Aurochs and Angels
At ten in the morning on September 24, Kayce Yale is pitching. Standing four foot nine, her brown ponytail flashes in the Arizona sun as she pulls back into her windup. The pitch is a knuckle curve and drops with a tilt, hitting in the lower left corner of the rectangle painted on the wall, a low inside strike to a left-handed batter, and rolls most of the way back to her. She picks the ball up and spins it in her hand, her fingers gliding along the stitches as she centers it in preparation. Her fingers sit loosely on the stitches, then grip it tight in a two seam fastball. Her windup is seamless and she snaps her hand forward, the ball rising up in the strike zone, a hard fastball rising above fifty miles an hour and hitting the wall near the top of the rectangle.
Kayce turns at the sound of the voice. It is a girl, a young woman with a backpack slung over one shoulder, likely too old to be one of her father’s students, she thinks. She has known her father’s students to come by the house on occasion, but they usually come on weeknights and it’s usually his basketball players rather than his actual students.
“Thanks,” she says, bending down to pick the ball up again. “You like baseball?”
“It’s okay. I don’t know all that much about it. I went to a couple of games as a kid. It’s not a bad way to spend the time.”
“Oh, it’s the best sport in the world.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, yeah. You need a combination of everything to win. You need people to run, to field, to hit, to score, to pitch long, to pitch short. Everyone can be great, but if you’re not a team, you go nowhere. And in the end, it all comes down to one thing: one batter versus one pitcher. It’s the perfect sports confrontation.”
She winds up and throws again, a straight curveball this time, taking the regulated curve and dropping down into the lower strike zone.
“You’re good at getting it in the box.”
“It’s not that hard to throw a strike,” Kayce says, turning back to her again. “At least when no one is standing there. The trick is to do it when there’s a batter in the box. Or, even better, to throw it out of the zone when the batter is in the box but to make him think it’s going in the zone. Like I said, all down to the great confrontation.”
She’s looking straight at the young woman now, her green eyes peeking out from below a black cap, with the letters SF embroidered on it in orange. She decides the direct approach is probably better than waiting to find out what’s going on and asks “Are you here to see my dad?”
“Um, yes, actually, if you’re Kayce. I was hoping he was here.”
“Are you one of his students? You look too old.”
“Not really,” she says, but then seems to stumble over those words. “I mean, no, I’m not. I’m not a high school student. I go to ASU.”
“Oh. Well, yes, I’m Kayce.”
“Hi. I’m Rebecca.”
“Rebecca?” There is a pause and then suddenly Kayce’s eyes light up and she the words start spilling out at an almost incomprehensible speed. “Rebecca! You’re Rebecca? You’re the one he met on the plane, right? The one from San Diego? The one who just started at ASU?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess that would be me. I mean, I met him at the airport, but yeah, we sat next to each other on the plane. A month ago.”
“He kept saying you were pretty. Usually, I think he’s wrong about those kind of things. But he wasn’t wrong.”
Rebecca blushes and Kayce feels bad, thinking, I should keep my big mouth shut.
“Um, is he around? I was hoping I could talk to him about something.”
“He’s running,” Kayce says. The young woman’s eyes drop a little to cut away from the morning sun. Kayce looks towards the eyes in an attempt to draw out something more, something substantial.
“Could you tell him that I came by? Just came over to say hi, to ask him something about a book I’m reading for a class. Not a big deal. I’ll stop by some other time.”
“Wait. Don’t go. He’ll be back soon.”
“I don’t want to . . .”
“He’s good at the timing. He runs for 45 minutes.” Her eyes drop down to her watch then pop up again as if she is afraid the young woman will have disappeared in that instant. “He’s been gone 37 minutes already. He’ll be back before you know it.”
Rebecca smiles at wonders just how much has been spoken about her. I’m almost as close in age to her as I am to her father, she thinks, dear lord what am I doing? Why did I come? Is this what I want?
Please let her stay, Kayce pleads, I don’t want to have to tell him she was here and that she left. I want to see him smile.
“What do you like so much about baseball?” Rebecca asks.
“I’m good at it.”
“And that works for you?”
“My dad’s not. It’s nice to have something that’s all my own.”
“Who do you root for? That’s not a Diamondbacks hat.”
“Aren’t they rivals? Shouldn’t your root for your hometown team?”
“Oh, well, the Giants are kind of my hometown team. When I was little, we lived in the Bay Area. That’s when my Uncle Kyle gave me the hat. Beside, the Diamondbacks just won the World Series a few years ago.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Well, the Giants haven’t won since they were in New York. It’s been over 50 years.”
“That kind of futility appeals to you?”
“The continuing struggle for hope appeals to me.”
They stand together in the late September sun, one just out of her teens and one sliding into them, when the father, the young man, Bruce Yale, comes racing up the sidewalk, pushing himself just past the wall with the strike zone painted on it, where his body begins to relax and decompress and he turns and sees his daughter talking to a young blonde and he wonders which of his students would possibly come seek him out on a weekend when he has assigned nothing that is due on Monday and he recognizes the young woman he began to draw out at Lindbergh Field.
They turn after he has run past, two pairs of green eyes tracing his route of the sun into the shade of the oak tree and as one smiles at the sight of her father, the other bites her lower lip in anticipation of what a month has meant.
He is conscious of his smell and the sweat running down his forehead, the result of six miles of running, pushing himself today for something that he didn’t begin to understand until he sprinted past the wall and turned to see who was talking to his daughter. He pushes his feet back into the air and forces himself to take the steps towards the two of them.
Kayce turns to pick up the baseball again and sets her eyes on the strike zone. Rebecca, feeling herself suddenly alone, slowly crosses her arms in a movement to shield herself but instead presses her breasts up and draws the attention of Bruce’s eyes to them.
