Brad was a runner before jogging became a fad. He didn’t jog, he ran. He ran past empty basketball courts which contained baskets without nets, he went out for passes on rain-wet sidewalks and he stole home in late-night, empty, The College of Marin parking lots. He had played on so many teams when he was in school that he had been bred, so to speak, for a career as a professional athlete and he couldn’t contain himself, especially at night. He wasn’t proud of his running and in fact felt somewhat defensive and even ashamed of his need to run, especially at any hour of the night. It was a need first and a joy second. It was certainly not a duty except in the sense that he couldn’t do it just once in a while but needed to run regularly for the health of his muscles and joints. In fact, he really hated running at night because he had stumbled many times, had narrowly missed stepping into a large water-filled hole once and almost crashed into a metal driveway barrier on an after-midnight run. But he couldn’t always find the time or desire to run during the day.
Cheryl had been a sprinter in high school and she had followed him out on a couple of his runs, rather bravely after he had warned her against it. He ran very fast, and inevitably she couldn’t keep up with him. He had made excuses and tried to keep her from joining him but finally he gave in. She ran with him for a few nights but he could hardly break into a sweat waiting for her to catch up. Neither Cheryl nor Derrin ever revealed to Brad that Derrin was a faster sprinter than Brad who had run a few 9.9 wind-aided hundred-yard dashes but was more reliably a 10 flat sprinter in high school.
After washing dishes for the big dinner, Brad went running. He was cooling off, near The College of Marin when he saw a poster that announced that Hamlet was being staged at the college theater. He walked over to what he thought looked like the college theater and very gently tried the door. It opened a crack and an usher who was standing at the top of the stairs turned around. She pushed through the door and shut it behind her, standing there in the night air, looking up at Brad in her café au lait colored uniform, fringed with white. She said, “It’s almost over. You’re too late.” Her voice was gentle and she smiled.
“Oh. Sorry, I was just curious. It’s almost...” He looked at his watch.
She said, “Eleven o’clock.” She wasn’t tall. Her hair was long but pulled behind her head in a large, luxurious weave of brown, curled hair with streaks of blonde. He noticed that it was almost exactly the color of Raney’ hair but it was much longer and thicker. Her skin color was the same as Raney’s and she was just about the same size. She smiled up at him with an encouraging smile.
He said, “Sorry to bother you.”
“I’m glad you showed up. I’m so bored I can barely stay awake.”
He asked, rather stupidly, “You work here as an usher?”
“Yes.” She was wearing a light-brown uniform. It was a dress and a short sleeve blouse whose sleeves were turned up to form white cuffs that folded just above the elbows.
Brad looked at her nametag, “Juliet.”
She noticed him looking at the name tag and said, “Now that you know my name...”
He said, “Brad.” They shook hands and turned around each other in a quarter circle, as if they were getting ready for a sparring session. “I was just exercising.” His body was hot and sweaty. “Do you mind if I unzip my sweatshirt and get some air.”
“Of course not.”
He said, “I feel like I’m disturbing you. I’m keeping you from doing your job.”
Juliet said, “No. The play will be over in about 15 minutes. There’s nothing more to do. I’m really glad you showed up. I was dying of boredom.”
“Good. I’m glad I showed up too.” Brad hated himself for thinking that she was very pretty. He was tired of pretty women. He asked, rather dumbly, “Are you a Shakespeare fan, Juliet?”
“Sure. But Hamlet is just my job.”
“Do you work here every night?”
“Five days a week. Well, It depends. Some weekends and then I don’t have to work during the week. It REALLY gets boring when there’s nothing to do. When nothing is playing.” She flipped her hand. “Well, it’s boring when there IS something playing too. I mean I’ve seen it so many times, I can’t stand it any more. “When there isn’t anything playing, I have to do odd jobs, but there isn’t much to do. I work four hours a night or sometimes four hours during the day. I go to The College of Marin. It helps pay for things.” She looked up at him with another encouraging smile. Her eyes were dark under dark eyebrows and long eyelashes.
He wanted to leave this preternaturally beautiful woman whom he suspected was simply another blank screen upon whom he seemed to need to project a hallucinating aura of perfection, but instead of fleeing into the night, he asked politely, “What are you majoring in?”
“Who are your favorite writers?”
“Oh.” She waved her hand. “Hemingway, Faulkner, even Shakespeare.” She laughed and looked at the theater door.
He said, “Just not Hamlet.”
“I’ve seen it seven times now.”
He ventured, “Do you know Kerouac and Henry Miller?”
“Of course. On the Road. Tropic of Cancer.”
He thought. “Get to the point man. You know what you want. What? What do you want? Tell me. Shit. This is ridiculous.” He said, with a smirk, as if he were talking to his own desire, “You’re a real heavyweight. Do you write?” He was still breathing a little fast from his late-night run in the park.
“Some. When I was young I wrote novels.”
He zipped his sweatshirt together against the ocean-laden air. “You mean when you were in high school?”
