Reach Out and Touch

(copyright 1994 Mary M. Mackie)

             When it is finally night time, every muscle in her body aches, and Sharon, too early she thinks, crawls into her bed. The day, sunny and warm, had not gone well: two of her staff called in sick, three of the toddlers were teething and cried miserably throughout the day, almost half the 5:30 fathers were more than twenty minutes late, and her assistant forgot to send in the next month'’ milk order for the third time in as many months.

            When the phone rings, long past midnight, jarring her out of an unsuspected but pleasant dream, Sharon’s first thought is that it is Jack calling back for her and she sits up abruptly, heart pounding. She opens her eyes wide and comes out of that semi-aware state that surrounds and cushions dreams and she wonders if the caller will not be Jack, but Elaine. Elaine has not made her regular cycle of calls for a while, Sharon remembers; Elaine is overdue.

            In what little moonlight makes its way into the bedroom in Sharon’s section of the rented house on the Common, Sharon can see her red-rimmed glasses where they rest on the night stand by her books and pictures. She hesitates, wishing that the ringing will stop and she can go back to her dreams. But by the time the shrillness pierces the night for the sixth time, she knows for certain it has to be Elaine and that the phone will ring forever unless she answers it. Her hand reaches out to grab the receiver. She knocks her glasses to the floor, where they lightly bounce along the carpet and disappear silently under the double bed.

            Elaine, Sharon knew, ignored everyone not directly involved in her latest cause. Her bosom friendships blossomed overnight only to be discarded within months, when Elaine’s attention was quickly and abruptly caught by something else. Sharon watched Elaine abandon first one interest, then another; she often wished she could forewarn Elaine’s latest group of friends of the inevitable outcome, but Sharon lacked the drive, the nerve, the compulsion that Elaine had in abundance. Sharon had her sarcasm, some bitterness, and a dislike of Elaine that came and went, even as Elaine’s causes were born, blossomed to maturity and just as quickly died.

            Elaine had taken Sharon’s $150 and a carton of cigarettes after her altercation with the Harvard police, but had refused to listen to Sharon’s advice to lay low.

            “That demonstration was nothing,” Elaine insisted, despite the fact that three of the demonstrators had been arrested and two others ended up in the emergency room at Nashoba Community Hospital. “They can’t do anything to me without a lot of negative publicity. The media would tear them apart. The group would see to it.”

            Sharon remembered well the first members of that particular group, Jack’s group, people she had become fond of and close to, before Elaine again barged into Sharon’s life, taking over Sharon’s friends, creating her own small circle. Sharon did not know how to react to them after the inevitable happened and Elaine’s interest in their music and friendship went the way of the real estate career, the plan to live off the land, the life in a loft on the waterfront in the city—“All for art, of course, my life for art.” All ideas Elaine tried on, modeled for a short time, then discarded when she decided the outfit really wasn’t her after all, and what had consumed her was forgotten.

 

            “I had to call you,” the breathless voice says. Sharon can tell that the owner of the raspy-throated voice is on the verge of yet another crisis. She waits; she knows better than to respond yet. Elaine blunders on without a pause for a word of welcome from Sharon.

            “It’s so very awful, I can’t believe it.” She stops briefly and Sharon hears the snap of a match, the quick-sucked inhale of the freshly-lit cigarette, one of many Elaine will chain-smoke for the length of the call.

            “I’m really worried and scared,” she finally whispers, pausing again, while Sharon waits.

            A long time ago, after Sharon moved out of their parents’ home into a sunny, secluded apartment of her own, Elaine sat at Sharon’s dining room table, forking up spoonful after spoonful of chicken curry with rice, forking over her opinion on theater, the state of the Broadway-bound shows as well as the badly-produced small-town attempts, and without a pause in her monologue completely surprised Sharon by announcing, “I don’t give a shit about you, actually.”

            Sharon sat dumbfounded and unable to respond; hindsight now tells her she should have kicked Elaine out the door and locked it behind her, severing her cleanly. But severing doesn’t always work with Elaine, Sharon reminds herself, because Elaine won’t let it work unless it’s to her advantage. So she now waits for Elaine to continue.

            “I don’t know why you don’t like to talk to me,” Elaine says, exhaling loudly and coughing slightly without moving the phone away from her face. “You’d think I was an ax murderer the way you treat me sometimes, Sharon, and it really isn’t fair. After all, what have I ever done to you?”

