Maybe I had too much to dream, as the song says, and let myself get carried away. Everything with Jenna seemed hunky-dory. Everything worked out the way I wanted it to. It was December, and that made the time we spent together even more fun. We went on long walks in the snow and laughed when we got in snowball fights. When we should have been studying for finals, which were in the middle of December, we went Christmas shopping. We didn’t care if we missed classes as we stayed in bed in the morning long after we should have got up. I practically even got into the “Christmas spirit.” I actually enjoyed hearing Christmas carols, and seeing fir trees strung with lights and garland. Jenna and I bought a small tree ourselves and decorated it in her apartment. I mean, I was just doing ridiculous things, and I blew almost all the money I had on Jenna’s present: A rabbit fur coat that set me back almost a hundred bucks. I let all my doubts dissolve, I let my cynicism slip away into nothing. My cardinal rule was as dead as a stuffed cardinal. The murder that happened behind Sibley’s Lumber in 1964 seemed so far in the past it could have happened in another life or a movie and not to me.
I was fascinated by the way Jenna could play an innocent teenage kid or a sultry, sophisticated woman, and make one seem the reflection of the other. She could slip from one to the other in an instant, and her timing was almost always right. I couldn’t put anything over on her, either. If I tried I always found she was one step ahead of me. We’d talk late into the night, and before long it seemed like I’d heard a thousand little stories about Jenna’s life, which seemed so different from her point of view than it did from Vanessa’s. I didn’t ask her any more about things Vanessa told me. I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to enjoy every minute I was with her. And besides, I didn’t really think I could demand complete candor from her while I still held back so much about myself. I left her with only an inkling of what I’d been through, and she never seemed to guess there was more, or didn’t want to know if she did. We lived for the moment, and the past seemed irrelevant.
One strange thing that happened was that I got to like Angela more and more. It was strange because I couldn’t imagine anyone I had less in common with. Always she seemed happy and content. She really seemed to have inner peace, or as close to it as anyone I’ve known. Sometimes when we were in a group we’d look at each other, and she’d smile softly, like I was special to her, or we shared a secret. I knew her for quite a while before we were ever alone, though, until one afternoon when I went to meet Jenna at her apartment but got there before she did. Apparently Angela had been studying or reading, but she kept me company until Jenna came home. We sat on the living room sofa, and she looked away toward the floor, as if now that we were alone she didn’t know what to say to me. But finally she burst out with, “How have you been lately, John?”
“Just fine. How about yourself?”
For a moment we were silent again, then we both started saying something at once, and laughed. I was just going to say some inane thing about the weather, so I was glad I didn’t have a chance to say it.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“No, you go ahead. I insist.”
“You know, I’d love to hear you say something nasty sometime,” kiddingly. “You seem about as upbeat as anyone I’ve ever known. You never gripe or get down on anyone. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be that nice.”
“Oh, I have my moments. I’m far from perfect. And the things that are good about me are mostly because of Christ, John. It’s because I believe in God and his spirit is inside me, lighting up my soul. That’s where that happiness comes from. It’s not something I made out of clay or found at a department store, or that met me walking down the street,” amused.
“No wonder I haven’t had any luck finding it. I went looking for it at Sears.”
“Have you ever thought of trying Christ, John? It’s the only true happiness there is, you know. You may be happy with Jenna and school and all that, but those things can fall apart around you. Faith in God is the only thing that’s lasting, the one thing the world can’t take away from you. It’s a rock to cling to in this turbulent life. You really ought to open yourself up to it. I don’t want to lay a heavy religious rap on you, and I’m not going to keep bugging you about it, but I’ve been wanting to say this to you because I care about you.”
“I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. It’s like I have some kind of block against it.”
“Jesus said, ‘Seek and ye shall find: Knock, and it shall be opened up to you.’ I found it. There’s no reason why you can’t too, John, if you could just swallow some of your pride. That’s what that ‘block’ really is.”
“If you’d just open yourself to it, you’d find it’s the easiest, most joyful thing you’ve ever done.”
“With me, I’m afraid the door’s closed pretty tight.”
“Only because you want it to be. You can open it any time you want to. I hope you do. I’ll pray for you.” She put her hand on mine for a moment and squeezed it. She smiled warmly, and almost had me converted right there.
After Jenna and I had finished our finals, we decided to spend a few days together just taking it easy. Everyone but us seemed to be rushing to get their work done and get home, so we seemed like we belonged in a different place. By Friday afternoon of finals week almost everyone was gone, and we practically had the campus to ourselves. We walked through the gardens hung with icicles and falling snow, talked for hours, spent half our time in bed. When Jenna unwrapped her rabbit fur coat she was surprised and seemed delighted, though she was a little embarrassed that I’d got her something that valuable. She gave me a red sweater that she’d knitted herself and a book of poems by T.S. Eliot.
We didn’t head home until the day before Christmas. I packed my stuff and went to Jenna’s just before I drove to Detroit. Jenna had her bags packed and was just waiting for a friend of hers to come by to pick her up.
“I’m really going to miss you over Christmas, you know,” she said. We were sitting on the sofa in her living room. “I’m going to feel like half of me’s missing.”
“That’s because I’m taking half of you home with me. Didn’t I tell you?”
“At least I have the consolation of knowing you’ll be up for a visit after Christmas. It’ll be interesting having you up in Elkton,” smiling a little like she was imagining what it would be like.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve heard so much about that place.”
We heard someone walk by outside and stopped talking for a moment.
“You know, we’ve been through so much together, it’s hard to believe we’ve only known each other a few months. That trouble with Vanessa seems like it happened years ago, even though she never quite seems to go away,” with a slightly accusing look.
“It’s as much over as if it never happened.”
She seemed to enjoy having me on the defensive, and it annoyed me a little bit that I’d become so pliable to her.
“I wasn’t accusing you of anything. Someone around here must have a guilty conscience.”
We heard a car pull up outside.
“That must be Pat,” I said.
Jenna leaned over and hugged me. “How about one for the road?” We kissed. “That’ll be the last one for a least a week, Hon. You’ll have to get through Christmas without a Christmas kiss from me.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it through or not,” as Pat knocked on the door.
It was a letdown not having Jenna with me at Christmas, but still it was less of a hassle than usual. I was as bored as ever with the presents I got, and most of the other stuff that went with Christmas at home, but I called Jenna Christmas morning, so I at least had a few laughs to get me through the day.
A couple of days after Christmas my parents threw a party. Some of our relatives were in town, and my parents wanted to get them all together at our place. They invited their friends and some of my father’s business associates, too, so a lot of people were there. I didn’t want to go. I would have preferred to stay up in my room or go out. I wasn’t in the mood to be around a lot of people I hardly knew, and I didn’t feel like answering the question, “How’s school going?” fifty times. But my mother said it would be a big embarrassment for her if I didn’t show, and that everyone was looking forward to seeing me—which I thought was highly unlikely—so I agreed to make an appearance. I decided I’d get drunk and tolerate it as best I could.
When I went down to the party, I headed straight for the bar my parents had set up in the family room, behind a table neatly laid out with hors d’oeuvres. The party had been going on for about an hour by that time. The house was crowded with people holding drinks and talking. I made my way as inconspicuously as I could to the bar and made myself a double (at least) scotch and water. But I didn’t get a chance to take more than a sip before some jerk came up to me.
“Well, hello, John. How’s school going?” I cringed inside.
“I’ll bet those girls up there don’t give you a minute’s rest, do they?” winking.
“No, the women are really loose up at State.”
He looked startled, then laughed.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment when you have to go out into the real world.”
“It’ll be tough.”
Just then my Aunt Jane came up and gave me a big hug, which made me feel real uncomfortable, even though I like her OK. I almost spilled my drink.
“It’s so nice to see you again, John. I’m so glad you came back from wherever you were and went back to college.”
“Everybody seems to think it was the right move.”
“Is everything going well for you up there?”
“Sure. Everything’s fine.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re doing fine. The girl who ends up with you will be mighty lucky, I’d say. Not many have your looks.”
A thin, pasty man with thin, sandy hair and weasel eyes came up and shook my hand. He was holding a drink. I despised him the moment I saw him.
“I don’t think I’ve met you,” he said. “I’m Sid Sylvester of John Walker Associates.” He had a loud, booming voice. I suppose he learned to talk that way in a Dale Carnegie course or something. I nodded and he continued to shake my hand. Finally, I yanked it away. “Well, what’s your name?” a little miffed.
“Well, you must be Bill Jones’s boy. He’s a good business man,” like he was giving him the highest possible compliment. “I’m in the insurance business myself. I sued eight men this week,” beaming. I’d already heard him tell that to two other people at the party.
“That’s nice for Christmas.” I couldn’t understand how my father could have invited such a skunk to the party.
He hesitated a moment, then laughed. He actually thought I was joking.
“I can see who’s got the sense of humor in your family. Your father’s real serious most of the time, if you know what I mean. A great guy, but real serious.”
“Yeah.” My mind was wandering.
“Have you ever thought of getting into the insurance game?” screwing up his brow like he meant to talk to me man to man.
“No, I’m studying to be an executioner.”
“Oh, that’s funny,” laughing. “There’s a lot of moola to be made in insurance, let me tell you. And we’ve got a great bunch of boys down at John Walker Associates.”
“Excuse me, I think I heard someone calling me.”
I turned around and my cousin Alice was right in front of me.
“Hi John,” smiling warmly. “If the look on your face means anything, I’d say you’re bored stiff.”
I hadn’t seen her in years, and seeing her now was like a warm kiss on a cold night. We’d been close for a while when we were kids, when her family had lived in the Detroit area. We’d always got along well. She looked friendly and sensible, and had lovely blue eyes.
“You’re right about that. But I’m really glad to see you again.”
“I’m really glad to see you again, too.”
“Why don’t we go downstairs and play ping pong or something, so we can get away from these nutty people for a while.”
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard since I got here.”
After we refreshed our drinks we went down the basement and played a game of ping pong, then sat down on the sofa.
“Well, I can see I’m no match for you in that game,” Alice said.
“Ah, I’ll bet you just let me win.”
“There are some strange people at this party. Some weird guy came up to me and said he’d sued six men this week, just out of the blue.”
“Oh yeah? When he told me it was eight.” We laughed. “He probably adds one every time he has another drink.” We laughed again, then were silent a moment.
“It’s really strange seeing you after all these years. I heard about you running away and all.”
“I didn’t run away. I was twenty years old and decided I was tired of what I was doing and wanted to go live somewhere else. It wasn’t like I was a thirteen year old kid leaving home without telling anybody. I left word that I was going.”
“I can see you’re pretty touchy about that subject.”
“I don’t like the way it’s been misinterpreted, that’s all. It was a rational decision and it didn’t hurt anyone.”
“Do you want to go back up to the party?”
“Not really. I hope you don’t think I’m mad at you, because I’m not. It’s just a reflection of the way everybody’s been acting about this thing.”
I looked away for a moment, but I thought I could feel Alice looking at me intently.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and get us another drink?” looking back at her again. “You’re a less controversial member of the family than I am, and they’re less likely to stop you and ask you a lot of questions.”
So Alice went upstairs and got the drinks, and we sat down and had a long talk. Finally, though, my mother called down to us, “What are you two doing down there? Why don’t you come up and join the rest of the party? We don’t bite,” laughing. She sounded pretty loaded. We went back up, but it was only for a little while, before we went outside to smoke a joint and take a walk in the snow. We laughed and we watched the velvet silver moon shine on the snow and the icy road. We talked and walked down into a little woods, and by the time we got back the party was breaking up, and Alice left with her family.
My mother had a hangover the next day and was bitching at everybody.
“That was nice of you to skip out on the party last night,” she said when I came downstairs and went into the kitchen late in the morning. She was drinking coffee and looked worn and tired.
“There wasn’t anyone there I wanted to talk to, and there isn’t any point in going to a party if you’re not going to have a good time, is there? I just get sick of answering the same questions over and over again.”
“Well, you embarrassed the hell out of me.” I really doubted that. “I hope you’re happy.”
“I don’t know what else to say.”
Her hand shook as she picked up her coffee cup to take another sip.
Usually I don’t like meeting my girlfriends’ families. Too often they don’t like you for no reason at all, especially the father, and then it’s a hassle being around them, or, just as you’re really getting to like them, you end up breaking up with the girl. This was a special case, though. After all I’d heard about Jenna’s family, I was really curious to see what they’d be like. I didn’t much like driving up to Jenna’s place, though, which was in Elkton in the Michigan thumb. The farther north I went, the worse the weather got. It was snowing, and the wind was blowing hard.
Jenna’s family lived on a farm, though they didn’t farm it themselves any more, in a small tan brick house. Out back of the house were two barns, and beyond them, snowy fields where sugar beets grew in the summer, with clumps of woods here and there. I arrived just about dinner time. Jenna hugged me and kissed me as soon as I stepped inside, then brought me over and introduced me to her mother, who hugged me, too.
“Well, I’m glad I’m finally getting to meet you,” she said. “Jenna’s told me so much about you.” She seemed nice, but looked weary and sad. She was also pretty hefty, which made me wonder what Jenna would look like when she got old.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming up,” I said.
“Just sit down and make yourself at home. Supper will be ready soon.” She went back to the kitchen.
From the living room we went into a back workroom, where Jenna’s stepfather sat with a shotgun on his lap, cleaning the barrel of the gun with an oilcloth. He hardly even looked up at us. He had a hard, suspicious look about him, and seemed a little annoyed that we were bothering him.
“How are you doing?” he said flatly as we shook hands after Jenna had introduced us. He didn’t get up, but I could smell beer on his breath. “Glad you could come up,” without feeling.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, and in a moment he was back to cleaning his gun.
In a little while we all sat down to dinner in the kitchen, including Jenna’s brother Ronnie, who was the youngest kid in the family. He was about fourteen, a big kid with a mischievous face. Jenna also had an older brother and sister who’d moved out but were still around town. Nobody talked much at first, and I could feel sourness and tension. There was something eerie and off-key about this family, and I wasn’t comfortable around them.
“I had to drive down to Detroit today,” Jenna’s stepfather said. He made his living as a truck driver. “I wouldn’t live down there for nothing, with all the noise and traffic jams. And you can drive for miles without seeing a white face.”
“John’s from Detroit, you know,” Jenna said, as if to discourage more negative talk about the city.
“Not exactly,” I said. “My parents live outside the city. It’s pretty quiet where they are.”
“Jenna said you were majoring in English,” Jenna’s mother said, with a look that seemed to say, I thought only girls majored in English.
“Not anymore. I changed to pre-law. There’s a lot more money in that.”
Jenna looked at me sharply because she knew that wasn’t the main reason I’d changed. But my reply seemed to please her mother.
“There’s a lot of money in that,” Jenna’s stepfather said, as if he hadn’t listened to what I’d just said. “Corporate law.”
“Are you sure you don’t want more roast beef or another potato?” Jenna’s mother said.
“No, I’m doing just fine,” I said. “I want to make sure I have plenty of room for that delicious-looking apple pie you baked.”
“It’s just something I whipped up this afternoon.”
“Is it true if you go out on the streets in Detroit at night you’ll get knifed or robbed?” Ronnie said, like he’d been holding the question inside trying to decide whether he should ask it or not, and then decided to ask it anyway.
“Ronnie!” Jenna’s mother said.
“The chances are pretty high.”
“John, you know you don’t believe that,” Jenna said.
“I was just kidding. The newspapers have kind of exaggerated conditions down there.”
