HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse
Issue 8A Journal of Letters and Life

Madam Tingley's Organ (4th installment) Continued from Cyber Corpse # 7
by Teresa Bergen
Author's Links

The day Dale Ross asked me to collaborate on his quickie bio of Sandi, Mom called me at midnight. "What are you doing up there," she said.
      Pablo had just gone home because I swore I was OK. Exhausted, he pretended to believe me. When Mom called I was sitting on the futon, the bass on my lap -- not playing it, just letting it keep me company like a cat or a lap dog, some kind of poodle substitute. I stared at the moon through Venetian blinds. "I'm wrapping things up. I'm coming down there, Mom, really."
     She sighed. "That's not what I mean, Lex. I know you don't want to come down. I'm just worried about you."
     "I want to come down!" I lied. I wished I wanted to go to San Diego.
     "What I mean is, how are you spending the hours of the day? Since you don't have a job, I worry about you having all this time on your hands. You're not doing drugs again, are you? Or drinking?"
     I'd never done drugs heavily, and she sounded like she'd had a few drinks herself. "No, Mom. And I do work. You know I give lessons and fix amps and play out with that cover band about three times a week." Just because I didn't go to an office every day for thirty-five years like her, she considered me unemployed.
     "Did you give any lessons today?" she challenged.
     "No, but I fixed an amp." Actually, it wasn't quite working yet.
     "This is the worst week of my life, Lex." I could hear her tears now. "I guess I want to keep an eye on the only daughter I have left. I guess I just wish you were here so I could keep you safe."
     "I love you, Mom," I said softly. "I'll keep myself safe 'til I get there." Soon the moon would be too high for me to see, rising to glow through the window of my upstairs neighbor.
     "These people are calling me day and night."
     "What people?"
     "Probably the same people calling you. Newspapers. Magazines."
     "Why do you answer the phone?"
     "I keep hoping it's you."
     I couldn't get her off the phone until two A.M. She wanted to relive every moment of Sandi's childhood. Why hadn't she been stricter? Why had she allowed us to go to psychic fairs, to get involved with those Hare Krishnas, and then the channeling people? Of course, I'd been thinking of all that, too.
     Dale Ross called me at noon the next day.
     My refrigerator had not self-generated any food.
     This time I told him to wait half an hour. I showered and even washed my hair, and put on rust lipstick and a green dress that fit well and didn't have any rips.
     "You look great," Dale Ross said when I met him at Cafe Istanbul. I'd avoided the place since breaking up with a guy who used to wait tables there, but the pain of a break up seemed like a bee sting now. Dale and I both ordered falafel sandwiches and Turkish coffee. I hadn't eaten since the last time I'd seen him, or talked to anyone but Mom and Pablo. I tried not to look around the crowded restaurant because I'd probably see people I knew.
     "How's the biography coming?"
     He shrugged. "I'm lagging a bit behind."
     "Who's talked?"
     "I'm not going to tell you that." He toyed with his food. I ate my whole falafel while he still picked at his first half. "You haven't been eating, have you?" he asked. I looked away from him. You can't trust what looks like sympathy in the eyes of such a crafty professional. "You want to order something else?"
     I got some more Turkish coffee and an order of baklava.
     "This bio is going to come out, whether you cooperate or not. And other bios like it. Don't you want at least one to be accurate, Lex?" He watched me through eyes green like sea glass, with lines at the corners as delicate as fingernail tracings.
     "You want some of this baklava?" I offered. "It's pretty good."
     He let me hand him a piece. Our fingers touched and he caught my hand for a quick inspection. "You sure have some callouses!"
     "Yeah, I play bass for a living." He rubbed my fingertips, where my skin grew so thick I could barely feel his touch. "Is this a useful detail for your book?"
     "I've never felt a woman's hand that had callouses like this."
     "You should get out more." I yanked away my hand. "Hey, you did that Nirvana book! You must have met lots of women musicians for that."
     "There was no time at all. I had to do it over the phone."
     He left half his falafel. I wanted to wrap it up and take it for later, but that would be way too demeaning.
     "Lex!" I heard a girl's voice from behind, then felt a small hand on my shoulder. "I just heard the news. It's terrible!" Caya, the bass player for The Tangelos, stood adorably by our table. She wore a lime green dress that coated her body down to her ankles, her black hair spilling almost to her waist, her skin fresh as a teenager's.
     "Yeah," I said.
     "It's not going to be the same around here," she said, eyeing Dale. At least his face didn't register her cuteness.
     "What do you mean?" I asked.
     "Sexchain was the best band in town! Did you ever hear them?" she asked Dale. He shook his head.
      "Oh, you mean my band breaking up," I murmured. Sexchain was a feedback-laden pop band, my best band in the seven years I'd lived in San Francisco. We played originals, unlike The Friday Knights, which just paid my rent. But the Sexchain guitarist overdosed for the second time in a year last month, and the drummer refused to put up with his shit anymore. We all just got older, unsigned, underpaid, and always a fuck-up in the bunch.
     "We're playing tonight at Brainwash," she said, proceeding to recite their whole schedule for March and April, shooting glances at Dale like she hoped he'd show up at one of her gigs. She talked loud enough for our conversation to be part of The Tangelos' publicity campaign.
     "Caya," snapped a guy at another table. "Caya, come here." She looked bewildered by his tone. I didn't know him, but he probably read the newspapers or at least watched TV, and thought to save me by calling her off. She wandered away with a vague goodbye.
     "You want to go for a walk? Or go to a museum or something?" Dale Ross asked me.
     I felt old and tired. "Why do you think I'm going to help you with this book?"
     "I don't think anything," he said.
     "You have two weeks to write this thing. You should be in San Diego."
          "So should you."
          "It's none of your business where I should be," I said, too exhausted to even sound annoyed. "Thanks for lunch."I stood up and left before he could see my tears starting up again. I turned toward home, decided to go to the park instead, changed my mind, tried to get on a bus, realized it wasn't a good idea, and somehow wound up back on my futon with an open notebook and a pen. I took notes, remembering the origins of Pure Universe. And Dale Ross had pegged me right somehow, as the one person there at the beginning.
     Chapter Five
     After our summer stay at The House, the mainstream lost its appeal. I started eighth grade and Sandi began seventh that fall, and now we both attended Dana Junior High. I gave my spiked heels to the Goodwill, and dispensed with all make-up except mascara and black eyeliner and maybe some lipstick, and traded my Jordache jeans for Levis, and generally stopped aspiring to mainstream social success. Sandi still wore sundresses and sandals, T-shirts and tennis shoes, like a little girl. We ignored the cafeteria scene, with its popular and nerdy tables, its smells and snubs. We ate outside by the tether ball courts, where stoner kids snuck cigarettes. I felt lucky to have a boyfriend already, because the social aspects of school required so much effort and nerve.
