Kay Boyle's novel, Underground Woman, is about a woman classics professor's experience being jailed for a demonstration against the draft. She has a daughter who is a member of a commune, and tells her story (rather negatively) in parts of the novel. (Some 40 pages of the 264-page book are about the daughter / commune.) At the conclusion, members of the commune come to occupy her house, and she foils their take-over by transferring the ownership to someone else.
Boyle calls the leader of the commune (who never appears in the novel, except as a voice on tape) "Pete the Redeemer," and has one of the commune members say during the takeover,"Pete's autobiography is being published, and it's going to sell like wild fire throughout the world. Pete has the key, the great magic key to the secrets of the universe, and he can unlock every door for you. Melanie's [her daughter's] key opened the door of this house and let us all in, and Pete has the key that will open the door to all knowledge and understanding for you. We're not asking you to leave, Athena," he said. "You can always have a room here. There's no question about that, if that's what's on your mind."Michael Kindman, in "My Odyssey through the Underground Press" p. 393, writes that two of Kay Boyle's children were living with the family:Leaving his job at Vanguard had left David Gude free to move to the Hill and work for Mel, bringing with him his wife, Faith Franckenstein, daughter of the famous novelist, teacher, and political activist Kay Boyle, and their two children. Faith was also foster mothering a young daughter of Mel's by Rita W., an acid casualty friend from his days as wandering musician and spiritual seeker. Also living with David and Faith in Number Two were Faith's brother Ian, an aspiring actor, and a dreamy, rather melancholy woman named Melinda Cohn, some of whose poetry and other writings on her experiences as a mental patient had appeared in Avatar.David Felton, in his Rolling Stone article, reprinted in Mindfuckers, relates an incident (in an interview with Boyle, pp. 253-255) in which Boyle's son Ian moves into her house, along with family members, and she foils the attempt in a manner similar to that of the novel. In the novel, however, unlike Felton's account, Athena (the professor) is present herself, and the commune members are not accompanied by her daughter.
Michele B. Slung, in the Aug. 20, 1968 Harvard Summer News, wrote a "similar" story..."Kay, from Ohio, is one person who is being asked to give something up. She used to live in Cambridge, visiting Fort Hill often. When No. 3 came up for sale, she purchased it with the intention of allowing friends to live with her..."
the commune sections
(Melanie is twenty years old, or will be in December, and already two babies, which is just one of the ways that the lives of daughters transcribe their mothers' lives. It was that way with Sybil and Paula, though not so early, and now I am the grandmother of six. There are some who would call Melanie a witch, as one boyfriend did who rode a motorcycle to his death, a witch who had done nothing more evil than give her will and her conscience into the bondage of idolatry. In olden days it might have been said that she made a bargain with the devil, but she has sinned a different but equally ancient sin in submitting her life to one of the endless saviors of the lost, believing him to be the true redeemer come to live on earth again. "For the Buddha and I have come to inhabit this planet at the same moment in history," this redeemer said, or wrote, or cried aloud to all who would listen, and to those who would not as well. "Rejoice, rejoice, we are come together in our omnipotence to unite all men!" was what he cried from the housetops; and at another time he declared that he was the great erection come to fecundate a world that was already in the throes of impotency and death. "The throes of impotency" evoked the spectacle of a dance so convoluted that Athena could scarcely bear the writhing vision of it. At still another time, the redeemer confessed that he had studied all the Eastern philosophies, and discovered they were shit. "I warn you to avoid every occult science you've ever heard of!" he exhorted his followers, "for mysticism will destroy you! You can learn more from me than from any so-called reincarnation and so-called karma. Don't go down the unholy road of the fucking Eastern philosophers! Stay with me, and with Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Clarence Darrow, and Edward Kennedy" - these names, Athena thought, perhaps merely because of their astrological signs - "for we are the true exponents of religion. We are MEN!" She could hear Melanie's voice reading aloud his words, these actual words, and see her face, fresh as a jonquil, high on the long stalk of her neck, so startling in its beauty that people would stop in the street to marvel as she walked by. Her long, long hair swung to her waist, and babies blond as Saxons clung to her breast and held to her flowing skirts. Athena could go back far enough in time to see Melanie pushing her doll carriage through a dime store, no one knowing that she ripped off lipsticks and hair curlers from the counters, tucking them under the doll's blanket with the purse-size flacons of French perfume from somewhere else, and no one suspecting, not even if they were to see her hand actually selecting what she wanted, because of her saintly beauty, the total ethereal innocence of her face. )
She was thinking of Melanie and the babies and the others (with the exception of the redeemer, who had solved the question by using what money came in for his own needs), who lived off the vegetables, the fruit, the packaged cakes, the three-or-four-day-old bread that supermarkets threw away. The men of the commune retrieved at midnight, before the garbage trucks passed, this discarded bounty of a nation run amok on its own extravagance, and in the end the madness of the redeemer appeared no more irrational than that of a mighty chain store paving its back alley with cupcakes and stale raisin bread.
(Well, it was like this, she began telling herself as she stood there silent among the murmuring women; it was one evening when I dropped in at the commune, if you can picture a parent dropping in on dropouts, but I was invited for dinner, if you can believe it, as had happened often enough in the three years since Melanie joined the order. Whenever I was in that city, I'd telephone Melanie, and ask her if it was all right if I came up, and she'd say, "I want to see you, woman." She'd call me "woman," and she'd ask me to come as quickly as I could, and I'd sit down before the fire in that cold wintry city, and sometimes brush the grandchildren's hair, or cut their toenails, or maybe read to them, making sounds like twenty wind instruments, one foghorn, and two ambulance sirens, and the redeemer would be in another part of the commune, in another of the redeemed houses they had. He would never be there when I came. And on this one night after the children were put to bed, Melanie said, "I'll play a tape for you while I'm getting the mashed potatoes mashed. It will make you laugh." Ha, ha, I said, ha, ha, ha, already delighted, always ready to make the best of any situation, that's me all over; so I settled back in the armchair Melanie had salvaged from the Goodwill, handsomely upholstered in mustard velvet by Melanie's own quick, still childish hands, and the voice began speaking from the tape recorder, a young girl's voice speaking in strange, bubbling delirium, and even if you only half listened you heard latent in each separate word a long, far, not quite uttered scream. The girl was talking with two men, at least it seemed there must be two, for at times her voice bubbled up out of the morass with the names Lucky and Pete, and maybe my hearty laughter died on my lips by that time, because Pete is the redeemer's name. The little ribbon of tape unwound, unwound, and the girl was telling them some kind of story in which she thought she was a principal character, but neither heads nor tails could be made of what was going on, for whenever her voice began soaring and crying out in ecstacy about being the Hell's Angel in the tale, the two men would titter or snicker on the tape, not laugh outright like honest men, but cackle and laugh up their sleeves, and Pete the Redeemer would say with a quip and a sneer, "You can't be a Hell's Angel, honey; you're a beautiful golden girl"; and then her voice would take flight, would scud, and spiral, and mount the air, and at these moments the lurking scream could almost be heard, and the other man's voice, Lucky's voice, would say with a supercilious twit and jeer, "You're the girl in the story. Don't you remember, you're the girl?" And then the scream would come even closer to being uttered, but not quite, and the girl's voice would cry, "But the girl's burned up! The girl has to die!" So she wanted to be the Hell's Angel instead, and her voice rising higher and higher on the witness stand testified in somebody else's vocabulary, "You see, we was hired by this crazy-looking cat with long yellow hair and long kinda, you know, side-whiskers, and we was to sit on the platform, that was what we was hired to do, we was just to sit on the kinda like the front of the platform while the Rolling Stones and like the other rock groups would be playing, and we was to drink beer all afternoon, that was part of the deal, we'd like sit there on the front of, you know, the platform, and keep people from like climbing up when the groups was playing, and we was to take care of the situation, like that was the order, to sit to the front and see nobody tried climbing up where the bands was playing, and we was being paid with beer, like all the beer you wanted, and we wasn't asking for no trouble with nobody.
