R U T H

Michael Corrigan

 

WE CONNECTED ON THE DAY JFK WAS SHOT.

It was overcast that Friday, 22 November. I entered a cafe and the waitress asked if I knew the President was shot. I said, “The President of what?”

“Sean—the President of the United States!”

The news of Kennedy’s death came in the middle of breakfast; the cafe went silent. Leaving the meal unfinished, I took a streetcar out to City College of San Francisco. Then Ruth Goldstein and I stood and watched as students left the closed school and instructors stood in the light rain, discussing the assassination in Dallas. The dark sky was perfect to reflect the broken pattern of our lives.

Ruth had long blonde hair and a homely but expressive face with clear intelligent eyes and a slight southern drawl. She spoke up in class and always wore plain dresses and no makeup. One student referred to Ruth as our “Memphis Jew.” Yiddish expressions in a southern accent flavored her speech. Now the President was dead.

“It was some cracker shot him,” she said.

We had coffee in a cafe with students talking, drinking, and discussing what had just happened, all of the conversations expressing disbelief. It was impossible to absorb. The young saucy Jack and his “Camelot” were gone. Perhaps the anarchy Yeats described had been loosed upon the land.

“Let’s go to my place.” Ruth suggested.

We listened to Renaissance music with its precise order. Then I saw the Freewheelin’ Dylan album; the first song was “Blowin’ in the Wind” that seemed to put everything into perspective despite the laundry list of questions. I heard the words sung in that ethnic blues voice and became a Dylan fan forever. That weekend as Ruth and I lay in bed watching television, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald before millions of viewers. The surreal nightmare was complete.

I spent a Passover with Ruth and her parents, Abe and Betty. They were warm people and welcomed me into their home, though I was a gentile. Then, as quickly as the bond formed, Ruth and I quietly split and went separate ways.

It was exciting to hear Dylan a year later, his poetry changing American folk music forever, with a hint of the rock and roll revolution to come. I saw Ruth standing outside the Masonic Auditorium as the crowd dispersed. It was November and raining again.

“Hello, Ruth.”

“It’s Sean Dineen, as I live and breathe. Hello.”

We agreed to coffee. Ruth spoke most of the night about her time on an Israeli kibbutz. The next morning, we woke up together in my rented room furnished with old furniture; it resembled a motel room. The window overlooked Market Street, streetcars coming up and down the tracks. There was an obsolete phonograph in the corner where I played Beatle and Dylan music while drawing cartoons, my vocation. Ludwig Beethoven glared down from an album cover of his heroic third symphony. Green and yellow flowered wallpaper covered the cracking plaster. Empty gallon wine bottles sat in the kitchenette. Ruth got out of bed and walked naked to the window, still uninhibited, her athletic body feminine and sensuous. She ran her hand through the thick blonde hair, and then slipped on my bathrobe.

“I feel dumb walking down the hall to the community bathroom,” she said. “In your robe.”

“Better than no robe.”

She pushed a lock of hair back behind her ear.

“I shouldn’t have done this. I got a boyfriend. Tyrone. He’s black and hates white folks.”

“Ruth, we’re just ships passing in the night.”

“And why is that? I’m not pretty enough for you?”

“You’re beautiful.”

“If you had a broken nose and buck teeth, you’d be beautiful too.”

Ruth looked down at me lying in the bed.

“I won’t get jumped in the hall, will I?”

“Holler if you do.”

Laughing, showing her slightly protruding teeth, Ruth walked out the door and down the carpeted hall. I looked around the room at the dull walls. Then Ruth returned, shutting the door.

“Some old Irish drunk accosted me in the hall.”

“He’s just the local color.”

“Color, my ass.”

“Exactly.”

“I suggest we get breakfast and plan our separation.”

“Separation?”

“This can’t be a habit. Tyrone will kill both of us if he finds out, even though he’s hitting on all the women who have joined the movement. Some of his friends even hit on me.”

“What animals. Of course, I find being a demonstrator against the Vietnam War helps me get laid. I may take up folk guitar, soon. Write protest songs.”

Ruth stood again by the window, watching the heavy rain.

