Skip to main content.

What Donna Knew by J. D. Rummel
published in Volume 1, Issue 3 on May 17, 1994

The first time I entered Locklin's mind, I was every bit as surprised as you might imagine. It was a strange union to be sure; I was limited to just seeing what he saw and hearing what he heard. I was never privy to his thoughts or impressions, nor do I have any explanation for the phenomenon. I have never shared the details with anyone.

Unusual as it was, it wasn't a lot of fun, not after the initial novelty wore off, anyway. In fact, after a while it was a lot like going to a long and boring movie. Locklin was no secret agent. He did pretty much the same things I did. He ate breakfast, lunch and dinner. He watched a god-awful amount of television, and when he wasn't going to the gym he was working or sleeping. I stopped this ultimate invasion of privacy not out of any high moral code, but out of a sort of boredom.

Then he introduced me to Donna.

The damn fool introduced me to soft, sexy, and completely captivating Donna. How was I supposed to behave myself after meeting her? To this day I don't know how to express the effect she had on me. I knew that prettier women existed. Sometimes she wore too much eye make-up and sometimes her nose was a trifle outstanding, but in her presence I felt an electricity, as if every system in my body were on alert; I thought faster, I observed more, and every statement I made came under careful scrutiny before I would release it for public consumption.

Maybe it was her laughter. When she laughed at one of my jokes it was an honest laugh, not polite. When she listened to me she actually heard what I said and acted as if my opinion mattered.

I knew that I was headed for trouble, and for one of the few times in my twenty-five years I didn't want to run. I wanted this trouble more than anything I could remember.

And I wanted more; I wanted to see myself in her eyes; I wanted to hear her voice call my name; I wanted to make the blood rush in her veins.

But if any one person can belong to someone else, she belonged to Locklin. I have to be fair, Locklin was not some jerk, and I could understand how a woman could find him attractive. Locklin was tall, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip. He had white teeth and all of his own hair.

He looked great with his shirt off.

I am none of those things. The best that can be said of me is that I have a peculiar charm which permits me to have never suffered a dog bite.

I tried to behave in a decent fashion. I played the game and tried to live through it as I'm sure lots of people have before me. I was only allowed to play because of Rule Three:


When Donna would come around to pick Locklin up, or just to say "Hello", she had to wait in my shoebox-sized office.

One day she came in looking like she had unloaded and puddled a hundred yards of concrete; she was the most gorgeous non-union labor I had ever seen.

"Good afternoon," and as I spoke I could feel my metabolism shifting into that Donna-fueled overdrive.

"Howdy-doo," she replied, and plopped down in the molded plastic chair against the wall.

I was careful not to stare and yet maintain the sort of pleasant eye contact that she would expect from a friendly, nice man.

"We look like we've been working," I said.

She blew a breath of air upwards pushing back a fallen tress of red hair. "My brother is putting a patio in my Dad's backyard and nobody told me to be out of town."

"Gee, I'm sorry," I said, "But look at it this way, it could be worse."

She aimed a questioning look at me, "How?"

I gave it my best "intense cogitation" look, adding a sort of Rodin's "Thinker" posture, even stroking my chin. "No, I guess it can't get any worse."

She smiled. That smile meant so much; If a meteor burned through the roof and killed me it would hurt a little less because she smiled.

"Are you going to buzz the Man, or do I have to get tough and break Rule Three?" she asked.

"Oh-ho. Mother warned me about girls like you--never thought I'd be lucky enough to meet one though." I wiggled my eyebrows Groucho-style.

She laughed. What a day! Christ, maybe there was a check from Publisher's Clearing House at home.

I paged Locklin.

"Tell me something," she asked, "why are you working this job?"

A question about me?! Did she care? She was asking about me! I had to be cool, but not flip--down-to-earth.

"What do you mean?" I answered, trying to look thoughtful.

"You have an education and a lot on the ball, why are you working in this office? You could do better."

"I don't know. Maybe I've never found what I want to do."

She sucked in her bottom lip and nodded, "I know what you mean. For a long time I thought God would send me a telegram saying, "BE A DOCTOR, DONNA" but he never did. I guess it's something most of us have to work on."

"I think. . ." I started to reply, but I never got to finish, for at that moment Locklin came in and my small magic was broken. I no longer existed in the same room: there was a chemistry present in which I was a completely inactive element.

Looking back I know of course how much she must have cared for him, but at the time the reality of it was too great and I purposely denied what my eyes saw and my heart most feared. I've done it before. How could I be attracted to someone who wasn't interested in me? Or more accurately, why was I always attracted to such people? For one reason or another I have played this scene virtually all my life.

There was a very major difference this time, however: I could enter Locklin's mind.

I guess that's why I did it. I just wanted to be with a woman who wanted to be with me, even if it wasn't really me she was with.

