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Rimbaud

On a cold clear afternoon in early November, Healing Weintraub, manager of Good Groceries, an organic food co-op in Mercy, is replenishing the banana bin when his co-manager Magdalena Cortez, looking especially lovely today with a red rose in her long black hair, hands Healing a note written on a scrap of yellow paper folded in half, and walks away.

For a fleeting moment, Healing imagines the note says Let us be lovers and live together for the rest of our lives.

He unfolds the note and reads Sheriff Higuera is at the loading dock and wants to talk to you.

“Ah well,” says Healing, placing the last bunch of bananas in the bin. “One can dream.”

*

Ruben Higuera has been a sheriff in Mercy for twenty-two of his forty-nine years. A graduate of Mercy High, Ruben served in the Army for seven years, three of those years in Afghanistan where he was twice wounded. Rakishly handsome and a former bodybuilder, Ruben is married and has two small children.

Healing finds Ruben standing at the loading dock at the back of the store, his hat off, his belt weighted down with various tools of his trade, notably an enormous gun and a long flashlight that doubles as a bludgeon.

“Sorry to bother you at work,” says Ruben, the child of Spanish speaking parents, “but I’ve got a quasi-emergency and I’m hoping you can help me defuse things until we solve the underlying problem.”

“You intrigue me, Ruben,” says Healing, doing his best imitation of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. “May I assume this is about a dog?”

“Yes,” says Ruben, who is one of the most unflappable people Healing has ever known. “A dog and the people the dog is driving crazy.”

“Who might those people be?” asks Healing, who knows just about every person and dog in Mercy.

“Marcus Pontiac and Sara Steinberg,” says Ruben, gesturing with his thumb toward the west end of town. “Will you come talk to them now? I’ll drive you over there.”

“I’ll meet you there in ten minutes,” says Healing, starting back into the store. “I have to clock out and get my things.”

“I’ll wait for you,” says Ruben, pointing to his squad car. “So I can brief you on the way over.”

*

Cruising slowly down the quiet streets of Mercy, Ruben says to Healing, “You know Marcus. Great guy. Poet. Retired from the post office a few years ago. Sara’s great, too. Also a poet. Retired social worker. They’ve been together forever, but only started living together at Marcus’s house seven years ago. He’s been in that place for thirty years. Maybe longer.”

“Longer,” says Healing, nodding. “I remember when he bought that house. I went to the housewarming party with my parents a few years before my daughter was born. So that would have been when I was… twenty-six? And I’m fifty-eight now, so…”

“Right. And Marcus’s next door neighbor the whole time was Maeve Franconi until Maeve died two years ago and her son left the place empty for a year and then sold it to a woman named Anne Pritchard. Remember that name.”

“Got it,” says Healing, enjoying his role as Ruben’s sidekick.

“Okay so Anne Pritchard moved in six months ago after having the place extensively remodeled,” says Ruben, pulling up in front of Marcus Pontiac’s small redwood house at the end of Thimbleberry Lane, a short stub of asphalt intruding onto the headlands, all the Thimbleberry houses situated on the north side of the street, the south side a field of wild grasses and coastal shrubs merging into Mercy Headlands State Park.

“Let me guess,” says Healing, smiling wryly at Ruben. “Anne Pritchard has a dog.”

 “She does,” says Ruben, nodding wearily. “Half Pekinese, quarter poodle, and quarter Chihuahua. His name is something like Rahmbó. Named after a French poet I never heard of. She spells it R-i-m-b-a-u-d. Only she doesn’t say Rim-bowed. She says Rahmbó, with a little accent on the o.”

“Oui,” says Healing, who knows of Rimbaud because Ezra, Healing’s father, used to recite parts of a poem by Rimbaud entitled The Drunken Boat. “Rahm-bó.”

“Almost Rambo, but not quite,” says Ruben, laughing. “Anyway, Anne Pritchard is fifty-two, no criminal record, and she has an excellent credit rating. She’s super smart, a systems analyst, whatever that means, and she mostly works online from home, but occasionally goes to San Francisco to meet with clients. And thank God she takes the dog with her, although if she didn’t take the dog we might be able to grab him for neglect, but she doesn’t neglect him. And the last thing I’ll tell you about her, so you won’t be startled when you meet her, is that she’s very beautiful. Very. Okay?”

“I would think Marcus and Sara would be thrilled to have a lovely woman with a dog named Rimbaud living next door to them.” Healing frowns at Ruben. “Though that wouldn’t constitute a quasi-emergency, would it?”

“No,” says Ruben, shaking his head. “The quasi-emergency is… and I’m cutting to the chase here, okay, because the situation is more nuanced than I have time to explain.”

“Understood.”

“I have reason to believe Marcus is going to try to kill Anne Pritchard’s little dog, because according to Marcus and Sara, the dog never stops yapping. From morning until night and often into the night. And this has been going on now for six months.”

