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The Same Woman (Maru)

Now and then over the course of his life, Andrew encounters a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, second time 1962, third time 1966, fourth time 1970, fifth time 1978, sixth time 1987, seventh time 1993, eighth time 1998, and the ninth time in 2002.

July 2006. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-eight, Andrew an attractive man descended from Ashkenazi Jews, his brown hair cut short, Luisa a beautiful woman with long black hair, her mother Quebecois and Chippewa, her father Afro-Cuban.

Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been married for nineteen years and live in a lovely house Andrew built thirty years ago near Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty-four, Lily an actress living part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in New York, Owen the new Drama teacher at a private high school in Vancouver.

Andrew has published six collections of short stories and written several plays, one of them made into a movie, four of them now staples of the small theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories and a novella that was made into a movie, and together she and Andrew have written two original screenplays that were made into movies. And though they are not wealthy from their writing, they are in good shape financially and continue to be of interest to publishers and theatre companies in Canada and England.

For the last four years, along with their writing, they have been composing songs and occasionally performing as a duo in various Vancouver venues, mostly living rooms and pubs, both of them guitarists and singers.

But the biggest news in their life right now is Owen being home after six years away. He is currently living in the other house on their property, a small two-bedroom place that was originally a dance studio Andrew built for his first wife Kiki with whom he had Owen.

Owen graduated from Julliard in Drama three years ago with great hopes of succeeding as an actor, though not in the way Lily has succeeded with roles in movies and television shows. No, Owen hoped to become a darling of the avant-garde theatre movement, and to that end he moved to Berlin with his girlfriend Sophie who graduated from Julliard with him.

To Owen and Sophie’s dismay, after two years of scouring the theatre scenes in Berlin, Amsterdam, and London, they found nothing remotely kin to the avant-garde theatre they had studied so passionately at Julliard. And when Sophie landed the part of a goofball cutie pie in a German television sit-com imitating an American sit-com, Owen and she parted ways and Owen moved back to New York where he failed to land a part, avant-garde or otherwise.

Tired of working as a bartender sixty hours a week to pay the rent on a sofa in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with three other people, Owen returned to Vancouver where Dessie, his friend since childhood, is the music teacher at New Foundations, a private high school, and touted Owen for the Drama teaching job there.   

A star among his Drama peers while at Julliard, and having lived for three years in Berlin and Amsterdam and London and Manhattan associating with theatre people and playing his clarinet in ensembles with other accomplished musicians, Owen is by turns angry and depressed about living with his parents again and preparing to spend at least the next two years instructing teenagers in the dramatic arts.

Andrew and Luisa have mixed feeling about Owen living with them again. On the one hand, he’s one of their favorite people in the whole world and they missed having him around. On the other hand, they want him to be happy, and he is definitely not happy being home and becoming a high school Drama teacher, something he and many of his fellow actors at Julliard considered the ultimate failure, especially if one fell so low before late middle age.

Hoping to engage Owen in something other than moping around and reluctantly designing his Drama program for the upcoming year, Andrew and Luisa decide to invite him to perform with them at their next gig, a living room concert at the home of Cal and Terry who live a mile away and have known Owen since he was in utero.

So on a sunny morning in July, Andrew cooking an omelet for the three of them, Luisa making toast and hash browns, Owen sitting at the table drinking coffee and perusing the New York Times, Luisa invites Owen to perform with them at their upcoming show at Cal and Terry’s.

“You know what I’d rather do?” says Owen, looking up from his perusal of the Theatre section.

“What?” asks Luisa, bringing the coffee pot to the table and refreshing Owen’s cup.

“Have a wooden stake driven through my heart,” he says, giving her a blank-faced look. “You could take turns wielding the mallet.”

“Was that a No?” asks Luisa, looking at Andrew who is just now pouring the beaten eggs into a sauté of zucchini and mushrooms. “Sounded like a no, didn’t it?”

“Definitely no-ish,” says Andrew, turning his attention to grating the cheese. “Though one never knows for certain when the reply is metaphoric.”

Owen puts down the paper and smiles falsely at his father. “I don’t mean to imply your music isn’t just the thing if one likes earnestly rendered tunes reminiscent of the simplistic folk music of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, I applaud you two for strumming your guitars and singing your cute old-fashioned songs for your friends. But I’m having a hard enough time adjusting to being back here and preparing to do something I vowed I would never do. Thus to stand with you in Cal and Terry’s living room noodling on my clarinet while you play chord progressions that make my teeth ache would be the last straw and I would then swim out into the ocean and drown. Does that clarify the meaning of my stake-through-the-heart metaphor?”

“It does,” says Andrew, abashed. “I’m sorry, O.”

“Well I’m not sorry,” says Luisa, glaring at Owen. “You’ve been home for two months, and a month from now you start your job at New Foundations, which, by the way, you are incredibly fortunate to have. As you are incredibly fortunate to have a house to live in and food to eat.” She takes off her apron, starts to leave the kitchen, stops, turns to Owen and adds, “The young man who left here six years ago was kind and thoughtful and resourceful and a joy to live with. The petulant little boy who came back is a self-centered, elitist, unimaginative, thankless pain in the ass.”

Having spoken her truth, she storms out of the kitchen.

“She’s right,” says Owen, looking at his father. “I’m a thankless shit.”

“You’re nothing of the kind,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “You’re having a tough time. And you’ll get through this with a new understanding of what you want to do with your life, teeth-aching chord progressions notwithstanding.”

“I didn’t mean that,” says Owen, getting up and going out the open door. “I love your music.”

Alone with his omelet, Andrew recalls the day Kiki said she wanted a divorce and was moving to Los Angeles and giving Andrew full custody of Owen, and how four-year-old Owen would shake his head and say No whenever Andrew tried to explain about Kiki leaving, until finally Andrew stopped trying to explain and a year later Owen came to him and said, “I know why Kiki left.”

“Why?” asked Andrew, gazing at his beloved child.

“Because she found out Luisa was actually my mother,” said Owen, nodding solemnly. “So she knew she better go away and never come back.”

