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Mrs. Davenport

In a blog entry from 2010, I wrote: Mrs. Davenport, my Third Grade teacher at Las Lomitas Elementary School, was from Oklahoma and proudly one-eighth Cherokee. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in all my eight mortal years. She was astute, funny, musical, athletic, and she enjoyed using words somewhat beyond the official Third Grade vocabulary. We loved Mrs. Davenport because she loved us and had great empathy for our collective predicament: being eight-year-olds.

Today I will add to that description and say she was tall and slender with raven black hair usually worn in a bun, her lipstick ruby red. She was the first teacher I ever had a crush on, despite her being married, if we were to believe the Mrs., which of course we did. She wore glasses, and when she took them off to clean them she was beyond beautiful to me. And every once in great while, she would let her black hair down to redo her bun, and in those moments she was a full-blooded Cherokee goddess.

Mrs. Davenport liked me, and in contrast to my First and Second Grade teachers did not often punish me for speaking out of turn or talking to other kids during class. She understood the phenomenal energy of little kids, and when I and others would become restless from too much confinement and the mental strain of sitting quietly and listening, she would say, “Todd, Jody, Wendy, Diana, and anybody else with ants in your pants, run to the oak tree and back. Right now. Go.”

We would walk out into the day knowing not to run until we were beyond the wing of classrooms, and then we would dash across the concrete playground and the grassy playing field to the largest oak tree in the world, as far as eight-year-old Todd was concerned, the round trip a good quarter-of-a-mile. One lap usually sufficed to calm us down for another half-hour of confinement and study, unless Mrs. Davenport discerned any lingering restlessness in us, in which case she would send those of us in need on another run to the oak and back.

As far as I know, Mrs. Davenport was the only teacher at our school to employ this most effective therapeutic technique, which rendered Attention Deficit Disorder a non-issue for those of us under her care, though I know had I been born twenty years later I would have been the poster child for that popular psychological disorder of today and made to take the requisite drugs.

I never had homework until Third Grade and it seemed to me that confinement from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon was enough to ask of us. Why should we sacrifice more hours of our precious lives working math problems and writing definitions of words? Thus I did not do homework except sometimes a little right before school in the morning, which usually sufficed.

Mrs. Davenport did not give us much homework, but the one assignment she was adamant we work on at home every day was undeniably worthwhile, yet abhorrent to me. Every day she would write five words on the blackboard and we were to copy these words into special binders full of lined paper she’d given us, each word to be printed, then written in cursive, then looked up in the dictionary, the definition written down, and the word used properly in a sentence. As Mrs. Davenport told us time and again with her mild Oklahoma accent, “If you do five words a night, you’ll have three hundred words done in three months and be very glad you did.”

A week after our class began this massive vocabulary-building undertaking, Mrs. Davenport checked our special binders to see how we were doing. The pages in my special binder were still pristine. Mrs. Davenport looked me in the eye and said, “You should have twenty-five words done by now, Todd. I want to see forty-five words done by the end of next week when I check your binder again.”

In spurts on the bus to school in the morning, I managed to get about thirty words done by her next check, and I had not done them well. She wagged her finger at me and said, “Come on, Todd, buckle down here.”

But I did not buckle down, and my not buckling down coincided with her ceasing to check our progress for many subsequent weeks, though every day she would write five new words on the chalkboard and remind us, “Now be sure to do your five words after school today.”

Then suddenly there came a Friday when she informed us our vocabulary binders were due the following Monday. Three hundred words were supposed to have been looked up, their definitions written down, and each word used properly in a sentence. I had done a total of forty words. Maybe. So did I buckle down and sacrifice the weekend in a valiant attempt to do three months of work in two days? No. I waited until Sunday afternoon and managed to do about thirty more words by the next day, and I did them poorly.

What I remember most vividly about Mrs. Davenport’s reaction to my disgraceful vocabulary binder was the pained look on her face, her genuine anguish at my betrayal of her trust in me.

My dismal performance prompted Mrs. Davenport to have a meeting with my mother, after which I was chastised by my parents and for a few weeks made to sit at the dining table before supper every night to do my homework, except I rarely had any homework after the vocabulary binder debacle, which binder, for some reason, I was not made to complete.

Mrs. Davenport soon forgave me and life went on. I continued to adore her and she continued to be her charming self and send me running to the oak tree and back a couple times most every day. She continued to smoke cigarettes on her breaks, I soon forgot about my vocabulary binder failure, and my mother stopped making me sit at the table before supper to do homework I rarely had.

I remember one especially exciting day that year when Mrs. Davenport and another woman teacher intervened in a fight between two big Eighth Graders, the two toughest scariest guys at our school. I was not an eyewitness to the fight, but I heard many stirring accounts of the fight from those who claimed to have seen the bloody drama unfold.

The two big guys were having a slugfest and Mrs. Davenport waded in between them to break up the fight. One of the boys, swinging wildly, struck Mrs. Davenport on the cheek under her eye. She tackled him and threw him to the ground before more teachers arrived to help contain the brawlers. For a couple weeks after she broke up that fight, she sported a big bruise under her eye, and I thought she was the bravest person in the world.

Those were the days, the 1950s in northern California, when school was not pre-formatted. Every teacher had his or her own way of doing things and covering the subjects they were supposed to cover in that year. Mrs. Davenport had a way of teaching that was ideal for eight-year-olds. I liken her methods to kindergarten for older kids.

That is to say, along with sometimes sitting at our desks learning arithmetic together and listening to her read stories and collective things like that, we were very often not all doing the same thing, the classroom more like a big artists’ workshop. A group of kids might be working on a mural about California Indians, some kids might be drawing pictures, some writing stories, and some reading.

And at recess a couple times a week, for those kids who didn’t want to go out on the playground, Mrs. Davenport would sit with the Fireside Book of Folk Songs open in front of her, singing in her gorgeous voice, and four or seven or ten of us stood around her singing with her.

She understood that more than facts of dubious value, kids need experiences that challenge the mind and inspire creative thinking. Or at least that’s how I choose to remember how I learned and grew under her guidance sixty-three years ago when she was my teacher and I had a big crush on her.

fin

Alone and Lonely

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The Psychic

Twenty-five years ago, when I was forty-seven and living in Berkeley, I had a three-month relationship with a woman who lived in Los Angeles. In the course of our brief liaison, I made two trips to LA and she made a few trips to Berkeley, and at some point I asked her, “Have you ever been in therapy?”

“I have three good friends who are therapists who talk to me about their problems,” she replied, “so I’m not drawn to therapy. But I do go to a psychic and he’s incredibly helpful in that way.”

“In the way of therapy?” I asked, doubtfully.

“Yes,” she said. “He’s great. In fact, you should have a session with him.”

Never having gone to a psychic, the next time I was in Los Angeles I went to see the guy. I was expecting a smooth operator, either a shyster or a wannabe shaman. His house was in a woodsy neighborhood in the middle of the LA sprawl. When I arrived at his place there was a hawk circling above his beautiful adobe house, keening. What was the raptor trying to tell me? Get the hell outta here? Welcome to the mystic?

I’d been instructed to go into the adjoining studio and wait for the guy, so I did. The place was gorgeous, white walls, an old table center room, a well-used Rider-Waite tarot deck on the table, two chairs, arch-topped windows built into the adobe, and several shelves of fantastic crystals. Seeing all this, I expected the guy to have long brown hair and a deep voice and a hawk feather in a psychedelic headband.

Instead, in comes a wiry guy in an old sweatshirt and baggy trousers, short gray hair, barefoot, brusque, Brooklyn accent.

“Hey,” he says, shaking my hand. “Todd, right?”

“Yes.”

“Larry. Sit down.”

“I’m a friend of Renee’s.”

He nods. “So… you here about anything in particular?”

“No. I’ve never been to a psychic and Renee said you were great, so…”

“Good,” he says, nodding.

We sit across from each other at the table and he gives me a long look, and while he’s looking I say, “Gorgeous crystals.”

He glances at the shelves. “Yeah, people gave me those. I was never into rocks, but one client brought me that big amethyst chunk and another client saw it and brought me that giant quartz crystal and the rest followed.”

“I carry rocks,” I say, liking him despite his tough guy persona. “Have since I was a little kid.”

“Oh yeah?” he says, his eyes twinkling. “You got one on you?”

“Always,” I say, taking the two rocks out of my pockets.

I hand him the rocks and he looks them over, hands one back to me and keeps the round one, white quartz in gray stone.

“I can do the reading from this one,” he says, studying the rock. “Or we can use the cards. They’ll both get us to the same place.”

“Oh then from the rock,” I say, amused and curious.

He holds the rock for a moment, sets it on top of the tarot deck and closes his eyes. “When you were five? Four? Five. Your mother placed you as a shield between her and your father. She wanted you to protect her from him, and she kept you there… “ He opens his eyes. “A long time.”

I gasped, not because he had reiterated something I’d learned in therapy, but because he’d given me a hugely important missing puzzle piece in the story of my entanglement with my mother and my father’s extreme antipathy toward me.

“Of course that was way too much to ask of a little kid, to protect his mother from his father, but that’s what she asked you to do. And you did the best you could, but of course it was impossible, and the impossibility shaped your life.”

I ceased to doubt him and listened in amazement to his remarkably accurate description of me in the world, though he never asked for any information about me. Near the end of the hour-long reading, he handed me my rock and spread the tarot deck face down in a fan on the table. “Pick a card.”

I picked The Magician.

“So this is you,” he says, looking at the card and nodding, “which is not surprising. I knew when I walked in here you were psychic. Are you aware of this?”

“No. I’m aware of being intuitive, but…”

“This is not guessing, this is knowing,” he says simply. “You’ll be with people and without knowing how you know, you’ll know things about them they aren’t aware of or are keeping secret. Ring a bell?”

“Kind of,” I say, thinking of times when this might have been true. “And I’m a writer. The stories come to me unbidden. I don’t make them up. Not consciously.”

“That’s different, though it’s probably related. I don’t know. And now our time is almost up. Anything you want to ask me?”

“Yeah, this tarot card. The Magician. How is he me? Or how am I him?”

“You’re a powerful person. You have unlimited potential, and your work in this lifetime could be some kind of connecting the physical world, so-called reality, with the spiritual world. And my guess is you’re mostly unaware of this unless…” He squints at me. “You a musician?”

“Yes.”

“So maybe you know a little about it from that.”

“And how does one… how do I access my power and potential?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I’m not a therapist. I just tell you what I see.”

fin

The Magician

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The Rug

Marcia and I are thinking of getting a new rug for the living room, our ten-year-old, four-hundred-dollar Cost Plus rug from India badly frayed from constant heavy use. Marcia has begun shopping around online and I am reminded of my last search for a rug twenty-six years ago.

*

I moved to Berkeley from Sacramento in 1995. Recently divorced and hoping to revive my writing career and my emotional life, too, I was off to a good start with the sale of my novel Ruby & Spear and a movie option on my novel Forgotten Impulses.

Having a little jingle in my pocket for the first time in many years, I thought I’d buy a beautiful rug for the living room of the house I was renting on Evelyn Avenue. To that end, I enlisted my friend Mindy to accompany me to a Persian Rug store on Solano Avenue, a store I’d walked by countless times, the rugs displayed in the window ever-changing and always enticing.

A handsome Persian fellow sitting at a desk at the back of the shop looked up as we entered. “May I help you?” he asked, and I said Yes. When he joined us, I informed him I was looking for a six-foot by eight-foot rug in the thousand-dollar range.

He smiled faintly and led us to a stack of rugs. With the help of an assistant he removed the top rug to show us the next one down and so forth until he came to a rug that elicited an interested Hmm from me.

“How much for this one?” I asked hopefully.

“Nineteen hundred dollars,” he said, smiling politely.

Ah,” I said, the sum petrifying. “I was thinking of something closer to a thousand.”

“I’m very sorry to tell you this, sir,” he said, no longer smiling, “but our store is not for you unless you are looking for a much smaller rug.”

This piqued me and I decided I could spend as much as fifteen hundred if he showed me something I really loved. I told him so and he sighed. “I have a few flawed rugs I can show you, but they are only four by six or three by five. I don’t think you’ll like them.”

At which moment another handsome Persian fellow emerged from the back of the store, he and the first fellow had a brief conversation in Farsi, the second fellow gave me a penetrating look and asked, “Are you an artist?”

I said I was a writer and a musician.

He nodded graciously and beckoned us to follow him to another stack of rugs, much finer rugs than those in the first stack. He and the assistant slowly removed the top rug, allowed us a few moments to contemplate the newly exposed rug, and so on until four rugs down they uncovered the most beautiful rug I’d ever seen. Or I should say they uncovered a rug that sang to me, “I’m the one, baby. You know I am.”

