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All Of Me

Her antecedents Italian-American and French, Sophie Vacarro is thirty-six and has lived in Japan for three years as apprentice to master potter Arata Inaba. Sophie’s return to Mercy where she was born was prompted by her mother dying and leaving her house to Sophie, who otherwise would not have left Japan for even these few days she plans to be away.

*

“I love your hair long and pulled back like that,” says Grace, Sophie’s best friend since kindergarten. “You’re so slender now. You’re just exquisite. You must drive those Japanese men wild.”

“I work eleven hours a day, six days a week,” says Sophie, gazing out the window as they drive north on the coast highway, the fields full of wild mustard as they always are in the summers here. “I wear my hair under a bonnet at the studio, ride my bike home to my little apartment, make supper, read for a while, do some yoga, and go to bed. So I don’t have much time to drive the men wild.”

“I wish you’d call me more often,” says Grace, sighing. “I love getting your letters, but I miss hearing your voice.”

“I love you, Gracie,” says Sophie, smiling at her dear old friend. “You know I do. But calling you pulls me back here, and I don’t want to be here.”

“I don’t believe you,” says Grace, her eyes filling with tears. “I think you’ll love Mercy now that your mother’s gone.”

“I always loved Mercy,” says Sophie, glad to be talking about this. “And I love you and Cal and Jeff and all my friends there. It’s not about that. It’s about giving all of me to being my master’s apprentice, so one day I might be a master, too.”

“You already are a master,” says Grace, emphatically. “When I set the table with your plates and bowls and we drink our coffee from your mugs, I can feel your mastery.”

“I’m glad,” says Sophie, not wanting to argue. “I’m glad you love them.”

*

Grace drops Sophie off at Ontiveros Realty in downtown Mercy to sign papers for putting the house on the market.

“As you wished, we gave everything in the house to the Salvation Army,” says Conchita Ontiveros, a vivacious gal in her fifties. “Then we had the place cleaned, the yard made as beautiful as we could, and now we just need your signature on these documents and we can put the house on the market. Should go fast. It’s a tear down but in a very good location, and the market is so hot we’ll list it at eight hundred thousand, get multiple offers, and then have a bidding war. I’m guessing it will go for a million two. Maybe more. So after the mortgage is paid off, you should clear close to a million.”

“I really appreciate this,” says Sophie, who has never had much money. “And you’ll deduct your expenses from what I get?”

“Yes, of course,” says Conchita, gathering up the pages. “Have you been by the house?”

“I might go by later on,” says Sophie, her tone suggesting otherwise. “Thank you for everything, Conchita.”

“Thank you for choosing me to help you,” says Conchita, shaking Sophie’s hand. “How long will you be in town?”

“Just a few days,” says Sophie, fighting her tears. “See some friends. Walk on the beach. Have fish & chips at Big Goose. And then I have to get back to Japan.”

“Do you love it there?” asks Conchita, who can’t imagine living anywhere but Mercy.

“I do,” says Sophie, smiling at the thought of riding her bike to her master’s studio in the cool of morning. “Very much.”

*

That night, Sophie and Grace and Grace’s husband Cal and their seven-year-old son Jeff have scrumptious fish & chips at Mercy’s premier pub Big Goose, and dozens of people come to say hi to Sophie who was a beloved checker at Walker’s Groceries from the age of sixteen until she left for Japan three years ago.

As they are finishing their meal, a big handsome man approaches their table, and Sophie stiffens in fear because when she left for Japan this man was a lunatic living in the forest and scaring the daylights out of everyone when he came into Walker’s to buy food.

“He’s okay now,” whispers Grace, giving Sophie’s hand a squeeze under the table.

“Hey Grace, hey Cal,” says the man, smiling at everyone. “Hey Jeff. Hi Sophie.”

“Hi Galen,” says Sophie, holding her breath.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says, placing his hand on his heart.

“Thank you,” she says, stunned by the change in him.

“You look great,” he says, gazing in wonder at her.

“You look great, too,” she says, laughing nervously. “You look like Hercules.”

“I lift weights now,” he says, laughing self-consciously. “With Carlos Garcia and Sheriff Higuera. Hey I hear you live in Japan now. That’s wonderful. I’m working in the kitchen at the East Cove Hotel. Genevieve is training me to be a sous chef.”

“That’s fantastic,” says Sophie, astounded by how charming he is.

“You should come for lunch while you’re here,” he says, nodding excitedly. “My treat. Bring Grace. The food is… I just learned this new word. Nonpareil.” He laughs self-consciously again. “I’m probably saying it wrong, but…” He takes a deep breath. “I wanted to tell you that when I was a boy and you first started working at Walker’s and I’d come in with my mom, I always made her go through your line because I thought you were so pretty and you were always nice to me. And then when I got out of the Army and was so sick for all those years, I still would only go through your line because you were still nice to me and…” He struggles to find the words. “I could feel the sane part of me wanting to talk to you even though I couldn’t, and your kindness really helped me. So…” He shrugs. “I just wanted to thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she says, overwhelmed. “We’d love to come to lunch. Tomorrow?”

“Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” says Grace, pretending to swoon. “Lunch at the East Cove Hotel?”

“Without taking out a second mortgage?” says Cal, pretending to swoon, too.

“Yeah tomorrow would be perfect,” says Galen, laughing for joy. “Just not Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. And last I heard, tomorrow is Thursday.”

*

The next morning after breakfast, Sophie goes to Walker’s and says hello to all the people she used to work with; and while she’s there, more of her former customers come to greet her and express their condolences and ask about her life in Japan, and she is brought to tears again and again by all the love coming her way.

*

In the elegant dining room of the East Cove Hotel, Sophie and Grace whisper to each other about how incredible it is to be here. And to crown their incredulity, Genevieve Moreau, the world-renowned chef and owner of the hotel, comes to their table to tell them how happy Galen is that they’re here.

Genevieve, tall with graying brown hair in a bun, smiles at Sophie and says with her French accent, “After all those thousands of times you served me so well at Walker’s, it is my pleasure to have you and your friend dine with us. And of course you know I bought many vases from you at the farmers market and there is at least one in every room in the hotel. People are always asking where we got them, so if you ever return to Mercy and open a studio here, I would be glad to sell your pottery in our gift shop.”

“I’m honored,” says Sophie, blushing. “And… we can’t decide what to get.”

“Shall I choose for you?” says Genevieve, nodding to imply the wisdom of doing so.

“We’d love that,” says Sophie, turning to Grace. “Wouldn’t we?”

Grace nods, unable to speak.

“Excellent,” says Genevieve, bowing to them. “I will bring you appetizers to start.”

*

At meal’s end, Genevieve presents them with a plate of four handmade chocolate truffles to have with their coffee.

“Would you like to join us?” asks Sophie, sensing Genevieve wants to tell them something.

“I would love to,” says Genevieve, signaling for a bus person to bring her coffee.

“My master loves chocolate,” says Sophie, her eyelids fluttering as she tastes the incomparable truffle. “I’ll take one of these back to Japan for him. He’ll be thrilled.”

“I would like to commission a large vase from your master,” says Genevieve, nodding graciously to the young woman who serves her coffee and replenishes Grace and Sophie’s cups. “For the entrance to the dining room.”

“I’ll tell him,” says Sophie, taking another bite of the fabulous chocolate. “Right after he tastes your truffle.”

They laugh and Genevieve says, “I cannot tell you how happy you’ve made Galen by coming to lunch. He’s been singing all morning, and he has a lovely voice, and we’re all amazed because he’s never sung for us before.”

*

Her second night in Mercy, Sophie goes to the Mercy Players Theatre to watch a spirited production of the comedy classic Ellen Is The Problem; and in the foyer after the play Sophie heaps praise on her friend Maureen McGillicutty who played the part of Ellen.

“Look at you,” says Maureen, hugging Sophie. “You’re so svelte, and with cheekbones to die for. You could be in Vogue. Say something in Japanese.”

Sophie says something in fluent Japanese.

“What does that mean?” asks Maureen, giggling.

“It means you were a flame on the stage tonight,” says Sophie, remembering being in a play in this theatre ten years ago, and how she loved acting more than anything she’d ever done. “And you stole our hearts.”

“Oh God,” says Maureen, hugging Sophie again. “How long are you here for?”

“I’m leaving tomorrow morning,” she says with no regret. “I’ll come for longer next time.”

*

After breakfast the next morning, the town cloaked in fog, Sophie carries her suitcase out to the car just as Galen arrives on his bicycle and presents her with a little wooden box containing four chocolate truffles.

