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Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse
Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Madame Tingley's Organ (Continued from Cybercorpse # 9)
by Teresa Bergen
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Summary thus far:

The even numbered chapters take place in the present, the odd chapters are flashbacks to the narrator's teen years. Lex tells her story of growing up in San Diego, and how events turned her younger sister, Sandi, into a cult leader whose group all die in what appears to be suicide.
     In the even numbered chapters, Dale Ross, a writer of tawdry quickie biographies, tries to get Lex to sell him her story as sister of the notorious cult leader. Lex is now living in San Francisco. He takes her to lunch repeatedly, offering her more money each time.
     In the flashbacks, Lex and Sandi live with their mother in San Diego. The girls help out after school in their grandmother Annabelle's nursery.      Annabelle is a Theosophist, born and raised in a turn-of-the-last century San Diego commune called Lomaland. Their hippie father, Fuzzy, lives in Oregon.
     In the previous installment, Lex agrees to tell Dale Ross her story in exchange for $20,000.
     In the flashback sequence, Lex meets Pablo, a boy who worships Adam Ant and has just left Oregon's Rajneeshpuram spiritual community. Pablo tries to steer Lex toward a more fashionable, New Wave image. Horrified by her virginal status, he encourages her to find a sex partner, but not him, because he's gay. Lex meets an older guy named Eddie Martinelli who is shopping at the nursery. They go out on a date and fool around, but stop short of sex because Eddie is grossed out that Lex is having her period. When Pablo hears about the date, he dismisses Eddie as cheap and tacky, and suggests Lex look elsewhere.
     Lex becomes involved with brooding bad boy Chance. But it turns out Chance is partly using Lex to get to know her mystic grandmother, whom he hopes can help him explore his spiritual side. This leads Chance into an alliance with Sandi, the spiritual sister, but that doesn't work out well either. Still, the three work together at the nursery and spend a summer exploring such esoteric activities as a psychic fair and a vegetarian festival hosted by Hare Krishnas.

Chapter Eight

My band played a wedding reception Saturday afternoon in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, by the airport. The plain, brown-haired newlyweds smiled like this was truly the event of their lifetimes. The bride's mother wore a garish turquoise dress and matching eye shadow, but her happiness turned it almost festive.
    Sandi and I had ripped off Mom, over and over. No husbands, no college, no careers. Our one adult accomplishment was Sandi buying real estate. But now seventeen suicides tainted her Alpine farmhouse.
    Rodney, the guitarist, shot me exasperated looks. My fingers kept perfect time, but I couldn't get the sourness off my face. "This is a wedding," Rodney pointed out during a break. "You know, happiness and hope? You look like fucking doom." He was about ten years older than me, and hardened by heroin, rehab, divorce, and a bunch of other junk I didn't want to hear about. I'd never liked him but he worked hard and got us enough shows to pay rent. "Try to smile. You're the girl, you know? You're supposed to make us pretty."
    I thought about the seven hundred dollars the bride's mother paid us and swallowed some bile. I tried to look pretty.
    When I got home, Dale Ross' bags slumped in a corner. I only had a week and a half to sell out my sister, so we'd decided he'd move in temporarily. Dale had filled my refrigerator, and laid out a buffet on my table: fat strawberries, grapes, croissants, hummus, Brie, French bread, chocolates, a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of wine. The arrangement was flawless, even romantic, except he'd left his tape recorder beside the plate of croissants. I felt preposterous for signing papers, allowing this sly British guy to move in, and now telling him secrets and details of my life, of other people's lives, that were none of his business.
    "How was the wedding?"
    "Depressing." I reached for the wine. "You ever been married, Dale?"
    He shook his head. "My life isn't conducive to marriage."
    "Whose is?"
    The phone rang and I picked it up.
    "Lex, we just got tickets for this play at Fort Mason. Can you be ready at six?"
    "I don't want to go out right now."
    "Lex! You can't just stay home and brood. It's not good for you. I'll be by in half an hour."
    "No, really."
    "Yes, really"
    "I mean it."
    "So do I."
    "I have someone here."
    "Oh. Oh. Well, you can't blame me for being surprised. Who?"
    "Never mind."
    "It's not that awful poet again, is it? God, I hate writers! They're the worst pompous bores."
    "No. Someone else." Dale Ross sat in one of my two chairs, pretending to examine a strawberry he held in his hand. I wished he'd just eat it. I wondered what he was waiting for.