 

            There were silent, hot tears that summer morning when Jack came to Harvard to break his bad news to Sharon. He stood far away from her, his shoulders hunched as if protecting himself from something, facing the window, his long hair disheveled, staring out into the street below. At first Sharon didn’t believe him; despite the heat, she felt nothing but cold. she wouldn’t believe what he was saying, not really. That he would leave for anyone but Elaine. It didn’t make any sense; but it made more sense than she was willing to admit.

            Then, with a sudden belief came her quiet anger and she wanted to rush over and kick him where he stood, silently now, by the window with the sun changing him into a black shadow, blinding him to her. But she could not move. It wasn’t really happening. Jack was not going to walk out on her to go to the West Coast with Elaine. They talked too long about Elaine; she thought he knew what kind of manipulator Elaine was. Sharon’s tears fell silently, finding their way to the tight crack of her mouth as she pressed her lips together to keep from crying aloud. She and Jack remained that way for what seemed like hours, Jack standing up by the window and Sharon down in the rocking chair. Then Jack walked out, leaving more than he took with him, before Sharon gathered the courage to even ask why.

 

            “Really, Sharon, things couldn’t be worse,” Elaine almost yells into the phone. This time she waits, pausing long enough to let her sister answer.

            “Hello, Elaine, it’s three o’clock in the morning, not that it matters,” Sharon mutters. She sits up in bed, mounding the pillows as best she can behind her, using one hand. The other grips tightly onto the phone. She does not turn the light on yet. She waits.

            Elaine bursts into tears. “I don’t understand people, really, Sharon. It’s too scary, the campaign out here, you know.” Elaine lights another cigarette and exhales loudly. “It’s not going well and I’m scared shit what will happen if Reagan really gets elected.”

            Sharon smiles slightly at Elaine’s latest concern. She heard from their mother that Elaine was caught up with a group working diligently against Reagan’s presidential aspirations. Sharon leans to the left in her bed and searches for the switch, deciding after all that she needs light.

 

            It was too bright, too light, that snow-blind morning many years ago that the bus stalled half-way up Prospect Hill on the way to school. The forty kids en route to the Elementary School screamed, not in fear that the bus would lose its precarious hold on the icy roadway, but in joy that they were so very late and would miss most of math class and maybe part of English, if they ever did get to school.

            Elaine was there in the midst of the hot and restless horde, tossing books, stealing hats, yelling and laughing with abandon. Sharon sat in her corner of an overcrowded seat, trying to push the noise away, watching Elaine and watching the driver, feeling the bus wheels slip every-so-unnoticeably backwards on the slick blanket of snow.

            Then Elaine was standing on her seat, jumping up and down, beating on the ceiling with her torn green bookbag. “Let us off the bus!” she screamed, then started to chant: “Let us off the bus! Let us off the bus!” and continued while the rest of the children took up the cry.

            Helplessly the bus driver watched, catching Sharon’s eye in the rear-view mirror. Sharon shrugged her off, and turned to stare out the window as Elaine made her move.

            “Freedom!” Elaine cried and the emergency exit slowly swung open, lights flashing and buzzers buzzing. “Sharon, come on!” And she jumped the two feet down from the bus onto the street below, steadied herself as she slipped, then headed towards home. If she had been afraid, like Sharon, she never showed it.

 

            It was that same determined seven-year-old calling Sharon now from across the country. Twenty years may have passed, but not much else. Sharon slides out of bed and kneels, still gripping the phone as she pats the floor beneath the bed, trying to find her glasses.

            “I’m right here, Elaine,” she says.

            “I mean, really things suck. We’re busting our asses for Mondale and these assholes are too insensitive to be believed.  How can they believe this shit that’s being fed them by that jerk-off? Can’t they see through him? Doesn’t anyone worry about another world war? If he gets into power, he’ll just keep feeding the war machine and damn it, are you even listening?”

            Sharon puts her glasses on her head and sits cross-legged on the warm floor. She thinks about how the latest flu has decimated her staff at the day care center, what she will do about the milk order, and how her own lack of sleep will make for another rough day. She glances at the clock next to Jack’s picture on the night stand and wonders just how close to morning Elaine’s phone calls are going to last this time.