“You were meant to have this rug,” said the salesman, gazing at me knowingly. “This rug was made for you.”

“How much?” I asked breathlessly.

“Because I very much want you to have this rug,” he said, pausing momentously, “I will give it to you for 3400 dollars.”

“That’s way beyond what I can spare,” I said, which was true in one sense, but in another sense – the spiritual truth – I could have spared that much.

“You need to buy this rug,” he said, gazing intently at me. “It will change your life. This rug has been waiting for you.”

*

I did not buy the rug and my fortunes quickly waned. A year later my savings were gone and I was barely making enough to cover my rent and pay for groceries. And every time I walked by that rug shop on Solano Avenue I would think about my beautiful rug and regret I hadn’t been brave enough to take the beauty home with me.

fin

Risking Delight

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From Whence

In the early morning of December twentieth in their little house on the outskirts of the northern California coastal town of Mercy, the resident trio of Delilah, Nathan, and Celia sit at the dining table listening to heavy rain drumming on the roof, Nathan having green tea, Celia and Delilah coffee.

Nathan is eighty-eight and feeling chipper this morning after a good night’s sleep. Dressed in old brown corduroy trousers and a black long-sleeved T-shirt, his hair snow white, he’s thinking of taking the mutts Chico and Gypsy for a walk once the rain lets up, which he guesses will be in the early afternoon. After fifty-eight years of living in Mercy, Nathan’s guesses about the weather are rarely wrong.

Celia is Nathan’s wife. She is eighty-two and was a nurse for forty-five years until she retired simultaneously with Delilah coming to live with them fifteen years ago. She is still in her nightgown and bathrobe, her long black hair full of gray, her winter days filled with cooking and reading and spending time with Nathan and Delilah and their friends, her hopes of late pinned on Delilah marrying Gabriel Fernandez, a charming fellow and good friend of their family.

Delilah is twenty-eight and the only child of movie star Margot Cunningham who died eight years ago. Unmistakably the daughter of her famously beautiful mother, Delilah is also still in her nightgown and bathrobe, her brown hair longer than it has been in several years, though only a boyish bob. This morning, after a lifetime of wondering, she is both excited and fearful about the possibility of finally discovering who her father is.

Last night Delilah and Nathan and Celia went with Gabriel to a party at the home of the very British Constance and Joseph Richardson next door to Ziggurat Farm where Delilah is the main home school teacher and Nathan and Celia are the honorary farm elders. Gabriel and Delilah are not yet lovers, though they are wildly attracted to each other and love spending time together.

At the party, Raul Neves, chef and owner of Ocelot, a renowned restaurant in Mercy, and his wife Caroline, Delilah’s close friend and the manager of Ocelot, gave a slide show of their recent honeymoon in England and Portugal. One of the slides was of Raul’s deceased mother Beatrice. In the photo, which was taken when Beatrice was thirty-five, her resemblance to Delilah is exact down to the finest details.

And because Delilah knows Raul met her mother Margot on a few occasions twenty-nine years ago, now that she’s seen this photo of Beatrice she is convinced Raul is her father.

“Fortunately,” says Nathan, going to put a log on the fire, “Raul is a wonderful person and you like him and he likes you. Much better than discovering your father is some obnoxious lout you can’t stand.”

“You would think so,” says Delilah, groggy from lack of sleep because her mind won’t stop gnawing on the possibility of Raul being her father, “except how will Caroline feel if I ask Raul to have a DNA test to see if he’s my father? They just got married and she’s pregnant with his child. She might be devastated.”

“Caroline loves you,” says Celia, getting up to make more coffee. “She’ll want to know the truth as much as you. So will Raul. They’re both strong people. Don’t worry.”

“Life is far more mysterious and fantastic than we could ever imagine,” says Nathan, gazing into the flames. “Raul and Caroline must have noticed how much you resemble his mother and done the math. They’re probably wondering the same thing. And if he’s not your father, oh well.”

“So do I just call him up and say, ‘Hi Raul. Delilah here. Shall we go have a DNA test and see if you’re my father?’”

“Would you like me to call him?” asks Nathan, returning to the table. “I’d be happy to.”

“Would you?” says Delilah, feeling childish and overwhelmed.

“Of course,” says Nathan, going to the phone. “Why else did I reincarnate?”

*

A half-hour later, Raul and Caroline arrive with a day-old pumpkin pie.

Fresh coffee is made.

After everyone expresses joy over the much-needed rain and the deliciousness of Raul’s pie, Caroline, tall and lovely and married and pregnant for the first time in her life, cuts to the chase.

“The first thing I said when I saw that picture of Beatrice was how much she looked like Delilah. And Raul…” She turns to her husband. “You tell.”

“When I first looked at that old photo,” says Raul, ruggedly handsome, his hair a tangle of gray, “I couldn’t see what Caroline was seeing. The photo is very small and the images I have in my mind of my mother are from much later in her life, so it never occurred to me she looked like Delilah. But when I saw the picture projected on the big screen, it was obvious.”

“So…” says Delilah, feeling incredibly shy around Raul, “will you… would you… can we have a DNA test and see?”

“If you’d like,” he says, smiling warmly at her. “But I know you’re my daughter. And it makes me happy in a way I never knew I could be happy.”

*

Twenty minutes later, Raul and Delilah are sitting side-by-side in the otherwise empty waiting room of the Mercy Hospital lab, Delilah feeling six-years-old, Raul feeling pleasantly ancient.

“Did my mother seduce you?” asks Delilah, innocently. “Or did you seduce her?”

Raul ponders the question and says, “When we’re done giving our blood, I’ll tell you what I remember. But not here.”

“Raul Neves?” says a young woman in blue scrubs calling from the lab entrance. “Ready for you now.”

“Can we come in together?” asks Raul, smiling at the young woman. “We’re finding out if I’m her father.”

“Oh,” says the young woman, pleased by Raul’s frankness. “Sure.”

*

Driving back to Nathan and Celia’s house from the lab, they stop at a vista point to watch the parade of storm-driven waves rolling into Mercy Bay.

“Your mother summoned me to her hotel room,” says Raul, striving to remember his tryst with Margot. “It was the night of the last time she came to my restaurant. Each of those times, there were three or four, I came out of the kitchen and spoke to her at her table, something I don’t often do, but your mother was a big star and so very beautiful and I was thirty and full of myself and had a faint hope of adding her to my trophy list. You do resemble her, you know, though not as much as you resemble my mother when she was your age.”

“Did you like my mother?” asks Delilah, who found Margot emotionally impenetrable.

“I was hypnotized by her,” he says simply. “But I didn’t know her. She was fantastically alluring, but not warm, not effusive. In our chit-chat at her table we discovered we were both thirty, so maybe that was a bond.”

“So you went to her hotel room. More than once?”

“Just one time,” he says, closing his eyes to remember.

“You don’t have to tell me more if you don’t want to,” she says softly.

“I don’t mind,” he says, opening his eyes and smiling at her. “I understand why you want to know. I would like to know how it was when my father and mother made me. And now that I have opened this page of my memory I remember when your mother opened the door of her suite I was pleased to see she had changed out of her fancy clothes and was wearing a sleeveless black top with spaghetti straps showing off her beautiful shoulders and arms, and a short red skirt showing off her beautiful legs, and her hair was down and she was barefoot, her toenails painted red, and she was impossibly beautiful. We sat together on the sofa and she drank hard liquor and I had wine. I don’t recall what we talked about. My restaurant, I suppose, or the movie she was making. I don’t remember, but I know we spoke for quite some time and she had a beautiful deep voice, as deep as Caroline’s. Then she told me…” He hesitates. “I don’t know if I should tell you this. I’m only just now remembering what happened.”

“You don’t have to,” says Delilah, though she wants him to.

“No, I’ll tell you. Maybe it will help you understand her. I don’t know.”

“Whatever you want,” says Delilah, closing her eyes.

“She told me she wanted me to pursue her and she would try to elude me. She said when I caught her she would fight to get away, even though she wanted me. I remember she said, ‘I hit hard. So be ready.’”

Now he remembers everything.

“She said, ‘I want you to overwhelm me until I have no choice but to surrender.’ I said, ‘But this is not my way. I would never force a woman to have sex with me.’ And she said, ‘Then you should go.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’ But then I looked at her and saw how sad she was, so lonely, and I said, ‘Or maybe you will let me be gentle with you, and also strong. Maybe you will like that, too.’ She looked away and said, ‘No. Gentle doesn’t work for me. Just go.’ So I got up and bowed to her like a monk bowing low to a statue of his god. I don’t why I did that, but I remember it felt good to bow to her like that. And then I told her it was a pleasure meeting her, which in a strange way it was, and then I walked to the door and she came running after me and wrapped her arms around me and we kissed, and then she took me to her bed.”

*

Early the next morning, a Thursday, Raul and Caroline lie abed talking about the myriad things they need to do today before they open Ocelot at five this afternoon.

“I wish Andrew was not so dour,” says Raul, speaking of the new cook in the kitchen. “I keep thinking he’ll lighten up as he gets more familiar with everything, but he remains so deadly serious, and deadly seriousness does not work well in my kitchen.”

“Shall I resume the hunt for another cook?” asks Caroline, wishing they didn’t have to get up just yet, the day cold and dreary.

“I suppose so,” says Raul, tired of breaking in new employees, life in the hinterlands a difficult fit for many professional cooks accustomed to city living. “And I’ll speak to Andrew. I keep waiting for him to relax, but maybe he needs a little prompting.”

“I hate to say this, but I think he’s intimidated by Maurice,” says Caroline, speaking of Raul’s longtime sous chef and assistant.

Raul sighs. “Maybe so. Maurice has become a mean old man, and that won’t work in my kitchen either.”

“I can’t imagine your kitchen without Maurice,” says Caroline, who has never been intimidated by Maurice because no one intimidates her. “Can you?”

“I can,” says Raul, getting out of bed. “Whenever he goes away for a vacation now the kitchen is much happier. But what can I do? He’s been with me for twenty years.”

“Yes, but if he’s the problem…”

“He’ll have to change or go,” says Raul, putting on his bathrobe. “I’m making breakfast. Stay in bed my darling. I’ll call when the coffee is ready.”

“I don’t want to be apart from you,” she says, getting out of bed and embracing him. “I’ll come with you.”

“Before we found each other,” he says, looking into her eyes, “I couldn’t imagine letting Maurice go, but now I can because I have you and our baby and Delilah and all our friends I never had before.”

*

Seven days later, the twenty-eighth of December, Delilah and Celia and Nathan give lunch to Constance and Joseph Richardson and Daisy and Michael Darling and their almost-two-year-old daughter Jenna. Michael is Caroline’s older brother, an ornithologist, Daisy is the author of a novella entitled Women Farm that Delilah has illustrated with exquisite pen and ink drawings, Joseph is a landscape painter, and Constance is a writer of bestselling murder mysteries; and they are all members of the Ziggurat Farm collective.

When Celia’s incomparable chicken enchiladas have been devoured, everyone deploys in the living room with pie and coffee, Celia sitting in the rocking chair with Jenna on her lap, a fire crackling in the hearth.

Constance taps her mug with her fork. “We have news.”

Momentous news,” says Joseph, nodding in agreement with the adjective.

“So do I,” says Delilah, bouncing her eyebrows. “You go first.”

“Arnold Winfield called from London yesterday,” says Constance, gazing intently at Daisy, “to tell us he is head over heels in love with Women Farm and wants to bring out a lavish clothbound edition in September and hopes very much that you and Delilah will come to England for a couple weeks of publishing-related events.”

“Including,” says Joseph, raising a declarative finger, “a show of Delilah’s original drawings at the Onyx Gallery in London, which is a coup of epic proportions, the Onyx an apex gallery. I can only dream of my paintings hanging there.”

“Oh my God,” says Daisy, bursting into tears. “I can’t believe it.”

“Congratulations, honey,” says Michael, hugging Daisy. “England here we come.”

“Mama cwy,” says Jenna, pouting. “Dome cwy Mama.”

“She’s happy,” says Celia, bouncing the little girl. “Happy tears.”

 “Arnold’s initial offer was 10,000 pounds with 80% to Daisy and 20% to Delilah,” says Constance, beaming at author and illustrator, “but I jiggled him up to 20,000 pounds. You can arrange the split however you like. That’s entirely up to you.”

“Thank you so much, Connie,” says Daisy, going to Constance and hugging her.

“Thank you, dear, for writing such a masterpiece and allowing us to show it Arnold,” says Connie, delighted to be the agent of such a fortuitous collision of writer and publisher. “A match made in heaven.”

“And what is your momentous news, Delilah?” asks Joseph, feeling certain she can’t possibly top Arnold Winfield publishing Women Farm.