“Could you leave Tyrone?”

“Now? I may be carrying his child.”

This came as a shock.

“How are your parents taking all this? Betty?”

“My mother is furious, not so much that Tyrone’s a schvartzer—a black—but that he isn’t Jewish. My father died before we met. Hey, how’s your dad? I really enjoyed jawing with him on the phone, one time.”

“He’s upset I moved out, but doing fine.”

“You can’t live at home forever. Are you doing fine?”

“Maybe. Between school and working part time at the Post Office, I guess I’m doing all right. Let’s discuss it in bed.”

Ruth didn’t laugh, this time. She examined the cheap room with a curious if cold detachment, a sad resignation.

“How can you live in this firetrap? Is this what Yankee artists call ghetto ambiance?”

“Absolutely.”

“And you expect me to hop back in that bed?”

“Sex will give my journal character.”

“I declare, you are a character,” she said, slipping out of the bathrobe. If not beautiful by Hollywood standards, she had a model’s body. I pulled back the covers and Ruth got on top, pressing her strong hands against my wrists, her breasts moving with her breathing. “All men are animals,” she insisted. “So I’m going to use you like one.”

Afterwards, we went to a local coffee shop for breakfast.

“I guess I thought I loved Tyrone, and sometimes, we are wonderful together, but he isn’t very faithful, and I worry that he won’t be there for the child.”

The rain was lighter outside. I drew her face while we talked.

“You want to be married?”

“We’re radicals. Marriage is not fashionable, now. Still, I won’t have an abortion, so there you are.”

“Tell me about Israel.”

“It’s beautiful and violent.” After a pause, she said, “I killed an Arab—”

“What?”

“... after he shot Ivor. We were working in the fields, and suddenly they were upon us. Strange. I feel the Palestinians have an equal right to the land, but when someone shoots at you, your survival instincts kick in.” She looked at me. “I was in a tree picking fruit when I heard the shot and Ivor fell, and then three Palestinian men walked across the field laughing. I stepped down from the tree and picked up an AK 47. Two gunmen ran but I dropped the third. It happened six months ago. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel different.”

“Sorry about Ivor... and you.” It was hard to see Ruth with an AK 47, cutting down another human being. “I can’t imagine shooting somebody.”

“Neither could I.”

She began to speak of another land, another place with furious conflicts between Arabs and Jews.

“I realized my Jewishness, and also how different I am from the Israelis. Like you and the IRA Belfast Irish. You’re the same and yet so different. I came back, more a Jew, but also more an American, willing to try any new challenge without orthodox, ethnic or even political ties.”

“Can’t avoid politics.”

“Maybe not. Americans are mongrels. I like that. Father was disappointed I didn’t want to marry a nice Jewish boy, and he died before Tyrone. I think he would’ve approved.”

“Let’s retire from unrest and get a house in the suburbs.”

She appreciated the joke.

“Sure.” After a pause, she said, “We are not the lost generation but the generation of unrest. We are rootless. Night falls, we make night our home.”

“Existentialists.”

“Maybe this decade will change everything, and maybe, the government won’t co-op the movement.”

The owner of the café was telling a loud joke that attacked picketing students. We ignored him. “Ruth? Will we meet again?”

“Sure, but not as lovers.”

“Why not?”

“I think you and I will work better as friends. We’ll last longer as friends until we settle down and get real jobs. I better go.”

She reached across the table and we held hands. “It’s been my pleasure,” I said.

Ruth leaned over and kissed me. Then she examined the sketch. “That’s not me. Too pretty.”

“Pose nude for me. It would be an honor.”

“I’d feel ridiculous.” She put down the pencil sketch. “Sean? Maybe you should visit Ireland. They got a civil war there.”

“I might just do that.”

“What side would you fight on?”

“Though I’m lapsed, the Catholic side for a united Ireland, of course.”

“I care less about synagogues unless someone puts down Israel. Well, I gotta slide on out.”

“You know where I live.”

“I sure do.”

I could see the burning intelligence in the slightly crossed eyes above the prominent nose and crooked teeth, the blonde hair hiding large ears.

“I had a dream about Kennedy’s assassination before it happened.”

