then take them with you,” says Paul, nodding emphatically.
“That is beyond our means,” says
Dez, suddenly weary and wishing these enchanting men would go.
Sensing her weariness, Oliver says,
“We will leave you now, but if we could meet tomorrow morning after breakfast
to discuss the movie rights to your book, we will find a hotel room and come
again tomorrow. If not, we will speed home to Burgundy and I’ll call you if
that seems better for you.”
“Tomorrow at ten will be fine,” says
Dez, very much wanting to see him again.
“Excellent,” says Oliver, finishing
his wine. “Thank you for the marvelous lunch. It was a great pleasure to meet
“A delight,” says Paul, winking at
When Paul and Oliver are gone, Dez
and Rosalind retire to the living room—Dez lying down on the sofa, Rosalind collapsing
in an armchair.
Silence reigns before they both
speak at once, Dez saying, “I can’t believe…” and Rosalind saying, “Can you
“You go first,” says Dez, closing
her eyes and seeing Oliver gazing at her.
“Oh my God, Mama, I’m in love,” says
Rosalind, hugging herself. “Has there ever been a more beautiful enchanting man
“Only Oliver,” says Dez, imagining his
arms around her. “I haven’t felt this way in forty years, if I ever felt this
way. I thought I might have an orgasm during lunch just looking at him and
hearing his voice. I really did.”
“They’re probably both married,”
says Rosalind, pouting. “Though I saw no rings. You don’t think they could be
gay, do you?”
“If Oliver is gay, I am gay,” says
Dez, who feels she has become someone entirely different than whoever she was
before she met Oliver. “Would you borrow the DVD of their movie from Genevieve?
I need to see him again or go mad.”
“Oh Mama, you really are in love,” says Rosalind, who has
never known her mother to be in love with anyone.
“Is this love?” says Dez, falling
asleep. “Being demolished?”
When Dez wakes two hours later, she
finds a comforter over her and Rosalind sitting at the table by the window
writing in her notebook.
“What time is it, darling,” asks
Dez, speaking English.
Rosalind looks up and smiles. “Not
quite six. And you called me darling.
You must still be in love with Oliver.”
Dez sits up. “So it wasn’t a dream.
They exist. Oliver and Paul.”
“They exist,” says Rosalind, closing
her notebook. “And we both fell in love with them as have thousands of other women
before us. I sleuthed around on the Internet. They’re both huge stars in
Europe. Oliver’s mother is British, his father French. He’s been in lots of
French movies and lots of British television shows. Paul is entirely French, a comedian
and acrobat and singer turned movie actor. They’ve made three movies together
as the Funny Detectives. Henri loaned us two of their movies. The Stolen Jewels and The Pilfered Recipe.”
“How old is Oliver?” asks Dez, holding
“Sixty-two,” says Roz, coming to sit
with her mother on the sofa.
“He’s been married twice and has two
grown daughters. I don’t think he’s married now, but he may be in a
relationship with a British actress. Not sure.”
“Paul is thirty-four and engaged to
a Portuguese actress named Mariana Borba who was in the last two Funny
Detective movies. She’s insanely beautiful, so my only hope is that you make it
a condition of the movie sale that Paul dump her and marry me. Please Mama?”
“Of course, darling,” says Dez,
putting her arms around her daughter. “Shall we watch one of their movies
They sit side-by-side on the sofa
and watch The Stolen Jewels on
Rosalind’s big laptop computer. The movie is brilliantly silly, the two
detectives going undercover as a chef and a waiter in a gourmet restaurant in
Paris where murders of restaurant critics and rival restaurateurs occur at
regular intervals throughout the film.
Paul plays the part of Victor, a man
of few words, keenly observant and capable of remarkable feats of dexterity and
strength except in the presence of attractive women whose mere glances in his
direction transform him into a colossal goofball. He masquerades as a waiter
and is by turns phenomenally graceful and hilariously clumsy.
Oliver plays James, a man of dubious
intelligence who frequently shares with Victor his deductive reasoning
reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’s reasoning in those classic mysteries. However,
unlike Sherlock, James is invariably wrong. Yet in the end, the two funny guys catch
the murderers and save the day.