“Well,” says Delilah, standing with her back to the fire, “I’m sure you all remember the picture of Raul’s mother from the honeymoon slideshow.”

“Gorgeous woman,” says Joseph, remembering the shimmery green dress clinging to those admirable curves.

“I thought she looked like you,” says Michael, who finds Delilah surpassingly lovely.

“I thought she was you at first,” says Daisy, still breathless from the news of her novella finding a publisher, never having published anything before.

“So… what about Raul’s mother?” asks Constance, smiling curiously at Delilah.

“Well it turns out,” says Delilah, looking at Celia for courage, “and we just got the results a few days ago, that I resemble Raul’s mother because… she’s my grandmother.”

“Raul is your father?” says Daisy, mouth agape.

Delilah nods. “He is.”

“Dear God,” says Constance, placing a hand on her heart. “How is this possible?”

“Well,” says Delilah, laughing through her tears, “when Raul was thirty and had just opened his restaurant in San Francisco, my mother dined there a few times and they had a fling, the result of which was me, though Raul never knew, nor did my mother know who the father was because she was quite promiscuous at the time. And though I knew Raul had met my mother long ago, it never occurred to me they might have been lovers until I saw that picture of Beatrice.”

“Raul never suspected?” says Joseph, staggered by this astonishing turn of events. “Never saw the resemblance?”

“Not until he saw that picture of his mother projected on the screen,” says Nathan, gazing fondly at Delilah. “Then he knew.”

“So the morning after the slide show,” says Delilah, continuing the story, “Nathan called Raul and he and Caroline came over, and then Raul and I went to the hospital lab and got our blood drawn, and five days later… voila.”

“Have you told the farm folks?” asks Constance, in shock—Raul a god to her and Delilah her favorite person in the world right after Joseph.

“Raul and Caroline are telling them even as we speak,” says Delilah, smiling at the thought of her dear friends gasping in amazement.

“So now what?” asks Michael, dazzled by the unfathomable workings of the universe.

“So now I’m going to change my last name to Neves,” says Delilah, giving Constance a hug. “And my middle name to Beatrice.”

*

On a cold clear night in January, Delilah and Gabriel are necking in the living room—Nathan and Celia long gone to bed—when Delilah stops the kissing and says, “Make love to me?”

“Shall we go to a motel?” asks Gabriel, eager to please his beloved. “I would take you home, but my mother and sister are there.”

“No, my love,” she says, getting up and holding out her hand to him. “Here. In my bed.”

“But we might wake Celia and Nathan,” he whispers, taking her hand.

“If we do,” she says, leading him to her bedroom, “I assure you they will be delighted.”

fin

Just Love

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Mothers and Fathers

On a rainy Monday morning in mid-December on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy, Vivienne and Andrea are working together in the farm office, one of the five rooms in the cottage where Andrea lives with her husband Marcel and their son Henri, a stone’s throw from the farmhouse where Vivienne lives with her parents Lisa and Philip and her brother Arturo.

Vivienne turned twelve in October and has been Andrea’s office assistant since June when she chose Andrea, the farm manager, to be her Main Study mentor for home school summer session. Farm management, gardening, and computer skills were the main focus of Vivienne’s summer studies, and she proved so helpful to Andrea, so adept at using the computer for business correspondence and keeping track of sales and inventory, and such a whiz with the bookkeeping software that has bedeviled Andrea for years, Andrea now employs Vivienne in the office two afternoons a week at double the wage she pays the kids for gardening work.

Passionate, meticulous, tenacious, and seemingly inexhaustible, Andrea was born in Germany fifty-seven years ago, her German accent now barely detectable after thirty-three years in America. Five-foot-seven, formidably strong, with long black hair only recently beginning to show signs of gray, Andrea is fiercely devoted to her friends and overjoyed that Vivienne says she wants to one day assume the role of farm manager.

Vivienne, olive skinned and slender with shoulder-length dark brown hair, has recently attained the height of five-foot-three in the midst a growth spurt she hopes will eventually make her as tall as her best friend Irenia, who is three years older than Vivienne and five-foot-nine. Vivienne’s father is a handsome blend of Italian and French, her mother a pleasing mix of Brazilian Indio, African, and Ashkenazi Jew, and Vivienne resembles both of them, her girlish cuteness fast giving way to womanly beauty.

With Ziggurat Farm Home School on hiatus until mid-January, Andrea is availing herself of Vivienne’s greater availability to catch up on long neglected farm business, and this cold rainy day finds Vivienne and Andrea sitting across from each other at the big table that serves as the farm office desk, Vivienne manning the computer while Andrea organizes a big pile of October and November invoices for Vivienne to log.

“How interesting. We just received a notice from Primero Press,” says Vivienne, gazing at the computer screen—Primero Press the company handling the printing and distribution of Philip’s two cookbooks and a volume of Nathan’s poetry, Nathan a dear friend of the farm and the unofficial poet laureate of Mercy. “They are informing us of a tidy sum they just deposited into our account at Mercy Savings.”

“For how much?” asks Andrea, looking up from the clutter of invoices.

“Nine thousand two hundred and seventy-three dollars and forty-one cents.” She frowns at Andrea. “I wonder if this could be, to quote my favorite Monopoly card, a bank error in our favor? Beats the previous monthly record by almost six thousand dollars. Then again, maybe that sum is correct. The accompanying sales figures for September say we sold 1723 copies of Philip’s Kitchen and 1268 copies of Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook and 47 copies of Nathan’s book of poems.”

“Impossible,” says Andrea, coming to look over Vivienne’s shoulder at the screen. “Send Primero an email to confirm the amount and those totals, and ask if they’ve got estimated sales for October and November.”

“Shall I read the email to you before I send?” says Vivienne, quickly composing the missive.

“Yes, please,” says Andrea, sitting down to listen.

“‘Dear Wonderful Primero Press. Andrea here at Ziggurat Farm Productions. Surprised by apparent large increases in sales in September. Please verify accuracy of numbers. Curious if you have October and November sales figures yet. Many Thanks, Andrea.’”

“Fine,” says Andrea, smiling at Vivienne. “Now back to reality.”

“Oh but what if it’s true?” says Vivienne, gazing at the $9,273.41. “Wouldn’t Papa be so happy to know people are buying his books?”

“If it’s true and continues,” says Andrea, resuming her sorting of invoices, “your father can finally stop working at Ocelot.”

“He does dread waiting tables these days and traveling to and fro on these cold winter nights,” says Vivienne, composing an email to Hortensio’s Market in Mercy asking them to please pay for vegetables and fruit they purchased in September, October, and November. “Though he says it’s more of a psychic strain than physically difficult. Hmm. Interesting how psychic and physic are composed of the same letters in different orders. I’ll track down those word origins later on my own time.”

“We have enough money in the bank for him to quit now, but he doesn’t want to draw on our reserves,” says Andrea, handing a stack of invoices to Vivienne. “When you get these entered, we’ll be done for the day.”

“Well, well, well,” says Vivienne, gazing wide-eyed at the screen. “This just in from the very prompt Primero. Maybe Papa will be able to quit working at Ocelot without drawing on our reserves.”

“Tell me,” says Andrea, closing her eyes and praying those sales figures were true.

“In October Philip’s Kitchen sold 3244 copies, and in November 5225, and that’s only a partial total for November, with similar numbers for Delicious Ambitious. Which means, if my calculations are correct, 50,000 dollars will soon be arriving in our bank account. And who knows what the totals will be for December when all those frenzied Christmas shoppers get done snatching up copies.”

“Never mind the invoices,” says Andrea, leaping to her feet. “Let’s go tell your father.”

*

On this same rainy December day, Marcel, the wine master of Ziggurat Farms, and Philip, Marcel’s accomplice in wine, invite Raul the famous chef and Boris the wonderfully strong father of Irenia to join them in the gigantic old redwood barn and help stir the yeast in the seventy barrels of wine that have been fermenting since September, to be followed by tasting wine from six test barrels to determine if last year’s wine is ready for bottling after fourteen months of fermentation.

Raul has been longing for such an invitation because he considers Marcel’s pinot noirs and cabernets among the best he has ever tasted, and he has tasted the best in the world. Yet he knows Marcel buys his pinot noir and cabernet grapes from three inland vineyards owned by three wineries producing wine Raul would never serve in his restaurant in Mercy where customers pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine and expect nothing less than world class, which Marcel’s wine is.

And now more and more wine aficionados, many of whom first tasted Marcel’s wine at Raul’s restaurant, greatly covet Ziggurat Farm’s incomparable pinot noir and cabernet that Andrea sells for twelve hundred dollars a case and could reasonably ask twice that. How, Raul wonders, does Marcel evoke such greatness from the same grapes that supposedly expert vintners can only rouse to mediocrity?

When all the barrels of fermenting wine have been stirred for the second time today, the tasting of the previous year’s wine begins.

“As you can see there is no more sediment,” says Marcel, dipping wine from the first of the six test barrels, his ladle made of sturdy glass. “My nose is pleased, the color is good, and the wine has been transforming for nearly fifteen months, so perhaps this pinot is ready for the bottle.”

Marcel pours the dark purple wine into each man’s glass, and Philip says, “May Bacchus be with us.”

“Dionysus say the Greeks,” says Marcel, raising his glass.

“In Russia we say the wine god is Kvasura,” says Boris, raising his glass, too.

“In Portugal we call him Lusus, son of Bacchus,” says Raul, touching his glass to the others.

Now they taste and swallow.

“I know little about wine except what you teach me, Marcel,” says Boris, having downed his wine in a single gulp, “but I know this is delicious. No trace of bitterness.”

“Oui,” says Marcel, nodding. “I like it.”

“I love it,” says Philip, grinning at Marcel. “You’ve done it again.”

“It’s magnificent,” says Raul, shaking his head in wonder. “How do you do it? Why can’t the growers of your grapes make wine like this? Or even close to this?”

“Our secret,” says Marcel, matter-of-factly. “Maybe you’ll find us out as we taste.”

Marcel jots a few things in a small notebook, they rinse their glasses, and he ladles out wine from the next barrel.

“This is also a pinot?” asks Raul, holding his glass up to the light and noting the wine is perhaps slightly darker than the first one they tasted. “From the same grapes?”

“Oui,” says Marcel, tasting.

“Ah,” says Boris, nodding. “This is maybe just a little sweet. Yes?”

“You have good taste buds, Boris,” says Marcel, nodding. “And I think the oak comes through a bit more in this one.”

“I like this even better than the first,” says Raul, frowning. “But it’s the same grapes. Correct?”

“Oui,” says Marcel, winking at Philip. “Now we taste the third pinot from those same grapes.”

They rinse their glasses and Marcel ladles out the wine.

“This is the darkest yet,” says Raul, tasting the wine. “And maybe the best. I’m not sure. In any case I want forty cases, whatever your price. Tell Andrea.”

“We shall,” says Philip, clinking glasses with Marcel.

“We begin bottling tomorrow,” says Marcel, jotting a few more thing in his notebook, “should either of you want to help me and Philip and Lisa and Henri and Vivienne and Irenia, and with any luck Arturo. Now let us taste the cabernet.”

“One moment, my friend,” says Raul, raising his hand to forestall Marcel. “These three pinots are subtly different from each other in color and taste, though you say they are made from the same grapes and spent exactly the same amount of time fermenting in the same barrels in the same old barn two miles from the same ocean. How can they be the same grapes? And why can’t those wineries make better wine from these same grapes when you can make this nectar of the gods?”

“You promise to tell no one?” says Marcel, smiling at Raul.

“I promise,” says Raul, nodding solemnly.

“We buy from three vineyards we have chosen after some years of tasting the grapes at many vineyards. In each of these vineyards we have found what Lisa calls sweet spots, groups of vines producing grapes that taste especially delicious to us and are far superior to the other grapes in that vineyard. Who knows why? More water? Better soil? We don’t know, but we visit these sweet spots every day in the last week when the grapes are approaching ripeness, and when the grapes taste perfect to us, we pay extra for those particular vines to be picked just for us.”

“And those vintners haven’t discovered your secret?” asks Raul, frowning. “How could they not?”

“Not only have they not discovered our secret,” says Marcel, chuckling, “but they say we only imagine these grapes taste different than the others. Yet to us there is no comparison.”

“They’re fools,” says Raul, having known countless fools masquerading as experts. “But even so they must have tried your wine and tasted the difference.”

“Not that we’re aware of,” says Marcel, shaking his head. “They think we are silly amateurs.”

“They snicker when we come to claim our grapes,” says Philip, shrugging in acceptance of the fact. “Each to his own.”

“Then they are more than fools,” says Raul, shaking his head. “They’re idiots.”

“But enough about them,” says Philip, rinsing his glass. “Let’s taste the cabernet.”

