By Mark Gutglueck
Gilbert Ingraham was the most efficient of his employer’s twenty-seven employees. He enjoyed such statistical work; because of and through his interest in it he had developed the ability to cope with much of the firm’s procedures that normally would have been relegated to someone with more status than that of clerical assistant. Yet, for all of his value, the time and extra effort of others and expense he saved, he was given no recognition other than the exiguous approbation of his employer, and he did not delude himself into thinking he was irreplaceable. Whatever satisfaction his job brought him was only that which he derived from the exercise and knowledge of his own specialized and unnecessary competence.
Christmas night he was alone in the house he had been permitted to retain as a result of his divorce settlement not quite three years earlier. There was nothing in the house, save less than a dozen cards opened and standing upon an end table, to commemorate the traditional spirit of the day or season. His five years of marriage had ended with no resultant pregnancy. He had fixed himself a dinner of chicken, using a recipe calling for sherry marination, accompanied by small portions of various vegetables. Having finished the meal, he continued his reading of Moby Dick, taking delight in the parallel of reading the book’s twenty-second chapter that day amid his house’s non-festive atmosphere. When he tired of reading he went to his phonograph record rack in search of music to occupy his thoughts for a time. A total, temporary escape from consciousness exceeding even sleep, he mused, would be desirable. It was much too early to go to bed. He thumbed through his collection, stopping at several jacketed discs, visualizing behind his ears the sounds within each before moving on,. Near the end he came to Handel’s Messiah. He could not remember when he had last listened to it. Searching no further, he set the first side of the first record to play on his stereophonograph’s turntable.
It occurred to him that it was a little sad that he was alone on Christmas night. The music sounded different than could he remember it. It seemed very similar to something else, something he had read recently, but he could not remember what it had been. He was set afloat, feeling vague and less vague impressions from the past merging with vague and less vague immediate sensations. He had received no gifts, but then he had given none. It was always a little awkward for him to either give a present or receive one. His mind swirled to a far past Christmas, when he, still a child, had feasted with his family at a relative’s house and played lawn darts in the backyard with his cousins. The shadows and memories of Christmas past moved along in a slow unrelated though related fashion like a textbook chronicalization of history. He was able, most strangely he thought, to objectively observe the emotions each memory brought forth, feeling himself capable of feeling yet unfeeling, hidden, protected, still unprotected.
…and cry unto
her, that her warfare is accomplished, that
her iniquity is pardoned.
Through the music he could hear a knock at the door. Answering it, he found his caller to be Lawrence, a fellow employee. Their friendship was the closest social contact Gilbert had developed for some time, though this was not extremely close and they only rarely saw each other at times or places not directly related to their jobs. “Come on in,” Gilbert said. “Good to see you.” Lawrence stepped into the entranceway. “Take off your coat.”
“What’s that from?” Lawrence asked, indicating one of the speakers.
“Messiah. Handel. Proper listening for this evening, wouldn’t you say?”
“Would you like some tea? I’d offer you something stronger but I have nothing.”
“Tea would be fine.”
“Have you had Ceylon Breakfast?”
“I don’t believe so.”
The two walked into the kitchen. Gilbert went to the stove and there began the preparation of the tea. “I thought maybe, if there’s nothing else you’re doing, you’d like to come with me tonight,” Lawrence said.
“Where’s that?” Gilbert said, over his shoulder.
“Becky’s having a party at her house. I thought I’d stop by there.”
“I haven’t been to a party for three or four years.” Gilbert turned from the stove and sat at the table opposite Lawrence. “I really wasn’t going to be doing much of anything tonight.”
The tea was ready soon after that. Gilbert poured it into two coffee mugs. Both men sat across from each other, lightly discussing current events receiving much media attention that week. Gilbert sipped his tea while Lawrence made a statement about the need for more congressional control of certain executive functions. Gilbert felt uneasy drinking the tea, this being his second cup that day. He no longer drank it in the quantities he had at one time. He associated it with its caffeine content and this conjured concern over the possible damage it was doing to his kidneys. Caffeine impaired the bodies waste filtering process in some way, he remembered reading. He tried to drink it only on special occasions and even then he felt as if he were poisoning himself. “It does seem that the president has his fingers in a few too many pies, yeah,” he replied. “A little too much responsibility for one man.”
Presently they had finished their tea. “What time was this at Becky’s to start?”
“Maybe I should change my clothes. I don’t think I’m too presentable like this.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Lawrence said. “You’re fine.”
