On a cold sunny morning in November in the cozy cottage behind the little old house on Nasturtium Road, Naomi Weintraub taps the Tarot card she has just turned over on the small table in her living room and says, “I had a feeling we might be seeing the Four of Cups.”
Naomi and her husband Ezra bought the little old house on two acres at the south end of Mercy sixty-five years ago when Naomi was twenty and Ezra was twenty-four. When Naomi was seventy and Ezra seventy-four, they returned to their native England where they lived for fifteen years until Ezra died; and six months ago Naomi moved back to Mercy where she is planning to spend the rest of her life.
Until very recently, her three-room cottage was a large one-room workspace, three-fourths of which was Ezra’s woodshop, and one-fourth of which, separated from the woodshop by two large shoji screens, was Naomi’s studio where people came to consult with her about all manner of things for which Naomi used Tarot to help shed light on the questions posed to her.
When Naomi left Mercy fifteen years ago, she was seeing upwards of twenty clients a week. Since returning to Mercy, she’s been seeing one or two people a day and wants to keep it that way, though demand for her services is growing by leaps and bounds. Her fee for an hour session is whatever the client feels the session is worth.
“Four of Cups means apathy, right? Taking things for granted?” says Sylvia Brantley, sixty-five, a lovely person who knows little bits of things about lots of things, and not much more than little bits about anything.
Naomi looks over the tops of her wire-frame glasses at Sylvia and says, “I’ve never subscribed to those particular interpretations of the Four of Cups. Indeed, I can’t imagine why ‘taking things for granted’ and ‘apathy’ came to be associated with this painting.” She hands the card to Sylvia who is inquiring about why her partners never stick with her for more than a little while. “What do you see in the painting?”
“I see a man staring at three cups on the ground in front of him and ignoring the cup being offered to him by a hand coming out of a cloud,” says Sylvia, wrinkling her nose. “Some sort of spirit being?”
“Ignoring suggests volition,” says Naomi, pursing her lips. “Does the man appear to be intentionally not looking at what we might call a spiritual gift? Or is he simply blind to what is being offered?”
Sylvia frowns at the card. “How could he be blind to it? It’s right there.”
“Exactly. The partner you seek is right there before you, only it isn’t a man.”
“A woman?” says Sylvia, wrinkling her nose again. “Been there, done that. Not my thing.”
“Not a person,” says Naomi, smiling.
“God?” says Sylvia, tossing the card back to Naomi. “Not me. You know my story. Crazy Baptist parents. Go to church or get a beating. No thank you.”
“Why do you think the men you’ve been involved with terminate their relationships with you?” asks Naomi, gazing intently at Sylvia.
“They want somebody younger. They get bored. They’re assholes.”
“Those on the spiritual path,” says Naomi, wishing for Sylvia a happier life, “care nothing for age, never get bored, and when they are assholes, the path will not sustain them until they change back into non-assholes.”
Healing Weintraub, Naomi’s son, lives in the little old house on Nasturtium Road with his wife Jahera and their five dogs, four cats, and two parrots. Healing is sixty-three and no longer has what is commonly referred to as a regular job. He spends his time gardening, taking care of his animals, giving accordion and ukulele lessons, cooking, playing accordion in his quartet Mercy Me, hanging out with friends and family, communing with Jahera, and helping people solve dog and cat problems.
Jahera is fifty-four, a photographer, calligrapher, and illustrator. She has a studio in her parents’ house two miles inland from Mercy, though that will change soon when Caspar and Maahiah find a house in town, after which Jahera will use the remodeled attic in the little old house for her studio.
Following her morning session with Sylvia, Naomi has tea and cookies in the sunny kitchen with Healing and Jahera.
“Who called this morning as I was on my way out the door after breakfast?” inquires Naomi, dipping her cookie in her tea. “New case? Dog or cat?”
“Dog,” says Healing, smiling at his mother. “In Oregon. Owned by a woman named Leona and a man named Percy.”
“How did she hear of you?” asks Naomi, who loves helping Healing solve dog and cat cases.
“She was referred by Mimi Carvello,” says Healing, getting up to put the kettle on for more tea. “You remember Mimi. The youngest and most mystically inclined of Annabelle Carvello’s four daughters.”
