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Irenia

On the second of February, a Friday, in the thriving northern California coastal town of Mercy, the day dawns icy and clear after three days of rain.

Toby, the tall young UPS driver, arrives on his bicycle at the UPS depot on the south side of Mercy, flirts with Teresa the depot manager over a quick cup of coffee, and gives Domingo a hand loading the big brown UPS truck with packages large and small.

“Hey I’ll bet these are Philip’s cookbooks,” says Domingo, the nephew of Juan, Celia’s brother-in-law, Celia married to Nathan, Nathan and Celia close friends with Philip and the gang at Ziggurat Farm.

“Ten boxes from… Primero Press,” says Toby, reading the label on one of the heavy boxes. “Must be.”

“Veronica can’t wait to get one,” says Domingo, getting out his wallet and handing Toby a couple twenties. “If they open a box when you’re there, could you get me one and have Philip sign it? To Veronica.”

“I’ll try,” says Toby, pocketing the money. “I want one, too.”

Ziggurat Farm is usually one of Toby’s last stops of the day, but because he’s eager to see Philip’s new book, he asks Teresa if he can deliver to the farm first today.

Teresa hands Toby a couple twenties and says, “Get me a copy, too.”

*

Meanwhile, Philip is driving the kids, Arturo, eleven, Henri, ten, and Vivienne, nine, to Mercy Montessori, this being Arturo’s last year there, after which he will enter the public school system for Seventh Grade since there are no other choices in Mercy save for home schooling, an undertaking the farm adults cannot imagine, though even the excellent Montessori School is of questionable educational value to their very bright children.

“I’ll pick you up at Nathan and Celia’s after your piano lessons,” says Philip, pulling up to the school where several other vehicles are disgorging children.

“Don’t forget Irenia is coming for supper and spending the night,” says Vivienne, speaking of the kids’ new pal. “She’s very much looking forward to your cooking, which we’ve told her all about.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” says Philip, resisting the temptation to say How could I possibly forget when you remind me every fifteen minutes?

“Her parents are bringing her at five,” says Arturo, repeating what Philip has now been told at least ten times. “We’re hoping you’ll make something yummy for a before-supper snack.”

“Those stuffed mushrooms you made for Thanksgiving would be ideal,” says Henri, opening his door.

“Stuffed mushrooms would be ideal,” says Vivienne, coming around the car to the driver’s window. “With maybe a little more melted cheese than usual. Irenia especially likes cheese. Perhaps you could get some of that Swiss kind we love. The Emmental.”

“I shall endeavor to get some from my friends at Ocelot,” says Philip, nodding graciously to his daughter. “See you at Nathan’s at 4:30.”

*

Back at the farm, Andrea is in the cottage where she and her husband Marcel and their son Henri live. She is sitting at her desk in what was previously Lisa’s massage studio and is now the headquarters of Ziggurat Farm Productions, Philip’s cookbook the first of those productions.

“We’re expecting copies today,” says Andrea, speaking on the phone with Ramona at Crow’s Nest Books, one of Mercy’s two bookstores and the only one that sells new books. “Did you try ordering through Ingram?”

“I ordered a few copies from them,” says Ramona, who thinks Philip is the most charming man she’s ever met, “but you’ll make so much more per copy if we buy directly from you.”

“I appreciate that,” says Andrea, who was a sous chef for twenty years and has been a farmer for ten, but never a seller of books until now. “I just want to confirm the other way works.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as those copies comes in,” says Ramona, who was thrilled by the advance copy of the cookbook Andrea showed her. “But for now I want to get seventy copies from you to make a big display, and I’m sure we’ll need more for the book signing.”

“I’ll bring you seventy copies as soon as we get them,” says Andrea, a message appearing on her computer screen saying an email just arrived from the New York Times. “Toby usually delivers here at the end of the day so I probably won’t get books to you until tomorrow.”

Ending her call with Ramona, Andrea opens the email from the New York Times where, purely on a whim, she sent one of the three advance copies of the cookbook she got from Primero Press, the outfit handling printing and distribution of the print-on-demand edition of the book.