            “Do you want comfort, sympathy, devil’s advocacy, or what?” she asks.

            “Oh fuck you.”

            Sharon smiles as she lowers the receiver down onto her crossed leg, listening to the dial tone that clicks in within seconds after a caller hangs up.

 

            Her living room is dark, the only light coming from behind her down the short hallway between the bedroom and kitchen. Sharon brings her cup of tea to the window, where she brushes some dust off the thin, burgundy drapes. The prism that hangs from the curtain rod was a present from Jack. She taps her finger lightly against it and listens to the rhythmic pings it makes against the glass. She sips at the bitter tea.

            “Come on, Elaine,” she says aloud to the empty room. “Let’s get this over with so I can get a bit of sleep before morning.”

            Sharon remembers another far away time, one of many that Elaine either kept her wake long after midnight, or jarred her awake with yet another major crisis. Elaine jumped on the bed, excited about Alex Grady and the dance they had just been to, the new music, the loud people, the rum secretly poured into the cokes passed out to any dancers who asked.

            Elaine jumped up and down on Sharon’s bed in a sloppy rhythm, ashes from her cigarette showering down on Sharon as she tried to move away from Elaine’s heavy too-close feet. Elaine insisted that Sharon wake up and “listen to this great song. I can sing it, too.” It was an Aretha Franklin number; Elaine couldn’t carry a tune to save her life.

            “What you got, baby I want it,” she shouted into the night.

            “You’ve got it wrong, Elaine,” Sharon told her. “It’s ‘what you want, baby I got’.”

            Elaine shrugged and kept on jumping. “Same difference to me,” she said.

 

            Sharon slowly turns from the wide window in the living room and sits down in the oversized rocker that allows her an unobstructed view of the hills beyond her street. She rubs her eyes, watching the prism as its rocking rhythm slows down, and she resists and impulse to tear it down.

            She yawns again. She has to open up the center by 7 a.m. If Elaine stays true to form, there will be two or more phone calls before her soul will be satisfied with her latest attempt to communicate with her older sister. Sharon’s tea is cold, but she tightly grips the mug, searching for the last little bit of warmth, rocking and waiting and listening to the silence surrounding her.

            The rocking chair was a present from Uncle Hank the year she turned fourteen. The oversized rocker protected Sharon from the outside, and she spent many back-and-forth hours in it, pretending no one was downstairs in the house, that she was alone and happy and secure. She read books, ate apples, and wrote long involved letters to friends in her head there. She could look out at the street from her perch in that rocking chair. There would inevitably be a Harvard police car parked at the corner, and she would be able to see Alex Grady and his crew crossing the street away from Officer Castro, heading towards the General Store to steal cigarettes and harass Millie. A look in another direction and she could see Elaine and her friends, skipping towards number 17. They would soon burst into the house, disrupting her solitude.

            The noise would drift upstairs and find its way into Sharon’s wrapped-up room. “Let’s go find Sharon. Maybe she’ll come play too,” a voice would offer.

            “Nah, she’s probably reading. Forget it, let’s go.” And Sharon would hear the giggles and the slamming of the refrigerator door, and then the girls would run down the hallway to the cellar stairs, their noise slowly dissipating as they took toys and sodas and corn curls below with them. Sharon rocked on, the quiet gone.

 

            The second time the phone rings, she is ready. She answers it in the kitchen as she sits curled on the counter, one foot in the sink.

            “Jack’s gone,” Elaine announces, smoke and defiance in her voice. “Packed up his things and headed out to his apartment and I don’t much care good riddance to bad rubbish Nana used to say, and it’s more than applicable here as well you know so don’t even think of saying ‘I told you so’ ‘cause I knew, I just didn’t let on.”

            “What happened?” Sharon asks.

            “Oh God,” Elaine’s voice breaks. “I don’t know, really I don’t. Is it me? Why do I connect with nothing but total idiots?” She pauses and in the brief silence, Sharon can see Jack’s face in front of her, his tall and lanky body wound tightly, ready to spring off at the first sign of trouble. As she thinks of him, she seem him playing guitar, smiling into the darkness of the cold and smoky coffee house, singing something just for her, perhaps one of the songs he wrote for her. Sharon loved the coffee house, the warmth and the smoke and the never-ending music and conversation and people she felt at home with. Jack loved the coffee house, too; it was a place Elaine refused to go after she was thrown out for dancing on the tables and sitting on the bar.

