Raul Neves is one of the most famous chefs in the world. Born in the Portuguese coastal city of Aveiro, Raul is the ruggedly handsome son of a fisherman named Goncalo and a waitress named Beatrice. Goncalo was lost at sea when Raul was seven. A year later Beatrice married the owner of the restaurant where she worked, and Raul gravitated to the restaurant kitchen where he proved to be a culinary prodigy.

At fifteen Raul went to work in the kitchen of a fine restaurant in Lisbon, and at seventeen became sous chef in an excellent Paris restaurant. His rise to culinary stardom was only impeded by his uncontrollable temper, and when he was twenty-three his fight with two men in a bar was judged a felonious assault and resulted in Raul serving two years in a French prison.

Upon his release, he returned to Lisbon and underwent a year of intensive psychotherapy, the fruits of which were the cessation of his violent outbursts and a new way of thinking about life. He moved to London, established himself as a premiere chef, and then moved to San Francisco where his spectacular cuisine and his appealing persona made the restaurant estuaire famous and launched Raul’s second career as the paramour of movie actresses.

When Raul was fifty-two his mother died and he became severely depressed. He decided he had to get out of the city, any city, and accepted the offer of a wealthy couple to create a restaurant in the remote northern California coastal town of Mercy, the restaurant to be housed in an exquisitely restored two-story Victorian perched on the headlands overlooking Mercy Bay. That restaurant is the peerless Ocelot, the name coming to Raul in a dream.


On a fine spring day in the middle of May, Raul and the movie star Kristen Carlyle cruise two miles inland in Raul’s new red Tesla up a winding road to Ziggurat Farm, home of Philip and Lisa and Marcel and Andrea. Marcel and Philip are both part-time waiters at Ocelot, and Andrea and Lisa are masters of the Ziggurat Farm organic vegetable and flower garden, source of much of the produce and flowers used by Raul at his restaurant.

Raul and Kristen are going to lunch at the farm—Philip a superb cook, Marcel a maker of exquisite wine, Andrea also a fine cook, Lisa a charming hostess—forty people expected for Nathan’s eighty-fifth birthday party, Nathan’s life deeply entangled with the lives of those who live on the farm.

“What a beauty,” says Kristen, as they turn off the highway onto the farm drive. “Must be worth a fortune.”

Kristen, twenty-eight, a busty brunette known for her steamy sex scenes in violent thrillers, has enjoyed her brief affair with Raul but has no illusions about their liaison lasting much longer.

Raul, who is twice Kristen’s age, has never seen any of Kristen’s seventeen movies because he prefers books to movies, particularly the classics, his current endeavor A Tale of Two Cities.

“This is a farm of beauties,” says Raul, parking amidst the other vehicles. “Beautiful women, beautiful men, beautiful children, beautiful dogs, beautiful cats, beautiful flowers, and incomparable vegetables. I would live here if they’d let me, but I’m afraid to ask for fear they might say No.”

“Are you serious?” asks Kristen, wrinkling her famous nose.

“Always,” says Raul, tired of Kristen after their few days together, their intellects and senses of humor severely mismatched.

“I didn’t know that about you,” she says, thinking she’ll end things with Raul tomorrow or the next day so she can get home to Los Angeles and rest for a couple weeks before a long shoot in New York. “You seem so easy going.”

“I am seriously easygoing,” he says, smiling at her. “Come. Let us go consort with the beauties.”


Raul and Kristen are greeted at their car by a mellow old hound named Jung and a friendly Golden Retriever named Alexandra, the dogs followed by two girls in summery dresses: Vivienne, a darling nine-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair, and Irenia, twelve, her long black hair in a braid festooned with white carnations, her face so lovely to Raul he has to take a deep breath to calm himself every time he sees her.

“Bon jour Raul,” says Vivienne, avidly studying Kristen. “You remember Irenia, don’t you?”

“Of course,” says Raul, bowing to Irenia. “How are you?”

“Very well, thank you,” says Irenia, who is learning to speak in the manner of the children of Ziggurat Farm, their vocabulary and conversational style influenced by years of tutelage from two verbally flamboyant upper crust Brits. “May we perchance know the name of your most attractive companion?”

“This is Kristen,” says Raul, turning to Kristen. “Kristen this is Vivienne and Irenia.”

“Are you British?” asks Kristen, easily fooled.

“Alas, no,” says Vivienne, sighing dramatically as she thinks of Constance and Joseph who moved back to England several months ago. “We are but pale facsimiles.”

“We have come to inform you that hors d’oeuvres and wine and grape juice are being served in the garden,” says Irenia, admiring Kristen’s dangly diamond earrings. “Lunch to follow in the farmhouse.”

So the quartet of humans and the two dogs make their way along the path bordered by lilacs and lavender and rose bushes to the magnificent terraced vegetable and flower garden where the guests are gathered around two picnic tables in the dappled shade of a live oak, most of the women in dresses, most of the men wearing colorful shirts, Marcel and his ten-year-old son Henri playing accordions at a distance from the gathering to add ambience but not interfere with the myriad conversations.

Raul seeks out Andrea, the boss of the garden, and gives her a hug and a kiss before he gestures expansively to the burgeoning vegetables. “I cannot wait to pilfer from this magnificence. My God how things have grown since just last week.”

“I’ve got employees now,” says Andrea, pleased Raul came to her first. “The children all want to work in the garden now that Irenia works for me on weekends.”

“Raul,” says Philip, approaching with Irenia’s father and mother—Boris tall and big-bellied, Maria plump and a foot shorter than he. “I want you to meet Boris and Maria, Irenia’s parents.”

“A pleasure,” says Raul, shaking Boris’s hand, both men large and strong. “I recognize you from the garage. You revived my dying Mercedes and then I sold it and bought a Tesla.”

“Tesla,” says Boris, with a thick Russian accent. “I am just now learning to fix these electric cars. I am trained mechanic not electrician.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” says Raul, bowing to Maria. “May I present to all of you my dear friend Kristen.”

“Hi,” says Kristen, giving everyone a little wave. “This place is amazing.”

“You are movie star,” says Maria, gazing open-mouthed at Kristen. “We just see you in movie with Dylan James.” She looks at Boris. “What was name of movie?”

Madness?” guesses Kristen, having made three movies with Dylan, Madness their latest.

“Yes,” says Boris, emphatically. “Madness. You were… you were…” He frowns, his English vocabulary failing him.

“A psychotic prostitute,” says Kristen, matter-of-factly. “And it wasn’t the first time.”

“Yes, you are crazy person,” says Boris, growing uncomfortable. “Very crazy.”

“Wine?” says Philip, coming to the rescue. “Grape juice? Yummy nibbles, as we call hors d’oeuvres around here? Follow me.”

At the picnic table, Raul kisses Daisy on her forehead, Daisy a curvaceous gal with reddish brown hair in a summery yellow dress holding her two-month-old baby girl Jenna.

“May I?” asks Raul, miming rocking a baby.

“Of course,” says Daisy, carefully placing her baby girl in Raul’s big hands—Raul the reason Daisy and her husband Michael came to Mercy eight months ago, to dine at Ocelot, and now they own the house and property contiguous with the farm and hope to live here for the rest of their lives.

Raul gazes into the eyes of the infant and feels his life turn upside down.


As the fabulous luncheon draws to a close—the revelers seated at four large tables filling the farmhouse dining room and much of the living room—Nathan and Celia’s daughter Calypso stands up and clinks her wine glass with a spoon to ask for silence.

“Now is the time to say whatever you’d like to say to Nathan,” says Calypso, a nurse at Mercy Hospital where she helped deliver the farm children Arturo, Henri, Vivienne, and the new baby Jenna. “I’ll start.”

She turns to Nathan who is sitting at the head of a table with a view of all the guests. “Papa. When I was thinking about what to say today, I remembered when I was sixteen and you got angry with me for taking the car without asking permission. And I realized that was the only time you ever got angry with me. In fifty-two years.” She starts to cry. “You are the kindest person I’ve ever known. Right after Mama.”

