Archive for the ‘Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath’ Category

Chapter 11

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Chapter Eleven

When we reached the residence hall, Norma was waiting for us in her room, surrounded by stacks of cardboard cartons, all taped and neatly labeled. David shot me a look of dismay. I knew he was wondering if we’d be able to move Norma’s possessions in one trip, and I was thinking the same thing myself.

From his trunk of his car, David removed two cans of bottom paint, a hose, several boat fenders and an old sail, making space for three of the smaller cartons, and while Norma and I carried his boating gear to my room for safekeeping over the holidays, David lugged her boxes to the car, crammed most of them into the back seat, and with a long rope, tied the rest to a roof rack. As we started up the steep hill leading to Norma’s apartment I worried the boxes on top were going to slip off, but David’s lattice-work of rope held, and when we reached the crest not only was everything intact, but we still had more than an hour and a half to spare before my bus left.

Norma’s apartment was a converted sun-porch, glassed in from floor to ceiling and occupying the entire wing of a private home. The owner had partitioned off one end to make a small kitchen and bath; the rest, a good thirty feet long, was the “living room,” containing a convertible couch, a bookcase, and nothing else. Norma’s newly purchased supply of kitchen utensils, pots, bedding and miscellaneous household articles lay in a heap along one wall.

“Isn’t it airy!” Norma exclaimed as she let us in. “It’s almost like living in a greenhouse; and just look at that view!” Norma gestured with a sweep of her arm toward the panorama of houses on the hillside opposite. “Of course the place isn’t much now, but I’ve got nearly three weeks and I’m simply bursting with ideas. It’s going to be Italian Renaissance out of Salvation Army. I’ve been down to the thrift shop and they have some tables and chairs for only a couple of dollars; they’re dilapidated, but I can refinish them. I’m going to rent a sewing machine to make drapes and a cover for the couch. What do you think?”

“It’s going to be great! I wish I had an apartment of my own.”

David gave me a sly smile. “I wish you did, too.” He rubbed his hands together. “Is there any heat?”

“Well, not at the moment, but my landlord says he’ll put in a Franklin stove. He has a couple of fireplaces in his part of the house, and a lot of wood in the garage.”

We carried the boxes upstairs and I went into the kitchen with Norma while she brewed a pot of tea.

“What’s this, a shopping list?” I asked, pointing to a long strip of paper taped to the refrigerator. Similar strips fluttered above the counter and the sink and another one was stuck to the bathroom mirror. I looked more closely and saw they were lists of German words with their English translations on the other side.

“Oh that!” laughed Norma. “Remember the German course I was taking to prepare for the Graduate Reading Exam? It was so slow I decided to drop out and study on my own. I put up the word lists so I can learn the vocabulary … a hundred words while I’m washing the dishes, a hundred words while I’m brushing my teeth and so on. I’m going to take the test next month.”

“You’re planning to cover an entire year’s work over the Christmas vacation?” I asked incredulously.

Norma shrugged. “I attended class for two months and I still have another three weeks ahead of me; that should do it.”

When we finished our tea and got ready to leave, Norma turned to David. “I can’t thank you enough; I don’t know how I could have moved all those things without you. I’m having a housewarming party after winter quarter starts. Nothing fancy, just a few friends from the Romance Language Department, and I’d be happy if you could…”

“I’d be delighted. May I bring a date?”

A momentary look of horror crossed Norma’s face and I knew, however irrationally, she thought he meant his wife. I linked my arm through David’s. “He means me. You do, don’t you?” I asked, giving his arm a squeeze.

Norma sighed with relief. “I’ve already invited Kate, so that solves her transportation problem.”

David offered to bring wine to the party, and with a round of Christmas greetings on all sides, we were on our way.

“Your friend is a very determined young woman,” David observed as we drove to the bus depot.

“Norma? She’s the most determined person I’ve ever met. If you hadn’t driven her to the apartment, she would have found a wheelbarrow and pushed her boxes up the hill. Can you believe she’s the first one in her family to graduate from college? After high school Norma got a clerical position in the Foreign Service; she learned Spanish in Panama and Guatemala, saved her money, came back to the United States and worked as a secretary full-time in Cleveland while attending Western Reserve at night. It took her seven years, but here she is. If Norma told me she was flying to the moon tomorrow I’d bet my life’s savings on her making it. Norma’s my role model.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-nine. She’ll be thirty New Year’s Day.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Norma? She doesn’t have time. I don’t think she’s ever been in love, infatuated maybe, but not in love. She’s so focused on getting her Ph.D. that there’s no room for anything else in her life. Norma doesn’t fritter away her abilities the way I do.”

“Are you referring to me?”

“I’m not referring to anything specific. Norma knows what she wants and she’s determined to get it. I don’t even know what I want.”

“Tis the season to be jolly, remember? When are you returning to Seattle?”

I consulted a pocket calendar. “Classes begin Monday the seventh; I guess I’ll be back on the sixth.”

“Sunday?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“And you’ll check in at the dorm on Sunday?”

“It’s not open before then.”

“How about leaving Utah on Friday and arriving in Seattle on Saturday? I can pick you up.”

“But where will I stay Saturday night?”

David took his eyes off the road for a moment and gave me a mischievous smile. He raised his eyebrows a couple of times and I started to laugh.

“What do you have in mind?”

He grinned. “I have two weeks; I’ll think of something.”

The Seattle Greyhound depot was located in the most depressing section of the city, flanked by pawn shops and sleazy hotels. David’s patrician nostrils flared as we walked into the station.

“Jesus, what a dump. Why don’t you fly home instead?”

“Flying’s too expensive. My parents are spending a fortune as it is to send me to a university out-of-state; I can’t very well ask them to fly me home every quarter. Anyway, I actually like the trip; it gives me a chance to think.”

After I bought a round-trip ticket to Ogden and checked my bag, we went to the lunch counter for coffee. Mine was tepid and David’s cup had a lipstick smear on the edge; he pushed the coffee away in disgust.

“David, why don’t you go now? There’s no point in your waiting.”

“With all the creeps and pedophiles wandering around this place? I’m going to stay and see you safely on the bus. Did you bring something to read?”

I reached in my purse and showed him a copy of Miguel Delibes’ La sombra del ciprés es alargada. “Norma lent me the book. I like to travel with Spanish novels. That way if someone disagreeable sits next to me and tries to start a conversation I’ll just tell him I can’t speak English.”

The PA system announced the Salt Lake City bus departure, and as I turned to say goodbye to David I felt the tears rush to my eyes. Suddenly I didn’t want to go home; I reached for his hand.

“This is absurd,” I murmured. “I know it’s only for two weeks, but …”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, very much.”

“And I love you. What better way to end one year or begin another? So let me remember you with a smile on your face.”

We kissed, self-consciously, and I boarded the bus for home.

The moment my bus pulled into the Portland terminal, I dashed to the counter for something to eat; the bus was one of six in a convoy and they obviously couldn’t feed all the passengers in the 30-minute break. I knew the meal would be terrible, but the alternative of vending machine candy bars for dinner was even worse.

After eating a greasy toasted cheese sandwich garnished with a few flabby potato chips and a limp pickle, I went to the ladies’ room. It was nearly deserted. The arrival of the buses mimicked the ebb and flood of a current; first there was a surge toward the restrooms, followed by a mass movement to the food counter. Now the passengers were queued up two-deep behind the swivel chairs at the counter, and I had the restroom to myself. They’re all alike, those bus depot restrooms, with their stained walls, black and white hexagonal tiled floors and their pervasive odor of Lysol. I entered the one stall with a functioning door; its walls were covered with graffiti scrawled in lipstick and eyebrow pencil:

Beans, beans, good for your heart

The more you eat the more you fart

The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans at every meal

Fuck you

Linda C. your a cunt

I thought of David and couldn’t help smiling. How distressed he would be to see me reading such trash. David lived in a world of well-bred individuals who knew how to use the subjunctive mood in several languages, flew to their destinations, and never, ever saw graffiti on lavatory walls. David was a liberal, a concerned intellectual who favored unions, racial equality, day care centers for mothers and national health insurance. Yet he was light years away from the lower classes whose causes he espoused. For once I felt superior to David; I wasn’t one of the great unwashed either, but at least I could mingle with them without curling my lip.

When the loudspeaker announced the departure of the Salt Lake City bus, I was already aboard. As the passengers started filing in, an old man leaned over and asked if the seat beside me was occupied. I had hoped to keep it vacant, but fought back the urge to say yes; the bus was certainly going to be full and he was a more presentable traveling companion than some of the alternatives. I remembered Frank’s telling me prisons sent released convicts home by Greyhound. I just hoped the man wasn’t chatty.

I replied the seat was free and whipped out my Spanish novel. Looking fragile as a blown egg, the old man settled himself beside me gingerly, as though afraid of breaking something. With hands whose veins stood out like blue mountain ridges on a relief map, he took a candy bar from his pocket, carefully peeled back the first third of the wrapper, and offered me a piece, smiling benignly; I shook my head and mumbled my thanks. Many of the passengers had evidently gone without dinner, for the air cracked with the sound of cellophane, followed by lusty open-mouthed chewing, and the sort of smacking noise people make when they suck on their teeth. My companion extracted a toothpick from his lapel pocket and began to investigate the crevices of his dentures. I shuddered. I wasn’t comfortable around old people, and I felt guilty for my lack of compassion. After all, I was going to be old myself one day and it wasn’t their fault if they reached their dotage ahead of me. I looked at my seat companion out of the corner of my eye and thought of David. In another twenty years or so David would be the same age as this man. I rebelled at the idea. David’s neck would never by creased with wrinkles. David would never have wattles, or white hairs bristling from his ears. He would never have foul breath, and he would never seem so … helpless. Never, never, never. I turned abruptly toward the window and concentrated on my book.

At ten-thirty, when I flicked off the overhead light and put my seat back, the old man was still sitting bolt upright with his eyes staring straight ahead. He had rented a pillow in Portland and stuffed it behind him so that his body was pitched slightly forward. He looked uncomfortable, but I thought perhaps he had difficulty breathing in another position. It wasn’t until I heard his hand fumbling at the side of his seat that I realized he didn’t know how to make it recline. My conscience bothered me and I turned around.

“Are you having trouble getting your seat to go back?”

“Yes’m. I don’t seem to have the hang of it.”

I reached over his lap. “You see this lever … this metal bar sticking out on the side? You push down on it, and at the same time you lean back.”

The old man followed my instructions and gave a sigh of relief. “Much obliged. I couldn’t hardly sleep sitting up like that.”

I said goodnight and turned again to face the window. Except for a few snores, the bus was quiet. We were traveling east along the Columbia River, and as we left the coast behind, the weather got colder. The windowpane was icy against my cheek, and there were patches of snow on the ground. I awakened once as the bus passed through The Dalles and glanced over at the old man; he was fast asleep with his head to the side, his mouth ajar, and a thin trickle of saliva falling on his lapel. For a few minutes I watched the line of buses ahead as they careened around the curves; it looked as though they were connected, like the cars of a train. When I awakened again, it was morning and we were in Idaho.

After a quick breakfast, exceeded in greasiness only by the dinner in Portland, my companion and I fell into conversation. Mr. Hyde was a widower, he told me, a retired telegrapher for some obscure railroad in eastern Washington. Every December he made this trip at Christmas to visit his married daughter in Burley, Idaho. This year, however, failing eyesight prevented him from driving, so Mr. Hyde was taking the bus for the first time. He told me, without the slightest embarrassment, that he talked with God and God always sent him money when he needed it. I had a mental picture of Mr. Hyde’s sitting cross-legged on the ground while coins rained down on him from heaven, but just the thought of poking fun at this gentle man made me feel guilty. He accepted the vicissitudes of life without complaining; he saw his wife’s suffering and his own infirmities as part of a divine plan. Mr. Hyde looked death in the face and he was unafraid. I envied him; he was the bamboo that bends before the wind, while I was the oak that resisted.

Later in the afternoon, when we arrived in Burley, I was genuinely sorry to see him leave. Mr. Hyde collected some packages from the overhead rack and put on his hat. “It’s been real good talking to you, miss.” He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Do you want to know the secret of happiness?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “John three-sixteen.” With this cryptic message, and a “Merry Christmas”, he got off the bus.

My father met me in Ogden and together we hoisted my suitcase into the back seat of the Volkswagen and drove home to Clearfield. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed him; physically I resemble my mother, but in every other way I am a Collins, with the same taciturn New England temperament of my ancestors, born from generations of struggle with icy winters and rocky soil. It was only at nineteen that David was beginning to thaw some of my glacial reserve.

Over the Christmas holidays Daddy and I talked incessantly. He was an avid reader and the only person I knew who could skim a page in seconds and recall everything on it; even David couldn’t do that. I often wondered how my father felt about his career as a naval officer, if he wouldn’t have been happier in the academic world like his younger brother, who’d left the Navy after the war and used his G.I. Bill to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, how he felt about my mother, or about me, but emotions were strictly taboo as topics of conversation. When I was fifteen he took me to the Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis and showed me, carved on the wall, his favorite Biblical quotation: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” That phrase exemplified my father; when he died twenty years later, a truly good man left the world.

Mother and I didn’t discuss Petrarch or the Battle of Lepanto. When David came up in our conversations, she prized from me most of the truth about him and her intuition supplied the rest. Her indifference to David’s marriage amazed me. She considered him an extension of my university education; he would teach me sex and, being an older man, would make sure I was properly taught. One evening after dinner and three double scotches, she regaled me with her teenage misadventures: ripped condoms, clumsy groping in the back of a car, an abortion. David was going to spare me all this. I didn’t want to hear her stories, but it was Christmas and I felt sorry for her. That David and I loved each other never entered her head.

Sunday I helped Daddy put up the tree, a job which traditionally fell to us every year. Together we whittled down the base until it fit the chipped enamel holder, and he guyed the trunk to the walls of the living room with piano wire, for the tree was too large to stand unsupported. Nothing evokes the past for me like trimming a Christmas tree. I can see them still, the glittering German ornaments I bought in Chicago with the money I earned shelving books in the high school library; the little cardboard houses with their mica-sprinkled roofs, ordered from a Sears catalog when we lived in Hawaii; the white feathered dove of peace that crowned every tree. They are all mine now, ghosts of Christmas Past.

Shortly after Christmas, I received an amusing postcard from my Spanish professor. The day of the final exam I had given him two cards so he could mail my grade, one addressed to me in Clearfield and the other to David at the university. Knowing I’d earned an ‘A’ in the class, I wrote on David’s “I told you I can sew and study at the same time!”

My card from Mr. Maldonado arrived with a border of holly leaves and berries he’d drawn around the edge in red and green ink. He wrote:

A+

Catarinita – francamente, me parece requetetonta enviarte

una tarjeta postal. De todos modos es así. Feliz navidad y

próspero año nuevo de parte de

CEM

(Katie – frankly it seems extremely ridiculous to me to send you a postcard Anyway that’s how it is. Merry Christmas and a happy new year from CEM)

My parents invited me to a New Year’s celebration at the Officers Club, but I declined, not wanting to start 1957 in the company of drunks. About eleven o’clock the night of the party I got on my bicycle and pedaled past the rows of silent warehouses toward the club. Straddling the frame, I stood and looked through the window at the gaily-decorated room, filled with crepe paper streamers, balloons and bare-backed ladies. I was suffering an acute attack of Missing David, anxious for the New Year to arrive, yet apprehensive at the prospect of spending the night with him. I bicycled back home to watch Guy Lombardo on television and continue a sewing project.

Just before midnight the telephone rang. I recognized David’s voice instantly despite the noisy background music and the sounds of a party.

“David? Where are you?”

“I’m calling from a public telephone in the Washington Plaza Hotel; it’s just before eleven Seattle time, so it’s nearly 1957 where you are. I wish you were here – not at this party, it’s dreadful – but with me. Kate, dear …”

Just then he stopped and I heard a woman’s strident voice over the phone line.

“Why David, you naughty boy, where have you been hiding? I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Be a sweetheart and get me a martini.”

The woman must have been standing at David’s side; her voice was slurred and she sounded like someone who’d been drinking heavily. I wondered if she was Arlene.

David didn’t bother covering the speaker with his hand and I heard his icy response. “I’m making a personal telephone call, Marion. I’ll go back to the party when I’m finished.” There was a short pause and David returned to the line. “Sorry for the interruption. I’m just calling to say I love you and I miss you. You’ll be here Saturday afternoon?”

“Yes, at four. David, I love you, too.”

Outside the house, an explosion of firecrackers heralded the arrival of 1957 and the strains of Auld Lang Syne poured from the television set.

“A happy New Year, dearest.” I wished him the same and we said goodnight.Chapter Eleven

When we reached the residence hall, Norma was waiting for us in her room, surrounded by stacks of cardboard cartons, all taped and neatly labeled. David shot me a look of dismay. I knew he was wondering if we’d be able to move Norma’s possessions in one trip, and I was thinking the same thing myself.

From his trunk of his car, David removed two cans of bottom paint, a hose, several boat fenders and an old sail, making space for three of the smaller cartons, and while Norma and I carried his boating gear to my room for safekeeping over the holidays, David lugged her boxes to the car, crammed most of them into the back seat, and with a long rope, tied the rest to a roof rack. As we started up the steep hill leading to Norma’s apartment I worried the boxes on top were going to slip off, but David’s lattice-work of rope held, and when we reached the crest not only was everything intact, but we still had more than an hour and a half to spare before my bus left.

Norma’s apartment was a converted sun-porch, glassed in from floor to ceiling and occupying the entire wing of a private home. The owner had partitioned off one end to make a small kitchen and bath; the rest, a good thirty feet long, was the “living room,” containing a convertible couch, a bookcase, and nothing else. Norma’s newly purchased supply of kitchen utensils, pots, bedding and miscellaneous household articles lay in a heap along one wall.

“Isn’t it airy!” Norma exclaimed as she let us in. “It’s almost like living in a greenhouse; and just look at that view!” Norma gestured with a sweep of her arm toward the panorama of houses on the hillside opposite. “Of course the place isn’t much now, but I’ve got nearly three weeks and I’m simply bursting with ideas. It’s going to be Italian Renaissance out of Salvation Army. I’ve been down to the thrift shop and they have some tables and chairs for only a couple of dollars; they’re dilapidated, but I can refinish them. I’m going to rent a sewing machine to make drapes and a cover for the couch. What do you think?”

“It’s going to be great! I wish I had an apartment of my own.”

David gave me a sly smile. “I wish you did, too.” He rubbed his hands together. “Is there any heat?”

“Well, not at the moment, but my landlord says he’ll put in a Franklin stove. He has a couple of fireplaces in his part of the house, and a lot of wood in the garage.”

We carried the boxes upstairs and I went into the kitchen with Norma while she brewed a pot of tea.

“What’s this, a shopping list?” I asked, pointing to a long strip of paper taped to the refrigerator. Similar strips fluttered above the counter and the sink and another one was stuck to the bathroom mirror. I looked more closely and saw they were lists of German words with their English translations on the other side.

“Oh that!” laughed Norma. “Remember the German course I was taking to prepare for the Graduate Reading Exam? It was so slow I decided to drop out and study on my own. I put up the word lists so I can learn the vocabulary … a hundred words while I’m washing the dishes, a hundred words while I’m brushing my teeth and so on. I’m going to take the test next month.”

“You’re planning to cover an entire year’s work over the Christmas vacation?” I asked incredulously.

Norma shrugged. “I attended class for two months and I still have another three weeks ahead of me; that should do it.”

