La Honda (Listen)
In the spring of 1965, La Honda was a sleepy little backwoods mountain town halfway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Except for the main, two-lane, blacktop highway, there were nothing but one-way dirt roads leading down to secluded houses.
We rented a cabin. We had our pick from among six of the boxy, dilapidated, one-room structures. We took the one farthest away from the rental office that doubled as a grocery store. Across the street there was a vast, inviting, redwood forest. Ginny took the key to the cabin while I bought stuff to eat later. Her black Buick was the only car in the lot.
I knocked on the cabin door. She let me in. Overhanging fir trees filtered what little sunlight came through the dusty windows. There was a hooked rug on the floor. I put the groceries on the stand beside the bed. We looked at one another and both swallowed a single, small, speckled orange pill at the same time.
It was late afternoon. The sun was about to go down. Nothing happened for a while. The bed in the cabin was soft and springy. We lay down next to each other. She put her head on my chest. I put my arm around her. She was contrite. We didn't talk. The first thing I noticed was a tingling little itch in my throat, but deeper, like somewhere down inside the autonomic nervous system of my esophagus. We got up and sat on the edge of the bed and looked at each other again. She must have been feeling the same tingling itch. Then not much else happened for another little while.
We went outside. When we got to the edge of the steamy blacktop road, we stopped, looked and listenedthen we held hands and ran as fast as we could across the street and deep into the redwood forest. It was still warm, the tail end of a day that had gotten up into the mid-eighties. Insects had started to become more noticeable, I noticed. That was about it. Flies and gnats had always left little vapor trails in the air, but the vapor trails I was beginning to see seemed to be lasting slightly longer than usual.
The itch in my esophagus had extended into my chest and was working its way down into the pit of my stomach. The last of the sun's rays showed spiders' webs covering everything. That wasn't particularly unusual, either. In the woods, just before the sun goes down, spiders' webs do cover everything, but these spider webs were thicker than usual. They were, like, replicating themselves as I watchedand pretty soon the whole forest floor was half-an-inch deep with spider webs, sparkling like snow. That was unusual. The floor of a forest on a warm day in May doesn't sparkle like snow. Something was definitely going on.
The tingling itch had settled in my groin. I could taste the fillings in my teeth. A fly circled my head, but slowlyso slowly, he almost stopped in midair. His huge hairy body was luminous green. The veins in his wings had black, insect blood coursing through them. Then he flew away, leaving a bright, phosphorescent green stream of light behind him in the air. The stream of light stayed in the fly's wake until it began to sort of...melt. Another bright fresh trail from a smaller insect cut through the air and stayed there, then another and another. Insects were leaving bright vapor trails everywherepretty soon the whole volume of plain old-fashioned, otherwise empty midair was all scribbled up like a great big Etch-A-Sketch.
I wanted to tell someone what I was seeing, but who? Ginny? Where was she? Was she seeing stuff like that, too? The questions didn't stay in my mind long enough for me to actually go seek her out and find her and ask her. Then I looked down at the ferns by my feet and forgot all about telling Ginny what I was seeing. I couldn't move.
My legs were surrounded by delicate, brittle, lacy structures that would be utterly destroyed if I so much as took a single step. I crouched down carefullyand whoa! A big shiny deep maroon carpenter ant was climbing up one of the stems of the fern, bearing the heavy burden of some ant version of an albino watermelon on his back, juggling it from one side to the other while he tried to walk. The ant was following the filigree of an emerald-green fern frond to its logical conclusion.
He felt things out with his feelers, stopped, turned around too quickly, and tripped over a glistening follicle of silky hair growing from the fern. It was like there was a tiny silky hair factory deep inside the body of the plant, turning out tiny silky hairs for the express purpose of tripping wayward carpenter ants, making life all that much more difficult for the poor struggling buggersand it dawned on me that that was why plants were called plants, because they were factories, turning sunlight into green cells shaped like emeralds, turning emerald-shaped cells into silky hairs no thicker than the filaments of a spider web.
