Life in the Country

On a cold morning in March, Lisa is giving Tamara a massage in Hilda’s cottage, a stone’s throw from the farmhouse on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California.

A dense fog hangs over the farm, the massage room toasty. Lisa, fifty-one, lives in the farmhouse with her husband Philip, fifty-eight, and their two young children, Arturo and Vivienne. Their farm mates, Marcel and Andrea and their young son Henri live in the other house on the property, and Hilda, Tamara’s eighty-four-year-old mother, lives in the cottage. Tamara and her longtime partner Celine are renting a beach house in Mercy in anticipation of buying a house hereabouts in the next year or so.

“Only now we’re having second thoughts,” says Tamara, who lies on her back for the second half of the massage, Lisa’s tender ministrations never failing to loosen Tamara’s tongue as well as the muscles in her shoulders and neck. “Not because we don’t love it here, we do, but because we seem to have lost all ambition since coming here. We didn’t come here to retire, but to be near my mother and to just write rather than squeezing our writing in between fusillades of bureaucratic nonsense and the well-meaning efforts of college children, as Celine calls them, and they are incredibly infantile these days, raised by phones instead of humans, poor dears.”

“You’ve only been here six months,” says Lisa, gently manipulating the now familiar knots in Tamara’s neck. “Takes time to adjust to country living.”

“Was that true for you?” asks Tamara, about to fall sleep as she always does as the end of her massage approaches.

“For all of us, yes,” says Lisa, remembering their first few years on the farm, refugees from city living. “Andrea and I were both pregnant and then we had our babies, so that was a huge adjustment, too, but we knew we didn’t want to go back to the city, so we forged ahead.”

“You were brave to have babies so late,” says Tamara, falling asleep.

Lisa covers Tamara with a light blanket and leaves her snoozing on the table.


In the living room of the cottage, Lisa does some stretching to loosen up from the two long massages she gave this morning, her thoughts turning to Philip and Marcel who have both recently gone back to being full-time waiters after a three-year hiatus, their place of work Ocelot, a new restaurant in Mercy, the plaything of a fabulously wealthy couple and the world-class chef they’ve bankrolled to run the restaurant for them.

Tamara emerges from the massage room rosy-cheeked and languid. “You’re a magician,” she says, handing Lisa six fifty-dollar bills. “I feel thirty-five, no longer fifty.”

“Oh Tamara,” says Lisa, frowning at the money. “This is three hundred. Did you mean…”

“Well-deserved,” says Tamara, giving Lisa a hug. “I don’t think I’ll do a soak today. I’m already so relaxed. But I’m staying for lunch, so you’re not rid of me yet.”


Over lentil and mushroom soup and freshly made bread, Tamara and Hilda and Lisa and Philip and Andrea talk about this and that, and Tamara asks Philip how he’s feeling about being a waiter again.

“I feel my age,” says Philip, who looks considerably younger than fifty-eight. “And I have yet to find a rhythm in the work. We haven’t been terribly busy except on weekends, though they recently got raves in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, so we’re expecting an onslaught soon. It certainly helps to have Marcel there with me, and Raul’s food is extraordinary. So… I can’t complain.”

“Raul must be thrilled to have you and Marcel,” says Tamara, who first met Philip when he was the star waiter at Le Scélérat in Berkeley.

“Raul is certainly glad to have us,” says Philip, nodding. “He was not happy with the first several waiters he engaged.”

“This is only temporary,” says Andrea, hating that Philip and Marcel have to wait tables again—the cost of running the farm and supporting seven people and four dogs demanding more income than vegetables and apples and wine and Lisa’s massages bring in. “We almost have enough to publish Philip’s cookbook, and when that starts to sell we will re-publish the first one. Nathan’s son-in-law says he’ll make us a web site for half his usual fee, and this year we’re going to buy eight tons of grapes. So two years from now, at the latest, Philip and Marcel can leave the tables for good.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Philip, ever amazed by Andrea’s faith in him and his recipes.

“In the meantime,” says Lisa, smiling at Hilda, “thank goodness for the generous rent you pay and Delilah helping with the children.”

“I wish I could contribute more,” says Hilda, sighing. “But my future is uncertain, so…” She shrugs. “Life is long.”

“And life is good,” says Philip, getting up to put another log on the fire. “We are luckier than most of humanity.”

“I think your cookbooks will take the culinary world by storm,” says Tamara, watching Philip place the log atop the pyre. “The world awaits you.”


Philip, the handsome son of a French mother and an Italian-American father, and Marcel, the handsome son of a couple from Lyon, first worked together twenty-two years ago at Le Vagabond in San Francisco and became fast friends before Philip moved across the bay to Berkeley to work at Le Scélérat. Then for their first seven years in Mercy, they both worked part-time as waiters at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican. But this is the first time since moving away from the big city either of them has worked in a supremely exclusive restaurant, and Marcel, unlike Philip, is enjoying his return to the tables.

At 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, Philip at the wheel of the farm pickup truck, the two waiters roll down the curving road through the forest to Mercy.

“Week number five begins,” says Marcel, wearing a blue down jacket over his brown suit, his peach-colored shirt crowned by a burgundy tie. “I miss supper with the kids and being in bed by ten and not having to shave every day, but otherwise this is not a bad gig, the money is good, and soon it could be very good.”

“Oui,” says Philip, though he finds waiting tables arduous. “I do miss the less affluent folks we served at Jessica’s, the locals, the families, the children.”

“Yes, but we make five times as much in tips at Ocelot,” says Marcel, who found Jessica’s a painful comedown from his days at the esteemed Le Vagabond. “And the imperative now is to make as much money as we can. Imagine when business picks up. We’ll make good money, Philip. Big city money.”

“May it be so,” says Philip, nodding.

“Our suits are loose on us,” says Marcel, laughing. “We’ve grown skinny being farmhands.”


Philip and Marcel park a block away from the restaurant and stroll in the dusk to the stately two-story Victorian in which Ocelot occupies the ground floor.

Two well-dressed women and two men in suits are standing at the small sidewalk kiosk in front of the pale blue Victorian, studying the evening’s menu.

“Excuse me?” says one of the men to Philip and Marcel. “Do you work here?”

“We do,” says Marcel, bowing politely to the man. “How may we help you?”

“Are these the real prices?” asks the man, frowning at the menu.

“I believe so,” says Marcel, going to the kiosk and glancing at the menu. “Oui.”

“A hundred and sixty dollars for steak and potatoes with a fancy name?” says the man, grimacing. “You have got to be kidding.”

“The chef is world-famous,” says Marcel, matter-of-factly. “People come from all over the world to dine here. We don’t set the prices. We are merely servers.”

“You might enjoy Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican,” says Philip, gesturing to the east. “Excellent food for a tenth the price. Just a couple blocks from here.”

“These prices are insane,” says one of the women, clearly distressed.

“The world is insane,” says Marcel, nodding. “I cannot argue with you.”


Entering the back door of the beautifully restored old house, Marcel and Philip take off their coats in the changing room, check their hair and faces in the mirror, straighten each other’s ties, gaze at each other and intone in French, “For our family and farm.”

They emerge from the changing room, greet the sous chef and cooks, traverse the kitchen, and go through the swinging doors to the dining room where Raul, a large man from Portugal with a great tangle of graying brown hair dressed in chef whites is in conversation with the hostess Miranda, a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a form-fitting purple gown with spaghetti straps, her black hair piled high on her head, large diamond earrings belonging to the owner of Ocelot dangling from her ears.

“Ah Philip, Marcel,” says Raul, who knew them both when he was making his name in San Francisco at estuaire and would dine at Le Scélérat and Le Vagabond on his nights off, more often at Le Scélérat where Philip attended him. “Jennifer Morris is shooting some exteriors around here and she and her entourage will be coming for the first seating. They may be as many as ten and I’ll want you both attending her. What do you think? One large table or a six and a four? In the south room.”

“We can serve more gracefully there with a six and a four,” says Marcel, winking at Miranda. “But of course it depends on what Jennifer prefers, if she wants all her people at her table.”

“I agree with Marcel,” says Philip, nodding. “Start with a six and a four, and connect them if she wishes to.”

“Yes, yes,” says Raul, nodding to Miranda. “And Frank and Darlene are coming at eight and requested you, Philip.”

“Of course,” says Philip, bowing to Raul.

“Other than that,” says Raul, smiling at Philip and Marcel, both of whom came from humble beginnings, as did Raul, “we have lots of sole tonight, not so much veal, the shrimp is good, not great, and the steak is excellent but not superb. I am told those reviews are already paying dividends. Be strong.”

With that, Raul returns to the kitchen and Philip and Marcel go with Miranda to arrange the tables in the south room, the view of Mercy Bay at twilight as stunning as Miranda.

When Miranda leaves them, Philip says in French to Marcel, “Remind me who Jennifer Morris is?”

Big movie star,” says Marcel, putting his hands out in front of him, palms facing his chest to indicate large breasts. “Sex bomb.”

“Don’t know her,” says Philip, shaking his head. “What was she in?”

“I don’t know,” says Marcel, shrugging. “But I see her picture all the time on the tabloids at the grocery store, her hair style changing with her boyfriends, her beautiful breasts always leading the charge.”

“Shall we check the tables,” says Philip, knowing the time is near for Miranda to open the front door and greet the first diners of the evening.

“Oui,” says Marcel, putting his arm around Philip. “And you know I’m not offended the owners request you.”

“I know,” says Philip, smiling at Marcel. “What’s mine is yours.”


As Jennifer Morris and her entourage of thirteen depart after three hours of revelry, Jennifer declares for all to hear, “Heaven on earth. We’ll be back tomorrow night.”

“Bravo,” says Frank, as Philip approaches the owners’ table where Frank and his wife Darlene applaud him—Frank a burly fellow in his sixties with wispy gray hair, Darlene a buxom strawberry blonde in her forties. “I think Jennifer likes you, buddy. Play your cards right, you never know what might happen.”

Frank is a billionaire real estate developer, Darlene a former model for whom Ocelot is proof of her sophistication and savvy. They live most of the time in their palace in Montecito and have a mansion on a private beach south of Mercy where they come several times a year to partake of Ocelot and entertain guests.

“How are we this evening?” says Philip, bowing to them.

 “Stellar,” says Frank, grinning at Philip. “What’s good tonight?”

“The sole,” says Philip, looking at Darlene to see if she wants to add anything to Frank’s stellar.

“Did Raul tell you about the party Saturday night?” says Darlene, making big eyes at Philip. “My birthday.”

“He did not,” says Philip, smiling to mask his sorrow.

Twelve of us,” she says, her tone conveying how special she feels those twelve are. “Just us. Restaurant closed otherwise.”

“What time will you want us here?” asks Philip, his neck aching.

“Six-thirty,” she says, arching her eyebrow. “Fun starts at seven and we’ll go to ten. I’ll be forty-four. Can you believe it?”

Philip politely shakes his head. “And for tonight? Will you be having a bottle of wine or would you like to sample the current offerings by glass?”

“Get me a vodka tonic,” says Frank, watching Miranda go by. “God is she gorgeous, or what?”

“And for you, Madame?” says Philip, looking at Darlene but not seeing her.

“Something white and just a little sweet,” she says, looking at him in a way he knows is another of her invitations to pursue an involvement with her. “You know what I like, Philip.”

He bows and moves away, signaling Teresa, one of the pretty young bussers, to bring bread and butter to the owners’ table.

Now he goes to check on a table of six gregarious millionaires from St. Louis, and as he approaches the table of corpulent men and their slender wives, something awakens in him that has been dormant since his last night at Le Scélérat a decade ago—his impeccable waiter persona.

I can do this if I have to for another few years. But after that I will never wait tables again.


The next morning, Philip wakes early to make sandwiches for Vivienne and Arturo and Henri’s lunches, after which he cooks an omelet for Arturo and Vivienne’s breakfast.

While the kids are eating, Lisa, still in her nightgown, makes coffee and reminds the kids they have piano lessons at Delilah’s after school.

When breakfast is over, Henri arrives with his school things and his accordion, and before Philip drives the kids to school, Henri gets out his accordion, Arturo gets his guitar, Vivienne gets her violin and they perform the song they’ve been practicing for several days, Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life, their rendition awful, and Philip and Lisa love it.


On his way home from dropping the kids at Mercy Montessori, Philip stops at the food co-op to buy groceries, and from there goes to Nathan and Celia and Delilah’s as he often does these days, something about spending time with the elderly couple and their young housemate soothing to Philip as he struggles with returning to the tables.

He arrives at the little house just as Celia and Delilah are leaving on a walk with the young mutts Chico and Gypsy, so Philip is alone with Nathan for a time, a fire crackling in the hearth.

“I found my groove again last night,” says Philip, sitting at the kitchen table with Nathan. “Which is to say, my alter ego returned.”

“Does your alter ego have a name?” asks Nathan, who loves talking to Philip.

“Philip,” says Philip, pronouncing his name with a distinct emphasis on the first syllable.

“Were you glad to see him again?”

“In a way,” says Philip, shrugging. “He makes the work easier.”


“Because he does the work and I can save my real self for the life I love.”

“You’re an actor coming out of retirement,” says Nathan, nodding in understanding. “Resuming your role in a long-running play on a new stage.”

“I know I’m not a failure,” says Philip, his eyes brimming with tears. “But sometimes I succumb to doubt.”

“You’re not a failure, my friend,” says Nathan, remembering when his writing career came crashing down and he became a pruner of fruit trees again. “Quite the opposite. Everything we do, everything that happens to us, is the path. And the path, it turns out, is the destination. So now you’re an actor again, and I’ll bet you’re a great one.”

“I wish the people I serve were not so… I don’t know,” says Philip, allowing himself to really cry for the first time since returning to the tables. “Selfish and greedy.”

“Yeah, but they’re on the path, too,” says Nathan, nodding. “No matter how different their gaudy costumes make them seem.”


Return To Go


Philip’s Kitchen

Philip’s first cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook sold twenty thousand copies and was not reprinted after the third printing sold out. The tome has since become a hot commodity and used copies are hard to find.

And now, ten years after Tantamount Press published Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook, Philip is a few months away from publishing his second cookbook with Tantamount, the promotional budget the same as for the first cookbook: nothing.


On a sunny Friday morning in May at Ziggurat Farm on the outskirts of the northern California coastal town of Mercy, Philip, fifty-eight, having just ferried Arturo, nine, Henri, eight, and Vivienne, seven, to Mercy Montessori, is gathering his wits and gazing around his glorious new kitchen when his editor at Tantamount calls.

“Hey Philip,” says Tiffany, who is twenty-seven and sounds fourteen to Philip. “Yucky news. Sales is not happy with your title and subtitle. Me, personally, I like Good Eats From Ziggurat Farm, and Ziggy actually really likes it, and the cover drawing your friend did of the dogs drinking wine is so cute. But Sales says the whole package is a retro yawner and they want something punchier, sexier, and they need it yesterday? Tomorrow morning at the latest? If not, they might delay publication for like six months? Possibly a year? Can you get me something sexier and punchier by tomorrow morning? Ooh I have to take this call. Talk soon.”

Before leaving for the vegetable garden to share this weighty news with his wife Lisa and comrades Andrea and Marcel who are hard at work planting out seedlings from the greenhouse, Philip calls Sandra Messer, the chef and owner of the legendary restaurant Le Scélérat in Berkeley where Philip was a waiter for ten years before moving with Lisa and Marcel and Andrea to Mercy. Sandra, who was entirely responsible for Tantamount publishing Good Eats From Ziggurat Farm, wrote the praise-filled Introduction and has now written a rave blurb for the new cookbook.

“Titles are a bitch,” says Sandra, who is from Chicago and in her seventies. “Everybody calls your first one Delicious Ambitious, why not call this one Delicious Ambitious Two, with the Two spelled T-O-O? And use Ziggurat Farm in the sub?”

