The older I get the more amazing it all seems. What isn’t, is the real question, and why does it not seem so. As for coincidence, it is everywhere, like falling leaves. Only despair and the lack of love make us feel our incidents are incidental in a hollow world. Joy means that good things happen to us all the time, are hooked together, the way fish and water and land are really one thing.

Life has only simple stories about connections. A friend of mine asks his story be told. He had an affair with a dark-haired woman, small in stature, graceful in an odd way, green eyes. In a way he treated her badly, for when it was time to go, he merely went. Years later, lonely in a bad marriage, he fled to her house where he met her current lover, a flautist with bad teeth and a sense-of-humor straight out of Jersey City. My friend, Cole, liked the flautist, but the flautist, always sensitive to mystery and the past, didn’t like him, that is, he didn’t like him until Cole made a remark about a basketball player who had missed four free-throws in a row, and then they laughed together as friends do. The flautist, however, went his way angrily, as was always his wont, and my friend and the green-eyed woman had a second brief affair.

Four years later in a restaurant Cole was introduced to a flautist, a friend of a friend, and asked if they had met years ago. They really didn’t remember each other’s faces because four years earlier all they remembered were the faces of women. But yes, they had, in fact, met at the green-eyed woman’s house one afternoon years ago when Phil Ford, that startling basketball player, was a freshman guard at the local university. Further conversation elicited the fact that neither young man had seen the green-eyed woman in quite some time, that both had ended their marriages very recently, and that both were now in love with women who were becoming good friends. The women did, in fact, become good friends, and so did the men, remembering each other’s faces now that women’s faces were no longer a constant surprise to them in their middle thirties. When the flautist finally grew too angry one time too many, however, he and his girlfriend broke up. She was a lithe odd woman who could go hot and cold faster than others.

Still, who are any of us until we are created by the possibilities offered to us by someone who sees us clearly? They broke up for good reasons. Because of the continuing friendship between the two women, Cole and the flautist didn’t see each other very often. When they did, they told jokes and nodded their heads over women’s ways, though Cole secretly believed that he was nodding for the flautist’s sake. One night they discovered that the flautist was born at the same hour, day and year as Cole’s first girlfriend, who, incidentally, lost her virginity along with Cole on that same birthday in 1963. Cole and the flautist kissed each other and promised to be good friends. Of course, Cole’s secret assurance that the way of his woman would be different than the flautist’s proved a flawed insight, and soon he was on the street too, or to be more precise, he was left in a large lonely house with everybody’s clothes and possessions while his lover camped out for a few weeks with Cole’s ex-flame.

Of course, this story in life becomes more and more predictable as coincidences simply flow past each other. While pursuing his lover’s heart as she outgrew the old one, his heart snagged for a moment on a glance from the ex-flame’s eyes. She didn’t even mean the glance. Perhaps she was thinking of someone else. Perhaps we are always thinking of something else. In her case she was probably thinking of her old boyfriend who had just left her to begin his career in a cold northern city. It didn’t matter, that was it for Cole, who fell in love instantly though he didn’t know it for a few months. Belle was her name and he sang it in his heart whenever he got the chance.

To close off this story as a lovers’ tale would be a mistake. On some level it hardly matters if Belle and Cole ever got together. Our lives are like the flight of sparrows, that nervous life in the sunshine for which we are grateful when we stop pressing all these ups and downs together into our flawed and sticky meanings. Depending on what happened to Cole, Belle was either the beginning or the end or both.

And what happened to Cole? He’s like the rest of us. The green-eyed woman recently wrote him a letter in which she deepened for both of them the meanings of their friendship. The flautist who moved away to play the flute in some hellish coastal city barged in on him the other day with a wonderful joke about psychologists and the medallions they all seem to wear around their turtleneck sweaters. And Cole himself, well, he told me that no matter what happens to him in love or out of it, he figures the risk is what counts.

Name Withheld
Chapel Hill, N.C.

As for coincidence, it is everywhere, like falling leaves. Only despair and the lack of love make us feel our incidents are incidental in a hollow world.

