Originally he was the one with the traveling bug. Gary was one of those Vietnam-era graduate students, thirty-five at that time, which was '74. He was still working on a government public health grant at Harvard, and he used to cart around boxes of those manila computer punch cards. Every once in a while the profs would fire up the old computer, and they'd input their data with a clicking and a clacking till the oracle spoke, spewing out numbers on that wide paper with pale-green and white stripes. Then Gary and the other grad students would all go back to their shared offices adorned with shag carpet remnants and cork bulletin boards, and they'd ponder the numbers. Gary had been doing this for years; and since it was a longitudinal study, which meant it didn't ever end, he was getting kind of restless. But I, on the other hand, was really busy, since I was just twenty in the middle of stopping out of college and getting seriously into dancing and my music folk stuff on my guitar. I listened to Joni Mitchell and Carole King and Jackson Browne. And of course I was writing my own stuff, too, all in their same styles. I was biking over the BU Bridge to Central Square, where I was working for this antiwar, antinuclear couple, Vivica and Dan, who I'd met from dancing, and who had originally come from Berkeley. We were holed up, the three of us, in a little one-room office trying to put a stop to military spending. To me bringing peace about was pretty good. But Gary, being fifteen years older, had bigger ambitions for the planet. He started talking about how he wanted to go west.
The thing was I loved him. Not that he had a face to sink a thousand ships. He had fair skin, blinky brown eyes, shoulder-length hair, a Fu Manchu moustache. But he had beautiful feet, elastic arches. He had the longest arms of anyone I knew. And when he jumped! He could have been a pro. He could have traveled the world leaping in the air. That's the way I pictured it, him leaping and me spinning at his side. I still hadn't gotten over it, being so much younger than he was, and him choosing me to be his partner because my dancing was so good. And getting to live with him, which meant getting out of my dad's house and my stepmother's hair. And just realizing that Gary thought I was beautiful! It wasn't like I was plain. I wasn't plain at all. I was slender and had big black eyes, sleepy with eyeliner, and that shimmery loose hair, so when I danced I looked like a ballerina down at the hem. But I was young not even one-and-twenty like the guy in the poem and I couldn't believe Gary with his long arms and his gorgeous feet and hard muscles in his calves actually thought that I was beautiful.
Excerpted from Paradise Park by Allegra Goodman Copyright 2001 by Allegra Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Dial Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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