    "Well, I'm a little surprised."
    "Fine. Be surprised."
    "Who is he? You know I'm dying to know. You're tormenting me on purpose."
    "I'll tell you later." I'd have to tell him because there would be a goddamn book.
    "OK. When's he leaving?"
    "A week or two."
    "Lex! You've gone nuts. I'm coming over."
    "Don't. Really. Have fun at the play."
    I hung up.
    "Pablo?" Dale Ross asked. I nodded. He ate the strawberry.
    At first I didn't want to start talking, but he promised we'd discuss what to edit out later, and we'd change names, and fix mistakes. I sat on the futon, he sat on a chair, pulling the other chair between us for the tape recorder. He got a small blue notebook from his bag and took notes, too.
    No one had ever listened to me like that. I hadn't talked about this stuff for years, except occasional references to Pablo, which never needed explaining. I talked for three hours straight before we took a break and used the bathroom and ate some croissants and chocolates. I drank the wine steadily, but Dale made a pot of coffee and drank that with his strawberries. His open ears entranced me. Sometimes I snapped out of it for a few moments and couldn't believe the things I told him, especially about Eddie Martinelli. But he just sat there, placid and clear-eyed like a suave Buddha. He became more beautiful every minute, and I began to think I was learning about him, too, by the way he listened. I understood why people fall in love with their psychiatrists.
    Mom called around midnight and Dale turned off the recorder without me having to ask, though I thought I saw him take a few notes. I didn't like him sitting there while I talked to Mom and I guess I sounded distracted.
    "Lex, have you been drinking?"
    "Of course not. Have you?"
    "Of course not." Silence. Dale examined a grape. He hadn't put down that pen. "I put the ashes on the mantle, but I had to take them down," she finally said.
    "Where are they now?"
    "In the kitchen. By the can opener. God only knows why."
    "That's not a good place. They could get knocked over. Why don't you put them in a drawer or something for now?"
    "Wherever I put them, they watch me. If I have them out in plain sight I can keep an eye on them, too."
    "I'll be down in a couple of days."
    "You keep saying that, honey. I wish you were here now."
    "I have to play a street fair tomorrow. Then I'm free."
    "You're going to a fair?" She sounded amazed.
    "It's my job, Mom," I reminded her.
    When I hung up, Dale asked if I was too tired to go on. "Oh, I'm just getting started," I told him.

Chapter Nine

Monday at school, the day before my second date with Eddie Martinelli, Pablo and I went to the school library to research our next speeches. They were supposed to be persuasive speeches, more fact than opinion-based this time. Pablo aimed to convince our classmates that only selfish, destructive people reproduced, and that breeding should cease. I planned to prove that kids use their time more productively than competing for popularity or learning algebra, so high school should be optional. I wanted some of the child labor laws repealed so kids could earn their own way, and parents couldn't push them around so much. We both needed to do lots of research to save our speeches from being factless rants. But instead, we looked for Eddie Martinelli's photos in old high school yearbooks.
    "Are you sure he's not using a fake name?" Pablo asked as we flipped through the 1974 yearbook.
    "Why would he do that?"
    "You're only jailbait. He could only serve time in prison. Or at least jail."
    "He said his family owns Martinelli Marine Supply. And some other boat business. You ever heard of them?"
    "You know I'm not the nautical type. You sure this individual graduated?"
    "I think so."
    "Look at this pressed hair! I wish it would make a fashion comeback!"
    "Your hair would never go flat."
    "I wouldn't subject my hair to that! I just want to see all the losers around here trying it. I want to imagine them leaning over their ironing boards, their hair sizzling." In 1974 the boys had long hair and half the kids looked stoned. "Look how everyone's zits show up!" Pablo cried. "You don't see that anymore. They airbrush them now."
    I passed the Ks, the Ls, then I turned another page, and Eddie Martinelli grinned at me from the past. I recognized him before I read his name. I looked at him for a few seconds, deciding for myself. Here was Eddie Martinelli at seventeen or eighteen, a suitable age for me now. Like the other kids in the yearbook he wore his hair long, but his fell below his shoulders wavy and unironed. His eyes gleamed as dark as his hair. He didn't have zits. He looked sexy. I decided yes.
