Celia is still in her bathrobe as she sits at the dining table having a second cup of coffee while Nathan does the breakfast dishes, the morning cold and rainy. Sixty-five and soon to retire as a nurse at the local hospital, Celia is a beautiful woman, short and buxom with shoulder-length black hair just now turning gray, English her second language, though after being married to Nathan for thirty-five years she speaks English better than most people born to the language.
“I’m glad I’m not working today,” says Celia, who is down to three day shifts a week as she transitions to retirement. “I don’t like driving when it’s so wet and windy. Will you build me a fire before you go?”
“Of course,” says Nathan, thinking about his impending trip to Margot’s house and wondering if he might be wiser to go to the hardware store without Margot and/or Wanda tagging along with Del.
“Will you be home for lunch?” asks Celia, looking out at the rain.
“That’s my plan,” says Nathan, rinsing the last plate. “Two hours should be plenty of time to go to the hardware store and clean their water filter and check their generator and teach Del how to chop kindling.”
“I can’t believe they’ll stay,” says Celia, shaking her head. “I wonder why they chose Mercy. So far from anything.”
“Maybe when you’re that famous you have to go this far from a city to get some privacy.” Nathan carries his mug of nettle tea to the table. “You shopping today?”
She nods. “I’ll go before lunch because Paul is bringing Carlos over at one.” She gives Nathan a wide-eyed look. “I’m not taking that little monster to the grocery store again without you. If I take my eyes off him for ten seconds he’s knocking things off shelves and playing hide and seek. He’s too wild for me.”
“Funny,” says Nathan, musing about his rambunctious grandson, “Calypso was never so wild.”
“No,” says Celia, shaking her head, “because I didn’t go back to work until she started school and she didn’t watch television until she was twelve. Carlos is only three and he’s already playing video games and watching TV all day. No wonder he gets so wound up.” She shrugs. “It’s a different world now.”
“And Paul and Calypso have very different ideas about parenting than we do.” He shrugs in sympathy with her shrug. “But what can we do but love him and not let him watch TV when he’s here. He doesn’t seem to miss it.”
“He likes your stories better than TV,” she says lovingly. “And he plays with Tennyson and digs in the garden and you build block towers with him and take him to the beach. You’re a very good grandpa.”
The phone rings and Nathan goes to answer the phone in the kitchen.
“Mr. Grayson?” says Del, breathlessly. “Hi. It’s Del.”
“Hello Del,” he says, pleasantly surprised. “How are you today?”
“I’m… I’m fine,” she says, her voice shaking with emotion. “My… my mother said you… you want to take me to the hardware store to buy our axe and hatchet, and I… I would like to go with you, just you and not… not… not my mother and Wanda.”
“Is that okay with them?” he asks quietly. “Because it’s okay with me.”
“It’s okay with them,” she says urgently.
“Tennyson and I will be there in about an hour,” he says, smiling into the phone. “Wear your raincoat.”
He hangs up and returns to the dining table, shaking his head in wonder.
“What did she say?” asks Celia, eager to know.
“She wants to go to the hardware store without her mother or Wanda, which I gather is a big deal since Margot said Del never goes anywhere without her or Wanda.”
“Maybe they moved here because it wasn’t safe for her to do things on her own where they lived before. Beautiful girl who looks like her movie star mother. Always being chased by photographers and people looking for gossip. Maybe they were afraid someone would kidnap her.” Celia frowns. “It must be so hard to have such a famous mother.”
“And so hard to be a famous mother,” says Nathan, carrying his tea into the living room to start the fire for the day.
Tennyson, a cute little floppy-eared mutt, sits between Nathan and Del in the cab of Nathan’s old white pickup truck, the rain pounding on the roof as they roll down the hill into the little town of Mercy.
Del has her long brown hair in two braids and is wearing a blue raincoat over a black sweatshirt and black jeans. Thirteen-years-old, she is fast becoming a woman, though Nathan still doesn’t know if she wants people to think of her as she or he.
