Number Ten Bus To The Dunes


I've always liked those Tam Lin, demon-lover stories. But we're not all beautiful and willful young women.
The other thing going on here, of course, is Golden Gate Park, out to the west. You'd really have to walk a ways to get to the dunes from the number ten bus, I don't think it goes there any more, anyway.

     She was Proud Janet with her kirtle tied up round her knee, running off to the green woods to gather wild roses and violets.
     She was half crazy and she wandered around the city without a jacket. She had severe features, rather like a bulldog whose jowls have yet to grow; and she was heavyset and lumbered when she walked.
     She would find what she sought at the ocean-facing end of the park where the ghosts of the dunes kept forcing their way through the eucalyptus litter and periwinkle vines. She would follow a bare glimpse, a smell, a taste, a feel on her skin, but, except for three times, she never heard an intelligible sound.
     She followed as one follows a will o' the wisp, but this fallow parkland produces no marsh gas. So beautiful was her quarry she sometimes thought must be hallucinating. You couldn't argue with that. Who is to say what of our experiences are manufactured by misfiring neurons, and what are the result of interactions with objective forces?
     Perhaps she was never in the park at all. Perhaps the bus she boarded when work was over was a different one, the one that takes you to the tight ranks of brick and stucco buildings on Valencia or San Jose Avenue. And maybe she disembarked on a windy, sunny corner, stepped over a pile of outdated leaflets, and climbed the stairs to a shared apartment two stories above an appliance repair shop with signs in three languages.
     But I think she did what she thought she did. I think she got on a bus that wound around long flat turns and dropped her off at the park. And I think she kept walking in the park, sorry for herself for being unlovely, sorry for herself for being underdressed when the fog came rushing back as if it had meant to leave, truly meant to leave, but in its brief absence discovered it could not bear to; sorry for herself for the unsung love song inside her turning plaintive in the silence. This would be the first time she saw him.
     She couldn't have seen him unless he was no more than the length of a streetcar away from her, because the fog was so dense you couldn't say whether there was one tree or a thicket in front of you. The ground smelled medicinally of the damp eucalyptus. Ha was looking right at her, but there was no threat in his look, only a kind of sweet resignation. She spoke to him and he didn't answer, but his expression changed in an encouraging way and she understood she should follow him.
     They walked and walked and though she made some tentative remarks. He never said anything. All his responses were gestures and expressions, and yet she felt as if she was participating in a heartfelt conversation. And though it grew colder, she didn't want to stop walking with him, and she never thought his clothes were strange until she finally did board the homeward bus in darkness. And then she thought about it all: it was all strange, his sorrowful look when he finally dismissed her with a sad nod and wave, his black wool short jacketed suit, his string tie, his flat brimmed hat, his never speaking. The strangest thing of all she never thought strange. Though he never spoke, she felt she knew what he would have been saying to her if he had spoken. And here she might have been mistaken.
     His clothing was misleading: one would think he was a ghost of the Spanish settlers, someone who died on the dunes before the forty-niners came to San Francisco: someone she would liberate with her love from whatever has kept him on that old sand dune for a hundred and seventy-five years.
     But he had no such agenda: the clothes meant nothing to him, a mistake he made, not being terribly attentive to the changes made by history. The next time she saw him he was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, and a jean jacket, the kind with the furry lining.
     They walked and walked and she told him a little bit about herself, and he seamed to be interested, but she was wary of being boring, so she clammed up again after a while. While she was with him, she didn't think it was strange that he never spoke. When she was at the bus stop again, she wondered if maybe he wasn't capable of speech. After that she went to the park every day and he was frequently there.
     It was getting dark earlier and earlier in the day. When it was almost dark before she arrived at the park, he laid a hand on her for the first time. She found it startling. His hands were cold, his lips were frigid, but she couldn't get enough of it.
     For all of the winter they met like that, kissing and following their fingers and palms over the cloth on their bodies.
     It was already spring by the public calendar that flowers use -- still winter by the secret calendar that stars use -- when she first invited him home with her. And he said the first word she'd ever heard from him: "No."
     She shivered, because his voice when she heard it was exactly the voice a man should have, deep, but not so rich that you couldn't stand to hear it talk about wrenches or tomato vines, and she was afraid she'd never hear it again.
     So she didn't ask him home again for a while after that.
     But she had grown bolder in her conversation and she had told him some of her secret ideas, fears, and hopes, and now she knew that if she didn't somehow bind him to her she was lost. All those dangerous words had been said and she didn't even know his name.
     So on the very day of the equinox she asked him home again. And she heard the second word from him."No."