    I slid the book over to Pablo and pointed. He examined Eddie Martinelli, his face serious. "Does he still look like this?" I nodded. "OK, he's gorgeous. Now close this book and think of what a tacky cheap bastard he is." But Pablo's hand held the yearbook open. "Do you think he's bi?"
    "Why? You want to show up tomorrow night in my place?" I giggled, but then stopped. Pablo just might. I could picture him wandering by Square Pan, pausing outside just at 8:15, the two guys meeting each other. Eddie slayed by Pablo's charms, whether or not he was bisexual before.
    "Lex! I wouldn't steal your man! I'll wait until you're through with him." He looked pleased that I felt threatened.
    Tuesday came and I kept thinking of that yearbook picture. In biology class I decided to stand him up, but by PE I'd changed my mind. I went back and forth all day. At 7:15 that night I stuffed my backpack with the white sheath dress, hairbrush, makeup, black stockings and pointy-toed shoes with little heels. I told Sandi and Mom I was going to Pablo's house, then went to Jack in the Box to get ready for my date.
    The bathroom floor was wet, and piles of wadded paper towels overflowed the trashcan and surrounded the toilet. I didn't feel half glamorous dressing in a fast food restaurant, especially with people pounding on the metal door. The noise jarred me so I poked myself in the eye with the mascara wand, then spent two minutes flushing it with cold water. After that it was pink and I had to start over with the eye shadow that had washed away. "Just a minute!" I kept yelling.
    I'd finished my eye makeup and had my dress on, but not the stockings and pumps, when an even louder knock came on the door. "This is the manager. Are you all right in there?"
    "Yes, I'm fine. I'll be right out."
    "We have a situation here with a lot of customers waiting to use the restroom."
    "Yes, OK! I'll be right out!"
    "Finish up in there. I don't know what you're doing, but I have a key. So finish up so I don't have to come in there."
    "Why don't they use the men's?"
    "You heard me, miss. Finish up."
    I struggled to get my pantyhose and shoes on, and hastily applied lipstick. It was kind of embarrassing being ejected from the Jack in the Box bathroom, so I decided I'd brush my hair outside in the dark.
    "Miss!" Pounding on the door. "Miss! I'm coming in!"
    "OK, OK. Don't bother. I'm coming out." I turned the doorknob before he could open it with his key and walked out, fully made up, in the sheath. Six women in poofy orange skirts stood in the back corridor, maybe some kind of square dance group. They glared at me. I held my head high and tried for a serene smile as I walked between them and straight out the back door.
    "Don't bother to come back!" the manager yelled. "She didn't even buy anything," I heard him complain to the square dancers.
    I stopped under a streetlamp to look at my watch. I had to go through my purse, since I'd stopped wearing it after Sandi read that watches interfered with energy flow in the body. 7:45, not as late as it should be. I tried to stall by wandering around in the dark. I hadn't brought a jacket because I wanted to go somewhere indoors, and I shuddered, sleeveless, in the fifty degree night.
    By eight o'clock I leaned against the wall of Square Pan Pizza, trying not to stare at the punks inside. They sat at their window table, doing nothing in particular, bored but unconcerned. It looked better than this scary date with Eddie Martinelli.
    At 8:10, a sporty black car pulled up in front of me. Eddie Martinelli hopped out wearing jeans, a pale Izod shirt, and a Member's Only jacket. He walked toward me, then stopped short, inches away. "Oh, Lex," he whispered. "You look beautiful." Then he kissed me first thing, and held my body pressed against his so I felt his dick unfurling, trying to leave its quiet place between his thighs. I could feel the superfine differences in our breathing -- where his would catch just before exhaling, while mine kept drawing air in. "How come you're so beautiful, Lex," he whispered in my ear. We must have stayed like that for a minute. He felt good against me but my arms were cold and I didn't like people in the street looking at us.
    "Let's go somewhere," I whispered. I just meant somewhere: a warmer place, a place people would go on a date. But because we embraced, because I whispered, perhaps I signalled what came next. Eddie Martinelli would say so for sure. If I'd brought a jacket that night things might have been different. But I guess it would have come down to more or less the same scenario, and soon.
    Eddie Martinelli kept me close as he guided me to the car. Then we drove through Ocean Beach, toward the more affluent part near Sunset Cliffs.     "Where are we going?"
    He looked at me with what even I, a virgin, recognized as desire. "I know a friend's house we can go to."
