Ann Walker trudged wearily from the front office of the Bay Construction Company, and turned down Market Street to begin the four block walk to her car. San Francisco screamed around her in the throes of its rush-hour convulsions, spewing people and cars and dirt and noise out of its belly in frenzied, hysterical haste. The sky was low with the smog that had settled in from the bay, and a half-ridden sun broiled the sweating city mercilessly. It was hot, noisy, cramped and stinking. It was Progress.
"Hey, get the hell out of the way!"
Ann Walker jerked her head up, and stepped quickly back up onto the curb. An irate cab driver squealed around her, blasting his horn at the same time, and staring at her as though she'd insulted him personally by having delayed him the two-and-a-half seconds she'd been standing in the gutter. Ann glared back at him, angered by his anger, feeling the tension of the day suddenly wash over her. Then she was pushed off the curb by the mass of humanity pressed up behind her' as the traffic light turned green and the mindless herd began to swarm across the intersection. She stumbled, caught herself, and hurried ahead to keep up with the flow. She finally reached the parking lot that held her car, and waited while the attendant tried courageously to find her small Ford Falcon in the endless sea of parked automobiles. She slumped down onto a bench, and tried to close her mind to the maddening frenzy that possesses a city between 4:30 and 6:00.
Ann was 36 years old, and had lived in San Francisco for the last two years. But she could never adjust herself to the city's rush, the tension, the nerve-wracking tempo that others seemed to take for granted. She was a beautiful woman, with dark brown hair which lay in soft curls on her shoulders, and an almost naive face, which was betrayed only by a pair of intense, almost smoldering eyes. She affected a somewhat cool manner, and often gave others the impression of aloofness, and perhaps even conceit; but this was only a defense, a rein that held her frustrations in check. It was only in her eyes that one could perceive the fire that burned inside her, could even guess at the wild animal that lay imperfectly concealed behind that cool exterior. It was this combination of aloofness and yet the hint of some insatiable desire that served to make her irresistibly magnetic to men, who flocked to her like flies to honey. And the more they flocked, the more aloof she became, her defenses barely able to hold in check the intensity of her inner passions.
Ann's car finally came sputtering out of the parking lot, adding more than its share to the poison in the air around her. She quickly paid the attendant, and slid her slender body behind the wheel. She eased out of the parking lot's driveway, and began to make her slow, agonizing way out of the city. This was the part of the day she hated most. Even the morning rush hour was not this bad, because then she was fresh, still untouched by the day's trials and tribulations. But now, after a day's frustrating monotony ...
Ann blasted her horn at a Lincoln Continental which was trying to force its way into her line of traffic. She eased the accelerator toward the floor, cutting him off and forcing him to brake with a jerk. He glared at her, she glared at him, and the traffic slowed around them like a river flowing around song unseen obstruction. Then Ann scooted ahead of the Lincoln, victor in this round of her fight to escape the city, and made her way toward the Bayshore Freeway, southbound.
She lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in South San Francisco, which had no advantages except that it was relatively inexpensive. But that was enough. Her job as secretary for the Bay Construction Company certainly didn't pay very well, and to think of moving into something closer to her work and therefore more expensive, was out of the question. Ann tolerated her work, but didn't enjoy it. Still, it was something, and the best she could find with her work record. She had moved all around the country in the last 18 years, seldom staying in one place more than a few years, usually staying far less. The cities she had lived in were so numerous that she often lost track of them, and her past was filled with certain periods of time she couldn't even account for. But she didn't think about that often: to her, one city was like another, one job was like another, and except for periodic changes in setting, her life followed the same pattern with frustrating sameness.
It hadn't always been that way. In high school Ann had been quite a participant in the school's social scene. She had been a cheerleader, class vice-president, homecoming queen, all of the things that typify a young girl's high school success story. Boys had swarmed around her, inviting her out, walking her to classes, begging for some of the attention she gave to those she liked. But, that had all changed, abruptly, her senior year ... had changed with a finality that still drove her from place to place in an unending attempt to escape its irrevocable consequences.
