First Things & Final Changes
A Short Fiction Collection

Part V

Includes Ideal Village, The Enchanted, Known in the Trade and Caught Bird Dream)
Copyright 1992-95, 2011 Katherine Anne Harris. All rights reserved.

Ideal Village

...go up fast, stay so long, come down slow..."
~James Joyce

There she sat with hands on the word-keys, thinking there she sat with hands on the word-keys. Uncommonly conscious of wearing a man's white shirt, badly crumpled, pajama-soft jeans and fake eyelashes; uncommonly conscious of absolute loss, she was Coming Back to It, coming this time like a beggar to that simplest thing that might be called a god.

From a heavy golden bell is suspended a long bell-pull, a cord interwoven with thorns which protrude on all sides at half-inch intervals. You can pull the cord or not; if you do, it's called writing. Typing this made her feel better – well enough to laugh at how pathetic the idea was and yet how persistently, in her case, true. Soon she was also visited by the notion of piercing the sky to let the blood drip through and received the visitation gladly, always heartened when her ravings turned abstract.

On this icy fifth day of February, little spooked-up February where winter goes to finish itself off and die, her second marriage had endured for three years and two days. It had to be stopped of course, but wasn't all of the problem.

There was grey noon candlelight in suburban north Dallas when she dared to touch even the records, the sacred old music. Farina songs and Bloomfield were freighted with Todd, String Band evoked Nicky. To Doors and the Velvets, her old-self ghost rose dancing and the Sugar-Baby in her mouth turned stickier, conjuring speed-runs with Julie. In the presence of these absences, she re-explored Sartre's concept of nausea; perhaps it wasn't der angst politely generalized, something she'd known from girlhood, but an actual thoroughly Located, cosmic steel-toed kick in the gut right here.

Without lovers, friends and those in the blessed overlap category, she'd been bored to death, bored and worse since about 1970; it had been almost half a decade since she could think of love and joy without feeling the revulsion of the dispossessed. Stabs of revulsion were practically all she could recall from her era of idle chores and silence. But now it was rise-and-shine-sleeping-beauty time. Briar Rose woke to pain. Without kisses.

An Official Grownup now, she knew external circumstance has more meaning than we like to grant it but she also knew that running off to play in the dirt, grow animals and vegetables, weave and throw pots was no answer. Given that one couldn't linger endlessly in academia, from thence where? Not toward sloppy communes and sloppy communings with all the intrinsic worth of ashtray-making in the lockup ward -- or the desperate flower gardening she'd done lately as hang-on therapy, holding Task tightly as knuckleshort chalk. Now hers was the prettiest yard on the block, okay, but running on safe-and-slow gave evidence of grave ontological misunderstanding. More was demanded, never mind that the freaks were worn-out, stone-stunned, bone-stunned by what they'd shared and what was gone, tuning into scared if they weren't already terrified. More was always demanded. From Pam's last letter, she had the vision of an Ideal Village where friends did Real Adult Work, living separately but in proximity. Pam was content to harbor this concept in the noumenal, peopling and de-peopling her hamlet at will, but as a physical construct there'd be everything to commend it.

From Pam she also had a little weed, acquired during a recent jaunt to Fort Worth, so she rolled a jay and fired up but didn't persevere. Rote of dope-smoking became a drag long before she got high enough to justify it, especially when the stuff was mediocre. Thinking she needed something appreciably stronger to get any more fucked up than she was by Kind Nature, she noticed that a gardenia beside her divine grand piano was trying to bloom while, down the hall, her five-year-old was trying to whistle. Through the window she saw the neighbor-child who squeezed frogs until they burst; he was vigorously hammer-pounding his porch chez-next door. Sometimes our experience is poetic and sometimes it's not, she observed; one has to face that and make commentary, anyhow. It was being given back to her somehow, the grace to comment. She wouldn't stay quite so afraid, maybe. Remembering and listening wouldn't, maybe, really drive her mad.

At that point the piano man interrupted to retune an E and then kids started coming for lessons but, while she taught, she wasn't there. She was stalking along bookshelves behind the now-silent stereo, surveying like Pam on the streets of her village; plotting clearances. Don's crap had to go.

Every educated person has a bibliography, she considered, and she still liked how her own books defined her: for instance her Barthelme Burgess Burroughs Cohen Durrell Fitzgerald Heidegger Hesse Joyce Kerouac Lorca Patchen Plath Rimbaud Roethke Shakespeare Stevens Strindberg Wakowski Wiesel Wolfe other Wolfe Woolf. Seeing the same books on others' shelves indicated at least semi-genuine Points of Contact; you knew where a head had been. She'd had affairs with less justification. Often with exactly that. Don's books were Outside the Community; as neighbors they were repellent as Frog-Squasher. It was sickening to see his Khayyam rubbing shoulders with her Kesey, his Gibran beside her Ginsberg, his for-pity's-sake Dreiser by her Dostoevsky, his Tolkien literally touching her Thompson.

And so she searched for work – suffering interviews, the insult of typing tests, randy advances. Such humiliation was hard to take after those twenty years of being brilliant, turning whole colleges onto Patchen and Plath; now, overeducated and inexperienced, she was nobody because she grew up and never worked at someone else' work. She felt angry, also sad and guilty for owning things, having too much to walk away from, for buying groceries and mopping floors, for drinking entire sodas instead of passing them around. Whenever she opened a Coke can, she still wondered at it: All for me?

With a camp-cot, a chair, typing impedimenta and the potted gardenia, she moved into the sparest spare-bedroom, slept with an open notebook and lurked beside/behind herself in the vast possibility of darkness, plotting new treacheries. Yeah yeah Gutenberg Baby was At It again and the gardenia plant, now brutally fragrant, flavored her breathing.

The unwelcome books were cleared out by summer. Don cried, so did Evan but that couldn't be helped. By then she'd succeeded in trading half her life for some money to live it; she'd found work in corporate P.R. – ideal field for one infected with Southern Etiquette Syndrome. Manners crusted her brain like scabs. All she said aloud was automatically edited to avoid imposing, aggressing but she grew ever more audacious on paper – liberated from the burdens of civility and no longer even grasping for the invisible thread of a structure.

It was obvious what she had to do, and vital. She'd turned away once – just past her reign as Empress of the Degenerate Subculture, North Central Texas Region – and vanished into zombieland until she came to as a piano teacher with a child who could swim and construct small electronic devices. Only photos told birthdays, Christmas trees, nursery school plays, travels, jack-o-lanterns. And whatever killed her before was waiting yet in the terrible place between word and word.

Knowing she came into being, faded from being on those tides, she woke weekdays at three to face history and spent weekends writing, too, although privacy eluded by day. Room to room, Evan dogged her: "Where you go, I go," he sang, giggling, but she had naptime, evening's end and dark morning to watch and listen, receive what was given while cicadas screamed through walls, through doors and windows tightshut to contain her expensive cold air.

Summer was inevitably a hard thing in Texas: Either plants burned and you could smell drought on the wind or every bug known to god landed, plague after plague, or heat hauled humidity and ran you down like a dumptruck. Something hard happened. This year it was rain forever, the painted daisies died of it and grasses spired like magic beanstalks, Torrentially green; her yard in its close stinking excess was a Rousseau jungle, that vivid- and-pungent-as-funeral-parlors, but louder. Steamier and much louder.

As she found the ribbon of reality it was hers to wind unwind rewind around her spool of understanding, she began to fear the revelations less, a little less, since you use up what you are by saying so. Transformation wasn't as dramatic or immediate as zipping-open with acid to let something new out, but she had a similar sense of walking through mirrors as she typed through speeding with Julie, loving Nicky, the wrist-gashing crackup -- and then the next context, Three Mutants Tripping (and filming and screwing and playing) -- then two of them gone, Todd and Michael erased overnight in a drug purge her grades held her exempt from.

While documenting Movement, her crawldance game played on cactus or coke in Todd's mutantmobile (players at least four, only rule no stop) and acid game Instant Mobility in which she marshalled expeditions, leading farstonedfolk Outside, she led again: Divorcing caught on in her neighborhood. Split-up fever spread two houses east to Cherlookalike Susan then across Greenhollow Lane to schoolteacher Rhonda, so the three women bonded to take care of errands and tots. Post-workdays they gathered for white wine at Susan's, where their kiddos blissed out in Stacy and Adam's playroom crammed with pricey toys. Before long Suz began going out and, since Rhonda's daughter Kim was old enough to babysit, Susan urged the others into weekend barhopping, fixed-up dates and sexy clothes she'd tired of. "You gotta circulate, Girls," she insisted. "What's to lose? C'mon, put this on. If you like it, keep it." Princess-per-excellence, Suz now had the benefit of employee discounts at Fashion Fling.

"My brilliant little hippie friend" was how Suz introduced her to the rag-trade dudes, manufacturers' reps who got them into shows and revels at the Apparel Mart, where Susan achieved yet-better clothing deals and they both turned down offers to model.

"Obviously you don't know my ex's family," Suz chuckled, refusing her chance to show lingerie. Clearly they didn't know Susan well, either, or they'd be in full command of the Bernstein saga. Vic worked for his stuffy mom and brother, who governed how much he gave her for their kids; ergo, until she found the right new guy and officially married him, Suz wouldn't scandalize or otherwise antagonize the Bernsteins for anything.

Shorter than Suz and noticeably younger, she was invited to enjoy a great five-year career as a child model by braiding her hair and scrubbing off her makeup. Nice her timelost didn't show, but she knew already; she played a game about it with Evan and strangers who came to their door: "Is Mom home?" she'd yell when a visitor asked for her mother. "No, our mom went to the store," Evan would answer and then giggle himself silly.

In Susan's world, everybody was thirty-ish, drank copiously and dug disco; needless to say, not a soul was acquainted with Berdyaev or even Heidegger. "Kinky scene," she told her boss at work; Jerry was someone she could almost really talk to, though he was fifty and belonged in Front Page with his walrus moustache and veteran-newsman suspenders. At his urging, she got back into theatre but was bummed there, too. In sheer-fluff shows, she was relentlessly cast as chief fluffette e.g. “Tiffany” in Mary, Mary.

There wasn't anywhere for her. Except in the word room, stretching what she had until she almost made it break.

At the office days passed in acidtempo but uninterestingly as she composed and issued news releases about ho-hum stuff, convenience stores opening and overpaid half-bright executives being hired or promoted, and wired out the company's fill-in-blanks, plug-in-suitable-paragraphs response to robberies and shootings. Standard management quotes varied slightly if someone was killed.

Instead of eating lunch, she wrote her own things for an hour, moving that process outdoors once sunshine returned like a recollection from childhood: giraffes, giggly sleepovers, Sun. While she mused on this, one preposterous crayon blue noon in her car, shee heard cold weather coming. Funny, it sounded like summery picnics as wind gusts combed dry leaves into currents and these flowed underneath her; in the crispy hush of their unseen passing she felt the dizziness of watching waves wash backward between bare feet on warm splintery pier-planks. Since she didn't normally eat breakfast, either, and lately had taken to drinking her dinner, she was growing very very thin -- which seemed appropriate. Others expressed alarm but she could view the unpremeditated fast only as a flash of Body Wisdom, a work toward reclaiming innocence or finding some at last. From acting all her life, formally and informally, she consciously used her body as symbol, Incarnation of Perceptions. And in a world where people suffered, she had to like being no more than childsize, no bigger than anyone's hurt.

She wondered if it was too early to contemplate the Sixties or too late. She wondered who else had gone crazy and got that partly answered one Saturday in September; in that back-to-school season when new years truly began, she felt fresh, finally self-possessed enough to ring Todd's parents, who lived two miles away in a posh house she was inside once-upon-a-time, years ago four. Ripped on STP after a concert, she'd read aloud from Finnegan's Wake while several guys jammed, then later she and Todd were alone – so strangely visible in a place not a car – and made it to Driscoll and Auger's bluesy Streetnoise. Mrs. Pearce, who never placed her as the girl she hadn't met on the patio where Todd was playing Jenniferjuniper as his folks came home late from a party, was thrilled to hear from any-friend-of-Todd's and gushed sweetly. According to his mom, Todd was "so wise now." Married, ensconced with former-high-school-honey Denise (the one he used to make fun of) in some Berkeley commune, Todd cooked at a flipping health-cafe the group ran.

Wise? she thought; oh Mrs. Pearce please. Todd was a musician poet junk-food-scarfing resolutely anarchic firststring hardcore artist/freak. At least he had been. When she was freakedoutfantasticbeautifulmindgirl, blitzed nonstop but also every prof's Wildest Dream. She should ring him up or fly out there and shake him – but who was she to lecture and what could she offer, herself North Dallas P.R. Gal, Mortgage-Holder and Mother?

Aiming to put themselves together, they'd left out big pieces.

With a few more calls, she established that Monica was deeply in retreat, doing industrial jewelry-making in New Mexico where she'd split from her ex-husband Robert (pushing thirty pushing on for the doctorate for want of alternative) and where Ellen Jean, degreed in structural engineering, had turned forest ranger and lived in a teepee near Taos. Nobody knew anything about Michael or Julie, but Lauren was still doing stonedcatering at Esalen, Elfjohn goatfarmed someplace in Oregon, Will was in therapy and Lutheran seminary, Matt got busted and was doing time in Nevada, Cindy was getting more shock treatments, Nicky'd done a graduate marketing program and looked miserable when last seen, dancer Alan was painting houses in Phoenix and artist Sid was on the road and in lust with some alleged guru.

Daniel, her since-junior-high chum, stopped by Sunday for an adios; he'd just ditched country club management and Lisa to tend gaybar on skates in L.A. Confusion was rife. Once they'd been outlaws and saints together, learning new extremes of person-ness that incidentally involved loving like nobody ever taught them how, and they were still together now - all writhing-round in indecision and impulse, not to mention embarrassment, one big worm trying to find its back. Driving to work on Monday - an autumn fog-morning with half a block's visibility before Abrupt Dissolve -- she thought: This looks familiar.

Often she woke Evan early and trotted him through the fall mists. Beside a stream nearby – sad water throttled with rubbish, banked with crates, bedsprings and small capriciously felled trees -- they harvested thistles while squirrels made their sorcerous progress overhead and secret wildflowers blazed behind a rock at one spot where the creek was flowingvocal and she wanted to cry because the trashed place kept trying to be beautiful. A Cohen line flashed through her brain then, God is alive/magic is afoot, and she swiftly altered that to God is comatose/magic is up the creek without a paddle. But as Evan picked up red leaves and unusual gold ones, greybare trees rang in her ears with huge sonorous clanging and further leaves tumbled with sounds of small wet birds and rain.

About this time Kent showed up; he'd tracked her through her parents. Straight Arrow Kent, her pre-hippie-age very first lover, was a pilot still. Now wed to his high-school-darling Marjorie (the one he used to make fun of), he'd be a dad any day – which didn't keep Kent from wanting to jump her bones for old times' sake. Or keep her from obliging. He remembered far more than she did of those days so old she'd stopped thinking of them as Old Days, but it was a real deja-vu anyway, skipping across tarmac with Kent at yet another airport and taking one of those jolly white rides that began at fifteen when she lacked the sense of ordinary fungus. Then they went driving aimless awkward; dun sky impenetrable was spinning yarns of rain and there was a sense of immense impossibility as she tried to convey year of crystal hell and grace, acid year/birth of good sense (connected since meth's without humor), shock of '70 when she was all nerve-ends wondering how they'd manage to find the freaks every one to kill them, then longlostseason spent grubbing about in the garden, soul impossibly brittle until finally she could read again, something besides garden books, and at last there came breaking the silence relighting that fuse Todd always said he could see.

When she sent crazy cascade-of-consciousness letters afterward, Kent didn't reply. She mentioned this to Pam, who sighed, "Oh-well" in her airy way, pre-defeated; you could see that deerlike hurtdistant look in Pam's eyes even over the telephone.

In the intellectual sense, Pam was enormously smarter than Susan but Suz howled "The schmuck!" when she heard about Kent, poured more wine, said "Drink up" and dressed her to the nines for cruising Friday Night Service. There was much to be said for Making the Effort. With her primitive gift for axiology, Suz knew how to get full value from being a woman. Her essential reactions were right-on, though you couldn't imagine talking philosophy to her and her literary taste was apocalyptically awful.

Oddly both Susan and Pam were into astrology and, after consulting whatever they consulted, the two reported independently that a relationship with Kent couldn't be workable. The chemistry was sometimes irresistible (since she was Leo, he was Scorpio) but rising signs and other such vagaries were dead wrong. Nowadays people asked your sign everywhere you went so she had a stock answer, which was "Wet Paint" or "We Never Close," depending; the latter was for getting laid now and then without investing much time in it. Everybody also asked What Do You Do? and she was still grappling with this one, wanting to say something like Well I read moments, I try not to grow weary; inside all the honesties, in the eternal circle around me where it's a simple fact of time that It's All There Waiting, I try to stay alive, making exceedingly dangerous connections with my bare hands.

After the first Friday service with Susan, she kept wanting to go back. Although Suz put it down – "just a bunch of goddamn Jews showing off their furs and diamonds" – she could usually be persuaded to hit temple before T.G.I. Friday's. There were new people to meet at services, sure, but the main attraction was God; they talked about God. No matter what you might say for alleged intermediaries e.g. Jesus, God had to be more interesting and for some reason that temple by North Park smelled like no place on earth.

