"Felice says you've been talking about me," I said to Ellen as she sat down. Her features sharpened, and I realized it was a stupid thing to say. I explained. "She just said you told her I wasn't good for much money. She took it as a challenge; but you were right."
"She's a trial. But you're a big boy; you take care of yourself."
"As much as I can."
"Where you headed this time?"
"Winnemucca. That's all. School's out, and I needed some fresh air."
"You drove all the way out here just to turn around and go back? Lordy! Don't they have whores in Denver?" She waited for a reply. "Don't you have to be in Denver Monday?" she added more seriously.
"I suppose. Not till evening," I lied. I thought telling her I drove it in one day would look like macho bullshit. "It's an easy two days."
"Yeah. Two thousand miles in four days!" She shook her head.
We talked about my classes. She made it seem as if she was interested in what I did; we both knew it was politeness. I asked her about her family. She had two sisters, Florence and Maria Anne. Florence lived in Winnemucca, married to a sheep man. They never spoke. Her other sister either. Maria was married to a Ute from Colorado. They disapproved of Ellen.
"Maria's got some kids. Only one."
"No. She's the only one with children. It's just as well. Florence is a pure righteous hell-bitch. And I'm pretty busy." She sipped her coffee. Millie had brought her apple pie without being asked. "Hey, it's on the house, then, right?" she had said to the waitress' departing back.
"Pig's eye," Millie had growled over her shoulder.
"You ever wish you had kids?"
"With Eddie? And set back the course of evolution?"
"Was he the only guy you were ever close to? In twenty years?"
Her lips touched the cup gently, kissing the surface of the coffee. "There was a guy, Stan Reynolds, worked on the railroad. We had a hot number for a while." She reflected. "Haven't seen Stan in ten years." She put the cup down. "You know, all that movie bullshit about guys who can't fall for girls 'cause they're whores? Sweet Charity bullshit? That's all it is, you know: bullshit. I have to beat guys away with sticksnot from me, of course, but they get hooked on a girl, start asking for her, start waiting for her and paying extra to reserve her: they fall in love with good pussy. Felice had this car dealer, hot-shot pussy hunter from Sacramento. He used to hit a different house every weekend, make the rounds. He said he kept a tally so he wouldn't have the same chick twice. Somebody told him Don Juan had two thousand different women and Casanova had a thousand and some Englishman named Harris"
"Yeah. So he's for real? I never heard of him. Anyway, John Bittefield said that guy had a diary with all his scores in it, and he lost count at two thousand with ten years to go."
"Actually, it wasn't Harris. Harris was the guy's friend. Harris was American, I think."
"Yeah? Well, anyway, John said he was going to beat 'em all. Then Felice cleaned his clock. He was back next week, shamefaced as a puppy with his first real one. This went on for about a month, then he tried to talk her into marrying him. They had a big fight. Albert and I had to suspend her for a week for scaring the customers."
"A lot of women used the brothels out west as a way to get husbands."
"Well, it's not the whole thing, but it's a big piece of it. If a guy and a girl are good for each other in bed, it makes up for a lot."
"You guess? What's that mean?"
"Maybe good sex is all a marriage needs, at least until you start having kids. But then, you start caring what kind of a person is raising them, who she is, what she's going to make of them. I don't think men really love women. They love their children. Their women are either friends or sex objects."
"I don't know about both. I tried to have a 'sexual friendship' with a woman once. I never loved her; we were friends. I never claimed I loved her. She started loving me, and it turned ugly. I'm not proud of it."
"You could use a dash of hypocrisy, Doc."
I was startled. "Joan said something like that. 'Would it hurt to pretend you loved me?' she said one night. I said it would."
Ellen looked at me over her coffee cup. Then she used her fork to section off a piece of the cold pie. Before she picked it up, she murmured, "Whew."
We were silent while she chewed the pie. She swallowed.
"Like I said, I'm not proud of it," I said, a little defensively.
"No whore in you, huh?"
She had said it flat, without a touch of irony or anger, but it hit like the knuckle my mother used to flick me with, hard as a thrown rock to the forehead. I weighed answers.
"I guess not."
She looked around the room like someone checking exits.
"I'm not proud of it."
"Stop saying that, for crissake."
"How many men have you loved, Ellen?"
"I thought we weren't gonna get into that?"
"No, I don't mean made love with, I mean loved."
