Authors: Jodi Compton
Also by Jodi Compton
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SYMPATHY BETWEEN HUMANS THE 37
Dedicated to the memory of
Stuart Compton, 1921â2009
is a work of fiction and takes the usual liberties with the nonfiction subjects its story touches on. I drew on multiple sources in researching all of these subjects. However, I want to note that Hailey's reflections on the history of the Golden Gate Bridge are largely derived from Tad Friend's article “Jumpers” in the October 2003 issue of the
, a fascinating piece that also inspired the documentary
The moon rises over the mountains of central Mexico, a nearly full moon in a
sky the deep blue of an hour past sunset.
I'm lying on a slope just down from a rural highway, lying in a mix of slate and grass and dirt that is damp with blood. There is dirt in my eyelashes and blood in what little of my hair I can see. There isn't much pain, but I'm very, very tired.
Get up or you'll die here
My memories of what happened are inexact. I remember driving on a narrow highway through the mountains and into a dim tunnel with rough stone walls. Then this, looking up at the mountain ridge and the sky. I don't know how I got from the tunnel to here. It seems impossible, but I think I was shot.
I search my memories for some explanation. A rough voice:
You're one of our most promising cadets. I hate like hell to see this happen to you
No, that was too long ago.
A younger voice:
Pack up just what you need, I'm getting you out of L.A
That's not it, either.
I'm so tired, I just want to close my eyes. Except for that moon. It's getting brighter and higher, like God lifting his lamp, looking for his lost sheep.
I think the highway is up the slope, above me. If I were nearer to it, someone might see me. It might make a difference.
I get to my hands and knees, swaying, and put the waxing moon in my sights.
On your feet, soldier. You can do this. You're made outta this
Then I stand up.
“Do you ever think about Jonah?”
“Jesus, is that my Bible? I haven't opened that thing in years. So you're talking about the guy that was swallowed by a whale?”
“No, I'd have to say I don't think about him. I wouldn't think you would, either. I didn't take you for particularly religious.”
“I'm not. That's my point, though. When you're not raised religious, you think of Jonah as the swallowed-by-a-whale guy, like Noah is the ark guy. But when you actually read the Book of Jonah, it's not what you expect.”
“You read the whole book?”
“It's three pages long.”
Morning in San Francisco. Jack Foreman, tall and thin, in his early forties, with a premature streak of gray in his light brown hair, was across the room, already dressed at quarter to eight, already having cleared away last night's Ketel One bottle and two glasses, showered, dressed, and fixed and consumed breakfast and an espresso. He was now scanning the headlines of both the
San Francisco Chronicle
Los Angeles Times
, and at the same time keeping an eye on CNN with the sound off. I was still in his bed, naked, with my hair half raveled in the braids I forgot to take out last night, reading his Bible for no particular reason other than that it had caught my eye while Jack was still in the shower.
“The thing that's strange about the story is, Jonah doesn't seem to be scared of anything, even when he should be.”
“No. The story goes that God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach, and Jonah doesn't want to, so he gets on a ship for Spain. God sends a violent storm, and the ship's crew is scared. But when they go down to the hold to find Jonah, he's sleeping.”
. Through a storm that has veteran sailors scared. So they wake him up and tell him, âWe're pretty sure we haven't done anything to anger our gods, might you have done something to anger yours?' And Jonah suggests that if they think this is the case, maybe they should throw him overboard.”
“They're way out at sea. Jonah's effectively asking to be
. The crew says no at first, but later they decide he's right, and they throw him over, and then comes the whale part that everyone knows about. That's what it takes for him to finally decide that maybe he's in trouble. He prays to Godâit's kind of a pretty poem, by the wayâand God intervenes, so the whale spits him up onto dry land. And then he does go to Nineveh, and everyone in Nineveh really gets with the program, from the king on down. They repent in a big way. And Jonah isn't happy about it. He gets mad. He goes out in the desert and argues with God about destroying Nineveh.”
