"Queen of Time" by Max Mitenkov.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
TESTAMENT OF FAITH
by Lee Foust
For M. P.
“I don’t want to talk about that book,
I want to talk about my testament of faith.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald in James Thurber’s Scott in Thorns
I find myself in the uneasy confusion of being drunk and remember this:
I was dancing, pulling my weight up, then down, everything off-balance, circling around some woman but not touching her. I looked over at Johnny, also on the dance floor, the trendy, neon paintings on the wall behind him, the other people in their black clothes jerking back and forth indifferent to one another, and I thought, I will have to turn sideways to get close enough to his ear to ask him, “What time is it?”
I did. I had to shout to be heard over the music: “What time is it?” I saw his skinny arm raise up, his neck bending and his eyes veered through the darkness, finding the watch around his wrist in the jangle of bracelets, chains, and black plastic rings and, “It’s twelve,” he said, screaming but calm.
The woman dancing in front of me let out a laugh, quick and percussive, like machine-gun fire. And I—something drastic now, please!—looked at her blankly, frankly puzzled. It was the first minute of a new day. We kept on moving recklessly to the music—she’d already informed me that she was going to take me home, that I was hers tonight. More people were coming out onto the dance floor, crowding us closer, and setting themselves in front of me like obstacles. She’d already stopped looking at me, stopped paying much attention to me at all, and I found myself watching the tight strip of bare stomach exposed behind her too-short T-shirt. From where I was her body seemed perfect—and she was acting like it was perfect—so it must have been perfect. Who was I to argue with such certitude?
After claiming possession, she had contracted my fate a bit later with, “You can get out now if you want.” How had I reacted to that? Had I smiled at her, or blushed? There were too many beers between my face and I to know for sure. Maybe I’d looked a little scared before, like I had wanted to get away.
Then my mind, pulsing strangely with every amplified chest-thumping downbeat of the Tears for Fears (or maybe it was Love and Rockets) song playing, the recently added sake chasing itself around in my head somewhere, tried to imagine making love to her.
Her T-shirt was black and I watched her breasts sliding around behind it, not quite playing peek-a-boo below the torn bottom edge—which was a credit to her breasts. Her teeth seemed to be grinning at me, like a shark, somewhere way out in front of her face. And I thought, “Okay, why the hell not? But let’s get it the fuck over with so I can pass out quietly somewhere.
”Then the floor slipped, everything blurred and I could only feel myself, the earth seeming to shift beneath my feet. I grabbed the woman’s arm to stay upright. I was in no condition to take care of myself, I decided, so I gave in to the inevitability of some sort of partnership. I was getting overdramatic: “She’s my angel of destruction, beautiful, laughing now, and me sinking like this.” But she only pushed me away. She’d already told me that she wasn’t going to touch me until we got back to her place; this was some sort of rule of thumb of hers.
The music ended and began all over again as if nothing at all had changed.I started—in an instant of sobering—making up excuses for actually wanting to go home with this stranger: “I can’t help not giving a shit. I’ve got some things to work out. I’ve never really lived, have I? Loneliness sucks.” Stuff like that. I mean, it was a kind of scary situation, or I was sure as hell going to try to make it into one. I already knew it would only be embarrassing and maybe boring being stuck with her the next morning, but, well, right then...
I don’t remember why we left the dance floor. I was only meekly following the woman back towards the bar when your face—Melinda’s face—appeared out of the crowd standing in front of the open windows.
“Mindy, hi!” I said over the woman’s shoulder, wrestling my hand away from the stranger who had been leading me towards the bar, touching Melinda’s arm to get her attention.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, surprised to find me here. It was the first time I’d ever seen Mindy looking shy, or all dressed up for a nightclub.
I turned back towards the bar to figure out where the hell I was and the woman I’d been dancing with was leaning over to kiss some guy sitting up at the bar. I shrug ged and shook my head in the wrong direction, towards the wall. The woman turned away from the kiss and came back to where she’d left me standing to tell me, “I’ve run into an old friend who’s going to buy me a drink. I’ll be right back.” She pinched my butt, then forced her way back through the crowd and up to the bar and her “old friend.”