    "We're going to go see your friends?"
    He didn't answer, just kept driving. I should have wondered then just who Eddie Martinelli lived with and why we didn't go to his place. But I still felt the cold and the kissing running through my body, and where exactly did I want to go anyway?
    So I let him pull up in front of a small green house on Del Mar Street, about six blocks up from the beach. The front room had lights on. "Oh, they're home," Eddie said like he was surprised.
    I got out of the car and stood uncertainly on the sidewalk. Eddie jogged around to my side and kissed me and ran his hands down my sheath dress, over my breasts, my waist, my hips, right there under the street lamp. "Let's go inside," he breathed. We stumbled up the walk, clutching each other's arms, him from desire, me from cold and fear. A gray cat ran under the porch step and peered out through luminescent eyes.
    Eddie knocked twice, then pushed the door open without waiting for a response. I followed a couple of steps behind. In the living room of this small house, a naked man and woman reclined on an unfolded sofa bed, watching a game show on TV. "Oh, sorry, man," Eddie said, turning away. I stared in surprise. The man looked at least 35, skinny, mustached, not covering himself. The woman was plump and had bags under her eyes. Her boobs were huge with dark nipples. "Lex," Eddie hissed, and I remembered my manners and turned away while they pulled their clothes back on.
    "What's up, Eddie?" the guy asked as he dressed. "Haven't seen you for a while."
    "I was hanging out with my little friend here and we thought we'd come by."
    "What are you doing with a little girl like that, Eddie?" the woman asked.     She sounded disgusted. I figured she was jealous, since Eddie looked better than her guy.
    "Ah, Lex is old enough."
    "How old are you?" the woman demanded.
    "Hey, lay off," the man ordered. He really sounded fed up. I wondered how that would be, lying in bed naked with someone that got on your nerves so fast. I heard a zipper. "All right," the man said. "All clear."
    "Wait, I don't have my shirt on," the woman said, but Eddie and I had already turned toward them, so we silently watched her pull a T-shirt over her massive boobs.
    "So, do you mind if we use your room back there?" Eddie asked without any more small talk.
    The woman glared at the man. "Shut up," he said without looking at her.     "Sure, man. Go ahead."
    "Come on," Eddie said, taking my arm. The volume on the TV went up as we walked down a dark hall. "Here we are." Eddie opened a door and flipped on a light switch. We stood in a storage room, full of boxes, papers, and a twin bed. He cleared a pile of junk mail off the bed and set it on the floor.
    "I don't know about this," I said, despite my efforts to be cool. This did not constitute taking me somewhere nice for a date.
    "Relax, Lex." He started kissing me again, this time thrusting his tongue in and out of my mouth. "You drive me crazy in this dress." He reached around behind me and unzipped it.
    "Wait a minute," I whispered. I disliked the house, this back room, and the couple in the living room.
    "Sshh." He slid the dress off my shoulders, down past my breasts, waist, hips, knees, till there wasn't anything to do but step out of it. He looked at me in the light. "You're so beautiful. I like you so much." Just like the first night. I realized he probably said the same thing to all girls, over and over, just what we wanted to hear. You're so beautiful. I like you so much.
    I still shook, despite the warm room. "I don't know," I whispered, crouching down to pick up my dress. He reached it first and tossed it across the room.
    "Don't tease me like that." His teeth showed now, but not in a smile. I thought about calling to the people in the front room, but the TV blared and I felt too embarrassed. I mean, why had I come to their house if I wasn't ready for this?
    Eddie Martinelli unhooked the front closure of my bra with one hand. "Oh, Lex. You get me so excited." All I had left were my white bikini underpants. He reached up a leg hole and thrust a finger into me. "You're so wet for a shy girl. That's good. Nothing better than a horny shy girl." He kissed me with his tongue again, moving his finger around. "You're so tight, shy girl."
    His finger didn't hurt, but I couldn't breathe. Eddie Martinelli loomed over me, not tall, but his presence, his will, seemed so big, and mine hardly existed. He tugged off my underpants and I stood naked before him. He hadn't taken off one piece of his own clothing. In the light I could see his pink Izod shirt and at that moment my mind dumbly tried to remember how many men I'd ever seen wear pink shirts. But then the pink shirt lay crumpled on the floor, and his belt unsnaked from his jeans, and those on the floor, too, and he was barefoot and coming at me in just his white briefs. "Feel this," he said, putting my hand on his dick. "Feel what you do to me."