After supper, Jenna’s mother absolutely insisted I have two large slices of pie, even though I was already full, so I was stuffed when I went out to the barn with Jenna afterward. They had three horses and a pony, and Jenna was going to feed them and brush them. She really seemed to love them and take pleasure in taking care of them. While she was brushing them, she talked to them and acted like they really understood her, which of course I teased her about, and pretended to talk like a horse.
When she was done and we were about to leave the barn, she said, “Why did you tell my mother you changed your major because you wanted to make a lot more money?”
“I don’t know,” looking down, laughing a little. “You know how I like to set people up.”
“You idiot!” but she laughed and put her arms around me, and I thought I knew that she really loved me.
Even though it was cold, we took some pretty long walks. When we would stop the silence was so complete that it almost seemed palpable, and if there was a sound it was usually a nice sound like birds singing at dusk or the wind stirring up the snow and the stubble. It was a cold and distant winter beauty, but it was unforgettable.
After I’d been at Jenna’s a couple of days, on a day that was pretty warm for January, Jenna and I went walking in some woods back of her house and sat down on a log. We didn’t say anything for a while, and then Jenna looked over at me.
“Well, what do you think so far?”
“It’s definitely been interesting. I like your mother and your brother Ronnie. Your parents seem to feel a resignation, though, or bitterness, that would be hard to take after a while. You’d feel like you couldn’t help but get caught up in it yourself.”
“I know,” sighing. “We’re really not a very happy family. Some horrible things have happened here, like some of the fights my Mom and Dad got into before they got divorced, and like my brother Ralph getting killed. He was riding his bike just about a mile from here, you know, when that truck hit him. Things have never been the same here since then. We’ve never really been happy again.”
“Isn’t it a relief to you to be able to get away from here now?”
“Yes. But there are two sides to it. I love this country. I can’t imagine ever leaving it for good, it’s so much a part of me. Every time I come back here I fill up with it again, like I’m being freed from chains. If you marry me, you know, we’ll have to live at least part of the year up here. And you’ll have to learn how to ride and take care of horses.”
“I’ll take the daily double and you take the perfecta.”
“That’s not exactly what we mean up here when we talk about taking care of horses.” She put her arms around me and kissed me. “But I hope I have years and years to teach you.”
“Me, too. I can really be a slow learner when I want to be.”
Elkton was a funny kind of a town compared to what I was used to. Almost everyone seemed to be related to each other. Almost everyone she introduced me to was at least her second cousin or her sister-in-law’s brother.
When Jenna and I were looking through a family photo album, she showed me a picture of her mother when she was eighteen. I could barely believe it was the same person. She was slender and pretty, and I could hardly imagine the metamorphosis by which she’d come to look the way she did now.
“Are you sure this is the same person?” I said.
“Yes,” laughing. “It was just a long time ago.”
She gave me a curious look. “Do you think you’ll still love me when I’m wrinkled and fat?”
“I’d love you even if you looked like two-ton Tessy and a pregnant elephant rolled into one.”
“Put on a couple hundred pounds and I’ll prove it.”
I wondered if I really would still feel the same way about her if she got like that, but looking at her now it was impossible to even consider it. I also saw some pictures of Jenna’s father. Vanessa had at least told the truth about the way he looked. He was really handsome.
“He looks a lot like you,” I said.
“Yes, I know. People have told me that since I was a little girl,” quickly, looking away from me.
“You don’t like to talk about him, do you?”
“Sometimes—it just hurts too much.”
“Whatever happened to him?”
“I really don’t know. None of us has heard from him in years. The day he left my Mom was the last time I ever saw him or talked to him.”
I slept in an upstairs bedroom across the hall from Jenna’s room. Besides Jenna, only Ronnie slept upstairs, so my first night there Jenna told me to come over to her bedroom as soon as the house quieted down and it seemed like everyone was asleep. When I went into her room, she was lying in bed reading, with a white silk nightgown trimmed with lace on. She smiled when she saw me, and I sat down on the bed. It was a small room with a slanted ceiling, cluttered with cosmetic bottles and clothes and books. The walls were crowded with old photographs, a high school pennant and paintings of a farm in the winter and a beach scattered with driftwood.
“Glad you could make it,” Jenna said. “I was starting to get lonely.”
“Just thought I’d drop by for tea and sympathy.”
“I don’t have any tea up here, but I’ll give you lots of sympathy.”
She put her arms around my neck and kissed me.
“You want to sleep with me, Honey? We could set the alarm for three and you could get up and go back to your room.”
“I’ll stay for a while. How many guns did you say your stepfather has?”
“Eight. Six rifles and two pistols.”
“Is he expecting an Indian attack, or what?”
“No, he just likes guns. We don’t have to worry about him anyway. I’m sure he could care less about what we do. I really don’t think he cares about me at all.”
Jenna’s hair hung down luxuriantly on her shoulders. Her nipples showed through the lace at the top of her nightgown. I wanted her more than anything. I got up and turned off the overhead light, so that the only light came from a night light, then undressed and got under the covers with her. I helped her slip out of her nightgown and we held each other close.
“This feels wonderful,” Jenna said. “I’d got so used to sleeping with you, that when I got home and had to start sleeping alone again, I hated it. I felt like a baby who’d had its pacifier taken away. It was like sleeping without any covers.”
“I didn’t think we’d be able to get away with this up here.”
Just then we heard footsteps on the stairs. Jenna and I looked at each other, not like we were panic stricken, but like we were both thinking, what are we going to say if whoever it is comes in here?
“Shove your clothes under the bed and get in the closet,” Jenna said.
I did, as fast and quietly as I could. I felt incredibly silly, standing naked among Jenna’s clothes. I tried to think of what I would say if someone suddenly opened the closet door, but everything I came up with seemed ludicrous, and there was obviously no alibi that could adequately explain my being there in that condition. I heard a tap on Ronnie’s door, and Jenna’s mother talking to him, even though I couldn’t really make out any of the words. Then I heard Ronnie’s door shut and Jenna’s mother go back downstairs. When I was sure she was back in her room downstairs, I got out of the closet. Jenna was sitting up in bed looking like she was ready to burst out laughing, and when I got back into bed with her she did laugh.
“You’ve got a warped sense of humor,” I said.
“I can’t help it. Just thinking of you standing in there—” Her laughter choked off her words and it was contagious because I started laughing, too. It seemed she couldn’t stop laughing, even though she seemed to be trying to keep from laughing too loud. “I’ve got to stop this. They’re liable to hear me downstairs and think I’ve gone crazy.”
“They wouldn’t be that far off as far as I can see.”
We kissed, and in a little while began making love. But the bed springs creaked and we stopped.
“We’ve got to be more careful, Honey,” Jenna whispered. “It’s going to sound awfully suspicious if anyone hears that squeak. It could be embarrassing. I mean, after all, I’m too old to be jumping up and down on my bed just for kicks, especially at this hour.”
“Maybe we’d better knock it off then.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Jenna said. She put her hands around the bed poles and held herself up a little. “Now try.” I did, but it was so awkward that we just started to laugh more, and after that our laughter really snowballed.
“You must have the noisiest bed this side of East Lansing,” I said, when I was finally able to stop laughing enough to get out a few words.
“Oh yeah? Have you slept in them all or something?”
“I may have missed one or two.”
We ended up just talking and forgot about the time, and when Jenna’s three o’clock alarm went off, we hadn’t really slept at all.
When I went downstairs in the morning, Jenna was in the kitchen helping her mother.
“Did you sleep well last night?” Jenna’s mother said.
Jenna glanced over at me for just an instant, with a look that only the two of us could have understood.
“Great. It’s hard to beat the kind of sleep you can get out here in the country.”
That seemed to please her, but from the way she smiled I almost thought she knew.
I always hated winter term. It started during the month I hate the most, January, and the weather doesn’t even get halfway decent in Michigan until the end of March. It always seemed to be five below zero when I was walking to class, with the wind gusting up and whipping across my face. I never seemed to dress warmly enough. I always seemed to have one less layer of clothes on than I needed. Maybe I was subconsciously hoping it wouldn’t be as cold as it was, or maybe even when I was in love with Jenna, there was a part of me that liked the cold, that felt closer to it than to any other sensation. Even in my happiest moments I always felt the tug of some sort of contradiction. Some things about the winter I like, though, little vignettes like cardinals eating seeds on the snow and the tracery of ice on windows. The sloshing of the Red Cedar River over ice and stones was nicer than the sound it made in the summer, too, crisper and more musical.
One night when it was cold and snowy, Jenna and I were alone in her apartment. After we’d studied for a while, Jenna went to the kitchen to heat some milk for hot chocolate. She’d just finished making it and we were drinking it, sitting on the sofa in the living room. We talked about nothing, and then she said, “Have you ever thought about us getting married?”
“Mmm, maybe once or twice,” with a sly smile.
“I suppose I sound brash, but you’re the only person I’ve ever met I could say that to and not worry that I might scare you off or feel funny about it. And certainly you’re the only one I’ve ever wanted to say it to.”
“The feeling’s definitely mutual.”
“I can imagine us in fifty years, living in a little cottage somewhere, tending a garden during the day, sitting by a fireplace at night talking quietly or reading. And it would be like there’s an invisible thread running between us and each of our souls is inside the other, communing, so that even when we aren’t talking we’d be happy just knowing the other is there.”
“Our kids will all be grown up by that time, of course, and on Christmas and Easter they’ll come and see us, and we’ll bounce our grandchildren on our knees. And when we’re in bed at night, we can think back on all we’ve been through together, about the fights we’ve had and all the laughs, and we’ll still sleep close together, just like we do now, even though our skin will be wrinkled and tough as leather.”
“Won’t it be great?”
“And furthermore, Miss McAllister, you make an excellent cup of hot chocolate.”
There was no need for me to care about anything else in the world, and I didn’t. I didn’t care about what Nixon was up to or what the latest developments were in the Vietnam War. I didn’t care about all the people in the world who were starving or crying out for help. My memories of the murder continued to fade, and most of the time were barely at the edge of my mind. I couldn’t have known, of course, that it was creeping up behind me and that in hardly any time at all, it would find me and smash my life to pieces. All I cared about was Jenna, and I cared about her more than I thought I ever could or ever wanted to care about anyone.
Winter made it easier for us to isolate ourselves. It’s pretty hard to be sociable to someone you see on the street when it’s below zero out. If someone does stop you, all you think about is ending the conversation as fast as you can, so that you can go on to whatever warm building you’re headed for. And with all the clothes people wear and the way they look down at the ground when it snows or it’s windy, you can pass right by people you know and not even notice them. But occasionally Jenna and I would spend time with other people, like the afternoon that Jenna ran into Jim Fraser and me after a class and invited us to come over to her apartment. I could tell Jim didn’t really want to go, but he went anyway, and even let himself get roped into playing euchre with us and Angie. He didn’t appear to know the rules well, though, and his mind wandered. He had really been heavy into one of his political trips that day, and all that was needed to set him off was for Jenna to make some remark about something or other not being fair.
“And so what’s fair?” he said. “In a world where some people have so much money that they couldn’t spend it all if they lived for a million years, and where others are so poor that the best they can get to sustain themselves is the water lying in a gutter? Where some people are so charming and beautiful that people want to be around them wherever they go, and others are so ugly and crude, people can hardly stand to look at them? And why? Because some people are just better than others? No. Just because some people happen to be born in one place and others happen to be born in another.”
“But what do those things really mean in terms of someone’s whole life?” Angie said. “They mean nothing. Jesus said, ‘The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The meek shall inherit the earth.’ Those people with millions you’re talking about will end up in hell, and then what good will all that money do them? You can’t buy your way into heaven. But anyone who believes in Jesus can go, no matter how poor they are. The poor people can go to heaven and live there forever with God. Then their suffering here won’t matter. They’ll be with God in a crystal city and their suffering will be over forever.”
“That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? Sitting here in middle class comfort, having probably never skipped a meal in your life. Christianity is a fantasy made up by people two thousand years ago and used as a tool by the rich to keep the poor in their place, with pie in the sky dreams about all the great things they’re going to get when they die, if only they’re meek and humble before their masters in this life. What religion could be more perfect for oppressors? And if there really is a God, how come he made such a rotten world so full of pain and injustice? Where the best people end up poor and the worst, the most vicious people end up with everything?”
“He didn’t make it that way. We did. He gave us a conscience and the freedom to make choices, and what we chose made the world we have. But there’s still a lot of love and goodness in the world. If you’re so cynical you can’t see any of it, I feel sorry for you, but it’s not because it isn’t there. I just hope that someday you’ll let yourself see the beauty and goodness there is in the world, despite all the sadness and suffering. If you can’t see any of it, it’s because you’ve chosen to cut yourself off from it, and it’s a shame.”
“Poor people will suffer as long as people think like you do. They deserve a feast and the Bible offers them crumbs and dreams that will never come true.”
Obviously this argument was going nowhere. Jim and Angie didn’t share any of the same values, so there could never be any basis of agreement between them. Jim looked frustrated and barely able to hold his temper. I doubt he’d ever had an argument with someone like Angie before, someone who was a devout Christian but almost completely apolitical. He was used to arguing with people who just had different political views.
“Come on, play your damn card,” I said to Jim. “One of you is no more likely to win this argument than you would be if you were arguing about whether vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate.”
“That’s cool with me,” Jim said. “I’ve said all I have to say anyway.”
“I think we’ve both said enough,” Angie said.
He put down the left bower but Jenna won the hand with the right.
“I win,” she said, gloating, sliding the cards toward herself.
Jim was still fuming and even Angie was pouting a bit, and they looked away from each other between hands, but in a little while their argument seemed almost forgotten. Still, I’m sure Jim was really glad when the game ended and he could leave without causing a scene.
One day between classes I was sitting at the Union drinking coffee. It was snowing out, and I remember looking up a couple of times to see if the snow had let up any. I was reading the Detroit News when Vanessa sat down at the other end of the sofa I was sitting on. I didn’t notice her coming until she was pretty close, but even then I pretended I didn’t see her. I’d moved out of the house she lived in at the end of fall term, so I hadn’t seen her in months.
“Think you’re too good for me now, eh?” she said.
“No,” without looking over at her, still reading the paper.
“Then why did you pretend you didn’t know I was here?”
“’Cause I really didn’t notice.”
“How have you been?”
I put the paper down and looked over at her.
“Why would you care?”
“I’m curious, you know, like a cat.”
“Curiosity killed the cat,” smiling a little.
“You’ve really turned into a prick, haven’t you?”
“No worse than I’ve ever been,” smiling more broadly.
“What happened? Did Jenna drop you or something?”
“No, we’re getting along just fine as a matter of fact. We might even get married,”
She laughed the way people laugh when they’re tormenting someone. “What a joke! I never thought you’d go quite this far. She’ll never marry you. Don’t you know that? Haven’t you got to know her well enough by now? She’s been through this before. And you’d make a lousy husband anyway. Can you imagine it? You going to work at some crummy office every day and coming home to a house full of screaming brats? Or imagine Jenna as a housewife? She was made for moonlight strolls and pillow talk, not diapers and dish rags. And you’re like me, John. We weren’t cut out to live that way.”
“That’s an old stereotype. marriage doesn’t have to be like that anymore, and I’m not sure that it ever did. We may not even have kids. You’re ten years behind the times.”
“It’ll never happen. You really disappoint me. I never thought you could be fooled so easily. The real Jenna is the Jenna you saw at the party where you met her. The Jenna you’ve got now is just a passing fancy. It’s just another toy she’ll get tired of. I know, John, I know. I know what’s going on inside that gorgeous head. Someday you’ll wish you’d just stayed with me. I’m good in bed, if I don’t say so myself,” with a smile, “and I know how to have fun and don’t lie to my lovers, never hold out bright dreams made out of fluff. That dream she’s got you sold on has no more substance than a rainbow. You’ll see.”