“Oh Annabelle,” says Naomi, excitedly. “Is she still wandering the globe?”
“Still wandering,” says Healing, setting the kettle on the stove. “We had a postcard from her last Christmas from Mallorca where she’d gone to lay flowers on the tomb of Robert Graves.”
“Not a tomb, dear,” says Naomi, smiling wistfully. “A simple stone in the graveyard of a small church. Ezra and I made pilgrimage there the year we moved back to England, Graves being one of your father’s favorite poets, as you know.”
“I translated several Graves poems into French when I was in high school,” says Jahera, who grew up in France. “His love angst was perfect for teenage girls.”
“And well Graves knew it,” says Naomi, arching an eyebrow. “He was famously prolific in his seductions of much younger women when he was in his fifties and sixties. I never liked his poetry after I learned that. I know we shouldn’t judge the art by the artist, but I’m one who does.” She shrugs. “So tell me about the dog in Oregon.”
“I will be speaking to Leona again this afternoon, and possibly Percy, to get the full story,” says Healing, spooning fresh black tea into the pot. “Didn’t have time to do an in-depth interview this morning, and now I’ve got two accordion lessons to give. However, I promise you a full report at supper.”
“And what’s your day all about?” asks Naomi, smiling at Jahera.
“I’m going house hunting with my mother and Conchita,” says Jahera who has two cats on her lap and the puppy Socrates sitting on the floor next to her hoping for crumbs to fall. “Would you like to come with us? Conchita thinks she found a house we’ll like.”
“Oh I’d love to,” says Naomi, nodding enthusiastically. “If I won’t be too much in the way.”
“Of course you won’t be,” says Jahera, laughing. “How could you be?”
Naomi turns to Healing and looks over the tops of her glasses at him. “Tell me the truth. Does your bride have any flaws? I’ve known her for six months now and have yet to detect anything even slightly not wonderful about her.” Naomi arches an eyebrow. “Seems highly implausible.”
“She’s riddled with flaws,” says Healing, nodding complacently. “If only you knew.”
“But why don’t I know?” asks Naomi, feigning exasperation. “I specialize in detecting flaws in others while ignoring my own too numerous to count, yet I detect nothing but perfection in her.”
“The feeling is mutual,” says Jahera, going to Naomi and giving her a hug. “My mother and Conchita will be here in fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll go change into my real estate togs,” says Naomi, who loves how affectionate Jahera is, though she herself only rarely initiates a hug.
Supper that night is a celebration of the splendid house Conchita found for Maahiah and Caspar at the end of Hydrangea Street, just five blocks from the little old house on Nasturtium Road. Healing and Jahera make fish tacos and a garden salad, and Caspar and Maahiah bring beer and guacamole.
“When I was a teenager and a young man,” says Healing to Caspar and Maahiah, “The Silversteins owned the house you’re buying. Horace and Alison. They wrote murder mysteries together under the pen name Howard Albert, and their daughter Ruth and I were in plays together in high school. Ruth became a film editor in New York, and last I heard she had turned to writing murder mysteries, too.”
“Rufus Blessington was their most famous detective,” says Naomi, chuckling. “Lived in Sausalito and drove a rouge Karmann Ghia named Karma. Rufus was British and had a portly Portuguese sidekick named Antonio and a moody Serbian girlfriend named Zelda. Set in the 1960s when Sausalito was a sleepy artist colony adjacent to the small city of San Francisco.” She sighs, remembering. “They would bring chapters over and we would stage readings here. Horace and Alison loved hearing Ezra read Rufus. Helped them get the British vernacular right. Dialogue was their strong suit, not their plots.”
“Were these books made into movies?” asks Caspar, frowning. “They sound very familiar to me.”
“Yes,” says Healing, recalling his romance with Ruth the summer after his junior year – love poems back and forth and fabulous kissing in the woods. “Three of the Rufus Blessington books were made into movies starring Colby Jacobs as Rufus and Raul Cruz as Antonio and Gina Contardi as Zelda. That’s what took Horace and Alison to Hollywood, which is when they sold their house.”
