They flew down the snowpacked hill on aluminum disks, plastic sheets, tiny children's sleds, crashing into drifts, each other, rolling over and over until they lay spreadeagled at the base of the trees, the cluster of Sally's friends Michael had just met that afternoon, one more stoned than the next, screaming into the wind. Michael couldn't remember any of their names or who was supposed to be with whom. The bloated babyfaced man in orange earmuffs was Leroy or Leslie, his wife one of two scrawny little women, either the one jabbering some incessant anecdote about her cat or the one whining about having to go to the toilet. Harry or Henry, who stood heaving snowballs at the others, was supposed to be hopelessly in love with Emma or Edna, a selfish bitch, now off flirting with somebody named Don or Tom, whose wife had stayed home in protest. Sally had talked of these people for hours, the tangles of their relationships, the traumas of their lives. Finally meeting them, Michael could not associate their faces with the tales of alcoholism, adulteries, breakdowns, and attempted suicides. They all looked so ordinary. He watched Sally rush from one to the other—hugging, squeezing gloved hands, kissing cheeks. Then he shrugged and flopped into a snowpile, lying motionless in the powdered chill until Ed or Ted or Fred pulled him out.
He liked to call Sally, listen to her say, "Hello, Michael," as if really pleased that it was him. Her voice was soft and sensual, warm with a throaty pleasure. More than anything else he enjoyed hearing her on the phone, when his imagination could make her into anyone he wished. Some nights he would sit in darkness and dial her number again and again just for the sound of her greeting.
On a whim, Michael decided to introduce Sally to Gene, a courtly Southerner he had known for years but usually avoided. They sat around a table littered with lobster shells and wine bottles, Michael snapping at Sally's nose with a hollow claw while Gene sprawled back in his chair and stretched out his long legs. "I did it with a woman once," Sally was telling Gene, who had introduced the question of sex. "I wanted to find out whether I'd like it." "Did you?" Gene asked. "No. It was weird. Women aren't the answer for me." "Is Michael?" Sally just smiled, but Michael laughed so hard that even the waiters stared.
With his wife Michael had never done anything. "Sat home and watched the kids grow" was what he told people after they separated, remembering how one night he went out into the yard and howled his boredom at the moon. He would demonstrate the sound for strangers, again and again, until Sally clamped a hand over his mouth and pinched his nostrils shut.
Sally threw a party for herself because her birthday came a week before Christmas and never received enough attention. Michael set up the bar while she warmed the hors d'oeuvres. Within a half hour the apartment was jammed with people, most new to him. Lois and Carl were there, Harvey too. Someone named Leonard came wearing lipstick, and that upset Tim, who spent the whole evening in handclenched agitation. Ruth danced on the coffee table and stepped high heels into the avocado dip. Joe and Elizabeth had an argument, and she insisted on telling everyone about his premature ejaculations. Ralph and Vera made out behind the drapes, while Ralph's wife, Terry, tried to paw at Will, who was more interested in setting up Sally's bong. Lenore crashed into the tension pole shelves and scattered knickknacks. People kept turning up the stereo, and the neighbor below pounded on the ceiling. Someone reported that Lou had passed out in the parking lot, his cheek frozen to a hubcap. Charlie and Vic went to look. Sally tripped on her way from the kitchen to the living room and dumped a pan of steaming lasagna onto the shag carpet. When everyone was gone, she told Michael it was the best party she had been to all year.
Before driving out into the winter night they had spent half an hour sucking smoke from the syrupy residue in Sally's hash pipe. Now they couldn't find their way to a party at a place they had never been before. Headlights, traffic signals, neon signs all fragmented and multiplied in Michael's vision. Blazes of green, blue, yellow, red. At an intersection, dazzled, he swerved into a sudden left turn. For an instant another car faced them head on, then veered with a shriek of tires. Michael slammed brakes and spun a circle on the icy shoulder, spraying gravel against the undercarriage. Sally sat beside him in rigid silence, but he blared the horn because they had come within a hair of being killed.
Her back to him, just beyond the reach of his fingertips, Sally kicked out of her jeans, pulled off her tee shirt, and dropped a gown over her head. From the pillows Michael saw her through smokestung eyes, a grey shape in the first glow of dawn. The mattress sagged them together as she climbed under the covers. When their legs tangled, he touched her arm and she slid against him. Her warm flesh softened, but he would not tighten his grip, would not close his eyes. She rolled away and within moments sprawled in openmouthed sleep, while Michael lay awake listening to the soft whistle of her breathing and staring out at the litter of objects that emerged from the darkness—a sweater balled on the dresser, a brassiere dangling from a lamp, letters stuck into the mirror frame. He wondered whom she wrote to, who wrote to her, what she had to say to anyone.