Andrea…Thanks for sending Philip’s Kitchen. The Raul Neves intro is a real coup. I gave the book to Sara Granderson, one of our cookbook reviewers, and she went bonkers. She showed it to Mark Jacobs, the Sunday supplement food editor, and he loves it, too, and wants to feature Sara’s review and the Neves intro in an upcoming supplement. Can you send pics of the farm and Philip in his kitchen, and if possible a pic of Philip with Raul? Probably run in 3-4 weeks. Congrats.Titus

*

Lisa, Philip’s wife, is in the farmhouse with Marcel, Andrea’s husband, and Michael and Daisy who recently bought the house and three acres contiguous with five-acre Ziggurat Farm. Michael is an ornithologist and Daisy, eight months pregnant with her first child, is a novelist.

They are in the midst of a conversation about Mercy Hospital—Michael wondering if it might be wiser for Daisy to have the baby in a big city hospital instead of in Mercy’s humble country hospital.

“Celia worked at Mercy Hospital for thirty-five years and says it’s a great place to have a baby,” says Daisy, who is much less anxious than Michael about the impending birth of their child. “Just not major surgery.”

“I loved having my babies there,” says Lisa, remembering the sweet and competent Mexican nurses who assisted the Nigerian doctor who delivered Arturo, those same nurses assisting the Australian doctor who delivered Vivienne two years later. “Celia’s daughter Calypso is a nurse there and she helped with the birth of both Arturo and Vivienne.”

“Andrea loved having Henri there,” says Marcel, remembering the moment of Henri’s birth. “They’re very nice about letting the father be in the room for the birth.”

“Then I shouldn’t worry,” says Michael, laughing nervously.

“We’ll be fine,” says Daisy, who has thoroughly enjoyed her pregnancy so far. “I know we will.”

At which moment, Andrea rushes in and says, “The New York Times is going to run a rave review of Philip’s cookbook and do a big spread with pictures in a Sunday supplement.”

Having delivered this momentous news, Andrea bursts into tears and Marcel and Lisa rush to embrace her.

*

At morning recess on the playground at Mercy Montessori, a spirited soccer game is underway with Arturo and Vivienne leading one team, Henri and Irenia leading the other. Arturo and Vivienne and Henri started playing soccer as soon as they learned to walk, Henri’s father Marcel a former professional soccer player, and Irenia, tall and graceful with long raven black hair, grew up playing rough-and-tumble soccer in the Russian community in San Francisco.

The other kids on both teams play with zeal, but are not great ball-handlers. Thus the Ziggurat Farm gang and Irenia dominate the game—Irenia scoring the winning goal by shoving Arturo aside and striking the ball so hard the diminutive goalie dives out of the way to save his life.

“I’m pretty sure knocking me down like that would get you a yellow card in a refereed game,” says Arturo, speaking to Irenia from where he’s lying on the ground.

“I see no referee,” says Irenia, giving Arturo a hand up.

And a moment later the game is forgotten—Arturo and Irenia listening to Mr. Arbanas droning on about the founding of Rome, Vivienne and Henri bored to tears by Mrs. Pembroke reading aloud in her sing-song way about settlers traveling west from St. Louis in covered wagons on the Oregon Trail.

*

Philip has yet to hear the news about the New York Times review because he doesn’t carry a phone and because after dropping the kids at school he went to Ocelot to deliver lettuce and green onions from the Ziggurat greenhouses and had an unusually long conversation with the famous Raul who is usually too busy to talk for long.

From Ocelot, Philip went to the food co-op to buy supplies for tonight’s supper, after which he dropped by Nathan and Celia and Delilah’s for tea and conversation, and then Delilah, the kids’ piano teacher and the illustrator of Philip’s Kitchen, did some sketches of Philip for a drawing she’ll create to go with the review of his cookbook scheduled to run in the weekly Mercy Messenger before his book signing at Crow’s Nest Books a few weeks hence.

At last he arrives home where upon entering the farmhouse he is greeted with hurrahs from Marcel and Andrea and Lisa and Michael and Daisy in honor of his impending New York Times triumph and the arrival of ten boxes of his glorious new cookbook.

