October Wedding

The first day of October. Evening. Fall in full swing. No rain yet this season in the Mercy River watershed of northern California.

After supper at Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the little coastal burg of Mercy, Lisa and Philip and their children Arturo and Vivienne find they are just the four of them in the farmhouse tonight. Irenia, who is fifteen and shares a bedroom with Vivienne four nights a week, is home with her parents in Mercy, and Marcel and Andrea and their thirteen-year-old son Henri have retired to their cottage for the evening.

When the dishes are done, a game of Hearts ensues on the living room floor in front of the fire with Alexandra, a six-year-old Golden Retriever, and the pups Jargon and Cordelia and Max sprawled on the floor around the humans.

With Vivienne slightly in the lead after the first hand, the second hand dealt, Arturo, who turned fourteen in June says, “I really need a smart phone. It’s imperative I have one.”

Lisa and Philip have been anticipating something like this from Arturo for some weeks now, ever since school resumed and Arturo got the lead in the play at Mercy High where homeschoolers are allowed to participate in after-school activities. But Vivienne, who is three weeks away from turning twelve, is shocked by her brother’s demand.

“You can’t be serious,” she says, gaping at Arturo. “You know we can’t have cell phones until we’re eighteen, and even then we won’t be able to use them in the farmhouse when Delilah’s here because microwaves make her physically ill.”

“So she claims,” says Arturo, haughtily. “All my friends say that’s ridiculous.”

“Well all your friends are morons,” says Vivienne, glowering at her brother. “Are you accusing Delilah of lying? Because if you are, I will never speak to you again until you take that back and apologize.”

“It’s impossible for microwaves to make her sick,” cries Arturo, throwing down his cards. “How could she even walk down the street?”

“You know she has to be in the same room with an activated cell phone to be adversely affected,” says Lisa, frowning at her son. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me is we’re relegated to living in the Stone Age because one person claims microwaves make them ill? That’s insane.” He glares at his father. “Why can’t I have one? I’m cut off from my friends, from society, from a vast treasure trove of information and cultural stimuli.”

“How are you cut off from your friends?” asks Philip, accustomed to his son’s penchant for hyperbole. “Or from society? Or from information or cultural stimuli?”

“I can’t text my friends and they can’t text me,” says Arturo, grimacing as if in pain. “I have no way of knowing what they’re doing or telling them what I’m doing, andwe can’t share videos. I might as well be marooned on a desert island.”

Vivienne looks at her parents and says, “He’s clearly suffered some sort of brain damage. Maybe you should take him to the emergency room. But I will have nothing to do with him ever again.”

And with that, she stalks off to her bedroom.

“Arturo,” says Lisa, who has a deep loving bond with him, “tell us what’s really going on. Okay? You can’t have a smart phone, and not because of Delilah but because we don’t want you to have one yet. You know you can use the telephone any time you want to call your friends. You also know you are better educated than anyone your age in Mercy except for your fellow homeschoolers. You also know perfectly well you are not being deprived of anything except a portable device for accessing the internet, which you can do from our home computer for an hour every evening. You can’t text back and forth with your friends, but you certainly can send them emails. So tell us what’s really going on and then please apologize to your sister for what you said about Delilah.”

“You can’t possibly know what it’s like not to have a phone when all your friends have them,” says Arturo, his eyes full of tears. “I’m a laughingstock.”

“That’s not true,” says Philip, shaking his head. “When I picked you up tonight after your rehearsal you were surrounded by admirers and having the time of your life.”

“Okay I’m not a laughingstock,” says Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “But I feel cut off, disallowed, life passing me by.”

“What is passing you by?” asks Lisa, who lived in extreme poverty for the first ten years of her life. “What do you lack besides a portable computer for looking at videos and texting your friends?”

“I lack being part of the modern world,” he says, his jaw trembling. “And Dolores Ramirez…”

Lisa and Philip wait patiently, Philip trying not to laugh, Lisa knowing this was the underlying issue all along.

“What about Dolores?” asks Lisa, speaking quietly to encourage her son.

“She said she won’t… can’t…” He bows his head and sobs. “…go steady with me if I don’t have a phone.” 


On the fourth day of October, after two days of Arturo histrionically refusing to attend home school classes, Philip drives Arturo to Mercy High where they meet with the principal and Arturo is given an aptitude test, the results of which suggest he will learn nothing in high school he doesn’t already know, and he is enrolled as a junior, his first day of school tomorrow.


The fifth day of October dawns sunny and warm, the coast clear of fog.

Today is Delilah’s twenty-eighth birthday. She has lived with Nathan and Celia in their little house on the outskirts of Mercy for fifteen years and intends to live with them until they die. Nathan is eighty-eight, Celia eighty-two. Delilah is a musician, artist, and teacher. Nathan is a retired tree pruner and locally renowned poet, Celia a retired nurse, now a housekeeper and gardener.

For Delilah’s birthday breakfast, Celia makes pancakes while Delilah sets the table for four, their friend Gabriel Fernandez to join them. Gabriel is thirty-four and has been a fan of Delilah’s music since he first heard her play thirteen years ago, and in just the last two weeks he and Delilah have begun exploring the possibility of embarking on a relationship.

Celia assisted at Gabriel’s birth at Mercy Hospital, and Nathan remembers Gabriel as a determined little boy going door-to-door asking for empty pop and beer bottles to redeem for money at the grocery store. When Gabriel’s father died, Gabriel dropped out of high school and went to work for a landscaping company to help support his ailing mother and younger siblings. Nathan planted fruit trees for that same landscaping company and Gabriel was often assigned to work with Nathan, a pairing they both enjoyed. When Gabriel turned eighteen, he joined the Army and was sent to the war in Afghanistan. Upon his return, after recovering from the post traumatic stress, he opened his now-thriving business as a backhoe operator.

Gabriel, tall and handsome, his long brown hair in a ponytail, arrives promptly at nine and presents Celia with a jar of his homemade blackberry jam and gives Nathan a new pair of leather gardening gloves.

“So you won’t be jealous of what I’m giving Delilah,” says Gabriel, handing Delilah a small white box adorned with a magenta rosebud.

“Gads,” says Delilah, blushing brightly. “It’s not a ring, is it? We hardly know each other.”

Gabriel laughs. “Not a ring. Don’t worry.”

“What if it had been a ring, hija?” says Celia, comically slapping her forehead. “Think how embarrassed he would be.”

“He wouldn’t be embarrassed,” says Delilah, giving Gabriel a coquettish smile. “He’s too suave to be embarrassed.”

“I’ve been called many things in my life,” says Gabriel, confiding in Nathan, “but never suave until now.”

“Yeah she calls me things I would otherwise never be called, too,” says Nathan, laughing. “One of her many talents.”

 Delilah opens the box and finds two earrings, each a long slender turquoise stone clasped in silver, the stones nearly identical but not quite.

“Oh their exquisite,” says Delilah, her eyes brimming with tears. “Thank you, Gabriel. I love them.”

“My sister Carmelita made them. I bought the stones in New Mexico a year ago when I went to see the aspens turn yellow in the mountains near Santa Fe. I got them from a young woman on the plaza there. Un Indio. They are not too heavy, so I think they will be okay.”

“How were the aspens?” asks Nathan, wistfully. “We’ve never been, though we always meant to go.”

“Yellow beyond yellow beyond yellow,” says Gabriel, watching Delilah take off her small silver earrings and put on the turquoise. “Whole mountains covered with a golden yellow only nature can make.”


A few days later, while Celia is making supper—Delilah spending the night at Ziggurat Farm—Nathan kneels on the hearth building a fire.

 “How did the sketching session go today?” he asks, having spent the afternoon fishing with Celia’s brother Juan.

“We had fun,” she says, pausing in her chopping of green onions. “All the women and girls from the farm were there, eleven of us and baby Jenna. We wore skirts and T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up. In Daisy’s book the women wear skirts and shirts without sleeves, so this was as close as we could get to that.”

“Did Connie direct?” asks Nathan, referring to the very British Constance who lives next door to Ziggurat Farm and usually takes charge of anything she’s involved in.

“No,” says Celia, shaking her head. “I thought she would, but she only made a few suggestions. Mostly Joseph and Delilah directed us. But first they served us wine.”

“There was wine?” says Nathan, amused. “Eleven drunk women in the garden of Eden. That’s probably the real story, not that nonsense about Adam and Eve and a snake.”

“Henri and Marcel poured a glass for each of us, including Vivienne and Irenia and Alma, and then Joseph posed us in front of the snow peas. He had two easels with big canvases, and Henri and Delilah had their big sketch pads, and the three of them sketched our first pose for maybe five minutes and then Joseph posed us another way and they sketched us again and Delilah took pictures.”

“And all the while you were drinking wine?” asks Nathan, lighting the fire.

“Yes. Marcel kept filling our glasses, except not so much for Irenia and Vivienne and Alma who got very giggly after just a little.”

“I wish I’d been there,” says Nathan, smiling at the thought of the female bacchanal.

“Then Delilah posed us in groups of two and three and took lots of pictures while Joseph and Henri sketched, and when we were sleepy in the sun, Gabriel arrived and Delilah posed him with different women and took lots of pictures. Then Daisy wanted a picture of Delilah with Gabriel, so they stood together and Daisy took lots of pictures and so did Joseph. I can’t wait to see them.”

“Did Gabriel take off his shirt?” asks Nathan, joining Celia in the kitchen. “Wasn’t that the burning question of the day? Would he or wouldn’t he?”

“He did,” says Celia, smiling as she stirs the beans.

“And?” asks Nathan, arching an eyebrow.

“As you would say, marido, he was not even a little bit unbeautiful.”


In the late morning on the tenth of October, Delilah is playing her piano in her bedroom, practicing the music she will play for the processional and recessional at the wedding of Raul Neves and Caroline Darling three days from now.

Raul is the famous Portuguese chef and owner of Ocelot, a world-renowned restaurant on the headlands in Mercy, for which Raul buys copious quantities of vegetables and fruit and flowers grown in the Ziggurat Farm garden and greenhouses. He also teaches culinary history to the homeschoolers and is the godfather of Caroline’s niece Jenna, who is nineteen-months-old and lives next door to Ziggurat farm with her parents Michael and Daisy.