("Our bikes was parked around by the side like where the crowd couldn't get to them, but one Angel, you know, he'd parked his bike right there like out front where he could watch it, like to see nothing happened to it, and then the people, there was maybe two thousand of them, they started shoving up close, real close, and they kept pushing a girl up onto the platform, and we had to stop drinking beer and start pushing the girl back down because we was hired for that, to keep anyone like from getting up there, that's what we was doing up on the platform, even between the groups playing we was to keep people from getting up there, and you know if you say you'll do a thing, well, that's a contract, it's like you got to do it, and they kept pushing this girl up...." And then Pete the Redeemer would say on the tape, "You're the girl, honey, you're the beautiful girl," and the girl's voice, drenched with crying, would beg him to let her be the Hell's Angel instead. "Oh, Pete, Pete, don't make me be the girl!" she'd cry out. "The girl has to die!" And even with half an ear you could hear the two men cackling. "This trip, you're the girl. You're the girl," Pete the Redeemer would say to the accompaniment of Lucky the Disciple's snickering and tittering. But maybe her own will wasn't quite gone yet, not quite broken, or maybe it was because the Hell's Angel had moved completely inside her skin and there wasn't room for both of them there, that she could still defy them. Whichever way it was, her voice went stubbornly on with the incessant story.
("They kept pushing this girl up, and almost all her clothes was tore off her," the testimony went in a vocabulary that had nothing to do with whoever she was. "And like a lot of people was pushing her up on the platform, but she was stoned or something and she couldn't stand, and then they, you know, then they started pushing this Angel's bike around, the one that was up to the front, and that was like the end of everything, like we had to save the bike. I tell you, I'm not violent or nothing like that, but you know what, you touch my bike and you've had it. I'll kill you, I'll kill anyone lays a finger on my bike, like my bike's my life, you know, it's my life, and everything on that bike is mine, like my eyes and hands and anything else I was born with is mine. I mean, if you touch my bike, shit, you're a dead man right there, you got to understand that, you're dead because I put my life into that bike, and you touch it and you're like cutting my heart out, and that's what happened. If it was like one Angel knocking that girl back down off the platform, when that was what we was being paid to do, it wouldn't of fumed out like it did, any rioting would of been over quick, but it was maybe twenty-fifty people pushing her up right over the bike, and like the Angels pushing her back down, and then what they do is start ripping out the clutch cable, and pulling the fuel lines loose, and then they got knives out, and they was cutting the saddle into strips, and what I mean is, you touch an Angel's bike and you're finished, man. You should of seen what some of these here Angels looked like, they was crying right in front of maybe two thousand people, they was crying like babies when the bike started burning, because that's what happened, the crowd, they opened up the carburetor valves, and they set fire to it, and when it exploded, that girl had to go with it, she had to go with the bike, like there wasn't no way to stop it. I tell you, lay a finger on an Angel's bike and I don't care who the shit you are, you've had it. The crowd was the ones that done it all. We was just hired to sit up on the platform and drink beer, and we wasn't doing nothing. It had to end like that, because them two thousand people made it end like that. If they hadn't of laid their hands on that bike, or like on that girl they kept pushing up on us, nothing would of happened, and the bike wouldn't of had to go."
(The tape came to an end now, and Melanie, her hair hanging straight and pale to her waist, her cheeks and throat like flower petals, came in from the kitchen with the potato masher in her hand. "So what did you think of it?" she asked. "How did you like it?" And I said, "She seemed to be in an awful lot of trouble, that girl." A look of amazement came into Melanie's wide, green, marvelously fearless eyes. "Trouble?" she said. "That wasn't trouble. She was just finding out who she was. Pete and Lucky were guiding her on a trip. Pete says everyone has to have three trips in a lifetime, that is, if he or she's honest enough to want to know who he or she really is." And I said, "You don't believe that, do you?" And Melanie, as beautiful as Venus riding on the wave, stood there with the potato masher hanging from her hand. "If you haven't studied about drugs, you haven't the right to talk about their effects," she said. "Like I've never studied the Greek myths the way you have, so I wouldn't presume to talk about them. Pete uses these trips like an initiation rite," she went on saying hurriedly, hurriedly, as if knowing already that the time between us was running out. "But he doesn't advise more than three, except in very stubborn cases," she said. "Leery gave his people around two hundred and fifty micrograms of LSD, while Pete gives a thousand, or even twelve hundred. You heard how he keeps it under perfect control." Good God, I wanted to say, this is the Grand Inquisitor's definition of the three powers that alone can conquer the impotent rebels: miracle, mystery, and authority; but I couldn't say anything, I couldn't speak. Melanie went back into the kitchen, and after a little while her voice said, "I've just got to put the steaks on, and then everything will be ready. I'll make them rare." Her voice was less exalted now, and my mind kept on saying, Good God, Good God, and I wanted to get some kind of answer from her, not knowing that once I had been answered, the room would no longer be a room with a lamp lit on the table in one corner of it, and a fire barely burning on the chipped bricks of the hearth, but that it would become in a clap of thunder, a tunnel, a cave, a shapeless, blind, interminable darkness in which I would crawl on my hands and knees, groping to find my way. "That girl on the tape, whatever became of her?" I asked, and Melanie said from the kitchen, "Woman, that girl on the tape was me. Lucky was taping it. That was my second trip." She might have been speaking of a jaunt to Mexico or a weekend on the Cape as she turned the steaks. "I still have one more trip to go," she said.)
SHE'S BEEN OVER TWO YEARS in a commune, my youngest daughter, Melanie," Athena had wanted to say for a long time to Calliope, for there were things about women and their daughters that she wanted to talk about with her, but it was not easy to find the words that would make the questions as objective as history and free them of any murmur of complaint.
Every day after work, Athena and Calliope would walk twelve times the quarter-mile length they had staked out in the prison garden, and twenty times on the Saturday and Sunday they were there, walking from the north end of the fence (black, softly rotting boards reinforced on the other side with sheets of corrugated tin, topped with a row of scimitars entangled with spiked wire), past the rusting daggers of the iris plants to the maple, complacent in its chastity belt, and then back again to the molding boards of the fence. And this time she must have said it aloud, for Calliope was asking in a low voice as they walked:
"But still you saw her during that time - you saw her and the children?"
"Yes, oh, yes!" Athena said. (But where to begin, Calliope, where to begin? Not with the portrait of Charles Manson hanging in the children's playroom, because that isn't the beginning. It was later, much later that they hung it up there, a framed picture with prison bars drawn in, etched in, across the seated figure of the man, and behind him an outline of a fallen cross, and the keyhole drawn so large in the iron lock of the cell that it would seem a child could have fitted a key into it with no trouble at all. The lines under the picture read: "Pluto in the fourth house, the house of Cancer, the home, the seed of the Soul, conjunct the part of fortune is the black force of his soul being released within the nucleus of his self-created family. They were his instruments of destruction, the very same instruments that eventually betrayed him from within." But that came later, as did my question about the cross in the picture being in the corner of his cell, and one of the commune girls was to say in answer that Manson had carried his cross to Calvary, but once he was in the actual process of being crucified, he had set the cross aside. And the sound of Melanie's voice crying out in defense of Manson, that also had come later. "His planets are rooted in Pluto!" she had almost shrieked. "That left him no choice! Can't you see that he had to act at that moment as he did?" Melanie was halted there forever in her long paisley dress, leaning over to fasten the snow boots of a commune child, her face flushed in impatience with every concept that excluded the authority of the stars. "All the lies and hypocrisy about love and the progress of civilization and democracy and working for peace, how can you take part in it? Manson showed this society up for what it is! He was effectual, he acted, he accepted his destiny!" But all this was later, a good deal later, like the playing of the tape of the LSD trip, and my throwing the iron skillet that could have killed anyone in the kitchen that night if murder had been intended. Perhaps begin with the Sunday afternoon that Lucky and I went to the church together.) "Perhaps everything I'm trying to say will be clearer if I begin with the day that Lucky the Disciple and I went to the church," Athena said as she and Calliope followed the quarter mile from fence to wall, from wall to fence again. "That was at the very beginning, before everything turned bitter as wormwood or gall, whichever is the bitterest. It was in April or May, over two years now, and I'd read about a Buddhist priest who was sitting in a chapel of a church in the same city where the commune was, sitting there in the ninth week of a fast to the death against the war in his country, Vietnam. Lucky was new to the commune, and he was looking right and left and upstairs and down for acts of faith to be made, because he himself couldn't act. He was looking for someone who could speak for him, either Pete the Redeemer, or Charles Manson, or the Vietnamese priest, for he himself had never found a way to speak .