Ruth watched me, her eyes riveted to my face, one hand holding her coffee.

“Are you a fortune teller?”

“No, but sometimes these dreams scare me.”

“Maybe it was just a coincidence. Kennedy did expose himself.”

“In more ways than one, from what his enemies say. My father worshipped President Kennedy,” I said. “But I’m not so sure. Who sent troops to Vietnam?”

“None of us are sure about anything. I meet a lot of phony revolutionaries who exploit protest.” Ruth reached over and touched my cheek. “Goodbye, old friend.”

Moments later, I watched her walk up the rainy street. That street would run for another four years with more demonstrations over racism, an escalating war, three more assassinations, and rock and roll filling the cafes.

I shared a flat on Market Street with a woman I met at a political meeting, Sue Ann. The meeting featured manic speakers condemning American and Israeli imperialism and demanding a new socialism. We heard testimony from furious earth mothers insisting all world news was staged and planned. A member of the IRA appeared and, in a thick Irish accent, promised solidarity with the new movement. Though she came with someone else, it seemed as though Sue and I had been friends and lovers for years. We quickly hooked together. The new political party spawned that night prospered for a short while and then quietly disappeared. One day, their headquarters had closed. We moved in with another couple, Debbi and Ike from New York. Ike studied law between card games at law school. He could recite all the Presidents in twenty seconds. It had become a party amusement, Ike flying through the names.

One afternoon, I watched television, feeling the powerful headaches coming back, the fatigue and a sense of not being in the world. I drank cheap Red Mountain wine and smoked heavily despite difficulty breathing. Watching the news, I heard Ike’s rapid footsteps on the stairs; he broke into the front room and I knew.

“Martin Luther King was just shot!”

Then King’s assassination came on television. A group of black theatre patrons let out a cry of horror as the news broke.

“This is frightening,” Ike said. “He’s our last connection with black people.”

I had not seen Ruth in four years but Tyrone became a local activist. When Stokely Carmichael spoke at San Francisco State, I was not allowed inside, though I was one of his workers scheduled to go to the south and register black voters.

“So they got King?”

I sat up and took a deep breath. Ike looked at me, his hair thick and black above thick glasses, the mouth large beneath a marred lip.

“Are you all right?”

“Sure,” I said, stabbing out the cigarette. “The doctor thinks I have hepatitis from drugs, but I don’t do drugs.”

“But you drink. The headaches still there?”

“Yes,” I said. “And aching lungs.”

“You need another opinion. That doctor was a schmuck. I believe he thinks we’re just filthy hippies.”

“And just because Debbie had a miscarriage. What a pig.”

We watched the news about King, realizing that the Civil Rights Movement had taken a sudden serious turn. The decade was ending with the same darkness and murder that marked the beginning.

“This country is in trouble,” Ike insisted. “I mean, I’m supposed to defend truth, justice, and the American way... when I’m not playing tennis, of course. Do I trust Bobby Kennedy?”

A week later, Ike carried me hot with fever to a waiting car, Sue watching as I rode to the hospital. An X-ray revealed a clouded right lung. I had pneumonia.

“Can you do something?”

“You just need antibiotics and time to wait it out.”

The doctor left, and I lay in bed for two days, staring at a tree outside the window, feeling myself levitating off the bed. The doctors gathered around to ask me questions about my lifestyle: did I do drugs, did I drink, did I smoke, did I get enough sleep? Codeine deadened the headache pain, and penicillin fought the infection. Then I was at home, the image of Father coming in and out of my consciousness; sometimes Sue Ann was there, her eyes showing concern despite her nervous sporadic laughter. Other times, I dreamed I was standing against a wall as Sue Ann shot photos, catching different angles. Once while sitting in the garden, listening to neighborhood voices, Father complained about the black parking attendant at the hospital.

“He took my quarters and pocketed them,” he said.

“Report him.”

“I can’t do that. It’s probably the only money he sees. I don’t mind. Not that I’m all broken up over King, though. I mean, these black leaders are troublemakers. When do I get a Noble Prize?”

“Let’s not talk about King.”