“Even elementary school. We had this great teacher. She was a writer. I had her for the fifth and sixth grades. She encouraged all of us to write novels. I created worlds for myself to live in. Complete with imaginary people. Some of my friends thought I was crazy.”
He blurted out, “I’m thinking of writing a novel myself.”
“What is it going to be about?”
Brad became uncomfortable. His strong sexual drive was asserting itself but his mind was always watching, if not always in control. He didn’t want to talk about the commune.
She changed the subject, “What did you major in?”
She wrinkled her nose.
He decided that she would be happiest if he gave her the “special talent” reason for majoring in mathematics. He said, “I had a special talent for it, that’s all.”
“I was good in math but I didn’t like it much.” She looked up at him with her guileless smile.
Her café au lait colored skin reminded him of Raney. She seemed to him like an incredible twin, an apparition who was sent by fate or God to prove to him that his idealizing of women was as risible as that of Don Quixote. Raney and Philip Levy had only disappeared into the Kentfield night in his red, 1968 Corvette, an hour before. It wasn’t that anyone would have thought Raney and Juliet were twins but their similarities were uncanny. It seemed to Brad that after 100 years of solitude, God was coming out of his hiding place, clearing his throat and trying to tell him something. He said, warily, hoping she wouldn’t laugh in his face, “I can tell you would be good at mathematics. You have an analytic mind. You process information like a scientist but you feel like a poet.”
She looked into his eyes. She studied them for a while. She started to say something but she was silent.
He said, “I like women who are good at chess.”
She said, “Your eyes are beautiful. Green and blue. Your eyelashes are thicker than mine.”
“How old are you?” He asked.
She batted her eyes at him again. He said, not believing himself, “I like you.”
She looked at her shoes, demurely.
He thought. “Strike one.”
He looked at her finger and asked, “Are you married?”
Her eyes smiled. She said, simply, “No.” She looked into his eyes for a few seconds. She took a deep breath, exhaled and looked back at her shoes. When she looked at him again, there was an anxious look in her eyes. “I’m engaged.” Her hands moved towards him, as if to keep him from falling on his face.
He felt a huge burden lift from his shoulders. He smiled. He said, with a laugh, “It’s already been a bad night.” He made a move to go.
“Wait. Don’t go. I like you.”
The doors of the theater opened. A stream of people came through the door and filled the night air with the sound of their conversation.
“Please don’t go. I’ve got to stand over there by the door until the theater is empty. Then I can go home.”
Brad looked at her as if to say, “What is the point?” Then he smiled a kind of half smile of disbelief and said, “OK”
When she returned he said, “What about your fiancé. Isn’t he going to pick you up?”
“I brought my car.”
He said playfully, “You’re thinking
of breaking up with him?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t seem right for me.”
Brad was surprised. He hadn’t counted on that. He said, “Let’s go out on a date.”
“I need to think.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“That’s the trouble. Nothing. He’s tall, like you and blond. I’m dark and little. I don’t feel worthy of him.”
He smiled ironically, “And you feel worthy of me?”
She smiled and looked at her feet again. She looked up and asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I thought I did. But I found out tonight, that I didn’t.” He turned away.
“She gave you a Dear John letter?”
“No. Not quite that dramatic. She came to dinner with another guy. She didn’t say a word to me all night.”
“How long have you known her?”
“Oh. It was one of those things. Not very long. I thought I had fallen in love with her. Sometimes I think I am a very simple person. I don’t want much. I thought she had everything I wanted. I don’t even know what to say.” He didn’t say that Raney was very pretty and he had only known her for a couple of weeks.
She asked, “What do you want?”
“Well. That’s a good question, isn’t it? Sometimes I think I’m pretty simple. Like all I need is a woman who really loves me.”
She said, “Maybe she was testing you. Trying to see if you love her enough to be jealous of the new guy.”
“She isn’t the kind of woman who would do that.”
“If she loved you enough she might.”
He thought for a long moment. “So I don’t love her enough to rescue her from the ring of fire.”
Her eyes lit up. He could tell that she knew Wagner’s opera. He asked, “Do you know Wagner’s Ring?”
“My father is an opera buff.”
“So you think I’m not brave enough to break through the wall of fire and rescue Brunhilda?”
“What’s your girlfriend’s name?”
“Maybe Raney isn’t worthy of you.”
“She’s perfect. She’s beautiful, intelligent, sexy…”
“But do you love her? Enough to break through the wall of fire?”
“Siegmund and Sieglinda fell in love at first sight.” They gazed into each other’s very young and blazing eyes. She looked down at her shoes again. He was tempted to ask her if she was in love with her shoes but he said instead, “You said you don’t love him.”
“I’m not sure.”
He said, with an ironic smile on his face, “You love me already. I know. You don’t have to apologize. It doesn’t take long.” She was silent. He said, “Why don’t we step off the train right now? We could drive up to Reno and get married and live happily for the rest of our lives.” She smiled and they made love by simply looking at each as young people often do. He thought again how uncanny it was that she resembled Raney. “Are you Jewish?”
She laughed. “People ask me that sometimes. I’m exotic looking aren’t I? Guess my nationality.”