When the applause dies down, Celia’s brother Juan, a portly fellow in his seventies, stands up. “Amigo. I want to tell everyone how you hired me to prune trees with you fifty years ago when I really needed a job. We had two little kids and no money and the rent was due. After my first day of work you gave me four hundred dollars and said, ‘This is your signing bonus. I’ll want you to play shortstop and third base.’ So… after you saved us, what could I do? I had to introduce you to my sister.”

When the laughter dies down, Henri stands up.

“Every week,” says Henri, who is ten and not the least flustered by speaking in front of forty people, “the thing Arturo and Vivienne and I look forward to most is going to your house after school to write with you and have piano lessons with Delilah.” He looks at Arturo, who is eleven, and Vivienne, nine. “Now we’d like to recite a poem we wrote for you.”

Vivienne and Arturo join Henri, the trio standing shoulder to shoulder.

Arturo: One day Henri asked you ‘What exactly is a poem?’ and you said exactly is a tricky word, and asked us the question, only without exactly and ending with to you.

Henri: ‘A poem,’ said Arturo, ‘is words telling stories or describing something.’ And you replied, ‘How is that not prose?’

Vivienne: ‘A poem is poetic,’ said Henri. ‘You know. More musical than plain prose and less concerned with punctuation.’

Arturo: Then Vivienne said, ‘Though lines of poems don’t have to rhyme with each other, they usually do inside themselves.’

Vivienne: ‘So maybe,’ you said, smiling your biggest smile, ‘a poem is lines of words sounding sweetly to the poet.’

The children sit down to loud applause, after which Delilah, one of Mercy’s great beauties, her brown hair very short, her green Ziggurat Farm T-shirt tucked into baggy brown trousers, goes to the upright piano at the far end of the living room and says before playing, “Dear Nathan, I could never put into words what you and Celia mean to me, so I thought I’d play the story of meeting you and coming to live with you twelve years ago.”

A virtuoso pianist, Delilah plays three minor chords to begin, expresses the chords again with their separate notes played in quick succession, plays those separate notes again and again until they begin to vary and grow into a rapturous melody supported by an intricate rhythmic pattern of bass notes, the song resolving into single notes and ending with three comically major chords.

Amidst shouts of Bravo, Delilah hurries back to her seat next to Celia who is sitting next to Nathan, and when the applause subsides, Philip stands up and says, “An impossible act to follow, but someone must, so…” He gazes at Nathan and takes a moment to quell his rising tears. “As of today we’ve gotten seventeen good reviews of my cookbook, and nearly all of them use the words poetic and lyrical when speaking of the writing, which is entirely due to your helping me rewrite my original text. You will deny this and say you merely helped me see what was already there, to which I say, ‘No, Nathan, you breathed magic into my words just as you breathe magic into our lives every day.’”


After the many accolades for Nathan, the party continues and Raul leaves Kristen speaking to Delilah and sits down beside Nathan at the dining table.

“I would like to give you a birthday gift of supper at Ocelot for you and Celia and Delilah,” says Raul, who had no idea Nathan was so important to so many people in the community.

“I won’t say no to that,” says Nathan, who is greatly relieved to just be one of the partygoers again and no longer the center of attention. “Philip tells us the food is quite good, and he’s no slouch of a cook.”

“He’s brilliant,” says Raul, enjoying Nathan’s jest. “I can assure you I will steal several things I learned from eating his food today.”

“My wife Celia is quite the cook, too,” says Nathan, his eyes twinkling. “We’ll have you over for chicken enchiladas and fish tacos some time.”

“Nothing would make me happier,” says Raul, taking a deep breath. “May I tell you something that happened to me today?”

“Yeah,” says Nathan, who hears the beginning of a poem that goes something changed him today, something he never expected.

“When I took Daisy’s baby in my hands,” says Raul, feeling he might cry, though he hasn’t cried since he was a young man, “and I looked at her face, she wasn’t seeing me at first, you know, but then she focused on me and our eyes met, and I felt certain I was holding the container of a soul who lived before. And whether this is true or not, in that moment I realized the folly of living alone as I do, save for sexual liaisons that never last, and I felt desperate to find a wife and have a child and live with them until I die.” He laughs incredulously. “Or maybe I’m just losing my mind.”

“Or maybe the universe was showing you what love is,” says Nathan, liking the sound of that.

“And what is love?” asks Raul, his heart pounding in anticipation of Nathan’s reply.

“Love is devotion to the miraculous nature of the other, whether the other is a baby or a tree or a woman or a wave breaking on the shore.”


Three weeks later, on a sunny day in early June, Raul and his assistant Maurice, a large man with a shaved head, are in the vegetable garden at Ziggurat Farm with Andrea seeing what they might harvest for the restaurant today and what will soon be ready to harvest. As they consider the burgeoning broccoli, a small blue pickup truck pulls up to the barn and a woman jumps out and strides to the garden gate.

“Hello,” she calls, her voice deep and confident. “I’m Caroline Darling, Michael’s sister. Daisy said if I missed their driveway, which I apparently did, I should come here and someone would help me find my way to their house.”

“Oh Caroline. Welcome,” says Andrea, turning to Raul and Maurice. “Excuse me a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Raul guesses Caroline is in her thirties, though she is forty, and he finds her enchanting. Tall and athletic with short brown hair, she’s wearing a sleeveless blue T-shirt showing off muscular arms, khaki shorts revealing long muscular legs, and leather sandals—an amazon with only a spear missing from her ensemble.


A few mornings later, Raul comes alone to Ziggurat Farm to get lettuce and eggs and cases of wine for his restaurant. But before he loads his truck with produce, he walks the path to Daisy and Michael’s house to visit baby Jenna as he does every week now in his newly acquired role as Jenna’s godfather.

On the path, he meets Caroline walking with Daisy and Michael’s new Golden Retriever pup on a leash, on their way to the farmhouse where the pup—Figaro—will play with the farm dogs while Caroline has tea with Lisa and Philip.

“Bon jour Caroline,” says Raul, bowing to her before kneeling to receive the puppy’s kisses. “How nice to see you again. Have you joined the collective?”

“At least for the summer,” she says, finding him formidably attractive.

He stands up and looks at her, finding her surpassingly lovely. “And after the summer?”

“Not sure,” she says, wondering if they might have a fling. “Did Daisy tell you I’m on sabbatical from the University of New Hampshire? I’m a botanist. We’re a family of scientists, Michael and I and our brother Thom, our parents entomologists.”

“Insects?” he says, hoping he’s guessing right.

“My mother butterflies,” she says, nodding. “My father beetles.”

“My father was a fisherman, my mother a waitress,” he says, liking everything about her. “Scientists, too, in their own way, and I suppose I am a scientist of food.”

“So I’ve heard,” she says, feeling pleasantly dizzy.

They part ways saying they hope to see each other again, both feeling hopeful of sex with the other.


In the many-windowed living room of Daisy and Michael’s house, Raul sits in a rocking chair holding baby Jenna and listening to Daisy talk about her novel she’s planning to rewrite.

“I wrote three novels before this one,” says Daisy, taking yet another picture of Raul with her baby. “I know the first three were practice and nothing anyone would want to publish, but this one… I think the story is so compelling and…” She frowns. “I don’t know. Something’s missing, something I can’t figure out.”

“Have you shown your book to Nathan?” says Raul, making a goofy face at Jenna and waggling his head to make her gurgle in delight.

“What a good idea,” says Daisy, feeling daft she didn’t think of that.

“I would be happy to read your book, but I know nothing about writing,” says Raul, looking up from the baby. “I dictated my memoir to a writer who concocted the book, and I pay people to write my recipes from my scribbles and then I polish them before they go to the publisher. But you’d better hurry. Nathan is eighty-five. Time does not go backwards.”