Caroline is a former professor of Botany and deeply entangled in the life of Ziggurat Farm. She teaches natural science to the homeschoolers, takes dance classes with Delilah at the rec center, and is the hostess and manager of Ocelot. She is Michael’s younger sister by two years, and the older sister by ten years of Thomas, a professor at Cornell who was in a relationship with Delilah—the end of their liaison six months ago severely traumatic for Delilah.

The phone in the kitchen rings and Delilah stops playing to go answer. Nathan and Celia are working in the garden, and Celia comes in to answer the phone, too. There are no cell phones in the house, the old landline phone sufficient for their purposes—microwaves toxic to Delilah’s nervous system.

“Hello?” says Delilah, answering the phone a moment before Celia comes in from the garden.

“Delilah,” says Thomas, calling from New York. “It’s Thom. How are you?”

Hearing Thomas’s voice, Delilah drops the phone and bends over in agony.

“Who is it?” asks Celia, holding her breath.

“Thom,” says Delilah, hurrying down the hall. “I’m gonna vomit.”

Celia picks up the phone and says tersely, “What do you want, Thom?”

“I want to come to Caroline’s wedding and she said I can only come if Delilah says it’s okay. And… I want to try again with Delilah. I made a terrible mistake breaking up with her. I was a fool. Can I please speak to her?”

“No, Thom,” says Celia, listening to Delilah retching in the bathroom. “She doesn’t want to talk to you. She was sick for a long time after you broke up and she’s just getting well.”

“Please Celia. I really need to speak to her.”

“No. She has a new boyfriend now. Don’t come to the wedding. Goodbye.”


On October eleventh, still shaky from Thom’s call yesterday, Delilah meets with Caroline and Raul at Constance and Joseph’s house to play her music for them on Constance and Joseph’s magnificent grand piano, and Caroline assures Delilah that Thomas will not be coming to the wedding.

“I wish I wasn’t such a wimp,” says Delilah, grateful for Caroline’s assurance, “but I am.”

“I should never have told him to ask you,” says Caroline, furious with her brother for interfering with her wedding. “I didn’t want him to come. I should have just said so. He’s never cared about me. He was just using this as an excuse to come beg you to take him back.”

“I’m glad you told him to call me,” says Delilah, breathing a big sigh of relief. “I needed to vomit him out of me, only I didn’t realize it until I did.”


October thirteenth is a glorious day on the far north coast of California, warm and sunny, the afternoon sky brilliantly blue with puffy white clouds.

“I am a born again Ziggurat Farm person,” says Raul, as he and Caroline walk hand-in-hand on the path from the Ziggurat Farm garden to the pond at the northeast corner of the farm. “I was a narcissist among narcissists until I fell in love with Andrea and Lisa and their garden, and Marcel and his wine, and the beautiful farm children adopted me as their uncle, and Philip became my brother.”

“I was born again here, too, and they are my family now,” says Caroline, both she and Raul in their wedding finery, Raul in a magnificent white suit with a turquoise tie, his shaggy gray hair somewhat tamed, Caroline in a long white skirt and a fiery red sleeveless blouse, her short brown hair festooned with tiny white flowers placed there by Vivienne and Irenia.

They stand on the shore of the recently revived pond that Caroline and Michael are restoring with the help of the homeschoolers—the water cold enough for trout they hope to plant here in the spring, hundreds of mosquito fish patrolling the waters, frogs newly arrived, water lilies multiplying, the shallow north end seeded with reeds.

“I marry you,” says Raul, holding both of Caroline’s hands and smiling into her eyes. “What’s mine is yours.”

“I marry you,” she says, her voice as deep as his. “What’s mine is yours.”

Now they stand together in joyful surrender until they hear the gong sounding on the deck of Joseph and Constance’s house up the hill from the pond, the gong their cue to come and be united in the presence of their friends.


When Raul and Caroline have exchanged their vows on the sun-drenched deck, Philip presiding, a hundred witnesses moved to tears, Philip nods to Nathan who rises from his chair and recites a poem for the bride and groom.

Kindred Spirits

Sometimes we just know, we do. It’s not a matter of

figuring something out or uncovering hidden information.

No great revelation need come to us, no cosmic event or

scrape with death is necessary to convince us. We just

know, as naturally as breathing and thirsting for water,

in the same way we dream of places we’ve never been

except in our dreams. There is no mystery about how

or why we know the other is a kindred spirit. We know

the moment we hear them speak, the moment we see

them seeing us, and they know, too. So when you do

recognize the other as the one you’ve been waiting

for without knowing you were waiting, and they

recognize you in the same way, by all means

marry each other. Amen.


On Monday October 25 the five homeschoolers are gathered in the living room of the farmhouse about to begin the school day with an hour of working on math problems suitable to their various levels of mathematical proficiency, Delilah and Larry’s father Arthur available for helping anyone desiring assistance.

“Before we begin,” says Delilah, standing in front of the chalkboard, “I would like to welcome Arturo back into our midst. He has decided to resume school with us after a three-week sojourn at Mercy High.” She smiles at Arturo who is standing in the kitchen with Lisa and Philip. “Your seat awaits you.”

Arturo goes to the table he shares with Alma near the chalkboard, but does not sit. “May I say something?” he asks, fighting his tears.

“Please,” says Delilah, sitting down to listen.

“I would just like to say…” he begins, fighting his tears “how very sorry I am for the negative things I said about this school and Delilah and living here on the farm. I was gravely mistaken and I regret any ill feelings I may have engendered in any of you, and I hope you will forgive me.”

“Was it as horrible as Seventh Grade?” asks Larry, who is fourteen and was literally wasting away in public school when he was able to escape the nightmare of public school in Mercy and enter the educational nirvana of Ziggurat Farm School.

“Ten times worse,” says Arturo, who fourteen months ago begged his parents to create a home school. “Nay. A hundred times.”

“Unimaginable,” says Larry, who was a victim of bullying for all his seven years in public school.

“How do the other kids stand it?” asks Vivienne, who has refused to speak to her brother for three weeks after he accused Delilah of lying about her extreme sensitivity to microwaves.

“I don’t know,” says Arturo, unable to restrain his tears. “The teachers are all bitter beleaguered jailers spouting erroneous claptrap, the kids comatose or hyper, and I saw no evidence of anything that might be construed as learning.”

“Why did you want to go there?” asks Alma, who is thirteen and was deemed incapable of learning until she came to ZFS and proved to be brilliant. “You knew in junior high what a nightmare it was.”

“I’m in the play after school there,” says Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “And the Drama kids are great and… they hate school. They live for three o’clock and the joy that follows, and I wanted to be part of their gang, and I still can be, I just won’t have a cell phone.”

“You called us stupid losers,” says Henri, frowning at Arturo. “You said Delilah was a fraud and we were missing out on real life, that this was fake here and you were going where it was real.” He takes a deep breath. “That really hurt me, A. I won’t speak for anybody else, but you really hurt me. I thought we were best friends and now I don’t know what to think. I mean… I’m glad you’re in a gang of kids who love Drama. That’s great. But why did you have to say such horrible things to us?”

“I was desperate to be part of the bigger world,” says Arturo, passionately. “I’m so sorry, Henri. I really am. I don’t know what got into me. I just… lost my mind.”

 “Okay,” says Henri, going to comfort his friend. “I think we all want to be part of the bigger world, if only the bigger world wasn’t so ruined.”

“I wish all the Drama kids could come to our school,” says Arturo, embracing Henri. “They’d love it here.”

“Not only the Drama kids would love our school,” says Irenia, solemnly. “All the kids would love to learn this way. We are so very lucky.”


A Wedding Song


Being In Love

On a warm sultry afternoon in early September, Delilah is alone in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy. A musician and artist and teacher, her twenty-eighth birthday a month away, she has been battling severe depression for five months now as her body numbly goes through the motions of life.

Her depression ensued when her boyfriend Thomas, a professor at Cornell, ended their brief and mostly long-distance relationship—Delilah’s only experience of a sexual romance—and her sorrow has proven impervious to the love and concern of her friends.

Submerged in the big tub, her eyes closed, she startles when Andrea and Caroline, two of her closest friends, emerge from the changing room and join her in the tub, no one speaking.

A few minutes pass and Delilah murmurs, “I should go,” and moves to get out.

“Stay a while longer,” says Andrea, her words more command than request.

“Okay,” says Delilah, subsiding.

“When I came to San Francisco,” says Andrea, her German accent barely detectable after thirty-four years in America, “I was twenty-three and knew nothing about love. Not even a little bit. I had never been in love or been loved, and my sexual experiences were few and ugly. To my surprise and delight, American men were interested in me, and not just for sex, but for sharing life, too. In Germany I lived in the same working class neighborhood of Hamburg for my whole life and either the men there weren’t interested in me or I wasn’t interested in them, but in San Francisco lots of men found me attractive and I felt the same about many of them. After some months of dating and enjoying the novelty of being so popular, I chose James for my boyfriend. He was a guitar player and singer and worked as a concierge in a small hotel. He was funny and sweet and I enjoyed him very much, though I never imagined marrying him. Then one day I met Marcel. He was a waiter in a restaurant near the restaurant where I worked. We went for coffee and I knew immediately I preferred him to James. But I didn’t tell James right way, not for a few weeks. Then one night when James was at my apartment, Marcel called. When James asked who that was on the phone, I told him it was someone I liked very much and maybe we should break up. He was devastated. I had been meaning to tell him about Marcel, but I was waiting for the right time, except there is no right time to tell someone who loves you that you don’t want to be with them anymore. Then a year passed and I was very happy with Marcel, and one day I heard from a mutual friend that James suffered terribly for a long time after I broke up with him and he finally moved away because it was too painful for him to stay in San Francisco where we had been together. So… I did to James what Thomas did to you.”

“You’re a horrible person,” says Delilah, blubbering. “I always suspected you were.”

“I know you did,” says Andrea, gliding across the tub and embracing Delilah. “Now your suspicions have been confirmed.”

“I’m James,” says Delilah, clinging to Andrea and sobbing.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” says Andrea, holding her. “I’m sorry you were so hurt.”

