It was about two in the afternoon when we finally woke up. The sun had turned Jackie's tent into an oven, but neither of us wanted to face getting up, so we lay there on top of our bags and sweated. Jackie looked lovely, her long naked body glistening with drops of perspiration. But sex wasn't on my mind, what with the specter of death lingering close by and the fight with Susan still fresh in my mind.
Jackie arched herself up and reached behind her to scratch her back, making her breasts look fuller and more lush. The itch satisfied, she lowered down, and then turned to me.
"You got another cigarette?" She asked.
I nodded, then reached for the pack and handed it to her. She took one out and lit up, then handed the pack back to me.
"Are you sure it wasn't a bad acid trip last night?" I asked hopefully, still somewhat groggy from the reds.
"It was for real, said Jackie solemnly, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. She blew a long plume of smoke out into the center of the tent. "I wish it wasn't, but it was for real."
"What the fuck are we gonna do?"
She turned on her side to look at me, then said, "We'll do what we have to do. Get on with life, try and forget."
"I don't think I'll ever be able to forget."
"Well, you've got to, or you'll end up whacko like Susan."
"Yeah, maybe you're right. But I can still see those people laying on the tarp, right there in front of me. Then Susan and her shit, my God! How the fuck do I always end up like this?"
"You bitching about being here with me?" There was the trace of a smile on her lips.
I shook my head. "No. I like you a lot, Jackie. You're all right. We've been through a whole helluva lot together. It's just ... I thought Susan was so special. I thought we really had a future together, and now, that's all trashed."
"It happens, guy." She moved closer to me and started tracing circles in the perspiration on my chest. "I got the same problem a lot myself. Think you really know someone, and then bang. It happens. They do something so off the wall, you realize you didn't know them at all."
"Yeah, I guess I know what you mean, I said. "I never thought Susan would freak out like she did. All this shit about me with Candy, and with you. And getting drunk like that. I thought she was so stable."
"Learn something every day."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Jackie was silent for a few moments, and then said, "I wonder if the reason she was so weirded out was because of what was supposed to come down at the gate. Maybe that's why she got so fucked up last night. She knew something was gonna come down, right? Probably thought you were gonna eat it. Or Mitch. Wanted to get real out of it so she wouldn't have to deal with anything that'd come down."
"Huh? You might be right, at least part way. But I dunno. I mean I drew a breath and continued, " I mean she was so against people getting really wasted, but yet last night, she was about as wasted on booze as anybody I've ever seen. Oh, I dunno. No, I think she's just another person that talks out of both sides of their mouth. Like the open relationship stuff. You saw how uptight she was about you and me? And we've never even really done anything."
"Maybe so, but we sure as hell thought about it a lot. Maybe she picked up the vibes."
"You never said anything to make it sound like there was something between you and me when we were in front of her. And I don't think I did."
She shook her head. "No. Neither of us did. What about you and Candy? You were sleeping with her?" She gazed at me intently.
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks and looked away. "Only a small part of it was true. I got her off once while we were out in front of the tent. All I did was get my finger wet, that's as far as it went. We never made love. And that one time was before I was really with Susan."
"Why would she make up the rest then?"
"I guess I didn't tell you everything that came down." I drew a deep breath, then went on to recount what had happened on my meeting with Candy as she came back from the Ave, loaded down with wine. I concluded saying, "She was really pissed when I turned her down. After that, it was like she was gonna try and get Susan drunk and make it with her just to spite me. She was going on telling me how Susan got off on balling her. Yeah, I think she told Susan all that stuff hoping she'd start drinking and get drunk, so she could get in her pants. Or maybe she just wanted to fuck me up. I dunno."
"You got complicated problems, Gordon."
"I won't deny that."
"So why don't you go tell Susan the truth?"
"No, there's been too much come down." I paused, and then went on, "I mean, she puts up a really good front, but when you get behind it, she's all fucked up worse than the rest of us. She did say she enjoyed it with Candy. I think maybe I just didn't want to hear that."
Jackie drew a deep breath. Gazing at her hand on my chest, she said, "I think you're wrong. She may have something against me, but I still kinda like her. Except for the shit about women. Ugh!" She shivered involuntarily, and then continued, "No, I think you had a good lady there, if you could get her straightened out. She's had a lot of heavy trips come down. Getting dosed with acid, already. You telling her a bunch of people just got blown away was the last straw. I think you should go see her, and talk."
"I don't see it in the cards. Too much water under the bridge."
"You gotta stop and think about it, Gordon. You shoulda seen yourself, the last couple weeks. You were in love. A real, real bad case. I've only felt like that a couple times. And each time, somehow, it fucked up. Afterwards, I always wished someone woulda come up and kicked me in the ass, and said to stop being silly, eat some crow and go back. But I was always too pigheaded to listen even if someone had come and done it. And now I'm paying for it. I've got no one. Do you really love her?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Then go to her, man. Down on your hands and knees if you have to."
"I can't. I just can't. What, I'm gonna compete for her with another girl, for Christ's sake? No way. I've had enough of this weird shit. You wanna know who I really am? I'm really just an old fashioned guy who wants a lady. All to myself. I want a friend, someone I can trust. I'm not ready for all this open relationship shit. You have no idea how guilty I felt laying there with you those times, even if we didn't actually get it on."
"Yeah, I felt that, and that's why I never really pushed it."
"You could tell?"
"Yeah. I think you're basically a pretty square guy. I could feel you were uncomfortable with me, sometimes. Like I told you, everyone around could see how much you were in love with her."
"Maybe so, but like I said, it's over."
"Think about it for a while before you say that."
I felt closer to Jackie right then than any women I had met in the past, with the possible exception of Susan. I couldn't understand why she was trying to push me back to Susan, but just talking about it made me feel better. I didn't really care about her motivation. I figured she was being a real friend, something I needed badly.
Jackie was a different sort of person, a study in conflicting messages. At times, so vulgar she sounded like a man actually like a truck driver and at other times, so warm, tender and understanding. And damned nice looking. Long and slender, with round pointy breasts and erect nipples, small indentations in their center. She was smiling warmly at me, kinky blonde hair going at all angles, and laugh lines creasing her lovely face, her green eyes glowing.
Momentarily forgetting the recent events, I reached and took one of her nipples between my fingers, rolling it between them. She smiled broadly, and placed her hand on mine. I asked, "Why are you so damned good to me?"
She shrugged, still smiling, and shaking her head, answered, "Dunno. I guess you might remind me of someone I used to know. Or maybe I'm a sucker for young college guys with tight buns."
"But you were willing to stick with me even though I was all hung up on someone else. You could have had anyone here."
"But I didn't want anyone else. I'm not one of these women that feel all lost without a man. I've enjoyed being with you even if I wasn't making it with you. And it's been fun having you making eyes at me and vise versa. The thought that we might end up in bed made it pretty interesting, too."
I grinned. "You like the suspense, huh?" I pinched her nipple gently and she squeezed my hand.
"Damn right. It keeps the blood pumping. And you've gotta admit, we've come pretty damn close."
"Like right now?" I smiled.
"What if we did finally make it? Would that ruin everything?"
"I don't think so. I think you and I could still be friends, even if we were fucking our brains out day and night."
"Are we friends?"
"I wouldn't be laying here all naked if we weren't."
She ran her hand over my chest, up and down, and I closed my eyes, and breathed deeply, drinking in the sensation. When I opened my eyes, she was staring at me intently, her face still only inches from mine. I'd never noticed before, but her green irises were flecked with tiny spots of blue, going almost in a band around each iris. Beautiful eyes.
I asked in a whisper, "So what about us? Have we got a future together?"
