ONCE UPON AGAIN REVIEWS
As a reader, I feel the tremendous impact David Lewis has provoked on me. Since D. H. Lawrence, I hadn’t experienced a writer describing so well a woman’s conflicts, lack, ennui, and perhaps a discovery of her own body. The epigraphs transported me to another world. This is a page-turner.
One of those books that makes you feel sorry when it’s over. AP
Any woman who reads this book will be able to identify with Lucin. The novel is marvelously drawn with memorable characters and luscious dialogue. I found the slipping back and forth in time and culture absolutely captivating, and willingly went along for the ride.
From beginning to end, absolutely wonderful. GS
I thought I’d pretty much run the gamut of romance novels, but ONCE UPON AGAIN changed my mind. It is to the common novel of this type what the ocean is to a lake. On her voyage of discovery, our heroine is supported by a cast of characters that I feel are my friends, too. This novel has presented me with both entertainment and insight.
I want more. CM
This book is not safe. While many “romance” novels are simply escape, ONCE UPON AGAIN liberates the reader, encouraging thought, possibilities, and desire. From beginning to end it celebrates women, their needs, their choices, their strengths. The fact that it was written by a man, makes the whole thing even more unusual and inviting. This one is not only about us, ladies…it celebrates us.
Don’t let it get away. JM
ONCE UPON AGAIN
by David R Lewis
We are like birds who have forgotten we have wings,
kings and queens who have forgotten our royal heritage.
We feel enslaved by conditions that should have no power to bind us,
and powerless before forces over which we have been given dominion.
You and I are but ripples on the sea of existence. During our brief passages here we often take the shallow view, believing life begins with our birth and ends with our death. We assume because we feel separate, we are separate. We conclude that because we do not remember other places and other times, there are no other places and times. We see ourselves with narrow eyes and feel ourselves with tiny hearts, frightened of the destination instead of celebrating the journey. Now and again, what we were shows us what we are. Now and again, what we have been calls us toward what we can be. Once upon again, we may be offered the opportunity to discover that we are no more separate from what has gone before than waves are separate from the ocean.
The surf crashes.
Foam-filled, on sullen shore
It swirls against the rocks until,
Content, it slips quietly back to sea.
The surf crashes.
Do not believe
Winter to be the end
Within its cold heart
Begins the Spring.
Stephanie’s voice floated up the stairway and into Lucin’s dressing room. “Ms. Montgomery, the car is here!”
“I’ll be right down,” Lucin answered, checking her lip liner in the vanity mirror and slipping her stockinged feet into her most comfortable pair of Italian loafers.
In the hall, she paused to admire a pale peach rose nestled amid a spray of baby’s breath in a bud vase at the top of the stairway. It was a nice reminder that spring would arrive soon and removed a bit of heaviness from her step as she descended the staircase.
“I’ll just be a couple of hours,” she said, shrugging into her wool overcoat. “Please set out the service for lunch. Harrison intends to be home around twelve-thirty.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” came the reply from the kitchen.
Lucin smiled. “Oh, and Stephanie?” she said. “The rose is lovely. Thank you.” She stepped out the side door to find James waiting under the overhang in her new, dark green Jaguar.
The car and James O’Doud were both a compromise. Her husband wanted her to have a slightly stretched Mercedes and a full-time driver. She wanted a Mini Cooper and to be left alone. They settled on a Jaguar and James to drive her through the winter, until the streets were more navigable and she better knew her way around Kansas City. She opened the passenger side door before James could get out and plopped onto the front seat. He smiled at her.
“And what is it that ya think you’re doin’ now? You’re supposed to be me passenger, not a co-pilot,” he said.
“And you are supposed to be a driver and not criticize the lady of the manor,” she countered, tossing her hair.
He chuckled. “At least I don’t have to be wearin’ a uniform. And where are we off to today, M’Lady and fair?”
Kansas City in winter is a very messy place. Rarely does it stay cold enough to grace the city’s fountains and parks with pristine white. Instead, melt usually comes on the heels of snowfall, mud is more common than towering drifts and the streets become rutted crunchy avenues of dirty slush. It took about three blocks for the Jag to be covered in a fine film of salty filth, the car’s spotless windows transformed into hazy portals to the outside world and smoky reflections of the auto’s interior. James hit the windshield washer frequently as he plowed his way toward the Plaza.