     Moonchild and I wrote faithfully every few weeks at first. He told me news of The House, which was always more interesting than San Diego.
     Dear Lex:
     Fuzzy lets me and Lion run the record store on Tuesdays now. He doesn't pay us, but he lets us pick two records each for every day we work.
     A groovy woman just moved into The House. She does Tarot cards and astrology charts. She read my cards last week and said I would go somewhere and encounter love, so maybe it means I'll go to San Diego!
     Arrowroot freaked out last week and dumped a whole pot of lentils on the kitchen floor. She said she saw God in them and wanted to free him. I think she does too much speed and acid.
     Tomorrow everyone in The House is starting a purification fast -- no food, no drink except Master Cleanser (cayenne, lemon juice and barley tea mixed together), no drugs. It was supposed to be no cigarettes, too, but Arrowroot got upset and everyone felt bad for her 'cause she'd just freaked out.
     I think of you every day.
     Your friend,
     I didn't like the ending. Was I his friend or his girlfriend? Would it have killed him to sign off "Love, Moonchild?" I wondered about the groovy tarot card reader's age, and if she liked fourteen year olds. Maybe the love journey she had planned for Moonchild was a trip into her apartment! My first boyfriend, my first taste of jealousy.
     Then the scariest stoner guy at school asked me out.
     Chance stood about six inches taller than me, with dark eyes and black hair that waved around his shoulders. He wore plaid shirts with hanging threads and a big silver pentagram on a chain around his neck. He looked about eighteen.
     One day, just after the end-of-lunch bell rang, Chance cornered me alone by the woodshop. He put a clumsy hand on my shoulder and bent down, dark hanks of hair falling toward me. "I hear you know how to talk to spooks and stuff. What do you say we ditch school and hitchhike to a graveyard?"
     I froze, wondering who told him about my childhood seances. Besides, the only graveyard I'd ever seen in San Diego was the military cemetery at Cabrillo National Monument, thousands of rows of small white stones, standing precisely at attention even in death, a place too sterile for spirits. "I have to work," I finally stammered.
     "Do you work all the time?" he pressed, his eyes holding mine. I nodded. He smirked and kept his hand on my shoulder. "One of these days you won't be working," he whispered, then walked away.
     At the nursery that afternoon, I told Annabelle about the stoner kids. Except for Chance, they were mostly nice. But Annabelle didn't know what to tell me. She didn't grow up around drugs. "It's the lazy way. It's not real," she said. "Thinking a substance can expand your mind instantly! That's America. Instant gratification. Perhaps I'll move to India." The world would stop turning before Annabelle moved one block, but she liked to feign rootlessness.
     She launched into a rambling story about Madame Tingley as she pruned a fern. Once upon a time, Madame Tingley brought some Cuban kids to Lomaland. She intended to educate these wild kids, but they wouldn't meditate, and didn't care to contact the Ascended Masters. They snuck out at night, boys and girls, doing who knows what together. They stole extra food. Once one of them stole some jewelry. Madame Tingley tried to teach them for a few years, but eventually sent them all back to Cuba.
     I didn't get her point. Were the stoner kids hopeless? Was incorrigibility contagious?
     I avoided Chance. I waited for Moonchild or Fuzzy to invite me to Portland for solstice. But neither mentioned it, despite my hints, and I was too proud to ask outright. My birthday passed, then solstice, and then Christmas, with our usual awkward family get-together of Mom, Sandi, me, and the Theosophy ladies gathering at Annabelle's house. Then the new year arrived and my hormones and girl's heart yearned for a summer visit with Moonchild.
     But March destroyed my hopes. The House fell apart. I never learned all the details, but they were behind on rent, and a resident or two got busted for drugs, and truancy officers sniffed around for Moonchild and Lion, who'd started summer vacation a few months early. In fact, they ran Hey Joe by then, and in February it made a profit for the first time ever.
     The truancy officers suggested separating Moonchild and his mom, but somehow they eluded the heat and wound up at another Oregon commune, this one much more organized and devoted to a charismatic figure. Moonchild didn't like the leader, an old Indian man with dozens of Rolls Royces. But his Mom fell in love. Every morning the whole commune lined up outside and waved as their guru drove by in a Rolls. Moonchild had no other contact with his new master, except for seeing his picture plastered everywhere, including on a pendant called a mala that all his followers wore around their necks. They hung one on Moonchild, too.
     Having a boyfriend I could see only in summer was tragically romantic. But devoting myself to a boyfriend I might never see again was stupid. I didn't send him a break-up letter because he was in such a bogus place. But I considered our boyfriend/girlfriend connection dissolved.
     Chance had backed off long ago. But in April, a few weeks after Moonchild moved to Rajneeshpuram, Chance found me alone at the tether ball court one lunch hour. "Do you have to work after school today?" he asked, kind of sarcastic like. I said "maybe not" and our eyes locked and held. "Meet me here after school," he said, his voice low, his face so close I got a good look at his crooked, not very white teeth. I didn't answer. He walked away and ignored me the rest of lunch.
     Sandi and I always walked to the nursery together after school, but that afternoon I made some excuse that sounded fake to both of us. She just said OK, that she'd tell Annabelle I'd be along later. Three P.M. found me alone in the tether ball court, like an idiot, waiting for Chance.
     I sat on a bench in the deserted court and looked through my backpack until I found Candide, the book from English class. I couldn't keep my mind on the story, but it looked better than standing there doing nothing. Chance managed to sneak up from behind and grab the book with one big hand.
     "Candide," he said slowly, pronouncing it with a long "i" sound. He was in the classes for the kids who weren't so smart. "Hey, I live on this street," he said when he saw the author's name.
     "Voltaire was a French guy. A few centuries ago."
     He dropped the book on a bench and I knew he didn't care about literature, he'd just wanted to take something away from me. "Let's get out of here," he said.
     "Where are we going?"
     He looked at me like I was stupid, although I was in the classes for bright students and he was sixteen, in ninth grade, and had been held back at least once already. "I'm going to show you something."
     I stood up and we took the side way out of the school yard, up a dirt path between lush banks of nasturtiums and allysum, and through a hole in the fence. We came out on a back street that had a wall of trees on one side, to shield the street from a busier, louder road just beyond. I felt like I was in a tunnel, the trees on one side, Chance towering over me on the other.
     "I still have to work later. I can't be gone too long."
     He shot me another contemptuous look. "You'll get to your precious job," he said in his low growl.
     Cars wooshed by on the other side of the trees. I snuck a glance at him and wondered if other girls thought he was as hot as I did. Hot in a dirty, scary way.
     "What are you looking at?" he snarled.