“Mindy, you’ve got to help me get away from that woman.”
“Yeah. No, never mind, just kidding. I’ll be okay. What’s up with you?”
“What?” The music was super loud all of a sudden.
“How’ve you been?”
“I’m going away to Florence tomorrow.”
“Really? Florence, Italy?”
“For how long?”
“Forever. Well, I’m only going to school there for a year, but I won’t be coming back to San Francisco after that.”
“That’s a coincidence ‘cause I’ve been planning to go to Europe myself in the spring.”
“Just to live, change of pace and all that. To write. I’ve never been.”
We were being silly now, laughing, and it was the first time I noticed how Melinda looked at me. She was acting like she’d meant to do something totally different but it had come out accidentally as a smile, and she did it more with her eyes than her lips.
I remembered when we had taken our final exam in that statistics course at State, when she broke down and got all upset over how hard the exam was and I’d put my arm around her and tried to calm her down—we were the only two artistic types in this stupid G.E. course. That was the last time I’d seen her, a little more than a year before this summer night in the sweat and cigarette smoke of the Nightbreak, that club out at the end of Haight Street, near the park.
“Are you going anywhere after this?” I asked and she shook her head. “Can we go somewhere? I mean, just to talk or something. It’s weird, we were in that class together and I always liked you, but we never quite got to know each other, and now you’re leaving.”
She reached into her handbag, squinting through the darkness, shuffling things around. “You’ll have to give me your address. I’d like to write, send you a postcard from Italy.”
“You know,” I had to lean down to say this, towards her head bent over the bag, which she’d set down on a table to make the searching easier, and raise my voice, trying hard to be heard over the music, my face practically in her hair. “You know,” I said again, “I’ve had the big gest crush on you forever,” and I guess it was true. It was one of those rare true thoughts that suddenly occur to you to say when you’re drunk and later you think, “Wow, that was true, only I’d never thought it in exactly those words before that very moment.” Sometimes other things come out, but this night I was lucky.
Melinda raised her head up, address book in hand, with that smile, and our faces were very close. “You,” she made a little puzzled expression, blushed, and looked down, saying sweetly, “remind me of the first person I ever fell in love with.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that!”
“Well, you said something.” She handed me the little book and I wrote my address and number in it.
Johnny came up behind me and I introduced them. Then Mindy’s friends came over and we all went outside to the sidewalk. There was some talk about where to go—while I glanced back at the door, hoping that my dancing partner had forgotten about me by now. At first Melinda was going to come with Johnny and I to a party we’d heard about at a new club that was opening down South of Market, but one of her friends needed to get some stuff she’d left back at Melinda’s apartment, so Mindy sug gested we take her car there, get the stuff, and then drop the friend off at her own house on the way to meeting up with Johnny at the party. So I waved good-bye to Johnny and followed Melinda and her friends away from the club, along the seedy remains of the ‘60s they call Haight Street, to Melinda’s ancient black Mercedes station wagon parked at the corner.
The air outside was marine-layer cold and that made my head clear some, or I thought it was clearing, and I was thankful. Walking, however, was also making me aware of how really, really drunk I was, and I started worrying about saying or doing something stupid, or just falling down.
Pinto, Melinda’s kitten, stood by the door, her head swinging to watch each of us pass by as we came into the apartment. She made especially big eyes at me, whom she’d never smelled before. I picked her up and held her against my chest. I sat down on the bed and began telling Pinto all about the evening so far, trying to concentrate on being coherent before I was left alone to make conversation with Melinda. I was looking hard at the kitten’s face to keep the rolling walls from tipping me over, and she stared back at me with wonder.
