Kate tells him that she wants a beer to bear her name so she might meet the lips of a thousand young men. Lev is still tasting the residue of his new, citrus-flavored toothpaste. This stuff must leave more decay than my cereal, he replies, and looks at her sweetly. Hi baby, she says; Hi baby, he says and moves closer. Lev steals her nose with a pinch of two fingers. This is Saturday.
Saturday in San Francisco assembles the unimposing: While-U-Wait shoe shops, nail clippings in the creases of sheets, long Pinocchio-armed trees holding green pom-poms, a menagerie of things left in pockets. Outside their window an empty trolley car is so casually noble, rolling up toward Chinatown and making no stops. The sidewalk is not yet warmed by the undergunk of their shoes. Above the weather, airplane passengers are looking down at the signature fog through the fizz of complimentary ginger ale. Every sock on the floor has a significant other on a chair.
Without her nose, Kate is flailing desperately — his white sheets fall off the bed and form a thin igloo over the socks and the shorts of last night. This is Kate’s third consecutive morning here. Before last Tuesday, they were strictly casual. But the time had come for “developments,” Lev felt, and so today he is pleased to find her still present and pinchable. The movies Lev and Kate saw on their first dates are now out on DVD. Last night Kate rented “Must Love Dogs” with John Cusack, to see again, but they never got around to watching it. So it too is under the igloo, which is deflating now, as Lev dresses for work.
It is unfortunate but not unusual that Lev holds the Saturday shift at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Infamously the least desirable slot, Saturdays at the museum are ceaseless. When Lev checks in, his coworker remarks: Yeah, new guys always get the Saturdays. A man in a wheelchair enters the museum and Lev comes out from behind the counter to assist. At this moment across town, Kate, having just left the flower shop, heads towards City Lights bookstore. It is just after two in the afternoon: Lev holds an old man’s hat in his hands, and Kate a carnation behind her ear.
David Knighton is training for next week’s marathon and is currently prohibited from eating milkfats. As such, Kate shares the Body and Diet aisle of the bookstore with the jaunty stranger, as she browses books on Bikram yoga. When she’d been a plump, red-cheeked teen, Kate assuaged her father’s nervousness with the purchase of yoga accessories. At Woolworth’s she found a lime green stretching mat and spandex trunks to match: she thought her red hair looked most pretty when she wore the green shorts, her father thought she looked most skinny when she was on the green mat, and this was all agreeable at the time. Those yoga bits themselves of course never altered Kate’s physique, as she did not, in fact, do yoga in or on them. Her breasts grew in naturally towards the end of high school’s sophomore year, creating the convenient illusion of a smaller waist below, or at least distracting from her still babyish belly. Still, Kate never bothered with herself in that way, caring more for the colors of her clothes than their shape or fit, and it is most likely because of this that she became quite beautiful later.
At Reed College in Oregon, Kate quietly fell into an addiction involving Caesar dressing, turned vegetarian out of habit more than ethic, and slimmed. The unpolluted pillows of Oregon’s atmosphere nurtured her skin toward milk-like serenity; the clear complexion and bountiful breasts were thus maintained while the thighs came to look less childbearing. Kate was, as a junior in college, the gleam of Oregon’s eye. All the same, she kept dear the old spandex shorts, associating them always with a far-off notion of “before,” or childish prettiness.
Subsequently she wears them now, in the bookstore, after retrieving them from the floor of Lev’s room, beneath the trampled sheets. And so, this Saturday, it is the lime green yoga apparel that leads her to aisle four of City Lights books, where one David Knighton is learning about complex proteins.
Lev is filing the Museum’s transaction receipts. He has always become agitated by the “Multipurpose Room,” where these sorts of tasks are completed. He feels that labeling an open space “Multipurpose Room” is superfluous, like labeling buffet bagels “Bagels for Any of Multiple Spreads,” and likes to think: You don’t know my purposes, to himself, in quiet retaliation.
They know his purposes. In the back chair Lev sits, every Saturday, filing the customer-return receipts for the previous week. Women buy olive-leaf earring sets, and return them because they look clunky on the earlobe; Lev makes sure this is all done fair and square. He often considers re-purchasing the returned jewelry for Kate. Some days he likes to think of this instinct as indicating: She comes first. She is the first person I think of, he realizes; I want to do nice things for her. On these days Lev feels that he is both a healthy male and in a healthy relationship. These things assured, the purchase itself seems less necessary. He keeps filing.
