Chad Ransom was a fiction writer, only twenty-two, but everyone said he was the next Cheever. He’d already published a story in The New Yorker, and he had an agent. He was a little crazy, everyone said approvingly, just what you’d expect of a real writer. Ellen Johnson saw him in bars, smoking and playing pool. There was always a sultry looking girl around, ready to chalk his stick or bring him another drink. Sometimes Ellen saw him hunched in a booth with the older fiction writers in lumberjack shirts or fatigue jackets, and the girl, whoever she was that month, crushed into the corner.
They were both students at the Iowa Writers Workshop. It was 1970. Ellen, a ruddy-faced blond who’d inherited her mother’s big Swedish hips and nervous blue eyes, hung around with the younger crowd of poets, while the fiction writers tended to be older married men, sometimes Vietnam vets, who lived out in the country with wives and children. One fall afternoon there was a party at a farmhouse, and Ellen got a ride with her roommate. She walked around, knowing hardly anyone, feeling chilly in her short skirt and strappy sandals. She stood near men in wool shirts cooking hamburgers. She talked to a pregnant wife whose husband was writing a novel about a draft dodger in prison. She wandered down to the pond, beer in hand, watching a young mother chasing after a couple of toddlers. The toddlers were following some ducks.
Chad Ransom, his hands in his back pockets, was standing on the shore. He looked over at Ellen. “What are all these brats doing here?”
“I think they live here,” Ellen laughed.
“Is that what happens when you get married?” He shook his head. “Pretty scary, isn’t it?”
They started talking. It turned out they were both from the Twin Cities, though Chad had gone east to college, and Ellen had lived at home. They joked about winter—how the Iowa winter was tropical compared to the Minnesota winter. Then a thin girl in tight jeans with a lot of eyeliner came up, and wrapped her arms around Chad. Ellen felt her smile becoming fixed. She stepped back, and blended into the crowd.
After that, Ellen always nodded at Chad in bars, and a couple of times he’d come over and joined her crowd. She always felt flattered, because she thought of him as a star. Once she played a game of pool with him, and she felt embarrassed to beat him but she’d played with her older brother for years. And once they went home together after a party. It was snowing, and they walked into the cemetery across from Ellen’s apartment and made snow angels. She took him upstairs, and they kissed for a while just inside the door. But when she came back from the bathroom after putting in her diaphragm, he had passed out on her couch.
In the morning she made pancakes and Chad confessed that he was obsessed with a girl back home. Ellen listened to him talk about Katherine for a long time. Katherine lived in a big house near Lake of the Isles and played the cello. She was beautiful and rich but misguided. She was engaged to marry an asshole lawyer.
Summer was approaching. Ellen had been planning to go home to Minneapolis and work for the Park Board, but in April she was awarded a teaching assistantship and a tuition waiver for next year. Her friends had been jabbering excitedly about their summer plans. They all seemed to be going to the seaside–Provincetown or Santa Barbara—and she felt embarrassed to say that she’d never seen the sea, only Midwestern lakes. Then, one day she saw a cheap charter flight to London advertised in the student newspaper, and it hit her. She had extra money in her account from the student loans she wouldn’t need for tuition next year. Why not use that money to travel?
She saw the wild shore of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in Portugal, not counting the glimpses she’d had on the flight from Chicago to Gatwick, and the dark stormy Channel that she’d crossed on the boat-train at midnight. It was easy to meet other American girls who were traveling, and share rooms, so she was able to stretch her money, especially in Spain, where she discovered Sangria and gazpacho and saw bougainvillea for the first time. But by the time she got to Italy she was getting a little worried. Rooms were more expensive. So was the food. And she had another month to go before her flight returned from Brussels in late August.
In Florence, she made the decision to eat only every other day. By the time she arrived in Venice, she was feeling woozy. A girl she’d met in Nice had told her about the extra cheap Pensione Atlantico right off the Piazza San Marco near the Bridge of Sighs, so she headed there by foot from the train station, unable to afford the boat. After wandering the narrow streets of Venice for over an hour, she found a sign in English, and stumbled through the door of a forbidding looking stone building. There were two flights of stairs to climb, and when she reached the top, she stood there wobbling for a moment, staring at the dark haired young man behind the desk who seemed to be gesturing and speaking and coming towards her. Then everything went black, and when she woke up she was lying on a leather couch with a wet cloth over her forehead, and the young man was chaffing her hands.
