Once upon a time there was a dog
named Huleekalabulee. His mom called him Hubu or Hubee, his brother Jurgen
called him Hube, and his sister called him Bulee. Huleekalabulee’s sister was
One morning Huleekalabulee’s mom
served Venus and Jurgen and Huleekalabulee their breakfast and said, “Well
today you are all one-year-old and you will have to find new homes because I am
officially done being your mom. You can come visit me on Dogmas Day and for
Dogster and Doggiving, but for the other days you’re on your own.”
“Fine,” said Venus, who was a very
beautiful dog and looked more like Mom, who was a Golden Retriever, and less
like Dad who was, according to Mom, a big brown mutt. “Jenny Jones who lives
next door adores me. I’ll go live
“Whatever,” said Jurgen, who was
quite handsome and looked like a giant Cocker Spaniel. “Mr. Zimbalist who lives
across the street already built a house for me in his backyard. I’m outta here.”
“What about you Hubee?” asked Mom.
“Where will you go?”
“Well,” said Huleekalabulee, who was
an affable big brown mutt, “I guess I’ll do what the dogs in all my favorite
dog stories do. Go on a quest to find my person.”
“Good luck with that,” said Jurgen, sneering cynically. “Those are just fantasies,
you know. In reality most mutts end up lost and desperate and hungry.”
“Yeah,” said Venus, also sneering
cynically. “That’s why Jurgen and I pretended to like Jenny Jones and Mr.
Zimbalist. So we wouldn’t end up lost and desperate and hungry.”
“It’s true, dear,” said Mom, who
liked Huleekalabulee and found his naiveté charming. “It’s a person-eat-person
world out there. You’d better find a person while you’re still kind of cute.”
And so after breakfast, Huleekalabulee
packed his saddlebags with his favorite squeaky toy and seventy-seven big hunks
of turkey jerky and embarked on his quest.
For starters he walked as far as he
usually went with Mom’s humans, Alex and Monica Kronkite, which was to the top
of Bullwinkle Butte. From there, Huleekalabulee could see the whole town spread
out below him, with mountains to the north and south and east, and the ocean to
“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee. “What a
great big world it is. I guess if I could live anywhere I’d like to live near
the beach. So that’s where I’ll begin my search for a person to call my own.”
He started down a path going west
and only went a little way before he came upon two old mutts blocking the path.
One of the old mutts was black, the other a dirty blond.
“Slow down,” said the old dirty
blond mutt. “Where are you going?”
“The beach,” said Huleekalabulee.
“I’m questing for a person to live with.”
This was so funny to the two old mutts, they laughed for five minutes until
the old black mutt said, “Hey, what’s your name?”
Hearing Huleekalabulee’s name made
the two old mutts laugh for another five minutes until the old dirty blond mutt
said, “What are you… Hawaiian?”
“Not that I know of,” said Huleekalabulee.
“My mom is a Golden Retriever and my father was, according to my mom, a big
“A bit of advice,” said the old
black mutt. “Out here in the rough-and-tumble person-eat-person world, you need
a rough-and-tumble sort of name.”
“Or at least a shorter name,” said the old dirty blond mutt. “Who can remember
“But my name isn’t Hakableebleenoonoopoopee,”
said Huleekalabulee. “My name is…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the old
black mutt. “Whatever it is, it should be shorter.”
“What are your names?” asked Huleekalabulee, wondering if either or both of
them had a person or people.
“I’m Butch,” said the old dirty
“And I’m Garth,” said the old black
“It was a pleasure meeting you,”
said Huleekalabulee. “And now if you’ll excuse me I want to get to the beach
“Not so fast, kiddo,” said Garth,
growling to add menace to his speech. “Why should we let you go by without
“Why would you want to bite me?”
asked Huleekalabulee. “We just had a lovely interlude full of laughter and potentially
helpful advice. Why spoil such a happy time with conflict?”
“He makes a good point,” said Butch,
nodding. “I haven’t laughed so hard in years. Not since that person, remember?
The jogger? Stepped in my fresh pile of poop and slipped and landed on her face
in your fresh pile of poop?”
“Now that was funny,” said Garth, remembering the glorious moment of their
poop triumphant. “Okay Hukunanazulu. Go on. And good luck. You’ll need it.”
“One more bit of advice,” said
Butch, as he and Garth stepped aside to let Huleekalabulee go by. “If you go to
the beach, people will call the park rangers, and if they catch you…”
“You don’t want to know,” said
“Only dogs belonging to people are
allowed on the beach,” said Butch. “Dogs on leash.”
The path took Huleekalabulee down from
Bullwinkle Butte into a part of town where he’d never been before. The houses here
were much bigger than the houses in the neighborhood where Huleekalabulee grew
up. And around each yard was a tall fence or wall, and the driveways were gated,
and those gates were closed.
“Smells very unfriendly here,” said
Huleekalabulee, wrinkling his nose.
And just as he was about to leave
the street of giant houses, a very large dog with pointy ears and shiny black
fur came rushing through the one gate that wasn’t completely shut, and stood
between Huleekalabulee and a neighborhood of small pretty houses where human
children were playing happily on little lawns and there were no fences or
“Hold it right there,” said the very
large shiny black dog. “Just where do you think you’re going?”
“To the beach,” said Huleekalabulee.
“Dog willing and the creek don’t rise.”
“Not likely,” said the big
pointy-eared dog, his voice full of growls. “I’m a professional attack dog and
it is my job to try to bite you and possibly kill you.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
asked Huleekalabulee, aghast. “I’m just a lost one-year-old who will never ever
ever never ever never ever come back here. And
I will give you ten pieces of delicious turkey jerky.”
“Make it twenty pieces and I’ll put
on a convincing snarling and lunging act but not bite you,” said the big
“Twenty it is,” said Huleekalabulee,
shaking out twenty pieces of turkey jerky from his saddlebags.
“Yum,” said the big black dog as he
chowed down. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“My name is…” And then
Huleekalabulee remembered Butch and Garth’s advice. So instead of saying Hulee
etcetera, he said, “Hercules.”
“Bit of advice,” said the big black
pointy-eared devourer of jerky. “With a name like Hercules you better be one mighty
strong canine or lots of dogs are gonna try to kick your butt.”
“Thanks for the tip,” said
Huleekalabulee, hurrying away. “I’ll definitely consider alternative monikers.”
Andrew is seventy-three and a widower now for two
and a half months. Having eaten little since Luisa’s death, he is thinner than
he has ever been, his gray hair full of white.
He sits on the sofa in the cozy one-room studio
where Donna, tall and buxom with short red hair and also seventy-three, conducts
her business as rabbi and psychotherapist.
“Look at me, sweetheart,” says Donna, sitting in
an armchair facing Andrew, her accent Los Angeles Jewish.
Andrew looks at his friend and counselor of the
last twenty years and for a moment sees Luisa’s face instead of Donna’s.
“Talk to me,” she says softly. “Say anything.”
They have been sitting quietly for twenty minutes.
Did Cal drive
me here? No. Cal lives in Hawaii now. Diana brought me.
“Tell me how you met Luisa,” says Donna, speaking
of Andrew’s wife of thirty-four years, her suicide a terrible shock to everyone
who knew her.
“Kindergarten,” says Andrew, remembering the first
time he saw Luisa’s daughter Lily swinging high on the swings at the
Montessori. “Owen and Lily…” He stops speaking, his language center shutting
“She brought Lily to your house for a play date
with Owen,” says Donna, knowing the story well. “And you liked each other
Andrew nods and begins to cry, which is what Donna
was hoping for, to break the dam holding back his tears.
Donna has been a widow for five years. Her husband
Howard was twelve years older than she. After suffering with increasing
dementia for two years, he blessedly succumbed to pneumonia. Donna is currently
dating a youngster in his sixties named Herschel, and is in the midst of
passing the reins of the shul to another feminist rabbi.
When Andrew stops crying, Donna says, “You need to
tell a part of Luisa’s story every day. That’s how you’ll heal. Trust me.”
“Maybe I don’t want to heal,” he says, glaring at her.
“Maybe I want to die, too.”
“Maybe you do,” says Donna, nodding. “But I don’t
think so. I think you want to be alive for your children and grandchildren, and
for your friends and for yourself.”
“I killed her,” he says, bowing his head. “Taking
on Teo and Rosa was too much to ask of her.”
“That’s not true. You both wanted Teo and Rosa.
And Jalecia. Luisa’s granddaughter. She asked of you what you asked of her. Am
I wrong? I don’t think so. She confided in me for twenty years. She was adamant
the children stay with you and not go with Adrianna.”
“But Teo and Rosa wouldn’t have existed,” he says,
crushed by his grief, “if I hadn’t stupidly mated with Adrianna. Stupid animal
“Beautiful animal you,” says Donna, calmly. “God
gives us life in mysterious ways. You were a vehicle for God’s desire to bring your
children into the world. And you and Luisa did a fabulous job bringing them up,
and you will complete the job.”
“Or die trying,” says Andrew, who always
eventually reverts to his Jewish self when he spends time with Donna.
“Watch out, bubalah,” she says, grinning at him. “We
might start laughing and then how will we grieve?”
“Grieve schmeeve,” he says, laughing through his
tears. “I need some good deli.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” she says, getting up.
“Come on. I’ll drive us to Max’s.”
Donna pilots her electric car through the
lunchtime traffic of Vancouver, the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, many of the
pedestrians masked, though Vancouver and Canada have not been much affected
compared to the catastrophe in the United States.
They sit by an open window in the deli and split an
order of fries and a hot pastrami sandwich on rye with sauerkraut.
“I was starving,” says Andrew, hailing their
masked waitress. “Could I get a cup of coffee, please?”
“Two,” says Donna, raising her hand. “I never
think I want coffee until after, and then midway through the sandwich I crave
“My mother always said, ‘Save the coffee for the
cookies,’” says Andrew, his eyes filing with tears as he thinks of his
long-departed mother, “but I just can’t wait.”
The waitress brings two mugs of black stuff and
says to Andrew, “You probably don’t recognize me with my mask on. Delilah
Bernstein. I was in Moon In Leo. The
deli scene. You are such a good
director. In fact, I got this job because I was in that movie. Max is a huge
fan. He saw the movie seven times in the theatre and watches the video all the
“I see you now,” says Andrew, imagining her face without the mask. “You were great.”
“I hear Character Driven is gearing up to make
another movie,” she says, nodding hopefully. “Can I give you my card?”
“Yeah, sure, but you should call my son,” says Andrew,
starting to cry. “You know Owen. He’ll remember you.”
“Okay, I will,” she says, touched by his tears.
“I’ll tell him you told me to. Thanks.”
Andrew weeps for what seems like a long time to
him, but is only a minute or so.
“Good to cry,” says Donna, crying a little with
him. “Why don’t you come again tomorrow? At eleven. Then we’ll do lunch again.
This is good.”
Chauffeured home by Diana, Andrew gets out of the
trusty red Prius and gazes at the house he built forty-five years ago, the
place feeling lifeless to him with Luisa gone and the kids at school—Teo and
Rosa fourteen, Jalecia eleven.
“I have to make some calls before I go to the
store and get the kids,” says Diana, stretching her arms to the sky. “You need
anything before I go?”
Diana is a beautiful Eurasian, fifty-three, British, with raven black hair, a poet and artist and inveterate wearer of T-shirts and blue jeans. She has lived in the other house on the property for ten years, helping with the kids and housework and cooking.
Andrew gazes at her, having forgotten in these
last few months how much he loves watching her and listening to her speak.
“What?” she asks, blushing at being so intensely observed.
“No, I was just…” He laughs self-consciously. “I
guess I could use a hug before you go.”
“Always,” she says, coming to embrace him.
“I can’t ever thank you enough,” he says, relaxing
in her embrace. “Couldn’t survive without you.”
“Yes you could,” she says, giving him a good squeeze.
“But you don’t have to.”
Waiting for Diana to get home with the kids, Andrew
wanders into the living room and sits down at the piano, an exquisite teak
upright he and Luisa bought twenty years ago to celebrate the success of a
movie they wrote—this his first time at the piano since Luisa died.
He plays the first notes of the tune he was
composing when Luisa died and the music makes him cry, but he goes on playing
until the phone rings and he hurries to the kitchen to answer.
The caller is his son Owen who is thirty-nine now and
lives in Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi and their seven-year-old daughter Mimi.
“Papa?” he says, sounding like a little boy to
“Hey O,” says Andrew, his son’s voice bringing up more
tears—the session with Donna having obliterated his floodgates.
“Just spoke to Diana,” says Owen, who is also still
grieving Luisa. “We were thinking of bringing pizza over there for supper
tonight. Diana said I should check with you and see what you think.”
“Yeah, great,” says Andrew, making a supreme
effort to sound positive. “I may not last long tonight, O. Haven’t slept much lately,
but I’d love to see you and Yosh and Mimi.”
“Good. I’ll call Diana,” says Owen, thrilled by
this first Yes from Andrew since
Andrew hangs up and has a good long cry, and on
his way back to the piano, the phone rings again—Lily, Luisa’s daughter,
calling from Los Angeles.
says Lily, who is the same age as Owen. “How you holding up?”
“Okay,” he says, clearing his throat. “Had a good
session with Donna today.”
“Donna,” says Lily, the name not registering. “Tell
me again who that is?”
“Oh yeah, the rabbi therapist,” says Lily,
sounding hurried. “Good. Great. I’ve been going to my therapist every day.
Can’t believe Mama’s gone. Just can’t believe it. I feel so bad I didn’t get up there more often these last few years, but
I’ve been so crazy busy with the new show and the new house and… still I should
have come before the fucking virus ruined everything. I’m a terrible daughter
and a rotten mother.” She waits a moment. “You still there?”
“I’m here,” says Andrew, startled to realize he has
never fully forgiven Lily for leaving her baby with them eleven years ago so
she could pursue her acting career unencumbered. “Please don’t think of
yourself as a terrible daughter or a rotten mother. If I ever made you feel
that way, I apologize.”
apologize?” says Lily, stunned. “I’m the one who fucked up, not you.”
“Oh Lily, don’t think that,” he says, wishing he
could hold her on his lap as he did when she was little and would come to him seeking
solace. “You’re an adventurer. An artist. You gave us Jalecia who is the great
joy of my life and was your mother’s joy.”
“Oh Papa,” says Lily, crying, “I want to come
visit you and Owen and the kids, but the virus is still out of control here and
if I came to Canada I’d have to quarantine in some hotel for ten days before I
could even start my visit and I’m so busy with…”
“I know,” he says, seeing now that holding the
vision of Lily as a defiant teenager helped her stay stuck in that idea of
herself. “We’ll be together again. All in good time. We will.”
The next morning, Donna settles into her armchair,
studies Andrew for a moment and says, “You look better today. How are you
“I actually slept for a few hours last night,” he says,
giving her a sleepy smile. “Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi brought pizza for supper
and Diana and Rosa made a big salad. Root beer for the kids, wine for the
grownups. Quite the shindig. We rioted until nine.”
“Did you dream?”
“I did, but I only remember a fragment. Owen was
in the living room. He was maybe ten, searching for something. He looked under
the sofa cushions and then he frowned at me. That’s all I remember.”
“Tell it again,” says Donna, knowing what the
dream is about. “Present tense.”
Andrew closes his eyes and sees young Owen moving
around the living room, searching for something. “He’s wearing shorts and a
T-shirt. Must be summer. He looks under the cushions, looks around the room,
and now he sees me and gives me a questioning look.”
“What’s his question, do you think?”
“Where is she?”
Donna considers this. “Why do you think he’s a boy
in the dream and not a man?”
“He seems like a boy to me now,” says Andrew,
fighting his tears. “A boy who lost his mother.”
“So maybe he knows where she is. Maybe that’s not his
“You think he wants to know why she killed
“Of course he does. Wouldn’t you if you didn’t
know,” says Andrew, shaking his head.
“Okay,” she says, nodding slowly. “Tell me about
the last three years of Luisa’s life.”
“I don’t know if I can today,” he says, bowing his
head. “I don’t feel well.”
“What are your symptoms?”
“Anxious. Achy. Dizzy. Miserable.”
“What was going on at your house three years ago?”
“The twins were eleven, Jalecia was eight, Luisa
and I just turned seventy, Cal and Terry just moved to Hawaii, and Owen and
Miyoshi were getting their company going with Moon In Leo and…” He grimaces. “It was all too much for Luisa. Too
much to ask of her.”
“What do you mean?”
“Too much work. Too much going on. She was
“Were you overwhelmed?”
“Yes,” he snaps. “Of course I was.”
“I don’t remember you being overwhelmed. I
remember you loved working on the movie and being energized by the experience.”
“At Luisa’s expense,” he says bitterly. “I was off
playing at being a movie director while she was all alone dealing with the
“Alone? What about Diana?”
“Okay, yes, Diana was there, but I wasn’t. And it
was too much for her.”
“You mean for the few weeks you worked on the
“What are you trying to say?” He feels like he’s
about to break in half. “That it wasn’t
too much for her?”
“I’m not trying to say anything.” She waits a
moment. “I want you to tell me the story of the last three years of Luisa’s
life. Which is your story, too. I want you to tell me what you remember, not
what you think you did wrong. Just the story of those years.”
He sits up straight and rolls his shoulders to
loosen the grip of his demons. “I had an amazing four months working with Sakura.
And directing those scenes in Moon In Leo
was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. And after
Sakura went back to Japan, the plays and stories and songs just came pouring
out of me and I was in heaven writing them.”
“You were reborn.”
“I was reborn.”
“She was not.”
“Did she resent you?”
“No,” he says, remembering the trip they took
after Sukara went back to Japan, the glorious train ride through the Rockies to
Banff, their elegant suite in the Banff Inn, their long walks in the
“Where did you go just now, Andrew?”
“To Lake Louise,” he says, seeing Luisa reflected
in the ethereal blue of the lake. “Ten days without the kids. Just lolling
around and taking walks and…”
“She said she didn’t want to go home. Said she was
tired of raising children, tired of not having time for anything else. ‘Can’t
we just keep going? Stay in Montreal for a few weeks and then fly to Europe.
“What did you say?”
“I said we’d redesign our lives to travel more and
I’d do more with the kids and she could do less, but I didn’t want to just
“So did you travel more?”
“Before the pandemic I tried, but she wouldn’t
“So from then on you and Diana were the parents.”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Were the kids confused by Luisa withdrawing?”
“Yes. Especially Jalecia. She was so attached to
“So Luisa withdrew. What did she do all day?”
“At first she read and watered the garden and went on long drives and…” He strains to remember. “Then she’d suddenly re-engage with the kids and start cooking again and going to soccer games and say, ‘I’m back. I just needed a break. I’m fine now.’ And that would last a week or two and then she’d withdraw again. And every time she withdrew, she seemed to go further into her aloneness.” He looks at Donna. “Then you referred her to the psychiatrist who prescribed the anti-depressants, which seemed to help at first, but then she started forgetting things. She’d leave something cooking on the stove and wander out into the garden or she’d leave the hose running and flood the garden or she’d come into a room and say, ‘Why did I come in here? I knew a few seconds ago, but now I have no idea.’ So she stopped taking the meds and withdrew again.”
“And you were writing and composing and taking
care of the kids,” says Donna, nodding. “Shouldering on without her.”
“Not without her,” he says, seeing Luisa in the
garden lost in thought. “I spent lots of time with her during the day when the
kids were at school and at night.”
“What did you do together?”
“We talked when she was willing to talk. I played
the piano for her. We went to the beach. We worked in the garden. Or I worked
and she daydreamed. I’d make us lunch.”
“Was she still going on long drives?”
“No, she stopped driving. She said it was too
confusing. And by then we were staying home because of the virus, so…”
“So for a year she mostly kept to herself?”
“Mostly,” he says, nodding. “And she just got more
and more depressed, so I arranged for her to have a thorough medical exam and
they concluded she was clinically depressed and should be on meds. And when the
doctor told us that, Luisa said, ‘Then I might as well be dead.’”
“How long ago was that?”
“Eight months? Seven months? Seems like years ago.”
“Did she ask you to help her die?”
“Yes,” he says, closing his eyes. “But I
“You thought she’d get better.”
“I wanted her to, but I didn’t think she would.”
“Why didn’t you think she would get better?”
“She seemed more ghost than alive.”
“Then what happened?” asks Donna, moving from her
chair to sit with Andrew on the sofa.
