My great friend Rico Rees, AKA Richard Rees, died recently at the age of sixty-eight. To celebrate Rico and the myriad ways our lives intersected over the years, I am posting a series of remembrances entitled The Rico Chronicles. Here for your enjoyment is the second of those memories.
Spring of 1966. Woodside High School. Redwood City,
When I was sixteen and a junior, much to my
surprise I landed the part of Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie.
I had been in constant pain and walking with an
extreme limp for the year preceding being cast as Conrad Birdie. The medical
diagnosis of my malady was ankylosing spondylitis, a premature fusing of the
lower vertebrae in my spine. For the first few months of dealing with ferocious
pain in my lower back and hips, I could barely walk. Eventually I was put on a
regimen of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers that significantly dulled my
senses but allowed me to go to school. For most of my junior year I was excused
from PE and spent that hour every day in the school library reading plays and short
My disability marked the end of thinking of myself
as an athlete and decided me on trying to be an actor and a writer. I would
eventually overcome many of the physical challenges associated with ankylosing
spondylitis and become a backpacker, a physical laborer, and an avid playground
basketball player, but when I was sixteen the medical prognosis was for a
sedentary life dependent on painkillers.
To play Conrad Birdie without a limp was one of
the great challenges of my young life, and many years later I discovered that
contrary to what my doctors believed, I was able to transcend my physical
challenges because the root cause of the inflammation was not physical, but
rather the severe emotional distress I experienced in relation to my parents.
When I was performing, both my emotional distress and physical pain disappeared.
In Bye Bye
Birdie, a teenage girl wins the honor of being kissed by Conrad Birdie as
part of his farewell shenanigans before going into the Army. The girl’s father,
mother, and younger brother are important characters in the play, and Dick
(Rico) was cast in the role of the younger brother. In makeup and dressed as a
little kid, Rico was entirely convincing as a goofy ten-year-old, though he was
fourteen and had a deep voice.
The wonderful George Ward (who died just two weeks
after Rico died) directed Bye Bye Birdie
and surprised everybody by casting me in the role of Conrad Birdie. George was
the longtime Drama teacher at Woodside High and had a gift for bringing out the
best in his young thespians. How he brought
out our best was something Rico and I discussed at length when we were in Bye Bye Birdie together, and again the
next year when we were in On Borrowed
We concluded that though George had his favorites,
he rarely cast anyone in a part they weren’t inherently suited for. This may
seem like something all directors would do as a matter of course, but in the
theatre world favoritism often trumps talent—not so with George.
Nor did George begin rehearsals by describing how he
wanted us to play our parts. Instead he allowed us to find our ways into our
characters over the course of acting out the scenes with the other characters,
and as we became familiar with our lines and the flow of action, he would occasionally
comment about a line’s delivery or a character’s motivation in a particular
Prior to being cast as Conrad Birdie, I played the
part of Mr. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne
Frank, my first major role in a play. Mr. Van Daan is a terribly conflicted
person and the nemesis of young Anne. I remember a rehearsal a week or so before
opening night when we did a scene in which Mr. Van Daan is particularly cruel
When the scene ended, George said to me in his
quiet way, “Are you angry? Or are you frightened? Or both?”
And in that moment I understood that though it was appropriate for me to mask my fear with anger, less anger—a more transparent mask—would make the scene work better and make my character more believable. This understanding not only changed how I played the scene, it transformed my character for the entire play.
In one scene in Bye Bye Birdie, Conrad enters the kitchen of the family in which
Rico played the brother of the girl he is destined to kiss. Breakfast awaits Conrad,
but instead he gets a can of beer out of the refrigerator, makes a mess opening
the can, guzzles the beer, and belches.
Time and again I overplayed this scene until George
said, “I don’t think Conrad does this on purpose. I think he’s oblivious to
And thereafter I stopped trying to be funny and played the scene as if no one else was
there; and then the scene was funny.
Birdie was the first play Rico
was in at Woodside High, and we met for the first time backstage at the first
rehearsal. The moment we saw each other, we both felt a jolt of recognition.
So I limped across the expanse between us, looked
into Rico’s eyes, and said the opening line of Waiting For Godot, which I’d just seen for the first time and then
read and was enthralled by. “Nothing to be done.”
Rico’s eyes lit up and he replied, “Are you Didi
or Gogo?” (the nicknames of Vladimir and Estragon, the two characters in Waiting For Godot)
“I never can remember which one is Didi and which
one is Gogo. Who do you want to be?”
“Either one,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t think
Then we blathered on for a few more minutes as if
we were characters in an absurdist drama, which of course we were, and then rehearsal
The next day at lunchtime, I found Rico hanging
out with the counter culture kids of our high school, known as the Water
Fountain Gang because they congregated by a certain water fountain—kids into
Drama and art and folk music and folk rock, the first hippies of our
generation, a daily potluck of mostly girls and some boys, the boys letting
their hair grow long, the girls nascent feminists—rebels fighting The System designed
to squish us into versions of our conformist parents, high school a genteel
prison we longed to be free of. And when we were free, then what? We didn’t
know, and that was our bond: not knowing.
I hailed Rico with “Didi!”
“Gogo,” he said, raising his hand in greeting.
And for the next few months we were Didi and Gogo to
each other and it didn’t matter who was which so long as we were together in
the absurdist drama of our young lives.
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.
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
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
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
The Pope raises one finger skyward.
Zemel considers this and raises two
Now the Pope opens his arms in an
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
“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
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.”
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
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!
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
“She brought Lily to your house for a play date
with Owen,” says Donna, knowing the story well. “And you liked each other
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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
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.
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?”
“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.”
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
“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
“You think he wants to know why she killed
“Of course he does. Wouldn’t you if you didn’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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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…”
“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.
“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
“So did you travel more?”
“Before the pandemic I tried, but she wouldn’t
“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
“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
“You thought she’d get better.”
“I wanted her to, but I didn’t think she would.”
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
“Fine,” says Andrew, wondering how she intends to
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
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.
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
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
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
“Who are you?” snarls the rakishly handsome
“I am the writer of this comedy,” says Andrew,
bowing to the irate actor. “And I have been coaching Sakura for the last two
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
“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
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
“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
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
“We will be,” says Andrew, raising his cup and
smiling at Sakura. “Without a doubt.”
“Without a doubt,” says Sakura, echoing Andrew
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
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
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
“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
“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.
what that means,” says Teo, giving Andrew a disparaging look.
“Can we tell stories now?” asks Rosa, nodding
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
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
“Our pleasure,” says Andrew, taking her hand.
“Let’s do this again soon.”
“We would love that,” she says, bowing her head
“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
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
“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
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
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
“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
“Assuming I haven’t lost the knack,” says Diana, feeling
a sudden resurgence of doubt.
“I’m sure you haven’t,” says Luisa,
“I’m sure, too,” says Andrew, nodding in
“Why are you both so sure?” asks Diana, on the
verge of tears.
“Everything about you makes us sure,” says Luisa, smiling
“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
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
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
“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
“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.”
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
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
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 FarSo 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
“You amaze me,” she says, looking into his eyes.
“Just when I thought we might never write another play, you come out with this
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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…
“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
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.
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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.
Donna to make an appointment and she said come right now. See you this
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.
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
“Hey,” he says, looking up at her. “How did you
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“Is that what Luisa told you?” he says, glaring at
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
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
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
“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,
“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
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
“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
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
“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
Margot nods and their host hurries away.
“Was that Leo?” asks Andrew, looking from Kelly to
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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.”
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 Songand other stories.
And the play is opening here in Montreal in about seven weeks.”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“And me,” she says, looking at him. “I live with
“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
“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.