Marcel ladles the first of the cabs.

“This is more, how do you say it… earthy,” says Boris, feeling a little drunk. “I like it very much.”

“This is the best cabernet I’ve ever had,” says Raul, also drunk. “I want forty cases of this, too. So… your grapes are the best ones grown in those vineyards.”

“The best for my taste and for Philip and Lisa,” says Marcel, rinsing his glass. “They are my co-tasters in the vineyards.”

“So you buy these special pinot grapes and special cabernet grapes from those three vineyards,” says Raul, awareness dawning. “And you mix the three pinots together? And the three cabernets?”

“We do,” says Marcel, ladling out the second cabernet. “But we mix them in three or four different proportions to each other, this year three. Each mixture has a different proportion of each grape to create subtly different flavors and sometimes slightly different colors.”

“You create these proportions by tasting the grapes in various proportions,” says Raul, nodding in understanding.

“Yes,” says Marcel, delighted with the taste of the second cabernet. “We sit around the table with our mouths full of various combinations of grapes, the kids, too, and we write down our reactions, and eventually we discover the proportions we like best. Then we crush the grapes from each vineyard separately, and when we know exactly how much juice of each grape we have, we figure out how to distribute all the juice to create these proportions in the barrels. Then Philip and I and Henri worry over the wine every day like mothers worrying over their first babies, we stir the yeast two and three and sometimes four times a day, and we baby the wine as no big winery could ever afford to baby a wine, and the fermentation takes place in this old redwood barn with the ocean breezes keeping the air sweet and cool, and… here we are.”

At which moment, Andrea and Vivienne rush in with the news of Philip’s cookbooks selling like hotcakes.

*

A few days later, Lisa and Andrea and Vivienne go for a bathe after supper in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse, the water a delicious ninety-nine degrees.

“I wish Irenia had spent the night tonight,” says Vivienne slipping into the warm water. “She loves it when all the women bathe together.”

“Tonight we wanted it to be just the three of us,” says Lisa, smiling at her daughter, “because we want to tell you something we’ve been waiting to tell you until you turned twelve.”

“Is this about sex?” asks Vivienne, excitedly. “Because you know, Mama, I do know how all that works, even before Caroline gave us an excellent lecture on mammalian reproduction.”

Andrea laughs. “This is not about sex, sweetheart, though it is somewhat related.”

“Then why did you wait until I was twelve?” asks Vivienne, frowning.

“We chose the age a long time ago,” says Lisa, moving across the tub so she’s sitting next to Vivienne. “We almost told you a few other times, but then we didn’t. And now we want to. It’s nothing bad. Don’t worry.”

Vivienne gasps in her dramatic way. “Was I adopted?”

“No,” says Lisa, putting her arm around her daughter. “You came out of my womb, and Philip is your father.”

“Then what could it possibly be?” asks Vivienne, perplexed.

“When Arturo was thirteen months old,” says Lisa, speaking quietly, “I stopped making milk and could no longer breastfeed him. He was almost ready to stop, so it wasn’t hard for him to switch to goat’s milk, and by the time you were born fifteen months later, my milk was renewed and I breastfed you until you were three months old and then my milk began to wane again.”

“Because you were forty-four?” ask Vivienne, nodding sympathetically. “And that’s a little old for being a mother?”

“That was maybe part of the reason,” says Lisa, looking at Andrea, “but mostly I couldn’t make milk because I lost so much weight after Arturo was born and couldn’t gain it back, so I had very little body fat, which a woman needs to get pregnant and to make milk. In fact, we didn’t think I could get pregnant again after Arturo was born, but luckily I could and you were born.”

“But you were too skinny to make enough milk for me,” says Vivienne, nodding in understanding. “So then did you give me goat’s milk? Is that what you’ve been waiting to tell me? Because I love goats, Mama. I do.”

“We didn’t give you goat’s milk,” says Andrea, smiling fondly at Vivienne. “We gave you my milk.”

You breastfed me?” says Vivienne, gazing in wonder at Andrea.

“I did,” says Andrea, crying. “From when you were three months old until you were almost two. Henri was fourteen-months-old when you were born and I had plenty of milk for both of you. And then he weaned himself at eighteen months, and I continued nursing you for another year.”

“Did Mama ask you to?” whispers Vivienne, starting to cry.

“No,” says Andrea, coming to sit with Vivienne and Lisa. “One morning I was holding you and you were fussing because you wanted to suckle. I rocked you and sang to you, but you would not be appeased, so I gave you my breast and then you were happy, and so was I.”

“I don’t remember,” says Vivienne, embracing Andrea, “but I’ve always thought of you as my other mother, and it turns out you were.”

*

In the early evening a few days before Christmas, Gabriel Fernandez comes to Nathan and Celia and Delilah’s little house on the outskirts of Mercy to drive the four of them to a dinner party at the new home of Joseph and Constance next door to Ziggurat Farm.

Gabriel is thirty-four, a Mercy native and backhoe operator. Nathan is eighty-eight, a retired arborist and poet. Celia is eighty-two, a former nurse now gardener and cook, and Delilah is twenty-eight, a musician, artist, and the main teacher at Ziggurat Farm Home School.

Nathan and Celia became Delilah’s guardians when she was thirteen, her movie star mother, the late Margot Cunningham, having brought Delilah to Mercy hoping to establish a better life for her daughter far from the insatiable celebrity hounds, and Margot’s hope was realized when Delilah moved in with Nathan and Celia.

Margot died when Delilah was twenty, Delilah’s father unknown even to Margot, because, as Margot confided to Nathan, any of several men might have impregnated her around the time Delilah was conceived.

Delilah and Gabriel have been dating for two months and have yet to become lovers, both of them wary of rushing into a sexual relationship and possibly wrecking their lovely friendship.

Nathan and Celia sit in the backseat of Gabriel’s new electric car and Delilah sits up front with Gabriel.

“I thought for sure we’d get one of these,” says Nathan, who rarely drives nowadays and is thinking of selling his old pickup truck. “But we hardly go anywhere and Celia’s little old Toyota still runs, so we probably won’t get one. Not in this lifetime anyway.”

“I went to a tractor show in Santa Rosa last year and tested some amazing electric ones,” says Gabriel, who reveres Nathan and Celia. “I couldn’t believe how quiet they were, but I just bought a new tractor and backhoe two years ago and the best electric ones are incredibly expensive, so… not for a few years.”

“This car is so comfortable,” says Celia, resting against Nathan. “I could go to sleep.”

“Mi madre says the same thing,” says Gabriel, driving slowly up the curving road through the redwood forest to Joseph and Constance’s house. “By the way, she says hello and wants to know what we can bring bring for supper on Saturday.”

“Nada,” says Celia, who makes a prayer every morning and every evening that Delilah and Gabriel will marry before Nathan dies. “Just your wonderful selves.”

*

Following the lavish supper in Joseph and Constance’s gorgeous new house, the twenty guests move into the living room where Raul and Caroline give a slide show on an enormous television screen—photos from their October honeymoon in England and Portugal.

After several pictures of the two of them visiting Raul’s old haunts in London where he became a culinary superstar when he was in his twenties, the pictures change to the city of Aveiro in Portugal where Raul was born and lived until he was a young man.

“My mother’s name was Beatrice,” says Raul, narrating. “This is her grave in Aveiro.”

A picture appears of his mother’s large gray marble headstone standing in an old cemetery.

“She was seventy-four when she died,” he says, the picture changing to one of a small house in a neighborhood of older homes with tile roofs. “This is where she lived for the last thirty years of her life. Caroline wanted to know what my mother looked like, but because my mother refused to have her picture taken after she was forty, the most recent one I have of her is when she was thirty-five.”

Everyone oohs at the photo of a strikingly beautiful brunette in a shimmering green dress showing off her splendid figure as she kisses the air in the direction of the camera, an amorous look in her eyes.

Now the next slide appears – Caroline in sunhat and shorts and a sleeveless shirt, walking on a pier in Aveiro, several men ogling her as she goes by.

“My beautiful bride turned many heads in Aveiro,” says Raul, laughing. “The men there have very good taste in women.”

Another picture appears – Caroline standing at the end of the pier looking out to sea.

“I used to fish here when I was five and six-years-old,” says Raul, on the verge of tears. “I would come with my grandfather, my mother’s father. My father was a fisherman and I liked to come here and fish while we waited for his boat to come in. He died in a storm at sea when I was seven. Here is the only picture I have of him.”

The next slide appears – a handsome man with curly brown hair playing a guitar.

“His name was Goncalo. Besides being a fisherman, he played the guitar and also the trumpet and the violin, and he sang like an angel, or so I thought when I was a boy.”

They show many more pictures, the last one taken just a few days ago—Caroline and Raul holding hands on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River.

“Though you can’t tell from this picture,” says Caroline, her voice shaking with emotion, “we have it on good authority that I am pregnant, and assuming all goes well our baby will be born in July.”

“Hallelujah!” cries Joseph, turning on the lights, everyone rushing to congratulate Caroline and Raul, everyone except Delilah and Gabriel, Delilah still in shock from seeing the picture of Raul’s mother, which very well could have been a picture of Delilah.

“Que paso?” asks Gabriel, gently putting his arm around Delilah. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… do you think I look like Raul’s mother?” she whispers.

“Yes, very much,” he says quietly. “And I’d love to see you in a dress like the one she was wearing.”

“Well,” says Delilah, still whispering, “Raul once mentioned to me that he met my mother a few times when she dined at his restaurant in San Francisco. Twenty-nine years ago. He didn’t say anything about them being lovers, but it’s possible they were. She was prolific in that regard, as was he, and as I told you, she had no idea who my father was.”

“I see,” says Gabriel, looking across the room at Raul surrounded by jubilant friends. “So you think maybe Raul is your father?”

“Now that I’ve seen his mother,” says Delilah, gazing at Raul, “I think maybe so.”

fin

Love’s Body

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Uncategorized

October Wedding

The first day of October. Evening. Fall in full swing. No rain yet this season in the Mercy River watershed of northern California.

After supper at Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the little coastal burg of Mercy, Lisa and Philip and their children Arturo and Vivienne find they are just the four of them in the farmhouse tonight. Irenia, who is fifteen and shares a bedroom with Vivienne four nights a week, is home with her parents in Mercy, and Marcel and Andrea and their thirteen-year-old son Henri have retired to their cottage for the evening.

When the dishes are done, a game of Hearts ensues on the living room floor in front of the fire with Alexandra, a six-year-old Golden Retriever, and the pups Jargon and Cordelia and Max sprawled on the floor around the humans.

With Vivienne slightly in the lead after the first hand, the second hand dealt, Arturo, who turned fourteen in June says, “I really need a smart phone. It’s imperative I have one.”

Lisa and Philip have been anticipating something like this from Arturo for some weeks now, ever since school resumed and Arturo got the lead in the play at Mercy High where homeschoolers are allowed to participate in after-school activities. But Vivienne, who is three weeks away from turning twelve, is shocked by her brother’s demand.

“You can’t be serious,” she says, gaping at Arturo. “You know we can’t have cell phones until we’re eighteen, and even then we won’t be able to use them in the farmhouse when Delilah’s here because microwaves make her physically ill.”

“So she claims,” says Arturo, haughtily. “All my friends say that’s ridiculous.”

“Well all your friends are morons,” says Vivienne, glowering at her brother. “Are you accusing Delilah of lying? Because if you are, I will never speak to you again until you take that back and apologize.”

“It’s impossible for microwaves to make her sick,” cries Arturo, throwing down his cards. “How could she even walk down the street?”

“You know she has to be in the same room with an activated cell phone to be adversely affected,” says Lisa, frowning at her son. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me is we’re relegated to living in the Stone Age because one person claims microwaves make them ill? That’s insane.” He glares at his father. “Why can’t I have one? I’m cut off from my friends, from society, from a vast treasure trove of information and cultural stimuli.”

“How are you cut off from your friends?” asks Philip, accustomed to his son’s penchant for hyperbole. “Or from society? Or from information or cultural stimuli?”

“I can’t text my friends and they can’t text me,” says Arturo, grimacing as if in pain. “I have no way of knowing what they’re doing or telling them what I’m doing, andwe can’t share videos. I might as well be marooned on a desert island.”

Vivienne looks at her parents and says, “He’s clearly suffered some sort of brain damage. Maybe you should take him to the emergency room. But I will have nothing to do with him ever again.”

And with that, she stalks off to her bedroom.

