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Arturo and Vivienne and Henri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

fin

Questions

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The Waiter Contemplates Fatherhood

Sandra Messer, sixty-seven, a native of Chicago, her short gray hair colored dirty blonde, is the legendary owner/chef of Le Scélérat in Berkeley, California. While shopping at Monterey Market on a foggy morning in August, Sandra runs into Philip, headwaiter at Le Scélérat.

In the ten years Philip has worked for Sandra, they have only met away from the restaurant a few other times, and each of those times Sandra was in a terrible hurry and barely said Hello.

But today Sandra is uncharacteristically not in a hurry, nor is Philip, so they have a long chat while moving around together among the outdoor fruit and vegetable stands.

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

When speaking to fellow restaurateurs, Sandra refers to Philip as my Philip, indicating her special fondness for him lest they entertain any thoughts of trying to woo him away from her. She entrusts Philip with her most important guests, and though he is not the least gregarious, his intuition regarding the needs of his customers is so remarkable and his service so full of grace, those he serves at Le Scélérat feel they have been cared for by an otherworldly savant.

“Diego,” says Sandra, referring to her second-in-command in the kitchen, “tells me you’re writing a cookbook.”

“Yes,” says Philip, shyly. “For over a decade now. Endlessly adding and tinkering with recipes, so I may never finish, but the process is endlessly fascinating to me.”

“I hope you’ll show me the manuscript,” says Sandra, who is a millionaire many times over from her cookbooks.

“I wouldn’t think to impose on you,” says Philip, sincerely.

“Don’t be silly, Philip,” says Sandra, selecting a few dozen bell peppers to stuff with sole. “I’m genuinely interested.”

“Thank you, Sandra,” he says, nodding graciously. “I’ll put you at the top of my list.”

“Speaking of tops of lists and recipes,” she says, moving to the eggplant, “I spoke with Emile Costas yesterday. He’s coming out to steal some of my recipes, and someone told me you worked for Emile at Le Bouffon. Did you?”

“Yes,” says Philip, taking a deep breath. “But in his kitchen, not at his tables.”

Sandra frowns. “You cooked for him?”

“I did,” says Philip, clearing his throat. “Twenty years ago he asked me to be head chef at Le Bouffon, I declined, and thereafter became a waiter.”

“I had no idea,” says Sandra, shocked by this revelation.

“Long time ago,” says Philip, laughing and crying a little and feeling very glad not to be head chef of Le Bouffon or anywhere, and to have finally told Sandra. “I much prefer waiting tables for you.”

“His loss is my gain,” she says, looking at Philip as if seeing him for the first time. “Now I really want to read your cookbook, and I’ll spare you the ordeal of working on the nights Emile comes to dine.”

“No, no. I enjoy waiting on him,” says Philip, his eyes sparkling. “He and I made our peace a few years after I fled his kitchen. I waited on him twice in New York and once at Le Vagabond before I moved across the bay to work for you. He was a father to me, and like a good father he forgave me for going my own way.”

*

Philip and Lisa have been friends for six years, lovers for the last three. For Lisa’s fortieth birthday, Philip throws a dinner party in the cottage he rents in the Berkeley hills and invites the five people he cooks for every few weeks, his guinea pigs as he calls them, who give him their reactions to the latest versions of recipes he’s perfecting for his cookbook.

The five are: Marcel a waiter at Le Vagabond in San Francisco, Marcel’s wife Andrea, a sous-chef at Le Vagabond, Joan, a professor of European History at Mills College, Joan’s husband Fred, a landscape architect, and Hilda, a psychotherapist who dines regularly at Le Scélérat.

Andrea and Marcel arrive an hour before the other guests so Andrea can assist Philip in the kitchen while Marcel sets the table, decants the wine, and plays his accordion to accompany the cooks.

“Mon dieu, Philip,” says Andrea, a girlish forty-one with short black hair and small tattoos of flowers on her arms, her accent faintly German, “for a chef of your caliber you need a bigger kitchen. Much bigger.”

“Ah but I want these recipes to work in any sized kitchen,” he says, checking the soufflé. “This is a cookbook for everyone.”

“Of course,” says Andrea, who adores Philip, “but everyone doesn’t make a five-course dinner in a kitchen the size of a…” She looks around the tiny kitchen. “Small bathroom.”

