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Maurice

Healing is kneeling in the canned-goods aisle in Good Groceries, the small food co-op where he works, lost in a daze of sorrow as he shelves cans of Kale Quinoa soup.

On his lunch break today, a breezy day in April, Healing met Desdemona Garcia at a picnic table on the headlands across the street from Crow’s Nest Books where Desdemona works, the only bookstore in Mercy that sells new books. He and Desdemona have been lunching together at this picnic table, weather permitting, at least once a week for seven months now, Healing in love with Desdemona, and Desdemona seeming to Healing to be more and more in love with him until today when she told him a man named Phil just asked her to marry him and she said Yes.

“Phil?” said Healing, thinking Desdemona must be joking. “Phil who?”

“Nobody you know,” she said, sighing at the thought of Phil. “We’ve been dating for three months and a week and four days. He lives in San Francisco and has a beach house here a mile south of town.”

“What does Phil do?” whispered Healing.

“He’s a lawyer for a corporation that owns lots of other corporations,” said Desdemona, her voice brimming with admiration for Phil. “You’d be amazed at all the big companies they own.”

“And he came into the bookstore and fell in love with you,” said Healing, speaking about himself as much as guessing about Phil.

“Yes,” said Desdemona, smiling dreamily. “He just grabbed a book without looking to see what it was and brought it to the counter and as I was ringing him up he said, ‘Have dinner with me tonight.’ He didn’t ask. He just commanded me. And I had every intention of saying No, but instead I said Yes. I couldn’t help myself.”

*

“How could I have been so wrong about her,” murmurs Healing, putting a can of soup upside down on the shelf. “I thought she was in love with me, but it was Phil she was in love with, and I felt her love for him and thought it was for me. Silly me.”

“Healing?” says Magdalena Cortez, a statuesque Latina in her late forties and co-manager with Healing of Good Groceries. “Your shift ended forty minutes ago. It’s almost five.”

“Oh,” says Healing, turning to look at Magdalena and thinking When did you get so beautiful? I mean… you’ve always been beautiful, but now you’re positively ravishing. I wonder if this is what they mean by the rebound effect. “You look different, Magdalena. In a good way. Not that you haven’t always looked good. You have. I just mean…”

“I’m the same,” says Magdalena, coming closer. “I have my hair in a ponytail when I work, but now my shift is over and I’m going home so I let my hair down. You always leave before me, so you don’t often see me this way at work. Are you okay?”

“Not really,” he says, shaking his head. “But this, too, shall pass.”

“Come for supper tonight,” she says, smiling shyly. “Mi madre es making her chicken enchiladas and guacamole you like so much, and Paloma is home from college for a week and would love to see you. Bring your accordion.”

“Tonight?” says Healing, getting to his feet. “What day is this?”

“Friday,” says Magdalena, laughing. “You knew what day it was when you came to work this morning singing your Friday song. You can stay up late tonight now you have the weekends off.”

“Can I call you?” he says, his head throbbing. “I need to check my calendar. I can’t remember if I have something tonight or not.”

“Just come if you want to,” she says, turning to go.

*

Walking home from Good Groceries, Healing stops at the bank to deposit his paycheck, and while waiting in line for the next available teller, the lovely Gladys Weatherstone saunters by and coos, “Hey Healing. How come you never call me?”

Healing tries without success to smile at Gladys, and a moment later the person in line behind him asks, “Pardon me. Might you be Healing Weintraub?”

“Yes,” says Healing, turning to behold a portly fellow with a wispy white goatee, wearing a red Hawaiian shirt decorated with small blue parrots. “How may I help you?”

“My name is August Kittle,” says the man, squinting at Healing. “Our mutual friend Weston Schuster says you’re a savant when it comes to dogs.”

“I’m ready for you, Healing,” calls the next available teller.

“Meet you out front,” says Healing to August. “After I meet with my banker.”

*

“So,” says August, who was born and raised in South Carolina, lived in Los Angeles for many years, and now lives in Mercy, “my dog Maurice is deeply depressed. Deeply. He’s only four, and until five months ago he was one happy fellow, believe you me. And then out of the blue he became morose and hasn’t cheered up since.”

Healing and August are standing in front of Mercy Savings – Healing so sad about Desdemona, he can hardly hear what August is saying, though August is speaking loudly and clearly.

“What kind of dog?” asks Healing, aching from head to toe.

“He’s delightful,” says August, smiling painfully. “Love of my life.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Healing, touched by August’s love for his dog. “What breed is he?”

“Oh he’s a Goldendoodle,” says August, looking up at the sky and sighing. “Half poodle, half Golden Retriever. Incredibly cute puppy and now a handsome adult.”

“Is he an only child?” asks Healing, liking August despite being in shock from Desdemona dumping him for someone named Phil. “No other dogs in the mix?”

“He’s my one and only,” says August, sounding concerned. “Is that a problem? Should I get another one?”

“Hard to know until I meet him,” says Healing, fumbling a handmade card out of his wallet. “Call me and we’ll arrange something for tomorrow. Yes?”

“Oh thank you,” says August, fervently shaking Healing’s hand. “Thank you so much.”

*

After walking his three dogs and feeding his four cats, Healing cleans his parrots’ cage, herds his seventeen chickens into their coop for the night, and hunts up his three tortoises in the vegetable garden and puts them in their terrarium in the greenhouse.

As dusk descends, Healing is standing in his kitchen eating a spoonful of almond butter when a vision of Magdalena’s mother’s fabulous chicken enchiladas briefly interrupts his thoughts of Desdemona.

“Never mind my ravaged psyche,” he proclaims to his dogs and cats. “I’m going to Magdalena’s for supper.”

*

He showers and shaves, dresses warmly, packs up his accordion, and walks through the fog from his little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy to Magdalena’s little old house on Figueroa Lane at the north end of town, arriving just as the legendary enchiladas and fabulous refried beans and incomparable guacamole and scrumptious tomato rice and magnificent garden salad are being served.

A place is made for Healing at the big table in the dining room, he the only non-Hispanic among the dozen diners, and Paloma, Magdalena’s twenty-year-old daughter, sits to Healing’s right, Magdalena to his left.

“I wonder so much,” says Magdalena’s mother Maria, a beautiful woman in her seventies for whom English is a distant second language, “why your name Healing? I never hear this name before you.”

“When my mother was pregnant with me all those fifty-eight years ago,” says Healing, gazing across the table at Maria, “she had several dreams in which she met a young boy, and this made her believe she was going to have a male child.”

“Sí, comprendo,” says Maria, nodding. “I meet Magdalena in my dream before she was born.”

“Did you tell her your name?” asks Healing, turning to Magdalena. “My mother said the boy in her dreams would never tell her his name.”

“I don’t remember,” says Magdalena, who is very happy Healing came for supper. “Did I tell you my name, Mama?”

“No,” says Maria, laughing. “But when I hold la bebe, I know she is Magdalena.”

“So if you didn’t tell your mother your name in her dreams,” says Paloma, who has very short black hair and a ring in her nose and turquoise fingernails and worked at Good Groceries on weekends when she was in high school and thinks Healing is the nicest man she’s ever known, “then how did you get your name?”