A retired firefighter turned limo driver, he jumped at the chance for a few months of full-time employment. Harrison Montgomery paid well, James had his own room, ate at least two meals a day at the house and, in his third winter after Katherine’s death, he had no one to answer to and his time was his own. With the extra cash, bone fishing off the Keys was closer every day. Plus, it was nice to have Mrs. M as a regular client. He enjoyed kidding with her and the company of a young woman was pleasant. She and his own daughter were about the same age. He hadn’t seen Mary Ruth since Katherine’s funeral.
Lucin watched the block by block progression of the city as the neighborhood gave way to smaller half-million dollar homes, shifting to old pseudo-Spanish facades on converted apartment buildings that segued into the neo-Spanish architecture of the Country Club Plaza, one of the nation’s most celebrated shopping districts. From Neiman Marcus, Eddie Bauer and Laura Ashley, to Gap Kids and the Sharper Image, to small exclusive shops and trendy restaurants, the Plaza was continuously crowded and busy. Fox jackets and mink coats shouldered along the slippery sidewalks side by side with Gore-Tex and layered sweatshirts. It was a cacophony of color and culture that cut through the swirling flakes and almost brightened the leaden overcast day, but it was still Kansas City, and Kansas City was not home. Kansas City wasn’t even close to home. It was about as far from Philadelphia as a person could get. Much farther than Lucin ever thought she’d be.
Philadelphia was a comfortable circle of friends, the right clubs, the proper charities, the correct sorority, acceptable volunteerism, and a life she’d been bred for and born to. Hers was very nearly the mantle of royalty. From her earliest memory she’d trained to fill her station. An only child, Lucin’s mission was to marry well and continue the tradition of civic responsibility and social example set by her mother, and her mother’s mother. This generational destiny was firmly in place on the day of her birth, as much a part of her as the color of her eyes. It was her duty she was told, and duty was all. The obligation of her rank hovered over her and she was never allowed to dismiss her responsibility to her family or her accountability to the convention of her status. Covered in the commitment of her class, Lucin assumed her place. Now, her place was gone. Removed from the connection to family and Philadelphia, living in an immense house in a totally unfamiliar community, seldom seeing her husband of ten years because of his career demands, and with nearly nothing to occupy her time, she found herself unencumbered by most of the social burdens she had so freely shouldered since infancy. Her world was shaken, and boredom had rattled loose.
James eased the Jag to the crest of the hill on Jarboe Street and into the parking area in front of a row of single story shops, stopping in front of one bearing a pink and green neon sign proclaiming simply “Nails!” Lucin shouldered her handbag.
“If ya find it agreeable, Ma’am,” he said, turning slightly in his seat to face her, “I’ll be runnin’ a few errands for Stephanie and return in about an hour, traffic permitting.”
“That’s fine,” she smiled. “Enjoy your shopping.”
“Sure, and ya know I will, Ma’am,” he replied. “Like root canal.”
As Lucin stepped out of the car, she noticed the shop next to “Nails!” In her other two visits to the center its windows had been covered in heavy white paper and masking tape, the contents secret from onlookers and passers-by. Today all that was gone. In the window hung a lovely sign in muted pastels that appeared to have been hand painted. It showed an elegant white crane balanced delicately on one foot. Beside the crane was a single word. “Wa”.
The bell above the door jangled as she entered the nail shop and Jolee, the owner and proprietor, came bustling up from the rear of the building.
“Good mornin’, Sweetie. I just got here myself.” She smiled, then glanced out the front windows. “Lord, look at that snow come down. Take a seat. I got coffee goin’ and I brought a Thermos of hot chocolate from home. Take your pick.”
“Hot chocolate sounds wonderful,” Lucin replied, hanging up her coat. “Perfect for a day like this.”
“Honey, there ain’t nothin’ perfect for a day like this except a good man and a good bed,” Jolee said, filling two Styrofoam cups with the pungent liquid. “They got stores full of good beds. I don’t know where the hell you find a good man,” she twinkled. “But that ain’t never stopped me from looking.”
“I have one,” Lucin quickly responded, taking an offered cup and sitting at a manicure table.
