Warren, Cheryl and their dog showed up at the commune the following Saturday in a 1965 green and black Chevy Corvair. Cheryl had known Derrin from San Francisco State where they attended a political science class together, the previous summer. She had already promised Derrin that she would move into the commune. She was leaving Warren and he said he was going to live in his car until he could find a place. The truth was that he thought she would return to him in a few months and then they could look for a place together.
Their six-month old dog, Holmes, jumped out of the back seat and ran into the living room where Brad was watching riots at the Democratic National Convention on the channel 2 news program. He jumped on Brad, who was sitting on the couch, and began licking his face. Zeta, his very large calico cat, ran up the carpeted stairs into Brad’s bedroom for safety and Brad wrestled playfully, on the floor, with the 50-pound giant beagle puppy.
Warren was 22 and thought of himself as sophisticated and worldly. His laugh was ready and boyish and sometimes mocking but never cruel. He had a habit of pressing at the middle of his horn-rimmed glasses to push them up on his nose when he was nervous. He laughed often but without conviction. It was a Chinese laugh that could signify many emotions and even occasionally that he found something funny. He was barrel-chested but stood only 5 feet 8 inches tall. His dark blond hair, to his chagrin, covered most of his body.
He confided to Brad that he wanted to raise timber wolves for sale and that he was a Black Belt in karate. The first thing he took from the Corvair was a heavy kick bag which he hung under the very large magnolia tree standing right next to the entry way gate. This made Derrin very unhappy but he couldn’t convince Warren or Brad to take it down. Brad began hitting and kicking it from the very beginning. Oddly enough, Warren rarely used the bag during the short time that he stayed in the commune with Cheryl and said that he was giving up karate because he had been injured too many times.
Brad carried Cheryl’s guitar to her room. He took it from its case and tuned it. Then he sat on her bed and began to play on it. She stood in the doorway holding a reading lamp and listened for a moment. He looked up and she threw her thick, dark-brown hair back from her forehead and said, “You play so well.”
He smiled. “Thanks. Not really. I just know a few songs.” When he noticed her standing there he had been playing Fernando Sor’s Andante in G which he knew by heart. “I wish I had time to learn to play really well. This is a very nice guitar. It must have cost a bundle.” He had brought his Gibson guitar to the commune and had found a lot of time to practice during the last few weeks when he was there by himself.
Cheryl was pretty, in a conventional way. Her forehead was broad and her eyes were wide-set with dark eyelashes. Her skin was clear. She had never had pimples, even as an adolescent. She had no cavities. Her nose was straight and her lips were full. She was the kind of woman who could have won any beauty contest but it never occurred to her to enter one. She said, “I got it as a payment.” She was wearing a green velour blouse and a short skirt that showed off her legs.
“For something he couldn’t pay for with cash.” Her tone of voice indicated that nothing further would be explained and perhaps that she had revealed too much.
He asked, “Do you play?”
“Yes, but I’m out of practice. I don’t seem to be disciplined enough lately to make any progress. But with such a wonderful guitar...”
She let her voice trail off. She looked at the guitar wistfully and Brad noticed that she was very pretty.
He said, “It’s a very expensive Martin. Martins are like expensive wines but I confess that I don’t know Martin guitars any better than I know expensive wines.”
Her face registered a quick, almost brutal disapproval as if she didn’t like men who weren’t rich enough to know expensive wines or Martin guitars. He noticed that her mouth, which had formed into a quick, cruel line changed just as quickly into a sensual, open semicircle, which distorted her regular features.
She asked, “Can I sing along?”
He played Blowing in the Wind and her soprano voice filled the air.
Brad asked, “Where did you learn to sing like that?”
“I took lessons until I was 11.”
“Why did you stop?”
“My mother committed suicide.”
Brad didn’t know what to say. He started to say something banal and she interrupted him “They had to send me to an orphanage.”
She said it quickly and coldly as if she wanted the truth out and done with. Brad was impressed but wary. She seemed to be moving in very fast.
He asked, “You didn’t have any relatives who could take care of you?”
“I had an aunt. My mother’s sister. But she wasn’t very reliable. She came to see me in the orphanage sometimes and invited me for Christmas a couple of times but I couldn’t count on her. There was a period of almost three years that I never heard from her once.”
“That must have been difficult.” Brad noticed that he was pulling back from her. He was used to watching himself in a detached, almost scientific way.
Cheryl said, “It wasn’t all bad. I matured there very quickly.” She met his eyes. “I had my first sexual experiences very young.”
Brad was silent. He decided not to tell her that he probably had his first sexual experiences before she did.