David is finding that 2% milk is actually appropriate for a mid-week breakfast, while Kate looks at photos of women curling on beach towels. They are standing side by side, and soon David is looking at the beach-towel women as well. In her awe and envy Kate does not notice the company she’s acquired, and the two stare silently at the beachside ladies in lotus and pranayama positions. It is not until David transfers his gaze from the book to her own face that Kate startles and looks up. “David — ” he offers, and extends a bronzed forearm. Kate almost drops the yoga book in transferring it from one arm to the other elbow, so that she may shake David’s hand.
When Lev gets off work he is hungry and thinks he is in love with Kate. I should have bought her, he says to himself, those olive-leaf something-somethings or something, we’ll go for Italian, olive oil isn’t the same as earrings — and at that moment of thought the train comes. In his daily window seat Lev is shaking his knee the way his mother would find unforgivable. He thinks: Perhaps I am only hungry and not in love.
Later they do get Italian, at a restaurant that serves bread with olive oil and not butter; Lev has stopped shaking his knee. When Kate blushes in the afternoon, the red does not leave her cheeks until she sleeps. From across the table Lev finds her flushed, charmingly peckish, and the lime shorts bring out a crazy, neon green in her eyes. His food and his future enter into dialogue while he chews, he thinks: So much to devour, and looks briefly down at her chest. Lev wonders if he is being reprimanded for this glance when Kate says, Met a guy named David today. Lev asks, Oh? Only in the bookstore — Kate adds, shrugging, Something about a marathon, he was reading there. Lev squints cheekily and says: Did he canoodle you? Kate blinks quickly and says Of course not! and Lev sees that he did.
After dinner they are both tired and quiet. Kate sits on the sofa biting an after-dinner pickle. Lev is agitated, he feels uncomfortable sitting beside her. He thinks: she needs wandering in her life, and moves away into the kitchen. He washes his own dish and leaves hers in the sink. He returns to the sofa side. Kate opens a magazine. He goes back, washes her dishes and leaves them to drip-dry on the rack. Lev admires the shiny bare inside of the sink. He falls into a meditation on stainless steel, stains, less, steel. He likes the definite curve and unchangingness of the surface. He likes the way he can see into every corner of the sink, now that it has been emptied. And then at this moment he notices the lone object in the previously emptied trashcan: a small pink cardboard box. He goes to take it out, not really to have the object, more so that the trash and the sink might match, empty. He picks up the box and says: Baby.
Yes baby? Kate calls back from the sofa. Lev looks to her saying Baby? and Baby? again. Baby, what is it? Kate asks, standing up. Lev returns the box to the bin and leaves the kitchen, where the sink and the trashcan no longer match in emptiness. They meet in the living room. What is it? she asks again. Lev looks at her with blank panic. Suddenly he steals her nose. Gotcher nose, he says, smiling like he is a little bit seasick. Silly, Kate says, and reopens her thin magazine.
Lev goes into the bathroom, lowers the top cover over the toilet and sits down. Cosby, he thinks, is some sort of ideal father, isn’t he? He thinks about his father, Martin, in suspenders and slacks. Upright and admirable. He thinks of the joy of riding on his father’s shoulders, in Nantucket, his earliest summers. She is looking for the ideal father, Lev thinks. Looking for someone to be a father to her baby. Someone… who is father-like, in behavior, in appearance, perhaps, more than biologically… She is only reading, reading on the sofa, he thinks; she is not looking for me. Lev brushes his teeth with the new citrus toothpaste.
He wakes up tasting its residue. Hi baby, she says; Hi baby, he says and moves closer. He pinches off her nose and she laughs because nobody normally pinches her there. This is Saturday, and on the bedside table beside them two pencils are spooning. When do you get off work? Kate asks and covers the nose-less monstrosity of her face with a top sheet. Lev laughs and answers, Eight — what will you do? Bookstore, Kate says, and gets up to grab her shorts from the floor. Don’t go to the bookstore today, Lev says, flatly. Come downtown with me, he says, it’s always a little bit warmer downtown. What will I do? Kate asks. There are coffee shops, he says, flower shops downtown, no? So much potential, Lev tells her.
Downtown it is a little bit warmer and Kate appreciates how the glass office windows turn sky-colored and disappear. She doesn’t know her way around the neighborhood but everyone seems to smile at her… it reminds her of Oregon and she allows herself to relax. She is happy to be without child. She had been nervous and then the negative was such happy relief. The small pink box is stashed in her bag, just opened and used. No children yet! she thinks, to be sure! No children yet, to be sure. Kate thinks of her father, her old shorts and her hair. She thinks about the bland, pastel suburbia of her hometown, Abbot, Maine, and all the overall-ed children there. She thinks about how far she’s found herself so far, across the whole nation from there even across the red rocks of Arizona and New Mexico, how nice of a farness it is. I just need a little place in the sun, she thinks, to let my skin freckle. To sink into one little plot of grass, she thinks, one detached from all the other little plots.