“You’re right.” He paused and touched my shoulder. “You’re too young to get pneumonia.”

“I am.”

“What have you been doing to get so run down?”

“I don’t know. Bring me a beer.”

“Good idea. Put some weight on you.”

There was a bird outside the window, and it seemed that we could fly together over the city, soaring above the strife. Occasionally, I dreamed about Ruth. What had happened to her? The fever dropped and I could see less fear in Father’s eyes. I felt stronger when Robert Kennedy campaigned in San Francisco.

It was an image I would always remember, watching Robert Kennedy speak in the Castro District of San Francisco, Father lining up to shake the hand of a fellow Irishman, Kennedy’s giant black bodyguard standing behind him in the open car, and then seeing the glaring headlines on the front page four days later: KENNEDY SHOT.

“Another Irishman down,” Father lamented.

Police arrested Tyrone and another black leader for carrying guns. A demonstration shut down the university with a crippling strike. Masses of students battled with lines of police as I shot photos from atop the administration building, knowing they would ascend the roof to arrest us. Where was Ruth? The resistance was becoming a war.

With the aftermath of pneumonia came paranoia. Strange feelings of anxiety swept over me, until I began to wonder if I was going insane. Food in restaurants was poisoned. Any closed space with people—banks, schools, libraries—was oppressive. I preferred real battles with real enemies to this feeling that unseen, imaginary monsters lurked in the bushes waiting to pounce. Alcohol and tranquilizers only calmed the demons for a while before they appeared again, hovering on the perimeter of my consciousness.

The riots at school ended with the Thanksgiving holiday.

I sat shivering in the park, wheezing, watching Sue Ann’s two dogs. The school had nearly burned down, but the strike was not over. Sue Ann had taken impressive photos of the demonstrations including an assault on the administration building. The astronauts read from Genesis while flying around the moon, but this did not bring much consolation.

“It’s going to go badly if S. I. Kamikaze takes over as school president,” Ike said. “He kisses Governor Reagan’s ass.”

‘Kamikaze’ was the nickname for a conservative professor on the Board of Regents who swore he would not take the job of school president. He had become famous for a book attacking popular slang as subversive language. Rock lyrics were suspect. Gerunds were inferior verbs. All foreign words weakened the glory of English. Kamikaze wore a plaid Scottish Tam 0’ Shanter and often appeared on talk shows discussing the corruption of the language. Liberal linguists, Black English and Brooklyn accents presented a particular threat to western civilization. Kamikaze’s huge glasses seemed to reinforce the racist cliché of Japanese soldiers from World War II. Perhaps his nickname came out of wishful thinking.

“Maybe the little prick will kill himself.”

“Maybe the strike is a bad idea,” Sue Ann said. “Tyrone was carrying a gun.”

“He’s a black man in a white world. He needs a gun.”

“He’s dangerous,” Sue insisted. When we looked at her, she laughed nervously and shrugged. “Well, guns are dangerous.”

When school reopened, there was a failed convocation between the radical students and the faculty. The school president resigned, and S.I. Kamikaze assumed power, calling in the police.

With impunity, athletes roamed the campus beating up protesting students as S.I. Kamikaze vocally encouraged them. Football players justified their anger since no one attended their “imperialist bourgeois” games despite the team’s number one status in the league. During a presentation, Tyrone and followers disrupted Kamikaze’s speech before educators. Before police could stop the intruders, President Kamikaze judo chopped Tyrone’s body guard, dropping him. It earned Kamikaze praise and some derision for being a comical samurai. With a fire hose, he blasted a rock band on a flatbed truck. If an outrageous display for some, it made for amusing newspaper photos. Though wet, the band kept playing the greatest hits of Led Zeppelin until the microphone shorted out and the lead singer dropped, electrocuted. He woke up in jail, alive but stunned. Years later, Kamikaze became a US senator celebrated for sleeping through lengthy speeches.

The editor for the outlawed school paper published from a barricaded building surrounded by police. As the crude presses rolled and papers were handed through the window to students, I managed an interview. Editor Johnson still bore marks on his face from a recent beating, his eyes bloodshot from little sleep.