            Sharon knows Jack is a doer, not a talker. Problems never existed for him because he wouldn’t confront them; in that respect he was too much like Elaine. His and Elaine’s immediate, vehement dislike of each other, Sharon expected. It was Jack’s commitment to his beautiful, haunting music that first caught Sharon, and then later, Elaine. But although Jack and Elaine are alike in their refusal to confront their problems, they differ because Elaine never stays committed. Sharon has no such commitment difficulties. She tells herself she knows why Jack left for Elaine, but she really does not understand his defection.

            “Idiots?” Sharon asks. “Who . . .”

            “Jack couldn’t deal with me, I guess,” Elaine interrupts. “They never can. Men think at first that I’m wonderful and different and then suddenly they realize that wonderful and different wasn’t what they wanted and then the ‘change Elaine’ project starts. I thought Jack was different.”

            “Elaine, all things considered, I don’t think I’m the right person to talk to about Jack,” Sharon says.

            Elaine ignores her. “Hey, I’m not going to change until I’m good and goddamn ready. But he tried so hard. Little things first, so that I didn’t notice really, and then it was like nothing was right, like nothing I could do was right, that I was the asshole for not living up to his expectations.”

            “Things haven’t gone the way you’ve wanted since he left here, since you went to the West Coast,” Sharon interjects and Elaine ignores her again.

            “And that drives me right up the wall, you know? So I called him a self-righteous prick, which didn’t go over well, and he yelled a bunch of vile and horrible things, the least of which was that I’m a selfish spoiled brat, and so I told him he just couldn’t handle me and that what he really needed was a quiet, unresponsive cretin that would let him do whatever he wanted, and then just when I thought maybe we could talk it out, it all fell apart and he packed up and left.”

            Sharon shifts around uncomfortably on her counter perch. Her tea cup leaves brown-stained rings on the counter top. Her foot in the sink is wet from the faucet drips. The water is cold.

            “Elaine, I still don’t think I’m the right person. . .” she tries again.

            “If not you, then who?” Her voice rises. “After four years, who knows him better than you do? Who else can I possibly talk to about this? What the hell did you do to him anyway?” Elaine lights another cigarette and quickly continues before Sharon can reply. “I mean, it looks like he wasn’t satisfied or happy with you, or else he wouldn’t have left, right? So what did you do to him?”

            “Elaine, goddamn it . . .”

            “No, really, Sharon. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. But screw him, I don’t care, really I don’t. these past two months have been an eternity. You couldn’t possibly imagine what it’s been like. Hey, none of them understand me, men don’t even try as far as I can tell, and I just can’t give a shit anymore.” Elaine coughs.

            Sharon’s jaw aches and she can feel her heart pounding. She jumps down from the sink and almost falls when she notices that her foot has fallen asleep. She hops across the room, stretching the telephone cord as far as it will go as she leans in the doorway, chewing a fingernail.

            “Now you just listen one minute,” she begins, her voice rising.

            “No, you’re probably right,” Elaine cuts in quickly. “What do you know? You can’t help. He dumped you for me, that’s life in the big city, and you don’t know much about keeping things tight anyway.”

            Sharon’s index finger is bloody where she bit the nail down to the quick. Looking at the blood, she turns from the doorway and marches across the kitchen. Her foot tingles and the annoyance shoots up her leg all the way to her hip.

            “I don’t need this from you tonight, Elaine,” she says, her voice calmer than she feels. “Give it a rest.”

            She shakes slightly as she firmly but softly places the receiver down on the hook; and then she smiles as she realizes this is a first for her, she finally is the one to cut the connection.

 

            Quarter past four and Sharon sits in the living room. She doesn’t want so much to go back to sleep now; Elaine will probably call back again, and Sharon can’t stop herself thinking long enough to fall back asleep anyway. Jack and Elaine and the day care center and firing people and next month’s milk all blend in together to keep her awake, and she mulls it all over, thinking about the next step.

