Sometimes the pain is hers. Sometimes the pain is his. Sometimes there isn't any pain, but that's comedy, not romance.

The wonder of it all, of course, is that we continue to go on with it, even in this town which thinks little of lightweights and lunacies that can't be legislated. Administrations change, races are lost, but it's still the same old story and here are a few of them. Changes have been made in the names and identifying details of the participants .

She said seven years had passed since she left the cabin, the rivers and the lakes. He thought, "How beautiful she must have been," but then her story caught him, and carried by her voice he, too, began to drift on the heavy moving water, past the sun-warmed stones, the turtle-covered logs, through the quiet woods, toward the dark green pool, the parting and the pain.

"I had lived alone all summer -- I was only 17," she said, "and sometimes I imagined that the cities all had vanished, that the birds, the fish, the deer and I were the only creatures living in the woods. The first time that I saw him I thought he was a spirit, perhaps an Indian's ghost. He was standing on the gray rock, tall and tanned and naked, his arms pressed to his sides, his face raised to the sky. Then he dived into the pool. Our canoes were wooden, his was covered in red canvas. It was there the next day, and the next day after that. On sunny days we'd swim or sunbathe on the rocks. I'd bring the bread and cheese. He'd supply the cider. The current there was strong enough so you didn't have to paddle. We'd let the water take us, and gaze up through the branches. Sometimes I'd look up and he would be gone. We didn't have to touch. We almost never talked.

"When I told him I'd be leaving soon for Washington I saw that I had hurt him. For the longest time he sat there, staring at his hands. He said, 'There is something I must tell you -- but I can't, I can't. You'll hate me if I do.' I told him I could never hate him. He said, 'If I tell you what I have to tell you, promise you'll forgive me.' I promised I would try. I put my hand on his.

"'All right,' he said. 'I'm 12.'" CAPTION: Illustration, "William, do you have the courage to love?", Drawing by Koren, Copyright (c) 1977, The New Yorker Magazine Inc.