“I can’t tell you how happy we are that you’re our friend,” says Daisy, gazing in wonder at Raul. “We came here to eat at Ocelot, and now…”

“Now I am your daughter’s doting godfather,” says Raul, feeling he has finally arrived, to paraphrase Stevie Wonder, exactly where God wanted him to be placed.   


Here Somewhere


About Money and Love

In April, the remote northern California coastal town of Mercy is in an uproar because Tom Holsinger died in a car accident before he could finalize the transfer of his spectacular Fall Creek Ranch to the state to be added to contiguous Egret Estuary State Park, just a mile south of Mercy. And now Tom’s heirs, two sons who were notoriously unhappy in Mercy and moved to Los Angeles thirty years ago to make porno films, have given the town and the state thirty days to buy the 2200 acres of pristine coastline and meadowlands and redwood forest or they’ll sell it to a developer who will log the redwoods and put in a golf course and two hundred condominiums.

Half the town’s twelve hundred residents attend the hastily convened meeting at the Mercy Rec Center, and Ralph Bingham, the unofficial mayor of the town that has no government, runs the meeting.

The first thing Ralph says is, “So… the delightful Holsinger boys want fifty-seven million for the ranch. As of right now we, and by we I mean the town and our local nature conservancy, have four million and the state says they’ll match that, but unless we can come up with another forty-nine million by May 15, we can say goodbye to paradise.”

“What about the county?” someone shouts.

“The county is six hundred million in debt,” says Ralph, shaking his head. “They send best wishes.”

As expected, Cal Fleischman gets up and says, “I golf,” and whatever else he says is drowned out by booing.

Now Morgan Sullivan, a retired hydrologist who moved to Mercy from Iowa four years ago, stands up and says, “Where can they possibly get enough water to sustain a golf course and twenty condos, let alone two hundred? Most of us around here barely have enough water by late summer to flush our toilets every couple days.”

“You’re new here,” says Maggie Fetherston, seventy-seven, a Mercy native who’s been fighting rapacious lumber companies and developers her whole life. “Fall Creek Ranch has miles-deep artesian wells and an aquifer that never goes dry. During the worst droughts you could always buy water from Tom.”

After another hour of collective handwringing, a fundraising committee is formed and the meeting adjourns.

The next morning, Delilah, a lovely young woman who has lived with longtime Mercy residents Nathan and Celia Grayson for eight years now, walks through the town to Maggie Fetherston’s little house overlooking Mercy Bay—Maggie head of the fundraising committee—and tells Maggie she has forty-nine million dollars for them to buy Fall Creek Ranch.

“I’d prefer you say the money is from an anonymous donor,” says Delilah, who is twenty-one, the money all but a million of her inheritance from her recently deceased mother.

“Oh my God,” says Maggie, hugging Delilah. “Oh my loving God.”

So Fall Creek Ranch becomes part of Egret Estuary State Park and life goes on.


In mid-May, Delilah and Lisa and Hilda and Andrea are luxuriating in the big soaking tub in the new bathhouse at Ziggurat Farm, the sliding glass doors open to the cool afternoon, supper an hour away, Lisa and Hilda and Andrea residents of the farm, Delilah a frequent visitor.

The women are speaking about money, their discussion inspired by Delilah giving away most of her inheritance to buy Fall Creek Ranch and save the wild coast from destruction.

“When I was four-years-old in Buenos Aires,” says Lisa, fifty, her antecedents Brazilian Indio, African, and Ashkenazi Jew, “my mother would send me out to beg, and when someone gave me money, I would calculate as the coins fell into my hands how many more pennies I needed to buy a loaf of bread. Then I would close my eyes and wait for an image of someone to come into my mind, and when I saw who they were, I would go beg from them.”

“I thought you grew up in Beverly Hills,” says Delilah, shocked by Lisa’s story.

“I didn’t come to America until I was ten,” says Lisa, who rarely talks about her past. “I was born in the slums of Buenos Aires. I didn’t have shoes until after my mother died and my grandmother, my father’s mother, sent money from America to my aunt, my mother’s sister, and she bought me a pair of sandals to wear on the jet to Los Angeles where my grandparents picked me up at the airport in a big silver Mercedes and took me to their mansion in Beverly Hills where I lived until I was twenty. And every day my grandmother would put money in my purse, two twenty-dollar bills when I was ten and eleven, three twenties when I was twelve, and more and more as I grew older. But no matter how much money she gave me, I always measured the value of everything by the cost of a loaf of bread in Buenos Aires.” She gazes to the north where she can see part of the big vegetable and flower garden where she works every morning before giving her first massage of the day—two ninety-minute massages or three sixty-minute massages her daily limit. “And even now when I’m in the grocery store I’ll look at the price of something and calculate how many loaves of bread I could buy for that much in Buenos Aires when I was a girl.”

Andrea, fifty-one, waits a moment before saying, “My younger brother and I were raised by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and when I was four my grandmother said, ‘It’s time you had a job, Andrea. I’ll pay you a penny every day if you feed the cat and sweep the kitchen after breakfast and supper.’ I’m sure I didn’t do a very good job sweeping, not at first, but she was teaching me to work if I wanted money, and I did want money for candy.”

“Did you live in a house or an apartment?” asks Hilda, who was born in Switzerland eighty-three years ago.

“A one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a seven-story building in a working-class suburb of Hamburg,” says Andrea, ever amazed to think of where she spent the first twenty years of her life. “My grandmother slept in the living room and my brother and I shared the bedroom until I was thirteen, and then my brother slept in the living room and I shared the bedroom with my grandmother until we moved to a two-bedroom apartment in the same building when I was seventeen.”

“Tell us more,” says Delilah, who loves hearing the details of her friends’ lives.

“Well…” says Andrea, slightly embarrassed but enjoying the attention, “when I was six my grandmother arranged for me to go to our elderly neighbor Mrs. Schlesinger for two hours after school every day and fetch things for her while she sat in her living room watching television. Mrs. Schlesinger was in a wheelchair and lived on the first floor of the building and had a little patio with potted plants. I would do my homework at her kitchen table and every now and then she would say, ‘Andrea, a glass of water please,” or ‘Dear could you bring my heating pad from the bedroom.’ And every day I would boil four eggs for her and peel them and salt them and bring them to her in a bowl, and she would gobble them and say, ‘What a good cook you are. Just like your grandmother.’ I would make her instant coffee, too. And for those two hours, Mrs. Schlesinger paid my grandmother the equivalent of sixty cents, until one day she asked me to rub her feet, which I knew how to do because my grandmother, who was on her feet ten hours a day in a hotel kitchen, taught me how to rub her feet, and Mrs. Schlesinger would fall asleep while I rubbed her feet, and sometimes I would fall asleep, too. And then the timer would go off and my two hours were up and I could go home. For the foot rub, she gave me another forty cents, which made a dollar for my two hours. I did that every day after school until I was nine and Mrs. Schlesinger died and my grandmother found another invalid, Mrs. Wagner, for me to help. She lived in a house with a garden and paid me two dollars for those two hours and had me water her plants and make her simple food. And I never kept a penny because my grandmother needed what I earned to help pay the rent.”

“By contrast,” says Hilda, who lives in the new cottage adjacent to the bathhouse, “I’ve always had plenty of money. My father was a successful architect, my mother a professor of Economics. I had an older brother, and whenever he or I wanted money for any reason our parents would give us however much we needed. I knew there were many poor people in the world, but my own experience was of endless plenty. I was a good student, went to university, travelled for a year after completing my undergraduate studies, went to graduate school in Psychology, and made a good salary even as an intern. I married when I was twenty-seven, my husband a decade older than I. He was a structural engineer and a wonderful person. We moved to Berkeley when I was thirty, bought our lovely home, converted the garage into my consulting chamber, as my husband called my office, and my practice was full in no time. Not for a day in my life have I worried about money, nor has Tamara. She was a star student from kindergarten through college and graduate school, became a professor and had the first play she ever wrote produced. And now she has seven plays in the contemporary repertoire being produced all the time, so I’ve never worried about her regarding money. I know we are the beneficiaries of good luck, but nevertheless our experience formed our relationship to money, which is that there is always enough for what we need.”