"Well, a very young minister opened the basement door of his church that day and let me and Lucky the Disciple in," Athena went on saying. "A ladies' luncheon had just taken place, and the basement was like a cocktail party, all bubbling conversation, and people laughing, and ladies in little flowered hats, and husbands in good gray suits, and the remains of potato salad and luncheon meat and jello being cleared away, and a cake sale about to begin. The minister was a little distraught when I told him why we were there. He was the one who had given sanctuary to the Buddhist priest, and he said he hadn't been able to change the church calendar and cancel the luncheon and the cake sale, or switch them to some other time. And the time would have been difficult to gauge, he explained, because there was no way of knowing how long a hunger strike to the death might last."
"Oh, God," Calliope said.
"He led Lucky and me to the stairway beyond the cloakroom, saying nervously that probably not many members of the congregation remembered that the Buddhist priest was still fasting to the death over their heads."
They mounted in silence the little flight of stairs, Athena went on saying, and Lucky had not spoken at all, but then Lucky never spoke. At the top was a heavy swinging door padded with russet leather and studded with brass nails, and when Lucky pulled it open, she said, they were met for a moment with almost total darkness, and then, at a little distance, the flickering pool of candlelight took over, and they could see the wisp of a man sitting on the chapel floor. He was sitting with his legs crossed under him, his shoulders incredibly narrow and frail, his knees incredibly pointed, the tongues of light from the double row of tapers that stood, fan-shaped, on either side hollowing and polishing his face and brow into an ivory skull.
"He wore the black cotton gown of the Indonesian priest or scholar, a very shabby looking gown, and a black cap like a rabbi's," Athena said as they walked, "and his scrolls and brushes with bamboo stems, and a little jar of India ink, were arranged on a low pallet in front of him. You had to squat down or kneel in order to speak with him," she said, "and when Lucky and I did this, we saw his eyes were closed. He was like a dead leaf, the weight of a dead leaf, and I was almost afraid to breathe, but I knew I must tell him why we had come, and so I spoke to him in French. He must have been waiting for the sound of that language, for even if it was the tongue of his colonizers it was also that of his learning, and his eyes opened at once in incredulous joy." The sunlit October air was growing cool in the prison garden now, and there was not much time left before bed count would be called. "He told us that in his country, in Vietnam," Athena said, "fasting was an act of personal purification, that in fasting you emptied yourself of all extraneous matter and became a cleansed vessel to bear the tender spirit of Buddha to all those who waited. He said that when he was purified of food he could pray more devoutly for the awakening of the conscience of humanity. And Lucky - this is the whole reason for the story - Lucky knelt there in a kind of trance of reverence while I translated for him the things the Buddhist priest was saying. And Lucky heard the Vietnamese priest say in all humility that he was ashamed of being so helpless in the mission he had set himself, and finally Lucky, who never could find the words to speak, said he had a question he wanted put into French. He wanted to ask the priest if anything except the war coming to an end in Vietnam would make him give up his fast, and the little priest said yes, there was one other thing. He said he would end his fast if he was enabled to go to North Vietnam with a group of other religious men, American, French, Canadian, English, any and all religious men; and then he and the others, perhaps having no language in common except the language of peace, would set out on foot from Hanoi, and they would walk through the intervening jungles to Saigon to prove- no, that's not the right word - perhaps just to say that men could still walk, without arms and without fear, through destruction, and under and beyond the instruments of violent death. The priest unrolled one of the scrolls, and it was a map done in pastel colors, and he showed Lucky and me with the point of a brush the route they would take. He knew the country well, and which bridges were still left standing across the gorges and rivers, and his hands, one holding the map up in the candlelight, and the other holding the brush, were no larger than a child's hands .. ." Athena stopped speaking for a moment, as if silenced by his actual presence there in the prison enclosure as they walked, and then she went on: "He said such a walk could be like a metaphor for life, because that is all life is, walking in the company of people you believe in from one destination to another, and there is always a jungle lying in between."
"And is that what he did, or did he die?" Calliope asked.
"No," said Athena. "I mean, I don't know. After three months, he was taken to a hospital. I read that in the newspaper, and then I didn't hear any more. But Lucky - you see, this is why I'm telling you the story - Lucky was almost overcome by that tiny man, and he knelt there before him, and wept, because he was so new to the commune then that he had not yet given his will and his conscience into a bondage that eliminates, at least for the duration of the bondage, the courage of individual choice. That was the year before," she began saying, but she did not finish the sentence. She did not say: before the tape about the girl and the Hell's Angel. "Lucky talked that afternoon," she said; "the first time and the last time I ever heard him speak."
On the way back in the subway, Lucky had said that sometimes he felt himself crowded in the commune, and sometimes when he came home at night and found someone he didn't know sleeping in his bed, HIS bed, he was really hassled, because he hadn't got yet to where the Buddhist priest was. He didn't seem to be able to stop talking, saying that listening to the Vietnamese, and looking at his face that was like a carving, so different from a white man's face, he wondered why so far they hadn't got any black or Third World people into the commune, and he wondered if groups living in political isolation could make any real changes in the world. There were days when his head was so fucked up that he couldn't function, he said, and the Buddhist priest had made him feel there might be maybe a kind of simplicity to life, if only you had the strength and the faith to accept it, if you could see the world like a territory stretching out wide and simple, just that, just a territory to be walked across, whatever lay in the way.
And then about communes, he said, he who had never had any use for words, barely able to say it fast enough and loud enough now above the rushing of the subway train, saying he thought it might be better if decisions inside communes were made by consensus instead of at a higher level, that sending out a xeroxed sheet of directions to all the commune houses every morning was like being back in school again or in the army, and that's what they were getting away from, that's why they'd left home and college and whatever, to escape that kind of authority. The Buddhist priest, Lucky said, was free of any kind of authority, even that of the temple; he was fasting and meditating and writing his scrolls without directions being given to him, and in the end he would probably walk through the jungles quite alone.
"That little Vietnamese scholar had so impassioned Lucky," Athena said, "that Buddhist priest, whom you could have held in the hollow of your hand, had cast such a light on the darkest area of Lucky's perplexities that in the church he had not so much as noticed the terrible odor of death or putrefaction that comes from the mouths of people who have fasted a long time."
"Oh, God, I didn't know that!" Calliope cried out.
Lucky had been a free man talking then, because it was perhaps before the final initiation rites, and certainly before the making of the tape, and he had said he wondered if commune policy shouldn't be interpreted differently for different commune members, like some people still had some of the old hang-ups and guilt feelings about ripping off things, ripping off food from the supermarkets, and tools that you needed from Sears, and books that you wanted out of bookstores; and then there was the matter of dissent, dissent inside the commune, the pressure being so strong on you against dissenting that you felt threatened, even physically threatened, and you ended up not knowing what the shit you thought, he said. And yet everyone's supposed to go out recruiting, recruiting new members, and if you start thinking in terms of recruiting, he said, you might as well join ROTC.
"For that one afternoon," Athena said to Calliope, "he was a questioning, eager kind of person, and Melanie was once that, too." There would be only a few minutes longer, for the sun was nearly gone. "Perhaps all of them in the commune were once reasoning, questioning, willful people at the beginning, and that's why they were there," she said; "and because of their reasoning and their questioning, Pete the Redeemer forbade them to doubt and he made their wills his own."
"But how does anyone make the wills of others his own?" Calliope asked, and she added quickly: "Don't tell me. I couldn't bear to know."
"But I don't know how it is done!" Athena cried out. "I don't know, Calliope! That's why I threw the frying pan one night, a big iron skillet. I threw it across Melanie's kitchen, and it went sliding and bouncing along the floor, and finally broke a dish."