She shook her head, biting her lip. "I don't know. I think it depends on whether you can get over Susan."
"I am over Susan. You told me to forget about the past, and get on with the future. That's what I'm doing. Are you the future?"
"If you want me to be."
Her face had lost its smile, and she looked deep into my eyes, as if she were trying to see inside me. My mind shuddered involuntarily. I wasn't over Susan and she knew it. And knowing she knew it, made me feel like a first class piece of garbage. Yes, I wanted Jackie. I wanted to make love with her for hours, and put away all thoughts of everything that had gone on. But it wasn't anything like I'd felt with Susan, and she knew it, and I thought it looked as though it hurt her. I remembered that feeling all too well.
I'd gone with this girl named Carol once, for a couple months. She'd just broken up with a guy she'd been with for two years. We knew each other from school, and we started going out about two weeks after they had split up. We had some really good times. We got along together damned well, and had a lot of fun, all different sorts. After a while, it got so that our regular routine was that I'd take her out in the jeep trails in the woods where the power lines were, and we'd spend hours making my VW bus rock back and forth. The whole thing was going so well, I'd eventually ended up telling her that I loved her, even when I wasn't sure that I did, and had asked her to go steady with me. I got blown away.
What she told me, was that, yes, she really liked me, but she was still in love with her ex-boyfriend, and couldn't think about loving someone else just then. We were pretty wasted at the time, and so in a drunk moment of truthfulness, she'd confided that she'd really been going out with me to bury herself help her forget her ex, but that it hadn't really been working. She spent the rest of the night crying on my shoulder about her lost love, and then I drove her home.
Well that ruined it. I mean it hurt me like hell. We went out a couple more times after that, but every time we'd make love, I'd imagine she was pretending I was her ex-boyfriend. It was a real drag. But, I respected her for being truthful it had prevented me from really making a fool out of myself. We stayed friends after that, and in many respects, actually grew closer. But Carol and I didn't go to bed again.
I thought I saw the same thing happening now with Jackie, only with the roles reversed. I knew how I'd felt when Carol told me what was going on, after our two months of relative bliss. I didn't want to see that happen to Jackie. She was still looking at me, waiting.
"Jackie, right at this stage of the game, I'm not sure what I want. Okay, maybe I'm not over Susan. Maybe I'll never be over Susan. But right now, all I can think about is making love to you. I just wanna shut the world out, so it's just you and me, so I don't have to think about everything that's gone on. I do wanna hope that we could have something beyond that, though. Could you handle being with a guy like that?"
She laid there, her hand on my chest, watching as she played with one of my chest hairs, a slight frown on her face. Finally, she glanced up, and nodding, said, "Yeah, I can live with it. Something more than that happens later, that's cool. Thanks for being honest with me. I like that." She smiled and put her hand on my cheek, saying, "Gordon, I don't expect you to love me now. Just keep being straight with me, and we'll do fine, okay?"
I pulled her to me and we kissed. I moved back then said softly, "I think I owe you something. Wanna collect?"
"Fucking A yes!" She whispered, then rolled over to me and wrapped herself around me, and we began kissing, and probing each other's bodies.
As her hands ran over my body, I received my wish, and all that had happened was pushed away, and I existed only for the instant. Urgently, we pressed ourselves together.
A little later, we laid together smoking cigarettes, and I was feeling helpless again.
"Don't worry about it, Jackie said, sympathetically. "I've seen it happen to a lot of men. What we've both been through in the last couple days, I can't say I'm really surprised. C'mon, lighten up."
I shook my head, taking a puff off the cigarette, and said, "Well it's never happened to me before. I can't understand it. I was ready, real ready. Then it just went away."
She kissed me on the chest, and said, smiling, "The head was willing but the body wasn't. Or vise versa. It's no big thing. You got me off. I just wish you coulda come too."
"I think it was the bodies, I said, frowning. "I can still see it, you know. Oh, God." I buried my head on her shoulder.
She leaned down, and tenderly kissed me on the chest again, saying, "It doesn't matter. I told you, you've gotta stop thinking about all of it. What's done is done, you said. No way to change what happened. No use going nuts over it. And you won't talk to Susan, so same difference."
"I suppose you're right. But I still can't get the picture of those people out of my mind. Or the picture of Susan, either. God, I'm all fucked up."
"No, you're a normal guy, who's had some really heavy trips come down on him. You'll get over it eventually.
We tried several more times that afternoon, but I wasn't able to rise to the occasion. Finally, about four o'clock, bladders ready to burst, we decided to get up. We thought we'd go down to the stage, and see what was happening. We talked about going to work, but were both of the opinion that there wasn't any real point. The festival was as good as over and the bikers were in charge of the gate. They had gotten along without us for most of the day. The final eight hours before the music ended for good at midnight, wouldn't make any difference.
Jackie was very sympathetic and understanding about my failure to perform. We talked about it for quite a while before we got up, and decided to try again later. She told me the problem was that I couldn't let go, and she was right. No matter how hard I tried, I could still see the dead bodies, and still hear Susan drunkenly telling me to leave. Jackie told me a little music and some dope would do the trick.
At her urging, I reluctantly stopped by the security trailer to get what was left of the main gate weed stash. The place was nearly deserted when Jackie and I walked into the half-circle of trailers. Standing at the gate, were several people neither of us recognized. There were a few vehicles leaving, but otherwise the place was dead.
Dead. Steeling myself, I took a deep breath, and entered the trailer to get the weed. It looked much the same as it always had, except perhaps a little cleaner. No trace was left of Mitch, who apparently had taken off as he said he would. I quickly dug in the cupboard, found the weed and left.
As we walked towards the bowl, we saw that the parking lots were only half full, people having apparently left enmasse last night after the music ended. The access road was again a muddy mess from all the traffic, and Jackie and I had to walk on the grass to keep from getting muddy.
Not too far from the river road, we ran into Saint. He looked tired and dirty, and waved at us as we approached.
"Hey, back from the dead, he said, joking. "What the fuck happened to you last night, bro? I thought you were gonna find me and tell me what went on, and smoke a few joints? Everybody I talked to so far has just given me a bunch of bullshit."
I hadn't thought of what I was going to tell people like Saint. The bikers had warned us to keep quiet about what had happened unless we wanted the same thing to happen to us, they had implied.
I stammered, "Uh, well, uh, Susan and I had a big fight. Really ugly. She was all drunk. I ended up going back and spending the night with Jackie. Sorry I missed you, man."
He frowned, and then said, "I'm sorry to hear about you and Susan, but what the fuck happened up at the gate? I heard all the explosions and shit. What went on?"
"Oh, nothing really." I latched onto what Mitch had said to have Walt tell the cops. "Uh, there were some guys with an M-80 and a bunch of firecrackers. We sent some guys out and they found them, took away the rest of their fireworks. Scared the piss out of us at first, before we knew what was going on. But it was nothing, really."
Jackie smiled weakly, and nodded. "Yeah, I thought I was gonna piss my pants at first, she said. "But it was just goddamn fireworks."
Saint frowned, looking first at me, then at Jackie. He said, "I don't know what the fuck you guys are trying to pull, but I'm not buying it. This is Saint you're talking to, Gordon. Tell me straight, what happened?"
I frowned. "Just like I said, bro. Nothing happened. Look, we're on our way down to the stage. Wanna come along?"
"If nothing happened, then where the hell is Mitch?" He asked.
"Uh, he decided to split and go back to LA, I said. "Got fed up with the whole trip here. Decided it was too much, and left."
"Yeah, right, said Saint, looking vaguely angry. "And what happened down at the stage? That was some more fireworks, huh?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. When the runner came last night, Jackie and I were outside. She was sick, right?" I said looking at Jackie.