The young man was Guido, the owner’s son, and when she finally sat up and explained that she wasn’t sick, she was just hungry because she was trying to save money, he ran back to the kitchen and brought her a huge flaky pastry full of almond paste and covered with sugar. And then he offered her a job.
Ellen stayed at the Pensione Atlantico for a month, cleaning rooms and serving breakfast along with two other young women, one from California and the other from London, who were in the same financial plight. She met young people from all over the world, who often took her out to bars with them or invited her out to dinner. Guido’s father liked her. She worked hard but never complained. And Guido was always telling her to rest for a while, even though she kept telling him she was fine. When he saw her with American guys, he looked sad but never said anything.
The day before she was to leave, Guido’s father took her aside. “You’ll come back next summer?” he asked.
“All right,” Ellen said. She was delighted. She wouldn’t have to work in Minneapolis next summer either.
She got back to Iowa City just as classes began. She and her friends exchanged stories about their summer adventures, and somebody asked her if she’d heard about Chad. He’d crashed a wedding in St. Paul, and tried to get the bride to run off with him like Dustin Hoffman. The police had arrested him, and when he got out of jail he tried to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. He’d only broken his leg.
She glimpsed Chad shortly after that, on crutches, talking to a redhead with hoop earrings. His status had been enhanced by the rumors, and everyone was talking about him, how crazy he was, and he seemed to be with a different girl every week. Later that fall, after his cast came off, he limped into an auditorium where a famous novelist was going to read from his work. He looked around, and thrilled Ellen by sitting right next to her. She asked him about his leg and he said it was skinnier than the other leg, but he was glad because girls loved to massage it for him. She laughed. In the spring she saw him at a party where he did a Cossack dance to wild applause after drinking a quart of vodka.
Two months later, she was crossing Piazza San Marco with a basket of breakfast rolls for the Pensione Atlantico when she heard someone call out, “Hey, Ellen! Over here!” And there was Chad, leaning against a pillar. She looked at him in amazement, her mouth open.
“Surprised to see me?” he asked. “Yeah, you were pretty drunk. But you told me to look you up if I got to Venice. Actually, you told everyone at the party to look you up.”
She shook her head.
He was wearing his usual black sports jacket over a black t-shirt, his shaggy hair streaked blond from the sun. A girl was sitting on the steps next to him, bent over as if she were sick, long dark hair touching the paving stones.
“Let me introduce you,” he said. He tapped the girl on her head and she looked up with a pale, ravaged face. “This is Maggie. She’s meeting her fiancé in Venice. She needs a cheap place to crash until he gets here.”
“The place I work is full. She could go to one of the convents. They take in girls in the summer for almost nothing.”
“A convent!” Maggie laughed.
“Don’t laugh,” he told her. “You could use a few days in a convent.”
“Me! You’re crazy, Chad. You’re really crazy.”
“Well,” Ellen said, “there’s a student hostel not too far away.”
She gave them directions. She told Chad where to find her at the Pensione Atlantico, and all that day, while she was making beds and sweeping the hallways and chatting with Guido at the desk, she kept thinking about him. She’d slept with a few guys that summer, and hung out with others, but they all bored her. Guido had a crush on her, and embarrassed her sometimes by the way he stared at her, but even though his English was perfect and he had curly dark hair and a degree in philosophy, all he seemed to talk about was his family, his mother and his father and his two married sisters who were married to businessmen. She wanted to talk about art and literature. She wanted to show Chad the poems she’d been writing and get his opinion.
All day she kept expecting him to show up. That night she hung around the lobby a little longer than usual, listening to Guido describe his younger sister’s latest medical emergency. She was three months pregnant, and had started bleeding, and had been rushed to a private clinic in Vicenza. Now she was going to have to stay flat on her back for three weeks. Guido’s mother was going to stay with her and do the cooking, which meant that Guido and his father were going to have to fend for themselves and neither of them knew how to cook. “How can you not know how to cook?” Ellen asked. “You’re Italian, for God’s sake!” But Guido insisted it was true, and as the evening wore on and there was no sign of Chad, she volunteered to cook dinner for Guido and his father. And as she put the pasta on to boil in the narrow apartment on the top floor of the Pensione Atlantico, the smell of ancient garlic and damp upholstery depressed her. Guido smiled at her tenderly, and his father praised her cooking, but behind them was a huge wooden bureau covered with family photographs of grim-looking couples holding bald infants in lace gowns, and Ellen wondered if the heavy brocade curtains at the window, the same pattern as the wallpaper, had ever been opened in Guido’s lifetime.