“Wonderful,” says Philip, holding a copy of Philip’s Kitchen: exquisite recipes from Ziggurat Farm. “Please forgive me for not getting too excited about the news from New York. After what I went through with my first cookbook, I think I’ll wait to celebrate until the review is a fait accompli and not merely a promise.”

*

Which sentiment turns out to be prescient, for when Andrea returns to her office after lunch she finds the following email.

Andrea…Turns out we never review self-published books. Editorial policy. So I regret to say we won’t be running a review or featuring the book in a supplement. Titus

Crestfallen, Andrea returns to the farmhouse, gives the news to Philip and Lisa, and bursts into tears again.

“Don’t be sad,” says Philip, sitting beside Andrea on the sofa. “It would have been nice, but it’s not how things usually work in the upper stories of the media pyramid, save by accident once every thousand blue moons. But we’ll be fine. We don’t need to sell a million copies. Right? What’s our break-even number?”

“A thousand,” she says, still crying. “But it’s so unfair.”

“I used to think that, too,” says Philip, getting up from the sofa to put a log on the fire. “But now I think it’s just the way of the human world, which has never been a meritocracy, however much we wish it was.”

*

Boris and Maria, Irenia’s parents, bring their beautiful daughter to the farm at five o’clock, and Philip and Lisa insist Boris and Maria stay for the hors d’oeuvres and a drink—Boris gregarious and friendly, Maria quiet and self-conscious about her minimal command of English.

Arturo and Vivienne and Irenia each gobble several of the baked Cremini mushrooms stuffed with Philip’s special sauté of minced onions, chopped Kalamata olives, minced garlic, and finely grated carrots, topped with melted Emmental cheese, after which they race off to Vivienne’s bedroom where Irenia suggests she teach them how to play poker, so that is what they do.

Boris is fifty-six, tall and broad-shouldered with curly gray hair and a big stomach. Maria is fifty-four, short and stout, her once black hair now white. They sit side-by-side on the sofa in the living room, a plate of stuffed mushrooms on the coffee table in front of them, each with a glass of the farm’s excellent cabernet, and Boris eats seven of the stuffed mushrooms in quick succession, while Maria has one.

“I never had such good food before,” says Boris, downing his entire glass of wine in a single gulp. “And this is best wine I ever had.” He says something to Maria in Russian.

“What did you say to her?” asks Lisa, smiling at Boris.

“I said now we know how heaven will be,” says Boris, laughing. “Best food and best wine.”

“I love your food so much, too,” says Maria, smiling and nodding. “I cook pretty good but not so good as you.”

“I’m glad you like the food and wine,” says Philip, refilling Boris’s glass. “I’d love to give you a copy of my new cookbook. We just got copies today and it has the recipe for the stuffed mushrooms.”

“We’ll give you some wine to take home, too,” says Lisa, who finds Maria and Boris delightful.

“We can pay you,” says Maria, nodding anxiously.

“No, no,” says Philip, bringing them the book. “It’s our gift to you. We’re so glad to get to know you. Our kids love your daughter. They’ve been looking forward to having her over for weeks now.”

“She’s a good girl,” says Boris, downing his second glass of wine. “We move here because…”

Maria whispers in Russian to Boris.

“Yah,” he says, nodding. “We are very happy she like your kids, too. In city she was… how do I say this…” He lowers his voice. “The men were coming after her. She was only ten, but tall and beautiful as you see… so now we are here and is better for her and… yah, we are happy she like your kids.”

“Because she’s still a child,” says Lisa, who escaped the slums of Buenos Aires when she was ten and the men were starting to come after her. “She’ll be a woman soon enough. Let her be a child while she can.”

Maria says something in Russian to Boris.

“She is very smart,” says Boris, translating for Maria. “We want her to go to college and go beyond us. We came to America when I was forty-three and Maria was forty-one. I’m mechanic. I fix cars and trucks. At Mercy garage. I think maybe I fix your truck. Bent axel. Yah?”

“Yes, and you did a great job,” says Philip, beaming at Boris.