Andrea looks at Delilah. “How are you feeling now that you’ve given away your fortune?”

“I feel fine,” says Delilah, growing serious. “I still have a million dollars in the bank, which I’m saving for anything Nathan and Celia might need before they die. I have twelve piano students now and my drawings are selling quite well at the Fletcher Gallery, and I still get residuals now and then for incidental music I composed for three of my mother’s movies, so I’m not worried, though until I moved in with Nathan and Celia, I worried about money all the time, as did my mother, though she was incredibly wealthy.”

“Don’t you want to buy a house?” asks Andrea, for whom owning a house is most important.

“Not until Nathan and Celia are gone,” says Delilah, shaking her head. “I’m very happy living with them.”

“Why do you think your mother was so insecure about money when she had so much?” asks Andrea, who barely knew her own mother.

“My mother grew up in a series of foster homes and most of her foster families were very poor,” says Delilah, recalling her beautiful mother. “I don’t think she ever recovered from that, and no amount of money could heal her.”

“Money isn’t love,” says Lisa, shaking her head. “Only love heals us.”

“Yes,” says Andrea, nodding solemnly, “but I hope you won’t give all your money away, Delilah, because even though money can’t heal us, it’s very hard to love anyone, including yourself, when you don’t have a place to live and you’re cold and hungry.”

“I know,” says Delilah, smiling at Andrea. “I’ll do my best to save the rest. I promise.”


The discussion about money continues in the farmhouse after supper and the dishes are done and the kids have gone to bed.

“My father was a waiter in small restaurant and my mother worked in a bakery,” says Marcel, Andrea’s husband, fifty-four, his French accent still pronounced.

“In Lyon?” asks Hilda, sharing the largest sofa in the living room with Lisa and Delilah.

“Oui,” says Marcel, putting a log on the fire and looking to see if anyone needs more wine or tea. “We lived on the second floor of a five-story apartment building and my older brother and I attended a nearby school that was solid working class kids. Both of us expected to get jobs similar to our parents, but my father had other plans. He was obsessed with soccer and worshiped our home team Olympique Lyonnais, known simply as Lyon, a great team. He decided my brother and I should be professional soccer players and started training us as soon as we started school. He told us many times that playing soccer was our job, and he had no sense of humor about this. None.”

“And you became a great soccer player,” says Andrea, gazing fondly at her husband.

“Well, I did,” says Marcel, going to fetch more wine. “My brother was not fast enough, but I was quick to the ball, you know, and when I was sixteen I signed a contract with Lyon to play for their junior team and did so well Barcelona took me in a trade involving several players, but before I could go to Barcelona I tore my Achilles and that ended my career. So I became a waiter like my father.” He returns with a bottle of wine and refreshes a few glasses. “And the way things are going, I may soon be a waiter again, though I have very much enjoyed my hiatus from the tables.”

“Do you worry about money?” asks Delilah, who often fantasizes about moving to the farm after Nathan and Celia are no longer alive.

“No,” says Marcel, shaking his head. “My parents taught me if you are willing to work hard, enough money can be made, so that is my view of life. My father worked until he was eighty, my mother until she was seventy-two. Life is work. Work is life.”

Philip, fifty-seven, slender and handsome, his black hair just now turning gray, nods in agreement. “Yes, work is life and life is work, and for the last two years I’ve been working in the garden, doing farm chores, cooking, writing the cookbook with Andrea, and taking care of the children. Barring a huge success with the cookbook, I will soon be a waiter again, and I’m okay with that, though I would rather not.” He smiles at Delilah. “My mother used to say, ‘We always find ways to survive or we die,’ and I have always found that helpful when I worry about running out of money, which I never have, though I’ve come close a few times.”

“I think your cookbook will be a great success,” says Lisa, getting up from the sofa. “And now I must go to bed so I can give two massages in the morning so we don’t run out of money.”

“My bedtime, too,” says Andrea, looking at Marcel. “We have a long walk home.”

“An arduous five minutes,” says Marcel, giving Andrea a hand up from the comfortable armchair.


In the morning, Philip drives the kids to Mercy Montessori, Arturo in the front seat, Vivienne and Henri in the back seat—Arturo in Third Grade, Vivienne and Henri in Second.

“After school today,” says Philip, driving slowly down the winding road through the forest to the coast, “Nathan will come get you and walk with you to his house for snacks and your piano lessons. I’ll come get you at four.”

“I’d like to start taking guitar lessons, Papa,” says Arturo, pursing his lips as he does when discussing serious matters. “So we can have a band.”

“To play at weddings and birthday parties,” says Henri, who is learning to play the accordion from his father. “Papa says wedding gigs are quite lucrative.”

“I’m torn between violin and guitar,” says Vivienne, her brow knitted. “Too bad pianos weigh so much or I could play piano in the band.”

Philip ponders this new development and says, “Or maybe you could all learn accordion from Marcel and have an accordion band.”

“No,” says Arturo, shaking his head. “One accordion is enough.”

“I love violins,” says Vivienne, plaintively, “but with a guitar I’ll be more free to sing.”

“Have you told Delilah you’re giving up the piano?” asks Philip as they arrive at the school where many other kids are arriving in cars driven by grownups.

“Oh we’re not giving up the piano,” says Arturo, making a don’t-be-ridiculous face and shaking his head. “Piano gives us an excellent musical foundation.”

“I’ll never give up the piano,” says Vivienne, dramatically. “I love taking lessons from Delilah. I live to take lessons from her.”

“And you Henri?” asks Philip, getting out to walk with the kds into the schoolyard. “Will you keep taking piano lessons?”

“Of course,” says Henri, sounding just like his father. “It’s all about the keyboard.”


That night, climbing into bed, Philip asks Lisa, “Where did our children learn to speak as they do? They’ve never seen television or gone to the movies, never been on a computer, and we only recently took them to their first play. Nor do they speak as we do. They sound like sophisticated adults.”

“Have you ever listened to Delilah telling them a story?” asks Lisa, laughing. “And acting out all the parts? Or watched them hanging on every word of the very British Richardsons? Or heard them discussing the poems they write with Nathan? Or seen them entranced by Hilda and Tamara and Celine talking about anything?”

“I have,” says Philip, wrapping his arms around her. “You think that’s it? Our verbose and dramatic friends?”

“And you reading them Wind in the Willows and The Prince and the Pauper, and doing all the voices and accents.” Lisa closes her eyes and breathes deeply of his scent. “And lately you’ve been a marvelous Sherlock Holmes.”

“I don’t ever want them to leave us,” he says, the thought of life without the children unbearable to him.

“Don’t worry,” she whispers. “Just love them.”


Always Love


Three Dog Farm

The eight acres and two houses and the big redwood barn and several other outbuildings owned by Philip and Lisa and Andrea and Marcel are exactly two miles inland as the crow flies from the northern California coastal burg of Mercy; and because of that distance from the ocean and their elevation of five hundred feet, those eight acres enjoy more sun most days than Mercy.

 In early August, a letter from Grandma Hilda confirms that she and Auntie Tamara and Auntie Celine are going to rent a beach house in Mercy for October and November, which means they’ll be here for Vivienne’s fifth birthday on October 22 and for Thanksgiving. By the time they arrive, Arturo will have begun Second Grade and both Henri and Vivienne will be in First Grade because the wise ones at Mercy Montessori have agreed it would be silly for Vivienne to undergo kindergarten given how she learns everything from Henri and Arturo moments after either of them learn anything.

