24. Marcel and Steven

In the morning of the day after the collective met Steven and Marcel, the backyard of the little old house bathed in sunlight, Eliana is chopping kindling when Marcel comes out the kitchen door onto the deck carrying his clarinet case and wearing a turquoise blouse, green jeans belted with a burgundy sash, red sandals, and a straw hat sporting a long peacock feather.

“I just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by and say hello.” He bows to her. “I hope you’re thrilled.”

“I am,” says Eliana, blushing brightly. “I was just thinking about how I know nothing about you except I like you and would love to hear you play your clarinet and ask you about your sexual orientation and things like that.”

“What a coincidence,” he says, smiling. “As you can see I brought my clarinet, and I know nothing about you except I woke up today wanting to see you again and tell you about my sexual orientation. Among other things.”

“What a coincidence,” she says, putting the axe away in the woodshed. “I was just thinking about how nice it would be to have tea with you and talk about all the things we want to talk about and maybe play music together.”

“I prefer coffee,” he says, plaintively. “Do you like coffee?”

“I love the smell of coffee, but I can’t drink it,” she says, shaking her head. “Caffeine is not my friend. Nor is alcohol. Nor can I tolerate cell phones. They give me horrific headaches. However, I make excellent coffee and would be happy to make you some. Maahiah made cookies this morning. She’s a fabulous baker.”

“I’d love some coffee and cookies,” he says, bowing to her as she comes up the stairs. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

“I’ll make coffee for you and mint tea for me,” she says, taking his hand and leading him to the kitchen door.


They sit at a little table on the porch of Eliana’s cottage with Mendelssohn and Coosi hanging around in hopes of falling morsels, their mugs of coffee and tea steaming in the sunlight.

“I moved out of my parents’ house two weeks ago,” says Eliana, sighing with relief to have finally made the move. “I’ll be twenty-six on the fourteenth of October, and this is the first time in my life I’ve lived apart from them.”

“Another coincidence,” says Marcel, gazing fondly at her. “I will be twenty-seven on the fifteenth of October.”

“My mother says I’m a double Libra with my moon in Leo, if that means anything to you. I wonder if you’re a double Libra, too. I don’t know anything about astrology except there were two kids in school with me from kindergarten all the way through high school, and they were the only people I’ve ever known who really didn’t like me, and they were both Capricorns.”

“My mother is into astrology, too,” says Marcel, sipping his coffee. “I find it silly, but it helps her make sense of the chaos of her life.” He peers into the open door of the cottage. “So this is where you live.”

“Well I will be living here. Starting day after tomorrow. I’ve been staying across the street Maahiah’s cottage while we made some minor repairs to my cottage and sanded the floor and painted the walls and trim. I’m just waiting another day for the fumes to dry before move in.” She sighs again for joy. “Maahiah’s been living on this side of the street ever since Zuzu arrived four months ago. She’s devoted to the baby. And Raaz and Oz are living over here, too, while Tova makes a movie in Portland.”

“Is Tova ZuZu’s mother?” asks Marcel, dipping a cookie in his coffee.

“No. ZuZu’s mother is a woman named Jennifer Badeaux. She’s married to Lucien who is Jahera’s son and Tova’s ex-husband. Lucien is the father of Oz and Raaz and also of ZuZu. Jennifer and Lucien live in Zurich.”

“So why is ZuZu here and not in Zurich?” asks Marcel, frowning.

“Because Lucien and Jennifer thought they wanted a child, but after they had ZuZu they decided they didn’t want her, so they gave her to Jahera. Can you imagine? Giving up such a wonderful child?”

“We all get born somehow,” says Marcel, thinking of his own beginnings. “My mother left my father when I was two, and he raised me all by himself. I didn’t see my mother again until I was nineteen, and now I live three blocks away from here in Montreal and see her every week and only see my father once or twice a year.” He shakes his head. “We never know what might happen, do we?”

“Amazing,” says Eliana, who still has yet to go a day without seeing one or both of her parents. “What a different life you’ve had than I.”

“Everyone has a different life than everyone else,” says Marcel, laughing. “Are you in a relationship, Eliana?”

“Me?” she says, surprised by his question. “No. I’ve never been in a relationship. Though I’ve had lots of crushes and a few sensual adventures that stopped short of the grand finale.”

“I’m surprised,” he says, sounding a little bit sad. “Because when I heard you playing your violin and singing at the wedding I thought This is a woman who really knows about love.” He squints at her. “Are you sexually attracted to women?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Though I love women.”

“So… why did your sensual adventures stop short of the grand finale?”

“Oh I stopped them,” she hastens to say. “Because none of those men really knew me, and I could tell they didn’t want to know me except sexually, and that felt creepy. I just… I’m not interested in having sex just to have sex. I have girlfriends who like having sex just to have sex, even with people they hardly know, but I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Why not?” he asks, his tone implying he is comfortable having sex with people he hardly knows.

“Because I want sex to be part of a love bond,” she says simply. “Something sacred.”

“My father feels the same way,” says Marcel, shrugging dismissively. “Whereas I am promiscuous and have only ever been sexual with men.”

“So then yesterday was…”

“Unprecedented for me.” He looks up at the sky as if seeking an explanation there. “I’ve never been so attracted to anyone as I was to you. Anyone. But today the frisson is gone for me. I don’t know why, but I am once again as I have always been. I think you are lovely and charming, Eliana, but I no longer want to…”

“I know what you mean,” she says, nodding. “The frisson is gone for me, too. I wonder what that was yesterday. I was ready to marry you and have your children, assuming the sex was good.”

“I know,” he says, making a sad face. “I hope you aren’t too disappointed.”

“I don’t seem to be,” she says, wondering why she isn’t. “Do you think it might have been a glimpse of your future and you’ll become a raging heterosexual later in your life?”

“Highly unlikely,” he says, laughing. “I’ve known I was gay since the first day of Fourth Grade when Mr. Delaney came into the classroom and I wanted to be naked with him. And then I began my relentless pursuit of boys.”

“I was in love with my Fourth Grade teacher, too,” she says, feeling she might cry. “Mr. Carlson. When I closed my eyes he sounded exactly like Nat King Cole who I worshiped, and he had the most beautiful eyes.”

“I worship Nat King Cole, too,” he says, amazed. “In fact when I was eight my father played a record of Nat King Cole singing But Beautiful, and that was the moment I decided to become a musician.”

“I love that song,” says Eliana, petting Mendelssohn. “Now that you’ve reminded me of it, I’m going to arrange it for Deseo.”

“Shall we play together now?” asks Marcel, nodding hopefully. “I’ve been practicing Elgar’s Salut d’Amour for a recital in November. Will you accompany me?”

“I would love to,” she says, moved to tears.

“I think we will always be friends, Eliana,” he says, opening his clarinet case. “I would like us to be.”  

“Me, too,” she says, going to fetch her accordion. “I’ll be right back.”


The next morning when Jahera and Healing and the children leave for school at Georgia’s house, Eliana sits on the sofa with Maahiah and ZuZu, the baby now sitting up all by herself.

“You seem sad today,” says Maahiah, looking at Eliana.

“I guess I am a little sad,” says Eliana, catching ZuZu before she topples over onto her side. “When I first met Marcel I thought I’d found the person Naomi said I’d meet one day. Only he turns out to be gay.”

“I’m going to make bread now,” says Maahiah, going into the kitchen and putting on her apron. “Come closer and talk to me.”

Eliana picks up Zuzu and carries her to the kitchen table.

“I loved hearing you play with Marcel yesterday,” says Maahiah, getting out her bowls and bread pans and measuring cups. “It was so beautiful, and Marcel reminds me so much of my dear friend Constantine who died thirteen years ago.”

“How did Marcel remind you of him?” asks Eliana, smiling at Zuzu who is humming for milk. “Are you hungry, baby?”

“Yana,” says Zuzu, smiling at Eliana.

“I’ll warm a bottle for her,” says Maahiah, glancing at the kitchen clock. “She’ll have her milk and then sleep. She’s very punctual. I think she will always be on time in her life.”


“You were just starting to tell me about Constantine,” says Eliana, returning to the kitchen after putting ZuZu down for her nap.

“Constantine DuPrau was a well-known poet and essayist,” says Maahiah, measuring her flour into a big mixing bowl. “I met him in 1972 when we were living in Paris. Jahera was six and Caspar was the foreman on a big hydrology project in Provence and was gone for weeks at a time. I was working as an illustrator, and one of the books I was asked to illustrate was a collection of love poems by Constantine.” She smiles as she remembers. “We met at his editor’s office and after Constantine looked through my portfolio, he asked if I could draw pen and ink sketches of young boys giving flowers to young girls, and young men giving flowers to young women, and older men giving flowers to older women, a progression of twenty or so drawings, the last one to be an elderly man giving flowers to an elderly woman. I said I could do it and asked if he wanted them all to be the same man and woman. He said, ‘No. Make them all different.’ We agreed I would show him the first few drawings before I did the rest to make sure he liked my rendering of his idea, and he said, ‘Bring them to my house and we will give you lunch.’”

“How did he remind you of Marcel?” asks Eliana, having one of Maahiah’s cookies.

“Well… I fell in love with him the moment I met him,” says Maahiah, laughing. “I was not happy in my marriage so I hoped to have a love affair with him. But when I took the first two drawings to his house and his wife Gloria led me through their apartment to the patio and Constantine rose from the table to greet me, he was obviously homosexual. Yet when I first met him, I thought he was a man who loved women.” She marvels at her memory of that moment. “It was a great mystery to both of us, for he had been attracted to me, though he never before had wanted a woman.”

“But he was married to Gloria,” says Eliana, frowning.

“Oh in those days many gay men were married to women because it was not socially acceptable to be openly gay. I’m eighty-two, remember.”

“Did he like your drawings?” asks Eliana, hoping he did.

“He loved them,” says Maahiah, resuming making her dough. “The book was a big success, and from then on I remained very close to Constantine and Gloria until they died.”

“Did Caspar like Constantine and Gloria?” asks Eliana, remembering Maahiah’s deep-voiced husband who died a few months before Ozan and Raaziyah were born.

“No,” says Maahiah, shaking her head. “This was before Caspar became famous for his book Décollé, so he was terribly jealous of Constantine’s success. They were my friends, never his. And they loved Jahera and she loved them. We saw them every week when we lived in Paris, and after we moved to Chambéry, Jahera and I would spend April in Paris with them every year, and in the August we went to England with them and rented a house in the Lake District. And for many years we went to Greece with them in January.”

“Caspar didn’t mind?” asks Eliana, seeing Maahiah in a whole new light.

“Oh he hated it,” says Maahiah, pausing again in her labors. “But I told him if he objected, I would leave him. He was a very difficult person, angry and depressed for most of his life, and Jahera and I needed to have time away from him with people who loved us.” She adds water to the dough. “When Caspar was eighty he said he couldn’t bear for me to go away anymore. By then Constantine had died and Gloria was quite elderly, so I would only visit her in Paris for a few days every month. And when we moved here, I called her every day until she died.”