“Good,” says Boris, nodding in thanks as Philip fills his glass again. “Maria is seamstress. She can sew anything. We lose two children in Russia and did not think we could have another, but when we came to San Francisco we have Irenia. Was miracle.”

He bows his head and weeps. Maria puts her hand on his shoulder and smiles at Lisa and Philip. “Sometimes he cry when he have wine.”

“We’re so glad you’re here,” says Philip, moved to tears. “Would you like to stay for supper?”

Boris looks up and says, “No thank you. We don’t think Irenia want us here for tonight. So is more special for her. But maybe other time.”

“Many other times,” says Philip, handing a copy of his cookbook to Maria.

She looks at the cover, a pen and ink drawing by Delilah of Philip in his kitchen.

“Is beautiful picture,” says Maria, looking at Philip and Lisa. “You are first people to ask us…” She turns to Boris and says something in Russian.

“You are first people to invite us since we come to Mercy two years ago.” He sips his wine. “You make this wine, Philip?”

“Marcel is our wine master,” says Philip, going to get a couple bottles for them. “Henri’s father.”

“Tell him for me,” says Boris, calling after Philip, “he is genius.”

*

Moments after Boris and Maria depart, Marcel and Andrea and Henri arrive, Henri hurrying off to join the poker game while Andrea and Marcel eat the last of the stuffed mushrooms and Andrea gulps down a glass of wine a la Boris and says quietly so the kids won’t hear her, “Fuck the New York Times.”

“I’d forgotten all about that,” says Philip, refilling Andrea’s glass. “Never gave it another thought.”

“Wait until you see the display of your books at the bookstore,” says Marcel, clinking glasses with Philip. “You come in the door and it’s like the pyramids of Egypt. Three pyramids of Philip’s Kitchen.”

*

When supper begins, Irenia proves to be as talkative as the very talkative Arturo and Henri and Vivienne, but she falls silent when she begins to eat. Occasionally she looks up from her meal to gaze around the table, a puzzled expression on her face, and she continues in this way until her plate is empty.

“Would you care for anything more?” asks Philip, speaking to Irenia as he speaks to the customers he waits on at Ocelot. “There’s plenty of everything.”

“I would like to learn to cook like this,” she says quietly. “Will you teach me?”

“Of course he will,” says Vivienne, nodding confidently. “He teaches us. So whenever you come over he’ll teach you, too.”

“I am amazed by this food,” says Irenia, looking from one person to another. “Yet you all seem to think this is just ordinary.”

“It is not ordinary,” says Marcel, looking at Philip. “It is extraordinary and I’m grateful to you for reminding me of what Philip does for us all the time.”

*

Vivienne and Irenia are sharing Vivienne’s bed, both of them fighting sleep because they love being with each other.

Irenia: Have you ever kissed a boy? Not your brother or Henri, but someone else?

Vivienne: Julio Martinez kissed me at a barbecue last summer. Twice.

Irenia: Did you want him to kiss you?

Vivienne: No. We were playing hide and seek and he and I were hiding in the barn together behind the wine barrels and trying not to giggle when Arturo came in looking for us, and he just suddenly kissed me. I was so shocked, I just froze and then he kissed me again.

Irenia: On your lips?

Vivienne: Yes.

Irenia: Did you like it?

Vivienne: No. It was ucky.

Irenia: How old is Julio?

Vivienne: He was eleven when he kissed me and I was eight. Now he’s twelve and I’m nine. But I still don’t want him to kiss me. Have you ever kissed a boy?

Irenia: Yes.

Vivienne: When?

Irenia: In San Francisco. When I was ten.

Vivienne: Who was he?

Irenia: His name was Dimitri. He was eighteen. He would talk to me at the bus stop when I got off the bus when I came home from school. We rode the city bus to school in San Francisco. I didn’t talk to him at first, but he was there every day and he seemed nice, so I talked to him. And then for a few days he walked me home. And then one day he gave me a box of candy. Not a candy bar. A whole box of chocolates. And when I took the box from him, he put his arms around me and kissed me on the lips and pushed his tongue into my mouth.

