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‘What are you going to do?’ said Dee-Dee, all anxious.
‘Do? I’m going to live there.’
‘That’s wild,’ said Tessa.
‘Like Geoffrey … and there’s money, too, that furniture of his, it’s valuable, it’s not rubbish … and the paintings … Hetty and George got the best things, two Stanhope Forbes and a Morrisot, we thought they were sold years ago …’
‘Oh, Don, what are you going to do?’ said Dee-Dee again.
‘Anything, anything I like …’ and his face took on a familiar far-away look.
CHAPTER FOUR (#)
So, Don went to Suffolk and Tessa and Dee moved into his flat. It was a satisfactory arrangement, for Notting Hill was the centre of the underground universe. Here were crash-pads for drop-outs, the Electric cinema and a macrobiotic restaurant. Here were happenings, music everywhere and enough marijuana to ensure everybody was stoned. Life at the flat was unscheduled, unrestricted. They woke and slept as they pleased and there were always people, thumping bongos, strumming guitars, dancing, reading poetry and smoking dope. To Tessa and Dee-Dee this was freedom.
Don led a nomadic life between London and Suffolk. He bought a van to ferry Geoffrey’s furniture to sell in auctions. He was trying to raise money to restore St John’s. The builders had started re-roofing, re-plumbing. What he was going to do with the place was a source of endless discussion; a hospice for the dying? ‘but Geoffrey wouldn’t have liked that’; a museum of Eastern Art? That idea lasted two days; a free school ‘where children learned through their own experiences in the here and now and adults could change their perceptions of reality …’ But somehow anything to do with schools meant regulations and planning permission. The idea that was most consistent was to ‘fill the Hall with interesting people all sharing and co-operating …’, but St John’s was only slightly more than a ruin.
The following August, Tessa, Dee-Dee, Jeremy and a person called Edgar Bukowski from New Orleans all attended the Festival of Communes at the Roundhouse. This was ‘a big informal information-exchanging and food-sharing meal and meeting for Communes and people interested in Communes plus (perhaps) chanting and other signs of togetherness plus (perhaps) Quintessence and Third Ear Band’. In long dresses, loons, beads and bare feet, they danced, drummed and laughed, experiencing togetherness and being and felt it was as important as Woodstock. Don was there too, conspicuous with schoolboy hair and brown polished shoes, talking avidly to long-haired anarchists, but his communal ideas were hardly being clarified.
The sixties were over. Hendrix was dead, Janis Joplin was dead, the Beatles had split up, the Isle of Wight was a muddy memory. Uncertainty and doubt were creeping into the earthly paradise. Tessa and Dee-Dee in Don’s flat were restless. Previously their constant moving had satisfied a need for change, a feeling that if they stopped long enough to accumulate possessions and familiarity with a place then they would be settling down, or, worse still, be straight. They feared acutely normality as displayed by their parents’ uneventful lives in deepest Middlesex. But in the year that the old money was abandoned and in came tinny decimalisation, they began to wonder, ‘What now?’
Dee-Dee, Jeremy, his flute and an alarmingly small amount of money hitch-hiked to India to find the truth. They went after an all-night party on a damp November morning. Tessa stayed behind. She felt there was nothing she could find in India she couldn’t find in Notting Hill; after all, India, the Taj Mahal and everything were just places. The real truth was inside. Her restlessness was spiritual; she became inert. The crashers at Don’s flat were inert too. They lay on the floor to music, usually stoned or, more usually, tripping. Edgar Bukowski was now a permanent resident. He was a chunky six-foot with long lank hair in a ponytail. He claimed to have met Bob Dylan in a jazz bar in New Orleans. He said, ‘Hey, Bob, I love you,’ and Bob said, ‘Man, that’s cool.’ It may not have been true but it gave Edgar Bukowski kudos. He and Tessa were lovers. There were other people who were Tessa’s lovers, both men and women, but during that winter Edgar had precedence. Together they blacked out all daylight in the flat, consulted the tarot, read Alistair Crowley, listened to the Doors and Captain Beefheart, and embarked on an inward journey to darkest parts. Here, the Queen of Swords was a fiery red and sliced the air with her weapon, the unforgiving chariot crushed them underfoot and the dogs of hell bayed to the moon as crayfish crawled out of a primeval slime. The walls of Don’s flat shook, grey-faced half-dead once-people moaned, Edgar’s face crawled like the crayfish and they made love, but it wasn’t love but something like hate, deadly and punishing.
A spring morning; Tessa pulled away the black cloth over the bathroom window. She had just been sick. The light came in cold and slicing. She didn’t know what day it was. Avoiding her reflection she stumbled back to where six or seven people were on the floor. There was no sound, the air was foetid. She pulled away the black cloth from all the windows but even harsh daylight couldn’t wake them. Then someone rolled over snored.
