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Madame Tingley's Organ (2nd Installment)
by Teresa Bergen

(Continued from Cyber Corpse #4)

Before our father started to disappear for long periods, we went to see him every summer. Mom and Annabelle agreed that Sandi and I should know our father, but we all got nervous before these trips.
     Our parents only lived together off and on for two years in the late sixties, then Dad -- who everyone calls Fuzzy -- couldn't hang with the city. It made him agro, he said. Had to split. He was younger than Mom, in his early twenties, and didn't dig having babies around. So he headed to the woods of Northern California and settled in Garberville, a small town full of pot-growing hippies.
     I remember our last trip to Garberville, when Sandi and I were nine and ten. Mom borrowed Annabelle's more reliable car and we drove 700 miles to Fuzzy's pink shack in the woods. "My little girls!" he cried when he saw us, giving us bear hugs. "My little girls!"
     He regarded Mom more suspiciously. "Are those pumps leather, Persephone?" asked Fuzzy, a stricter vegetarian than even Annabelle.
     Mom wore one of her work outfits, a straight black skirt, a red button-down blouse, pantyhose and pumps. She didn't dress this way for weekends or long drives. She'd stopped at a gas station ten miles before Garberville and changed out of her baggy T-shirt and tight jeans.
     "Don't you have any normal clothes?" he asked before we went to Main Street. "You look like a narc." When Mom refused to change clothes, he wouldn't walk with her. Sandi and I satisfied him with our straggly hair and car-rumpled corduroys. "These are my little girls!" he exclaimed to anyone who listened. He knew everyone in town.
     Mom walked on the other side of the street, keeping an eye on us but trying to ignore Fuzzy. I could tell she was steamed. She looked almost glamorous with her bleached hair, sunglasses hiding her eyes, and the red shirt, walking through. Garberville, a town of earth tones. People stared at her, maybe thinking she was a narc, or maybe the hippie women were remembering what it felt like to wear heels, and the hippie men recalled women who bathed and groomed.
     Fuzzy took us to an ice cream shop and paid with a $100 bill. "You sit over there, and act cool," he hissed at Mom.
     She sighed and sat at the next table. "Try to raise kids normally. It just doesn't work out," she muttered. Fuzzy didn't buy her ice cream. She usually dieted anyway.
     Solar panels heated Fuzzy's home, but since we came on a rainy week we had no power. Dad played his acoustic guitar by candlelight, and lots of spacey friends visited, and I didn't see him put his shirt on all week. He was brown despite the gloom, with curly golden hair on his chest and back.
     The second day of our week in Garberville, Fuzzy played the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour for us. The cassette tape was worn, the batteries dying in the player, but Mom started crying and Fuzzy held her hand. "This used to be our favorite record," she sniffled. Mom forgot the pumps and switched to jeans that day, and Fuzzy walked beside her through the town. The third day, we hiked to a stream in a forest and we all swam nude in the rain. We'd never seen this side of our mother, a throwback to those two years she spent with Fuzzy in the sixties. They told us to go play upstream for a while, but I didn't want to leave them for a second. I wanted to see Mom in this new way -- her soft beige body amongst the trees, reclining on the bank against our hairy but handsome young father. I'd never seen a naked man before, except in the encyclopedias I snuck open whenever a substitute teacher turned off the lights to show a film. But Mom blocked most of Fuzzy's mysterious body with her own familiar one -- the full breasts hanging a little low, the rounded stomach and hips, a triangle of dark hair.
     That night Mom didn't sleep with us on the floor in the front room. She disappeared into Fuzzy's bedroom, and we didn't see her again until noon the next day. Sandi and I found stale granola in the cupboard, then slipped out to the stream that knifed through the back lot.
     I'm glad we had that trip to Garberville together, because afterwards Fuzzy got weirder. Sandi and I heard nothing about him for a couple of years. I think he got busted. But next we knew he lived in Portland, Oregon, operating a legit business: a record shop. I was thirteen by then, which Mom considered plenty old to take a plane to Oregon without her. She kissed us goodbye at the United terminal and then Sandi and I were strapped in the air going five hundred miles an hour. I'd never flown in a plane before, and tried to hide my nervousness from Sandi. Not that flying scared her. She looked out the little window and beamed at the clouds. "Maybe I'll be a pilot," she said.
     Fuzzy didn't meet us at the airport. We stood by the baggage claim, shifting our bags from shoulder to shoulder, until a young woman in a wrap-around skirt, her red hair braided down her back, stumbled over to us. "I'm Arrowroot," she said, her eyes unfocussed. "You must be Fuzzy's little girls."
     "Why didn't our dad come?" Sandi asked.
     Her eyes got clearer long enough to take a quick look around. "Too much heat," she whispered, "in an airport."
     I thought it a bit chilly but didn't argue. We followed her out the door and into a July heat wave. Arrowroot directed us to a van she'd left in a loading zone. "Hey, you're lucky you came back just now because we were about to tow this heap!" an airport goon yelled from the curb as I gingerly slid across the front seat. Food wrappers littered the van, and bits of yarn, clothes and empty baggies. I'd just finished seventh grade, and didn't want this trash rumpling my red Calvin Klein pants, my flowered Hawaiian blouse, or my three inch spiked Candies shoes. Between sixth and seventh grade all the other kids had discovered fashion, and I'd spent a miserable year struggling to catch up.
     Sandi sat in the middle of the front seat, all eagerness to see a new place. Huge trees converged on the highway into town. Arrowroot lit a cigarette and turned the radio onto an Aerosmith song, which I recognized because junior high school kids had to know all the songs on the radio.
     "Are you Fuzzy's girlfriend?" Sandi asked, watching Arrowroot as she drove. None of us wore seatbelts, which made me feel reckless. Annabelle and Mom were sticklers about belting up.
     "Girlfriend sounds like property. His girlfriend," Arrowroot mused, looking straight ahead in a dreamy way, like she didn't notice the other cars on the highway. "Fuzzy and I have something going."
