Skip navigation

A Short Story

From The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams Collection

All The Way From China

by

R.E. Prindle

 

Ruby lips above the water

Blowing bubbles soft and fine

But, alas, I was no swimmer…

Trad.  Clementine

 

     Dewey roused himself in bed, propping himself up on the pillows.

     ‘Where are you going today, Dewey?’ Asked his wife Angeline.

     ‘Nowhere actually.  I’m supposed to work Marin here.  Not a lot to do really.  Just a dozen houses but they’re far apart.’

     ‘I thought you weren’t supposed to do Marin?’

     ‘I’m not but Ramme sends me into his areas every so often.  Must be someone he’s afraid of or unpleasant for him.  Maybe he just doesn’t feel like driving over from Berkeley today.  I don’t know.  He’s an odd duck.  He’s got this Stanford degree and he’s doing the same job I am.’

     ‘Where are you going first?’

     ‘Just over the freeway here in Larkspur.’

     ‘You mean Corte Madera?’

     ‘Yes, Angeline, just over the freeway here. I think it’s one of those houses built on stilts over the tidal flats; you know, out there on the mud.’

     ‘Really?  They’ve got houses out over the bay?’

     ‘Yeah.  I guess they’re fairly defensive.  Some guy told I wouldn’t dare go out there to collect or they’d chuck me over the side, beat me up or something?’

     ‘Really?  Would they do that?  Are you going to go?’

     ‘Sure.’

     ‘Why?  If Ramme doesn’t want to do it why should you?’

     ‘Well, my dear, I’ve never been there before.  Looks pretty strange.  I’d like to see it from the other side.’

     ‘What if they hurt you?’

     ‘Oh, they aren’t going to hurt me.  Nobody has yet.  Nobody’s even tried although I have had a few threats.  What’s to worry?  Just talk ’em out of it, that’s all.  They threaten me and I’ll threaten to burn ’em out at high tide or foreclose on ’em, that’s all.  What do you think of that?’

     ‘You wouldn’t do that.’

     “If I had to pay to get my suit cleaned I might.’

 

     The mud flats Dewey referred to were at the mouth of Tamalpais Creek out into the San Francisco Bay.  At low tide a strand of a couple hundred feet was exposed.  Several houses connected to shore by walkways were built out over them on piles.

     Dewey rolled up about ten to make his call.  His house was not part of the main cluster but was an isolated structure North and East, closer to the creek.  Tamalpais Creek at one time was navigable for small ships but over the years civilization had reduced it to a trickle.  Now it could barely be spotted as it oozed into the bay.

     A parking area about three cars wide was cleared in a little copse of trees and foliage.  Romantic spot, really, which is why the tenant lived there.  A wooden walkway extended about fifty feet from the the shore to the house.

     As Dewey got out of his car he noticed motorcycle tracks in the gravel. 

     ‘What a weird situation.’  He thought.  ‘I’ll bet that house isn’t even on land.  I’ll bet that’s property that belongs to the State.  I’ll bet nobody can own land on the tidewater.  These people must be some kind of squatters.  I wonder how they got a loan on the house?’

     As he stepped out on the walkway he looked over at the main cluster.  ‘I’ll bet you Darby was afraid to make this call so he gave it to me.  What a chicken.’  But he didn’t like the look of those motorcycle tracks.  ‘Might me those damn Hell’s Angels.’

     ‘How strange, how strange.’  Dewey thought as he turned to look back at the shore.  ‘Very picturesque though, very romantic.’

     ‘Come in.’ Floated out the open door before he’d even had a chance to knock.  What a beautiful melodious female voice, spoken in such a languorous sensual tone.

     Dewey stepped inside.  A delightful array of scents caressed his nostrils.  Colors ovewhelmed his senses making his brain tingle.  There seated in a chair by a window looking out over the bay was the most beautiful woman.

     She was beside a table on which sat a large basket of funny looking squat orange fruit, not an orange, not a tangerine.  Dewey had never seen them before.

    ‘Hi, honey.  Have a seat.’  She said with a warm curiosity interested to see what fate had cast up on her shore.