A month later, when she was about to leave Venice for a week in Paris before going home, Chad showed up at the Pensione Atlantico. She was clearing tables in the breakfast room when she heard his voice. He was asking Guido for a double room.
The girl with him this time was tall and elegant, with long straight dark hair, straight eyebrows, and pale glossy lips. She wore hip hugger bell-bottom jeans with an expensive leather belt and tooled cowboy boots, and a tight, lacy shirt.
“This is Jean,” he said, when Ellen came up with her tray of dirty dishes. “Jean, this is Ellen. I told you about her.”
Jean smiled boldly. “I’m Jean Stranger,” she said. “I suppose you’re wondering what he said about you. He said you were nice.”
“Of course she’s nice,” Chad growled.
“But why should I believe you. I’ve got to see for myself, don’t I?”
Ellen blinked. She was used to Chad’s girlfriends disappearing into the background but this one was different. She was almost as tall as Chad, and she stood a little in front of him, looking around her boldly. She had cheeks with arresting angles, a wide passionate looking mouth, and a long neck. Ellen wondered if she were a model.
Ellen set down her tray. She told Guido she’d show them the room.
Chad put his hand on the small of Jean’s back. Ellen stepped ahead with the key. She could hear them whispering about something as she led them up the stairs.
Later that morning, when she was sweeping under the bed in a vacant room, she looked up to see Jean watching her from the open door.
“He’s asleep,” she said. She came in and sat down on the bed that Ellen had just made. “So what’s his story?”
“Chad? He’s a good writer. He’s definitely going places.”
“You’ve fucked him, right?”
Ellen flushed, but she didn’t deny it. “Where did you two meet?”
“On the beach in Greece. He wants me to marry him when we get back.”
Ellen felt her lips tighten. “Congratulations,” she said.
“He’s got a job teaching in North Dakota.”
“Great,” Ellen said. “That’s wonderful. Teaching jobs are hard to come by.”
“So you think that’s wonderful?”
“Of course.” Ellen looked at her in astonishment.
Jean laughed. She got up off the bed and walked over to the window. “What a great view. Do you think there are views like that in North Dakota?”
“Only if you like snow.” Ellen laughed
“I’m from California,” Jean said, turning back. Her face looked moody. She was sucking on her lower lip. “Chad’s a hunk, granted. He’s fun. He’s a great fuck. He’s clearly smart, and you say he’s a good writer. I get the distinct impression that he’s going somewhere, too. Only trouble is, where he’s going is not that interesting to me. I’m not much of a reader, if the truth be told. I just can’t get my head around South Dakota”
“See, I can’t tell them apart.” Jean grabbed a piece of her long hair and wrapped it around her wrist like a bracelet. She was frowning. She paced back and forth while Ellen stood with her broom, watching her. “Do you think I’d be making a mistake if I let him go?”
Ellen laughed. “Yes,” she said.
“That’s good.” Jean smiled. “I’m glad you feel that way. What time do you get off work? We could all have dinner.”
“I was going to have dinner with Guido—that guy at the desk, you know?”
“Oh, he can come, too.”
It turned out that Jean had been to Venice before, with her parents, and she knew exactly where she wanted them to eat, a fancy place on the wide Riva beyond the Piazza San Marco where lots of gondolas were tied up for the evening, bobbing up and down as waves washed against the embankment. When Ellen protested that it was too expensive, and Guido explained that it was a tourist trap, Jean told them to shut up. She was paying for the meal and this was where she wanted to eat.
Jean and Chad sat on one side of the table, sometimes kissing or touching each other, or whispering, and Ellen sat with Guido on the other side, feeling awkward and uncool in her moccasins and skirt. Jean and Chad were both wearing jeans, and Jean wore a sexy red Indian top that glittered with pieces of mirror sewn down the plunging neckline. Guido had made them wait in the lobby while he changed into linen pants and a sport jacket and narrow tan shoes. She had noticed how Chad winked at Jean when they saw how Guido was dressed.
Ellen’s back was to the gondolas, but she could see the waiters bustling in and out of the restaurant. Their table was surrounded by other tables full of American tourists, women in pastel pants suits or flowered dresses and men in sports coats or Nehru jackets. The people at the next table, two dentists and their wives, had been talking about the canals of Venice, how dirty they were, how much they smelled. Then they abruptly switched to a discussion of new techniques for root canals. Ellen grinned, and so did Guido. She was going to make a joke to Jean and Chad, but they were whispering, paying no attention to anything that was going on around them. The waiter set down the bread basket. Ellen grabbed a cellophane breadstick package, and tore it open. The waiter opened the bottle of white wine that Jean had ordered.