    I gulped. "I don't want to have sex yet," I said in a small voice. This wasn't the place, the time, the man. I reached for my underpants, but he caught my hand and stuck his tongue in my mouth again so I couldn't talk. He guided me to the bed, hardly more than a nudge, but I fell backwards on it. Then his briefs were gone and he got on top of me and his dick slid right in, stunning me. It didn't hurt until I remembered it was supposed to, then it only hurt a little. It started to sort of feel almost good, but just then he pulled out and it squirted into my pubic hair. Afterwards we lay side by side, on our backs, touching as little as possible on the single mattress. "I said I didn't want to."
    "Well, I just thought we'd do it a little. I pulled out, so you don't have to worry about getting pregnant."
    "But I said I didn't want to!"
    "Oh, Lex. You have to learn you can't tease a man like that and not go through with it." Now he sounded annoyed with me, but just a little. After all, he got what he wanted. "Are you sure you were a virgin? You didn't even bleed or cry or anything."
    "Who said I was a virgin."
    "But . . . you acted like it. I thought you said you were." He looked real disappointed.
    "I never said that."
    We lay looking at the ceiling, which had beer posters taped to it. St Pauli Girl. Heinekin. Lowenbrau. "Well," he said finally. "I guess we should get dressed."
    He hopped off the bed and found a towel on the floor in the corner. He wiped his dick on it, then tossed it to me. "Here. You can clean yourself off." I was too embarrassed to wipe my crotch in front of him, so I patted it a few times, then threw the towel on the floor. I dressed and we walked out of the room. I didn't want to see the couple in the front room smirk at us as we walked out, but they'd fallen asleep as if nothing unusual was happening in their back room.
    Eddie drove me to Square Pan. He leaned over to kiss me goodbye, the car motor running, but I turned my head so he just hit my cheek. "Oh come on, Lex! Don't tell me you're still mad."
    I didn't look at him. "Bye." I opened the door but he grabbed my arm.
    "Now look. You weren't even a virgin. What's the big deal?"
    I wanted him to release my arm. "No big deal." This satisfied him and he let go.
    "Then let me kiss you goodnight." But I got out fast and jumped to the sidewalk. The sporty car screeched away from the curb.
    The walk home seemed especially dark, but nothing scared me. I didn't care.
    At home, Mom watched TV and ate a bowl of Cheerios. She looked up, then did a double take when she saw my dress and makeup. I froze for half a second, then composed myself.
    "Pablo wanted to play makeover," I said. "Like in Glamour Magazine. What do you think?"
    "You look about five years older than you should. Pablo just happens to keep women's clothing around?"
    I shrugged. "Weird, huh?"
    "Takes all kinds, I guess." Mom always said you had to be open minded to survive in California, especially in her family. "Are you OK? You look a little sad."
    "I'm fine. Just tired. I think I'll go to bed early."
    "Oh, don't go into your room yet, honey. Sandi's in there doing that meditation with those beads again. You can go lie down in my room if you want."
    The dress bugged me. I wanted to take it off and put it somewhere I wouldn't have to see it. "I'll just sit out here with you." I sat by her on the couch, but I couldn't focus on the TV enough to laugh at the funny parts of the show, or even to differentiate between the programs and the commercials.
    "You sure you're OK?" Mom asked when I failed to laugh at what must have been a particularly uproarious line.
    "Huh? Oh, I think I nodded off."
    "She should be done soon. It seems like she's been meditating or chanting or whatever she does for hours!"
    My Mom would kill Eddie Martinelli if she knew he was 27 and I'd said no. I yearned to call Pablo, but that might look suspicious after we'd allegedly spent the evening together. Besides, I didn't want to admit he was right. I should have skipped this date.
    Sandi finally emerged from our room at 10:30, smiling and dazed. I wondered why she didn't just smoke pot. Sure chanting was free, but I'd rather spend two dollars for a joint than two hours for the same effect.
    "Hi, Lex! You're all dressed up!" She had a new, positive tone of voice for things she didn't approve of but was above condemning. Lately she wore tight T-shirts and the awful draggy wrap skirts the Krishna women favored, her long hair braided. Sometimes she wore the japa beads around her wrist, swelling it to five times its normal size. She'd gone to the Krishna temple's vegetarian feast three Sundays in a row.