“She doesn’t have me sold on any dream. What we have planned is as much my idea as it is hers. And she’s changed since you knew her.”
I thought how ridiculous it was for me to be defending myself to her.
“No, she hasn’t. She hasn’t changed one bit. Someday you’ll wish you’d stayed with me, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if someday you come back to me.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Get the hell out of here. We’ve got nothing to say to each other.”
But she just laughed again, like nothing I could say could hurt her. She got up. “Never,” she said. “It’ll never happen. Never. Never…” And she seemed to float away into the crowd, but I couldn’t get her words out of my mind. I heard them over and over like a song you can’t stand but can’t get out of your head.
As I walked back to my apartment in the snow, I thought about what Vanessa had said and wondered whether I was living a fantasy that couldn’t last, that was so delicate that it depended on a thin web of luck to survive, that the slightest break in the web would make fall to pieces. But I decided that was absurd. I laughed at myself for letting Vanessa get to me, and just wanted to forget her.
But that night I had a strange dream. Jack and Jenna were sitting in a room and I was in the room with them but I was invisible to them. Jack was telling Jenna that she was a fool to keep seeing me, that I was an idiot and a jerk who’d always have my head up my ass. Jenna laughed sarcastically, and said of course she knew that but that I was good for laughs and would do anything she wanted, so she was in no big rush to drop me. As they kept talking Jenna called Jack John sometimes and he got more and more pissed off at her because of it, but she just laughed harder that sarcastic laugh and it echoed across the room until it was maddening. Finally, Jenna said the real reason Jack was putting me down was that he loved me, and just wanted to keep me all to himself, that she’d known all along that Jack and I were lovers. After she said that, she laughed hysterically and Jack went into a rage and slapped her. But she kept on laughing like she didn’t even feel it. Jack pulled her down on the sofa and lay on top of her and I seemed to become one with Jack so that I couldn’t tell any more whether it was me or Jack who was on top of Jenna. She was still laughing. Then all their (our) clothes were off and they (we) were making love and Jenna stopped laughing, and I felt anger and jealousy and lust and love all at once. When we finished making love Jack was gone, and Jenna whispered to me, “I knew it was you all the time.”
I woke up in a cold sweat, confused and feeling an indefinable fear. I was shaking, and couldn’t get things clear in my mind. About the dream I kept thinking, like I was desperate that I shouldn’t forget any of it, and I kept trying to piece it together. It was like I was trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together, but every time I got enough of the pieces together so that it started to make sense, it would break apart and scramble of its own volition and I’d have to start all over again. I felt as frustrated as I’d ever felt in my life, and after a while I wasn’t sure any more that what I remembered was really the dream. I felt like crying. After I fell asleep and woke up again, though, I was surprised to find that I felt fine, that the confusion and anguish had disappeared while I was sleeping. I could hear birds chirping outside, and the sun brightened the curtains that were shut across my bedroom window. But I was still trying to remember the dream.
When Jenna walked into my apartment, I hadn’t seen her or talked to her since I’d run into Vanessa, and I thought of the dream and what Vanessa had told me. When our eyes met, though, I was sure everything was all right, that the dream was just a figment of my imagination, and what Vanessa had said meant no more than the wisp of a dream. I smiled back at her and she came and sat on my lap.
“Long time, no see,” Jenna said. “I’m not used to going this long without seeing you, and I must say I don’t like it one bit.”
“Yesterday was a strange day. It was like it belonged in another time and place, or like the whole day was a dream.”
“An all day daze, eh? Hmm. That sounds pretty fishy to me. What did you say you were smoking?”
“Nothing,” putting my fist up against her face. “It was completely natural.”
“It was a pretty ordinary day for me. But I thought about you a lot, and wondered what you were doing. I was busy working on a term paper. Now I’m ready for a break.”
“What do you say we take a little nap together?” smiling slyly because that was a joke between us when we were going to have sex.
“All right, but I doubt we’ll get any rest.”
“Sure we will. I give you my solemn promise as a member of the Royal Order of the Raccoons.”
“All right, Ralph Cramden. Or should I say Ed Norton? I think I could imagine you better as Ralph Cramden, driving a bus, smiling at old ladies as you give them change, telling the winos that sleeping is not allowed on New York City busses.”
“And I can imagine you as Alice Cramden, nagging Ralph day and night.”
“Oh, no. I’m much too nice for that.”
“You ready for that nap?”
“You bet I am.”
After that dream I had about Jack, I really wanted to talk to him again. Nothing came of it, though. The only people I knew who could possibly have known where he was were his aunt and uncle, but when I called them, all they could tell me was what they’d told me when I’d called them before I’d gone out West, that he had just disappeared one day, and that they hadn’t seen or heard from him since. They didn’t seem upset by that or even curious. They just seemed to accept it. So all I could do was try to imagine where Jack was, but I had a hard time even doing that. It was hard for me to imagine him in any kind of setting I could relate to something I knew. But I still thought about him a lot, especially on cold rainy days that spring, when the wind would howl on bittersweet afternoons and it seemed like the sun would never come out again.
One night in late March Jenna and I went to a big party, the first one we’d been to in a long time. I didn’t really want to go, but she did, and since I didn’t have a good reason not to, I went anyway. At the party it was like Jenna had been in a cocoon or in hibernation since we’d been together, and that suddenly she was discovered again. It seemed like all the guys wanted to talk with her and be with her, like she was seeing them for the first time in years. She seemed to know most of the people there, and I only knew a few, so felt out of it, and I wasn’t in the mood to be sociable to begin with.
The party was at a big house crowded with people. Almost everyone was drinking. The music of the Beatles and Bob Seger and Crosby, Stills and Nash was played on the stereo, and a few people were smoking grass, a faint odor of which, at least, was always in the air. Some people were dancing, and almost everybody else was talking. Guys kept coming up to talk to Jenna, and when she’d introduce me to them, they’d seem slightly annoyed, just enough so you couldn’t have said they were being rude. She seemed to be trying to be friendly to them without ignoring me, but that was getting harder and harder to do. When this tall guy with sandy hair and a mustache arrived and came over to us, Jenna seemed especially happy to see him.
“Hi Rod!” she said, giving him a quick hug. “I haven’t seen you in so long.”
I felt a pang of jealousy, though I knew it was stupid.
“I wondered if I’d ever see you again, kid, that’s how long it’s been.” He had a warm smile and blue eyes, and was wearing blue jeans and a striped pullover shirt. He seemed self-confident, almost cocky. “Where have you been all winter, anyway?”
“Oh, you know how it is. When it’s cold and snowing out, I don’t seem to go anywhere.”
“Well, hopefully that will change now that spring’s here. We’re having a party out at the apartment next Saturday night. You ought to come out.”
Jenna glanced over at me to see how I was taking all this, but I tried to put on a look so that she couldn’t tell.
“I’m not sure, Rod. By the way, I’d like to introduce you to my boyfriend, John Jones. John, this is Rod Wolfe.”
“Nice meeting you,” he said. I nodded slightly in his direction and he looked back at Jenna. “You want to dance?”
“Well—do you mind, John?”
“No, go ahead.”
She danced with him for three or four songs, and with each one I got more and more pissed off. I felt dumb just standing there. There was no one I really wanted to talk to, so there was nothing much for me to do besides drink. Then Clare Bogan, one of the few people there I knew, came over to me. She seemed fairly drunk.
“Looks like you’ve lost something,” she said.
“Kinda looks that way to the naked eye, doesn’t it?”
“You’re not jealous, are you?”
“Who, me? Nah, I’m above all that. Jealousy’s out of style these days anyway, I hear.”
“What do you say you and I dance?”
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard since I got here.” Clare held out her hand and I took it and we went to dance. She seemed slightly amused by most everything and had a look in her eyes that suggested there were delightful things in store for you if you just played your cards right with her. She looked great in tight black jeans and a sheer green top. The way we were talking and laughing as we danced, it must have seemed like we were having a great time together, and I was hoping, of course, that Jenna would notice. Sometimes, when the angle was right, I’d glance over at her. I supposed she was doing the same with me, and finally our glances met when we were both at the right angle. She stuck her tongue out at me, but I couldn’t tell whether she was mad at me or just teasing me. Finally, she stopped dancing and went to the outside of the dance floor with Rod.
“Jenna doesn’t even seem to know you’re here anymore,” Clare said.
“Oh, she knows it, all right. It’s just easy to get carried away by charm and good looks, if you know what I mean.”
“I wonder if she got jealous seeing us together? I was hoping she would. I have a cruel streak that makes me love to see people get jealous.”
“It’s hard to tell. But that may be why she’s trying so hard to ignore me.”
“You might as well have as much fun as you can without her. That’s my advice.”
“You’re probably right. But right now I’d better go talk to her before things get out of hand.”
Going over to Jenna, I put my hand on her shoulder and turned her toward me while Rod was talking.
“What do you want?” she said sharply.
“I hate to be rude, but I thought it would be nice if we could spend some time here together.”
“Well, you picked a lousy time to bring it up. Didn’t you notice I was in the middle of a conversation? You looked like you were having a good time without me, anyway.”
“Why don’t we just leave this goddamn place before we carry this too far? I’ve about had it here anyway.”
“That’s too bad. You can leave if you want to. I came here to have a good time and that’s what I’m damn well going to do. If you insist on being such a jerk about this, I can get a ride home with someone else.”
I left Jenna and went back to Clare.
“Looks like you didn’t have much luck,” she said.
“I sure didn’t. Now she’s really pissed off at me.”
“In that case you’ve got two choices: You can either leave without her or stay here and have a good time with me.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“I like to make things easy for people.”
“Why don’t we dance?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” taking my hand.
I only talked to Jenna once more that night. I went up to her when Rod was off taking a piss or getting another beer or whatever. This was an hour or so after I’d last talked with her, during which I’d spent almost all my time with Clare and she’d spent almost all her time with Rod, and we’d both seemed determined to not be the first to talk to the other.
“Well, you made your point tonight,” Jenna said. “I hope you’re satisfied.”
“I wasn’t in the mood for a party, that’s all. These just aren’t my kind of people.”
“Them or anyone else, though you seem to be having a good enough time with one of them.”
“What did you expect me to do while you were off with your fans? Just lean against the wall and sulk?”
“Do you think I brought you here just so I could ignore you? You didn’t leave me any choice. You didn’t even try to be sociable.”
“I’m not in the mood for faking it.”
“You’re so together, you couldn’t possibly be polite to someone you don’t particularly like, because it might tarnish your image,” mockingly. “Being rude shows how cool you are.”
“You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?”
“I think so. Why don’t you admit you’re jealous and selfish? That if I won’t spend every second with you and pretend I don’t have any other friends, you’re going to get even with me by trying to ruin the party for me? You’re jealous, that’s all, and I hate jealousy. It’s one of the ugliest things I can think of. I would have thought you’d show a little more class.”
“I don’t have any class and I never wanted any.”
“Well, I’m glad I found out now rather than later. Rod has asked me out and I think I’ll take him up on it.”
“Why don’t you just go ahead and do that then? Is that supposed to scare me or something?”
“Excuse me. I’ve had enough of you for one night.”
“Well, I’ve had about enough of you, too.”
She turned away from me just as Rod was coming back into the room, and she went back to him and I went back to Clare. In a little while Jenna left with Rod, and after that I just felt pretty sick. I more or less stopped listening to what Clare was saying, and she could tell, so finally she got fed up and said, “Well, if you’re so hung up on Jenna, I might as well just forget about you!” and left me. That’s when I left the party.
As I drove back to my apartment my head was reeling. My thoughts were still clouded and distorted from the beer I’d drunk, and I had that dull, dead feeling you always get when you start sobering up. For the next few days I felt really disoriented, not knowing what to do about Jenna but feeling that an important link between us had snapped. I would decide that I’d been pigheaded, that the fight had been all my fault, and would be just about ready to call her or go see her, but then my ego would rear its ugly head, and I’d decide there was no way I’d go crawling back to her. Now more than ever I realized how far I’d come since I’d met Jenna, how completely I’d abandoned the main rule of my life and become just like all the other poor shmucks I used to laugh at. And now I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I squirmed in the same web of futility.
I went through the clichéd rituals of the distraught lover that before Jenna I would have sneered at. Wandering aimlessly, I drank in bars that I’d never gone into before, talked to strangers there about Jenna for hours, got high in my apartment as I listened to the bittersweet songs of Lightfoot and Simon & Garfunkel. During the day I slept and at night I stayed awake, exaggerating the importance of Jenna to me until it almost seemed I could walk outside and her face would fill up the sky. I wondered over and over what she was thinking and doing, and found my situation almost unbearably touching.
But one day I woke up in a surprisingly good mood and wrote Jenna this poem:
What would it take
To make you smile for me again?
I’d come to you hat in hand,
But I haven’t owned a hat in years.
I’d bring you dancing elephants,
But mine took the last train to Bombay.
I’d do cartwheels for you,
But I’d probably land on my head,
And end up like Humpty-Dumpty
And have to be put back together again.
If you’ll let me give you a bear hug,
I’ll bet you’d find me bearable again;
And even if you’re stubborn as a mule
I’ll bet I could give you a kiss or two
That’d make you bray.
(Then you’re sure to let me stay?)
If you’ll open the door for me
One more time,
I’ll make your life as sweet
As ice cream & honey rolled into one
(Well, sweet as blueberry yogurt, anyway).
It was pretty corny, and if any of my old creative writing professors saw it, I’d probably have to leave town, but I hoped it would at least get a laugh or two out of Jenna. I went to her apartment and put the poem in her mailbox, in an envelope I drew a clown’s face on, then took a walk and wondered how she would take it. Though I’d thought sure the poem would get some kind of response from her, even thought in the back of my mind that it would lead to us getting things right between us again, after two days I’d heard nothing and began to think that none would ever come. After having given in as far as I had in writing the poem and taking it to Jenna’s, I didn’t think I could possibly give in any further, so I just let anger and disappointment build up inside me and considered the real possibility that our relationship was through. I felt like screaming, I felt like taking everything movable inside my apartment and smashing it against the walls, but I just let my feelings fester inside me. I was almost glad when my mother called and said my grandmother up North needed someone to come up and help her with some chores, and asked if I could go up. I thought it would do me good to get out of the rut I was getting myself into and away from all the things that reminded me of Jenna, so I said I’d go.
The farther north I drove, the farther I got from civilization, the better I felt, so that by the time I got up to my grandmother’s little house not far from Cheboygan, I felt almost exhilarated, like all the things that had been weighing me down had been slowly lifted from me. It felt good, too, to work with my hands again, to chop wood, to turn the soil in her garden, to do the careful measuring and cutting necessary to fix a piece of rotted planking in the shed out back of the house. Then there was the smell of vegetable soup when I came in from working, and the taste of a beef pastie that I seemed to savor more because I’d worked hard. After supper I built a fire in the fireplace and we sat by it drinking tea. When I asked my grandmother about something that had happened when she was a girl, it set her off talking about her life.