She nodded. "Yeah, I was as sick as a dog, man. Puked and puked."
Saint looked us both over again, and then sighed. He said, "What the fuck am I gonna do with you guys?"
I smiled, and then said, "Well, you could join us at the stage. I got the rest of our weed stash with me. C'mon, man. Today is the last day. Do it?"
He frowned again, then slowly, his features softened and a slight smile came onto his face. "Whatever's fair, man. Let's do it."
We continued walking towards the stage, talking about happy things, reliving the past two weeks. The bowl was about three quarters empty when we got there. Trash and garbage seemed to have taken the place of the missing people. Through the open door of one Sanican, I could see a pile of waste that rose in a mound over the seat. The Sanicans smelled worse than they ever had.
The Ave was partly deserted, many shop-keepers appearing to have decided to pack up and leave early. The security HQ was vacant and looked like it had been abandoned, the blue tarp which formed the roof flapping gently in the breeze. Nearby down the Ave, the American Dream Memorial was now almost head-high with trash, and stank nearly as bad as the Sanicans. Here and there, drunk or stoned people had passed out, lying on the ground where they had fallen in amongst the debris. They fit right in.
The one spot of light seemed to be the stage, around which several thousand die-hard hippies were rocking out to a band called Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. As we approached, they went into their hit song, Hot Rod Lincoln. The crowd was going wild, dancing and twirling in the late afternoon sun. Many near the stage had stripped off their clothes.
We stopped at the Grub Shop and had dinner. Or breakfast or lunch depending on how you looked at it then proceeded down the line.
In between the end of the concession row and the start of the stage compound was a small U-Haul truck chock full of wine cases. I noticed several people leaving with armloads of wine bottles, and steered Jackie and Saint that way.
"How much for a bottle of that red wine?" I asked the hippie standing at the tailgate of the truck.
He shook his head. "Nothing. It's free. Take as much as you want. I gotta get rid of it before I leave. Here." He handed me the bottle of red wine. "Need some more? Just take what you want."
I looked at Saint and Jackie, smiling. They both shrugged, and five minutes later, we were staggering towards the stage with as much wine as we could carry. I managed to get six fifths one in each back pocket, and four in my arms.
There was still a guard at the side entrance to the stage. He saw Saint's and my gold armbands and let us through. In a gesture of largesse, I gave him a bottle of wine. We proudly trooped up on stage with our booty.
Near the top of the stairs, we met Bruce Stuckey, looking slightly stoned.
"Gordon, he yelled over the music. "Haven't seen you in quite a while. How ya been keeping yourself?"
"Not bad, I shouted back. "You go for some wine?" I held up my armload of bottles.
"Don't mind if I do. How you doing, Saint?" He asked.
Saint shook his head, smiling. "Same as always." He nodded at Jackie, and then asked Bruce, "You met Jackie yet?" He shook his head and Saint continued, "She ran ticket taking at the gate. Bruce Stuckey. Jackie Arthur."
They smiled at each other, and politely shook hands. Stuckey turned to me and asked, "And where's Susan?"
I frowned, then leaned close to Jackie and said, "Susan's gone, man. I'm with Jackie now."
Stuckey nodded. He said, "Well, come on, let's party, smoke some rope. I know a good spot, right on the catwalk out to the sound booth. Best seats in the house. Follow me."
We walked behind him, weaving through the equipment of a band that was setting up getting ready to play, then down and out onto the catwalk. He was right. It was great. We were far enough in front of the stage so we could hear the music well, and had a great view of the band. We sat down on the boards of the catwalk. We were about ten feet off the ground, the crowd below us, was surging in time to the music.
We passed bottles of wine back and forth, then in a gesture designed to heighten the party mood, I rolled a huge joint from our stash. It took twenty-seven papers to complete, and nearly an ounce of weed, plus a couple of grams of hash I'd crumbled up. It was damn near a foot long, and shaped kind of like a zeppelin. We passed it back and forth until we were all choking from the smoke, then I passed it down to a waiting hand in the crowd below.
Three hours and two bands later, I was reasonably stoned, half drunk and feeling very sorry for myself. A couple times, I had thought I'd seen Susan in the crowd. Each time it happened, I looked quickly away and clung to Jackie.
As for Jackie, she was getting pretty well ripped. Where, for all my show at partying, I had really drunk and smoked lightly that evening, Jackie had been putting it away like there was no tomorrow. She insisted it would make us forget everything.
It was almost eight o'clock when the third band finished. The English announcer Phil, sounding pretty zonked himself, told the crowd there would be a half hour intermission to clear up some technical problems with the sound system, and then the next band would play.
Jackie, who was holding onto my legs and dangling her feet over the crowd, said, "Gordon, I gotta go pee or I'll bust. Wanna come with me?"
I shook my head. "Naw, I just went. You shoulda come with me."
She frowned, then eyebrows raised, looked at Saint. Saint, who was also pretty well blitzed, was sullen because his lady Linda had already left the festival. He looked at Jackie and nodded, saying, "Yeah, I'll escort you to the johns."
She looked back at me. "You gonna Bogart that joint, or can anyone have a toke?" She studied me, a ferocious look on her face.
I laughed and took a hit, then passed it to her. "Here. Take it with you. I'll smoke some of Bruce's."
Jackie took a deep lungful and held it until she choked, then after the coughing subsided, stood up uncertainly, joint in hand. She leaned over and kissed me. "Back in a bit, lover." She said.
Swaying back and forth unsteadily on the wood planks, she and Saint walked back to the stage and left.
Stuckey sat near me, a bottle of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He was silently studying the crowd. I cleared my throat, then asked, "Bruce? What do you think of the festival?"
"Say what, huh? That's a wide open question, bro." He raised the bottle of wine up toasting me, then smiling, said, "I like this bottle of wine, and I like the reefer we been smoking."
"Yeah, but on the whole? Have we done good?"
He shrugged and took a hit off the wine. "I don't know, I suppose we have. We got a lot of people really charged up to go out and protest the war. Seattle Liberation Front signed up a whole bunch of people."
"Uh, what about all the people that have ODed here? I mean, by putting on the festival, and allowing drugs to be sold, and actually encouraging people to get high, aren't we almost responsible for any of them that ODed or whatever? I was talking to Mitch last night. He was going on about that, and he's kinda made me wonder."
"You believe that?"
I thought about it for a short while, and then answered, "The more I see, I think I am starting to believe it. You know how many people I counted laying passed out in the mud and dirt on the way here? Six people! They coulda been dead for all I know. You know, I do feel at least partly responsible. If it wasn't for this festival..."
"What is all this shit?" Stuckey had a sour expression on his face. Quickly, he said, "You smoke dope. I know you've dropped acid. I've dropped with you. You on some kind of bummer?"
I shook my head. "I don't know, Bruce. Maybe I am."
He tipped back some wine, then looking very serious, said, "Dope is what holds us together, makes us all brothers. We share together, expand our consciousness, and grow spiritually from it. I've dropped acid over a hundred times, and each time, I've grown from it, and become a better person. Who am I to deny that experience to another person?"
"Yeah, but what about the person who flips out? Don't we have some responsibility to him? And if we've made it possible for him to do the acid, aren't we at least partially responsible if he flips?"
"Man, I think you've flipped."
We sat silent for quite some time, watching the band set up. Jackie and Saint came back, Jackie flopping down next to me, grabbing a bottle and taking a huge pull of wine.
Wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she turned to me and kissed me sloppily on the mouth. She smiled drunkenly, and said, "Goddamn, I'm getting off. This feels great. How come you're not smiling, huh?"
I shook my head, and said, "I don't know, I guess I'm still thinking of everything that's come down."