The carpenter ant regained his balance and continued on. He looked drunk, disoriented, confused. The weight he was carrying was too huge. He couldn't see straight, he could barely walk, but he had to keep trying to get to wherever it was that he was going. He was wobbling from one side to the other, catching his balance, taking another tack, frantically trying to get...God knows where. I wanted to help him out, to steer him in the right direction, but I couldn't figure out where the heck he wanted to go any more than he could figure out where the heck he wanted to go.
I looked at the ground under the fern plant. A huge volcano was erupting a steady stream of shiny maroon carpenter ants. Next to the anthill there was a decayed pinecone crawling with even more carpenter ants. That must have been where the ant on the fern frond was trying to go. He needed to find his way to that pinecone...but why? I picked it up. The ants clambered off like they were jumping from a burning building. One of them landed among the thick hairs on the back of my hand, and wow! I had a factory inside me!
The factory inside me was making thick hair follicles, one at a time. I was a plant! Cells like molten iron were stretched into strands of iridescent hair ten times stronger than steeland that was just one of the products from one of the factories. I had all kinds of factories in me, making all sorts of different things, all at the same time. How could you possibly keep that kind of complexity straight in your brain? How could anyone? It went on forever, asleep or awake, nonstop, every minute of every day and every minute of every night; from the instant you're conceived it goes on and on, mindlessly, thoughtlessly, second after second, tick-tock, tick-tock, to the day you dieand even after that it goes on. New factories take over, the factories of death, putrefaction, decay and rebirth.
The ant that had landed in the hair on the back of my hand made its way like Tarzan; swinging from one hair follicle to another like they were vines in a jungle. Then he took one last mighty swing and jumped off into thin air. But even thin air wasn't just thin air; it was something into which an ant could hurl himself without getting hurtand if an ant could do it, why couldn't I? I could. It would be easy. I'd end up unscathed. I could climb up the side of an ancient redwood tree, walk out onto one of the branches and fall, slowly, just let go.
That was when I noticed my thumb. It was huge. I used my thumbnailthis thick, slightly nicotine-stained, translucent tool with which I had miraculously come equippedto peel away one of the outer scales of the decayed pinecone in a conscientious effort to find out what in God's name the ant on that fern frond might have been looking for. It had to be something pretty good, whatever it was.
The thick, hard, dusty brown scale I was trying to rip away from the body of the pinecone was straining with every fiber of its being to remain attached. It was making tiny creaking noises, little squeaks and squeals like I was tearing it out from its mother's womb, but I didn't care. I was transfixed. I was obsessed. I had to find out what the fuck was going on in there. I needed to know why that ant from the fern frond wanted so desperately to find his way back to that pinecone. What was so important? What did he want? What the hell was happening in there? I had to know.
The scale broke off at its root, deep inside the body of pinecone.
There was an explosion. Thousands of microscopic little paratroopers landed on my forearm and attacked a pretty good-sized army of quivering hair follicles. The bravest of the paratroopers aimed for my eyes. I ducked just in time and felt a sprinkling of vicious, single-minded, suicidal commandos settle into the thick brambles of one of my eyebrows. A short-lived battle ensued. Who won or lost didn't matter. The dead buried their dead; the living went on about their business as if nothing had happened.
I resumed the task of tearing apart the pinecone. By this time I was sweating. It was mortal combat. Man against nature; survival of the fittest. I was a human being, after all. A pinecone was no match for a human being, for God's sake. Ha! Wasn't it God, in his infinite wisdom, who made mankind to lord it over all of nature? Yes. It was. Surely a lowly rotting pinecone must have had better sense than to think it could trifle with a MAN.
By then I had forgotten why I was taking the pinecone apart; by then I was just doing it because I was doing it. I tore another three or four scales off the pinecone indiscriminately, brutally, ruthlessly, like I didn't give a shit how many babies I was ripping from their mothers' wombs or how many brave armies of microscopic paratroopers I was exterminating. I was a machine, a heartless, mindless, brutal killing machine. Nothing could stop me. I tore off another layer.
The hugest, meanest, most menacing, sharp-nosed, big-toothed, hairy-legged, blackSPIDER!
LEAPED out at me!