Melinda and her two friends were changing out of their club-going clothes and searching here and there around the apartment for things in girlish flurries of noise and movement. I had the distinct impression of being on a ship in rough waters and that they were the crew scurrying about during a storm, battening down the hatches—except for Melinda’s friend’s boyfriend, the apparently wealthy passenger, who was sitting tired and bored in a corner waiting to leave. There was only the one room, a kitchen, and a bathroom somewhere off down a hall that connected all of the rooms together. Pinto crawled up onto my shoulders and lay down across the back of my neck. I found a gallon jug of purified water on the floor next to the bed and asked, “Can I drink about half of this?”
“Sure,” Mindy said, passing by.
I tipped the jug and shook my head to clear it and then there were good-byes and Mindy’s friends were gone and she came back into the room and laughed at me sitting on her bed with a kitten asleep across my shoulders like a stole and a jug of water in my lap.
“So, do you still want to go to this party that your friend’s at?”
“What time is it?”
“‘Round two, I think.”
“No, not necessarily. I mean, it might be over by now. If you still want to go out we could try the Sub Club or something. That’ll be going on for a couple more hours.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“Good,” I said, and our eyes acknowledged that we had only been acting polite and that we were each pleased to stay here together, and Mindy got out some candles. There was only a mattress, a stack of paintings, and some messy, half-filled boxes of packed-at-the-last-minute knick-knacks and housewares stacked against the walls. Almost everything she owned was already either given away or loaded into her car. Going through the kitchen earlier I’d seen that it had been totally cleaned out—and now the alcohol was making me hungry. We lit the candles and Mindy went off down the hall to get out of her makeup—I’d never seen her with makeup on before either, it occurred to me. What a strange social ritual, I thought: the nightclub.
“You know,” I said to Pinto, “this never happens to me.” Melinda came back in a nightgown. I felt something near my stomach tighten up when I saw her like that.
"I can’t believe how lucky it was that you came along when you did. I think I might actually have gone home with that horrid woman.”
“The one you were dancing with?”
“Yeah. I’ve never done that before, gone home with someone I didn’t even know. She just came up, grabbed me and said, ‘Okay, tonight: you.’ I was so drunk. I guess I thought it might have been interesting maybe. Whatever. I only wanted to say that I’m glad I ran into you.” I hug ged her and she sat down next to me.
“Tell me about your novel,” she said. “You told me once that you want to write a novel some day—so, what’s it going to be about?”
I went into it as best I could and Melinda seemed impressed and then I asked her if I could see some of her paintings. She took a couple of her favorites out of the stack leaning against the wall and put them behind the candles so that we could see them. The one that struck me the most, and I think was her favorite as well, was a self-portrait that showed her face looking out at you outlined by a dark hood, a bird’s nest of twigs and bits of garbage below that—a tiny bird’s skeleton cradled in the nest—and a poem at the bottom of the canvas that she’d written in first or second grade on that greenish paper ruled at about two inches with a dotted line down the middle.
"My mother sent me the poem and I had to make a picture out of it.”
The poem read: “I see a nest in a tree. There is a baby bird in the nest. It is not happy.”
There was another self-portrait in a frame laced with tiny fragile bird bones and tight white thread. “Bones,” I said.
“I love bones.”
“But what do they mean exactly, to you?”
“Well, they’re structure,” she said, not hesitating, “they’re basic.”
So we went on with our roundabout discussion of art and writing until Mindy surveyed the room, the still unsorted junk stacked against the walls, and said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to go tomorrow. I need a day off to relax before I go rushing off to Europe and leave San Francisco forever.”
She got in under the blankets and I guzzled some more water, concentrating on staying present and aware. I took my clothes off carefully and slowly, trying not to trip over my pant legs, realizing when I stood up that I was still pretty drunk, although my head had seemed to clear while we’d been sitting there discoursing on art.
Melinda was lying on her back, looking up at nothing—or at something I didn’t know about—and I got in under the blankets next to her. A gauze curtain that she’d tacked up over the room’s only window, right above our heads, blew slowly across our faces with the wind. It tickled and we
gig gled about it. The air was a touch cooler outside and it felt good on my face. I was thinking that summer should have been over by then, but the nights were still relatively warm for San Francisco.
