No use waiting for Liz like that, said Apple, watering the cacti with a small tin watering can. She just shows up when she wants to.
But Jenny didn’t move from the window. Apple put down the watering can.
Let me do your hair, she said. I invited the gang over for music night.
Jenny always wore her hair in two thick brown braids, but she let Apple wash it, comb it out, and rebraid it into one enormous French braid on the screened-in porch while the sun went behind the red cliffs. Apple’s sandy brown hair was chopped short as a boy’s.
On music nights, Apple’s friends, mostly aging hippies who’d retired to Sedona and a few of her coworkers from the nursing home, would come over to play folk songs. The leader was a forty-ish man named Otto who was in a band that sometimes played restaurants and hotels around Sedona. Otto and Apple and the others played guitars and harmonicas, sometimes a bongo or a tambourine. They played Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and always, always The Band. On these nights, Jenny was happy. She liked to sit in the circle with everyone else who was playing music, even though she didn’t play any instrument.
That night, Otto told the group about how his dad had taught him how to play guitar. An idea bloomed before Jenny’s eyes. It was the idea that talent could be passed down. It was the idea of being proud of doing the same thing as those that had come before you. Jenny’s mother was a secretary at an accounting firm. She didn’t have any hobbies. When she came home from work, before coming into the kitchen, she had often sat, for five or ten minutes in a big wooden chair in their hallway, with her coat and scarf still on.
After they’d drunk lots of red wine and smoked lots of dope, Jenny went up to the loft where she slept and listened to them play. They played “I Shall Be Released” and Jenny looked out the skylight at the wide Arizona sky. Jenny harbored certain opinions, unpopular with Apple and her friends below, about America. After high school, she had tried to enlist in the Army, but was denied because of a childhood accident with a slingshot that left her legally blind in her left eye. Below her they sang, I’d ring out Danger! I’d ring out Warning! I’d ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.
From between the hard covers of her notebook, Jenny took out the pamphlet for the Rainbow Family Gathering that an older family friend of hers from home had sent her shortly after she had moved to Sedona. The friend’s name was Nina Daniels and she’d left Staten Island to volunteer in a new government antipoverty program.
It’s called VISTA, Nina had said when they’d seen each other over holidays. Like a big view.
But Nina had stuck around after doing two years of big views, and hooked up with other transplanted young people to form a commune. Nina had enclosed the pamphlet and a picture of herself with a tall bearded husband and a newborn baby girl, leaning against a wood platform, along with a note:
This is right near where our commune is. A peace festival in the woods! It’ll be a blast!
Jenny had never been to West Virginia, but until recently, she’d never been to Arizona either. The words WELCOME HOME were scrawled across the top of the pamphlet in big orange block letters. Below that, was an excerpt from a hippie book she remembered kids at college reading, that said Let me remind you who you really are. You’re an Immortal Freedom Lover in service to Divine Love. The pamphlet showed a diagram of the Monongahela National Forest and some different routes people could take to get there. On the back cover was scrawled, May you always be all ways free. The Gathering was soon, just a month away now, in late June. But Jenny didn’t wanted to shake things up, had been happy and comfortable in Sedona with Apple. Plus she was broke, had spent all her savings on the bus ticket from New York. She put the pamphlet back in her notebook.
When Jenny woke up, she heard Apple clearing dishes and beer bottles and then she heard her stop, with a clatter, and slide open the glass front door.
Jenny looked down from the loft and saw a tall blonde woman whose hair was tied up in a bandana and who was toting a big green backpack hug Apple and say, I love you, but first things first. Jenny took in a breath of sadness, at all the shared history between these hugging women, all the things that Liz knew about Apple that she would never know. Then she climbed down the ladder.
After Liz had showered and put the contents of her backpack and the backpack itself in the wash, the three women drove to Sedona’s only all-night diner. Liz slid into the near side of the booth, and Jenny into the far side. Jenny was sure Apple would choose Liz, but to her surprise, Apple walked the extra steps and took the seat next to Jenny without hesitating.
Liz drew her arms up and rested them confidently on the vinyl booth as if putting them around two invisible people, and slouched down, letting her legs slide apart.
I can’t believe you’re still hitching, said Apple. Aren’t you scared?
It’s not like that, Liz said. It’s not like some movie where the hitchhiker dies. It’s just people, just people traveling around, just like you. Either they pick you up or they don’t. Besides, Liz said, taking a sip of coffee, the universe is fundamentally friendly. It will always take you exactly where you need to go, exactly when you need to get there.
Apple laughed. Oh, right. What’s that, some psycho-babble?
Call it what you want, said Liz, but I got your letter in San Francisco yesterday, and here I am today. Eight hundred miles. Two rides. She toasted Apple with her cup of black coffee.
