The human and canine and feline and avian members of the Weintraub household are in great spirits because Healing’s daughter Tova is home for a week in the middle of May; and by home we mean the little old house on Nasturtium Road at the south end of Mercy where Tova was born and where Healing was born, too.
Thirty-years-old, slender and strong like her father, with short brown hair and a flair for the dramatic, Tova currently resides in Portland, Oregon where she is pursuing a career as an actor and singer while supporting herself as a three-days-a-week veterinarian’s assistant.
Tova returns to Mercy five times a year: for a week in March, a week in May, a week in July, a week in September, and for seven weeks from late November until early January, unless she has a role in an excellent play, not a Christmas play.
Having grown up in a household composed of her delightful father and his zany British Jewish hippie parents, multiple dogs and cats and birds, and a steady stream of artists and musicians and intellectuals of myriad ages and ethnicities, some of whom stayed for weeks and months at a time, Tova has a world view quite unlike most of her age peers in America. She has seven good friends in Portland, five of them lesbians, two of them gay men, while she is a devout heterosexual and aspires to have a male partner, an aspiration she has yet to fulfill to her satisfaction.
“I’m beginning to think, Pa-pa,” says Tova one blustery Saturday morning over blueberry apple banana pancakes at the kitchen table in the little old house on Nasturtium Road, “that heterosexual males cut from similar cloth as thee are as rare as unicorns in Portland. Grandma-ma says American men are emotionally and intellectually stunted by the culture here and suggests I move to England where she says at least some men are not so underdeveloped.”
“Your grandmother met your grandfather in America and they would be living here still had they not inherited a groovy pad in Oxford and a good deal of money,” says Healing, ladling pancake batter onto the griddle. “She wants you to move to England to have you near, not because she thinks you’ll find Prince Charming there.” Healing chuckles as he thinks of his mother, still indefatigable at eighty-four. “In my view, and forgive me for repeating myself, when our hearts are open, the universe provides us with love aplenty wherever we are.”
“I’m actually quite happy,” says Tova, sipping her tea. “It’s my bloody hormones driving me mad lately to find a mate and have a baby, though I’m quite prepared not to give birth to a child.” She looks down at the cat in her lap, orange and white Toulouse. “Though if I don’t have a baby, I will probably adopt one or two.”
The kitchen phone rings and Healing answers.
“Good morning,” he says, keeping an eye on the pancakes.
“Am I speaking to Healing Weintraub?” asks a woman with an upper crust British accent.
“You are,” says Healing, his own faint British accent becoming more pronounced whenever he speaks to a fellow Brit. “How may I help you?”
“My name is Catherine Falstaff,” she says, clearing her throat. “Marcus Wickersham gave me your number. He says you are a magus with dogs and cats, and I am in difficult straits with my cat Sakura.”
“How so?” asks Healing, enjoying Catherine’s way with words.
“I wish to have a second cat,” she says, pausing momentously. “But Sakura will not allow it.”
“You should at least charge for travel time and gas,” says Tova, riding shotgun in Healing’s little pickup with Benito the brown Chihuahua Poodle sitting between Tova and Healing as they head north on the coast highway en route to Catherine’s house.
“My paying gig is running Good Groceries,” says Healing, elated to be going on a case with Tova. “Helping dogs and cats is my art.”
“Nothing wrong with making a little money from your art,” says Tova, thinking of how little she makes from hers.
“I usually have people bring their dogs to me so I can watch them interact with our dogs,” says Healing, cruising at his favorite speed of twenty miles per hour. “But I insist on visiting cats at their houses, though I don’t often work with cats. As for travel time and gas, we’re only going three miles north of town, and when we’re done there we can walk on Bethany Beach where magic stones abound.”
“You made a rhyme I want to use in a song,” says Tova, gazing out the window at the passing beauty. “Town and abound. I miss living with you, Pa-pa, and everybody in Mercy. The problem is there’s not much going on here music-wise or theatre-wise, so…” She shrugs. “Even so, I might move back. Would that be okay with you?”