    "What were you doing in there?" I asked.
    "Just chanting and dancing. Oh, Lex, I've been so happy since I started chanting Hare Krishna!"
    Mom stood up and yawned. She'd probably heard plenty about Krishna in the sixties. "I'm turning in. You girls going to stay up and watch TV?" She didn't wait for us to answer, just said goodnight over her shoulder and disappeared into her room.
    I changed the channel to MTV, which played the White Wedding video. "Oh, this is my favorite!"
    Sandi grimaced as Billy Idol shoved a spiked ring onto the finger of the bride and blood squirted out. Secretly I wasn't in the mood for seeing that either. "Why is this your favorite?"
    "I don't know. Maybe I'm anti-marriage."
    "Yeah, me too. I think I'll remain celibate."
    I couldn't help giggling at my little fourteen year old sister's celibacy. I guessed I'd been celibate up until a couple of hours ago, but not intentionally. "Forever?"
    "Maybe. I suspect sex is overrated."
    "It probably is."
    "I mean, how could it live up to what you see on TV? I mean, it's just two body parts rubbing together." She rubbed her hand on her knee. "That's not a big deal." She shook her head. "Pointless."
    The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" video was kind of boring after White Wedding, but the singers looked cool. The pale woman singer had short platinum hair and the pale man singer had black hair and intense eyes.
    "I feel so pure when I chant. It's a beautiful feeling and I don't want anything to touch it." She looked right into my face, begging me to understand.
    "Yeah. I see what you mean." And I did, though I couldn't imagine feeling that way myself. I'd always had a spot of poison in my core. I could feel it there, near my heart, a permanent internal blemish. I felt the taint with every breath, but I considered myself lucky to not worry about it, to accept my human venom.
    "I want you to feel it, too. Oh, Lex! You can! You can!" She grabbed my hand.
    The flat voices on the TV droned on: Don't. Don't you want me. You know I don't believe it when I hear that you won't see me.
    I didn't want to tell her I couldn't feel pure, especially not tonight.
    The TV: You better change your mind, you better change your mind, you better change it back or we will both be sorry!
    "Will you come with me to the temple Sunday? Oh, will you, Lex?" She sounded breathless.
    "OK," I said. It wasn't like I had anything to do Sunday afternoon, and maybe it would dispel the depression and disappointment that would surely follow my numbness. "Can we ride bikes instead of dealing with the bus?"
    "Yes! Oh, you'll come, Lex? That's wonderful!" She hugged me. I wondered if she got a commission for every soul she dragged in. I remembered when she'd raised money for a second grade class picnic, her phenomenal sales record with tins of butter toffee peanuts.
    Sandi burned with energy but I wanted to sleep. I changed into an old Jefferson Airplane T-shirt Fuzzy had sent me after our visit to The House. Its iron-on letters were peeling off, and the hole in the armpit grew daily. I hung the white sheath in the back of the closet and got into bed. But tired as I felt, I couldn't get comfortable. I kept opening my eyes and looking at the closet. Crazy as it sounds, I thought I saw a white glow seeping from beneath the sliding door. Finally I got out of bed, yanked the white sheath off its hanger, and dangled it between my thumb and index finger. I stomped out to the living room, where Sandi sat on the couch, the TV off, staring at her chant beads.
    She looked up. "What are you doing?"
    "Can't sleep." I realized she'd probably understand this problem. "I got this dress at a thrift store. I think it has bad energy in it." She nodded. "I'm going to go throw it in the dumpster."
    "I'll go with you."
    I stopped at the back door to slide my feet into some thongs, but Sandi walked out barefoot. The moon glowed, almost full.
    I balked at the dumpster. "It's a pretty dress. Maybe I should leave it where someone else can find it. Maybe the energy isn't bad for everyone."
    "Throw it out."
    "You do it?"
    "No, you have to. Look at the dress and focus all the bad energy in it. When it starts to burn your hands, rip it to shreds. Then throw it in the dumpster, close the lid, and don't look back."
    "Where'd you learn that?"
    She shrugged and retreated so I could have a private moment with the bad energy dress. I looked at the dress and saw Eddie Martinelli's face and I knew then that it wasn't my fault, I hadn't teased him, that a grown man should know better. That I deserved better than potato chips. I knew I would not go out with him again, I would not forgive or forget. I would never even talk to him except to tell him to go away. The dress burnt my hands. I used my nails and teeth like an animal, and didn't stop tearing the fabric until it was unrecognizable as a dress. I threw rags in that dumpster.
