Apple became a stringent and rigorous vegetarian after she crashed her bicycle at the age of eight. Crashed her bicycle wasn’t exactly, precisely, what happened, but had become the family euphemism.
At the age of eight a child is too young to understand marital strife. The child, consciously and unconsciously, can understand screaming and punching and drunken plate-flinging hatred, but they are ill equipped to deal with the rancid and curdled milk of conjugal loathing.
This is a good thing.
To an eight-year-old Mama is Mama and Diddy is Diddy. They aren’t, and never were, individuals who made choices, either good or bad, they are simply THE PARENTS. Milk comes from cows, the ocean is blue, and that’s Mama and there’s Diddy. To expect otherwise would be tantamount to thinking the Wonka Factory really exists or that Democracy works.
So here’s how Apple Crashed Her Bicycle:
Apple (that is her given name: Apple Abramowicz) was pedaling home from fourth grade on a wide graveled road just outside of Homedale, Idaho. Past intense and profoundly green fields of alfalfa, acres of stumpy, purple-green leafed sugar beets, and busted stalks of already-been-harvested feed corn. She was humming a Merle Haggard tune when her mother, driving a pick-up with a quart of Jack Daniels clenched between her knees, ran poor little Apple Abramowicz into a ditch.
Her head had been split open and her right wrist suffered a compound fracture. Apple didn’t remember any pain from the incident, just the salt-sting of blood in her bright blue eyes and the incredible contrast of dark red blood with the luminous white bone jutting from her wrist.
Luckily momma’s latest love interest was riding shotgun and had only been drinking since noon. He patched Apple up and drove her to the nearest hospital, in Caldwell, twenty-seven miles away.
Apple only remembers two things: being rescued by her sweet Mama and dinner that night where she was sickened by the roast beef. In southern Idaho animals are food and food is animals. But since Apple had crashed and bled, a new paradigm had been thrust upon her: I am an animal and animals are me.
And she’d never eaten meat again.
No beef, pork, fish, lamb, rattlesnake, gnu, rat, cat or poultry.
Apple and Altair, in their advertising, didn’t announce that meat wasn’t served at Tantricity Hill. After the initial surprise at the first meal when guests searched in vain—through bulgur, quinoa, rice, polenta or vegetables—for pork chops or lamb loin or even a hot dog, there was never a complaint.
Apple Abramowicz had journeyed to a world far away from her roots. Raised as an all-American, Bible-thumpin’-Evangelical farm girl she’d become a counter-culture sex-therapist, atheist, vegetarian who had abandoned everything from her childhood except her name and a love of country music. As she prepared lunch the tape player in the refectory belted out some Waylon Jennings.
Today’s lunch would begin with Canapés “À La Picasso”. Thinly sliced and buttered toasted baguette with olive tapenade and sprigs of fresh-picked tiny-leafed basil, fresh rosemary, savory, and thyme from Apple’s organic (of course) garden.
Then Soupe aux Asperges et Ravioles, puréed asparagus-garlic soup with tiny ½” square goat cheese stuffed ravioli bobbing about like mini-marshmallows.
The Plat du Jour consisted of a classic Cassoulet de Légumes. The white beans, red pepper, carrot, garlic, potato, red wine, olive oil, and herbes de Provence were topped with bread crumbs and fresh-picked Italian parsley and cooked in individual, shallow earthenware dishes.
Dessert consisted of Raclette cheese, Fuji apples, and herbal tea.
Apple wiped a droplet of sweat from her bald head and as she opened the oven to test the Cassoulets, she crooned along with Waylon. The little casseroles needed another twenty-minutes to bake, and she needed at least that long to think about Altair.
What the heck was Altair thinking?
Apple thought she and Altair were happy little atheist hedonists in their cradle of free, instructive, remunerative love.
Apple nibbled a grape, feeling its cool roundness, its sweet resistance before it yielded to her bite. She thought it was love, finally, with Altair. For all her spunk and beauty, Apple had never dated the intrepid or gorgeous. Realizing her mortality at a young age, thanks to her drunken mother, is why Apple had always been so keenly aware of the discrepancy between a sleek and stylish man’s physical and spiritual qualities.
She’d only met males who flaunted their youth and vigor; never one who appreciated it; she doubted if one, outside the realm of mythology, had ever existed: then remembering Narcissus she knew one had never existed. For this reason, she had always chosen somewhat older men. An additional bonus being you can have sex and sleep the same evening. The older guys needed their sleep and weren’t waking you at 2:17, 3:47, and 5:23 AM with their testosterone-fueled-fireplace-pokers. She loved Altair; his crazy theories on Life and Sexuality, his wonderful sex-business, his plentiful Yerba Buena. But now he was acting like a twenty-four year-old Divinity Student fresh out of Bible College with a hellfire-fueled-hard-on to save the world.
