While I was sitting in a car in Nevada waiting for an Irishman's brain spray to dry, Saigon was falling, the civil war in Vietnam was over; the North won. It made every bit as much difference to me a dog farting in the city of Boston.
Given how big a deal the war was in my life, you'd think I would have cared more, but it wasn't that clean a thing.
Nixon declared an end to Vietnam, and then sent in a gob more troops, that was 1969-1970. Finally, in 1973, congress cut the money for any US involvement, and that was the end of our part of the war. The Vietnamese fought on for almost two more years, until in 1975, when Saigon instantly turned in to Ho Chi Minh City as instantly as Patrick Flynn made his last mistake and turned to pink haze.
Even though the draft also ended in 73, for those of us who refused conscription, nothing changed. A year later Gerald Ford offered a kind of amnesty, but by then I was used to traveling. I had met hundreds of people in that ten years between my draft and Ho Chi Minh City.
As one of his first acts, Jimmy Carter ended the hunt for draft dodgers in 1977. There is no president like Carter for his simple character of humanness. He was a poor president but a great leader, if we could have followed him, but we didn't know how. We were busy being tough and resentful, nuclear rocket cock men.
Now, all these years later, I realize the Vietnam War didn't end, it just left Vietnam and moved around the globe. I forget what our Vietnam is, now, but the real nation of Vietnam is a favored trading partner with the US, and we get along just fine.
In 1975 I stood in Yerington, at the crossroads, I could take one road and go south, and in a few days be home. Home. Mama. The old house. Cousins and friends.
I took the other, to interstate 80. I decided to do a left, right, left, right pattern, taking turn offs when I came to a new road. I went left on 80 to Sacramento, a shithole I'd been to earlier, and then a right on I-5, and then a left on 299. That is where I lost my pattern and entered one of the most pleasant times of my life.
I caught a ride with a scruffy looking guy in a rattling old 1965 Chevy van, blue and white.
The van stopped at the off ramp and the driver shouted through the passenger window, “where you going?”. He had a completely open face, his pale blue eyes were clear, his mouth in a perpetual smile. He rubbed his rough, freckled hand over his head in an effort to control his sandy, unruly hair.
“Left,” I said, coming to the window, “west”.
“Jump in, I'll take you part way.”
“Willie Willoughbee. Call me what you like, Willie, or Liam, or Will, or anything you like.”
He stuck out his large, knobby, hand, which I shook; it was a good handshake. He was generally tall, lean but not thin. He wore a faded blue work shirt with white buttons, and a pair of cargo pants, heavy cotton pants with pockets on the legs. He wore worn leather boots, like lumberjacks wear.
“People call me 'Star'.”
“Star? Like the twinklie things at night?”
It was a warm afternoon, even hot, and he started back in to traffic and we headed north on the I 5.
“Where are you going,” I asked. One place was as good as another to me.
“You never heard of it.”
“That's where I was headed!”
“Well, I'm not sure if you want to go there.”
“It's a different place, that's all.”
“I've been to different places.”
“Well, where I'm going is kind of like a commune. Ever been to a commune?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I've lived on a Hutterite ranch.”
“What is a 'Hooterite'?”
“Just folks, all living together, working with family and friends. They are religious, and have a long history. There are Hutterites all over the US and Canada.”
“Well, OK, this isn't anything like that. It's more a bunch of people who got blown by the wind and stuck like weeds in the hills along the coast. Some of us don't like to talk about our old lives.”
I smiled, “I'm an outlaw. Not a criminal, I don't rob or steal, or anything like that. I am just outside of the law.”
“Well, all right, want to go all the way with us?”
“Who is 'us'?”
“Oh, I have to make a stop along the way. That's why I was going this way instead of taking 101 the whole way. We need to spend the night in Wildwood, if you're going with me.”
“I'm going with you.”
“We have to go up through Red Bluff,” Star said. “I hope the old girl doesn't overheat.”
The “old girl” was the Chevy van; it was a “cab over”: type, with the front wheels just forward of the seats, and it had the engine in a compartment a little forward and between the front seats. When the van turned, the front seats gave a body the feeling they were in a roller coaster. The engine made a lot of noise steaming up the grades, and if it over heated, it would make the passenger compartment really hot.
“Care for music? I have a cassette deck.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
He pressed the cassette into the deck and music leaped out:
Hear the words of the Rastaman say:
"Babylon, you throne gone down, gone down;
Babylon, you throne gone down."
Said I hear the words of the Iyaman say:
"Babylon, you throne gone down, gone down;
Babylon, you throne gone down."
And I hear the angel with the seven seals say:
"Babylon throne gone down, gone down;
Babylon throne gone down."
Star was nodding his head, singing with the chorus.
When the song was done, he turned the cassette over and we listened to ie from start to finish.
“Nice music,” I said.
He nodded, “yeah, Bob Marley, Reggae music! It's the music of poor people.”
“Yeah,” he assured me earnestly, “It's Rasta music.”
“What's a rasta?”
“It's a poor person, see? A poor person who believes that Jah is God and that ganja is a sacrament. It believes that the Pope is the antiChrist, because, see Christians killed so many Africans. It's the music of Africans living in Jamaica. You ever been to Jamaica?”
“No, not yet,” I said, and I never did go.
“Well, a new revolution is coming out of there.”
I listened to the music a minute; I liked it, something about it seemed right.
“You do the green,” he asked me.
“You know. Marijuana, you ever do it?”
“Oh, I've done it,” I said, and I had, just once or twice. It didn't do much to me, not like a beer.
“Well, here, then, smoke this,” and he handed me a joint. It was all leaf, which is all I'd ever had, and it was like smoking hay, but I liked it, and when we were done, I had a light buzz.
The music pumped through me.
We followed the highway north, through a dozen little towns, then finally came to Red Bluff.
By then, it was mid afternoon; we fueled and grabbed some burgers and headed west on highway 36.
At first the road wove through stunted oaks and red dirt hills. On every turn, the front of the van swung; it took me a long time to get used to the feeling.
Star knew a lot of lore about the area; he'd grown up in Trinity county and moved to Humboldt two years before.
We talked about different things; he was 22, younger than I thought; he hadn't ever had to worry about the draft and didn't think about it or Vietnam now. He had a girlfriend when he went to Humboldt, but she left him for a guy with land.
When he was seven he saw his uncle killed by the top of a redwood that had flipped through the air when the tree fell. The tree fell one way and the top snapped and flew backwards, just about thirty foot of trunk and branches, he said it sailed like a feather until it fell like a dart on to his Uncle Ted, his dad's brother. “He wasn't looking at the tip, he was looking at my dad, the busted end of it hit like an arrow, one a foot across, and it pinned him in the ground. Dad had to get a backhoe to lift it off of him. They wouldn't let me see him after that, but I saw it hit him and, bam, punch him in to the ground.” He shook his head, “poor Uncle Ted, killed like that, for no reason cept'n God just felt like killin' him right then.”
He tuned to me, “I took a lesson from it, I really did. Even as a little tyke, I realized that dying can happen at any time, and there don't have to be a reason, it just comes. So, you better do the things that matter to you, when they matter. Here, roll us another joint.”
We went through Rosewood. Tall, wispy pine trees and oaks.
Star had an older sister, 26, who, when she was 16 got tapped by the son of a friend of their dad. His folks pressured her in to marrying the lunkhead, who gladly quit school to go to work in the factory where their dads worked.