“She stayed in bed for a month and then she got up
and made a valiant effort to be part of the family again, though it was
incredibly difficult for her. And then one day she got very upset with the kids
and threw a glass at Teo that shattered all over the kitchen and she said
horrible things to Rosa and screamed at Jalecia, and she felt so terrible about
what she’d done that she went on the meds, and for some weeks she seemed better
and we had some nice suppers, the whole family, and some good days at the beach
“She took the car and drove fifty miles north and
lay down on the sand and cut her wrists and died.”
Andrew weeps and Donna holds him.
When his tears abate, Andrew says, “She left a note that said burn my unfinished stories and tell the children and Diana I love them. You know I love you.”
They have lunch in Donna’s kitchen—chicken soup
and bread and cheese—neither speaking as they eat.
Donna makes coffee to go with their after-lunch
cookies, and as she pushes down the plunger on her French Press she says, “I
may have said this to you before, but it’s worth repeating. Many of us are
prone to feeling we are responsible for the other’s happiness or for their suffering
or both. We know intellectually this isn’t true, but as my great teacher Rabbi
Orenstein used to say, ‘Our mighty unconscious laughs at our pipsqueak
intellect and carries on as per usual.’ Unless we break free of our early
programming, which very few people ever do, then that early programming will always
be our default response.”
“I think the hardest thing for me,” says Andrew,
who feels nearly weightless from shedding so many tears, “is… well, two things.
First, I had thirty years with Luisa without a day of her being anything but
happy to be alive, happy to be engaged in our writing and music and loving our
children, so I wasn’t prepared for how suddenly she changed.”
“What’s the other thing?” asks Donna, pouring him
a cup of coffee.
“I keep thinking I should do something to make
things better for the kids,” he says, smiling sadly. “To ease their pain.”
“This is the illusion, Andrew. You are not responsible for their happiness or
their suffering.” She looks at him for a long moment. “You were responsible when they were babies and little children, but they
are who they are now, and they must suffer the loss of Luisa in their own ways.
Of course you can help them deal with their sorrow. You can love them and
listen to them and let them know you’re there for them. But you can’t keep them
from suffering. And the best thing
you can do for them now is to embrace life and follow your heart and know that Teo
and Rosa and Jalecia and Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi and Lily are all watching
you and learning from you. Because if you
can lovingly embrace life, you who lost the love of your life, so will they. And
so will I.”
Every day Andrew feels a little less numb, a little less hopeless, and better able to hear and respond to what Teo and Rosa and Jalecia and Diana say to him.
On a rainy afternoon in November, Andrew and Diana and Jalecia and Teo stand on the sidelines of a soccer field, cheering wildly as Rosa outruns everyone and brilliantly jukes the goalie and scores the winning goal—Andrew falling to his knees and kissing the muddy earth.
A few weeks before Christmas, the kids at school,
Diana finishes washing the breakfast dishes and carries her tea and notebook
into the living room where she sits and listens to Andrew composing a piano
piece, his search for what comes next inspiring Diana to write her first poem
since Luisa died.
Five months later, in April of 2022, the first
truly effective vaccine against the virus plaguing humanity is deployed around
the world, and Diana and Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia are among the
first to be inoculated.
On a sunny morning in June, Canada having successfully
vaccinated seventy per cent of her population, the other thirty per cent soon
to follow, Diana finds Andrew in the garden and tells him that Simon, her
boyfriend of six years, has left her for another woman.
“He’s a fool,” says Andrew, giving her a
comforting hug. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’ll be okay,” she says, lingering in his
embrace. “I’m mostly worried about how to tell the kids. They love Simon.”
“Do you want me to tell them?”
“No,” she says, stepping back from him and smiling
radiantly. “Thanks for offering, but I need to do it so they can ask me their
ten thousand questions.”
Andrew laughs. “May it only be ten thousand.”
In July, after a good session in Donna’s studio,
Andrew and Donna go to lunch at Max’s, the wait staff still masked, the virus
not yet entirely eradicated in Canada and still going strong in the United
They split an order of fries and a Reuben sandwich
and Donna talks about how relieved she is to be free of her rabbi duties and
how much fun she’s having creating her book of mini-sermons.
“I’ve been reading through my old sermons,” she
says, her cheeks reddening. “Hundreds of them. And I am both awed and chagrined
at how confidently I spouted such well-meaning nonsense and so often missed the
deeper truth. So this is my chance to not only be more succinct, but to right
the wrongs of my erroneous clichés.”
“I can’t wait to read them,” says Andrew, who has recently
entered a sorrowful phase as the one-year anniversary of Luisa’s death
“If you will be my editor,” says Donna, smiling
hopefully, “you can read them very soon.”
“I would be honored,” he says, immeasurably
grateful to her.
“Speaking of honor,” says Donna, gesturing to
their waitress for the bill, “I would like to have a ceremony for Luisa on the
one-year anniversary of her death. Nothing elaborate. Just lighting a candle
and saying a prayer and asking everyone to share a memory of her. Just you and
I and Diana and Owen and Miyoshi and the kids and any friends you’d like to
“Could be hundreds,” says Andrew, his eyes filling
with tears. “She was greatly loved.”
“Up to you, dear,” she says, crying with him. “You
tell me who to invite.”
In August, twenty people gather in the garden at Andrew’s house to remember Luisa.
Donna lights a candle and says, “We have gathered
here to kiss Luisa’s spirit with our memories of her. I will begin by sharing
my favorite Luisa memory, which is that every time I came here to have a meal,
I would find Luisa in the kitchen and she would give me a smile that meant,
‘Come here and taste this,’ and I would go to her and she would feed me as a
mother feeds her child, something delicious she’d made, and then we would look
into each other’s eyes and be one with each other in our joy.”
In October, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and Diana are saying goodnight when Diana surprises Andrew by saying, “How about we spend the night together? You and me. Just because.”
“You mean… share a bed?” says Andrew, who has lately
been enjoying speaking with a Jewish accent.
“Yeah. Sleep together.”
“My bed or yours?” he says, trying to be funny.
“Either one. They’re both nice beds.”
“I would be afraid to do that,” he says, dearly
loving Diana but considering her taboo.
“We don’t have to have sex,” she says, her tone suggesting
she wouldn’t mind if they did. “I just want to be close to you. I’m tired of
sleeping alone knowing you’re sleeping alone and we could be keeping each other
“If we got in bed together,” says Andrew, his
heart pounding, “despite the fact, or because of the fact I haven’t had sex in forever,
we would probably have sex. Or we would try. Or I would. Because… how could I
not? And if for some reason whatever happened made you unhappy or uneasy or
caused you to leave… I just… I don’t ever want that to happen. Not that I haven’t
thought about making love with you. I have. I do. I’ve always thought you were…
luscious. But I’m seventy-four. You’re fifty-four.
We’re best friends. We raised the kids together. I don’t want to lose you.”
“It is a gamble,” she says, looking into his eyes.
“A big gamble. But I still want to.”
“I’m amazed,” he says, fighting the momentum of
his desire. “And flattered, but…”
“Come on, Andrew,” she says softly, knowing he would
never initiate their first kiss, and therefore the initiation is up to her.
“Gamble with me.”
2018. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both seventy, their birthdays a few weeks apart. They are in good health, Andrew descended from Ashkenazi Jews, Luisa from Chippewa Quebecois Afro-Cubans. Their many friends want to throw them a big birthday party, but they decline, having suffered through a big party last year to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary and now feeling done with big parties forever.
Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia with their three children—twins Teo and Rosa, eleven, Jalecia, eight—in a large house Andrew built forty-two years ago. Also part of the family is Diana, a poet in her late forties who resides in the other house on the property and is essentially the children’s third parent.
Luisa’s daughter Lily, mother of Jalecia, is
thirty-six, a movie actress living in Los Angeles. Her torrid romance with pop
star Kingdom Jungle Boy and their tumultuous seven-month marriage and messy
divorce were exhaustively covered in the tabloids and mainstream media a year
ago and shortly thereafter Lily landed a leading role in the huge-budget remake
of The King and I set in a distant
solar system, Lily the earthling who comes to the tropical planet Thailorg to
tutor the emperor’s many translucent four-armed children, the iconic songs
updated with hip hop arrangements.
Andrew’s son Owen is also thirty-six and lives in
Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi, who is thirty-nine, and their three-year-old
daughter Mimi. Owen and Miyoshi recently left the employ of the movie producer
and director Nicolas Thorsen and moved from Ireland to Vancouver to launch
their own film company Character Driven Cinema, Owen a producer/director, Miyoshi
Andrew and Luisa are delighted to have Owen and
Miyoshi and the darling Mimi in their midst, and they are excited that Character
Driven Cinema’s first film is the metaphysical comedy Moon In Leo from an original screenplay by Andrew and Luisa to be
filmed in and around the nearby town of Squamish.
Some years ago Luisa stopped writing stories and until
recently was content to work with Andrew on his plays while managing the
business end of things and raising the children. However, for the last several
months, she has been overwhelmed by the kids and frequently depressed by the daunting
prospect of parenting teenagers until she is eighty.
Andrew continues writing short stories and plays,
but often goes weeks now without writing. The children and music, specifically
composing for the piano, are his main everyday endeavors now.
And Diana, who has lived with Andrew and Luisa and
the kids for six years, is currently the three-days-a-week drawing and painting
teacher at the Vancouver Waldorf high school and is in the second year of a
relationship with Simon, a singer songwriter who makes his living building
One of the main characters in Moon In Leo is Old Martha, an ancient wizard who uses her talent for
shape shifting to influence the flow of events in the movie. Miyoshi’s mother,
Sakura Enamoto, a well-known actress in Japanese cinema, will play the part of
Old Martha, and in mid-march, a few weeks before filming begins, Sakura arrives
in Vancouver to spend time with her granddaughter Mimi and to rehearse her
scenes with an acting coach fluent in Japanese and English.
Two days after Sakura arrives in Canada, Owen and
Miyoshi and Mimi and Sakura come to Andrew and Luisa’s for lunch. This being a
Tuesday, Rosa and Teo and Jalecia are in school, which is a huge relief to Owen
and Miyoshi and Luisa, and a big disappointment to Mimi who is madly in love
with the big kids she knows as her cousins, though biologically Rosa is her half-aunt,
Teo her half-uncle, and Jalecia no relation.
Sakura is strikingly beautiful with enormous brown
eyes, long black hair, a girlish figure, and a regal bearing. Though seventy,
most people assume she is much younger. She speaks somewhat broken English,
understands English quite well, and has little trouble communicating with
Andrew and Luisa and Owen.
Miyoshi, whose father is French, is fluent in
Japanese, English, German, and French. She spent her first twenty years in
Japan with her mother and then moved to Switzerland where she attended film
school before becoming Thorsen’s cameraperson and eventually his
Sakura was unable to attend Owen and Miyoshi’s
wedding in Ireland seven years ago, nor did her subsequent trips to Ireland coincide
with Andrew and Luisa’s trips to Ireland, so this luncheon is the first time the
three of them meet.
When everyone is seated around the dining table
enjoying Luisa’s fish tacos con guacamole, Mimi sitting on Luisa’s lap, Sakura
says in her deep resonant voice, “Now we can have Owen and Miyoshi wedding for
be the wedding,” says Miyoshi, laughing wearily. “This could be our only chance
in the next six months.”
“Okay,” says Sakura, smiling and nodding to Luisa
and Andrew. “I so honor your son marry my daughter. She so lucky to marry such
“And we are honored your daughter married our
son,” says Andrew, nodding graciously. “He is very lucky to be married to such
a wonderful woman.”
“I now pronounce you wife and husband,” says
Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water to Owen and Miyoshi.
Sakura raises her glass and says something in
Everyone drinks and Luisa asks Miyoshi, “What did
your mother say?”
“She said ‘May our families be joined forever.’”
The sun breaks through the clouds after lunch and
the three grandparents and grandchild have coffee and cookies on the deck while
Owen and Miyoshi stay inside making phone calls as the thousand and one
responsibilities of producing a major motion picture weigh heavily upon them.
Mimi chooses Sakura’s lap for cookie time, reasoning
that Luisa will only allow her one cookie whereas Sakura might be good for two
“So beautiful place,” says Sakura, gazing out over
the large vegetable and flower garden, the wild forest beyond. “I read your
play in Japanese before English. Very great play. I honor to be Old Martha. She
strong witch but funny. I want you show me how you want me say your words.”
“I’m at your service,” says Andrew, enchanted by
her. “I’ll be attending your first few sessions with your acting coach and be
on the set for all your scenes.”
“You tell me how you want,” she says, nodding
confidently. “I can learn.”
When Andrew wrote the first draft of Moon In Leo, he envisioned Old Martha
played by some great British actress, but when Owen and Miyoshi read the script
they immediately saw Sakura in the role, and only now, as they are about to
start filming, do they think they may have made a terrible mistake in casting
Sakura as Old Martha.
Indeed, so distraught are Owen and Miyoshi, that
after they take Sakura and Mimi back to Vancouver following the luncheon, Owen returns
to Andrew and Luisa’s to tell them he and Miyoshi are seriously considering bringing
in another actress to play the part of Old Martha.
“This has ballooned into a thirty-million-dollar
movie,” says Owen, sequestered in Andrew’s office with Andrew and Luisa, the
kids home from school and piqued they can’t hang out with Uncle Owen. “If Old
Martha isn’t funny, the movie flops.”
“What makes you think Sakura won’t be funny?” asks
Luisa, who secretly shares Owen’s doubts.
“Japanese humor and American humor are worlds
apart,” says Owen, sounding utterly miserable. “Different timing, different phrasing,
different emphasis on syllables, different facial expressions, different body
language. Why we thought Sakura could deliver these lines as you intended, I
don’t know. We just saw her in the
part, and of course she’ll look fabulous, but…”
“Could you dub someone else saying her lines?” asks Luisa, making a sour face at her idea.
“No,” says Owen, anguished. “She’s a great artist.
It would be like dubbing Meryl Streep. And we can’t afford to shoot the scenes
with Sakura and then reshoot them with someone else if they don’t work. She’s
in a quarter of the scenes.” He bows his head. “What were we thinking?”
“You weren’t thinking,” says Andrew, placing his hand on Owen’s shoulder. “And I mean that in a good way. You were feeling, and I think you felt correctly. You just have to trust in your deeper wisdom and prepare her for those scenes as well as you can.”
“As well as you can, Papa,” says Owen, looking up at his father. “Only you can teach her the timing. The Jewish timing. And we know that’s what you want. Groucho Marx in the body of a shape-shifting wizardess from Japan.”
“I’m game,” says Andrew, feeling as he always does
when a creative challenge takes him over—exhilarated and full of curiosity to
see what will happen next.
For the first coaching session, Andrew meets with
Sakura and her bi-lingual coach, a young Japanese Canadian woman named Joan, in
a large warehouse Owen and Miyoshi leased for filming sequences involving
special effects, though they hope to capture most of the action on location in the
forest and coastal settings that figure so prominently in the story.
Sakura has loosed her long black hair from her
ponytail and is wearing a dress made of rags, a prototype of what Old Martha
wears when wandering in the forest and lounging in her lair in the hollow trunk
of a giant Sitka spruce. Andrew is dressed in black T-shirt and baggy brown pants,
Joan in black slacks and a white dress shirt with a red bow tie.
They begin with Old Martha’s first scene, wherein
she walks through the forest finding various plants and mushrooms and speaking
to them as she eats them, the scene ending with her sensing a crystal buried under
a large fern and cajoling the crystal to emerge from the ground so she can steal
Sakura has thoroughly memorized her lines and
recites them as a mother might speak to her small children as she walks along
and mimes plucking and eating the occasional mushroom and fern fiddlehead, with
Joan correcting her few mispronunciations.
When Sakura finishes the scene, she stands
silently awaiting Andrew’s critique.
“You walk with such grace,” says Andrew, smiling
at her. “But we want Old Martha to have a bit of a hitch in her git-a-long.”
Sakura stares blankly at him, the phrase
meaningless to her.
“A subtle limp. She is not so graceful.”
Sakura nods solemnly. “You show me.”
So Andrew demonstrates a less graceful walk with a
slightly stooped posture, and speaks to the imagined mushrooms in the manner of
an ironical Jewish comedian.
Joan and Sakura laugh several times during his
rendition, after which Sakura says, “You do again. I shadow.”
“Shadow? You mean imitate me?”
Sakura says something to Joan in Japanese.
Joan translates, “She will be your shadow and your
“Fine,” says Andrew, wondering how she intends to
Sakura comes and stands directly behind Andrew,
her body no more than two feet from his, and as he enacts the scene, she
follows him so closely and mimics his posture and movements so precisely she is,
literally, his three-dimensional shadow. And when he speaks his lines, she quietly
echoes his every word.
At scene’s end Sakura says, “You easy for me to
follow. Now I do scene for you.”
“Okay,” says Andrew, breathless from their
Sakura does the scene again, not so much in
imitation of Andrew, but with the cadence of his speech and the gist of his
mannerisms, and both Andrew and Joan are in awe of Sakura’s transformation.
The next day, following their second coaching session, Sakura and Andrew go to lunch at a nearby café and share brief autobiographies.
Sakura tells of when she was thirty-two and became pregnant with Miyoshi, and the father, a French journalist, wanted her to give up her acting career and move to France with him.
understand I devote to acting. I say to him, ‘I no love you. I love be actor.’ He
say, ‘Then you must abortion,’ but I want Miyoshi. I pick her father because he
beautiful man.” She looks into Andrew’s eyes. “I know if I meet you when I am
young, I want you to be father. And husband.”
“I’m flattered,” says Andrew, imagining her at thirty-two and him at thirty-two and how well they might have fit together.
“You know me,” she says, holding out her hand to him. “I know you. In Japan we say sorumeito. Our soul know each other.”
“I think so, yes,” says Andrew, taking her hand. “Soul mates.”
Andrew coaches Sakura for two hours a day for the
next two weeks, and with every session she becomes more and more the master of
But when she rehearses with the other movie actors
for the first time, and Andrew is not in attendance, she is at a loss how to
Owen and Miyoshi are again convinced they made a terrible
mistake casting Sakura in the role of Old Martha, and when Andrew arrives at
the next rehearsal, he finds the movie’s star, a rakishly handsome Australian,
berating Owen for wasting his time with “some washed up Kabuki bimbo.”
Despite the star’s kvetching, the rehearsal begins
and Andrew knows immediately that the problem is not Sakura, but the other
actors, their timing dreadful and their understanding of their characters
completely off the mark.
“If I may show you the way Sakura learned this
scene,” says Andrew, speaking up when the action grinds to a halt a few terrible
minutes into the rehearsal, “I think you’ll see why we’re having trouble with
“Who are you?” snarls the rakishly handsome
“I am the writer of this comedy,” says Andrew,
bowing to the irate actor. “And I have been coaching Sakura for the last two
Before the star can protest, Andrew strides toward
Sakura and delivers the star’s opening line, I thought I’d find you here. Sakura waits for Andrew to be nearly
upon her before she fires off a stinging rejoinder and deftly dances away—she
and Andrew playing out an elaborate pas
des deux during which they exchange rapid-fire insults and Andrew can never
quite overtake her as she deftly foils his every move—the assembled cast and
crew roaring with laughter as the scene reaches its denouement and Sakura shape
shifts into a gorgeous young temptress (to be achieved more fully with special
effects) and steps into Andrew’s arms and kisses him.
With Owen and Miyoshi’s insistence, Andrew takes
over the direction of all Sakura’s scenes and painstakingly trains the other
actors until their timing and intentions synch perfectly with Sakura’s.
And though rehearsing and shooting these scenes—many
of them extremely complicated—takes much more time than Owen and Miyoshi
budgeted for, the results are spectacular.
When filming wraps in June, Sakura stays on in
Vancouver to take care of Mimi for a couple of months while Owen and Miyoshi
work day and night to fashion a viable cut of the movie to show to distributors.
Sakura frequently brings Mimi to Andrew and
Luisa’s, Mimi loving being with her cousins, and on several occasions Sakura
and Mimi spend the night at Andrew and Luisa’s rather than having Andrew ferry
them back to Vancouver or asking Owen to come fetch them.
One such evening, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and
Luisa and Sakura have tea in the living room and Sakura says to Andrew, “Why
you never direct movie? You so good director.”
“I never wanted to,” says Andrew, who feels profoundly
changed and inspired by the experience of directing Sakura’s scenes. “Or I
didn’t think I wanted to.”