Once I had a nightmare that I woke up all frightened from a dream and had run into my parents’ room. Now, in “real life” it often happened that my brother would throw a fit at bedtime, insisting that he was too scared to sleep alone and would Pop please lie down with him. After the arguing had settled and Pop had acquiesced, sometimes he’d fall asleep himself and never make it back to his own room. In my dream it was such a night, for Mom was there alone.

I took this in immediately, then leaned over her with a “Mommy, I had a bad dream.”

“Ah, I’m sorry,” her sleepy voice reassured, but not enough.

“Can I get in bed with you?”

“Sure honey.” But then she didn’t move. I waited until, in sickening amazement, I realized she had fallen back to sleep. So I shook her by the shoulder.

“Mommy, I had a bad dream. Can I get in bed with you?”

“Sure, honey.”

“Well, move over!” And finally the covers parted.

She must not have realized just how scared I was, for after I’d crawled around a bit she said, “Well, now that you’ve woken me up, I might as well go to the bathroom.” And she left me there alone.

Slow scissor kicks against the sheets, eyes wide and roaming, I waited. The bathroom light came down the hall and bent into the room casting shadows angular and odd. The silence was heightened somehow by Mom’s distant noises. More scissor kicks. Familiar objects froze in foreignness. Again more scissor kicks. The room was almost alive now. Mom couldn’t be much longer.

And then the shade began to move, quiet lapping against the window. It must just be the wind, so quickly now, I grabbed the shade and pulled.

It rose upon sheer horror. A huge Teddy Bear balloon, some escapee from the Macy’s parade, a bobbing, bloated body washed upon the shore, pressed against the window wanting in. I turned to run and simultaneously woke up in my bed. I lay there just a moment, then headed for my parents.

Now, in “real life” it often happened that my brother would throw a fit at bedtime, insisting that he was too scared to sleep alone and would Pop please lie down with him. After the arguing had settled and Pop had acquiesced, sometimes he’d fall asleep and never make it back to his own room. Apparently, tonight was such a night, for Mom was there alone. I understood all this, then leaned over her. “Mommy, I had a bad dream.”

“Ah, I’m sorry.”

“Can I get in bed with you?”

“Sure, honey.” But then she didn’t move. She had fallen back asleep. I shook her by the shoulder.

“Mommy! I had a bad dream. Can I get in bed with you?”

“Sure, honey.”

“Well move over!”

And then came those dreaded words, “Well, now that you’ve woken me up, I might as well go to the bathroom.”

Slow scissor kicks drew what reassurance they could from the sheets. The bathroom light came down the hall making shadows just as in my dream. And there were those same noises, strangely far away. Objects took on that almost alive distortion.

Then the shade began to move.

I ran. I ran thundering down the hall and bursting into the bathroom. Blinding light reflected everywhere, cold white tiles, thick enamel paint. I grabbed Mom and spilled out my dream: the fear, the repetition, the window, the balloon.

“I can’t take it again. Not again. I’d die!”

All this seems long ago now. Twenty years of life with really few regrets intervene. But there is this one which reoccurs. I wish that I had looked. I wish that I’d have had the courage to lift that shade and look. Now, I’m curious. But at the time, there had seemed nowhere else to go, no promise of escape. And maybe that’s my real regret. There are always other worlds to wake up into, and only when you don’t, you die.

Patricia Bralley
Atlanta, Georgia

My friend James Searl, while a biology graduate student at Harvard, lived in an apartment in Cambridge. When he decided to switch to mathematics at Brandeis, he terminated his lease and rented a new apartment in Boston.

Because the Boston area is heavily populated with students, virtually all leases run from September 1 to August 31, but must be cancelled in the spring so the landlord can find another tenant before all the students leave for the summer. So James’ old apartment went up for rent in the late spring (although he wasn’t moving till September).

Meanwhile, Art Levine, an undergraduate in N.Y.C., was planning to attend graduate school at Brandeis in the fall, and asked a friend who lived in Cambridge to find him an apartment; the friend rented James’ old apartment in Art’s name and sent Art his future address.

