Dez Peoples is sixty-six, an American poet living in Lausanne, Switzerland with her daughter Rosalind, who is twenty-eight, a photographer and writer. They have lived in Lausanne for three years and have two years remaining on a fellowship from the University of Lausanne that provides them with a lovely house and monthly stipends more than sufficient for their needs.
Six months ago, Dez published her fifteenth volume of poems called In Lausanne, the American edition appearing a month before the German, French, and Spanish editions came out in Europe, after which In Lausanne became a cause célèbre.
On a glorious afternoon in April, Dez and Rosalind return to their house from a long ramble along Lake Geneva with Rosalind’s cute brown mutt Bianca, and they are just sitting down to a late lunch when someone knocks confidently on the front door.
Genevieve, Dez and Rosalind’s charming housekeeper and cook, answers the door and says in French to the two men waiting there, “May I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Oliver Rochambeau,” one of the men replies, his voice a resonant baritone. “And this is my friend Paul Descartes. We would very much like to speak to Dez Peoples. Is she at home today?”
“Madame sees visitors by appointment on Thursdays,” says Genevieve, who has made this speech many times to those wishing to see Dez. “I will give you a card with the number to call to make an appointment.”
“Oh is there no possibility of seeing her today?” asks the other man with some urgency, his voice a pleasing tenor. “We are only here for the afternoon and then we’re returning to Burgundy. We would only take a moment of her time.”
“I’m very sorry,” says Genevieve, who has the feeling she knows these men, but can’t remember where she’s seen them before. “Many people wish to speak to her.”
Rosalind, who has been listening from the kitchen, appears with appointment book in hand, smiles at the two handsome men—one of whom she guesses is fifty-three, the other thirty-five—and says in her fair French, “Hello. I’m Dez’s secretary. Would you like to make an appointment to meet with her?”
“You can only be Rosalind,” says the younger of the two men in fair English. “You are just as your mother describes you in She Walks Her Dog, only much more beautiful.”
“I am Rosalind,” she says, sticking to French. “Who are you?”
“I am Paul Descartes,” he says, bowing to her. “And this is my colleague Oliver Rochambeau. We are hopeful of securing the film rights to your mother’s book In Lausanne.”
“Ah,” exclaims Genevieve, clapping her hands. “Now I know who you are. The funny detectives. These are my husband’s favorite movies. Please don’t leave. I must go get him.”
“Well,” says Rosalind, pleasantly disarmed, “you may as well come in. We’re just sitting down to lunch. Please join us.”
When Genevieve’s husband Henri comes in from the garden, Dez insists Henri and Genevieve join them for lunch, which prompts Genevieve to open an excellent bottle of French chardonnay to go with her fish stew.
Oliver tastes the stew and says, “Mon dieu. I have never tasted better.”
“Incroyable,” says Paul, gazing wide-eyed at Genevieve.
“The fish was caught this morning,” says Genevieve, blushing. “And the onions and potatoes and herbs came from Henri’s garden just this morning.”
“A genius cook for a genius poet,” says Oliver, raising his glass to Dez. “To your extraordinary poetry.”
“To Genevieve,” says Dez, raising her glass.
“We are in the book, you know. Henri and I,” says Genevieve, smiling at her husband. “I am the cook in The Cook and the Mouse and the Cat, and Henri is the gardener in the seven poems about the gardener.”
“I love the gardener poems,” says Paul, grinning at Henri. “You’re immortal now.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” says Henri, shivering with delight to be praised by his favorite movie star. “I’m just a gardener.”
“When I read your poems in French,” says Oliver, gazing at Dez, “they are like little mysteries, you know. Addictive. And they always make me smile at the end. But when I read them in English they are great comedy. I assume you wrote them in English.”
“Yes,” says Dez, who is having a most extraordinary experience sitting across from Oliver, her attraction to him overwhelming. “I only write in English. So far. Though I have begun to dream in French.”