Owen brings Luisa a bouquet of roses that afternoon, and while she stands at the kitchen counter arranging the roses in a vase, Owen thanks her for waking him up.

“I don’t remember exactly when it was I turned into the kind of person I’ve always hated,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table. “A closed-minded, self-centered, holier-than-thou cultural snob, but I did, and that’s probably why I failed as an actor. Because directors could see I was a phony.”

“Sweetheart, you haven’t failed,” she says, setting the vase of roses on the table and sitting beside him. “You’re on a journey. I know that’s a cliché and probably makes your teeth ache, but you are. We all are. And sometimes we find ourselves in a situation we can’t see our way out of and we have to make the best of things until we do see a way out or we discover that what we thought was the wrong direction turns out to be the way we needed to go, if I may mix my similes or whatever they are.”

Owen nods. “My favorite teacher at Julliard, Sig Perlman, used to say if we communicate in any way to the audience that we know what the other characters in the scene are going to say, the scene will fail. And he’s right. Good actors play every moment as if they have no idea what might happen next.”  

At supper’s end a week after Owen and Luisa reconcile, Owen asks his parents if they would be up for hosting a small dinner party, the guests to include his friend Dessie, who got him the teaching job at New Foundations, Dessie’s husband Jonah, a bass player and software engineer, and Maru Stein, the founder and executive director of New Foundations.

“Maybe Cal and Terry, too?” says Owen, having done a complete about-face since Luisa deftly smacked him with the bamboo cane of her honesty. “And anyone else you’d like to invite. Maybe a theatre person or two.”

“Salmon on the barbecue,” says Andrew, who is now helping Owen design the Drama program to be unveiled at New Foundations in September. “Corn on the cob.”

“A fabulous garden salad,” says Luisa, who loves to cook. “And for appetizers, mini-falafels with cashew butter lime sauce and hummus and guacamole.”

“I’ll take that as a Yes,” says Owen, getting up to clear the table so they won’t see him crying, but they do.

The afternoon warm and humid, Andrew is out on the big south-facing deck tending the barbecue—salmon steaks and corn-on-the-cob—when Owen emerges from the house with Maru Stein.

Andrew’s first impression of Maru from twenty feet away is that she is a giantess emanating a brilliant golden light, but as she and Owen cross the deck to him, she shrinks to Andrew’s size and appears to be a lovely woman in her fifties with reddish brown hair cut in a boyish bob, her eyes dark blue. She is wearing a sleeveless magenta shirt, blue jeans, and hiking sandals, her arms muscular, a tattoo of a small red rose on her right arm just below her shoulder.

She shakes Andrew’s hand with a pleasingly strong grip and says with a slight German accent, “A great pleasure to meet you. I have been reading your stories since they first appeared in The Blitz those many years ago, and I must tell you my daughter fell in love with the theatre because of your plays.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, wanting to blurt I love you. “Where is your daughter now?”

“She’s in England, in Oxford, the artistic director of a small theatre company. They’ve done all your plays, most of them more than once.” Maru’s eyes widen as she senses Andrew’s attraction to her. “When I told her I was going to meet you she said to tell you she can’t wait to read your next play. Do you have one in the works?”

“No,” says Andrew, suddenly aware of how close the salmon is to perfection. “To be continued. I must tend the salmon lest I overcook.”

“A rare skill,” says Maru, winking at him as she moves away with Owen to meet Luisa. “Cooking salmon just so.”

Mosquitoes ferocious at dusk, the humans move inside for supper, ten of them around the big dining table: Luisa, Andrew, Maru, Owen, Dessie, Jonah, Cal, Terry, Electra Wickersham, and Mark Kane.

Electra is an actress Andrew has known for thirty-four years. Short and buxom with a gravelly voice, she played the droll sister of the main character in the world premiere of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play based on two of Andrew’s short stories—Andrew’s first adventure in the theatre world of Vancouver thirty-four years ago.

Mark Kane, a stylish dresser in his sixties with a silvery gray pompadour, wrote Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise and got it produced at the Kleindorf Theatre where he was and still is the stage manager. Following the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Mark adapted two more of Andrew’s stories for the stage, but that play lacked sufficient oomph to get beyond a staged reading and Mark has never written anything else, though he loves to talk about what he might write one day.

At the height of the feast, the salmon cooked to perfection, the corn sweet and tender, much good wine consumed, Cal, a professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser, asks Maru what inspired her to found what has become one of the most prestigious high schools in Canada.

“My children,” she says, nodding. “Public high school was a disaster for both my son and daughter. Before high school they were excellent students and eager to play music and make art and build things, you know, and then they were totally shut down by the idiocy of the public high school system, so I got them out of there and homeschooled them. I would have sent them to the Waldorf High School, but lacked the funds, and when they went off to college I thought why not create an alternative school with excellent teachers and get the corporations to fund it so we could give scholarships to low income people, and those who could afford the tuition would gladly pay to give their children an extraordinary experience rather than put them through a system designed to crush their spirits.”

“Well I can attest to the efficacy of your school,” says Cal, raising his glass to her. “I’ve had several of your former students in my classes and they were head and shoulders above most of the other students.”

“I’m very glad to hear that,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “Thank you for telling me.”

“And you will be teaching Drama there,” says Electra, looking at Owen who she’s known since he was a baby. “How exciting for you.”

“I’ll do my best,” he says, frowning and scratching his head. “If only I could remember what they taught me at Julliard. It’s all such a vague memory now.”

Mark and Electra and Cal and Terry and Dessie and Jonah and Maru all laugh, while Luisa and Andrew hold their breaths until Maru says, “Don’t worry, Owen. It will all come back to you in the heat of battle.”

“Be careful, Owen,” says Mark, who has been married three times to women much younger than he and is currently dating a woman forty years his junior. “All your students will fall in love with you, the tall, dark, and handsome Drama teacher just a few years older than they.” He looks at Maru. “How daring of you to hire one so young.”