“Well… one night during my mother’s last month of pregnancy, my father had a dream in which a boy told him his name was Healing. And my mother loved the name so much, that’s what they called me.”

*

The stupendous meal crescendos with nonpareil flan, after which the party moves to the living room where Healing on accordion and Paloma on guitar accompany everyone singing Mexican folk songs, and for a lovely hour Healing ceases to think about Desdemona.

*

The next morning, Healing and his dogs go for a ramble in the forest east of town, and upon their return Healing encamps at his kitchen table with a cup of strong black tea and a blackberry scone, and he’s just starting to write a letter to his parents in England when the phone rings.

“Good morning,” says Healing, thinking the caller might be August.

“Hola,” says Magdalena in her quiet way. “It’s Magdalena. We have lots of leftovers. Shall Paloma and I bring you supper?”

“Only if you’ll stay and dine with me,” he says, smiling into the phone.

“We’d love to. Que hora?”

“Six?” he says, tickled they’re coming over. “I’ll make a salad.”

“Okay. See you then.”

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?” says Healing, hanging up the phone and looking into the living room where his dogs are sprawled by the fire, the day chilly and overcast. “Magdalena and Paloma.”

The dogs all look at Healing, and Benito, a Chihuahua Poodle, trots into the kitchen and Healing gives him a little treat, which, of course, brings the other two into the kitchen – Carla a Black Lab Dane, and Tarzan, a Siberian Husky Golden Lab.

*

At eleven – dark gray thunderheads massing over Mercy – Healing is waiting in front of his house when August arrives in his small red car with Maurice, a handsome pooch with golden curls.

“Lovely dog,” says Healing, holding out his hand to Maurice and thinking Come rest your chin on my fingers, which Maurice does without the slightest hesitation.  

“I would guess,” says Healing to August, “that Maurice often mirrors your moods.”

“Used to,” says August, gazing sadly at Healing. “Until he got so sad. Now he hardly responds to me at all. Like some part of him just went away.”

“May I introduce him to my dogs?” asks Healing, giving Maurice a tasty little treat.

“Whatever you think is best,” says August, sighing heavily. “He used to like other dogs. Now he’s largely indifferent to them. Please don’t take it personally if he ignores your dogs.”

“If he can ignore my dogs,” says Healing, beckoning August and Maurice to follow him to the backyard gate, “I will consider him the most highly evolved being I have ever known.”

*

Healing and August sit on the deck having tea while Maurice follows Carla and Tarzan and Benito through the vegetable garden and into a copse of magnificent Japanese maples.

“They okay out there?” asks August, standing up and pointing to where the dogs disappeared. “I never let Maurice out of my sight.”

“They’ll be fine,” says Healing, finding August much sadder than Maurice. “They’ll show Maurice the pond and the new section of fence where the bear broke through a few months ago, and then they’ll take him to look across the ravine at the neighbor dogs, and then they’ll snuffle around the woodshed for a time, and then they’ll come back to the house. Please don’t worry.”

“I’ll try not to,” says August, resuming his seat. “So why do you think he’s so depressed? The vets say there’s nothing physically wrong with him. But if that’s true, what could be making him so sad?”

“I have some ideas,” says Healing, nodding. “But first why don’t you tell me a little more about him. Where you got him and what he was like as a puppy.”

“I got him from a breeder in Santa Cruz,” says August, sighing again. “Well… my friend got him for me. Birthday gift. And he was the cutest pup in the whole world, of course. Loved the beach. Loved to run in the waves but not go all the way in. Liked to chase balls. That’s the Golden Retriever. But wouldn’t bring them back. That’s the poodle. And he was the sweetest dog you could ever want until he got so sad. And now he just mopes around and doesn’t want to do anything. Breaks my heart.”

“Does your friend who gave him to you live around here?”

“Not anymore,” says August, shaking his head. “He… he moved.”

“When was that?”

“About six months ago,” says August, pressing his lips together in an effort not to cry. “He moved back to Santa Monica where we lived before we moved here.”

Healing muses for a moment. “Didn’t you tell me at the bank yesterday that Maurice became morose about five months ago?”

“Did I?” says August, squeezing his eyes shut in a vain effort to quell his tears.

“Yes, you did,” says Healing, his own tears about Desdemona finally breaking through.

*

“So what did you tell him to do?” asks Paloma, as she and Magdalena and Healing sit by the fire with the dogs and cats after supper – rain drumming on the roof.

“I didn’t tell him to do anything,” says Healing, sharing the sofa with Magdalena and the cats – Paloma on the floor with the dogs crowded around her. “I explained to him that Maurice is one of the most empathetic beings, dog or human, I’ve ever met, and I believe his persistent sadness is a reflection of August’s sorrow about his dear friend moving away.”

“Was his friend his partner?” asks Magdalena, petting the cat in her lap and the one beside her, too.

“I think so,” says Healing, getting up to put another log on the fire. “I didn’t ask. The important thing is that August now knows that his sorrow and his dog’s sorrow are one and the same, and knowing this he can make a conscious effort to be joyful with Maurice. To play with him and walk with him and commune with him without so much sadness holding sway.”

“Can someone who is really depressed do that?” asks Paloma, looking at her mother. “Just decide not to be sad anymore?”

“It takes time to heal a broken heart,” says Magdalena, looking at Healing as he settles on the sofa beside her again. “A day will come when we can forgive the other person and forgive ourselves, too, and then our heart will heal and we can go on.”

fin

Sorrow piano solo by Todd

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Delmore and Kitty

On a warm Sunday morning in October in the northern California coastal town of Mercy, Tom Gustafson stands at the gate leading into Healing Weintraub’s backyard and calls, “Healing. It’s Tom. With Delmore.”

Delmore is a large friendly brown dog, seven-years-old, a mix of Lab, St. Bernard, and Norwegian Elkhound. Tom is a large fifty-eight-year-old human, a mix of Irish English Scots and Minnesota Swedes, a wearer of plaid shirts and brown dungarees, his graying red hair in a stubby ponytail.

Healing and his three dogs are at the pond in the center of the two-acre property, a good distance from the gate adjacent to the little old house on Nasturtium Road. Wearing a broad-brimmed sunhat and T-shirt and shorts, Healing is sitting on a bench and writing a letter to his parents in Oxford, England, the dogs sprawled about him – the surrounding Japanese maples changing from their various greens to burgundies and magentas.

And though Healing doesn’t hear Tom calling, the dogs hear Tom loud and clear, and two of them, Benito a Chihuahua Poodle, and Tarzan a Siberian Husky Golden Lab, race off to greet the visitors.

The third of Healing’s dogs, Carla, a big Black Lab Dane with glossy black fur, remains with Healing, which is her habit, and Healing completes his sentence about the woman he’s crazy about who is not so crazy about him before going to see what caused Benito and Tarzan to rush off to answer the door, so to speak.

*

“What brings you into town on this fine October morning?” asks Healing, serving Tom strong black tea and bran muffins on the back deck, while Benito, Carla, and Tarzan show Delmore around the property, notably the recently repaired section of fence where a bear broke through in a failed attempt to get at the chickens.

“Oh… various errands,” says Tom, fishing his little Nikon out of his shirt pocket and snapping pictures of Healing pouring tea. “Groceries.”