“When the cookbook becomes a bestseller,” says Marcel, who also has short black hair, no tattoos, his accent loudly French, “Philip will buy a chateau in a vineyard with a vast kitchen and enormous bathrooms and we will go there and live with him and make wine and help him write his next cookbook.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” says Philip, enjoying Marcel’s fantasy. “And we’ll raise chickens and peacocks.”

“Oh if only we could,” says Andrea, sighing. “I’m weary of living in our three little rooms in the foggy avenues.”

“Our friends Pierre and Charlene want us to move to Portland,” says Marcel, sipping his wine. “There are many jobs for us there and we could rent a house with a yard. Have a garden. Grow roses. Much less expensive than here. It’s tempting.”

“Lisa and I talk about getting out of here, too,” says Philip, looking from Andrea to Marcel. “A small town somewhere. In Oregon perhaps. We would miss you so much.”

“I don’t want to think about it right now,” says Andrea, shaking her head. “Tonight we celebrate Lisa.”

*

Ere long, Philip’s neighbors Joan and Fred Birchfield arrive, Fred fifty-eight, big and lumbering, Joan fifty-seven, petite and nimble, both born in South Dakota. Married since they were twenty, Joan and Fred routinely finish each other’s sentences, disagree about almost everything, and love each other madly. Their one child, Aurora, is thirty-four, a professor of Linguistics at Stanford.

Marcel serves Fred and Joan wine, Fred white, Joan red, and Hilda Rubenstein arrives resplendent in a dress of her own design made of purple Guatemalan fabric, her long silvery gray hair in a braid. A Jungian psychoanalyst, Hilda is seventy-five and has lived in Berkeley for forty years. Widowed ten years ago, Hilda’s one child, Tamara, is a playwright, no grandchildren in sight.

Moments after Hilda arrives, Lisa appears in a billowy red blouse and a long gray skirt, a red rose in her dark brown hair. Lisa’s mother Bianca was a mix of African and Indio, Lisa’s father Herschel an Ashkenazi Jew from Los Angeles. Bianca and Herschel had a love affair in Buenos Aires when Herschel was there on business for his father’s jewelry company and Bianca became pregnant with Lisa. Herschel fled back to California and assuaged his guilt by sending money to Bianca, though not often or very much. When Lisa was ten, Bianca died, and a few months later Lisa flew from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles to live with Herschel’s parents.

Herschel, who Lisa had never met before arriving in Los Angeles, was by then married and had two small children with his unhappy wife. Had it been up to him, he would have ignored the pleas of Lisa’s beleaguered aunt to take responsibility for Lisa, but Herschel’s mother insisted they bring the child to America. And so Lisa went from living in dangerous poverty in Brazil to being the pampered granddaughter of Myron and Shirley Goldstein in Beverly Hills.

When everyone is seated around Philip’s dining table, the salad served, Joan asks Lisa how her birthday is going so far and Lisa says, “I took the day off, had a long bath here before Philip made me blackberry crepes for breakfast, then I went home to feed my cat, did a little shopping with some money my grandmother sent me, bought this blouse, and then I met three friends for lunch at Nakapan and we blabbed and blabbed, and then I went home and talked on the phone with my grandmother, got dressed, and here I am.”

“I would never guess you were forty,” says Fred, who finds Lisa surpassingly lovely. “Thirty at most.”

“I feel forty,” says Lisa, looking at Hilda who has become something of a mother to her since they became friends a year ago. “Feels very different than thirty-nine.”

“How so?” asks Joan, squinting at Lisa. “Not that I don’t agree, it’s just I’ve never been able to elucidate why my entry into the fifth decade was such a profound change.”

“I think it’s that we’re coming to the end of being able to make babies,” says Lisa, looking at Andrea. “Approaching a time when that’s no longer possible.”

“Turning forty has brought more people to me for therapy than anything else,” says Hilda, smiling fondly at Lisa. “Both women and men. It is a huge turning point in this culture, this youth-worshiping culture. We begin to more consciously question why we are here if not to procreate or at least be able to, which is, in a way, the definition of youth, especially for a woman.”

“I’m forty-two,” says Andrea, sighing. “We talk about having a child, but the years go by and we don’t, so…” She looks at Marcel. “We are too busy making money to pay the rent and we can’t see how we would fit a child into our lives.”