The kid, a boy, came out kind of weird, and the dad didn't like it. Eventually, he started to beat Star's sister.
One day she came over to the house and said she was leavin' and dropped off the kid and all the kid's stuff, then she got on a bus.
At the end of the day, when her husband came home from work, he found the house full of gas, she'd blown out the pilot light and left the oven on.
For a couple of years, every year on the kid's birthday, she would send money. At first, it wasn't much, a few hundred dollars, and they were postmarked San Francisco, from China town.
About six years ago, the amounts got bigger. The first was $2,000. The family was amazed when it came. Star's dad stole it, and his mother finally got tired of his shit and kicked him out for good.
Four years ago a check for $10,000 arrived, from the office of a lawyer in Hong Kong, with instructions to start a savings account for the kid and have the statements sent to him. The next year, the money appeared in the account. His grandma can take out a four hundred a month. The kid now has fifty thousand dollars, and the family, including the new step dad, takes very good care of the weird little girl, who, it turns out, is a musical genius, and is taking piano lessons.
In all of this, Star did what no outlaw, no boy on the run, ever does, he told him all about his life.
I told him nothing. I shared a few stories, but left names and locations out of it. “This guy I knew” and “once at this place in the mountains”. Nothing more.
We passed through Begum; the road was so curvy and so narrow, and the scenery outside the windshield of the van seemed to dance around like we were in a plane about to crash. I got sick out the window; Starr had me roll another joint. I felt better.
He put another cassette in; I was ready since we'd listened to Bob Marley over and over. It was a minor change, “Ska,” Star said, “Not reggae. This is the Maytals.”
The scenery along the road slowly changed, and eventually we were heading up into the mountains, and at last the oak started to give way to tall pines. The air was cooler, but the climb was taking it out of the van, which finally began to gently steam; we could smell it in the cab. I worried that it might go and lobster boil my legs.
Star finally pulled right off the twisting 36 and headed down a dirt road.
“Almost there,” he said.
I was road weary and sick of the rumble of the Chevy van, and was pretty happy when Star pulled down yet another dirt road to stop in front of a small cabin.
The cabin was small, had a slanting tin roof and was mostly lumber plans, some with shingles, some with tar paper. Flowers grew everywhere in the yard. There was a Volkswagen bus parked in the yard, red and gray. Pines grow down over the cabin; it was peaceful as anywhere.
I got stiffly from the van; Star jumped out and went around the back and opened the doors.
“I got fruit,” he shouted at the cabin.
Three people came out; one was a large man with shaggy hair and a long beard which had been braided. Behind him was a straw pale blond girl carrying a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket. And, behind them was a woman who would grow me out of my boyhood ways.
She was tall, not quite as tall as Star but fair as tall as I was. Her hair was jet black, her eyes large and brown, her skin the color of cream coffee, her lips full and rich, and her belly swollen with child peaked from beneath a tie died T-shirt, and I could see large chocolate nipples glowing though the cheerful pale yellow, green, and blue of the shirt.
Star said, “hey, everybody, this is a friend I met today. Will Willoughbee, this is Traver, and his love Nanc, and their baby Rhubarb Delilah. This is Nanshe. She's why I came this way, she's coming back to the coast with us. Hey, everybody, look, peaches, tomatoes, plums!. We eat fruit.”
“Oh, these look so good! Thank you, Star,” Nanc said.
Traver waved us in to the cabin, which was small for five people, but we crowded around the table and ate peaches and plums and drank from a large glass pitcher of pure water.
“Fruit is so refreshing,” Traver said. Having a chance to study him a bit, I determined that he was all right, probably not loser scum. I was hoping they were coming to that conclusion about me.
I shared some jerky I had in my pack, but only Star and Traver had some.
Near the end of the feast of fruit Nanshe retired to a corner of the cabin and came back with a joint.
Looking at me, she handed me the joint.
“Want to burn one?”
I did. I lighted the joint with my Zippo, took a deep hit and handed it back to her.
But, this wasn't the same pot Star had. This had a real pungent smell, piney almost, or skunky.
“That's pretty good,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, smiling and taking a hit. She passed the joint to Star and sat by me.
“I'm Willie,” I said.
“Is that your real name, or your system name?”
“I guess it's my real name. It's what's on my birth certificate.”
“That's your system name. It's attached to a number.”
The joint came by again; I did another hit. I coughed and coughed, but it was very good.
“Your work number,” Nanshe said, “the social security number. What's your real name, the name the world gives you?”
“Hey, Asshole,” I said.
She smiled; her teeth were white and perfect.
“Has no one ever given you a name?”
“No. Just Willie.”
“In a few days I will give you a name. It's time for me to go get water from the creek. Would you like to come with me?”
I was really stoned; I'd never been stoned like that. My ears roared, my balance was a little off, and I had a smile I just couldn't stop.
“That is the best pot I ever smoked,” I told her sincerely,
“We kill the males,” she said. “It makes the girls hotter.”
Nanshe stood. “Get water with me,” she repeated.
I looked deep in to her eyes; I could almost taste the peach of her lips.
“Absolutely,” I said,
She picked up a large galvanized bucket and handed it to me.
“You carry the water?”
“Sure,” I said, and I followed her out of the cabin and for the next two months.
She went out the door and turned down a well worn path between tall pines. It was early evening; the air was perfectly still, and rich with the smell of pine and the last days of summer in the mountains: flowers, grass, dust.
I tried to keep up with Nanshe, but she seemed to glide, and I seemed to be moving in slow motion. My lips seemed thicker than usual, and they stuck to my tongue, which I suddenly had no idea what to do with, it seemed uncomfortable no matter where in my mouth I put it.
I was falling behind! Nanshe was barefoot, and her heels and soles flashed at me from beneath what I first thought was a dress but realized was loose floppy pants from some light, beautifully colored material. I focused on her heels; what if I got lost! There were paths ever where, night was coming, what if I got lost.
I decided to call her name, “Nancy” I said, but that wasn't right, and I said it too softly. I hurried as fast as I could, and caught her just at the creek, which it turns out was easily in sight of the cabin.
She bent to the stream, showing broad hips and a nicely rounded ass, and pulled the bucket from the water. It was sparkling, almost silvery in the metal bucket, and the last light of the day made soft pink ripples in it.
“Oh, god, I'm thirsty,” I said, and pulled the bucket from her and plunged my face in to it. I sucked it down, only vaguely aware that she was saying “we don't drink from the stream, it is late in the years, there are animals along it, there are cabins up stream. You have to boil it first.”
Understanding her at last I pulled my face from the bucket, “oh, my god, what should I do?”
She took the bucket back and laughed, “You're probably going to be fine, don't worry, you won't die.”
I laughed at myself, and that, and the cool water, calmed me down.
“God, I have never been this high,” I said. “I want to do this again, real soon.”
Again, she laughed, and the sound splashed from her lips and seemed to echo from the trees, even the stream laughed and babbled.
I looked at her deep brown eyes, the strong bones of her face, the soft perfection of her skin. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was.
“Is that Star's baby,” I asked.
“No, it's mine, I'm baking it right now.”
“I mean, is he your husband?”
“My husband? No, I'm not owned by anyone right now.”
“I didn't mean were you owned by anyone, I meant, who's baby is it, who is the father.”
“Who owns the baby, who owns the mother, you're really about the ownership, aren't you?”
