There was nothing to say about that, though, so I asked Alice how she was doing with her LSAT review class and she told me the class was for idiots, and I said yes, the point is they make an idiot out of you, and she scowled at me and said she knew some lawyers who were very intelligent. Until earlier that year, Alice had been an editor for a company in Mountain View that made Web browsers, but she'd been laid off along with half the people who worked there, so for the last three or four months she'd been freelancing, which meant spending her severance pay while she decided what to do next. She wasn't certain she'd apply to law school; other prospects beckoned with lovely phantom hands. She might become a massage therapist, or teach English to businessmen in Japan.
The wind picked up, chilling the patio, driving the summer drinkers indoors. Alice said she ought to go home, she had to get up early the next morning.
"Have dinner with me," I suggested.
We argued for a little while, but it really was getting cold out, and Alice agreed to a Thai place next to my apartment. I put my arm around her and we walked back to the Mission as the fog came in over our heads, white rags of mist flying past like foam in a fast stream, covering up the empty sky.
After dinner we went to my apartment and sat in the kitchen drinking whiskey. "I don't want to get drunk," Alice said, "I've got yoga in the morning."
"I don't either." I poured myself another drink and Alice motioned for me to pour her another also.
"Tell me about the music," she said. "Who was there?"
I mentioned people we'd heard at the Sno-Drop, at the Red Room. That was again an omission. Pearl Fabula had played at the festival, but I hoped Alice didn't know. We'd gone to hear Pearl too many times together before he became famous and left San Francisco.
"Ugh, Lorin," Alice said. "That guy's too ironic for me."
We talked about how it had been all the way back in 1998, when we saw Hope Sandoval dancing next to us at Liquid, and the DJ from Portishead spun a set at the Blue Study, and how we'd gone to see Pearl when he played the impossible sample from Lady Di in the car. Dodi... Dodi... But we couldn't stay in those memories for long. Soon we were talking about the signs that our music was in decline: the burly fraternity types we had seen dancing the pogo at an Underworld show, the long line of high school kids outside Community on Wednesday nights, the various laws that Congress was preparing to close the dance clubs down, Junior Vasquez selling CD players and Moby selling cars, the tendency of money to ruin everything.
"I feel like DJ culture is played out," Alice said. Which I thought was her way of saying, I wish I had gone to Nevada.
"You may be right," I said, "but what's next?"
"I don't know. There's got to be something."
Our faces touched. We kissed, we dug our fingers into each other's backs. We made love and it was just the way I remembered it, not from the last, grudging months, nor from the beginning, when our sex was wild and tentative, like a dream you don't want to write down for fear of losing track of its form, but from the middle of the relationship, however long that lasted, a year, a month. It was a solid thing, like putting two puzzle pieces together the right way, that gave us a glimpse of a larger picture, as yet unfinished. Then we fell asleep. I woke up at one-thirty in the morning with a headache. Alice's back was to me, her kinky blond hair spread out on the comforter. I thought of the foam on the crest of the wave on my grandfather's cards. For years the fisherman had been waiting for that wave to break, and it never had. I used to want it to break, not because I wanted the fisherman to drown, but so that he wouldn't have to wait any longer. I closed my eyes and imagined it breaking, a dark-blue wave with streaks of black in it, edged with white foam, crashing over the stern of the little boat, and afterward, when there was nothing to look at but blue water and wreckage, a timber, an oar. I opened my eyes. Alice was still there. The wave hadn't broken yet and maybe it never would.
Copyright © 2011 by Paul La Farge
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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