“Young teachers are a vital ingredient in our system,” says Maru, aiming her words at Owen. “Because the kids don’t relate to the younger teachers as versions of their parents, but as slightly older friends who can help them with their struggle to become adults. And it is a great struggle for most of them because the last thing they want is to turn into their parents, and without someone like Owen to emulate they see no alternative but to rebel or withdraw into their shells.”

Crawling into bed at midnight, Luisa says to Andrew, “What a great mentor Maru will be for Owen.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, closing his eyes and seeing Maru gazing at him. “She’s a powerhouse.”

“She’s one of your special women, isn’t she?” says Luisa, embracing him. “Couldn’t keep your eyes off her, could you?”

“Is she one of your special women, too?” he says, growing aroused.

“Of course,” she says, kissing him.

In late August, a few days before Owen will make his debut as a high school Drama teacher, Andrew and Luisa and Owen throw another party, this one a big potluck attended by several New Foundations teachers, lots of actors and musicians and theatre people, and several neighbors.

Maru arrives at the height of the party with her partner Adriana, a stunning Brazilian woman in her thirties who is the Dance and Percussion teacher at New Foundations. Owen was unaware that Maru and Adriana were in a relationship and so did not convey this information to his parents. Andrew and Luisa are both surprised Maru made no mention at their last party of having a partner, and Luisa is not surprised Maru’s partner is a woman.

Andrew is dizzied by the conflicting emotions arising in him—jealousy and relief and sorrow and happiness—when Maru introduces him to Adriana, an exquisite mix of Afro-Brazilian and Latino.

“I am so glad to meet you,” says Adriana with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever. “I devour your stories and we watch your movies and now I feel like I meet a god.”

“As do I,” says Andrew, looking from Adriana to Maru and back to Adriana. “Goddesses.”

Adriana and Maru exchange mysterious smiles, Owen and Dessie come to greet Maru and Adriana, and Andrew turns his attention to the barbecue on which many foodstuffs are approaching doneness.

He is glad for the distraction of the salmon steaks, chicken thighs, slabs of zucchini, potatoes, ears of corn, hamburgers, sausages, and various shish kebabs because they keep him from gawking at Maru and longing to embrace her.

Why am I so ferociously attracted to her? he wonders as he looks down at the various sizzling things. Must have something to do with how open she is to me and how open I am to her. Only it’s more than that. It’s as if we are two parts of one being separated long ago, which is how I felt when I met Luisa, our attraction to each other a desire to be whole again.

“Honey,” says Luisa, putting her arm around Andrew. “I don’t want to tell you how to cook, because you’re a wonderful cook, but I think most of what’s on the grill now is done. Yeah?”

“Yes,” says Andrew, realizing he hasn’t been tending the foodstuffs at all, but standing at the barbecue appearing to be tending the foodstuffs while off in the clouds imagining becoming one with Maru.

Andrew joins Cal and Terry and Electra at one of the many tables arrayed on the deck, his plate heaped high, a cold beer just opened, and as he settles into easy banter with his tablemates, Maru and Adriana arrive and ask if there’s room for them at the table, room is made, Adriana sits between Electra and Cal on one side of the table and Maru sits next to Andrew on the other, her shoulder touching his, and Andrew is filled with a divine sense of completeness, a feeling, to paraphrase Stevie Wonder, of being exactly where God wanted him to be placed.

“Here we are together again,” says Maru, speaking quietly as she gently bumps Andrew’s shoulder with hers. “How are you?”

“Good,” he says, no longer afraid of how he feels about her. “You?”

“A bit preoccupied,” she says in a way he takes to mean she’s been preoccupied with him, “but otherwise excited about school starting next week.” She takes a deep breath. “Owen tells me you’ve been helping him with his course design. I love what you two have cooked up.”

“Well I got my undergraduate degree in Drama,” says Andrew, recalling those long ago days in California, “and I was hoping to get into Yale and leap from there to the professional stage, but instead I moved to Canada and became a carpenter and a writer. And now I’m sitting with you at the zenith of my life.”

“I know what you mean,” she says, watching Adriana listen intently to Electra talk about the current revival of Ah Wilderness. “This is definitely a peak experience for me, being with you.”

Supper is followed by pie and coffee and tea in the living room, and when everyone is settled somewhere, Luisa and Andrew enter with guitars, Owen with clarinet, and they launch into a lively instrumental Owen recently composed called My Teeth Ain’t Aching No More full of surprising chord changes to which Owen blissfully improvises.

They follow the instrumental with Luisa singing a love ballad she and Andrew wrote called The Thing Of It Is, Owen adding tasteful harmonies to Luisa’s fine contralto.

And lastly Andrew and Luisa sing a song they wrote called So Far So Good about a couple who keep being pleasantly surprised that no matter how old they get they don’t lose the knack for loving each other, the song ending with a stirring clarinet solo that brings the house down.

The day after the party, recalling the moment he and Maru sat beside each other and shared the feeling of being exactly where God wanted them to be placed, Andrew puts pen to paper and out flows the first scene of a play he will write over the next few weeks called Time and Again.

The play is about a man and a woman roughly the same age who meet eight times over the course of their lives, and whenever they meet—on a playground, at the beach, at a party, in a park, in the foyer of a theatre, on a bus, on the street—they are entranced with each other, yet always discover one of them is involved with someone else.

Each scene ends with the man and woman parting ways without making arrangements to stay in touch, save for the last scene in which they are elderly and meet at a neighborhood café. Over coffee and biscotti, they discover they live just around the corner from each other and are both free to unite.

When Andrew finishes the first draft, he gives the play to Luisa and she reads it in a single sitting.

She finds him on his knees in the garden thinning baby chard plants.

“It’s fantastic, A. I think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written.” She smiles down at him. “Do you… will you want me to work on this with you?”

“Always,” he says, looking up at her.

“I wasn’t sure,” she says shyly. “You… we haven’t written a new play in a long time and I didn’t know if you still wanted to do our usual back and forth.”

“Of course I do,” he says, getting up and embracing her. “I’m always just cruising on the surface until you and I run the lines and find out what really wants to be said.”

“Oh, good,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief. “I think this will make a wonderful movie, too.”