Philip thanks Sandra for her suggestion and is about to call Tiffany back when he thinks I hate Delicious Ambitious Too, and goes out to join his wife and friends in the garden.


Taking a break from sowing chard seeds, Philip watches Marcel, who is a few years younger than Philip and very French, digging well-aged chicken manure into a nearby bed soon to be filled with broccoli seedlings.

“These are the same geniuses who wouldn’t reprint your first book?” says Marcel, resting for a moment. “After you sold twenty thousand copies with no promotion?”

“Same geniuses,” says Philip, who hopes the new book succeeds well enough so he and Marcel don’t have to go back to being waiters any time soon. “But geniuses or no, if they aren’t enthusiastic about the package, as they call it, they may only do one small printing, which defeats the purpose of making the book in the first place.”

“Why would they publish a book if they’re just going to kill it before it can develop a following?” asks Marcel, frowning and shaking his head. “Makes no sense.”

“I don’t know,” says Philip, resuming his seeding of the bed. “I’m not a publisher.”

“Sexier and punchier?” says Andrea on her way to the upper beds of the terraced garden with a flat of seedlings. “How about Fucking Food? That’s punchier and sexier.”

“Much,” says Philip, who knows Sales delaying publication is often prelude to a publisher dropping a book and demanding the return of the author’s advance.

“I’m kidding,” says Andrea, aching in sympathy with Philip.

“I know you are,” says Philip, smiling at her, “but I’m afraid they would prefer Fucking Food to Good Eats From Ziggurat Farm.”

“If this year’s wine is as good as last year’s,” says Marcel, speaking of the wine they make on the farm, “and we have another good year with the garden, we can publish your book ourselves.”

“Two very big ifs,” says Andrea, who is boss of the garden and keeps the books and knows better than anyone how precarious the farm’s finances.


Over lunch at the picnic table near the farmhouse, Lisa says, “Why not ask Nathan? He’s such a wonderful poet.”

“They don’t want poetry,” says Philip, despondently. “They want punchier and sexier.”

“You don’t need them,” says Andrea, who has enormous faith in Philip. “Marcel is right. We can publish your book ourselves and sell it at farmers markets and in local bookstores and online. If they won’t use your title, tell them to go to hell.”

“Are you serious?” asks Philip, who has never imagined self-publishing his cookbook. “I’d have to return the advance. Ten thousand dollars. We can’t really spare that, can we?”

“It’s fine,” says Andrea, on the verge of tears. “We don’t need them.”

“You and Andrea worked on those recipes for seven years,” says Lisa, nodding in agreement with Andrea. “It’s a magnificent book. You can’t allow them to debase your creation.”

“I’ll talk to Nathan,” says Philip, buoyed by their support. “On my way home with the kids.”


Nathan Grayson, a poet of some renown in his youth, is eighty-two and has a blog on which he posts his poems and stories when he has new ones to share. He has no idea how many people read his blog. Seven? Three hundred? He doesn’t care. The act of sharing is what he loves.

Philip and Nathan sit at a small table on the south-facing deck of Nathan’s little house on the edge of Mercy drinking nettle tea. Henri and Arturo are in the kitchen helping Celia, Nathan’s wife, prepare avocado and cheese quesadillas for their after-school snacks, and Vivienne is in the garden with the resident mongrel puppies Chico and Gypsy, picking flowers for a table bouquet.

“Way back when,” says Nathan, loving the sight of Vivienne with the pups, “I knew a poet named Larry Henderson who was hot stuff for a couple years and then vanished as most poets do. His poems were stacks of very short same-sounding sentences. ‘The man went to the store. The man bought some bread. The man went home. The man made a sandwich. The man watched television.’ Listening to him was torture. He spoke in a monotone tenor with a long pause after each sentence. Every time I heard him read I wanted to strangle him. But he sold lots of books because his covers were photographs of near-naked women with half-open mouths apparently wanting sex, with titles like Her Outrageous Orgasm and His Mighty Erection.” Nathan laughs. “People snapped them up, for gag gifts maybe. And that’s all I know about sexier and punchier.”

“I can’t think of anything but the title I have,” says Philip, watching Vivienne confer with the pups about which flowers to pick. “Good Eats From Ziggurat Farm: more recipes for the somewhat ambitious cook, which is a reference to my first cookbook.”

“To be honest, Philip,” says Nathan, clearing his throat, “for my taste that’s not a very good title or subtitle. Not because they aren’t true, but because they came from your intellect and not from the divine source.”

“What do you mean?” asks Philip, taken aback Nathan doesn’t like the title.

“I mean there are two kinds of creating, whether it’s writing or composing music or painting or creating a recipe or anything.” Nathan waits a moment for Philip to consider what those two kinds of creating might be. “One kind is the intellectual organizing of things we already know. That’s 99.9 percent of what gets published and performed and presented to the world, and that’s why everything the mainstream gives us is stuff we’ve seen thousands of times before.”

“The intellectual organizing of things we already know,” says Philip, nodding in understanding of Nathan’s idea.

“The other kind of creating,” says Nathan, gesturing to the sky, “is unconscious spontaneous outpouring that comes from nobody-knows-where. And that, as we used to say in the Sixties, is the boss stuff.”

“I’m reaching for the paprika,” says Philip, laughing, “before I think paprika.”

“Exactly,” says Nathan, smiling at the approach of Vivienne with her bouquet. “Delilah sitting down at the piano and ripping off ten minutes of sheer genius and then shouting, ‘Oh my God, did you hear that?’ And Celia and I high as kites because we did hear it. Lucky us.”

“But words are not my art,” says Philip, humbly.

“Sure they are. You write eloquent recipes. With different line breaks they’d make great poems.”

Henri comes out on the deck and bows to Nathan and Philip. “Celia’s quesadillas await you.”

“Speaking of Celia,” says Nathan, as he and Philip go inside, “she informs me we’re having supper at your place tonight with the usual suspects. Perhaps the gang will come up with something you like.”


The usual suspects are:

Those Who Live At Ziggurat Farm: Philip, Lisa, Andrea, Marcel, Arturo, Henri, Vivienne, and Hilda who is eighty-four and lives in the cottage next to the bathhouse a stone’s throw from the farmhouse.

The Very British Richardsons: Constance and Joseph, both in their seventies, Constance a successful murder mystery writer nearly done with her twenty-seventh thriller, Joseph a painter of landscapes and portraits working on the last big painting he’ll make in Mercy before he and Constance move back to England for the remainder of their lives.

Tamara and Celine: A successful playwright in her fifties, Tamara is Hilda’s only child, and Celine is Tamara’s partner of thirty years and the author of Remembering Black, an acclaimed book about her experiences as an African American woman in American academia.    

Nathan, Celia, and Delilah: Nathan eighty-two, Celia seventy-six, both longtime residents of Mercy and married for more than fifty years, Delilah their delightful twenty-two-year-old housemate, a musician, artist, and frequent visitor to Ziggurat Farm.


Andrea and Philip prepare a sumptuous supper, much wine is drunk, laughter is frequent, and after dessert everyone retires to the spacious living room where a fire is crackling in the hearth and the four farm dogs and Delilah’s two new pups are sprawled about and several cats are snoozing where humans want to sit.

When the humans have situated themselves among the animals and everyone is possessed of wine or tea or cocoa, Nathan says, “Philip needs a new title for his cookbook, and a subtitle, too. His publisher is threatening to delay publication if he can’t come up with something they like by tomorrow morning. I suggested to him the consortium gathered here tonight might be of assistance.”

“And if they don’t like our title,” says Andrea, defiantly, “we will publish his cookbook ourselves.”

“Every time we eat here,” says Tamara, each of her seven plays a resounding success, “Celine and I come away saying exquisite. Every time. Tonight no exception. Something about that word. Exquisite.”

“Marvelous word,” says Constance, who has so far in her life, with Joseph’s help, come up with twenty-seven titles for her murder mysteries. “We used exquisite in the title of my seventeenth book, the ninth in my Grady Pillsbury series. A Most Exquisite Murder.”

“I haven’t read any of your books yet,” says Arturo, who is currently reading Robinson Crusoe for the second time, but your titles intrigue me no end.”

“Shall we write down exquisite?” asks Vivienne, who is very sleepy. “In case we don’t forget?”

“Let’s not write anything down yet,” says Nathan, grinning at Vivienne. “First let’s say whatever pops into our heads.”

“Exquisite exquisiteness,” says Celine, laughing a sparkling laugh.

“The well-cooked ox,” says Joseph, happily drunk. “The bafflement of barbecues.”

“The Magic Kitchen!” shouts Henri, giggling.

“Exquisite comestibles,” says Delilah, shivering with excitement. “For voracious eaters who can’t stop eating.”

“Eyes bigger than my stomach,” says Celia, blushing.  

“The magic cook,” says Vivienne, smiling sleepily at her father.

“The cook of magic,” says Arturo, laughing.

“Melted cheesery,” says Constance, tittering. “Scrumptious foodstuffs for esurient nibblers.”

“Food of the gods,” says Marcel, shaking his head. “No. Too grandiose.”

“Nothing is too grandiose,” says Nathan, grinning at Philip. “Speak chef.”

“Kitchen of love,” says Philip, thinking of his kitchen. “Place of quiet miracles.”

“Of knives and mincing,” says Andrea, recalling her previous life as a sous chef. “Timing the fish.”

“The onion eclipsed,” says Hilda, dramatically. “Garlic triumphant.”

“Philip’s kitchen,” says Lisa, getting up to fetch more wine.

Profound silence.

“I got chills,” says Celine, gazing wide-eyed at Tamara.

“So did I,” says Tamara, nodding. “Philip’s Kitchen.”

“I, too, got chills,” says Constance, looking at Delilah. “Did you?”

Delilah nods. “That must be the title.”

“Must be,” says Joseph, aghast. “Remarkable how deep that went.”

“But why?” asks Philip, who gasped when Lisa said Philip’s Kitchen. “I mean… who is Philip? No one will know who Philip refers to. They’ll hate it at Tantamount.”

“They might not,” says Hilda, gazing fondly at Philip. “It’s lovely.”

“All the recipes did come from your kitchen,” says Arturo, nodding assuredly. “So no wonder Philip’s Kitchen sounds right.”


At ten the next morning, Philip calls Tiffany at Tantamount, she puts him on hold, and he doesn’t mind at all.

“Sorry about that,” says Tiffany, coming on the line a few minutes later. “Saturdays are usually pretty mellow around here, but my phone won’t stop ringing. What have you got for me?”

“May I ask you not to take another call while we talk?” says Philip, who has wanted to ask that of Tiffany for the last two years.

“Um… of course. Unless it’s Arno. We’re crashing a couple books and I have to take his calls. Sorry.”

“What does that mean? Crashing a book?”

“Rushing it out because the author or the subject is currently hot, so we crash the book to capitalize on the buzz.”

“I see. Thanks for explaining.”

“No worries. What have you got for me?”

“I’m going to put my daughter Vivienne on the line to tell you,” says Philip, winking at Vivienne who is standing buy.

“Your daughter?” says Tiffany, annoyed. “Oh no, why…”

“Here she is,” says Philip, handing the phone to Vivienne.

“Hi Tiffany,” says Vivienne, her little girl’s voice softening Tiffany. “The title of Papa’s new cookbook is Philip’s Kitchen.” She pauses for a moment before adding, “Exquisite Meals from Ziggurat Farm.”

“Would you say that again?” says Tiffany, hitting the Record button on her phone.

Philip’s Kitchen,” says Vivienne, taking care with her pronunciation. “Exquisite Meals from Ziggurat Farm. Here’s Papa.”

Philip comes on the line and Tiffany says, “I love it. Made me cry. I’ll run it by Sales and let you know what they say.”

“Regardless of what they say,” Philip replies, his voice full of kindness, “that’s the title and subtitle. If Sales says No, I will return my advance and pursue other options.”

“Okay,” says Tiffany, breathlessly. “I’ll get back to you.”


Philip and Vivienne walk from the farmhouse to the one-acre deer-fenced vegetable garden where Andrea and Lisa and Delilah and Henri and Hilda are planting out seedlings, and Marcel and Arturo are busy preparing another bed for planting.

“Where is Tiffany?” asks Vivienne, holding her father’s hand. “How old is she?”

“In San Francisco,” says Philip, smiling curiously at his daughter. “She’s twenty-seven. Why do you ask?”

“I want to visualize her,” says Vivienne, letting go of Philip’s hand at the approach of Mimi and Alexandra, the farm’s two Golden Retrievers who are especially fond of Vivienne.

“She’s quite tall,” says Philip, who has only met Tiffany once. “As tall as Delilah. With short reddish brown hair and four small gold rings in one of her eyebrows, I can’t remember which one, and her eyes are dark blue. Her office is on the fourth floor of a modern building looking out on San Francisco Bay. When I met with her she was wearing a blue T-shirt and brown trousers and glossy red lipstick and hoop earrings.”

“Is she nice?” asks Vivienne, petting Alexandra.

“I think so,” says Philip, imagining Tiffany walking down the hall to Arno’s office to tell him the new title—Arno head of Sales. “Though I don’t really know her very well.”

And try as he might, Philip cannot imagine how Arno will respond to what Tiffany tells him.




About Money and Love

In April, the remote northern California coastal town of Mercy is in an uproar because Tom Holsinger died in a car accident before he could finalize the transfer of his spectacular Fall Creek Ranch to the state to be added to contiguous Egret Estuary State Park, just a mile south of Mercy. And now Tom’s heirs, two sons who were notoriously unhappy in Mercy and moved to Los Angeles thirty years ago to make porno films, have given the town and the state thirty days to buy the 2200 acres of pristine coastline and meadowlands and redwood forest or they’ll sell it to a developer who will log the redwoods and put in a golf course and two hundred condominiums.

Half the town’s twelve hundred residents attend the hastily convened meeting at the Mercy Rec Center, and Ralph Bingham, the unofficial mayor of the town that has no government, runs the meeting.

The first thing Ralph says is, “So… the delightful Holsinger boys want fifty-seven million for the ranch. As of right now we, and by we I mean the town and our local nature conservancy, have four million and the state says they’ll match that, but unless we can come up with another forty-nine million by May 15, we can say goodbye to paradise.”

“What about the county?” someone shouts.

“The county is six hundred million in debt,” says Ralph, shaking his head. “They send best wishes.”

As expected, Cal Fleischman gets up and says, “I golf,” and whatever else he says is drowned out by booing.

Now Morgan Sullivan, a retired hydrologist who moved to Mercy from Iowa four years ago, stands up and says, “Where can they possibly get enough water to sustain a golf course and twenty condos, let alone two hundred? Most of us around here barely have enough water by late summer to flush our toilets every couple days.”

“You’re new here,” says Maggie Fetherston, seventy-seven, a Mercy native who’s been fighting rapacious lumber companies and developers her whole life. “Fall Creek Ranch has miles-deep artesian wells and an aquifer that never goes dry. During the worst droughts you could always buy water from Tom.”

After another hour of collective handwringing, a fundraising committee is formed and the meeting adjourns.

The next morning, Delilah, a lovely young woman who has lived with longtime Mercy residents Nathan and Celia Grayson for eight years now, walks through the town to Maggie Fetherston’s little house overlooking Mercy Bay—Maggie head of the fundraising committee—and tells Maggie she has forty-nine million dollars for them to buy Fall Creek Ranch.

“I’d prefer you say the money is from an anonymous donor,” says Delilah, who is twenty-one, the money all but a million of her inheritance from her recently deceased mother.

“Oh my God,” says Maggie, hugging Delilah. “Oh my loving God.”

So Fall Creek Ranch becomes part of Egret Estuary State Park and life goes on.


In mid-May, Delilah and Lisa and Hilda and Andrea are luxuriating in the big soaking tub in the new bathhouse at Ziggurat Farm, the sliding glass doors open to the cool afternoon, supper an hour away, Lisa and Hilda and Andrea residents of the farm, Delilah a frequent visitor.