“Being in love,” says Caroline who is forty-two and about to be married for the first time after many short-lived affairs, “is not the same as love. In fact, being in love isn’t love at all.”

“Then what is being in love if not love?” asks Delilah, amazed to feel her sorrow lessening.

“Being in love is imagining the other person is who you want them to be,” says Caroline, joining the embrace. “A passing fancy. But love has nothing to do with what we imagine. Love is real.”

“Love is when two are one,” says Andrea, thinking of Marcel.

“Yes,” says Caroline, thinking of her lover Raul. “Oneness.”


A few days after her soak with Andrea and Caroline, Delilah wakes to the familiar sounds of Celia and Nathan beginning their day.

“I’m better,” she says, rising with ease and about to put on her usual trousers and T-shirt when instead she puts on a dress, a light summery thing, and waltzes down the hall to the kitchen.

Celia is making coffee, her long black hair full of gray, not surprising for one who is eighty-two. She smiles to see Delilah in a dress and says, “I dreamt you were wearing a dress and playing the piano.”

“Shall I play something now?” asks Delilah, looking from Celia to Nathan who is sitting at the kitchen table sipping his tea and musing over a blank page.

“Yes, please,” says Nathan, nodding emphatically. “I’ve been missing your morning concerts.”

So Delilah returns to her bedroom, sits at her beautiful teak upright, and improvises a jazzy-sounding waltz unlike anything she’s ever played because she is now unlike anyone she has ever been.

Nathan and Celia stand in the bedroom doorway, thrilling to Delilah’s music and rejoicing in her transcendence of sorrow.


In the late morning on a warm humid day in mid-September, Delilah rides her bicycle up the steep curving road through the forest to Ziggurat Farm. Winded from her two-mile climb, she stands on her pedals and glides along the farm drive to the sturdy new bridge spanning a newly made creek bed that will soon carry the flow of a recently resurrected spring.

However, before that flow is directed into the new channel, Gabriel Fernandez, a local backhoe wizard, must finish extending the channel another fifty yards to connect it with the original creek bed descending through the forest to the Mercy River.

Delilah watches Gabriel sculpting the ground with his backhoe, and she wonders if he only likes her because he loves her music.

Gabriel is thrilled to see Delilah watching him, and he wonders if she only likes him because he loves her music.

Now Daisy arrives on the bridge with her eighteen-month-old daughter Jenna on her back—Daisy married to Michael who is Thomas’s older brother.

Delilah and Daisy and Jenna are rendezvousing for a walk up the hill to the Richardsons’ new house to meet with Constance and Joseph about Delilah illustrating Daisy’s novella Women Farm—Constance and Joseph keen to send the book to a publisher friend in England.

“Isn’t this amazing,” says Daisy, standing beside Delilah and looking down at the newly made channel. “In just another few days there will be water flowing under us.”

“Down,” says Jenna, reaching out to Delilah.

“In a little while, Jenna,” says Daisy, having just spent twenty minutes with Michael wrestling the baby girl into the backpack. “When we get to Connie and Joseph’s.”

“Now!” yowls Jenna. “Down now.”

“I’ll carry her,” says Delilah, wanting to make the baby happy.

“Okay,” says Daisy, sighing. “If you will hold her up, I will extricate myself from the straps.”

Once on the ground and set free, Jenna toddles off in the direction of the farmhouse where she hopes to find the big girls she adores and their puppies.

“Not that way, honey,” says Daisy, chasing after her daughter. “We’re going to Joseph and Connie’s.”

“Vinnie,” says Jenna, her way of saying Vivienne. “Puppy.”

“Joseph and Connie have two puppies,” says Daisy, dragging Jenna away from the farmhouse. “And cookies.”

“Cookie,” says Jenna, ceasing to resist.

So up the hill they trudge, Delilah carrying Jenna on her hip.

At a turn in the path, Delilah looks back at Gabriel on his tractor far in the distance, and not expecting him to see her, she raises her hand in farewell and he raises his hand in response.

“Isn’t he the most beautiful man?” says Daisy, sighing. “Please don’t tell Michael I said that.”

“Tell Michael,” says Jenna, glowering at her mother. “Cookie.”

“When I was reading your book,” says Delilah, setting Jenna down for a moment, “I kept thinking of Gabriel as Man.”

“Maybe you can use him as a model for Man,” says Daisy, picking up her daughter.

“Maybe so,” says Delilah, smiling at the thought of Gabriel posing for her in the garden.


Joseph and Constance have been in their new house for six weeks, and to say they are thrilled is a vast understatement. For forty years they fantasized together about designing and building their dream house, yet never believed they would until they decided to move back to Mercy from England and were searching for a house to rent or buy when they found these twelve acres for sale adjacent to Ziggurat Farm, the housing site already cleared, a paved driveway from the highway completed, a prolific well dug, a large foundation poured.

Now seven months after purchasing the land and designing the house, they wake each day in their glorious master bedroom and hurry down the wide hallway to the huge high-ceilinged room that is kitchen, dining room, and living room opening onto a vast deck overlooking a meadow surrounded by a resurgent forest, their dream come true.


“I imagine most of these drawings being portraits of the women and Man,” says Constance, confident of her imaginings, “whereas Joseph, and correct me if I’m wrong, dear, imagines landscapes with human figures seen from afar if at all.”

“I prefer leaving things to the reader’s imagination,” says Joseph, sauntering after Jenna as she toddles around the living room in pursuit of the adorable black and white puppies Alec and Merula, most of the furniture yet to arrive. “Illustrations should evoke not define.”

“What do you think, Daisy?” asks Delilah, who has read the manuscript three times and feels somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of trying to illustrate such a masterwork.

“I hadn’t imagined there would be drawings, “ says Daisy, sitting at the big dining table with Constance and Delilah and enjoying herself immensely. “But I love the idea. I think there could be landscapes and closer views of the women gardening or cooking or hunting.”

“When I read illustrated books as a boy,” says Joseph, following Jenna to the table and lifting her onto Constance’s lap, “I had a hard time imagining myself in the stories if the illustrations were too obviously not me. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do,” says Delilah, who has been drawing with near photographic accuracy since she was a little girl. “I was thinking we could assemble the females of the collective in the garden for an hour or so of sketching and picture-taking. That would give me more than enough material to get started.”

“Who will pose as Man?” asks Joseph, frowning thoughtfully. “Philip? Marcel? They both have youthful physiques, and if the face is not too specific…”

“We were thinking of Gabriel for Man,” says Daisy, exchanging looks with Delilah.

“The backhoe fellow?” says Joseph, excitedly. “Now that’s a stroke. He’s the right age and darkly handsome, and he’s got the flowing locks and requisite muscles.”

“Wouldn’t we like to see him without a shirt on?” says Constance, loving having Jenna on her lap. “Speaking of Adonis.”

“Think he’d do it?” asks Joseph, arching an eyebrow. “Seems rather shy.”

“He doesn’t have to take his shirt off,” says Delilah, blushing. “Only if he wants to.”


Delilah leaves Daisy and Jenna visiting with Joseph and Constance and walks down the hill to the farmhouse to give Henri a piano lesson. Seeing Gabriel is done for the day and nowhere in sight, she pouts and says, “Darn. Next time no matter what I’m talking to him.”

She enters the farmhouse and is happy to find Henri, who just turned thirteen, giving a piano concert for Philip and Andrea and Gabriel, the three of them sitting at the dining table.

Delilah tiptoes to the table and sits next to Gabriel who is listening raptly to the lovely samba Henri’s been working on with Delilah, his playing not yet masterful but getting there.

When he finishes playing and acknowledges the applause with a gracious nod, Henri says, “Now you play something, Delilah. Please?”

“Would you?” says Gabriel, turning to Delilah and placing a hand on his heart.

“Okay,” she says, getting up and crossing the room to the piano.

“Don’t start yet,” says Vivienne, coming in the front door with Irenia followed by three seven-month-old puppies—Jargon with pointy ears, Cordelia the biggest, Max the runt with a stubby tail.

“We are parched,” says Irenia as she and Vivienne take off their work boots and leave them by the door. “Please wait, Delilah, until we have water.”

When at last Vivienne and Irenia are settled on the sofa with Henri, Delilah closes her eyes and thinks of Gabriel who has attended every concert she’s ever given since his return from war thirteen years ago, her music holy to him.

She imagines they meet on a dance floor, he and she the only dancers, and as they dance together she plays a variation on the jazzy-sounding waltz she improvised for Nathan and Celia a week ago, this time the music profoundly romantic.


On the morning of the Autumnal Equinox, the day sunny and cool, fifty people gather on the Ziggurat Farm drive to witness Gabriel remove the last few feet of soil keeping the headwaters of Mammoth Creek from resuming their original course.

Two state park officials have come from Sacramento to join five park rangers from nearby Egret Estuary State Park at the rejoining ceremony, two of those park rangers and Michael and Caroline having completed a survey of the creek bed from where it begins on Ziggurat Farm to where it joins the Mercy River, a descent of two miles through a forest of second and third growth redwoods, only a few problematic log jams found along the way, those obstructions subsequently removed.

Also present are three members of the local Pomo community, a dozen local environmentalists, the six Ziggurat Farm homeschoolers and their ten parents, as well as various neighbors and friends of the farm including Constance and Joseph and Nathan and Celia and Delilah.

Nathan stands on the farm drive a few yards north of the new bridge and addresses the fifty witnesses. “I was asked by the farm folks to say something before Gabriel performs the miracle. Why me? Because Celia and I are the only ones here who remember the creek as it was a long time ago before the spring got jammed up, and I’m the more verbose of the two of us. So here’s a little poem I wrote to commemorate this moment.”

Mammoth Creek

We were young lovers just married

when last we stood on the old bridge here

looking down at the quiet stream touched by sunlight.

Now we are old lovers standing on this new bridge

looking down at the dry creek bed waiting for

the water to flow beneath us again, sunlight

waiting to glint off the water once more.

Same lovers, same place on earth,

same source, same delight to be here,

everything eternally new.

