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The Rico Chronicles: First Sighting

Rico at Fourteen with his father photo courtesy of Steve Rees

My great friend Rico Rees, AKA Richard Rees, died recently at the age of sixty-eight. To celebrate Rico’s life, I will be posting a series of remembrances entitled The Rico Chronicles. Here for your enjoyment is the first of those memories.

October 1957. Atherton, California.

I was just about to turn eight, riding on the big school bus on our way to Las Lomitas Elementary situated on the border of Atherton and Menlo Park. A sunny morning, Mr. Viera, one of the kindest and most patient human beings I have ever known, was driving the bus down Atherton Avenue in his never-hurried way. The morning ride to school was usually a calm affair, in contrast to the afternoon ride home when things often verged on chaos, the main instigators of that chaos holding sway at the back of the bus.

I loved Mr. Viera. His first language was Spanish and he only spoke a little English. Nevertheless, he connected with each of us in a friendly way as we got on and off the bus, unless he was in a bad mood, which he sometimes was, and then he was merely silent.

He ferried me and many of my classmates to and from school every day from First Grade through Sixth, and when my dog Cozy had her one litter of puppies when I was in the Second Grade, he came to our house with his wife and they took two of the pups, after which he gave me occasional reports about que buenos perros they turned out to be.

My bus stop, which was right across the street from our house, was near the beginning of Mr. Viera’s route in the morning, so I always found an empty seat halfway back where I would sit by the window and hope someone I liked sat beside me. Sometimes kids I didn’t especially like would sit with me because I never had the heart to tell them not to sit with me. Many other kids saved the space beside them for kids they liked and wouldn’t allow other kids to sit with them.

I always sat on the right side of the aisle (right facing forward) because this afforded me a view out my window of the kids waiting for the bus as we approached their stops, as well as a view of them getting on the bus, which for some reason I just loved. We weren’t supposed to stick our heads out the windows that were easily opened in those bygone days, but I sometimes leaned out my window to watch the kids getting on and maybe call out to a friend before he or she ascended onto the bus.

On this particular morning in October, the bus nearly full, we stopped on Atherton Avenue just west of Selby Lane, and after the few regulars got on, a pretty woman with black hair, half-carried and half-assisted a little boy with braces on his legs up the stairs onto the bus. He had two short metal crutches attached to his wrists by what appeared to be metal bracelets at the tops of the crutches. As the little boy reached the top of the stairs and the woman released him to stand on his own, Mr. Viera directed a kid in a front seat to relocate to make room for the little boy.

I was amazed and awed that someone so small and fragile and walking with crutches would get on a school bus and go to Las Lomitas where before school and during recesses and after school, the corridors and playground seethed with unhinged children racing around and crashing into each other. How, I wondered, would this fragile child survive?

This child was Richard Rees. He was six-years-old, though at the time I guessed he was four or at most five. I never imagined that eight years later, when I was sixteen and a high school junior, and Dick (Rico) was fourteen, a freshman, that he and I would meet backstage in the Woodside High multi-purpose room where we were both in a play, and we would become instant friends and best friends for life.

It wasn’t until we’d been high school pals for a few weeks and I found out where he lived, that I realized Dick was the little boy I had watched get on and off the bus those many times before I went off to junior high, and how each time he mounted those steps to get on the bus he was more and more capable of getting on without assistance, how he became progressively bolder and more talkative as he rode to school, and how ever after he was my hero.

fin

Rico’s Dance

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Zemel and the Pope

Several hundred years ago, when the Vatican was a powerful city state and the Pope commanded a great army, Jews escaping trouble in Europe and the Middle East settled on the outskirts of the Vatican, their population grew, and soon there were thousands of Jews living in close proximity to that most Catholic of places. Cardinals and bishops were outraged and petitioned the Pope to send his army to clear away the heathens who were, according to Christian dogma, the killers of Christ.

The Pope at that time, his name eludes me, was deeply pious and spent many hours a day communing with God, so at first he ignored these petitions from the bishops and cardinals. But finally he was compelled to listen to their demands, and he said, “Arrange for me to meet with the wisest of the Jews and then I’ll make my decision.”

A proclamation is sent forth into the Jewish community that on such and such a day, at such and such a time, the Pope will be enthroned at the entrance to St. Peter’s awaiting the wisest of the Jews.

As you can imagine this proclamation sends the Jewish community into a tizzy as one group claims their rabbi is the wisest and another group says, “Are you kidding? Our rabbi’s little finger is smarter than that guy.” And so on. The bickering continues night and day, and no one is chosen to speak to the Pope.

The day comes and the Jewish community prepares for the worst. The Pope takes his place on his throne in front of St. Peter’s and a red carpet is rolled across the plaza and lined with soldiers of the Papal Guard. Hundreds of Jews venture as close as they dare to witness the terrible failure of their community leaders to choose a spokesperson.

And who should come walking by just as the momentous moment arrives? Zemel the Fool, an unemployed bum and one of the more problematic members of the Jewish community. He sees the red carpet and all those hundreds of soldiers holding their swords in salute, and he feels inclined to take a stroll down that beautiful red path.

Assumed by the Vatican honchos to be the wisest Jew, Zemel is not impeded in his progress and ere long, after complimenting the soldiers on their nice duds and impressive swords, he comes to where the Pope awaits him.

The Pope looks at the man in rags and is reminded of Saint Francis who eschewed all worldly goods and was a friend to all God’s creatures.

Zemel looks at the Pope and is reminded of his old friend Ezekiel Goldberg who also tended to overdress on warm days.

The Pope raises one finger skyward.

Zemel considers this and raises two fingers.

Now the Pope opens his arms in an expansive gesture.

Zemel thinks for a moment, raises both hands a little, palms up, and shrugs.

Now the Pope takes a bite of a holy wafer and follows this with a sip of wine from a bejeweled goblet.

Zemel nods, takes an orange out of his pocket, peels the orange, and eats it.

The Pope watches Zemel relishing the orange, rises from his throne and proclaims, “The Jews may stay.”

As you can imagine, this gets the cardinals buzzing angrily and they assemble around the Pope and demand an explanation.

“The Jews agree with us entirely,” says the Pope, still elated from his encounter with such a wise person. “They are every bit as reverent and knowing of His truths as we are.”

The Cardinals are dumfounded and ask the Pope to explain further.

The Pope says, “We conversed in the silent language of spiritual understanding. I raised my finger to say, ‘God is the father,’ and he raised two fingers to says, ‘And the son.’ Then I lifted my arms wide to say, ‘God is everywhere,’ and he made the holy gesture that means, ‘God is here.’ Then I ate of the body of Christ and drank of our savior’s blood, and then that wise man ate of the holy fruit of Israel. I tell you the Jews are our brothers and may stay.”

Meanwhile, Zemel is carried back to the Jewish settlement on the shoulders of his cheering brethren and deposited in front of the four most popular rabbis, all of them having watched in horror as Zemel communed with the Pope.

They begrudgingly thank Zemel for saving the community from annihilation, and ask what went on between him and the Pope.

Zemel frowns. “That guy was the Pope? I thought he was just a rich guy with a big house.”

“But what did he say to you and how did you answer?”

“Oh that,” says Zemel, scratching his head. “Well I get there and he puts up one finger that means, ‘I’ll give a you one.’ So I top that with, ‘I’ll give a you two.’ Then he says, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know.’ Then he eats his lunch and I eat mine.”

fin

The Goodly Fool

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Little Movies Reviews

My book of short stories Little Movies came out just as we began to shelter-in-place in mid-March of 2020. I didn’t plan to bring out a book simultaneously with the coming of a pandemic, but that’s what happened.

I was trying a new way (for me) of bringing out a book through a company that would make the book available as a handsome paperback orderable from actual bookstores and online sources, as well as an e-book available from Apple Books, Kindle, Kobo, and Nook. I was hoping this new way would prove more successful than my earlier self-publishing of signed and numbered spiral-bound editions of my stories, and that word-of-mouth and online reviews would enlarge my audience.

However, four months into the process very few people have purchased copies of Little Movies and even fewer people have availed themselves of the inexpensive e-book versions. Thus my audience has not noticeably grown as a result of the book being so widely available.

The good news is: a handful of readers have emailed or called to say they love the book, and I’ve gotten six terrific customer reviews on Amazon and one lovely customer review on Barnes & Noble. Here are those reviews followed by a few links to places where, should you be interested, you can order paperback copies or download e-books.

Perhaps you will share these reviews with your book-reading friends.

William Carpenter wrote: This beautifully crafted, spirited and moving set of stories is the perfect antidote to pandemic isolation. As the title suggests, Walton’s scenes and characters are highly cinematic with a visual clarity that turns your Kindle screen into a home theater. Music is such a powerful theme woven through the stories that it’s like a soundtrack. These are often people in the second phases of their lives, who have learned through solitude their need for human contact and community, and they practice the generosity and openness that will enable it. They have made mistakes and have learned from them, so they approach their new choices with caution and respect. “There are no mistakes,” one the characters says, “only experience. This is about carrying on with curiosity and openness and love and acceptance.” Those qualities motivate Todd Walton’s colorful and varied characters as they work toward small personal transformations that in time could add up to a transformed world. As long as there’s a reason to stay inside and read, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Andrew Campbell wrote: A new short story collection by Todd Walton is certainly a cause for celebration. Little Movies, Walton’s first collection of stories since Calliope of Hope, is just the thing for this time of fear and uncertainty. Reading Walton’s work is like spending time in a wonderful community with clean water and clean air, with music and magic, with bright, articulate, creative, and thoughtful people, and, as the subtitle hints, with love and transformation. Todd Walton labors in the hinterlands and gives us small messages of light and hope and love. After reading one of his stories, I look out the window and the world shines a bit more brightly. No small accomplishment for an artist.

Robert Smith Jr. wrote: Little Movies is not for “Superficialists” as one of Todd Walton’s characters describes a subset of shoppers. However, if you are read-shopping for interesting characters and inspiring short stories, stop by and spend some time with these 14 engaging gems. Some of them are connected, like my favorite: “Augie and Tober’s Quest”. I also really liked the stories that focused on strong women. Mr. Walton is at the top of his game with writing like this: “I used to aspire to lifelong monogamy. But after being married for seven disastrous years to a woman I should have spent two happy days with and not a minute more, I find it much more satisfying to let relationships be whatever they want to be.”

Ken wrote: Little Movies, by Todd Walton, was the first short story book I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t disappointed. Beautifully written with such detail that you feel connected to each of the characters in a heartfelt way; and each taking you along with them on their personal journeys. Such sweet stories leaving you with an openness to ponder on life’s lessons and loves, and reminds you there is good in the world. I highly recommend!

Amazon Customer wrote: Todd Walton’s character development keeps you reading and reading to see how they develop and how the story will turn out. His description of the environments the characters live in paint an image that softly imprints on your mind and you begin to feel like you are there. Each story is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s hard to put Little Movies down. This is one of his best!

Bill Fletcher wrote: I just finished reading this book Little Movies: tales of love and transformation and I feel like I have just made a handful of new friends. I have read other books by Todd Walton and always seem to have the same feeling about many of the characters that appear and share their lives with me. This is a great set of short stories that left me looking forward to his next book. Or I might just go back and read it again.

Nancy Macleod wrote: I just finished this book, and it is absolutely delightful! Full of quirky, lovable characters, I was laughing and crying the whole way through! Crying because it is so happy and uplifting—SO needed right now! I just ordered a copy sent to my daughter. Read it, you’ll love it!

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Gallery Bookshop Mendocino

Little Movies Amazon

Little Movies Barnes & Noble

Little Movies Kobo e-book

Todd Walton Goodreads page

The Hopeless Optimist

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The Same Woman (Donna Again)

October 2021.

Andrew is seventy-three and a widower now for two and a half months. Having eaten little since Luisa’s death, he is thinner than he has ever been, his gray hair full of white.

He sits on the sofa in the cozy one-room studio where Donna, tall and buxom with short red hair and also seventy-three, conducts her business as rabbi and psychotherapist.

“Look at me, sweetheart,” says Donna, sitting in an armchair facing Andrew, her accent Los Angeles Jewish.

Andrew looks at his friend and counselor of the last twenty years and for a moment sees Luisa’s face instead of Donna’s.

“Talk to me,” she says softly. “Say anything.”

They have been sitting quietly for twenty minutes.

Did Cal drive me here? No. Cal lives in Hawaii now. Diana brought me.

“Tell me how you met Luisa,” says Donna, speaking of Andrew’s wife of thirty-four years, her suicide a terrible shock to everyone who knew her.

“Kindergarten,” says Andrew, remembering the first time he saw Luisa’s daughter Lily swinging high on the swings at the Montessori. “Owen and Lily…” He stops speaking, his language center shutting down.

“She brought Lily to your house for a play date with Owen,” says Donna, knowing the story well. “And you liked each other instantly.”

Andrew nods and begins to cry, which is what Donna was hoping for, to break the dam holding back his tears.

Donna has been a widow for five years. Her husband Howard was twelve years older than she. After suffering with increasing dementia for two years, he blessedly succumbed to pneumonia. Donna is currently dating a youngster in his sixties named Herschel, and is in the midst of passing the reins of the shul to another feminist rabbi. 

When Andrew stops crying, Donna says, “You need to tell a part of Luisa’s story every day. That’s how you’ll heal. Trust me.”

“Maybe I don’t want to heal,” he says, glaring at her. “Maybe I want to die, too.”

“Maybe you do,” says Donna, nodding. “But I don’t think so. I think you want to be alive for your children and grandchildren, and for your friends and for yourself.”

“I killed her,” he says, bowing his head. “Taking on Teo and Rosa was too much to ask of her.”

“That’s not true. You both wanted Teo and Rosa. And Jalecia. Luisa’s granddaughter. She asked of you what you asked of her. Am I wrong? I don’t think so. She confided in me for twenty years. She was adamant the children stay with you and not go with Adrianna.”

“But Teo and Rosa wouldn’t have existed,” he says, crushed by his grief, “if I hadn’t stupidly mated with Adrianna. Stupid animal me.”

“Beautiful animal you,” says Donna, calmly. “God gives us life in mysterious ways. You were a vehicle for God’s desire to bring your children into the world. And you and Luisa did a fabulous job bringing them up, and you will complete the job.”

“Or die trying,” says Andrew, who always eventually reverts to his Jewish self when he spends time with Donna.

“Watch out, bubalah,” she says, grinning at him. “We might start laughing and then how will we grieve?”

“Grieve schmeeve,” he says, laughing through his tears. “I need some good deli.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she says, getting up. “Come on. I’ll drive us to Max’s.”

Donna pilots her electric car through the lunchtime traffic of Vancouver, the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, many of the pedestrians masked, though Vancouver and Canada have not been much affected compared to the catastrophe in the United States.

They sit by an open window in the deli and split an order of fries and a hot pastrami sandwich on rye with sauerkraut.

“I was starving,” says Andrew, hailing their masked waitress. “Could I get a cup of coffee, please?”

“Two,” says Donna, raising her hand. “I never think I want coffee until after, and then midway through the sandwich I crave the bitter.”

“My mother always said, ‘Save the coffee for the cookies,’” says Andrew, his eyes filing with tears as he thinks of his long-departed mother, “but I just can’t wait.”

The waitress brings two mugs of black stuff and says to Andrew, “You probably don’t recognize me with my mask on. Delilah Bernstein. I was in Moon In Leo. The deli scene. You are such a good director. In fact, I got this job because I was in that movie. Max is a huge fan. He saw the movie seven times in the theatre and watches the video all the time.”

“I see you now,” says Andrew, imagining her face without the mask. “You were great.”

“I hear Character Driven is gearing up to make another movie,” she says, nodding hopefully. “Can I give you my card?”

“Yeah, sure, but you should call my son,” says Andrew, starting to cry. “You know Owen. He’ll remember you.”

“Okay, I will,” she says, touched by his tears. “I’ll tell him you told me to. Thanks.”

Andrew weeps for what seems like a long time to him, but is only a minute or so.

“Good to cry,” says Donna, crying a little with him. “Why don’t you come again tomorrow? At eleven. Then we’ll do lunch again. This is good.”

Chauffeured home by Diana, Andrew gets out of the trusty red Prius and gazes at the house he built forty-five years ago, the place feeling lifeless to him with Luisa gone and the kids at school—Teo and Rosa fourteen, Jalecia eleven.

“I have to make some calls before I go to the store and get the kids,” says Diana, stretching her arms to the sky. “You need anything before I go?”

Diana is a beautiful Eurasian, fifty-three, British, with raven black hair, a poet and artist and inveterate wearer of T-shirts and blue jeans. She has lived in the other house on the property for ten years, helping with the kids and housework and cooking.

Andrew gazes at her, having forgotten in these last few months how much he loves watching her and listening to her speak.

“What?” she asks, blushing at being so intensely observed. “Something unzipped?”

“No, I was just…” He laughs self-consciously. “I guess I could use a hug before you go.”

“Always,” she says, coming to embrace him.

“I can’t ever thank you enough,” he says, relaxing in her embrace. “Couldn’t survive without you.”

“Yes you could,” she says, giving him a good squeeze. “But you don’t have to.”

Waiting for Diana to get home with the kids, Andrew wanders into the living room and sits down at the piano, an exquisite teak upright he and Luisa bought twenty years ago to celebrate the success of a movie they wrote—this his first time at the piano since Luisa died.

He plays the first notes of the tune he was composing when Luisa died and the music makes him cry, but he goes on playing until the phone rings and he hurries to the kitchen to answer.

The caller is his son Owen who is thirty-nine now and lives in Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi and their seven-year-old daughter Mimi.

“Papa?” he says, sounding like a little boy to Andrew.

“Hey O,” says Andrew, his son’s voice bringing up more tears—the session with Donna having obliterated his floodgates.

“Just spoke to Diana,” says Owen, who is also still grieving Luisa. “We were thinking of bringing pizza over there for supper tonight. Diana said I should check with you and see what you think.”

“Yeah, great,” says Andrew, making a supreme effort to sound positive. “I may not last long tonight, O. Haven’t slept much lately, but I’d love to see you and Yosh and Mimi.”

“Good. I’ll call Diana,” says Owen, thrilled by this first Yes from Andrew since Luisa died.

Andrew hangs up and has a good long cry, and on his way back to the piano, the phone rings again—Lily, Luisa’s daughter, calling from Los Angeles.

 “Hey Papa,” says Lily, who is the same age as Owen. “How you holding up?”

“Okay,” he says, clearing his throat. “Had a good session with Donna today.”

“Donna,” says Lily, the name not registering. “Tell me again who that is?”

“The rabbi.”

“Oh yeah, the rabbi therapist,” says Lily, sounding hurried. “Good. Great. I’ve been going to my therapist every day. Can’t believe Mama’s gone. Just can’t believe it. I feel so bad I didn’t get up there more often these last few years, but I’ve been so crazy busy with the new show and the new house and… still I should have come before the fucking virus ruined everything. I’m a terrible daughter and a rotten mother.” She waits a moment. “You still there?”

“I’m here,” says Andrew, startled to realize he has never fully forgiven Lily for leaving her baby with them eleven years ago so she could pursue her acting career unencumbered. “Please don’t think of yourself as a terrible daughter or a rotten mother. If I ever made you feel that way, I apologize.”

You apologize?” says Lily, stunned. “I’m the one who fucked up, not you.”

“Oh Lily, don’t think that,” he says, wishing he could hold her on his lap as he did when she was little and would come to him seeking solace. “You’re an adventurer. An artist. You gave us Jalecia who is the great joy of my life and was your mother’s joy.”

“Oh Papa,” says Lily, crying, “I want to come visit you and Owen and the kids, but the virus is still out of control here and if I came to Canada I’d have to quarantine in some hotel for ten days before I could even start my visit and I’m so busy with…”

“I know,” he says, seeing now that holding the vision of Lily as a defiant teenager helped her stay stuck in that idea of herself. “We’ll be together again. All in good time. We will.”