    Sandi and I held hands as we walked inside together. She hugged me before we crawled into our beds, and I felt soothed. She gave me more warmth and comfort than could come from her skinny arms, her small frame. I remembered her aura of a new color, the power the psychics said she possessed. Instead of being jealous, now I felt grateful. I sank into a healing sleep.

Chapter Ten

I didn't finish telling Dale Ross about Eddie Martinelli until three AM. "So that's it, huh?" Dale said. "The bastard pulls the classic date rape and gets away with it."
    "Well, not exactly. The story about him isn't through. And don't worry. It's a bit long and convoluted, but it does lead to me becoming the first follower of Pure Universe."
    "Be as long-winded and convoluted as you want, Lex. I want to hear everything."
    We'd eaten all the chocolates and croissants, but still had plenty of French bread, Brie, hummus and grapes for the next day. The wine was gone but tomorrow we'd drink whiskey.
    We unfolded the futon and went to bed. This time we slept a bit closer, though still we didn't touch.
    I slept until almost noon the next day. Dale was already up, sitting on the floor reading a mystery novel, a coffee mug beside his knee. I dressed and we left in a hurry, because The Friday Knights were playing the Russian Hill Street Fair at two PM.
    Cars and people clogged Russian Hill clear down to the Tenderloin. My Rabbit crept along, horn beeping, people leaping out of my way even though I wasn't going fast enough to do real damage. I didn't find a parking space until 1:45. When I joined the boys in my band, they were sweating, afraid I wouldn't show.
    "Where the fuck you been?" Rodney hissed at me.
    "You ever noticed it's hard to park in San Francisco?" I asked, tuning my bass. I shoved my bass cable in the amp. We were using the headliner's equipment, which they'd already set up. We started right on time.
    The stage, a four-foot high plywood platform, rose in the middle of Polk Street. The two dozen people in front of the stage could probably get a good look up my skirt. Hundreds of fair-goers milled about behind them, eating Indian samosas and Japanese noodles from the makeshift stands up the block, examining windchimes and earrings in the crafts booths. We launched into "Soul Man" and a drunk guy in a straw hat danced in the middle of the street. His pants slipped down and his shirt slid up, revealing the top of his butt crack.
    Drunks and tourists often take too many pictures at street fairs, but by the fourth song I noticed an excessive number of shutters clicking in my direction. The photographers didn't look old, drunk or unstylish enough to want souvenirs of a cover band at a street fair.
    Our set only lasted 45 minutes. As soon as I put my bass down, the camera club in the front row stormed the stage.
    "I'm from the Examiner," said a woman in jeans and a blazer, pen poised over a notebook. "When was the last time you saw your sister?"
    "I'm writing about cult/music connections for BAM," yelled a cute, scrawny guy. They all yelled questions at once. The butt crack dancer represented a sub-awful neighborhood paper, North Beach Now. As they shouted and cameras snapped, fair-goers looked in my direction. The crowd buzzed, and within two minutes they all knew my identity. "How can you come out here and play when your sister just killed all those people? Isn't that kind of cold-blooded?" the butt crack dancer barked.
    I trembled and fought back tears. I stood four feet above them, exposed and threatened. Rage overcame me. I seized my bass and held it aloft. "Any of you fucking ghouls asks me one more fucking question, I'm taking your head off," I shrieked, and I meant it.
    "Fuck, Lex, talk to them!" Rodney snapped as he wound up a cord. "It's good publicity for us."
    I hit him instead.
    I rammed the head of my bass into his stomach with about twenty cameras snapping away. He doubled over, cursing, and I froze there, realizing I'd fucked up and had definitely lost this job. The drummer ran over, to help Rodney or to beat me up, I don't know. Suddenly Dale Ross grabbed my elbow, hissing, "Get off the stage, Lex."
    "But my money," I said stupidly. "I'm supposed to get a hundred bucks."
    "What you're going to get is charged for assault." He reached up and pulled my case off the stage, and I followed with my bass. Believe me, the crowd fell back and let me through.
    As we drove back to the Mission, I was too embarrassed to say anything. Dale Ross stared out the car window, shaking his head.