Vivienne: How dreadful.

Irenia: I tried to get away from him, but he wouldn’t let me go until I screamed and people came running and then he let me go.

Vivienne: What a terrible person.

Irenia: He said he loved me and wanted to marry me. He even came to our apartment and asked my father if he could marry me.

Vivienne: But you were only ten. Was he insane?

Irenia: I don’t think so.

Vivienne: Then why would he do such a terrible thing?

Irenia: Why did Julio kiss you?

Vivienne: I suppose because he likes me.

Irenia: Yes, they like us. Whether we like them or not.  

*

In the morning, Vivienne and Irenia and Arturo make omelets and hash browns with Philip supervising, and Henri and Andrea and Marcel come for breakfast.

At meal’s end, Henri and Irenia do the dishes with Marcel, after which the kids put on their rain gear and go to deliver a pot of soup to Daisy and Michael.

As they walk along the path from the farmhouse through the nascent forest to Michael and Daisy’s house, Irenia says, “I love my mother and father, but I would rather live here with you.”

fin

What You Do In Ireland

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Finding Our Place

Michael Darling is forty-two, strong and wiry with longish brown hair, an ornithologist recently freed from academia by his wife Daisy inheriting a fortune from her mother. He is now in the throes of adjusting to a reality void of office hours, faculty meetings, and giving lectures to hundreds of students looking at their phones instead of listening to him, while also adjusting to the enormous differences between the climate and topography of the northern California coast, where he and Daisy are now, and southern Michigan where they lived for the last seventeen years.

Daisy is thirty-nine, curvaceous and pretty with short reddish brown hair, an aspiring novelist with a degree in Psychology. Four months pregnant—her first pregnancy—she and Michael have been married for fifteen years. As the only child of a single mother who worked in a Ford assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan for thirty years, Daisy expected to inherit her mother’s little house in Dearborn but had no idea that when laid off by Ford at the age of fifty-seven, her mother took up day trading stocks and in the five years before she died amassed a fortune of seven million dollars.

Michael and Daisy have been in Mercy for twelve days now. They came here to fulfill Daisy’s dream of eating at Ocelot, the restaurant created by the famous chef Raul Neves who Daisy has idolized for the last seven years, ever since she read his erotic culinary memoir I Made This For You. Neither Michael nor Daisy expected to be so profoundly captivated by the little town and the surrounding wilderness, but now they want to live here for the rest of their lives. So far they’ve looked at seven houses in or near Mercy, made offers on two, and were outbid both times.

“How nice of him to invite us to his farm,” says Daisy, speaking of Philip who waited on them two nights ago at Ocelot. “I wonder what his story is.”

“We’ll soon find out,” says Michael, piloting their shiny new car up the curving road through the redwood forest, the October afternoon cool and sunny. “We’re exactly two miles inland from Mercy so we should see the sign for the farm any minute now.”

Where the curving road becomes a straightaway, a small wooden sign appears on their right—carved letters painted black saying Ziggurat Farm.

“Oh my God,” says Daisy as they turn off the highway onto the drive leading to the farmhouse. “This is paradise.”

They park near the huge old redwood barn and four dogs come to greet them: two Golden Retrievers, a giant hound, and a little mutt, each wagging his or her tail in greeting and none of them barking.

As the dogs mill around Daisy and Michael, an entirely different-seeming Philip than the Philip who waited on them at Ocelot emerges from the farmhouse with his wife Lisa.

Philip is fifty-nine, slender with short black hair, and Daisy thinks he’s gorgeous. Lisa is fifty-two, her long black hair in a ponytail, her skin dark olive brown, and Michael thinks she’s one of the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

After hellos and introductions, Philip and Lisa give Michael and Daisy a tour of the barn wherein seventy big barrels of grape juice are fermenting into wine and cases of Ziggurat Farm wine rest in the cool recesses.

From the barn they cross a wide expanse of level ground where the farm kids play soccer and Frisbee and croquet, and Michael and Daisy ooh and ah about the elegant bathhouse made of redwood and river rock and timber bamboo that adjoins the recently vacated five-room cottage.