The past is never dead, he think, it’s not even past. I am not yet thirty but I have had a love that faded into a ghost and a wife who has passed into a memory. How much can you be expected to live through and yet still be expected to not merely endure, but to prevail. Job wasn’t tortured forever, a time came when he was set free to attest his faith in God without further tests. She is barely an adult, he tries to tell himself, the law might trust her to vote, but not to buy an alcoholic drink. Do I have the right to think differently, to place the mantle of adulthood firmly upon her head simply because she the intelligence to read a novel I don’t even like? But I am tired of being lonely, tired of forcing Kayce to be my date at the movies, out for dinners, anywhere I want to go, doing it since that damn reunion, she deserves better than this, deserves to be the kid she’s never gotten to fully be. You deserve better than this, little girl, can’t you see it’s true? Do you need someone to prove it to you? Fucking Kyle, he still has Springsteen quotes stuck in my head.
“Hello again,” he says, walking to her.
“Hi,” comes the shy response.
“Has it been a month?”
“Four weeks. Seems close enough.”
“Any trouble finding the house?”
“No. Took less than fifteen minutes, walking from the dorm. It was a nice walk. Seems like everything you might need is between here and campus.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s great,” Kayce chimes in, turning as her pitch arcs slightly high and to the right, a brushback pitch to a right-handed batter, even hitting them in the shoulder if the reaction is not quick enough, even possible to give a mild concussion if the batter is sixteen and female and not used to playing baseball. “There’s Zia Records and the Harkins Theatre and a Burger King, a Jack in the Box, the only thing missing is a good bookstore. And if you keep going down University, there’s the airport, and then down to American West and the BOB. It’s got to be the best location in the whole valley.”
Both Bruce and Rebecca stare at the ten year old, her core of energy spreading to engulf Rebecca’s shyness and Bruce’s hesitation. She looks, first at the young woman, then to her father and when she realizes that both of them are staring at her rather than glancing at each other, she blurts out, “I think I’m going to shut up and go inside now,” and with those words she is gone, a lightning bolt streaking across the lawn and in through the front door. Watching her go, her father slowly comes to the realization that he and Rebecca are now standing very much alone, the first moment they have had the opportunity to be so.
“I hope I haven’t come at a bad time,” she says. Her voice is so close to Jessica’s, he thinks, nothing like Michelle’s. Then he stops, remembering a night in a January in another state when a woman he was not yet fully in love with yelled at him, snapped at him to come to the present, and the way he made that choice without hesitation.
“She’s ten. She acts like that.”
“She said you were right, that I was very pretty.”
“She’s ten. She talks like that.”
“I was wondering if you would blush.”
“Having a ten year old has really curbed that. You end up building a tolerance to insanely embarrassing statements, even if true. If you were doing something out on my front lawn that was capable of making me blush we would both be arrested.”
“That sounds the like book I’m reading for class.”
“That must be an interesting class.”
“Well, it’s definitely interesting. It’s an upper division Lit class.”
“I’m impressed. Ellison, now upper division. You’re a hell of a lot smarter than I was at your age.”
“No, actually, I’m not. I’m not so smart at all, it would seem. That’s why I’m here, actually. I was hoping to get some help because I am totally fucking lost,” and as she says the words, a blush rises up in her own cheeks and she turns, her eyes scanning the yard for any sign of Kayce within earshot.
“You can relax. She’s inside. And she does hear much worse language from her uncle.”
“Brother? No, I’m an only child. My best friend. My college roommate, actually. Closest thing I’ve got to a brother.”
“Anyway . . .”
“Your class . . .”
“Yeah. I was wondering if you could, you know, maybe give me some ideas, or at least help get me pointed in the right direction. Ellison was easy compared to this. I’ve never felt so lost in the English language before.”
“Please tell me it’s not Pynchon.”
“No. I’m not that crazy. I picked up Crying of Lot 49 once. Couldn’t get past the first chapter.”
“Good, ’cause if it was Pynchon, we’d both be screwed. Besides, I no longer have my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow. I accidentally threw it out a seventh story window.”
“Well, the throw itself wasn’t accidental. I meant to do that. But I don’t have Kayce’s aim and it went straight out the window instead of hitting the wall.”
“Not a fan.”
“Not so much, no. Look, I’ll give you a hand. Can you give me time to take a shower?”
“I can come back later if . . .”
“Rebecca. Stop apologizing.”
She stops, wondering if it is her stepfather talking to her, a tone so similar to what she has heard before. For his own part, Bruce feels bad for the tone he has taken, a tone he has honed with years of practice of being a father and teacher, a tone to make a person stop and do what they are being told.
“Now all I want to do is say I’m sorry,” she whispers, softly. When a smile appears on his lips, she relaxes, lets her arms drop to her side.
“Would you like some help?”
“I’m gonna head in and take a shower. Why don’t you come inside, relax, try to figure out exactly what aspect of the book you need help with and you can have some breakfast.”
“What makes you think I haven’t had breakfast?”
“Please. Give me a little credit. I’ve been to college. It’s a Saturday and you’re in your Freshman year. There’s no way in hell you ate breakfast. You probably ate a couple Pop-Tarts on your walk over.”
She reaches around and her left hand slides in behind her, finding the pocket on the shorts and when she brings it back into view she is holding the wrapper for a pair of Kellogg’s Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts. He laughs and the laugh is loud and clear and she remembers all the things he said in the lounge at Lindbergh Field that made her lie to a complete stranger simply so that she could sit next to him for an hour while crossing the desert at 30,000 feet. His laugh is simply and kind and she feels that it helps her to understand, to trust him.
“You really are adorable, you know that?” he says to her.
“I guess I must be. Some guy in my hall asked me the other night if I had ever considered stripping. Even told me some club over by the airport where I could easily make a few hundred bucks a night. ‘Wouldn’t even have to fuck anybody,’ he says, ‘just dazzle their eyes with that gorgeous body.’ I think it was supposed to be his idea of a come-on line. The whole idea left me completely appalled and embarrassed for the members of your gender.”
“Wonder what he would have said if you had mentioned me.”
“Oh, I did, in an effort to get him to leave me alone. Told him I was dating an older man and was perfectly happy without a bunch of drunk assholes ogling my ass in public for kicks on a Friday night. He said it was a good idea to have a sugar daddy and to give him a call when I’d gotten as much money out of you as I could.”