“He wants Nineveh destroyed?”
“Yeah, but the bigger point is, he's arguing with the God of the Old Testament, the all-powerful white-beard guy who used to strike people dead. Doesn't that seem a little insane? Shouldn't Jonah be a little more afraid?”
“You think Jonah was suicidal.”
“No. I mean, not necessarily.”
“Then what's your theory? You sound like you've been putting a lot of thought into this. You must have one.”
“No, sorry. I'm just a bike messenger. I don't get paid enough to theorize.”
“Hailey â¦” he said, his tone a change of subject in itself.
“I know. You're ready for work. I've got to get up and dressed
and out. I'll hurry.” I was already sliding his Bible back onto the bookshelf.
Jack was a newsman for the Associated Press, a Midwestern transplant to California by way of, apparently, everywhere. Photographs on the far wall of his studio, Jack's own amateur work, attested to the width and breadth of his reporting career. Fellow reporters, editors, photographers, and other acquaintances looked out from pictures taken in the world's capitals and war zones, places Jack had been a correspondent.
He and I had crossed paths several times at the courthouse, where he covered motions and trials and I, a bike courier, dropped off and picked up legal papers. But we didn't get to know each other until the Friday night I'd literally backed into him in a tiny, crowded Asian grocery. When, after a few minutes of conversation, he asked me if I wanted company for dinner, I surprised myself by saying yes. Maybe it had been so long since I'd seen a guy who was neither a metrosexual nor a pierced and dreadlocked bike messenger that he had been exotic to me.
He was the first guy I ever slept with who wore boxer shorts. I didn't tell him that, our first night together. Guys have lost erections over less.
Now, as I was pulling on my long-sleeved thermal shirt and cargo pants, Jack said, “Are you hungry? There's bagels.”
I shook my head. “I'll eat later.” It was my day off, and a small plan for the morning was forming.
I sat on the floor to put on my boots. When I looked up, Jack was watching me.
He said, “Every time I see you lacing up those boots, I think I'm sleeping with an undercover DEA agent.”
Bates Enforcers, heavy-soled black lace-ups with a side zip, draw a lot of attention.
“They're comfortable, is all.”
Jack had never seen the gun. It was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Airweight, easy to conceal. Just five shots, but the kind of trouble I was likely to get into was the up-close-and-personal kind, and if
I couldn't get out of it with five rounds, I wasn't getting out of it at all.
I stood and gathered up my single-strap messenger bag, putting it over my shoulder, when the newspapers on the counter caught my attention.
“Are you done with this?” I asked, indicating the
Los Angeles Times
Calendar section, its front page dominated by a profile of a young white hip-hop producer. “Can I have it?”
“Sure,” Jack said.
I slid the section of the paper into my bag, then walked ahead of Jack into the entryway, where my bicycleâit was my private transportation as well as my livelihoodâleaned against the wall.
We emerged into the cool gray of June in San Francisco, me wheeling the bike and Jack holding the keys to his old Saab. He stopped for a moment, tapping a cigarette out of a pack, his first of the day. While he lit up, I looked downhill, toward the rest of the city. Jack's studio was at the edge of Parnassus Heights, and the view was fantastic.
It's hard to find anyone who doesn't find San Francisco beautiful, and I couldn't argue. I had been in San Francisco nearly a year. I had ridden every inch of its neighborhoods, the storied ones like Chinatown and North Beach, the quiet ones like the Sunset and Presidio Heights. Late at night, I had watched the lights of great containerships as they ghosted into the port of Oakland, across the water. I had seen this city in the rain, the sun, the fog, the moonlight, on moonless evenings illuminated by its own city lights. San Francisco seemed to pose for you endlessly, proving it could look beautiful under any conditions. People came from all over the country and paid exorbitant prices to own or rent a tiny part of San Francisco.
Only a philistine could stand on a hill, look out at San Francisco, and wish she were seeing the overheated sprawl of L.A. instead. But I did.