He nods in thanks for the applause and turns to watch Gabriel mount his tractor, start his engine, and with his mighty backhoe remove the last obstacle to the creek resuming her original course—everyone cheering as the sparkling water flows under the bridge and emerges on the downhill side going strong.


During the celebration following the return of the stream to her natural course—coffee and tea and muffins at the picnic tables near the farmhouse—Delilah approaches Gabriel and asks him if he’d be willing to pose for some drawings for Daisy’s book.

“What is the book about?” he asks, finding her surpassingly lovely as always, though especially so in her light summery dress.

“It’s called Women Farm,” she says, feeling quite naked in her dress and enjoying the feeling. “A fable set in the future when society has collapsed and is evolving anew, a chaotic time when groups of women band together for protection and live mostly apart from men.”

“And who am I in the story?” he asks, looking into her eyes. “A bad man or a good man?”

“Oh you’re good,” she says, nodding emphatically. “All good.”

“So it really is a fable,” he says, smiling wryly.

“He’s an innocent,” she says, meeting his gaze. “Would you like to come for supper tonight? Celia is making her famous fish tacos and I’ll be making my less famous but nonetheless delicious guacamole.”

“I can’t tonight,” he says, sounding disappointed. “My mother’s birthday.”

“How about tomorrow night?” she asks, undaunted.

“Yes, I can,” he says, nodding. “Que hora?”

“Come at five-thirty,” she says, breathlessly. “We’ll eat at six.”

“Bueno,” he says, holding out his hand to her. “I was hoping you and I would share a meal one day.”

“You were?” she says, taking his hand. “Really?”

“Of course,” he says, growing serious.

“Why of course?” she asks, never wanting to let him go.

“Because,” he says quietly. “You know.”

“I do know,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “I do.”


Passing Fancy


Early Summer

June eleventh, a sunny Tuesday morning on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California.

Henri, a fast-growing lad of twelve, his black hair recently cut short for the summer, and Joseph, a large man of seventy-one with longish gray hair, sit a few feet apart on folding aluminum lawn chairs on the western shore of a recently revived natural pond, the granite basin some fifty-feet-long and thirty-feet-wide and quite deep at the south end where the water overflows and carries on as a sparkling brook.

They are sketching the scene before them, the glassy surface of the pond beyond which arises a densely forested slope of young redwoods, firs, and hemlocks—the stream burbling westward through oaks and madrone.

Joseph is a British landscape painter and portraitist of some renown in England, his paintings reminiscent of the work of Singer Sargent, though Joseph most frequently compares himself to Pissarro. Henri has lived on Ziggurat Farm his entire life and has been drawing ever since he was four, Joseph giving him occasional instruction and constant encouragement.

“Do enlighten me as to why you chose not to audition for the play, Henri?” asks Joseph, his accent born in Devon. “You would be magnificent as Bottom and surely would have won the role.”

“Actually,” says Henri, who has a British accent, too, whenever he’s with Joseph or Constance, Joseph’s wife, “I couldn’t be in the play because one has to be at least thirteen to be in the Mercy Players Junior Company and I won’t be thirteen until August. Arturo just turned fourteen and he’s nearly the youngest person in the cast.”

Henri frowns at an errant stroke and carries on, having learned from Joseph that sketching isn’t about getting the picture just so, but about practicing sketching.

Had you been thirteen,” Joseph persists, “would you have auditioned?”

Henri muses for a moment. “Doubtful. There were extenuating circumstances.”

“Do tell,” says Joseph, bored with this view. “Shall we shift around and face west? I’m finding this scene rather prosaic. The pond will one day be a glory, but for now is but a rustic swimming pool.”

They turn their chairs around and contemplate the view to the west, a meadow of tall grasses between towering redwoods to the north, oaks and madrone to the south, the sky vast and cloud-dotted above a forest descending to the not-quite-visible ocean.

“You attended the audition with us,” says Henri, smiling at Joseph, “so you know save for Arturo and the divine Dolores Ramirez, the players were dreadful and not likely to improve much in seven weeks.”

“Seven weeks of good coaching can work wonders,” says Joseph, returning Henri’s smile. “But your point is well-taken. What else?”

“I’d much rather study drawing and painting with you and have twoextra music lessons with Delilah every week for my summer Main Study than spend six hours a day for seven weeks playing Drama games and mounting a ghastly teenaged production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Henri finds the new view more to his liking and sketches swiftly and confidently. “Also just between you and me, I needed a break from Arturo. We are so much together, our little band of friends, we needed time away from each other before school starts again in September.”

“What is your schoolmate Larry doing for the summer?” asks Joseph, sketching happily now. “Delightful fellow. Beautiful baritone. Loved the ‘I’d Do Anything’ duet he sang with Irenia at the end-of-school concert. Bravura.”

“Larry and his parents are spending three weeks in Manhattan with Larry’s mother’s parents,” says Henri, pleased with his sketch, “after which they’ll go to an island off the coast of British Columbia for a month to stay with Larry’s father’s parents. Larry didn’t want to go. He loves it here and wanted to do a Main Study in Math and Physics with Delilah, but his parents insisted he go with them, so…”

“Why didn’t Irenia audition for the play?” asks Joseph, arching a quizzical eyebrow. “She’s so talented. And I don’t just mean for one so young. I mean she is a fully realized actor and singer, not to mention being blindingly beautiful.”

A blush appears on Henri’s cheeks. “Well… she was keen to study cooking with either Raul or Philip for her Main Study, and when both of them said they’d be willing to mentor her, the play became an irrelevancy.” He stops sketching, his artistry derailed by thoughts of Irenia. “And just between you and me again, she desperately needed a break from Arturo. He’s obsessed with her. Follows her everywhere. She tolerates it, but I know she’s greatly relieved he’s otherwise engaged for the next several weeks.”

“Can’t blame him, can you?” says Joseph, shaking his head. “I’m sure I would have done the same thing at his age. She’s spectacular.” He pauses meaningfully. “Don’t you think?”

Henri clears his throat.  “I won’t disagree she’s lovely.” He takes a deep breath. “But one doesn’t want to smother one, does one?”

“No,” says Joseph, suppressing a giggle. “But one wouldn’t mind kissing her if one could and she was amenable, and one was roughly her age. Yes?”

“I suppose so,” says Henri, squinting suspiciously at Joseph. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”

Joseph glances around as if to make sure they are not overheard. “Connie and I were coming down the trail to the pond a few afternoons ago to see how the algae was progressing, and at a crook in the trail…” He gestures behind him up the hill in the direction of their house that’s being built. “…Connie stayed me with a touch and whispered, ‘Methinks we’ve come upon young Romeo and Juliet.’ And though we quickly retraced our steps, we were fairly certain Romeo was you and Juliet was Irenia, though we could be wrong, of course, dusk being such a trickster.”

“Joseph,” says Henri, gazing earnestly at his mentor and friend. “May I ask an enormous favor of you and Connie? That you tell no one what you saw a few afternoons ago? I fear it would devastate Arturo if he knew.”

“Ah,” says Joseph, nodding in understanding. “Connie and I shall never mention it to anyone, though I’m sure we will mention it to each other on many occasions when we wish to remember that supremely sweet moment. You lucky guy, you.”


Meanwhile, Joseph’s wife Constance, two years Joseph’s junior, a plump pretty fantastically successful murder mystery writer, is serving tea to Daisy, forty-one, a darling yet-to-be-published writer of fiction.

They are sitting at the small dining table in the little house Joseph and Constance are renting in Mercy while they await completion of their spectacular modern home being built on land adjacent to the northeast side of Ziggurat farm.

Daisy and her husband Michael and their fifteen-month-old baby girl Jenna live in a house on three acres adjacent to the south side of the farm. Michael is an ornithologist recently relieved of his academic duties by Daisy inheriting a fortune from her mother, and Daisy is a writer recently freed from her job as a secretary by that same inheritance, Jenna their first and probably only child.

Michael is taking care of Jenna for the morning while Daisy visits Constance to learn what Constance thinks of Daisy’s novella Women Farm, which Daisy gave to Constance a week ago.

“I absolutely love watching Vivienne and Irenia lug your adorable daughter around on their soon-to-be-women’s hips,” says Constance, pouring very black tea from a large white teapot into dainty white teacups. “Makes the little darling so happy, and me, too.” She sighs in her dramatic way. “I suppose if I’d had a real live baby to play with when I was their age, I might have had children, but such was not the case.”

“I didn’t want children until just a few years ago,” says Daisy, tasting a cookie. “These are so yummy, Connie. Did you make them?”

“No, no, I commissioned Celia to make them for me. She and Nathan and Delilah are giving us breakfast every day until we move into our new house, and often supper, too, when we’re not dining at the farmhouse or at Ocelot. We are hopelessly addicted to Raul’s restaurant. Imagine him agreeing to mentor Irenia for the summer. How could he possibly have time? We were shocked when we heard.”

“Imagine having the chutzpah to ask him,” says Daisy, who finds all the Ziggurat Farm kids amazing. “She’s only fourteen.”

“Where did she get such confidence?” exclaims Constance. “Her parents are self-effacing to the point of saintliness.”

“Does Joseph cook?” asks Daisy, finding the tea incredibly strong.

“He can,” says Constance, making a dismissive face, “but prefers not to unless he absolutely has to. And I never cook, unless you consider making tea and boiling eggs cooking.” She nibbles a cookie. “What decided you to have a child?”

“An unconscious decision,” says Daisy, feeling she might cry talking about this. “When my mother died not quite three years ago I just… stopped taking precautions, though I didn’t decide to stop and wasn’t aware I had until one night after we made love I thought, ‘I think I’m ovulating’ and I hadn’t put my diaphragm in.” She smiles through her tears. “Maybe I wanted to replace my mother. I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Why didn’t you want children?”

“Well,” says Constance, who hasn’t talked about this since she was in therapy in her forties, “I made a very conscious choice not to have children when I was twenty-five, a year after I was jilted by a man I’d given my body and soul to for three years. I was sure we would marry, though unbeknownst to me he was philandering from day one, and for the entire year after his cruel betrayal I was bedridden and couldn’t even begin to recover until one day I proclaimed to my distraught mother that I would never have children. And my mother, who’d had four, said, ‘That’s fine, dear. Just so you get well.’ And then I did.” She pours more tea into Daisy’s cup. “I’ve never regretted my decision, and truth be told I never had much to do with children until we moved here and became entangled with young Delilah and then the farm kids, all of whom we adore, and I do hope you will bring Jenna to visit me frequently and sometimes leave her with me so I may pamper and spoil her without you seeing me make a googly ass of myself. Please?”