“Of course,” says Healing, laughing. “I’d love you to live here, though as you say, Mercy is not exactly a hotbed of cutting edge Drama, nor are there many venues for chanteuses playing jazzy ukulele, though I’m sure you could gig for tips at Big Goose, Mercy’s finest pub.”
“My friends in the biz say I should give New York a try,” says Tova, sighing. “Or London. Though I’m beginning to think I’m just not a city person.”
“Your grandmother would be ecstatic if you moved to London,” says Healing, making a left turn into Seascape Villas, a collection of opulent homes scattered around the headlands overlooking the mighty Pacific. “And so would your grandfather.”
“I’d rather live here,” says Tova, scratching Benito’s head. “Would you like that, Benny-oo? For me to live with you?”
Benito wags his tail to say he would love her to live with them.
“Aha,” says Healing, parking next to a pristine old silver Rolls Royce with a mahogany running board. “I’ve seen this rig in town and wondered whose it was.”
“You’d want a car like that,” says Tova, getting out of the little truck, “if you had a house like this.”
She is referring to the spectacular redwood and river rock house fronted by a scrupulously manicured Japanese garden accessed through a magnificent wooden gate, the garden featuring enormous granite boulders surrounding a large koi pond, several gorgeous pines with artfully twisted trunks, and a gently arching wooden bridge bisecting the pond, which visitors must cross to reach the gigantic mahogany front door with a fabulous Japanese dragon carved thereon.
The door opens as Tova and Healing approach, and here is Catherine Falstaff, tall and in her sixties with frizzy silver hair, her blouse green silk, her trousers black, her red sandals open-toed, her toenails painted green to match her blouse.
“You are prompt,” she says, giving Healing a steely smile and shifting her gaze to Tova. “I did not expect you to bring a companion.”
“This is my daughter Tova,” says Healing, bowing to Catherine. “She’s every bit as good with animals as I, and she is a highly-regarded veterinarian’s assistant.”
“In Portland,” says Tova, gesturing to the house and garden. “Astounding.”
“Thank you,” says Catherine, beckoning them to enter. “I am a keen Japanophile, as you can see. The house was designed by Akio Kawabata himself, not one of his disciples, and the garden was laid out by none other than Daichi Mifune. And though it may stretch the bounds of credibility to say so, Daichi san himself actually came here to oversee the finishing touches. I’m hopelessly shinnichi, as the Japanese would say. Come have some rare twig tea from Kamakura and meet her royal highness.” Catherine giggles. “Otherwise known as Sakura.”
Sakura is five-years-old, large and reddish brown with short hair, aggressively affectionate, and in excellent health. She takes an especial liking to Healing and insists on sitting on his lap while the humans share a pot of the ballyhooed twig tea in the sun room overlooking a stretch of coastline accessible only from Seascape Villas.
“Because most of the houses here are second or third homes and rarely occupied,” explains Catherine, shielding her eyes as she gazes out at the shining sea, “I am one of the few people who ever visit our beach, and even I only venture down there a few times a year. Thus the sands are remarkably pristine and dozens of seals and legions of shorebirds revel in the absence of humans there.”
“Wonderful,” says Healing, stroking the loudly purring Sakura and hiding his distaste for the bitter tea. “Please tell us how Sakura keeps you from having another cat.”
“She becomes a monster when there’s another cat on the premises,” says Catherine, shrugging hopelessly. “Sprays the walls and the furniture, which she never does when she’s the only cat. Rips the upholstery, which she also never does when she’s the only cat. And stalks the other cat with murder in mind. She nearly killed one of them, drove another out of the house through a momentarily open kitchen door and I found him cowering in the dune grass, and she so terrorized the last one he was afraid to come out from behind the washing machine for three days and I had no choice but to re-home all of them, which I believe is the proper term for finding a cat another place to live.” Catherine looks at Sakura purring on Healing’s lap. “And the minute she has vanquished a rival, she becomes the love cat you are now consorting with.”
“Her behavior is not uncommon,” says Healing, looking at Catherine and noting her reluctance to meet his gaze. “Did you have another cat when you got her?”
“Yes,” says Catherine, nodding. “Miyoshi. A splendid if somewhat imperious Siamese. They shared the house with minimal strife. But after Miyoshi died, Sakura has behaved as I described.”