“Have you confirmed the dog yaps constantly?” asks Healing, guessing Ruben has.

“Yes I have,” says Ruben, closing his eyes. “I’ve come by in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Several times. And he’s always yapping.”

“What does the super smart and very beautiful Anne Pritchard have to say about all this?”

“I will let you hear what she has to say.” Ruben brings forth his phone, taps a few buttons, and a woman’s voice fills the car – husky and warm and appealing.

“He’s a dog,” she says, stretching out the word dog. “He barks occasionally, but not all the time. He’s just being a dog. And he’s a sweetie pie. And you know as well as I do, Ruben, there are no laws against a dog barking now and then. And the way Marcus is behaving, calling me several times a day and late at night to complain about my dog is, as I’m sure you also know, a form of harassment. And I will not put up with this much longer before I seek a restraining order against him. So deal with Marcus, not me. I have broken no laws and I will not be intimidated by someone who thinks he owns the entire street because he’s been here since the Pleistocene.” 

“You know,” says Healing, looking at Ruben, “when I first heard her voice I liked her very much. But by the end of her speech I didn’t like her anymore. Does she have a partner?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” says Ruben as they get out of the squad car – a cold wind blowing in from Mercy Bay.

“Why am I not surprised?” says Healing, following Ruben to Marcus’s door.

“Oh you’ll be surprised when you meet her,” says Ruben, turning to Healing. “Because even if you don’t like her, I’ll bet you would put up with her, if only she would let you.”

*

Marcus Pontiac, stocky and somewhat stooped at seventy-two, his white hair short and spiky, opens the door and takes off his sound-blocking headphones.

“Healing,” says Marcus, his Chicago accent muted after fifty years in California. “I should have called you five months ago. What was I thinking? Well… I wasn’t thinking because I couldn’t think. Because that fucking dog never…”

Marcus stops talking and holds up an index finger to draw their attention to the high-pitched yapping of a little dog, a yapping Healing recognizes as a cry of alarm.

“Come in,” says Marcus, beckoning Healing and Ruben to enter. “Sara just made cookies. We’ll have coffee and I’ll regale you with the latest about my demonic neighbor and her putrescent little dog.”

“I have to go,” says Ruben, checking his phone. “School is about to get out and I must make an appearance at the high school parking lot to impede would-be speeders and so forth. Let me know what you think, Healing.”

“I shall give you a full report,” says Healing, bowing to Ruben.

“So shall I,” says Marcus, holding up his index finger again to bring their attention to more yapping.

“Most annoying,” says Healing, nodding in sympathy with Marcus.

“Incessant,” says Marcus, leading Healing to the kitchen where Sara Steinberg, her white hair in a long braid, is transferring oatmeal cookies from a cookie sheet onto a large blue dish, her ears covered by sound-blocking headphones identical to Marcus’s.

Sara removes her headphones and says with her New York Jewish accent, “Hi Healing. Welcome to hell. I never should have sold my place, but we needed the money.” She shrugs. “And life was good here until the horror descended upon us.”

“Do you happen to know if the dog’s owner is home right now?” asks Healing, looking out the window at the neighboring house some fifty feet away.

“Oh she’s home,” says Marcus, going to the window and glaring at Anne Pritchard’s house. “With those little white speaker turds in her ears listening to music, loud, so she won’t hear the little monster yapping.”

“Coffee, Healing?” asks Sara, bringing the cookies to the kitchen table. “I just made a fresh pot.”

“Love some,” says Healing, going to the door that opens onto a small deck. “May I?”

“Sure,” says Marcus, putting his headphones on. “Forgive me for not accompanying you.”

“Be back in a few,” says Healing, going out onto the deck from where he has a partial view of the neighboring backyard, though not of the yapping dog behind the seven-feet-tall redwood fence that separates Marcus’s property from Anne Pritchard’s property – the fence around the rest of Marcus’s property only four-feet-tall, while the rest of Anne’s property is enclosed by a fence eight-feet-tall.

The yapping continues unabated, sharp and piercing, until Healing gets to within a few feet of the fence and says in a low gentle voice, “Hello Bo. What’s wrong? What do you need?”

The yapping stops for a moment, and now resumes with slightly less gusto.

“Oh Bo,” says Healing, speaking gently. “There’s no need to bark. Are you lonely? Tell me what’s going on.”

The yapping stops again, and Healing steps up onto the bottom rail of the fence, which allows him to look over at a small brown and gray dog standing about ten feet from the fence.

Seeing Healing, the dog begins to yap furiously.

“Hey Bo,” says Healing in a low quiet voice. “Aren’t you a good dog. I’m Healing. You don’t have to bark at me. I like you. And I think you’ll like me.”

Rimbaud stops barking and walks a little closer to the fence.

“Look how smart you are,” says Healing, smiling down at the dog. “You just wanted someone to talk to, didn’t you? Someone to listen to you so you could tell them what you need.”