The next morning, Donna settles into her armchair, studies Andrew for a moment and says, “You look better today. How are you feeling?”

“I actually slept for a few hours last night,” he says, giving her a sleepy smile. “Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi brought pizza for supper and Diana and Rosa made a big salad. Root beer for the kids, wine for the grownups. Quite the shindig. We rioted until nine.”

“Did you dream?”

“I did, but I only remember a fragment. Owen was in the living room. He was maybe ten, searching for something. He looked under the sofa cushions and then he frowned at me. That’s all I remember.”

“Tell it again,” says Donna, knowing what the dream is about. “Present tense.”

Andrew closes his eyes and sees young Owen moving around the living room, searching for something. “He’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Must be summer. He looks under the cushions, looks around the room, and now he sees me and gives me a questioning look.”

“What’s his question, do you think?”

“Where is she?”

Donna considers this. “Why do you think he’s a boy in the dream and not a man?”

“He seems like a boy to me now,” says Andrew, fighting his tears. “A boy who lost his mother.”

“So maybe he knows where she is. Maybe that’s not his question.”

“You think he wants to know why she killed herself?”

“Of course he does. Wouldn’t you if you didn’t know?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shaking his head.

“Okay,” she says, nodding slowly. “Tell me about the last three years of Luisa’s life.”

“I don’t know if I can today,” he says, bowing his head. “I don’t feel well.”

“What are your symptoms?”

“Anxious. Achy. Dizzy. Miserable.”

“What was going on at your house three years ago?”

“The twins were eleven, Jalecia was eight, Luisa and I just turned seventy, Cal and Terry just moved to Hawaii, and Owen and Miyoshi were getting their company going with Moon In Leo and…” He grimaces. “It was all too much for Luisa. Too much to ask of her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Too much work. Too much going on. She was overwhelmed.”

“Were you overwhelmed?”

“Yes,” he snaps. “Of course I was.”

“I don’t remember you being overwhelmed. I remember you loved working on the movie and being energized by the experience.”

“At Luisa’s expense,” he says bitterly. “I was off playing at being a movie director while she was all alone dealing with the kids.”

“Alone? What about Diana?”

“Okay, yes, Diana was there, but I wasn’t. And it was too much for her.”

“You mean for the few weeks you worked on the movie?”

“What are you trying to say?” He feels like he’s about to break in half. “That it wasn’t too much for her?”

“I’m not trying to say anything.” She waits a moment. “I want you to tell me the story of the last three years of Luisa’s life. Which is your story, too. I want you to tell me what you remember, not what you think you did wrong. Just the story of those years.”

He sits up straight and rolls his shoulders to loosen the grip of his demons. “I had an amazing four months working with Sakura. And directing those scenes in Moon In Leo was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. And after Sakura went back to Japan, the plays and stories and songs just came pouring out of me and I was in heaven writing them.”

“You were reborn.”

“I was reborn.”

“And Luisa?”

“She was not.”

“Did she resent you?”

“No,” he says, remembering the trip they took after Sukara went back to Japan, the glorious train ride through the Rockies to Banff, their elegant suite in the Banff Inn, their long walks in the wilderness.

“Where did you go just now, Andrew?”

“To Lake Louise,” he says, seeing Luisa reflected in the ethereal blue of the lake. “Ten days without the kids. Just lolling around and taking walks and…”

“And what?”

“She said she didn’t want to go home. Said she was tired of raising children, tired of not having time for anything else. ‘Can’t we just keep going? Stay in Montreal for a few weeks and then fly to Europe. Please?’”

“What did you say?”

“I said we’d redesign our lives to travel more and I’d do more with the kids and she could do less, but I didn’t want to just abandon them.”

“So did you travel more?”

“Before the pandemic I tried, but she wouldn’t go.”

“So from then on you and Diana were the parents.”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Were the kids confused by Luisa withdrawing?”

“Yes. Especially Jalecia. She was so attached to Luisa.”

“So Luisa withdrew. What did she do all day?”

“At first she read and watered the garden and went on long drives and…” He strains to remember. “Then she’d suddenly re-engage with the kids and start cooking again and going to soccer games and say, ‘I’m back. I just needed a break. I’m fine now.’ And that would last a week or two and then she’d withdraw again. And every time she withdrew, she seemed to go further into her aloneness.” He looks at Donna. “Then you referred her to the psychiatrist who prescribed the anti-depressants, which seemed to help at first, but then she started forgetting things. She’d leave something cooking on the stove and wander out into the garden or she’d leave the hose running and flood the garden or she’d come into a room and say, ‘Why did I come in here? I knew a few seconds ago, but now I have no idea.’ So she stopped taking the meds and withdrew again.”

“And you were writing and composing and taking care of the kids,” says Donna, nodding. “Shouldering on without her.”

“Not without her,” he says, seeing Luisa in the garden lost in thought. “I spent lots of time with her during the day when the kids were at school and at night.”

“What did you do together?”

“We talked when she was willing to talk. I played the piano for her. We went to the beach. We worked in the garden. Or I worked and she daydreamed. I’d make us lunch.”

“Was she still going on long drives?”

“No, she stopped driving. She said it was too confusing. And by then we were staying home because of the virus, so…”

“So for a year she mostly kept to herself?”

“Mostly,” he says, nodding. “And she just got more and more depressed, so I arranged for her to have a thorough medical exam and they concluded she was clinically depressed and should be on meds. And when the doctor told us that, Luisa said, ‘Then I might as well be dead.’”

“How long ago was that?”

“Eight months? Seven months? Seems like years ago.”

“Did she ask you to help her die?”

“Yes,” he says, closing his eyes. “But I couldn’t.”

“You thought she’d get better.”

“I wanted her to, but I didn’t think she would.”

“Why not?”

Silence.

“Why didn’t you think she would get better?”

“She seemed more ghost than alive.”

“Then what happened?” asks Donna, moving from her chair to sit with Andrew on the sofa.

“She stayed in bed for a month and then she got up and made a valiant effort to be part of the family again, though it was incredibly difficult for her. And then one day she got very upset with the kids and threw a glass at Teo that shattered all over the kitchen and she said horrible things to Rosa and screamed at Jalecia, and she felt so terrible about what she’d done that she went on the meds, and for some weeks she seemed better and we had some nice suppers, the whole family, and some good days at the beach and then…”

“She took the car and drove fifty miles north and lay down on the sand and cut her wrists and died.”

Andrew weeps and Donna holds him.

When his tears abate, Andrew says, “She left a note that said burn my unfinished stories and tell the children and Diana I love them. You know I love you.” 

They have lunch in Donna’s kitchen—chicken soup and bread and cheese—neither speaking as they eat.

Donna makes coffee to go with their after-lunch cookies, and as she pushes down the plunger on her French Press she says, “I may have said this to you before, but it’s worth repeating. Many of us are prone to feeling we are responsible for the other’s happiness or for their suffering or both. We know intellectually this isn’t true, but as my great teacher Rabbi Orenstein used to say, ‘Our mighty unconscious laughs at our pipsqueak intellect and carries on as per usual.’ Unless we break free of our early programming, which very few people ever do, then that early programming will always be our default response.”

“I think the hardest thing for me,” says Andrew, who feels nearly weightless from shedding so many tears, “is… well, two things. First, I had thirty years with Luisa without a day of her being anything but happy to be alive, happy to be engaged in our writing and music and loving our children, so I wasn’t prepared for how suddenly she changed.”

“What’s the other thing?” asks Donna, pouring him a cup of coffee.

“I keep thinking I should do something to make things better for the kids,” he says, smiling sadly. “To ease their pain.”

“This is the illusion, Andrew. You are not responsible for their happiness or their suffering.” She looks at him for a long moment. “You were responsible when they were babies and little children, but they are who they are now, and they must suffer the loss of Luisa in their own ways. Of course you can help them deal with their sorrow. You can love them and listen to them and let them know you’re there for them. But you can’t keep them from suffering. And the best thing you can do for them now is to embrace life and follow your heart and know that Teo and Rosa and Jalecia and Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi and Lily are all watching you and learning from you. Because if you can lovingly embrace life, you who lost the love of your life, so will they. And so will I.”

Every day Andrew feels a little less numb, a little less hopeless, and better able to hear and respond to what Teo and Rosa and Jalecia and Diana say to him.

On a rainy afternoon in November, Andrew and Diana and Jalecia and Teo stand on the sidelines of a soccer field, cheering wildly as Rosa outruns everyone and brilliantly jukes the goalie and scores the winning goal—Andrew falling to his knees and kissing the muddy earth.

A few weeks before Christmas, the kids at school, Diana finishes washing the breakfast dishes and carries her tea and notebook into the living room where she sits and listens to Andrew composing a piano piece, his search for what comes next inspiring Diana to write her first poem since Luisa died.

Five months later, in April of 2022, the first truly effective vaccine against the virus plaguing humanity is deployed around the world, and Diana and Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia are among the first to be inoculated.

On a sunny morning in June, Canada having successfully vaccinated seventy per cent of her population, the other thirty per cent soon to follow, Diana finds Andrew in the garden and tells him that Simon, her boyfriend of six years, has left her for another woman.

“He’s a fool,” says Andrew, giving her a comforting hug. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll be okay,” she says, lingering in his embrace. “I’m mostly worried about how to tell the kids. They love Simon.”

“Do you want me to tell them?”

“No,” she says, stepping back from him and smiling radiantly. “Thanks for offering, but I need to do it so they can ask me their ten thousand questions.”

Andrew laughs. “May it only be ten thousand.”

In July, after a good session in Donna’s studio, Andrew and Donna go to lunch at Max’s, the wait staff still masked, the virus not yet entirely eradicated in Canada and still going strong in the United States.

They split an order of fries and a Reuben sandwich and Donna talks about how relieved she is to be free of her rabbi duties and how much fun she’s having creating her book of mini-sermons.

“I’ve been reading through my old sermons,” she says, her cheeks reddening. “Hundreds of them. And I am both awed and chagrined at how confidently I spouted such well-meaning nonsense and so often missed the deeper truth. So this is my chance to not only be more succinct, but to right the wrongs of my erroneous clichés.”

“I can’t wait to read them,” says Andrew, who has recently entered a sorrowful phase as the one-year anniversary of Luisa’s death approaches.

“If you will be my editor,” says Donna, smiling hopefully, “you can read them very soon.”

“I would be honored,” he says, immeasurably grateful to her.

“Speaking of honor,” says Donna, gesturing to their waitress for the bill, “I would like to have a ceremony for Luisa on the one-year anniversary of her death. Nothing elaborate. Just lighting a candle and saying a prayer and asking everyone to share a memory of her. Just you and I and Diana and Owen and Miyoshi and the kids and any friends you’d like to invite.”

“Could be hundreds,” says Andrew, his eyes filling with tears. “She was greatly loved.”

“Up to you, dear,” she says, crying with him. “You tell me who to invite.”

In August, twenty people gather in the garden at Andrew’s house to remember Luisa.

Donna lights a candle and says, “We have gathered here to kiss Luisa’s spirit with our memories of her. I will begin by sharing my favorite Luisa memory, which is that every time I came here to have a meal, I would find Luisa in the kitchen and she would give me a smile that meant, ‘Come here and taste this,’ and I would go to her and she would feed me as a mother feeds her child, something delicious she’d made, and then we would look into each other’s eyes and be one with each other in our joy.”

In October, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and Diana are saying goodnight when Diana surprises Andrew by saying, “How about we spend the night together? You and me. Just because.”

“You mean… share a bed?” says Andrew, who has lately been enjoying speaking with a Jewish accent.

“Yeah. Sleep together.”

“My bed or yours?” he says, trying to be funny.

“Either one. They’re both nice beds.”

“I would be afraid to do that,” he says, dearly loving Diana but considering her taboo.

“We don’t have to have sex,” she says, her tone suggesting she wouldn’t mind if they did. “I just want to be close to you. I’m tired of sleeping alone knowing you’re sleeping alone and we could be keeping each other warm.”

“If we got in bed together,” says Andrew, his heart pounding, “despite the fact, or because of the fact I haven’t had sex in forever, we would probably have sex. Or we would try. Or I would. Because… how could I not? And if for some reason whatever happened made you unhappy or uneasy or caused you to leave… I just… I don’t ever want that to happen. Not that I haven’t thought about making love with you. I have. I do. I’ve always thought you were… luscious. But I’m seventy-four. You’re fifty-four. We’re best friends. We raised the kids together. I don’t want to lose you.”

“It is a gamble,” she says, looking into his eyes. “A big gamble. But I still want to.”

“I’m amazed,” he says, fighting the momentum of his desire. “And flattered, but…”

“Come on, Andrew,” she says softly, knowing he would never initiate their first kiss, and therefore the initiation is up to her. “Gamble with me.”

fin

Tender Mystery

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The Same Woman (Sakura)

2018. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both seventy, their birthdays a few weeks apart. They are in good health, Andrew descended from Ashkenazi Jews, Luisa from Chippewa Quebecois Afro-Cubans. Their many friends want to throw them a big birthday party, but they decline, having suffered through a big party last year to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary and now feeling done with big parties forever.

Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia with their three children—twins Teo and Rosa, eleven, Jalecia, eight—in a large house Andrew built forty-two years ago. Also part of the family is Diana, a poet in her late forties who resides in the other house on the property and is essentially the children’s third parent.

Luisa’s daughter Lily, mother of Jalecia, is thirty-six, a movie actress living in Los Angeles. Her torrid romance with pop star Kingdom Jungle Boy and their tumultuous seven-month marriage and messy divorce were exhaustively covered in the tabloids and mainstream media a year ago and shortly thereafter Lily landed a leading role in the huge-budget remake of The King and I set in a distant solar system, Lily the earthling who comes to the tropical planet Thailorg to tutor the emperor’s many translucent four-armed children, the iconic songs updated with hip hop arrangements. 

Andrew’s son Owen is also thirty-six and lives in Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi, who is thirty-nine, and their three-year-old daughter Mimi. Owen and Miyoshi recently left the employ of the movie producer and director Nicolas Thorsen and moved from Ireland to Vancouver to launch their own film company Character Driven Cinema, Owen a producer/director, Miyoshi a cinematographer.

Andrew and Luisa are delighted to have Owen and Miyoshi and the darling Mimi in their midst, and they are excited that Character Driven Cinema’s first film is the metaphysical comedy Moon In Leo from an original screenplay by Andrew and Luisa to be filmed in and around the nearby town of Squamish.

Some years ago Luisa stopped writing stories and until recently was content to work with Andrew on his plays while managing the business end of things and raising the children. However, for the last several months, she has been overwhelmed by the kids and frequently depressed by the daunting prospect of parenting teenagers until she is eighty.

Andrew continues writing short stories and plays, but often goes weeks now without writing. The children and music, specifically composing for the piano, are his main everyday endeavors now.

And Diana, who has lived with Andrew and Luisa and the kids for six years, is currently the three-days-a-week drawing and painting teacher at the Vancouver Waldorf high school and is in the second year of a relationship with Simon, a singer songwriter who makes his living building stone walls.

One of the main characters in Moon In Leo is Old Martha, an ancient wizard who uses her talent for shape shifting to influence the flow of events in the movie. Miyoshi’s mother, Sakura Enamoto, a well-known actress in Japanese cinema, will play the part of Old Martha, and in mid-march, a few weeks before filming begins, Sakura arrives in Vancouver to spend time with her granddaughter Mimi and to rehearse her scenes with an acting coach fluent in Japanese and English.

Two days after Sakura arrives in Canada, Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi and Sakura come to Andrew and Luisa’s for lunch. This being a Tuesday, Rosa and Teo and Jalecia are in school, which is a huge relief to Owen and Miyoshi and Luisa, and a big disappointment to Mimi who is madly in love with the big kids she knows as her cousins, though biologically Rosa is her half-aunt, Teo her half-uncle, and Jalecia no relation.  

Sakura is strikingly beautiful with enormous brown eyes, long black hair, a girlish figure, and a regal bearing. Though seventy, most people assume she is much younger. She speaks somewhat broken English, understands English quite well, and has little trouble communicating with Andrew and Luisa and Owen.

Miyoshi, whose father is French, is fluent in Japanese, English, German, and French. She spent her first twenty years in Japan with her mother and then moved to Switzerland where she attended film school before becoming Thorsen’s cameraperson and eventually his cinematographer.

Sakura was unable to attend Owen and Miyoshi’s wedding in Ireland seven years ago, nor did her subsequent trips to Ireland coincide with Andrew and Luisa’s trips to Ireland, so this luncheon is the first time the three of them meet.

When everyone is seated around the dining table enjoying Luisa’s fish tacos con guacamole, Mimi sitting on Luisa’s lap, Sakura says in her deep resonant voice, “Now we can have Owen and Miyoshi wedding for parents.”

“Let this be the wedding,” says Miyoshi, laughing wearily. “This could be our only chance in the next six months.”

“Okay,” says Sakura, smiling and nodding to Luisa and Andrew. “I so honor your son marry my daughter. She so lucky to marry such good man.”

“And we are honored your daughter married our son,” says Andrew, nodding graciously. “He is very lucky to be married to such a wonderful woman.”

“I now pronounce you wife and husband,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water to Owen and Miyoshi.

Sakura raises her glass and says something in Japanese.

Everyone drinks and Luisa asks Miyoshi, “What did your mother say?”

“She said ‘May our families be joined forever.’”

The sun breaks through the clouds after lunch and the three grandparents and grandchild have coffee and cookies on the deck while Owen and Miyoshi stay inside making phone calls as the thousand and one responsibilities of producing a major motion picture weigh heavily upon them.

Mimi chooses Sakura’s lap for cookie time, reasoning that Luisa will only allow her one cookie whereas Sakura might be good for two or three.

“So beautiful place,” says Sakura, gazing out over the large vegetable and flower garden, the wild forest beyond. “I read your play in Japanese before English. Very great play. I honor to be Old Martha. She strong witch but funny. I want you show me how you want me say your words.”

“I’m at your service,” says Andrew, enchanted by her. “I’ll be attending your first few sessions with your acting coach and be on the set for all your scenes.”

“You tell me how you want,” she says, nodding confidently. “I can learn.”

When Andrew wrote the first draft of Moon In Leo, he envisioned Old Martha played by some great British actress, but when Owen and Miyoshi read the script they immediately saw Sakura in the role, and only now, as they are about to start filming, do they think they may have made a terrible mistake in casting Sakura as Old Martha.

Indeed, so distraught are Owen and Miyoshi, that after they take Sakura and Mimi back to Vancouver following the luncheon, Owen returns to Andrew and Luisa’s to tell them he and Miyoshi are seriously considering bringing in another actress to play the part of Old Martha.

“This has ballooned into a thirty-million-dollar movie,” says Owen, sequestered in Andrew’s office with Andrew and Luisa, the kids home from school and piqued they can’t hang out with Uncle Owen. “If Old Martha isn’t funny, the movie flops.”

“What makes you think Sakura won’t be funny?” asks Luisa, who secretly shares Owen’s doubts.

“Japanese humor and American humor are worlds apart,” says Owen, sounding utterly miserable. “Different timing, different phrasing, different emphasis on syllables, different facial expressions, different body language. Why we thought Sakura could deliver these lines as you intended, I don’t know. We just saw her in the part, and of course she’ll look fabulous, but…”

“Could you dub someone else saying her lines?” asks Luisa, making a sour face at her idea.

“No,” says Owen, anguished. “She’s a great artist. It would be like dubbing Meryl Streep. And we can’t afford to shoot the scenes with Sakura and then reshoot them with someone else if they don’t work. She’s in a quarter of the scenes.” He bows his head. “What were we thinking?”