The women are speaking about money, their discussion inspired by Delilah giving away most of her inheritance to buy Fall Creek Ranch and save the wild coast from destruction.

“When I was four-years-old in Buenos Aires,” says Lisa, fifty, her antecedents Brazilian Indio, African, and Ashkenazi Jew, “my mother would send me out to beg, and when someone gave me money, I would calculate as the coins fell into my hands how many more pennies I needed to buy a loaf of bread. Then I would close my eyes and wait for an image of someone to come into my mind, and when I saw who they were, I would go beg from them.”

“I thought you grew up in Beverly Hills,” says Delilah, shocked by Lisa’s story.

“I didn’t come to America until I was ten,” says Lisa, who rarely talks about her past. “I was born in the slums of Buenos Aires. I didn’t have shoes until after my mother died and my grandmother, my father’s mother, sent money from America to my aunt, my mother’s sister, and she bought me a pair of sandals to wear on the jet to Los Angeles where my grandparents picked me up at the airport in a big silver Mercedes and took me to their mansion in Beverly Hills where I lived until I was twenty. And every day my grandmother would put money in my purse, two twenty-dollar bills when I was ten and eleven, three twenties when I was twelve, and more and more as I grew older. But no matter how much money she gave me, I always measured the value of everything by the cost of a loaf of bread in Buenos Aires.” She gazes to the north where she can see part of the big vegetable and flower garden where she works every morning before giving her first massage of the day—two ninety-minute massages or three sixty-minute massages her daily limit. “And even now when I’m in the grocery store I’ll look at the price of something and calculate how many loaves of bread I could buy for that much in Buenos Aires when I was a girl.”

Andrea, fifty-one, waits a moment before saying, “My younger brother and I were raised by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and when I was four my grandmother said, ‘It’s time you had a job, Andrea. I’ll pay you a penny every day if you feed the cat and sweep the kitchen after breakfast and supper.’ I’m sure I didn’t do a very good job sweeping, not at first, but she was teaching me to work if I wanted money, and I did want money for candy.”

“Did you live in a house or an apartment?” asks Hilda, who was born in Switzerland eighty-three years ago.

“A one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a seven-story building in a working-class suburb of Hamburg,” says Andrea, ever amazed to think of where she spent the first twenty years of her life. “My grandmother slept in the living room and my brother and I shared the bedroom until I was thirteen, and then my brother slept in the living room and I shared the bedroom with my grandmother until we moved to a two-bedroom apartment in the same building when I was seventeen.”

“Tell us more,” says Delilah, who loves hearing the details of her friends’ lives.

“Well…” says Andrea, slightly embarrassed but enjoying the attention, “when I was six my grandmother arranged for me to go to our elderly neighbor Mrs. Schlesinger for two hours after school every day and fetch things for her while she sat in her living room watching television. Mrs. Schlesinger was in a wheelchair and lived on the first floor of the building and had a little patio with potted plants. I would do my homework at her kitchen table and every now and then she would say, ‘Andrea, a glass of water please,” or ‘Dear could you bring my heating pad from the bedroom.’ And every day I would boil four eggs for her and peel them and salt them and bring them to her in a bowl, and she would gobble them and say, ‘What a good cook you are. Just like your grandmother.’ I would make her instant coffee, too. And for those two hours, Mrs. Schlesinger paid my grandmother the equivalent of sixty cents, until one day she asked me to rub her feet, which I knew how to do because my grandmother, who was on her feet ten hours a day in a hotel kitchen, taught me how to rub her feet, and Mrs. Schlesinger would fall asleep while I rubbed her feet, and sometimes I would fall asleep, too. And then the timer would go off and my two hours were up and I could go home. For the foot rub, she gave me another forty cents, which made a dollar for my two hours. I did that every day after school until I was nine and Mrs. Schlesinger died and my grandmother found another invalid, Mrs. Wagner, for me to help. She lived in a house with a garden and paid me two dollars for those two hours and had me water her plants and make her simple food. And I never kept a penny because my grandmother needed what I earned to help pay the rent.”

“By contrast,” says Hilda, who lives in the new cottage adjacent to the bathhouse, “I’ve always had plenty of money. My father was a successful architect, my mother a professor of Economics. I had an older brother, and whenever he or I wanted money for any reason our parents would give us however much we needed. I knew there were many poor people in the world, but my own experience was of endless plenty. I was a good student, went to university, travelled for a year after completing my undergraduate studies, went to graduate school in Psychology, and made a good salary even as an intern. I married when I was twenty-seven, my husband a decade older than I. He was a structural engineer and a wonderful person. We moved to Berkeley when I was thirty, bought our lovely home, converted the garage into my consulting chamber, as my husband called my office, and my practice was full in no time. Not for a day in my life have I worried about money, nor has Tamara. She was a star student from kindergarten through college and graduate school, became a professor and had the first play she ever wrote produced. And now she has seven plays in the contemporary repertoire being produced all the time, so I’ve never worried about her regarding money. I know we are the beneficiaries of good luck, but nevertheless our experience formed our relationship to money, which is that there is always enough for what we need.”

Andrea looks at Delilah. “How are you feeling now that you’ve given away your fortune?”

“I feel fine,” says Delilah, growing serious. “I still have a million dollars in the bank, which I’m saving for anything Nathan and Celia might need before they die. I have twelve piano students now and my drawings are selling quite well at the Fletcher Gallery, and I still get residuals now and then for incidental music I composed for three of my mother’s movies, so I’m not worried, though until I moved in with Nathan and Celia, I worried about money all the time, as did my mother, though she was incredibly wealthy.”

“Don’t you want to buy a house?” asks Andrea, for whom owning a house is most important.

“Not until Nathan and Celia are gone,” says Delilah, shaking her head. “I’m very happy living with them.”

“Why do you think your mother was so insecure about money when she had so much?” asks Andrea, who barely knew her own mother.

“My mother grew up in a series of foster homes and most of her foster families were very poor,” says Delilah, recalling her beautiful mother. “I don’t think she ever recovered from that, and no amount of money could heal her.”

“Money isn’t love,” says Lisa, shaking her head. “Only love heals us.”

“Yes,” says Andrea, nodding solemnly, “but I hope you won’t give all your money away, Delilah, because even though money can’t heal us, it’s very hard to love anyone, including yourself, when you don’t have a place to live and you’re cold and hungry.”

“I know,” says Delilah, smiling at Andrea. “I’ll do my best to save the rest. I promise.”


The discussion about money continues in the farmhouse after supper and the dishes are done and the kids have gone to bed.

“My father was a waiter in small restaurant and my mother worked in a bakery,” says Marcel, Andrea’s husband, fifty-four, his French accent still pronounced.

“In Lyon?” asks Hilda, sharing the largest sofa in the living room with Lisa and Delilah.

“Oui,” says Marcel, putting a log on the fire and looking to see if anyone needs more wine or tea. “We lived on the second floor of a five-story apartment building and my older brother and I attended a nearby school that was solid working class kids. Both of us expected to get jobs similar to our parents, but my father had other plans. He was obsessed with soccer and worshiped our home team Olympique Lyonnais, known simply as Lyon, a great team. He decided my brother and I should be professional soccer players and started training us as soon as we started school. He told us many times that playing soccer was our job, and he had no sense of humor about this. None.”

“And you became a great soccer player,” says Andrea, gazing fondly at her husband.

“Well, I did,” says Marcel, going to fetch more wine. “My brother was not fast enough, but I was quick to the ball, you know, and when I was sixteen I signed a contract with Lyon to play for their junior team and did so well Barcelona took me in a trade involving several players, but before I could go to Barcelona I tore my Achilles and that ended my career. So I became a waiter like my father.” He returns with a bottle of wine and refreshes a few glasses. “And the way things are going, I may soon be a waiter again, though I have very much enjoyed my hiatus from the tables.”

“Do you worry about money?” asks Delilah, who often fantasizes about moving to the farm after Nathan and Celia are no longer alive.

“No,” says Marcel, shaking his head. “My parents taught me if you are willing to work hard, enough money can be made, so that is my view of life. My father worked until he was eighty, my mother until she was seventy-two. Life is work. Work is life.”

Philip, fifty-seven, slender and handsome, his black hair just now turning gray, nods in agreement. “Yes, work is life and life is work, and for the last two years I’ve been working in the garden, doing farm chores, cooking, writing the cookbook with Andrea, and taking care of the children. Barring a huge success with the cookbook, I will soon be a waiter again, and I’m okay with that, though I would rather not.” He smiles at Delilah. “My mother used to say, ‘We always find ways to survive or we die,’ and I have always found that helpful when I worry about running out of money, which I never have, though I’ve come close a few times.”

“I think your cookbook will be a great success,” says Lisa, getting up from the sofa. “And now I must go to bed so I can give two massages in the morning so we don’t run out of money.”

“My bedtime, too,” says Andrea, looking at Marcel. “We have a long walk home.”

“An arduous five minutes,” says Marcel, giving Andrea a hand up from the comfortable armchair.


In the morning, Philip drives the kids to Mercy Montessori, Arturo in the front seat, Vivienne and Henri in the back seat—Arturo in Third Grade, Vivienne and Henri in Second.

“After school today,” says Philip, driving slowly down the winding road through the forest to the coast, “Nathan will come get you and walk with you to his house for snacks and your piano lessons. I’ll come get you at four.”

“I’d like to start taking guitar lessons, Papa,” says Arturo, pursing his lips as he does when discussing serious matters. “So we can have a band.”

“To play at weddings and birthday parties,” says Henri, who is learning to play the accordion from his father. “Papa says wedding gigs are quite lucrative.”

“I’m torn between violin and guitar,” says Vivienne, her brow knitted. “Too bad pianos weigh so much or I could play piano in the band.”

Philip ponders this new development and says, “Or maybe you could all learn accordion from Marcel and have an accordion band.”

“No,” says Arturo, shaking his head. “One accordion is enough.”

“I love violins,” says Vivienne, plaintively, “but with a guitar I’ll be more free to sing.”

“Have you told Delilah you’re giving up the piano?” asks Philip as they arrive at the school where many other kids are arriving in cars driven by grownups.

“Oh we’re not giving up the piano,” says Arturo, making a don’t-be-ridiculous face and shaking his head. “Piano gives us an excellent musical foundation.”

“I’ll never give up the piano,” says Vivienne, dramatically. “I love taking lessons from Delilah. I live to take lessons from her.”

“And you Henri?” asks Philip, getting out to walk with the kds into the schoolyard. “Will you keep taking piano lessons?”

“Of course,” says Henri, sounding just like his father. “It’s all about the keyboard.”


That night, climbing into bed, Philip asks Lisa, “Where did our children learn to speak as they do? They’ve never seen television or gone to the movies, never been on a computer, and we only recently took them to their first play. Nor do they speak as we do. They sound like sophisticated adults.”

“Have you ever listened to Delilah telling them a story?” asks Lisa, laughing. “And acting out all the parts? Or watched them hanging on every word of the very British Richardsons? Or heard them discussing the poems they write with Nathan? Or seen them entranced by Hilda and Tamara and Celine talking about anything?”

“I have,” says Philip, wrapping his arms around her. “You think that’s it? Our verbose and dramatic friends?”

“And you reading them Wind in the Willows and The Prince and the Pauper, and doing all the voices and accents.” Lisa closes her eyes and breathes deeply of his scent. “And lately you’ve been a marvelous Sherlock Holmes.”

“I don’t ever want them to leave us,” he says, the thought of life without the children unbearable to him.

“Don’t worry,” she whispers. “Just love them.”


Always Love


The Great Transformation

In March, with the completion of the five-room cottage and bathhouse, Lisa and Philip and their children Arturo and Vivienne, move all their furniture and possessions from the farmhouse into the new cottage so the Ramirez brothers and their crew can begin what Philip calls The Great Transformation of the farmhouse

The south-facing walls are removed and the entire house is made sixteen feet wider, thereby doubling the size of the living room and kitchen, with a big bedroom and second bathroom being added to the east end of the house, a big deck to grace the south side, and a new roof for the entirety when the interior work is completed.


In April, with The Great Transformation well underway, Grandma Hilda moves from Berkeley to a small house in the village of Mercy where she will live until Philip and Lisa and kids move back into the farmhouse, after which she will move into their cottage.

Hilda’s daughter Tamara and Tamara’s partner Celine are planning a July move to a beach house a mile south of Mercy with the intention of buying the Richardson’s place a year or so from now when Joseph and Constance return to England for what Joseph frequently refers to as Our Final Chapter, to which Constance routinely responds, “Now don’t be morbid, dear.”


On a Wednesday afternoon in May, twenty-year-old Delilah, tall and beautiful, her long brown hair in a ponytail, is giving Vivienne, five-and-a-half and cute as a button, a piano lesson on the new upright in the cottage living room, Arturo having had the first piano lesson today, Henri’s lesson to follow.

Henri, six-and-a-half, and Arturo, “not quite eight” as he tells people when asked his age, though he is exactly seven-and-a-half, are kicking the soccer ball around in front of the barn, and inside the barn, Marcel, Henri’s father, is tasting the eight-month-old pinot noir from Barrel #7 and thinking in French This needs at least another six months, but my God it could be excellent.

In the large terraced vegetable and flower garden, Andrea, Henri’s mother, and Lisa, Vivienne and Arturo’s mother, are planting out lettuce starts from the greenhouse, both wearing wide-brimmed sunhats though the day is overcast and cool.

Philip, Vivienne and Arturo’s father, is in the farmhouse consulting with Oscar and Mario Ramirez about the long counter that will separate the kitchen from the dining area and living room, while five carpenters take a break on the half-finished deck and enjoy delicious oat bran and raisin muffins Philip made for them—muffins from one of the recipes in Philip’s nearly completed cookbook, working title Good Eats from Ziggurat Farm, working subtitle, more recipes for the somewhat ambitious cook.

And en route to the farm from their house a couple miles down the road, their old pickup laboring on the grade, are Nathan, who just celebrated his eightieth birthday, and Celia, seventy-four, and their little old dog Tennyson, bringing news they didn’t want to give Delilah on the phone.

“Can you tell her,” says Nathan as he parks near the cottage—the farm dogs coming to greet them. “I don’t think I can.”

“Si,” says Celia, nodding.

They get out of the old truck and Nathan sets Tennyson down on the ground so he can exchange sniffs with Jung the giant hound, Mimi the Golden Retriever, Alexandra the fast-growing Golden Retriever pup, and Goliath, who is not much bigger than Tennyson.

Hearing Henri and Arturo shout Hello to Nathan and Celia, Delilah concludes her duet with Vivienne and goes out on the front porch to greet Nathan and Celia, and seeing them upset, she hurries down the stairs asking, “What happened?”

Celia nods and cannot speak, and Delilah knows her mother is dead.


Delilah does not attend the lavish memorial service in Los Angeles for her famous movie star mother Margot Cunningham, and in June, Margot’s longtime personal assistant Joan and two of Margot’s lawyers come to Mercy and meet with Delilah and Nathan and Philip and Constance in a small meeting room at Mercy Savings, the only bank in town.

The lawyers inform Delilah that her mother’s trust leaves ten million dollars to Joan, two hundred million dollars to Planned Parenthood, and fifty million dollars to Delilah, with any remaining monies and future residuals from Margot’s many movies to go to Planned Parenthood.

When Joan and the lawyers offer to invest Delilah’s inheritance for her, Delilah says, “No thank you. I would like the money deposited in my account here at Mercy Savings.”

Delilah then signs a few documents that Constance and Philip first look over to make sure all is well, and Joan says, “I’m so sorry for your loss, Delilah. Your mother was a great person. If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.”

“Should anyone inquire of my whereabouts,” says Delilah, eager to be done with the meeting, “please tell them I’m living abroad.”


Delilah is sitting on the floor with her back against the sofa in the living room of the little house Hilda is renting on a quiet street in Mercy, and Hilda, eighty-three, her long silvery hair in a braid, is sitting in a cushioned rocking chair a few feet from Delilah, the town cloaked in fog as is often the case on mornings in July.