“Sounds like a charming young man.”
“He’s some stud on the basketball team. I heard a rumor he’s printing fake money on his laser printer. He’ll probably be in jail for gang raping a nun before he’s played a game.”
“Well, let your sugar daddy provide you with the raw materials for a decent breakfast.”
It is almost half past eleven in the morning and Rebecca Logan is sitting at the bar in the dining room drinking a glass of cranberry juice and eating a waffle. Her eyes drift around the room but keep finding themselves drawn back to Kayce. Her cap is sitting beside her on the bar. Her hair is still up in the ponytail and Rebecca notices that it is the exact same shade of brown as her father’s.
Is hair color hereditary, she wonders. Eye color is, I know, and I think she has green eyes. Maybe that was her mother’s eye color, because brown eyes are the dominant gene, I think I remember that from bio. She seems quite nice and she is very well-behaved. I think she may have been afraid that I was going to leave. I wonder what Bruce has said about me. I told Kenny that he was my boyfriend but I’ve really only met him once. I wonder if he’s been thinking about me. Oh my God. He’s in a shower and I just said all that stuff about stripping. I wonder if he’s thinking about me right now. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. Is this book supposed to make me feel this way, supposed to get me turned on?
“Is the music too loud?” The question makes Rebecca focus back on Kayce, notices that the younger girl is staring at her. She listens as the song changes from “London Calling” to a song that she is unfamiliar with but is most definitely still The Clash.
“No. It’s fine.”
“How’s your waffle?”
“Very good. Does your dad make waffles a lot?”
“Usually, on the weekends. My mom used to make them a lot. It was her favorite food.”
“Did he tell you about my mom?”
“He just told me that she died.” She pauses. She knows what it is like, wants to say something to her, is unsure of what should be said, how to talk to someone her age, especially of this, something which haunted her for so long. “I’m really sorry,” she says, finally, and her words have a greater depth of sincerity to them than she could have imagined.
“It’s okay. I think it’s harder on him most of the time. My dad is one of those men with deep feelings. Like Captain Kirk, I guess.”
“Captain Kirk? From Star Trek?”
“Yeah. In Star Trek IV, they say that. Spock says he is a man of deep feelings.”
“I actually think I remember that. Weird, because I’ve only seen a couple of Star Trek movies. That’s the whale one, right?”
“Yeah, the really funny one. My dad likes those.”
“Your dad? The big Faulkner fan? He’s a Star Trek fan?”
“Yup. Star Wars too. Star Wars more, actually. He and Uncle Kyle can pretty much do the whole first movie by heart. We stood in line forever waiting to get into Episode III on opening day. It was completely insane. I think my dad was the only relatively normal person there.”
“What do you mean, relatively?”
They both turn to see him standing in the doorway. His hair and face are still wet but they are now a cleaner kind of wet and he seems more relaxed.
“You’re not the most normal guy, Dad. Normal guys don’t read the books that you do.”
“So who qualifies as a normal guy? Your uncle?”
“No way! Uncle Kyle is way too cool to be normal.”
“He’s too cool? And I’m not?”
“With thirty-one copies of The Sound and the Fury? Come on, Dad. If is was Lord of the Rings, that would be cool. But The Sound and the Fury? Uncle Kyle has a mint copy of the UK version of The Clash signed by Joe Strummer. That’s cool!”
Rebecca turns to look at Bruce, a smile making its way across her lips.
“You have thirty-one copies of The Sound and the Fury?”
“I have thirty-four, actually. It’s a bit of a hobby.”
“More like a fucking obsession,” comes the muttered reply, which is, unfortunately for Kayce, loud enough for her father to hear. He turns and looks at her. Her face turns ashen and she begins to stammer. ” I didn’t mean . . . It was an accident! I’m sorry. Really. I won’t say it again.”
“What did I tell you?”
“Not to say it. But, please, Dad, I really didn’t mean to, it just slipped out. Please. I was gonna write Uncle Kyle. I can’t do that if you take away my Internet.”
“You can write him tomorrow.”
“But Barry is back in the lineup. I wanted his advice on whether I should start him on my team tonight.”
“Then you can call him.”
“He’s in Seattle this week. Calling him is expensive.”
“Well then it will remind you why you should think before you speak.”
“But dad . . .”
“Um, Bruce, I was cussing when we were outside. If you’re determined to punish Kayce you should probably punish me too,” Rebecca chimes in. He turns to look at her, surprised at this quick jump to his daughter’s defense. He is trapped, he knows, by his quick desire to bend to Rebecca’s will and by his urge to show her what a good father is by standing firm behind his rules.
“Fine. No internet for you either.”
Rebecca turns to Kayce, her eyes a little down.
“Sorry. I tried.”
“Rules are rules, kiddo.”
“How come adults can say it?”
“The same reason they can watch an R rated film that is rated as such for no other reason than the excessive use of such language. Which is that there is no good reason. Except that you’re a very nice girl and I intend to raise you that way.”
“For how long?”
“Until you’re able to make enough money to live on your own.”
“No, Dad. For how long am I off the internet?”
“I’m not sure yet. It depends on how stoically you take it?”
“Do I have to look that up to find out what you mean?”
“It means how well you behave,” Rebecca tells her and Bruce lets this one go, deciding that the expansion of Kayce’s vocabulary is worth not making her go to the effort of finding the dictionary and trying to figure out how to spell ‘stoically’.
“Well, if I’m really good can I have it back before the Giants game? It’s not on tv.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Her head drops down in disappointment and he stares at her for a minute. Then he turns towards Rebecca and her head is also down, with her hair falling across her shoulders, hiding her eyes and he remembers a time when Michelle did that and the ensuing touch of his fingers on her neck and the way they loved each other in a time when things were so much simpler and there weren’t so many rules to worry about.
“Kayce, I’m going to try and help Rebecca with her class. Were you still planning to go for a bike ride?”
