The morning was a fish in a net, glistening and wriggling at the dead black border of her consciousness, but she'd never caught a fish in a net or on a hook either, so she couldn't really say if or how or why. The morning was a fish in a net. That was what she told herself over and over, making a little chant of it-a mantra-as she decapitated weeds with the guillotine of her hoe, milked the slit-eyed goats and sat down to somebody's idea of porridge in the big drafty meeting room, where sixty shimmering communicants sucked at spoons and worked their jaws.
Outside was the California sun, making a statement in the dust and saying something like ten o'clock or ten-thirty to the outbuildings and the trees. There were voices all around her, laughter, morning pleasantries and animadversions, but she was floating sail and just opened up a million-kilowatt smile and took her ceramic bowl with the nuts and seeds and raisins and the dollop of pasty oatmeal afloat in goat's milk and drifted through the door and out into the yard to perch on a stump and feel the hot dust invade the spaces between her toes. Eating wasn't a private act--nothing was private at Drop City--but there were no dorm mothers here, no social directors or parents or bosses, and for once she felt like doing her own thing. Grooving, right? Wasn't that what this was all about? The California sun on your face, no games, no plastic society--just freedom and like minds, brothers and sisters all?
Star--Paulette Regina Starr, her name and being shrunk down to four essential letters now--had been at Drop City for something like three weeks. Something like. In truth, she couldn't have said exactly how long she'd been sleeping on a particular mattress in a particular room with a careless warm slew of non-particular people, nor would she have cared to. She wasn't counting days or weeks or months--or even years. Or eons either. Big Bang. Who created the universe? God created the universe. The morning is a fish in a net. Wasn't it a Tuesday when they got here? Tuesday was music night, and today--today was Friday. She knew that much from the buzz around the stewpot in the kitchen--the weekend hippies were on their way, and the gawkers and gapers too--but time wasn't really one other hangups, as she'd demonstrated for all and sundry by giving her Tissot watch with the gold-link wristband to an Indian kid in Taos, and he wasn't even staring at her or looking for a handout, just standing there at the bus stop with his hand clenched in his mother's. "Here," she said, "here," twisting it off her wrist, "you want this?" She'd never been west before, never seen anything like it, and there he was, black bangs shielding his black eyes, a little deep-dwelling Indian kid, and she had to give him something. The hills screamed with cactus. The fumes of the bus rode up her nose and made her eyes water.
She'd come west with a guy from home, Ronnie Sommers, who called himself Pan, and they'd had some adventures along the way, Star and Pan - like Lewis and dark, only brighter around the edges. Ronnie stopped for anybody with long hair, and that was universally good, opening up a whole world of places to crash, free food, drugs. They spent one night in Arizona in a teepee with a guy all tanned and lean, his hair tied back under a snake-skin headband, cooking brown rice and cauliflower over an open fire and swallowing peyote buds he'd gathered himself in the blinding white hills. "Hunters and gatherers," he kept saying, "that's what we are," and every time he said it they all broke up, and then Ronnie rolled a joint and she felt so good she made it with both of them.
She was still chanting to herself, the leaves on the trees frying right before her eyes and the dollop of oatmeal staring up at her from the yellowish goat's milk like something that had come out of her own body, blown out, vomited out, naked and alive and burnished with its own fluids, when a shadow fell over her and there he was, Ronnie, hovering in the frame of her picture like a ghost image. "Hey," he said, squatting before her in his huaraches and cutoff jeans, "I missed you, where you been?" Then he was lifting her foot out of the dust, her right foot, the one with the fishhook-shaped scar sealed into the flesh as a memento of her childhood, and he kissed her there, the wet impress of his lips dully glistening in the featureless glare.
Reprinted from Drop City by T. C. Boyle by permission of Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2003 T. C. Boyle, all rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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