He began to play a piece by John Dowland that he had been working on. She hummed along in her beautiful voice. But she didn’t know the song and the effect wasn’t pleasant. It irritated Brad that she continued to sing even though she couldn’t anticipate the notes.
She said again, “You play so beautifully. Your touch is wonderful.” She pronounced the word ‘wonderful’ with a slight lilt that he felt was a reaction to his withdrawal; it was a small step backwards. He looked into her eyes, curiously, looking for something. She stared at the guitar strings and his hands.
They could hear Holmes claws trying to grab the bare wood floor and then the partially carpeted stairs as he catapulted himself towards the bedroom. They heard him reach the landing, bang into the hallway wall and then turn, and begin a sprint to the open bedroom door. Cheryl was ready for him when he jumped onto her lap, pushing her back onto the bed. He began licking her face and she threw him off the bed. A few moments later, Warren came into the bedroom. He asked, “How’s it going sweetie?” His tiny, almost girlish voice contrasted humorously with his hairy body. He was 22 but his thick, dark blond hairline was beginning to recede.
“Fine.” Her tone was impatient and her smile was saccharine. Brad was surprised that Warren allowed himself not to notice.
Warren said, in a soft voice, “Let’s take a shower.”
Brad learned later that it was his preferred way of making love. Brad thought, “Warren is laying claim to his territory. He must know that she wants to leave him and he thinks that I am a legitimate successor.”
She got up and said, “We’ve got to unpack all this stuff first.” She waved her two hands over the mess in the manner of a symphony conductor.
“Fine.” He turned to Brad. He asked, “Is this our bedroom?”
Brad said, “This is it.” Brad excused himself and went into his room and shut the door. He picked up Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and began reading where he had left off the night before.
When Cheryl and Warren had finished putting away their things, Brad heard the sounds of their feet shuffling down the stairs towards the shower. It was the only shower in the 800-dollar-a-month mansion.
There was only one bathroom in the huge, five-bedroom mansion and it would later prove to be a problem. There was a large wash basin and bathtub upstairs and when he lived there alone, Brad had urinated in the wash basin a few times but it was obviously not a practical solution. The single bathroom became a serious problem when Warren and Cheryl were still together, because they often spent a very long time in the shower making love and managed to use most of the hot water. In a kind of plumbing-mechanics way, Warren’s fate was sealed from the beginning and it was determined that he should live in his car with Holmes.
The next night, Derrin was there and so was sweet, delectable Beatrice whom Brad hadn’t seen since she had slept all by herself in a sleeping bag in the garden room. It was somehow obvious Derrin and Beatrice were a couple. There was no touching or fondling because it was not in sad-eyed Derrin’s nature to touch and fondle but he knew just the same. She looked at Brad with serious and defiant eyes. Like a gentleman, Brad accepted her lunar-laser-beam glance, which seemed to wend through his entrails until it reached a just-eaten quarter pound hamburger with which it coexisted as an anti-digestive vibration. He had decided not to go to bed with this 19-year-old piece of cake and he was not unhappy with his decision. However, he had learned that his body had a mind of its own, so to speak, and that he would have to contend with it.
Brad retired to his room and stared at the ceiling. After about fifteen minutes, Derrin knocked at his partially closed door, pushed it open and ducked his shaggy, blond head into the room. He announced that there would be a meeting in a few minutes. Brad looked up at him and suppressed a mirthful, involuntary ridiculing smile. He said, “I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Derrin was usually serious and often pompous. Any attempts at humor were not welcome.
Cheryl and Warren were not there and the meeting consisted of Beatrice, Derrin and Brad sitting together at the huge table. Derrin sat at the head and Brad and Beatrice sat at either side of him. It was a very worn, bare mahogany table that was about twenty-five feet long and was already in the dining room when they rented the place. Beatrice wouldn’t meet Brad’s eyes and stared adoringly at the leader’s profile. The blond, sad-eyed leader announced that there was a couple called Len and Raney who were coming that evening to check out the place. They had already met Cheryl and Beatrice and wanted to meet Brad.
Beatrice said, “They’re outasight. Really cool.”
Derrin explained that Raney was planning on leaving Leonard and had been planning to do so for quite a few months. “We shouldn’t get our hopes too high but she is one of the coolest, most intelligent and above all most beautiful chicks I’ve ever known.” He had already told Brad that he had been trying to persuade her, for the last couple of months, to be his old lady and to move into the commune with him but she had “consistently” refused.
Derrin flashed an antic smile at Brad’s involuntary smirk and said, “Don’t be skeptical. Wait till you see her. Everyone who sees her and talks to her falls in love with her. Grant. David Hilbert. Everyone. Yes. You will too.” He looked at Brad significantly. “There is a reasonably good chance that she will join the commune.”
