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The Same Woman (Donna)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, the second time in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, the seventh in 1993, the eighth in 1998.

2002. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-four and have been married for fifteen years. Successful writers of stories, plays, and screenplays, they live in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty now. Owen is studying Drama at Julliard and playing clarinet in a modern jazz quintet called Sentimento. Lily is a Psychology major at nearby Simon Fraser University and still lives at home, though her burgeoning career as a movie actress has greatly slowed her academic progress.

Six years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was made by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Thorsen who became Andrew and Luisa’s good friend. When Luisa’s autobiographical novella Rainy River was published four years ago, Nick bought the movie rights, Andrew and Luisa wrote the screenplay, Nick directed, Lily starred in the role of the young Luisa, and the movie was both a critical and financial success.

Since then, Nick has made two more movies from original screenplays by Andrew and Luisa, Low Overhead and Yum City. Low Overhead is a romantic comedy set in an anarchist bookstore in Toronto and Yum City is a dramedy revolving around the denizens of a Bohemian café in Montreal. Both films did well in Canada and England and Europe, but neither film did much business in America.

Now Andrew and Luisa are back to writing stories and plays and staying out of the limelight, which neither of them cares for. Lily, on the other hand, has had several movie and television roles since starring in Rainy River and is seriously considering moving to Los Angeles. And Owen recently announced he will either stay in Manhattan after he completes his studies at Julliard or move to Berlin with his German girlfriend Sophie who is also studying Drama at Julliard.

On a drizzly September morning a few days after Lily returns from five days in Burbank playing the part of a clairvoyant skateboarder in a television murder mystery, Andrew and Luisa and Lily are having breakfast together and Lily says, “You don’t want me to move to LA, do you Papa?”

“Of course not,” says Andrew, gazing forlornly at her. “I want you and Owen to live nearby for the rest of your lives. But I know that’s unreasonable, so if you want to move to LA, I give you my blessing.”

“It just makes so much sense right now,” says Lily, who has blossomed into a rare beauty, tall and slender with honey brown skin. “I don’t want to live there forever, but with the parts coming so fast now it seems like a smart thing to do.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says Luisa, who left home at sixteen. “And if you want to continue your studies, you can always transfer to a university in Los Angeles.”

“But I don’t want to make you sad, Papa.”

“Life is sad,” says Andrew, remembering how sad his mother was when he was twenty-one and told her he was moving from California to Canada, his mother who died two years ago just a few months after his father died. “I want you to live your life the way you want to. I’ll eventually adjust to you not being here and write you lots of letters.”

“And we can talk on the phone every day,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“Is this move imminent?” he asks, having imagined her making the transition to Los Angeles over the next year or so.

“Soon,” she says, crying. “Next week.”

Andrew keeps up a brave countenance while Lily packs to go and when Lily’s friend Janelle arrives to drive with her to Los Angeles, but as their car grows small in the distance, Andrew breaks down.

When Andrew’s grieving continues unabated for several days, Luisa suggests he see a psychotherapist, which he does for a few weeks, but he gains no relief. The psychotherapist refers him to a psychiatrist who prescribes an anti-depressant Andrew doesn’t want to take.

Two months pass and Andrew remains deeply depressed. Desperate to help him, Luisa asks Andrew’s best friend Cal to encourage Andrew to give the anti-depressant a try.

Cal comes for a visit, he and Andrew chat for a while, and Cal says, “I think you should talk to our rabbi. I think she could help you. I really do. She’s very insightful, very kind, and I know you’ll like her.”

“Does she see people who aren’t in your shul?” asks Andrew, who is descended from Jews but never practiced the religion.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk with you. Shall I give her a call?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, wearily. “That would be good. Thank you.”   

“Come in, come in,” says Donna, ushering Andrew into the spacious one-room studio adjacent to her house in a neighborhood of newish houses on the northern outskirts of Vancouver. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

“Cal brought me,” says Andrew, unable to decide where to sit. “I’m not driving right now. Wouldn’t dare.”

“You’re depressed,” she says, taking him by the arm and leading him to the sofa. “Sit down. Or lie down.”

He sits and faces her for the first time.

“Cal said I would like you,” he says, smiling painfully, “but he didn’t tell me you were gorgeous.”

“Stop it,” she says, her eyes widening in delight. “You came to solve your problems, not hit on the rabbi.”

“I wasn’t hitting on you,” he says, laughing for the first time in many months. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so beautiful.”

“So now we know you like tall middle-aged redheads with big bosoms,” she says, her Los Angeles accent influenced by the Yiddish inflections in her parents’ speech. “I’ve seen pictures of you on your books, so I knew in advance you were handsome.”

“I feel better already,” he says, closing his eyes. “Not really.”

“No, you feel awful,” she says, sitting in a high-backed armchair, her red Hawaiian shirt featuring green and yellow parrots, her skirt long and black, her red hair in a braid. “Old demons have risen up and taken control of you.”

“Old demons?” he says, opening his eyes. “I’m sad about my children moving away, but I don’t think this is anything old. I’ve never been depressed like this before. Well… I had a little breakdown sixteen years ago when my first wife left me, but I wasn’t depressed, I was just very upset.”

“In my experience,” she says, watching him carefully, “a depression as severe as what you’re experiencing is almost always rooted in some old sorrow. Sometimes so old it began before you were born and was passed down to you. Was your mother depressed?”

“She worried a lot,” says Andrew, nodding. “And I guess, yeah, sometimes she was depressed. But who isn’t sometimes depressed? Introduce me, please?”

“I like it when your Jewish self comes through,” she says, smiling.

“Why is that good?” he asks, feeling certain he knows her from somewhere else.

“Because being Jewish is a big part of who you are. And I happen to think the more we inhabit our true self, if there is such a thing, the happier we will be.”

“I think we’ve met before,” he says, frowning. “Did you have a child at the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church in Squamish?”

“I have one child who grew up in Los Angeles,” says Donna, thinking of her daughter, a veterinarian in San Francisco. “And I’ve only been in Vancouver for nine years, so I know we didn’t meet at the Montessori.”

“I’m sure I know you,” he says, wondering if they might have been briefly involved in the days before his first marriage. “I just can’t remember how?”

“You know me and I know you,” she says, after looking at him for a long moment, “because we have what I call a soul bond. I’ve only had a few of these in my life, and I’m just being honest here, but if you weren’t happily married and I wasn’t happily married, we’d probably fall in love and have a relationship. Who knows if it would be any good or how long it would last, but we might have one. However, you are happily married and so am I, so why not use our special connection to get to the bottom of what’s haunting you.”

“Haunting,” he says, relaxing a little for the first time in eons. “And old demons. You think I’m possessed?”

“We’re all possessed by something,” she says, pleased to see him relaxing. “The ideal is to be possessed by thoughts and feelings that make us glad we’re alive, and not by visions of gloom and doom or thinking we’re not good enough.”

“I think I’m good enough,” he says, most definitely not feeling good enough.

“So what’s going on in your life right now?” she asks, handing him a glass of water. “Your children have moved out. What else?”

“Before Lily left we were writing, my wife and I, and enjoying being home and not being so crazy busy making movies and travelling all over the place, just, you know, working. Yeah, things were fine. And then Lily moved to Los Angeles and I just… gave up.”

“Gave up,” says Donna, considering Andrew’s choice of words. “What does that mean to you? Giving up?”

“It means I gave in to my sadness.”

“What else?”

Andrew wants to say stop striving but he’s afraid to say those words out loud.

“There’s not a right or wrong answer,” she says, aware of his reluctance to say what he’s feeling. “We’re just looking for clues.”

“Okay, well, giving up could mean… taking a break from writing. From…” He struggles. “Striving.”

“What do you think you’re striving for?” she asks, noticing how his chest barely moves as he breathes.

“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “Happiness?”

“Are you not happy?”

“Not right now,” he says, looking down. “Definitely not now.”

“When was the last time you can remember feeling happy?”

“Long time ago,” he says, his heart aching. “Not that I have any reason to be unhappy except for the kids being so far away.”

“What do you mean by a long time ago? Before you were depressed?”

“Oh long before that.”

“A year ago?”

He reacts as if someone slapped his face.

“What was that?”

“I think I know what this is.”

“Would you like to tell me?”

“I’ve been writing things I don’t want to write,” he says, afraid to look at her.

“Hmm,” she says, considering this. “I think maybe that’s a symptom and not the cause.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why have you been writing things you don’t want to write?”