“Go ahead and go. I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
She stands to leave. On her way out of the room, she pauses, turns back to look at Rebecca, gives her a half-smile, a thank you smile, then is gone out the door but she leaves Rebecca with a warm feeling that flows through her entire body.
“You must think I’m the strictest father in the state of Arizona.”
She turns to answer him but finds him moving, turning the music down, pouring himself some juice and putting the waffle iron away.
“I think you’re very fair. And I’m sorry for jumping in on her side.”
“Well, it’s poetic justice. Her mother was the rule enforcer. I used to be the one who would jump in on her side. It’s still hard to have to be the one to be obeyed and enforce.”
“She equated you with Captain Kirk.”
“As what, a man of deep feelings?”
“It seems to be her favorite way of describing me lately.”
The phone rings and Bruce reaches over to pick it up. Rebecca’s attention begins to wander. Bruce’s eyes settle on her as he presses talk.
“Talk to me.”
“You paged?” asks Kyle. It only takes a second for Bruce to connect the dots on what has happened.
“I did not.”
“I got a page with your number on it. You could have just called, you know.”
“Kayce paged you. She has lost her internet access and apparently did not wish to have the price of a phone call to Seattle deducted from her allowance.”
“She’s getting quite ingenious.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine where she gets that from.”
“Am I allowed to talk to her then or am I too much of a bad influence?”
“Probably better if you didn’t. I’ll call you later and let you know how things are.”
“We can’t talk now?”
“I have company now.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Who is it?”
“A friend of mine.”
“You’re trying to be secretive and that will not be successful. It doesn’t work with me. I will weasel it out of you sooner or later. If you do it sooner it will save on your phone bill.”
“Her name is Rebecca,” Bruce replies and this gets Rebecca’s attention. She turns and smiles at him. He returns the smile.
“Rebecca? You don’t know anyone . . . Hey, wait a minute. The Rebecca? The girl from the plane?”
“I’m thinking it’s time to get off the phone.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“Tell the kid she’s got great ideas but she still has to follow the rules. Tell her to call me at four. I’ll be here. The Giants game doesn’t start until five.”
“Okay,” Bruce says and puts the phone back in the cradle.
“You know, you and I,” Rebecca says, “we aren’t that far off from the book.”
“What book would that be?”
“The book I wanted your help with. Lolita.”
“Damn. I was hoping it would be something I had read.”
“You haven’t read it?” she asks with a bit of a downcast face.
“I haven’t read any Nabokov,” he replies and she notices the way the name falls of his tongue, the accent of the first syllable, the way she has dreaded hearing it since her first day of class.
“You’re pronouncing it wrong.”
“It’s the Sting mistake. That’s what my professor calls it. It’s nuh-BO-kof. But an entire generation gets it wrong because of ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’.”
“Shame on Sting. He was an English teacher; he should know better.”
“I was thinking you would have read it. I was really hoping you would have read it. It’s very difficult. The language is so beautiful, so entrancingly erotic, but it’s so dense, so hard to penetrate to what is actually going on.”
“Sometimes you can’t really tell what’s going on, no matter how much you get told, how beautiful the language is.”
He puts his hand out. She stares at it, not sure what he is asking for. When he motions towards her bag she decides he must be asking for the book. She reaches in and pulls out her copy. He stands and stares at it, not bothering to open it, simply content to stare at the cover. She leans over the counter and looks at the cover.
It is the body of a young girl, obviously meant to be the Lo of the title. She is wearing a fifties schoolgirl skirt and saddle shoes. It is, stripped to its essence, a picture of a beautiful pair of legs; a picture designed to capture the male imagination.
“This isn’t right,” she says.
“How do you mean?”
She comes around the bar and stands next to him. Her finger traces a line across the girl’s left leg on the cover.
“You look at this here. This is the leg of a girl who’s being shy, nervous, not sure if this is what she really wants. That’s a perfect cover to make someone buy the book, to make any guy want to pick up the book and look inside. But it’s not Lo. Lo is not that nervous or shy. Humbert’s not even Lo’s first, he says that, at least, plainly enough. Those aren’t the legs of a someone who loses her virginity at camp at thirteen then beds her own stepfather. They’re beautiful legs and it’s a wonderful cover but the cover’s wrong for the book.”
He turns and in the turning, almost finds his lips traveling to hers. He leans back, slowly, as she turns to face him. He turns to the book quickly, opening to the first page and letting his voice touch on the words.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul,” but this is as far as he gets for she puts out her hand, places it on his wrist. He stops, turns to look again. Inches are between them, he is certain, it can be no more than inches, perhaps not even two. Your daughter may be back at any minute, he thinks, and she is not much more than a kid herself, and this could be just an attempt to not think about Jessica, the fact that every night for the last month you have picked up the phone and had to keep yourself from dialing her number, from saying, whispering, begging, yes, please, I still love you somewhere deep down and Kayce should have a mother and I am lonely and it has been almost two years since I’ve last had anything other than my hand to make me climax and I shouldn’t do this to someone so young, so beautiful.
“It’s beautiful language,” she says. She is not noticing what he is putting himself through, her own thoughts focused on keeping the sheer eroticism of the language from overcoming her sense of decorum and decency.
“The first time I read it, I had to say it out loud. I actually went out and rented the movie just so I could hear the words being said.”
“The Jeremy Irons one. Why? Which is better?”
“If you want to experience the power of the language, then that one, definitely. Irons is a much better Humbert than James Mason. The Kubrick version is a better film, though. More complete. Better all-around cast. Funnier.”
“Is this supposed to be funny?”
“Well, I thought so, but I haven’t read the book.”
“I so need help with this.”
“Look, why don’t you do this. Is this a paper you have to write?”
“Come in to the computer in my office. Take a stab at your paper. I haven’t read it, but I do have a copy somewhere. I’ll look at that while you’re working on your paper. If you get stuck, just say hey. We’ll try to figure it out.”
