What’s supposed to happen now is the slow descent. The drugs run out or wear off and Alice and I find ourselves strangers, embarrassed to have seen one another naked and even more embarrassed to have told each other what TV shows we’d loved as children. Or the power dive: we chase the high farther and harder until one of us has a breakdown—this was what had happened to Alice with her Berkeley boyfriend. But what actually happened was that Alice introduced me to Marina and Fiona, her friends from work. Marina was dark, plump and pale, an Ashkenazi Rubens; Fiona was freckled and lean, but as if to symbolize their membership in the greater being of the corporation they wore the same black flats and the same floral-printed skirt. And yet I was forced by the circumstances of our meeting, at an outdoor brunch restaurant in Cole Valley, illuminated by brilliant sunlight and yellow flowers, to appreciate them as individuals, and on those terms I found much to like. Fiona had a pretty Irish accent and said fuck that à propos of almost anything you cared to name; she saw the corporate world for what it was, a game, and she saw relationships for what they were, a game, and as her cynicism marched on it seemed as though there would be nothing left for her to take seriously, except perhaps the rock beneath her feet and the clouds overhead, about which she knew nothing, and did not speak.
Marina on the other hand was touchingly insecure; she spoke frankly of her need to find a man, and the kink put in that need by her weight, which was perhaps ten or fifteen pounds greater than her doctor would have liked, and her smoking habit, which she’d taken up, she said, in order to lose weight, but ha! You feed the oral fixation and the oral fixation grows. Marina was the one who did most of the talking; as we ate she regaled us with the story of a wedding she’d attended, at which the bride had made everything, from the canapés to the tent overhead, which had collapsed in a sudden squall, catching, as it happened, only the bride and her mother, who struggled under the soaking white fabric like a pair of drowning cats, and emerged, glaring at each other, spotted with pastry cream, and ha! That was what they got, those crafty women who had never heard of the division of labor.
“Fuck that,” Fiona must have said, and Alice looked at me with defiant apology: these were her friends, sorry, but these were her friends. When our egg-starred plates had been carried off Fiona and Marina ordered decaf cappuccinos and smoked cigarettes, their heads thrown back, their throats exposed to the sun. “Marriage,” Marina said, “is the social equivalent of the garter belt: useless in an elastic age. It chafes. Say,” she said, turning to me, “you don’t happen to know any single men?”
For a moment I thought of setting her up with Victor, but even in my imagination I couldn’t bring them together. Alice and I were opposites but there is more than one sort of opposite, just as there’s more than one magnitude of infinity.
Good smells rose up from the ground. Three blocks from where we sat, teenage refugees were spare-changing on Haight Street; five blocks from us was the record store where Alex bought obscure psychedelic jazz. And yet nothing about the patio where we sat suggested anything but confidence and sameness. If you had been dropped there from space you would have thought that the city, and maybe the entire planet, consisted of nothing but brunch restaurants and their beflowered patios and here and there an overhanging tree. San Francisco! City of micro-climates, micro-neighborhoods, micro-memories.
“And what do you do?” Fiona asked.
I told them about my work at Cetacean. Almost at once Fiona and Marina found reasons to look skyward: perhaps a plane was about to appear, towing a banner with important news? For a long moment I writhed in the consciousness of my mistake: how could I have thought anyone would want to hear about content-management systems? Then Marina, as though she had just become aware that I was no longer speaking, said, “Did you say, the kraken of unmanaged content?”
“Yes,” I said, now even more deeply embarrassed.
“Alice, he’s literary!” Marina said. “You should bring him to the salon.”