On a warm sultry afternoon in early September, Delilah is alone in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy. A musician and artist and teacher, her twenty-eighth birthday a month away, she has been battling severe depression for five months now as her body numbly goes through the motions of life.
Her depression ensued when her boyfriend Thomas, a professor at Cornell, ended their brief and mostly long-distance relationship—Delilah’s only experience of a sexual romance—and her sorrow has proven impervious to the love and concern of her friends.
Submerged in the big tub, her eyes closed, she startles when Andrea and Caroline, two of her closest friends, emerge from the changing room and join her in the tub, no one speaking.
A few minutes pass and Delilah murmurs, “I should go,” and moves to get out.
“Stay a while longer,” says Andrea, her words more command than request.
“Okay,” says Delilah, subsiding.
“When I came to San Francisco,” says Andrea, her German accent barely detectable after thirty-four years in America, “I was twenty-three and knew nothing about love. Not even a little bit. I had never been in love or been loved, and my sexual experiences were few and ugly. To my surprise and delight, American men were interested in me, and not just for sex, but for sharing life, too. In Germany I lived in the same working class neighborhood of Hamburg for my whole life and either the men there weren’t interested in me or I wasn’t interested in them, but in San Francisco lots of men found me attractive and I felt the same about many of them. After some months of dating and enjoying the novelty of being so popular, I chose James for my boyfriend. He was a guitar player and singer and worked as a concierge in a small hotel. He was funny and sweet and I enjoyed him very much, though I never imagined marrying him. Then one day I met Marcel. He was a waiter in a restaurant near the restaurant where I worked. We went for coffee and I knew immediately I preferred him to James. But I didn’t tell James right way, not for a few weeks. Then one night when James was at my apartment, Marcel called. When James asked who that was on the phone, I told him it was someone I liked very much and maybe we should break up. He was devastated. I had been meaning to tell him about Marcel, but I was waiting for the right time, except there is no right time to tell someone who loves you that you don’t want to be with them anymore. Then a year passed and I was very happy with Marcel, and one day I heard from a mutual friend that James suffered terribly for a long time after I broke up with him and he finally moved away because it was too painful for him to stay in San Francisco where we had been together. So… I did to James what Thomas did to you.”
“You’re a horrible person,” says Delilah, blubbering. “I always suspected you were.”
“I know you did,” says Andrea, gliding across the tub and embracing Delilah. “Now your suspicions have been confirmed.”
“I’m James,” says Delilah, clinging to Andrea and sobbing.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” says Andrea, holding her. “I’m sorry you were so hurt.”
“Being in love,” says Caroline who is forty-two and about to be married for the first time after many short-lived affairs, “is not the same as love. In fact, being in love isn’t love at all.”
“Then what is being in love if not love?” asks Delilah, amazed to feel her sorrow lessening.
“Being in love is imagining the other person is who you want them to be,” says Caroline, joining the embrace. “A passing fancy. But love has nothing to do with what we imagine. Love is real.”
“Love is when two are one,” says Andrea, thinking of Marcel.
“Yes,” says Caroline, thinking of her lover Raul. “Oneness.”
A few days after her soak with Andrea and Caroline, Delilah wakes to the familiar sounds of Celia and Nathan beginning their day.
“I’m better,” she says, rising with ease and about to put on her usual trousers and T-shirt when instead she puts on a dress, a light summery thing, and waltzes down the hall to the kitchen.
Celia is making coffee, her long black hair full of gray, not surprising for one who is eighty-two. She smiles to see Delilah in a dress and says, “I dreamt you were wearing a dress and playing the piano.”
“Shall I play something now?” asks Delilah, looking from Celia to Nathan who is sitting at the kitchen table sipping his tea and musing over a blank page.
“Yes, please,” says Nathan, nodding emphatically. “I’ve been missing your morning concerts.”
So Delilah returns to her bedroom, sits at her beautiful teak upright, and improvises a jazzy-sounding waltz unlike anything she’s ever played because she is now unlike anyone she has ever been.
Nathan and Celia stand in the bedroom doorway, thrilling to Delilah’s music and rejoicing in her transcendence of sorrow.
In the late morning on a warm humid day in mid-September, Delilah rides her bicycle up the steep curving road through the forest to Ziggurat Farm. Winded from her two-mile climb, she stands on her pedals and glides along the farm drive to the sturdy new bridge spanning a newly made creek bed that will soon carry the flow of a recently resurrected spring.
However, before that flow is directed into the new channel, Gabriel Fernandez, a local backhoe wizard, must finish extending the channel another fifty yards to connect it with the original creek bed descending through the forest to the Mercy River.
Delilah watches Gabriel sculpting the ground with his backhoe, and she wonders if he only likes her because he loves her music.
Gabriel is thrilled to see Delilah watching him, and he wonders if she only likes him because he loves her music.