There was honestly nothing she could liken its fragrance to, so she gave up trying on Saturday morning while driving north to Grayson, hearing Lou Reed music and comparing him to Joyce; their language was alike in being less connotative than cumulatively denotative. Planning a note to Robert about how Joyce did such heavy photographic things with Ordinary experience and Reed was doing the same with decadent dark-side-of-Vogue-Magazine images, she was breezing up Highway 75, a road she knew like the back of her brain. Apart from grad school, she'd never lived far from it, the road that had taken her almost everywhere she needed to go, road she'd driven on almost everything in every weather. Moving through a tube of air and wordglass of her thinking, she'd takenitallin over and over, tuneditallout over and over – radio kitsch and the purity of concrete, the sceneries, sometimes mythic trees and cold-spaghettied grasses in Ice We Never Made, sometimes weed clumps in burning summer when her eyes lifted them and soil poured from their hearts like small stones. On this versatile artery strewn with broken flesh and armadillo shells, she'd received key poem-lines and other insights, made it with Todd while Michael was driving, made it with Michael while Todd was driving, dropped veryfirst acid, fallen in love more than once, rehearsed countless scenes, traveled twice to get married, moved away to colleges, been hauled home after The Mighty Crashandburn, visited kin since birth on alternate major holidays, reached Neiman-Marcus to spend the first money she ever earned, driven her father to and from hospitals in contemplation of his approaching death, gone to high school twirling camps andd drama meets gone most summer nights to the country club for swimming gone to plays museums libraries gone even to church gone on dates and vacations lately gone to work and fantasized roadcelebrations: expresswaySuperhighway as perfected playground with peopleraces, giant overpass swings, astounding signpole possibilities. Where 75 cut through towns she'd tumbled inside incredible pulsating pizza signs, noticed angels among birds on the overhead wires, giggled everytime at the Rent-All billboard ("Party & Sickroom Equipment" onestop for throwing onehellofaparty) and visioned end of the line/end of the world as the Ultimate Goodwill Donation, almost died laughing imagining Goodwill box with its bravetoobrave legend ("PLEASE Leave Nothing Outside of Box PUSH") receiving streets rolled carpetlike with buildings cars shrubbery stoplights thewholeshebang being stuffed into being stuffed forever inside.

Allthis happened in no particular order, was still happening, being afterall one of the roadsongs - nature of such Take it as it comes do not attempt to identify Now position. Today, though, did feel like Today, when her mother in Grayson wanted Evan for the weekend and there was the matter of Gil Hendrick's play, up tonight at her alma mater in the town next door. Mostly she was interested in getting her wretched car worked on again, which was technically easier to accomplish in the Old Hometown; cheaper, too, and that counted since she wasn't making more money despite doing Important Work lately – handling significant news releases and company magazine features, coordinating national P.R. projects with outside agencies, organizing a convention for the agency people and even speechwriting for top management.

Appealing at first, the power-trip turned sour once Jerry got ousted by Internal Machinations. Her slimy new boss, responsible for the slaughter, couldn't do Jerry's job once he had it -- so she was effectively running the P.R. show. Suz said she should demand a raise, but demanding had never been her long suit. Besides, money couldn't compensate for having to make Arnie Barnes, that evil piece of scum, look good. And it wouldn't give back her weekday daylight or real weather, lost inside a creepy sharpangled place all oysterwhite plastic or metal. She felt conspired against by walls and shiny objects and, since nights and weekends were work-infested too, that left only the dawn watch for little-artist-mind to exercise, bash through sleepdeath and mold its happy fists around things, digging them in newways. Just from waking up until waking Evan at 6:30 – or by pulling all-nighters – she got a chance to be alive As She; the rest was an ugly chore to be met on its own terms or she couldn't meet it at all. There were words like demands, responsibilities, exigencies. And there were words like star and green, stone, water, hands. Though she knew it was all one (hence the utter unrelatedness of every aspect of everything) she couldn't rest long in that unflinching pluralism; she still wanted to be in the bigpoem all the time, she couldn't help it.

"I'll say 'bye, here come my kids," her mother told the phone and whomever. Mary Fran honestly thought of them that way; she never corrected anyone who assumed they both belonged to her, and she wasn't just flattered.

Squealing "Goomom!" Evan dashed for her and she scooped him up, offering junk – ice cream or Oreos or candy or all the above. "Didoo have any bweakfast?" she was asking.

"Just granola. And toast with that bread she makes," Evan grumped as he was carried toward the kitchen. "Brown and it crumbles."

By the time she’d hung coats in the front closet, amazed again at how much room there was now that Ray's golf clubs weren't inside, her mom had Evan settled in at the table. Mary Fran then turned attention to her daughter. "Won't you at least have a cooky? Please,” she yelled at the living room. Given no response, she yelled at the den, “Well, how about you, Ray? Let us bring you some ice cream."

"Not now, Mary, " Ray answered weakly. "I couldn't swallow."

Coughing and spitting, he was sitting in the same chair he'd been in forever. He used to read there and do crossword puzzles when he wasn't working or golfing, but these days he watched soap operas and whatever else came on. He could barely get up. Her dad was slowly being strangled now, she thought, then amended: Very very very slowly he'd been strangled for years.

"Did the engine overheat?" Ray managed to choke out.

"Not a lot, Daddy, but it still sounds like hell."

"Well I called Renfro yesterday, told him this time drive it longer. Wish I could take it in for you."

"I wish you could, too, but I'll manage."

"I told him we'll pay for it. At least I can do that, and you take my car for running around today."

"I don't see why!" Mary Fran shouted and Ray wheezed back, "Well hell I'm not using it, Mary."

"I don't see why she has to go running around," Mary Fran expanded. She'd appeared at the kitchen door with Evan beside her, an Oreo in each of his soft circular paws. "You could come shopping with us, couldn't she, Evipooh? I'll buy you something, too. I'm getting my baby some pretty new shoes this afternoon right after our lunch."

"Just please don't stuff him all day long, Mom."

"Stay and have lunch with us –"

"I don't eat lunch, Mother. It slows me down."

"When do you eat? When does this kid ever eat, Evan?"

"You're way too skinny, Mommy," Evan said just the way Mary Fran and Ray did, shaking his round blond head balefully.

"Come shopping with us," Mary Fran wheedled.

"I promised to see some people."

"You used to like shopping with me, I don't know what's gotten into you, we thought you'd settled down, didn't we, Ray?"

"Don't see why you couldn't stay with Don," Ray gasped between coughs.

"Don was good to you and Evan," Mary Fran repeated for about the zillionth time, prompting Evan to pout, "I want my Don."

No use saying she wasn't settled then; she was sicker than she'd ever been. They preferred her unable to bear thinking beyond the next weed that needed pulling, next meal that needed cooking. You settle for offbrand love when you're without resistance.

Mary Fran plopped onto the sofa beside her. "Heard any more from Kent?"

"I frankly don't expect to."

"Oh that's a shame. We always thought you two would – well he's got his own life now, I guess."

So hard to stay in touch with what mattered, in the middle of so much that didn't deserve but drained your strength and attention. When Evan tried to cram a cooky into her mouth, she got up, edging past him, and bent to kiss him goodbye. What a big messy love she felt for Evan: Great untidy blossom splayed poppy.

At Renfro's Garage she got in with Mary Fran, who'd trailed as form follows function to take her back to Ray's car. "I don't know why you want to see any of those people now," Mary Fran protested. "You were doing fine until you started seeing them again. Don't go backwards."

"They're good friends to me, Mother, and interesting –"

"My foot! What you need to be interested in is bringing up that sweet baby, giving him a decent life, not strange ideas."

"You don't understand –"

"Oh, as far as you're concerned we don't understand anything, do we? Fine for you but think of Evan. He has to come first now. If you want some kind of – weird life for yourself, just give him to me, just give Evan to me."

When she finally got out of Mary Fran's car and into Ray's, Mary Fran kept calling, "Give Evan to me!" instead of goodbye.

Not quite twenty minutes later, after backtracking a few miles along Highway 75 to Austin College, she was greeting one-third of her Favorite All-Time Professors – saying "I'd have appreciated this place more, if I'd known how bad All the Rest of It would be" instead of hello. "Or maybe I still don't know," she added, swinging around the office doorframe.

"A bite's enough," Paul Luce deadpanned. "You don't have to eat the whole fish to know it's bad."

"Yeah but How Bad?" she teased, like you've got to figure that out because it's there, it's more. Dr. Luce, like Dr. Hendricks, understood that luxuriating in the rigorous might sound like a contradiction in terms but wasn't. So they didn't bitch at her for being a Sybarite in several of the truest Spartan traditions, incapable of leaving bad enough alone.

"I'm bored," Paul declared with his usual economy of phrase and delayed change of expression. He watched you react first, then frowned or twinkled as much at that as at what he'd said. It seemed to signify a shyness or careful reserve, but might be some sort of good teacher trick.

"Yeah but you work closer to what's true than I do; it's a shorter leap," she reasoned, and Paul pulled a maybe-face, half-a-frown under eyes half-smiling.

"If anyone's leaping."

While they crossed campus from Paul's office to the snack bar for coffee, he was actively sulking about the new breed of student; he called the post-l970's "academic mercenaries" and said even Gil – committed exponent of Suffering Fools Gladly – was grumbling regularly because the hippies were gone. Oatmeal smell that used to hang over the place was gone, too. The school was the factory. No doubt about it, the wind had changed.

Despite what she said, which was true enough, she wouldn't want to be in Paul's shoes. For her, teaching was out of the question after the grad school debacle. That was when she entered the Silence, really, got into a scene that didn't Answer Back. In vile Illinois even kids who looked like freaks didn't answer when you waved "hi, Friend" and the work she had to do answered nothing in her. She flashed back on Dr. Whatshisface, Steiner, the youngish prof annoyed that she was being inconspicuous, not living up to her wild undergraduate reputation. Seems they'd thought Ooohyes please we'll take one of Those, light our fire Baby. What she'd thought in response, but never voiced of course, was mygodman if you want me to dance on tacks you'll have to give me something heavier to deal with than metaethics, empiricists and those fucking logic classes I have to teach; this gig is Not Worth It.

Paul, she remembered, didn't want her to accept that fellowship – but not because he was in English rather than philosophy like Gil. Normally teachers nudged her toward their own fields, but Paul had actually written her a letter calling it "insupportable" that she wasn't following her heart, doing theatre. And Paul was someone who never wrote. Anything, ever. When they'd met, of course she'd assumed Paul was a writer; that's what English profs were. But when she asked what he was writing, he said, "I don't need to." Convinced you had to be driven to write and he wasn't, Paul just didn't. For him it was simple as that and not even sad, but it amazed her then – and still, while she watched him going slo-mo to catch every detail in the snack bar line – that anyone with his awareness could say all he needed to, without the Quiet Speech on paper or, failing this, without becoming a conversation maniac a la Ancient Mariner.

"Yesterday I read a book called The Hasidim," she ventured as Paul approached with coffee cups. "In which the author remarks: 'Prayer can attract God's attention.'"

Paul joined her in the hard booth and in trembling with laughter. "Kind of like saying hunger may make you hungry."

"Or your left shoe's for your left foot, actually."

Paul didn't have to compose everything to learn anything much from it. You could see this in his face, even; more than unposed, it was unplanned. She studied it through their mingled steam as each response-wave washed over and afterward every feature went clear utterly receptive. By contrast, her way of understanding and being was spiderlike. And yet – she was casting out threads, flying on them; he was a well stirred by pebbles or coins. And yet – when words bubbled up from those depths of his, they were, no matter how minimal, impelled like Quaker-speech in meeting. The state she went into for writing was where he lived, maybe. In short, Paul Luce fascinated her, always had; she'd had the hots for him for years. Back when he taught her he was married, though (Married-married, Several Little Kids married, not like married profs you screwed anyhow) and this set the tone.

"I wish you'd make these raids on the respectable more often," Paul was moved to say. How he saw her was fairly funny and heartbreaking.

"It's just – so thick with ghosts, dense, jam-packed with the suckers."

Paul nodded. "They aren't insubstantial."

"At least the music helps," she smiled and he grinned along. Here she was, sitting where she'd first talked with Todd – with Iron Butterfly in the background. Thank heaven some bubblegummer had paid otherwise-good money today to listen to The Carpenters.

"You look dangerously tired."

"I've been up a few nights lately. Spinning the straw. Actually, trying to make dolls dance for Libby."

"Succumbing to plot and character. So." So was Paul's question mark.

"If I can whip it into some recognizable novelistic shape, she knows a publisher who'd be interested."

"Fuck objective correlative, let me show it to some people as-is. So." Paul, who likened her manuscript to improvisational jazz, felt she'd caught the times justright, in a style opaque as reality. She agreed it shouldn't be easy; form needs to reveal how the thought makes itself accessible, as Libby for one had taught her. Nonetheless, Libby for one wasn't operational so far out. And she was a poet-slash-literary-critic stellar at both and worth heeding for further reasons.

"I couldn't publish as-is, not in my name anyhow. Lurid Chronicles and Musings of a Hippiedoperfreak. Everything Mary Fran needs to grab Evan."

"You can't judge room temperature with one foot in the refrigerator and the other on the stove."

"It's too big a risk, Paul. I'll have to try Libby's way."

Paul knew Libby Tarquin only second-hand since she taught in Fort Worth where she'd been the only T.C.U. teacher who mattered, aside from lovely old Miss Farley who knew Shakespeare so well she could be his big sister. It was after her era with them that she'd come to Paul and Gil at A.C. More like her than Paul, Libby and Gil were quite willing to rattle on in society without merciless promptings from God or the murk-demons and of course they both wrote; they understood her better, too, though she hated to admit it. Whereas Paul had never thought there was anything wrong with her, Libby and Gil recognized that there very much was, but didn't mind.

In any Ideal Village, she'd live on the same street with all three of them – even if it meant seeing more of Gil's student shows. Gil Hendricks, who wrote plays as well as philosophy, wasn't staging his own script tonight; the production would be something on about Acting 102 level because it was an aesthetics class project: his latest experiment in making students do something with an art besides endeavor to talk about it. She'd been frankly dreading it for weeks, ever since she'd pledged to attend, and Paul wasn't looking forward, either.

Wondering whether to dare a roam around campus or go back to Grayson and change clothes before curtain time, she asked, "Do I look suitable?"

"For praying in the desert." As always Paul left it up to her to decide what to do with his comment. When she said thanks, he chuckled with her; it was settled that she'd remain in the long swirly black things. Symbolic.

With another class to teach, Paul had to go so she commenced Scary Meanderings by stepping from the dark snack bar into the sunroom, favored Mutant-space. There they still were of course: herself in older black swirly things; sweet Michael lankytall nordicblond in that pea jacket; swarthy powerful Todd the Unfreakable, sweeter and meaner and brighter twice again. Others hovered around their Head Table; they were CremedelaCool. Tableau was displayed on two transparencies -- sunroom's invisible wall and a shower-door sky beyond it, frosty bright ivory backlit with thousandwattbulbs. Lights crackled and hummed, then both breakable layers collapsed into broken-glass rain. Each like a gorgeous bell ringing just when somebody hits you, the prismlets bit, bloodied her randomly but with finepurpose, exquisitely as by an artist - this while she flashed on the outcomes of Terminal Cool which are of course terminal. Far too cool (read too scared) she could never confess how personally she'd loved him; best people can hope to do for each other, they'd agreed at that table, is save one another some time.

Shuddering before the cold, she ducked out back onto the little hillock where winds had blown through her, fabric skin bone. Again she sat on dry grass spikes gone gilt, exactly where sun winked spots at her from centers of flowers hard green all over her dress precisely where she learned the interpenetrating vastnesses. "Too small too small to own it all," she'd murmured then, humbly receiving. Afterward, watching the vitamins in lettuce, she'd swallowed their visible strength and swept her crowd onward – in Instant Mobility, with red wine, red tambourines – to The Flame, the nightchildren's fire building-high and perpetual, warm-cratered even in winter courtesy of somebody's natural gas company.

Indoors again, she passed postboxes through which Todd's pages came, poems letters from Dallas then The Coast. By the time she'd read "god damn you bitch if your head were a rock i'm sure you would break a dozen windows but never once polish or hold the damn thing and just accept that it's not merely a rock it's your head" and suchother pprivate stuff not their usual abstracts, she'd been packing for grad school, pitifully content to have Someplace to Go somewhere she could take Evan far from Grayson but Approved.

Outside via front door, she next advanced from Sub to gym: alien territory except when Mutants basketballed to get the rushes coming sooner, stronger. Past library (of chaste memory) and dorm of many infamies, not least among which was Corruption of Cindy, she found the trees that dripped on walks with Monica, chirpy steelspringed nestling another painandcompany rookie; illicit nightlong tramps when wet cold hungry felt so much like home.

