The Jogger with the Dog
The rumor was that someone attractive had appeared in the condo complex; a woman with a little dog. Doug (Douglas) Graham, who had only been in San Francisco for a month himself but was already at home there, had begun to take an interest in the new arrivals. Sitting in the communal lounge with its bay views, he watched a blonde woman of medium height jogging along the Embarcadero in a sports-bra; a white Pomeranian running along behind her. He also saw her in the gardens and patio of the condo complex on several occasions. She always jogged alone, always in the same sports-bra, always with the same white Pomeranian. No one knew who she was, and everyone called her “the jogger with the dog.”
“If she’s new in town and doesn’t have a boyfriend, it would be a crime not to get to know her,” thought Graham.
He was under fifty, but had a daughter of sixteen. He’d been married young, when he was still a graduate student, and now his wife (who was three years older than him), seemed twice his age. She was a tall, stout woman with thin eyebrows, stiff and traditional, and, as she readily admitted, not in the slightest bit intellectual. She watched soaps all day, used emoticons, called her husband Douglas, not Doug, and he thought her stupid, callow, fat, and hated being home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago – had been unfaithful often, and almost always spoke badly about women with his male friends, talking about them as if they were disposable. It seemed to him that he had been schooled by experience to call them whatever he wanted, and yet he couldn’t go by for more than a few days without their company. Amongst his male friends he was bored and ill-at-ease, competitive and uncommunicative, but in the company of women he felt free, and he knew exactly what to say and how to manipulate them; he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his nature there was something attractive and elusive that women found alluring; something he could take advantage of without even realizing it; and he knew a force drew them inexorably towards him. Bitter experience had taught him that with people, especially Californians – always so shallow and mercurial – every intimacy, which at first appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably becomes a problem to be extricated from, and in the long-run becomes intolerable. But with every new meeting with a young woman this thought slipped from his memory, he was eager with lust, and everything seemed simple and amusing.
One evening he was having a drink in the gardens, and the lady in the sports-bra came up to the next table. Her expression, her walk, her pony-tail, all told him she was married, she was in San Francisco for the first time, and she was bored…the stories told of debauchery in places like San Francisco are based on truth; he despised them, and knew that such stories were mostly told by people from the midwest who’d be glad to sin if only they could; yet when the woman sat down with a beer, all he remembered was those weekend trips to Lake Tahoe, easy conquests and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown beautiful young woman, whose name he did not even know.
He beckoned the Pomeranian, and when the dog came he shook his finger at it. The dog growled: Graham shook his finger at it again. The woman looked straight at him.
“He doesn’t bite,” she said, her face flushed from her exercise.
“Can I give him a treat?” he asked; when she nodded he continued, “How long have you been in SF?”
“I’ve only been here a fortnight.”
There was a brief silence.
“Times goes by fast, I haven’t had time to see the city,” she said, still looking straight at him.
“That’s what everyone says – there’s always so much going on. People living in St. Louis or Kansas City think it’s slow and boring where they are, and when they come here it’s ‘wow! the pace! the energy!’ You’d think they’d come here from Africa.”
She laughed. They continued drinking their beers in silence, like strangers, but then fell into a light conversation, flirty and serious, two people free and satisfied who could care less where they go or what they talk about. They took a stroll along the Embarcadero on a beautiful clear evening in San Francisco: the water was a soft warm lilac, there was a golden streak to the moon. They discussed how sultry it had been in the city in October. Graham told her that he was from New York, that he had his Ph.D. in physics and now worked for an investment bank, that he’d trained to do research but had given it up, and that he now owned an apartment in Manhattan and a beach-house in the Hamptons…and he learned from her that she’d grown up in Ohio, but had lived in Los Angeles since her marriage two years ago, and that she was staying in San Francisco for a month on business. Her husband was planning on coming up at the end of the month. He was an executive with a motion picture studio, she wasn’t sure if he was a producer or an executive producer – she seemed amused by her own ignorance. And Graham learned that her name was Anna Samuels.
Afterwards, he couldn’t stop thinking about her, and he felt sure he would see her again the next day; it was absolutely going to happen. As he got into bed he thought how recently she would have been in University taking classes like his own daughter; he remembered the diffidence, the angularity, the uncertainty in her laugh and conversation. This was not the first time she had been followed, gazed upon, and spoken to from a motive which she could hardly fail to guess. He recalled her slender, delicate neck, and lovely grey eyes.
“There’s something pathetic about her,” he thought, and fell asleep.