“If you’re up for it,” says Nathan, glancing at Del, “I’d love to get a gander at the waves, which will be huge from the storm surge and these big winds.”
“I’m… I’m up for it,” says Del, exhilarated and terrified to be away from her mother and Wanda and traveling with an old man and his dog in an old truck through a tempest in the wilderness. “Is… is it safe?”
“Oh yeah,” he says, turning onto the road leading to an outlook with a view of the river mouth and the mighty breakers rolling into Mercy Bay. “We’ll be gazing upon the tumult from afar and won’t get out of the truck.”
“Gazing upon the tumult from afar,” says Del, smiling. “I… I love the way you talk, Nathan. It’s… it’s magnificent.”
“I’m happy you like my use of the lingo,” he says, laughing. “What are words for if not to use them in artful ways?”
“I think so, too,” says Del, looking out at the storm. “I… I found your blog last night and printed out a hundred of your poems and made… made them into a book. I… I love them.”
“Only a hundred?” says Nathan, frowning quizzically. “Got bored, did you?”
“No,” she says, laughing. “Never.”
They look down on an endless parade of enormous waves crashing against the cliffs, the ground trembling with each fantastic collision of ocean and earth.
“The rain is letting up,” says Nathan, smiling wryly. “We could get out for a minute or two if you’re game. Take in the whole fantabulous panorama without the frame of the windshield.”
“I’m game,” says Del, nearly shouting. “Can Tennyson come?”
“No, we’ll leave his highness in the truck,” says Nathan, scratching Tennyson’s head. “He might get blown away.”
“We’ll be back soon, your highness,” says Del, petting Tennyson. “And we’ll tell you all about it.”
They get out into the ferocious wind and gaze in awe upon the stormy scene, and Nathan shows Del how to lean way into the wind and be kept from falling by the fantastic force.
Back in the truck, Nathan and Del look at each other wide-eyed and Del says, “That was beyond magnificent!”
“That’s only because you haven’t been to the hardware store yet,” says Nathan, starting the engine.
“Did… did my mother tell you about me?” asks Del, as they head into town.
“Not a thing,” says Nathan, shaking his head. “Except that you never went anywhere without her or Wanda, which apparently isn’t true.”
“It was true,” says Del, resting her hand on Tennyson’s back, “but it isn’t true anymore.”
“You’ve had a conversion?” says Nathan, immediately regretting his choice of words.
“That’s exactly what I’ve had,” says Del, delighted by his choice of words. “I have shed my old skin and watched it blow away into the fantabulous tumult.”
In Mercy Hardware, Juan Gomez, Nathan’s brother-in-law and former pruning partner, waits on Nathan and Del. They purchase an axe, a hatchet, a shovel, a rake, four bungee cords of various lengths, and three pairs of work gloves.
“How long you been living here?” Juan asks Del as he rings up the purchases.
“Four days,” says Del, smiling shyly at Juan.
“No wonder you don’t have a boyfriend yet,” says Juan, winking at Nathan. “I got a nephew. Pedro. Sixteen. Handsome. Looks just like Bruno Mars. He’ll be happy to see you walking down the street, I know that.”
“I’m… I’m not actually looking for a boyfriend,” says Del, blushing. “I’m… I’m only thirteen and we’re just… just getting acclimated.”
“Where you coming from?” asks Juan, looking at Nathan and getting the message not to probe too deeply.
“New York,” says Del, looking around the store. “It just occurs to me… do you sell art supplies?”
“Not really,” says Juan, shaking his head. “Car paint and paint for your house. Brushes, you know. They got some at the stationery store, but I think you do better online. Or next time you go to the city. You an artist?”
“Like Picasso?” says Juan, making an I’m-impressed face.
“More like Toulouse-Latrec,” says Del, thoughtfully. “Though I like Picasso, especially his pen and ink drawings. Have you seen those?”
“No, I only see the ones where he got the nose and eyes in the wrong place,” says Juan, laughing as he puts the gloves and bungee cords in a bag. “Maybe sometime you bring in one of your pictures to show me.”