     I shrugged. I probably looked at a psychopath. I could turn around and march over to Ocean Beach and go to work. But then again, I couldn't. Since I'd pissed him off already, I figured I might as well ask him what I really wanted to know. "So if you hate school so much, why do you bother to go?"
     He cast a look of loathing upon me. "I'm going to get a goddamn diploma if it takes me twenty years, OK? If I have to outlast all these asshole teachers, I'll get one, OK?"
     "OK. But you don't have to get mad at me."
     "Then quit asking me stupid fucking questions."
     "I don't think it was a stupid fucking question."
     We were both angry but kept walking together anyway. We came to a narrow dirt alley and Chance grabbed my hand and yanked me along behind him. His hand seemed twice as big as mine, and ten times as strong. The sounds of the cars grew distant, and now we heard mostly birds and the roar of low-flying jets. The sky was the pure blue of spring, and yellow sour grass lined the alley.
     A dirt path branched off through a stand of trees, then into a clearing. We stood in the middle of ruins, probably of a cottage, but they looked magical. Stones painted white were piled into a deteriorating wall, and purple-flowered weeds and magenta-blooming succulent grew over the cement foundation. An old outdoor stove made of stones decayed in a corner of the clearing.
     I gazed about, open-mouthed, and when I met Chance's eyes I saw him smile for the first time, just a flash, before the guarded look returned to his face. "It's beautiful." I sat on the crumbling wall. Chance fished a pack of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket, lit a cigarette and handed it to me. Then he lit one for himself. I only inhaled a little, so I wouldn't choke.
     Chance sat beside me, but not too close. "You can't tell anyone about this place."
     "I won't."
     "This is my place."
     "No one else knows about it. So I'll know if you tell." Surely other people knew about it. This expensive Point Loma land had to belong to someone.
     "I said I won't tell." We smoked our cigarettes, me with little puffs, Chance in long drags.
     "So I hear you're some kind of spiritual chick. That your family's into seances and stuff."
     I shrugged. "My grandmother. Not my Mom. She wants us to be a normal family."
     He snickered. "No such thing."
     "What about your family?"
     He glared. "Are you fucking with me?"
     "I just asked about your family. Geez, you asked about mine first!"
     "Yeah, well everyone knows plenty about my family already."
     "I don't. But just forget I asked, OK?"
     "No. I can't forget you asked."
     "Do it anyway. Just forget it." We sat and glowered for a minute. "This is a great place. I won't tell anyone about it. But I'm going to work now." I stood up but he grabbed my wrist.
     "Don't," he commanded. His grasp tightened. I didn't look at him at first, I gazed at the trees. His fingers loosened but held, and then they caressed my wrist and for the first time I saw the wrist as a sexy body part. "Come here." I slowly turned toward him and the world went fuzzy all around Chance, sitting dark and scary and enticing on that dilapidated stone wall. My throat tightened, the rest of me loosened. I felt saliva building up in my mouth but I couldn't swallow. He tugged my arm and I stumbled to him. He pulled me onto his lap. I hadn't sat in anyone's lap since I was a little girl, and I felt small against his chest, his big head leaning over me. The world slowed down and throbbed. He brushed his fingertips down my face, my neck, and over my breasts. They lingered on my nipples and I moaned despite myself. "You sure are a horny girl," he whispered. "I could tell right away when I first saw you." I absorbed this new information with his touch. "You just stick with me." He nipped my earlobe and it felt like a threat. "Just stick with me."
     I felt dizzy and it occurred to me I might throw up and how disastrous that would be. So I stayed still on his lap. He rubbed his big hands over my shoulder, my waist, and he kissed my hair, but not gently. He pawed me all over, like he didn't know where to start, but he didn't try to reach inside my clothes. I kept my hands to myself. I just sat there, and moaned, and tried not to barf.
     We couldn't have stayed like that long, but it seemed like hours. Eventually he stopped caressing me and wrapped his arms around me and left them there. We sat like that for a long time, though I worried my weight might make his legs fall asleep.
     "My dad killed himself. Everyone knows that." I stopped breathing. "Didn't you know that?"
     "No," I whispered.
     "Did you really not know that?"
     "No." I unloosed my right arm from where he had pinned it to my side. I reached up and touched his long hair, which felt fairly clean. I tilted my head up and pulled his down and kissed him softly on the lips. I let my hand fall away and our heads separated a few inches. I looked into his dark eyes.
     "It was a long time ago," he whispered, "but it never goes away."
     I kissed him again. I didn't want to hear how it had happened, at least not right then, with a queasy stomach. I didn't have anything to say. Most people would call my commune-dwelling father a freak, but at least he was alive.
     I explored Chance's hair with my fingers: the coarse, thick strands, the split ends, the oil at the roots. His hair parted on the left side so a hunk of it flopped over his right eye. He usually shook it out of his eyes every thirty seconds, but he let it hang in his face as I touched it. He bent down and kissed me harder.
     His father's death lay on us thick and heavy.
     Just when I thought night would find us in Chance's grotto, he sprang to his feet, setting me on the ground beside him. My knees barely held at first, but he steadied me with an arm. "We better go," he said gruffly. "We better get out of here."
     "Why?" I wondered if he'd smelled something on the wind, like an animal. But he just shrugged and took my hand. He led the way out of the clearing. Things wouldn't be the same once we left there and I had to contemplate what I'd been doing in the arms of a scary stoner, and what would happen next, and what people would think, and if I could handle that. I'd already realized relationships weren't between two people; all society wanted to butt in and have a say about my life.
     The next day at lunch, Chance sidled up to me when he thought no one would notice. Sandi sat beside me, studying math and eating a sandwich. "See you after school," he whispered.
     "I have to work."
     He glared at me. "But I need to see you."
     I shook my head. "You know I work. I got totally behind yesterday. I can't do that every day."
     His eyes burned me, then he turned and stormed off the tether ball courts. I'd hooked up with a psycho.
     "What was that about?" Sandi asked, her mouth full of tuna sandwich.
     "Oh, he wants me to be his girlfriend." She didn't miss much, so I might as well tell her.
     She wrinkled her nose. "He's creepy."
     "Yeah. But don't you think he's sort of hot?"
     "Chance?!" she cried. Two kids turned and stared.
     "Shh. God, Sandi, keep your voice down," I hissed.
     "How am I supposed to keep my voice down when you ask me freaky questions like 'Is Chance hot?'" She giggled, then turned serious. "Watch out, Lex. He's creepy."
     "Thanks a lot for the advice."
     "Hey, you asked!"
     The next day, Chance and I had a similar lunchtime encounter. This time he got even madder. "Maybe I can see you Saturday," I said.
     "That's days away," he spat back.