“The truth is,” says Delilah, pausing mid-sentence. “Well… who knows what the truth is, but the thing is, I stopped caring about her except in a mythic way after just a few weeks of knowing Nathan and Celia.”

“Can you explain what you mean by mythic?” asks Hilda, who was a psychotherapist for fifty years and still occasionally offers sessions to friends.

“Yes, but first I need to tell you who I was at thirteen when my mother brought me here,” says Delilah, remembering virtually every detail of her life these last seven years. “I was terrified of other people, yet desperate to know other people. I was especially afraid of men, though they fascinated me. I stuttered constantly and thought I might want to be male instead of female. My mother was almost never home and I had no one I could talk to about anything that really mattered to me. And until we escaped from our townhouse in New York, I wanted to kill myself because I was so lonely and miserable.”

“But your mother was not yet mythic to you.”

“I haven’t forgotten your question,” says Delilah, smiling at Hilda. “I just want you to know from whence I came.”

“Of course,” says Hilda, smiling at Delilah’s choice of words. “Take your time.”

“So we flew to San Francisco, my mother and Wanda and I, Wanda my caretaker who didn’t really like me and certainly didn’t understand me, and then we made that crazy long drive here in the dark to the house my mother bought over the phone, the Richardson’s place, and after two cold rainy days of feeling completely lost, my mother and I went to Nathan and Celia’s house because the realtor said Nathan could help us learn how to live in the country, and I’ll never forget their front door opening and Nathan looking out at us with his welcoming smile and the fire going behind him and Celia coming to see who we were, and Tennyson coming to me, and my heart just broke open, and I don’t mean metaphorically broke open, I mean I actually felt the cage of muscles and sinews around my heart give way and I took the deepest breath I had ever taken and looked into Tennyson’s eyes and heard a voice I thought must be God saying Welcome home, Delilah. You found your people. And when I experienced love from Nathan and Celia, real love for the first time in my life, my mother ceased to be important to me except as a mythic figure, or maybe I should say historic, and after that I rarely thought about her because I had real parents now, real love, and not just a bunch of people I hardly knew being paid to be nice to me in my luxurious prisons where my mother came to visit me a few times a year and was wholly incapable of loving me or even liking me.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“My eighteenth birthday. She always made a point of seeing me in-person on my birthday. Not on Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter, but always on my birthday. When I was still a prisoner, she’d come home to Malibu or Manhattan and spend a few days there and give me piles of presents, and once, when I was eight, she flew me to Paris where she was filming. Then she skipped my fourteenth birthday, and for my fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth she got a suite at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, and Celia and Nathan and I went there for lunch and I’d play the piano for her.”

“But not for your nineteenth or twentieth?”

“No,” says Delilah, feeling some anger about that.

“Why did she stop, I wonder.”

“I think because after I turned eighteen she was no longer legally responsible for me, so why bother? And maybe because I reminded her too much of what she looked like when she was young. She hated not being young anymore.”

“Do you know your father?”

“Don’t even know who he is. Or was. When I was a child, my mother and her people told me he was a certain movie star, but the day she left here and never came back, when I was thirteen, she told Nathan she had no idea who my father was.”

“So Nathan told you. When was that?”

“On my eighteenth birthday when I got back from seeing my mother. I’d gone with my friends Josh and Beverly because they wanted to meet my famous mother, and when I was alone with her I asked her to please tell me who my father was and she said, ‘I told Nathan. I’d rather he tell you.’ So I asked him and he told me.”

“Your mother was closed emotionally.”

“I don’t think she had access to her emotions.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I never saw her express delight or fear or sorrow, never heard emotion in her voice. She was monotone. And when she pretended to be enthusiastic about my music and drawings, it was painfully obvious how little she cared, and not because she didn’t want to care but because she was incapable of caring about anyone but herself.”

“You never saw her angry?”

“Peevish a few times, and always muted. I would have loved to see her angry. I did see her cry one time when I was fifteen and Celia and Nathan came with me to the Mark Hopkins for the first time. Celia hugged her when we got there and she burst into tears and then immediately stifled them and left the room to redo her makeup. And she never let Celia hug her again.”

“Do you know much about her childhood?”

“I know she was put up for adoption at birth, lived in several foster homes, and ran away from the last one when she was fifteen.” Delilah grimaces. “I think she must have been sexually abused.”

Hilda waits a moment and asks, “And your sexual confusion? Would you like to talk about that?”

“Not really. I ceased to be confused when Celia and Nathan became my parents.”


“Within a month. And my stuttering vanished, too, after seven years and hundreds of hours working with speech therapists to no avail. I woke one morning in my wonderful bedroom at Nathan and Celia’s, gorgeous purple fuchsias dangling outside my window—this was a month after I’d moved in—and I got up and went into the kitchen where Celia was making coffee and she embraced me as she does every morning, and I said without stuttering, ‘I’m a woman like you. I love how it feels to be a woman.’ In fact, my confusion about everything disappeared once I was living with them. Like waking from a horrible murky dream into spectacular clarity and joy.”

“I believe you, dear. But please say a little more about thinking you might be male. I’m curious how this may relate to your mother.”

“The only males in my life before I moved here,” says Delilah, recalling her strange cloistered life in Manhattan and Malibu, “were bodyguards and chauffeurs. Men in uniforms. And only a few of them were even a little friendly with me. So I lived in a world exclusively populated by women. My nannies, the cooks, the maids, mother’s assistants, most of my tutors and music teachers, and I was never left alone with any of the few male tutors I had. My few acquaintances were other daughters of celebrities, and they were all obsessed with their sexual identities and everybody else’s sexual identities, so when I started to develop breasts and got my period, I didn’t know what I should feel. I felt female, but wasn’t sure I should. And my mother kept saying, ‘Whatever you choose to be,’ wink wink, ‘is fine with me,’ which made things even more confusing because I wanted to be like her, a strong athletic feminine woman, but she didn’t seem to want me to be like her. And then I said something to someone, I don’t remember who, about wondering if I might be trans, and the next day it was all over the media that I was trans, and my mother called from Paris and said ‘Whatever you choose to be is fine with me’ and ‘Do you want to see a therapist?’ And that’s when I told her if she didn’t find another place for me to live faraway from the insanity I would choose to kill myself. And she flew home the next day.”

“And brought you here.”

Delilah nods. “We chose Mercy together with some input from Joan, her personal assistant, and then we came here absolutely desperate, she to find a solution to my unhappiness, I to experience life outside my prisons.”

“She acted out of love for you.”

“I want that to be true, but I think it was more she didn’t want me to kill myself or otherwise embarrass her in the media.”

“I think she acted out of love for you,” says Hilda, gazing at Delilah. “And though her love didn’t look or feel like Celia and Nathan’s love for you, or my love for you, or anyone else’s love for you, she loved you and wanted you to be free of those terrible confines. And I’ll tell you something else. Regardless of how you feel about her, she must have provided you with nannies who gave you ample love, or else you wouldn’t be the healthy happy person you are today.”

“My first nanny,” says Delilah, surprising herself with tears. “Portia. I thought she was my mother until I was three, though she was Nigerian and I was a little white princess. She was sweet and funny and strong and wonderful, and I cried for weeks and weeks after she left when I was six.”

“Your mother chose her for you. Chose for you a good loving mother.”

“Oh I’d like to mourn my mother, Hilda, but she was so cold to me. Dismissive really. I know it sounds crass, but her being gone is more a relief than a loss.”

“Do you believe her death was an accident?”

“An accidental overdose? My meticulous mother?” Delilah shakes her head. “One of the last things she said to me was, ‘I see in you how beautiful I used to be. It’s all done with smoke and mirrors now, and even that won’t help in another year or two.’ And two years later she turned fifty-one and ended things.”

“And you would like some closure.”

“In lieu of mourning, something, yes. We did a farewell ceremony at the beach for her, Nathan and Celia and I, but it felt false to me.”

“Why false?”

“I felt no sorrow, no joy, just the same painful emptiness I always felt with her, even when she would hug me, which she only did in greeting or parting. I never felt any warmth or energy from her. Nothing.”

“Let’s close our eyes and imagine something together,” says Hilda, closing her eyes. “Shall we?”

“Okay,” says Delilah, closing her eyes.

“We are walking, you and I and Lisa and Vivienne, on a path in the forest on a lovely day, the sun shining down through the trees. Are you with me?”

“I am,” says Delilah, relaxing into the vision.

“Now the forest ends and we cross a meadow full of wild iris and our path ends at a wide deep fast-flowing river with no apparent way to get across. But now a boat comes from the far shore, and rowing the boat is your mother, strong and skillful at her task. When she reaches our side of the river, we get in the boat with her, and with her marvelous strength and skill, she rows us across the river. When we reach the other side and get out of the boat, she raises her hand to you and says, “Farewell, my child. Farewell.”


In early November, The Great Transformation complete, Philip and Lisa and Vivienne and Arturo move from the cottage back into the farmhouse, and a few days later Hilda moves into the cottage and engages Delilah to help her arrange her furniture and put her things away.

On the evening of Hilda’s second day of living on the farm, no longer a visitor but a resident, she walks with Delilah from the cottage to the farmhouse where Philip and Andrea have prepared a feast in Hilda’s honor, the farmhouse feeling almost too spacious now until the kids and dogs come in from playing outside, and Marcel rushes in and says, “We are close. Very close. Another few days, I think, for the pinot noir, perhaps another month for the cabernet,” and now Nathan and Celia and Tennyson arrive, and Constance and Joseph and Tamara and Celine; and the house and kitchen feel just the right size.

Vivienne, who turned six in October, insists on sitting next to Delilah, and Delilah, who turned twenty-one in October, is in heaven with Vivienne on her right and Lisa on her left.

Mid-feast, Joseph, for whom Ziggurat Farm is a favorite place to make his paintings, announces in his loud British way, “I visited your orchard when we arrived today and had a vision of a very large painting, perhaps my biggest ever, six-feet-high and eight-feet-wide, in which all of you are in the orchard, the branches barren as they are now, and all of you in fancy dress playing croquet.” He raises his glass of good red wine. “What say you?”

“I wondered why we all incarnated together,” says Nathan, raising his glass. “Now I know it was to pose in the orchard for you.”

“There’s only one problem,” says Henri, who is seven and nearly as practical as his very practical mother. “We don’t have even one croquet set, and if all of us are playing in the painting, we will need four sets because each set only has four mallets and four colors of balls. I know because we have a set at school.”

“Another problem is Mimi and Alexandra will chase the balls when we hit them,” says Vivienne, her mouth full of mashed potatoes. “So they’ll have to be on leashes and they’ll make quite a fuss.”

“The dogs could be playing croquet, too,” says Arturo, laughing. “Like the dogs drinking wine in Delilah’s picture for Papa’s cookbook.”

“No,” says Joseph, shaking his head. “In my vision the dogs are not playing croquet, but they are among you, watching the game with great interest.”


Broke My Heart


Three Dog Farm

The eight acres and two houses and the big redwood barn and several other outbuildings owned by Philip and Lisa and Andrea and Marcel are exactly two miles inland as the crow flies from the northern California coastal burg of Mercy; and because of that distance from the ocean and their elevation of five hundred feet, those eight acres enjoy more sun most days than Mercy.

 In early August, a letter from Grandma Hilda confirms that she and Auntie Tamara and Auntie Celine are going to rent a beach house in Mercy for October and November, which means they’ll be here for Vivienne’s fifth birthday on October 22 and for Thanksgiving. By the time they arrive, Arturo will have begun Second Grade and both Henri and Vivienne will be in First Grade because the wise ones at Mercy Montessori have agreed it would be silly for Vivienne to undergo kindergarten given how she learns everything from Henri and Arturo moments after either of them learn anything.

This past February, when the large sum of money bequeathed to Lisa by her paternal grandmother became a reality in their account at Mercy Savings, Philip and Marcel, both in their mid-fifties, took leave of their jobs as waiters at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican, and Marcel became a four-days-a-week carpenter assisting the Ramirez brothers, general contractors, who are building a spacious five-room cottage and bath house a stone’s throw from Philip and Lisa’s farmhouse, and beginning next spring they will add a third bedroom and a second bathroom to the farmhouse while expanding and remodeling the kitchen, dining room, and living room.

Philip sometimes works with the builders, too, but most summer days he collaborates with the children in the morning while Andrea, who just turned fifty, and Lisa, forty-nine, are otherwise engaged. When school is in session, Philip oversees the kids in the afternoons until five, after which he combines preparing supper with working on the yet-to-be-named sequel to his first cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook, with frequent assistance from Andrea.

In April, Dunwood Roofers removed the five idiotically juxtaposed roofs from Marcel and Andrea’s house and replaced the leaky conglomeration with a single modestly slanting and well-insulated roof featuring seven large skylights that admit copious sunlight into the house and not a drop of water when it rains.

Andrea is steadily expanding the deer-fenced vegetable and flower garden from a half-acre to three-quarters-of-an-acre with help from Lisa and Philip and the children—raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, and greatly expanded garlic beds the latest additions to the garden.

A new and spacious predator-proof chicken coop, home to twenty-seven prolific hens, is now attached to the south end of the recently refurbished barn, and inside the cavernous barn resides a handsome array of twenty 25-gallon oak wine barrels soon to be filled with juice of wine grapes brought to the coast from an inland vineyard, those grapes to be stomped into juice by members of the collective and friends, Marcel to oversee the fermentation process and eventual bottling.

Discussions abound regarding what to call the winery and eight-acre farm. Marcel and Philip have lately campaigned for Andrea Lisa, while Andrea thinks having Mercy in the name would enhance sales of the hypothetical wine to tourists who buy her produce at the Mercy Farmers Market, and Lisa has several times touted the word she learned from Auntie Tamara, anagnorisis, which means the moment in a drama when the protagonist discovers the true state of affairs to which he or she has been blind, though Lisa admits the word does not roll trippingly off the tongue, nor does anagnorisis harmonize well with winery or farm.

Henri and Arturo are zealous advocates of Three Dog Farm, and Vivienne likes that name, too, but worries they might one day have more or fewer than three dogs and then the name won’t be true.


Grandma Hilda is not biologically the children’s grandmother, but in emotional and spiritual terms she most certainly is. Eighty-two, Swiss, tall and sturdy with long silvery gray hair worn in a braid, Hilda is a retired Jungian psychoanalyst and has lived in Berkeley, California for fifty years, and is now considering a move to Mercy. Her only child, Tamara, Auntie Tamara to the children, is forty-seven, a very successful playwright and professor of Drama at Reed College in Portland, and Tamara’s partner Auntie Celine is fifty-two, a professor of African-American History at Reed, Celine herself African-American.

Philip met Hilda when he was a waiter at the famed Le Scélérat in Berkeley and served her every Wednesday evening for nine years before she joined his small circle of friends away from the restaurant. Hilda adores Philip and Lisa and Andrea and Marcel, and in the absence of biological grandchildren of her own, she has enthusiastically assumed the role of grandmother vis-à-vis Arturo, Vivienne, and Henri. Much to everyone’s delight, Hilda has come to stay at the farm several times a year since the collective moved here seven years ago.


On a balmy afternoon in late August, the kids are playing outside before supper, Lisa watching them while reclining in the hammock on the kitchen deck and falling asleep reading a collection of Edith Wharton short stories. Philip and Andrea are in the kitchen making the latest iterations of three of Philip’s recipes for his new cookbook—tonight’s main course cod fillets slow-simmered in a sauce of lemon juice, white wine, minced garlic, coconut milk, and various herbs and spices. And Marcel is sitting at the kitchen table with an old landline phone, tapping in the number for Oak Leaf Vineyards, a forty-five-minute drive inland from Mercy.