“Was she…”

“My lover,” says Maahiah, her tears falling on the dough. “The great love of my life.”

Eliana embraces Maahiah. “How wonderful you loved each other for so many years.”

“I’ll tell you something else,” whispers Maahiah. “It will be our secret, okay?”

“Okay,” whispers Eliana.

“I never thought I would love anyone again as much as I loved Gloria. But then…” She hesitates. “This is only for you to know. Promise?”


“The moment I met Shafi, I fell in love with him. And I have loved him ever since. He knows it, and Jahera knows, too, though we never speak of it. They don’t mind, and I know he loves me, though we will never be lovers. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the feeling we share when we cook together and bake together and sing together. And when he puts his arms around me every morning and every evening, too, I am filled with his love.”


Three days later, the afternoon sky overcast, Steven and Marcel arrive at the little old house for a beach walk and supper. Tova has been home from Portland for twenty-four hours and will be returning to Portland in forty-eight hours.

When Tova and Steven shake hands, Tova knows she wants to spend the rest of her life with Steven, and Steven knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with Tova; and they both dismiss their knowing as a trick of the mind resulting from being wildly attracted to each other.


Home from the beach, the children and Marcel accompany Eliana to her cottage to try out her new sofa and armchair and bounce on her new bed and gaze in wonder at her magical Navajo rug. Jahera and Maahiah and Healing make supper, William builds up the fire and wrestles with the dogs, and Jean plays with Zubina on the sofa.

And though Tova doesn’t invite Steven to walk to the pond with her, that’s what they do because they are desperate to be alone together.

“So…” says Tova, sitting with Steven on the old wooden bench. “What do you make of what’s going on between us?”

“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he says, taking off his glasses and blinking at her. “This is way transcendent of finding you incredibly attractive, which I do. Find you incredibly attractive. But then there’s this astonishing familiarity that…”

“Would you please put your glasses back on?” she says, breathlessly. “I may swoon.”

He puts his glasses back on. “Any precedent in your life for what’s happening?”

“Not exactly,” she says, closing her eyes to stop seeing him. “I felt something like this when my children were born. And I remember when I was seven my father played a record of Ella Fitzgerald singing Early Autumn and I knew I was going to be a singer. And when I was ten and went to Drama camp and went up on the stage for the first time and looked out at where an audience would be, I knew I was going to be an actor.” She opens her eyes to make sure he’s still there. “But I’ve never had anything like this happen with another adult human being. Until now. With you.”

“I feel like all the cells in my body are being rearranged,” he says, gawking at her. “Maybe we made a pact in a previous life to meet again in this lifetime and it’s taken us all these years to find each other. Not that I believe in reincarnation. But what else could this be?”

“God I want to kiss you,” she says, laughing hysterically. “Though I think it might kill me, and I need to get back to Portland and finish the movie. And I was also hoping to live until my children become adults. So maybe we should wait until I get back from Portland. To kiss.”

“Nonsense,” he says, kissing her.

“What’s nonsense?” she asks, sitting back dizzy from his kiss. “That I’ll die if we kiss?”

“No, that we should wait to kiss,” he says urgently.

“We didn’t wait,” she says, kissing him again.

“Now I know what this is,” he says, sitting back from her. “This is a lucid dream. How long will you be in Portland?”

“Fourteen days,” she says, standing up. “Otherwise known as a million years. Will you wait for me?”

“To do what?” he asks, standing, too.

“Well first of all,” she says, taking his hand as they walk back to the house, “I think we should have orgasms together, which will calm us down and help us think more clearly about how to proceed.”

“I would like that very much,” he says earnestly. “But how do you know I’m not already in a relationship?”

“You can’t be,” she says, dropping his hand as they come in sight of the house. “The more germane question iswhy aren’t you in a relationship?”

“Why do you think I’m not in a relationship?” he asks, taking her hand again. “And why aren’t you? In a relationship?”

“How do you know I’m not?” she asks, thrilled he isn’t afraid of being seen holding hands with her.

“Because,” he says, stopping to look at her, “you would never do this with me if you had a partner. Nor would I do this with you if I had one.”

“True,” she says, nodding in agreement. “So… how shall we proceed?”

“Now? Or when you get back from Portland?”

“I think now we should restrain ourselves,” she says, taking a deep breath. “So we don’t confuse the children. And when I get back from Portland we’ll be together constantly. Yes?”

“When you get back from Portland,” he says, looking into her eyes, “we will get to know each other and see what happens.”

“I went too fast, didn’t I?” she says, remorsefully.

“No,” he says, laughing. “You’re wonderful.”

“It’s the endorphins, isn’t it?” she says, laughing with him. “Those horny little molecules.”

“It’s more than endorphins,” he says, taking her in his arms. “Much more.”


When Darby and Marjorie arrive for breakfast the next morning they find Healing making waffles, Jahera frying bacon, Eliana making coffee, Raaziyah playing with Zubina on a blanket amidst the dogs on the living room floor, Tova on the sofa with Ozan who is showing her the many drawings he made while she was gone, and Maahiah in the rocking chair knitting with a cat in her lap.

“What a delightful domestic scene,” says Darby, as he and Marjorie shed their coats. “Oh and the coffee brewing and bacon sizzling and waffles nearly ready. I tell you this is the stuff of divinity.”

Tova gets up to hug Darby and Marjorie, and Marjorie says, “You look fantastic, Tova. Things must be going well with the movie. Yes?”

“Wonderfully well,” says Tova, who hasn’t once thought about the movie since she met Steven. “The director wants me to be in his next movie, too, and another director came and watched the filming for three days and now she wants me to be in her next movie. We’ll be solvent for decades.”

“You look positively radiant,” says Darby, giving her a quizzical look. “Don’t tell me you’re in love. Or do tell me.”

Tova laughs. “I can’t hide anything from you, can I?”

“Who is he?” asks Darby, eager to know. “A movie star?”

Tova looks around at everyone – Ozan on the sofa, Raaziyah on the blanket with Zubina, Maahiah in the rocking chair, Eliana, Healing, and Jahera in the kitchen – and she says, “He’s Steven Bishop, the potter. Lives up Baskerville Road. You’ll fall madly in love with him when you meet him. It’s impossible not to.”


Here We Go from Todd and Marcia’s album When Light Is Your Garden


23. Tom and Jerry

On September seventh, a month after Naomi died, Jean stands in the doorway of the cottage that was Naomi’s and is now Eliana’s.

“Oh it’s fabulous,” says Jean, watching Eliana and Eliana’s father Zeke put the finishing touches on the new interior paint job – the walls a white tinged faintly with pink, the trim pale turquoise.

Eliana in old jeans and a paint-stained T-shirt, her long brown hair in a bun, comes to stand next to Jean and survey the room.

“We’ll leave the windows open on these warm days,” says Eliana, thrilled with her new digs, “and in a few days the last of the paint fumes should be gone. Then I’ll move in. Can you believe it?”

“I can,” says Jean, putting her arm around Eliana. “Mum would be thrilled.”

“I’m keeping the beautiful tables and bookshelves Ezra made,” says Eliana, searching the walls and trim for imperfections and finding none. “And my generous parents are buying me a spectacular sofa and matching armchair and a queen-sized bed.” She looks at her father on a ladder painting the wall above the kitchen sink. “Thank you, Papa.”

“You’re welcome,” says Zeke, doing his best to conceal his sorrow about Eliana leaving home, though she’s only moving a few miles away. “Your mother loves buying furniture.”

“Oh and I’m getting the most exquisite rug,” says Eliana, giving Jean a look of amazement. “Made by a Navajo weaver who spins her own yarn from wool from her very own sheep, and she dyes the yarn with her own dyes from plants she gathers in the desert, and she weaves the rugs on a wooden loom her husband made for her. Each rug takes months and months to make. Mine is seven-feet by nine-feet with a turquoise border and beautiful reds and browns.” She gives Jean a worried look. “I might be afraid to walk on it.”

“Oh don’t be,” says Jean, feeling Naomi speaking through her. “A good rug likes nothing better than to be walked on.”

“And guess what?” says Eliana, excitedly. “I’m taking care of Zuzu tomorrow morning for four hours while Jahera and Maahiah and Shafi preside over the scholars.”

“Oh do walk the baby over to William’s house, would you?” says Jean, blushing. “I mean… our house. We’d love to have a visit from you and the holy child.”


When Jean departs, Zeke comes down the ladder and washes his brush in the sink.

“Well I guess that’s that,” he says, looking around the spacious room. “Two coats should suffice. Anything else need doing?”

“I think we’re done for now,” says Eliana, pained by her father’s sorrow. “Want to go to the café? My treat?”

“No,” he says disconsolately. “I need to get home and do some writing.”

At which moment, Healing appears in the doorway holding Zubina on his hip – the baby girl now seven-months-old, a strawberry blonde, and keenly interested in everything and everyone.

“Ahoy,” says Healing, who has recently risen from the depths of mourning his mother. “Maahiah and Jahera are making tea and coffee, Darby and Marjorie have procured a bag of Luisa’s scones from Café Brava, and we’re sprawling on the deck with the dogs. Please come join us.”

“Thanks,” says Zeke, forcing a smile. “But I have to go,”

“Oh come on, Papa,” says Eliana, taking his hand. “Stay a little while. Please?”

Zeke bows his head as if ashamed and murmurs, “Okay.”

“Good man,” says Healing, gazing around the big airy room. “Looks fabulous in here. Seems so much bigger with the walls white. Professionals couldn’t have done it any better than you two.”

Zubina holds out her arms to Eliana and says, “Yana.”

“Did she just say your name?” asks Zeke, amazed. “Or was that just some random sound?”

“That’s what she calls me,” says Eliana, taking Zubina from Healing. “Yana.”

“Yana,” says Zubina, smiling at Eliana.

“What does she call you, Healing?” asks Zeke, having forgotten that Eliana started calling him Eek when she was seven-months-old.

“Howie,” says Healing, making a goofy face at Zubina. “That’s her take on Shafi, and now Oz and Raaz are calling me Howie. And this morning Jahera called me Howie. A most unexpected development. I don’t think it will last, but one never knows.”

Zeke laughs a hearty laugh, his first such laugh in a very long time. “If ever someone was not a Howie,” he says, laughing again, “that someone is you, Healing.”

“So I once thought,” says Healing, laughing, too. “But now I like it, especially when Oz calls me Howie. He puts the emphasis on the How and he sounds like a New Yorker. Tickles me no end.”


When Raaziyah and Ozan get home from Arjun’s house at half past twelve, they sit at the kitchen table with Healing eating carrots and cucumbers and hummus while Zubina sits in her high chair devouring smooshed banana and applesauce from a spoon deftly wielded by Maahiah.

“There is an extremely rare two-point-three minus tide an hour from now,” says Healing, consulting his tide chart. “Which means we will be able to walk on the beach all the way to where Mercy Bay meets the sea, something only possible a few days every decade. A trek of about seven miles round trip from the end of Gulley Road. You twins up for such a long walk on sand? Jahera and Jean and William are coming and we shall bring along dates, cookies, apples, and jugs of water.”