     Since Arrowroot wasn't using the rear view mirror, I swiveled it toward me. I thought my aquamarine eyeliner and rose blusher made me look grown up, like someone who should take a plane alone. Last time I'd seen my father I still looked like a kid. I fidgeted in my purple Le Sac purse for a Clinique lipstick. I'd shoplifted the tester, which didn't really count because they couldn't sell it anyway. Annabelle disapproved of thirteen-year-olds wearing make up, so I'd applied most of it in the airplane bathroom, which accounted for one rosy cheek being higher than the other.
     Kids with doctor, lawyer and engineer fathers overran Dana Junior High. But there could be advantages to a father who owned a record shop. I imagined returning to San Diego with a suitcase full of new 45s. He could give me all the songs they played on 13K, the top 40 radio station, everything from "Funky Town" to "Brass in Pocket."
     Arrowroot sang along to Aerosmith. The highway swooped in on the city and we crossed a river right downtown. We rode on a red bridge, and as I looked left I saw a whole series of bridges linking the banks like sloppy stitches in a cut. A ship called the Valistroika rested between bridges, beneath huge cylinders on the bank that Arrowroot said were grain elevators.
     "When I was a kid we used to sneak in there and climb the ladders up the sides," she said. They looked about twenty stories high.
     "Did you ever fall?" I asked, suspecting brain damage.
     "Fall?" she echoed, swerving around a motorcycle. "Hey, will one of you kids find another cigarette and light it for me?"
     Sandi fumbled around and found a pack of Marlboros under her butt. Arrowroot pushed in the car cigarette lighter, then pulled it out and thrust it at Sandi, who handed it to me along with the cigarettes. Times like this she remembered I was the older sister.
     I took a cigarette from the pack and pressed it against the orange-hot end of the lighter. Nothing happened. Arrowroot glanced over and laughed. "No, you got to put the cigarette in your mouth and inhale. Press the lighter and inhale." I did as she instructed and got a thrill imagining how I looked from outside myself -- spiked heels, makeup, no seatbelt, and lighting a cigarette after flying, unchaperoned, to another state. The cigarette caught and the awful fumes flooded my mouth. I wanted to cough but I didn't, since it's such a cliché on afterschool specials.
     Sandi watched me, shocked, like we were two completely separate people, a new idea for her. I handed the cigarette to Arrowroot. She stuck it in her mouth, then pulled it out fast. "Gross! You got lipstick on it!"
     "Sorry," I muttered.
     "I got lipstick in my mouth! Lipstick causes cancer."
     I looked out the window at a neighborhood of ramshackle Victorian houses. People lounged on their porches and front steps in the sun. I saw a naked man and whipped my head around for a better look.
     "What are you looking at?" Sandi asked.
     "Naked man."
     "So what?" Arrowroot blew smoke all over us. "Fuzzy warned me you girls were bourgeois," she muttered.
     I didn't know what bourgeois meant, but it still hurt.
     She pulled into the driveway of a huge, particularly shabby building. The white paint peeled off in strips. Sloping balconies jutted out with all the planning of a two-year-old's Leggo creation. Three hairy guys in tie-dyed shirts lounged on the stairs passing a joint.
     "This is our pad," Arrowroot announced.
     "Your what?" Sandi said.
     Arrowroot sighed and jumped out of the van. She opened the back door so we could carry our bags inside.
     Two of the steps to the house were missing, the wood rotted away. "Hey Arrowroot," the tie-dyed guys said, passing her the joint.
     "She still has one," Sandi said, confused by Arrowroot's two cigarettes. I elbowed her to make her keep quiet.
     "Who's the little beauty queens?" a bearded guy in sunglasses asked. I didn't like how hair and mirrored lenses covered almost his entire face.
     Arrowroot rubbed her temples like she had a headache. "Fuzzy's."
     "No shit!" The bearded guy reached a dirty paw to stroke my arm. "Hey, baby."
     Arrowroot walked ahead and we rushed to follow her inside the dimly lit building and down a chartreuse hall that smelled like cigarettes, tuna, sweat and paint. I wondered why our father, now a business owner, chose to live here.
     We came to a door with a red X painted on it. Arrowroot pushed and it opened -- not locked, not even closed all the way. Even Annabelle, who believed in trying to love humanity, would never leave her door unlocked.
     But when I saw the trash inside, I realized a burglar would throw up his hands in exasperation, unsure where to begin. Should he pick a path through the Styrofoam coffee cups, ashtrays and wadded up Indian print wrap skirts? He could head for the purple bedroom, where a dirty mattress lay on the floor, half covered with clothes and magazines. Was there a wall safe behind one of the Grateful Dead posters on the living room wall? Not likely.
     A tiny dog with a Chihuahua face and steel wool fur bounced through the door from the hall, its teeth bared. Yap! Yap! "Oh, shut up!" Arrowroot barked back, holding her head. The dog scrunched up and took a tiny shit right on the living room floor. Arrowroot hurled an ashtray at it, cigarette butts flying onto her discarded clothing, rolling into the matted orange carpet. I looked at Sandi and my tough little sister's eyes shone like they'd bust open with tears.
     "Where's our father?" The words sounded like I thought she'd killed him and stuffed him in the closet.
     "He's at work. He's making us some bread."
     These sounded like two separate activities. "Can we see him?"
     Arrowroot groaned. Sandi and I still held our bags, reluctant to set them down in the filth. My red bag and Sandi's blue one were probably the newest, shiniest things in the apartment. Arrowroot made no move to clean up the dog turd.
     "Can we call him? At work?" Sandi asked softly. Fathers were a big deal to her that year. Her sixth grade class had organized a Bring-Dad-to-School Day where kids could bring their fathers to class. It was mean, since about a quarter of the kids didn't have fathers, or at least not within a hundred miles. And stupid, since mostly the fathers worked during school hours. Only three kids brought their dads: Two loser fathers who hadn't worked for a year or two, and one cool father, an artist, who worked any time of the day he wanted.
     "He doesn't have a phone," Arrowroot sighed, still rubbing her head.
     "Is something wrong with your head?" my kind sister asked. I already knew the answer. Something was definitely wrong with her head.
     "Why don't you kids go outside and play." Arrowroot pushed us toward the door. Sandi tripped, trying to avoid the dog turd. Arrowroot closed the door behind us, all the way this time, and Sandi and I stood in the hall, still clutching our bags.
     "Let's get out of here," Sandi whispered. She ran ahead. I tried to keep up, tottering on my heels, watching the dark carpet for things that would twist my ankles.