Jean pulled away from nuzzling Chad’s ear, and put her hands under her long hair and spread it out over her shoulders, stretching backwards like a cat. She even slit her eyes, and Ellen half-expected her to purr. She watched the waiter pour a little wine into her glass, and sniffed the cork. Then she picked up her glass, sipped, and then nodded. The waiter filled all the glasses.
“A toast,” Chad said, leaning forward as he picked up his glass. “Ellen, Guido, Jean and I are getting married.”
“Great,” Ellen said. She lifted her glass. “To you guys.”
Guido smiled broadly. “Per cent’anni!”
Jean picked up her glass but she looked stern. The four of them clinked glasses, then took gulps of wine.
“You know that poem,” Ellen said, quoting. “‘Should I get married? Should I be good? Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?’”
Chad looked at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ellen shrugged. “It’s a poem by Corso. Gregroy Corso. It’s called ‘Marriage’.”
“What about it?”
“Nothing. He just imagines his scruffy bearded friends showing up at his wedding and the priest looking at him like he masturbated. It’s really funny.”
“I’m not talking about a church wedding,” Chad said. He looked at Jean. “Unless that’s what you want.”
“Me?” She laughed. “Can you see me in a white dress? White roses on my head. A veil! I’d cut into that cake with a meat cleaver.”
Ellen and Chad laughed.
“What are you laughing about?” Guido looked puzzled.
“Marriage,” Jean continued. “It is a scary idea, isn’t it?”
“Why scary?” Guido asked.
“You know, last time I was here I saw that ceremony where Venice marries the sea.”
“What’s that about?” Chad asked.
“The mayor goes out in this fancy flower boat and all these other boats follow and he drops a gold ring into the sea and marries it. Don’t ask me why.”
“That sounds crazy.” Chad finished his glass.
“It is crazy, but it’s something to do with history’
“It’s the Sposalizio del Mar,” Guido said. “It goes back to 1177. It’s a beautiful ceremony.”
“There must be a lot of gold rings down there.” Jean laughed. She leaned against Chad, and he put his arm around her. “Can we come back next summer for our honeymoon?”
“Of course,” he said. “After we marry each other, we’ll come marry the sea.”
The waiter brought their plates of mixed fried seafood, and they were quiet for a while, eating. Jean ordered another bottle of wine.
“Tell me about snow,” she asked, after the waiter had filled their empty glasses. “You two are from the cold regions, but I’ve never seen snow before except in the movies or Switzerland in the summer. But it was already on the ground then.”
“It’s pretty coming down,” Ellen said.
Chad looked at Jean. “Don’t worry so much about the snow. It’s just a one year job. Nine months really. In December we’ll fly to California. So you only have to put up with snow in part of January and February.”
“What about March?” Jean asked.
“Spring break,” Chad said.
Jean stared down into her wine glass. “I could ski. Are there any mountains around?”
Ellen laughed. Chad stared at her, looking annoyed, and she stopped. “How about skating?” she added meekly.
“You mean, like, on ice?” Jean drained her glass. “Wow, I’ve got to take a really wicked piss.” She pushed back her chair. Ellen watched her make her way into the restaurant, her shiny dark hair floating around her like a cape as she moved, and noticed that both the waiter and Guido and the men at the other table were all following her with their eyes. She looked at Chad, who was hunched down in his chair, biting his lip.
“Why are you pushing marriage?” she asked. “Can’t you two just live together?”
“I love her,” he said, looking up, and his eyes were hard.
“If you love her,” Guido said, “you should marry her.”
“Well, she doesn’t look like the marrying kind,” Ellen said.
“I know,” Chad said. “But you see, she’ll never come out to South Dakota unless we’re married. Oh, she might promise to fly out. But a week later she’d meet someone else in LA and I’d never see her again.”
“That could happen if you were married, too.”
He shook his head. “She’d be committed then. Maybe it won’t last—I’m not naïve—but at least she’ll come with me, she’ll come for a few months, and I’ll finish my book and get a better job, maybe in California, and things might work out. But if I don’t marry her, that’s the end, I know it.”
Chad leaned forward and touched Ellen’s hand across the table. “Help me, OK? Tell her you can live in the Midwest, that you can be happy, don’t joke about it, OK?”
“Sure.” Ellen smiled. She saw Jean heading back towards their table, and was once again struck by her glowing beauty. The bits of mirror twinkled like stars. She vowed to pinch herself if anything ironic or cynical concerning the heart of the country rose to her lips.