“Arturo,” says Lisa, who has a deep loving bond with him, “tell us what’s really going on. Okay? You can’t have a smart phone, and not because of Delilah but because we don’t want you to have one yet. You know you can use the telephone any time you want to call your friends. You also know you are better educated than anyone your age in Mercy except for your fellow homeschoolers. You also know perfectly well you are not being deprived of anything except a portable device for accessing the internet, which you can do from our home computer for an hour every evening. You can’t text back and forth with your friends, but you certainly can send them emails. So tell us what’s really going on and then please apologize to your sister for what you said about Delilah.”

“You can’t possibly know what it’s like not to have a phone when all your friends have them,” says Arturo, his eyes full of tears. “I’m a laughingstock.”

“That’s not true,” says Philip, shaking his head. “When I picked you up tonight after your rehearsal you were surrounded by admirers and having the time of your life.”

“Okay I’m not a laughingstock,” says Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “But I feel cut off, disallowed, life passing me by.”

“What is passing you by?” asks Lisa, who lived in extreme poverty for the first ten years of her life. “What do you lack besides a portable computer for looking at videos and texting your friends?”

“I lack being part of the modern world,” he says, his jaw trembling. “And Dolores Ramirez…”

Lisa and Philip wait patiently, Philip trying not to laugh, Lisa knowing this was the underlying issue all along.

“What about Dolores?” asks Lisa, speaking quietly to encourage her son.

“She said she won’t… can’t…” He bows his head and sobs. “…go steady with me if I don’t have a phone.” 

*

On the fourth day of October, after two days of Arturo histrionically refusing to attend home school classes, Philip drives Arturo to Mercy High where they meet with the principal and Arturo is given an aptitude test, the results of which suggest he will learn nothing in high school he doesn’t already know, and he is enrolled as a junior, his first day of school tomorrow.

*

The fifth day of October dawns sunny and warm, the coast clear of fog.

Today is Delilah’s twenty-eighth birthday. She has lived with Nathan and Celia in their little house on the outskirts of Mercy for fifteen years and intends to live with them until they die. Nathan is eighty-eight, Celia eighty-two. Delilah is a musician, artist, and teacher. Nathan is a retired tree pruner and locally renowned poet, Celia a retired nurse, now a housekeeper and gardener.

For Delilah’s birthday breakfast, Celia makes pancakes while Delilah sets the table for four, their friend Gabriel Fernandez to join them. Gabriel is thirty-four and has been a fan of Delilah’s music since he first heard her play thirteen years ago, and in just the last two weeks he and Delilah have begun exploring the possibility of embarking on a relationship.

Celia assisted at Gabriel’s birth at Mercy Hospital, and Nathan remembers Gabriel as a determined little boy going door-to-door asking for empty pop and beer bottles to redeem for money at the grocery store. When Gabriel’s father died, Gabriel dropped out of high school and went to work for a landscaping company to help support his ailing mother and younger siblings. Nathan planted fruit trees for that same landscaping company and Gabriel was often assigned to work with Nathan, a pairing they both enjoyed. When Gabriel turned eighteen, he joined the Army and was sent to the war in Afghanistan. Upon his return, after recovering from the post traumatic stress, he opened his now-thriving business as a backhoe operator.

Gabriel, tall and handsome, his long brown hair in a ponytail, arrives promptly at nine and presents Celia with a jar of his homemade blackberry jam and gives Nathan a new pair of leather gardening gloves.

“So you won’t be jealous of what I’m giving Delilah,” says Gabriel, handing Delilah a small white box adorned with a magenta rosebud.

“Gads,” says Delilah, blushing brightly. “It’s not a ring, is it? We hardly know each other.”

Gabriel laughs. “Not a ring. Don’t worry.”

“What if it had been a ring, hija?” says Celia, comically slapping her forehead. “Think how embarrassed he would be.”

“He wouldn’t be embarrassed,” says Delilah, giving Gabriel a coquettish smile. “He’s too suave to be embarrassed.”

“I’ve been called many things in my life,” says Gabriel, confiding in Nathan, “but never suave until now.”

“Yeah she calls me things I would otherwise never be called, too,” says Nathan, laughing. “One of her many talents.”

 Delilah opens the box and finds two earrings, each a long slender turquoise stone clasped in silver, the stones nearly identical but not quite.

“Oh their exquisite,” says Delilah, her eyes brimming with tears. “Thank you, Gabriel. I love them.”

“My sister Carmelita made them. I bought the stones in New Mexico a year ago when I went to see the aspens turn yellow in the mountains near Santa Fe. I got them from a young woman on the plaza there. Un Indio. They are not too heavy, so I think they will be okay.”

“How were the aspens?” asks Nathan, wistfully. “We’ve never been, though we always meant to go.”

“Yellow beyond yellow beyond yellow,” says Gabriel, watching Delilah take off her small silver earrings and put on the turquoise. “Whole mountains covered with a golden yellow only nature can make.”

*

A few days later, while Celia is making supper—Delilah spending the night at Ziggurat Farm—Nathan kneels on the hearth building a fire.

 “How did the sketching session go today?” he asks, having spent the afternoon fishing with Celia’s brother Juan.

“We had fun,” she says, pausing in her chopping of green onions. “All the women and girls from the farm were there, eleven of us and baby Jenna. We wore skirts and T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up. In Daisy’s book the women wear skirts and shirts without sleeves, so this was as close as we could get to that.”

“Did Connie direct?” asks Nathan, referring to the very British Constance who lives next door to Ziggurat Farm and usually takes charge of anything she’s involved in.

“No,” says Celia, shaking her head. “I thought she would, but she only made a few suggestions. Mostly Joseph and Delilah directed us. But first they served us wine.”

“There was wine?” says Nathan, amused. “Eleven drunk women in the garden of Eden. That’s probably the real story, not that nonsense about Adam and Eve and a snake.”

“Henri and Marcel poured a glass for each of us, including Vivienne and Irenia and Alma, and then Joseph posed us in front of the snow peas. He had two easels with big canvases, and Henri and Delilah had their big sketch pads, and the three of them sketched our first pose for maybe five minutes and then Joseph posed us another way and they sketched us again and Delilah took pictures.”

“And all the while you were drinking wine?” asks Nathan, lighting the fire.

“Yes. Marcel kept filling our glasses, except not so much for Irenia and Vivienne and Alma who got very giggly after just a little.”

“I wish I’d been there,” says Nathan, smiling at the thought of the female bacchanal.

“Then Delilah posed us in groups of two and three and took lots of pictures while Joseph and Henri sketched, and when we were sleepy in the sun, Gabriel arrived and Delilah posed him with different women and took lots of pictures. Then Daisy wanted a picture of Delilah with Gabriel, so they stood together and Daisy took lots of pictures and so did Joseph. I can’t wait to see them.”

“Did Gabriel take off his shirt?” asks Nathan, joining Celia in the kitchen. “Wasn’t that the burning question of the day? Would he or wouldn’t he?”

“He did,” says Celia, smiling as she stirs the beans.

“And?” asks Nathan, arching an eyebrow.

“As you would say, marido, he was not even a little bit unbeautiful.”

*

In the late morning on the tenth of October, Delilah is playing her piano in her bedroom, practicing the music she will play for the processional and recessional at the wedding of Raul Neves and Caroline Darling three days from now.

Raul is the famous Portuguese chef and owner of Ocelot, a world-renowned restaurant on the headlands in Mercy, for which Raul buys copious quantities of vegetables and fruit and flowers grown in the Ziggurat Farm garden and greenhouses. He also teaches culinary history to the homeschoolers and is the godfather of Caroline’s niece Jenna, who is nineteen-months-old and lives next door to Ziggurat farm with her parents Michael and Daisy.

Caroline is a former professor of Botany and deeply entangled in the life of Ziggurat Farm. She teaches natural science to the homeschoolers, takes dance classes with Delilah at the rec center, and is the hostess and manager of Ocelot. She is Michael’s younger sister by two years, and the older sister by ten years of Thomas, a professor at Cornell who was in a relationship with Delilah—the end of their liaison six months ago severely traumatic for Delilah.

The phone in the kitchen rings and Delilah stops playing to go answer. Nathan and Celia are working in the garden, and Celia comes in to answer the phone, too. There are no cell phones in the house, the old landline phone sufficient for their purposes—microwaves toxic to Delilah’s nervous system.

“Hello?” says Delilah, answering the phone a moment before Celia comes in from the garden.

“Delilah,” says Thomas, calling from New York. “It’s Thom. How are you?”

Hearing Thomas’s voice, Delilah drops the phone and bends over in agony.

“Who is it?” asks Celia, holding her breath.

“Thom,” says Delilah, hurrying down the hall. “I’m gonna vomit.”

Celia picks up the phone and says tersely, “What do you want, Thom?”

“I want to come to Caroline’s wedding and she said I can only come if Delilah says it’s okay. And… I want to try again with Delilah. I made a terrible mistake breaking up with her. I was a fool. Can I please speak to her?”

“No, Thom,” says Celia, listening to Delilah retching in the bathroom. “She doesn’t want to talk to you. She was sick for a long time after you broke up and she’s just getting well.”

“Please Celia. I really need to speak to her.”

“No. She has a new boyfriend now. Don’t come to the wedding. Goodbye.”

*

On October eleventh, still shaky from Thom’s call yesterday, Delilah meets with Caroline and Raul at Constance and Joseph’s house to play her music for them on Constance and Joseph’s magnificent grand piano, and Caroline assures Delilah that Thomas will not be coming to the wedding.

“I wish I wasn’t such a wimp,” says Delilah, grateful for Caroline’s assurance, “but I am.”

“I should never have told him to ask you,” says Caroline, furious with her brother for interfering with her wedding. “I didn’t want him to come. I should have just said so. He’s never cared about me. He was just using this as an excuse to come beg you to take him back.”

“I’m glad you told him to call me,” says Delilah, breathing a big sigh of relief. “I needed to vomit him out of me, only I didn’t realize it until I did.”

*

October thirteenth is a glorious day on the far north coast of California, warm and sunny, the afternoon sky brilliantly blue with puffy white clouds.

“I am a born again Ziggurat Farm person,” says Raul, as he and Caroline walk hand-in-hand on the path from the Ziggurat Farm garden to the pond at the northeast corner of the farm. “I was a narcissist among narcissists until I fell in love with Andrea and Lisa and their garden, and Marcel and his wine, and the beautiful farm children adopted me as their uncle, and Philip became my brother.”

“I was born again here, too, and they are my family now,” says Caroline, both she and Raul in their wedding finery, Raul in a magnificent white suit with a turquoise tie, his shaggy gray hair somewhat tamed, Caroline in a long white skirt and a fiery red sleeveless blouse, her short brown hair festooned with tiny white flowers placed there by Vivienne and Irenia.

They stand on the shore of the recently revived pond that Caroline and Michael are restoring with the help of the homeschoolers—the water cold enough for trout they hope to plant here in the spring, hundreds of mosquito fish patrolling the waters, frogs newly arrived, water lilies multiplying, the shallow north end seeded with reeds.

“I marry you,” says Raul, holding both of Caroline’s hands and smiling into her eyes. “What’s mine is yours.”

“I marry you,” she says, her voice as deep as his. “What’s mine is yours.”

Now they stand together in joyful surrender until they hear the gong sounding on the deck of Joseph and Constance’s house up the hill from the pond, the gong their cue to come and be united in the presence of their friends.

*

When Raul and Caroline have exchanged their vows on the sun-drenched deck, Philip presiding, a hundred witnesses moved to tears, Philip nods to Nathan who rises from his chair and recites a poem for the bride and groom.

Kindred Spirits

Sometimes we just know, we do. It’s not a matter of

figuring something out or uncovering hidden information.

No great revelation need come to us, no cosmic event or

scrape with death is necessary to convince us. We just

know, as naturally as breathing and thirsting for water,

in the same way we dream of places we’ve never been

except in our dreams. There is no mystery about how

or why we know the other is a kindred spirit. We know

the moment we hear them speak, the moment we see

them seeing us, and they know, too. So when you do

recognize the other as the one you’ve been waiting

for without knowing you were waiting, and they

recognize you in the same way, by all means

marry each other. Amen.

*

On Monday October 25 the five homeschoolers are gathered in the living room of the farmhouse about to begin the school day with an hour of working on math problems suitable to their various levels of mathematical proficiency, Delilah and Larry’s father Arthur available for helping anyone desiring assistance.

“Before we begin,” says Delilah, standing in front of the chalkboard, “I would like to welcome Arturo back into our midst. He has decided to resume school with us after a three-week sojourn at Mercy High.” She smiles at Arturo who is standing in the kitchen with Lisa and Philip. “Your seat awaits you.”

Arturo goes to the table he shares with Alma near the chalkboard, but does not sit. “May I say something?” he asks, fighting his tears.

“Please,” says Delilah, sitting down to listen.