     The tie-dyed men had left the porch. Now two boys about my age sat out there with a battery-operated tape deck. One had black hair, a crooked nose and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. The other had curly honey-colored hair waving around his shoulders, tan skin, green eyes and a pale green embroidered shirt that looked like a girl's. He was too cute. I froze in place. Temporary paralysis set in.
     "Hi," he said, turning down some music I'd never heard on the radio. "Who are you?"
     "Fuzzy's our dad," Sandi said.
     "No shit!" said the black-haired kid. They looked at us when they talked, unlike most of the boys in my seventh grade class.
     "Do you live here?" Sandi asked.
     "Yeah," they said together. A delicate silver chain hung around dreamboat's neck, dangling a tiny yin/yang symbol.
     "What is this place, anyway?" I asked, sounding a tad hostile. Talking to attractive boys was difficult.
     "The House."
     "Yeah, I guessed it was a house."
     "No. The House," explained my beloved. "With a capital T, capital H. It's a kind of a commune. Lots of us live here. It's cool."
     "I never would have guessed you were Fuzzy's daughter," the black-haired guy said, staring at me.
     "What's that supposed to mean?"
     "You look so main."
     Sandi and I exchanged glances. "Main?" she asked.
     "You know. Mainstream," the lover of my dreams said. If he lived in here, he might need some cleaning up. "From the straight world."
     "Do I look main?" Sandi asked, setting herself against me.
     "Yeah," the black-haired guy said. "But in a normal way."
     "Thanks a lot." I tried my best to look good, but just reaped insults.
     "Doesn't Fuzzy freak when he sees all that green stuff around your eyes?" asked the black-haired boy. "And those heels?"
     None of the boys I knew were so direct, unless they were being mean. But these boys just seemed curious, so I only got a little mad. I kicked my shoes off and rubbed my feet, whose arches had assumed a new shape. "I don't know," I said. "I haven't seen Fuzzy for more than a year. I was a kid then."
     We set down our bags and sat on the stairs with them. Their names were Moonchild and Lion.
     "You're kidding," I said. How could I love someone named Moonchild? "Those aren't your real names."
     "I suppose they're real enough if everyone calls us that," Moonchild said, smiling. I wanted to touch his honey hair, which didn't look dirty at all. Maybe other residents of the house kept cleaner quarters than Fuzzy and Arrowroot.
     "I can't believe you're making fun of someone's name," said my treacherous little sister, who also eyed Moonchild, even though she was definitely a kid. "Our real names aren't main," Sandi said.
     "Then why don't you use them?" Lion asked. I imagined Mom seeing us now, hearing these boys trying to convert her daughters into freaks. After all the years she tried to escape Annabelle's influence and lead a main life.
     "What's your real name?" Moonchild asked Sandi.
     He smiled. "And what's her name?" He tossed his head toward me and my heart sped up.
     "Solstice Alexandra. 'Lex' is for Alexandra."
     "So what happened?" Lion asked. "Let me guess. Your Mom remarried. A lawyer or something. Golf games in the afternoon. Yacht clubs and shit." He said it lightly, but it bordered on mean.
     "Our Mom is single and we live in an apartment!" I blurted out. "Just a two-bedroom apartment near the beach." Usually I tried to hide the fact about the apartment, because my classmates mostly lived in houses with golfing fathers and stay-at-home mothers. At least, the high-profile kids did. That one school year as an aspiring socialite, I'd ignored the other apartment-dwelling kids.
     "Solstice is a beautiful name," Moonchild said. "But I like Lex, too." I smiled at him for a second before I got shy and had to look away. I thought about washing my face. Maybe the makeup didn't look so hot after all.
     "Do you know where our father is?" Sandi asked. I looked at her jeans and baggy T-shirt and sandals. She was definitely still a kid. But something lurked just beneath that tan, freckled skin, platinum hair and blue eyes. Something waited to get out, and then no one would ever look at me again.
     "The record shop's just up the street," Moonchild said, hopping to his feet. "Come on."
     We four walked along the sidewalk, passing old apartment buildings with names like the Charmaine and the Gryphalon. Most of them looked like they'd once been elegant. Now skinny cats and spacey-eyed people straggled in and out, sweating in the heat. We walked on the shady side of the street, my heels clomping, the other three pairs of feet silent. I felt conspicuous in that neighborhood, like an ostrich. My bag seemed heavier with every step, and my shoulder sweated beneath the strap.
     "Are these all communes?" Sandi asked.
     Lion laughed. "Of course not. Most people don't live in communes!"
     Sandi shrugged. "Our grandmother and mother were both born in a big commune. And Fuzzy lives in one."
     "Far out!" Moonchild said. "Your grandmother?" He shook his head. "My grandmother will barely talk to Mom since we moved in here. Except to try to make her leave."
     We turned a corner and came to a block of businesses -- a health food store like the one Annabelle dragged us to in Ocean Beach, but more rundown, and a mystery business with gloppy-looking beige candles in the window, and then Hey Joe, Fuzzy's record store. It looked dark inside. "Do you think he went out?" I asked, suddenly nervous. We'd never gone to see him without Mom.
     "He doesn't like a lot of light," Lion said. This black-haired kid knew my father better than I did. Maybe Lion and Moonchild were like sons to him, and I was just a visitor from his past, an unwanted reminder of the main world.
     Sandi walked ahead of us. She pushed the door hard and it opened and she disappeared into the dark record shop. I held back and Moonchild actually took my hand and smiled at me, leading me along. I'd never held hands with a boy before. I thought of those sappy posters of couples walking on the beach, an abnormally orange sunset in the distance. But this was something else -- a real hand, strong and hot, damp from the heat wave.
     We filed through the door and there sat my father, sweating on a chair in the dark, between warped and dusty records in bins and piles on the floor. I clutched Moonchild's hand and we stood shoulder to shoulder before Fuzzy. Sandi already sat cross-legged at his feet.
     "Hi Fuzzy," Moonchild and I said together.
     "Lex, is that you?" Fuzzy peered at me. The only light came through the blinds, from the street. "Girl, you look different! Did you grow six inches?"
     "I'm taller than I was two years ago. But I have on heels, too." I felt like an idiot pointing my shoes out to him.