Well, Apple said. I wouldn’t know how to do it. I wouldn’t know how to begin. Do you really stick your thumb out?
While they caught up about the years since college and talked about which friends had moved where and which had stayed in Iowa City, Jenny studied a middle-aged man in a nearby booth who looked like he might be a trucker. It was nearly two in the morning, and he and Liz were the only people in the place drinking coffee. He had a pudgy face with big, visible pores, and a slightly droopy mustache. On the table in front of him, he had placed a small black transistor radio. The way he leaned over it, bringing his ear down very close to the radio but not touching it reminded Jenny of her father who was the manager at an electronics factory that made radios. Last spring when Jenny had graduated high school and was trying to decide what she would do, she occasionally tried to ask her father questions as he puttered around the house in his socks after work. How many of the states have you been in out of fifty, not including layovers or drive-throughs? What (if any) is the difference between a buffalo and a bison? Why does a mandolin have eight strings, if it can make only four notes?
But her father would just turn on the radio, press his ear close to it, and say, let’s find out, as if all the answers to life’s questions would be found there, eventually.
* * *
The three women got into Apple’s green Cadillac, flat and wide as a boat, which had also been the grandmother’s, and which wheezed when Apple stepped on the accelerator. With the windows rolled up, Liz felt a deep sense of contentment. She’d been in San Francisco that morning and now she was in Sedona. She thought of the boy trucker who’d driven her all the way into Sedona and dropped her off just a mile from Apple’s house.
You guys should come hitching with me when I leave, Liz said, into the dark car.
Okay, said Jenny, from the backseat, so quickly she surprised even herself.
Apple kept her eyes straight on the road. It was so late, she realized. There was not another car on the road, and when she turned in at the entrance to their development, every single light was off.
Everyone else, every sane person, is at home asleep, Apple thought, and she was suddenly angry with Liz for busting open their quiet routine, and with Jenny, for being so willing to abandon it.
Inside, Apple switched on a single lamp in the living room.
As Apple and Liz got ready for bed, Jenny climbed to her loft bed and retrieved the pamphlet about the Gathering in West Virginia. She laid it on the coffee table and sat on the plastic covered sofa, looking at it. Liz came over and leaned over the back of the sofa to look too.
Huh, Liz said. I’ve heard those Rainbow Gatherings are a lot of fun. I’ve never been to West Virginia. If you don’t count drive-throughs.
I don’t, said Jenny.
Liz took the pamphlet and gave it to Apple. Could be just what you need, said Liz.
I don’t need anything, said Apple, but she held the pamphlet in her hand, and turned it over, reading the back.
May you always be all ways free.
* * *
In the morning, in the sun room, Liz and Jenny studied Liz’s trucker’s atlas. Apple stood at the sink doing dishes, watching them through the pass-through. Liz told Jenny how the odd highways go north-south and the even ones go east-west. Then she told Jenny about the best places to stand, what to wear, and gave her different points of view on the question of sign or no sign.
But really, women hitchhiking cross country, said Liz, I don’t think we’ll have any problems getting a ride.
Apple turned the water off and wiped her hands on her jeans. She got a pack of cigarettes from under one of her larger potted cacti, took one out, and leaned over the stove, lighting the cigarette on the front burner.
Shit, said Liz. Now it’s serious.
For someone who’s not interested, you sure seem interested, said Liz.
Even if I was, I could never get the time off from work, Apple said. How long are we talking anyway?
Liz took the cigarette from Apple and took a long drag.
Jenny studied the map. It’s just over two thousand miles, said Jenny, from here to where the Gathering will be.
Figure four days to get there, just to be on the safe side, said Liz, giving the cigarette back to Apple, a week there, maybe more, four days back for you guys. Three weeks?
Jenny and Liz looked at Apple, who was leaning against a wall, smoking.
Apple was twenty-seven, which was starting to feel like it might as well be thirty. She basically liked her job at the nursing home. There was a resident called Tiny who was very large and who would talk only to her, telling her each day the same story of how he and his brother had built a log cabin with their own two hands, how it was the thing he was most proud of in the world. The other nurses had dark senses of humor like hers, and when the residents were hateful or spiteful or messy, there was whiskey in paper cones to take the edge off. But there was also the snotty doctor from Tucson who talked to her like she was a child, always telling her she was doing the wrong thing. There was also the break room, painted salmon, just a white collapsible table and a sink full of perpetually dirty coffee mugs with words like Cisplamin and Actpran printed on them and dirty spoons all with the same dark drop of coffee pooled in the head. And there was Greg, who’d told her there was no inch of her body that wasn’t like divine worship, and then asked for his VCR back.
I’ve never seen the ocean, said Apple. Could we go to the ocean first?
Definitely, said Liz. We can go anywhere you want.
Okay, said Apple, her body buzzing from the nicotine. Okay.