Obidiah the Cummings Lane raven
mystic was perched on the edge of his new roost high in a giant gnarly old
redwood named Tree. Obidiah had just eaten two delicious morsels of perfectly
cooked chicken given to him by a human named Isadora.
There were twelve more chicken
morsels left in the bag, and Obidiah was about to eat them when he saw a sight
that took his breath away. Gliding through the forest fifty feet below him was
the beautiful Jack Peters Creek raven gal Magdalena, she of the four snowy
white tail feathers.
“Wow, talk about wishes coming
true,” said Obidiah, who had just moments before wished he could share the
chicken morsels with Magdalena.
Obidiah had only met Magdalena once
before and very briefly, but that meeting was a life-changing event for both of
them because neither had ever met another full-blown mystic, which they both
were, and neither had ever been so
profoundly attracted to a raven of the opposite sex.
“If you’d like to talk about wishes
coming true,” said Tree, with whom Obidiah frequently conversed, “I’d be happy
“Hold that thought,” said Obidiah, flying
off in pursuit of Magdalena.
“Wishes coming true,” mused Tree. “Do
thousand-year-old trees make wishes? I don’t recall ever wishing for anything. But
if I did wish for something, what
might it be? Perhaps I’d wish for rain to end a long drought, though I never have wished for that because I know
droughts always eventually end whether I wish they would or not. So… I don’t
While Tree pondered the concept of wishes,
Obidiah caught up to Magdalena and cawed, “Well if it isn’t Magdalena. Fancy
meeting you here.”
Magdalena alighted on the first
convenient branch and Obidiah landed on a branch not far from her.
“Hi,” she said shyly. “You made a
wish involving me and I’ve been wanting to see you again, so here I am.”
“You heard my wish?” he replied,
overjoyed. “All the way from Jack Peters Creek?”
Magdalena nodded. “Is your roost
“Don’t tell me,” she said,
interrupting. “I only asked because though you’re not technically in Jack Peters Creek raven territory, you are still
very much in danger of being attacked by Jack Peters Creek ravens. As I
mentioned to you when we first met, they are all brutal dunces and not to be
“You don’t want to see my roost?” he
“I do and I don’t,” she said,
sighing in frustration. “I do want to
see your roost because I’m super curious, of course, and I don’t want to see your roost because if I love your roost, which I
probably will, then…”
“Then what?” he asked, holding his
“Then it will be even harder for me
to stop thinking about you,” she said matter-of-factly. “Ever since we met and
conversed clairvoyantly and… by the way, do you read minds? Of other ravens and
birds and mammals?”
“I do,” he said, nodding. “But your
mind is closed to me.”
“That is so weird,” she said, squinting at him. “Because I can read minds,
too, but not yours. How about future glimpsing?”
“Yes,” he said, frowning. “Only not my
own future or yours.”
“Ditto,” she said, enraptured by
him. “I’ve never met another raven like me. Have you ever met another raven
“Still haven’t,” he said, jauntily bobbing
his head. “You’re a gal raven and I’m male.”
“I meant the other stuff,” she said,
“Speaking of other stuff,” he said,
making a clucking sound. “You hungry? One of my human clients just paid me in
scrumptious chicken morsels, and my wish, the one you heard from an impressive
three miles away, was to have you join me in feasting on said scrumptious
“You have human clients?” she asked, amazed.
“Well… one,” he said, shrugging.
“Actually I am,” she said, torn
between staying and going. “But the thing is… by the way, what’s your name?”
“Obidiah,” he said, smitten beyond
“Nice name,” she said quietly. “The
thing is, Obidiah, I’m three-years old and soon to be four, and I long ago
resigned myself to never marrying because all the raven males I’ve ever met are
“I’m not,” he said simply.
“No, I can sense that,” she said,
her voice full of tenderness. “But you’re an outsider and the brutal dunces
will kill you if you ever come to our territory again.”
“I never will come to their territory again,” he said, shaking his head. “We
would live here and socialize with my raven and non-raven friends in Cummings
Lane raven territory and at Big River Beach.”
“Your friends would accept me?” she asked incredulously.
“Absolutely,” he assured her. “I’m
held in high esteem by the Cummings Lane ravens because of the many useful
repercussions of my mystical proclivities, and you would be held in high esteem,
too, because you would be my wife.”