     This time tears came, though she would have liked to have kept her eyes clear. She asked: "Are you married?"
     And he shook his head. She would have liked to have had something else to say to him, but she couldn't think of anything. It was almost dark and she knew he'd be leaving soon and she'd be on her way to the bus stop alone.
     She stopped in her tracks and he stopped too She looked into his green eyes and tried to think what another woman might say at this tine, a woman with presence and a lovely face who knew how to carry herself. She tried a French kiss instead of words and she was rewarded: he didn't come home with her but he found a secret place under the matted bushes, and though the ground was cold and sharp with the twigs and prickly leaves shed by those bushes, and though the whole business was awkward with both those pairs of jeans being. a dead weight on them, she wrapped her legs around his and pulled him inside of herself.
     She picked twigs out of her hair on the bus ride home and tried to put words to it. Her vocabulary, like her experience, was limited: but she thought it was unusual for those sensations to be so cold, even the part inside her.
     After that, she spent the whole outbound bus ride every day wondering whether it would happen again, Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn't. Sometimes he wasn't there. Every time that it happened she was surprised by the cold that came inside of her, and every time it didn't happen she was afraid it never would again, and every time he wasn't there she was afraid she'd never see him again.
     She had some days off and the days had gotten long. She went to the park early in the day, just to see what might happen. She saw him behind a tree. She walked up to him. He turned and looked at her with a strange expression: anger, maybe, or horror. Anyway he wasn't glad to see her.
     "Should I leave?" she asked. He swallowed his bad expression, and shook his head, He smiled at her in the way that a man does when he knows he has frightened his lover and wishes her to forget all about it. She couldn't forget it but she thought she ought to pretend to, to please him.
     She walked with him, just like she had walked for so many months, through the eucalyptus trees, over the periwinkle vines, getting sand in her shoes, excited by the smell of damp eucalyptus leaves, blinded by the sun shining through the fog. And as he had for many months, he stopped her now and then to kiss her, to trail his palms over the denim on her legs, the jersey on her torso.
     She was about to ask him to go home with her again, but he put his hand over her mouth and followed the hand with his mouth. He tugged her toward the cave made by the arched branches of tangled shrubbery. She resisted: it was broad daylight, people might be exploring this far wild end of the park. She didn't want to be seen or heard half naked in the open, her private parts only covered by his.
     He slipped his hand under her shirt and gave her a look that was a clear challenge, a call, a demand. He turned her cold-stiffened nipple in his fingers as if he were tuning her in more precisely, and pulled in the direction of the low bushes.
     She wanted to go. She wanted his cold mass inside her. She wanted to kiss and suck his cold body. But this insistence was too much and she was afraid she'd drown in it and she pulled back.
     He was shaking his head in resignation already. She regretted not following him right away. He was about to wave goodbye again, but she took both his hands and took a step toward the bushes.
     He shook his head. Too late, already? She took another step, and he followed her. By the time they were to the place in the shrubbery where they had to get down on their knees and crawl under the mat, he turned his head around and grinned, and she was glad she had changed her mind in time. Really, the spot where they lay down was undetectable from the regular paths. And he was a silent lover.
     The fog rolled back, as it always does for a little while in the middle of the day, and the sun where it penetrated the interwoven branches was warm and the cave smelled resinous and sweet. The twigs and leaves and gravel were warm. But his skin was as cold as usual where it lay up against her hands and where it came into her mouth, And everywhere he touched her he left a trail like ice. The coldest thing of all entered her at her warmest, most central place and she felt the cold radiating from there as if she would not survive it,
     The cold pushed up against her diaphragm and she bore down on it, riding it like high surf, panting with the effort of staying afloat on this deep cold that came in immense waves and small hard spurts. She wondered if her heart could stand it, At one point it seemed certain that it would not. And then the cold was gone, and the bulk and the weight.
     For an instant she thought he was gone, or that he had never existed. But then she saw him, lying half asleep beside her, dappled, speckled with his natural hairs and the hairlike bits of plant matter he picked up from the ground.
     She laid her hand flat on his arm. It was warm from the reflected sunlight. Her hand felt cold in comparison.
      One last time she asked him to come home with her. One last time he said "No,"
     What chilled her was the smile with which he said it, and the leisurely way he kissed her goodbye
     When she left the shrubbery and made her way back to the bus stop, the fog was back, aghast at itself for leaving in the first place.
     She came back, every day at first, not from any shred of hope but because it was the only way she knew to spend her time. The chill in her loins she knew to be permanent: it was his gift to her, to remember him by.

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