The man in a wheelchair approaches Lev at the museum and Lev is so distracted and nervous he nearly doesn’t notice. He jumps out from behind the counter to assist. At this moment downtown, Kate, having just left a coffee shop, heads towards Pioneer Park in the Embarcadero district and takes off her shoes. It is just after two in the afternoon: Lev holds an old man’s hat in his hands, and Kate has grass between her toes.
David Knighton has by now left City Lights bookstore; he’d stopped in, flipped through some diet materials and become bored. He’d decided to start his run early and is now home, changing his shirt and shoes. Today is an eight-mile day: he will loop north towards the sea, around the Embarcadero, and back down towards Chinatown. He leaves the house and starts running, passing through the fog-border into the sun of downtown. When David runs he tilts his head up and his jaw becomes sharp and defined and people notice him passing. David believes that a marathon offers challenge and discipline few other forms of exercise can. He likes to think of how he will be just after crossing the finish line: sweating, shiny, hungry, warm. Because of these promising visions he is smiling as he runs through Pioneer Park, up from Columbus Avenue. In San Francisco the roads are often one-way, and the city’s inhabitants fall quickly into traveling routines. There are only so many ways to get from here to there.
Kate is there reading Time & Again by Jack Finney. To David, she looks lovely. He thinks the girl’s red hair looks so pretty on the grass. He stops for a moment to stretch his legs up on the back of a bench and keeps an eye on Kate, finishing a chapter. He thinks of her watching him cross the finish line, when he will be shining and hot. Kate looks up momentarily and he falls into a fantasy, where Kate is the girl who appears on the sidelines and sends his heart and legs racing faster and faster to the finish. He wins for her, he takes her up in his arms and twirls ceaselessly. She looks up again and he catches her eye. A young tomboy, sitting between Kate and the eager, stretching David, concludes her lunch with a sigh and leaves the park. Kate feels the fog-dew seeping up from the grass into the linen of her skirt, and she moves to the now-unoccupied bench. With only another bench between them David says, Good book? Kate answers him; she had been getting antsy anyway.
In the Multipurpose Room, Lev is dividing $149.50 by three to see if it comes out evenly. The room is hot and airless. Lev stops for a moment, pushes himself up from the stepladder he’s been sitting on, and folds himself slowly down to the floor. He unbuttons and unties the top of his shirt and breathes with big, intentional ribcage heaving. When he lets his head fall back onto the shelf behind, he feels the metal as cold and unpolished. He thinks about the back of the neck, and how it is responsible for seventy percent of the body’s temperature perception. Knowing this, and feeling the cold metal, sends a wash of shivers throughout his limbs — both physically- and mentally-induced. When he stretches out a leg, his shoe scrunches a receipt for olive-leaf earrings hard against the wall. The crunch makes Lev smile without moving his mouth.
On the train home his knee shakes and his appetite swells for olive oil. He also thinks this time about reference points, how he is still and speeding at this same moment. He looks through the glass as the train storms around a curve in the tracks. The lights blink, the brakes clank, the wheels ask the tracks to cha-cha: sparks flash. Lev thinks about sparks, and how he met Kate, and how he will lose her. He thinks about Cosby, and all the things that make him the “cool dad” he is. He thinks about David, this athletic new guy, and how father-like he must look to her, sweaty, fit. He eyes his own calves: compact, squat. He thinks: I’m all out of matches and this guy’s got a full pack.
When he gets back they eat Italian. The restaurant’s kitchen is out of both kinds of vinaigrette and conversation gets cranky. Lev is ripping his bread into tiny balls and saturating each one in oil. Kate fidgets with the salt and pepper shakers, pushing them together and making them kiss. When she says, Met a runner named David today, Lev does not understand how it is possible. The undesired déjà vu occurs and it feels like whiplash. He thinks about finding a contact lens in the ocean — impossible, he thinks, like that.
They go home and watch “Must Love Dogs.” Kate throws the pink pregnancy test box into the trashcan and joins Lev on the bed. She lies with her head on his lap and he tries to braid her hair, tying knots. Lev considers tying her hair to his fingers. Then he thinks about tying her wrist to his, it would be stronger, more secure — her wrist to the bed. Panic is kinky, he thinks. Without looking she reaches up and untangles each knot after he makes it. Lev stares through John Cusack’s teeth into pixels, through the pixels and towards what he imagines the inside back wall of a television to look like: black, and full of dust that could not have possibly gotten in.