“Hmmmm,” Gilbert had wanted to hear the whole record; the first side had him anticipating the rest. “O.K.,” he said. “Let me change my shoes.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Becky looked very sexuous when she answered the door, the music loud, almost blaring behind her. She let them in and took their coats. When she returned she mentioned that no others from work had yet arrived and that it was pleasant to see Gilbert, she had thought he would not come. All three then went to a table in a far corner of the room where Becky pressed a small glass of punch from a punch bowl on the table into Gilbert’s hand after he refused her offers of several mixed drinks. When she left for the kitchen, Gilbert followed Lawrence to a row of chairs against the far wall.
Gilbert felt somewhat out of place sitting in the chair. There were several people in the room, none of whom he knew. He drank from the glass in his hand. The punch had a sweet, almost pleasant flavor but there had been some brandy added to it and he could taste the alcohol. With a slight amount of difficulty, he swallowed. Lawrence had begun a conversation with two young women sitting in the chairs to his left. Gilbert listened to what was being said, peering around Lawrence’s shoulder to make himself visible to the two women. Both were quite attractive. Lawrence mentioned something about eyes, how it sometimes made a person uncomfortable if you looked them, stared at them, straight in the eyes. The woman sitting closest, next to Lawrence said, yes, that was true, she had noticed that herself. That was most likely to happen, she added, if you were not familiar with the person doing the staring. The other young woman stood and walked across the room as her friend finished speaking. “What’s your name?” Lawrence asked.
“Deborah,” the woman replied. “What’s yours? And Yours?”
“I’m Lawrence. This is Gilbert. We work with Becky. You’re one of her friends?”
“I went to school with her sister.” Lawrence and Deborah continued their discussion, moving from the subject of visual confrontation to their own reactions to other various idiosyncrasies of people they encountered. Gilbert envied Lawrence for the ease with which he was able to engage others. Deborah, he observed, was able to articulate herself very well; at the same time she seemed not garrulous.
After sometime in the chair, doing nothing other than listening to the nearby talk, Gilbert’s uncomfort increased. He was pointedly conscious of how he must look sitting straight up in the chair as he was, his legs bent at right angles, his hands awkwardly holding the glass, its outside moist and now warm in his hands, alone, in a room full of people. Just then, Becky enlisted Lawrence to help in bringing some ice into the kitchen. He left, leaving the chair between Gilbert and Deborah, except for Lawrence’s drink, vacant. Gilbert looked across at the woman, now alone. Apparently she was not too familiar with any of the others, either. She had very blue eyes. She looked something like what his wife had, Gilbert thought, when they had first been married. She looked that young. “Do you attend functions such as this often?” he blurted, surprised first at his boldness and then horrified at his unintended stiltedness.
“Pardon?” she said. Gilbert saw and felt the involuntary trembling in the whole of his right leg. Perhaps she had not heard him above the music, he thought.
“Do you come to parties like this often?”
“I’ve been away for a year. I’ve just come back, but before that I was quite,” she paused, tilting her head, “social.”
“You were gone, then? Where did you go?”
“Ah,” his eyes showed a sparkling. “Did you go to Nantucket?”
“Oh, a few times. I was living in Barnstable,” she looked straight into his eyes and bit lightly at her bottom lip for only a second. At this, Gilbert lifted Lawrence’s drink from the chair between them and placed it down on his own, seating himself beside her.
“What was Nantucket like?”
“You’re from there?”
“No. No, this is kind of a coincidence. I’m reading Moby Dick. Have you read it?”
“No,” she said. “I knew about the whole island being a port for whaling ships, though. Who wrote that? Herman Melville?”
“It’s different. It’s not too densely populated, except in the summer. A lot of small resort towns.”
“Did you like Barnstable?” It was very easy and enjoyable talking to her, Gilbert thought. There was a knock at the door.
“Yes,” she said. “I didn’t know too many people there. It was nice. The East Coast is so much different from the West Coast. You have to see it to know it.”
The several people who had arrived when Gilbert was speaking completed their entrance as Deborah finished her reply, whereupon she abruptly stood and moved toward one of the entrants, warmly greeting him with open arms before moving on to a woman standing to his side, whom Gilbert took to be his wife, greeting her in a similar fashion and expressing surprise over her pregnancy. It was clear to Gilbert that these were friends Deborah had not seen since before she left. They seated themselves in the chairs further toward the corner of the room, embarking on a fast moving conversation. Gilbert felt a hollowness and then a sudden chill. It was the air from the outside coming into the room from when the door had been opened, he was sure. He took a sip from the glass before standing up and walking toward the kitchen.