“We came out of Vermont to Michigan in 1908,” she said. “The land was so poor there that we couldn’t get by any more, even though we were all of us up every day at sunrise to go to work, and all eight of us kids worked but Matthew, who was only three then, and Sarah, who was just a baby. But the land wouldn’t give anything back. Father, your great-grandfather, read somewhere about an opportunity in Michigan with the Blanchard Furniture Company of Grand Rapids—I don’t remember what kind of a job it was any more—so he went there and came back all excited because he got the job and would be making $20 a week. That was a lot of money back then. I don’t remember much about that farm anymore, but I’ll never forget the sunsets over the mountains, how they seemed beautiful to me even when I was a little girl. We sold the farm for whatever little we could get for it and came here, but Blanchard Furniture Company went out of business in less than a year and we had to go back to farming again. Only this time it seemed harder because we didn’t own the land really, the money we’d got for the farm in Vermont was gone, and this one was all mortgaged to a bank. And it was harder because none of us knew until then, not even Mama I don’t think, how much Father had wanted to get off the farm, how much held hated the drudgery and uncertainty of it, how it had become almost a sort of desperation with him to get out. All the life seemed to go out of him after that, and he started drinking a lot—doesn’t that always seem to be a part of it?—and withdrew within himself so much that I can remember weeks going by without him saying a word to me, and it seemed like there was so much sadness. But somehow we got by, the rest of us making up for the work Father wouldn’t do any more, and I grew up without hardly realizing it because every day on the farm seemed so much the same. Only my dreams changed. I was always dreaming about getting away from the boredom and the sadness. I remember particularly about dreaming of running through a field laughing with a boy I had a crush on when I was fifteen, and how that made me feel better for a while.”
Her voice was frail, but had a steadiness of purpose about it that conveyed strength. She stopped to take a sip of her tea, and when she set the china cup back on the saucer, the sound seemed very clear and distinct.
“When I was seventeen, I met your grandfather while I was working as a waitress at the soda fountain at the little drugstore in Hudsonville—he used to come in all the time and tease me and stay for much longer than he really had to,” smiling, “until he got up the courage to ask me to go out to the movies one day—and we got married the following June. But it hardly seemed the wedding was over before he got drafted for World War I and was sent to France, and after that I couldn’t sleep nights wondering where he was, what kind of swamp or woods they had him slogging through, whether he’d been shot and died without me even knowing it.
“Thank God, though, he got back safely, and was able to get a job as a salesman with the Carrier Equipment Company. Katie and Jim and your mother were born, and we got just enough ahead so that we could buy ourselves a little house. Everything seemed to be working out for us, and I was content.”
A pop came from the fireplace as an ember shot off to the side. I tried to picture what she looked like then, when she was young and beautiful, from my memories of yellowed photographs in our family albums.
“When the Depression came, though, Carrier Equipment fell on hard times, and Arthur was laid off for about two years. We lost the house, of course, but Arthur was able to pick up odd jobs here and there and we made it through, even though we fought like cats and dogs. For a long time I considered leaving him. There was one man in particular, a man named Charles Grimshaw who just thought the world of me and had the warmest brown eyes and the nicest laugh and seemed everything I could ever want, and I almost—but you didn’t do things like that in those days, at least women like me didn’t, and in the long run I was glad I stayed with Arthur.
“When FDR got into office, we hung on every word he said, we believed he’d save the country. ‘Happy days are here again,’ they said,” with a bit of an ironic smile.
She spoke not like she was feeling sorry for herself or seeking pity for the hard life she’d had, but almost in a detached manner, like she was telling someone else’s story.
“Happy days weren’t really here again, of course, but he gave people hope for a while, and then when the war came, people forgot everything else. This time it was Jim and Bobby and Alfred who had to go. But this time we weren’t as lucky. Your Uncle Jim never came back, and Alfred came back with some shrapnel in his leg that never did all quite come out. By the time the war ended, all the kids were grown up, and Arthur and I were alone again, but we were better off moneywise than we’d ever been before, and we seemed to have reached some kind of understanding with each other. We hardly ever fought any more, and our life together was fine until he had that heart attack and died in 1962.”
As she talked of the work and struggles to raise a family and the bad times she’d been through and somehow triumphed over, I realized how shallow and frivolous most of my life had been, how much that had been true of my entire generation, how it was almost a curse that we’d had it so easy and that everyone had tried to do so much for us, how the sadness of what we’d been through seemed almost a mockery. My generation. Jaded at twenty but still acting like adolescents at thirty.
“Well, I suppose I’ve done enough talking for now. You’ve probably heard all of this a million times one place or the other, anyway.”
“No, I hadn’t heard all of it,” I said. “And what I had heard I enjoyed hearing again.”
That seemed to please her, and she settled back in her chair to finish her tea, and the smell of the wood burning was pungent and comforting.
The next morning, I drove back to East Lansing, and, as I’d done most of the night before, thought about Jenna. I wondered over and over whether she’d tried to get hold of me while I was gone, and if she had, what she’d thought when I wasn’t there. I imagined every possible scenario, every possible mood that Jenna could be in and every interpretation she could have given to what had happened, then I’d start all over and do it again, with only a subtle change in each imagined turn of events, until I felt like screaming at how stupid I was being or laughing at myself or running the car off the road into a tree. I just wanted the trip to end so I could either talk to Jenna and find out what the situation really was, or do something that would get my mind off of her. I thought of stopping somewhere to pick up some booze, but decided if I drank that it would only make me more obsessive about her, make it more likely that I’d get everything wrong.
I felt a sense of relief when I finally pulled up to my apartment, but was disappointed when I found that Jenna hadn’t left a note for me. I called her a few times, but there was no answer. For the rest of the day I hung around the apartment, but nothing happened except that a cheery, annoying insurance salesman called who I hung up on the instant I found out what he wanted. I just felt bummed out, and after smoking a couple of J’s, stayed up late watching a movie about a giant octopus that terrorizes L.A., which wouldn’t have interested me for a minute if I’d been straight. I fell asleep before it ended, though, and had some weird dreams before I woke up as Jenna was shaking me and saying, “Wake up, sleepyhead.” She was sitting on the bed, but in the confusion of being waked up from a deep sleep and still being a little high, I wasn’t sure at first who she was or even if I wasn’t just dreaming. I rubbed my eyes and sat up.
She didn’t look like she was happy to see me, or full of forgiveness. She didn’t look like she was in a much better mood than when she’d left me after our fight. It seemed like a long time before we spoke.
“I never thought you were going to answer the door, and I knew you were home,” she said. “I almost left.”
“I must have really been out of it. I don’t have any idea what time it is.”
“It’s two o’clock.”
It startled me to think I’d been asleep that long, and somehow made everything seem out of kilter. The dry, sour aftertaste of marijuana smoke was in my mouth. I was struck by how sad and thoughtful Jenna looked.
“I think we should talk,” she said.
“I think we should, too. I’m just trying to get my bearings. I think you can understand this is a bit of a surprise.”
It seemed like we should have a million things to talk about, it seemed like I’d imagined that many things that I wanted to say to her, but now that we were face to face, I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“This was totally unnecessary, you know.”
Jenna looked like she was trying to keep from crying, and suddenly all the doubts and anger we felt melted away. We put our arms around each other and hugged like we never wanted to let go.
“This doesn’t mean I’m not mad any more, you bum.”
“I understand. That was a pretty stupid fight we had. I acted like a real ass.”
“Yes, you did! But maybe I overreacted. I’m not sure any more. Maybe I watched too many soap operas that day,” managing a little smile.
“I must have been taking myself too seriously again.”
“I almost didn’t come back to you at all, you know. You don’t know how lucky you are. I went out with Rod a couple times. But it turned out to be a real drag, and I realized how irreplaceable you are, how much we’ve become part of each other’s lives.”
“Let’s just forget the fight ever happened. Let’s start with a clean slate,” thinking that sounded dumb as soon as I’d said it.
“No, we can’t do that. I don’t think things will be quite the same now. But we don’t have to fight like that again. From now on when we’re mad, let’s talk about it like mature, responsible adults,” mocking herself. “When we each know how the other feels, we can probably work whatever it is out.”
“If only it were that easy.”
“Oh, by the way. Thanks for the funny poem. I really did love it. I almost called you after I got it, but I was still too mad. I knew then that I had you cornered, though,” laughing a little.
It was that simple. What had seemed like an almost irreconcilable break ended that fast. We made love, we made dinner, and everything seemed to go on more or less as before. The feeling between us wasn’t quite the same, the burner seemed to be turned down from high to medium high, and there was a shade of doubt in it that hadn’t been there before. But most of the time I didn’t notice that, and I never doubted that she loved me.
For a while we really settled down and became as comfortable with each other as with an old chair. Sometimes I thought of us as a husband and wife without the rings, especially on mornings when we would drink coffee over a newspaper and comforting bits and pieces of conversation, like we could go on together forever, always knowing we’d have each other for company on rainy afternoons, always have each other to call to in the middle of the night.
Late one afternoon I dropped by Jenna’s apartment. She wasn’t home but Angie asked me if I’d like to come in and wait a while, even though there really wasn’t much point in it, because for all we knew, Jenna might not come back for hours. I’d got so I liked being with Angie so I stayed, and besides, it was one of those rainy, bleak spring days that takes all your motivation away. Angie offered me tea and we sat in the living room drinking it.
“Don’t feel that you have to stay and talk with me if you have studying to do,” I said. “You must have a lot to do this late in the term.”
“I don’t mind at all. I was ready to take a break and I’m lucky you came along just when you did.”
Even if that weren’t true, I suppose she would have said something like that, because she would never have let me know I was imposing on her. Her blonde hair was in braids, and she was wearing blue jeans and an MSU T-shirt. Her eyes were as clear and lovely as ever.
“I haven’t seen you much lately,” I said, just to get us talking.
“You don’t come over as much as you used to. Jenna always seems to be staying at your place. And anyway, it seems like I’ve been spending all my time in a lab, doing research for this big project I’ve been working on.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it about?”
“It’s called ‘Karyotypic Analysis of Plants Displaying Disjunct Distributions.’”
“Hey, that’s one of my favorite subjects.”
She laughed, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and I think we both felt uncomfortable. I decided I’d finish my tea quickly and leave.
But then Angie said, “You look tired today, John. You look worried about something,” softly, soothingly.
“It’s nothing. I just had a rough night last night. And I probably haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.”
“I’ll have to tell Jenna to make sure you don’t stay up past your bedtime for a while.”
“It’s not her fault. I could get plenty if I wanted to.”
There was a revealing moment when Angie looked into my eyes and knew I was holding back from her what was on my mind.
“Have you thought about what we talked about before?”
“I’ve thought about it, but it didn’t do any good. It’s like there’s a wall between me and God, if there is a God, and I can’t climb over it. Not that I don’t envy you in a way. You’re one of the few people I know who really believes in something.”
She listened carefully but didn’t press me any further. She seemed to be trying to search out my feelings with her eyes.
“Don’t you think Jenna’s been acting strange lately?” she said. “She really seems to have changed, or maybe it’s me who’s changed.”
“I’ve noticed it some,” curious as to what she’d noticed.
“She’s more aloof, and she doesn’t tell me things the way she used to. I’ve felt like she’s off in her own little world, and she won’t let anyone in. Or maybe we’re just growing up and I don’t like it, because she doesn’t confide in me like we were a couple of silly teenage girls anymore.”
“Chalk it up to my bad influence.”
“Maybe meeting you was part of it, but I think things have been changing inside of her for a long time.”
We heard the door open, and Jenna walked in. Her cheeks were red from the cold.
“Well, isn’t this a cozy little scene,” Jenna said. “Guess I’d better start keeping an eye on you, Ange.”
“It’s completely above board, isn’t it John?” winking at me.
“I feel like a top twirling around. I’m dizzy from being on the go so much today.”
“Well, it’s good you’re back. I don’t know what I would have done with John if you hadn’t come back till late,” looking over at me, smiling.
“I may have to hire me a detective pretty soon, to find out what’s going on here.”
In a little while, Angie went up to her room. As soon as she was gone, Jenna’s mood changed completely.
“Where were you last night?” she said.
“I ran into a friend of mine and he asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink. One thing led to another and we ended up closing The Brewery. I don’t know why it went that far.”
“I wish you would have at least called me. I didn’t know what to think.”
“I thought about it. I just never quite got around to it. It was a wasted night.”
“I’ve told you everything about it you’d want to know.”
“Boy, are there a lot of ways I could take that.”
“Take it the best way and everything will be all right.”
“I doubt it.”
“Why in the hell are you in such a bitchy mood, anyway?”
Jenna got up and turned on the TV, pretending she hadn’t heard what I’d said. Before she could even tell what was on, though, she came back to the sofa, like she just wanted noise to fill up the room, to give us a reason not to talk. For quite a while we didn’t say a word. Finally, I got up.
“I’m going to take off now, Jen. It’s pointless for me to be here when you’re in this kind of mood.”
“Suit yourself,” not looking at me.
I went to the door, and as I went out, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Jenna looked over at me.
“Napoleon went to Russia with 600,000 men and came home with only 30,000, having led to slaughter the flower of French youth. He tried to raise another army, but there weren’t enough healthy young men left in France.”
In my 10:20 history class I was daydreaming through the lecture. I wasn’t interested in Napoleon anymore. I was tired of all the killing, and I remembered the sun setting and my mother coming and picking me up out of my sandbox and taking me in the house, and how it began to rain and I held on to the toy shovel in my hand, listening to the rain and wanting her to hold me, the memory like a black and white photograph. And I recalled Jenna saying, “Isn’t it time we did something about it? We can’t wait forever, you know, I feel like we’re in the eye of a hurricane and everything that’s happened is whirling around us, everything we’ve set ourselves up for, and that sooner or later we have to get caught up in it.”
I remembered a knock on the door when Laurel and I were in bed, but the scene seemed unreal, like a cartoon fading out, and the knock just a figment of my imagination—it was like a dream because she was becoming less and less tangible, like a Cheshire cat, and she was smiling a queer smile that never left her face. With my eyes I traced the soft curves along the shape of the blonde in a tight sweater sitting at the desk in front of me, wondering what it would be like to…and then I heard the professor say, “Picture him there on St. Helena Island, writing his memoirs amid all that desolation,” thinking I don’t give a damn about Napoleon and remembering Mary Anne and I dancing at a sock hop, rubbing each other’s asses and it was like the floor fell out from under us, that’s how fucked up we were, we almost fell down and we laughed and laughed. I recalled my mother scolding me, “Don’t you think it’s about time you cleaned up some of this junk?” and not being able to figure out why I would remember something so totally insignificant, thinking how inefficient memory can be. I thought about how Nixon had said on the news that only military targets were hit in the bombing of Hanoi, and I remembered Jenna telling me, “I’m going to take this flower and pretend it’s a face and the face is going to tell me you love me,” then I said her name over and over in my mind as I tried to picture her, and sang in my head the lines from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”:
And after having spent the day together,
Hold each other close the whole night through…
I I I I I I I that’s all I think about, I thought, me and my bum narcissistic generation…
… I dreamed of lying on a deserted beach, the blonde sitting in front of me pulling me close to her, naked …
Suddenly the class was over and everyone was leaving. Everyone but the prof left before me. As he was putting his books and papers together to leave, he looked over at me like he couldn’t figure out why I was still there. He had a severe look, like he was thoughtful and felt the weight of the world’s troubles, but there was kindness in his eyes.
“Did you want to ask me something?” he said.
“No, I was just trying to decide something.”
“Did you enjoy today’s lecture?”
“Yes, I’ve always been interested in Napoleon.”
He smiled, but I couldn’t tell if he was pleased or skeptical. I got up to leave.
“Have a good day,” he said as I went out the door.