“Hello Marie? It’s Marcel Léandre calling from Mercy. I spoke to you a few weeks ago and you said I should call you today to find out when the picking will begin.” He listens. “I see. Yes. We intend to buy enough pinot noir grapes to make two hundred and fifty gallons, and enough cabernet also for two hundred and fifty gallons. Yes. Two tons of the pinot and two tons of the cab.” He nods. “Yes, we will have you deliver the grapes to our farm near Mercy. And we would love to come watch some of the harvesting and perhaps pick a few bunches ourselves.” He reacts in surprise. “The first of September? And how long will the harvest continue?” He laughs. “Yes, I made wine with my father in France for many years, so I know a little bit.” He smiles. “Marvelous. We will come to you on September seven at nine o’clock and pick some grapes and then lead the truck back here.” He listens. “Yes, of course we will pay you before we come. We are told your grapes are the finest and we don’t want to lose our chance.” He listens. “Perfect. We will send you a check tomorrow. Merci.”

“The seventh of September?” says Andrea, looking up from chopping garlic.

“Yes,” says Marcel, laughing to keep from crying. “Two weeks from today.”

“Fantastic,” says Philip, tending three pans on the stove, each concoction timed by a separate timer. “Let’s open a bottle of something to celebrate.”

“Something white,” says Andrea, giving Marcel a kiss when he comes into the kitchen.

“I can’t believe it,” says Marcel, crying despite his best efforts not to.

Andrea hands him a bottle of a dry chardonnay, Marcel opens the bottle with the ease of one who has opened thousands of bottles in front of countless customers, and when they each have a glass in hand, Philip proposes a toast. “To the harvest.”

“To the harvest,” says Marcel, raising his glass.

“To the harvest,” says Andrea, clinking her glass with both of theirs.

Now the door flies open and Vivienne runs in, declaiming, “Will someone please give me a glass of water before I perish?”

Philip obliges her and a moment later Henri appears with Arturo right behind him followed by the little dog Goliath and the giant dog Jung.

“We’re very hungry,” says Arturo, remembering not to use the word starving that makes his mother cross. “And Mama said to ask for something to eat that won’t ruin our appetites for supper.”

“Apples,” says Andrea, choosing two big red Fujis. “Please wash your hands in the bathroom. No room in the kitchen right now.”

The boys rush down the hall to the bathroom, Vivienne following, and Philip bows his head and says, “A moment of prayer. Lisa cleaned the bathroom today. May they not entirely destroy her good work.”

Marcel laughs. “Henri has no difficulty turning the water on, but he has an aversion to turning it off, and his drying technique is more mime than actual.”

“Oui,” says Philip, nodding. “Arturo believes towels belong on the floor and someone must have made a mistake by draping them over the bar, and he feels compelled to make things right.”

The children return and Arturo says, “You may be surprised to know we turned off the water, dried our hands very well, and hung up the towel.”

“I beg your pardon,” says Philip, bowing to his son. “When you’ve eaten your snack, would one of you please inform Lisa the adults are having wine, and salad will be served shortly.”

“I’ll tell her,” says Henri, taking a few apple slices with him. “She’s asleep in the hammock.”

“I’ll come, too,” says Vivienne, following Henri.

Arturo stays at the table, gobbling his pieces of apple, and Marcel says to him, “We’re going to the vineyard in two weeks to get four tons of grapes. Can you believe it?”

“For Three Dog Farm wine?” says Arturo, nodding in agreement with the name he and Henri have chosen.

“Yes, for the wine,” says Marcel, ruffling Arturo’s hair. “Whatever we end up calling it.”

“Well we are a farm,” says Arturo, still very hungry and wondering if he should eat a banana. “And we do have three dogs. And people love dogs and farms, so it’s a very good name.”

Lisa comes in with Henri and Vivienne, Andrea hands Lisa a glass of wine, and Marcel says to Lisa, “I just ordered the grapes. We go to the vineyard in two weeks. Can you believe it?”

“I can,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “To the harvest.”


That night Philip dreams he and Vivienne enter a bookstore and Vivienne runs to a table displaying new books and says, “Your new book is here! Can you believe it?”

In the dream, Philip approaches the table and sees his cookbook, the title Three Dog Farm Cookbook, the cover illustration a beautiful drawing of their three dogs, Goliath the little mutt, Mimi the Golden Retriever, and Jung the giant hound, sitting at a table laden with food, each dog believably holding a glass of wine.


The grape-crushing party takes place on September 9, a Saturday, and of the forty people present for the barbecue and barefoot stomping of the grapes, twenty-five are members of the Ramirez clan, the Ramirez brothers building the cottage and bath house, which means there are several Latino kids playing soccer with Arturo and Henri and Vivienne, and a half-dozen beautiful black-haired women with babies and husbands.

Among the neighbors in attendance are Nathan, a white-haired elder with whom Andrea consults about growing vegetables and fruit, Celia, Nathan’s charming Latina wife, Delilah, Nathan and Celia’s lovely nineteen-year-old housemate, Joseph Richardson, a sixty-something British landscape painter who has made three gorgeous paintings of Andrea’s terraced garden with members of the collective posed therein, a fourth such painting underway starring Andrea and Vivienne amidst the sunflowers, and Constance Richardson, Joseph’s sixty-something wife and the author of dozens of popular murder mysteries written under the pen name Margaret Orland.

As frequently happens these days, the discussion turns to names for the farm and winery, and Oscar, the eldest Ramirez brother, suggests Locura Divina, which translates to Divine Madness.

Joseph, happily drunk, responds to Oscar’s suggestion by standing up and applauding.

“I love that name,” says Philip, smiling at Oscar, “except we are hoping the name of the winery will also be the name of the farm.

“Ah no,” says Oscar, shaking his head. “A good name for wine, but not for a farm.”

“The kids want to call it Three Dog Farm,” says Marcel, going from table to table to see if anyone needs more wine or beer or root beer. “And though I didn’t like that name at first, I’m growing fond of it.”

“Well it is true,” says beautiful Delilah, returning from a stint in the soccer game and sitting beside Celia. “You have three darling dogs, and I could draw you an enchanting picture of them sitting at a table drinking wine, should you want a label for your bottles.”

“What did you just say?” asks Philip, having been distracted by Vivienne angrily whispering to him that Arturo was making fun of her minimal soccer skills in front of the Ramirez children.

“I said I could draw you a lifelike picture of your three dogs sitting at a table,” she says, gesturing to the table laden with food, “drinking wine from sparkling goblets.”

“I dreamt about that very picture two weeks ago,” says Philip, astonished. “And I’m sure I didn’t tell anyone because I only just now remembered.” He turns to Lisa. “Or did I tell you that dream?”

“No. You only tell me your sex dreams,” she says, and everybody laughs.

When the laughter dies down, Philip says to Delilah, “I would like to commission you to make that drawing for me, whatever your fee.”

“My fee for you is absolutely nothing,” says Delilah, making room for Vivienne beside her on the bench.

Vivienne whispers something to Delilah, which causes Constance to ask, “What did the little darling say?”

“She’s concerned they might not always have three dogs,” says Delilah, speaking for Vivienne, “and then the name Three Dog Farm would not be true.”

“Names of farms and titles of books need not be literally true,” says Constance, giving Vivienne a wrinkled-nose smile, “but should evoke pleasing images in our minds, which Three Farm Dogs does.”

“Not Three Farm Dogs,” says Vivienne, laughing. “Three Dog Farm.”

“Yes, but I like Three Farm Dogs,” says Marcel, excitedly. “Three Farm Dogs Wine has a nice earthy ring to it. No?”

“Locura divina,” says Oscar, pointing at Marcel.

And everybody laughs.


On Saturday, October 22, her fifth birthday, Vivienne wakes at dawn, which is her habit, Arturo still fast asleep in his bed on the other side of their bedroom. She gets up quietly, takes off her pajamas and puts on the clean T-shirt, underpants, and socks her mother set on the chair at the foot of her bed last night, dons her green sweatshirt and blue jeans, and tiptoes out of the bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen where she always finds either her father or mother or both of them making coffee.

But today no one is in the kitchen, which is curious, because she was sure she heard one or both of them pass by the kids’ bedroom, which means they’ve gone outside, perhaps to check on the chickens to make sure no varmint got into the coop during the night. Or could they still be in bed?

She tiptoes down the hallway, peers into her parents’ bedroom, sees the bed is made, and returns to the kitchen where she usually has cocoa while her parents have coffee, but they are still not here. So she goes to the kitchen door, puts on her shoes, and steps out onto the deck, the morning cold and cloudy.

Fearing to wake her brother who can be terribly cranky if woken before seven, she does not call out to her parents. However, seeing the barn door ajar and thinking they might be visiting the barrels of wine as they sometimes do, she heads for the barn.

But now it occurs to her that the dogs have not appeared to say good morning and go with her wherever she might be going, and this makes her stop and frown and wonder where the dogs and her parents could possibly be.

And now it occurs to her that her parents might have gone to the beach and taken the dogs with them and not taken me!

Furious to think they might have gone to the beach without her, she breaks into a run, arrives at the barn, and peers into the dark cavernous room, her eyes needing a moment to adjust to the dim light before she sees her mother and father and Marcel and Andrea and Henri at the far end of the barn beyond the wine barrels, the three dogs with them.

“What’s going on around here?” asks Vivienne with a touch of anger in her voice.

At which moment, breaking away from the gathering of humans and dogs, is an excessively cute Golden Retriever puppy who toddles toward Vivienne barking a happy puppy bark as Vivienne swoops down upon the only thing she wanted for her birthday.


“The name we give to the place where we live can be as revealing as any dream,” says Hilda, a few evenings after Vivienne’s birthday, the children reluctantly gone to bed, the adults gathered in the farmhouse living room, a fire blazing in the hearth.

Nathan and Celia and Delilah came for supper along with Hilda and Tamara and Celine, and the living room is just big enough to comfortably fit the ten adult humans, three dogs, three cats, and the snoozing puppy who Vivienne immediately and inexplicably named Alexandra.

“The children have now decided our farm is not a dog farm,” says Marcel, adding a log to the fire and looking to see if anyone needs more tea or wine. “But a cat and dog farm, because we have more cats than dogs.”

“The children will be fine with whatever you call the farm,” says Tamara, who has a habit of stating her opinions as facts, a habit that annoys Lisa, amuses Andrea, has no effect on Marcel, and always makes Philip think how to refute her until he realizes he agrees with her.

“I think of Wittgenstein,” says Delilah, who is currently enthralled with linguistics and philosophy. “What is the meaning of the meaning of a word?”

“The last time I bought wine,” says Nathan, who doesn’t drink alcohol but buys wine for Celia and friends, “I found myself hunting for intriguing names and I almost spent forty bucks on a bottle of cabernet called, I kid you not, Spiritual Intrigue, but Miguel the wine guy said, ‘Basura. Try this instead,’ and handed me a bottle called Decent Red, and Celia said it was.”

“So what did you mean, Delilah?” asks Hilda, who finds Delilah a continuous source of delight. “By evoking Wittgenstein?”

“Well for instance, he asks us to consider what we think when we hear the word chair,” says Delilah, pausing briefly to allow anyone who wants to follow her train of thought to get on board. “And he suggests we don’t think of a specific chair when we hear chair, but rather of chairness.”

“Wittgenstein,” says Nathan, recalling the numbing effect of the fellow’s philosophizing, “is one of the reasons I dropped out of college.”

“I once screamed at a page of his words trying to understand him,” says Celine, nodding in sympathy with Nathan. “Come out from behind those tangled thoughts, you coward.”

“He can be rather abstruse,” says Delilah, shrugging. “Yet he amuses me.”

“So is he saying that by using the word dog,” asks Philip, who knows nothing about Wittgenstein, “we are asking people to think of an archetypal shape of a dog? A symbol of a dog?”

“Yes,” says Delilah, who only just a few days ago was kissed by someone, really kissed, for the first time. “He says our brains translate words into schemata. And it seems to me, your opinions of Wittgenstein notwithstanding, that a person hearing the word dog, either thinks of a generalized concept of dog or of their most well-remembered dog.”

“The problem I have with putting dog in the name of our farm,” says Andrea, who would love to talk about anything else, “is when many people hear the word dog, they think of dog shit.”

Everyone laughs and the subject blessedly changes.


As the gathering draws to a close, Celia nudges Nathan. “Recite your new poem, marido.”

“Please,” says Tamara, she and Celine seriously considering leaving academia and moving to Mercy to live among these wonderful people in this wildly beautiful place.

“Okay,” says Nathan, clearing his throat. “But only because it’s short.” He closes his eyes. “I remember playing Capture the Flag in our neighborhood as a boy, how in the daylight, the game and strategies were clear. At dusk, who was who began to be in doubt, shirtless boys in shorts and girls who might be each other, and that’s when stealth and luck could bring victory as darkness fell and the mothers called for us to come home for supper.”


A few days before Thanksgiving, the lowering clouds about to loose their gift of rain upon the thirsty earth, Tamara is working with Andrea in the vegetable garden, mulching the garlic beds.

Tamara stops slinging compost and says, “I just love how you terraced this garden, the wide gradual steps. From a distance, the climb up the hillside was almost imperceptible before you began to clear the beds.” She smiles at Andrea who she is secretly in love with. “Reminds me of my play Ziggurat in which Philip appears as a waiter.”

“I love that play,” says Andrea, taking a moment to contemplate her garden ascending the gently sloping hill. “We made a special trip to see it last year at Berkeley Rep and stayed with Hilda.”

“She told me,” says Tamara, beaming at Andrea. “She’s madly in love with your children.”

“And they are madly in love with her,” says Andrea, who still occasionally expects to wake and find herself childless and trapped with Marcel in a little apartment on a fog-bound avenue in San Francisco.

“I should give Philip a percentage of my residuals,” says Tamara, she and Celine now certain they want to move to Mercy. “His notes on the restaurant scenes made all the difference.”

“Oh my God,” says Andrea, looking wide-eyed at Tamara as the rain begins to fall. “Ziggurat. What a perfect name for our farm and winery.”


Mystery Jump


The Vineyard

On a very cold morning in November, on the outskirts of the small northern California coastal town of Mercy, a husky old man named Nathan and his eighteen-year-old accomplice Delilah, arrive in Nathan’s old pickup truck at the eight acres owned by Philip and Lisa and Marcel and Andrea.

Nathan, affable and remarkably agile for seventy-eight, and Delilah, graceful and strong and delightfully intellectual, live two miles down the road from these eight acres and have come to oversee the pruning of the thirty big apple trees in the orchard near the old farmhouse where Philip and Lisa live with their children, Arturo, six, and Vivienne, four. Nathan has pruned or overseen the pruning of these thirty apple trees for most of the last forty years, ever since the trees were newly planted.

All hands are on deck for the pruning, Marcel and Philip and Andrea armed with loppers, and Lisa and the children, including Marcel and Andrea’s five-year-old Henri, gather the lopped branches and carry them to the woodshed to be cut up for kindling.

Nathan and Delilah have brought two ten-foot orchard ladders to go with the resident twelve-foot ladder, and with Nathan directing from the ground and Delilah wielding a telescoping pole lopper, the pruning only takes a few hours, after which Nathan and Delilah join the collective for soup and sandwiches in the farmhouse.


Who are these people?

Philip is fifty-five, the author of the good-selling cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and a three-evenings-a-week waiterat Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican in downtown Mercy. Lisa, forty-eight is a massage therapist who gives one ninety-minute massage or two sixties, four mornings a week in the farmhouse living room when the kids are attending Mercy Montessori: Vivienne in pre-school, Henri in kindergarten, and Arturo in First Grade.

Andrea, forty-nine, grows vegetables and flowers on a half-acre of their land and sells the produce, including thousands of their apples, to local restaurants, grocery stores, and at the Mercy Farmers Market every Thursday, April through October. Marcel, fifty-three, is a four-evenings-a-week waiter at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican and otherwise assists Andrea in her garden when not slaving away with Philip trying to restore the six-acre vineyard that he and Andrea co-own with Philip and Lisa along with the farmhouse on the north side of the vineyard and a three-bedroom house on the south side.