Wet cold hungry always felt too much like home and it was nearfreezing already. Knocking around the off-campus neighborhoods in temperatures lowest since spring, she decided winter really would be back this year. The new question was, Would it end? Curbside at what used to be Hank Landreth's house, Threat of Serious Cold struck like the first of hard rushes on serious acid, not just you know dope; like Away We Go Where We Don't Know on a trip into winter. She drew her cape closer, wondering if that attic room still looked Fellini, she hadn't seen it since the winter when they canned him for screwing students (her) and leading protests. Certainly not vice versa: Hank was welcome to lead her up a staircase or two anyoldtime but nowhere else. And yet – he was afraid of her, afraid she'd lead him away from his Causes. She aimed a kiss at him on Long Island, whispered "Hank, I wouldn't have bothered" and ran toward Sid's studio.

Her fellow-ArchAestheticHippie, apolitical to the max, Sid was given to huge lies, Harleys and happenings e.g. courting trouble in redneck bars where he gambled on ignorance and won. Holding forth in goodoldboyspeak,he adored persuading menacing locals that he hadn't had a minute to shave since he got back from the Spanish Revolution or that he was Bart Starr and grew the beard for his mom's D.A.R. pageant. Crazy Sid. After he took Cindy for a roarontheHawg maybe twice, that little girl achingly loved him and couldn't begin to handle that he was ac/dc. Before Sid she'd developed a kinghell crush on Hank, come to think. She was so spacy and it was no timeorplace for romantica. Professionals had to remove her.

Turning into street-opera now, everybody throngedalong particularly as she neared Daniel's old place, you could sign-out there overnight since Dan and Lisa were married, it was open house crash pad, launching pad for so many games that she had to yell it: "Instant Mobility!" The ghosts marched with her back to the Sub for hot chocolate and then packed the theatre. Todd Michael Sid Hank Monica Cindy Daniel sparkly Elfjohn dumpy Katy Peter the Rogue earnest Molly acidhound Dave with his eternal Super-8 Clay who gave the great backrubs Alan who was unbelievable in the sack, budding smackheads Will and Grant, looking frail, and people whose names she'd forgotten altogether. Instead of watching her down-front performing this time they watched with her. Through her pores.

Gil's production, as anticipated, was just short of ghastly and he was more Tiggerpuppet than ever, bouncing busybusy even later on. No way to talk except to apologize for no way to talk, despite his Beseeching Her to Be There. "Keep on trucking," Gil farewell her. "We shall no overcome but we shall be able at least to live with ourselves."

Paul walked her to Ray's car and invited her for a drink at his house in the country; it was late, though, more than merely latish since Gil's excuse-for-a-cast wouldn't have picked up a cue pinned to a fifty. Times like these she wished she were capable of life's simple yesses but there was Getting Back to Grayson to be dealt with. Might be possible to swing by tomorrow if her car had been healed, she told Paul; she hoped so. She'd have to haul Evan to Susan then drive an hour back but he'd never asked her to visit him at home before and the prospect had her Very close attention.

Lying in bed in her old childroom, she suffered such a serious attack of what she was and What She Was Not Doing that she was halfprepared to die she felt impended on so strongly. More had to be stated: "Shopping North Park Christmastime '71," she scribbled fastasshecould. "Saw Todd ahead walking with someone some guy (all I remember someone Not Todd, how Unlike me) Evan with me much smaller dressed up in lime sweater suit shinyblond just fundamentally tiny sweet oh Jesus sweet. Called out caught up (Todd is that you? Wow thought you were in Illinois. No that's over, but I thought you were in California. Going back soon.) so we talked through to Neiman's Up escalator, Todd was working there to finance more amplification equipment he said. Last he said Hey come back later, I'll be here, okay? I said Like I will. Bought gifts got on Down escalator loaded with bags/moreloaded on Todd thinking How (given Evan and Don) Will I Do This? It was when Evan fell hard fell fardown in front of me fell slow and fast screaming squishyface banging against sharpedged steps. Saleslady stopped the stairs. I rusheddown: my head suddenly Back Now, his mouth bruised cut swelling. Ice. Words finethanks noteethbroken, my god I thought my god took him home gave him soft jellyspread pancakes for supper I didn't go back. I didn't go back."

How, being honest, one could ever be honest enough? "I want to prove I can lie," she appended. "Hear me again that isn't true that never happened." She longed to go back and find things as they were, people in their old improper places; would that help? If they were fleshpresent right now, what would she do with them? It was like wanting to turn out the lights and read.

The vacuum cleaner had been standing in her front hall for at least five days. Coming home Sunday she and Evan took their established path around it; once again he didn't ask why but didn't put it away either.

"You look like if you have one more problem you'll just lie down and say don't bother to wake me," Suz quipped when she popped in.

"The damn car which is still limping, my folks who live chained to dayafterdayaftertomorrow, another block of workdays piled ahead like a chunk of cement, bit of a fevery sinus thing ears popping like corn and my cheekbones would ooze if I touched them, nothing too serious." She mixed a couple of rum-and-Cokes and her toenails unknotted enough to discuss Missed Opportunities a little. No sense going into the issue of fabricating one's own dimension; each conversation taught her she could do no more with people in range. Which was the point. Yeah it was a bitch having to find the whole rabbit in her own hat but that was the WayofIt. Everything that needs to be is and will be, she reminded herself, there are only small problems one only has to strive without ceasing few of us will die of that.

Monday workearly driving South 75 slowly noisily, traffic stacked and car clunking, she got to laugh again at PartyandSickroomEquipment and took in the winter's heavy tropicolored sky, bright pink and violet with those fantasticwhiterays brightening by coating everything below with sugar maybe Margarita salt. She couldn't adequately notice things thatlike In Company, or steampuffs on skyscrapertops. Spouting heatsmoke those buildings were vast gawkyodd ships heaving hard against somecurrent or another. Anycurrent man they could be going not going anywhere at all. Times like these she could justabout manage it, onlyslightly wishing she were real.

The Enchanted

She slid the rock out of her jeans pocket and squinted up at morning Sandia. Just south of the crest, there it was: the spot where she'd found the stone. Not rosy as when sunset justified its watermelon name or hooked to strata of clouds as when she'd walked there first while visiting Robert, the mountain at this moment was braintissue grey backed by chromium fire. Her rock -- a white granite oval inscribed with a ring of pink granite, almost perfectly round -- was the sort of stone you'd be forgiven for construing as a Come to Me omen, and she had.

In her foothills thinking-place, above broad tan barely-waking-up Albuquerque, she stood on her favorite flat boulder remembering and spinning the cool still-mysterious stone and considering how thoroughly she was done with a guy once she was done with him. New Mexico was a different matter, however; it was hers now, more than Robert's. In six years here, he'd only gone to grad school - interminably - and hung out with other timewarp-hippies pushing thirty, whereas she'd Made a Name in a year-and-a-half. Not what she'd fled Texas to accomplish, but it happened.

Barely half through her twenties, her spots permeated the airwaves, her ads and releases appeared in the newspapers daily, billboards she'd dreamed up studded the roadsides. And she didn't even have to put on The Act: She dressed as she pleased, with no need for costumes to make her look older and richer; she wore her long hair down or in pigtails and nobody minded. This town was so mellow you could still blow dope in the streets. It wasn't Dallas, for doubledamnsure; that was jewelbox existence, where people had liquid silver in their veins instead of blood and friendliness was a prettified lie, cloissonne trying to look precious.

Of course she'd stay, despite Mary Fran's pleas at Ray's funeral: "Won't you come home won't you bring Evan home?" Next second her mom was braying "you killed him when you ran off it simply killed him" - never mind that Ray'd been ill since she was in junior high - and then Mary Fran flipped back to squeezing Evan and wheedling "bring my sweet baby home Evipooh wants his goomom." Even Evan, at age eight, was horrified.

This was home now, Land of Enchantment all right with its handy level of commercial incompetence that let her shine ahead of her era and, as the phrase turns, So Much More: evocative ruins and Indian rites, art and music on every corner, bite-you-back food that paled Tex-Mex to pabulum, conifer forests that smelled of vanilla, sunflooded mesas and plains under skies quarried from turquoise mines. Not to mention, when you wanted that rush, wildcrazypasttimes at hand: The Subculture's Last Stand its beauty its wonder the precise humor of it the way it was to be freeandtogether. In geodesic domes, teepees and urban craft shops, Freaks Were Yet Alive; folk who still did acid had survived with voices and everything. Except money, which was thin on the ground, all was blessedly present in this world - hers to reclaim after what she'd been calling "the summer that wasn't."

June and July were wide-spot-in-the-road towns along old Highway 75 through north Texas: Van Alstyne Howe Anna Melissa. Blink and you miss it. Given Ray's dying, Robert's volcanic breakdown that landed Evan's head on a dresser-point and her against a wall, Work Always Work and major surgery - the design improvement-hysterectomy she'd requested each Christmas since she was twelve - today's was the first weather she'd honestly noticed in months upon months: a funny soapy kind of wind and the predictable desert dawn chilliness.

From her car trunk she got the ancient black-and-gold English IV blanket she'd chosen because she had a plethora of useless letter-sweaters by then, along with an old manual typewriter she used for wilderness work. Bundled up and perched on her boulder, she washed down a handful of white-crosses with her breakfast Coke and went back to scripting. Felt fabulous to write en plein air, after cranking out radio campaigns and brochures all night in her basement study -- a dismal set but any pit at home beat putting in ordinary hours at ordinary offices, entombed forever apart from real light and the seasons.

Deadline copy was duly delivered by nine to Garrison Advertising, where she picked up new jobs to do, then grabbed messages.

"Before you go can I kiss your face off?" so one memo read. And so she backtracked from the front desk toward the art room.

"Hi there, Pretty Girl," Terry welcomed through a cloud of spray-fix. While she was setting down her foot-high stack of client files, work orders and while-you-were-out slips, he finished blasting a board. His radio was blasting, too, with ignorant lyrics and that nasty disco beat you couldn't get away from. Lord the seventies were such a salute to sleaze.

"Come here to me, Fox. Get your buns over here," he babytalked her, with arms flung wide and his elfchin coy, tucked against an equally sharp knob of shoulder. Terry'd called her "Fox" since she was in the hospital; it was from a ditty the agency gang made up for her get-well card, rude verse about a cute little fox who'd broken her box. Which sounded as if she'd caused the trouble and, according to the doctors, it was Indeed Her Fault: Supposedly a cervix dislikes screwing around from a very young age and abhors variety. Anatomical moralist. Anyhow progress had been achieved - no mess, no worry - and beyond that who knew what to believe?

Terry's was the fourth or fifth hug she'd received in the past half-hour but by far the best; in this remote part of AdQueen Dana Garrison's agency, affection was genuine rather than liturgical. He nuzzled her nose. "How's my favorite copywriter this morning? Thanks for stopping to see me."

"No great rush today. Robert's due back from his folks' farm." To get him Out, Away before he went demonic again, she'd sweetly urged Robert to spend a few weeks with his parents in Texas, having a Good Rest.

"Uh-oh. You going to be okay? I want you to call if you need me."

"Lock's changed, his stuff's piled on the porch and I hired a bouncer."

"You think of everything."

"One tries. Actually Big Bill, this massive hippiedoperfreak I know, was passing through last weekend. Perfect. He and his old lady Val are staying with me until Robert the Wretch is excised. Lawyer who handled Bill's last bust can get a divorce wired in a day or two for not many bucks, so now the only trick is getting Robert to sign. And what's new with you?"

"Not a thing by comparison. Well, this puppy --"

She zoomed in on the work Terry'd been doing. "Fuckinggorgeous!" A montage-style ilustration for a new hotel account, it caught That Artsy Old Town Spirit much better than photos could.

"Pretty nice, huh?"

"No false modesty, that's right. I applaud your attitude, Ter."

"Your copy inspired me. What a team, what a team. We'll need a wheelbarrow for our awards this year. Maybe this time she won't thank her dog. Can you believe Dana did that?"

"We've had almost a year to assimilate it. Yes."

As Terry ranthroughityetagain -- how their boss blithered last autumn's "Best of Show" acceptance speech thanking parents husband offspring pets, instead of Those Who Did the Work - she was resuming her load for the road.

"You disappear behind that crap you're always toting," he chuckled. "I'm buying you a little red wagon for Christmas. Hey not so fast, Fox, I haven't kissed your face off yet."

She approached again and Terry licked her chin-to-forehead. He was so much fun. An ultratalented sprite with a Garfunkel frizz, Ter was Purest Gemini, Willothewispy -- not the sort you'd trust any farther than a prima donna phoney like Dana, but super to work with. She couldn't recall how it was to be in bed with him, aside from inappropriate.

"You were so white," he said, rubbing her cheek very lightly and evoking a different bedroom scene. "You were as white as that pillowcase." For some reason Terry was still really hung up on that hospital image. She supposed it must've been memorably Munchlike.

"Has Lady Dana seen your killer illustration yet?"

"Just about to take it in to her. Come along?"

There'd be ritual jumpings-up-and-down with Dana and her votaries, chants and cheers for the Garrison Aces and doubtless some tangential sermon that went noplace and took at least twenty minutes to get there, so she rolled her eyes No. "I'm OD'd on her twinkle-dust for the moment."

"I'll walk you out. Let me carry your junk. Hand it over."

Up the hall hung with award plaques and aces, Terry loped ahead in cherry-red basketball shoes, opening doors for her, acting the ideal-if-offbeat gentleman until he paused by the front desk to make an indecent suggestion: "Once you're rid of Robert, we'll have to celebrate, Fox. Put on your dancing shoes and we'll boogie down."

His invitation was indecent because Paula, who sat behind that front desk, was in fact sitting there. And she was wild about Terry. Lunatic lost-in-space mad for him. Tiny, she drew in tinier. She'd have curled up like a doodlebug and rolled away if she could.

"Let's go en masse and make it a really huge night. Right, Paula?"

Instead of yea or nay, Paula said, "Zack Martineau just phoned," and held out another lurid pink message slip. "Sorry, I thought you'd gone."

"You still running around with that boozy old lech?" Terry teased.

"He's interesting to talk to -- until about noon."

Sometimes Zack floated Out of It on his martini carpet a bit earlier, occasionally later; noon was a good average. They'd been an item for a while last winter - exclusivity was never part of her deal with Robert - but Zack was just too much to take, Command Performance calls in the depths of night and such rubbish. Eventually she woke up one morning thinking, "You're entirely too smart to marry a drunk, no matter how bright and fascinating." It was a gift from the cosmos or something. At last in the history of the world, there was one mistake she could have made and didn't.

She wasn't involved with Ter and Paula knew that - they'd talked often enough about guys she did see, Zack Brad Ken Chuck et al - but she had to scold him in the parking lot. "I can't believe you asked me out in front of Paula."

Terry grinned, shrugging. "Did I?” Silly girl. I buy her books and she eats the covers."

Great chunk of idiom for somebody who just wouldn't catch on, but Ter failed to amuse in this instance. "It was ugly. Don't put me in that position again."

He nodded, "Fair enough, Fox," and waved as she drove away - yelling, "Love your buns!" after her.

It struck her that cruelty worked differently here. There wasn't much of it - it didn't lurk behind every "Hi-Y'all" grin - and it wasn't strategic or venomous. What little meanness you ran into socially or professionally occurred in a condition of good-humored trance.

Instead of phoning Zack, she aimed for his agency and downed a few more whites to avert fade-out. He was hurtling through the front door.

"My pet waif! God, look at you!"

"You called?"

"I must've rubbed a lamp, too."

"You'll never know, will you?"

"I have to run a few tapes, then I'll buy you lunch, Zelda." Zack, who often called her Zelda, thought of himself as Scott.

She knew it would end up a kidnap and she had things to do besides ride around with Zack all day. Like meeting Evan's day-camp bus to be sure he didn't run into Robert alone and Work Always Work. "I could join you somewhere," she offered.

Zack grimaced in the lopsided mode that signalled he was several sheets to the wind already. "Still on that taking your own car kick. Okay, Zelda. Pete's at quarter-to-twelve but you have to change clothes."

It was a chickenshit thing to do but she went to the mall rather than risking her own place, not even a drive-by to see if the porch was being emptied or what. She picked a sexy pink sundress with ruffles on sale at Goldwater's, tied on a pair of white espadrilles and, with her jeans, dirty sneaks and "Support Your Right to Arm Bears" teeshirt stuffed in a shopping bag, wandered through the cosmetics and perfumes department - so hushed and so fragrant - sampling colors and spritzing colognes. Bourgeois as hell but this was where she felt like Holly at Tiffany's: Nothing bad could ever happen here.

Scents later, in a dim adobe space redolent of chile, she was eating dragonmouth salsa with a spoon while playing "Boredom," matching the noun with outrageous adjectives as she had since high school but, for spice, writing in funky International Phonetic Alphabet signs. She could idle a few minutes, having solved her most pressing work-puzzles in transit - courtesy of the invisible hand that somehow wrote in the dark while she was driving. It also came up with particularly good bits when she made up her face, and never quite stopped fiddling with words except on a dancefloor.

Zack came barreling into Pete's like White Rabbit, bursting through time even faster than she did. You could practically hear the stuff ripping. Given that time was essentially opaque, that made it a substance: in her mind, a grey moire fabric.

"Pestiferous conclusion," she greeted him. "It's an inkety-dinkety," she added -- meaning each rhyming word had three syllables.

"Hm," Zack mused, then hailed "Nurse!" at a waitress, scarfed some chips, dribbling salsa on his tie, and answered her: "Verminous terminus."