When we finished our tea and got ready to leave, Norma turned to David. “I can’t thank you enough; I don’t know how I could have moved all those things without you. I’m having a housewarming party after winter quarter starts. Nothing fancy, just a few friends from the Romance Language Department, and I’d be happy if you could…”

“I’d be delighted. May I bring a date?”

A momentary look of horror crossed Norma’s face and I knew, however irrationally, she thought he meant his wife. I linked my arm through David’s. “He means me. You do, don’t you?” I asked, giving his arm a squeeze.

Norma sighed with relief. “I’ve already invited Kate, so that solves her transportation problem.”

David offered to bring wine to the party, and with a round of Christmas greetings on all sides, we were on our way.

“Your friend is a very determined young woman,” David observed as we drove to the bus depot.

“Norma? She’s the most determined person I’ve ever met. If you hadn’t driven her to the apartment, she would have found a wheelbarrow and pushed her boxes up the hill. Can you believe she’s the first one in her family to graduate from college? After high school Norma got a clerical position in the Foreign Service; she learned Spanish in Panama and Guatemala, saved her money, came back to the United States and worked as a secretary full-time in Cleveland while attending Western Reserve at night. It took her seven years, but here she is. If Norma told me she was flying to the moon tomorrow I’d bet my life’s savings on her making it. Norma’s my role model.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-nine. She’ll be thirty New Year’s Day.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Norma? She doesn’t have time. I don’t think she’s ever been in love, infatuated maybe, but not in love. She’s so focused on getting her Ph.D. that there’s no room for anything else in her life. Norma doesn’t fritter away her abilities the way I do.”

“Are you referring to me?”

“I’m not referring to anything specific. Norma knows what she wants and she’s determined to get it. I don’t even know what I want.”

“Tis the season to be jolly, remember? When are you returning to Seattle?”

I consulted a pocket calendar. “Classes begin Monday the seventh; I guess I’ll be back on the sixth.”

“Sunday?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“And you’ll check in at the dorm on Sunday?”

“It’s not open before then.”

“How about leaving Utah on Friday and arriving in Seattle on Saturday? I can pick you up.”

“But where will I stay Saturday night?”

David took his eyes off the road for a moment and gave me a mischievous smile. He raised his eyebrows a couple of times and I started to laugh.

“What do you have in mind?”

He grinned. “I have two weeks; I’ll think of something.”

The Seattle Greyhound depot was located in the most depressing section of the city, flanked by pawn shops and sleazy hotels. David’s patrician nostrils flared as we walked into the station.

“Jesus, what a dump. Why don’t you fly home instead?”

“Flying’s too expensive. My parents are spending a fortune as it is to send me to a university out-of-state; I can’t very well ask them to fly me home every quarter. Anyway, I actually like the trip; it gives me a chance to think.”

After I bought a round-trip ticket to Ogden and checked my bag, we went to the lunch counter for coffee. Mine was tepid and David’s cup had a lipstick smear on the edge; he pushed the coffee away in disgust.

“David, why don’t you go now? There’s no point in your waiting.”

“With all the creeps and pedophiles wandering around this place? I’m going to stay and see you safely on the bus. Did you bring something to read?”

I reached in my purse and showed him a copy of Miguel Delibes’ La sombra del ciprés es alargada. “Norma lent me the book. I like to travel with Spanish novels. That way if someone disagreeable sits next to me and tries to start a conversation I’ll just tell him I can’t speak English.”

The PA system announced the Salt Lake City bus departure, and as I turned to say goodbye to David I felt the tears rush to my eyes. Suddenly I didn’t want to go home; I reached for his hand.

“This is absurd,” I murmured. “I know it’s only for two weeks, but …”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, very much.”

“And I love you. What better way to end one year or begin another? So let me remember you with a smile on your face.”

We kissed, self-consciously, and I boarded the bus for home.

The moment my bus pulled into the Portland terminal, I dashed to the counter for something to eat; the bus was one of six in a convoy and they obviously couldn’t feed all the passengers in the 30-minute break. I knew the meal would be terrible, but the alternative of vending machine candy bars for dinner was even worse.

After eating a greasy toasted cheese sandwich garnished with a few flabby potato chips and a limp pickle, I went to the ladies’ room. It was nearly deserted. The arrival of the buses mimicked the ebb and flood of a current; first there was a surge toward the restrooms, followed by a mass movement to the food counter. Now the passengers were queued up two-deep behind the swivel chairs at the counter, and I had the restroom to myself. They’re all alike, those bus depot restrooms, with their stained walls, black and white hexagonal tiled floors and their pervasive odor of Lysol. I entered the one stall with a functioning door; its walls were covered with graffiti scrawled in lipstick and eyebrow pencil:

Beans, beans, good for your heart

The more you eat the more you fart

The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans at every meal

Fuck you

Linda C. your a cunt

I thought of David and couldn’t help smiling. How distressed he would be to see me reading such trash. David lived in a world of well-bred individuals who knew how to use the subjunctive mood in several languages, flew to their destinations, and never, ever saw graffiti on lavatory walls. David was a liberal, a concerned intellectual who favored unions, racial equality, day care centers for mothers and national health insurance. Yet he was light years away from the lower classes whose causes he espoused. For once I felt superior to David; I wasn’t one of the great unwashed either, but at least I could mingle with them without curling my lip.

When the loudspeaker announced the departure of the Salt Lake City bus, I was already aboard. As the passengers started filing in, an old man leaned over and asked if the seat beside me was occupied. I had hoped to keep it vacant, but fought back the urge to say yes; the bus was certainly going to be full and he was a more presentable traveling companion than some of the alternatives. I remembered Frank’s telling me prisons sent released convicts home by Greyhound. I just hoped the man wasn’t chatty.

I replied the seat was free and whipped out my Spanish novel. Looking fragile as a blown egg, the old man settled himself beside me gingerly, as though afraid of breaking something. With hands whose veins stood out like blue mountain ridges on a relief map, he took a candy bar from his pocket, carefully peeled back the first third of the wrapper, and offered me a piece, smiling benignly; I shook my head and mumbled my thanks. Many of the passengers had evidently gone without dinner, for the air cracked with the sound of cellophane, followed by lusty open-mouthed chewing, and the sort of smacking noise people make when they suck on their teeth. My companion extracted a toothpick from his lapel pocket and began to investigate the crevices of his dentures. I shuddered. I wasn’t comfortable around old people, and I felt guilty for my lack of compassion. After all, I was going to be old myself one day and it wasn’t their fault if they reached their dotage ahead of me. I looked at my seat companion out of the corner of my eye and thought of David. In another twenty years or so David would be the same age as this man. I rebelled at the idea. David’s neck would never by creased with wrinkles. David would never have wattles, or white hairs bristling from his ears. He would never have foul breath, and he would never seem so … helpless. Never, never, never. I turned abruptly toward the window and concentrated on my book.

At ten-thirty, when I flicked off the overhead light and put my seat back, the old man was still sitting bolt upright with his eyes staring straight ahead. He had rented a pillow in Portland and stuffed it behind him so that his body was pitched slightly forward. He looked uncomfortable, but I thought perhaps he had difficulty breathing in another position. It wasn’t until I heard his hand fumbling at the side of his seat that I realized he didn’t know how to make it recline. My conscience bothered me and I turned around.

“Are you having trouble getting your seat to go back?”

“Yes’m. I don’t seem to have the hang of it.”

I reached over his lap. “You see this lever … this metal bar sticking out on the side? You push down on it, and at the same time you lean back.”

The old man followed my instructions and gave a sigh of relief. “Much obliged. I couldn’t hardly sleep sitting up like that.”

I said goodnight and turned again to face the window. Except for a few snores, the bus was quiet. We were traveling east along the Columbia River, and as we left the coast behind, the weather got colder. The windowpane was icy against my cheek, and there were patches of snow on the ground. I awakened once as the bus passed through The Dalles and glanced over at the old man; he was fast asleep with his head to the side, his mouth ajar, and a thin trickle of saliva falling on his lapel. For a few minutes I watched the line of buses ahead as they careened around the curves; it looked as though they were connected, like the cars of a train. When I awakened again, it was morning and we were in Idaho.

After a quick breakfast, exceeded in greasiness only by the dinner in Portland, my companion and I fell into conversation. Mr. Hyde was a widower, he told me, a retired telegrapher for some obscure railroad in eastern Washington. Every December he made this trip at Christmas to visit his married daughter in Burley, Idaho. This year, however, failing eyesight prevented him from driving, so Mr. Hyde was taking the bus for the first time. He told me, without the slightest embarrassment, that he talked with God and God always sent him money when he needed it. I had a mental picture of Mr. Hyde’s sitting cross-legged on the ground while coins rained down on him from heaven, but just the thought of poking fun at this gentle man made me feel guilty. He accepted the vicissitudes of life without complaining; he saw his wife’s suffering and his own infirmities as part of a divine plan. Mr. Hyde looked death in the face and he was unafraid. I envied him; he was the bamboo that bends before the wind, while I was the oak that resisted.

Later in the afternoon, when we arrived in Burley, I was genuinely sorry to see him leave. Mr. Hyde collected some packages from the overhead rack and put on his hat. “It’s been real good talking to you, miss.” He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Do you want to know the secret of happiness?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “John three-sixteen.” With this cryptic message, and a “Merry Christmas”, he got off the bus.

My father met me in Ogden and together we hoisted my suitcase into the back seat of the Volkswagen and drove home to Clearfield. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed him; physically I resemble my mother, but in every other way I am a Collins, with the same taciturn New England temperament of my ancestors, born from generations of struggle with icy winters and rocky soil. It was only at nineteen that David was beginning to thaw some of my glacial reserve.

Over the Christmas holidays Daddy and I talked incessantly. He was an avid reader and the only person I knew who could skim a page in seconds and recall everything on it; even David couldn’t do that. I often wondered how my father felt about his career as a naval officer, if he wouldn’t have been happier in the academic world like his younger brother, who’d left the Navy after the war and used his G.I. Bill to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, how he felt about my mother, or about me, but emotions were strictly taboo as topics of conversation. When I was fifteen he took me to the Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis and showed me, carved on the wall, his favorite Biblical quotation: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” That phrase exemplified my father; when he died twenty years later, a truly good man left the world.

Mother and I didn’t discuss Petrarch or the Battle of Lepanto. When David came up in our conversations, she prized from me most of the truth about him and her intuition supplied the rest. Her indifference to David’s marriage amazed me. She considered him an extension of my university education; he would teach me sex and, being an older man, would make sure I was properly taught. One evening after dinner and three double scotches, she regaled me with her teenage misadventures: ripped condoms, clumsy groping in the back of a car, an abortion. David was going to spare me all this. I didn’t want to hear her stories, but it was Christmas and I felt sorry for her. That David and I loved each other never entered her head.

Sunday I helped Daddy put up the tree, a job which traditionally fell to us every year. Together we whittled down the base until it fit the chipped enamel holder, and he guyed the trunk to the walls of the living room with piano wire, for the tree was too large to stand unsupported. Nothing evokes the past for me like trimming a Christmas tree. I can see them still, the glittering German ornaments I bought in Chicago with the money I earned shelving books in the high school library; the little cardboard houses with their mica-sprinkled roofs, ordered from a Sears catalog when we lived in Hawaii; the white feathered dove of peace that crowned every tree. They are all mine now, ghosts of Christmas Past.

Shortly after Christmas, I received an amusing postcard from my Spanish professor. The day of the final exam I had given him two cards so he could mail my grade, one addressed to me in Clearfield and the other to David at the university. Knowing I’d earned an ‘A’ in the class, I wrote on David’s “I told you I can sew and study at the same time!”

My card from Mr. Maldonado arrived with a border of holly leaves and berries he’d drawn around the edge in red and green ink. He wrote:

A+

Catarinita – francamente, me parece requetetonta enviarte

una tarjeta postal. De todos modos es así. Feliz navidad y

próspero año nuevo de parte de

CEM

(Katie – frankly it seems extremely ridiculous to me to send you a postcard Anyway that’s how it is. Merry Christmas and a happy new year from CEM)

My parents invited me to a New Year’s celebration at the Officers Club, but I declined, not wanting to start 1957 in the company of drunks. About eleven o’clock the night of the party I got on my bicycle and pedaled past the rows of silent warehouses toward the club. Straddling the frame, I stood and looked through the window at the gaily-decorated room, filled with crepe paper streamers, balloons and bare-backed ladies. I was suffering an acute attack of Missing David, anxious for the New Year to arrive, yet apprehensive at the prospect of spending the night with him. I bicycled back home to watch Guy Lombardo on television and continue a sewing project.

Just before midnight the telephone rang. I recognized David’s voice instantly despite the noisy background music and the sounds of a party.

“David? Where are you?”

“I’m calling from a public telephone in the Washington Plaza Hotel; it’s just before eleven Seattle time, so it’s nearly 1957 where you are. I wish you were here – not at this party, it’s dreadful – but with me. Kate, dear …”

Just then he stopped and I heard a woman’s strident voice over the phone line.

“Why David, you naughty boy, where have you been hiding? I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Be a sweetheart and get me a martini.”

The woman must have been standing at David’s side; her voice was slurred and she sounded like someone who’d been drinking heavily. I wondered if she was Arlene.

David didn’t bother covering the speaker with his hand and I heard his icy response. “I’m making a personal telephone call, Marion. I’ll go back to the party when I’m finished.” There was a short pause and David returned to the line. “Sorry for the interruption. I’m just calling to say I love you and I miss you. You’ll be here Saturday afternoon?”

“Yes, at four. David, I love you, too.”

Outside the house, an explosion of firecrackers heralded the arrival of 1957 and the strains of Auld Lang Syne poured from the television set.

“A happy New Year, dearest.” I wished him the same and we said goodnight.v

CHAPTER 10

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Dec. 16, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

My last exam is Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Frank and I are helping Norma move to her new apartment and then he’s taking me to the Greyhound depot to catch the 5:00 pm bus for Ogden. It’s supposed to arrive at 1:30 pm Saturday afternoon. I hope Daddy can pick me up; if he’s not at the station when I arrive, I’ll call. I’m looking forward to coming home …

 

It snowed Saturday evening, the first snow of winter. In the garden beneath my window, two Indonesian girls from Blaine Hall ran barefoot across the grass in their white nightgowns, squealing with delight. They raised their arms to catch the falling flakes, like priestesses in a midwinter rite.

Long after the girls had come in, I stayed at the window watching the snow fall. For the first time in weeks I felt at peace with myself and with David and the crushing weight on my heart was gone. True, finals week started on Monday and I needed to call Dr. Libby’s office. Worse yet, I’d have pay Dr. Libby a visit, but Friday afternoon David was taking me to the Greyhound depot and I would be going home for Christmas. I thought of my parents and our rambling house on the naval base in Clearfield, surrounded by acres of farmland and pasture. I thought of the garden behind our house, where the rich soil yielded bushels of tomatoes, beans, and watermelons despite my parents’ desultory efforts at farming. The garden would be covered with snow now; perhaps at that moment Daddy had a fire blazing in the living room. Daddy was going to be so proud of my grades, so happy to have someone besides my mother to talk to. I thought how much he would like David if they ever met, but Daddy would never understand how I could love a man older than he.

On my bed the Pendleton wool robe I was making for David lay nearly completed, and I smiled in anticipation of giving it to him. David knew I’d been sewing recently; he’d even chided me for spending more time at the sewing machine than with my books, but he had no suspicion I was making something for him. Tuesday afternoon I would take the bus to Frederick & Nelson’s department store to buy a box and gift wrapping. It was going to be a very Merry Christmas.

Despite the approaching holiday, a hush lay over the dormitory. No one lingered downstairs after dinner to play records or watch television, and the halls were strangely silent. Every night during finals week at ten o’clock the girls gathered in the living room for doughnuts and hot chocolate, a Blaine Hall tradition. We trooped down in pajamas and hair curlers, giggling with nervous laughter, keyed up by the tension of finals week. The girls who were still preparing for exams brought their books and notepads and sat on the floor studying, while those who were finished laughed too much and discussed their preparations for going home.

My schedule was fairly well spread out; I had an examination in Spanish literature on Monday, Oceania and modern European history on Wednesday, and physical anthropology Thursday afternoon. After the Spanish final, I found a secluded phone booth in the basement of Denny Hall, and called Dr. Libby’s office. As I stood in the booth with my heartbeat pounding in my temples, I imagined the receptionist thumbing through her appointment book.

“This is for an annual?” asked the voice at the other end of the line.

“Yes.”

“We’re booked until the middle of January, but I do have a cancellation Thursday morning at ten. Can you make it then?”

“Yes.”

“Are you already a patient of Dr. Libby’s?”

“No.”

“Who referred you to us?”

My mouth went dry. I hadn’t anticipated this question. For a moment, I considered giving David’s name and then changed my mind. How was a person supposed to find a doctor if he didn’t have one? The answer came to me at once.

“The King County Medical Association.” Did such a thing even exist? I wasn’t sure. My reply must have been satisfactory, for the receptionist said “Very good then, we’ll see you Thursday at ten.”

I stayed away from David’s office all week, but we talked on the phone. Even though I felt prepared for the exams, I was tense; my face broke out as it always did when I was stressed, and I didn’t want David to see my pimples. Tuesday afternoon Norma and I went downtown to do our Christmas shopping or at least mine, since Norma planned to stay in Seattle over the holidays to get settled in her new apartment. We splurged and ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant, foregoing the free meal back at Blaine Hall.

Thursday morning I arrived nearly an hour early for my appointment with Dr. Libby and after registering at the desk, I sank uneasily into an overstuffed chair to observe the other patients. Dr. Libby shared his practice with another gynecologist; five women were sitting in the waiting room, four of them obviously expecting. I glanced surreptitiously between the fronds of a huge Boston fern at a couple of young women, girls actually, no older than I, who were comparing notes on their pregnancies, and listened in fascination as one related how she’d married her high school sweetheart, a sailor, the day after her graduation, when she was already three months pregnant; this was her second baby in less than two years. The girls prattled on mindlessly about breast feeding, morning sickness, and how much weight they’d gained. I sneaked another look at them through the fern; there they sat like a couple of complacent cows. One began telling the other how to predict the baby’s gender using a piece of string, a key, and a Bible. I turned away with a shudder of revulsion, embarrassed for my sex, and picked up a year-old copy of Fortune, the most intellectual publication in the waiting room’s magazine rack.

At last the receptionist called my name. “Catherine, doctor will see you now,” and I felt a surge of annoyance. It was demeaning to be addressed by my first name at the age of nineteen, and why had she said “doctor” and not “the doctor” or “Dr. Libby”?

A nurse measured my height, weight and blood pressure; handing me a shapeless blue gown, she led me to an examination room. “Take off everything including your bra and panties and put this on, open to the front. The doctor will be with you in a few minutes.”

I changed into the gown and perched on the edge of the examination table, wishing I’d had the foresight to bring the magazine with me to establish my bona fides as something more than a baby machine. I tried to think of a few conversational openers to impress the doctor, to show him my intellect clearly set me apart from the mass of vaginas and buttocks that slid across his table every day, but I was too nervous to come up with anything.

Five minutes later I heard a discreet knock on the door and, without waiting for a reply, Dr. Libby entered; he was about David’s age and coolly professional. While I balanced on the edge of the table with my feet dangling two feet from the floor, Dr. Libby took down my medical history on a pad of yellow paper. Sitting on the table reminded me of riding the subway in New York City when I was a little girl; my legs hadn’t reached the ground then, either. I was clearly at a disadvantage; Dr. Libby sat poised and comfortable on a folding chair while I faced him in that ridiculous position.

