by Linda Boroff

September 1967. Cassie’s aunt from Grand Forks has arrived in San Francisco to claim her. Neck creped with trauma assessed and assimilated, she consults in murmurs with the probation officer, the psychologist and the caseworker before moving in on Cassie herself.

The tall, redheaded girl, impenitent and swollen-faced, waits in the hallway on a wooden bench, huddled against a slender boy of about sixteen dressed in torn blue jeans and a faded black T-shirt. The boy’s straight brown hair is cut blunt at earlobe length and parted in the middle. He keeps pushing it back from his eyes, but it instantly cascades forward again.

The aunt steps up, moistening her lips. ‘Cassie, it’s time to come home.’ Cassie looks down and does not speak. ‘This has been a terrible trial for your family. Not a word for nine weeks. We were sure you’d been kidnapped. Your mother is…I can’t even say it. Then they find you living like an animal in a houseful of hippies.’ She indicates the boy with her chin.

‘His name is Dennis,’ says Cassie, eyes still on the floor.

‘Be strong,’ Dennis says to her.

‘Are you packed?’ The aunt checks through her purse and shuts it with a click.

‘Nothing to pack.’

‘You mean to say you ran away with nothing?’

‘Nothing I wanted from there.’

Dennis gives a small huff through his nostrils.

‘Is Douglas coming with us to the airport?’ The aunt’s pained eyes rest briefly on the boy.

‘Yes, Dennis is coming with.’

‘You two had better not try anything.’

‘We won’t try anything,’ Dennis says deadpan, which sends Cassie into gales of laughter.

Noxious smoggy vapor hugs the ground before the South San Francisco Industrial Park. The bus cleaves it bluntly, brazenly, breaking its own triumphant wind at all young tinkerers and visionaries. Roadside bushes shrug off dead bluish leaves in the gale of the bus’s passage. Within, Cassie scratches a tooth, examines the residue and flicks it in a parabola onto the floor. People look away.

‘Next stop San Francisco International Airport.’ In the fog, a gappy red and yellow neon bar blinks by. Old Wobblies and drowsy barflies waiting for the doors to open wince as the bus roars past, a noisy rebuke from death morning.

The bus picks up speed as it enters the final straightaway before the airport’s curving ramp. The slouched driver stiffens his back before the cheering throngs lining his Grand Prix de Monte Carlo. Chin high, ass flobbing, he bares his teeth to the wind as he handles her on out and cuts loose.

Alarmed passengers grab at chrome poles, exchanging incredulous glances. Those on the side benches brace their feet apart. Somebody’s shopping bag splits, releasing ripe plums, and Cassie grabs one as it bounces past. She stuffs it whole into her mouth, giggling as she manoeuvres it into place and bites down. The plump globe explodes, soaking the skirts of both Cassie and her aunt in its surprised liquor.

Cassie chews and swallows the fruit, seed and all, nearly toppling sideways into the aisle as the driver fights his lurching hulk bus to a standstill, aerating his armpits in the ebbing wind. His shirt is cold and damp; his nose drips, and he tastes grit, the Driver.

Cowed passengers creep from the bus on tiptoe. Dennis wolfs a plum on their way into the airport and belches juicily. A stewardess wheels to stare in amazement, and Cassie sticks out her tongue. The hair of the stewardess is the color and shape of the fruit they have just eaten, a spherical helmet of glazed plum.

Reflecting on the hair of women, Dennis suddenly recalls the strobe light at a dance joint in Berkeley, Cassie’s hair sailing and snaking in a wrist-thick, braided liana, redolent of sin, serpents, and perdition in the blinking tropics of the dance floor. Stoned, scared, he had grabbed both Cassie and her braid, trapping the seductive, glossy hair in the warm curve of her spine. And there they had clung to the end of the dance, Adam and Eve trembling before the furious, invisible Assailant and his demonic henchmen.

The eyes of the stewardess, caught again in appraisal, flutter off like a moth. Leaving the aunt to buy tickets, Cassie and Dennis stroll toward the gift shop, studying the infinite uniformity of the baggage, car rental and ticket counters, a waist-high walled fortress whose inhabitants preen and blink beneath their fluorescent sun, pulling levers, punching buttons, and wishing pleasant journeys to fornicators, socialists and madwomen.

At the gift shop, Dennis buys Cassie a tin of violet pastilles, a paper flower, and a book entitled The Night Action (‘The Now Action. The Wow Action. Lust without limits in Sin Francisco.’) The cover features Australopithecus Robustus in bell bottoms preparing to flagellate with love beads, a female wearing only a large guitar. Between them lies a skull ashtray in which a cigarette burns, releasing the type of green cloud that usually contains a genii.

Cassie’s aunt beckons from the mouth of a wide, windowless corridor leading to the boarding areas. Holding hands, Cassie and Dennis drag their feet towards her. Cassie’s fingernails gouge his palm; her tongue rolls about her cheeks, gathering tears.

‘All right, Cassie,’ gravels the aunt. ‘Say goodbye to Douglas.’

‘Dennis.’ Cassie sobs.

‘Goodbye Dennis,’ says the aunt.

Cassie’s face collapses, the lips twitching toward the chin. Her breath comes in gasps. Dennis and the aunt watch each other suspiciously.

‘Write,’ Cassie wails to him.

‘I’ll send for you as soon as I can.’

‘The hell you will,’ mutters the aunt.

‘Freedom forever,’ Cassie shouts, ‘freedom, freedom, freedom.’ The aunt grabs her shoulders and tries to shove her toward the boarding area, but the girl ducks out and under and circles and returns, throwing herself into Dennis’s arms for a final drenching kiss, while the aunt hovers like a frustrated bee. At last, Cassie releases the boy, wheels and walks swiftly away, her shoulders shaking. The aunt, trotting after her, looks back once.

Linda Boroff graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. Her Writing is in McSweeney’sCrack the SpineJONAH MagazineCold Creek ReviewThoughtful DogGawkerIn Posse ReviewAdelaide MagazineWord RiotHobartDucts MagazineBlunderbuss MagazineStoryglossiaAble MuseThe Furious GazelleEyeshotThe BoilerHollywood DementiaDrunk MonkeysThe Guardian, The Writing Disorder, Piltdown Review and others.