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The Same Woman (Donna Again)

October 2021.

Andrew is seventy-three and a widower now for two and a half months. Having eaten little since Luisa’s death, he is thinner than he has ever been, his gray hair full of white.

He sits on the sofa in the cozy one-room studio where Donna, tall and buxom with short red hair and also seventy-three, conducts her business as rabbi and psychotherapist.

“Look at me, sweetheart,” says Donna, sitting in an armchair facing Andrew, her accent Los Angeles Jewish.

Andrew looks at his friend and counselor of the last twenty years and for a moment sees Luisa’s face instead of Donna’s.

“Talk to me,” she says softly. “Say anything.”

They have been sitting quietly for twenty minutes.

Did Cal drive me here? No. Cal lives in Hawaii now. Diana brought me.

“Tell me how you met Luisa,” says Donna, speaking of Andrew’s wife of thirty-four years, her suicide a terrible shock to everyone who knew her.

“Kindergarten,” says Andrew, remembering the first time he saw Luisa’s daughter Lily swinging high on the swings at the Montessori. “Owen and Lily…” He stops speaking, his language center shutting down.

“She brought Lily to your house for a play date with Owen,” says Donna, knowing the story well. “And you liked each other instantly.”

Andrew nods and begins to cry, which is what Donna was hoping for, to break the dam holding back his tears.

Donna has been a widow for five years. Her husband Howard was twelve years older than she. After suffering with increasing dementia for two years, he blessedly succumbed to pneumonia. Donna is currently dating a youngster in his sixties named Herschel, and is in the midst of passing the reins of the shul to another feminist rabbi. 

When Andrew stops crying, Donna says, “You need to tell a part of Luisa’s story every day. That’s how you’ll heal. Trust me.”

“Maybe I don’t want to heal,” he says, glaring at her. “Maybe I want to die, too.”

“Maybe you do,” says Donna, nodding. “But I don’t think so. I think you want to be alive for your children and grandchildren, and for your friends and for yourself.”

“I killed her,” he says, bowing his head. “Taking on Teo and Rosa was too much to ask of her.”

“That’s not true. You both wanted Teo and Rosa. And Jalecia. Luisa’s granddaughter. She asked of you what you asked of her. Am I wrong? I don’t think so. She confided in me for twenty years. She was adamant the children stay with you and not go with Adrianna.”

“But Teo and Rosa wouldn’t have existed,” he says, crushed by his grief, “if I hadn’t stupidly mated with Adrianna. Stupid animal me.”

“Beautiful animal you,” says Donna, calmly. “God gives us life in mysterious ways. You were a vehicle for God’s desire to bring your children into the world. And you and Luisa did a fabulous job bringing them up, and you will complete the job.”

“Or die trying,” says Andrew, who always eventually reverts to his Jewish self when he spends time with Donna.

“Watch out, bubalah,” she says, grinning at him. “We might start laughing and then how will we grieve?”

“Grieve schmeeve,” he says, laughing through his tears. “I need some good deli.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she says, getting up. “Come on. I’ll drive us to Max’s.”

Donna pilots her electric car through the lunchtime traffic of Vancouver, the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, many of the pedestrians masked, though Vancouver and Canada have not been much affected compared to the catastrophe in the United States.

They sit by an open window in the deli and split an order of fries and a hot pastrami sandwich on rye with sauerkraut.

“I was starving,” says Andrew, hailing their masked waitress. “Could I get a cup of coffee, please?”

“Two,” says Donna, raising her hand. “I never think I want coffee until after, and then midway through the sandwich I crave the bitter.”

“My mother always said, ‘Save the coffee for the cookies,’” says Andrew, his eyes filing with tears as he thinks of his long-departed mother, “but I just can’t wait.”

The waitress brings two mugs of black stuff and says to Andrew, “You probably don’t recognize me with my mask on. Delilah Bernstein. I was in Moon In Leo. The deli scene. You are such a good director. In fact, I got this job because I was in that movie. Max is a huge fan. He saw the movie seven times in the theatre and watches the video all the time.”

“I see you now,” says Andrew, imagining her face without the mask. “You were great.”

“I hear Character Driven is gearing up to make another movie,” she says, nodding hopefully. “Can I give you my card?”

“Yeah, sure, but you should call my son,” says Andrew, starting to cry. “You know Owen. He’ll remember you.”

“Okay, I will,” she says, touched by his tears. “I’ll tell him you told me to. Thanks.”

Andrew weeps for what seems like a long time to him, but is only a minute or so.

“Good to cry,” says Donna, crying a little with him. “Why don’t you come again tomorrow? At eleven. Then we’ll do lunch again. This is good.”

Chauffeured home by Diana, Andrew gets out of the trusty red Prius and gazes at the house he built forty-five years ago, the place feeling lifeless to him with Luisa gone and the kids at school—Teo and Rosa fourteen, Jalecia eleven.

“I have to make some calls before I go to the store and get the kids,” says Diana, stretching her arms to the sky. “You need anything before I go?”

Diana is a beautiful Eurasian, fifty-three, British, with raven black hair, a poet and artist and inveterate wearer of T-shirts and blue jeans. She has lived in the other house on the property for ten years, helping with the kids and housework and cooking.

Andrew gazes at her, having forgotten in these last few months how much he loves watching her and listening to her speak.

“What?” she asks, blushing at being so intensely observed. “Something unzipped?”

“No, I was just…” He laughs self-consciously. “I guess I could use a hug before you go.”

“Always,” she says, coming to embrace him.

“I can’t ever thank you enough,” he says, relaxing in her embrace. “Couldn’t survive without you.”

“Yes you could,” she says, giving him a good squeeze. “But you don’t have to.”

Waiting for Diana to get home with the kids, Andrew wanders into the living room and sits down at the piano, an exquisite teak upright he and Luisa bought twenty years ago to celebrate the success of a movie they wrote—this his first time at the piano since Luisa died.

He plays the first notes of the tune he was composing when Luisa died and the music makes him cry, but he goes on playing until the phone rings and he hurries to the kitchen to answer.

The caller is his son Owen who is thirty-nine now and lives in Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi and their seven-year-old daughter Mimi.

“Papa?” he says, sounding like a little boy to Andrew.

“Hey O,” says Andrew, his son’s voice bringing up more tears—the session with Donna having obliterated his floodgates.

“Just spoke to Diana,” says Owen, who is also still grieving Luisa. “We were thinking of bringing pizza over there for supper tonight. Diana said I should check with you and see what you think.”

“Yeah, great,” says Andrew, making a supreme effort to sound positive. “I may not last long tonight, O. Haven’t slept much lately, but I’d love to see you and Yosh and Mimi.”

“Good. I’ll call Diana,” says Owen, thrilled by this first Yes from Andrew since Luisa died.

Andrew hangs up and has a good long cry, and on his way back to the piano, the phone rings again—Lily, Luisa’s daughter, calling from Los Angeles.

 “Hey Papa,” says Lily, who is the same age as Owen. “How you holding up?”

“Okay,” he says, clearing his throat. “Had a good session with Donna today.”

“Donna,” says Lily, the name not registering. “Tell me again who that is?”

“The rabbi.”

“Oh yeah, the rabbi therapist,” says Lily, sounding hurried. “Good. Great. I’ve been going to my therapist every day. Can’t believe Mama’s gone. Just can’t believe it. I feel so bad I didn’t get up there more often these last few years, but I’ve been so crazy busy with the new show and the new house and… still I should have come before the fucking virus ruined everything. I’m a terrible daughter and a rotten mother.” She waits a moment. “You still there?”

“I’m here,” says Andrew, startled to realize he has never fully forgiven Lily for leaving her baby with them eleven years ago so she could pursue her acting career unencumbered. “Please don’t think of yourself as a terrible daughter or a rotten mother. If I ever made you feel that way, I apologize.”

You apologize?” says Lily, stunned. “I’m the one who fucked up, not you.”

“Oh Lily, don’t think that,” he says, wishing he could hold her on his lap as he did when she was little and would come to him seeking solace. “You’re an adventurer. An artist. You gave us Jalecia who is the great joy of my life and was your mother’s joy.”

“Oh Papa,” says Lily, crying, “I want to come visit you and Owen and the kids, but the virus is still out of control here and if I came to Canada I’d have to quarantine in some hotel for ten days before I could even start my visit and I’m so busy with…”

“I know,” he says, seeing now that holding the vision of Lily as a defiant teenager helped her stay stuck in that idea of herself. “We’ll be together again. All in good time. We will.”

The next morning, Donna settles into her armchair, studies Andrew for a moment and says, “You look better today. How are you feeling?”

“I actually slept for a few hours last night,” he says, giving her a sleepy smile. “Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi brought pizza for supper and Diana and Rosa made a big salad. Root beer for the kids, wine for the grownups. Quite the shindig. We rioted until nine.”

“Did you dream?”

“I did, but I only remember a fragment. Owen was in the living room. He was maybe ten, searching for something. He looked under the sofa cushions and then he frowned at me. That’s all I remember.”

“Tell it again,” says Donna, knowing what the dream is about. “Present tense.”

Andrew closes his eyes and sees young Owen moving around the living room, searching for something. “He’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Must be summer. He looks under the cushions, looks around the room, and now he sees me and gives me a questioning look.”

“What’s his question, do you think?”

“Where is she?”

Donna considers this. “Why do you think he’s a boy in the dream and not a man?”

“He seems like a boy to me now,” says Andrew, fighting his tears. “A boy who lost his mother.”

“So maybe he knows where she is. Maybe that’s not his question.”

“You think he wants to know why she killed herself?”

“Of course he does. Wouldn’t you if you didn’t know?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shaking his head.

“Okay,” she says, nodding slowly. “Tell me about the last three years of Luisa’s life.”

“I don’t know if I can today,” he says, bowing his head. “I don’t feel well.”

“What are your symptoms?”

“Anxious. Achy. Dizzy. Miserable.”

“What was going on at your house three years ago?”

“The twins were eleven, Jalecia was eight, Luisa and I just turned seventy, Cal and Terry just moved to Hawaii, and Owen and Miyoshi were getting their company going with Moon In Leo and…” He grimaces. “It was all too much for Luisa. Too much to ask of her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Too much work. Too much going on. She was overwhelmed.”

“Were you overwhelmed?”

“Yes,” he snaps. “Of course I was.”

“I don’t remember you being overwhelmed. I remember you loved working on the movie and being energized by the experience.”

“At Luisa’s expense,” he says bitterly. “I was off playing at being a movie director while she was all alone dealing with the kids.”

“Alone? What about Diana?”

“Okay, yes, Diana was there, but I wasn’t. And it was too much for her.”

“You mean for the few weeks you worked on the movie?”

“What are you trying to say?” He feels like he’s about to break in half. “That it wasn’t too much for her?”

“I’m not trying to say anything.” She waits a moment. “I want you to tell me the story of the last three years of Luisa’s life. Which is your story, too. I want you to tell me what you remember, not what you think you did wrong. Just the story of those years.”

He sits up straight and rolls his shoulders to loosen the grip of his demons. “I had an amazing four months working with Sakura. And directing those scenes in Moon In Leo was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. And after Sakura went back to Japan, the plays and stories and songs just came pouring out of me and I was in heaven writing them.”

“You were reborn.”

“I was reborn.”

“And Luisa?”

“She was not.”

“Did she resent you?”

“No,” he says, remembering the trip they took after Sukara went back to Japan, the glorious train ride through the Rockies to Banff, their elegant suite in the Banff Inn, their long walks in the wilderness.

“Where did you go just now, Andrew?”

“To Lake Louise,” he says, seeing Luisa reflected in the ethereal blue of the lake. “Ten days without the kids. Just lolling around and taking walks and…”

“And what?”

“She said she didn’t want to go home. Said she was tired of raising children, tired of not having time for anything else. ‘Can’t we just keep going? Stay in Montreal for a few weeks and then fly to Europe. Please?’”

“What did you say?”

“I said we’d redesign our lives to travel more and I’d do more with the kids and she could do less, but I didn’t want to just abandon them.”

“So did you travel more?”

“Before the pandemic I tried, but she wouldn’t go.”

“So from then on you and Diana were the parents.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Were the kids confused by Luisa withdrawing?”

“Yes. Especially Jalecia. She was so attached to Luisa.”

“So Luisa withdrew. What did she do all day?”

“At first she read and watered the garden and went on long drives and…” He strains to remember. “Then she’d suddenly re-engage with the kids and start cooking again and going to soccer games and say, ‘I’m back. I just needed a break. I’m fine now.’ And that would last a week or two and then she’d withdraw again. And every time she withdrew, she seemed to go further into her aloneness.” He looks at Donna. “Then you referred her to the psychiatrist who prescribed the anti-depressants, which seemed to help at first, but then she started forgetting things. She’d leave something cooking on the stove and wander out into the garden or she’d leave the hose running and flood the garden or she’d come into a room and say, ‘Why did I come in here? I knew a few seconds ago, but now I have no idea.’ So she stopped taking the meds and withdrew again.”

“And you were writing and composing and taking care of the kids,” says Donna, nodding. “Shouldering on without her.”

“Not without her,” he says, seeing Luisa in the garden lost in thought. “I spent lots of time with her during the day when the kids were at school and at night.”

“What did you do together?”

“We talked when she was willing to talk. I played the piano for her. We went to the beach. We worked in the garden. Or I worked and she daydreamed. I’d make us lunch.”

“Was she still going on long drives?”

“No, she stopped driving. She said it was too confusing. And by then we were staying home because of the virus, so…”

“So for a year she mostly kept to herself?”

“Mostly,” he says, nodding. “And she just got more and more depressed, so I arranged for her to have a thorough medical exam and they concluded she was clinically depressed and should be on meds. And when the doctor told us that, Luisa said, ‘Then I might as well be dead.’”

“How long ago was that?”

“Eight months? Seven months? Seems like years ago.”

“Did she ask you to help her die?”

“Yes,” he says, closing his eyes. “But I couldn’t.”

“You thought she’d get better.”

“I wanted her to, but I didn’t think she would.”

“Why not?”

Silence.

“Why didn’t you think she would get better?”

“She seemed more ghost than alive.”

“Then what happened?” asks Donna, moving from her chair to sit with Andrew on the sofa.

“She stayed in bed for a month and then she got up and made a valiant effort to be part of the family again, though it was incredibly difficult for her. And then one day she got very upset with the kids and threw a glass at Teo that shattered all over the kitchen and she said horrible things to Rosa and screamed at Jalecia, and she felt so terrible about what she’d done that she went on the meds, and for some weeks she seemed better and we had some nice suppers, the whole family, and some good days at the beach and then…”

“She took the car and drove fifty miles north and lay down on the sand and cut her wrists and died.”

Andrew weeps and Donna holds him.

When his tears abate, Andrew says, “She left a note that said burn my unfinished stories and tell the children and Diana I love them. You know I love you.” 

They have lunch in Donna’s kitchen—chicken soup and bread and cheese—neither speaking as they eat.

Donna makes coffee to go with their after-lunch cookies, and as she pushes down the plunger on her French Press she says, “I may have said this to you before, but it’s worth repeating. Many of us are prone to feeling we are responsible for the other’s happiness or for their suffering or both. We know intellectually this isn’t true, but as my great teacher Rabbi Orenstein used to say, ‘Our mighty unconscious laughs at our pipsqueak intellect and carries on as per usual.’ Unless we break free of our early programming, which very few people ever do, then that early programming will always be our default response.”

“I think the hardest thing for me,” says Andrew, who feels nearly weightless from shedding so many tears, “is… well, two things. First, I had thirty years with Luisa without a day of her being anything but happy to be alive, happy to be engaged in our writing and music and loving our children, so I wasn’t prepared for how suddenly she changed.”

“What’s the other thing?” asks Donna, pouring him a cup of coffee.

“I keep thinking I should do something to make things better for the kids,” he says, smiling sadly. “To ease their pain.”

“This is the illusion, Andrew. You are not responsible for their happiness or their suffering.” She looks at him for a long moment. “You were responsible when they were babies and little children, but they are who they are now, and they must suffer the loss of Luisa in their own ways. Of course you can help them deal with their sorrow. You can love them and listen to them and let them know you’re there for them. But you can’t keep them from suffering. And the best thing you can do for them now is to embrace life and follow your heart and know that Teo and Rosa and Jalecia and Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi and Lily are all watching you and learning from you. Because if you can lovingly embrace life, you who lost the love of your life, so will they. And so will I.”

Every day Andrew feels a little less numb, a little less hopeless, and better able to hear and respond to what Teo and Rosa and Jalecia and Diana say to him.

On a rainy afternoon in November, Andrew and Diana and Jalecia and Teo stand on the sidelines of a soccer field, cheering wildly as Rosa outruns everyone and brilliantly jukes the goalie and scores the winning goal—Andrew falling to his knees and kissing the muddy earth.

A few weeks before Christmas, the kids at school, Diana finishes washing the breakfast dishes and carries her tea and notebook into the living room where she sits and listens to Andrew composing a piano piece, his search for what comes next inspiring Diana to write her first poem since Luisa died.

Five months later, in April of 2022, the first truly effective vaccine against the virus plaguing humanity is deployed around the world, and Diana and Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia are among the first to be inoculated.

On a sunny morning in June, Canada having successfully vaccinated seventy per cent of her population, the other thirty per cent soon to follow, Diana finds Andrew in the garden and tells him that Simon, her boyfriend of six years, has left her for another woman.

“He’s a fool,” says Andrew, giving her a comforting hug. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll be okay,” she says, lingering in his embrace. “I’m mostly worried about how to tell the kids. They love Simon.”

“Do you want me to tell them?”

“No,” she says, stepping back from him and smiling radiantly. “Thanks for offering, but I need to do it so they can ask me their ten thousand questions.”

Andrew laughs. “May it only be ten thousand.”

In July, after a good session in Donna’s studio, Andrew and Donna go to lunch at Max’s, the wait staff still masked, the virus not yet entirely eradicated in Canada and still going strong in the United States.

They split an order of fries and a Reuben sandwich and Donna talks about how relieved she is to be free of her rabbi duties and how much fun she’s having creating her book of mini-sermons.

“I’ve been reading through my old sermons,” she says, her cheeks reddening. “Hundreds of them. And I am both awed and chagrined at how confidently I spouted such well-meaning nonsense and so often missed the deeper truth. So this is my chance to not only be more succinct, but to right the wrongs of my erroneous clichés.”

“I can’t wait to read them,” says Andrew, who has recently entered a sorrowful phase as the one-year anniversary of Luisa’s death approaches.

“If you will be my editor,” says Donna, smiling hopefully, “you can read them very soon.”