“Thank you, Galen,” she says, marveling at how beautiful he is to her. “My master will be very pleased.”

“Some people just love chocolate,” says Galen, wanting to say something else but not knowing how. “Me? I never was big on chocolate. I mean… I like chocolate, but… I really love fruit. There’s nothing so good to me as blackberries right off the vine. You know what I mean?”

“I do know what you mean,” she says, looking into his eyes. “I love blackberries, too, with chocolate.”

*

On the jet flying back to Japan, for the first time since leaving Mercy three years ago, Sophie opens her heart, just a little, to the possibility of one day living in Mercy again. 

fin

Ahora Entras Tu from Todd and Marcia’s album Ahora Entras Tu.

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Pequeño and Cha-Cha

Carlos Garcia and Ophelia Viera were both born in Mercy fifty-one years ago, Ophelia in April, Carlos in October. They have been happily married for twenty-four years and have two children: Tito, twenty-two, and Julia, twenty.

Tito is a senior majoring in Horticulture at the University of California Santa Cruz with a minor in French History. After completing his university studies, he wants to work on farms in France for a few years before returning to Mercy to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers.

Julia lives in a camper van with her husband Jazz Zagorski who is three years older than Julia. They got married in the summer after Julia graduated from high school. Jazz plays stand-up bass and designs web sites for musicians. Julia plays guitar, sings, does the cooking, and paints watercolors Jazz uses on the web sites he designs.

Together with Kate Pinot Noir, a violinist and singer, and Kate’s percussionist husband Max Pinot Noir (the Pinot Noirs live in another camper van), Julia, Jazz, Kate, and Max are the perpetually touring folk moderne band Zagorski Pinot Noir.

*

Carlos, who works for the postal service, and Ophelia, a nurse, also have two dogs: Cha-Cha, a brown pointy-eared Chihuahua mutt, and Pequeño, a big gray and white Malamute.

Cha-Cha, who is eight now, was four-months old when Julia rescued her from the animal shelter and gave her to Carlos for Christmas because Carlos liked having a dog with him as he drove hither and yon delivering mail, and his previous canine companion had recently died.

As fate would have it, Cha-Cha hated riding in the postal jeep, and after a few miserable days of accompanying Carlos on his rounds she was allowed to stay home where she established herself as queen of the household, her throne the living room sofa.

Pequeño, seven-years-old now, was a tiny puppy when Tito found him abandoned at the beach parking lot. Tito begged Carlos and Ophelia to let him keep the puppy, they said he could, and being a busy teenager he bequeathed the care of Pequeño to Ophelia and Carlos who loved the pup so much they didn’t mind.

Cha-Cha, however, was greatly displeased by the arrival of the darling puppy and expressed her displeasure by yapping shrilly whenever people paid attention to Pequeño and not to her. She also growled and snapped at the puppy whenever he came near her.

Thus when Ophelia left in the morning to work at the hospital and Tito and Julia left for Mercy High, Carlos felt he had no choice but to take tiny Pequeño with him in the jeep as he delivered mail to the far reaches of the Mercy zip code.

Much to Carlos’s delight, Pequeño loved riding in the jeep with Carlos, and especially loved all the marvelous people and dogs they met along their way.

*

When Carlos stopped being a rural mail carrier two years ago and started working in the Mercy post office, Pequeño went to work with Carlos a few times but found hanging out in the warehouse a dreadful bore because he was not allowed out front to visit with the customers and their dogs.

So now Pequeño stays home with Cha Cha, and though they are not great pals, they get along okay.

Ophelia works three twelve-hour shifts at Mercy Hospital every week and takes Pequeño for walks on those days when she’s not at the hospital. And every weekend, barring inclement weather, Carlos and Ophelia take Pequeño for a long beach walk or a hike in the forest.

*

Their favorite forest hike is a four-mile loop that begins at a parking area a mile inland from the mouth of the Mercy River. The trail follows the north side of the river inland for another half-mile to the Convent of the Redwoods where the trail veers away from the river and climbs north through a forest of hundred-year-old redwoods to a confluence of trails, one of which they take to lovely Crayfish Falls.

At the falls they have lunch and soak their feet in the soothing water before continuing up the trail to the top of a ridge with a view overlooking the Mercy River, and from here they descend through the redwoods to where they began.

*

Every month or so Ophelia calls the Convent of the Redwoods and invites her dear friend Sister Orla to join them on their hike to Crayfish Falls.

Sister Orla, formerly Orla Jane Gallagher, Irish through and through, was Ophelia’s best friend when they attended Mercy Elementary and Mercy High together, after which Orla went away to college, dropped out after two years, and lived a bohemian life in Berkeley until she became a nun at the age of twenty-six. Then three years ago, at the age of forty-eight, Sister Orla returned to Mercy for the first time in forty years to care for her dying mother.

When Sister Orla’s mother died, the Mother Superior of the Convent of the Redwoods invited Sister Orla to join the twelve other nuns in the convent, and Sister Orla accepted the invitation.

The thirteen nuns who live at the Convent of the Redwoods, a former hunting lodge, are not strictly cloistered, though most of them rarely leave the convent grounds except to walk to the beach and back.

The convent has an apple orchard and a large vegetable garden in which the nuns grow much of the convent’s food from April through October, and they also have a big hoop-house wherein they grow lettuce, chard, kale, potatoes, and green onions year round.

Sister Orla spends most of her daylight hours praying, working in the garden, taking long walks with Sister Jean, helping prepare breakfast and supper, playing the piano during recreation time, and writing poems and drawing pictures she never shows anyone.

*

On a warm day in July, Sister Orla is waiting in front of the convent gate when Ophelia, Carlos, and Pequeño arrive in their little car. Rather than hike in full nun regalia, and with permission from Mother Superior, Orla is wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, long gray skirt, straw sunhat, and walking shoes – her eyes emerald green, her auburn hair showing the first signs of turning gray.

Sister Orla exchanges smiles with Carlos, gives Ophelia’s hand a squeeze, and falls to her knees to embrace Pequeño who she loves dearly and vice-versa.

“I feel positively naked,” she says, with her charming Irish brogue. “What a terrible sinner I am shedding my habit for the carnal pleasure of climbing to the falls with you.”

“If you’re a sinner, Sister Orla,” says Carlos, laughing, “what does that make us?”

“Angels,” she says, kissing Pequeño’s snout and reveling in the caress of his tongue.

*

“I’ve been thinking of little else but going up to the falls with you ever since you called,” says Sister Orla as they begin their ascent through the redwoods. “Such a blessing to go into the forest with you. Sister Jean loves to walk on the beach, but her knees don’t do well on a steep slope, going up or down, and none of the others love the forest as I do, and I’m not permitted to leave the convent alone, so… I’m more than grateful to you.”

“You can always call me,” says Ophelia, smiling at her old friend. “You don’t have to wait for me to call you.”

“That’s a tricky one,” says Sister Orla, sighing. “Desire, you know, is a manifestation of selfishness, and in the convent we’re all about subsuming the self for the good of others, so… it’s a tricky one, asking for things you want.”

*

After their good long climb, they find Crayfish Falls reduced to three slender streams trickling over a smooth granite face and pattering on the surface of a little pool – the paucity of water the result of three years of drought.

They dine on French bread and cheese and olives and Ophelia’s scrumptious mushroom pâté, and Sister Orla opines, “Now wouldn’t a bit of red wine be just the thing with this?” She laughs. “In the secular world, of course, and in my sinful fantasies.”

“Good with water, too,” says Carlos, chuckling. “Or beer.”

“Oh please don’t mention beer,” says Sister Orla, groaning dramatically. “End of the day yesterday, after four hours of sweating in the garden, I could think of nothing but ice cold beer.”

*

When they get back to the convent in the late afternoon, Sister Orla lingers at the gate with them, petting Pequeño.

“I’m having a hard time,” she says, looking at Ophelia and crying. “I want to hug you both but I’m not permitted to hug you, and I’d love to have a dog like Pequeño, but we can’t have dogs here.” She sniffles. “Anyway… thanks so much for asking me to walk with you. You’re always in my prayers, and you’re often in my dreams, too. I hope you don’t mind.”

*

Driving home, Carlos says, “Maybe she’s done being a nun. How long has it been?”

“Twenty-five years,” says Ophelia, remembering when Orla called her from Berkeley to tell her she was taking the vows. “A year longer than we’ve been married.”

“When we were in high school I always thought she was gonna be a movie star,” says Carlos, parking in the driveway of their little house on a street of little houses at the north end of Mercy. “I remember watching her in plays and thinking she was a genius. Remember?”

