Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Bob Dylan, "Mr Tambourine Man," Bringing It All Back Home, 1965
Tea is good, thought Annie. Tea is always good at times like this. Times like this are good too. Just need a little tea, oh why not, here it is. My, that's useful.
She was a little confused but well under control. The Goan publican, the European couple and Annie shared a moment of the night in vague companionship. She became caught up in the leaves, the little ones fluttering like chicks or kittens or baby ducks, and the big ones waving with grand and gentle gravity, Palms on the Sunday before Easter, solemn and sweet and lovely.
She looked up for Christ and saw him smiling.
"Jesus," she greeted him in astonishment.
"Ek chai, Marlo-ji," muttered the newcomer, leaning on the other half of the doorjamb.
Annie revised her assessment, and deduced that she had kept her false recognition of the stranger within her own psychic or at least auditory boundaries. His build was crucifixion-skinny and his eyes were soulfully set; his hair was black and long too straight perhaps for ancient Judea but even so much too real for a Baptist girl brought up to worship chocolate-box paintings of bearded blonds with nails through the fleshy part of their hands and pulled back in a loose plait, away from a smooth face with cheekbones that would whet a razor. A sandalwood choker set off the deep tan of his neck, as did a shabby pale high-collared sleeveless vest, worn far too small and open, and below them knee-length cut-offs, crudely chopped above the knee with threads raveling where they would, white beneath the grime, once distinguished but baggy now and patched, transmogrified but clinging to life and purpose and usefulness. The man looked tired to the point of exhaustion and beyond, and fifteen pounds underweight, but beautiful behind it all, as though he were gliding on an edge like a bicyclist freewheeling downhill with no brakes and nothing but luck and reflexes to keep him from disaster.
He saw her looking and she saw he saw and he saw she saw he saw and she ... waved him to the bench opposite her and he took it.
"Acha," he acknowledged, and the same again to Marlon, whose prompt return presumably meant the kettle was still on.
"Can I have another, please?" asked Annie, giving up all pretense at speaking Goan/Hindi/Whatever, but raising her glass in the international gesture for refill.
Me too, mimed her new companion, slurping fast between cooling breaths. Obviously the pot wasn't as hot as it had been.
Marlon nodded and raised his nose at the other couple, who denied him thrice, once each and once together. As he vanished once more into the kitchen, wondering perhaps if all this round-the-clock service really was worth it, the icon drained his first glass and spoke.
"Smoke?" he enquired civilly. Despite the look, the accent placed him somewhere in Britain. An intriguing combination, and bearing gifts too.
"Sure," she responded equably.
The makings were conjured from the depths of an enormous trouser pocket. (Saville Row workmanship that, in the old style, designed and built to carry the enormous coins of pre-decimal Britain, lasting through the years like a safe surviving intact even as the house burns down and the ashes slowly cool ... to Annie the disintegrating shorts were nothing special, merely a trivial part of the parade of costumes, by themselves no stranger than most, though the jacket she would surely have seen as something ... but we know a little more of their provenance, do we not, and later so would she, but not yet, no, not for a while yet.) Long fingers, which in their own way had been apprenticed and trained to automatic craftsmanship, laid out the components on the tabletop, expertly assembled them, lit the white touch-paper and passed it on. Annie took hers with aplomb, asked with an eyebrow and passed it on to the couple next door, whose appreciative grunts of response still gave no clue to their nationality. Dutch, perhaps? wondered Annie, quite unreasonably interested, as she blew a gratifyingly fat plume of smoke politely away from the approaching Marlon, who declined a hit and retired to his standard position, gloomy as Eeyore and not much more forthcoming. Annie squeezed one more out of it in her turn, and passed the roach to the Dutch (Belgian? she suddenly wondered; she'd never met a Belgian freak) woman, who drained and killed it with casual expertise.
The icon waved to acknowledge their thanks, emptied his lungs, yawned hard and dug finger and thumb deep into the nose-side corner of his eyes. He looked dead on his feet.
"Haven't got any speed, have ya?" he asked Annie, who shrugged and shook her head. He looked over at the other table. "Any speed? Uppers? Whites? Fuck coke, acid, anything?" They shrugged and raised their palms in the universal sign for uselessness and ignorance. "I'm fucking knackered," he added unnecessarily (which would have proved the point for anyone who knew him, had it ever been in doubt).