"My non-violent sister in penal servitude," Calliope murmured.
"The kitchen sink was piled with dishes," Athena said. "About a dozen commune people had just finished eating, and I'd been out teaching all day, and I was trying to cook supper for the children, and I suddenly lost my mind. Some of the commune girls were in the next room sitting around the fire, and one of them said, 'Granny's cleaning up and baby-sitting the kids tonight, so it doesn't matter if we get stoned,' and another said, 'Granny's loaded. She could easily pay the telephone bill.' And I threw the frying pan at the redeemer, wherever he was, and at the evil magic of his power. And I threw it at myself for being so weak as to allow their voices to take over. There are times when I'm feeling self-righteous that I think I threw it as well for all the musicians he stripped of their music, and the painters of their painting, and the writers of the words they needed in order to write."
"And after you did that-?" Calliope asked.
"That was over a year ago, and since then nothing," Athena said. "For a while I went on writing to her, or trying to write, that is, but my letters came back, the envelopes marked in that enormous, crazy, schoolgirl hand 'Return to Sender.' And Paula tried telephoning, month after month she tried, but Melanie was finished with both of us . . ."
Athena could not bring herself to answer that it was perhaps nothing more than the sound of Melanie's voice that she wanted or the words written out in Melanie's elaborate hand that the ties between them had not been slashed like a cut jugular vein. She thought of saying to Calliope that the commune was not for an instant a revolutionary place, but rather one man's adaptation of Christianity and the plainest bourgeois values to a setting of his own defining. Pete the Redeemer is Christ, she wanted to say, and the redemption he offers is fame and fortune, these words of promise given his followers like a Bank of America card or a Master Charge plate. But she said instead:
"The children - there were about twenty of them then - they're all obedient, and well combed, and well washed, because Melanie is the mother in the commune. In the morning they sit at table and chant to their porridge, 'Pete is God, Pete is God,' and in the evening they chant the same thing to their soup."
And behind their chanting, the two words "fame" and "fortune" could always be heard as steadily as the beating of a drum. All the pretty, long-haired girls, and all the handsome, lost young women with dark, brooding eyes, and the overweight runaways, the truants not only from school and the parents but from life itself, all clung like the drowning to these words. The footloose young men, hard-working, ambitious, vain as they were, set aside their pride and became taxi drivers, ceased wondering and became masons, carpenters, house painters, plumbers, and brought their earnings back to Pete, the humiliation of their days and nights endured not for Pete alone, but as passing tribulations on the journey to fame and fortune that was to be their lasting reward.
The women became models in art school studios, stripping themselves naked before strangers for love of him, or became typists, or salesgirls, or cocktail waitresses, in the disdained society of the outside world; or they performed the household duties for the men, and for the community children they bore, sustained by the pledge that one day fame and fortune would be theirs. Before this year or the next was out, they believed that
Pete the Redeemer would be acknowledged the greatest folk singer since Woody Guthrie, and his albums would outsell even Dylan's. He doesn't tell stories about real people in his songs, Athena had once said to Melanie. And what about your men and women of ancient Greece? Melanie had cried out. How real are they? They had sat in the children's playroom, listening to the tape of Pete's voice and his harmonica playing, and Athena had thought the harmonica had a nice lilt to it, but the thin, flat voice and the words of the song were something else again. For a folk singer, he doesn't seem to have heard about the rich and the poor, or peace and war, or even about love, she said, and Melanie had cried out in fury: Why should he be like everyone else? Why should he when he's God?
They knew with reverence, the commune people, that the book Pete was writing about his life and his revelations, his prophecies, his acid trips, his prison regeneration, his fuming of water into wine, would one day be translated into twenty-eight languages and become the acknowledged Bible of the young. It was simply a matter of serving him without question, of working with ever greater devotion, and then the triumph would embrace them all. As for those whose belief had faltered and who sought to leave the commune, they were tracked down by the strong armed Iron Squad and beaten into subjugation again.
"However you consider it, whichever way you turn it to the light," Athena said to Calliope as they walked, "at the commune the imponderables of the spirit have gone out to lunch, and only renown and riches remain."
Athena could see Melanie sucking her thumb still when she was hungry or when her heart was broken, no matter how old she had grown. At any time of the day or night, there was the pliant schoolgirl thumb popped into her mouth, and the records played over and over when times with Pete the Redeemer were bad. "Cryin' time has come again, you're goin' to leave me," came one record's complaint, the sound of it heard clearly now in the dying afternoon. And "Heartaches by the dozen, troubles by the score," tap-danced another record, and Athena could see Melanie with a baby in her lap, always with a baby, looking out of the commune window at the end of the world. And then came the song that would bring tears to even a Greek statue's cold, marble eye. "Put your head on my shoulder, say the things you used to say," it pled, "and make the world go away." It was these words that Melanie was crying out in the far place where she was, but nobody could hear her, for had not the adult members of the commune taken as their own the anguished supplication of the song, the voice of each serving only to drown out all the others? "Make the world go away!" even the Iron Squad was asking as it beat up the defectors and threw them into the makeshift cells. This was the desperate message that Pete the Redeemer had garbled so successfully, cutting the wires of communication short as he slipped in and out of jug bands with the harmonica at his lips, in and out of young women's lives, in and out of time served for possession, demanding godhead in exchange for the fame and fortune that he promised them all, giving no quarter to any language, any tongue, that did not pronounce his name.
Maybe seeking to salvage it all from abject tragedy, Athena began telling Calliope then about another tape that Melanie had once played for her. That was in the old time, in the perilous time of uncertainty, Athena said, when it was still believed that she would come to acknowledge Pete as the redeemer in the end.
"In moments of crisis," she said as they walked in the prison garden, "the young women of the commune turned for guidance to the prophecies of the Ouija. Perhaps they didn't want to know that the name the inventor had given it in warning is 'yes' in two foreign languages. The tape of the seance Melanie played for me seemed somehow to suggest," Athena said, "that the commune Ouija board was better attuned to man, for whenever a male member of the family asked the questions, the answers became obsequious. 'Pete,' it gently counseled the redeemer, 'the world has hurt you, but don't be sad. Your spirit is destined to rule the universe."' "How soon?" was the question Pete the Redeemer had put to it then, sick and tired as he was of waiting around. But when the Ouija prophet spelled out, "Maybe a month, maybe a year," Pete lost his temper. "Why can't you be more explicit?" he asked impatiently, and the little three-legged contraption, with the fingers of the young women balanced lightly on its back, had replied: "Not until you have been carried to Venus will you rule."
"Why Venus?" Calliope asked as they passed the iris beds again. "Why not Orion or Betelgeuse?"
"Perhaps because Pete the Redeemer would accept only a feminine planet as his territory," Athena said, "or perhaps because Venus is the brightest of all the planets in the solar system."
"No hand-me-downs for him," Calliope said in a strangely altered voice, and Athena glanced quickly at her face and saw that Calliope's eyes were wet with tears that did not fall.
I shouldn't go on with it, the underground woman rebuked herself. She has seen the entire hideous tragedy is in this tape. But still Athena went on with Pete the Redeemer asking the Ouija prophet how the hell he was going to get to Venus from where he was. The answer could not have been more simple: a spaceship made of an alloy of silver would take him and the commune members to the planet Venus, where Charlemagne and Abraham Lincoln and FDR were waiting for them to arrive. "How come the spaceship just don't pick me up right now and land me on the football field in the middle of national television?" Pete had asked then, and the answer spelled out was that the moment for world recognition of him had not yet come. For an instant, Pete the Redeemer appeared to have lost sight of the spaceship made of silver alloy and manned by Venutians which would bear him off to triumph, for like a wanderer staggering in the desert, with the vision of the oasis ahead turned to shimmering air, he had suddenly cried out: "I hate the world, and I'll hate it until it's completely destroyed! What am I going to do, either here or on Venus, with all my hatred and contempt? Answer me that!" The young women's hands so delicately arched above the three-legged Ouija, their fingertips resting lightly, lightly, on the varnished wood, may have trembled in apprehension a moment as Pete gave his own answer. "All those who have betrayed us have got to pay!" he shouted. "Whenever I think of those bastards who fear and hate me, I want to kill!" His voice sank to a whisper as he spoke the final, querulous words, asking the little wooden turtle that moved on the magic board: "If I'm so much greater than him, why can't I raise people from the dead and walk on water the way he did?" And then the tape was done.
