Joe reflects upon the architectural history of his apartment: the builder was inspired by the Queen Mary and other transatlantic ships of the 1920s, and, as a consequence, the building in which Joe lives features rounded corners, iron staircases, and skylights that are vaguely reminiscent of portholes. Joe recalls the “frenetic month” after moving in and confesses that Clarissa and he have yet to decorate their side of the apartment’s roof, whereas their neighbors, to whom the other side belongs, have created a “fantasy garden.”
Ever the intellectual, Joe cannot help but think eruditely, even about his apartment building. In his worldview, most decisions are likely to have a knowable, rational source. If the building in which he lives features “portholes,” for example, then the builder must have been influenced by majestic ships. Even Joe and Clarissa’s failure to decorate their side of the roof can be traced to a particular cause.
Sitting at the single, unadorned table on his side of the roof the next morning, Joe thinks again about John Logan and his responsibility for Logan’s death. He examines the rope burns on his hands and asks once more if he was the first man to let go. Was letting go “panic,” he further wonders, or was it “rational calculation”? Moreover, does he now have an obligation to visit Mrs. Logan, in order to “tell her what happened”?
Joe continues to be obsessed with his own guilt (or guiltlessness) where the ballooning accident is concerned. The fact that he is haunted by the possibility that he was the first man to let go of his rope speaks to how deeply Joe is convinced that such a failure would have represented a betrayal of the group.
Picturing that prospective scene, Joe imagines Jean Logan dressed in black with children clinging to her knees. Soon enough, however, this creation of a narrative of Joe’s own reminds him of his unhappiness with the essay he worked on the previous evening. Flitting between thoughts of his writing and his culpability in John Logan’s death, Joe fails to notice that Clarissa has joined him “until she sat down on the other side of the table.”
By creating a story about Jean Logan that may or may not be true, Joe commits the same error that befell the narrative-obsessed scientists he has been criticizing in his essay. Perhaps because narrative feels so intuitively correct as a way of describing the world, it cannot be resisted by even the most rational mind.
Joe understands that now is the time to tell Clarissa the truth about Jed Parry’s phone call, “before her kindness and our love got the better of me.” Though Clarissa briefly wonders why Joe initially lied about the nature of the call, she quickly gives in to her amusement about Joe’s “secret gay love affair with a Jesus freak.” Determined to convince her that the situation is serious, Joe tells her that Parry followed him the previous day. Clarissa quickly points out, however, that Joe “didn’t see [Parry’s] face” and can’t be sure at all of what happened.
Joe and Clarissa briefly reverse roles in these important paragraphs. Whereas Joe is convinced that Parry was following him despite the fact that he has no hard evidence to support that assertion, Clarissa cannot be made to believe Joe’s claim in the absence of such evidence. To maintain a total commitment to either rationality or intuition seems not to be possible.
Though the couple do not yet quarrel, Joe can tell that Clarissa is moving through their conversation “with the caution of a bomb disposal expert,” and he grows annoyed when Clarissa emphasizes that Joe, by his own admission, sensed that he was being followed before ever seeing the shoe. For Clarissa, the situation represents a mere nuisance: “some poor fellow has a crush on [Joe] and is trailing [him] about.” Though Joe is happy to be reassured by Clarissa, she leaves to go to work before they can discuss the situation further. As Clarissa is walking out the door, Joe’s closing words—a suggestion that Parry might very well be a “vengeful fanatic”—are interrupted by the telephone ringing. Clarissa goes on her way, and Joe picks up the phone to find Parry on the other end.
In these paragraphs, Jed Parry’s obsession with Joe begins to alter Joe and Clarissa’s relationship for the first time. The couple cannot agree on how reality is to be defined, and neither seems willing to accept the other’s point of view as a matter of faith. So, too, do readers get a sense of the circumstances that will eventually lead to the further dissolution of Joe and Clarissa’s marriage. Their busy lives prevent or cut short important conversations, as does the constant intrusion of Jed Parry himself.
Parry is calling, he reveals, because Joe called him the previous evening, using “last number recall.” When Joe asks Parry what he wants, Parry promises to leave Joe alone if he hears him out a single time. Joe agrees, and Parry reveals that he is at a pay phone at the end of Joe’s street, an admission that he makes “without shame.” As Joe leaves the apartment to meet Parry, he is comforted by the fact that he can still smell Clarissa’s perfume lingering on the stairs.
Irrationally, Joe has provided Parry with a legitimate reason to call him again, a highly ironic fact given the extent of Parry’s delusions. That Parry is unashamed of having tracked Joe down is early evidence of his inability to think in reasonable social terms. He is not capable of that level of reason.