“I don’t know. Greek?”
“Finnish. Can’t you see the Laplander influence? In the eyes?”
“No. You have the same complexion that Raney has and your hair is the same brown-blonde color. You’re the same size and body type. But you don’t really look like her at all. I mean your features are completely different. Is that your natural hair color?”
Juliet laughed. “Only my hairdresser knows.” She was flattered. “Yes, it’s me.”
“You remind me of her.” He wondered why he was talking so intimately to a woman who was engaged. In addition, they were alone, it was almost midnight, he was wearing a sweat-soaked sweatshirt and she was wearing an usher’s uniform. He said, “Beauty in women is simply vanity unless it is created by the lover.”
“I’m not pretty. That’s why I don’t feel right with Sean. He is like a fashion model. Blond, tall. I’m short and dark. I have a big nose. A receding chin.”
“Juliet! Your chin isn’t receding, your nose isn’t big and you aren’t short and dark!”
“My brothers are tall.”
“Let’s get married.”
“I have a better idea. Let’s get engaged. It’ll give us time.”
Juliet said, “Time for what?”
“Time to get to know each other.”
She said, “So you don’t believe in love at first sight after all.”
“What is love?”
She said, “When I asked you what you wanted, you said you didn’t know what you wanted. That what you want will come with the unfolding of your life. It was a perfect answer. Not like Sean. He knows exactly what he wants. He knows exactly which law school he’s going to attend and he knows that he is going to work in his father’s law firm after he graduates.”
“So let’s get married now.”
A middle-aged woman stuck her head out of the theater door and waved for Juliet to come over to where she was standing. It was her supervisor. She told Juliet to put the night’s receipts in the safe, turn out the lights and lock up. Brad helped and after they were finished she turned out the lights. When they were alone in the darkness he took her hand. He said, “I have a past.”
“Everybody has a past, Brad.”
“Could you marry a mathematician?”
She laughed. “Not one who comes on to a girl a half-hour after he’s met her.”
He said, “Hey. This is ridiculous isn’t it? You’re engaged and I don’t even know you.” Her smile dropped. He said, “How tall are you anyway?”
“I’m a midget. I’m 5 feet 5.”
“Wow. I’m, 6 feet 2. Almost a foot taller. We can’t get married. Our children would be runts.”
She smiled, “My brother is on the basketball team. He’s 6 feet 4.”
As they were walking on the unlit path to her car, they moved closer together. He resisted the temptation to take her hand again. He stopped where there were no lights and no one could see them. He said, “Since you’re engaged, I suppose the question is, should I see you again?”
“Yes.” She looked into his eyes for quite a few seconds without saying anything. “I’m here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night, from seven to eleven but if there’s no play, I always go home by about 10:30. You can usually see me then. Tomorrow night if you want.” Brad detected resignation in her voice. He said, “OK”
She asked, “Where do you live?”
“Just across the street. I’m renting a room in a house.”
He asked, “You’re not going to pretend you don’t know me tomorrow night, are you?”
“Of course not. Why would I do that?”
“It’s happened before.” He added, “Don’t you think this is a little unusual?”
She looked at her shoes again. “Yes.” She looked up with great, hopeful eyes, “So I’ll see you again tomorrow night?”
“Nine would be perfect.”
Brad stood there and watched her disappear into the darkness of the redwood grove that surrounded the concrete path on The College of Marin campus. He knew nothing about her family; he knew nothing about her friends. He wondered if he was just writing his novel. He thought of Raney and he knew that Raney was an extraordinary human being. He didn’t think of her as Jewish or American or even a woman. She had become a supernatural being for him, an earth-goddess of strength, wisdom and intelligence. And she had dropped him for a millionaire. He began whistling the theme of Brunnhilda. The ring of fire. Could it be that Raney was testing his love? And now there was another test. A woman with a fiancé. Or maybe he was just gathering more material for his novel.
When he got back to the house, the lights were out and everyone was in bed. Rod Green’s bedroom door was opposite Brad’s bedroom door and about ten feet down the hall. As Brad climbed the stairs, he could hear Rod’s snoring in the stairwell. He walked past the open door and saw Rod lying on his back, on a mattress on the floor. The room had nothing in it except for Rod and his bed and a guitar standing against the wall.
Brad went into his room and closed the door behind him. He opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured himself a large glass; he put Their Satanic Majesty’s Request on his Gerard turntable and placed his Koss headphones over his ears. He turned out the lights and lay back on his mattress. He played She’s a Rainbow three times, In another Land twice and Gomper until he felt like making love to Juliet. Afterwards, he threw his tee shirt into the corner on top of a pile of dirty laundry, poured cat food in Zeta’s dish and picked out Kierkegaard’s Either/Or from the line of books on the floor and began reading until he reached the following paragraph which he underlined:
In making a choice it is not so much a question of choosing the right as of the energy, the earnestness, the passion with which one chooses. This is how personality is consolidated. Even if a person chooses the wrong, he will nevertheless discover precisely by reason of the energy with which he chose, that he has chosen the wrong.