This past February, when the large sum of money bequeathed to Lisa by her paternal grandmother became a reality in their account at Mercy Savings, Philip and Marcel, both in their mid-fifties, took leave of their jobs as waiters at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican, and Marcel became a four-days-a-week carpenter assisting the Ramirez brothers, general contractors, who are building a spacious five-room cottage and bath house a stone’s throw from Philip and Lisa’s farmhouse, and beginning next spring they will add a third bedroom and a second bathroom to the farmhouse while expanding and remodeling the kitchen, dining room, and living room.

Philip sometimes works with the builders, too, but most summer days he collaborates with the children in the morning while Andrea, who just turned fifty, and Lisa, forty-nine, are otherwise engaged. When school is in session, Philip oversees the kids in the afternoons until five, after which he combines preparing supper with working on the yet-to-be-named sequel to his first cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook, with frequent assistance from Andrea.

In April, Dunwood Roofers removed the five idiotically juxtaposed roofs from Marcel and Andrea’s house and replaced the leaky conglomeration with a single modestly slanting and well-insulated roof featuring seven large skylights that admit copious sunlight into the house and not a drop of water when it rains.

Andrea is steadily expanding the deer-fenced vegetable and flower garden from a half-acre to three-quarters-of-an-acre with help from Lisa and Philip and the children—raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, and greatly expanded garlic beds the latest additions to the garden.

A new and spacious predator-proof chicken coop, home to twenty-seven prolific hens, is now attached to the south end of the recently refurbished barn, and inside the cavernous barn resides a handsome array of twenty 25-gallon oak wine barrels soon to be filled with juice of wine grapes brought to the coast from an inland vineyard, those grapes to be stomped into juice by members of the collective and friends, Marcel to oversee the fermentation process and eventual bottling.

Discussions abound regarding what to call the winery and eight-acre farm. Marcel and Philip have lately campaigned for Andrea Lisa, while Andrea thinks having Mercy in the name would enhance sales of the hypothetical wine to tourists who buy her produce at the Mercy Farmers Market, and Lisa has several times touted the word she learned from Auntie Tamara, anagnorisis, which means the moment in a drama when the protagonist discovers the true state of affairs to which he or she has been blind, though Lisa admits the word does not roll trippingly off the tongue, nor does anagnorisis harmonize well with winery or farm.

Henri and Arturo are zealous advocates of Three Dog Farm, and Vivienne likes that name, too, but worries they might one day have more or fewer than three dogs and then the name won’t be true.


Grandma Hilda is not biologically the children’s grandmother, but in emotional and spiritual terms she most certainly is. Eighty-two, Swiss, tall and sturdy with long silvery gray hair worn in a braid, Hilda is a retired Jungian psychoanalyst and has lived in Berkeley, California for fifty years, and is now considering a move to Mercy. Her only child, Tamara, Auntie Tamara to the children, is forty-seven, a very successful playwright and professor of Drama at Reed College in Portland, and Tamara’s partner Auntie Celine is fifty-two, a professor of African-American History at Reed, Celine herself African-American.

Philip met Hilda when he was a waiter at the famed Le Scélérat in Berkeley and served her every Wednesday evening for nine years before she joined his small circle of friends away from the restaurant. Hilda adores Philip and Lisa and Andrea and Marcel, and in the absence of biological grandchildren of her own, she has enthusiastically assumed the role of grandmother vis-à-vis Arturo, Vivienne, and Henri. Much to everyone’s delight, Hilda has come to stay at the farm several times a year since the collective moved here seven years ago.


On a balmy afternoon in late August, the kids are playing outside before supper, Lisa watching them while reclining in the hammock on the kitchen deck and falling asleep reading a collection of Edith Wharton short stories. Philip and Andrea are in the kitchen making the latest iterations of three of Philip’s recipes for his new cookbook—tonight’s main course cod fillets slow-simmered in a sauce of lemon juice, white wine, minced garlic, coconut milk, and various herbs and spices. And Marcel is sitting at the kitchen table with an old landline phone, tapping in the number for Oak Leaf Vineyards, a forty-five-minute drive inland from Mercy.

“Hello Marie? It’s Marcel Léandre calling from Mercy. I spoke to you a few weeks ago and you said I should call you today to find out when the picking will begin.” He listens. “I see. Yes. We intend to buy enough pinot noir grapes to make two hundred and fifty gallons, and enough cabernet also for two hundred and fifty gallons. Yes. Two tons of the pinot and two tons of the cab.” He nods. “Yes, we will have you deliver the grapes to our farm near Mercy. And we would love to come watch some of the harvesting and perhaps pick a few bunches ourselves.” He reacts in surprise. “The first of September? And how long will the harvest continue?” He laughs. “Yes, I made wine with my father in France for many years, so I know a little bit.” He smiles. “Marvelous. We will come to you on September seven at nine o’clock and pick some grapes and then lead the truck back here.” He listens. “Yes, of course we will pay you before we come. We are told your grapes are the finest and we don’t want to lose our chance.” He listens. “Perfect. We will send you a check tomorrow. Merci.”

“The seventh of September?” says Andrea, looking up from chopping garlic.

“Yes,” says Marcel, laughing to keep from crying. “Two weeks from today.”

“Fantastic,” says Philip, tending three pans on the stove, each concoction timed by a separate timer. “Let’s open a bottle of something to celebrate.”

“Something white,” says Andrea, giving Marcel a kiss when he comes into the kitchen.

“I can’t believe it,” says Marcel, crying despite his best efforts not to.

Andrea hands him a bottle of a dry chardonnay, Marcel opens the bottle with the ease of one who has opened thousands of bottles in front of countless customers, and when they each have a glass in hand, Philip proposes a toast. “To the harvest.”

“To the harvest,” says Marcel, raising his glass.

“To the harvest,” says Andrea, clinking her glass with both of theirs.

Now the door flies open and Vivienne runs in, declaiming, “Will someone please give me a glass of water before I perish?”

Philip obliges her and a moment later Henri appears with Arturo right behind him followed by the little dog Goliath and the giant dog Jung.

“We’re very hungry,” says Arturo, remembering not to use the word starving that makes his mother cross. “And Mama said to ask for something to eat that won’t ruin our appetites for supper.”

“Apples,” says Andrea, choosing two big red Fujis. “Please wash your hands in the bathroom. No room in the kitchen right now.”

The boys rush down the hall to the bathroom, Vivienne following, and Philip bows his head and says, “A moment of prayer. Lisa cleaned the bathroom today. May they not entirely destroy her good work.”

Marcel laughs. “Henri has no difficulty turning the water on, but he has an aversion to turning it off, and his drying technique is more mime than actual.”

“Oui,” says Philip, nodding. “Arturo believes towels belong on the floor and someone must have made a mistake by draping them over the bar, and he feels compelled to make things right.”

The children return and Arturo says, “You may be surprised to know we turned off the water, dried our hands very well, and hung up the towel.”

“I beg your pardon,” says Philip, bowing to his son. “When you’ve eaten your snack, would one of you please inform Lisa the adults are having wine, and salad will be served shortly.”

“I’ll tell her,” says Henri, taking a few apple slices with him. “She’s asleep in the hammock.”

“I’ll come, too,” says Vivienne, following Henri.

Arturo stays at the table, gobbling his pieces of apple, and Marcel says to him, “We’re going to the vineyard in two weeks to get four tons of grapes. Can you believe it?”

“For Three Dog Farm wine?” says Arturo, nodding in agreement with the name he and Henri have chosen.

“Yes, for the wine,” says Marcel, ruffling Arturo’s hair. “Whatever we end up calling it.”

“Well we are a farm,” says Arturo, still very hungry and wondering if he should eat a banana. “And we do have three dogs. And people love dogs and farms, so it’s a very good name.”

Lisa comes in with Henri and Vivienne, Andrea hands Lisa a glass of wine, and Marcel says to Lisa, “I just ordered the grapes. We go to the vineyard in two weeks. Can you believe it?”

“I can,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “To the harvest.”


That night Philip dreams he and Vivienne enter a bookstore and Vivienne runs to a table displaying new books and says, “Your new book is here! Can you believe it?”