Now Rimbaud comes so close to the fence, Healing loses sight of him, and a moment later Rimbaud starts scratching at a plank in the fence.

Healing steps down from the bottom rail and sees the dog is pawing at a knothole the size of a silver dollar.

“There you are,” says Healing, going down on his knees and putting his face close to the knothole. “How nice to meet you. Oh my goodness. We need to trim that hair away from your eyes, don’t we? Must be an awful bother.”

Now Healing reaches two of his fingers through the knothole and Rimbaud sniffs them before giving them a lick.

“If you’ll stop barking, I’ll talk to Anne,” says Healing, handing a tasty treat through the knothole and smiling as Rimbaud gently takes the treat from his fingers. “We’ll get things straightened out. Don’t you worry, Bo. This is all just a misunderstanding. Nothing to worry about.”

*

Returning to the kitchen, Healing is greeted by Marcus and Sara as if he just slew Goliath.

“What did you do?” asks Marcus, incredulously. “He stopped barking.”

“A temporary fix,” says Healing, sitting down to have coffee and a cookie. “And I must to talk to Anne. Do you think it would be okay if I just went over and knocked on her door?”

“Not a good idea,” says Marcus, grimacing and shaking his head. “Damnit. I should have called you way back at the beginning. Now she hates me and I hate her, though she’s not a horrible person. She’s just… she’s got this fucking dog who won’t stop yapping.”

“It would really be helpful,” says Healing, gazing intently at Marcus, “if you would think more kindly of the dog. He’s essentially blind because he’s got hair in his eyes all the time. The curse of his genetics. And because his eyes are not properly cared for, they are chronically inflamed. And because he hasn’t had a chance to explore the area and learn it by smell, as these partially blind dogs need to do, he doesn’t really know where he is. And he can feel your enmity, Marcus. I know that may sound farfetched to you, but it’s true. And now I will go introduce myself to your neighbor.”

“I’ll come with you,” says Sara, leaving her headphones on the table. “I’ve acted as intermediary a couple times before and she’s at least civil to me, so…”

*

A few minutes later, Anne Pritchard, barefoot in a flimsy green dress, her auburn hair in a ponytail, a quizzical look on her exquisite face, opens her front door and beholds Sara accompanied by a handsome man with brown hair going gray.

“Hello Sara,” says Anne, her eyes fixed on Healing. “What’s up?”

“Sorry to bother you,” says Sara, smiling obsequiously, “but I wanted to introduce you to Healing Weintraub, who is something of a savant with dogs. Ruben… Sheriff Higuera… thought Healing might be able to help us with the dog situation.”

Anne takes a deep breath to quell her anger and asks, “What makes you a dog expert, Mr. Weintraub?”

“A lifetime of consorting with dogs,” says Healing, dazzled by Anne despite her barely concealed contempt for him. “I’ve already made the acquaintance of your charming dog through the fence. We had a lovely conversation, and if I might spend another few minutes with him in-person, I think I could… help.”

“Are you British?” asks Anne, squinting at Healing. “Or are you affecting an accent to try to impress me?”

“My parents are British and sometimes the accent comes through.”

“I apologize,” she says tersely. “This whole dog thing has put me on edge. To say the least. Please come in.”

Healing and Sara follow Anne into her spacious living room where Anne opens a sliding glass door and she and Healing step out onto a spacious redwood deck where Rimbaud, his tail wagging furiously, rushes up to Healing and shimmies in ecstasy as Healing bends down to scratch the little dog’s head.

“Okay, I’m impressed,” says Anne, dumbfounded by Rimbaud’s show of affection for Healing. “That’s never happened before.”

“I’m blown away by your remodel,” says Sara, lingering in the living room. “This is so beautiful. It was always so cramped in here before. Did you design this?”

“With the help of an architect, yes,” says Anne, flustered by Sara’s praise. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Like it?” says Sara, joining them on the deck. “It’s genius.”

Healing kneels on the deck to give Rimbaud a thorough massage. “He seems very healthy and strong,” says Healing to Anne. “Is he about four?”

“Yes, four,” says Anne, wringing her hands. “And he’s in excellent health except for the eye thing. I’m terrible about keeping up with trimming the hair away from his eyes. My hands shake and I’m afraid I’ll stab him, so… I think the infection these kinds of dogs get has come back. I need to take him to a vet, but I’ve just been swamped.”

Healing pushes the hair away from Rimbaud’s eyes. “If you have the requisite scissors, I’d be happy to do this for you now.”

“Oh fantastic,” says Anne, hurrying away. “I’ll go get them.”

“You’re amazing,” whispers Sara, grinning down at Healing.

Anne returns with special scissors with which Healing carefully snips away the invasive hair that has been wreaking havoc on Rimbaud’s eyes.

“And now,” says Healing, standing up, “with your permission I will go with Rimbaud on an exploratory stroll around your yard.”

“May we come with you?” asks Anne, contritely. “I don’t want to intrude on your process, but I’d love to watch.”

