Are birds free from the chains of the sky-way?
Bob Dylan, "Ballad in Plain D," Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964
Sparks ate the way he drank, with contained enthusiasm and complete commitment. Annie, by contrast, was eating mostly as excuse. She peeked at him as she licked crumbs off her fingers and smiled at herself, not wanting to be obvious about the sensuality, well not too obvious, but he didn't seem to notice. Evidently he was hungry.
"How long's it going to go on?" she asked, as much for the sake of something to say as out of curiosity.
He looked up at her and she got confused. How long was what going to go on? Was this a cosmic question? A matter of opening hours? A flirt's gambit, all innuendo and no substance at all. But wait, it was her question and the least she could do was clarify it, if only for herself.
"The party," she decided.
He shrugged pleasantly. "Morning." Pause. "Maybe later."
"When did it start?"
Now that drew a wan belly laugh, more cosmic reverberations rattling around the palms. There were no watches that night.
"Sunset. Last week. Depends."
"And you've been holding it together the whole time?"
"You must be exhausted."
He looked her in the eye and thanked her and accepted her respect and acknowledged the ploy and offered his own and wondered who she was and whether a pass was on or should he wait.
"Hnng," he said.
"Poor baby," she said, leaving her meaning vague: Sympathy or satire? Come-on or take-off? A counterfeit cover for genuine pity or was it the real pinchbeck? If she didn't entirely know, or couldn't tell or wouldn't admit, how the hell could he? Easy, she thought, looking at his eyes as he raised them to hers. His were dark and huge, opened wide, the pupils black and enormous in the moon-shade of the teahouse, the irises round and complete, the whites meeting underneath sanpaku, yes? Cedar would know; it was spiritual, wasn't it? a sign of the evolved being they were the eyes of a truthteller, a prophet, a soothsayer, a perfect master, a creature of enlightenment, yes, a man who knew, a person of power and dignity and respect. She shivered and decided she had better bring them both down a bit.
"Where did all this stuff come from?" she asked, out of lack of interest.
As she cranked up her courage and he fell back on reserves of patience, they passed a time which seemed now short, now long, fluctuating with maddening unpredictability as the emotions and the engagements and the tiredness and let's face it the drugs floated in and out, a clockwork quarter of an hour, or a subjective slice of eternity, filled with answers and questions that led to a sketchy history of minor corruption and major planning, rumors of money and facts that were never to be known, even for an initiate ... some said the cash came from the guy who set up Woodstock; others that it was a bored and big-time dope dealer; or someone behind a record company; or, of course, all three together or separately or even rolled into one ... but anyway Sparks, it emerged, had been present and rolling as ever the summer before when no one was in Goa (except of course the Goans, and a few from the mysterious West whose personæ were less than gratæ elsewhere in the known universe and best kept generally incognitæ) and he had let it be known (for like jailbirds, the supercool kept their pasts respectably hidden unless they felt like letting the curtain slip a calculated fraction for effect or a moment's advantage) that he had been not just a pop star (of a sort and for a moment, in a group this being the time after and before they were called bands, like Glenn Miller's and Duane and Gregg Allman's that someone smoking with them had actually heard of, if not exactly admired, which served as a sufficiently heavy reference) but, which was more to the point at the time, a tour manager afterwards (rather than roadie for obvious reasons of prestige and self- and therefore public esteem) who knew how to build a stack without frying the amps, and how many watts to use (Charlie, on drums, for a start) and whether you needed to know about ohms and ampères and fairer days and coulomb nights, and jools (on fire about then with Brian Auger's Trinity, and well out of the reach of mere mortal men awake) ... and yes that's not what he said though much of it was in the texture of his voice and no it's not what she heard but the facts were never the point and meaning itself (while important and taken by both with proper solemnity because lying or boasting would have tarnished a moment they sought together to improve) was outside the purpose of her inquisition, so leave it that as he lifted the veil she caught a glimpse of something and if she never could quite nail the truth of what remained in the end someone else's former reality, sketched though it was with monosyllabic precision, she caught a hint suggested here with a sliver from a third (or is it a fourth, or another, or one that never was then or there but only here and now, ah but where is now and who for that matter is here but us) ... all this, and much more, and far less too, pirouetting around the æther they filled which in turn filled them, as the sand dripped slowly down through the pinchèd glass and built its castles, not in the air, oh no, Prospero, spare us your improbable nightmares, but down on the shoreline while the tide in all its white-capped splendor headed in towards the beach, chasing after the moon at the height of its magical powers.
"Come," she whispered, holding out a hand for him to take.
They stood. He reached to his pocket with his other hand but she waved him down and tendered a legal note to Marlon, who blinked and gestured and returned a couple of coins, small it seemed so she waved them away without even counting she always checked but not tonight, to-nigh-igh-ight, there was no time for tri-vi-al-i-ties and they strolled softly into the dark.
He was led but he did not follow. She was inspired but she did not think. He knew how to be with her and she believed in herself completely, and both were together and present in the moment and both knew all there was then to know, which was nothing, and magnificent. And yes as we look through the long lenses of time and space, so the shabby costumes fall away and the tawdry tinsel dissolves, yes the smudges of sand and foam disappear while the supple subtlety of physical grace and untrammeled emotion sharpens into tighter and tighter focus, yes then we see them, by a beach and under a moon, hostage to none but each other, perfectly clear and clearly perfect.