He freezes. “Why do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she says, smiling at him. “That’s something we can delve into next time if you haven’t figured it out by then.”

“I’m better now,” he says, looking around the room as if a blindfold has just been removed from his eyes. “The fog is lifting a little.”

“Good,” she says, getting up from her chair and offering him a hand up. “I have homework for you.”

He takes her hand and she pulls him to his feet.

“What’s my homework?” he asks, the word homework making him laugh. “I really do feel better.”

“Every day until I see you again on Friday, four days from now,” she says, walking him to the door, “I want you to spend at least an hour naked in bed with your wife, not when you go to bed at night, but a separate time during the day.”

“Because?” he says, smiling curiously.

“Because I want you to,” she says, opening the door and stepping out into a light rain with him. “Just be naked with her and see what happens.”

That afternoon, after telling Luisa about his session with Donna, Andrew suggests they take off their clothes and get in bed together, and Luisa is happy to oblige.

After holding each other for several minutes, he kisses her and she returns his kiss and they make love for the first time in many months.

Preparing supper together, Luisa says, “I’d like to go see Donna. If you don’t mind.”

“I’d love you to,” he says, sensing his depression hovering nearby, waiting to take him over again.

The next morning after breakfast, Luisa makes some business calls and Andrew walks the mile to Cal’s house to pose the question: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

Cal, who is usually home on Tuesday mornings, has gone to deal with a crisis at the university where he is a professor, so Andrew chats with Cal’s wife Terry and they commiserate about their children living so far away, Terry and Cal’s daughter living in Hawaii, their son in England.

And while telling Terry about his session with Donna, Andrew asks the question he was going to pose to Cal: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

“Why do we do anything?” says Terry, pressing down the plunger of her French Press. “Why did I become a photographer? Because I fell in love with taking pictures and then figured out a way to make a living from it.”

“But then you gave up photography,” says Andrew, thinking of his guitar and how he hasn’t played in years, though he used to love playing.

“Yeah, because I hated shooting weddings and taking pictures of people I didn’t know.” She serves him a cup of coffee. “I got into photography to take pictures of rivers and clouds and birds and insects and people I loved. And now I don’t even want to take a picture of my grandchild. If I even touch a camera now I feel physically ill.”

“I’m sorry, Terry,” he says, remembering her as a young woman so in love with taking pictures she brought her camera everywhere. “I had no idea.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” she says, adding cream to her coffee. “I’m just giving you my two bits. Why did you write things you didn’t want to write? Maybe you thought you had to, or you thought you wanted to and then you changed your mind but it was too late, or you needed to prove something, or you wanted to make a ton of money. What difference does it make? To me, the more important question is how do you want to live your life from now on?”

Andrew walks home lost in thought and finds a note from Luisa on the kitchen counter.

I called Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this afternoon. Me   

Waiting for Luisa to get home, Andrew decides to play his guitar, but on his way to get his old Gibson out of the closet he remembers he gave the guitar away to a friend of Lily’s right after the kids graduated from high school.

“Three years ago,” he says, noticing his writing notebook on his desk and wondering what he was working on when he stopped writing months ago.

He opens the notebook and the pages are blank save for a short paragraph on the first page, all the lines of the paragraph crossed out except the last line.

nothing that would do anybody any good

 ∆

Home from her session with Donna, Luisa comes out on the back deck and looks down at Andrew digging potatoes for supper.

“Nice spuds,” she says dreamily. “Cultivate here often?”

“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you like Donna?”

“I love her. She’s my favorite person in the whole world now, right after you.”

“Did she give you any homework?”

“Yes,” says Luisa, beckoning him to come inside. “I’m supposed to make sure you do yours.”

Friday morning, feeling well enough to drive, Andrew arrives at Donna’s a few minutes early and finds her picking tiny winter roses in her wildly overgrown garden.

“Good morning Andrew,” she says, smiling as he approaches. “How are you today?”

“Much better,” he says, wondering if she’d like him to tame her wild garden. “How are you?”

“I was so glad to meet Luisa,” she says, leading the way to her studio. “Such a sweetheart.”

“Yes, she is,” says Andrew, noting the crude way someone has hacked a passage through the overgrowth to the studio door. “By the way, I was a professional gardener in my storied youth and I would be happy to get your garden under control if you’d like me to.”

“First things first,” she says, opening the door. “First we get you out of your depression, then we’ll talk about taming my garden.”

Andrew sits cross-legged on the sofa and watches Donna arrange her roses in a green glass vase.

“So…” he says, smiling at her, “how was your week?”

“My week was variable,” she says, sitting in the armchair and crossing her legs. “Monday was good in large part because I got to work with you. Tuesday was a mixed bag, the high point meeting Luisa. Wednesday crises abounded and carried on into Thursday. And so far today things have been mostly quiet and now I’m meeting with you, so there’s at least a chance I won’t flee the country by the end of the day.” She raises an eyebrow. “And you?”

“I did my homework,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “and I pondered the question of why I spent the last few years writing things I didn’t want to write. And as I’m sure you expected, one question begot another and as of this morning the question has evolved into what would I be if I wasn’t a writer?

“That’s interesting,” she says, not sounding very interested, “but before we think about that one, I’d like to go back to the original question of why you spent three years writing things you didn’t want to write?”

“Oh,” says Andrew, deflated. “Here I thought I was being so clever getting to the bottom of things.”

“No offense, sweetheart, but I think you were avoiding getting to the bottom of things.”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, his limbs growing heavy again. “I guess I was.”

“Which is perfectly understandable because at the bottom of things is the cause of your terror.”

“Terror?” he says, squinting at her.

“Yes,” she says softly. “So first tell me what you wrote that you didn’t want to write.”

“Screenplays,” he says gruffly. “We wasted four years of our lives writing eighteen of those things. Three were made into movies and the other fifteen were crap and I hated writing them.”

“Did you ever not hate writing screenplays?”

“Oh in the beginning I loved it,” he says, remembering the thrill of working with Nick on Rainy River and Low Overhead and Yum City. “But then it was just this horrible grind, this… forced march to get those fucking things done, and I had never forced my writing before. Never.”

“You wrote those screenplays with Luisa.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, reacting to a sharp pain in his neck.

“So if you didn’t want to write those screenplays, why did you?”

“Because I wanted…” He hesitates. “Because we were successful with the first three, we thought…” He hesitates again.

“You started to say ‘Because I wanted’ and then you stopped yourself. What were you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” he mutters, looking away.

“Come on, Andrew,” she says gently. “Why did you keep writing those screenplays when the writing was no longer a spontaneous outpouring?”

“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at her.

“No,” says Donna, sensing how frightened he is. “But I’ve read your books and I’ve seen your plays and I’ve watched your movies, and they are all so full of truth and joy, I doubt very much you didn’t want to write them. So I’m guessing it’s the ones that came after those three you didn’t want to write, yet you wrote them anyway because you wanted…”

“A huge success,” he says before the muscles in his throat and chest and stomach and groin tighten violently. “So Luisa would never…” The pain is so intense he cannot speak.

“So Luisa would never what?” shouts Donna. “Say it, Andrew!”

“Leave me,” he cries. “Never leave me.”

And having confessed this to Donna, his terrible pain is washed away by a torrent of tears.

Seven months later, on a balmy evening in August, Andrew and Luisa have Cal and Terry and Donna and Donna’s husband Howard over for supper. They eat on the deck overlooking the garden—a gorgeous mackerel sky presaging rain.

Howard, a short balding man ten years older than Donna, tells the story of going to the airport nine years ago to pick up Donna, who was one of three finalists to replace Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein, the shul in danger of dissolution, only a few dozen diehards keeping the little ship afloat.

“By the time we got to her hotel,” says Howard, his accent distinctly Toronto Jewish, “I wanted to marry her. Not only is she beautiful, she’s funny. Instinctively funny. Have you noticed?”

“Were you similarly smitten?” asks Cal, who idolizes Donna and can’t imagine what she sees in Howard.

“I was too preoccupied with my interview that afternoon and my trial Torah reading the next day to fully appreciate Howard’s magnificence at our first meeting,” says Donna, smiling sweetly at her husband. “But I liked your car.”

Everyone laughs and Howard says, “This is what I’m talking about.”

“It’s her timing,” says Luisa, clinking her glass with Donna’s. “You have impeccable timing.”