“Seriously?” she said,
flabbergasted. “Most Jack Peters Creek ravens think I’m a total nut case, though
that doesn’t stop the males from trying to impregnate me against my will.”
“I would never do that,” he said
gently. “I would always wait until you invited me.”
“Gosh,” she said, her heart melting,
“this puts things in a whole new light, a lovely new light, though I still
think our roost… your roost is
vulnerable to attacks from Jack Peters Creek ravens.”
“Speaking of vulnerable,” he said,
turning in the direction of Tree, “I don’t think we should leave those
scrumptious morsels unattended much longer.”
“No we shouldn’t,” she said,
surrendering to his charms. “Lead me to your roost.”
Had either Obidiah or Magdalena been able to see the future they might have been spared a few terrifying weeks of trying to make the hollow in Tree a lasting home for themselves and their future progeny.
But they could not see their
futures, and despite their valiant efforts they could not withstand the
constant harassment and predations by gangs of Jack Peters Creek ravens who
were furious that a Cummings Lane raven had successfully wooed and wed a
beautiful Jack Peters Creek raven gal.
Nor could Obidiah and Magdalena have
known that even marginal land for roosting in Cummings Lane raven territory
would be in such short supply, and that after giving up their roost in Tree
they would spend a long wet winter in a temporary nest in a small redwood on
Obidiah’s parents’ land, which was fine with Obidiah’s father Tarkanda but did
not sit well with Obidiah’s mother Doris who felt intimidated by Magdalena’s
formidable mystical proclivities and her beautiful white tail feathers.
Then one Thursday morning, as winter
was giving way to spring, Obidiah went to meet the human Isadora at the big
driftwood log on Big River Beach. With food scarce, Obidiah and Magdalena had
come to depend on the weekly bag of succulent morsels Isadora brought Obidiah in
thanks for his counseling.
Obidiah alighted on the big
driftwood log a few feet from Isadora and sent “You look lovelier than ever. Those
pearl earrings are to die for. How are things going with you and Thomas?”
“Things are going wonderfully well
for us,” sent Isadora, gazing fondly at Obidiah. “How are things going for you?
You sound sad, Obidiah. Are you?”
Now in all the many Thursday
mornings that Obidiah met Isadora on the big driftwood log, Isadora had never
once inquired about Obidiah’s life, nor had Obidiah ever shared anything about
his life with her. But when she asked how things were going for him, and especially
when she said he sounded sad, he told her everything that had happened to him
since he helped her end her terrible marriage to Jeff and find true love with
When he finished telling his tale, Obidiah
looked at Isadora and saw she was crying.
“I’m sorry,” he sent. “I shouldn’t
have burdened you with my…”
“No, Obidiah,” she sent
passionately. “I should have asked how you were doing long ago when I first
sensed your sorrow.”
“But our relationship has always
been about me helping you,” sent Obidiah, tearfully. “And in
thanks for my help you’ve given me food glorious food. So…”
“I can do more than give you food,”
said Isadora, gesturing magnanimously to the sparkling sea. “I own ten acres a
mile south of here and I’m certain no ravens are currently living on my land.
Come live there with your wife. You would be most welcome.”
And that is how Obidiah and
Magdalena, the raven mystics, came to live on Isadora’s land.
They built a big comfy nest in a
gnarly old giant redwood named Cassiopeia and raised many children on Isadora’s
fruitful acres. Their female progeny were all witty and wise and gifted with
snowy white tail feathers, and their male progeny were all strong and adventurous
and fond of double entendre. And many of their offspring were full-blown
Obidiah and Magdalena are quite old
now and spend most of their time hanging around Isadora and Thomas’s house
enjoying the marvelous smells emanating from the kitchen and listening to Isadora
and Thomas make music together.
And, as you might expect, Obidiah
and Magdalena are totally addicted to the scrumptious morsels Isadora gives
them every day.
On the day after Madge the beautiful
Cummings Lane gal raven turned down his marriage proposal, Obidiah the raven
mystic decided to seek out his two non-raven bird friends, a gull named Marcus
and a Red-tailed hawk named Harold, to get their opinions about how he might
proceed with his life. In Obidiah’s experience, other species’ viewpoints were
often helpful in resolving seemingly intractable raven dilemmas.