“Why do you want another cat?” asks Tova, who finds the tea undrinkable. “Not that you shouldn’t have as many cats as you want. Pa-pa has four.”
“I’ve always had two,” says Catherine, raising her hand to beckon her servant Teresa who Healing and Tova know quite well. “Bring the cookies, please, Teresa. And we’ll have coffee. The dark roast.” Now to Healing and Tova. “Are you coffee drinkers?”
“Big time,” says Tova, nodding politely.
“Love a good dark roast,” says Healing, setting Sakura down on the floor from where she immediately jumps onto Tova’s lap.
“Coffee for three,” says Catherine, calling to Teresa.
“I trust you followed the usual protocols for introducing a new cat into the household,” says Healing, hoping the coffee will be better than the tea. “Separate eating and sleeping areas and so forth?”
“Assiduously,” says Catherine, nodding emphatically. “To no avail.”
“These were adult cats?” asks Healing, guessing they were.
“Oh I wouldn’t dare bring a kitten into the house,” says Catherine, aghast at the idea. “Sakura would kill it instantly.”
“I doubt it,” says Healing, watching Sakura drool with pleasure as Tova caresses her. “Was Sakura a kitten when you introduced her to Miyoshi?”
“She was eleven-weeks-old.” Catherine frowns gravely. “Are you seriously suggesting I try with a kitten? Seems insanely counter-intuitive.”
“No, I’m not suggesting you try with a kitten,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I’m merely gathering clues.”
The coffee and cookies arrive, and Healing and Tova chat for a moment with Teresa whose son Diego went to high school with Tova and now works for Google in Argentina.
“Where does Sakura sleep at night?” asks Tova, adding cream to her coffee.
“On the living room sofa,” says Catherine, drinking her coffee black. “She wants to sleep with me, but I’m an extremely light sleeper and she likes to come and go during the night and would be forever waking me up, which is why I keep my bedroom door shut. Happily, she is perfectly content having the rest of the house to herself.”
“It is possible, Catherine, that Sakura will never tolerate another cat,” says Healing, glancing at Tova. “What do you think?”
“I think the best chance we’d have is with a kitten,” says Tova, handing Sakura to Healing. “She’s a big sweetheart.”
“Does she go outside much?” asks Healing, guessing she doesn’t.
“Oh I never let my cats go outside,” says Catherine, furiously shaking her head. “Not since I lost Toshiro to a coyote.”
“Then that will make things even more difficult,” says Healing, gazing out the window at the breakers crashing on the shore. “There are no coyotes on this stretch of the coast, so I assume you lost Toshiro elsewhere.”
“Yes,” says Catherine, grimacing at her memory of Toshiro shrieking when the coyote got him. “On our estate in Ojai. Fourteen years ago. Worst day of our lives. That’s why we moved here. My husband and I. To start anew after Toshiro died.” She smiles to keep from crying. “My husband passed six years ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” says Healing, bowing his head.
“Me, too,” says Tova with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you,” says Catherine, touched by their condolences. “Jerome had a good long life. He was twenty-nine years my senior, a very successful architect with clients all over the world, his crowning glory a museum of Japanese art in Friedrichshafen.”
That night over Mexican Food at Jessica’s Seafood and Mexican, Tova says to Healing, “The more I think about it, the more I think a kitten is the answer.”
“And I keep hearing you ask Catherine, ‘Why do you want another cat?’” says Healing, sipping his beer. “And Catherine replying, ‘I’ve always had two,’ which didn’t strike me as the real answer, however true it might be.”
Tova nods. “She was always one of two with her husband, and they always had two cats, and then he died and now she is one of one. So maybe now she’s only emotionally capable of having one cat and doesn’t realize it.”
“Or maybe she only wants one cat, but feels an allegiance to the patterns of her married life,” says Healing, shaking his head. “No, that’s not it.”
“What then?” asks Tova, yearning to establish patterns of married life.
“There are certainly cats who will never tolerate another cat on their ranch, especially if the ranch is too small,” says Healing, ranch a scientific term for a domestic cat’s territory. “And the interior of a house is not a very big ranch for a healthy cat. I’m beginning to think the solution is to let the cats go outside, and, yes, try with a kitten. Or…” He raises a declarative finger. “Make do with one adorable Sakura.”