As Dr. Libby was questioning me, I kept looking for a good point to interject the real reason for my visit. At last there was a lull and I swallowed hard. “In addition to the examination, I would like to be fitted with a diaphragm.” I looked closely at the doctor. He kept on writing. No raised eyebrow, no glance at my ring finger. Nothing. Perhaps he hadn’t heard me. I was getting ready to rephrase my request when he glanced up.

“We’ll get to that after the vaginal exam.”

His nurse draped me with a sheet and directed me to place my heels in the stirrups at the end of the table. Dr. Libby was taciturn; his conversation was limited to asking me to slide father down, to take a deep breath and to lift my head. When he had the requisite smears on the glass slides, neatly labeled for the laboratory, Dr. Libby brought out a tray of diaphragms. He determined the proper size, explained how to use one and wrote me a prescription. Clutching the precious paper and a couple of pamphlets, I stopped by the receptionist’s desk on the way out.

“I’d like to pay for today’s examination now, if possible.”

The receptionist smiled. “How nice. That will save us the trouble of sending you a bill.” I smiled back, suffused with relief the ordeal was over, and paid the $15.00 charge with a feeling of benevolence toward her that I’d lacked before. I put on gloves before entering the pharmacy and presented my prescription with feigned nonchalance, as if a diaphragm and spermicide were everyday purchases.

David phoned me in the evening. We had to be circumspect, of course; everyone knew the dorm switchboard operators listened to the conversations.

“Well, how did the appointment go? David asked.

“It was fine, no problem. What a relief to have it behind me! By the way, you were right.”

“About what”

“W.L. He didn’t put me on a rack or pull out my fingernails. He didn’t even turn a hair when I brought up the subject.”

I could imagine David’s “I told you so” grin at the other end of the line.

“Are you still coming by the dorm early tomorrow afternoon?” I asked. “You said you’d help Norma move before we go to the bus station.”

“Yes, I should be at Blaine by two unless one of you has a change in plans. Your bus leaves at five?”

“That’s right. Are you going to be in your office tomorrow, before you come here?”

“Probably, why?”

“I can’t tell you; it’s a secret. I’ll see you then.”

Friday morning I packed my suitcase and gave David’s robe a final pressing. I didn’t know where he was going to wear it, unless his wife was so accustomed to David’s receiving gifts that he could take the robe home with impunity. I was doubtful; maybe he could keep it on Sturmvogel.

I raced down to the Health Sciences Building after an early lunch, carrying the gift-wrapped box concealed in a brown paper shopping bag. It must have been the hint of Christmas in the air that made everyone I passed so happy. Strangers beamed at me and I returned their smiles; one of the gardeners raised his watering can and wished me a happy holiday.

On the way upstairs to David’s office I ran into Frank.

“Merry Christmas!” he exclaimed. Frank took the package from me and folded back an edge of the paper, exposing the Christmas wrapping beneath.

“How marvelous of you to bring me a present!”

“The present’s not for you, silly. It’s for David. Is he in?”

“He was five minutes ago.”

“And a Merry Christmas to you, Frank. I do have something for you.” I leaned over, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and dashed up the stairs to the fourth floor.

When I knocked on David’s door he called for me to come in with the tone of voice he used with strangers; he obviously wasn’t expecting anyone. He was standing with his back to the door, bending over a couple of boxes on his desk, and he closed them hurriedly before turning around.

“Why Kate, what brings you here?”

“This,” I said, taking his present from the bag. “Merry Christmas, David. I made it myself, and I hope you like it.”

David looked both pleased and embarrassed. “I’m overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting you to give me anything. Jews aren’t accustomed to receiving Christmas presents, you know. Shall I open your gift now or wait until the 25th?”

“Oh now, please. I want to see how it looks on you.”

David unwrapped his present carefully, without ripping the paper or cutting the ribbon, and he gave a gasp of astonishment as he lifted the robe from the box. “So this was your sewing project! You made it yourself?”

“With my own eleven fingers.”

“Eleven?”

I counted down the fingers of my left hand. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six … and five makes eleven.”

“Thank you so much, Kate. It’s beautiful.” David put on the robe and gave me a kiss. “How did you manage to get such a perfect fit?”

“Haven’t you noticed I’m always embracing you? I’ve been measuring you, secretly.”

David held out his arms. “Then come measure me some more.”

He gestured toward the boxes on his desk. “Santa Claus brought you something too, but you caught me in the act of wrapping it.”

“Oh David,” I said with dismay, “I don’t want you to give me a Christmas present. I mean it; please don’t ever give me anything.”

He looked hurt. “For crying out loud, why not? I didn’t get you anything like a lace negligee or a diamond bracelet. On the contrary, my gift is so utilitarian I was having second thoughts.”

“If you start giving me things you’ll begin to wonder if I love you for yourself or for what I’m getting from you; I don’t want you to have any doubts.”

“Not a vestige.”

“Maybe you don’t now, but … isn’t that the stereotype, the older man showering the younger woman with gifts, buying her affection, really?”

“My economic condition doesn’t allow much showering, only a sponge bath now and then. Besides I know you’re not that kind of person.” David nodded toward the boxes. “Look, Kate, I don’t want to take these things back. Won’t you at least open them and then decide? If you keep them, I promise never again to buy you so much as a candy bar. You can pay for our dinners at Sam’s. You can buy our coffee at the HUB. You can subsidize my gasoline bill. Wait, I have it. I’ll be your gigolo and you can pay for everything. Let’s see, my car’s getting old…”

“David, you’re so silly,” said, tweaking his nose.

“Yes I am silly with you. It’s a blessing, like something I’ve retrieved from the past or maybe I’m just learning it for the first time.”

I opened the larger package and took out a foul weather sailing outfit, a duplicate of David’s, complete with yellow jacket and yellow bib-and suspender pants; the second box contained a pair of high black boots.

“David! Thank you! Now we’re twins! I can’t think of anything more wonderful. I’ll try them right now.”

I put on the outfit and we stood looking at each other, laughing. David put his arms around me. “You get soaked every time we sail; these clothes should keep you good and dry. Dry anyway. You ought to accept the boots, at least,” he whispered, running his tongue lightly down the edge of my ear. “When your tennis shoes get wet they smell.”

“David, “I giggled, “that’s an outrageous thing to say!”

“Sad but true. Will you keep them? I can take the clothes to the boat and put them in the hanging locker beside mine.”

“Of course I’ll keep them.”

There was a sound of someone kicking the door, followed by “open up, my hands are full, it’s me, Frank.”

David opened the door and Frank stepped in, concealing something under his jacket. He began to sing:

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year!

“Merry Christmas, everyone. Or do I have the wrong holiday? By the looks of you two I’d swear it’s Halloween.” Frank pulled out a bottle of wine and a stack of paper cups from under his jacket. David picked up the bottle and read the label.

“Tsk, tsk, an alcoholic beverage on university property? I’m surprised at you Frank Caputo.”

Frank poured the wine into the cups and proposed a toast.

“To 1957!”

“To your wedding!”

“To fair seas and following winds!”

We raised our cups and drank. Unmindful of Frank, David put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a kiss; I wondered what Frank thought. He started to refill our cups.

“No more for me, thanks,” David said, putting his hand over the top of his. “I’m driving Kate to the Greyhound depot. Which reminds me…” He looked at his watch. “It’s time we were going. I hope Norma has her boxes ready.”

While Frank finished the rest of the wine, I took off the sailing outfit and David removed his robe.

“Let’s bury the dead soldier.” Frank suspended the bottle over David’s waste basket.

David took it from him. “Not in my waste basket you don’t. What I do in this office is damning enough without adding drinking to the list. Dispose of this in your own office. Or better yet …” He took one of the paper bags from his desk, put the bottle inside and handed it to Frank. “Take the bottle home and throw it away there.”

CHAPTER 9

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Dec. 15, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned sailing. You must be thinking (and hoping) that I do nothing but study. Finals begin next week, but I’m caught up, so when Dr. Rosenau and Frank suggested going for a sail Thursday evening, I decided to go with them. It was divine – there was no moon and the stars were like diamonds in the sky…
The chimes were ringing three o’clock the following afternoon when I ran up to David’s office in the Health Sciences Building but, instead of finding the lights on behind the glass door and hearing the sound of music from twenty feet down the hall, his room was dark and a piece of paper was taped to the door:

P.P.M. Meeting 3-5

Inquire at office for messages

I read the note several times. What was a P.P.M. meeting? Why hadn’t David called me? I could just as easily have come at a different time. A cold hand clutched my heart as I began to wonder if he was avoiding me. “Inquire at office for messages,” had to mean the typing. I continued down the hall to the departmental office where Iris Williams was bending over a typewriter; she glanced up at me without breaking the rhythm of her fingers on the keys.

“With you in a minute,” she said, returning her gaze to the note pad at her side. Iris’ unwashed hair was falling in front of her eyes and across her forehead, reminding me of a sheepdog. She finished the page, pushed her hair to one side, and looked up.

“What can I do for you?”

“I work for Dr. Rosenau. Did he leave anything for me?”

“Oh, you’re Kate Collins, aren’t you?” A lightbulb of recognition flashed on over Iris’ head and we stared at each other for a moment. I felt infamous; she Knew Who I Was.

“Yeah, he asked me to give you this.” Iris took a heavy manila envelope from the corner of her desk and handed the package to me. “He’s very nice, isn’t he?”

“Who?” I said stupidly, and then recovered myself. “Dav… Dr. Rosenau, yes, he is.”

Feeling foolish, I turned and left the office. Frank was waiting for me outside the door and fell into step beside me.

“Frank, what’s a P.P.M. meeting?”

“That meeting of David’s? Geez, I don’t know. I think it’s got something to do with the premedical curriculum. I wouldn’t wait for him if I were you. He probably won’t be out much before five. Don’t the two of you usually go over to the HUB around now?”

I nodded.

“How about joining me for a cup of coffee, instead.”

Frank was too full of Christmas spirit to notice my lack of enthusiasm and he managed to keep the conversation going with a minimum of input from me. He told me he was driving to Spokane the following week to spend Christmas with his fiancée. Frank had never talked much about her, but that afternoon, encouraged no doubt by the prospect of seeing Kathleen after an absence of several months, he related the complete history of their courtship. They’d met in high school as cheerleaders, which I couldn’t picture – Kathleen sounded too shy and Frank was fresh off the boat from Italy. After meeting Frank, Kathleen had converted to Catholicism and, as sometimes happens with converts, she became more Catholic than Frank himself, going so far as to spend two years in a convent before deciding to marry him. They’d been engaged for three years, and while Frank completed the work on his Ph.D., Kathleen was studying for her teaching credential at a Catholic women’s college. When I asked if their long separation was physically difficult for them, Frank looked at me aghast; he babbled something about the wife’s being the vase of chastity of the family and how he’d never done more than kiss Kathleen and hardly any of that.
“She’s very pure, you know; she’s with those nuns all day long.”
I was several years younger than either of them, but I suddenly felt old, very old.

“Are you still typing those articles for David?” Frank asked, glancing at the envelope on the table.

“Yes, we haven’t finished yet. He thinks we’ll be done in a couple of months.”

“Can I see what he gave you?”

“Sure, go ahead, but everything’s in Spanish. You may be a biochemist and fluent in Italian, but I don’t think you’ll understand it. I read Spanish as well as I do English and even I don’t know what half of what I’m typing.”

Frank removed a sheaf of papers and thumbed through them as I finished my coffee. He stopped at one page, read it, and looked at me with a frown. “You’re right; I don’t understand.” Frank replaced the manuscript in the envelope, bent the metal tabs carefully in place, and handed me the package.

When I reached the dormitory, I hurried along the hall leading to my room, key in hand, hoping the telephone would be ringing, but the room was silent. I sat down to study with one eye on the clock. By 5:45 I knew the meeting must be over and David still hadn’t called, but I didn’t dare leave the phone, even though I needed to go to the bathroom. I thought of calling the biochemistry department and dismissed the idea. David wasn’t likely to be in his office so late and if, for some reason, he was avoiding me, I had too much pride to let him know I was hurt. At six Norma knocked on my door to ask if I was going to dinner; I threw a final glance at the clock, another at the telephone, and left the room.

After dinner we sat for a long time in a small alcove overlooking the garden while Norma told me about her hunt for a cheap apartment in the university district. The residence hall restrictions disgusted her and, being over 21, she could live where she pleased. With enthusiasm, Norma described the place she’d found, a converted sun porch, large and airy, within walking distance of the campus, if two miles could be called “walking distance” and cheap, because the apartment was perched on the top of a steep hill. Norma wasn’t deterred, however; she was a great walker and big on views. I tried to share her excitement but, in truth, I was going to miss her. Norma wouldn’t understand, of course, for she was too self-sufficient to need anyone, just as I’d been before allowing myself to become so dependent on David. The problem of David was weighing on me. I was depressed Norma was moving out and even Frank’s engagement seemed like a sort of defection. I was wallowing in self-pity.

“Norma, do you think it’s true a man loses respect for a girl if she allows him to be too intimate with her?”

Norma lifted her eyebrows in surprise at the unexpected turn in the conversation. “Unfortunately, I’ve never had an opportunity to test that theory. I suppose it depends on the people involved.”

“You know how you read in advice to the lovelorn columns something like ‘I’ve been going with this boy for six months. He’s pestering me to prove my love to him, but I want to save myself for marriage. I’m afraid if I give in he’ll lose all respect for me…’ and so on.”

“Yeah, I’ve read those letters. I’m dying to see one that goes ‘Dear Ann Landers, you’re all wet. I’ve been screwing with my boyfriend every day for six months and we just got married. He said if we had sex first and he still wanted to marry me, that was proof he was interested in more than my body. Signed: Glad I did it.’”

I laughed in spite of myself.

“Judging from the conversations I’ve overheard around here, this dilemma seems to be fairly common. Something tells me your interest in the topic is more than academic.”

A group of girls sat down near us and we left the table to go to my room.

“You’re right,” I said as I unlocked the door. “David and I went sailing last night. I didn’t come back here; I slept on his boat.”

“With David?”

“No, he left around midnight. When I went to his office this afternoon to pick up the typing, there was a note on his door saying he’d gone to a meeting. He could have called me, but he hasn’t.”

Norma was sitting on my bed with her back against the wall; she stuffed a pillow behind her. “Hey, wait a minute, that’s a non sequitur. What does David’s going to a meeting have to do with your spending the night on the boat? What happened last night?”

I sighed. “I think David invited me to go sailing so we could talk; I’m sure he didn’t have any other intentions, but somehow we both got carried away.”

“You had sex?”

“Not exactly, but it was pretty close. Oh, Norma, it was all my fault. David didn’t want to – I practically threw myself at him. I don’t know how I could have been so stupid.”

“So now you think he’s changed his mind about you, lost his respect for you, or something like that?”

“One minute I’m this virginal teenager and the next one I’m pulling a box of contraceptives out of my pocket and begging him to spend the night with me. He’s probably in shock.”

“Did he say anything?”

“Just before he went home he said he was leaving the boat before I raped him – he was laughing and I took his remark as a joke, but now I’m beginning to wonder.”

“You think he went to the meeting because he’s avoiding you?”

“He hasn’t phoned me, either. What else am I supposed to think?”

“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation, but you’re too busy painting the Devil on the wall to see it. What if the meeting came up unexpectedly? Suppose someone was with him when he wrote the note? Is that all it said, that he was going to a meeting?”

“The second line said to inquire at the office for messages.”

“Did you?”

“Yes, he left the typing for me with the secretary.” I gestured toward the envelope on the bed.

“May I?”

“Help yourself.”

Norma opened the package just as Frank had done a few hours earlier, and examined the contents page by page.

“What a bunch of gibberish. This is what he’s having published in Argentina?”

I nodded.

She smiled triumphantly. “Well, here’s one page that isn’t. It starts ‘My dearest Kate, I lay awake last night for hours…’” She broke off and handed me the letter.

“I’ll leave you to your ‘typing’ while I go search for a job as an advice columnist.”

I smiled my thanks and Norma closed the door behind her. Trembling, I sat at the desk and read David’s letter.

My dearest Kate,

I lay awake last night for hours reliving everything we said and did on Sturmvogel, feeling both anxious and elated, wondering if we reached any decisions, and whether I ever succeeded in making clear to you the nature of my misgivings. I’ve tried to apply the scientific method to our situation but, sad to say, logic is not applicable to affairs of the heart, or perhaps it is, and I’m unwilling to accept the conclusions. I made a mental list of the pros and cons, and while the pros number three at the most, the cons run on for pages.

Seriously, dear, I decided to hold the meeting this afternoon rather than see you, to give you more time for reflection. Please think over everything we discussed. I’ll call you Saturday morning.

All my love,

David

P.S. Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas – Blaise Pascal

I finished the letter and laid my head down on the desk, suffused with relief. I knew I was foolish to have doubted David; with his letter in my hand I had trouble remembering the apprehensions which were worrying me a mere hour before. Suddenly I realized Frank had seen it when he was leafing through the manuscripts at the HUB. I read David’s note again, trying to imagine Frank’s reaction, and when I finished I knew what he meant by saying he didn’t understand.

A nightmare awakened me at two in the morning. David and I were together on Sturmvogel. I was leaning over the side of the boat, trying to run a line to a mooring buoy, but every time I was on the verge of success, Sturmvogel drifted away, and my body ached with exhaustion. I awakened with a start and sat up; I had fallen asleep with my head on the desk, and my neck was stiff. I tumbled into bed fully clothed and turned off the light.

I was still sore the following morning when the telephone rang.

“Hello, Kate? This is David,” he began as usual.

How funny, I thought – as if the caller could be anyone else.

He hesitated for a moment. “Did you get my note?”

“Yes, I found it.”

“After I left the papers with Iris I realized you might not open the envelope right away. I’m relieved.” I smiled and said nothing. “Are you free now?”

We agreed to meet after lunch outside the residence hall and David’s green DeSoto pulled up beside me on the driveway at one o’clock

“Are we going to the boat?” I asked as I opened the door. “I can dash upstairs and change to pants in a minute if we’re heading for the marina.”

“No, let’s go somewhere else. How about the zoo?”

“To see the fennecs?”

“I don’t care what we see. I just want to be alone with you. But not too alone.” David took his eyes off the road long enough to give me a quick smile.

Thursday’s clear sky had given way to a leaden overcast with more than a hint of rain in the air. Except for a couple of women pushing baby carriages and a few elderly men walking down the paths with their hands clasped behind them, Woodland Park was nearly deserted. David parked the car and we strolled past the rows of empty cages whose occupants had fled to the heated interiors. We sat on a bench facing the polar bears, the only animals that appeared to be enjoying the weather; across the moat, two cubs were playing tug-of-war with a huge piece of meat, romping and somersaulting from one end of the cage to the other, and we watched them, in silence, for several minutes.

Chapter 8

Posted: January 23, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Chapter Eight

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Dec. 12, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

Norma and I finally heard from the American Friends Service Committee and they accepted us to the work camp program! We’ll be living in a village called San Pedro Tlaltenango, not too far from Puebla, just south of Mexico City. It’s really primitive – no electricity, no running water, virtually no roads. We’ll be helping the people of the village to build a school, and when I say “build” I mean that literally – even grinding stones to make concrete. We can hardly wait to go.

I submitted my term paper for the Anthropology of Oceania and received an A+ on it – the highest grade in the class…
When David called me the following Thursday evening after dinner, I sensed a note of excitement in his voice. “Kate, this is David,” he began as usual. “Have you seen the sky this evening?”