She took my face between her hands and looking directly into my eyes, said, "Gordon, it's time to move on from this shit. What's done is done, already. It won't help to keep thinking about it. You gotta let go." She picked up the bottle of wine, and held it up to me. I took a drink and passed it back to her. She continued, "Drink more of that stuff and pretty soon, you'll feel good. I went through the same shit as you, and look at me. Am I all broken up about it or what? No way. Have some more wine, and it'll all become a nice, hazy blur."
I stood up. Kneading her shoulder gently, I said, "Hey, I just remembered I've gotta talk to Allan about something. I'm gonna make a quick trip to the security HQ. You wanna wait here for me?"
She shook her head, looking at me like I'd gone nuts, but quietly said, "Do whatever you have to. I'll be here when you get back."
I looked at Saint. "Make sure nobody fucks with her, okay?"
He looked at me through bloodshot eyes, and drunkenly said, "Sure bro. I'll protect your lady."
I nodded at Stuckey who still looked mad, and left.
Allan was alone when I got to the security HQ, sitting at the table in front of the radio, drinking wine. He smiled at me when he saw me coming around the corner.
"Pull up a chair and have some wine, my good man, he said. "You seen that U-Haul where they're giving all this shit away?"
I nodded and sat down next to him, saying, "Yeah, I got an arm-load of the stuff. Hey, I need to rap with ya."
He looked slightly drunk. He smiled and said, "Got all the time in the world. Damn near all my people are gone. I'm not really sure why I even came back here. Probably because I'm so used to it, I guess. Go for it."
He pushed the bottle towards me, and I took a drink. Putting the bottle on the table, I said, "Okay. We've thrown out a whole lot of people who were selling junk. Why was that?"
He shrugged. "We threw out the junk dealers because the norm here, is that junk dealers and people who do junk are bad."
"Why are junk dealers and junkies bad?"
He shrugged again. "Because that's the feeling of the majority of the people. Therefore, the majority is right."
I shook my head, taking another drink of wine. "Wrong. We banned the sales of junk because we felt that people could be hurt by taking it, and maybe turn into junkies, if they weren't ones already. Isn't that the real reason?"
"Yeah, I suppose so. What are you getting at?"
"Okay. It's bad for people to do junk because they may hurt themselves, and that's why we tossed the junk dealers. We wanna protect people. Cool. But if someone does acid that they got here, and fucks up their head maybe permanently, how's that really any different? Fucked up is fucked up, whether you're dead or out lost in the ozone."
"I don't know that it is different. But whereas our little society has decided junk is bad, acid is still okay. That's the difference."
"Then the answer is that our society is screwed up."
He shrugged happily. "Shit, that's nothing, bro. Go take a look outside the gate if you wanna see screwed up. Get falling down drunk and cops'll take you home. Light up a joint in front of a cop and you'll go to the gray bar hotel. Say you wanna go to bed with a woman? Cool. But if she charges you ten bucks for doing it, it's a crime and you'll both go to jail. Or say, you wanna walk around your house buck-naked? Fine, more or less. But walk out to collect your mail that way sometime and see what happens." He shook his head. "What we have inside the fence here, isn't half as bad as what's waiting out there for us, tomorrow. Yeah sure, we've got some inconsistencies here, but a lot of them are holdovers from society outside. All in all, I think our society is the better one."
"Huh? Yesterday, you told me you thought the festival had failed because we couldn't coexist peacefully. Now you've changed your mind?"
"I thought about what you said last night, and in part, I've come to agree with you. There are many different ways to view what's happened here. For the majority of those who came here, ya know, to get high and listen to music, well they did have a good time, so on that level, the festival was a great success. On the other hand, if you look at the festival as an experiment in anarchy, okay, maybe we failed. Whatever in the long run, things may be fucked up but in a lot of different ways, but what we have is still an improvement over what's outside the fence."
"Because we've got all this love your brother stuff, but we promote drugs as a way of life. If a person fucks himself up permanently on acid, and we, the people who put this festival on, have allowed the sales of that acid, then we're guilty of fucking-over that person. Or at least helping them do it to themselves. The way I see it, it's no different than if we went out and stuck a knife in their gut. Love your brother? Shit, we're a bunch of fucking hypocrites."
"Exactly. We are a bunch of hypocrites. But the rest of your analysis is flawed. In one scenario, you have the person fucking themselves up, be it on drugs or whatever. In the other, where you stick the knife in their gut, the victim doesn't participate voluntarily. That's a big difference. You can't equate drugs, to physical violence. Taking drugs is a voluntary affair. I didn't twist your arm to get you to take a drink of that wine just a minute ago, or to drop that speed yesterday. Those were decisions you made independently, all on your own."
"Maybe so, but there is an awful lot of pressure. I'm not saying I was forced to take the speed yesterday. No, I mean generally. The need to conform. You know, the 'if I'm gonna be cool, I better take that hit of acid.' That sort of shit. And here at Rio del Sol, it's been the heaviest pressure I've ever seen. Announcements from the stage all the time about what drugs are good, and which are bad and what the right price should be. Shit, here around the Ave, dealers every five feet selling everything under the sun. And with prices so cheap it's unreal. If that ain't heavy pressure, I'm Ho Chi Mihn. At the very least, we promoted the hell out of drugs. We let it go on, the dealing, we gave it our blessing. That makes us responsible."
"Well, maybe you're right, but we still haven't intentionally screwed anyone over in my book. What's wrong is to put people in jail because they use or sell drugs. At least we did make an effort to keep prices low so no one was ripped off, and to publicize which drugs were good and bad. To that extent, we tried to protect the people it wasn't intended to be coercive at all."
"How is that protection? I mean, I've used that line myself, but I just can't believe it anymore."
"In comparison to what the establishment does. Out in the real world, not only can you suffer whatever bad effects there are from getting high, but if you get caught, you go to jail. That's insult upon injury. Why make it a crime for someone to put a certain chemical in their own body? It doesn't affect anyone but the person who's stoned. You take away the criminal aspects of possession and what have you got? Most of the time, you've got someone with a smile on their face, that has a predisposition for junk food. Big fucking deal."
"What about the people who are hurt?"
"People who deliberately hurt others should be locked up. But in a free society, folks should have the right to choose to hurt themselves. And that's one of the aspects I like best about this festival people were allowed true personal freedom."
"Yeah, but what I'm saying, is maybe we were wrong in allowing this. I think you were right yesterday, we need some laws here, too. Stronger ones."
He raised his eyebrows and said gently, "I think you've gone off the deep end, Gordon. What are you trying to do, condemn the whole hippie movement because some people got wasted on drugs? Look, I know what happened to your old lady. Remember, I was there. I can understand how you could feel and I agree we need more of certain controls, but I think you're over-reacting. You're damn near a hundred and eighty degrees out from where you were yesterday. What happened?"
I looked at him and asked carefully, "Have you heard what went on up at the gate last night?"
He shook his head and said, "Everybody I talked to has massive amnesia. I heard what sounded like an explosion and then rifle fire from towards the gate. I was up near the top of the bowl checking on someone when it happened. You know something?"
I shook my head. "Let me ask you a hypothetical question. Would it be right for us, the staff here, to kill others in defense of the festival?"
"I don't know. I suppose, if it was truly self defense."
"Okay. Now, the reason we're all against the war in 'Nam is because the government's killing people who want to be commies or whatever. Us, we're all high and mighty, deploring this violence and talking sedition. If we were to do more or less the same thing to someone here at this festival, what's that make us? Who are we to say that if you try to rip us off, we're going to punish you with a sentence of death?"
He smiled. "I've already agreed we're hypocrites. Do you find it surprising that we're any different than the world at large?"