It seemed to Brad that Beatrice had been through an infinity of emotions that evening, most of which he could not decipher. Now she looked at him like a mother and he gave up trying to understand her.
“OK,” Brad thought. “This is it. I’m being set up. Fine. I consented to live in a commune, what else can I expect? What is the point? If she is half as good as he says she is, I’ll fall for her. So what? I suppose now that he’s sleeping with Beatrice and he doesn’t need Raney anymore he’s trying to set me up with her right in front of her boyfriend’s face. Fine.”
They sat at the big table waiting for Leonard and Raney, drinking tea and talking about the principles of commune life. Brad was not comfortable in the role of disciple and he hated Beatrice’s continued self-abasement before the sad-eyed, serious leader.
Just when Brad was ready to go up to his room and tackle Kierkegaard again, they burst through the open front door. Raney was carrying a yellow-striped cat that was even larger than Brad’s cat, Zeta. She dropped it on the floor and it landed with a thud. It stood there, surveying the place.
Raney was small and dark, with beautiful eyes and eyelashes and thick, curly golden-brown hair. Her smile was full of fire and dimples and confidence and it all focused on Brad, briefly. Leonard had a hangdog, Woody Allen look and Brad felt sorry for him. He was extraordinarily nice and considerate and trying desperately not to be jealous. He maintained a quiet, vital corner of dignity, which Brad respected. Unashamedly, Raney climbed the walls that surrounded her desire and happiness but it seemed as if everyone and no one were the cause.
Almost before she and Leonard were introduced and had sat down to a cup of tea, Raney suggested that she and Brad go get Pizza for everyone. Brad couldn’t refuse. They sat together in his red Volkswagen bug in front of the pizza parlor waiting for the pizza to cook. He said, “The Leader told me that you majored in American Literature.”
“The Leader. I like that.” She tossed her brown curls. The moon shone through a pine tree into the Volkswagen and he could see the blonde tint in her hair. It didn’t look natural. She said, “Yes. I majored in American Literature at Columbia. The Leader told me that you were planning on writing a novel about the commune.” She flashed a challenging smile.
“He thinks that’s the only reason I’m living there.”
She took off her red velour jacket. She was wearing a short sleeve, light colored silk blouse that revealed her smooth brown arms. The neckline revealed her cleavage and she wasn’t wearing a bra. She folded her jacket neatly and placed it on her lap. She said, “He didn’t say that.”
“I don’t consider myself a writer, actually. I mean, I write but I’m not a literary man.”
“Well, you’re not an alcoholic so you’ll never be a great novelist.”
“That’s right, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Mailer … I’m not a professor of English either. They say teaching has ruined more American novelists than drinking.”
She batted her eyes. Her eyelashes were long and her eyes were dark, Semitic eyes. Brad observed that she was very pretty but he thought Cheryl prettier and Beatrice sexier.
She looked into his eyes playfully. “Have you ever heard the story of Faulkner’s shortest speech? The day after he gave his acceptance speech in Stockholm?”
“I don’t think I have.”
“Well, are you ready?”
“Sure. Let me have it.”
“Faulkner was on his way back to Mississippi and he stopped off in Paris. He was going to give a speech at the Sorbonne. Just before he was supposed to give the speech they came to get him in his hotel and found him so drunk he could barely walk. He said he was recovering from the Nobel Prize ceremony, which was as long as a Mississippi funeral. When they finally got him to the Sorbonne and filled him with hot coffee, he couldn’t make it out onto the stage by himself and the crowd began clapping and stomping their feet. Finally he was helped out and placed in a chair. There was a long-standing ovation. When the clapping stopped he sat in his chair for a long time without saying anything with his arms folded and then he finally said, “The big difference between America and Europe is that we are still adding stars to the flag.” Then he crossed his arms again, his chin fell onto his chest and he fell asleep. They said it was the shortest speech ever given at the Sorbonne.”
Brad laughed. “I hope I never have to give an acceptance speech in Stockholm. Or a talk at the Sorbonne. It sounds awful.”
She stared into his eyes encouragingly. He had an urge to reach across and kiss her but he also sensed that she didn’t want him to. He suddenly knew why everyone fell in love with her: she wanted everyone to fall in love with her and at the same time didn’t want anyone. It was the old “come and get me but you can’t have me” ploy. He said, “Let’s get married.”
She didn’t bat an eye and answered immediately, as if she had been thinking about it for a long time, “My mother wouldn’t approve of you.” She reached up and stroked Brad’s hair appreciatively. She studied his face with her dark eyes.