“No! I'm not, I don't own much of anything.”
“Well, sometimes that's when ownership is most important. Own yourself.”
“I do, I guess. I just wondered if you had a man.”
“I don't need to own a man.”
It was all just too much to make sense out of.
“OK,” I said, shrugging.
Nanshe laughed again, and again the forest and stream laughed with her. Man, I was stoned, I haven't been stoned like that in years.
“Look, sit down on these rocks with me. Let the music of the stream clear the babble in your head. Yes, the baby has a father, but no he isn't part of my life. His mother knows about the baby and she and I have decided not to tell him. No, Star is not my man, he's just a friend who is taking me back to Humboldt to be with my people. I can up here to help Nanc with her birth, and now little Rhubarb is here and Nanc is up so I am going home to have my baby among my women friends. No, I'm not a lesbian, though I have made love with other women. I just don't like most men that much. They are like living with a wolf or bear, they can be fine one minute, and then savage the next. I may have a monogamous lover some day; right now I don't need one. There, is that every question you have?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Let's go back, it's getting dark.”
“Don't leave me behind.”
She stood, took the bucket and laughed over her shoulder, “you can't get lost, the cabin is right there.”
“It isn't the cabin I'm losing sight of.”
She turned back, gave me the bucket, took my other hand in hers.
“You're fine, you just need a name.” We started walking as the evening grew purple and the owl sang.
“Where will I get a name?”
“Sometimes I give names, but you won't be easy. You're like a coyote, or a fox, you move around, suspect everything.”
“Call me 'Coyote'.”
“No, that isn't right. A bird? A water creature?”
“Did you give Star his name?”
“I did, last autumn. A year ago almost.”
“Why did you call him 'Star'?”
“That's easy! Have you seen him with his shirt off?”
“We'll ask him to show us his back.”
“Is your name a system name?”
“No, my name was given to me by my mother's Aunt. It is the name of a Sumerian goddess, the goddess of fresh water and all the animals, and of social fairness.”
“Nan-she,” I said.
“Less on the 'she'. Nansh with a tiny 'eh'.”
I said her name again. Then again. By then we were to the cabin, but I didn't want to go in.
“We should go in,” Nanshe said. “We want to get an early start in the morning. We should go to bed with the sun. Do you want to sleep with me? There won't be any sex, if you touch my breasts I'll kick you out of the cabin. I will wake everyone up and tell them what you did, and shame you.”
“I would like that,” I said. “I won't do anything creepy. I'll just be with you. Anyway, I know you're in the family way, and doing it could hurt the baby.”
She burst out in laughter; it filled the night and echoed from the trees, and seemed to shimmer up to the freshly twinkling stars.
“Hurt the baby! You don't know much about women and pregnancy, do you? When we are pregnant some of us are the most hot. Our hormones make our clams itch, and we know we're already pregnant, no fear there. Besides, sometimes a girl wants to know she is still pretty even though she's carrying new life.”
“So, you do want to do something, or you don't.”
She ran her hand over my face, leaving water from the bucket.
“First, I don't, then after I know you awhile, we'll see. You can't understand the simplest thing, can you, you're like a puppy, all eager to go but no idea where.”
“I'm just momentarily confused,” I said. “Please don't name me that.”
Again, she laughed, and again the landscape changed. I was coming to realize I would do anything to hear her laugh.
“I won't name you until you're no longer confused.”
“That will be hard, then, Nanshe, because as long as I an around you, I'm going to be confused.”
She sat down on the rough steps of the cabin. I sat right down.
“Relax, it's just great weed. I'm nothing special. Some might say I'm the least together person. I'm pregnant, have no job, no house, no one to be the father, I'm all alone with the crushing responsibility of bearing and raising this little person. See? Don't take advice from me.”
“Why aren't you afraid, then?”
“I am, a little. But, mostly, I have faith in life. I have faith in my friends, they won't let me fail. I've done this for Nanc and Traver, if I need something I can count on them.”
She shook her long dark hair, which gleamed in the golden light from the cabin. Then, she looked at me, put her finger on my chin,”What do you fear? What is your faith that you'll make it?”
“Everything,” I said. “Nothing.” It was true.
Her face was shadows, with her back to the light, but her features were strong enough for me to see her concern.
“Yeah, that's normal.”
“I fear prison.”
“That's what they hope.”
“I fear a pointless and early death. I just came from watching a man die with a burst of pink haze. Over nothing.”
“That can always happen, can't it? For all of us, yes? A traffic accident, a small injury and infection, a mad man, a slip in the bathroom, a lightening strike, a cerebral arteriovenous malformation. We all wander between those misfortunes all the time, don't we?”
“Oh, it's a thing that can happen, where an artery and a vein hook up wrong, and eventually the pressure of the artery blows out the vein, which wasn't intended to take those forces. If it happens in your brain, cerebral, you'll have a massive stroke and probably die. If it happens in your lung, pulmonary artereiovenous malformation, you'll likely die drowning in blood.”
“What the hell! I wasn't even afraid of that.” I began to feel my skull carefully. “How do you know if you have one?”
“You don't!” Nanshe laughed brilliantly, “it's just one of those things you have to escape to live longer, that's all. More people die from infections. If you get a cut, wash it out right away.”
She took my hand, looked deep in to my eyes, “look, count with me, one, two. Do it, one, two.”
“One, two,” I said. “What is that?”
“All the truth of death is in that, say it, 'one, two'.”
“Stop!” She put her hand over my lips. “Stop. When we say, 'one, two' we acknowledge that we might not make it to two. Our lives can end that suddenly, so that our 'one' may never be followed by a 'two'. It is a fact of life, and it does two things for me. First, it reminds me that I have no guarantee to life on the Earth. A billion other creatures would take my place if I died. Second, it reminds me how cosmically wondrous and unlikely it is that I am here to say 'one', or to seek inside for the movement of my baby, or to look in the eyes of a friend and seek his name.”
Without taking her eyes from my face Nanshe said, “isn't it a beautiful sky tonight?”
Without looking away from her eyes I said, “It is a breath taking sky, I can see all the way to the end of the universe.”
“Isn't the air perfect?”
I nodded, took a breath, “it is perfect, I smell the pines, and mosses on the creek, and sweet straw of dry grass, and you. It is perfect air, not cold and not hot.”
“And, if it were cold or hot, how would it be. One...”
“It would be perfect.”
“What if you, or me, or my baby, as a cerebral AVM?”
I struggled with fear, and sympathy, and pity, and the answer escaped my lips on its own: “One.”
She kissed me on the forehead, and stood up, pulling me to my feet.
“See, you aren't afraid, are you?”
I stumbled after her in to the cabin, carrying the pail, which sent small electric cold splashes to my legs.
Was I afraid?
Thinking back over the last decade, I was afraid often. Always afraid of cops, something I carry to this day. I was often afraid of hunger and cold, and once waited for hours by a squirrel hole with a stick until it stuck its head out, then I clubbed it so hard it rolled back into the den and I had to dig it out. I ate everything that could be eaten from it. I was so cold once, huddled in a bus stop in Montana, that I actually began to feel warm. If a local pastor hadn't driven by at six in the morning and seen me, I might have died; coffee, warm blankets, hot oat meal and buttered toast.