“I would just like to say…” he begins, fighting his tears “how very sorry I am for the negative things I said about this school and Delilah and living here on the farm. I was gravely mistaken and I regret any ill feelings I may have engendered in any of you, and I hope you will forgive me.”

“Was it as horrible as Seventh Grade?” asks Larry, who is fourteen and was literally wasting away in public school when he was able to escape the nightmare of public school in Mercy and enter the educational nirvana of Ziggurat Farm School.

“Ten times worse,” says Arturo, who fourteen months ago begged his parents to create a home school. “Nay. A hundred times.”

“Unimaginable,” says Larry, who was a victim of bullying for all his seven years in public school.

“How do the other kids stand it?” asks Vivienne, who has refused to speak to her brother for three weeks after he accused Delilah of lying about her extreme sensitivity to microwaves.

“I don’t know,” says Arturo, unable to restrain his tears. “The teachers are all bitter beleaguered jailers spouting erroneous claptrap, the kids comatose or hyper, and I saw no evidence of anything that might be construed as learning.”

“Why did you want to go there?” asks Alma, who is thirteen and was deemed incapable of learning until she came to ZFS and proved to be brilliant. “You knew in junior high what a nightmare it was.”

“I’m in the play after school there,” says Arturo, sniffling back his tears. “And the Drama kids are great and… they hate school. They live for three o’clock and the joy that follows, and I wanted to be part of their gang, and I still can be, I just won’t have a cell phone.”

“You called us stupid losers,” says Henri, frowning at Arturo. “You said Delilah was a fraud and we were missing out on real life, that this was fake here and you were going where it was real.” He takes a deep breath. “That really hurt me, A. I won’t speak for anybody else, but you really hurt me. I thought we were best friends and now I don’t know what to think. I mean… I’m glad you’re in a gang of kids who love Drama. That’s great. But why did you have to say such horrible things to us?”

“I was desperate to be part of the bigger world,” says Arturo, passionately. “I’m so sorry, Henri. I really am. I don’t know what got into me. I just… lost my mind.”

 “Okay,” says Henri, going to comfort his friend. “I think we all want to be part of the bigger world, if only the bigger world wasn’t so ruined.”

“I wish all the Drama kids could come to our school,” says Arturo, embracing Henri. “They’d love it here.”

“Not only the Drama kids would love our school,” says Irenia, solemnly. “All the kids would love to learn this way. We are so very lucky.”

fin

A Wedding Song

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Being In Love

On a warm sultry afternoon in early September, Delilah is alone in the big soaking tub in the bathhouse on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the northern California coastal town of Mercy. A musician and artist and teacher, her twenty-eighth birthday a month away, she has been battling severe depression for five months now as her body numbly goes through the motions of life.

Her depression ensued when her boyfriend Thomas, a professor at Cornell, ended their brief and mostly long-distance relationship—Delilah’s only experience of a sexual romance—and her sorrow has proven impervious to the love and concern of her friends.

Submerged in the big tub, her eyes closed, she startles when Andrea and Caroline, two of her closest friends, emerge from the changing room and join her in the tub, no one speaking.

A few minutes pass and Delilah murmurs, “I should go,” and moves to get out.

“Stay a while longer,” says Andrea, her words more command than request.

“Okay,” says Delilah, subsiding.

“When I came to San Francisco,” says Andrea, her German accent barely detectable after thirty-four years in America, “I was twenty-three and knew nothing about love. Not even a little bit. I had never been in love or been loved, and my sexual experiences were few and ugly. To my surprise and delight, American men were interested in me, and not just for sex, but for sharing life, too. In Germany I lived in the same working class neighborhood of Hamburg for my whole life and either the men there weren’t interested in me or I wasn’t interested in them, but in San Francisco lots of men found me attractive and I felt the same about many of them. After some months of dating and enjoying the novelty of being so popular, I chose James for my boyfriend. He was a guitar player and singer and worked as a concierge in a small hotel. He was funny and sweet and I enjoyed him very much, though I never imagined marrying him. Then one day I met Marcel. He was a waiter in a restaurant near the restaurant where I worked. We went for coffee and I knew immediately I preferred him to James. But I didn’t tell James right way, not for a few weeks. Then one night when James was at my apartment, Marcel called. When James asked who that was on the phone, I told him it was someone I liked very much and maybe we should break up. He was devastated. I had been meaning to tell him about Marcel, but I was waiting for the right time, except there is no right time to tell someone who loves you that you don’t want to be with them anymore. Then a year passed and I was very happy with Marcel, and one day I heard from a mutual friend that James suffered terribly for a long time after I broke up with him and he finally moved away because it was too painful for him to stay in San Francisco where we had been together. So… I did to James what Thomas did to you.”

“You’re a horrible person,” says Delilah, blubbering. “I always suspected you were.”

“I know you did,” says Andrea, gliding across the tub and embracing Delilah. “Now your suspicions have been confirmed.”

“I’m James,” says Delilah, clinging to Andrea and sobbing.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” says Andrea, holding her. “I’m sorry you were so hurt.”

“Being in love,” says Caroline who is forty-two and about to be married for the first time after many short-lived affairs, “is not the same as love. In fact, being in love isn’t love at all.”

“Then what is being in love if not love?” asks Delilah, amazed to feel her sorrow lessening.

“Being in love is imagining the other person is who you want them to be,” says Caroline, joining the embrace. “A passing fancy. But love has nothing to do with what we imagine. Love is real.”

“Love is when two are one,” says Andrea, thinking of Marcel.

“Yes,” says Caroline, thinking of her lover Raul. “Oneness.”

*

A few days after her soak with Andrea and Caroline, Delilah wakes to the familiar sounds of Celia and Nathan beginning their day.

“I’m better,” she says, rising with ease and about to put on her usual trousers and T-shirt when instead she puts on a dress, a light summery thing, and waltzes down the hall to the kitchen.

Celia is making coffee, her long black hair full of gray, not surprising for one who is eighty-two. She smiles to see Delilah in a dress and says, “I dreamt you were wearing a dress and playing the piano.”

“Shall I play something now?” asks Delilah, looking from Celia to Nathan who is sitting at the kitchen table sipping his tea and musing over a blank page.

“Yes, please,” says Nathan, nodding emphatically. “I’ve been missing your morning concerts.”

So Delilah returns to her bedroom, sits at her beautiful teak upright, and improvises a jazzy-sounding waltz unlike anything she’s ever played because she is now unlike anyone she has ever been.

Nathan and Celia stand in the bedroom doorway, thrilling to Delilah’s music and rejoicing in her transcendence of sorrow.

*

In the late morning on a warm humid day in mid-September, Delilah rides her bicycle up the steep curving road through the forest to Ziggurat Farm. Winded from her two-mile climb, she stands on her pedals and glides along the farm drive to the sturdy new bridge spanning a newly made creek bed that will soon carry the flow of a recently resurrected spring.

However, before that flow is directed into the new channel, Gabriel Fernandez, a local backhoe wizard, must finish extending the channel another fifty yards to connect it with the original creek bed descending through the forest to the Mercy River.

Delilah watches Gabriel sculpting the ground with his backhoe, and she wonders if he only likes her because he loves her music.

Gabriel is thrilled to see Delilah watching him, and he wonders if she only likes him because he loves her music.

Now Daisy arrives on the bridge with her eighteen-month-old daughter Jenna on her back—Daisy married to Michael who is Thomas’s older brother.

Delilah and Daisy and Jenna are rendezvousing for a walk up the hill to the Richardsons’ new house to meet with Constance and Joseph about Delilah illustrating Daisy’s novella Women Farm—Constance and Joseph keen to send the book to a publisher friend in England.

“Isn’t this amazing,” says Daisy, standing beside Delilah and looking down at the newly made channel. “In just another few days there will be water flowing under us.”

“Down,” says Jenna, reaching out to Delilah.

“In a little while, Jenna,” says Daisy, having just spent twenty minutes with Michael wrestling the baby girl into the backpack. “When we get to Connie and Joseph’s.”

“Now!” yowls Jenna. “Down now.”

“I’ll carry her,” says Delilah, wanting to make the baby happy.

“Okay,” says Daisy, sighing. “If you will hold her up, I will extricate myself from the straps.”

Once on the ground and set free, Jenna toddles off in the direction of the farmhouse where she hopes to find the big girls she adores and their puppies.

“Not that way, honey,” says Daisy, chasing after her daughter. “We’re going to Joseph and Connie’s.”

“Vinnie,” says Jenna, her way of saying Vivienne. “Puppy.”

“Joseph and Connie have two puppies,” says Daisy, dragging Jenna away from the farmhouse. “And cookies.”

“Cookie,” says Jenna, ceasing to resist.

So up the hill they trudge, Delilah carrying Jenna on her hip.

At a turn in the path, Delilah looks back at Gabriel on his tractor far in the distance, and not expecting him to see her, she raises her hand in farewell and he raises his hand in response.

“Isn’t he the most beautiful man?” says Daisy, sighing. “Please don’t tell Michael I said that.”

“Tell Michael,” says Jenna, glowering at her mother. “Cookie.”

“When I was reading your book,” says Delilah, setting Jenna down for a moment, “I kept thinking of Gabriel as Man.”

“Maybe you can use him as a model for Man,” says Daisy, picking up her daughter.

“Maybe so,” says Delilah, smiling at the thought of Gabriel posing for her in the garden.

*

Joseph and Constance have been in their new house for six weeks, and to say they are thrilled is a vast understatement. For forty years they fantasized together about designing and building their dream house, yet never believed they would until they decided to move back to Mercy from England and were searching for a house to rent or buy when they found these twelve acres for sale adjacent to Ziggurat Farm, the housing site already cleared, a paved driveway from the highway completed, a prolific well dug, a large foundation poured.

Now seven months after purchasing the land and designing the house, they wake each day in their glorious master bedroom and hurry down the wide hallway to the huge high-ceilinged room that is kitchen, dining room, and living room opening onto a vast deck overlooking a meadow surrounded by a resurgent forest, their dream come true.

*

“I imagine most of these drawings being portraits of the women and Man,” says Constance, confident of her imaginings, “whereas Joseph, and correct me if I’m wrong, dear, imagines landscapes with human figures seen from afar if at all.”

“I prefer leaving things to the reader’s imagination,” says Joseph, sauntering after Jenna as she toddles around the living room in pursuit of the adorable black and white puppies Alec and Merula, most of the furniture yet to arrive. “Illustrations should evoke not define.”

“What do you think, Daisy?” asks Delilah, who has read the manuscript three times and feels somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of trying to illustrate such a masterwork.

“I hadn’t imagined there would be drawings, “ says Daisy, sitting at the big dining table with Constance and Delilah and enjoying herself immensely. “But I love the idea. I think there could be landscapes and closer views of the women gardening or cooking or hunting.”

“When I read illustrated books as a boy,” says Joseph, following Jenna to the table and lifting her onto Constance’s lap, “I had a hard time imagining myself in the stories if the illustrations were too obviously not me. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do,” says Delilah, who has been drawing with near photographic accuracy since she was a little girl. “I was thinking we could assemble the females of the collective in the garden for an hour or so of sketching and picture-taking. That would give me more than enough material to get started.”

“Who will pose as Man?” asks Joseph, frowning thoughtfully. “Philip? Marcel? They both have youthful physiques, and if the face is not too specific…”

“We were thinking of Gabriel for Man,” says Daisy, exchanging looks with Delilah.

“The backhoe fellow?” says Joseph, excitedly. “Now that’s a stroke. He’s the right age and darkly handsome, and he’s got the flowing locks and requisite muscles.”

“Wouldn’t we like to see him without a shirt on?” says Constance, loving having Jenna on her lap. “Speaking of Adonis.”

“Think he’d do it?” asks Joseph, arching an eyebrow. “Seems rather shy.”

“He doesn’t have to take his shirt off,” says Delilah, blushing. “Only if he wants to.”

*

Delilah leaves Daisy and Jenna visiting with Joseph and Constance and walks down the hill to the farmhouse to give Henri a piano lesson. Seeing Gabriel is done for the day and nowhere in sight, she pouts and says, “Darn. Next time no matter what I’m talking to him.”

She enters the farmhouse and is happy to find Henri, who just turned thirteen, giving a piano concert for Philip and Andrea and Gabriel, the three of them sitting at the dining table.

Delilah tiptoes to the table and sits next to Gabriel who is listening raptly to the lovely samba Henri’s been working on with Delilah, his playing not yet masterful but getting there.

When he finishes playing and acknowledges the applause with a gracious nod, Henri says, “Now you play something, Delilah. Please?”

“Would you?” says Gabriel, turning to Delilah and placing a hand on his heart.

“Okay,” she says, getting up and crossing the room to the piano.

“Don’t start yet,” says Vivienne, coming in the front door with Irenia followed by three seven-month-old puppies—Jargon with pointy ears, Cordelia the biggest, Max the runt with a stubby tail.