"I never counted. You mean sex love, like husbands and boyfriends. Not fathers, uncles?" I nodded. "Well, I loved Eddie at first. You know, he lost me once in a poker game. I think that's what did him in for me. He brought this buddy home and said he'd lost me in a poker game and he needed me to fuck this guy. I was eighteen and didn't know better; it turned out he just wanted to try two on one." She stopped, watching my face. Then she said, "Aren't you going to ask me if I did it?"
She smiled, I was uncertain why. She was silent for half a minute. I could hear the cook or somebody in the kitchen.
"OK," she said then. She went on. "I loved Stan; that's for sure. He was number one. It just didn't work out. And a guy in high school, before Eddie. And.... Say six. What's your point?"
"Any of them knock you around?"
"Never more than once. I lived with a guy used to shout at me a lot. He slapped me once. I put all his shit outside the trailer while he was at work and called the cops when he got home."
"You ever love a man who hit you?"
"Before or after?"
"Is that a special kind of love?"
"It's a special kind of dumb."
"No, I mean, if you have a child, and the child grows up mean, you still love it. You don't love him because he's mean, but you still love him, no matter how much he hurts you."
Her voice got hard. "I wouldn't know."
"I wouldn't either, actually. It's never happened to me. But it happens!"
"Thomas, this is a wide-world strange conversation. Where are we going?" I told her about Claudine. I invented to make it anonymous; I tried to sound neutral, as if Peter wasn't a soap opera villain. I tried to confine the story to what I knew. When I told Ellen I had tried to do that, she said, "You don't know anything. For all you know, she beats him up. Who's got the broken thumb, huh?"
"Is it? You want to believe the guy is some kind of psychotic. Maybe it's her."
"All right. Maybe it is. But I don't want to talk about this specific woman." I hadn't mentioned their names. "I'm talking about the principle. I don't get it. I don't understand forgiving someone that much. Do you have to do that, to really love someone?"
"If so, then I never did."
I thought I would tell her about Ruth too. I decided not to.
"Want to meet my dog?"
She grinned. "I've heard that one before."
"I'm serious. Sam. She's the real love of my life. I couldn't get her boarded on such short notice, so I brought her along."
"Where is she?"
"In the car."
She glanced at the clock over the counter. It was three. "I gotta get going. On the way?"
I put ten dollars on the table and we left together. "Don't get any ideas," she said to Millie as the waitress eyed us. Millie said goodnight and began to clean the counter.
Sam heard us coming and rose sleepily from the back seat, her head a dark silhouette behind the glass. I let her out, and she pranced around me sideways once, then threw herself at Ellen's feet.
"What a good girl!" Ellen cried, dropping to her knees in the gravel. She and Sam exchanged kisses and endearments and aspersions on my character.
"Did he leave you in the car? Did he try to fry your brain?"
"I got in at ten, and I left the windows cracked." They ignored me.
"Sam's a good dog!" Her arms around Sam's neck, Ellen smiled up at me.
"All right," I said irritably, "she can sleep in the room. Blackmail!"
"Sam, you make him sleep in the car," she said into the fur on the dog's head. "See how he likes it."
I unlocked my door, and the three of us went into the room. Sam immediately checked the place for intruders, alternately sniffing out every corner and romping back to Ellen for more encouragement. After a minute, Sam found the well in the bathroom. Ellen looked around the room, then stepped toward the door.
"I gotta go."
She was through the door when she stopped, considered, and turned back to me. "I have one question, Professor," she said. I waited expectantly. "What are you doing here?" she said, and she was gone before I thought of an answer.
She was right about the drive, I thought as I pulled into Price on Saturday evening. It made more sense to fly to Reno and rent a car. Over dinner at the Greek Streak, I laughed at the logic of that "sense." I had driven two thousand miles and paid fifty dollars plus three motels and meals for an hour of one woman's time and three of another's. And I was thinking about doing it again.
It's about eight hours from Price to Denver. I took Sam over to Colorado National Monument for a couple of hours. I was in no hurry to be in Denver. Thinking of the bizarre phone call I'd had for sendoff, I wondered what I would find when I returned. No one knew where I was, not even the police. ("Yes, officer, if my house burns down, you can contact me in a cozy little brothel in Winnemucca. I'll be tied up all weekend.") Driving from Eagle to Vail, I thought about Ruth Stroh. She had gone home for Thanksgiving. She'd be back by now. I supposed that she had terminated her sexual relationship with her father when she left for school last fall. Driving the curves of Vail, Brahms on the radio, I realized suddenly that I had no reason to assume that, except that it was what I wanted her to do. Was I confusing wishful thinking with character analysis? Then I remembered Ellen's suggestion regarding Claudine.