     "Heels! Let's get a better look at you." He heaved himself out of the chair like an old man, lurched toward the door and hit the lights. We all blinked, waiting for our eyes to adjust. When I could see again, I noticed that all the records were ancient. Fuzzy had four bins of Grateful Dead records, three of Led Zeppelin and two of Jimi Hendrix. When I turned back from inventorying the records, my dreams of going home with a suitcase of cool music dashed, Fuzzy stared at me, his mouth open. "Who are you and what did you do with my daughter?" he demanded. I stared back in shock. "That face. Those . . . pants," he said, dragging his red eyes down my body. "Those shoes!"
     I looked at my father. His brown corduroy pants hung tattered and unhemmed, sweat stained his dancing skeleton T-shirt. I could hardly see his face now behind the bushy, dusty beard. Maybe if we'd been alone I could have stood him treating me that way, but the two guys looked on, and Moonchild still held my angry wet hand. "You don't look so hot yourself!" I snapped.
     Fuzzy blinked. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. "You look like a teenage tramp in those shoes," he finally said. "Take them off."
     Moonchild squeezed my hand, then released it and stepped toward Fuzzy. "Hey, Lex is OK," he said. "You're being surface just about clothes, Fuzzy." His low voice soothed my father. Just as I started to tell Fuzzy how lame he and his store were, how I bet he didn't even have a Blondie record in his pathetic establishment, and that it was 1981 not 1969, Moonchild made everything OK.
     Fuzzy looked at the dank carpet and his face reddened. He shook his head. "Persephone probably wants you to dress like that. I bet she has you joining clubs and shopping at the mall, and probably you'll start dating when you're twelve. How old are you now? Ten?"
     "I'm thirteen." I'd already taken one plane that day, but I suddenly wanted to take another. Like I looked ten! And weren't fathers supposed to know the ages of their kids?
     "Thirteen years old." He still didn't look at me. "Moonchild, can you believe I have a thirteen-year-old daughter?"
     "Yeah, Fuzzy. And a twelve-year-old daughter, too," he said, motioning to Sandi. "It's OK. You can handle it." Moonchild talked to Fuzzy like you'd talk to a child or an unstable adult. A loon. I wondered what had happened to my father in the two years since I'd seen him.
     "Let's get some pizza," Sandi said. "I'm hungry."
     "We eat our meals at The House," Lion said. "Dinner's at six." It was only mid-afternoon.
     Fuzzy had tears in his eyes and suddenly he bounded forward and embraced me with an awful bear-hug, half sweat and half hair. "My little girl," he said. "My little girl." I thought he'd have to be pried off me.
     Fuzzy decided to educate us about music. We spent the entire afternoon listening to tracks off Fuzzy's favorite bootleg Dead albums from live shows, Jefferson Airplane and Traffic. Fuzzy played "Plastic Fantastic Lover" three times in a row because he didn't think we understood it. I could hear Sandi's stomach growling between songs. Lion left to look for cans to recycle, his main source of income. But Moonchild stayed, so I stayed happy even after the sixth version of "Truckin'." It was too hot to keep standing, so I kicked off my controversial shoes and sprawled on the dirty carpet with Sandi and Moonchild. Sandi and I practiced French braiding each other's hair, then Moonchild said we could braid his, too. I'd never braided a boy's hair, but Moonchild's reached to his shoulders. I braided it real slow, to make the experience last. His hair felt clean and soft between my fingers. But as soon as I finished my most exquisite braid ever, Sandi insisted on undoing it so she could have a turn.
     Fuzzy closed the shop at 5:30 and we returned to The House to have dinner. Arrowroot was on kitchen duty, along with Moonchild's mother, Gravity, and two bearded guys. We ate in a long room on the second floor. People had carved notes all over the big wooden table that almost filled the room. Under my water tumbler it said, "Roy Jackson 3 years to go 6/13/69." I kept my plate down, obscuring "Get outa here gonna get me some pussy action."
     Moonchild, who sat beside me, saw me reading the table. "Got it from a prison garage sale," he whispered. Maybe he was putting me on. I never heard of prisons having garage sales.
     About thirty people ate dinner, including a handful of dirty toddlers that moved too fast for me to count them. Arrowroot and Gravity doled out the food from tureens -- brown rice, soupy lentils, boiled cabbage. At least Annabelle's health food had some spice! I figured The House must be pretty broke to serve a dinner like this.
     Gravity looked young, though she must have been as old as my father. Her hair slid down to her butt. She wore a shapeless, sleeveless peach gauze dress and no bra. Her breasts pushed on the sheer fabric and when she served the lentils I saw a wad of underarm hair. I hadn't started to grow that yet, thank God. I wondered if Moonchild went for hairy pits, since that's what he saw all around him.
     Sandi had chosen to sit at Moonchild's left, rather than next to me. An old bearded guy sat at my right. Lentils steamed from all our plates, but no one picked up a fork yet. "Why aren't we eating?" I whispered to Moonchild.
     "We have to sing first."
     Apparently Fuzzy arranged the dinner music. Everyone watched him while he looked thoughtful. "Tonight," he said, gesturing with his fork. "Tonight we're gonna sing 'Soul Kitchen.' In honor of my two beautiful daughters over there." He swept his fork in our direction. "We had a beautiful afternoon teaching them about our music. So let's turn them on to 'Soul Kitchen.'"
     People nodded and turned to us and began singing a capella in a variety of keys. "The clock says it's time to go . . . now," they began. I'd never heard the song, and didn't think I'd recognize it if I ever heard it again. I wanted to catch Sandi's eye, but I couldn't see her across Moonchild, who sang loudly. Maybe he was as whacked-out as the other hippies. "Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen. Warm my hands by your gentle stove. Turn me out and I'll wander, baby, stumbling in the neon glow!"
     At home, Mom always asked us a hundred questions about school over our fish sticks or frozen pepperoni pizza. But abrupt silence followed the song. People ate, staring at their plates. "Why's everyone so quiet?" I asked Moonchild.
     "To develop mindfulness of eating," he whispered back, despite the dirty looks of other diners. Mindfulness of lentils and cabbage! I had the opposite need, for distraction. One of the lines from Soul Kitchen stuck in my head: "Learn to forget. Learn to forget." That's what I wanted to do about the limp cabbage and gloppy rice. These people didn't even use salt!