     There was something so voluptuous, so eternally female in her voice that Dewey for the second time tingled.  A strange enervating glow radiated from the top of his spine into his brain leaving him almost euphoric.

     ‘My name’s, Suzanne.  What’s yours?’

     ‘My name?’  Dewey said astonished and surprised.  ‘Um, Dewey.  But I’m from…’

     ‘Oh, we can get into that later Dewey.  Let’s get acquainted first.  Let’s get to know each other.  Wouldn’t you like that?  Would you like an orange?’

     Dewey looked at the basket.  ‘Those are oranges?  I’ve never seen them before.  What kind?’

     ‘Those are Mandarin oranges, Dewey.  They came all the way from China.  Peel me one.  Will you be so kind?’

     ‘Huh?’

     ‘Peel me an orange, Dewey.  You look like you have good hands.’

     ‘Oh, yeah, sure.’  Dewey picked up an orange to peel as he looked around taking stock of where he was.

     Suzanne had a real hep pad; she was a real hep chick.  The genuine article.  The location was too exotic.  The house was small, one room really, with partial dividers setting off the kitchen, the living room and the bedroom.  The delicious Marin air wafted through the house through windows open and looking out in every direction.  Off to the West San Quentin Prison was visible across the black mud extending to the Eastern edge of the water.  The house was now high and dry as the tide was out.

     ‘The tide makes a wonderful sound when it come creeping back in, lapping against the piles.’  Suzanne breathed in that wonderful voice.

     ‘Um.’

     The house was sparsely furnished Zen style with just the right number of peices of undecorated but classically correct furniture, no more than necessary, no less.  The walls were draped in Indian bedspreads or tapestries.  One covered the central part of the ceiling over the exposed central light bulb.

     A turntable, speakers and amplifier were arranged on boards supported by cinder blocks on Suzannes’s left.  Dewey had never seen separate components before.  He easily recogized the phonograph for what it was.  All of a sudden his portable Webcor seemed like trash.  In an instant he had never wanted anything more than a component phonograph system.  Dewey could identify several records lying about.  Suzanne was a real folkie of the old school.  Records on the Topic label by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Gibson and Bob Camp were there.  A couple Leadbelly sides and a Josh White, Odetta.  Old Weavers records and a Pete Seeger.  The most current stuff she had was the Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell Trio and Judy Henske.  The two Trios were of the hippest political stuff.  Both were considered dangerous, especially the great Chad Mitchell Trio.

     She kept the place immaculate.  A few books were artfully strewn about.  ‘The Book Of Tea’, ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’, ‘Steppenwolf’, ‘Light From The East.’

     Some of the singer’s names Dewey had only heard of, some were completely unknown to him, they were already part of the past.  ‘The Book Of Tea’ and ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’ he owned himself in those picturesque little Charles Tuttle editions.

     His swung back to Suzanne herself.  She was a very beautiful woman.  She was the epitome of femininity, completely woman, no equivocation if you know what I mean.

     She was sitting on the chair, barefoot with her legs tucked up.  Her feet were beautifully formed, her ankles the neatest.  She wore a rose colored blouse with a darker rose colored vest laced across her midriff.  The vest raised her stunning breasts as if offering them to the world.  Stunning?  My god! They were truly melons, slightly elongated resting on and pressing against the sides of the vest.

     Dewey nearly swallowed his teeth.  She wasn’t wearing a bra.  Very unusual in 1964.  Nipples the size of fifty cent pieces raised, it seemed, a quarter inch above the surrounding flesh pink beneath the rose material.  Dewey bit his lip as he tremblingly peeled the Mandarin orange.

     Looking up he saw that she was still beautiful with a gorgeous full mane of long dark chestnut hair.  She an an enchanting line of freckles across his cheeks and nose. The ample but not overly full lips were drawn back in a half smile.

     ‘Wow!  Dimples on her elbows, dimples on her knees.  A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one.’  Ran through Dewey’s mind.

