Tuesday 12 March 2024

What the Future Will Bring by Barry Garelick, Darjeeling tea

The morning sun filtered through half-closed venetian blinds in Mark’s furnished one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, illuminating the dining room table that served as his desk. Debby would be arriving that afternoon from Ann Arbor. They had arranged to meet around five at a hippy-style coffee house, a place he hated but it was near his apartment. The table was cluttered with bits and pieces of unfinished stories that Mark was working on, scattered among parts of yesterday’s newspaper heralding the latest news on the Watergate hearings and the possibility of a presidential impeachment.

It was late June in 1974 in San Francisco. The world was moving on, Mark thought. He didn’t care, or thought he didn’t. Over time he would care more about many things but for now his view of what the future would hold was focused mainly on the past. He was thinking now about Debby’s visit, and decided to put the bits and pieces of his stories in a drawer in the dining room cabinet normally used for silverware. He then sat re-reading a letter from Debby that lay in a relatively bare part of the table, focusing on the last paragraph, hoping to find more than was there.

It felt strange after talking to you last week. You didn’t say much on the phone. It’s OK. Sometimes there’s not much to say. Dr. Lehman wrote to some shrink in San Francisco at Mt. Zion Hospital, I think. I’ve set up an appointment to talk about therapy over there. I hope he can recommend someone in Palo Alto for me. It’s pretty scary leaving Dr. Lehman. My confidence in myself is at an all-time low right now. I fully expect to get booted out of Stanford in about one semester unless I learn a whole lot about how to live between now and then.  I’ll be arriving Thursday afternoon; my appointment is Friday morning, and I’m leaving Sunday. I look forward to seeing you. But we can’t tell how things will work out with us.

P.S: I’d really like to read what you’re writing now.

They had a long-distance relationship over the last two years, primarily through letters, a few phone calls and occasional visits – her last visit was in December. He had graduated two years ago, and had remained in Ann Arbor during that summer. He spent the summer thinking about his plans for the future which were to leave Ann Arbor in the fall for someplace. Wherever ‘someplace’ was would be where he would make it as a writer which was how more than a few college graduates were planning their futures. He had known Debby for a few years at school; she was younger than him, and had an intimidating beauty and what we thought of as an unintended sexiness. After a short conversation with her earlier one day, he visited her in her apartment that evening. He had tried to kiss her but she pulled away. He never asked why, though he suspected her psychotherapy may have had something to do with it. Despite a sexual relationship eventually emerging, the thought of her resisting that first kiss remained as one of several recurring obsessions.


The hippy-style coffee house where they were to meet was in view from the bus which let him off across the street. While waiting for the light to change he saw her sitting by the window. Her long black hair cascaded over her shoulders and back. Debby sat on a cushion (there were no chairs) at one of the two-foot high tables made from wooden telephone cable spools. She hovered over a cup of Darjeeling tea and looked up as Mark approached. Her greeting in its entirety was a kind of smile and sort of a nod and a soft ‘Hello’ as if she were greeting a stranger.

‘Have you been here long?’ he asked, sitting down next to her.

She looked at her watch. ‘About a half hour. I took a cab from the airport to Cliff House to have an Irish coffee. My sister told me I had to have one. And then I came here.’

‘How was the Irish coffee?’

‘I’m not sure. I have a stomach ache. I think it’s from the Irish coffee. I thought tea would help but it hasn’t,’ she said, looking around. ‘This place reminds me of Ray’s in Ann Arbor, except Ray’s is dark inside.’

‘Yeah; same stupid counter-culture vibe,’ he said. ‘It’s everywhere. The Watergate hearings have validated them; they were right about everything. They’ll be running the country soon; doctors and lawyers will be working as laborers in the fields.’

She had heard this before from Mark. Like Mark, aside from being against the Viet Nam war and all that came with that, she had little to no patience for the praises of Marxism, idolization of Mao and the prevalent belief that having sex had to be for all the right reasons. She thought most of it, including feminism was, in her words, ‘a crock of shit.’

‘Not much will change,’ she said with an unstated sigh. ‘How’s work at Federal Highway going? Speaking of working as laborers,’ she added.

‘It’s going. Editing fascinating accident reports. Today’s was about the police chasing a motorcyclist who crashed into a parked car and died. Very detailed police report; I could even tell you what he had for breakfast.’

‘I’d rather read what you’re writing now. Your stories or whatever.’

Yes, his stories or whatever. He answered as he usually did: he said nothing. Having not yet become the next Richard Brautigan or countercultural hero he felt horrendously inadequate. In fact, seeing others his age at Federal Highway in more professional positions, he had thought lately about applying for a more challenging job advertised recently – as long as he could still write at night, he told himself. Best not to mention that now, he decided.