“Bosh,” says Healing, arching an eyebrow. “You shop for groceries on Mondays and Thursdays. I know because you shop at Good Groceries, thank you very much, and the bank and post office are closed today. So… what’s going on?”

“You know me better than I know myself,” says Tom, looking away in embarrassment.

“We met in kindergarten and have never ceased knowing each other,” says Healing, smiling at memories of Tom as a boy and teenager and young man, an avid photographer since the age of six. “What’s amiss?”

“Susan doesn’t want Delmore coming in the house anymore,” says Tom, grimacing. “Kitty attacked him a few days ago and Delmore jumped away and knocked over a table and broke a Tiffany vase Susan inherited from her grandmother.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Things are not good.”

Healing muses for a moment. “We are speaking of the same Kitty you immortalized in photographs chronicling her love affair with Delmore. Kitten and pup inseparable friends. Cat and dog sleeping entangled on the sofa. Delmore and Kitty calendars ubiquitous. And now dear Kitty is attacking him? Since when?”

“Since a few weeks ago,” says Tom, opening his eyes. “They haven’t been lovey-dovey for the last few years, but they were still sharing the sofa most evenings until about three months ago when Kitty started occasionally taking swipes at Delmore when he came in the kitchen while she was eating. So we stopped feeding them at the same time, and then she started whapping him sometimes when he’d come in the living room and get too close to her. Not all the time, but sometimes. And now she bristles and hisses when she sees him. Again not always, but enough so it’s a problem.”

“Any idea what precipitated this change in her?” asks Healing, sensing a crucial part of the story is missing.

“No,” says Tom, taking a picture of Healing sensing a crucial part of the story is missing. “Susan insists Delmore is the aggressor, not Kitty, and I think it’s more complicated than that.”

“So do I,” says Healing, consolingly. “Let’s have a chat with Delmore and then I’ll zip out to your place and see what’s up with Kitty.”

“I’m wrecking your Sunday,” says Tom, fighting his tears.

“Nonsense,” says Healing, replenishing Tom’s teacup. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than Sherlocking a dog and cat mystery.” He pauses. “Except romancing Desdemona Garcia, and she won’t have me.”

“She’s nuts,” says Tom, smiling for the first time since his arrival. “You’re the greatest.”

*

When he is quite convinced that Delmore is the same sweetie pie he’s always been, Healing arranges to come to Tom’s place in an hour or so, bids Tom and Delmore fond farewell, and goes to find Toulouse, the one of his four cats who is most comfortable consorting with the resident dogs.

He finds Toulouse, a small orange and white cat, perched on the windowsill in the living room watching nothing much happening on Nasturtium Road.

“Toulouse, mon petit chou,” says Healing, sitting on the big gray sofa and bringing Toulouse onto his lap. “Help refresh my memory regarding your psycho-physical connection to the dogs.”

Toulouse purrs loudly as Healing massages her, and when she is deep in a trance of pleasure, Healing makes an airy whistling sound to summon his dogs.

A few moments later the dogs enter the house through the open kitchen door and trot en masse into the living room. Toulouse opens her eyes when the dogs enter, yet never ceases to purr, even when Benito and Carla come close to receive little treats from Healing.

“You are to these guys what Kitty has always been to Delmore,” says Healing to Toulouse, continuing to pet him. “I wonder what changed her.”

Carla and Benito soon wander away to resume their outdoor activities, and Tarzan is about to follow them when Healing says, “Oh stay, Tar. Come closer and I’ll pet you.”

Tar is still wary of the resident felines, never having known a cat until he joined the household seven months ago. And the cats are much less trusting of Tarzan than they are of Carla and Benito with whom they have been consorting since the dogs were pups and they were kittens.

“Come on, Tar,” says Healing, continuing to pet Toulouse. “Don’t be afraid.”

And because he wants to please Healing, Tarzan overcomes his trepidation about getting too near the cat and comes closer.

When Tarzan’s snout is within a few inches of Toulouse, Healing feels the cat stiffen for a moment and then relax as the petting continues and the dog shows no interest in the cat.

“Trust,” says Healing, petting both Toulouse and Tarzan. “You each trust me, and through me, each other.”

*

Tom and Susan live four miles north of Mercy in a beautiful home on the dunes overlooking Four Mile Beach and the Pacific Ocean. A renowned photographer, Tom and his first wife Helen, an architect, built the house, raised their two daughters there, and when the girls went off to college, Helen filed for divorce and moved to Santa Fe.

Helen’s withdrawal from their marriage was a terrible shock to Tom and he was quite depressed for three years until he met Susan at a Photography workshop at which Tom was the main attraction. He fell madly in love with Susan who is nearly thirty years his junior, and to his amazement she fell in love with him, and now they’ve been married for seven years.

After a lengthy honeymoon in Europe, they returned to Mercy, got the puppy Delmore and the kitten Kitty, and zealously resumed their photography careers, Tom ever successful, Susan ever aspiring to be.

“They are not exactly peas in a pod,” says Healing, speaking to Benito who is riding shotgun in Healing’s little white pickup as they head north on the coast highway, the deep blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Benito always accompanies Healing when he goes places in his truck, which is not often since nearly everything Healing could ever want is within walking distance of their little old house on Nasturtium Road. “Yet I think they are quite happy together. Or they were. I haven’t seen much of them these last few years. They are frequent flyers, if you catch my drift.”

Benito looks at Healing and raises his right eyebrow, which he always does when he detects a trace of doubt in Healing’s voice.

*

Susan answers the gigantic front door of the spectacular house at the end of a short road intruding into the dunes. She is twenty-nine, the age of Healing’s daughter Tova who lives in Portland and is an actress and veterinarian’s assistant. Healing is rarely jealous of other people, nor is he inclined to pursue women vastly younger than he, but every time he encounters Susan, he experiences both a pang of jealousy and a gush of lust, for she is, as his British father likes to say of attractive women, one of your more glorious female types.

“Long time no see,” says Susan, her brown hair tumbling over her sleeveless red T-shirt and falling all the way to the unbelted waist of her faded blue jeans, her feet bare, her toenails painted red. “Stay for lunch?”

“Love to,” says Healing, laughing at his pounding heart. “I’ve got a dog in the truck. Benito. My little one. May I loose him to run around outside? I am told there is a ban on canines in the house.”

“No problem,” says Susan, giving Healing a searching look. “Kitty doesn’t leave the house anymore now that Delmore wants to kill her.”

“Surely you exaggerate,” says Healing, returning to his truck to let Benito out. “Kitty and Delmore have been lovebirds from the get go.”

“Not anymore,” says Susan, coming with him. “I’ve saved her from death several times now.”

Healing opens the passenger door of his truck and says to Benito, “Stick around the house, okay? You can’t come inside. We’ll take a walk on the beach after lunch.”

Benito jumps down from the truck, takes a sniff of Susan’s toes, and rushes off to find Delmore.

On their way back to the house, Susan says, “Do you know as much about cats as you do about dogs?”