I was sometimes afraid of the men I worked with. The jobs I took were the jobs anyone could get: the stupid, the unlucky, the young, the old, and the wandering bad folk. The Flynn boys were just unbroke, stunted as teen boys account of having no proper daddy. Some men I worked with there so cruel and hungry for the suffering of others the air around them was colder; Willie chameleon, you don't see me.
I was sometimes gripped with the fear that I would never have nothin', that I'd be so old by the time I could come back in to society that I wouldn't be able to get a job, I wouldn't ever have a wife or kid or own a house, or even a car. I had a fear that I was going to always be on the outside. It is free on the outside, but it is often cold, and when those on the outside die, they are little noticed and missed in passing.
But these thoughts were drive from my mind by the noise and warmth and the yellow light of a 12 volt bulb hanging above the table. There was a cassette deck from a car and two speakers hooked up; a reggae singer, singing about the rivers of Babylon.
“We got water,” Nanshe announced, “who wants tea?”
Traver took the bucket, “you'll get tea after Rhubarb get's her muffin washed.”
He was tender and loving to his little girl in a way I never saw a dad be before. He held her wrapped in a blanket while he dipped water into a pot and put it on the wood stove. He danced to the music with her held close to his heart.
I nodded my head to the music; it was hard not to.
“The Melodians,” Star said, “Rivers of Babylon. It's from the 137th Psalm.”
“The Bible? I thought these guys think the Pope is the anti-Christ.”
Well, they think Christ was a prophet, but Christians are the children of the devil. You have to think of slavery. They read the Old Testament of the Bible.”
“Star,” Nanshe said, “take your shirt off.”
He peeled his shirt off, and his back was a constellation of freckles.
“See,” Nanshe said, her finger dancing over his back, “the big dipper, and here, Polaris, the North Star. There are other constellations on his back, too, look at this, Orion.”
I didn't know the names of stars, but it sure did look like the big dipper to me, pointing right at the North Star.
She patted his back and he pulled his shirt back on.
“Want to see my back,” I asked, her, “maybe my name is on it.”
“Forget your name, whatever your name is, and remember who you are,” Nanshe said.
When the water was hot, Nanc handed me a wet cloth.
“We don't have enough water for everyone to have a bath, and if we heat the stove it will be too hot to sleep tonight. Can you just do a PTA?”
Nanshe laughed and took the soapy cloth. “Pits, tits and ass,” she said, “ Look, you take the soapy side and clean your face, then the wet side and rinse, then you do your pits like that,” she reached into her loose blouse and swabbed her pits, “then you do you fun bits,” and the rag disappeared into the waist of her pants, “and finally, your back door,” she swabbed her round backside, “and put it by the door to clean in the morning.”
I knew how to take a whore's bath, and did it as everyone was busy.
Only Rhubarb actually got warm water.
Nanshe was clearing the small table; “shall we eat something before bed?”
They brought out some french bread and farmer cheese, which is the parts of the cheese before they drain out some of the whey, like cottage cheese.
“Goat cheese,” Travor said, “fresh, our neighbor makes it.”
“Here is some jalapeno jelly, try this on it,” Nanc said, handing me a jar of pale green jelly.
We spread the cheese on the bread and dobbed on the jelly.
Right now, today, my mouth slobbers at the memory of that sweet, salty soft cheese with the sweet, burning flavor of the pepper, on the crispy, tart french bread. These memories of Nanshe and my time in the hills of Trinity and Humboldt are precious artifacts in my life museum. When I die, at the moment of my death, I hope to return to some rare instant in my life, and it might be snatched from these moments, with Nanshe.
As we ate, the light dimmed, and finally Travor shut it off.
We sat in the dark.
Traver's soft, deeper voice said, “wasn't much wind today, and it's still now. The turbine couldn't fill the batteries. I could light a candle or the fat lamp.”
Nanshe's clear, mellow voice said, “I'll be soon to bed. I hope to be home early tomorrow, yeah, Star?”
Star's young man's voice said, “sure. I could sleep. There's room in the van for your roll, Willie.”
But, as I was working on a response Nanshe said, “he's going to sleep with me tonight. I feel like company.”
Traver said, “last drink of water?” I heard the water being passed; after a moment Nanshe pressed her arm against mine, and I took the jug and drank like a camel.
“Anyone else,” I asked. There wasn't much left, and I was glad no one wanted any.
“I'm outside for a last tinkle,” Traver said, and he opened to door.
I saw the sky framed against the black of the door, a brilliant night sky alight with fields of blue stars. I stumbled out, we spread out away from the cabin and I could make out the dark shapes against the ambient light of the evening. The air was cool and perfect. Someone to my left broke first, which allowed the rest of us to go, and then it was back in the cabin.
Nanshe took my hand, “here,” she said, “feel about for the stool that's always by the wall here, and move it out. I'll get my mat and blankets.”
She rustled about, then said, “OK. Now, we take off our outside clothes. This is where I show you that I trust you, and this is where you show me that you are trustworthy. I don't have a bra, but I'm taking my shirt off. You can't fondle my breasts. I'm also taking my culottes off, so I'll be in my undies, which I'm changing now, if you're wondering.” She rustled in the dark. I took off my shirt and pants. My tool was plump, and I worried I'd get a stiffman.
“OK,” she said in the darkness, “come, stranger, to my bed.”
I laid down; we were on some kind of mat, and it wasn't very big.
“We'll have to lie side by side,” she said, “it isn't very wide. I'll lie on my side, and you can lay with your front to my back, but if you get an erection, you have to go out in the dark and rub it out in front of the bears and owls.”
The bears and owls took the plump out.
I put my hand on her bare shoulder in the darkness. I lay my head on a pillow made of my shirt and her culottes, with my face in her hair. The front of my legs touched the back of hers. I wrapped my feet around hers.
In the darkness, I breathed the perfume of her hair, soaked the softness of her skin.
She took my hand and placed it across her tummy. It was laying heavily towards the mat, and I wondered how it must feel to have that hanging from your body. I could feel things inside, though I didn't press hard. She placed her hand on mine and sighed.
In the darkness with my eyes shut, the high continued, and I saw many colorful images, and I watched them until I slept.
Nanshe was up before I was and when I woke up she was naked, standing in a washtub in the middle of the cabin, and Nanc was pouring warm water all over her.
I watched quietly from the mat on the floor. Her hair was already lathered, and the rinse made streams of white foam cascade down her dark skin, and race around all her curvy parts. Her nipples were large, dark full moons, and the white cascaded to veil them fleetingly, but a second rinse cleared them away.
Nanshe laughed, looking up at me, “are you spying on me at my morning bath?”
“I would never spy on you. I was savoring you, like I would a bend in a river, or the crest of the ocean, or any natural and beautiful thing.”
“My belly is big.”
I stood and walked over to here; I bent and washed my hands in the water at her feet, then carefully touched my fingertips to the round curve of her baby bed.
“That is a wonder of its own, that you can do something I would never be able to do, grow another person in side me.” I bent and lay my scrubby cheek against it, “we are all born alone, and mostly live our lives alone, but for a little while, someone is always with you.”
I stood and looked into her dark eyes, which reflected the panes of golden morning light outside but let in a bit to show their depth.
I said, “is that not a wonder?”
Nanshe smiled, “oh, you've got the tongue of an angel, or a devil. Which is it?”
I laughed, “Mama was an angel; Daddy was a little bit devil.”
She put her hand on my face to hold me still, then, with the last drops of water still diving from her nipples at the edge of my view, she said, “let's try calling you 'Hershel' and see if it sticks.”