From its LAIR!
It was grimacing its fangs at me like straight razors, threatening to slash slits in my bare eyeballs. It was intent on eating my brain, boring through my skull with all eighty-five moving parts of its salivating mouth and feasting on the deepest recesses of the warm, sticky gray matter of my mind. I threw the pinecone away, jumped back and yelled.
"What?" I heard Ginny ask. There was a frown of apprehension in her voice. What could I answer? I'd been attacked. "What happened?" She sounded far away.
"Nothing," I said. Her mind, I presumed, was in as fragile a state as mine was by then. I didn't know how to tell her without upsetting her that a spider had leaped at me from the inside of a pinecone and had tried to bore through my skull and eat my brain.
"Why did you yell?"
"I saw a spider."
"Oh," she said. "I saw moss."
I made my way gingerly over to where Ginny was seeing moss. It was past dusk by then. The sun was long gone. It was almost dark. We were like ghosts. All we could see of each other was the long-sleeved cotton pullover shirts we were wearing. Hers was baggy and gray. Mine was yellow; there were three small buttons at its throat. I never bothered to button any of them. It was too dark to see our pants.
"Let's take off our clothes," Ginny said.
"How will we ever find them again?" I was still a little worried about that spidera trifle paranoid, perhaps. She'd been seeing moss and wasn't worried at all.
"Let's make them into scarecrows."
"There aren't any crows. Who would we scare?"
"Wraiths," she said in a spooky voice. "Ring Wraiths. The Black Riders."
"Ring Wraiths won't be scared by T-shirts."
"Yes they will. Come on."
Ginny pulled her shirt off over her head and draped it onto a bush. She steadied herself with her hand on my shoulder while she took off her shoes and her socks and her pants and her panties. My shirt was the brightest. I took it off and spread it across the bush to give us the best chance of ever finding our clothes again, then steadied myself with my hand on her shoulder.
There was barely a hint of daylight left in the sky. Vague, looming shadows that had been nothing but giant redwoods felt more sentient nowlike they might have been a little put off by our presence. Usually they had the forest all to themselves at night. God only knew what they did then. They reminded me of those Ent guys from the Tolkien books, like any minute one of the big, hulking things was going to open its eyes and start talking to us in a really deep voice.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had been mostly what we'd been reading since I got backwell, except for all that cosmic consciousness crap Ginny made me read. I liked the Tolkien books way better. They were like The Alexandria Quartet, but easier to read. Ginny had a hard time deciding which character she was. Justine had been simple. Who else could she possibly have been? But in the Tolkien stuff, she went back and forth among Arwen, Eowyn and Galadriel. She wanted to be all three.
The forest had become otherworldly; I couldn't tell where it ended and my imagination began. The redwoods around us sounded like they were talking, snickering among themselves at the two foolish naked humans who'd taken a notion to cavort in their forestor was that just a gust of wind whispering through their ancient branches high, high above our wee little selves? Unseen ferns and bushes brushed my bare hand. They could have been Elves. We might have been in Rivendell.
There didn't seem to be a moon anywhere and what stars we could see, we could see but fleetingly behind the swaying branches of the treesa twinkle here and there, that was it. We took a few steps deeper into the forest and touched each other's hands. Then we stopped and put our arms around each other and hugged each other in the dark.
We were both still a little shaky. The night I'd kicked the scruffy rock-and-roll assholes out of Mrs. Rousseau's apartment hadn't been all that long agoand a lot more had happened since then. I'd been gone. I'd come back. She'd been filling me in, little by little, but she had definitely gotten herself fucked a significant number of times while I'd been up in Oregonby the guy with whom she first took acid, for one. I'd wanted to hear the whole storyI always wanted to hear the whole storywhat he was like, what it was like, where he fucked her, how he fucked her, everything. She told me as best she could, as much as she could remember, especially the part about taking acid. It was scary stuffand now we had taken acid, and we were out in the woods with no clothes on, and there were the Black Riders of Mordor and brain-eating spiders and goblins and giant talking trees to worry about.