From the bathhouse they walk on a path lined with lilac trees and rose bushes and lavender to the one-acre deer-fenced vegetable and flower garden wherein Andrea, muscular and pretty with short black hair, is preparing beds for garlic.

And who should be standing in the very center of the garden, but Raul Neves and his assistant Maurice, both of them picking vegetables for Ocelot—the last of the garden’s summer produce.

“Oh my God,” whispers Daisy, clutching Michael’s arm. “Raul. It’s Raul. I can’t believe this.”

“A woman whispered my name,” says Raul, fifty-five, big and handsome and Portuguese with a mop of curly gray hair, his black Ocelot sweatshirt surmounting faded blue jeans.

Maurice, also big and middle-aged, says in French, “When usually they shout.”

“Raul and Maurice,” says Philip, leading Daisy and Michael to the zucchini patch where Maurice and Raul are harvesting the last zucchini, the big leaves of the exhausted plants turning yellow. “May I introduce Daisy and Michael. They dined at Ocelot two nights ago and were not displeased.”

“Oh we loved it,” effuses Daisy, blushing brightly. “I had the quail stuffed with truffles. It was beyond amazing. You’re just… amazing.”

“And you, Monsieur?” asks Raul, smiling at Michael. “What did you have?”

“The cod,” says Michael, blushing, too. “Also amazing.”

“We aim to amaze,” says Raul, moving from the zucchini to a verdant bed of chard and calling to Andrea. “Maestra. Can we take chard from this bed? The leaves are fantastic.”

Andrea looks up from her digging. “The bigger leaves, yes.”

“I would love to visit with you longer,” says Raul, bowing to Daisy, “but we have much to pick and little time. Oh Philip, have you any of your 2020 Pinot left to sell?”

“Andrea?” says Philip, calling to her. “Can we spare a case of the 2020 pinot for Raul?”

“We only have three cases left,” she says, laughing. “So of course they’re priceless.”

“Two thousand for a case?” says Raul, looking expectantly at Andrea.

“But only for you, Raul,” she says, trying not to show how excited she is by the fantastic price.

“We’ll take all three,” says Raul, bending down to cut leaves of chard.

*

After a tour of the garden, Lisa and Philip lead their star-struck guests to the farmhouse and serve them tea and muffins on the south deck and ask them about their lives—Michael eloquent about his research on owls, Daisy effusive about the novel she just finished writing, and both of them quite emotional about the enormous changes in their lives since the death of Daisy’s mother and inheriting what for them is an enormous fortune.

Now Raul and Maurice honk their horn seven times as they depart, and moments later Marcel, a handsome Frenchman, Andrea’s husband, arrives with Arturo, eleven, Henri, ten, and Vivienne nearly nine, the kids overjoyed it’s Friday and no more school until Monday.

Andrea comes in from the garden to join the conversation, and while the kids are finishing their after-school snacks, Marcel says to Michael and Daisy, “So… Philip tells me you are looking for a place to buy in Mercy.”

This place will do,” says Michael, laughing. “If only.”

“It is a very good location,” says Marcel, smiling at Michael. “But this one is not for sale.”

“No, of course not,” says Daisy, in love with the children and the grownups and the house and the land and the dogs and cats. “But if you know anyone who wants to sell anything even remotely like this, please let us know.”

“Do you have any kids?” asks Henri, gazing earnestly at Daisy.

“Not yet,” she says, returning his ardent gaze, “but I’m going to have a baby soon. My due date is March 13th.”

“Do you have a nice dog?” asks Vivienne, speaking to Michael. “Or dogs?”

“No, but we’re going to get one once we get settled,” says Michael, smiling at Vivienne. “And we’ll be very nice to him or her, so she’ll probably turn out okay. Don’t you think?”

“Golden Retrievers are inherently nice,” says Vivienne, a fierce advocate of the breed. “I cannot recommend them highly enough.”

“What do you do, Michael?” asks Arturo, pursing his lips in his thoughtful way. “For a living?”

“I’m an ornithologist,” says Michael, nodding. “Do you know what that is?”