“We are told,” says Rosalind, tickled by her mother’s infatuation with Oliver, “that the German and Spanish translations are funny, too, but the French translation is more nostalgic, or as you say mysterious.”
“French humor is so different than English humor,” says Paul, gazing at Rosalind as if seeing a vision. “Not the physical comedy, of course. But the languages are so different. Did you laugh the first time you read these poems?”
“I did,” says Rosalind, profoundly smitten with Paul. “I had no idea Mama could be so funny in writing. I mean… she’s very funny in… in life, but her poems before In Lausanne were never so funny.”
“The first time I saw your movie The Stolen Jewels,” says Henri, gawking at Oliver, “I laughed until I cried. The scene where you keep handing the food under the table thinking Paul is there and he has long ago crawled away and it is those two big dogs who keep nudging your leg and you keep feeding them? I have watched that scene hundreds of times and I always laugh so hard. This is genius to me.”
“We have a DVD,” says Genevieve, pouring out the last of the wine into Dez and Rosalind’s glasses. “Sometimes we just watch the cooking scenes and laugh.”
“I am so happy to have met you,” says Henri, getting up from the table and bowing to Oliver and Paul. “Please excuse me. I must finish in the garden before dusk.”
“I will go now, too,” says Genevieve, following Henri. “We hope to see you again.”
“What a charming couple,” says Oliver, switching to English. “And what a cook is Genevieve. Be careful some rich movie star doesn’t steal them away from you.”
“Oh they are not ours,” says Dez in English. “They are attached to this house which we’ve been given for five years by the university, after which other writers will take our place.”
“Then take them with you,” says Paul, nodding emphatically.
“That is beyond our means,” says Dez, suddenly weary and wishing these enchanting men would go.
Sensing her weariness, Oliver says, “We will leave you now, but if we could meet tomorrow morning after breakfast to discuss the movie rights to your book, we will find a hotel room and come again tomorrow. If not, we will speed home to Burgundy and I’ll call you if that seems better for you.”
“Tomorrow at ten will be fine,” says Dez, very much wanting to see him again.
“Excellent,” says Oliver, finishing his wine. “Thank you for the marvelous lunch. It was a great pleasure to meet you.”
“A delight,” says Paul, winking at Rosalind.
When Paul and Oliver are gone, Dez and Rosalind retire to the living room—Dez lying down on the sofa, Rosalind collapsing in an armchair.
Silence reigns before they both speak at once, Dez saying, “I can’t believe…” and Rosalind saying, “Can you believe…”
“You go first,” says Dez, closing her eyes and seeing Oliver gazing at her.
“Oh my God, Mama, I’m in love,” says Rosalind, hugging herself. “Has there ever been a more beautiful enchanting man than Paul?”
“Only Oliver,” says Dez, imagining his arms around her. “I haven’t felt this way in forty years, if I ever felt this way. I thought I might have an orgasm during lunch just looking at him and hearing his voice. I really did.”
“They’re probably both married,” says Rosalind, pouting. “Though I saw no rings. You don’t think they could be gay, do you?”
“If Oliver is gay, I am gay,” says Dez, who feels she has become someone entirely different than whoever she was before she met Oliver. “Would you borrow the DVD of their movie from Genevieve? I need to see him again or go mad.”
“Oh Mama, you really are in love,” says Rosalind, who has never known her mother to be in love with anyone.
“Is this love?” says Dez, falling asleep. “Being demolished?”
When Dez wakes two hours later, she finds a comforter over her and Rosalind sitting at the table by the window writing in her notebook.
“What time is it, darling,” asks Dez, speaking English.
Rosalind looks up and smiles. “Not quite six. And you called me darling. You must still be in love with Oliver.”
Dez sits up. “So it wasn’t a dream. They exist. Oliver and Paul.”
“They exist,” says Rosalind, closing her notebook. “And we both fell in love with them as have thousands of other women before us. I sleuthed around on the Internet. They’re both huge stars in Europe. Oliver’s mother is British, his father French. He’s been in lots of French movies and lots of British television shows. Paul is entirely French, a comedian and acrobat and singer turned movie actor. They’ve made three movies together as the Funny Detectives. Henri loaned us two of their movies. The Stolen Jewels and The Pilfered Recipe.”