“Of course we can walk that far,” says Raaziyah, exchanging looks with her brother to see if he agrees with her.

“Of course we can,” says Ozan, who isn’t quite sure how far seven miles is.

“Excellent,” says Healing, winking at Maahiah. “I think you can, too.”

“Can Moosh still walk that far?” asks Ozan, knowing Healing worries about Mendelssohn getting tired on long walks.

“He can, but we won’t ask him to come today,” says Healing, touched by Ozan’s concern. “Nor will we take the short-legged dogs or Puccini who has a problematic foot. We will take Coosi, Moshe, Flora, and possibly Zoya. What do you think Maahiah?”

“You might have to carry Zoya the last mile or so,” says Maahiah, wiping the smoosh off Zubina’s face. “I’m sure she’d love to come.”

“No carrying dogs today,” says Healing, getting up from the table. “We’ll take our three dogs and William’s two and leave the rest of the pack to enjoy the sunny backyard.”

“How many more days until Mama comes home from Portland?” asks Raaziyah, sighing. “She loves minus tides.”

“I believe we noted the days of her brief hiatus from movie-making on the Degas calendar,” says Healing, pointing to the calendar affixed to the wall above the table of succulents where the parrot cage used to be. “If you will find the square with the 7, which is today, and count forward from there to the square with your mother’s name writ therein, you will have your answer by subtracting 7 from that number.”

Raaziyah goes to calendar, finds the square with a 7, and counts, “Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen.” She looks at Ozan. “What’s fourteen minus seven?”

“Well,” says Ozan, frowning thoughtfully, “I know seven plus seven is fourteen, so fourteen minus seven is probably seven.” He looks at Healing. “Right?”

“Brilliant deduction, Oz,” says Healing, getting dates out of the refrigerator for the expedition. “Dazzling.”


Moments before the minus-tide adventurers sally forth, the old landline phone on the kitchen counter rings.

Maahiah shifts Zubina from one hip to the other and picks up the phone.

“Weintraub constellation. This is Maahiah.” She listens for a moment and gives Healing a look to say A new case for you.

“I’ll call them back this evening,” whispers Healing.

“He’s not available right now,” says Maahiah, bouncing Zubina when she starts to fuss. “He will be glad to return your call this evening. I am his aide-de-camp, so to speak. May I tell him more specifically what you’re calling about?” She listens intently. “Oh I see. How difficult for you. How long would you say this has been going on?”

“Come on Shafi,” says Ozan, tugging on Healing’s arm. “The minus tide is going out right now!”

“So true,” says Healing, waving to Maahiah as he follows the children out the door.


The beach at the mouth of the Mercy River is vast even at a modest low tide, but today the tide is so low the breakers are barely visible in the distance – the sky overcast, timelessness holding sway, humans and dogs thrilled by the enormity of the beach.

 Yet despite the excitement of seeing a school of dolphins and a pod of whales, and even with a long rest when they get to where Mercy Bay merges with the mighty Pacific, the children are knackered with two miles left to go on the return leg of the journey, which necessitates the grandparents giving their grandchildren piggyback rides.

“Just carry me a little more, Howie,” says Ozan, riding on Healing’s back. “Then my legs will be ready to go again.”

“Me, too,” says Raaziyah, who is riding on Jahera’s back. “Just a little way more.”

“I’m available for schlepping duty,” says William, taking pictures of the children on their grandparents’ backs. “Should who would fardels bear need to be relieved of said fardels.”

Healing laughs at William’s reference to a line from Hamlet and retorts, “To grunt and sweat under a weary life seems to be our fate today, and well worth it.”

“How heavy are these two?” asks Jean, whose days of picking up children who weigh more than twenty pounds are over.

“Last time we weighed them,” says Healing, striding along, “Oz topped the scale at forty-four pounds, Raaz at forty-six, but that was several weeks ago and methinks the numbers have grown swiftly in an upward direction.”

“Okay,” says Jahera, out of breath. “William’s turn to carry you, Raaz.”

“I can walk now, Jadda,” says Raaziyah, getting down.

“Could you carry me a little further, Shafi?” asks Ozan, yawning. “Then I’ll be ready to walk again.”

“I’ll get you to that big log I see looming in the distance,” says Healing, feeling confident he can carry Ozan another quarter-mile. “Then we’ll only be a mile or so from Gulley Road.”

“We’ll stop and rest as many times as we need to,” says Jahera, still breathing hard from carrying Raaziyah.

“And one of those rest stops will be that big log,” says Healing, smiling at Jahera. “Where we will eat the last of the cookies to sustain us for the final leg of our journey.”


A few minutes after supper, too tired for even the beginning of a bedtime story, Ozan and Raaziyah crawl into bed in the guest room where Zubina is snoozing in her crib, and they are fast asleep the moment their heads hit the pillows.

Maahiah settles on the sofa accompanied by Miguelito and two cats, and takes up her knitting – the other dogs resting by the fire. Jahera goes upstairs to her studio to process the hundreds of photos she took today, and Healing adds a log to the fire before getting situated at the kitchen table to call the fellow who called earlier today with a dog and cat conundrum.

“Good evening. This is Healing Weintraub returning Steven Bishop’s call.”

“Oh thanks for calling me back,” says Steven, his voice warm and full of song. “Darla Rosenfeld suggested I call you. I’m another artist who relocated here from Los Angeles in the wake of Susan and Paul Cheshire moving here and opening their gallery. I’ve been here for a year now.”

“Splendid,” says Healing, immediately liking Steven. “What is your art, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I’m a potter,” says Steven, simply. “Bowls and vases and plates and mugs, and fanciful teapots, too.”

“Wonderful. And what seems to be the difficulty with your dog and cat?”

“Well,” says Steven, hesitating to begin, “my dog Tom is three-years-old, a mix of Golden Lab and possibly Mastiff and who knows what else. He’s ninety pounds, light brown, shorthaired, very friendly, and… well the thing is there’s nothing physically wrong with him, it’s just that since I got my cat Jerry, Tom has changed. He’s much less affectionate now and… it’s hard to explain, but… for instance, he used to love sitting on the sofa with me and now he won’t.”

“Does Jerry sit on the sofa with you?” asks Healing, writing at the top of the page Tom the dog, Jerry the cat.

“She does. But she and Tom like each other. They get along fine.”

“Aside from no longer sitting on the sofa with you, how is Tom less affectionate?”

“Well he used to come to me for pets, and now he doesn’t. He still loves it when I pet him, but he no longer asks to be petted.”

“And you attribute this change to the coming of Jerry,” says Healing, writing First came Tom, then came Jerry.

“Well that’s when Tom changed, so…”

“Did you get Jerry when she was a kitten?”

“Yes. Two years ago.”

“So Tom was one when you got Jerry.”

“Eleven months.”

“Are you free tomorrow afternoon?” asks Healing, who has home school duty tomorrow morning.

“Yeah, I’m here all day,” says Steven, eagerly. “I’m exactly three miles up Baskerville Road. One-one-seven-nine-four. On the left side of the road.”

“Oh. You bought Dino Andrini’s place,” says Healing, writing Good old Dino.

“Yes,” says Steven, surprised. “Did you know Dino?”

“Everyone who has lived in Mercy for more than ten years knew Dino,” says Healing, laughing. “We all bought fish from him right off his boat. I’ll tell you more about him when I see you tomorrow. Shall we say twoish? And might I bring my wife and grandkids? I’m sure they’d love to see your pottery studio.”

“Great. A reason to tame the chaos.”

“Oh please don’t go to any trouble. We enjoy chaos.”

“Not this much chaos,” says Steven, laughing. “Trust me.”


The next morning after breakfast, two leaves are added to the kitchen table to allow for five students and three teachers to each have a place at the table – Raaziyah, Ozan, Esther, Arjun, Jahera, Maahiah, Healing, and the new student Georgia Fidelio who is six-years-old and Italian.

“Today,” says Healing, smiling around at everyone, “we will begin with our usual round-table discussion. Arjun. Would you please start things off for us today?”

“When we were walking here this morning,” says Arjun with his slight Hindi accent, his black hair recently cut quite short, “four wild turkeys crossed the road in front of us and Darvin said this was a good omen. Then Esther asked what an omen is and Darvin said an omen tells us something is going to happen. But he didn’t know why four wild turkeys meant something good would happen.”

“What if there were only three wild turkeys?” asks Raaziyah, looking at Healing. “Would that be a good omen, too?”

“Probably,” says Healing, nodding. “A matter of magnitude I would imagine.”

“Would seven be even better than four?” asks Esther, wrinkling her nose.

“Seven is my favorite number,” says Jahera, smiling at Esther. “So it would certainly be better for me.”

“What’s so good about wild turkeys?” asks Ozan, pursing his lips. “Mama says they eat ticks, which is good, but we don’t want them in the vegetable garden or they’ll eat everything.”

“When cooked properly,” says Healing, who knows firsthand of what he speaks, “Wild Turkey meat is delicious, and one adult wild turkey will provide enough meat for thirty people, which is why I think they are considered a good omen. They represent abundance.”

“I would like to see a wild turkey,” says Georgia, with her charming Italian accent. “Maybe we can go outside and look for one now.”

“That’s a wonderful suggestion for a field trip,” says Jahera, nodding to Georgia. “This morning, however, we are going to work on writing the letters of the alphabet. Then we’ll have a snack and recess, and then we will walk to the library to return our books and check out new ones.”

“We might see some wild turkeys on our way to the library,” says Raaziyah, who finds Georgia enchanting.

“Sometimes we see them in the ravine,” says Ozan, who is considering marrying Georgia when they’re both a little older. “We can go look during recess.”

“But first,” says Jahera, handing around big squares of butcher paper, “we are going to practice writing the letters of the alphabet.”

“I’m already pretty good at this,” says Ozan, confiding in Georgia.

“So am I,” says Raaziyah, drawing a capitol A at the top of her page. “See? Now watch me draw the little one.”

“I know how to make letters,” says Georgia, nodding confidently. “But it’s good to keep practicing.”


When Arjun, Esther, and Georgia depart at noon, the collective has lunch on the deck and Eliana recounts the many things she did with Zubina this morning.

“The high point of ZuZu’s day so far,” says Eliana, smiling at the baby girl sitting on Jahera’s lap, “was when ZuZu slapped the water in William’s pond and the sound made Harpo bark. Zuzu gave him a startled look and slapped the water again, and Harpo barked again, and Zuzu laughed and slapped the water again. And she’d be slapping the water still if we’d let her. Wouldn’t you Zuzu?”

Zubina beams at Eliana and says, “Yana.”

“Irrefutable proof of the child’s sophisticated sense of humor,” says Healing, arching his eyebrow.

“After lunch,” says Jahera, passing Zubina to Healing, “Raaz and Oz and Shafi and I are going to visit the new potter in our midst. Steven Bishop. He bought Dino Andrini’s place a mile past your folks’ house on Baskerville Road, should you care to join us, Eliana. Shafi is looking into his dog and cat situation.”

“I’ve met him,” says Eliana, arching an eyebrow. “My mother had the listing. He’s very handsome and charming and single, and he’s forty-eight, which is just the right age for Tova. I’d love to come. And on the way back we can stop at my folks’ place and pick some early apples.”