The lovely secretary tried to force her mind onto some other subject, but it returned every time to the pain of that last year in school. She hadn't really even known Tom well. She had only accepted his offer of a date in order to attend a last minute beach party with some friends, and had not even found him that attractive. Tom had been very attentive, and Ann had had much too much wine to drink, and before sloe knew it she was wrestling with him on the beach, separated from the others, at first resisting and then, aroused beyond endurance by his sexual foreplay, finally accepting his body with an abandon that took Tom completely by surprise.
Ann passed a trembling hand across her soft brown eyes, and tried to focus on the traffic. But the cars ahead of her slowed until they came to a complete stop, and while she waited for the metal river to start flowing again, she tried to remember what it had been like, that first time.
She remembered a great deal of pain, her shame once it was all over, and her agonized waiting until her period came, but little more. And when her period hadn't come, she'd waited longer, praying that it was just delayed, her fears of pregnancy immobilizing her completely, until finally she was simply spending the entire day in bed at home. Finally, her mother had forced her to go to the doctor, thinking she might be seriously ill, but having no idea of the nature of her illness. The doctor easily drew the truth from her, and when his tests were completed, her terrible fears were proven true.
Ann felt a shiver run through her curvaceous body, still able to feel the effect that awful news had had upon her so many years ago. The doctor had told her mother immediately, and her mother, despite Ann's protestation, had insisted that the boy marry her. Ann hadn't wanted that, simply because she hadn't known Tom very well, but Mrs. Walker had insisted, and there followed a traumatic four months while Tom and his family were convinced, arrangements were made, and Ann herself grew steadily larger with the life inside her. They were married in her fourth month, and it seemed for a while that things would be all right. But then, even before the baby was born, they began to quarrel, she perhaps made more edgy by her pregnancy, and he unable to give her the patience and understanding she desired. They had even come to blows on one occasion, Tom knocking her down at the height of one of their arguments. But then he had apologized profusely, as he always did, and promised that it would never happen again. But, of course, it did, with increasing frequency.
And then the baby had been born, and it had seemed again that they might be able to function as a unity and live together, this time through the mediating influence of their daughter. But it was soon apparent that even little Lani could not act as a bridge to cross that chasm which lay between the two of them. For eight tempestuous months after her birth, they had made life miserable for one another, until finally Ann had discovered that Tom was having an affair with a woman in the same apartment building, and she'd decided to leave him. It hadn't surprised her that he was having an affair, because she hadn't slept with him for months, and yet that affair gave her the excuse she needed to rationalize in her own conscience the step she was taking.
The divorce proceedings had been short, and unprotected. Tom had been just as willing Ann to break off their obvious mismatch. She had been awarded a small alimony, but most important of all for her, she had been awarded custody of her child, Lani.
The insistent blaring of a horn gradually broke through the curtain of Ann's memories, and she looked up to see that traffic had again begun to move on the Bayshore. She quickly moved ahead, and gradually picked up speed until she was going a relatively brisk 45 miles per hour. Her mind was somewhat at ease now, pacified by the turn her thoughts had taken in the direction of her daughter.
Ann smiled again. Lani had been such a beautiful baby, had hardly ever cried, had walked before she was 18 months, and was talking by the time she was 2/ old. She was Ann's one joy in life, and had become gradually over the years her only real reason for living. After the trauma of her marriage, Lani had formed the cornerstone of her sanity, and for a year after her divorce, the two of them had constituted a self-sufficient entity, with little or no contact with the outside world. Without that time with her child' alone, to recuperate from the wounds which her marriage had left upon her, Ann might very well have broken down completely.