“When we’re further along we’ll show it to Nick,” he says, referring to Nicolas Thorsen, the filmmaker who made their previous movies.

“You amaze me,” she says, looking into his eyes. “Just when I thought we might never write another play, you come out with this heartbreaker.”

“Is it sad?”

“Oh my God, yes,” she says, her eyes full of tears. “The sadness of missing their chance to be together over and over again when they’re so right for each other. It’s hilarious, too, and I’m so glad they get together at the end, but… I couldn’t help wishing they’d taken one of those earlier chances.”

“But maybe they weren’t ready for each other until the last scene,” he says, walking to the house with her. “Maybe the promise was not to be fulfilled until they learned whatever they needed to learn along the way.”

“Maybe so,” she says, taking his hand. “But I’ll bet lots of people who see this play will be emboldened to take a chance if they ever get one again.”

A month after school starts, Owen implores Andrew to help him cast and produce the first play of the year, a sappy television sit-com masquerading as a play he inherited from the previous Drama teacher called Don’t You Wish?

Knowing how overwhelmed Owen is by his daily teaching load, Andrew agrees to lend him a hand with the play and enlists Electra and Luisa to join them for three afternoons of auditions. Once the play is cast, Andrew shows up at the New Foundations multi-purpose room every weekday at 3:30 to assist Owen in managing the cast of fourteen and the especially rowdy crew of twenty-two.

Now and then Maru stops by to watch Owen directing the kids and to sit with Andrew and watch the play take shape.

Don’t You Wish? is such a big hit, the initial two-night run is extended to a second weekend with a Sunday matinee, the four hundred seats sold out for all five performances.

Fortunately for Andrew and Owen, no one blows the whistle on them for their extensive rewriting of the dialogue, the three entirely new scenes they wrote to replace those they found ruinous, and the new and completely different ending they invented—their creative tampering bringing them closer together than they’ve ever been.  

The winter play at New Foundations is A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of (seemingly) thousands. Electra and Andrew and Luisa help again with the auditions, and this time both Luisa and Andrew assist Owen with the many afternoon rehearsals, which in the beginning resemble riots and eventually, miraculously, result in three acceptable performances.

Andrew and Owen severely edit The Bard to bring the running time down to ninety minutes so they can include three hip hop songs composed and performed by teenagers in togas and accompanied by energetic ensemble dancing choreographed by Adriana.

And finally comes the spring musical, Guys & Dolls, with Dessie conducting the student orchestra and coaching the singers, Adriana choreographing the numerous dance numbers, Andrew and Luisa again assisting Owen.

Dress rehearsal and Performance #1 are epic disasters, Performance #2 begins promisingly but quickly devolves into chaos, Performance #3 has a few startling moments of cohesion but is otherwise another catastrophe, and Performance #4, with only a few dozen people in the audience, is a stirring triumph from start to finish.

Summer cannot come soon enough for Owen and Andrew and Luisa, and when school finally adjourns in early June, Owen does nothing for a week but sleep and mope around while Andrew and Luisa fly to Montreal to attend five staged readings of their play Time and Again. The cast is stellar, several play directors from Canada and England and Australia come to hear the play, the audiences rave, and Nick Thorsen, who sits in the first row for all five of the readings, offers a pittance for the screen rights, which Andrew and Luisa gleefully accept.

As June becomes July, Maru and Adriana invite Andrew and Luisa over for supper at their spectacular new house in one of Vancouver’s ritziest neighborhoods.

After supper they retire to the living room, Maru pours a rare Spanish peach brandy, and Adriana says with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever, “I know this will come as surprise, but we want to have a child and for you, Andrew, to be the father.”

Luisa purses her lips and frowns.

Andrew clears his throat and says, “We are speaking of artificial insemination.”

“If you prefer,” says Adriana, who grew up something of a wild child in Brazil and has few of the scruples common to North Americans. “Or we could make the baby, as we say in Portuguese, naturalmente.”

“Um,” says Luisa, scrunching up her cheeks, “I would have a problem with that.”

“Then artificial,” says Adriana, nodding. “Or you don’t do anything if this seems too…” She looks at Maru. “How do you say it?”

“Much to ask?” guesses Maru. “Too much of an entanglement?”

“Too big a commitment?” says Luisa, looking at Andrew.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, searching for the right words, “I can’t imagine knowing I’m the father of a child and not wanting to be involved with the child in a big way. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh we want you to be involved,” says Adriana, nodding emphatically. “We love you. That’s why we choose you for the father.”

“Well,” he says, looking from Adriana to Maru, “I’m flattered, of course, but… we weren’t planning to spend our late middle age and elder years raising a child. Spending time with our grandchildren, should that ever come to be, yes. But not… co-parenting.”

“You would not be co-parenting,” says Maru, shaking her head. “We will be the parents and you would be uncle and aunt. Or grandparents.” She shrugs pleasantly. “We don’t expect you to say Yes. But we love you both and we admire you and so we thought we’d ask. If not you, we know a few others we may ask, and if no one wants to do this with us, we will go with the unknown.”

“Have you thought about adopting?” asks Luisa, who certainly understands why they would want Andrew’s genes in the mix.

“I’m only going to have one child,” says Adriana, gazing at Luisa who has become her dear friend. “And then we see. Maybe we adopt, maybe we don’t. But I know I want one child who comes from me.”

“There’s nothing like it,” says Luisa, tears springing to her eyes as she thinks of her daughter Lily. “We’ll let you know soon.”

“Thank you,” says Adriana, taking Luisa’s hand. “We are honored you even consider doing this for us.”

At midnight, neither Andrew nor Luisa able to sleep, Andrew gets out of bed and says, “Chamomile tea?”

On their way to the kitchen, Luisa says, “Who am I to judge them? I made Lily with a man I slept with once, a man who never even knew he made a child with me, a man I didn’t even like.”

“It’s not about judging them,” says Andrew, turning on the kitchen light. “It’s about marrying them without any legal right to the child.”

“What do you mean?” says Luisa, filling the kettle. “Marrying them?”