“Please,” says Healing, crossing the deck and stepping down onto a scraggly lawn, Rimbaud at his heels.

“I’m going to have all this landscaped,” says Anne, gesturing expansively to her yard as she and Sara follow Healing and Rimbaud. “Drought resistant grasses and herbs and the kinds of plants that attract butterflies.”

“We have a butterfly garden,” says Sara, smiling at Anne. “Brings the hummingbirds, too. And you know what they say about hummingbirds.”

“No,” says Anne, frowning at Sara. “What do they say about hummingbirds?”

“They are bringers of joy,” says Sara, thinking of Marcus’s poem about hummingbirds called Bringers of Joy.

Now they come to the place where Rimbaud has been standing and yapping for the last six months, and because it has become his habit to do so, the little dog faces the fence and begins to yap as if confronting a menacing stranger.

“Oh Bo why are you barking?” asks Healing in his gentle way. “What do you think is over there? That’s just Marcus and Sara’s yard. They’ve got a vegetable garden and a pond with big rocks around it, and a low fence between the rest of their yard and the headlands.”

Rimbaud stops barking and comes to Healing,

“You see? There’s no need to bark,” says Healing, scratching behind Rimbaud’s ears and slipping him a tasty treat. “Nothing to fear over there.”

Now Healing turns to Anne and says, “You probably know this, but sight-challenged dogs like Rimbaud learn the lay of the land by smell, and unless they can explore their surroundings and make sense of what their acute sense of smell is telling them, they will be perpetually uneasy. And there’s something about this particular spot that Rimbaud can’t figure out, and it distresses him no end. Now if it was up to me, I’d make an opening in the fence here and allow him to wander to and from Sara and Marcus’s yard so he’ll know what’s going on over there, and I’d also take him for walks on the headlands trails so he can get a deeper sense of where he is and what’s going on in his world.”

“Is that something you could help me with?” asks Anne, moved by Healing’s speech. “I’d be happy to pay you whatever you charge.”

“No need to pay me. I go walking with my dogs twice a day and we’ll come by here every few days and Rimbaud can come with us, and you can join us, too, if you like. In the meantime, I will be happy, with everyone’s permission, to remove a plank or two from this old fence and make an attractive gap here for Rimbaud’s transits between your properties.”

“Fine with us,” says Sara, knowing Marcus will be thrilled with Healing’s solution. “We always had a dog until Auden died two years ago, so it will be nice to have Rimbaud come visit.”

“Wonderful,” says Anne, impulsively taking Sara’s hand. “And we can be friends now.”

“I’m sure you know,” says Healing, smiling at Anne, “that Sara and Marcus are both fine poets and always name their cats and dogs after poets, just as you named your dog after one.”

“I didn’t know you were poets,” says Anne, gazing in wonder at Sara. “So am I.”

fin

The Monster Part Two a very short movie

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Maurice

Healing is kneeling in the canned-goods aisle in Good Groceries, the small food co-op where he works, lost in a daze of sorrow as he shelves cans of Kale Quinoa soup.

On his lunch break today, a breezy day in April, Healing met Desdemona Garcia at a picnic table on the headlands across the street from Crow’s Nest Books where Desdemona works, the only bookstore in Mercy that sells new books. He and Desdemona have been lunching together at this picnic table, weather permitting, at least once a week for seven months now, Healing in love with Desdemona, and Desdemona seeming to Healing to be more and more in love with him until today when she told him a man named Phil just asked her to marry him and she said Yes.

“Phil?” said Healing, thinking Desdemona must be joking. “Phil who?”

“Nobody you know,” she said, sighing at the thought of Phil. “We’ve been dating for three months and a week and four days. He lives in San Francisco and has a beach house here a mile south of town.”

“What does Phil do?” whispered Healing.

“He’s a lawyer for a corporation that owns lots of other corporations,” said Desdemona, her voice brimming with admiration for Phil. “You’d be amazed at all the big companies they own.”

“And he came into the bookstore and fell in love with you,” said Healing, speaking about himself as much as guessing about Phil.

“Yes,” said Desdemona, smiling dreamily. “He just grabbed a book without looking to see what it was and brought it to the counter and as I was ringing him up he said, ‘Have dinner with me tonight.’ He didn’t ask. He just commanded me. And I had every intention of saying No, but instead I said Yes. I couldn’t help myself.”

*

“How could I have been so wrong about her,” murmurs Healing, putting a can of soup upside down on the shelf. “I thought she was in love with me, but it was Phil she was in love with, and I felt her love for him and thought it was for me. Silly me.”

“Healing?” says Magdalena Cortez, a statuesque Latina in her late forties and co-manager with Healing of Good Groceries. “Your shift ended forty minutes ago. It’s almost five.”