She tossed the Winemaker’s Salad and ate another grape.
What the heck is up with that?
Following lunch, and kudos all round for Apple’s cooking, the members comprising this session of Tantricity Hill washed the dishes. Then they performed a silent Meditation Walk to the waterfall and back. The walk, quickly explained by Altair as they walked past the peculiar black edifice called Omphalos, would enhance their feelings of community. They were to stride in sequence, inhaling through their nostrils each time their right heel hit the ground while chanting silently: Sa, Ta, Na, Ma. They would walk four silent steps holding the inhalation, then exhale on the following four paces, through the nose, while silently chanting: Wa, Hay, Gu, Ru. Robed in saffron, silent and striding in unison, a decisive sense of kinship had been realized almost immediately by Blake, Missy, Devon, Arnold, Helena, and Debra:
Apple is one hell of a cook and Altair is frigging Looney Tunes.
Lunacy notwithstanding, following the walk, they all gathered around the stone schlub and pebbly pudenda for another shot at the Circle Ritual. Like a veteran football coach, insurance salesman, preacher, or tenured professor, Altair had a variety of ready, clever, and illustrative anecdotes at his disposal. He began this introductory diatribe, as he had the last, with a joke:
“A retired couple visited their doctor and she said, ‘We have a problem while having sex.’
‘What’s the problem?’ asked the doctor. ‘We feel awkward talking about sex,’ said the man, ‘can’t we just show you?’ The doctor rolled his eyes, recalled his Hippocratic Oath and said, ‘Certainly.’” Altair, not wanting a repeat of the previous, failed Circle Ritual, carefully evaluated his audience: Debra sat, quiet and pensive in her robe; Helena and Devon and Apple were nude; Blake in a red-white-and-blue Speedo; Arnold robed and in black socks, no Hush Puppies this time; Missy still robed, but enjoying the sunshine with her robe pulled down on her shoulders like a debutante’s gown and gathered up around near her waist like Lucy Ricardo ready to stomp some grapes. Mary Francis Mulvaney lounged languidly.
Altair continued, “The old couple hopped up on that freshly-papered table and performed like two teenagers on prom night. ‘Huh,’ says she, ‘it didn’t happen that time. Might we come back next week?’ The doctor, true to his oath, agreed. Every week hence, for three months, the venerable couple returned and performed flawlessly. Then the doc said, ‘What’s really going on here?’ The man said, ‘When we try it at her house her husband beats the pudding out of me. When we try it at my house my wife throws cold water on us. A nice motel room costs eighty-five dollars. You only charge sixty a visit and Medicare covers half.’”
Even from Apple, the affable Ed McMahon to Altair’s Johnny Carson.
The impervious and imperious Altair continued, “The word Masturbation is derived from the Greek roots mazdo, virile member, and turba, disturbance. As in turbulence or turgid. There is an implicit assumption in our culture, as demonstrated in the story I just told that sex is something that, someway, must be paid for: emotionally, psychically, or with currency. Somehow, a debt is owed. This is not true; sex is a gift, given us to enjoy and exult in. This culture also associates a loss of dignity with masturbation. It’s dirty, secretive; somehow immoral. Masturbation, should be honored as a natural and normal human activity, not as a disturbance of some divine or social order.”
His oration concluded, Altair set the egg timer on the statue’s starboard testicle and the Circle Ritual re-ensued.
Nearly half-an-hour later, the ritual concluded, Altair, much like a teacher assigning homework over a long weekend said, “Prior to dinner I have one more task for you. Pair off with a member of another couple and explain to them, as succinctly as you are able, why you are here.”
The couples stood and milled about. Debra pointed at Missy and said, “Been there, done that.” Speaking quietly together Debra and Missy, this weekend’s soul sisters, wandered away to the swimming pool. Missy disrobed outdoors for the first time in her life and, joining the already naked Debra they slipped, together, into the pool.
Blake pointed to Devon. “We done did that too. Dude, I’m gonna take a nap.” Devon high-fived Blake and nodded. He then sat at the base of the female statue, shaded his eyes and stared intently at the splishy-splashing Missy and Debra.
Helena and Arnold shrugged and ambled down the two-track toward the orchard.
Apple and Altair, arguing in hushed and irritated tones wandered off to the Refectory. They entered. Voices rose. A pot banged.
Helena and Arnold walked in the shady coolness of the overgrown orchard below Tantricity Hill. “I like these trees much better than any of the vineyards,” said Helena. “The trees have personality. The vines are so uniform. Standardized. Unvarying. Military, almost. I’ve always failed to see the mystique.”