“Not sayin’ you don’t. There are one or two out there. Hell, most men are good enough if they think it’s part of foreplay, or until the sweat dries,” she laughed, pushing a strand of runaway red hair off her forehead and tugging at a bra strap.
Lucin smiled in spite of herself. “Do you really feel that way?”
Jolee sat on the other side of the table and examined her make-up in a mirror, picking at a small clot of black eyeliner. “Sweetie, I love men. Always have. I love their smell, I love their taste, I love a good growl in my ear and I even appreciate a little whisker burn in certain areas, but most of ‘em need to lose a couple of hundred pounds of ugly fat and just leave the important parts behind. I can snore all by myself!”
Lucin giggled. “Any exceptions to that?”
“Every damn one of ‘em for a little while,” Jolee laughed, pushing a soaking bowl across the table. “I ain’t been a virgin for twenty years and my only regret is that it ain’t been twenty-one.”
“You certainly seem…liberated.”
“That ain’t Latin for easy, is it?”
Lucin blushed. “No! Oh, no. I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant at all!”
“Relax, Honey,” soothed Jolee. “I’m just givin’ you a little shit. No offense taken.”
“You just seem so self-actualized about men. So comfortable with who you are and what you want.”
“Sweetie, I figured out a long time ago that Fairy Tales are scary. Poison apples, witches spells, long sleeps, dwarves, dragons…Jesus! Who needs that shit? All of us are just what we are. Some people go through their whole lives denyin’ their natures, or worryin’ about consequences, fussin’ over some useless version of morality, or waiting for Prince Charming to show up, build a picket fence and mow the yard. Lots a women spend their days expecting something to happen instead of accepting what does. You can waste a lot of time expectin’. If you accept, then you don’t like it, it’s a hell of a lot easier to change the situation or move on, whatever works for you.”
Lucin sat quietly for a while as Jolee concentrated on her cuticles, rolling over in her mind what the other woman had said. The plain truth was, Jolee had hit a nerve or two. While Lucin was not dissatisfied about her relationship with Harrison, she was beginning to realize she was somewhat less than totally satisfied.
“You’re thinking too much,” Jolee commented.
“You’re thinking too much.”
“What makes you say that?”
Lucin gave the other woman a skeptical glance.
“Your hands are tense. When you think too much, your hands get stiff and rigid. Relax, you’re making me work too hard.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Get out of your head and get into your heart. I can see in the little lines around your eyes that you’re not the happiest camper in the park. This is only your third visit here and we don’t know each other very well, but I hold hands for a living, Honey. When you hold as many hands as I do, you get to where you can read people a little.”
Lucin raised an eyebrow. “Is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” answered Jolee, lifting her own eyebrow. Both women laughed.
“Okay,” Lucin said. “Analyze me. I can take it.”
“Alright. First of all, you’ve told me you’re new to Kaycee. I’d say you feel displaced, you have no friends here, you got more money than God, you don’t have anything to do, you’re bored, you live in some big old impersonal house, you lack a sense of purpose, and you ain’t gettin’ enough.”
Lucin felt her face redden.
“Gotcha, huh, Honey.”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“What else is there?”
In spite of herself, Lucin giggled.
“Don’t get me wrong,” continued Jolee. “I’m not makin’ judgments, I’m not attackin’ anybody. Your husband may be the finest man on the planet. None of what I said applies to him. This is your situation. If you don’t like it, it is up to you to change it. Start with the boredom. Volunteer at a hospital, get a job, take up a hobby, start a project. Enjoy. Find something that will charge you up and relax you at the same time. You’ll sleep better.”
“That’s your prescription, huh?”
“Actually I do have sort of a project. There is a guesthouse on our property that is terribly run-down. In the old days it was probably servant’s quarters. I’ve never even been inside it. Harrison mentioned that I might re-do it.”
“Your husband’s name is Harrison?”
“What do you call him?”
“Uh-huh. So why don’t you fix up the house?”
“I don’t know how he would want it.”
“What difference does that make? It’s your project. Do whatever you want. Express yourself, Sweetie. It’ll be good for you! Have some fun.”
“It would be fun.”
“You’d have something to do, a way to be creative, kick the boredom and have something of your own. Sounds great to me.” She slid back from the table. “You’re all done, unless you want some color on these talons, or American flags and rhinestones.”