Debby had her hands on her stomach. ‘I’m really not feeling well,’ she said, moving her small blue and white suitcase out from under the cable-wheel table. ‘Can we go to your place?’

Mark’s one-bedroom apartment was on the third floor of an old building. ‘This is it,’ he said, opening the door and stepping into the small foyer. The windows looked out at a courtyard where people in other apartments across the way could often be heard. Debby looked around, poked into the kitchen and dining room area, and said ‘I need to use your bathroom.’

After she came out she looked pale. ‘I need to lie down,’ she said. ‘I feel nauseous.’

They went into the bedroom and she lay on the bed, resting her head against the faded wooden headboard. The nausea came in waves, she told him and between the waves she talked. Mark thought that the talking would stave off further nausea. As a further deterrent he put on a Taj Mahal album that he was fairly sure Debby would remember.

They talked off and on for about an hour. ‘I tend to worry too much,’ she said. She was worried about Stanford grad school as she had said in her letter. Her sister was currently an undergrad at Stanford and found it tough. ‘So what’s grad school going to be like? I know I’m smart. But I don’t feel smart. I’ve lost confidence. Confidence in my mind.’ She became silent. Another wave of nausea, Mark thought. A few minutes later, she started talking again.

‘I haven’t heard this album in a while,’ she said.

‘I think you first heard it when I brought it over to your apartment.’

‘When was that?’

‘The summer before last. We were sleeping on the floor in your living room.’  She closed her eyes. Another silence. After a minute she said ‘I’ve been feeling bad about music lately, actually.’

‘How so?’

‘I was seeing a lot of Pete for a while. He’s into classical music. I wasn’t into it; I used to be. Maybe I failed myself, somehow. Or maybe I never had any feeling for it and thought I did.’ She rolled on her side.

He hesitated before asking his next question, thinking he shouldn’t, but asked anyway. ‘Have you been sleeping with Pete?’

No answer.

‘I assume that means you did.’

‘I’m really not feeling well,’ she said.

He could see that was true but his better judgment was taking a back seat and before he even knew it was happening he found himself speaking angrily. ‘You’re all about yourself. And your damn doubts. I’ve never known where I stood with you,’ he said. ‘You couldn’t even give me a decent greeting. You barely said hello. I sometimes think you never really liked me. The first time I tried to kiss you, you pulled away. It was the night I brought the Taj Mahal album over to your place. You said you couldn’t get involved. We slept on the floor in the living room. That was your compromise I guess. A week later we were having sex and I have no idea why. If you’re not attracted to me, just say so, and let’s get the whole thing over with.’

‘For Christ’s sake, Mark.’ She rolled over on her stomach. ‘I don’t know anything. My stomach really hurts. I think I have to vomit. I don’t think I’ll make it to the bathroom. Do you have a pot or something?’

The topic of their relationship on a necessary hold – mercifully so, Mark thought – he ran into the kitchen and grabbed a large aluminum pot.

‘It’s kind of large,’ he said.

‘It’s fine,’ she said, grabbing it and getting on her knees. She put her head in the pot and tried gagging. After a few tries, she said ‘Nothing’s happening.’ 

‘Try to relax.’  He started rubbing her back. ‘If it happens, it happens. Do you want some 7-Up or something? I heard that settles your stomach.’

‘I’ll probably throw up.’

‘I thought that was the idea,’ he said.

She thought a moment about this. ‘I’d rather throw up on my own than by 7-Up.’

That established, the two were silent. She lay with the pot next to her head. ‘I’ll sleep on the couch in the living room,’ she said. ‘I’m feeling tired. I can make it to the couch. I think I just need to sleep. I’m sorry you’re upset. We’ll talk about things tomorrow. I promise.’

‘OK. We’ll talk tomorrow.’

Outside it was dusk, but dark in the apartment. Mark lay in bed. After a few minutes he heard Debby’s rhythmic breathing. He recalled his tirade and tried to make sense of it. His doubts didn’t make sense, but there they were and now she knew. He remembered in her letter that he read that morning, saying ‘Sometimes there’s not much to say.’ This made more sense than anything he could come up with at the moment, so he tried to read a book but couldn’t concentrate. After a while he just lay staring at the ceiling, wondering what their relationship was about if anything at all, and then not thinking about anything that he would remember.


Mark woke at seven the next day. Debby was sitting on the couch, fully dressed. She wore a flowered dress and had lipstick on. ‘I feel better,’ she said when she saw Mark. ‘I think.’

‘You think?’

‘Not as bad, anyway. Are you going in to work?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m calling in sick.’

