I pull ahead, make the turn and glide up my driveway. Christine pulls up. Bob’s light is on and faint sounds of Joni Mitchell follow us from the garage to the side door. The light is on over the stove and Christine stops in the kitchen to look around. I close the door behind us.
“Well,” I say, “this is it.”
I follow her eyes from the red trim to the pegboard behind the stove, laden with pots and pans, Bob’s wok, ladles and spatulas, shelves of tea and spices, to the Deli House apron hanging beside the stove. To the dirty dishes in the sink.
“Roommates,” I say, though half the dishes are mine. “Are you hungry?”
She shakes her head, and I lead her into my room. I turn on the desk lamp and fumble with some matches. When the candle is lit, I close the door and look around. Christine has a bowl I made in her hands. Unglazed brown on the outside, shiny turquoise on the inside. It has a wide flaring rim that turns over on itself so that the color spills out over the bowl.
“Sand and sea,” I tell Christine. “I made a whole series like that.” A day at the beach with Matisse.
“It’s beautiful.” She weighs it in her hands and returns it to the shelf. “You do good work.” She looks at the rest of the pottery. I follow her, noting the imperfections in each piece.
“I haven’t made anything in a while. Not since the spring.”
“You should. You’re pretty good.” She touches a slab jar, running her fingers lightly over the surface. “I’ve made some pots. It isn’t easy.”
“Really? Where?” I ask, excited.
“In Rochester. I have some friends who are into pottery.” She looks around the room. “Do you mind if I put on a record?”
“Help yourself. I’ll roll a joint.” I take my box over to the bed as Christine kneels by the night table. My night table is a melon crate filled with records. A piece of stained plywood sits on top of it holding my clock radio, stereo and a Tensor light. Christine’s feet nearly touch mine as she thumbs through the albums.
“How about this?” She pulls a copy of American Beauty from the stack.
I lick the paper and twist the joint. “Do you like the Grateful Dead?”
“I like this album.” She hands me the record and I give her the joint to hold. I put on Side Two and lower the volume a little.
She hands the joint back to me and I take an ashtray and sit on the bed beside her.
“You must like them,” she says. “You have a lot of their albums.”
“I like their old stuff. I bought their first album in 1966, when it came out. The record store had Country Joe and the Fish and the Grateful Dead. I asked the salesman which one was better. He said that most people liked Country Joe, so I bought the Dead.” Christine smiles.
She tucks one leg under the other. I look away from the flash of white panties, suddenly ashamed that I want to sleep with her. Matisse slept with a lot of guys in high school. Anyone she thought was nice.
I pick up the American Beauty album cover. Like most Grateful Dead albums, the lettering can be read in different ways. You can read this one as American Reality if you want to. I point it out to Christine.
“I never noticed that before,” she says. When she hands it back to me, her eyes flick over mine. ‘So what if you didn’t love them,’ Matisse once told me, ‘It was nice to be held.’
“They were great,” I say, suddenly ill at ease.
Christine says nothing, her face impassive. Is she bored? Disappointed? Interested? I can’t tell. But I can’t stop either.
“Imagine this,” I tell her, taking a deep hit off the joint. She leans against the wall. “It’s two thirty in the morning at the Fillmore East and the second band has just gone off. It’s totally dark on stage, except for the warm-up lights on the amps, little red dots that move around if you stare at them too long. Then you realize that some of them are moving, the roadies are smoking while they’re setting up. And John–the tall guy at the counter tonight–offers you another hit of currant juice. He put about 20 tabs of acid in the bottle and you and your friends have been sipping it all night.”
You take a good swig and offer it to Matisse, who shakes her head no. She’s drunk a lot of currant juice tonight, and I can see she’s starting to get scared. Once the music starts, she’ll be fine, but whenever she stops to think, she worries. So you kiss her cheek once to reassure her and pass the bottle back to John, who takes another big sip before he puts it away. She shakes the hair away from her face and smiles at you and nothing is as good as the way she smiles.
“I never took LSD before,” says Christine.
