Leo’s Words

Agatha Ionesco got her degree in Studio Art from Barnard College in Manhattan when she was twenty, and then stayed in New York City supporting herself as a waiter while striving to sell her paintings.

At the age of thirty-two, deeply in debt and tired of city life, she moved to the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California where she became the star waiter at the renowned East Cove Hotel. She fell in love with Mercy, found a gallery willing to show her paintings, and rented a house with two other aspiring artists.

When she was thirty-nine she happened to wait on Ralph Neufeld and his wife Shirley who were vacationing at the East Cove Hotel, and Ralph, a millionaire app designer in his late fifties, fell in love with Agatha, divorced Shirley, moved to Mercy, and wined and dined and wooed Agatha for three months until she agreed to marry him.

They lived in a gorgeous home on the golf course a few miles south of Mercy, and while Ralph spent large swaths of time away on business, Agatha painted in her spectacular studio, had frequent massages, took her friends out for lavish meals, and went to a psychotherapist three times a week.

When Ralph and Agatha divorced after seven loveless years, Agatha spent every penny of what she called her severance pay to buy a small house in Mercy and convert the one-car garage into her studio.

Her savings exhausted, Agatha got a job at a vacation-rental agency where she has worked for four years now. No longer able to afford frequent massages and psychotherapy, Agatha takes yoga three mornings a week at the Mercy Rec Center, has a massage every two months, and gets together with her best friend Gloria Martinez two or three evenings a week and they try to be good therapists for each other.


On Agatha’s fiftieth birthday, a stormy Friday night in April, as gusts of wind rattle the windows of Agatha’s little house, Agatha and Gloria share the living room sofa with Agatha’s cats Picasso and Lulabelle – a fire crackling in the hearth, a bottle of good red wine nearly finished, champagne and chocolate truffles to follow.

“I had a realization during yoga this morning,” says Agatha, sipping her wine and gazing at the fire.

“Do tell,” says Gloria, a playwright who waits tables at the East Cove Hotel where she and Agatha met seventeen years ago and became fast friends ­­– Gloria two years younger than Agatha.

“We were doing shavasana at the end,” says Agatha, sighing, “when it dawned on me that the only reason I stayed with Ralph beyond that first year was because I couldn’t face the world without being in therapy with Karen.”

“Well… but you also loved making your art full-time in your dream studio in your fabulous house,” says Gloria, giving Agatha a knowing look. “And you loved not having to worry about money. Remember?”

“You’re right,” says Agatha, abashed. “But without Karen, I would have left Ralph when I was forty, not forty-six, because three times a week she banished my doubts and filled me with hope, and then I’d paint like mad until my depression returned and I’d count the hours until I could see her again.”

“Do you think you were in love with her?” asks Gloria, who fell in love with the psychologist she went to a decade ago; and when he characterized her love for him as transference she stopped going to him and wrote a comedy called Transference about a psychologist who falls in love with a client who then cruelly spurns him, which wreaks havoc on the therapist’s relationships with his other clients.

“I was in need with her,” says Agatha, laughing. “She was the loving mother and father and grandmother and cheerleader I never had.”

“The psychotherapist as enabler,” says Gloria, raising her glass to make a toast. “They give us what we want – love and approval and emotional intimacy– and we keep coming back as long as we can afford to. Or as a character in my play Transference says, ‘They depend on our dependency to keep the income incoming.’”

“I certainly depended on Karen to feel good about myself,” says Agatha, feeling she might cry. “I especially loved her interpretations of my dreams. She always made me feel so heroic. I think I miss that feeling more than anything.”

“You should tell your dreams to Leo Zobrist,” says Gloria, nodding encouragingly. “He’s amazing with dreams.”

“Leo Zobrist?” says Agatha, horrified. “The crazy guy? How do you know he’s amazing with dreams?”

“Because I frequently avail myself of his services,” says Gloria, surprised by Agatha’s disdain for Leo. “And trust me, Aggie, he’s not even a little bit crazy. He’s a wonderful person.”

“Are you serious?” says Agatha, shocked by Gloria’s positive opinion of Leo. “Where do you tell him your dreams? In front of the post office where he plays his guitar and sings… and everyone wishes he wouldn’t?”

You wish he wouldn’t,” says Gloria, laughing. “Lots of people love his music, including me. When he gigs at Big Goose the place is packed.”

“You’re kidding,” says Agatha, getting up to put another log on the fire. “I thought he was homeless.”

Leo?” says Gloria, shocked by Agatha’s fallacy. “He lives in a big beautiful yurt on the headlands overlooking Mercy Bay.”

“Are we talking about the same Leo?” asks Agatha, dumbfounded. “Scruffy guy with a weird accent? Looks like he’s starving to death?”

“Hardly,” says Gloria, laughing again. “Leo is a fabulous chef. I’ll take you to supper at his place and we’ll tell him our dreams.”


A week later, Agatha and Gloria, both dressed to the nines and looking mighty fine, arrive at Leo’s yurt – a glorious sunset underway.

Leo is Swiss, fifty-seven, with longish brown hair and a charming Swiss German accent. His usual attire is jeans and T-shirt and sandals, but this evening he is wearing a fine black suit, white shirt, turquoise bow-tie, and elegant leather shoes.

“A visitation of goddesses!” he exclaims as he opens his door. “My life is complete now.”


An hour later, having feasted on delectable halibut, mashed potatoes topped with scrumptious mushroom gravy, and green beans sautéed to perfection in olive oil and garlic, Agatha’s every preconception about Leo has been shattered.

The feasting culminates with Leo’s ambrosial pumpkin pie and scintillating decaf, after which the sated trio retires to the living room where Leo’s adorable mutts Benoit and Cecil are sprawled by the woodstove.

