Friday - Memorial Day Weekend - 2001
Amanda Quale watched as the old man watered his lawn. He usually did it this time in the evening, only watering the places that were brown. It usually took him about a half hour or so.
She looked down at the papers in her hand. Her daughter, Amy's final assignment for her middle school's D.A.R.E. program. It was an essay about the medicinal use of marijuana. Their next door neighbor was the subject of the first two paragraphs. Amanda didn't know much about him. He'd lived here before they moved into the neighborhood. But he was a good neighbor, very helpful and friendly with everyone. He let Amy and her friends swim in his pool most days she was home during the summer. Sometimes Amanda worried about that...
... He lived alone. They didn't communicate much. He had confided in her once, shortly after she moved in... Said he'd lost his wife to cancer a few years back. She shared with him that she was divorced...
... She would always watch out the second story window when Amy and her friends went next door to swim. She always found Luke, that was his name, sitting out in the sun, in plain sight... Like he knew he had to be seen at all times when the girls were over. Well, Amanda wasn't sure of that at all but it sure made her feel better about letting Amy go swimming next door...
... If the essay, her daughter wrote, wasn't true? Then Luke was in for a very unpleasant surprise come Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning next week. The essay described how their next door neighbor smoked marijuana to increase his appetite during his chemotherapy. It was a very well written essay.
But just how does one tell a child that sometimes it's not okay to tell the truth? She was sure Amy believed that nothing would be done to their neighbor next door because he was just treating his cancer and that law passed last year.
Most of the paper dealt with the medicinal uses of marijuana and was quite detailed. Amanda wondered where Amy got all this information? She was pretty sure that D.A.R.E. wouldn't mention it in their curriculum.
Amanda looked up. Luke was gone... The water already dried on the pavement of the driveway. She could always let it go. She didn't owe him anything. After all it was against the law and if he really did have cancer? Well, just like Amy, Amanda believed that the authorities would let it slide.
Shit! He was an old man... Had to be close to sixty. She knew he was a veteran as every Saturday morning he left the house real early, with one of those veteran hats on... Lots of medals and patches on it.
Amanda put Amy's essay down and wandered into the kitchen to fix herself a snack. Her daughter was gone for the weekend... Camping with some friends. Amanda wasn't often able to spend time by herself. Keeping Amy in tow was a full time job beginning at the end of her other full time job. She could never count on the money her ex-husband was supposed to send. Sometimes it came. Sometimes it didn't...
... The tape she rented from Smith's was terrible and she started rewinding it about twenty minutes into the movie. Amanda flipped through the pages of a clothing catalogue until about eight-thirty when she fell asleep on the couch in the front room...
... The figures were all dressed in black with those police helmets on, the ones with the clear plastic face shields. They were creeping by her bedroom window. One of them put his finger to his lips. She was shaking and turned away from the window. She brought her hand to her mouth and bit her knuckle. There were six that she counted and they were all carrying shot guns. She was sure there were others on the other side of his house.
She tried to move toward the phone but felt she was walking through quicksand. The phone seemed to move away from her as she struggled toward it. She tried lunging but to no avail. She could see him being beaten with the butt ends of the shotguns as he confronted his assailants in his hallway. Amanda lunged for the phone again...
... The floor was hard and Amanda's head actually bounced off the carpet before she came awake. She was sweating and confused. For a few moments she didn't have any idea where she was? She truely came conscious with her back against the couch. It was pitch black outside but the lamp on the end table was still burning. She felt stiff as she made her way to the kitchen. The clock on the oven said it was a little after one a.m.
The coke was nice and cold but tasted flat. Amanda wandered back into the den and opened the back door. She laughed thinking of the dream she'd had. She didn't even know his telephone number! She looked over toward his yard and saw the reflection of light from what she figured was his den or front room... Maybe his kitchen?
Luke was up. This was not mere coincidence. It couldn't be?! Maybe he knew? Maybe Amy talked with him about it before she wrote it? Amanda had smoked marijuana before but had lied to her daughter when asked at the begining of the school year. She felt uncomfortable with this course; that prompted this type of parental questioning. What was next? Is Amy going to ask her about her sexual preferences when they come to sex education?
Saturday - Memorial Day Weekend - 2001
The house was dark in front and Amanda almost turned back to head home. Maybe the light in the back was just that... A light on? He'd think she was nuts, waking him at this hour. She smelled hemp on his front porch. Not like he was smoking it but something... She just couldn't finger it... But knew it was hemp.