            In the darkness, she automatically puts on a Dave Brubeck album; the soothing melodies drift softly in the background and she stands once again in front of the window, watching the dark street below. She has to search through the music Jack left behind before she finds her Brubeck album. She puts Jack’s Neil Young, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Warren Zevon to the side. Jack left so hurriedly; left so much behind. A few old jeans, a red bandanna he wore tied to a belt loop on his pants, some pieces of rawhide he used to make necklaces and rings; there is more stuffed carefully away in a box under the bed; there is even more than that stashed behind the storage area above the bedroom closet, but Sharon can’t bring herself to get rid of it. She has gone through it all, some nights when she cannot sleep, cataloged it in her mind, and she knows she should do something with it. She means to pack all his stuff, move it out, ship it West; but can’t find the courage to start.

            No cars move yet in the street below her; night shift people still have two more hours to go. The Globe will come soon enough and maybe then she will make some coffee. She always drinks too much coffee when she talks with Elaine, when phone conversations last for hours and it takes Elaine so long to get  to the real point, and then morning comes far too soon.

 

            There was a morning sun that burned with an unaccustomed intensity each day of the long weekend she had spent with Jack three years ago in Pensacola. They flew down, spur-of-the-moment, for a four-day weekend and borrowed a friend’s condo while he was away on a training mission from the Navy base. Jack brought his guitar, Sharon her books; the days lasted forever she thought then, and she and Jack were happy. Elaine called that weekend, too, with another now-forgotten crisis, throwing just enough discord into what had started out to be a carefree vacation. “Don’t get your knickers twisted,” Elaine told Sharon later when Sharon tried to confront her about the disruption. “You weren’t much help anyway.”

            Another morning, years before when Sharon and Elaine still lived at home, Sharon remembered dad throwing Elaine out of the house for bringing that boy home to sleep with her. Sharon didn’t see Elaine until that afternoon, walking down Bromfield Street, across from the cemetery.

            “Some people just don’t have any sense of humor, do they?” Elaine said, and waved away Sharon’s concern. “Of course I was careful. I’m always careful,” then she shrugged her shoulders and turned to go into the post office. “Besides, mom and dad don’t matter, actually. What do I care about them or their money or their house? Big deal. I’ve got friends. I don’t need this crap. It’s okay. Really, it’s okay.” But she was back home three nights later, laughing on the telephone in the kitchen, her dirty dishes piled up in the sink, her laundry in a pile by the cellar door.

            Sharon’s own laundry lay forgotten in a heap on the floor and Jack cradled her gently in his arms while she cried the morning after the big storm. Elaine ran Sharon’s car off the road that night and destroyed the entire front end after Sharon told her she couldn’t borrow the car. “It doesn’t matter, really, Sharon,” Jack said. “No one was hurt and we can fix your car. Don’t fuss about Elaine. You know what she’s like; you know she’s not worth it.” But it was Sharon who paid for the repairs to the car.

            “Another screw up,” Sharon whispers as she rocks. “Goddamn you, Elaine.”

 

            Wednesday’s “food section” is about bread and Sharon tidily tears a recipe for maple oatmeal bread out from page 63. The dark brown coffee smell wafts through the kitchen, which is still almost dark except for a small 60-watt light that hangs shaded over the table. The dark circles under Sharon’s eyes grow deeper with the sun’s approach, still almost an hour away. She sips at the half-warm coffee and thinks about all those sick and coughing toddlers who will be waiting for her.

            She folds the paper and throws it carefully behind her into the basket. She leans against the wall and runs her fingers through her hair, trying to decide if it would be better to call Elaine and get the cycle of phone calls over for the night, or to wait and let Elaine calm down so she can get to the real point. She looks at herself in the mirror hanging over the sink, wondering if she has time for a shower.

            The day they were invited to the party on Prospect Hill, Elaine sat at attention in front of her mirror in the tiny room she commandeered for her own, a room that had at one time been Sharon’s room. Elaine sat there for more than two hours, playing with her face and trimming her bangs until Sharon stood in the doorway and pleaded with her one last time. “Don’t make a scene, Elaine,” she begged. “Stay here and let me go to this party alone. Jack McAllister will be there and I want some time to talk to him alone. I don’t need a little sister hanging around just this one please dear God, Elaine!”

            Elaine turned towards the doorway and a smile crept slowly across her face—a mere grin at first, it widened brightly to sunshine and then narrowed slyly to devilment. “Fat chance, sis,” she said. “I need to see just what this Jack McAllister is that has you all juiced up. They never mean much to you. This one does. So I need a look-see. Don’t sweat it, Shar. You’ll never know I’m there.”