“I do hope you will all forgive me for abruptly changing the subject,” says Naomi, smiling at Maahiah and Caspar, “but I’m dying to hear the details of the new dog case Healing’s working on.”
“Please,” says Caspar, clapping his hands. “This is one of the reasons we are so happy we’ll be living nearby, so we won’t miss a moment of the fun.”
Healing laughs. “You’ll be happy to know, Mum, the dog in question and her two humans Leona and Percy will be here in a few days, driving all the way from Oregon with Lucy, a three-year-old Siberian Husky Shepherd who is, according to Leona, ideal in every way except that given the slightest opportunity she runs away into the wilderness surrounding their home and doesn’t come back for many hours. And in the warmer months she will sometimes stay away overnight, though she has yet to stay away for more than thirty-six hours.”
“She’s going on adventures,” says Maahiah with her usual confidence.
“Something like that,” says Healing, nodding. “However, the minute Lucy runs away, Leona and Percy alert the sheriff and their neighbors in the remote forestlands where they live, and then they go frantically searching for her. Sometimes they find her, but more often Lucy simply comes home when she’s ready to come home.”
“They need to build a fence like yours,” says Maahiah, referring to the sturdy wire deer fence that surrounds Healing’s two acres. “Let her roam around in a big yard.”
“They have a fence, eight-feet-high, encircling two of their twenty acres,” says Healing, who has a fence around his property to keep the deer out more than keep the dogs in. “However, Lucy can apparently surmount this fence. Besides which, she does most of her escaping through doors left ajar in the house.”
“Why are they bringing her here to see you?” asks Caspar, pondering the situation, “rather than you go there to investigate the particular circumstances?”
“I don’t travel outside the local area to help people with their dogs and cats, and I told Leona I didn’t think bringing Lucy here would change my diagnosis of the situation. Nevertheless, she believes I will be better able to counsel them if I meet Lucy in-person.” Healing gives a little shrug of embarrassment. “I fear Mimi Carvello, the woman who referred Leona to me, endowed me with super powers regarding dogs, thus convincing Leona that bringing Lucy to meet me was the best thing to do. So they are coming.”
“May I ask why you don’t think meeting Lucy will change your diagnosis?” asks Caspar, who likes dogs but feels no great affinity for them.
“Because Lucy’s behavior is perfectly consistent with a dog who, before she came to live with Leona and Percy at the age of two, was accustomed to going on such walkabouts. A large part of Lucy’s genetics, larger than most other dog breeds, is wolf, and wolves need to roam, no matter how much Lucy may love her humans and they her.”
“So what is the solution?” asks Naomi, who has unbounded faith in her son’s intuitive powers.
“There is no solution,” he says solemnly, “except to let her be who she is.”
“You’re certain of this?” asks Jahera, smiling at her husband. “Maybe you do have super powers regarding dogs and you’ll say something to Lucy that will convince her not to run away.”
“Except she isn’t running away,” says Healing, shaking his head. “Nor is she escaping. She is, as Maahiah suggested, going on adventures. And why shouldn’t she?”
Three days later, on a cold cloudy morning, Percy and Leona and Lucy arrive at the little old house on Nasturtium Road, their mode of transport a medium-sized electric van equipped with bed and toilet and mini-kitchen. Leona and Percy are in their fifties, recent escapees from city life, Percy a burly redhead from Australia, Leona a svelte brunette descended from Wisconsin Swedes, Percy a software designer, Leona a chef with a YouTube channel.
As is his custom when meeting a new dog, Healing greets Lucy and Leona and Percy in front of his house as prelude to introducing Lucy to the five resident dogs – this meeting of the dogs key to Healing’s understanding of the visiting dog.
Lucy is much larger than Healing expected a female of her breed to be, larger even than most male huskies, her short hair almost entirely white. If Leona hadn’t told him Lucy is quarter German Shepherd, Healing would guess Lucy was pure Siberian Husky, and she is so friendly and effortlessly obedient, it is only after Healing takes the leash from Percy that he realizes Lucy is clairvoyant.
“Magnificent dog,” says Healing, gazing into Lucy’s sky blue eyes. “Does she, perchance, read your minds?”
“Not sure what you mean,” says Leona, smiling uneasily.