“Leaven the bitter truth with humor,” says Donna, sipping her wine. “Else we will only know the bitterness.”

“That’s true,” says Howard, looking at Luisa. “So how did you two meet?”

“We each had a four-year old going to the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church not far from here,” says Luisa, taking Andrew’s hand. “And after my daughter bothered me night and day to make a play date with Andrew’s son, I finally did, and Andrew and I fell in love. Then he divorced his wife and we got married.”

“You make it sound so simple,” says Andrew, recalling the terrible shock of his first wife leaving him, his nervous breakdown, his parents coming from California to save him, Luisa there to meet him when he emerged from his desolation.

“And how about you two?” asks Howard, looking at Cal and Terry.

“Terry and I met a couple days after Andrew and I got here from California in 1968,” says Cal, putting his arm around Terry. “Thirty-four years ago. I was dodging the draft and Andrew drove me up here, and one night we went to hear some music and Terry was sitting at the table next to ours. She and I got talking and we’ve been together ever since.”

“But we didn’t sleep together until the third date,” says Terry, kissing Cal. “He was shy.”

“Fantastic,” says Howard, shaking his head. “Isn’t it amazing how people find each other? It seems so random, but I don’t think it is.”

“What do you think it is if not random?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy and thinks about this sort of thing all the time.

“I have no idea,” says Howard, shrugging. “But it can’t be random or Donna would never have given me the time of day. Look at her. She’s beautiful and brilliant and funny and a rabbi, no less, while I’m a schlemiel on my good days.”

“Howie?” says Donna, raising her eyebrow. “Who put himself through college and optometry school? And who is one of the most sought after optometrists in Vancouver? And who held the shul together until I got here and we turned things around? You. Schlemiels can’t to that.”

“You’re right,” he says, shrugging again. “But I still don’t think it’s random.”

“Do you think it’s random, Donna?” asks Andrew, who also wonders what she sees in Howard. “How we meet our partners?”

“I don’t think it matters if it’s random or not random,” she says, looking up at the white clouds turning gray. “I think what matters is we are made of love, and the more we inhabit that truth, the more fulfilled we will be.”

When darkness falls, they move into the living room and Andrew lights the fire. Luisa serves pumpkin pie and decaf, and Cal and Terry request that Andrew read one of his stories.

“I will,” says Andrew, fetching his new guitar from its stand by the piano, “but first Luisa and I are going to sing a song for you, the world premiere.”

Now Andrew plays a sweet run of chords and Luisa sings the first verse of their new song—these last six months given to making music and gardening and walking on the beach and traveling to visit their children, neither of them writing unless the spirit moves them, both as happy as they have ever been—Andrew joining her on the chorus, their voices made for each other.

Lounge Act In Heaven

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The Same Woman (Carol)

Several times in the course of his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known before. And though the woman never recognizes Andrew as anyone she knows, she is always drawn to him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955, and again in the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. Then in 1966 he was in a relationship with her until she left him for someone else. And from 1970 to 1973, he lived with her in British Columbia before she moved to Los Angeles.

In 1978, Andrew is twenty-nine and living ten miles north of Vancouver in a spacious two-bedroom house he built on three acres not far from the ocean. He recently became a Canadian citizen and has been in a relationship with a woman named Leslie Revere for seven months.

Leslie is thirty-eight, an aspiring playwright who makes her living as a secretary in the biggest talent agency in Vancouver. She just started dying her brown hair auburn and is determined to get her weight down to 125, though she looks fine at 140. Desperate to get out of the tiny apartment she shares with another woman in a noisy part of the city, she wants to marry Andrew, get pregnant, and quit her job.

Andrew, however, does not want to marry Leslie. They were good friends before they became lovers, but now whenever they spend more than a few hours together, he feels invaded and overwhelmed and creatively squished.

So why doesn’t he end his relationship with her?

Because two years ago she introduced him to the playwright Mark Kane who adapted two of Andrew’s short stories, Ariel Gets Wise and Extremely Silly, into a play that had a critically-acclaimed run at the Kleindorf Theatre in Vancouver and was subsequently staged with great success in Montreal, which success led to Andrew’s first book, a collection of stories entitled The Draft Dodger and other fables being published in Canada and England, and soon to be published in America.

Thus for the first time in his life, he has enough money to devote himself entirely to his writing and music, yet he cannot write or compose anything because he is consumed with the dilemma of how to end his relationship with Leslie without seriously damaging his new connections in the theatre world, a world he greatly enjoys being part of.

Inspired by the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Andrew has started writing plays along with his short stories, Mark Kane is nearly finished with a new play combining two more of Andrew’s short stories, and several eminent Canadian directors are eagerly awaiting anything Andrew writes.

But what makes Andrew’s dilemma even more difficult is that Leslie has written twenty plays over the last fifteen years, none of which have been produced despite her tireless efforts to convince actors and directors and theatre companies to take them on. This makes Andrew’s success both a source of pride for Leslie because she introduced him to Mark, and a thorn in her side because Andrew was so instantly and hugely successful in contrast to her many years of failing to have a play produced.

To get some distance from Leslie, Andrew decides to fly to Montreal to meet his literary and theatrical agent Penelope Goldstein in-person for the first time, and to visit Jason Moreau, the director of the Montreal production of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise.

Despite Andrew arranging his trip on the spur of the moment, Penelope says she’ll throw a party for him at her townhouse in Griffintown, and Jason says he’ll throw a party for Andrew at his beautiful old house in Little Italy.

Penelope and her partner Judith Perlman, also a literary agent, insist Andrew stay in their guest room for the night of the party, and Jason and his partner Frederick Holmes, a choreographer, insist Andrew stay in their guest room for as long as he likes.

Leslie is terribly upset Andrew didn’t invite her to accompany him to Montreal, but she hides her displeasure for fear of slowing the momentum she hopes will carry them into marriage and pregnancy, not necessarily in that order.

Andrew’s best friend Cal drives Andrew to the Vancouver airport on a cloudy morning in May. Cal is about to get his PhD in Philosophy from Simon Fraser University and lives with his wife Terry, a photographer, and their two-year-old daughter Felicia in a house not far from Andrew’s. Cal and Andrew were pals in high school in Redwood City, California, roomies at UC Santa Cruz, and came to Canada together in 1970 so Cal could evade the draft and not go to Vietnam. Andrew then fell in love with a Canadian woman named Yvonne and ended up staying in Canada, too.

“I’m surprised Leslie’s not going with you,” says Cal, glancing at Andrew as they drive through a sudden downpour. “She lives for this kind of thing, doesn’t she?”

“I didn’t invite her,” says Andrew, testily. “I don’t want to be in a relationship with her anymore but I can’t seem to work up the courage to tell her. So I thought I’d run away for a week or two and see if that might empower me to break her heart.”

“You don’t owe her anything,” says Cal, giving Andrew a doleful look. “She didn’t write your stories. She introduced you to Mark who was already a big fan from reading you in The Weekly Blitz. You went to a party with her and she knew Mark because she knows everybody and he took things from there. Right?”

“It’s more complicated than that, Cal,” says Andrew, shrugging painfully. “She was my great advocate and…”

“Oh bullshit,” says Cal, tired of listening to Andrew rationalize staying in a relationship with someone he doesn’t love. “You’re just afraid she’s gonna badmouth you to her theatre friends if you break up with her. So what if she does? Your success comes from what you write, not from who you know.”

“I wish that were true,” says Andrew, wistfully. “But it’s not. My stories helped me get into the castle, but now that I’m in, believe me, it is all about who you know among the chosen few. And if the chosen few don’t like you, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest playwright in the world, they won’t have anything to do with you.”

Cal grimaces. “But your own experience disproves that. Your stories won the day, not Leslie.”

“If not for Leslie, I would never have gone to the party where I met Mark.” He gazes out at the rain. “No. They lowered the drawbridge for her and let me in because I was with her.”

“I’ll never believe that,” says Cal, shaking his head. “I will always believe you flew over the ramparts on the magic carpet of your wonderful stories.”

“Which is one of the many reasons I love you,” says Andrew, smiling fondly at his dear friend.

The truth is Penelope and Judith love Andrew’s short stories because they are great stories. And they love the play that sprang from two of those stories because Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise is a great play. They very much hope Andrew’s success continues, but they have no expectations it will.