Jenna wasn’t exactly the most punctual person in the world. She seemed to make a habit of being a little late for everything—but it was an hour past when she said she would come over and that was late even for her. A few days after our last fight, or whatever it was, we ran into each other on campus and decided to put it behind us. But it wasn’t like we joyfully made up, it was cool, like we just agreed to start talking again, and in the several days since then, we hadn’t seen each other at all, just talked on the phone a couple of times. So I was apprehensive about how we’d be when we were together again, and when she didn’t show up on time, I couldn’t help but wonder. I was aware that the feelings we had for each other weren’t as strong, or at least outwardly as intense, as they had once been, but in rare moments when I wasn’t being sarcastic, I liked to think that what they had lost in intensity, they had gained in “solidity and maturity” (I think those were the words I used), even though I can’t help but laugh when I think of that now. Not that I ever considered that I was much good at handling a woman once a relationship got to that stage. I was much better during the wild, emotional drama of the beginning, and that the more serious things got, the more I felt like I was in the wrong place. I strained to think what we’d be like if we were still together at forty, whether we’d be like the pathetic couples I’d seen who looked like they’d said the same stale things to each other over too many leftover meals, who’d slept together so many times they’d rather be alone, for whom the time they spend together is normally boring or irritating, and who take such a way of life for granted except in quiet moments alone when they feel the sadness and loneliness of it, and the pain shoots right through them. But maybe I was being too dramatic. It’s probably more likely that they would just go out and have an affair.
Just then Jenna showed up. She had a sheepish look like she was expecting me to be mad and had an excuse all made up to lay on me.
“I know this is late, love, but you wouldn’t believe—”
“You don’t have to explain.”
With one look, she already had me where she wanted me. She sat down.
“You’re mad, aren’t you, Honey?”
“No,” with a look so that she knew I wasn’t.
“Today was really hectic, or I’d have been here sooner. I had to finish a paper for my psych class, and then go to Marge’s to help her make a piñata for her kindergarten class. Then I had to run to the apartment to get ready to come over here, but when I got there Angie wanted to talk, and I didn’t want to just run out on her.”
“It’s not only not surprising you were late then. It’s surprising you made it here at all.”
“Thanks, John. I needed that.” She looked real serious now. “God, how I love you.”
“Frankly, my dear, I’m glad,” trying to imitate Clark Gable.
“Let’s not talk any more. Let’s pretend we’re in a silent movie. I’m Greta Garbo, you’re Rudolph Valentino.”
We kissed, and lay back on the sofa in an elaborate imitation of Garbo and Valentino. We undressed and got into bed, forgetting in the taste and feel and smell of each other’s bodies all the bad vibes there’d been between us. I loved the way Jenna smelled. She didn’t smell like daisies or a spring morning or any of that other crap you read about women in old poems. She smelled like a woman, but she had a unique smell that I kept in my memory and savored.
“That was lovely,” Jenna said. “It would make things so much easier if all a person had to do is make love,” with a sigh.
“Maybe we should try it.”
“Yeah, maybe we could set a record. Let’s get out the Guinness Book of World Records and check it out.”
“There you go, trying to escape reality again,” teasingly.
“Aren’t I terrible? I seem to do that more than ever these days. Sometimes I dream of running away from everything and never coming back. Maybe I’ll run off to Tahiti like Gaugin did.”
“That won’t work anymore. It’s just like here. They’ve got skyscrapers and McDonalds restaurants. There’s no place left like that to run away to.”
“I know that. But I can still pretend that it is, and it’s mostly just what’s in your head that matters anyway. If I want to think Tahiti is like what it is in Gaugin’s paintings, then it is as far as I’m concerned. It’s like imagining what heaven’s like or some other place you’ll never go. So there.”
“Well, if you decide to go to Tahiti, I’d like to go with you anyway.”
“Well, if you’re nice to me from now until then, I’ll certainly take you along.”
I suppose the really important stuff in your life happens when you least expect it, or at least begins with something that doesn’t seem serious at all, like the little cough that turns into pneumonia. That’s kind of the way things went one night when I got pulled over by a cop, even though I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. When he walked up, I rolled down my window, and he told me I’d been doing 50 in a 35 zone. He looked at my driver’s license and said, “Did you know your license expired over a year ago?”
“I was out of state for a long time.”
“That doesn’t make it OK.” He went back to his car with my license and registration. While he was there another cop car pulled up. The cop in that car went over to talk to the first cop, then they both came over to me. The one who’d pulled me over told me to get out of my car and started to search me.
“A warrant’s been issued for your arrest, buddy. You’re wanted for the murder of one Milton Jaszkowski back in 1964 in Livonia.”
I’d thought a thousand times about what I’d say to the police if I ever got arrested and come up with about a thousand different answers. But so many years had passed by, and so much time had gone by since I really believed I’d ever get arrested for the murder, that I could only think of something dumb to say.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, right. That’s what they all say. Well, you’ll have plenty of time to explain yourself later.”
It seemed like a joke compared to murder rap, but they’d also found a couple of joints in the glove compartment of my car. I was brought to the police station and went through the normal routine: Booking, mug shot, fingerprints. They put me in a jail cell and I just about went nuts trying to imagine what my future would be like now. I had no idea what time it was or any idea how long I’d have to sit there. But finally they brought me out and took me to a windowless room where I sat down at a chipped Formica table with a guard and a detective. They read me my Miranda rights. The detective had a gray suit on, was round faced and trim and muscular, looked like he was about 35. He was courteous and had a soft, sympathetic voice and wasn’t at all like the jerk I might have expected.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“The officer explained it to me when I was arrested.”
“Do you have anything you want to tell me about it?”
“Not particularly,” trying to completely avoid looking him in the eye.
“Do you remember the discussion you had with the police on October 12, 1964? Where you said you were walking along Plymouth Road in Livonia with Edward Carey and didn’t see or hear anything happening in the woods behind Sibley’s?”
“Not really. It was a long time ago.”
“It was a long time ago and you were just a kid, 15. So this might not turn out as bad as you think if you cooperate with us and tell us the truth. You’re really not the person we want to nail.”
I didn’t reply.
“If you cooperate with us, you might even get off with probation. Maybe you could go back to living your normal life just the way you were.”
I didn’t say anything again but I started to feel tremendous emotion as I thought back to the night of the killing. I was on the verge of crying. I mean, this guy was really a crack interrogator. He maintained just the right tone of voice and just the right level of sympathy to make me want to tell him the story. It was ten times more effective than if he’d come on like a prick and tried to high pressure me. That wouldn’t have worked at all with me, and I would have just clammed up. It was like he was conducting a symphony and knew just the right notes to hit. He knew when to keep his mouth shut and just let me think. Finally, I looked into his eyes and I started to cry. Because of the way he was handling it and because I just couldn’t carry the murder and all the emotions that went with it inside me any longer, I told him the whole story. He didn’t even say much while I spilled my guts, just took everything down. Then I really cried. I felt like a fool. I felt like a complete wimp. But I also felt a rush of emotion and tremendous relief that I could finally tell the whole story.
My parents bailed me out and got me a lawyer, a guy named Leonard Schwarz. He was slick and smiled a lot. He tried to make me think I didn’t have too much to worry about, but he wouldn’t promise anything. He said the judge who was hearing the case had a reputation for being tough. He was on good terms with the prosecutor, though, and thought he could work out a pretty good deal for me, especially considering how young I was when the murder had occurred and the fact that I didn’t have anything to do with it directly. The deal my lawyer came back with is they’d give me a break if I’d testify against Ed in court: They’d drop the 2nd degree murder charge and make it accessory after the fact instead, which is a lot less serious charge. I also finally found out how the police solved the case: Ed Carey was in Jackson Prison by that time for armed robbery. He told another prisoner about murdering Milton Jaszkowski. He was bragging about how he got away with it. Eventually the guy told the cops because he thought that would get him out on parole earlier. The cops went back to the cold case file from their investigation of the murder and that led them to me. Still, they might not have been able to convict Ed without my testimony. Just the word of the other prisoner and the scraps of evidence they had probably wouldn’t have been enough. Because I’d spilled my guts to the investigator, the prosecution pretty much had me cornered. Also, after so many years, and because he’d turned his back on me after the murder, I didn’t particularly care anymore about protecting Ed. But I still did a lot of thinking and had to do a lot of soul searching before I finally agreed to testify against him. I’d told the detective about where the knife and the partially burnt clothes were buried, and the cops dug them up, so the prosecution had some physical evidence they could use in the case, too.
Naturally, I absolutely dreaded seeing Jenna after that, and when I finally did it wasn’t any easier than I expected. I went up to East Lansing to visit her, and we were sitting in her apartment.
“Why didn’t you tell me!” She was crying.
“It was so terrible, I couldn’t tell anyone, not even you. Also, the longer I didn’t tell anyone, the harder it became to even think about telling anyone. I blocked the whole thing out of my mind as much as I could, and after a while it hardly seemed to exist anymore. It was always right behind me, but most of the time, I refused to turn around and look at it.”
“In other words, you didn’t trust me.”
“No, it’s just that I couldn’t face it. I thought you’d hate me, so there wouldn’t been any point to it.”
“Just trust and honesty, that’s all. Do you really think this is better, to have me find out this way?”
I loved her, and the only way I thought I could keep her love was to tell her the whole story, and try to create a little sympathy in her by making her see it from my point of view and try to understand what I’d been going through for the past 9 years. So we sat there, for hours, and I told her everything. In fact, after hardly saying a word about my past since I’d met her, I pretty much told her my whole life story. She held my hands and she hugged me and she looked right in my eyes. Anger turned to sympathy, and sympathy, I thought, into love.
After many bittersweet moments, fights, and times when we had fun and seemed to forget that the arrest had ever occurred, Jenna and I were together the night before I went to court. We were in my apartment after dinner, indifferently drinking glasses of wine. For a long time, we’d avoided talking about what might happen at the trial, though it had cast a shadow over everything we’d said and done. Now it seemed we couldn’t avoid talking about it anymore, but instead of doing that, for a while we hardly talked at all. The sun was going down, and it got so there was hardly any light in the room. The more the light faded, I think the more comfortable we felt.
“I don’t think I can remember a time when we were so quiet together,” Jenna said. “Even though somehow it seems we should have so much to say to each other right now.”
“Maybe the less we say the better.”
“There’s going to be a change between us, no matter what happens. I just can’t quite see the shape of it yet.”
She got up and went to the window. She stood looking out of it for quite a while without speaking, and finally I got up and went over to her. There were a few people walking down the street, but they were all walking with their heads down. They were all alone.
“When I was a little girl,” Jenna finally said, “I used to walk through our strawberry patch and pretend I was queen of the strawberries. When the flowers were in bloom, I imagined they were my ladies-in-waiting in white gowns, just like in the stories I’d read. I used to stand in the middle of the strawberry patch in my dirty little dress and hold my head up arrogantly like a queen, then I’d curtsy and hold my arms out like I was standing in the ballroom of a palace showing off a brand new crown.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
She laughed, sadly. “It just shows how easy it is to fool ourselves, and how much of our lives we waste doing it.”
“So that’s what that was all about,” smiling. “I guess I’m not as quick as I thought I was.”
“You really don’t understand me, do you? You really don’t understand!”
“It would be easier if you didn’t change so damn often. You make it hard to really understand anything about who you really are.”
Now the room was so dark we could hardly see each other, but that seemed the right setting for the conversation we were having.
The next day I had to testify. It’s another one of those memories that’s burned into my brain like a wound—that would have been burned into anyone’s brain—for life: The courtroom was in a modern building and was as neat as the living room in a new ranch home. Judge Marvin Stampier was polished and serious—he looked like he could have been a TV judge. My parents and brother and sister were there, and my brother’s wife, and Jenna and Angie.
I’d had a haircut and wore a dark suit because Mr. Schwarz had stressed how important it was for me to be sincere, that I should not by the slightest raising of an eyebrow or the curl of a corner of my mouth suggest there was anything false in what I would say. From 9:30 am when the trial continued that day, I sat frozen in my seat, and every minute inched by like it was an hour. I didn’t look at Ed except out of the corner of my eye until I got into the chair to testify. Then I just looked at him once, and the look he gave me cut into me like the knife he used to murder Milton Jaszkowski. I had no doubt that he would have been glad to kill me if that’s what it would have taken to shut me up. It was the purest look of hate that I’ve ever seen or ever want to see. It was worse than a horrible feeling for me: I mean it would have been a horrible feeling no matter who it was, but Ed Carey was once my hero. He was the guy I would have done anything to be like him. I won’t tell you what I said: If you read this far you’ve already heard the story a few times. But I will say that I think I sounded really convincing and honest. I didn’t hesitate about anything and didn’t feel scared. I answered every question Ed’s attorney asked me without hesitating and without letting him trip me up with any of his trick questions. I sounded as sure about my answers as if the murder happened yesterday and not 9 years before. Maybe for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a coward. My testimony nailed him, and he ended up getting 25 years to life.
Because I was a juvenile when the crime occurred and because I had testified against Ed, the judge went easy on me. That didn’t, however, prevent me from getting lectured by him. I could feel that the eyes of everyone in the courtroom on me as he spoke, especially those of Jenna and Angie.
“When you were a very young man, you showed contempt for the law and flouted the law by lying to the police and hiding the truth about the most serious crime a person can commit: The murder of another human being. Your actions caused great anguish for the family of Milton Jaszkowski and wasted thousands of dollars and countless hours of police detectives. Your actions on the night of the murder may have cost Mr. Jaszkowski his life. Your withholding of the truth meant that a crime that could have been solved in a week didn’t get solved for 9 years and almost didn’t get solved at all. You are to be commended, however, for finally deciding to tell the truth and for agreeing to testify against a man who was once your closest friend. In light of that and in light of your age when the crime was committed, the courts sees fit to sentence you to one year in the Detroit House of Correction. The court can only hope that you will use that time to reflect on the life that you have mostly wasted so far. The court can only hope that when you are released, you will embark on a new life and make a solid contribution to society in the future.”
He went on like that for a while. I listened quietly and like I was taking everything he said seriously, even though I knew I would never “embark” on the kind of life he admonished me to lead in the future. Finally, when he was done talking and all the technicalities were out of the way, the bailiff came and escorted me out of the courtroom. I tried to imagine how Jenna and Angie looked and what they were thinking, but I looked straight ahead, away from the gallery.
A county jail is about the worst kind of jail you can be in because there’s nothing to do, like there is in a state prison, and they make you stay in your cell most of the time. My cell was only about eight by ten feet square. A board with a thin mattress stuck out of one wall. That was my bed and sofa. The cement walls had been whitewashed years before, I suppose, but it was chipping off, and I couldn’t see anything outside my cell but another cement wall. What I did most of the time was sit and stare at the walls or lie back and stare at the ceiling, so that after a while I knew every twist and turn of every crack in the ceiling, the shape and droop of every paint chip that had been whitewashed over, every little nub and blotch and stain, and they would magnify and distort in my imagination. The boredom was deadly. I read sometimes, but mostly I couldn’t get interested in anything. About running on a beach, about making love with Jenna on a huge bed, about lying by a creek deep in the woods I’d dream. I’d close my eyes, and sometimes the dreams would seem so real I thought I could hear waves breaking on the shore or feel Jenna’s hands running up and down my body. These fantasies always left a bad taste in my mouth, though, because when I’d open my eyes the jail would seem even uglier and filthier than before. They might as well have put me in a cement coffin and buried me.
I had nightmares most nights, like about a prisoner with an evil laugh knifing me, about falling down a bottomless pit, or being choked to death. Just as I was about to die in the nightmares I’d wake up. The lights would be on and the jail would be filled with a deathly silence, like the stillness in a cemetery. Only rarely would the silence be broken, when somewhere in the jail one of the iron doors was opened or closed or I could hear voices. Then silence again.