"Yes, dammit, I said, banging my fist on the table. "We're supposed to be different. We're not supposed to do that shit. Killing people, either a little at a time or right out is wrong. If we believe violence is bad, then how the hell can we encourage any part of it?"
"Because we're human."
I shook my head. "They call us the drug culture. Hippies, freaks. A whole lot of derogatory shit. But we've always had these lofty ideals. What the fuck has all this been for if we can't be better people than the establishment?"
"Beats the shit out of me. I'm going back to law school in a couple of weeks. Maybe someone there'll know the answer."
I shook my head slowly. "Man, my head is really spinning. You know, before I came here, it was all so simple. I'm gonna go down to Rio del Sol, listen to some tunes and get high, have some fun. Then I start working here, meet this lady, and people start screwing with my head. I wish I'd never come."
Allan smiled and gently said, "I don't think you really mean that. You've had a helluva lot of fun. I've seen you."
"But ... I dunno. I guess I'm just not sure who I really am anymore..."
"Then maybe you should get yourself one of those nametags that read, 'Hi, my name is Bud!' That'd end the confusion." He smiled and went on, "Gordon, people are gonna take drugs whether they're here or somewhere else. Some of them are gonna OD, others won't. Look, if you think drugs are bad, the first thing you should do is stop taking them yourself, and then maybe you can set an example for others. And if you've got a bug up your ass about promoting non-violence, join the Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee or something."
My mouth hanging open, I sat there staring into space for several moments, then said, "I never really thought about going straight."
"Got room for some more guilt? Every time you take a hit off a joint, you are in fact, promoting it. How the hell can you still get high? That makes you the biggest hypocrite of all." He smiled.
"I never thought about that."
"Then think about this. Do what I said. Clean up, and then go talk to people, telling them what you've told me. Maybe you'll be able to get rid of some of your guilt. Maybe you'll feel better." He paused, looking at his watch. He said, "I've gotta spilt. My old lady's waiting. I told her I'd be back early, since this is the last night. We're gonna party."
"Hey, uh, Allan, if I don't see you again, I just wanna say thanks. Thanks for everything."
He stood up. "It's been real, bro. You and Susan, you take care of yourselves, hear? She's good people. You two come see me up in Seattle. I'm in the book."
I didn't have the heart to tell him we'd split up. I simply said, "We will."
He hugged me, then left, off to see his lady. I sat for a while, taking sips off the bottle of wine, thinking about what he had said. From the stage, I heard the opening notes of a Stones song, Street Fighting Man. Listening to it, one of the lines stood out: "The time is right for violent revolution..."
Obviously, Mick Jagger had never seen the body of someone killed by a Claymore, or he wouldn't have written something like that.
I sat spacing out for quite a while, and then noticed the stage was silent. The band must have quit several minutes before. I decided to go back and see what was happening.
On my way to the stage, I counted eight bodies lying motionless in the mud. Several were the same as before, the rest were new. Near the stage, two more were floundering badly, soon to join their brothers of the mud.
Saint was by himself when I got there. He smiled drunkenly, and waved.
"Where's Bruce and Jackie?" I asked.
He shrugged, and said, "Oh, they went off a while ago. He was gonna introduce her to someone, I think."
I got an inspiration. "You got a place I can sleep in your truck?" I asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, but why? I thought you were staying with Jackie?"
I drew a deep breath then let it out. "I think her and Bruce would be a better match. Look, tell them I'm gone when they get back. I'm gonna go get my stuff, go to your truck, and crash." I dug the bag of weed out of my pocket and handed it to him.
He looked surprised. "Gordon, it's not even dark yet. What the fuck are you doing? Why'd you give me your stash?"
I shook my head. "I don't know man, I just gotta get out of here and do some thinking. Catch you later, huh?"
"Whatever's fair, bro. He said, looking at me like I was a lunatic. "I'll tell them what you told me."
I walked back to the gate, through the trash and the bodies of people sleeping it off, watching the sunset. Outbound traffic was pretty steady, many people apparently wanting to get a jump on the rush that would occur when the music finally quit for good at midnight.
I retrieved my sleeping bag and pack from Jackie's tent, and walked off to the south lot and Saint's truck. The gate had been completely deserted, the trailers standing empty, doors hanging open, the only life being the movement of cars heading out to the real world.
As I lay there in the back of Saint's truck, I thought about the real world. My parents, school, my ex-friend Dave, and all the other things I'd have to face in the next few days. And above all, I thought about Susan, and how I'd hurt her.
The pain in my stomach, which had been gone most of the day, returned with a vengeance. I lay, twisting and turning in my bag, trying to get comfortable, trying to forget. Finally, I fell off into a troubled sleep, and dreamt of seeing Susan murdered, along with Mitch and the terrorists.
September 8, 1970
I awoke with a start, wondering where I was. Saint was huddled down in his sleeping bag lying next to me, snoring softly. The mattress that covered the bed of Saint's truck was comfortable, more comfortable than anything I'd slept on for several days. Since Susan and I left the equipment trailer.
And then I remembered what had happened, and my stomach started churning again. I searched around and found my cigarettes, and lit one.
Looking out the back of the truck, I could see a light mist hovering over the ground, already starting to burn off in the early morning sun. It was going to be another hot day, a regular Indian Summer. I finished my cigarette and flicked it off in a long arc over towards a ditch, then rolled over and stared at the ceiling of the camper shell.
"Oh my aching head, moaned Saint, awake beside me. He looked over at me, and said, "You better have a hangover too, sonofabitch. I can't be the only one who feels this way. It wouldn't be fair."
I let out a breath, and said, "I hate to disappoint you, bro, but I feel pretty good. My head, at least. But the rest of me feels like shit."
"Good, he said, stretching. "Then there is justice in the world. What's the problem with your body?"
"Oh, nothing. Just my stomach is all screwed up."
He smiled, then rolled over and came back with a paper sack. "Here, just the thing. I brought it back for breakfast. Should be good still. Sandwiches. Chicken or ham, take your pick. Got it from one of the vendors that was packing up last night. Was giving all his extra food away. Here."
I looked in the bag. Maybe six sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. I took one that looked like chicken. I asked, "Got anything to drink?"
He sat up and rummaged in an ice chest by our feet. "Budweiser or coke?"
"I'll take a coke, thanks." He handed me the bottle, after opening it. I asked, between a mouthful of sandwich, "So what happened after I left? Jackie go off with Bruce?"
He shook his head. "No. I guess the stars weren't right. Wasn't for his lack of trying, though. She got all weirded out after I told her what you'd said. Stuck really close to me. I ended up walking her home. She told me what happened with Susan, and about what happened at the gate."
Eyes wide, I asked sharply, "She told you what about the gate?"
"That four people died, fool. Why didn't you tell me? Think you couldn't trust me? That hurts, man."
I shook my head, feeling low. "No, I'm sorry man. I was so fucked up yesterday, I couldn't think straight."
"You know, you really hurt Jackie when you left. She's a good person."
"I just couldn't handle it. Her way of dealing with what has gone on was to get wasted. I couldn't handle that."
"She thought maybe you were still hung up on Susan."
"Yeah, and she's right. But there's nothing there, I said, glumly. "I can't go back. We said too much."
"How do you know that? You talked to her lately?"
"Not since Sunday night. Have you talked to her?" I was suddenly very interested in the conversation.
He shrugged. "Might of. Might of."
"Well did you or didn't you? Stop jerking me around, man."
He nodded, swallowing a mouthful of sandwich. He said, "Yeah, I saw her last night. Looking really good. Stopped us as we left the stage. Wanted to talk to Jackie. Asked where you were."