Penelope and Judith attained their success as agents by working incredibly hard for decades, and though they know as well as anyone about the potency of personal connections in the publishing business and the theatre world, they are of a generation of agents—both of them in their fifties—who represent uniquely talented writers regardless of who those writers know or don’t know.

Forty people come to the party at Penelope and Judith’s townhouse, mostly middle-aged editors and middle-aged writers, a few younger editors and younger writers, and a handful of theatre people. Penelope and Judith take turns introducing people to Andrew, and eventually he meets everyone. He is praised many times for his story collection and for Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, eats his fill of fabulous hors d’oeuvres, and is beginning to long for the end of the party when a couple of latecomers arrive, the man middle-aged and heavyset, the woman Andrew’s age and the doppelgänger of Andrew’s last great love Yvonne, a beautiful woman with olive skin and lustrous brown hair.   

They are Larry and Carol Savard, Larry a successful actor, Carol a novelist.

“I am in awe of your stories,” says Carol, who Andrew immediately recognizes as another manifestation of his soul mate. “I’ve read The Draft Dodger and other fables three times and I’m about to start again.”

“Oh I’m so glad,” says Andrew, looking into her eyes. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.”

“There’s talk of a movie being made of your Silly Whosit play,” says Larry, surveying the room. “My agent says most likely made-for-television, but possibly a cute little feature. I’d love to play the silly girl’s father. Keep me in mind.”

“I will,” says Andrew, laughing, “though this is the first I’ve heard…”

“Hate to cut you off,” says Larry, half-snarling and half-smiling, “but I must say hello to Jim and Kathy. Haven’t seen them in ages,” and off he goes leaving Andrew alone with Carol.

“Did I say something wrong?” asks Andrew, looking at Carol.

“No, that’s just Larry,” she says, smiling bravely. “A busy bee visiting many flowers.”

“Ah,” says Andrew, not really understanding what she means.

“So how are you handling your sudden success?” she asks, sounding as if she really wants to know.

“Well…” he says, deciding not to tell her she could be the twin of Yvonne who was the twin of Laura and so on back through the great loves of his life, “I haven’t made tons of money from the play or the book so my life hasn’t really changed much except I get lots more mail and I don’t have to pay my bills with carpentry work for the next year or so.”

“Or maybe never again,” she says, her voice and Quebecois accent identical to Yvonne’s. “I think there are at least three really good movies in your collection and before long you’ll be writing the screenplays.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Andrew, bowing to her.

“Are you Jewish?” asks Carol, smiling quizzically.

“I am descended from Jews but not raised in the religion,” he says, returning her quizzical smile. “Why do you ask?”

“My Jewish grandmother says from your lips to God’s ears all the time. And so does my mother who gave your book to everyone she knows for Hanukkah and Christmas.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t read your novels,” he says, amazed by how much she reminds him of Yvonne. “But I will. What are their titles?”

“Oh I’m not published yet,” she says, blushing. “Getting closer, according to Judith, but no takers yet.”

“What are your novels about if I may ask?”

“Love,” she says simply. “And the myriad impossibilities therein and thereof. I think you’d find them kin to your stories only much more convoluted, which is probably the problem.”

“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, sensing her sadness. “Started a few but they either turned into short stories or trailed off into nothingness.”

“Oh yes,” she says, laughing a beautiful hearty laugh. “I know all about things trailing off into nothingness. And now if you’ll excuse me, I better go be with Larry before he becomes apoplectic with jealousy.”

“Of course,” says Andrew, looking across the room to where Larry is loudly telling a man and a woman a story involving lots of gesturing. “A pleasure to meet you.”

When the last guest has gone home, Penelope and Judith and Andrew sit in the living room sipping brandy from crystal snifters and Judith asks Andrew, “Did you get a chance to talk to Carol Savard?”

“Briefly,” he says, relieved the party is over. “She seemed very nice.”

“She’s a doll,” says Judith, the child of Yiddish-speaking parents. “And a very good writer, too. She was a waitress before she married Larry. Shared an apartment with two other women and wrote like mad on her days off. And then… oh never mind.”

“Tell, darling,” says Penelope, pouring more brandy into Judith’s snifter. “Andrew won’t gossip. Will you, dear?”

“Never,” says Andrew, smiling mischievously. “Though I might put this in a story. Well-disguised of course.”

Judith sips her brandy and says, “She’s hasn’t written a word since she married Larry two years ago. And I know I could sell her novel if she’d do one more draft.”

“I wonder why she doesn’t,” says Andrew, in his tiredness confusing Carol with Yvonne who was a prolific songwriter.

“Married the wrong man,” says Penelope, swirling her brandy. “Scared away her muse.”

“I remember the day she told me they were getting married,” says Judith, sighing. “We were having lunch and strategizing about who I should send her novel to next, and she said, ‘After I’m married I’ll have lots of time to write.’ But then the problem of not enough time became the problem of too much Larry.”

“Always tricky when we make a pact with the devil,” says Penelope, wagging her finger at Andrew. “Don’t you do that. Promise me.”

The next day, a Thursday, Penelope and Judith take Andrew to breakfast at an eatery around the corner from their townhouse, and while they wait for their food to arrive, Judith says, “We would ask you to stay on with us, but we have a dear friend coming in from England today. But next time you come to Montreal you must stay with us for at least a week.”

“You’ll love your room at Jason and Freddie’s,” says Penelope, signaling their waitress for more coffee. “We know their house very well because we were each other’s beards for twenty years until we all came out two years ago.”

“Beards,” says Andrew, frowning. “You mean…”

“We posed as heterosexual partners,” says Judith, sipping her coffee. “I with Freddie, Penelope with Jason. But now, thank God, we don’t have to do that anymore.”

“Much to our surprise, coming out didn’t hurt our business at all,” says Penelope, waving to an acquaintance being seated at a nearby table. “Or Freddie’s. Dance, you know. But Jason can’t get television gigs anymore. No one cares in the theatre world, of course, but television and movies are way behind.”

“You can’t be gay and direct television shows and movies?” asks Andrew, finding that hard to believe.

“It’s not about being gay,” says Judith, enjoying Andrew’s innocence. “It’s about being openly gay.”

The party Jason and Freddie throw for Andrew on Saturday night is very different than the party at Judith and Penelope’s. The music is louder, the air is heavily scented with cannabis smoke, and many of the hundred people filling the house and spilling out into the backyard are in their twenties and thirties. There are dancers and actors and musicians and theatre people, many of them making no secret of their homosexuality and only a handful of them interested in meeting Andrew.

Freddie, a handsome fellow in his early sixties, notorious in his youth for supposed liaisons with famous ballerinas, introduces Andrew to a striking young woman named Kiki—long black hair, carob brown skin, wearing a black skirt and red sandals and a green T-shirt with juxtaposition of elements in tension writ in white letters across the chest—a former ballerina now a modern dancer, her mother Afro-Caribbean, her father Chinese.

Kiki and Andrew take to each other instantly and Kiki suggests they gravitate away from the loud music to the backyard where they stand under a lantern suspended from the branch of a maple tree talking about Montreal and Vancouver and finding each other splendid.

And Andrew thinks I would love to have a child with this woman.

He has never had such a thought about any woman he’s ever known, and he wonders why he never wanted children with Yvonne or Laura, both of whom he loved with all his heart.

“Are you free at all in the next few days?” he asks, holding out his hand to Kiki. “I’d love to see you again.”

“Yeah, I’m free,” she says, smiling brightly and giving his hand a squeeze. “We could have lunch tomorrow. Or supper. Or…”

“Let’s start with lunch,” he says, feeling a gush of joy.

“I’ll give you my number,” she says, rummaging in her handbag and bringing forth a notebook and pen. “How long are you here for?”

“Not sure,” he says, imagining moving to Montreal and courting Kiki. “Jason and Freddie said I could stay with them as long as I want to, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

“Tell me again how you know them,” she says, tearing a page from her notebook and handing it to him. “I was too busy gawking at you when Freddie introduced us. Are you an actor?”

“No, I’m a writer. I wrote a couple stories that were made into a play Jason directed.”

“Oh my God,” says Kiki, putting a hand on her heart. “Did you write Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise?”

“I wrote the two stories it was based on, but I didn’t write the play.”

“I went four times,” says Kiki, putting her other hand atop the hand on her heart. “Gave me the courage to end a very bad relationship I was stuck in. Thank you so much for writing those stories.”

“You’re welcome,” he says, finding her impossibly lovely.