“I would be honored,” he says, immeasurably grateful to her.

“Speaking of honor,” says Donna, gesturing to their waitress for the bill, “I would like to have a ceremony for Luisa on the one-year anniversary of her death. Nothing elaborate. Just lighting a candle and saying a prayer and asking everyone to share a memory of her. Just you and I and Diana and Owen and Miyoshi and the kids and any friends you’d like to invite.”

“Could be hundreds,” says Andrew, his eyes filling with tears. “She was greatly loved.”

“Up to you, dear,” she says, crying with him. “You tell me who to invite.”

In August, twenty people gather in the garden at Andrew’s house to remember Luisa.

Donna lights a candle and says, “We have gathered here to kiss Luisa’s spirit with our memories of her. I will begin by sharing my favorite Luisa memory, which is that every time I came here to have a meal, I would find Luisa in the kitchen and she would give me a smile that meant, ‘Come here and taste this,’ and I would go to her and she would feed me as a mother feeds her child, something delicious she’d made, and then we would look into each other’s eyes and be one with each other in our joy.”

In October, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and Diana are saying goodnight when Diana surprises Andrew by saying, “How about we spend the night together? You and me. Just because.”

“You mean… share a bed?” says Andrew, who has lately been enjoying speaking with a Jewish accent.

“Yeah. Sleep together.”

“My bed or yours?” he says, trying to be funny.

“Either one. They’re both nice beds.”

“I would be afraid to do that,” he says, dearly loving Diana but considering her taboo.

“We don’t have to have sex,” she says, her tone suggesting she wouldn’t mind if they did. “I just want to be close to you. I’m tired of sleeping alone knowing you’re sleeping alone and we could be keeping each other warm.”

“If we got in bed together,” says Andrew, his heart pounding, “despite the fact, or because of the fact I haven’t had sex in forever, we would probably have sex. Or we would try. Or I would. Because… how could I not? And if for some reason whatever happened made you unhappy or uneasy or caused you to leave… I just… I don’t ever want that to happen. Not that I haven’t thought about making love with you. I have. I do. I’ve always thought you were… luscious. But I’m seventy-four. You’re fifty-four. We’re best friends. We raised the kids together. I don’t want to lose you.”

“It is a gamble,” she says, looking into his eyes. “A big gamble. But I still want to.”

“I’m amazed,” he says, fighting the momentum of his desire. “And flattered, but…”

“Come on, Andrew,” she says softly, knowing he would never initiate their first kiss, and therefore the initiation is up to her. “Gamble with me.”

fin

Tender Mystery

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The Same Woman (Jennifer)

Every so often throughout his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he knows, though he has never seen her before. He met the first of these women in elementary school in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, and he married her in 1987.

In 1993, Andrew and his wife Luisa are both forty-five and have been married for six years. Their children Owen and Lily are both eleven and in Fifth Grade. They live in a beautiful house Andrew built not far from the ocean about ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Andrew wrote a collection of short stories when he was in his mid-twenties that launched a string of successes for him, and at the height of his good fortune he met and married Kiki, a dancer and choreographer with whom he had Owen. When the exigencies of fate removed his star from the firmament of Canadian culture, Andrew returned to carpentry to pay the bills and ceased to write.

When Owen was four and going to kindergarten, Andrew met Luisa whose daughter Lily was in school with Owen. The marvelous simpatico Andrew experienced with Luisa inspired him to start writing again. A few months later, Kiki got involved with somebody else, divorced Andrew, and gave him full custody of Owen.

The following year, Andrew and Luisa were married. When Andrew’s literary star began to rise again and his income was sufficient to cover the financial needs of their family, he convinced Luisa to give up her cooking gig at a popular restaurant and become his assistant and collaborator.

The business end of publishing books and producing plays holds little interest for Andrew, but for Luisa the commercial aspects of publishing and show biz are endlessly fascinating and she has become quite learned about the interconnected complexities of publishing, theatre, and the movie business. Indeed, her expertise regarding these interconnections has resulted in their most lucrative contract yet.

Two years ago, Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday ended a long run in Vancouver following a successful premiere run in Montreal, and now the play is being performed in small theatres across Canada, America, England, and France.

Their Summer Holiday is a whimsical romance about a single father and his adolescent son spending a few magical weeks in a coastal village populated with colorful eccentrics and an alluring French woman with whom both father and son become enchanted.

The play was thought too quirky to be made into a movie until Luisa convinced Andrew to create with her a movie synopsis of the play focusing more on the love story and less on the eccentrics. Their elegant four-page synopsis, refined over several months, was pitched by Andrew’s agent to a select group of actors and producers, the movie rights were subsequently optioned by a big Hollywood studio, and Andrew and Luisa were contracted to write the screenplay.

They finish the third draft of their screenplay on a Friday in early April, each new draft written in response to notes from the film’s two LA-based producers, a fast-talking fellow named James Skidmore and a somewhat slower-talking woman named Jennifer Zindel, both of whom will be arriving in Vancouver in mid-April to spend a few days finalizing the script with Andrew and Luisa, filming to begin in September.

Most week days Andrew and Luisa wake to a 6:30 alarm, stay in bed for a while talking, take quick showers, make breakfast for the kids, and then one or both of them bicycles with the kids to the public elementary school three miles from their house, unless it’s raining or snowing or too bloody cold, in which case one of them drives the kids to school.

When Owen and Lily have been safely delivered to the halls of learning, Andrew and Luisa have coffee and breakfast over which they plan their morning and early afternoon. This planning session sometimes leads to a return to bed before the commencement of one or more of the following: writing, gardening, business correspondence, music making, beach combing, shopping, visiting friends, and going into the city for business or pleasure.

The kids get home from school by 3:30, have snacks and debrief with Luisa and/or Andrew, do their chores and homework, help prepare supper, eat supper, practice music for an hour, and gather in the living room with the adults for some sort of group activity, musical or otherwise.

Both Owen and Lily are studying piano with Luisa and both of them love to sing. Lily plays the guitar, Andrew her teacher, and Owen plays the clarinet, his teacher Chas Lowenstein who happens to be Andrew and Luisa’s renter and lives next door with his wife Betty.

Lily and Owen are both avid readers, excellent students, and aspire to be writers and musicians. They are each adept at walking on their hands, juggling three tennis balls, and throwing Frisbees with remarkable power and accuracy.

When the kids have gone to bed, Luisa and Andrew like to sit by the fire with cups of tea and talk about their children and anything else that comes to mind.

One evening after supper, a week before the movie producers are due to arrive, Owen and Lily and Luisa and Andrew gather in the living room for a game of Charades and Owen says, “Today Miss Tucker gave us the choices for our final big project of the year. We can either do a ten-page report on some important event in Canadian history or…”

“A ten-page biography of someone famous,” says Lily, taking up the recitation. “Or five two-page book reports on books from her list of acceptable books or a ten-page family history.”

“We have a week to decide,” says Owen, pursing his lips and gazing thoughtfully at the fire dwindling in the hearth. “Then we have to turn in a detailed proposal and once Miss Tucker approves we have to write a first draft, a second draft, and a final draft.”

“History repeating itself,” murmurs Andrew, thinking of the three drafts they’ve done of their screenplay.

“I’ll probably do a biography of either Mendelssohn or Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald,” says Lily, wrinkling her nose. “I was going to do the book reports, but Owen and I already read all the books on her list two summers ago and she won’t let me do To Kill A Mockingbird because she says we don’t get that until high school even though Owen and I read it last summer.”

“I might do the family history,” says Owen, looking at Andrew, “and if I do you’ll need to remember back as far as you can and then I’ll call Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Zeke and Grandma Kaylia and ask them to remember.”

“I was gonna do a family history,” says Lily, shrugging, “but there’s only you, Mama, and you only remember Grandma Lily so there won’t be ten pages unless I write about Owen’s side and he might already be doing that.”

“Well don’t forget I also remember Grandma Lily’s mother,” says Luisa, smiling at her daughter. “Your great grandmother.”

“You do?” says Lily, excitedly. “I don’t remember you ever telling me about her.”

“I did when you were little,” says Luisa, thinking of her mother and how much she would enjoy Lily and Owen. “But not for a long time.”

“Like what do you remember about her?” asks Owen, who thinks Luisa is the most wonderful person in the world, right after Lily.

“Her name was Ziibi,” says Luisa, closing her eyes and seeing her sturdy grandmother shooing chickens into the coop at dusk. “Ziibi means river in Ojibwe. My mother and I visited her a few times when Ziibi was living in Baudette, a town in Minnesota just across the border. She had an old house on the Rainy River and raised rabbits for meat and pelts, and she rented out a room in the house to an old Chippewa man named Ray who was deaf and smoked a pipe. I stayed with her there without my mother for six weeks the summer I was thirteen. I remember she’d get the barbecue going and I’d pick ears of corn from her big garden and she’d set them on the coals in their husks, and then she’d walk out to the river with her fishing pole and right away catch a big fish, a trout or a pike or a walleye, and clean it in no time and cook it right up. Most delicious fish I ever ate.”

“What did she look like?” asks Lily, eager to know. “Was she as brown as you?”

“No and my mom wasn’t so brown either. I never met my father, but I must have gotten my darker brown from him. He was from Cuba, but I don’t know what he looked like because my mother never showed me a picture of him, though I think she had one.”

“My mom got her brown from Grandma Kaylia who was from Barbados,” says Owen, who hasn’t seen his mother in four years. “My mom’s dad was Chinese, but he died before I was born so I never got to meet him.”

“Ten pages won’t be enough,” says Andrew, knowing Owen longs to see his mother.

Andrew and Luisa meet the movie producers James and Jennifer at Tangelo’s, a trendy restaurant a few blocks from the famous Hotel Vancouver where James and Jennifer have booked a suite on the fifteenth floor.

James is slender and balding and nattily dressed, has a strong Chicago Jewish accent, laughs explosively, and only grows serious when discussing the script for Their Summer Holiday.

Jennifer is short and buxom with shoulder-length bleached blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Raised in New Jersey by Yiddish-speaking grandparents, the first thing she says to Luisa and Andrew is that she hates the name Jennifer and wants them to call her J.

Luisa and Andrew both order fish and chips and beer. James and Jennifer both order gin and tonics, garden salads, and shrimp scampi, and they both give their waiter ultra-specific instructions about how to make their gin and tonics, how to prepare their salad dressings, and how they want their linguini and shrimp cooked.

As Jennifer hands her menu to the waiter she says, “If you overcook my shrimp or serve me a shitty gin and tonic, things will not go well for you.”

To which James adds, “As for my gin and tonic, when in doubt err on the side of gin.” Having said this, he laughs explosively.

When the drinks arrive, Jennifer holds her glass aloft and says, “Here’s to the best script I’ve ever worked on.”

Glasses are clinked, drinks are drunk, the gin and tonics are declared delicious, and Jennifer says, “We are so close to signing Paul Sydney to direct I can’t tell you. The only wrinkle with Paul is he wants to shoot this in Thailand, turn it into a tropical fairy tale with half-naked Asian beauties and sampans. But we really don’t want to go that way.” 

“Thailand?” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling. “You’re kidding.”

“You know what I just realized,” says James, pointing at Andrew. “This movie is a whodunit. Only nobody gets murdered.” He arches an eyebrow. “But maybe somebody should.”

“This is not a whodunit,” says Jennifer, glaring at James. “This is a brilliant coming of age story meets gorgeous mid-life crisis love story.” She pauses. “We’re thinking a few songs sung by the characters might really work in this film. One song for Leo, one for Jonah, one for Louise. Not a musical really, but quasi.”

Andrew recalls his agent Penelope Goldstein saying Have no illusions, Andrew. By signing this contract you are giving them permission to do anything they want with your story. Yes, you will write a screenplay, but they are not obliged to use it. Do you understand?”

“I’m sure you’re aware there are three wonderful songs in the play sung by those characters,” says Luisa, taking a deep breath. “But after we sent you our first draft you said nix the songs.”

“Not those cutesy folk songs,” says James, shaking his head. “We’re talking Elton John, Randy Newman. Big time movie songs.”

“A quasi-musical?” says Andrew, locking eyes with Jennifer and connecting with something deep inside her. “Is that what you want, J?”

“No,” she says, flustered by this unexpected breaching of her usually impenetrable defenses. “I want to shoot this just the way you wrote it, but my job…” She glances at James. “Our job is to get this movie made, which always means deviating from the source material. It just does. For instance, if we sign Marc Laredo, and pray God we do, he’s gonna play Jonah a bit fay, though Jonah in your script is definitely not fay. He’s a serious romantic, ultra-sensitive, thoughtful and kind, yet wonderfully masculine, too.” She laughs self-consciously. “Somebody stop me. I sound like Pauline Kael on Ecstasy.”

After lunch they move to James and Jennifer’s suite on the fifteenth floor of Hotel Vancouver and array themselves on comfy chairs around a big coffee table.

“Drinks?” says James, bouncing his eyebrows. “Coffee? Brandy? Martinis? Champagne? Cannabis? Cocaine?”

“Coffee would be great,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew and saying with her eyes We’ll get through this, darling. Please don’t tell them to go fuck themselves.

James calls room service and orders coffee and cookies, scripts are gotten out, and pens are poised.

Jennifer, still a little woozy from Andrew’s deep dive into her psyche, clears her throat and says, “I wasn’t kidding when I said this is the best script I’ve ever worked on. However, there are two large problems we need to solve before we can sign the likes of Marc Laredo or Shirley Stone who, as you know, got the ball rolling when they both flipped over your pitch.”

“And what are those problems?” asks Luisa, noting Andrew’s growing disquiet.

“Leo,” says James, throwing up his hands. “He’s got more screen time than Louise. And by the way, we found a brilliant unknown to play Leo. When we tested this kid he practically melted the camera. British. Of course. Gorgeous. The young James Dean meets the young Johnny Depp. Eighteen but plays thirteen no problem, and he’s a far better actor than Marc or Shirley will ever be, but even so we can’t have him upstaging them.”

Andrew is about to say something when the coffee and cookies arrive and Jennifer makes a pretty show of serving everyone.

“And the second problem?” asks Luisa, bracing herself.

“Jonah and Louise,” says Jennifer, adding a huge amount of sugar to her coffee.

“Ah,” says Andrew, pretending to understand. “So the two big problems are the three main characters. Anything else?”

“Andrew?” says Jennifer, looking at him and pursing her lips as if wanting to kiss him. “We love the whole not-liking-each-other-at-first turning into a crazy funny love thing. It’s genius. And I don’t use that word lightly.”

“Academy Award stuff,” says James, winking at Luisa. “You can start writing your acceptance speeches now.”

“But then you leave us hanging,” says Jennifer, clasping her hands. “Do they get together at the end? We never find out.”

“What are you talking about?” says Andrew, looking at her as if she’s insane. “Jonah and Leo pull up in front of Louise’s house in their big old convertible and she comes down the walk wearing a quasi wedding dress and dragging her gigantic suitcase and Leo and Jonah jump out of the car and load her suitcase on top of all their stuff and she gets in beside Jonah, and Leo gets in beside her, and off they go and we track back into an aerial view as they speed along the coast highway and make the turn inland. How is that not getting together? She goes with them at the end.”

“Was there a love scene I missed?” says James, flipping through the script. “I can’t find it? Where is it?”

“The whole movie is a love scene,” says Andrew, horrified by these people.

“Of course it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”

“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie. “Maybe.”

“Some people will get that the whole movie is a love scene,” says Jennifer, smiling sadly at Andrew. “But most people won’t get that unless we show them Louise and Jonah sealing the deal. Kapish?”

“If this was an arty French film,” says James, smacking his copy of the script with the back of his hand, “or even an arty British film, okay, be subtle. But this is a big budget American movie. Subtle won’t fly. Big budget movies can’t afford to be subtle. At the very least we need passionate kissing and the tearing off of clothing, though much better would be the onset of hot sex and exclamations of ‘You’re the best yet, babe,’ or words to that effect.”

“Who would say that line?” asks Andrew, getting up to go. “Jonah? Who would never in million years say something like that? Or Louise who would never in a million years say something like that? Hey I have an idea. Let’s have a parrot watching them fucking and he can say You’re the best yet, babe. Are you truly not aware after reading three drafts that Jonah and Louise never state the obvious?”

“Hey,” says James, waving his hand to dispel Andrew’s outrage. “We’re on your side. But we didn’t spend all this time and money not to make a movie. Right? And though I totally respect your desire to have a movie made that is a hundred per cent true to your vision, that will never happen unless you write and direct and produce your own movie, and even then it won’t turn out the way you want it. I hate to tell you this, pal, but every movie you have ever loved did not turn out the way the playwright or the novelist or the screenwriter wanted it to. They don’t. They never do.”

“Thank you for enlightening me,” says Andrew, feeling as rotten as he has ever felt. “I think the best thing for us to do right now is go home and discuss all this and meet with you again tomorrow.”

“We’d be happy to come to your place,” says Jennifer, getting up and holding out her hands to both Andrew and Luisa. “We are truly honored to be working with you on this movie and I know we can create something fantastic together. I know we can.”

Andrew is too upset to drive home, so Luisa drives, neither of them saying a word until they are free of the city.

“I wonder why they waited until we’d written three drafts,” says Andrew, wishing he and Luisa had never created the enticing synopsis, “before telling us to shrink Leo’s part, expand Louise’s, and finish the movie with sex. Couldn’t they have told us that after the first draft?”

“Maybe they didn’t know what they wanted until now,” says Luisa, wishing she’d never suggested writing an enticing synopsis. “Or maybe they thought we’d be more likely to agree to those changes if we thought a long delay would jeopardize the chances of the film getting made.”

“I couldn’t make those changes if I wanted to,” says Andrew, looking at her. “Could you?”

“No,” she says wistfully. “It would ruin everything.”

“It’s like one of those dreams where you win the race,” says Andrew, laughing despite his angst, “and then you step in a pile of shit and no matter what you do you can’t get the shit off your shoes.”

At supper, Owen and Lily want to hear all about the movie producers.

Luisa and Andrew exchange looks and Luisa says, “They took us to a snazzy new restaurant called Tangelo’s and they were very particular about the proportions of the ingredients in their gin and tonics and their salad dressings and about how to prepare their scampi, and then we went to their snazzy suite in the Hotel Vancouver and talked about the screenplay, and then we came home.”

“The key word here is snazzy,” says Andrew, who is slightly drunk. “They were both very snazzy people, Jennifer perhaps a bit snazzier than James, and they want us to rewrite the screenplay so Louise has a bigger part than Leo and in the end Jonah and Louise have a big sex scene.”