Harold the hawk oversaw a couple
square miles of fields and orchards and wooded land between Cummings Lane and
the coast. Harold and his mate Rose had a big nest at the top of a half-dead
bull pine on the edge of a wooded ravine carved by a seasonal creek.
Obidiah and Harold became friends
two years ago when Harold and Rose were establishing their territory and the
local ravens would daily mob the hawks and chase them all over hell and gone.
The ravens did this because the hawk couple who previously presided over Harold
and Rose’s territory were notorious raven nest raiders, which Harold and Rose
One day Obidiah happened to join a
group of ravens mobbing Harold, and because Obidiah spoke fluent Hawk, he
understood Harold when Harold cried plaintively, “Leave us alone. Please. We
are not raven nest raiders. We are gopher,
squirrel, snake, rabbit, vole hunters. We really
don’t want to have to resort to killing some of you, but we will if you persist
in mobbing us.”
So Obidiah brokered a peace between
Harold and Rose and the Cummings Lane ravens, and thereafter Harold and Obidiah
Obidiah found Harold perched on a
power line overlooking Harold and Rose’s Rodent Field 7, a level acre of land that
the human owners left fallow, though this acre would have made an ideal apple
orchard or vegetable farm.
Harold greeted Obidiah with his
perpetual steely gaze, which Obidiah knew not to misconstrue.
“Obidiah,” said Harold, his voice
fantastically high. “What brings you… excuse me.”
Harold then plummeted to the ground and snagged with his talons a big fat gopher he promptly tore to pieces with his beak.
“No matter how many times I see you
do that,” said Obidiah, admiringly, “I’m amazed. Will you be taking that meat
back to your nest?”
“No,” said Harold, devouring the
shredded gopher flesh. “George and Naomi left the nest a couple months ago, and
Rose is working Rodent Field 4 this morning. This is all mine. Want some?”
“Sure,” said Obidiah, alighting near
Harold and waiting politely for the raptor to fling him a few bloody pieces.
When the gopher was no more, Harold
and Obidiah flapped across the field and perched on another power line from
where Harold could scan the field.
“As I started to ask,” said Harold,
blinking at Obidiah, “before that delicious gopher emerged from his hole
unawares… what brings you here
“I’m seeking guidance,” said
Obidiah, humbly. “I’ve found a marvelous roost in some fine unclaimed territory
several miles north of here, but I don’t yet have a mate and I despair of any
Cumming Lane raven gal wanting to settle so far afield. I’m not getting any
younger and… well, I’m at a loss how to proceed.”
“Hawks, you know,” said Harold, his
eyes fixed on the field, “do not live communally or even semi-communally, and
we’re fortunate if we live half as long as your average raven. I got booted out
of the nest and driven out of my parents’ territory when I was five-months-old
and had to migrate to the far fringes of hawk civilization before I could stake
my first claim on extremely marginal hunting grounds. For some months I survived
on scrawny lizards and throat-tickling caterpillars and the occasional snake, but
I persevered, met Rose, and together we claimed this paradise after the previous pair of hawks were electrocuted by
a power surge. Then we had to fight off several other hawks who wanted this
land, and then we had to survive months of mobbing by ravens until you came to
the rescue. Since then things have been relatively marvelous. Which is all to
say, if you were a hawk, you’d claim that territory you’re enamored of, get to
know the lay of your land, and hope for good things to follow.”
“Even if one of the things to follow
was a raven gal from another society?” asked Obidiah, his fear of Jack Peters
Creek ravens inherited from hundreds of previous generations of Cummings Lane
“Heck yeah,” said Harold, seeming to
glare at Obidiah, though he was merely being a hawk. “Love doesn’t care where
we come from. Love only cares who we are and if we have that ineffable je ne
Inspired by Harold’s thought-provoking
ideas about love, Obidiah flew down to Big River Beach and found his gull pal
Marcus standing on the outskirts of a sizeable congregation of other gulls gathered
at the edge of a sand bar pecking in the wet sand for sand dabs.
A large gull, his feathers extra
white from a recent bath in the river, Marcus was one of the few local gulls
who enjoyed the company of ravens. Gulls and ravens compete for similar edibles
and are frequently at odds, but Marcus was a most successful food getter and
felt no threat from ravens. He was also a deep thinker and enjoyed discussing
philosophical matters with Obidiah.