There were more people in the kitchen than he thought there would be, none of whom he even vaguely recognized. One fellow caught his attention, though Gilbert was not sure why, perhaps it was because he was so tall. He was standing next to the stove, a frosted glass in his hand, conversing with a very attractive dark haired woman. Muscular, he was dressed in well-tailored, fashionably mod clothes. The neat, conservative style of his hairs’ cutting complemented his trim, handsome features. Gilbert watched him from across the room, paying close attention to the way in which he seemed to be keying on the facial expressions of the woman with whom he was conversing, testing her reaction to determine the content and breadth of his next statement. Becky broke Gilbert’s concentration when she touched his arm from behind him, saying, “You haven’t met my sister, have you?” Gilbert replied that no, he had not and she introduced him to the same brunette the young man Gilbert had been observing had been talking with. She smiled, politely mentioning her pleasure at meeting Gilbert before returning to her conversation.
Gilbert looked at the bottles standing on the counter, listening to the collage of sound about him. He set his more than half full glass of punch down into the sink. Looking about the kitchen and into the other room he saw that nearly everyone had a glass in his hand or one sitting near him. Thinking of the punch he had just drunk he thought then he could feel the alcohol lying on his stomach. He quickly convinced himself that he had not drunk enough for it to have had any such effect, that he was imagining the sensation. The kitchen gave him a feeling of confinement. He exited to the living room.
While he had been in the kitchen, two of his coworkers, Verlene and Kathy, both secretaries, had arrived with their husbands. They greeted him as did he them and was introduced to their mates. Gilbert had known Kathy’s spouse from a long time before but he could not remember from where. Mike recognized Gilbert, also. A discussion ensued and it was discovered that the two had been classmates in college not quite ten years before. Verlene’s husband was quite handsome, more so than Gilbert would have suspected. The five of them clustered together, near the front door. It was difficult for Gilbert; the four seemed somewhat reserved. He had thought upon first seeing them that he would be able to easily converse with them, here an opportunity to communicate on a meaningful level. As it was, the others felt almost as out of place as did he and were not too talkative. This increased Gilbert’s discomfiture all the more. He could think of no way to initiate his intended loquation and it felt somehow inappropriate him doing nothing, standing where he was only because these were the only people he knew.
He leaned against the wall next to the door and closed his eyes. Like this for some time, he opened them when he heard people approaching him. The couple Deborah had so warmly greeted on their arrival were coming toward him. For a short time he was embarrassed; perhaps they had seen him with his eyes closed. He stepped to the side. They were leaving early. The party had really only just begun. As they were going out they bade goodbye to several people at once, while another two people from work arrived amid some others. Once the door had been closed, Gilbert turned and saw that the man he had been watching in the kitchen was now seated next to Deborah, talking to her, gesticulating with his drink free right hand.
Lawrence was sitting on the couch talking with Ray and Laura, the two of his fellow workers who had just arrived. Neither of them had noticed Gilbert when they first came in, partially hidden as he was behind the door. They both looked up to see him when Lawrence pointed at him looking at them and Gilbert waved. When he looked at them again, both men were laughing at something Laura had said while she maintained a straight face, explaining that she was serious. Someone turned the volume on the music up. Gilbert wanted to join Lawrence and the others, but Verlene and Kathy were by then talking, although he could barely hear them above the din, and he felt he was, by virtue of the length of time he had been in their immediate presence, informally involved in their conversation and that it would be rude to walk away. Verlene’s right hand lay on the table while she spoke and on her ring finger was a ring with a large stone. Gilbert noticed that while she spoke she moved her hand in a slight up-and-down motion, bending her fingers. As they were underneath a very bright light and the music was playing very loudly, the reflection off the ring, the full sensual sound of the music merging with Verlene’s words, not words as such because he could not hear her clearly and had lost interest in whatever she was saying, but actually just fragmented sounds, all combined to have a slight hypnotic affect on Gilbert. It was a queer, almost pleasant feeling and he realized while it was happening, what was happening.
“And how are you on this cold Christmas night?” Gilbert asked Ray when he had come away from the others. He sat down next to him on the couch.
“Couldn’t be better,” Ray responded and took a long drink from the glass in his hand. “How ‘bout yourself?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m a little stunned. This is my first party in years. What are you drinking?”
“Margarita. Want one?” He lifted a bottle from inside his blazer. “Ready made. Everything but the salt.”