“I know you must have work to do. I should just come back later and . . .” The kiss is unexpected, for both of them, perhaps, a kiss of necessity for him, to make her stop and take a second to think and to stop talking, the kiss for both is the first since the plane and she slides into the kiss more easily than she could have imagined. When he stops he is amazed that she almost continues, flows forward into his arms looking for protection and security.
“I am twenty-nine years old, Rebecca. I have been making decisions for twelve years on what to do with my life and I regret very few of them. Talking to you, meeting you, helping you, kissing you are not among those regrets.”
“Do you still want me to help?”
The smell of food breaks her concentration on the computer and she looks at the clock to see that is now almost quarter to two. When she stands away, she feels a tremendous urge to pee. She walks out of the study and into the bathroom.
Coming out of the bathroom, she barely manages to avoid being hit by the swinging door that separates off the kitchen. Bruce is coming through with a plate and she whispers sorry as she looks at the food on the plate, which looks like it might be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
“I thought you might be getting hungry.”
“I was. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I smelled the food. What time is it, anyway? One?”
“Almost two? Oh, God. I’m the slowest, dumbest Freshman at ASU. I don’t think I even have a page yet. I feel like I should just crawl into a hole and die.”
“What happened to you growing up to make you so damn apologetic and self-deprecating? Are you Catholic?” Bruce asks.
“Yes,” she replies, slowly. “Yes, I am. Why?”
“Oh, of course. That explains everything.”
“What does being Catholic have anything to do with it?”
“It’s the root of all guilt in the Western world. It always amazes me when any Catholics reach adulthood without the need for therapy.”
“And there’s no such thing as Jewish guilt?”
“Well, of course there is. But you’re from California and there are more Catholics in California than there are Jews in the whole country. Maybe the whole world.”
“I take it you are not Catholic,” she says, with a note of irritation.
“And what are you?”
“I’m not really quite sure.”
“Great. So you’re another college educated agnostic who feels the need to run down other people’s faiths just because you can’t understand it?”
“I’m not agnostic.”
“Oh, even better,” she says. “An atheist, feeling the need to point out to everyone that Nietzsche was right. Let me let you in on a little secret, Bruce. God is not dead, not so long as anyone takes the time to believe and to hold true to that, because God isn’t an idea, he isn’t a concept, he isn’t a philosophy, he’s a choice, something we all make, and anytime someone makes that choice, he’s there, inside that person, no matter what Nietzsche or Camus or Sartre or any other great writer might say.” As she finishes, she takes a deep breath and he struggles to hide a smile.
“I believe in God.”
“You what?” she asks, all the passion and commitment sliding out of her voice, letting what she still thinks of as the scared teenager voice even though she is now twenty, regain control.
“God’s the only thing that has continued to make any sense in my life. But aside from an overarching belief in God and that Jesus was more than likely his only begotten son, I have no set structure of beliefs. That’s what I meant by not quite sure.”
Her eyes go down. She feels the first cool breeze of the air conditioner kicking in and remembers that it is still only days after the official end of summer and that just outside the window the temperature is rising near one hundred degrees. I should be hot, she thinks, the sweat should be running down my back while I kick back in a bikini top and shorts throwing a Frisbee around. What am I doing here with a chill running down my spine, wasting hours trying to make sense of a book I can’t possibly hope to understand just to impress some guy that I basically just met. Her eyes drift and she considers thanking him and finding the quickest way out of the room, out of the house, back to her dorm where she can disappear into nothingness, slip away into the heat and never emerge again. Then she notices the sandwich again.
It looks like a nice sandwich, perhaps something that her mother would have made her a million and a half years ago when lunch started with a glass of milk and always ended with two chocolate chip cookies. But it wasn’t a million years ago, she whispers to herself, out of reach, so soft and low he can not see her lips move, but it’s really only been a couple of years. I had a wonderful mother, a kind, beautiful woman who kept me warm and kept me clean and made sure I had a nice life for as long as she was around to try to make it nice. Those million and a half years ago are really barely two and they were pretty bad, but nothing that can’t be cured, nothing that would lead to a life on a couch trying to put the pieces together, just a little time, something maybe even just a little love can fix. We can overcome. I can overcome.
“Will you talk to me while I eat?” she asks.
Her eyes touch on him as she eats. He is reading what she has written, his brown eyes illuminated in the glow of the computer. His eyes scan to the left and slowly across to the right as he takes in her words.
“Do you like younger women?” she asks. He stops reading, she can tell that at once. His eyes stop moving as he sits and stares straight ahead. Love is a funny thing, she thinks, and I guess it is possible to fall in love all at once, to go head over heels and then try to understand it.
“I’ve never dated anyone younger than myself,” he answers.
“My birthday is in October. I was always younger than everybody. Both Jessica and Michelle were a few months older than me.”
“So, from no one younger to ten years younger?”
When he turns, he has a funny expression on his face, his lips turned up in a half-smile, a puzzled expression in his eyes as if he is thinking about something.
“Are we dating?”
“I guess two dates can be called dating. That’s what I’ve learned in college so far.”
“Is this a date, then?”
“You made me breakfast. You made me lunch.”
“Do you want this to be a date?” he asks.
The question is not one she expects, not one she has ever heard or even contemplated, the thought that perhaps she is in charge of her own situation, that she the power to control what happens in her life.
“I guess, maybe, yeah.”
“Then it’s a date.”
“Yeah. What did you say on the plane? A connection. With the potential for more.”
“That was what I learned in college,” he replies with a smile.
There is a pause and his eyes begin to stray back towards the screen and she wants more, is not yet where she wants to be and she reaches out as quickly as she can.
“Can I ask you something, Bruce?”
“What kind of something?”
“A moral question. A part of my life that needs closure.”
“You are more than welcome to ask. I can try my best to give you an answer that will work for you.”
“You’re not Catholic.”
“That’s not your question, is it?”
“Just confirming a fact, first.”
“So you don’t necessarily believe in absolution?”
“I do not believe in absolution, certainly not the kind that is practiced in the Catholic church.”
“What about personal absolution?”