I didn't think she was right, in those few hours of retrospect. But I thought, how much have I reduced this to black and white? What are the true colors of a woman who stays with a man who beats her? I wondered if perhaps Claudine had lied to me, perhaps about her own violence. And that hour of cynicism I felt foolish and naive. Why would Ruth go on for years in such a relationship if she didn't take some pleasure in it? Because she loved her father. Right. And Claudine's love bejewelled her with purple bruises and broke her nose. Accidentally. Ruth's picture of her father had no elements of violence in it. Was that unmentionable? She could confess to incest with ingenuous openness, but she couldn't admit that her father abused her punitively as well. I started channel-hopping, looking for something to distract me. My mind began writing the scene of a fight between Peter and Claudine. Somehow I drifted into Ruth's father's bedroom and heard his murmured endearments. Not heard at first, but invented. I did not actually hear that reedy voice in my mind's ear. But then it ceased to be a story, abstracted into language, and I could hearnot his voice but Ruth's quiet weeping and the rutting gasp of a man making rhythms behind it. I hit a rock station playing Pink Floyd and I reached down to boost the volume, the chanting of angry children drowning out the horror of my own invention.
I pulled over in Idaho Springs and took Sam out on a leash. While she mapped the rest stop with her nose I smoked a small cigar and wondered what would happen next. I wanted to helpClaudine, Ruth; I wanted these women out of my life. I resented it that Ruth's father had tainted for me the innocent pleasure of imagining loving her. I thought of Claudine and, for a lucid moment, knew I was looking into a swamp that would leave me scarred if I ventured in to far. I felt brave and worldly and a little silly. I wondered what would happen next. I threw half the cigar into the creek and took Sam back to the car.
Ruth was in class on Monday. She seemed subdued, absorbed. She barely listened in class, said nothing, even when I called on her once. She had shaken her head, not so much as if she didn't know the answer, but as if she didn't want to answer. Her behavior nibbled at the back of my mind all afternoon. I hoped that she would stop by to talk. She didn't.
Claudine called in sick and missed Monday classes. Wednesday she met her classes but didn't keep office hours. I only saw her once, crossing the hall a classroom away. I caught a glimpse of a black eye. When she finally turned up in the office Friday morning, it was fading; the eye was still bloodshot. I wondered if she'd been wearing her glasses when he hit her; she was wearing a pair I'd never seen before.
There was no repetition of the strange phone call. Once I looked out the front window coming in after parking my car in back of the house, and I jumped when I realized there was a high-rider pickup parked in front of my house. It was clear in my mind now, the caller was Ruth Stroh's father. I was tempted to call himgetting the phone number would be easy enough. I imagined hearing that reedy voice on the line, then, like a guilty lover, saying nothing as he repeated, "Hello? Hello? Is somebody there? Who is this?" I did not make that call.
In that month, during the three weeks when the semester was winding down, to be more precise, Ruth missed class once, twice, and then a third time before I got a call from the counseling center. Her father was dead and she had gone home. Would I be willing to give her a Withdrawn Passing rather than flunking her? I agreed, my mind elsewhere.
The next day, I spoke to Jeanne Follett, a friend of Ruth's, as she turned in a paper. "I wonder what happened to Ruth?"
"Didn't they tell you? Her daddy shot himself! It was a total shock. She had to drop out to take care of her little sisters." She took a breath and shaped her face for grief. "It must've been awful."
Walking back to my office, I imagined the macabre irony of a final symbolic fellatio. The lead gift. What had brought it on? Exposure? Confrontation? Some crisis of self-recognition? I felt no grief for the man, none of that vague sense of loss one becomes accustomed to feeling for the losses of others. I was a little shocked by my hardness of will, but pleased at the same time that I could sustain this proper sense of righteousness.
Ruth had disappeared. I debated sending her a card; I could get the address from administration. It seemed tasteless at first, then a good idea. Whatever I thought of her father, acknowledging her grief was a kindness I owed her. I found a blank card and inscribed it personally with a deliberately vague condolence. I enclosed a note assuring her that her grade was in no danger and expressing my eagerness to see her back in school. I certainly didn't expect a reply, and I got none.