 

            “Let’s get this show on the road,” Sharon mutters as she punches in the eleven numbers that will connect her to Elaine in California. She taps her foot as she counts eight rings before Elaine picks up the phone. And Elaine has been waiting.

            “How dare you hang up on me!” she shrills before Sharon can even say hello. “How goddamn rude of you! Things are going badly and I’m so hurt and all you can do is think about yourself when I need to talk to someone! I’m surprised at you, Sharon, it’s so unlike you.”

            “Elaine. . .”

            “No, really, I guess I just don’t matter a good goddamn to you so just go on back to bed and forget I even called.”

            “Elaine . . .”

            “Sharon, there’s nothing more to say. Just remember what you’ve done.”

            After listening for a few seconds to the dial tone, Sharon chuckles and hangs up the phone again, throws the Diet Coke can into the recycle bin, and unplugs the coffee machine. She pads down the hallway and back into her bedroom, gently places her red glasses on the night stand where she can reach them first thing, and picks up the clock to reset her alarm. An extra half hour won’t hurt, assuming that she’ll be able to get to sleep after two cups of coffee, tea, and a Diet Coke in the middle of the night.

            She gets into bed, adjusts the covers, and rolls over to face the wall when the phone rings again. She doesn’t let it ring more than once before grabbing the receiver from the hook.

            “You’re going on longer than usual tonight, and I’m tired so can we get this over with please?” Sharon doesn’t sound as short and as angry as she feels.

            “Sharon?”

            Sharon sits up quickly, throwing the sheets and comforter to the side. She slides her legs out of bed, staring ahead of her into the blackness of her room, her heart thumping erratically, unable to speak.

            “Sharon?” And there is a pause. “Sharon, it’s Jack.”

            Sharon laughs low in her throat, a quiet laugh, one that isn’t meant to be heard by anyone but her. Her hand goes out automatically for her glasses, and she bumps over both the clock and the picture sitting stoically side by side. The laugh turns into a cough, which catches in her throat, and she sits in the dark with her own little sharp pain.

            “Jack,” she says, and stands up.

            “Yeah, hi,” he replies. There is another long pause because neither one knows just what to say next. And then they both begin together.

            “I just finished talking to . . .”

            “I wanted to get to you before . . .”

            “What are you. . .”

            “I had a late gig tonight and . . .”

            “Sorry, you go first.”

            “No, go ahead, you start.”

So they both wait again, Sharon nervously wiping her glasses on the bed sheets, wishing she had brought another can of Diet Coke home from the center that afternoon, wanting her heart to stop pounding.

            “Sharon, I just wanted you to know,” Jack tries again.

            “Yes?”

            “Elaine and I are done. Finally.” Sharon imagines Jack, in a new apartment in California, pacing around the room, holding onto his portable phone, constantly raking back his long dark hair to keep it out of his eyes, stepping through the discarded sheet music, the broken guitar strings, the empty and dirty plates and cups, the old wine bottles, the ashtray with its mixture of Marlboro butts and roach-ends, newspapers and old magazines. She can see the black leather sofa and his orange and white long-haired cat perched in the hole in the center section where Elaine had jumped into it breaking the frame a few short months before she left for California. She imagines his Gibson strapped to his back by the rainbow-colored guitar strap she shyly gave him on the first birthday they shared together; the Gibson is always close to him, closer than anyone. Sharon waits.

            “You and I never talked, you know, Sharon,” Jack says and she feels her throat constrict, and the tears start to poke out from the corners of her eyes. She blinks, hard, once and then twice, and swallows with difficulty.

            “We weren’t much for talking.”

            “For sure,” he says. And she remembers all the afternoons they spent silently, making love, listening to his demo tapes, trying to write lyrics for his music, reading D.H. Lawrence novels, cooking spaghetti and throwing a few strands against the wall to test if it was done, and then making love some more. Lovely, silent afternoons. What happened? she thinks.

            “Sharon, can we get together if I come back there?” Jack asks and she picks up the telephone and walks over to the window by the far side of the room. The question is too quick, the time is too late, and she doesn’t know how to answer.

            “I really want this, Sharon, and I think you do, too,” he continues, talking faster. “Goddamn it, Sharon, I think we really should talk, after all, you know, don’t you think?”