Before moving to Mercy six years ago, Philip, Andrea, and Marcel were in the restaurant business in the San Francisco Bay Area, a four-hour drive to the south, and Philip and Andrea are both superb cooks. Thus the soup and quiche they serve Nathan and Delilah for lunch are, according to Delilah, “Culinary perfection.”

Nathan has lived in Mercy for fifty years, all but the first few of those fifty with his lovely wife Celia, a former nurse. A poet of some renown in his youth, Nathan has been pruning fruit trees for those same fifty years.

Delilah has lived with Celia and Nathan for five years now, Delilah’s mother a movie star who wished to spare her daughter the cloistered life of a celebrity’s child and brought her to these hinterlands to live less encumbered by her mother’s fame. An accomplished artist and musician, Delilah assists Nathan with his occasional pruning jobs, cooks with Celia, takes dance classes at the rec center, composes, draws, hangs out with her friends, and has seven piano students.

Lastly we will mention Nathan’s dog, Tennyson, a small brown floppy-eared mutt who goes everywhere with Nathan and always enjoys visiting Philip and Lisa’s farmhouse to pal around with the three resident dogs: Goliath, a small poodle Chihuahua mix, Mimi, a Golden Retriever, and Jung, an enormous Black Lab and Malamute.


When the children have devoured their allotted portions of apple pie for dessert, they go with Delilah into the kids’ bedroom where Delilah swiftly sketches pictures on the big chalkboard and she and the kids make up stories to go with the drawings.

The adults remain at the kitchen table having coffee and tea and pie, and during a rare lull in the conversation Nathan says, “So on our way up here this morning Delilah made a strong case for my telling you what I’m about to tell you, though I wasn’t going to tell you because you’ve worked so hard to make your dream come true, but now I regret not telling you this three years ago when we got to be friends.”

“An intriguing preface,” says Philip, smiling curiously at Nathan.

Marcel frowns. “Should we be worried?”

“No,” says Nathan, having another bite of pie. “This is the best apple pie I’ve ever had, and I say that as a person with a wife who makes what I previously believed to be the best apple pie in the world.”

“So we will assume what you’re going to tell us is not about the apple trees,” says Andrea, who loves winter because there is less to do outside and more time to sit by the fire and read and relax and take her time preparing meals.

“It’s about the vineyard,” says Lisa, her intuition verging on clairvoyance.

“Yes, it is,” says Nathan, sipping his coffee.

“Shall we guess?” says Philip, who hopes this isn’t something too costly, their finances already stretched to the utmost.

“If you want to,” says Nathan, shrugging pleasantly. “Or I can just tell you.”

“Just tell us,” says Andrea, who often consults with Nathan about her vegetable garden, Nathan a master gardener.

“There’s a reason yours is the only vineyard, abandoned or otherwise, around here,” says Nathan, putting down his coffee mug. “And that’s because wine grapes won’t grow here. And if I were you, I would reforest those six acres and put your energy into whatever else you’d rather be doing instead of wasting any more time and money.”

Marcel’s frown deepens. “But we’ve seen pictures of the vineyard when it was spectacular. And the two hundred vines we’ve planted…well, they’re not doing so well yet, but they’re growing, and in another few years we’ll have a harvest.”

“I seriously doubt it, Marcel,” says Nathan, shaking his head. “And if you do manage to get some grapes, they won’t be any good. The only grapes that vineyard ever made were sour as vinegar. It’s just not hot enough here, the summer nights too cold. You can’t imagine how many millions of dollars they spent to make the vineyard look spectacular for those few years, the millions of gallons of water they trucked in every summer, the tons of chemicals they used. And even so the grapes were few and lousy. I was here when they cut down the beautiful forest and terraced the hillside and planted the vines, and I was here when they finally gave up and went away.”

“Were they the same people who built our house with the five idiotic roofs?” asks Andrea, guessing they were.

“Yeah and I told them they’d have leakage problems,” says Nathan, nodding, “but they had endless money and thought they could override the laws of nature if they just spent enough, but they couldn’t. Nature doesn’t care about money.”

“But we bought this place to make wine from our own grapes,” says Marcel, dizzied by the thought of a future without the vineyard gobbling every dollar they make, not to mention endless of hours of labor.

“I just couldn’t in good conscience not tell you,” says Nathan, smiling sadly. “I would have told you three years ago, but you were so in love with the idea of having a vineyard I couldn’t bring myself to. But now… we like you too much to keep watching you throw your money down the drain, money we’re pretty sure you can use for other things.”

“Like a new roof to replace the five stupid ones that leak every winter,” says Andrea, thinking of a dozen projects they might have completed with the money and time they spent trying to revive some rich person’s folly.

“Thank you, Nathan,” says Lisa, nodding to him. “The vineyard brought us here and we’ve never been happier, so… thank you.”

“Hey if you want to make your own wine,” says Nathan, looking at Marcel, “do what lots of people around here do. Buy grapes from the inland vineyards and turn your barn into a winery.”


In the afternoon on this dramatic day in the life of the collective, Marcel and Philip bundle up against the cold and walk through the vineyard recalling all the work they put in over the years, five of the six acres mostly clear of brush now, a few of the original vines and all the new ones protected by sturdy cages they fashioned from heavy-gauge wire to protect the nascent plants from ravenous deer.

“How are you feeling?” asks Philip, speaking French with Marcel, Philip’s mother French, Marcel a native of France. “What are you thinking?”

Marcel looks to the west at the shining sea. “I was remembering the day I tore my Achilles in a soccer match in Marseilles. I knew something bad had happened, but I was only twenty and assumed whatever I had done would heal quickly. I was about to be transferred from our club to Barcelona, my dream to play in the big leagues coming true. And then the doctor said it would take at least two years for me to recover and I might never be able to compete at a high level again. And for a year, I worked so hard rehabbing my tendon until I knew I would be okay, but I also knew I would never play professional soccer again.” He looks at Philip. “Then I became a waiter, something I never really loved though I’m good at it. And when we came here and the children were born and we went to work on the vineyard, I felt I was at the beginning again of a chosen career. Something I really loved. And now that dream is over and I feel the same kind of loss. You know? Who are we without a passion to inspire us?”

“I know what you mean,” says Philip, nodding. “Though I was beginning to sense the futility of what we were doing.”

“It’s a blessing he told us now,” says Marcel, laughing to keep from crying, “and not after our wives divorced us.”

“I think we should pull up the vines,” says Philip, standing beside a struggling vine in a sturdy cage. “Rather than wait for them to die.”

Marcel nods. “Yes. Let’s remove the traces of our folly. Maybe that will help us forget and move on to better things.”

“Like finishing my second cookbook,” says Philip, putting his arm around Marcel’s shoulders. “And spending more time with the children.”

Marcel bows his head and weeps, and Philip, not expecting to, weeps with him.


Five months later on a warm day in April, the last vine gone from the hillside, the hundreds of cages flattened and handed over to a fellow who recycles metal, the drip irrigation system carefully dug up to be used for an expansion of the vegetable garden, Nathan and Delilah and Celia and Tennyson arrive in Nathan’s old pickup, the truck’s bed full of seedling redwoods, firs, pines, and spruce—the day spent planting these first citizens of the new forest, a feast in the farmhouse to follow.


During the feast commemorating the new beginning, as Delilah is playing one of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words on Philip’s old spinet with Vivienne on her lap and Henri and Arturo perched on the bench on either side of her, Lisa gets a phone call and goes to the other end of the house to speak to the caller.

When she returns to the living room and the revelers grow quiet to hear her news, she says, “As you know, my grandmother, Gammy as the kids call her, died four months ago. Vivienne and Arturo and Philip and I went to Los Angeles to visit her a few weeks before she died.”

“How old was she?” asks Nathan, the eldest at the party.

“Ninety-seven,” says Lisa, smiling through her tears.

“Who was on the phone?” asks Arturo, who is unused to seeing his mother crying.

“My father,” says Lisa, smiling at her son. “Herschel. Gammy’s son.”

“What did he want?” asks Henri, who knows from Vivienne and Arturo that Gammy was wonderful and Herschel is not.

“He told me they’ve settled Gammy’s estate,” says Lisa, holding Philip’s hand. “As I expected, everything was left to Herschel and his sister Naomi, except for some money Gammy set aside for me. For all of us. For a new roof to replace the five idiotic ones. For wine barrels to make our wine. For the studio we’ll build where I can give massages and guests can stay. For another bedroom on this house and a kitchen remodel or two. And a new piano.”

“How much did she give you?” asks Arturo, who recently made a whole dollar for two very long hours of weeding in the vegetable garden.

“Lots,” says Lisa, thinking of her beloved grandmother smiling her secret I-Love-You smile.


Heading home from the feast, Delilah driving the old pickup, Nathan on the passenger side with Tennyson on his lap, Celia in the middle, Nathan says, “That’s how the universe works, you know. Gives us what we need when we do what she wants us to do.”

“I shudder to think what they would have done with that money,” says Delilah, who is smitten with the three little kids, “had they gotten it before they gave up on the vineyard.”

“But the money wouldn’t come until they gave up,” says Celia, remembering the night they met Delilah for the first time—Delilah the light of their lives—literally moments after Nathan finally convinced Celia to retire from nursing, after she had anguished for years and years about how they would survive without her income. “The universe waited to give them the money until they made the change they needed to make.”


One Fell Swoop


Arturo and Vivienne and Henri

Arturo is five, Henri is four, and Vivienne is three. Arturo and Vivienne are siblings by blood, Henri their brother because he’s always been one of the three as soon as there were three of them to be one of.

Arturo and Vivienne’s parents are Philip and Lisa, Philip the author of the good-selling cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and a two-evenings-a-week waiter at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican in the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California. Lisa is a massage therapist who will only be giving a few massages a week until Vivienne joins Arturo and Henri at the local Montessori school, Arturo starting kindergarten in the fall, Henri to begin morning pre-school.

Henri’s parents are Andrea and Marcel, Andrea a former sous chef now a fulltime vegetable and flower gardener, Marcel a three-evenings-a-week waiter at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican and otherwise assisting Andrea in her half-acre garden and working tirelessly with Philip to make something of the neglected six-acre vineyard that he and Andrea co-own with Philip and Lisa.

Their two houses are separated by a five-minute saunter through their vineyard. Lisa and Philip’s house is a two-bedroom redwood and stone farmhouse built in 1922 and remodeled twice since, with a third renovation long overdue. Marcel and Andrea’s house is a three-bedroom curiosity with five oddly juxtaposed sections of roof slanting in five different directions, a failed attempt at cutting edge modernity in 1982, failed because of chronic leakage problems caused by the odd juxtapositions that Marcel and Andrea intend to eliminate if they ever can afford a radical roof makeover.

Philip is fifty-four, handsome with dark brown eyes and curly black hair. Born to a French mother and an Italian-American father, he grew up speaking French at home, English otherwise, and still often dreams in French.

Lisa, forty-seven, is a pleasing mix of African, Brazilian Indio, and Ashkenazi Jew, her dark brown hair falling to her waist when not captured in a braid or bun. She spent the first ten years of her life in Buenos Aires, the second ten in Beverly Hills, and the next twenty in Berkeley before their move to the outskirts of Mercy six years ago.

Andrea is forty-eight, lithe and muscular with shoulder-length black hair, her German accent faint now after twenty-five years in America, her first twenty-three years spent in a working-class suburb of Hamburg.

Marcel is fifty-two and has recently taken to shaving his head, his thick French accent more curiosity than problematic when he waits on customers at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican. Born in Lyon, Marcel became a professional soccer player at seventeen and might have been a star had he not torn his Achilles when he was twenty, an injury that ended his athletic career and precipitated his becoming a waiter. He came to America when he was thirty, met Andrea shortly after his arrival, and they have been married for twenty years now.

The four were close friends when they lived in San Francisco and Berkeley, and with Philip’s advance from Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and a large gift from Lisa’s grandmother, along with Marcel and Andrea’s life savings, they bought the abandoned vineyard and two houses a few miles inland from the town of Mercy and made their move when Lisa was very pregnant with Arturo, and Andrea just pregnant with Henri. To say they are glad they took the leap from city to country would be a vast understatement.


Arturo, he who is five, is outrageously cute, but then so is Henri and so is Vivienne, so never mind.

Arturo, he who is five, is a year older than the oldest of the three dogs belonging to the collective. There are cats, too, and we will speak of the cats after we speak of the dogs.

Legally, as in who the dogs are licensed to at the Mercy sheriff’s office, Goliath, the small golden brown Chihuahua poodle mix, belongs to Philip and Lisa, as does Mimi, the very sweet Golden Retriever, while Jung, the enormous Black Lab Malamute mix belongs to Marcel and Andrea, but try telling the children that. They know Jung is Arturo’s dog, Mimi belongs to Vivienne, and Goliath is attached to Henri. What’s more, the dogs know this, too, and behave accordingly.

Indeed, when Jung has not returned from one of his expeditions by nightfall, Marcel and Andrea and Philip and Lisa can shout themselves hoarse calling him, but only when Arturo calls will the mighty dog race home to one or another of the houses, whichever is closer, food and bed awaiting him in both places.

Goliath is the most likely of the dogs to do things that make people laugh, as is Henri of the children, hence their affinity for one another.

And Mimi and Vivienne, who both enjoy life at the houses three miles inland from the ocean, live for their twice-weekly trips to the beach, Mimi to chase tennis balls flung into the surf, Vivienne to build sandcastles with her brothers and play in the icy water which she tells everyone is her favorite thing in the world.

As for the cats, not counting the feral cats who live in the vineyard, the collective owns five neutered and named cats who by day roam freely in and out of the two houses, and by night hunker down in the barn near the farmhouse to be safe from pumas and owls. The five are Cleo, Zapata, Maurice, Lion, and Aurelia. They are all fond of people, and four of them are rodent killers, Lion unwilling to kill anything, though she is nearly twice the size of the other cats and is a champion at catching gophers and mice, but leaves the killing to the other four.

Lion’s unwillingness to kill—Arturo named her Lion when he was three and assumed the enormous cat must be male—is a good place to begin our story.


In the late morning on a sunny Saturday in July, Arturo, Vivienne, and Henri, up since six this morning and having been back and forth between the two houses several times already, are sitting at the picnic table with Philip in the semi-shade of a mighty oak a hundred feet from the farmhouse, eating watermelon.

Brown-haired and slender, the kids are shirtless and wearing shorts, and when they are done with the messy business of eating watermelon will go with Philip into the apple orchard and stand under the biggest Fuji and play in the hose to rinse off, the ongoing drought necessitating as much multi-use of water as possible.

Philip is in charge of cutting juicy red triangles for the kids to devour, and as he watches them eat, he is overwhelmed, as he often is, by how much he loves them.

Lion, a pale orange tabby, is sitting in the nearby orchard, waiting patiently for a gopher to emerge from his hole so she can snag him and toss the rodent to Zapata, a slender black male who frequently hunts with Lion and is in love with her. Zapata is crouched ten feet away from Lion, patiently perusing a different gopher hole.

“Why Lion doesn’t kill the gopher when she catches it?” asks Vivienne, her face smeared with watermelon juice.

“I don’t know,” says Philip, cutting another round of melon into six triangles. “Why do you think?”

“Maybe he doesn’t like how gophers taste,” says Arturo, pursing his lips as his mother does when she makes a guess about something.

“Lion is a girl,” says Henri, looking skyward and rolling his eyes as his father does when exasperated. “How many times do we have to tell you?”

“Maybe she’s just generous,” suggests Philip, handing out the next round of watermelon triangles. “Maybe she likes giving gifts to the other cats.”

“Can cats do that?” asks Arturo, frowning in the manner of Philip questioning something someone says. “Give gifts?”

“Of course,” says Henri, laughing. “That’s why they bring mice in the house. To give them to us.”