They sleep tangled together and he wakes up tasting artificial grapefruit. Hi baby, she says; Lev says nothing at all. He stares deep as he possibly can into her eyes, green middles outlined in an earthy brown, looking, he thinks, if he can look far enough, for a little man named David in there, sitting, somewhere. She finds this plunging gaze seductive and kisses him softly on the neck. He isn’t interested in it. What are you doing today Kate? he asks. He says, Let’s stay in. He says, I’ll stay. Kate laughs and gets up to put on her shorts. I’ll stay! he almost shouts, then starts stroking the pillow to appear mellowed. Baby you don’t have to, she says, I’m going to the bookstore. No, Lev says, No stay, stay here with me. We’ll cook. Kate asks if he’ll wear an apron.
For breakfast they cook waffles on the Belgian maker, a birthday present from Lev’s mom. Lev wears an apron. While the waffles are browning they take out sesame seed bagels and cream cheese and cereal and on their small table it is a feast. Kate toasts her bagel and spreads it with cream cheese, then sticks individual Crispix cereals on top. In the empty bedroom, the sheets are on the floor, covering the DVD case, the socks and the belt. After breakfast they clean up the room, find the movie on the floor and decide to watch it. It is just after two in the afternoon: Kate and Lev are on the sofa together and John Cusack is in the rain.
Today is an eight mile day: David Knighton is looping back, south from the ocean, around the Embarcadero, down towards and through Chinatown. He’s been to the bookstore, back home, through the park and alongside the trolley, now full with rush-hour commuters. David feels today like one of the city’s thousand pulses, running through its toes and wrists along sidewalks as paved and regular as the body’s bloodstream. It’s all circulation, he thinks, and runs down towards Columbus.
Kate is washing dishes by the kitchen window while Lev wipes and clears the tabletop. She looks outside and sees the fog dissolving. It’s turning into a beautiful day baby, she says, and Lev cannot help but smile and agree. He stands near the fridge and imagines opening its door for a little boy too short to reach the handle. He loves it. He runs a finger around her wrist. Kate gathers up the trash bag from the can, covering the pink box with a paper towel, and puts on flip-flops to take the bag outside. Outside it is a clearing, pretty Saturday and Kate feels very glad to be out in it. The plastic toe-strap of her shoe snaps. She tosses the bag of trash into the bin on the corner and looks down at the limp little slipper on the ground. The bang of the trash bag attracts the attention of David, making his way down Columbus Avenue. Kate bends down to take off the broken flip-flop and David sees, suddenly, an instance of red curls and exposed cleavage. He crosses to her side of the street.
Inside, Lev puts on a Cake album called “Prolonging the Magic.” His favorite is track two, “Mexico,” and he puts it on full volume. I had a match, but she had a lighter, the voice sings; outside Kate is squatting now, picking at the plastic, I had a flame, but she had a fire, trying to put it back right. I was bright, but she was much brighter, Lev is singing into the Orangina bottle, twirling with a dirty plate and hand towel, I was high, but she was the sky, and Kate looks up where David is waiting, just above her, to offer a hand. Everything okay? he asks, and Kate tells him it’s fine, just a broken sandal. Oh baby, I was bound for Mexico, Lev brings the plate to the sink, to the window, where — Oh baby, I was bound to — Kate and David are standing, facing each other now, between the hydrant and the recycling bin, let you go, and Lev, looking straight ahead and over the windowsill, lowers the plate into the suds.
After a moment Kate comes back inside, walking uneven on one shoe and still fidgeting with the other in her hand. Lev is standing by the window. Who was that, he asks her quietly. Runner, she says, throwing out her shoes. Lev puts the dish on the rack without soaping it and returns the almost empty Orangina to the fridge. Lev opens the front door and walks slowly out into the street. He turns right and watches David run farther down the street until he appears to be only two inches tall.
Lev expects to find a pumpkin in his living room where Kate had stood. He looks in the corner for singing mice sewing a ball gown. He opens the fridge, looking for never-ending rows of lettuce heads, or fountains of champagne. The bulb in the fridge has blown, but all he sees are shady seltzer cans. Kate is in the bedroom, taking off her yoga shorts. The apartment is sunlit and warm. Lev looks under a few more tables but finds no change. He follows Kate to the bedroom, where she now draws up the blinds and smiles at the easy blue. Kate falls back onto the bed’s mess of blankets. She stretches out on her side, toes pointed and arms reaching up above her head, and she touches the cool wall with her palms. Lev’s knees lead him down to the mattress in an exhausted swoon and he stretches, straight, alongside her back. Kate’s figure is streamlined and Lev’s hair is nicely disheveled. This is Saturday, and in the fogless afternoon they are as two pencils spooning. A truck rolls down Columbus Avenue with the early edition of the Sunday Times, and for a moment the street rumbles beneath them. The city is swarming. Lev holds her very tight around the waist.