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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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This made far more sense, anyway, because the walk from the main road to the Hippie House was short. Eric's friends could come and go and, with the exception of the noise level, we wouldn't even know they were there.

Tired of tanning, anxious for the last few days of summer to be over, Megan and I sat on the steps of the stone porch, leafing through the Eatons catalog, choosing winter coats and boots. We both adored a three-quarter-length suede jacket with zip-out lining. It came in tan, chocolate and, my favorite, dusty rose.

As we turned the pages of the cataloge we noticed that the sounds drifting through the woods from the direction of the Hippie House were becoming fragmented. Disjointed. A frenzied drumroll, an incomplete guitar riff, the wheeze of the harmonica suddenly cut short, and Malcolm's voice, too determined in its imitation of Jim Morrison, start and stall. All of this was nearly drowned by the hum and shouts of a crowd independent of the band.

Curious, Megan and I wandered down toward the Hippie House. As we drew closer, we could hear outbursts between the scraps of music. Malcolm was accusing Miles of playing so loudly that he was drowning out his voice.

“Well, listen to you! Marvin Gaye does not begin ‘Grapevine' like he's being castrated. Can't you just sing the song and shut up!”

This prompted Malcolm to loudly and explicitly suggest what Miles could do with his drumsticks.

Now within sight of the Hippie House, it occurred to Megan and me that we recognized few of the bodies looming in the doorway and leaning against my father's shed. It frightened us that the strange men playing a strange game—throwing knives at each other's feet—did not ignore us as we were used to being ignored by the members of the band.

But they were not like the members of the band. Their hair was not long like my brother's, but short and slick. They wore black pants and black boots when everyone else wore cutoff jeans and leather thongs.

When they grinned and asked us to cross the creek, Megan and I made every excuse not to stay.

Eric began to arrive at the farmhouse in a bad mood, lock himself in his room and wail on his guitar, often while the party continued down at the Hippie House. He had not found a way to deal with the hangers-on.

ON LABOR DAY
, my father shut it down. The Hippie House was, from that day forward, off-limits to anyone with the exception of the original band.

The following day I started grade nine in a newly renovated school. It was a sprawling, state-of-the-art school built to serve a small town and a large farming community. Fifteen school buses waited along the maple-shaded street when school dismissed at three o'clock. I was amazed that any school, but particularly my school, would have a theater with padded seats, two gymnasiums, a band room, carpentry and automotive shops, and, most impressive to me, a sewing room with all Bernina machines. Strolling through the wide halls with my friends, I felt that I had been promoted—that I was a part of something very big. By the end of the second week I had joined the badminton club and volunteered to sew costumes for the drama department's production of
Oliver
! that year.

My circle of friends widened as I began to socialize with people not just because we found ourselves in the same classroom, but because we shared the same interests. I became friends with several of the actors in the play. One of these friends was a girl named Hetty DeSousa, who played one of the “ladies of the evening.” She had gone to the one other public school in Pike Creek, but she lived only two miles south of Ruddy Duck Farm.

Hetty lived in a castle, although she was not a princess; her father sold pharmaceuticals and her mother was a potter. Mr. and Mrs. DeSousa were the most recent owners of the castle, which had been bought and sold regularly since the original German architect had died. The castle had changed hands often mainly because prospective buyers would get caught up in the romance of the fairy-tale surroundings. They did not consider what a nightmare it would be to furnish the drafty interior and turn it into a cozy home. It was a small castle by German standards, but it did have a turret with winding steps and a room at the top that was Hetty's mother's studio.

I liked Mrs. DeSousa, who preferred that we called her by her first name, Ruby. I particularly liked it when she sat on the red vinyl couches in the enormous living room and laughed with us about current TV shows and boys. Within three weeks of our meeting her, Hetty's mother had taught Megan and me how to tie-dye T-shirts and silk-screen scarves. She'd taught us the correct way to apply makeup, explaining how certain colors either brought out our natural skin tones or made us look like we'd stepped off the set of
The Twilight Zone
. Ruby and I could discuss fabrics and pattern design for hours, until Hetty, feigning death from boredom, would roll her eyes back in her head and collapse on the goatskin rug.