A light came on inside almost immediately after she knocked on the door. She heard movement and then the front porch light came on. He peeked out the curtains to the right of the door. His smile was full of white teeth.
A moment later the door swung wide open. "And what can I do for you at this hour of the morning, Amanda?"
"I have something you need to read." Amanda didn't know what else to say.
Luke stepped aside and Amanda entered his house for the very first time. There wasn't much furniture in the front room. It appeared he was sleeping on the couch... Sleeping in his clothes... Sweat pants and a "T" shirt. The "T" shirt had a picture of Bill Clinton on it and the words "Inhale to the Chief."
Arriving in the middle of the front room, Amanda turned and handed him the three page essay. Luke looked confused. He gestured toward the couch and then realized that there was bedding all over it. He rushed to gather it up and tossed it on the floor beside the couch.
"Have a seat. What's this about anyway?"
"Just read Amy's essay."
Amanda remained standing but Luke sat after getting through the first couple of paragraphs. He was into page two when Amanda started looking about the front room or den or whatever it was. There were three photographs above the fire place, all framed.
One had to be his wife... An attractive blonde... The picture at least thirty years old... Probably closer to forty. The other two were group photos of a whole bunch of men... Not quite as old as the one of his wife. The men were all uniformed and the pictures weren't very clear. Both were taken with the jungle as a background. The men were heavily armed and smack dab in the middle of the group was a younger Luke, although he looked much older in the photo on the right and there were fewer men in the picture on the right.
Other than the pictures there were no other decorations in the front room. It looked like the dining area was the same. She could just see into it through partially closed french doors. Just a large dining table, covered with butcher paper and a whole bunch of plastic bags. The smell of hemp was very strong. She noticed something scattered all over the butcher paper. She figured it was marijuana but it was really just a guess. She'd only tried it a couple of times. She jumped when he spoke and she felt bad about giving the place a once over.
"This is a particularly fine essay for a fifth grader. She makes a pretty good argument for the medicinal use of marijuana. Is this why you woke me at zero one hundred hours? You think I encouraged her to write this and you're pissed because you think marijuana is the devil's tool!" It wasn't a question.
Before Amanda could form a thought, Luke continued. "Your daughter stumbled on to my marijuana smoking about a year ago. I asked her not to tell you because the fewer who know, the better it is. It became our secret. I hope it goes without saying that I haven't provided any marijuana for Amy to smoke. I haven't and never would. Neither have I promoted the recreational use of marijuana to your daughter and believe me I never would until she was a grown woman and out on her own." He paused for just a moment.
"That's your responsibility... To decide what your daughter should believe or not believe about moral issues... That is, until she's old enough to form her own opinions. Up until then you're the one who should be guiding her. I apologize if I overstepped my bounds but she came up with the topic on her own. I just guided her research. The bibliography states as many anti-drug references as pro-drug references. The conclusions are your daughter's not mine. She's got a good head on her shoulders. I think you've done a fine job raising her, Amanda."
Amanda held up her hands as if she was surrendering, probably more like she'd never even thought to consider he might give or sell her daughter some marijuana. "Do you have cancer?"
Luke just stared at her... Right in the eyes. Amanda almost turned away, the feeling was so uncomfortable. After a few moments he spoke. "Yes, but my marijuana smoking pre-dates my cancer by many years. I don't believe there's an honest doctor in the world who would proscribe marijuana for my condition."
"And what's your condition?"
Amanda laughed out loud. Luke joined her. After a brief pause, Amanda asked, "Where do you get it? Shit! I just smoked what my friends were able to get when I was in high school. I never bought any!" She was trying to bond with him a little. She liked him.
"You sure you want to know?" Luke had a very serious look on his face.
"Yea..." She was tongue tied again. He put a hand on her shoulder and guided her to the hall. All the bedroom doors were closed and she wasn't sure where this was going? She felt a little uncomfortable.
"Close your eyes. The light will be blinding." He reached around her to open the end door on the right side of the hallway. Amanda jerked away from him when he reached around her and then backed into him when the door opened.
"Told you." Luke had moved away from her but held her shoulders until she was standing straight. The sun was escaping out into the hallway. She could just start to pick up the plants... Had no idea how many there were?
"Wow!" It was all she could think to say. The room was full of them... All her height or higher. Amanda wasn't all that tall... About five-five. Luke left her for a few moments and was back with a pair of aviator sun glasses. She allowed him to put them on her and now she could really see. He took her by the arm and turned her around. The other two bedrooms were the same.
They were walking back down the hall when he asked her, "Wanna get high?"