At movie’s end, Rosalind says, “I
wish we’d never met them. They’ve set the bar impossibly high. Who could ever
compare to Paul?”
“Only Oliver,” says Dez, wistfully.
“But I could never live with him. I would be too distracted to ever write
again. I’d just follow him around worshipping him.”
“So sayeth the renowned feminist
poet,” says Rosalind, nudging her mother.
“Feminism schmeminism,” says Dez,
getting up. “Let’s go out for supper.”
“You know who Oliver is?” says Dez,
as she and Rosalind walk home in the moonlight from Brasserie Saint-Laurent,
their favorite restaurant in Lausanne.
“A handsome charming movie star,”
says Rosalind, stating the obvious.
“He’s my masculine alter ego.” Dez
laughs. “Listen to me. I’ve lost my mind.”
“I think it’s wonderful we both fell
in love,” says Rosalind, gazing up at the nearly full moon. “Regardless of
outcome, I like knowing I still can. I was beginning to wonder.”
“I assumed I couldn’t,” says Dez,
thinking back over her life and finding no evidence of feeling about anyone as
she feels about Oliver. “But it turns out I could. I’m speaking of love, not
lust. I fell in lust all the time before you were born.”
“But you do you lust after Oliver,” says
Rosalind as they arrive home. “Hence the near orgasm at lunch. Lust certainly plays
a large part in my attraction to Paul. I felt like we were having telepathic sex
at lunch today. I was anyway.”
“Maybe that’s all this is,” says
Dez, unlocking the front door. “Lust at sixty-six. I haven’t lusted after
anyone in twenty-nine years, not since lust made you, my darling.”
They have chamomile tea and oatmeal
cookies in the kitchen before going to bed.
“Doesn’t it strike you as a bit far
fetched, if not absurd,” says Dez, frowning at Rosalind, “that they want to buy
the movie rights to In Lausanne? What movie, I wonder, do
they see in that collection of poems?”
“Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life was based on a poem,” says Rosalind, tossing
a little piece of cookie to her dog Bianca. “When I was sleuthing around about
Oliver and Paul, I also asked about movies based on poems, and there are quite
a few. The Charge of the Light Brigade.
It’s A Wonderful Life. Alice’s Restaurant. Several more. Poems that tell good
“Yes, but those poems all have plots,”
says Dez, chuckling at the thought of her poems becoming scenes in a movie.
“Mine are merely moments of the continuum.”
“That’s what stories are,” says
Rosalind, thinking of Paul’s amazing strength and grace in The Stolen Jewels. “Maybe they’ll want you to help them write the
screenplay and they’ll need to meet with you many times.”
“Yes. And they’ll come to realize
they can’t live without us,” says Dez, yawning. “And we’ll have a double
wedding and live happily ever after.”
“Where?” asks Rosalind, yawning,
too. “Where will we live happily ever after?”
“Here,” says Dez, finishing her tea.
After breakfast the next morning,
Dez tries on three different dresses in front of the full-length mirror in her
bedroom, and when she is in her last dress, by far the most revealing of the
three, she comes out of the trance she’s been in since meeting Oliver and sees
she is sixty-six, not fifty-one or forty-three or thirty-four.
So she hangs up her dresses and puts
on a favorite turquoise dress shirt, turquoise earrings, and black jeans,
captures her graying brown hair in a ponytail, and says to her reflection, “You
are a handsome woman in your sixties. Oliver has come for your poems, not for
Rosalind puts on her sexiest dress,
a summery green opalescent curve-clinging scoop-necked thing, paints her lips burgundy,
and impales her short auburn hair with a red rose bud.
Oliver and Paul arrive promptly at
ten, both wearing white summer suits, and Oliver present Dez with a bouquet of
seven spectacular roses, which Genevieve puts in a white porcelain vase and
makes the centerpiece of the kitchen table where Dez and Rosalind and Paul and
Oliver convene for coffee and Genevieve’s just-baked cinnamon coffee cake.