            Sharon laughs. She is thinking of Elaine and her phone calls. Elaine will call again tonight, and Sharon wonders what the calls are really about. She hears Jack’s voice.

            “Sharon? I’m coming back East. Can we talk?”

            Can we talk? Can we share this ride to Crane’s Beach? Can we change this last bar and arrange the words this way instead of that so that the song makes sense? Can we stay the night together, no one will know, I want you so much, can we stay? Can we stop analyzing Elaine? Can the cigarette butt burn a hole in this stain-resistant carpet and are we going to burn up and die and go to hell for doing things we shouldn’t be doing?

            All the silly-serious questions from their past hover overhead now while Sharon tries to think. Four years. Two months. What Sharon and Jack bonded together so slowly and carefully Elaine and Jack tore apart so casually and lightly and it is now coming home to roost. And the unanswered question that could now, even this late, possibly be answered. If she wants it answered. If she thinks it’s important enough. What a trio. Jack. Elaine. Sharon.

            And after what seems to be a very long time, she finally says, “of course,” and more of the past comes rushing back to her. All the good past, because that’s all people usually remember from failed love affairs. With sisters, the bad can sit at the front of the brain, to be remembered and lived over and over, never to be forgiven; but with lovers, no matter how badly they’ve treated or been treated, with lovers it’s always the good that stays in the front.

            “Of course,” she says again, with a lighter voice. “Will you be here soon?”

 

            A half-hour later she rolls over, clutching the covers closer to her, smiling in a half-wake state, and she reaches to shut off the alarm by her bed. The ringing continues and she smile disappears as she wakes completely up and she reaches once again to the table to answer the telephone.

            “Sharon hi. Now don’t be all pissed, just be quiet and listen for a second, okay?” She hears Elaine drop the phone and murmur, “Oh, shit,” in the background. “Wait, just wait a minute, would you, this is important, so just hold on.”

            Hearing Elaine’s urgency, Sharon smiles.

            “I’m done with this,” Elaine announces with a deep smoky exhale. “It’s been fun but I’m really not the California type, and this place is really creepy is you’re not a native or know your way around. No, and I just can’t study here, there’s too much outside happening for me to concentrate. I’ve dragged this on long enough, I’m too old for this crap, but I want this damn degree in this lifetime and I won’t get it here so I’m transferring to Emerson, they have what I want there and it’s close to home so those are my plans. My flight leaves LAX at 11:20 this morning and my bags are packed and I’ve even shipped some of my books UPS so they’ll come in next week ‘cause I don’t want to pay extra for overnight delivery or anything. Thanks Christ Jack’s over and done with, ‘cause that’s easier for me and there are no other ties and shit I’ll be glad to get out of here. I’m so excited! Isn’t this absolutely great? Don’t you think?” Elaine’s voice rises as her enthusiasm pours over the receiver.

            Sharon laughs into the phone.

            “So I’ll catch the shuttle from Logan out to Littleton and Delaney said he’d pick me up but he has no place for me to crash since Shelly threw him out. He’s been hanging out anywhere he can, usually in his car. Sometimes I wish mom and the old man had stayed around when they retired, it would make life easier for me.” Elaine pauses again. “So I’ll just stay there with you since you’re near the commuter rail and you’ve got tons of space, right?”

            Sharon stares speechlessly at the phone in her hand. So much strange news comes from the telephone, first thing tomorrow I’m getting it disconnected, she thinks.

            “Sharon? You still there?”

            Sharon frowns, takes a deep breath, and jumps. “You’ve got one hell of a nerve, Elaine! You call and harass me for over three hours and expect that I’ll just listen to your shit and be nice, sweet, patient old Sharon. Well, goddamn it to hell, Elaine. Grow up! Life doesn’t revolve around you. Other people have lives too. Does that surprise you?”

            Elaine doesn’t answer. Sharon shrugs her shoulders and puts the receiver down on the night stand and she sits down on her bed. She sighs then laughs to herself, another quiet laugh like the one she kept from Jack.

            “This is insane,” she announces, and picks the phone back up.

            “Elaine. . .”

            “Oh good, Sharon, I didn’t think you’d hang up again,” Elaine coughs. “Delaney will drop me off there in the evening but the time depends on when my plane gets in.”

            Sharon scratches her head. “You really should stop smoking, Elaine.”

            “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Elaine says.