“Explain something. Tyrone and his boys beat you up in your own office for your article attacking Mohammed Ali. Why are you now defending Tyrone?”

“Ali is the only hero left to black people. I attacked Ali because he dodged the draft. It was a misguided article,” Johnson said, cartons of fast food scattered across the table. His voice became strident. “The Vietnam war’s immoral. Blacks are dying on the front lines. It was also a racist article. No, Tyrone was right. I deserved a beating. Blacks need to fight for freedom by any means necessary.”

I left the besieged newspaper office and everything came to a sudden powerful moment. After shooting film of pickets, I left the roof of the administration building as the police came up after us. Running through the lines of converging police, I saw a young woman with thick blonde hair. It was Ruth struggling to take down the American flag. She went down under a rush of police with batons striking her in the face and body. Strong hands suddenly pulled me back.

“I’m from the local Longshoreman’s Union, number 37, and we support this strike. Why don’t you try and arrest us?”

“And I represent the postal union,” another voice said. It was Father’s resonant voice. “Unnecessary force will be met with force—ours.”

I found Ruth standing in front of the police station. The movement had already bailed her out; she stood on the foggy street, the wind whipping down the avenues. Tyrone faced her while his bodyguards stood by an idling car. Tyrone was the essence of blackness. He wore a black leather jacket and black gloves and black jeans and a black beret. As I walked down the street, I saw Ruth’s mother-Betty-approaching them, her hair white, her portly body rotund and slowly moving. The angry voices echoed off the sedate houses of the Sunset District as Ruth and Tyrone cursed each other:

“You low rent, jive ass!”

“Ugly white Jew bitch!”

“I want you out of my life. You just use the movement to get notoriety and white pussy.”

“I sure don’t want none of yours.”

Betty pulled at her daughter while Tyrone’s driver turned away, laughing. I had never seen Ruth’s face contorted with so much fury.

“And you better come up with some money for our daughter, Tyrone. Be a man, and be a father.”

“Sure. I catch you with someone else, you both gonna starve.”

“Are you threatening your own child?”

“Ruth, please.”

It was Betty, frightened. Tyrone backed off, and then saw me approaching. His smile was malevolent.

“What does this white piece of shit want here?”

“I bring news. We’re being backed by the major unions. Our strike will win. We’ll make you school President.”

Tyrone walked up to me, pointing his finger like a gun. “What did you say, Whitey?”

“Tyrone, we’re on the same side.”

“Boss, let’s go.”

Tyrone’s driver pushed him toward the car. Then Tyrone stared at my face and suddenly grinned, shaking his finger now.

“Wait. I remember you. Yeah, I heard about you. Same side, huh?”

He looked at his driver and they slapped five, giggling.

“What’s the joke, Tyrone?”

He didn’t answer but turned and faced Ruth. “We got a Black Panther meeting, tonight. Next time, whore, bail yourself out. And I wanna see Scarlet.”

“You can see her when you bring some child support.”

For a moment, Tyrone looked as though he had been slapped in the face. He didn’t speak but got into the car and drove off. Ruth was shaking, but recovered, staring at me.

“Well dog my cats. Hello, stranger. Your father said you were living on Market Street.”

“That’s right.”

“When I called, Sue said you joined the Peace Corps and went to Africa.” There was a pause. I looked at Ruth and Betty.

“Peace Corps? Africa?”

“I thought that was a lie. Mom, let’s go.” She looked at me again. “I heard you were sick. Glad you’re all right. Give me a holler, ya hear?”

“I will. Mrs. Goldstein? I often think about Abe.”

“Thank you,” Betty said. “But it’s been so long ago.”

“Come over, meet my daughter, Scarlet.”

Then I held her card, watching her drive off with her mother. The street light cast a surreal glow through the fog.

The next day, the unions threatened to abandon the strike if the radical students continued with their additional demands including firing all library personnel. President S.I. Kamikaze promised justice for the nearly destroyed special collections of white European authors. The police threatened revenge for a cop’s broken neck. Ruth called early one morning and I answered.

“Let’s meet by the mighty Cuchulain’s sword,” she said in a stage Irish accent. “High noon.”

“What?”