“Yuck,” says Lily, disappointed with their synopsis of the movie producers. “I thought you were done writing the screenplay.”

“So did we,” says Luisa, making a mental note to check their contract about compensation for any writing they might do beyond the third draft.

“When you say snazzy,” asks Owen, frowning at Andrew, “do you mean he’s handsome and she’s beautiful? Because they sound stupid.”

“I would not say James is handsome,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But I would say Jennifer is beautiful, though for my taste she wears too much makeup.”

“And if you meet her,” says Luisa, smiling at the children, “call her J because she hates the name Jennifer.”

“We might meet them?” asks Owen, sounding worried. “When?”

“There’s a slight chance they’ll be here when you get home from school tomorrow,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew. “We’re still negotiating the location of our next meeting.”

Andrew barely sleeps that night and rises early to have a cup of tea and think about life before he makes breakfast for the kids and bicycles to school with them, the day sunny and cool.

He gets a flat tire on the way home and has to walk the last mile, and as he pushes his bike along the country road something shifts inside him and he lets go of needing to defend the screenplay.

When he gets home he finds Luisa sitting at the kitchen table, still in her nightgown, writing in her notebook.

“What are you writing?” he asks, sitting beside her.

“My dream from this morning,” she says, writing the last few words. “Want to hear?”

“I do,” he says, closing his eyes to listen.

“I’m walking behind my mother on a slender trail following a fast-flowing river through a forest of tall trees. Now we emerge from the forest and come to a corral in which there is a beautiful brown horse.

“My mother says, ‘This is the horse you wanted when you were a girl, but we lived in the city and had no place for him. He is young and wild. You can tame him or let him go.’

“‘I want to let him go,’ I say. ‘But where is the gate?’

“‘There is no gate,’ she says, handing me a saw. ‘You have to make an opening for him.’

“So I take the saw and start sawing one end of the top plank, and I hear someone else sawing and look up and see you sawing the other end of the plank, and I wake up.”

Jennifer and James arrive at one, the day turning cloudy.

Luisa serves lunch on the deck overlooking the garden: chicken quesadillas with homemade guacamole and a garden salad dressed with olive oil and white wine vinegar and a splash of lime.

James raves about the food and the salad dressing and says to Luisa, “You should open a restaurant. I’ll invest heavily.”

“Luisa was the chef at a restaurant not far from here,” says Andrew, gazing fondly at his wife. “I ate her ambrosia for years before I met her.”

“Do you miss it?” asks Jennifer, wrinkling her nose at Luisa. “Working in a restaurant?”

“I sometimes miss the comradery,” she says, looking at Jennifer. “But I don’t miss the pressure. The relentless pressure to produce.”

“Speaking of pressure to produce,” says James, playing a drum roll on the edge of the table with his index fingers. “How soon can you make those changes?”

“We can’t,” says Andrew, relieved to be saying so. “We understand why you want them, but you will have to find someone else to do that for you.”

James and Jennifer exchange looks of surprise and Jennifer raises her hand and says, “Hold on now. Not so fast. We will be happy to pay you for two more drafts.” She puts her hand on her heart. “We love your characters and we love your dialogue and we want to get this right.”

“The thing is…” says Andrew, looking at Jennifer and connecting again with something deep inside her, “we are too much in love with the story and the characters to betray our love.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says James, pointing with both index fingers at Andrew. “You guys are too close to the material. And fortunately, we know some of the best finishers in the business.”

“Would you at least be willing to vet the final dialogue?” asks Jennifer, clearly upset to be losing them. “We really want the dialogue to be consistent.”

“We’d be happy to,” says Luisa, a moment before Andrew can say No.

“Mahvelous!” says James, raising his glass. “Here’s to wrapping this puppy up and signing some sexy A-list stars.”

Andrew and Luisa accompany James and Jennifer to the big shiny black car they hired for the day—the driver waking from his after-lunch snooze and jumping out to open doors.

“We’ll be in touch,” says James, giving Luisa a kiss on the cheek and shaking Andrew’s hand. “You guys are special.”

“Thank you so much,” says Jennifer, pecking Luisa’s cheek and intending to peck Andrew’s, except he embraces her.

“We are of one mind with you, J,” he says, holding her for a long moment. “And we know you will represent us well in the battles ahead.”

“What a wonderful thing you said to her,” says Luisa, holding Andrew’s hand as they watch the big black car roll away. “I think she probably would make the movie the way we wrote it if only she could.”

“I do, too,” says Andrew, feeling light as air. “I also think we should go to the beach now and take the kids out for pizza tonight.”

The movie based on Their Summer Holiday is not filmed in Thailand or anywhere else in September because in July the American movie studio that optioned the movie rights and paid Andrew and Luisa to write three drafts of the screenplay and then paid two other writers to write three more drafts, drops the project after the overseeing studio exec reads the sixth draft and says, “By page five I wanted to vomit.”

A year and a few months later, in October of 1994, a maverick Danish filmmaker named Nicolas Thorsen options the film rights to Their Summer Holiday from Andrew and Luisa for five thousand dollars, writes a new screenplay based on the original play, has Andrew and Luisa tweak his screenplay, and makes the movie for two million dollars.

A charming thirteen-year-old from Bristol plays Leo as if born to the role of a preternaturally kind and imaginative person.

A beguiling French gal with red hair and emerald eyes plays the part of Louise with an irresistible mix of innocence and savvy.

A droll self-effacing fellow from Oxford who reminds everyone of the young Rex Harrison plays the part of Jonah.

The three songs from the play are performed in the movie by the three main characters accompanying themselves on ukuleles.

And the movie ends exactly as Andrew and Luisa imagined it would, except when Louise gets in the car she gives Jonah a marvelous kiss—an unscripted kiss that turns out to be cinematic genius.

Their Summer Holiday, the movie, is released simultaneously in England and France in October of 1995 and is an instant success. By December the movie is playing all over Europe, and in the spring of 1996 Their Summer Holiday opens in a hundred theatres in North America and becomes an art house sensation.

That same spring, Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Lily are in the throes of mighty change. The kids are now in Eighth Grade, Lily fast becoming a young woman with suitors galore, Owen falling in love every few weeks but too shy to approach the girls he’s smitten with.

Luisa and Andrew are writing a play together, a comedy drama set in a bookstore, Andrew is working on a series of short stories about carpenters, and Luisa is writing a quasi-autobiographical novella about the six weeks she spent with her grandmother on Rainy River.

On Tuesday mornings, just for fun, Andrew and Luisa write screenplays together, acting out the parts and imagining how Nicolas Thorsen, who is now their hero and friend, might film the scenes.

In the fall of 1996, Jennifer calls Andrew to see how he and Luisa are doing. Several times in the course of their conversation she refers to Their Summer Holiday as the one that got away, and though she recently had a big hit with a serial-killer flick and has a prostitute-becomes-a-princess film about to open in thousands of theatres, she insists Their Summer Holiday is the best movie she’s ever seen and would love to work with Andrew and Luisa again some day.

When she’s done dropping the names of all the big stars she’s working with, Andrew asks, “So what’s going on with you apart from the movie biz?”

And after a moment’s hesitation she says, “I wonder if I’ll ever be in a relationship with someone who really understands me, really gets me. Like you get me, Andrew. Someone like you.”

fin

One Fell Swoop

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The Same Woman (Laura)

Andrew meets the same woman every few years and immediately recognizes her. She, however, never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before, though she is always pleased to meet him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen and her name was Sara.

As it happens, she is always his age.

Andrew at seventeen has reached his full height of five-eleven. A basketball player and landscaper, he tips the scales at 170 pounds. The year is 1966, spring is in the air, and being a teenager living in the suburbs of San Francisco, Andrew has fallen under the spell of the counter culture movement that will one day be known as The Sixties.

This being his senior year at Woodberry High, and now that basketball season is over, Andrew lets his hair go untamed and takes to wearing loose-fitting trousers, T-shirts sporting leftwing political slogans such as Power To The People, sandals, and an old suede jacket.

He has taken Drama for three years now and has a big part in the spring musical Once Upon A Mattress. He has applied for admission to Yale because of their renowned Drama department, and to UC Santa Cruz because one of his two older sisters is going there and he has to get in somewhere because the Vietnam War is raging and he desperately wants a student deferment.

And for the first time in his life, Andrew has a girlfriend. Her name is Megan and she is a pompom girl with long blonde hair. Never in a million years would Andrew have pursued Megan. She is very rich, drives a new convertible Mustang, her parents are conservative Republicans, and she and Andrew have almost nothing in common except they are human and go to the same high school.

Megan set her sights on Andrew this past December when he became a starting guard on the Woodbury basketball team, and he was powerless to resist her. His friends are chagrined that Andrew is going with Megan, in small part because she cares more about fashion than civil rights, but largely because she is wholly disinterested in poetry, music, art, and protesting the war, all of which Andrew and his friends are passionate about.

What Andrew’s friends don’t understand is that he has never had any sort of girlfriend, not counting his twelve-day romance with Sara when he was thirteen. And though Megan is not a leftist, she is affectionate, insists Andrew drive her very cool car whenever they go anywhere together, leaves love notes and little gifts in his locker, usually chocolate, and takes him to lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant almost every weekend.

Andrew’s father has a small landscaping business and Andrew’s mother works in a bakery. Until Andrew’s sisters left for college, he shared one of the three small bedrooms in their house with his younger brother. And until Megan took him to an upscale restaurant for the first time, the fanciest restaurant he had ever gone to was a pizza parlor.

Once Upon A Mattress finishes its two-weekend run on a Saturday night exactly a week before the Senior Ball, which is a huge event in Megan’s life. She is chairperson of the Senior Ball Planning Committee and the frontrunner to be crowned queen of the ball. On the same Saturday as the Senior Ball there is an anti-war march and rally in San Francisco that Andrew and several of his friends are planning to go to.

The cast party for Once Upon A Mattress is held at the palatial Helzinger estate in Atherton, home of sixteen-year-old Marvin Helzinger who ran lights for the play and wants to be a movie producer. Megan wasn’t going to attend the party but changed her mind when Valerie Morris, the female lead, gave Andrew an amorous hug during the final curtain call and Andrew seemed delighted.

A half-hour after Megan and Andrew arrive at the party—Megan glued to Andrew as they makes the rounds of his fellow cast members—Andrew’s friend Cal mentions the upcoming anti-war march and asks Megan if she’s coming with them.

“When is it?” she asks to be polite.

The date revealed, Megan frowns at Andrew and says, “But honey that’s the day of the Senior Ball.”

“The march is in the morning,” he says, nodding assuredly. “We’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“Can I talk to you in private?” she says, smiling falsely at Cal. “Excuse us, please.”

She leads Andrew out the front door of the mansion and halfway down the wide walkway before she stops and says,  “You are not going to an anti-war thing on the same day as the Senior Ball. You could get arrested or your old car might break down. You can’t go. I will not allow you to ruin the most important day of my life.”

“We’re taking the train,” says Andrew, stunned by this outburst from his previously easygoing girlfriend. “The march starts at nine in the morning. We’ll get to Kezar at eleven, listen to some speeches and music, catch the bus back to the train station and be home by three. We’re not rioting, Megan. We’re just marching. Mike and Cal are going, too, and they’re both going to the ball, so…”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I can’t risk this, Andrew. It’s too important to me. There will be lots of other marches, but there’s only one Senior Ball. You’ll just have to skip this one.”

Andrew has never had a conflict of any sort with Megan in the five months they’ve been going together. She has never been angry with him, nor has she ever insisted he do or not do something. He wants to please her, but he also wants to march against the war that is threatening his life and the lives of his friends, not to mention the lives of millions of Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.

“I promise I’ll be home by three,” he says, reaching out to take her hand.

“No,” she says, snatching her hand away. “You will not go to that thing. I won’t be able to sleep knowing you might miss the ball. I’ve never asked you for anything, Andrew, but now I’m begging you. Please don’t go to that march. Promise me you’ll stay home next Saturday and take me to the ball and go to the hotel with me afterwards and we’ll make love for the first time in our lives. Like we’ve been planning for weeks. Please. Don’t ruin this for me. Please.”

“Megan…”

“No,” she says sternly. “If you won’t promise me right now that you won’t go to that march I’m breaking up with you.”

And this is the moment Andrew makes his leap into adulthood. Not having gone through any formal transition from childhood to adulthood, he has been suspended in the netherworld of extended adolescence since he was thirteen.

But now he experiences a thrilling clarity of mind and says to Megan, “Then we’re breaking up. Because going on that march is ten thousand times more important to me than going to the Senior Ball.”

“Then you can go to hell,” she says, hurrying away to her car.

“No,” he says, amazed by this sudden turn of events, “I think I’ll go back to the party.”

As Andrew re-enters the spacious living room filled with happy vibes of triumphant teenaged thespians, Mona Wilson, who did Andrew’s makeup for the play, beckons to Andrew and he hastens to her side.

“Andrew,” says Mona, beaming at him, “this is my friend Laura. Laura this is Andrew.”

Turning to Mona’s friend, Andrew gapes at the lovely young woman and blurts, “Sara? Sara Banducci? Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re here. Did you see the play? I was in that play because of you. Oh my God. This is incredible. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” says Laura, her long brown hair in a braid festooned with white carnations. “Only my name is Laura, not Sara. And though I love the name Banducci, my last name is Rosenstein.”

Andrew looks from Laura to Mona and back to Laura. “I’m so sorry. You look just like a person I used to know.” He gazes at her in wonder. “You could be her identical twin. Down to your dimples when you smile.”

“You liked her, I think,” says Laura, arching her eyebrow. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “More than anyone I’ve ever known. I mean… we only knew each other for a couple weeks but… and then I wrote to her for a long time but…”

“She didn’t write back,” says Laura, pouting exactly as Sara pouted. “But eventually you got over her and now you have a beautiful girlfriend. So alls well that ends well.”

“Actually I just broke up with my girlfriend,” says Andrew, laughing. “So of course in the next moment I would meet you again, only not really again because you’re not Sara, you’re Laura and… where do you live?”

“San Francisco,” she says, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “Why? Do you want to come live with me?”

“Probably,” he says, reddening. “Do you have room for me?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “By the way, you were great tonight. The whole play was wonderful, but you definitely stole the show.”

“I think he’s gonna be a big star,” says Mona, giving Andrew a hug. “And I’ll do his makeup for his entire career. Won’t I, Andrew?”

“I’ll insist,” says Andrew, gazing longingly at Laura. “It will be in all my contracts that only Mona does my makeup.”

A half-hour later, Laura and Andrew are standing on the patio sharing a forbidden glass of wine and looking into the living room where a mob of happy teenagers are loudly reprising all the songs from Once Upon A Mattress.

“What did you mean?” asks Laura, standing close to Andrew, “when you said Sara was why you were in the play? Was she an actress?”

“She wanted to be,” says Andrew, remembering sitting with Sara at the end of a little pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe. “Whereas I had never really thought about what I wanted to be or wanted to try to be. I was just going along working for my father and going to school and playing basketball. But when she said she wanted to be an actress, I suddenly had a vision of myself I’d never had before, though it must have been there all along in my subconscious. Or my unconscious. Do you know what I mean? It was like the idea of being an actor was just waiting to be awakened. Or awoken. I’m never sure which is right.”

“They both work,” says Laura, taking the wine from him and having a sip.

“What about you?” he asks, entranced by her. “What do you want to be?”

“I’d like to be an actor,” she says, nodding. “I’ve been in a few plays. And I love to write, so maybe I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll write a play for you to star in.” She laughs. “Do you smoke pot?”

“I never have,” he says, taking the wine from her and having a long drink. “You?”

“A little,” she says, nodding. “My mom smokes weed on the weekends. She’s a social worker. I have a few puffs now and then, but I don’t want to get in the habit until I’m done with high school. I love getting stoned, but it’s just so sensual, you know, there’s no way I can do anything very linear when I’m stoned, and getting good grades is all about linear thinking.”

“I’m a solid B student,” says Andrew, handing her the wine. “Which is why I probably won’t get into Yale. So fingers crossed for Santa Cruz.”

“Or San Francisco State,” she says, nodding. “That’s where I’m going. We don’t want you getting drafted, Andrew. Absolutely not.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “We don’t want me getting drafted.” He takes a deep breath. “What we want is to kiss you. Is that something we could arrange?”

“Yes,” she says, stepping into his arms.

After their first long kiss he declares, “You are by far the best kisser I’ve ever kissed.”

And after their second kiss she whispers, “Would you like to come visit me at my house? Make love?”

“I… yeah, but… I’m… I’ve never made love before so you’d have to teach me.” He nods to affirm this. “If you want to.”

“I do,” she says, dimpling profoundly. “I would love to teach you.”

On the Monday morning following the cast party, Andrew finds a note from Megan in his locker saying she’s changed her mind, he can go to the march and take her to the Senior Ball, she was just caught off guard and upset when she learned the march and the ball were happening on the same day, but she’s over that now and loves him so much she never wants to break up with him. Never.

Her note, however, comes too late to pull Andrew back into his previous life, so he doesn’t meet her for lunch at their usual spot on the patio outside the multi-purpose room, which means Megan has to seek him out near the water fountain adjacent to the library where he is having lunch with his Drama pals.

“Andrew,” she says, interrupting his conversation with Mona and Cal, “can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” he says, walking with her to a place in the sun out of earshot of his pals.

“Did you get my note?” she asks urgently.

“Yeah, I did but… I think it’s good we broke up. I mean… I think you’re a great person, Megan, but we live in different worlds. I’m… I’m really sorry to inconvenience you, but I’m not going to the ball.”

She squints at him. “Did you hook up with Valerie after I left the party?”

“No,” he says, thinking of Laura. “I did not hook up with Valerie.”

“Oh Andrew,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I made a mistake. I was wrong. Won’t you forgive me? You can do whatever you want. I don’t want to own you. I just want to be with you.”

Hearing her say this, Andrew knows without a doubt that he would have resumed his relationship with her, would have gone to the ball, and would have lost his virginity with her in some big bed in some posh hotel and been miserably entangled with her for months and possibly years if he hadn’t met Laura and arranged to see her again.

But I did meet Laura.

“I’m sorry, Megan. I… no.”

“What if I go on the march with you?” she says, her jaw trembling. “And we don’t go to the ball? Then will you take me back?”

“Oh Megan,” he says, pained to see her suffering so. “This isn’t about that. This is about who we are and what’s important to us. You know almost nothing about my life, and I know almost nothing about yours. We went on dates and you were very sweet to me and I tried to be sweet to you, but…”

“You met somebody else,” she says, glaring at him. “I know you, Andrew. You wouldn’t dump me otherwise.”