So Healing, Jahera, Eliana, Ozan, and Raaziyah pile into Jahera’s electric car, the kids secure in their car seats, and Jahera pilots her car up the curves through the redwoods and onto a straightaway transecting a large swath of meadowland surrounded by some of the wildest forests remaining in California.

The entrance to Steven’s property is no longer distinguished by a giant old boat anchor as it was when Dino owned the place, the anchor replaced by a fanciful mobile hanging from the branch of a tan oak, the mobile composed of several green, blue, red, and gold ceramic stars.

Lining the driveway leading to the farmhouse are newly planted apple trees where once languished derelict fishing boats Dino collected over his forty years here, and gone, too, are the several tiny houses built by Dino’s daughters Felicia, Nora, Maru, and Emma – Felicia now an architect in Denmark, Nora a yoga instructor in Liverpool, Maru and Emma carpenters in Bellingham, Washington where Dino now lives – each of Dino’s daughters born to a different mother.

The big farmhouse, formerly dingy gray has been recently painted a light adobe brown with red trim, the rotting front porch replaced by a big deck. The barn wherein Dino’s daughters kept their four horses has been converted into Steven’s pottery studio. Adjacent to the barn is the large greenhouse in which Dino grew marijuana, the previously filthy glass now sparkling clean and revealing several lemon and orange trees thriving in big tubs.

Jahera parks next to a small electric pickup truck and everyone climbs out as Steven emerges from the barn with his big dog Tom – Steven, as Eliana forewarned, very handsome with short brown hair and glasses, his potting outfit an old red T-shirt and loose-fitting trousers.

Tom, a large happy hound, hurries to Healing for pets before turning his attention to Ozan and Raaziyah, both of whom he knocks over in his zeal to befriend them.

“Sorry about that,” says Steven, speaking to the children as they junp up and try to hug the excited dog who knocks them over again. “He doesn’t know his own strength.”

“Our dog Moshe knocks us over, too, when he’s excited” says Raaziyah, getting up again and hugging Tom. “He’s way bigger than your dog.”

“Can we see in the barn?” asks Ozan, looking at Steven. “Shafi says you make bowls on a wheel.”

“Yes, I do,” says Steven, shaking hands with Jahera and Healing and Eliana. “My son and I spent all morning making order out of the chaos.”

“His son being moi,” says an effeminate young man appearing in the wide entrance to the barn, his curly brown hair falling to his shoulders, his accent mildly French, his attire a billowy white blouse, purple tights, and black rubber boots. “Marcel.” He bows grandiloquently. “Visiting from Montreal. Who are all of you?”

“I’m Oz,” says Ozan, approaching Marcel and shaking his hand. “Short for Ozan. It means poet in Arabic.”

“I’m Raaz,” says Raaziyah, coming to shake Marcel’s hand, too. “Short for Raaziyah. It means a joyful gift from God.” She frowns. “Some people don’t believe in God. But I do.”

“So do I,” says Ozan, nodding in agreement. “Only God might not be a person. He might be all the stars and everything.”

“I didn’t believe in God until I met you,” says Marcel, gazing in wonder at them. “And now I do.”

“I’m Jahera,” says Jahera, shaking Marcel’s hand. “Oz and Raaz’s grandmother.”

“I’m Healing, their grandfather,” says Healing, bowing to Marcel. “Though this mob calls me Shafi, which means healer in Arabic, and recently they’ve taken to calling me Howie. I will answer to all three.”

“I’m Eliana,” says Eliana, also bowing to Marcel. “I live with them and play music with Shafi. In Hebrew Eliana means God has answered, though my Catholic Mexican mother didn’t know that when she named me. She just liked how it sounded.”

“So do I,” says Marcel, clearly smitten with Eliana. “Like a song.”

“Come see the studio,” says Steven, ushering everyone into the vast room where he has four potter’s wheels and several big tables upon which are bowls and vases and teapots in various stages of completion, along with seven kilns: three small, three medium, one enormous.

“What instrument do you play?” asks Marcel, hovering near Eliana. “Don’t tell me.” He closes his eyes. “You play the violin like Paganini, you sing like an angel, and you play…” He opens his eyes. “The accordion.”

“How could you possibly know that?” asks Eliana, squinting suspiciously at him.

Marcel smiles sheepishly. “We were having dinner at the East Cove Hotel on Sunday and you and Shafi were playing for a wedding party in the banquet room. You were brilliant. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”

“You’re a cad,” says Eliana, blushing. “Are you a musician?”

“I am,” says Marcel, smiling alluringly. “Can you guess my instrument?”

Eliana closes her eyes and says, “Clarinet.”

Marcel’s jaw drops. “How did you know that?” He turns to Steven. “Did you tell them, Father?”

“I told them nothing about you,” says Steven, as amazed as Marcel. “I didn’t even tell them you were here.”

“How did you know?” asks Marcel, impulsively taking Eliana’s hand.

“I’m a witch,” she says, haughtily. “Your mind is an open book to me. But fear not. I’m a good witch and won’t hurt you.”

“Can you show us how to make a bowl?” asks Ozan, gazing intently at Steven. “Please?”

“I thought you might ask,” says Steven, nodding to Ozan. “So I readied a few balls of clay to give you a demonstration, after which I’ll help you and your sister make bowls.”

“Are you a potter too, Marcel?” asks Jahera, delighted to see Eliana so taken with the charming young man.

“I am,” says Marcel, nodding graciously to Jahera. “Growing up in my father’s studio it was inevitable, but I only throw now when I come to visit my father, which is not often because I’m in an orchestra in Montreal.” He looks at Eliana. “But I love it here and I want to come more often.”

“You should,” says Eliana, matter-of-factly. “Mercy is the fount.”

“I agree,” says Steven, beckoning for the children to follow him. “My work has exploded in the best of ways since I moved here.”


Steven sits at one of the potter’s wheels, places a ball of clay in the center of the throwing surface, and gets the wheel spinning with a few powerful kicks. Now he drizzles water atop the spinning ball, places both hands around the moistened orb, and in the next moment lifts the clay into a cylinder into which he inserts his thumbs and spreads the sides outward to form an exquisite bowl.

“Voila,” says Steven, slowing the wheel and beckoning Ozan to come sit on his lap. “Now we will affix a fresh bat to the wheel and you and I will make another bowl, and then your sister will help me make one, too.”


Bowl making at end – Jahera having taken hundreds of pictures of the children assisting Steven – Marcel leads the giddy twins and Jahera and Eliana on a tour of the grounds while Healing and Steven and Tom go into the farmhouse to meet Jerry, Steven’s big gray tabby who is napping on the sofa in the spacious living room.

Jerry wakes when humans and dog enter and jumps down from the sofa to rub against Healing’s legs and mark him with her scent.

Healing bends down and picks up the cat, and Tom immediately heads for the door to rejoin Marcel and the other visitors.

“Oh stick around Tom,” says Healing, setting Jerry on the sofa and giving Tom a look to say I’ve got a treat for you.

Tom hurries to Healing.

“Where does Tom hang out in the evening when Jerry’s on the sofa?” asks Healing, giving Tom a chewy treat and squatting to pet him.

“By the fire,” says Steven, sadly. “It’s where he spends the night now, too. He used to sleep at the bottom of my bed, but now Jerry does and Tom doesn’t even go in the bedroom anymore.”

“So this clearly has to do with Jerry,” says Healing, continuing to pet Tom. “Though it isn’t that Tom doesn’t like Jerry. And I think Jerry would be fine with Tom sleeping on the bed and sharing the sofa with her.”

“Then why did Tom stop doing all those things?” asks Steven, clearly disturbed by the change in Tom. “And why did he stop approaching me for affection?”

“Shall we sit?” asks Healing, nodding hopefully.

“Yes,” says Tom, gesturing expansively to the room. “Anywhere you like.”

Healing sits on the sofa, Jerry claims Healing’s lap, and Tom heads for the door.

“Oh don’t go, Tom,” says Healing in his loving way. “Come be with me.”

Tom returns to Healing, accepts another chewy treat, and Healing resumes petting him, with Jerry purring all the while on Healing’s lap. 

“As you say,” says Steven, sitting in a nearby armchair, “they’re fine being close to each other, yet Tom… oh I don’t know. Maybe it’s okay this way.”

“Did you have another dog or cat when you got Tom?” asks Healing, continuing to pet the happy dog.

“No,” says Steven, shaking his head. “In fact, it was one of the rare times in my life when I didn’t have another dog or a cat or both, and that was because a few weeks after my last cat died I went to Sweden where I was an artist-in-residence for a year. Then from there I went to Japan where I had another teaching gig for a year. I got Tom a few months after I got back to LA from Japan, and as I told you on the phone I got Jerry when Tom was eleven-months-old.”

Healing pets Tom a little more and says to him, “Go see Steven now.”

Tom goes to Steven and smiles beatifically as Steven pets him.

“I think I can explain to you why Tom’s behavior changed,” says Healing, pleased to see the love between Steven and Tom, “by saying that had you gotten Jerry after Tom was two-years-old, I don’t think Tom’s behavior would have changed. However, because you got Jerry before the physical patterns and priorities of Tom’s life were hardwired into Tom’s adult neurological system, and given Tom’s extremely cooperative nature, he interpreted your encouraging Jerry to sit and sleep where he sat and slept to mean that you, Steven, the alpha, had decided this was how things were to be. And I would guess that you were not fully aware of these changes in Tom until Jerry was no longer a kitten. By then, your doting on Jerry – and who can resist doting on a kitten? – convinced Tom that you wanted Jerry to be second to you in the family hierarchy, and Tom third.”

“Because he was still something of a puppy,” says Steven, ceasing to pet Tom and watching him trot out the door to find Marcel and those interesting visitors. “And if I had insisted he sit on the sofa with us and sleep with us, he might still be sitting on the sofa and sleeping on the bed and coming to me for pets.”

“I believe so,” says Healing, petting the purring Jerry. “And by the way, it’s not too late to train Tom to get on the sofa with you. It would entail picking him up and putting him beside you and rewarding him, and when he jumps down, going and getting him and repeating the process many times over many weeks until it becomes his habit to be on the sofa. But I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“What would you do?” asks Steven, plaintively.

“I would create a new situation for relating to him. Install a small sofa near where Tom spends his evenings now and invite him to sit with me while constantly referring to the seat as Tom’s sofa. I would make sitting there with him a several-times-a-day ritual until it became Tom’s habit to spend time with me there. Might take a while, but if you aren’t happy with how things are now, that’s what I recommend, though the easiest thing would be to accept that Tom is not unhappy about the current situation. You, Steven, miss the kind of closeness you had with him before his behavior changed, so it is incumbent upon you to establish whatever habits of closeness you desire to have with him, though I assure you he is perfectly happy with how things are now.”


On their way home from Steven’s house, Healing driving, Ozan says, “Steven is going to trim our bowls and fire them in his kiln and then we’ll come back and glaze them and he’ll fire them again and then we can take them home.”