"What the hell!" Amanda thought. "Sure, Luke. I'd love to." She really did like him and if he wasn't so old? Jesus! He was older than her father!
They settled around the table in the dinning room and yes! It was scattered with loose marijuana. Luke had a couple of joints rolled and quickly lit one. Amanda was sitting in the only chair, watching him suck the smoke into his lungs. He was leaning against the table when his head snapped back as he finished sucking on the joint.
He held the joint out to her and squeaked out, "Just take a little hit. This is the best shit I've ever grown. Really takes you to outer space." He exhaled a long stream of smoke and Amanda started sucking on the marijuana cigarette...
... Out of a thick fog came, "Hey! Don't bogart the joint, Amanda." She only faintly heard him. She was staring at the smoke as it curled up off the end of the marijuana cigarette. She had no idea how long she'd been staring at this particular event. Time had stopped. She quickly held the joint out to Luke. He ripped on it again.
The chair became electric and she had to get up. He laughed. She looked anoyed when she faced him. He was holding out the joint and she reached out to take it. She would have fallen to the floor if she hadn't grabbed on to the chair. Her legs felt like rubber.
He was laughing and taking another short hit. "Good shit, huh?"
Amanda was more stoned than she'd ever been and almost scared. What if she didn't get back to normal? Maybe this was addictive shit and Luke was trying to get her addicted? Sell her dope all the time... Take advantage of her. Jesus! She could hardly sit. He body felt alive with a billion feelings floating above her skin... Fear, guilt, joy, warmth, lust, paranoia.
Luke was guiding her into the front room. What was he going to do? She was sitting on the couch and he was fiddling with the stereo... One of those cheap Japanese things. It was old rock and roll... Way before her time. She recognized the station though as some people at work played it.
Luke was standing off to the side of the room and dancing. No! Shit! Dancing around his front room, hands waving, head bobbing, hips swaying back and forth with his feet moving just every once and a while. When Amanda started laughing he turned toward her. He was motioning for her to join him. She kept shaking her head back and forth but he came for her anyway, took her by the hands and dragged her out into the middle of the room...
... The room was full of sun light. It was hot. A trickle of sweat was rolling down her neck and she reached to wipe it away. She jerked upright on the couch and immediately knew she was at Luke's. They'd watched the sun rise at zero five-thirty-one, smoking a joint out by the pool... Their feet dangling in the cool water. This was after they danced for hours. Well, it seemed like hours. Never once did he touch her, regardless of the tempo of the music. She was mildly disappointed.
Okay! Okay! She'd put on a little weight in the last five years. Her hips had filled out a bit but her bust line was hard to miss and yet... Not once had she caught him staring at them... Her breasts. She hoped Amy wouldn't be top heavy.
Where was he? Amanda had no idea. She didn't want to leave without saying good-by and thanks. She wandered into the kitchen and was shocked to find that it was two in the afternoon. She'd had a great time, even though their merriment had ruined most of her Saturday. Where was he?
A noise in the dinning room spooked her. She looked in and found him pulling a lot of marijuana out of a big plastic bag. Without looking up, he said. "Good afternoon, Amanda."
"What are you doing, Luke?"
He looked up at her. "Getting ready to leave. I'm sure you've noticed the lack of furniture. This isn't the first time I've set up a farm. Middle of next week they'll be a lot of interest in my where abouts." Before she could say something, he continued. "Don't blame yourself or Amy. This is a risk I choose to take. So far I've been extremely lucky but better lucky than good any day."
Amanda felt horrible. She was going to lose her neighbor. Amy would never understand changing her essay. It would be too difficult to explain, using a fake name or saying it was someone else she'd met. And then there was the legality issue... Just how do you explain to your children about real right and wrong. The ten commandments surely didn't mention prohibited substances.
"The plants are ready to harvest anyway. I'll just have to work a little over time to get it all in before I have to leave. No school Monday, right?"
Amanda just nodded. He was weighing small amounts of marijuana and stuffing them into plastic bags. There was already a small pile of weighed plastic baggies at the end of the table.
"Do you sell it?" He stopped weighing and bagging and looked up at her.
"Well, kind of."
"What's 'kind of' mean? Is this like Bill Clinton's 'is'?"
"Kind of... Three times a year I drive up into the San Francisco area and sell most of it to some of those places that sell it to sick people." He was up and moving past her as he headed for the front room. Amanda followed. He stopped near the fire place, looking at the pictures.
"I experimented with it in college but hadn't smoked for years. I started looking for it when Evelyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was growing it by the time she had her first treatments. I still had to buy a lot and it was expensive. She lived for eighteen months and by then we'd been self sufficient for almost a year." He paused and stared at his wife's picture.