Sometimes I thought of trying to escape, just as a game, and devised elaborate schemes I thought would work. But I didn’t have enough guts to try any of them, and the prison was such a labyrinth of corridors and doors that were barred and locked that there was very little chance any of them would have worked anyway.
“It’s not so bad really. The tips are good and most of the people are pretty nice,” Jenna said, cool and aloof, as she told me about the summer job she’d got as a waitress at a country club near her home town. It was visiting hours at the Detroit House of Correction.
“Angie’s got herself a boyfriend, a guy named Mark Heisler she met at a church retreat camp she went to after school got out. She seems to be just wild about him. I think it’s the first time she’s fallen in love.”
She spoke with such detachment it hardly seemed she cared about what she was saying, and she seemed to want to avoid looking into my eyes.
Finally, she said, “Oh, hell, what’s the use of me telling you all this shit, like there’s nothing wrong or like I just happened to drop by your apartment? I wish I hadn’t even come.”
“Fortunately, you just happened to be in the neighborhood.”
“Sure,” bitterly, biting her lip to keep from crying.
A meaningful pause there was where Jenna looked deeply into my eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me, John? Why did you let us live a lie for so long? Why didn’t you tell me the truth? I could have helped you! Now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust you again.”
“I wish you knew how much I wanted to tell, how close I came to telling you. I just didn’t have the guts.”
“Well, you deserve to be here. What else can I say?”
“Nothing, I guess.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to come and see you again. I’m going back to Elkton tomorrow and I won’t have many days off. I’ll write when I can.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve already decided I don’t want you to come and see me again. Obviously, it isn’t doing either of us any good. When I get out, I’ll come up and see you and we’ll see where things stand.”
At that moment there didn’t seem to be a spark left between us. But then we looked into each other’s eyes, and I imagined that all we’d ever done together passed before us in one long moment, like short clips from movies or the way they say your life passes before you just before you die. Suddenly we were walking through the gardens at MSU again, laughing, then looking at each other angrily across a crowded room, then whispering to each other in the middle of the night. We were drinking wine by candlelight, and Jenna was running away from me in the rain. I wanted to reach out to her and hold her, and I thought she wanted to do the same to me, as if that would bring back what was missing between us that words couldn’t explain. But there was a Plexiglas barrier separating us, and it might as well have been a mile thick. I felt very lonely. I thought of a photograph I’d once seen of a baby girl crying alone in a city of rubble.
“I’ll go now,” Jenna said. “See you when I see you,” with a strange, almost happy smile, like her mood had changed instantly and without reason. I nodded and she got up, giving me a look that was as odd as the smile before she turned away.
When my parents came to visit me, I often wished they hadn’t bothered. They told me what my brother and sister were up to, and what they’d been doing, but we never really said what was on our minds. What it came down to is we didn’t really know what to say to each other. We never had, and I always felt relieved when they left. It was a shame, the way things were between us, and in certain weak moments I felt so bad about it I could have cried. I suppose they really loved me, but I didn’t have a thing to give back, and there was a huge emotional barrier between us.
When a guard told me one day that Angie was there to see me, I didn’t know what to make of it. So as I was led to the visitor’s room, I wondered whether Jenna had put her up to it or whether she thought it was her Christian duty or whether she really did just want to see me. But I felt nothing but good when I saw her waiting to talk to me and she smiled.
“I thought it was about time I came to see you,” she said.
“This is an unexpected pleasure,” I said. “This is so far for you to come.”
“That made no difference to me at all. I’d have gladly come ten times this far.”
“I’m really glad to see you.”
We looked into each other’s eyes and a warm feeling went all through me. I thought how strange it was that we should be here together, how we were at opposite ends of the world in the way we’d lived and the way we thought. Angie looked down at the tote bag she’d brought and took out a Bible.
“I brought you some reading material,” with just the slightest smile.
“Thanks anyway, but they’ve got plenty of them here in the library, and ministers come in here about every day and will give one to anyone who’ll take one.”
“That’s not the same. I want you to have one of your own, and I want you to have it from me.”
“All right,” a little amused. “If you insist. Just give it to the guard when you leave. He’ll give it to me after he checks it out and makes sure you haven’t planted a machine gun inside or any illegal drugs. They’re very suspicious around here.”
“I already talked to him and he said it’s OK.”
“All right. Now why don’t you tell me something that will make me forget I’m here.”
Angie stayed as long as they let her and told me all about the week she’d just spent camping with her family up near Indian River, Michigan. Her voice was soft and musical as a flute, so it was easy for me to get lost in her little stories about her trip and to imagine myself listening to the wind in the leaves and the water sloshing over stones by the river. To believe I was free.
When Angie was just about to leave, she said, “God bless you, John. I’ve prayed for you every night and I’ll keep praying for you every night until you come home.”
“Thanks. Maybe because of you they’ll let me out early. If they do, I’ll know who to thank anyway.”
She looked at me as if to say, now, John, you know it doesn’t work that way, but I could tell she thought it was funny, too.
“Well, even if they only let you out an hour or two early it would be worth it. Good-by now. I’ll write, and I’ll come back again if I can. I love you.”
As the days went by, the feeling of being confined got to me more and more. One night I dreamed I took a giant sledge hammer and smashed down the walls of the jail. The guards looked dumbfounded and the other prisoners clapped and cheered as I broke through the last wall to the outside and ran through it. Then the cheering and the clapping died away but I kept running until I didn’t think I could stand the pain in my legs any more, until I was out of the city and into a forest. Then suddenly I realized no one was chasing me and I stopped and lay down, almost collapsing into the leaves by a brook, panting hard, where all I could hear was water flowing and birds singing. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them Jenna was lying beside me.
Jenna wrote to me regularly, but it was hard to tell from the letters what she was really thinking. She described some of the eccentric characters at the country club where she was working, and told me about what various members of her family were up to, but kept her distance about her feelings. From her words you would have thought we were pen pals, not lovers. She seemed strangely detached, like she had at first when she’d visited me in jail. I couldn’t read much of anything between the lines. She said she was working hard.
The longer I was in jail, the more my senses and awareness became dulled, until I went through every day more or less like a zombie. I avoided talking to and mingling with the other prisoners as much as I possibly could, so my world became more and more an inner world, and I hardly paid any attention to what was going on around me. That made the adjustment to getting out even harder, especially since it came so unexpectedly: They let me out after 9 months. Instead of feeling a great burst of happiness, though, I felt disoriented and even a little depressed. When I walked out of the police station into the sunshine and greenness of late summer, nothing seemed quite real. Everything had an eerie, dreamlike quality, and sounds seemed weirdly dissonant.
I knew, of course, that my life could never go back to what it was. I could never even pretend anymore that I was a “normal” person, much less be a normal person. In fact, I had no idea what kind of person I could be, period, so I didn’t feel like I had any choice except to pretty much disappear from society. The idea of going back to my old neighborhood in Livonia or back to MSU for even a day seemed ridiculous. Every time I stepped out into the street, I would have felt like there were a thousand eyes on me. Being associated with a murder is a taint that can never be forgotten: It is like the spot of blood that MacBeth could never wash out. No one, I thought, would ever want to associate with me again.
I went to my parents’ house but stayed only a day. When I called Jenna she agreed that we should get together and talk. But she didn’t want me to come up to Elkton to see her. She said that would be a bad scene because word had somehow got around that I’d been in jail related to a murder, and her mother didn’t want her to have anything to do with me again. So we agreed to get together in East Lansing in about a week and a half. She said she’d go there as soon as she could get into her apartment.
I went up to East Lansing right away anyway, and spent the time waiting for Jenna getting high and drunk with friends, or what passed for friends with me. They were really just acquaintances. Now that Jack was gone, there wasn’t anyone up there I’d really call a friend.
The afternoon Jenna arrived in East Lansing, I went to see her. Her mother and her brother Ronnie had helped her move in, and I came about an hour after they had left, just after she’d cleaned up and changed her clothes. She was alone. She wasn’t living with Angie any more.
Jenna smiled demurely when she saw me, and we hugged each other and kissed, but the feeling between us wasn’t that good. I could tell she’d changed. She looked more mature and sophisticated, and was somewhat distant. That dreamy ingenuousness she’d had that was so appealing to me seemed gone. Her gestures and movements were more polished, and she almost seemed too classy to be a student any more, as if in the summer she’d just grown out of it. She was wearing a white dress, which struck me as strange, because she hardly ever wore dresses.
“You look like you’re ready to go out to your Junior Prom,” I said. We were standing with our arms around each other. Jenna was quivering.
“I just felt like getting dressed up. Isn’t it weird?” I looked at her like I did indeed think it was weird. “I’ll be back to blue jeans and T-shirts soon enough. Would you like to sit down?”
“That’s all right with me, as long as I don’t have any metal bars or concrete walls around me.”
She laughed a little uncomfortably. “You won’t have.”
We sat down on the sofa. I looked into her eyes but she looked away.
“Why don’t you relax? Whatever you say I’ll understand. If you’ve had it with me, I’ll understand. Nobody could blame you after what’s happened.”
“We agreed we were going to talk, and I did a lot of thinking while you were away.”
She could never seem to bring herself to use the word jail. From the way she talked you might believe I’d just been away on vacation or spent a term as a visiting student at an out-of-state college.
“I wanted to be very sure I did what was right. I thought about you constantly while you were gone. I thought about you until I was afraid I might drive myself crazy, until I couldn’t sleep at night, until I had to force myself to eat just to keep myself going. When I could sleep, I always seemed to wake up in the middle of nightmares. Sometimes I felt like pulling my hair out, or throwing myself out in front of a car on the highway. Sometimes I thought that was the only way out.”
I thought I detected just the slightest lack of conviction in Jenna’s voice. I couldn’t help wondering whether or not this was an act, to soften me up as much as possible for what she was going to tell me.
“You’d never kill yourself. You’re not the type. So why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind?”
“I finally realized that, even though I’ve loved you with all my heart and there’s a part of me that always will love you, I can’t imagine spending my life with you.”
“So what? I haven’t asked you to spend the rest of your life with me. You’re only 21. You’ll change a hundred times more before you die. How we feel about each other now is the only thing that matters now. You were the one who talked about us being together in fifty years, living in a little cottage and tending a garden, not me.”
“I shouldn’t have said that. I got carried away by that homely little image, I guess. I’m not as impressionable any more. And what do you expect after what’s happened, after you shattered my trust in you?”
“There’s no point in going over this same ground again.”
“That’s not the only thing. I suspected it before, but now I’ve met someone who’s made me realize why I can’t stay with you.”
“Oh, so that’s it. All this talk about what you’ve gone through and what I am is really irrelevant, isn’t it? What it all boils down to is that while I was gone you got yourself a new boyfriend, so now you’ll have to dump me, which is no different than it would be if we were fourteen years old and none of this had ever happened.”
“Don’t taunt me. I haven’t done anything unfair. I didn’t string you along or try to hurt you. Changes like this happen all the time. And this is harder for me to do than you could ever imagine,” starting to cry.
“Why is it so hard when you’ve already got someone lined up to take my place? When I leave you can run to him, and I’m sure he’ll give you all the sympathy you could ask for.”
Suddenly we ran out of things to say to each other. We stared at each other warily, like panthers who’d met unexpectedly in the jungle and didn’t quite know what to do about it.
“Oh, God, John, I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing,” and in a moment we came together and were holding each other close. “It all seemed so logical when I thought it over yesterday. I thought because of the way you are, with all the trouble you’ve been in and because you’re so determined never to conform to anything or settle down, that I could never be happy with you. I thought that someone with as unrealistic a view of himself as you have—”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m more realistic than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“That you would even say that shows how out of touch you are with what you really are. You have such illusions about yourself, and when they come crashing down—”
“And I suppose you think you don’t have any illusions?”
“Not anymore, unfortunately. I’ve seen through them all.”
“No, you haven’t. You just traded them in for a whole set of new ones. You’re just kidding yourself.”
“No. I’m different because of what happened last spring and because of Larry. But I want you to know I didn’t turn away from you just because you got in trouble. This all happened so unexpectedly.”
“It usually does,” I said, but she didn’t seem to hear me.
“I don’t think Larry’s better than you, and I don’t love him more than you. I could love you more deeply than I could ever love him. It’s just—I felt like you betrayed me.”
“I guess there’s no point in me staying here any longer then, is there?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I just can’t imagine us staying together. You’d be as bored with me after ten years of marriage and a couple of kids as you would spending your life in a cardboard box. It would be like being in jail again, only you wouldn’t be able to see the walls. Do you know what I’ll look like when I’m fifty? Have you seen my mother? My boobs will hang down to my ass probably and I’ll be wrinkled as a prune. How does that sound?”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Then maybe I’ll fall in love with prunes and droopy boobs.”
She smiled back, and we laughed, and for just a moment all the love we’d ever felt for each other seemed to be back again.
“I don’t know how I’ll feel then, and neither do you. But I’d give you two-to-one that you’d get sick of me before I got sick of you.”
We stared at each other in silence again.
“It’s strange,” Jenna said. “I was so sure I knew exactly what I wanted. But now, after seeing you and talking to you—it’s like all the hours and days I spent thinking things out were wasted, and I hardly believe my own arguments anymore, the ones I rehearsed so well. The way I feel about you now that I’m with you again has changed everything, and I’m just as unsure of what I want as I’ve ever been.”
“So everything you just told me meant nothing. I don’t know any more than before I came here.”
“Just give me a little more time. That’s all I need. If you’re so disgusted with me now that you walk out of here and never come to see me again, though, I won’t blame you.”
Thanks, I thought, you’re all heart.
“It would make things a lot easier, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t want to see you again and I don’t want to see Larry until what I want is clear in my mind. Maybe if I don’t see either of you for a while I’ll be able to sort things out better.”
Now she was starting to sound phony again, though it was so slight that only someone who knew her really well and was listening for it would even have noticed, like only a musician with a trained ear might notice a false note from a violin among the instruments playing a symphony.
“I doubt it. You’re looking for a kind of certainty you’re never going to find. You’ll make a decision and then the minute you see one of us you’ll change your mind again.”
“I have to at least try, although if you leave me now and don’t come back, I’ll understand. The thing I wanted most is that there wouldn’t be any bitterness between us, but I never realized how hard that could be. Maybe that only happens in Hollywood. I’m always reading about some star who’s run off with his best friend’s wife who’s also a star but how they all stay good friends, like what happened was just a movie script, and when the affair is over they put it on the shelf like it was just another celluloid illusion, and walk away from it without hard feelings. Maybe we should move out there,” with a bitter laugh.
“I’ve already lived out there and I hated it. Good-by, Jenna,” getting up, going to the door.
“Just give me a little more time, John, please,” as I was opening the door. She seemed genuinely torn by emotion now, so I didn’t know what in the hell to think, or who Jenna McAllister really was. She was just as hard for me to figure out or pin down now as she’d been the first night I’d met her. “Come see me in a week, and we’ll talk and find out how we both feel. You’ve been back such a short time for us to really know what we want. At least give us that chance.”
“Sure. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
I felt like hitting something. I felt like picking up a rock and throwing it through a window, or getting into a fight just for the satisfaction of punching someone. I must have sat in my car outside Jenna’s apartment building for an hour. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I turned on the radio after a few minutes, but the song that was on, “Sugar, Sugar,” annoyed the hell out of me, and I turned it off so hard the knob came off, which made me laugh stupidly. Finally, I decided to go to the M.A.C. Bar and have a few drinks.