“I know dogs are far more emotional than cats, much more like us humans,” says Healing, watching Delmore and Benito disappear around the far side of the house. “Dogs want each other, and in lieu of other dogs, they want a human or humans to bond with. Cats want meat and warmth and safety more than they want each other or humans. Cats stay with us because we feed them. Dogs stay with us because they identify with us.”

“I think Kitty identifies with me,” says Susan, opening the front door. “Or I identify with her.”

*

Healing and Tom and Susan have sandwiches at a table on the deck overlooking the beach, only a few people strolling on the vast expanse of sand.

After catching up on the latest photography news – Tom putting the finishing touches on a large-format book of photos of flowers growing in unlikely places, Susan making frequent trips to the south of France to chronicle the changing seasons there for a calendar company – Healing asks Susan for her side of the Kitty-Delmore conflict.

“When they were four,” says Susan, gazing intently at Healing, “right after Tom published his book of photos of them, Delmore became… aloof. Didn’t want to have anything to do with Kitty.”

Tom shakes his head. “That’s not true. I photographed them being lovey-dovey for two years after the book came out. For all the follow-up articles and calendars.”

“Rare moments,” says Susan, giving Tom a disparaging look. “You were always in a panic about getting enough shots for the calendars because they were so rarely together.”

Tom shakes his head again and resists his impulse to argue with her.

“And when did the actual fighting begin?” asks Healing, remembering the arguments he had with his wife during their brief marriage that produced their daughter Tova, his view of reality and his wife’s view of reality so entirely different, they often had no idea what the other person was talking about.

“The fighting began a few months after he started growling at her,” says Susan, glancing at Tom. “At first she didn’t react to his growling, but then she started hissing when he’d growl, and that made him lunge at her and she’d defend herself or run away.”

“I understand,” says Healing, nodding. “And when did he start growling at her?”

“I don’t know exactly,” says Susan, shrugging. “Maybe six or seven months ago?”

“Why did I never see any of this?” asks Tom, frowning at Susan. “I was the one who was here most of the time while you were in France or New York or London or Los Angeles. They may not have been lovebirds anymore, but they tolerated each other and still shared the sofa most evenings.”

“Not when I was here,” says Susan, shaking her head. “She didn’t want to be in the same room with him.”

“Might I have a visit with Kitty?” asks Healing, finding the tension between Tom and Susan hard to bear.

“She’s in there somewhere,” says Susan, gesturing toward the house.

“Probably in the living room,” says Tom, getting up from the table. “Shall we come with you?”

“Yes, please,” says Healing, looking at Susan. “I just want to refresh my memory about her.”

“Fine,” says Susan, petulantly. “And you’ll see the problem is the dog, not the cat.”

*

Kitty, a large gray tabby, is in the living room sitting sphinxlike on a sofa next to a large picture window with a view of the dunes. She looks up as Healing approaches, reaches her paws out in front of her, extends her claws, and arches her back in anticipation of him petting her, which he always has in the past.

“You remember me,” says Healing, speaking quietly as he pets Kitty before sitting down next to her, which prompts her to climb onto his lap and roll onto her back exposing her tummy, which Healing gently rubs.

“Hold that pose,” says Tom, going to get his camera.

Susan watches Tom depart and says with mild disdain, “He who takes pictures of everything.”

“You don’t?” asks Healing, innocently.

Susan shakes her head. “As Tom likes to say, there are two kinds of photographers. Those who take pictures wherever they are, and those who go places to take pictures of things they’ve decided in advance to take pictures of. He is the former, I am the latter.”

Tom returns with a camera and gets lost in shooting pictures of Healing and Kitty.

“Join me?” says Healing, bouncing his eyebrows at Susan.

“Must I?” she says, pleased he asked.

“You must,” he says, nodding.

So she sits next to him, puts her arms around him, and gazes seductively into the lens of Tom’s camera.

“Fabulous,” says Tom, clicking away.

“And now with your permission,” says Healing, growing serious, “may we bring Delmore in?”

Susan stiffens and pulls away. “Absolutely not.”

“But honey,” begins Tom, “we need…”

“I will not have that dog in the house ever again.” She gets up from the sofa and glares at Healing. “He terrorizes the cat. What’s the point?”

  “The point,” says Healing, speaking quietly, “is for me to see how the cat and dog relate to each other.”

“They will fight,” says Susan, clenching her fists. “And she will run away.”

“I promise they won’t fight,” says Healing, calmly. “I promise.”

“You’re insane,” says Susan, walking out of the living room and down the hall to her studio. “And I won’t help you torture sweet Kitty.”

When Susan’s studio door slams, Tom says, “Maybe you should go, Healing. This isn’t helping.”

“Tom, please,” says Healing, feeling sure they’re on the verge of solving the mystery. “Bring Delmore in. Not Benito. Just your dog.”

Tom gazes forlornly in the direction of Susan’s studio and says, “Okay.”

*

Alone with Kitty, Healing whispers to her, “Your old friend Delmore is coming to see you now. Good old Delmore.”

Now Tom returns with Delmore on a short leash. “Here we are.”

“Release him, please,” says Healing, and Tom does so.

“Now what?” asks Tom, fearing the worst.

“Take pictures,” says Healing, continuing to caress Kitty.

“Will do,” says Tom, raising his camera to his eye.

“Come here, Del,” says Healing to the dog. “Come say hi to Kitty.”

Delmore approaches cautiously, his last interaction with Kitty catastrophic, and Healing feels Kitty stiffen as the dog comes closer, though not nearly as much as Healing thought she might. And while Healing continues to pet Kitty, she raises her face to Delmore as she has a thousand times before, and the sweet dog oh so delicately touches his nose to hers, and never does she stop purring.

*

Susan returns to the living room as Tom is shepherding Delmore to the front door and Healing is following with Kitty cradled in his arms; and when Delmore sees Susan, he gives her a baleful look and growls, to which Kitty responds by hissing.

*

Two months later, on a cold clear morning in mid-December, Healing and his dogs are walking on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River, the dogs off leash, when who should they meet but Tom and Delmore.

The dogs greet Delmore by frolicking around him, and when Tom falls in with Healing, the four dogs run off in pursuit of gulls.

“What news?” asks Healing, bumping shoulders with his old friend. “How go things between Kitty and Delmore these days?”

“They are pals again,” says Tom, taking a deep breath. “And Susan is now settled in her new digs in Los Angeles, divorce proceedings underway.”

“You okay?”

“I’m sad,” says Tom, nodding. “But I’m also relieved.” He scrunches up his cheeks. “I don’t want to make Susan the villain, which she’s not, but…” He struggles to find the words.

“She’s someone who goes places to take pictures of things she decided in advance to take pictures of,” says Healing, raising his arms to the sky. “Which is not at all the kind of person you are.”

“Indeed,” says Tom, taking pictures of Healing and the crashing waves and the marvelous dogs racing across the sand.

fin

Broke My Heart piano solo

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Lisa

Healing Weintraub has lived in the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California for his entire life and has been the manager of Good Groceries for the last twelve of his fifty-seven years. He was married briefly when he was in his late twenties, which marriage produced his daughter Tova who Healing raised with lots of help from his parents and no help from Tova’s mother who fled Mercy when Tova was eleven-months-old and has never been heard from again. Tova is now twenty-nine and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Healing’s parents, Naomi and Ezra, met in San Francisco, both having come from England to California to partake of the cultural renaissance known as The Sixties. Ezra lived in a Haight-Ashbury commune and worked as a gardener and dog walker. Naomi lived in a commune on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley and sold her jewelry and batik scarves on Telegraph Avenue. They met at a potluck in Golden Gate Park, fell in love before ever speaking to each other, and were astonished to discover they were both from Oxford, England, both were Jewish, and both wanted to live far from the madding crowd.

