Oh shit she murmured. A bit of daylight compelled her halfopen eyes to see the sheer curtains four feet from the small dark pressedwood table beside her bed, she made out the numbers and hands of the clock indicating sevenoseven, time for her to prepare herself, eat a couple pieces of toast, have a swallow or two of vodka, and drive to the community college for her eightoclock class. Five days a week start this way, a curse or profanity preceding a resigned rollover and then the harsh tossing aside of blanket and sweatsoaked sheet, the sluggish effort to sit up, the bitter and gloom and feverish incantations: jesuschristalmighty, ohfuck and all the rest, you can figure them out yourself, all this preliminary to the rhetorical do I gotta go through all this again, oh hell.
In the closet Jasmine Barber slides a shirt off a hanger and two other empty hangers fall to the floor. She curses herself, her face distorts into a thrustjawed grimace, can’t you do anything right you fuck. She throws her shirt down, retrieves the hangers, they’re tangled as usual, they’re always tangled god dam it, always, how the hell they get that way? In a fury she tries to untangle them, they resist, you can’t even get them apart she snarls, she gives up, forces a separation of shirts and slams them onto the bar and stands there, lips tight together and fists clenched, and all this happens before the debacle with the neckwear, the stringed beads and imitation gemstones, the pewter gulls storks and hummingbirds, her pantheon of icons that somehow have sunk to the level of rutworn adversaries.
You fuckhead she thinks. A moment later she’s standing before the bathroom mirror staring hard at the smooth impassive girlish face, the ambiguous eyes. Do they have depth or are they just stains on bland skin. Do they really want to face another day.
You just can’t do anything right, can you.
Jesus, you start every day off the same way and you end every day the same fucking way.
You don’t need to know any more about the interior life of Jasmine Barber.
* * *
In her eightoclock intro to ethics class Jasmine sits in a small group of six groping with the permissibility of suicide from a utilitarian perspective. Three of her groupmates, one of them a heavy woman around her age named Chrysta and the others a slender attractive girl named Tamika and a boy called Geary, both under twenty, are fully even animatedly engaged in the discussion. Chrysta tells how the suffering of friends and family surely outweigh the pleasure of a friend of hers who deliberately od’d on heroin, even left a message, Geary counters with the benefits experienced by society and by people in general when they’re assured of the freedom to determine their own fate far outweighing the disutility of a group of individuals deprived of the unstable and unhappy person’s presence, Jasmine looks at her designer watch as Tamika tries to divert the focus to some christian application of the golden rule, it’s twentyfive after eight, ten more minutes of this drivel she thinks, then another hour of class, her mind drifts to Marin County. Lily’s reclined between her outstretched legs sucking on a bottle of milk, Lily, Lily Joy, sucking on the nipple of a bottle of milk, in the sunshine on a grassy mountainside overlooking everything, overlooking the world, what is most beautiful in this world of hers, hers and Lily’s and Jared’s — westward to her right a winedark reservoir a thousand feet below cuddled by a thick pineforest a few miles beyond which lies the Pacific with its thin white streaks invading the sandy landsend, straightahead another sea, this one a solid deciduous green all the way to the San Francisco Bay, twenty degrees east of that somewhere under low clouds the city itself, shrouded and coy. They eat purple grapes and Parmesan cheese from a quarter round and Lily Joy drinks her milk, occasionally raising her bottle straightarmed to the deepblue sky as if offering libation.
It’s like the paraclete is hovering over the city Jared says, imparting its solace and wisdom, paraclete what’s a paraclete she says, don’t you know? it’s the holy spirit he says. She twists her neck, looks at him from the corners of her flashingdatk eyes, holy spirit? she rests her eyes on Lily who’s kicking one leg, oh okay she says. Paraclete, it’s usually depicted as a dove with outspread wings Jared says, I know how it’s depicted she replies, a halo around it’s head too, why does San Francisco need solace? everyone needs solace he says, all of civilization needs solace, sure she says, then: look, she gasps . . .
. . . they see the ground of San Francisco, the cloud has risen, an imperceptible ascension before their casual gazes, more pronounced as they focus, a slow but unmistakable rise with none of it diminishing, fading, like an ethereal bottomup pot, slight forms taking shape beneath it and elongating as the cloud lifts itself, it’s as if by an act of will it’s granting substance to a vacancy on earth and also vision, the forms stretch upward before their eyes until after only a couple minutes the city stands revealed, the cloud generously above it now and continuing its ascent, the buildings gleaming as if all but a few dark ones are made of chromed steel and glass in the bright sunlight, standing triumphant innocent and marvelous, jesus says Jared, christ says jasmine, it’s all about . . . it’s all about . . . What? Jared says, looks at her rather than the city, what? Oh I don’t know she says.
Jasmine? She raises her eyes, Chrysta and Geary are eyeing her judgmentally, the others seem mildly amused, what do you think Chrysta asks, Jasmine glares at her, what would J.S. Mill do she asks.
* * *
Jasmine, are you a believer?
These are the first words she hears in the recovery room after the CATscan, after the bloodwork, after the standard medical procedures to keep her life going, to insure the momentum of the life force that had somehow sustained her thus far through the nearly fatal carcrash she had just undergone, Jasmine, are you a believer?
The question was softly posed, it flowed from red lips that framed teeth vivid white less than a torsowidth from Jasmine Barber’s face, that mouth seemed a thing of unsurpassed beauty, she lingered on it, squinted at it, the cynosure of a gentle sculpture of a face that she forced herself to survey, smooth skin embedded with compassionate penetrating eyes whose color she couldn’t yet perceive, that face bordered by delicate hazel hair wavy and short, a pleasant sight, a sight Jasmine Barber was happy to see given that she was here to see any sight at all. No she said, I’m not. She watched for a response, saw the face’s lips part slightly, saw a glimmer of white between them that sent a tiny wave of comfort through her like the unexpected savor of a fresh herb, saw an eyebrow flick. Can you hear me the mouth asked softly. Yes I can she answered, I can hear you.
The place they occupied still seemed dim to her, she could make out no features save for a hanging light with a dark conical shade, she was lying on what she suspected was a gurney and without trying to move she knew she was strapped down, she could feel a catheter’s piercing assault. She couldn’tredirect her eyes from the face so near her own, it seemed so kind, she did not want to offend its possessor. She considered preceding her next statement with an apology of some sort, an I’m sorry to say or an Unfortunately, but she quickly dismissed the idea, wait she thought, I just woke up from being dead, almost being dead, I’m supposed to be dead, what do I want to be phony for now, so she simply said, for clarification, I have no faith, I’m an atheist.
A sheer veil of surprise swished across the eyes of that smooth face, they’re green Jasmine Barber noted, but the face lost none of its lovely composure. She wanted with all her heart to touch one of those cheeks with her fingertips, to touch those red lips. You came very close to death tonight Jasmine, the lips seemed like gentle living things, the flashes of white between them like dancing souls, you were very fortunate, many people don’t realize that the hand of something higher may have reached out to save them, that there’s a reason for their being saved. Jasmine looked up at the distant ceiling, Jesus she said, I was fucking saved.