“I remember,” says Ophelia, getting out of the car and waving to Cha-Cha who is at the living room window watching them intently. “And I always thought she was going to be a writer and a movie director because that’s what she said she was going to be, and there was nothing she couldn’t do, so… but then she went to college and everything changed.”

“You can sniff around for ten minutes, Pequeño,” says Carlos, letting the big dog out of the car. “And then you come in. Okay?”

Pequeño grins at Carlos and trots away to visit his favorite pissing spots.

*

That night Carlos and Ophelia both dream about Sister Orla.

In Ophelia’s dream, she and Sister Orla are trying to escape from a room jam-packed with junk.

“Up there,” says Sister Orla, pointing urgently to a window high above them.

They stack a tall bookshelf on top of a rickety table and climb up the shelves only to find there’s no way to open the window.

“Break it,” says Ophelia, handing Sister Orla a hammer.

“I can’t,” says Sister Orla, bowing her head. “Tis a sin.”

“But they’re going to kill us,” says Ophelia, wresting the hammer from Sister Orla and smashing the window.

*

In Carlos’s dream, he poles a gondola up the river to the convent in the dead of night and finds Sister Orla waiting on the shore wearing her black frock crowned by a huge white headpiece resembling a manta ray.

“I can’t get any closer,” says Carlos, calling to her. “You’ll have to swim out to me.”

“I’ll drown in all this,” she says, shaking her head.

“Then take it off,” says Carlos, laughing.

So Sister Orla throws off her headpiece and sheds her frock and dives naked into the water.

*

The next morning at breakfast Carlos and Ophelia share their dreams, and while doing the dishes Carlos says, “If she decides to leave the convent and needs a place to stay, she could live with us for a while. We’ve got the room and I know you’d like her to be here.”

“Gracias mi amor,” says Ophelia, embracing him. “She might not leave, but if she does…”

Now the phone rings and they both know it’s Orla calling, no longer Sister Orla.

fin

La Entrada piano solo from Todd’s album Nature of Love

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Pooches and Kiddies

Rejoice! My new book Pooches and Kiddies: the further adventures of Healing Weintraub is now all here. By that I mean the handsome paperback, the various e-book editions, and the audio edition narrated by yours truly are all available now.

Yes Pooches and Kiddies is the sequel to Good With Dogs and Cats: the adventures of Healing Weintraub, and also a fine stand-alone novel that begins four years after the conclusion of Good With Dogs and Cats and spans one momentous year in the life of Healing Weintraub and his family and friends: human, canine, and feline.

Introducing Raaz and Oz, Healing’s marvelous four-year-old twin grandchildren – Raaz a girl, Oz a boy – Pooches and Kiddies finds our hero helping dogs and cats solve their problems with humans while he and his loved ones navigate the mysteries and challenges of being alive.

Making the audio edition of Pooches and Kiddies with the help of Peter Temple was one of the most challenging and enjoyable creative adventures of my life – so many accents and timbres and personalities to assume – and I’m pleased with the result. You can hear a five-minute sample at Audible and Apple Books. Note: Should you be inclined to get the audio version but don’t wish to join Audible to do so, you can purchase the audio version from Apple Books for a reasonable one-time fee.

If perchance you imbibed earlier iterations of the stories contained in Pooches and Kiddies and Good With Dogs and Cats when they appeared on my blog, please know those story/chapters have been deeply rewritten and vastly improved. Many new parts have been added to the books, and I can say with confidence these are wholly new works.

Should you read either or both volumes of Healing Weintraub adventures and enjoy them, it would be a great favor to me and to the books if you would write brief reviews and post them on Goodreads or Amazon or Apple Books or wherever you like to purchase books. Word-of-mouth, friend-to-friend, is my entire sales strategy.

You may order the beautiful paperback (s) from any good bookstore or get copies from many online book sources. Here are links for the various manifestations of the book.

Thank You! Please share the joyful news with your friends.

Audio version Apple

Audio version Audible

Audio version Amazon

Paperback Barnes & Noble

Paperback Amazon

Paperback Bookshop

Paperback Alibris

E-book Apple

Kindle Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

GooglePlay E-book

Kobo E-Book

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Gloria’s Play

After twenty-three years of delivering mail to the far reaches of the Mercy zip code, Carlos Garcia now works in the Mercy post office where his fluency in Spanish and formidable strength are greatly appreciated. 

Despite the cold and rain, business is brisk at the post office this morning with just five weeks to go before Christmas. Carlos, his wavy black hair turning gray, and his longtime colleague Robin Songbird, a Mae-Westian blonde, are manning the service counter when gravelly-voiced Jacob Colfax leans into the room and says, “Galen is doing his karate thing out front again and scaring everybody away.”

“I’ll call Ruben,” says Robin, handing Lisa Hernandez a receipt and going to call the sheriff.

“Now I’m afraid to leave,” says Lisa, looking at Carlos. “Can’t they lock him up? This is getting out of hand.”

“I’ll walk you out,” says Carlos, who has a black belt in karate.

“Can we go out the back way?” asks Lisa, plaintively. “He scares me to death.”

So Carlos escorts Lisa through the labyrinth of mail carts and packages to the loading dock and makes sure she doesn’t fall on the wet stairs.

When Lisa is safe in her car, Carlos walks around to the front of the post office where big Galen Turner is standing in front of the two glass entry doors kicking and punching and shouting at invisible foes.

Shirtless and barefoot with long brown hair and a wild beard, Galen was born in Mercy twenty-nine years ago, starred in football at Mercy High, and went to San Jose State on a football scholarship. When he failed to make the starting team after three years of trying, he quit college and joined the Army.

“Galen my friend,” says Carlos, calling to him. “You’re scaring everybody. Christmas is coming. People need to get their mail and send packages.”

Galen seems not to hear Carlos and continues to kick and punch at the air and shout unintelligibly.

“Galen,” says Carlos, moving closer and speaking louder. “Come on now, my friend. Let the people get their mail and send their packages. They won’t hurt you. Nobody will hurt you. You’re home now. You’re safe here.”

Galen stops kicking and punching, and looks around as if waking from a dream.

“You’re in Mercy,” says Carlos, speaking gently. “You’re safe now. And guess what? Ophelia made tamales for my lunch today and one of them has your name on it. What do you say?”

“I like tamales,” says Galen, speaking in a deep monotone.

“I know you do,” says Carlos, holding out his hand. “Come around back with me and we’ll get out of the rain and you can have a tamale.”

“With salsa?” asks Galen, taking Carlos’s hand.

“Sí,” says Carlos, feeling Galen trembling. “Con salsa.”

*

Two hours later, Carlos has lunch with Ruben Higuera, the Sheriff of Mercy, in Ruben’s squad car in the post office parking lot, the two of them longtime friends and weight-lifting buddies.

“He needs society,” says Carlos, speaking of Galen. “He’s all alone with his thoughts, living in the forest, and his memories take over and he’s back in Somalia fighting for his life. But when I talk to him and he calms down and realizes he’s here and not there, he’s just sad and lonely and needs some friends.”

“We don’t have a society for him,” says Ruben, stating the simple truth. “We put him on meds that make him a zombie and he doesn’t want to be a zombie so he stops taking them and next thing you know he’s defending the post office and nobody can get their mail.”

“I used to deliver mail to his mother up Silver Creek Road,” says Carlos, looking out at the rain. “She has a room for him, but he won’t stay there. She’s on disability now and smokes and watches television all day. I wouldn’t stay there either.”

“Well we have to do something,” says Ruben, sighing. “If he won’t take his meds and he keeps acting out like this they’ll send him to the VA hospital in Oregon. They have a big psych ward up there. I don’t know what else we can do. I can’t keep arresting him. They don’t want him in the county jail anymore.”

“I was thinking I could bring him to lift weights with us some time,” says Carlos, smiling at Ruben. “Might be good for him.”

“To the high school weight room?” says Ruben, frowning and shaking his head. “No. We can’t do that.”

“What if I made a weight room in my garage?” says Carlos, who has a few barbells out there already. “And we did our lifting there? Would you come if I set it up?”

“Yes, I’ll come,” says Ruben, who survived seventeen months of combat in Afghanistan long ago.

*

In the afternoon when the rain stops and customers are few, Carlos is alone at the service counter when Gloria Martinez, still strikingly beautiful at fifty, comes in with a basket full of packages.

“Hola Carlos,” she says, her voice deep and warm. “Que paso?”