“Oh you don’t see how they’ll fit until they arrive,” says Fred, who doubts their daughter Aurora will ever give them a grandchild. “And then you do whatever you can to make them feel at home. That’s how we all got here, with parents who couldn’t see how we’d fit, and then we did. Somehow.”

“Now why would you say that, dear?” says Joan, frowning at Fred. “We assiduously prepared for Aurora’s arrival. You added a room to the house in anticipation of her birth and I got a two-year extension on my doctoral thesis.”

“I still couldn’t see how she’d fit until she got here,” he says, laughing. “And when she did, the room we added became your study and we ended up converting half the living room into her bedroom because that’s where she wanted to be. Remember?”

Hilda laughs. “I will never forget the first night I put my daughter Tamara into her very own bed, rather than have her go on sleeping with us in our bed as she had for her first two years, and she looked up at me and said, “Mama, you can’t be serious.”

*

The guests gone—Joan and Fred having helped with the dishes—Philip and Lisa go to bed and make love, and in the aftermath Lisa says, “I want to have a child with you. But if I have to choose between having a child and being with you, I choose you.”

“Well then lets at least get married,” he says, taking her in his arms. “We’ve lived apart long enough.”

*

Philip comes to the table where the roguishly handsome Emile Costa, sixty-four, is dining with his stunning young Swedish assistant Olga, Emile one of the most famous chef/restaurateurs in the world with renowned restaurants in New York, London, Paris, and Las Vegas.

“Perfect timing as always, Philip,” says Emile, born in the Bronx to Sicilian parents. “What is the mystery spice in her rice? Not cardamom, is it?”

“No cardamom,” says Philip, replenishing their wine glasses. “Perhaps you are tasting her subtle use of smoked paprika.”

 “Of course,” says Emile, winking at Olga to make note of that. “So… you are happy here?”

“Yes,” says Philip, knowing Emile would love to employ him. “Eventually I want to move to a small town, but for now working here is ideal for me.”

“So mellow,” says Olga, loving how quiet Le Scélérat is compared to Emile’s enormous cacophonous restaurants.

“Too mellow for me,” says Emile, shaking his head. “Feels dead. Even the young people who come here seem dead.”

“Did you want to sample anything else tonight?” asks Philip, smiling fondly at Emile. “Another glass of wine?”

“No, we’re done,” says Emile, shaking his head. “I always come away from Sandra’s food feeling she missed the high notes.” He gives Philip a special smile. “I know you know what I mean. You never missed the high notes when you cooked for me.”

“She is not bombastic,” says Philip, pouring the last drops of wine into Olga’s glass. “But she’s very good.”

“And how are you away from here?” says Emile, shifting from restaurateur to old friend. “Are you in love?”

“I am,” says Philip, touched by Emile wanting to know. “I’m getting married soon.”

“Tell me,” says Emile, surprised. “I thought you might never again after the first two disasters.”

Philip laughs. “I thought the same. But then the gods sent me Lisa, and so… here I go again.”

“I’m happy for you,” says Emile, who considered Philip a culinary Mozart. “I, as you know, love getting married and do so often.”

“Will you have children?” asks Olga, who is next in line to marry Emile.

“We might,” says Philip, taken over by sudden sorrow. “We have yet to decide.”

*

Philip sits on a small sofa in Hilda’s studio and looks across the small red and green Persian rug where Hilda is sitting in a brown leather armchair. This is Philip’s first time availing himself of Hilda’s offer of free psychotherapy, the question of fatherhood inspiring his request for a session with her.

“My father was a brute,” says Philip, seeing his father sitting at the kitchen table drinking whiskey from a bottle. “He was twenty years older than my mother, a salesman, gone most of the time, had other women, smoked constantly, was a terrible drunk, and died of lung cancer when he was fifty-six and I was fourteen.”

“Was he a mean drunk?” asks Hilda, suspecting he was.

“A monster,” says Philip, nodding. “We lived for him to go away and hid from him when he was home.”

“Why did she marry him?”

“He was handsome and charming and a good salesman,” says Philip, thinking of the many times his mother fled with him and his sisters on the train into New York City to stay with his mother’s friend in a little apartment until the terror passed. “When she got pregnant with my older sister, she insisted my father marry her, and he did, though he had at least one other wife concurrently with my mother.”

“And you begin with this because…?”

“I think he must have something to do with why I never wanted children, why the idea of becoming a father is so…” He frowns. “Alien to me. I’ve never imagined being a father.”

“Do you like children?”

“I get along with them, but I wouldn’t say I like them. When Lisa and I go walking, she loves seeing children and talking to them, and they adore her. And when we socialize with friends who have kids, I always have a good time playing with them, though I don’t seek them out.”

“Do they seek you out?” Hilda smiles expectantly. “I imagine they do.”

“Yes,” he says, surprised she knew. “Why did you think so?”

“You have an innocence about you, an openness. Children love that, as do women and some men, but children especially.”

“Yet I have never thought, ‘Oh kids love me. I should be a father.’ It has never occurred to me.”

“Imagine Lisa is pregnant with your child. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”

“I might do something wrong,” he says, anguished. “I might by accident hurt the baby, or the child might die and Lisa would never forgive me and I could never forgive myself.”

“What would you do wrong?”

“Anything. Everything. I know nothing about babies or changing diapers or feeding them or holding them or burping them or anything.”

“Dear Philip,” says Hilda, loving his honesty, “it’s just like being a waiter. The customer has certain needs requiring certain actions on your part, and once you learn those necessary actions, they become automatic, a dance with constant variations, just as your service is a dance. And remember, much of caring for a child is feeding them, and you are a master at feeding people.”

“When you put it that way,” says Philip, laughing with relief, “I feel less afraid.”

 *

Joan and Fred have Philip and Lisa over for a summertime barbecue in their big backyard, but cold fog sends them indoors to dine.

“We feel confident about cooking shish kebobs and corn on the cob for you,” says Fred, a few moments into the feast. “And beer is beer.”

“Your food is every bit as good as mine,” says Philip, loving the barbecued chicken. “We’re thrilled every time you invite us.”

“I love your salads,” says Lisa, happier than she’s ever been, knowing she and Philip will soon to be married. “And your rice is always delicious.”

“We were not good cooks until Aurora became interested in cooking,” says Joan, speaking of their daughter. “In fact, she became so interested, we thought she was going to culinary school until one night she called from college to tell us she’d fallen in love with linguistics.”

“How old was she when she got interested in cooking?” asks Lisa, hoping Philip won’t mind talk of children.

“Six,” says Fred, nodding. “We went out to dinner one night to a Mexican restaurant.”

“We frequently ate out,” says Joan, nodding. “Because we were not good cooks, but loved good food.”

“And when the waitress came to see how everything was going,” Fred continues, “Aurora said to her, ‘How do make your beans so yummy?’”

“And the waitress held out her hand to Aurora,” says Joan, holding out her hand to Fred.

“Aurora took it,” says Fred, taking his wife’s hand.

“And the waitress led her into the kitchen and put her on a stool next to the stove,” says Joan, smiling as she remembers.

“Then the cook stood beside Aurora and explained in great detail how she made her beans so yummy,” says Fred, kissing his wife’s hand.

“And thereafter Aurora was mad for cooking,” says Joan, kissing her husband’s hand in return.

“So of course we had to learn with her,” says Fred, grinning at Philip, “which as you know is an adventure without end.”

*

At the end of a Friday night at Le Scélérat, Sandra beckons Philip to follow her to her office where she tells him she thinks his cookbook is a masterwork, she would be honored to write the Forward, and she can’t wait to show the book to her publisher.

“And,” she says, pausing for effect, “I would very much like to use some of your recipes here.”

*

On a warm day in September, a month before their wedding, Lisa and Philip engage Andrea and Marcel and Fred, and Fred’s large pickup truck, to move Lisa’s things from her apartment in the noisy flats of Berkeley to Philip’s cottage in the quieter hills; and to celebrate Lisa’s move, Joan and Fred host a barbecue on their deck looking out over San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate illuminated by the setting sun.

*

Going to bed that night, the little cottage full of Lisa’s things yet to find their places, Lisa’s cat hiding under the living room sofa, Lisa stands beside the bed in her nighty and says, “My darling fiancé, I was about to put in my diaphragm when I realized two things.”

“What did you realize, my darling fiancé?” asks Philip, already in bed and awaiting his beloved.

“I’m ovulating,” she says, blushing, “and I wonder what you think about us leaving the gate open tonight.”

And having no doubt they will be together for the duration, he holds out his arms to her, seeing no reason to speak.

fin

Wedding Prayer