At first I wrestled with the morality of it. Later, I questioned the healthiness of it. But I guess the weather was what finally wore me down. I couldn't stand watching the snow swirl down outside my window and stay in that house knowing that Donna was alive in some part of the world but wasn't with me. I had been given a marvelous gift and only a fool would not use it.

So, on a Sunday afternoon I quietly slipped out of my own mind and slid into Locklin's experience. It was a great deal like waking up in a strange place. I closed my eyes in my living room and the surprise was that, when I opened them again I wasn't in my own life anymore.

I was in luck. Donna and Locklin were together. They were walking in the park, watching children skate on the frozen lagoon surface. We held hands.

"Do you know how to skate?" she asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Want to learn?" she squeezed our hand as she asked.

I wanted to learn, I wanted to positively fly across the ice.

When he answered "No," it made me angry. I wondered if he didn't want to look foolish. Hell, I was used to that.

She leaned her head against us as we walked, and I felt special, like the only child at Christmas in a house full of adults.

We walked in relative silence, listening to the frozen earth crack, occasionally watching it crumble to chocolate bits. I watched, as best Locklin's eyes would let me, her chilled breath rise in clouds and disappear.

She dumped a mitten-load of snow down our back and we chased her up a hill. I noticed her hiding place but wouldn't have given her away even if I could have. She jumped on our back and kissed our left ear.

Locklin dumped her in a snow drift and I wanted to tell her a joke about her rising from the powdery pile looking like a cartoon Santa. But I couldn't.

On a remote hill by the snow-filled swimming pool she led us to a hole in the cyclone fencing and guided us over toward a cement bench. She sat down on the cold surface and pulled us down to her.

We kissed. My heart was slamming inside me, or maybe it was inside him, I wasn't sure. She tasted so good, her scent was so incredible; the sheer rush on the senses was staggering. As she circled her arms around us and drew herself onto our lap, I was suddenly aware of how rarely I touch anyone, and how few were the times anyone has wanted to touch me. It became very clear at that moment how much I missed something I'd never had.

I began to feel ashamed; this was not my life.

I left him at that point, returning to my living room aware of a salty, burning sensation behind my eyes, aware that I was alone.

Although I am not proud of any of the times I intruded on them, the night at the bar was perhaps the most significant.

It was certainly the worst.

My involvement was purely accidental--to a point anyway.

I was drinking in a hotel lounge, watching a live D.J. perform the unenviable task of motivating a Monday night crowd to dance.

As I stepped from the bar, looking for a rest room, I observed Donna seated in the lobby, checking her watch, obviously waiting on someone.

I'd had a few, so I approached her.

"Come here often?" God! I regretted it instantly. What a stupid thing to say.

She looked up, apparently oblivious to my blunder, "Hi, what are you doing here?"

"I'm working undercover for the F.B.I., it's their new Bottom of the Barrel Program." I wiggled my eyebrows Groucho-style, falling back on proven material.

"You have great eyebrows," she said.

That was all it took, just that one comment and suddenly my desperate imagination was off and running, turning "You have great eyebrows" into, "I am secretly attracted to you, please ask me out."

Fortunately, although my imagination is strong, it doesn't overpower my rational side. I replied, "Yeah, they're great on cold winter nights."

My mind raced to think of anything to say that would prolong staying with her, but after a few moments of unspectacular small talk, the air between us began to hang in heavy, drooping pauses. It was time to move on.

So, I waited in the parking lot, seated behind the wheel of my car, checking to see if it was Locklin she was meeting.

I don't know why, but somewhere in the back of my head maybe I thought if she was meeting someone besides him, maybe I had a chance.

Desperate, very desperate.

Of course Locklin drove in, parked, and at once affirmed my faith in Donna and brought me down to reality.

My reality. Not my favorite place to be. So once more I entered Locklin's world.

In the hotel room they had dinner, and he said things I could have said better. I should have left then.

But I stayed. I stayed as he drew her to him and undressed her. When I saw Donna naked, my throat tightened--somebody's throat tightened. I saw the desire in those wonderful eyes--such a different look than she gave me when praising my eyebrows; this look was pure and hungry. He was making the blood rush in her veins, and I hated him for it.

And I stayed, I stayed as he made her cry out his name; I felt her excitement, and the rhythm they built between them excluded me far more than any mere conversation. I will never forget the sheer warmth inside her, nor forget the fear that finally drove me out: the stunning dread that I might never have what they had, that such passion and acceptance was something it was my fate to only desire and envy but never attain.

I was vomiting in the cold parking lot, watching the accumulation of several hours spill itself down the side of my car, the acidic stink waking me, but not halting the memory of her face as they coupled.

A bald security guard was standing beside the car, telling me that he didn't come to my job and throw-up.