“Look over here.” Mindy sat up, peering out the window, and I slid up beside her under the gauze shroud. We gazed out at Central Street, the dark green, cool and fresh-smelling Panhandle of Golden Gate Park off to our right across Fell. “Isn’t this a great window?” We were on the second floor and I was looking at the row of Victorian houses across Central. Even though they all probably had the same floor plan and are set in a perfectly straight row, each one presented a slightly different façade to the street: the lovely, decorative illusion of individuality.
Melinda pushed the curtain back across the window and I slid my hand up her back. I watched her close her eyes and we pulled quickly together. It had been a pretty long time for me and, suddenly, here it was again. Then it occurred to me that it would be going away with Mindy, either today or the day after.
“I’m on my period.”
“It doesn’t matter to me if it doesn’t matter to you.”
“It doesn’t matter to me. Anyway, it’s light.”
And later I let slip out, “I don’t believe this—it’s like our bodies were made to go together.”
“You’re saying a lot of things.” I saw her frown in the cold blue light from the streetlight outside.
In an awkward moment I said, “You don’t have to worry, I finished a long time ago.”
“Well, it didn’t finish for me.”
And then it was, “I’ve never made love for so long.”
She looked at me with a worried expression. “You’re kidding—neither have I,” and we both laughed and her smile came back and we were different, closer now.
“Well, let’s see how long we can keep it up.” Finally, we got tired and stopped, not all at once—we just kind of drifted together into stillness.
She must have looked at her watch then, before we fell asleep, and said, “Now I’m definitely not leaving tomorrow. But I guess I’d already decided that.”
Why am I writing such intimate things down? Whether it’s good or bad writing is oddly immaterial to me here, I think. I seem to be seeking out the details, trying to remember the sights and sounds of our day and night together, Melinda. I want to hold your apartment and your room close in my mind, stretch the night I spent there out into an eternity, to see your face again, your pictures, to feel your presence here now as I write.
When Melinda had fallen asleep and the night gathered itself into an almost absolute silence, Pinto came up from our feet and made a nest in Mindy’s hair. I couldn’t go to sleep for fear of waking up and finding something gone. I was thinking about that and watching the light seep gradually into the room and humming a couple of lines from a song by the Smiths: “You should know / Time’s tide will smother you / And I will too.”
I liked the little scene we were making: Melinda sleeping in the glow of the streetlights, fluffy red Pinto curled up in her hair. Then I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. There was this weird feeling of things shifting and I woke up in the same position—as if no time had passed at all—but it was daylight outside. Leaning silently over her, I found the wristwatch that Mindy had left on her arm overnight and it said six A.M. She looked no different in the morning than she had the night before, not at all puffy or flushed. I lay for what seemed like a long time after that, drifting in and out of sleep, the morning breeze blowing in the window and over our faces.
There was an artsy black-and-white photo, a portrait of Melinda, pinned up on the wall to the right of the mattress. I didn’t like looking at it; it was flat and dead somehow. I guess that’s because photography never seemed to be a complete art to me. It’s so exact, too real somehow, confining; it’s so much harder to find the artist in the work. But then there’s Stieglitz, whose pictures are as good as any art I’ve ever seen, so I must be wrong. Later that day Mindy would tell me that she felt like a Georgia O’Keeffe waiting for an Alfred Stieglitz to come along and discover her. It’s funny how you remember things not in the right order, but you always try to fill in the spaces and to arrange them until they make sense somehow. I suppose we’re not sincere enough to recreate our memories exactly as they occur to us in our heads.
At some point Melinda got up to go to the bathroom or something, I must have been asleep, and she must have taken down the photo, I guess, because I found it filed away in the middle of the paintings leaning against the wall later that afternoon.
