Awakening from his nap in a cold sticky sweat, Casey rolled off the couch and called for his mother.
Where was she?
Feeling older every day at 75, Casey’s dream images from his nap remained stuck in his head and more vivid than the Day-Glo paint he sometimes used to draw tribal markings on his face.
Today would have been Lily’s 75th birthday. Mabel would have loved her, Casey thought.
But mother never knew.
At 95, Mabel still didn’t know.
In his mind Casey saw Lily’s face in 1966 when she saw what he brought home for her 20th birthday and heard the tiny wolf puppies whimper as they scampered around the room yelping at the Jefferson Airplane black light posters hanging on the wall.
Casey groked at the memory the same way he did when the joyful happening actually took place. To grok meant to merge with experience, to be and always be. Like it or not, bad trips got groked, too.
On that beatific day, though, Lily shivered with joy.
Where did you get these babies?
A Hells Angel in scuffed motorcycle boots gave them to me, Casey said.
Man slid his Harley off the road and I pulled him out of a ditch.
Did he name them yet?
One’s Bob, the other’s Dylan, he said.
They are so cute it hurts my teeth when I laugh, Lily said.
With that, Casey & Company, as he called his growing family, settled in to eat mashed potatoes and fresh broccoli Lily made for dinner in the communal kitchen and fell asleep early in each other’s arms. Casey dreamed about orange gum drops and red candy apples. Lily watched giant redwood trees slow dance in the sunset. Bob and Dylan kept their dreams to themselves.
More than 50 years later almost nothing sweet survived in Casey’s dreams. Indelible, dark, horrible visions, these everlasting images refused to go away and release him from their grip, instead spewing poison, death and doom into his subconscious like a wood screw tearing into a log. Night after nightmare night, he watched smoke pour from the broken windows of the abandoned factory, streaking the gum ball blue sky with thick plumes of black and gray lines that reminded Casey of zebras. Tripping did that to him sometimes when harsh reality took on different circus shapes, creating happiness nudged by chemical osmosis in the brain. Now sad slow motion took over the zoo.
Firefighters poured water into the three-story building that once served as a shirt factory, a massive assembly line where mostly Filipina women labored long hours seven-days-a-week sewing French cuffs and pastel collars on fine men’s clothing. Capitalists all over the world wore these stiff, starched shirts to work disassembling fairness around the globe. Bankers and other model citizen businessmen preened like albino peacocks caught in corporate cages.
Casey, Lily and about three dozen friends squatted in the crumbling structure as a hippie band of free spirits during a preamble to the summer of love that supposedly dawned as the Age of Aquarius. Casey, Lily, Bob and Dylan shared a tight room with a view of Moo Gum’s Chinese restaurant. At night they drank Cribari red wine and ate brown rice with sunshine-showered cauliflower for which they traded home-grown weed with young Mexican farmworkers who came to town Saturday night to party in America after crossing the border to cut vegetables in nearby fields.
When Casey’s belly growled the wolf babies always responded in kind, as they did the night he and Lily played with them on the water bed until their sharp claws punctured the mattress and a waterfall went from the third floor to the ground in about five minutes. The whole commune gathered on the first floor to watch the wet display. Five Groovers (that’s what members of the group called themselves) sat cross-legged beneath the flowing deluge, letting the run-off spill over their heads like they were meditating in the shallowest part of the Pacific Ocean on a stormy day at Stinson Beach as swells washed over their heads. One seasoned freak later explained how he became one with the water, merging major aqua that flowed through his body with the cascading flow of H2O from above. Casey and Lily laughed as Bob and Dylan lapped up all the water they could drink.
Water’s life, Casey said.
Life’s water, Lily said.
Water’s what we mostly are, Casey said.
Water, water, everywhere, Lily said.
Then Casey’s family disappeared.
First responders pulled the remains of 36 people and two tiny pups from the building where up-to-code wiring never existed even when the sweat shop operated around-the-clock. The building’s owner paid bribes to city inspectors and took kickbacks from tenants to let people stay, but never reciprocated with anything even remotely resembling a safety standard.
Casey would carry his loss forever. Existence would never get better. Mabel now posed his only cherished responsibility. Standing alone and stoned in his long underwear with the flap unbuttoned in the back, Casey wondered where his mother went.
Then he asked himself the question he and Lily often asked each other before she went away.
What’s on the other side of forever?