Agatha and Gloria share a high-backed sofa, Leo serves them peach brandy in crystal goblets, and while the goddesses indulge in the sweet elixir, Leo sheds his shoes, coat, and tie and settles into a big leather armchair.

“So tell me,” he says, his eyes twinkling. “What news from the astral plane?”

“How did you learn to interpret dreams?” asks Agatha, enchanted by Leo but not yet ready to trust him with the intimate details of her inner life.  

“My mother was a Jungian analyst,” says Leo, picking up Benoit and settling the little dog on his lap. “You remind me of her, Agatha. Your particular beauty, your dark brown hair, your regal bearing.” He smiles as he pets Benoit. “When I was a little boy, and until I left home at twenty, my mother interpreted our dreams, my two sisters and I, every morning before we left for school. Then when I was in psychoanalysis in my forties, my analyst, a self-proclaimed Jungian Freudian, made interpreting my dreams the central focus of the analysis. So you might say I learned through osmosis.”

“Are you a psychoanalyst?” asks Agatha, her notion of reality in serious flux.

“I wouldn’t say so,” he says, humbly. “I would say I’m a good listener and enjoy trying to elucidate what I hear beyond the literal, but I make no claim to know anything except what I feel.”

“Gloria tells me you do this sort of thing for free,” says Agatha, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of dollars she paid Karen.

“Yes. I like to help people understand what their dreams might be telling them. And my reward is the pleasure of your company and perhaps helping you.”

Leo’s words cause a revolution in Agatha, and she trembles as a heavy yoke of illusion falls away from her – a yoke she wore for seven years of marriage and four more years since her divorce – the illusion that she was more deserving than those who had less than she.

I had a dream this morning,” says Gloria, sensing Agatha is in the throes of metamorphosis.

“Tell us,” says Leo, nodding encouragingly. “Please.”

Agatha closes her eyes to listen to Gloria, and she is overcome by a feeling that Gloria’s dream is her dream, too.

“I’m walking on the beach in a dense fog,” says Gloria, closing her eyes to better remember. “I can hear the ocean roaring, but I can’t see the waves. Suddenly the fog clears and here is a magnificent horse, dark brown with a white blaze running from her forehead to her muzzle. She’s maybe twenty feet away from me and looking at me with such love I know she wants me to ride her. So I run to her… and then I woke up.”

“Oh my goodness,” says Leo, clasping his hands. “How old are you in this dream, Gloria?”

“Young,” she says, seeing herself at twenty.

“How did you feel when you woke up?” asks Agatha, opening her eyes and gazing in wonder at her dear friend.

“Fantastic,” says Gloria, beaming at Agatha. “Bursting with energy.”

“Yes,” says Leo, looking from one goddess to the other. “Because the horse is still there. Your magnificent power. Waiting for you.”


Company from Todd’s album 43 Short Piano Improvisations


Saint Carlos

Carlos Garcia, a Mercy native, started working for the Mercy postal service when he was twenty-seven, just three months after coming home from an eight-year stint in the Army.

Carlos is forty-nine now, and for all his twenty-two years with the postal service he’s been delivering mail to remote parts of the zip code. A year from now, when Sylvia Rodriguez retires, Carlos will no longer drive the pot-holed country roads and he’ll be working in the Mercy post office where they always need someone bi-lingual on hand.


This morning, an overcast day in late October, Carlos drives up the quarter-mile dirt track to Andrea Kessler’s house to spare her the trip down to her mailbox on Road 12, and he finds Andrea sitting amidst her rose bushes with her legs out in front of her and her long white hair tangled in the thorny branches.

“Thank God you came up to the house today,” she says, smiling wanly at Carlos. “I was pruning my roses when I fell and twisted my ankle and broke my wrist. Heard it snap. I’m in pretty bad pain. I left my phone in the house, so I couldn’t call Joey or 9-1-1. If you hadn’t come up today I’d be sitting here until Joey gets home after dark.”

“You want me to take you to the hospital?” asks Carlos, assessing the situation – a large woman needing to be lifted out of a tangle of rose bushes and helped up seven stairs into her house, or into the jeep full of mail and packages and Carlos’s big malamute Pequeño.

“No Carlos,” says Andrea, shaking her head. “Joey can take me to the ER when he gets home. If you could just help me into the house and get some ice on my ankle, I’ll be okay until Joey gets home.”

“No problem,” says Carlos, deciding his best bet is to get behind Andrea to lift her into a standing position. “Would you mind if I cut away some of your rose bushes to get a better angle for lifting you?”

“Whatever you need to do,” says Andrea, grimacing at the pain in her wrist. “Thank God you’re so strong. I’m ashamed how much I weigh now.”

“Don’t be ashamed. You’re fine,” says Carlos, signaling Pequeño it’s okay to get out of the jeep. “Any idea where your clippers got to?”

“I flung them that-a-way when I started to fall,” she says, pointing with her unbroken hand. “So I wouldn’t stab myself.”

“Good thinking,” says Carlos, going in search of the clippers.


When Carlos has Andrea settled on her sofa with a bag of ice on her ankle and she’s taken a couple pain pills, he feels her pulse and is assured by her steady heartbeat that she’ll be okay until her son gets home.

“Thank you, Carlos,” she says, starting to cry. “How’d you get so strong anyway? You lifted me like I was nothing.”

“I got bullied at school for being little,” he says, wishing he didn’t have to leave. “So in Third Grade I started lifting weights and I’ve been lifting ever since.”