Ruby had ideas and imagination; she had colors, textures and symmetry whirling around in her head. She could turn emotions and moods into something tangible. I was fascinated by her
potter's wheel in the turret and the kiln in the stand of aspen behind the castle. It amazed me that she could turn a single lump of faceless clay into a vase more beautiful than the rose it held.

Hetty's older sister had recently moved away from home. Tanya DeSousa worked as a nurse's aide in Pike Creek's only senior citizens' home. She lived in a small apartment, three blocks past the ice arena, with another nurse's aide, Katie Russell. Katie was the older sister of Donny Russell, who was cast as the evil Bill Sikes in the production of
Oliver
!. Tanya and Katie were eighteen.

Because his sales job took him all over North America, Mr. DeSousa was away far more often than he was at home. For the most part, Mrs. DeSousa kept busy with her crafts and her pottery and decorating Tanya's apartment. But sometimes in the evenings she would light the candelabra above the massive stone fireplace and with Leonard Cohen echoing throughout the castle, she would dance all alone.

“Your mom is great,” Megan commented one day. “I can't even imagine my mom listening to someone as cool as Leonard Cohen.” When Hetty didn't answer, Megan added, “Don't you think?”

Hetty shrugged. “I guess. I don't know. She's just my mom.”

One week into school, Carl was fired from the dairy. This happened when his ledger proved that he was consistently losing money, a discovery that did not come as a surprise to either Eric or me. Just past three o'clock each day, Carl's milk route took him past the high school. After stocking the refrigerators in the school cafeteria, he would gleefully pass out chocolate milk and ice-cream bars to “friends.” Megan ignored what he was doing. She had long ago distanced herself from her brother, who failed to realize his celebrity was a result of his foolishness and that he was laughed at behind his back.

Each day Carl glowed in his fifteen minutes of popularity. He had not had many friends growing up; in elementary school there were few boys who shared his interests. There were fewer still in junior high when he was already two grades behind those his age. So in his mind, the attention he was receiving far outweighed any consequences. Besides, it wasn't like he hadn't taken a little heat in the past. He could handle it. So he continued to distribute frozen cups of ice cream with wooden paddles despite Eric's efforts to get him to stop.

The Monday following the week Carl was let go from the dairy, Aunt Alice instructed him to polish his shoes. He did this on the back porch while she typed up his resume at the kitchen table as she waited for the bread dough to rise. Uncle Pat began circling jobs in the classified ads. He drove Carl to interviews, not because he didn't trust him with the truck, but for the chance to impart some last words of advice, suggest answers to interview questions and ensure that he arrived on time.

When his day wasn't organized for him, Carl began to hang around the pool hall in town. At ten o'clock in the morning he broke balls with other young men who were out of work and out of school. I knew two of them, Ross Nash and Lyle St. Vincent. I knew them because of the many times they had slowed their car while driving past Megan and me, lifted their eyebrows and showed us their nicotine-stained teeth. It was well-known that Ross had done jail time in the spring for causing a disturbance and willful damage to the playground equipment in Queen Mary Park.

Carl adopted their style of dress: black pointed-toe boots with cleats, black jeans and a dickey beneath a white shirt. His hair, which he had always worn short, shimmered beneath layers of Brylcreem. He wore it sculpted into a sort of pompadour—a whopping crest at the front, a ducktail at the neck. And should one hair get out of line, he packed a rat-tail comb in the pocket of his shirt.

He began to cruise around Pike Creek and the vicinity with Ross and Lyle in the Dodge Charger they had customized by painting flat black. Never mind that it burned oil and the engine clattered—it had the look. Uncle Pat was not happy that Carl was spending his time with these “less desirables,” but he could hardly continue to supervise a grown man.