At which moment, Carol Savard emerges from the house and makes a beeline for Andrew and Kiki.

“Andrew,” says Carol, as she comes near. “We met at Penelope and Judith’s party a few nights ago.”

“I remember,” he says, surprised to see her again. “Do you know Kiki?”

“No,” says Carol, shaking Kiki’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” says Kiki, sensing Carol’s urgency to speak to Andrew. “I have to go, Andrew. Call me in the morning?”

“I will,” says Andrew, exchanging quick kisses with her.

Alone with Carol, Andrew asks, “Larry here?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s in England for three weeks. Making a movie.”

“Ah,” says Andrew, nodding. “So you have lots of time to write.”

“Yes,” she says, clearing her throat. “I’m wondering if… I’m wondering if you’d like to spend some time with me. I felt a very strong connection with you at the party and…” She starts to cry. “I’m not talking about having sex. I just need to talk to you.”

“I’d be happy to spend some time with you,” he says, feeling the deep and inexplicable bond he has with her.

At breakfast the next morning with Freddy and Jason in their sunny kitchen, Jason opines, “How could anyone be married to Larry Savard?”

“No one can be,” says Freddie, shaking his head. “He was married four times before Carol and none of them stuck for more than a few years.”

“Let me rephrase that,” says Jason, striking a thoughtful pose. “Why anyone would want to marry him, I can’t imagine. And don’t say for money. No amount of money would be enough to live with that horrible narcissist.”

“We were stunned when Carol told us she was marrying him,” says Freddie, grimacing. “We frequently dine at Baskerville’s, the restaurant where Carol used to be the star waiter. We always requested her and I often said to Jason if I liked sleeping with women I would marry her in a minute if she would have me. So sweet and kind and funny and smart and very sexy. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, nodding. “Very.”

“Beware of her,” says Jason, pointing at Andrew. “You’ll fall in love and try to save her and stop writing. And I need you to write a new play for me. The sooner the better.”

“Speaking of narcissists,” says Freddie, laughing.

“I am not a narcissist,” says Jason, indignantly. “The world is dying for good plays and Andrew is one of the few people I know who can write them.” 

Kiki takes Andrew to lunch at a café a few blocks from Jason and Freddie’s house, their attraction to each other growing by leaps and bounds. For dessert they split a piece of pumpkin pie and share a cup of coffee, black, and Andrew presents Kiki with a signed copy of his book The Draft Dodger and other fables, to which Kiki responds by bringing forth a copy of his book she just bought.

“You can make this one to my mother,” she says, handing him the book. “She came to your play twice with me and she’s dying to meet you.”

“Do you ever get out to Vancouver?” he asks, gazing in wonder at her. “To dance?”

“I have gone there to dance,” she says, nodding. “And my sister lives there and we miss each other, so I try to go out there at least once a year.”

“Would you…” he says, but nothing more comes out.

“Visit you when I’m there?” she says, nodding. “Oh yeah. But what about tonight? My friend Juliet is singing with her trio at Honey Martin starting at nine. You’ll love her and probably want to marry her. I can come get you or we can meet there.”

“I have a supper date,” says Andrew, madly in love with her. “But I could meet you there at ten.”

“Perfect,” she says, smiling rapturously. “I’ll save you a seat.”

Before Andrew leaves Jason and Freddie’s to meet Carol for supper, he and Jason have tea in the living room.

“I was not kidding, Andrew,” says Jason, clearly distraught. “Larry Savard is famously violent, and I wish you wouldn’t have anything to do with Carol until she is long free of him. She’s probably afraid to leave him for fear he’ll kill her.”

“I’m just having supper with her,” says Andrew, attributing some of Jason’s upset to his tendency to exaggerate.

“Well make sure that’s all you do,” says Jason, emphatically. “Don’t even kiss her cheek.”

“But how would Larry know? He’s in England.”

“We know two of his ex-wives, and when they were married to him, whenever he went away he had them watched.”

“That’s crazy,” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” says Jason, throwing up his hands. “He’s crazy.”

In a quaint Italian restaurant, Andrew and Carol sit at a table with a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth and a candle stuck in a round-bottomed wine bottle covered with melted wax.

After a bit of friendly chitchat, Carol says, “I felt such a strong jolt of recognition when I met you. Not that you look like anybody I’ve ever known, but there was something about your voice and the way you listened to me. I can’t explain it except to say I felt I knew you and you knew me, and I thought if anyone could understand what I’m going through right now, you would. And I thought maybe you could… I don’t know, shed some light on my predicament or give me some advice.”

“I recognized you, too,” says Andrew, wondering if they are being watched. “And I feel a similar affinity with you. So please, tell me.”

“I wonder if we could go somewhere more private,” she says quietly.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says, sipping his wine to moisten his very dry throat. “Jason told me your husband is famously jealous and famously violent and had his previous wives followed whenever he went out of town. And though I’d love to go somewhere more private to hear your story, to be honest with you I’m afraid to do that. I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize, though I can assure you no one followed me here. That happened a few times at the beginning of our marriage and when I found out he was paying people to spy on me, I told him if he ever did it again I would leave him. So he no longer does. And I understand why Jason and Freddie may think I’m afraid of him, but I’m not.”

“So what is your predicament?” asks Andrew, lowering his shoulders and breathing a sigh of relief.

“I haven’t been able to write anything since I married Larry. But if I leave him… he’ll kill himself.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“No,” she says, falling silent as their supper arrives.

When their waiter departs, Andrew asks, “If he didn’t tell you, how do you know?”

“How do we know anything?” she asks, locking eyes with him. “Why did you and I recognize each other?”

“We just do,” he says, nodding.

“Yes. And I have sat with Larry on many a night watching him drink himself into oblivion, knowing that if I leave him he will die.”

“So he does tell you. Maybe not in words, but with his thoughts and actions. And how is that not extortion? Emotional extortion.”

“What if it is?” she says, shrugging. “What would you do? Knowing if you end the relationship you would cause his death? And please don’t say you wouldn’t have gotten into the relationship in the first place. You don’t know that. You might have. And if you did, what would you do if you knew that leaving him would kill him?”

“I would tell him,” says Andrew, jabbing his fork into his spaghetti, “that I would help him find a good therapist and a good rehab clinic, and if he wouldn’t make the effort to heal, I would leave him.”

“Knowing he will kill himself,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“What are the alternatives, Carol? Going on living in the hell you’re in? Killing your self? Never writing again? Sacrificing your life so he can go on drinking himself into oblivion every night while you watch? Wait for him to die of liver failure?”

“You would leave him,” she says, folding her arms. “And let him die.”

“They are not connected actions,” says Andrew, angrily. “He is choosing to die rather than trying to get well. And by leaving, you are choosing not to be present for his suicide.”

She sits back in her chair and muses for a long time.

Andrew eats his spaghetti, drinks his wine, and thinks Tomorrow I’m calling Yvonne and ending our relationship.

“Andrew?” says Carol, leaning forward in her chair.

“What?” he says, softening.

“Do you like living in Vancouver?”

“I do. I live in a house I built ten miles north of the city. Beautiful place. Good friends. Yeah, I love it.”

“Are you involved with anyone?”

“I’m just ending a relationship and hoping to start another,” he says, seeing no need to hide the truth from her. “Why do you ask?”

“Because if I leave Larry, I’d love to try being in a relationship with you.” She smiles shyly. “If you want to.”

He thinks of Kiki and how he loves her, and he says to Carol, “How about we write to each other and see where that takes us?”

“Okay,” she says, smiling bravely. “I’d love to be your pen pal.”

The next day, after a fabulous night with Kiki in the pub listening to her friend sing, Andrew calls Leslie and ends their relationship. She is most upset with him for breaking up with her by phone and not in-person, but by the end of their conversation she says she understands why he had to get away from her to work up the nerve to tell her.

“I can be terrifying, I know,” she says, laughing a little as she cries. “But I hope we’ll still be friends. I think you’re a great person, Andrew, a rare person, and I’d like to keep knowing you whether we sleep together or not.”

“I love being your friend,” he says sincerely. “I think you’re a rare person, too, and you have helped me in so many ways.”

“As you have helped me,” she says, weeping.

Andrew stays another two weeks in Montreal, a week with Jason and Freddie, a week with Kiki in the house she shares with her mother, her father no longer alive.

He makes the trip back to Vancouver by train rather than fly, which gives him five days of rolling across Canada to write and write and write, stories and poems and letters and dialogue flowing unabated from his liberated pen. 