He said, “They say everyone falls in love with you.”
Raney drew back slightly. She looked away and stared out of the window, as if she was thinking about a roomful of jilted lovers, Brad thought. He noticed that her cleavage and bare arms and neck were framed perfectly in the moonlight. He thought of Beatrice. He said, “That’s too bad.” She looked back into his eyes with a hurt look. He felt guilty and said, “About your mother. That’s really too bad. I think I could stare into your eyes for a long time if it wasn’t for her.”
She tossed her curls and looked up at the neon pig that stood over the door of the pizza parlor. “Don’t worry about my mother; she’s never even been to California.”
“I might want to go to New York again sometime.”
She waved her hand, jauntily. “I just left the place.” Her miniskirt moved up very far onto her thighs and she reached down to push it back to mid-thigh level.
Brad looked away demurely. He had been struggling against an erection for the last 15 minutes and his member pressed against the inseam of his jeans again. He thought, “What a classic cock-tease. No wonder Leonard looks like a depressed version of Woody Allen.” He said, “Derrin says you’re leaving Leonard.”
“I’ve been... Yes. I...” She didn’t finish her sentence. She looked into his eyes and batted her eyelashes. He searched her pretty Jewish face for any sign of makeup. It was 1968 and makeup was not in style. He didn’t find any. He felt himself becoming irritated. He told himself that he wouldn’t make love to her in front of Pig’s Pizza Parlor even if she took off her blouse and threw it in the back seat. She looked away, up at the neon pig sign again. “I want a big change.” She frowned and, he thought, she tried to look desperate. They listened to the radio for a few moments, in silence. Brad turned up the volume a little. It was Mick Jagger singing Ruby Tuesday. She fixed his hazel eyes with her brown eyes and looked at his biceps muscle. She said, “Some kind of change is absolutely necessary but I don’t know what direction it will take.” Instinctively, he found himself moving his head toward her cheek to offer a mild, chaste kiss of sympathy and he was surprised when she pushed him away. She said, “Not yet. I’m not ready yet.”
He wanted to protest and say, “I wasn’t trying to make love to you,” but he said instead, politely, “Uh, well, when will you be ready?” He had to admit, there was something about this woman that was interesting. He didn’t know what it was though. He reminded himself that Cheryl was prettier and Beatrice sexier but there was something else. He thought it must be her intelligence. He liked the story she told about Faulkner.
Raney said, “I’ll make a decision soon but it has to be completely free.” He felt as if she had used the word “free” to place a barrier between them. He regretted trying to kiss her.
When they returned, Derrin said, “What took you so long, we’re starved.” They were sitting at the big mahogany table with plates, knives, forks, glasses and napkins in front of them.
Brad thought that “Woody Allen” Leonard looked too confident. He met Leonard’s eyes and held them with a meaningful look but the sad smile wasn’t ruffled.
They had just started eating when a huge, screeching catfight broke out in the living room. Zeta and Raney’s cat, a huge calico cat named Bernard, were rolling on the floor and fur was flying. Zeta was a very large mongrel calico but Bernard was even bigger and for the first time, Brad was fearful that his big, fierce fighting cat might lose a catfight, or even worse that he might be killed by Raney’s cat. Derrin and Beatrice began hitting them with couch cushions but they remained locked together, caterwauling on the hardwood floor. Brad ran to the cupboard and filled a very large pan with water and poured it on them. They separated instantly. He grabbed Zeta and took him upstairs and locked him in his room.
“That was so intelligent,” Raney said when he came downstairs. Leonard smirked and looked at Brad defiantly.
Brad grunted, “Cats don’t like water. It was no big deal. I was amazed that Zeta was barely scratched. How’s Bernard?”
Raney was bent over him, examining him for injuries. “He seems all right. He’s got a couple of scratches on his face but nothing serious.”
Derrin said, without a hint of irony, “That was really creative. I’ve never seen you act so fast. It was perfect. A real display of cool under fire.”
Raney asked, “How did you manage to think of it?”
Beatrice was not impressed. She said, “Cat’s hate water. I was thinking of doing it myself. Brad beat me to it.”
During dinner, Raney continued to talk about how clever Brad was, shamelessly making love to him, in front of everyone.
That night, he couldn’t get to sleep. All he could think of was fucking her. “No wonder everyone ‘falls in love with her,’ ” he thought. “Jesus Christ. She’s a perpetual motion cunt, a woman, bent over by the weight of giant cervix strapped to her back, and her sad-eyed boyfriend holding onto his pudenda in self-defense.”