Six months later, Naomi and Ezra were married in a quasi-Buddhist ceremony on Mount Tamalpais, after which they drove north in Ezra’s Volkswagen van, broke down in Mercy, and stayed here for forty years until Naomi inherited her parents’ house in Oxford along with a tidy sum of money, which prompted their return to England where their daughter Jean, Healing’s older sister, lives in Devon with her archaeologist husband and two children and raises Schnauzers.

Healing stayed in Mercy because, as he said to his parents when they beseeched him to move with Tova back to England with them, “There is nowhere else on earth I would rather be than here. Yes, America has gone insane, but Mercy, thank goodness, is not America.”

*

The big (relative term) grocery store in Mercy is Walker’s, a fine store where most Mercy residents and most Mercy tourists get their groceries and booze and fish and meat and junk food. However, when it comes to organic produce, much of it locally grown, and organic bulk foods and the very best herbs and spices, Good Groceries is the place where locals who care about such things go shopping.

And though he enjoys his job at Good Groceries and loves his fellow employees, Healing would quit the job in a minute if he had a cool million in the bank. However, he doesn’t have even a tepid ten thousand in Mercy Savings and so has no intention of quitting his job.

*

“Crazy weekend,” says Brenda, standing next to Healing as they restock the vegetable shelves together on a cold Monday morning in September.

Brenda is one of the fifteen full-time employees of Good Groceries, a worker-owned co-op started in the 1970s by four escapees from Los Angeles. A beautiful Latina in her twenties, Brenda’s work outfit consists of a battered gray Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a dark blue T-shirt, baggy brown corduroy trousers, and red running shoes, her curly black hair tied in a ponytail.

“Do tell,” says Healing, dressed in faded blue overalls and a black San Francisco Giants sweatshirt, his British accent capricious.

“The moment I got here on Saturday morning, people started dropping things,” says Brenda, arraying gorgeous heads of butter lettuce from Middle Ridge Garden. “First it was customers dropping avocados and spilling rice from the bulk bin, and then that guy who makes those nut bars that always fall apart so people want their money back?”

“Arnold Bickerstaff,” says Healing, pleased with the zucchini they got in this morning from Lacewing Farm.

“Yeah, that guy,” says Brenda, rolling her eyes. “He came in for his weekly supply of nuts and the bottom fell out of one of his shopping bags and walnuts went everywhere, and when Magdalena came running to sweep them up she ran into Sara, not the Sara who teaches Pilates but the Sara who reads Tarot cards? And that Sara grabbed onto the honey shelf to keep from falling and she knocked down five big jars of honey and three broke and there was honey all over the floor and the walnuts.” Brenda gives Healing a look of retroactive dismay. “And that was just the beginning of what happened on Saturday, and Sunday was crazy, too.”

“Holy moly,” says Healing, glad he doesn’t work weekends anymore. “Thank goodness no one was hurt.”

“I mopped over there again this morning,” says Brenda, placing the last head of lettuce on the shelf. “And the floor was still a little sticky.”

“Excuse me,” says a short plump woman wearing an expensive brown suit, yellow shirt, and burgundy tie, her gray hair cut in a boyish bob, her accent faintly German, her eyes obscured by enormous dark glasses. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m looking for Healing Weintraub.”

“You have found him,” says Healing, smiling at his twin reflections in the lenses of the woman’s dark glasses. “How may I assist you?”

“My name is Margaret Schlesinger. My friend Mitzi Goldsmith suggested I consult with you about my dog.”

Healing extracts a business card from his wallet and hands it to her. “Please give me a call. I’ll be home this evening and look forward to hearing from you.”

“Thank you,” says Margaret, frowning at the handmade card – Healing’s name written in uneven block letters, each letter a different color, each digit of his phone number a different color, too. “I apologize for disturbing you here, but Mitzi didn’t have your phone number with her. We were just at the bakery and she said you worked here. I’m quite desperate about my dog Lisa. The vets could do nothing for her. Please forgive me.”

“Nothing to forgive,” says Healing, reassuringly. “I’m glad you found me.”

When Margaret is gone, Brenda says, “I wonder what kind of dog she has.”

“What kind do you imagine?” asks Healing, resuming his careful stacking of the zucchini.

“A fat little bulldog,” says Brenda, laughing. “I know that’s not nice, but that’s what I imagine.”

*

As it happens, Margaret’s dog Lisa is not fat or little or a bulldog, but a medium-sized shepherd mix with a dark gray coat splashed with black and white. Healing guesses Lisa is half Australian Shepherd, quarter German Shepherd, and quarter some sort of spaniel. He makes this guess as he comes down the four stairs from the front porch of his little old house on Nasturtium Road to greet Margaret and Lisa who have just arrived on this cold foggy Saturday morning in Margaret’s shiny green Volvo.

“Welcome,” says Healing, pleased to see Lisa wagging her tail as he approaches them. “How are you this morning, Margaret?”

“Not good,” she says, wearing her dark glasses despite the fog. “She didn’t eat a thing this morning. I’m so afraid I’ll lose her.”

“I understand,” says Healing, nodding sympathetically. “As I mentioned to you, I have three friendly dogs, and with your permission I’d like to see how Lisa interacts with them.”

“Yes, of course,” says Margaret, wearing a fine gray suit today, her shirt pale blue, her tie emerald green. “Mitzi told me a little about how you helped her dog Lucille.”

“Ah yes. Lucille who had the habit of nipping at the heels of delivery people,” says Healing, offering Lisa the back of his hand to sniff.

Lisa licks Healing’s hand and smiles at him, and Healing rewards her with a delicious little treat she happily gobbles.

“Mitzi said you cured Lucille in one visit,” says Margaret, clipping a leash to Lisa’s collar. “Oh if only you could do that for my Lisa.”

Healing squats beside the dog and whispers, “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. We’ll figure things out. Come meet my dogs.”

Keeping Lisa close, Margaret follows Healing to the gate leading into his deer-fenced backyard, and on the way Margaret espies two of Healing’s cats sitting on the inside ledge of the big picture window in the living room.

“I see you are a cat person, too,” says Margaret, disdainfully. “I don’t like cats. I find them diffident.”

“You would not find three of my four diffident,” says Healing, glancing at the window to see which ones are there — Mongo and Toulouse. “But one of the four, Justine, is extremely standoffish. She was feral for some years before coming to live with us and she may never trust anyone but me, and me only somewhat.”

“Do you have any other animals in your menagerie?” asks Margaret, sounding sarcastic, though Healing doubts she intends to sound that way.

“I do,” says Healing, pleased she used menagerie, which is one of his mother’s favorite words. “Three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens along with my four cats and three dogs.”