“There’s no way I can stay in bed—I’ve still got like a million things to do.” She slid herself around in the sheets and pulled the phone out from under the covers of the makeshift bed. “It’s endless.” She spoke to her cousin back East, telling her that she was going to arrive a day later than expected. I lay there feeling the breeze blow and the curtain sweeping across my face. The backs of my eyelids turned bright orange for a second as the sun came in, then deep purple with blinking yellow dots when the curtain got sucked back into the window frame. After the phone call, Mindy fell asleep again and I cuddled up close to her and Pinto.
There was this strange electric noise. It happened again and I realized that I must have fallen asleep again too. “Oh, that’s my buzzer,” Mindy said, surprised—she must have been lying there, like me, trying to figure out what was happening—and she went leaping out of bed and rushing over to buzz the downstairs door open.
She slipped her nightgown back on and, watching her, I remember wondering what it would be like to be a painter, your art limited to the visible. But no, even Melinda’s self-portrait had had a poem in it. Here was an image though: Mindy’s body sprinkled with freckles, her wavy reddish-brown hair stirred up by Pinto, short and fluffy on top, long in back, pulled behind her ears, her wide brown eyes looking at me now under the strawberry blond lashes, and the smile she kept aiming at me to say that everything was all right. The movement was important too, the way the nightgown fell in stages as she tug ged at it and shook herself until it settled in place around her body. Maybe if you painted just the right instant in the motion it would all be there in the picture.
She stopped and leaned over and kissed me before letting her friend Julie in. Julie had come to collect Pinto. I heard them talking out in the hall and then Mindy brought her into the room and introduced us.
“I have to go out with Julie for a minute. It won’t take long and I’ll be right back, okay?”
As she got dressed to go out I talked with Julie, who was quite nice and good at making a naked man under a single sheet feel comfortable talking to a woman he’s only just met. After they left, I drew a hot bath and laid myself into it. I heard Mindy come home again while I was still in the bathroom. “You splashed around so much.” She gig gled, smiling at me with her eyes closed, half under the sheet, hearing my footsteps on the carpet when I came back into the bedroom.
"I can’t help it, I love water.” She opened her eyes, still grinning. I kneeled down on the mattress and we kissed.
“Let’s go out and get some breakfast.”
“I’ll take you to my favorite spot.”
I’m writing down our story to get it all clear to myself, to purify the fog gy images of the day and the night we spent together, the things I think I remember of you, of us. Sure, I could put faces on the thousand daydreams I might dream of you today, but I can’t write you a love letter because you’ve left me no address to mail it to.
I took you to Ming’s Koffee Korner so that I could tie a memory of you to a specific, familiar place. I’m back here this morning, only a few weeks since you’ve left San Francisco, picturing you sitting on that stool over there, next to a different me, wearing your T-shirt with Winged Victory on it, the newspaper spread out on the counter, and you reading in the morning sunlight, which I remember quickly flattened into a blue-gray fog. I’m on the other side of the horseshoe counter now, across from where we sat that morning. I twirl my spoon around in the mug and watch the cream merging with the black coffee. I let the spoon rest on the rim, the whirlpool spinning ‘round it, and pick up my pen to write some more.
I’d been awake and asleep so many times that morning that I had no conception of what time it’d gotten to be. We drove over to Ming’s at Leavenworth and Sutter and I kept kissing and touching Mindy, holding her hand in-between stoplights—when she didn’t need her right hand in order to shift—and suddenly I was amazed by every mundane thing I saw, not so indifferent to everything as I’d been the day before. Even the colors of the day seemed new and strange to me; but maybe that was because I’d been so drunk the night before and had only slept in fits and starts.
When we came into the diner Chinese Suzy grinned, nodding like she always does, looking over her glasses at me, and especially at Mindy, who she’d never seen with me before, saying, “Hi, hi, hi—good to see you.”
“Good morning, Suzy.”
“Two seats over here.” She shooed us down one side of the counter to a spot near the corner, but under the high windows.
“She’s so cute,” Mindy told me.
“Yeah, I love it here—it’s like a little piece of a ‘40s film noir left behind.”
“Oh, I wanted to get a newspaper.”