"That's today: End-of-the-line time. Bill the Bruiser's lying in wait to evict my resident bastard. Or maybe the rodent's already come and gone, I should be so lucky. I think I'll throw another divorce party. I did one in Dallas, balloons in the trees, it was gala."

Momentarily possessed by some ancestral ghost of propriety, Zack lowered his brows at her. "I can't approve of a divorce party," he said solemnly, as though she'd asked for his imprimatur. Such a weird mix of convention and unconvention, he suffered from a background very much like her own. If she'd been a guy born close to twenty years sooner, she'd be Zack, more or less; hence, he always served as an illuminating negative example. Unless she watched out, certain things she might have thought would never happen to her could actually come to pass - and, knowing this, she'd begun to do a little, admittedly just a little watching out.

"Oh you're just sore you didn't think of it first! Don't act so shocked anyway; it's unbecoming in the oft-divorced."

Zack had to laugh at that. Last year he'd read the term "oft-married" in some celebrity's obituary and fallen in love with it. He'd far rather be remembered as The Oft-Married Mr. Martineau, he said, than the seldom or never. She had to concur; it was a rush getting people to want you.

"I'm not aware of any rules for successive divorce festivals but, if you like, I won't wear white."

"Your nailpolish lasts longer than your relationships."

"But I don't use nailpolish. Can't keep it on."

"Just proves my point." Zack inspected her hands while placing their drinks order and resisted releasing them. "Wanna fuck?"

"Control yourself --"

"God you ask for a lot, Bitch. I can deal with your demands for intellectual rig-ah, but now you want emotional discipline, too. I don't know why I bother with you. You're a pain in the ass, you are."

"How's Helena?"

"Almost as big a pain in the ass as you," Zack sulked, finally letting go of her fingers. "Besides, you're not supposed to ask me about my girlfriends. You're supposed to beg me to take you back. Throw yourself at my feet, Zelda. No, higher --"

"Will you settle down please?" This was shaping up to be a Kinghell Interlude, not one of their groovy times talking books philosophy theatre, past accomplishments relationships outrages. "Act nice or I'm gone."

"You're no fun anymore, no fun no fun." The aging enfant-terrible's head began to droop ominously toward the little copper-topped table, so she kicked and Zack revived to grab his vodka and look around. "Huh huh -- ah, there's my old pal Alec and my buddy Frank, and there's Glori, hey Guys!"

As the room filled, mostly with agency types being entertained on trade by media types, she recognized many of the new arrivals, too - from folksy Ad Club meetings that invariably began with introductions and from the Press Club bar. Pete's was a communications community sanctuary at noon, so people smiled indulgently or pretended not to notice when Zack nodded off. He'd been one of their stars and, crumbling now, he was still revered, a living monument to Talent. It wouldn't be thus in Dallas, where faux-pas hit the drums instantly and spread in all damaging directions by sundown.

Glori Winters, who used to work for Zack's agency but sold airtime now and was president of Ad Club, ran over to sit in his lap. Even without knowing her well, you could tell Glori was more of an angel though she wore a gold necklace that spelled Bitch.

"I've got a pillow right out in my car," Glori volunteered.

"And I have a blanket."

"You want us to tuck you in, Zack?"

"Sure if you'll both get in with me."

"He is so bad. You're so bad!" Glori punched Zack and giggled. Hers was the best giggle in town -- like tossing bouquets, no lashing the room with soft streamery daisy-chains, -- and she laughed at everything, which made people feel witty and of course act even funnier. No wonder everyone was crazy about her.

"I'll tell you who's bad. This one." Zack pointed an accusing fork. "She's over here planning her third divorce party."

"Factual error. Third divorce, only second party."

Glori adored the divorce party concept, giggled like mad and promised to bring fireworks. Watching Glori cross the room to meet the group of gals who went practically everywhere with her, she realized she might get to be friends with them. They were a little older and obviously straight, but they were mostly divorced and you could see that they liked to cut loose. That was the set to belong to and maybe she could.

"Why'd you call me today anyway?" she remembered to ask Zack and it turned out he wanted her as talent for a TV spot. Since the client didn't conflict with any of Dana's, she agreed to do it -- on trade for a playroom-scale bed Zack had replaced with one even bigger. New-bed-buying was his principal post-divorce ritual and he'd recently finalized a longdrawnout deal with the last wife he'd driven berserk, his third or fourth. He thought of relationships as rollercoasters and said you don't Just Get Off. At least to hear Zack tell it, this woman normally wouldn't say boo to a goose -- he called her an alpha, interchangable by contrast to omega absolutes -- but finally she lost it completely, pounded him with some thick pipeline of a curtain-rod and split. If true, it was understandable.

Having sold hers before she left Texas, bedroom furniture was tops on the current to-get list. Since last week, when she threw Robert's ridiculous mat-thing on the screen-porch, she'd been using Evan's lumpy trundle. A real bed would be heaven, and she knew exactly where to put it - not where the stupid mat went when it wasn't hanging from wall hooks but beside the big back window. Almost as satisfying as dancing on his grave would be screwing on the Precise Spot where Robert sat and sat and Sat so self-importantly each morning doing his meditation number. With him as testament to how that enhanced your consciousness, one might as well take up vivisection instead. Smoking weed every day for a decade hadn't done Robert any good either. It wasn't simply that she'd grown up and he hadn't; his disposition had totally altered. During undergrad days inFort Worth, he was the gentlest, the most giving. Strange strange.

In no hurry to dare the homefront, she let Zack keep feeding her aquarium-sized Margaritas. With speed in her system, all the tequila did was level her off. Well smoothed-out, she eventually phoned her place for an update.

"He took it pretty good once Bill got him loaded," Val drawled, audibly in Space City. "Couldn't dig why you're scared to see him though." They're out hauling his stuff to -- someplace. Lawyer thing's set for - I believe it's tomorrow. Bill'll make sure he shows up. Good, huh?"

"Hot damn. You folks are so great, thanks."

"S'nothing. We wouldn't leave you when -- you know. Oh Robert said tell you he'll transfer to U.T. next term. Like the town's not big enough, wow. And he left you this weird note in quote-marks, here it is. 'He had loved too much demanded too much and worn it all out.' Can you dig it?"

"Oh for pity's sake."


"So he wrote me this note quoting Hemingway," she told Zack and Glori, who was about to leave and came back over to tell them goodbye. "Can you even believe it? This lazy faux-bodhisattva mean-motherfucker Texas-farmboy pedant exits citing Hemingway at me."

While Glori swung a garland-gale of laughter, Zack ordered drinks again and insisted that Glori had to stay for one more.

"Ooh, what's this?" Glori giggled, noticing the "Boredom" pages, so she explained how you could signify any sound in I.P.A. and showed Glori how to write her name in it -- but cautioned her never to do it in Mexico.

Hearing the story of how she'd been studying some lines in Norwegian dialect on vacation and nearly didn't get home because dumb Mexican border guards thought I.P.A. was Cyrllic, took her car apart and almost arrested her as a Russian spy, Glori completely broke up and made her repeat the tale when others gathered -- hummingbirds to merriment-syrup. A Glori-chum, the sleek classy Margo who was an account exec for Dread Dana, proved to be Nothing Like That away from the office. Not a bit plastic, she poked suitable fun at Dana's rahrah inanities and cheap Barbiedoll hairdo; she'd been worrying about Paula's sad crush on Terry, too.

Margo had to leave before long or Dana'd flip out, but scads of other people previously known only professionally or very casually came into definite even-more-likable focus after several tables were shoved together and somebody ordered champagne. Amazingly they were such allies; they talked business in the most human way, without badrapping anybody except those who were truly beyond the pale -- like idiot-savant Dana and that Eckland bozo whose campaigns were so pitiful Glori figured his clients stayed because he had pictures of them fucking goats or something.

It was a highly inbred industry, in which everyone had worked with or for everyone else and might easily do so again, but that was only part of the trip. There was a sparkling vast web of connections among them that you had to call one of Those New Mexico Things. Though it had to do with skiing and boating and camping and partying together, it had more to do with a passion for the openhearted underpopulated overwhelming place that enthralled them. Of course they knew they'd be better rewarded materially Anywhere Else, but wouldn't think of leaving. They were drawn here, held here by the same force that summoned Benrimo Dasburg O'Keefe, the same force that beckoned an Art Deco heiress to marry an Indian chief, the same force that kept pulling in hippies and healers.

Griff, the cute video director who'd been lighting her cigarettes, frequented pueblo dances and discoursed on the mystic thrills of hang-gliding. Porcelain Anne, who sold printing, liked hiking Sandia at sunset and flew hot-air balloons. Media buyer Judy haunted Taos art galleries and was getting into river-rafting. Designer Ingrid was also an symphony cellist, as well as an expert on petroglyphs and mission churches, and Vince -- so deceptive in his media rep pinstripes -- was an ex-acidrocker in the Bay Area scene who now got off on long wilderness backpacks. Even Frank, a station manager of advanced middle-age, wore a crystal on a chain, went camping by motorcycle and spoke of psychic energy in the hot springs. These guys did the work-of-the-world yes, but essentially they were just bigger kids on licit drugs -- well mostly licit; Griff, that very good-looking really extraordinarily sexy one, had some coke in his car and, as time rolled and stories unfolded, took her outside for a toot.

If such were possible, she wanted even less to go home now. Traitorous, she was visioning lanky Val trashed out all over the sofa, fat Bill organizing some dope deal, their baby teething and howling about it, an ashtray full of seeds, a roach-clip and probably a rig by the art books on the coffee table. There was a lot to be said for the Champagne Way.

When the final handful of hardcore stragglers emerged, a hot splutter of drizzle was falling -- one of the summer's last thirty-minute afternoon rains, only moisture they'd get until snowmelt from the mountains next springtime. As Griff watched with the charmed look new guys like to put on, she whirled in the steamy mist, pulled off her shoes and stamped puddles. Damp, she felt inspired to get Really Wet, so she headed for a swim at Brad's. He was in the studio shooting solar collectors, tricking them up with gels and a star-lens, so she stripped off and dived in alone. Water was warm as the rain, warm as smiles jokes flirt-gazes work-praises she'd been bathing in at the restaurant. What a kick, it was perfect how well she'd fit in; she'd fit fine as when Brad's pool-surface opened to take her. It was like their big happening had an immediate vacancy in the role of Wildchild Superachiever -- her favorite -- which it frankly did, now that Zack had aged and marinated himself out of the part.

Counting her first fifty laps, she considered roles-versus-goals again. There were role-people and goal-people, as she and Zack had decided -- arriving at one of those supersimplistic category statements one feels a bit guilty about but proud of (like her long-held distinction between Kids and People Who Have Kids). Goals, they thought, were far too formulaic; they ran you through a tight tunnel with no space for adventure, no sidetrips, no leeway. Roles on the other hand Opened Out with all the freedom of a leitmotif, just enough structure for improvisation. That's how they'd called it, anyway, glad to be role-people. Yet Zack – Lordy look at him -- kept playing Icarus Charred and Damn Proud of It, with no variations in sight.

A second fifty got swum, their numbers a mantra behind plans for the party she'd throw in a week or two, once Val and Bill were back on the road and her bedroom was set up nicely. Everyone from today's lunch group was eager to come and she'd have to ask the whole bunch from Dana's, since she wanted Margo, Terry and Paula; maybe Paula'd meet somebody new. There were interesting people she'd acted in some shows with, too, and they'd mesh with the advertising and media types. But what about guys she'd been going out with? Zack, after he got over his gritching, took it for granted that he'd be her date for the event, so she'd emphasized in front of everybody at Pete's that you didn't take specific dates to a divorce party; it was counterrevolutionary. She'd need to explain the same to Brad and Chuck, who belonged on the guest list because Brad worked in the adworld and Chuck, as an editor who also did set design, bridged both circles. Ken and Roger wouldn't work in this particular mix, though -- too subculture; well she'd ask Roger yes, since he played in a band and they could be the music.

Rain had stopped so she hauled herself up the pool ladder and flopped on a rubberband chaise. Patting Brad's cat Shithead, she cancelled the mental order placed earlier with her best freakfriend Monica for those killer-hash brownies that ignited last Fourth of July. Champagne, beer and tequila should do it. With huge pots of chile and posole and plenty of vodka for Zack. Maybe she'd invite Monica and that other tribe some other time.

An earthy goal-person Done for the Day (while she had a long night's work ahead of her), Brad approached wearing his dimple-dotted grin, so stuffedtoyish. Almost everything was "sh" about him: He was soft-bearded soft-spoken shyish boyish -- not your typical photographer except for those sly ultrahighshutterspeed eyes. With a zoom-flash-click flare of a stare, Brad said "yummy yummy," scooped her out of the lounge-chair and jumped into the pool, where they wound up grabbing a quickie in the shallow end. They did that sort of thing for fun, though theirs was actually one of those laidback comfortable completely objective-less friend-deals.

While Brad was telling her "you're such a luxury," she was coming up with a theme for another Ever-Urgent Dana Project and reviewing Brad's remark as the kind that went both ways. It was along the lines of "I've never known a woman like you," and she'd heard that too much to thrill at the sound of it.

After sharing a hookah and -- since Brad was heavily into Balance -- a handful of high-octane vitamin C, she met dolly Evan at his bus-stop.

"He's gone," she told him and they circle-danced down the sidewalk, ending in kisses. She swept Evan's bangs back as she had on the night when she Realized, when he was combing his hair so gingerly because skin beneath was gaping, bloody. Nobody was going to make this kid feel like a pest in his own home again. Nobody'd lay a stupid angry selfish hand on him again.

She said the same thing when she phoned Mary Fran, and then had to grope for the right name when her mom gulped, "Who's gone?" -- sounding panicked as though she'd misplaced Evan.

"Robert," she finally thought of it. "Robert." She giggled so hard at this it hurt.

By weekend, her house was bliss. Quiet was the main thing, no more roundtheclock stereo. At Evan's behest, they did a ceremonial dumping of lentils and granola on Saturday morning and were sprawled on the back terrace with a box of Ding-Dongs when Zack delivered her new -- well more or less new-to-her -- bed.

Arriving early enough that he wasn't blitzed yet, Zack helped her set up the bed, then she read him some celebratory Wakowski poems like "Dancing on the Grave of a Sonofabitch." They had a good long talk after that and he told a story she'd never heard before -- about playing battle correspondent during the war, while the other little boys played at soldiers. She could just see him crouching in that ditch over his toy typewriter, securely role-based already and smart enough to keep the everyday agon in its proper place as grist for commentary. Zack got it right then; now if he could only get back to it.

Of course Zack wanted to launch the bed, as it were, but she had other ideas. That bed was going to be her principal ditch for a while. Past her pillows, the view was tremendous, a Eurostyle downslope of tiled rooves, chimneys and foliage. At evening she watched the pretty frame pale, then rolled over to read -- but not late because tomorrow she'd be leaving very early to waterski with Glori and some of the gals at Elephant Butt. The actual spelling "butte" was purely euphemistic since the lake's major land formation was definitely the ass of a super-large animal.

Reaching to turn off her lamp, she noticed the stone, her talisman, and traced the pink ring New Mexico had thrown around her. Naturally it conjured the concept of The Eternal Return and, while she was on Nietzsche, she reflected on the notion of Amor Fati -- to which she was responding rather differently these days than she used to. The fate-concept wasn't really threatening or even tedious, not if you got that, yes there was destiny but its symptoms were largely something you made up as you went along. By changing roles, you changed the cast and set, essentially the whole production; theme and script changed automatically to spin a different legend of the real.

She wouldn't expect anybody but maybe Zack on an extraclear morning to follow her all the way Out There: to get how all our roles are very strictly speaking Im-Material and our plots are subplots in an ancient circus round with metaphysicals. As she neared sleep, it seemed so totally plain, though. There was a cyclic cinema of happenings in whitespace and it was every bit Legends About Big Words: understanding terror pain and pity art bloodstruggle even love. Words like those, the words that hold destiny, were in fact destiny -- and we craft our own inevitable ways to learn them, that's all. Which makes personal attachments sacred like festival dates coming round with the moon but, in significant measure, utterly silly.

At ground level, of course it was just mint to be free; it was the surprise of bitter almond oil, which smells so much sweeter than sweet. And this go-around she'd try to hold that in mind at least a little longer. No-commitment times were no doubt the best times, as Glori and Margo agreed; they understood what she meant by that all right -- how wild it was cruising high laughing at lovesongs until, Zoop, one turned That Next Corner.

Known in the Trade

The dude driving the red Targa appraised her. "You," he winked, "are what's known in the trade as a powerful woman. And we have quite a dog-and-pony show ready for you. Officers and products all in a row.”

"Long-range projections?"

"Ouch. It isn't real comfy out on that limb."

"You were warned what to expect."

"Not entirely," he grinned, "but I did your numbers." Rick surrendered an envelope from his jacket pocket. "With my compliments."