“Check the paper, hotshot. The Irish exhibit,” she added.

“So what?”

“‘So what’? he says. It’s your history, and maybe it’s even our history.”

Ruth hung up and when I found Sue Ann, she was reading Tantric sex manuals with graphic illustrations of various sexual positions. She looked at me, then looked at the book, smoking. An illustrated couple demonstrated a sensual massage, the naked woman touching the man’s head, her other hand artistically circling his erect penis. Sue Ann didn’t look up.

“I talked to Ruth,” I said. “She said she called here.”

There was no response.

“The Peace Corps in Africa? Why did you lie?”

Sue Ann finally looked up from her book. “Lie about what? Ruth who?”

“You know who Ruth is. What’s going on?”

Sue Ann had a way of looking past a person making accusations, as though they were talking to someone else. “Are you all right?” She laughed suddenly.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re still sick,” Sue insisted. “You need to rest.”

I met Ruth at noon. She had her child, the three-year-old Scarlet. The girl had brown eyes with beautiful dark eye lashes and a child’s radiant smile.

The museum’s exhibit focused on pre Twelfth Century Ireland before Henry II declared himself king of England and Ireland. We passed exhibits behind glass: carved bowls, pottery, tools, and impressive long swords like the kind Cuchulain, Irish warrior, wielded defending Ulster. Ireland’s ancient battles rushed at us through the clothes and weapons left behind. We examined long silver brooches closing heavy cloaks.

“Perhaps something was lost when we invented the zipper,” Ruth said. “I’m fascinated with ancient civilizations. Ireland had a renaissance long before Europe.”

“Yeah, until the Vikings showed up.”

Ruth shot me a side glance. “Did you hear? Tyrone got arrested.”

“Really?”

“He showed up at school for a secret conference and the police took him into custody for some old weapons charge. Who knew he’d even be there?”

“I’m sure he’s under surveillance as an enemy of the State,”
I said.

“How’s Sue Ann?”

“I’m never sure. I caught her reading Ike’s mail, once. I think she has a hidden extension, somewhere, or maybe tapes telephone calls.”

“Why do you stay with her?”

“Good question.”

I didn’t have an answer. I could still see us walking in the park, arguing about the future, Sue Ann making demands, dodging questions, and then our final resolve to break up what had been a passing affair, that it was time to move on. Then she would disrobe by the bed, soft light playing over her lovely breasts, her eyes so clear and large and bright, the nose upturned above the wet lips, full and carnal.

“We’ll make it,” she would say, kissing my throat and chest, her fingers gently roving, searching. “We will.”

Somehow in the night, it was all right and all would be well, again. With the day came the same bad cycle.

“She loves intrigues,” I continued. “I mean, I was one of her secret affairs.”

“Does she have affairs now?”

I stopped, then walked on. “I don’t really know.”

“Well I do. She was sleeping with Tyrone.” For a moment, I felt sick inside. “Does that surprise you?”

“Yes. She claimed she liked black men but was afraid of racists.”

“She told Tyrone that after dropping him. Of course, he’s got his stable of beauties. Maybe I should own a few studs.”

“Is that why Tyrone was angry that night?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Suppressing anger, I followed Ruth through the impressive exhibits. The little girl walked ahead.

“At one time I would’ve said, ‘What can the Irish exhibit? Beer cans? Bottles of Irish whiskey’?”

“Don’t trash your heritage.”

Then we saw the Book of Kells. The calligraphy covered the opened pages of the thick book placed behind glass-colored inks and swirling letters. A capital “T” shaped like a green and red snake coiled on the page, beginning a Latin sentence from the New Testament. I imagined some nameless faceless monk in Ireland copying out the Bible and other great works of literature, preserving the great oral tales and Irish epics about Maeve of the friendly thighs and solitary Cuchulain decapitating Maeve’s knights. Vikings raided the monasteries and killed monks, but the Book of Kells and the Tain survived. I felt moved by the book and the display of shields and swords that didn’t stop the ultimate invaders.

“Mommy, look at that old sword,” Scarlet said.

“Irish history stopped at the 12th century,” Ruth observed.