“Of course we do,” says Arturo, frowning in dismay. “You’re a bird scientist.”

“You study ornithols,” says Henri, laughing.

“No, he doesn’t,” says Vivienne, giggling. “He studies birds.”

“Specifically owls and he hopes to be studying ospreys,” says Philip, giving Marcel a meaningful look.

“What about you?” says Henri, addressing Daisy. “What do you do?”

“Well I plan to be a full-time mother for a couple years,” she says seriously. “But then I’ll go back to writing novels and short stories.”

“We love novels and short stories,” says Arturo, nodding emphatically. “We’re avid readers and we write with Nathan after school two times a week. Nathan is a poet and has a blog.”

“We also write when we’re not with Nathan,” says Vivienne, wanting Daisy and Michael to know they don’t just write with Nathan. “Mostly book reports for school, but also poems and stories and song lyrics.”

“Would you like to see our house,” says Henri, looking from Daisy to Michael. “It’s on the other side of the property.”

“We’d love to,” says Michael, suspecting he’s dreaming and any minute will wake up in Michigan.

“Come on we’ll show you,” says Vivienne, going to the door and putting on her shoes. “It’s only a five-minute walk.”

*

 So the seven farm people and their four dogs walk with Michael and Daisy on the wide path connecting the two houses on the eight-acre parcel, and Michael notes the young trees growing on the terraced hillside.

“This has all been recently reforested,” he says, knowing a great deal about forests. “Did you do that?”

“Yes,” says Philip, admiring the thriving young conifers. “When we bought this property twelve years ago, there was a dying vineyard here and we tried to revive it until we finally accepted that grapes won’t grow here.”

“We came here because of the vineyard,” says Marcel, recalling the thousands of hours they spent on their failed experiment, “and we were very stubborn about trying to save the vineyard despite nature telling us No in her loudest voice.”

“The people who lived here before us used to drive trucks on this path,” says Arturo, walking beside Michael, “but now it’s just for walking.”

“We do sometimes ride our bikes here, too” says Vivienne, who is walking next to Daisy. “But mostly we just walk on it. Or run.”

“It’s not quite level,” says Henri, who is in the lead. “And you’ll find it goes slightly downhill in this direction and slightly uphill on the way back to the farmhouse.”

Andrea laughs. “Just as you would expect.”

“There seem to be more little birds on this side of the property,” says Lisa, holding Philip’s hand. “We think that’s because the cats spend most of their time around the barn where they catch mice, and in the garden and orchard where they hunt gophers, but they also occasionally take birds, unfortunately.”

“Yeah, cats love birds,” says Michael, nodding. “But we’ll have a cat or two anyway. We couldn’t have a dog in Ann Arbor because our landlord forbade it, but we always had a cat because… well, we love cats.”

“Our last cat died a year ago,” says Daisy, awestruck by the surrounding beauty. “Her name was Spunky, though she hadn’t been spunky for quite some time.”

Spunky is a very good word,” says Henri, nodding thoughtfully. “It’s not quite onomatopoeia, but almost.”

“You have a marvelous vocabulary, Henri,” says Daisy, smiling at him.

“Thank you,” he says, bowing to her as his father bows to those he waits on. “So does Arturo, and so does Vivienne.”

“So do our parents,” says Vivienne, running ahead to the house so she’ll be the first one there.

*

Standing on the deck on the south side of the large three-bedroom house where Marcel and Andrea and Henri have lived for twelve years, the forest descending gradually to the west—the horizon a slender strip of shining blue sea—Michael and Lisa turn away from the breathtaking view and find the four adults and three children and four dogs perusing them with great interest. 

“Stunning,” says Daisy, beaming at them. “Just stunning. We’d love to find a place like this. We made offers on a house in town with a little yard, and we offered on a falling-down house on an acre just north of town, but we were outbid both times.”

“How much did you bid for the falling-down place with an acre, if I may ask?” says Marcel, smiling warmly at Daisy. “We’re very curious to know what this place might be worth now.”