“I mean what if five years from now Adriana leaves Maru and moves back to Brazil or her next partner turns out to be a psychopath and by then we’re in love with the child and powerless to intervene? I’d be devastated and so would you.”

“Adriana won’t partner with a psychopath,” says Luisa, waving the thought away. “But you’re right, in a way we would be marrying them and I don’t want to be married to anyone but you.”

“The fact is, we don’t want another child. If we’d wanted another child we would have had one or adopted one. But if we had a child with them and fell in love with her or him, which of course we would, then we’d want to be with the little pooper every day, which would mean being deeply involved with Maru and Adriana for the rest of our lives and I don’t think we want that. Do we?”

“Might be wonderful,” says Luisa, anguished. “I love them. And I’d love to see the child you’d make with Adriana. But something doesn’t feel right about this.”

“I agree,” he says, terribly upset. “It’s… emotional extortion.”

“No, it isn’t,” she says, annoyed with him. “They said they don’t expect us to say Yes. How is that extortion? What doesn’t feel right has nothing to do with them. It’s about what we want, and we don’t want this. Right?”

“I’d be seventy-eight when the child is twenty,” says Andrew, smiling at the thought of mixing his genes with Adriana. “I wonder what Owen and Lily would think if we did this.”

“Maybe that’s what doesn’t feel right,” says Luisa, making their tea. “Complicating our already complicated life.”

In the morning, they continue discussing the possibility of joining their lives with Adriana and Maru and the yet-to-be-born child, and the more they think out loud together, the more they warm to the idea.

“But I would only go into the little sperm-catching room,” says Andrew, putting his arms around Luisa, “if you came in with me and inspired my contribution. If you know what I mean.”

“Then it would be our gift and not just yours,” she says, surrendering to the momentum of creation.

A few days later, Andrew and Luisa go to tell Adriana and Maru they are willing, and Adriana and Maru burst into tears.

“We just now check my fluid,” says Adriana, embracing Luisa, “and right now I ovulate. So because it will take some days to arrange things at the clinic for Andrew to give his seed, we wait for my next time to try.”

“Why wait?” says Luisa, surprising herself and all of them, too. “Why not now? Naturalmente.”

“We would love that,” says Maru, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “A sacred tryst.”

And before Andrew’s rational mind can rise above the fervor of the moment, he and Adriana go to the bedroom and Luisa and Maru go out into the garden and sit together on the bench by the lily pond holding hands and praying—this ritual of procreation enacted again the next day and the next.

In December, during the Christmas holiday, Adriana five months pregnant, she and Maru come to Andrew and Luisa’s house to tell them they have just seen the ultra-sound of Adriana’s womb.

“It isn’t what we planned,” says Maru, her eyes sparkling with tears, “but we are happy to tell you we are going to have twins. Fraternal twins. A girl and a boy.”

That night Luisa dreams the boy is named Teo and the girl is named Rosa, and when the babies are born they are given those names.

fin

Wedding Song

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The Same Woman (Margot)

Throughout his life, Andrew meets women who are immediately familiar to him, though he has never seen them before. He met the first when he was a little boy in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, and the seventh in 1993.

In 1998 Andrew and his wife Luisa both turn fifty and celebrate their eleventh wedding anniversary. Their children Owen and Lily both turn sixteen and enter their junior year of high school. Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live with Owen and Lily in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Two years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was a resounding success and prompted a big American publisher to bring out new paperback editions of Andrew’s four collections of short stories. Adding to this good fortune, theatre companies in England and Canada began staging four of Andrew’s previously unproduced plays, and now Luisa is about to publish her first book, a story collection entitled Rainy River and other stories.

At the height of this propitious ferment, Andrew and Luisa’s literary and theatrical agents Penelope Goldstein and Judith Perlman announce their impending retirement. Penelope is seventy-four, Judith seventy-five, and they recently celebrated, as Judith put it, “Our fiftieth year of working together and living together and encouraging each other to keep up the good fight.”

So in April, Andrew and Luisa leave Owen and Lily in the care of friends and fly to Montreal to meet with the three young agents to whom Judith and Penelope are selling their agency, and to meet with two older agents recommended by Judith and Penelope in case Andrew and Luisa are not inclined to go with the younger agents.

Andrew and Luisa arrive in Montreal in the late afternoon, check into their hotel, and have supper with Jason Moreau who directed Andrew’s two most successful plays and is currently directing the first production of Andrew’s newest play, The Carpenter’s Song, which will open six weeks from now, after which Jason will celebrate his eightieth birthday and retire from directing unless, he says with a twinkle in his eyes, “You write another play too good to resist.”

The next morning, Andrew and Luisa take a cab to the Goldstein Perlman Agency, soon to be renamed QBP after the three new principals, Rory Quarterman, Jean Bateau, and Sylvie Pierre, who gather in their elegant conference room to introduce themselves to Andrew and Luisa.

Andrew likes Sylvie, a long-limbed gal with short red hair, and Luisa likes Jean, a petite brunette, but Rory, who handles theatrical works and movie tie-ins, is appalling to both Andrew and Luisa. His smiles are forced, he rolls his eyes at things Sylvie and Jean say, and twice during the half-hour meeting leaves the room to take calls, much to the chagrin of Sylvie and Jean.

Lunching with Judith and Penelope after the QBP presentation, Andrew and Luisa express their misgivings about Rory.

“Welcome to 1998,” says Judith, greatly relieved to be getting out of the business. “Before this era of Young Adult novels, dystopian fantasies, vampires, wizards, and fifty million cookie-cutter murder mysteries, Rory would have sold real estate or cars. He doesn’t read, you know, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you weren’t already successful, QBP would have nothing to do with you. You’re both too old, you don’t crank out murder mysteries, and you seem intent on writing things for intelligent adults.” She laughs. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Which is why we thought you might prefer Margot Mounteney and Kelly Vogel,” says Penelope, who is looking forward to puttering in her garden, walking the dogs, and spending winters in Hawaii. “Margot is your age and Kelly’s a little older, she’s brilliant, he’s mad for plays, and they both care about the quality of the writing they represent, which makes them throwbacks to that bygone era when we first came into the business.”