“I did not dump you,” he says, his anger obliterating his sympathy for her. “You did the dumping. Remember? You dumped me.”

On the morning of the march, Andrew and Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona catch the train from Redwood City to San Francisco, detrain at Fourth and Townsend, catch a bus up to Market Street, and join the growing throng at 8:30.

At quarter to nine someone taps Andrew on the shoulder and he turns to behold Laura looking great in a purple paisley shirt and blue jeans and carrying a big sign saying Out of Vietnam Now!

“Hey,” says Andrew, embracing her.

“Hey,” she says, blushing. “Come meet my mom.”

She leads him through the crowd to a knot of middle-aged men and women, her mother a pretty gal with curly black hair and large-framed glasses and a New York accent.

“Mom this is Andrew,” says Laura, blushing a little. “Andrew this is my mother Janet.”

“Hello,” says Janet, grinning at Andrew as she shakes his hand. “No wonder she fell for you. You’re only seventeen? You look twenty-two. A handsome twenty-two. You’re coming to visit after?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “If that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” she says, letting go of Andrew’s hand. “We’ll see you at the flat.”

“I’m gonna march with Andrew, okay?” says Laura, giving her mom a quick kiss. “See you at home.”

They make their way back to Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona just as the great crowd begins to move forward, the first chant to be taken up en masse End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home! End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home!  

Five hours later, Laura and Andrew leave the hubbub at Kezar Stadium and walk across Golden Gate Park to an old three-story building two blocks off the park where Laura and her mother live in the ground floor flat.

Elated and exhausted, Andrew and Laura revive themselves with guacamole and chips and Laura says, “Shall we go shopping? For some crucial supplies?”

“Aren’t you gonna show me your bedroom first?” says Andrew, taking her in his arms and kissing her.

“Not until we procure the crucial supplies,” she says, pulling away from him and picking up her purse.

“Just what are these crucial supplies?” he asks, following her out the door.

“Food for supper,” she says, locking the door. “I told Mom we’d cook tonight. Spaghetti and meatballs, vegetables, and something yummy from the bakery for dessert. She’s got three friends coming. Oh. And we need to get condoms. Heard of those?”

“I have,” he says, lowering his voice. “In fact I brought some.”

“How many?” she asks, dimpling provocatively.

“Three,” he says, laughing self-consciously. “Cal gave them to me.”

“We’ll need more than three,” she says, taking his hand. “And we’ll get the kind I like.”

Groceries and pie and condoms purchased, they return to the flat and find Laura’s mother and two of her women friends in the kitchen drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.

“We’ll start making supper in a couple hours,” says Laura, unpacking the groceries. “But first I’m gonna show Andrew my etchings.”

The women laugh appreciatively and Laura’s mother says, “I’ll cook tonight, sweetie. Take your time. We’ll call you when the pasta is perfecto.”

“Thanks Mom,” says Laura, giving her mother a kiss. “I owe you.”

“So much,” says her mother, laughing.

Laura leads Andrew down a long hallway to a bedroom at the opposite end of the flat from the kitchen, a bedroom with a bed not quite as big as a queen but nearly so.

She closes the door and they kiss hungrily as they undress.

And when they are naked and lying down together Laura says, “Now be honest with me, my darling Andrew. How much do you know about a woman’s body?”

“Well,” he says, taking a moment to catch his breath, “I have two older sisters, so I’ve seen the naked female.”

“Yes, but do you know what lies beneath her surface?” she asks, guiding his hand to her sex.

“Not really,” he says, on the verge of his orgasm.

“Oh honey,” she says, caressing his sex and sending him past the point of no return.

“Sorry about that,” he says tearfully. “I… there was nothing I could do. Except let it happen.”

“Don’t ever be sorry for being sexy,” she says, kissing him. “Now here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to explore my body with your hands and your eyes and your mouth, with me as your guide. Okay?”

“Yes,” he says, surrendering entirely to her wisdom and kindness.

Before they sit down to supper, Andrew calls his parents to tell them he’s okay, and when his mother asks to speak to Laura’s mother, Andrew hands the phone to Janet and the mothers talk and laugh.

After supper, Laura and Andrew do the dishes and go for a walk around the block in the cool night air before returning to the flat to resume Andrew’s lesson.

And as they lie in each other’s arms, resting, Andrew says, “Tonight was the Senior Ball. I’m so glad I missed it.”

“Tonight was mine, too,” says Laura, sitting up to look at Andrew. “Guess how many boys asked me to go with them to the ball?”

“A hundred?” says Andrew, feeling so finished with high school he can’t imagine sitting through another six weeks of classes.

“Four,” says Laura, getting out of bed. “I’m starving. Come to the kitchen with me.”

“Shouldn’t we get dressed?”

“If you want to, but my mom sleeps like a log, so…”

Andrew in his underwear, Laura in a skimpy robe, they sit in the kitchen eating cold spaghetti and drinking wine and feeling marvelous.

“Tell me, darling,” says Andrew, affecting a credible British accent. “Have there been many before me?”

“More than five and less than seven,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “One was very good, one was not bad, four were not very good, and I didn’t love any of them, but I liked them, so…”

“That makes me number seven,” he says, feeling jealous of her former lovers, though not very. “Was I good?”

“The best of all,” she says, setting her wine glass down and putting her arms around him. “Because I love you and because you’re strong and beautiful and you get better and better the more we practice.”

“You make me happier than I’ve ever been,” he says, kissing her.

“You know what I think?” she says, closing her eyes.

“Tell me,” he says, loving the sight and the sound and the scent of her.

“I think we should get married in seven years. And if we lose touch before then, we’ll find each other again and be writers and actors together and have two children and a dog and cats and a big garden. Say yes.”

“Yes,” he says, though he knows if they lose touch he may never see her again.

And they do lose touch, though not until they spend a glorious summer together, a summer made of many weekends in her San Francisco flat, and a fall full of amorous visits, he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, she at San Francisco State.

But then she meets Don, a graduate student from Bristol, seven years her senior, and she is so smitten with him that when Don returns to England, she goes with him.

This time, though, she is the one who writes to Andrew every week for months and months, but he is so hurt by her choosing another over him that he cannot write her back and she eventually stops writing to him and he lives on without her.

 fin

song

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The Same Woman (Sara)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she knew before.

They met for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was in the summer before they started high school. 1962. He was thirteen and so was she. In fact, she is always his age.

Thirteen-year-old Andrew is a handsome lad with hard-to-tame brown hair and olive skin. Five-foot-seven and growing fast, the beginnings of a beard and mustache have recently emerged on his chin and upper lip, prompting him to shave every few days. He is an avid basketball player and has a weekend and summer job involving hard work with pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. Thus he is agile and muscular and very strong for his age.

A few weeks before high school begins, Andrew is given the marvelous gift of being allowed to go with his best friend Jeremy and Jeremy’s parents and younger sister to a little house on the north shore of Lake Tahoe that Jeremy’s family rents for two weeks every summer.

The little house is just a block from a white sand beach. Renters of the little house may avail themselves of two rowboats tethered to the pier at the south end of the beach. Hiking, fishing, swimming, rowing, and goofing around are on the holiday agenda, though ogling girls is at the top of Jeremy and Andrew’s vacation to-do list.

Goofing around on the beach is what Jeremy and Andrew are doing on their second day at the lake, the afternoon warm and windless, perfect for throwing the Frisbee and diving into the lake in pursuit of the enticing disk.

As Andrew emerges from the lake after a spectacular dive and catch, he sees two comely young women, a blonde and a brunette, arriving on the beach, and he is struck by the uncanny resemblance of the brunette to the Alice he knew and loved from age six until he was almost ten. That’s when Alice and her family moved from California to Canada and he never heard from her again.

The young women spread big beach towels on the sand twenty feet away from Jeremy and Andrew’s towels and remove their sarongs to reveal their lovely young bodies clad in bikinis. Now they lather on sun block, don sunglasses, and lie down for a bout of tanning, though both of them are already deeply tanned.

Jeremy and Andrew plant themselves on their towels, gaze longingly at the sunbathing maidens, and Jeremy quietly opines, “Are we in heaven or what?”

“I think I know one of them,” says Andrew, touching his heart in homage to the first girl he ever loved.

“The blonde or the brunette?” asks Jeremy, frowning at Andrew. “And how come I don’t know her?”

“Alice Rivera,” says Andrew, on the verge of tears. “She left at the end of Fourth Grade and you came in Fifth. I told you about her. Didn’t I?”

“I don’t think so,” says Jeremy, shaking his head. “Are you sure it’s her? Wasn’t she only like nine the last time you saw her?”

“We were almost ten,” says Andrew, feeling again how much he loved Alice. “And she was way ahead of the curve, if you know what I mean.”

“Judging by the curves she’s got now,” says Jeremy, grinning, “I do know what you mean. So you’re telling me this gorgeous babe is only thirteen?”

“If she’s Alice, yeah,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Well…” says Jeremy, his eyes widening expectantly, “introduce yourself.”

“No,” says Andrew, looking away from the young women. “I’m too shy.”

However, twenty minutes later in the midst of a splendid game of Frisbee, Jeremy flings the disk a bit higher than Andrew can leap and the swirling disk alights in the sand mere inches from the two young women who have been sitting up for some time now watching Andrew and Jeremy play.

The young woman who Andrew thinks is Alice picks up the Frisbee and smiles enticingly as Andrew comes near.

“Sorry about that,” he says, blushing.

“The old errant Frisbee gambit,” she says, her cheeks dimpling exactly as Alice’s always did.

Seeing those dimples, Andrew blurts, “Alice? Alice Rivera? I’m Andrew. Remember me? Andrew Ross.”

The young woman arches her eyebrow. “Followed by the old name-guessing ruse. But for future reference, Andrew, never add a last name to the first name guess. Because then when she replies, ‘I’m not Alice, I’m Sara,’ you can slap your forehead and say, ‘Oh of course. Sara. I meant Sara.’”

“But I didn’t mean Sara,” says Andrew, gazing in wonder at her. “I mean Alice. Everything about you is Alice. Your face, your eyes, the way you speak.” He takes a deep breath. “Little Hills Elementary. Redwood City. You moved to Canada four years ago and I wrote to you a bunch of times but you never wrote back.”

“He’s very cute,” says the blonde, “but I think he’s a little crazy.”

“I don’t mind a little crazy,” says the brunette, locking eyes with Andrew. “I’m Sara. This is Dominique. I’ve never been to Redwood City or Canada, but we can still be friends if you want. How long are you here for?”

“Twelve more days,” he says breathlessly. “You?”

“About the same,” she says, dimpling again. “And then we go back to Reno and start our first year of high school.”

“So…” He clears his throat.

“Maybe we can hang out,” she says, beating him to the punch as Alice always did. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Jeremy,” says Andrew, beckoning to Jeremy who is standing in the shallows a hundred feet away. “He’s great. You’ll love him.”

“We’ll be the judge of that,” says Dominique, taking the Frisbee from Sara, rising gracefully, and flinging the disc straight as an arrow to Jeremy who catches it with both hands and tumbles backwards into the lake.

The next day, after a morning hike with Jeremy’s parents and sister, Andrew and Jeremy return to the beach where Sara and Dominique await them with a picnic of sandwiches and potato chips and soda pop and chocolate chip cookies.

They are all wonderfully comfortable with each other, and Andrew continues to marvel at how much Sara reminds him of Alice, her facial expressions, her gestures, the timbre of her voice, the way she listens so intently to what others are saying, and how she moves and runs and laughs.

In the late afternoon, they take the rowboats out on the lake, Dominique and Jeremy in one boat, Sara and Andrew in the other, and after a time their boats go in different directions.

“So tell me about this Alice you were in love with,” says Sara, sitting in the prow and facing Andrew as he rows.

“She was…” He smiles as he remembers Alice. “She was beautiful and super smart and very funny and the fastest runner in our class until Fourth Grade when a couple guys could finally beat her. And she was very sure of herself. Self-confident. Just like you.”

“Except she was an idiot not to write you back,” says Sara, pouting in the same adorable way Alice pouted. “I would have. I think you’re great.”

“Thanks.” He blushes. “I think you are, too.”

“You want to make out?” she says softly.

“You mean…”

“Kiss,” she says, nodding.

“Okay,” he says, ceasing to row. “I never have, but… I’d like to.”

“Never have?” she says, moving to sit beside him. “You seem so sophisticated.”

“Well, um, I read a lot,” he says, clearing his throat. “But I’ve never had a girlfriend, so…”

“You’ll have lots,” she says, kissing him tenderly.

“Wow,” he whispers. “That was amazing.”

“Again please,” she says, kissing him again.

After a few more minutes of incredibly pleasurable communion with each other, they jump in the lake and swim in a big circle around the boat before finding each other to kiss some more.

Sitting side-by-side in the rowboat, each manning an oar as they row back to shore, Sara says, “I wish you lived in Reno. Then we could go together and who knows what might happen.”

“I wish I lived there, too,” he says, nodding in agreement. “I’d give anything to live near you.”

“You seem older than thirteen,” she says, finding him ideal in every way.

“So do you,” he says, madly in love with her. “If I hadn’t thought you were Alice, I would have thought you were sixteen.”

Two nights later, Sara and Dominique come for supper with Jeremy and Andrew and Jeremy’s parents and sister. Sara and Dominique tell Jeremy’s inquiring mother what they already told Jeremy and Andrew, that their mothers are blackjack dealers in a big casino in Reno and every summer take a quasi-vacation by coming to Lake Tahoe with their daughters for a month of dealing blackjack four nights a week at a casino on the north shore. Sara’s father is a fitness trainer in Florida and she rarely sees him. Dominique’s father is a pit boss in a Reno casino. Dominique has an older brother; Sara is an only child.

“And what do you girls aspire to be?” asks Jeremy’s mother, who expects both her children to get at least PhDs.

“I might be a psychologist,” says Dominique, smiling warmly at Jeremy’s mother. “But I’m really into music, too, so maybe I’ll get a job with a record company or manage a band or something like that.”

“I want to be an actress,” says Sara, nodding assuredly. “I’ll try for Yale, but I’ll probably go to Nevada State. I sing, too.”

“How wonderful,” says Jeremy’s father, an electrical engineer. “When I was thirteen all I wanted to be was fourteen. Beyond that, I knew nothing. I think it’s great you know the direction you want to go.”

“Subject to change,” says Sara, winking at Andrew. “My mother wanted to be an actress, too. It’s a long shot, but why not dream?”

Three days after Dominique and Sara come for supper, Dominique and her mother have to go home to Reno to take care of Dominique’s grandmother who fell and broke her hip. Jeremy is devastated because he and Dominique were planning to lose their virginity together and now that won’t happen.

Andrew and Sara have no such plans, though their bouts of kissing and caressing sometimes verge on sex. But they both feel too young and too unsure and too afraid. In almost every way they seem to be of the same mind, and this is something Andrew has never experienced with anyone before.

On a beautiful evening, five days before their idyll must end, Sara and Andrew sit side-by-side at the end of the pier. They are dressed warmly for the cold that descends upon the lake every night as summer gives way to fall. Jeremy is with his parents and sister in the little house, making fudge and playing Monopoly.

“The problem, dear Andrew,” says Sara, with a credible British accent, “is that you’ve set the bar so dreadfully high, I despair of ever meeting someone as fine as you again in this one brief life I am given.

“Well I’m going to be an actor, too,” says Andrew, his British accent atrocious. “You never know. We just might meet again at Yale or Nevada State.”

“But truly, Andrew,” says Sara, dropping the British accent. “I can’t imagine ever meeting anyone I like as much as you. We just… we just go together so well in so many ways.”

“Want to count them?” he asks, putting his arm around her.

“No, I’ll get too sad,” she says, sighing. “If only we were twenty-five. That’s when I want to get married. But that’s twelve years from now. Who knows where we’ll be twelve years from now?”

“We’ll both know because we’ll write to each other and call each other and visit each other during the summers and…”

“No, we won’t,” she says shaking her head.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re thirteen. We’ll try to stay in touch, but after a few letters saying how much we miss each other, we’ll get all tangled up in high school and… meet other people.”

“No,” says Andrew, defiantly. “I’m gonna write to you every week for the rest of my life whether you write me back or not. Every Sunday. I won’t let myself eat until I’ve written you a letter and put a stamp on it and mailed it.”

“You’re so sweet,” she says, kissing him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says, crying. “I’ve never known anyone as wonderful as you.”

Sara comes for supper on Andrew and Jeremy’s last night at the lake, and during supper Jeremy’s mother asks Sara if she’ll be coming to the lake again next summer.

“Probably not,” she says, shaking her head. “I have to get a job and there’s a summer Drama program I want to get into if I can. But if I don’t get in, maybe I’ll be back. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well just so you know,” says Jeremy’s father, “we’ll be coming back here for the same two weeks next year and hope to drag Andrew along with us.”

Andrew escorts Sara home after supper, both of them crying as they hold hands and walk along under the starry sky.

“I never got to meet your mother,” says Andrew, sniffling back his tears.

“She would love you,” says Sara, giving his hand a squeeze. “I will try to write to you, Andrew. I will. But I might be too sad.”

“I know we’re gonna see each other again,” he says, his heart about to burst. “I know we will.”

“I hope so,” she says as they arrive at her house. “But no matter what happens, I’ll never forget you.”

Andrew writes to Sara every Sunday for seventeen Sundays, and Sara writes to him a few times, too. But when ten of his letters to her go unanswered, he skips a Sunday and then another, and when he tries to write to her again, he cannot coax a single word from his pen.

But he does see her again. Four years later. Her name is Laura when they meet at seventeen, and he knows her the minute he sees her, though she will claim she’s never seen him before.

fin

song

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Dexter Digs Up His Lawn

sally's cactus blooms

Dexter was so looking forward to a lusty week at Happy Valley Retreat Center, but the love-in got cancelled because of the dang virus that’s going around, and going around is a humongous understatement.

So in the aftermath of that tragic cancellation, and having heard a voice while watching a cloud, a voice that might have been Dexter’s imagination but might have been the voice of the universe, AKA God, Dexter decides to follow the advice of the voice and dig up his scraggly lawn and put in a vegetable garden and plant some fruit trees.

Who is Dexter? Why should we care about him? Those are two good questions. I would even say they are essential questions. Many novels and stories and movies, especially movies, go wrong because we never get to know the main characters as people rather than archetypes, and we aren’t given good reasons to care about those characters.