“We are parched,” says Irenia as she and Vivienne take off their work boots and leave them by the door. “Please wait, Delilah, until we have water.”

When at last Vivienne and Irenia are settled on the sofa with Henri, Delilah closes her eyes and thinks of Gabriel who has attended every concert she’s ever given since his return from war thirteen years ago, her music holy to him.

She imagines they meet on a dance floor, he and she the only dancers, and as they dance together she plays a variation on the jazzy-sounding waltz she improvised for Nathan and Celia a week ago, this time the music profoundly romantic.

*

On the morning of the Autumnal Equinox, the day sunny and cool, fifty people gather on the Ziggurat Farm drive to witness Gabriel remove the last few feet of soil keeping the headwaters of Mammoth Creek from resuming their original course.

Two state park officials have come from Sacramento to join five park rangers from nearby Egret Estuary State Park at the rejoining ceremony, two of those park rangers and Michael and Caroline having completed a survey of the creek bed from where it begins on Ziggurat Farm to where it joins the Mercy River, a descent of two miles through a forest of second and third growth redwoods, only a few problematic log jams found along the way, those obstructions subsequently removed.

Also present are three members of the local Pomo community, a dozen local environmentalists, the six Ziggurat Farm homeschoolers and their ten parents, as well as various neighbors and friends of the farm including Constance and Joseph and Nathan and Celia and Delilah.

Nathan stands on the farm drive a few yards north of the new bridge and addresses the fifty witnesses. “I was asked by the farm folks to say something before Gabriel performs the miracle. Why me? Because Celia and I are the only ones here who remember the creek as it was a long time ago before the spring got jammed up, and I’m the more verbose of the two of us. So here’s a little poem I wrote to commemorate this moment.”

Mammoth Creek

We were young lovers just married

when last we stood on the old bridge here

looking down at the quiet stream touched by sunlight.

Now we are old lovers standing on this new bridge

looking down at the dry creek bed waiting for

the water to flow beneath us again, sunlight

waiting to glint off the water once more.

Same lovers, same place on earth,

same source, same delight to be here,

everything eternally new.

He nods in thanks for the applause and turns to watch Gabriel mount his tractor, start his engine, and with his mighty backhoe remove the last obstacle to the creek resuming her original course—everyone cheering as the sparkling water flows under the bridge and emerges on the downhill side going strong.

*

During the celebration following the return of the stream to her natural course—coffee and tea and muffins at the picnic tables near the farmhouse—Delilah approaches Gabriel and asks him if he’d be willing to pose for some drawings for Daisy’s book.

“What is the book about?” he asks, finding her surpassingly lovely as always, though especially so in her light summery dress.

“It’s called Women Farm,” she says, feeling quite naked in her dress and enjoying the feeling. “A fable set in the future when society has collapsed and is evolving anew, a chaotic time when groups of women band together for protection and live mostly apart from men.”

“And who am I in the story?” he asks, looking into her eyes. “A bad man or a good man?”

“Oh you’re good,” she says, nodding emphatically. “All good.”

“So it really is a fable,” he says, smiling wryly.

“He’s an innocent,” she says, meeting his gaze. “Would you like to come for supper tonight? Celia is making her famous fish tacos and I’ll be making my less famous but nonetheless delicious guacamole.”

“I can’t tonight,” he says, sounding disappointed. “My mother’s birthday.”

“How about tomorrow night?” she asks, undaunted.

“Yes, I can,” he says, nodding. “Que hora?”

“Come at five-thirty,” she says, breathlessly. “We’ll eat at six.”

“Bueno,” he says, holding out his hand to her. “I was hoping you and I would share a meal one day.”

“You were?” she says, taking his hand. “Really?”

“Of course,” he says, growing serious.

“Why of course?” she asks, never wanting to let him go.

“Because,” he says quietly. “You know.”

“I do know,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “I do.”

fin

Passing Fancy

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Early Summer

June eleventh, a sunny Tuesday morning on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California.

Henri, a fast-growing lad of twelve, his black hair recently cut short for the summer, and Joseph, a large man of seventy-one with longish gray hair, sit a few feet apart on folding aluminum lawn chairs on the western shore of a recently revived natural pond, the granite basin some fifty-feet-long and thirty-feet-wide and quite deep at the south end where the water overflows and carries on as a sparkling brook.

They are sketching the scene before them, the glassy surface of the pond beyond which arises a densely forested slope of young redwoods, firs, and hemlocks—the stream burbling westward through oaks and madrone.

Joseph is a British landscape painter and portraitist of some renown in England, his paintings reminiscent of the work of Singer Sargent, though Joseph most frequently compares himself to Pissarro. Henri has lived on Ziggurat Farm his entire life and has been drawing ever since he was four, Joseph giving him occasional instruction and constant encouragement.

“Do enlighten me as to why you chose not to audition for the play, Henri?” asks Joseph, his accent born in Devon. “You would be magnificent as Bottom and surely would have won the role.”

“Actually,” says Henri, who has a British accent, too, whenever he’s with Joseph or Constance, Joseph’s wife, “I couldn’t be in the play because one has to be at least thirteen to be in the Mercy Players Junior Company and I won’t be thirteen until August. Arturo just turned fourteen and he’s nearly the youngest person in the cast.”

Henri frowns at an errant stroke and carries on, having learned from Joseph that sketching isn’t about getting the picture just so, but about practicing sketching.

Had you been thirteen,” Joseph persists, “would you have auditioned?”

Henri muses for a moment. “Doubtful. There were extenuating circumstances.”

“Do tell,” says Joseph, bored with this view. “Shall we shift around and face west? I’m finding this scene rather prosaic. The pond will one day be a glory, but for now is but a rustic swimming pool.”

They turn their chairs around and contemplate the view to the west, a meadow of tall grasses between towering redwoods to the north, oaks and madrone to the south, the sky vast and cloud-dotted above a forest descending to the not-quite-visible ocean.

“You attended the audition with us,” says Henri, smiling at Joseph, “so you know save for Arturo and the divine Dolores Ramirez, the players were dreadful and not likely to improve much in seven weeks.”

“Seven weeks of good coaching can work wonders,” says Joseph, returning Henri’s smile. “But your point is well-taken. What else?”

“I’d much rather study drawing and painting with you and have twoextra music lessons with Delilah every week for my summer Main Study than spend six hours a day for seven weeks playing Drama games and mounting a ghastly teenaged production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Henri finds the new view more to his liking and sketches swiftly and confidently. “Also just between you and me, I needed a break from Arturo. We are so much together, our little band of friends, we needed time away from each other before school starts again in September.”

“What is your schoolmate Larry doing for the summer?” asks Joseph, sketching happily now. “Delightful fellow. Beautiful baritone. Loved the ‘I’d Do Anything’ duet he sang with Irenia at the end-of-school concert. Bravura.”

“Larry and his parents are spending three weeks in Manhattan with Larry’s mother’s parents,” says Henri, pleased with his sketch, “after which they’ll go to an island off the coast of British Columbia for a month to stay with Larry’s father’s parents. Larry didn’t want to go. He loves it here and wanted to do a Main Study in Math and Physics with Delilah, but his parents insisted he go with them, so…”

“Why didn’t Irenia audition for the play?” asks Joseph, arching a quizzical eyebrow. “She’s so talented. And I don’t just mean for one so young. I mean she is a fully realized actor and singer, not to mention being blindingly beautiful.”

A blush appears on Henri’s cheeks. “Well… she was keen to study cooking with either Raul or Philip for her Main Study, and when both of them said they’d be willing to mentor her, the play became an irrelevancy.” He stops sketching, his artistry derailed by thoughts of Irenia. “And just between you and me again, she desperately needed a break from Arturo. He’s obsessed with her. Follows her everywhere. She tolerates it, but I know she’s greatly relieved he’s otherwise engaged for the next several weeks.”

“Can’t blame him, can you?” says Joseph, shaking his head. “I’m sure I would have done the same thing at his age. She’s spectacular.” He pauses meaningfully. “Don’t you think?”

Henri clears his throat.  “I won’t disagree she’s lovely.” He takes a deep breath. “But one doesn’t want to smother one, does one?”

“No,” says Joseph, suppressing a giggle. “But one wouldn’t mind kissing her if one could and she was amenable, and one was roughly her age. Yes?”

“I suppose so,” says Henri, squinting suspiciously at Joseph. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”

Joseph glances around as if to make sure they are not overheard. “Connie and I were coming down the trail to the pond a few afternoons ago to see how the algae was progressing, and at a crook in the trail…” He gestures behind him up the hill in the direction of their house that’s being built. “…Connie stayed me with a touch and whispered, ‘Methinks we’ve come upon young Romeo and Juliet.’ And though we quickly retraced our steps, we were fairly certain Romeo was you and Juliet was Irenia, though we could be wrong, of course, dusk being such a trickster.”

“Joseph,” says Henri, gazing earnestly at his mentor and friend. “May I ask an enormous favor of you and Connie? That you tell no one what you saw a few afternoons ago? I fear it would devastate Arturo if he knew.”

“Ah,” says Joseph, nodding in understanding. “Connie and I shall never mention it to anyone, though I’m sure we will mention it to each other on many occasions when we wish to remember that supremely sweet moment. You lucky guy, you.”

*

Meanwhile, Joseph’s wife Constance, two years Joseph’s junior, a plump pretty fantastically successful murder mystery writer, is serving tea to Daisy, forty-one, a darling yet-to-be-published writer of fiction.

They are sitting at the small dining table in the little house Joseph and Constance are renting in Mercy while they await completion of their spectacular modern home being built on land adjacent to the northeast side of Ziggurat farm.

Daisy and her husband Michael and their fifteen-month-old baby girl Jenna live in a house on three acres adjacent to the south side of the farm. Michael is an ornithologist recently relieved of his academic duties by Daisy inheriting a fortune from her mother, and Daisy is a writer recently freed from her job as a secretary by that same inheritance, Jenna their first and probably only child.

Michael is taking care of Jenna for the morning while Daisy visits Constance to learn what Constance thinks of Daisy’s novella Women Farm, which Daisy gave to Constance a week ago.

“I absolutely love watching Vivienne and Irenia lug your adorable daughter around on their soon-to-be-women’s hips,” says Constance, pouring very black tea from a large white teapot into dainty white teacups. “Makes the little darling so happy, and me, too.” She sighs in her dramatic way. “I suppose if I’d had a real live baby to play with when I was their age, I might have had children, but such was not the case.”

“I didn’t want children until just a few years ago,” says Daisy, tasting a cookie. “These are so yummy, Connie. Did you make them?”

“No, no, I commissioned Celia to make them for me. She and Nathan and Delilah are giving us breakfast every day until we move into our new house, and often supper, too, when we’re not dining at the farmhouse or at Ocelot. We are hopelessly addicted to Raul’s restaurant. Imagine him agreeing to mentor Irenia for the summer. How could he possibly have time? We were shocked when we heard.”

“Imagine having the chutzpah to ask him,” says Daisy, who finds all the Ziggurat Farm kids amazing. “She’s only fourteen.”

“Where did she get such confidence?” exclaims Constance. “Her parents are self-effacing to the point of saintliness.”

“Does Joseph cook?” asks Daisy, finding the tea incredibly strong.

“He can,” says Constance, making a dismissive face, “but prefers not to unless he absolutely has to. And I never cook, unless you consider making tea and boiling eggs cooking.” She nibbles a cookie. “What decided you to have a child?”

“An unconscious decision,” says Daisy, feeling she might cry talking about this. “When my mother died not quite three years ago I just… stopped taking precautions, though I didn’t decide to stop and wasn’t aware I had until one night after we made love I thought, ‘I think I’m ovulating’ and I hadn’t put my diaphragm in.” She smiles through her tears. “Maybe I wanted to replace my mother. I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Why didn’t you want children?”

“Well,” says Constance, who hasn’t talked about this since she was in therapy in her forties, “I made a very conscious choice not to have children when I was twenty-five, a year after I was jilted by a man I’d given my body and soul to for three years. I was sure we would marry, though unbeknownst to me he was philandering from day one, and for the entire year after his cruel betrayal I was bedridden and couldn’t even begin to recover until one day I proclaimed to my distraught mother that I would never have children. And my mother, who’d had four, said, ‘That’s fine, dear. Just so you get well.’ And then I did.” She pours more tea into Daisy’s cup. “I’ve never regretted my decision, and truth be told I never had much to do with children until we moved here and became entangled with young Delilah and then the farm kids, all of whom we adore, and I do hope you will bring Jenna to visit me frequently and sometimes leave her with me so I may pamper and spoil her without you seeing me make a googly ass of myself. Please?”

