On a cold morning in March, Healing Weintraub wakes in his bed in the house he has lived in for all his sixty-two years on the planet. And because it is nine in the morning and he hasn’t slept past seven more than a few times in his life, he’s not sure where he is for a moment.
He reaches to his right to touch Jahera, but she is not there. And though he knows these six months of living with her were not a dream, he nevertheless gets out of bed and opens the closet door to gaze at Jahera’s shirts and pants and skirts and scarves to confirm their shared life.
And now he remembers the dream he had just before he woke.
He and his father Ezra are walking on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River, his father middle-aged, not the old man he is now.
They watch the waves breaking on the shore and Ezra says with his strong British accent, “A few weeks before you were born, I met you in a dream and you told me your name was healing. When I told your mother my dream she said, ‘I would love for our child to be named Healing.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think he meant Healing was his name. I think he meant his name is healing for those who hear it.’ And she said, ‘Then what was his name?’ and I said, ‘He didn’t say.’ And your mother said, “Even so I want to name our child Healing.’”
“I’m glad you did,” says Healing, putting his arm around his father.
“I am, too,” says his father, his eyes sparkling. “It’s just the right name for you.”
A note from Jahera awaits Healing on the kitchen table, her handwriting exquisite, for she is a calligrapher and forty years of such practice has made her handwriting calligraphic, each letter and word beautifully shaped.
In all our time together I have never woken before you until today. How beautiful you are sleeping. I must wake before you again and draw a picture of your face in slumber.
I’m taking Carla and Tabinda and Harriet with me to walk to my parents’ house for a Zoom meeting with Lucien to work on the new graphics for the shop. After lunch my mother will walk back with us and we’ll bring Kadan for a beach walk with the whole pack. Maybe you will be awake by then and want to walk with us.
Beneath her name is a sketch of the rose in the vase on the kitchen table, and Healing marvels at how deftly Jahera has captured the flower in the vase with just a few deft strokes of her pen.
He gazes around at the people sharing the house with him, people how Jahera refers to animals and birds. Three cats are sitting sphinx-like on the living room sofa, the parrots Bogart and Bacall are watching Healing from their big cage in the far corner of the kitchen, and Toulouse, an orange and white cat, is sitting on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, looking out on the garden as fog gives way to sunlight.
Now the kitchen door – always left slightly ajar during the day – swings open and Tarzan, an eight-year-old Malamute Golden Lab, and Benito, an eleven-year-old mongrel Chihuahua, enter the kitchen and come directly to Healing who they are concerned about because he didn’t get up early this morning and let them out to pee – Jahera did – which never happens unless Healing has gone out of town, which he almost never does.
“I’m fine,” says Healing, petting the dogs. “I have no idea why I slept so long. But I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
The dogs stay close to him until he gives each of them a chewy treat and tells them again he’s okay and not to worry. The treat mollifies Benito who trots out the door onto the deck to sit in the sun, while Tarzan stays in the kitchen and watches Healing make coffee.
Now the old landline phone on the kitchen counter rings and Healing has a feeling this is his mother Naomi calling from England, though she rarely calls except on Healing’s birthday on June seventeenth, just as he rarely calls her and his father except in October and November on their birthdays. Otherwise they communicate by sending letters, ten days the usual transit time for mail going from Mercy to Oxford and vice-versa.
“Healing,” says his mother, speaking more quietly than usual. “Your father died two hours ago. He hadn’t been feeling well for the last few days. He lay down for his nap before supper and I saw his body relax and I knew.”
“Oh Mum,” says Healing, crying. “I dreamt about him this morning. Shall I come to you?”
“No, dear. Your sister is here and she’s leapt into action as you can imagine and has everything well in hand. And after his body is cremated…” She hesitates.
“You’ll come here,” he says, knowing she wants to spend the last years of her life in Mercy.
“I will,” she says simply. “If that’s still okay with you.”
“Of course, Mum.”
“Your sister will make the trip with me and stay a while until I’m settled,” says Naomi, clearing his throat. “We’ll come in June if you’re sure you want me.”