Dexter is forty-six, a Caucasian American male born and raised and living in Springfield, Oregon, a UPS delivery person for thirteen years now after four years as an auto mechanic at Super Fast n’ Cheap Oil Change. Before being an oil changer he was co-owner with his mother Doris of an online 1960s memorabilia company called Quicksilver Memory Service, which Doris still has though her sales in the last twenty years haven’t amounted to much.

In the next three paragraphs I’ll try to answer the question about why you should care about Dexter. If what I tell you doesn’t ring your bell, I suggest you stop reading and do something else with your precious time. Doesn’t ring my bell, by the way, is one of Dexter’s favorite expressions, learned from his mother who uses it several times a day.

Dexter is a kind and thoughtful person who is genuinely interested in other people. He is fascinated by history and neurobiology and reads voraciously about both. He learned next to nothing in high school and did not attend college, yet his two best friends are highly educated and consider Dexter a wonderfully original thinker. One of those best friends is a middle-aged Chinese man named Luis, a microbiology software designer, and the other best friend is a forty-year-old Danish woman named Greta, a researcher for an online encyclopedia.

Painfully shy around women he finds attractive, Dexter finds most women attractive. He would love to be in a relationship, but his several attempts all ended unpleasantly, not because Dexter is a jerk, but because he grew up without any sort of model for how one goes about having a relationship, except with one’s mother.

Dexter is a sweetheart who is afraid of seeming too sweet. He loves classical music, something he got from his mother’s father who was a classical music clarinet player. He also likes music that swings, something he got from being human. He has two cats he dotes on, Frank and Ethel, and he would love to have a dog but doesn’t feel he has the time and energy after ten hours of delivering packages to give a dog the attention and exercise he or she would require. He also has a large aquarium, home to seven neon tetras. His favorite television show is the British game show 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, his favorite ethnic cuisine is Thai, and if none of that makes you care about Dexter, read no further.

However, if you are still reading, Dexter’s parents split up when Dexter was five, and though they legally had joint custody of Dexter, he spent most of his childhood with his mother Doris in her Airstream trailer in the Riverside Mobile Home Park where she still lives today.

A spry seventy-six, Doris starts every day with several cups of black coffee and reading Tarot cards for an hour or so. Thus it has been since Dexter was born. A retired bookkeeper, Doris owns three other Airstream trailers and the lots they sit on in Riverside Mobile Home Park. The rent she derives from those three mobile homes is sufficient to support her minimalist lifestyle and leave her a little extra each month to contribute to the local food bank.

She is not terribly afraid of catching the dang virus going around, but she is a little afraid, so for the time being she visits with Dexter on the phone and not in-person. She has groceries delivered to her doorstep every few days and walks her toy poodle Cream around the mobile home park for a half-hour every late morning and again in the early evening. She believes 1972 was the apex of human culture, and the décor in her Airstream, the music she listens to, the movies she watches, and the books she reads reflect that belief.

Doris raised Dexter to believe the 1960s and 70s were the golden age of humanity and he continues to believe this. He thinks of himself as a latter-day hippie. He has two extraordinary tie-dyed T-shirts, drives a faded red 1977 Volkswagen van, wears his longish brown hair in a stubby ponytail, and digs Van Morrison, though his go-to music is anything by Mendelssohn.

So here is Dexter on a cool Saturday morning in May, digging up the scraggly lawn in the little backyard of his blue two-bedroom tract home he has owned for fifteen years. Built in the late 1970s, the house is sturdy and unpretentious with a small front yard filled with rose bushes. The somewhat larger backyard is enclosed by a seven-feet-high wood fence that gives no view of the yards on either side of Dexter’s yard, or of the yard behind his yard.

Dexter barely knows his neighbors on either side of him and he knows nothing about the person or people who live in the house with the yard in back of his.

Sporting a bit of a paunch but otherwise in excellent shape from delivering packages five-days-a-week for the last thirteen years, Dexter is very much enjoying digging up the scraggly lawn, which is so scraggly there is little lawn to remove. As he turns the soil with his big shovel, the lawn remnants disappear. His plan is to dig up the whole lawn, get twenty bags of manure, dig that in, and plant some stuff.

He gets lost in a fantasy of going to the nursery to get manure and meeting an intriguing woman who is also buying manure and they fall in love. And just as he and this fantasy woman are about to make love, a voice says, “Gonna plant some veggies? If so, you picked a primo spot.”

Dexter looks up and around, wondering where the voice came from. This is not the same voice that might have been Dexter’s imagination or might have been the voice of God telling him to dig up his lawn. This voice came from nearby and is male and a little gravelly.

“Hello?” says Dexter. “Where are you?”

“Back here,” says the man, chuckling. “Looking at you through a knothole. Thought you’d like to know your soon-to-be-gone lawn used to be part of the commune vegetable garden back in the day. Sixties and Seventies. Before my old man sold the land to the developers. He kept three lots and the big old farmhouse and when he died he left them to me.”

Dexter leaves his shovel stuck in the ground and walks toward his back fence. The man sticks his finger through the knothole and waggles Hello.

“I’m Dexter,” says Dexter, waggling a finger at the knothole. “Who are you?”

“Godfrey Moonstone,” says the man. “My old man was Ira Levinson and my mom was Shirley Goldstein, but they legally changed their last names to Moonstone. They were hippies until I was twenty and then virtually overnight, or so it seemed, they turned into Republicans. I think of myself as a latter-day hippy.” He sighs. “But who knows what we are anymore. Things are pretty confusing now, don’t you think? With the virus and everything?”

“I’m kind of a latter-day hippy, too,” says Dexter, stopping a few feet from the back fence. “You been infected?”

“Not yet,” says Godfrey. “You?”

“Not as far as I know,” says Dexter, shaking his head. “You want a beer?”

“Love one,” says Godfrey, sweetly. “However, I’m a reformed alcoholic. Seventeen years sober.”

“Good on you, Godfrey,” says Dexter, smiling appreciatively. “Lemonade?”

“Perfecto,” says Godfrey. “How shall…”

“I’ll hand your bottle over the fence,” says Dexter.

“Cool,” says Godfrey. “I’ll get a ladder.”

“I’ll get one, too,” says Dexter.

So they stand a few rungs up on their stepladders and look at each other over the fence and drink lemonade together.

Godfrey is a tall angular man in his early fifties with olive skin and short black hair. He lives with his sister Melody who teaches online Home Economics for the currently closed high schools in Springfield and nearby Eugene. Godfrey is a spiritual counselor at the neighborhood Presbyterian, and he, too, is fascinated by history and neurobiology and reads voraciously about both.

In fact, Dexter and Godfrey have such a deep and meaningful time talking to each other over their back fence, they decide to knock out some planks and build a friendship gate.

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Going Out Into The World

Winter roses

Going Out Into the World: a screenplay for a short movie

The film begins with a slow fade to a close-up of a foggy mirror transected by runaway drops of water.

Now we see Margot’s blurred form behind a steamy translucent shower curtain hanging down into a claw-foot bathtub.

A woman in her forties, Margot turns off the water and reaches out from behind the shower curtain to fetch a large white towel hanging from a hook on the wall. She wraps the towel around her so she is covered from her armpits down to a few inches above her knees. She opens the shower curtain, steps out of the tub, and stands before the foggy mirror.

Using a small hand towel, she clears a patch of the mirror, her expression revealing a subtle disquiet.

“We can do this, Margot,” she says, longingly. “We can go out. With Sara’s help. We can. Please?”

The camera lingers on her reflection as she takes a deep breath and the scene dissolves to her bedroom where muted morning sunlight slants through a south-facing window.

A large framed print of Picasso’s Three Musicians is centered on the wall opposite her queen-sized bed, the linens gray, the comforter white.

Wearing a white blouse and black underwear, Margot stands at the foot of her bed and looks down at a trio of long skirts assembled there: black, brown, and red. She picks up the black skirt, muses for a moment, puts the black skirt down and takes up the red skirt as the scene dissolves to her standing in her tidy kitchen wearing the white blouse tucked into black trousers.

Margot’s two cats, a calico and a black, swirl around her bare feet.

Margot fills two small bowls with dry cat food, sets the bowls on the floor by the back door, and as her cats rush to eat, she smiles for the first time.

“Bon appetite, my darlings,” she says softly.

With slow deliberate movements, Margot fills a kettle with water and puts the kettle on the stove, opens a cupboard, and gets out a dark green teapot. She measures loose black tea into the teapot and the scene dissolves to her sitting at a small table in the dining nook of the kitchen. She sips her cup of tea and pets the black cat on her lap, the calico sitting on a nearby chair.

“Sara is coming today,” she says, speaking to her cats. “We might go to a café.” She sets her cup down and clasps her hands to suppress her panic. “But maybe not. Next week might be better because… because by then…” She frowns and shakes her head. “No. I need to go out today. I… I… it’s time. I need to.”

The doorbell sounds and Margot freezes for a moment before she picks up the black cat and sets him on the floor. Now she rises as the doorbell sounds again and the scene dissolves to Margot standing a few feet from her front door, waiting for the doorbell to sound again.

Someone knocks. “Margot? It’s Sara. Are you there?”

“I’m not feeling well,” says Margot, fighting panic. “I have a terrible headache. I think I’m coming down with something. I wouldn’t want you to catch this, Sara. I think it might have gotten into my lungs.”

Sara’s Voice: Open up, dear. I won’t catch anything.

Margot: No, I… I think it would be better if we waited another week before we go out. I’m still… I’m still… I’m not sure I can do this.

Sara’s Voice: Well whether we go out or not, you can let me in, can’t you?

Margot: You won’t be angry with me if we don’t go out?

Sara’s Voice: I will not be angry with you. I promise.

Margot opens the door and here is Sara, a woman in her thirties, her hair tied back in a ponytail. She is wearing a black jacket over a blue shirt, a black skirt that comes to her knees, and running shoes.

Margot: Come in. I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.

Sara: (entering) What about going out for tea? Like we planned?

Margot: I don’t think I’m ready, Sara. I’m sorry, I just… I’m still too afraid.

Sara: But that’s why we want to go out. So you can get over your fear.

Margot: I know, but… I’m not ready.

Sara follows Margot into the kitchen. “How about this? How about you get your shoes on and we walk to the end of the block, and if you don’t want to go any further, we’ll come back.”

Margot considers this. “We would just go to the end of the block?”

“If that’s as far as you want to go, yeah.” Sara nods pleasantly. “Just a little going out into the world, that’s all.”

“Okay,” says Margot, both excited and anxious. “I’ll get my shoes on.”

Now we have a view of the front of Margot’s house, a bungalow with a walkway leading from the front door through a garden to the sidewalk, the neighborhood composed of other small houses, the yards neatly kept.

The front door opens and Sara emerges followed by Margot wearing a long black coat over her white blouse and black trousers. She hesitates for a moment before following Sara.

Sara reaches the sidewalk when Margot is only halfway there.

Margot stops, looks around, and says, “It’s warmer than I expected. I think I might be a bit overdressed.”

“You look fine, dear,” says Sara, smiling warmly.

“I wonder if it might rain,” says Margot, looking back at the house. “Shall we wait a bit? Have a cup of tea?”

“Doesn’t look like rain to me,” says Sara, gazing up at the sky. “Seems like a fine day for a walk. Might even sit outside at the café.”

“Oh,” says Margot, anxiously. “Outside? I was thinking of a booth inside, near the back.”

“That would be fine, too,” says Sara, nodding encouragingly. “Shall we?”

Margot hesitates, takes a deep breath, and joins Sara on the sidewalk. They walk side-by-side for a few steps before Margot stops again.

Margot: You know, Sara, I so appreciate your encouraging me, but I honestly don’t think I can do this. I think I might have a fever. Feeling a bit woozy.

Sara: Of course you can do this. You’re strong, Margot. You’re a thousand times better than you were when I first started coming to see you. We’re only just going to the café and maybe the grocery store and then we’ll come home. We’ll be back before you know it and you’ll be saying you wish we’d stayed out longer.”

Margot: I doubt that. I can’t wait to get home, and we’ve only just left.

Sara: Let’s just go to the corner and see what we want to do from there.”

Now we are on that corner watching them approach. They are small in the distance, Sara forever getting ahead of Margot and slowing down to wait for her.

Twenty feet from the corner, Margot stops again.

Margot: I can’t do this, Sara. I’m so sorry, but I have to go home.

Sara: (waits a moment before replying) Why can’t you do this?

Margot: I’m too afraid.

Sara: Of what?

Margot: Of something bad happening.

Sara: Like what?

Margot: You know.

Sara: No, I don’t.

Margot: (angrily) Yes, you do. You know very well why I’m afraid… what happened to me.

Sara: I’ve forgotten. Tell me again.

Margot: You haven’t forgotten. You’re just… baiting me.

Sara: Why would I do that?

Margot: I don’t know, but you are.

Sara: (after a moment’s silence) You know what I think? I think you’re afraid to not be afraid.

Margot: What do you mean?

Sara: I mean you’ve got a nice hermetic life, don’t you? Everything under control. Every day the same. No ups, no downs, no surprises. And no joy, because joy comes from this… what we’re doing… going out into the world, mixing it up, talking to other people, experiencing things outside of what we’re used to. You’re just afraid of losing control, not of some bogeyman.

Margot: (bitterly) There was a bogeyman, and once you’ve met him, you can’t forget him.

Sara: Speak for yourself, dear. I’ve forgotten mine, and he was every bit the brute yours was, and then some.

Margot: (stunned) You never told me.

Sara: You never asked. And why should you? I’m paid to listen to you, to encourage you, not the other way around. But I’ve reached my limit. We’re stuck, you and I. There’s nothing more I can do for you. So if you won’t walk to the corner with me, I’ll walk you home, say goodbye, and you can call your therapist and get somebody else to come around once a week. I’ve had it.

“Oh Sara,” says Margot, falling to her knees and sobbing. “I’m so sorry. Please… I don’t want anybody else. Please stay with me.”

Sara understands this is a cathartic moment for Margot, so she does not immediately go to Margot and comfort her, but rather watches Margot weep for a time before she comes close and offers her hand. “I’m here, dear. I won’t leave you.”

Margot takes the proffered hand and rises.

Now they walk on together and we hear piano music as the scene dissolves to Margot and Sara sharing a table on a café terrace, the other tables occupied by men and women, some of them talking to each other, some of them gazing at their phones as they sip tea and coffee and nibble on pastries.

The camera moves closer for an intimate view of Margot and Sara as they share a pot of tea. Margot is having a piece of pie, Sara a cookie.

Margot: Would you like to try some of my pie? It’s quite good.

Sara: I’d love a bite.

Margot passes the pie to Sara and watches with pleasure as Sara carves off a piece and puts it in her mouth.

Sara: Mmm, that is good. Want to try my cookie?

Margot: Yes, please.

Sara hands Margot the cookie. Margot breaks off a small piece, pops the piece in her mouth, and has a sip of tea.

Margot: I wonder if we could come here tomorrow. I know you’re not scheduled to come see me again until next week, but…

Sara: But what, dear?

Margot: I’d love to meet you here tomorrow. Treat you to lunch.

Sara gazes at Margot for a long moment before replying, “Shall we say noon?”

“Noon,” says Margot, nodding.

Now our view of the café terrace grows wider and wider as the scene slowly fades to darkness.

fin

And speaking of movies, you may enjoy the very first and very short music video I’ve made all by myself. Eva Waltzing

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That’s All Right, I’m Okay

1980 Todd

Author’s Note: I wrote the short story That’s All Right, I’m Okay in 1980 when I was thirty-one and performing my stories and songs in cafés and small theatres. The title is a takeoff on the book I’m Okay, You’re Okay a layman’s guide to transactional analysis published in 1967 and wildly popular in the 1970s.

On my way to a bistro to perform That’s All Right, I’m Okay for the first time, I expected the story would get a few laughs, but nothing prepared me for the continuous and mounting hilarity the story ignited in that first audience and in many audiences thereafter. Holding for laughs, the ten-minute story became a fifteen-minute giggle fest and elicited countless suggestions that I memorize the story and perform it as a stand-up routine—something I was not inclined to do.

A few days ago, while undertaking a radical cleaning of my office/studio, I came upon an old yellowed copy of That’s All Right, I’m Okay and read the opus for the first time in nearly forty years. Filled with hope that you will enjoy this fictional time capsule of American pop psychology in the 1970s and early 1980s, I present That’s All Right, I’m Okay in all its original naiveté.

That’s All Right, I’m Okay

A friend called this morning and said, “I’m just so confused. Could you recommend a therapy?”

“What am I?” I snapped, surprised at my anger, “a crisis prevention unit?”

“Well, no,” she said, abashed, “it’s just that you’ve done so much more than anyone I know and I thought…”

Which, when I looked at it quasi-objectively an hour or so later, was true. Not recently, but over the years starting in 1968, I had tried dozens of group, individual, pop, hip, self-realization, self-realignment, self-hypnosis, self-congratulatory, etc. ad nauseam therapies. They all, save for good old “talkin’ to the shrink”, made me mad, frustrated, and ultimately depressed. Talkin’ to the shrink just made me depressed, which wasn’t the shrink’s fault. I was just a very depressed person.

I am not, as of this writing, depressed anymore. When I tell you how I got un-depressed, you’ll probably roll your eyes, shift uncomfortably in your seat and think, “Oh God, how trite.”

But here’s the story.

I was just beginning eight weeks of Anger Actualization Therapy with Angela Brustein. “I’m studying with” was how we phrased it in 1978, not “I’m groping for anything and this Jewish gal has a big living room and studied for a few months with some Hungarian cuckoo and might know something, maybe.”

Angela was forty-seven and recently divorced from her stockbroker husband. She was a leotard-wearing beanpole with a wonderful crinkly smile. She was the slowest moving skinny person I’ve ever known. She was, she told us at our first session, “removed totally from the sexual rat race.” When I asked her what she meant by this, she said something about non-specific orgasms—a perpetual energy release that made sleep unnecessary and sex meaningless. However, she said erotic asexuality was her own trip and only related to Anger Actualization in that it freed her from any sexual bias. This seemed a contradiction to me, but the other members of the group were glaring at me, so I shut up.

We did some standard touchy-feely-get-to-know-each-other exercises and then we did some straightforward Encounter Group razzmatazz to find out what our problems were, or as Angela put it, ‘what they seem to be.” Once we actualized our anger we would know what they were.

Then after we discovered that most of us were cowardly, spoiled, overeducated, under-experienced babies, frustrated and depressed about our inability to be “really great individuals” (read Creative Geniuses), we set out to actualize our anger about ourselves. We would see our anger, be with our anger, understand our anger, and then either be free of our anger or not free of our anger. The choice, Angela said, was ours.