“Oh,” says Healing, turning to look at Magdalena and thinking When did you get so beautiful? I mean… you’ve always been beautiful, but now you’re positively ravishing. I wonder if this is what they mean by the rebound effect. “You look different, Magdalena. In a good way. Not that you haven’t always looked good. You have. I just mean…”

“I’m the same,” says Magdalena, coming closer. “I have my hair in a ponytail when I work, but now my shift is over and I’m going home so I let my hair down. You always leave before me, so you don’t often see me this way at work. Are you okay?”

“Not really,” he says, shaking his head. “But this, too, shall pass.”

“Come for supper tonight,” she says, smiling shyly. “Mi madre es making her chicken enchiladas and guacamole you like so much, and Paloma is home from college for a week and would love to see you. Bring your accordion.”

“Tonight?” says Healing, getting to his feet. “What day is this?”

“Friday,” says Magdalena, laughing. “You knew what day it was when you came to work this morning singing your Friday song. You can stay up late tonight now you have the weekends off.”

“Can I call you?” he says, his head throbbing. “I need to check my calendar. I can’t remember if I have something tonight or not.”

“Just come if you want to,” she says, turning to go.

*

Walking home from Good Groceries, Healing stops at the bank to deposit his paycheck, and while waiting in line for the next available teller, the lovely Gladys Weatherstone saunters by and coos, “Hey Healing. How come you never call me?”

Healing tries without success to smile at Gladys, and a moment later the person in line behind him asks, “Pardon me. Might you be Healing Weintraub?”

“Yes,” says Healing, turning to behold a portly fellow with a wispy white goatee, wearing a red Hawaiian shirt decorated with small blue parrots. “How may I help you?”

“My name is August Kittle,” says the man, squinting at Healing. “Our mutual friend Weston Schuster says you’re a savant when it comes to dogs.”

“I’m ready for you, Healing,” calls the next available teller.

“Meet you out front,” says Healing to August. “After I meet with my banker.”

*

“So,” says August, who was born and raised in South Carolina, lived in Los Angeles for many years, and now lives in Mercy, “my dog Maurice is deeply depressed. Deeply. He’s only four, and until five months ago he was one happy fellow, believe you me. And then out of the blue he became morose and hasn’t cheered up since.”

Healing and August are standing in front of Mercy Savings – Healing so sad about Desdemona, he can hardly hear what August is saying, though August is speaking loudly and clearly.

“What kind of dog?” asks Healing, aching from head to toe.

“He’s delightful,” says August, smiling painfully. “Love of my life.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Healing, touched by August’s love for his dog. “What breed is he?”

“Oh he’s a Goldendoodle,” says August, looking up at the sky and sighing. “Half poodle, half Golden Retriever. Incredibly cute puppy and now a handsome adult.”

“Is he an only child?” asks Healing, liking August despite being in shock from Desdemona dumping him for someone named Phil. “No other dogs in the mix?”

“He’s my one and only,” says August, sounding concerned. “Is that a problem? Should I get another one?”

“Hard to know until I meet him,” says Healing, fumbling a handmade card out of his wallet. “Call me and we’ll arrange something for tomorrow. Yes?”

“Oh thank you,” says August, fervently shaking Healing’s hand. “Thank you so much.”

*

After walking his three dogs and feeding his four cats, Healing cleans his parrots’ cage, herds his seventeen chickens into their coop for the night, and hunts up his three tortoises in the vegetable garden and puts them in their terrarium in the greenhouse.

As dusk descends, Healing is standing in his kitchen eating a spoonful of almond butter when a vision of Magdalena’s mother’s fabulous chicken enchiladas briefly interrupts his thoughts of Desdemona.

“Never mind my ravaged psyche,” he proclaims to his dogs and cats. “I’m going to Magdalena’s for supper.”

*

He showers and shaves, dresses warmly, packs up his accordion, and walks through the fog from his little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy to Magdalena’s little old house on Figueroa Lane at the north end of town, arriving just as the legendary enchiladas and fabulous refried beans and incomparable guacamole and scrumptious tomato rice and magnificent garden salad are being served.

A place is made for Healing at the big table in the dining room, he the only non-Hispanic among the dozen diners, and Paloma, Magdalena’s twenty-year-old daughter, sits to Healing’s right, Magdalena to his left.

“I wonder so much,” says Magdalena’s mother Maria, a beautiful woman in her seventies for whom English is a distant second language, “why your name Healing? I never hear this name before you.”

“When my mother was pregnant with me all those fifty-eight years ago,” says Healing, gazing across the table at Maria, “she had several dreams in which she met a young boy, and this made her believe she was going to have a male child.”

“Sí, comprendo,” says Maria, nodding. “I meet Magdalena in my dream before she was born.”

“Did you tell her your name?” asks Healing, turning to Magdalena. “My mother said the boy in her dreams would never tell her his name.”

“I don’t remember,” says Magdalena, who is very happy Healing came for supper. “Did I tell you my name, Mama?”

“No,” says Maria, laughing. “But when I hold la bebe, I know she is Magdalena.”