“I’ll get it,” I said, getting up.
Then, after we’d gotten our coffees and ordered breakfast, I asked her, “How serious are you about your art? I mean, do you plan on becoming a great artist, or is it only something to do for now, while you figure out what you’re really going to do for the rest of your life?”
“No, I’m serious about it, but I don’t push hard enough, I guess. I have a lot of ideas, but I should try to show more, to do more things. I feel like a Georgia O’Keeffe waiting for an Alfred Stieglitz to come along and discover me.”
“I asked because I’m impressed with your work. You know, there’s a lot of bad art around this town, but I think you’re doing great stuff. Honestly.”
“It’s just hard to do it all the time.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, knowing how hard it is to write when most of the time there’s only one thing to say. “Who was it? Some artist, when they asked him why he quit painting, he said, ‘I got tired of filling in the spaces.’”
“Sounds like Duchamp. But I think he and all those Dada people were trying to say, you know, that life is art, or that we should live our lives the way artists do their work.”
“Yeah, but life isn’t art. I mean, if it were, why bother to do the art? People get confused, I think, because art comes so much out of our lives.”
“That’s true,” she smiled at me, agreeing. “Still, sometimes the work is better if you leave the artistic process out of it altogether.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s actually possible. Then it would be an accidental thing, like natural beauty or whatever. I mean, even just isolating a thing out of its ordinary setting is an important process of art.”
“Oh, beauty!” she said and laughed.
I had to meet Johnny at the Soma Café near my house on Sumner Alley down South of Market at three that afternoon. Mindy drove me over there and we ordered coffees, sat in a booth, and waited for Johnny to show up. He and I are in a band together and we had rehearsal that afternoon, so Melinda went home to pack the rest of her stuff into her car—she was driving to her parents’ house in Connecticut before flying off to Europe from New York—and Johnny and I drove out to Hunters Point to rehearse.
It was no good at all. I was beginning to feel ill from the previous evening’s drinking, and while we played I was thinking too much about Melinda’s leaving. Our guitarist was nearly an hour late and we sat on the street in front of the studio on the blown-out and nearly deserted avenue in the city’s most notorious neighborhood, waiting for him, watching the sky turn a deeper gray. The non-descript commercial building was also something of a shooting gallery and the people there made me nervous—I always thought we’d show up one day and all of our instruments would be gone. Then it started to rain and must have drizzled the whole time we were playing because the streets were wet and the air warm and humid when we came out, not like San Francisco at all.
Johnny brought me back to Soma’s after rehearsal, where I’d arranged to meet Mindy at six. By then the sun had come out again and I was sweating from the humidity and the hangover that gets you in the afternoon with a kind of lost sleepiness and an empty-feeling stomach that you can’t put anything into, instead of the kind that gets you in the morning with a headache and the runs. Everything looked too bright and too clear to be real.
“So, what do you think of her?” I asked Johnny. “I can’t believe I’m suddenly in love and everything.”
“That’s great. I’m happy for you. It’s too bad she’s leaving.”
“Here she comes,” I said, seeing her parking her car out the café windows. We watched her, locking the car door and crossing 12th Street. It’s all open and bright here where the wide avenues, Van Ness and Market, meet and Mission Street curves to the left to become the main drag of its own neighborhood.
“Nice body,” Johnny said, and I smirked.
Then Mindy and I were grinning, seeing each other again. We kissed and I went with her to the counter while she ordered.
Johnny came up behind us and said, “Well, I guess I’ll leave you two alone.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow maybe?”
“Yeah, sounds good. How about breakfast?”
“Call me in the morning.”
“Okay, ‘bye. Good-bye Mindy—it was nice to meet you.”
She waved at him as he walked out and we went back to our table with her caffe latte.
“So,” I said, looking at her all over again, “you still want to go see a movie, or what?”
“I’m sorry, but I haven’t finished running all of the errands I need to run before I can go.”
“That’s all right, if I can come along with you.”