On their way out of the restaurant they bump into Teresa and her husband Carlos, and Teresa says to Healing, “Did Catherine tell you she goes away for months at a time and the cat is all alone in that big house except for when I come to feed her at the end of the day?”
“No, she did not tell us that,” says Healing, dismayed by this new information. “Where does she go?”
“To Japan and England and Portugal,” says Teresa, nodding. “I don’t think she should have a cat. The poor thing is trapped in the house all by herself for months and months at a time, starving for love.”
At nine on the dot the next morning, Healing and Tova return to Catherine’s villa where Catherine awaits them with coffee and cinnamon buns, and when the humans are once again arrayed around the table in the sun room – Sakura blissful on Tova’s lap – Healing says to Catherine, “We neglected to ask you a crucial question.”
“Which is?” says Catherine, perplexed by the urgency in Healing’s voice.
“How often are you here?” asks Healing, gazing intently at Catherine.
“This is my principal residence,” she says, looking away and frowning. “I told you that, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did,” says Healing, quietly. “But we did not determine if you spend much time away from here. Do you?”
“I do,” she says, her frown giving way to a smile. “I spend the last month of summer and the entirety of fall in England, most of the winter in Portugal, and I’m always in Kyoto when the cherry blossoms burst forth in the spring, and then I stay on in Japan until the last cherry blossoms have fallen.”
“Which means you are rarely here,” says Healing, gazing at Sakura on Tova’s lap.
“That is correct,” says Catherine, her frown reappearing. “What does that have to do with Sakura? She is warm and safe and well fed all the year round.”
“Yes,” says Healing, nodding solemnly. “But she is perilously lonely, and so when you are here she would be ferociously jealous of any other cat who might steal even a moment of your time from her. And though I’m sure you arrange for someone to come feed her, unless someone lives here in your absence, she cannot be happy and healthy hiding in this house all alone with no chance to spend time outside where I’m sure she longs to go.”
“But that is precisely why I want a second cat,” says Catherine, plaintively. “So she will not be so alone.”
“The equation is wrong,” says Tova, her heart aching for both Catherine and Sakura. “She won’t accept another cat if she doesn’t feel sufficiently secure, and she cannot feel secure if you are rarely here.”
“I see,” says Catherine with a heavy sigh. “Well I’m not about to change my equation of going to England and Portugal and Japan. Going to those places is the foundation of my happiness. So I suppose, as painful as it will be, I must re-home dear Sakura.”
And that is how Sakura came to live at the little old house on Nasturtium Road, and why every year Catherine sends Healing a check for a thousand dollars in gratitude for his wisdom and kindness.
In the beginning of her life on Nasturtium Road, Sakura had some difficulty with big brown Mongo, the largest of the resident cats who twice drove her away from his preferred napping spot on the rocking chair in the living room. However, orange and white Toulouse welcomed Sakura as if he had long been expecting her, and black Victoria largely ignored Sakura as she ignores all the other cats until one day Sakura mistakenly ate from Victoria’s bowl and Victoria made an ominous growling sound that sent Sakura scurrying away to hide behind the kindling box next to the fireplace.
And silver gray Justine, feral for two years before coming to live with Healing, recognized in Sakura a fellow former isolate and now sometimes shares the windowsill in Healing’s bedroom with Sakura, something she will never do with any of the other cats.
Sakura loves being outside, though she rarely ventures far from the house. Recently she has taken to sitting on a rafter in the woodshed where she patiently waits for mice to unwittingly cross the ground below her, and those mice rarely live to tell the tale.
But by far the most wonderful and unexpected thing about Sakura is her love of the dogs, especially enormous Carla who was never much interested in cats and was quite bewildered at first when Sakura insisted on curling up beside her when she lay down for a snooze by the fire after supper.
Nowadays Carla is so accustomed to Sakura joining her by the fire in the evening, that when Sakura does not come and curl up beside her, Carla will scan the room with an expression of concern on her face to say What can be keeping that most delightful cat?