spontaneous combustion

The day the 3,000th American plane went down in Vietnam, Cosmo’s house burned up. No connection.

Lynn answered the phone in the Movement Liberation Front office, heard the smoky voice of the woman she had scorned by proxy for two years and — since the Long Night of Jennifer — now admired, stretched the cord to Jimmy, typing at the next desk, said, “It’s Shauna for you,” saw him flicker like film slipping a sprocket.


He sat astride the corner of his desk, leaning toward Lynn (the cord was short), crotch aimed at her (or the phone), talking to the former other woman (now warrior princess).

“How did you hear this?” said Jimmy.

It embarrassed Lynn to find herself absolving Shauna — whom she had never actually known and who had never actually trespassed against her— for trespasses Shauna had never actually committed. Worse, she could understand now why Jimmy might, did, once, two years ago, love her.

“Where from?” said Jimmy.

To err is human, to forgive — what DO we do when we forgive? Forgiving Jimmy confused her. In her mind she had risked her life for him in Bernal Park, faced down a feral couple with a gun. Did that mean she should forgive him for treating her like furniture the day after the break-in (less than furniture, for the upturned furniture was news and she was not), for seducing the eye of the woman who might have been Pia Lindstrom, for flaunting his oppression and ignoring hers? If she did not forgive him, was he then unworthy of the risk she took?

“Did he say he burned it down? Is he arrested for something?”

She could not absolve Jimmy, for his trespass would not go away. Should she then grant pardon, acknowledge his guilt but cast away punishment? Or cease to feel resentment, act as if the trespass had not occurred?

“Where is he now?”

She was not sure whether she had forgiven her husband for demanding dinner through the window of Sproul Hall. She had never said, “I forgive you, Mel.” She had shrunk him to a small figure at the rear of a painting and treated that man as if he had not trespassed against her. This she could not do to Jimmy.

“What do you think he needs?”

Jimmy had never asked her forgiveness, never apologized (he thanked her for the work she did, which was compensation, not apology) and she had surrounded his trespasses by so much understanding (Jimmy was acting out the role of militant leader, men are by nature socially dyslexic, these are times of stress) his guilt was in some way smothered, and was that forgiveness? She did not know.

“Are you all right?”

Lynn waited for an answer she could not hear.

“And beautiful feet they are,” said Jimmy, which roused in Lynn the thought that forgiveness is divine because only God can.

“Of course,” said Jimmy, “talk to you later.”

“I wasn’t flirting,” he said to Lynn.

“Whose feet were you referring to?”


“Which was responsive to?”

“How she always lands on them.”

“Which was her answer to?”

“Are you all right.”

He called Cathy. Cosmo had either burned down his house or, as he claimed to Shauna, suffered spontaneous combustion. Cosmo believed that Jimmy and DC had already come to save or harm him or were the only ones who could come to Calistoga, and was that not the joke of the week, except Shauna insisted Cosmo needed them desperately and right away. And before I call DC, does DC know that I know about.... and that Cathy and I are...? He must.

Jimmy whistled puffs of breath into the phone. “That’s cool,” he said. “I’m cool. Is cool not that which I am? More cool than cool? A regular cool front over the Bay Area lasting throughout the week?”

“Cathy says,” he told Lynn, “that whatever Shauna says, I should do. Pull up DC’s number, will you?”

Then there’s the off-chance that forgiveness simply happens. The trespasser may at some later date respond to some unrelated event in such a way that the aggrieved, at her desk, hands him forgiveness like a Rolodex card with a phone number on it, she unaware, he unknowing, but forgiveness all the same.