“Hershel, why that?”
“It's after a famous Ukrainian Jew, Hershel of Ostropol. He was a famous wit, and prankster, and story teller. I'll call you Hersh and we'll see who else does.”
I ran my hands around her baby.
“How much longer,” I asked.
Nanshe smiled, “it's up to the baby, but about two months.”
She took a towel from Nanc and said, “you look like you need to pee. We should get going, do you want a bath?”
A nice piss bone was tenting my shorts, so I headed out the door, “no, thanks, I'll pee and wash up and we can go.”
Outside, Traver and Star were tinkering with the van, engine hatch open.
“No,” Star said, smiling, “Travor was just noticing the old girl is starting to smoke. She'll make it home, but I need money to do a rebuild. I'll do it when we get home, I know a guy who does ring and valve work on engines.”
I found a quiet place and pumped my bilge, a nice fat stream an old man can only remember.
Then, I went back to the cabin and noticed the water bucket on the front porch. I grabbed it and headed down the path.
It was just a short way, in the daylight, and I was back in no time.
“Do we have time to heat water? I'd like to wash my hands and face.”
Traver threw me a towel, “already for ya! Thanks for getting water, though.”
I raced through a quick clean, got dressed, and accepted breakfast from Nance: three bean and cheese burritos.
Hugs around and we were on the road.
Nanshe took the passenger seat, and I sat on Star's bed roll, pillows and all.
I could only see a little out the window, and before long, Star put music on, which pounded out into the back, where the big speakers were. Before a few miles, I felt cut off.
I put my bedroll and pack, and his bedroll and a five gallon water jug together and made a little kiddie seat between the two front seats and back a little.
“I can't see the drive from the back.”
“I can try to share my seat,” Nanshe said, but the van didn't have very wide front seats.
“I'm good here,” I said, but I felt like I was back with Mom and Dad. It was strangely peaceful.
The miles rolled by outside and we were headed for the Northcoast of California. The road wound down through the mountains.
Star talked about how glad he was to get back to the place, and how the berries should be getting ripe. He talked about how great it would be to go to the river.
Nanshe talked about how glad she would be to see everyone after being gone a couple of weeks.
I had nothing to say, I wasn't part of their lives enough to know what to say. So, I listened.
A picture emerged as we threaded Highway 36 out of the Trinity Alps and down to the Eel river valley. Bridgeville, Carlotta, then on to the highway to Fortuna, off right away again to cross a beautiful bridge which spanned a sandy, nearly empty river, the Eel. Through delta meadows so rich with grass that cows seemed to spring up from the soil to much, black and white cows, dairy cows I could see by the huge barns. Then, through Ferndale, a dusty but still dignified collection of Victorian homes built when milk was worth money, and then a quick left on a nondescript little road.
“The Wildcat,” Star said, a quality of reverence in his voice.
“The road home,” Nanshe agreed.
The road was all turns, which in the van meant we were treated to a roller ride as the front swung left and right, but immediately, it captured me. As the van labored up a steep and narrow grade, the whole of Ferndale, with its many churches, and the wide lush meadows, and the lovely houses, we just rose and rose above it like we were in a hot air balloon, raising and raising.
“This calls for a celebration,” Nanshe said, and she took out some papers and some ganja buds and rolled a fat joint.
The incredible road continued, up and up, then it followed a narrow ridge, with drops on both sides and redwood trees and bushes everywhere. Then, we crested a rise and back, behind us was a lovely bay.
The narrow road bumped and jostled along the ridge, and the joint went around and around, and at a narrow place, where the fence leaned in towards the edge of the road and beyond was rolling meadows, thatches of green redwood and oak in the hollows, and far to the west, the line of the ocean.
Star pulled off the road on a narrow patch, and we all got out to pee.
I was high, but it was more than that. The presence of the fruitful Nanshe, the straight and simple Star, and the vast and breath taking views of the road kindled something in me. It was the desire for a home I hadn't ever known, not the home of my childhood, but the home of my adult life, my place to be, to invest in family and friends and community. This twisting and unforgiving and beautiful road was taking me somewhere important; it was no ordinary road, that was clear, this road threw one view and then another and then another: trees, bank, meadow cows, cliff, bank, trees, ocean. Everywhere green from plants I didn't know, and everywhere glimpses of places that called but I couldn't go: farm houses, dense groves, slate blue of the sea not so far but unreachable.
The weed was very good weed, and it tickled the bullshit center of my brain, and all of a sudden, sitting down little between Star and Nanshe, I started talking.
“I've been on some beautiful roads, but this one stands out.”
“Yeah,” Nanshe said, “what beautiful roads have you been on?”
“Once I was on a road that followed a river up and up into the mountains. The river was large when we started, and the mountains far away but when we finally stopped the river was a spring, and the mountains owned the sky. Huge mountains made of giant blocks of cracked stone, so sharp you worried one would snag your eye when you looked at them. Like a piece of the world broke and someone piled the pieces into a mountain range. I remember how clear the air was, how in one place the trees that grew were twisted down, pines with three foot trunks that lay along the ground, because of the winds that blew so often from the other side of the peak, so it trains them from when they were little a century back, to grow below the edge of the ridge.”
“And, did you get out and walk to the edge of the ridge, and did the wind blow,” Nanshe wanted to know.
“I did, of course, how could I not, and yes, it blew so hard, and the rocks were so jagged that the wind was shattered into shards as it rounded them, and I felt my face start to lift from my head, and I quick ducked down and ran to the truck. But, before we left we drank from the little spring, even though my friend said if I did I would have to come back someday.”
“And, did you go back,” Star wondered.
“Not yet, but as lovely as that road was, it was nothing as magical as this,” because now, before us, the road dropped out of our sight, to reappear below in loops. Star dropped the van into low gear and we drifted down the sharp face of the mountain, left and right, and cows stood below us and then above us as we wandered through their meadow.
Below us, at the bottom, was my dream ranch, with outbuildings, and barns, and it was right along the river. As we crossed, a sign told me Bear River.
The road at once began to twist and climb and then we were on the top again, and the meadows dropped a thousand feet from the edge of the road to a canyon below.
“All the cow here must have one leg shorter than the other,” I said. Yet, the cows did browse, and then down we dropped straight down, several hundred feet to a long flat place just along the ocean.
There, that rock in the sea,” Star said, as he worked the brakes and the engine whined, “that's the most westerly point on the US.”
“The continental US,” Nanshe corrected gently.
“Yeah, and there's a lighthouse here, the coast guard keeps it going.”
At the bottom was a ranch, in as lonely and lovely a place as any, and behind it were steep green hills and dark canyons and before it, a few hundred steps, was the endlessly churning sea, naked of any reef or bay.
We sped along the one lane road, a few tiny bridges bore the road across small creeks; the road found itself just at the edge of the ocean. A few cars were pulled over there, and people with long rods stood on rocks in the breath of the foamy sea.
“Stop,” I said, “let's go to the ocean!”
“Not yet,” Star said, be we'll take you to the ocean, just be patient.”
“There are a lot of earthquakes here,” Star told me.
“That's why you feel the energy you do here,” Nanshe said.
“Yeah, there are fault lines around here. Sometimes you can see them. See that canyon there, that it doesn't run straight down toward the sea like the others, that it has one edge where you can see a lot of steep dirt? That might be one. I don't know,” he shrugged, be we all tried to look out to see the fault lines.