“Nada mucho,” says Carlos, who has known Gloria since they were in First Grade together, and in every grade after that, too, until she went to college and he joined the Army. “Those look like manuscripts. Sí?”

“My plays,” she says, nodding. “Hope springs eternal. I want to send these Priority Mail.”

“Something new?” he asks, giving her a hopeful look.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I haven’t written a new play in four years, but these will be new to the people I’m sending to.”

“We loved your last play at Mercy Players,” he says, putting one of her packages on the scale. “We laughed so hard we couldn’t hear all the lines and had to go again, and it was even funnier the second time.”

“Ophelia told me,” she says, tickled by his praise. “I’m glad you liked it.”

Liked it?” he says, grinning. “That play should be on Broadway and then they should make it into a movie.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” she says, blushing.

“Hey you know, Gloria,” says Carlos, printing out a postage label and affixing it to the package, “it just occurred to me that maybe you could help me with something.”

“Wait a minute,” she says, laughing. “I ask you to help me. To move my piano and my sofa and my refrigerator. Not the other way around.”

“You won’t have to lift anything heavy,” he says, laughing with her. “I want to turn my garage into a little weight-lifting gym, but also like the set for a café, like in a play, with a few tables and people having coffee, and maybe there’s a waiter bringing them things. Everybody talking to each other. Like in a real café.”

“What is this for?” she asks, eager to know.

“For Galen,” he says quietly. “I think if he could be in society and feel safe with other people around while he’s lifting weights with Ruben and me, maybe he will get better.”

*

That night Carlos asks his wife Ophelia how she would feel if he turned the garage into a weight-lifting café to help Galen.

Ophelia muses for a moment and asks, “Would we also put a bed out there for him to spend the night after weight-lifting?”

“We could,” says Carlos, who likes that idea better than Galen sleeping in the forest on cold winter nights.

“You’ve been wanting to help him ever since he came home,” says Ophelia, who has unbounded faith in her husband. “Why not give it a try?”

*

A week later, Carlos brings Galen into the two-car garage where he and Ruben and Gloria and her set-designer friend Arno Peabody have turned the place into a weight-lifting café.

For this first session, Ophelia and Gloria sit at one of the three tables having decaf coffee and sesame cookies while Ruben and Carlos and Galen lift weights. Gloria is wearing the outfit she wears at her job as a waiter at the restaurant in the East Cove Hotel – black pants and white dress shirt – and Ophelia is wearing jeans and a beautiful burgundy sweater.

When the men take a break from lifting, Ruben and Carlos sit at a different table than Gloria and Ophelia, and Gloria comes to take their order – coffee and cookies.

“Come join us,” says Carlos, beckoning to Galen.

But Galen shakes his head and stays in the weight-lifting area waiting for them to return.

*

Two nights later, Carlos brings Galen to the weight-lifting café for Session #2, and again he refuses to join Ruben and Carlos at a table when they take a break.

But four nights after that, when they gather for Session #3, Galen does join them at a table, he eats several cookies, and whispers to Gloria, “Could I have more coffee, please?”

*

During Session #4, which takes place two nights after Session #3, Ophelia joins Ruben and Carlos and Galen at their table and tells them about what she did today at Mercy Hospital where she is a nurse.

“Care for a refill, Galen?” asks Gloria, bringing a pitcher of coffee to the table.

“Oh yes, please,” he says, shyly. “I love coffee.”

*

That night, after the weight lifting and socializing, Galen spends the night in the garage for the first time rather than go back to his camp in the forest.

In the morning, Carlos comes to the garage and invites Galen to take a shower in the house.

“I don’t want to scare your wife,” says Galen, shaking his head.

“She’s at work,” says Carlos, matter-of-factly. “She’s on a twelve-hour shift at the hospital. Remember she told you she’s a nurse?”

“I remember,” says Galen, nodding. “I could take a shower.”

“Then we’ll have breakfast,” says Carlos, leading him to the house. “And then I gotta go to work.”

“I would like to go to work,” says Galen, bowing his head. “If I had a job.”

*

A few sessions later, three of Gloria’s actor friends join the enactment of café life going on around the trio of weight lifters.

During a break from lifting, Ruben tells a story about going to a café in Kabul when he was deployed there, and how they served him coffee so strong he was jittery for two days.

 When Ruben finishes telling the story, Galen says, “I was in Somalia.”

“I didn’t know we had troops there,” says Gloria, standing next to Galen. “More coffee, hon?”

Galen nods and says nothing more.

*

In early February, during Session #17 of the weight-lifting café, with only Carlos and Ruben and Gloria on hand, Galen tells them about the horrifying ambush in Somalia that killed two men in his platoon and wounded seven others, including Galen, and how when he regained consciousness in the hospital after surgery and tried to convince the nurses that the insurgents were besieging the hospital, the nurses wouldn’t believe him because the hospital was in Qatar, far from Somalia.

When Galen finishes telling about the ambush, Ruben says, “Tell us again. Everything you can remember.”

“Yes,” says Carlo, nodding. “Please tell us again.”

So Galen tells the story again and remembers many things he had forgotten.

*

During Session #18, with Ophelia joining Gloria and the weight lifters, Galen tells the story of the ambush two more times, and with each telling he remembers more and more.

*

Eight months later on a sunny afternoon in September, Gloria stands at the service counter in the post office watching Carlos affix a shipping label to a package containing her new play.

“I love this play,” says Carlos, carrying the package to the Priority Mail cart.

“I do, too,” says Gloria, making a silent prayer to bless her play.

“I haven’t seen Galen in a couple weeks,” says Carlos, carefully placing the package in the cart. “Is he doing okay?”

“Oh he’s doing fine,” says Gloria, handing Carlos a second package. “Genevieve and her cooks love having such a strong man in the kitchen. And Genevieve loves how eager he is to learn. Have you seen him since he cut his hair and shaved off his beard?”

“No,” says Carlo, surprised. “How does he look?”

“Handsome,” says Gloria, smiling. “And so young.”

fin 

Through the Fire from Todd and Marcia’s album Through the Fire

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Leo’s Words

Agatha Ionesco got her degree in Studio Art from Barnard College in Manhattan when she was twenty, and then stayed in New York City supporting herself as a waiter while striving to sell her paintings.

At the age of thirty-two, deeply in debt and tired of city life, she moved to the small town of Mercy on the far north coast of California where she became the star waiter at the renowned East Cove Hotel. She fell in love with Mercy, found a gallery willing to show her paintings, and rented a house with two other aspiring artists.

When she was thirty-nine she happened to wait on Ralph Neufeld and his wife Shirley who were vacationing at the East Cove Hotel, and Ralph, a millionaire app designer in his late fifties, fell in love with Agatha, divorced Shirley, moved to Mercy, and wined and dined and wooed Agatha for three months until she agreed to marry him.

They lived in a gorgeous home on the golf course a few miles south of Mercy, and while Ralph spent large swaths of time away on business, Agatha painted in her spectacular studio, had frequent massages, took her friends out for lavish meals, and went to a psychotherapist three times a week.

When Ralph and Agatha divorced after seven loveless years, Agatha spent every penny of what she called her severance pay to buy a small house in Mercy and convert the one-car garage into her studio.

Her savings exhausted, Agatha got a job at a vacation-rental agency where she has worked for four years now. No longer able to afford frequent massages and psychotherapy, Agatha takes yoga three mornings a week at the Mercy Rec Center, has a massage every two months, and gets together with her best friend Gloria Martinez two or three evenings a week and they try to be good therapists for each other.

*

On Agatha’s fiftieth birthday, a stormy Friday night in April, as gusts of wind rattle the windows of Agatha’s little house, Agatha and Gloria share the living room sofa with Agatha’s cats Picasso and Lulabelle – a fire crackling in the hearth, a bottle of good red wine nearly finished, champagne and chocolate truffles to follow.

“I had a realization during yoga this morning,” says Agatha, sipping her wine and gazing at the fire.

“Do tell,” says Gloria, a playwright who waits tables at the East Cove Hotel where she and Agatha met seventeen years ago and became fast friends ­­– Gloria two years younger than Agatha.

“We were doing shavasana at the end,” says Agatha, sighing, “when it dawned on me that the only reason I stayed with Ralph beyond that first year was because I couldn’t face the world without being in therapy with Karen.”

“Well… but you also loved making your art full-time in your dream studio in your fabulous house,” says Gloria, giving Agatha a knowing look. “And you loved not having to worry about money. Remember?”