Guido frowned at them both. “This Midwest must be pretty bad.” He looked at Ellen and his eyes were clouded. “Maybe you shouldn’t go back,” he said.
“Go back where?” Jean was standing behind Chad, looking down at them.
Nobody said anything. Guido lowered his eyes and Ellen pressed her lips together. Jean leaned down and hugged Chad. “I’m going to love the snow,” she said. “I promise I’ll love the snow.”
The good part of her life had lasted two years and two summers, Ellen thought when she was back in Minneapolis that fall, stuck in her childhood bedroom, and using the basement as an office to type the letters she sent out to schools that might be looking for an unpublished poet to teach composition. At her parent’s insistence, she’d signed up with an employment agency, too, and occasionally she had an interview with an insurance company or flour mill where she’d fill out forms and complete a battery of tests and be told by a cheerful clerk that they’d call her in a few weeks if something opened up. In late fall, unable to concentrate on her poetry, she took a part-time job at a department store downtown so she’d be able to buy Christmas presents for her nieces.
Often, riding the bus home at dusk, she’d look out the window at the falling snow and wonder about Chad and Jean. She’d left Venice before they did, and she’d heard nothing from Chad, there’d been no invitation to a wedding (not that she expected one) and none of her friends who occasionally called or wrote from the far off places where they were looking for jobs or getting advanced degrees had heard anything about him. As the bus slowed, following a plough, or lumbered around the huge snow piles at intersections, Ellen liked to imagine Chad sitting at his desk. He’d be typing a story, soon to appear in The New Yorker, looking out the window at Jean, who was skating across the pond, making elegant figures on the ice.
And for some reason, the image of Jean skating while Chad typed stuck in her head, and as the winter dragged on and on, and more rejected poems and job applications showed up in the mail, and the blank page stayed blank when she tried to write, she began to fantasize about the beautiful isolation and romance of North Dakota. When her father suggested she might want to get a nursing degree, and her mother talked about how she was good with children, urging her to consider going into elementary education like her older sister, Ellen was far away, watching Jean shaking stars of snow off her rabbit fur jacket as she came in out of the cold. Chad would rise from his typewriter to show her the stacks of pages he’d written that day.
Ellen would have to shake herself to return to her parent’s kitchen table and her plate of meatloaf and green beans. At night, she touched the frost flowers on the inside window of her bedroom, and imagined Jean and Chad in the far far north, burrowing under the blankets together as a blizzard howled outside. In the morning, Jean would bring mugs of coffee and blueberry muffins into the bedroom, and they’d cuddle together and look out at the shaggy white pine trees, maybe talking about Chad’s writing students or his new story or a letter from his agent or maybe even talking about going back to Venice for their official honeymoon in the spring. Then Chad would get back to work on his story or novel and Jean would put on her skates.
Once, on one of those mornings when it was almost thirty below and tall plumes of smoke from chimneys stood frozen upright in the air, Ellen had to take the bus downtown for an early interview. At a busy bus stop, where lots of people were crowding onto a series of other busses to transfer to St. Paul, she rubbed a clear patch on her steamed-up window, and for a moment she thought she saw Chad in a heavy blue parka wearing a blue knit cap. An older man in a camel hair coat was holding his arm, guiding him toward the bus ahead. But that couldn’t be, and as she watched the man in the parka from the rear, wearily climbing the steps of the bus, the older man’s hand on the small of his back, pushing him a bit, she realized she was wrong, it was just something about the shape of the eyes that had reminded her of Chad. Chad was a star. If he came back to Minneapolis for any reason, he’d be driving a sports car.
Ellen was accepted by the Library School for the fall, to her parent’s relief, and she applied for a student loan. She was resigned but depressed. She’d been planning to work full time at the department store that summer, but in May she got a short letter from Guido. It simply said that her old job at the Pensione Atlantico was still open, and that he hoped she’d return again that summer. She felt her spirits lift, but her father looked pained when she mentioned it to him. “A job that pays nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s crazy, Ellen.” Ellen knew it was crazy, but she didn’t want real life to start just yet. And maybe, just maybe, she’d run into Chad and Jean and they’d tell her stories about their snowy but happy year in North Dakota. So she used the last of her savings for a ticket on Icelandic Air.