Now Daisy arrives on the bridge with her eighteen-month-old daughter Jenna on her back—Daisy married to Michael who is Thomas’s older brother.
Delilah and Daisy and Jenna are rendezvousing for a walk up the hill to the Richardsons’ new house to meet with Constance and Joseph about Delilah illustrating Daisy’s novella Women Farm—Constance and Joseph keen to send the book to a publisher friend in England.
“Isn’t this amazing,” says Daisy, standing beside Delilah and looking down at the newly made channel. “In just another few days there will be water flowing under us.”
“Down,” says Jenna, reaching out to Delilah.
“In a little while, Jenna,” says Daisy, having just spent twenty minutes with Michael wrestling the baby girl into the backpack. “When we get to Connie and Joseph’s.”
“Now!” yowls Jenna. “Down now.”
“I’ll carry her,” says Delilah, wanting to make the baby happy.
“Okay,” says Daisy, sighing. “If you will hold her up, I will extricate myself from the straps.”
Once on the ground and set free, Jenna toddles off in the direction of the farmhouse where she hopes to find the big girls she adores and their puppies.
“Not that way, honey,” says Daisy, chasing after her daughter. “We’re going to Joseph and Connie’s.”
“Vinnie,” says Jenna, her way of saying Vivienne. “Puppy.”
“Joseph and Connie have two puppies,” says Daisy, dragging Jenna away from the farmhouse. “And cookies.”
“Cookie,” says Jenna, ceasing to resist.
So up the hill they trudge, Delilah carrying Jenna on her hip.
At a turn in the path, Delilah looks back at Gabriel on his tractor far in the distance, and not expecting him to see her, she raises her hand in farewell and he raises his hand in response.
“Isn’t he the most beautiful man?” says Daisy, sighing. “Please don’t tell Michael I said that.”
“Tell Michael,” says Jenna, glowering at her mother. “Cookie.”
“When I was reading your book,” says Delilah, setting Jenna down for a moment, “I kept thinking of Gabriel as Man.”
“Maybe you can use him as a model for Man,” says Daisy, picking up her daughter.
“Maybe so,” says Delilah, smiling at the thought of Gabriel posing for her in the garden.
Joseph and Constance have been in their new house for six weeks, and to say they are thrilled is a vast understatement. For forty years they fantasized together about designing and building their dream house, yet never believed they would until they decided to move back to Mercy from England and were searching for a house to rent or buy when they found these twelve acres for sale adjacent to Ziggurat Farm, the housing site already cleared, a paved driveway from the highway completed, a prolific well dug, a large foundation poured.
Now seven months after purchasing the land and designing the house, they wake each day in their glorious master bedroom and hurry down the wide hallway to the huge high-ceilinged room that is kitchen, dining room, and living room opening onto a vast deck overlooking a meadow surrounded by a resurgent forest, their dream come true.
“I imagine most of these drawings being portraits of the women and Man,” says Constance, confident of her imaginings, “whereas Joseph, and correct me if I’m wrong, dear, imagines landscapes with human figures seen from afar if at all.”
“I prefer leaving things to the reader’s imagination,” says Joseph, sauntering after Jenna as she toddles around the living room in pursuit of the adorable black and white puppies Alec and Merula, most of the furniture yet to arrive. “Illustrations should evoke not define.”
“What do you think, Daisy?” asks Delilah, who has read the manuscript three times and feels somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of trying to illustrate such a masterwork.
“I hadn’t imagined there would be drawings, “ says Daisy, sitting at the big dining table with Constance and Delilah and enjoying herself immensely. “But I love the idea. I think there could be landscapes and closer views of the women gardening or cooking or hunting.”
“When I read illustrated books as a boy,” says Joseph, following Jenna to the table and lifting her onto Constance’s lap, “I had a hard time imagining myself in the stories if the illustrations were too obviously not me. Do you know what I mean?”
“I do,” says Delilah, who has been drawing with near photographic accuracy since she was a little girl. “I was thinking we could assemble the females of the collective in the garden for an hour or so of sketching and picture-taking. That would give me more than enough material to get started.”
“Who will pose as Man?” asks Joseph, frowning thoughtfully. “Philip? Marcel? They both have youthful physiques, and if the face is not too specific…”
“We were thinking of Gabriel for Man,” says Daisy, exchanging looks with Delilah.
“The backhoe fellow?” says Joseph, excitedly. “Now that’s a stroke. He’s the right age and darkly handsome, and he’s got the flowing locks and requisite muscles.”
“Wouldn’t we like to see him without a shirt on?” says Constance, loving having Jenna on her lap. “Speaking of Adonis.”
“Think he’d do it?” asks Joseph, arching an eyebrow. “Seems rather shy.”
“He doesn’t have to take his shirt off,” says Delilah, blushing. “Only if he wants to.”