“You mean does she know when we’re getting ready to go for a walk?” asks Percy, his Australian accent minimal after twenty years in the states. “She definitely knows that.”
“I thought so,” says Healing, looking down at Lucy. Can you read their minds?
I can’t not read their minds she communicates to him. Which is why I have to get away some of the time or I’ll go mad with loneliness. We’re all alone in that house, the three of us. They have no friends nearby and there are no other friendly dogs in the vicinity, which is why I have to go quite far to find anyone to talk to.
“Well let’s meet the home dogs,” says Healing, leading the way to the back gate.
“Are your dogs friendly?” asks Leona, worriedly. “Lucy was eighteen months when we got her from the shelter and she’s hardly ever been around other dogs.”
“Except to snarl at the Doberman down the road from us when we walk by,” adds Percy, scrunching up his cheeks. “I don’t think she likes other dogs.”
“My dogs are ultra-friendly,” says Healing, opening the gate. “All will be well.”
Healing unleashes Lucy as they enter the backyard and the five home dogs come to greet her as if she is their beloved friend.
“Didn’t expect that,” says Percy, standing with Healing and Leona and watching Lucy communing with Healing’s dogs – Carla the enormous and elderly Lab Dane, Tarzan the large old Siberian Husky Lab, Tabinda the young Lab Shepherd, Harriet the young Golden Lab, and Socrates the five-month-old Black Lab Catahoula pup. “She’s in heaven.”
“Shall we leave them alone and get out of the cold and have some tea?” asks Healing, gesturing toward the house. “My wife just made a batch of her fabulous oatmeal raisin cookies. Oh and here comes my mother.”
The door of the cottage on the other side of the vegetable garden opens and Naomi emerges dressed for the day in a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up and brown corduroy trousers, her long white hair in a ponytail. Lucy looks up from her play with Socrates, sees Naomi, Naomi sees her, and Lucy trots over to Naomi who places her hand on Lucy’s head and says, “You take my breath away.”
In the kitchen with the door left ajar for the dogs to come in and go out as they please, Leona gazes anxiously out the window and says, “You’re sure Lucy won’t run away? We never leave her outside unless one of us is with her, and we almost always keep her on a leash. Otherwise she just jumps the fence like it’s nothing.”
“Eight feet,” says Percy, sounding anguished. “Cost a small fortune and doesn’t do a bit of good.”
“She has no need to run away now,” says Healing, turning at the sound of the Harriet and Tabinda and Socrates hurrying in from the cold to get warm in the living room where the fire is burning brightly.
“You mean because she has the other dogs to play with?” asks Leona, frowning at Healing.
Now Carla comes in and goes directly to Healing, which is her habit, and when he has given her a pet and said a few soothing words to her, she walks sedately into the living room and lies down on the rug.
“It’s funny about dogs,” says Naomi, exchanging looks with Healing to get his blessing to speak. “We think they want to play with each other, which they do, but playing, you see, is our human notion of what they do together, when mostly they’re relating to each other, sometimes through play, sometimes by exploring together, sometimes by resting together. And all the while they are communicating with each other in ways as complex and nuanced as humans communicating with words.”
“She would be the alpha of this pack, I think,” says Jahera, looking out the window at Lucy and Tarzan returning shoulder-to-shoulder from exploring the pond and the surrounding forest of maples. “Tarzan is the alpha now that Carla has retired from the role, but if Lucy joined the pack I think Tarzan would bequeath that place to her.”
“You see,” says Healing, placing his hand on his heart as he speaks to Leona and Percy, “Lucy runs away in search of friends, in search of other beings, mostly dogs I would assume, to commune with. My sense of her is that she is highly intuitive and does, in a way, read your minds, which in regard to her are full of thoughts of how to contain her, how to keep her from running off, and your dismay and worry about her. And though I don’t think this is what you were hoping to hear from me, I think the solution to your problem is to either get another dog, or two, so Lucy will have companions, or you could give Lucy to us and get another smaller dog, or two, who will be more content to mostly stay inside with you. Or you might get a cat. Or two.”
Now Lucy enters the house and goes to Healing and gazes up at him with love and gratitude.