Healing opens the gate and reveals those three dogs sitting on their haunches some thirty feet away and waiting impatiently. They are Benito, a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Tarzan, a big four-year-old silver gray Siberian Husky Golden Lab, and Carla, a five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur, by far the largest of the three.

“You say they are friendly?” asks Margaret, her voice shaking. “I got Lisa from the pound when she was ten-months-old. She was starving and terrified of other dogs. Now she is three and has had virtually nothing to do with other dogs since then.”

“My pooches are exceedingly friendly,” says Healing, holding up a hand to tell his dogs not to approach yet. “May I handle Lisa now?”

“Yes, of course,” says Margaret, surrendering the leash to him.

“Those are my dogs,” says Healing, touching the top of Lisa’s head as he speaks to her. “They are very much looking forward to meeting you, and I gather the feeling is mutual.”

Lisa gives a little shiver to say Yes.

“Go meet your new friends,” he says, unleashing her.

Lisa walks slowly toward the waiting dogs and Healing gestures for them to approach her — Carla the first to touch noses with Lisa, Benito second, Tarzan last, after which the requisite sniffing begins.

*

When the dogs are comfortable with each other, Healing says to Margaret, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea and some chocolate chip cookies I made this morning? Get out of the cold?”

“Can Lisa come in with us?” asks Margaret, alarmed by the invitation.

“Of course,” says Healing, leading the way to the deck on the east side of his house. “My dogs love being by the fire after our first walk of the day.”

“How many times a day do you walk them?” asks Margaret, watching Lisa follow Tarzan into Healing’s big vegetable garden.

“At least twice,” says Healing, going up the two steps onto the spacious deck. “And one of those is usually a beach walk.”

“Lisa, come here,” says Margaret with a touch of hysteria in her voice. “We’re going inside to get warm.”

“Oh they’ll come in on their own,” says Healing, opening the kitchen door. “We’ll leave the door open for them.”

“Lisa!” shouts Margaret, ignoring Healing’s suggestion. “Come here. Now! You’re not well. We don’t want you catching a chill.”

And seeing how distraught Margaret is, Healing makes an airy whistling sound and the dogs come running.

*

With Carla and Benito and Tarzan and Lisa happily ensconced on the living room rug, the fire crackling, Margaret sits stiffly on the edge of an armchair and watches Healing set a tray on the coffee table in front of her, a tray laden with a pot of strong black tea, two teacups on saucers, and a plate piled high with cookies.

“What do you take in your tea?” asks Healing, his British accent always more pronounced at teatime. “Milk? Cream? Sugar? Honey?”

“Sugar and cream,” says Margaret, eating three cookies in quick succession. “Forgive me for being so anxious, but I’ve been terribly worried about Lisa and haven’t been sleeping well, and… anyway, thank you for meeting with us today.”

Healing fetches a little pitcher of cream and a bowl of sugar. “Of course you’re anxious. You’re worried about your friend.”

Margaret puts four heaping spoonsful of sugar into her tea and adds a splash of cream. “So you are a baker, too.” She gobbles three more cookies, takes another cookie, and settles in the armchair with her tea. “Delicious. Thank you.”

“Tell me about Lisa,” says Healing, who doubts Margaret is aware she just ate six cookies and is now swallowing her seventh.

Margaret gulps her tea as if dying of thirst and leans forward to refill her cup. “May I?” she asks, pouring the tea without waiting for an answer. “Such good tea. You must tell me where you got it. And these cookies are fantastic.”

When she is settled in the armchair again, three more cookies eaten, her second cup of tea nearly gone, Margaret says, “I got Lisa two years ago, just two months after my partner Denise died. We were together for twenty-seven years. I’m sixty-four.” She takes off her dark glasses and Healing sees her whole face for the first time, her eyes light blue. “We always had a dog, sometimes two, but when the last one died the year before Denise died we didn’t get another one because she was too ill and I was consumed with taking care of her.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” says Healing, bowing his head.

“Thank you,” says Margaret, fighting her tears. “Might I trouble you for some more tea? This is so delicious.”

“I will make a fresh pot,” says Healing, carrying the tray of tea things to the kitchen and leaving behind the cookie plate with a solitary cookie remaining. “Please continue. I can hear you perfectly well from the kitchen.”

“Well,” says Margaret, smiling at Lisa sprawled on the rug next to Tarzan, “when I got Lisa from the pound she was so skinny you could see her ribs, and oh my God you should have seen her eat those first few months. And she grew strong and healthy again, and her recovery was my recovery, if you understand what I mean.”

“I do,” says Healing, returning with a fresh pot of tea and another plate of cookies, the first plate empty now. “Dogs heal us and we heal them. I believe dogs and humans evolved together for that purpose.”

Margaret fills her cup with tea, adds four heaping spoonsful of sugar and a splash of cream, eats two more cookies, and takes another cookie with her as she resettles in the armchair.

“But after a year of so,” she says sadly, “most of the time when I would go to feed her there would still be food left in her bowl, which never happened during the first year. No. Never. That first year when I ate, she ate. I thought she might be tired of the food I was giving her, so I got a different kind, and for a few days she went back to eating all her food, but soon again she would leave some. And then…” She pauses momentously. “Then she stopped eating any food in the morning and I knew something must be wrong with her, so I took her to the vet. They did a blood analysis and said she had low iron, so I switched to an iron-rich food, but it didn’t help. And now…” She pauses again. “Now she only eats once a day in the evening, and even then not very much for a dog her size.”

“Extraordinary,” says Healing, looking at Lisa and thinking Come here, cutie.

Lisa looks up at Healing and he says aloud, “Come here, darling.”

She comes to him and he picks her up and cradles her in his arms and smiles down at her as she smiles up at him.

“That’s amazing,” says Margaret, making herself another cup of tea with heaps of sugar. “She would never let me hold her like that even if I could, but I’m not nearly as strong as you are.”

Healing sets Lisa on the sofa beside him and she jumps down to resume her closeness with Tarzan, wrestling with him a little before shutting her eyes to take a little snooze.

“So… what is your assessment of her?” asks Margaret, eating two more cookies and settling back with her tea.

“I think she is a marvelous dog,” says Healing, choosing his words carefully. “Healthy and happy. You’ve taken wonderful care of her. I think what is going on springs from your misunderstanding of the kind of dog she is. I don’t know if your previous dogs were shepherds, and if they were perhaps Denise took care of them more than you did. In any case, once this kind of dog is full grown, they tend to be very self-regulating when it comes to eating, and they only need to eat once a day, not counting the occasional little doggy treat, and by little I mean a single nugget once or twice in the course of a day. But because Lisa was starving when you first got her, and because she was still growing, she ate voraciously until she attained her healthy weight, after which she began eating only enough to maintain her weight, and that is what she continues to do now that she is full grown. This is what I think is going on.”

Margaret gazes open-mouthed at Healing. “Are you telling me there’s nothing wrong with her?”

“Nothing at all. Except…”

“Yes?” says Margaret, expectantly.

“I think she could use more exercise, perhaps more than you are prepared to give her.” Healing waits a moment for this to sink in. “Where do you live, Margaret?”

“In Southport,” she says, breathlessly.

“And you come into town how often each week?”