“I should have done that,” says Andrea, sniffling. “I got bullied, too, for being chubby.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” says Carlos, solemnly. “Our son and daughter also got bullied, so the summer before Tito started Third Grade and Julia started Second we got them going to Nakamoto’s karate dojo. Once they knew how to defend themselves, nobody messed with them anymore. Made them more confident, too, taught them discipline and respect for their teachers. Hey I gotta go, Andrea. I’ll leave you my phone number if you need help before Joey gets home.”

“The pain pills are kicking in now,” says Andrea, closing her eyes. “You’re a saint, Carlos.”


A mile further along curvy Road 12, Carlos and Pequeño come to the four mailboxes at the bottom of Big Meadow Drive, a mile-long dirt track that climbs up and over a steep rise to a large meadow shared by four households. Carlos won’t drive up this road during the rainy season – too muddy or icy – but today the road is dry and he has several packages for folks who live at the meadow.

He switches into four-wheel drive and heads up the narrow road – Pequeño barking excitedly because his sweetheart Miranda, a beautiful Husky, lives at the meadow.

“Paciencia Pequeño,” says Carlos, smiling at his pal. “We’ll be there soon.”


As they come around a sharp curve, Carlos slams on his brakes to keep from crashing into an enormous boulder blocking the road; and on the other side of the boulder are three people who were on their way to town and can’t get out.

Carlos sets the parking brake, turns off his engine, and climbs out to see what might be done to remove the huge round boulder that is nearly as tall as he.

The three people are Jan Carlton, Jan’s ten-year-old daughter Gina, and Bob Fitzroy.

“Must have just happened,” says Jan, a buxom brunette in her forties. “We walked down to the mailboxes an hour ago to put letters out for you, and the road was clear then.”

“We called Arno Gibs,” says Bob, a burly redhead in his seventies. “He said he might be able to get a bulldozer up here this afternoon, but probably not until tomorrow. ”

“So we’re stuck,” says Jan, glaring at the massive rock. “And we’ll miss ten-percent-off day at Walker’s.”

“We’re completely out of fruit and cheese and peanut butter,” says Gina, pouting. “And Miranda’s almost out of dog food, too.”

Carlos walks around the huge boulder to where he can look down the slope descending some fifty feet to Big Meadow Creek, which is just a trickle this time of year.

“If we push it over the edge here,” says Carlo, resting a hand on the mighty orb, “it should stop somewhere in the creek bed before it gets down to Road 12.” He laughs. “We hope.”  

“This thing weighs more than a car,” says Bob, frowning dubiously. “How we gonna push it without a bulldozer?”

“You’d be surprised how strong a bunch of people can be,” says Carlos, grinning at Bob. “Who else is home at the meadow?”

“Tammy and Tom,” says Jan, frowning dubiously, too. “Phil’s in San Francisco, and Joan and Guy are in Toronto. Their daughter just had a baby.”

“Becky’s canning tomatoes,” says Bob, grimacing at the boulder. “But she pulled a hamstring doing yoga yesterday so she can’t help.”

“Run get Tammy and Tom,” says Carlos to Gina. “Take Pequeño with you.”

So while Gina and Pequeño run up to the meadow, Carlos tells Jan and Bob about Andrea breaking her wrist and waiting for Joey to take her to the ER.

“I’d take her if we could get out of here,” says Bob, wincing, “except she and Becky aren’t talking to each other anymore, so…” He shrugs and falls silent.

“We went to the ER a couple months ago when Phil slashed his leg chopping kindling,” says Jan with a heavy sigh. “Waited seven hours to see a doctor. Nurse had to give Phil painkillers in the waiting room. That place is a nightmare.”

“Anything thrilling going on in town?” asks Bob, changing the subject.

“Ricardo’s playing at Big Goose tonight,” says Carlos, smiling. “My wife and I love his music. He’s amazing. And they’re painting the bank.”

“Don’t tell me,” says Jan, rolling her eyes. “White?”

“No, like a rainbow,” says Carlos, laughing. “Yes. White.”

Now Gina returns with Tammy, a sturdy woman in her fifties, Tom, a gangly fellow in his sixties, Pequeño, and Miranda the beautiful Husky.

“Okay,” says Carlos, positioning himself where he can push against the heart of the stone, “Tom and Tammy, you stand on either side of me, Bob stand next to Tom, Jan next to Tammy, Gina next to Jan. We’re gonna push this big rock into the ravine. Okay? Get your feet set so they won’t slip as you push, and make sure the palms of your hands are pressing against the rock. On my count of three we’ll push with all our might and don’t stop pushing even if it feels like nothing is happening.”

“Impossible,” says Tom, shaking his head. “This thing weighs tons.”

“I believe we can do this,” says Carlos, winking at Tom. “Let’s try.”

So when everyone is in place with the palms of their hands pressing against the boulder, Carlos counts “One, two, three,” and with surprising ease they roll the massive stone over the edge and watch it rumble down through the dry underbrush to land in the creek with a resounding crash.

“We did it! We did it!” shouts Gina, jumping up and down.

“I can’t believe it,” says Tom, gazing in awe at Carlos. “It was like it wanted to go over the edge.”

“I think that was mostly you, Carlos,” says Bob, exultant and red in the face.

“That was all of us,” says Carlos, though he knows he supplied most of the power.

“Why didn’t I film that?” says Tammy, smacking her forehead. “Would have gone viral for sure.”


That night, Carlos and his wife Ophelia go to Big Goose for beer and fish & chips and to listen to their friend Ricardo play piano, his dreamy jazz the perfect soundtrack for Carlos remembering the miracle that changed the course of his life.


In the summer between Second and Third Grade, a family from Sweden, the Gustafsons, moved into the house across the street from the Garcias, and Carlos’s mother had Carlos and his sister Maria take the Gustafsons a lemon cake to welcome them to the neighborhood.