In the spring of 1980, Andrew and Kiki wed in Montreal in Freddie and Jason’s backyard, Andrew’s parents and brother and sisters having made the long trek from California, Kiki’s mother and grandparents and sister on hand, Andrew’s best man Cal, of course, and Freddie giving the bride away.

Carol comes to the wedding with Judith and Penelope, for she and Andrew have become great friends via the postal service, her first novel Simply Love about to be published, her marriage to Larry a thing of the past, Larry still alive and about to wed again.

In a letter to Carol dated July 14, 1981, Andrew writes from Vancouver that Kiki is three months pregnant, they are adding another bedroom to their house, his second collection of short stories Suicide Notes From My Friends is selling very well, and his play Exactly Random will begin rehearsals next week, to open at the Kleindorf in September.

“I know I have tried to elucidate this to you before, Carol,” he writes, “but I will try to put the ineffable into words again because I am overwhelmed this morning by how deeply connected I feel to you, though deeply and connected are inadequate descriptors.

“I often feel you are here with us. We will be in the garden or making supper or walking on the beach, and I will be aware of you on a cellular level. Especially when I play music.

 “But the awareness of you is never intrusive. Your presence never impedes the flow of my music, never interferes with the flow of words onto the page. In fact, your spirit is a divine impetus. Dare I say you are my muse?

“Yes, Kiki inspires me. I write poems for her and passages in my stories and plays just for her, but she is outside of me, wonderfully so, whereas you are in my bones.

“Which is to say I think our souls were one soul incubating in the womb of God when by some miracle we divided into two halves and became twin souls loosed into the human swirl.”

fin

love song

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The Same Woman (Yvonne)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before.

The first time they met was in elementary school in 1955. The second time they met was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. And starting in 1966 they were in a relationship that lasted a year until she—her name was Laura then—left him for someone else.

In December of 1969, shortly after Andrew turns twenty-one, the first draft lottery takes place in America and he draws number 344, which means he no longer has to be in college to avoid being sent to the war in Vietnam. However, one of Andrew’s very best friends, Cal, draws number 3 and is certain to be drafted even if he manages to get into graduate school.

When Cal is denied conscientious objector status, he decides to move to Canada rather than go to prison or Vietnam. Cal has a cousin who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia who agrees to house Cal until he gets settled in Canada. Cal asks Andrew to drive him to Vancouver and they leave California for British Columbia in June of 1970, just a few days after they graduate from UC Santa Cruz, Cal with a degree in Philosophy, Andrew with a degree in Drama.

Funded by Cal’s parents, they rent a big orange van to carry Cal’s books and records and clothing and musical instruments, including two guitars, an electric bass, an amplifier, and a drum kit. They stay in motels, eat in diners, and make the trip to Vancouver in four days.

By 1970 the Canadian government is no longer making it problematic for American draft evaders to move to Canada, so Cal and Andrew have no trouble entering the country.

Cal’s cousin Frank and Frank’s wife Jean live in a small house in a suburb of Vancouver. They are both in their early thirties, Frank a surveyor, Jean a piano teacher, and Jean is pregnant with their first child. They are not thrilled about sharing their house with Cal, but they are thrilled about the thousand dollars a month Cal’s parents are giving them for as long as Cal lives with them.

On the evening of their second day in Vancouver, a few days before Andrew is planning to head back to California, Cal and Andrew go to a pub called Angel Alley in downtown Vancouver to hear a lineup of local musicians. The drinking age was recently lowered to 18 in British Columbia, and the place is mobbed with college kids and hipsters.

Cal, who has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was eleven, is keen to explore the music scene in Vancouver. Andrew took up the guitar after his relationship with Laura ended three and a half years ago, and with Cal as his teacher he has gotten quite good.

So…

After a middle-aged woman does a fair imitation of Judy Collins singing Joni Mitchell songs, and three earnest fellows cover Dylan and The Beatles, a young woman takes the stage with her guitar and stands a few feet away from the microphone as she waits to be introduced.

Andrew looks at the young woman and his jaw drops because as far as he’s concerned she is none other than Laura, the great love of his life who jilted him three and a half years ago and moved to England with her new partner—yet here she is in Angel Alley about to perform.

“That’s Laura,” says Andrew, nudging Cal who is conversing with a gal at the adjoining table. “Has to be.”

Cal turns to Andrew. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“Look,” says Andrew, pointing at the stage. “Tell me that isn’t Laura.”

“Sure looks like her,” says Cal, studying the lovely woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white blouse and black slacks and standing at ease with her guitar. “I thought she was in England.”

“Last I heard she was,” says Andrew, his heart pounding. “Three years five months and two weeks ago. But this is definitely Laura. Who else could she be?”

“I didn’t know Laura played guitar,” says Cal, trying to discern the make of her reddish brown parlor guitar.

“She didn’t,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But neither did I until she left.”

Now a big burly fellow with spiky gray hair steps up to the microphone and says, “Without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce Yvonne Garnier.” 

Loud applause and whistling fill the air as the woman steps to the microphone and begins to play and sing. Her voice to Andrew’s ears is Laura’s voice, a sweet woman’s tenor, and he cannot hold back his tears.

When she finishes her first song, Cal whispers to Andrew, “She’s fantastic, but I don’t think she’s Laura.”

“Why? Because she changed her name?” asks Andrew, certain she is his lost love.

“No,” says Cal, putting his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Because this woman has been playing guitar since she was a kid. I’ll bet you anything.”

After a scintillating set of original songs and a few folk classics, Yvonne leaves the stage to thunderous applause and many of those in attendance head for home.

The bartender calls “Forty minutes to closing,” and Andrew and Cal shift their chairs to join the two women and a man—Terry, Sheila, and Chas—at the adjoining table, Terry of great interest to Cal and vice-versa.

“So are you moving to Canada, too?” asks Chas, directing his question at Andrew.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” says Andrew, still under the spell of seeing Laura again. “I got a very high draft number and I’m hoping to get into grad school one of these days, but I am loving it here, so you never know.”

“And he’s gonna visit me often,” says Cal, his eyes full of tears. “Aren’t you, A?”

“Much as I can,” he replies. “Much as I can.”

Now the woman Andrew thinks is Laura emerges from backstage and comes to join them because Terry and Sheila are her best friends, and Chas has been her devoted fan for years.

Chas rises to give Yvonne a kiss on the cheek and Terry says, “Fantastic Evie. You just get better and better.”

“Thanks,” says Yvonne, turning to Cal and Andrew. “Who are these hunks?”

“I’m Cal,” says Cal, shaking her hand. “And this is Andrew. I’m just moving to Vancouver and Andrew drove me up from California.”

“Why don’t you move here, too?” says Yvonne, shaking Andrew’s hand.

“No good reason,” says Andrew, barely able to breathe.

“At least come to my birthday party before you go back,” she says, sitting down to have a beer. “My twenty-first. Day after tomorrow. At my mother’s farm. You’ll love it. Say yes.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, laughing to keep from crying. “Of course.”

But he almost doesn’t go to Yvonne’s party because in the half-hour he spends with her in Angel Alley, he falls in love with her again—or discovers he is still in love with her—and he can’t bear the thought of her breaking his heart again.

The night before the party, he and Cal go out for fish and chips at a place Frank and Jean recommend.

“Using linear logic,” says Andrew to Cal, “I know Yvonne is not Laura. But every cell in my body tells me she is the same person.”

Cal ponders this for a moment. “What do you mean by the same person? They could be twins, but twins aren’t the same person. They may resemble each other, but they have different brains and hearts and personalities and experiences. So what do you mean by the same person.”

“I mean that when we were in the pub with her, I knew she was Laura.” Andrew clears his throat. “I know that sounds crazy because she is not Laura, and I know that because Laura’s mother still lives in San Francisco, not on a farm in British Columbia. And I know that because I called her today to confirm she still lives in San Francisco and to ask her if she’d heard from Laura recently and she said she had, that Laura was still in England with what’s his name.”

“Therefore?” says Cal, smiling at the approach of their waitress with two big platters of fish and chips.

“Therefore she cannot be Laura,” says Andrew, nodding his thanks as the waitress sets the feast before him.

“Anything else I can get you?” asks the waitress, making eyes at Andrew.

When Andrew does not reply, Cal says, “We’re good. Thanks so much.”