“I’m going to glaze mine so it comes out red with golden spots,” says Raaziyah, excitedly. “And then I’m going to make a vase for the kitchen table.”

“I’m going to glaze mine so it comes out blue and green,” says Ozan, equally excited. “Then I will help Steven make a gigantic bowl for salad.”

“We’re going to have Steven and Marcel over for supper soon,” says Jahera, looking back at the children. “When Tova comes home from Portland. I think she’ll like Steven. Don’t you, Shafi?”

“She’ll love him,” says Healing, exchanging knowing smiles with Jahera.

“Well,” says Eliana, sighing melodramatically, “I’ll just cut to the chase. I’m madly in love with Marcel. Nevertheless, I’m not moving to Montreal. If he and I are going to have a relationship, he’ll have to move here.”

“Good plan,” says Healing, unable to keep from laughing.

“I won’t be surprised if he moves here,” says Jahera, gazing at Eliana sitting between Raaziyah and Ozan. “He’s crazy about you.”

“I already miss him,” says Eliana, her eyes filling with tears.

“Me, too,” says Raaziyah, pouting sympathetically. “He’s so nice.”

“I miss him, too,” says Ozan, nodding. “But we’ll see him again soon. He’s our friend now.”


Wake Up Thinking About You from Todd’s Album Dream of You


22. Moshe Again

Three days before Naomi’s party, shortly after breakfast, Joel and Irene Schlesinger arrive at the little old house with their enormous good-natured hound Moshe, a handsome mix of Great Dane and Rhodesian Ridgeback, his fur short and golden brown.

Joel is eighty, Irene seventy-nine. They have been bringing Moshe to the little old house twice a week for the last eight months so Moshe can socialize with the Weintraub dogs and go on long walks with the pack while Joel and Irene spend time with their daughter Judy, their granddaughter Sara, and Judy’s husband Jeff who live at the north end of Mercy.

Irene and Joel have become good friends with everyone in the Weintraub consortium, and the Weintraub dogs now consider Moshe a member of their pack. Moshe is seven-years-old and twice as big as Mendelssohn, yet it has never occurred to him to challenge Mendelssohn for the position of alpha, though Mendelssohn is twelve and would gladly relinquish that role to Moshe if only he were here more often.

“So,” says Joel as he and Irene stand with Healing on the deck overlooking the backyard where Moshe is going with Mendelssohn, Miguelito, and Coosi to visit the pond. “We have momentous news and a question for you.”

Healing smiles. “We heard from the Guptas that Judy and Jeff and Sara are moving to Honolulu.”

“And we are moving with them,” says Irene, smiling brightly. “They’re leaving in a couple of weeks so Sara can start school there in August, and we’ll be moving in September. We bought the kids a house in a ritzy neighborhood and a townhouse for us on the golf course three blocks away.”

“The most beautiful golf course I’ve ever seen,” says Joel, with a dreamy look on his face. “No more putting in a parka. The only thing is…”

“It would be problematic to bring Moshe with you,” says Healing, nodding. “We will be happy to take him.”

“Oh thank God,” says Joel, rejoicing. “We insist on paying for his food. He eats like an elephant.”

“If you wish,” says Healing, bowing to them. “I hope you’ll come to the party on Saturday.”

“Of course we will,” says Irene, smiling sadly at Healing. “We love Naomi. And we love you. We’re so grateful to you. What can we bring?”

“Just you,” says Healing, his tears on the rise. “Would you mind keeping Moshe until a few days before you leave? Things are a bit tumultuous here right now.”

“Be happy to,” says Joel, nodding emphatically. “The last thing we want to do is be a burden to you.”


Later that morning, Jean, Healing, Tova, Raaziyah, and Ozan take the dogs for a beach walk and find lots of people and dogs enjoying the sand and the crashing waves.

“I’ll miss Irene and Joel,” says Jean, holding Moshe close so he is less likely to tug. “Such charming people.”

“I will miss them, too,” says Healing, in charge of Miguelito and Coosi and Mendelssohn. “But they’ll be happier in Hawaii. They found it unpleasantly cold here and now they will always be warm and Joel will play golf every day in a short-sleeved shirt.”

“Where’s Hawaii?” asks Ozan, who is holding Flora’s leash – Flora now bigger than Mendelssohn and sweet as can be. “Why is it always warm there?”

“I’ll show you in the atlas when we get home,” says Jean, recalling when she and Healing were children and spent many happy hours perusing the atlas with Naomi and Ezra.

“Mama?” asks Raaziyah, who has charge of little Max. “When will our school start again?”

“In a month or so,” says Tova, tugging Puccini away from a pile of seaweed he wants to devour. “After Arjun and Ravi and Kashvi get back from India.”

“Where is India?” asks Ozan, frowning at his mother.

“We’ll look that up in the atlas, too,” says Tova, exchanging smiles with Jean. “When we get home.”

“Darvin and Esther went to Canada to visit Esther’s grandmother,” says Raaziyah, who misses playing with Esther. “They’ll be home next week.” She sighs dramatically. “Finally.”

“We’ll find Canada in the atlas, too,” says Healing, anticipating Ozan’s query.

“We may have a new student this time around,” says Tova, who is antsy to get home and spend more time with Naomi. “Her name is Georgia Fidelio. She and her mother Lola moved here from Italy in May and live next door to Darla. Georgia is six.”

“Italy,” says Ozan, looking at Jean. “Can we look that up in the atlas, too?”

“We can and we will,” says Jean, who also wants to get home to her mother.

“Georgia will probably go to the Montessori,” says Tova, giving her father a plaintive look to ask Can we head home now? “But Darla raved about our school and Lola and Georgia were intrigued and want to try Nasturtium School for a week or two and see if they like it.”

“Excitement abounds,” says Healing, slowing to a stop. “Shall we turn the hounds around and head home before we all become weak with hunger?”

“Good idea,” says Tova, winking thankfully at her father. “Who knows what fun they might be having at home without us?”


When Joel and Irene return in the late afternoon to get Moshe, they find Eliana, Turq, Tova, and Healing rehearsing on the deck for an audience of Maahiah, Jahera, Ozan, Raaziyah, Jean, William, Diego and his wife Teresa, Helen, Justin, Jean’s friend Darla, and Naomi with Zubina on her lap.

“I thought the party wasn’t until Saturday,” says Joel, when the quartet finishes playing Rogers and Hammerstein’s A Hundred Million Miracles. “I hope we haven’t missed the appetizers.”

“No appetizers,” says Naomi, laughing, “but please join us for supper. The resident gourmands are barbecuing corn and fish and vegetable shish kebobs.”

“A dress rehearsal,” says Jahera, giving Irene and Joel hugs. “Please stay for supper.”

“How can we refuse?” says Irene, loving how affectionate Jahera is.

“I have to leave in twenty minutes,” says Turq, smiling at Naomi. “Any requests?”

“Oh I’d love to hear Deep Purple again,” says Naomi, smiling brightly. “I know you started with that today, but I love it so much.”

“So do we,” says Turq, nodding to Healing and Eliana.

Healing begins a lovely chord progression, Turq adds a heartbeat with his bass, and Eliana and Tova sing in exquisite harmony, the words of the song bringing tears to everyone’s eyes, save for the children who are simply thrilled by the sound of the music.

In the still of the night once again I hold you tight

Though you’ve gone, your love lives on


Tasty comestibles sizzling on the barbecue, Naomi sits on the garden bench with Eliana, the garden bathed in golden light as the long summer day draws to a close.

 “Healing mentioned at breakfast today,” says Naomi, gazing fondly at Eliana, “that your wedding gigs have proved so lucrative you are considering moving out of your parents’ house and getting a place in town.”

“I’ve wanted my own place for years,” says Eliana, sighing. “Just never had the wherewithal. Or the courage. But now I think I do. The trick will be finding a place to rent. There’s a terrible shortage of rentals in Mercy these days.”

“Would you consider living in my cottage?” asks Naomi, taking Eliana’s hand. “After I’m gone? I would love for you to live here and help with Zubina and be auntie to Raaz and Oz. Jean was going to stay on in my cottage, but now she’s shacking up with William.” Naomi laughs. “I’ve always loved that expression. And Maahiah has her cottage across the street, so… Healing and Jahera said they’d love you to live here if you want to.” She looks over the tops of her glasses and gives Eliana a mischievous smile. “I promise not to haunt you.”

“Oh I wish you would,” says Eliana, crying. “Then I won’t miss you so much.”

“We’ve know each other since you were born,” says Naomi, putting her arms around Eliana. “You were one-and-a-half when Ezra and I moved to England, Spanish your first language, though when I took you on a tour of the vegetable garden shortly before we departed, you startled me by asking in perfect English, ‘Can I pick a flower?’ I said you could, and you proceeded to pick several dozen sweet peas we put in a vase on the kitchen table.”

“I’ve always been greedy for flowers,” says Eliana, laughing.

Naomi laughs, too. “I’ll never forget the first time we met again after I moved back to Mercy. I’d been home for just a few days when you came for your accordion lesson. You were fifteen, charming and beautiful and funny. You deftly assumed my British accent and dazzled me with your intellect, and then you and Healing played a fabulous accordion duet and I realized you were one of the most fully realized people I’ve ever known.”

“Me?” says Eliana, sniffling. “I’m one of the most unrealized people I’ve ever known. I’m almost twenty-six and I still live with my parents who would love for me to live with them for the rest of my life. And I’ve never even come close to having a lover. Of either gender.” She pouts. “What do you mean by fully realized?”

“I mean you are void of false persona,” says Naomi, looking into Eliana’s eyes. “You speak your feelings without inhibition and you are keenly attentive to others. You are reflexively loving and kind, and you feel the sufferings of others as your own. It is no wonder you get along so well with the members of our collective, for we are all very much like you. As for not having had a lover yet, you are protected, my dear, by your genius and your originality that manifests in everything you do, so that most people are incapable of recognizing you as anything but a beautiful eccentric. But do not despair. For though the gods have not yet deemed it time for your path to coincide with the person you will partner with, it will happen. I have inquired of my cards about you many times over the years, and there can be no doubt that one day, if you will forgive the cliché, your prince or princess will come.”


When the feasting subsides and no one is inclined to leave, more wine is brought forth, tea is brewed, and cocoa is made for the children.

“One of my fondest memories,” says Naomi, gazing around at her beloved friends, “is of a poetry reading at Crow’s Nest Books when you, Helen, read your first poem in public at an Open Mike following a reading by a world-renowned poet of towering mediocrity I shall not name. I remember walking home in the moonlight with Ezra and Healing, and Ezra saying, ‘I had lost hope of ever finding a living poet who speaks to me as do the dead ones I admire. But unless the poem Helen read was a fluke, I think I may have finally found one.’ And thereafter we never missed one of your readings until we moved back to England, and whenever you published a new volume of poems, Ezra would order a copy, wait impatiently for it to arrive, and then read your poems again and again and be filled with joy. I love your poems, too, and when we moved back to England they were my lifeline to Mercy.” She smiles hopefully. “Might you recite one for us now?”