Guido met her at the train station at noon with a bouquet of roses, and she realized to her dismay that she’d given him hope by coming back to Venice. When he ushered her into the lobby of the Pensione Atlantico, his father, looking frail in a blue suit, and his mother, her eyes gleaming, wearing shiny new nylons and a silk dress printed with pansies, were waiting to welcome her. They insisted she eat the mid-day meal upstairs in their apartment. Guido’s mother, a short woman with iron-grey hair and fingers swollen with arthritis, had cooked everything herself, and she gleefully fed Ellen seven kinds of olives, and prosciutto with figs, followed by spaghetti and anchovies and then an amazing plate of thinly sliced beef and delicate asparagus. After that came a delicious pannacotta with tiny strawberries and a platter of cheeses. Guido watched her every bite, as if each mouthful she swallowed made her more completely his, and Ellen thought of Persephone, sucking on the Pomegranate seeds served by the King of Hell. After the meal, Guido’s parents encouraged the young couple to go for a walk, and he took her down through the lobby, speaking briefly to Carlo, the young man at the desk who was reading a magazine, and out into the streets of Venice.
He held her arm, pressing against her at times, and she let him lead her through the dream-like city. Venice was always overwhelming at first, and this evening, after the long cold year at home and the wearying train journey from Luxembourg and the glasses of wine with the heavy meal, it seemed even more magical than ever.
They stopped on the Academia Bridge, admiring the light on the faded pink brick buildings and the Moorish arches. The white dome of Santa Maria Della Salute floated in the distance. A water taxi darted out from underneath the bridge, a fan of spray lifting up wings. Then a gondola with a young couple in the back, a honeymoon couple holding hands, drifted past.
“Remember my friends from last summer, Jean and Chad? I keep expecting to see them every time a gondola goes by.”
Guido breathed in sharply. “You don’t know?”
“They broke up—right after you left. She left him, and he went crazy.”
“Chad went crazy? What happened?”
Guido frowned, and looked down at the water. He had his arm around her, and Ellen could sense people passing behind them on the bridge, taking them for lovers. “She left him a note. He woke up and found it in the morning a few days after you left. He came running downstairs only half-dressed, bellowing—yes, bellowing like a sick bull. And he ran out the door, and Carlo and I followed him, but we couldn’t catch up with him. Later, when I was out shopping, I saw a crowd gathered, and I ran to the boat landing. Chad had stolen a gondola. He was in the middle of the Grand Canal, shouting and waving his arms. At first I didn’t know what he was yelling, and then I got it. “I’m marrying you, Sea!” he kept shouting, and he was holding a ring. I could see it glittering. Then he threw it in the water. “Listen, Sea, you’re my girl, and now we’re married!” The people around me didn’t speak English, and they kept asking me what he was shouting, so that’s why I remember so well, I was the translator for the whole crowd. “How do you like this for a wedding, Sea!” he screamed. Then a vaporetto went by and everybody was on one side of the boat pointing and I couldn’t hear anything but he almost lost his balance from the wake of the vaporetto and he sat down in the bottom of the gondola, and then got up again. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and he was swinging his belt around his head. Then he let it fly. After that he took off his shoes and he threw them in the water, and they bobbed around the gondola, and he started taking off his jeans. A police launch was coming, you could hear the siren, but Chad stood there, and he tossed out the jeans, and two gondoliers shot out from a side canal, and he saw them coming. He whipped off his underwear, and now he was naked, balancing on his skinny legs, and just as another gondola bumped him, he screamed “Let’s fuck!” and dived over the side. I could see his head, right next to the underwear that was floating along like a jelly fish, and then the police launch set off a huge swell, and two men who’d been watching from the quay dived in and together they managed to get him ashore. The police took him away.”
Ellen shuddered, and Guido tightened his arm around her. “I went to police headquarters,” he continued, “and told them who Chad was. They kept him locked up until his father came over. His father came by the Atlantico to pick up his things. He said they’d put Chad on some kind of medication, and were taking him back home in a straight jacket. Apparently he’d done things like this before. His father seemed resigned to it.”
Guido led her off the bridge, but she turned back once to look at the canal, almost as if she expected to see some sign of Chad, his jeans or underwear or flailing arms. She was shaken with pity. That was Chad she’d seen at the bus stop. All winter long he must have been living in his parents’ house in the same town as her, looking out at the same snow that fell evenly over Lake Nokomis and Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. There was no Jean out there skating in flashy circles, making him blueberry muffins, reading his brilliant fiction. If he did sit at his typewriter, he was hunched and weary, every day facing the same blank page. Every word he put down, if he put down any words at all, came up out of his pain.
“Let’s go get some gelato,” Guido said. “You love pistachio, right?”
Ellen nodded. She leaned against him. She was never going home.