“Eight hundred years of oppression. So that was why Grandfather hated the British?”

“Eight hundred? If you’re Jewish, try a few thousand years of oppression.”

After leaving the exhibit, we walked in Golden Gate Park and felt the power of a lost world crying out. This was not a visit to a dead empire.

“Lunch?”

“Why not?”

We drove in separate cars to the Cliff House museum and looked again at Laughing Sal, the huge clown woman with her baggy clothes and freckled monster face, laughing her mechanical laugh through a huge painted plaster mouth. She scared us all as children. We walked around the museum with its photos of old San Francisco, then walked into the Cliff House bar and grill where Scarlet could eat and we could get drinks.

“Why do you love this deceptive woman?”

“Why do you love Tyrone?”

“He was a symbol of oppressed people in the world. He was also beautiful.”

Ruth looked out the window at the bright water and the distant rocks, covered with seals. “If it makes you feel any better, Tyrone thinks Sue’s an undercover cop.”

“God—maybe she’ll arrest me.”

Ruth leaned forward, taking my hands. “Now what?”

“I was just gonna ask you that.”

“Me? I’m going into real estate, stocks and bonds, anything but revolutionary politics. They’re doomed to fail.”

“It could be worse.”

Scarlet came over and sat on my lap, chewing a sandwich.

“She likes you. I don’t want her to forget her black or white heritage.”

“White Jewish heritage.”

“Correct. I guess I’m doomed to be a Jewish mother.”

For the first time, Ruth released her familiar gutsy laugh.

“Did you predict King or Robert Kennedy getting hit?”

“No, but I thought Bobby was very vulnerable the day I saw him.”

“Do you think we could make it... as a team?”

“Before or after I kill Sue Ann?”

Ruth smiled, the front teeth prominent, and then she sipped her drink.

“I think you got unfinished business with this elusive Barbi Doll. When it’s over, give me a call. But you know, Sean, I still think we’re meant to be friends.”

As we walked back down the beach, Ruth watched the ocean surfers, lost in her thoughts. The child was getting sleepy and demanded more attention.

“You have to walk on your own, Scarlet.”

“I want you to carry me.”

Ruth picked up the little girl.

“It’s amazing how even Tyrone’s guards didn’t know about Sue Ann. He said Sue left one morning to connect with some gang running drugs out of Miami. Proceeds would fund the Panthers.”

“I knew about Miami.”

“You did?”

“Except she told me she was taking her mother on a brief vacation to get some Florida sun.”

“Well, she got the right State, at least.”

“Did she come back with any money?”

“No. And then Tyrone’s boys started getting arrested. They found a bug in the headquarters.”

“Maybe it’s not connected to Sue.”

“Maybe not.”

We walked on to our cars, parked side by side.

“I’m worried about Tyrone. During an argument, the other day, he saw a black cat peering in the window and thought the cat was spying on him.”

“A cat like in pussy cat?”

“Yes. Tyrone wasn’t faking. He was really scared of this black kitty.”

“Strange.”

“I feel sorry for him, actually.” Ruth had an expression hard to read, a long empty stare. “Yawl keep in touch, stranger,” Ruth said, holding the child.

“I will.”

Before she could drive away, unmarked cars surrounded us. We had never seen them and suddenly, they were there, blocking any escape. A man in a dark suit with an old fashioned hat and glasses got out of one car.

“Ruth Goldstein, will you come with us, please?”

“Why?”

“Your husband, Mr. Tyrone G. Jones, seems to have gone a little crazy on us. You can help. Bring the child,” he said, smiling. Ruth handed Scarlet to me.

“Take her to my mother’s place,” she said.

“Okay.”

I drove the crying child to Betty’s house. The next day, I asked Sue a single question. “Why didn’t you tell me about your little Miami adventure? You score any drug money?”

Her attractive face, marred only by a slightly pushed-in nose, suddenly tightened.

“Who told you that—Memphis Ruth?”

“Who said she was from Memphis?”

“Well, shucks,” she said in an exaggerated Southern accent, “is it Atlanta, Georgia? I told you about Miami.”

“Tyrone told me more.”