"What did you tell her?"
He shook his head. "I just told her you went off to crash."
"Who was she with?"
"Is she still mad at me?"
"I couldn't tell, bro. She seemed kind of distant, you know, reserved. Just talked to Jackie for a couple of minutes, asked where you were, and left. That's all."
"Man, I really love her, Saint. Really." I sighed, then said mostly to myself, "God, how I've hurt her."
He laughed, "Don't tell me that, fool. Tell her."
"It ain't in the cards."
"And how the fuck do you know that? Gordon, sometimes you really make me nuts. You get on this kick or that. You get so fucking certain of yourself, that no way can you change your mind. Well there are times that's good, but let me tell you friend, this time it's bad. You're gonna be kicking yourself in the ass forever, if you were wrong. Even just not knowing. Go out there and talk to her, you stupid shit. Before she's really gone."
"But what if she's still mad, man? What if she tells me to get lost again? I just couldn't handle that, not now. I can't."
"Then you really are a fool. Susan is one of the nicest people I've ever met. You two go so well together. If you don't go back and ask her to forgive you, try to patch things up, then you really are nuts, and you ought to see about checking in over there at Western State. I'm sure they've got a nice padded room with your name on it."
Two hours later, I was walking back to the gate, to say good bye to Jackie. I had arranged to get a ride home with Saint, who was leaving in the afternoon.
We talked and talked before I left, about Mitch, about the Octoberists and violence, about dope, and about Susan. Saint was a big help. He was able to get me thinking in more or less the right directions.
But where Susan was concerned, he was adamant that I go see her and that was something I couldn't do. Or wouldn't. The fear of being hurt, and the fear of rejection were too strong. I made a solemn vow to myself that I would never place myself in a position where I could get hurt like that again.
Jackie was in front of her tent, collapsing it, when I approached. Her long blonde hair was tied in a ponytail which trailed down her back, and she was wearing the short shorts I loved so much, with a string bikini top showing off much of her lithe body. An old, red Ford Fairlane with New Jersey plates was parked in the scotch broom next to the tent. The car radio was on, playing Mandolin Wind, a song by Rod Stewart, way up loud. Inside the open trunk, I could see some of Jackie's belongings. She saw me coming, stopped what she was doing, and stood there with one hand shielding her eyes from the sun, giving me a long, searching look.
Finally, she gave a half smile, and then with her thick Jersey accent, said in a neutral voice, "I was pretty pissed when you left. I don't like getting left somewhere by a man I'm out with."
I stood in front of her, studying her tent, and said, "Look. I'm sorry about that. I just couldn't handle it. I had to get out of there."
"So what was the shit about me and Bruce being a better match?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. I just wasn't thinking too clearly."
She frowned. "That really hurt me, Gordon, it did. I thought we were friends."
"We are friends, Jackie. That's why I came over to apologize to you and to say goodbye. I didn't want there to be any bad feelings between us."
She looked at me hard for several seconds, then looked away, and said, "Yeah, we're still friends."
"Honest to God, Jackie, I didn't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt anyone. It was just so intense up there last night, and with all the shit that's happened, I couldn't think. I needed some space, I needed to get off and just be by myself."
"Yeah, I believe you, Gordon. We have been through some shit, huh?" She smiled briefly, and then frowned. She continued, "Basically, I think you're a pretty nice guy. What you need is a lady like Susan, for you."
"Jesus, are you gonna start on that shit too? I keep telling everybody, it's over. Done."
"We saw her last night. She came up and apologized to me. Looked me straight in the eyes and said she'd had way too much to drink, and that she was sorry if she'd hurt me. She said she didn't mean any of what she said. Told me she hoped you and I would be happy together. It looked like she was gonna cry when she said it. Took a lot of balls."
"What the fuck? Saint didn't tell me about that shit."
She shook her head, saying, "I don't think he coulda heard it over the band. And she rushed right off afterwards. She loves you, Gordon."
"No, she couldn't, not after what she said that night. Shit, you were there. You heard what she said."
"Yeah, and I can read between the lines, too."
"Well, it doesn't really matter, now. I'm sure she's left and gone home already."
"She just lives up in Tacoma, right? Go find her, she shouldn't be that hard to track down."
"I'll think about it." I changed the subject and asked, "So what about you?"
"What about me?"
"You gonna go home to New Jersey?"
"I don't think so. I'm heading to LA. I got some relatives there. It'd be a shame to make it all the way to the coast, without hitting California. Why? You wanna come along?"
I smiled a half smile. I could see interest in her green eyes, and maybe some hope. But there was no way.
"Sounds nice, but I gotta go to school, I said gently. "My parents are gonna be freaked enough, just having me at this festival for the last two weeks. I take off to California, they'd really flip. I can't do that to them. I can't. But I would like to. You've been such a damn good friend. You're a nice lady, Jackie."
"Yeah, Jackie's always the nice lady, she smiled wistfully. "Sometimes I think I'm gonna bust if I keep on being so nice."
I pulled her to me and we hugged tightly. I said, "I'm really gonna miss you." We kissed.
"I'm gonna miss you too, Gordon."
I drew back, looking in her sad eyes and asked, "Could we make it together? You and me?"
She smiled, and kissed my forehead. "Maybe. Right now, I think it's too soon for ya. Too soon after Susan, too soon after the rest. But I'd be damned interested in trying. Maybe we can get together in a few months, you could hitch down and see me in LA at Christmas? Or maybe spring break would be better?" Her eyes misted over, and she looked away, quickly. On the radio, Derek and the Dominoes were playing Little Wing.
I played with her ponytail, holding her close to me. "I could do that, I said softly in her ear. "I've never been to LA. That'd be great. You'd be able to show me around." She buried her head on my shoulder. I asked, "Hey, what's the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing. I just ain't good at doing goodbyes." She looked up and I could see tears running down her cheeks.
I kissed her forehead, and shaking my head, said, "God, I've treated you like shit. I've treated everyone like shit. I oughta just go find a cave and never come out."
She sniffed and shook her head. "No, Gordon. I meant what I said. You are a nice guy. I don't think you'd hurt someone on purpose. Some ways, you're really ahead of yourself, like the way you held it together in security. Other ways, you're still kinda immature. But I don't think any of the stuff you've done that turned out bad, was done because you're an asshole. Just kinda young and stupid. But I think you'll grow out of that. Shit, I keep forgetting how fucking young you are. Just eighteen, huh? You'll grow out of it. You will!" Eyes still misty, she smiled and kissed me.
"Where are you gonna stay tonight?"
She shook her head. "I'm gonna use the rest of my speed stash and drive straight through to LA. Got just enough money for gas. No money for food or a place to stay." She wiped her eyes, and trying to compose herself, said, "Look, I better get moving if I'm gonna do it. Give me your address, huh?"
We spent the next few minutes exchanging addresses, and then she told me to leave before she went on a crying jag. We kissed again, and then I turned and left, walking down to the semi-circle of trailers. I looked back at her once before she was out of sight. She was leaning on her car, facing away from me, head bowed.
There were several people working around the gate, packing up equipment, and taking down the ticket booth. I didn't know any of them, so I left, walking down the road to the bowl.
The trail I had helped cut so many lifetimes ago was now worn deep into the ground. Any sign of the roots of the scotch broom we had cleared had been obliterated by thousands of feet, walking towards the music and the dope that was the festival. Like everywhere else, trash was laying all over the place. It was depressing.
The road was starting to dry out again, in the hot morning sun. In areas that hadn't been run over by cars, the mud left from yesterday's rain was cracked and drying. Traffic was sporadic now, and only outward bound.