     But, Suzanne, Dewey noted, was past her prime.  She was probably close to or over forty.  She had the look of experience, of having been passed around.  Her skin showed the ravages of drug use.  The flesh was slightly dry and wrinkling from excessive exposure to the California sun.  Too much skiing, water-skiing and boating.  Too much of being the good sport.  Too much enjoying the pleasures of being a party girl.  Suzanne was at the stage where she had been superseded by younger and fresher looking women.

     ‘Finished yet?’  She cooed as only a San Francisco Mama can.  She gathered her hair in that languorous sensual way, looking inquiringly at him.

     ‘Yes.  I am.’  Dewey replied as coolly as possible.  ‘Do you want me to split it in half for you, or…’

     ‘Of course, silly boy.  Keep half for yourself.  We’ll share it.  Some for me, a little for you.’

     ‘Uh…OK.  I’ve never had one of these before.  They really come from China?’

     Suzanne nodded, smiling at Dewey’s awkwardness and apparent simplicity.  Suzanne, who knew very few men who wore suits had guessed who Dewey was.  She couldn’t make her mortgage payment, the money wasn’t there.  Perhaps she could wheedle a payment out of him or at least divert his attention so that she could avoid the embarrassment of admitting she didn’t have the money which would have killed her.

     ‘Tell me, Dewey…’

     ‘Oh god,’  thought Dewey, ‘I hope she isn’t going to go into the sound of one hand clapping or if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to here it, does it make a noise.  Boy, I’ve had enough of that.’

     ‘…which do you think is more important, money or relationships?’

     ‘Well, I think you can have both, Suzanne.’

     ‘Yes, of course, Dewey, but which do you think is more important if you could have only one.  Money or relationships?’

     Another guy might have risen to the bait and Dewey saw it there silhouetted on the water but, besides being married, his instincts revealed the hook in the fly.  Somehow he could sense trouble so he took the question as one to be dealt with intellectually.

     ‘Well, Suzanne, that’s a tough one.  Relationships are important of course.  But they are all based on expediency.  When the reason for them disappears so do the relationships.

     Hence in all relationships there is the user and the used.  My wife’s family owns a nursing home and even in the parent-child relationship, which should be enduring, children dump their parents off and never think of them again.  They keep the money.  At least if you have money in the bank, you can always pay the rent.’

     The last remark was made thoughtlessly.  Dewey had no intention of making Suzanne uncomfortable.  She nevertheless felt the sting which disheartened her in her rather perilous situation.  She rose to offer Dewey a cup of tea, subconsciously attempting to arouse him.  It had worked with men so many times before.

     She rose to lean over Dewey breathing in his ear would he like a cup of tea.  Her marvelous breasts swung left and right dazzling Dewey’s eyes.  the magnificent nipples nearly brushed Dewey’s lips.  He could have…it would have been so easy.  Her intoxicatingly wonderful scent nearly loosened his mind from its anchors.  As Suzanne sat back down rolling her breats around Dewey nearly fainted from delight.

     ‘Really, Dewey?’  She breathed in that husky suppressed sexuality.  ‘I’ve found that my relationships have always been the most rewarding things in my life.  Friends are more important to me than anything.’

     ‘Uh huh.  Well, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.’  Dewey thought to himself.

     He didn’t respond directly.  As beautiful as Suzanne was Dewey could see that she was past the age of desirability.  She had been displaced by younger women.  But Dewey liked to talk and Suzanne was venturing into areas he had thought about.

     ‘Well, Suzanne, I’m not from here.  I grew up in Michigan.’

     ‘Oh, really, Dewey?  I’m from Waterloo, Iowa.’

     ‘Wow.’  Thought Dewey.  ‘Waterloo’s loss was San Francisco’s gain.’  He continued:  ‘Waterloo, hmm.  and most of the people in California, like me and you, come from somewhere else.  Close friends are hard to make; everyone seems suspicious of everyone else.  I’ve concluded therefore that once out of childhood it’s impossible to make any real friends.  Even in childhood the friendships are based on relative status which only seems natural in childhood because you grew up with it.  You can see people fly apart after graduation when those distinctions change.