Angry, she began to kick them.
‘Hey, man, wha’s happening?’
Other people woke. ‘Cool it, what’s the problem?’
‘Get up! Get up! Get up!’
‘Heavy games, lady.’
‘It’s a raid,’ shrieked Tessa.
At these words there was instant panic. They scrambled for the door, falling over each other. ‘Beat it, it’s the Fuzz,’ and they crashed down the stairs and into the street.
Tessa watched from the window and laughed. They ran down the road like surprised rats, not even noticing a complete absence of policemen.
Now she was alone. Edgar was not there. She vaguely remembered he had gone at some point in the night, but she didn’t care. She locked the door, which was something that had never been done before.
Feeling sick again, she hauled herself to bed. ‘Oh shit … oh Christ … oh God … oh Jesus …’
Some days passed. There was a knocking at the door. Tessa thought it must be Edgar and stayed put under the grimy sheets. She blocked her ears. Edgar was six foot plus, he could kick down any door. She waited.
But it couldn’t have been Edgar; the noise was weak, almost scratching, like a wounded animal that had crawled home.
‘Tessy, Tessy, where are you, where are you? Let me in, Tessy, please let me in.’
Tessa sat up. It was Dee-Dee.
There was much hugging and tears. ‘I thought you’d gone away, Tessy, I really did.’
‘Here I am, sort of … did you go to India?’
‘Wow, and was it amazing?’
‘I don’t know … I suppose it was … it was weird …’
‘He’s in Goa playing the flute.’
Dee-Dee was very thin. Her eyes looked huge, like a lemur’s.
‘I had enough, I thought I’d come back …’ She began to cry. ‘Tessy, it was awful, it was worse than a bad trip, and we had no money, we had to beg, but there’s so many beggars … and I got sick, I don’t know, I ate dahl off a stall … I got sick in Afghanistan too, but that wasn’t too bad … Afghanistan’s great, the people are tribal and the women wear veils and you never see them … and the deserts … I mean I saw a real camel and a mirage. I did.’
She blew her nose on her skirt.
‘But India was so full and they’re all dying, even the babies.’ And she dissolved into sobs.
‘So you didn’t find a guru, then,’ said Tessa after a while.
‘Everyone in India’s a guru.’ Dee-Dee was hardly ever bitter. ‘We were supposed to be going to an ashram near Poona but I wanted to lie down all the time and then we went to Goa. I was pretty flipped out by Goa. It was like paradise, and we got sort of stuck … then I was in hospital, and when I came out I just couldn’t get into it any more … Jeremy kept phoning his mum to send him more money, but I didn’t want to do that, I’d rather beg … so I went to Delhi and met some Australians.’
‘Did you see the Taj Mahal?’
‘The Australians took me, they had a minibus, and the Taj was really magical and special, I wanted to stay. We waited for the moon to rise, and we saw a deserted palace called Fatehpur Sikri … Then the Australians took me to Kabul, they were called Rod and Mike, they were great …’ She sighed. ‘They wanted to see the inner land and the great statues but I wanted to get home. I met a lorry driver called Dick and he was going to Manchester so I took a lift.’
‘And here you are.’
‘I’ve just come back from Manchester. We were in a hotel. He wanted me to stay, but he was married, Tessy, he had kids, and, I mean, he was sweet and all that, but he was so straight …’
She lay on the bed. ‘I’m so tired, I want to stop moving.’
She gazed at Tessa’s painting on the ceiling, ‘The Awakening of Consciousness’, much obscured by smoke and dirt. ‘What about you?’
Tessa came and lay next to her. ‘I don’t know,’ she sighed too; ‘I just kicked everybody out and locked the door. I’m sick of hash and acid and junk … and people dossing … and Edgar … he’s heavy, he’s on junk, anyway, I suspect he’s trying to score …’
‘What shall we do, Tessy?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t know any more.
They might have slept for a whole day or it might have been two. When Tessa woke it was very early morning and the sun was beautiful and the birds were singing, and she felt clear and pure.
‘Wake up, Dee-Dee, wake up.’
‘Tessy, what is it?’
‘Listen, wake up you mug, I know what we must do, I’ve just realised … we must live here and make it beautiful, like when Don was here. I’ll paint it and we can get pretty things.’
‘And flowers and everything. We’ll clean it and it’ll be ours and we won’t have dossers …’
‘Oh, Tessy.’ Dee-Dee had started to cry.
‘There won’t be any Edgars or Jeremys laying heavy trips on us, it’ll be our space, we’ll do what we like.’
‘I could do knitting …’
‘And I’ll paint, and we’ll cook real food, not rubbish, and get strong and powerful … We’ll do it now, come on Dee, we’ll get some food now.’
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