I sat at the bar and drank shots of tequila with beer chasers. The guy next to me wanted to talk, and rambled on about the pranks he’d pulled on his job as carpenter and made lascivious remarks about certain of the women at the bar and what he’d do if he were their boyfriend, but I barely even pretended to pay attention to him. I remember after a while thinking that the athletes painted on the walls of the bar were laughing at me, and then I don’t remember anything until—
I woke up in a strange bed. I felt sick as hell, and when I first opened my eyes my sight was blurred. My clothes were still on. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, and brought my thumb and forefinger up to try to clear them. The room seemed vaguely familiar but I didn’t recognize the people in the photographs on the dresser, though I was obviously in a woman’s room. Laying back down, I listened hard, and heard the clatter of someone washing dishes downstairs. After a while, I heard footsteps coming up stairs. I felt someone standing at the door and turned around.
“You look surprised,” Vanessa said.
“How in the hell did I get here?”
“You called me from M.A.C.’s about two o’clock last night,” her amusement increasing as she realized I didn’t remember what had happened the night before. “Like a good girl I was already in bed sleeping, but like a fool I agreed to come out and pick you up. You were a mess, drunker than I’ve ever seen you before. I had a hard time even getting you to my car. You could hardly talk, but you said enough for me to find out that this has something to do with Jenna McAllister, which I might have guessed anyway. I didn’t know what to do with you. If you’re living anyplace up here, you were too drunk to tell me where. So being the kind-hearted woman that I am, I really didn’t have any choice but to bring you here. I was going to leave you on the sofa downstairs, but you looked so pathetic sprawled out there that Paul and I decided to carry you up here and put you in Rina’s bed. She took your place, but she’s gone for the weekend. She’d kill me if she found out. She’s very choosy about who she allows to sleep in her bed,” with a smile, “but of course I’d risk just about anything for my John.”
“Knock it off.” Vanessa’s delight at my situation seemed to have no end. I didn’t know whether to believe her or not. I tried to piece together what had happened the night before but only vague, blurred images came to me, and there were big gaps that I couldn’t fill in. Nothing I could remember could explain how I ended up where I was.
“I don’t believe you,” I said.
“It really doesn’t matter whether you believe me or not. Why don’t you explain how you ended up here then?” I stared at her mutely. “I don’t know why it should surprise you so much. I told you a long time ago that you’d come back to me again.”
“That’s all the more reason why I wouldn’t.”
“Are you going to try to tell me that some Martians picked you up and brought you here? Or that I hired some Mafia men to force you to call me at two o’clock in the morning and then come over? There’s nothing forcing you to stay here, you know, if you really hate it so much. If you want to, you can get up now and leave and go crawling back to Jenna. You’re not chained and locked, and all the doors in the house are open. I ought to just kick you out of here, anyway, you’re such a goddamned bastard.”
She paused in her tirade and stared at me, then started smiling.
“I’m glad you got burned by Jenna again,” she said. “You really had it coming.”
“While I was in jail—I don’t know if you heard about that or not.”
“Are you kidding? It was the talk of the town in Elkton and among everyone you know up here. Not to mention the newspapers. Sure, I heard all about it.”
“She fell in love with a guy from Bad Axe, somebody she met at that two-bit country club she worked at this summer, who wants to marry her.”
“You’re telling me? I didn’t spend much time up in that wretched town this summer, but when I went there, I found out within about 5 minutes. Every gossip in town talked about it, and they talked about what happened to you, too. I’ll just die if I don’t get an invitation to the wedding,” sighing deeply.
“But that’s only half the story. She was all ready to break up with me for good when I went to see her yesterday. But after we talked and she saw how hard it was going to be, she changed her mind and said she wasn’t sure any more. She said she needed time to think things out, and asked me to come back in a week.”
Vanessa laughed hard.
“But of course you won’t. Even you’re not that stupid. You already know that she can never make her mind up about anything. She’s like a female Hamlet, or at least she learned a long time ago that it’s easier to manipulate people into doing what she wants than to do anything herself. Because of her looks, she’s always been able to get away with it. She’ll just wait until you give up. She’s never going to take you back.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think anymore. There were moments yesterday when she gave me this mysterious look, or there seemed to be just the slightest lack of sincerity in her voice or her eyes. But there were other times when I was absolutely certain that what she was saying was genuine.”
“She’s just getting better at it, that’s all. You should have seen her this summer. She was having the time of her life. She and Larry Astor went out just about every night. She wasn’t shedding many tears, I can tell you that.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. You don’t know what was going on inside her head. A person can be laughing and smiling on the outside and be dying inside.”
“She’s psycho, John. She may even believe what she told you. That’s the worst part about it. She has this normal side that I used to think was just an act, but now I’m not sure. Now I think it might just be part of a split personality that’s just as credible to her as it would be if she were like that all the time. What it boils down to is you’ve never really known her. You’ve been in love with an illusion that you want desperately to believe in, and that she’s very good at maintaining. There may even be a part of her that wants desperately to believe in it. But she’s schizophrenic. There are two different people inside her, and you’re in love with the one that matters least. The one that matters wants to destroy men absolutely.”
“That’ ridiculous. I know her a lot better than you ever have. You haven’t even really talked to her in five years.”
She shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes mocked me. “Have it your way. I really don’t care if you believe me or not. But let’s face it. You’ve ended up exactly the way I said you would.”
I really didn’t care to pursue the subject any further. I was sick and weak from a hangover and not really getting any decent sleep. I was too confused by what had happened in the past day to take any kind of initiative. I had a killer headache and a burnt up stomach and a feeling of dislocation. My brain felt like it had been taken out of my head and a gang of boys had played football with it, laughing as it hit the ground. Finally, though, I’d had enough of Vanessa, and got up to leave. Just before I turned away from her to go to the door, she looked at me with mockery and contempt in her eyes, which at once seemed to define her and protect her, and said, “Come back soon, John.”
For the next two weeks I spent most of my time in a room at a fleabag hotel in Lansing. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the worn out AM radio and watching TV without really watching it. I tried to decide where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, but nothing came of it. Some nights I went into the sleazy bars in the area and got drunk listening to people tell me about their lives. Sometimes they bragged, sometimes they told sad stories, sometimes they told me stories that made me laugh. They all seemed to have bounced around from one thing to another like tumbleweeds without ever having any kind of grasp of what was happening to them or where they were going. They’d just gone from one coincidence to the next, and now they were old and lonely and spending their nights in bars talking to strangers. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I wasn’t really just one of them, or what they’d been when they were young and could still kid themselves about what life had in store for them.
After a few nights, I got tired of that and started going on walks at night instead, even when it rained. I went past crummy diners and massage parlors lit up in neon and gutted buildings with ads painted on their sides that were so worn out they’d probably been out of date for thirty years, like the Mail Pouch tobacco ads you see on old barns. I walked by skid row bums crouched in doorways and pimps and hookers talking by shiny Cadillacs. I saw business men and occasionally a gang of students who’d come downtown to slum it at one of the bars or to go to an X-rated movie, who talked loudly among themselves as they walked. Then one day I ran into Bob Carruthers, a guy I’d known when I’d lived at Mason-Abbott Hall. He’d graduated and was working at the capitol for some state senator, so he was downtown a lot. He and Jack used to talk some because they were both from Chicago. And Jack was just about the first thing he brought up when we started talking.
“Did you hear about what happened to Jack?” he said. “He was shot and killed in a bar in Chicago. I read about it in the Chicago Tribune. I couldn’t believe it when I saw his name.”
“Are you sure it was him?” I said, half angrily, even though I never really doubted that it was. “Maybe it was just somebody with the same name. There might be a thousand people in Chicago with that name.” I had a sinking feeling that just about pulled me down to the pavement. I felt like crying but the voice inside me that twenty years ago had pounded it into me that little boys don’t cry, that would stay with me forever, stopped me.
“Well, I don’t know, I never thought about it,” defensively. “It just seemed so much like something that would happen to Jack.”
Somehow what had happened to Jack seemed so fitting, like all the loose ends in my life were being tied together at once. I walked away, really sad and distraught, feeling fragile as glass, but feeling something else coming on, too, a side of me that wanted to crumple up all my feelings and toss them away like a wad of useless paper, leaving just the cynical shell of a man who could never be hurt again. That side of me wanted to push beyond the sadness to a laughter of hopelessness. So I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or whether to try to hold on to the true love that, because of Jenna, I’d felt for the first time.
Finally, I got fed up with long walks and seedy hotels and on an impulse went to see Jenna. Not that I could have waited much longer, because I was running out of money and had to do something one way or the other soon. I suppose I knew what would happen but also knew the story couldn’t end without the drama of one, colorful, final scene, and I wanted to talk to her about what Vanessa had told me.
It was raining hard that afternoon, and I got pretty wet running from my car to Jenna’s apartment. I hadn’t shaved in a few days, so I must have looked something like the bums I’d been hanging around. Jenna looked really surprised when she saw me, whether because of the way I looked or just that I was there, I don’t know. She was dressed neatly in blue jeans and a sweater. In the background Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be” was playing softly.
“Come on in, John. Where have you been? I was hoping you’d come by. Would you like something to drink?”
Jenna got me a towel to dry off with and we sat down on the sofa. On the coffee table in front of the sofa was a glass of wine. Her hand shook a little when she picked it up to take a drink. It seemed like a long time before we said anything.
“I got some bad news the other day,” I said. “Jack died. He was killed in a bar in Chicago. I ran into this guy from Chicago I used to know from Mason-Abbott, and he said he read about it in the Chicago Tribune.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry to hear that. I know he meant a lot to you, you talked so much about him.”
Though she seemed genuinely sorry and sympathetic, she seemed distracted, too, like it was hard for her to concentrate on anything other than what was going on inside her head. There was again another long pause before we said anything more.
“I’m going to leave town tonight, Jen, and I wanted to see you before I left. I thought you and I should reach some kind of understanding. I don’t have much money left or anything to do, and I know now that we’ll never get back together again.”
“I don’t know what kind of understanding you expect us to reach. I really don’t know what to say.” She looked down, rubbing her hands together nervously.
“In that case I’ll just say good-by and leave.”
“You sound so cold,” her distraction suddenly disappearing. “You almost seem happy that you’re getting away from me.”
“It’s part of my new image,” trying to sound as cool as I could. “I’m trying to keep my feelings on the inside from now on, as far inside as I can get them. I’ve found that makes things a lot easier.”
“How nice, and how cowardly.” She looked at me sternly. “Where do you think you’re going to go anyway?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I just know it will be a long way away from here, and that I’ll never come back.”
“I’ve still got a few of your albums and books. I’ll get them for you.”
“Don’t bother. You can keep them. Where I’m going, I won’t need them.”
“I thought you didn’t know where in the hell you wanted to go? Can’t you make up your mind?” starting to cry through her anger. I was losing my cool, too, despite my best efforts.
“It’s over, Jen. There’s no reason to hurt each other anymore.”
“Why don’t you just go?”
I got up and went to the door. I heard Jenna trying to hold back from crying and turned around.
“Don’t hang on to so much bitterness, John. It’s not worth it.”
“I’m not bitter,” trying to be cool again. “I just started taking life too seriously for a while, that’s all. I broke the rules I made for myself, and now I have to pay for it.”
The sophisticated Jenna suddenly disappeared. The warmth and brightness I’d seen in her eyes the night I’d met her were there again, shining through tears, and I was just about floored again.
“So long, Jen,” barely able to keep my voice taut, but letting only the slightest strain show. “Take it easy.”
She got up and started to come to me, but I went out the door before she got there. If I’d waited until she came to me, she might have changed her mind, or mine, and things might have turned out differently. But I felt a certain relief that it was over. I only had one thing more I wanted to do before I left town. I went right to Angie’s apartment. I told her how things had ended between me and Jenna, and that I was leaving for good.
“I’m really going to miss you, John. It’ll be a lot different for me this year now that I’m not living with Jenna, but with you gone, it’ll practically seem like I’ve moved to a new town.”
“You’ve still got lots of friends.”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll miss you any less.”
“Aren’t you going to quote me something from the Bible, or tell me I’ve lost the way, and there’s only one true happiness?” smiling, but not like I was making fun of her or trying to put her down.
“Not any more. From now on that’s up to you.” She looked sadly into my eyes. “Can I get you something to eat or drink before you go?”
“No thanks. I’m not hungry. I haven’t had much of an appetite lately. And I’ve really got to be going, anyway. I’ve got a long way to go.”
“All right. I’ll just wish you a good and happy life, wherever you go.”
“Please come and see me if you ever come back to visit.”
“And send me your address as soon as you get to wherever you’re going, so we can write each other, OK?”
I nodded. We hugged each other a long time, then I went to the door.
“Good-by, John. God bless you.”
I’ve been up in New Hampshire now through the fall and winter and most of the spring. I don’t keep track of the days or even the months very closely. I don’t have a watch or a calendar. I lead a simple life, almost as simple as what Thoreau led at Walden Pond, ironically considering the way I’d made fun of Heather for trying to, and I avoid getting involved with people. I have no friends here, and no lovers. Because I’ve had to work to make some money even to live as modestly as I do, though, I do know some people in the area. You see, I wouldn’t even know how to go about living just off the land, even with all Heather’s training. I’ve done things like chop wood, paint houses, and help out farmers on their dreary little farms. I’ve grown a beard and I suppose people here think I’m strange because I keep so much to myself and don’t try to get to know anyone. Some people have tried to draw me closer to them, but I’ve always put them off. Occasionally someone will wander up to my cabin accidentally or out of curiosity, or because they think they can find something that will justify the trouble it takes to get here. Usually I’ll come out and talk to them, and give them directions if they’re lost, but that’s the closest I come to having visitors. The only other time I see anyone is when I go down into Wells River to shop. Sometimes I see women in town who’ll smile or look at me in a flirting or interested way, but I never try to get to know them.
I don’t know whether it’s because of the harshness of the land or the weather or what, but the people who live up here seem downtrodden and weary. Most of the people are poor, and live in run-down houses that need paint and seem to mirror the lives of the people who live in them. Not too many tourists get up here. The population is probably less than it was a hundred years ago. It’s too far north, and all the big mountains are to the south and east. It’s just desolate. But it’s a desolation I find irresistible.
When I was in town at the general store the other day, a funny thing happened. The kid who was working the cash register had a radio on and “Ebb Tide” came on. I was looking over some loaves of bread and suddenly, of all the silly ass things, a tremendous rush of nostalgia went through me. Images of past lovers and friends and places went through my mind and stirred up feelings that I’d thought were gone forever. It only lasted for a minute but it really affected me, and I left the store without buying anything.
A lot of time I spend walking in the woods or taking care of the garden out back of my cabin, although nothing grows very well up here. There’s a brook not far from the cabin, and I like to lie down by it in the leaves and listen to the water flow over the rocks, looking up into the pines and birches as the wind blows through them, and breathing in the scents of pitch and pine needles. I never get tired of it, and I even come out in the winter. Sometimes I sit up and watch the brook, and occasionally see schools of minnows in the pools by the bank. Chickadees sing near the cabin every morning and come up begging for food.