A big boy with long brown hair answered the door. Carlos guessed this boy would be starting Fifth or Sixth Grade, but he turned out to be exactly Carlos’s age, their birthdays three days apart. This was Lars, and for the rest of the summer he and Carlos were inseparable.

Then came the first day of school. Lars and Carlos walked across town to Mercy Elementary with their sisters Maria and Neta, and Carlos was sure Lars would join the gang of big boys who bullied Carlos.

But at recess when big Sam Schneider came up to Carlos and punched him hard in the shoulder, Lars slugged Sam in the forehead with such force that Sam collapsed in a heap and was so still Carlos thought he might be dead.

No one ever bullied Carlos again until Lars moved back to Sweden the summer after Sixth Grade.

Then at recess on the first day of Seventh Grade, Carlos was playing soccer with a bunch of other kids when Sam Schneider, who outweighed Carlos by sixty pounds, and his buddy Happy Thompson, a huge Eighth Grader, came to hurt Carlos.

“Lars is gone, punk,” said Sam, striding toward Carlos. “You’re dead.”

Rather than flee, Carlos assumed the stance for sparring at Nakamoto’s dojo.

“Little turd thinks he’s Bruce Lee,” said Happy, coming at Carlos, too.

When they got close, Carlos unleashed a barrage of lightning-fast kicks and punches that brought Sam and Happy to their knees; and he would have kicked them again had they not, in the presence of a hundred witnesses, begged Carlos to spare them.


Ricardo finishes a tune, the audience applauds, and he begins another that takes Carlos back to his last year in the Army when he was stationed in Germany.

While lifting weights in the gym one evening, he had a vivid recollection of lifting weights with Lars in the Gustafson’s garage every morning and every afternoon for the four years Lars lived in Mercy. And then he remembered it was the Gustafsons who paid for him to take karate lessons with Lars at Nakamoto’s dojo because Carlos’s mother couldn’t afford the lessons.

These memories inspired Carlos to look up Lars’ phone number in Sweden and call him, and Lars invited Carlos to come visit him in Halmstad where he was completing a residency in Pediatrics.

So Carlos took trains from the Army base in Munster to Grenaa in Denmark, and from there he caught a ferry to Halmstad in Sweden where Lars was waiting for him at the port.

When they saw each other from afar, not having seen each other since they were eleven-years-old, they called each other’s name in the very same moment.


Mystery Music Box from Todd’s album Mystery Inventions. 


The Painter

Mercy Bay is calm this April morning, the fog in no hurry to move offshore, the air chill, though not terribly so, and the only person on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River is the painter Lorenzo Vinciguerra.

Handsome and broad-shouldered, his wavy brown hair romantically long, Lorenzo was born here in Mercy fifty-seven years ago. His mother Luisa was sixteen and working as a maid at the Mercy Hotel when she was seduced by Aldo Vinciguerra, the Sicilian hotel manager, who only agreed to marry Luisa when she gave birth to a boy because and Aldo didn’t want his son to be a bastard.

When Lorenzo was a year old, Luisa gave birth to Lorenzo’s sister Magdalena, and shortly thereafter Aldo divorced Luisa and returned to Sicily where he died in a brawl following a soccer match.


Lorenzo is making large paintings these days necessitating an enormous easel, which is why he hires brawny Jeff Spitzer to meet him in the beach parking lot and help him transport his painter’s kit a half-mile along the shore to a dune overlooking the confluence of the Mercy River and Mercy Bay.

Lorenzo’s kit includes a suitcase full of tubes of oil paint, his mighty easel, two large canvases stretched on wooden frames, many brushes, three large palettes, a sketch pad, a red madras blanket, a big blue beach umbrella, and a cooler replete with food and drink.

This is Lorenzo’s fourth morning of painting here and he is pleased with what he has captured so far – tendrils of fog creeping over the expanse of sand, a jumble of driftwood logs, Medusa-like tangles of kelp, the wide river meeting the sea, and white-capped breakers overhung by a cloudy sky.

“Something is missing,” says Lorenzo, standing back from his painting. “Those black and white angels.”

 He is referring to the two nuns who walk by on the beach every morning, their black frocks crowned by snowy white wimples and white caps beneath black bandeaus.

“This morning I will ask them to pose for me,” he says, touching the heart of the painting where he wants the nuns to be.


The nuns appear as the fog is withdrawing, and Lorenzo greets them with a gracious bow.

“Good morning, Sisters. My name is Lorenzo Vinciguerra. I am making a painting of this scene and wonder if I may ask you to pose for me for a few minutes so I can sketch you and include you in my painting.”

The nuns, both middle-aged and full of joie de vivre, are delighted by Lorenzo’s accosting them so gallantly.

“Would you like us to freeze mid-stride?” asks one of the nuns. “Or shall we pose like those two in American Gothic? The dour woman and her grim husband holding the pitchfork?”

“How Satanic of you, Sister Jean,” says the other nun, laughing. “We can make a tall skinny crucifix out of driftwood to replace the pitchfork.”

“Orla?” says Lorenzo, startled by the sound of the nun’s voice and laughter. “Is it you? Orla Gallagher?”

“How did you know it was me under this disguise, Lorrie?” she says, her voice the same soothing tonic it was to him when he adored her from First Grade to Twelfth, and she broke his heart again and again until their senior year at Mercy High when they went steady for seven glorious months, and the night of the Senior Ball they kissed madly in Lorenzo’s car and then came down to this very beach to make love for their first time, but she stopped him on the verge and cried, “Oh Lorrie, I love you, I do, but I want to wait until I’m married. Maybe it’ll be you I marry. I don’t know. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but I want to go to college before I have a baby.”