“Is tomorrow too soon?” asks Daisy, nodding hopefully.

They laugh uproariously and Constance touches Daisy’s hand and says, “Now let us speak of your novella.”

“Oh that,” says Daisy, and off they go laughing again.

“I will preface my remarks,” says Constance, gazing wide-eyed at Daisy, “by saying we are so glad, Joseph and I, that we like your book because we will soon be your neighbors and it would have been so awkward to see you all the time and have to pretend we liked your book if we didn’t. But we do.”

“Oh good,” says Daisy, blushing.

Constance gets up from the table and goes to fetch the manuscript from the coffee table in the living room, and Daisy holds her breath until Constance returns.

“To properly set the scene for my experience of reading your novella,” says Constance, settling into her chair and placing the manuscript on the table, “I will detail our morning schedule, which begins with Nathan and Celia giving us breakfast at nine, after which we visit our pups Alec and Merula who are staying with their mother next door to Nathan’s until we move into our new house. After the puppy visit, we walk to and from and along the beach at the mouth of the Mercy. Are you with me?”

“I’m with you,” says Daisy, relieved to know they like her book.

“So the day after you gave me Women Farm,” says Constance, recalling the moment vividly, “we came home after pup visiting, and with some trepidation, knowing you were destined to be our neighbor and frequently dining with us at the farmhouse etcetera, I sat down with the manuscript thinking I’d get through a few pages before we left for the beach.” She pauses momentously. “But the beach, despite the glorious day, had to wait until I finished reading your masterwork.”

Daisy gasps and her eyes fill with tears.

“Joseph came twice to get me for our walk,” says Constance, on the verge of tears herself, “and seeing I was so completely gone to your story he left me alone until I finished. Then I changed into my beach togs and we walked through town and down the stairs to the beach, and after I’d waded in the water to regain my senses, he asked, ‘Are you ever going to speak again?’ and I replied, ‘Either I’ve lost my mind or I’ve just read a work of surpassing genius.’ And that’s what I think of your novella.”

Daisy tries to speak, but words won’t come.

“When we got home from the beach,” says Constance, continuing, “Joseph sat down in the big armchair in the living room and without once getting up for drink or food or to pee, he read Women Farm from start to finish, took off his reading glasses, looked at me—I was on the sofa with my feet up waiting for him to finish so I could read it again—and said, ‘If Delilah will do some pen and ink drawings to illustrate this riveting tale, Arnold Winfield will go mad to publish it.’ And I agree, Arnold will. He only does a few books a year, but each one is a literary event. In England. A hundred and thirty-three pages of manuscript will only make a hundred pages of print, and it’s a book you’d never in a million years get published in America unless it’s a huge success elsewhere, but Arnold will want it, we’re sure.” She beams at Daisy. “Did you have an editor, dear? The word flow is breathtaking.”

“Nathan,” says Daisy, nodding.

“He’s marvelous,” says Constance, smiling brightly. “Doesn’t care for my books, but then I’m not original and he is so original.”

“I think you’re original,” says Daisy, who recently gobbled three of Constance’s murder mysteries. “I loved Lisa Has Three Suitors. Seemed highly original to me, and your dialogue is fantastic. No wonder they all get made into movies.”

“I’m clever, dear,” says Constance, enjoying the praise but not taking it seriously. “And I copy others prodigiously as all mystery writers do. And dear Joseph grooms my dialogue until it sparkles, else it would sound ridiculous. I could never write anything so grand as Women Farm. Some magnificent spirit spoke through you, didn’t she?”

“Seems so,” says Daisy, humbled by such praise.

“I assure you no spirits speak through me,” says Constance, looking out on the sunny day. “Shall we walk around town? I’d love to give you lunch at the Happy Day Café & Bakery. Won’t hold a candle to what Philip and Raul are concocting for supper at the farmhouse, but it will sustain us until then.”


That afternoon in the farmhouse kitchen, Philip, slender handsome husband of Lisa and father of Arturo and Vivienne, and Raul, ruggedly handsome chef of exceeding fame, both in chef’s whites, stand in the farmhouse kitchen watching Irenia, also in chef’s whites, swiftly dicing garlic.

Raul and Philip are awaiting Irenia’s assessment of the sauce they’ve concocted for a dish they are calling Prawns Raul Philip, both very pleased with their concoction.

“Of course,” says Irenia, who is Russian, tall and gorgeous and though only fourteen could easily pass for eighteen, “you are both culinary savants and know everything about cooking, yet I am certain this sauce lacks garlic, though not raw garlic, but garlic sautéed ever so briefly in olive oil, if one of you would prepare a small frying pan for me.”

Raul and Philip exchange arched eyebrows and Raul says to Philip in French, “It is her lack of pretense I find most disarming.”

“She’s fearless,” says Philip, nodding in agreement. “Frequently wrong, but unafraid to try and fail.”

“The garlic will ruin the sauce,” says Raul, grimacing. “And it’s so good now. Your touch of turmeric was a master stroke.”

“As was your dill,” says Philip, nodding.

“But I suppose we must let her try,” says Raul, wistfully.

“How else will she learn?” asks Philip, laughing. “We know telling her won’t convince her.”

“No other way,” says Raul, laughing, too. “And we have time to make it again.”

“What are you saying about me?” asks Irenia, a blush in her cheeks.

“We are saying you will learn by doing,” says Raul, setting a small frying pan on a flame and pouring in the olive oil.


At the end of the fabulous supper made by Philip and Raul and Irenia for twenty happy diners, Prawns Philip Raul sans garlic the star of the show, Nathan, who recently turned eighty-seven, addresses the assembly.

“I wanted to share something Celia and I discovered about your creek,” he says, extracting a stack of rolled up maps from a cardboard tube. “I’m chagrined to say I didn’t remember this six weeks ago when the excavation of the pond began, but I didn’t.”

“By the way, Nathan,” says Alma, who just turned thirteen and is studying Botany and Ecology with Caroline and Michael for her summer Main Study, “three days ago we calculated the creek has a flow rate of fifty-seven gallons per minute.”

“A very good flow, indeed,” says Nathan, smiling at Alma, “especially considering we’re in the third year of a severe drought. All of which suggests the creek was here for a very long time before it was stoppered.”

“So what did you remember?” asks Henri, who thinks of Nathan as his grandfather.

“Well,” says Nathan, nodding his thanks to Henri for keeping him on track, “a week ago Celia was making breakfast and said to me, ‘When we used to go to the farm fifty-five years ago to pick apples, didn’t we drive across a little wooden bridge on the farm drive?’ And then it all came back to me. The bridge was about twenty-feet-long and just wide enough for a truck.”

“So the creek didn’t turn south and follow the path to our house and beyond,” says Michael, excitedly. “It continued directly west.”

“That’s right,” says Nathan, unfurling ten copies of a two-foot-square map. “These are facsimiles of the map on the wall of our town museum.” He hands nine of the copies to Henri to distribute around the dining table. “They show the Mercy watershed as rendered by a surveying crew in 1856. If you look dead center on this map you’ll see your stream followed a southwesterly course from here and entered the Mercy River about a mile inland from the mouth. You see the name there where it meets the river? Mammoth Creek. Merle Redstone, the docent at the museum, said it wasn’t called Mammoth because the creek was big, but for the enormous redwoods that grew along the creek before they got cut down. He also said the first half-mile of the creek coming this way from the river was a renowned steelhead and salmon spawning area. And you can see two other creeks joined your creek along the way from here, one of them Bella’s Creek, which I know still has a little water in it most of the year and skirts Susan Oldfield’s place a half-mile down the road from you.”

“So if we were to redirect the creek across the farm drive where it originally flowed,” says Philip, sharing a copy of the map with Lisa and Vivienne, “the creek would resume its old course down to the Mercy?”

“I don’t see why not,” says Nathan, smiling at the thought of that. “Pretty much all the land from here to there is protected now and will never be logged again. Part of Egret Estuary State Park.”

“It will cost a pretty penny to dig out the creek bed across the drive and beyond, and build a sturdy new bridge,” says Joseph, sharing a map with Constance. “We’d be happy to contribute to the cause.”

“The state might fund part of it,” says Michael, avidly studying the map with his sister Caroline. “Restoration of precious wildlife habitat.”

“Another job for Gabriel,” says Henri’s father Marcel, speaking of the local backhoe magician.

“As soon as he finishes digging the hole for our septic tank and trenching the septic field,” says Constance, looking up from the map. “Did you see there’s a waterfall along our little Mammoth Creek? Indigo Falls. Why indigo we wonder? Won’t it be fun to find out?”


Hey Baby



In late April, on a foggy Saturday morning in the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California, Delilah, the only child of deceased movie star Margot Cunningham, sits on the sofa in the living room of the little house she shares with Nathan and Celia, octogenarians who dearly love Delilah and vice-versa.

Toulouse, a shorthaired black cat, is sitting on the sofa, too, purring as Delilah strokes him. A fire is crackling in the hearth and Celia is at the kitchen table in her bathrobe reading the newspaper and sipping her second cup of coffee while Nathan is out walking the mutts Chico and Gypsy. 

Delilah is twenty-six and greatly resembles her famously beautiful mother, though Margot was fair and blonde and Delilah has olive skin and brown hair, her totality suggesting the unknown father was Latino. A superb musician and artist, Delilah is sexually romantically in love for the first time in her life. Her lover Thomas Darling, a professor of wildlife biology at Cornell, is expected to move to Mercy in June to merge his life with Delilah’s.

Eager to tell Thomas about exciting developments at Ziggurat Farm where she is the main home school teacher, Delilah decides to call Thomas this morning, their last phone conversation three weeks ago. Letters from Delilah and emails in reply from Thomas are their usual way of communicating, with phone conversations reserved for special occasions and excessive missing of each other.