During finals week, Dan Fussell called with a question that changed my life. That for you, Teresa. But notice that I didn't say "changed for the better." One thief was hanged.
When I picked up the phone, he said, "Thomas, have you got a tap root in Denver?"
"Who is this?" I replied. I knew, but I needed a second to make sense of the question.
"Your dearest friend on the planet, butt brain."
"Yvette Mimieux? I remember your voice differently. Are you still smoking?"
"After ten years? You wish. Look, are you going to answer my question, or do I hang up and call the next dearest friend on my list?"
"The idea of me with a tap root anywhere is so weird I'm trying to decide what you're talking about. You know I live out of my luggage." I waited, then added, "So what's up?"
"Bill Winterell is talking about early retirement. He had a cancer scare, and he wants to get the rest of his books written, so he's moving up into the Truckees permanently. In other words, we may have an opening for a teacher of fiction writing. Dean Anderson was impressed with you, and he'd like you to apply if Bill decided to quit."
"That's the catch."
"There had to be one."
"It's only half-time. Two classes a semester."
We talked about benefits, living costs, likely salary. Dan was on the hiring committee, but of course he couldn't commit the school to anything. The salary was low, even for half-time; and I was happy in Denver. The two-hundred-mile drive to Winnemucca crossed my mind, and I thought about living a few hours from Monterey.
"When are you advertising?"
"Well, since Bill hasn't made up his mind, looking at MLA in a couple of weeks would be a little awkward, but those of us who are going are supposed to keep our eyes open. Chances are Bill will let us know for sure in January. It's kind of an awkward job. The salary's low and it's half-time. A senior writer would expect more money, and a writer with no royalties needs more than half-time wages to live."
"The salary's not a big issue. I'll think about it. I don't have any reason to stay in Denver, but I don't have any reason to go, either."
"Are you tenure-track?"
"I suppose. Yeah. But I don't care. If I wanted a career, I'd be living a different life."
"I know. The Gypsy Scholar."
"It works OK. Look, I'll think about it. I'll probably apply for the job. Feel free to call the rest of your long list."
"All right. You realize that if Mailer, Piercy, Walker, Hawkes, Cheever, Salinger, Barth, Updike, Roth, or Jong is interested, you're out of it."
"I thought Cheever was dead."
"We're an Equal Opportunity Employer."
"I am interested, Dan. Reno seemed like a nice place, in spite of the neon and loudspeakers. Not like Las Vegas, where gambling is the town."
"Don't fool yourself. Gambling runs Reno, too."
"It runs the whole state. I know that. But Las Vegas has nothing else. Reno has a history. The casinos are slathered onto the city like lousy frosting on a good cake. In Las VegasTahoe, toothere's nothing under the frosting but more frosting."
"There's lots to do. Yosemite is a few hours away. And San Francisco is an easy weekend trip."
"Yeah, I thought of that."
"Well, look; I didn't expect you to jump for joy and FedEx your résumé. In October it didn't sound like you had any real ties to RRC except your paycheck, so I wanted to let you know."
We talked about Bill. It was a lung; he smoked like other writers drank. He drank too, truth be known. The growth wasn't malignant, but he'd never had an operation in his life, not even tonsils or his appendix. He still had both lungs, but the doctors had scared him half to death. He was fifty-seven, I think, and they told him afterward than in his condition losing a lung would have given him, at most, a couple of years.
After we got off the phone, I found myself thinking how estranged I was from the idea that I had to accomplish something in particular before I died. If I died, what difference did it make what I left behind? I wanted a place for Sam, but that was mere decency. My son Andy would take her; or Martha would probably. I had scared Andy once by asking him, and he said sure. I wanted my children to suffer as little as possible; a quick clean death to cauterize the wound of the bereavement. I should have liked to die without pain, if one were able to choose the course of one's death. Given cancer, AIDS, MS, I was confident I would, picking my hour. While Andy was still in school, I had wanted to live long enough to get him through. Now he had a life of his own; like his big sister. They would grieve for me, more or less, my hard children. Sam would grieve for me; she might die. Dan would miss me, as would a dozen other people. Perhaps Ellen Ardechea would wonder, next October, how I was doing, but I doubted it. Ruth would grieve for me, with the honest theatricality of the young and sensitive. I would become, briefly, a piece of funereal folklore for my colleagues at Red Rocks, a memento mori and minor local legend. "Thomas Phelan died teaching here. The novelist?"