     He showed up at the nursery that afternoon. I was pricing geraniums when I felt a hand on my back. I turned around and there he stood in an Iron Maiden T-shirt with a picture of the grim reaper. He looked half lost, half angry, amidst the flowers. "Hi," he said. He glared at me but fidgeted with his pot leaf belt buckle like he was nervous.
     "Hi." Dirt caked the knees of my Levis from kneeling and pruning. The pricing gun dangled from my hand. Sandi peeked at us between ringing up customers.
     Chance looked at the geraniums. "I had to see you," he snarled.
     "I'm working."
     "But it's important."
     "So's my work."
     He looked around. "They're just plants."
     "What's wrong with plants?"
     "They don't feel," he growled.
     So Chance felt.
     I shoved some hair out of my face with a grubby hand and realized how exhausted I felt. I'd thought of Chance, too, all last night, all day at school, all afternoon while pricing geraniums, pansies and petunias. I'd thought of our beautiful time in the grotto, and how shitty it would be from now on, with everyone but me hating Chance -- my Mom, Annabelle, teachers, the other kids. I was worn out before anyone even knew about us. Being with Moonchild hadn't given me such a dirty feeling, even when I held his dick in my hand and wondered what to do with it.
     "What do you want me to do?"
     "Go for a walk with me," he said, his jaw set so his plea sounded like a command. I shook my head. The pricing gun swayed forlornly.
     Suddenly Annabelle stood beside me. She weighed so little by now, she could walk around without making a sound. "Hello," she said to Chance. "Can I help you with something?"
     "No." His voice sounded impatient. He kept his eyes on me.
     "Annabelle, this is Chance. A boy from school."
     "Pleased to meet you," she said, but it sounded like a lie. He didn't answer.
     "Annabelle is my grandmother."
     "Oh," he said, looking at her for the first time. "You're the one who knows about seances and spirits and stuff."
     A deep sound rumbled through the nursery. The organ always took me by surprise, but Chance turned pale. A discordant high note joined the rumble. "What the fuck is that?" he breathed, looking wildly around.
     "That's Madame Tingley's organ," Annabelle said. Since she didn't know Chance, she refrained from trashing the neighbor who didn't deserve to carry Madame Tingley's garbage, much less touch her organ.
     "Whose what?"
     "It's a pipe organ," I said. "It's just a pipe organ up in the canyon." The neighbor hit a really bunk note and Chance winced.
     Annabelle looked him over, at his shaggy hair, grim reaper T-shirt, ripped jeans, plaid shirt hanging open, the silver pentagram around his neck. "Come here," she said, turning away and walking toward the rack of Theosophy books. He followed. I watched them open The Secret Doctrine together. She talked. He listened.
     I priced. I didn't understand why he thought I needed to scrap my life because he'd liked me sitting on his lap. I hit a geranium harder than necessary with the gun, and dirt spilled out of the planter.
     I finished the pricing. Chance still listened to Annabelle. I went to the register and leaned against the counter beside Sandi. I must have looked glum, because she tried to cheer me up. She threw her head back, her arms outstretched in a dramatic pose, like when we were little and made up ridiculous dances to the organ. I smiled, but I was too old now to be cured so easily. "I can't believe he followed me to work."
     She sank into a normal posture, bumped her hip against mine and giggled. "Lex has a psycho boyfriend."
     "It's not funny."
     "Annabelle loves him. She's going to adopt him."
     "Shut up!"
     "Annabelle's going to hire him. You can work side by side every day!"
     "Stop it!"
     "He'll walk here with us after school. But she better not put him on the register. Your scary boyfriend will scare the customers."
     "He's not my boyfriend."
     She stopped laughing. "I bet you haven't told Moonchild about him."
     "Do you think I'll ever even see Moonchild again? He barely even writes anymore! I mean, is he still even my boyfriend?"
     "Well, unless you two decide he isn't, I'd think he is." She shrugged. "But it's not my karma." I tried not to use Annabelle's Theosophy words, but Sandi thought they were cool.
     Annabelle finally finished talking. Chance wandered over to us, dazed. "I never met anyone like your grandmother." Sandi giggled.
     "There's no one like her," I said. Lately I kind of thought her batty.
     "She gave me a book."
     "So I see." He held a copy of Theosophy: Esoteric Key to the Heart, a book from the cheaper series, retail price $2.95, but $1.00 at cost from the Theosophical publisher.
     "No one ever gave me a book before."
     "Are you going to read it?"
     "Yeah. I'm going to go sit on the beach and read it right now." He staggered out of the nursery without saying goodbye.
     Sandi collapsed in laughter on the cash register. "He met Annabelle and forgot all about you! He's gonna leave you for an older woman!" I thought I'd be more relieved to see him go. He'd given up on me pretty easily once Annabelle got her hooks in him.
     "Why don't you get involved with a guy so I can laugh at you for a change?"
     "I'm only thirteen!"
     "That's old enough."
     "What would I do with a boy?"
     "You could kiss him," I said, then looked around to see if Annabelle was nearby before continuing. "You could grab his dick," I hissed.
     "Gross!" she shrieked, collapsing on the cash register again. She hit a button and it sprang open.
     "Girls!" Annabelle called from beyond the ficus trees.
     "Sorry," Sandi sang back between peals of laughter.
     And so Annabelle began tutoring Chance in Theosophy. He devoured the little books she gave him, returning to the nursery for a new one every other day. Annabelle quizzed him on the previous book, and if he'd missed important points, she sent him off to read it again. He took the methodical sort of interest she'd always wished Sandi or I would take in her religion.
     "He's a beautiful soul . . . underneath," Annabelle said. "He cares about the right things." Meanwhile, his grades probably slipped, if they could get any lower, while he obsessed on Theosophy.
     I remembered those Cuban kids Madame Tingley brought over at the beginning of the century. Money had disappeared, and kids snuck out of bed to run around the hillside and cause trouble, and they didn't give a damn about Theosophy. Now Annabelle had done with Chance what Madame Tingley had failed to do with the Cubans.
     After work, I'd find Chance reading on the beach. He finished all the short books within a month and then delved into The Secret Doctine, Madame Blavatsky's unreadable 600-page tome.
     "Read this part," he said, thrusting the book at me one day in May. He still wore his flannel shirt as he lay on the sand in the five o'clock sun. Dogs barked from Dog's Beach, just past the jetty. Surfers dotted the water, already shedding their wetsuits for summer.
     "No, I don't want to read it."
     He lay in the sand, but carefully set the book down on his new backpack. "What's with you, Lex?" He reached out and took my hand. I sat cross-legged, my back stiff. He wasn't hot anymore, just pathetic: up to his neck in Theosophy books, panting after my grandmother for true knowledge.
     "Nothing. Nothing's wrong."
     "OK. Nothing's wrong. Let me read you this part."