“So if you didn’t tell your mother your name in her dreams,” says Paloma, who has very short black hair and a ring in her nose and turquoise fingernails and worked at Good Groceries on weekends when she was in high school and thinks Healing is the nicest man she’s ever known, “then how did you get your name?”

“Well… one night during my mother’s last month of pregnancy, my father had a dream in which a boy told him his name was Healing. And my mother loved the name so much, that’s what they called me.”

*

The stupendous meal crescendos with nonpareil flan, after which the party moves to the living room where Healing on accordion and Paloma on guitar accompany everyone singing Mexican folk songs, and for a lovely hour Healing ceases to think about Desdemona.

*

The next morning, Healing and his dogs go for a ramble in the forest east of town, and upon their return Healing encamps at his kitchen table with a cup of strong black tea and a blackberry scone, and he’s just starting to write a letter to his parents in England when the phone rings.

“Good morning,” says Healing, thinking the caller might be August.

“Hola,” says Magdalena in her quiet way. “It’s Magdalena. We have lots of leftovers. Shall Paloma and I bring you supper?”

“Only if you’ll stay and dine with me,” he says, smiling into the phone.

“We’d love to. Que hora?”

“Six?” he says, tickled they’re coming over. “I’ll make a salad.”

“Okay. See you then.”

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?” says Healing, hanging up the phone and looking into the living room where his dogs are sprawled by the fire, the day chilly and overcast. “Magdalena and Paloma.”

The dogs all look at Healing, and Benito, a Chihuahua Poodle, trots into the kitchen and Healing gives him a little treat, which, of course, brings the other two into the kitchen – Carla a Black Lab Dane, and Tarzan, a Siberian Husky Golden Lab.

*

At eleven – dark gray thunderheads massing over Mercy – Healing is waiting in front of his house when August arrives in his small red car with Maurice, a handsome pooch with golden curls.

“Lovely dog,” says Healing, holding out his hand to Maurice and thinking Come rest your chin on my fingers, which Maurice does without the slightest hesitation.  

“I would guess,” says Healing to August, “that Maurice often mirrors your moods.”

“Used to,” says August, gazing sadly at Healing. “Until he got so sad. Now he hardly responds to me at all. Like some part of him just went away.”

“May I introduce him to my dogs?” asks Healing, giving Maurice a tasty little treat.

“Whatever you think is best,” says August, sighing heavily. “He used to like other dogs. Now he’s largely indifferent to them. Please don’t take it personally if he ignores your dogs.”

“If he can ignore my dogs,” says Healing, beckoning August and Maurice to follow him to the backyard gate, “I will consider him the most highly evolved being I have ever known.”

*

Healing and August sit on the deck having tea while Maurice follows Carla and Tarzan and Benito through the vegetable garden and into a copse of magnificent Japanese maples.

“They okay out there?” asks August, standing up and pointing to where the dogs disappeared. “I never let Maurice out of my sight.”

“They’ll be fine,” says Healing, finding August much sadder than Maurice. “They’ll show Maurice the pond and the new section of fence where the bear broke through a few months ago, and then they’ll take him to look across the ravine at the neighbor dogs, and then they’ll snuffle around the woodshed for a time, and then they’ll come back to the house. Please don’t worry.”

“I’ll try not to,” says August, resuming his seat. “So why do you think he’s so depressed? The vets say there’s nothing physically wrong with him. But if that’s true, what could be making him so sad?”

“I have some ideas,” says Healing, nodding. “But first why don’t you tell me a little more about him. Where you got him and what he was like as a puppy.”

“I got him from a breeder in Santa Cruz,” says August, sighing again. “Well… my friend got him for me. Birthday gift. And he was the cutest pup in the whole world, of course. Loved the beach. Loved to run in the waves but not go all the way in. Liked to chase balls. That’s the Golden Retriever. But wouldn’t bring them back. That’s the poodle. And he was the sweetest dog you could ever want until he got so sad. And now he just mopes around and doesn’t want to do anything. Breaks my heart.”

“Does your friend who gave him to you live around here?”

“Not anymore,” says August, shaking his head. “He… he moved.”

“When was that?”

“About six months ago,” says August, pressing his lips together in an effort not to cry. “He moved back to Santa Monica where we lived before we moved here.”

Healing muses for a moment. “Didn’t you tell me at the bank yesterday that Maurice became morose about five months ago?”

“Did I?” says August, squeezing his eyes shut in a vain effort to quell his tears.

“Yes, you did,” says Healing, his own tears about Desdemona finally breaking through.

*

“So what did you tell him to do?” asks Paloma, as she and Magdalena and Healing sit by the fire with the dogs and cats after supper – rain drumming on the roof.

“I didn’t tell him to do anything,” says Healing, sharing the sofa with Magdalena and the cats – Paloma on the floor with the dogs crowded around her. “I explained to him that Maurice is one of the most empathetic beings, dog or human, I’ve ever met, and I believe his persistent sadness is a reflection of August’s sorrow about his dear friend moving away.”