     After childhood, it seems to me that all relationships are built on expediency.  People can be friends only while it is worthwhile to know each other.  Even then there is a sharp struggle for status and social place.  One party has to be dominant.  The struggle for leadership is the most important thing.  If one party won’t go under the relationship can’t exist.

      Everyone wants to be superior to the other.  The concept of equality is only important for the low man on the totem pole.  In a static society maybe a rough sort of equality might obtain but I don’t think so, everyone would just know their place.

     The ability to consider other people as equals is also being seriously undermined by TV.  If you watch the shows you will notice that it is always the story of the mastermind and his stooges.  Some guy, for no apparent reason, thinks he is a leader.  He has no credentials.  He isn’t even successful in a conventional way; he has no training; he is even uneducated if not illiterate.  But he has charisma.  For some reason, brash over confidence, I suppose, we are to believe that this guy possesses the answer that nobody else can find.  Everybody recognizes this take charge guy’s superiority.  His response is always:  I don’t know the answer, but let’s try this.  He never knows anything but he always succeeds.  Everyone hastens to assist him.  Superbly educated scientists subserve him; he commands generals who have been trained to leadership and they leap to obey his commands.

     The TV image creates the reality or, at least, a very large body of imposters trying to assume the image.  I have known all kinds of guys trying to assume that image.  They can’t.  And when you refuse to accord them the dignity, you deny their fantasy, they hate you.  They think you’re the arrogant upstart.

     These guys are going to get really frustrated, twist; in the not too distant future after repeated denials of their omnip0tence; some of these guys are going to crack.  They’re going to show up with guns and just start shooting everybody down.  TV is really being misused.  TV is evil.  None of those guys is ever going to be around when you need them, and they’re users, so I’d rather be sitting cozy with a bundle in the bank rather than trying to cultivate them.’

     ‘You’ll notice I don’t have a TV.  I certainly agree with you about that.’  Suzanne replied who really liked this type of discussion.  ‘But still my friends have been a great help to me.  They give me things and I learn lots from them that I might otherwise not know.  I mean,’  she leaned forward breathlessly, ‘I think you will understand this, because of them I have seen and talked to God.’

      ‘Oh yeah?  How’s that?’  Dewey said trying to conceal his contempt of anyone who claimed to have talked to God.

     ‘Well, my friends are pretty hep.  They know about things lots sooner than other people.’  She said nodding in the direction of the records.  ‘Have you ever hear of LSD Dewey?’

      ‘Uh…no, what is it?’  Dewey lied.

     ‘It’s this new hallucinogen that you take and it opens up your doors of perception so you can see God and have really truly mystical experiences.’

     ‘What’s a hallucinogen, some kind of drug like heroin?’

     ‘No, it’s not a drug, it’s entirely different.  It makes you see things in a way you’ve never seen them before and better, more clearly, with total reality.  I’m an entirely different person.  I feel like a real god compared to people who haven’t taken it.’  She reached out and touched his arm by way of apology for having distanced herself so much from him.  But she spoke the truth.  she now felt in a world, a class apart, they all did.

     Suzanne belonged to the folk half of the post-war period.  She had passed through the whole period but on a level above the Beatniks but below Society.  She had in fact been what would have been known as a groupie for the folk musicians.  she had met and knew most of them and had loved them all.  They all enjoyed her.  She had been a fixture at the ‘hungry i’, that preeminent San Francisco folk nightclub.

     She had never had to work.  Gifts had come her way.  She had never questioned them.  She gave freely of the love she genuinely felt in her heart, the heart of a good loving woman, and she saw nothing amiss in what she considered the outpouring of love in the form of gifts from her admirers.  Perhaps they saw it that way too.  She should have been a little more mercenary requiring something more substantial than what only amounted to baubles.  She would not then have been delinquent in her mortgage payment.

      She was so beautiful, so lovely, so the eternal woman that she could have chosen men with discrimination.  Even in her choice of folkies she chose well if not lucratively.  The folkies were a bunch of great guys.  They had their limitations of course but a more decent group of men never existed.