     I gave up. He could read all he wanted. His reading was choppy and he had to sound out the longer words, but he plunged on without embarrassment. I didn't listen. I wrapped a piece of Chance's long hair around my finger while he read. I remembered how it hung over me that day I sat in his lap and he called me a horny girl and all around us the air fizzed, supercharged with springtime and sunshine and lust. "Hey, quit that. I'm trying to concentrate," he growled, slapping my hand away.
     I never wrapped that hair around my finger again. He got it cut short the next day because Annabelle said it would look nice. She paid for his haircut.
     School ended and San Diego lay in the full flush of summer. Grass and weeds on the hillsides turned brown and the air buzzed with insects. Annabelle hired Chance to work for the summer, and even had three white T-shirts silk-screened for him that said Point Loma Nursery on the back. Sandi and I had always worn our ordinary clothes. Annabelle explained that all the customers already knew us, but wouldn't know Chance worked there unless he wore the shirt.
     Whenever I went to her house, I expected to find the adoption papers.
     One hot Saturday with absolutely nothing going on, Sandi and I accompanied Chance to a psychic fair at The Avatar Society, a new age ministry in a bungalow in Ocean Beach. That Saturday six people stood outside, leaning against the bungalow, drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups. The women, especially, looked eccentric. One had hair dyed bright cherry like a punk rocker, though she must have been over fifty. Blue eye makeup covered her eyelids up to her brows and she'd drawn an obviously fake black mole on her cheek. "She oughta get that checked," I whispered to Sandi, but my little sister didn't laugh.
     "Welcome," the blue-lidded woman smiled, handing us psychic fair programs photocopied on purple paper. Sandi's gaze lingered wistfully on each person we passed. Chance put his hand on my waist as we entered the trailer. I let it stay there a number of seconds before discreetly squirming away. He wore a new white button-down shirt and new jeans without holes in the knees and his hair was still short and he just didn't look like someone whose hand I wanted on my waist, especially not in public.
     Psychics filled the trailer, sitting at little tables with hand-written numbers hanging off. Some had tarot cards, some had crystal balls, only two had customers. The other dozen psychic eyes swung hungrily in our direction. They made me nervous like Annabelle's friends sometimes did, like maybe they could see my secrets just by looking at me.
     "Let's go talk to her!" Sandi whispered, spotting a woman with gold earrings that hung almost to her shoulders. Her gruesome earlobes stretched downward, and the piercing holes looked like slashes. Her brassy hair clashed with her orange lipstick, which matched her oversized caftan. She sat at a table covered with scraps of paper, crayons and glitter. She wore a name tag that said Cassandra MacBeth.
     "Hi," Sandi said.
     "Hello," the woman smiled, revealing wolfish teeth. "Would you like your auras drawn?"
     "Sure," said Sandi.
     "How much does it cost?" I asked.
     "Well, it's slow right now. And you look like school kids so I'll give you a break. How about three for ten dollars?"
     "I don't know," I muttered. It looked like ten dollars would buy three scraps of paper colored with crayons.
     Sandi took ten dollars out of her pocket. "That's nice of you," she smiled.
     "Yours first?" Cassandra MacBeth asked.
     "No. Draw theirs."
     The psychic started with me. She sat me in a chair directly in front of her while Chance and Sandi stood to the side. Cassandra MacBeth looked hard at me for a minute, then let her eyes half close. Her hand selected two crayons: yellow-green and brown. She colored a piece of paper, an ugly, mossy hue, no glitter, and handed it to me with a half smile of apology. "Well, that's your aura, dear."
     Chance fared better. His aura combined pink and peach, with a smidgeon of silver glitter. Cassandra MacBeth kept her eyes off me.
     When Sandi sat in the chair, the psychic began the same way, but instead of her eyes half closing, they widened. She stared, and stared, and this energy grew between her and Sandi that attracted the eyes of all the psychics in the place. The room went dead quiet, and Sandi began to glow like she was absorbing everyone's energy and attention. "I don't have that color," Cassandra MacBeth managed to say before she burst into tears. "May I hold your hand?" she blubbered. "May I just touch you?" The other psychics moved in, swarming around as though they'd found their lost queen. They all touched her, stroking her arms and hair, kissing her cheeks. They'd never seen such potential, such light, that color of aura. They called Sandi a beautiful, beautiful being of light. She let each psychic hug her while I stood by like dog meat, clutching the picture of my gutter water-colored aura.
     Of course, Chance transferred his affections to Sandi.
     A couple of days later, Sandi and Chance slipped off from work for a lunch break at the People's Food Co-op Deli. Sandi returned five minutes before Chance, in a pathetic effort to deny their togetherness. The next weekend, Sandi asked if I wanted to go to a crystal healing session at the Avatar Society. I said I'd rather eat nails. She looked thoughtful and said, "Hmm, I wonder if Chance would want to go." Then she slipped out without calling him, so obviously they'd already arranged a meeting time and place.
     Two days after that, on a Monday, Chance said he needed to talk to me after work. When the nursery closed at six, we walked to the beach together. His jaw clamped tight on the three block walk to the beach, giving him that look of impending violence he had in his pre-Annabelle days. I thought of his hot menace that one day we had together in his grotto, and now I wished we'd taken off our clothes. Because when would that happen now? He was about as sexy as a lobotomized chimp. He'd been a loser and a troublemaker for years, everyone knew that. Where did all his bad vibrations go?
     "You've really changed now, haven't you?" My voice came out snide.
     "I guess I have."
     "You don't even smoke pot anymore, do you?"
     "Nope. I haven't at all for two weeks."
     I took my shoes off once we reached the beach. The sand felt normal and good, like my feet were born for it. The ocean looked flat, the waves as placid as they could get away with and still be called waves. I put on my sunglasses and stared at Chance through dark lenses. "So you've really changed, huh?"
     "Yeah. I just said I have, didn't I?" He sounded irritated. Chance hadn't had much practice with patience. "I'm trying to do right," he growled.
     "Remember when you showed me your secret place?" I said, reaching for his tense hand. He yanked it away.
     "Yeah, I remember."
     "Your needs didn't seem so spiritual that day."
     "I'm working on my fucking spirituality now, OK?" he said, his voice rising.
     The brush-off rocketed toward me. I intercepted it. "My needs aren't spiritual," I said. "If that's all you're interested in, just forget about us."
     "Oh, so you're breaking up with me?"
     "Yeah," I said, kicking a pile of seaweed, startling a cloud of sand flies.
     "Well, I'm breaking up with you," he growled.
     "Too late. I already broke up with you. You and Sandi can go be missionaries or something." He stopped short. "Yeah, I know about you two. Have fun satisfying those spiritual needs," I said, turning and walking fast in the opposite direction, toward the pier, parallel to the disappointing swells. I wished for real waves: crashing, heaving, flattening everything in their way.