“How old is Oliver?” asks Dez, holding her breath.
“Sixty-two,” says Roz, coming to sit with her mother on the sofa.
“He’s been married twice and has two grown daughters. I don’t think he’s married now, but he may be in a relationship with a British actress. Not sure.”
“Paul is thirty-four and engaged to a Portuguese actress named Mariana Borba who was in the last two Funny Detective movies. She’s insanely beautiful, so my only hope is that you make it a condition of the movie sale that Paul dump her and marry me. Please Mama?”
“Of course, darling,” says Dez, putting her arms around her daughter. “Shall we watch one of their movies before supper?”
They sit side-by-side on the sofa and watch The Stolen Jewels on Rosalind’s big laptop computer. The movie is brilliantly silly, the two detectives going undercover as a chef and a waiter in a gourmet restaurant in Paris where murders of restaurant critics and rival restaurateurs occur at regular intervals throughout the film.
Paul plays the part of Victor, a man of few words, keenly observant and capable of remarkable feats of dexterity and strength except in the presence of attractive women whose mere glances in his direction transform him into a colossal goofball. He masquerades as a waiter and is by turns phenomenally graceful and hilariously clumsy.
Oliver plays James, a man of dubious intelligence who frequently shares with Victor his deductive reasoning reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’s reasoning in those classic mysteries. However, unlike Sherlock, James is invariably wrong. Yet in the end, the two funny guys catch the murderers and save the day.
At movie’s end, Rosalind says, “I wish we’d never met them. They’ve set the bar impossibly high. Who could ever compare to Paul?”
“Only Oliver,” says Dez, wistfully. “But I could never live with him. I would be too distracted to ever write again. I’d just follow him around worshipping him.”
“So sayeth the renowned feminist poet,” says Rosalind, nudging her mother.
“Feminism schmeminism,” says Dez, getting up. “Let’s go out for supper.”
“You know who Oliver is?” says Dez, as she and Rosalind walk home in the moonlight from Brasserie Saint-Laurent, their favorite restaurant in Lausanne.
“A handsome charming movie star,” says Rosalind, stating the obvious.
“He’s my masculine alter ego.” Dez laughs. “Listen to me. I’ve lost my mind.”
“I think it’s wonderful we both fell in love,” says Rosalind, gazing up at the nearly full moon. “Regardless of outcome, I like knowing I still can. I was beginning to wonder.”
“I assumed I couldn’t,” says Dez, thinking back over her life and finding no evidence of feeling about anyone as she feels about Oliver. “But it turns out I could. I’m speaking of love, not lust. I fell in lust all the time before you were born.”
“But you do you lust after Oliver,” says Rosalind as they arrive home. “Hence the near orgasm at lunch. Lust certainly plays a large part in my attraction to Paul. I felt like we were having telepathic sex at lunch today. I was anyway.”
“Maybe that’s all this is,” says Dez, unlocking the front door. “Lust at sixty-six. I haven’t lusted after anyone in twenty-nine years, not since lust made you, my darling.”
They have chamomile tea and oatmeal cookies in the kitchen before going to bed.
“Doesn’t it strike you as a bit far fetched, if not absurd,” says Dez, frowning at Rosalind, “that they want to buy the movie rights to In Lausanne? What movie, I wonder, do they see in that collection of poems?”
“Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life was based on a poem,” says Rosalind, tossing a little piece of cookie to her dog Bianca. “When I was sleuthing around about Oliver and Paul, I also asked about movies based on poems, and there are quite a few. The Charge of the Light Brigade. It’s A Wonderful Life. Alice’s Restaurant. Several more. Poems that tell good stories.”
“Yes, but those poems all have plots,” says Dez, chuckling at the thought of her poems becoming scenes in a movie. “Mine are merely moments of the continuum.”