“Is tomorrow too soon?” asks Daisy, nodding hopefully.

They laugh uproariously and Constance touches Daisy’s hand and says, “Now let us speak of your novella.”

“Oh that,” says Daisy, and off they go laughing again.

“I will preface my remarks,” says Constance, gazing wide-eyed at Daisy, “by saying we are so glad, Joseph and I, that we like your book because we will soon be your neighbors and it would have been so awkward to see you all the time and have to pretend we liked your book if we didn’t. But we do.”

“Oh good,” says Daisy, blushing.

Constance gets up from the table and goes to fetch the manuscript from the coffee table in the living room, and Daisy holds her breath until Constance returns.

“To properly set the scene for my experience of reading your novella,” says Constance, settling into her chair and placing the manuscript on the table, “I will detail our morning schedule, which begins with Nathan and Celia giving us breakfast at nine, after which we visit our pups Alec and Merula who are staying with their mother next door to Nathan’s until we move into our new house. After the puppy visit, we walk to and from and along the beach at the mouth of the Mercy. Are you with me?”

“I’m with you,” says Daisy, relieved to know they like her book.

“So the day after you gave me Women Farm,” says Constance, recalling the moment vividly, “we came home after pup visiting, and with some trepidation, knowing you were destined to be our neighbor and frequently dining with us at the farmhouse etcetera, I sat down with the manuscript thinking I’d get through a few pages before we left for the beach.” She pauses momentously. “But the beach, despite the glorious day, had to wait until I finished reading your masterwork.”

Daisy gasps and her eyes fill with tears.

“Joseph came twice to get me for our walk,” says Constance, on the verge of tears herself, “and seeing I was so completely gone to your story he left me alone until I finished. Then I changed into my beach togs and we walked through town and down the stairs to the beach, and after I’d waded in the water to regain my senses, he asked, ‘Are you ever going to speak again?’ and I replied, ‘Either I’ve lost my mind or I’ve just read a work of surpassing genius.’ And that’s what I think of your novella.”

Daisy tries to speak, but words won’t come.

“When we got home from the beach,” says Constance, continuing, “Joseph sat down in the big armchair in the living room and without once getting up for drink or food or to pee, he read Women Farm from start to finish, took off his reading glasses, looked at me—I was on the sofa with my feet up waiting for him to finish so I could read it again—and said, ‘If Delilah will do some pen and ink drawings to illustrate this riveting tale, Arnold Winfield will go mad to publish it.’ And I agree, Arnold will. He only does a few books a year, but each one is a literary event. In England. A hundred and thirty-three pages of manuscript will only make a hundred pages of print, and it’s a book you’d never in a million years get published in America unless it’s a huge success elsewhere, but Arnold will want it, we’re sure.” She beams at Daisy. “Did you have an editor, dear? The word flow is breathtaking.”

“Nathan,” says Daisy, nodding.

“He’s marvelous,” says Constance, smiling brightly. “Doesn’t care for my books, but then I’m not original and he is so original.”

“I think you’re original,” says Daisy, who recently gobbled three of Constance’s murder mysteries. “I loved Lisa Has Three Suitors. Seemed highly original to me, and your dialogue is fantastic. No wonder they all get made into movies.”

“I’m clever, dear,” says Constance, enjoying the praise but not taking it seriously. “And I copy others prodigiously as all mystery writers do. And dear Joseph grooms my dialogue until it sparkles, else it would sound ridiculous. I could never write anything so grand as Women Farm. Some magnificent spirit spoke through you, didn’t she?”

“Seems so,” says Daisy, humbled by such praise.

“I assure you no spirits speak through me,” says Constance, looking out on the sunny day. “Shall we walk around town? I’d love to give you lunch at the Happy Day Café & Bakery. Won’t hold a candle to what Philip and Raul are concocting for supper at the farmhouse, but it will sustain us until then.”

*

That afternoon in the farmhouse kitchen, Philip, slender handsome husband of Lisa and father of Arturo and Vivienne, and Raul, ruggedly handsome chef of exceeding fame, both in chef’s whites, stand in the farmhouse kitchen watching Irenia, also in chef’s whites, swiftly dicing garlic.

Raul and Philip are awaiting Irenia’s assessment of the sauce they’ve concocted for a dish they are calling Prawns Raul Philip, both very pleased with their concoction.

“Of course,” says Irenia, who is Russian, tall and gorgeous and though only fourteen could easily pass for eighteen, “you are both culinary savants and know everything about cooking, yet I am certain this sauce lacks garlic, though not raw garlic, but garlic sautéed ever so briefly in olive oil, if one of you would prepare a small frying pan for me.”

Raul and Philip exchange arched eyebrows and Raul says to Philip in French, “It is her lack of pretense I find most disarming.”

“She’s fearless,” says Philip, nodding in agreement. “Frequently wrong, but unafraid to try and fail.”

“The garlic will ruin the sauce,” says Raul, grimacing. “And it’s so good now. Your touch of turmeric was a master stroke.”

“As was your dill,” says Philip, nodding.

“But I suppose we must let her try,” says Raul, wistfully.

“How else will she learn?” asks Philip, laughing. “We know telling her won’t convince her.”

“No other way,” says Raul, laughing, too. “And we have time to make it again.”

“What are you saying about me?” asks Irenia, a blush in her cheeks.

“We are saying you will learn by doing,” says Raul, setting a small frying pan on a flame and pouring in the olive oil.

*

At the end of the fabulous supper made by Philip and Raul and Irenia for twenty happy diners, Prawns Philip Raul sans garlic the star of the show, Nathan, who recently turned eighty-seven, addresses the assembly.

“I wanted to share something Celia and I discovered about your creek,” he says, extracting a stack of rolled up maps from a cardboard tube. “I’m chagrined to say I didn’t remember this six weeks ago when the excavation of the pond began, but I didn’t.”

“By the way, Nathan,” says Alma, who just turned thirteen and is studying Botany and Ecology with Caroline and Michael for her summer Main Study, “three days ago we calculated the creek has a flow rate of fifty-seven gallons per minute.”

“A very good flow, indeed,” says Nathan, smiling at Alma, “especially considering we’re in the third year of a severe drought. All of which suggests the creek was here for a very long time before it was stoppered.”

“So what did you remember?” asks Henri, who thinks of Nathan as his grandfather.

“Well,” says Nathan, nodding his thanks to Henri for keeping him on track, “a week ago Celia was making breakfast and said to me, ‘When we used to go to the farm fifty-five years ago to pick apples, didn’t we drive across a little wooden bridge on the farm drive?’ And then it all came back to me. The bridge was about twenty-feet-long and just wide enough for a truck.”

“So the creek didn’t turn south and follow the path to our house and beyond,” says Michael, excitedly. “It continued directly west.”

“That’s right,” says Nathan, unfurling ten copies of a two-foot-square map. “These are facsimiles of the map on the wall of our town museum.” He hands nine of the copies to Henri to distribute around the dining table. “They show the Mercy watershed as rendered by a surveying crew in 1856. If you look dead center on this map you’ll see your stream followed a southwesterly course from here and entered the Mercy River about a mile inland from the mouth. You see the name there where it meets the river? Mammoth Creek. Merle Redstone, the docent at the museum, said it wasn’t called Mammoth because the creek was big, but for the enormous redwoods that grew along the creek before they got cut down. He also said the first half-mile of the creek coming this way from the river was a renowned steelhead and salmon spawning area. And you can see two other creeks joined your creek along the way from here, one of them Bella’s Creek, which I know still has a little water in it most of the year and skirts Susan Oldfield’s place a half-mile down the road from you.”

“So if we were to redirect the creek across the farm drive where it originally flowed,” says Philip, sharing a copy of the map with Lisa and Vivienne, “the creek would resume its old course down to the Mercy?”

“I don’t see why not,” says Nathan, smiling at the thought of that. “Pretty much all the land from here to there is protected now and will never be logged again. Part of Egret Estuary State Park.”

“It will cost a pretty penny to dig out the creek bed across the drive and beyond, and build a sturdy new bridge,” says Joseph, sharing a map with Constance. “We’d be happy to contribute to the cause.”

“The state might fund part of it,” says Michael, avidly studying the map with his sister Caroline. “Restoration of precious wildlife habitat.”

“Another job for Gabriel,” says Henri’s father Marcel, speaking of the local backhoe magician.

“As soon as he finishes digging the hole for our septic tank and trenching the septic field,” says Constance, looking up from the map. “Did you see there’s a waterfall along our little Mammoth Creek? Indigo Falls. Why indigo we wonder? Won’t it be fun to find out?”

fin

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Four Grandmothers

Four Grandmothers

Once upon a time there were four grandmothers who were best friends—Tamara, Myra, Amy, and Vivienne. They first met when they were young mothers with children in the same elementary school in a medium-sized town in California; and they stayed friends and kept living in that medium-sized town after their children graduated from high school.

Tamara was sixty and had five grandchildren. Her daughters lived nearby and she was daily involved in the lives of her grandchildren. She was married to Fred, her husband of forty years. Her grandchildren called her Tama.

Myra was sixty-four and had three grandchildren. She spent time with one of her grandchildren several times a week, but the other two lived across the country in Virginia. She only saw those distant two for a week at Christmas and a week during the summer. Myra was married to Arno, her third husband. Her grandchildren called her Gammy.

Amy was sixty-seven and had two grandchildren. Amy’s grandchildren lived in Seattle with their mother who was divorced from Amy’s son. Amy only saw her grandchildren for two weeks in December, but she talked to them twice a week on the phone. Amy was not married. She divorced her one and only husband when she was thirty-five. Her grandchildren called her Grandma.

Vivienne was sixty-eight and had one grandchild. This child lived with Vivienne because Vivienne’s son and daughter-in-law died in a car accident when their little girl was three. Vivienne was a widow. Her husband Jeff died the year after their son died in the car accident. Her granddaughter called her Vivi.

The four grandmothers got together as a foursome twice a week. On Wednesday evenings they went out for Chinese food, and on Sunday afternoons they gathered at Vivienne’s to drink wine and watch a movie.

On one of those Sunday afternoons, Amy brought up the news that the earth was warming so rapidly due to the burning of fossil fuels, that life, all life, would be unsustainable in the not-too-distant future. “We may have a rough old age,” she said to her friends, “but our children and grandchildren will almost certainly die terrible and premature deaths if something isn’t done to reverse the warming, and soon.”

Vivienne said, “There’s nothing we can do about it. Our government and most of the governments in the world are controlled by amoral corporations that profit from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Tamara said, “I just ignore that stuff. If I think about what’s happening to the earth and what we’re leaving our precious grandchildren, I go crazy.”

Myra said, “Don’t worry. The government and scientists will do something to solve the problems before things get too bad.”

“No they won’t,” said Amy, shaking her head. “So I’ve decided to walk to Washington D.C. and go on a hunger strike until our government takes some real substantive action to reverse global warming. If I die trying, so be it, but I’ve got to try.”

Vivienne and Myra and Tamara were stunned by what Amy proposed to do, and they didn’t believe she would actually follow through with her plan, but she did.

Amy took seven months to walk across America. By the time she got to Washington D.C. she was accompanied by eighty-seven other grandmothers, including Vivienne. They gathered in a park near the White House and began their hunger strike in early September. By mid-October there were ninety thousand grandmothers and seventy thousand grandfathers gathered in Washington D.C. participating in the protest.

Congress and the President of the United States tried to ignore the grandparents, but soon all of America and much of the world was fixated on the huge numbers of hunger-striking elders gathering in Washington and in several other large cities around the globe. These older folks demanded their governments stop spending money on war, stop giving tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, and start spending trillions of dollars each year converting the national energy grids and transportation systems from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

By early December there were over two million grandparents gathered in Washington D.C. with thousands more people of all ages joining them every day. A national strike was called in support of the grandparents and most Americans ceased to participate in the economy until Congress took substantive action. Then the stock market crashed and Congress met in emergency session to pass the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Act that immediately implemented a trillion-dollar-a-year program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero within five years.

Unemployment vanished entirely, free universal healthcare became the law of the land, and the fantastic economic boom ushered in a golden age of art and literature and music and equality and organic farming and creativity and useful innovation.

Speaking about their triumph some years later, with worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases reduced to zero, Amy said, “I was never a political person, but I love my grandchildren so much I couldn’t sit by and watch their world be needlessly destroyed.”

Vivienne said, “Now that there are no more wars and income disparity is disappearing, the world economy is better than ever and there are signs the biosphere is recovering much faster than our most sophisticated computer models predicted.”

Tamara said, “The global policy of economically rewarding women for having only one or no children is paying huge dividends.”

And Myra, recently elected Governor of California, said, “Thank goodness Amy got us off our butts.”