“We bid 1.2 million on the one with an acre, but this house would go for at least 1.8,” says Michael, with great surety. “Three acres and a gorgeous three-bedroom house? Here? With neighbors like you? In a market this hot? Probably more like 2. But I don’t know. I’m just guessing.”

“Hold that thought,” says Marcel, dashing into the house and returning with binoculars. “There is a snag, the dead top of an old redwood.” He brings the binoculars to his eyes and scans the forest to the west. “Yes. There.” He hands the binoculars to Michael and points. “You see? It is much taller than the other trees around it.”

“Oh, yes,” says Michael, falling silent. “Is that… oh my God, that’s an osprey nest. It’s huge.”

“These woods are full of magic,” says Marcel, stating the simple fact. “And all this forest you see to the west is a state park and will never be built on.”

“Would you like to buy this house?” asks Henri, looking at Daisy. “We’ve decided to sell it because we’re going to live in the cottage near the farmhouse.”

This house is for sale?” says Michael, giving Daisy a wild-eyed look.

“And the three acres,” says Andrea, her eyes full of tears.

“How much are you asking?” Daisy asks, holding her breath.

Andrea looks at Marcel, Marcel looks at Philip, Philip looks at Lisa, and Lisa looks at Andrea.

“For you,” says Andrea, trembling. “1.8.”

*

Over the next few weeks, Marcel and Andrea and Henri relocate to the cottage, and by Thanksgiving Michael and Daisy are living in their new home and about to walk to the farmhouse for the Thanksgiving feast.

Daisy tries on three different dresses, growls in frustration, goes in search of her phone, and finds it on the kitchen counter. She taps the number for the farmhouse and bursts into tears.

“Hi Daisy,” says Lisa, answering on the second ring. “Are you coming soon?”

“Yes, but… are you wearing a dress for the party?” she asks, sniffling back her tears.

“I am,” says Lisa, warmly. “So are Andrea and Vivienne. Delilah almost never wears dresses, but she might. Celia will wear a beautiful blouse and maybe a skirt, maybe pants, and Celia’s daughter Calypso and Juan’s wife Camille will definitely wear dresses. But you should wear whatever you feel most comfortable in.”

“Thank you, Lisa,” says Daisy, greatly relieved. “I’m just… highly neurotic these days. I’m not usually like this, so I assume it has something to do with being pregnant and still in shock about actually being here.”

“Come over soon,” says Lisa, watching the children gobbling the hors d’oeuvres. “Philip and Andrea just set out the stuffed mushrooms and the kids are making short work of them.”

Daisy puts on her turquoise paisley dress and her big round abalone earrings, and goes in search of Michael. She finds him on the deck looking fine in black corduroy slacks and a teal dress shirt and his black winter coat, his telescope aimed at the osprey nest atop the redwood snag.

“We can go over any time,” she says, still learning how softly she can speak and be heard in the marvelous quiet.

“You called them?”

“Yeah I wanted to know if I should wear a dress.” She shrugs. “I’m hopeless.”

“But sweeter than honey,” he says, kissing her.

“In the spring we’ll have a baby,” she says, relaxing in his arms.

“And the ospreys will return from their sojourn to the south.”

“In the meantime…” She looks around in wonder. “…here we are.”

“And to think I didn’t want to go to Ocelot,” he says, looking to the west where the ocean meets the illimitable sky. “Because I thought it was immoral to spend so much money on supper.”

 “Which just shows to go you,” says Daisy, speaking her mother’s favorite rearrangement of the old expression, her dear mother who left them a fortune to fulfill their dreams.

*

In the last light of day, halfway along the path to the farmhouse, Daisy and Michael meet Marcel with the big hound Jung at his side.

“Andrea saw a puma at dusk yesterday,” says Marcel, turning to walk with them the rest of the way, “so she asked me to come escort you.”

“Thank you,” says Michael, putting his hand on Marcel’s shoulder. “I guess we should get a dog sooner than later.”

“We got our pups about the same time the kids were born,” says Marcel, who is very glad to only be waiting tables at Ocelot three nights a week now instead of five. “So they all grew up together and think of each other as kin.”

fin

On the Way Home, piano and cello duet