She slipped the projections into her case. Too breezy for reading. SanFrancisco Bay was frothing toward them on the left, storm-dark, and wind was wild in general, not just in Rick's car. A downpour was brewing and you could judge by the hills that it hadn't been long since the last rain. Some severe drought; another media exaggeration. This was a safe thing to be thinking about while riding with Rick Agron, marketing man for the deal she'd flown in to look at. No more than six or eight years older than she, Rick couldn't be past his mid-thirties -- which made him a kid compared to everyone else she’d met in connection with Sam McGrath's projects, aside from a few little brokers in assembly-line suits and Rick wasn't their kind. His clothes, like his wheels, were upscale freestyle; he had a model's face, too, and a taut body. Not safe to think along those lines. Ages since she was this close to a guy under forty-five; quite some time since she'd been with Sam, either. The McGrath power clung, though, high-carat as the jewelry Sam gave her, so Rick wouldn't dare make a pass unless she pushed it - which she instantly ruled out when he put in a tape and it was Stevie Wonder.

The deal was practically a startup but very sexy with plenty of tech and more multinational potential than Sam's last medical offering. He could move this puppy for sure. Puppylike, too, the officers almost drooled while she interviewed, played with products and studied financials. No wonder: If she liked their deal and Sam did it, they'd be paper millionaires pronto, even richer when the quiet period expired and her report could be published.

It wasn't exactly what she'd set out to do with her life but more or less fun. More fun before Sam got so squirrely, always off in the highest branches, skittering and leaping. He was quite the Industry Celebrity these days; he'd been opening offices all over and she'd gotten him loads of publicity. Used to be they got to play sometimes, mostly in Vegas. No need to act all-business there; you could just dissolve into the scene. Of course Sam had been married for a thousand years but the real problem was how he worked thirty-hour days, promising to be in ten places at once and not delegating, which resulted in Constant Crisis now that he was spread so thin. Though he knew better, he couldn't seem to do better.

What she was up to today was a Major Priority, so she had no trouble getting through to Sam. Not much trouble, anyway. His Denver secretary, Wendy, said Sam was expecting her call in Colorado Springs. He'd left Springs for Vegas, as it happened, so she rang Nevada and June was putting her right through except star-broker Teddy grabbed the line first, looking for a scoop. He was great, he knew everyone and always got her into any show she wanted, but there was no way he was having this news ahead of Sam. Besides it wasn't even a stock he could trade yet.

To do her call, she'd closeted herself in the chairman's office at Omnimed (megalomaniac name but the market would love it) and apparently Sam likewise had privacy. When she said, "Hi, Stranger," he answered, "It's not for want of wanting, Baby. I think about you all the time."

"You have such peculiar ways of showing it."

"Didn't you get my flowers?"

"Sam, I'm in San Francisco," she reminded.

"Terrific town, wish I were with you," he cooed.

"At Omnimed. You sent me, remember?"

"Do I still like it?"

"I'm agreed. It's good for a few bucks a chance."

"Gosh, I want to see you. You getting home tonight?"

"I'm into Albuquerque at nine-something."

"Look for me around ten-thirty."

"You won't come."

"Betcha a quarter." Sam always said that and she laughed along. "Can you help me out on another one?" he asked her. "Synthetic oil deal near Chicago. It's aftermarket, so we'll move fast on the report, faster with highlights to me, right? Mark it confi--"

"--dential, preliminary, company use only, not to be copied,” she recited ponderously. Giggling, she added, “Then I phone it out to the branches, reading slowly and clearly so they can tape every word. Not that anybody would god-forbid sell on that, before a report's public record."

"Can't figure how to control them. Always a few rotten apples jumping the gun."

Over Sam's big mock-sigh she giggled again, finding even his mixed-metaphors adorable. "So how soon do I go?"

"Tuesday? Could wait 'til Wednesday if you're wiped out from Frisco and Pittsburgh. Say, what's in Pittsburgh?"

"No B.F.D. I checked out a silicon stock for some New York folks. I'll be writing something but you don't want a position."

Through the torrent she'd been expecting, Rick drove her back to the airport, where he naturally stuck around to buy drinks. Since "what'd you think, what'd you really think?" was written all over his face, she got a kick out of saying he probably had an underwriter. She kissed Rick goodbye for sheer devilment and before boarding rang Evan to say she was on her way.

"Good. It's been weird this afternoon again, Mom. For the longest time, this car sat by the irritation ditch, lurking. Then another came -"

"Settle down, Sugar. I'm sure it's nothing." Her son was clearly Going Through a Phase, convinced their house was being watched and she was being followed. Probably it had to do with how much she was gone.

"Mom, people don't come way out here unless they've got a reason."

True enough, that. People didn't pop by on a lark when you lived in Corrales, half an hour from the city and then with a Mile of Bad Road between your house and anything paved. That was why she'd moved to the isolated adobe last year; she was simplifying then, shedding lovers because the Sam-thing had gotten intense and she didn't want to hurt him; it was also good for Evan, a place where he and Patapuff could safely run and play.

"I'm worrying, Mom."

"Then do something else for pity's sake. Watch trashy T.V. -- you have my blessing. I'll be there before you know it, Lovey."

"See that you are."

When she got home, Evan was in the living room floor surrounded by electronics impedimenta. Before he was eight he'd built every kit known to God and for the past two years he'd been cannibalizing them for wires and widgets. "This," he said, "is an intrusion alarm for the door, very basic but better than nothing. And this is another car-counter."


"You never remember. The first one's been set up since Sunday, down at the fork in our road. It shows twenty counts already and you've only been back and forth three times, total of six counts. I told you strange cars are coming around."

"We're on a dead-end. Everybody who turns wrong has to loop back -"

"You don't see what I do, Mom, you're hardly ever here. Those cars get nearer than anybody needs to for turning around. When I put this new counter close to the house, I'll prove it."

"Okay, knock yourself out," she said, heading toward a bubble bath, since that was an assignment: homework from her new shrink. Ten whole minutes she had to lie in a tub every day and do nothing. It was rough. Halfway upstairs, she yelled down. "Did Sam ring here Thursday or Friday?"

"You'd kill me if he phoned and I didn't tell you."

"I take it that's no."

"That's no."

Sam, who must've telephoned the office when she was in Pittsburgh, didn't show of course, which made her feel schoolgirlish-foolish for fixing up, working late and falling asleep over files and the phone.

“I tried,” he said when he rang around five a.m. from a hotel in Utah. “Next break I get, scouts' honor,” he promised.

"Are these all my messages?" she asked Shannon in the morning. "I think a call slipped through the cracks late last week. Sam McGrath?"

"Not while I was in." Shannon tilted a meaningful nod toward the agency art room. Artists not only didn't make notes, they never read any. No use leaving a while-you-were-fucking-off slip for Ingrid or Bert; you had to hold them by the elbows, stare deeply into their eyes and speak slowly, just to convey that some blueline was ready to view. In Shannon's absence, one of them must've plucked up a phone like it was a field-daisy and chirped, "Sorry, not here; I believe she's in Pittsburgh."

On the long redwood picnic table that she used for a desk were the flowers Sam mentioned yesterday: yellow roses with a card that said "Thanks! Neat stuff." In her big wicker chair were the latest objects of his gratitude, two features on his company that had just come out in the financial press. Those photos really got her. There was Sam grinning Aw Shucks behind his status-desk at Denver headquarters and there he was, again again again, posed with new branch managers in Santa Fe and Aspen and outside the original Albuquerque office. He'd gone from one to nine locations in less than two years.

"You saw the tearsheets," Shannon burbled, dashing in with coffee. What Shannon lacked in expertise was made up in raw terrible energy.

Between swigs from a handy Pepto-Bismol bottle, she smiled in return. "Good positioning.” Had the clips been stacked anywhere else in the room, chances of running across them within the next week ranged from negligible to none. It was hurricane country.

Shannon bounded at the articles. "Let me show you this, here it is, I love this! They're asking him the secret of his success, right, and he says 'I do it with mirrors.'"

That was Sam, all over. Cute. Whimsical. It was all a game for him -- but one he meant, without question, to win. After a laugh with Shannon, she waved the girl out and studied Sam’s pix again while steaming her sinuses open with the coffee mug. That sterling hair over his still fairly young-looking face knocked her out like his style did -- his on-top-of-the-world clothes, classic cars, airplane and how he joshed about his toys, downplaying everything, but when he walked into a room you expected to hear Wagner.

There was another side to Sam, though hardly anybody ever saw it. On the nights when he appeared at her door - asking, "Are you taking in boarders?" - Sam joked for a while but finally let down. Usually she’d be working on the floor, so Sam would stretch out beside her and her paper-piles in his some-thousand-dollar suit, exhausted. He was just her man then and she made him feel better. He did the same for her, of course. Nobody could rub a back like Sam did, beginning with your fingers and ending with toes as he'd learned in the Orient.

Sam could kick back around his lawyer-friend Gerald, too, and his minor partner Cal; traveling or hanging out with them was a relief since they both knew Sam loved her now, not Trish. Not that Trish wasn't pretty. Their paths had crossed at several business parties and Sam's wife looked fine for a gal in her forties. But she and Sam had nothing in common except grown-up kids, since Trish wasn't bright and only liked to play tennis and spend money. Happily for her she had plenty, including lots of her own - according to Cal - and another pile coming when her famously wealthy aunt cashed it in. Cal said outright Sam would never leave Trish. Gerald said he doubted it.

Lawyers always hedged, as Gerald had taught her to do when she first got into writing securities analysis. You couldn't say something "will" happen, for instance. Gerald okayed "may" or "could" but, with her experience in P.R. and advertising, she'd come up a better formula. Much more sizzle stayed in when you used phrases like "is expected to" occur, that it "should according to management," "looks most likely at this time" or "is anticipated/projected," etc. In a grillion ways you could make exciting predictions without getting anyone's ass in a sling, but nobody else had cracked the code on how to do it. While other analysts were still putting out dry "may" and "could" reports, about as enticing as the average prospectus or Radioactive Waste sign, she was being introduced at New York dealer parties as "the one who can make shit sound like gold." Good thing she was getting popular up East, actually, since there'd been surprisingly little work from Sam lately -- until his Frisco deal and whatever he was cooking in Chicago.

Compared with doing that kind of research and writing, it was the grandfather of bores to churn out ordinary copy -- spots, print ads, local news releases, brochures -- but those jobs were piled up, in fact looming. She turned Sam's pictures over, snorted a little crank and buzzed Shannon. "I'm going into hibernation, so no calls but emergencies or Sam."

"You know what, I want to meet him, I really really do."

"You know what, Shannon? Me too."

"Huh? Oh, you're joking! Remember production at ten-thirty."

Shitshitshit. Where was her head, anyhow? If Shannon got past her, something was Gravely Amiss. It was Sam of course. He'd disappeared himself for months, gone for weeks without calling and then the snerd talked to her twice in eleven hours, making the misery fresh.

"What am I producing?"

"La Paloma, two radio thirties it says here, at Johnny's."

It took about as long to uncover that file as to script the spots and time them. With a Valium to take the edge off the crank and a quick copy approval by phone from Carlos, she was on her way.

"This is hot!" Johnny was laughing his head off at the control board, she could see through the glass of the booth. "Got your mike set? Give me a level."

"For thees, we weel be doing lahteen voices. I'll do an Aldonza; you be sort of a Ricardo Montalban."

Johnny cued up the bed and they took a timing, reading in rhythm with the funky tango music. "You mean you haven't done the chimichanga!?" he began.

"You mean you haven't done the guacamole? -- just a sec, I need a cigarette for my cough."

"You're not getting pneumonia again, are you?"

"I wouldn't consider it."

Johnny insisted on making her tea. He was a damn good pal and as far as she could remember the only one of her advertising buddies that she hadn't slept with. This was a guy she sincerely wouldn't mind having if his lady Lucia would let him be cloned.

In another ten minutes they had a couple of keepers, more award-winners Johnny was sure. Together, they always managed to corner the radio category, which thrilled her tons more once-upon-a-time than now. While he mixed and dubbed, she settled into the action-gap, sprawling on Johnny's studio carpet where she felt safe as Sam did at her place.

As Johnny tangoed her toward the door, a call came through from Shannon, who'd heard from Sam's secretary about the Chicago arrangements.

"Confirm it for Tuesday, fine, but Sam's got to sit still long enough to give me some background between now and then."

"Wendy says you need to talk to Cal Lincoln and Teddy Myers for that."

Cal, who ran Sam's Albuquerque office, wasn't far from the studio, so she headed straight over – hoping that, besides coaching her on Sci-Fuels, he could throw some light on what was going on with Sam. Way up in his fifties, Cal loved playing Dutch Uncle; sometimes she even sat in his lap.

After getting a file from him on the faux-oil deal, she asked about Sam and Cal held out a hand, drew her onto his knee. "Know how that rascal always says y'deserve better? Kid, y'do. I don't get what he's honestly up to – ever -- but Sam's been, I hate to say but he's with a different gal ever'time I'm in Denver. And there's Meg. He sees Meg."

She didn't know which to answer first: "Meg, that horse-faced woman in accounting!" or "Sam's started fucking around in Denver, in his own backyard?" What came out was, "Is he out of his mind?" - which pretty well subsumed both other reactions.

"Looks that way t'me."

"Damn him," she cried on Cal's shoulder. Right in this room she'd met Sam, damn him; she'd come to do an interview, he was on the phone and, while she waited, she sank a killer-long putt. God, how he stared at that and at her legs when they were talking. Then she'd been perfectly happy dating him and a half-dozen others. Damn Sam anyway; he was the first to say love.

"You tell me something, I'll tell you something" was how she put it to Teddy when she phoned. In exchange for first update on Sci-Fuels, which he was already peddling in a small way, he told her Sam had been bringing Meg to Vegas and two others he knew of, plus picking up a showgirl now and then.

"Don't take it too much to heart," Teddy recommended. "They're just babes. He doesn't treat them like you." Some comfort; well, maybe it was.

"So what do you think's happening, Teddy?"

"Frankly? Don't quote me. Bad case of swelled-head, that's what I think. Half the time I can't get through to the Big Wheeler-Dealer myself. Left a message today that worked, though. 'I talked to God this morning, can I talk to you this afternoon?' He called right back. It's temporary insanity, Sam'll get over it."

"He's in Denver? That's where you got him?"

"Right-o. Take care, Doll, and remember you owe. Buzz me Wednesday."

Humor was the answer, maybe. She could send Sam a mirror with a message lipsticked on it: "Perhaps as you insist you're doing it with mirrors; you're sure as hell not doing it with me."

She spent a wretched afternoon, wrestling with copy that didn't want to get written and putting three calls in to Sam, then left the office and found her car locked. Funniest thing, she thought while fumbling for keys. Evan was getting her trained, it looked like; she'd locked up outside Johnny's studio, too, and come to think of it maybe at Cal's. She didn't remember actually doing it.

"You're getting to me," she told Evan at home. "I've been locking the car all day long."

"I should hope so."

"Hell's bells, Evan, stop! You're not eating hotdogs!"

"Um-hum, I rode my bike to the store."

"All those nitrates and nitrites -"

"You're a fine one to talk about chemicals. Besides, those warnings are dumb. Next thing they'll be telling us 'Caution, this product has been proved to cause mild headaches in laboratory rats!'"

She poured herself a scotch. "So -- any suspicious action on your traffic counters?"

"Not yet, but I just got the new one installed an hour ago. What's wrong, Mom? You look –“

"Later, Babe." She fogged up the stairs and tried again to organize a brochure for Solaron. Nothing doing. Although it crossed her mind to phone one of the guys she'd been dating last year, what would be the use? Sam had her hooked worse than she'd known. Because of its connection with him, her only immediate connection, she flipped through Cal's file on Sci-Fuels and a scribbled note from Sam fell out: "Nail 'em for numbers! Gosh I miss you." Then she couldn't help calling Denver once more; she who couldn't reach her own mother without a phone-book punched in Sam's private nights-and-weekends number from memory. When Meg answered, she hung up; Sam had her message now for sure.

Evan came up with a sandwich she didn't want, so she sent him down for the scotch and took it onto the balcony, dragging the phone along though she knew that was stone-crazy, pathetic. City lights were twinking on in the distance while the sky greyed and looked so softly suede-y that she thought of rubbing it the other way; the whole view might disappear, go where Sam went or where he'd sent her. Down the road she saw a pair of headlights moving nearer; no, she only thought she did because they were gone in a sec.

Great, she was losing her mind. Some Powerful Woman.

Clomping up the stairs again, here came Evan. "I was looking out the window. Somebody's out there."

"The whole world's out there. And we're in here. So chill, willya?"

"Take a walk with me. You need to see this."

"Why not?" she shrugged, then put her shoes back on and gave the telephone a slap for being so disinterested.

It was kind of nice, hearing crickets and frogs she hadn't bothered listening to for ages. Nice swinging Evan's hand, even if he was being too silly.

"See down the ditch that way, Mom. There's a big shadow."

"Right now the whole world's one big shadow – well, our time zone and eastward a lo-o-o-o-ong way."

"Mother, you're raving."

"Oh dear kindly forgive me."

"Sssh! Now. Listen to that, and the shadow's moving."

Indeed there was an engine sound and it was getting Loud Louder. No headlights shining anywhere. With moon enough to see the plank bridge, barely, she shoved Evan through the weeds and across the irrigation ditch without a moment's thinking. Close behind, a dark car slowed, then sped by and, on the side where they stood, a jogger appeared out of nowhere. He seemed like a jogger at first but wasn't dressed to run or even a neighbor.

