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.”