Amanda sensed there was more but remained silent. "First couple of times, the crop was a failure. I couldn't get them to grow past about three inches. This wasn't a money thing. I spent twenty-five in and get a nice retirement check every month. It was the thought that I had to risk my ass every time I went out to buy some." It was like he was trying to think of a way to continue and then the moment was lost. He turned to face her.
"I just continued smoking and growing it after she died. And then I heard about the clubs and started selling it. I really don't make that much. The energy costs are astronomical." He paused for a long while before continuing with, "But you probably got plenty to do without listening to the rantings of an old man. I had a great time last night, Amanda. Dancing like that might just become addictive. Better not let me catch you out alone after dark. I might have to kidnap you to the nearest dance parlor!" He had a darling smile.
"You're pretty spry for an old man. I had a great time too, Luke. When are you going to leave?" Amanda was thinking about what she could cook him for dinner.
"Probably take me until early Monday to get it all harvested. Take the pipes out and the pumps and filters. Get a good nights sleep Monday night and be gone before day break. Don't tell Amy. She'll figure it out. She is one fine young lady. Really, Amanda, you've done a terriffic job."
"Would you like some help?" He looked very surprised but answered quickly.
"Yea. That would be real appreciated, neighbor." Amanda felt warm all over. He showed her how to weigh and bag the "bud" as he called it and then started making trip after trip to the growing rooms. There was no way she could keep up with the weighing and bagging. The pile of weighed plastic baggies at the end of the table grew inch by inch... Ounce by ounce...
... The big plastic bag full of bud slammed down on the table. "That's it! You've saved me at least a day. So now I can sit around, out by the pool one last day and get real stoned. It's real cool swimming when you're loaded."
Amanda laughed. "Need some company? I was figuring on cooking us some dinner. You have any favorites?"
He stared at her for the longest time. "Yea! I do have a request." He kept staring at her.
"Well, do I have to guess?"
"Nah... How about having dinner with me? My treat. Dinner... Dancing. I know a place that plays oldies but goodies. I've been missin' a dancing partner for a while now."
Amanda wondered if he missed his bed mate? He was still staring at her and she knew she was blushing. This was stupid. She felt stupid. How could she lose!?
"I'd love to, Luke. What should I wear?" He guided her to the front door with his hand against her lower back. Her blouse was sticking to her skin. She'd been packing bud for close to four hours. The sky was still bright but the sun was almost set...
... It was dark when the door bell sounded. Amanda rushed to get it. She was bare footed but other than her shoes was ready to go. Luke looked like a million dollars... Blue shirt, blue jacket with tan slacks. He was wearing running shoes and they'd seen better days. She started laughing and he joined her, lifting up his pant's leg so she could see his white sweat socks.
"We're going dancing, beautiful. Get your tennies on, baby. I'm goin' to dance your ass off tonight!" Amanda knew she blushed and was glad she hadn't turned on the porch light. When she returned, wearing her running shoes, Luke grabbed her hand and almost dragged her to his car. Her skirt was too tight. She hadn't worn it in a while.
His car was already started, like he didn't want to waste any of their time together. Amanda was already thinking of dropping by tomorrow to help him take down the pipes and other shit. She knew he'd ask her to stay and swim. Oh! God! She'd look like a whale in her bathing suit!
The place was up on Boulder Highway. It was small and had a lot of booths. Luke led her right to the bar and even pulled a stool out for her. It was an old crowd and not very large at that. Several people were staring at them and she felt self conscious.
"Inn keeper! Inn keeper! What do you have to do to get a drink around here?" The bar tender was talking with two old guys at the end of the bar. Amanda was sure she was the youngest there... Youngest by at least a couple of decades.
"Hang on, Luke. Henry's almost finished fighting the '72 defense of An Loc again. He still thinks we could have won the war."
"Shit! By then the war'd been over for over four years."
Somebody in one of the booths yelled out, "Fuck you, Henry!"
The bar tender had a crooked smile. It might have been because of the jagged scar that ran down the side of his face. Amanda ordered a margarita. She loved them. Luke had a beer, draft "bud." She laughed. Her ex-husband drank bud... Like night and day.
"Louie, this is Amanda, my next door neighbor. Her daughter's out camping with some friends and Amanda helped me with my chores today. Can you recommend a real nice place for us to eat?"
Louie mentioned a few places but they all sounded too expensive to Amanda. Luke kept mentioning that cost was no factor. The two guys at the end of the bar moved down and joined the conversation.