“So…” says Oliver, looking at Dez, “we
would like to offer you 10,000 euros for a one-year option of the movie rights
to In Lausanne, against a purchase
price of 150,000 euros should the film be made. And you would get two per cent
of the net proceeds, should there be any, which is highly unlikely.”
“Hence the movie business maxim,”
says Paul, whose gaze keeps returning to Rosalind’s lips, “the money you get is
the money you get.”
“Okay,” says Dez, who is greatly
relieved to be over her infatuation with Oliver, though she still thinks he’s
“Okay?” says Oliver, placing a hand
on his heart. “Yes? Fantastic. I will have our agent contact your agent and we
will go from there.”
“I don’t have an agent,” says Dez, feeling
glad she doesn’t. “My editor at Werner Schaffen is Dirk Rosenfeld. I will ask
him to represent me.”
“Whatever you like,” says Oliver,
nodding. “We are absolutely thrilled to have the chance to make a movie from
“We’ve made lots of money with our
silly movies,” says Paul, exchanging glances with Oliver, “and now we want to
make something more meaningful. Something deeper. Something that touches the
soul, not just the funny bone, but the funny bone, too.”
“We can’t wait to see what you come
up with,” says Rosalind, looking at Paul and thinking I would do anything to be with you.
“Which brings up another matter,”
says Oliver, placing his hands together as in prayer. “We would love to show
you the screenplay as it develops and hear your critique, for which we will pay
“No need to pay us,” says Dez, shaking
her head. “We’d love to see the drafts and tell you what we think.”
“Well then,” says Oliver, looking at
Paul and Rosalind and lastly at Dez, “we will take no more of your time.”
“You are welcome to take as much of
our time as you want,” says Dez, speaking without forethought. “We are in love
with you and hope to see you again.”
“The feeling is mutual,” says Paul, delighted
by Dez’s candor. “I’m about to shoot two movies in quick succession, sadly neither
with Oliver, after which I plan to turn my full attention to In Lausanne.”
“Whereas I am not so busy,” says
Oliver, sounding happy to say so, “and I would love to visit you here and for
you to come stay with me in Burgundy where we can work on the screenplay and I
will be your tour guide.”
When Oliver and Paul drive away—Paul having kissed Rosalind on the lips in parting—Dez and Rosalind walk with Bianca on a footpath tracing the shore of Lake Geneva.
“I may write a hundred love poems
now,” says Dez, holding Rosalind’s hand. “What will you do?”
“I will live for as long as I can,”
says Rosalind, smiling dreamily, “in the magic of his kiss.”
Rosalind here, hoping all is well
with you and the gang at Café Bleu. I’ve
taken to writing actual letters again as part of my attempt to wean myself from
my phone, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. So far the
results are good. I’m less anxious, sleeping better, and I have much more
energy during the day.
I miss you, but I don’t miss the
daily grind, pun intended. Remember when we calculated I made 50,000 lattes a
year during my four years there. I wonder how many tens of thousands of tables
I cleared? Not that I think what I’m doing now is any more important than
working at Café Bleu. I don’t. But
I’m grateful for the respite and the change.
We’ve been living in Lausanne for
exactly nine months. I still wake up many mornings thinking I’m in Seattle. Then
my new reality dawns on me and I jump out of bed and wander through this lovely
old house to the kitchen where most mornings I find Mama speaking her quickly
improving French with Genevieve, our cook and housekeeper.
Yes, we have a housekeeper and a resident gardener and handyman.
Genevieve is fifty-seven and her husband Henri is fifty-four. They live in a large
cottage on the other side of our enormous vegetable garden. They have lived
here for eleven years, cooking and cleaning and gardening for the writers who come
to live here. They insist we are their favorites of the five writers they’ve
served, and we believe them because we adore them.
If it were up to Genevieve, she
would work for us seven days a week, coming and going throughout the day, cooking
all our meals, and cleaning a room or two. However, Mama insists we fend for
ourselves two days a week, so Genevieve allows this, though she often comes
over on her supposed days off to see if we need anything, stays to chat, and
the next thing we know she’s making us lunch or soaking beans for tomorrow’s
stew or helping me improve the supper I’m making.