Calliope's letter was written on both sides of five sheets of thin blue paper, and it began by saying that if there wasn't the war in Vietnam there probably wouldn't have to be communes, for what were the young doing but huddling together in terror, trying not to see that country over there being wiped from the face of the earth. Callisto and Eric were off on a singing-speaking tour for peace, she wrote, and Melanie was as beautiful as the sunrise, and her children were like harp strings; "not too thin," she added quickly. "I don't mean that, but so vibrant, responding to every breath and breeze like the strings of a harp. I didn't see anybody stoned, not a single glazed eye or faltering step," she wrote, "although it may be different on Saturday nights when the Magic Theatre performs. I thought I saw Steppenwolf slinking about in the shadows, although I could be mistaken about that. A bevy of men were (was?) digging a new sewer, or repairing the old one, because - as Melanie explained it with unerring logic - the city was too long in getting around to it, so the commune men, without benefit of experience or a permit, decided it was the natural thing to do. Another cluster of men was erecting a massive wall around Pete the Redeemer's private retreat, and I seemed to catch a glimpse of marijuana plants through the chinks between the stones, but that could have been a hallucination too. I didn't see The Redeemer himself, and his name wasn't mentioned, which is perhaps the way it is concerning the sacrosanct. The women, including fabulous Melanie, were all tending to strictly womanly duties, which would have troubled Lou, the harbor pilot's daughter, if she had happened along. I told Melanie that you and I had been in a rehabilitation center together being rehabilitated, and she smiled politely - my God, those unbelievable eyes! - but the absorbing topic of conversation was the idea they are working on of starting a West Coast branch of the commune. Which city it will be in hasn't yet been determined, but it occurred to me right away that if they do branch out westward, you and Melanie and the children might quite naturally come together again, and not a rehabilitation, but a reconciliation might be, could be . . ."
Yet Charles Manson's picture was still hanging there, Calliope wrote, and Athena, wanting to hear Melanie's voice speaking in Calliope's words, heard instead Charles Manson explicating: "There is no good and no bad, absolutely none. There is only one truth, and that is what is here and now. It's infinite and it's nothing. It's all there is and it doesn't matter what you do." Had he not written from his cell to Pete the Redeemer, pledging his undying loyalty, the Christ who was Pete and Manson the anti-Christ declaring in unison: "I am whatever you make me. I am your reflection. I am you and you are me"? And was not Melanie their garbled reflection, without either Christ or anti-Christ mirroring the purity of her features, or what she was once, or what she might have been?
Calliope's letter ended by saying that she and Arion would be stopping off in Chicago for a few days on the way back, so she would be longer in resuming than she had thought; and that she hated Chicago and the people there they would have to see "Melanie is not by any means in solitary confinement," the last sentence went, "although I would say she is certainly being detained by the authorities."
And then two nights later, actually early on Sunday morning Athena was awakened by the sound of voices calling back and forth on the first floor. At once, the presence of children came to her mind, a vision of children running through the downstairs rooms, calling out to one another in elation, and she opened the bedroom door and crossed the landing. When she looked over the banister, so bright was the entrance hall below that it seemed every light in the city had been brought here in celebration of what was taking place. Her mind groped this way and that to make sense of it all, but she could find no explanation, nothing but the tenuous hope that this was a dream, the daze through which she moved, the old dream that the war had finally come to an end, and that the walls of all houses had dissolved in innocent rejoicing, and the young and triumphant come dancing in. She went slowly back to the bedroom, saw that the clock on her dressing table said half-past four, and put on a dressing gown and slippers before starting down the stairs. She could see that in the brilliantly lit hall below the deep blue expanse of carpeting had been narrowed to a footpath between a clutter of rucksacks, rolled sleeping bags, record albums, electronic equipment, stacked on either side. By the front door lay a collection of hastily discarded sandals and women's knee boots and ankle boots, none of them new, some with the heels ground sideways with wear. She held with one hand to the banister as she stepped into the forest of stringed instruments standing upright, into the babble of voices from the lighted kitchen beyond. From there she saw Lucky the Disciple, a solitary figure in the living room, his black cowboy boots placed by the doorjamb, the branched chandelier and lamps he had lit throughout the room creating a barrier of light, as footlights barricade an actor on the stage. There he stood, tall, gaunt, stoop-shouldered, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, faded jeans, ribbed white socks. His thumbs were hooked over his broad, silver-studded cowboy belt, and there was a half-smile on his thin, cramped mouth. He stood as if halted in time, no longer a mere vavasor, but a feudal lord come at last into his own. He turned his head to survey his demense, and he saw Athena standing in the hall, and his lips stiffened into a painful grin. But in this moment of ultimate victory, he had forgotten the lines he was to speak.
"How did you get in?" Athena asked, needing the simple details of the maneuver to give it reality. "Why didn't you ring the bell?"
"We didn't have to. Melanie gave us her key," Lucky said. His high cheekboned face was clean-shaven, diamond-shaped, and his ears stood wide and naked against the backdrop of his dark hair. "As soon as we get things straightened out here in the house, Melanie will be coming out with the children," he said, the grin still tight as wire across his face.
"After more than a year of silence on the part of all of you," Athena said (silence, and the unopened letters to Melanie sent back with "Return to Sender" written boldly and coldly across them, the packages for the children sent back with "Addressee Unknown" stamped on them, the telephone calls refused time after time. Was the silent anger in preparation for this? she did not ask aloud). "After that long time of condemnation," she began, but Lucky interrupted.
"Athena," he said, narrow as a lath behind his barrier of light "we're here because it's time for us to expand, to reach out and Pete is willing now to include you in that expansion. We're just beginning to grow. We're going to have centers right across America, and up and down the Coast out here. We'll have communities in other countries, in every country on the map. Pete says your being able to speak French will be an asset. In the end, the whole world is going to be his community." It was his eyes that abrogated the apparent simplicity of all he said, his small, stricken eyes in the angular, diamond-shaped face that kept asking the same questions, asking it over and over: Am I doing it right? Am I doing it like I was told?
"How many of you have come?" Athena asked
"What difference does it make how many we are?" Lucky said, his thumbs hooked casually still in the heavy, nail-studded belt, his elbows in the white shirt sleeves jerking a little with the rhythm of his words. "We're one man or we're twenty women and men, but we're still one. You know that. We're all of us Pete." He spoke gently, agreeably, in his moment of triumph, not for an instant the Lucky who had kneeled down with her before the Vietnamese monk in the church a thousand years ago and wept his helpless, confused tears, but a Lucky who had accomplished the mission Pete had assigned him, gentle and genial with her now because for the first time in his life he could lift his head in pride. "As long as I can be of service to Pete, I'll be able to stay near him," he said. "I've failed him so often, Athena, but as of tonight I haven't failed him. This is going to be his West Coast community center, this house, and I've taken it over for him, and I feel like a great explorer, like Columbus, maybe, claiming land in the name of his king. We're offering you a future, Athena. We want to include you in the family's life. You'll have to accept that," he said gently, patiently, as if speaking to a child.
"No," Athena said above the sound of the voices in the kitchen, her hands thrust deep in the pockets of her dressing gown. "No, I do not accept it."
"So this is the way you welcome your daughter home?" Lucky said, the voice wonderfully indulgent of her inconsistencies, her whims. "You've always wanted her to come home, haven t you? Isn't that what you've been waiting for?"
"No," said Athena, "that isn't what I've wanted. It's something quite different. I want her to be set free."