“No, I’ve been in since four-thirty. Why?”

“I’ll hold the phone, go look out the window.”

Mystified, I put down the receiver, drew the curtain aside and peered out. As far as I could tell, the night was unremarkable – cold, dark and moonless.

“I’m afraid I can’t see anything; it’s too dark.”

“That’s just it; there’s no moon. Didn’t you see them?”

“What?”

“The stars, Kate! The stars are blazing like lighthouses in the sky. The night’s so clear you can see all the way to Alaska. Can you be ready in ten minutes? We’ll go for a sail away from the city lights and let Sturmvogel drift. We can lie in the cockpit and study the constellations.”

“Are you crazy? The weather’s freezing. What about other boats? Is it safe to sail at night?”

“Perfectly safe. Sturmvogel has all the required navigation lights and we’ll stay away from the shipping lanes.”

“But I’m studying for my final in Oceania.”

“Forget Oceania. After the term paper you wrote about the sweet potato in Polynesia you don’t even need to show up for the exam to get an ‘A’. Please come.”

“All right,” I replied with a laugh, “but you really must teach me some constellations. I can only justify this trip on educational grounds. How cold is it?”

“Freezing, as you said. Put on everything you own, gloves, cap, everything. I’ll pick you up in a few minutes. Oh, one more thing. What time do they lock the front door on Thursdays?”

“On Thursdays … at eleven.”

“And you’re required to sign out?”

“Well, I’m supposed to.”

“Just for once, don’t. We may return too late. If I can’t get you back to Blaine before eleven, you can spend the night on Sturmvogel and give me the marina key tomorrow.”

We walked down the dock hand-in-hand, my right one clasped in David’s left, and both thrust deep in the pocket of his heavy wool jacket. Except for a few birds, the marina was deserted. Startled by our footsteps, an occasional seagull tumbled off the dock into the water and flapped noisily along the surface before gaining the speed to get airborne. The evening was cold, the silent, knifing cold of clear winter nights, and our breath condensed into a vaporous halo as we fumbled with the lines. I held the tiller and mainsheet while David walked the boat out of her berth; he pushed the bow away from the dock, gave one final shove, and jumped aboard. Sturmvogel ghosted out of the marina on a slight breeze and passed between the winking red and green lights marking the channel, and when we cleared the breakwater, I lay down, wrapped in couple of blankets, with my head on David’s lap. It must have been such a sky that inspired the Sumerians to study the heavens. The stars hung suspended in the firmament like a display of celestial fireworks, and beneath them Sturmvogel sailed on a star-dappled sea of ink.

“Look!” we exclaimed together, as a single light broke ranks from the stellar armada.

“A meteor,” I said, stopping to think for a moment whether the object was a meteor or a meteorite.

David corrected me. “Not a meteor, a falling star. Can you imagine John Donne’s writing “Go and catch a meteor?”

I shook my head. “How does the rest of the poem go?”

Go and catch a falling star

Get with child a mandrake root

Tell me where all past years are

And who cleft the devil’s foot.

Teach me to hear mermaids singing

And to keep off envy’s stinging

And find what wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

David’s words hung in the air like the stars themselves and when he finished, I heard his voice echoing in Sturmvogel’s wake; the poem is out there still, hovering over the water like a haze. I turned my eyes up to where the mast was poking a hole in the sky, near the Dog Star Sirius. Logic told me the stars were fixed and the mast was moving, but the illusion was the opposite: the stars seemed to dip and sway in a giddy orbit around the slender spar.

David named a few of the constellations. “That’s Orion, the Mighty Hunter facing Taurus the Bull, and Orion’s dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, are by his side.” He pointed toward the north. “See the three bright stars forming his belt? Over there’s the Winged Horse, Pegasus, and to the east, the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux. Orion was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. Do you know how he got up in the sky?”

“How?”

“According to the Greeks, the goddess Artemis fell in love with Orion and this made her brother Apollo so jealous he decided to destroy him. One day when Apollo and Artemis were out walking, Apollo spotted Orion swimming, and he challenged his sister to hit an object bobbing up and down in the water. Unknown to Artemis, this speck was Orion’s head. Artemis drew her bow and killed her lover with a single arrow; when she realized what she’d done, she was so overcome with grief that she placed him in the firmament among the constellations as a tribute to her love.”

“How beautiful! Aren’t you glad I don’t have any brothers? I know a story about a star too, a true one. Have you heard of Aldebaran?”

“Of course; Aldebaran is one of the stars used in celestial navigation.”

“The Aztecs believed the world exists in 52 year cycles, and at the end of each the gods meet to decide whether to destroy the earth in a cataclysm or to grant mankind a reprieve. When one of these cycles ended, the people extinguished all the fires in the Aztec kingdom, and the priests gathered for prayers and sacrifices on Coyoacan, the Hill of the Star, outside their capital of Tenochtitlan. They observed the movement of Aldebaran, and if the star passed the meridian, this meant the gods were conceding another 52 years of existence to the world. Then the priests kindled a sacred fire and from it runners carried burning torches to light all the hearths in the Aztec empire.”

“What a lovely story. The Aztecs must have had a bad press agent; the only thing I know about their religion was their proclivity for human sacrifice.”

“Even sacrifice is understandable if you examine the religion from their point of view. The Aztecs believed without human blood to nourish him, the sun would lack the strength to rise every morning. Therefore, sacrificing oneself was a supreme act of altruism because it enabled all other life to continue. If you accept the basic premises, their religion is completely logical, much more so than Christianity. Is Aldebaran visible this time of year?”

“Yes, it’s in the constellation Taurus,” David replied, pointing toward a cluster of several hundred stars.

I looked in the direction of Taurus and shook my head, laughing.

“Okay, maybe Aldebaran’s not that obvious. Sit close beside me and sight along my arm.”

I moved closer and put my cheek against David’s.

“See it? Aldebaran’s the bright one south of Orion’s Belt.”

Our faces turned from the sky toward one another and we kissed, softly at first, then harder and harder as David pressed me down on the seat. He unbuttoned his shirt and lifted my blouse, and as we touched, I felt his warmth coursing all the way to my toes. I could feel something else as well: David’s hand moving along my back, searching for the closure of my brassiere. I clamped my arm down over his hand and he retreated, only to try a few moments later.

“Why won’t you let me touch you?”

I was burning with embarrassment. When I didn’t answer, he repeated the question.

I buried my face against him. “I didn’t want you to find out … I wear padded brassieres.”

I felt his mouth crease into a smile where his lips touched my cheek.

“That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not ashamed I do … I just didn’t want you to know. You’re going to be disappointed.”

“Kate, dear, it doesn’t matter.”

He slid his hand along my back again. “How do you open this thing?”

Laughing at his frustration, I sat up and unhooked my brassiere. David groped for my lips in the dark and, finding them, kissed me until I was out of breath. He rested his weight on one elbow, opened his zipper, and thrust himself between my legs. Something hard pressed against my thigh and, thinking it was David’s flashlight, I reached down to move the light aside. I touched the object, realized what it was, and withdrew my hand in shock, exclaiming “Oh! … I’m sorry!”
“Shh,” David whispered, “it’s all right.”
We drifted on in the darkness, rocking gently as if in a cradle, and all the world was still except for the sound of our breathing.

David sat up abruptly and covered his face with his hands.

“My God, what am I doing?” he whispered hoarsely. I sat up beside him, shivering; I straightened my blouse and pulled my jacket around my shoulders.

“What’s the matter?”

“Everything. I was a fool to bring you out here; I should have known what would happen. We haven’t taken any precautions … you’re hardly more than a child.”

I put my arms around him. “Can we anchor and stay here? The night’s so calm. I did what you suggested. I only pretended to sign the register, so no one knows I’m gone. Please? We can sleep on separate bunks … if you don’t want to we don’t need to do anything … I can’t bear the thought of leaving you, not tonight. Please?”

“We’re getting close to the shipping lanes. If we anchor now we’ll be run down in an hour. I’m sure some people would consider drowning a suitable fate for us, but I’d rather hoped to sail another day. As for your platonic two-bunk suggestion … Kate, I can’t even keep my hands off you out here. Down below I wouldn’t give us three minutes before…”

I reached in my pants pocket and pulled out a small cardboard box. “Yesterday I went to a drugstore and bought – well, actually, Norma insisted, and she bought them for me – these – just in case.”

He took the box from me, held it up to the instrument lights and squinted to read the label. “Nonoxynol-9. What the devil is Nonoxynol-9?”

“They’re … don’t know you what they are? They’re vaginal suppositories, contraceptives. They’re supposed to be inserted ten minutes before …intercourse.”

David regarded me with surprise and then reread the label. “I don’t know how effective they are.”

“I can use more than one.” I opened the box, removed a small package, and ripped the foil. A gooey mess oozed out. “Do you think they’re supposed to look like this?”

David took the package from me, examined it, and let out a string of Spanish oaths. “You had them in your pocket and they melted from the heat of our bodies. Oh, hell!”

I wanted to laugh, but I realized David wasn’t amused.

“I don’t care,” I said, slipping my hands around his chest.

“You ought to care; we’re going back.”

“We’ve been going out together since September, and you never even kissed me until Tuesday night. Please, David. Can’t we … ?”

“God dammit! You think I don’t want to? Do you remember the first time we sailed together, just the two of us, when you fell asleep in the cabin? I was sitting on the other bunk, looking at you and I kept imagining how I’d kiss you, you’d wake up and we’d make love. I played this scene over in my mind so many times that the projector broke.”

“What stopped you?”

He hesitated for a moment. “I’d like to think my better judgment prevailed. It probably needs some adjusting, but I do have a moral compass. We’d known each other for what – a week, two weeks? You’re so naive … even if you’d been willing, sleeping with you would have been tantamount to rape. At that point, I was still fighting the idea of getting involved with you. Maybe I wasn’t fighting very hard, but the intent was there.”

I put his head between my hands, turned it toward me and flicked my tongue lightly along the edge of his upper lip.

“Dammit, Kate, stop teasing me! I can’t take any more.” He was breathing heavily and the expression on his face was a mixture of desire and despair. Without warning, David pulled me to him.

“Oh, Kate,” he moaned, pressing me down on the seat. He reached for the elastic at the top of my pants and with two strong tugs yanked them below my knees. He pressed against me in a tight embrace and something warm and wet trickled down my thighs. David lay upon me for a moment as though spent, almost suffocating me with his body, then he shifted his weight to his forearms and remained in the same position for several moments longer with his face buried in my hair. He whispered, “I’m sorry,” and sat up heavily, without looking at me. When David reached down to close his zipper, the blankets slithered into the cockpit well; he picked them up and covered me, averting his gaze.

“You’d better get dressed.”

I lay shivering under the blankets while David went below to the cabin. The warmth that had burned so brightly within me just minutes before was extinguished, along with my pretensions of maturity. How young and clumsy I must have seemed to David. I wasn’t even sure what had happened. Could he have entered me without my feeling anything? Wasn’t intercourse supposed to hurt the first time? What was trickling down my leg? Blood? I ran a finger through the viscous liquid on the inside of my thigh and held it up to the dim light from the cockpit instruments; I couldn’t make out what it was.

David’s head appeared in the companionway and he handed me a cloth. “Here. You can clean yourself off with this.”

I wiped myself and inspected the fabric; still seeing nothing, I stuffed the cloth in my pocket.

Without a word or a glance, David lowered the sails and started the outboard. For once I welcomed the noise of the motor, whose steady drone spared us the need to talk. I sat wrapped in a blanket, leaning my back against the instrument panel. Normally David got annoyed if anything obstructed his view of the dials and gauges, but this time he didn’t even notice. I glanced at him, hoping for a smile, for some sign of acknowledgment, but he sat with his hand on the tiller, staring straight ahead into the darkness.

When we approached the marina, I got up to prepare the fenders and mooring lines, and as David brought Sturmvogel into her berth, I jumped on the dock to secure the boat. After I’d finished tying the lines, I knelt by a dock light to examine the cloth in my pocket. It was damp, but I couldn’t see any blood stains. David was coiling the mainsheet when I returned to the cockpit; he laid down the line and put his arms around me.

“I owe you an apology for what happened this evening; it wasn’t so great for me, either.”

“Please don’t apologize. You said I’m a child, and you’re right. I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was supposed to do to … satisfy you or anything like that. You must be terribly disappointed with me.”

“Kate, that’s not what I meant.” David looked at his watch and I sighed; we were always saying goodbye.

“If we leave immediately, I can just barely get you back to Blaine Hall by eleven.”

I sighed again. “All right, I’m ready.” I took the cloth from my pocket, found a dry edge, and daubed my nose, sniffing audibly.

“Dearest, please don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Yes you are. I can hear you sniffing.

“I am not crying. It’s so damn cold out here my nose is running.”

Taken aback by my unaccustomed profanity, David began to laugh.

“You really didn’t sign out at the residence hall?”

“That’s right.”

“Do you want to spend the night here? Alone,” he added hastily.

“I can take the bus back in the morning.”

“Then let’s go below and warm up.” He smiled. “I mean, I’ll make us some hot chocolate”

“Will you promise me something?”

“If I can. What is it?”

“That you won’t look at your watch. If you look at it just one more time I know I’ll scream.”

He removed his watch and slipped it in my pocket.

Down in the cabin David lit the trawler lamp, pumped up the kerosene tank, and turned on the stove. He set the flowerpot on one burner and the tea kettle on the other while I huddled under a blanket, waiting for the makeshift heater to take the chill out of the air.

David went forward and I heard him moving the chain. “You’ll need something besides those blankets if you’re going to spend the night on the boat. I have a sleeping bag up here somewhere.” One anchor banged against another. “Eureka!”

He returned carrying a sail bag, from which he pulled the sleeping bag itself, a voluminous down-filled creature that mushroomed out over the berth and on to the cabin sole.

“This will keep you good and warm; the bag’s rated at zero degrees Fahrenheit, an arctic bag. I used it last summer, and even in Alaska’s rigorous climate I nearly roasted. If you get too warm, just open the bottom zipper.”

I hugged the first three or four feet of the bag to me with a giggle. “Sleeping in it will remind me of you.”

David sniffed the other end. “God, I hope not; the bag hasn’t been washed in months.”

Together we pulled out the settee on the starboard side, converting it to a double berth, and stuffed a couple of blankets behind us to serve as a backrest. David made hot chocolate, poured the remaining hot water into a thermos bottle, took off his shoes and climbed into the bunk beside me, pulling the sleeping bag over us.

He put his right arm around my shoulder. “Let’s get one thing straight. When I said tonight wasn’t so great for me, or whatever I said, I wasn’t referring to you. I was angry with myself, at my lack of self-control. We’ve reached the sexual Rubicon, you know. I want to make love to you, Kate, but not the way we did this evening. I don’t mean the cold weather or the hard cockpit seat, though God knows they were bad enough. I mean if you decide … if you agree … that yours will be a rational decision, if such a thing is possible, and not because you’re carried away by some sex-starved professor who has one hand in your blouse and the other in your pants. I made a bad mistake once because I was too foolish to consider the consequences of my actions and I’ve been regretting that mistake for 23 years. I don’t want to ruin your life the same way. You’re still very young and you have the optimism of youth; believing every problem has a solution is practically an American axiom, like thinking it’s never too late to change, or there’s always a second chance. But, my dear, that’s simply not true. Sometimes we take actions which are irrevocable, actions which alter the course of our lives forever. In 23 years you’ll be 42. How will you remember me when you’re 42? Will you think of me fondly as the first man who ever loved you, or will I manage to destroy your happiness, as well as my own?”

“Can’t we be happy just for this moment? I don’t even want to worry about next year, let alone how I’m going to feel a whole lifetime away. Besides, when I’m 42 what makes you think I’ll ‘remember’ you? Can’t I love you then, too?”

David smiled sadly and shook his head. “Dearest, when you’re 42 I’ll be 70; you’ll be in the prime of life and I’ll be an old man. One of these days you’re going to meet someone your own age and you’ll forget all about me. Don’t look at me so reproachfully; that’s the way it ought to be, and if I weren’t so selfish, it’s what I’d wish for you. But I’ll be honest with you Kate, I’ll be devastated when that happens, utterly devastated. I’m not asking you to make any promises you can’t keep. What can I offer you in return? Suppose, on the other hand, you don’t meet someone else. You’ll still wake up some morning full of regret because you’ve wasted so many years of your life on me. Do you remember telling me about your dream of being on a raft? Well, I’ve been on a raft too, just drifting along, not heeding where I’m going. Oh, occasionally I glance up and see the shoals ahead and I stick a feeble twig in the water to change course, but the current carries me on, inexorably. After Mateo’s letter … his death… I started thinking about us, where we’re heading. It’s rather obvious where we’re heading, and if we’re going together, at least I want a rudder, a compass, and some charts. And, most important, I want you aware of the dangers ahead, all the uncertainties. That’s the reason I asked you out here tonight, what I wanted to say to you, Kate, before we got lost up there in the stars. I can offer you nothing, not a name, not a home, not a child, not a future, absolutely nothing, and I’m suggesting … oh, I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

I laid down the cup of chocolate and put my arms around him. “ You have everything to offer me, all the things I’ve never had before – friendship, affection, understanding. I love you, David. This is the first time I’ve ever said those words to anyone. I love you so much that nothing else matters. I don’t care about tomorrow or next week or next year. I want to be happy now.” Neither of us said anything for a while. “David?”

“Yes, dear.”

My curiosity finally overcame my shame. “I’m awfully embarrassed to ask you this, but there’s something I simply have to know.”

“What is it?”

I buried my face in his shoulder. “After what we did … am I still a virgin?”

David was trying hard not to laugh. He smiled and shook his head slowly with disbelief. “Who but you could ask a question like that? I’m not making fun of you. If you were a virgin before, you still are.”

“Well I was… am.”

“I never doubted it for a moment.” David’s eyes were laughing. “What makes you ask me, anyway, couldn’t you tell?”

“I don’t know how … intercourse is supposed to feel and besides … what was that liquid? I thought it was my own blood.”

“Kate,” he said softly, “I never penetrated you. I ejaculated outside your vagina. That liquid was semen.”

“So much?”

“It’s been two weeks.”

I didn’t understand his answer. David continued. “I suppose there’s a remote – infinitesimally remote – chance you could become pregnant. When was your last period?”

My face turned crimson; I’d never even discussed menstruation with a doctor, let alone anyone else. “A few days ago.”

He sighed. “I wish I’d known that earlier. No, this way is better; at least you don’t have any regrets.”

“But if it’s how you said, then why am I … so wet inside?”

“Because, dearest, you’re sexually aroused. That’s nature’s way of giving pleasure to both of us and making it easier for me – when the time comes.”
“One more thing.”
“Mmmm?” David was nuzzling the nape of my neck.
“When we were in the cockpit and I reached under the blanket … I didn’t mean to … I thought that was your flashlight pushing against my thigh.”
David chuckled. “No offense taken. I think it would be safer to change the subject.”

“Ah.” I threw my leg over him playfully and nibbled his ear. We kissed again and the old feelings of desire welled up once more. He looked at me speculatively. “David,” I whispered, “can we…”

He leaped off the bunk, laughing, and sat down opposite me on the other side of the cabin.

“Yes, my little temptress, we probably could, but we’re not going to. I’m getting out of here before you rape me.” He put on his shoes. “Seriously, Kate, I need to leave now. I’m turning off the stove. I put plenty of water in the thermos and it should still be hot in the morning.”

David opened the valve and the pressure escaped from the kerosene tank with sharp hiss. He put on his jacket and I sat up, sighing.