“Maybe now you do,” she says, nodding hopefully.
“Maybe you write movie with part for me and be director.”
“Seems so far beyond me now,” he says, exhausted after
a long day at the beach with the children. “Though I did love directing you.”
“If you weren’t seventy and raising three children,”
says Luisa, vastly relieved Moon In Leo
is no longer taking so much of Andrew’s time, “directing a movie might not seem
“I think I’ll leave the movie making to Miyoshi
and Owen,” says Andrew, yawning and closing his eyes. “Barring the discovery of
the fountain of youth.”
Sakura yawns in sympathy with Andrew. “Two year
ago my agent say he find part for me. I say ‘What is part?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother
in TV show. Your daughter is divorce, have two children, try many men.’ I say ‘What
grandmother do?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother babysit children and complain daughter about
be old and everything so hard now.’ I say ‘I don’t want grandmother part.’ Agent
say, ‘You old now, Sakura, not so many part for you. This good part. Everyone
watch. Pay high money.’ But I say no and now only have one small part in movie next
Andrew opens his eyes. “After Moon In Leo comes out, you’ll have lots of work.”
“I hope so,” she says, nodding seriously. “I like
work if part good. Make me feel… purpose. Yes? Purpose?”
“Yes,” says Luisa, who is struggling mightily with
the same issue in her life. “Purpose.”
“Miyoshi and Owen ask me move here,” says Sakura,
half-smiling and half-frowning. “I think if no part come for me, maybe I am
“We would love that,” says Andrew, who makes no
secret of his fondness for Sakura.
Two nights before she is to fly back to Japan, Sakura
invites Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Miyoshi to join her for supper at a
high-end Japanese restaurant, Sakura having arranged everything in advance with
Midway through the spectacular meal, saké warming their hearts and loosening their tongues, Owen announces they have signed an excellent distribution deal and Moon In Leo will open wide in England, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia in September of 2019, with a limited opening in America in October of 2019, with wider distribution should the film catch on.
“And our next movie,” says Owen, gazing fondly at
Miyoshi, “is going to be something much less grandiose.”
“Much,” says Miyoshi, kissing him.
Now Sakura raises her cup of saké to Andrew and
Luisa and says, “I hope we be friends for rest of life.”
“I hope so, too,” says Luisa, raising her cup to
“We will be,” says Andrew, raising his cup and
smiling at Sakura. “Without a doubt.”
“Without a doubt,” says Sakura, echoing Andrew
Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known forever, though he has never seen her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when Andrew was six-years-old, and it happened again in 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1987, 1993, 1998, 2002, and 2006.
2012. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both sixty-four,
Andrew’s short brown hair mostly gray, Luisa’s long black hair showing strands
of gray and white.
Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been
married for twenty-five years and live in a four-bedroom house Andrew built
thirty-six years ago a couple miles from the beach and ten miles north of
Vancouver, British Columbia.
Andrew has published eight collections of short
stories and written several plays and screenplays with Luisa, six of them made
into movies, with eight of their plays now staples of the worldwide theatre
repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories, a novella
that was made into a movie, and two popular Children’s books.
Andrew’s son Owen is thirty and lives in Ireland
with his wife Miyoshi, both of them employed by the movie producer and director
Nicolas Thorsen. Owen is Thorsen’s First Assistant Director and Miyoshi is Thorsen’s
Luisa’s daughter Lily is also thirty. She and her
daughter Jalecia, who is two-and-a-half, have lived with Andrew and Luisa since
a few months before Jalecia was born, though now it would be truer to say that Jalecia
lives with Andrew and Luisa, and Lily comes to visit when she has a free week
or two between acting gigs, which is not often these days.
And for the last four years, Andrew and Luisa have
been two of the three parents of Teo and Rosa, delightful five-year-old
fraternal twins Andrew fathered with Adriana who, when she conceived Teo and
Rosa, was partners with a woman named Maru.
When Adriana and Maru asked Andrew to contribute his
genes to make a baby with Adriana, the plan was for Andrew and Luisa to be
uncle and aunt to the progeny while Maru and Adriana would be the parents. But
when the twins were nine-months-old, shockingly, Maru fell in love with another
woman and shortly thereafter Adriana moved with her babies from Maru’s house in
Vancouver to the other house on Luisa and Andrew’s property.
Now that Teo and Rosa are in kindergarten, and
given Andrew and Luisa’s willingness to shoulder much of the parenting duties, Adriana
has returned to fulltime work as a jazzercise instructor and percussionist. And
for the summer months, Andrew and Luisa are the primary every-day parents of
Rosa and Teo.
On a warm and sunny morning in July—Lily in New York playing the part of a psychic policewoman in a big budget thriller, Adriana booked all day at the recording studio, and Luisa needing a morning sans children to catch up on business correspondence—Andrew loads the trusty red Prius with beach supplies, secures the three children in their car seats, and drives them to nearby Lions Bay Beach for a morning of playing in the sand followed by lunch, a nap for Jalecia, and story time for Teo and Rosa until Jalecia wakes up.
There are only a few other people on the beach today
as Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia trek across the sand to set up camp
under their big yellow beach umbrella a hundred feet back from the incoming
Umbrella planted deep, Andrew slathers the trio
with sunblock and reminds Teo and Rosa not to go into the water over their knees
unless he is right there with them. When everyone is sufficiently slathered,
Teo and Rosa race to the water with Jalecia in pursuit and Andrew close behind.
After building three mighty sand castles to defend
the coast against monsters and pirates, they toss Frisbees for twenty minutes,
walk a mile south and back, and hunker down under the umbrella to have lunch.
And at the height of their picnic, an attractive middle-aged
woman with shoulder-length gray hair dressed in khaki shorts and blue
sweatshirt, expensive camera in hand, approaches their encampment, takes off
her dark glasses, and says with a pleasing British accent, “Would you mind if I
took some pictures of your children? They are my dream come true.”
“Do you mind having your pictures taken?” asks
Andrew, consulting the kids who are engrossed in their almond butter and banana
“I don’t mind,” says Rosa, her recent growth spurt
making her a few inches taller than Teo, much to Teo’s chagrin, both of them
tall for five.
“I’ll show you my muscles,” says Teo, his mouth
full. “After story time.”
“Wonderful,” says the woman, taking pictures of
Jalecia who is about to fall asleep as she always does after chasing Teo and
Rosa around for a few hours.
“Join us for cookies and lemonade?” asks Andrew,
who feels certain he knows this woman from somewhere.
“Love to,” she says, coming under the umbrella and
kneeling a few feet from Andrew. “I’ve seen you and your children here many
times, often in the company of a beautiful woman with long black hair. We’re
renting a house, my daughter and I, just a half-mile north of here and I walk
this beach every day.”
“Half-mile north?” says Andrew, looking in that
direction. “In the little enclave of houses just back of the dunes? I ask
because I helped build three of those forty years ago.”
“Yes, in the enclave,” she says, gazing intently
at him. “Ours is the one with the observation tower accessed via the spiral
staircase. My daughter and I call it the crow’s nest.”
“That was the last of the three houses we built
there,” he says, recalling those difficult years when his initial success as a
writer lasted but briefly and he returned to carpentry to support his first
wife, Owen’s mother, and Owen. “Best of the three by far.”
“It’s a wonderful house,” she says, raising her
camera to capture Teo and Rosa gazing solemnly at their father. “We’ve lived
there for five months now, my daughter and I, and every day we marvel at where
we are. We’re from London and plan to be here another year and a half.”
“Poppy?” says Teo, continuing to gaze solemnly at
his father. “Can we go see the house you built?”
“Yeah, we’ll go by there,” he says, noting the
children have finished their sandwiches. “Are we ready for cookies?”
“I want a cookie,” says Jalecia, her face and
hands smeared with almond butter.
“First we wash,” says Andrew, extracting a washcloth
from one of his bags, dousing it with a splash of water, and deftly wiping
Jalecia’s face and hands. He douses a second washcloth and gives it to Teo who
cursorily wipes his face before passing the washcloth to Rosa who takes a bit
more care washing her face and hands before handing the towel back to Andrew.
Cookies dispensed, Jalecia takes a bite of hers and
offers the rest to the woman. “Want my cookie? I tired.”
“Thank you,” says the woman, taking the cookie.
“My name is Helen. What is your name?”
“Jalecia,” she says, yawning majestically.
And with that the little girl lies down and
promptly falls asleep.
“Just like me every day at three,” says Helen,
laughing merrily. “The requisite nap before tea.”
“I’m Andrew, by the way,” says Andrew, certain now
he has never met her before, but feeling he knows her. “And this is Rosa and
“That means I lose the bet,” says Helen, looking
from Rosa to Andrew. “I guessed your were the father of all three, and my
daughter guessed correctly.”
“To be explained further when young ears are
distracted,” says Andrew, dispensing two more cookies to the twins.
what that means,” says Teo, giving Andrew a disparaging look.
“Can we tell stories now?” asks Rosa, nodding
“Such is our tradition,” says Andrew, smiling at Helen.
“You’re welcome to stay, but I warn you the stories go on for a good long
“Thank you, but I should go,” she says, handing him
her card. “I so appreciate the opportunity to photograph your children, and should
you want to show them the inside of the magnificent house you built, please
give me a call.”
When the kids are asleep that night—Jalecia in her
bedroom in the big house, Teo and Rosa in their bedroom in what the children
call the little house, Adriana in the
living room of the little house entertaining her current love interest, a
Moroccan woman named Hadiya—Luisa googles Helen
Lesser photographer and learns she is a photojournalist and fine art
photographer, sixty-four, and has a forty-two-year-old daughter, Diana Isaverb,
a poet and painter.
“I’d love to meet them,” says Luisa, coming into
the living room. “Shall we invite them for supper?”
“I think maybe we should go look at the house
first,” says Andrew, sprawled on the sofa, exhausted from his long day of
taking care of the kids. “I know you’ll like Helen, but something tells me we
might want to meet her daughter on their home turf before we have them over
“Why?” asks Luisa, sitting down to rub Andrew’s
feet. “You think Diana might be crazy?”
“No, not crazy,” says Andrew, yawning. “Just… there
was something about the way Helen said my
daughter that made me think Diana was a child and not an adult, though Google
says she’s forty-two. Do you know what I mean?”
“I do,” says Luisa, wistfully. “I have a daughter
who’s still a child at thirty and gave us Jalecia to raise because she doesn’t
want to stop being a child.”
“We could put our foot down,” says Andrew, loving
Luisa rubbing his feet. “Demand she spend more time here.”
Luisa laughs at the absurdity of demanding anything from Lily, and Andrew laughs with her.
Two days later, Andrew calls Helen to make a date
to bring Luisa and the kids to see the house, Helen invites them for lunch a
few days hence, Andrew accepts, and Helen says, “There’s something I need to
tell you about my daughter Diana before you come. Is this a good time?”
“Yeah, fine,” says Andrew, going out on the deck
overlooking the garden where Luisa and the children are picking snow peas and
“I was a single mother and Diana my only child. She
never knew her father. He was a charming Turk who seduced me when I was on
holiday in France and I never saw him again.” She laughs self-consciously. “But
that’s not the main thing I wanted to tell you.”
“Tell me as much as you like,” says Andrew, loving
the cadence of her speech. “I have at least
another five minutes before the kids come charging in from the garden.”
“Good,” she says, clearing her throat. “So… Diana
and I were extremely close until she was eighteen and took up with a much older
man I didn’t approve of. We quarreled and she left and didn’t speak to me again
for thirteen years, though I was aware of her because she became a fairly
well-known poet and artist, and then we got to be friends again when she was in
her early thirties.”
“What prompted the reunion?”
“She came to a show of my photographs,” says
Helen, opening a sliding glass door and going outside, the ocean roaring faintly
in the background. “Then she called and said she liked the show and wondered if
I would take the author photo for her next volume of poetry, and I did, and we
got close again. And then six years ago she had a child, a boy named Nathan,
and two years ago when Nathan was four…”
Andrew waits for Helen to stop crying.
“Sorry,” she says, clearing her throat again. “He
died in a car crash and Diana had a breakdown from which she has largely recovered,
but she’s still quite dependent on me. I tell you all this because I know meeting
your children will be very emotional for her, in a good way, but if you would
rather not come, I completely understand. She’s a lovely person, but still
“We’d love to come,” says Andrew, wanting more
than ever to visit them. “Was your daughter involved in the accident?”
“No. Her ex-husband was bringing Nathan home after
having him for his one weekend a month and didn’t put Nathan in the car seat
“Was her ex-husband killed, too?”
“Yes,” says Helen, whispering. “I don’t think Diana
would ever have recovered if that horrid man was still alive and Nathan gone.”
Having been warned multiple times by Luisa not to
touch anything without first asking permission, Teo and Rosa climb out of the
car and gaze in wonder at the spectacular two-story house with a fanciful
observation tower rising ten feet above the peak of the roof, the ocean’s roar
muted by massive sand dunes to the west of the house.
“It’s like a castle,” says Teo, running ahead of
everyone to ring the doorbell—Rosa and Jalecia and Luisa and Andrew catching up
to him just as the door opens and here is Helen in a blue paisley dress, and
Diana, a strikingly beautiful woman with dark olive skin and black hair in a
short ponytail, wearing red pedal pushers and a black T-shirt.
“Welcome,” says Helen, beaming. “You must be Luisa.
This is my daughter Diana.”
“Hi,” says Diana, her eyes darting from child to
child. “Come in, come in. We just took the bread and cookies out of the oven.”
Teo follows Diana and Helen into the house and
stops abruptly to gawk at the immense room with a vaulted ceiling and huge
windows looking out on the dunes.
built this, Poppy?” he says, gaping at his father.
“I did,” says Andrew, entering with Jalecia holding
his hand. “With Max and Rico.”
“You built a temple,” says Diana, smiling shyly at Andrew. “For those who worship the dunes.”
They dine on the big deck outside the kitchen,
Diana sitting between Rosa and Luisa, Jalecia on Luisa’s lap, Teo across the
table from Diana.
Helen serves lunch and explains, “I’m finally taking my sabbatical after twenty years of teaching Photography at Westminster College. We’ve wanted to come back here for thirty years, ever since Diana came with me on an assignment to take pictures of the orcas for a nature magazine and we stayed in a beach house near Nanaimo for a few days.”
“I was twelve,” says Diana, watching Teo happily devour
his chicken sandwich. “But I never forgot the wonderful time we had here.”
A moment later, Luisa transfers Jalecia from her
lap to Diana’s lap, and the little girl stays with Diana for the rest of the
meal, Diana overjoyed to be holding her.
After lunch everyone goes up the spiral staircase
to the observation tower where Rosa and Teo take turns looking through the
telescope and complaining the other is hogging the telescope, and from there the
party moves outside and everyone climbs to the top of the dunes from where Teo
and Rosa race down to the seaside bottom and trudge back up to the top three
times, Jalecia watching from her perch on Poppy’s shoulders and Helen taking
pictures of the kids while Luisa and Diana return to the house to set the table
for tea and cookies.
“You’ve made us very happy today,” says Helen, as
she and Andrew trail Teo and Rosa and Jalecia to the house. “Thank you so much
“Our pleasure,” says Andrew, taking her hand.
“Let’s do this again soon.”
“We would love that,” she says, bowing her head
“You’ve had a hard go,” says Andrew, resisting his
impulse to embrace her. “It’s good to cry.”
“Oh we cry every day,” she says, looking up at
him, her face radiant. “We flood the temple with our tears.”
After tea and cookies, Diana takes the kids to see
her studio adjacent to the house, a large rectangular room with
floor-to-ceiling windows facing the dunes, two large tables in the center of
the room, and seven large canvases hanging on the walls, none of them yet touched
When Andrew and Luisa and Helen arrive in the
studio doorway, Rosa rushes over to them and says, “Guess what? We’re going to draw
and paint with Diana and make things with clay. Not today, but maybe soon.”
“I’m going to paint a gigantic spaceship,” says
Teo, defiantly. “And make rockets out of clay for blowing up aliens.”
“What if the aliens are friendly?” asks Andrew, sounding
“Then we’ll invite them for lunch,” says Teo, frowning
thoughtfully. “Once we find out what they like to eat.”
For the rest of the summer, every Tuesday and
Thursday morning after breakfast, Andrew or Luisa drops Teo and Rosa and
Jalecia off at Helen and Diana’s house to make art and play on the beach,
followed by lunch, and then Andrew or Luisa picks the kids up and brings them
When kindergarten resumes in September, Teo and
Rosa and Jalecia spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with Diana and Helen and
sometimes stay for supper, sometimes not.
For Andrew and Luisa these hours without the
children are golden hours of writing and music making and interacting with
other adults and lolling around.
For the children, these hours with Diana and Helen
are golden hours of drawing and painting and making things out of clay and playing
on the beach and eating sugary things forbidden at home and being adored by the
wonderful Helen and Diana.
For Helen these hours with the children are golden
hours of taking pictures of the kids and reading stories to them and feeding
them and being the grandmother she loves to be.
For Diana, these hours with the children are her
Once or twice a week, Helen and Diana come to
Andrew and Luisa’s for supper, and when the kids have gone to bed, the adults
gather in the living room to talk.
On a stormy evening in October, the kids fast
asleep, Andrew and Luisa and Helen and Diana sit by the fire enjoying tea and
“Hard to believe,” says Helen, gazing into the
flames, “that a year from now I’ll be in London again, teaching Photography and
wishing I was here.”
“But you’ll be staying, won’t you?” asks Luisa,
looking at Diana with whom she has grown very close.
“I don’t know,” says Diana, anguished. “I love it
here so much, but I can’t imagine staying without Mum, so I might go back, too.”
“Or you could stay here and I’ll be back in the
summer,” says Helen, smiling bravely. “But lets not think about it now. We have
all winter and spring and summer again before I have to go.”
“You know, of course,” says Andrew, sounding very serious,
“that you’ll have to take the kids with you.”
“They much prefer you to us,” says Luisa, sipping
her tea. “They tell us every day.”
“At least twice,” says Andrew, nodding.
“Because we spoil them,” says Diana, smiling
sublimely. “Because we give them candy and chocolate and aren’t the ones who make
them go to bed before they want to. Because we are doting Aunty and Grandma and
not Mama and Poppy.”
“We love that you spoil them,” says Luisa, getting
up to put another log on the fire. “We are too overwhelmed to spoil them, and
their mother… as much as we love Adriana, is like my daughter Lily and prefers
her children in small doses and not all day every day.”
The humans fall silent, rain drumming on the roof.
“I’ve started writing again,” says Diana, glancing
shyly at Andrew and Luisa. “First time in… three years.”
“That’s exciting,” says Luisa, resuming her place
on the sofa beside Diana. “We could have a reading. Andrew just finished the
rough of a new story and if we set a date he’ll feel compelled to rewrite it. You
could read some poems, I could read a story, and Helen could give a slide show.”
“When you say a
reading,” says Diana, anxiously, “you mean…”
“A few friends here in the living room,” says
Andrew, reassuringly. “We’re introverts. Quite the opposite of our children, the
older ones and the younger ones, but
we do like reading for our friends.”
“Speaking of slide shows,” says Helen, pausing
momentously, “I showed my publisher some of the pictures I’ve taken of Teo and
Rosa and Jalecia, and they absolutely love them. So what we’re thinking, with
your permission, is to make a book of photos of the kids accompanied by Diana’s
“Assuming I haven’t lost the knack,” says Diana, feeling
a sudden resurgence of doubt.
“I’m sure you haven’t,” says Luisa,
“I’m sure, too,” says Andrew, nodding in
“Why are you both so sure?” asks Diana, on the
verge of tears.
“Everything about you makes us sure,” says Luisa, smiling
“You speak in poems, Diana,” says Andrew, raising
his cup to her. “You are the knack.”
As often happens when Andrew and Luisa decide to
have a party, a few friends quickly becomes more than a few, and on a cold
clear night in December, forty people crowd into the living room for hors
d’oeuvres and wine and beer as prelude to the show.
Andrew and Luisa open with a song, Andrew reads a funny
story about a sour old man sweetened by the coming of a cat into his life, and
Luisa reads a story about fishing with her grandmother when she was a girl and
how her grandmother tried to teach her the facts of life by describing how pike
And lastly Diana reads a lovely narrative poem
that begins with the first time she saw Teo and Rosa and Jalecia on the beach
with Andrew, and ends with her arriving at Andrew and Luisa’s house to read the
poem to those who are here, the body of the poem telling how making art with
the children has empowered her to release the spirit of her son from the prison
of her grief.