     After dinner, everyone went into the big room adjacent to the dining hall for spiritual readings and a sing-along. Fuzzy read the lyrics to Jim Morrison's "Horse Latitudes" and then they rapped about how it affected their lives. Someone else read a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, and Gravity read something from the Bible. A tie-dyed guy denounced the Bible as main, but someone else intervened and said it was all beautiful. When they began an endless round of "Kumbaya," I slipped out the door. Barefoot now, I padded down the dark hall, trying to ignore the skin of my feet treading wet spots and lumps. I went out to the porch and sat on the middle step. The temperature had fallen fifteen or twenty degrees and the stars shone.
     I imagined what Annabelle would think of The House. I bet I could guess, after hearing all the stories of Lomaland. For one thing, Katherine Tingley, Lomaland's founder, knew better than to rule out everybody "main." Madame Tingley knew about fundraising. She knew what money could buy -- exquisite white buildings with amethyst glass domes, trees and seeds to plant and cultivate for abundant fresh produce. The first Greek amphitheater in America, which still stood, gleaming white against a backdrop of Pacific Ocean. Lomaland had lavish pageants, not sing-alongs. Annabelle wouldn't live in a cabbage and lentils kind of commune.
     I heard light footfalls behind me. It must be some hippie sent to track me down and make me rejoin the singing. I kept looking at the sky, wondering if one fuzzy star might be a comet that no one else had noticed.
     The hippie sat beside me and put a hand on my knee. "Are you OK?" Moonchild asked. My knee tingled where his hand lay. His curls almost touched my straight hair.
     "Yeah. I'm fine." I only dared look at him from the corner of my eye. "Did someone make you come find me?"
     "No," he said, removing his hand. "We're not some kind of mind-control cult. A person can go outside if they want."
     I wished his hand back but of course I couldn't say so. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything bad about you."
     We stared at the dark houses across the street. A burnt-out street lamp left us enveloped in near blackness. After a while I felt him relax beside me. "I guess I'm pretty sensitive. I get teased a lot at school for living here."
     "You go to school?"
     "I go to school! What do you think, I get out of school just 'cause I live here?" He laughed.
     "My grandmother's commune had schools on it. The Raja Yoga Institute for grade school. They even had a university on the commune."
     "Wow! A yoga school!"
     "Not really. They just called it Raja Yoga. They learned normal stuff. Plus about karma and reincarnation and seances, I guess."
     "Far out! I wish we had a school."
     "Do you have any friends there? Aren't some of the kids nice to you?"
     "Some are OK."
     "Do you have a girlfriend?" I blurted out, emboldened by the darkness. Luckily, night hid my blushing.
     "No." We sat looking ahead, and the dark began to stifle me. Somewhere a cat yowled. Then Moonchild's hand touched my knee again. And then our heads turned toward each other, slow and even, like someone had one of our heads in each of two big hands, and we pressed our lips together. And we stayed on the steps, kissing.
     When we went inside my knees wobbled and I felt dizzy, but happy. We held hands and Moonchild managed to propel me inside and direct me to the door with the red X. Just before Moonchild left me for the night, he whispered, "Will you be my girlfriend?" And I whispered yes and we kissed and I went inside.
     My father and step-old-lady, I guess you could call her, had already retired for the night. They'd left a lamp on, and a sleeping bag for me on the floor. I didn't see the dog turd anywhere, and suspected it hid under the sleeping bag, but decided not to look. Sandi's little shape lay on the couch, her back to the rest of the room, pale hair spilling almost to the floor. I felt warm all over and wanted to share it.
     "Sandi," I whispered. "Sandi, are you awake?"
     She rolled slowly over, her hair tangling, eyes open. "Why'd you leave the sing-along?" she asked, a pinprick in her voice.
     "I didn't know the songs," I said vaguely, not wanting to ruin this floating feeling.
     "Neither did I. You could've stayed anyway."
     "I wanted to go outside."
     "How are you going to learn the songs outside? Was Moonchild out there teaching you songs?"
     So she'd noticed his absence, and my jealous little sister couldn't even be happy for me. "It's a free country, Sandi. Remember, the Pilgrims came over here for religious freedom. Well I don't have to listen to the Bible quoted at me, and I don't have to sing dumb songs. Neither did the Pilgrims, all right?" I didn't know much about the Pilgrims, but being a year ahead in school lent weight to my historical argument.
     "The songs aren't dumb," she murmured. I didn't argue. "Why didn't you want to stay?" I didn't answer. "This is what Annabelle must have had," Sandi sighed. "This is what's been missing."
     "Been missing from what?"
     But she didn't answer.
     "I think Lomaland was a lot nicer," I insisted. If it had lasted, I would have moved there, at least tried it out. It sounded like paradise, like Eden before the interference. But it was gone gone gone with its orchestra and grand round temple and rich supporters. "The food was better," I sniffed. "And the culture. They don't have a school here, or an orchestra. They have two acoustic guitars and a penny whistle! And one of the guitars only has four strings! And I think they're out of tune!"
     "That's not the point." She suddenly sounded about twice as old as me in the darkness. I didn't like this little rebellion. We'd always agreed on things. Or, more precisely, she'd always agreed with me.
     We stopped talking for the night and pretended sleep, but I think we both lay awake with our thoughts. I forgot about her and just tingled, imagining Moonchild's hands on me. All over me. But that scared me because I'd never had a boyfriend and didn't know exactly what would happen next. I mean, I knew all about sex in theory. Mom had explained it years ago, and we had sex education in school. But they didn't tell me how soon people did things after first kissing.
     Over the next week, The House changed me. I woke up that first morning of my new life as a girlfriend, and I didn't want my feet bent over those spike-heeled shoes. Nor did I dust my eyelids with green powder, though I still applied a light coat of mascara. I left my curling iron deep in my bag. I woke up realizing these tools of attraction had hindered me from getting close to Moonchild. That he liked me despite these ruses, not because of them.
     The second and third nights Moonchild and I slipped outside after the evening's activity to kiss on the porch. No one interfered with us. The House's inhabitants recognized all people as sexual beings. Anyway, at fourteen, Moonchild was only four years away from legal adulthood.
