It had happened to her plenty of times. Even people she knew quite well, when seen out of context, would appear as strangers. Time and Eternity she’d only met once, so it was no surprise she hadn’t recognized them here, away from the smog-smothered, bottle- strewn beach in Los Angeles. But there was no mistaking that smile. Without teeth, a mouth resembles nothing so much as a bloodless wound.
“Time!” Jo said, startled. “Eternity!”
Eternity put down his hammer and came over to give Jo a hug. The three of them stood for an embrace that lasted a few moments too long, especially in the heat. Time and Eternity were members of the Love Family, a group of well-meaning if self-righteous mystics and heathens it was difficult, on the West Coast, to avoid. After returning to California, Jo had encountered their members less frequently than before, but she’d probably made a bigger impression on those she met, since she’d soon had Alex, and the Love Family worshipped new beginnings.
“This is amazing,” Jo said. “How did you two find this place?”
“Don’t you remember?” Time said, smiling grotesquely.
“You told us about it,” said Eternity. He was thin and strangely pale, his hair bunched into one massive dreadlock on the left side of his head.
It was beginning to come back to her. It had been about a year ago, and the couple had snuck into a fund-raiser for OutTeach, an organization that brought classrooms to the streets. They were at the buffet table, stuffing their bags with sushi and being glared at by the invited guests, and Jo, sick of the scene, had struck up a conversation. They’d said they were leaving L.A. soon, going on a road trip. She’d told them about the Busk.
“Fate is wild,” Time said, spinning around and looking up at the sky.
“Is that your horse?” Jo asked.
For the next half hour, Jo asked about their trip while helping them put together what they described as an “air-dunk tank.” The contraption was built to drop Eternity approximately three feet to land on a pillow placed at the bottom of a Plexiglas tank, yellowing and cracked with age. The drop was caused by throwing a sand-filled sock at a target bearing a drawing of the earth, seen from space, with a pyramid sprouting out of what was ostensibly the Pacific Northwest. Time went into the covered wagon to prepare some food, leaving Jo to assist Eternity. She stood by, handing him tools.
“The guy who traded this to us,” he explained, struggling with the release mechanism, “said you were supposed to use water. But that’s pretty scarce out here. Besides, I think a pillow works just as well.”
“It doesn’t hurt?”
“Nah.” Eternity looked off into the distance, then shook his head. “Well, I had to learn how to fall.”
Jo passed him a screwdriver, a wrench, and a steady stream of washers and nuts, and soon Time came back with a wooden plate of broken, handmade crackers, sweaty yellow cheese, and a tin of sardines she’d opened and drained. Eternity looked genuinely excited, and rubbed his hands on his pants. Then Time pulled a handful of strange- looking blackberries from her pocket.
“I’ve been saving these for a special occasion,” she said. “They had to be re- hydrated, of course.”
Eternity leaned over and embraced Time. They sat for a moment in silent prayer, then began to eat.
“So,” said Time, wearing a warm smile, “are you going to tell us why you were upset earlier?”
“Oh!” Jo exclaimed. “Oh, I was just… it’s just that being here brings back a lot of memories.”
They frowned, expecting more.
Time let her gash gape.
Jo knew that this line of questioning only seemed rude because she had things to hide, but still, it seemed rude. She crunched a stale, unsalted stick of dough and gazed at the glistening cheese.
“Well, I told you about Jack. He was my lover. Just because I left doesn’t mean I don’t still love him.”
The hippies nodded gravely.
“Is that where little Alex is?” asked Time.
“Is what where.”
“He’s coming this way, actually,” said Eternity, pointing over Jo’s shoulder. “But I think Time meant is Alex with Jack. But I guess he’s not.”
Jo looked back and saw Jack walking slowly toward them.
“Shit,” she said, and stood.
Eternity slowly put down a cracker carrying a thin yellow sliver.
Jo looked at him, feeling relieved that she didn’t have to say it, but Eternity’s face was scowling disapproval. Clearly they both understood. Time’s eyes grew wider, looking almost scared, but since she didn’t seem judgmental. Jo looked at the couple, trying to suss out the level of threat they posed. They seemed innocent here in the desert, she decided. Naïve. Even though they’d come from the hard, broken streets of Los Angeles, under the desert sun’s raw ball they were small, exposed and insignificant. Broad flowers with simple roots.
“Please,” she said to Time.
Then she turned and ran to meet Jack in the middle of the lot, leaving the Love family with their strange contraption and terrible food.