We left the ocean and climbed through low hills, soft clay hills which showed the effects of the sea and wind and more.
Then, past a ranch and more meadows.
Then all at once, over the crest of a hill, a new scene lay before us, a village, with houses, and a church, and a river running close by, and I was wondering what was the name of that place, “that place,” I said, “where everyone sings, it only appears once a century, what is it called?”
I couldn't remember then, and I can't remember now.
“Brigadoon,” Nanshe said, laughing. “But I don't think you'll find anyone singing.”
“No,” Star said, “Petrolia. If you want, you could get a post office box here, and here is where we buy our groceries and make telephone calls and get gas. We try to get along with everyone here.”
“Is that hard to do?” Star seemed pretty easy going to me.
“Not everyone wants us here,” Nanshe said. “Like I said, it's no magical village. “
We went through the tiny town and over a new river, and Star said, “before we go home, we'll take you to the sea,” and we followed the river on a narrow, muddy road until finally we'd followed it to the sea.
“This is where this river comes home,” I said, getting out.
The wind was blowing, the river was lined with bushes which formed jungles along it. Above on both sides were high, steep hills.
“Run around, for little, then we go home,” Nanshe said. “Don't worry, we come here all the time. Don't get too close to the ocean, there are rip tides which can carry you away.”
I ran down and stood at the junction of the river and the sea. It was low and didn't seem to go to the sea. On the far side of the river there were steep cliffs, but on our side, a broad, sandy plain.
“Come on, we'll come back!”
I paused before I turned away, and looked at the steep hills, the roiling sea, the river shimmering beneath the sharp hot sun, and I thought, “I will always come back here.”
We drove back to the main road and turned right, away from the little town and again we were in the hills with oak and a low bush I knew to be whitethorn.
Off the main road we followed a road which was a tunnel through the oaks, and at the end was a large house and barn; we passed them and went a little farther, to a small group of buildings, or rather a small house, a small barn, and three round, makeshift looking buildings. There were four vehicles, an old Ford half ton four wheel drive, a 1970 or so blue Nova, a pale green Datsun 520 pickup, what we used to call a “rice bucket” and a VW camper van.
There were a few large oaks in the yard, but otherwise the buildings stood in the middle of a wide field of dry grass.
As the van pulled up, people came from the house. Two men, four women, four little kids. All the adults were about 18 to 35.
They greeted Nanshe and Star, and I took a minute to look around. There was a very large garden, a big wood pile, a ford tractor taken half apart, but not, I thought, abandoned, and a little building off the main house, a washer shed, I figured, and was right.
There was a babble of greetings between people, and I took another chance to look around: there were goats in a makeshift fence in the brush; there were chickens everywhere; there were two outhouses; tracks on the ground beside the van showed spaces for two more vehicles.
They greeted me, “this is Hersh,” Nanshe said, “he's a friend of mine. He's going to stay awhile.”
“I figure about two months,” I said, but I thought, maybe longer.
They went around introducing themselves:
“Matt. I'm the mechanic of the group.” A strongly built man about six feet, long brown hair and a goatee, wearing a pair of buckskin pants, no shirt, missing the little finger on his left hand,
“I'm Sheri,” a woman said, “with an 'i'.”
“An eye” I asked. Pushing 35, five seven, 150 pounds, dishwater blonde hair, blue eyes, wearing a pair of cut off jeans and a halter top over her boobs, past their peak but still quite presentable,
A hand was thrust at me, “I'm called Loki. He was a god in Norse mythology who was captured and tied up with the guts of his son. He's waiting for Ragnarok when he'll burst free and fight the gods.”
“So, Loki, then?” Young, not more than 22, five ten, 160 pounds, long dark hair, full but sparse beard, jeans and a t shirt.
Cheerful, 24, five eight, 130 pounds, olive skin and dark, wavy hair, wearing a smudged white cotton dress, a young woman said, “I'm Shoshana. My husband Rand is working in town. Benjamin is my son, and Lilywild is my little girl.”
“Is 'Shoshana' the god of something?”
“No, it's just an old Hebrew name, it's like 'Susan' in Isreal.”
A rangy woman about 30 stuck her hand out; she was tall as I was, had blue eyes and short cut red hair. She shook my hand hard twice and let it go, “Danny,” she said, and nodded at a petite woman a few years younger standing next to here, “this is Colleen.”
Sheri said, “Rand, Shosha's husband, and John, and Shilly, who is Matt's partner, are all working in town. We all do different jobs to keep the place running. We'll ask you to work, or put in money, while you stay. It's Matt and Shilly's house.”
Matt said, “We have to pay the bills. We charge $25 a month if you have your own tent, or stay with someone. If you want a place in the barn, that will be $35. Both include using the stove and bathroom. If you like, you can join in on food. The rooms of the house are taken already. About half of us are vegetarians, so if you eat meat, you have to provide that. Are you wanted by the law?”
I saw Nanshe take her stuff into one of the round houses.
“We don't want trouble with the cops.”
“Not more than me, though. I never did nothin'. I never stole, never killed, never hurt a woman or a child.”
Matt nodded; the others had started to go back to what they were doing.
“I have a tent,” I said. I gave him twenty five and another ten, “here, I'll put in for beans and rice.”
He nodded, “pitch it where ever you like. Use the outhouses at night, so maybe not too far from them.” He turned away for the house.
Star said, “you can bunk in my van with me, if you like.”
“Thanks, Star, but I'm comfortable with my tent.” I wasn't comfortable, though, it was small and I only used it when there was no other choice. I needed to find another choice, one with with a nice round pregnant gal all warm and soft in it. I intended to move in with Nanshe as soon as possible.
I pitched my tent near Nanshe's round hut, but not too near, and I split the difference between her place and one of the outhouses. There was a firepit there already, so it seemed natural. But I set my door up oriented to hers.
When my gear was laid out, I headed for one of the gardens where people were working.
“What can I do?”
“We want to open that piece of pasture there to row crops. See, there are stakes, from the end of this garden to about a hundred feet out? Would you like to use a grub hoe, a shovel, or the two man plow. The tractor is down right now, or we'd plow it. If you want to do the two man plow, you have to find someone to run the back end.”
I grabbed a grub hoe and went to work. The grass was very dense, the soil was heavy. It was the kind of work I was used to, and I slipped into that state where the body is occupied doing what it knows the do and the mind can fly free.
My mind flew to ten wasted years.
During that time, men who had not had their lives stolen by Vietnam had built lives. They'd completed their apprenticeship, or gotten a certificate or a college degree and started careers. They had homes. In those homes they had wives, and children, and a sense of continuation, of being part of the river of humanity moving forward through generations.
I had none of that. I could do two dozen semiskilled, low paying jobs, could serve under twenty-four masters but was the master of nothing.
Seventy-five yards across the lot I saw Nanshe and Sheri leave the house and walk down the dirt road. I paused on my hoe, Nanshe's big big belly gave her a gentle side to side weave and her long colorful culottes waved and danced. If I found a house for her to dance and weave, for her and her little baby, it would be, as my fake Irish ancestors would have said, “two jobs done”.
They disappeared behind the house, and I wondered if they were walking all the way to the road.
I turned back to my work.
How would I support a wife and kid? Who was the kid, what color was he? A white kid would be easier to get past my family.
I would love and raise that kid and she would have one or two of mine. But, they would all be my kids.