Annie was deeply sorry for him, empathetic and caring and wanting desperately to help. Oh, she thought, light bulbs flashing on in the midst of the little gray cells, I could, couldn't I.
"I've got some acid," she ventured tentatively, "But it's shitty."
"Yeh?" A sparkle of interest lifted the lids.
"Just a minute." Annie was elevated, special, super-hip, in with the in crowd, foolish for feeling so frivolous, oh shut up self and find it. Which, vainglorious or not, she rapidly did. She pulled the tiny package out from beside her passport, tucked the pouch back inside her top, and began to fumble with the foil. "It was really good a couple of months ago but I took some this morning and it's gone off." She got the wrapping off and revealed the chunk of scotch tape wrapped around the microdots. It didn't peel back very effectively. "Way off. Must have been the heat, I suppose. My old man kept it next to his skin while we came overland." Yuck, she thought, 'my old man' even I'm saying it; worse than 'heavy' that is. Nevermore, she vowed po-faced, scrabbling at the tape ravenously. "Guess it was too long really."
"Yeah?" Annie was surprised for a second. "Oh, could be, we traded about ten for some hash. Reckon we gave the guy a shitty deal."
Annie was getting frustrated. "Well, you're welcome to them if you want, if you can get at the fucking things." (She didn't usually swear much either but it seemed called for under the circumstances.) The couple next door weren't paying much attention, beyond keeping a weather eye open for any further items of interest that might be moving about. Marlon was more or less asleep. Annie passed over the packet with a grimace. "You have a go."
He looked at it a moment, testing the adhesive with a fingernail, and pulled away a chunk that contained half a dozen or so. A further second's inspection yielded a decision and he raised them to his lips, scraped them on the edge of an incisor and swallowed the lot, noticeable chunks of sticky stuff included.
Annie was impressed. It wasn't just the insouciance with which he treated what let's face it could have been about three thousand mikes, not to mention the glue (it wasn't like the kind of glue you sniff, she was pretty sure, but still). It was something about the decisiveness, the animal integrity that seemed to suffuse his being. More than self-confidence, it seemed to presage a state where questions like that simply disappeared. Transcendence, whispered her trained, educated, left-brain shrink-self. Sssh, came back the boss. Yes.
"Why d'ya need to stay awake?" she asked, partly out of genuine curiosity, partly to have something to say.
"Fucking electrics'll never last the night."
"Oh." She was even more impressed. "You're in charge of the music, then?"
"System." He didn't seem the talkative type (to Annie, this was a pleasant and intriguing change in itself) but he was willing to reply. Besides, he owed her and he knew it. "Generator, mikes, amps, speakers." He shook his head, like a true pro plying his trade under difficult conditions. "String and fucking baling wire. Fucking miracle it's still going."
He gulped down the rest of his tea. Annie wasn't ready to lose him yet (he was the most exciting thing to have happened all day) so she matched him slug for lukewarm, sugary slug. What was his name, she wondered, but that seemed too direct, too uncool to come straight out and ask. She wanted to tag him, however, for she liked to have a label to hand. What was it they called electricians in old war movies? He didn't look (she thought, although she was really only guessing) like someone from north of the English border (or south either, truth to tell) so 'Scotty' wouldn't do. Sparks! That was the one. Not quite right, but yet, was he striking something, all unconscious, in or off of her ... was this a pun of sorts? No matter. It would serve.
"Have another," she suggested mildly.
Meaning, natch, both more and less than that (that too, as well). Sparks (we might as well follow Annie's usage; his secret name was still hidden, from himself as much as from us, at least for the moment) looked straight at her, perhaps for the first time, with the various veils of whatever the hell he had been taking since god knows when parting briefly, showing her something gentle as well as direct, and opening to him a person who seemed interested, a little subdued perhaps, but hip without being hard ... not to mention the obvious, that she was extremely cute and on her own. He cocked an ear at the drifting sounds from the beach, which seemed to be keeping themselves together pretty well. He knew his nerves were on an edge, he hadn't stopped had he eaten? he wasn't sure he could use oh, give yourself a break, lad, he said to himself and almost cracked a smile.
"Banana bread?" he countered.