Categories
Uncategorized

The Same Woman (Donna)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, the second time in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, the seventh in 1993, the eighth in 1998.

2002. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-four and have been married for fifteen years. Successful writers of stories, plays, and screenplays, they live in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty now. Owen is studying Drama at Julliard and playing clarinet in a modern jazz quintet called Sentimento. Lily is a Psychology major at nearby Simon Fraser University and still lives at home, though her burgeoning career as a movie actress has greatly slowed her academic progress.

Six years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was made by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Thorsen who became Andrew and Luisa’s good friend. When Luisa’s autobiographical novella Rainy River was published four years ago, Nick bought the movie rights, Andrew and Luisa wrote the screenplay, Nick directed, Lily starred in the role of the young Luisa, and the movie was both a critical and financial success.

Since then, Nick has made two more movies from original screenplays by Andrew and Luisa, Low Overhead and Yum City. Low Overhead is a romantic comedy set in an anarchist bookstore in Toronto and Yum City is a dramedy revolving around the denizens of a Bohemian café in Montreal. Both films did well in Canada and England and Europe, but neither film did much business in America.

Now Andrew and Luisa are back to writing stories and plays and staying out of the limelight, which neither of them cares for. Lily, on the other hand, has had several movie and television roles since starring in Rainy River and is seriously considering moving to Los Angeles. And Owen recently announced he will either stay in Manhattan after he completes his studies at Julliard or move to Berlin with his German girlfriend Sophie who is also studying Drama at Julliard.

On a drizzly September morning a few days after Lily returns from five days in Burbank playing the part of a clairvoyant skateboarder in a television murder mystery, Andrew and Luisa and Lily are having breakfast together and Lily says, “You don’t want me to move to LA, do you Papa?”

“Of course not,” says Andrew, gazing forlornly at her. “I want you and Owen to live nearby for the rest of your lives. But I know that’s unreasonable, so if you want to move to LA, I give you my blessing.”

“It just makes so much sense right now,” says Lily, who has blossomed into a rare beauty, tall and slender with honey brown skin. “I don’t want to live there forever, but with the parts coming so fast now it seems like a smart thing to do.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says Luisa, who left home at sixteen. “And if you want to continue your studies, you can always transfer to a university in Los Angeles.”

“But I don’t want to make you sad, Papa.”

“Life is sad,” says Andrew, remembering how sad his mother was when he was twenty-one and told her he was moving from California to Canada, his mother who died two years ago just a few months after his father died. “I want you to live your life the way you want to. I’ll eventually adjust to you not being here and write you lots of letters.”

“And we can talk on the phone every day,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“Is this move imminent?” he asks, having imagined her making the transition to Los Angeles over the next year or so.

“Soon,” she says, crying. “Next week.”

Andrew keeps up a brave countenance while Lily packs to go and when Lily’s friend Janelle arrives to drive with her to Los Angeles, but as their car grows small in the distance, Andrew breaks down.

When Andrew’s grieving continues unabated for several days, Luisa suggests he see a psychotherapist, which he does for a few weeks, but he gains no relief. The psychotherapist refers him to a psychiatrist who prescribes an anti-depressant Andrew doesn’t want to take.

Two months pass and Andrew remains deeply depressed. Desperate to help him, Luisa asks Andrew’s best friend Cal to encourage Andrew to give the anti-depressant a try.

Cal comes for a visit, he and Andrew chat for a while, and Cal says, “I think you should talk to our rabbi. I think she could help you. I really do. She’s very insightful, very kind, and I know you’ll like her.”

“Does she see people who aren’t in your shul?” asks Andrew, who is descended from Jews but never practiced the religion.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk with you. Shall I give her a call?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, wearily. “That would be good. Thank you.”   

“Come in, come in,” says Donna, ushering Andrew into the spacious one-room studio adjacent to her house in a neighborhood of newish houses on the northern outskirts of Vancouver. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

“Cal brought me,” says Andrew, unable to decide where to sit. “I’m not driving right now. Wouldn’t dare.”