“Why they give them to us?” asks Vivienne, wrinkling her nose as Andrea does when perplexed. “We don’t eat mice.”

“Maybe they don’t know that,” says Philip, smiling at his daughter. “Maybe because we give them food, they want to give us food.”

“They can’t go to the store,” shouts Henri. “How could they?”

“Lion likes fish,” says Arturo, nodding in agreement with himself as Marcel will nod when he agrees with himself. “But fish meat is different than gopher meat.”

“How do you know?” says Henri, laughing again. “Have you ever eaten a gopher?”

“You can see fish meat is different than gopher meat,” says Arturo, sighing in exasperation exactly as his mother does. “Fish is soft and white, gopher is hard and red.”

Weary of the debate, Vivienne asks, “Why watermelon has so many seeds?”

“Some watermelons don’t have any seeds,” says Arturo, nodding authoritatively in imitation of Philip being authoritative.

“Why this watermelon have so many seeds?” persists Vivienne.

“This kind always has lots of seeds,” says Henri, matter-of-factly. “My papa eats the seeds, but my mama spits them out. When I’m older I might eat them, but now I spit them out.”

“I think this kind of watermelon has lots of seeds,” says Philip, cutting up the last of the melon, “so there will be plenty for starting more watermelon plants.”

“How do they grow watermelons with no seeds?” asks Arturo, squinting at his father in the way Lisa squints when perplexed. “If the watermelon doesn’t have seeds?”

“Ah,” says Philip, vaguely recalling something about diploids and tetraploids. “A question we will ask Andrea after we have hosed off under the Fuji.”


Jung, the giant dog, and Goliath, the small but very brave dog, trot ahead of Philip and the kids into the orchard, and a lucky thing, too, because Jung growls and bristles when he comes upon a large rattlesnake coiled in the high grass a few yards from the Fuji.

Philip herds the children back to the picnic table, arms himself with a shovel, returns to the Fuji, and with a deft thrust decapitates the awakening snake, after which he makes a search of the area with the dogs. Convinced there are no more serpents in the vicinity, he beckons the kids to return to the orchard to hose off the sticky watermelon juice they are covered in.

“I’m afraid,” says Vivienne, standing on the picnic table and shaking her head.

“I am, too,” says Henri, standing on the bench of the table.

“I’m not afraid,” says Arturo, standing on the ground and not sounding very convincing, “but maybe we could play in the hose somewhere else.”

“Good idea,” says Philip, his heart still pounding from killing the big snake.

So they hose off in the herb and lettuce garden near the house, and when Lisa comes out to see why the change of plans, Vivienne says, “Papa killed a big rattlesnake under the Fuji.”

“Oh God,” says Lisa, giving Philip a horrified look. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he says, still vibrating from killing the snake. “Time to mow the orchard again and weed whack the path through the vineyard. He probably wouldn’t have bothered us, but I killed him just in case.”

“Let’s play inside for a while,” says Lisa, her heart pounding. “You’ve all had more than enough sun today.”

So the kids come inside and ten minutes later they are asleep in the living room, Vivienne sprawled on the floor next to her dog Mimi, Henri and Arturo comatose on the sofa.


That afternoon, Marcel mows the orchard with the little John Deere tractor, Henri on his lap steering some of the time, and Philip walks the path through the overgrown vineyard wearing headphones to block out the roar of his powerful weed whacker. Meanwhile, Arturo and Vivienne help Lisa and Andrea pick vegetables in the garden and make supper in the farmhouse.


After supper, as Andrea and Marcel and Henri are about to head home, Henri says to Philip, “We forgot to ask my mama how they grow watermelon with no seeds.”

“Seedless watermelon is grown with special seeds in a special way,” says Andrea, who is very very tired. “Tomorrow I will draw you a picture to show you how they do it. But now it’s time for bed.”


When the children are asleep, the farmhouse cloaked in fog—Jung and Mimi slumbering by the fire, Goliath gone home with Henri—Lisa and Philip sit on the sofa and cling to each other until they feel the danger has passed, at least enough to go to bed.




The Waiter Contemplates Fatherhood

Sandra Messer, sixty-seven, a native of Chicago, her short gray hair colored dirty blonde, is the legendary owner/chef of Le Scélérat in Berkeley, California. While shopping at Monterey Market on a foggy morning in August, Sandra runs into Philip, headwaiter at Le Scélérat.

In the ten years Philip has worked for Sandra, they have only met away from the restaurant a few other times, and each of those times Sandra was in a terrible hurry and barely said Hello.

But today Sandra is uncharacteristically not in a hurry, nor is Philip, so they have a long chat while moving around together among the outdoor fruit and vegetable stands.

Philip is forty-seven, attractive with dark brown eyes and curly black hair. Born in Connecticut to a French mother and an Italian-American father, he grew up speaking French at home, English otherwise, and he still often dreams in French.

When speaking to fellow restaurateurs, Sandra refers to Philip as my Philip, indicating her special fondness for him lest they entertain any thoughts of trying to woo him away from her. She entrusts Philip with her most important guests, and though he is not the least gregarious, his intuition regarding the needs of his customers is so remarkable and his service so full of grace, those he serves at Le Scélérat feel they have been cared for by an otherworldly savant.

“Diego,” says Sandra, referring to her second-in-command in the kitchen, “tells me you’re writing a cookbook.”

“Yes,” says Philip, shyly. “For over a decade now. Endlessly adding and tinkering with recipes, so I may never finish, but the process is endlessly fascinating to me.”

“I hope you’ll show me the manuscript,” says Sandra, who is a millionaire many times over from her cookbooks.

“I wouldn’t think to impose on you,” says Philip, sincerely.

“Don’t be silly, Philip,” says Sandra, selecting a few dozen bell peppers to stuff with sole. “I’m genuinely interested.”

“Thank you, Sandra,” he says, nodding graciously. “I’ll put you at the top of my list.”

“Speaking of tops of lists and recipes,” she says, moving to the eggplant, “I spoke with Emile Costas yesterday. He’s coming out to steal some of my recipes, and someone told me you worked for Emile at Le Bouffon. Did you?”

“Yes,” says Philip, taking a deep breath. “But in his kitchen, not at his tables.”

Sandra frowns. “You cooked for him?”

“I did,” says Philip, clearing his throat. “Twenty years ago he asked me to be head chef at Le Bouffon, I declined, and thereafter became a waiter.”

“I had no idea,” says Sandra, shocked by this revelation.

“Long time ago,” says Philip, laughing and crying a little and feeling very glad not to be head chef of Le Bouffon or anywhere, and to have finally told Sandra. “I much prefer waiting tables for you.”

“His loss is my gain,” she says, looking at Philip as if seeing him for the first time. “Now I really want to read your cookbook, and I’ll spare you the ordeal of working on the nights Emile comes to dine.”

“No, no. I enjoy waiting on him,” says Philip, his eyes sparkling. “He and I made our peace a few years after I fled his kitchen. I waited on him twice in New York and once at Le Vagabond before I moved across the bay to work for you. He was a father to me, and like a good father he forgave me for going my own way.”


Philip and Lisa have been friends for six years, lovers for the last three. For Lisa’s fortieth birthday, Philip throws a dinner party in the cottage he rents in the Berkeley hills and invites the five people he cooks for every few weeks, his guinea pigs as he calls them, who give him their reactions to the latest versions of recipes he’s perfecting for his cookbook.

The five are: Marcel a waiter at Le Vagabond in San Francisco, Marcel’s wife Andrea, a sous-chef at Le Vagabond, Joan, a professor of European History at Mills College, Joan’s husband Fred, a landscape architect, and Hilda, a psychotherapist who dines regularly at Le Scélérat.

Andrea and Marcel arrive an hour before the other guests so Andrea can assist Philip in the kitchen while Marcel sets the table, decants the wine, and plays his accordion to accompany the cooks.

“Mon dieu, Philip,” says Andrea, a girlish forty-one with short black hair and small tattoos of flowers on her arms, her accent faintly German, “for a chef of your caliber you need a bigger kitchen. Much bigger.”

“Ah but I want these recipes to work in any sized kitchen,” he says, checking the soufflé. “This is a cookbook for everyone.”

“Of course,” says Andrea, who adores Philip, “but everyone doesn’t make a five-course dinner in a kitchen the size of a…” She looks around the tiny kitchen. “Small bathroom.”

“When the cookbook becomes a bestseller,” says Marcel, who also has short black hair, no tattoos, his accent loudly French, “Philip will buy a chateau in a vineyard with a vast kitchen and enormous bathrooms and we will go there and live with him and make wine and help him write his next cookbook.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Philip, enjoying Marcel’s fantasy. “And we’ll raise chickens and peacocks.”

“Oh if only we could,” says Andrea, sighing. “I’m weary of living in our three little rooms in the foggy avenues.”

“Our friends Pierre and Charlene want us to move to Portland,” says Marcel, sipping his wine. “There are many jobs for us there and we could rent a house with a yard. Have a garden. Grow roses. Much less expensive than here. It’s tempting.”

“Lisa and I talk about getting out of here, too,” says Philip, looking from Andrea to Marcel. “A small town somewhere. In Oregon perhaps. We would miss you so much.”

“I don’t want to think about it right now,” says Andrea, shaking her head. “Tonight we celebrate Lisa.”


Ere long, Philip’s neighbors Joan and Fred Birchfield arrive, Fred fifty-eight, big and lumbering, Joan fifty-seven, petite and nimble, both born in South Dakota. Married since they were twenty, Joan and Fred routinely finish each other’s sentences, disagree about almost everything, and love each other madly. Their one child, Aurora, is thirty-four, a professor of Linguistics at Stanford.

Marcel serves Fred and Joan wine, Fred white, Joan red, and Hilda Rubenstein arrives resplendent in a dress of her own design made of purple Guatemalan fabric, her long silvery gray hair in a braid. A Jungian psychoanalyst, Hilda is seventy-five and has lived in Berkeley for forty years. Widowed ten years ago, Hilda’s one child, Tamara, is a playwright, no grandchildren in sight.

Moments after Hilda arrives, Lisa appears in a billowy red blouse and a long gray skirt, a red rose in her dark brown hair. Lisa’s mother Bianca was a mix of African and Indio, Lisa’s father Herschel an Ashkenazi Jew from Los Angeles. Bianca and Herschel had a love affair in Buenos Aires when Herschel was there on business for his father’s jewelry company and Bianca became pregnant with Lisa. Herschel fled back to California and assuaged his guilt by sending money to Bianca, though not often or very much. When Lisa was ten, Bianca died, and a few months later Lisa flew from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles to live with Herschel’s parents.

Herschel, who Lisa had never met before arriving in Los Angeles, was by then married and had two small children with his unhappy wife. Had it been up to him, he would have ignored the pleas of Lisa’s beleaguered aunt to take responsibility for Lisa, but Herschel’s mother insisted they bring the child to America. And so Lisa went from living in dangerous poverty in Brazil to being the pampered granddaughter of Myron and Shirley Goldstein in Beverly Hills.

When everyone is seated around Philip’s dining table, the salad served, Joan asks Lisa how her birthday is going so far and Lisa says, “I took the day off, had a long bath here before Philip made me blackberry crepes for breakfast, then I went home to feed my cat, did a little shopping with some money my grandmother sent me, bought this blouse, and then I met three friends for lunch at Nakapan and we blabbed and blabbed, and then I went home and talked on the phone with my grandmother, got dressed, and here I am.”

“I would never guess you were forty,” says Fred, who finds Lisa surpassingly lovely. “Thirty at most.”

“I feel forty,” says Lisa, looking at Hilda who has become something of a mother to her since they became friends a year ago. “Feels very different than thirty-nine.”

“How so?” asks Joan, squinting at Lisa. “Not that I don’t agree, it’s just I’ve never been able to elucidate why my entry into the fifth decade was such a profound change.”

“I think it’s that we’re coming to the end of being able to make babies,” says Lisa, looking at Andrea. “Approaching a time when that’s no longer possible.”

“Turning forty has brought more people to me for therapy than anything else,” says Hilda, smiling fondly at Lisa. “Both women and men. It is a huge turning point in this culture, this youth-worshiping culture. We begin to more consciously question why we are here if not to procreate or at least be able to, which is, in a way, the definition of youth, especially for a woman.”

“I’m forty-two,” says Andrea, sighing. “We talk about having a child, but the years go by and we don’t, so…” She looks at Marcel. “We are too busy making money to pay the rent and we can’t see how we would fit a child into our lives.”

“Oh you don’t see how they’ll fit until they arrive,” says Fred, who doubts their daughter Aurora will ever give them a grandchild. “And then you do whatever you can to make them feel at home. That’s how we all got here, with parents who couldn’t see how we’d fit, and then we did. Somehow.”

“Now why would you say that, dear?” says Joan, frowning at Fred. “We assiduously prepared for Aurora’s arrival. You added a room to the house in anticipation of her birth and I got a two-year extension on my doctoral thesis.”

“I still couldn’t see how she’d fit until she got here,” he says, laughing. “And when she did, the room we added became your study and we ended up converting half the living room into her bedroom because that’s where she wanted to be. Remember?”

Hilda laughs. “I will never forget the first night I put my daughter Tamara into her very own bed, rather than have her go on sleeping with us in our bed as she had for her first two years, and she looked up at me and said, “Mama, you can’t be serious.”


The guests gone—Joan and Fred having helped with the dishes—Philip and Lisa go to bed and make love, and in the aftermath Lisa says, “I want to have a child with you. But if I have to choose between having a child and being with you, I choose you.”

“Well then lets at least get married,” he says, taking her in his arms. “We’ve lived apart long enough.”


Philip comes to the table where the roguishly handsome Emile Costa, sixty-four, is dining with his stunning young Swedish assistant Olga, Emile one of the most famous chef/restaurateurs in the world with renowned restaurants in New York, London, Paris, and Las Vegas.

“Perfect timing as always, Philip,” says Emile, born in the Bronx to Sicilian parents. “What is the mystery spice in her rice? Not cardamom, is it?”

“No cardamom,” says Philip, replenishing their wine glasses. “Perhaps you are tasting her subtle use of smoked paprika.”

 “Of course,” says Emile, winking at Olga to make note of that. “So… you are happy here?”

“Yes,” says Philip, knowing Emile would love to employ him. “Eventually I want to move to a small town, but for now working here is ideal for me.”

“So mellow,” says Olga, loving how quiet Le Scélérat is compared to Emile’s enormous cacophonous restaurants.

“Too mellow for me,” says Emile, shaking his head. “Feels dead. Even the young people who come here seem dead.”

“Did you want to sample anything else tonight?” asks Philip, smiling fondly at Emile. “Another glass of wine?”

“No, we’re done,” says Emile, shaking his head. “I always come away from Sandra’s food feeling she missed the high notes.” He gives Philip a special smile. “I know you know what I mean. You never missed the high notes when you cooked for me.”

“She is not bombastic,” says Philip, pouring the last drops of wine into Olga’s glass. “But she’s very good.”

“And how are you away from here?” says Emile, shifting from restaurateur to old friend. “Are you in love?”

“I am,” says Philip, touched by Emile wanting to know. “I’m getting married soon.”

“Tell me,” says Emile, surprised. “I thought you might never again after the first two disasters.”

Philip laughs. “I thought the same. But then the gods sent me Lisa, and so… here I go again.”

“I’m happy for you,” says Emile, who considered Philip a culinary Mozart. “I, as you know, love getting married and do so often.”

“Will you have children?” asks Olga, who is next in line to marry Emile.

“We might,” says Philip, taken over by sudden sorrow. “We have yet to decide.”


Philip sits on a small sofa in Hilda’s studio and looks across the small red and green Persian rug where Hilda is sitting in a brown leather armchair. This is Philip’s first time availing himself of Hilda’s offer of free psychotherapy, the question of fatherhood inspiring his request for a session with her.