“OK, sure, of course—I’d love to have you along.”
“It’ll be an adventure!”
We went to three of her friends’ houses either to pick things up or to drop things off. I got to see the insides of all these different flats and to meet all these new people, which helped to keep off the creeping sleepy sick feeling. While we were driving from place to place I checked out Mindy’s cross-country itinerary and saw that she was going to be passing through where my parents had moved after retiring, and, east of there, where my grandparents lived. “Hey, why don’t you take me along with you? We could stop at my parents’ house, and then you could drop me off at my grandparents’. That way you’d have some company and we could split expenses.” Mindy had been complaining, while saying good-bye to so many of her friends, that it was going to be a long, lonely trek across the U.S.A.
“Are you serious?”
“I’d have to quit my job without notice and then get another one when I get back.”
“Why do you have to come back? I thought you were headed for Europe too. It is in that direction.”
“Well, for one thing, I signed a year’s lease where I live, and then there’s all my stuff, which I’ll have to store someplace. But it’s mostly because I don’t have enough money saved up yet to stay as long as I want in Europe. The lease on our house runs out in March and by then I should have enough money to get set up somewhere, so that’s when I’ve been planning on leaving. I thought I’d take all my stuff to my parents’ house maybe, visit them, go see my grandparents, and then fly out of New York—since that’s another place I’ve never been and have always wanted to see. Your itinerary is perfect, but the timing isn’t so great.”
“Well, we can write until March, and you can come see me in Italy. I’ll be at the Cleveland Institute of Art.”
The more out of it I became, the more jittery Melinda got with the anticipation of leaving; she was going on a long, exciting trip. Eventually she dropped me off at her place and went running.
Her room was empty now except for a pile of blankets under the bare window. I made a nest out of them in the corner and curled up. I thought back through all of the things that had happened to me since bumping into Melinda at the Nightbreak, smelled her all around me, and eventually drifted off to sleep.
The next thing I knew Mindy was calling up to me from the street below. I stuck my head out the window and she told me to buzz the downstairs door open. When she came in we were happy again—there having been a sort of uncomfortableness at our parting, our first moment of incompatibility—and I hug ged her and asked, “Are you going to take me with you? I think it would be a blast to go on the road together, even if it’s only for a week or two and it puts me behind schedule earning money for my Europe trip.”
“I don’t think so. You know,” she held on to me so I would feel better about it and so I would really listen to her explain it, “when you travel with someone, you tend not to notice things.” She led me down the hall and into the bathroom where she started the bath water running. “You don’t interact with people. You get into a private little world, you and the person you’re with. And I’ve already planned out this trip across the States by myself. But I think we will travel together. That’s why we ran into each other at the Nightbreak last night and why we’re both going to Europe. I think it’s an omen. Until then we can write letters and get to know each other better. I write great letters.”
I kept looking her in the eye because I did, after all, understand. She was leaving now and I was going to have to stay and wait for six more months before I could get to Europe myself. That was the way it was going to happen. It would have been stupid to change everything just because we’d accidentally run into each other in a club the night before she was set to leave.
“And you had better come over like you say you’re gonna.”
“Oh, I will—sometime after March.” I paced around the apartment while she sat in the tub pouring water over herself with a bowl. I was trying to wake myself up, to clear my head, and so that Mindy wouldn’t see that I was crying. It was inevitable now: I was going to lose her this evening. It was stupid to cry, though, because I was, effectively, happy.
I walked around the apartment singing another Smiths song out loud to tease Melinda, “Vivid and in your prime / You will leave me behind / You will leave me behind.” It’s funny how I was so hooked on this band then, and how now all of their songs seem to tell stories about me and that part of my life.
“You know,” I yelled to her from the other room, “if you don’t take me with you, I’ll have to write a story about us—if only to kill time until I get to see you again.”
“Oh,” she said, coming into the living room and putting her damp arms around me, “relax. What shall we do for dinner? Are you hungry?”
We went to Chinatown to eat and there wasn’t too much conversation. We were both looking around the restaurant a lot. Neither of us had ever been to this place before, and we’d chosen it for exactly that reason. We didn’t need to say anything to each other anymore, but it would have been nice. I guess we were kind of exhausted.
I kept watching Melinda when she didn’t know I was looking; I didn’t want to be sitting there staring off into space, already imagining her gone and out of my life, or worse, trying to picture seeing her again in six months. There was plenty of that to come. I realized, even then, that I was happy, but without any excitement or thrill attached to the feeling. I was simply content. We seemed comfortable together now, with the kind of happiness you notice later, after someone’s gone, after things have happened between you and you have no regrets, when everything goes okay.
Am I trying to make such pronouncements true by writing the story this way? Maybe we were uncomfortable and only killing time before we could each be alone and get on with our lives, this postscript encounter without any future having run its course. Or perhaps that’s my paranoia and pessimism talking now. I want to ask you how you actually felt at dinner—about me, about us.
I’m talking directly to you again, Mindy, turning this story into a love letter. It’s hard not to. I should have said all of these things to you that day we spent together, that night at the restaurant—but maybe I’m only figuring them out for myself now, or putting them into words for the first time here. Maybe I didn’t speak because I know how useless words can be—and how important; because I want to do more than write to you, or about you. I don’t want to turn this into a tragedy—it’s just that there’s a nothingness in the world that’s impossible to avoid all the time and I fight its effects with my faith in words.
I’m walking home from work through Chinatown tonight, as usual, and sometimes, passing by, I glance in the windows of the place where we ate before you left. Did I annoy you holding hands so much? I wanted to feel something finally touching me after such a long dismal period of loneliness and irony, even though I could already feel it moving away and leaving with you. The restaurant was almost empty that night, it being so late, and I didn’t think you’d mind me touching you, and you didn’t seem to.
I found a plaque across the street from the place, near the corner: It says that the first house ever built in Yerba Buena, the future San Francisco, was put up right there. So, you who believe in omens, would you say that’s good for my faith in beginnings-again?
Missing you, I wonder what you’re doing right this instant in Florence, as I sit here writing. Love becomes another question I don’t think I’ll have answered any time soon. I’ve finished the walk home from work and it’s about midnight now—the first minute of a new day—and I’m sitting at my desk in the bay window of my room in my little house on Sumner Alley. All of my roommates are either out or quiet in their rooms. The drunks are all tucked up tight in the St. Vincent De Paul mission down at the corner and the dirty little backstreet outside, with its tenements and warehouses, is still and empty. There’s a peace here sometimes, a stillness backdropped by the hum of the traffic around the corner surging along Folsom Street towards the freeway and the Bay Bridge.
There’s only one event left to recount. If I raise my head up from the paper I can see the alley outside the window and the exact spot where you stopped your car to drop me off after dinner. It was about midnight then too. We hunted through your loaded-up station wagon for a souvenir, a suitable piece of clothing, something you said that smelled like you, that I could keep to remember you by until we were together again.
“So,” I said, while you rummaged around in the back, “what are you going to do in Italy for six months without me?”
“I’ll probably convert to Catholicism.”
“It’s a very aesthetic religion.”
“And I want to have a big family. I want nine children.”
Then, “Here,” you said, “take this,” and you handed me this blue rabbit’s foot that was hanging from the zipper of your leather jacket—keeping the red and green ones for yourself—saying, “you’ll need luck too.”
Lee Foust hails from the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay Area but has lived for many years in Florence, Italy. There he writes, performs his compositions—with and without banging a drum—and teaches literature and creative writing to US students studying abroad. Lee is the author of Sojourner, a collection of stories, verse, and prose poems gathered around the theme of place: home, travel, escape, getting lost, and expatriatude. “Testament of Faith” is part of the forthcoming collection Poison and Antidote, nine inter-related stories of the artists, writers, musicians, and Bohemians of the San Francisco art scene during the Reagan years. For more info see www.leefoust.com