What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?
That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach.
And the Beatles. And me. Once, when she specifically Jumped me with those
musical types, I asked her what the order was, and she replied, smiling,
"Alphabetical." At the time I smiled too. But now I sit and wonder whether
she was listing me by my first name-in which case I would trail Mozart-or by
my last name, in which case I would edge n there between Bach and the
Beatles. Either way I don't come first, which for some stupid reason bothers
hell out of me, having grown up with the notion that I always had to be
number one. Family heritage, don't you know?
In the fall of my senior year, I got into the habit of studying at the
Radcliffe library. Not just to eye the cheese, although I admit that I liked
to look. The place was quiet, nobody knew me, and the reserve books were
less in demand. The day before one of my history hour exams, I still hadn't
gotten around to reading the first book on the list, an endemic Harvard
disease. I ambled over to the reserve desk to get one of the tomes that
would bail me out on the morrow. There were two girls working there. One a
tall tennis-anyone type, the other a bespectacled mouse type. I opted for
"Do you have The Waning of the Middle Ages?"
She shot a glance up at me.
"Do you have your own library?" she asked.
"Listen, Harvard is allowed to use the Radcliffe library."
"I'm not talking legality, Preppie, I'm talking ethics. You guys have
five million books. We have a few lousy thousand."
Christ, a superior-being type! The kind who think since the ratio of
Radcliffe to Harvard is five to one, the girls must be five times as smart.
I normally cut these types to ribbons, but just then I badly needed that
"Listen, I need that goddamn book."
"Wouldja please watch your profanity, Preppie?"
"What makes you so sure I went to prep school?"
"You look stupid and rich," she said, removing her glasses.
"You're wrong," I protested. "I'm actually smart and poor.
"Oh, no, Preppie. i'm smart and poor."
She was staring straight at me. Her eyes were brown. Okay, maybe I look
rich, but I wouldn't let some 'Cliffie-even one with pretty eyes-call me
"What the hell makes you so smart?" I asked.
"I wouldn't go for coffee with you," she answered. "Listen-I wouldn't
"That," she replied, "is what makes you stupid."
Let me explain why I took her for coffee. By shrewdly capitulating at
the crucial moment-i.e., by pretending that I suddenly wanted to-I got my
book. And since she couldn't leave until the library closed, I had plenty of
time to absorb some pithy phrases about the shift of royal dependence from
cleric to lawyer in the late eleventh century. I got an A minus on the exam,
coincidentally the same grade I assigned to Jenny's legs when she first
walked from behind that desk. I can't say I gave her costume an honor grade,
however; it was a bit too Boho for my taste. I especially ~gthed that Indian
thing she carried for a handbag. Fortunately I didn't mention this, as I
later discovered it was of her own design.
We went to the Midget Restaurant, a nearby sandwich joint which,
despite its name, is not restricted to people of small stature. I ordered
two coffees and a brownie with ice cream (for her).
"I'm Jennifer Cavilleri," she said, "an American of Italian descent."
As if I wouldn't have known. "And a music major," she added.
"My name is Oliver," I said.
"First or last?" she asked.
"First," I answered, and then confessed that my entire name was Oliver
Barrett. (I mean, that's most of
"Oh," she said. "Barrett, like the poet?"
"Yes," I said. "No relation."
In the pause that ensued, I gave thanks that she hadn't come up with
the usual distressing question:
"Barrett, like the hall?" For it is my special albatross to be related
to the guy that built Barrett Hall, the largest and ugliest structure in
Harvard Yard, a colossal monument to my family's money, vanity and flagrant
After that, she was pretty quiet. Could we have run out of conversation
so quickly? Had I turned her off by not being related to the poet? What? She
simply sat there, semi-smiling at me. For something to do, I checked out her
notebooks. Her handwriting was curious-small sharp little letters with no
capitals (who did she think she was, e. e. cummings?). And she was taking
some pretty snowy courses: Comp. Lit. 105, Music 150, Music
201- "Music 201? Isn't that a graduate course?"
She nodded yes, and was not very good at masking her pride.
"Nothing sexual, Preppie."
Why was I putting up with this? Doesn't she read the Crimson? Doesn't
she know who I am?
"Hey, don't you know who I am?"
"Yeah," she answered with kind of disdain. "You're the guy that owns
She didn't know who I was.
"I don't own Barrett Hall," I quibbled. "My great- grandfather happened
to give it to Harvard."
"So his not-so-great grandson would be sure to get
That was the limit.
"Jenny, if you're so convinced I'm a loser, why did you bulldoze me
into buying you coffee?"
She looked me straight in the eye and smiled. "I like your body," she
Part of being a big winner is the ability to be a good loser. There's
no paradox involved. It's a distinctly Harvard thing to be able to turn any
defeat into victory.
"Tough luck, Barrett. You played a helluva game." "Really, i'm so glad
you fellows took it. I mean, you people need to win so badly."
Of course, an out-and-out triumph is better. I mean, if you have the
option, the last-minute score is preferable. And as I walked Jenny back to
her dorm, I had not despaired of ultimate victory over this snotty Radcliffe
"Listen, you snotty Radcliffe bitch, Friday night is the Dartmouth
"So I'd like you to come."
She replied with the usual Radcliffe reverence for sport:
"Why the hell should I come to a lousy hockey game?"
I answered casually:
"Because I'm playing."
There was a brief silence. I think I heard snow falling.
"For which side?" she asked.