What would I do for money? Without money, at least enough for a small house and an old car, so I'd have to have a skill people needed.
Preacher? I could preach pretty well, I figured, especially for money. Bartender? Grocery clerk? Bouncer? Shoe salesman?
Imagining any of those jobs made me want to die.
Eagerly, I attacked the pure, certain soil, clove the virgin grass.
Well, she was here, she was happy. Maybe all I needed to do was add something on to her round house.
Some people work in town; I could do any laborer job anyone needed, concrete work, carpentry, plumbing; I could drive a dozer, and a forklift, and a backhoe and a front loader.
Tomorrow, I'd head in to town to work as a casual laborer. My new career would be my old career.
I had turned the grass in three rows, a total of about four by a hundred feet. When I was done dong the whole patch, I'd find a wheel barrow and bang the dirt off the grass.
My back felt great; my muscles sang with the work, my heart pumped joyfully, the hoe fell again and again.
Eventually, I saw Nanshe and Sheri walking back, and when they were in the house, Sheri came back out and banged a spoon on a pot.
“Beans are ready! Come and get it!”
The house had a real kitchen, with hot and cold running water, and I stood in line to wash my hands.
I got a plate and fork and stood in line.
The fare was boiled greens, spicy beans, cornbread and to my amazement, salmon. Two large baked salmon sat on the table.
“Salmon,” I said, “I love it, haven't had it much.”
Shoshana said, “it was caught in the Klamath yesterday; Billy Brown, from down the creek road, brought it back this morning. It needs to be eaten, and there are two more for tonight. I made green spring salsa, it goes good with that.
The food was fabulous, people sat around, the four kids at the table, but everyone else in the living room or on the front porch. I sat on the front porch with Nanshe and Star and Sheri and Loki. After lunch, we smoked a couple of joints of that great weed.
My stomach was filled. My back was tired. My soul was at peace.
After a time, Matt walked past and said, “got to get the tractor going.”
That was the signal for everyone to go back to work. Star was helping Loki drop some trees up the hill. It was for winter's firewood, and they sold firewood, later in the year. Dan and Colleen were working on something in the barn; turns out they were making souvenirs, little trinkets made from redwood and sea shells to be sold in the little towns up and down the Redwood highway.
The women cleaned the house and made ready for dinner and I went back to the field,
It was warmer now, and my belly was full and my head was buzzing, and the swing of the hoe gave me more pleasure than ever. With every swing, I was building something. I didn't even know what it was, but I had faith that it was worthwhile, and it was past Vietnam. Even though I was still wanted by the FBI, the Vietnamese had moved past the war, and I would to. I wasn't Willie Willoughbee, draft dodger, I was Hersh, prankster, story teller, maybe a dad.
After awhile, I heard the old tractor start. It died out, but started again. This time it ran, and after a little while I saw Matt bringing the tractor and a plow out to my little patch.
The tractor wasn't running that well, but he dropped the plow, and off it went, doing in less than a minute the work I would have spent half an hour doing. The clods of grass leaped from the plow.
Then, it died. Matt struggled with it, but it wouldn't start again.
“Fuck me like a drunken nun,” he said.
Star came running out; they got tools and started taking it apart again.
I went back to hoeing.
They eventually got the tractor going again, but I was more than half done with the field, and didn't mind letting them tidy up.
Then, they went over it again, and again, until there was no need of banging dirt.
So, I was out of a job and needed to keep busy.
I could have gone to chop wood, but instead I went in the house to help.
But, everyone was busy, doing laundry, cooking, working on souvenirs, or doing something constructive.
“What can I do,” I asked the house generally.
Shoshana came in carrying laundry.
“You could go to the polliwog pond and get the kids. My son Ben, my daughter Lilywild, and Danni's son Randy. They need to come in and get cleaned up, it will be dinner soon, the town workers will be home.”
The polliwog pond was easy to find; three little kids were playing at the edge.
“Hey, Shoshana sent me to get you guys for dinner.”
The boys were throwing rocks at sticks, a little girl was squishing mud through her fingers. She was covered with it.
“What are we having,” the taller boy asked.
“I don't know. Why, won't you come if you don't like it?”
“No, I'll have something else. My mom and Colleen have food stashed.
I nodded. “Yeah, well, either way, let's go in, OK?”
The little girl, though she was a little older than a toddler, stood and reached her arm up to me.
I considered. She was very muddy, it would get all over my clothes, but then, I could make a statement about what a generous dad I would make without having to do more than get muddy.
It was a deal, I picked the little piglet up.
But, once I held her, something lighted up in me. It was the feel of her little arms, and the clarity of her eyes, the fragility of her young life, and I pulled her to my chest and carried her, and to my shock, at one point, kissed her on the top of her little head.
I was a muddy mess when I got back, and Shoshana and Nanshe laughed, and took the little kid, and smiling, Nanshe wiped the dirt from my shirt and told me to wash up.
Dinner was salmon in green tomato chutney, with winter squash and brown rice.
After dinner, we smoked on the front porch, and by then, the day was stale, and I was tired. I took a quick shower and passed through to get one more puff off a joint. Then, I said, “I reckon I'll head for my bedroll, I want to get up early and go to town, I want to get some work.”
People said goodnight, but as I went out, Nanshe said quietly, “would you like to sleep in my yurt? I share it with Sheri's daughter Cherry. She's only 13, so there will be no sex. But, you could sleep with me.”
Yurt, the round houses were called “yurts.”
“I would like to sleep in your yurt.”
“Get your bedroll, I'll shower real quick and then let's get some sleep.”
The yurt was a little strange, being round, but it was snug, and had a good wood stove in the middle, and it was broken up with screens and hanging tapestries. I lay my bedroll out near what must be her mat, but I wanted to see if I could negotiate a better location.
She was a long time, and I was getting sleepy. A young girl, Sheri with 20 years less wear and tear, came in and, without even acknowledging me, went behind a screen. A flash light came on: she was reading in bed.
It was well dark by the time Nanshe came back. She opened the door and said, “Hersh?”
“Here,” I said.
In the darkness she pulled me until I was on her mat, then she pulled me down.
I could feel her lips near my ear, “just to sleep,” she said softly.
I whispered back, “I know. Good night.”
I kind of slept, but was always aware of where she was against me, and my dreams were waking dreams of wanting her, wanting another little kid to hold.
It was a busy, yearning, hopeful sleep.
In the morning, I was up bright with the sun, ate an early breakfast with the town workers and was off seeking a job.
I found work in Garberville doing construction, building a nice home in the hills just outside of town, overlooking the Eel river. I made good money.
And, when I did, I took it back to the group. I always gave Shilly or Matt money when Nanshe could see.
I found out that Matt and Shilly didn't own the Farm, they were just tenants, and part of the rent was that every day two women would go over to the big house we passed on the way to the farm and take care of the owner, Mr. Peke. He was pretty old, and they cleaned and cooked for him and sometimes helped him with his medication. They like Mr. Peke, and took him something special when they could, food, or flowers, or sometimes, books.
I only worked casual labor when I felt like it, about four days a week. I also spent time at the Farm, as everyone called it, doing the heavy lifting: cutting firewood, weeding the garden, fixing the run down outbuildings, even spent some time teaching the kids to do their figures and letters, and sometimes at night I would spin a yarn.