“You’re depressed,” she says, taking him by the arm and leading him to the sofa. “Sit down. Or lie down.”

He sits and faces her for the first time.

“Cal said I would like you,” he says, smiling painfully, “but he didn’t tell me you were gorgeous.”

“Stop it,” she says, her eyes widening in delight. “You came to solve your problems, not hit on the rabbi.”

“I wasn’t hitting on you,” he says, laughing for the first time in many months. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so beautiful.”

“So now we know you like tall middle-aged redheads with big bosoms,” she says, her Los Angeles accent influenced by the Yiddish inflections in her parents’ speech. “I’ve seen pictures of you on your books, so I knew in advance you were handsome.”

“I feel better already,” he says, closing his eyes. “Not really.”

“No, you feel awful,” she says, sitting in a high-backed armchair, her red Hawaiian shirt featuring green and yellow parrots, her skirt long and black, her red hair in a braid. “Old demons have risen up and taken control of you.”

“Old demons?” he says, opening his eyes. “I’m sad about my children moving away, but I don’t think this is anything old. I’ve never been depressed like this before. Well… I had a little breakdown sixteen years ago when my first wife left me, but I wasn’t depressed, I was just very upset.”

“In my experience,” she says, watching him carefully, “a depression as severe as what you’re experiencing is almost always rooted in some old sorrow. Sometimes so old it began before you were born and was passed down to you. Was your mother depressed?”

“She worried a lot,” says Andrew, nodding. “And I guess, yeah, sometimes she was depressed. But who isn’t sometimes depressed? Introduce me, please?”

“I like it when your Jewish self comes through,” she says, smiling.

“Why is that good?” he asks, feeling certain he knows her from somewhere else.

“Because being Jewish is a big part of who you are. And I happen to think the more we inhabit our true self, if there is such a thing, the happier we will be.”

“I think we’ve met before,” he says, frowning. “Did you have a child at the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church in Squamish?”

“I have one child who grew up in Los Angeles,” says Donna, thinking of her daughter, a veterinarian in San Francisco. “And I’ve only been in Vancouver for nine years, so I know we didn’t meet at the Montessori.”

“I’m sure I know you,” he says, wondering if they might have been briefly involved in the days before his first marriage. “I just can’t remember how?”

“You know me and I know you,” she says, after looking at him for a long moment, “because we have what I call a soul bond. I’ve only had a few of these in my life, and I’m just being honest here, but if you weren’t happily married and I wasn’t happily married, we’d probably fall in love and have a relationship. Who knows if it would be any good or how long it would last, but we might have one. However, you are happily married and so am I, so why not use our special connection to get to the bottom of what’s haunting you.”

“Haunting,” he says, relaxing a little for the first time in eons. “And old demons. You think I’m possessed?”

“We’re all possessed by something,” she says, pleased to see him relaxing. “The ideal is to be possessed by thoughts and feelings that make us glad we’re alive, and not by visions of gloom and doom or thinking we’re not good enough.”

“I think I’m good enough,” he says, most definitely not feeling good enough.

“So what’s going on in your life right now?” she asks, handing him a glass of water. “Your children have moved out. What else?”

“Before Lily left we were writing, my wife and I, and enjoying being home and not being so crazy busy making movies and travelling all over the place, just, you know, working. Yeah, things were fine. And then Lily moved to Los Angeles and I just… gave up.”

“Gave up,” says Donna, considering Andrew’s choice of words. “What does that mean to you? Giving up?”

“It means I gave in to my sadness.”

“What else?”

Andrew wants to say stop striving but he’s afraid to say those words out loud.

“There’s not a right or wrong answer,” she says, aware of his reluctance to say what he’s feeling. “We’re just looking for clues.”

“Okay, well, giving up could mean… taking a break from writing. From…” He struggles. “Striving.”

“What do you think you’re striving for?” she asks, noticing how his chest barely moves as he breathes.

“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “Happiness?”