Henri has granted us a patch of
ground in the vegetable garden because Mama loves to garden, but then he assumes
dominion over what we plant, so now we mostly acquiesce to Henri being the
gardener, we the lucky recipients of his bounty.
Both Henri and Genevieve speak very
little English, which is a good thing because otherwise we would never learn
French, which we are both learning pretty well due to blabbing with Genevieve
who was a chef in a fine restaurant before becoming housekeeper and cook of The
Writer’s House, which is what our house is called by the locals and our hosts
at the university.
What do we do all day?
For the first few months we were
zealous tourists exploring Lausanne, which is a beautiful old city. We’ve been
to Geneva twice and Zurich for five days in May to visit Mama’s translator Dirk
Rosenfeld and be feted by her publisher Werner Schaffen. Then in August we went
to Germany for three weeks and Mama read at universities and in small theatres.
In America a few thousand people may
know of Dez Peoples, but in Germany and Switzerland and France and Spain her
poems are taught in schools and universities, and the German, French, and Spanish
translations of her poetry sell thousands of copies every year.
And now that she’s here instead of
on the other side of the world, she has visitors. Poets, novelists, philosophers,
professors, playwrights, journalists, musicians, all wanting to talk to her and
have her sign copies of her books and invite her to read with them or come to
their universities. And I am her appointment secretary! Wednesday and Thursday
afternoons are reserved for these visitors, and every week or two we have a
dinner party. Mama’s sponsor at the university, Karl Fleury, a wonderful man
who refers to Mama as my poet, comes to
the parties with his Spanish wife Carmen, and we invite three or four other
people, and Genevieve and I make a feast.
Et moi? I take long walks with
Bianca who has no trouble communicating with Swiss dogs, and I go to market
with Genevieve almost every day. I’m learning so much about food and cooking
from her. When you come to visit, we’ll go to market every day and cook
marvelous things together.
And I’ve started writing stories and
poems and scenes for plays. I haven’t finished anything I like very much, but
I’m enjoying the practice. I’m also taking lots of pictures, mostly of people
who come to visit, and of Genevieve and Henri and Mama. Switzerland is so picturesque, but I’m most interested
in taking pictures of people.
I can hear you wondering what about men? Well I am madly in love
with living here in what Mama calls The Land Where You Don’t Need A Car Because
Trains Go Everywhere, but I haven’t fallen in love with anyone. Yet. I’ve been
on a few dates and had a thrilling kiss from a handsome guy who was eager to
get married and have kids with me, but I am definitely not ready for that.
We have four years and three more months
here. The guest room awaits you.
On a Thursday in early October, Dez gives
an interview to Andrea, a young French journalist. They sit in the living room of
The Writer’s House and Andrea records the interview on her phone.
Andrea: (her English quite good) How
is it for you living here?
Dez: Unlike anything I’ve ever known
or dreamed of.
Andrea: How so?
Dez: I’ve been publishing poems in
America for twenty-five years, and by American standards I am a successful
poet, though only one of my books sold more than a thousand copies in America. In
those twenty-five years, I’ve gotten a handful of letters from American readers
and a few other American writers. But here I am something of a literary
celebrity because Dirk Rosenfeld translated my poems into German for the Werner
Schaffen editions and their success inspired French and Spanish translations. But
if not for Dirk’s translations, and his insisting Werner Schaffen publish me in
the first place, I would not be here and you would have no interest in me.
Furthermore, I might never have published another volume of poetry in America
if not for the success of the German English edition of my first volume.
Andrea: You don’t think another
publisher would have done for you what Werner Schaffen did?
Dez: They never would have heard of
me. The fact is I am the beneficiary of incredibly good luck.
Andrea: Yet your poems are
masterpieces. Surely you would have eventually been recognized.