Six months later, in June of 2013, Adriana informs
Luisa and Andrew she is moving to Spain with her partner Hadiya and will take
Teo and Rosa with her unless Andrew and Luisa want the kids to stay with them.
Andrew and Luisa insist the kids stay with them, and in mid-July, Adriana flies away,
after which Teo and Rosa move permanently into the big house.
And while Andrew makes needed repairs to the little
house before they have the interior repainted, Luisa informs several friends that
she and Andrew are looking for someone wonderful to live in the little house
and help with cooking and cleaning and shopping and taking care of the
Two weeks after Adriana flies away, Andrew goes to
pick up the kids at Helen and Diana’s and finds Diana waiting for him in the
“Feels like I’ve been out here for hours waiting
for you,” she says, laughing anxiously. “The watched pot and all that, only in
this case I watched the road.”
“What’s going on?” he asks urgently. “Kids okay?”
“Yeah, there fine. They’re with Mum in the
kitchen.” She fights her tears. “I want to live in the little house, Andrew,
and help take care of the kids.”
“We thought you were going back to England with
Helen,” he says, opening his arms to her. “That’s the only reason we didn’t ask
“If I can live with you and Luisa and the kids,”
she says, stepping into his embrace, “then I won’t need to go back. It was
living alone I was afraid of.”
Helen stays with Diana in the little house for the
last week of August before she flies back to London, and during that week she
takes another thousand pictures of the children.
On the beach the day before she is to leave, Helen
stands with Andrew watching the kids playing in the shallows.
“I will miss the children,” says Helen, raising
her camera to capture Rosa holding Jalecia’s hand as a gentle wave breaks
against their bodies—Teo much further out than the girls, the water above his
waist. “But I will miss you most of all.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” he says, keeping his eyes on
the children. “Very much.”
“I’m glad to know you’ll miss me,” she says, lowering
her camera to gaze at him. “Having missed you all my life.”
“You mean someone like me?” he asks, looking at her.
“No,” she says, raising her camera and taking
picture after picture of his face. “Specifically you.”
July 2006. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both
fifty-eight, Andrew an attractive man descended from Ashkenazi Jews, his brown
hair cut short, Luisa a beautiful woman with long black hair, her mother
Quebecois and Chippewa, her father Afro-Cuban.
Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been
married for nineteen years and live in a lovely house Andrew built thirty years
ago near Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty-four,
Lily an actress living part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in New York, Owen
the new Drama teacher at a private high school in Vancouver.
Andrew has published six collections of short
stories and written several plays, one of them made into a movie, four of them
now staples of the small theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two
collections of short stories and a novella that was made into a movie, and together
she and Andrew have written two original screenplays that were made into
movies. And though they are not wealthy from their writing, they are in good
shape financially and continue to be of interest to publishers and theatre
companies in Canada and England.
For the last four years, along with their writing,
they have been composing songs and occasionally performing as a duo in various Vancouver
venues, mostly living rooms and pubs, both of them guitarists and singers.
But the biggest news in their life right now is
Owen being home after six years away. He is currently living in the other house
on their property, a small two-bedroom place that was originally a dance studio
Andrew built for his first wife Kiki with whom he had Owen.
Owen graduated from Julliard in Drama three years
ago with great hopes of succeeding as an actor, though not in the way Lily has
succeeded with roles in movies and television shows. No, Owen hoped to become a
darling of the avant-garde theatre movement, and to that end he moved to Berlin
with his girlfriend Sophie who graduated from Julliard with him.
To Owen and Sophie’s dismay, after two years of
scouring the theatre scenes in Berlin, Amsterdam, and London, they found
nothing remotely kin to the avant-garde theatre they had studied so
passionately at Julliard. And when Sophie landed the part of a goofball cutie
pie in a German television sit-com imitating an American sit-com, Owen and she
parted ways and Owen moved back to New York where he failed to land a part,
avant-garde or otherwise.
Tired of working as a bartender sixty hours a week
to pay the rent on a sofa in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with three other
people, Owen returned to Vancouver where Dessie, his friend since childhood, is
the music teacher at New Foundations, a private high school, and touted Owen
for the Drama teaching job there.
A star among his Drama peers while at Julliard, and
having lived for three years in Berlin and Amsterdam and London and Manhattan
associating with theatre people and playing his clarinet in ensembles with
other accomplished musicians, Owen is by turns angry and depressed about living
with his parents again and preparing to spend at least the next two years instructing
teenagers in the dramatic arts.
Andrew and Luisa have mixed feeling about Owen
living with them again. On the one hand, he’s one of their favorite people in
the whole world and they missed having him around. On the other hand, they want
him to be happy, and he is definitely not happy being home and becoming a high
school Drama teacher, something he and many of his fellow actors at Julliard
considered the ultimate failure, especially if one fell so low before late
Hoping to engage Owen in something other than
moping around and reluctantly designing his Drama program for the upcoming
year, Andrew and Luisa decide to invite him to perform with them at their next
gig, a living room concert at the home of Cal and Terry who live a mile away
and have known Owen since he was in utero.
So on a sunny morning in July, Andrew cooking an
omelet for the three of them, Luisa making toast and hash browns, Owen sitting at
the table drinking coffee and perusing the New
York Times, Luisa invites Owen to perform with them at their upcoming show
at Cal and Terry’s.
“You know what I’d rather do?” says Owen, looking
up from his perusal of the Theatre
“What?” asks Luisa, bringing the coffee pot to the
table and refreshing Owen’s cup.
“Have a wooden stake driven through my heart,” he says,
giving her a blank-faced look. “You could take turns wielding the mallet.”
“Was that a No?” asks Luisa, looking at Andrew who
is just now pouring the beaten eggs into a sauté of zucchini and mushrooms.
“Sounded like a no, didn’t it?”
“Definitely no-ish,” says Andrew, turning his
attention to grating the cheese. “Though one never knows for certain when the
reply is metaphoric.”
Owen puts down the paper and smiles falsely at his
father. “I don’t mean to imply your music isn’t just the thing if one likes earnestly rendered tunes reminiscent of
the simplistic folk music of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, I applaud you two for strumming
your guitars and singing your cute old-fashioned songs for your friends. But I’m
having a hard enough time adjusting to being back here and preparing to do
something I vowed I would never do. Thus to stand with you in Cal and Terry’s
living room noodling on my clarinet while you play chord progressions that make
my teeth ache would be the last straw and I would then swim out into the ocean
and drown. Does that clarify the meaning of my stake-through-the-heart
“It does,” says Andrew, abashed. “I’m sorry, O.”
“Well I’m not sorry,” says Luisa, glaring at Owen.
“You’ve been home for two months, and a month from now you start your job at New
Foundations, which, by the way, you are incredibly fortunate to have. As you
are incredibly fortunate to have a house to live in and food to eat.” She takes
off her apron, starts to leave the kitchen, stops, turns to Owen and adds, “The
young man who left here six years ago was kind and thoughtful and resourceful
and a joy to live with. The petulant little boy who came back is a self-centered,
elitist, unimaginative, thankless pain in the ass.”
Having spoken her truth, she storms out of the
“She’s right,” says Owen, looking at his father. “I’m
a thankless shit.”
“You’re nothing of the kind,” says Andrew, shaking
his head. “You’re having a tough time. And you’ll get through this with a new
understanding of what you want to do with your life, teeth-aching chord
“I didn’t mean that,” says Owen, getting up and
going out the open door. “I love your music.”
Alone with his omelet, Andrew recalls the day Kiki
said she wanted a divorce and was moving to Los Angeles and giving Andrew full
custody of Owen, and how four-year-old Owen would shake his head and say No whenever Andrew tried to explain
about Kiki leaving, until finally Andrew stopped trying to explain and a year
later Owen came to him and said, “I know why Kiki left.”
“Why?” asked Andrew, gazing at his beloved child.
“Because she found out Luisa was actually my
mother,” said Owen, nodding solemnly. “So she knew she better go away and never
Owen brings Luisa a bouquet of roses that
afternoon, and while she stands at the kitchen counter arranging the roses in a
vase, Owen thanks her for waking him up.
“I don’t remember exactly when it was I turned
into the kind of person I’ve always hated,” he says, sitting at the kitchen
table. “A closed-minded, self-centered, holier-than-thou cultural snob, but I
did, and that’s probably why I failed as an actor. Because directors could see
I was a phony.”
“Sweetheart, you haven’t failed,” she says,
setting the vase of roses on the table and sitting beside him. “You’re on a
journey. I know that’s a cliché and probably makes your teeth ache, but you are.
We all are. And sometimes we find ourselves in a situation we can’t see our way
out of and we have to make the best of things until we do see a way out or we discover that what we thought was the wrong
direction turns out to be the way we needed to go, if I may mix my similes or
whatever they are.”
Owen nods. “My favorite teacher at Julliard, Sig
Perlman, used to say if we communicate in any way to the audience that we know what
the other characters in the scene are going to say, the scene will fail. And
he’s right. Good actors play every moment as if they have no idea what might
At supper’s end a week after Owen and Luisa
reconcile, Owen asks his parents if they would be up for hosting a small dinner
party, the guests to include his friend Dessie, who got him the teaching job at
New Foundations, Dessie’s husband Jonah, a bass player and software engineer,
and Maru Stein, the founder and executive director of New Foundations.
“Maybe Cal and Terry, too?” says Owen, having done
a complete about-face since Luisa deftly smacked him with the bamboo cane of
her honesty. “And anyone else you’d like to invite. Maybe a theatre person or
“Salmon on the barbecue,” says Andrew, who is now helping
Owen design the Drama program to be unveiled at New Foundations in September.
“Corn on the cob.”
“A fabulous garden salad,” says Luisa, who loves
to cook. “And for appetizers, mini-falafels with cashew butter lime sauce and
hummus and guacamole.”
“I’ll take that as a Yes,” says Owen, getting up to clear the table so they won’t see
him crying, but they do.
The afternoon warm and humid, Andrew is out on the
big south-facing deck tending the barbecue—salmon steaks and corn-on-the-cob—when
Owen emerges from the house with Maru Stein.
Andrew’s first impression of Maru from twenty feet
away is that she is a giantess emanating a brilliant golden light, but as she
and Owen cross the deck to him, she shrinks to Andrew’s size and appears to be
a lovely woman in her fifties with reddish brown hair cut in a boyish bob, her
eyes dark blue. She is wearing a sleeveless magenta shirt, blue jeans, and
hiking sandals, her arms muscular, a tattoo of a small red rose on her right
arm just below her shoulder.
She shakes Andrew’s hand with a pleasingly strong
grip and says with a slight German accent, “A great pleasure to meet you. I
have been reading your stories since they first appeared in The Blitz those many years ago, and I
must tell you my daughter fell in love with the theatre because of your plays.”
“I’m flattered,” he says, wanting to blurt I love you. “Where is your daughter
“She’s in England, in Oxford, the artistic
director of a small theatre company. They’ve done all your plays, most of them
more than once.” Maru’s eyes widen as she senses Andrew’s attraction to her.
“When I told her I was going to meet you she said to tell you she can’t wait to
read your next play. Do you have one in the works?”
“No,” says Andrew, suddenly aware of how close the
salmon is to perfection. “To be continued. I must tend the salmon lest I
“A rare skill,” says Maru, winking at him as she
moves away with Owen to meet Luisa. “Cooking salmon just so.”
Mosquitoes ferocious at dusk, the humans move inside for supper, ten of them around the big dining table: Luisa, Andrew, Maru, Owen, Dessie, Jonah, Cal, Terry, Electra Wickersham, and Mark Kane.
Electra is an actress Andrew has known for
thirty-four years. Short and buxom with a gravelly voice, she played the droll
sister of the main character in the world premiere of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play based on two of Andrew’s
short stories—Andrew’s first adventure in the theatre world of Vancouver
thirty-four years ago.
Mark Kane, a stylish dresser in his sixties with a
silvery gray pompadour, wrote Extremely
Silly Ariel Gets Wise and got it produced at the Kleindorf Theatre where he
was and still is the stage manager. Following the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Mark
adapted two more of Andrew’s stories for the stage, but that play lacked sufficient
oomph to get beyond a staged reading and Mark has never written anything else,
though he loves to talk about what he might
write one day.
At the height of the feast, the salmon cooked to
perfection, the corn sweet and tender, much good wine consumed, Cal, a
professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser, asks Maru what inspired her to found what
has become one of the most prestigious high schools in Canada.
“My children,” she says, nodding. “Public high
school was a disaster for both my son and daughter. Before high school they
were excellent students and eager to play music and make art and build things,
you know, and then they were totally shut down by the idiocy of the public high
school system, so I got them out of there and homeschooled them. I would have
sent them to the Waldorf High School, but lacked the funds, and when they went
off to college I thought why not create an alternative school with excellent
teachers and get the corporations to fund it so we could give scholarships to
low income people, and those who could afford the tuition would gladly pay to give
their children an extraordinary experience rather than put them through a system
designed to crush their spirits.”
“Well I can attest to the efficacy of your school,”
says Cal, raising his glass to her. “I’ve had several of your former students in
my classes and they were head and shoulders above most of the other students.”
“I’m very glad to hear that,” she says, placing a
hand on her heart. “Thank you for telling me.”
will be teaching Drama there,” says Electra, looking at Owen who she’s known
since he was a baby. “How exciting for you.”
“I’ll do my best,” he says, frowning and scratching
his head. “If only I could remember what they taught me at Julliard. It’s all such
a vague memory now.”
Mark and Electra and Cal and Terry and Dessie and
Jonah and Maru all laugh, while Luisa and Andrew hold their breaths until Maru
says, “Don’t worry, Owen. It will all come back to you in the heat of battle.”
“Be careful, Owen,” says Mark, who has been
married three times to women much younger than he and is currently dating a
woman forty years his junior. “All your students will fall in love with you,
the tall, dark, and handsome Drama teacher just a few years older than they.”
He looks at Maru. “How daring of you to hire one so young.”
“Young teachers are a vital ingredient in our
system,” says Maru, aiming her words at Owen. “Because the kids don’t relate to
the younger teachers as versions of their parents, but as slightly older
friends who can help them with their struggle to become adults. And it is a great struggle for most of them because the
last thing they want is to turn into their parents, and without someone like
Owen to emulate they see no alternative but to rebel or withdraw into their
Crawling into bed at midnight, Luisa says to
Andrew, “What a great mentor Maru will be for Owen.”
“Yes,” says Andrew, closing his eyes and seeing
Maru gazing at him. “She’s a powerhouse.”
“She’s one of your special women, isn’t she?” says
Luisa, embracing him. “Couldn’t keep your eyes off her, could you?”
“Is she one of your
special women, too?” he says, growing aroused.
“Of course,” she says, kissing him.
In late August, a few days before Owen will make
his debut as a high school Drama teacher, Andrew and Luisa and Owen throw
another party, this one a big potluck attended by several New Foundations
teachers, lots of actors and musicians and theatre people, and several
Maru arrives at the height of the party with her
partner Adriana, a stunning Brazilian woman in her thirties who is the Dance
and Percussion teacher at New Foundations. Owen was unaware that Maru and
Adriana were in a relationship and so did not convey this information to his
parents. Andrew and Luisa are both surprised Maru made no mention at their last
party of having a partner, and Luisa is not
surprised Maru’s partner is a woman.
Andrew is dizzied by the conflicting emotions
arising in him—jealousy and relief and sorrow and happiness—when Maru introduces
him to Adriana, an exquisite mix of Afro-Brazilian and Latino.
“I am so glad to meet you,” says Adriana with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever. “I devour your stories and we watch your movies and now I feel like I meet a god.”
“As do I,” says Andrew, looking from Adriana to
Maru and back to Adriana. “Goddesses.”
Adriana and Maru exchange mysterious smiles, Owen
and Dessie come to greet Maru and Adriana, and Andrew turns his attention to
the barbecue on which many foodstuffs are approaching doneness.
He is glad for the distraction of the salmon
steaks, chicken thighs, slabs of zucchini, potatoes, ears of corn, hamburgers, sausages,
and various shish kebabs because they keep him from gawking at Maru and longing
to embrace her.
Why am I
so ferociously attracted to her? he
wonders as he looks down at the various sizzling things. Must have something to do with how open she is to me and how open I am
to her. Only it’s more than that. It’s as if we are two parts of one being separated
long ago, which is how I felt when I met Luisa, our attraction to each other a desire
to be whole again.
“Honey,” says Luisa, putting her arm around Andrew.
“I don’t want to tell you how to cook, because you’re a wonderful cook, but I
think most of what’s on the grill now is done. Yeah?”
“Yes,” says Andrew, realizing he hasn’t been
tending the foodstuffs at all, but standing at the barbecue appearing to be tending the foodstuffs
while off in the clouds imagining becoming one with Maru.
Andrew joins Cal and Terry and Electra at one of
the many tables arrayed on the deck, his plate heaped high, a cold beer just
opened, and as he settles into easy banter with his tablemates, Maru and
Adriana arrive and ask if there’s room for them at the table, room is made, Adriana
sits between Electra and Cal on one side of the table and Maru sits next to Andrew
on the other, her shoulder touching his, and Andrew is filled with a divine sense
of completeness, a feeling, to paraphrase Stevie Wonder, of being exactly where
God wanted him to be placed.
“Here we are together again,” says Maru, speaking quietly as she gently bumps Andrew’s shoulder with hers. “How are you?”
“Good,” he says, no longer afraid of how he feels
about her. “You?”
“A bit preoccupied,” she says in a way he takes to
mean she’s been preoccupied with him,
“but otherwise excited about school starting next week.” She takes a deep
breath. “Owen tells me you’ve been helping him with his course design. I love
what you two have cooked up.”
“Well I got my undergraduate degree in Drama,”
says Andrew, recalling those long ago days in California, “and I was hoping to
get into Yale and leap from there to the professional stage, but instead I
moved to Canada and became a carpenter and a writer. And now I’m sitting with
you at the zenith of my life.”
“I know what you mean,” she says, watching Adriana
listen intently to Electra talk about the current revival of Ah Wilderness. “This is definitely a
peak experience for me, being with you.”
Supper is followed by pie and coffee and tea in
the living room, and when everyone is settled somewhere, Luisa and Andrew enter
with guitars, Owen with clarinet, and they launch into a lively instrumental Owen
recently composed called My Teeth Ain’t
Aching No More full of surprising chord changes to which Owen blissfully improvises.
They follow the instrumental with Luisa singing a
love ballad she and Andrew wrote called The
Thing Of It Is, Owen adding tasteful harmonies to Luisa’s fine contralto.
And lastly Andrew and Luisa sing a song they wrote
called So FarSo Good about a couple who keep being pleasantly surprised that no
matter how old they get they don’t lose the knack for loving each other, the
song ending with a stirring clarinet solo that brings the house down.
The day after the party, recalling the moment he
and Maru sat beside each other and shared the feeling of being exactly where
God wanted them to be placed, Andrew puts pen to paper and out flows the first
scene of a play he will write over the next few weeks called Time and Again.
The play is about a man and a woman roughly the
same age who meet eight times over the course of their lives, and whenever they
meet—on a playground, at the beach, at a party, in a park, in the foyer of a
theatre, on a bus, on the street—they are entranced with each other, yet always
discover one of them is involved with someone else.
Each scene ends with the man and woman parting
ways without making arrangements to stay in touch, save for the last scene in
which they are elderly and meet at a neighborhood café. Over coffee and
biscotti, they discover they live just around the corner from each other and
are both free to unite.
When Andrew finishes the first draft, he gives the
play to Luisa and she reads it in a single sitting.
She finds him on his knees in the garden thinning
baby chard plants.
“It’s fantastic, A. I think it’s the best thing
you’ve ever written.” She smiles down at him. “Do you… will you want me to work
on this with you?”
“Always,” he says, looking up at her.
“I wasn’t sure,” she says shyly. “You… we haven’t
written a new play in a long time and I didn’t know if you still wanted to do
our usual back and forth.”
“Of course I do,” he says, getting up and embracing
her. “I’m always just cruising on the surface until you and I run the lines and
find out what really wants to be said.”
“Oh, good,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I think this will make a wonderful movie, too.”
“When we’re further along we’ll show it to Nick,” he
says, referring to Nicolas Thorsen, the filmmaker who made their previous
“You amaze me,” she says, looking into his eyes.