"Hugged" is too strong a word. We just stood really close together with the tips of the hairs on our bodies brushing against each other. Tiny hairs on the front of my body brushed against tiny hairs on the front of her body, but our skin didn't come into contact. Some of the hair on my chest knew the feel of the nipple of one of her breasts, and the tingling itch that had settled in my groin seemed to swell some. I couldn't be sure. It wasn't distinctly sexual. It was more like a flower opening up in the morning sun. We were sharing each other's warmth, sharing each other's metabolism, feeling the energy our bodies created by being alive.
We stayed like that for a long time, enveloped in affection and the living, breathing, heart-beating heat generated by the humanity of each other's separate being. Now was not the time to try to talk, no, but if she wanted to know what I'd meant when I'd said, "I love you," that night on the floor of her apartment on 45th Avenue with all those candles blazing, this was it: Lovethe thing itself, unexplained, unspoken, unadorned.
"Let's explore," she said and took my hand.
We walked deeper into the woods, feeling our way more than seeing our way, until we found a sort of cavern under the burnt-out stump of a huge ancient redwood tree and climbed down inside. It was like one of the underground forts I used to make when I was a kid. The opening was small, but once we got inside there was plenty of room for both of us to move around. The walls were damp and sinewy and cool to the touch. It was absolutely pitch dark black. There was no moon or stars. It was blacker than black. There was no light at all, not the slightest illumination coming from any conceivable source whatsoeverand yet we started to glow. We could see each other. We were glowing in the dark, brighter and brighter.
Now, whatever else I may be, I've always at least been logical. I don't accept stuff on faith. I don't believe anything I haven't seen with my own eyesand even the things I have seen that seem to stretch credulity, I can usually figure out some reasonable set of circumstances that explains them...but this! Not only was it incredible, it was unexplainable. And yet I saw it. We were luminous. Deep down inside that utterly dark, burnt-out old stump of a redwood tree, Ginny and I generated our own light, and it grew stronger, brighter. We were angels or fairies or lightning bugs or ghosts.
She couldn't believe it or explain it either, but we both saw what we saw, and in exactly the same way. We couldn't have made it up if we had tried. Our hands danced together. Her small pale glowing greenish-white hand knew when to move away and when to move closer to my glowing greenish-white hand like our hands were puppets. We put on a whole Punch and Judy show with our glowing hands. Our fingers left phosphorescent vapor trails, like the insects had left in the air.
It was like that Kirilian stuff. Our whole bodies glowed. The auras of our small glowing bodies commingled. We were like Tinkerbell, like two Tinkerbellsa boy Tinkerbell and a girl Tinkerbell, naked, cavorting with each other deep inside the root system of a redwood tree that had been there since before Columbus discovered America, since before Leif Eriksson discovered America, since before Guinevere and Lancelot and King Arthur cavorted in Camelot, since before Mohammed ascended from the Temple Mount into heaven, probably since around the time Jesus calmed the storm and fed the multitudes and walked on the Sea of Galilee.
We'd been thrown into a storybook, somehowa real storybook, a history book, a fairy tale, a book of revelation and remembrance and reevaluation, a visceral combination of fact and fiction and fantasy. We weren't making this stuff up. It was happening. There were elves and dwarves and sprites and wizards and leprechauns and druids drinking magic elixir in the forest above us. They were dancing around a gigantic bonfire shooting sparks at the stars in the Andromeda galaxy. Or maybe we were in heaven; maybe this was how we would be if we were in heaven together. We'd been given a glimpse. These were our immortal souls. We were momentarily in heaven on earth.
After we had somehow finally managed to extricate our immortal souls from the cavern under that huge redwood stump, we made our way back toward the highway. There was no bonfire. There were no trolls. We could see better than we could see before. More stars had come out. There was a sliver of moon. We found our clothes. I started to put on my shirt. Ginny wrinkled up her nose. I got the key out of my pants' pocket and we gathered our clothes into bundles in our arms. We crept through the bushes by the road, peeked out to make sure no cars were coming, then ran lickety-split across the still-warm blacktop and slipped unseen through the door of our cozy cabin.