With everything neatly arranged, Art went to Europe for the summer. One evening in England, he and his travelling companions were getting ready for bed in the spare room of a house belonging to some hospitable people they had met that day, when somehow a book fell or was knocked off a shelf and opened up. Art was extremely surprised to see the address of his future Cambridge apartment staring him in the face, and naturally took note of the name James Searl that accompanied the address.

That fall, Art was even more amazed to recognize the name James Searl from the book in England on the forms of the new student ahead of him in the Brandeis registration lines. After almost fainting, and in spite of extreme agitation, Art managed to convey to James the story of the open book in England. With an introduction like that, they obviously were destined to be friends, but, amazingly enough, they remained only vague acquaintances, as they had very little more than an amazing coincidence in common.

Harvey Baker
Waynesboro, Tennessee

I was heading for Wilmington late one night, wondering if I could stay awake the whole way. After reading hundreds of accident reports from the Brunswick nuclear plant, I really didn’t feel like going near the place. But a Quaker friend had asked, “What about the people who live near it all the time?” I began to feel we couldn’t just run away from nuclear dangers. So I was headed for nuke country to deliver information.

I felt scared; one of the reactors at Brunswick had just shut down for refueling, but who would want to go near it? Radiation fodder, they call the untrained people who do the dirty work in a shutdown.

I was drowsy, driving by instinct, when I saw a car broken down ahead. There was no other traffic for miles, so I stopped.

“Got trouble?” I asked.

“Won’t go no further, at least not tonight.”

“Where you headed?”


“That’s where I’m going.”

“Can I get a ride with you?”

“Sure. Can you drive some?”

“Yeah, just let me get my stuff.” He closed up his car and came back with two suitcases.

“What are you doing in Wilmington?” he asked.

“Nuclear power.”

“Are you for it or against?”


“Are you Kudzu?”

Pause. Why does he want to know all this?

“Right — I’m with Kudzu.”

“How do you do. I’m the guy who ran the ice cream parlor across from CP&L and put the Kudzu leaflets in my window.”

“Wow! And CP&L threatened to boycott you and all that — did you get the extra info we sent?” We had done research on CP&L’s claim that milk is more radioactive than their waste water.

It turned out he was going within blocks of where I was headed.

In our second hour on the road, the radio announced that the other reactor at Brunswick had an accident and shut down — but the company said there was no danger to the public, and no radiation released.

Wells Eddleman
Durham, N.C.

We three girls landed breathlessly — our Big Adventure had finally begun. This was our first trip to London, England and we tried to do and see everything. We boated down the Thames, saw Parliament, snapped photos of Big Ben and double decker buses. We tried a few pubs, saw some movies and some great plays. We toured Westminster Cathedral. Though an atheist, I lit a candle there with a prayer for my mother.

Then we left London on foot. After a month of backpacking we were glad to stop in Bath for a week on a dairy farm. There two letters awaited my companions with news from home. Their families were fine. I hoped for word from mine before we moved on. None came. The third night I decided to call home, and was eager for dinner to be over with so I could make my call.

Filled with anticipation, I sat down, and at my plate was an envelope from home! There were two letters: the first was in my father’s hand. “Good grief,” I thought, “he never writes. He must be proud of me for travelling independently.”

“Dear Beth,

“I am writing to tell you how much I love you. The family is fine, I am doing very well. Last month I had a heart attack. . . .”

I began to cry.

The next page was from my mother.

“Dear Beth,

“I want you to know your Daddy is fine. The day after you left he got sick. We hospitalized him, and on the third day he had a mild cardiac arrest. We didn’t call when it happened because we didn’t want to spoil your trip.

“I am saving the first letter you sent me from London. In Westminster Cathedral you lit a candle for my prayers during the same hour your Daddy had his heart attack. I truly believe it was your prayer that saved your Daddy. God bless you Beth.

Your loving,

Ruth Wysor
Chapel Hill, N.C.