“I’ll leave the padlock down here, just be sure you lock the boat when you go. Here’s the marina key so you can use the toilet. Do you know how to extinguish the trawler lamp, or shall I do it now?” We were saying goodbye again and I was starting to get depressed.

“I know how. I have some more typing ready for you. I’ll bring it tomorrow at three.”

We kissed goodnight and David climbed into the cockpit, letting in a blast of cold air as he opened the hatch. Sturmvogel rocked gently when David stepped on the dock. I pressed my face to a porthole and watched him as he walked toward the marina gate; he didn’t look back.

For the first time I was alone on Sturmvogel; without David the cabin was cheerless, and the varnished wood and gleaming lanterns on which he lavished such care only reminded me of their absent owner. I put my arms around the mast and pressed my ear against its surface. The hollow spar was like a sounding board, magnifying the creaks and groans of the hull, and from high in the rigging it carried the lonely sigh of the wind. I blew out the lamp, slipped into the down bag, and fell asleep. I never did see Aldebaran.

Chapter 6

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Sept. 27, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I’m sorry to hear Daddy’s being transferred to California; at least we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas together one more time in Utah.

Is it ok if I stay at U.W. until graduation? I know you have to pay out-of-state tuition here and it would be cheaper for me to attend U.C. Berkeley, but I’ve put down roots in Seattle and would be sad to leave.

Tomorrow I’m going to an Andrés Segovia concert with my friend Frank …

 

I spent the three days before the concert in a whirlwind of sewing, rushing to complete by Friday evening an outfit I had barely started the previous week. The dress was a sleeveless sheath of black linen with a long-sleeved black lace top, one of those designs the fashion magazines tout for their versatility, picturing the sheath with a demure white blouse for daytime and the lace top for evening. No such mundane considerations had dictated my choice; I’d bought the fabric and pattern weeks before because they were irresistibly romantic, without the slightest prospect of ever wearing anything so elegant.

The Sweet Potato in Polynesia lay forgotten on my desk, and even David’s typing received less than its usual attention as I dashed from the cranky sewing machines on the fourth floor of the residence hall to the ironing board on the first, and back again. Norma marked the hem for me late Thursday evening, and by midnight the ensemble was ready.

When I delivered David’s typing on Friday afternoon, I was surprised to find he had company. Seated facing him – in my chair – was a slender man with a jaundiced complexion. He had straight, black hair, worn plastered against his head, and round, thick horn-rimmed glasses which gave his face an owlish expression. Dr. Jacobs – I recognized him from Frank’s description – turned slowly in my direction, inhaled languidly through a cigarette holder and regarded me impassively.

“Excuse me a moment, will you, Irving?” David rose and went to his filing cabinet. He took out some papers and handed them to me as we walked to the door. “I have only a small batch for you today; I’ve been rather busy this week.” He winked.

David looked at me, mouthed “seven-thirty” and raised his eyebrows. I nodded and glanced back at Dr. Jacobs. He was blowing smoke rings.

Frank caught up with me as I entered the elevator.

“I just saw your Dr. Jacobs in David’s office, or at least I think it was he. Is his name Irving?”

“So it’s David now is it”?

I didn’t reply.

“That’s Dr. Jacobs. Isn’t he just how I described him?”

“Identical. I recognized him at once. Ugh! The man’s positively reptilian.” I tried to picture Dr. Jacobs and Iris in bed together, but couldn’t conjure up the image. Frank accompanied me downstairs and walked with me to the door.

“David tells me he’s giving you sailing lessons.”

“That’s right.” I braced myself for the inevitable lecture.

“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings the other night. To tell the truth I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“For what?” I asked dubiously.

“For the change in David. I can’t think of another reason. He’s a lot more patient this quarter, more approachable. You probably don’t know this side of him, but he can be pretty testy. Everything’s so easy for him. He can’t understand how it is with us mere mortals.”

“Maybe you’re the one who’s changed. Maybe you know what he’s expecting of you and you’re working harder this year.”

“It’s not just me; everyone’s noticed. You know what? I was passing by David’s office the other day and he had the radio going full-blast like he always does, but he wasn’t playing his usual long-hair stuff. He was listening to popular music. I could hardly believe my ears!” Frank smiled at me with the air of a complicit Sherlock Holmes.

We chatted for a few minutes and I said goodbye, leaving Frank standing at the door with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his lab coat. “I hope you enjoy the concert tonight,” he shouted after me.

When I got back to the residence hall it was four o’clock, three and a half hours before David would be picking me up. I tried to take a nap, but couldn’t sleep, so I gave the dress a final pressing and took a shower, instead. After a hurried dinner, I settled down to the serious business of getting ready. I tuned my transistor radio to the one station it received, propped the radio on the dresser, and spread out my cosmetics, like an artist arranging his palette. First came the lipsticks, with their seductive names – Bora Bora red, Roses-in-the-snow, mauve ice – then the eye-shadows, foundation, an assortment of blushers and, finally a miscellany of mascara, eyeliners and eyebrow pencils. When I’d finished applying the makeup, I surveyed the results from as many angles as possible in a two-dimensional mirror, and smiled at myself with satisfaction. I swirled and twisted my long hair at the back of my head and pinned a red rose – Norma’s suggestion – into one of the curls.

The hallway outside my door echoed with the excited voices of girls rushing back and forth getting ready for their dates. From the bathroom one girl shouted, “Hey, Barbara, would you get my slip; it’s laying on the chair.” A phone rang insistently, followed by the hurried clip-clop of slippers along the corridor as someone ran to answer the call. Down the hall a door opened and the melody Ebb Tide came pouring out. High heels clicked past my room, accompanied by the swish of taffeta.

I looked at the clock. In a few minutes David was going to call, and I would go down to meet him, a little self-conscious, perhaps, and tingling with excitement. We would be stared at – delicious thought – for girls from Blaine Hall didn’t date men like David. I glanced at myself in the mirror one last time, at the reflection of the young woman in black lace with the red rose in her hair and her heart on her sleeve.

When David phoned, I threw my coat over my arm and hurried out the door. A short flight of steps separated the hallway from the foyer; I paused on the landing to search for him among the crowd of younger men below and stood watching him for a moment, unobserved, as I had the night on Sturmvogel. David was wearing a dark gray suit, and he was so painfully handsome that a lump came to my throat. I remembered a fortune-telling game I played as a child and changed it to fit the circumstances: if he looks at me before I count to five he’s going to kiss me tonight. When I reached three our eyes met and he walked to the foot of the stairs with his arm outstretched to take my hand.

“Kate … you’re … stunning!” In my excitement I forgot to notice if anyone was watching us; I saw only David.

Segovia’s concert was overwhelming. The music transported me back to Spain, moving me so deeply I was almost unaware of David’s presence beside me. He too listened spellbound, with the intense concentration I had come to know so well. We left the theater arm-in-arm, neither of us wanting to be the first to speak, to break the spell of enchantment cast over us by the music.

“What time do you need to be back at the residence hall?” David asked when we reached his car.

“On Friday and Saturday nights I can stay out until one.”

He opened the door and I pretended to search for something in the back seat.

“What are you looking for?”

“Frank. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him hiding here. He knows you invited me to the concert. Are you sure it’s a good idea to tell him we’re going out together?”

“I’ll grant you Frank has a nose problem, but as far as the concert’s concerned, he’s the one who showed me the ad in the newspaper; if it hadn’t been for him I would have missed it.” David frowned for a moment. “I may be mistaken, but I think Frank has enough respect for me to be discreet.” He glanced at his watch. “We still have two and a half hours before you need to be back. How about going somewhere for a drink? I had a hellish afternoon; I could use one.”

I didn’t want to go to a bar, but I thought I’d sound childish if I disagreed. “That’s fine, but don’t forget I’m only nineteen.”

“The way you’re dressed tonight no one’s going to question your age. Besides, just being with me adds ten years to you, at least.”

We left the car and followed the concert crowd to a cocktail lounge several blocks away. It was stuffy inside, redolent with smoke and the stale smell of alcohol. I felt for David’s hand so I wouldn’t lose him in the dark, and he led us to a table illuminated by the faint glow of a single candle. A cocktail waitress in a short shirt approached us holding a pad and pencil.

“I’ll have a Scotch and water,” David said, turning to me. The names of a dozen unappealing drinks came to my mind. Scotch and bourbon were too strong. Crème de menthe? Sickening. Cherry heering? Like cough medicine.

I hesitated. “Kahlua, please.”

“Straight or on the rocks?” I fancied the waitress was curling her lip in a sneer.

“Straight.”

When the waitress left, David put his hand on mine. “You don’t drink, do you, Kate?

“Not really.”

“I can change the order if you’d rather have something else. Would you prefer a coke or a seven-up?”

“That’s all right. I’m fond of anything coffee flavored”.

The waitress brought our drinks and a tray of hors d’oeuvres. I took a sip of the Kahlua and shuddered, for the drink was much stronger than I expected. I was ravenous, the smoke was giving me a headache, and I wished we’d gone somewhere else, anywhere but a bar. I watched David lift the glass to his lips and my body stiffened; the clink of ice cubes awakened painful memories, and I wondered if I was about to discover a new side of David, a side I wasn’t going to like.

After a few minutes of desultory conversation, David looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “What’s the matter, Kate? Every time I take a sip of this drink you scowl at me as if you were Carrie Nation about to attack a bar with a hatchet .”

“Nothing’s the matter; I’m just tired.”

“No, it’s something else. You’ve had that expression on your face ever since we came in here. If you didn’t want to come to a bar, you should have told me when I asked you.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

David persisted. “Are you afraid I’ll make a drunken pass at you or pile up the car? Your father’s in the navy. Surely you’ve been around people who drink, haven’t you?”

His remark stung me, and I lashed back in anger. “Yes I certainly have been around people who drink; I’ve been around my mother when she was too drunk to stand up. I’m quite accustomed to people who drink, thank you.” I lowered my head and started to sob.

David drew back as if I’d slapped him. “Kate,” he murmured, “I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Talking about one’s besotted mother isn’t exactly a conversational gambit.”

“Do you mind my asking … is your mother an alcoholic?”

“Not in the conventional sense. I mean she doesn’t drink in the morning or go on binges or hide bottles in the linen closet or anything like that, but she starts drinking every night before dinner, ‘when the sun is over the yardarm,’ and keeps on until she passes out.”

“How long has she been drinking excessively?”

“Ever since I can remember. No, that’s not quite true; it’s only been in the last few years she’s continued drinking after dinner at home, though she’s always gotten drunk at parties. When she’s not drinking, Mother’s a charming and attractive woman, but after the first shot she’s a complete boor. She gets monotonous, self-centered and … she makes a fool of herself with men. I’ve overheard people making fun of her and … I just wanted to tear them apart. Her too. I’m so glad to be away from home. I can’t cope with her problems.”

“Is that why you tensed up when I ordered the Scotch? Are you afraid I’ll change too, or disappoint you in some way?”

“Scotch is what my mother drinks. I don’t think my reaction was conscious. Subconscious, maybe. I have so many awful memories.”

I finished the tray of hors d’oeuvres. David reached over to an unoccupied table and exchanged our empty tray for a full one.

“Go on,” he said, “if you feel like telling me.”

“You don’t want to hear about my mother; it’s too depressing.”

“Don’t worry about me. Let’s exorcise whatever’s bedeviling you; go on.”

I took another sip of Kahlua and continued. “We returned from Hawaii on January 7, 1948, my mother’s birthday, and some of my parents’ friends gave a combination farewell-birthday party for us the night we left. Mother got so drunk she couldn’t board the plane by herself; she couldn’t even stand up. I was so embarrassed I wanted to die, and when no one was watching I s-slapped her, hard. Then there was the time when we lived in New York City and my parents were giving a dinner party. I was in bed and heard a commotion in the kitchen and my father on the phone; he told me to stay in my room, but I got up and went into the kitchen anyway. My mother was lying on the floor in hysterics, covered with blood. She was trying to chop ice … she was holding the ice cubes … and ran the ice pick all the way through her left hand. I wouldn’t have believed anyone could lose so much blood and still live. I just stood beside Mother looking at her … I didn’t care if she lived or died … isn’t that terrible? My own mother and I didn’t feel any more emotion for her than if she’d been a drunk on the sidewalk. I didn’t feel anything at all. Then there’s the time a few years ago when we were living in Alexandria, Virginia, next door to an Air Force colonel, a psychiatrist. His wife and my mother became close friends; one day I came home from school early because I had an upset stomach and I heard Mother and the doctor … in the bedroom …” David picked up a napkin and dried my eyes.

“Your father puts up with this?”

“He’s in denial. He can’t cope with the situation, either.” I was trembling and my voice quivered. David looked at me gravely without saying a word.

“Do you remember the first time we went sailing on Sturmvogel, when I told you that talking about San Francisco bought back unhappy memories?”

He nodded.

“In 1944 my father was on a battleship in the South Pacific. For several months Mother and I lived in a hotel in San Francisco, just off Union Square. During the war you weren’t allowed to remain in a hotel for more than a few days because they needed the space for servicemen, but the manager liked Mother and let us stay. It never occurred to Mother that I should be in school; she went out every night with a group of naval officers and other unattached wives, got back in the early hours of the morning, and slept until noon. I didn’t have any toys or books, just one Porky Pig comic book that I read until it fell apart and some perfume bottles I played with as though they were dolls. Sometimes … Mother brought one of her friends back to the room for the night. I was too young to understand, of course. I’d wake up in a rage and accuse her of being drunk. She and the man would laugh at me and Mother would say she wasn’t drunk, just inebriated, only she was too d-drunk to p-pronounce it. You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

“How old were you then, dear?”

“S-seven.”

David’s face was grim. “Kate, I’m terribly sorry about what I said. Something happened today which upset me a great deal. I shouldn’t have taken my frustrations out on you.”

“Something to do with me?”

“No.”

I waited for him to explain, but he didn’t. I wiped away my tears and finished the last of the hors d’oeuvres. David tilted the tray toward him for a better look and saw the platter was empty. Our eyes met and he smiled.

“Don’t they feed you at the residence hall?”

“I was too excited to eat dinner; I only had a small salad.”

“Nothing else?”

“The main course was chili con carne, very spicy; I couldn’t inflict that on you.” I knew what he was thinking and tried to keep from blushing.

“Are you still hungry?”

“Well… yes.”

“How would you like to go some place for a gigantic hamburger with lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles and French fries – but no onions?”

Dear David, he had the gift of turning my tears to laughter. Under the table I felt his hand reach for mine and I clasped it tightly.

We drove around the university district for some time before finding an open restaurant, and we entered just as the last customers were leaving. The waitress was a nursing student from Austin Hall. She glanced at me with a flicker of recognition and then turned her full attention to David.

“Are you still serving dinner?”

“We stopped serving dinner at eleven, but I can get you something from the grill.” She handed us a couple of menus.

David studied the list. “You’re having a hamburger?”

“Yes, please, with everything on top but onions. And coffee.”

He read the selections aloud, half to himself. “A roast beef sandwich sounds good; no, I had roast beef for dinner. I think I’ll order a hamburger, too.”

“Roast beef for dinner.” His words went through me like a knife. I imagined the four of them at the table, his wife bustling back and forth to the kitchen, bringing mashed potatoes and gravy to the dining room, the children talking about school and David carving the meat. I felt a surge of resentment for this part of David’s life in which I was a perpetual stranger. David must have caught my expression of dismay.

“Is something wrong?”

I debated whether to tell him. “When you mentioned having roast beef for dinner it reminded me you have another existence besides the one we share. I know I should get used to the idea, but I can’t help being a bit jealous.” I told him how I pictured his family at the dinner table.

“Yes, I had roast beef for dinner,” David said sarcastically. “My daughter went out with her boyfriend about five. My son … is staying overnight at a friend’s house, and my wife went to some faculty wives’ meeting. It was a Swanson’s TV dinner. I heated it myself, watched the news on television, and got ready to meet you. If you’re suffering guilt pangs over luring me away from my warm family life, you’re wasting a perfectly good emotion.”

“Your wife really wanted to attend a meeting rather than go to a concert with you?”

“I told you I invited her. She’s never heard of Segovia, and furthermore doesn’t care she’s never heard of Segovia. She doesn’t like classical music.”

“What if she’d accepted?”

David shrugged his shoulders. “Then I would have taken her, of course. It was a calculated risk, but the odds were in my favor.”

Whenever he spoke about his wife, David’s voice was edged with bitterness; his remark made me uneasy, but curiosity prompted me to continue.

“Does it hurt you to talk about your marriage? If it does, I won’t ask any more questions.”

“Not particularly. It’s ancient history. You won’t be peeling scabs off fresh wounds as I did when I asked about your mother. Mine healed years ago. What do you want to know?”

“Everything and nothing. Part of me wants to know all about you and part of me doesn’t. What’s your wife’s name? You’ve never said.”

“Arlene.”

“How did you meet her?”

“We met at a dance when I was in graduate school at Harvard. My roommate knew one of her brothers, and he introduced us.”

“What was she like?”

“Arlene’s father was – still is – a policeman in Boston. I guess you’d say her family is lower middle class, what my more affluent Bostonian friends used to call ‘lace curtain Irish.’ She was 19 when we met, the same age as you are now, which hardly seems possible. Arlene was far more mature than you. Now, don’t look at me that way. I realize you’ve traveled more than Arlene, had probably read more books by the age of five than Arlene has in her entire life, and you’re better educated, but the fact remains she was incomparably more experienced; that’s not necessarily a compliment, you know.

“Was she a student, too?”

“No, Arlene went to work right out of high school as a file clerk for an insurance company in Boston. When we met she was sharing an apartment with two other girls.”

“Was she attractive?”

David considered his answer for a moment. “Not so much facially, perhaps … you wouldn’t have thought so anyway, but from a man’s point of view she was … well, sexy. Arlene was popular and vivacious and I was flattered she paid attention to me. She seemed quite sophisticated to the bumbling young pedant I was then. I wasn’t a virgin, but I wasn’t very experienced, either.”

“Was she? A virgin, I mean.”

“Arlene? God no!”

“Were you in love with each other?”

“It wasn’t a question of love for either of us; it was just a physical thing. We’d go dancing or to the movies and then over to her apartment for a couple of hours. At the risk of sounding like an outrageous snob, Arlene wasn’t the sort of girl someone from my background would marry but, to make a long story short, she became pregnant, and I did marry her.”

I remembered Frank’s speculation. “How old were you?”

“When I got married? Twenty-four.”

I did a quick calculation. “But Frank told me one of your children is 18; if you were 24 when you were married 18 or so years ago, how can you be 47 now?”

David’s answer had the same edge of bitterness I’d noted before. “Because I’ve been married 23 years, not 18. Arlene lied to me; she wasn’t pregnant.”

“What!” I stared at him in astonishment. “If Arlene wasn’t in love with you why on earth did she trap you into marriage?”

“Arlene may not be brilliant, but she does possess a sort of animal cunning. She was ambitious and willing to gamble I’d be a success; I was her ticket to the upper middle class.”

“Why didn’t you get a divorce?”

“In Massachusetts? On what grounds? After we got married, Arlene told me she’d had a miscarriage. I suspected she was lying since she had no symptoms which apparent to me and I never received any medical bills, but we’d been intimate enough times so that … well, she could have been pregnant. I felt like a fool; I was a fool. She finally told me the truth several years later – she claimed she’d thought she was pregnant, but I know she was lying – and by then she was expecting our son, so divorce was out of the question. Anyway, Arlene is a Catholic and we had a big church wedding, as she wished. She would never have consented to a divorce in the past and,” David looked straight at me, “she never will in the future.” I got the message.