“I was just going to call you,” says Thomas, answering on the second ring.

“Sex-starved minds think alike,” says Delilah, delighted to know he was thinking of her. “Shall I go first or you?”

After a moment’s hesitation—or was that his cell phone lagging?—he says, “You.”

“Well,” she says, speaking into Nathan and Celia’s trusty old landline phone, “have either of your sibs told you about the pond they discovered? Or I should say the former pond.”

“I think Caroline mentioned something about it at the end of a long email, though I only skim her emails,” he says, sounding slightly annoyed. “She does go on. Is that why you called?”

“Oh it’s so exciting,” says Delilah, undaunted by Thomas’s customary reticence at the outset of their phone calls. “Caroline and Michael took the kids on a field trip to the northeast corner of the farm and they uncovered part of what turns out to be a stone basin that once held a spring-fed pond just down the hill from where the Ramirez brothers are building the Richardsons’ new house. So then the collective hired Gabriel Fernandez, our local backhoe wizard, to dig out most of the dirt in the former pond, which is about fifty-feet-long and thirty-feet-wide and quite deep. And for the last week, Michael and Boris, Irenia’s father, have been digging out the remaining soil, with the kids doing some digging, too. And tomorrow morning early Celia and I are going to the farm to help Philip and Raul and Caroline and Andrea and Lisa make food for the gala luncheon to follow what we hope will be the unearthing of the spring. We’re making Celia’s chicken enchiladas and Philip’s ratatouille and tortillas from scratch and a stupendous guacamole Raul and I have been perfecting. Oh I wish you could be here, Thom. It’s going to be so much fun.”

“What else?” he asks quietly.

“Besides counting the hours until the one I love comes back to me?” she says, smiling into the phone. “Well… we’re expecting rain tomorrow. Real rain, which we desperately need. Nathan and Celia are being their usual marvelous selves, the homeschoolers are ever amazing and turning into adults before our very eyes, and it’s so great to have the Richardsons back in the mix, all the kids and I speaking with British accents again. Their gorgeous new house should be done in July, and in August their magnificent Steinway arrives from England, and they’re coming for supper tonight. Fish tacos and baby potatoes we’ll harvest from the garden this afternoon. The potatoes, not the tacos. Oh you will just love Joseph and Connie, and they will adore you.”

“So you’ve said,” he says with little emotion.

“Are you okay?” she asks, frowning into the phone. “Have I annoyed you with my ebullience? You sound even more taciturn than usual.”

“I’m okay, I just…” He hesitates. “I’ve been working day and night to clear the boards to come out there and…” He hesitates again. “I had a meeting a couple weeks ago with Jack Cuthbertson, head of the department, and he made a very strong case for my putting in another four years here, after which I could take a sabbatical and a year off and not lose my place, which seems prudent given the current collapsing economy. So I’m wondering… would you consider moving here for four years before we give living out there a try?”

“You’re joking,” says Delilah, sure he must be.

“No, I’m… I think it makes a lot of sense given the ongoing economic breakdown and the swiftly disintegrating future. My staying on at Cornell would give us at least a modicum of security in this wildly insecure world.”

“A modicum of security,” she repeats, the room spinning. “You’re not joking, are you?”

“I’m trying to keep our options open,” he says with some anger. “I didn’t inherit seven millions dollars like Michael and Daisy. This is a very good job. I can’t just transfer to a college near you because there are no colleges near you. But you can make music and art here just as well as there, so…”

“Thom,” she says, interrupting. “I’m going to live in Mercy until Nathan and Celia die, which I hope won’t be for a very long time, and then I’ll probably live here for the rest of my life. We talked about this when you were here. Several times. And you said you were more than ready to stop being a cog in an academic factory and wanted to start a new life. With me. Remember? You said you’d do anything to be with me.”

“Of course I remember, but…”

“Do you really expect me to abandon the two people I owe my life and happiness to? In the last years of their lives? To come live with you in Ithaca? To leave my community and friends to move to a place where you told me you have no friends? Why would I do that?”

“To be with me.”



“Have you met someone you want to be involved with rather than me?”

“No. Why would you say that?”

“Please don’t lie to me.”

“I haven’t met anyone. I’m… things are finally going well here after years of not going well for me. I have some great graduate students now and…”

“Is one of your graduate students a woman you’re interested in?”

“Why do you keep suggesting that? I just asked you to come live with me.”

“Knowing I wouldn’t,” she says, growing numb with sorrow. “So now you can say it was I who ended things, not you. Is that what you want? To feel exonerated?”

“Exonerated for what?” he snaps. “I asked you to come live with me. How is that ending things?”

“Because you knew I’d say no. Didn’t you?”

She waits for him to reply.

He says nothing.

“I exonerate you for changing your mind,” she says quietly. “Whatever your reasons. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your life. I really do. Goodbye.”


In the late afternoon on that same Saturday, Irenia, fourteen, Arturo, thirteen, Henri, twelve, and Vivienne, eleven, are doing some last minute soil removing from the stone basin ahead of tomorrow’s celebration.

The wheelbarrows used by Boris and Michael to ferry dirt out of the basin are too big even half-full for the kids to use, so Henri commandeered a sturdy two-wheeled cart from the garden that can be pulled by two people, thus enabling them to remove lots of soil.

At five o’clock, the air growing chill, only a large mound of soil in the deep south end of the basin remains to be removed, the hole otherwise largely free of dirt. This mound, about the size of a small car, is thought to be sitting atop the mouth of the spring that once filled the pond to overflowing and fed a year-round creek—the removal of the mound to be the centerpiece of tomorrow’s pond resurrection ceremony.

Vivienne, who is very tired from a day’s work in the vegetable garden and two hours of pond excavation, says to her brother Arturo, “You and I are scheduled to get the chickens in today and Andrea is probably already mad we haven’t yet. Come on.”

“Okay,” says Arturo, who is also very tired but doesn’t want to leave Irenia. “Let’s all go back now. We’ve done more than enough today.”

“Henri and I will just finish this last load,” says Irenia, giving Arturo a dazzling smile. “Go rescue the chickens.”

So Arturo and Vivienne exit the hole via the shallow north end and disappear.

A moment passes.

Irenia drops her shovel, walks out the north end of the hole, confirms Arturo and Vivienne are gone, and returns to Henri.

“We kissed for the first time a month ago when the Richardsons came back,” she says, her Russian accent always stronger when she speaks quietly. “But then you never kissed me again. Don’t you love me anymore, Henri?”

“You know I love you,” he says, leaning his shovel against the cart. “I just don’t want Arturo to know. It would break his heart.”

“So you break mine instead?” she says, moving closer and standing slightly downhill from him to mitigate the difference in their heights.

“I’m only twelve, Irenia,” he says, his heart pounding. “I think about you all the time, but I’m still a boy and I’m… I’m not sure what to do.” He takes a deep breath. “I’ve written three poems for you since we kissed and I composed that new thing I’ve been playing on the piano, the thing you said you loved. I wrote it for you. But I haven’t had a chance to give you the poems without Arturo knowing because he follows you everywhere. He’s obsessed with you.”

“I know,” she says, nodding. “Will you kiss me now?”

“Okay,” he whispers.

Their lips meet and their tongues touch and they gently embrace as they kiss.

At long last they move apart, the beauty of the other beyond measure, neither having words to express their feelings, their bodies energized in ways heretofore unimaginable to either of them, both vibrating in ways neither has ever vibrated before.

Now comes the distant clanging of the farmhouse triangle, which means, incredibly, thirty minutes have passed since Arturo and Vivienne departed.

“What do we tell them?” asks Irenia, as she and Henri run down the hill together. “When they ask us why we took so long?”

“We’ll say we got lost in our work,” says Henri, giving her a rakish smile.

“Which is true,” she says, taking his hand. “My darling. My love.”


The next morning at ten, the day overcast and cool, rain expected this evening, forty people gather on the western edge of the stone basin—Nathan and Celia and Delilah, Michael and Daisy and their baby Jenna, Caroline and Raul, Constance and Joseph Richardson, Oscar and Diego Ramirez and their wives and several kids, Gabriel Fernandez the backhoe magician sans backhoe, and the six homeschoolers and their ten parents.

Andrea, Henri’s mother and the farm manager, nods to her husband Marcel, and with pleasing voice and charming French accent he addresses the crowd.

“Bonjour my friends. Thank you for coming to help us revive our pond. Seven of us are going down into the hole with shovels and wheelbarrows to remove the big mound of dirt you see there at the south end where we hope to uncover the mouth of a spring to fill the pond, though I must tell you we don’t really know what is under that mound. But we are full of hope. If you get cold watching, please go to the farmhouse. The living room is warm and there is coffee and tea. Now we will dig.”

Dressed for working in muddy ground, Marcel, Philip, Boris, Michael, Gabriel, Oscar, and Diego descend into the hole with seven shovels and four big wheelbarrows and begin clearing away the mound of wet soil.

Raul Neves, a big handsome Portuguese chef with a famous restaurant in Mercy, stands with his lovely partner Caroline Darling in the midst of Nathan and Celia and Delilah and Boris’s wife Maria.

“My fingers are itching to grab a shovel,” says Raul, envious of the diggers. “Though they obviously don’t need my help.”

“Mine are itching a little, too,” says Nathan, who is eighty-six, “but my brain knows better, for which I am grateful.”

“I like to dig in the garden,” says Raul, sighing, “but I am not half as strong as Boris.” He smiles at Maria. “How did your husband get to be such a Hercules?”

“He do this work in Russia since he was boy,” says Maria, smiling shyly at Raul. “Now he pick up heavy things at Mercy Garage and move piano on weekends, so he has big muscle.” She laughs. “But he cannot cook like you. No one can.”

“Cooking for hours every day requires stamina but not such enormous strength,” says Raul, enraptured by the men working. “How beautiful they are.”

“And to their enlightened credit,” says Caroline, smiling down at her brother Michael, never before a laborer, striving to keep up with the more seasoned diggers, “they offered me and Andrea the opportunity to join them and we demurred.”

“Oh you should have done it,” says Raul, grinning at Caroline. “Showed off your sexy muscles and given everyone a thrill.”