“And they’re barely surviving,” says Judith, with a warning in her voice. “You would change their lives if you signed with them, which is not a reason to do it. But you would.”

The next morning, after breakfasting with Jason and two young directors eager to make Andrew’s acquaintance, Luisa and Andrew take a cab to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel in an old three-story office building in a quiet part of the city.

While Andrew and Luisa wait in the small reception room, they chat with the agency secretary Darla, a charming woman in her early seventies with a British accent, long gray hair in a bun, and pince-nez suspensefully balanced on the tip of her nose.

“I love all your plays,” says Darla, gazing at Andrew and Luisa sitting close together on the small sofa across the room, “and I especially love Their Summer Holiday. I enjoyed the movie, too, but the dialogue in the play just crackles and I’m a huge fan of crackling dialogue. Crave it.” Her eyes widen. “I must say you are a very handsome couple and the light is excellent right now. Would you mind terribly if I took your picture?”

“We don’t mind, do we?” says Andrew, checking with Luisa.

“Not at all,” says Luisa, who is ready to go with Mounteney & Vogel based on their secretary.

Darla gets out a small Leica, takes several pictures and says, “Oh these will be lovely. The light is just perfect. Lovely, lovely.”

“I feel anointed,” says Luisa, beaming at Darla.

“Will you send us your favorite?” says Andrew, hoping he likes Margot and Kelly as much as he likes Darla.

“I will,” says Darla, putting her camera away. “And I will brag and tell you that my photos of authors have appeared alongside many book reviews and have graced several book jackets.”

Now a man and a woman come down the hallway from their offices and stop on the threshold of the reception room—a lanky fellow with short gray hair and a slender woman with shoulder-length black hair, the man wearing wire-framed glasses and a gray tweed suit with a red bowtie, the woman wearing a scoop-necked black dress, her reading glasses attached to a necklace of colored beads hanging around her neck. 

“Welcome, welcome,” says the man, bounding across the room to shake Andrew and Luisa’s hands, his accent the vestigial Scottish of Newfoundland. “I’m Kelly Vogel and this is Margot Mounteney.”

Margot crosses the room to greet them, her beauty more apparent as she draws near, and Andrew feels he has known her and loved her forever.

They gather in Margot’s office, Margot at her desk, Kelly a few feet to her left, Andrew and Luisa in small chairs facing them, the desk largely free of clutter, though every other space in the office is piled high with manuscripts and correspondence.

“I have a computer,” says Margot, her accent mildly British, “though I still mostly write by hand and my mother types everything up.” Her brown eyes sparkle. “Darla is my mother.”

“The heart and soul of the agency,” says Kelly, nodding to affirm this. “She’s currently training her replacement, a great young gal named Vanessa, but we’re not looking forward to Darla retiring.”

“Penelope gave me the galleys of your Rainy River and other stories,” says Margot, smiling at Luisa. “I was enthralled from start to finish.”

“Margot and I both handle books,” says Kelly, laughing nervously, “but plays are my passion. We aren’t a big agency, obviously, and we job out movie stuff to another agency with offices here and in Los Angeles, but we’re very good with foreign rights and we have great relations with editors in Canada and New York who still care about good writing.”

“I’m sure you would do well with QBP,” says Margot, unconvincingly. “They’re very up to date with their methods and sensibilities, whereas we are among the remnants of the old way.” She shrugs pleasantly. “And that’s our high-powered sales pitch.”

“I would just add,” says Kelly, putting his hands together in casual prayer, “that with us you will always be happy.”

“A bold assertion,” says Andrew, liking Kelly very much.

“I don’t mean you will always be happy,” says Kelly, laughing. “I mean you will always be happy with our efforts on your behalf, even should we fail.”

Andrew and Luisa invite Margot and Kelly to lunch, and when Margot hesitates to accept, Luisa intuits the hesitation is about money and adds, “Our treat. We’re feeling flush. Please take us somewhere you love.”

They walk a few blocks in the gentle spring sunlight to an old high-ceilinged restaurant called Leo’s and are greeted by an energetic man with wavy white hair and a thick Italian accent who claps Kelly on the shoulder and kisses Margot on both cheeks.

“You stay away too long,” he says, smiling fondly at Margot. “We wonder where you were. It will just be a moment for Juan to make your table ready. Is so good to see you again. And you bring friends. A celebration perhaps. Right this way, please. The lamb is so fresh I think they play in the meadow this morning.”

He seats them at a large table in the far corner of the mostly empty room, hands them menus and says, “We have a red wine we just get from Bordeaux to make the tears come to your eyes. Pellegrino for your table?”

Margot nods and their host hurries away.

“Was that Leo?” asks Andrew, looking from Kelly to Margot.

“That was Joe,” says Margot, putting on her reading glasses to peruse the menu. “Leo was Joe’s older brother who died when Joe was a little boy in Italy.”

Now a middle-aged woman with reddish brown hair and a lively bounce in her step comes to the table and fills everyone’s glass with bubbly water.

“We missed you,” she says to Kelly and Margot before turning to Andrew and Luisa and gasping, “Oh my God, you’re Andrew Ross.”

“I know you,” says Andrew, smiling curiously at her. “But I can’t quite…”

“Gina DuPrau,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “I was in the first Montreal production of your play Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise. A million years ago.”

“You were not just in the production,” says Andrew, holding out his hand to her. “You were Ariel and you were brilliant, and you changed my life forever in the best of ways.”

“I’m so glad to see you,” she says, taking his hand. “And while we’re holding hands I’ll tell you I love Their Summer Holiday. The play and the movie.”

“This is my wife Luisa,” says Andrew, transferring Gina’s hand to Luisa’s. “And you know our agents Margot and Kelly.”

“What did you say?” says Margot, startled.

“Our agents,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water. “We knew the minute we met you.”

“Oh dear,” says Margot, covering her mouth. “I might cry.”

“Me, too,” says Kelly, fighting his tears as he raises his glass.

Now they clink glasses and drink and Andrew says to Gina, “We would love a bottle of the red wine from Bordeaux that Joe spoke so highly of.”