“Yes,” says Helen, who has been crying off and on all day thinking about Naomi dying. “But before I do, I must tell you again that Ezra praising my poem that night changed my life. I was twenty-five and terrified of sharing my poems for fear of being told I was no good. And that night, after I finally got up the nerve to read a poem in public, no one said anything to me and I thought my poem was no good. But when I came out of the bookstore and you and Ezra and Healing were waiting for me, and Ezra said, ‘You give me hope, Helen, that the art has not been lost,’ I was never afraid again, at least not about sharing my poetry.”

“Ezra called you his Sappho,” says Naomi, closing her eyes. “He liked to read your poems while listening to Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words.”

“I’m working on a poem for your party,” says Helen, crying, “but I don’t have it memorized yet.”

“Do Sage, honey,” says Justin, quietly prompting her.

“Oh good idea,” she says, laughing. “When my book Spin Cycle came out, Ezra sent me a letter from Oxford saying how much he liked the poem Sage, how it reminded him of Graves and Durrell and the kinds of questions they asked in their poems.”

“Ezra used to recite Sage,” says Naomi, breathing deeply of her memories of Ezra. “When he was feeling especially sad about the terrible things humans were doing to each other. Your words always cheered him.”

Now Helen recites, “Dawn brings no relief from the sorrow clinging to me, a heavy shawl of grief. The sage is standing on my kitchen table. She’s not much taller than the wine bottle holding a wilted rose, the dishes from last night still not done. ‘Oh why do people choose cruelty over love?’ I ask her. ‘When love is so obviously the better choice?’ ‘Obvious to you,’ says the sage, doing a funny little dance. ‘Obvious to those with food in their bellies, to those who were loved by mother and father and friends, but not so obvious to the unloved, the hungry, the ones deeply scarred by fear.’ ‘And so?’ I ask. ‘What can we do to change them?’ ‘Love them,’ says the sage, bowing to me. ‘As you said. Only without hope of changing them or being thanked for loving them. Love them as your heart beats when you are resting in safety and comfort. Slowly steadily without pause without fear without question.’”

“Wow,” says Joel, gazing in wonder at Helen. “That’s the best poem I’ve ever heard. Not that I’ve heard a lot of poems, but after hearing this one I want to get your books.”

“Thank you, Joel,” says Helen, nodding graciously to him.

“What do you think Helen’s poem is about Oz?” asks Tova, smiling at her son.

“You should love other people,” says Ozan, nodding confidently. “Even if you’re hungry.”

“It’s also about a little person named Sage,” says Raaziyah, smiling at Helen. “Who likes to dance on your table.”


A light rain graces Mercy on the morning of Naomi’s party, a celebration no one is calling a goodbye party or farewell party or last party.

Blessedly the sun is shining brightly by the time the first of the twenty guests arrive in the early afternoon – steam rising from the deck and rooftops. At the south end of the deck stands an enormous table composed of several tables covered with colorful table cloths, the tabletop soon to be graced with Algerian and Mexican specialties along with Tova’s spicy chicken thighs, corn-on-the-cob, vegetable shish kebobs, and broiled cod caught this morning in Mercy Bay.

Naomi is enthroned in the garden in her wicker armchair with another chair and a small table alongside her on which she has her Tarot deck, a jar full of pens, and a stack of postcards featuring Jahera’s photos of the Weintraub pooches and kitties. Guests are invited to sit with Naomi and choose a Tarot card from which Naomi intuits a thing or two for the guest to write on a postcard and take with them as a keepsake.

The first person to sit with Naomi is Darby.

“I thought it best to do this before I’ve had too much to drink,” he says, fighting his tears. “Before I become maudlin and idiotic and can’t stop crying, all of which I fear is inevitable. I’m going to miss you more than I can say. You’ve been a mainstay of my life and the cause of incalculable joy.”

“I will say the same of you, my friend,” says Naomi, who is feeling remarkably well, calm and clearheaded and entirely free of doubt about her decision to die. “Please shuffle the cards and choose one.”

Darby fumbles with the deck and draws the Seven of Pentacles.

“How perfect for you,” says Naomi, gazing fondly at her old friend. “You have accomplished much in your long life and are happy with Marjorie as your companion. Sometimes you fret about not having accomplished some great something, and it is time to cease fretting about that and thoroughly enjoy life.”

“I’ll take that to the bank,” says Darby, his eyes full of tears. “And think of you always.”


The next person to sit with Naomi is Turq, resplendent in a billowy white shirt and black trousers – the outfit he wears for wedding gigs.

“I wanted to take my turn early,” he says quietly. “Before we get caught up playing your favorite songs.”

“You’re letting your hair grow,” says Naomi, smiling at him. “How wonderful. I loved your curly locks when you came to me for writing lessons as a boy.”

“You mean kinky locks,” he says, laughing.

“No I mean curls,” says Naomi, laughing with him. “Albeit kinky curls.”

“I started shaving my head when I was twenty,” he says wistfully. “And for the next twenty-four years I thought I’d always shave my head. But the day I started playing music with Healing and Eliana, I decided to let my hair grow back. And that was just the beginning of the changes in my life since we started playing music together.”

“Tell me,” says Naomi, nodding encouragingly. “Your secrets are safe with me.”

“No secrets,” he says, shaking his head. “Surprises, but no secrets. After our first few rehearsals, Sheila asked me to stop playing with Healing and Eliana. She said she wasn’t comfortable with me spending so much time with such a beautiful young woman. So I invited her to come to the rehearsals with me, and she came for one and she and Eliana had a great talk, and she was appeased. But then we had our first gig and the groom tipped us a thousand dollars and I brought home more money than I make in two weeks working at Found Wood, and Sheila said it made her feel like a failure that I could make so much money playing music while she made so little as a bank teller. And she asked me again to stop playing with Healing and Eliana. And I said to her, ‘My money is your money, Sheila,’ and I gave her a thousand dollars to go shopping with her sister. They bought new clothes and new shoes, and she was happy for a while, and I was in heaven playing music with those geniuses. And then a few weeks later I came home from a gig feeling high as a kite, and I raved about Healing and Eliana’s playing and Tova’s singing, and Sheila freaked out and said if I didn’t quit playing with them she would leave me. And I said, ‘But sweetheart, praising them isn’t a criticism of you. You’re great. And they’re great, too, and in another month I’ll be out of debt for the first time in twenty years. I’m sorry you don’t appreciate my success, but I’m not quitting.’ So she moved out. Two weeks ago. And the days and nights since she left have not been easy for me because I really loved her and she really loved me as long as we were just scraping by. And though I know it’s good we aren’t together anymore, I ache with loneliness.”

“You are my hero, Turq,” says Naomi, placing her hand on her heart. “Draw a card now, though I know what it will be.”

“How do you know?” asks Turq, giving her a quizzical look as he shuffles the cards.

“I don’t know how I know,” she says, marveling at how small the cards appear to be in his big beautiful hands. “I just do.”

He sets the deck on the table and says, “I choose the top card. What is it?”

“The Magician,” she says, nodding assuredly before turning the card over to reveal a confident man standing at a table bearing the instruments of his magic. “This is you, Turq.”

“How am I a magician?” he asks humbly.

“With your music and your kindness and your wisdom,” says Naomi, taking his hand. “Wisdom gained from the long and difficult journey you made to arrive at this moment in the continuum the Buddhists call karma.”

They gaze at each other for a long loving moment.

“Thank you, Naomi,” he says, turning to Helen who has come to have her time with Naomi. “Next?”

“Love awaits you, Turq,” says Naomi, looking up at him as he rises to go. “Fear not.”


An hour later, her Tarot cards returned to the exquisite wooden box Ezra made for them seventy years ago, Naomi joins the revelers on the deck, and with Maahiah’s assistance has a taste of everything and a sip of white wine, after which she says to Healing, “I think it would be good for you to start the music now. I’m going to lie down in my cottage and have a nap. I’ll leave my window open so I can drift off to the sound of you and Eliana and Turq and Tova making your beautiful music.”

“We’ll play all the songs again after your nap,” says Healing, kissing her. “Love you Mum.”

“Love you dear,” she says, allowing Jean and Jahera to help her down the stairs and through the garden to her cottage where she lies down on her bed and closes her eyes as Deseo begins I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.


“This must be a lucid dream,” says Naomi as she finds herself walking down a faint trail through a forest, the air smelling of Algerian spices.

Now she comes to a clearing and sees someone in the distance she thinks might be Ezra, but when she gets closer she sees the person is an exquisite young woman wearing nothing but a necklace of small bones.

“Here you are,” says the young woman, holding out her hand to Naomi.

“Is this my end?” asks Naomi, taking the young woman’s hand and feeling infused with glorious warmth.

“Nay,” whispers the young woman, leading Naomi out of the forest onto a vast beach, the ocean roaring in the distance. “Your freedom.”


Morning Coffee a piano solo from Todd’s CD Incongroovity



When the dogs come in for supper on the last day of June, Tabinda is missing from the pack, so Jean and the children go in search of her.

Ozan finds Tabinda’s body near the pond where she had a last drink before she died. Ozan looks at her and knows she is dead, and rather than call out to Jean and Raaziyah, he walks back to the house where Healing is waiting on the deck

“Tabinda died at the pond,” says Ozan, sadly. “Her eyes are all gray now.”

Healing comes down from the deck and he and Ozan walk to the pond to see Tabinda and choose a place to bury her.


Three days later at the end of the day, Socrates lies down in the living room with the other dogs and never wakes again.


Healing cannot sleep a wink for several days after Socrates dies because he’s terrified Mendelssohn might die, too. Finally Jean and Jahera take Mendelssohn to the vet who assures them Mendelssohn is in excellent health and will surely live another two or three years, and thereafter Healing can sleep again.


On July seventeenth, Tova, Raaziyah, and Ozan leave with Jean and William for a seven-day trip to Berkeley, San Francisco, and Palo Alto, the first time in the children’s lives they’ve been away from Mercy. The quintet will wander around North Beach and Chinatown and Golden Gate Park, visit museums, spend time with William’s daughters and their families, meet some of William’s friends, ride on trains and ferry boats, go to a baseball game, stay in motels, and eat Thai food, Indian food, and Japanese food.


On the morning of July twenty-second, Healing is doing the dishes, Jahera is walking around the living room holding and bouncing Zubina, Maahiah is warming a bottle for the baby, and Naomi is sitting at the table collecting her thoughts.

“I have an announcement,” says Naomi, taking a deep breath to quell her nervousness. “As I told you some months ago, my intention was to live for another two years until Oz and Raaz are seven. However, forces beyond my control are now making life difficult for me and I’m certain I won’t be able to live very much longer without medical assistance. Since I do not wish to prolong my life in that way, I am going to leave you sooner than I had hoped by ceasing to eat and drink starting on August second, which is a little less than two weeks from today. As you know, I visited Dr. Hardy yesterday and he has agreed to prescribe morphine should I experience unbearable pain in the latter stages of the process. I’m sorry to bring you this news so soon after Socrates and Tabinda died, but I wanted to tell you before the children return from their trip.”

“Oh Mum,” says Healing, coming to embrace her.