“What happened after you were married?”

“I received my Ph.D. and we moved to a big house in Seattle with wall-to-wall carpeting, an all-electric kitchen, two cars in the garage and not a blade of crabgrass in the lawn.”

“And lived happily ever after?”

“Outwardly. Being a complete materialist, I suppose Arlene is reasonably happy. Her only interests are her current possessions and her anticipated possessions. If she mimeographed an inventory of everything we own plus everything I’ve promised to buy her, and distributed the list to her friends, she’d never need to open her mouth again. Arlene’s greatly impressed by my academic status, but it’s never occurred to her the flesh and blood professor she’s married to might want a little tenderness. My wife doesn’t think of sex as an expression of love or even animal passion; sex is a commodity she doles out in return for something. It’s like being in bed with a vending machine; I deposit my coins and Arlene gives me a few minutes – a very few minutes – of her time. God! That isn’t what I want. The strange thing is I’ve never been unfaithful to her … can you believe it after 23 years of that? I’m no saint; I’ve had the desire and I’ve had the opportunity, but somehow the two never coincided. So far as Arlene is concerned, my only functions are to give her an allowance, make the house payments and confer status on her. She’s indifferent to everything most precious to me – my work, books, sailing, music, everything. The worst part is our children aren’t much different. I’ve told you how I idolized my father, and I always assumed I’d have the same relationship with my own children. Well, I don’t. I don’t know whether to blame peer group culture, television, the schools, myself, all the above … or what. This is a terrible thing for a father to say, but they’re so … banal. I’ve tried to share my life with them, take them sailing, take them hiking, anything, but they’re simply not interested. They regard me as a superannuated dinosaur; they’re utterly bored by me and everything about me.”
“Watch.” David took his napkin, tore two strips from the paper and held them in front of me, an inch apart. “If you blow between the strips, what will happen?”
“They’ll fly apart, of course.”
“Try it.”
I blew and the strips swung together. “Wow! what made them do that?”
“It’s a demonstration of Bernoulli’s Principle, the law of physics that explains why birds and airplanes are able to fly. Moving air exerts less pressure than still air, so when you blew between the strips, the greater pressure on the outside pushed them together, just like the passage of air over a plane’s wing causes the wing to lift. Papa showed this to me when I was about eight. His demonstration excited me so much that I ran through the house performing the experiment for everyone – my mother, my little brother – who was too young to care – and the servants – who weren’t interested, either, but I was on fire. That sudden moment of understanding, that epiphany, is something I’ve never forgotten; Kate, it’s what I live for as a scientist, and when Michael was born I could hardly wait for the day when I could evoke the same sense of wonder in him. It never came.” David shook his head. “Maybe I’m not a good teacher.”
“Frank says you’re an outstanding teacher.”

David stopped for a moment as if considering his words. “I told you earlier my son is spending the night at a friend’s house; that’s not true. I didn’t want to spoil our evening by bringing this up, but it doesn’t matter now. I want to tell you. Michael was arrested for shoplifting this afternoon.”

“Oh, David!”

“Arlene called me at the office right after you left. He and another boy stole some tools from a hardware store. One of the clerks spotted them and phoned the police. Michael’s spending the night at Juvenile Hall.”

David passed his hand over his face. “I can’t express how I feel. What he did wasn’t merely dishonest, it was stupid, so incredibly stupid! If he came from a broken home, or a background which tolerated that sort of behavior, maybe I could understand, but …”

“Do you think his problems have anything to do with us?”

“No! And if I thought you were going to start blaming yourself I wouldn’t have told you. A boy doesn’t steal because his father goes sailing on Saturdays.”

“Did you go to the police station?”

“I drove home, picked up Arlene and we went together. She was screaming and carrying on a great deal, not that I blame her. She says everything’s my fault, I haven’t been a good father. I’ve tried, Kate, believe me, I’ve tried.” David’s voice broke. “He’s such a cocky kid; I want to love him, but he just spits in my face.”

“David, I’ve been wondering about something. When you sailed to Alaska last year … by yourself…did you go off and leave your wife and children here in Seattle?” This question had been gnawing on me for some time.

“I know what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t do that. Arlene spends every summer back in Boston with her family. She takes Marcia and Michael with her.”

“What’s your daughter like?”

“Marcia’s a pretty girl, too pretty. We never had any trouble with her until three years ago. Then she discovered boys and it’s been a constant fight ever since. The current boyfriend is nineteen; he dropped out of high school when he was a junior and hasn’t held a steady job since. But he’s good looking. Oh, yes, I’m assured on the highest authority this clod’s a real prize. It’s not enough that Marcy’s with him almost every evening. She’s started skipping school, too. A few weeks ago I went to the counselor to discuss her failing grades and he asked me how I expected her to do well when she’s never in class. I inquired what he meant and he showed me a whole sheaf of notes – notes for the dentist, notes for the doctor, notes she’d been sick. They were all signed with my name, but the handwriting wasn’t mine.”

David stared down at the table.

“How old is she?”

“Fifteen.”

Fifteen. When I was fifteen, we were living in Winnetka, Illinois, in a remodeled coach house on the shore of Lake Michigan. I entered New Trier High School as a junior in the middle of the year, a shy, lonely girl, awed by my wealthy classmates with their sports cars and cashmere sweaters. A short time after I started school, a neighbor’s daughter told me I’d never be accepted by the other students if I continued to wear white ankle socks and carry a zippered binder. I was stunned. If my classmates were that shallow I wasn’t interested in making friends with them, so I continued wearing white socks and carrying a zippered binder and retreated even farther into my shell. Marcy’s existence was light years away from anything I could imagine.

“Why do you let her go out with him if you don’t approve?”

“I have a choice? I can’t very well clap Marcy in leg-irons and shackle her to the wall. I tried forbidding her to go out; she locked her bedroom door and climbed out the window. I found them a couple blocks from our house … in the back seat of his car. You’re only four years older than she is … oh, God!”

David turned away abruptly and I realized he didn’t want me to see he was on the verge of tears.

“Well, there you have it,” he said, draining the last of the coffee from his cup, “the true life story of L. David Rosenau, Ph.D., probably a different version from the one you read in The Biography of American Scholars. Trite, isn’t it – middle-aged, white Jewish male suffering menopausal feelings of despondency and alienation.”

“I reached across the table and took his hand. “David, can we go to Sturmvogel?”

“Now? I’m afraid there’s no time. We’d have to start back as soon as we got to the marina.”

“I mean can we stay there overnight?”

David looked at me for a moment in surprise. “I’m sure my story’s affecting, but you don’t need to offer me physical therapy.”

I realized he wanted to treat my remark as a joke, but I persisted.

“Kate, we can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“I can think of a hundred good reasons. For starters, you signed out at the desk. If you’re not back by two or so, the housemother will call the police and there will be hell to pay when you do return. I can see the headlines now, ‘Missing Coed Found on Professor’s Yacht.’”

“I’ve already thought of that. You can take me back, I’ll sign in, change my clothes and then leave without signing the register. No one checks. Please say yes; I can’t bear saying goodbye to you, not tonight.”

David sighed. “My dear girl, hasn’t it occurred to you I have to go home?”

I looked down at the table, feeling foolish. It hadn’t occurred to me. We dropped the subject and David drove me back to Blaine Hall. We said goodnight near the entrance, in the shadow of a towering rhododendron; David put his arms around me and pressed me close against him.

“This evening turned out rather differently from what I planned. I can’t say it hasn’t been stressful, but it’s good to stick a knife in an abscess now and then to let the wound drain. Sometimes … I wish I could take an eraser and wipe the slate clean, cross out the last 25 years and start over.”

“I’m glad you can’t”

“Because?”

“Twenty-five years ago I wasn’t even born.”

David stepped back, as if getting ready to leave.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight?” I asked, surprised at my boldness.

“Are you the sort of girl who kisses a man goodnight on the first date?”
“No, but I can make an exception for you.”
He smiled and shook his head.

“Why not?”

David ran his index finger slowly down my forehead and nose and over my lips, as if tracing my profile.

“Because, dearest Catherine, if I kiss you I will lose my last tenuous vestige of self-restraint, and do you know what will happen then? I will throw you over my shoulder, carry you off to a cave and spend the next week making love to you.”

“Be serious. I meant what I said about going to Sturmvogel.”

“I am being serious. I know exactly what you meant, but I don’t want to pursue the subject. Kate, you know as well as I do there are certain boundaries we can’t cross, and it doesn’t help matters to have you tempting me. I barely have sufficient virtue for myself, let alone enough to spare for you, so let’s keep it light. Okay?”

“Okay. You mean I turned down the chili con carne for nothing?”

David laughed. “It looks that way.”

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Sept. 24, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

It turned out I didn’t have to join the sailing club after all; to my great astonishment, Dr. Rosenau offered to give me sailing lessons on his boat. At this point I know what you’re thinking: (a) I never study and (b) Dr. R. is a lecher intent on seducing your only daughter. No and no. I hope the A+ I just received in my primate evolution exam will dispel the first apprehension, and as for Dr. R., he’s even older than Daddy and a bit long in the tooth for me. Very proper, not to worry.

Forgot to mention in my last letter that Norma and I went to see War and Peace a week ago…

 

When the telephone rang Monday evening I was studying in my room, sitting barefoot at my desk, with my hair loose and my feet tucked beneath me.

“Hello, Kate? This is David. Excuse me for interrupting you. I realize you’re busy, but can you spare a few minutes?”

“Of course.”

“Would it be all right if I bring over some additional typing? I meant to give you the work on Friday, but I forgot. I’d like you to include it with the next batch, if you can; it’s semi-urgent, but fairly short.”

“Yes, that’s fine; I have time. When will you be here?”

“In about ten minutes. I’m calling from the office.”

“I’ll wait for you by the driveway.”

“No, let me meet you inside the dorm. It’s pouring. What’s the procedure once I get to Blaine Hall?”

“After you come in the main door there’s a telephone on the reception desk. The system’s internal. Give the operator my room number like you did just now and I’ll be right down.”

David arrived with a dripping umbrella in one hand and a sheaf of plastic-wrapped papers in the other. “Do you have a few minutes?” He peered into the living room, where several couples were studying together under the watchful eye of the housemother. “Not here, though; let’s go out for coffee somewhere.”

“I’ll be ready in a second. Let me put these papers in my room and grab a coat.”

Outside the residence hall the rain was coming down hard and David held his umbrella over us as we ran to the car. He put the key in the ignition.

“Kate,” he said after a long pause, “I was exaggerating on the phone when I told you the papers I brought are important. I came over this evening because I want to talk to you.” He glanced at me, as if to assure himself I was listening, and then stared down at the dashboard. “There’s something I need to tell you … something I should’ve told you long before this, but I haven’t … for one reason or another.” I knew what was coming. A hand wrapped around my heart and started to squeeze; my mouth went dry. I was sitting so far from David that the door handle was jammed against my ribs, and I had a sudden desire to turn it and bolt from the car, back to the safety of my room.

“I’ve been racking my brain all day, trying to think how to phrase this, but … ” He paused and looked at me again. “Kate, I’m married.” There was a long silence punctuated by the tattoo of raindrops on the roof and the pounding of my heart. I was shivering.

“I know. Frank told me … by accident.”

“When?”

“The day all three of us went sailing. When he drove me back to the dorm.”

“Did he tell you I have children?”

“Yes.”

He sighed. “I was wondering if someone told you or if you guessed. I thought it was odd you never asked me any questions about my life here in Seattle.”

“I thought it was odd you never said anything about your life in Seattle. It’s like you stopped living after you got your Ph.D.”

“That sums it up pretty well.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before this?”

“At first … well, what difference did it make at first? Later … I wanted to, but I wasn’t sure how you felt about me. I thought perhaps you considered me as simply a genial old man, or you were politely pretending to be fond of me, just to be kind … and if I came out with a solemn confession, I’d sound like a fool. I tried to mention it casually, but I never found the right opening, and the more I waited the harder it became. Saturday … I realized maybe you do care for me … a little … and then it was even worse because once you discovered the truth, you were going to think I’d deliberately deceived you. I wanted to tell you, Kate, believe me. After our sail on Saturday … dinner at Sam’s … I knew I couldn’t put off telling you any longer, but I was afraid when I did, you’d never want to see me again. And maybe you don’t.”

Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I rested my head against the window, trying to fight back my tears, and then looked over at David, who was sitting with his left elbow resting on the wheel, cradling his chin in his hand and staring through the windshield. I began to sob.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’ve really let you down, haven’t I?”

“It’s not that. I’m not crying because you’re married. It’s what I told you the other night. No one has ever talked to me before the way you do. I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know what you expect of me. I feel like an actor in a play and I’m the only one who doesn’t know the lines. I don’t even know the p-p-plot.”

David slid over on the seat toward me.“Come here, dear.”

He put his arms around me and, still sobbing, I buried my face in his shoulder. David reached in the glove compartment, took out a small package of tissues, and handed it to me. I blew my nose and wiped my eyes.

“If it’s any consolation to you, I’ve never played this role before, either. We’ll just have to make up our lines as we go along. Look at me for a moment, Kate. After what I told you, do you still want …”

“Yes.” I slid my hands under his coat and around his back, hugging him tightly. I couldn’t hear the rain any longer; I was only conscious of David’s breathing, the scent of his hair and the warmth of his body. We sat with our arms around each other for a long time.

“Kate,” he said at last, “there’s one more thing I want to add. I don’t know how much Frank told you, but I’m sure you can guess … my marriage isn’t a happy one. I’m not going to tell you my wife doesn’t understand me or give you some hackneyed excuse to justify my behavior. I realize the world takes a dim view of old married men who get involved with younger women, and I held this opinion too, only a few short weeks ago. You said you don’t know what I expect of you. I don’t know what I expect of you either, or of us, or of myself, except to hope we’ll be kind to one another. You’ve heard the cliché – he’s old enough to be her father – and in my case it’s literally true. The difference in our ages isn’t what bothers me, though, it’s your naiveté. Taking advantage of your trust would be so easy, and I don’t want to do that. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“I think so”. David drew back to look at me and ran his finger gently under my eyes. “You’re still crying. What’s the matter, dear?”

“Nothing. I’m so relieved, so happy. I always cry when I’m happy.”

“I see I’ll have to buy stock in the Kleenex company. Living in this climate is bad enough without your trying to drown me.” David rummaged in the glove compartment for more tissues and, finding none, gave me his handkerchief.

“No lipstick, please,” he added with a sad smile.

I wiped my eyes again. “I’m sorry to be such a blubbering baby. It’s like I’ve just ridden an emotional roller coaster and I’m still not sure which way is up.” I sighed and laid my head back on his shoulder. “I wondered how it would feel to be in your arms.”

“They say anticipation is better than realization. Is it true?”

“Emphatically not; the realization is infinitely better. The world could come to an end this very minute and I wouldn’t care.”

“I had another reason for wanting to see you this evening.”

“What?”

“Andrés Segovia is performing here in Seattle Friday night. I bought two tickets to his concert and it would make me very happy to take you.”

I looked at him appraisingly. “Are you inviting me because you’re sorry for me, because of what I said Saturday about never going out on a date?”

“No, you little ninny. I’m inviting you because I’m sorry for myself, because I have these two wonderful tickets and no one to go with, because I know you like the classical guitar, and because there’s no one in the world I’d rather take than you.”

My eyes started to fill with tears again and I turned away. “Yes, David, I’d love to go, very much.”

“I don’t know if it will make a difference to you, or lessen your guilt feelings, if you have any, but I did invite my wife first. She’s made other plans for the evening, so it isn’t as though …”

“I understand. You don’t need to explain. Can I take you up on the offer of coffee?”

“Great idea.” David started the engine and turned on the defroster. I couldn’t repress a smile as I watched the fog on the windshield receding from the blast of warm air.

“What’s so funny?”
“I was thinking of all the times I’ve walked down this path at night and looked at the parked cars with their steamy windows. Somehow I never pictured myself inside one.”

David smiled. “Can you sit closer to me? You’re perfectly safe so long as I have one hand on the wheel.” I slid over and he put his right arm around me. “That’s better. Do you want to go any place in particular?”

“Could we go to a drive-in so I can stay in the car? I don’t want you to see my red eyes and runny nose.”

David pulled into the first drive-in we passed, blinked the lights for service and bent over to whisper in my ear. “Now that we’re in public I think you should move to your side of the car.”

I looked up at his laughing eyes. “You’re making fun of me. Okay,” I said, resuming my usual position to the far right, “I shall be the soul of propriety.”

The waitress brought two menus and left. “How about something else besides coffee? I don’t think they’ll give us car service for such a small order.”

“May I have a slice of apple pie?”

“You may have whatever your heart desires. A la mode?

“No, thanks. Just plain”

I took off my shoes and tucked my feet beneath me. I sensed David was trying to steer the conversation away from our relationship; I was emotionally wrung out and glad to engage in small talk.

“What were you doing this evening when I called you?”

“I was working on a term paper for one of my classes in anthropology. I’m fairly well along on the research, so I can afford to take a night off.”

“What are you writing about?”

“You’re going to laugh; it’s about the sweet potato in Polynesia.” I couldn’t help laughing myself at how ridiculous it sounded.

“Good Lord, how can you write a term paper about a sweet potato?”

“Well, the sweet potato is the one solid piece of evidence for pre-Colombian contact between the cultures of Polynesia and South America. You see,” I said, warming up to my subject, “in Peru the sweet potato was known as the kumara; in Tahiti it was known as umara, in the Marquesas it was called kuma’a, and on Easter Island it was the kumara, like Peru. But the fascinating thing is the plant’s unquestionably indigenous to the New World. That’s very suggestive, don’t you think?”

“Downright sexy. Remind me to tell you sometime about the inhibition of glucose transfer by chloramphenicol in teichoic acid biosysthesis.”

We looked at each other and smiled.

“What’s your grade point average?

“Three point nine seven.”

He whistled. “I think you’re wasting your gifts on the sweet potato. Have you ever considered switching majors and studying one of the sciences, instead?”

“Never! I can’t even calculate beyond ten without taking off my shoes. I’m probably the only person you’ve ever met who failed algebra in high school. There were extenuating circumstances but, even so, I’m really a dunce at math.”

He frowned. “I’m sure that’s not the case. You must have been poorly taught.”

“David, you can teach me to sail, but if you’re harboring any idea of tutoring me all the way from simple addition to calculus, please forget it.”

After we left the drive-in, David drove slowly toward the residence hall, past the fraternity and sorority houses, past the botanical garden, through the campus, and back again. I can’t recall what we said during that ride. I only remember his arm around me and my head on his shoulder, the sound of the windshield wipers, the splash of raindrops on the roof, and the special feeling of belonging when two people are in love and there’s no need for words.

“When do you have to be back at the dormitory?” David asked as we passed Blaine Hall for the third time.

“Eleven.”

He held his wrist to the light and squinted at his watch. “So early? It’s almost eleven now. What happens if you’re late?”

“After they lock the door, you ring the bell and then someone lets you in. Once a week there’s an inquisition in the housemother’s apartment and the delinquents have to say their mea culpas in front of the creepiest bunch of girls in the whole dorm, the same ones who hold Monday night Bible classes.”

“Think what you’re missing – you could be studying scripture this very minute instead of going to hell with me.”

I wrinkled my nose at him.

“Were you ever late?”

“Only once. My friend Norma and I went to see War and Peace a week ago and the film lasted longer than we expected. We got back a couple of minutes past eleven, and the way they carried on you would’ve thought we were attending an orgy. Norma’s so disgusted she’s moving out after Christmas. To make matters worse, the movie wasn’t even good.”