I walked past the row of Sanicans at the top of the hill. They were being loaded onto a big truck. Then, I was at the top of the bowl. From this distance, it looked much the same as it had when Dave and I had arrived two weeks earlier. The trash wasn't really visible. Most all of the tents were gone. Just a lot of open pasture leading down to the stage, where they were taking down the big tarps which had kept off the rain. I looked for the big oak tree.
Next to it, looking lonely all by itself was my tent, its door closed, appearing vacant. I decided that just to play it safe, I'd go and cruise around the stage for a while, to make sure I didn't meet Susan. I was sure she had already left, but I didn't want to take a chance. I couldn't handle any kind of confrontation just then.
I walked down the hill, and through the concessions. Only a few vendors were still there, and those were in the process of packing up their stuff. The booths, which for the last two weeks had been the center of commerce for the festival, legal and illegal, were now deserted hulks, most without roof or walls. The paths where people had milled about on the Ave, window-shopping for T-shirt and trinkets or food and dope, were now vacant, and except for the trash and the many shoe prints in areas where it had been muddy, it was if no one had ever been there. The drunks lying on the ground had all vanished. It was almost completely deserted.
My hand itched under the bandage, and I stopped to scratch it. At the stage, workers were taking down the scaffolding of the towers, having already removed much of the sound system. As I watched, the Rio del Sol banner went loose, and fluttered down onto the stage. It was over. Done.
I walked back away from the stage to a small hill that amazingly, was still covered with grass, and sat watching them tear down the stage. I'd been there for maybe fifteen minutes, when I heard footsteps and looked behind me. It was Dick, the man from outer space.
He looked much the same as the first time we'd met. He was wearing what appeared to be the same plaid short-sleeved sport shirt, with the tan slacks and black wing tips. He ran a hand through his short brown hair, and smiled.
"Well, Gordon, he said, with his Boston accent. "I thought it was you. How ya been keeping yourself?" He sat down next to me, and lit a cigarette.
I shook my head. "Not real great," I muttered.
"Ayah. What's the matter?"
"Everythings all fucked up, that's what's the matter."
He shrugged. "Huh. Well, it was a damned good festival. More fun than I've had in centuries. Don't be so gloomy." He paused then asked, "So have you found your true purpose in life yet?"
I smiled grimly, thinking of all that had happened, and then answered, "Yeah. My purpose in life is to hurt the people that I love and care about."
He nodded slowly. "Ayah. That's too bad. I was rather hoping for something a bit more grand from you."
"Me too. But I guess I've finally realized what my limitations are."
"You're mistaken. None of us are limited in doing good. If you've hurt people, it was because of a conscious or unconscious decision you made. Everyone has it within their power to do almost unlimited good. But it is a choice."
"So I made some bad choices?"
"Perhaps. When you're faced with a decision on what path to follow, you often find it's easier to do something that's not quite right. And when you've taken that path, you may find that in each of the following decisions, the wrongness of the path tends to escalate. Each potential decision from that point on is progressively more wrong. But there's always some way to redeem yourself. Just understand that the farther you go, the more difficult the decision, and the higher penalty you'll pay, at least at the onset, if you make that right choice."
"How do you know what the right choice is?"
"Ayah, that's a hard bugger. All you can do is study your different options, and try to pick the one that's most difficult. More likely than not, the most difficult one will be the right one."
"What about the penalty you were talking about?"
He shook his head. "Well you can't get something for nothing, right? That's always the problem. I don't want to oversimplify the concept, but basically, if you do the right thing, you'll be rewarded, if you do the wrong thing, you'll pay for it, one way or another. It's a fact of life."
"Huh? That's more or less what my girlfriend told me."
"Sounds like your girlfriend is a wise person."
"Yeah, she is." My ex-girlfriend, I thought. I paused, watching the crew tear the facade off the front of the stage, and then asked, "So when are you going to have your spaceship come and pick you up? It's pretty well cleared out here now. Why don't you have it land right over there?" I pointed at the expanse of trashed pasture in back of us, devoid of tents and people.
"Oh, no. Couldn't do that. My ship isn't designed for atmospheric re-entry. That's what we have teleporters for. You have a lot of cargo or want to do heavy maintenance on the drive or something, you ferry whatever you need up to orbit in a shuttle. Of course there aren't any facilities like that here on this planet, yet."
The man really was fruit loops. He actually sounded like he believed the stuff he'd told me. I played along. "Yeah, I've seen transporters work. They have them on Star Trek. They just say, 'Beam me up Scotty,' then their bodies start glowing, and presto chango, they're gone."
He stood up, slightly behind me, and said, "I've watched a bit of your Star Trek. I'm afraid it isn't exactly like that. They've got it about half right."
They had backed several large flatbed trucks up to the front of the stage and were beginning to load some of the scaffolding they'd torn down. I stared at them as they loaded it, feeling depressed and lonely.
There was a loud clap of thunder in back of me, and I levitated about a foot into the air, sure that the terrorists had been resurrected. Looking all around me, I saw nothing at all. No terrorists, no people no Dick?
I sat for several minutes trying to figure out what happened. I came to the conclusion that while I had spaced out watching the stage, Dick had left without my noticing. It still bugged me though, because it was at least a hundred yards before there were any obstacles he could of hid behind, and I didn't think I had spaced out that long. And I couldn't think of any explanation at all for the loud bang.
I hung out for another hour, watching them tear down the stage, staying back, not talking to anyone. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I started walking up the hill towards my tent. Might as well get it over with, I thought.
I couldn't hear anything from inside the tent as I approached. It looked vacant, forlorn. I hesitated at the door, then gripped the zipper and pulled it up.
Empty. It looked like someone had swept it out, nothing remaining inside except the Tortilla Flat sign Dave had made, and the electric lantern. No traces of those who had inhabited it, or of what had happened. But the memories were there and for quite some time, I just stood there, wallowing in my sorrow and self-pity.
"Gordon?" Said a shaky voice behind me. Susan! "Gordon, uh, I need to talk to you before I go." Her voice was cold and emotionless, none of the sexy overtones from before.
I turned quickly, trying to keep calm and keep my face expressionless. She was standing just inside the door of the tent, dressed in light blue shorts and a black tank top, looking very pretty, her curly brown hair shining and combed. She had some makeup on her face, highlighting her fine cheekbones. Her brown eyes looked cold.
"Uh, hi, I stammered, not being able to think of anything else. Her expression didn't change. She looked at the floor for a moment, then directly in my eyes.
"I wanted to see you before I left," she said, sounding very formal. "I can't stand having unfinished business." She paused as if waiting for a reaction, then seeing none, went on, "I just wanted to say that I apologize if I hurt you. I didn't mean to. I'd had way too much to drink that night. I acted like an ass." She stood there staring at me.
Finally, after seeing she wasn't going to continue, I shook my head and said quickly, "You didn't do anything to me."
She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and said in a strained voice, "Whatever. You have my apology." She hesitated, and then lowering her eyes, asked, "So, you're with Jackie now? I saw you up on stage with her. I'm sure you'll be happy together." She looked back at me briefly then turned, looking over her shoulder out the door.
Embarrassed, I coughed then said, "Uh, Jackie's on her way to LA right now."
Still looking out the door, she asked, "You're not going with her?"
"Huh." She looked back at me and we stood staring at each other for several moments. Obviously uncomfortable, she cleared her throat then asked, "So what's this I heard about you going straight?"
"Who'd you hear that from?"
"Allan. I saw him this morning. He and Helen were just leaving. He said you guys talked last night, and that you were thinking of going straight."
I shrugged. "Yeah, I am thinking about it."
"Why?" She pulled a tissue out of her purse and began dabbing at her eyes.