Lucin smiled. “They’re fine just short and buffed.”
“No spirit of adventure,” Jolee grinned, standing up. Lucin’s cell phone rang and she spoke briefly as she retrieved her wallet from her purse and presented a credit card.
“My ride is going to be late,” she said. “Maybe I’ll go next door and look around. What do you know about the new store?”
“It’s an import business for all kinds of oriental stuff. The guy that owns it is named Tommy something. He’s Japanese or Chinese and he’ll bring a lump to your throat. He’s been in here a couple of times. Reminds me of a cat.” Jolee displayed a wicked little grin. “Now, Tommy would be a great way to spend a snowy day!”
Lucin laughed. “You’re terrible!”
“Just honest, Sweetie. Same time next week?”
“That’ll be fine.”
“Next time I see you, I want you to have a project or a hobby. Get yourself some way to pass the time and have fun.”
Slipping into her coat, Lucin looked at Jolee. “What do you do?” she asked.
Jolee smiled. “Whisker burn, Sweetie. Lots and lots of whisker burn.”
They laughed together again.
When Lucin stepped into the store next door she immediately smelled the scent of jasmine and heard the sound of dripping water. To her left, just inside the door, was a pool surrounded by rocks, a trickle of water flowing in darting pathways down one large stone, weeping onto the rippling surface. She stepped to it and stood as if transfixed, watching the play of light upon the water, catching an occasional flash of white on orange beneath the surface. She did not notice her muscles relax, her breathing slow, her pulse rate drop. She was not aware of the release of tension in her body, the escape of the mundane from her mind. There was only the water, the sound, and the jasmine. As simple as that, it claimed her.
The words pulled her back with a small start and an almost audible rush of reality. Slightly dizzy she looked to her right. An oriental man regarded her with a level gaze from deep brown eyes. He was dressed in a black turtleneck and pleated black slacks, less than six feet tall with long hair pulled into a ponytail. Slender, he stood with a relaxed poise usually seen only among dancers.
“Konnichi wa,” he said. “Hello. Welcome to my shop.” His eyes glinted with just a trace of amusement.
“Hello,” replied Lucin, fussing with her coat and purse, slightly confused and trying to focus. “I th-think your pond is lovely.”
“Domo,” he smiled. “Thank you. You’ve been standing here gazing at it for nearly twenty minutes. I thought, perhaps, I should come bring you back.”
“Twenty minutes? No!”
“Yes,” he said, his smile widening into a grin. His teeth were very white.
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
“Sorrow should have no place in this. I have gained great face. This pond is of my design and construction. Your meditation does me honor. You have paid me a wonderful compliment.”
“It truly is lovely,” Lucin replied, still reaching for her composure. “I don’t know what happened to me. I just went away, I guess.”
“In Japan we call it surrender. A person’s fate is a person’s fate and life is but an illusion.”
"You’re from Japan?”
“You speak English beautifully.”
“I have lived here since I was three. I speak Japanese horribly.” He smiled. “Please excuse me. You have been so kind in enjoying my pond and I am being terribly rude. I am Tamiko Asaruka.” He bowed deeply from the waist. In reflex, Lucin bobbed a bit. It seemed to amuse him. “And you?”
“Ah, Lucin Montgomery. It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. uh…”
“Call me Tami. It’s much simpler,” he replied, extending his hand. She took it almost reluctantly, as if wary of the contact. The handshake was brief, warm and dry. She felt relieved, but the glint of humor that rose in his eyes at their touch kept her cautious.
Through the window she saw James arrive in the Jaguar. “There’s my ride,” she said, nearly grateful. “I must go. It’s been nice to meet you Mister…uh, Tami.” She started for the door and he moved beside her, his hand lightly grazing the small of her back. Warmth spread up her spine and settled at the nape of her neck. Slightly shocked, she turned to move away from him, but he stood six feet distant, the hint of a smile on his lips.
“Dozo. Please visit me again, Lucin-san,” he said with a small bow. “I will count the moments until you return.”
Tamiko Asaruka watched her rush through the snow to the familiarity of her waiting car and smiled to himself.
“It is good to see you, Child,” he whispered, his eyes losing focus with memory. “You have come, and now it begins again. Yokoso oide kudasareta. Once more, welcome to my house.”