“You’re right,” says Agatha, abashed. “But without Karen, I would have left Ralph when I was forty, not forty-six, because three times a week she banished my doubts and filled me with hope, and then I’d paint like mad until my depression returned and I’d count the hours until I could see her again.”

“Do you think you were in love with her?” asks Gloria, who fell in love with the psychologist she went to a decade ago; and when he characterized her love for him as transference she stopped going to him and wrote a comedy called Transference about a psychologist who falls in love with a client who then cruelly spurns him, which wreaks havoc on the therapist’s relationships with his other clients.

“I was in need with her,” says Agatha, laughing. “She was the loving mother and father and grandmother and cheerleader I never had.”

“The psychotherapist as enabler,” says Gloria, raising her glass to make a toast. “They give us what we want – love and approval and emotional intimacy– and we keep coming back as long as we can afford to. Or as a character in my play Transference says, ‘They depend on our dependency to keep the income incoming.’”

“I certainly depended on Karen to feel good about myself,” says Agatha, feeling she might cry. “I especially loved her interpretations of my dreams. She always made me feel so heroic. I think I miss that feeling more than anything.”

“You should tell your dreams to Leo Zobrist,” says Gloria, nodding encouragingly. “He’s amazing with dreams.”

“Leo Zobrist?” says Agatha, horrified. “The crazy guy? How do you know he’s amazing with dreams?”

“Because I frequently avail myself of his services,” says Gloria, surprised by Agatha’s disdain for Leo. “And trust me, Aggie, he’s not even a little bit crazy. He’s a wonderful person.”

“Are you serious?” says Agatha, shocked by Gloria’s positive opinion of Leo. “Where do you tell him your dreams? In front of the post office where he plays his guitar and sings… and everyone wishes he wouldn’t?”

You wish he wouldn’t,” says Gloria, laughing. “Lots of people love his music, including me. When he gigs at Big Goose the place is packed.”

“You’re kidding,” says Agatha, getting up to put another log on the fire. “I thought he was homeless.”

Leo?” says Gloria, shocked by Agatha’s fallacy. “He lives in a big beautiful yurt on the headlands overlooking Mercy Bay.”

“Are we talking about the same Leo?” asks Agatha, dumbfounded. “Scruffy guy with a weird accent? Looks like he’s starving to death?”

“Hardly,” says Gloria, laughing again. “Leo is a fabulous chef. I’ll take you to supper at his place and we’ll tell him our dreams.”

*

A week later, Agatha and Gloria, both dressed to the nines and looking mighty fine, arrive at Leo’s yurt – a glorious sunset underway.

Leo is Swiss, fifty-seven, with longish brown hair and a charming Swiss German accent. His usual attire is jeans and T-shirt and sandals, but this evening he is wearing a fine black suit, white shirt, turquoise bow-tie, and elegant leather shoes.

“A visitation of goddesses!” he exclaims as he opens his door. “My life is complete now.”

*

An hour later, having feasted on delectable halibut, mashed potatoes topped with scrumptious mushroom gravy, and green beans sautéed to perfection in olive oil and garlic, Agatha’s every preconception about Leo has been shattered.

The feasting culminates with Leo’s ambrosial pumpkin pie and scintillating decaf, after which the sated trio retires to the living room where Leo’s adorable mutts Benoit and Cecil are sprawled by the woodstove.

Agatha and Gloria share a high-backed sofa, Leo serves them peach brandy in crystal goblets, and while the goddesses indulge in the sweet elixir, Leo sheds his shoes, coat, and tie and settles into a big leather armchair.

“So tell me,” he says, his eyes twinkling. “What news from the astral plane?”

“How did you learn to interpret dreams?” asks Agatha, enchanted by Leo but not yet ready to trust him with the intimate details of her inner life.  

“My mother was a Jungian analyst,” says Leo, picking up Benoit and settling the little dog on his lap. “You remind me of her, Agatha. Your particular beauty, your dark brown hair, your regal bearing.” He smiles as he pets Benoit. “When I was a little boy, and until I left home at twenty, my mother interpreted our dreams, my two sisters and I, every morning before we left for school. Then when I was in psychoanalysis in my forties, my analyst, a self-proclaimed Jungian Freudian, made interpreting my dreams the central focus of the analysis. So you might say I learned through osmosis.”

“Are you a psychoanalyst?” asks Agatha, her notion of reality in serious flux.

“I wouldn’t say so,” he says, humbly. “I would say I’m a good listener and enjoy trying to elucidate what I hear beyond the literal, but I make no claim to know anything except what I feel.”

“Gloria tells me you do this sort of thing for free,” says Agatha, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of dollars she paid Karen.

“Yes. I like to help people understand what their dreams might be telling them. And my reward is the pleasure of your company and perhaps helping you.”

Leo’s words cause a revolution in Agatha, and she trembles as a heavy yoke of illusion falls away from her – a yoke she wore for seven years of marriage and four more years since her divorce – the illusion that she was more deserving than those who had less than she.

I had a dream this morning,” says Gloria, sensing Agatha is in the throes of metamorphosis.

“Tell us,” says Leo, nodding encouragingly. “Please.”

Agatha closes her eyes to listen to Gloria, and she is overcome by a feeling that Gloria’s dream is her dream, too.

“I’m walking on the beach in a dense fog,” says Gloria, closing her eyes to better remember. “I can hear the ocean roaring, but I can’t see the waves. Suddenly the fog clears and here is a magnificent horse, dark brown with a white blaze running from her forehead to her muzzle. She’s maybe twenty feet away from me and looking at me with such love I know she wants me to ride her. So I run to her… and then I woke up.”

“Oh my goodness,” says Leo, clasping his hands. “How old are you in this dream, Gloria?”

“Young,” she says, seeing herself at twenty.

“How did you feel when you woke up?” asks Agatha, opening her eyes and gazing in wonder at her dear friend.

“Fantastic,” says Gloria, beaming at Agatha. “Bursting with energy.”

“Yes,” says Leo, looking from one goddess to the other. “Because the horse is still there. Your magnificent power. Waiting for you.”

fin

Company from Todd’s album 43 Short Piano Improvisations

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Saint Carlos

Carlos Garcia, a Mercy native, started working for the Mercy postal service when he was twenty-seven, just three months after coming home from an eight-year stint in the Army.

Carlos is forty-nine now, and for all his twenty-two years with the postal service he’s been delivering mail to remote parts of the zip code. A year from now, when Sylvia Rodriguez retires, Carlos will no longer drive the pot-holed country roads and he’ll be working in the Mercy post office where they always need someone bi-lingual on hand.

*

This morning, an overcast day in late October, Carlos drives up the quarter-mile dirt track to Andrea Kessler’s house to spare her the trip down to her mailbox on Road 12, and he finds Andrea sitting amidst her rose bushes with her legs out in front of her and her long white hair tangled in the thorny branches.

“Thank God you came up to the house today,” she says, smiling wanly at Carlos. “I was pruning my roses when I fell and twisted my ankle and broke my wrist. Heard it snap. I’m in pretty bad pain. I left my phone in the house, so I couldn’t call Joey or 9-1-1. If you hadn’t come up today I’d be sitting here until Joey gets home after dark.”

“You want me to take you to the hospital?” asks Carlos, assessing the situation – a large woman needing to be lifted out of a tangle of rose bushes and helped up seven stairs into her house, or into the jeep full of mail and packages and Carlos’s big malamute Pequeño.

“No Carlos,” says Andrea, shaking her head. “Joey can take me to the ER when he gets home. If you could just help me into the house and get some ice on my ankle, I’ll be okay until Joey gets home.”

“No problem,” says Carlos, deciding his best bet is to get behind Andrea to lift her into a standing position. “Would you mind if I cut away some of your rose bushes to get a better angle for lifting you?”

“Whatever you need to do,” says Andrea, grimacing at the pain in her wrist. “Thank God you’re so strong. I’m ashamed how much I weigh now.”

“Don’t be ashamed. You’re fine,” says Carlos, signaling Pequeño it’s okay to get out of the jeep. “Any idea where your clippers got to?”

“I flung them that-a-way when I started to fall,” she says, pointing with her unbroken hand. “So I wouldn’t stab myself.”

“Good thinking,” says Carlos, going in search of the clippers.

*

When Carlos has Andrea settled on her sofa with a bag of ice on her ankle and she’s taken a couple pain pills, he feels her pulse and is assured by her steady heartbeat that she’ll be okay until her son gets home.

“Thank you, Carlos,” she says, starting to cry. “How’d you get so strong anyway? You lifted me like I was nothing.”