“You know I do.”
“Jahera won’t mind?”
“She’ll love having you here.”
“Let’s not go overboard, dear. We’ll hope she likes me and proceed from there.”
“Is Sis with you?”
“She is.” Naomi partially muffles her phone and Healing hears her say, “Jean. Come speak to your brother. He’s terribly upset.”
A few hours later, Jahera and her mother Maahiah arrive at the little old house with the dogs and they find Healing in the vegetable garden, turning the soil to prepare a bed for the first lettuce seeds of the new growing season.
“My father died this morning,” he says to Jaher and Maahiah as they approach him. “Well… morning here, afternoon there. He loved turning the soil to make it ready for the seeds.”
Now he falls to his knees and touches his forehead to the ground and weeps.
Five days later, Jahera wakes a little after dawn, which is their usual waking time, and asks quietly with her lovely French Norwegian accent, “Shafi? Are you awake?”
“I am,” says Healing, who loves Jahera’s name for him, which means healer in Arabic.
“Shall we have Pablo and Esteban to put in new windows in the guest room before your mother comes?”
“Yes,” says Healing, part of him still in another dimension communing with his father’s spirit. “Those are the last two single-pane windows in the house. From when my folks rebuilt this place sixty-five years ago. We’ll ask Pablo to make wider sills for the new windows, for the cats to sit on.”
“Good idea,” says Jahera, snuggling with Healing. “I can’t wait to meet your mother and your sister.”
“They’ll love you,” he says, sighing. “Might not be obvious at first, but they will. They both can be a bit dry. The opposite of you and your mother. And Jean often sounds irritated when she’s not. From growing up in chaos and turning into someone who wants everything just so.” He chuckles. “She has five dogs, Schnauzers, and a husband who leaves clothing and books and plates and mugs wherever he goes, so she really doesn’t have a leg to stand on when she complains of the clutter here.”
“Our house is not cluttered,” says Jahera, trying not to laugh. “You keep it neat as a pin.”
This sends Healing into gales of laughter, which feels wonderful to him after five days of mourning.
That afternoon Healing walks into town with Tabinda on a leash, the beautiful one-year-old Lab Shepherd still learning there is nothing to be gained from tugging on her leash and much to be gained from not tugging – treats and pets and loving sounds from Healing.
They stop on the sidewalk in front of Darby’s Antiques and Healing looks through the window and waves to attract the attention of the proprietor Darby Riley, seventy-eight and Irish, an old friend of Healing’s parents and Healing’s dear friend.
“I’m glad you came by,” says Darby, full of his usual exuberance. “I’ve a dog situation underway and I’m at a loss.” He frowns. “But I don’t want to bother you with my problems right now. Maybe when your sorrow abates a bit you can give me counsel. I’m so sorry about your father, though eighty-nine is a fine run, and the man had a good deal of fun along the way now, didn’t he?”
“He certainly did,” says Healing, giving Tabinda’s leash a light tug to ask her to sit, which she does. “Please bother me. Dog situations are my elixir.”
“The situation is in here,” says Riley, beckoning Healing to enter the shop. “You can bring Tabinda. She’s better behaved than most of my customers, I can assure you.”
Healing and Tabinda enter the incredibly jam-packed shop and Tabinda goes a little wild at the exotic smells emanating from the many old books, vinyl record albums, pottery, lamps, racks of vintage clothing, old picture frames, and all manner of furniture – a narrow aisle relatively free of stuff leading to a counter behind which, on Darby’s high stool, sits a handsome young Jack-a-bee, a white and black and brown mix of a Jack Russell terrier and a Beagle, who upon seeing the beautiful Tabinda hops down from the stool and comes around the counter to greet her.
Healing gives Darby a big smile. “You trickster. I thought you weren’t going to get a dog or cat because you were afraid you’d die before them.”
“I didn’t get one,” says Darby, blushing like a boy whose mother discovers he’s got a sweetheart. “He’s not my dog. That is… I don’t think he’s my dog, and even if he is possibly, temporarily, my dog, I don’t want him.”