"Well, now Melanie wants to come back quite freely, of her own accord," Lucky said, and he unhooked his strong, narrow thumbs from his belt and took a step or two forward, his belly concave in the faded jeans. "Melanie wants to give this place a meaning," he went on saying, "a meaning it has never had. You've been asleep a long time, Athena, asleep in a dream of 'peace and love, peace and love.' We haven't anything against peace and love, Athena, but that isn't the whole trip. Oh, you have your fine qualities, and all of us recognize them, Melanie too, but we want to put them to a wider use. Pete was sent to this planet to wake people up, to jolt them out of their stagnation, their self-satisfaction, and make them realize what life's all about. This is Pete's year," he said in quiet triumph, his eyes no longer asking the panic-stricken question, for now the words were coming out exactly right, exactly as they had been said so many times before. "Pete's autobiography is being published, and it's going to sell like wild fire throughout the world. Pete has the key, the great magic key to the secrets of the universe, and he can unlock every door for you. Melanie's key opened the door of this house and let us all in, and Pete has the key that will open the door to all knowledge and understanding for you. We're not asking you to leave, Athena," he said. "You can always have a room here. There's no question about that, if that's what's on your mind."
"Lucky," Athena said, "it's early morning, it's dark still, and you've probably come a long way. But as soon as you've had breakfast and it's light outside, I want you all to go."
"Let me straighten you out, Athena," Lucky said. "We're on a more basic time schedule, the calendar of the tides. It's evening for us now. The girls are getting supper ready in the kitchen. Feel free to join us. After we've eaten, we want to get some sleep. It's evening for us now, but you've been doing the same thing in the same way for so long that it's hard for you to grasp new concepts. We're continuously breaking ground, trying everything that Venus asks in order to get closer to the natural currents of the universe. Like, through our time cycle with the tides we're getting closer to the movement of the planets. Let us bring you back from chaos, Athena," he said.
"The basic, natural currents of the universe, the calendar of the tides, the movement of the planets, everything that Venus asks of us," a Greek chorus of voices in the kitchen seemed to be repeating, or perhaps the voices were saying something else entirely as Athena turned to go up the stairs. She stood on the first step and looked back at Lucky, and a sudden feeling of tenderness swept over her, a sense of longing for all that was lost, and she remembered Lucky once earnestly asking the Ouija board, his eyes swiftly blinking as he spoke, if when the silver spaceship came to carry them up to Venus he should take blank tapes with him and playback equipment; and the Ouija board had said, yes, there would be room on the ship, and the playback equipment could be plugged into the solar sound waves. And one more thing he had asked, his voice on the edge of trembling. "Should I pack up all my tools to go with us," was what he had said, "or just my own small personal kit?'
In the downstairs hall, the musical instruments still stood upright in their cases, and the electronic equipment, the stacked record albums, the opened rucksacks, their contents now spilling out, made an even narrower passageway between the encumbered walls. The sleeping bags were gone, put to use beyond the closed glass doors of the sitting room, and Athena could see the figures stretched out asleep in their invented night. The kitchen was empty, and the dishes and silver that had been used were washed and stacked in the dish rack on the drainboard. Early sunlight was coming in through the high kitchen window, its brilliance filtering through the silky lenses of the peacock tail-feathers set, tall as iris, in a vase on the sill. And then she saw Lucky stretched out in sleep on the driftwood bench that ran the length of the side wall, the shadow of the heavy table falling on his gaunt, weary face, his folded arms in the white shirt; Lucky asleep, defenseless, an empty scabbard of a man now that the voice and the will of Pete the Redeemer, the two-edged sword of his redemption, had for a moment been laid aside.
Athena ran water into the percolator, measured ground coffee into the perforated tin of its container, and set it on the stove. Then she took an oblong of sweet butter from the refrigerator, peeled the foil from it, and placed it on a dish in the center of the grass mat on the driftwood table. As she put four slabs of bread into the toaster, the pale liquid in the percolator began turning darker with each leap and splash of water into the glass bubble of its dome. The fragrance of the coffee drifted thinly through the sunlight now, and it may have been this that awakened Lucky, for after a little while he sat up on the bench and looked at the room around him and at Athena with dazed, sleep-extinguished eyes.
"Can I give you some coffee?" Athena asked, and he shook his head.
"You know we don't go in for stimulants," he said, and he went on saying in complaint: "I dream so damned much." He ran his lean fingers through his hair, and his mouth stretched slowly open in a yawn. "Do you ever dream about children being beaten?" he asked Athena when the yawn was done. "I dream a lot about the two kids who got beaten."
"What two kids? Who beat them?" Athena asked in a low voice, and an icy hand closed around her heart.
"Oh, one of the guys," Lucky said, still speaking in the daze of sleep. "The kids took some nails he was using to fix the gutters on the roof of Pete's house. I guess he went berserk or some thing. He hadn't been with us long enough to get straightened out. He's all right now."
"And what about the kids, what about the children?" Athena's trembling voice asked out of the dryness of her throat, and he went on saying slowly, as if still in the power of the dream:
"He took the two kids down in the cellar because they wouldn't own up to taking the nails, and he beat them. And the funny thing is they didn't yell or anything like that, so nobody knew what was going on. Then somebody walking past the cellar windows, somebody heard one of the kids saying, 'Don't hit us any more, please don't hit us any more,' and if that somebody hadn't happened to walk past the cellar windows - one of the girls, I think it was - nobody would've been the wiser. By the time a couple of us got down there, one kid, he wasn't moving any more. I tell you, their faces were swollen up like balloons. You couldn't see their eyes any more. I was dreaming about them." His voice had begun to clear of sleep now, but there was no sound of emotion in it, as if neither dream nor reality had any lasting interest for him. "Someone started making coffee that afternoon," he went on saying, "and now whenever I smell coffee, it's part of the kids being beaten, like we all sat down and had a cup of coffee that afternoon when they'd taken the kids off to the hospital."
"To the hospital!" Athena said out of the unbearable strangling of her throat and heart. "Melanie's children?" she asked, speaking barely aloud.
"Oh, no, older kids," Lucky said. "One was five, the one that was unconscious, and the other one was eight, and Pete analyzed it right away. What that guy was doing was hitting the memory of himself when he was a kid. He was beating himself to a pulp because he'd always hated his parents, and he hadn't dared break away from them. Pete worked it all out in something like five minutes while the rest of us were just standing around trying to make some sense of what the guy had done. That's the way Pete is. All we could think of was the two kids taking the nails, and then this guy going off his nut, but Pete got hold of the reason for what had happened, and then we saw it differently. He saw it was the parents' pressure on this guy when he was still a kid, and because of what they'd done to him you could see the guy's reflexes were logical and that he couldn't have acted any other way. Maybe I'll have a cup of coffee now," he said.
Athena filled the two cups, and her hand was shaking as she set the plate of toast before him.
"And he's still there, back there where all the children are?" she asked.
"Oh, no, he's with us. He's asleep in there," Lucky said. He had taken the first swallow of coffee, and now he began to grin again. "He's straightened out. You'll meet him and the others when they wake up tomorrow morning."
Athena sat down facing him across the table, her hands pressed tightly between her knees.
"Lucky, I think I made it clear three hours ago," she said. "Now that it's morning, you and the others will all have to get your things together and move on."
"It's night for us. We're on another time cycle," Lucky said. "I already told you that." His tone was casual enough as he buttered a square of toast, and then the motion of his hands stopped and he leaned across the table, his eyes, bold, masterful, obsessed, looking straight into her eyes. It was as if he would force her from the chair and down, down upon her knees, with the terrible power of his cold gaze. "But day or night, we're not getting out, Athena," he said through his thin, barely moving lips. "We're offering you life," he said, his eyes not releasing hers. "We're going to make you see what you're becoming: house, job, bank account."
"Yes, there is that danger," Athena said. "I know there is. But I'll have to solve it in some other way." Her eyes did not move from his as she said: "I want you to wake the others up and go."
"Listen," he said quickly, and his eyes did not swerve. "There's another alternative, Athena. Melanie has always said that Sybil and Paula would like you to live closer to them, wherever they are, you know, and maybe that's what you should do." Some of the old fear had come back into his gaunt face now, but not yet acutely. Nothing is decided, nothing is lost, his eyes were saying to Athena; just don't speak, don't pronounce the words that will be my death sentence as the bearer of Pete's will. "You could get teaching jobs near either one of them, the way you have a teaching job here, maybe even a better one. You know that, Athena," he said. "And Pete would understand if you couldn't afford to give the house, this house, outright to Melanie, or at least not right away, so we'd make an arrangement so that you'd get some kind of compensation, like taking care of the garden for nothing, or even helping you out with the taxes." Surely there was hope still that this single triumph of his life would not be taken from him, surely there were ways and means still untried. "We have something good going, like the beginning of the world," he said, "and it's going to get better every year we live."