I got along fine with everyone, as is my means. Star and Loke and Matt were easy; Shoshana I genuinely liked; Danni and Colleen kept to themselves, but I liked Randy just fine. Sheri, John, and Cherry, I could do without. But, I got along with John, though I didn't see him too much, and I made do with Sheri, but I could never escape the addict vibe with her, and I taught Cherry sometimes, but she made me most uneasy of all. She was just bursting the first of womanhood, and it was easy to see her little sailor gave her no peace. She was feely, tended to wear clothes that showed her pink and glowing troubling bits, and in just five short years, she would be legal. I considered her trouble waiting to just explode all over everyone.
I tried to keep my distance, but it was difficult as I moved in to the yurt. I made certain never to be in the yurt alone with her, and stuck like glue when Nanshe was there, even seeing her to the outhouse at night, which trip got more and more frequent as the days rolled by.
Nanshe and I did have sex, and do sweet and loving things, but not often, few times, too few, I thought and still think.
Even so, I remember those nights, where I would lay with the front of my legs on the back of her legs, and can still, in my fingers feel the softness of her, and my face knows now the softness of her hair, and the scent of her is stored unchanged in a special place in my brain. The peace of our nights was symphonied with the rhythmic shush of her breathing, disturbed occasionally by the sound of Cherry's frantic, ineffective masturbation.
As Nanshe grew larger, it became harder for her to sleep, and I often rubbed her back for long times in the darkness.
As Nanshe got bigger, it became harder for her to do most things. I helped her with more and more daily chores, and so worked less and less in town.
But, one day in town, in the market with Shoshana, a woman came up to us and said, “when my brother dies, I'm kicking all your freaks out of there, so don't get comfortable.” She was an ugly woman, with a squat face, ratty red-gray hair, and misapplied lipstick.
We moved on, but Shosha said, “that was Mr. Peke's sister, Rose. We try to stay away from her. She might not even get the farm, Mr. Peke has a daughter, somewhere.”
Days rolled by, and then one day I realized that Nanshe was more tired than she should be. I realized something else, when I took her to the loo in the house, I could tell that her pee smelled sweet.
I talked with Shilly about it, and she said, “yeah, I bet she's diabetic. Let's take her to town.”
We took her to the clinic in Garberville; I paid because Nanshe wouldn't give enough information for them to give her free care. I didn't mind.
She was diabetic, we would need to watch her food, and someone would have to take her to town every day to test her blood, at least for a little while.
I had a driver's license, but not a car.
Shoshana could take her in, but more and more I felt like I needed a car.
I had some money, but Nanshe's trip to the doctor were expensive. I returned to working construction for three days a week. In a week, I had the money together and bought a car, a 1960 Volvo P210 Estate Wagon. After that, I drove her.
But, living with Cherry in the yurt was getting unbearable. I wanted to buy a small camp trailer. Maybe we could even hook up water.
I talked to Nanshe about it, she waved her hand, “don't worry. The problems of today are not the problems we'll have tomorrow, so enjoy the problems we have now. We don't need a trailer yet, we're snug in the yurt.”
I tried talking with her, at night if I though Cherry was gone or asleep, or during the day as we spent time together, and I finally said, “I love you, Nanshe. Please marry me before the baby comes. I'll make a great dad.”
She laughed and kissed me, “I'm sorry, Hersh, but I have to see what happens. Let's have the baby first, and then we'll see.”
One night after supper I went for a walk to the far outhouse, since the close one was occupied, and I saw Star and Cherry giggling in the grass at the edge of the barnyard. Star was a great guy, a hard worker, and as flat footed as a guy can get, but he was in no condition to deal with a humpy puppy like Cherry.
I went to Sheri: “Sheri, I think Star might be going to do little Cherry.”
She shrugged, “and?”
“Well, Star's a man.”
“I'm as relieved as you are,” she said.
“It might not be the best thing for him to, you know...”
“Well,” she said, “what would the 'best thing' be, for her to have some young kid squirt his juice in her butt trying to figure things out?”
“Yeah, I see. Well, I thought maybe you could talk to her before they do something.”
“And tell her what, make him lick it first?”
“Maybe they should have protection.”
“Because thirteen year olds and morons are so good at planning ahead? Look, don't worry, there's a pretty good chance she'll do it once just to get it out of the way and then not again for awhile. Girls in my family do that.”
I had an image of generations of witless men spending years in jail over the girls in her family.
I said, “look, Star could get in to trouble.”
She laughed, “Star isn't going to get in to any trouble. He's a sweet kid, if he knocks her up, I'll welcome him to the family. I'm just glad it's Star and not someone like my brother Raymond, or even my brother Raymond for that matter. Just worry about what's on your plate, I have my daughter under control.”
Nanshe wasn't sleeping well, and so neither was I. I awoke one night realizing she was gone, only to find her outside talking to the night:
“Life moves forward, we change, one thing is not another, one little person is not another, one big person is not the same. I am not doomed by my past, nor will I be shackled by the future. What is mine is mine and I will lot surrender. The moon is my witness, I will burn down your buildings if you take what is mine.”
I approached her quietly, “Nanshe, what is wrong,”
She started, stiffened, turned around to me. She reached out her arm to me, and I helped her back to the yurt.
“I must have been half asleep,” she said, “sleep walking. I'm cold, take me to bed.”
The next day I took her to the doctor, and after her blood test, I asked the nurse, “she's been acting a little odd lately, is that normal?”
She laughed, “she's probably OK. Ladies get lots of hormones when they're pregnant, and she probably doesn't sleep very well now. I'm sure she'll be OK.”
But, I carried an unease with me. Nanshe was more and more preoccupied with the baby; months earlier we had been excited by each kick, and we rubbed her tummy and made cooing sounds, but now the blob on her stomach was more like a willful parasite, and it kicked and stomped and bossed her around.
I was determined that she would have her baby in the hospital. It would cost a thousand dollars. I started to work more often to get the money. While I was away from her, I was nervous, filled with the longing to be with Nanshe, my Nanshe.
And, then one day Sheri and Shoshana came back from Mr. Peke's house, all upset.
“Mr. Peke is dead,” Sheri said, and Shosha burst in to tears. “We found him when we got home. We called the cops, they sent a meat wagon for him. He's gone now.”
Everyone was saddened, even I was, and I never saw the old Mr. Peke.
As the day of the delivery drew near, I stopped working and started spending more time in the yurt with Nanshe. I left her side only occasionally. They reduced her tests to once a week, so I had to make a trip to the grocery for her. She wanted ice cream, I got her strawberry.
And, when I got home, she was gone, just like Mr. Peke.
Sheri explained to me. “Turns out her name was Rachael. Turns out she got the baby blues two years ago and killed her little baby. Her husband showed up with the sheriff, she isn't allowed to have a kid without the state watching her.”
Sheri nodded, patted my shoulder, “yep, 'what' is right.”
I spent one day in the yurt, as loaded as I could get.
The next day, I went outside, and said to myself, “what the hell am I doing with a Volvo Estate Wagon?”
Two days later a lawyer served notice to vacate to Matt and Shilly.
I drove the Volvo to Eureka and sold it. It was too much baggage for me just then. I too the bus north for three days, drinking shitty coffee, eating hamburgers, entertaining various common people from a new grandma going to see her grandbaby to a mamma and her two kids who were going to see their daddy in jail, to a young girl going to college.
I stopped when I got to the Canadian border. The war was over.
The road to Petrolia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5odXpKjhEDE