“My father was a brute,” says Philip, seeing his father sitting at the kitchen table drinking whiskey from a bottle. “He was twenty years older than my mother, a salesman, gone most of the time, had other women, smoked constantly, was a terrible drunk, and died of lung cancer when he was fifty-six and I was fourteen.”

“Was he a mean drunk?” asks Hilda, suspecting he was.

“A monster,” says Philip, nodding. “We lived for him to go away and hid from him when he was home.”

“Why did she marry him?”

“He was handsome and charming and a good salesman,” says Philip, thinking of the many times his mother fled with him and his sisters on the train into New York City to stay with his mother’s friend in a little apartment until the terror passed. “When she got pregnant with my older sister, she insisted my father marry her, and he did, though he had at least one other wife concurrently with my mother.”

“And you begin with this because…?”

“I think he must have something to do with why I never wanted children, why the idea of becoming a father is so…” He frowns. “Alien to me. I’ve never imagined being a father.”

“Do you like children?”

“I get along with them, but I wouldn’t say I like them. When Lisa and I go walking, she loves seeing children and talking to them, and they adore her. And when we socialize with friends who have kids, I always have a good time playing with them, though I don’t seek them out.”

“Do they seek you out?” Hilda smiles expectantly. “I imagine they do.”

“Yes,” he says, surprised she knew. “Why did you think so?”

“You have an innocence about you, an openness. Children love that, as do women and some men, but children especially.”

“Yet I have never thought, ‘Oh kids love me. I should be a father.’ It has never occurred to me.”

“Imagine Lisa is pregnant with your child. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”

“I might do something wrong,” he says, anguished. “I might by accident hurt the baby, or the child might die and Lisa would never forgive me and I could never forgive myself.”

“What would you do wrong?”

“Anything. Everything. I know nothing about babies or changing diapers or feeding them or holding them or burping them or anything.”

“Dear Philip,” says Hilda, loving his honesty, “it’s just like being a waiter. The customer has certain needs requiring certain actions on your part, and once you learn those necessary actions, they become automatic, a dance with constant variations, just as your service is a dance. And remember, much of caring for a child is feeding them, and you are a master at feeding people.”

“When you put it that way,” says Philip, laughing with relief, “I feel less afraid.”


Joan and Fred have Philip and Lisa over for a summertime barbecue in their big backyard, but cold fog sends them indoors to dine.

“We feel confident about cooking shish kebobs and corn on the cob for you,” says Fred, a few moments into the feast. “And beer is beer.”

“Your food is every bit as good as mine,” says Philip, loving the barbecued chicken. “We’re thrilled every time you invite us.”

“I love your salads,” says Lisa, happier than she’s ever been, knowing she and Philip will soon to be married. “And your rice is always delicious.”

“We were not good cooks until Aurora became interested in cooking,” says Joan, speaking of their daughter. “In fact, she became so interested, we thought she was going to culinary school until one night she called from college to tell us she’d fallen in love with linguistics.”

“How old was she when she got interested in cooking?” asks Lisa, hoping Philip won’t mind talk of children.

“Six,” says Fred, nodding. “We went out to dinner one night to a Mexican restaurant.”

“We frequently ate out,” says Joan, nodding. “Because we were not good cooks, but loved good food.”

“And when the waitress came to see how everything was going,” Fred continues, “Aurora said to her, ‘How do make your beans so yummy?’”

“And the waitress held out her hand to Aurora,” says Joan, holding out her hand to Fred.

“Aurora took it,” says Fred, taking his wife’s hand.

“And the waitress led her into the kitchen and put her on a stool next to the stove,” says Joan, smiling as she remembers.

“Then the cook stood beside Aurora and explained in great detail how she made her beans so yummy,” says Fred, kissing his wife’s hand.

“And thereafter Aurora was mad for cooking,” says Joan, kissing her husband’s hand in return.

“So of course we had to learn with her,” says Fred, grinning at Philip, “which as you know is an adventure without end.”


At the end of a Friday night at Le Scélérat, Sandra beckons Philip to follow her to her office where she tells him she thinks his cookbook is a masterwork, she would be honored to write the Forward, and she can’t wait to show the book to her publisher.

“And,” she says, pausing for effect, “I would very much like to use some of your recipes here.”


On a warm day in September, a month before their wedding, Lisa and Philip engage Andrea and Marcel and Fred, and Fred’s large pickup truck, to move Lisa’s things from her apartment in the noisy flats of Berkeley to Philip’s cottage in the quieter hills; and to celebrate Lisa’s move, Joan and Fred host a barbecue on their deck looking out over San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate illuminated by the setting sun.


Going to bed that night, the little cottage full of Lisa’s things yet to find their places, Lisa’s cat hiding under the living room sofa, Lisa stands beside the bed in her nighty and says, “My darling fiancé, I was about to put in my diaphragm when I realized two things.”

“What did you realize, my darling fiancé?” asks Philip, already in bed and awaiting his beloved.

“I’m ovulating,” she says, blushing, “and I wonder what you think about us leaving the gate open tonight.”

And having no doubt they will be together for the duration, he holds out his arms to her, seeing no reason to speak.


Wedding Prayer


The Waiter Considers Psychoanalysis

“Have you ever been attracted to psychoanalysis?” asks Hilda Rubenstein, nodding her thanks to Philip as he sets a goblet of white wine before her.

“Are we speaking of undergoing psychoanalysis?” asks Philip, stepping back from the table where Hilda is dining alone. “Or studying the methodology?”

“Undergoing,” says Hilda, tasting the wine. “Oh you’re right, Philip. I love this. And for so long I thought Riesling would be too sweet for my taste.”

“Wine appellations often confuse more than clarify,” says Philip, pleased she likes the wine.

Hilda is Swiss, seventy-four, tall and sturdy with long silvery gray hair she always wears in a braid. A Jungian psychoanalyst, she has lived in Berkeley, California for forty years. Widowed nine years ago, Hilda’s one child, Tamara, is a playwright and professor of Drama at a university in Oregon, no grandchildren in sight. And though Hilda has many acquaintances, her husband was her best friend and she misses him.

Philip’s mother was French, his father Italian American, and he grew up speaking French at home, English in the outside world. He is forty-seven, childless, and has been a waiter for twenty years, the last nine at the famed Le Scélérat in Berkeley. Graceful and slender, with dark brown eyes and curly black hair, he has been serving Hilda every Wednesday evening for his entire tenure at Le Scélérat, and she is by far his favorite customer.

“To answer your question,” says Philip, speaking French with Hilda as they often do when she dines alone, “no, I have never considered undergoing psychoanalysis. Both the cost, which I cannot easily afford, and a preference for more body-oriented therapies led me elsewhere.”

“I would like to offer you free sessions,” says Hilda, replying in French. “Twice a week for an hour and a half each time. If this appeals to you, let me know.”


On a warm day in September, Philip and his sweetheart Lisa are picnicking on Baker Beach in San Francisco with their friends Marcel and Andrea. Lisa is thirty-nine, a massage therapist, Marcel is forty-four, a waiter at Le Vagabond in San Francisco, and Andrea, Marcel’s wife, is forty-one, a sous chef at Le Vagabond.

When Philip mentions Hilda’s offer of free psychoanalysis, Andrea, girlish with short black hair and tattoos of small flowers scattered sparingly on her arms and legs, says with a faint German accent, “Oh you must, Philip. What an opportunity.”

“Is she in love with you?” asks Marcel, who also has short black hair but no tattoos, his French accent not faint. “Beware, Philip. Transference and so forth.”

“She’s fond of me,” says Philip, smiling at Marcel’s characteristic skepticism. “She’s semi-retired and doesn’t need the money. This would be a gift to me and a fascination for her.”

“So much for the vaunted neutrality of the therapist,” says Marcel, staying in character. “The process is already compromised by your friendship.”

“She’s a Jungian,” says Lisa, her brown hair shoulder-length, her accent purely Californian, though she was born in Brazil and spoke only Brazilian Portuguese until she was ten. “They are not so enthralled by the Freudian insistence on the therapist remaining emotionally detached.” 

“Psychoanalysis,” says Andrea, who in the privacy of her thoughts is in love with Philip. “You’ll be analyzing your dreams with a dream expert. How fantastic.”

“And delving into why you chose to be a waiter,” says Marcel, arching an eyebrow, “rather than continuing your stellar career as a chef.”

“Oh I know why I fled the kitchen for the tables,” says Philip, enjoying the passing parade, many of the beachgoers naked.

“Why did you?” asks Andrea, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know you knew.”

“Nor did I,” says Marcel, looking at Lisa. “Did you know he knew?”

“Of course,” she says, smiling at Philip. “He has no secrets from me.”

“I became a waiter,” says Philip, with a meaningful shrug, “because I knew I’d be a good one and I’d still be in the restaurant business without the killing pressure of having to make three hundred perfect entrees every night.”

“But why not an actor?” asks Andrea, who thinks of Philip as a movie star who has yet to make a movie.

“I’m too shy,” says Philip, comically covering his face with both hands. “And I’m not much interested in acting.”

“But why are you so shy?” asks Marcel, affecting an exaggerated German accent. “Zis vee vill uncover in zychoanalysis.”


Stuck in a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge going back to Berkeley after their day at the beach, Lisa driving, Philip says, “I’ve decided not to accept Hilda’s gift of psychoanalysis.”

“Because?” asks Lisa, taking her foot off the brake to let her little car roll forward a few inches before she applies the brake again.

“Because,” he says, searching for the right words, “I think I may have become too important to her.”

“You’ve waited on her every week for nine years,” says Lisa, whose clients frequently fall in love with her. “And you enjoy each other.”

“Yes, and our enjoyment is enhanced by her not knowing all the details of my past,” he says, looking to his right as a turquoise Mustang convertible draws even with them, the driver a striking Latina wearing a sleeveless white scoop-necked T-shirt, her mop of curls bubble-gum pink, her companion in the passenger seat an enormous black and white hound.

Lisa gawks at the pink-haired gal and the giant dog and says, “Imagine being in a relationship with her.”

“If only her hair wasn’t pink,” says Philip, relieved not to be entering psychoanalysis with Hilda. “I have no problem with the rest of her.”

“Humor me,” says Lisa, playfully. “We’ll be stuck on the bridge for at least another half-hour. Imagine this bombshell is your wife.”

“I can’t imagine she’s anyone’s wife,” he says, smiling at the woman, which causes the woman to wave coquettishly.

“How old do you think she is?” asks Lisa, intrigued by the bombshell. “And what does she do for a living?”

“Twenty-five,” he guesses. “An exotic dancer, otherwise known as a stripper.”

“I think she’s thirty-two,” says Lisa, smiling at the woman. “Cuts hair in a hip salon.”

“Her muscular arms,” says Philip, admiring the woman’s physique, “speak of pole dancing.”

“Ask her?” says Lisa, hitting a button so Philip’s window goes down.

“Hi,” says the woman, just a few feet away from Philip. “Does this suck or what?”

“Yes,” says Philip, trying not to stare at the woman’s beautiful breasts. “We’re trying to guess your profession and how old you are.”

“What’s your guess?” she asks, pursing her lips as if expecting a kiss.

“Exotic dancer, cuts hair in a hip salon,” he says, wishing he could see her without pink hair and makeup. “Twenty-five and thirty-two.”

“I’m thirty-seven,” she says, giving him a sexy smile. “I make people happy. You want my card?”

“Sure,” he says, reddening.

“You two look like fun,” she says, handing him a bubble-gum pink card.

Now drivers behind them sound their horns.

“Thank you,” says Philip, glancing at the card and seeing the name Desea writ in vermillion.

“Call me,” says Desea, winking at him as she pulls ahead. “I love doing couples.”


The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining with her daughter Tamara, who is forty, and Tamara’s partner Celine who is forty-five.

“How nice to see you again,” says Philip, bowing to Tamara who resembles Hilda to a remarkable degree, her dark blonde hair in a braid identical to her mother’s.

“Philip,” says Tamara, in a businesslike way, “this is Celine.”

Philip bows to Celine, a regal African American woman with glossy black hair in four intricate braids threaded with yellow wooden beads.

“A man of few words,” says Celine, making a comical face. “What’s not to like?”

After a bit more chitchat, supper is ordered, and Philip goes to the wait station to enter their order into the computer.

Now he stops by the table of another of his regulars, Miles Levinson, a blustery fellow in his sixties who Philip serves three times weekly, Miles fabulously wealthy and possessed of an apparently inexhaustible supply of younger women to dine with.

Philip arrives in time to replenish the wine glasses, Miles’s companion tonight a striking Serbian named Sophie. She’s wearing a red skirt and a black tuxedo jacket barely buttoned over her otherwise uncaged breasts, her red hair in a long braid coiled atop her head.

“This Marcassin Pinot is everything you promised,” says Miles, watching Philip divide the last of the bottle equally between the two glasses. “Shall we have another bottle, Sophie?”

Philip turns to Sophie.

I certainly don’t need more wine,” she says, yawning majestically. “I could go to sleep on this table right now.”

“Then no more wine,” says Miles, waving the thought away. “We’ll have cheesecake and chocolate mousse and I’ll have a large glass of sherry. You know the kind I like.”

“Of course,” says Philip, turning to Sophie. “Coffee for you?”

“You are a genius,” she says, kissing the air in his direction. “Why didn’t I think of this?”


Philip checks on Hilda and Tamara and Celine mid-meal, and Hilda says to Tamara, “Tell Philip about his part in your play.”

“Please,” says Philip, glancing around his section and calculating he has a long moment to tarry with them.

“Comedy of manners,” says Tamara, nodding approvingly as Philip refills her wine glass. “Barely masking the tragic, of course. Several key scenes take place in a restaurant, and I’ve modeled the waiter after you, though the only person who could ever do the waiter justice as I imagine him, is you.”

“I look forward to seeing the play,” says Philip, who often feels he is an actor playing the part of a waiter. “My friends and I very much enjoyed your play Jumbo Shrimp at Berkeley Rep last year.”

“Well actually,” says Tamara, clearing her throat, “I would love for you to vet the restaurant scenes. It’s crucial they be authentic. I’ll pay you for your time, of course.”

“Does the waiter appear in any scenes other than those at table?” asks Philip, gazing intently at Tamara.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s purely a functionary. But an important device.”

“Except at the end,” says Celine, nodding knowingly. “He’s not at the table at the end.”

“Oh of course,” says Tamara, chagrined. “The dream sequence. But he’s still a waiter. Only in a different context.”

“I’d be happy to vet your scenes,” says Philip, refilling Hilda’s glass with the last of the Reisling.

“Shall we have another bottle?” asks Hilda, looking from Tamara to Celine.

“Oh why not?” says Tamara, happily drunk. “It’s so good. And to think I always thought Reisling would be too sweet.”


A few days later, on one of his days off, Philip reads Tamara’s play Ziggurat and makes notes on the pages of the several scenes involving a waiter serving the main characters. He marvels at the way Tamara weaves the waiter’s minimal lines into the lengthy dialogues that occur in his absence.

“She uses his coming and going to create suspense again and again within the scenes,” says Philip, describing Tamara’s play to Lisa over supper at a Chinese restaurant. “Sometimes to set up punch lines, sometimes to give the audience a moment to wonder what the characters will say when the waiter departs. It’s a brilliant device, and she’s absolutely right, the more believable the waiter, the more thrilling the dialogue surrounding his coming and going will be.”


The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining alone and he takes the opportunity to inform her of his decision not to enter psychoanalysis with her.

“I’m disappointed,” she says with obvious sorrow. “I was looking forward to getting to know you away from this setting where our conversations are so brief and we only seem to scratch the surface of things.”

“I, too, wish to connect with you away from here,” he says, replying in French. “Only not through psychoanalysis. And it occurred to me you might like to join me and a few of my good friends for supper at my house when I unveil the latest versions of recipes I’m working on for a cookbook I hope to publish one day.”

“Oh Philip,” she says, tears springing to her eyes, “I would be delighted.”


Four of Wands