Though the guy just kept running along the other bank of the canale, never giving a glance in their direction, Evan shook and was practically crying as they crossed the board again – too upset to say, "Now do you believe me?" until they were back inside the house with the door bolted.

"We saw a car without lights and a stranger out running. That doesn't necessarily mean a thing, but I want you to be very careful."

Within ten minutes the phone rang. It was Gerald. "It's Ingrid about a logo we're doing," she told Evan. "Think I'll have my bath while I visit with her.

"What the fuck's going on here?" she asked Gerald once the water was running. "Straight story."

"Okay, here's the nickel version. Some guys in black hats are -- looking for Sam's cooperation and they figure you're the way to get at him. It'll cool down."

"Like when?"

"When they're convinced you aren’t important. In the meantime Sam put white hats on the case. He didn't think you needed to know, but he changed his mind tonight. Just watch out, that's all. Keep your distance from Sam and don't get goofy. Help us take care of you."

"Recap: Do I have it right? Sam has people following people who're following me? Geez-Louise, I love a parade. How bad is this, Gerald?"

It took a beat or two for him to answer. "The black hats and white hats are both very professional. But if black hats know white hats are always around, it defeats the purpose. Sam's heroes can't stick to you like bodyguards.” After another pause, Gerard added, "It isn't a risk I'd minimize. What more can I say? Except Sam's mad as hell for you to be in this. He's sick about it."

She thrilled her mom and Evan by letting him pay a second visit to Texas that summer; she had him on a plane by next-day noon and started going out, Running Wild but there was no Getting Over. Sam hung on her mind like her last poem, lines she replayed to herself at odd moments until the next poem came. Now each moment was odd and and no new work was budding. Besides, Sam was her last poem, its subject and object. Ironically, it had won her a prize, but in those filmlike lit-pix from early summer L.A., Sam was star and director, while she played all supporting roles he liked to cast her in. On scene occasionally as Cool Astute Professional or Schoolgirl Poet Crazylady, mostly she'd just awaited his cues and Big Entrances. Like some medieval woman in the castle turret or Penelope weaving and raveling, she stayed poised/posed for the pledged and impossible Quick Return. And nothing had changed lately. Of course Sam didn't want it this way; it just was.

Now and then, she called Sam's office in the evening, simply to let his phone ring and ring. This conveyed thinking-of-you to Sam -- and from him, too, because Meg never once answered that line again. Their every form of communication was oblique: She worked only with Cal and Gerald on the Sci-Fuels job, which Sam insisted on recommending as a buy, and learned Sam's news through them. Maddening not to hear from him directly, even when Omnimed cleared and could have been sold twice over. Or when an investigation made him wish he'd never heard of the fuels deal. The closest she ever felt to Sam was when a flower told her Keep Being Careful; for months she found a yellow rose in some weird spot from time to time until she finally didn't.

Last of the roses showed up one October morning inside the locked car she'd deliberately left unlocked, night before. Fresh as a hot croissant, the blossom clearly hadn't spent the night at Brad Perry's as she had. There'd been a Dawn Patrol. From the guardians he posted, Sam doubtless knew exactly how crazy her life had been since he dumped her -- but this was what he wanted, surely. She was doing her share to get the heat off and it was working: Evan reported a steady decline in random traffic and she'd noted an increasing paucity of roses. So she had to keep Doing Things Sam's Way.

The act had been wearing in more senses than the obvious: being without Sam and living a lie. Her life had spun out of control, as ever when she had lovers to please. They weren't pleasable. Brad, for example, was attracted by her independence, but now he whined for more attention. Former fan of her energy, Martin was gritching, "Can't you ever relax?" while Vince and Josh -- once mad for her style and brains, respectively -- had decided she looked too flamboyant and sounded like a dictionary. Each spoke of course from his privileged spot at the hub of Known Universe. As she'd explained to Dr. Thayer on one of those Tuesdays, the inevitable complaints and demands, obnoxious enough when her own impulse occasioned them, were even harder to take when she'd been cast to the critics by yet another guy. The standard measure of bullshit was squared.

Hearing the same old broken record that drove her back into Recluse Phase time after time, but this go-around was being played fortissississimo, she drove from Brad's house toward her office, under a bright smog of hot-air balloons. It was fiesta week when hundreds of balloon pilots assembled for competitions on weekdays, mass flights on two weekends. This year she'd scarcely noticed them and today was what, Thursday already? She should remember on Saturday to go out and see them with Evan. At a red light, she scrawled "Balloons" on her calendar, then realized this was nuts.

"Why in blue blazes would I write a thing like that down?" she mused out loud to Shannon. "The damn balloon are subtle as King-Kong, the whole city's watching, just look up and you can't miss them!"

"You need a vacation, Boss," Shannon advised. "Go someplace exotic."

"I'd settle for a week under a bush in Dubuque," she joked but didn't feel flippant. The siren-song of catatonia was luring her to curl up in any corner; there'd be no easing off, though, assuredly no skipping town on caprice amid pre-Christmas rush or the ensuing annual report season.

It was another situation Sam created. When she met him, she'd been a kid, good at writing ads and news but barely out of the subculture; her trips were mainly biochemical. Two years after he'd persuaded her to set up on her own, she had coast-to-coast clients, wall-to-wall employees, floor-to-ceiling award plaques and her "powerful woman" persona. Here she was -- abracadabra -- with serious responsibilities, serious jewelry, semi-serious clothes from midnight sprees in Las Vegas hotel shops. All because Sam made her up and she let him -- which was mostly because she wanted him, and mostly she still did. Maybe soon he'd be around again to help hold the little empire together, keep her mask in place. He'd better.

By November, nearly a month past Last Rose, it seemed safe to begin ditching lovers and Martin was first, dismissed when he threatened her with a dermatology convention in Florida and a stop en route to meet his folks. This freed catch-up time, so she got to work in earnest on the Omnimed report. With their closing date approaching, she fired off first-draft copy and Rick phoned to report significant contracts since they last spoke, which meant revising all projections upward.

"I can shoot you the edit in a day or two," she offered after congratulations.

"Hey, why? Just bring it to closing in Denver. Party's next week."

Next week, she thought as she answered, "Can't come, alas. This time of year I'm up to my ears in alligators at the agency." True enough, but so strange to miss one of Sam's closings. Strange, too, to hear on the radio that Denver got snow yesterday. Sam had phoned last year when first snow fell, thrilled as a kid, and the year before they'd both been in Albuquerque and Sam rushed right over so they could play in it. Soon, again. Soon.

Over the weekend, she found Sam a luscious Christmas gift: a European church window made during the Thirty Years' War. The blue was Chartres blue; the red, ruby red, held real gold; and when the glass was new, dilettante monarchs were studying Cartesian Doubt and Spinoza was a boy. It knocked her out how this prize from the Age of Uncertainty managed to sift through an antiquedom of buyers and sellers into her very own hands. Cleaning the rich little window, she admitted terror. "What if I break it? What if after three fucking centuries I come along and wreck this?"

"Well, you have to wash the thing, Mom. It's utterly filthy,” offered Evan, ever the realist. “But I don't see why you want him to have it."

"Sam gets us special things, doesn't he?"

"I guess. He doesn't ever talk to me, though. Not much. And I know why. He's ashamed of himself."

Frankly that was fact; Sam often said he'd like to know Evan better, but felt guilty for what he was "doing to his mother." Sometimes he raved on about how being selfish, keeping her from "finding the right man."

"He's ashamed," Evan said again, "and he should be. He upsets you. I like Brad best," he went on, "and Josh isn't bad. What'd you get them?"

"I'll think of something."

"Sweaters; you'll get dorky sweaters."

"Enough!" She sank the lower half of the stained glass into a sinkful of tepid water with towels on the bottom. "Now you hold on here while I scrub, and then we'll very slowly turn it over.”

"Why don't you pick somebody else?"

"It isn't that simple, Sugar."

"Why not? Don't you want more?"

"I mean it, enough!" she said, but as she rubbed the grungy rough-wrought leading she was thinking that she wanted lots of more's. More glamor accomplishment accolades adventure power, more love friendship harmony empathy, more peace inspiration solitude. The artisan whose big able hands she could feel in the leading and see in the wide overpainted veining of leaves lived his own singular life whole, but she wanted everybody's. More rest along with more recklessness. More glitter along with more graciousness. More than he could give from Sam, who'd made his pledges to Mammon and Trish back when she was making mud-pies. Or more than she could imagine - almost more than even she could imagine - from somebody more like Sam than she'd met yet. And more, always, from herself than seemed possible, at least to her shrink who kept drilling at her: "There are only so many one hundred percent's."

The window survived her ministrations and was boxed, gift-wrapped, left waiting beside her bed when Monday she took a congratulations card and careful note to Cal, so he could deliver them to Sam at the party.

"Sam wanted ya at closing, Kid," Cal told her, "but investigators are up there. Best they don't see ya."

"You know I didn't want to write that Sci-Fuels garbage."

"Yeah, Kid. That's where they took hold, but now they're peeking under all the carpets. Sam's trying to keep you outa it. So don't put yourself in it, got that?"

"Loud and clear. Um, about the – other thing? You heard?”

"Yeahyeah, it’s handled. Certainly did your part," Cal chuckled, "real good."

"Pardon me if I don't receive that like an Oscar."

She swirled her cape on and started to go, but Cal said, "Wait up, Kid. Dammit this is hard for me to say, but we better sit down with some report files one day soon, anything y'got, figure out dates, notes, handwriting, who said what, who knew what when, clean up what needs it. Real soon."

"Whatever's right, Uncle Cal."

"It's to cover your ass as much as ours."

Sam finally phoned her office in mid-January, once he knew a subpoena was on its way. To his credit, he didn't want her to get it cold or hear about it from anyone else. She'd have to turn over several files and give a deposition, he said, but lawyers would prepare her and be there.

"Sounds scary, Sam."

"Nah, not for you. Just a couple of main things to remember. When they ask where you got your information, it's from the subject company. And when they ask where your opinions came from, they're your own. Nothing comes from us but checks. That's what old Gerald here tells me."

"'Gerald here'? Oh, you have him there in Denver -"

"He's got me here in town. 'Til tomorrow so, uh, after we get done tonight, could I - would it be okay for me to come see you? Don't blame you if you turn me down flat. Probably you should. I'm a sonofabitch."

"Not to me."

"Most of all to you. But I never meant to be, honest."

Sam was on her doorstep at eight-sharp with a shy smile and presents. "Are you still taking in boarders?" he said and it was tricky to hug him because he had so much already in his arms: champagne, flowers, a darling sapphire bracelet and, for Evan, a huge electronics set with photovoltaics.

Sam's gifts used to be a real problem for her; she refused them resolutely until the boot episode broke her. Two winters ago, she'd mentioned she couldn't find boots small enough, so Sam had a friend who owned department stores fly in every size-four from the other locations. When Sam came by that snowy Saturday, so proud of his surprise and wanting her to keep them all, she had to give in and choose a pair. He was so tickled to see her wear those that she could never tell him no again.

As Sam fastened the bracelet on her wrist, Evan was swooning, "That's so beautiful!" Sam shook his head. "Nah, it's okay. Your mom's beautiful."

"Mom's got something neat for you, too. Can I watch him upwrap it, Mom? Let me go get it. I'll retire to my room immediately thereafter."

"Be careful."

"I'm always careful. I love what you brought me, too, Sam. Thanks very much," Evan said, then he hauled his new gear upstairs to play with and brought the stained glass down.

Of course Sam liked the window and he liked even better the poem she'd wrapped with it, about the different ways we keep things or they keep us. She'd realized while writing that a few things, mostly fragile, keep themselves forever for us, magically beyond neglect or awe.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sam asked when they were headed for bed with the champagne and glasses. "You don't have to, Baby."

"Can we please, kindly for Pete's sake, just have a good time?"

It wasn't strange, being back with Sam; it was like he'd been there yesterday, except the joy almost choked her. By God she hadn't imagined it. When she said that she loved him, Sam tried telling her, "I shouldn't be here, I keep messing you up," but then his eyes went misty and he had to say what he used to. "Boy do I love you, Baby. You're better'n bubblegum."

While they were cooling off, she fired the champagne cork off the balcony into moonlit tumbleweeds and toasted, "To no goons in my shrubbery!"

Sam rolled over to look at her and didn't say anything but thanks when she handed him wine. She spaced out on her glittercity view a minute, then asked, "How come you didn't tell me what was going down, Sam? Why'd you just disappear yourself that way? It hurt more than anything, ever."

"And what if I told you? I know you. You'd say 'I'm not afraid; we'll raise up on our hind-legs and fight together, nobody can frighten me away from seeing you, those creeps don't scare me' - wouldn't you, huh?"

She climbed back into bed, saying, "Words to that effect. Why not?"

"I'll tell you why not. How do you think I'd feel when those assholes finally caught up with you, and they would, and started carving messages to me right here?" Sam touched her cheek, then trailed his finger down her face and neck, across her chest, around a shoulder. "And here, maybe here?"

"They'd have done that?"

"You bet. I had to get them off you, Baby. However I could."

"Why was it me they were after, Sam? I mean, there are other people - closer to you -"

"Only family and that's going too far. Casual girlfriends, that's not far enough."

"So I was the bowl of porridge that was Just Right. I was the baby bear's chair."

"Nah, you're Goldilocks, and you're just right for me." With his hands wrapped in her hair, Sam pulled her closer to him. "I'm so sorry I hurt you, but it was to keep you from being worse hurt."

In his way that was just right, Sam made love to her again. By contrast, younger guys were tentative, fiddly or they got carried away and hurt you. Sam knew his strength and exactly how to use it. Emphatic right out to the limit, each motion and pressure was both precise and completely unpredictable.

"This is wrong," he moaned afterward. "It's too destructive for you. All my comings and goings."

"Only the goings," she smiled, "but you're here now."

Back-rubbing time came and Sam insisted that she be last, for drifting off to sleep perfectly. While she was massaging, she thought to pose the questions Dr. Thayer made her keep asking herself.

"What are you doing, Sam?" got a businessy response on the first take - he was trying to accomplish this-that-and-yonder - but then he thought again and said, "Running through life too fast."

"What are you feeling?"


"What do you want?"

"I don't know," Sam admitted. Then she asked, "What do you expect?" and he answered, laughing at himself, "To get it."

After he dressed in the morning, Sam watched her getting ready. To her, blue was an insipid color but she wore it today as Sam's favorite and to match her new bracelet.

"That dress is pretty for you. Have I seen it before?"

"There's a lot you haven't seen, but we'll catch up."

He approached to rub her shoulders while she painted on a face. "You look so peaceful today."

"Sure," she giggled. "I couldn't entertain a worry in the world at the moment. Somebody fucked my brains out."

"Don't smile like that, Baby, you melt me."

"So stay melted. I much prefer you melted.

"Honey, we need to talk about this investigation. You want me to level, right, even if the truth is lousy?"

She finished her eyeliner quickly and turned around from the mirror. "I want to know everything."

"Okay then. They're gunning for me. The Sci-Fuels thing only opened the door. It's deals we led on that they're really after. Solaron, Canyon Minerals, Nuc-med. There's not much dirt I know of, but what do I know? No telling what they'll dig up if they keep after it. I barely recognize half my people nowadays, and then there's the other half - Chip screwed us up, for one thing -"

"Chip?" He was Sam's chief trader, somebody he'd totally trusted.

"He did stupid things with nominee names when Solaron came out. If that's all, it's just a fine and slap on the wrist but I don't know what else he's pulled. And there's always inside stuff, some lately in Vegas."

Sam didn't have to detail that. All she'd told Teddy, though, was that she disagreed on Sci-Fuels; she thought it reeked to heaven, but Sam was hell-bent on it. His was the opinion that counted. All it took to move a stock was his support, even the scent of it. That's why leaks on reports didn't matter a damn; movement started before she wrote a word, just based on knowing he planned to issue something. Sam had grown too visible, too successful; he'd become a premium target and it wasn't fair. Sure there were grey areas of money and Sam moved in those at times, but he was no crook. He made profits for people, he wasn't greedy and the company's reports were straight; she'd done proper due diligence. Every scrap of info was first-hand and she believed in all her conclusions and recommendations - with that one exception.

"It'll turn out okay, won't it?"

"I expect to win, I always do." Sam grinned but then turned dead-serious. "If I don't win, I'm not dragging you down with me." He looked out a window to say, "I won't be seeing you much for a while, that's why -"

"You're vanishing on me again? Oh, Sam, no!"

"I won't have you caught in a witchhunt with us, Baby. Just do your deposition like the lawyers tell you and concentrate on your other accounts while I work through my dumb stuff. You'll come out fine, I promise."

"It's you I'm concerned about. I'm not afraid of the fucking S.E.C., which has no authority over me whatever. I looked into it yesterday."

"That's my smart girl."

"So I know they can't do jack-shit to me."

"They can't fine you, Sweetheart, or grab a license you don't have or throw you in jail, but they can sure as hell bar you from financial writing. And they will if they get us and decide you're on the team."

"But they aren't going to get you!"

"I'm no good to you if they do."

"What? How can you say that? Do you think I give a rat’s ass about what you can do for me, or not do? Sam, I only want you to love me!"