“Was his friend his partner?” asks Magdalena, petting the cat in her lap and the one beside her, too.

“I think so,” says Healing, getting up to put another log on the fire. “I didn’t ask. The important thing is that August now knows that his sorrow and his dog’s sorrow are one and the same, and knowing this he can make a conscious effort to be joyful with Maurice. To play with him and walk with him and commune with him without so much sadness holding sway.”

“Can someone who is really depressed do that?” asks Paloma, looking at her mother. “Just decide not to be sad anymore?”

“It takes time to heal a broken heart,” says Magdalena, looking at Healing as he settles on the sofa beside her again. “A day will come when we can forgive the other person and forgive ourselves, too, and then our heart will heal and we can go on.”

fin

Sorrow piano solo by Todd

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Healing Weintraub

Healing Weintraub has a way with dogs, and he’s good with cats, too. A lifelong resident of Mercy, a small town on the far north coast of California, Healing is fifty-seven, not quite six-feet-tall, and has short brown hair going gray. He makes his living as the manager of Good Groceries, a small worker-owned food cooperative.

When not working at Good Groceries, Healing can usually be found on his two-acre property at the south end of town where he lives in a hundred-year-old house and has two dogs, four cats, three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens. He takes his dogs on walks twice a day, sings in the community choir, plays the accordion, works in his big vegetable and flower garden, and gently pursues Desdemona Garcia, who works at the bookstore and adores Healing, but can’t imagine being in a relationship with him.

Another thing Healing likes to do is help people with their dogs, and vice-versa, and thereby hangs this tale.

*

On a sunny Sunday morning in July, Healing leashes his dogs Benito and Carla and takes them for a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, a patchwork of little old houses and newer mansions. Healing’s house on Nasturtium Road is one of the little old houses, a two-bedroom bungalow wherein both Healing and his older sister Jean were born and raised, and Healing’s daughter Tova, his child from a long ago marriage, was also born and raised. Tova now lives in Portland, Oregon where she is a veterinarian’s assistant and actress.

Benito is a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Carla a large five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur. Both Benito and Carla know Healing has a dog consultation later today, and they know this because they listened intently to Healing speaking on the phone yesterday with a woman who wanted to bring her dog to meet Healing, the conversation ending with Healing saying, “Good. Then we’ll see you and Tarzan tomorrow.”

When they reach the edge of the bustling commercial district of Mercy, Benito and Carla and Healing turn around and head for home via the overgrown dirt and gravel track known to locals as Nameless Alley, a fabulous place to pick blackberries in August. And knowing the dogs are curious about the upcoming consultation, Healing tells them what he knows so far.

“His name is Tarzan,” says Healing, speaking with a trace of the British accent he inherited from his very British parents. “He’s a four-year-old Siberian Husky Golden Lab. His primary human, a young man named Brian, went off to college a year ago and left Tarzan behind. Brian is the only child of Joan, an interior decorator, and Larry, a venture capitalist. They live in a fancy neighborhood in San Rafael and now that Brian is gone they’ve hired someone to take Tarzan for a run every morning. Otherwise Tarzan just mopes around in the backyard. Joan told me that a year ago Tarzan started barking and growling at Larry whenever he sees him, and Larry is furious about the situation and wants to have Tarzan put to sleep.”

Benito frowns at Healing to say Larry bad, and Carla makes a whimpering sound to agree with Benito.

*

Later that morning, Joan and Larry arrive at Healing’s place in a silver Mercedes station wagon, and Healing goes to greet them. Joan is in her forties, a platinum blonde wearing dark glasses and a silky purple blouse and blue jeans. Larry is in his fifties, chubby and balding and wearing a crimson Harvard sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice,” says Joan, shaking hands with Healing.

“You’re very welcome,” says Healing, offering his hand to Larry. “Thanks for making the long drive.”

“Long drive is right,” says Larry, giving Healing’s hand a cursory shake. “Four hours to get to the middle of nowhere.”

“Having lived here all my life,” says Healing, laughing, “I tend to think of Mercy as the center of the universe.”

Larry snorts. “And you purport to know what dogs are thinking?”

“I purport to understand dogs,” says Healing, not at all surprised by Larry’s skepticism. “I was born into a family of four humans, counting me, and five dogs my mother and father and sister related to as equals, so I’ve always related to dogs that way, too. If you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” says Larry, shaking his head. “We only got this one because our son was depressed and the psychologist thought a dog might help. He loved the puppy, but after the dog wasn’t a puppy anymore, the depression came back. Meds finally fixed it and now he’s in college and we’re stuck with the dog.”

“Angela said you helped her so much with… oh…” Joan grimaces at not remembering Angela’s dog’s name. “Her dog.”

“Herzog,” says Healing, smiling at memories of the affable pooch. “A charming bull terrier cocker spaniel.”

