Laura was late.
I was the lone passenger left as the dust of departing taxis and shuttles settled over a straggle of palm trees. Blotting my damp forehead with a handkerchief and dragging hot, soupy air into my lungs, I turned back into the airport terminal. The entrance to paradise was a metal warehouse, probably some sort of Army surplus, since the island was a U.S. possession. Plywood partitions divided the expanse of cement floor, ratty-looking palm fronds decorating a low fence around a waiting area with rickety tables, sagging cane chairs, and a liquor bar manned by a sleepy black man. A dusty purple satin banner with gold fringe hung crookedly from one of the exposed rafters, spelling out in red sequins: Hands in the air! A warning about the hotel rates?
I was Alice in a seedy Wonderland, wishing I’d taken Pat MacIntyre up on her offer to share a taxi into town. She’d departed with, “Be seeing you, it’s a small island,” and a Cheshire Cat smile that lingered behind her in the humid air.
Head pounding with the heat, I trudged over to the booth covered with more antique palm fronds, returning my plastic cup to the man with the face like gnarled mahogany, who grinned toothlessly above a Well Come to our I-Land sign. I’d thirstily gulped one of the drinks he’d handed to all arrivals, minors included, before realizing the fruit floating on top disguised nearly pure rum.
I turned down another cup, blotted my face again, and asked the man where I could find a phone. He looked bewildered. I tried asking the bartender, slumped snoring over the bar, but couldn’t wake him. I sank onto a bench to rub my throbbing forehead and check my watch again.
Laura was really late.
She’d always refused to wear a watch because it would impose false mechanical rhythms and “block the natural flow of the day.” Somehow Laura had managed to thrive in a scheduled society by making people feel guilty enough over their own uptightness to indulge her for the sake of Peace, Love, and Freedom.
I was getting cynical in my old age. I was all for Peace and Love, maybe Laura and John had found them here. And lost them.
None of it seemed real. The plane ride. This island. John’s death. I kept expecting to turn around and see him laughing at this latest great joke he’d pulled on us all. Closing my eyes, I could see his grin as he popped open the warped door of the old farmhouse he and Laura had rented back home in Happy Valley, one of the last Hippie enclaves dating from the 60s.
“Sue, Sue.” Holding me by the shoulders and shaking his head. “You’ve been holed up in that dusty old library again! Your brain looks tired.”
“So let’s go jogging tomorrow morning.”
“You’re on, sweet-cheeks! But hey, look at me, tell Professor Dad I’m brimming with responsibility. Got a J-O-B! So be heartless, you two, have fun while I slave.” And he was striding off to one of the brief checkpoints on his eclectic resume, leaving Laura to lead me to the back porch.
Her Earth Mother title was purely descriptive that afternoon. Basking in the August sun, large breasts bobbing in a peasant blouse, feet bare beneath an East-Indian print skirt, and long dark hair tumbling loose, Laura exuded lazy sensuality. She refilled my cup with her herbal brew as I admired her organic garden.
Leaves gleamed in the sun. Light and heat pooled, thickening, flooding me with shimmering waves as the plants exploded into riotous growth before my eyes, swelling with fruit and bloom. Their colors intensified to day-glo brilliance. My head swam dizzily.
Laura, shrugging: “What’s the big deal? Even you’ve smoked dope before, haven’t you? I brewed the tea from mushrooms I picked myself, it’s organic.”
I was floating, swooping through the air to perch among the wildly painted dahlias. They were swaying and dancing, grinning faces turned to mine. Together the blossoms and I crooned a medley of Disney tunes as Laura went twirling around the overgrown yard, skirt spinning, colors whirling. She danced, flinging off her clothes, then lay back in the tall grass.
“Wow.” I stared through the stems at her full breasts and the plump extra flesh pushing against pale skin in mounds and folds of a surreal landscape.
Laura’s dreamy voice drifted overhead. “Inner beauty . . . . Finding a natural balance . . . . Integrating dualities into a wholeness without needing manufactured rules and logic . . . .”
I finally connected the weird fleshscape with Laura’s voice. Naked sounded good, so I stripped in the hot sun, wriggled my toes, flowed into some slow Yoga stretches that melted me right down into the warm earth.
I was a tiny ant, staring up through the grass blades at two huge feet planted before me. It was the titanic Earth Goddess, feet growing out of the fertile soil and head cloud-distant. I’d studied Her names — Gaia, Pachamama, Inanna, Freya — but I’d never seen Her, felt Her massive power quaking through my bones. I gawked up at Her mountainous peaks and valleys in awe.
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