“Just when I thought we might never write another play, you come out with this
“Is it sad?”
“Oh my God, yes,” she says, her eyes full of
tears. “The sadness of missing their chance to be together over and over again when
they’re so right for each other. It’s hilarious, too, and I’m so glad they get
together at the end, but… I couldn’t help wishing they’d taken one of those earlier
“But maybe they weren’t ready for each other until
the last scene,” he says, walking to the house with her. “Maybe the promise was
not to be fulfilled until they learned whatever they needed to learn along the
“Maybe so,” she says, taking his hand. “But I’ll
bet lots of people who see this play will be emboldened to take a chance if
they ever get one again.”
A month after school starts, Owen implores Andrew to help him cast and produce the first play of the year, a sappy television sit-com masquerading as a play he inherited from the previous Drama teacher called Don’t You Wish?
Knowing how overwhelmed Owen is by his daily
teaching load, Andrew agrees to lend him a hand with the play and enlists
Electra and Luisa to join them for three afternoons of auditions. Once the play
is cast, Andrew shows up at the New Foundations multi-purpose room every
weekday at 3:30 to assist Owen in managing the cast of fourteen and the
especially rowdy crew of twenty-two.
Now and then Maru stops by to watch Owen directing the kids and to sit with Andrew and watch the play take shape.
Don’t You Wish? is such a big hit, the initial two-night run is extended to a second weekend with a Sunday matinee, the four hundred seats sold out for all five performances.
Fortunately for Andrew and Owen, no one blows the
whistle on them for their extensive rewriting of the dialogue, the three entirely
new scenes they wrote to replace those they found ruinous, and the new and completely
different ending they invented—their creative tampering bringing them closer
together than they’ve ever been.
The winter play at New Foundations is A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of
(seemingly) thousands. Electra and Andrew and Luisa help again with the
auditions, and this time both Luisa and Andrew assist Owen with the many afternoon
rehearsals, which in the beginning resemble riots and eventually, miraculously,
result in three acceptable performances.
Andrew and Owen severely edit The Bard to bring the
running time down to ninety minutes so they can include three hip hop songs composed
and performed by teenagers in togas and accompanied by energetic ensemble
dancing choreographed by Adriana.
And finally comes the spring musical, Guys & Dolls, with Dessie conducting
the student orchestra and coaching the singers, Adriana choreographing the
numerous dance numbers, Andrew and Luisa again assisting Owen.
Dress rehearsal and Performance #1 are epic
disasters, Performance #2 begins promisingly but quickly devolves into chaos, Performance
#3 has a few startling moments of cohesion but is otherwise another catastrophe,
and Performance #4, with only a few dozen people in the audience, is a stirring
triumph from start to finish.
Summer cannot come soon enough for Owen and Andrew
and Luisa, and when school finally adjourns in early June, Owen does nothing for
a week but sleep and mope around while Andrew and Luisa fly to Montreal to
attend five staged readings of their play Time
and Again. The cast is stellar, several play directors from Canada and
England and Australia come to hear the play, the audiences rave, and Nick
Thorsen, who sits in the first row for all five of the readings, offers a
pittance for the screen rights, which Andrew and Luisa gleefully accept.
As June becomes July, Maru and Adriana invite
Andrew and Luisa over for supper at their spectacular new house in one of
Vancouver’s ritziest neighborhoods.
After supper they retire to the living room, Maru pours
a rare Spanish peach brandy, and Adriana says with her Brazilian Portuguese
accent Andrew could listen to forever, “I know this will come as surprise, but
we want to have a child and for you, Andrew, to be the father.”
Luisa purses her lips and frowns.
Andrew clears his throat and says, “We are speaking
of artificial insemination.”
“If you prefer,” says Adriana, who grew up
something of a wild child in Brazil and has few of the scruples common to North
Americans. “Or we could make the baby, as we say in Portuguese, naturalmente.”
“Um,” says Luisa, scrunching up her cheeks, “I would have a problem with that.”
“Then artificial,” says Adriana, nodding. “Or you
don’t do anything if this seems too…” She looks at Maru. “How do you say it?”
“Much to ask?” guesses Maru. “Too much of an entanglement?”
“Too big a commitment?” says Luisa, looking at
“The thing is,” says Andrew, searching for the right
words, “I can’t imagine knowing I’m the father of a child and not wanting to be
involved with the child in a big way. Do you know what I mean?”
“Oh we want you to be involved,” says Adriana,
nodding emphatically. “We love you. That’s why we choose you for the father.”
“Well,” he says, looking from Adriana to Maru, “I’m
flattered, of course, but… we weren’t planning to spend our late middle age and
elder years raising a child. Spending time with our grandchildren, should that
ever come to be, yes. But not… co-parenting.”
“You would not be co-parenting,” says Maru, shaking
her head. “We will be the parents and you would be uncle and aunt. Or
grandparents.” She shrugs pleasantly. “We don’t expect you to say Yes. But we love you both and we admire
you and so we thought we’d ask. If not you, we know a few others we may ask,
and if no one wants to do this with us, we will go with the unknown.”
“Have you thought about adopting?” asks Luisa, who
certainly understands why they would want Andrew’s genes in the mix.
“I’m only going to have one child,” says Adriana, gazing at Luisa who has become her dear friend. “And then we see. Maybe we adopt, maybe we don’t. But I know I want one child who comes from me.”
“There’s nothing like it,” says Luisa, tears
springing to her eyes as she thinks of her daughter Lily. “We’ll let you know
“Thank you,” says Adriana, taking Luisa’s hand.
“We are honored you even consider doing this for us.”
At midnight, neither Andrew nor Luisa able to
sleep, Andrew gets out of bed and says, “Chamomile tea?”
On their way to the kitchen, Luisa says, “Who am I
to judge them? I made Lily with a man I slept with once, a man who never even knew
he made a child with me, a man I didn’t even like.”
“It’s not about judging them,” says Andrew, turning
on the kitchen light. “It’s about marrying them without any legal right to the
“What do you mean?” says Luisa, filling the
kettle. “Marrying them?”
“I mean what if five years from now Adriana leaves
Maru and moves back to Brazil or her next partner turns out to be a psychopath
and by then we’re in love with the child and powerless to intervene? I’d be
devastated and so would you.”
“Adriana won’t partner with a psychopath,” says
Luisa, waving the thought away. “But you’re right, in a way we would be
marrying them and I don’t want to be married to anyone but you.”
“The fact is, we don’t want another child. If we’d
wanted another child we would have had one or adopted one. But if we had a
child with them and fell in love with her or him, which of course we would,
then we’d want to be with the little pooper every day, which would mean being
deeply involved with Maru and Adriana for the rest of our lives and I don’t
think we want that. Do we?”
“Might be wonderful,” says Luisa, anguished. “I
love them. And I’d love to see the child you’d make with Adriana. But something
doesn’t feel right about this.”
“I agree,” he says, terribly upset. “It’s…
“No, it isn’t,” she says, annoyed with him. “They said they don’t expect us to say Yes. How is that extortion? What doesn’t feel right has nothing to do with them. It’s about what we want, and we don’t want this. Right?”
“I’d be seventy-eight when the child is twenty,”
says Andrew, smiling at the thought of mixing his genes with Adriana. “I wonder
what Owen and Lily would think if we did this.”
“Maybe that’s what doesn’t feel right,” says
Luisa, making their tea. “Complicating our already complicated life.”
In the morning, they continue discussing the possibility of joining their lives with Adriana and Maru and the yet-to-be-born child, and the more they think out loud together, the more they warm to the idea.
“But I would only go into the little sperm-catching
room,” says Andrew, putting his arms around Luisa, “if you came in with me and inspired
my contribution. If you know what I mean.”
“Then it would be our gift and not just yours,” she says, surrendering to the
momentum of creation.
A few days later, Andrew and Luisa go to tell Adriana and Maru they are willing, and Adriana and Maru burst into tears.
“We just now check my fluid,” says Adriana,
embracing Luisa, “and right now I ovulate. So because it will take some days to
arrange things at the clinic for Andrew to give his seed, we wait for my next
time to try.”
“Why wait?” says Luisa, surprising herself and all
of them, too. “Why not now? Naturalmente.”
“We would love that,” says Maru, looking into Andrew’s
eyes. “A sacred tryst.”
And before Andrew’s rational mind can rise above
the fervor of the moment, he and Adriana go to the bedroom and Luisa and Maru
go out into the garden and sit together on the bench by the lily pond holding
hands and praying—this ritual of procreation enacted again the next day and the
In December, during the Christmas holiday, Adriana
five months pregnant, she and Maru come to Andrew and Luisa’s house to tell
them they have just seen the ultra-sound of Adriana’s womb.
“It isn’t what we planned,” says Maru, her eyes
sparkling with tears, “but we are happy to tell you we are going to have twins.
Fraternal twins. A girl and a boy.”
That night Luisa dreams the boy is named Teo and
the girl is named Rosa, and when the babies are born they are given those names.
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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.
Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this
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.
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
“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
Throughout his life, Andrew meets women who are immediately familiar to him, though he has never seen them before. He met the first when he was a little boy in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, and the seventh in 1993.
In 1998 Andrew and his wife Luisa both turn fifty
and celebrate their eleventh wedding anniversary. Their children Owen and Lily
both turn sixteen and enter their junior year of high school. Andrew and Luisa
are writers and musicians and live with Owen and Lily in a beautiful house ten
miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Two years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was a resounding
success and prompted a big American publisher to bring out new paperback
editions of Andrew’s four collections of short stories. Adding to this good
fortune, theatre companies in England and Canada began staging four of Andrew’s
previously unproduced plays, and now Luisa is about to publish her first book,
a story collection entitled Rainy River and
At the height of this propitious ferment, Andrew
and Luisa’s literary and theatrical agents Penelope Goldstein and Judith
Perlman announce their impending retirement. Penelope is seventy-four, Judith
seventy-five, and they recently celebrated, as Judith put it, “Our fiftieth
year of working together and living together and encouraging each other to keep
up the good fight.”
So in April, Andrew and Luisa leave Owen and Lily
in the care of friends and fly to Montreal to meet with the three young agents to
whom Judith and Penelope are selling their agency, and to meet with two older
agents recommended by Judith and Penelope in case Andrew and Luisa are not
inclined to go with the younger agents.
Andrew and Luisa arrive in Montreal in the late
afternoon, check into their hotel, and have supper with Jason Moreau who
directed Andrew’s two most successful plays and is currently directing the
first production of Andrew’s newest play, The
Carpenter’s Song, which will open six weeks from now, after which Jason
will celebrate his eightieth birthday and retire from directing unless, he says
with a twinkle in his eyes, “You write another play too good to resist.”
The next morning, Andrew and Luisa take a cab to the
Goldstein Perlman Agency, soon to be renamed QBP after the three new
principals, Rory Quarterman, Jean Bateau, and Sylvie Pierre, who gather in their
elegant conference room to introduce themselves to Andrew and Luisa.
Andrew likes Sylvie, a long-limbed gal with short
red hair, and Luisa likes Jean, a petite brunette, but Rory, who handles
theatrical works and movie tie-ins, is appalling to both Andrew and Luisa. His
smiles are forced, he rolls his eyes at things Sylvie and Jean say, and twice
during the half-hour meeting leaves the room to take calls, much to the chagrin
of Sylvie and Jean.
Lunching with Judith and Penelope after the QBP
presentation, Andrew and Luisa express their misgivings about Rory.
“Welcome to 1998,” says Judith, greatly relieved
to be getting out of the business. “Before this era of Young Adult novels, dystopian
fantasies, vampires, wizards, and fifty million cookie-cutter murder mysteries,
Rory would have sold real estate or cars. He doesn’t read, you know, and I’m sorry
to tell you this, but if you weren’t already successful, QBP would have nothing
to do with you. You’re both too old, you don’t crank out murder mysteries, and
you seem intent on writing things for intelligent adults.” She laughs. “What’s
wrong with you?”
“Which is why we thought you might prefer Margot Mounteney
and Kelly Vogel,” says Penelope, who is looking forward to puttering in her
garden, walking the dogs, and spending winters in Hawaii. “Margot is your age
and Kelly’s a little older, she’s brilliant, he’s mad for plays, and they both
care about the quality of the writing they represent, which makes them throwbacks
to that bygone era when we first came into the business.”
“And they’re barely surviving,” says Judith, with
a warning in her voice. “You would change their lives if you signed with them,
which is not a reason to do it. But you would.”
The next morning, after breakfasting with Jason
and two young directors eager to make Andrew’s acquaintance, Luisa and Andrew
take a cab to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel in an old three-story office
building in a quiet part of the city.
While Andrew and Luisa wait in the small reception
room, they chat with the agency secretary Darla, a charming woman in her early seventies
with a British accent, long gray hair in a bun, and pince-nez suspensefully balanced
on the tip of her nose.
“I love all your plays,” says Darla, gazing at Andrew and Luisa sitting close together on
the small sofa across the room, “and I especially love Their Summer Holiday. I enjoyed the movie, too, but the dialogue in
the play just crackles and I’m a huge fan of crackling dialogue. Crave it.” Her
eyes widen. “I must say you are a very handsome couple and the light is
excellent right now. Would you mind terribly if I took your picture?”
“We don’t mind, do we?” says Andrew, checking with
“Not at all,” says Luisa, who is ready to go with Mounteney
& Vogel based on their secretary.
Darla gets out a small Leica, takes several
pictures and says, “Oh these will be lovely. The light is just perfect. Lovely,
“I feel anointed,” says Luisa, beaming at Darla.
“Will you send us your favorite?” says Andrew,
hoping he likes Margot and Kelly as much as he likes Darla.
“I will,” says Darla, putting her camera away. “And
I will brag and tell you that my photos of authors have appeared alongside many
book reviews and have graced several book jackets.”
Now a man and a woman come down the hallway from
their offices and stop on the threshold of the reception room—a lanky fellow
with short gray hair and a slender woman with shoulder-length black hair, the
man wearing wire-framed glasses and a gray tweed suit with a red bowtie, the
woman wearing a scoop-necked black dress, her reading glasses attached to a
necklace of colored beads hanging around her neck.
“Welcome, welcome,” says the man, bounding across
the room to shake Andrew and Luisa’s hands, his accent the vestigial Scottish
of Newfoundland. “I’m Kelly Vogel and this is Margot Mounteney.”
Margot crosses the room to greet them, her beauty more
apparent as she draws near, and Andrew feels he has known her and loved her
They gather in Margot’s office, Margot at her
desk, Kelly a few feet to her left, Andrew and Luisa in small chairs facing
them, the desk largely free of clutter, though every other space in the office is
piled high with manuscripts and correspondence.
“I have a computer,” says Margot, her accent
mildly British, “though I still mostly write by hand and my mother types everything
up.” Her brown eyes sparkle. “Darla is my mother.”
“The heart and soul of the agency,” says Kelly,
nodding to affirm this. “She’s currently training her replacement, a great
young gal named Vanessa, but we’re not looking forward to Darla retiring.”
“Penelope gave me the galleys of your Rainy River and other stories,” says
Margot, smiling at Luisa. “I was enthralled from start to finish.”
“Margot and I both handle books,” says Kelly, laughing
nervously, “but plays are my passion. We aren’t a big agency, obviously, and we
job out movie stuff to another agency with offices here and in Los Angeles, but
we’re very good with foreign rights and we have great relations with editors in
Canada and New York who still care about good writing.”
“I’m sure you would do well with QBP,” says
Margot, unconvincingly. “They’re very up to date with their methods and
sensibilities, whereas we are among the remnants of the old way.” She shrugs
pleasantly. “And that’s our high-powered sales pitch.”
“I would just add,” says Kelly, putting his hands
together in casual prayer, “that with us you will always be happy.”
“A bold assertion,” says Andrew, liking Kelly very
“I don’t mean you
will always be happy,” says Kelly, laughing. “I mean you will always be happy
with our efforts on your behalf, even should we fail.”
Andrew and Luisa invite Margot and Kelly to lunch,
and when Margot hesitates to accept, Luisa intuits the hesitation is about
money and adds, “Our treat. We’re feeling flush. Please take us somewhere you
They walk a few blocks in the gentle spring
sunlight to an old high-ceilinged restaurant called Leo’s and are greeted by an energetic man with wavy white hair and
a thick Italian accent who claps Kelly on the shoulder and kisses Margot on both
“You stay away too long,” he says, smiling fondly
at Margot. “We wonder where you were. It will just be a moment for Juan to make
your table ready. Is so good to see you again. And you bring friends. A
celebration perhaps. Right this way, please. The lamb is so fresh I think they play
in the meadow this morning.”
He seats them at a large table in the far corner
of the mostly empty room, hands them menus and says, “We have a red wine we
just get from Bordeaux to make the tears come to your eyes. Pellegrino for your
Margot nods and their host hurries away.
“Was that Leo?” asks Andrew, looking from Kelly to
“That was Joe,” says Margot, putting on her
reading glasses to peruse the menu. “Leo was Joe’s older brother who died when Joe
was a little boy in Italy.”
Now a middle-aged woman with reddish brown hair and
a lively bounce in her step comes to the table and fills everyone’s glass with
“We missed you,” she says to Kelly and Margot before turning to Andrew and Luisa and gasping, “Oh my God, you’re Andrew Ross.”
“I know you,”
says Andrew, smiling curiously at her. “But I can’t quite…”
“Gina DuPrau,” she says, her eyes brimming with
tears. “I was in the first Montreal production of your play Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise. A
million years ago.”
“You were not just in the production,” says
Andrew, holding out his hand to her. “You were Ariel and you were brilliant,
and you changed my life forever in the best of ways.”
“I’m so glad to see you,” she says, taking his
hand. “And while we’re holding hands I’ll tell you I love Their Summer Holiday. The play and
“This is my wife Luisa,” says Andrew, transferring
Gina’s hand to Luisa’s. “And you know our agents Margot and Kelly.”
“What did you say?” says Margot, startled.
“Our agents,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly
water. “We knew the minute we met you.”
“Oh dear,” says Margot, covering her mouth. “I
“Me, too,” says Kelly, fighting his tears as he
raises his glass.
Now they clink glasses and drink and Andrew says
to Gina, “We would love a bottle of the red wine from Bordeaux that Joe spoke so
The good wine poured, lunches served, Margot says
to Luisa, “Your bio in your story collection says you were a chef before
becoming a writer. And though I’m sure you already know this, I will plant the
seed that a novel or a novella and stories set amidst the culinary arts would
be an easy sell in the wake of Rainy
“Or a play set in a café,” says Kelly, who is
pleasantly tipsy and no longer nervous. “The
Time of Your Life with espresso. God we need good plays.”
“With a part for our waitress,” says Andrew, who
had a crush on Gina when she was starring as Esme twenty-five years ago, but he
was too shy to ask her out. “How did she not become famous? Did you see her in
the play, Kelly? I’ve never seen another actor so completely own an audience as
“I went seven times,” says Kelly, loving the wine.
“And she would have become a big star
had she not married that horrid man and had two kids with him and then he left
her with nothing. And she’s been starring here at Leo’s ever since.”
“We never know what’s going to happen, do we?” says
Margot, looking at Luisa. “We didn’t think we had a chance against QBP, and now
here we are celebrating with you.”
Gina comes by and asks, “How we all doing?”
Everyone raves about their food, another bottle of
the same good red is ordered, Gina goes to fetch the wine, and Andrew says, “Speaking
of never knowing what’s going to happen, with your permission I would like to
tell a rather long story.”
He nods his approval and says, “Have you got a few
minutes, Gina? I would love for you to hear the story I’m about to tell.”
She opens the wine, pours a bit in each of their
glasses, sets the bottle in the middle of the table, glances around the now
full room and says, “I’m good for a few.”
“Excellent,” says Andrew, having a sip of his
wine. “So… my two stories that became Extremely
Silly Ariel Gets Wise were two of the very first stories I ever wrote. They
were first published in The Weekly Blitz,
a Vancouver free weekly, and then a wonderful guy named Mark Kane turned those two
stories into a play and got the play produced at the Kleindorf, a small theatre
in Vancouver. We got good reviews, the play ran for seven weeks, and I made
seven hundred dollars, so I was not about to give up my carpentry gig. Then a
few weeks after the play closed at the Kleindorf, Mark called and said someone
named Jason Moreau wanted to stage the play in Montreal if we were open to honing the dialogue with him. We said we were open
to honing and Extremely Silly Ariel Gets
Wise was a big hit, mainly because of Gina’s extraordinary performance.”