“I’ve got condoms,” Lorenzo gasped, desperate to be inside her.

“Tis a sin,” she said, kissing him for what would be the very last time. “I do love you, Lorrie. You know I do. I’m just not ready. I’m sorry.”


In the evening of the day he sketched the nuns, Lorenzo meets his old pal Jack Spence for booze and nibbles in the bar of the Mercy Hotel, and Lorenzo tells Jack about meeting Sister Orla on the beach this morning – how she and Sister Jean posed for him and he fell in love with Orla all over again.

“When they were gone,” says Lorenzo with a sigh, “I realized the reason I’ve never married is that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved Orla.”

“Are you serious?” says Jack, who is very drunk. “Orla I’m-too-good-for-anybody Gallagher?” He winces. “And here I thought you never got married because… why would you get married when you have all those gorgeous movie stars crazy about you? Lorenzo Vinciguerra, the famous artist with paintings in museums all over the world. And I gotta tell you, Lo, I’m always amazed when you come back to see your mother, and you want to see me and Beth and the kids. I mean… who am I? Some schmuck who worked at Mercy Hardware for thirty-eight years and never went anywhere.” He fights his tears. “I thought I was so cool in high school with my long hair and my motorcycle and my one little tattoo, and you were my nerdy friend who liked to draw. And now you live in New York and Paris and hang out with movie stars, and your paintings sell for millions, and you’re telling me you’re still in love with Orla?” He grimaces. “That is so messed up, Lo. I can’t tell you how messed up that is.”

“Is it messed up?” asks Lorenzo, gazing around the bar of the hotel where he was conceived fifty-eight years ago when his young mother, an illegal alien, succumbed to the amorous hotel manager for fear of being sent back to Mexico if she refused him.

“It’s totally messed up,” says Jack, grimacing. “You’re the king of the world. And you’re still hung up on Orla who dropped out of St. Mary’s and lived in a hippy commune in Berkeley and sold tie-dyed T-shirts on Telegraph Avenue until she got busted for selling pot, and they gave her a choice of going to prison or joining the Army or becoming a nun. That Orla? Are you insane?”

“I never knew that’s when she became a nun,” says Lorenzo, wishing he could be with Orla now, talking about their lives. “And last I heard… twenty years ago… she was in a convent in Carmel. I had no idea she’d moved to the convent here.”

“She came back three years ago to take care of her mother when she was dying,” says Jack, smiling sadly. “Hey I’m sorry, Lo. I know you were crazy about her in high school and… I guess we can’t help who we love.”

“Well said,” says Lorenzo, laughing at the double meaning. “And you needn’t envy me, Jack. You have a wonderful wife and marvelous children, and you do good work every day. And you live in the most beautiful place on earth.”


The next morning on the beach, Lorenzo dabs more white on the wimples of the nuns’ habits, and though their faces are not discernible, he knows by the beguiling tilt of her head and the way she is gesturing with her left hand as if in dance, that the nun on the right is Orla, the love of his life.


Impulsos Olvidados from Todd and Marcia’s album Ahora Entras Tu


The Good Daughter

Mary Vaccaro is fifty-three and has lived her entire life in the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California. She has three beautiful daughters by three different men, no sons, and no husband for the last thirty years. Her oldest daughter Esther is thirty-six, Sophie the middle child is thirty-three, and Lisa the baby is thirty-one.

Esther and Lisa both went off to college at eighteen, both dropped out after two years, both have been married twice, no children, and both are currently single. Esther is a hairdresser in Miami, Lisa a cocktail waitress in Nashville. They haven’t been back to Mercy in many years and have little to do with each other or with their mother or their sister Sophie.

Sophie got a job as a clerk at Walker’s Groceries when she was a freshman at Mercy High, and she worked at Walker’s for nineteen years. When she was twenty, she took Beginning Pottery at the community college and fell in love with making things out of clay. She bought a potter’s wheel and a kiln, turned the garage into a pottery studio, and for the last thirteen years has spent most of her evenings and weekends in her studio exploring the art of pottery.

Mary calls Sophie her good daughter because Sophie never left her, keeps her company, does the shopping, cooks their meals, does the housework, and pays the bills because Mary has rheumatoid arthritis and is hypersensitive to many things and does not work.


“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” says Grace, gaping at Sophie. “And I’m driving you to the airport.”

“Does feel rather dreamlike,” says Sophie, smiling at Grace, her best friend since First Grade. “You’re an angel to take me, Gracie.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell your mother,” says Grace, shaking her head. “She will be so freaked out.”

“That’s why I didn’t tell her,” says Sophie, gazing out the car window at Mercy Bay sparkling in the summer sunlight. “She would freak out and never stop freaking out until I changed my mind. And I’m not changing my mind because if I don’t go now I’ll never go, and if I never go I’ll kill myself.”

“But she’ll go insane,” says Grace, who graduated from Yale and then lived in New York City for a year before returning to Mercy, marrying her childhood sweetheart, and getting a job teaching History at the high school.

“She’s already insane,” says Sophie, matter-of-factly. “I’ve taken care of her my whole life. No more.”

“But how will she survive without you?” asks Grace, who doesn’t relish the idea of life without Sophie nearby.

“I left thirty thousand dollars in our checking account,” says Sophie, as the car slows on a hairpin turn. “And I arranged with Maria Gomez to shop for her and make her a big supper three days a week so she’ll have leftovers in between. Leila Townsend says she’ll come check on Mama every couple days and help get her more disability money, and Bob Morton will drive her to her doctors appointments. If things get really bad she can sell the house and go into Sherwood Convalescent. I talked to Conchita at Ontiveros Realty and she said the house is worth at least a million. I put all that in the letter you’ll give Mama tomorrow.” Sophie shrugs. “There’s nothing more I can do.”


