Before I had even gone away, I started polishing San Francisco as if it were a pair of glasses to look through and every new thing dust and dandruff; so the day of the farewell party gleamed and curved the world to the degree required by my nearsightedness: I remember the breeze as we stood on the deck of the ferry; hot sun on faces, shoulders and railings; my friends with their coolers and picnic baskets; and the bay all around and everything perfect (which is to say ready-polished), Margaret smiling (she had arranged this ocean occasion as a surprise), and the greenness of Angel Island just ahead with people playing Frisbee and the good smells of barbecue coming over the water; while I stood so happy to be with my friends, wondering who else might already be waiting on Angel Island as part of the surprise. As I looked into their faces, they seemed to me so dearly lovable—in part, I think, on account of the effort and expense that they had gone to for me, which proved that they cared about me; but I like to think that had I provided the party for them it would have been the same; I was already burnishing them so delicately that their very failings had become endearing. —Beside me stood Martin in the sunlight, squinting and holding onto the railing with both hands. Too often I had considered him spineless, insipid, unintelligent. When he spoke it was difficult to pay attention to him, for he stuttered and rambled. But today he seemed to me submissive like Christ, with a gentle, timid childishness that needed to be loved and protected. How could I forget the journeys that he and I had taken together, the midnights when we had driven home through the Central Valley, when it was warm and the sky was greenish gray, the fields grayish black; and through the open window of the truck came the smell of alfalfa? We saw cars (very few, very late) and white road dots gleamed in our headlights, and we played good old songs over and over in the cassette player and for hours our neighbor was the humid presence of fields. Now on the ferry he was quiet, for large groups intimidated him. I remembered ascending the steep gorges of dry mountains ten years before and being desperately thirsty, my lips grainy with blood and salt, and finding Martin at last and asking for water, Martin taking off his pack so patiently and handing his canteen to me, and the goodness and sweetness of that water. —Chubby Monique sat behind us, letting the wind flutter her sweatshirt, laughing and hugging her lover, Vera, whose narrow little face had sometimes been for me a banner of boredom, but which today suggested serenity. How limited I had been, that I had not always seen her that way! As for Monique, her laughter opened up her face in an unaffected way, and I suddenly understood that what I had sometimes mistaken in her for rudeness or selfishness was nothing less than honesty. I had never known Monique and Vera well, it occurred to me now, but I recalled the time when we had gone out to dinner together at some vegetarian Chinese place or other in Richmond and I took a liking to them both because from appetizer to dessert they behaved as purely as butter virgins, feeding each other with the same spoon, nourishing each other with Calistoga water; then I felt a sharp pang as though I were excluded from something, and I longed to see them at home, where among the plump, hard pillows of their futon, or condensing on the dark-lobed underleaves of their many houseplants, their innermost tendernesses must live, freshened by a thousand kisses, guarded and protected by the horned ram skulls that hung on the walls; and although I could never see this, it made me inexpressibly grateful that I might at least know of it; and the pang I felt, of loneliness or jealousy, was not unpleasing, because I imagined that these two and their love would at least dwell near me forever, increasing luxuriously like every other good thing. But presently Monique began complaining of not feeling well, and at dessert she scarcely opened her mouth when Vera lifted the spoon to her, but sat there drooping.     —Baby, did you forget your pills again? said Vera. The other woman nodded miserably. Then she groaned, and pitched forward into her plate. —Vera cried out and half rose in her chair and said      goddamn, oh why did this have to happen again?     She was wringing her hands, and her face was very shiny with tears. I looked around me for the waiter, and saw that everyone in the restaurant had gathered around us staring with big spooky eyes like the cows in the south field would do when Martin and I had butchered a steer and the blood ran across the concrete floor of the slaughterhouse and through the corner drainpipe, sinking into the soft alfalfa of the south field, sinking, sinking underground to swell that dark black river of blood that must run beneath the Sierras and through the sewers of Sacramento and probably all the way to San Francisco, but first the other cows smelled it and gathered around the slaughterhouse, staring with black-masked eyes from whitish faces in the hot twilight, staring at the trickling blood, at Martin and me—and Vera and I wiped the milky, sticky dessert rice out of Monique’s face with a wet napkin; we left some money on the table, and then Vera slung her friend over her shoulder and carried her out to the car; she did not want me to help. The will-less arms and legs swung hideously; the Volkswagen shuddered home, stalling at almost every intersection. I sat with the unconscious girl in the backseat. Neither Vera nor myself said a word. When we turned down the hill onto Mars Street, with the lights of San Francisco below us and then the soothing darkness of the bay and the dense low ridge of lights that was Berkeley, Monique’s eyes snapped open and then she closed them again, sighing and shaking her head and grinding her face in my lap, and I said     how bad do you feel Monique?     and Vera had turned off the ignition and was saying     take it easy honey we’re home now I’ll put you to bed,     and I lifted Monique’s head as slowly as I could, but she had become still paler and her face and hands were sweaty and she said     I’m going to be sick,     so Vera rushed to open the door for her and carried her out and said     I’m with you darling I’m holding you,