Kelly and Margot and Luisa and Andrew applaud Gina,
and she bows comically low and bumps her head on the table, to which she reacts
by hopping around on one foot as if she stubbed her toe.
“But then,” says Andrew, when their laughter
subsides, “because of the play’s success, Penelope and Judith, who were Jason’s
close friends, agreed to represent me and soon thereafter sold my collection of
short stories The Draft Dodger and other
fables which launched my writing career. And I have no doubt it was your
performance, Gina, your revelatory interpretation of Esme that made the play a
hit and fueled my launch. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“You’re very welcome, Andrew,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “And though I appreciate your praise more than you will ever know, I will modify a line from that long dead British guy and say, ‘The play’s the thing wherein you captured the hearts of your audience, and I was but the lucky mouthpiece for your words.’”
First thing the next morning Luisa goes to the
offices of Mounteney & Vogel to sign the contract making her their client,
after which she spends the rest of the morning at her publisher’s working on
the page proofs of Rainy River and other
stories, meeting with Sales, and posing for promotional photos before going
to lunch with her editor and the editor-in-chief to celebrate the stellar
pre-publication reviews for her book.
While Luisa is thus occupied, Andrew meets with
Penelope and Judith and signs various documents pursuant to transferring his
contracts to Mounteney & Vogel, after which he goes to see Margot and Kelly
to sign the contract making him their client.
However, Kelly is away from the office schmoozing
with a theatre director and Margot is on the phone with a hysterical client, so
Darla visits with Andrew until Margot is free.
“Do you have a new play in the works?” she asks, sharing
a pot of strong black tea with Andrew, her desk their table. “Or a novel?”
“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, doubting he
ever will. “And in the two years since the movie of Their Summer Holiday came out I haven’t started anything new, though
I did manage to finish the play and the collection of stories I was working on before the movie came out. But nothing
new has come to me since.”
“I suppose an enormous success like that can be a shock
to the system,” she says, sipping her tea. “Are we the agents now for that play
and collection of stories?”
“Yes and no. The book has already been sold, but
the contract is now with you. The
Carpenter’s Songand other stories.
And the play is opening here in Montreal in about seven weeks.”
Carpenter’s Song,” she says, beaming at him. “I live three doors down from
Jason Moreau and we often walk our dogs together in the morning. He’s
absolutely thrilled with your play.
Says it’s your best yet. I didn’t realize it was based on a short story. You’ve
done that before, haven’t you?”
“A few times, yes,” says Andrew, glad to know
Darla and Jason are friends.
“And when you were writing the story, did you
sense it would make a good play? Or do you think all your stories would make
“I would say everything I write comes to me as scenes
I watch and transcribe.”
The phone on her desk rings quietly and she
answers, “Mounteney & Vogel. Who’s calling, please?”
Andrew removes to the other side of the reception
area so as not to intrude, and a framed photograph on the wall captures his
attention—Margot standing between two handsome young men, the younger Margot in
the picture closely resembling a woman Andrew was madly in love with when he
was in his early twenties.
“That was yet another of our writers calling in distress,” says Darla, beckoning Andrew to return to her. “That’s what Margot’s doing right now, trying to talk one of our writers out of burning the manuscript she worked on for three years before she ran out of ideas and now she can’t figure out how to wrap things up.”
“The literary agent as psychotherapist,” says
Andrew, considering this. “I’ll keep that in mind for my next nervous
“I suppose all writers live in fear of running out
of ideas,” says Darla, nodding sympathetically. “Do you?”
“No, because I don’t write from ideas. I know many
writers do, but the few times I’ve tried to write a story or a play from an
idea, nothing would come to me. Not a word.”
“So does that mean when you were writing your book
of stories about carpenters you didn’t first have the idea to make such a
“No,” he says, recalling the thrill of those
stories pouring forth. “In fact, I wrote the first four stories without really
knowing they were separate stories because I didn’t read those pages until I
was nearly done with what turned out to be the fifth story and it dawned on me I
might be writing separate stories with recurring characters. So then I read the
pages and discovered they were, indeed, five stories, each about a carpenter,
and each of those carpenters knew the others. But even then I didn’t think I would
write more stories about carpenters
because, as I told you, if I write from a preconceived notion, nothing comes.”
“So let me ask you this,” says Darla, lowering her
voice. “Can you tell from the writing if the writer has decided ahead of time what
to write, or if the writer writes as you do without forethought?”
“Always,” says Andrew, nodding.
“Can you describe the difference?” she asks
“Give me moment,” he says, musing for a time. “In
one I hear the words being manufactured by a mental machine, and in the other I
hear a spontaneous song. Like a child singing as he plays, free of anyone
else’s rules about what a song should be.”
“I remember Margot singing those kinds of songs
when she was a little girl,” says Darla, writing on her notepad free of anyone else’s rules about what a
song should be. “How happy she was.”
Andrew treats Margot and Darla to lunch at a
nearby Chinese restaurant, and over green tea and fortune cookies Darla tells
the story of how she came to Canada fifty years ago, pregnant with Margot.
“I was a lonely young woman living at home with my
parents in Devon, writing a novel in feeble imitation of Jane Austen, a novel full
of the romance I longed for, when along came Paul Westerby, a dashing Canadian vagabond
travelling about with knapsack and easel, painting not-very-good landscapes of
the English countryside. He romanced me and slept with me for a few glorious
wine-drenched months, and when I told him I was pregnant and we should marry,
he fled back to Canada and I pursued him.”
“Did you travel by boat?” asks Andrew, especially enjoying
Margot’s enjoyment of her mother’s tale.
“No, I flew to Montreal,” says Darla, pouring more
tea into each of their cups. “It was 1947 and air travel was very expensive and
still quite an adventure, but my mother gave me the money because she was just
as eager as I to run the rogue down.” She laughs. “My father, on the other
hand, was a severe melancholic and reacted to my pregnancy by staying home from
work and moping in the garden. He was a reluctant accountant and preferred a
dark corner of the pub to the desk in his office.”
“And where, Mother, did you finally run the rogue
down?” asks Margot, gently steering her mother back to the main story.
“In the snooty suburbs of Toronto,” says Darla,
disappointed all over again despite the intervening fifty years. “My dashing
vagabond turned out to be the pampered son of a wealthy cigarette magnate, his
mother a humorless socialite. Paul refused to see me, and his mother took his
side, so I appealed to Paul’s father and he said he would arrange for an abortion,
except by then I was four months along and wanted to keep my precious child, so
he gave me ten thousand dollars, which was a fortune in those days, and I moved
to Montreal and we’ve lived here ever since.”
“Did you ever meet your father?” asks Andrew, finding
Margot more and more attractive the longer he’s with her.
“A few times,” says Margot, exchanging glances
with her mother. “He came to visit when I was seven and took us out for ice
cream. Then he came again the summer after I graduated from high school and
gave me a check for five hundred dollars, which I immediately spent on clothes.”
“He was running the family business by then,” says
Darla, making a sour face. “Rich as Croesus and smelled like an ash tray.”
“And the last time we saw him,” says Margot,
pausing for effect, “was just a few years ago when he came to the agency and
asked us to find a publisher for his autobiography.”
“Did you?” asks Andrew, amazed by the audacity of
the old rogue.
“No,” says Margot, looking at her mother. “But we
read the manuscript with great interest.”
“Did he do justice to that momentous summer in
Devon?” asks Andrew, feeling sure the rogue must have. “Your love affair and…”
“Not a word about me,” says Darla, shaking her
head. “And not a word about Margot.”
“Yet he wanted us to find a publisher for his badly
written book of lies,” says Margot, closing her eyes. “An arrogant humorless man
with a perpetual sneer on his face.”
“But when I was twenty-one,” says Darla, remembering
back to that summer in Devon, “and he came tramping across the field of ox-eye
daisies overhung by a blue blue sky full of snowy white clouds, a strapping
young man with an easel on his back, smiling like a sunbeam, I could only think
to love him.”
They return to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel
and Andrew has his first meeting alone with Margot.
“Will you be coming back to Montreal?” asks Margot,
sitting down at her desk. “For the opening of your play?”
“Yes,” he says, sitting in a chair on the client
side of her desk. “I’ll be back in four weeks.” He raises two fists. “For the
final push. Last minute dialogue tweaking and anything else Jason wants me to
do. And then we’ll stay for dress rehearsal and the first few performances.”
“Oh so Luisa’s coming with you,” says Margot, sounding
“She’ll be here for dress and opening night and
the party after,” he says, nodding. “And I’ll be here for two weeks before she
comes. We wanted to bring the kids for the whole shebang, but they refused.
Said they didn’t want to miss the last few weeks of school. Can you imagine?
When I was sixteen I would have given anything to skip school and hang out in a
big theatre watching professional actors bring a play to life. But they love
their teachers and their friends and wouldn’t think of missing the last days of
school before summer.”
“Will you be staying with Jason?” she asks, reluctant
to meet his gaze.
“That’s the plan. Just three houses away from your
“And me,” she says, looking at him. “I live with
“Oh,” he says, the frisson between them profound.
“I… I wouldn’t have guessed that. I had you living with some lucky guy, a professor
of… I don’t know… Archaeology.”
“Oh really,” she says, laughing. “A lucky Archaeology professor. Not an unlucky professor of Literature?”
“I really like you, Margot,” he says, laughing
with her. “And I have to tell you… the moment I saw you I had the feeling I’ve
known you and loved you forever. And when I told Luisa that, do you know what
“What?” asks Margot, holding her breath.
“She said she felt exactly the same way, that we
are a trio of soul mates.”
“Then I won’t be afraid of you anymore,” says Margot, coming around her desk as Andrew rises to meet her—their embrace both a confirmation of their love and proof they need not be lovers to be as one.
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.
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,
“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.
“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.
it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”
“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie.
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
“‘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
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
“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
“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
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.
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
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.”
Over and over again in the course of his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known before. He met her in elementary school in 1955, fell in love with her briefly in 1962, had a relationship with her in 1966, and lived with her in British Columbia from 1970 to 1973. The last time was in 1978 when they became pen pals for six years until she broke off all communication with him.
1986. Andrew is thirty-eight and his wife Kiki is
forty. They celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary, their four-year-old son Owen
begins attending pre-school, both Kiki and Andrew get their first personal
computers, and Andrew becomes Owen’s sole parent for long stretches of days and
weeks so Kiki can pursue her burgeoning career as a modern dance choreographer.
Owen and Andrew are unhappy about Kiki spending so
much time away from their home on the outskirts of Vancouver, and Andrew wishes
Kiki was content to work with dance companies nearer at hand, but she is not
and has signed contracts to create dances for companies in Montreal, London,
New York, and Los Angeles over the next two years.
They had hoped Andrew’s success with his writing
would continue and they could afford for Andrew and Owen to accompany Kiki on her
various choreography adventures, but when a giant corporation took over the
publishing house that had done so well with Andrew’s first two collections of
short stories, his run of good fortune ended. His third collection was taken
out-of-print a few days after the book was published, and then the corporation
cancelled the publication of his fourth collection, after which his sales figures
branded him an author who doesn’t sell.
Having spent the considerable profits from his
earlier successes on doubling the size of their kitchen and building a spectacular
dance studio for Kiki adjacent to their house, Andrew has taken up carpentry
work again to pay the bills.
Kiki is unhappy about the situation, too, but creating
dances for the best modern dance companies in the world has long been her dream
and she doesn’t want to miss her chance. Knowing how quickly Andrew’s fortunes
changed, Kiki is determined to strike while her iron is hot.
Andrew’s best friend Cal and Cal’s wife Terry and
their children Felicia and Scott live a mile away from Andrew and Kiki and Owen.
Felicia is ten and Scott is five and they are Owen’s best friends and idols. Their
daily presence in Owen’s life, along with Terry as a willing mother substitute,
makes Kiki’s long absences easier for the little boy to handle.
On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in April—Kiki in
New York after a brief stint at home following seven weeks in Los Angeles—Andrew
is sitting at the counter in the magnificent kitchen he built especially for
Kiki, overseeing Owen and Scott and Felicia making oatmeal raisin cookies, when
the phone rings.
Before he picks up the phone, Andrew prays the
caller is his literary agent Penelope Goldstein calling from Montreal with good
news, though he hasn’t heard a peep from Penelope in three years.
“Hello,” he says, imagining Penelope sitting at
her desk piled high with manuscripts, her glasses perched on the tip of her
“Hi,” says a woman with a musical voice. “May I
speak to Andrew Ross, please?”
For a flickering, Andrew thinks the caller is
Carol Savard, his great friend and correspondent who two years ago severed all
ties with him because, as she wrote in her final letter to him, “The intensity
of my desire to be in a relationship with you makes it impossible for me to sustain
a relationship with anyone else.”
“This is Andrew.”
“My name is Luisa Morningstar. My daughter Lily is
at the Montessori school with your son Owen, and she asked me to make a play
date with him. Is that something we might arrange?”
“Probably,” says Andrew, struck by how much she
reminds him of Carol Savard, though she sounds nothing like Carol. “Can you
hold on a sec?”
“Happy to. Or you can call me back.”
“Good idea,” says Andrew, flustered by the
feelings arising in him. “He’s currently baking cookies.”
“So O,” says Andrew, speaking to his son at
bedtime, “I got a call from Lily’s mother today wondering if you’d like to have
a play date with Lily.”
“I’m playing with Scott and Felicia after school
tomorrow,” says Owen, pursing his lips and shaking his head exactly as his
mother does. “We already planned it.”
“Right, but there are lots of days when you don’t
play with Scott and Felicia. Maybe you’d like to play with Lily on one of those
“Would you be with me?” asks Owen with a touch of
worry in his voice.
“If it’s at our house, of course I’ll be with you,”
says Andrew, knowing Owen doesn’t like going new places without Mama or Papa or
Terry or Cal. “And if it’s at Lily’s house I will definitely be with you the whole
time for the first few times you go there.”
“Okay,” says Owen, nodding.
“You don’t have to have a play date with her. Only
if you like her.”
“I love her,” says Owen, gazing at his father.
“She’s so nice and she’s the best dancer you’ve ever seen.”
“Better than your mother?”
“Maybe a little,” says Owen, pouting. “When’s Mama
“In two weeks,” says Andrew, fighting his tears.
“And this time she’ll be home for a good long while.”
“How long is a good long while?”
“Lots of days,” says Andrew, his heart breaking.
“Lots and lots of days.”
The next morning on his way to the beach house
he’s building with two other carpenters, Andrew drives Owen to the Montessori kindergarten
that occupies a former Methodist church four miles from their house. Owen puts
his knapsack and jacket in his cubbyhole and he and Andrew wave to the head
teacher Mrs. Chandler who is on the phone in her office.
A sturdy middle-aged woman with short gray hair
and rosy cheeks, Mrs. Chandler waves back to them and mouths the words, “Good
morning Owen. Welcome to school.”
“Want to introduce me to Lily?” asks Andrew as he
accompanies Owen out the back door of the schoolhouse and through the children’s
vegetable garden to the large playground.
“Okay,” says Owen, who is usually among the first
children to arrive at school in the morning. “She’s always on the swings when I
get here. Unless it’s raining.”
And sure enough, on the middle swing of three, the
two other swings not yet taken, is a beautiful four-year-old girl with dark
olive skin and big brown eyes, her long black hair done in four intricately woven
braids, swinging higher than most children dare to go and singing Frère Jacques.
On the following Saturday at ten in the morning,
the sky full of dark gray clouds, Luisa brings Lily to Andrew and Owen’s house
for a play date.
Luisa’s exquisite face and her dark olive skin
remind Andrew of the famous bust of Nefertiti. She is exactly Andrew’s height,
five-eleven, and exactly his age, thirty-eight, and she wears her glossy black
hair in a ponytail—her movements and gestures full of grace.
Following a quick tour of the house, during which Owen
and Lily stay in Owen’s room to look at his stuffed animals and books, Andrew
and Luisa sit at the kitchen counter and share a pot of tea.
“You have my dream kitchen,” she says, gazing
around the splendid room. “This is bigger than the kitchen at the restaurant
where I cook.”
“Which restaurant?” asks Andrew, mystified by how
much she reminds him of his former friend Carol Savard, though she looks
nothing like Carol and sounds nothing like Carol, and yet…
Crossroads,” she says, looking at her watch. “I’ve been the breakfast and
lunch chef there for nine years now. I drop Lily off at Montessori at 6:15 and
pick her up at 3:30. I have a special arrangement with Mrs. Chandler.”
“I’ve eaten your delicious food many times,” says
Andrew, who usually drops Owen at school a few minutes after seven, which is
officially the earliest a child is supposed to arrive. “Do you pay Mrs.
“Yes,” she says, nodding. “Only way I can manage.”
She looks at her watch again. “Speaking of which, would it be okay with you if
I left now and came back at two? I know I said I’d stick around for the first
date, but I am so far behind on so many things at home, a few hours alone would
be a godsend.”
“Sure,” says Andrew, disappointed not to have a
longer visit with her. “If Lily’s okay being here without you.”
“Oh she’s used to me leaving her with people she
hardly knows,” says Luisa, getting up. “But I’ll check with her to make sure.”
Andrew accompanies Luisa to Owen’s room where they
find Lily and Owen sitting side-by-side on Owen’s bed looking through a big picture
book of Australian marsupials.
“I’m going now, honey,” says Luisa, smiling at the sight of her daughter with Owen. “I’ll be back at two.”
“Okay,” says Lily, looking up from the picture of
a mother koala and her two babies. “See you later.”
“Good luck with your catching up,” says Andrew,
escorting Luisa to her little old Toyota station wagon. “We’ll see you at two. Or
“You’re a prince,” she says, beaming at him as she
gets into her car.
At three-thirty, while Owen and Lily are giving
each other impromptu concerts on the piano in the living room, Andrew calls Luisa
and gets her answering machine. He is more than a little peeved she took thereabouts to mean an hour and a half late, but when he hears her answering machine message,
he’s glad he felt the need to call her.
She sings in her gorgeous voice, “Don’t know why
there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather,” and follows those words by
saying, “but I do know I want to talk
to you, so please leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
Andrew saunters into the living room, waits for Owen
to finish his improvised piano piece, joins Lily in applauding and asks, “Is
your mom a singer, Lily?”
“Yeah,” she says, taking Owen’s place at the
piano. “I am, too.”
When Luisa finally shows up at 4:15, Andrew is too
angry to accept her apology and she bursts into tears as she leaves with Lily.
“Papa?” asks Owen, watching the little station
wagon drive away. “Why was Lily’s mother crying?”
“I don’t know,” says Andrew, still seething.
“Can we go to Cookie’s
for pizza?” asks Owen, smiling hopefully at his father. “With Lily and her
“I think you’ve seen enough of Lily for one day,”
says Andrew, fixing himself against the idea of asking Lily and Luisa to join
them for pizza.
“What do you mean?” says Owen, frowning. “We weren’t
tired of each other.”
Andrew closes his eyes and breathes deeply to calm
“Please Papa?” says Owen, taking Andrew’s hand.
“Can we ask them to come with us?”
“Okay,” says Andrew, opening his eyes. “I’ll call
He leaves a message on Luisa’s machine and she
calls back fifteen minutes later. “We’d love to meet you at Cookie’s,” she says breathlessly. “At six?”
“Six,” he says, resisting his impulse to add and don’t be late.
Andrew and Owen arrive at Cookie’s at ten minutes past six, the place jammed as always on a
Saturday night, the din fantastic. Luisa and Lily are already there, Lily
wearing a pretty white dress with red polka dots, Luisa wearing a beautiful
turquoise shirt and a long black skirt and looking fabulous.
“We’re under-dressed,” says Andrew, sitting beside
Luisa in the booth—Owen and Lily on booster seats across from them.
“You look fine,” says Luisa, watching his face. “Are
you still mad at me?”
“About what?” says Andrew, studying the menu.
“Oh good,” she says, smiling. “I’m dying for a
beer. Want to split a pitcher?”
Along with their extra large deluxe vegetable pizza
with extra mushrooms, the children have lemonade and the grownups enjoy their
“So tell me
how you came to be the renowned chef of The
Crossroads,” says Andrew, enjoying Luisa’s company. “Spare no details.”