Sam was outside. She yarked oncea reminder rather than a demand. I let her in.
I wasn't feeling sorry for myself. I was thinking how little I cared about anything, how few things really mattered to me. My reservations about the Reno job hinged more on inertia than on clinging to what I had. Royalties and options covered more than two-thirds of what I needed to live, and my savings were substantial, primarily because I couldn't think of anything to spend them on. With both kids out of school, almost my entire salary went into savings or silly expenses, like that three-hundred-dollar visit to Apple Annie's. I'd been paid a thousand for the reading at Reno; when the cost of the trip crossed my mind, driving back, I'd remarked to myself that I could afford two more trips on the Reno fee. I taught because I liked to teach. And health insurance was nice. And it kept me from talking to the goats. All my sustained human contact was in the classroom. Sam was all the company my soul needed, but without students to talk with, I'd soon be speaking dog all the time. Whose death would grieve me? I found myself thinking. I tallied my children again, and Sam. I was startled when the next name to mind was Claudine Dupré.
"Dupré," I thought again. I had divorced her, then, from her brutish little husband. Idly scratching Sam's head, I thought of the color of Claudine's hair, black as ebony, shot with rich reds and a little blue-green like a raven's wing. Idly, I imagined sharing a household with another English professor. It would be different than my second marriageMegan. Not a mentor-scholar relationship, but a partnership of equals.
"No it wouldn't," I said, startling Sam. She studied my face. "She's a few years older than Maggie was when we got married, but I'm ten years older than I was then." Yet I was aware, as if it were in front on me, of that distinctive nose, a little hooked at in the center, a Barrymore nose, you thought, and then you realized the shape was probably the result of being broken. I thought of the contours of her throat, her lips. Like Ruth, I mused, off limits. And yet, it was a pleasant thought. I imagined us at dinner. I imagined, suddenly, being provoked into throwing a plate. I shook my head.
Sam wagged tentatively to get my attention. My children, I thought again. Their deaths would grieve me. And Sam. And then I thought of Ellen. She was, I thought, the toughest human being I knew. I played the scene at dinner again, with Ellen, then with Ellen and Peter. It was very funny. Sam smiled too, watching me. That was all, I thought then. That was all there was. I sat on the floor with Sam, scratching her ribs, and she climbed into my lap to discuss it.
The next day, I looked at the Red Rocks campus with a newly critical eye. I was satisfied with what I saw. But because I had said I would, I applied for the job. It was the third week in December. The next semester wouldn't begin until mid-January. The suicide rate, I hear, soars during the holidays. It is a bad time to be lonely. Sam and I went to the mountains, and then we went again. I considered calling Claudine. Once or twice, I dropped in on campus, on the off chance that she might have had the same impulse. She never did. Of the entire department, I saw Amos Burns once. My mind runs two channels constantly; the first is the movie of my inner life, and the second is the audience, a jaded critic with a smart mouth. The critic found my obsession with Claudine Dupré amusing. The movie had turned sentimental and a little bit embarrassing. The critic sometimes had a voice like Ellen's, wry and ironic but not cruel. Most of the time he spoke in my voice, and he was as nasty as I can imagine myself.
I got a Christmas card from Andrew. Another from Martha. And a third, with a mouse in a Santa suit on the front, from Ruth Stroh. There was no message, just a name in that distinctive handwriting. Standing on my porch one evening, I watched the Rockies darken against the pink sky and I considered driving to Winnemucca, but I only wanted to see Ellen, and I didn't want to face the hassle of doing that without availing myself of the house services. I didn't, I thought ruefully, need to get laid; I needed somebody to talk to.
I called the Driftwood late one night and asked for Millie.
"Millie Vigil? She can't come to the phone."
"I understand. Could you give her a short message? Tell her to call this number collect? That it's very important. I'll be up late; she can call on break or when she gets off shift."
"She's on till four."
"It's OK. It's very important. My name's Thomas Phelan, but she probably won't recognize it."
"OK," the voice said in a tone that suggested it wasn't. Knowing Millie's last name, I could probably get her home number if I had to.
She called about an hour later. After I accepted the charges, there was a pause.