“Are you not happy?”

“Not right now,” he says, looking down. “Definitely not now.”

“When was the last time you can remember feeling happy?”

“Long time ago,” he says, his heart aching. “Not that I have any reason to be unhappy except for the kids being so far away.”

“What do you mean by a long time ago? Before you were depressed?”

“Oh long before that.”

“A year ago?”

He reacts as if someone slapped his face.

“What was that?”

“I think I know what this is.”

“Would you like to tell me?”

“I’ve been writing things I don’t want to write,” he says, afraid to look at her.

“Hmm,” she says, considering this. “I think maybe that’s a symptom and not the cause.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why have you been writing things you don’t want to write?”

He freezes. “Why do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she says, smiling at him. “That’s something we can delve into next time if you haven’t figured it out by then.”

“I’m better now,” he says, looking around the room as if a blindfold has just been removed from his eyes. “The fog is lifting a little.”

“Good,” she says, getting up from her chair and offering him a hand up. “I have homework for you.”

He takes her hand and she pulls him to his feet.

“What’s my homework?” he asks, the word homework making him laugh. “I really do feel better.”

“Every day until I see you again on Friday, four days from now,” she says, walking him to the door, “I want you to spend at least an hour naked in bed with your wife, not when you go to bed at night, but a separate time during the day.”

“Because?” he says, smiling curiously.

“Because I want you to,” she says, opening the door and stepping out into a light rain with him. “Just be naked with her and see what happens.”

That afternoon, after telling Luisa about his session with Donna, Andrew suggests they take off their clothes and get in bed together, and Luisa is happy to oblige.

After holding each other for several minutes, he kisses her and she returns his kiss and they make love for the first time in many months.

Preparing supper together, Luisa says, “I’d like to go see Donna. If you don’t mind.”

“I’d love you to,” he says, sensing his depression hovering nearby, waiting to take him over again.

The next morning after breakfast, Luisa makes some business calls and Andrew walks the mile to Cal’s house to pose the question: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

Cal, who is usually home on Tuesday mornings, has gone to deal with a crisis at the university where he is a professor, so Andrew chats with Cal’s wife Terry and they commiserate about their children living so far away, Terry and Cal’s daughter living in Hawaii, their son in England.

And while telling Terry about his session with Donna, Andrew asks the question he was going to pose to Cal: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

“Why do we do anything?” says Terry, pressing down the plunger of her French Press. “Why did I become a photographer? Because I fell in love with taking pictures and then figured out a way to make a living from it.”

“But then you gave up photography,” says Andrew, thinking of his guitar and how he hasn’t played in years, though he used to love playing.

“Yeah, because I hated shooting weddings and taking pictures of people I didn’t know.” She serves him a cup of coffee. “I got into photography to take pictures of rivers and clouds and birds and insects and people I loved. And now I don’t even want to take a picture of my grandchild. If I even touch a camera now I feel physically ill.”

“I’m sorry, Terry,” he says, remembering her as a young woman so in love with taking pictures she brought her camera everywhere. “I had no idea.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” she says, adding cream to her coffee. “I’m just giving you my two bits. Why did you write things you didn’t want to write? Maybe you thought you had to, or you thought you wanted to and then you changed your mind but it was too late, or you needed to prove something, or you wanted to make a ton of money. What difference does it make? To me, the more important question is how do you want to live your life from now on?”

Andrew walks home lost in thought and finds a note from Luisa on the kitchen counter.

I called Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this afternoon. Me   

Waiting for Luisa to get home, Andrew decides to play his guitar, but on his way to get his old Gibson out of the closet he remembers he gave the guitar away to a friend of Lily’s right after the kids graduated from high school.

“Three years ago,” he says, noticing his writing notebook on his desk and wondering what he was working on when he stopped writing months ago.

He opens the notebook and the pages are blank save for a short paragraph on the first page, all the lines of the paragraph crossed out except the last line.

nothing that would do anybody any good

 ∆

Home from her session with Donna, Luisa comes out on the back deck and looks down at Andrew digging potatoes for supper.