He turns back away from the computer and stares at her. His eyes run the course of her body. She has a pretty face, he thinks, a nice, fair pretty face, bluish-greenish eyes, blonde hair, not quite blonde and blue, but close to a traditional form of American beauty. She is twenty, in the bloom of youth, she has a beautiful body. She is quick to react to literature, to philosophy, might be the answer to any intelligent guy’s dreams. I don’t want to fall in love so quickly. It’s been almost two and a half years but I still miss Michelle, I still miss Jessica, I never resolved anything I felt for Jenn, I have all these other things in my life, I can’t fall in love, it’s not so simple, shouldn’t be so stupid, so out of my control. But in all that time, all those girls, any nights in love, making love, feeling love, pressing for love, I don’t know that anyone’s ever asked something of me where they think I might know the answers.
“What do you mean by personal absolution?” he asks. She notices that his voice is softer, that his eyes have taken in a quick glance at her body but that they are now locked on hers, that the only thing he cares about is hearing what she has to say.
“Forgiving someone for something. How important is it? No matter how bad the thing was that they might have done.”
“Are you asking how important forgiveness is to me? Or how important forgiveness is in general? And I guess either way it’s gonna depend on what the person did.”
“I guess what I want to know is, how good does it feel to finally forgive someone?”
It takes him a minute. He recognizes the words and he thinks and he can hear the line echoing in the back of his mind and then can hear the piano that plays in the background as the words are sung, he remembers the first time he heard them, remembers writing the words down on a pad of yellow paper, a note on the side of a page of scribblings, and he understands the question, understands her comment about falling for younger women, understands what she is saying and his smile breaks across his face carrying them both into a happy stupor.
“How in God’s name did you find it?” he asks.
“Find what?” she asks.
“Oh, don’t get coy and cute and innocent with me, Ms. Logan. Where’d you find it?”
Her smile is shy and sweet. His eyes try to stay on hers, a beautiful greenish-blue that is like the ocean’s calm after a storm. Not blonde and blue, he thinks, no, but even better. I always thought of myself as a brown and brown guy, the softly beautiful types that don’t get noticed at first but that everyone ends up in love with in the end. But I can make a change. We all learn how to change.
“The magic of Google,” she says. “There’s not a lot of Bruce Yales out there and none of the others have ever published anything that I could find.”
“So where was it?”
“Well, it was where you published it. There are a number of small press magazines that keep all their contents online. And Other Stories happens to be one of them.”
“You read it, obviously.”
“I read it.”
“Did you like it?”
“It’s about her, isn’t it?”
“The one who hurt you.”
“Yes. It’s about her.”
“Her name’s not really Ellen, is it?”
“No. It’s Jessica.”
“Do you still love her?”
“In the same way that Bill still loves Ellen? No. At least, I hope not. If I do, then I’ve deluded myself into believing otherwise. I took a theme and then I took a part of my life and I found a way to make the two of them co-exist on a page. But Michelle was never quite sure what to think of it. I hadn’t written in a wife for Bill, so I had set things up for a possible happy ending for Bill and Ellen.”
“Well, I liked it.”
“Didn’t other people?”
“Other people didn’t read it. And Other Stories did not have a big patronage.”
“Do you have any more?”
“Stories? Not that were published. I gave it three years. ‘Dark House’ was the extent of my career.”
“Did you write anything else? Did you ever write a novel?”
“Three. But none of them are published. None of them are even finished.”
“Do you have problems finishing things? Was that part of Bill straight from your life?”
“Absolutely. I get the idea, I can start it, I can envision it, but I can never seem to quite get to the end.”
“Would you let me read any of them?”
“I’ll think about it. Right now, though, we should probably get back to your writing.”
“Oh God, is it that bad?”
“No. Your writing is fine, Rebecca. You have a voice all your own and that’s good because it’s something that is difficult to teach. What your paper is seeming to lack is focus. And about two thousand words.”
“It would help if I knew what I wanted to write about.”
“Write about Humbert.”
“That’s a broad perspective. Can you narrow that down for me?”
“Write about Humbert from Lo’s perspective. Give an idea as to what about him must have appealed to her.”
“What makes you think I can provide a proper perspective on falling in love with an older man?”
“I’d love to find out what you would have to say.”
Her smile captivates him, provides him with the connection and he longs for the something more.
“I’ll just bet you would.”
He is captivated by the nymphet. It is something almost pathological, something stronger than desire, something more than love or lust, a need, an urge, a push that can not be ignored. How can a man with such needs turn away from such a choice as Dolores Haze?
The Vintage cover of Lolita has the wrong picture. A cover of a book needs to capture the eye, draw the reader in and make them beg to know what will happen. A cover, also though, needs to align with the text, must find a connection to the words, the story, a vital connection with what comes inside, because in spite of everything we are taught we often judge books by their covers. The Vintage cover of Lolita is a lie.
The picture is a shy, fifties girl, alive and fresh in her skirt and saddle shoes, obviously wanting us to think this is Lo. But this is not Lo, nor is meant to be, for Lo has never been shy, has never demurred away from the hope for sexual attention. It takes us no time to understand the decision of Humbert to fall so desperately under her spell, for her to capture the fire of his loins, to be his light, his soul, so much that when she is gone from his life all he can hope for are aurochs and angels and the immortality of art. Humbert is a man of desperation and illusions, the old world European come to the new world, only to be enraptured in the beauty and lustfulness of its most entrancing young nymphet. But all of this merely serves to beg a question: What does our young Lolita see in our sad professor? What could bring this nymphet, barely a teen, to enter into a dalliance with this desperate fool, perhaps old enough to be her grandfather? And our answer will help us to see how wrongly placed the Vintage cover is.
Humbert is not quite right at the end of Part One when he says she has nowhere else to go. She could flee from him and in later pages, will do just that, will fly away to greater sexual debauchery under the wings of Clare Quilty and finally fall from the sky into a simple relationship, will have burned the sexual desire from her system as she soared too close to the sun. But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is not an innocent child. Perhaps Humbert will shed a tear for her absence from the choice but it was not his lecherous incestuous ways that distracted her from a path to grace.
