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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