"Lucky, there isn't any way to work it out," Athena said. She took her hands from between her knees, and her eyes away from his, and she stood up from the table. "All of you, please go."
Lucky was instantly on his feet, his narrow lips, his rigid jaw, clenched like a fist. Then he reached both arms above his head and his stiff, quivering hands clawed the air in wild summons to the gods to bring down their judgment on her. Once this first speechless moment was past, he began shouting out the imprecations loudly enough to wake the sleeping or the dead, but neither the sleeping nor the dead awoke.
"Your daughter wants to come home and you slam the door in her face!" he cried out, and Athena felt her breathing falter and nearly cease. "Don't do this to yourself, Athena!" he cried, his eyes and voice threshing in panic for the shape and the name of some greater power, greater than either of them in the sunlit kitchen, who would save him from annihilation as the redeemer's trusted and anointed man. "This is the end of your life if you put us out!" he shouted.
"Then it will have to be the end," Athena said in a low voice, and she believed that in some still undetermined way this might be true.
Lucky dropped his arms and took a step toward her, freeing himself of the encumbrance of the table standing between them. He ran his tongue along his lips, and when he spoke now his voice was lower, but the stricken eyes had seized her eyes again.
"Wake up and feel!" he said. "Wake up and recognize that you're nothing, nothing, except as you can perform Pete's will."
"No," said Athena, speaking barely above a whisper. "A thousand times, no."
"Wake up!" he cried out, and he took another step toward her. "You refuse to feel a goddamn thing, Athena! You're a killer, a cold-blooded killer of the spirit! You refuse me as a person and you refuse Pete as a person! You're out to kill the holy ghost in us, in me and Pete and in anyone who's trying to do anything in this world! But you're not going to get away with it because we're going to fight you, and we're going to win!" The words had become now the piercing cries of the mortally wounded, of the brutally and hideously emasculated; they had become the flow of his lifeblood gushing out. But it was not his intention to go down in defeat and death alone. Whatever it cost, he would take the living with him, down, down, in the reeling swoon of death. He stood close to Athena now, and he raised his right hand and struck her hard across the face, and the great white earring was slapped from her ear and broke in two on the kitchen tiles. "Wake up and see yourself for what you are!" he shouted. He struck her twice with his open palm and she stumbled back against the sink. "We'll have this house if we have to burn it down to get it!" he shouted, and he took the last two steps to where she was, his hand lifted to strike again.
But he did not strike again, for now Luchies McDoniel stood suddenly in the doorway, a dark presence in corduroy slacks, the turtleneck sweater deep gold this time, his beard well trimmed, his Afro as ornamental as a meticulously carved and polished headdress crowning his skull.
She began speaking to him in uncertain, rambling sentences, telling a part at least of the story of the commune, and of Lucky the Disciple, who had once knelt down before a Vietnamese monk on hunger strike in a church, knelt down in acknowledgment of another man's gentleness and faith. But a year later the redeemer had perhaps recommended better weapons, and Lucky and the others had begun to talk of guns instead.
"Lucky wanted my husband's hunting rifles, and a Luger he'd brought back from Germany," she said, not looking at the black man's willfully remote face, his seemingly invulnerable dark throat. "He wanted them to protect the commune people from spades, spades," she said, feeling the tears she didn't want returning now. "I dropped the guns and the Luger in the river one terribly cold night. In the East," she said. "Not here. Luchies McDoniel, I cried this morning out of pity for myself, because I had lost my daughter and because Lucky hit me hard."
To the three of them it was evening, but to the commune people inside the house it was barely dawn. Luchies McDoniel turned his key in the lock and opened the door, and there in the cold blue angle of light that the streetlamp cast upon the floor, the accumulation of equipment, the open rucksacks, the discarded sandals and ankle and knee boots, the tangled forest of musical instruments, waited still. The three who had come stepped inside, and the lawyer closed the door behind them. It was he, quicker of eye and ear, perhaps because of the total serenity that enveloped him, who first heard the whisper of voices rustling across the hall, and who put his finger to his lips for silence. For no sooner had Luchies McDoniel touched the switch by the door, and the clusters of wall candles sprung to light under their little parchment shades, than the tide of whispers began to run.
"Take your shoes off!" the voices were saying. "Take your shoes off before you come in!" It might have been the sleeping bags themselves, stretched in the darkness of the rooms beyond, that gave them the whispered warning that an alien spirit was in possession of the house. "Take your shoes off!" came the rustle of voices in impatience. "Take your shoes off! Leave them in the hall!"
"Shoes or no shoes, the place has been sold," Luchies McDoniel announced to the open glass doors. "You got half an hour to pack up and go. In thirty minutes the new tenant is moving in."
"Take your shoes off!" Lucky cried loudly out from the kitchen, and immediately the rush of whispering died. "Haven't you any consideration for the lives and the sleep of other people?" he demanded. He had turned on the light in the kitchen, and he stood in the doorway now, his silhouette wild as a scare crow's, and then the sermon of rage and outrage, of blame and fury and invective began. "Don't you ever feel anything, don't you know what it is to feel?" he shouted out, his voice tight in his throat with righteous wrath. "You've been put on this planet to feel, but you're not capable of emotion! You need to be purified by truth. Pete lives and breathes and triumphs in truth, but you can't accept the salvation he offers you!" As he spoke, Lucky kept moving toward them down the entrance hall, punctuating every sentence with a step, then a pause, then another step. "You're blind, and dumb, and deaf to everything Pete is trying to say to you!" he cried out, his voice rising thinner and thinner. "You're full of vanity and pride and sick ideas about yourselves, and the garbage of your ideas is stinking up the world! Pete could educate you to understand and purify yourselves, but you've set yourselves up against him. You need to be humbled! Pete is not a man, he is the truth, not the embodiment of truth, as you might put it in your ignorance, but truth itself! But you can't accept that, you aren't humble enough to recognize the infinite leader! That's because you're dead, all three of youl There's no need for anyone to kill you, because you're already stinking in your graves, you with your filthy shoes on your filthy feet!" Now he was as close to them as he could come m the lighted hall, but even though they stood near enough to touch one another, they could not touch, broken apart as they were by the four separate areas of their differences. "Athena with her hippie college students and her hippie peaceniks, all of them junkies, high, freaked out!" He focused his blazing eyes directly on Athena's eyes, then on Luchies McDoniel's, then on the lawyer's, his fierce, accusing, sustained gaze boring and boring, seeking to penetrate the separate visions of life that he could not make them yield up to him. "And you two rigged out like tribal chiefs!" he cried, his lips thin as wire and flecked with foam now, his eyes pressing, pressing first on one and then the other of them in torment. "Are you pushers? Is that what you are, the two of you?" he cried out.
The lawyer shook back the sleeve of his silk garment, and his right hand reached up and fell lightly on Lucky's shoulder, the small, smooth, dark hand falling weightless as a leaf on the hard white of Lucky's shirt.
"If I take off my shoes, will you allow me to put a question to you?" the lawyer asked, and it was as if the soft, small, certain hand with its rosy nails had stopped a panic-stricken swimmer in midstream, had for a moment halted him in the deeply twisting, sucking current that must in the end sweep him away.
"What question could you ask that would relate to the loftiest form of government humanity?" Lucky said, repeating in scorn and bitterness to the seemingly humble black man who stood before him words that he and the others must have said over and over, sleeping or waking, to themselves or to those who stood in their way. "Pete has described it like that," he said, and he did not shake the lawyer's hand from his shoulder. "That is the experiment we're engaged in-the loftiest form of government humanity, and we've made this house a celestial house because we've taken it over as our own. We've made it sanctified territory," he said, and now his voice was rising again. "Don't you see what we're trying to do? We're trying to show everyone in the world the way to salvation, the only way! I don't say a way, I say the way, because accepting Pete is the only way to expand your souls and be resurrected from the living dead!" Athena saw the points of his teeth, animal-sharp between his flecked lips, and she felt the terrible aching and yearning of his jaws, the savage longing in the hinge of his jaws to close on their throats as fiercely as a cat's teeth close on the body of a bird.