Dez: I appreciate your praise, but I
think you are naïve. A far as I’m concerned, culture results from nepotism and
the occasional fluke. Many brilliant writers never succeed in publishing
anything, and the same is true for musicians and artists.
Andrea: So how did Dirk come to read
your first volume of poems? Before
Dez: (nodding) Dirk tells the story
better than I. You should ask him.
Andrea: I will. But for now would
you mind giving me your version?
Dez: He was in Paris on business for
Werner Schaffen. He and I are the same age, so he was thirty-nine. He went to a
café for lunch and there were two American women having a difficult time with
their waiter. Dirk offered his services as translator for the women, they asked
him to join them, and during the meal, when they learned he was a translator of
English books into German, one of the women handed him a copy of Before Rosalind and said, “You should
translate these poems. They’re fantastic.” Dirk read the book on the train returning
to Switzerland and became my champion.
Andrea: Did you ever get a chance to
thank the woman who gave him your book?
Dez: I did. Her name is Elaine
Cantrell. I sent her a copy of my second book Now She Is Two and thanked her for giving my first book to Dirk. She
wrote back and we’ve corresponded ever since. In fact, she and her partner are
coming to visit here in the spring. We’ve never met in-person, but we’re old
friends now and I’m looking forward to spending time with her. She’s a
psychotherapist in Boston.
Andrea: Your daughter Rosalind is
here with you in Lausanne?
Dez: I would not have come without
Andrea: May I ask why?
Dez: She’s my best friend and I
wouldn’t want to spend five years living so far from her. My residency here is
for five years.
Andrea: And then you’ll return to
Dez: Barring another miracle.
Andrea: What do you mean?
Dez: I mean I would love to live
here for the rest of my life. I have no desire to return to America. It’s a
punitive society. If you don’t have lots of money, life is hard there. And even
if you have lots of money, the culture is ageist and sexist and racist and painfully
mediocre. Here you have free healthcare, fantastic public transportation, free
education, hundreds of excellent small publishers, marvelous theatres and performance
venues, and an ethos of sharing. Most of what people here assume are the basic
rights of life don’t exist in America. So why would I want to go back?
Andrea: I’m sure the Swiss would
love to make you a citizen of their country. And so would the French and the
In 1972 I was living in a commune in Santa Cruz and piecing together my minimal living by working for three bucks an hour as a landscaper and house painter while playing guitar and singing for tips in cafés and pubs. So when a young lawyer offered me thirty bucks per meeting to attend California Coastal Commission meetings in Santa Cruz and write reports on those meetings for his law firm, I jumped at the chance.
The California Coastal
Commission was established along with the Coastal Protection Act in 1972
through a state ballot proposition sponsored by environmentalists hoping to
slow unchecked development of California coastal areas. The commission was a
serious work-in-progress in those early days, and the meetings I attended at
the county building in Santa Cruz were, in the vernacular of those times,
I was one of the only
people attending these meetings not
there to try to convince the commission to approve building projects
theoretically verboten under the new Coastal Protection Act. Each supplicant
made his or her case—sometimes it was a coastal city or town, sometimes a
resort developer, sometimes the builder of a house—and most of these cases were
made with the aid of slide shows projected on a big screen in the darkened room.
Approval or disapproval
of these projects couldn’t have been based on what was revealed at these public
meetings. By that I mean, incredibly destructive projects that never should
have been approved often were, and projects that seemed benign were frequently not
In 1973, having by then covered several of these Coastal Commission meetings, I got a call from a man I will call Mark who said he was a good friend of my uncle Howard and had just built a new house in Aptos. Mark wanted to invite me (and a date) to dinner with him and his wife and another couple. He said Howard had told him he had to meet me, that he and I would hit it off, and I would love to see his new house.
My uncle Howard was a
big time entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. We were not close, but I always
liked him and vice-versa. Mark sounded interesting, my girlfriend Nancy and I
were paupers, and the idea of going for a nice meal in a snazzy new house
appealed, so I accepted his invitation.
On the night of the
dinner party, we donned our best hippy garb and followed the directions Mark gave
us to his house. And the closer we got, the more perplexed I became because we
were headed into what I thought I
knew to be coastal land that was never to be built on, land the Coastal
Protection Act was specifically designed to protect.