I shrugged and shook my head, eyes downcast. "Dunno. I guess I've just seen too much shit. Seen too many people get hurt, like you." I paused then said, "Mitch is the one who got me started thinking on it." I looked back at her.
"Oh." She was silent for several moments then said, "They told me at the gate that Mitch went back to LA. Why did he leave early?" She stared at me anxiously, fiddling with the tissue in her hands.
I shook my head slowly and looked away. "It was the shit with the Octoberists."
"What did happen?" she asked hesitantly.
"You sure you want to know?"
She nodded looking uncertain. "Yes," she said in a small voice.
"Whatever." I drew a deep breath and went on, "Well, like I tried to tell you that night, the rip-off did come down and four people ended up dead. None of our folks, just the Octoberists." I shuddered and went on, "The bikers killed two with a Claymore mine, then shot the other two. It was cold-blooded murder. Absolutely fucking cold-blooded. Mitch did okay at first better than me really but I guess after it all sunk in, he just went kinda nuts. Couldn't handle it at all. He felt responsible for the deaths, 'cause he was the one that set up the thing with the bikers. He felt like he pulled the trigger himself and he was really broken up about it. Then he started going on about drugs. Basically, he just freaked. In the end, he up and left, just walked out, saying he was splitting for LA the next morning. I haven't seen him since."
Susan's hands covered her face, and she was crying, sobbing quietly, standing there in front of me. I stood watching, feeling so guilty.
"Susan? I'm sorry I told you all this. I shouldn't have. You really didn't need to know what went down."
She shook her head slowly, drawing her hands down her face. Looking back at me, she wiped away more tears with the battered tissue then said, "No, I did need to know." She paused for a moment, trying to compose herself, and then went on, "It's something I needed to hear. If I hadn't, I would have imagined something worse. Much worse. It's funny what the mind can do, playing with you."
"Are you okay?"
"Yes." She stared into my eyes, blinking back new tears.
Unable to meet her gaze, I looked down at the floor and said in a low voice, "Uh, about that night? God, I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. Hurting you was always the farthest thing from my mind."
"Well you did, dammit, she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks again.
"But I didn't mean to. It's just ... I dunno ... with all those people getting blown away, Mitch freaking out and splitting, then having to contend with you and Candy and all her bullshit, it was just way too fucking much. I mean, without you getting all drunk and going off on that trip about me and Candy, I think I coulda made it." I could see her getting mad all over again, and tried to recant. "But look ... look, I never shoulda said what I did that night, and for that, I do want to apologize. Really, I apologize. I was truly fucked up behind that speed, and I did and said things I shouldn't of. Anyway, I'm not one to judge you, 'cause I got way too many other problems of my own. You want to go off into the sunset with Candy, that's your business. Honest, if that's what you want, I wish you both all the happiness possible."
Staring at me, she sniffed, and brushed away her tears with her fingers. "She and Janie left yesterday afternoon." She sniffed again, and then went on, "I kicked them out after they woke up. I decided I couldn't handle her and all the weird head trips, Gordon." She lowered her eyes and studied the floor of the tent.
She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I began to see her for what she really was." She sniffed again, then dabbing a tear from the corner of her eye, asked in a small voice, "Did you sleep with her and Jackie?" She looked up at me.
I shook my head. "Uh uh. I got Candy off once, before you and I were together, but that's it we never made love. Jackie and I flirted a lot, and talked about it a bit, but never actually did it." I paused for a moment, watching her face for a reaction, and then went on, "We tried to yesterday finally, but it didn't work out. No, I like Jackie a lot but it wouldn't a worked between us. I figured that out last night after talking with Allan, when I was up on stage. I split and ended up crashing in Saint's truck last night by myself." I looked directly at her.
"Oh," she said softly, looking away. After a few moments, she turned back and stared, a lone tear running down one cheek.
There was a long, pregnant pause and we stood looking at each other, her sad brown eyes burning deep into my tortured soul. I wanted to tell her I loved her and reach out and bury myself in her, but I just couldn't. I would never gamble like that again, laying myself open so someone could chop me off at the knees.
I stared blankly at her, face expressionless, my mind in turmoil. Finally, unable or unwilling to think of anything else, I looked away and muttered, "Well, I guess I better start tearing down this tent."
"Oh, she said again, looking dazed.
I stared back at her for a few more moments, then asked softly, "You gonna be alright?"
"Yes," she said, nodding, and a faint smile came on her lips, and then quickly turned into a frown. "I'll be okay. What about you?"
Afraid she might see something, I looked away. "It's cool, I mumbled, lying, close to losing control.
She looked all around her, as if she was just becoming aware of her surroundings for the first time, or maybe remembering what had gone on there. She frowned, and started to say something, then stopped and drew a big breath. A nervous smile on her face, she said timidly, "I guess I better get going, then. Do you, uh, need a ride or anything?"
Outwardly impassive, I managed to shake my head and said flatly, "Saint's taking me home. We're gonna split in a couple hours." I struggled to keep my emotions in check.
More tears were forming in her eyes, as she looked about the tent again. Voice quavering, she said, "Okay. I'll be leaving, then. Gordon, It was nice knowing you. Really. We had our bad moments, but what I'm going to remember are the happy times. We had a lot of those, didn't we?" Her voice rose in timbre as she looked up at me.
"Yeah." Against all odds, I kept my face expressionless. My insides churned painfully, and I wanted to tell her how I really felt but I couldn't bring myself to speak. No one would ever hurt me like that again.
Her tears were flowing freely again, and she looked at me, searching for something. She turned abruptly, and left, walking out of the tent and my life.
A lone tear formed and ran down my cheek. I closed my eyes and stood there, breathing deeply. The pain welled up inside me, breaking free and taking me in its hold, twisting through me like a knife. A tremor passed through me, and with all my heart, I knew I should die.
But that was too easy. I was so fucking weak! She was the only woman I had ever really loved, and now she was gone, and I had let her walk away. I was too weak to take a chance and get down on my knees and tell her I loved her. Too weak to do anything except wallow in my sorrow and self pity.
Tears streaming down my cheeks, I ran from the tent. She was fifty yards away, walking up the hill. "Susan!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, "Susan, don't go, please! I love you! I love you ..."
I pushed open the front door to my house, letting my sleeping bag and pack fall onto my dad's chair. I could hear him and my mom in the kitchen.
"Gordon, she yelled, "Is that you? We're in here. It's about time you got home. We were beginning to worry about you."
I rounded the corner. She and my dad were sitting at the kitchen table, cups of coffee at hand and cigarettes dangling, talking. They looked at me, taking in the dirt and game smell I had acquired from not washing in the past few days.
"Whew, go take a bath," said my dad, smiling. "If I'd known you were gonna smell like that, I wouldn't have left the front door open." He was wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, his tie dangling down the front. He'd just got home from work. He went on, "So how was your damned hippie rock festival? Listen to a lot of music?"
I nodded my head. "I had a good time, I guess. Say, there's someone I'd like you to meet." I turned and yelled out towards the living room, "Hey, c'mere, I'd like you to meet my parents." She came in, smiling and stood by me, hand on my arm.
"Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Susan Peretti. This is my mom and dad."
"Pleased to meet you mister and missus Lawson, she said, smiling wide, brown eyes flashing in the early evening sun coming through the kitchen window. "Gordon's told me a lot about you."
My mom smiled and said to her, "Peretti? That's a nice Italian name. Where do your people come from? And what's a lovely creature like you doing with a dirty animal like my son, the hippie?"
Susan laughed, and then said, "I'm in love with your son, missus Lawson."
January 1992 through September, 1994, at
Centralia, Spokane, Bonney Lake, and Tacoma Washington.