I eventually wound up in the middle of the “containment circle” lying on my back feeling my anger (or my imagination) crushing me. I couldn’t breath. Angela had to break in, and with the help of three other people, lift me into a standing position before I suffocated. Angela was shook up. She’d never seen such a high level choke-off. She’d heard of them, but had never seen one until mine. She claimed that if she hadn’t intervened, my repressed anger might have killed me.

So I was in a state of panic when I left Angela’s house and stumbled to my Toyota station wagon where a woman from my class awaited me. I had only gotten to know a few people from my groups outside, and I was always surprised when someone took the initiative to get to know me socially.

Her name was Sharon, and if you can believe it, her middle name was Rose. She was a few years younger than I, early thirties, and she had that way about her that suggested she’d teethed on encounter techniques and knew every trick in the transactional book. Her piercing blue eyes suggested a background in Destiny Control and her posture was pure Ida Rolf, enhanced by a couple years of Tai Chi. Her deep tan spoke of weekends at Esalen and her smile was unmistakably the result of long sessions on a biofeedback machine.

She was also, to me, incredibly threatening. I had nearly killed myself with unreleased anger, and she had witnessed my near-death. I was shaky, frightened, recently divorced, and just coming off three months of Silva, having utterly failed to control anything resembling a mind. I was bereft, a therapy junky, while she was full to bursting, a super-absorbent being, who, like the Blob, grew larger and stronger with everything she consumed.

However, she did not resemble a blob. No, she had a figure that men, actualized or not, went crazy over. And she was moving that body toward me like the best dancer in my African Movement class. I was both nauseated and mesmerized. I felt I might have a Primal at any moment or at least a mini-regress. I was certainly not prepared for what transpired.

We went to the beach and shared two six-packs of Budweiser, she gave me the best backrub I’ve ever had and then she told me she really liked me. She actually said, “I really like you.” And I said, trying to be totally honest, that I didn’t really know her or trust her, but that I enjoyed what I had experienced with her so far.

She laughed at me. She sneered at me, too, but the main thing was, she laughed at me. Then she handed me a card and left without giving me a hug, which in those days was very uncool.

In my car, I read her card.

Sharon Rose Moore

Working Person

442 Cottage Place

478-8711

‘So’ I thought, ‘she’s a Work Advocate.’

I’d taken a Work Motivation seminar a couple years before in conjunction with a Life Involvement workshop, and I’d heard people using the phrases, “I’m a working person. My person is working.” This, I assumed was Sharon’s current attack posture and I was disappointed. The beer and the beach, especially the beer (and so much of it) had really thrown me for a loop. I hadn’t run into anything like that in my thirteen years on the circuit. Beaches, yes, but six twelve-ounce beers? Each? So I’d gotten excited and then had my hopes dashed because her card (Self-Definition cards were all the rage) seemed so behind the times. I was reminded of going to Seattle in 1976 and finding EST was just catching on there—how sad that made me.

But even so, I called Sharon the minute I got home. I was still drunker than I’d ever been after a good Rebirthing, and despite her not hugging me, and her clunky Working Person card, I felt drawn to her. I wanted to find out what she thought she knew about me.

She was terse with me on the phone. She said, “I’ve gotta get up at six tomorrow, so I can’t get together with you tonight. Maybe tomorrow after work we could go for a pizza or something.”

I agreed to this, hung up, put on some whale music, did some Feldenkreis, and then put two and two together. Beer and pizza. She must be into Social Programming. Emulation of the working class! Why hadn’t I seen it before? This really depressed me. My god, Social Programmings (Soprogs) had been all the rage in 1971 and painfully passé by 1973. I’d heard a few splinter groups had survived, but in California? It was hard to believe, but I couldn’t come up with any other explanation.

I drove to her house the next night with a heavy heart. She lived in a little bungalow (eerily cute) not far from the beach. A large rosebush grew beside the front door and was covered with spectacular red blooms.

She was wearing a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt, black with orange lettering, blue jeans and sandals. Her long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail and she looked terrific. She said, “Lemme get my purse,” and I flinched as visions of working class blah-blah filled my head. How could I have been so stupid?

We went to a pizza parlor and drank beer, ate too much pepperoni, and then went bowling. My Polarity masseuse would have just died to see me flinging the ball so violently down the alley. My yoga teacher would have made me roll the balls first with my right hand, then with my left. But I said to myself, “Hey! Life is for living!” So I just bowled and drank beer and let Sharon sit on my lap whenever she got a strike. And I sat on her lap, too, the one time I got a strike.

Then I took her home and at her door she kissed me tenderly and I had to ask her, I just had to, what exactly she was into. She stiffened, looked hurt, and slapped me across the face. I was stunned. I hadn’t been hit like that since a Psychodrama intensive in 1969.

“What’d I do?” I asked, excited by her boldness.

“You keep not seeing me!” she cried, hopelessly. “You only see yourself.”

Now I’d heard that maybe a thousand times over the past thirteen years, but it had never been said so passionately by a person with such believable tears in her eyes.

“I… I hear your anger,” I said.

She slugged me.

“I feel your anger,” I said.

“Bullshit,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t feel anything.”

“That’s not true,” I said, though my Achilles Heel had always been my deep-seated fear that I was really an insensitive creep, and she had my hit Achilles right through my Birkenstocks.

“Why don’t you just say you’re sorry?” she said, pleading with me.

But that went against everything I’d learned at the Getting Free of Guilt retreats I’d gone to every year from 1973 to 1978. To say I was sorry would be to admit to my own sorriness, which had almost killed me at Angela’s. I began to tremble. I felt so tired and ineffective, as if I’d just gone through a weekend Encounter Group marathon. I wanted more than anything to say what I really felt, but I wasn’t sure I could because I’d had my feelings described to me (for me) so many times I no longer knew how to describe them in my own words. With words I thought up.

“Well?” she said, her eyes bright with anger.

“Well… I’d like to go to bed with you,” I said, hardly believing I was speaking those words. I braced myself for another slap across the face or a fist in my stomach. But none came.

“Okay,” she said, unlocking her door, “but don’t you dare try to analyze any of this.”

So I tried not to try, but it was no good. The effort involved in not trying was just too much. I collapsed on her sofa and blubbered.

“What’s wrong,” she asked, sitting beside me and putting her arms around me.

“You’re a Sensualist, aren’t you?” I said.

“Please don’t,” she said, tensing again.

“There’s a reason for this,” I said.

“Yeah, I like you,” she said, urgently. “Especially when you touch me and make me laugh and don’t act so icky delicate like you’re some kind of sensitivity barometer.”

“But we’re all sensitivity barometers,” I said. “Why the Rogerians believe…”

“Fuck the Rogerians,” she said, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me. “We’ve got too much real work to do!”

“You’re really into work, aren’t you?” I said suspiciously. “Don’t you know that women feel the need to overwork because of the incessant guilt trips laid on them for centuries by the Patriarchy and…”

She took off her clothes. All of them. And then she began to undress me. I was speechless, and then I, too, was naked.

“I like it when you say what you want,” she said, embracing me. “The rest is just mental masturbation.”

“Nothing wrong with masturbation,” I retorted. “Loving yourself is the first step toward…”

And then I saw what a fool I was and had been for most of my life. Yes, right then, with a wonderful woman offering to make love with me, I was still talking instead of loving. I thought of Thumper in Bambi saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say…”

So I shut up and we made love. And afterward, before we made love again, we talked about the dumbest things we’d come across in our twenty-five combined years of therapizing. Our all time favorites were: the Santa Cruz Dip where you were lowered up to your nostrils in a tub full of olive oil for twenty minutes before taking a sauna, Henry Boller’s Taxi Talk where you have a psychiatric session in a taxi cab and the cab driver interrupts and makes comments, and Michael Smertz’s Meditation Counseling where you and your partner meditate in the presence of a mediating meditator who analyzes the quality of your auras and makes suggestions on how to improve your relationship.

Which brings me to the present. Sharon and I lived together for two years and then we split up. We are not still good friends. I was very sad for a long time after we broke up, but eventually I came out of my sorrow and I’m feeling pretty good these days.

So what am I trying to say? That all I needed was beer, pizza, and sex to feel good? No. What I’m saying is that I needed to be honest, to work hard at whatever I was doing, and to really care about other people. Along with plenty of beer, pizza, and sex.

Oh God, how trite! Squirm, squirm.

But that’s what I told my lovely friend who called this morning and asked me to recommend a therapy. If my kitchen clock is accurate, she should be here any minute. The pizza has been ordered, the fridge is full of beer, and my heart, as someone once said, is full of hope.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6nE-AZYqvE&list=PL7A2gJzg9TABWCexjtnwCuCksuLuxI6ma

 

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Mean Mister Leo

Django

Leo had become, as it were, the telephone through which the humans spoke to one another. He was a large, lazy cat with yellow eyes and a dull gray coat. Save for a few funny tumbles as a kitten, Leo had done very little with any of his nine lives. He had never mated with anything and never killed anything larger than a moth. Yet to Alan and Elizabeth Warrington, he was the most important person in the world.

Alan was seventy. He was tall, and like a bean too long on the vine, had developed a curve in his posture so he loomed over whatever or whomever he happened to be standing near. His face was surprisingly chubby for a man so thin, and he had short white hair, though not in abundance.

Elizabeth, Alan’s junior by three years, was tall, too, with narrow shoulders, wide hips, and large breasts. She kept her gray hair short and refused to put on a dress. She wore slacks, baggy sweaters, and loafers the year round, except in July when she wore sandals; and for someone who sneered as much as she did she was remarkably pretty.

Indeed, her dreadful sneer only subsided when she was sleeping and when she spoke to Leo. Yes, when she spoke to the cat, her sneer would vanish and a melancholic smile would claim her face, staying until she turned away from her pet.

Alan called the cat You, and spoke to him like a gangster. “So it’s You, is it? We’ll see about that, wise guy,” he would say, giving Leo a quick rough massage that would send the little beast into ecstasies of purring and drooling.

Elizabeth called the cat Silly Boy or Mean Mister Leo. She usually spoke baby talk to him, but would occasionally resort to a deep rumbling voice full of mock horror at some impropriety the old cat couldn’t possibly have committed. “Oh you Mean Mister Leo,” she would say, holding the cat in her arms like a baby. “Did you rob that bank? You silliest of silly boys!” And then she would bury her face in his chest.

Then she would put the cat down and Alan would take Leo in his arms and say, “I have to go to the bank today, You. And if I find a list on the counter, I’ll go to the grocery store, too.”

And this was how the Warringtons communicated with each other for eleven years. No one else knew; and it was amazing how easily this was accomplished. Thousands of games of Bridge were played with friends, dozens of guests were entertained, and the Warrington children and grandchildren came to visit week after week, year after year, yet no one ever suspected that Elizabeth and Alan no longer spoke to each other.

Elizabeth couldn’t remember her last direct conversation with her husband. But for Alan, that long ago verbal exchange was so vivid, so charged with emotion, it might have happened yesterday.

They had just gotten home from a lingerie fashion show at a local seafood restaurant. Alan had enjoyed the show, Elizabeth had not. She had, however, enjoyed quantities of champagne and was quite drunk and amorous. Alan, aroused by the lingerie models said, “Those gals were sure cute, weren’t they, Liza?”

To which Elizabeth replied, “A lot you could do about it.”

She tossed the comment off without thinking, but her words hit Alan with the force of a train, their implication stunning him. Elizabeth moved into the kitchen to look for something sweet in the freezer. Alan collapsed on the sofa, choking with rage. Elizabeth returned with a bowl of ice cream and found Alan petting Leo. She approached her husband, put a hand on his knee and said, “Wanna have some fun, sweetie?”

To which Alan replied, “I will never speak to you again.”

“Aw come on, honey,” she cooed. She thought he was teasing. She thought he wanted her to seduce him. “Don’t be mean to mama.”

But Alan wouldn’t look at her. Instead, he glared at the cat and said, “What are you looking at, You?”

And so for eleven years they talked through Leo, transmuting messages meant for each other into things they said to their cat.

Elizabeth’s saying, “A lot you could do about it” may have precipitated the end of their speaking to each other, but those words were not the deeper cause of their rift. Something else had happened a few years before in the midst of a mutual emotional decline. Elizabeth had taken a lover for a few months, her affair barely disrupting the routine of their life. There were a few extra meetings of one auxiliary or another and Alan had never known; and he had always known.

So when Elizabeth said, “A lot you could do about it,” years after her last act of adultery, Alan felt himself being compared, the crime exposed, a punishment necessary.

And what better way to punish a person who loves to talk, lives to talk, than to take away her sounding board, her echo of forty years? What better way to punish infidelity in such a person than to become verbally unfaithful to them, and to remain so, year after year, which is what Alan chose to do, except the gun fired both ways and he was as wounded as she.

Then one morning Leo died. They came upon the body simultaneously, Alan entering the living room from the kitchen, Elizabeth coming from the bedroom. Leo lay on the orange plaid sofa, taut with death, his eyes crossed, his tongue protruding slightly.

Alan grimaced and went to the corpse. Elizabeth clutched her throat, closed her eyes and turned away. Alan confirmed the obvious by placing his hand on the cat’s chest. Elizabeth crossed the room and sat in her blue plaid armchair. Alan remained looming over the corpse, unsure of what to do. His impulse was to put Leo’s body in a plastic bag and put the bag in the garbage can. But maybe Elizabeth would prefer a backyard burial?

“Oh you Mean Mister Leo,” said Elizabeth, pouting. “What a silly thing to do, you silly boy. Now we’ll have to put you in a plastic bag and send you off to the sanitary landfill.”

And so the body was disposed of, but so, as it were, was the telephone. The Warringtons sat in silent terror, overwhelmed by the desperate loneliness their hapless cat had kept at bay for so many years.

Then the actual telephone rang.

Elizabeth snatched it off the table beside her, grimaced at Alan, and cried, “Oh Sandra, oh you dear, you must be psychic. The worst, the very worst thing has happened. Dear Leo just died. Yes, just now. Oh, I know. He was so precious, so good, so… yes, yes, Alan is very sad, too. We just don’t know what to do.”

The phone call over, Elizabeth did battle with her sneer while Alan crossed and uncrossed his legs and picked at his cuticles. Elizabeth cleared her throat several times. Alan coughed. And then, inspired by the same impulse, they began to speak.

“You…” said Alan, but that was all he could manage. The word hung in the air, a questionable thing. Was he speaking to Elizabeth or intoning the dead animal’s nickname?

“I…” said Elizabeth, gripping her knees. “I… I don’t…”

“You…” he said again.

“We have been…” she began.

“A long time,” he said wistfully.

“Yes,” she said, relaxing a little.

“I think you should be sorry,” he said, fighting his tears.

“I am,” she replied, unable to overcome her sneer. “I am. I am. But a man should…”

“Should what?” asked Alan, squinting fiercely at his wife.

“Well… I waited for you to touch me,” she said, her eyes wide with fright. “You were the one who stopped everything.”

Alan smiled demonically and lurched to his feet. “So you did mean it,” he growled. “All these years, you meant it.”

“Meant what?” she cried, shrinking into her chair.

“We’ll see about that, you,” he said, turning away from her.

And then he was gone, the house reverberating with his slam.

“Oh God,” said Elizabeth, covering her mouth with both hands. “Oh God.”

She sat completely still for several minutes, caught in the grip of a memory of when she was a teenager and caught the curtains in the living room on fire while she was smoking pot with a friend, and how her mother would never forgive her. Never.

Finally she roused herself and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea. Then she called her daughter and told her the news of Leo’s death.

“Your father is very upset,” she said, clutching the phone with both hands. “Maybe you could come over. It would be wonderful if you could.”

Her daughter said she couldn’t possibly get over there until tomorrow.

Elizabeth tried to think of who else to call, and while flipping through the address book, she imagined Alan at a pawn shop, buying a gun. Then she imagined her daughter arriving the next day and finding their bodies—Alan having killed himself after he killed her.

But after she played this double death scenario in her mind a few times, she began to think he might not kill himself after he killed her, and that made her furious. To think that he would murder her and then go on living!

“What a self-righteous bastard,” she said, turning off the flame under the whistling kettle and going in search of a weapon.

Three hours passed. Elizabeth waited in the living room. She played a record she hadn’t listened to in twenty years. Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter. A butcher knife lay on the arm of her chair. In the middle of ’S Wonderful, she heard the familiar jangling of Alan’s keys in the lock. She grasped the knife and prepared to lunge.

The door swung open, and there, toddling over the threshold, was a tiny tabby kitten with piercingly blue eyes. Then Alan came in holding another kitten, a luxurious brown.

“I couldn’t decide which,” he said quietly. “So I got both.”

Elizabeth dropped the knife and swooped down on the tabby. “Oh you silliest of silly little kittens,” she said, nuzzling the baby cat.

“You,” said Alan, nuzzling the brown.

Then he set the kitten down and embraced Elizabeth; and she initiated the first kiss.

            ∆

The kittens explored the house, searching for the cat whose scent was everywhere.

     fin

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The Fox

baby fox

Rex Abernathy died six months ago. When news got around that he had left his four-bedroom house on three-acres and a large amount of money to Elisha Montoya, more than a few people in our small town were outraged. I was not among the disapproving, nor can I imagine anyone else to whom Rex would or should have left his house and money, but I do understand why some folks were upset and why the local legal system took an inordinate amount of time investigating and finally validating Rex’s will.

When Rex died he was eighty-one and had known Elisha, who is forty-five, for three years. Their relationship was platonic, though platonic doesn’t capture the intensity of Rex’s love for Elisha and her children, Conor, fourteen, and Alexandra, eleven, nor does platonic encompass how important Rex was to Elisha and her children—a father for Elisha, a grandfather for Conor and Alexandra.

Having observed several hundred Elisha and Rex interactions in Mona’s, the bakery/café where Elisha has worked for the last three and a half years, I am certain Rex would have pursued Elisha romantically had he not been thirty-six years older than she.

However, from what I know of Elisha, I am equally certain she would not have been interested in Rex romantically even had they been closer in age. However, as a father figure in the guise of a grim loner waiting to be rescued from his aloneness, Rex was tailor-made for Elisha, her actual father a ferocious alcoholic who abandoned Elisha and her mother when Elisha was six.

A renowned sourpuss, isolate, and curmudgeon, Rex was so quickly and completely transformed by his friendship with Elisha and her children, it was as if he’d had a personality transplant—the donor a gregarious saint.

And, yes, to some degree, Elisha and Alexandra and Conor have had the same heart-opening effect on many of those who patronize Mona’s, the one and only bakery in Carmeline Creek, a coastal town on the far north coast of California. I, for instance, a middle-aged musician and poet, was terribly lonely and uninspired for seven years prior to Elisha and her children moving into the apartment above Mona’s; and since their arrival, I wake every day to poem and songs arising in me.