“I will,” says Del, smiling brightly. “I’ll draw a still life of the tools we bought.”
“Good,” says Juan, nodding enthusiastically. “Maybe we put it on the wall and increase sales.”
Driving homeward, Del says, “This is the best day of my life.”
“I’m glad,” says Nathan, fighting his tears. “Really glad.”
When they arrive at Del’s house, the front door flies open and Margot rushes out with an umbrella.
“You were gone forever,” she says, opening the passenger door and looking in at Del and Tennyson and Nathan. “Everything okay?”
“Everything is fine, Mom,” says Del, nodding. “I must take you to the outlook to see the storm surf. And then we must go to the hardware store and I’ll introduce you to Juan, Nathan’s brother-in-law.”
“Fine, but first come into the house and get warm,” says Margot, looking at Nathan. “Will you stay for lunch?”
“I have a lunch date,” says Nathan, giving her a reassuring smile. “Thought I’d give you a wood chopping lesson, check your generator, clean your water filter, and come back for more tomorrow.”
Going up the stairs to the front porch, Margot says to Del, “You look flushed, honey. Do you need to lie down?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” says Del, taking her mother’s hand. “Truly I am.”
Margot and Wanda accompany Del and Nathan and Tennyson to the woodshed and Nathan presents them each with a new pair of work gloves.
“These will reduce the chances of serious injury when you’re wielding the axe or hatchet,” he says, standing at the chopping round to begin the lesson. “I assume you all want to know how to make kindling.”
“Just make us some,” says Wanda, obviously peeved. “I didn’t come here to be a lumberjack.”
“But I want to learn, Wanda,” says Del, frowning at her caretaker. “I’ll keep us well-supplied.”
“Why should you be chopping wood?” says Wanda, dropping her gloves on the floor and stalking away to the house. “That’s what we’re paying him for. This is ridiculous.”
“I apologize,” says Margot to Nathan. “This has been quite upsetting for Wanda, our coming here. She’s never lived anywhere but in a city and we’ve always just hired the help we need, so this is a big change for her.”
“For all of you,” says Nathan, nodding. “So… shall we begin?”
“Yes,” says Margot, putting on her gloves. “I’m ready.”
Nathan gets home a little after twelve and has avocado quesadillas by the fire with Celia and tells her about his two hours with Del and Margot.
“Did they say why they came here?” asks Celia, mystified that Margot would move to such a remote place with her daughter.
“No,” says Nathan, shaking his head, “but I have an inkling.”
“Tell me,” says Celia, urgently. “I can’t imagine.”
“I think Margot realized that in shielding Del from the spotlight of her celebrity, she made her a prisoner, and this is her attempt to set her daughter free before she becomes too strange and damaged by being so isolated and removed from the outside world. And they needed to get far from the madding crowd because everybody in the whole fucking world wants to know everything about them.”
“What about Wanda?” asks Celia, frowning. “She sounds a little crazy.”
“Del told me Wanda has been her nanny and caretaker for five years now. They lived in a townhouse in Manhattan and a mansion in Malibu with servants and bodyguards in both places while Margot was mostly gone making movies all over the world.”
“So Del was a princess in a castle,” says Celia, nodding. “And now she lives here.”
“Now she lives here,” says Nathan, thinking of Del leaning into the wind and spreading her arms as if flying. “For as long as she does. Wanda is lobbying for them to move some place more civilized and hinting she’ll quit if Margot won’t accommodate her.”
“What brought this on, I wonder?” says Celia, reacting to the sound of a familiar car in the driveway—Paul bringing Carlos over for the afternoon. “Why now?”
“I’m guessing the identity crisis of the over-protected child,” says Nathan, going to the door.
“Did Del tell you if she wants to be he or she?”
“In so many words,” says Nathan, smiling as he remembers. “I was showing her how to clean the water filter, when apropos of nothing she said, ‘Hey Nate, you did know Del is short for Delilah, didn’t you?’ And I said, ‘Delilah’s a beautiful name. Which do you prefer?’ And she said, “Whichever you like.’ And that’s where we left it for now.”