"I know. I meant - you know what I meant. Give me a kiss now. Time to go, I'm behind already. I'll call you later, Baby."

"You won't."

Sam nosed in for his kiss. "Betcha a quarter."

"Truth, Sam." She held his face there in front of her, steady.

"Well maybe not today, today's booked through to midnight. If I can, I'll call you, I'll try -"

"Real truth."

"Real truth?" Sam backed away from her, straightened his tie, ran a comb through his hair, buttoned his jacket over that cute broker-doll vest and adjusted his hanky. Whatever he did, she kept staring him down - startled to see him looking like other people, not solid unshakable monumental a stele an obelisk.

"Real truth," she insisted.

It came out in a whisper. "I'll be trying my damndest every day and night not to call you. I've done you enough harm for one lifetime."

"That, Sam McGrath, is a crock!"

"Maybe. Maybe I'll feel different when this mess is over."

"Yeah, then you'll move on to the next one!"

"Smartass." Sam smiled diagonally, elflike. "See, I'm no good for you."

"Let me be the judge of that, can't you? Oh God, Sam!" She ran at him, kissed him, held onto him. "Don't leave me!"

Across the top of her head, Sam was telling her, "You like this kind of work, Baby, and you're good at it. I want you to use that for you and Evan. That's what you need to do. Yeah, pull yourself together now, Smart Girl. That's it, that's right. You can handle what you have to."

Sam curled her fingers around the grip of her briefcase and, when he led her downstairs, she just stepped along with his chanting: "We got things to go and do now. We got people waiting. You're a pro now, Sweet Baby. You're a tiger. You're known around, you got a reputation."

Caught Bird Dream

From the time when the bells in the cloud on the mountain rang so strong you'd forget that there wasn't a mountain, she had a butterfly hairclip, ceramic, its surface so soft with the old flying dust she could almost fly now. She drew back one side of her still-very-long hair and clamped it in there, this gift from Laurel, first of the butterfly tribe. Posed before her antique bedroom mirror in Corrales, New Mexico, she pondered. Would Tim like the stoned butterfly? Presumably, since most people did and he was into nature, even professionally.

She fluffed on more blusher and proceeded to wonder about Laurel: Where the fuck was she these days? Last-heard-from circa l975, Laurel Fairhaven had been cooking with her old man at Esalen, where hash in everything effected Encounter; initially encountered, she'd been Mid-Sixties New Kid in Class, Unprecedented Untanned Californian. Coastal flying dust blew inland with Laurel; by the time Grayson Texas Grownups stopped beautifying Main Street long enough to piffle, "It couldn't happen here," it had.

Tim's oceanliner of a car was approaching outside -- she could hear a big engine, dogs barking -- so she hurried to stuff one more book into the one dead corner of her suitcase. Mark Twain because he'd stayed where she and Tim were going, but then where hadn't Twain been?

"Let Tim in, okay, Babe?" she yelled out her door to Evan. "I'll be down as soon as I ring Leah at the office. No, send him up here."

"Yes, Ma'am," her son called back. "I live to serve."

"Like hell." She grabbed him into a hug at the top of the stairs; Evan was displeased at being left behind, but used to it after all her business travels. Even in town, she wasn't home a lot. "It's been a thousand years since I did a trip for fun. You don't begrutch me, do you?"

"I don't begrutch," Evan sighed, but with a twinkle for their pet nonword from Steinbeck. "You need a vacation. Look at you!"

"Thanks, Charmer." It was true she was pretty crisp, worn thin from being such a workaholic until lately. Now she didn't feel she vanished when she wasn't being productive, but there was still too much to do.

"You look pretty, Mom, just tired. Get a good rest."

"Next time you and Jamie'll come with us."

Evan, who quite liked Tim's son, answered, "Right. That'd be really great." Tim was ringing the bell by then, so Evan ran on down.

"Under control," Leah said twice with twin chuckles. She hadn't needed any reminder about checking color seps at the printer's or Fed Ex-ing new dubs to Denver today; everything urgent was handled, yes handled already by darling capable curlytopped Leah of the Peaseblossom grin. What relief to have somebody that good as second-in-command.

Tim bounced in -- tall, tanned, beaming -- so she bliss-tilted into his arms, into eau-de-expensive-leather-jacket as usual. While she was giving Leah the hotel name and number, just in case, he swirled her off the floor and telephone cord wound round and round them. It was extra-long so she could stay in motion to accomplish any upstairs-thing and even go down and switch phones.

Tim raised the wire riata over their heads and chided, "You're not tagged yet, Sunshine." It wasn't in a domineering way, because Tim's voice was a size too small to fit him and it was tendril-y, floral, a vine you'd overwinter in a greenhouse. And he had on his kittycat smile.

She followed his gaze to her suitcase, but teased anyway. "Oh, they're letting me fly now without visible instructions."

"Your luggage, My Lady."

"It stays by my warm side." From being on the road so much when she was continually visiting Sam McGrath's offices, the firms he brought public and others he made markets in, she knew not to check baggage. At best it slowed you down; at worst it went missing. She explained to Tim how she'd learned to live for a week out of a carry-on and briefcase.

"You're planning to schlep this load all the way to Maui?"

"Laden like a pack-animal, yes. Anything I check goes straight to Kansas City, where I've never had occasion to go in my life."

"This time try it again. They don't lose bags anymore."

"They'd lose mine."

They did, too - although not that day, since she insisted on hand-carrying everything as far as Los Angeles, where Tim's parents met the plane. Getting acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. DeBerry was a fearsome enough prospect, without worrying about whether or not she'd have clothes.

Julia DeBerry and Tim Senior presented the sort of shock you get if you're served scotch with soda when you asked for scotch and water. Not like they'd poured you Southern Comfort or something, but just definitely different enough to make you gasp, "No!" Tim Senior was a thundercloud, okay, but spent for the moment, quietly blowing-over, occupying himself with folding enough aluminum-foil banners for everyone to crimp over their sunshades when they went out to the pool. His abeyance left Julia, petty tyrant as predicted, unexpectedly in charge -- and, as far as being artistic, forget it; she talked the game but she'd put ice-blue plush all over her floors since Tim visited last, and he was embarrassed. The house was huge, major-league pricey but wrong and they had to endure two days and nights there in split-level-pachysandra-lawned-kingdom, before migrating en masse to Lahaina, complete not to mention replete with parents and Killer Blond People: sister Alison, brother-in-law Cary, young nieces.

"Just play nod-and-smile-Louise, whatever happens," Tim had been warning her (she never realized How Seriously) since the minute their holiday got planned. For failing to master that act, Tim's ex - the Great Beauty Clarice, Jamie's mother - was more gravely faulted than for screwing Tim's business partner. Somehow the message just didn't sink in though, not in advance. Talk about exes seems pretty lightweight when you have more of them than you'd bother to count on a busy day.

Naturally she and Tim occupied separate rooms at the DeBerrys' place, never mind that he was crowding forty, already mostly grey in the way that turns sable hair sandy; never mind that they were used to waking together at least four days out of seven. The Dawn Event was the best thing about Tim: Up with the birds, always ready, he rose over her like sunlight. Second-best (damn close to first, actually) was his taste.

She adored Tim's Albuquerque townhouse, which was luscious in shades of peach-butter, honey and butterscotch cream, with layers of mirror illusion, honestly lovely art and Major Furniture including elegant cabinets filled with surprising, perfectly irresistible objects. Of course she was herself an object for Tim: equally rare, equally cosetted, gladly conscious of crushed shell on her skin, pink and pearl, every dawn since he'd taught her to see what the salt did. Like almost everyone she knew, Tim was an artist who'd made a bad turn. It was easy to see how; he considered that woman his ally.

It was more or less understandable how the parental DeBerrys kept scrutinizing her like a dubious potential investment, but vile how Julia constantly deplored Tim as if he'd stopped paying dividends and they were forced to hold the stock because his share-price was right in the gutter.

"You're not in shape," were the first words out of her mouth, followed by "I suppose there isn't any real hair-styling talent in Albuquerque."

When Tim brought out his latest designs after dinner, imaginative plans for a park and a high school campus, Julia not only advised creative changes; she also put down public-sector work and asked where the substantial private clients were going. Tim had most of them, too, but didn't brag, even when his mom made nasty cracks about his business acumen vis a vis Cary's. On the topic of kids, naturally Alison and Cary were perfect with their girls, whereas Jamie was alone when Julia phoned last, meaning Clarice let him run rampant and Tim was failing to exert proper influence.

The Guest had to speak out. "Jamie's fourteen and very mature; he's able to be by himself. He's a delightful kid and Tim's great with him."

Nobody answered.

Tim just maintained his kittycat smile, even when Julia unwrapped the etching he'd bought her, glanced and laid it aside with no thank-you. "Caught Bird Dream," it was called; a sparelined cat was the subject. Sidled rightwise, cocking its sleek head to show a proud ecstatic mouthful, it was utterly mugging in Am-I-Not-Sublime? style, smug as any Vogue model. Tim scored it yesterday, an Art Collecting Day, when they'd gone to every Old Town gallery before sunning in a park that Tim sculpted.

"Well, I thought it was a great dream," Tim said.

The Guest spoke again, to reanimate an ongoing debate. "Better than that, Tim! We're talking Real Cat here, its mouth stuffed with Real Big Bird. This cat has captured dream-of-bird, become Cat Ideal. It'd be titled 'Caught Cat Dream,' if that were all the artist had to capture."

Not terribly expensive, just good, the etching didn't reach Julia from either interpretive angle.

"Get me out of here," The Guest whispered to Tim without moving lips, and he did. They drove by the water and stopped at a bar where he ordered Harvey's as usual, her tequila sunrise was too sweet and they couldn't linger long due to plans for tomorrow. First stop would be the Reef of Legend, Happy Rocks to which the Boy Tim fled from his often-brutal father. She'd heard how Tim sometimes sighted whales there and regularly killed fish - offertory seafood to sate the sharks at home. Next they'd go to Newport Beach, where Tim wanted to teach her fishing (where she knew from travels with Sam that she'd rather go shopping), then onward to L.A. for Evita. Since Julia'd booked a matinee, the schedule barely allowed time to dress for the play and none for art museums.

"Sounds a tad like a forced-march."

"We'll get to relax on the island."

One hopes, she was thinking while she pulled the chalky green-and-gold butterfly out of her hair and clipped it onto a finger.

"Where'd you find that? Santa Fe, Taos?" Tim reached out to admire, but pulled his thick square gentle hand back when she answered.

"Old hippie present; nice, huh?" She fluttered it into his face. "Jesus, this thing takes me back -"

"Please don't let it. No war stories on this trip, agreed?"

"Oh shit, not even my best ones?"

"Better watch your language, too," Tim grinned, "or you'll forget in front of Mom and Dad."

Oh fate worse than flaying, she thought, sipping at her red-syrupy sunrise; keeping quiet about Laurel the high school anomaly and Laurel evolved to take charge of sustaining altitude, surreptitiously, at Esalen.

Even in intimate circumstances, Tim was unreceptive to Tales of the High Times. Never having been into that subculture, he declined party drugs persistently (albeit not vehemently) and wouldn't so much as blow dope at bedtime except about once per blue moon. Drugs weren't all she had to guard her tongue about, for purposes of this journey; psychotherapy, from which she'd recently been graduated, was also verboten. Moreover, she was merely divorced (not multiply so) and held no religious or political convictions whatever. It wasn't that Julia had to approve of Tim's girlfriend -- that would be asking for love-notes from Mars -- but she couldn't disapprove.

As they got up to go, he once more recited the menu of authorized conversational fare. "Your business, your son, travel, the arts. Now repeat after me."

"This is so sick, Tim."

He nodded, smiled. "It's how it has to be. I want peace in my life. Order. I won't be caught between my mother and my wife again."

"Business, son, travel, arts," she muttered, feeling like a car on a trial run. "Beyond that, I play nod-and-smile-Louise."

"You are a treasure."

Their night swim attracted lighting stern enough to secure a prison and attendants keen to preclude underwater hanky-panky. Her hair flat and wet, square-headed tiny Julia looked even more like Claudette Colbert with a mean streak. Long and wide, a lolling heap of river animal, Tim Senior spread slowly onto his chaise and the guest found herself thinking Julia was right about one thing: Tim Junior should drop a few pounds now, before it got too late. Swimming her own laps, she was accompanied and commended by the matron, who had to point out that the men needed the exercise more.

After not much sleep and an obligatory breakfast, to which she would have far preferred her customary Coke or Dr. Pepper, she teetered along Tim's toothy sneaker-cutting reef and scanned a blank horizon he scribbled with memory. "Along there, that's where whales migrate in spring. They're off Maui now, too, so maybe we'll get lucky. I do want you to see one.

"Is the coral hurting your feet, Hon?" he worried, leading her through an exceptionally scraggy patch toward his pet fishing spot.

"Not much," she told him, but he lifted her over.

"It's all about fish-psychology," he went on, dead-serious. "If you were a fish on this kind of day, isn't this where you'd be?" Sure enough, there were lively darkest-jade shadows, tiers on tiers, with bubbles rising. Tim watched these, enthralled, and she watched him, scarcely hearing what he said about the effects of weather and currents. The light on his face was a rouge and a golddust, those slashed shoes on his feet had been stashed at his folks' place for lord-only-knew how many years and, no shit, she loved him.

Like an acid-flash she saw he'd know where cold-blooded things go.

It wasn't a subject he dwelt on; Tim believed, as she did, that most everyone had been through some kind of hell and it gave nobody special privileges. He was a happy man, cheerful and sociable. He'd transcended. Still, she hurt for him, for the unprotected child he'd been in this place, and lovewords wanted out but she gulped them. Tim couldn't deal with those, not even in the safe successful world where he taught her the tan landscape's fragility, its chamisa and juniper moorings; where they made love between strata of sun in a bright desert-soft dry wash; where he dug bait in the Rio Grande bosque, planet's last sizeable stand of primeval cottonwoods, then resettled even the tiniest surface plants, wildflowers and lichen. Tim could watch for ages in the morning while her skin changed hues, combing his hands through her hair emphatically, over and over, not carefully but like it's-only-hair, replaceable, and yet as if it were some substance too strange and gorgeous not to be spendthrift with. But calling her a treasure was as close as Tim ever got to speaking of love.

"Killing fish," Tim always termed it, laughing, but when she saw him fish once in New Mexico, he threw the catch back. They did likewise with the pickle-speckled brown fish she astonished herself by catching from a pier at Newport, then took the ferry ride and rhapsodized over the houses. She'd have liked to rent skates next, suck a blue snow-cone and pop in at Neiman-Marcus, but further delay was outside the realm of the reasonable.

Her dress for the show, off-the-shoulder black voile with ruffles and violet irises, raised Julia's eyebrows and the guys' in a different way. Tim's dad was softening; he was interested in the securities analysis she'd been writing for Sam and some New York dealers, and during the drive they managed a short conversation on this before Julia switched topics. She loathed Tim's tie. When he played worshipful son and removed it, trying to please her, she made him put it back on.

"Now act like a lady," Tim whispered as he helped her out of the behemoth Cadillac. He repeated that in a minute or two, sensing that the wide steps and terraces outside the auditorium were making her want to run ahead, whirl in the sunlight, remember the right blessing if she could.

It drove her nuts whenever Tim pulled that; she didn't have to "act like a lady," she was one. "A lady may run," she whispered in reply. "What a lady doesn't do is pick other people apart." Where she came from, ladies and for that matter gentlemen were known for being gracious and human, putting others at ease. Julia wouldn't know a lady if one came up and chewed on her; her act was so far from ladylike that, if it weren't for bad taste, she'd have none at all.

Alison, her kids and the dreaded in-law were waiting -- sporty, golden-haired, vacuous, a display fit for Julia's mantelpiece if only she could figure how to shrink them. Thank goodness that troupe would be staying next week with the seniors at the family lanai, while Tim and his nonfamily companion made-do at a beach hotel.

She didn't say so, but was also The Outsider in deeming musicals dumb. The second the dialogue approaches a dramatic high when An Actual Scene could develop, somebody suddenly implausibly starts singing. Projecting no thrills, she got a particular kick out of the revolving-door number. As Evita ascended her socio-economic ladder horizontally, symbolically, the staging was precious; the premise all too true. And one viewer laughed and clapped too loudly, earning an elbow-nudge from Tim and general scowls.

The family got their laughs on the morrow, when she resisted checking luggage. "Don't be so silly!" "She's going to carry that?" "Ridiculous!" "Of course it's entirely up to you, but how absurd."

Magnetically drawn inland (doubtless to K.C.), the bag she was shamed into relinquishing hit Ka'anipali Beach two days later; at roughly the same time calls began clanging from home about domestic hardware. Ever the accommodating young gentleman, Evan had allowed the Ditzy Girl Next Door to experiment with entranceways. Now two portals were down - front door and garage - unhinged beyond the kiddos', neighbors' and nighttime sitter's wit to get a grip on. Leah, bless her everlastingly, handled it.