Marcus and Obidiah became acquainted
when they were both young and learning how to forage for themselves. They kept
bumping into each other while scoping out human picnickers at the beach, and on
one such occasion Obidiah read the minds of the picnickers and learned they
were going to leave their half-finished banquet unattended while they went for
a walk. Being a generous sort, Obidiah shared this information with young
Marcus, and when Obidiah and Marcus got away with an entire ham and cheese
sandwich and a large bag of potato chips, which they shared, they became fast
After a bit of chitchat about the weather
and the fortuitous abundance of sand dabs, Obidiah described his marital
territorial dilemma to Marcus.
“Regarding the far flung nesting option,” opined Marcus, “we would not be wrong in conflating that remote roost with the parable of the road less travelled. Ipso facto, this is a classic example of the artist’s dilemma.”
“Why do you say artist’s dilemma?” asked Obidiah, who didn’t consider himself an
“By artist I mean an original thinker,” said Marcus, gazing at the
horizon. “One who conceives of things and perceives reality in a wholly
original way. A bird who finds little satisfaction in recapitulating the
redundant patterns of the status quo. One who, and this is the key point, goes
his or her own way in most matters. You may fail, Obidiah, but at least you
will have tried and won’t regret not
trying, if you will pardon my use of a double negative.”
“And what’s your take on marrying an
outsider?” asked Obidiah, who enjoyed Marcus’s verbosity.
“Gulls are not ravens,” said Marcus,
looking around at his numerous cohorts. “If you will excuse my stating the
obvious. Every year we roam up and down the coast for hundreds of miles in
either direction, gathering with our kind in great numbers hither and yon. Thus
marrying outsiders is as common among gulls as not marrying outsiders. Keeps
the gene pool jumping. Breaks the monotony of sameness.” He smiles. “I met my
first wife Deb in Coos Bay. Talk about a tough gull. She relished barnacles and
found icy weather tropical. When she choked on an enormous chicken bone and
died, I mourned her for hours before marrying Conchita from La Paz. Ay caramba!”
“Okay then,” said Obidiah, feeling
emboldened by the sum total of Harold and Marcus’s input. “One last question.
The little beach where Jack Peters Creek meets the sea? Ever seen any ravens
“Are humans omnivorous?” said
Marcus, cackling. “The mouth of Jack Peters Creek is raven central. Especially
at low tide.”
“Would you do me the honor of
accompanying me to that little beach some upcoming low tide?” asked Obidiah,
nodding hopefully. “I’d make it worth your while.”
“I’m sure you would,” said Marcus,
grinning. “As it happens there’s a grandiloquent low tide on the morrow in the
morning. I’ll talk some pals into coming with us so we can give you a little
gull cover while you check out the Jack Peters Creek raven gals.”
“Thank you, Marcus,” said Obidiah,
raising his wings to signify his gratitude. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow
“No problema mi amigo,” said Marcus,
raising his wings in reply. “Tu mundo es mi mundo.”
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
“She brought Lily to your house for a play date
with Owen,” says Donna, knowing the story well. “And you liked each other
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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
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.
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?”
“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.”
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
“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
“You think he wants to know why she killed
“Of course he does. Wouldn’t you if you didn’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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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…”
“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.
“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
“So did you travel more?”
“Before the pandemic I tried, but she wouldn’t
“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
“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
“You thought she’d get better.”
“I wanted her to, but I didn’t think she would.”
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
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.
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,
“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.
“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.
it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”
“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie.
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
“‘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
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
“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
“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
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.
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
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.”
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
“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.”
“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
“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
“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,
“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
“Or San Francisco State,” she says, nodding.
“That’s where I’m going. We don’t want you getting drafted, Andrew. Absolutely
“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
“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,
“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
“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
“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
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.
“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,
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
“You make me happier than I’ve ever been,” he
says, kissing her.
“You know what I think?” she says, closing her
“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,” 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.
Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and
always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she knew
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
“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,
“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
“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
“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 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
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.
“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
“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,
“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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
And speaking of movies, you may enjoy the very first and very short music video I’ve made all by myself. Eva Waltzing.
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
442 Cottage Place
‘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.
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.