“Three or four times.”

“Then I propose you bring Lisa here on days you come to town and she can join my dogs for our longest walk of the day, which during the week will either be before I go to work in the morning or after I get home in the afternoon. On weekends we usually take our big walks mid-morning. She’ll get good exercise and get to socialize, too, which is what dogs need in order to stay physically and emotionally healthy. And of course you are welcome to join us.”

“Are you sure?” says Margaret, trembling. “That seems a great imposition on you.”

“Not at all,” says Healing, loving the sight of Tarzan and Lisa resting side by side. “Tar joined our family six months ago and has been longing for a special friend. He and Lisa are obviously smitten with each other, so you would be doing us a great favor if you brought Lisa to walk with us a few times a week.”

*

And that is how Lisa and Margaret came to be regular visitors at the little old house on Nasturtium Road, and why Carla and Benito and Tarzan think of Lisa as a member of the pack, especially Tarzan who is in love with her, as she is in love with him.

fin

Always Love guitar/cello/vocals

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Healing Weintraub

Healing Weintraub has a way with dogs, and he’s good with cats, too. A lifelong resident of Mercy, a small town on the far north coast of California, Healing is fifty-seven, not quite six-feet-tall, and has short brown hair going gray. He makes his living as the manager of Good Groceries, a small worker-owned food cooperative.

When not working at Good Groceries, Healing can usually be found on his two-acre property at the south end of town where he lives in a hundred-year-old house and has two dogs, four cats, three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens. He takes his dogs on walks twice a day, sings in the community choir, plays the accordion, works in his big vegetable and flower garden, and gently pursues Desdemona Garcia, who works at the bookstore and adores Healing, but can’t imagine being in a relationship with him.

Another thing Healing likes to do is help people with their dogs, and vice-versa, and thereby hangs this tale.

*

On a sunny Sunday morning in July, Healing leashes his dogs Benito and Carla and takes them for a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, a patchwork of little old houses and newer mansions. Healing’s house on Nasturtium Road is one of the little old houses, a two-bedroom bungalow wherein both Healing and his older sister Jean were born and raised, and Healing’s daughter Tova, his child from a long ago marriage, was also born and raised. Tova now lives in Portland, Oregon where she is a veterinarian’s assistant and actress.

Benito is a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Carla a large five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur. Both Benito and Carla know Healing has a dog consultation later today, and they know this because they listened intently to Healing speaking on the phone yesterday with a woman who wanted to bring her dog to meet Healing, the conversation ending with Healing saying, “Good. Then we’ll see you and Tarzan tomorrow.”

When they reach the edge of the bustling commercial district of Mercy, Benito and Carla and Healing turn around and head for home via the overgrown dirt and gravel track known to locals as Nameless Alley, a fabulous place to pick blackberries in August. And knowing the dogs are curious about the upcoming consultation, Healing tells them what he knows so far.

“His name is Tarzan,” says Healing, speaking with a trace of the British accent he inherited from his very British parents. “He’s a four-year-old Siberian Husky Golden Lab. His primary human, a young man named Brian, went off to college a year ago and left Tarzan behind. Brian is the only child of Joan, an interior decorator, and Larry, a venture capitalist. They live in a fancy neighborhood in San Rafael and now that Brian is gone they’ve hired someone to take Tarzan for a run every morning. Otherwise Tarzan just mopes around in the backyard. Joan told me that a year ago Tarzan started barking and growling at Larry whenever he sees him, and Larry is furious about the situation and wants to have Tarzan put to sleep.”

Benito frowns at Healing to say Larry bad, and Carla makes a whimpering sound to agree with Benito.

*

Later that morning, Joan and Larry arrive at Healing’s place in a silver Mercedes station wagon, and Healing goes to greet them. Joan is in her forties, a platinum blonde wearing dark glasses and a silky purple blouse and blue jeans. Larry is in his fifties, chubby and balding and wearing a crimson Harvard sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice,” says Joan, shaking hands with Healing.

“You’re very welcome,” says Healing, offering his hand to Larry. “Thanks for making the long drive.”

“Long drive is right,” says Larry, giving Healing’s hand a cursory shake. “Four hours to get to the middle of nowhere.”

“Having lived here all my life,” says Healing, laughing, “I tend to think of Mercy as the center of the universe.”

Larry snorts. “And you purport to know what dogs are thinking?”

“I purport to understand dogs,” says Healing, not at all surprised by Larry’s skepticism. “I was born into a family of four humans, counting me, and five dogs my mother and father and sister related to as equals, so I’ve always related to dogs that way, too. If you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” says Larry, shaking his head. “We only got this one because our son was depressed and the psychologist thought a dog might help. He loved the puppy, but after the dog wasn’t a puppy anymore, the depression came back. Meds finally fixed it and now he’s in college and we’re stuck with the dog.”

“Angela said you helped her so much with… oh…” Joan grimaces at not remembering Angela’s dog’s name. “Her dog.”

“Herzog,” says Healing, smiling at memories of the affable pooch. “A charming bull terrier cocker spaniel.”

“He barked all the time,” says Joan, smiling obsequiously at Larry. “And after Healing worked with him he didn’t bark so much.”

“Barking is not the main problem with this one,” says Larry, sneering at the car wherein waits Tarzan. “He’s vicious.”

“Can’t wait to meet him,” says Healing, moving to the back of the car. “Shall we?”

“He doesn’t like strangers,” says Larry, lifting the rear door and revealing Tarzan, a large silver gray dog sequestered in a travel cage too small for him.

Tarzan growls ominously and Larry backs away.

“I’ll get him out,” says Joan, showing little fear of the dog. “We don’t know why, but for some reason he started growling at Larry.”

“He growls at everybody,” says Larry, glaring at Joan. “Not just me.”

Joan opens the door of the cage and clips a short black leash to Tarzan’s collar – the dog baring his teeth at Larry.

“Look at him,” says Larry, backing further away. “He’s a psycho. This is stupid. We should just have him put down.”

“Hello Tar,” says Healing, speaking quietly to the dog. “I’m Healing. Very glad to meet you.”

Tarzan looks at Healing and his snarl subsides into a solemn gaze.

“Shall I bring him out now?” asks Joan, anxiously.

“I’ll do,” says Healing, taking the leash from her.

“I’m warning you,” says Larry, pointing at Healing. “He hates strangers, especially men.”

“Hey Tar,” says Healing, speaking soothingly to the dog. “Aren’t you beautiful. Yes you are.”

Healing gives the leash a light tug and Tarzan moves out of his cage and jumps to the ground where he gently takes a treat from Healing’s hand.

“We’re good now,” says Healing, placing a hand on Tarzan’s head and turning to Joan. “There’s a nice café five blocks from here. Café Brava. If you’ll leave Tarzan with me for an hour we’ll get things figured out.”

“How much is this gonna cost?” asks Larry, amazed by Healing’s ease with Tarzan.

“Nothing,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I don’t do this for money.”

What?” says Larry, grimacing at Joan. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“I didn’t know,” says Joan, fearfully. “I’m sorry, dear. I honestly didn’t know.”

*

After Larry and Joan drive away, Healing leads Tarzan through a gate into the backyard where Benito and Carla await them.