“Have you read the book?”

“Three times. That’s why I know how bad the movie was. The director had an impossible job, though. You can’t make a movie out of a work like War and Peace; the book’s too vast. Tolstoy is my favorite novelist. Have you ever read War and Peace or Anna Karenina?

“I read War and Peace in German, years ago. I remember Tolstoy’s ideas of predestination in history better than I do the body of the novel, though.”

“Do you remember where Natasha and Nicholas go wolf hunting with Uncle – I think that’s my favorite part – or when they dress up as mummers? Every time I read War and Peace I discover something new, or a scene I passed over before takes on a new meaning, like the chapter about Prince Andrew and the oak tree. Do you remember it?”

“Not after all these years. Tell me.”

“Well, Prince Andrew is driving through a forest of birches in the springtime and he comes across an ancient oak tree. All the other tress are bursting with new growth, but this one oak is standing among the birches grim and misshapen, and it seems to Prince Andrew the tree is like himself, disillusioned and despairing of the future. A few months later, after he’s met Natasha and fallen in love, Prince Andrew is passing again through the same forest and he has difficulty finding the tree because now it’s covered with a canopy of green leaves. When he finally recognizes the oak, Andrew’s overcome with joy because he realizes that during the spring both he and the tree have been reborn. Oh, David, it’s so beautiful! Just remembering this part gives me goose bumps.”

David was studying me quizzically with a slight smile on his face.

“Why are you smiling at me like that?”

“Listening to you reminds me of a conversation I overheard a couple of days ago between two girls about your age. One of them was telling the other that she’s been to Europe and Niagara Falls, and next year she’s contemplating – that was the word she used – contemplating – a trip to South America. This girl was worrying where she can go on her honeymoon since by the time she’s married she will have seen everything.” David laughed. “Isn’t that pathetic? Barely out of high school and already suffering from Weltschmerz.”

“What’s Weltschmerz?”

“World weariness. I love your enthusiasm, Kate. Promise me you won’t change.”

The rain was over when we reached Blaine Hall, and in places the clouds had parted to reveal a sprinkling of stars. As I got out of the car, I fixed my eyes on the brightest and recited:

Star light, star bright

First star I see tonight

I wish I may, I wish I might

Have this wish I wish tonight.

I shut my eyes and wished silently that David and I might be happy.

“What did you wish for?”

“I can’t tell you or my wish won’t come true.”

“Do planets count? That’s Venus, you know.”

“Don’t be so technical.”

We stopped near the door and looked at each other. There was an awkward silence.

“Have you forgiven me?”

“There isn’t anything to forgive.”

David drew me aside into the shadows and put his arms around me. “Kate, I’m so very fond of you. I don’t want to hurt you.” He leaned over, kissed me on the forehead, and said goodnight.

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Sept. 17, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

Saturday was the best day of my entire life! As I wrote you Friday, I went sailing with Frank and Dr. Rosenau on Sturmvogel (it means “storm bird,” by the way). At first there wasn’t any wind, but before noon we finally got a good breeze. I can’t begin to tell you how glorious it was – Dr. R. even let me steer the boat for a while. He’s kind and very patient. I’m so hooked on sailing now that I plan to sign up for lessons from the University Sailing Club…
Norma’s argument was persuasive, but I kept remembering the touch of Dr. Rosenau’s hand when we said goodbye on the boat and his smile when he looked at me. Or had I merely imagined he’d held my hand longer than etiquette dictated and was his smile the same one he bestowed on everyone? Surely he felt something more than paternal interest and would call me before Friday. Nevertheless, the week dragged by without a word from him, and my disappointment grew with every passing day. I had the scenario all planned: he’d telephone me on the pretext of inquiring about the typing and I’d tell him I couldn’t decipher a couple of words. That wasn’t true, of course. Since Dr. Rosenau had started printing, his handwriting was completely legible, but I was sure I could come up with one or two dubious examples, and this would be his cue to suggest we go over the text together. In my more optimistic moments I pictured us at dinner, sharing a cheese fondue in some candlelit Swiss restaurant, but even the prospect of a coffee date at the HUB would have sent me into transports of delight.
Dr. Rosenau was constantly in my thoughts. When the pressure of studies demanded total concentration, I could dismiss him from my mind for a while, but he was always present, lurking just below the threshold of consciousness, ready to resurface, unbidden, like a nagging pain; the term “heart ache” is aptly named. In my leisure I courted his image. I replayed all our conversations, analyzed every nuance in his voice, every arch of his eyebrow. I constructed imaginary dialogues with him in which I was the epitome of sophistication, and I fretted over the things I’d really said.
When he didn’t call Monday night, I wasn’t dismayed. He didn’t want to appear overanxious. On Tuesday he was probably busy. Wednesday I thought perhaps he’d phoned when I wasn’t in my room. By Thursday I was forced to admit what I’d known all along: David Rosenau, Ph.D., had no intention of getting involved with any student, much less me, and if I believed there was something in his manner beyond ordinary kindness, I was living in a world of fantasy.
I had mixed emotions when I went to his office the following afternoon. I was almost hoping he’d cut the meeting short, take the completed work with one hand, give me the new work with the other, and usher me to the door. At least that would be definitive, and I could go back to being the way I was before we met. But Dr. Rosenau greeted me with a warm smile, took the typing I handed him, and spread the pages out on the top of his desk. He stood for a minute or two perusing the work, and then glanced up.
“You did an excellent job,” he said, gathering the papers in a pile. “Of course, I knew you would. Shall we go?”

We were apparently going somewhere together, to the HUB I presumed. He removed his lab coat, put some books in a briefcase, and we left the office.
After my conversation with Frank, I expected to feel uneasy with Dr. Rosenau. I looked at him and said to myself he’s married, you know he’s married, and it didn’t make any difference at all. Nothing in our relationship had changed; we walked to the student union building laughing and chatting with the intimacy of old friends.

“I see you managed to untangle your hair,” he observed as we sat down to our strawberry shortcake and coffee.
“Yes, but it took me almost an hour, though. You were right about covering my head.” I was on the verge of adding that next time I’d bring a scarf, when I remembered there might not be a “next time,” and my remark would sound presumptuous.
“I wasn’t exaggerating last Saturday when I told you how much I enjoyed the sailing,” I said instead. “In fact, I had such a wonderful time that I’m going to join the University Sailing Club. Did you know they offer sailing lessons for beginners?”
Dr. Rosenau frowned slightly. “Yes, I’m familiar with their program. You’re serious about learning how to sail?”
“Absolutely! I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to be the first woman to sail around the world solo. I think a few lessons are in order before I cast off.”
Dr. Rosenau stared out the window for a moment and then turned his attention back to me. “The sailing club program here is a good one, but the instruction is focused on racing and dinghy sailing, rather than handling a keelboat or cruising. Kate, if you’re really interested in learning to sail, I can teach you, on Sturmvogel.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. Surely I had heard wrong. “I beg your pardon,” I stammered.

He smiled. “I asked if you’d like me to teach you to sail, on Sturmvogel.”

“I … I hardly know what to say. Do you mean it? I’d love to, but …I know you like to sail alone. I don’t want to intrude on your privacy.”
“You won’t be intruding; on the contrary, I’ll be glad to have your company. Honestly, I don’t sail alone out of preference. I need to warn you, though,” he added, “I’m considered an extremely demanding teacher.”
I studied him closely, wondering if his words concealed a hidden agenda, but if they did, I couldn’t detect it in his face.

“Seamanship encompasses so much more than simply steering a boat straight. A competent sailor has to know how to handle his boat in heavy weather, how to anchor, how to read nautical charts, how to tie knots; boat handling requires a myriad of skills. Also, since you’re planning to sail around the world alone you’ll need to learn celestial navigation. What do you say?”

“Well … thank you … yes … I appreciate your offer … truly.” I could have kicked myself for my tepid response. What I really wanted to do was jump up and down shouting “yes! yes! yes!”

“Shall I pick you up tomorrow morning at nine?”

I nodded, unable to speak.

“Be sure to dress warmly,” he cautioned. “Do you remember telling me last week I should invite you again when the weather’s so bad that no one else will go out with me? I think you’re going to be put to the test. The weatherman’s predicting rain late in the afternoon and it’s certain to be chilly.”
Saturday morning dawned cold and overcast, with a slight breeze from the south. I waited for Dr. Rosenau in the driveway to spare him the inevitable stares at the reception desk, and he pulled up outside Blaine Hall promptly at nine. He was alone in the car and I wondered if he’d invited Frank to come with us.

As we drove through the marina gate, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. “Is Frank coming?”

“No, this is a private lesson. Did you want me to invite him?”

I shook my head. “I know I’m going to make mistakes, so I’d rather not have an audience.”

When we reached the boat, Dr. Rosenau began his instruction immediately, and before we pulled away from the dock I’d learned the name of every visible part on Sturmvogel, how to hoist and furl the sails, and how to operate the outboard. Once on the water he was equally unrelenting; we tacked and jibed for two hours around the buoys, executing each maneuver until he was satisfied. We talked very little and when we did, it was only about sailing.

Dr. Rosenau never made me feel foolish, though I often did foolish things, such as wrapping the jib sheet the wrong way around the winch or pushing the tiller toward the sails when I wanted to jibe. He gave praise sparingly, but if I did something well, he told me, and I redoubled my efforts. He was right; he was a very demanding teacher.

As if by consensus, we avoided touching one another. Unlike the previous week’s sail when Frank was aboard, if Dr. Rosenau wanted me to move the tiller, he told me rather than putting his hand on mine. When we shifted positions in the cockpit, we moved as cautiously as two porcupines, careful to maintain a buffer of circumspection between us. Frank would approve, I thought.

We’d been practicing for several hours when Dr. Rosenau suddenly seized one of the kapok cushions from the seat and hurled it into the water. “Man Overboard!” He sat back, folded his arms and looked at me. I knew he expected me to turn around and retrieve the cushion as if it were a person who’d fallen into the water, so I noted the compass heading and prepared to jibe. I held the tiller between my legs and hauled in on the mainsheet as fast as I could until the boom was nearly overhead, then eased the tiller to port and controlled the swing of the boom as it passed to the other side. The jib needed releasing, and I looked at Dr. Rosenau.

He shook his head. “You’re all alone; that’s me back there in the water praying you’ll pick me up.”

I put the tiller between my knees again, let go on the starboard jib sheet and started pulling on the other side, using my teeth as well as my hands. By the time I had the boat settled on the reciprocal course of our original heading, the cushion was a couple hundred yards downwind of us and barely visible, though Sturmvogel was gaining fast. We bore down on the cushion and passed it; I shoved the tiller to port without sheeting the sails and Sturmvogel turned slowly, losing way. That was the moment I was waiting for; as the cushion drifted toward the hull, I grabbed the boat hook, reached over the coaming, and skewered the cushion through a loop on the side, hoisting it triumphantly into the cockpit.

“One minute and thirty-five seconds. Bravo!” Dr. Rosenau applauded. “Let’s see if I survived.” He picked up the cushion and held it to his ear. “Thready pulse and probably hypothermic. Aren’t you going to give me artificial respiration?”

I couldn’t resist the opening. “Which kind, chest compression or mouth to mouth?”

He gave me a sidelong glance and laughed. “I may really be tempted to jump overboard if you give me a choice like that.” He leaned over the side and wrung out the cushion. “Do you realize it’s almost two o’clock? I haven’t eaten since six this morning and I’m starving; how about you?”

Dr. Rosenau went below to get the roast beef sandwiches and while we ate, he told me about his sailing experiences in college. He had a friend whose father owned a sixty foot yacht, Arabesque, which he raced along the Pacific Coast, and when one of the regular crew broke his leg shortly before a race to Ensenada, the owner invited Dr. Rosenau to take his place. The trip to Mexico was the first of many he made on the large wooden ketch, on voyages which took him as far as Acapulco and Hawaii for up to three months at a time. He told me about sailing through schools of gray whales off Baja California, of steering the boat at night under a canopy of stars, of lazy days in the tropics where he spent his off-watch hours sprawled on deck in swimming trunks, reading Dickens and Thackeray. Dr. Rosenau’s enthusiasm for sailing was infectious and I listened to him spellbound; if he’d proposed a trip around the world, I would have accepted without a second thought.

We started back to the marina about five, after another short practice session. Dr. Rosenau was below making coffee and I was steering, when I noticed a white sloop sailing toward us. The helmsman seemed to be alone, and beneath the down-turned brim of a sailor’s hat, I made out the ruddy face of an elderly man. His boat approached us at an angle, and then sheered off to windward, converging with Sturmvogel until our hulls were less than ten feet apart. The skipper hailed me and I waved tentatively back, petrified we were going to collide. He leaned over the side.

“Is David aboard?” he shouted.

I nodded and called below. “Dr. Rosenau, someone’s out here who wants to speak to you; someone on a sailboat.”

Dr. Rosenau poked his head out of the companionway and waved. Rive Gauche, the white sloop, nosed toward Sturmvogel from time to time while the two men chatted, until finally the other skipper raised his hand in farewell and his boat slipped behind us and to leeward, giving us sea room at last.

I breathed a sign of relief. “Your friend took ten years off my life; what on earth was he thinking of, getting so close to us? Could you steer for a few minutes? I’m still shaking.”

Dr. Rosenau laughed and took the tiller from me. “I suspect Phil was just trying to get a good look at you. You’re certainly Sturmvogel’s most attractive skipper to date. You may have thought he was going to hit us, but Phil’s an experienced sailor.”

“What about me? I’m not.”

“Oh, I was watching out for us.”

We sailed for a few minutes in silence. A couple of times I caught him staring at me thoughtfully, but he didn’t seem in the mood for talking.

“Kate,” Dr. Rosenau said at last, “are you always so formal with me?”

“What do you mean?”

“When Phil came alongside and you called to me down in the cabin, you addressed me as ‘Dr. Rosenau.’”

“Yes,” I replied, looking away.

“Don’t you call me David?”

“Actually, I’ve never addressed you by name; it’s a situation I’ve been trying to avoid. When your friend asked for you, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just go below and pluck your sleeve because he was so close I didn’t dare leave the tiller. I can’t call you by your first name; it’s … so presumptuous.”

“But I call you Kate.”

“That’s different. You’re a professor and I’m a student. You’re also my employer.”

“For God’s sake! Is that how you think of me – as a professor, an employer? What about a friend? It’s the difference in our ages, isn’t it? You’re 19 and I’m 47. I must seem like Methuselah to you.”

“No you don’t. I never think of you as any particular age.”

“Well then, how do you think of me?”

I looked down, too embarrassed to answer.

“I’m sorry. I have no right to ask you that. Let’s see, if Phil took ten years off your life, that makes me 38 years older than you. Damn that Phil!”

I started to laugh.

“Will you do me a favor, forget our professor-student roles and call me David?”

“Yes, if you want me to.”

“Yes, David, if you want me to.”

“Yes, David, if you want me to.” My eyes met his and we smiled at each other.

“When Phil dropped by, I believe I was preparing coffee; let me get back to work. Are you all right with the tiller now?”

“Yes…” he looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Yes, David.”

“Good girl. Practice makes perfect.”

“You know … David, letting me call you by your first name is rather dangerous.”

He paused in the companionway. “Why?”

“Some tribes in Africa believe that knowing a man’s name gives you magical power over him. When a baby’s born, the father whispers the child’s name in his ear so no one else can hear it. The boy’s real name is never spoken aloud.”

David regarded me gravely as he started down the ladder. “It’s already too late, no matter what you call me.”
The rain began soon after we finished our coffee. Within a short time my windbreaker was soaked, and although I tried to keep from looking as miserable as I felt, my chattering teeth betrayed me.

“Can you take the tiller for a couple of minutes?” David asked. “I’m going down to put on my foul weather gear and then you can go below to get out of the rain.” He returned wearing a yellow jacket and pants, a sou’wester, and black boots.

“Here, drink this”, he said, handing me a cup.

“What is it?”
“Brandy.”

I took the cup with hesitation and drank. The liquor blazed a trail of fire from my throat to my stomach and I began to cough.

“Now go below and try to get warm. I put some extra blankets on the settee for you. I’ll take over now.”

I made a meek protest about wanting to do my part, but he gave me a small shove toward the companionway and I went below, too wet and exhausted to resist further. I sat on the starboard settee to remove my soaking tennis shoes and David slipped the hatch boards in place, plunging the cabin into darkness. Reaching for the blankets, I covered myself and lay down, conscious only of the singing of the wind in the rigging and the swish of water along the hull.

When I awakened, the noise of the water had ceased and Sturmvogel lay rocking in her berth. Farther down the dock some loose halyards slapped rhythmically against their masts, but Sturmvogel’s cabin was still except for the hissing of the stove. David had covered me with a couple of additional blankets. I opened my eyes slightly and saw him sitting on the opposite bunk in his stocking feet, with his back against the bulkhead and his knees drawn up, supporting a book. I squinted through my lashes to peek at him. David. I rolled his name around in my head, savoring the sound of it. He was reading intently; his forehead was slightly creased, and he was tilting the book to catch the flickering light from a kerosene lantern hanging above him. In repose David’s face wore the same expression of brooding intensity I’d noticed on the day we met. I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep. When I awakened again I must have stirred, for he was looking at me.

“Good evening, sleepyhead,” David said softly. “It’s about time you woke up.”

“What time is it?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“Seven-thirty!” I sat up with a start and began to put on my soggy tennis shoes. “I’m awfully sorry I fell asleep the way I did. You must think I’m terribly rude.”

“I’m the one who owes you an apology. I’m so accustomed to sailing this boat alone that I didn’t realize how tiring the steering was for you. Are you warmer now?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks for the blankets. What’s that on the stove?” It looked like David was cooking a flowerpot upside down on one of the burners.

“A jury-rigged cabin heater, really just a flower pot over a flame. One of these days I’ll buy a proper heater, but in the meantime the pot works well enough. Would you like some hot chocolate?”

Without waiting for my reply, David spooned cocoa into a mug and added boiling water from a vacuum bottle; he stirred the drink and handed me the cup. The aroma reminded me that dinner at the residence hall was long over and I was acutely hungry. David must have read my thoughts.

“I’m not going to send you to bed without any supper. Do you like fish?”

“I love fish.”

“Great. I know a small restaurant not far from here which serves some of the best seafood in Seattle, so why don’t we have dinner there? Sam’s is unpretentious; we can go as we are.”
The thought occurred to me that David might have had other plans for the evening and by oversleeping, I’d ruined them. “You don’t need to invite me to dinner. A food cart comes through the dorm every night at ten; I can pick up a corn dog and coffee …”
David looked surprised. “Don’t you want to have dinner with me?”
His question took me aback. “Well, yes, of course … I mean I’d love to, but you’ve already spent an entire day with me and you were probably planning to do something else afterwards and I’ve spoiled your …”
David laid his index finger on my lips and shook his head. “Good, that’s settled, then.”

He reached toward the bookshelf and removed a slim volume. “Before I forget, here’s the book I promised you; I meant to give it to you last week.” He handed me a copy of Le Petit Prince with its droll cover picture of the little prince standing on his asteroid.

“I hope you enjoy the story,” he said as I thumbed through the book, looking at the illustrations and reading some of the text. I came to a picture of an animal that resembled an electrified Welsh corgi.

“Is this funny little creature the fox?”

