Matisse in Vermont

Later that summer, Matisse left for home. She still painted and she said she still loved me, but there was a distance. After a while, she left for Putney for a commune where she knew some people. She asked me not to visit and I didn’t until mid-summer. I was doing very little, working in the pot shop, working as a cook at night, and hanging out with John, trying to like other women and trying not to drop acid.

She had given up drugs and, she told me, sex as well. I got a postcard from her at the end of June. “I miss you,” she said. “You’d like it here.” It seemed like an invitation, so I hitchhiked across New York State and up into Vermont. The commune was at the end of a long dirt driveway. A big old farmhouse, an outhouse, a falling down barn and some tents. The last couple of miles I had a ride from a kid in an old Plymouth Fury with rust spots and ripped seats and an 8-track. He seemed about 17-his hair was still long and he was the new kind of hippie-he liked to drink beer as much as smoke dope. My hair was short now and I’d shaved my beard so I could work the kitchen, but we listened to his tapes and talked music from the highway to the commune. He was a big America fan. He let me off at a dirt road and pointed.” It’s up that driveway.” He didn’t say much about the commune when I asked him about it. “Teddy’s OK,” he said, “He’s a little intense. Before he drove off, he laid two joints on me. “Peace out man,” he said before he drove off. “Good luck.”

I watched him drive away and I suddenly knew this was a bad idea. She was just being nice. But I was here now, so I trudged up the driveway. I could always leave tomorrow.

No one seemed to be around, so I left the pack in the living room and headed for the kitchen. The only person there was this short woman, long curly black hair and overalls, was mixing meatloaf in a bowl.

“Hi. I’m a friend of Matisse, uh Stephanie.”

“I’m Lyssa,” she said. “You’re Danny,” she said. “I know the story.”

“What story?”

“We were friends in high school,” she said kind of smugly. “Anyway, she’s not here. She and Teddy went into Brattleboro to pick up supplies. She’ll be back for dinner.”

“You need any help?”

“Sure.”

So I helped with the meatloaf and the vegetables. There seemed to be a lot of eggplant, so I baked it, then chopped it. They were out of tahini, so I made a chopped eggplant and onion dip and then sliced tomatoes on cooked eggplant rounds to bake with some cheese. They had some kind of block of it in the fridge. Lyssa was OK in the kitchen, but she used a serrated knife for everything and she left the pots for me to clean. She kept telling me some long involved story about how she ended up here, but I was thinking about Matisse and wondering about this Teddy guy and I kept losing her thread. I asked her about Teddy.

“Teddy’s amazing,” she said. “He was a tunnel rat and then they used to drop him in the jungle and let him survive on the land. He stared down a tiger once. It just looked at him and walked away.”

The back door opened and Matisse, laughing, came through the door, a box of groceries in her hands. She was turning to say something when she saw me.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re here.”

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