It was particularly hot that Friday night. For years, Fridays have always been special to me. When I was a boy, Friday meant that I had survived another week of abuse in school and could escape into my comic books for the weekend. For two days and nights I was Superman, Spiderman, or all of the Mighty Avengers. Friday night, when I was very lucky, had monster movies on late, and my Mother watching them with me, half-asleep on the sofa. And Friday night inevitably led to Saturday morning and cartoons: Fantastic Four, Johnny Quest, Bugs Bunny.

But those were the Fridays of my youth. The Fridays of my manhood were spent alone, watching reruns and going to bed early, knowing that cartoons today suck.

I had not been in Locklin's mind for the entire spring and a fair chunk of summer. After the night in the hotel I was consumed by a period of self-loathing and depression. I had resolved to respect their privacy.

But it was particularly hot that summer--that night. I was in bed watching lightning flash in the eastern midnight sky. I was damp; my exposed flesh clung to the sheets, and long pools of moisture gathered in the creases of my skin. The wind gusted, steadily bringing the storm closer. It shook the leaves in the trees and whistled and moaned around the corners of the house.

I felt sweat collecting under my eyes and tasted salt against my lips as wetness gathered on my face. The air in my room was heavy and moist and the rattling fan on the dresser pressed it into me like a damp towel.

My thoughts were of Donna. They were the kinds of thoughts that are never mentioned in daytime. How pathetic. Lying in bed enjoying memories of sex with a woman I couldn't call my own. Not just the woman, but the memories themselves.

All the past came back to me, faces of girls I never dared speak to, and the rejections of those I did. In comics, sometimes there are drawings of the hero surrounded by all the villains he's fought. I was in the center of a circle comprised of Mary, Janet, Pam, and Cindy.

I thought long and hard in my seclusion, trying to grasp why I had to endure such alienation. In the end the weather beat me again. It was too hot to deny myself; I had been good long enough. With a storm brewing in the east, and my skinny body pasted to the linen, I reached out to Locklin's mind.

Ordinarily the transition to his experience was a smooth process. Tonight, however, was different. Terrible. At first there was the unpleasant sensation of biting tinfoil, then lots of little pinpricks, an uncomfortable tingling that resembled a fever chill. Slowly, wave after wave of some sort of horrible perception, a realization on Locklin's part that so affected him it was transmitted almost as physical pain. I have never been privy to his memory or his own view of reality during our joinings, so I had no idea what was assaulting him. I could only be aware, as always, of our immediate surroundings.

Locklin was crying. Crying and driving. It was raining and the water rushed out of the sky in black, blinding waves. The car was moving very fast, too fast for the road under such conditions. He was alone. The sky lit up and for a moment became high noon tinged in eerie, electric blue, then blackness swallowed us up again and the car plummeted along into the evening. But the darkness outside could not compare with the sort of shadow that was welling up in Locklin. The pain he was enduring was gigantic, it loomed around my own consciousness, looking for a way in, seeking to consume any intelligence it found.

The road was unfamiliar, and the speedometer needled higher and faster. The engine was whining, straining against the overdrive. The rubber blades couldn't clear the glass fast enough; the road was a flashing, twisted blur.

"Get out of my head!" I heard him say.

I was frozen. He said, "Get out, bitch!"

What in the world was he talking about?

The tears came faster now, his vision was gone. He mashed the accelerator to the floor, and I felt the tires break loose from the slick blacktop. Locklin took his hands off the wheel and covered his head. The vehicle seemed airborne, it tilted and the wet, flashing world turned sideways. I felt his throat constrict as I left him.

It was a hot summer, much like the one in which Locklin died. Years have passed since that night, many things have changed, and many remained the same. Seated on the front steps I looked up at the stars, then down at the highway, comparing the still lights above with the rambling glitter below.

My last conversation with Donna was at Locklin's funeral. I recall the day being sun warmed and pleasant, a comfortable environment oblivious to suffering.

The preacher said a few words. It was very generic, since I don't think he knew anything about Locklin. But then neither did I, really.

After the service, Donna and I walked towards our respective cars. Mine was not near hers but I walked beside her anyway. "If there's anything I can do for you. . ." I said. She walked very carefully over the grass and occasional stranger, "No, but thank you."

She seemed very controlled, very calm. I certainly didn't have the right to ask what she thought had happened, let alone explain that I had been present. There was so much that I wanted to say, but all I could finally bring to her was the only thing I was certain of.

"I want you to know he loved you," I told her.

"I know he loved me," she answered, and her voice had a trace of regret as she added, "Wouldn't it be nice if that were all it took?" And she smiled at me, not a happy smile, but a face that seemed to say other days were coming, and these days did not stop or wait.

She said goodbye and drove away.

I never saw her again.

The only conclusion I ever came to was the result of thinking about it over and over on nights just like this.

It's quite possible that we forget something about ourselves: In the beginning we are born alone, in the end we die alone, and in the interim, ultimately, no matter who we love, or who might love us, we must live alone.

I'm not sure, but maybe Donna always knew this. I think most of us have to work on it.

go to this issue