Chapter Excerpt

Tales of the City
A Novel

Chapter One

Taking the Plunge

Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.

"Hi, Mom. It's me."

"Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on McMillan and Wife who was strangling all these secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking . . ."

"Mom .

"I know. just crazy ol' Mom, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. Look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with all those awful

"Mom . . . long distance."

"Oh . . . yes. You must be having a grand time."

"God . . . you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly I feel like I've ...

"Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?" "Not yet."

"Well, don't you dare miss that! You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars, so we could dance to 'Moonlight Serenade,' and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful white Navy . . ."

"Mom, I want you to do me a favor."

"Of course, darling. Just listen to me. Oh . . . before I forget it, I ran into Mr. Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mail, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers."

"Mom, that's sort of why I called."

"Yes, darling?"

"I want you to call Mr. Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning."

"Oh . . . Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation."

"It's not an extension, Mom."

"Well, then why ...

"I'm not coming home, Mom."

Silence. Then, dimly in the distance, a television voice began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Don't be silly, darling."

"Mom . . . I'm not being silly. I like it here. It feels like home already."

"Mary Ann, if there's a boy

"There's no boy.... I've thought about this for a long time."

"Don't be ridiculous! You've been there five days!"

"Mom, I know how you feel, but . . . well, it's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life . . . have my own apartment and all."

"Oh, that. Well, darling . . . of course you can. As a matter of fact, your daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and a sauna, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you . . ."

"You aren't listening, Mom. I'm trying to tell you I'm a grown woman."

"Well, act like it, then! You can't just . . . run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!"

"You've been watching too much TV."

"O.K. . . . then what about The Horoscope?"

"What?"

"The Horoscope. That crazy man. The killer."

"Mom . . . The Zodiac."

"Same difference. And what about . . . earthquakes? I saw that movie, Mary Ann, and I nearly died when Ava Gardner . . ."

"Will you just call Mr. Lassiter for me?"

Her mother began to cry. "You won't come back. I just know it."

"Mom . . . please . I will. I promise."

"But you won't be . . . the same!"

"No. I hope not."

When it was over, Mary Ann left the bar and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. She stood there for several minutes in a chill wind, staring at the beacon on Alcatraz. She made a vow not to think about her mother for a while.

Back at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn, she looked up Connie Bradshaw's phone number.

Connie was a stewardess for United. Mary Ann hadn't seen her since high school: 1968.

"Fantabulous!" squealed Connie. "How long you here for?"

"For good."

"Super! Found an apartment yet?"

"No . . . I . . . well, I was wondering if I might be able to crash at your place, until I can

"Sure. No sweat."

"Connie . . . you're single?"

The stewardess laughed. "A bear shit in the woods?"

Tales of the City
A Novel
. Copyright © by Armistead Maupin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
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