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Arturo and Vivienne and Henri

Arturo is five, Henri is four, and Vivienne is three. Arturo and Vivienne are siblings by blood, Henri their brother because he’s always been one of the three as soon as there were three of them to be one of.

Arturo and Vivienne’s parents are Philip and Lisa, Philip the author of the good-selling cookbook Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and a two-evenings-a-week waiter at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican in the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California. Lisa is a massage therapist who will only be giving a few massages a week until Vivienne joins Arturo and Henri at the local Montessori school, Arturo starting kindergarten in the fall, Henri to begin morning pre-school.

Henri’s parents are Andrea and Marcel, Andrea a former sous chef now a fulltime vegetable and flower gardener, Marcel a three-evenings-a-week waiter at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican and otherwise assisting Andrea in her half-acre garden and working tirelessly with Philip to make something of the neglected six-acre vineyard that he and Andrea co-own with Philip and Lisa.

Their two houses are separated by a five-minute saunter through their vineyard. Lisa and Philip’s house is a two-bedroom redwood and stone farmhouse built in 1922 and remodeled twice since, with a third renovation long overdue. Marcel and Andrea’s house is a three-bedroom curiosity with five oddly juxtaposed sections of roof slanting in five different directions, a failed attempt at cutting edge modernity in 1982, failed because of chronic leakage problems caused by the odd juxtapositions that Marcel and Andrea intend to eliminate if they ever can afford a radical roof makeover.

Philip is fifty-four, handsome with dark brown eyes and curly black hair. Born to a French mother and an Italian-American father, he grew up speaking French at home, English otherwise, and still often dreams in French.

Lisa, forty-seven, is a pleasing mix of African, Brazilian Indio, and Ashkenazi Jew, her dark brown hair falling to her waist when not captured in a braid or bun. She spent the first ten years of her life in Buenos Aires, the second ten in Beverly Hills, and the next twenty in Berkeley before their move to the outskirts of Mercy six years ago.

Andrea is forty-eight, lithe and muscular with shoulder-length black hair, her German accent faint now after twenty-five years in America, her first twenty-three years spent in a working-class suburb of Hamburg.

Marcel is fifty-two and has recently taken to shaving his head, his thick French accent more curiosity than problematic when he waits on customers at Jessica’s Seafood & Mexican. Born in Lyon, Marcel became a professional soccer player at seventeen and might have been a star had he not torn his Achilles when he was twenty, an injury that ended his athletic career and precipitated his becoming a waiter. He came to America when he was thirty, met Andrea shortly after his arrival, and they have been married for twenty years now.

The four were close friends when they lived in San Francisco and Berkeley, and with Philip’s advance from Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and a large gift from Lisa’s grandmother, along with Marcel and Andrea’s life savings, they bought the abandoned vineyard and two houses a few miles inland from the town of Mercy and made their move when Lisa was very pregnant with Arturo, and Andrea just pregnant with Henri. To say they are glad they took the leap from city to country would be a vast understatement.

*

Arturo, he who is five, is outrageously cute, but then so is Henri and so is Vivienne, so never mind.

Arturo, he who is five, is a year older than the oldest of the three dogs belonging to the collective. There are cats, too, and we will speak of the cats after we speak of the dogs.

Legally, as in who the dogs are licensed to at the Mercy sheriff’s office, Goliath, the small golden brown Chihuahua poodle mix, belongs to Philip and Lisa, as does Mimi, the very sweet Golden Retriever, while Jung, the enormous Black Lab Malamute mix belongs to Marcel and Andrea, but try telling the children that. They know Jung is Arturo’s dog, Mimi belongs to Vivienne, and Goliath is attached to Henri. What’s more, the dogs know this, too, and behave accordingly.

Indeed, when Jung has not returned from one of his expeditions by nightfall, Marcel and Andrea and Philip and Lisa can shout themselves hoarse calling him, but only when Arturo calls will the mighty dog race home to one or another of the houses, whichever is closer, food and bed awaiting him in both places.

Goliath is the most likely of the dogs to do things that make people laugh, as is Henri of the children, hence their affinity for one another.

And Mimi and Vivienne, who both enjoy life at the houses three miles inland from the ocean, live for their twice-weekly trips to the beach, Mimi to chase tennis balls flung into the surf, Vivienne to build sandcastles with her brothers and play in the icy water which she tells everyone is her favorite thing in the world.