     The rest of the summer I worked and daydreamed, occasionally accompanying Sandi and Chance to some spacey event. On a blazing July day we went to the Dog Beach Reggae Festival. Hundreds of people swarmed on the sand, jumping around hot footed, burning their feet and trying to avoid the dog shit left by the usual revelers on the beach. Why a music festival amidst the dog shit, I asked, but Chance and Sandi exchanged a look like I was hopeless. I'd decided by then that suntans were overrated, so while Sandi gyrated to reggae music and Chance awkwardly imitated her, I crouched in a tiny patch of shade cast by the brick restroom -- a foul and damp spot. A crystal healer named Nathaniel soon joined me. He felt terrible that my friends had left me alone and insisted on keeping me company. He looked about forty, with a scraggly beard and red-rimmed eyes. He sat close to me so my Levi-clad thigh touched his sinewy dark leg. I kept edging away, but before long he had me right up against a puddle of liquid by the restroom. I couldn't move another inch without getting wet. I watched Sandi in her white sundress, her feet bare. Her chest was beginning to round beneath the dress, pushing it forward in a way that made all the Nathaniels on the beach stare. "So that's your sister," Nathaniel said, watching her. "You look a lot alike."
     "We do?"
     "Yeah, but you're more shy about showing it. You're at that awkward age."
     "Oh really."
     "Yeah, but it will pass in a year or two and you'll know how beautiful you are."
     "I guess you know all about me." I unsuccessfully looked for another shady place.
     "I'm older than you. I've known lots of girls." I eyed his scraggly beard and figured you could count the number of girls he'd "known" on one hand. "I know just what will make you relax."
     "Oh really."
     He reached into his Guatemalan backpack and fumbled around until he found a joint. "You wanna smoke?"
     The band ground out its monotonous beat and people swayed like weeds. Sandi and Chance made their way to the vegan burrito stand. I couldn't even remember why people weren't supposed to smoke pot. "Sure."
     He lit the joint with a silver lighter. He sucked hard so I saw his belly go concave and his chest expand. He held his breath and passed it to me.
     I couldn't avoid getting Nathaniel's slobber on my lips. I gingerly inhaled. Nathaniel breathed out. "You gotta inhale harder! You're wasting it. Haven't you ever got high before? Hold it in! Hold it in!"
     This was not relaxing. This was a low kind of stress, learning I couldn't even do a loser activity like smoking pot right. But I persevered. I held in the smoke for a count of ten and expelled the air. I didn't feel any different.
     "You've never got high before, have you?"
     "Sure I have."
     "How old are you?"
     "None of your business. How old are you?"
     "Forty-two. And I'm not ashamed of my age. Men are their most virile, their lives fullest, after forty. Now how old are you?"
     "None of your business." I reached for the joint but he held it away.
     "How old are you? I don't want to give you this if you're just a kid."
     "I'm at that awkward age," I sneered, grabbing the joint and smoking it harder.
     He laughed. "I bet you're only about sixteen."
     We smoked the rest of the joint, then he pulled a purple scarf and a pouch from his backpack. He spread the scarf on the sand and removed some rocks from the pouch. "These crystals really make you feel good," he said. "Lie back and let me put them on you."
     I eyed the pool of sludge beside me. "I don't think so."
     "It will feel great!"
     "I'm not lying down. Look at this pool of stuff!"
     He scooted away and tugged on my arm. "Come over this way."
     I felt kind of funny. The music seemed slower, my thoughts louder. I sort of feel like lying down.
     I lay back in the sand and he put a purple crystal on my forehead. "This is an amethyst. It'll help open your third eye." He fumbled in his pouch, then balanced a pink crystal on my throat. "Rose quartz. Very spiritual." He put his hand on my stomach and grasped the bottom of my T-shirt. "I'm putting a carnelian in your navel. Just relax." He pulled up my T-shirt an inch. His fingers brushed beneath the waistband of my Levis, then the cold carnelian rested in my belly button. Maybe he'd try to put one in my underwear next. If I kept my eyes closed, his fingers felt good. I wished a handsome twenty year old crystal healer would befriend me. "This is another carnelian," Nathaniel said. But just then Chance and Sandi appeared over me, a half eaten burrito in Chance's hand.
     "What are you doing?" Sandi giggled.
     "Well, hi," Nathaniel grinned at her. "I'm doing a crystal healing on your sister."
     "What's wrong with her?" Chance growled.
     "Nothing! Nothing."
     "Then what are you healing?"
     "Well, everyone who lives on this planet needs a lot of healing. We're all exposed to a lot of bad energy every day."
     "Where all have you put those rocks?" Chance glared at Nathaniel.
     "Oh, heal me, too!" Sandi squealed. She dropped to the sand and lay on her back beside me. "What do I do?"
     "Nothing," Chance said. "You don't do anything. Stand up."
     "Don't boss me around," she said to Chance. Then, to Nathaniel, "Will you please, pretty please, heal me, too?"
     "Of course."
     "Don't do it, Sandi. Stand up."
     "What's wrong with you, Chance?"
     "Lex doesn't mind strangers touching her. But you're not like that."
     "Are you jealous?" She giggled and elbowed me. My crystals jiggled. "Chance is jealous of a crystal healer."
     "Hold still," Nathaniel said, ignoring Chance. "I'll put the rose quartz on your forehead. To open your third eye."
     "I'm warning you," Chance said to us all in general. Then he turned to Nathaniel. "Look, mister, you leave this girl alone."
     "I think you need to loosen up, brother." Nathaniel put a crystal on Sandi's throat and gave her a pink one to hold in each hand, but he didn't try to reach under her clothes.
     "OK," Chance spat. "Have it your way, Sandi. Be like your sister."
     "OK. I'll be like Lex." She reached over and held my hand. I could feel the hard little crystal in her palm.
     "OK. If that's how you want it. Oh, mister, you should know that girl's only thirteen years old." He stomped off.
     "You have to clear out his bad vibes, sisters. Don't let him get to you. You have to find your own peace. Are you really only thirteen years old?"
     "Mm hmm."
     "How old's your sister?"
     "Fourteen," said Sandi.
     "Jesus Christ!" He turned to me.
     "Are you really only fourteen?"
     "So what if I am?"
     "You're just a child!"
     "You thought I was sixteen. What's the difference?"
     "Two years is a big difference!" He yanked the crystals off our throats and foreheads with an untherapeutic haste, leaving the carnelian in my navel. Sandi burst out laughing as Nathaniel rushed off.
     "Oh, Lex! I think he liked you!"
     "Did you see his beard?" She shrieked with laughter. "A guy with a beard like that liked you!"
     "Stop it!"