The good wine poured, lunches served, Margot says to Luisa, “Your bio in your story collection says you were a chef before becoming a writer. And though I’m sure you already know this, I will plant the seed that a novel or a novella and stories set amidst the culinary arts would be an easy sell in the wake of Rainy River.”

“Or a play set in a café,” says Kelly, who is pleasantly tipsy and no longer nervous. “The Time of Your Life with espresso. God we need good plays.”

“With a part for our waitress,” says Andrew, who had a crush on Gina when she was starring as Esme twenty-five years ago, but he was too shy to ask her out. “How did she not become famous? Did you see her in the play, Kelly? I’ve never seen another actor so completely own an audience as she did.”

“I went seven times,” says Kelly, loving the wine. “And she would have become a big star had she not married that horrid man and had two kids with him and then he left her with nothing. And she’s been starring here at Leo’s ever since.”

“We never know what’s going to happen, do we?” says Margot, looking at Luisa. “We didn’t think we had a chance against QBP, and now here we are celebrating with you.”

Gina comes by and asks, “How we all doing?”

Everyone raves about their food, another bottle of the same good red is ordered, Gina goes to fetch the wine, and Andrew says, “Speaking of never knowing what’s going to happen, with your permission I would like to tell a rather long story.”

“Permission granted,” says Margot, nodding regally.

Gina returns and shows the bottle to Andrew.

He nods his approval and says, “Have you got a few minutes, Gina? I would love for you to hear the story I’m about to tell.”

She opens the wine, pours a bit in each of their glasses, sets the bottle in the middle of the table, glances around the now full room and says, “I’m good for a few.”

“Excellent,” says Andrew, having a sip of his wine. “So… my two stories that became Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise were two of the very first stories I ever wrote. They were first published in The Weekly Blitz, a Vancouver free weekly, and then a wonderful guy named Mark Kane turned those two stories into a play and got the play produced at the Kleindorf, a small theatre in Vancouver. We got good reviews, the play ran for seven weeks, and I made seven hundred dollars, so I was not about to give up my carpentry gig. Then a few weeks after the play closed at the Kleindorf, Mark called and said someone named Jason Moreau wanted to stage the play in Montreal if we were open to honing the dialogue with him. We said we were open to honing and Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise was a big hit, mainly because of Gina’s extraordinary performance.”

Kelly and Margot and Luisa and Andrew applaud Gina, and she bows comically low and bumps her head on the table, to which she reacts by hopping around on one foot as if she stubbed her toe.

“But then,” says Andrew, when their laughter subsides, “because of the play’s success, Penelope and Judith, who were Jason’s close friends, agreed to represent me and soon thereafter sold my collection of short stories The Draft Dodger and other fables which launched my writing career. And I have no doubt it was your performance, Gina, your revelatory interpretation of Esme that made the play a hit and fueled my launch. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“You’re very welcome, Andrew,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “And though I appreciate your praise more than you will ever know, I will modify a line from that long dead British guy and say, ‘The play’s the thing wherein you captured the hearts of your audience, and I was but the lucky mouthpiece for your words.’”

First thing the next morning Luisa goes to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel to sign the contract making her their client, after which she spends the rest of the morning at her publisher’s working on the page proofs of Rainy River and other stories, meeting with Sales, and posing for promotional photos before going to lunch with her editor and the editor-in-chief to celebrate the stellar pre-publication reviews for her book.

While Luisa is thus occupied, Andrew meets with Penelope and Judith and signs various documents pursuant to transferring his contracts to Mounteney & Vogel, after which he goes to see Margot and Kelly to sign the contract making him their client.

However, Kelly is away from the office schmoozing with a theatre director and Margot is on the phone with a hysterical client, so Darla visits with Andrew until Margot is free.

“Do you have a new play in the works?” she asks, sharing a pot of strong black tea with Andrew, her desk their table. “Or a novel?”

“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, doubting he ever will. “And in the two years since the movie of Their Summer Holiday came out I haven’t started anything new, though I did manage to finish the play and the collection of stories I was working on before the movie came out. But nothing new has come to me since.”

“I suppose an enormous success like that can be a shock to the system,” she says, sipping her tea. “Are we the agents now for that play and collection of stories?”

“Yes and no. The book has already been sold, but the contract is now with you. The Carpenter’s Song and other stories. And the play is opening here in Montreal in about seven weeks.”

“Oh The Carpenter’s Song,” she says, beaming at him. “I live three doors down from Jason Moreau and we often walk our dogs together in the morning. He’s absolutely thrilled with your play. Says it’s your best yet. I didn’t realize it was based on a short story. You’ve done that before, haven’t you?”

“A few times, yes,” says Andrew, glad to know Darla and Jason are friends.

“And when you were writing the story, did you sense it would make a good play? Or do you think all your stories would make good plays?”

“I would say everything I write comes to me as scenes I watch and transcribe.”

The phone on her desk rings quietly and she answers, “Mounteney & Vogel. Who’s calling, please?”

Andrew removes to the other side of the reception area so as not to intrude, and a framed photograph on the wall captures his attention—Margot standing between two handsome young men, the younger Margot in the picture closely resembling a woman Andrew was madly in love with when he was in his early twenties.

“That was yet another of our writers calling in distress,” says Darla, beckoning Andrew to return to her. “That’s what Margot’s doing right now, trying to talk one of our writers out of burning the manuscript she worked on for three years before she ran out of ideas and now she can’t figure out how to wrap things up.”

“The literary agent as psychotherapist,” says Andrew, considering this. “I’ll keep that in mind for my next nervous breakdown.”

“I suppose all writers live in fear of running out of ideas,” says Darla, nodding sympathetically. “Do you?”

“No, because I don’t write from ideas. I know many writers do, but the few times I’ve tried to write a story or a play from an idea, nothing would come to me. Not a word.”

“So does that mean when you were writing your book of stories about carpenters you didn’t first have the idea to make such a collection?”