As for the cats, not counting the feral cats who live in the vineyard, the collective owns five neutered and named cats who by day roam freely in and out of the two houses, and by night hunker down in the barn near the farmhouse to be safe from pumas and owls. The five are Cleo, Zapata, Maurice, Lion, and Aurelia. They are all fond of people, and four of them are rodent killers, Lion unwilling to kill anything, though she is nearly twice the size of the other cats and is a champion at catching gophers and mice, but leaves the killing to the other four.

Lion’s unwillingness to kill—Arturo named her Lion when he was three and assumed the enormous cat must be male—is a good place to begin our story.

*

In the late morning on a sunny Saturday in July, Arturo, Vivienne, and Henri, up since six this morning and having been back and forth between the two houses several times already, are sitting at the picnic table with Philip in the semi-shade of a mighty oak a hundred feet from the farmhouse, eating watermelon.

Brown-haired and slender, the kids are shirtless and wearing shorts, and when they are done with the messy business of eating watermelon will go with Philip into the apple orchard and stand under the biggest Fuji and play in the hose to rinse off, the ongoing drought necessitating as much multi-use of water as possible.

Philip is in charge of cutting juicy red triangles for the kids to devour, and as he watches them eat, he is overwhelmed, as he often is, by how much he loves them.

Lion, a pale orange tabby, is sitting in the nearby orchard, waiting patiently for a gopher to emerge from his hole so she can snag him and toss the rodent to Zapata, a slender black male who frequently hunts with Lion and is in love with her. Zapata is crouched ten feet away from Lion, patiently perusing a different gopher hole.

“Why Lion doesn’t kill the gopher when she catches it?” asks Vivienne, her face smeared with watermelon juice.

“I don’t know,” says Philip, cutting another round of melon into six triangles. “Why do you think?”

“Maybe he doesn’t like how gophers taste,” says Arturo, pursing his lips as his mother does when she makes a guess about something.

“Lion is a girl,” says Henri, looking skyward and rolling his eyes as his father does when exasperated. “How many times do we have to tell you?”

“Maybe she’s just generous,” suggests Philip, handing out the next round of watermelon triangles. “Maybe she likes giving gifts to the other cats.”

“Can cats do that?” asks Arturo, frowning in the manner of Philip questioning something someone says. “Give gifts?”

“Of course,” says Henri, laughing. “That’s why they bring mice in the house. To give them to us.”

“Why they give them to us?” asks Vivienne, wrinkling her nose as Andrea does when perplexed. “We don’t eat mice.”

“Maybe they don’t know that,” says Philip, smiling at his daughter. “Maybe because we give them food, they want to give us food.”

“They can’t go to the store,” shouts Henri. “How could they?”

“Lion likes fish,” says Arturo, nodding in agreement with himself as Marcel will nod when he agrees with himself. “But fish meat is different than gopher meat.”

“How do you know?” says Henri, laughing again. “Have you ever eaten a gopher?”

“You can see fish meat is different than gopher meat,” says Arturo, sighing in exasperation exactly as his mother does. “Fish is soft and white, gopher is hard and red.”

Weary of the debate, Vivienne asks, “Why watermelon has so many seeds?”

“Some watermelons don’t have any seeds,” says Arturo, nodding authoritatively in imitation of Philip being authoritative.

“Why this watermelon have so many seeds?” persists Vivienne.

“This kind always has lots of seeds,” says Henri, matter-of-factly. “My papa eats the seeds, but my mama spits them out. When I’m older I might eat them, but now I spit them out.”

“I think this kind of watermelon has lots of seeds,” says Philip, cutting up the last of the melon, “so there will be plenty for starting more watermelon plants.”

“How do they grow watermelons with no seeds?” asks Arturo, squinting at his father in the way Lisa squints when perplexed. “If the watermelon doesn’t have seeds?”

“Ah,” says Philip, vaguely recalling something about diploids and tetraploids. “A question we will ask Andrea after we have hosed off under the Fuji.”

*

Jung, the giant dog, and Goliath, the small but very brave dog, trot ahead of Philip and the kids into the orchard, and a lucky thing, too, because Jung growls and bristles when he comes upon a large rattlesnake coiled in the high grass a few yards from the Fuji.

Philip herds the children back to the picnic table, arms himself with a shovel, returns to the Fuji, and with a deft thrust decapitates the awakening snake, after which he makes a search of the area with the dogs. Convinced there are no more serpents in the vicinity, he beckons the kids to return to the orchard to hose off the sticky watermelon juice they are covered in.