“I got bullied at school for being little,” he says, wishing he didn’t have to leave. “So in Third Grade I started lifting weights and I’ve been lifting ever since.”

“I should have done that,” says Andrea, sniffling. “I got bullied, too, for being chubby.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” says Carlos, solemnly. “Our son and daughter also got bullied, so the summer before Tito started Third Grade and Julia started Second we got them going to Nakamoto’s karate dojo. Once they knew how to defend themselves, nobody messed with them anymore. Made them more confident, too, taught them discipline and respect for their teachers. Hey I gotta go, Andrea. I’ll leave you my phone number if you need help before Joey gets home.”

“The pain pills are kicking in now,” says Andrea, closing her eyes. “You’re a saint, Carlos.”

*

A mile further along curvy Road 12, Carlos and Pequeño come to the four mailboxes at the bottom of Big Meadow Drive, a mile-long dirt track that climbs up and over a steep rise to a large meadow shared by four households. Carlos won’t drive up this road during the rainy season – too muddy or icy – but today the road is dry and he has several packages for folks who live at the meadow.

He switches into four-wheel drive and heads up the narrow road – Pequeño barking excitedly because his sweetheart Miranda, a beautiful Husky, lives at the meadow.

“Paciencia Pequeño,” says Carlos, smiling at his pal. “We’ll be there soon.”

*

As they come around a sharp curve, Carlos slams on his brakes to keep from crashing into an enormous boulder blocking the road; and on the other side of the boulder are three people who were on their way to town and can’t get out.

Carlos sets the parking brake, turns off his engine, and climbs out to see what might be done to remove the huge round boulder that is nearly as tall as he.

The three people are Jan Carlton, Jan’s ten-year-old daughter Gina, and Bob Fitzroy.

“Must have just happened,” says Jan, a buxom brunette in her forties. “We walked down to the mailboxes an hour ago to put letters out for you, and the road was clear then.”

“We called Arno Gibs,” says Bob, a burly redhead in his seventies. “He said he might be able to get a bulldozer up here this afternoon, but probably not until tomorrow. ”

“So we’re stuck,” says Jan, glaring at the massive rock. “And we’ll miss ten-percent-off day at Walker’s.”

“We’re completely out of fruit and cheese and peanut butter,” says Gina, pouting. “And Miranda’s almost out of dog food, too.”

Carlos walks around the huge boulder to where he can look down the slope descending some fifty feet to Big Meadow Creek, which is just a trickle this time of year.

“If we push it over the edge here,” says Carlo, resting a hand on the mighty orb, “it should stop somewhere in the creek bed before it gets down to Road 12.” He laughs. “We hope.”  

“This thing weighs more than a car,” says Bob, frowning dubiously. “How we gonna push it without a bulldozer?”

“You’d be surprised how strong a bunch of people can be,” says Carlos, grinning at Bob. “Who else is home at the meadow?”

“Tammy and Tom,” says Jan, frowning dubiously, too. “Phil’s in San Francisco, and Joan and Guy are in Toronto. Their daughter just had a baby.”

“Becky’s canning tomatoes,” says Bob, grimacing at the boulder. “But she pulled a hamstring doing yoga yesterday so she can’t help.”

“Run get Tammy and Tom,” says Carlos to Gina. “Take Pequeño with you.”

So while Gina and Pequeño run up to the meadow, Carlos tells Jan and Bob about Andrea breaking her wrist and waiting for Joey to take her to the ER.

“I’d take her if we could get out of here,” says Bob, wincing, “except she and Becky aren’t talking to each other anymore, so…” He shrugs and falls silent.

“We went to the ER a couple months ago when Phil slashed his leg chopping kindling,” says Jan with a heavy sigh. “Waited seven hours to see a doctor. Nurse had to give Phil painkillers in the waiting room. That place is a nightmare.”

“Anything thrilling going on in town?” asks Bob, changing the subject.

“Ricardo’s playing at Big Goose tonight,” says Carlos, smiling. “My wife and I love his music. He’s amazing. And they’re painting the bank.”

“Don’t tell me,” says Jan, rolling her eyes. “White?”

“No, like a rainbow,” says Carlos, laughing. “Yes. White.”

Now Gina returns with Tammy, a sturdy woman in her fifties, Tom, a gangly fellow in his sixties, Pequeño, and Miranda the beautiful Husky.

“Okay,” says Carlos, positioning himself where he can push against the heart of the stone, “Tom and Tammy, you stand on either side of me, Bob stand next to Tom, Jan next to Tammy, Gina next to Jan. We’re gonna push this big rock into the ravine. Okay? Get your feet set so they won’t slip as you push, and make sure the palms of your hands are pressing against the rock. On my count of three we’ll push with all our might and don’t stop pushing even if it feels like nothing is happening.”

“Impossible,” says Tom, shaking his head. “This thing weighs tons.”

“I believe we can do this,” says Carlos, winking at Tom. “Let’s try.”

So when everyone is in place with the palms of their hands pressing against the boulder, Carlos counts “One, two, three,” and with surprising ease they roll the massive stone over the edge and watch it rumble down through the dry underbrush to land in the creek with a resounding crash.

“We did it! We did it!” shouts Gina, jumping up and down.

“I can’t believe it,” says Tom, gazing in awe at Carlos. “It was like it wanted to go over the edge.”

“I think that was mostly you, Carlos,” says Bob, exultant and red in the face.

“That was all of us,” says Carlos, though he knows he supplied most of the power.

“Why didn’t I film that?” says Tammy, smacking her forehead. “Would have gone viral for sure.”

*

That night, Carlos and his wife Ophelia go to Big Goose for beer and fish & chips and to listen to their friend Ricardo play piano, his dreamy jazz the perfect soundtrack for Carlos remembering the miracle that changed the course of his life.

*

In the summer between Second and Third Grade, a family from Sweden, the Gustafsons, moved into the house across the street from the Garcias, and Carlos’s mother had Carlos and his sister Maria take the Gustafsons a lemon cake to welcome them to the neighborhood.

A big boy with long brown hair answered the door. Carlos guessed this boy would be starting Fifth or Sixth Grade, but he turned out to be exactly Carlos’s age, their birthdays three days apart. This was Lars, and for the rest of the summer he and Carlos were inseparable.

Then came the first day of school. Lars and Carlos walked across town to Mercy Elementary with their sisters Maria and Neta, and Carlos was sure Lars would join the gang of big boys who bullied Carlos.

But at recess when big Sam Schneider came up to Carlos and punched him hard in the shoulder, Lars slugged Sam in the forehead with such force that Sam collapsed in a heap and was so still Carlos thought he might be dead.

No one ever bullied Carlos again until Lars moved back to Sweden the summer after Sixth Grade.

Then at recess on the first day of Seventh Grade, Carlos was playing soccer with a bunch of other kids when Sam Schneider, who outweighed Carlos by sixty pounds, and his buddy Happy Thompson, a huge Eighth Grader, came to hurt Carlos.

“Lars is gone, punk,” said Sam, striding toward Carlos. “You’re dead.”

Rather than flee, Carlos assumed the stance for sparring at Nakamoto’s dojo.

“Little turd thinks he’s Bruce Lee,” said Happy, coming at Carlos, too.

When they got close, Carlos unleashed a barrage of lightning-fast kicks and punches that brought Sam and Happy to their knees; and he would have kicked them again had they not, in the presence of a hundred witnesses, begged Carlos to spare them.

*

Ricardo finishes a tune, the audience applauds, and he begins another that takes Carlos back to his last year in the Army when he was stationed in Germany.

While lifting weights in the gym one evening, he had a vivid recollection of lifting weights with Lars in the Gustafson’s garage every morning and every afternoon for the four years Lars lived in Mercy. And then he remembered it was the Gustafsons who paid for him to take karate lessons with Lars at Nakamoto’s dojo because Carlos’s mother couldn’t afford the lessons.

These memories inspired Carlos to look up Lars’ phone number in Sweden and call him, and Lars invited Carlos to come visit him in Halmstad where he was completing a residency in Pediatrics.

So Carlos took trains from the Army base in Munster to Grenaa in Denmark, and from there he caught a ferry to Halmstad in Sweden where Lars was waiting for him at the port.

When they saw each other from afar, not having seen each other since they were eleven-years-old, they called each other’s name in the very same moment.

fin 

Mystery Music Box from Todd’s album Mystery Inventions. 

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The Painter

Mercy Bay is calm this April morning, the fog in no hurry to move offshore, the air chill, though not terribly so, and the only person on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River is the painter Lorenzo Vinciguerra.