“No,” Gilbert lifted his hand, smiled. “That’s alright. “I really don’t enjoy what it does to me.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Keeps my insides sterile.”
Gilbert looked across to Lawrence, talking with one of Laura’s friends. He scanned the room, paused his gaze at Deborah. Still sitting next to her was the man Gilbert had been so conscious of in the kitchen. She was smiling in response to something he had just said. She looked around the room then; Gilbert was sure she caught a glimpse of him eyeing her when her glance went past him. He wished he might shrink and fade then. He felt for that one second as if he were being compared to her companion and that he was the worse for the comparison. All those traits the other displayed so well, Gilbert reasoned, were nothing lasting, no more than superficialities. Still, he felt deficient somehow and he was certain it was visible.
Ray had stood and he was walking across the room. Gilbert caught Laura’s attention. They did not know each other well. He inquired how she was, thinking when he asked that he did not truly care how she was. She replied and then introduced her two friends. They each said something about themselves while Gilbert looked at each one closely. One of them, Barbara was what he thought her name was, he had not listened when Laura told him their names, seemed very nice. The other reminded him of Laura. It would be perfect for the time if he could only elicit their attention and talk with them. He tried to think of something to say but could not. He made a few half-hearted attempts to lead Barbara into talking about herself but she seemed suddenly very uninterested. Again he tried to engage Laura but she gave no reaction to what he said, other than smiling at him, then talking to her other friend. Why could he communicate with no one? His presence there was serving no purpose. Looking around, he saw no one at all interested in himself. He was shocked at his own egocentricity but could not help or deny it. Deborah had communicated with him. Why could not the others be like her? He looked toward her. Her head was very close to the young man’s. Gilbert looked away, chiding himself for being so foolish as to care.
It would be best to leave. He looked for Lawrence, finally spotting him near the entrance to the kitchen, talking to Becky’s sister. It would be wrong to ask him to leave. He walked to where Kathy and Verlene were again.
“That would be so nice,” Kathy said. “Maybe next week.” Gilbert stood amongst them in their quietness, while the sound continued everywhere about them. A loud report of voices came from the kitchen followed by laughter. The secretaries, their husbands and Gilbert all looked in the direction of the kitchen when this happened and then rechanneled their attentions back to the front room, none of them speaking in the process. Dan, Verlene’s husband, took a long draught from his glass. His wife said, not so much, she didn’t want to drive. Gilbert looked at both husbands. Each appeared very bored. The only difference between them and me, Gilbert thought, is that they’re with someone. Standing there, no one speaking to him, he speaking to no one, the look of blank boredom on the faces of those nearest him, and knowing there to be noting he could do to change the situation declared him more loudly than could he stand to hear very much alone and he felt self-consciously awkward, though he knew no one was paying any attention to him.
It would all pass, he told himself. He listened to the music. The system that was reproducing the sound was excellent, he decided. The sound being reproduced, though, did not please him at all. He would not even categorize it as music; its chaotic content seemed unresolvable, non-expressive of anything other than the chaos it conveyed, its rhythm too simple and unchanging, functioning only to perpetuate itself and provide an unimpressive, trite backdrop for the chaos. He would have to listen to Messiah when he got home.
Deborath looked a little drunk when he looked at her. Her companion seemed to be supporting her with his arm. She looked at Gilbert; he thought maybe she smiled. He acted as if he had not been looking at her. He must be blushing; his neck and face felt warm. Why could these people not talk to him, why not he to them? Why had they come? Most looked happy enough; they seemed to thrive in this atmosphere. Disgusted, saying nothing, he went into the kitchen.
There were no females in the kitchen when Gilbert entered it for the second time that evening and all except himself were at least partially intoxicated. Here there was no one he knew and he no longer felt quite so self-conscious. He seated himself at the dining table that had been pushed to the corner of the room to make maximum use of the limited floor space. Already at the table was a lengthy haired young man, drinking from a tall beer can, talking with another young man, bearded, sitting upon the counter to the side of the stove. Those present in the room appeared to be interested, to a greater or lesser degree, in this conversation.
“I remember, I remember every morning that week I’d wake up with a hangover so bad and I’d lay around in that sleeping bag until about eleven or twelve,” the first man said.
“It probably wasn’t the liquor so much. Layin’ in the mornin’ sun like you was can give you a bad headache,” the bearded man said.
“We’d wake up, start drinkin’ beer and by two o’clock my headache’d go away.”
“Never drank beer at night, though.”