“I have one request, dear,” she says, kissing his cheek. “Before I depart I would like to have a party at which you and Eliana and Turq and Tova perform my favorite songs. A barbecue for our close friends, after which I will eat and drink no more.”


An hour later, Healing and Jahera walk with Mendelssohn, Coosi, Puccini, and Flora across town to visit Marjorie and Darby, leaving Max, Miguelito, and Zoya to keep Maahiah and Naomi company.

“I’m afraid to tell Darby and Marjorie about Mum,” says Healing, gazing forlornly at Jahera. “Darby will be devastated.”

“Don’t be afraid,” she says quietly. “I’ll tell them.”

He nods and starts to cry, and his crying causes Mendelssohn to nudge Healing’s hand to say Don’t cry, Shafi. I’m here with you.


“I thought for sure your mother would outlive me,” says Darby, after he and Marjorie have a good cry. “Remember when I was afraid to keep Dagwood because I thought I’d die before him? Silly me. He lived a good long life, and now we’ve got Pierre. We die when we die. Doesn’t do any good to worry about it. Certainly not once we make it past fifty, let alone seventy and eighty.”

“I’m not prepared for Mum to die,” says Healing, shaking his head. “She’s slowed down some, but otherwise she’s still very much herself. I just… I’m in shock.”

“There’s no way to prepare, my boy,” says Darby, putting a hand on Healing’s shoulder. “Except to be with her as much as you can and love her ‘til the end.”

 “As you know,” says Marjorie, smiling at Healing, “I was a hospice nurse for many years and I would be honored to help you with Naomi.”

“Thank you, Marjorie,” says Healing, returning her smile. “Mum will be glad for your help and advice. Dr. Hardy is going to prescribe morphine if she needs it.”

“She probably will,” says Marjorie, nodding. “She might go quickly, but she could live two weeks or more once she stops eating and drinking. We want her to be as comfortable as she can be.”

“I was orphaned when I was twenty-seven,” says Darby, remembering his hardworking mother who raised him and his siblings on her own. “After my mum died there was nothing keeping me in Ireland. So I came to America, and not liking the looks of New York, I headed west by train and bus, stopping for a time here and there along the way. I almost stuck in Milwaukee where I met a nice Irish gal, and nearly settled in Boise where I had a good drinkin’ buddy, but I felt the pull to move on, and when I got to San Francisco I knew in a minute the Beatniks and outsiders such as myself had fled some years before. So I headed north, hitchhiking with a big old suitcase full of my clothes and curios. And seventy miles south of Mercy, Jim Young picked me up in his old brown pickup and brought me to Mercy and let me sleep on his living room sofa and catch my breath. I know you’ve all heard this story too many times, but Naomi being about to leave us makes me want to tell you again how I was walking down Main Street when who should come walking toward me but none other than Naomi and Ezra and you, Healing, fifteen and handsome as could be, each of you with a dog on a leash. I said, ‘Top of the morning to you,’ and your father smiled his beautiful smile and said, ‘You must be the Irish fellow sleeping on Jim Young’s sofa.’ I said I was, and your mother said, “Do come for supper tonight, will you? We are perishing from a lack of interesting guests.’ And that was how I came to know you all and began to wiggle my way into your good graces.”


Returning from their visit with Darby and Marjorie, Healing and Jahera find Naomi and Maahiah sitting on the sofa laughing.

 “May we know the cause of your mirth?” asks Healing, laughing with them despite his sorrow.

“Oh you had a call about a dog,” says Naomi, still laughing. “And when I got off the phone I said to Maahiah, ‘I must teach you how to probe for salient data when you take calls for Healing’, and for some reason this struck us both as profoundly funny.” She wipes her eyes. “Silly me.”

“I shall never have an aide de camp the equal of you, Mum,” says Healing, sitting beside her. “Have you the strength to fill me in on the details of the case?”

“I do,” says Naomi, her eyes sparkling. “The caller was Elvis Oglethorpe, Justin’s nephew. Works at the lumberyard. He and his wife Didi Witherspoon have a new baby, a girl named Fiona, three-months-old. Their dog Bart, a Husky Lab mix, has taken to growling at Fiona, and Didi is terrified he might hurt the baby. Thus they have exiled Bart to the backyard and are seriously considering finding another home for him, possibly with Justin and Helen.”

“I know Elvis and Didi and Bart,” says Healing, getting up from the sofa. “I gave Didi and Bart lessons three years ago when Bart was three-monhts-old. He’s a wonderful dog. I can’t imagine him growling at the baby. Let’s hope it’s not too late to fix the problem. And if it is, I’m sure Helen and Justin and their wonder dog Pushkin would love to have Bart live with them.”

“Or we could take him,” says Jahera, putting a kettle on for tea.

“I suppose we could,” says Healing, starting to cry again. “Didn’t occur to me.”


The next morning during breakfast, Tova calls from Palo Alto to say they are adding three days to their trip to visit William’s friends in Santa Cruz and Monterey.

“Oh I’d rather you didn’t, Tove,” says Healing, anxiously. “Mum is…”

“Let me speak to her,” says Naomi, taking the phone from Healing. “Hello Tova. Listen dear, the fates have conspired to make it necessary for me to depart much sooner than I had planned. We’re going to have a party soon at which I hope you will sing with your father and Eliana and Turq, after which I’ll settle down in my cottage to await the grand finale. I’d very much appreciate it if you and Jean and the children came home sooner than later so we can have more time together before I go.”

“We’ll come home tomorrow,” says Tova, crying.

“Thank you, dear,” says Naomi, sighing with relief. “No need to tell the children about my plans until you get home, and then I will them. How does that sound?”

“Okay,” says Tova, sobbing. “See you tomorrow.”

Naomi returns the phone to the kitchen counter and says, “I wonder if we might organize a trip to the beach today. We could drive to the end of Gulley Road and I’ll walk out a little way on the sand there. I’m not so good traveling on sand anymore but I’m longing to go to the beach.”

“I’ll call Justin and Diego,” says Healing, picking up the phone, “and see if they’ll meet us there and carry you close to the water in your Adirondack chair.”

“Good thinking, dear,” says Naomi, sipping her tea. “I haven’t seen Justin and Helen in ages and I’ve been missing Diego. He’s so busy these days with his photography and teaching.” She looks over the tops of her glasses at Healing and Jahera and Maahiah. “One of the collective’s great achievements, don’t you think?”

“Without a doubt,” says Jahera on her way out the kitchen door to have another cry in the garden.

“Shall we take a picnic?” suggests Naomi, smiling at Maahiah. “You’ll come, too. Won’t you, dear?”

“Yes,” says Maahiah, clearing the breakfast dishes. “And I will prepare the picnic.”


Shortly after midday, the sky free of clouds, Maahiah and Jahera walk Mendelssohn and Coosi from the house to Gulley Road, while Healing and Naomi drive there in Healing’s little old pickup. And waiting for them where the Gulley Road dead ends at the beach are the mighty Justin Oglethorpe and his beautiful wife Helen Morningstar, along with strongman Diego Rodriguez, a photography instructor at the community college.

When Naomi is settled securely in her sturdy Adirondack chair, Diego and Justin transport her across the sand to the shore of Mercy Bay, the surf mellow today.

Healing and Jahera unfurl two large beach blankets and the humans gather around a feast of hummus, olives, flat bread, cheese, slices of avocado, and sautéed vegetables courtesy of Maahiah, along with fish and chips and wine and lemonade from Big Goose, Helen and Justin’s pub.

“Oh the glory of this place,” says Naomi, smiling at the shining sea. “You know… for the first ten years we lived here, Ezra and I brought Healing and Jean to the beach every day, save for the stormiest of winter days.” She turns to Healing. “The pull was irresistible. Remember?”

“And it remains my habit seventy years gone by,” says Healing, nodding in thanks to her.

“Irresistible,” says Diego, who just now learned Naomi is going to die soon. “Like the tide going out.” He looks at Naomi. “I’m gonna come see you every day. Okay? Teresa will want to come, too.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” she says, smiling at him.

“The big question is, why don’t I come here every day?” says Justin, wiggling his toes in the sand and looking at Helen. “You bring Pushkin almost every day.”

“He brings me,” says Helen, laughing. “I’ll start begging you to come with us.”

“I tell myself I have too much to do at the pub,” says Justin, shaking his head. “Which is nonsense.”

“What we tell ourselves about ourselves is what we will become,” says Naomi, smiling at Justin. “You may quote me.”

“Remember when I used to think there was nothing to do here?” says Diego, grinning at Healing. “I was gonna move to LA, you know, where all the action is.” He laughs. “I didn’t know anything when I first started working for you guys. Nothing.”

“When we first moved here,” says Naomi, looking across Mercy Bay to the bluff beyond which is the coast highway, “and our house became a mecca for those seeking alternatives to separatism, Ezra and I soon realized there were two kinds of people: those who felt there was nothing to do here, and those who found Mercy a canvas on which to paint their own reality. And though I know it is simplistic to divide humanity in that way, I still do.”

“How could anyone come here,” says Helen, gazing at the waves spending themselves on the shore, “and not be inspired?”

“Because they only see what they’re told to see by the media and society,” says Diego, nodding. “It’s like when I take a bunch of new students out to shoot pictures for the first time, you know, a few of them start taking pictures before we even get out the door. But most of them wait until we get to where we’re going. And then they look around and say, ‘What should I take a picture of? Why did you bring us here? This is just a street in the town. What is there to see?’ And I always remember what Healing taught me about not criticizing people, so I don’t argue with them or tell them they’re blind, you know, and instead I tell them what Jahera taught me, that a great picture doesn’t have to be some big thing or something obviously fantastic. It’s about the light and the way the forms relate to each other, and the thousands of details that make everything so compelling.”

“When I hear you speaking, Diego,” says Naomi, holding out her hand to him, “I am so very glad I got to watch you grow into your genius.”

Diego takes Naomi’s hand and feels blessed by her.


After breakfast the next morning, Healing and Jahera go to visit Elvis Oglethorpe, his wife Didi Witherspoon, their baby girl Fiona, and their dog Bart.

Elvis is forty-four and very tall, Didi thirty-nine and petite, Fiona three-months-old and rosy-cheeked, and Bart a four-year-old mix of Husky and Lab in whom the Husky genes predominate.

Didi and Elvis invite Healing and Jahera into the cluttered living room of their little house at the north end of Mercy – Didi holding Fiona who is in a very fussy mood this morning.

“May I?” asks Jahera, holding out her arms for the baby.

“Please,” says Didi, handing Fiona to Jahera. “She’s being a pill because I’m being a pill from lack of sleep and only one cup of coffee so far today. Thank goodness there’s more on the way.”

“Fiona’s usually pretty mellow,” says Elvis, yawning. “But she woke up five times last night so we’re kinda groggy this morning.”

“Welcome to my life,” says Didi, yawning, too. “You guys want coffee?”

“No, thank you,” says Healing, noting that Fiona ceased to fuss the moment Jahera took her from Didi. “We just had breakfast. Where is the marvelous Bart?”