"The three of you have never felt anything, nothing ever! You're parasites in a world you've never experienced!" Although his eyes still blazed into theirs, his panting, his breath faltered in his mouth now, and he looked down into the lawyer's face and said in a quieter voice: "Take off your shoes."
The rosy-nailed hand, with its dimpled knuckles, that had rested on Lucky's shoulder, now balanced the lawyer's weight against the molding of the living room door, and with his other hand he pulled the ankle-high, fine suede boot from his lifted foot. His sock was forest green, green as the Monterey pine in the garden, and as fresh and new. Then he shifted his weight to the other hand, and he pulled off the second boot and set it with the other by the door. He stood now in his green socks, almost dwarfed, even more vulnerable, before Lucky the Disciple standing tall as a scarecrow in his cowboy clothes.
"If Marcus Garvey anywhere, any time, held his ground in a pair of socks," Luchies McDoniel said in bitter repining, "there ain't no record of it I ever heard of, none at all." But the lawyer did not seem to know his friend had spoken.
"What is Pete's power over you?" he was asking Lucky, and despite the glossy beard, and the slipping cap of hair on his polished skull, he appeared bathed in eager innocence, almost childlike in mien, as he looked the long way up to Lucky's face. "Exactly what is his power?" he asked.
Lucky did not speak at once, but moment by moment, inch by inch, as he waited the steady glaring of his eyes cut the lawyer down.
"If you don't ask questions, but just accept Pete, you'll be saved," Lucky finally said, speaking slowly. "He'll manipulate you, yes, that's true, but he won't manipulate you for evil." The lawyer stood almost dwarfed, almost pigmy-like before him, ruthlessly, steadily, diminished by the slashing of his eyes. "He'll manipulate you out of drugs and out of the ego-shit you're into. When you have Pete, you don't need anything else or anyone else any more. You don't need newspapers or books. He replaces everything. He gets you off whatever you were getting high on before you met him, alcohol, sex, drugs. Maybe in your case false pride, dressing up like a cannibal chief because you're proud of your race. Maybe in Athena's case being an intellectual, knowing a lot about nothing at all. That's his power," he said.
"And when Pete, the mortal man, is gone, then you'll go back to whatever mandragora you had before?" the lawyer asked.
"Any what?" Lucky cried out in scathing irritation.
"Any palliative," the lawyer revised it.
"Pete's never going to go! He'll live in us, he'll live with us on Venus!" Lucky took a step back from them, his eyes pressing on Athena in fearful tenacity. "But until we can leave this planet, Pete wants this house, and we're going to purify it and keep it for him. We're going to have this house for Pete if we have to burn it to the ground!"
"Try striking a match," Luchies McDoniel said wearily, "and I'll turn the garden hose on you. I'll have the fire department here in five minutes. Mrs. Gregory and my friend here go in for non-violence, but I'm violent, I've always been a violent, violent man."
"You can't call the fire department or anybody else," Lucky said. He was smiling now, his lips drawn thinner and thinner across the crooked angle of his face. "The telephone wires are cut. We had to take precautions with people like you around."
The lawyer leaned down and carefully pulled on one soft, beige boot and then the other, stamped his feet gently into them, and at once became a taller man. He reached under the silk of his dashiki and took the folded deed and the bill of sale from his hip pocket, and when he opened them out before Lucky, he appeared to have grown another six inches, knowing in gentle humility that this was to be the moment of Lucky's defeat.
"I had not intended to call the police," he said, and now he seemed to tower above them all, but still contained in his aura of tranquillity, with the soft, far, Buddha-serenity that dwelt in him, remote and untroubled, glowing in his dark, liquid eyes. "It's clear to me now that we're faced with criminal vandalism," he said.
Lucky's lips were trembling as he ran his tongue along them, and his Adam's apple jerked in his throat, for, however it might be explained, the lawyer suddenly stood head and shoulders above him.
"If I wake up the others in there, they'll throw you out on your black asses," Lucky said, but the spirit was quailing, the words of the inviolable scripture were slipping from his grasp.
And as he shifted and trembled in his skin, Athena felt the surge of her returning will, saw him as man defeated by other men, and felt the power of choice come alive in her again. Anger and outrage and even grief were replaced by the ability to act, and the force of this poured through her veins like the clearest of unencumbered streams.
"Please go now, Lucky," she said, and she pulled the front door open and held it wide. Luchies McDoniel and the lawyer were there beside her, but they had become now the motionless, rooted trees in the background of the landscape, the immovable mountains rising along the rim of her immediate world. "Please go. Go right away, Lucky," she said, her voice quiet as breathing, and her heart beating slowly and strongly in her breast. She looked into Lucky's face and remembered sheepherding dogs she had seen in high mountain places, wild-eyed dogs that circled, and raced, and nipped, as they corralled the errant sheep. But once shepherd or peasant or whoever he might be spoke out his orders to them, the eyes of the dogs went sick and craven, and they sank to their bellies as the presence of man demanded of them. "Get out quickly, Lucky," she said again, and Luchies McDoniel and the lawyer began lifting the paraphernalia from the entrance hall and moving it out on the front steps. Then Lucky, his head lowered, ran past them out the door. For one bleak moment, the underground woman saw Melanie fleeing hand in hand with him, her long hair flying behind her on the mild night air. But the vision faded instantly and Athena fumed to the two men. "Here, let me help you," she said. "It's really my problem . . ."; and if she heard the underground woman crying out, Come back, Melanie! Lucky, come back! Let us talk about things! Please let us talk, she gave no sign. Instead, she began carrying the musical instruments in their cases from the hall and placing them upright under the slender white pillars, while, below, Lucky could be seen hastening down the sidewalk toward the camper vans. Fleshless as a skeleton he was now, stripped of his substance by defeat. Athena watched him unlock the rear doors of the first camper parked beyond the tree whose glossy leaves, under the high streetlight, shone darkly, richly, as if drenched in oil. Then she walked back into the house alone and into the living room, stepping around and over the sleeping people, and she lit the two floor lamps that stood tall and ungainly on their Victorian brass stems. "It's time to wake up and go," she said to the sleepers and to those who sat up in their blankets or on the soft wadding of their mattress rolls and looked at her with blinded eyes. "It's time to go. Lucky's already loading the cars," she said to the long-haired girls, and to the one sleep-dazed young man, who fumbled their way back to waking.
She moved into the dining room then and switched the light on, and the books on the shelves that reached from floor to ceiling came to sudden and almost articulate life. There were ten girls in all, some slender, some (despite their youth) bloated with fat. Some had ponytails, others had straight lengths of hair, and still others had wide aureoles of gold or red, and in all of them was the same defenseless and fruitless penitence as they obeyed the word of command. So warm-fleshed and womanly they were that the three men among them seemed little more than boys, thinner even than Lucky, but without his bony resistance; soft and broken and perishable, they seemed to Athena, in their pallor and emaciation. All of them, all, rose obediently, their faces turned from her, and folded their blankets, rolled up their sleeping bags, found their shoes in the clutter of them in the entrance hall, and put them on in silence. But not all of them, for Athena came upon two last girls kneeling on the rug in the dining room, groping numbly for their possessions. One of them, heavy-lidded, green-eyed, white-skinned, with tendrils of carrot-colored hair pressed to her cheeks and neck, lovely as a flower, looked up at Athena with the same fierce, hypnotic intensity of Lucky's practiced gaze, and defied the silence of the others.
"You bitch," she said, her sullen voice low and musical. "Last night the Ouija board said you'd die soon, very soon, and that Pete will win in the end."
Then they were gone, and Luchies McDoniel instructed the lawyer to bolt the front door once he had left, and to wait while he got his locksmith friend from up the street.