“I’m afraid,” says Vivienne, standing on the picnic table and shaking her head.

“I am, too,” says Henri, standing on the bench of the table.

“I’m not afraid,” says Arturo, standing on the ground and not sounding very convincing, “but maybe we could play in the hose somewhere else.”

“Good idea,” says Philip, his heart still pounding from killing the big snake.

So they hose off in the herb and lettuce garden near the house, and when Lisa comes out to see why the change of plans, Vivienne says, “Papa killed a big rattlesnake under the Fuji.”

“Oh God,” says Lisa, giving Philip a horrified look. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he says, still vibrating from killing the snake. “Time to mow the orchard again and weed whack the path through the vineyard. He probably wouldn’t have bothered us, but I killed him just in case.”

“Let’s play inside for a while,” says Lisa, her heart pounding. “You’ve all had more than enough sun today.”

So the kids come inside and ten minutes later they are asleep in the living room, Vivienne sprawled on the floor next to her dog Mimi, Henri and Arturo comatose on the sofa.

*

That afternoon, Marcel mows the orchard with the little John Deere tractor, Henri on his lap steering some of the time, and Philip walks the path through the overgrown vineyard wearing headphones to block out the roar of his powerful weed whacker. Meanwhile, Arturo and Vivienne help Lisa and Andrea pick vegetables in the garden and make supper in the farmhouse.

*

After supper, as Andrea and Marcel and Henri are about to head home, Henri says to Philip, “We forgot to ask my mama how they grow watermelon with no seeds.”

“Seedless watermelon is grown with special seeds in a special way,” says Andrea, who is very very tired. “Tomorrow I will draw you a picture to show you how they do it. But now it’s time for bed.”

*

When the children are asleep, the farmhouse cloaked in fog—Jung and Mimi slumbering by the fire, Goliath gone home with Henri—Lisa and Philip sit on the sofa and cling to each other until they feel the danger has passed, at least enough to go to bed.

fin

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The Waiter Considers Psychoanalysis

“Have you ever been attracted to psychoanalysis?” asks Hilda Rubenstein, nodding her thanks to Philip as he sets a goblet of white wine before her.

“Are we speaking of undergoing psychoanalysis?” asks Philip, stepping back from the table where Hilda is dining alone. “Or studying the methodology?”

“Undergoing,” says Hilda, tasting the wine. “Oh you’re right, Philip. I love this. And for so long I thought Riesling would be too sweet for my taste.”

“Wine appellations often confuse more than clarify,” says Philip, pleased she likes the wine.

Hilda is Swiss, seventy-four, tall and sturdy with long silvery gray hair she always wears in a braid. A Jungian psychoanalyst, she has lived in Berkeley, California for forty years. Widowed nine years ago, Hilda’s one child, Tamara, is a playwright and professor of Drama at a university in Oregon, no grandchildren in sight. And though Hilda has many acquaintances, her husband was her best friend and she misses him.

Philip’s mother was French, his father Italian American, and he grew up speaking French at home, English in the outside world. He is forty-seven, childless, and has been a waiter for twenty years, the last nine at the famed Le Scélérat in Berkeley. Graceful and slender, with dark brown eyes and curly black hair, he has been serving Hilda every Wednesday evening for his entire tenure at Le Scélérat, and she is by far his favorite customer.

“To answer your question,” says Philip, speaking French with Hilda as they often do when she dines alone, “no, I have never considered undergoing psychoanalysis. Both the cost, which I cannot easily afford, and a preference for more body-oriented therapies led me elsewhere.”

“I would like to offer you free sessions,” says Hilda, replying in French. “Twice a week for an hour and a half each time. If this appeals to you, let me know.”

*

On a warm day in September, Philip and his sweetheart Lisa are picnicking on Baker Beach in San Francisco with their friends Marcel and Andrea. Lisa is thirty-nine, a massage therapist, Marcel is forty-four, a waiter at Le Vagabond in San Francisco, and Andrea, Marcel’s wife, is forty-one, a sous chef at Le Vagabond.

When Philip mentions Hilda’s offer of free psychoanalysis, Andrea, girlish with short black hair and tattoos of small flowers scattered sparingly on her arms and legs, says with a faint German accent, “Oh you must, Philip. What an opportunity.”

“Is she in love with you?” asks Marcel, who also has short black hair but no tattoos, his French accent not faint. “Beware, Philip. Transference and so forth.”