To avoid the terrible San Francisco traffic, Grace drops Sophie off in Santa Rosa where she catches an air-porter to the San Francisco International Airport.

Sophie sits in a window seat and hopes the bus doesn’t fill up, but it does, and the middle-aged woman who sits beside her wants to talk.

“Where you going, Hon?” asks the woman, her accent Midwestern. “Don’t tell me. Hollywood.”

“Why would you think that?” asks Sophie, surprised by the woman’s guess.

“You’re gorgeous and young and you’ve got poise,” says the woman, nodding knowingly. “Star quality. I should know. I worked in a modeling agency for seventeen years, and you’ve got It, honey. No doubt about it.”

“Actually,” says Sophie, taking a deep breath, “I’m going to Japan to apprentice with Arata Inaba, a master potter. He only accepts one new apprentice every three years, and he chose me. I almost couldn’t believe it.”

“A potter?” The woman wrinkles her nose. “You make pots?”

“Bowls, vases, mugs, plates, teapots,” says Sophie, smiling brightly. “I’ve been throwing – making things on a potter’s wheel – for thirteen years now.”

“Darn,” says the woman, sounding disappointed. “I thought for sure you were an actress. I even tried to remember what I saw you in.”

“I was in a play at the Mercy Players Theatre five years ago,” says Sophie, recalling those glorious evenings of wearing makeup and costumes and performing for an audience hanging on her every word and gesture. “I would have been in more plays, they wanted me to, but I was working full-time and taking care of my mother and throwing vases and flower pots to sell at the Farmers Market, so I couldn’t spare the time, though I really loved it.”

“That’s the thing,” says the woman, sighing, “you make a choice and next thing you know you’re sixty-five.” She laughs. “Or I am. How old are you, Hon? Don’t tell me. Twenty-three?”

“Add a decade,” says Sophie, wistfully. “I turned thirty-three a week ago.”


After an eternity of waiting in line to get through airport security, Sophie hurries to her boarding gate and finds the waiting area so crowded there is not an empty seat to be found – nearly everyone Japanese.

Sophie looks at her watch and sees it is seven minutes to three – her flight to leave in forty-seven minutes. Her shift at Walker’s ends at four. Then she shops for food for supper and rides her bike across town to the old two-story house where she’s lived every day of her life, save for a dozen weeks of camping trips and a handful of magical weekends in San Francisco visiting museums and art galleries.

She knows her mother is counting these last minutes until three when she can take another dose of painkiller so she won’t be in agony when Sophie comes home from work.

And then she’ll count the minutes until I come through the door because I’m all she has.

“I can’t do this,” says Sophie, gazing longingly at the double doors through which the passengers will walk to the waiting jet. “I can’t leave her.”

And just as she says this, an elderly Japanese man wearing a suit and tie gets up from his seat and says to her in broken English, “Please you sit my chair. You are tired and I sit too long.” He bows to her. “Please you sit my chair.”

Startled by his invitation, Sophie replies in Japanese, “Thank you, but I am happy to stand.”

The man is thrilled to hear her speak Japanese, and he says something to her in Japanese she only partially understands.

“Forgive me,” she says, bowing politely. “I’m not sure what you said.”

“Please you sit down,” says the man, reverting to English as he gestures to the empty seat beside an elderly woman wearing a lovely purple blouse. “This my wife Miyoshi. I am Yukio Tanaka.”

“I am Sophie Vacarro,” says Sophie, sitting beside Miyoshi.

“Your first time going to Japan?” asks Miyoshi, speaking slowly in Japanese.

“Yes,” says Sophie, the effort of speaking Japanese obliterating her impulse to return to her mother. “My first time flying, too. I’m apprenticed to Arata Inaba in Maizuru. He is a master potter.”

“We can take you to Maizuru so you won’t get lost,” says Miyoshi, nodding assuredly. “Our daughter and her husband live in Fukuchiyama not far from Maizuru. We go there often to see our grandson.”


On the jet high above the Pacific, Sophie has two beers with supper and falls asleep for the first time in three days.

She dreams she is in her house in Mercy, sitting with her mother Mary on the living room sofa watching Mary’s favorite television show, a sit-com in which the main characters are forever telling lies and half-truths – they can’t help themselves – so there is no end to conflict and hurt feelings.

Sophie gets up to leave.

“Don’t go,” Mary complains. “You know I don’t like watching without you.”

“I’m going to Japan to study with Arata Inaba,” says Sophie, gazing steadfastly at her mother. “I have been learning to speak Japanese for the last three years using a Japanese app on my phone. I sent Inaba san pictures of my bowls and vases, and he accepted me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says Mary, glowering at Sophie. “Now sit down and watch my show with me.”

“I’m done watching with you, Mama,” says Sophie, placing her hand on her heart. “I’m going to Japan.”

“No!” screams Mary, waving her arms and turning red in the face. “You can’t go. I’ll die without you!”

“Only if you want to,” says Sophie, walking out the door and rising into the air.


Sophie wakes on the jet still high above the Pacific, a new day dawning. She stretches her arms and rolls her shoulders and feels marvelous having slept so well after so many years of sleeping poorly. She looks at her watch and sees she slept for ten hours – the flight to Japan nearly over.

Mama knows now. Grace gave her my letter.

The man sitting next to Sophie, middle-aged and bespectacled, looks up from the book he’s reading and says to Sophie in Japanese, “I’m amazed. You slept through all the terrible turbulence. Everyone thought we were going to crash. People were wailing and crying. Yet you never woke. Oh I wish I could sleep as well as you. What is your secret?”