But while Lani had been able to salve those wounds with the simple fact of her presence, she had not been able to heal the scars they left on Ann's personality, and on her sexual being in particular. Anything that remotely reminded the young mother of the traumatic experience she had been through with her immature husband was avoided, shoved into the far recesses of her mind to lie hidden behind an almost neurotic wall of repression. She had been hurt irreparably, and she had subconsciously placed the blame for all her troubles on the sexual side of her nature. She feared any kind of intimate involvement, and rejected coolly all advances made by the scores of men drawn irresistibly to her, with the result that, as the years passed, her sexual frustration increased. And as it increased, her fear of her own sexuality increased as well, and she expended more and more energy to keep that sexuality hidden, disarmed, incapable of leading her into relationships that might prove painful or destructive.
And so she moved from place to place, thinking she was avoiding entanglements that would divert her attention from her young daughter, but in reality simply trying to escape the undeniable pressures exerted on her by her own seething sensuality. She had begun by moving around the east coast, From Delaware to South Carolina, and then her fears had driven her west. Each time she would move into a city, find a dull and usually poorly paying job, and try to settle with Lani into some kind of routine that resembled stability. She knew, instinctively, that her daughter needed that stability, and that she herself needed it as well. She would slowly make a few friends, and begin to come out of her shell slightly, and then she would find herself being drawn to one of the many men who pursued her with stubborn persistence.
At first those men would seem content with a purely platonic relationship, and Ann would perceptibly bloom on the release of having someone to talk to, someone with whom she could break through the icy walls of her self-imposed aloofness. But then, inevitably she would find that those men began to make demands on her, sexual demands, demands that showed either an unwillingness or an inability to understand her reluctance to become intimately involved. And then would come the inevitable conversations that stretched painfully into the middle of the night, and then the arguments, and then the final break. Sometimes the break was clean, and Ann would be able to stay where she was, though more confused and frustrated than before. But at other times, the men in her life would not give up. They would be able to sense the restrained desire, the hidden but burning sexuality that twisted the young woman with its force, and would try to help her bring it out into the open, to deal with it, to come to terms with herself. And it was then that Ann fled, terrified, not only from their offers of help, but from herself as well.
The tired young woman left the freeway, and began to make her way up the small streets to her apartment. The houses all passed by her with a hypnotic sameness, colored in nauseous shades of dirty pastels, squeezed together as though trying to impress the curious observer of their solidarity with one another. But there were no curious observers In South San Francisco, and their solidarity had long since atrophied into mere congestion.
Turning into her parking space, the beautiful secretary cut the motor and wearily eased her voluptuous body from behind the steering wheel. She didn't bother to lock the car, but made her way toward the common entrance she shared with the 8 other apartments in her building, fill cramped cubicles exactly like her own. She stopped by her mail box hopefully, but it offered her nothing more than an old circular she'd never bothered to remove. She sighed, and turned to the stairs leading to her apartment.
"Well, Mrs. WaIker, nothing again today?"
Ann stopped but didn't turn around. If there was one thing she didn't want to do now it was talk to Mrs. Pinchley, perhaps the most unpleasant neighbor she had ever been unfortunate enough to have.
"No, Mrs. Pinchley, nothing again today."
Without turning to confront the prunish old lady, Ann again started for the stairs. She didn't reach them, however, nor did she really expect to.
"Well that's a shame," came the irritating voice from behind her, "but you know it's just what I was saying to you the other day, Mrs. Walker, about young people today. They just don't seem to have any consideration, any common courtesy even. Why, I remember when I was young, I used to write my family at least twice a week! Sometimes three times! If I were you, Mrs. Walker, I'd give that child of yours a talking to. Now l don't want to butt in, of course ..."
Then don't, you decrepit old bitch, Ann thought to herself Impatiently, wanting only t o get upstairs and pour a relaxing drink for herself.
"... but it seems to me that that daughter of yours has no respect for her elders. That's what it is. And those friends of hers, those hippie people, why I don't believe they've taken a bath in months, Mrs. Walker, and that's a fact! And now she's gone to live up there on that hippie commune! Well, deary, I know you must be sick with worry, and without any letters from her at all ..."
