I spent the 90s in the San Francisco Bay Area and have written a couple of short pieces featuring (versions of) people from the time. Was Ist Ist is one of those. So is this…

‘We could watch them from here,’ Zack said. ‘Right across downtown, just the other side of Broadway.’ Zack picked Jane’s binoculars out of the box nearest him. They were big and heavy. One of the few items Jane possessed that had belonged to her father. A veteran of Korea and administrator of the Stanford MK trials, Stan Vondel committed suicide a month before Jane’s birth. He left behind a note, a government insurance policy and more questions than either answered.

His hobby was bird-watching in his native Virginia, and Palo Alto in the early 60s still offered wetlands enough to satisfy Stan, but that were paved over by the 80s. ‘Doesn’t mean there aren’t birds to be watched, Zack was fond of saying.

The fifth-floor loft into which Zack and Jane had just finished moving their possessions afforded them a view of North Oakland and Berkeley and, more immediately, Highway 880 about a hundred yards and sixty feet down.

Jane didn’t want to humor Zack’s voyeuristic streak and really didn’t want to see Victor with someone else, but Zack was already focusing the glasses. Jane looked over the highway and into the hills while Zack found Victor’s room.

‘It’s at an angle – you can’t see much, but it’s just across from Tribune Tower.’ She took the glasses almost automatically and twisted the old leather neck strap around her hand. A rusted grenade pin  was knotted into  it. Her mother recounted four different stories of the pin, saying Stan at different times had claimed them all to be true.

and focused first on the clock atop the old empty newspaper building. She didn’t move until the clock ticked over a minute and then turned her head a few degrees to the Hyatt.

‘Find the corner of the roof closest to us and then tilt down three floors and left four windows. She turned the knob to see clearly into the dimly lit hotel room. ‘What’s he wearing Jane?’

‘Black jeans, three-hole Docs. Trench and necktie are on the bed.’

‘And the girl – What does she look like?’

Zack listened and looked at his wife as she described herself.

Jane thought about Zack’s need to hurt her. Was he even conscious he was making her do the same things she’d done to him? Each step in putting their life back together seemed to involve him reclaiming, reforming something she’d hurled at him, that had crumbled at his feet. Would his aim, like his focus, be more sure?

‘Do you think Rael was a violation of type for him – a stray waif in a crowd of tall, strong, curly-topped women?’

‘Don’t make the mistake, again, of thinking Rael’s not strong. Damaged more than most of us, but not weak at all.’ She turned to look at Zack.

‘Just a comment on the physical resemblance the new girl bears to you. Don’t put those down. What is she doing?’

As Jane described Victor’s sex, she fingered the pin, like she would a rosary bead. She wished, not for the first time, but for the first time since she’d known Zack, that it still served its original purpose.