Leo’s Words

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company from Todd’s album 43 Short Piano Improvisations