“No,” he says, recalling the thrill of those stories pouring forth. “In fact, I wrote the first four stories without really knowing they were separate stories because I didn’t read those pages until I was nearly done with what turned out to be the fifth story and it dawned on me I might be writing separate stories with recurring characters. So then I read the pages and discovered they were, indeed, five stories, each about a carpenter, and each of those carpenters knew the others. But even then I didn’t think I would write more stories about carpenters because, as I told you, if I write from a preconceived notion, nothing comes.”

“So let me ask you this,” says Darla, lowering her voice. “Can you tell from the writing if the writer has decided ahead of time what to write, or if the writer writes as you do without forethought?”

“Always,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Can you describe the difference?” she asks expectantly.

“Give me moment,” he says, musing for a time. “In one I hear the words being manufactured by a mental machine, and in the other I hear a spontaneous song. Like a child singing as he plays, free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be.”

“I remember Margot singing those kinds of songs when she was a little girl,” says Darla, writing on her notepad free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be. “How happy she was.”

Andrew treats Margot and Darla to lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and over green tea and fortune cookies Darla tells the story of how she came to Canada fifty years ago, pregnant with Margot.

“I was a lonely young woman living at home with my parents in Devon, writing a novel in feeble imitation of Jane Austen, a novel full of the romance I longed for, when along came Paul Westerby, a dashing Canadian vagabond travelling about with knapsack and easel, painting not-very-good landscapes of the English countryside. He romanced me and slept with me for a few glorious wine-drenched months, and when I told him I was pregnant and we should marry, he fled back to Canada and I pursued him.”

“Did you travel by boat?” asks Andrew, especially enjoying Margot’s enjoyment of her mother’s tale.

“No, I flew to Montreal,” says Darla, pouring more tea into each of their cups. “It was 1947 and air travel was very expensive and still quite an adventure, but my mother gave me the money because she was just as eager as I to run the rogue down.” She laughs. “My father, on the other hand, was a severe melancholic and reacted to my pregnancy by staying home from work and moping in the garden. He was a reluctant accountant and preferred a dark corner of the pub to the desk in his office.”

“And where, Mother, did you finally run the rogue down?” asks Margot, gently steering her mother back to the main story.

“In the snooty suburbs of Toronto,” says Darla, disappointed all over again despite the intervening fifty years. “My dashing vagabond turned out to be the pampered son of a wealthy cigarette magnate, his mother a humorless socialite. Paul refused to see me, and his mother took his side, so I appealed to Paul’s father and he said he would arrange for an abortion, except by then I was four months along and wanted to keep my precious child, so he gave me ten thousand dollars, which was a fortune in those days, and I moved to Montreal and we’ve lived here ever since.”

“Did you ever meet your father?” asks Andrew, finding Margot more and more attractive the longer he’s with her.

“A few times,” says Margot, exchanging glances with her mother. “He came to visit when I was seven and took us out for ice cream. Then he came again the summer after I graduated from high school and gave me a check for five hundred dollars, which I immediately spent on clothes.”

“He was running the family business by then,” says Darla, making a sour face. “Rich as Croesus and smelled like an ash tray.”

“And the last time we saw him,” says Margot, pausing for effect, “was just a few years ago when he came to the agency and asked us to find a publisher for his autobiography.”

“Did you?” asks Andrew, amazed by the audacity of the old rogue.

“No,” says Margot, looking at her mother. “But we read the manuscript with great interest.”

“Did he do justice to that momentous summer in Devon?” asks Andrew, feeling sure the rogue must have. “Your love affair and…”

“Not a word about me,” says Darla, shaking her head. “And not a word about Margot.”

“Yet he wanted us to find a publisher for his badly written book of lies,” says Margot, closing her eyes. “An arrogant humorless man with a perpetual sneer on his face.”

“But when I was twenty-one,” says Darla, remembering back to that summer in Devon, “and he came tramping across the field of ox-eye daisies overhung by a blue blue sky full of snowy white clouds, a strapping young man with an easel on his back, smiling like a sunbeam, I could only think to love him.”

They return to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel and Andrew has his first meeting alone with Margot.

“Will you be coming back to Montreal?” asks Margot, sitting down at her desk. “For the opening of your play?”

“Yes,” he says, sitting in a chair on the client side of her desk. “I’ll be back in four weeks.” He raises two fists. “For the final push. Last minute dialogue tweaking and anything else Jason wants me to do. And then we’ll stay for dress rehearsal and the first few performances.”

“Oh so Luisa’s coming with you,” says Margot, sounding relieved. “Wonderful.”

“She’ll be here for dress and opening night and the party after,” he says, nodding. “And I’ll be here for two weeks before she comes. We wanted to bring the kids for the whole shebang, but they refused. Said they didn’t want to miss the last few weeks of school. Can you imagine? When I was sixteen I would have given anything to skip school and hang out in a big theatre watching professional actors bring a play to life. But they love their teachers and their friends and wouldn’t think of missing the last days of school before summer.”

“Will you be staying with Jason?” she asks, reluctant to meet his gaze.

“That’s the plan. Just three houses away from your mom.”

“And me,” she says, looking at him. “I live with her.”

“Oh,” he says, the frisson between them profound. “I… I wouldn’t have guessed that. I had you living with some lucky guy, a professor of… I don’t know… Archaeology.”

“Oh really,” she says, laughing. “A lucky Archaeology professor. Not an unlucky professor of Literature?”

“I really like you, Margot,” he says, laughing with her. “And I have to tell you… the moment I saw you I had the feeling I’ve known you and loved you forever. And when I told Luisa that, do you know what she said?”

“What?” asks Margot, holding her breath.

“She said she felt exactly the same way, that we are a trio of soul mates.”

“Then I won’t be afraid of you anymore,” says Margot, coming around her desk as Andrew rises to meet her—their embrace both a confirmation of their love and proof they need not be lovers to be as one. 

fin

Love’s Body

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The Same Woman (Carol)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” says Andrew, nodding. “Very.”

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

“Speaking of narcissists,” says Freddie, laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he tell you that?”

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

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

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

“We just do,” he says, nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he says, softening.

“Do you like living in Vancouver?”

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

“Are you involved with anyone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fin

love song