     The fourth night we had a group meditation in the recreation room. For the first half hour I was totally distracted. My back hurt and I regretted a week of missed TV shows. But halfway through I got a glimmer of what meditation is supposed to bring -- a freeing of self from time and place, a blending of individual into group consciousness. Hokey as that sounds. And after that, when Moonchild and I went outside and walked through the dark, warm streets, that feeling shrouded us. And when we stopped and leaned against a wall and kissed, for the first time I eluded self-consciousness. We blended together in a new way. I wasn't just lips, a neck, some hands and a lone throbbing. We throbbed together, almost liquid, merging. We were part of everything. He slipped his hand inside my shirt -- the green Indian shirt he had worn the first time I saw him -- and ran his hands over my small, tingling breasts. His hands moved down my belly, around my waist. He kissed me while he unbuttoned my jeans and slid a hand inside. He slipped his hand between my legs where the hair was just beginning to grow. I clutched his shoulders because I wouldn't have been able to stand otherwise. He only touched me for a few seconds, then withdrew his hand and left me leaning on him, panting. Then he took my hand and pressed it to the outside of his pants so I could feel the bulge there. I gasped as I felt its warmth through his pants. The pictures I'd seen in the encyclopedia, the anatomy of the human male, hadn't prepared me for touch. He undid the drawstring on his pants and let them fall around his ankles and stood bare-assed in the parking lot. I snuck a look but couldn't see in the dark, so I had to reach out again. I touched the fleshy thing, not as long or stiff as a hot dog, but with a life of its own. It twitched in my hand and I flinched. I didn't know what to do with it so I just lay my palm flat against it. The ease of the meditation fled and I became fully aware that I was alone with a boy in a parking lot, his dick in my hand, and he expected me to do something with it. But what? I couldn't just ask him. He breathed hard. He kissed me again but I must have felt different, stiffer. "Are you OK?" he whispered.
     I nodded, though I wasn't.
     "You don't have to do anything. Nothing you don't want to do." I let go of his dick and kissed him again. But now I wished he'd pull his pants up, sure someone would drive along and see this bare-butted boy in the parking lot.
     I worried I'd disappointed him, but I didn't know how to ask.
     He moved closer and held me and I felt his pelvis gently moving. I could feel the lump of his dick, just barely, through the thick denim of my Jordache jeans. I tried to recapture the feeling from meditation, but now Moonchild and I were clearly two separate entities who led entirely different lives in two states. I felt sad, and put my arms tighter around him and felt his hair against my face even though I got more annoyed the longer he stood there with his pants down.
     Other nights, we only kissed. We spent our days like kids -- at least kids of the House -- hiking in Forest Park, riding rusty old bikes, searching for discarded aluminum cans to recycle, listening to hippie records in the dark cool of Hey Joe. I decided I liked Jefferson Airplane, though Fuzzy couldn't convince me that the Grateful Dead was anything but a colossal bore.
     "One pill makes you larger," I sang as Sandi and I spent a rare moment together alone, walking through the hot afternoon to get some ice cream with a dollar Dad gave us. Our visit would end the next day. "And one pill makes you small. And the ones that . . . "
     "I'm staying."
     I stopped singing.
     "I am. I'm staying at The House and I'm going to be a vegetarian and everyone will be my sisters and brothers and I'll go to school with Moonchild and Lion." I stopped and looked at my little sister, open-mouthed. She'd stopped first, planted her feet into that steaming summer sidewalk, clenched her fists. She wore Lion's Led Zeppelin T-shirt and her hair looked stringier than usual. Fuzzy had played us Led Zeppelin and now Sandi claimed them as her favorite band.
     "We're not staying here. We have plane tickets. We leave Saturday."
     "Maybe you're leaving," she said softly.
     "Maybe you're leaving. But I'm not."
     Our egg had finally divided and now my little twin, my shadow, was neither. I tried to hide my panic. "Sandi, that's dumb. We live in San Diego, remember? With Mom. And Annabelle just down the street. How could you think about not seeing Annabelle?"
     "Annabelle wouldn't leave her commune."
     "She did. Remember, that's why she lives in Ocean Beach?"
     Sandi rolled her little blue eyes. "She didn't leave till she had to. 'Cause of the war."
     "Well The House isn't your commune. We're just visiting."
     "Don't you want to stay?" She cocked her head and watched me closely. The idea hadn't occurred to me. I felt disloyal to Mom and Annabelle even thinking about it.
     "I don't know. But we can't."
     "Why not?"
     "We have plane tickets," I blustered.
     She tossed her hair over her shoulder. "That's so material. That's such main thinking." She looked down at the sidewalk and pointed a dirty brown toe. "I thought you had a special reason to stay." I hadn't discussed Moonchild with her, and it had been building up between us all week. I tried to imagine staying here, living in the cluttered rooms of Fuzzy and Arrowroot, going to Moonchild's school and being his girlfriend there every day. Being teased along with him. Being one of the picked-on school-aged inhabitants of The House. Learning all the Dead and Doors songs so I could join the sing-alongs after dinner. Trying thirty different lentil recipes that all still tasted like lentils.
     Sandi stared at me. I'd never worried about her tattling before, but suddenly I suspected she'd report to Moonchild if I didn't look grieved enough about leaving him. "We can't just think of ourselves all the time." I looked down at my own feet, also bare. "Sometimes we have to think of Mom, and all she sacrificed to raise us. And of Annabelle. What will she do if you're not there to water the plants? She's too old to do everything around the nursery."
     We stood for another minute, not talking, then Sandi turned away from me and continued toward the store. I followed behind her.
     I bought a chocolate ice cream cone. Sandi got two strawberry cones, one for her, one for Fuzzy. She licked them both to keep them from dripping on our way back to Hey Joe. She didn't say anything else about staying, not right then.
     When we got back to Hey Joe, Moonchild sat on the floor listening to Cream, keeping our father company. "My girls," Fuzzy beamed as Sandi handed him the ice cream cone. After nearly a week at The House, I understood my father smoked a lot of pot, which made him happy but not too bright.
