Arnold opened his eyes. It was daylight. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. Then he remembered. The night before he and about half a dozen other residents of their San Francisco guest house had gone to a nearby bar, the kind with sawdust on the floor and peanuts on the tables. They had gotten pitchers of beers and he supposed he’d had a few glasses and somehow he’d become paired with, what was her name, Mary, no, Marigold, how could he have forgotten that name, and gone with her to her room and here he was, in her bed. He looked at his watch. It was almost ten. She of course was gone. She worked downtown, on Montgomery Street, where his old market research firm had been before it had gone bankrupt.
He got out of bed and quickly dressed. The guest house dining room was closed but the cook liked him so she made him some fried eggs with bacon and he ate this while reading a leftover copy of the Chronicle. After this, he went back to his own room, washed up, brushed his teeth and changed his clothes. That left the rest of the day. What would he do? He knew the answer to that; he’d do what he did just about every day, drive to the ocean. His little Volkswagon was parked a block away. He drove the usual route, along Geary, past Golden Gate Park, then all the way to the ocean, where he turned and parked just down from the Cliff House.
He walked down the sidewalk to the boardwalk and stopped at a point where he could look out at the ocean. The usual fog bank stretched out all across the horizon. The ocean itself was calm, gentle waves coming in and lapping up on the beach. Some people were on the beach walking their dogs; a few fishermen were there, their poles planted in the sand. Arnold wasn’t sure why but he liked looking out on the ocean. Maybe looking at something so large which was there long before him and would be there long after he’d gone had a calming effect on him. At any rate he’d gotten into the habit of driving there almost every day. After his firm had closed he’d gone downtown a few times searching for another job but California was in one of its periodic recessions and there was nothing and so he’d stopped doing this. He’d moved from his apartment to the guesthouse to economize and he’d saved enough money to last him for a while, that plus the unemployment insurance, which had been extended to nine months.
Arnold, as usual, had taken a book to read; also, a notebook. He’d written a few short stories since losing his job and one had even been published in a literary magazine, which had paid him ten dollars. When he was tired of looking out on the ocean he’d sit on a bench and read and occasionally jot down something in his notebook. A few times a girl had sat down beside him and asked him what he was writing. They’d talk for a while but Arnold never followed up with them; it wasn’t the time for getting involved. Then he thought of Marigold. He hoped she’d understand that what happened wasn’t serious. At around one, he’d have lunch at a place he’d found, kind of a diner. The waitress there, Sonia, an older woman, liked him and paid him special attention. He thought that maybe she was worried about him being unemployed.
Arnold had also taken to going to a coffee house, one of those just then starting to become popular in San Francisco. This one was in North Beach and was frequented by other writers or would-be writers. He’d become acquainted with a few of them; his having had a story actually published, even just the one, gave him a certain cachet. On this night, a week after the Marigold thing, he found himself at a table with a girl he’d talked with before, discussions about books, and then they went back to her apartment. He couldn’t quite believe this was happening. The whole night had a kind of dreamlike quality and the fog they walked through added to the unreality. The next morning he thought: he’d had sex with two girls in one week, something that had never happened when he was working downtown. Maybe he’d developed something that appealed to women, an air of being free but lost; maybe it was a maternal instinct in them, like that waitress at the diner. Whatever, it still felt unreal, a fantasy, or something he’d write about in one of his stories.
The next week he had a letter from the State of California. He’d taken some kind of test shortly after losing his job and had just about forgotten about it. Now they wanted him to call and they gave him a number. After his breakfast, still trying to avoid contact with Mary, Marigold, instead of driving to the ocean he drove to a little park near the guesthouse. He’d been there a few times before and knew there was a phone booth there. The park was on a hill and when he sat down on a bench he could look out on the Bay where a few sailboats were gliding along, looking like large white birds. He didn’t know if it was the sun glaring off the water but everything looked blurry.
Some women were on the other benches with small children, mothers or possibly au pairre girls. He’d talked to a few of them who were curious about his notebook. Today he hadn’t taken the notebook He sat for a while, nothing particular going through his mind. He watched the children playing, the women sitting on the benches, talking, some knitting. It was a nice quiet, peaceful scene, almost like a painting. Finally, he got up and walked to the phone booth. He dialed the number given in the letter. There was some kind of research job open that they’d like to offer him. Could he start the next Monday?
Once again he’d driven to the ocean. He looked out on the waves, endlessly coming in and onto the beach. He thought about that phone call. When he’d accepted the job, he hadn’t felt anything, certainly no elation, not even satisfaction or relief. His one thought had been: well, I’m back into it. Somehow he’d always known that would happen. He looked out on the ocean again, the beach, the people with their dogs, the fishermen. Everything now looked sharper, more distinct than before. It was time for lunch. The waitress, Sonya, would be glad to hear his news.