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Just like Crazy Otto, just like Wolfman Jack,
Sitting plush with a royal flush
Aces back to back
Just like Mary Shelley, just like Frankenstein
Break your chains, count your change
And try to walk the line
Did you say your name was Ramblin' Rose?
Ramble on, baby, settle down easy –
Ramble on, Rose

Robert Hunter, "Ramble On Rose," music by Garcia, recorded by the good ol' Grateful Dead at the Lyceum, London, Europe '72


When Annie rambled back from the dance-sand to the blankets, Cedar was draped around the kid and sleeping. The child's light-brown curls were weaving into Cedar's black beard and his bare feet tucked back into the man's denim thighs. They had the loose and relaxed quality of cats.

The moon was high – higher than she was, Annie thought inconsequentially. She guessed that the trips were real and the effects imaginary, or was it vice versa, but she saw no visions, had no hallucinations, felt no handicap. She could have driven a car if she had wanted, which she certainly didn't, and to save her life she might possibly have been able to solve an equation in algebra, which was about where she had lefther math years before. What she had, on top as it were, was insight, a strange clarity that led her to see, not to invent but to acknowledge.

Cedar's just visiting, she thought with enormous compassion, he doesn't belong here. For the first and last time, an infinite moment, she loved him perfectly, not as an object to keep, chloroformed and spiked and displayed under glass, but as a memory to cherish in private forever. She understood, as he still did not, the way the modern Grand Tour they were on would lead him back to his family and the life and work he thought he was escaping. She saw him as a boy, lying before her, casually and gently cuddling a smaller, and preparing to move into the manhood that was made for him. He ought to be in grad school, she realized, he is a shrink, she saw his self inside him as a sculptor might see a figure trapped inside a stone, but he was not hers to create or lead or guide or even advise. He was a good boy, he would be a good loving husband and father, and not for her and not with her.

Don't fence me in, he had cried, as if to hex his doom.

Help me, she had screamed, I need someone to hold on to.

And so it had always been a mismatch of sorts, but suddenly she saw that she – and he, and all their friends no doubt – had this, too, backwards. Why was it that everything she knew was wrong? She had no family to speak of, and had never realized how used she was to floating alone. It hurt, of course, like love, and she asked for its opposite to ease her pain. She had envied Jacob his parents and sisters and even his braindead brother the jock, and respected him for his bravery in leaving them behind; and he had wanted her freedom and lack of attachment, and had tried to define himself as a man cut loose and self-invented. They had seen in each other what they didn't have in themselves, and thought the other could teach them how to ease their pain. It doesn't work that way, she understood now, suddenly.

I won't tie you down, honey, that's not what I want.

But tying down was what he wanted, even more than it was what he feared. Call it grounding. Call it grown-up. Call it acceptance. Call it responsible. Call it sensible. Call it any compliment you choose but frehivvensake call her a cab, she's outtahere.

I loves you, Jake, she whispered softly. (She called him Cedar as long as he wanted, but she knew now what his name really was.) I loves me too.
Juice, she thought suddenly, I wonder if you can get shakes here. Sorting out other people's directions was thirsty work. The sleeping beauties were fine, not a peep had been heard of missing infants, maybe he wasn't even missing anymore, maybe his Mom had spotted him and left them alone, anyway later would do. She would listen, in case. The Italians were gone someplace, dancing or walking by the surf, or kneeling at the altar of munchies or something. She was wired and antsy and needed to move. Time to explore. Maybe there would be a restaurant in back of the stage, under the palms, with kerosene lanterns and menus and milkshakes. There must be something, anything would do.

There was, of course, she wasn't falling off the edge of the world. More like, she was falling off the edge into the world. As she loosely circled the crowd, pulling her shawl around her shoulders against the middle-of-the-night chill – half from the breeze outside wafting in from the surf and half from the blood within complaining about the sugar levels no doubt – the corollary to her comments on Cedar was nagging at her for expression and resolution and bringing with it a practical question she could avoid but not evade.

I belong here, she thought with certainty, so how do I do it?

If I can't do it, then maybe I don't belong here after all.

I don't belong anywhere, so why should I thinking of doing it?

Whatever 'doing it' means.

Oh Annie, Annie, why are you thinking like this? came an unknown yet somehow familiar voice from deep inside. You knew better when you were looking down at the sleeping boys, you really did. I did? You ... we did. We ... who we, white woman? You, me and the palm tree, kiddo.

She laughed and looked at the friendly palm slow-dancing beside her. She reached out to hold its hand, settling instead for giving it a hug and leaning into the rough caress of its bark, prickly and comforting like a true love's beard. A gaggle of revelers sauntered by and saw them and laughed, not at but with.

"Neat tree, that," smiled one woman. The words were actually French – "Bel arbre, ça" – which, most nights, was impenetrable to Annie but the meaning and goodwill were unmistakable.

How kind of you to notice, please excuse me for not engaging in further discourse but I'm a little busy just at the moment, smiled back Annie.

That's cool, the other waved back, See you around.

"Adieu," cooed Annie in sudden inspiration, and the little group turned their heads to reciprocate before rambling on easy, to the music and the moonlight down by the shore.

Annie let go of her new friend and rubbed her back meditatively against his trunk, luxuriating in the gentle abrasions that rippled up her spine. This is good, she thought, we like this, me and the palm tree. Us and the rest of the universe.

And the little voice she knew and trusted came bubbling back up to say: That's more like it. Stick to what we know. Feel your pleasure and honor it but for everything's sake don't rationalize it out of existence.

She patted the palm good-bye and headed inland, feeling the earth under her bare feet. The path was smooth, for the most part, but not yielding like the sand. Occasionally, it pinched at her feet, until she half-wished she had worn her sandals, but she wouldn't go back to fetch them.

Sure enough, she soon saw a lantern in a lean-to, with funky wooden benches, half a roof of palm fronds and half a wall of banana tree. Four or five people were slumped around real tables in the conceptual room, none of them looking up for much in the way of conversation, thank heaven. Half-cut and clinging to his rakshi bottle, the presumed proprietor was leaning on a door-jamb that led to the kitchen, itself defined more by action than area. The scene looked kinda seedy, thought Annie with a sudden sense of dislocation, But so I bet do I, and she geared herself up to walk right in and she sat right down, and still she let her mind roll on. It was a crazy little tableau, she thought, South Pacific meets On the Waterfront, with all the energy off and everyone twisted.

She cut away again, looking at herself looking at them.

It was funny, she thought.

Sure am.