Ann turned to the babbling old woman abruptly, and glared down on her.
"Mrs. Pinchly, I am not sick with worry, I do get letters from my daughter, and I'll thank you to keep your ..."
"Yes, Mrs. Walker, but how many letters?" the old hen cackled, "two in the last three months! Why when I was young, I used to write my family at least twice a week! Sometimes three times!"
"Mrs. Pinchley," Ann said harshly, her patience at an end, "I'm sure you did. In fact, I'm constantly amazed that you can find anything more to talk about."
Ann turned on her heel and walked quickly up the stairs, leaving the old woman open-mouthed in the hallway below. She unlocked the door to her apartment, and went inside, closing it behind her. Goddamned old gossip, she thought to herself, and moved to her small, meagerly supplied bar. She poured herself a drink, and took a long swallow, letting it wash the tension out of her with its soothing warmth.
She turned to the small air conditioner that made life just bearable during the summer, switched it on, and moved across the room to the hallway leading to the kitchen. She walked slowly along the hall, stopped in front of the second door, opened it quietly, and stood leaning against the door jamb, looking into the room sadly.
But Mrs. Pinchley is right, Ann admitted to herself, I am sick with worry. If Lani would only write, and tell me what's happening ...
The upset young mother stood looking into her daughter's room for a few moments, at the high school pennants and the stuffed animals spread across the brightly colored bedspread, and then closed the door softly. She made her way through the hall to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and took out some ice to cool her drink. Then she sat slowly at the kitchen table? lowered her face into her hands, and began, very quietly to cry.
It had all started with her latest move to California, two years before. Lani had been in her last year of high school, and had begun to show signs of restlessness, of dissatisfaction, not with her mother, but with things in general. She had begun running with a strange crowd, long-haired, strangely clothed, and rebellious. Ann had been careful not to criticize, knowing that her opposition would only serve to make her daughter more committed to the group of people she had chosen as friends. Throughout that year, Lani's relationship with her mother had remained the same understanding, warm bond that it had always been, and there had been no ruptures in their deep-seated love for one another.
And yet, not long after Lani had begun to run with this crowd, she started talking about leaving home, and making her own way in the world. Again, Ann had talked this over with her rationally, and unemotionally, even though the very thought of life without Lani caused her unbearable pain. And then, one day, it had happened. Lani had told her mother that some of her friends had decided to join a commune in Mendocino, and that she had decided to go with them. Ann tried desperately to dissuade her, arguing that she hadn't yet finished school, that she wasn't ready to take this great step yet, that she knew nothing about the commune or the people in it. But Lanie would not be dissuaded, and Ann knew that it was useless to try to forbid her strong-willed young daughter. Again the mother decided to preserve at all costs the warm, loving relationship that existed between the two of them, and after warning Lani of the dangers, and making sure her daughter knew that her bedroom would always be waiting for her if she should want to come back, Ann gave her unwilling consent to Lani's plan.
The air conditioner was just beginning to make its presence felt in the small apartment. Ann raised her head from the cradle of her hands, stretching her long slim legs sensuously under the table, and spreading her finely rounded thighs slightly apart, letting the air circulate some of the heat and dampness from between them. She stared fixedly at the wall opposite her, completely absorbed in her thoughts of her daughter. A slight frown creased her beautiful face as she remembered the one time Lani had come home on a visit from the commune. She had brought a whole group of friends with her, both boys and girls, and they had all slept on the floor in the same room, in bleeping bags and blankets.
There had been almost 10 of them, all long-haired, freely looking types, with a vacant and yet somehow preoccupied look about them. Lani had been wonderful, but Ann felt her attention often preempted by her friends and so they had not really had much of a chance to talk. Ann sensed that her daughter was not completely happy with the choice she had made, that there was something in the back of her mind that allowed just a trace of doubt to gnaw quietly but persistently at her. But there had not been time during that short visit for the two of them to sit down and evaluate Lani's experiences, and before Ann could decide just what the source of Lani's doubt was, she had gone away again, back to Mendocino and the commune, in the company of her motley and disheveled crew of friends.