“I have no secrets anymore,” says Sophie, very much enjoying speaking Japanese. “Maybe that is why I slept so well.”


Ahora Entras Tu the title song from Todd and Marcia’s new album.


Juno’s Genius

A seven-year-old dog of no obvious breed, Juno is medium-sized and slender with short brown fur and pointy ears. Her primary human is Cecilia who recently found a mate named Sunny, a male human Juno likes very much, though not as much as she likes Cecilia.


The day promising to be quite warm, Juno is sitting on the deck of Cecilia’s house overlooking a meadow that stretches to the dark forest where Juno never ventures alone because she knows the forest is the domain of pumas and coyotes, pumas having killed her brother, coyotes having killed two of Cecilia’s cats.

Recalling Cecilia and Sunny saying the word beach several times during their breakfast, Juno noses open the kitchen door and trots into the house to see if the humans are preparing to go to Juno’s favorite place in the whole world.

She finds Sunny at the kitchen table wearing his glasses and scratching on paper with a pencil. He looks up from his scratching, takes off his glasses, and says something friendly to Juno, so she goes to him, tail wagging, and he caresses her and says more words redolent with love.

Now Juno hears Cecilia coming down the hallway from the room where people come and take off their shoes and lie on a high narrow bed, and Cecilia touches them and talks to them and they talk to her, and then they get up from the bed, put on their shoes, and go away.

Cecilia gives Sunny a kiss and fills a kettle with water. Now she sets the kettle on the stove and turns a dial that makes a clicking sound Juno knows will cause the kettle to growl and eventually whistle.

Cecilia and Sunny talk to each other, and Juno hears them say beach and low tide, words that cause her to spin around twice and give Cecilia a wide-eyed look of love.

“In a little while,” says Cecilia, scratching Juno’s head. “After we have our tea.”

Juno subsides. She knows that in a little while and after we have our tea mean a beach expedition is not imminent, so there’s no point in maintaining a state of expectant exuberance if they aren’t going to go for a long time.


Walking on the beach in the early afternoon, Cecilia and Sunny and Juno encounter a man walking in the opposite direction, a man Juno recognizes as Derek, Cecilia’s mate before she found Sunny.

Derek embraces Cecilia, though Juno can see Cecilia doesn’t like Derek touching her. When Derek releases Cecilia, she introduces him to Sunny. Derek and Sunny shake hands, more words are spoken, and finally Derek continues on his way.


When they reach the halfway point of their beach walk, Cecilia sits on a driftwood log and watches Sunny and Juno play ball.

Juno loves playing ball with Sunny because he makes the game so exciting. Sometimes he flings the ball into the water so Juno has to go swimming, sometimes he flings the ball so it rolls and bounces on the sand, and sometimes he flings the ball so high in the air Juno loses sight of it, and then the ball comes down somewhere wholly unexpected. What a thrill!


Driving home from the beach, Juno knows Cecilia is upset about meeting Derek on the beach – Derek who doesn’t like dogs.

Juno knew Derek didn’t like dogs the moment Cecilia brought him home. Even so, Cecilia let him live with them through several seasons, and Cecilia was sad most of the time, and they rarely went to the beach, and Juno didn’t understand why.

Then one rainy morning Derek made a big show of petting Juno and telling her what a good dog she was. This made Juno sick, and she vomited her breakfast.

The next day, Derek made another big show of petting and praising her, and Juno vomited again.

A few days later, Juno saw Derek coming toward her to make another big show of petting her, so she ran out the door and down the road to where her pal Molly lives with her people Bill and Sally.

When Cecilia and Derek came to get Juno, she wouldn’t go with them until Cecilia leashed her and dragged her to the car.

Juno waited a day and then ran away again. This time she ran three miles into town to be with her friends Pushkin and Natasha who live with their people Helen and Justin.

Helen called Cecilia on the phone. Juno could hear Cecilia’s voice coming out of the phone, and she thought Cecilia and Derek would come get her again, but they didn’t, so she lived with Pushkin and Natasha for many days and thought she would live with them forever.

Then one sunny morning, Cecilia came to visit; and when Juno saw how happy Cecilia was, she knew Derek was gone.


When Cecilia and Juno and Sunny get home from the beach, they stand on the deck together and Cecilia hoses their legs and feet to wash away the sand.

Now Cecilia kneels beside Juno and embraces her and whispers loving words to her, and Juno knows Cecilia is thanking her for running away so Cecilia would get rid of Derek and find Sunny, who really likes dogs.


Speaking of dogs and people who like them, my new book Pooches and Kiddies: the further adventures of Healing Weintraub is now available as an actual book, with e-book editions and the audio edition coming soon. Pooches and Kiddies is both the sequel to Good With Dogs and Cats: the adventures of Healing Weintraub and a stand-alone novel chronicling a momentous year in the life of Healing Weintraub and his colorful family and friends: human, canine, and feline. Both books can be ordered from your favorite actual bookstores and purchased online from myriad booksellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and Alibris.


Sir Garth

From the outset of my friendship with Garth Hagerman, I began my emails to him with Sir Garth. I sent him hundreds of emails over the years using this opening salutation, and he never once commented on my referencing what I felt was his inherent nobility; and he steadfastly signed all his emails to me groovalicious.

Garth died a week ago at the age of sixty-three after many months in the hospital battling cancer. A brilliant computer whiz with a degree in Drama from UC Berkeley, he was the creator and maintainer of my web site and blog, and Marcia’s web sites, and he helped us design the packaging for our many albums of music. He also designed the covers and formatted the text for eight of my spiral-bound works of fiction.