“And yet,” says Andrew, staring at his food and seeing Laura/Yvonne playing her guitar and singing, “I know she’s Laura.”

“Did you also know that our very attractive waitress was interested in you? No, you didn’t. Because a big part of you isn’t even here.” Cal sighs in sympathy. “I think you never got over Laura. You never broke the spell. So of course you see her in Yvonne who looks very much like her.”

Andrew closes his eyes. “But it’s not just the resemblance, Cal. Yvonne is two or three inches taller than Laura, and her speaking voice is deeper, and she talks much more slowly.”

“With a subtle sexy Quebecois accent,” says Cal, smiling quizzically at his friend. “So why do you say she’s Laura?”

“I think she has Laura’s soul. Or her spirit. Maybe they’re the same thing.”

“What about the Laura in England?” asks Cal, chewing thoughtfully on a delicious French fry. “Does she share her soul with Yvonne or did it somehow leave her and enter Yvonne?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shrugging. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t know how to else to explain it. Yvonne doesn’t just remind me of Laura. She is Laura. And that’s why I’m not going to the party tomorrow. Because the only way to end this madness is to avoid her whenever she manifests in my life. And I hope she never does again.”

“But you love her,” says Cal, frowning. “Maybe this time she’ll want to be with you and not leave you for someone else.”

“Why would she be any different this time?” asks Andrew, still pained by his memory of the moment Laura told him she’d found a new love. “If she has the same spirit, then she’ll act the same way. Right?”

“Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she’s evolving as you’re evolving. Maybe this time she’ll be ready to make a life with you.”

“I doubt it,” says Andrew, sipping his beer. “Though I do love the idea of souls evolving together. And maybe she won’t even be interested in me this time.”

“Oh she seemed pretty interested in you,” says Cal, loving the fish and chips. “That’s why she invited us to her party three seconds after she met you.”

“Maybe I won’t be interested in her this time,” says Andrew, wanting to sound disinterested.

Cal rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’ll grow wings and become a bird.”

“So what if she breaks my heart again?” says Andrew, abruptly changing his tune. “Maybe that’s part of the evolutionary plan.”

“So you are going to the party with me,” says Cal, laughing. “I hope so. And I hope you do fall in love with each other and you stay in Canada and then I won’t feel so alone.”

Yvonne’s mother is named Charlene. Her farm is an idyllic place, ten acres of level ground seven miles north of Vancouver, eight of the acres in permanent pasture, one acre for summer vegetables, the remaining acre occupied by a big old farmhouse and a rundown cottage and a flower garden and outbuildings for chickens and rabbits and pigs.

Charlene is fifty-two with long brown hair going gray. She speaks English with a strong Quebecois accent and has lived on her farm for twenty-one years, having moved here from Montreal when Yvonne was in utero.

“I was a singer, too,” says Charlene to Andrew as she gives him a tour of her farm—the birthday party in full swing at the farmhouse. “But when I got pregnant with Yvonne, I thought, ‘No, I’ve had enough of this struggle. I will go west and live in a quiet place near the ocean. I had some money from my father, so I bought this farm and we have been very happy here.” She smiles as she remembers her first years on the farm. “Of course I sang to my daughter and taught her to play the piano and the guitar, but I never thought she would try to make singing her career as I did. She is more successful than I was, but still she makes her living as a waitress.”

“This is such a beautiful place,” says Andrew, wondering why Charlene singled him out for the tour and not Cal. “How far to the ocean?”

“Two miles,” says Charlene, stopping with him in front of the dilapidated cottage. “Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here. Perhaps you would like to fix up this cottage and make this your first home in Canada.”

“Oh I’m not moving here,” says Andrew, embarrassed by the mix up. “My friend Cal is moving here.”

“Yes, I know,” says Charlene, nodding, “but Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here, too, and if you will do the work on this place, I will give you free rent for two years, and, of course, pay for all the materials. She told me you are handy with tools.”

“I’m a fair carpenter,” says Andrew, intrigued by the cottage. “But I’ve mostly been a landscaper. Built decks and sheds and…”

“Well this is like a big shed, isn’t it?” says Yvonne, beaming at him. “A sophisticated shed with a toilet and shower and kitchen and living room and bedroom.”

“Maybe Cal could live here,” says Andrew, imagining settling down on Charlene’s farm for a while, playing music with Cal and getting to know Yvonne. “Can we have a look inside?”

“It’s falling down,” says Charlene, pushing open the front door of the little house. “You would mostly be building it all over again.”

“I’d need a place to stay while I was doing the rebuilding,” says Andrew, warming to the idea of a Canadian adventure before going to graduate school. “There’s no room for me where Cal is staying.”

“I have an extra bedroom in the farmhouse,” says Charlene, nodding assuredly. “You would be welcome here.”

“But you hardly know me,” he says, taken aback.

“Yvonne says you are wonderful,” says Charlene, matter-of-factly. “That is good enough for me.”

So a few days later, after he drops the van off at a car rental place in Bellingham, Washington, Andrew returns by train to Vancouver and begins a new chapter of his life.

Having brought very few things with him, he moves into Charlene’s farmhouse with a small suitcase of clothing and a knapsack containing notebooks, pens, dark glasses, a few books, a Swiss Army knife, and a camera.

His parents are surprised by his decision to stay in Canada, but understanding, too, and they ship him a box of clothes and shoes. Cal is thrilled with Andrew’s decision to stick around and comes to the farm every day to help with the renovation until a committee assisting American draft evaders gets him a job as a dishwasher and janitor at a college cafeteria, after which he can only help on weekends.

Charlene’s boyfriend Walter, a roofer, outfits Andrew with most of the tools he needs, shows Andrew the best places to buy building materials, and lends his expertise to Andrew when the going gets tricky.

And what of Yvonne? She is delighted to have Andrew living on the farm and staying in her former bedroom. Throughout the summer, she comes for supper a couple times during the week, and every Sunday she spends the day and sometimes the night at the farm.

She is greatly attracted to Andrew, as he is to her, and they spend lots of time talking, playing guitars, going to movies and plays, and walking on the beach. But they rarely touch and never kiss except on the cheeks as French people do when greeting each other and saying goodbye.

As the weeks and months go by and summer turns to fall, the cottage lacks only a new roof to be ready for Andrew to move in. Charlene’s beau Walter does the roofing job with Andrew assisting him, and Walter is sufficiently impressed with Andrew’s skills and strength and amiable nature to tout Andrew to a builder he knows, which results in Andrew being hired for eight weeks of good-paying work that gives him a nest egg for the winter.

Charlene loves having Andrew on the farm and hires him at a decent wage to help around the place a couple hours a day.

Not being in school or working for his father as a landscaper for the first time in his life, Andrew starts writing songs and stories, and he discovers he is much more interested in those art forms than in acting.

On a Sunday evening in early December after the supper dishes are done, Andrew and Yvonne and Charlene and Walter and Cal and his sweetheart Terry gather in the living room to hear Andrew read a short story he’s been working on for some weeks now, The Precipice. This is the first time he has ever shared his writing with anyone other than Cal, and though nervous at first, he grows more confident as he reads.

“That was so moving for me,” says Charlene when Andrew finishes reading. “I was on the verge of tears from the beginning to the end.”

“Really good,” says Walter, nodding in agreement. “Kind of a fable, but it seemed very real, very true. Just great.”

“I loved it,” says Terry, smiling wide-eyed at Andrew. “I know an editor at The Weekly Blitz who might want to publish it. Can I show it to him?”

“I need to polish it,” says Andrew, overwhelmed by the praise. “But yeah, that would be wonderful.”

“You’re amazing,” says Yvonne, gazing at Andrew as if seeing him for the first time. “Will you read it again to us when you finish polishing?”

“I… yeah,” says Andrew, blushing. “It really helped knowing you were listening. I mean… I read my stories out loud to myself, but it’s not the same as reading to an audience.”

“Same with a song,” says Yvonne, wanting to kiss him. “I always think of the audience as the final ingredient.”

The response to his story from his new family of friends ignites Andrew’s writing fire as nothing ever has and he starts waking early every morning to write for a few hours before doing his farm work or going off to a carpentry job. He writes in the evenings, too, if he’s not going somewhere to hear Yvonne sing or visiting with Cal.

Andrew’s parents offer to fly him home for Christmas, and to please them he flies from Vancouver to San Francisco a few days before Christmas, spends seven days in Redwood City with his mom and dad and brother, sees a few old friends, and flies back to Vancouver in time to attend Charlene and Yvonne’s New Year’s Eve party.