“She’s fond of me,” says Philip, smiling at Marcel’s characteristic skepticism. “She’s semi-retired and doesn’t need the money. This would be a gift to me and a fascination for her.”

“So much for the vaunted neutrality of the therapist,” says Marcel, staying in character. “The process is already compromised by your friendship.”

“She’s a Jungian,” says Lisa, her brown hair shoulder-length, her accent purely Californian, though she was born in Brazil and spoke only Brazilian Portuguese until she was ten. “They are not so enthralled by the Freudian insistence on the therapist remaining emotionally detached.” 

“Psychoanalysis,” says Andrea, who in the privacy of her thoughts is in love with Philip. “You’ll be analyzing your dreams with a dream expert. How fantastic.”

“And delving into why you chose to be a waiter,” says Marcel, arching an eyebrow, “rather than continuing your stellar career as a chef.”

“Oh I know why I fled the kitchen for the tables,” says Philip, enjoying the passing parade, many of the beachgoers naked.

“Why did you?” asks Andrea, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know you knew.”

“Nor did I,” says Marcel, looking at Lisa. “Did you know he knew?”

“Of course,” she says, smiling at Philip. “He has no secrets from me.”

“I became a waiter,” says Philip, with a meaningful shrug, “because I knew I’d be a good one and I’d still be in the restaurant business without the killing pressure of having to make three hundred perfect entrees every night.”

“But why not an actor?” asks Andrea, who thinks of Philip as a movie star who has yet to make a movie.

“I’m too shy,” says Philip, comically covering his face with both hands. “And I’m not much interested in acting.”

“But why are you so shy?” asks Marcel, affecting an exaggerated German accent. “Zis vee vill uncover in zychoanalysis.”

*

Stuck in a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge going back to Berkeley after their day at the beach, Lisa driving, Philip says, “I’ve decided not to accept Hilda’s gift of psychoanalysis.”

“Because?” asks Lisa, taking her foot off the brake to let her little car roll forward a few inches before she applies the brake again.

“Because,” he says, searching for the right words, “I think I may have become too important to her.”

“You’ve waited on her every week for nine years,” says Lisa, whose clients frequently fall in love with her. “And you enjoy each other.”

“Yes, and our enjoyment is enhanced by her not knowing all the details of my past,” he says, looking to his right as a turquoise Mustang convertible draws even with them, the driver a striking Latina wearing a sleeveless white scoop-necked T-shirt, her mop of curls bubble-gum pink, her companion in the passenger seat an enormous black and white hound.

Lisa gawks at the pink-haired gal and the giant dog and says, “Imagine being in a relationship with her.”

“If only her hair wasn’t pink,” says Philip, relieved not to be entering psychoanalysis with Hilda. “I have no problem with the rest of her.”

“Humor me,” says Lisa, playfully. “We’ll be stuck on the bridge for at least another half-hour. Imagine this bombshell is your wife.”

“I can’t imagine she’s anyone’s wife,” he says, smiling at the woman, which causes the woman to wave coquettishly.

“How old do you think she is?” asks Lisa, intrigued by the bombshell. “And what does she do for a living?”

“Twenty-five,” he guesses. “An exotic dancer, otherwise known as a stripper.”

“I think she’s thirty-two,” says Lisa, smiling at the woman. “Cuts hair in a hip salon.”

“Her muscular arms,” says Philip, admiring the woman’s physique, “speak of pole dancing.”

“Ask her?” says Lisa, hitting a button so Philip’s window goes down.

“Hi,” says the woman, just a few feet away from Philip. “Does this suck or what?”

“Yes,” says Philip, trying not to stare at the woman’s beautiful breasts. “We’re trying to guess your profession and how old you are.”

“What’s your guess?” she asks, pursing her lips as if expecting a kiss.

“Exotic dancer, cuts hair in a hip salon,” he says, wishing he could see her without pink hair and makeup. “Twenty-five and thirty-two.”

“I’m thirty-seven,” she says, giving him a sexy smile. “I make people happy. You want my card?”

“Sure,” he says, reddening.

“You two look like fun,” she says, handing him a bubble-gum pink card.

Now drivers behind them sound their horns.

“Thank you,” says Philip, glancing at the card and seeing the name Desea writ in vermillion.

“Call me,” says Desea, winking at him as she pulls ahead. “I love doing couples.”

*

The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining with her daughter Tamara, who is forty, and Tamara’s partner Celine who is forty-five.