“These fruit trees,” said Arnold. “They’re greengage plums.”
Helena smiled at Arnold, “I wouldn’t know a plum tree from my family tree. I’m a big city girl.”
Arnold explained his interest in organic farming, his garbage-cooking-business, his life in the Midwest, Missy, his bankruptcy, her miscarriage, and their “Scrinching” problem.
It seemed effortless for him to talk to Helena, here and now, in a newly leafed orchard.
They nodded, held hands and continued down the hill. After commenting on Apple’s culinary prowess Arnold said, “What’s really helped me, after the miscarriage, is thinking about some stuff.” He smiled shyly, embarrassed.
“King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And Merlin.”
“Arthur, as a child, asked Merlin if he had always been a wizard. The Wizard smiled but didn’t answer the boy’s question. He prepared a huge pot of soup made with herbs and roots and mushrooms. It took him hours to prepare. The aroma filled their meager cottage with a sense of comfort and home.”
Helena smiled at Arnold’s quaint use of the word meager. She squeezed his hand.
While talking, they had almost strolled down to Mountain House Road; they could hear the occasional vehicle potholing past. They turned and headed back up the rudimentary trail to Tantricity Hill. Arnold said in a lost and distracted monotone, “Arthur, who had been chopping and stacking wood all day, ached for a big bowl of the soup. And Merlin scooped him out a huge portion. But as soon as Arthur had gobbled down the first bite, the soup disappeared. All of it. Gone like that.” Arnold snapped his fingers and continued, “Arthur hurled his wooden spoon at Merlin, Why’d you do that? I’m starving. Merlin replied, Yes, you are. That’s why you must realize the entire banquet is in each spoonful.”
Helena stopped and touched Arnold’s face, “That story gave me goosebumps.”
Arnold nodded as they continued up the hill, “When I was a kid I read everything I could on King Arthur and Merlin and I’d be transported to another world. I had a tough time in school, I wasn’t athletic or funny or popular and I used the Arthurian legends and stories to zone-out and escape. But after me and Missy lost our baby girl all the stories returned. I didn’t consciously dredge them up; they were just there, filling the void; making up for our loss. I couldn’t concentrate on business or anything. I’d think about Sir Mark and Sir Gawain and stories about young Arthur; but the stories had a different resonance. A deeper significance. After the baby died.”
They halted halfway up the hill. Arnold picked up a stone and flung it aimlessly into the orchard. A younger woman would have asked, “What’s wrong?” or “How can I help?”
But Helena paid Arnold the favor of silence. She leaned against a tree, slipped out of her shoes and ran her toes through the cool, gravelly topsoil. Eventually, after listening to the wind, tossing six more stones and making eye-contact with Helena, Arnold continued, “The legends have helped me realize that I am still a father to my yet unborn child. That spoonful is my banquet. I’m okay with that.” He inspected the horizon as if expecting Sir Gawain to appear over the next green hill. “I have to be okay with that, or go nuts. Nuts.”
Tall weeds and an ancient rusting cultivator saved the orchard scene from being postcard pristine, but it was quiet and sublime and the couple stood together in stillness for a time before Arnold asked, “Why are you here, Helena?”
She stared across the valley to the two wineries and a barn in the distance. “What’s that?”
“Why are you here, Helena?”
She smiled, “Revenge.”
“Don’t be alarmed, child.” Helena stared at the ground for a moment before continuing, “You see, sex, at my age is probably the best revenge. I told all my friends with husbands my age that I was coming here. With a young and studly consort, contractually bound to pleasure me.”
“You mean Blake’s a whore?”
“Gigolo is the actual term, but yes in the strictest sense of the word he’s definitely a whore.”
They walked down into and up the other side of a gully.
Then Helena smiled, touched the younger man’s face again and said, “I’ve also lost a child; though not a young one. Not quite your age.” Anticipating Arnold’s question she said, “Two years ago. And I just recently lost my husband to a nasty, nasty cancer. I miss them both dearly. I suppose that’s part of the reason I’m here. The other part is the prospect of a naughty, mischievous adventure.” She hesitated. “At my age adventures are few-and-far between.”
“You’re not that old.”
“But you are that sweet. Aren’t you?”
“Missy thinks so.”
Again they strolled in a cozy calm more befitting to lifelong friends than new acquaintances. Helena said, “Arnold?”
“As you get older; it just gets easier.”
“That revenge thing?”
“That life thing.”
“It just does. Trust me.” Helena smiled. “You still don’t know if what you do will turn out right; but you realize what it will cost you. That, at least for me, makes it easier.”
Arnold noodled his brow in mild confusion but didn’t ask any more questions of Helena. They simply held hands again and hiked back through the orchard of white-flowering greengage plums.