There is a grace in an older man that she, being a nymphet, can understand, can feel calling her up the steps to leap into his arms to kiss him, that can draw her into his bed before she has nowhere left to go. Lolita, our beautiful lo-lee-ta, is the child of Scott Fitzgerald’s flappers, the young sexual awakening of a generation that will come to constant sexual betrayal in the novels of Updike. This is not shy, innocent fifties girl ready to go to the school dance, replete in poodle skirt and saddle shoes. This is the young sexual awakening of a generation and this a man who desperately needs her, wants her. It gives her a chance to achieve that desire, to learn where her wings are stored, knowing that he will do what she asks, will help her find herself and when he resists, tries to keep her from the sky, she will disappear and once her awakening is complete she seeks for a quieter life, seeks to settle all accounts. But she is still young and has never quite come to the understanding of Humbert that perhaps she needed. And she can not save him. And for all his hopes and lusts, he can not save her. And they sing of aurochs and angels. And the refuge of art is the only immortality they share.
It is nearly five in the afternoon and she is watching him as he reads the words on the screen. She finds her hand drifting to the level of her mouth, her fingers starting to twirl the ends of her hair, one lone finger finding its way into her mouth where she begins to nibble on the end of a fingernail.
“Have you read Updike?” he asks.
“I read Rabbit, Run. And some of his short stories.”
“I’m impressed with how much you manage to pick up with little exposure.” He pauses as he continues to read. “By the way, how is Invisible Man coming?”
“Oh, well, I put it down for now.”
“Why is that?”
“I have a hard time reading something after I’ve heard negative opinions. I start to notice all the things that people have criticized and then it becomes no fun.”
“So what are you reading these days?”
“It’s been so hard to find the time. I’m trying to just keep up with my classes.”
“You should always try to relax and read something outside of class. Takes the edge away from having to read as a form of work.”
“Well, I read ‘Dark House’.”
“That wouldn’t have taken very long.”
“Well, I am reading something . . .” and when she trails off, he turns and catches her smile and can’t decide if it sly or shy. He turns and sees her bag next to him and reaches inside.
Before it is even out of the bag he has recognized the gold cover and knows it is a Vintage trade copy of one of Faulkner’s novels. He sees the chair in front of the window and the words William Faulkner and The Hamlet on the cover. He checks her bookmark and notices that she is just finished with “The Long Summer”. The smile comes naturally and smoothly to his lips.
“Either I have a dangerous influence on you, especially for someone you’ve only met once or you’re trying to seduce me.”
“Seduce may be a bit of a strong word,” she says, but she is smiling when she says it.
“Are you sure of that?” he asks. Her mouth comes down slightly, she reaches her upper teeth out and bites gently on her lower lip.
“Maybe not,” she suggests.
There is a knock at the door, a soft tap. When there is no answer, Kayce slowly pushes the door open. When she sees Rebecca on the couch alone, staring down at her hands, she peaks around and sees her father, staring across the room, his eyes suspended on the blonde of the young woman’s hair.
“Dad?” No answer. “Did you make a decision about the game?”
“Sourdough Jacks,” is the only reply and Kayce frowns.
“That’s your decision about the game?”
“What exactly does that mean?”
He opens his wallet and takes out a twenty dollar bill. He hands the bill across the desk to his daughter.
“Take your bike down to Jack-in-the-Box. Buy four Sourdough Jacks. When you’re back, you can get on the net and track the game.”
“Better get moving. You go quick enough and you’ll be back before Barry gets to bat.”
Before he can say another word the money is gone from his hand and she is out the door.
“She’s gone,” Rebecca says, a soft whisper as she continues to stare at her hands.
“I guess we are.” She waits for him to continue beyond these few words and after a brief pause she does. “I hadn’t really thought about it. I just didn’t want to get up.”
She looks up now, expecting him to be grinning broadly to celebrate his punchline. She is confused when she finds the calm face of the straight man.
“Are you serious?”
“Life’s too short to be serious.”
“Then at what point do you get serious?”
“Is that a come-on?”
“Hasn’t most of the day felt like a come-on.”
“Admittedly so, but I have been out of the dating scene since I was your age.”
“Well, think what you want.”
She stands, her thoughts touching on everything he has said, how much he is unlike anyone she has ever met, an adult who is willing, tempted, to think of her as one too. She extends her hand slowly, runs it along his cheek. She can feel where he has shaved, feels a couple of stray hairs he has missed.
I always wanted to be a teenager, she thinks, the cute blonde on the La Jolla beach with the ponytail and the little black bikini, the kind of girl the surfers stare at and fantasize about fucking, a trail of desire in the sunset sand. Then, I found that only as a release to get me out of everything that my life had become and it’s not what I want anymore. This isn’t what the guys in the dorm can offer, not an ‘I want to fuck you,’ not an ‘I so love you, please kiss me.’ This is protection and hope and it’s the best offer I’ve ever gotten.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” he asks. The question is not condescending, he is not acting like her stepfather.
“I know enough.”
He takes her hand, draws it slowly across his face to his lips. Gently, calmly, he places the kiss.
“We’re still early in this game,” he says. “I don’t want to use you. And I don’t want to make a mistake. After we eat, I’ll walk you back, if you want. We’ll not risk anything.”
“I hope you don’t . . .” but she stops talking as his touch on her hand becomes harder and she can see the faint outline of tears at the edge of his eyes.
“I spent too long pining for someone who was too quick to run away. Then I got a second chance and a marriage and a beautiful baby girl. Then I got that chance taken away. Then, out of nowhere, she walks in, the long lost love of my life. And she tells me that she misses me. And she says that she knows the truth about my daughter. And all she wants to do is to be there for whatever I may need. And a few hours later, I’m still recoiling from that when I notice this beautiful, beautiful young woman sitting in a chair reading. And everything in my life changes. Everybody talks about how you never get a second chance in life, you have to take everything when you get it because nothing ever comes back around again. But life can be a circle and sometimes everything will come back around to where it began and you can get a second chance and maybe even a third. And no one ever talks about a fourth chance. Because no one ever gets that in life, no storybook ending even dares go that far.”