They had coffee together, neither mentioning last night’s conversation. Mark told her how to get to Mt. Zion hospital on the bus that ran on Divisadero. ‘The bus stop is right in front of Family Farmacy. And it stops right in front of Mt. Zion Hospital; you can’t miss it.’

She put on her long overcoat, and grabbed her shoulder bag. ‘Wish me luck,’ she said and closed the door behind her. It closed harder than expected and slammed shut. She opened it again and stuck her head in. ‘Sorry; I didn’t mean to slam it.’

While she was gone, Mark worked on one of his stories, marking it up and adding what he felt was missing. Sentences that struck him as mundane he either eliminated or tried to make them sound more literary without making it seem obvious.

A few hours later the buzzer sounded. He opened the door a crack so Debby could come in, and continued working on a sentence. When she walked in he quickly put the story back in the drawer.

‘How did it go?’ he asked.

‘Good, I guess.’ She sat on the couch. ‘I always start crying when I talk about myself. With a shrink I mean. Well, anyone for that matter, but especially with a shrink.’ Mark sat listening. She took off her coat and plopped it next to her.

‘Would you like to know what I told him?’ Mark nodded.

‘I told him I was scared about grad school, about leaving Ann Arbor, and leaving my parents in Chicago. And scared about what will happen with us. I told him about Pete. And about you. And how I get confused about what it is I want.’

Mark looked at her expectantly.

‘Yes. I slept with Pete,’ she said and went on. ‘I told him that I’m in pain – the shrink, not Pete. I wouldn’t mind the pain so much if I thought it was useful. Sometimes I feel like dying, but most of the time I don’t. And sometimes I think I want to marry you; but other times I’m not sure.’ She put her hands behind her head and sat back. ‘That’s what I told him,’ she said.

‘What did he say?’

Debby shrugged. ‘Not a whole lot. He said some things that made me cry. I’d rather not talk about them. I don’t want to cry right now. He wrote something down in his notebook and said he would have a name of a shrink in Palo Alto for me in a few days.’

‘That’s all he said?’

‘Pretty much,’ she said. ‘Oh, he did say he thought my stomach ache was from the Irish coffee I had. He said spoiled milk can do it.’

‘Somehow I doubt that,’ Mark said.

‘Well I’m glad that’s all over with,’ she said.

‘Which? The stomach ache or the shrink visit?’

‘Both, I guess.’ She looked more relaxed and talked about how all that was left to do was to move to Palo Alto and how she wanted to start a new life out west; how she would be driving there in the car her father bought her for graduation; how she hoped she didn’t get lost on the way. She just learned to drive, she said, and didn’t like it because traffic made her nervous, that she’d like to take flying lessons because it seemed calmer in the air than on the road, and then was silent. After a moment she said ‘Are you angry at me for going to bed with Pete?’

‘A bit, yes. But I guess it’s no surprise. It isn’t as if we’re married.’

‘True,’ she said. ‘Have you slept with anyone?’

‘No,’ he said and thought a moment wondering if he should say what he was thinking, and then said it. ‘But not for lack of trying.’ They both laughed, stopped, and then laughed again. She looked for something in her shoulder bag.

‘Were you working on one of your stories when I came in?’


‘Why won’t you show me what you’re writing now?

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Well, actually I do. A lot of times I think it doesn’t measure up to what I was doing at school. Probably because I don’t have a bunch of people telling me how great my stuff is. So the last thing I need these days is confirmation that my stuff isn’t living up to what it was.’

‘I know the feeling,’ she said. ‘About lack of confidence. It might be good what you’re feeling.’ She continued looking in her shoulder bag. ‘Then again, maybe not.’

‘That’s reassuring,’ he said.

‘Where the hell is it?’

‘Where is what?’

‘Ah! I found it.’


‘My diaphragm.’ She held up the small case and headed for the bathroom. This sounded promising.

A few minutes later they lay in bed, her head on the pillow next to his. ‘I never did tell you why I pulled away when you tried to kiss me that night.’ She turned on her side, facing him. He waited, running his hand through her hair.

‘It was because I thought you were so pure.’

‘Why would you think that?’

‘I’m not entirely sure. Probably because I think I’m not. There’s so much wrong with me.’ He moved closer to her.

‘You know I can’t tell how it will work out with us,’ she said.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I can’t either.’

‘Sometimes I want the future to be over with so we’ll know what the future will bring.’ He moved his face close to hers. ‘Are you angry with me?’ she asked.

‘Not at the moment.’

‘That’s good,’ she whispered and kissed him. ‘For now.’

About the author 

Barry Garelick has fiction published in The Globe Review, Cafe Lit and Fiction on the Web. His non-fiction pieces have been published in Atlantic, and Education Next. He lives in Morro Bay, California with his wife. 

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