“I thought you might ask me something like that,”
says Luisa, smiling shyly. “So I rehearsed my answer. The first part of it
“How prescient of you,” he says, giving her his
full attention after confirming that Owen is happily devouring his third piece
“I was born in Toronto,” she says, exchanging
smiles with her daughter. “My mother, who died seven years ago, was part-Chippewa,
part-French Quebecois, and she was a fantastic cook. She worked in a hotel
kitchen and had a brief liaison with a man from Cuba. He was an engineer
working on a dam north of the city and was staying in the hotel where my mother
worked. He was unaware he had conceived a child with her until she wrote to him
in Cuba, and once he knew, he sent her money every few months for as long as I
lived at home, which was until I was sixteen.”
“Papa?” says Owen, politely interrupting. “Can we
go look at the fish?”
“Can we, Mama?” asks Lily, nodding hopefully.
When the children are safely stationed at the big
aquarium and gazing in wonder at the neon tetras and swordtails and goldfish,
Luisa continues her story.
“I started working in restaurants when I was thirteen,”
she says, nodding in thanks as Andrew pours her a second glass of beer, “and
I’d been playing piano and singing since I was a little kid, so… to make a very
long story short, my life until I had Lily was always some combination of
singing and working in restaurants. And now my life is entirely restaurant work
and taking care of Lily, though we do sing together and I’m teaching her to
play the piano.”
“And Lily’s father? Where is he?”
“He was a guitarist I used to perform with,” she
says softly. “And after a few years of successfully resisting his advances, one
night I didn’t resist and Lily was made, though I didn’t want to believe I was
pregnant until I was almost three months along, and by then her father had moved
“Did you tell him you were pregnant?”
“No, because I was planning to get an abortion. But
then I had a vivid dream in which my mother came to me and begged me to keep
the child, so I did and named her Lily after my mother. And then when Lily was
two, I decided to contact her father and tell him, partly because I needed
money and partly because I thought he should know, and that’s when I found out
he had committed suicide after a lifelong struggle with depression.”
The children return from watching the fish, ice
cream is ordered, and Luisa asks Andrew, “So your wife is a choreographer and
you are a carpenter. How did you meet?”
“At a party in Montreal,” says Andrew, remembering
the moment he met Kiki—love at first sight—at the height of his success.
“Were you living in Montreal?”
“No, but Kiki was. She grew up there.”
“So what were you
“Oh… visiting friends,” he says, in no mood to
rehash the rise and fall of his writing career.
She arches her eyebrow. “Why don’t I believe you?”
“I don’t know,” he says, caught off guard. “Why
“Because you looked away when you answered. As if
you were ashamed to tell me.”
“Ashamed,” says Andrew, considering that as he finishes
his third glass of beer. “Yeah maybe I am a little, though not about why I was
in Montreal.” He makes a disparaging face. “It’s a long boring story.”
“I’m sure it’s not boring,” she says, splitting the
last of the beer with him. “Maybe next time you’ll tell me.”
“Next play date?” he says, liking her very much.
“Yeah,” she says, liking him very much, too. “Next
That night, after Owen falls asleep during the
bedtime story, Andrew sits at the kitchen table with the intention of writing a
letter to Jason Moreau, the director of the Montreal production of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play
based on two of Andrew’s short stories that was a resounding success nine years
ago and helped launch Andrew’s writing career.
But instead of a letter to Jason, out comes a
story about a man and his young son who spend a week at the beach one summer in
an old falling down house, and the fascinating people and animals and birds and
curious conundrums they encounter there.
He writes for five hours without stopping, uses up
two Bic pens and most of the ink in a third, and finishes the seventy-page opus
at one in the morning barely aware of what he has written.
breakfast the next day, Andrew walks with Owen to Scott and Felicia’s house,
and while Owen and Scott build towers of wooden blocks in the living room,
Andrew has coffee with Cal and Terry in the kitchen—Cal a strapping fellow with
curly black hair who has known Andrew since they were in high school together
in California, Terry a pretty redhead who fell in love with Cal the day after
he got to Canada seventeen years ago.
news of Kiki?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser
University, his specialties Ethics, Skepticism, and Socrates.
be home in a couple weeks,” says Andrew, weary from his long night of writing.
“We spoke a few days ago and she said everything was going gangbusters and she
loves New York and misses us, but she’s glad she’s doing this, and… like that.”
long will she be home for?” asks Terry, a fine art photographer who makes most
of her money shooting weddings.
less than three weeks,” says Andrew, smiling bravely. “And then she’s off to LA
for seven weeks.”
gonna take some time off while she’s home?” asks Cal, who dearly loves Andrew
and worries about him.
She’ll be working seven days a week on the new dances for LA, so there’s no
point in my taking time off.” He bounces his eyebrows. “But guess what?”
started writing again,” says Terry, nodding excitedly.
did you know?” asks Andrew, laughing.
hear it in your voice,” she says, getting up to make a fresh pot of coffee.
“What are you writing? A play?”
story,” says Andrew, having yet to read what he wrote last night. “First thing
I’ve written in… God… three years.” He frowns at Terry. “What about my voice is
sound like you again,” says Terry, smiling fondly at him. “The old sweet you.”
Owen to play with Scott for the day, Andrew returns home and sits on the living
room sofa reading the seventy pages he wrote last night.
finishes, he takes a deep breath and reads the whole thing again.
gets up and goes out into the garden and lifts his arms to the sky and says,
“Thank you. Thank you for coming back to me.”
night Andrew writes for another four hours and produces another fifty pages.
Again he has only a vague notion of what he’s writing, but he is filled with
joy to be the conduit for whatever so urgently wants to come through.
Monday night, after a long day of roofing the beach house, Andrew reads the pages he wrote last night, and is again filled with gratitude for the story he has wrought.
Now he takes up his pen and writes for another three hours.
Tuesday night, pleased with the previous night’s creation, he finds the flow of words has ceased, so he takes up his guitar and plays a lovely pattern of chords he has never played before, and after playing the pattern a dozen times, he sets down his guitar and writes a chorus and four verses as if copying them from a page hanging in the air before him.
plays the pattern of chords and sings the words, and loves the song more than
any song he’s ever written.
Wednesday night, no words come, nor music, so he wanders into the kitchen to put a kettle on for tea and thinks I should call Luisa and set up a play date for Saturday or Sunday and the phone rings and it’s Luisa.
“I was just thinking of calling you,” he says, sitting down at the counter.
“Really?” she says, smiling into the phone. “Why were you thinking of calling me?”
“Well… to set up a play date for Owen and Lily.”
“Saturday or Sunday?” she says, her voice a salve for his lonely heart. “Either or both work for us.”
“Then Saturday,” he says, picking up a pen and writing on the notepad he keeps by the phone they called each other simultaneously and each got a busy signal. “You want to come here again or…”
“Yeah we like your place much better than ours. And this time I’ll stick around and we can have a visit.”
“Oh good, and I can tell you what I was doing in Montreal when I met my wife.”
“And I can tell you my Montreal story,” she says, her kettle whistling in the background. “When I was singing with a band from hell. Shall we do ten o’clock again?”
“Perfect,” he says, his kettle whistling, too.
The date made, Andrew brews a cup of chamomile tea, fetches his notebook, takes up his pen, and writes like a madman until well after midnight.
Saturday is a marvelous and scary day for Andrew, his five hours with Luisa confirming what he already knew but dared not admit: she is undoubtedly the inspiration for the best stories he’s ever written and the best song he’s ever composed, and most terrifying of all, he’s in love with her and she with him.
Yet neither of them makes the slightest attempt to seduce the other, and at visit’s end they both honestly express how happy they are to have found a new friend.
time Kiki arrives home from New York in early May, Andrew has completed and
rewritten eleven long short stories, composed four new songs, and written two
drafts of a play based on the longest of the new stories entitled Their Summer Holiday.
weekend of family fun, Kiki gets to work on her new dances, Andrew resumes his
carpentry gig, Owen goes to preschool for six hours every day, and everything
seems to be fine.
Saturday play date is arranged for Lily and Owen, Luisa brings Lily over for
the day, and Kiki and Luisa immediately hit it off, though a few minutes into
the play date Kiki has to take a call from her producer in Los Angeles and Luisa
has to hurry away to The Crossroads to
fill in for the weekend lunch chef, and Andrew is left to supervise the
with Owen and Lily in the nearby woods, Andrew thinks about Kiki leaving again
in two weeks, and he is overcome with sorrow.
Saturday night two days before Kiki departs for Los Angeles, Andrew and Kiki
throw a small party. Cal and Terry bring Felicia and Scott, and Luisa comes
with Lily. The five dancers Kiki has been employing to help refine her new
dances come with their partners, and Andrew’s old pal Joe Ganz and his wife
Melinda come—Joe the editor and Melinda the art director of the free weekly The Weekly Blitz in which Andrew first
published the seventeen short stories that eventually became his first and most
successful book The Draft Dodger and
much eating and drinking, the party goers move en masse to Kiki’s studio where
Kiki and her five dancers perform several minutes of the two dances destined
for the stage in Los Angeles—a thrilling display of strong limber people doing
amazing things with their bodies in time to thunderous polyrhythmic music.
the dance show, everyone returns to the house where Joe Ganz requests Andrew read
one of his new stories. Andrew is reluctant to comply until Kiki nods
encouragingly, and Andrew says to the assembled host, “Well… the new stories
I’ve been writing are all quite long, but I think the first ten pages of one of
them makes a good little story within the larger story, so… I’ll fetch those
finds a seat and Andrew stands on the hearth and says, “So this is the first
part of a story I’m calling Their Summer
the first time since the collapse of his writing career, he reads to an
audience and feels again the thrill of deeply connecting with others through
his words, his final sentence eliciting loud applause and shouts of Bravo and Joe Ganz saying, “Oh please
let me run that, Andrew. It’s so fucking good.”
days later, Kiki flies to Los Angeles, and this time her going barely disturbs Owen,
perhaps because he has adjusted to the new reality of her coming and going, and
no longer fears she might never return.
Andrew this is the hardest time yet because he knows that after seven long
weeks without her, she will return for a scant few days before flying to London
where she will stay for two months before returning for a few weeks before
going to Montreal for seven weeks, and then to Los Angeles again, and New York
again… on and on for another year and a half.
her every success—and Kiki’s dances are most successful—more offers come, and when
Kiki returns in mid-September after her two months in London she proposes they
expand the two-year plan to a four-year plan.
you serious?” says Andrew, aghast at what she’s suggesting. “What about Owen?
What about me? We’re in the prime of our lives. Our child is about to turn five.
Is this what you want? To live apart from us for another three years?”
want,” she says, taking a deep breath, “is a divorce. And for you to have
custody of Owen.”
are standing in the kitchen when she says this to him—Owen and Scott in the
driveway racing around on scooters.
he says, stunned. “What are you talking about?”
someone, Andrew,” she says, trying not to cry. “I never in a million years thought
something like this would happen. I never ever wanted to hurt you. But it
happened. And now I need to go this other way. I’m so sorry.”
need to go this other way,” he says, sitting down to keep from falling over. “Is
that what you’re gonna say to Owen?”
explain it to him,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Oh good for you, Kiki,” he says bitterly. “And of course he’ll understand because he’s four-years-old and a four-year-old can easily understand why his mother would abandon him because she needs to go this other way.”
leaves the kitchen.
Andrew bows his head and closes his eyes and hopes to wake from this terrible dream.
end of September, two weeks after Kiki asked for a divorce, she oversees the
loading of her belongings into a moving truck to be driven to her new partner’s
house in Los Angeles while she flies to Montreal. Her new partner, a composer
of music for movies and television, is in his early sixties and has five grown children
from his three previous marriages.
wake of Kiki’s going, Andrew takes a month off from carpentry work to be
available to Owen all day every day, and during this break from work he has the
idea to convert Kiki’s dance studio into a two-bedroom rental unit.
for the conversion, he takes out a fifty-thousand-dollar loan on his house and
hires two excellent carpenters to help him do the work, which involves adding a
kitchen, expanding the bathroom, and putting up internal walls to make two
bedrooms and a living room out of the big open space.
into the transformation of the dance studio, a few days after Thanksgiving, Andrew
comes within a tiny fraction of an inch of cutting off his thumb with a
circular saw, and this terrifying brush with disaster makes him realize he
needs to take time off from carpentry and get some therapy.
order to afford this, he does something he has never done before. He calls his
parents and asks them for a loan of five thousand dollars. They are happy to
oblige and do him one better by volunteering to drive up from California and
stay with him and Owen for a month or two.
sense to me,” says his father Zeke, seventy-four and recently retired after
fifty years of landscaping. “Why else did I stop working?”
rainy afternoon, two days before Christmas, his parents having arrived in early
December, Andrew gets home from a revelation-filled three-hour session with his
psychotherapist and finds his mother Gloria in the kitchen making supper with
Luisa: spaghetti with a seafood sauce, sautéed vegetables, and a big green salad.
knew she was a gourmet cook?” says Gloria, pointing at Luisa. “I invite her to
stay for dinner and she turns out to be Julia Child.”
have a play date today?” says Andrew, sitting down at the counter and gazing at
Luisa. “I completely forgot. I’m so sorry.”
didn’t have a play date,” says Luisa, filling a glass with cold beer and
setting it before Andrew. “But your mother called and said Owen was pining for
Lily, so we came over and… is this okay we’re here?”
course,” says Andrew, downing the beer in a single gulp. “I’m delighted to see
you. I never get to see you enough. And how did you know I was pining for a
she’s clairvoyant,” says Gloria, stirring the noodles in a big bubbling pot. “And
maybe you don’t see her enough because you don’t call her enough. Not that it’s
any of my business.”
would have called her enough, Mom,” says Andrew, taking on his mother’s New
York Jewish accent, “but I’ve been very busy having a nervous breakdown. So sue
supper, while Gloria and Zeke play Go
Fish and Slap Jack with Owen and
Lily in the living room, Andrew and Luisa do the dishes together, Andrew
washing, Luisa drying.
have you been?” asks Andrew, smiling at Luisa. “You never stay to visit anymore
when you bring Lily for a play date, so now I’m hopelessly out of touch with
you. Have you fallen in love with someone?”
she says, drying a dish. “I fell in love with a married man.”
Luisa, don’t do that,” he says, wincing.
do what?” she asks, stopping her drying.
an affair with a married man. You’re fantastic. You’re beautiful and smart and talented
and… there are thousands and millions of unmarried
men who would love to be…”
said I was having an affair with him? I said I’m in love with him. And until
recently I have been studiously avoiding him because he was married and I
didn’t want to… you know… be a home wrecker.”
he says, dropping the scrubber into the soapy water. “I see.”
do?” she asks, setting the plate down.
he says, opening his arms to her. “Now I see.”
They make love for the first time in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1987, hoping not to wake anyone with their ecstatic communion.
Gloria wakes and rejoices her son has found such a lovely partner.
and Lily move in with Andrew and Owen at the end of February just as Andrew
completes his work on the rental unit and rents it to Chas and Betty Lowenstein,
retired schoolteachers who become instant grandparents for Lily and Owen.
rainy Friday morning in early April, the kids at kindergarten, Luisa cooking at
The Crossroads, Andrew is sitting at
the kitchen table writing a new story when the phone rings.
certain this is Luisa calling to say she loves him, he picks up the phone and
says, “I love you.”
sweet of you, Andrew,” says a familiar voice he doesn’t immediately recognize.
“How did you know it was me?”
he says, wondering if she still thinks of herself as his agent. “How nice to
hear from you. I’ve been meaning to call you and see if you got the stories I
sent. And the play.”
only got them,” she says, pausing portentously, “we have an offer from Smith
& Harte to publish the collection. And Jason has arranged for a staged
reading of your play at the Ovid and possibly a production if the reading goes
have an offer to publish my book?” says Andrew, trembling. “What about the data
base that says I don’t sell?”
Smith & Harte don’t care about that,” she says, laughing. “They’re now the
play thing of the wife of some incredibly rich computer person, and she’s desperate
to publish your stories. They’re offering a ten-thousand-dollar advance, which
is less than I’d hoped for, but that horrid database is a problem with most of the other houses so I think we should
take their offer and hope for good reviews and a nice fat paperback sale. Yes?”
says Andrew, his tears flowing.
“She wants to fly you out here to meet you and introduce you to your editor, a young woman named Candace Wollitzer who looks like she’s not yet out of high school, but apparently she’s a huge fan of Draft Dodger and says Extremely Silly Ariel changed her life. You can stay with us or with Jason. He’s so looking forward to seeing you. He’s been terribly depressed since Freddie died, and your new play has revived him. Oh Andrew, I’m so glad you’re getting another chance. I think these new stories are your best yet.”
be coming with my new partner Luisa and her daughter Lily and my son Owen,”
says Andrew, looking out the window as the sun cracks the overlay of gray
clouds and sends a heavenly beam to bathe the room in golden light.
Several times in the course of his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known before. And though the woman never recognizes Andrew as anyone she knows, she is always drawn to him.
In 1978, Andrew is twenty-nine and living ten miles north of Vancouver in a spacious two-bedroom house he built on three acres not far from the ocean. He recently became a Canadian citizen and has been in a relationship with a woman named Leslie Revere for seven months.
Leslie is thirty-eight, an aspiring playwright who
makes her living as a secretary in the biggest talent agency in Vancouver. She just
started dying her brown hair auburn and is determined to get her weight down to
125, though she looks fine at 140. Desperate to get out of the tiny apartment
she shares with another woman in a noisy part of the city, she wants to marry
Andrew, get pregnant, and quit her job.
Andrew, however, does not want to marry Leslie. They
were good friends before they became lovers, but now whenever they spend more
than a few hours together, he feels invaded and overwhelmed and creatively
So why doesn’t he end his relationship with her?
Because two years ago she introduced him to the
playwright Mark Kane who adapted two of Andrew’s short stories, Ariel Gets Wise and Extremely Silly, into a play that had a critically-acclaimed run at
the Kleindorf Theatre in Vancouver and was subsequently staged with great
success in Montreal, which success led to Andrew’s first book, a collection of
stories entitled The Draft Dodger and
other fables being published in Canada and England, and soon to be
published in America.
Thus for the first time in his life, he has enough
money to devote himself entirely to his writing and music, yet he cannot write
or compose anything because he is consumed with the dilemma of how to end his
relationship with Leslie without seriously damaging his new connections in the
theatre world, a world he greatly enjoys being part of.
Inspired by the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Andrew has started writing plays
along with his short stories, Mark Kane is nearly finished with a new play
combining two more of Andrew’s short stories, and several eminent Canadian directors
are eagerly awaiting anything Andrew writes.
But what makes Andrew’s dilemma even more
difficult is that Leslie has written twenty plays over the last fifteen years,
none of which have been produced despite her tireless efforts to convince actors
and directors and theatre companies to take them on. This makes Andrew’s
success both a source of pride for Leslie because she introduced him to Mark,
and a thorn in her side because Andrew was so instantly and hugely successful
in contrast to her many years of failing to have a play produced.
To get some distance from Leslie, Andrew decides
to fly to Montreal to meet his literary and theatrical agent Penelope Goldstein
in-person for the first time, and to visit Jason Moreau, the director of the Montreal
production of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets
Despite Andrew arranging his trip on the spur of
the moment, Penelope says she’ll throw a party for him at her townhouse in
Griffintown, and Jason says he’ll throw a party for Andrew at his beautiful old
house in Little Italy.
Penelope and her partner Judith Perlman, also a
literary agent, insist Andrew stay in their guest room for the night of the
party, and Jason and his partner Frederick Holmes, a choreographer, insist
Andrew stay in their guest room for as long as he likes.
Leslie is terribly upset Andrew didn’t invite her
to accompany him to Montreal, but she hides her displeasure for fear of slowing
the momentum she hopes will carry them into marriage and pregnancy, not
necessarily in that order.
Andrew’s best friend Cal drives Andrew to the Vancouver
airport on a cloudy morning in May. Cal is about to get his PhD in Philosophy from
Simon Fraser University and lives with his wife Terry, a photographer, and
their two-year-old daughter Felicia in a house not far from Andrew’s. Cal and
Andrew were pals in high school in Redwood City, California, roomies at UC
Santa Cruz, and came to Canada together in 1970 so Cal could evade the draft
and not go to Vietnam. Andrew then fell in love with a Canadian woman named
Yvonne and ended up staying in Canada, too.