     I sat with Moonchild and we took turns licking the chocolate ice cream cone. While he ate it, I twisted his soft honey hair around my fingers. Maybe it was the lentils, but he didn't have any zits on his tan, smooth skin. I sat as close to him as possible without sitting on his lap. I tried to imagine staying at The House. Moonchild and I would spend the rest of the summer together, kissing on the porch and maybe going to our special parking lot to feel inside each other's pants. What came after that? Putting our mouths between legs. Sex.
     "Why are you looking at me that way?" Moonchild asked, his face close to mine. When he smiled his white teeth looked giant sized. He thrust the ice cream cone at me but I shook my head. I couldn't eat. I felt paralyzed beside him, over-aware of my body. I could feel tingling between my legs and in my breasts. Was that just blood moving in my body that made it tingle? Did my blood always move that way, I'd just never paid attention? He leaned over and kissed me, even though Sandi and Fuzzy sat just a few feet away. I wondered if his ice cream-cold lips were numb.
     "Oh, here's 'White Room!' This is a classic!" Fuzzy squealed. "Listen, girls. Just listen." He turned the volume up even louder.
     I still hadn't answered Moonchild why I looked at him that way, but he didn't ask again, so I guess he knew. I wished Fuzzy and Sandi weren't there, that I could lock the record store and be alone with Moonchild and "White Room."
     He finished the ice cream cone in a big bite. Maybe because there was nowhere to set it without getting up, and he needed his hands free to rub my knees, to play with my hair.
     The year before, locked in a bathroom, I'd experimented with a hot dog. I knew it fit between my legs. And in the bath tub I'd tried out a toothbrush holder and the handle of a hairbrush and a trial size bottle of Vidal Sassoon shampoo. So I knew sex wasn't just a theory, or something that only worked for other people. And I knew Moonchild's dick wasn't as long as a hot dog or as big around as a shampoo bottle, even trial size. So it couldn't hurt too bad. So what was I scared of?
     Cream ended. "Best of Bread," Fuzzy announced, standing over the turntable. "Great album, girls. You must have heard of Bread now, haven't you?"
     I didn't answer because Fuzzy seemed like background noise to me, less compelling than station identification on a TV set. "No," Sandi said. "We don't know Bread." It was an even dumber name than Cream.
     "Why don't you talk to me?" Moonchild whispered, smiling. "You just keep staring at me. You're not stoned, are you?" I shook my head. Was he teasing me? Did he know exactly how I felt but wanted to enjoy his power over me by making me spell it out? The blood rushed between my legs, away from my speech muscles, leaving me mute. I couldn't say I can take a hot dog so let's go, baby. I lacked everything I needed -- vocabulary, a place to be alone, experience. So we lay there, listening to Bread, who sucked.
     After a Jethro Tull double album, it was time for dinner. We ate couscous and black beans which, mixed together, would make a suitable substitute for cement. Moonchild and I went outside, our bellies heavy with legumes.
     We meandered through the neighborhood and wound up in our parking lot again, sitting on a crumbling concrete wall. We could see the moon in the still-blue sky. "I have something for you," Moonchild said, groping in his pocket. He pulled out a red, purple and gold knotted yarn bracelet like I'd seen some of the hippies in The House wear. "Will you wear it and think of me until I see you again?"
     I looked at the diamond pattern, the hanging threads at the ends, and thought how it would clash with nine-tenths of my wardrobe. I nodded. "I'll wear it," I whispered and kissed his cheek. I swung my right leg onto his lap before he could think. "Tie it on my ankle. It will stay nicer there. You know, I wash my hands a lot." He knotted the anklet, then kissed my ankle and my knee.
     "When it falls off, make a wish."
     "Falls off? I thought it lasted forever."
     He just smiled and kissed me on the mouth. Then we jumped down and returned to The House for the rest of the sing-along. By then I could join in on "White Rabbit," "Truckin'," "Someone to Love," and "People are Strange."
     After the sing-along, I stuck close to Sandi, ready to be the voice of reason in any discussion. Fuzzy might be just muddy-minded enough to let her stay. What kind of big sister would I be if Mom trusted me to escort Sandi on a plane to Oregon, then I left her there?
     Arrowroot didn't often go to the sing-alongs. When Fuzzy, Sandi and I entered their apartment, Arrowroot sat on the sofa in lotus position, a cup of herb tea cooling by her elbow, a cigarette in her hand, eyes closed. She looked like a skinny, smooth-faced teenager. Fuzzy swooped down and kissed her lips.
     "I'm meditating," she said, not opening her eyes.
     "With a cigarette?" Sandi asked.
     "Helps me focus on my breathing."
     Fuzzy sat down beside Arrowroot, but at a respectful distance so he wouldn't touch her. Sandi and I sat together in the bean bag chair. The room had even more empty coffee cups and cigarette packs than when we'd arrived a week earlier. I'd thought about cleaning the place, but figured they'd think that a main way to show affection.
     We stayed quiet, waiting for Arrowroot to finish meditating. She dragged on the cigarette, the ash half an inch long, and slowly exhaled. I meditated on the smoke, too, seeing it sucked into her gray lungs, swirl around in the sacks of skin for a second, then slowly leave her mouth and nostrils. Three separate points of departure. A triangle. That probably meant something around here, maybe astrological.
     My father watched her, too, a little smile on his hairy face. He probably had to be happy with what he got these days, being so out-of-date and unshaven, untidy and poor. Arrowroot might be pretty if rearranged.
     As soon as Arrowroot's eyelids raised, before her eyes focussed, before she felt the cigarette butt beginning to burn her fingers, Sandi started talking. "I'm staying," she said. "I'm going to stay and I'll help you in the store, Fuzzy. I'll help you after school. And I'll learn to cook and I'll learn all the songs. I already knew all the words to six songs tonight, and the choruses to three more. This is the place for me. You'll see, Fuzzy, I'm a good worker. I've been helping Annabelle at the nursery for about five, no, six years. I'm dependable." She beamed and begged.
     I watched Arrowroot. Her brows pulled together as she viciously jabbed her cigarette into a cola can. "Whoa." She held up her hands to block Sandi. "Whoa. Fuzzy, this is going too far."
     Fuzzy looked back and forth between Sandi and Arrowroot, confused. "My little girl wants to stay with us for a while," he said. "That's cool. People come, people go. Some stay . . ."