“Stop,” she says, blushing in delight.

Now Marcel and Diego wheel the first two wheelbarrows of soil out of the pond—the watchers cheering and applauding.

“To think we may swim here again some day,” says Nathan, putting his arm around Celia. “Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

“In the summer,” says Celia, smiling at her mate of fifty-six years. “On a hot day.”

To which Delilah reacts by bursting into tears, yesterday’s shocking end to her relationship with Thomas rendering her as fragile as a goblet of Venetian glass.

“Why the tears?” asks Raul, opening his arms to give Delilah a comforting hug.

She collapses in his embrace and sobs and sobs, and Celia looks at Caroline and says, “Thom is not coming to Mercy. He broke up with her.”

“The idiot,” says Caroline, going to Delilah and Raul and gently placing her hands on Delilah’s shoulders. “I’m so sorry, dear. So sorry.”

Now Constance hurries over and takes charge of Delilah. “What happened, sweetheart? Tell me.”

“I… Thom and I parted ways,” says Delilah, bursting into tears again as Constance embraces her.

“Oh would the spring burst forth as do your tears,” says Joseph, putting on a sad face as he approaches. “What hath brought such grief to our dear girl?”

“Heartbreak,” says Constance, feeling she might cry, too. “The cad jilted her.”

Delilah laughs through her tears. “He’s not a cad. He’s…”

“An idiot,” says Caroline, disappointed her younger brother chose the barely tolerable known over the risk of happiness. “Ruled by fear as I was before I came here.”

Irenia and Vivienne and Alma rush to see what has befallen their teacher and friend, and when they learn what happened Alma starts to cry and Irenia says to Delilah, “You will find somebody better than that fool. I know you will.”

Much better,” says Vivienne, her jaw set in anger. “The cad.”

Meanwhile the men in the hole have made swift work of the mound, and as the last of the soil is hauled away, Boris and Marcel and Gabriel go down on their knees and with their hands clear away the remnants of soil around a massive gray stone the size and shape of a refrigerator and lying wide-side down on a flat expanse of white granite.

“There is some water coming out from under the stone,” says Boris, standing up and brushing the mud off his trousers. “Not much, but some.”

“Could this stone have fallen down the slope and landed exactly here to block the spring?” asks Marcel, looking around at the other men. “What are the odds of this happening?”

“I don’t think odds apply to miracles,” says Gabriel, sitting on the stone.  

“Exactamente,” says Oscar, sitting beside Gabriel. “God doesn’t worry about odds. If he did, there would be no life on earth and none of us would be here.”

“Let’s invite everyone down to see the miraculous stone,” says Philip, smiling at his comrades. “Then we’ll try to move it.”

“I’ll get my camera,” says Michael, recalling the moment Daisy gave birth to their daughter Jenna and the meaning of life was no longer in doubt.

“Come see the stone we think is sitting on top of the spring,” says Philip, calling up to the audience. “Be very careful on your way down. The ground is quite slippery.”

Ten minutes later, when everyone is gathered around the big gray stone, Lisa asks Joseph, “Anything from Shakespeare come to mind?”

“No, but Leonardo speaks to me now,” says Joseph, who is a painter and a great admirer of da Vinci, not to mention being a big ham.

Silence falls.

“‘The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased,’” says Joseph, gazing at Delilah whom he considers his protégé and the closest thing to a daughter he will ever have. “‘Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood but for shadow.’”  

Now many pictures are taken of people posing with the huge gray stone, and when the pilgrims are satisfied they exit the pond and reassemble on the western rim to watch Marcel and Michael and Philip and Diego and Gabriel and Raul position themselves on the east side of the gray stone and place their hands high on that side while Boris stands at the south end of the stone and Oscar stands at the north end, the two goliaths gripping the stone to lift as the others push.

When the eight men are ready, Boris counts to three and they all exert themselves to the utmost, rolling the behemoth up onto its side and pushing it over so it crashes down four feet farther to the west.

And revealed in the white granite plane is a fissure a few inches wide and three-feet-long from which muddy water burbles forth, the mud soon exorcised by a crystal clear flow—the men lying on their bellies to drink from the source.


For a moment on their way down the hill to the farmhouse, Gabriel and Delilah find themselves side-by-side among the pilgrims.

“Hola Delilah,” says Gabriel, smiling at her.

“Hola Gabriel,” she says, on the verge of tears again.

He nods in understanding and moves ahead, not wishing to intrude upon her sorrow.


At the height of the enchilada ratatouille feast in the farmhouse, Raul and Caroline steal away to visit the pond one more time before they leave for Raul’s restaurant Ocelot on the headlands of Mercy to prepare for the Sunday evening customers.

Holding hands as they walk up the hill, they speak of the demise of Delilah’s relationship with Thomas, how Thomas’s choice to stay at Cornell was no great surprise to Caroline who knows how terrified her brother has always been of the compromises relationships require; and this brings up Caroline’s pressing need to make her choice between staying in Mercy with Raul or returning to her professorship at the University of New Hampshire.

When they reach the pond and find they are alone in the glorious quiet, the water in the south end of the basin now six-inches-deep, the gray stone an island, they kiss in celebration of this miraculous rebirth and Raul looks into Caroline’s loving eyes and asks, “Will you marry me, my dear friend, and make your life with me?”

“Yes,” she says, the last of her doubt gone.

Now they move apart and disrobe, going naked together to sit on the gray stone—laughing and weeping as they anoint each other with the holy water.


La Entrada



Last Thursday, April 12, on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the remote northern California coastal town of Mercy, the homeschoolers Vivienne, Alma, Henri, Larry, Arturo, and Irenia, ages eleven to fourteen, and their science teachers Michael and Caroline, discovered what was once a small pond at the northeast corner of the five-acre farm, the former pond entirely filled with dirt.

Their discovery prompted the adults of the collective—Andrea, Lisa, Marcel, and Philip—to hire Gabriel Fernandez, a local backhoe magician, and Rodrigo Fernandez, Gabriel’s uncle and accomplice, to excavate the basin of stone that once held a spring-fed pool fifty-feet-long and thirty-feet-wide and of varying depths—the collective hopeful of soon having a pond to enjoy and a revived creek resulting from the pond overflow.

Gabriel and Rodrigo’s first day of work was Saturday, two days after the initial discovery, and the dynamic duo made swift progress in removing the top few feet of soil in the basin. Gabriel deftly wielded the backhoe on his large tractor to scoop out the soil while Rodrigo used the front loader on his somewhat smaller tractor to carry the soil away to a dumping spot a hundred feet north of the pond site.

Having confirmed old-timers Nathan and Celia’s memories of the north end of the basin being shallow and the south end deep, Gabriel and Rodrigo resumed their work on Monday morning at seven and the deepening quickened.


By the end of the day on Tuesday, Gabriel and Rodrigo have done all they can to empty the granite basin of soil and logs and boulders, and as dusk descends they drive their tractors down the hill to the barn where their trucks and flatbed trailers await them.

When the tractors are secure on the trailers, Philip and Lisa and Marcel and Andrea gather with Gabriel and Rodrigo at Gabriel’s truck. Lisa invites Gabriel and Rodrigo to stay for supper, they politely decline, and Gabriel nods gratefully when Andrea hands him a check for the agreed-upon fee plus a bonus of five hundred dollars.

“I left a mound of soil in the deep end of the pond,” says Gabriel, having very much enjoyed this job. “The mound is wet and we think that’s because the mouth of the spring is under there. I suggest you leave the mound until you’ve gotten as much other dirt out of the hole as you want, though it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the pond to have a foot or two of soil on the bottom.”

Rodrigo says something to Gabriel in Spanish and Gabriel translates. “When the pond is full, please let us know so we can come see.”


The second half of April is the busiest time of the year for the Ziggurat Farm garden, the bountiful acre and a quarter providing a cornucopia of vegetables and flowers for markets and restaurants throughout the greater Mercy watershed. With several days of much needed rain expected next week, all the farm adults and kids are working long hours in the garden and don’t have much time for removing the remaining dirt in the stone basin.

However, Michael, who lives with his wife Daisy and their baby girl Jenna on land adjoining the farm, has time to dig, as does Irenia’s father Boris who is taking a two-week vacation from his job as a mechanic at Mercy Garage. And so on Wednesday morning, Michael and Boris arrive at the farmhouse bright and early for coffee and instructions, the excavating from now on to be accomplished with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows.

“The main thing to remember,” says Marcel, accompanying Boris and Michael to the pond site, “is to leave the mound of soil in the deep end for last. We think the mouth of the spring is under there and we don’t want to release the water until we’ve gotten as much dirt out as possible.”

“Plenty of dirt to move before we get to the deep end,” says Michael, forty-three, an ornithologist recently freed from academia by his wife inheriting a fortune.

“How wonderful to have a pond,” says Boris, fifty-eight, an auto mechanic from Russia. “When I was a boy in summer we would go to my grandmother’s farm and swim and fish in her pond. Was heaven after long cold months in the city.”

“Which city?” asks Michael, who has spent little time with Boris until today.

“Saint Petersburg,” says Boris, nodding. “Beautiful city, but our life is better here. Now we are never cold. In Russia the winters are very cold.”

When they arrive at the pond site, Michael exclaims, “My God, I never imagined it would be so big.”

At which moment, the clouds obscuring the sun move away and the basin is flooded with sunlight.

“I wish I could work with you today,” says Marcel, longing to get down in the hole, “but we have many beds to prepare and thousands of seedlings to plant before the rain comes. We look forward to your report at lunch. Bon chance.”

“Happy planting,” says Boris, waving goodbye to Marcel.

Michael and Boris leave their water bottles and snacks on the west side of the hole and wheel their wheelbarrows into the north end where they set the barrows down to discuss where to begin.

“Amazing,” says Michael, looking across the basin to the deep end. “To think it was only a week ago when Caroline and I brought the kids here to theorize about why this patch of ground was so level.”

“Irenia loves your field trips,” says Boris, putting on his work gloves. “She learns so much from you. Whenever she goes on these trips she comes home so excited and tells us everything. She was very smart before she came to farm school and now she is ten times smarter.”