Stopgap clothing had been duly purchased and worn, with no crimp in Group Activity, but it was clear to the jury that you-know-who was being punished by the universe for leading a disorderly life. You'd just have to throw up your hands, wouldn't you, giggle and blow it away? Especially when the King of Morning and the Former Lady Midnight were once more breaking day together and waves were better whitenoise than her year-round bedroom fan had ever been and sun shone through tissues of rain that recirculated before you could feel more than steam but formed those Double-Maui-Zowie rainbows.

Often left to themselves, they bought rainbowed gifts for their boys, snorkeled in warm aquatic ribbon-candy, wandered streets with names like surf and windbells, smirked through trash "galleries," drank in the old whaling inn where Twain slept, savored Mai-Tai's the Right Way with freshly drained pineapple juice, deflected Maui-Wowie purveyors (over her protests), rubbed each other's backs and killed fish.

At dusk Tim craved poetry; she'd hooked on it, and brought some. The briefcase she wouldn't let-loose-of contained, along with agency jobs, a Roethke volume and her file of old nightwork, wrong-headed yet lovely to hear. Of course Tim dug Roethke, the plantman's son, even when he rooted deep, went dark-desperate looking for light; he liked her writing, too, more than she did. In the brave (at least brav-er) new world where she was trusted routinely with knives, razors, deadlines and megabuck deals, it was another surprise that her darkwords were art still. Though they weren't spurting blood any longer, they mattered. Reading to Tim, she relearned her own manuscripts; probed them as music, not bruises. Busy running since sunup, she had no other documents, no new papers to prove who she was. Lucky her bluff wasn't called at the border.

By the time her carryon arrived, she was at work on a landmark, making A Poem Not Made Out of Pain. Like the morning, you open my eyes and I startle to wake in a physical world. And how to state what she'd been giving? I open your mouth and you become words. No. I open your ears to invisible oceans; they rock, they're just as wet; they chant from our hollows, their shells. Something thatlike. Getting there.

Sub specie aeternitatis, only one thing really went wrong before Thursday. Her first fish, gorgeous accident of cosmic tie-dye, should've been saved. But she had no way of knowing so soon that it was so special and no assurance she could contribute another, and Tim had promised his parents that he'd grill a sea-feast for everybody later this week. Pink, turquoise, apricot, scarlet, the whole sunset, it peeked through paper towels and plastic; it was the most pitiful thing she'd ever seen in a refrigerator when she grabbed her breakfast Coke before heading (with the Whole Crew) for the Hana end of the island.

Turned out Alison and Offspring didn't attend; one of the girls had a fever and the rainforest ride would've been wretched for an unwell child, for sure. Just twenty-some miles, it took three hours along a road that appeared to have suffered flood and earthquake. Gaps, gashes, washouts and slippery staggering steeps had to be conquered and there were sights as well as obstacles to slow you. Tower-high waterfalls beckoned, "Drink me!" so she hopped out now and then and did, despite the hard face Julia turned to her. To honor the first taste, she remembered "Sheheyanu;" she said it very quietly but did say it, even with Cary close enough to hear.

"What was that all about?"

"A blessing for first-things, or first after a year."

"Come again."

"Just a thank-you prayer that I'm still around for something trippy."

"Funny, you don't look religious."

"Thanks I guess."

"Like your shades," Cary said back in the Jeep. They were heart-shaped, red today though she had many other colors.

Julia turned around, stared Cary down. "You couldn't mean that."

Pointedly ignoring The Guest, Julia withered Tim next. "I hate to say so, Dear, but those shorts are not becoming. Surely you didn't select something so flashy."

"I had help -"

"No doubt."

Tim nodded, smiled. "From Jamie, Mother." They were jungle-print baggies, blatantly stupid, one of those what-the-merry-fuck things you buy but wouldn't wear at home except to mow a lawn or scrub the car. Tim put them on today for the fabled park with the seven pools, just barely off the main road, where he expected to go splashing. Looking forward to that, she'd worn a swimsuit underneath her teeshirt and jeans.

At the turnoff, Julia demurred. She'd seen the sights before and was hungry. "Maybe on the way back," Madam offered, big-hearted as ever.

Thus they pressed on into tropicowboy country and the Hotel Hana Maui. Tim hadn't seen the hotel before, either, and they were both so wowed. This was Old Hawaii Uptown, fit for Scott and Zelda; it was where they should've come to stay, alone, in south-seas-jazz-age elegance, within a garden so remote and green, so little peopled that the crash of waves on rocks was leading instrument. Maui-cows -- black, fat as piggybanks; how they loved those -- stood on low fenceposts that trailed swags of chunky iron-link, marking the path to a rush-roofed wide-open summerhouse dining room. On the last cow perched a chubby bird, just a palmful, breathing unlike her sad fish but clad in the same breathtaking enamelwork. Lime, lemon, far-heaven blue. She and Tim could hardly take their eyes off it.

"You two aren't dressed to go in here," Julia brought to their notice. "Let's hope they don't turn us out."

"What was that you were saying at the falls?" At least Cary waited to bring this up until the Mai-Tai's came. "Some kind of prayer?"

Tim's eyes churned with fish-shadows. "More like a poem," she tried, but the net of course widened. Cary asked, "What was that language?" so what else could she say?

"How very interesting," Julia ruled the brief conversion story.

"And was your husband Jewish?"

"Methodists." Bloodyhell everyone noted the plural. She sent for another drink, kept her nose in the glass. Why did Tim need this charade, anyway? He wasn't religious but he didn't care what she believed and he grasped, about her past, how loves and lusts and other strange intoxicants were transportation; they brought her here to now, to read this light.

"Like a moth to the flame," he hissed at her, shaking his head.

Career chat commenced, with accolades for Cary, Santa Barbara Attorney-at-Law. You'd think Tim was some truck farmer in the boondocks, not the top landscape designer in northern New Mexico. Why didn't he defend himself, his fine work, his good taste, for that matter his lady? He could do it in a polite way.

Julia scarved-on her sunhat, preparing to lead the parade. "Still eating?" she scolded Tim. "Do hurry."

Although they left immediately, with no need to rush for Lahaina, there wasn't a stop at the famous pools. Tim Senior said, "We should show her those, Julia," but Madam shot him down.

Valium on top of the rum wasn't the world's best idea, probably, but it did keep her quiescent on the road, tuned right into nodding and smiling and flattering the bitch. Tim calmed, too. "I've seen worse," he admitted in the hotel elevator. "It may turn out okay. Dad likes you."

"Isn't that nice?" She wanted to say whytheravinghell wouldn't he?

"Don't snip. You know what we're here for."

"I thought a good time, so let's have one."

Tim undressed her, enthused as usual about her skin ("You have such great color!") and fucked her like you would your favorite painting, if you could.

They were both several sheets to the wind when Cary tracked them to a waterside restaurant, on a lantern-lit deck the waves were rolling under. Golden Boy was as full of booze as they were, and full of apologies, too. "I didn't mean to wind her up today. Honest. Can I join you? Let me buy you guys a drink. Please." Cary edged in beside her on the rattan couch, too near. "Guess you've about had it with the piranha."

She closed ranks, winked at Tim. "Whoever could he mean?"

"Hey, g'me a break. Peace. Let's be pals." He leaned across her lap to Tim. "We're not in any contest, Man, there's plenty for everybody."

So close, she could really smell it, more than the rum; this dude had gotten into some heavy Wowie. "Where's your stash?" she couldn't resist asking the Former Mr. Perfection.

"Do I detect a connoisseur, Young Lady?"

If ever, this was the time to nod and smile, let Cary draw his own conclusions. He patted his shirt pocket. "How about a short stroll on the beach?"

"I'd rather not," Tim replied with nyah-nyah-nyah written all over his face; at last he had Something On Cary.

"Aw, c'mon, Man. No? No pressure." He swung his glance to her.

"I go where Tim goes, this being his production."

"Pity. Oops, didn't mean it that way. It's just, this is good shit."

"Congratulations," she said, meaning it just that way.

Cary stepped away to see about drinks, so she took the chance to comment, "Maybe he isn't so bad after all." At any rate, the show would be in danger if you cast such a good-looking man as Iago.

When Cary got back to the table, Tim inquired about Natalie. It was chicken-pox. "Some vacation," the model father groaned.

"I suspect Alison's enjoying it rather less than you are."

"Hm, yeah. Cheers, Pretty One. Salud, Man. So talk to me."

Trouble was, they did; they spent hours rapping, lapping up more Mai-Tai's. About halfway through lovemaking in the morning, they started glimpsing what was said. Cary's party face - stoned, friendly, sympathetic - was the first thing she remembered. "Um wow, don't stop what you're doing but Cary was blitzed last night, right?"

"Thought I dreamed it."

"But we didn't, ooh gosh lovely, we didn't smoke weed with him -"

"I don't think so."

"Did he call your mom a piranha?"

At the moment she giggled, Tim was visited by an evident surge of recall. With a cavernous moan, "Good Lord," he slid her feet off his shoulders, shuddered, completely collapsed. By now she was seeing it, too, their tight little group trading standard this-is-the-kind of-animal-I-am spiels just like ordinary people do when they're loaded.

She ran a toe down his back. "Maybe he won't remember --"

"Not remember?" Tim howled between her boobs. "Honey-child, he was setting us up."

"Hey, don't go all paranoid."

"Don't talk like a street-freak to me."


Tim stood up. "You don't want me to say it again, do you?"

He stormed off to the shower and she followed him in, shouted over the water. "Tim, what is this? What'd I do?"

"Only everything I asked you not to."

"As I recall, you were there. If the conversation was so ghastly, why didn't you stop it?"

He shut off the tap. "Do you mind if I have a shower in peace?"

She dripped to the bed and rolled up in the covers while sounds from the shower resumed, drowning birdsong and surf. She tried relaxing, drawing white clouds in and breathing the dark out, but couldn't let go. Even if Tim called it right about a setup, that still didn't make him right because nothing about this farce was right. She had to make Tim see that somehow, even though her head was pounding and she felt like the last chapter of what's-the-use.

Phone rang, Tim stomped to answer and she opened her eyes. On her nightstand was the hairclip butterfly and, yes, she'd talked about that, too, along with three divorces, various lovers, acid-years and speed-years, wrist-slashing, shrinks, how scared she was of Reagan. It was all in the breezy funny party style, though, with everybody clowning and hooting. And Cary said worse.

"Today's plans are cancelled," Tim reported, "And tonight's."

No need to kill more fish for Tim's big show-off dinner then, she considered, feeling off the hook, too. They'd have a quiet day; they'd relax as they needed to; they'd turn back into themselves.

"Dad says it's because Natalie's sick. You can believe that if you want to." Tim was pulling on clothes as fast as he could for some reason.

"I gather you don't."

"I'm sure they've heard the whole sordid story."

So much for keeping this low-key. "Sordid my cute ass! What's sordid is demeaning people. Besides, how could Cary talk about me after the way he was running his own mouth? He's got half a dozen crooked deals going. He can't stand your folks, just puts up with them because of their money. He accuses your sister of virtual child-abuse while he's the one out cruising, stoned out of his gourd. He claims your ex came onto him when chances are that was vice-versa. Tim, remember, he bragged about having a girlfriend right now in Frisco. We could fry him!"

"Would you care to try that?"

"In your position, I'd consider it."

"Who do you think they'd believe? Look, would it have killed you to go through the motions and behave a few days with a little dignity?"

"What's dignified about being a doormat? Tim, where are you going?"

"To apologize."

"For what? Me? Like 'whoops, weirdest mishap; she was Suzy Creamcheese back home, or did I grab the wrong cage?' Tim, you didn't bring Suzy Creamcheese, you don't want Suzy Creamcheese! If you want to apologize, you're begging their forgiveness for being you."

Tim paced the room a few times, said, "You're right," and sank onto a barstool. After a beat it felt safe to sit beside him. She thought about proceeding with the Four Trick Questions, the ones her wondershrink used to cut through bullshit. But "what are you feeling, where are you feeling it, what do you want, what do you expect?" was a litany you had to do over and over. And with the family Scarlett just two faces behind her, she had singular qualifications for fighting somebody like Julia.

"You know better. They're the ones who should apologize."

"Look, they're just - how they are. I've dumped that wreckage."

"Not if you let her ruin us. Can't you trust your own judgment for once? It's so much finer than hers."

Tim had to crack a smile at that; he was already breaking.

"She never even said thanks for the picture. Tacky."

"I just can't please her," Tim sighed. "I try -"

"Lord how you try. But it isn't you, it's not your fault."

"I know, but -"

"Tim, I can't bear how she treats you, how she attacks you, most of all how she wouldn't even protect you back when that was her job!"

"Don't, just don't."

"Tim, look at me. You're the gentleperson, they aren't. Being a lady or a gentleman, that's a real thing inside, not a dream of a dream of something. It's not about conventions and pretensions, sensibilities and all that icing-sugar; it's what you're made of or not. It's knowing who you are and bringing others all the comfort you can; it's having enough real pride to survive without cruelty. You're not cruel; you'd never be."

As she was saying all this, straight from her grandmother's example passed down from Gran's own mom, the obstinate belle, her soul was shouting thanks to them for what she had, as real as those feathers in the cat's mouth. Some of it she'd tried to run away from, imagining there were better ways to be, but eventually your growing-up gets you.

"I'm not saying I haven't screwed up," she went on. "Shit, I'll screw up again, but I know one thing: It won't be serious, it won't be malicious. I might strip and shimmy down the stairs some day, but I wouldn't harm you and I wouldn't let anyone harm you, the best that I can. You don't deserve to be hurt, Tim. Shoot, nobody does, but you haven't done anything wrong."

"Then why?"

When she held him, told him how wonderful he was, talented, aware, gentle, caring, earnestly good, Tim said, "I've really got you fooled," and then he broke wide open, sobbing. It was more than she'd expected.

Of course he was angry. He felt so implausibly guilty both for courting his parents and not being able to win them. He hated, felt hated, loved hopelessly and couldn't get free. He was somebody else entirely, lost not just to her. She'd never seen anyone look so exhausted as Tim, once he'd dropped his mask and had his largely incoherent say. "I'm sorry, I can't help it, I'm sorry," he whispered. "I don't know why I can't, I don't know what to do. Well I know but I can't do it, why? I'm so sorry."

She led him to their bed and he toppled over on it, a beautiful tree bowed flat from root-rot. She could see him now as her mother had, during her visit a few weeks before; Mary Fran had been lovely and warm toward Tim and had nice things to say about him, but she also thought he tried too hard to impress people and probably couldn't be counted-on.

Although she'd argued with Mary Fran then, she had to admit that Tim's pride was false; his courtesy was cowards' courtesy. They'd both run for art hollering "Save me!" but her base was order, a surfeit of order; his was pain. She could break Tim anytime but couldn't fix him and he didn't have the backbone to do it, not that it was his fault. Except for that, it was all there this time. God if only.

While Tim slept, she packed for next morning's flight, wrote radio spots, reread Twain's great sendup of Victorian etiquette and examined the refrigerator. Fish residue would have to go back to the shore.

When the phone rang, she grabbed it fast, told Julia that Tim wasn't feeling well and was sleeping.

"Get him."

"I'll ask him to ring you as soon as he can," she was saying when Tim woke up and took the call. Naturally he was being summoned -- he was long past-due to show up and grovel -- but, before he left, Tim said, "I dreamed about you. Your face was on a row of daisies, all talking to me."

"So sweet. What'd I say?"

"I can't remember, Sunshine. Good stuff." He lifted her, kissed her, stared. "I really love your eyes," he said shaking his head, resigning himself to losing bric-a-brac he liked to look at. "I've got to go over there, you know, but I won't stay long."

With her briefcase and a plastic bag full of fish, she crossed the beach and waded toward the stone jetty. Heads turned of course and, given that she was making another spectacle of herself, however unstudied, she considered completing what's-wrong-with-this-picture by tossing the briefcase in. Instead, she upended the plastic at just the spot where her fabulous fish swam last Monday, where others, great but not that great, were swimming now as she'd known they would be. It went down down glug glug glug, along with the rest they'd taken.

On a strip of sand below the breakwater there was the kind of crab Tim called a poet, and he or she did seem to listen while she rained the paper-shreds. "Credentials for the King of Morning," she announced, then read: O the King of Morning's breaking day with the Former Lady Midight. He sees her happy, he calls her fair. Doubting the witness of flesh and air, find her black on this whitestuff if anywhere.

She didn't bother reading the guts of it, a iambic and free-form tossed-salad that wasn't there yet, but did recite what might have been the ending, ripping that off line by line. I promise you undersea calm and no change in the weather. Already the surface rocks easy. Your fish are about where you figure they'll be. And you're safer with me than you know.

Of course it wasn't Over-Over -- they'd never do things that way; there'd be lots of talking, too much talking, some more loving, time - but it was over, all the same.

Tim came back acting extra-brave, joking through the junk his mom had preached to him about the misalliance. "Too many differences." "Too theatrical." "Too - you understand - colorful." Too colorful yes; with thanks to Tim she'd become one of the sky's own sandpaintings.

Since "I'm really going to miss you" was wanting out as much as "I love you" used to, she didn't follow him onto the balcony until he shouted, "Whales!" There they were, spouting against that sunset horizon in an undulant line, probably five of them. Tim was like a little boy about it, exclaiming every single time water went up, so she watched along with him, holding his hand until they were gone.

Part VI

Literary Index