     "Your kids come, your kids go. We stay," Arrowroot corrected. "Some bourgeois ideas tugging at your heart, baby?" The sarcasm in her voice dripped into the matted orange shag carpet. "You want a nice little nuclear family, is that it? You're going nuclear on me." As she talked her hands prodded the couch cushions, the coffee table in front of her, searching for cigarettes. She was basically on my side, so I threw her a pack that lay on the carpet by my knee. The Marlboros hit her braless chest and she glared in my direction, then recognized the missive and tore into it. She found a light and resumed the meditative passage of gray smoke through gray lungs.
     "I don't have to live in your apartment," Sandi persisted, steel beneath her soft voice. "I'll sleep in the music room, and shower in Moonchild's apartment." Shower in Moonchild's apartment? In another year my little sister would have breasts and hairs and I didn't want her nude on a regular basis in my boyfriend's apartment. "Lion said I can stay with him and his dad for a while. I don't care where I sleep. I just need to be part of The House."
     "Shit, this is not happening," Arrowroot muttered. "Look, little girl. This is your vacation. A visit. This is slumming from your bourgeois, square little life. Go home to your mommy and your soft little feather bed and your room full of unicorns and rainbows." She inhaled about half her cigarette. "But we're doing things, man. We're plotting the revolution."
     "But she's my little girl!" Fuzzy pleaded. "She wants to stay."
     Arrowroot whirled on him. "Yeah, and your ex-wife will just let her, huh? She'll say 'Sure, take my youngest! No sweat!' Not fucking likely, stupid!" I heard stereos turn on in the surrounding apartments. Live and let live, man. "No," Arrowroot continued, her voice dropping low. "Your little girl stays here, your ex-wife's going to send in the heat and you'll bring us all down. Sap!"
     "We were never married."
     Arrowroot shook her head, staring at a Dead poster on the opposite wall. "Your kids are on that plane tomorrow or I split. I'm not getting dragged down by some sap like you."
     I felt Sandi shuddering behind me, quietly crying. I put an arm around her and tried to hide my look of relief.
     I said goodbye to Moonchild the next morning. He held both my hands and looked into my face and I knew I'd never be as wholesome-hearted, open and naturally clean as him. "We'll write each other, OK?" Moonchild said, squeezing my hands. The communal phone in the sing-along room was usually disconnected for non-payment.
     "Yeah, I'll write," I echoed, though I didn't know what I'd tell him about my completely separate life in San Diego. "Maybe I can visit at Christmas."
     "Solstice. We celebrate winter solstice at The House."
     "OK. Well I better go before Sandi and Arrowroot get in another fight."
     "Yeah. Take care of your little sister. She needs a group." I didn't like ending talking about her.
     "I'm wearing your anklet. I'll think about you every time I look at my leg."
     "I'll think of you whenever I'm sitting on the porch at night."
     We kissed and there was nothing for me to do but leave.
     Fuzzy didn't accompany us on the tense ride to the airport, because of the heat there. Arrowroot smoked, the radio blared, Sandi's lips pressed tight together. At the airport, Arrowroot swerved to the curb, slammed the brake and left the motor running while we pried our bags out of the back seat. "Bye, girls," she said, looking straight ahead. As soon as the second bag hit the curb, she zoomed away.
     "What a bitch," I muttered. I put an arm around Sandi. "I'm glad you're not staying with a bitch like that."
     But she just watched the van disappear, then heaved her blue bag onto her scrawny shoulder and walked into the airport.
     Mom met us in San Diego. She threw her arms around us and carried on as though we'd just returned from the moon. How is Fuzzy and where does he live now and does he have many . . . friends . . . and what are they like and how did he entertain us for a whole week. When she finally stopped bugging us long enough to look at me, she said, "I see Fuzzy got you some . . . new . . . clothes." I wore Moonchild's tattered green shirt and some sandals Lion had found in a dumpster. I just nodded. Mom had been thrilled with my interest in fashion and make-up, though she thought it came a little young.
     "So what did you do all week?" Mom chirped on the drive back to Ocean Beach. In her pink sweatsuit, gold chain with a heart around her neck, cheap black-framed sunglasses, and permed bleached hair, Mom looked entirely main.
     "We hung out in Fuzzy's record store a lot," I said. "We learned about Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, who suck, Bread, Cream, Led Zeppelin . . . "
     "Fuzzy and I used to listen to those same bands," smiled Mom, who kept her radio tuned to the adult contemporary pop station.
     Sandi's broken heart prevented speech. I kept my fingers crossed she wouldn't tell Mom how she begged to stay with Fuzzy. I chattered so Mom wouldn't notice Sandi's silence. I didn't want to tell her I had a boyfriend 'cause she'd probably say I was too young, but I couldn't talk about our trip without mentioning that we hung around some other kids in Portland, who happened to be boys. Of course, man-crazy Mom guessed right away. "So what's your new boyfriend's name?" she asked.
     How I wished I could answer with a Joe or Tom or something normal. "He kind of has a hippie name," I mumbled.
     "Come on, Lex," Sandi said. "Can't you even say his name without excuses?" She sounded totally disgusted. "His name is Moonchild."
     "Moonchild," Mom repeated, adjusting her shoulders. "What's this Moonchild like, Sandi?"
     "Everybody loves him," she said. "He keeps people from fighting. He took us to Fuzzy when we first got there, when Arrowroot wouldn't even tell us where the record store was."
     "Fuzzy's friend who picked us up at the airport," I explained, before Sandi gave a definition that might upset Mom.
     "What's this Arrowroot like?"
     "She's mean and she smokes too much," Sandi said.
     "Her apartment's a pigsty."
     "What does she look like?" Mom had forgotten Moonchild before I could mention his green eyes, his wavy honey hair.
     "Like a hippie," I said. "Long dirty hair. Wraparound skirts. Hairy. Out of date."
     Sandi flashed me dirty looks from the back seat.
     "How old is she?" Mom asked. I shrugged.
     "Nineteen," said Sandi.
     "How do you know that?" I whirled to look at Sandi, who'd probably learned a lot while I mooned over Moonchild.
     "Lion told me."
     "Nineteen!" Mom said, and I caught forty-year-old Mom looking at herself in the rear-view mirror. We drove home the rest of the way in silence, each with our separate sadness.

(to be continued)

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