“He barked all the time,” says Joan, smiling obsequiously at Larry. “And after Healing worked with him he didn’t bark so much.”

“Barking is not the main problem with this one,” says Larry, sneering at the car wherein waits Tarzan. “He’s vicious.”

“Can’t wait to meet him,” says Healing, moving to the back of the car. “Shall we?”

“He doesn’t like strangers,” says Larry, lifting the rear door and revealing Tarzan, a large silver gray dog sequestered in a travel cage too small for him.

Tarzan growls ominously and Larry backs away.

“I’ll get him out,” says Joan, showing little fear of the dog. “We don’t know why, but for some reason he started growling at Larry.”

“He growls at everybody,” says Larry, glaring at Joan. “Not just me.”

Joan opens the door of the cage and clips a short black leash to Tarzan’s collar – the dog baring his teeth at Larry.

“Look at him,” says Larry, backing further away. “He’s a psycho. This is stupid. We should just have him put down.”

“Hello Tar,” says Healing, speaking quietly to the dog. “I’m Healing. Very glad to meet you.”

Tarzan looks at Healing and his snarl subsides into a solemn gaze.

“Shall I bring him out now?” asks Joan, anxiously.

“I’ll do,” says Healing, taking the leash from her.

“I’m warning you,” says Larry, pointing at Healing. “He hates strangers, especially men.”

“Hey Tar,” says Healing, speaking soothingly to the dog. “Aren’t you beautiful. Yes you are.”

Healing gives the leash a light tug and Tarzan moves out of his cage and jumps to the ground where he gently takes a treat from Healing’s hand.

“We’re good now,” says Healing, placing a hand on Tarzan’s head and turning to Joan. “There’s a nice café five blocks from here. Café Brava. If you’ll leave Tarzan with me for an hour we’ll get things figured out.”

“How much is this gonna cost?” asks Larry, amazed by Healing’s ease with Tarzan.

“Nothing,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I don’t do this for money.”

What?” says Larry, grimacing at Joan. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“I didn’t know,” says Joan, fearfully. “I’m sorry, dear. I honestly didn’t know.”

*

After Larry and Joan drive away, Healing leads Tarzan through a gate into the backyard where Benito and Carla await them.

“Tar,” says Healing, stroking the dog as he unleashes him, “the big girl is Carla, the little fellow Benito. They’re both very nice and eager to meet you.”

Tarzan bristles as Carla approaches, for she is larger than he.

Carla wags her tail and smiles as she comes near, and Tarzan ceases to bristle.

Now Benito rubs noses with Tarzan, and after a bit more sniffing of Carla and Benito, and they of him, Tarzan understands that Benito and Carla are the owners of this place and are fine with him visiting.

“Let’s show Tar the pond,” says Healing, gesturing for the dogs to come with him.

As is his custom, Benito races ahead while Carla walks beside Healing on his right, and Tarzan walks on Healing’s left.

They traverse the vegetable garden and enter a grove of sixty-year-old Japanese maples surrounding a large pond from which Carla and Benito drink.

Tarzan walks to the water’s edge and gazes in wonder at the sparkling pool before tasting the delicious water.

Healing sits on a wooden bench and holds out his hand to Tarzan. “Tell us about your life, Tar. We want to know all about you.”

Tarzan comes to Healing, and Healing asks, “Did Larry hurt you?”

Tarzan gazes forlornly at Healing and sighs profoundly.

Healing rests his hand on Tarzan’s head and senses the dog’s anguish and exhaustion from living in constant fear of Larry.

“Lonely without Brian?” asks Healing, stroking the dog’s back.

Tarzan barely reacts to the name Brian, and Healing understands that even before Brian went away, Tarzan was neglected and afraid.

Now Carla approaches Tarzan and caresses his snout with hers, and Tarzan makes a low moaning sound that speaks of his life with a woman who doesn’t like him and a man who hates him.

*

When Larry and Joan return to Healing’s house, they find Healing waiting for them on his front porch without Tarzan.

“Where’s the dog?” asks Larry, grimly.

“He’s in the backyard with my dogs,” says Healing, coming down the stairs. “I think he’s a good dog and I would very much like to have him if you will give him to me. I don’t think he can be happy with you in the absence of your son or another dog, and I don’t imagine you want another dog.”

“He’s so lonely,” says Joan, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes,” says Healing, knowing she is speaking of herself, too.

“You want him?” asks Larry, gaping at Healing.

“I do,” says Healing, nodding. “Very much.”

“Great,” says Larry, clapping his hands. “Now that was unexpected.” He beams at Healing. “What a relief. I didn’t really want to put him down, but things were getting untenable. I insist on giving you some money. He costs a small fortune to feed.” Larry laughs. “This is so great. Thank you.”

*

And that is how Tarzan came to live with Healing and Carla and Benito in the little old house on Nasturtium Road.

fin

On the Way Home piano/cello duet