     "His beard had beans in it!"
     "It did not."
     "And . . . and half a banana!"
     "Oh, stop it, Sandi. Where's Chance?"
     "Who cares? He's so bossy." She stopped laughing. "He thinks he can tell me what to do. What did you do to him, Lex? I think he's damaged." She started to giggle again.
     "Nothing. Not a thing to him or with him."
     "You damaged him! You damaged a big old thing like Chance!"
     "Why are you laughing at him? I thought he was your boyfriend."
     She wrinkled her nose. "He can't be my boyfriend and act like that. I won't let him."
     "No. You shouldn't." I sat up and looked at the ocean. Dog's Beach butted up against a jetty at the end of a long expanse of shore. The jetty made the waves crazy. Part of a wave would strike the jetty first, breaking and scrambling it, so skewed ripples lapped around, circular and frothing, instead of crashing straight into the shore. I didn't like it.
     "You can have him back if you want. But I don't think you should bother."
     "You're giving him up just like that?"
     She nodded. "He gets on my nerves."
     Then I felt sorry for him, beast that he was. "How will you tell him?"
     "Oh, he'll figure it out." She stretched in the sand. I remembered some movie we'd seen where a grandfather looks at his thirteen year old granddaughter, chuckles, and says what a little heartbreaker you'll be. Only I didn't find it funny.
     "Did you ever fool around much?" I tried to sound casual, though I'd been dying to know.
     "What do you mean?"
     "You know, make out. Feel each other up."
     "No!" she shrieked. "I didn't kiss that big creature!"
     I felt even sorrier for Chance. Sixteen year old boys had needs and he'd thrown over a girl who could only give him everything for her chaste little sister.
     Sandi and I wandered by the booths where Rastafarians sold incense and silver jewelry and pipes. I pretended we were back in those innocent days before Chance, before Moonchild, when playing with a sister was enough. We spent all day at the reggae festival and I didn't complain about the sunlight or heat or monotony of the reggae music. We didn't see Chance the rest of the afternoon.
     But he still worked with us. At the nursery the following Monday he stayed by Annabelle's side, glowering at us from afar. But by Wednesday he'd calmed down. And by Friday, since none of us had any other real friends, when he asked about our weekend plans we said we don't know, what are you doing. And soon we'd laid the Reader out on the counter of the nursery and were checking the events listings.
     Sandi managed to look indignant for a second. "If you think. . . " she began, but Chance shook his head and cut her off.
     "Forget that. Don't even say another word. I'm just asking what you're doing this weekend."
     She dropped her gaze to the paper. "Psychic fair?"
     "No way," I said.
     "Bird watching in the Famosa Slough Wetlands?"
     "No way," Chance said.
     "Hang gliding at Torrey Pines."
     "Too far," Chance said
     "Too expensive!" I echoed.
     "Here we go! Free vegetarian festival in Balboa Park. We'll take the bus."
     "That vegan burrito last week was OK," Chance said.
     "Do we have to take about ten buses just to eat?"
     "It won't take ten buses, Lex," Sandi promised. "I'll get the bus schedule and figure it out."
     "If you can figure out the San Diego buses, I'll go." This seemed a safe risk, because in fourteen years I'd never taken a bus in San Diego, and neither had Sandi. Everyone said it was impossible. That's why everyone in Southern California has a car.
     But it turned out to be pretty simple, so I tagged along to the vegetarian festival. Sandi had stopped eating meat last month, so quietly I hadn't noticed for a while. She still ate lots of junk like aerosol cheese spread and Fritos and Ding Dongs. But she read every label and wouldn't even ingest a trace of gelatin.
     We took the 35 bus from Ocean Beach to downtown San Diego, a journey of about five miles. I hardly ever went downtown, or even left Point Loma. We each had our own seat on the uncrowded bus.. Some Navy guys and some Mexicans were the only other passengers.
     The 35 spat us out on Broadway, where we transferred to the seven to Balboa Park. We heard the festival before we saw it in the grassy field behind the Museum of Natural History. I'd played there during field trips as a kid, climbing on the roots of what I assumed was the world's oldest, most gnarled oak tree. Now tables and orange tents sat on the grass, and a group of people in orange robes banged percussion instruments and hopped around, singing: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare."
     "Oh, no," Chance groaned. "Sandi!"
     "It just said vegetarian fair!"
     Chance stopped. "Hare Krishnas, Sandi. This is too much."
     "We're here now. Might as well check it out." Damned if I'd take two buses all the way out here just to turn around and board two more! They'd advertised the festival as free, so I didn't feel obligated to talk to them.
     "They look kinda weird," Sandi whispered.
     "I'm starving," I said.
     "I'm not going over there."
     "Come on, Chance," Sandi urged.
     "No way. I'll just sit over there." He nodded toward a bench in front of the Spanish Village, where artists sold their crafts to tourists. "Come get me when you're done."
     "You're just going to sit there?" Sandi asked. "How boring!"
     "I'm not getting brainwashed by some gay cult in orange dresses."
     "OK, fine. Let's go, Sandi." We left him on a bench, glowering. Even now that Chance looked clean, tourists went out of their way to avoid getting close to him.
     Sandi started talking to the Hare Krishnas, but I got my free food first thing and sat under the tree to eat. They served the food on a divided Styrofoam plate, each dish segregated by color. Steaming red stuff, steaming yellow stuff, a beige ball, a crispy sort of Indian tortilla. And salad, the only identifiable thing. The yellow stuff tasted kind of sweet, but the red stuff was even sweeter. I had no idea what either dish contained, but suspected tomatoes in the red. I finished both, then poked the beige ping pong-sized ball with my finger. I scraped off a sliver with my fingernail. It was ten times sweeter than the red stuff. It tasted OK, but good thing it was free. I sure preferred Burger King.
     Sandi stared at a series of pictures on poster board titled "The Cycle of Death and Rebirth." The first picture showed a naked, helpless baby reaching its little hands out. Then a boy, maybe ten years old, presumably the same baby a decade later. Next he wore a business suit, then balding and starting to stoop, then suddenly ancient, his spine beginning to curl. After that, he turned into a baby in fetal position. Sandi looked for a long time. Of course, Annabelle had always talked about reincarnation, but never had we seen such a graphic representation. A Hare Krishna woman cornered Sandi by the Cycle of Death and Rebirth. She wore a blue get-up that looked like she'd rolled herself in cheap drapes While I watched her, one snuck up on me from behind the oak tree.
     "Hare Krishna," she said. I looked around, then realized she was talking to me. It must be some kind of greeting.
     "I just speak English."
     Her brown eyes crinkled up as she laughed. "I speak English, too. How was the food?"
     My indifference didn't phase her. "It's hard for many people to give up animal flesh. But it's so important for your spiritual well-being." She practically shouted to be heard over her tambourine-thumping colleagues.