When we got inside I locked the door and lit the dim lamp next to the bag of groceries on the table beside the bed. Ginny dumped her clothes onto a chair against the far wall and did a pirouette over toward the foot of the bed like she was free at last. I put my clothes on top of her clothes. We sat on the edge of the soft, springy mattress. She reached over toward the bag of groceries. I ran the palm of my hand up her stomach and closed my fingers around one of her breasts. She stopped reaching for the groceries. I leaned over and sucked her tough, perky little nipple into my mouth.
"Aren't you starving?" I heard her ask.
I nodded my head.
The bag rustled. I smelled oranges. Then I got a whiff of the big kosher dill pickle I'd picked out from the big kosher dill pickle jar by the cash register, and suddenly I was so starving to death I was going to die. My brain had burned every calorie my blood had in it to burn. I looked up. Ginny was taking the peel off one of the oranges.
"Wait, wait," I said. "Let's do it together."
We moved into the middle of the bed, facing each other with our legs crossed, and took the skin off, then kept taking the whole orange apart, membrane-by-membrane. It was like taking apart the Taj Mahal. We were awestruck by the magnificent structures, things no architect ever dreamed of building, chambers and antechambers, rooms and anterooms and inner sanctums and nurseries with little baby orange seeds rocking themselves to sleep in elaborate cradles.
"God," Ginny said.
"Yeah," I said.
Then we ate them. Ha! We ate the chambers and the antechambers, the rooms and the anterooms and the inner sanctums and the nurseries and spit the babies out into the palms of our hands and dumped them into an ashtray.
Orange juice dribbled down our chins and onto our chests. We licked orange juice off each other's lips and kissed each other's mouths and ate the little pieces of orange pulp on each other's tongues. When we were through with the first orange, we ate the second orange the same way.
Then we started in on the pickle. We slowly bent that giant green kosher dill pickle until its skin ruptured. Then we watched each tiny pickle seed emerge slowly, painstakingly, from the body of the former cucumber as if it were being born, as if the pickle were giving birth to one baby pickle seed after anothertwins, triplets, quadrupletscreating slimy, succulent afterbirth, which we then stuffed voraciously into our mouths. We crushed newborn baby pickle seeds between our teeth and looked into each other's eyes and knew exactly what we were doing as we chewed them and swallowed them into the churning gobs mixed with sulfuric saliva, which seared and burned into newborn baby pickle seed brains all the way down to our churning, sulfurous stomachs to fuel the factories inside us.
"Blows the mind," Ginny said.
I didn't want to hear that. I didn't want to try to talk, period; but I especially didn't want to hear that particular phrase. It got me all screwed up. Our recent abortion was already on my mindall those innocent orange seeds in their nurseries and the pickle seeds being so miraculously born and so viciously killed, so brutishly devoured, didn't helpbut what really screwed me up was that it didn't sound like anything Ginny would have said on her own.
"Blows the mind."
She didn't talk like that. It sounded like something she'd heard, something she was repeating, something the guy she'd taken acid with the first time had said.
"Blows the mind."
The phrase kept reverberating. Had it been after he fucked her that he'd said it? Before? During? Was she on her hands and knees in front of him when he said it? Was he squeezing the cheeks of her perfect ass when he said it? Was he pulling her cunt onto his cock when he said it? Were the juices from her pussy puddling up around his dick when he said it? Was he watching his cock fuck her?
"Are you okay?" I heard Ginny ask.
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"We're all icky and sticky," she said.
"No, we're not. We're okay."
"Yes we are, dodo. Look at us!" She laughed. We looked at each other. She was glistening with dried pickle juice and orange pulp. I was too. "Come on, let's get in the shower." She stood up and took me by my hands.