“Nice spuds,” she says dreamily. “Cultivate here often?”

“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you like Donna?”

“I love her. She’s my favorite person in the whole world now, right after you.”

“Did she give you any homework?”

“Yes,” says Luisa, beckoning him to come inside. “I’m supposed to make sure you do yours.”

Friday morning, feeling well enough to drive, Andrew arrives at Donna’s a few minutes early and finds her picking tiny winter roses in her wildly overgrown garden.

“Good morning Andrew,” she says, smiling as he approaches. “How are you today?”

“Much better,” he says, wondering if she’d like him to tame her wild garden. “How are you?”

“I was so glad to meet Luisa,” she says, leading the way to her studio. “Such a sweetheart.”

“Yes, she is,” says Andrew, noting the crude way someone has hacked a passage through the overgrowth to the studio door. “By the way, I was a professional gardener in my storied youth and I would be happy to get your garden under control if you’d like me to.”

“First things first,” she says, opening the door. “First we get you out of your depression, then we’ll talk about taming my garden.”

Andrew sits cross-legged on the sofa and watches Donna arrange her roses in a green glass vase.

“So…” he says, smiling at her, “how was your week?”

“My week was variable,” she says, sitting in the armchair and crossing her legs. “Monday was good in large part because I got to work with you. Tuesday was a mixed bag, the high point meeting Luisa. Wednesday crises abounded and carried on into Thursday. And so far today things have been mostly quiet and now I’m meeting with you, so there’s at least a chance I won’t flee the country by the end of the day.” She raises an eyebrow. “And you?”

“I did my homework,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “and I pondered the question of why I spent the last few years writing things I didn’t want to write. And as I’m sure you expected, one question begot another and as of this morning the question has evolved into what would I be if I wasn’t a writer?

“That’s interesting,” she says, not sounding very interested, “but before we think about that one, I’d like to go back to the original question of why you spent three years writing things you didn’t want to write?”

“Oh,” says Andrew, deflated. “Here I thought I was being so clever getting to the bottom of things.”

“No offense, sweetheart, but I think you were avoiding getting to the bottom of things.”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, his limbs growing heavy again. “I guess I was.”

“Which is perfectly understandable because at the bottom of things is the cause of your terror.”

“Terror?” he says, squinting at her.

“Yes,” she says softly. “So first tell me what you wrote that you didn’t want to write.”

“Screenplays,” he says gruffly. “We wasted four years of our lives writing eighteen of those things. Three were made into movies and the other fifteen were crap and I hated writing them.”

“Did you ever not hate writing screenplays?”

“Oh in the beginning I loved it,” he says, remembering the thrill of working with Nick on Rainy River and Low Overhead and Yum City. “But then it was just this horrible grind, this… forced march to get those fucking things done, and I had never forced my writing before. Never.”

“You wrote those screenplays with Luisa.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, reacting to a sharp pain in his neck.

“So if you didn’t want to write those screenplays, why did you?”

“Because I wanted…” He hesitates. “Because we were successful with the first three, we thought…” He hesitates again.

“You started to say ‘Because I wanted’ and then you stopped yourself. What were you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” he mutters, looking away.

“Come on, Andrew,” she says gently. “Why did you keep writing those screenplays when the writing was no longer a spontaneous outpouring?”

“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at her.

“No,” says Donna, sensing how frightened he is. “But I’ve read your books and I’ve seen your plays and I’ve watched your movies, and they are all so full of truth and joy, I doubt very much you didn’t want to write them. So I’m guessing it’s the ones that came after those three you didn’t want to write, yet you wrote them anyway because you wanted…”

“A huge success,” he says before the muscles in his throat and chest and stomach and groin tighten violently. “So Luisa would never…” The pain is so intense he cannot speak.

“So Luisa would never what?” shouts Donna. “Say it, Andrew!”

“Leave me,” he cries. “Never leave me.”

And having confessed this to Donna, his terrible pain is washed away by a torrent of tears.