Delilah leaves Daisy and Jenna visiting with Joseph and Constance and walks down the hill to the farmhouse to give Henri a piano lesson. Seeing Gabriel is done for the day and nowhere in sight, she pouts and says, “Darn. Next time no matter what I’m talking to him.”
She enters the farmhouse and is happy to find Henri, who just turned thirteen, giving a piano concert for Philip and Andrea and Gabriel, the three of them sitting at the dining table.
Delilah tiptoes to the table and sits next to Gabriel who is listening raptly to the lovely samba Henri’s been working on with Delilah, his playing not yet masterful but getting there.
When he finishes playing and acknowledges the applause with a gracious nod, Henri says, “Now you play something, Delilah. Please?”
“Would you?” says Gabriel, turning to Delilah and placing a hand on his heart.
“Okay,” she says, getting up and crossing the room to the piano.
“Don’t start yet,” says Vivienne, coming in the front door with Irenia followed by three seven-month-old puppies—Jargon with pointy ears, Cordelia the biggest, Max the runt with a stubby tail.
“We are parched,” says Irenia as she and Vivienne take off their work boots and leave them by the door. “Please wait, Delilah, until we have water.”
When at last Vivienne and Irenia are settled on the sofa with Henri, Delilah closes her eyes and thinks of Gabriel who has attended every concert she’s ever given since his return from war thirteen years ago, her music holy to him.
She imagines they meet on a dance floor, he and she the only dancers, and as they dance together she plays a variation on the jazzy-sounding waltz she improvised for Nathan and Celia a week ago, this time the music profoundly romantic.
On the morning of the Autumnal Equinox, the day sunny and cool, fifty people gather on the Ziggurat Farm drive to witness Gabriel remove the last few feet of soil keeping the headwaters of Mammoth Creek from resuming their original course.
Two state park officials have come from Sacramento to join five park rangers from nearby Egret Estuary State Park at the rejoining ceremony, two of those park rangers and Michael and Caroline having completed a survey of the creek bed from where it begins on Ziggurat Farm to where it joins the Mercy River, a descent of two miles through a forest of second and third growth redwoods, only a few problematic log jams found along the way, those obstructions subsequently removed.
Also present are three members of the local Pomo community, a dozen local environmentalists, the six Ziggurat Farm homeschoolers and their ten parents, as well as various neighbors and friends of the farm including Constance and Joseph and Nathan and Celia and Delilah.
Nathan stands on the farm drive a few yards north of the new bridge and addresses the fifty witnesses. “I was asked by the farm folks to say something before Gabriel performs the miracle. Why me? Because Celia and I are the only ones here who remember the creek as it was a long time ago before the spring got jammed up, and I’m the more verbose of the two of us. So here’s a little poem I wrote to commemorate this moment.”
We were young lovers just married
when last we stood on the old bridge here
looking down at the quiet stream touched by sunlight.
Now we are old lovers standing on this new bridge
looking down at the dry creek bed waiting for
the water to flow beneath us again, sunlight
waiting to glint off the water once more.
Same lovers, same place on earth,
same source, same delight to be here,
everything eternally new.
He nods in thanks for the applause and turns to watch Gabriel mount his tractor, start his engine, and with his mighty backhoe remove the last obstacle to the creek resuming her original course—everyone cheering as the sparkling water flows under the bridge and emerges on the downhill side going strong.
During the celebration following the return of the stream to her natural course—coffee and tea and muffins at the picnic tables near the farmhouse—Delilah approaches Gabriel and asks him if he’d be willing to pose for some drawings for Daisy’s book.
“What is the book about?” he asks, finding her surpassingly lovely as always, though especially so in her light summery dress.
“It’s called Women Farm,” she says, feeling quite naked in her dress and enjoying the feeling. “A fable set in the future when society has collapsed and is evolving anew, a chaotic time when groups of women band together for protection and live mostly apart from men.”
“And who am I in the story?” he asks, looking into her eyes. “A bad man or a good man?”
“Oh you’re good,” she says, nodding emphatically. “All good.”
“So it really is a fable,” he says, smiling wryly.
“He’s an innocent,” she says, meeting his gaze. “Would you like to come for supper tonight? Celia is making her famous fish tacos and I’ll be making my less famous but nonetheless delicious guacamole.”
“I can’t tonight,” he says, sounding disappointed. “My mother’s birthday.”
“How about tomorrow night?” she asks, undaunted.
“Yes, I can,” he says, nodding. “Que hora?”
“Come at five-thirty,” she says, breathlessly. “We’ll eat at six.”
“Bueno,” he says, holding out his hand to her. “I was hoping you and I would share a meal one day.”
“You were?” she says, taking his hand. “Really?”
“Of course,” he says, growing serious.
“Why of course?” she asks, never wanting to let him go.
“Because,” he says quietly. “You know.”
“I do know,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “I do.”