This novel is a love story first and last. The story goes back and forth between the two main characters, both coming of age, exploring one's experience with post-Vietnam life aboard a United States Ship and the others struggle to make it into the world as a mother and artist. There is only one equation; the geometry serving more as an underpinning to the story.
The old man sat high above the sea, the wind making immediately in his hair what it took longer and more secretly to make in the water. His hair hoary, the water green, the sky blue, the migrating ink a muted black on hands tying and retying the same knot over and over again. The stippling had been precise; clearly denoting a character on each weather-worn, rigging-curled finger; but like his mind now and his life before had wandered. And the knot wasn't one he had learned at sea but one he had acquired before, perhaps as a boy or in a former life. It had no use he could remember, being just two loops disappearing into each other when the ends were pulled, leaving the line and the hands and the sea.
Roland could smell the brine-laden wind and hear the sea birds screeching at some indignity over the monotone of the English teacher. Others in the class who took a glance out the same single window of the air-conditioned school room saw cars in the student parking lot and a stand of trees beyond undulating in the afternoon heat radiating up from the metal and pavement. Mostly the students' attention was divided between the teacher and the clock. It was fourth period and the class was listless from the subject and time of day.
As Roland was arduously painting the old man's face—fading and changing, though always of a dark Portuguese complexion—the legs of a pair of pants came out of the eyes and the rest of the image faded into the reality of the teacher standing in front of the window, a gaudy half-lit silhouette of artificial light against the bright natural light of the window. He could tell from the shifting postures of those around him some question or other had been directed toward him. He wished he had skipped out after lunch.
“Already off to seek the Dark Tower, hmmm?” A few chuckles from the class and then he remembered one of the assigned poems from the day before, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”.
“Oh, I kept thinking it was sorta like that poem by Robert Frost, about the two paths—or a continuation of it.” He hoped the answer was vague enough for the unheard question.
“What kind?” Roland asked. He had collected lots of second-hand information about the drug. “Windowpane.”
He'd heard of it, along with sugar cubes, orange barrels, yellow witches, Mr. Natural, and purple microdot: it was a college town.
“Doesn't that stuff fry your brain?” Roland asked earnestly.
Donny laughed and took his shot; he stared at the balls long after they had come to a rest. The other guy played in the same manner, and it was only then Roland noticed the slow, meditated tempo of their game and the black and white of their eyes with just a thin ring of color between.
“Alcohol fries your brain. And that pig tranquilizer Dirtbag sells as Angel's Dust. No, acid let's you see. Roland couldn't help staring at his hugely enlarged pupils, round black two-way mirrors. “And it doesn't have any speed in it like microdot, just pure L.S.D., as good as sugar cube.
Somebody was punching up songs on the jukebox around the corner. “Knights in White Satin” started playing.
“All I have is change even if I did want some,” Roland said.
“I'll spot you a hit.” Then after he took another shot, “Look, you never done it before? I'll turn you onto it, just for the experience.”
Five Card Draw was the easiest to beat, as well as being the oldest and last of the nickle machines. The headboard depicted an old-time casino scene with a shootout in progress, the orange plastic at the gun muzzles flaring intermittently. The lower left portion was filled with a royal straight flush in hearts. The spring-loaded plunger was so decrepit it couldn't propel the ball into play even when pulled all the way back, so it had to be hit with the ball of a palm to send the steel sphere to the head of the tilted bed where it would descend into a stand of weak bell bumpers and, after some fugitive Brownian motion, skip over five piston holes running horizontally across the lower middle of the bed and down to the flippers. By flipping the ball into the left piston hole it would be launched into each adjoining hole, racking up points until it reached the right hole, which launched it back up into the bumpers. A slide on the left side, accessed by a definitive flip from the right flipper, would guide the ball back to the top of the bumpers and activate the gate that would save the ball from exiting down the right side.
Roland had won twice and matched once by the time Donny and his friend clocked off their table. They watched him finish.