It was one Saturday in the middle of September, almost too cold to be riding a bike, when I set out for Hetty's castle. My fingers had already turned red by the time I'd reached the end of our lane and turned onto the county road. I had the whole road to myself so I could follow the hard-packed tire tracks rather than keep to the shoulder where the gravel was loose and the ditch was deep on either side. I turned south. From the road I distinguished a metal pipe nearly camouflaged in the twisted canopy of the woods—the chimney of the Hippie House. The peak of the roof poked just above a small stand of spruce trees and underbrush. Hearing a car come up behind me, I veered to the side of the road. A station wagon with nose-smeared windows and three tail-wagging dogs in the back passed by me. Long before she reached me, the driver had slowed so as not to pelt me with gravel and dust. Once she was ahead of me, Mrs. Fraser waved in the rear-view mirror.

I was haunted by an image and I was always careful riding my bike. Several years before, while I listened, horrified, Megan had told the story of a girl about my age—about ten at the time—who was knocked down as she drove between farms on her bike. She became tangled in the wheels of the car that hit her, the car that had not bothered to stop. The following morning, after a frantic search for their daughter, her parents found her torn remains spread over many miles of country road.

As I rode, I imagined my parents finding pieces of me, my left foot clad in my new suede shoe outside our gate. And a little farther down the road, perhaps beneath Pat and Alice McEachran's
mailbox, my right hand with the mood ring my grandmother had given me for Christmas. The stone would most definitely be black. But when it came to imagining the expressions on their faces, it brought tears to my eyes. In the cold, they stung my cheek.

Another car came up behind me and I moved to the side of the road again. Hearing it slow, I waited for the car to pass. When it didn't pass, when it continued to follow close behind me for many yards and made no attempt to pass, I turned around. I should have guessed by the smell of burning oil in the air. It was a flat-black Dodge Charger, and although I avoided eye contact, not wanting to acknowledge their presence and encourage conversation, I knew it was Ross Nash and Lyle St. Vincent in the front seat. I steered my bike to the opposite side of the road, but they followed me. I crossed the road again and they followed me back. Lyle stuck his head out the window. “Hey, honey, why don't you dump the bike and come for a ride with us?”

I tried to ignore them. I continued to pedal straight ahead and hoped that they would give up and go away. I quickly realized they were not going to give up and they were not going to go away. Ross continued to follow a few feet behind me. He revved the engine, and if I'd stopped suddenly right then, I would have been flattened beneath the wheels. As my heart thundered inside my chest, I clutched the handle grips as if my fingers were burned into them and even a tire iron could not pull them apart. I kept my bike as close to the edge of the road as possible without falling into the ditch. I thought about speeding ahead, but I knew I could hardly outrun their vehicle even in its dilapidated state. I also thought about dropping my bike and trying to make it across the field, but if they followed me there was far less chance someone would happen to come along than if I stayed on the road.

I was now on the side of the driver. Ross took the opportunity to pull up next to me.

“Come on, sweetie,” he patted his lap, “you can sit right here and I'll teach you how to drive.”

I continued to pedal. I continued to try and ignore him.

“All you need to do is grab onto the stick shift and—vroom, vroom—I'll do all the rest.”

They laughed. And because I thought I distinguished a familiar voice intermingled in the laughter—because I thought I heard the delayed response of a mind slow to catch on—I finally looked directly at the line of leering faces. My cousin Carl sat in the middle of the line. My easily swayed, probably not-all-that-sure-what-he-was-guffawing-at cousin. The one I had patiently taught to tell time when I was seven and he was past ten. I was at once a little relieved to see someone I recognized, but furious with him for taking part.

“Carl!” I growled, my fear overridden by anger. “Tell them to get lost or I'm going to tell Uncle Pat.”

A little surprised, Ross glanced at Carl. “You know her?”

“Yeah, sure,” he shrugged. “That's Emma. She's my cousin.”

Ross looked to Lyle, then back at me again. He stepped on the gas and sped away.

Enveloped in a cloud of foul-smelling air, I leaned forward on my handlebars and breathed a sigh of relief. It took many minutes for my hands to stop trembling and my heart to stop pounding, but when they did I wanted to grab one of the bloated paddles my father had found floating in the pond and whack some sense into Carl's half-witted head.

BOOK: Hippie House
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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