     "Uh huh." I thought of rolled tacos from Cotija, my favorite taco stand: hard, tightly rolled corn tortillas with just a little beef inside, crispy and sprinkled with white Mexican cheese, guacamole glopped on top, doused with extra hot sauce. I just didn't see vegetarianism happening in my life.
     "We offer all the food we make to Krishna before we eat it."
     "So you eat his leftovers?"
     She laughed. "We offer it up for his blessing. Then it's good and pure and we can eat it. Krishna gives us everything. Hare bol!"
     I craned my neck to check on Sandi. Now she was talking, her face earnest, the Hare Krishna lady in the blue drapes listening and nodding. Looked like trouble to me. "That's my sister over there." I didn't want them to take her for a solitary waif, needy and impressionable.
     "She's talking to Monoropa. Monoropa's from Sweden. She's been with Krishna many years now. She's very blessed. Hare bol!"
     "Sandi's been with me many years. And she's been getting along fine."
     She laughed again. "You love your sister. That's very beautiful. But Krishna has the biggest love of all. Why did you come here today?"
     "Just walking by."
     "Perhaps there's a greater reason." She smiled at me. She wasn't real old, but I could clearly see all the bones in her skinny face. I imagined what she'd look like as a skull, a skeleton, and thought of the Cycle of Death and Rebirth. I imagined her face getting scrawnier, wasting away to bones, turning to dust, then regrouping as a tiny soft skull overlaid with baby fat. I tried to think of something else fast so the red and yellow stuff would stay down.
     "Do you think people ever come back as cockroaches?" I said fast, changing the subject.
     Again that laugh. "I'd like to give you a special book. It's called the Bhagavad Gita and it's the story of Krishna and all the blessings he bestows. Hare bol! It's a beautiful book. It's a little difficult, maybe, but so beautiful. Wait here." She rushed to a table, grabbed some books, and hurried back to my side. "Here it is! The story of Krishna!" She presented a thick book with a painting of a girl in a chariot on the cover.
     "Who's she?" I asked, pointing to the girl. She just wore harem pants without a shirt, and had a flatter chest than me.
     "That's not a she! That's Krishna!"
     "No way. She's too pretty to be a boy. Look, she has on eyeliner and lipstick." I pointed triumphantly to the woman's face.
     "Krishna looks like that naturally because he is all-attractive Godhead. All beauty comes from Krishna, so Krishna is all beautiful." I'd heard of men dressing up as women before. But it was this lady's religion, so I politely didn't comment. "I have some more books for you, too." She beamed like she'd gone out shopping especially for me. "This one has many delicious recipes. It's easy to be vegetarian with recipes like this. Hare bol! Even better to come to the temple, of course. Did you know we have a temple in Pacific Beach?" I shook my head. "Very beautiful temple. You must come. We have a feast every Sunday. For free. Wonderful vegetarian food. You'll come?"
     "Maybe." I almost gave her the excuse that the buses aren't good on Sundays, but I suspected she'd send a van for me.
     "You try these recipes," she said, handing me a book called The Higher Taste. "It's even endorsed by George Harrison. You know, from the Beatles."
     "Who are they?" Of course I knew, but couldn't resist messing with her.
     She looked incredulous. "You're too young to know who the Beatles are," she breathed. "Oh, that makes me feel old!"
     "Don't worry, you'll be reborn."
     After an awkward pause, she forced a laugh. "Of course age is irrelevant. Krishna's blessings flow on us at any age. Here's a few copies of our magazine."
     "Thanks." Chance could carry all this stuff in his backpack.
     She told me her name, which I immediately forgot, then she asked for my address, which I refused to give her. "Krishna is good to put you in my life this way," she said.
     "Yeah. The greatest."
     I rushed to Sandi's side to rescue her. "And I know there's something more than being popular and talking about boys," she told the woman in the blue drapes. Then she noticed me and clammed up.
     "Come on, Sandi. We've left poor Chance waiting for ages."
     "You never care if Chance has to wait!"
     "Well, it's sort of rude."
     "Lex, this is Monoropa."
     "Thank Krishna I get to meet you, Lex! Your sister is a very spiritual girl."
     "So I hear," I muttered, flashing back to the scene at the psychic fair.
     "I need to talk to Monoropa for a few more minutes. Then we'll leave."
     I sighed. "OK." I waited, but they kept quiet.
     "Why don't you bring Chance some food?" Sandi asked. "He's probably hungry."
     "When did you start caring if Chance was hungry?" She looked at me gravely, and for the first of many times I realized my sister felt more connected to every seeker on the street than to her own flesh and blood. "OK, OK." What could I do?
     I carried Chance the red and yellow stuffs, the Indian tortilla and the beige ball, like a waitress. He scowled at me. "I would have left a long time ago if I could remember what buses to take." I handed him the plate. "What is this shit?"
     I shrugged. "Free food."
     "You eat any?"
     "Yeah. It was OK."
     "Just because I'm starving," he relented.
     "Don't do me any favors."
     He put a few big bites in his big mouth and the food vanished in thirty seconds. "That wasn't very good."
     I thumbed through the Bhagavad Gita. He picked up a Back to Godhead magazine, which had more pictures. "Weird stuff."
     "Weirder than Theosophy?" I asked.
     "Yeah! These people are blue!"
     "I think those are gods, not people."
     "I wouldn't worship a blue god. That's like worshipping the Tidy Bowl man!"
     "I think it's different than that."
     "They convert you?" he sneered.
     "No. But they're trying to get Sandi."
     "She falling for it?"
     "Looks like it."
     "Damn, Lex! Why do you let her do that!" He stood up, dropping his Styrofoam plate on the ground. "I better go drag her away. Fuck! I can't believe you unleashed these psychos on your own sister!"
     "I thought you weren't going to curse anymore. Annabelle doesn't like it, you know. And don't litter." He picked up the plate and smashed it into a trash can on his way to rescuing Sandi. I watched him march across the grass, grab Sandi's arm, and pull her squirming away from the woman with the long M name.
     Chance dragged Sandi over, then pushed her down on the bench beside me. Tears spilt out of her eyes. "You hurt my arm!" She rubbed the red marks on her right upper arm. "It's none of your business who I talk to!"
     "These people are crazy. They worship blue people, for god's sake!"
     "So this is about skin color?" she sniffed.
     "No! It's about not being taken in by lunatics!"
     "Let's just go back to the bus stop and get out of here," I said. Maybe we should never leave Point Loma.
     "She understood me!"
     "I understand you just fine."
     "No you don't, Chance! You're just a creep."
     "Let's go," I repeated.
     We walked back to the bus stop for a wordless journey back to Ocean Beach.

HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.