However, now that Elisha and her children have, as of ten days ago, moved from their little apartment above Mona’s to Rex’s spacious house on Carmeline Creek Road, my daily involvement with them has been severely disrupted and I’m beginning to wonder if my dogs Zerc and Raj (Xerxes and Mirage) and I were only of use to them so long as they didn’t have their own dogs (they inherited two from Rex) or a place to grow vegetables or a living room with a fireplace in which to while away many an evening.

What I mean is: now that they no longer need what I have to offer, I’m struggling not to conflate their no longer needing me with their no longer wanting me, if you know what I mean. For the truth is, I was reborn with the advent of those three in my life, and now I fear…

The phone rang as I was writing the words and now I fear—Alexandra inviting me to come for supper this evening at their new place and would I bring Delia Krantz because she no longer drives at night.

“Is this a large gathering?” I ask, hoping they aren’t throwing a party disguised as supper.

“Hold on,” says Alexandra, her Irish Spanish accent a faint replica of her mother’s.

She sets the phone down and I hear her say, “Mama? Paul wants to know if this is a large gathering.”

A moment passes and Elisha comes on the line.

“Hey Paul,” she says, her voice warm and poem-inspiring. “Don’t bring anything. This is a Mona’s leftovers affair.”

“Who all is coming?” I ask, trying to sound nonchalant. “Besides me and Delia and the blessed trio?”

“If I told you Grady and Flo, would you not come?”

I wince. “Who else?”

“That’s it. You and Delia and Grady and Flo.” She sighs appealingly. “We’ve been missing our evenings by the fire with you, and we want to get back to that soon. Okay? The kids insist.”

“Okay. Yes,” I say, smiling into the phone. “The dogs wonder where you went.”

Delia Krantz is ninety-three, sharp as a tack, and very funny. Born in Chicago, she worked as the personal assistant to movie producers in Hollywood in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, after which she moved with her third and much younger husband Vince to Carmeline Creek, bought the old Dekker Mansion in the center of town, Vince absconded with Delia’s life savings, Delia sold the Dekker Mansion and bought a cottage at the north end of town a block from the beach and has lived there with a series of dachshunds for the last twenty-five years. She works part-time at the library and every summer directs a musical for the Carmeline Creek Lamplighters.

Grady Wickersham is from New Jersey. He is seventy-three, exceedingly wealthy, owns a large modern home overlooking Philomena’s Bay, and as far as I know, he never stops talking. Estranged from his two grown children born of a short-lived marriage, he owns seven mint-condition American automobiles from the 1960s, one for each day of the week. In the seventeen years I’ve known him, I have never seen him show the slightest interest in anyone but himself.

Florence Chevalier, Grady’s partner for the past five years, is Grady’s polar opposite. A yoga teacher and massage therapist, Florence is fifty-two, half-French and half-British, friendly, warm, brilliant, and Elisha’s best friend. She has a son, Braxton, a photographer who lives in San Francisco. Most people in Carmeline Creek believe Florence is with Grady for his money, but I believe she sees something in him no one else can see, something she loves, though what that something is I can’t imagine.

I am fifty-four, a native Californian, musician, poet, and owner of a small house on a quarter-acre I purchased seventeen years ago with money I made as a ghost writer. I would tell you the names of the seven books I ghostwrote, except I am legally bound never to tell anyone. The official authors of my books are household names in America today, and though I earned the tiniest fraction of what those official authors made from my creations, that fraction was enough to buy my house and keep me in groceries and guitar strings for twenty years and counting.

Twice married and twice divorced, no children, I have not been romantically entangled with anyone for ten years, three months, two weeks, and five days; but who’s counting? When it comes to companionship and just about anything else, I prefer women to men. I am profoundly heterosexual, distinctly feminine, and not in the least effeminate. When I go to parties and the women gather en masse in the kitchen and the men hang out in little knots elsewhere, I will be found in the kitchen.

“So there are these two old ladies,” says Delia, telling me a joke as we’re driving up Carmeline Creek Road to have supper at Elisha’s place. “Naomi and Ethel. They get together for lunch every couple weeks. One day over Chinese, Ethel says to Naomi, ‘So… anything interesting happen since last time?’ And Naomi says, ‘Oh not much, though I did get married.’ ‘Married?’ says Ethel, shocked. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were seeing someone?’ ‘Who said I was seeing someone?’ says Naomi. ‘I met him last week and decided to marry him.’ ‘Swept you off your feet, huh?’ ‘Hardly,’ says Naomi, shrugging. ‘But he meets my needs.’ ‘I see,’ says Ethel, blushing. ‘He’s good looking and good in bed?’ ‘No he’s ugly as a toad and I wouldn’t sleep with him for all the money in Miami if he was capable of such a thing, which he’s not.’ ‘So is he a good conversationalist with lots of money?’ ‘Nope. He’s a pauper and deaf as a post. I’ll be supporting him until he drops dead.’ ‘But Naomi, if he’s ugly and impotent and deaf and poor, why did you marry him?’ Naomi shrugs. ‘He can still drive at night.’”

During supper, much to my surprise, Grady speaks not a word and actually seems to be listening to what other people are saying. His behavior is so out of character for him, I grow more and more uneasy with every minute he doesn’t say something. Nor am I alone in my unease—Delia and Elisha and Conor and Alexandra keep looking at Grady as if he’s about to explode.

Finally the suspense becomes too much and Delia says, “I give up. What’s going on with you, Grady?”

He thinks for a moment and says, “You mean why am I not talking constantly so no one else can say anything?”

“Yes,” says Delia, nodding. “I’ve known you for twenty years and you have never once, until just now, asked me a question. And every time I have ever tried to say anything when you were in the same room, you interrupted me. Did you have a stroke?”

Grady laughs, and as he laughs, I realize I have never heard him laugh until now.

“You tell them Flo,” says Grady, looking across the table at Florence. “You’re a much better story teller than I am.”

Florence smiles at Grady and says, “Thank you for the compliment, but I think you should tell them.”

“Well, okay,” he says, shrugging pleasantly, “but please stop me if I go on too long.”

“Your voice is softer now,” I say, gazing in wonder at him. “If I closed my eyes I wouldn’t know it was you.”

“This is my real voice,” he says, smiling at me for the very first time in all the years I’ve known him. “I’m sorry you had to put up with that other voice for all these years.”

“Why did your voice change?” asks Alexandra, fascinated by this new version of Grady.

“Well,” he says, measuring his words, “to make a very long story short, I went to a healer, and he helped me so much that now I don’t have to talk all the time to mask my fear because I’m no longer afraid.”

“Who is this healer?” asks Conor, who is currently obsessed with the books of Herman Hesse.

“His name is August Quincy,” says Grady, smiling at Conor. “He lives near Fortuna. Flo heard about him from a friend and… the two days I spent with him were the most incredible days of my life.”

“What did he do?” asks Delia, mystified. “Hypnotize you?”

“In a way,” says Grady, nodding. “He helped me relax and then we… I know this may sound improbable, but he guided me back to the beginning of my life, to my birth, and from there we relived my life, resolving the many things that needed resolving.” He laughs self-consciously. “I think I’ll stop there for now because I really want to hear about all of you, since I never got to know you because I was always talking.”

After supper, over pumpkin pie and tea in the living room, Conor and Alexandra tell us about the fox who trots through the backyard every evening after they bring the dogs in for the night.

“Rex told us about the fox before he died,” says Conor, sitting on the floor between the two friendly mutts Larry and Mo. “He said in the fifty-six years he lived here, every evening, exactly seven minutes after he brought his dogs inside, a fox would come out of the forest to the west, cross the yard, and disappear into the forest to the east. He said the fox only crossed the yard after the dogs were inside for the night. Sometimes two or three foxes would go by, but always at least one. Every evening for fifty-six years. And sure enough, every evening since we’ve been here, a fox has gone through the yard.”

“Foxes don’t live very long,” says Alexandra, sitting between Elisha and me on one of the two sofas. “We got a book about foxes from the library and it said they only usually live for two or three years, though sometimes they live for ten years, but that’s very rare.”

“So let’s say the average life span of the foxes around here is two years,” says Conor, taking up the story. “If you divide fifty-six by two you get twenty-eight. Which means approximately twenty-eight different foxes were the fox that went by every evening when Rex lived here, give or take a fox or two.”

“But even though they were different foxes,” says Alexandra, nodding assuredly, “they always knew they should wait for the dogs to be inside before they went by, which means the older foxes must have taught the younger foxes to wait for the dogs to be inside before crossing the yard.”

“We’ve been experimenting since we moved here,” says Conor, looking at Grady, who is sitting with Florence and Delia on the other sofa. “One night we left the dogs out for an extra hour, and another night we brought them in a half-hour earlier than usual, but no matter when we bring them in, seven minutes later the fox goes by.”

“So he must be waiting in the woods with a view of the house,” says Grady, delighted. “And when you bring the dogs inside, he knows the coast is clear. Or she knows.”

I look at Elisha and say, “I can imagine two young foxes sitting with their mother in the forest watching the house at dusk. And now the back door opens and a human being comes out and calls to the dogs, and they go inside with the human, and the door closes.”

“But the foxes don’t immediately leave the forest,” says Elisha, returning my gaze. “The mother waits for seven minutes, until she’s certain the dogs are in for the night before she emerges from the trees, her children following her.”

“Or maybe they’re with a father fox,” says Alexandra, getting up to put another log on the fire. “The book we read said foxes are very good parents and their children stay with them until they’re seven or eight months old, which is almost full grown.”

“I wonder why their lives are so short?” says Delia, sighing. “They’re such beautiful animals.”

“Dangerous world,” says Florence, holding Delia’s hand. “A lovely world, but full of danger.”

“I wonder if foxes are born good parents,” I say, staring into the fire. “Or if they learn how to parent from their parents.”

“I think they learn from their parents,” says Conor, looking at his mother. “Rex told us the best way to raise a pup is to have an older dog for the pup to learn from. That’s why he always had one dog a few years older than the other, so when the older one died and he got a new one, the pup could learn from the older one how to be.”

Delia looks at Elisha and says, “Whenever I think of Rex before you came to town, you know what I remember?”

“Tell me,” says Elisha, who especially loves Delia.

“I remember the times when I would be behind him in line at the post office or at the bakery,” says Delia, laughing, “how I would always try to be extra friendly and extra generous to the clerks to compensate for how unfriendly and miserly Rex was. And then you three came to town and he turned into a whole other person, a sweet and generous man.”

“He learned from Elisha and Conor and Alexandra how to be sweet and generous,” says Florence, her eyes full of tears.

“I think he always knew how to be sweet and generous,” says Grady, remembering how terrified he was of Rex before the transformation. “I think he just needed to be awakened by their kindness, and once he was awake, there was no going back.”

fin

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Tober Finds His Way Part 4

subtle

Early on Tuesday morning, two days before Thanksgiving, a light rain falling, Tober and Augie load the last of Augie’s things into their pickup, cover everything with a brown waterproof tarp, secure the tarp with neon-yellow rope, and make their getaway from Portland—Augie driving, Tober navigating.

They are both glad to be leaving the city and heading home, though Tober is sad about parting ways with Jasmy, and Augie is upset about how things ended with Sandy; and this is what they both want to talk about as soon as they gain the open road.

“In three blocks,” says Tober, scrutinizing the road map, “you will make a left turn and go five blocks to the onramp for 26 West.”

Neither of them speaks again until the last vestiges of urban sprawl give way to farmland.

“Titus warned me before I left,” says Augie, his eyes full of tears. “He said I wasn’t just going to live in a big city, I was going to live in an entirely different society than the one I was used to, a society I might not be comfortable in, and he was right.”

“We’re comfortable in Snake Creek society,” says Tober, gazing at the road ahead. “We’re comfortable in the wilds and on the farm and in little coastal towns. We learned about the world from our mother who abandoned city life to live far from the madding crowd, and from a Wailaki mystic who dwells deep in the forest. And the big question for me is, do I want to learn how to live in a city and become adept at interfacing with the so-called modern world? And if not, then what am I going to do with the rest of my life? Stay on Snake Creek Road and grow vegetables and apples and raise chickens and play music with you and Mom? Search for stones, work as a carpenter, and maybe one day marry a local gal and have kids and raise our children as we were raised and carry on like that until the world burns up?”

“Or we could think of our farm as a base camp,” says Augie, smiling through his tears. “From where we sally forth on journeys of exploration, one of those journeys taking me to Mountain Home Idaho where I take guitar lessons from Beckman.”

“And I come with you and we make music with Beckman and Jasmy in their recording studio,” says Tober, warming to the Beckman scenario. “And we make an album that some aspiring musician hears and she is inspired by our music to write a song she performs in a park, and someone walking by hears the song and his heart breaks open and he’s set free from some deep sorrow that has tormented him his whole life.”

“Ambition,” says Augie, imitating Titus’s voice. “You, October, have ambitions to make music that goes beyond Snake Creek Road and the Arcata Playhouse. You have ambitions to add your fire to the greater cultural tumult. But are you willing to pay the psychic toll to do so?”

“That is a good question,” says Tober, nodding solemnly. “Another good question is… want me to drive?”

“I would love you to drive,” says Augie, pulling over onto the wide shoulder. “That way I can sob uncontrollably without endangering our lives.”

“When I was sitting in those lectures,” says Augie, speaking of his brief time as a graduate student in Clinical Psychology, “and the seemingly disinterested professors were professing theories now abandoned by those aware of the latest discoveries in neurobiology, I kept thinking how there is nothing these people could teach Titus and everything he could teach them, which is when I realized I should be studying with Titus, not them, and that the best way for me to become an effective psychotherapist would be to learn as much as I can from Titus before he dies, and for him to supervise me as I confer with various guinea pigs such as yourself.”

“I’m ready,” says Tober, his stomach growling. “Let us begin my psychoanalysis right after we’ve had some breakfast. Surely Cannon Beach will have eateries galore, and if not galore then some.”

In the little tourist town of Cannon Beach, they find a lovely breakfast joint, the Lazy Susan Café, and sit at a table from where they can look out a window and see their truck while they feast on spicy mushroom omelets and fried potatoes and English muffins and orange marmalade.

Sipping lattes to complete their morning feast, Augie says, “I assume we inherited our mother’s ambition, which she inherited from her mother. Which is to say, despite our mother modeling contentment with being a homesteader and a small town musician, we nevertheless came to believe we were meant to perform on larger stages. In my case, ambition manifested as a desire to become a star in the fields of psychotherapy and neurobiology, and in your case ambition manifested as a desire to become a world famous musician.”

“Hold on,” says Tober, waving away his brother’s assertion. “I had no such ambition until I played ‘Manha de Carnaval’ with Beckman for a thousand people who went bonkers when we finished playing. It was during that tempest of adulation that my larger ambition took hold. Prior to playing with Beckman and Jasmy, I was content to be an Eel River fiddler, and I hope to regain that contentment after a few days of breathing our native air.”

“You may not have been consciously aware of your grandiose desire until you performed with Beckman,” says Augie, looking out the window at their little white truck basking in sudden sunlight, “but I contend the inherited seed was already well-sprouted.”

“Maybe so,” says Tober, wondering if Jasmy could be content to live with him on Snake Creek Road and be an Eel River musician rather than an international superstar. “It did feel strangely familiar trading licks with Jasmy in front of all those jubilant people.”

“Oh so now we’re gonna talk about sex?” says Augie, arching his eyebrow. “Trading licks, indeed.”

“For the record,” says Tober, feigning grave seriousness, “Jasmy and I did not have sex. We kissed multiple times and embraced with passionate tenderness, but stopped short of the wild sex you had with Sandy, and I base the adjective wild on the ecstatic cries emanating from the bedroom all the way at the other end of the very large house where you and Sandy were… how shall we put it? Tripping the light fantastic?”

“She dragged me to her bed,” says Augie, blushing. “I was helpless to resist. She was fearless and luscious and knowing, and she played me as she plays her drums, I her willing trap set.”

“Methinks you take this drumming analogy too far,” says Tober, grimacing. “But we will allow it because she dumped you the next day and broke your heart, and you have yet to tell me why.”

“I wouldn’t say she dumped me,” says Augie, sighing. “I’d say she gave me an ultimatum, and when I refused, she said I was a fool and told me to leave. So I did.”

“What was her ultimatum?” ask Tober, wondering why Sandy would do that when she’d only known Augie for two days.

“She said if I wouldn’t come back to Portland immediately after Thanksgiving and move in with her, she wasn’t interested in having a relationship with me. She said this was the chance of a lifetime and if I didn’t seize the chance, I was a fool, and she was done consorting with fools.”

“You know,” says Tober, waving to their waitress, “though I found Sandy beautiful and charming and funny and delightfully Irish, I think she’s got way more than a few screws loose, and despite your formidable charm, my dear brother, I doubt very much that you were the cause of the loosening of those screws.”

“She’s twenty-two,” says Augie, smiling at the approach of their waitress, a middle-aged woman with gray hair in a bun, glasses perched on the tip of her nose. “I suppose if I were twenty-two instead of eighteen, I might have jumped at the chance to live with her.” He frowns. “But I don’t think so. As much as I liked her, I mistrusted her haste… our sexual collision a drum solo taken way too soon in the unfolding of our song.”

“Hold that metaphor,” says Tober, nodding graciously to their waitress. “Breakfast was divine and we would love to take our delicious lattes on the road with us.”

“I’ll bring you paper cups with lids,” she says, her accent born in the deep Midwest. “You boys want anything else?”

“We are content,” says Tober, wondering how this likable woman from Kansas or Missouri ended up in Cannon Beach.

“Okay then, here you go,” she says, setting the receipt on the table between them. “Looks like the sun’s out to stay. Should be a beautiful rest of the day.”

Rolling south on the coast highway, Tober driving, the two-lane road curving up and down through dense evergreen forests, Augie asks Tober how he left things with Jasmy.

“Well,” says Tober, pulling over to let a mob of cars zoom by, “we gave each other no ultimatums. We affirmed our mutual desire to see each other again, sooner than later, and we agreed to call each other whenever we are so inclined. I told her I will write to her, and she said she would like to come visit us on Snake Creek Road, and I said I would return to Portland in the next month or so to visit her. And regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen between us romantically, we’re going to be friends and play music together and… like that.”

“How comprehensively sensible of you,” says Augie, recalling for the umpteenth time the blissful look on Sandy’s face as he made love to her. “The thing is… I really really really liked Sandy, but the undeniable truth is that she and I dance to very different drummers, no pun intended.”