Handsome and broad-shouldered, his wavy brown hair romantically long, Lorenzo was born here in Mercy fifty-seven years ago. His mother Luisa was sixteen and working as a maid at the Mercy Hotel when she was seduced by Aldo Vinciguerra, the Sicilian hotel manager, who only agreed to marry Luisa when she gave birth to a boy because and Aldo didn’t want his son to be a bastard.

When Lorenzo was a year old, Luisa gave birth to Lorenzo’s sister Magdalena, and shortly thereafter Aldo divorced Luisa and returned to Sicily where he died in a brawl following a soccer match.

*

Lorenzo is making large paintings these days necessitating an enormous easel, which is why he hires brawny Jeff Spitzer to meet him in the beach parking lot and help him transport his painter’s kit a half-mile along the shore to a dune overlooking the confluence of the Mercy River and Mercy Bay.

Lorenzo’s kit includes a suitcase full of tubes of oil paint, his mighty easel, two large canvases stretched on wooden frames, many brushes, three large palettes, a sketch pad, a red madras blanket, a big blue beach umbrella, and a cooler replete with food and drink.

This is Lorenzo’s fourth morning of painting here and he is pleased with what he has captured so far – tendrils of fog creeping over the expanse of sand, a jumble of driftwood logs, Medusa-like tangles of kelp, the wide river meeting the sea, and white-capped breakers overhung by a cloudy sky.

“Something is missing,” says Lorenzo, standing back from his painting. “Those black and white angels.”

 He is referring to the two nuns who walk by on the beach every morning, their black frocks crowned by snowy white wimples and white caps beneath black bandeaus.

“This morning I will ask them to pose for me,” he says, touching the heart of the painting where he wants the nuns to be.

*

The nuns appear as the fog is withdrawing, and Lorenzo greets them with a gracious bow.

“Good morning, Sisters. My name is Lorenzo Vinciguerra. I am making a painting of this scene and wonder if I may ask you to pose for me for a few minutes so I can sketch you and include you in my painting.”

The nuns, both middle-aged and full of joie de vivre, are delighted by Lorenzo’s accosting them so gallantly.

“Would you like us to freeze mid-stride?” asks one of the nuns. “Or shall we pose like those two in American Gothic? The dour woman and her grim husband holding the pitchfork?”

“How Satanic of you, Sister Jean,” says the other nun, laughing. “We can make a tall skinny crucifix out of driftwood to replace the pitchfork.”

“Orla?” says Lorenzo, startled by the sound of the nun’s voice and laughter. “Is it you? Orla Gallagher?”

“How did you know it was me under this disguise, Lorrie?” she says, her voice the same soothing tonic it was to him when he adored her from First Grade to Twelfth, and she broke his heart again and again until their senior year at Mercy High when they went steady for seven glorious months, and the night of the Senior Ball they kissed madly in Lorenzo’s car and then came down to this very beach to make love for their first time, but she stopped him on the verge and cried, “Oh Lorrie, I love you, I do, but I want to wait until I’m married. Maybe it’ll be you I marry. I don’t know. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but I want to go to college before I have a baby.”

“I’ve got condoms,” Lorenzo gasped, desperate to be inside her.

“Tis a sin,” she said, kissing him for what would be the very last time. “I do love you, Lorrie. You know I do. I’m just not ready. I’m sorry.”

*

In the evening of the day he sketched the nuns, Lorenzo meets his old pal Jack Spence for booze and nibbles in the bar of the Mercy Hotel, and Lorenzo tells Jack about meeting Sister Orla on the beach this morning – how she and Sister Jean posed for him and he fell in love with Orla all over again.

“When they were gone,” says Lorenzo with a sigh, “I realized the reason I’ve never married is that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved Orla.”

“Are you serious?” says Jack, who is very drunk. “Orla I’m-too-good-for-anybody Gallagher?” He winces. “And here I thought you never got married because… why would you get married when you have all those gorgeous movie stars crazy about you? Lorenzo Vinciguerra, the famous artist with paintings in museums all over the world. And I gotta tell you, Lo, I’m always amazed when you come back to see your mother, and you want to see me and Beth and the kids. I mean… who am I? Some schmuck who worked at Mercy Hardware for thirty-eight years and never went anywhere.” He fights his tears. “I thought I was so cool in high school with my long hair and my motorcycle and my one little tattoo, and you were my nerdy friend who liked to draw. And now you live in New York and Paris and hang out with movie stars, and your paintings sell for millions, and you’re telling me you’re still in love with Orla?” He grimaces. “That is so messed up, Lo. I can’t tell you how messed up that is.”

“Is it messed up?” asks Lorenzo, gazing around the bar of the hotel where he was conceived fifty-eight years ago when his young mother, an illegal alien, succumbed to the amorous hotel manager for fear of being sent back to Mexico if she refused him.

“It’s totally messed up,” says Jack, grimacing. “You’re the king of the world. And you’re still hung up on Orla who dropped out of St. Mary’s and lived in a hippy commune in Berkeley and sold tie-dyed T-shirts on Telegraph Avenue until she got busted for selling pot, and they gave her a choice of going to prison or joining the Army or becoming a nun. That Orla? Are you insane?”

“I never knew that’s when she became a nun,” says Lorenzo, wishing he could be with Orla now, talking about their lives. “And last I heard… twenty years ago… she was in a convent in Carmel. I had no idea she’d moved to the convent here.”

“She came back three years ago to take care of her mother when she was dying,” says Jack, smiling sadly. “Hey I’m sorry, Lo. I know you were crazy about her in high school and… I guess we can’t help who we love.”

“Well said,” says Lorenzo, laughing at the double meaning. “And you needn’t envy me, Jack. You have a wonderful wife and marvelous children, and you do good work every day. And you live in the most beautiful place on earth.”

*

The next morning on the beach, Lorenzo dabs more white on the wimples of the nuns’ habits, and though their faces are not discernible, he knows by the beguiling tilt of her head and the way she is gesturing with her left hand as if in dance, that the nun on the right is Orla, the love of his life.

fin

Impulsos Olvidados from Todd and Marcia’s album Ahora Entras Tu

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Juno’s Genius

A seven-year-old dog of no obvious breed, Juno is medium-sized and slender with short brown fur and pointy ears. Her primary human is Cecilia who recently found a mate named Sunny, a male human Juno likes very much, though not as much as she likes Cecilia.

*

The day promising to be quite warm, Juno is sitting on the deck of Cecilia’s house overlooking a meadow that stretches to the dark forest where Juno never ventures alone because she knows the forest is the domain of pumas and coyotes, pumas having killed her brother, coyotes having killed two of Cecilia’s cats.

Recalling Cecilia and Sunny saying the word beach several times during their breakfast, Juno noses open the kitchen door and trots into the house to see if the humans are preparing to go to Juno’s favorite place in the whole world.

She finds Sunny at the kitchen table wearing his glasses and scratching on paper with a pencil. He looks up from his scratching, takes off his glasses, and says something friendly to Juno, so she goes to him, tail wagging, and he caresses her and says more words redolent with love.

Now Juno hears Cecilia coming down the hallway from the room where people come and take off their shoes and lie on a high narrow bed, and Cecilia touches them and talks to them and they talk to her, and then they get up from the bed, put on their shoes, and go away.

Cecilia gives Sunny a kiss and fills a kettle with water. Now she sets the kettle on the stove and turns a dial that makes a clicking sound Juno knows will cause the kettle to growl and eventually whistle.

Cecilia and Sunny talk to each other, and Juno hears them say beach and low tide, words that cause her to spin around twice and give Cecilia a wide-eyed look of love.

“In a little while,” says Cecilia, scratching Juno’s head. “After we have our tea.”

Juno subsides. She knows that in a little while and after we have our tea mean a beach expedition is not imminent, so there’s no point in maintaining a state of expectant exuberance if they aren’t going to go for a long time.

*

Walking on the beach in the early afternoon, Cecilia and Sunny and Juno encounter a man walking in the opposite direction, a man Juno recognizes as Derek, Cecilia’s mate before she found Sunny.

Derek embraces Cecilia, though Juno can see Cecilia doesn’t like Derek touching her. When Derek releases Cecilia, she introduces him to Sunny. Derek and Sunny shake hands, more words are spoken, and finally Derek continues on his way.

*

When they reach the halfway point of their beach walk, Cecilia sits on a driftwood log and watches Sunny and Juno play ball.