When she leans in, moves across his body so that her breasts press up against his arms and her lips brush against his cheek he finds himself frozen, unable to think of anything to do or to say, remembering only that she is young and smart and interesting and beautiful.
“You were the first person in a really long time who was kind to me right away,” she whispers. He recognizes her tone, a self-confessional he has used himself so many times before. He can not bring himself to turn to look, to see what few inches keep them apart. He closes his eyes to sink into her voice, to try to remember the last time anyone spoke to him from so close. “You are intelligent and kind and cute. You are everything I could have asked for. I don’t know much about you yet and you know even less about me. I know you had a girl that you loved and a wife that you lost. I just want to know more. Whatever you want, whatever makes you comfortable, just give me a chance to know more.”
He can feel the tears coming and knows he can not stop them, knows he does not feel any need to stop them. He turns into her, brushes her hair back and kisses her, pressing himself into the kiss, no longer caring, come what may, he thinks, hold this into me and all will be good in my life. She does not resist, slides gently and sweetly into the kiss and that is where they are when Kayce walks into the room.
“Uh, dad . . .” she says, but stops. Her voice is low and out of breath and he does not hear her. Kayce was seven when her mother died, has trouble remembering any time at all when she has seen her father truly happy, really able to enjoy himself in love, knows that somewhere deep in the back of her memory must be some images of her parents together, happy, in love, kissing passionately, but she can not unlock them.
She places the food quietly on the table and backs out of the room.
It is quarter after seven and he kisses her again on the walk leading to her dorm.
“Are you sure that Kayce is okay?” she asks again. “I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.”
“Stop worrying already. I’ve been a father my entire adult life. I will talk some more with her. She’s a very bright girl, understands things better than I can sometimes. Children understand more about all of this than we do. They still have the capacity for believing in dreams. And in dreams anything can happen.”
“You know, Bruce, you’re more of a writer than you give yourself credit for.”
“Another thing you know about me, then. I think we need to even the score a little. I want to know something about you, Rebecca.”
“I don’t like bacon.”
“You don’t? Then why’d you eat the Sourdough Jack?”
“You bought it,” she says with a shrug. “You were so confident when you told Kayce to go and get dinner. It was nice and romantic. Never fuck with something romantic, I always say.”
With that said, he kisses her again. He must like to kiss me, she thinks. His kiss and soft and warm and he knows exactly how to slide his tongue along my upper lip, it makes my skin jump in all the right ways.
“Look at this tangle of thorns,” he whispers.
“Perhaps this is our prophetic sonnet.”
“Are you thinking of aurochs and angels?”
“I’m thinking of you,” she whispers with a smile, soft and sweet. But she then takes a step back and looks in his eyes.
“Can I ask something?”
“On the plane, you said it was a second date story. And then you said that Jessica knows the truth about Kayce.”
He pauses a minute before answering. He turns and looks at her dorm, looks out at the setting Arizona sun. Then he turns back to look at her again.
“Do you like to run?”
“Uh, it’s okay. I can.”
“Come running with me tomorrow. I’ll tell you about Kayce.”
“Are you sure?”
“Come over around nine. That way the temperature won’t be too ghastly yet.”
“I’ll be there,” she says and they kiss again. “Good night, sweet prince. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“As you wish.”
It is almost nine in the evening and the Giants game is long over. It had taken them just a little over two hours to lose 6-0 and assure themselves of a losing season for the first time in nine years. Kayce Yale has already stopped thinking about it as she runs across the lawn. Her father has locked one hand within the other, his fingers interlocking with each other to form a step. Her runs is perfectly coordinated for her left foot to land in the center of the web of fingers. As she lands, he throws his hands in the air.
For a second she is flying, a young girl in the middle of the September Arizona night, suspended in air with the safety of her father’s arms close by. Then she is bent over the branch, a poetic gymnastic move in mid-air and then she is kneeling upon the branch. She crawls the few feet and leaps casually onto the roof of her house.
She is ready when her father throws her the pint of ice cream. The harder part is catching the spoons, spotting the reflection of the silver glinting brightly with the light of the lamppost. When he climbs up himself he finds her already eating away, a mess of vanilla ice cream, cherries and chocolate chunks disappearing into her mouth.
“Had to,” she says between bites. “It was already starting to melt,” but he just nods in response and sits down next to her. She hands a spoon to him and takes a bite.
“Whatcha thinkin’, kiddo?”
“Uncle Kyle called while you were walking her home.”
“Wanted to know why I never called him about the game.”
“And what did he have to say about it?”
“About the game? He said Barry didn’t look good and that this just wasn’t our year.”
“What did he have to say about me? I assume you told him where I was.”
“He said, ‘your father and I, we made some choices a long time ago. Your father made a choice I wasn’t capable of making and he gave you something I never had to give. Later on, I made just as tough a choice but in a different way. We both made a sacrifice and it seems that life is finally starting to pay us back’.”
Bruce sits, stares at the lights of the plane as it comes down, passing within a few thousand feet on its final descent. The passage of the plane kicks up a soft breeze in the dead of the desert heat. He turns to look at his daughter but she is looking away, quickly trying to eat as much of the ice cream as she can before it melts.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, honey.”
“I saw you kissing her.”
“Oh,” is the only response he can think of.
“Was it nice?”
“It was very nice.”
“Do you like her?”
“What is it, honey?”
“I think I like her too,” she says. He turns back and this time she is looking, green eyes alight in the glow of the streetlights. “That’s a good thing for a start, isn’t it?”
“I’d like to think so.”
“She really is pretty, isn’t she, Dad?”
“I think so.”
“Are you gonna sleep with her?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“Uncle Kyle bet me five bucks I wouldn’t ask you.”
The night around them grows silent and still as the darkness settles in over the desert, broken only by the laughter of a young man and his daughter as they sit and eat ice cream underneath the serene September sky.