Ann raised her body wearily from the table and walked to the small living room, passing by her absent daughter's room this time without stopping. She walked over to the small sofa and lay down, closing her eyes with a sigh, trying to rid her mind of the anxiety that was beginning to close ins on it with undeniable persistency Her voluptuously formed body lay tensed on the sofa, her head propped up on an old and faded cushion. It had been almost five months since Lani's visit, and since that time Ann's home life had been a torture. She was beginning to drink too much, and spent her evenings wandering from one place in the house to another, absently, as though she were searching for something without any idea of what it might be. Perhaps she had devoted herself too much to her beautiful child, perhaps her life had revolved around Lani's too completely, but she knew it was useless to speculate about that kind of thing. The fact was that she did [eel lost without her daughter, was drifting rudderless through the maddening calm of her everyday, humdrum life.
The late afternoon sun forced its way through the dirty panes of her apartment windows, warming sofa where she lay with lazy, hot insistence. Ann must have dozed off, because when she opened her eyes the apartment had grown dim with evening's half-light, and the clock on her mantle said 7 :30. Automatically, she got up to fix herself some dinner, and then stopped herself. She wasn't hungry. She sat again on the sofa, and let her drowsiness seep out of her slowly, leaving her somewhat rested and momentarily calmer.
I dreamed something, she asked herself, what was it? She let her mind ease back to a few moments before, and then a slight smile fitted briefly across her beautifully sculpted face. Of course ... Lani. I dreamed I went to visit her, and I held her quietly in my arms on a grassy hillside and the sun Was very hot on our faces, and there was nobody in the world but the two of us ...
Ann leaned back against the sofa, a look of concern on her face. She tried to imagine what Lani's reaction would be, if she were to show up unannounced in Mendocino, at the commune. She thought Lani would be happy to see her, but she didn't know for sure. Abruptly, the young woman stood up once again, and wandered acres to the window nervously. It was Friday, and she had nothing but another empty weekend to look forward to, 48 hours to spend in idleness, with no housekeeping, no social life, and no family to keep busy with. She looked out on the rows and rows of dirty pastel houses, stretching down the hill toward the bay, and pictured happy families, mothers and daughters, looking forward to their two day vacation with anticipation and excitement. She stared out the window, her firm, high-set breasts beginning to heave with frustration, then quickly pulled the curtains and started anxiously toward the kitchen, trying to rid herself of the pain that was beginning to invade her tantalizing body. She stopped unwillingly in the hallway again, opposite Lani's bedroom door, and stood staring at it, through it, but not opening it. And then, suddenly her mind eased, and the pain flowed out of her chest, and her anxiety ridden body stopped its quivering. It was as though an enormous burden had been inexplicably lifted from her shoulders, as though an important decision had just been made for her.
Why not? What was Me afraid of? She would go to Mendocino! She would talk to Lani, and try to discover if she was really happy. She did not admit it to herself, but she knew she would try to convince Lani to come back to South San Francisco with her, to take up their life again just as it had been before. And even if she didn't come, what better way was Mere to spend a weekend but with her lovely young daughter, just the two of them?
A great smile radiated across the voluptuous secretary's beautiful face, turning what had been anxiety into excitement. She would go first thing in the morning, it would only take a few hours to drive to Mendocino, and then she would see her precious child again. She fumed happily towards the kitchen, suddenly hungry now, and then stopped.
To hell with dinner, she thought to herself enthusiastically, I've got to figure out what to wear! She rushed into her bedroom, alive and happy for the first time in many, many months, and almost danced over to her closet. Her mind was already soaring far beyond South San Francisco, far beyond the small confines of her too small apartment. She was already in Mendocino, in the hot, hot sun, lying on a grassy hillside and holding her innocent young daughter in the gentle embrace of her loving arms. Her daughter? Her life!!!!