However, Mark had
somehow gotten approval to put in a quarter-mile asphalt road just north of a
state park and running right along the shore to a spectacular rocky point,
waves crashing below his enormous modern house cantilevered over that rocky
We parked our jalopy between two dazzling new cars and walked on the beautifully lit cement walkway inlaid with ocean rocks and fossils through a gorgeous Japanese garden to the massive front door and rang the melodious doorbell.
Mark was a short wiry
fellow in his sixties, his wife Maureen a gorgeous blonde in her twenties
wearing a shimmery diaphanous dress I mistook for negligee, their friends Jason
and Lisa in their thirties. I was twenty-four, my girlfriend Nancy twenty-two.
While Maureen and Jason
and Lisa had wine in the living room, Mark gave Nancy and me a tour of the
spectacular house. On the tour Mark explained that my Uncle Howard had been his
attorney on a number of business deals, and then he, Mark, worked for Howard
gratis for a couple years to learn what he needed to learn to pass the bar and
become his own lawyer.
When we stepped out on
the massive deck overlooking the ocean, I mentioned my Coastal Commission gig
and expressed amazement that the Coastal Commission had approved the
construction of Mark’s house, not to mention the road to the house.
And Mark said, “We found
evidence of a former dwelling here.” Then he smiled wryly. “Several planks of
“Here?” I said
incredulously. “There was a house here before this one? But there’s no level
ground. This is jagged rock. Your house is an engineering marvel.”
“There was sufficient
evidence of a possible former dwelling to warrant building here and on other
feasible locations along my access road,” said Mark, sounding ultra-lawyerly. “And
I’m on very good terms with a
majority of the commissioners.”
“Wait,” I said, aghast.
“You’re subdividing the land along the road?”
“Just on the ocean
side,” he said, ushering us inside. “We don’t want to overbuild and put undue
stress on the fragile coastal environment.”
Following the delicious meal cooked by their
excellent chef, Maureen asked us what we did,
and Nancy said she was studying jazz piano at Cabrillo College and working as a
waitress, and I said I was an aspiring writer working as a landscaper, and my
trio Kokomo was the Friday and Saturday night band at Positively Front Street,
a pub near the municipal wharf in Santa Cruz.
Then Nancy added, “And Todd
leads Drama games.”
Everyone’s eyes lit up.
“Drama games?” said Maureen. “Tell us more.”
I had learned a bunch of
warm-up exercises and interactive Drama games from my friend Rico’s wife Jean
while living near them for a time in Ohio where Jean taught Drama at Central
State University and gave weekend acting workshops. When I settled into commune
life in Santa Cruz, I orchestrated Drama game nights at our commune and a few
other communes in town, and that landed me a gig leading Drama games for
emotionally troubled teenagers in a local residential treatment program.
“Can we do some Drama
games now?” asked Maureen, shimmying
in her shimmering gown.
I was reluctant, the
group insisted, we had an hour of fun, and the games ended with us standing in
a circle with our arms around each other improvising tonal melodies and
When the circle broke, Maureen
said, “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”
Lisa and Jason echoed
Maureen, and Mark said, “Oh my God, Todd. You could make a fortune from this. You can franchise
this, and for a modest percentage I’ll set the whole thing up for you.”
“But these aren’t my
exercises,” I said, shaking my head. “They’re taught in Drama classes and
workshops all over the world.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said
Mark, excitedly. “It’s all in the packaging and the marketing. This could be
Needless to say, I did
not pursue packaging and trademarking and franchising and marketing of those
Drama games, but my friends and I had fun coming up with names for the
hypothetical venture, including The Walton Method: Drama Games to Liberate Your
Inner Creative Child.
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
“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
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
“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.
“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
“Well…” says Dez, heading for the
“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
“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,
“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
“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
“First we pee,” says Becky, scooping
up Jenny and carrying her down the hall to the bathroom, “and then we have not-too-hot
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
“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.”