Seven months later, on a balmy evening in August, Andrew and Luisa have Cal and Terry and Donna and Donna’s husband Howard over for supper. They eat on the deck overlooking the garden—a gorgeous mackerel sky presaging rain.

Howard, a short balding man ten years older than Donna, tells the story of going to the airport nine years ago to pick up Donna, who was one of three finalists to replace Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein, the shul in danger of dissolution, only a few dozen diehards keeping the little ship afloat.

“By the time we got to her hotel,” says Howard, his accent distinctly Toronto Jewish, “I wanted to marry her. Not only is she beautiful, she’s funny. Instinctively funny. Have you noticed?”

“Were you similarly smitten?” asks Cal, who idolizes Donna and can’t imagine what she sees in Howard.

“I was too preoccupied with my interview that afternoon and my trial Torah reading the next day to fully appreciate Howard’s magnificence at our first meeting,” says Donna, smiling sweetly at her husband. “But I liked your car.”

Everyone laughs and Howard says, “This is what I’m talking about.”

“It’s her timing,” says Luisa, clinking her glass with Donna’s. “You have impeccable timing.”

“Leaven the bitter truth with humor,” says Donna, sipping her wine. “Else we will only know the bitterness.”

“That’s true,” says Howard, looking at Luisa. “So how did you two meet?”

“We each had a four-year old going to the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church not far from here,” says Luisa, taking Andrew’s hand. “And after my daughter bothered me night and day to make a play date with Andrew’s son, I finally did, and Andrew and I fell in love. Then he divorced his wife and we got married.”

“You make it sound so simple,” says Andrew, recalling the terrible shock of his first wife leaving him, his nervous breakdown, his parents coming from California to save him, Luisa there to meet him when he emerged from his desolation.

“And how about you two?” asks Howard, looking at Cal and Terry.

“Terry and I met a couple days after Andrew and I got here from California in 1968,” says Cal, putting his arm around Terry. “Thirty-four years ago. I was dodging the draft and Andrew drove me up here, and one night we went to hear some music and Terry was sitting at the table next to ours. She and I got talking and we’ve been together ever since.”

“But we didn’t sleep together until the third date,” says Terry, kissing Cal. “He was shy.”

“Fantastic,” says Howard, shaking his head. “Isn’t it amazing how people find each other? It seems so random, but I don’t think it is.”

“What do you think it is if not random?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy and thinks about this sort of thing all the time.

“I have no idea,” says Howard, shrugging. “But it can’t be random or Donna would never have given me the time of day. Look at her. She’s beautiful and brilliant and funny and a rabbi, no less, while I’m a schlemiel on my good days.”

“Howie?” says Donna, raising her eyebrow. “Who put himself through college and optometry school? And who is one of the most sought after optometrists in Vancouver? And who held the shul together until I got here and we turned things around? You. Schlemiels can’t to that.”

“You’re right,” he says, shrugging again. “But I still don’t think it’s random.”

“Do you think it’s random, Donna?” asks Andrew, who also wonders what she sees in Howard. “How we meet our partners?”

“I don’t think it matters if it’s random or not random,” she says, looking up at the white clouds turning gray. “I think what matters is we are made of love, and the more we inhabit that truth, the more fulfilled we will be.”

When darkness falls, they move into the living room and Andrew lights the fire. Luisa serves pumpkin pie and decaf, and Cal and Terry request that Andrew read one of his stories.

“I will,” says Andrew, fetching his new guitar from its stand by the piano, “but first Luisa and I are going to sing a song for you, the world premiere.”

Now Andrew plays a sweet run of chords and Luisa sings the first verse of their new song—these last six months given to making music and gardening and walking on the beach and traveling to visit their children, neither of them writing unless the spirit moves them, both as happy as they have ever been—Andrew joining her on the chorus, their voices made for each other.

Lounge Act In Heaven

Categories
Uncategorized

The Same Woman (Jennifer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fin

One Fell Swoop