“Not really a pun,” says Tober, shaking his head. “Well, sort of. She is a very fine drummer. Solid as a rock, yet subtle and musical and incredibly sensitive to the moods of her fellow players. I’d even go so far as to say she’s a rhythmic genius.”

“It’s gonna take me a long time to process everything that happened in these last three months,” says Augie, feeling like crying again. “Especially the last three days.”

“And we’re not home yet,” says Tober, thinking of what awaits them in Yachats.

They arrive in that picturesque little town in the early afternoon, the day still sunny, and follow the directions Ruth and Phil and Sylvia gave Tober four days ago when he dined with them in the Green Salmon café.

About a quarter-mile south of town, Tober still driving, they arrive at a gorgeous old house just a stone’s throw away from incessant waves crashing on the rocky shore.

“Nice place,” says Augie as they pull into the wide driveway and park next to a sleek red electric sedan. “Redwood and rock and windows all around.”

“With a guest house, too,” says Tober, getting out of the truck and stretching his arms. “I wonder if the constant roaring ever bothers them.”

“How could it not?” says Augie, looking out to sea—storm clouds massing on the horizon. “Or maybe they’ve stopped hearing it. The brain will do that to protect us from going mad.”

Now the front door opens and Sylvia comes out to greet them. She looks older than she did when Tober last saw her dressed as a Boy Scout with pigtails in the Green Salmon café. She seems more womanly in blue jeans and a purple cardigan over a peach-colored dress shirt, her hair down; so Tober revises his guess about her age from eleven to thirteen.

“Hi Tober,” she says, gazing adoringly at him. “I’m Sylvia in case you forgot my name.”

“How could I ever forget your name?” says Tober, bowing gallantly to her. “Sylvia, this is my brother Augie. Augie, Sylvia.”

“Nice to meet you,” says Augie, enchanted by Sylvia. “Fabulous place you have here.”

“I guess so,” she says, looking around as if seeing the house and grounds and ocean for the first time. “I’d rather live in a city, but if you can’t live in a city, I suppose this is pretty nice.”

“Which city would you like to live in?” asks Augie, having no desire to live in any city ever again.

“New York,” she says, clasping her hands behind her back. “That’s where we lived until I was six before we moved here. I’m going to be an actress, and New York is where you want to be if that’s what you want to do, which I do.”

Tober gets his violin and Augie’s guitar out of the truck and he and Augie follow Sylvia to the open front door where Ruth in gray slacks and a black turtleneck, her long black hair in a ponytail, is holding an exuberant Golden Retriever by the collar, and Phil in a blue New York Knicks sweatshirt and orange Bermuda shorts, his frizzy white hair going every which way, is restraining a similarly exuberant Black Lab.

“Hello Tober,” says Ruth, releasing the ecstatic dog. “I hope you haven’t already eaten lunch. We just put out tons of food.”

“Welcome,” says Phil, letting go of the Black Lab to shake hands with Tober. “Good to see you again.”

“This is Augie,” says Tober, proudly presenting his brother. “Augie this is Ruth and her father Phil.”

“Pleased to meet you, Augie,” says Phil, shaking Augie’s hand. “I see the resemblance to your brother in your face, though not in your hair.”

“See what I mean?” says Tober, grinning at Augie. “Sounds just like Mom.”

“Ah, yes,” says Phil, laughing. “The unmistakable whatever-it-is that says I grew up in New Jersey.”

With the dogs Philomena and Doogan dancing around them, Tober and Augie follow Ruth and Sylvia and Phil into the enormous living room that looks out on the ocean, a fire crackling in the stone hearth, two large sofas facing each other across a large coffee table, the dark oak floor adorned with Persian rugs, and a grand piano, an immaculate Steinway, dominating one corner of the room.

“What a fantastic space,” says Tober, gazing around in wonder. “And you can’t hear the ocean.”

“Triple-paned windows,” says Phil, proudly. “The middle pane is two-inches-thick. We’d go crazy otherwise.”

“I’m happy to report I was able to get the piano tuned yesterday, so…” Ruth reddens. “But lets eat before we play. Shall we?”

“We so appreciate you putting us up,” says Tober, as he and Augie follow Ruth and Phil and Sylvia into the gigantic modern kitchen. “We’d love to take you out for supper at Lunasea. We crave their fish & chips, and we made quite a bundle busking in Portland.”

“You didn’t,” says Ruth, frowning at Tober. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” says Tober, winking at Sylvia. “The money rained down and we brought it with us.”

“You should be playing in concert halls,” says Ruth, turning to Augie. “Don’t you think so, Augie? He’s phenomenal.”

“He did play in big hall on Saturday night,” says Augie, heaping his plate high with smoked salmon and chicken and potato salad and olives and bread. “For a thousand people.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” says Sylvia, pouting. “We might have come. Probably not, but we might have.”

“It all happened rather spontaneously,” says Tober, filling his plate. “I met a woman in the park where I played and she invited me to play with her band, so I did.”

“What kind of music?” asks Phil, leading the way into the elegant dining room.

“All kinds,” says Tober, thinking of Jasmy and how much she would enjoy being here. “Two guitars, bass, violin, drums, and I was second fiddle, so to speak. Great band. Lots of people dancing.”

“Anybody record you?” asks Phil, having recorded thousands of live performances.

“I don’t know,” says Tober, shaking his head. “There was a very good sound technician on hand, so maybe. I’ll ask Jasmy. It’s her band. Ordering Chaos.”

“I wish I could have seen you,” says Sylvia, sitting across the table from Tober. “When you’re famous, I’ll go to as many of your concerts as I can.”

“Who says I’m going to be famous?” says Tober, smiling quizzically at her.

“I do,” says Sylvia, gazing at him steadfastly. “There’s no way you won’t be.”

Phil looks at Sylvia and says, “Wouldn’t you rather he was happy instead of famous?”

“Why can’t he be both?” she says, petulantly. “Not all famous people are unhappy.”

“Name one happy famous person,” says Phil, raising his index finger.

“Can we not have this discussion right now?” says Ruth, squinting angrily at her father and daughter. “It’s pointless.”

“Sorry,” says Sylvia, returning her gaze to Tober. “Even if you aren’t famous, though you should be, I think it would be wonderful if lots of people could hear you.”

After lunch, Ruth and Tober play Jules Massenet’s Meditation from Thais for Violin and Piano, Ruth an excellent pianist—Tober sight reading the romantic piece and making only a few flubs.

When they finish the Massenet, Ruth smiles hopefully and says, “Piazzolla? Milonga del Angel?”

Tober nods and thinks of Jasmy.

Ruth places the Piazzolla sheet music on Tober’s stand, resettles at the piano, and they take the piece slowly, listening carefully to each other, time standing still as they play—Augie lost in thoughts of being home again, Sylvia dreaming of marrying Tober and living in New York City, Phil remembering the night he recorded Stéphane Grappelli playing with Oscar Peterson at Carnegie Hall, what a night that was.

Tober and Augie depart Yachats early the next morning, Ruth and Sylvia and Phil having gotten up to say goodbye—Tober promising to return and play with Ruth again, Sylvia vowing to write to Tober, and Phil saying he hopes the brothers will make the Vogel-Livingston home their regular stopping place en route to and from Portland.

A few miles south of Yachats, Augie driving, Tober says, “What amazing lives they had before they landed in Yachats. Ruth a professional pianist and violinist married to a famous playwright, Phil a legendary sound engineer who knew most of the famous musicians we grew up listening to.”

“Phil seems to love living in Yachats,” says Augie, pulling over to let a lumber truck pass them, “but I think Ruth misses the city, and we know Sylvia does.”

“Ruth longs for a music partner,” says Tober, nodding in agreement. “And probably a partner partner, too. She’s only forty-nine. I think she’s fabulous.”

“And weren’t you stunned when Sylvia told us she was fifteen?” says Augie, gazing at the horizon for a moment before pulling back onto the road. “I thought she was twelve.”

“She’s gonna be stunning in a few years,” says Tober, imagining Sylvia at eighteen. “Living in New York. I hope she’s not disappointed.”

“I liked her song,” says Augie, who has a little crush on Sylvia. “She’s a pretty good guitarist for only a year of playing.”

“Teen angst,” says Tober, smiling wistfully. “I feel so not like a teenager anymore. You?”

“I don’t think I ever felt like a teenager,” says Augie, shaking his head. “I was a child, then an older child, and then Titus initiated us into manhood and I was an adult. When did you feel like a teenager? And what did it feel like?”

“When I was thirteen and Cecily broke my heart.” Tober remembers the last time he saw Cecily, a few days before she moved to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a movie star. “Felt like I was half-adult and half-child, yearning to be coupled with a girl who was almost but not quite grown up. A terrible antsy yearning to be something other than I was.”

“Eager to emerge from the chrysalis?” asks Augie, pulling back onto the road.

“Yeah,” says Tober, wondering what Cecily is doing now, “while at the same time wanting to stay in the chrysalis until my wings were more fully formed.”

At two that afternoon, Tober driving, they leave the familiar two-lane road that runs from Fortuna to the mouth of the Eel River, and drive at walking speed along the dirt and gravel track known as Snake Creek Road, every house and tree and driveway and truck and car and field and woodpile and water tank and goat and hawk and raven divinely familiar and beloved.

The front door of the farmhouse opens as they park beside the woodshed where they always park, Igor barking happily as he rushes to greet them, Sharon emerging with Amelia and Consuela close behind—the little girls peeking around their mother as their big brothers get out of the truck.

Sharon gives Tober a longer-than-usual hug before embracing Augie and clinging to him for so long, it is Augie who ends the embrace, being unused to such prolonged affection from his mother.

At supper, Consuela, who has barely said a word since Tober and Augie came home, asks quietly in English, “Tober? You find any pretty rocks?”

“Yes, I did,” says Tober, smiling at her. “I’ll show them to you after supper.”

“Can I see them, too?” asks Amelia, speaking Spanish.

“Of course,” says Tober, nodding assuredly. “Por supuesto.”

“What have you been doing since you got here?” asks Augie, speaking to the girls in his pretty good Spanish.

“We go with Mama to the market in Fortuna,” says Consuela, answering in Spanish and smiling furtively at Sharon. “And we get eggs from the chickens in their house, but not so many eggs until more sunny days. And we sing songs and go to the neighbors and we have breakfast and lunch and supper and brush our teeth and go to bed.”

“And we play with Igor,” says Amelia, nodding brightly. “And we play the piano and we help Mama with the fire and we help her cook breakfast and lunch and supper, and we go feed Bernstein cat, and we read books, and we draw pictures, and we play with our toys, and Mama tells us stories and we listen to the music and we dance.” She looks at Sharon. “What else?”

“I think that pretty much covers everything,” says Sharon, smiling wryly at her sons. “Either of you available to watch over your sisters while I give lessons and so forth?”

“I am,” says Augie, raising his hand.

“I am, too,” says Tober, nodding. “Nothing I’d rather do more.”

When the girls are asleep, Sharon and Augie and Tober sit by the fire and talk for hours until at last Sharon says, “I must go to bed, though I’d rather stay up talking. But the girls wake up at six raring to go, so I need to get some sleep or I’ll be useless tomorrow.”

“We’ll see you in the morning,” says Tober, getting up to give her a hug. “What time is everyone getting here?”

“Twoish,” says Sharon, speaking of the people coming for Thanksgiving. “We’ll eat at five or thereabouts.”

“I’ll sleep on the sofa here tonight,” says Augie, yawning. “I’m not quite ready to make the move to the Bernstein mansion.”

“I’ll sleep down there tonight,” says Tober, eager to call Jasmy. “See you at breakfast.”

Tober takes a long luxurious shower in one of the three large bathrooms in the spacious home where he and Augie will be living until further notice—George and Lisa Bernstein gone for a couple months visiting their children Cecily and Felix in Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo—and for his bedroom, he chooses the guestroom that used to be Cecily’s bedroom.

Wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts, he climbs into the comfy queen-sized bed and calls Jasmy on the Bernsteins’ landline phone.

She answers on the third ring and says, “Hello?”

“Hi. It’s Tober,” he says, thrilled to hear her voice.

“Hey,” she says softly.

“Is this a good time to talk?”

“Can I call you back in fifteen minutes?” she says, sounding distracted.

“Yeah, let me give you this number. I’m not at the one I gave you.”

“I got it. My phone knows what numbers are calling me.”

“No wonder they call them smart phones.”

“Fifteen,” she whispers—a click terminating their connection.

Tober gets out of bed, puts on his pants and jacket, and wanders down the hall to the spacious living room where he spent many happy hours as a child and a young teen before Cecily went off to Hollywood. He and Augie and Felix and Cecily used to have chess tournaments here; and they played Monopoly and wrote plays together; and when they wrote a play they especially liked, they memorized their parts and performed the play for their parents and other residents of the road.

And every day they played music. He and Augie played guitars and the four of them sang the songs and harmonies they memorized from the albums of The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, James Taylor, the Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Theodore Bikel.

And Tober and Cecily played piano and violin duets; and from the age of eight until he was thirteen, Tober imagined he and Cecily would get married and play duets together for the rest of their lives—and now he hasn’t seen her or spoken to her in six years.

This living room was also the meeting place for the Snake Creek Drama Game Society, which met every Thursday evening for several years. Lisa Bernstein, who had a degree in Drama from Cal State Long Beach, was the leader of the games, which after the first year or so evolved from serious dramatic practice into a few fun warm-up exercises as prelude to a rousing game of Charades, the teams picked by drawing straws. When Cecily moved to Los Angeles and Lisa began spending more and more time there, too, the drama game society dissolved.

Tober sits at the grand piano, sad about how out-of-tune the fine instrument is, and makes a mental note to bring his tuner down to set things as right as he can. Now he plays a little something he’s been hearing ever since he met Jasmy—a slow downward progression of chords played with his left hand accompanying a slow upward progression of notes played with his right, a ceremonial procession for his dear new friend.

Now the phone rings and he leaps up, his heart pounding.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” says Jasmy, no longer sounding distracted, her voice full of love. “I was having a very heavy conversation with Sandy, one of many since you and Augie left.”

“Does she want you to give me an ultimatum?” asks Tober, half-jesting and half-serious.

“That’s exactly what she wants me to do,” says Jasmy, surprised by Tober’s surmise. “How did you know?”

“Just a guess,” he says somberly.

“Well I’m not going to,” she says definitively. “I don’t ever want to stop knowing you.”

“Ditto,” says Tober, softly. “Speaking of which, pardon my cliché, but I wish you were here. I’m so looking forward to you meeting my mother and Amelia and Consuela and Titus and Tina, and… showing you around.”

“When would you like me to come?”

“Any time,” he says, surprised by her question. “I thought you said you couldn’t possibly get away for the next six months.”

“Which was true,” she says, taking a deep breath, “before Sandy quit the band. But now that she has, Pedro and Marie and I have decided not to gig anymore until we figure out what we want to do next, whether to find another drummer or work as a trio or add a keyboard player or make a studio album or… we don’t know. So suddenly I’ve got lots of free time and I’d love to come for a visit.”

“Fantastic!” says Tober, walking to the window and looking out into the night. “I mean… I’m sorry Sandy quit, but… why did she quit?”

“Oh God, Tobe, it’s such a long story. Maybe I’ll try to write it to you in a letter. But the short version is, she’s ferociously ambitious and very moody and… she’s always kept her lovers at a great emotional distance, but when she wasn’t able to do that with Augie, and he wouldn’t commit to living with her, she flipped out. And she not only quit the band, she’s moving out, so I have to find a new housemate. And as soon as I find someone, I’ll come visit you.”

“Whenever you come,” says Tober, closing his eyes and seeing her so clearly, “will be perfect.”

Seventeen people join Sharon and Augie and Tober and Amelia and Consuela for Thanksgiving, and when the twenty-two are seated around a long table made of three tables, Sharon asks Titus to give a prayer of thanks.

“Oh Great Spirit,” he says in his deep husky voice. “We call on you to be with us now.” He smiles around the table at his friends and relatives. “When I was a young man, I thought this holiday called Thanksgiving was a silly thing people did because they didn’t know how to be thankful the rest of the year. And also lots of indigenous people think of this day as celebrating when the Europeans first came to North America and the Indians out there in Massachusetts helped them survive a hard winter, and then those Europeans stole the land from those Indians. But since I’ve been coming to this feast at Sharon and Tober and Augie’s place for the last seven years, I look forward to this day because we all get to be together and eat good food and talk and laugh and sing and, speaking for myself, probably cry. This is a day we spend remembering what a precious gift life is, this journey that begins when we’re born and eventually carries us all the way back to where we came from, back to the source of everything, back to Great Spirit who gave us life. What do I mean by Great Spirit? I mean all there has ever been, all there is now, and all there will ever be.”

Every night since Consuela and Amelia came to live with Sharon in the farmhouse, after Sharon told them a bedtime story, she reminded them they were welcome to sleep in her bed with her. And every time she told them this, they both looked away, as if to say, “No thank you.”

But tonight, on Thanksgiving, when the last guest has gone home and Sharon is supervising the girls as they brush their teeth and wash their hands and faces, Consuela looks at Sharon and asks, “Can we sleep in your bed tonight, Mama?”

“Yes,” says Sharon, trying not to cry.

When the girls enter Sharon’s bedroom, Sharon says in Spanish, “When Tober and Augie were your age, they sometimes slept in my bed with me, sometimes one of them, sometimes both of them, and when it was both of them, they slept on either side of me. But you can sleep with me however you want.”

“We will sleep together beside you,” says Consuela, nodding assuredly. “We like to sleep beside each other.”

“Yes,” says Amelia, nodding in agreement. “We want to sleep beside each other beside you.”

At midnight, when Sharon goes to join her slumbering daughters in her bed, Tober and Augie walk down the hill to the Bernsteins’ house, stopping on their way to gaze at the scimitar moon in the starry sky.

“You know what I was thinking about all day today?” says Augie, loving the deep quiet of this place.

“Sandy,” says Tober, putting his arm around his brother. “About how much she would enjoy everybody who came today.”

“That’s eerie, Tobe,” says Augie, looking at his brother. “That’s exactly what I was thinking about.”

“I think she would love it here,” says Tober, breathing deeply of the pristine air. “I think she would fall madly in love with Tina and Titus and Mom and the girls. What do you think?”

“I think so, too. But only if she was open to falling in love with them, only if she wasn’t stuck in some fixed idea about how things should be.”

“Yeah,” says Tober, smiling at the moon. “Good advice. Let’s not get stuck in fixed ideas about how things should be.”

      fin