In the dream, Philip approaches the table and sees his cookbook, the title Three Dog Farm Cookbook, the cover illustration a beautiful drawing of their three dogs, Goliath the little mutt, Mimi the Golden Retriever, and Jung the giant hound, sitting at a table laden with food, each dog believably holding a glass of wine.


The grape-crushing party takes place on September 9, a Saturday, and of the forty people present for the barbecue and barefoot stomping of the grapes, twenty-five are members of the Ramirez clan, the Ramirez brothers building the cottage and bath house, which means there are several Latino kids playing soccer with Arturo and Henri and Vivienne, and a half-dozen beautiful black-haired women with babies and husbands.

Among the neighbors in attendance are Nathan, a white-haired elder with whom Andrea consults about growing vegetables and fruit, Celia, Nathan’s charming Latina wife, Delilah, Nathan and Celia’s lovely nineteen-year-old housemate, Joseph Richardson, a sixty-something British landscape painter who has made three gorgeous paintings of Andrea’s terraced garden with members of the collective posed therein, a fourth such painting underway starring Andrea and Vivienne amidst the sunflowers, and Constance Richardson, Joseph’s sixty-something wife and the author of dozens of popular murder mysteries written under the pen name Margaret Orland.

As frequently happens these days, the discussion turns to names for the farm and winery, and Oscar, the eldest Ramirez brother, suggests Locura Divina, which translates to Divine Madness.

Joseph, happily drunk, responds to Oscar’s suggestion by standing up and applauding.

“I love that name,” says Philip, smiling at Oscar, “except we are hoping the name of the winery will also be the name of the farm.

“Ah no,” says Oscar, shaking his head. “A good name for wine, but not for a farm.”

“The kids want to call it Three Dog Farm,” says Marcel, going from table to table to see if anyone needs more wine or beer or root beer. “And though I didn’t like that name at first, I’m growing fond of it.”

“Well it is true,” says beautiful Delilah, returning from a stint in the soccer game and sitting beside Celia. “You have three darling dogs, and I could draw you an enchanting picture of them sitting at a table drinking wine, should you want a label for your bottles.”

“What did you just say?” asks Philip, having been distracted by Vivienne angrily whispering to him that Arturo was making fun of her minimal soccer skills in front of the Ramirez children.

“I said I could draw you a lifelike picture of your three dogs sitting at a table,” she says, gesturing to the table laden with food, “drinking wine from sparkling goblets.”

“I dreamt about that very picture two weeks ago,” says Philip, astonished. “And I’m sure I didn’t tell anyone because I only just now remembered.” He turns to Lisa. “Or did I tell you that dream?”

“No. You only tell me your sex dreams,” she says, and everybody laughs.

When the laughter dies down, Philip says to Delilah, “I would like to commission you to make that drawing for me, whatever your fee.”

“My fee for you is absolutely nothing,” says Delilah, making room for Vivienne beside her on the bench.

Vivienne whispers something to Delilah, which causes Constance to ask, “What did the little darling say?”

“She’s concerned they might not always have three dogs,” says Delilah, speaking for Vivienne, “and then the name Three Dog Farm would not be true.”

“Names of farms and titles of books need not be literally true,” says Constance, giving Vivienne a wrinkled-nose smile, “but should evoke pleasing images in our minds, which Three Farm Dogs does.”

“Not Three Farm Dogs,” says Vivienne, laughing. “Three Dog Farm.”

“Yes, but I like Three Farm Dogs,” says Marcel, excitedly. “Three Farm Dogs Wine has a nice earthy ring to it. No?”

“Locura divina,” says Oscar, pointing at Marcel.

And everybody laughs.


On Saturday, October 22, her fifth birthday, Vivienne wakes at dawn, which is her habit, Arturo still fast asleep in his bed on the other side of their bedroom. She gets up quietly, takes off her pajamas and puts on the clean T-shirt, underpants, and socks her mother set on the chair at the foot of her bed last night, dons her green sweatshirt and blue jeans, and tiptoes out of the bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen where she always finds either her father or mother or both of them making coffee.

But today no one is in the kitchen, which is curious, because she was sure she heard one or both of them pass by the kids’ bedroom, which means they’ve gone outside, perhaps to check on the chickens to make sure no varmint got into the coop during the night. Or could they still be in bed?

She tiptoes down the hallway, peers into her parents’ bedroom, sees the bed is made, and returns to the kitchen where she usually has cocoa while her parents have coffee, but they are still not here. So she goes to the kitchen door, puts on her shoes, and steps out onto the deck, the morning cold and cloudy.

Fearing to wake her brother who can be terribly cranky if woken before seven, she does not call out to her parents. However, seeing the barn door ajar and thinking they might be visiting the barrels of wine as they sometimes do, she heads for the barn.

But now it occurs to her that the dogs have not appeared to say good morning and go with her wherever she might be going, and this makes her stop and frown and wonder where the dogs and her parents could possibly be.

And now it occurs to her that her parents might have gone to the beach and taken the dogs with them and not taken me!

Furious to think they might have gone to the beach without her, she breaks into a run, arrives at the barn, and peers into the dark cavernous room, her eyes needing a moment to adjust to the dim light before she sees her mother and father and Marcel and Andrea and Henri at the far end of the barn beyond the wine barrels, the three dogs with them.

“What’s going on around here?” asks Vivienne with a touch of anger in her voice.

At which moment, breaking away from the gathering of humans and dogs, is an excessively cute Golden Retriever puppy who toddles toward Vivienne barking a happy puppy bark as Vivienne swoops down upon the only thing she wanted for her birthday.


“The name we give to the place where we live can be as revealing as any dream,” says Hilda, a few evenings after Vivienne’s birthday, the children reluctantly gone to bed, the adults gathered in the farmhouse living room, a fire blazing in the hearth.

Nathan and Celia and Delilah came for supper along with Hilda and Tamara and Celine, and the living room is just big enough to comfortably fit the ten adult humans, three dogs, three cats, and the snoozing puppy who Vivienne immediately and inexplicably named Alexandra.

“The children have now decided our farm is not a dog farm,” says Marcel, adding a log to the fire and looking to see if anyone needs more tea or wine. “But a cat and dog farm, because we have more cats than dogs.”

“The children will be fine with whatever you call the farm,” says Tamara, who has a habit of stating her opinions as facts, a habit that annoys Lisa, amuses Andrea, has no effect on Marcel, and always makes Philip think how to refute her until he realizes he agrees with her.

“I think of Wittgenstein,” says Delilah, who is currently enthralled with linguistics and philosophy. “What is the meaning of the meaning of a word?”

“The last time I bought wine,” says Nathan, who doesn’t drink alcohol but buys wine for Celia and friends, “I found myself hunting for intriguing names and I almost spent forty bucks on a bottle of cabernet called, I kid you not, Spiritual Intrigue, but Miguel the wine guy said, ‘Basura. Try this instead,’ and handed me a bottle called Decent Red, and Celia said it was.”

“So what did you mean, Delilah?” asks Hilda, who finds Delilah a continuous source of delight. “By evoking Wittgenstein?”

“Well for instance, he asks us to consider what we think when we hear the word chair,” says Delilah, pausing briefly to allow anyone who wants to follow her train of thought to get on board. “And he suggests we don’t think of a specific chair when we hear chair, but rather of chairness.”

“Wittgenstein,” says Nathan, recalling the numbing effect of the fellow’s philosophizing, “is one of the reasons I dropped out of college.”

“I once screamed at a page of his words trying to understand him,” says Celine, nodding in sympathy with Nathan. “Come out from behind those tangled thoughts, you coward.”

“He can be rather abstruse,” says Delilah, shrugging. “Yet he amuses me.”

“So is he saying that by using the word dog,” asks Philip, who knows nothing about Wittgenstein, “we are asking people to think of an archetypal shape of a dog? A symbol of a dog?”