     Suzanne had been the belle of their balls.  She had presided as queen at all their get togethers.  Of course, she had to be supported, that is, until she got old.  Now, not only was Suzanne superannuated but the whole folk scene was vanishing.  This year was the year of transition from the folk half to the rock half of the post-war era.  The next generation was about to transform the music into folk-rock and blues based electric rock.  There was to be no place left for the acoustic folkies.  The amplified hand held bass guitar destroyed them.

     If any year was crucial to the transition from the old to the the new 1964 was it.  Timothy Leary had lent Harvard’s imprimatur to experimentation in drugs.  The Beats had spread Marijuana throughout the Bay and now LSD and the other hallucinogens would lend Harvard’s credibility to the weed.

     Musical groups like the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company were already destroying the folk scene.  The ‘hungry i would be replaced by the Matrix and electric music.  Within just a couple years the rock musical sensibility would sweep all other musical forms from the charts.

     The Beat writers who emerged in 1959 were changing the consciousness of the youth.  Marshall McLuhan, that incredible master of nonsense, that twentieth century Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll rolled into one, was about to publish his book ‘Understanding Media.’   Everything but the premiss was wrong, but it was found to be true that the Medium is the Message.  Carlos Casteneda was relating the absurd adventures of Don Juan and J.R.R. Tolkien had woven the fantasy of the Hobbits and their Ring.  All the elements for the rock half of the post-war world were in place waiting to take effect.

     News may travel fast but it penetrates slowly.  As Dewey and Suzanne sat by the river in the warm California sun eating the oranges that came all the way from China neither had an inkling of what was happening.  It was as though a Japanese farmer looking up from his fields toward Hiroshima and noticing  the funny mushroom shaped cloud asked:  ‘What’s that?’

     Suzanne was too old to make the change.  that very lovely woman was about to lose all.  Dewey would catch the wave and ride the crest into shore.  Neither knew they were sitting on opposite sides of the same abyss.  Suzanne’s implicit faith in friends who gave her drugs saddened Dewey.  From his male point of view he could see what had happened and what would happen to Suzanne.  She was totally lovable as the eternal female.  As such he had fallen in love with her at sight.  But, as the eternal female he knew that men were irresistable to her.  She loved to much and too well.  He could never respect such a woman and could love her only from a distance.

     Out of love for Suzanne, at the risk of humiliating himself, he thought to tell here what any woman less a woman than Suzanne must surely know.  Dewey heaved a great sigh, then began:

     ‘As a token of friendship they gave you dugs?  Now, Suzanne one can never get out one’s mind what isn’t in it.  The only way to break on through to the other side if such a thing can be done is by analyzing your own mind.  Drugs will only mess you up, even new stuff like LSD.  All drugs are bad.  Men are peculiar animals!  I love everything about the way you live Suzanne.  I don’t know about a lot of the artists you listen to and I haven’t read a lot of these books you have.  I hate to admit it but I haven’t even heard of a lot of them.  But I’ve done a lot of reading, you know, all kinds of things, I like ancient history a lot.

      And, you know, there was a time when mankind didn’t know about procreation.  The female of the species was the source of increase so Man woshipped the Great Mother.  Women were available to all men, in theory at least, or as a woman might put it all men were available to her.  But then Man discovered paternity.  He learned that he was the inseminator.  In his vanity he became the Creator.  The Great Mother became the passive receptacle of his creativity rather than the source of all things.

     With the knowledge of paternity came the desire for immortality by creating a son in his own image much as God created Man in his own image.  That’s why all men think they’re gods Suzanne.  The Great Mother cult was unrestrained in its sexuality and orgiasm which runs counter to self-control and reason.  Man was also becoming more conscious of who he was and his surroundings, hence he left the Garden and entered the World.

      Now the Great Mother had to be destroyed for those two reasons.  Reason had to supplant unreason and women had to become the property of men so that paternity could, hopefully, be assured.  Beyond that men have no real use for women.  But men like them and want them because they are beautiful and desirable.  But men don’t want responsibilities so if they can get what they want without obligations so much the better.  You dig?

     Men have been good to you because you are beautiful and I suspect, because you know who you are and how to manage them.  But, you know Suzanne, everything changes.  There comes a time when the incoming tide washes away the magnificent sand castles built on the strand.  We have to retreat further inland and start a new life.  Do you get my drift?’