Juno loves playing ball with Sunny because he makes the game so exciting. Sometimes he flings the ball into the water so Juno has to go swimming, sometimes he flings the ball so it rolls and bounces on the sand, and sometimes he flings the ball so high in the air Juno loses sight of it, and then the ball comes down somewhere wholly unexpected. What a thrill!

*

Driving home from the beach, Juno knows Cecilia is upset about meeting Derek on the beach – Derek who doesn’t like dogs.

Juno knew Derek didn’t like dogs the moment Cecilia brought him home. Even so, Cecilia let him live with them through several seasons, and Cecilia was sad most of the time, and they rarely went to the beach, and Juno didn’t understand why.

Then one rainy morning Derek made a big show of petting Juno and telling her what a good dog she was. This made Juno sick, and she vomited her breakfast.

The next day, Derek made another big show of petting and praising her, and Juno vomited again.

A few days later, Juno saw Derek coming toward her to make another big show of petting her, so she ran out the door and down the road to where her pal Molly lives with her people Bill and Sally.

When Cecilia and Derek came to get Juno, she wouldn’t go with them until Cecilia leashed her and dragged her to the car.

Juno waited a day and then ran away again. This time she ran three miles into town to be with her friends Pushkin and Natasha who live with their people Helen and Justin.

Helen called Cecilia on the phone. Juno could hear Cecilia’s voice coming out of the phone, and she thought Cecilia and Derek would come get her again, but they didn’t, so she lived with Pushkin and Natasha for many days and thought she would live with them forever.

Then one sunny morning, Cecilia came to visit; and when Juno saw how happy Cecilia was, she knew Derek was gone.

*

When Cecilia and Juno and Sunny get home from the beach, they stand on the deck together and Cecilia hoses their legs and feet to wash away the sand.

Now Cecilia kneels beside Juno and embraces her and whispers loving words to her, and Juno knows Cecilia is thanking her for running away so Cecilia would get rid of Derek and find Sunny, who really likes dogs.

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Speaking of dogs and people who like them, my new book Pooches and Kiddies: the further adventures of Healing Weintraub is now available as an actual book, with e-book editions and the audio edition coming soon. Pooches and Kiddies is both the sequel to Good With Dogs and Cats: the adventures of Healing Weintraub and a stand-alone novel chronicling a momentous year in the life of Healing Weintraub and his colorful family and friends: human, canine, and feline. Both books can be ordered from your favorite actual bookstores and purchased online from myriad booksellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and Alibris.

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Sir Garth

From the outset of my friendship with Garth Hagerman, I began my emails to him with Sir Garth. I sent him hundreds of emails over the years using this opening salutation, and he never once commented on my referencing what I felt was his inherent nobility; and he steadfastly signed all his emails to me groovalicious.

Garth died a week ago at the age of sixty-three after many months in the hospital battling cancer. A brilliant computer whiz with a degree in Drama from UC Berkeley, he was the creator and maintainer of my web site and blog, and Marcia’s web sites, and he helped us design the packaging for our many albums of music. He also designed the covers and formatted the text for eight of my spiral-bound works of fiction.

Several years ago a reading of my play Milo & Angel was staged at the Mendocino Theatre Company. The actor who was to read one of the lead roles left the cast a few days before the reading, and I asked Garth if he would read the part. On very short notice, he performed his part with exactly the emotion I’d hoped for, exceeding my expectations by light years. His performance helped make the reading a resounding success. In response to my profuse thanks, he nodded humbly and said, “Any time.”

I did not know Garth much beyond our professional interactions, yet I considered him a good friend. He was an excellent photographer, an avid hiker, a great communications facilitator for us and for many people in the community; and for his last twenty-three years the devoted partner of Andrea.

During a brief interlude of relatively calm sailing in the midst of his long illness, he helped me create the cover for our latest album of songs Ahora Entras Tu.

We miss you Sir Garth, noble soul.

Blessings and thanks.

Todd

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The Skeptic

Michael, a burly bearded biochemist, and Daphne, a lithe longhaired librarian, have been mostly happily married for twenty years despite a great divide in their views of reality.

Daphne believes wholeheartedly in astrology, the I Ching, and that animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are messengers from the spirit realm. She also believes the soul lives on after death and that many of her dreams take place on the astral plane.

Michael thinks the I Ching, astrology, the spirit realm, life after death, and the astral plane are what he calls hackneyed spiritual crap.

*

On July seventeenth, a dozen people gather for a barbecue in Michael and Daphne’s backyard to celebrate Michael’s sixtieth birthday. Two of the guests are Daphne’s best friend Cecilia and Cecilia’s new partner.

“Michael, this is Sunrise,” says Cecilia, introducing her beau, a handsome man with a French accent.

Michael grimaces, for there is nothing he hates more than what he calls phony hippy names.

“My given name is Anatole,” says Sunrise, smiling at Michael. “From the Greek Anatolius, which means sunrise. Most of my friends call me Sunny, but please call me Anatole if it is more to your liking.”

“Whatever,” says Michael, shrugging dismissively.

“May you have a marvelous birthday dream,” says Sunny, undaunted by Michael’s hostility. “And now I must try the hors d’oeuvres. They look fantastic.”

*

When the last guest has gone home, Daphne asks Michael what he thought of Sunny.

“Not much,” says Michael, annoyed by her mention of him. “What does he do? Don’t tell me. He’s an astrologer.”

“Close,” says Daphne, laughing at her husband’s relentless cynicism. “He writes books about neuroscience and epigenetics.”

“Yeah right,” says Michael, refusing to believe her. “And I’m the Pope.”

*

Early the next morning, Michael wakes from a dream so real he is startled to find he was dreaming.

He slips out of bed, dresses quickly, and leaves a note on the kitchen counter for Daphne.

Going to Green River Beach. Be back soon.

*

A few minutes later, Michael is driving south on the coast highway, his truck headlights barely penetrating the dense fog.

“What am I doing?” he asks, knowing very well what he’s doing.

He is enacting his dream, and doing so with urgency he hasn’t felt since he was a teenager and wild about surfing and girls until his parents sent him away to a boarding school far from any ocean.

*

Arriving at the Green River Beach parking lot, Michael climbs out of his truck, hurries across the wide beach to where the waves have hardened the sand, and heads south as he did in his dream.

*

A half-mile along, the sand meets a large patch of granite boulders. In his dream, Michael traversed the boulders to reach a huge conical stone; and at the base of this stone he found a fabulous crystal.

As the sun gains supremacy over the fog, Michael surveys the daunting mass of boulders and mutters, “This is stupid. Who am I kidding?”

Yet rather than return to his truck and drive home, he sits down on a flat-topped boulder and feels a huge knot of regret and disappointment choking him so ferociously he feels he might die at any moment.

Compelled by this feeling of imminent death, he gets up and makes his way across the field of boulders to a huge conical stone standing above the others; and he circumnavigates this mighty stone in search of the crystal, but finds only sand.

Grief-stricken and exhausted, he is about to give up his quest, when rising out of the sea just beyond the breakers is an enormous whale who takes a long look at Michael before vanishing beneath the waves.

“Oh my God!” Michael cries, his grief obliterated by the astonishing visitation; and he remembers that in his dream he found the crystal by digging in the sand at the base of the stone.

So he drops to his knees and digs down until his fingers touch something hard and smooth.

Fearing he’ll find a piece of man-made junk, he sits back on his haunches and slows his breath to calm himself until his curiosity gets the better of him and he resumes his digging.

 *

On August eleventh, eighty people gather for a barbecue in Daphne and Michael’s backyard to celebrate Daphne’s sixtieth birthday; and it is soon apparent to everyone that Michael is not his usual self.

Gone is his bushy beard that heretofore obscured his boyish good looks, and his usual drab attire has given way to a beautiful turquoise shirt and burgundy trousers.

And when Margaret Chenowith regales him at length about seeing a mountain lion pursuing a stag through her apple orchard, Michael exclaims, “Gad zooks, Maggie! What do you think it could mean?”

*

When all the guests have gone home save for Sunny and Cecilia, Sunny says, “I would give anything to know what happened to you, Michael. You’ve become a whole other person since I met you a month ago. And I know you’re not pretending. You really have changed.”

“As you wished for me,” says Michael, his eyes sparkling, “I had a marvelous birthday dream.”

“Tell them,” says Daphne, her eyes sparkling, too.

So Michael tells Cecilia and Sunny how he was compelled by a mysterious force to enact his dream, and how he was about to give up his search for the crystal when the colossus rose from the sea and obliterated his grievous despair.

fin

Impulsos Olvidados a piano solo from Todd and Marcia’s CD Ahora Entras Tu.