David nodded. “It’s a fennec, a kind of fox from North Africa, where Saint-Exupéry was a mail pilot. He really did crash in the Sahara, you know, just like the narrator of the story, and the fennecs he encountered in the desert were his inspiration for the fox. They have some at the zoo, delicate animals with silky hair and great bat ears. We should drive to Woodland Park one of these Saturdays when the weather’s so miserable even I won’t sail.”

David told me more about the restaurant when we left the marina. “Its real name is Hazel’s, though everyone calls the place Sam’s after the owner. Sam used to be a commercial fisherman up in Alaska, but when he lost one of his eyes in an accident a few years ago, he decided to sell the boat – the Hazel M. – and open a restaurant with the proceeds. Sam’s a genuine character; most of his customers are fishermen and you may be the only woman in the room, so be prepared for a few stares. I should also warn you the atmosphere’s not exactly Michelin three stars, but if you like fish you won’t be disappointed; Sam’s a wizard in the kitchen.”

Sam’s was located on the waterfront, surrounded by all-night coffee shops and hotels for transients. An orange neon sign reading “Hazel’s” flashed on and off above the entrance, alternating with a beer advertisement that featured an illuminated waterfall flowing into a mountain stream. In the window, a pair of dispirited rubber plants clung tenuously to life, flanked by red and white checkered curtains which concealed the interior of the restaurant from the street.

I looked at David inquiringly. “I know what you’re thinking; just wait and see.” He opened the door and a billow of warm air surged out, carrying with it the aroma of seafood, the babble of men’s voices and the insistent pulsation of rock and roll.

David guided me toward the cash register. “Before we eat, I want you to see a picture of Sam’s boat; he’ll be pleased I showed it to you.” Hanging on the wall was a mural-sized photograph of a fishing boat, with a group of men on deck hauling nets against a panorama of snow-clad mountains.

“She’s a beauty. Sam must have fond memories of her. Did you see mountains like that when you were in Alaska?”

“Every day. Once you get north of Puget Sound you can sail close to shore sheltered by a string of islands. Everywhere you look there are mountains and waterfalls and the land is so pristine that moose and bear come right down to the water’s edge to stare at you. Alaska’s a grand country, rugged and clean. I hope you get to sail the Inside Passage some day.”

“I hope so, too. If you’re ever going up to Alaska again and need a crew member …” I stopped and laughed, surprised at my boldness.

David smiled. “Don’t think that hasn’t occurred to me.” He took my arm. “Let’s find a table away from all these people where the atmosphere’s a bit quieter.”

The restaurant was crowded with men, fishermen I gathered from their conversations, but we finally located a small table for two near a window. We were no sooner seated than Sam himself, wearing a white chef’s apron and a green baseball cap with “Gut Salmon?” embroidered on the visor, walked over to greet us.

“Good evening, doctor, good evening. What have we here?” Sam’s good eye, round and bird-like, seemed to swivel in his head like a chameleon’s, and come to rest on me. A black patch hid his other one, giving him a piratical air, and I half expected to see a parrot on his shoulder. Sam’s teeth jutted from his gums at irregular intervals and when he smiled, his mouth resembled a battered comb. David introduced us and Sam held out a ham of a hand.

“I am delightful to meet you, young lady. Are you a nurse, my dear?”

I stared at him, not understanding his question.

“Kate’s a student at the university. She sails with me on Sturmvogel.”

Sam’s smile widened further. “So you’re a sailor too, are you? Doctor, be sure to show Kate here the picture of the Hazel M. before you go.”

“David showed it to me as soon as we came in. You must have been very proud of her.”

Sam wiped his hands on the apron. “That I was. Man and boy she was my home for 40 years. I’ve dropped anchor now, but Hazel M. is still working the Alaska fishery. Best damn boat in the fleet, if you’ll pardon my French.” He paused. “Was you out today, in the rain squalid?”

I nodded, trying to repress a giggle.

“You must be hungry then. There’s nothing like salt air to simulate the appetite. How about a bowl of clam chowder to start things off? The sole is also exceptionable tonight.”

Sam handed us a couple of greasy, plastic-covered menus and, wishing us a “bone appetite,” he moved along to chat with other customers.

“You’re right about Sam. He’s really an original. Does he always talk like that?”

“Sam’s surprisingly well read for a man who didn’t go beyond the fourth grade, though I’ll grant you his English is a trifle idiosyncratic. I’ll never forget the time he told me how he pulled an octopus from one of his nets and the beast wrapped its testicles around him.”

David nudged the menus to the edge of the table with the side of his hand. “I don’t think we’ll need these. If Sam recommends the clam chowder and the ‘exceptionable’ sole then, believe me, chowder and sole’s what we ought to order. Unless, of course, you’d rather try something else.”

“Sole’s fine with me; I adore all seafood. Why did Sam ask if I’m a nurse?”

David laughed. “Because you’re with me. When I first came here, several years ago, a friend introduced me to Sam as Dr. Rosenau, and he’s had the idea ever since that I’m a medical doctor. When he started asking me to diagnose his aches and pains, I told him I’m a Ph.D., not an M.D., but I don’t think he’s entirely convinced. I did overhear him telling someone once, however, that I’m ‘the kind of doctor who don’t do you no good.’”

After the chowder, the waiter brought us two platters of sole and David asked me to pass him the salt. He took the shaker from me with his right hand, and with his left opened my fingers and examined my nails. I pulled back and tried to close my fist, but David held on, frowning.
“Kate, do you bite your nails?”
“I used to, but as soon as I got my high-paying job with you, I hired someone else to bite them for me.”
“Smartass! Seriously, do you have any idea how many bacteria…” His hand closed around mine, I drew in my breath and our eyes met. For a moment he stopped smiling and just looked at me, and then he released my trembling hand. There was an awkward silence and for the first time in hours, neither of us could think of anything to say. David eventually bridged the gap with some commonplace remark about the food; we glanced at each other furtively and I returned my eyes to the tablecloth.

“Shall I call the strolling violinists over to serenade us?” David asked after the waiter had cleared away the dinner dishes. In answer to my expression of inquiry, he nodded toward the jukebox selector on the table.

“Judging from what we’ve been hearing I don’t think you’ll find anything that would interest you.”

He studied the list. “Oh, I don’t know. Not everything’s rock and roll; some of these are very pleasant, but no one’s playing them. Let’s each choose one song.”

I flipped the pages inside the box. “All right, I’d like D-5, please. David deposited the coins and punched two selections. Moments later a raucous piece came blaring from the speaker, something about a mad motorcycle going boom-boom-boom.

David raised his eyebrows. “Is that yours?”

“Heavens no! Someone else must have beaten you.”

My choice was next and David listened in silence until the end. “The tune is familiar, but I can’t remember the title. What is it?”

‘Unchained Melody.’ I think it’s from a movie called Unchained, about a prison, however unlikely that sounds. The song is one of my favorites.”

“Does it have lyrics?”

“Yes.”

“What are they?”

The first three lines went through my head:
Oh, my love, my darling

I’ve hungered for your touch

A long, lonely time.

I shook my head. I knew I wouldn’t be able to recite them to David without choking up.

“Will you tell me someday?”

“Maybe.”

David’s selection, Stranger in Paradise, was next.

“Borodin” I remarked with a smile. “I should’ve known you’d manage to find something classical even on a jukebox.”

David gave me a long look. “I just like the song.” He laid down his cup. “Kate…,” he began. I glanced up, expectantly. He waited for several seconds before speaking, as if deciding whether to continue. “Oh nothing. Would you care for some dessert?” He ordered two pieces of cake, leaving me to wonder what he’d intended to say.
We lingered at the table for more than an hour, drinking coffee and talking until Sam announced, regretfully, that it was closing time.

David had told me before about his childhood in Argentina, but never so vividly as he did that night, and when he talked I could hear the sigh of the wind through the pampas grass, smell beef barbecuing over the gauchos’ campfires and imagine David as he was then, a tall, dark boy on horseback, always alone.

David’s father practiced medicine outside a small town in the province of Cordoba, about 500 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. As a little boy, David often accompanied his father on his rounds, David wedged into the saddle in front of his father and later, when he grew older, beside his father on a horse of his own. Except for these excursions, David rarely left their farm until he was old enough to attend school; few children his age lived nearby and he spent most of his time in the company of adults.

David told me about his first day at school, sitting beside an older student during recitation. When the teacher called on the boy to read aloud, he stumbled over the text and five-year old David snatched the book away from him impatiently. “That’s not how you read it; it goes like this.”

David couldn’t recall a time when he wasn’t reading. By the age of ten he’d devoured almost every book in his parents’ extensive library, from medical texts to the Tarzan adventures his grandparents sent to him from Buenos Aires, and he counted the days to their annual visit to the capital, when he could spend hours browsing in the bookstores that lined Avenida Corrientes.

David’s precocity and arrogance won him few friends among either his schoolmates or his instructors. He chafed at a school curriculum that emphasized spelling and grammar rather than composition, and David’s teachers never knew of the poems and short stories he wrote for his own amusement. Despite his ability, David was an indifferent student; memorization bored him and he was frequently absent. In fair weather he would load his saddlebags with the essentials – bread, cheese, a few books – and, leaving a note for his parents, turn his horse to the hills. David reveled in the solitude of the wilderness and often camped for days on the shore of a small lake, returning home only when his supplies ran out. When David’s mother protested he should be in class, his father supported him. “Let the boy go; he’ll learn more out there by himself than he ever will in that so-called school.”

David’s athletic ability earned him the grudging respect of his classmates, but if he was the first to swim across a river, the fastest rider, or the first to reach a mountaintop, he was indifferent to either the praise or the awe of the other boys. In anyone else this reaction would have passed for modesty, but David had a healthy appreciation of his own considerable gifts and was uninterested in the opinions of his inferiors.

When David was twelve and his brother Daniel nine, his grandfather insisted on paying their tuition at a British boarding school in the capital, ending David’s days of freedom. The transition was painful; English was the language of instruction, and while he spoke both Spanish and German fluently, David had only a shaky grasp of English. For the first time his arrogance was humbled by competing with other boys of outstanding ability who had the advantage of a superior education and exposure to the cultural life of a cosmopolitan city. Instead of memorizing, the school asked David to think critically, to pose questions and find the answers. In return, he had sympathetic teachers who recognized in “el salvaje” (the savage) a boy of exceptional ability, one whose tenacity and ambition they could channel to useful ends.

At home he’d often lain on his back at night, gazing at the sky, but he balked at memorizing the names of meaningless galaxies. In Buenos Aires he studied astronomy, and he marveled at the complexity of the universe and at the laws which hold the stars and planets in their course. When he examined a drop of water under a microscope and discovered a new world of plants and animals, David told me he felt the awe of an intruder in Lilliput. It was, he said, as though he’d been born with bandaged eyes, and when the wrappings were removed, he was in perpetual motion, looking at everything, studying everything, making up for twelve years of mental darkness. The transformation in David’s personality was dramatic; his grades improved and he made friends. At the end of the term he finished second in his class and by the end of the next semester he was number one, a position he never relinquished through all the years of college and graduate school that followed.

Understanding David was easier after he told me about his childhood. He smiled when I said my first impression of him was Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Even then, after more than 30 years of civilizing, something of the savage boy still lurked in David. I saw it in his ruthless desire to excel in everything he did, in his disdain for people less gifted than he, and above all in his passion for sailing. David didn’t sail for pleasure or relaxation the way other men did; for David the ocean was an arena where he pitted his knowledge and strength against the Goliath of nature.

David told me, too, about his undergraduate life in Berkeley, and he related a few incidents of graduate school at Harvard, but on the subject of his present circumstances, he was mute. If I hadn’t known better, I would have suspected he kept a sleeping bag in one of his filing cabinets and lived in his office.

“Did you ever consider studying medicine, like your father?”

“Oh, the idea occurred to me. At one point I thought of becoming a doctor and ministering to some heathen tribe in New Guinea or the Congo. A sort of Schweitzer sans Jesus”

“How come you changed your mind?”

David laughed. “I’m not like Papa. I lack the human touch. If I were a medical doctor, I’d probably alienate so many of my patients that I’d starve to death. My problem is I love humanity; it’s just people I can’t stand. After I decided to major in biochemistry I thought of teaching abroad; I still dabble with the idea occasionally. On a more rational level, what I’d like is to teach at a first rate university on the Pacific Coast, such as Stanford or Berkeley. I’ve received job offers, but …” He stopped.

“Why didn’t you accept?”

He hesitated. “Personal reasons.”

I sensed he was shutting the door again. “Do you have any regrets?”

“About biochemistry? No. About other things … when I was young, Kate, I had so many dreams. I was going to be the first man to climb Mt. Everest. I was going to be the first Argentine to sail around the world alone. I was going to be an explorer, an adventurer. It’s funny, isn’t it what you dream when you’re young? I wasn’t going to stay in one place for more than a few years, or work at a desk or go to an office from nine to five. Not I! That sort of life was for dull, pedestrian people. So here I am, working at a desk from nine to five, about as adventurous as a limpet on a rock.”

“But David,” I protested, “those things you mentioned like Everest or sailing around the world, they’re unrealistic and self-indulgent; other people have done them, but how can sports records possibly compare with what you’ve accomplished? Surely you’re proud of your work.”

“That’s a strange thing to say.”

“Strange? Frank idolizes you. He’s told me all about your important research, your publications, the prizes you’ve won. I have a confession to make. I looked you up in The Biography of American Scholars, and even Frank’s not aware of all your achievements. If I had one third your accomplishments I’d be supremely happy.”

I thought he would smile, but he didn’t, and I wondered if he considered my research an invasion of his privacy.

“Yes, I suppose my curriculum vitae is impressive to you and Frank and, in a way, it is to me, too. I’m not regretting Everest; that would be childish petulance, but the important things in my life turned out so very differently from what I’d hoped. If you measure achievement with an academic yardstick, then I’m a roaring success but, honestly Kate, I’m a failure in everything that matters.

“Now that I’ve acquired tenure and a few gray hairs, I’ve become a father confessor. Not a day goes by I don’t talk to at least one student who’s flunking organic chemistry, or who’s worried he won’t receive the fellowship he’s counting on, or who’s scared he’s got his girlfriend pregnant. I sit in my office dispensing wisdom, the omniscient Dr. Rosenau, resident guru of the biochemistry department. It’s ironic; they’re flocking to me for advice, but I’m more confused than they are, only I don’t have the excuse of youth. Some days I’m so depressed it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other, just to keep moving. I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m running out of time. You know how it is when you’re young: the future seems like an eternity. If you can’t do something today, well, there’s always next week or next year, but I’m 47 and I’m running out of ‘tomorrows’. There have been moments recently when I’ve felt like someone looking through a chink in the wall of Eden; the breath of paradise caresses my cheek, I’m as young as on the first day of creation … and suddenly it’s all snatched away.”

He stopped and looked at me. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t have the faintest idea of what’s chewing on me. I wasn’t planning to unload this dung heap of self-pity on you; usually I manage to repress my emotions somewhat better.”

“You’re terribly harsh on yourself. I wish I could say something comforting, but … I don’t know what to say. No one has ever talked to me before the way you do.”

“I suppose not; you can consider yourself blessed.”

“No, you’re wrong. It’s awfully hard for me to say what’s in my heart. You’ve shared your joy with me, your love of music, books, sailing. I … wish you’d share your sadness with me as well.”

He reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “Thank you, Kate. On Fridays, when you’re coming at three, from one o’clock on I start to feel happy.” I realized he was quoting from Le Petit Prince, and a lump rose in my throat.

David looked at me and smiled. “Enough of me. Definitely enough of me. Tell me your dreams. What do you see yourself doing in, say, twenty years from now? I seem to recall someone else who’s planning to sail around the world.”

“That’s a bit premature. My dreams? I don’t think I have any, not like yours anyway. I’m always waiting for something dramatic to happen in my life to give me a focus, a direction, like St. Paul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. When I was a little girl I was sure I’d die before I was 21; I suppose I couldn’t imagine myself functioning as an adult. In a way I still can’t, though I don’t have the death premonitions any more. I guess I’d like to travel more than anything else, maybe work for the Foreign Service after I graduate, even if it’s only a clerical job. I don’t want to teach; I’d be petrified in front of a room full of students. Your aspirations were a lot more altruistic than mine are.

“Sometimes I’m afraid when I think about the future. I have a strange dream from time to time, a real dream, I mean. I’m sitting on a raft, floating down a river. I’m just sitting with my arms clasped around my knees, watching the landscape drift by. There’s a great deal of activity on both sides of the river; the whole scene is like a picture by Brueghel, but no one is paying attention to me and I have no desire to communicate with the people on shore, either. In my dream I’m aware the river leads to the ocean, but I never reach the sea. I suppose the river symbolizes my life and the ocean is death.”

“That’s a rather grim fantasy. Is there room on your raft for someone else? A boyfriend, perhaps?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“A girl as attractive as you? That’s hard to believe.”

I frowned at David, wondering if he was being facetious. No one had ever called me attractive before, and if he was paying me a compliment, I didn’t know how to respond.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“Good grief! Of course I’m not making fun of you. I think you’re a lovely young woman. Why shouldn’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Boys aren’t interested in girls like me.”

“Kate, for heaven’s sake, that’s utter nonsense. Why do you say such a thing?”

“Because … well, it’s true. I know it’s my own fault. I’m too shy. Around other people I can never think of anything to say or I’m afraid if I do say something it will be really stupid. I remember when we lived in Illinois – it must have been three or four years ago – and the boy next door came over to invite me to the movies. I’m sure his parents made him do it. I heard him talking to my father, so I hid in the attic all afternoon where no one could find me. I’m nineteen years old and that’s the closest I’ve ever come to going out on a date.”

“I think most of the young men I’m acquainted with would love to meet you, but you’re a bit intimidating.”

“No, that’s not the reason. I’m just too shy.”

“You’re not shy with me.”

I swallowed. “I know. Somehow it’s different with you. If … if I were one of your students coming to you for advice, like the ones you were telling me about, what would you say to me?”

“Let’s see, Miss Collins,” David mused, pressing the tips of his fingers together. “I think I’d advise you to become involved in co-educational group activities of a non-threatening sort, where you can be busy, but non-competitive.”

“Like the University Sailing Club?”

David threw back his head and laughed. “Touché. Perhaps I should recuse myself from the role of advisor because of bias.”

It was nearly midnight when we drew up outside the residence hall. David set the hand brake and looked at me for a moment, almost inquiringly, with a slight smile on his lips and I wondered if he was thinking of kissing me, but instead he turned to open the car door.

As we walked together up the path to the dorm, our hands touched. David’s fingers reached for mine and I put my hand in his; it was a gesture more intimate than a kiss, one that expressed a tenderness neither of us dared put into words. I was shivering slightly and hoped David wouldn’t notice.
“Cold?”
I shook my head.
“Nervous?”

I looked up at David, disarmed by his candor. “Yes, a little.” I knew my hand felt chilly in his warm embrace. I longed to unbend, to reach out to him emotionally as I had physically, but something held me back.

“I’m sorry my hand’s so cold …” I began apologetically. What a stupid remark, I thought. What a maladroit thing to say. Why belabor the obvious?
David squeezed my hand. “Cold hands, warm heart.”
We reached the front door.

“You earned an A+ on today’s lesson. I hope you enjoyed the sailing as much as I did.”
“Oh I did! Thank you for everything, the sailing, the dinner…I can’t remember when I’ve had such a wonderful day. Yes I can, it was last Saturday, but this one was even better. I enjoyed myself enormously.”
He took my right hand, slipped something into my palm, and closed my fingers around it.
“I’d like to help you get off that raft of yours, Kate.” He smiled and said goodnight. After David left, I looked at his gift. It was a roll of lifesavers.