 “In the backyard,” says Elvis, wincing a little as he says so. “Like I said on the phone, he’s been acting weird around the baby so we’re keeping him outside until we figure out what to do.”

“How does he act weird?” asks Healing, looking around the house and seeing the unmistakable signs of overwhelm.

“He growls at her,” says Didi, grimly. “Scares the crap outta me.”

“Shall we go see him?” asks Healing, looking at Elvis.

“Yeah,” says Elvis, gesturing for Healing to follow him.

So while Jahera stays with Didi and Fiona, Elvis leads Healing through the disaster of a kitchen and out the back door where Bart comes rushing up to Healing, tail wagging.

“Hello big boy,” says Healing, petting the affable pooch. “What’s this I hear about you growling at Fiona?”

Bart spins in a circle and grins wide-eyed at Elvis.

“He thinks we’re going on a walk,” says Elvis, petting Bart. “I haven’t had much time for him since Fiona was born because I’m working fifty hours a week now to make up for Didi not working, and Didi only has time to walk him when my mom or Helen come to help with the baby, and then she usually just crashes, so…” He smiles sadly at Bart. “Sorry guy. We’ll go on a walk later.”

“I’d like to see how he behaves in the house,” says Healing, slipping Bart a chewy treat. “May we?”

“Yeah,” says Elvis, despondently. “It’ll freak Didi out, but… lemme tell her he’s coming in with us.”

“Before you do, may I ask you a couple questions?”

“Yeah, sure,” says Elvis, wearily. “He’s such a good dog. I’d hate to lose him, but… Didi says he’s a monster around the baby. I haven’t actually seen him act that way, but she says he growls at the baby, so…”

Bart drops a soggy tennis ball at Healing’s feet.

“What changes did you make in Bart’s life when Fiona arrived on the scene?” asks Healing, throwing the ball for Bart.

“Well like I said, we don’t walk him enough now.” Elvis shoves his hands in his pockets. “And Didi keeps the hall door closed when he’s in the house. Or she did before we moved him outside.”

“He used to go down the hall?”

“Oh for sure. He slept on the bed with us.” Elvis yawns. “But when we started getting up three or four times a night to nurse Fiona, Didi said he was always in the way, so we moved him out to the living room, and now he’s outside. If we still have him when it gets cold I guess we’ll keep him in the garage.”

“Any other changes?”

“Not really,” says Elvis, yawning again. “Except he’s not allowed on the couch anymore.”


“That’s where Didi sits to nurse the baby and she doesn’t want Bart bugging her and Fiona.”

“Was Bart often on the couch before Fiona arrived?”

“All the time,” says Elvis, laughing despite himself. “He sat with us when we watched television, took naps there, and when he was bugging us in the kitchen we’d say, ‘Go to the couch, Bart.’”

“So the sofa was his comfort zone,” says Healing, nodding in understanding.

“For sure,” says Elvis, nodding.

“Any other changes you can think of before he was exiled to the backyard?”

“No.” Elvis frowns. “He was fine for the first month until I had to go back to work. That’s when he started growling. Like I said, I haven’t actually heard him growl at the baby, but Didi said he did it all the time and it scared her to death.”

“Lastly,” says Healing, petting Bart, “were Didi and Bart close before Fiona arrived?”

“Close?” says Elvis, taken aback. “They were like best friends. He was more her dog than mine. She picked him from the litter, babied him, trained him, walked him every day. She took him to you three or four times. Remember? That’s what makes this so sad. She hates him now because she thinks he’s gonna hurt the baby.” He grimaces painfully. “You think maybe he’s jealous of Fiona? Why else would he growl?”

“I don’t know,” says Healing, petting Bart. “If you will forewarn Didi, we’ll bring him inside now and see what develops.”


When Bart enters the house he finds Didi sitting at the dining table drinking coffee and doing things on her phone while Jahera is sitting on the sofa holding Fiona.

Bart trots over to Jahera to say hello and Didi jumps up shouting, “Get away from her, Bart! Get away now.”

Bart gives Didi a hurt look and slinks to the far corner of the living room.

“Why did you do that, Didi?” asks Healing, mystified by Didi’s behavior. “He was just being friendly.”

“Because he growls at her,” says Didi, glaring at Healing. “Maybe not that time, but he usually does, and then Fiona starts crying and I freak out. I can’t handle this anymore. We’re gonna have to get rid of him.”

“Of course I haven’t been here when Bart growls,” says Healing, exchanging looks with Jahera, “and I certainly don’t want to endanger Fiona, but I’m confident I can teach Bart not to growl at Fiona, and I’m also absolutely certain he would never intentionally harm her. If you will allow me to try.”

“Okay,” says Didi, trying not to cry. “But keep a hold on him, okay?”

“I will,” says Healing, holding out his hand to Didi. “Come sit with me on the sofa and we’ll start anew.”

“Okay,” she says, taking Healing’s hand and allowing him to guide her to the sofa. “I haven’t had much sleep since the baby was born so I’m kinda raggedy.”

“I understand,” says Healing, seating Didi beside Jahera. “Now take Fiona from Jahera and I will sit beside you.”

When Healing and Didi are sitting side-by-side, Fiona fussing and whimpering again, Healing says to Bart, “Come here good boy and meet your sister. Come on now.”

Bart gives Didi a fearful look and stays on the other side of the room.

“You will need to invite Bart to come meet Fiona,” says Healing, speaking quietly. “Last he heard from you, you didn’t want him to come near you.”

“Come on Barty,” says Didi, tearfully. “Come say hi to Fiona.”

Bart slowly crosses the room to Healing, and Healing takes hold of Bart’s collar and gently encourages him to come close and smell the baby.

Fiona continues to whimper, and Bart makes a high musical tone in his throat that Healing knows is Bart expressing sympathy for the baby.

“See?” says Didi, fearfully. “He’s growling at her.”

“Quite the opposite,” says Healing, petting Bart. “He hears she’s distressed and he’s saying he wants to be of assistance to you.”

“He is?” says Didi, gazing at Bart in disbelief. “He’s not growling?”

“That’s not a growl,” says Healing, looking at Bart. “Is it, Barty?”

Bart wags his tail and makes the high musical sound again.

“Oh my God,” says Fiona, bursting into tears. “I’m so sorry, B. I didn’t understand you.”

“I would also suggest that you invite Bart to avail himself of the sofa again,” says Healing, standing up. “This has been his favorite place since he was a puppy and it is now where you sit with the new puppy, so to speak, and he’d like to be here with you. If you don’t want him in your bedroom at night, I suggest you make the sofa his nighttime bed and train him to sleep here as you trained him so well to do everything else you want him to do. No need to keep the hall door closed. He’s a very smart and obedient pooch.”

“I remember those weeks and months without sleeping when my son was born,” says Jahera, smiling at Fiona wiggling in Didi’s arms and no longer whimpering. “How difficult it was to relax and just let things be. Even so, you’ve done a marvelous job with your child.”

“Oh thanks,” says Didi, smiling through her tears at Jahera. “Everything just blurs together these days and it’s hard to know if we’re doing the right thing. I feel like such an idiot screaming at Bart.”

“Not at all,” says Jahera, putting her arm around Didi. “You’re doing fine.”

“Come sit where I was,” says Healing to Elvis. “And invite Bart up on the sofa with you.”

Elvis sits beside Didi and she hands him Fiona.

“Okay B,” says Elvis, nodding to Bart. “Come on up. Be gentle now.”

Bart hops up on the sofa and gazes bashfully at Elvis.

“You can be up here now,” says Elvis, petting Bart. “Just gotta be gentle when the baby’s close.”

Bart looks at Fiona and wags his tail.

“You can give her a kiss,” says Elvis, presenting Fiona to Bart. “Be gentle.”

Bart looks at Didi.

“It’s okay, Barty,” says Didi, sighing with relief. “I just didn’t understand what you were saying. Go on.”

Bart gently touches his nose to baby girl’s cheek and she makes a sweet little mewing sound that makes Bart smile in delight and wag his tail.


The next day, as glorious a summer day as there has ever been, Naomi sits in a wicker armchair next to the wooden bench in the center of the vegetable garden while Tova and Healing and Jahera toil nearby, and Ozan and Raaziyah enjoy carrots they’ve pulled and then washed with the garden hose.

“Would you bring me a carrot?” asks Naomi, beckoning to the children. “And tell me more about your fantastic journey?”

Oz pulls a carrot for Naomi and two more for himself, Raaziyah pulls two carrots, too, and after they wash the gorgeous orange things, they go and sit on the bench and happily eat carrots while telling Naomi about the ferry boat ride they took from San Francisco to Larkspur and back to San Francisco again.

When the exciting tale has been told, Naomi says, “I have something important to tell you. In a way it’s sad, and in other ways it isn’t sad.”

“What happened?” asks Raaziyah, gazing wide-eyed at her great grandmother.

“Well it hasn’t happened yet,” says Naomi, smiling at Raaziyah, “but after the party next week, I will be at the very end of my life, and I’m going to be sitting in the garden and resting in my cottage until I die. I hope you’ll come visit me because I won’t be coming into the house anymore or going across the street. But that won’t be until after the party.”

“I don’t want you to die,” says Ozan, pursing his lips and shaking his head. “You seem fine to me. Maybe you just have a cold.”

“Everything and everyone has to die one day,” says Naomi, putting her arms around Ozan as he climbs onto her lap. “Like these carrots. Remember when they were tiny seeds and you planted them and covered them with soil and they didn’t sprout for a long time. But then they did sprout and they became seedlings and we had to thin them so some of them could get big. And now you’ve pulled those big ones because they came to the end of their lives. I started as a tiny seed, too, as did you. And I grew on the earth for ninety-four years, which is a very long time, and now I’m at the end of my life.”

“But I don’t ever want you to die,” says Raaziyah, standing beside Naomi and gazing at her.

“I know, dear,” says Naomi, caressing Raaziyah. “But I have to die. It’s how the universe works. Things are born and die, and more things are born and more things die. On and on forever.”

Raaziyah starts to cry and runs to her mother.

Ozan remains on Naomi’s lap and says, “But you won’t die until after the party, and that won’t be until next week.”

“That’s right, dear,” she says, kissing him.

Ozan muses for a moment. “Will we bury you in the maple forest and plant a maple tree for you?”

“I would love that,” says Naomi, crying a little. “However, it is more likely I will be cremated and you will spread my ashes in the trees.”

“What’s cremated?” asks Ozan, snuggling close to her.

“Ask Healing, dear,” says Naomi, closing her eyes. “Time for my nap.”

So Ozan goes to Healing and asks what cremated is, and after Healing explains as best he can, he agrees with Ozan that it would be preferable to bury Naomi in the forest of Japanese maples.

“We’ll ask Sheriff Higuera if it will be okay to bury her there,” says Healing, his vision blurred by tears. “Ruben.”

“Is Ruben coming to the party?” asks Ozan, wondering why they have to ask Ruben about burying Naomi where she wants to be buried.

“Yes, he is,” says Healing, holding Ozan close. “We’ll ask him then.”


Light Song from Todd’s CD Lounge Act In Heaven