“Yes,” says Delilah, who only just a few days ago was kissed by someone, really kissed, for the first time. “He says our brains translate words into schemata. And it seems to me, your opinions of Wittgenstein notwithstanding, that a person hearing the word dog, either thinks of a generalized concept of dog or of their most well-remembered dog.”

“The problem I have with putting dog in the name of our farm,” says Andrea, who would love to talk about anything else, “is when many people hear the word dog, they think of dog shit.”

Everyone laughs and the subject blessedly changes.


As the gathering draws to a close, Celia nudges Nathan. “Recite your new poem, marido.”

“Please,” says Tamara, she and Celine seriously considering leaving academia and moving to Mercy to live among these wonderful people in this wildly beautiful place.

“Okay,” says Nathan, clearing his throat. “But only because it’s short.” He closes his eyes. “I remember playing Capture the Flag in our neighborhood as a boy, how in the daylight, the game and strategies were clear. At dusk, who was who began to be in doubt, shirtless boys in shorts and girls who might be each other, and that’s when stealth and luck could bring victory as darkness fell and the mothers called for us to come home for supper.”


A few days before Thanksgiving, the lowering clouds about to loose their gift of rain upon the thirsty earth, Tamara is working with Andrea in the vegetable garden, mulching the garlic beds.

Tamara stops slinging compost and says, “I just love how you terraced this garden, the wide gradual steps. From a distance, the climb up the hillside was almost imperceptible before you began to clear the beds.” She smiles at Andrea who she is secretly in love with. “Reminds me of my play Ziggurat in which Philip appears as a waiter.”

“I love that play,” says Andrea, taking a moment to contemplate her garden ascending the gently sloping hill. “We made a special trip to see it last year at Berkeley Rep and stayed with Hilda.”

“She told me,” says Tamara, beaming at Andrea. “She’s madly in love with your children.”

“And they are madly in love with her,” says Andrea, who still occasionally expects to wake and find herself childless and trapped with Marcel in a little apartment on a fog-bound avenue in San Francisco.

“I should give Philip a percentage of my residuals,” says Tamara, she and Celine now certain they want to move to Mercy. “His notes on the restaurant scenes made all the difference.”

“Oh my God,” says Andrea, looking wide-eyed at Tamara as the rain begins to fall. “Ziggurat. What a perfect name for our farm and winery.”


Mystery Jump


Almost Fifteen

This story springs from the previously posted Nathan and Del stories, and might also be titled Nathan and Del Part Five. Almost Fifteen may be enjoyed without resort to the first four parts of the saga, though reading the previous episode Constance and Joseph will likely enhance your enjoyment of Almost Fifteen.

Delilah was born on October 5, 2010 to the movie star Margot Cunningham. About to turn fifteen, Delilah has lived in the remote California coastal town of Mercy with Nathan, seventy-five, and Nathan’s wife Celia, sixty-nine, for a year and a half.

A musical prodigy and an excellent artist, her favorite medium pen and ink, Delilah is not only madly in love with Nathan and Celia, she loves living in Mercy where she takes Jazz and Afro Cuban dance at the rec center, goes on long walks in the forest and on the beach with Nathan and Celia and their dog Tennyson, practices the piano, composes music, has painting lessons from Joseph Richardson, their neighbor, learns French and Greek Mythology from Constance Richardson, Joseph’s wife, helps Nathan with his occasional pruning jobs, grows vegetables and cooks meals with Celia and Nathan, babysits Carlos, Celia and Nathan’s four-year-old grandson, studies poetry with Nathan, and has two delightful friends about her age, Beverly and Josh.

Margot is forty-six now and has not returned to Mercy since she handed Delilah over to Nathan and Celia, a miraculous happening Margot did not foresee when she and Delilah fled their townhouse in Manhattan to escape the prying eyes of millions and make a life for Delilah in this remote part of the world.

Since Delilah’s infancy, Margot has never lived with her daughter for more than a few weeks at a time, a few times a year, and she has depended entirely on nannies to raise her only child. And though Margot is devoted to Delilah, she prefers to live alone, being entirely consumed by her work and her addiction to sex.

But every year, Margot makes it a priority to be with Delilah in-person for Delilah’s birthday, which is why in the midst of work on a billion-dollar sci-fi epic Margot flies from London to San Francisco, and on October 2, Delilah and Nathan and Celia make the long drive from Mercy to San Francisco to join Margot in her suite at the Fairmont Hotel—a lavish lunch to be the centerpiece of their visit.


Our trio leaves Mercy at six in the morning in Celia’s little blue twenty-two-year-old Toyota station wagon, Celia driving for the first two hours, Nathan taking over when they arrive on the edge of the urban sprawl. Two more hours of navigating heavy traffic in the megalopolis brings them to the Fairmont in the heart of San Francisco where they leave the little car in the care of a valet, and a punctilious hotel manager guides them to Margot’s suite on the twenty-ninth floor.

Margot, stunning in a silky burgundy shirt and black trousers, her dark blonde hair in a ponytail, greets her daughter with a long hug, and surprises herself by bursting into tears when Celia gently embraces her.

“What’s wrong with me?” says Margot, pulling away from Celia. “So emotional today. Sorry. Excuse me while I go wash my face.”

Nathan and Celia and Delilah enter the large sitting room and Delilah plays a desultory run of notes on the Steinway grand Margot had brought in for the occasion.

“To think I lived in this crazy place for ten years,” says Nathan, standing at the big picture window and looking down on the maze of streets and buildings. “Wouldn’t last a week here now.”

“Here we are,” says Margot, rejoining them, her makeup made new. “Quite a view, isn’t it?”

“Breathtaking,” says Celia, finding the city overwhelming.

“I was hoping you’d play something for us, Del,” says Margot, putting her arm around Delilah. “You mentioned in your letter you were writing a nocturne.”

“I finished it,” says Delilah, wondering why she feels so oppressed being here when always before she was so happy reuniting with her mother. “In fact, I’m going to perform it at the opening of Joseph’s show of his new paintings at the Fletcher Gallery in Mercy.”

“Who else has art in the show?” asks Celia, looking at Delilah and arching an eyebrow.

“I do,” says Delilah, sheepishly. “Some drawings and two small paintings.”

“Oh, darling, that’s wonderful,” says Margot, giving Delilah a little squeeze. “Send me pics, okay? I’d love to see your new drawings. Maybe I’ll buy some and give them as Christmas gifts.”

“Okay,” says Delilah, realizing for the first time in her life how deeply sad her mother is. “It’s so good to see you.”

“So good to see you, too,” says Margot, though in truth she hardly recognizes Delilah—the cute girl she knew become a beautiful young woman now.


Following a sumptuous luncheon, Delilah performs her nocturne, a jazzy moody piece influenced by the Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderly records she found in Nathan’s collection and listened to dozens of times.

“Oh we must record you,” says Margot, applauding at the end. “You’re incredible, darling. Next time I’m in Malibu, we’ll fly you down and get you into the studio with Larry and Karl and that nine-foot Steinway you love.”

“Actually,” says Delilah, getting up from the piano, “Constance and Joseph have a magnificent piano and we know a recording engineer in Mercy who’s going to set up microphones in their living room and I’ll record bunches of things.”

“A fabulous room of resonant redwood,” says Nathan, nodding to affirm the excellent recording facilities in Mercy.

“Fine,” says Margot, sounding a bit deflated. “But if that doesn’t work out, we’ll get you in with Larry and Karl.”

“Okay Mom,” says Delilah, forcing a smile. “Sounds good.”


Saying their goodbyes in the early afternoon, Margot hands Delilah an envelope and kisses her on the cheek. “Happy birthday, darling. A little fun money for you.”

“Thanks Mom,” says Delilah, hugging Margot and hanging on for a good long time. “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” says Margot, smiling brightly at Nathan and Celia. “So glad to know things are going so well. Speaking of which…” She pulls away from Delilah and hands Nathan an envelope. “A little extra thank you.”