Annie wasn't looking for pleasure, no indeed not, not even the delicate and selfish variety that comes from obeisance and giving, still less the affirmations that spring from the wonders of pain. Nor was she out to impress, to invest a piece of her self in athleticism and inventiveness for the sake of compliments expressed or implicit. There were no consequences here, not in any mundane form, no futures or pasts, no dreams of rug-rats or retirement homes, no intentions of quietly boastful confidences, no fears of blisters or worse in that happy time between the discovery of penicillin and the boom of herpes, all too soon to be followed by the gathering doom of HIV and AIDS. There was nothing here, nothing at all, and everything in a grain of sand. She was here. Surely that was enough. Annie.
Here he was, gone and back, come again blinking in the moonlight. What was it about her that drew him out of his protective carapace? Something there was for certain, and he began to remember a purity, an innocence lost perhaps, a reality he knew he needed and once had known that lately he had managed to forget he had forgotten. She thought, it was obvious, that she was impressed by his importance in the little world he had helped to invent, his centrality to the power structure ah, indeed a glorious pun, he knew, one he would not choose to make but never imagine he could not recognize what he did not chase, and the happenstance of it reminded him of one who would, indeed, of him whose memory he had tried to lose so she would screw him like a light-bulb, as the generator of the hub of the night-time universe, the man without whom (he denied it, but in this unlike most things he was wrong) the music would be quiet and the stage dark, a little god in a tiny world ... and she was impressed, she was, but so was the French chick from the day before, and the boring Italian cunt who had tried to move in ... groupies, they were called back home, at least in polite company, and they were used if they were there when wanted, and sometimes they were not, and none but a fool paid the slightest attention.
Not her, he knew, and so not him, not here, not now.
Sparks had tried to disappear, and no one he met had noticed. Which meant he had succeeded. Oh, some body was there, to be sure, an extremely efficient roller of doobies and a tolerable electrician whose wiring mostly lasted at least until the feedback freaks conspired to blow it out, but no one had talked with him, or listened with him, or been with him, no one for months, and the scabs were closed over his wounds.
Why did this woman want to pick them off?
Because, of course, he wanted her to.
He didn't know that.
Nor did she.
Annie took them slowly into the shade of a palm, another, a third, until the blackness hid them almost from each other and certainly from everyone else. There was the slightest of breezes, cool enough to raise the roughness of tiny goose bumps on their forearms, carrying an indistinct mutter of music that she knew that he heard and so they could ignore for only its absence would intrude. She kissed him then, and he was part of her kiss, but he did not take her and she did not force. She simply began to flow and cover and envelop, not laughing, not yielding or taking, but leaning and bending and nibbling and licking and opening and taking and all the time he stood there, gorgeous as a statue, and she ran her hands around and gently ever so softly held him to her.
There was an unnervingly sweet persistence to her and he knew that he must not move. He laid his hands lightly on her shoulders and looked and remembered what perhaps never had been and yearned for what certainly never would be. He thought of the coarse redness of a beard softened by the months to a bushiness that mixed and mingled with his own fine blackness till the tangles disappeared and the life within them began to flow.
She didn't plan or calculate or try, she wasn't giving, barely even taking, just continuing along a path she had chosen but not expected and certainly not wanted, she didn't even like it if truth be told but liking was as little a part of what was going on as anything else in words, she never understood her own strange motivations, and she heard from a distance a moan that sounded almost like a sob and there was a terrible flash of mindfulness now isn't this an experience that puts one closer than ever to some shameful fantasy of anonymous subservience, of indeed groupiedom, and isn't this all just a little, well, ridiculous all of a sudden she was there, in the risible flesh, and thus gone from the true reality, but almost as soon as she lost her way she found it again and so she vanished and so reappeared, wanting nothing, wanting everything, enveloped in a pure and sticky warmth, a glee, a moment, a prayer, a sigh, a swallow and the sweetness of a kiss.
She rose as smoothly as she could manage, smiling wryly at the sudden awkwardness of legs and knees, and ran her fingers up to his cheekbones.
"You're crying," she murmured, shocked but not surprised, and reached up to lick his salty cheek.
He raised his arms and caressed her hair and worshipped in tears what he never would see again. She kissed his neck, and lowered her head, and buried her ear in the smoothness of his chest, and held him tight and firm in wonder.
"Not you," he croaked under his tears. "Not you."
I know, she rubbed, with wit enough to be silent, I know.
She understood then that she acted better than she knew. She was there, she had thought, for adventure for kicks, for fun, for thrills, for fantasies named and swiftly fulfilled and now she saw herself first as a sort of holy woman, a witch or a weird, a sorceress, even a Fate, drawn there for some purpose she could not touch or label or explain, and then suddenly she broke through, one more step beyond, as she realized that such a simple trick could never be enough a goddess worshipped being only a whore in raiment and the same was true of the awful God the Father, as she held a man and wondered at herself and the full extent of her knowledge as she opened up to sorrow and pitied the divine in all its disguises.
There is no purpose but purpose itself.
And yet it is enough.
"I love," she whispered.
He stroked her hair, untangling the evening's salty knots, and understood there need be no you in love and so he need never let it slip away, for love can remain when lovers are gone.
What he needed was not another.
What he needed was his own self.
An eye for an I and a taste for the truth. The chains of this law will set you free.