“You weren’t thinking,” says Andrew, placing his hand on Owen’s shoulder. “And I mean that in a good way. You were feeling, and I think you felt correctly. You just have to trust in your deeper wisdom and prepare her for those scenes as well as you can.”

“As well as you can, Papa,” says Owen, looking up at his father. “Only you can teach her the timing. The Jewish timing. And we know that’s what you want. Groucho Marx in the body of a shape-shifting wizardess from Japan.”

“I’m game,” says Andrew, feeling as he always does when a creative challenge takes him over—exhilarated and full of curiosity to see what will happen next.

For the first coaching session, Andrew meets with Sakura and her bi-lingual coach, a young Japanese Canadian woman named Joan, in a large warehouse Owen and Miyoshi leased for filming sequences involving special effects, though they hope to capture most of the action on location in the forest and coastal settings that figure so prominently in the story.

Sakura has loosed her long black hair from her ponytail and is wearing a dress made of rags, a prototype of what Old Martha wears when wandering in the forest and lounging in her lair in the hollow trunk of a giant Sitka spruce. Andrew is dressed in black T-shirt and baggy brown pants, Joan in black slacks and a white dress shirt with a red bow tie.

They begin with Old Martha’s first scene, wherein she walks through the forest finding various plants and mushrooms and speaking to them as she eats them, the scene ending with her sensing a crystal buried under a large fern and cajoling the crystal to emerge from the ground so she can steal its power.

Sakura has thoroughly memorized her lines and recites them as a mother might speak to her small children as she walks along and mimes plucking and eating the occasional mushroom and fern fiddlehead, with Joan correcting her few mispronunciations.

When Sakura finishes the scene, she stands silently awaiting Andrew’s critique.

“You walk with such grace,” says Andrew, smiling at her. “But we want Old Martha to have a bit of a hitch in her git-a-long.”

Sakura stares blankly at him, the phrase meaningless to her.

“A subtle limp. She is not so graceful.”

Sakura nods solemnly. “You show me.”

So Andrew demonstrates a less graceful walk with a slightly stooped posture, and speaks to the imagined mushrooms in the manner of an ironical Jewish comedian.

Joan and Sakura laugh several times during his rendition, after which Sakura says, “You do again. I shadow.”

“Shadow? You mean imitate me?”

Sakura says something to Joan in Japanese.

Joan translates, “She will be your shadow and your echo.”

“Fine,” says Andrew, wondering how she intends to do that.

Sakura comes and stands directly behind Andrew, her body no more than two feet from his, and as he enacts the scene, she follows him so closely and mimics his posture and movements so precisely she is, literally, his three-dimensional shadow. And when he speaks his lines, she quietly echoes his every word.

At scene’s end Sakura says, “You easy for me to follow. Now I do scene for you.”

“Okay,” says Andrew, breathless from their intimate enactment.

Sakura does the scene again, not so much in imitation of Andrew, but with the cadence of his speech and the gist of his mannerisms, and both Andrew and Joan are in awe of Sakura’s transformation.

The next day, following their second coaching session, Sakura and Andrew go to lunch at a nearby café and share brief autobiographies.

Sakura tells of when she was thirty-two and became pregnant with Miyoshi, and the father, a French journalist, wanted her to give up her acting career and move to France with him.

“He no understand I devote to acting. I say to him, ‘I no love you. I love be actor.’ He say, ‘Then you must abortion,’ but I want Miyoshi. I pick her father because he beautiful man.” She looks into Andrew’s eyes. “I know if I meet you when I am young, I want you to be father. And husband.”

“I’m flattered,” says Andrew, imagining her at thirty-two and him at thirty-two and how well they might have fit together.

“You know me,” she says, holding out her hand to him. “I know you. In Japan we say sorumeito. Our soul know each other.”

“I think so, yes,” says Andrew, taking her hand. “Soul mates.”

Andrew coaches Sakura for two hours a day for the next two weeks, and with every session she becomes more and more the master of her scenes.

But when she rehearses with the other movie actors for the first time, and Andrew is not in attendance, she is at a loss how to proceed.

Owen and Miyoshi are again convinced they made a terrible mistake casting Sakura in the role of Old Martha, and when Andrew arrives at the next rehearsal, he finds the movie’s star, a rakishly handsome Australian, berating Owen for wasting his time with “some washed up Kabuki bimbo.”

Despite the star’s kvetching, the rehearsal begins and Andrew knows immediately that the problem is not Sakura, but the other actors, their timing dreadful and their understanding of their characters completely off the mark.

“If I may show you the way Sakura learned this scene,” says Andrew, speaking up when the action grinds to a halt a few terrible minutes into the rehearsal, “I think you’ll see why we’re having trouble with the flow.”

“Who are you?” snarls the rakishly handsome Australian.

“I am the writer of this comedy,” says Andrew, bowing to the irate actor. “And I have been coaching Sakura for the last two weeks.”

Before the star can protest, Andrew strides toward Sakura and delivers the star’s opening line, I thought I’d find you here. Sakura waits for Andrew to be nearly upon her before she fires off a stinging rejoinder and deftly dances away—she and Andrew playing out an elaborate pas des deux during which they exchange rapid-fire insults and Andrew can never quite overtake her as she deftly foils his every move—the assembled cast and crew roaring with laughter as the scene reaches its denouement and Sakura shape shifts into a gorgeous young temptress (to be achieved more fully with special effects) and steps into Andrew’s arms and kisses him.

With Owen and Miyoshi’s insistence, Andrew takes over the direction of all Sakura’s scenes and painstakingly trains the other actors until their timing and intentions synch perfectly with Sakura’s.

And though rehearsing and shooting these scenes—many of them extremely complicated—takes much more time than Owen and Miyoshi budgeted for, the results are spectacular.   

When filming wraps in June, Sakura stays on in Vancouver to take care of Mimi for a couple of months while Owen and Miyoshi work day and night to fashion a viable cut of the movie to show to distributors.

Sakura frequently brings Mimi to Andrew and Luisa’s, Mimi loving being with her cousins, and on several occasions Sakura and Mimi spend the night at Andrew and Luisa’s rather than having Andrew ferry them back to Vancouver or asking Owen to come fetch them.

One such evening, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and Luisa and Sakura have tea in the living room and Sakura says to Andrew, “Why you never direct movie? You so good director.”

“I never wanted to,” says Andrew, who feels profoundly changed and inspired by the experience of directing Sakura’s scenes. “Or I didn’t think I wanted to.”

“Maybe now you do,” she says, nodding hopefully. “Maybe you write movie with part for me and be director.”

“Seems so far beyond me now,” he says, exhausted after a long day at the beach with the children. “Though I did love directing you.”

“If you weren’t seventy and raising three children,” says Luisa, vastly relieved Moon In Leo is no longer taking so much of Andrew’s time, “directing a movie might not seem so daunting.”

“I think I’ll leave the movie making to Miyoshi and Owen,” says Andrew, yawning and closing his eyes. “Barring the discovery of the fountain of youth.”

Sakura yawns in sympathy with Andrew. “Two year ago my agent say he find part for me. I say ‘What is part?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother in TV show. Your daughter is divorce, have two children, try many men.’ I say ‘What grandmother do?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother babysit children and complain daughter about be old and everything so hard now.’ I say ‘I don’t want grandmother part.’ Agent say, ‘You old now, Sakura, not so many part for you. This good part. Everyone watch. Pay high money.’ But I say no and now only have one small part in movie next year.”

Andrew opens his eyes. “After Moon In Leo comes out, you’ll have lots of work.”

“I hope so,” she says, nodding seriously. “I like work if part good. Make me feel… purpose. Yes? Purpose?”

“Yes,” says Luisa, who is struggling mightily with the same issue in her life. “Purpose.”

“Miyoshi and Owen ask me move here,” says Sakura, half-smiling and half-frowning. “I think if no part come for me, maybe I am your neighbor.”

“We would love that,” says Andrew, who makes no secret of his fondness for Sakura.

Two nights before she is to fly back to Japan, Sakura invites Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Miyoshi to join her for supper at a high-end Japanese restaurant, Sakura having arranged everything in advance with the chef.

Midway through the spectacular meal, saké warming their hearts and loosening their tongues, Owen announces they have signed an excellent distribution deal and Moon In Leo will open wide in England, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia in September of 2019, with a limited opening in America in October of 2019, with wider distribution should the film catch on.

“And our next movie,” says Owen, gazing fondly at Miyoshi, “is going to be something much less grandiose.”

“Much,” says Miyoshi, kissing him.

Now Sakura raises her cup of saké to Andrew and Luisa and says, “I hope we be friends for rest of life.”

“I hope so, too,” says Luisa, raising her cup to Sakura.

“We will be,” says Andrew, raising his cup and smiling at Sakura. “Without a doubt.”

“Without a doubt,” says Sakura, echoing Andrew precisely.

fin

Slender Sadness

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The Same Woman (Helen)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he has known forever, though he has never seen her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when Andrew was six-years-old, and it happened again in 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1987, 1993, 1998, 2002, and 2006.

2012. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both sixty-four, Andrew’s short brown hair mostly gray, Luisa’s long black hair showing strands of gray and white.

Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been married for twenty-five years and live in a four-bedroom house Andrew built thirty-six years ago a couple miles from the beach and ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Andrew has published eight collections of short stories and written several plays and screenplays with Luisa, six of them made into movies, with eight of their plays now staples of the worldwide theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories, a novella that was made into a movie, and two popular Children’s books.

Andrew’s son Owen is thirty and lives in Ireland with his wife Miyoshi, both of them employed by the movie producer and director Nicolas Thorsen. Owen is Thorsen’s First Assistant Director and Miyoshi is Thorsen’s cinematographer.

Luisa’s daughter Lily is also thirty. She and her daughter Jalecia, who is two-and-a-half, have lived with Andrew and Luisa since a few months before Jalecia was born, though now it would be truer to say that Jalecia lives with Andrew and Luisa, and Lily comes to visit when she has a free week or two between acting gigs, which is not often these days.

And for the last four years, Andrew and Luisa have been two of the three parents of Teo and Rosa, delightful five-year-old fraternal twins Andrew fathered with Adriana who, when she conceived Teo and Rosa, was partners with a woman named Maru.

When Adriana and Maru asked Andrew to contribute his genes to make a baby with Adriana, the plan was for Andrew and Luisa to be uncle and aunt to the progeny while Maru and Adriana would be the parents. But when the twins were nine-months-old, shockingly, Maru fell in love with another woman and shortly thereafter Adriana moved with her babies from Maru’s house in Vancouver to the other house on Luisa and Andrew’s property.

Now that Teo and Rosa are in kindergarten, and given Andrew and Luisa’s willingness to shoulder much of the parenting duties, Adriana has returned to fulltime work as a jazzercise instructor and percussionist. And for the summer months, Andrew and Luisa are the primary every-day parents of Rosa and Teo.

On a warm and sunny morning in July—Lily in New York playing the part of a psychic policewoman in a big budget thriller, Adriana booked all day at the recording studio, and Luisa needing a morning sans children to catch up on business correspondence—Andrew loads the trusty red Prius with beach supplies, secures the three children in their car seats, and drives them to nearby Lions Bay Beach for a morning of playing in the sand followed by lunch, a nap for Jalecia, and story time for Teo and Rosa until Jalecia wakes up.

There are only a few other people on the beach today as Andrew and Teo and Rosa and Jalecia trek across the sand to set up camp under their big yellow beach umbrella a hundred feet back from the incoming waves.

Umbrella planted deep, Andrew slathers the trio with sunblock and reminds Teo and Rosa not to go into the water over their knees unless he is right there with them. When everyone is sufficiently slathered, Teo and Rosa race to the water with Jalecia in pursuit and Andrew close behind.

After building three mighty sand castles to defend the coast against monsters and pirates, they toss Frisbees for twenty minutes, walk a mile south and back, and hunker down under the umbrella to have lunch.

And at the height of their picnic, an attractive middle-aged woman with shoulder-length gray hair dressed in khaki shorts and blue sweatshirt, expensive camera in hand, approaches their encampment, takes off her dark glasses, and says with a pleasing British accent, “Would you mind if I took some pictures of your children? They are my dream come true.”

“Do you mind having your pictures taken?” asks Andrew, consulting the kids who are engrossed in their almond butter and banana sandwiches.

“I don’t mind,” says Rosa, her recent growth spurt making her a few inches taller than Teo, much to Teo’s chagrin, both of them tall for five.

“I’ll show you my muscles,” says Teo, his mouth full. “After story time.”

“Wonderful,” says the woman, taking pictures of Jalecia who is about to fall asleep as she always does after chasing Teo and Rosa around for a few hours.

“Join us for cookies and lemonade?” asks Andrew, who feels certain he knows this woman from somewhere.

“Love to,” she says, coming under the umbrella and kneeling a few feet from Andrew. “I’ve seen you and your children here many times, often in the company of a beautiful woman with long black hair. We’re renting a house, my daughter and I, just a half-mile north of here and I walk this beach every day.”

“Half-mile north?” says Andrew, looking in that direction. “In the little enclave of houses just back of the dunes? I ask because I helped build three of those forty years ago.”

“Yes, in the enclave,” she says, gazing intently at him. “Ours is the one with the observation tower accessed via the spiral staircase. My daughter and I call it the crow’s nest.”

“That was the last of the three houses we built there,” he says, recalling those difficult years when his initial success as a writer lasted but briefly and he returned to carpentry to support his first wife, Owen’s mother, and Owen. “Best of the three by far.”

“It’s a wonderful house,” she says, raising her camera to capture Teo and Rosa gazing solemnly at their father. “We’ve lived there for five months now, my daughter and I, and every day we marvel at where we are. We’re from London and plan to be here another year and a half.”

“Poppy?” says Teo, continuing to gaze solemnly at his father. “Can we go see the house you built?”

“Yeah, we’ll go by there,” he says, noting the children have finished their sandwiches. “Are we ready for cookies?”

“I want a cookie,” says Jalecia, her face and hands smeared with almond butter.

“First we wash,” says Andrew, extracting a washcloth from one of his bags, dousing it with a splash of water, and deftly wiping Jalecia’s face and hands. He douses a second washcloth and gives it to Teo who cursorily wipes his face before passing the washcloth to Rosa who takes a bit more care washing her face and hands before handing the towel back to Andrew.

Cookies dispensed, Jalecia takes a bite of hers and offers the rest to the woman. “Want my cookie? I tired.”

“Thank you,” says the woman, taking the cookie. “My name is Helen. What is your name?”

“Jalecia,” she says, yawning majestically.

And with that the little girl lies down and promptly falls asleep.

“Just like me every day at three,” says Helen, laughing merrily. “The requisite nap before tea.”

“I’m Andrew, by the way,” says Andrew, certain now he has never met her before, but feeling he knows her. “And this is Rosa and Teo.”

“He’s our father,” says Rosa, pointing at Andrew, “but he’s Jalecia’s grandfather.”

“That means I lose the bet,” says Helen, looking from Rosa to Andrew. “I guessed your were the father of all three, and my daughter guessed correctly.”

“To be explained further when young ears are distracted,” says Andrew, dispensing two more cookies to the twins.

“We know what that means,” says Teo, giving Andrew a disparaging look.

“Can we tell stories now?” asks Rosa, nodding expectantly.

“Such is our tradition,” says Andrew, smiling at Helen. “You’re welcome to stay, but I warn you the stories go on for a good long time.”

“Thank you, but I should go,” she says, handing him her card. “I so appreciate the opportunity to photograph your children, and should you want to show them the inside of the magnificent house you built, please give me a call.”

When the kids are asleep that night—Jalecia in her bedroom in the big house, Teo and Rosa in their bedroom in what the children call the little house, Adriana in the living room of the little house entertaining her current love interest, a Moroccan woman named Hadiya—Luisa googles Helen Lesser photographer and learns she is a photojournalist and fine art photographer, sixty-four, and has a forty-two-year-old daughter, Diana Isaverb, a poet and painter.

“I’d love to meet them,” says Luisa, coming into the living room. “Shall we invite them for supper?”

“I think maybe we should go look at the house first,” says Andrew, sprawled on the sofa, exhausted from his long day of taking care of the kids. “I know you’ll like Helen, but something tells me we might want to meet her daughter on their home turf before we have them over here.”

“Why?” asks Luisa, sitting down to rub Andrew’s feet. “You think Diana might be crazy?”

“No, not crazy,” says Andrew, yawning. “Just… there was something about the way Helen said my daughter that made me think Diana was a child and not an adult, though Google says she’s forty-two. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do,” says Luisa, wistfully. “I have a daughter who’s still a child at thirty and gave us Jalecia to raise because she doesn’t want to stop being a child.”

“We could put our foot down,” says Andrew, loving Luisa rubbing his feet. “Demand she spend more time here.”

Luisa laughs at the absurdity of demanding anything from Lily, and Andrew laughs with her.

Two days later, Andrew calls Helen to make a date to bring Luisa and the kids to see the house, Helen invites them for lunch a few days hence, Andrew accepts, and Helen says, “There’s something I need to tell you about my daughter Diana before you come. Is this a good time?”

“Yeah, fine,” says Andrew, going out on the deck overlooking the garden where Luisa and the children are picking snow peas and pulling carrots.

“I was a single mother and Diana my only child. She never knew her father. He was a charming Turk who seduced me when I was on holiday in France and I never saw him again.” She laughs self-consciously. “But that’s not the main thing I wanted to tell you.”

“Tell me as much as you like,” says Andrew, loving the cadence of her speech. “I have at least another five minutes before the kids come charging in from the garden.”

“Good,” she says, clearing her throat. “So… Diana and I were extremely close until she was eighteen and took up with a much older man I didn’t approve of. We quarreled and she left and didn’t speak to me again for thirteen years, though I was aware of her because she became a fairly well-known poet and artist, and then we got to be friends again when she was in her early thirties.”

“What prompted the reunion?”

“She came to a show of my photographs,” says Helen, opening a sliding glass door and going outside, the ocean roaring faintly in the background. “Then she called and said she liked the show and wondered if I would take the author photo for her next volume of poetry, and I did, and we got close again. And then six years ago she had a child, a boy named Nathan, and two years ago when Nathan was four…”

Andrew waits for Helen to stop crying.

“Sorry,” she says, clearing her throat again. “He died in a car crash and Diana had a breakdown from which she has largely recovered, but she’s still quite dependent on me. I tell you all this because I know meeting your children will be very emotional for her, in a good way, but if you would rather not come, I completely understand. She’s a lovely person, but still fragile, so…”

“We’d love to come,” says Andrew, wanting more than ever to visit them. “Was your daughter involved in the accident?”

“No. Her ex-husband was bringing Nathan home after having him for his one weekend a month and didn’t put Nathan in the car seat and…”

“Was her ex-husband killed, too?”

“Yes,” says Helen, whispering. “I don’t think Diana would ever have recovered if that horrid man was still alive and Nathan gone.”

Having been warned multiple times by Luisa not to touch anything without first asking permission, Teo and Rosa climb out of the car and gaze in wonder at the spectacular two-story house with a fanciful observation tower rising ten feet above the peak of the roof, the ocean’s roar muted by massive sand dunes to the west of the house.

“It’s like a castle,” says Teo, running ahead of everyone to ring the doorbell—Rosa and Jalecia and Luisa and Andrew catching up to him just as the door opens and here is Helen in a blue paisley dress, and Diana, a strikingly beautiful woman with dark olive skin and black hair in a short ponytail, wearing red pedal pushers and a black T-shirt.

“Welcome,” says Helen, beaming. “You must be Luisa. This is my daughter Diana.”

“Hi,” says Diana, her eyes darting from child to child. “Come in, come in. We just took the bread and cookies out of the oven.”

Teo follows Diana and Helen into the house and stops abruptly to gawk at the immense room with a vaulted ceiling and huge windows looking out on the dunes.

You built this, Poppy?” he says, gaping at his father.

“I did,” says Andrew, entering with Jalecia holding his hand. “With Max and Rico.”

“You built a temple,” says Diana, smiling shyly at Andrew. “For those who worship the dunes.”

They dine on the big deck outside the kitchen, Diana sitting between Rosa and Luisa, Jalecia on Luisa’s lap, Teo across the table from Diana.

Helen serves lunch and explains, “I’m finally taking my sabbatical after twenty years of teaching Photography at Westminster College. We’ve wanted to come back here for thirty years, ever since Diana came with me on an assignment to take pictures of the orcas for a nature magazine and we stayed in a beach house near Nanaimo for a few days.”

“I was twelve,” says Diana, watching Teo happily devour his chicken sandwich. “But I never forgot the wonderful time we had here.”

A moment later, Luisa transfers Jalecia from her lap to Diana’s lap, and the little girl stays with Diana for the rest of the meal, Diana overjoyed to be holding her.

After lunch everyone goes up the spiral staircase to the observation tower where Rosa and Teo take turns looking through the telescope and complaining the other is hogging the telescope, and from there the party moves outside and everyone climbs to the top of the dunes from where Teo and Rosa race down to the seaside bottom and trudge back up to the top three times, Jalecia watching from her perch on Poppy’s shoulders and Helen taking pictures of the kids while Luisa and Diana return to the house to set the table for tea and cookies.

“You’ve made us very happy today,” says Helen, as she and Andrew trail Teo and Rosa and Jalecia to the house. “Thank you so much for coming.”

“Our pleasure,” says Andrew, taking her hand. “Let’s do this again soon.”

“We would love that,” she says, bowing her head and weeping.

“You’ve had a hard go,” says Andrew, resisting his impulse to embrace her. “It’s good to cry.”

“Oh we cry every day,” she says, looking up at him, her face radiant. “We flood the temple with our tears.”

After tea and cookies, Diana takes the kids to see her studio adjacent to the house, a large rectangular room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the dunes, two large tables in the center of the room, and seven large canvases hanging on the walls, none of them yet touched with paint.

When Andrew and Luisa and Helen arrive in the studio doorway, Rosa rushes over to them and says, “Guess what? We’re going to draw and paint with Diana and make things with clay. Not today, but maybe soon.”

“I’m going to paint a gigantic spaceship,” says Teo, defiantly. “And make rockets out of clay for blowing up aliens.”

“What if the aliens are friendly?” asks Andrew, sounding concerned.

“Then we’ll invite them for lunch,” says Teo, frowning thoughtfully. “Once we find out what they like to eat.”

For the rest of the summer, every Tuesday and Thursday morning after breakfast, Andrew or Luisa drops Teo and Rosa and Jalecia off at Helen and Diana’s house to make art and play on the beach, followed by lunch, and then Andrew or Luisa picks the kids up and brings them home.

When kindergarten resumes in September, Teo and Rosa and Jalecia spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with Diana and Helen and sometimes stay for supper, sometimes not.

For Andrew and Luisa these hours without the children are golden hours of writing and music making and interacting with other adults and lolling around.

For the children, these hours with Diana and Helen are golden hours of drawing and painting and making things out of clay and playing on the beach and eating sugary things forbidden at home and being adored by the wonderful Helen and Diana.

For Helen these hours with the children are golden hours of taking pictures of the kids and reading stories to them and feeding them and being the grandmother she loves to be.

For Diana, these hours with the children are her salvation.

Once or twice a week, Helen and Diana come to Andrew and Luisa’s for supper, and when the kids have gone to bed, the adults gather in the living room to talk.

On a stormy evening in October, the kids fast asleep, Andrew and Luisa and Helen and Diana sit by the fire enjoying tea and pumpkin pie.

“Hard to believe,” says Helen, gazing into the flames, “that a year from now I’ll be in London again, teaching Photography and wishing I was here.”

“But you’ll be staying, won’t you?” asks Luisa, looking at Diana with whom she has grown very close.

“I don’t know,” says Diana, anguished. “I love it here so much, but I can’t imagine staying without Mum, so I might go back, too.”

“Or you could stay here and I’ll be back in the summer,” says Helen, smiling bravely. “But lets not think about it now. We have all winter and spring and summer again before I have to go.”

“You know, of course,” says Andrew, sounding very serious, “that you’ll have to take the kids with you.”

“They much prefer you to us,” says Luisa, sipping her tea. “They tell us every day.”

“At least twice,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Because we spoil them,” says Diana, smiling sublimely. “Because we give them candy and chocolate and aren’t the ones who make them go to bed before they want to. Because we are doting Aunty and Grandma and not Mama and Poppy.”

“We love that you spoil them,” says Luisa, getting up to put another log on the fire. “We are too overwhelmed to spoil them, and their mother… as much as we love Adriana, is like my daughter Lily and prefers her children in small doses and not all day every day.”

The humans fall silent, rain drumming on the roof.

“I’ve started writing again,” says Diana, glancing shyly at Andrew and Luisa. “First time in… three years.”

“That’s exciting,” says Luisa, resuming her place on the sofa beside Diana. “We could have a reading. Andrew just finished the rough of a new story and if we set a date he’ll feel compelled to rewrite it. You could read some poems, I could read a story, and Helen could give a slide show.”

“When you say a reading,” says Diana, anxiously, “you mean…”

“A few friends here in the living room,” says Andrew, reassuringly. “We’re introverts. Quite the opposite of our children, the older ones and the younger ones, but we do like reading for our friends.”

“Speaking of slide shows,” says Helen, pausing momentously, “I showed my publisher some of the pictures I’ve taken of Teo and Rosa and Jalecia, and they absolutely love them. So what we’re thinking, with your permission, is to make a book of photos of the kids accompanied by Diana’s poems.”

“Assuming I haven’t lost the knack,” says Diana, feeling a sudden resurgence of doubt.

“I’m sure you haven’t,” says Luisa, matter-of-factly.

“I’m sure, too,” says Andrew, nodding in agreement.

“Why are you both so sure?” asks Diana, on the verge of tears.

“Everything about you makes us sure,” says Luisa, smiling at her.

“You speak in poems, Diana,” says Andrew, raising his cup to her. “You are the knack.”

As often happens when Andrew and Luisa decide to have a party, a few friends quickly becomes more than a few, and on a cold clear night in December, forty people crowd into the living room for hors d’oeuvres and wine and beer as prelude to the show.

Andrew and Luisa open with a song, Andrew reads a funny story about a sour old man sweetened by the coming of a cat into his life, and Luisa reads a story about fishing with her grandmother when she was a girl and how her grandmother tried to teach her the facts of life by describing how pike procreate.

And lastly Diana reads a lovely narrative poem that begins with the first time she saw Teo and Rosa and Jalecia on the beach with Andrew, and ends with her arriving at Andrew and Luisa’s house to read the poem to those who are here, the body of the poem telling how making art with the children has empowered her to release the spirit of her son from the prison of her grief.

Six months later, in June of 2013, Adriana informs Luisa and Andrew she is moving to Spain with her partner Hadiya and will take Teo and Rosa with her unless Andrew and Luisa want the kids to stay with them.

Andrew and Luisa insist the kids stay with them, and in mid-July, Adriana flies away, after which Teo and Rosa move permanently into the big house.

And while Andrew makes needed repairs to the little house before they have the interior repainted, Luisa informs several friends that she and Andrew are looking for someone wonderful to live in the little house and help with cooking and cleaning and shopping and taking care of the children.

Two weeks after Adriana flies away, Andrew goes to pick up the kids at Helen and Diana’s and finds Diana waiting for him in the driveway.

“Feels like I’ve been out here for hours waiting for you,” she says, laughing anxiously. “The watched pot and all that, only in this case I watched the road.”

“What’s going on?” he asks urgently. “Kids okay?”

“Yeah, there fine. They’re with Mum in the kitchen.” She fights her tears. “I want to live in the little house, Andrew, and help take care of the kids.”

“We thought you were going back to England with Helen,” he says, opening his arms to her. “That’s the only reason we didn’t ask you.”

“If I can live with you and Luisa and the kids,” she says, stepping into his embrace, “then I won’t need to go back. It was living alone I was afraid of.”

Helen stays with Diana in the little house for the last week of August before she flies back to London, and during that week she takes another thousand pictures of the children.

On the beach the day before she is to leave, Helen stands with Andrew watching the kids playing in the shallows.

“I will miss the children,” says Helen, raising her camera to capture Rosa holding Jalecia’s hand as a gentle wave breaks against their bodies—Teo much further out than the girls, the water above his waist. “But I will miss you most of all.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” he says, keeping his eyes on the children. “Very much.”

“I’m glad to know you’ll miss me,” she says, lowering her camera to gaze at him. “Having missed you all my life.”

“You mean someone like me?” he asks, looking at her.

“No,” she says, raising her camera and taking picture after picture of his face. “Specifically you.”

 fin

One Last Time

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The Same Woman (Maru)

Now and then over the course of his life, Andrew encounters a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, second time 1962, third time 1966, fourth time 1970, fifth time 1978, sixth time 1987, seventh time 1993, eighth time 1998, and the ninth time in 2002.

July 2006. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-eight, Andrew an attractive man descended from Ashkenazi Jews, his brown hair cut short, Luisa a beautiful woman with long black hair, her mother Quebecois and Chippewa, her father Afro-Cuban.

Writers and musicians, Andrew and Luisa have been married for nineteen years and live in a lovely house Andrew built thirty years ago near Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty-four, Lily an actress living part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in New York, Owen the new Drama teacher at a private high school in Vancouver.

Andrew has published six collections of short stories and written several plays, one of them made into a movie, four of them now staples of the small theatre repertoire. Luisa has published two collections of short stories and a novella that was made into a movie, and together she and Andrew have written two original screenplays that were made into movies. And though they are not wealthy from their writing, they are in good shape financially and continue to be of interest to publishers and theatre companies in Canada and England.

For the last four years, along with their writing, they have been composing songs and occasionally performing as a duo in various Vancouver venues, mostly living rooms and pubs, both of them guitarists and singers.

But the biggest news in their life right now is Owen being home after six years away. He is currently living in the other house on their property, a small two-bedroom place that was originally a dance studio Andrew built for his first wife Kiki with whom he had Owen.

Owen graduated from Julliard in Drama three years ago with great hopes of succeeding as an actor, though not in the way Lily has succeeded with roles in movies and television shows. No, Owen hoped to become a darling of the avant-garde theatre movement, and to that end he moved to Berlin with his girlfriend Sophie who graduated from Julliard with him.

To Owen and Sophie’s dismay, after two years of scouring the theatre scenes in Berlin, Amsterdam, and London, they found nothing remotely kin to the avant-garde theatre they had studied so passionately at Julliard. And when Sophie landed the part of a goofball cutie pie in a German television sit-com imitating an American sit-com, Owen and she parted ways and Owen moved back to New York where he failed to land a part, avant-garde or otherwise.

Tired of working as a bartender sixty hours a week to pay the rent on a sofa in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with three other people, Owen returned to Vancouver where Dessie, his friend since childhood, is the music teacher at New Foundations, a private high school, and touted Owen for the Drama teaching job there.   

A star among his Drama peers while at Julliard, and having lived for three years in Berlin and Amsterdam and London and Manhattan associating with theatre people and playing his clarinet in ensembles with other accomplished musicians, Owen is by turns angry and depressed about living with his parents again and preparing to spend at least the next two years instructing teenagers in the dramatic arts.

Andrew and Luisa have mixed feeling about Owen living with them again. On the one hand, he’s one of their favorite people in the whole world and they missed having him around. On the other hand, they want him to be happy, and he is definitely not happy being home and becoming a high school Drama teacher, something he and many of his fellow actors at Julliard considered the ultimate failure, especially if one fell so low before late middle age.

Hoping to engage Owen in something other than moping around and reluctantly designing his Drama program for the upcoming year, Andrew and Luisa decide to invite him to perform with them at their next gig, a living room concert at the home of Cal and Terry who live a mile away and have known Owen since he was in utero.

So on a sunny morning in July, Andrew cooking an omelet for the three of them, Luisa making toast and hash browns, Owen sitting at the table drinking coffee and perusing the New York Times, Luisa invites Owen to perform with them at their upcoming show at Cal and Terry’s.

“You know what I’d rather do?” says Owen, looking up from his perusal of the Theatre section.

“What?” asks Luisa, bringing the coffee pot to the table and refreshing Owen’s cup.

“Have a wooden stake driven through my heart,” he says, giving her a blank-faced look. “You could take turns wielding the mallet.”

“Was that a No?” asks Luisa, looking at Andrew who is just now pouring the beaten eggs into a sauté of zucchini and mushrooms. “Sounded like a no, didn’t it?”

“Definitely no-ish,” says Andrew, turning his attention to grating the cheese. “Though one never knows for certain when the reply is metaphoric.”

Owen puts down the paper and smiles falsely at his father. “I don’t mean to imply your music isn’t just the thing if one likes earnestly rendered tunes reminiscent of the simplistic folk music of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, I applaud you two for strumming your guitars and singing your cute old-fashioned songs for your friends. But I’m having a hard enough time adjusting to being back here and preparing to do something I vowed I would never do. Thus to stand with you in Cal and Terry’s living room noodling on my clarinet while you play chord progressions that make my teeth ache would be the last straw and I would then swim out into the ocean and drown. Does that clarify the meaning of my stake-through-the-heart metaphor?”

“It does,” says Andrew, abashed. “I’m sorry, O.”

“Well I’m not sorry,” says Luisa, glaring at Owen. “You’ve been home for two months, and a month from now you start your job at New Foundations, which, by the way, you are incredibly fortunate to have. As you are incredibly fortunate to have a house to live in and food to eat.” She takes off her apron, starts to leave the kitchen, stops, turns to Owen and adds, “The young man who left here six years ago was kind and thoughtful and resourceful and a joy to live with. The petulant little boy who came back is a self-centered, elitist, unimaginative, thankless pain in the ass.”

Having spoken her truth, she storms out of the kitchen.

“She’s right,” says Owen, looking at his father. “I’m a thankless shit.”

“You’re nothing of the kind,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “You’re having a tough time. And you’ll get through this with a new understanding of what you want to do with your life, teeth-aching chord progressions notwithstanding.”

“I didn’t mean that,” says Owen, getting up and going out the open door. “I love your music.”

Alone with his omelet, Andrew recalls the day Kiki said she wanted a divorce and was moving to Los Angeles and giving Andrew full custody of Owen, and how four-year-old Owen would shake his head and say No whenever Andrew tried to explain about Kiki leaving, until finally Andrew stopped trying to explain and a year later Owen came to him and said, “I know why Kiki left.”

“Why?” asked Andrew, gazing at his beloved child.

“Because she found out Luisa was actually my mother,” said Owen, nodding solemnly. “So she knew she better go away and never come back.”

Owen brings Luisa a bouquet of roses that afternoon, and while she stands at the kitchen counter arranging the roses in a vase, Owen thanks her for waking him up.

“I don’t remember exactly when it was I turned into the kind of person I’ve always hated,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table. “A closed-minded, self-centered, holier-than-thou cultural snob, but I did, and that’s probably why I failed as an actor. Because directors could see I was a phony.”

“Sweetheart, you haven’t failed,” she says, setting the vase of roses on the table and sitting beside him. “You’re on a journey. I know that’s a cliché and probably makes your teeth ache, but you are. We all are. And sometimes we find ourselves in a situation we can’t see our way out of and we have to make the best of things until we do see a way out or we discover that what we thought was the wrong direction turns out to be the way we needed to go, if I may mix my similes or whatever they are.”

Owen nods. “My favorite teacher at Julliard, Sig Perlman, used to say if we communicate in any way to the audience that we know what the other characters in the scene are going to say, the scene will fail. And he’s right. Good actors play every moment as if they have no idea what might happen next.”  

At supper’s end a week after Owen and Luisa reconcile, Owen asks his parents if they would be up for hosting a small dinner party, the guests to include his friend Dessie, who got him the teaching job at New Foundations, Dessie’s husband Jonah, a bass player and software engineer, and Maru Stein, the founder and executive director of New Foundations.

“Maybe Cal and Terry, too?” says Owen, having done a complete about-face since Luisa deftly smacked him with the bamboo cane of her honesty. “And anyone else you’d like to invite. Maybe a theatre person or two.”

“Salmon on the barbecue,” says Andrew, who is now helping Owen design the Drama program to be unveiled at New Foundations in September. “Corn on the cob.”

“A fabulous garden salad,” says Luisa, who loves to cook. “And for appetizers, mini-falafels with cashew butter lime sauce and hummus and guacamole.”

“I’ll take that as a Yes,” says Owen, getting up to clear the table so they won’t see him crying, but they do.

The afternoon warm and humid, Andrew is out on the big south-facing deck tending the barbecue—salmon steaks and corn-on-the-cob—when Owen emerges from the house with Maru Stein.

Andrew’s first impression of Maru from twenty feet away is that she is a giantess emanating a brilliant golden light, but as she and Owen cross the deck to him, she shrinks to Andrew’s size and appears to be a lovely woman in her fifties with reddish brown hair cut in a boyish bob, her eyes dark blue. She is wearing a sleeveless magenta shirt, blue jeans, and hiking sandals, her arms muscular, a tattoo of a small red rose on her right arm just below her shoulder.

She shakes Andrew’s hand with a pleasingly strong grip and says with a slight German accent, “A great pleasure to meet you. I have been reading your stories since they first appeared in The Blitz those many years ago, and I must tell you my daughter fell in love with the theatre because of your plays.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, wanting to blurt I love you. “Where is your daughter now?”

“She’s in England, in Oxford, the artistic director of a small theatre company. They’ve done all your plays, most of them more than once.” Maru’s eyes widen as she senses Andrew’s attraction to her. “When I told her I was going to meet you she said to tell you she can’t wait to read your next play. Do you have one in the works?”

“No,” says Andrew, suddenly aware of how close the salmon is to perfection. “To be continued. I must tend the salmon lest I overcook.”

“A rare skill,” says Maru, winking at him as she moves away with Owen to meet Luisa. “Cooking salmon just so.”

Mosquitoes ferocious at dusk, the humans move inside for supper, ten of them around the big dining table: Luisa, Andrew, Maru, Owen, Dessie, Jonah, Cal, Terry, Electra Wickersham, and Mark Kane.

Electra is an actress Andrew has known for thirty-four years. Short and buxom with a gravelly voice, she played the droll sister of the main character in the world premiere of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, a play based on two of Andrew’s short stories—Andrew’s first adventure in the theatre world of Vancouver thirty-four years ago.

Mark Kane, a stylish dresser in his sixties with a silvery gray pompadour, wrote Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise and got it produced at the Kleindorf Theatre where he was and still is the stage manager. Following the success of Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise, Mark adapted two more of Andrew’s stories for the stage, but that play lacked sufficient oomph to get beyond a staged reading and Mark has never written anything else, though he loves to talk about what he might write one day.

At the height of the feast, the salmon cooked to perfection, the corn sweet and tender, much good wine consumed, Cal, a professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser, asks Maru what inspired her to found what has become one of the most prestigious high schools in Canada.

“My children,” she says, nodding. “Public high school was a disaster for both my son and daughter. Before high school they were excellent students and eager to play music and make art and build things, you know, and then they were totally shut down by the idiocy of the public high school system, so I got them out of there and homeschooled them. I would have sent them to the Waldorf High School, but lacked the funds, and when they went off to college I thought why not create an alternative school with excellent teachers and get the corporations to fund it so we could give scholarships to low income people, and those who could afford the tuition would gladly pay to give their children an extraordinary experience rather than put them through a system designed to crush their spirits.”

“Well I can attest to the efficacy of your school,” says Cal, raising his glass to her. “I’ve had several of your former students in my classes and they were head and shoulders above most of the other students.”

“I’m very glad to hear that,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “Thank you for telling me.”

“And you will be teaching Drama there,” says Electra, looking at Owen who she’s known since he was a baby. “How exciting for you.”

“I’ll do my best,” he says, frowning and scratching his head. “If only I could remember what they taught me at Julliard. It’s all such a vague memory now.”

Mark and Electra and Cal and Terry and Dessie and Jonah and Maru all laugh, while Luisa and Andrew hold their breaths until Maru says, “Don’t worry, Owen. It will all come back to you in the heat of battle.”

“Be careful, Owen,” says Mark, who has been married three times to women much younger than he and is currently dating a woman forty years his junior. “All your students will fall in love with you, the tall, dark, and handsome Drama teacher just a few years older than they.” He looks at Maru. “How daring of you to hire one so young.”

“Young teachers are a vital ingredient in our system,” says Maru, aiming her words at Owen. “Because the kids don’t relate to the younger teachers as versions of their parents, but as slightly older friends who can help them with their struggle to become adults. And it is a great struggle for most of them because the last thing they want is to turn into their parents, and without someone like Owen to emulate they see no alternative but to rebel or withdraw into their shells.”

Crawling into bed at midnight, Luisa says to Andrew, “What a great mentor Maru will be for Owen.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, closing his eyes and seeing Maru gazing at him. “She’s a powerhouse.”

“She’s one of your special women, isn’t she?” says Luisa, embracing him. “Couldn’t keep your eyes off her, could you?”

“Is she one of your special women, too?” he says, growing aroused.

“Of course,” she says, kissing him.

In late August, a few days before Owen will make his debut as a high school Drama teacher, Andrew and Luisa and Owen throw another party, this one a big potluck attended by several New Foundations teachers, lots of actors and musicians and theatre people, and several neighbors.

Maru arrives at the height of the party with her partner Adriana, a stunning Brazilian woman in her thirties who is the Dance and Percussion teacher at New Foundations. Owen was unaware that Maru and Adriana were in a relationship and so did not convey this information to his parents. Andrew and Luisa are both surprised Maru made no mention at their last party of having a partner, and Luisa is not surprised Maru’s partner is a woman.

Andrew is dizzied by the conflicting emotions arising in him—jealousy and relief and sorrow and happiness—when Maru introduces him to Adriana, an exquisite mix of Afro-Brazilian and Latino.

“I am so glad to meet you,” says Adriana with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever. “I devour your stories and we watch your movies and now I feel like I meet a god.”

“As do I,” says Andrew, looking from Adriana to Maru and back to Adriana. “Goddesses.”

Adriana and Maru exchange mysterious smiles, Owen and Dessie come to greet Maru and Adriana, and Andrew turns his attention to the barbecue on which many foodstuffs are approaching doneness.

He is glad for the distraction of the salmon steaks, chicken thighs, slabs of zucchini, potatoes, ears of corn, hamburgers, sausages, and various shish kebabs because they keep him from gawking at Maru and longing to embrace her.

Why am I so ferociously attracted to her? he wonders as he looks down at the various sizzling things. Must have something to do with how open she is to me and how open I am to her. Only it’s more than that. It’s as if we are two parts of one being separated long ago, which is how I felt when I met Luisa, our attraction to each other a desire to be whole again.

“Honey,” says Luisa, putting her arm around Andrew. “I don’t want to tell you how to cook, because you’re a wonderful cook, but I think most of what’s on the grill now is done. Yeah?”

“Yes,” says Andrew, realizing he hasn’t been tending the foodstuffs at all, but standing at the barbecue appearing to be tending the foodstuffs while off in the clouds imagining becoming one with Maru.

Andrew joins Cal and Terry and Electra at one of the many tables arrayed on the deck, his plate heaped high, a cold beer just opened, and as he settles into easy banter with his tablemates, Maru and Adriana arrive and ask if there’s room for them at the table, room is made, Adriana sits between Electra and Cal on one side of the table and Maru sits next to Andrew on the other, her shoulder touching his, and Andrew is filled with a divine sense of completeness, a feeling, to paraphrase Stevie Wonder, of being exactly where God wanted him to be placed.

“Here we are together again,” says Maru, speaking quietly as she gently bumps Andrew’s shoulder with hers. “How are you?”

“Good,” he says, no longer afraid of how he feels about her. “You?”

“A bit preoccupied,” she says in a way he takes to mean she’s been preoccupied with him, “but otherwise excited about school starting next week.” She takes a deep breath. “Owen tells me you’ve been helping him with his course design. I love what you two have cooked up.”

“Well I got my undergraduate degree in Drama,” says Andrew, recalling those long ago days in California, “and I was hoping to get into Yale and leap from there to the professional stage, but instead I moved to Canada and became a carpenter and a writer. And now I’m sitting with you at the zenith of my life.”

“I know what you mean,” she says, watching Adriana listen intently to Electra talk about the current revival of Ah Wilderness. “This is definitely a peak experience for me, being with you.”

Supper is followed by pie and coffee and tea in the living room, and when everyone is settled somewhere, Luisa and Andrew enter with guitars, Owen with clarinet, and they launch into a lively instrumental Owen recently composed called My Teeth Ain’t Aching No More full of surprising chord changes to which Owen blissfully improvises.

They follow the instrumental with Luisa singing a love ballad she and Andrew wrote called The Thing Of It Is, Owen adding tasteful harmonies to Luisa’s fine contralto.

And lastly Andrew and Luisa sing a song they wrote called So Far So Good about a couple who keep being pleasantly surprised that no matter how old they get they don’t lose the knack for loving each other, the song ending with a stirring clarinet solo that brings the house down.

The day after the party, recalling the moment he and Maru sat beside each other and shared the feeling of being exactly where God wanted them to be placed, Andrew puts pen to paper and out flows the first scene of a play he will write over the next few weeks called Time and Again.

The play is about a man and a woman roughly the same age who meet eight times over the course of their lives, and whenever they meet—on a playground, at the beach, at a party, in a park, in the foyer of a theatre, on a bus, on the street—they are entranced with each other, yet always discover one of them is involved with someone else.

Each scene ends with the man and woman parting ways without making arrangements to stay in touch, save for the last scene in which they are elderly and meet at a neighborhood café. Over coffee and biscotti, they discover they live just around the corner from each other and are both free to unite.

When Andrew finishes the first draft, he gives the play to Luisa and she reads it in a single sitting.

She finds him on his knees in the garden thinning baby chard plants.

“It’s fantastic, A. I think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written.” She smiles down at him. “Do you… will you want me to work on this with you?”

“Always,” he says, looking up at her.

“I wasn’t sure,” she says shyly. “You… we haven’t written a new play in a long time and I didn’t know if you still wanted to do our usual back and forth.”

“Of course I do,” he says, getting up and embracing her. “I’m always just cruising on the surface until you and I run the lines and find out what really wants to be said.”

“Oh, good,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief. “I think this will make a wonderful movie, too.”

“When we’re further along we’ll show it to Nick,” he says, referring to Nicolas Thorsen, the filmmaker who made their previous movies.

“You amaze me,” she says, looking into his eyes. “Just when I thought we might never write another play, you come out with this heartbreaker.”

“Is it sad?”

“Oh my God, yes,” she says, her eyes full of tears. “The sadness of missing their chance to be together over and over again when they’re so right for each other. It’s hilarious, too, and I’m so glad they get together at the end, but… I couldn’t help wishing they’d taken one of those earlier chances.”

“But maybe they weren’t ready for each other until the last scene,” he says, walking to the house with her. “Maybe the promise was not to be fulfilled until they learned whatever they needed to learn along the way.”

“Maybe so,” she says, taking his hand. “But I’ll bet lots of people who see this play will be emboldened to take a chance if they ever get one again.”

A month after school starts, Owen implores Andrew to help him cast and produce the first play of the year, a sappy television sit-com masquerading as a play he inherited from the previous Drama teacher called Don’t You Wish?

Knowing how overwhelmed Owen is by his daily teaching load, Andrew agrees to lend him a hand with the play and enlists Electra and Luisa to join them for three afternoons of auditions. Once the play is cast, Andrew shows up at the New Foundations multi-purpose room every weekday at 3:30 to assist Owen in managing the cast of fourteen and the especially rowdy crew of twenty-two.

Now and then Maru stops by to watch Owen directing the kids and to sit with Andrew and watch the play take shape.

Don’t You Wish? is such a big hit, the initial two-night run is extended to a second weekend with a Sunday matinee, the four hundred seats sold out for all five performances.

Fortunately for Andrew and Owen, no one blows the whistle on them for their extensive rewriting of the dialogue, the three entirely new scenes they wrote to replace those they found ruinous, and the new and completely different ending they invented—their creative tampering bringing them closer together than they’ve ever been.  

The winter play at New Foundations is A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of (seemingly) thousands. Electra and Andrew and Luisa help again with the auditions, and this time both Luisa and Andrew assist Owen with the many afternoon rehearsals, which in the beginning resemble riots and eventually, miraculously, result in three acceptable performances.

Andrew and Owen severely edit The Bard to bring the running time down to ninety minutes so they can include three hip hop songs composed and performed by teenagers in togas and accompanied by energetic ensemble dancing choreographed by Adriana.

And finally comes the spring musical, Guys & Dolls, with Dessie conducting the student orchestra and coaching the singers, Adriana choreographing the numerous dance numbers, Andrew and Luisa again assisting Owen.

Dress rehearsal and Performance #1 are epic disasters, Performance #2 begins promisingly but quickly devolves into chaos, Performance #3 has a few startling moments of cohesion but is otherwise another catastrophe, and Performance #4, with only a few dozen people in the audience, is a stirring triumph from start to finish.

Summer cannot come soon enough for Owen and Andrew and Luisa, and when school finally adjourns in early June, Owen does nothing for a week but sleep and mope around while Andrew and Luisa fly to Montreal to attend five staged readings of their play Time and Again. The cast is stellar, several play directors from Canada and England and Australia come to hear the play, the audiences rave, and Nick Thorsen, who sits in the first row for all five of the readings, offers a pittance for the screen rights, which Andrew and Luisa gleefully accept.

As June becomes July, Maru and Adriana invite Andrew and Luisa over for supper at their spectacular new house in one of Vancouver’s ritziest neighborhoods.

After supper they retire to the living room, Maru pours a rare Spanish peach brandy, and Adriana says with her Brazilian Portuguese accent Andrew could listen to forever, “I know this will come as surprise, but we want to have a child and for you, Andrew, to be the father.”

Luisa purses her lips and frowns.

Andrew clears his throat and says, “We are speaking of artificial insemination.”

“If you prefer,” says Adriana, who grew up something of a wild child in Brazil and has few of the scruples common to North Americans. “Or we could make the baby, as we say in Portuguese, naturalmente.”

“Um,” says Luisa, scrunching up her cheeks, “I would have a problem with that.”

“Then artificial,” says Adriana, nodding. “Or you don’t do anything if this seems too…” She looks at Maru. “How do you say it?”

“Much to ask?” guesses Maru. “Too much of an entanglement?”

“Too big a commitment?” says Luisa, looking at Andrew.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, searching for the right words, “I can’t imagine knowing I’m the father of a child and not wanting to be involved with the child in a big way. Do you know what I mean?”

“Oh we want you to be involved,” says Adriana, nodding emphatically. “We love you. That’s why we choose you for the father.”

“Well,” he says, looking from Adriana to Maru, “I’m flattered, of course, but… we weren’t planning to spend our late middle age and elder years raising a child. Spending time with our grandchildren, should that ever come to be, yes. But not… co-parenting.”

“You would not be co-parenting,” says Maru, shaking her head. “We will be the parents and you would be uncle and aunt. Or grandparents.” She shrugs pleasantly. “We don’t expect you to say Yes. But we love you both and we admire you and so we thought we’d ask. If not you, we know a few others we may ask, and if no one wants to do this with us, we will go with the unknown.”

“Have you thought about adopting?” asks Luisa, who certainly understands why they would want Andrew’s genes in the mix.

“I’m only going to have one child,” says Adriana, gazing at Luisa who has become her dear friend. “And then we see. Maybe we adopt, maybe we don’t. But I know I want one child who comes from me.”

“There’s nothing like it,” says Luisa, tears springing to her eyes as she thinks of her daughter Lily. “We’ll let you know soon.”

“Thank you,” says Adriana, taking Luisa’s hand. “We are honored you even consider doing this for us.”

At midnight, neither Andrew nor Luisa able to sleep, Andrew gets out of bed and says, “Chamomile tea?”

On their way to the kitchen, Luisa says, “Who am I to judge them? I made Lily with a man I slept with once, a man who never even knew he made a child with me, a man I didn’t even like.”

“It’s not about judging them,” says Andrew, turning on the kitchen light. “It’s about marrying them without any legal right to the child.”

“What do you mean?” says Luisa, filling the kettle. “Marrying them?”

“I mean what if five years from now Adriana leaves Maru and moves back to Brazil or her next partner turns out to be a psychopath and by then we’re in love with the child and powerless to intervene? I’d be devastated and so would you.”

“Adriana won’t partner with a psychopath,” says Luisa, waving the thought away. “But you’re right, in a way we would be marrying them and I don’t want to be married to anyone but you.”

“The fact is, we don’t want another child. If we’d wanted another child we would have had one or adopted one. But if we had a child with them and fell in love with her or him, which of course we would, then we’d want to be with the little pooper every day, which would mean being deeply involved with Maru and Adriana for the rest of our lives and I don’t think we want that. Do we?”

“Might be wonderful,” says Luisa, anguished. “I love them. And I’d love to see the child you’d make with Adriana. But something doesn’t feel right about this.”

“I agree,” he says, terribly upset. “It’s… emotional extortion.”

“No, it isn’t,” she says, annoyed with him. “They said they don’t expect us to say Yes. How is that extortion? What doesn’t feel right has nothing to do with them. It’s about what we want, and we don’t want this. Right?”

“I’d be seventy-eight when the child is twenty,” says Andrew, smiling at the thought of mixing his genes with Adriana. “I wonder what Owen and Lily would think if we did this.”

“Maybe that’s what doesn’t feel right,” says Luisa, making their tea. “Complicating our already complicated life.”

In the morning, they continue discussing the possibility of joining their lives with Adriana and Maru and the yet-to-be-born child, and the more they think out loud together, the more they warm to the idea.

“But I would only go into the little sperm-catching room,” says Andrew, putting his arms around Luisa, “if you came in with me and inspired my contribution. If you know what I mean.”

“Then it would be our gift and not just yours,” she says, surrendering to the momentum of creation.

A few days later, Andrew and Luisa go to tell Adriana and Maru they are willing, and Adriana and Maru burst into tears.

“We just now check my fluid,” says Adriana, embracing Luisa, “and right now I ovulate. So because it will take some days to arrange things at the clinic for Andrew to give his seed, we wait for my next time to try.”

“Why wait?” says Luisa, surprising herself and all of them, too. “Why not now? Naturalmente.”

“We would love that,” says Maru, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “A sacred tryst.”

And before Andrew’s rational mind can rise above the fervor of the moment, he and Adriana go to the bedroom and Luisa and Maru go out into the garden and sit together on the bench by the lily pond holding hands and praying—this ritual of procreation enacted again the next day and the next.

In December, during the Christmas holiday, Adriana five months pregnant, she and Maru come to Andrew and Luisa’s house to tell them they have just seen the ultra-sound of Adriana’s womb.

“It isn’t what we planned,” says Maru, her eyes sparkling with tears, “but we are happy to tell you we are going to have twins. Fraternal twins. A girl and a boy.”

That night Luisa dreams the boy is named Teo and the girl is named Rosa, and when the babies are born they are given those names.

fin

Wedding Song

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The Same Woman (Donna)

Every so often in his life, Andrew meets a woman he feels he already knows, though he has never met her before. The first time this happened was in 1955 when he was six-years-old, the second time in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, the seventh in 1993, the eighth in 1998.

2002. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both fifty-four and have been married for fifteen years. Successful writers of stories, plays, and screenplays, they live in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Their children Owen and Lily are both twenty now. Owen is studying Drama at Julliard and playing clarinet in a modern jazz quintet called Sentimento. Lily is a Psychology major at nearby Simon Fraser University and still lives at home, though her burgeoning career as a movie actress has greatly slowed her academic progress.

Six years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was made by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Thorsen who became Andrew and Luisa’s good friend. When Luisa’s autobiographical novella Rainy River was published four years ago, Nick bought the movie rights, Andrew and Luisa wrote the screenplay, Nick directed, Lily starred in the role of the young Luisa, and the movie was both a critical and financial success.

Since then, Nick has made two more movies from original screenplays by Andrew and Luisa, Low Overhead and Yum City. Low Overhead is a romantic comedy set in an anarchist bookstore in Toronto and Yum City is a dramedy revolving around the denizens of a Bohemian café in Montreal. Both films did well in Canada and England and Europe, but neither film did much business in America.

Now Andrew and Luisa are back to writing stories and plays and staying out of the limelight, which neither of them cares for. Lily, on the other hand, has had several movie and television roles since starring in Rainy River and is seriously considering moving to Los Angeles. And Owen recently announced he will either stay in Manhattan after he completes his studies at Julliard or move to Berlin with his German girlfriend Sophie who is also studying Drama at Julliard.

On a drizzly September morning a few days after Lily returns from five days in Burbank playing the part of a clairvoyant skateboarder in a television murder mystery, Andrew and Luisa and Lily are having breakfast together and Lily says, “You don’t want me to move to LA, do you Papa?”

“Of course not,” says Andrew, gazing forlornly at her. “I want you and Owen to live nearby for the rest of your lives. But I know that’s unreasonable, so if you want to move to LA, I give you my blessing.”

“It just makes so much sense right now,” says Lily, who has blossomed into a rare beauty, tall and slender with honey brown skin. “I don’t want to live there forever, but with the parts coming so fast now it seems like a smart thing to do.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says Luisa, who left home at sixteen. “And if you want to continue your studies, you can always transfer to a university in Los Angeles.”

“But I don’t want to make you sad, Papa.”

“Life is sad,” says Andrew, remembering how sad his mother was when he was twenty-one and told her he was moving from California to Canada, his mother who died two years ago just a few months after his father died. “I want you to live your life the way you want to. I’ll eventually adjust to you not being here and write you lots of letters.”

“And we can talk on the phone every day,” she says, her eyes full of tears.

“Is this move imminent?” he asks, having imagined her making the transition to Los Angeles over the next year or so.

“Soon,” she says, crying. “Next week.”

Andrew keeps up a brave countenance while Lily packs to go and when Lily’s friend Janelle arrives to drive with her to Los Angeles, but as their car grows small in the distance, Andrew breaks down.

When Andrew’s grieving continues unabated for several days, Luisa suggests he see a psychotherapist, which he does for a few weeks, but he gains no relief. The psychotherapist refers him to a psychiatrist who prescribes an anti-depressant Andrew doesn’t want to take.

Two months pass and Andrew remains deeply depressed. Desperate to help him, Luisa asks Andrew’s best friend Cal to encourage Andrew to give the anti-depressant a try.

Cal comes for a visit, he and Andrew chat for a while, and Cal says, “I think you should talk to our rabbi. I think she could help you. I really do. She’s very insightful, very kind, and I know you’ll like her.”

“Does she see people who aren’t in your shul?” asks Andrew, who is descended from Jews but never practiced the religion.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk with you. Shall I give her a call?”

“Yeah,” says Andrew, wearily. “That would be good. Thank you.”   

“Come in, come in,” says Donna, ushering Andrew into the spacious one-room studio adjacent to her house in a neighborhood of newish houses on the northern outskirts of Vancouver. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

“Cal brought me,” says Andrew, unable to decide where to sit. “I’m not driving right now. Wouldn’t dare.”

“You’re depressed,” she says, taking him by the arm and leading him to the sofa. “Sit down. Or lie down.”

He sits and faces her for the first time.

“Cal said I would like you,” he says, smiling painfully, “but he didn’t tell me you were gorgeous.”

“Stop it,” she says, her eyes widening in delight. “You came to solve your problems, not hit on the rabbi.”

“I wasn’t hitting on you,” he says, laughing for the first time in many months. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be so beautiful.”

“So now we know you like tall middle-aged redheads with big bosoms,” she says, her Los Angeles accent influenced by the Yiddish inflections in her parents’ speech. “I’ve seen pictures of you on your books, so I knew in advance you were handsome.”

“I feel better already,” he says, closing his eyes. “Not really.”

“No, you feel awful,” she says, sitting in a high-backed armchair, her red Hawaiian shirt featuring green and yellow parrots, her skirt long and black, her red hair in a braid. “Old demons have risen up and taken control of you.”

“Old demons?” he says, opening his eyes. “I’m sad about my children moving away, but I don’t think this is anything old. I’ve never been depressed like this before. Well… I had a little breakdown sixteen years ago when my first wife left me, but I wasn’t depressed, I was just very upset.”

“In my experience,” she says, watching him carefully, “a depression as severe as what you’re experiencing is almost always rooted in some old sorrow. Sometimes so old it began before you were born and was passed down to you. Was your mother depressed?”

“She worried a lot,” says Andrew, nodding. “And I guess, yeah, sometimes she was depressed. But who isn’t sometimes depressed? Introduce me, please?”

“I like it when your Jewish self comes through,” she says, smiling.

“Why is that good?” he asks, feeling certain he knows her from somewhere else.

“Because being Jewish is a big part of who you are. And I happen to think the more we inhabit our true self, if there is such a thing, the happier we will be.”

“I think we’ve met before,” he says, frowning. “Did you have a child at the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church in Squamish?”

“I have one child who grew up in Los Angeles,” says Donna, thinking of her daughter, a veterinarian in San Francisco. “And I’ve only been in Vancouver for nine years, so I know we didn’t meet at the Montessori.”

“I’m sure I know you,” he says, wondering if they might have been briefly involved in the days before his first marriage. “I just can’t remember how?”

“You know me and I know you,” she says, after looking at him for a long moment, “because we have what I call a soul bond. I’ve only had a few of these in my life, and I’m just being honest here, but if you weren’t happily married and I wasn’t happily married, we’d probably fall in love and have a relationship. Who knows if it would be any good or how long it would last, but we might have one. However, you are happily married and so am I, so why not use our special connection to get to the bottom of what’s haunting you.”

“Haunting,” he says, relaxing a little for the first time in eons. “And old demons. You think I’m possessed?”

“We’re all possessed by something,” she says, pleased to see him relaxing. “The ideal is to be possessed by thoughts and feelings that make us glad we’re alive, and not by visions of gloom and doom or thinking we’re not good enough.”

“I think I’m good enough,” he says, most definitely not feeling good enough.

“So what’s going on in your life right now?” she asks, handing him a glass of water. “Your children have moved out. What else?”

“Before Lily left we were writing, my wife and I, and enjoying being home and not being so crazy busy making movies and travelling all over the place, just, you know, working. Yeah, things were fine. And then Lily moved to Los Angeles and I just… gave up.”

“Gave up,” says Donna, considering Andrew’s choice of words. “What does that mean to you? Giving up?”

“It means I gave in to my sadness.”

“What else?”

Andrew wants to say stop striving but he’s afraid to say those words out loud.

“There’s not a right or wrong answer,” she says, aware of his reluctance to say what he’s feeling. “We’re just looking for clues.”

“Okay, well, giving up could mean… taking a break from writing. From…” He struggles. “Striving.”

“What do you think you’re striving for?” she asks, noticing how his chest barely moves as he breathes.

“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “Happiness?”

“Are you not happy?”

“Not right now,” he says, looking down. “Definitely not now.”

“When was the last time you can remember feeling happy?”

“Long time ago,” he says, his heart aching. “Not that I have any reason to be unhappy except for the kids being so far away.”

“What do you mean by a long time ago? Before you were depressed?”

“Oh long before that.”

“A year ago?”

He reacts as if someone slapped his face.

“What was that?”

“I think I know what this is.”

“Would you like to tell me?”

“I’ve been writing things I don’t want to write,” he says, afraid to look at her.

“Hmm,” she says, considering this. “I think maybe that’s a symptom and not the cause.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why have you been writing things you don’t want to write?”

He freezes. “Why do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she says, smiling at him. “That’s something we can delve into next time if you haven’t figured it out by then.”

“I’m better now,” he says, looking around the room as if a blindfold has just been removed from his eyes. “The fog is lifting a little.”

“Good,” she says, getting up from her chair and offering him a hand up. “I have homework for you.”

He takes her hand and she pulls him to his feet.

“What’s my homework?” he asks, the word homework making him laugh. “I really do feel better.”

“Every day until I see you again on Friday, four days from now,” she says, walking him to the door, “I want you to spend at least an hour naked in bed with your wife, not when you go to bed at night, but a separate time during the day.”

“Because?” he says, smiling curiously.

“Because I want you to,” she says, opening the door and stepping out into a light rain with him. “Just be naked with her and see what happens.”

That afternoon, after telling Luisa about his session with Donna, Andrew suggests they take off their clothes and get in bed together, and Luisa is happy to oblige.

After holding each other for several minutes, he kisses her and she returns his kiss and they make love for the first time in many months.

Preparing supper together, Luisa says, “I’d like to go see Donna. If you don’t mind.”

“I’d love you to,” he says, sensing his depression hovering nearby, waiting to take him over again.

The next morning after breakfast, Luisa makes some business calls and Andrew walks the mile to Cal’s house to pose the question: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

Cal, who is usually home on Tuesday mornings, has gone to deal with a crisis at the university where he is a professor, so Andrew chats with Cal’s wife Terry and they commiserate about their children living so far away, Terry and Cal’s daughter living in Hawaii, their son in England.

And while telling Terry about his session with Donna, Andrew asks the question he was going to pose to Cal: Why have I been writing things I don’t want to write?

“Why do we do anything?” says Terry, pressing down the plunger of her French Press. “Why did I become a photographer? Because I fell in love with taking pictures and then figured out a way to make a living from it.”

“But then you gave up photography,” says Andrew, thinking of his guitar and how he hasn’t played in years, though he used to love playing.

“Yeah, because I hated shooting weddings and taking pictures of people I didn’t know.” She serves him a cup of coffee. “I got into photography to take pictures of rivers and clouds and birds and insects and people I loved. And now I don’t even want to take a picture of my grandchild. If I even touch a camera now I feel physically ill.”

“I’m sorry, Terry,” he says, remembering her as a young woman so in love with taking pictures she brought her camera everywhere. “I had no idea.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” she says, adding cream to her coffee. “I’m just giving you my two bits. Why did you write things you didn’t want to write? Maybe you thought you had to, or you thought you wanted to and then you changed your mind but it was too late, or you needed to prove something, or you wanted to make a ton of money. What difference does it make? To me, the more important question is how do you want to live your life from now on?”

Andrew walks home lost in thought and finds a note from Luisa on the kitchen counter.

I called Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this afternoon. Me   

Waiting for Luisa to get home, Andrew decides to play his guitar, but on his way to get his old Gibson out of the closet he remembers he gave the guitar away to a friend of Lily’s right after the kids graduated from high school.

“Three years ago,” he says, noticing his writing notebook on his desk and wondering what he was working on when he stopped writing months ago.

He opens the notebook and the pages are blank save for a short paragraph on the first page, all the lines of the paragraph crossed out except the last line.

nothing that would do anybody any good

 ∆

Home from her session with Donna, Luisa comes out on the back deck and looks down at Andrew digging potatoes for supper.

“Nice spuds,” she says dreamily. “Cultivate here often?”

“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you like Donna?”

“I love her. She’s my favorite person in the whole world now, right after you.”

“Did she give you any homework?”

“Yes,” says Luisa, beckoning him to come inside. “I’m supposed to make sure you do yours.”

Friday morning, feeling well enough to drive, Andrew arrives at Donna’s a few minutes early and finds her picking tiny winter roses in her wildly overgrown garden.

“Good morning Andrew,” she says, smiling as he approaches. “How are you today?”

“Much better,” he says, wondering if she’d like him to tame her wild garden. “How are you?”

“I was so glad to meet Luisa,” she says, leading the way to her studio. “Such a sweetheart.”

“Yes, she is,” says Andrew, noting the crude way someone has hacked a passage through the overgrowth to the studio door. “By the way, I was a professional gardener in my storied youth and I would be happy to get your garden under control if you’d like me to.”

“First things first,” she says, opening the door. “First we get you out of your depression, then we’ll talk about taming my garden.”

Andrew sits cross-legged on the sofa and watches Donna arrange her roses in a green glass vase.

“So…” he says, smiling at her, “how was your week?”

“My week was variable,” she says, sitting in the armchair and crossing her legs. “Monday was good in large part because I got to work with you. Tuesday was a mixed bag, the high point meeting Luisa. Wednesday crises abounded and carried on into Thursday. And so far today things have been mostly quiet and now I’m meeting with you, so there’s at least a chance I won’t flee the country by the end of the day.” She raises an eyebrow. “And you?”

“I did my homework,” he says, his eyes sparkling, “and I pondered the question of why I spent the last few years writing things I didn’t want to write. And as I’m sure you expected, one question begot another and as of this morning the question has evolved into what would I be if I wasn’t a writer?

“That’s interesting,” she says, not sounding very interested, “but before we think about that one, I’d like to go back to the original question of why you spent three years writing things you didn’t want to write?”

“Oh,” says Andrew, deflated. “Here I thought I was being so clever getting to the bottom of things.”

“No offense, sweetheart, but I think you were avoiding getting to the bottom of things.”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, his limbs growing heavy again. “I guess I was.”

“Which is perfectly understandable because at the bottom of things is the cause of your terror.”

“Terror?” he says, squinting at her.

“Yes,” she says softly. “So first tell me what you wrote that you didn’t want to write.”

“Screenplays,” he says gruffly. “We wasted four years of our lives writing eighteen of those things. Three were made into movies and the other fifteen were crap and I hated writing them.”

“Did you ever not hate writing screenplays?”

“Oh in the beginning I loved it,” he says, remembering the thrill of working with Nick on Rainy River and Low Overhead and Yum City. “But then it was just this horrible grind, this… forced march to get those fucking things done, and I had never forced my writing before. Never.”

“You wrote those screenplays with Luisa.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, reacting to a sharp pain in his neck.

“So if you didn’t want to write those screenplays, why did you?”

“Because I wanted…” He hesitates. “Because we were successful with the first three, we thought…” He hesitates again.

“You started to say ‘Because I wanted’ and then you stopped yourself. What were you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” he mutters, looking away.

“Come on, Andrew,” she says gently. “Why did you keep writing those screenplays when the writing was no longer a spontaneous outpouring?”

“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at her.

“No,” says Donna, sensing how frightened he is. “But I’ve read your books and I’ve seen your plays and I’ve watched your movies, and they are all so full of truth and joy, I doubt very much you didn’t want to write them. So I’m guessing it’s the ones that came after those three you didn’t want to write, yet you wrote them anyway because you wanted…”

“A huge success,” he says before the muscles in his throat and chest and stomach and groin tighten violently. “So Luisa would never…” The pain is so intense he cannot speak.

“So Luisa would never what?” shouts Donna. “Say it, Andrew!”

“Leave me,” he cries. “Never leave me.”

And having confessed this to Donna, his terrible pain is washed away by a torrent of tears.

Seven months later, on a balmy evening in August, Andrew and Luisa have Cal and Terry and Donna and Donna’s husband Howard over for supper. They eat on the deck overlooking the garden—a gorgeous mackerel sky presaging rain.

Howard, a short balding man ten years older than Donna, tells the story of going to the airport nine years ago to pick up Donna, who was one of three finalists to replace Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein, the shul in danger of dissolution, only a few dozen diehards keeping the little ship afloat.

“By the time we got to her hotel,” says Howard, his accent distinctly Toronto Jewish, “I wanted to marry her. Not only is she beautiful, she’s funny. Instinctively funny. Have you noticed?”

“Were you similarly smitten?” asks Cal, who idolizes Donna and can’t imagine what she sees in Howard.

“I was too preoccupied with my interview that afternoon and my trial Torah reading the next day to fully appreciate Howard’s magnificence at our first meeting,” says Donna, smiling sweetly at her husband. “But I liked your car.”

Everyone laughs and Howard says, “This is what I’m talking about.”

“It’s her timing,” says Luisa, clinking her glass with Donna’s. “You have impeccable timing.”

“Leaven the bitter truth with humor,” says Donna, sipping her wine. “Else we will only know the bitterness.”

“That’s true,” says Howard, looking at Luisa. “So how did you two meet?”

“We each had a four-year old going to the Montessori kindergarten in the old Methodist church not far from here,” says Luisa, taking Andrew’s hand. “And after my daughter bothered me night and day to make a play date with Andrew’s son, I finally did, and Andrew and I fell in love. Then he divorced his wife and we got married.”

“You make it sound so simple,” says Andrew, recalling the terrible shock of his first wife leaving him, his nervous breakdown, his parents coming from California to save him, Luisa there to meet him when he emerged from his desolation.

“And how about you two?” asks Howard, looking at Cal and Terry.

“Terry and I met a couple days after Andrew and I got here from California in 1968,” says Cal, putting his arm around Terry. “Thirty-four years ago. I was dodging the draft and Andrew drove me up here, and one night we went to hear some music and Terry was sitting at the table next to ours. She and I got talking and we’ve been together ever since.”

“But we didn’t sleep together until the third date,” says Terry, kissing Cal. “He was shy.”

“Fantastic,” says Howard, shaking his head. “Isn’t it amazing how people find each other? It seems so random, but I don’t think it is.”

“What do you think it is if not random?” asks Cal, who is a professor of Philosophy and thinks about this sort of thing all the time.

“I have no idea,” says Howard, shrugging. “But it can’t be random or Donna would never have given me the time of day. Look at her. She’s beautiful and brilliant and funny and a rabbi, no less, while I’m a schlemiel on my good days.”

“Howie?” says Donna, raising her eyebrow. “Who put himself through college and optometry school? And who is one of the most sought after optometrists in Vancouver? And who held the shul together until I got here and we turned things around? You. Schlemiels can’t to that.”

“You’re right,” he says, shrugging again. “But I still don’t think it’s random.”

“Do you think it’s random, Donna?” asks Andrew, who also wonders what she sees in Howard. “How we meet our partners?”

“I don’t think it matters if it’s random or not random,” she says, looking up at the white clouds turning gray. “I think what matters is we are made of love, and the more we inhabit that truth, the more fulfilled we will be.”

When darkness falls, they move into the living room and Andrew lights the fire. Luisa serves pumpkin pie and decaf, and Cal and Terry request that Andrew read one of his stories.

“I will,” says Andrew, fetching his new guitar from its stand by the piano, “but first Luisa and I are going to sing a song for you, the world premiere.”

Now Andrew plays a sweet run of chords and Luisa sings the first verse of their new song—these last six months given to making music and gardening and walking on the beach and traveling to visit their children, neither of them writing unless the spirit moves them, both as happy as they have ever been—Andrew joining her on the chorus, their voices made for each other.

Lounge Act In Heaven

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The Same Woman (Margot)

Throughout his life, Andrew meets women who are immediately familiar to him, though he has never seen them before. He met the first when he was a little boy in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, the sixth in 1987, and the seventh in 1993.

In 1998 Andrew and his wife Luisa both turn fifty and celebrate their eleventh wedding anniversary. Their children Owen and Lily both turn sixteen and enter their junior year of high school. Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live with Owen and Lily in a beautiful house ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Two years ago, a movie based on Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday, was a resounding success and prompted a big American publisher to bring out new paperback editions of Andrew’s four collections of short stories. Adding to this good fortune, theatre companies in England and Canada began staging four of Andrew’s previously unproduced plays, and now Luisa is about to publish her first book, a story collection entitled Rainy River and other stories.

At the height of this propitious ferment, Andrew and Luisa’s literary and theatrical agents Penelope Goldstein and Judith Perlman announce their impending retirement. Penelope is seventy-four, Judith seventy-five, and they recently celebrated, as Judith put it, “Our fiftieth year of working together and living together and encouraging each other to keep up the good fight.”

So in April, Andrew and Luisa leave Owen and Lily in the care of friends and fly to Montreal to meet with the three young agents to whom Judith and Penelope are selling their agency, and to meet with two older agents recommended by Judith and Penelope in case Andrew and Luisa are not inclined to go with the younger agents.

Andrew and Luisa arrive in Montreal in the late afternoon, check into their hotel, and have supper with Jason Moreau who directed Andrew’s two most successful plays and is currently directing the first production of Andrew’s newest play, The Carpenter’s Song, which will open six weeks from now, after which Jason will celebrate his eightieth birthday and retire from directing unless, he says with a twinkle in his eyes, “You write another play too good to resist.”

The next morning, Andrew and Luisa take a cab to the Goldstein Perlman Agency, soon to be renamed QBP after the three new principals, Rory Quarterman, Jean Bateau, and Sylvie Pierre, who gather in their elegant conference room to introduce themselves to Andrew and Luisa.

Andrew likes Sylvie, a long-limbed gal with short red hair, and Luisa likes Jean, a petite brunette, but Rory, who handles theatrical works and movie tie-ins, is appalling to both Andrew and Luisa. His smiles are forced, he rolls his eyes at things Sylvie and Jean say, and twice during the half-hour meeting leaves the room to take calls, much to the chagrin of Sylvie and Jean.

Lunching with Judith and Penelope after the QBP presentation, Andrew and Luisa express their misgivings about Rory.

“Welcome to 1998,” says Judith, greatly relieved to be getting out of the business. “Before this era of Young Adult novels, dystopian fantasies, vampires, wizards, and fifty million cookie-cutter murder mysteries, Rory would have sold real estate or cars. He doesn’t read, you know, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you weren’t already successful, QBP would have nothing to do with you. You’re both too old, you don’t crank out murder mysteries, and you seem intent on writing things for intelligent adults.” She laughs. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Which is why we thought you might prefer Margot Mounteney and Kelly Vogel,” says Penelope, who is looking forward to puttering in her garden, walking the dogs, and spending winters in Hawaii. “Margot is your age and Kelly’s a little older, she’s brilliant, he’s mad for plays, and they both care about the quality of the writing they represent, which makes them throwbacks to that bygone era when we first came into the business.”

“And they’re barely surviving,” says Judith, with a warning in her voice. “You would change their lives if you signed with them, which is not a reason to do it. But you would.”

The next morning, after breakfasting with Jason and two young directors eager to make Andrew’s acquaintance, Luisa and Andrew take a cab to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel in an old three-story office building in a quiet part of the city.

While Andrew and Luisa wait in the small reception room, they chat with the agency secretary Darla, a charming woman in her early seventies with a British accent, long gray hair in a bun, and pince-nez suspensefully balanced on the tip of her nose.

“I love all your plays,” says Darla, gazing at Andrew and Luisa sitting close together on the small sofa across the room, “and I especially love Their Summer Holiday. I enjoyed the movie, too, but the dialogue in the play just crackles and I’m a huge fan of crackling dialogue. Crave it.” Her eyes widen. “I must say you are a very handsome couple and the light is excellent right now. Would you mind terribly if I took your picture?”

“We don’t mind, do we?” says Andrew, checking with Luisa.

“Not at all,” says Luisa, who is ready to go with Mounteney & Vogel based on their secretary.

Darla gets out a small Leica, takes several pictures and says, “Oh these will be lovely. The light is just perfect. Lovely, lovely.”

“I feel anointed,” says Luisa, beaming at Darla.

“Will you send us your favorite?” says Andrew, hoping he likes Margot and Kelly as much as he likes Darla.

“I will,” says Darla, putting her camera away. “And I will brag and tell you that my photos of authors have appeared alongside many book reviews and have graced several book jackets.”

Now a man and a woman come down the hallway from their offices and stop on the threshold of the reception room—a lanky fellow with short gray hair and a slender woman with shoulder-length black hair, the man wearing wire-framed glasses and a gray tweed suit with a red bowtie, the woman wearing a scoop-necked black dress, her reading glasses attached to a necklace of colored beads hanging around her neck. 

“Welcome, welcome,” says the man, bounding across the room to shake Andrew and Luisa’s hands, his accent the vestigial Scottish of Newfoundland. “I’m Kelly Vogel and this is Margot Mounteney.”

Margot crosses the room to greet them, her beauty more apparent as she draws near, and Andrew feels he has known her and loved her forever.

They gather in Margot’s office, Margot at her desk, Kelly a few feet to her left, Andrew and Luisa in small chairs facing them, the desk largely free of clutter, though every other space in the office is piled high with manuscripts and correspondence.

“I have a computer,” says Margot, her accent mildly British, “though I still mostly write by hand and my mother types everything up.” Her brown eyes sparkle. “Darla is my mother.”

“The heart and soul of the agency,” says Kelly, nodding to affirm this. “She’s currently training her replacement, a great young gal named Vanessa, but we’re not looking forward to Darla retiring.”

“Penelope gave me the galleys of your Rainy River and other stories,” says Margot, smiling at Luisa. “I was enthralled from start to finish.”

“Margot and I both handle books,” says Kelly, laughing nervously, “but plays are my passion. We aren’t a big agency, obviously, and we job out movie stuff to another agency with offices here and in Los Angeles, but we’re very good with foreign rights and we have great relations with editors in Canada and New York who still care about good writing.”

“I’m sure you would do well with QBP,” says Margot, unconvincingly. “They’re very up to date with their methods and sensibilities, whereas we are among the remnants of the old way.” She shrugs pleasantly. “And that’s our high-powered sales pitch.”

“I would just add,” says Kelly, putting his hands together in casual prayer, “that with us you will always be happy.”

“A bold assertion,” says Andrew, liking Kelly very much.

“I don’t mean you will always be happy,” says Kelly, laughing. “I mean you will always be happy with our efforts on your behalf, even should we fail.”

Andrew and Luisa invite Margot and Kelly to lunch, and when Margot hesitates to accept, Luisa intuits the hesitation is about money and adds, “Our treat. We’re feeling flush. Please take us somewhere you love.”

They walk a few blocks in the gentle spring sunlight to an old high-ceilinged restaurant called Leo’s and are greeted by an energetic man with wavy white hair and a thick Italian accent who claps Kelly on the shoulder and kisses Margot on both cheeks.

“You stay away too long,” he says, smiling fondly at Margot. “We wonder where you were. It will just be a moment for Juan to make your table ready. Is so good to see you again. And you bring friends. A celebration perhaps. Right this way, please. The lamb is so fresh I think they play in the meadow this morning.”

He seats them at a large table in the far corner of the mostly empty room, hands them menus and says, “We have a red wine we just get from Bordeaux to make the tears come to your eyes. Pellegrino for your table?”

Margot nods and their host hurries away.

“Was that Leo?” asks Andrew, looking from Kelly to Margot.

“That was Joe,” says Margot, putting on her reading glasses to peruse the menu. “Leo was Joe’s older brother who died when Joe was a little boy in Italy.”

Now a middle-aged woman with reddish brown hair and a lively bounce in her step comes to the table and fills everyone’s glass with bubbly water.

“We missed you,” she says to Kelly and Margot before turning to Andrew and Luisa and gasping, “Oh my God, you’re Andrew Ross.”

“I know you,” says Andrew, smiling curiously at her. “But I can’t quite…”

“Gina DuPrau,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “I was in the first Montreal production of your play Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise. A million years ago.”

“You were not just in the production,” says Andrew, holding out his hand to her. “You were Ariel and you were brilliant, and you changed my life forever in the best of ways.”

“I’m so glad to see you,” she says, taking his hand. “And while we’re holding hands I’ll tell you I love Their Summer Holiday. The play and the movie.”

“This is my wife Luisa,” says Andrew, transferring Gina’s hand to Luisa’s. “And you know our agents Margot and Kelly.”

“What did you say?” says Margot, startled.

“Our agents,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water. “We knew the minute we met you.”

“Oh dear,” says Margot, covering her mouth. “I might cry.”

“Me, too,” says Kelly, fighting his tears as he raises his glass.

Now they clink glasses and drink and Andrew says to Gina, “We would love a bottle of the red wine from Bordeaux that Joe spoke so highly of.”

The good wine poured, lunches served, Margot says to Luisa, “Your bio in your story collection says you were a chef before becoming a writer. And though I’m sure you already know this, I will plant the seed that a novel or a novella and stories set amidst the culinary arts would be an easy sell in the wake of Rainy River.”

“Or a play set in a café,” says Kelly, who is pleasantly tipsy and no longer nervous. “The Time of Your Life with espresso. God we need good plays.”

“With a part for our waitress,” says Andrew, who had a crush on Gina when she was starring as Esme twenty-five years ago, but he was too shy to ask her out. “How did she not become famous? Did you see her in the play, Kelly? I’ve never seen another actor so completely own an audience as she did.”

“I went seven times,” says Kelly, loving the wine. “And she would have become a big star had she not married that horrid man and had two kids with him and then he left her with nothing. And she’s been starring here at Leo’s ever since.”

“We never know what’s going to happen, do we?” says Margot, looking at Luisa. “We didn’t think we had a chance against QBP, and now here we are celebrating with you.”

Gina comes by and asks, “How we all doing?”

Everyone raves about their food, another bottle of the same good red is ordered, Gina goes to fetch the wine, and Andrew says, “Speaking of never knowing what’s going to happen, with your permission I would like to tell a rather long story.”

“Permission granted,” says Margot, nodding regally.

Gina returns and shows the bottle to Andrew.

He nods his approval and says, “Have you got a few minutes, Gina? I would love for you to hear the story I’m about to tell.”

She opens the wine, pours a bit in each of their glasses, sets the bottle in the middle of the table, glances around the now full room and says, “I’m good for a few.”

“Excellent,” says Andrew, having a sip of his wine. “So… my two stories that became Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise were two of the very first stories I ever wrote. They were first published in The Weekly Blitz, a Vancouver free weekly, and then a wonderful guy named Mark Kane turned those two stories into a play and got the play produced at the Kleindorf, a small theatre in Vancouver. We got good reviews, the play ran for seven weeks, and I made seven hundred dollars, so I was not about to give up my carpentry gig. Then a few weeks after the play closed at the Kleindorf, Mark called and said someone named Jason Moreau wanted to stage the play in Montreal if we were open to honing the dialogue with him. We said we were open to honing and Extremely Silly Ariel Gets Wise was a big hit, mainly because of Gina’s extraordinary performance.”

Kelly and Margot and Luisa and Andrew applaud Gina, and she bows comically low and bumps her head on the table, to which she reacts by hopping around on one foot as if she stubbed her toe.

“But then,” says Andrew, when their laughter subsides, “because of the play’s success, Penelope and Judith, who were Jason’s close friends, agreed to represent me and soon thereafter sold my collection of short stories The Draft Dodger and other fables which launched my writing career. And I have no doubt it was your performance, Gina, your revelatory interpretation of Esme that made the play a hit and fueled my launch. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“You’re very welcome, Andrew,” she says, placing a hand on her heart. “And though I appreciate your praise more than you will ever know, I will modify a line from that long dead British guy and say, ‘The play’s the thing wherein you captured the hearts of your audience, and I was but the lucky mouthpiece for your words.’”

First thing the next morning Luisa goes to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel to sign the contract making her their client, after which she spends the rest of the morning at her publisher’s working on the page proofs of Rainy River and other stories, meeting with Sales, and posing for promotional photos before going to lunch with her editor and the editor-in-chief to celebrate the stellar pre-publication reviews for her book.

While Luisa is thus occupied, Andrew meets with Penelope and Judith and signs various documents pursuant to transferring his contracts to Mounteney & Vogel, after which he goes to see Margot and Kelly to sign the contract making him their client.

However, Kelly is away from the office schmoozing with a theatre director and Margot is on the phone with a hysterical client, so Darla visits with Andrew until Margot is free.

“Do you have a new play in the works?” she asks, sharing a pot of strong black tea with Andrew, her desk their table. “Or a novel?”

“I’ve never written a novel,” he says, doubting he ever will. “And in the two years since the movie of Their Summer Holiday came out I haven’t started anything new, though I did manage to finish the play and the collection of stories I was working on before the movie came out. But nothing new has come to me since.”

“I suppose an enormous success like that can be a shock to the system,” she says, sipping her tea. “Are we the agents now for that play and collection of stories?”

“Yes and no. The book has already been sold, but the contract is now with you. The Carpenter’s Song and other stories. And the play is opening here in Montreal in about seven weeks.”

“Oh The Carpenter’s Song,” she says, beaming at him. “I live three doors down from Jason Moreau and we often walk our dogs together in the morning. He’s absolutely thrilled with your play. Says it’s your best yet. I didn’t realize it was based on a short story. You’ve done that before, haven’t you?”

“A few times, yes,” says Andrew, glad to know Darla and Jason are friends.

“And when you were writing the story, did you sense it would make a good play? Or do you think all your stories would make good plays?”

“I would say everything I write comes to me as scenes I watch and transcribe.”

The phone on her desk rings quietly and she answers, “Mounteney & Vogel. Who’s calling, please?”

Andrew removes to the other side of the reception area so as not to intrude, and a framed photograph on the wall captures his attention—Margot standing between two handsome young men, the younger Margot in the picture closely resembling a woman Andrew was madly in love with when he was in his early twenties.

“That was yet another of our writers calling in distress,” says Darla, beckoning Andrew to return to her. “That’s what Margot’s doing right now, trying to talk one of our writers out of burning the manuscript she worked on for three years before she ran out of ideas and now she can’t figure out how to wrap things up.”

“The literary agent as psychotherapist,” says Andrew, considering this. “I’ll keep that in mind for my next nervous breakdown.”

“I suppose all writers live in fear of running out of ideas,” says Darla, nodding sympathetically. “Do you?”

“No, because I don’t write from ideas. I know many writers do, but the few times I’ve tried to write a story or a play from an idea, nothing would come to me. Not a word.”

“So does that mean when you were writing your book of stories about carpenters you didn’t first have the idea to make such a collection?”

“No,” he says, recalling the thrill of those stories pouring forth. “In fact, I wrote the first four stories without really knowing they were separate stories because I didn’t read those pages until I was nearly done with what turned out to be the fifth story and it dawned on me I might be writing separate stories with recurring characters. So then I read the pages and discovered they were, indeed, five stories, each about a carpenter, and each of those carpenters knew the others. But even then I didn’t think I would write more stories about carpenters because, as I told you, if I write from a preconceived notion, nothing comes.”

“So let me ask you this,” says Darla, lowering her voice. “Can you tell from the writing if the writer has decided ahead of time what to write, or if the writer writes as you do without forethought?”

“Always,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Can you describe the difference?” she asks expectantly.

“Give me moment,” he says, musing for a time. “In one I hear the words being manufactured by a mental machine, and in the other I hear a spontaneous song. Like a child singing as he plays, free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be.”

“I remember Margot singing those kinds of songs when she was a little girl,” says Darla, writing on her notepad free of anyone else’s rules about what a song should be. “How happy she was.”

Andrew treats Margot and Darla to lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, and over green tea and fortune cookies Darla tells the story of how she came to Canada fifty years ago, pregnant with Margot.

“I was a lonely young woman living at home with my parents in Devon, writing a novel in feeble imitation of Jane Austen, a novel full of the romance I longed for, when along came Paul Westerby, a dashing Canadian vagabond travelling about with knapsack and easel, painting not-very-good landscapes of the English countryside. He romanced me and slept with me for a few glorious wine-drenched months, and when I told him I was pregnant and we should marry, he fled back to Canada and I pursued him.”

“Did you travel by boat?” asks Andrew, especially enjoying Margot’s enjoyment of her mother’s tale.

“No, I flew to Montreal,” says Darla, pouring more tea into each of their cups. “It was 1947 and air travel was very expensive and still quite an adventure, but my mother gave me the money because she was just as eager as I to run the rogue down.” She laughs. “My father, on the other hand, was a severe melancholic and reacted to my pregnancy by staying home from work and moping in the garden. He was a reluctant accountant and preferred a dark corner of the pub to the desk in his office.”

“And where, Mother, did you finally run the rogue down?” asks Margot, gently steering her mother back to the main story.

“In the snooty suburbs of Toronto,” says Darla, disappointed all over again despite the intervening fifty years. “My dashing vagabond turned out to be the pampered son of a wealthy cigarette magnate, his mother a humorless socialite. Paul refused to see me, and his mother took his side, so I appealed to Paul’s father and he said he would arrange for an abortion, except by then I was four months along and wanted to keep my precious child, so he gave me ten thousand dollars, which was a fortune in those days, and I moved to Montreal and we’ve lived here ever since.”

“Did you ever meet your father?” asks Andrew, finding Margot more and more attractive the longer he’s with her.

“A few times,” says Margot, exchanging glances with her mother. “He came to visit when I was seven and took us out for ice cream. Then he came again the summer after I graduated from high school and gave me a check for five hundred dollars, which I immediately spent on clothes.”

“He was running the family business by then,” says Darla, making a sour face. “Rich as Croesus and smelled like an ash tray.”

“And the last time we saw him,” says Margot, pausing for effect, “was just a few years ago when he came to the agency and asked us to find a publisher for his autobiography.”

“Did you?” asks Andrew, amazed by the audacity of the old rogue.

“No,” says Margot, looking at her mother. “But we read the manuscript with great interest.”

“Did he do justice to that momentous summer in Devon?” asks Andrew, feeling sure the rogue must have. “Your love affair and…”

“Not a word about me,” says Darla, shaking her head. “And not a word about Margot.”

“Yet he wanted us to find a publisher for his badly written book of lies,” says Margot, closing her eyes. “An arrogant humorless man with a perpetual sneer on his face.”

“But when I was twenty-one,” says Darla, remembering back to that summer in Devon, “and he came tramping across the field of ox-eye daisies overhung by a blue blue sky full of snowy white clouds, a strapping young man with an easel on his back, smiling like a sunbeam, I could only think to love him.”

They return to the offices of Mounteney & Vogel and Andrew has his first meeting alone with Margot.

“Will you be coming back to Montreal?” asks Margot, sitting down at her desk. “For the opening of your play?”

“Yes,” he says, sitting in a chair on the client side of her desk. “I’ll be back in four weeks.” He raises two fists. “For the final push. Last minute dialogue tweaking and anything else Jason wants me to do. And then we’ll stay for dress rehearsal and the first few performances.”

“Oh so Luisa’s coming with you,” says Margot, sounding relieved. “Wonderful.”

“She’ll be here for dress and opening night and the party after,” he says, nodding. “And I’ll be here for two weeks before she comes. We wanted to bring the kids for the whole shebang, but they refused. Said they didn’t want to miss the last few weeks of school. Can you imagine? When I was sixteen I would have given anything to skip school and hang out in a big theatre watching professional actors bring a play to life. But they love their teachers and their friends and wouldn’t think of missing the last days of school before summer.”

“Will you be staying with Jason?” she asks, reluctant to meet his gaze.

“That’s the plan. Just three houses away from your mom.”

“And me,” she says, looking at him. “I live with her.”

“Oh,” he says, the frisson between them profound. “I… I wouldn’t have guessed that. I had you living with some lucky guy, a professor of… I don’t know… Archaeology.”

“Oh really,” she says, laughing. “A lucky Archaeology professor. Not an unlucky professor of Literature?”

“I really like you, Margot,” he says, laughing with her. “And I have to tell you… the moment I saw you I had the feeling I’ve known you and loved you forever. And when I told Luisa that, do you know what she said?”

“What?” asks Margot, holding her breath.

“She said she felt exactly the same way, that we are a trio of soul mates.”

“Then I won’t be afraid of you anymore,” says Margot, coming around her desk as Andrew rises to meet her—their embrace both a confirmation of their love and proof they need not be lovers to be as one. 

fin

Love’s Body

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The Same Woman (Jennifer)

Every so often throughout his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he knows, though he has never seen her before. He met the first of these women in elementary school in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, and he married her in 1987.

In 1993, Andrew and his wife Luisa are both forty-five and have been married for six years. Their children Owen and Lily are both eleven and in Fifth Grade. They live in a beautiful house Andrew built not far from the ocean about ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Andrew wrote a collection of short stories when he was in his mid-twenties that launched a string of successes for him, and at the height of his good fortune he met and married Kiki, a dancer and choreographer with whom he had Owen. When the exigencies of fate removed his star from the firmament of Canadian culture, Andrew returned to carpentry to pay the bills and ceased to write.

When Owen was four and going to kindergarten, Andrew met Luisa whose daughter Lily was in school with Owen. The marvelous simpatico Andrew experienced with Luisa inspired him to start writing again. A few months later, Kiki got involved with somebody else, divorced Andrew, and gave him full custody of Owen.

The following year, Andrew and Luisa were married. When Andrew’s literary star began to rise again and his income was sufficient to cover the financial needs of their family, he convinced Luisa to give up her cooking gig at a popular restaurant and become his assistant and collaborator.

The business end of publishing books and producing plays holds little interest for Andrew, but for Luisa the commercial aspects of publishing and show biz are endlessly fascinating and she has become quite learned about the interconnected complexities of publishing, theatre, and the movie business. Indeed, her expertise regarding these interconnections has resulted in their most lucrative contract yet.

Two years ago, Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday ended a long run in Vancouver following a successful premiere run in Montreal, and now the play is being performed in small theatres across Canada, America, England, and France.

Their Summer Holiday is a whimsical romance about a single father and his adolescent son spending a few magical weeks in a coastal village populated with colorful eccentrics and an alluring French woman with whom both father and son become enchanted.

The play was thought too quirky to be made into a movie until Luisa convinced Andrew to create with her a movie synopsis of the play focusing more on the love story and less on the eccentrics. Their elegant four-page synopsis, refined over several months, was pitched by Andrew’s agent to a select group of actors and producers, the movie rights were subsequently optioned by a big Hollywood studio, and Andrew and Luisa were contracted to write the screenplay.

They finish the third draft of their screenplay on a Friday in early April, each new draft written in response to notes from the film’s two LA-based producers, a fast-talking fellow named James Skidmore and a somewhat slower-talking woman named Jennifer Zindel, both of whom will be arriving in Vancouver in mid-April to spend a few days finalizing the script with Andrew and Luisa, filming to begin in September.

Most week days Andrew and Luisa wake to a 6:30 alarm, stay in bed for a while talking, take quick showers, make breakfast for the kids, and then one or both of them bicycles with the kids to the public elementary school three miles from their house, unless it’s raining or snowing or too bloody cold, in which case one of them drives the kids to school.

When Owen and Lily have been safely delivered to the halls of learning, Andrew and Luisa have coffee and breakfast over which they plan their morning and early afternoon. This planning session sometimes leads to a return to bed before the commencement of one or more of the following: writing, gardening, business correspondence, music making, beach combing, shopping, visiting friends, and going into the city for business or pleasure.

The kids get home from school by 3:30, have snacks and debrief with Luisa and/or Andrew, do their chores and homework, help prepare supper, eat supper, practice music for an hour, and gather in the living room with the adults for some sort of group activity, musical or otherwise.

Both Owen and Lily are studying piano with Luisa and both of them love to sing. Lily plays the guitar, Andrew her teacher, and Owen plays the clarinet, his teacher Chas Lowenstein who happens to be Andrew and Luisa’s renter and lives next door with his wife Betty.

Lily and Owen are both avid readers, excellent students, and aspire to be writers and musicians. They are each adept at walking on their hands, juggling three tennis balls, and throwing Frisbees with remarkable power and accuracy.

When the kids have gone to bed, Luisa and Andrew like to sit by the fire with cups of tea and talk about their children and anything else that comes to mind.

One evening after supper, a week before the movie producers are due to arrive, Owen and Lily and Luisa and Andrew gather in the living room for a game of Charades and Owen says, “Today Miss Tucker gave us the choices for our final big project of the year. We can either do a ten-page report on some important event in Canadian history or…”

“A ten-page biography of someone famous,” says Lily, taking up the recitation. “Or five two-page book reports on books from her list of acceptable books or a ten-page family history.”

“We have a week to decide,” says Owen, pursing his lips and gazing thoughtfully at the fire dwindling in the hearth. “Then we have to turn in a detailed proposal and once Miss Tucker approves we have to write a first draft, a second draft, and a final draft.”

“History repeating itself,” murmurs Andrew, thinking of the three drafts they’ve done of their screenplay.

“I’ll probably do a biography of either Mendelssohn or Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald,” says Lily, wrinkling her nose. “I was going to do the book reports, but Owen and I already read all the books on her list two summers ago and she won’t let me do To Kill A Mockingbird because she says we don’t get that until high school even though Owen and I read it last summer.”

“I might do the family history,” says Owen, looking at Andrew, “and if I do you’ll need to remember back as far as you can and then I’ll call Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Zeke and Grandma Kaylia and ask them to remember.”

“I was gonna do a family history,” says Lily, shrugging, “but there’s only you, Mama, and you only remember Grandma Lily so there won’t be ten pages unless I write about Owen’s side and he might already be doing that.”

“Well don’t forget I also remember Grandma Lily’s mother,” says Luisa, smiling at her daughter. “Your great grandmother.”

“You do?” says Lily, excitedly. “I don’t remember you ever telling me about her.”

“I did when you were little,” says Luisa, thinking of her mother and how much she would enjoy Lily and Owen. “But not for a long time.”

“Like what do you remember about her?” asks Owen, who thinks Luisa is the most wonderful person in the world, right after Lily.

“Her name was Ziibi,” says Luisa, closing her eyes and seeing her sturdy grandmother shooing chickens into the coop at dusk. “Ziibi means river in Ojibwe. My mother and I visited her a few times when Ziibi was living in Baudette, a town in Minnesota just across the border. She had an old house on the Rainy River and raised rabbits for meat and pelts, and she rented out a room in the house to an old Chippewa man named Ray who was deaf and smoked a pipe. I stayed with her there without my mother for six weeks the summer I was thirteen. I remember she’d get the barbecue going and I’d pick ears of corn from her big garden and she’d set them on the coals in their husks, and then she’d walk out to the river with her fishing pole and right away catch a big fish, a trout or a pike or a walleye, and clean it in no time and cook it right up. Most delicious fish I ever ate.”

“What did she look like?” asks Lily, eager to know. “Was she as brown as you?”

“No and my mom wasn’t so brown either. I never met my father, but I must have gotten my darker brown from him. He was from Cuba, but I don’t know what he looked like because my mother never showed me a picture of him, though I think she had one.”

“My mom got her brown from Grandma Kaylia who was from Barbados,” says Owen, who hasn’t seen his mother in four years. “My mom’s dad was Chinese, but he died before I was born so I never got to meet him.”

“Ten pages won’t be enough,” says Andrew, knowing Owen longs to see his mother.

Andrew and Luisa meet the movie producers James and Jennifer at Tangelo’s, a trendy restaurant a few blocks from the famous Hotel Vancouver where James and Jennifer have booked a suite on the fifteenth floor.

James is slender and balding and nattily dressed, has a strong Chicago Jewish accent, laughs explosively, and only grows serious when discussing the script for Their Summer Holiday.

Jennifer is short and buxom with shoulder-length bleached blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Raised in New Jersey by Yiddish-speaking grandparents, the first thing she says to Luisa and Andrew is that she hates the name Jennifer and wants them to call her J.

Luisa and Andrew both order fish and chips and beer. James and Jennifer both order gin and tonics, garden salads, and shrimp scampi, and they both give their waiter ultra-specific instructions about how to make their gin and tonics, how to prepare their salad dressings, and how they want their linguini and shrimp cooked.

As Jennifer hands her menu to the waiter she says, “If you overcook my shrimp or serve me a shitty gin and tonic, things will not go well for you.”

To which James adds, “As for my gin and tonic, when in doubt err on the side of gin.” Having said this, he laughs explosively.

When the drinks arrive, Jennifer holds her glass aloft and says, “Here’s to the best script I’ve ever worked on.”

Glasses are clinked, drinks are drunk, the gin and tonics are declared delicious, and Jennifer says, “We are so close to signing Paul Sydney to direct I can’t tell you. The only wrinkle with Paul is he wants to shoot this in Thailand, turn it into a tropical fairy tale with half-naked Asian beauties and sampans. But we really don’t want to go that way.” 

“Thailand?” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling. “You’re kidding.”

“You know what I just realized,” says James, pointing at Andrew. “This movie is a whodunit. Only nobody gets murdered.” He arches an eyebrow. “But maybe somebody should.”

“This is not a whodunit,” says Jennifer, glaring at James. “This is a brilliant coming of age story meets gorgeous mid-life crisis love story.” She pauses. “We’re thinking a few songs sung by the characters might really work in this film. One song for Leo, one for Jonah, one for Louise. Not a musical really, but quasi.”

Andrew recalls his agent Penelope Goldstein saying Have no illusions, Andrew. By signing this contract you are giving them permission to do anything they want with your story. Yes, you will write a screenplay, but they are not obliged to use it. Do you understand?”

“I’m sure you’re aware there are three wonderful songs in the play sung by those characters,” says Luisa, taking a deep breath. “But after we sent you our first draft you said nix the songs.”

“Not those cutesy folk songs,” says James, shaking his head. “We’re talking Elton John, Randy Newman. Big time movie songs.”

“A quasi-musical?” says Andrew, locking eyes with Jennifer and connecting with something deep inside her. “Is that what you want, J?”

“No,” she says, flustered by this unexpected breaching of her usually impenetrable defenses. “I want to shoot this just the way you wrote it, but my job…” She glances at James. “Our job is to get this movie made, which always means deviating from the source material. It just does. For instance, if we sign Marc Laredo, and pray God we do, he’s gonna play Jonah a bit fay, though Jonah in your script is definitely not fay. He’s a serious romantic, ultra-sensitive, thoughtful and kind, yet wonderfully masculine, too.” She laughs self-consciously. “Somebody stop me. I sound like Pauline Kael on Ecstasy.”

After lunch they move to James and Jennifer’s suite on the fifteenth floor of Hotel Vancouver and array themselves on comfy chairs around a big coffee table.

“Drinks?” says James, bouncing his eyebrows. “Coffee? Brandy? Martinis? Champagne? Cannabis? Cocaine?”

“Coffee would be great,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew and saying with her eyes We’ll get through this, darling. Please don’t tell them to go fuck themselves.

James calls room service and orders coffee and cookies, scripts are gotten out, and pens are poised.

Jennifer, still a little woozy from Andrew’s deep dive into her psyche, clears her throat and says, “I wasn’t kidding when I said this is the best script I’ve ever worked on. However, there are two large problems we need to solve before we can sign the likes of Marc Laredo or Shirley Stone who, as you know, got the ball rolling when they both flipped over your pitch.”

“And what are those problems?” asks Luisa, noting Andrew’s growing disquiet.

“Leo,” says James, throwing up his hands. “He’s got more screen time than Louise. And by the way, we found a brilliant unknown to play Leo. When we tested this kid he practically melted the camera. British. Of course. Gorgeous. The young James Dean meets the young Johnny Depp. Eighteen but plays thirteen no problem, and he’s a far better actor than Marc or Shirley will ever be, but even so we can’t have him upstaging them.”

Andrew is about to say something when the coffee and cookies arrive and Jennifer makes a pretty show of serving everyone.

“And the second problem?” asks Luisa, bracing herself.

“Jonah and Louise,” says Jennifer, adding a huge amount of sugar to her coffee.

“Ah,” says Andrew, pretending to understand. “So the two big problems are the three main characters. Anything else?”

“Andrew?” says Jennifer, looking at him and pursing her lips as if wanting to kiss him. “We love the whole not-liking-each-other-at-first turning into a crazy funny love thing. It’s genius. And I don’t use that word lightly.”

“Academy Award stuff,” says James, winking at Luisa. “You can start writing your acceptance speeches now.”

“But then you leave us hanging,” says Jennifer, clasping her hands. “Do they get together at the end? We never find out.”

“What are you talking about?” says Andrew, looking at her as if she’s insane. “Jonah and Leo pull up in front of Louise’s house in their big old convertible and she comes down the walk wearing a quasi wedding dress and dragging her gigantic suitcase and Leo and Jonah jump out of the car and load her suitcase on top of all their stuff and she gets in beside Jonah, and Leo gets in beside her, and off they go and we track back into an aerial view as they speed along the coast highway and make the turn inland. How is that not getting together? She goes with them at the end.”

“Was there a love scene I missed?” says James, flipping through the script. “I can’t find it? Where is it?”

“The whole movie is a love scene,” says Andrew, horrified by these people.

“Of course it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”

“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie. “Maybe.”

“Some people will get that the whole movie is a love scene,” says Jennifer, smiling sadly at Andrew. “But most people won’t get that unless we show them Louise and Jonah sealing the deal. Kapish?”

“If this was an arty French film,” says James, smacking his copy of the script with the back of his hand, “or even an arty British film, okay, be subtle. But this is a big budget American movie. Subtle won’t fly. Big budget movies can’t afford to be subtle. At the very least we need passionate kissing and the tearing off of clothing, though much better would be the onset of hot sex and exclamations of ‘You’re the best yet, babe,’ or words to that effect.”

“Who would say that line?” asks Andrew, getting up to go. “Jonah? Who would never in million years say something like that? Or Louise who would never in a million years say something like that? Hey I have an idea. Let’s have a parrot watching them fucking and he can say You’re the best yet, babe. Are you truly not aware after reading three drafts that Jonah and Louise never state the obvious?”

“Hey,” says James, waving his hand to dispel Andrew’s outrage. “We’re on your side. But we didn’t spend all this time and money not to make a movie. Right? And though I totally respect your desire to have a movie made that is a hundred per cent true to your vision, that will never happen unless you write and direct and produce your own movie, and even then it won’t turn out the way you want it. I hate to tell you this, pal, but every movie you have ever loved did not turn out the way the playwright or the novelist or the screenwriter wanted it to. They don’t. They never do.”

“Thank you for enlightening me,” says Andrew, feeling as rotten as he has ever felt. “I think the best thing for us to do right now is go home and discuss all this and meet with you again tomorrow.”

“We’d be happy to come to your place,” says Jennifer, getting up and holding out her hands to both Andrew and Luisa. “We are truly honored to be working with you on this movie and I know we can create something fantastic together. I know we can.”

Andrew is too upset to drive home, so Luisa drives, neither of them saying a word until they are free of the city.

“I wonder why they waited until we’d written three drafts,” says Andrew, wishing he and Luisa had never created the enticing synopsis, “before telling us to shrink Leo’s part, expand Louise’s, and finish the movie with sex. Couldn’t they have told us that after the first draft?”

“Maybe they didn’t know what they wanted until now,” says Luisa, wishing she’d never suggested writing an enticing synopsis. “Or maybe they thought we’d be more likely to agree to those changes if we thought a long delay would jeopardize the chances of the film getting made.”

“I couldn’t make those changes if I wanted to,” says Andrew, looking at her. “Could you?”

“No,” she says wistfully. “It would ruin everything.”

“It’s like one of those dreams where you win the race,” says Andrew, laughing despite his angst, “and then you step in a pile of shit and no matter what you do you can’t get the shit off your shoes.”

At supper, Owen and Lily want to hear all about the movie producers.

Luisa and Andrew exchange looks and Luisa says, “They took us to a snazzy new restaurant called Tangelo’s and they were very particular about the proportions of the ingredients in their gin and tonics and their salad dressings and about how to prepare their scampi, and then we went to their snazzy suite in the Hotel Vancouver and talked about the screenplay, and then we came home.”

“The key word here is snazzy,” says Andrew, who is slightly drunk. “They were both very snazzy people, Jennifer perhaps a bit snazzier than James, and they want us to rewrite the screenplay so Louise has a bigger part than Leo and in the end Jonah and Louise have a big sex scene.”

“Yuck,” says Lily, disappointed with their synopsis of the movie producers. “I thought you were done writing the screenplay.”

“So did we,” says Luisa, making a mental note to check their contract about compensation for any writing they might do beyond the third draft.

“When you say snazzy,” asks Owen, frowning at Andrew, “do you mean he’s handsome and she’s beautiful? Because they sound stupid.”

“I would not say James is handsome,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But I would say Jennifer is beautiful, though for my taste she wears too much makeup.”

“And if you meet her,” says Luisa, smiling at the children, “call her J because she hates the name Jennifer.”

“We might meet them?” asks Owen, sounding worried. “When?”

“There’s a slight chance they’ll be here when you get home from school tomorrow,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew. “We’re still negotiating the location of our next meeting.”

Andrew barely sleeps that night and rises early to have a cup of tea and think about life before he makes breakfast for the kids and bicycles to school with them, the day sunny and cool.

He gets a flat tire on the way home and has to walk the last mile, and as he pushes his bike along the country road something shifts inside him and he lets go of needing to defend the screenplay.

When he gets home he finds Luisa sitting at the kitchen table, still in her nightgown, writing in her notebook.

“What are you writing?” he asks, sitting beside her.

“My dream from this morning,” she says, writing the last few words. “Want to hear?”

“I do,” he says, closing his eyes to listen.

“I’m walking behind my mother on a slender trail following a fast-flowing river through a forest of tall trees. Now we emerge from the forest and come to a corral in which there is a beautiful brown horse.

“My mother says, ‘This is the horse you wanted when you were a girl, but we lived in the city and had no place for him. He is young and wild. You can tame him or let him go.’

“‘I want to let him go,’ I say. ‘But where is the gate?’

“‘There is no gate,’ she says, handing me a saw. ‘You have to make an opening for him.’

“So I take the saw and start sawing one end of the top plank, and I hear someone else sawing and look up and see you sawing the other end of the plank, and I wake up.”

Jennifer and James arrive at one, the day turning cloudy.

Luisa serves lunch on the deck overlooking the garden: chicken quesadillas with homemade guacamole and a garden salad dressed with olive oil and white wine vinegar and a splash of lime.

James raves about the food and the salad dressing and says to Luisa, “You should open a restaurant. I’ll invest heavily.”

“Luisa was the chef at a restaurant not far from here,” says Andrew, gazing fondly at his wife. “I ate her ambrosia for years before I met her.”

“Do you miss it?” asks Jennifer, wrinkling her nose at Luisa. “Working in a restaurant?”

“I sometimes miss the comradery,” she says, looking at Jennifer. “But I don’t miss the pressure. The relentless pressure to produce.”

“Speaking of pressure to produce,” says James, playing a drum roll on the edge of the table with his index fingers. “How soon can you make those changes?”

“We can’t,” says Andrew, relieved to be saying so. “We understand why you want them, but you will have to find someone else to do that for you.”

James and Jennifer exchange looks of surprise and Jennifer raises her hand and says, “Hold on now. Not so fast. We will be happy to pay you for two more drafts.” She puts her hand on her heart. “We love your characters and we love your dialogue and we want to get this right.”

“The thing is…” says Andrew, looking at Jennifer and connecting again with something deep inside her, “we are too much in love with the story and the characters to betray our love.”

“Makes perfect sense,” says James, pointing with both index fingers at Andrew. “You guys are too close to the material. And fortunately, we know some of the best finishers in the business.”

“Would you at least be willing to vet the final dialogue?” asks Jennifer, clearly upset to be losing them. “We really want the dialogue to be consistent.”

“We’d be happy to,” says Luisa, a moment before Andrew can say No.

“Mahvelous!” says James, raising his glass. “Here’s to wrapping this puppy up and signing some sexy A-list stars.”

Andrew and Luisa accompany James and Jennifer to the big shiny black car they hired for the day—the driver waking from his after-lunch snooze and jumping out to open doors.

“We’ll be in touch,” says James, giving Luisa a kiss on the cheek and shaking Andrew’s hand. “You guys are special.”

“Thank you so much,” says Jennifer, pecking Luisa’s cheek and intending to peck Andrew’s, except he embraces her.

“We are of one mind with you, J,” he says, holding her for a long moment. “And we know you will represent us well in the battles ahead.”

“What a wonderful thing you said to her,” says Luisa, holding Andrew’s hand as they watch the big black car roll away. “I think she probably would make the movie the way we wrote it if only she could.”

“I do, too,” says Andrew, feeling light as air. “I also think we should go to the beach now and take the kids out for pizza tonight.”

The movie based on Their Summer Holiday is not filmed in Thailand or anywhere else in September because in July the American movie studio that optioned the movie rights and paid Andrew and Luisa to write three drafts of the screenplay and then paid two other writers to write three more drafts, drops the project after the overseeing studio exec reads the sixth draft and says, “By page five I wanted to vomit.”

A year and a few months later, in October of 1994, a maverick Danish filmmaker named Nicolas Thorsen options the film rights to Their Summer Holiday from Andrew and Luisa for five thousand dollars, writes a new screenplay based on the original play, has Andrew and Luisa tweak his screenplay, and makes the movie for two million dollars.

A charming thirteen-year-old from Bristol plays Leo as if born to the role of a preternaturally kind and imaginative person.

A beguiling French gal with red hair and emerald eyes plays the part of Louise with an irresistible mix of innocence and savvy.

A droll self-effacing fellow from Oxford who reminds everyone of the young Rex Harrison plays the part of Jonah.

The three songs from the play are performed in the movie by the three main characters accompanying themselves on ukuleles.

And the movie ends exactly as Andrew and Luisa imagined it would, except when Louise gets in the car she gives Jonah a marvelous kiss—an unscripted kiss that turns out to be cinematic genius.

Their Summer Holiday, the movie, is released simultaneously in England and France in October of 1995 and is an instant success. By December the movie is playing all over Europe, and in the spring of 1996 Their Summer Holiday opens in a hundred theatres in North America and becomes an art house sensation.

That same spring, Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Lily are in the throes of mighty change. The kids are now in Eighth Grade, Lily fast becoming a young woman with suitors galore, Owen falling in love every few weeks but too shy to approach the girls he’s smitten with.

Luisa and Andrew are writing a play together, a comedy drama set in a bookstore, Andrew is working on a series of short stories about carpenters, and Luisa is writing a quasi-autobiographical novella about the six weeks she spent with her grandmother on Rainy River.

On Tuesday mornings, just for fun, Andrew and Luisa write screenplays together, acting out the parts and imagining how Nicolas Thorsen, who is now their hero and friend, might film the scenes.

In the fall of 1996, Jennifer calls Andrew to see how he and Luisa are doing. Several times in the course of their conversation she refers to Their Summer Holiday as the one that got away, and though she recently had a big hit with a serial-killer flick and has a prostitute-becomes-a-princess film about to open in thousands of theatres, she insists Their Summer Holiday is the best movie she’s ever seen and would love to work with Andrew and Luisa again some day.

When she’s done dropping the names of all the big stars she’s working with, Andrew asks, “So what’s going on with you apart from the movie biz?”

And after a moment’s hesitation she says, “I wonder if I’ll ever be in a relationship with someone who really understands me, really gets me. Like you get me, Andrew. Someone like you.”

fin

One Fell Swoop