“Yeah, always that Scotch from that case Dewey got from his old man,” the man at the table said, and took a long swallow from his beer. “Yeah, two or three bottles a night.”
“Remember that hot butterscotch Dewey decided we’s gonna have? Melted a pound of butter and added a bottle of Scotch to it. ‘S a waste.”
“Me and Dewey got r asses stomped for that. Left you at the boat, drove to all those little stores lookin’ for some butter. Dewey said margarine wouldn’t do, had to be butter. Ended up drivin’ fifty miles ‘fore we found any in that little reservation town. Got the butter and we thought we’d go into a bar, get a drink ‘fore we drove back. Walked in and them Injuns kicked the fuck out a Dewey. Didn’t rough me up to bad. I got knocked down, didn’t get back up.”
“Yeah, you guys came back, Dewey had two black eyes, cuts all over his face, bruises on his neck. You’d been gone three hours. I was laughin’”
As he said this, the man on the counter reached into his shirt pocked and retrieved a pack of cigarettes.
“I knew if I’d a punched that Injun back, all twenty of ‘em would a been on me. Gimme a cigarette, Jeff,” the man at the table said and then licked his lips. Jeff put a first cigarette into his mouth and then threw a second across in the direction of the table, where his friend bobbed his head to catch it in his mouth. Nonchalantly, he lit it, though it was damp half its length with saliva. Both men smoked without talking for a time.
“Dewey was throwin’ up that whole night and the next mornin’, heavin’ his guts,” the man at the table said as he was finishing his cigarette. “I never did even taste that butterscotch.” He looked across at Gilbert after he finished speaking.
“Are you friends of Becky’s?” Gilbert asked, directing his question at both men.
“Who’s Becky?” asked the man at the table.
“We were just passin’ by,” Jeff said. “Thought we’d stop in. We were celebratin’ Christmas with my parents; they live up the street.”
Gilbert nodded his head in understanding. He looked around the room He was five to ten years older than most of the people there, he thought. His eyes closed. Without thinking about it he rubbed the roof of his mouth with his tongue lightly. Bildad, he thought. His situation flashed in his mind; he thought of himself in the chair, the people around him, how he would be back at work in three days. There were cars on the freeway, planes in the sky and in his house everything was as it had been when he left it, as it would be when he returned. He saw the totality of all present civilization built on the paths and roads and buildings and ideas and books and music and words and wars and riches and faults and ruins of past civilizations, the reasons, complexities and magnitude of which no one, least of all himself, understood and which everyone therefore ignored. A feeling of insignificance deeper than his normal burden of it washed over him. His job came to his mind’s focus and he saw it as nothing more than servitude, a waste of what little valuable talent he had. He was held motionless, restricted by more locks than could he count, each strategically locked and located to disallow the movement required for the unlocking of another lock that would allow the unlocking of yet another that would allow the unlocking of still another.
His eyes opened. The faces coming directly into focus reflected neither awareness nor concern for what had been occupying him. He wanted to express to them what he felt, thought; he wanted to hear their reactions; he wanted evidence that what he felt was real, to hear similar sincere expression, to hear of fear, of inadequacy, that others were affected was he, that he was really no different and was not at fault. But he said nothing and closed his eyes once more. Again, the sounds about his head swirled and for a time he listened to them, not assembling the meanings to the words but listening to them as sounds, as if they were a foreign language.
The slight familiarity of the voice made him open his eyes. Talking to a man about Gilbert’s age Gilbert could not recall seeing before, near the kitchen/living room archway, was the tall young man, Deborah’s companion. In his left hand he held a tall glass After exchanging a few lines, concluding with laughter from both men, the older man stepped aside allowing the younger further passage. “Excuse me,” he said upon reaching the counter. Two men moved aside, giving him access to the bottle between the stove and the sink. He dropped a handful of ice cubes from a bowl into the glass, pouring a quantity from a gin bottle over the ice.
“Is there any of that lemon tonic left?” he asked, addressing no one in particular.
“I think they put it in here,” Jeff said, hoping down from the counter and walking toward the refrigerator. He found it on the inside of the refrigerator door and brought it over to the man who had requested it. After he filled the glass, the tall, young man handed the bottle back to Jeff, thanking him.
“It’s not mine,” Jeff replied, walking with it back to the refrigerator. When he came back to seat himself again on the counter, next to the stove, the other young man finished stirring his drink and took a small swallow from it.
“Can’t even taste the gin,” he said.
“Best way to make ‘em,” Jeff said.