“Imagine you’re high then. So high that the music can talk to you.”
She laughs and there is an edge of anxiety in it. “That will be easy. This is powerful pot.”
“Everybody is starting to get restless. People start shouting out to the stage. You’re in the fifth row because John had some friend stand in line for six hours, and you can see a little bit of what’s happening on stage. You see figures walk out of the wings and hear the electronic pops as they plug in. There are guitar-tuning runs that stop for a flat string. People whoop and rimshots knock them into a beat. The band is tuning up their audience.” You find Matisse’s hand and she squeezes yours.
“And then someone claps. Someone else whistles. The stagelights go on to the band walking from their amps to their mikes, already playing. Garcia, the lead guitar, is beaming, red Gibson SG shining in the spot. Both drummers aren’t playing the beat as much as rolling it between them.
“You hear some riff and then they play it. You turn around and ask, ‘Did you? Did they?'” and Matisse says, ‘Yes’ “and someone behind you says, ‘Amazing.’ And then you discover you’re on your feet, along with everyone else. It’s like everything melted together, one group mind, big as the Fillmore, making music.”
Without warning, the music pops through a hole that you never saw and turns into a melody so pure that it’s like the sound of stars being born. Matisse’s shoulder touches yours and the light falls across a newborn planet.
I offer her the joint again, but she turns it down. American Beauty is nearly over. “Attics of My Life” is on, suspended fourths making a funereal wail.
“You sound so sad about it,” says Christine.
“Well, it’s over.”
“Something new can happen.”
She tosses her head and the fragrance of her hair reaches me. I nearly put out my hand to touch her.
“Did you ever feel a part of something like that?” I ask.
“Not really,” she says and I sag. We both shift closer on the bed, and though it’s awkward, neither of us wants to change it. The record goes off and the stereo hums loudly.
“In a way it was like coming here,” she says. “I knew I had to leave Michael, but I was scared to. But I had to do it.”
“It’s scary doing what you think is right. But sometimes you’ve got to.” Matisse, telling me it was really over this time.
Her eyes catch mine. Go ahead, they say, do it.
I open my mouth, close it, bite my lip. Just reach out and touch her. A crying warmth is in my stomach. I try to smile, only leer. This is some guy’s Matisse. Michael. I lift my hand, but drop it.
” I’m sorry.”
“For what?” she asks. There is fear in her voice, and uncertainty.
“You probably think I’m a jerk.” ‘You don’t know how to fuck women,’ Matisse told me the summer we broke up. ‘You just know how fall in love with them.’
“I was trying too hard.”
She doesn’t respond. The humming of the stereo grows louder and louder.
I reach out and turn it off. I can hear John telling me what a schmuck I am. You blew it. Why did you have to start talking about all that old stuff for?
“Is it terribly late?” she asks.
I look at my clock. “A quarter to five.”
“I should go.”
“Do you want to stay over?”
She shakes her head, no. “I’d better not.”
She gets up and puts on her shoes. I lace my sneakers up and walk her through the kitchen to the garage. The night is cooler now, and she shivers.
“Do you want a sweater?” I ask.
“It’s only a few blocks. I’ll be all right.” She wheels her bike out of the garage.
I roll the door back down. “I didn’t mean to get so morbid,” I tell her.
“It matters to you. Don’t apologize.”
I smile nervously and she shakes her head. “It’s not the end of the world,” she says. She leans forward and kisses me. I kiss back, tentatively, but when she doesn’t break away, I pull her to me.
She presses herself against me and I can feel her body touch mine.
“Stay over,” I plead.
She shakes her head no. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”
“I’m off tomorrow.”
She gets on her bike and rides away. I watch her for a moment, shivering in the pre-dawn chill.
A pale light is seeping through the windows. I walk into my room and shut the door.
Half the joint is left. I put on Feedback and smoke the rest of the joint. It suits my mood, noises like the pale light off burnt meteorites. Towards the end, this one bright melody pops out, sun peeking over broken rock. I close my eyes and try not to think until I fall asleep.