    He'd cleaned up my apartment, neatly arranged last night's food in the refrigerator, and converted the futon back into a couch. His bags stood by the door. I caught my breath. "You're leaving?" I said, and in that moment realized how pathetically I wanted him to stay.
    "It's time to go to San Diego. I made plane reservations for an eight o'clock flight. Is that convenient?" Seeing me assault someone had made his speech more stilted.
    I sat down on the futon, relieved he wasn't leaving me. But he had some nerve, making plans for me! "I was counting on that hundred dollars today for a ticket."
    "Don't worry about the money."
    I didn't know how to explain Dale Ross to Mom, so I didn't call her before going to the airport. I couldn't tell Mom about this lurid bio, but if I pretended like Dale was my boyfriend, she'd want us to stay in her condo. And I certainly couldn't let the biographer loose on my innocent mother like that, taking notes on the contents of her bathroom cupboard, who she talked to on the phone, when, where and how much she drank. People like Dale went through people's garbage! Yet I didn't want to hurt her feelings by staying in a motel, when she was lonely, when she needed me.
    I was grateful for darkness as the plane landed. I wasn't ready to see too much. I knew the aerial views of downtown, of Balboa Park where we went to that long-ago Krishna festival, of the plane's steep decline over the Laurel Street Travel Center, a five story building the Federal Aviation Administration had petitioned against for years.
    In tourist brochures, they always photograph San Diego from La Playa, overlooking the yacht club. There's the white boats against the blue bay, there's the pale beach and the orange sun and the flowers blooming in Old Town and Shamu the whale kissing a tourist's cheek at Sea World. It looks like the world's safest, most sanitized destination. But that night from the air, I saw its endless hazards: potential air accidents right downtown, the treacherous border just half an hour south, earthquakes, tidal waves, riptides, brush fires, gangs, drugs, rich people, fundamentalists, Republicans. I gripped Dale Ross' hand as we landed, and he was polite enough not to look surprised.
    We got off the plane at ten o'clock. Mom would still be up, but I told myself it was too late for unannounced guests. We got in a taxi and told the driver to take us to the cheapest decent motel in Ocean Beach. He drove to the Ebb Tide, a three-story pink stucco monstrosity right across from the pier.
    "Oh, not here," I breathed in Dale's ear. "I don't want to stay by the pier."
    "What's wrong with the pier?" the taxi driver broke in. "Good fishing."
    "I've never liked that pier."
    "The motel looks fine," Dale said.
    "It's hideous!"
    "This is fine," Dale said, handing the driver some bills. "Come on, Lex." He took my arm and I followed him out of the taxi. We stood on the curb, at the base of Newport Avenue, waves breaking across the street.
    "I mean it. I don't like this pier."
    "Why not?" He let go of my arm and stepped back a polite distance.
    "It's a long story. It's a continuation of the story I started to tell you earlier."
    "Maybe this motel will be good for stimulating your memory."
    "My memory doesn't need stimulation. It's all too vivid."
    Dale Ross looked fed up. "I'm tired. I'm going to get a room here. I'll get you one, too, or you can stay with your mother." The change in him shocked me. I'd signed the papers, and now he didn't have to make concessions.
    "I don't want to call my Mom."
    "Then let's go in the office."
    I glanced at the inky outline of the pier and suppressed a shudder. "Can't we just walk a couple of blocks and look for another motel?"
    "Do you remember one close by?"
    "I don't know what's around here anymore." I glared at the pier, which I'd avoided for fifteen years now. I decided not to act like a baby in front of Dale Ross. He'd already seen me behave poorly enough. "OK. Fuck the pier. Let's register." I walked ahead of him to the motel office.
    He paid for two rooms. I think he wanted some time alone, but I reminded him we had a lot of ground to cover, and only about nine days until our deadline. So he let me go to his room and I talked some more, lying on the tacky blue chenille bedspread of his double bed, beneath a framed seascape. The painting looked like a messy paint by numbers, made doubly useless by the ocean view waiting behind the curtains of Dale's third floor room.
    I didn't want to be alone in San Diego, in Ocean Beach, especially not this close to the pier. Sometime after one AM I pretended to fall asleep on Dale's bed. I think he sat there for a while looking at my inert body, wondering how he could transport me to my own room. I worried he might take my key and go stay in the other room, but eventually he turned the lights out and lay down beside me.

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