“Smart kids come from smart parents,” says Michael, smiling at Boris.

“You’re right,” says Boris, pointing at Michael. “Her mother is smart.”

Since much of the floor of the basin is covered with soil compacted by the tires of the tractors, they decide to start right where they are. Boris, big and formidably strong, wields pick and shovel as if they weigh very little to him, which is true. Michael has much less upper body strength than Boris and only manages to fill his wheelbarrow halfway by the time Boris’s wheelbarrow is piled high.

Boris contributes a few big shovelfuls of dirt to Michael’s wheelbarrow and both wheelbarrows are ready to be wheeled to the dumping site. Boris lifts the handles of his wheelbarrow with ease, while Michael strains mightily to lift his, and they push their loads out of the pond and across the hillside to the dumping site.

Tipping out their loads on the edge of the enormous pile of soil created by Gabriel and Rodrigo, Michael says, “I think let’s not fill mine quite so full next time. I almost didn’t make it.”

“You will get stronger,” says Boris, as they wheel their wheelbarrows back to the hole. “These are big wheelbarrows. For now we only fill yours halfway.”

“How did you get so strong?” asks Michael, awed by Boris’s ease with pick and shovel.

“I was laborer in Russia,” says Boris, recalling his former life. “I started working when I was fifteen. On construction sites, you know. I dig ditches and carry bricks and shovel cement. When I was seventeen I work for bricklayers and carry hods of mortar to them. These hods, you know the big wooden troughs, they weigh eighty ninety pounds when full of mortar and I carry them up ladders. So I got very strong. Then I went to school for mechanics and after my training I work on tractors and big trucks and buses. Lots of heavy things to lift.”

They resume their digging and Boris continues his story.

“One day when I was twenty-three, my friend Ivan says to me, ‘Boris, you are so strong. You should be weightlifter and go to Olympics.’ So I go to gym and start lifting weights. I did not go to the Olympics, but I got very strong and could lift four hundred pounds. Now I dig in my garden and lift heavy things at the garage and sometimes I help my friend Jose move pianos and other heavy things. I am not so strong as I used to be, but I’m still pretty strong.”

“When did you come to America?” asks Michael, resting for a moment.

“Sixteen years ago,” says Boris, throwing a last shovelful into Michael’s barrow. “Is enough for you?”

“Perfect,” says Michael, sweating profusely.

They head for the dumping site, Michael much relieved to have a lighter load this time.

“You do this for a few days,” says Boris, nodding, “you will be much stronger. You are young. You’ll see. You will be sore but then you will be stronger.”

“What made you decide to come to America?” asks Michael, dumping his load and pausing to catch his breath.

“My friend Alex came to San Francisco and after he work there for a year he opens his garage and calls me and says, ‘Boris. Come to San Francisco and work for me. I pay you very well. Life is good here. The grocery stores are full of food. It never snows here and Maria can grow flowers all year long.’ So we apply to come here.”

They return to the pond and resume their digging.

“But there is long waiting list,” says Boris, going on with his story. “Immigration says we must wait three or four years before we can come. Maybe never. So I call Alex with bad news and he says, ‘I know someone who can help you. I will speak to him.’ So he does and Immigration say we can come.” Boris stops digging. “Do you know who helped us come here?”

“Tell me,” says Michael, glad to take another little break.

“The mayor of San Francisco,” says Boris, laughing. “Alex fixes his Mercedes. Two of them. One new, one classic. He tells Mayor, ‘I have friend in Russia who is genius with Mercedes. I want him for my garage. Can you help him come here?’ A month later we are in San Francisco.”

“And what brought you to Mercy?” asks Michael, resuming his work.

Boris works for a while before answering. “Irenia was…” He stops shoveling. “Is hard for me to tell you, Michael. Is tragic. Irenia was only ten, but tall and very pretty and… the men were coming after her, so… I saw job open at Mercy Garage and we come here.”

“I’m so sorry, Boris,” says Michael, thinking of his one-year-old daughter Jenna and the dangerous world she’s been born into.

“Is okay,” says Boris, smiling warmly at Michael. “We love it here. Ziggurat Farm, you know, makes everything good for Irenia and good for us, too. And now we will have a pond.” He resumes his shoveling. “What brought you and Daisy to Mercy?”

“We came to have supper at Raul’s restaurant,” says Michael, speaking of Ocelot, the renowned eatery on the headlands in Mercy. “My wife was a fan of Raul’s cookbooks and his memoir and it was her dream to dine at Ocelot. Once we were here, we never wanted to leave.”

“And now your sister Caroline and Raul will soon be married.” Boris smiles at the thought of big handsome Raul and beautiful Caroline. “Maria and Irenia love your sister. They sit with her at parties in the farmhouse and laugh and laugh. How do you say? They tickle funny bones on each other. And Raul, he is great man. We have never gone to his restaurant, but we eat the food he makes here for parties. He and Philip are unbelievable cooks. I never taste such good food until I come here. Maria is very good cook, but these men are geniuses.”

“Caroline and Raul are not soon to be married and may never be,” says Michael, annoyed that Boris thought so. “They’re just living together. She’s the hostess at Ocelot now and learning to manage the restaurant, though she’s due back at the University of New Hampshire in August, so…” He shrugs. “I don’t know what she’s gonna do.”

 “Maria knows,” says Boris, the wheelbarrows full again. “She says they will get married in fall and Caroline will not go back to college.”

“How does Maria know that?” ask Michael, piqued by Boris sounding so sure of himself. “I just spoke to Caroline yesterday and she doesn’t even know what she’s going to do.”

“Well,” says Boris, wheeling his wheelbarrow out of the pond, “my wife… oh is not important. Never mind.”

Michael pushes his half-full wheelbarrow after him. “No tell me, please. I’m… did you know Irenia claims she could see this pond as it was before it got filled with dirt and logs? And that’s why we dug down and found the basin? Because she was adamant there was a pond here?”

“Yes, I know,” says Boris, dumping his barrow.

Michael dumps his load and they head back to the pond.

“She told me you didn’t believe her,” says Boris, ahead of Michael on the well-worn track. “Is hard to believe, I know, but they do this. Maria’s mother and grandmother could do this, too. Is in their blood, I think.”

“Do what?” says Michael, his intellect set hard against the idea that Irenia saw the pond as it was in the past and that Maria can know with any certainty what Caroline and Raul are going to do. “What’s in their blood?”

“Well…” says Boris, choosing his words carefully, “they can see things most people cannot see. You and Caroline could not see the pond. The other children could not see the pond. But Irenia saw it because… she can.”

“And your wife can see that Raul and Caroline are going to get married in the fall and Caroline will not go back to the university?” says Michael, infuriated with Boris for believing Maria can predict the future. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” says Boris, shrugging. “I fix engines, Michael. I use a pick and shovel very well. I cannot see the future or the past. I don’t have this talent. But Maria does and so does Irenia, even if you can’t believe it.” He shrugs again. “It doesn’t matter. Please don’t be upset. They don’t hurt anyone by knowing these things. Sometimes they help. Look at us. We are digging out the pond because Irenia saw it. Yes?”

“No, we’re digging out the pond because we dug down and confirmed there was a basin here,” says Michael, unable to suppress his rage. “That’s why we’re here. Not because of some idiotic magical hocus pocus bullshit.”

“Maybe is bullshit to you, but not to me,” says Boris, calmly. “My wife is not an idiot, Michael. She is very sensible person. So is Irenia. They just have this other talent you don’t know about. In the same way I don’t know many things you know about. I know how to fix engines. You know about birds and science. We know different things.”

Michael looks away from Boris to try to calm down, and he recalls a night in the farmhouse this past December when Nathan, a good friend, predicted that Michael’s parents would undergo miraculous transformations within a few days of their coming to Ziggurat Farm, and how infuriated he was with Nathan for making such a ludicrous prediction about people he knew nothing about… and then Michael’s parents did undergo miraculous transformations after a few days on the farm, and they ceased to incessantly sing and hum and whistle as they had for Michael’s entire life.

“I’m thirsty,” says Boris, leaning his shovel against his wheelbarrow. “Let’s go have some water.”

Michael nods mutely and follows Boris out of the hole to where they left their water bottles and snacks.

When they’ve drunk their fill, Michael says, “I’m sorry I got angry with you. It’s just… so many inexplicable things have happened to me since I quit teaching and we came here, including meeting Philip at Ocelot and him inviting us to visit the farm and our knowing the moment we arrived this was where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives, and now we live here. Then my parents were coming for Christmas and Nathan predicted they would be healed of their lifelong afflictions after they got here, and they were. Impossible. Yet it happened. And then my brother, my cynical, selfish, angry brother came to visit and changed overnight into a sweet caring person, and now both he and Caroline are thinking of quitting their very good jobs as university professors, though neither of them has much money.” He gazes into the huge hole that was once full of water and teaming with life. “And now this pond is here as your daughter knew it would be, though this was just flat ground when we came here a week ago.” He gazes forlornly at Boris. “I hardly know who I am anymore. For me to believe Irenia could see this pond and that Maria might know before the fact that Caroline and Raul will get married is… if that’s true, then everything I’ve ever believed is false. I’ve built my life on scientific facts that cannot even begin to explain what I’ve witnessed and what has happened to me since coming here.”

“I think I know how you are feeling,” says Boris, nodding sympathetically. “I think you are having identity crisis. I had one of those when our children died, both in the same month. Yelena was six. Sasha was nine. I could not make my body do anything for many months after they died. If Maria had not fed me, I would have died, too, because I did not want to live. But then I got better and we came to San Francisco and I had another crisis, and then another crisis when we came to Mercy. Everything I knew, everything I trusted would be there was gone. It feels like you are falling, doesn’t it? Not falling off a cliff, but slowly falling through the air and you think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to hit the ground and die.’ But you don’t hit the ground, Michael. What happens is you fall for a long time and then one day the ground rises up to you and touches the bottom of your feet, and when you can trust is safe again, you let yourself stand and feel the ground is solid, and you can go on. You know? Everything you could not believe is now the ground you are walking on. You’ll see. You’ll feel better soon.”


Rise and Fall