The Jack-a-bee gives Darby a look to say Now why wouldn’t you want me? I’m friendly and cute and smart as a whip and I fit you and your stinky old shop like a glove.
“Explain, please,” says Healing, who always starts to feel slightly insane after he’s been in Darby’s shop for more than a few minutes, each of the ten thousand things possessed of a soul wanting to share a story with Healing.
“So a woman came in five days ago,” says Darby, sighing heavily and giving Healing a look to say You know how certain women befuddle me. “On the day your dear father died.”
“I had a feeling a woman might be involved in this situation,” says Healing, arching an eyebrow. “She bewitched you?”
“In so many words,” says Darby, nodding. “She was fifty-something I’d say. One of those delicious fiftyish women with the joie de vivre of an exuberant teen, with one of those bodies,” – he describes with his hands an hourglass – “by which I am rendered incapable of rational thought. She wanted two of my very best antique evening gowns and two immaculate velour Parisian negligees from the Golden Age of Paris, meaning the 1920s, and she gave me a hundred dollars cash right then and said she would come back with another thousand dollars the next day, though the negligees alone are… were… worth at least five hundred each.”
“And the evening gowns? How much were they worth?”
“Oh… Mary Coleman offered me six hundred for the one and three hundred for the other, and I stupidly said that was a bit low.” Darby closes his eyes and slowly shakes his head. “I’m an idiot.”
“Not at all,” says Healing, leaning down to scratch the friendly little dog’s head. “You’re just generous. So. The befuddling woman left with the dresses and negligees promising to return on the morrow, and now five days have gone by and she has yet to return or call you or send you some money or in any way indicate she plans to return. And where does this delightful dog come into the story?”
“The woman who swindled me swore this dog is worth five thousand dollars,” says Darby, smiling as the little dog stands on his hind legs and dances around in a circle. “And she would leave him as security.”
“Well he is worth five thousand dollars,” says Healing, rewarding the dancing dog with a treat. “At least.”
“Is he?” says Darby, giving Healing a wild look of hope. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely,” says Healing, looking at the little dog and thinking Lie down, which the dog does. Now Healing thinks Speak, and the dog barks twice. “He’s worth millions. He’s clairvoyant and might very well be the reincarnation of some great genius.”
“Ah you’re joking,” says Darby, gloomy again. “And I’m stuck with him until I can foist him on somebody else. I can’t have a dog, Healing. I’m seventy-eight. I could die at any minute, though I’m feeling fine. But no one in my line has ever lived much past eighty-five. Who’ll take care of him when I’m decrepit? Or if I suddenly drop dead?”
“We will,” says Healing, matter-of-factly. “Jahera and I. Benito is almost twelve and Carla’s nine. We’ll be wanting a new dog a few years from now. So if by some fluke of fate this chap outlives you, we’ll be happy to take him.”
“You will?” says Darby, scrunching up his cheeks to quell his tears.
“We’ll take him now if you don’t want him,” says Healing, growing serious. “Though he loves it here and he loves you.”
“How do you know he loves me?” asks Darby, who has been alone for many years.
“Call him,” says Healing, quietly. “Do you know his name?”
“The tag on his collar says Dagwood,” says Darby, looking at the dog, who upon hearing his name trots around behind the counter, jumps up onto the stool, stands on his hind legs, and rests his paws on Darby’s chest.
“Any other info on the collar?” asks Healing, smiling at the little dog gazing adoringly at Darby.
“Not a thing,” says Darby, rubbing noses with the little guy. “Only Dagwood.”
Two mornings later, Darby and Dagwood come for pancakes at Healing and Jahera’s house, and Dagwood joins Carla and Benito and Tarzan and Tabinda for a tour of the acreage, after which Dagwood stands at the chicken-wire fence transfixed by the hens in the little yard adjacent to their coop.
“Those are chickens, Dagwood,” says Healing, standing nearby. “We don’t bark at them or chase them, and they give us eggs, which we put in our pancakes, one of which has your name on it.”
Thus informed, Dagwood follows the other dogs into the house and waits patiently for Healing to fulfill his promise.