The day before the party, Andrew gets a phone call from the editor of The Weekly Blitz, a guy named Joe Ganz. “We would love to publish The Precipice,” says Joe, his voice deep and gravelly. “I can pay you twenty-five dollars. I know it’s not much, but that’s what we pay for feature stories. And I’d love to see anything else you want to show me. We don’t often publish fiction, but this story fits us to a T.”

Which means the New Year’s Eve party is also a celebration of Andrew’s success, and Yvonne asks him to read The Precipice to the fifty or so party goers, many of them artists and musicians and writers.

“Not tonight,” says Andrew, hating to disappoint her. “I’m feeling shy and I’d rather not be the center of attention. If you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” she says, putting her arms around him. “But I really want you to read that story for everyone. It’s just what we need to hear right now. Please?”

So Andrew agrees, a microphone and amplifier are set up, Yvonne plays a beautiful guitar tune to get everybody’s attention, and exactly an hour before 1970 gives way to 1971, Andrew reads his story to the assembled host.

All the usual clichés apply. You could hear a pin drop. They hang on his every word. Again and again he has to hold for laughs. There isn’t a dry eye in the place. And when he reads the last word of The Precipice, there is a collective gasp and the crowd goes wild.

At midnight there is much hurrahing and hugging and kissing, and when Yvonne and Andrew kiss, they cease to hold back from loving each other, though they do not take the physical loving beyond their kiss.

In the days that follow, Andrew gives himself so entirely to his new life, he forgets all about trying to get into graduate school. He works on the farm, takes the occasional carpentry gig, writes for hours every day, plays music in the evenings with Cal, and he and Yvonne start spending big chunks of time together on Saturdays and Sundays, exploring the city and the coast, and reveling in their friendship which continues to deepen in spite of (or maybe because of) their unspoken agreement not to become lovers.

 ∆

One day in early summer, as the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Canada approaches, Andrew and Yvonne sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs against a driftwood log on a gorgeous beach a few miles north of the farm.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, smiling out at the sparkling sea, “I feel married to you. Yet we are not lovers. Which means…”

“Soul marriages aren’t about sex,” says Yvonne, taking Andrew’s hand. “They might include sex, of course, but they aren’t founded on sex.”

“Do you think if we had sex we’d lose our soul connection?” He frowns. “I wonder if that’s why we haven’t. Because we’re afraid we might.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Our souls will always be connected, even if we never see each other again. But I do think we’re afraid that becoming lovers would complicate things. And it would. Sex always changes everything. Don’t you think?”

“I’ve only been sexually involved with one woman in my life, and we started having sex right from the get go, so there was never any question of changing the relationship with sex.”

“I’ve had a handful of lovers,” she says, sounding somewhat bitter about it, “and in every case, the minute we had sex, even really awful sex, they thought they owned me, as if entering my body gave them dominion over me, and I hate that.”

“I think that’s a primal belief among most humans, don’t you? Claiming each other by having sex. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand why people feel that way. Not just men. It’s not just cultural, it’s biological.”

“It’s learned,” she says, angrily. “Taught to little boys from the day they’re born.”

“What is taught to little boys?”

“That they are superior to girls and should be able to dominate them.” She frowns at him. “You don’t think so?”

“My darling, Evie,” he says, smiling at her. “I have two brilliant older sisters and learned ten thousand times before I was seven that girls are stronger and smarter and more capable than boys in every way except, eventually, in terms of brute strength. And I’ve never liked brutes.”

“So if we become lovers you won’t think I’m your exclusive property?”

“You mean will I be okay with you sleeping with other people?”

“Would you be okay with that?”

“Well the thing is, I wouldn’t want to be in a sexual relationship with you if you want to sleep with other people. But I’d still want to be your friend.”

“How is that not owning me?” She pouts. “You would own the exclusive rights to me sexually if I wasn’t allowed to sleep with other people. Right?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “I just wouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with you. You can sleep with a different person every night if you want. Or two. I just don’t want to be involved in that kind of sexual dynamic with you or anybody. It’s not who I am.”

“Hmm,” she says, pondering this. “Because I really want to make love with you, A, but I can’t promise sexual fidelity.”

“Are you sleeping with anyone now?” he asks innocently. “I won’t mind if you are.”

“I’m not,” she says, pouting again. “I haven’t in over a year. Since a few months before I met you. And every time I’ve been tempted since then, I always think, ‘But I like Andrew so much better than this guy. Why would I ever sleep with this guy if I can sleep with Andrew?’ And then I don’t because I want you instead.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, holding out his arms to her.

They embrace and feel marvelous.

“So let’s make a pact,” she says, kissing his chin. “If we do sleep together and sleeping-together doesn’t last for some reason, we’ll always be friends.”

“Sounds good,” he says doubtfully, “but we can never know in advance if we’ll always be friends. We only know our souls will always be connected, which is not necessarily the same thing as being friends.”

“So how about this,” she says, moving apart from him so she can see his face. “We commit to sexual exclusivity with each other for one year with an option to renew for another year if we both want to.”

“A one-year marriage?” he says, loving everything about her. “Will we live together?”

“Yes. I’ll move into the cottage with you and save oodles not paying rent.”

“But what if we make love…” he says, pausing portentously. “And it’s really bad? Marriage annulled?”

“No,” she says urgently. “If the first time is bad, we have to try to make it better. We have to help each other in every way. Sexually and creatively and emotionally and spiritually.”

“I’m game,” he says, looking into her eyes. “What are you doing tonight?”

She takes a deep breath. “Being with you.”

The morning after their first night together, entangled in Andrew’s bed, Yvonne says, “Laura may have broken your heart, but in the ways of lovemaking she was a very good teacher.”

A few days after becoming Andrew’s lover, Yvonne gives notice she is vacating her apartment at the end of the month and starts moving her things to the farm a carload at a time. What doesn’t fit nicely in the cottage, she stores in the attic of the farmhouse.

After two months of commuting at night to and from the restaurant where she works, Yvonne shifts from supper to lunches so she can spend her evenings with Andrew. She makes less money, but now she’s paying no rent and can gig during the week, and she’s happier than she’s ever been. Ditto Andrew.

 ∆

In October, they borrow Charlene’s car and drive to California to visit Andrew’s folks, after which they continue on to Los Angeles where Amelia, one of Yvonne’s old friends, now lives and has arranged a couple gigs for her.

Much to Andrew’s surprise, Yvonne loves LA, and on the way back to Canada she says she’d like to live there one day.

“What do you like about it?” he asks, much preferring life on the farm in Canada.

“I love the weather, the people, the energy,” she says, gazing out at the passing scenery. “And if I really want to succeed with my music, that’s the place to be.” She turns to him. “If we got married, we’d essentially have joint citizenship and you’d be free of any hassles about living in Canada and I’d be free of any hassles about living in America. So we could live either place. Or both.”

“Is that a proposal?” he asks, deciding not to tell her he hates Los Angeles, the putrid air, the terrifying traffic, the absence of forests and wilderness, the millions of desperate people.

“Something to think about,” she says, kissing him. “I know you love where we live now, but I’ve lived there my whole life and I’m ready for a change.”

Which is why in the summer of 1973, after two years of living together, Andrew and Yvonne part ways, she to pursue her music career in Los Angeles, he to stay in Vancouver and carry on with his writing.

One evening a few months after Yvonne moves to Los Angeles, Andrew and Cal are in Angel Alley having beer and burgers, and they realize they are sitting at the same table where they first met Yvonne and Terry, who is now Cal’s wife.

And their reminiscence about that fateful evening prompts Andrew to say, “You’re the only person who could even begin to understand what I want to tell you.”

“About Yvonne?” asks Cal, knowing Andrew is hurting terribly from his loss of her. “Tell me.”

“You remember how in the beginning I said she was Laura, not in body but in spirit?”

“I remember.”

“Well I continued to feel that way until about a year ago.”

“What changed?”

“Well… I came home one day and she was on the phone with Amelia, and something was different about her. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but she was different. Still sweet and funny and loving and wonderful, but different. And I came to realize she no longer reminded me of Laura. A particular kind of energy I have never been able to describe was gone from her.”

“Yet you still loved her.”

“More than ever.”

“So where do you think the Laura energy went?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Your guess is as good as mine.”         

fin

the song Just Love