“How nice to see you again,” says Philip, bowing to Tamara who resembles Hilda to a remarkable degree, her dark blonde hair in a braid identical to her mother’s.

“Philip,” says Tamara, in a businesslike way, “this is Celine.”

Philip bows to Celine, a regal African American woman with glossy black hair in four intricate braids threaded with yellow wooden beads.

“A man of few words,” says Celine, making a comical face. “What’s not to like?”

After a bit more chitchat, supper is ordered, and Philip goes to the wait station to enter their order into the computer.

Now he stops by the table of another of his regulars, Miles Levinson, a blustery fellow in his sixties who Philip serves three times weekly, Miles fabulously wealthy and possessed of an apparently inexhaustible supply of younger women to dine with.

Philip arrives in time to replenish the wine glasses, Miles’s companion tonight a striking Serbian named Sophie. She’s wearing a red skirt and a black tuxedo jacket barely buttoned over her otherwise uncaged breasts, her red hair in a long braid coiled atop her head.

“This Marcassin Pinot is everything you promised,” says Miles, watching Philip divide the last of the bottle equally between the two glasses. “Shall we have another bottle, Sophie?”

Philip turns to Sophie.

I certainly don’t need more wine,” she says, yawning majestically. “I could go to sleep on this table right now.”

“Then no more wine,” says Miles, waving the thought away. “We’ll have cheesecake and chocolate mousse and I’ll have a large glass of sherry. You know the kind I like.”

“Of course,” says Philip, turning to Sophie. “Coffee for you?”

“You are a genius,” she says, kissing the air in his direction. “Why didn’t I think of this?”

*

Philip checks on Hilda and Tamara and Celine mid-meal, and Hilda says to Tamara, “Tell Philip about his part in your play.”

“Please,” says Philip, glancing around his section and calculating he has a long moment to tarry with them.

“Comedy of manners,” says Tamara, nodding approvingly as Philip refills her wine glass. “Barely masking the tragic, of course. Several key scenes take place in a restaurant, and I’ve modeled the waiter after you, though the only person who could ever do the waiter justice as I imagine him, is you.”

“I look forward to seeing the play,” says Philip, who often feels he is an actor playing the part of a waiter. “My friends and I very much enjoyed your play Jumbo Shrimp at Berkeley Rep last year.”

“Well actually,” says Tamara, clearing her throat, “I would love for you to vet the restaurant scenes. It’s crucial they be authentic. I’ll pay you for your time, of course.”

“Does the waiter appear in any scenes other than those at table?” asks Philip, gazing intently at Tamara.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s purely a functionary. But an important device.”

“Except at the end,” says Celine, nodding knowingly. “He’s not at the table at the end.”

“Oh of course,” says Tamara, chagrined. “The dream sequence. But he’s still a waiter. Only in a different context.”

“I’d be happy to vet your scenes,” says Philip, refilling Hilda’s glass with the last of the Reisling.

“Shall we have another bottle?” asks Hilda, looking from Tamara to Celine.

“Oh why not?” says Tamara, happily drunk. “It’s so good. And to think I always thought Reisling would be too sweet.”

*

A few days later, on one of his days off, Philip reads Tamara’s play Ziggurat and makes notes on the pages of the several scenes involving a waiter serving the main characters. He marvels at the way Tamara weaves the waiter’s minimal lines into the lengthy dialogues that occur in his absence.

“She uses his coming and going to create suspense again and again within the scenes,” says Philip, describing Tamara’s play to Lisa over supper at a Chinese restaurant. “Sometimes to set up punch lines, sometimes to give the audience a moment to wonder what the characters will say when the waiter departs. It’s a brilliant device, and she’s absolutely right, the more believable the waiter, the more thrilling the dialogue surrounding his coming and going will be.”

*

The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining alone and he takes the opportunity to inform her of his decision not to enter psychoanalysis with her.

“I’m disappointed,” she says with obvious sorrow. “I was looking forward to getting to know you away from this setting where our conversations are so brief and we only seem to scratch the surface of things.”

“I, too, wish to connect with you away from here,” he says, replying in French. “Only not through psychoanalysis. And it occurred to me you might like to join me and a few of my good friends for supper at my house when I unveil the latest versions of recipes I’m working on for a cookbook I hope to publish one day.”

“Oh Philip,” she says, tears springing to her eyes, “I would be delighted.”

fin

Four of Wands