“You should be careful,” the man seated at the table opposite Gilbert, Jeff’s friend , said. “You can get really wasted on that without knowing it before it happens.” To this the glass holding tall young man smiled but did not answer, walking out of the kitchen into the living room. Gilbert watched him until he was around the wall and wholly out of his sight, staring at the back of the young man’s head, positioned, it seemed, almost mockingly above the form of his body.
Even if he was never to see that person again, Gilbert told himself, he should go into the living room and attempt to make an acquaintance. Still, he knew he could more easily his own disenchantment with his inaction accept than the disconcertion he anticipated any such effort would result in and he remained seated where he was. He tilted his head back and looked to the ceiling. With nothing to outwardly sustain his interest he again closed his eyes, beginning a relaxed analysis of his situation. Simply, it had been a mistake coming. Social gatherings of this type had always been for him intractable. He recalled the cocktail parties his wife would induce him into accompanying her to. Those had been slightly more tolerable than this, centering less on consumption and more on conversation; still, they had seemed somewhat pretentious and he was never able to enjoy himself. When he had been in college there would be gatherings in a dorm hall on Friday or Saturday nights and he had gotten into those, but that had been different as then he and the people had been different. He had found the open exchange of ideas among so may diversely disciplined and lucid minds wholly worthwhile and could still remember individual sentences and even whole passages from many of the conversations, at least eight years past. Listening intently then to pieces of conversation he could catch, he sensed the humor in his situation. Upon opening his eyes to see the kitchen contents and occupants positioned as before, he could feel the muscles of his face pulling toward a smile, this almost involuntary for he knew his amusement came at his own expense.
He stood up, not considering a reason fro doing so until he had waled to the archway. Realizing then he should not have left the table, but reluctant to go back, he scanned the living room, noting there to be more people than hd been present earlier. Kathy, Verlene and their husbands had left. He made his way into the living room, stepping slowly and with care to avoid brushing against anyone. Lawrence he saw speaking with a young woman with brown hair. His attention caught on a picture he hand not noticed before, hanging on the wall in the hallway leading to the bedrooms. He stepped closer to it, first scanning it, then giving close examination to the detail in the lower left that at his first glance he had not noticed at all.
Turning around, Gilbert was caught totally unprepared in what he saw. Lengthwise on the small couch in the near corner, Deborah lay on her back with her companion, the tall young man, atop her. Her legs were wrapped tightly about his, her hands and fingers sensuously tracing up and down the polyester clinging to his back. Her face, its puffiness and flushed hue enveloping the unfocusing glossiness of her eyes, attested her arrant intoxication. Gilbert immediately shifted his line of sight to the far wall, stating back to the kitchen. As he stepped then into the kitchen, everyone looked up at him and then away. He stopped. His chair was occupied. He looked out into the living room and across to the couch in the corner. Everyone seemed indifferent to what had been for him so unsettling. There was an empty chair along the wall near where he had sat before when he and Lawrence had been talking with Deborah. He started for it but before he reached it he stopped again, standing roughly in the center of the room. Visualizing himself seated there, staring about, speaking wit no one as he had been before, her turned to return to the kitchen, hesitating and then turning once more when he spotted the front door, opened slightly to cool the room.
It was cold, so cold that Gilbert thought of going back into the house for this coat. He continued walking though, to the sidewalk and then south, down the street. As he passed the houses, he sensed the warmness within each one, looked at the faint light passing through many of the windows. He felt much more at ease outside, despite the cold, and tried to dismiss all thought of having to return. He did not think that anyone had noticed his leaving. Several houses down he stopped and sat down on the curb, a large hedge behind him. Rays of color refracted up from various places in the street under what little light there was, and he then thought of the years o glass being ground into the pavement. He heard sound and saw more light, then looked up to see into the garage directly across from him, into which tow boys had entered from a door leading out from the attached house. They set about opening down the folding ping pong table their parents had gotten them for Christmas. Gilbert watched as they began paddling the ball back and forth, again and again. On occasion, the ball would go off the table, only to be quickly retrieved and set into play again. From his angle of view it looked sometimes as if the bass was not to land on the table where actually it would and he wondered if he had the coordination to restrict the ball’s travel as did those he watched. They rallied for what seemed to him an incredible length of time, whereupon the ball went off the table and bounded out of the garage and into some bushes to the left side of the driveway. Neither of the children saw Gilbert as he watched them looking for the ball in some further buses where he knew it did not lie and he did nothing to alter their ignorance.
December 1975/January 1976