Jealousy was an aphrodisiac. Jealousy had always been an aphrodisiac, even when I wasn't stoned on acidI'd been jealous of Ginny and other guys since the night Elliot and I met her; I'd been jealous of her two dates; I'd been jealous of her boyfriend in high school, the one who dumped her after she got raped by a cop; I'd been jealous of the cop; I'd been jealous of the garbanzo bean guy who had to come over to 45th Avenue that night my car didn't start; I'd been jealous of the Hershey Bar guy in that tawdry hotel across from Gramercy Park; I'd been jealous of Jim Moss sticking his big black dick in her; I'd been jealous of Ron Goldstein and Bud and the guys she couldn't remember; I'd been jealous of Tom, I'd been jealous of Elliotbut acid intensified everything. I was more jealous than I had ever imagined I could be. I was going to die of jealousy. I was going to explode from jealousy.
I followed Ginny into the shower. Drops of water on her skin sparkled like diamonds. I kissed her shoulder. She tasted like salt. I soaped up my hands and washed her breasts and washed her belly and slinked down onto my knees and washed between her legs and dropped the soap and rinsed her off with the sparkling streams of water streaming down her stomach. My taste buds turned what she usually tasted like and the residue from the little bar of motel soap into their constituent molecules and came up with exotic perfumes and tastes I'd never tasted before. I opened her pussy up with my fingers and licked her hard little clit. She tasted like vanillalike lemon, and cinnamon, and lilacs, and applesand there was still a hint of the juice from the dill pickle and the oranges, too.
I stood up and turned her around and fucked her a little, like a dolphin, maybe, or a slippery little sea otter. When we got out of the shower, I carried her across the room and laid her down onto the bed and spread her legs apart and stuck my dick in her and fucked her on the bed, hard, like a whore, like a slut, like a two-bit bitch who'd fuck anyone anywhere. I fucked her like her boyfriend in high school. I fucked her like the cop. I fucked her like all the guys she had ever fucked had fucked her. Then I turned her over and fucked her some more. I fucked her like the guy she took acid with the first time fucked her, and kept on fucking her. We worked our way down onto the floor, and I fucked her like a dog, like a goat, like a lamb, like a squealing little pink pig. The hooked rug cut wrinkles into her pretty kneecaps.
Later, lying on my back with the dead weight of Ginny's tough, succulent little body on top of me in the small soft springy bed again, after the aphrodisiac of my jealousy had worn off some, my imagination was finally able just to go wherever it wanted to go. Whether my eyes were open or shut didn't seem to matter. Byzantine frescoes were interrupted by glimpses of green grinning imps and toothpaste commercials flowing in and out of my racing consciousness.
Some of the images were more elevated than others. There was a little Disney animation, some Tolkien and Dick and Jane and Tales from the Crypt and lots of Dr. Seuss stuff, but there were all kinds of humane, religious looking things, toostuff that guys like Bosch and Brueghel might have painted.
All in all, I was pretty pleased with the way my imagination handled itself. Mayan and Egyptian motifs crawled across the walls like our cozy little cabin was some kind of non-denominational Sistine Chapel. They went on and on, flowing through me, each more exquisite than the last. I really sort of had to go with the flow. I had no choice. The minute I tried to stop and appreciate one or another of these fleeting miracles for much longer than no time at all, they got all jumbled up in my brainbut there was a phrase that kept repeating itself, a mantra I kept hearing:
"Leave them alone,
And they will come home,
Wagging their tails behind them."
I had no idea what was going on with Ginny. Whatever it was, it wasn't something I wanted to try to talk about. By the time I would have asked a question, too many answers would have come and gone, all at once, doubting themselves at every turn, up and down a whole huge hall of mirrors in my mind.
It was best not to ask. It was best not to try to talk. It was best not to try, periodto do nothing, to relax, to let go, to leave all the little factories I had going on inside me alone, just to let them do their own thing, to let them be, to stay out of their way.
The next morning we went back out into the forest again. I couldn't for the life of me find that fern plant, or the anthilland I didn't even try to find the pinecone or the huge, mean, menacing spider that had tried to eat my brain. There were a few flies flying around, but they weren't leaving any vapor trails.
The tree stump, we found. We made a special point of finding it, but the tree stump was nothing but a big burnt-out old stump of a redwood tree. We looked inside and saw the cavern we'd been in, but there was no longer a storybook world of any sort going on down there. It was just dirty lookingand dark and damp and uninvitingcertainly not the sort of place that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be mistaken for heaven on earth.