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James Was Here

July 18, 1993|ELIZABETH TALLENT | Elizabeth Tallent wrote "James Was Here," she says, because she was "really interested in that sense of American maleness connected to the West and with the prerogatives of maleness that are no longer right. It matters that 'James' takes place in Santa Fe; it's not New York City." Tallent, who teaches English and writing at UC Davis, moved to Northern California four years ago and now lives in Little River near Mendocino. Her third collection of stories, "Honey," which includes "James," will be out in November from Knopf. "It's very much New Mexico, about the nature of intrusion," she says. "I was thinking a lot about boundaries and metaphors for that. It's about relationships, about people who were immigrants and about really adult compromises."

She doesn't say not to, and he unwinds the blindfold and lets it fall. He'd like to say lightly, "This is your last chance," but he can't carry it off, and not saying it is instantly a relief, the right thing , and he shies past Felipe in the doorway and going through the restaurant gets a series of looks he will, for some reason, remember, though they are nobody to him, the people who are looking. He's down the stairs and back into the street, into the rain . He is wildly and profoundly amazed at his luck. He will never quite achieve this pitch of strangeness again. His life will go one way and not the other, and he will find it impossible to say why. He can live with what happens next--he's not going to force it, or himself, ever again, at least not this desperately. He turns into an alley. It's not filthy--Santa Fe alleys never are anymore--but there's a shoddy ruin of a dumpster with rain running down its sides. He goes closer, smelling rank organic rot, and understands it's the restaurant's dumpster and drops the gun in, down into the cloying, rotting dark, which absorbs it with a thud and a rattling around of cans and a faint chinking of breaking glass. When he gets out of the alley the rain seems to come from some higher, more ethereal region. It's very sweet rain he turns his face up into. Stunned, enchanted, but very clearheaded, he thinks, Nobody knows. Nobody knows. He shakes his head. Rain flicks from his hair. He rejoices: Nobody got hurt . He feels as if he saved them all.

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