“Not necessary,” says Nathan, uneasy about accepting her gift. “The monthly stipend you provide is more than adequate.”

“Oh take it,” says Margot, offering the envelope to Celia. “It’s not much and I’m so grateful to you.”

Celia takes the envelope and says, “Thank you, Margot. You’re very generous.”

She shrugs. “No one should have as much money as I do.”


On the homeward leg of their journey, our trio stops for supper at the famous Bouffe in Sonoma, their meal gratis because Nathan’s ode to Celia her fingers are geniuses is the frontispiece of the restaurant’s permanent menu.

her fingers are geniuses just look at them go making

guacamole and salsa and refried beans and tomato

rice and juicy chicken enchiladas you can’t tell me

her digits aren’t possessed of formidable brains

and unique personalities as she simultaneously

talks to her daughter and flirts with me saying,

“Put another log on the fire, marido,” just

look at those fingers go with such fearless grace

wielding knives and spoons amidst the blazing

casserole and red hot pans and steaming pots and

I the lucky recipient of their divine ministrations.

“This food,” says Delilah, her gloom abating as they dine center table in the big airy restaurant, “comes close to how we cook at home, whereas lunch at the hotel today was way too creamy and buttery and overcooked, don’t you think?”

“Ultra-rich food for the ultra-rich,” says Nathan, though Bouffe is full of people willing to pay three hundred dollars for supper for two.

“I love this parsley pesto,” says Celia, her eyelids fluttering as she takes a bite of spaghetti doused in the glorious green goo. “Perfect balance of garlic and olive oil and parsley.”

Delilah dips her fork in the pesto on Celia’s plate, tastes, ruminates, and declares, “Might want a tiny bit more lemon juice. But it is excellent.”

They are joined by Michael Devine, the handsome owner/chef of Bouffe, his emergence from the kitchen bringing applause from those who recognize him from his books and his cooking show on YouTube.

“With your permission,” Michael says to Nathan, “I would love to introduce you as the author of your now famous poem. Did you notice we made a poster version? Selling like hotcakes. I’ll have you sign some, if you don’t mind. I’m keeping track of sales, of course, and we’ll send you your share every quarter.”

“Not necessary,” says Nathan, laughing at himself for turning down money for the second time today. “But we’ll take it. And, yes, you may introduce me.”

Michael picks up an empty wine glass, taps the crystal four times with a spoon, and the audience of seventy falls mostly silent.

“Good evening, my friends,” says Michael, his voice pleasantly booming. “It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to the poet Nathan Grayson, author of the poem we are privileged to use as the preface to our menu.”

Loud applause greets Nathan as he stands and bows, his hand seeking Celia’s shoulder lest he fall.


“I haven’t been this tired since I worked for a living,” says Nathan climbing into bed at midnight.

“I looked at the check,” says Celia, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Let me guess,” he says, sighing. “Ten thousand dollars.”

“Fifty thousand,” she says, giving him an anguished look. “It doesn’t feel right.”

“It’s how she expresses love,” he says, closing his eyes. “Snuggle with me.”

“I want to give it away,” she says, turning off the bedside lamp and getting in with him. “She pays us so much to take care of Delilah when we would take care of her for nothing.”

“Yes,” he says drifting to the edge of sleep. “We’ll think of a good way to share it.”

“Calypso and Paul need a new car,” she says, speaking of their daughter and son-in-law, parents of four-year-old Carlos.

“There you go,” he murmurs. “Money gone.”

“Not all of it,” she says, remembering how Margot burst into tears when she held her. “We’ll give the rest to friends.”


The next day, a Friday, Delilah and Nathan walk with Tennyson on leash to Mercy Savings, the one and only bank in town, and while Nathan deposits the check for fifty thousand dollars into his and Celia’s account, Delilah waits for Lisa, her favorite teller, to be free.

Lisa, a young Latina who makes fifteen dollars an hour and is pregnant with her second child, her husband Ricardo a dishwasher at the Mercy Hotel, facilitates Delilah’s deposit of ten thousand dollars without batting an eye, and when Delilah reminds Lisa of the opening of her show with Joseph at the Fletcher Gallery, Lisa says, “We wouldn’t miss it for anything. Ricardo says they’re bringing in a piano for you to play.”

“Yes the dear Richardsons are loaning me their magnificent Steinway for the opening,” says Delilah, excitedly. “I’m going to play my new nocturne and maybe a scherzo that might turn into a sonata some day.”

“I’ll tell Ricardo,” says Lisa, her eyes wide with excitement. “He can’t wait to hear you.”

“He likes piano music?” asks Delilah, delighted to know Lisa and her husband will be coming.

“Ricardo plays piano,” says Lisa, smiling as she thinks of her husband. “Been playing since he was six. He writes the most beautiful songs. Of course I’m prejudiced, but… someday he’s gonna make a record.”

“I’d love to hear him,” says Delilah, earnestly. “We’ll arrange something, okay?”

“Okay,” says Lisa, nodding. “You call me.”

“Oh. And this is for you,” says Delilah, handing Lisa an envelope decorated with Delilah’s swift rendering of a fanciful flower in a vase. “A gift from Nate and Celia and me because we adore you.”

“Oh gosh,” says Lisa, opening the envelope and startling at the check for a thousand dollars. “Wait. Are you sure this is right?” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “A thousand dollars?”

Delilah nods happily. “See you Saturday night.”


From the bank, Nathan and Delilah traverse the town to the Fletcher Gallery, three large rooms full of natural light arriving through skylights and several big south-facing windows. William Fletcher, a fastidious framer of art and a lighting savant, just yesterday handed the works from the previous show back to the disappointed artists who sold but one painting each, and those to their mothers.

As they enter the largest room of Mercy’s preeminent gallery, Delilah and Nathan find William, an agile fellow in his seventies, on a twelve-foot ladder in the process of lighting Joseph’s five large oil paintings and Delilah’s two smaller paintings and fourteen pen and ink drawings. He is assisted by Guillermo Torres, an unabashedly effeminate young man with curly black hair and a pencil-thin mustache who wears colorful scarves and is forever talking about his revolutionary ideas for staging Broadway musicals.

Guillermo greets Delilah and Nathan with an effusion of hugs and says to Delilah, “We’ve already sold one of your drawings, sweetie. To me! I had to have the one of that gorgeous man in line at the bakery. For three hundred dollars I couldn’t afford not to buy it.”

“Greetings,” says William from on high where he is directing three mellow spotlights at Joseph’s spectacular painting of the mouth of the Mercy River as seen from the headlands—the dark blue river transecting a vast grayish white beach to meet the incoming waves, the cerulean sky filled with thunderheads. “You’ve actually already sold two, Delilah. The missus insisted we get the one of Tennyson touching noses with that enormous husky.”

At which moment, the very British Constance and Joseph Richardson arrive with their two gorgeous Siberian Huskies, Io and Odysseus, and Tennyson enacts the just-described drawing with each of the much larger dogs.

Both Joseph and Constance are wearing puffy blue parkas, though the day is warm—Joseph tall and thick-chested with longish black hair going gray, Constance short and plump, a wearer of old-fashioned dresses, her shoulder-length auburn hair kept natural-seeming by her clever hairdresser.

“We’ve come in advance of the piano,” says Constance, excitedly. “They’ll be here any minute, those heroic lifters.” Now she kisses Delilah hello. “Where shall we put it, dearie?”

“I’m thinking by the windows,” says William, pointing to the south. “Leave more room for people. We’re expecting half the town.”

“Oh I love what you’re doing with the lights,” says Joseph, standing before his Mouth of the Mercy. “Love this. You must come fix the lights in my studio, William. I need this.”

“Happy to,” says William, descending the ladder. “I see the piano has arrived.”

“Oh my God,” gasps Delilah, as two strong men roll the legless body of the shiny black grand into the gallery on a large cushioned dolly, a third man following with the three mighty legs. “This is really happening.”