I’ve come to like living in the mountains. I like the closed in feeling it gives you. It beats the Midwest, where you can look out over the land and think that it’s endless. The fall I especially like, when the mountains are covered with daubs of red, yellow and green and the peaks are covered with snow. From where I’m living, on a clear day I can see Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson and the other Presidentials to the south, and Sugarloaf Mountain, Spruce Mountain and Percy Peaks to the north. The winter seems to fit my mood the best, when the mountainsides are covered with an intricate webbing of tree limbs silhouetted by snow, and patches of green higher up where fir trees are clustered. It’s so cold most mornings in January and February that the wind seems to go right through me the moment I step outside, no matter how much I have on. At night the wind howls around the cabin, and sometimes seems to whine through chinks between the logs of the cabin, like a cry from the grave. I like to go out walking right after it’s snowed, when it’s so quiet that it’s eerie, and all you can hear are the creaking of branches and the whisper of snow when the wind comes up. When the sun comes out after a fresh snow, it’s so bright out I can hardly stand to look up in the sky. In the spring wildflowers bloom everywhere, just as the pale, vulnerable buds break from the trees and shrubs.
I felt smug when I finished planting my garden, and imagined Thoreau watching over my shoulder approvingly. When I first came up, I spent hours every day thinking about Jenna. Some of that time I spent remembering things we’d done together and said to each other, but most of it I spent trying to figure her out, trying to decide who she really was. Was she the elusive, brash, charming woman she’d seemed when I’d first met her, who seemed to think it was necessary to go through so many charades to hide that she really liked me? Was she the passionate woman who’d told me so sincerely that she loved me and liked to paint a serene picture of us being old together, living in a cottage and bouncing grandchildren on our knees? Or was she really the sly, cruel woman Vanessa had made her out to be, who lived for no other reason than to play out her hatred of men, and could hardly even be considered sane? Will the real Jenna McAllister please stand up? I’d ask myself with a smile, thinking of the old game show that ended with that line. Or was she really all of those things, a kaleidoscope of contradictions and loves and hates and hangups as changeable as the wind, impossible to pin down or give shape to? That, I suppose, was more likely than anything else. But I’ll never know, and I’m not sure any more if I even want to know.
I think about the murder every day, too. Even though it seems like it would be impossible after a while to look at it and the consequences of it in any other way than the million ways I’d already thought about it, I somehow come up with new ways. I think less, though, about the crime itself and the terror I felt and the blood: I think more instead about Milton Jaszkowski himself. I wonder what he was like when he was a kid and kind of make up a whole life story for him based on just the few facts about him I actually knew. I wonder what he’d be like now if he were still alive. Would he have reformed, quit drinking and quit drifting? I imagine him as a kindly old man, playing with his grandchildren. I feel so sad that he never got to do that. I thought I would have liked him if I’d really known him. I imagine myself sitting around talking with him like we were buddies. In some ways I think he was probably just like me. I imagine him with his family and think that even though he was a bum and his family hadn’t seen him in years before he was murdered, his murder would have blown a hole in their lives that would never be filled up again. Maybe he still would be around if only I’d had the guts to try to stop Ed and tried to get an ambulance out there.
Sometimes I think about Ed Carey. I try to picture what he looks like now, rotting in his cell at Jackson Prison. I recall the death stare he’d given me when I’d testified against him. I wonder if he ever thinks about me and if he still hates me so much. I even get a little nostalgic sometimes thinking about the days when we were friends, when we’d walk around town and talk for hours and hang out with our gang. He was just so cool, and I wanted so much to be like him. I’ve even thought about writing him a letter, though I never have and the whole idea really seems kind of stupid.
When I first came up here, as I said, hardly an hour went by when I didn’t try to picture Jenna in my mind, laughing or crying or giving me that slightly amused, thoughtful look she’d put on when she didn’t want you to know what she was thinking. Not that it was ever easy to know. There seemed to be at least a faint shade of insincerity or irony in nearly everything she said. But while Vanessa tried to convince me that that was just a measure of what a phony she was, now I’m not sure, now I think she might just have used that as a mask for feelings she was afraid to show, or was afraid to feel too deeply.
It’s funny how vividly I remember my old girlfriends sometimes, a certain smile or a funny little incident or things we said to each other in the middle of the night. Sometimes I’ll remember Mary Anne or Charlotte or Jenna so poignantly that the sense of loss and lost time will seem crushing. I’d been as close to some of them as you can get to another person, but they still kept a secret I never knew. There’s a barrier within them that a man can never cross, and I suppose there’s one in us that they can never cross, either, but if we could maybe it would end the bitterness and misunderstandings between us. Maybe then we could just love each other. But enough of this sentimentalizing. Christ, I’m starting to sound like Rod McKuen. Thankfully, though, I can feel my cynicism coming back full bore. There I go again. The sentimental person I really want to be sometimes is someone I despise.
When I wasn’t working on the garden, or chopping wood, or working for a little money somewhere, I wrote this, though I had to strain to remember things, to get everything clear in my mind. I wanted it to be like a novel, like In Cold Blood (no irony intended). I wanted to set the record straight in my own mind and try to get a perspective on why I came up here, as I said, so that if I ever wondered later on, I could read through it again and know I didn’t make a mistake. But like everything else, it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. Instead, it’s just made me have second thoughts about staying up here. I’ve got to thinking it was a big mistake, just a big cop out. Today I finished the story—I’m pretty sick of the whole thing, anyway, if you want to know the truth—so I’m going to go out and take a long walk and think things over.
I was walking down the mountain to the highway and Jenna was standing there I almost tripped and fell because I couldn’t take my eyes off her while I walked down to her even though I thought it must be someone else or it must be a mirage everything seemed out of key like a hallucination the pine trees swayed like an ocean the sun was so bright I couldn’t look up the air so heavy it seemed like you could walk on it as I walked down to her and she came part way up to me I saw her smile and she ran into my arms and we laughed and laughed so hard that we fell down into the grass and the flowers by the road she had a skirt on and the wind blew it almost all the way up her legs and we laughed and she told me I love you I love you I love you I’ll never leave you again I came all this way to tell you that even though I never thought I would get here because even Sam Spade would have had a hard time finding you and I said what about Larry but she said she hated him now and never wanted to see him again that he was as boring as an old rag and we laughed and laughed like we were high and we were rubbing up and down and back and forth against each other and then took our clothes off and tossed them away and I told her I love you I love you I love you and she laughed and it was like we floated away
Mandy Wright felt quite smug as she got ready for school the morning after the night she’d sneaked down to read the manuscript that she’d received the most definite order from her father not to touch. Though she was tired, she felt that much less than the satisfaction of having got away with something she wasn’t supposed to do, and was really looking forward to going to school and telling everybody about what she’d read. She loved being the center of attention, and her scheme had worked so well so far, it seemed not to occur to her that if she told everyone at school about the manuscript, sooner or later it would likely get back to her father that she had disobeyed him, and worse yet, had gone out and bragged about it. She would be in for severe punishment. She was unusually anxious to get through breakfast, wanting to be sure that she didn’t by some look or word inadvertently let on what she’d done.
When she got to school she didn’t waste any time telling her secret. In the lobby of Wells River High before the bell rang for the first class, she went over to a group that included some friends and told them the story, saying she’d read practically the whole manuscript. This was of considerable interest to them because the strange death of John Jones was the biggest thing that had happened in the town in years, and he’d been the subject of a great deal of speculation since the day he’d come to town.
“I’ll get in big trouble if my Dad ever finds out,” Mandy said.
“But what was it like?” Sally Owen said. “Was it really nutty?”
“Oh, no. But it’s terrible. He helped murder someone! So he had this secret life inside him that he could never tell anyone about, because he was afraid he’d get arrested and put in prison. A lot of it’s about his love affairs. He had all these love affairs with women he didn’t really care about, but then he fell in love and the woman ended up breaking his heart, and that’s when he came up here. It’s wild and has tons of sex in it, but it’s sad sometimes, too. I wish I’d got to know him now. I would love to have really talked to him.”
“Why, so he could have taken you up to his cabin and had an affair with you, and added another chapter to his book?” Monty Montgomery said, and the other boys and some of the girls laughed. Mandy turned red. This wasn’t turning out the way she’d hoped it would.
“No! I just think it would have been interesting to talk to him, that’s all.”
“How do we know you aren’t making all this up?” Pete Kozel said.
“Just—I’m not!” frustrated almost to tears. “Every word I’ve told you is true!”
“Don’t listen to him,” Jill Fowler said. “I believe you.”
“Me, too,” a couple of her girlfriends said.
“If I can, I’ll try to get hold of it if my Dad decides to throw it away, and let you read it,” looking mostly at Jill and Sally.
“Sounds pretty iffy to me,” Pete said.
“I’d definitely like to,” Sally said, and Jill and even a couple of the boys nodded, just before the bell rang for the first class.
When Jeremy came home from work that evening, he felt even more frustrated than he had the night before. After making dozens of phone calls, he hadn’t been able to locate any of John Jones’s relatives or anyone else who’d known him. There was no record anywhere that fit the murder he described in the manuscript he’d left.
So Jeremy wasn’t very hungry when he sat down to supper with Mandy and his mother Dorothy and George Teller—who’d dropped by after having dinner at his own house—a supper that included trout Jeremy had caught a few days earlier, before things had got so hectic. But Jeremy couldn’t get interested in eating.
“It’s like he dropped straight down from space,” he said. “I don’t really know any more about him than I did the day he walked into town. Apparently the names in the manuscript are phony, either that or they’ve all moved or had their phones disconnected. I’m not even sure his name is real any more. He claimed he was involved in a murder, but the state police in Michigan don’t have any record of it. If that collection of newspaper articles he claims he kept about the murder ever existed, he threw them out before he died. I was afraid something like this would happen. The end of the story is practically nonsense—like he lost his mind or something, and it’s all scribbled, like it was written by someone who was so nervous they could barely hold a pen in their hand.”
“Actually, he may have just been trying his hand at stream-of-consciousness,” George, who’d been wanting to get in a literary comment for some time now, said. “But that’s irrelevant, I suppose.”
“It sure as hell is. I spent half the day on the phone talking to the information operator. I was sure it was really his own story. But I came up with nothing. And Georgie boy here didn’t help one bit.”
“Not true. I put together several names and places you missed so that you could check them out,” obviously enjoying seeing Jeremy riled up.
“All that did was waste more of my time.”
“Well, if you want to know what I think,” George said. “I still think the story is basically true, the story of John Jones’s life, just as he said it was at the end of the manuscript. He may have changed the names, but he may not even have done that and you could still have come up empty-handed. Nearly everyone in the book is a vagabond or in some transient stage of life, a student or a recently divorced woman or whatever, and they could all have gone on to somewhere else by now. And a man with a name like John Jones would be hard to find anywhere. Not that the possibility doesn’t exist that the whole thing came out of the kid’s head and not one bit of it’s true. He could have been a lonely young man who never had a love affair and never did anything exciting in his life, but liked to imagine he had, and then enjoyed believing he was disillusioned by it all. It could be that he was always as much a loner as when he came up here, but that he came to identify with his protagonist so much that he even started using his name as his own.”
“All I know is that he’s made me look like a fool. Jack Wilson down at the Gazette has hated me for a long time, and now he’s got something he can jump all over me with. Did you read his editorial this morning? ‘This shows once again the need for more professional law enforcement in Wells River,’ he says, like this whole thing’s my fault. Reporters swarmed all over the office again today. It was easy to tell what they were thinking, like they were laughing inside at the hick sheriff who can’t even find out who in the hell’s been killed in his own town. And now I suppose they’ll go and write it up to make me a laughingstock over half the state. The state police have practically taken over the investigation now and kicked me off to the side. They just snickered when I told them about the manuscript. They acted like they hardly even wanted to look at it, even though I know they really do. ‘OK, bring it in,’ they said, like they were doing me a big favor to let me show it to them.”
“Well, maybe you can get the last laugh, Jeremy,” George said. “With me acting as your agent, maybe we can arrange to have the manuscript published along with a story about how you found it and about John Jones coming to Wells River, and a movie made of it,” thinking of an article he’d read recently in the New York Times Book Review. “We might both make millions considering the money books are being auctioned off for these days, and you might become famous. I can already think of the perfect actor to play you in the film: Don Knotts.”
Mandy and Jeremy’s mother laughed despite themselves but Jeremy was barely able to control his temper.
“Never! I’d never glorify some punk kid who helped someone get away with murder because he didn’t have the guts to tell the police about it. And who couldn’t cope with life except by being drunk or high all the time. Not if there were a million dollars in it.”
“You could laugh all the way to the bank.”
“Fat chance. I’ll just be glad when I can forget this whole thing. John Jones or whoever the hell he was didn’t have the guts to face up to life. So he ran off to a place he’d never been to before and hid away like some kind of scared animal.”
“Come, come, Jeremy,” George said. “You’re being hard on him just because he caused you so much trouble and because he was so much like you were when you were his age.”
“I was never anything like him,” sharply. “I never helped anyone commit a murder. I never went to live like a hermit because I couldn’t handle life anymore. I stood up to it like a man and just went on with my life,” there being no doubt in any of their minds that the it referred to Jeremy’s wife running away. But there was bitterness in his words.
“You’d look at it differently if you were in my shoes. I’m more inclined to think he just had some foolish ideas about life and that he was going through a stage. He might not have stayed up on that mountain much longer if he’d lived.”
“I think he committed suicide. I don’t think it was any accident that he got run down by Bert Johnson. I think he ran out in front of the car, just like Bert said.”
“Of course he said that,” Mandy said. “Of course he’d say whatever was going to get him off scot-free.”
“Bert Johnson has never been a liar.”
“But he’s been a drunk for years. He was probably out driving after tying one on and just ran John down. Did you investigate what he was doing that night? Or check with the local bars?”
“Mandy!” Dorothy said.
“Why in the hell would he have been out walking in the rain at three in the morning, anyway?” Jeremy said.
“Maybe he was really a vampire out stalking in the night,” George said.
“I think you’ve got him all wrong,” Mandy said. “I think he was just too sensitive for this cold, cruel world, and he needed to get away from it for a while. I really doubt that he killed himself. I’ll bet he was about ready to go back to where he came from and lead a normal life. He probably just needed some time to get away and think. Everything probably would have turned out all right for him if Bert Johnson hadn’t run him down.”
Jeremy and George looked indulgently amused as Mandy spoke, but Jeremy’s brow tightened as she finished.
“And where did you get all these crazy ideas about him?” he said. Mandy blushed.
“I could just tell. I saw him in town sometimes. I’d smile at him and sometimes he’d smile back, and once I even talked to him. God, what eyes he had. He had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen on a guy.”
Jeremy looked at Mandy sternly but then his mind seemed to wander.
“Well, you’ve all been so busy talking, you’ve let your dinners get cold,” Dorothy said. “I’m pretty disgusted by what I’ve heard, especially from you and George, Jeremy. It’s morbid. You almost seem glad John Jones was killed. I might as will tell you that I read the story, too. I thought it was terribly sad, this story of a wasted life, of a man who had a chance for happiness, despite what happened to him, but turned it away with a cold hand. He turned away love and laughter, a chance to put down roots. Instead he chose to live apart from the rest of the world and prided himself on his cynicism. Maybe the worst thing there is is to go your whole life believing in nothing.”
Jeremy felt like sneering.
“I’d just like to put this whole thing behind me. If I can’t find out who John Jones really is, I think I’ll take his book or whatever it is and throw it in the fireplace. Then I can watch all the trouble he’s caused me burn up with it—and his, too,” with a harsh laugh. Mandy tried to think of a way that she could keep it for herself, and wondered whether her father really meant it or not. After all, he did tell the state police he’d bring it to them.
“It was strange thing to happen in this town,” Dorothy said. “The strangest in a long time. It was like he came out of nowhere.”
Then everyone was silent as they went back to eating, as night settled in heavily all around them.
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