“Tar,” says Healing, stroking the dog as he unleashes him, “the big girl is Carla, the little fellow Benito. They’re both very nice and eager to meet you.”

Tarzan bristles as Carla approaches, for she is larger than he.

Carla wags her tail and smiles as she comes near, and Tarzan ceases to bristle.

Now Benito rubs noses with Tarzan, and after a bit more sniffing of Carla and Benito, and they of him, Tarzan understands that Benito and Carla are the owners of this place and are fine with him visiting.

“Let’s show Tar the pond,” says Healing, gesturing for the dogs to come with him.

As is his custom, Benito races ahead while Carla walks beside Healing on his right, and Tarzan walks on Healing’s left.

They traverse the vegetable garden and enter a grove of sixty-year-old Japanese maples surrounding a large pond from which Carla and Benito drink.

Tarzan walks to the water’s edge and gazes in wonder at the sparkling pool before tasting the delicious water.

Healing sits on a wooden bench and holds out his hand to Tarzan. “Tell us about your life, Tar. We want to know all about you.”

Tarzan comes to Healing, and Healing asks, “Did Larry hurt you?”

Tarzan gazes forlornly at Healing and sighs profoundly.

Healing rests his hand on Tarzan’s head and senses the dog’s anguish and exhaustion from living in constant fear of Larry.

“Lonely without Brian?” asks Healing, stroking the dog’s back.

Tarzan barely reacts to the name Brian, and Healing understands that even before Brian went away, Tarzan was neglected and afraid.

Now Carla approaches Tarzan and caresses his snout with hers, and Tarzan makes a low moaning sound that speaks of his life with a woman who doesn’t like him and a man who hates him.

*

When Larry and Joan return to Healing’s house, they find Healing waiting for them on his front porch without Tarzan.

“Where’s the dog?” asks Larry, grimly.

“He’s in the backyard with my dogs,” says Healing, coming down the stairs. “I think he’s a good dog and I would very much like to have him if you will give him to me. I don’t think he can be happy with you in the absence of your son or another dog, and I don’t imagine you want another dog.”

“He’s so lonely,” says Joan, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes,” says Healing, knowing she is speaking of herself, too.

“You want him?” asks Larry, gaping at Healing.

“I do,” says Healing, nodding. “Very much.”

“Great,” says Larry, clapping his hands. “Now that was unexpected.” He beams at Healing. “What a relief. I didn’t really want to put him down, but things were getting untenable. I insist on giving you some money. He costs a small fortune to feed.” Larry laughs. “This is so great. Thank you.”

*

And that is how Tarzan came to live with Healing and Carla and Benito in the little old house on Nasturtium Road.

fin

On the Way Home piano/cello duet

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Author Interview

Interviewer: Aren’t you afraid the title of your new collection of stories Why Are You Here? might be a bit overwhelming to prospective readers? The magnitude of the question?

Todd: The title is not Why Are You Here? The title is Why You Are Here, and it is not a question.

Interviewer: Oh. Wow. Somehow my brain flipped those two words around and made it a question. Ah. Now I see. So… Why You Are Here. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit presumptuous suggesting you know why we are here?

Todd: Why You Are Here is the title of one of the stories in the collection, and the title of that story comes from something one of the characters in the story says.

Interviewer: What does the character say?

Todd: He says to another character, “How marvelous it must be to know why you are here.”

Interviewer: Why does he say that? Because the other character claims to know why he’s here?

Todd: The short answer is Yes.

Interviewer: What’s the long answer?

Todd: The long answer is… why not read the story?

Interviewer: How can I get a copy?

Todd: Handsome paperbacks can be ordered from any bookstore in the world, including your favorite actual bookstore. And there are many online booksellers offering the handsome paperback and nifty E-book editions. I will append some handy links.

Interviewer: Excellent.

Todd: If you enjoy the stories, I hope you will rate Why You Are Here and other stories and consider posting a review, even just a line or two.

Interviewer: For instance?

Todd: For instance, five stars would be good, and something like… These enchanting tales will change your life in the best of ways.

Interviewer: Can that be true?

Todd: The short answer is Yes.

Handsome Paperback Links

Alibris (14.55)

Bookshop (16.95, supports actual bookstores)

Barnes & Noble (16.95)

Amazon (16.95)

Nifty E-Book links (5.99 from all sellers)

Apple Books

Google Play

Amazon Kindle

Nook Book

Kobo Books

Post a Review at Goodreads

Thanks Muchisimo!

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Todd’s New Book

Dear Friends

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book Why You Are Here and other stories — fifteen tales of self-discovery, love, survival, friendship, creativity, and the quest for meaningful ways to spend this precious life. Set in the town of Mercy on the north coast of California, these stories may be read as stand-alone creations or as interconnected tales. The stories in Why You Are Here and other stories first appeared on my blog and were refined for this collection.

Reader reviews and readers telling friends about the book constitute the entirety of my sophisticated sales strategy. So if you do get a copy of Why You Are Here and other stories and enjoy the collection, it would be fabuloso if you would write a rave review, even just a line or two, and/or rate the book, and tell your friends. If you order the collection from a bookstore or a site that doesn’t post reviews, Goodreads would be a great place to rate the book and post a review.

Handsome paperbacks with a gorgeous cover featuring a photograph I took of a crashing wave may be ordered through Your Favorite Local Bookstore or purchased online. Below are links to online stores selling the paperback and E-book editions.

Links for Handsome Paperbacks

Alibris ($14.55 and accepts reviews)

Bookshop ($16.95 and gives portion of sales to support actual bookstores)

Barnes & Noble ($16.95 and accepts reviews)

Amazon (price varies, accepts reviews)

­Links for E-book editions

Apple Books ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Barnes & Noble Nook Book ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Amazon Kindle ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Google Play ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Kobo Books ($5.99 accepts reviews)

Many Thanks!

Todd

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Speak Your Feelings

When I was eighteen, I began doing daily writing exercises of my own invention with the goal of becoming a good enough writer to one day sell stories to magazines and possibly publish a novel. I was going to college at the time, 1967, and the main obstacle to my writing practice was that I was going to college, which only allowed me an hour or so a day for my writing, the rest of my time taken up with classes, reading, playing basketball, searching for food, tossing the Frisbee, and wooing fair maidens.

One evening my eccentric and unpredictable roommate looked up from the math proof he was working on and asked, “Will you read me what you wrote today?”

Prior to this request, he had seemed indifferent to my writing practice, and though I was somewhat suspicious of his request (he was majoring in Sarcasm), I acquiesced and read him a few pages of a quasi-story about a persnickety young man who was unsure of how to dress for a party at which he hoped to impress a particular fair maiden.

My roommate closed his eyes and seemed to go to sleep, and I marveled at how different the words I’d written sounded when read aloud, as if I’d never heard the words before, which, in fact, I hadn’t.

And from that moment on, I made it my practice to read aloud every draft of everything I wrote, a practice that greatly improved my writing.

As for my roommate, he opened his eyes at the conclusion of my little story and declared, “That was based on me, wasn’t it? I do make a fuss about which shirt to wear.”

Wait! Don’t Go a very sh0rt little movie by Todd