Several years ago a reading of my play Milo & Angel was staged at the Mendocino Theatre Company. The actor who was to read one of the lead roles left the cast a few days before the reading, and I asked Garth if he would read the part. On very short notice, he performed his part with exactly the emotion I’d hoped for, exceeding my expectations by light years. His performance helped make the reading a resounding success. In response to my profuse thanks, he nodded humbly and said, “Any time.”

I did not know Garth much beyond our professional interactions, yet I considered him a good friend. He was an excellent photographer, an avid hiker, a great communications facilitator for us and for many people in the community; and for his last twenty-three years the devoted partner of Andrea.

During a brief interlude of relatively calm sailing in the midst of his long illness, he helped me create the cover for our latest album of songs Ahora Entras Tu.

We miss you Sir Garth, noble soul.

Blessings and thanks.



The Skeptic

Michael, a burly bearded biochemist, and Daphne, a lithe longhaired librarian, have been mostly happily married for twenty years despite a great divide in their views of reality.

Daphne believes wholeheartedly in astrology, the I Ching, and that animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are messengers from the spirit realm. She also believes the soul lives on after death and that many of her dreams take place on the astral plane.

Michael thinks the I Ching, astrology, the spirit realm, life after death, and the astral plane are what he calls hackneyed spiritual crap.


On July seventeenth, a dozen people gather for a barbecue in Michael and Daphne’s backyard to celebrate Michael’s sixtieth birthday. Two of the guests are Daphne’s best friend Cecilia and Cecilia’s new partner.

“Michael, this is Sunrise,” says Cecilia, introducing her beau, a handsome man with a French accent.

Michael grimaces, for there is nothing he hates more than what he calls phony hippy names.

“My given name is Anatole,” says Sunrise, smiling at Michael. “From the Greek Anatolius, which means sunrise. Most of my friends call me Sunny, but please call me Anatole if it is more to your liking.”

“Whatever,” says Michael, shrugging dismissively.

“May you have a marvelous birthday dream,” says Sunny, undaunted by Michael’s hostility. “And now I must try the hors d’oeuvres. They look fantastic.”


When the last guest has gone home, Daphne asks Michael what he thought of Sunny.

“Not much,” says Michael, annoyed by her mention of him. “What does he do? Don’t tell me. He’s an astrologer.”

“Close,” says Daphne, laughing at her husband’s relentless cynicism. “He writes books about neuroscience and epigenetics.”

“Yeah right,” says Michael, refusing to believe her. “And I’m the Pope.”


Early the next morning, Michael wakes from a dream so real he is startled to find he was dreaming.

He slips out of bed, dresses quickly, and leaves a note on the kitchen counter for Daphne.

Going to Green River Beach. Be back soon.


A few minutes later, Michael is driving south on the coast highway, his truck headlights barely penetrating the dense fog.

“What am I doing?” he asks, knowing very well what he’s doing.

He is enacting his dream, and doing so with urgency he hasn’t felt since he was a teenager and wild about surfing and girls until his parents sent him away to a boarding school far from any ocean.


Arriving at the Green River Beach parking lot, Michael climbs out of his truck, hurries across the wide beach to where the waves have hardened the sand, and heads south as he did in his dream.


A half-mile along, the sand meets a large patch of granite boulders. In his dream, Michael traversed the boulders to reach a huge conical stone; and at the base of this stone he found a fabulous crystal.

As the sun gains supremacy over the fog, Michael surveys the daunting mass of boulders and mutters, “This is stupid. Who am I kidding?”

Yet rather than return to his truck and drive home, he sits down on a flat-topped boulder and feels a huge knot of regret and disappointment choking him so ferociously he feels he might die at any moment.

Compelled by this feeling of imminent death, he gets up and makes his way across the field of boulders to a huge conical stone standing above the others; and he circumnavigates this mighty stone in search of the crystal, but finds only sand.

Grief-stricken and exhausted, he is about to give up his quest, when rising out of the sea just beyond the breakers is an enormous whale who takes a long look at Michael before vanishing beneath the waves.

“Oh my God!” Michael cries, his grief obliterated by the astonishing visitation; and he remembers that in his dream he found the crystal by digging in the sand at the base of the stone.

So he drops to his knees and digs down until his fingers touch something hard and smooth.

Fearing he’ll find a piece of man-made junk, he sits back on his haunches and slows his breath to calm himself until his curiosity gets the better of him and he resumes his digging.


On August eleventh, eighty people gather for a barbecue in Daphne and Michael’s backyard to celebrate Daphne’s sixtieth birthday; and it is soon apparent to everyone that Michael is not his usual self.

Gone is his bushy beard that heretofore obscured his boyish good looks, and his usual drab attire has given way to a beautiful turquoise shirt and burgundy trousers.

And when Margaret Chenowith regales him at length about seeing a mountain lion pursuing a stag through her apple orchard, Michael exclaims, “Gad zooks, Maggie! What do you think it could mean?”


When all the guests have gone home save for Sunny and Cecilia, Sunny says, “I would give anything to know what happened to you, Michael. You’ve become a whole other person since I met you a month ago. And I know you’re not pretending. You really have changed.”

“As you wished for me,” says Michael, his eyes sparkling, “I had a marvelous birthday dream.”

“Tell them,” says Daphne, her eyes sparkling, too.

So Michael tells Cecilia and Sunny how he was compelled by a mysterious force to enact his dream, and how he was about to give up his search for the crystal when the colossus rose from the sea and obliterated his grievous despair.


Impulsos Olvidados a piano solo from Todd and Marcia’s CD Ahora Entras Tu.