"Yes. I'm the guy who spent a couple of late nights talking to Ellen Ardechea in your restaurant. You remember."
"Sure. Peach pie; big tipper."
"Could you get in touch with Ellen Ardechea for me, give her my number and ask her to call collect?"
I wondered what she was thinking in the long pause. Then the intermittent chaos of background noise was gone. After a minute, she was back. She said, "OK. Yeah. Is that all?"
"That's all. I'd sure appreciate it."
"No problem. But she prob'ly won't call."
"I hope she will. I just need to talk with her for a few minutes about something."
"I can't talk her into it."
"I understand. If you'll just give her the message. That's all. Really."
"Yeah. I said I would."
"Thanks. And Happy New Year."
Ellen called about an hour later. It was two a.m. I was reading my galleys for Ray Burke.
"What's up, Doc?"
"I've always wanted to say that to somebody."
"If I had your sense of humor, I'd say 'How's tricks?'"
"And I'd say, 'Things are looking up,' smart boy."
"I love it when you talk dirty."
"No, you don't. How are you?"
"Doing all right. Bored."
"You must be, if you've got nothing better to do than shoot the bull with a cathouse madam in another state."
"We talked about something that first night that I needed to discuss with you again."
"Well, why don't you drive over for coffee?"
"So you can steal my dog?"
"That's not a bad idea. Bring her too."
For a moment I was thinking sentimental things: that I should tell her I missed her, that I really would come if she actually wanted to see me. But I imagined how quickly it would ruin what we had, such a descent into the maudlin. How many lonely men came to Winnemucca for the cure each holiday season? How many men told hired lovers how much they cared for them, needed them, and it was all at best self-pity and a pathetic desire to realize the fantasy of love? I could hear her dripping acid on my sentiments.
"I can't make it right now," I said.
"It happens to everyone, honey. Try dirty pictures." I smiled; neither of us laughed. "So what can I do for you?"
"You remember talking about hiring a wife?"
"Yeah. Hey, you find somebody, I'm looking too. I could use a wife. I've got a sinkful of dishes you wouldn't believe!"
"Me too. I've had an odd thing happen." I told her about the job in Reno. "I don't know if I would take it; but the possibility has gotten me thinking. The idea intrigues me."
"So you'd be moving to Reno? When?"
"I don't know. Typically it would be in the summer. That's if I had the job."
"Someone in her twenties," she said.
"Wait. I just meant I'm thinking of writing about it. But yes, probably. If I did. Not too young. Twenty-five, at least?"
"You could advertise."
"I'm not going to do it. I'm just thinking about it. But a person couldn't advertise, I would think. I don't know a lot about the law, but I think that would be soliciting. Surely it would be whenif he offered her a contract."
"Yeah? That's a gamble you're stuck with. Sex for pay is illegal, anyway you put it, in most states. Even in Nevada you'd be on shaky ground. Prostitution is illegal in Reno and Las Vegas, you know."
"I know. Look, I'm serious about this. I'm a college professor, but I'm also a writer. Even if I don't do it, even if I don't go to Reno, I mean, this is beginning to sound interesting, something I might want to write about. But I need help. I need to do research. Will you help me?"
"There has to be a contract. Help me work out the terms. I need to try interviewing; I can't very well do that here."
"I can just see it. It'd be like the dirty old men trying to talk girls into posing nude for 'art photos'. Could lead to some interesting results, though."
I waited. The line was silent.
"When would you want to do it?"
"As soon as I moved to Reno."
"No, I meant the contract writing and interviewing. You could interview some of my girls."
"I haven't worked that out. Soon. I'd come to Winnemucca and spend a couple of days. Then maybe we could work at a more convenient time than dead of night. I could call you to discuss it, or send you things to readthe contract."
"How can I reach you?"
"Call me at home. Between twelve and three. Either one," she added. She gave me a phone number. I wished her a Happy New Year, and we hung up. I read for another hour, then I went to bed. I don't have friends, I thought, but Ellen is a friend. What would I do for her? My judicial mind said, challenging my sentiment. I ignored the question. Drifting off, I thought of Ruth. And then Claudine. We had a long, foolish conversation, one I knew we'd never have. I told her things she needed to know. She said things that I knew, in the clarity that comes before sleep and drifts into dreams so we don't remember such truths, that I needed to hear from someone.