“I’m surprised Leslie’s not going with you,” says Cal,
glancing at Andrew as they drive through a sudden downpour. “She lives for this
kind of thing, doesn’t she?”
“I didn’t invite her,” says Andrew, testily. “I
don’t want to be in a relationship with her anymore but I can’t seem to work up
the courage to tell her. So I thought I’d run away for a week or two and see if
that might empower me to break her heart.”
“You don’t owe her anything,” says Cal, giving
Andrew a doleful look. “She didn’t write your stories. She introduced you to
Mark who was already a big fan from reading you in The Weekly Blitz. You went to a party with her and she knew Mark
because she knows everybody and he took things from there. Right?”
“It’s more complicated than that, Cal,” says
Andrew, shrugging painfully. “She was my great advocate and…”
“Oh bullshit,” says Cal, tired of listening to
Andrew rationalize staying in a relationship with someone he doesn’t love. “You’re
just afraid she’s gonna badmouth you to her theatre friends if you break up
with her. So what if she does? Your success comes from what you write, not from
who you know.”
“I wish that were true,” says Andrew, wistfully.
“But it’s not. My stories helped me get into the castle, but now that I’m in,
believe me, it is all about who you know among the chosen few. And if the
chosen few don’t like you, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest playwright in
the world, they won’t have anything to do with you.”
Cal grimaces. “But your own experience disproves
that. Your stories won the day, not Leslie.”
“If not for Leslie, I would never have gone to the
party where I met Mark.” He gazes out at the rain. “No. They lowered the
drawbridge for her and let me in because I was with her.”
“I’ll never believe that,” says Cal, shaking his
head. “I will always believe you flew over the ramparts on the magic carpet of
your wonderful stories.”
“Which is one of the many reasons I love you,”
says Andrew, smiling fondly at his dear friend.
The truth is Penelope and Judith love Andrew’s short
stories because they are great stories. And they love the play that sprang from
two of those stories because Extremely
Silly Ariel Gets Wise is a great play. They very much hope Andrew’s success
continues, but they have no expectations it will.
Penelope and Judith attained their success as
agents by working incredibly hard for decades, and though they know as well as
anyone about the potency of personal connections in the publishing business and
the theatre world, they are of a generation of agents—both of them in their fifties—who
represent uniquely talented writers regardless of who those writers know or
Forty people come to the party at Penelope and
Judith’s townhouse, mostly middle-aged editors and middle-aged writers, a few younger
editors and younger writers, and a handful of theatre people. Penelope and
Judith take turns introducing people to Andrew, and eventually he meets
everyone. He is praised many times for his story collection and for Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, eats
his fill of fabulous hors d’oeuvres, and is beginning to long for the end of
the party when a couple of latecomers arrive, the man middle-aged and heavyset,
the woman Andrew’s age and the doppelgänger of Andrew’s last great love Yvonne,
a beautiful woman with olive skin and lustrous brown hair.
They are Larry and Carol Savard, Larry a
successful actor, Carol a novelist.
“I am in awe of your stories,” says Carol, who Andrew
immediately recognizes as another manifestation of his soul mate. “I’ve read The Draft Dodger and other fables three
times and I’m about to start again.”
“Oh I’m so glad,” says Andrew, looking into her
eyes. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.”
“There’s talk of a movie being made of your Silly Whosit play,” says Larry,
surveying the room. “My agent says most likely made-for-television, but possibly
a cute little feature. I’d love to play the silly girl’s father. Keep me in
“I will,” says Andrew, laughing, “though this is
the first I’ve heard…”
“Hate to cut you off,” says Larry, half-snarling
and half-smiling, “but I must say
hello to Jim and Kathy. Haven’t seen them in ages,” and off he goes leaving Andrew alone with Carol.
“Did I say something wrong?” asks Andrew, looking
“No, that’s just Larry,” she says, smiling
bravely. “A busy bee visiting many flowers.”
“Ah,” says Andrew, not really understanding what
“So how are you handling your sudden success?” she
asks, sounding as if she really wants to know.
“Well…” he says, deciding not to tell her she
could be the twin of Yvonne who was the twin of Laura and so on back through the
great loves of his life, “I haven’t made tons of money from the play or the
book so my life hasn’t really changed much except I get lots more mail and I don’t
have to pay my bills with carpentry work for the next year or so.”
“Or maybe never again,” she says, her voice and
Quebecois accent identical to Yvonne’s. “I think there are at least three
really good movies in your collection and before long you’ll be writing the
“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Andrew,
bowing to her.
“Are you Jewish?” asks Carol, smiling quizzically.
“I am descended from Jews but not raised in the
religion,” he says, returning her quizzical smile. “Why do you ask?”
“My Jewish grandmother says from your lips to God’s ears all the time. And so does my mother
who gave your book to everyone she knows for Hanukkah and Christmas.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t read your novels,” he says, amazed
by how much she reminds him of Yvonne. “But I will. What are their titles?”
“Oh I’m not published yet,” she says, blushing.
“Getting closer, according to Judith, but no takers yet.”
“What are your novels about if I may ask?”
“Love,” she says simply. “And the myriad impossibilities
therein and thereof. I think you’d find them kin to your stories only much more
convoluted, which is probably the problem.”
“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, sensing her
sadness. “Started a few but they either turned into short stories or trailed
off into nothingness.”
“Oh yes,” she says, laughing a beautiful hearty
laugh. “I know all about things trailing off into nothingness. And now if
you’ll excuse me, I better go be with Larry before he becomes apoplectic with
“Of course,” says Andrew, looking across the room to
where Larry is loudly telling a man and a woman a story involving lots of
gesturing. “A pleasure to meet you.”
When the last guest has gone home, Penelope and
Judith and Andrew sit in the living room sipping brandy from crystal snifters
and Judith asks Andrew, “Did you get a chance to talk to Carol Savard?”
“Briefly,” he says, relieved the party is over.
“She seemed very nice.”
“She’s a doll,” says Judith, the child of
Yiddish-speaking parents. “And a very good writer, too. She was a waitress
before she married Larry. Shared an apartment with two other women and wrote
like mad on her days off. And then… oh never mind.”
“Tell, darling,” says Penelope, pouring more
brandy into Judith’s snifter. “Andrew won’t gossip. Will you, dear?”
“Never,” says Andrew, smiling mischievously.
“Though I might put this in a story. Well-disguised of course.”
Judith sips her brandy and says, “She’s hasn’t
written a word since she married Larry two years ago. And I know I could sell
her novel if she’d do one more draft.”
“I wonder why she doesn’t,” says Andrew, in his
tiredness confusing Carol with Yvonne who was a prolific songwriter.
“Married the wrong man,” says Penelope, swirling
her brandy. “Scared away her muse.”
“I remember the day she told me they were getting
married,” says Judith, sighing. “We were having lunch and strategizing about who
I should send her novel to next, and she said, ‘After I’m married I’ll have lots
of time to write.’ But then the problem of not enough time became the problem
of too much Larry.”
“Always tricky when we make a pact with the
devil,” says Penelope, wagging her finger at Andrew. “Don’t you do that. Promise
The next day, a Thursday, Penelope and Judith take
Andrew to breakfast at an eatery around the corner from their townhouse, and
while they wait for their food to arrive, Judith says, “We would ask you to
stay on with us, but we have a dear friend coming in from England today. But next
time you come to Montreal you must stay with us for at least a week.”
“You’ll love your room at Jason and Freddie’s,”
says Penelope, signaling their waitress for more coffee. “We know their house
very well because we were each other’s beards for twenty years until we all
came out two years ago.”
“Beards,” says Andrew, frowning. “You mean…”
“We posed as heterosexual partners,” says Judith,
sipping her coffee. “I with Freddie, Penelope with Jason. But now, thank God,
we don’t have to do that anymore.”
“Much to our surprise, coming out didn’t hurt our
business at all,” says Penelope, waving to an acquaintance being seated at a
nearby table. “Or Freddie’s. Dance, you know. But Jason can’t get television
gigs anymore. No one cares in the theatre world, of course, but television and movies
are way behind.”
“You can’t be gay and direct television shows and
movies?” asks Andrew, finding that hard to believe.
“It’s not about being gay,” says Judith, enjoying Andrew’s innocence. “It’s about
being openly gay.”
The party Jason and Freddie throw for Andrew on
Saturday night is very different than the party at Judith and Penelope’s. The
music is louder, the air is heavily scented with cannabis smoke, and many of
the hundred people filling the house and spilling out into the backyard are in
their twenties and thirties. There are dancers and actors and musicians and
theatre people, many of them making no secret of their homosexuality and only a
handful of them interested in meeting Andrew.
Freddie, a handsome fellow in his early sixties,
notorious in his youth for supposed liaisons with famous ballerinas, introduces
Andrew to a striking young woman named Kiki—long black hair, carob brown skin,
wearing a black skirt and red sandals and a green T-shirt with juxtaposition of elements in tension
writ in white letters across the chest—a former ballerina now a modern dancer,
her mother Afro-Caribbean, her father Chinese.
Kiki and Andrew take to each other instantly and Kiki
suggests they gravitate away from the loud music to the backyard where they
stand under a lantern suspended from the branch of a maple tree talking about Montreal
and Vancouver and finding each other splendid.
And Andrew thinks I would love to have a child with this woman.
He has never had such a thought about any woman
he’s ever known, and he wonders why he never wanted children with Yvonne or
Laura, both of whom he loved with all his heart.
“Are you free at all in the next few days?” he asks,
holding out his hand to Kiki. “I’d love to see you again.”
“Yeah, I’m free,” she says, smiling brightly and
giving his hand a squeeze. “We could have lunch tomorrow. Or supper. Or…”
“Let’s start with lunch,” he says, feeling a gush
“I’ll give you my number,” she says, rummaging in
her handbag and bringing forth a notebook and pen. “How long are you here for?”
“Not sure,” he says, imagining moving to Montreal
and courting Kiki. “Jason and Freddie said I could stay with them as long as I
want to, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
“Tell me again how you know them,” she says,
tearing a page from her notebook and handing it to him. “I was too busy gawking
at you when Freddie introduced us. Are you an actor?”
“No, I’m a writer. I wrote a couple stories that
were made into a play Jason directed.”
“Oh my God,” says Kiki, putting a hand on her
heart. “Did you write Extremely Silly Ariel
“I wrote the two stories it was based on, but I
didn’t write the play.”
“I went four times,” says Kiki, putting her other
hand atop the hand on her heart. “Gave me the courage to end a very bad
relationship I was stuck in. Thank you so much for writing those stories.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, finding her impossibly
At which moment, Carol Savard emerges from the
house and makes a beeline for Andrew and Kiki.
“Andrew,” says Carol, as she comes near. “We met
at Penelope and Judith’s party a few nights ago.”
“I remember,” he says, surprised to see her again.
“Do you know Kiki?”
“No,” says Carol, shaking Kiki’s hand. “Nice to
“Nice to meet you, too,” says Kiki, sensing
Carol’s urgency to speak to Andrew. “I have to go, Andrew. Call me in the
“I will,” says Andrew, exchanging quick kisses
Alone with Carol, Andrew asks, “Larry here?”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s in England
for three weeks. Making a movie.”
“Ah,” says Andrew, nodding. “So you have lots of
time to write.”
“Yes,” she says, clearing her throat. “I’m
wondering if… I’m wondering if you’d like to spend some time with me. I felt a
very strong connection with you at the party and…” She starts to cry. “I’m not
talking about having sex. I just need to talk to you.”
“I’d be happy to spend some time with you,” he
says, feeling the deep and inexplicable bond he has with her.
At breakfast the next morning with Freddy and
Jason in their sunny kitchen, Jason opines, “How could anyone be married to
“No one can
be,” says Freddie, shaking his head. “He was married four times before Carol and
none of them stuck for more than a few years.”
“Let me rephrase that,” says Jason, striking a
thoughtful pose. “Why anyone would want to marry him, I can’t imagine. And
don’t say for money. No amount of money would be enough to live with that horrible
“We were stunned when Carol told us she was
marrying him,” says Freddie, grimacing. “We frequently dine at Baskerville’s, the
restaurant where Carol used to be the star waiter. We always requested her and
I often said to Jason if I liked sleeping with women I would marry her in a
minute if she would have me. So sweet and kind and funny and smart and very
sexy. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” says Andrew, nodding. “Very.”
“Beware of her,” says Jason, pointing at Andrew. “You’ll
fall in love and try to save her and stop writing. And I need you to write a new play for me. The sooner the better.”
“Speaking of narcissists,” says Freddie, laughing.
“I am not a narcissist,” says Jason, indignantly.
“The world is dying for good plays and Andrew is one of the few people I know
who can write them.”
Kiki takes Andrew to lunch at a café a few blocks
from Jason and Freddie’s house, their attraction to each other growing by leaps
and bounds. For dessert they split a piece of pumpkin pie and share a cup of
coffee, black, and Andrew presents Kiki with a signed copy of his book The Draft Dodger and other fables, to
which Kiki responds by bringing forth a copy of his book she just bought.
“You can make this one to my mother,” she says,
handing him the book. “She came to your play twice with me and she’s dying to
“Do you ever get out to Vancouver?” he asks, gazing
in wonder at her. “To dance?”
“I have gone there to dance,” she says, nodding.
“And my sister lives there and we miss each other, so I try to go out there at
least once a year.”
“Would you…” he says, but nothing more comes out.
“Visit you when I’m there?” she says, nodding. “Oh
yeah. But what about tonight? My friend Juliet is singing with her trio at
Honey Martin starting at nine. You’ll love her and probably want to marry her.
I can come get you or we can meet there.”
“I have a supper date,” says Andrew, madly in love
with her. “But I could meet you there at ten.”
“Perfect,” she says, smiling rapturously. “I’ll
save you a seat.”
Before Andrew leaves Jason and Freddie’s to meet
Carol for supper, he and Jason have tea in the living room.
“I was not kidding, Andrew,” says Jason, clearly distraught. “Larry Savard is famously violent, and I wish you wouldn’t have anything to do with Carol until she is long free of him. She’s probably afraid to leave him for fear he’ll kill her.”
“I’m just having supper with her,” says Andrew, attributing
some of Jason’s upset to his tendency to exaggerate.
“Well make sure that’s all you do,” says Jason,
emphatically. “Don’t even kiss her cheek.”
“But how would Larry know? He’s in England.”
“We know two of his ex-wives, and when they were
married to him, whenever he went away he had them watched.”
“That’s crazy,” says Andrew, the back of his neck
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” says Jason, throwing
up his hands. “He’s crazy.”
In a quaint
Italian restaurant, Andrew and Carol sit at a table with a
red-and-white-checkered tablecloth and a candle stuck in a round-bottomed wine
bottle covered with melted wax.
bit of friendly chitchat, Carol says, “I felt such a strong jolt of recognition
when I met you. Not that you look like anybody I’ve ever known, but there was something
about your voice and the way you listened to me. I can’t explain it except to
say I felt I knew you and you knew me, and I thought if anyone could understand
what I’m going through right now, you would. And I thought maybe you could… I
don’t know, shed some light on my predicament or give me some advice.”
recognized you, too,” says Andrew, wondering if they are being watched. “And I
feel a similar affinity with you. So please, tell me.”
wonder if we could go somewhere more private,” she says quietly.
don’t think that would be a good idea,” he says, sipping his wine to moisten
his very dry throat. “Jason told me your husband is famously jealous and
famously violent and had his previous wives followed whenever he went out of
town. And though I’d love to go somewhere more private to hear your story, to
be honest with you I’m afraid to do that. I’m sorry.”
need to apologize, though I can assure you no one followed me here. That
happened a few times at the beginning of our marriage and when I found out he
was paying people to spy on me, I told him if he ever did it again I would
leave him. So he no longer does. And I understand why Jason and Freddie may
think I’m afraid of him, but I’m not.”
what is your predicament?” asks Andrew, lowering his shoulders and breathing a
sigh of relief.
been able to write anything since I married Larry. But if I leave him… he’ll
tell you that?”
she says, falling silent as their supper arrives.
their waiter departs, Andrew asks, “If he didn’t tell you, how do you know?”
we know anything?” she asks, locking eyes with him. “Why did you and I
recognize each other?”
just do,” he says, nodding.
I have sat with Larry on many a night watching him drink himself into oblivion,
knowing that if I leave him he will die.”
“So he does tell you. Maybe not in words, but with
his thoughts and actions. And how is that not extortion? Emotional extortion.”
if it is?” she says, shrugging. “What would you do? Knowing if you end the
relationship you would cause his death? And please don’t say you wouldn’t have
gotten into the relationship in the first place. You don’t know that. You might
have. And if you did, what would you do if you knew that leaving him would kill
would tell him,” says Andrew, jabbing his fork into his spaghetti, “that I
would help him find a good therapist and a good rehab clinic, and if he
wouldn’t make the effort to heal, I would leave him.”
he will kill himself,” she says, her eyes full of tears.
are the alternatives, Carol? Going on living in the hell you’re in? Killing your
self? Never writing again?
Sacrificing your life so he can go on drinking himself into oblivion every
night while you watch? Wait for him to die of liver failure?”
would leave him,” she says, folding her arms. “And let him die.”
are not connected actions,” says Andrew, angrily. “He is choosing to die rather
than trying to get well. And by leaving, you are choosing not to be present for
sits back in her chair and muses for a long time.
eats his spaghetti, drinks his wine, and thinks Tomorrow I’m calling Yvonne and ending our relationship.
says Carol, leaning forward in her chair.
he says, softening.
like living in Vancouver?”
I live in a house I built ten miles north of the city. Beautiful place. Good
friends. Yeah, I love it.”
you involved with anyone?”
just ending a relationship and hoping to start another,” he says, seeing no
need to hide the truth from her. “Why do you ask?”
if I leave Larry, I’d love to try being in a relationship with you.” She smiles
shyly. “If you want to.”
He thinks of Kiki and how he loves her, and he says to Carol, “How about we write to each other and see where that takes us?”
“Okay,” she says, smiling bravely. “I’d love to be your pen pal.”
next day, after a fabulous night with Kiki in the pub listening to her friend
sing, Andrew calls Leslie and ends their relationship. She is most upset with
him for breaking up with her by phone and not in-person, but by the end of
their conversation she says she understands why he had to get away from her to work
up the nerve to tell her.
be terrifying, I know,” she says, laughing a little as she cries. “But I hope
we’ll still be friends. I think you’re a great person, Andrew, a rare person, and
I’d like to keep knowing you whether we sleep together or not.”
being your friend,” he says sincerely. “I think you’re a rare person, too, and
you have helped me in so many ways.”
have helped me,” she says, weeping.
stays another two weeks in Montreal, a week with Jason and Freddie, a week with
Kiki in the house she shares with her mother, her father no longer alive.
the trip back to Vancouver by train rather than fly, which gives him five days of
rolling across Canada to write and write and write, stories and poems and
letters and dialogue flowing unabated from his liberated pen.
spring of 1980, Andrew and Kiki wed in Montreal in Freddie and Jason’s backyard,
Andrew’s parents and brother and sisters having made the long trek from
California, Kiki’s mother and grandparents and sister on hand, Andrew’s best
man Cal, of course, and Freddie giving the bride away.
comes to the wedding with Judith and Penelope, for she and Andrew have become
great friends via the postal service, her first novel Simply Love about to be published, her marriage to Larry a thing of
the past, Larry still alive and about to wed again.
In a letter to Carol dated July 14, 1981, Andrew writes from Vancouver that Kiki is three months pregnant, they are adding another bedroom to their house, his second collection of short stories Suicide Notes From My Friends is selling very well, and his play Exactly Random will begin rehearsals next week, to open at the Kleindorf in September.
“I know I have tried to elucidate this to you before, Carol,” he writes, “but I will try to put the ineffable into words again because I am overwhelmed this morning by how deeply connected I feel to you, though deeply and connected are inadequate descriptors.
“I often feel you are here with us. We will be in the garden or making supper or walking on the beach, and I will be aware of you on a cellular level. Especially when I play music.
“But the awareness of you is never intrusive. Your presence never impedes the flow of my music, never interferes with the flow of words onto the page. In fact, your spirit is a divine impetus. Dare I say you are my muse?
“Yes, Kiki inspires me. I write poems for her and passages in my stories and plays just for her, but she is outside of me, wonderfully so, whereas you are in my bones.
is to say I think our souls were one soul incubating in the womb of God when by
some miracle we divided into two halves and became twin souls loosed into the