Brain Tempura (from Homunculus)
“Our robots would lie in bed, which was a piece of foam rubber on the floor, and watch the movies on the ceiling. You know what I mean by ‘our robots’?”
“Of course,” I said. “Sort of like your bodies, as opposed to your minds, which were by then separate entities.”
“Hey, you’ve been there, Hec.”
“Hey,” I said.
“We didn’t have black lights or much in the way of psychedelic posters or the other hip decor. We didn’t need it; we were seeing the real thing. We played Hendrix, Doors, Creedence, Traffic, Spirit, Joplin, Mothers, and sometimes Dan would want to hear things like Carole King or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. His taste in music ran a little mellower than mine, but I enjoyed all of it, especially stoned.
“Sometimes we’d stay in our robots, but other times we’d watch them from across the room or up on the ceiling. Dan’s robot was so soft and firm. Well, eighteen years old, what do you want? Mine was very skinny like pipe cleaners. Later on in life I filled out some, but I cringe when I see photos of myself back then, a gangly skeleton covered with skin, not a tit to my name, great wavy mane of hair, and of course the hip hugging bell bottoms even though I had hardly any hips to hug.”
We both laughed. “I bet you were irresistible,” I said.
“There’s one photo of me and Dan standing together outside a coffee house on Amsterdam Avenue. This photo is really comical because Dan was kind of plump and he was pretty tall. I look like his little kid, like maybe he’s taking his daughter to her dance lesson or something. It was taken right before he o.d.’d, but I do look at it once in a while because it’s such a perfect picture of the two of us together.”
Lilace sucked in her breath, put her hand on the door handle, but then shifted in her seat and sat still.
“It’s up to you,” I said. “I’d like to hear it if you want to tell it.”
She smiled at me because I was reading her so well. “He told me one day that he was going to trip by himself. It was like telling me he was leaving me, but I tried to be cool. I asked him where he was going. Reminded him you’re not supposed to trip by yourself. Told him he needed to be with somebody he could trust. All that stuff. Really I was trying to get him to talk about it, tell me who he was going to be with. Let’s see, he said he was going to ‘start out’ over at Kevin’s place. ‘Start out,’ you know, which sounded kind of evasive to me. I was jealous. I said what do you mean ‘start out?’ and he told me how Kevin was an old friend but sort of freaked him out sometimes so he might move on if he got uncomfortable over there. So I told him if he starts freaking out he could come on back home. ‘No. I don’t want you to be waiting for me. I’ll be worried about it if you’re waiting for me.’ So I said I’d be there but I wouldn’t be waiting for him. I’ll never forget the way he turned to me with this worried little smile on his face. He said, ‘The thing is, I’m doing this without you.’”
Lilace wrapped her arms across her bosom. I nodded and said “I have to wonder why.”
“I didn’t ask him why. I wanted to, but it wouldn’t have been right. People were free in those days. Love was free.
“So the next day Dan took his trip without me. He hung around the house all morning, and we didn’t say much to each other. He would have left earlier but he had to wait for the dealer, who was out of town scoring. I never smoked if I was down about something, but I did start drinking Chianti at about nine thirty, so by noon I was sloppy drunk and depressed, mostly to show Dan how much I was bothered by what he was doing.
“He was drinking chamomile, trying to stay calm, I imagine, so he wouldn’t have a bum trip. I know my drinking was making him nervous, but he didn’t say anything, just tried to be cheerful. He was trying on different outfits, his fringed leather jacket so he’d look like Steve Stills. That’s what he finally wore. I wanted to ask him why he needed to look so good, but I didn’t. I was afraid of what the answer might be, even if he didn’t answer at all.”
Lilace let herself go, placed her hands on her knees, leaned her head forward a little and shook it back and forth. “I’m sorry, Hec. You don’t want to hear this.”
“Yes I do,” I said, almost urgently.
“Anyway, the point is, it was a hell of a way to end things. Until that day, I didn’t have a clue anything was wrong between us. And I don’t know, and will never know, that there really was. Maybe he was just feeling the need to experiment without me. It could have been an assertion of his freedom because he was getting ready to really commit to me. He might have intended to... I don’t know. Maybe he would have gotten high and decided it was better with me than without me. He might’ve called me or come home.
“The phone rang, he talked to the dealer, and after he hung up he tried not to act like he was in a hurry, but he couldn’t hide it. He was out the door, Steven Stills if I ever saw him, clonk clonk clonk in those suede boots. And I never saw him conscious again.”
She looked at me and smiled. “I could never tell my husband that. He doesn’t even know about Dan. It was a different world completely.”
“I know,” I said.
“Well, you must wonder what happened to Dan finally. I don’t know. After a while I couldn’t keep going out there to visit him -- visit his robot, that is, which was all that was left of him. For all I know, he may be lying there still. It’s strange, but I don’t feel guilty about losing contact. It was needless pain and bother for me, and wasn’t doing him any good.”
“You’re right,” I said.
She had her hand on the door handle again; I put mine on my door handle, and taking note of this, we both opened our Barracuda doors at the same time.