“That’s what stories are,” says Rosalind, thinking of Paul’s amazing strength and grace in The Stolen Jewels. “Maybe they’ll want you to help them write the screenplay and they’ll need to meet with you many times.”
“Yes. And they’ll come to realize they can’t live without us,” says Dez, yawning. “And we’ll have a double wedding and live happily ever after.”
“Where?” asks Rosalind, yawning, too. “Where will we live happily ever after?”
“Here,” says Dez, finishing her tea. “In Lausanne.”
After breakfast the next morning, Dez tries on three different dresses in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, and when she is in her last dress, by far the most revealing of the three, she comes out of the trance she’s been in since meeting Oliver and sees she is sixty-six, not fifty-one or forty-three or thirty-four.
So she hangs up her dresses and puts on a favorite turquoise dress shirt, turquoise earrings, and black jeans, captures her graying brown hair in a ponytail, and says to her reflection, “You are a handsome woman in your sixties. Oliver has come for your poems, not for you.”
Rosalind puts on her sexiest dress, a summery green opalescent curve-clinging scoop-necked thing, paints her lips burgundy, and impales her short auburn hair with a red rose bud.
Oliver and Paul arrive promptly at ten, both wearing white summer suits, and Oliver present Dez with a bouquet of seven spectacular roses, which Genevieve puts in a white porcelain vase and makes the centerpiece of the kitchen table where Dez and Rosalind and Paul and Oliver convene for coffee and Genevieve’s just-baked cinnamon coffee cake.
“So…” says Oliver, looking at Dez, “we would like to offer you 10,000 euros for a one-year option of the movie rights to In Lausanne, against a purchase price of 150,000 euros should the film be made. And you would get two per cent of the net proceeds, should there be any, which is highly unlikely.”
“Hence the movie business maxim,” says Paul, whose gaze keeps returning to Rosalind’s lips, “the money you get is the money you get.”
“Okay,” says Dez, who is greatly relieved to be over her infatuation with Oliver, though she still thinks he’s marvelous.
“Okay?” says Oliver, placing a hand on his heart. “Yes? Fantastic. I will have our agent contact your agent and we will go from there.”
“I don’t have an agent,” says Dez, feeling glad she doesn’t. “My editor at Werner Schaffen is Dirk Rosenfeld. I will ask him to represent me.”
“Whatever you like,” says Oliver, nodding. “We are absolutely thrilled to have the chance to make a movie from your poems.”
“We’ve made lots of money with our silly movies,” says Paul, exchanging glances with Oliver, “and now we want to make something more meaningful. Something deeper. Something that touches the soul, not just the funny bone, but the funny bone, too.”
“We can’t wait to see what you come up with,” says Rosalind, looking at Paul and thinking I would do anything to be with you.
“Which brings up another matter,” says Oliver, placing his hands together as in prayer. “We would love to show you the screenplay as it develops and hear your critique, for which we will pay you.”
“No need to pay us,” says Dez, shaking her head. “We’d love to see the drafts and tell you what we think.”
“Well then,” says Oliver, looking at Paul and Rosalind and lastly at Dez, “we will take no more of your time.”
“You are welcome to take as much of our time as you want,” says Dez, speaking without forethought. “We are in love with you and hope to see you again.”
“The feeling is mutual,” says Paul, delighted by Dez’s candor. “I’m about to shoot two movies in quick succession, sadly neither with Oliver, after which I plan to turn my full attention to In Lausanne.”
“Whereas I am not so busy,” says Oliver, sounding happy to say so, “and I would love to visit you here and for you to come stay with me in Burgundy where we can work on the screenplay and I will be your tour guide.”
When Oliver and Paul drive away—Paul having kissed Rosalind on the lips in parting—Dez and Rosalind walk with Bianca on a footpath tracing the shore of Lake Geneva.
“I may write a hundred love poems now,” says Dez, holding Rosalind’s hand. “What will you do?”
“I will live for as long as I can,” says Rosalind, smiling dreamily, “in the magic of his kiss.”