     ‘I think I do, Dewey.’  Suzanne said with a tear in her lovely eye.  No mascara ran down her cheek because she didn’t wear makeup.  She was hep to the bone.  ‘I think what you’re saying is that I should find a harbor for my craft.’

      ‘Well, yes.  In your shoes, I suppose I would leave the well traveled roads and look for that Mansion On The Hill, put the past behind me and look to the future.  You have had the best of lives.  Looking at your records, Suzanne, I can tell by the covers that they’re all old.  I mean, I like folk music too but I’ve never heard of half those people.  You don’t have any Limelighters or Glenn Yarborough, no Christy Minstrels or any new stuff.  Even then Folk has just about run its course.  It’s really turning trite and sappy.

     You don’t look like you could do Jazz and you’re too old for Rock n’ Roll.’  Dewey bit his tongue.  ‘So I’d look to those new vistas opening on the horizon there.’

     Suzanne looked at him long and pensively.  The changes he was talking about clicked through her brain in successive images but she couldn’t retain any of them long enough to form a sentence.  She intuited the truth of what he had said even admired the way he had said it but she liked men, not a man, men.

     She liked the intoxication of feeling universally desired.  What would she do to get that?  No.  The die was cast.

      Dewey really liked Suzanne but now it was time to go.  She had that quality; he wanted to do something for her.  Unfortunately his money was in his billfold, one of those clunky things that made it look like a man had tumor on his buttock.  He didn’t want to stand there and ostentatiously withdraw money to give her.

     ‘Um, I have to go Suzanne.  May I use your bathroom?’

     In the bathroom Dewey took a five out of his billfold, a lot of money to him at the time, put it in his front pocket and went back to Suzanne at the table with the oranges on it.

     ‘Well, Suzanne, I have to leave.  I’ve got work to do but, look, here’s five dollars.  I want you to have it, you know, I mean, uh, keep it.’

     ‘Oh, Dewey, I couldn’t take your money.’

     ‘Sure, just consider it a loan.’

     ‘How would I ever be able to pay you back?’

     ‘Oh, if not me then loan it to somebody else sometime.’

     ‘Here, here Dewey take some oranges.  They come all the way from China.’   She said thrusting three oranges at him.

      ‘Thanks.  I love you, Suzanne.’

      Then Dewey walked out into the sunshine across the causeway.  He got into his car, backed out and was half a block away when the air was split by the roar of two motorcycles.  Fat Tony and Stig wheeled into the parking space.

     ‘Who the fuck was that, Stig?’  Fat Tony roared.

     ‘I don’t know Ton’ but only bill collector’s wear suits.’

     ‘Come ’round here and we’ll stomp his ass good.’

     ‘Damn right.’

     ‘She’s ours now.  Wait’ll you see her.  Cans out to here.  That folk singer guy told me about her.  I was here last night and wooee.’

     Four black engineer’s boots thundered across Suzanne’s walkway.

     ‘Say mama, I’m here, and look who I brought, my friend Stig I told ya about.  Say, who was that guy I saw drivin’ away.  Don’t want to see him no more.  You ours now, Mama.

     What the hell do you call these, bitch?’  Fat Tony said pointing to the oranges.  ‘Why the hell don’t you get some American oranges that look like oranges should.’  So saying Fat Tony pitched the basket of oranges out the window.  The orange balls rolled out across the black mud flat where they would soon be bobbing on the incoming tide.  Some would be left clinging to the foliage on the bank, some would be swept out to sea through the Golden Gate perhaps to return all the way to China.

     ‘Come on, Bitch, get outta those rags and get on your hands and knees me and Stig wanna fuck.  We’re horny as hell.’

     Dewey got on the freeway speeding on down to Mill Valley for the next call.  He looked over at the three oranges on the seat where he had placed them.  Picking them up he tossed them out the window into the middle of the freeway where they rolled down the fast lane.  Sploot, sploot, tires shot the juice into traffic.

      Dewey forgot that he had ever met Suzanne.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: