Chapter Twenty-Six (Cole Street)
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Note: Here’s the voice only chapter of the video book, in case you want to watch while you read. The multimedia version has music by Billie Holiday, The Beatles, Odetta and The Kingston Trio, but this version ain’t bad all on its own:
By the spring of 1969, I had recuperated up in Oregon long enough to have another go at San Francisco. I got a job at the phone company on New Montgomery Street. That was where I met Melanie. She’d had a kid when she was fifteen, a daughter, Wendy. Wendy had just turned four. Melanie and Wendy were living out in the Mission with a redheaded bricklayer named Dick. Wendy’s real father was long gone. So were all sorts of other guys by then.
Melanie and I were alone in one of the elevators a week or so after I had started working there. I’d noticed her before. She was cute…and shy. She kept to herself, didn’t seem to have any friends. In the elevator that day, she had on a shiny green blouse, a short red skirt and a pair of red and green earrings.
“You look like a Christmas present,” I said.
She glanced up briefly, looked into my eyes, and looked down at the floor again, all so quickly I wasn’t sure I’d really seen her smile, but I had. I can still see it anytime I want — her slow, smoldery smile, her big shy eyes.
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The next day we walked up to Chinatown together. She had on a gray cotton dress. Some old Chinese guys were playing checkers under a cement pavilion in Portsmouth Square. Some other old Chinese guys were doing Tai Chi on the lawn. Kids jumped on and off the merry-go-round. We got a couple of hot dogs and found ourselves a cement bench.
Melanie treated everything she touched as though it got its feelings hurt as easily as she did. She let the hot dog bun sort of melt in her mouth awhile before she nudged her teeth through it and bit into its tender, fragile skin. Then she chewed slowly, moving the bite of hot dog and bun gently up and down inside the warm pink walls of her pretty chipmunk cheeks. I was wearing a pair of thin khaki slacks, without any underwear. My dick stirred. She might have noticed.
Nothing ever got very verbal with Melanie. Why talk about things you could just do? Ginny, on the other hand, holy shit, she thought there was no point doing stuff you could just talk about. They were as different from one another as two people get. Ginny was hard. Melanie was soft. Ginny had a tiny mouth; Melanie’s mouth was wide and slow and luscious. She wore thick, creamy, red lipstick. Ginny thought makeup was silly and stupid and bourgeois. Her eyes were small and piercing and luminous and blue. Melanie’s eyes were huge and warm and green…and gray and swallowed you up in comfort and generosity and hospitality. She thought one thing at a time and got nervous when she had to talk, and when she did talk, Melanie got straight to the point. Ginny always double-edge sworded everything; for every good there was a bad — she never just flat-out, unequivocally did or said or even thought the tiniest little two-bit thing. Melanie was immediate, direct, forthcoming, uncomplicated.
“Is that a birthmark?” I brushed a small discoloration on the inside of Melanie’s thigh. She was wearing sheer white tights. Her dress had a prim, white lace collar. She looked right into my eyes. Her innocence scared me. Then she reached over and deliberately folded her fingers gently over my not quite yet completely throbbing dick.
On our way back to work, I put my arm around her shoulders. She reached back, slipped her hand across the back of her neck, lifted her hair out from under my arm and let it rest more comfortably over my arm — and wow was her hair ever pretty, glinting all red and gold and chestnut in the sun.
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Melanie and I met up at a Laundromat out in the Mission after work the next night. It was Friday. Dick the bricklayer was away for an obligatory weekend in the Army Reserves. I gave Wendy sticks of Juicy-Fruit gum and lit books of matches for her to blow out while her mother took the clothes out of the dryer. We went upstairs. Melanie folded laundry. Wendy spit in my face. Her spit tasted like Juicy-Fruit gum.
“Ooo, that feels good,” I said.
Wendy spit in my face again. She wasn’t being playful. She was spitting in my face because she didn’t want me there. I didn’t blame her. I shouldn’t have been there. Here they were, this nice little family, a mommy and a daddy and a little girl. What was I doing there? I wanted to fuck Melanie, yeah, but that was about it.
And what, for that matter, did Melanie have me over there for? She wanted to fuck me, too, I presumed, but there had to be more to it than that. She probably wanted me to fall utterly in love with her. I didn’t want to do that. I was still in love with Ginny, for one thing. Yeah, I was fed up with her. She was a drunk. She was nuts, she drove me nuts — but that didn’t diminish the fact that I was in love with her. What’s being fed up with someone ever had to do with being in love?
Wendy spit in my face again, and suddenly all the second thoughts I was having vanished. Hey, spit in my face all you want, kid — I’m going to stay here and fuck your mother whether anyone likes it or not. Ha!
Eventually, Wendy got tired of spitting at me — or maybe she just ran out of spit — and fell asleep on the bed. Melanie scooped her up and laid her down onto a little mattress in the walk-in closet and covered her with blankets.
Melanie and I touched each other’s faces. I put my hand under her pretty hair, and rubbed the back of her neck, and she put her arms around me and we kissed each other and held each other and took off our clothes and made love with each other for a long time next to piles of folded laundry still slightly warm from the dryer.
In the early, early morning, crouched next to a window across the room, Melanie was looking out at the orange sun coming up over the rooftops. She was smoking a cigarette. She smoked lots of cigarettes. True cigarettes. True Blues. She smoked cigarettes and chewed the skin around her fingernails and rested her chin on her knees and wound her hair around one of her fingers, looking for split ends.
Wendy was sound asleep. She was snoring. Her tangled blond hair covered her pillow. Her left arm was cuddled around an inflatable Easter bunny with buckteeth, a big smile and a wink in one of his bright blue eyes. There were empty gum wrappers everywhere.
I was picking up one of the gum wrappers when Dick came home. He just walked right in the front door like he lived there. His weekend in the Army Reserves had ended early. I didn’t say anything to him. He didn’t say anything to me. He knew it wasn’t my fault that I was there. I put my clothes on and left.
I didn’t find out until later what happened after I was gone. First he threw some of Melanie’s clothes out the window. Then he slapped her. Then he pulled her hair and slapped her again. Then he closed the door to the walk-in closet where Wendy was sleeping and fucked Melanie on the floor until her knees bled and turned her over and fucked her until she had rug burns on her shoulder blades. Jealousy’s an aphrodisiac.
Melanie didn’t resist. She didn’t say a word. She let him fuck her until her knees bled and let him turn her over and fuck her until she had rug burns on her shoulder blades, and when he was through they knew it was over, and he was sad, and she wasn’t, and that was that.
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The next day Melanie called me from a pay phone and I picked her and Wendy up in a rented car. They were standing in front of the Shell station on the corner of 20th and Valencia. Wendy was dragging her inflatable Easter Bunny by one of its inflatable ears. Melanie had a suitcase and a black eye and a pretty good-sized gash on the side of her lower lip.
I was living in a house with a bunch of other people over by Eighth Avenue and Clement. Melanie and Wendy stayed there with me for a few days, then the three of us got an apartment on Cole Street, not far from Ginny’s old place on Clayton. It had been five years — almost exactly to the day — since I put one of my mother’s fancy teacups into a bag, took a bus up to Haight-Ashbury and rescued Ginny Good from Jim Moss.
After a while I was in love with Melanie — not utterly, but I definitely liked her a lot. She was an oasis. A sanitarium. Somewhere I could go to keep getting over Ginny. I had to get over Ginny. It was all very logical. She was nuts. She was a drunk. So what if I was in love with her, I had to get over being in love with her. Melanie would come in handy. She could absorb me, distract me, love me, like me, fuck me, laugh at my jokes. That was what I had in mind.
What Melanie had in mind was a lot more clear-cut. Things were either yes or no with her, on or off, true or not true. She was either in love or she wasn’t. There were no two ways about it. And she was in love with me. Suddenly. Just like that. Boom. She couldn’t help herself. It just happened. Nobody analyzed it. I had a job. I was good with the kid. It was obvious I liked her. I listened to her. I talked to her. I was interested in how she got to be who she was and loved that she was in love with me. That was the only thing that ever mattered to Melanie. Being in love — what it felt like, how it made her feel. All she wanted was to show me how much in love with me she was; all she wanted was to fuck and fuck and fuck.
She was good, too — really good. She’d had years of unabashed practice, years of experimentation with different guys with different ideas about what it took to be a good fuck, and Melanie had picked up something from each of them — wow, was she ever a good fuck.
Melanie had just turned fourteen when she used to wait outside the W. T. Grant Store in Citrus Heights for Wendy’s father to come along on his motorcycle and take her to the fields by the river to fuck. She fucked him among the thistles and the whirring of flying grasshoppers while they listened to the rippling of the river. There were other men after Wendy’s father — short-term guys, long-term guys, smart guys, dumb guys, nice guys, assholes, jerks, shy guys, you name it — anyone who really wanted her could have her.
Melanie wasn’t like a four year-old kid. She didn’t need anybody to be the Daddy. She didn’t need to be drunk. She was a pretty little nineteen-year-old with big, serious eyes who, if she knew anything, sure knew how to fuck — and she was in love with me! On top of all that she loved to take acid. There was nothing in the world Melanie liked better than to take LSD and fuck. That was all we did. You want to go to the movies? No, let’s take acid and fuck. She didn’t even say it. She didn’t have to say it. LSD was an aphrodisiac. Love was an aphrodisiac. We wore ourselves out.
And it was working. I was getting over Ginny. Sure, I missed her. I missed how we used to be together. How she used to hide. How I used to find her. How I knew what to do when she went crazy, how she needed me, how she taught me everything I knew, everything I know, how fun we were with each other, how funny. But I also had Wendy, and Wendy wasn’t like a four year-old kid, she was a four year-old kid. Ha!
We dug each other, Wendy and me. We galloped down the sides of sand dunes like horses and found sea shells on the beach and watched the sun set and watched the sky turn all purple and pink from one side of the horizon to the other. Wendy would point up at the sky and say, “Ooo, pretty.” Then she’d point down at a piece of polished glass shimmering in the sunset and say, “Ooo, pretty.” Then she’d pick up a small rotting octopus and say, “Ooo, pretty.”
There was almost nothing Wendy didn’t think was worth mentioning. She made up for all the talking Melanie didn’t do. Wendy jabbered all the time. Sometimes she fell asleep in the middle of a sentence and finished the same sentence the first thing the next morning. I had all kinds of things going for me. The memory of Ginny was fading fast.
Wendy and her mother had no idea I was just using them. Wendy thought I was her dad. Melanie thought I was her boyfriend, her husband, the love of her life. She thought we were together. We were. I was. But, still. I was older than her. I was twenty-seven by then; Ginny was twenty-eight; Elliot was twenty-six. We knew more than Melanie did. We’d been through more. Melanie was a kid. She’d had a tough life, sure, but she couldn’t begin to understand the things that had been going on with Ginny and me for the last five years.
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Around the middle of June, I heard from Elliot again. He called me one night. He and Ginny were living together in L.A. I’d known by then that they were living together, but I’d been immersed in Melanie and hadn’t paid it much mind. Elliot’s phone call made the fact that they were actually living with each other more concrete — sleeping in the same bed, doing the things people do. He fucked her. She fucked him. Shit. They had two turtles. The turtles had names. They were happy.
His voice sounded apologetic — not guilty, exactly, he knew I was living with Melanie by then, too — but he sounded apologetic nonetheless. I was jealous. Fuck. I was utterly in love with Ginny all over again.
I didn’t mention the details of Elliot’s phone call to Melanie. She knew that Ginny and I had lived together on and off for years and that Elliot and I had been friends since high school. She thought it was perfectly natural that the two of them had gotten together after Ginny and I split up. I was scared to tell her anything different. She was fragile. She wanted me to be as much in love with her as she was with me. Was that so much to ask? She wanted to believe that, like her, I only had room in my heart to be in love with one person at a time. But that wasn’t true. I had more room in my heart than that.
Melanie wouldn’t have understood. She was like one of those little African antelopes that, when it catches the scent of a lion, leaps straight up and starts running before its feet even hit the ground. That I was still in love with Ginny would have been more than the scent of a lion; it would have been like a lion roaring in Melanie’s face. So I told her that Elliot called. I told her that he and Ginny were living together in L.A. That was it. That was all I told her.