“Ridiculous. He can’t talk to you.” She caught herself. “I mean, he wouldn’t talk to you and I don’t use or sell drugs.”

“What do you do?”

Sue Ann’s face would begin to twitch when she got nervous or angry, and her lower lip quivered like an actress in a crisis scene. “Maybe it’s none of your business. Tyrone’s a liar.”

He’s a liar?”

“Since when do you tell the truth?” She held a ticket in her hand. “I found this in your pockets when I washed your pants.”

“Since when do you do laundry?”

“How was the Irish exhibit?”

“Great. I learned about ancient oppression.”

“I’m through talking,” she said. The dogs surged around her feet, claws scratching on the floor. “I’m walking the dogs.”

“Wait.”

I hugged her on a sudden impulse, and when I pulled out the .25 caliber pistol from under her jacket, we both stared at it in surprise.

“What’s this for—protection?”

“Yes.”

“Against whom?”

“Hippies, muggers and rapists.”

“It’s a lady gun.”

“I’m a lady.” She took back the gun. “And head shots are fatal. Look, I’ll cook dinner, tonight. Maybe we can talk.”

“Ruth asked me why I cared for you.”

Sue’s large eyes seemed to rush at me. “What did you say?”

“I didn’t know.”

Sue Ann left to walk the trembling dogs. Through the window, I saw her talking on a pay phone. I stretched out on the bed and fell asleep. Sue Ann never returned. The next morning, I woke up to the phone. It was Ruth.

“I’m going back to Israel,” she said.

“When?”

“In two hours.”

“Whither thou goest, I will go, Goldstein.”

“I don’t think so. There’s nothing left I can do for Tyrone,” she added, somewhat sadly. “He wants nothing to do with us.”

We said goodbye at the airport. Scarlet walked ahead past the gate.

“You and I will meet again,” Ruth said. “I know we will.”

I wondered as she walked past the terminal gate to travel to another world.

A month later, Sue Ann, her hair cut short and wearing a conservative suit, testified against many of the panthers and the more radical student leaders. The government wanted to prove sedition, not just civil disobedience. A bailiff taped Tyrone’s mouth shot when he cursed her on the stand, and then guards led him handcuffed from the courtroom. During a recess, Ike confronted her.

“Say it ain’t so,” he said, stealing a line from the Shoeless Joe Jackson story.

Sue Ann remained silent. We never made eye contact. She finished her testimony and then walked out of the court and disappeared. She was simply gone. A month later, Ike and I had lunch and discussed all the changes. The Black Studies programs were authorized but without school funding. Enrollment for the new discipline was low. President Kamikaze had a new book: Marxist Minstrels.

“San Francisco State will survive,” Ike said, “but it will never be the same. Does anything last forever? One day, we’ll be relics and the sixties will seem like a bad dream.” He had stopped smoking and was running five miles a day. “As a lawyer, I can fight within the system.”

I sketched a portrait of him while he spoke. “Good. I’m creating a new cartoon for syndication.”

“It could be big money.”

“It’s about an undercover cop.”

Definitely big money.” After a moment, he said, “So Ruth went to Israel, eh?”

“Yes. I guess she’s searching for roots.”

“I hear Tyrone found Jesus and is talking to the police.”

“Tyrone—a born-again Christian?”

“Is true. How was the Irish exhibit?”

“It’s great. I’m a born-again Irishman.”

Ike nodded to himself. “It closes tomorrow,” he said, “and I haven’t seen it.”

“Then let’s go.”

Once again, I toured the Irish exhibit, drawing some comfort and inspiration from the ruins of a lost culture and dead Celtic poets who came back from the grave to tell the story of their tribe.

©Michael Corrigan

Michael Corrigan currently teaches English and speech at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. He attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and worked as a playwright and director with several theatres. He has worked with Sam Shepard and other theatre and film artists, and toured Idaho and Montana with theatre companies. National Public Radio broadcast his play, Letters From Rebecca, that premiered in Ketchum, Idaho. An excerpt from his memoir Confessions of a Shanty Irishman appeared in the April 2003 issue of TheScreamOnline.

Contact: corrmich[AT]isu.edu
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