Connie Lynn Line put seven Black-eyed Susans in her hair before walking out to that Nebraska highway to hitchhike to San Francisco. The year was 1967. All across the country, hordes of kids were responding to the siren call of musicians like Scott McKenzie and his whole “If you’re going to San Franscisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” rap.
Connie made it to the roadside in late morning, after her father was long gone out into the miles of corn that defined his life. Her mother had just left on the epic drive out to the big city supply stores.
Connie was tanned and pretty — not like those bone-skinny California girls (“I wish they all could be…”), instead with thick, strong legs, and a handshake that’d make a beatnik blush. Connie knew she was different from where she was going, but that was the whole point. Besides, she didn’t need validation from any-damn-body.
She just wanted to be part of the hippie scene, helping to stop a damn war and bring in the love revolution. She wanted to be where things were happening.
Connie wasn’t on the road for more than half an hour before an orange Volkswagen bus appeared. Her heart raced when she saw the hand-painted sunflowers on the hood. She damn near lost her cool when she saw those California plates. It was like a sign from Heaven telling her she’d been destined to make this trip.
The bus rolled to a stop and a young woman in her early twenties with blue flowers painted on her face hung her out the window and said, “Toot toot, space cadet. Time machine is here.”
Connie nearly squealed. She was one hundred percent that nobody in Nebraska had ever uttered that exact sentence before that very moment — not once.
The side door slid open. Four more hippies sat within, all of them beaming. “Hop on in!” they cheered in perfect unison.
Connie leaped inside.
Right away they lit a couple joints and passed them around. Connie was no stranger to the drug. Her buddy grew his own plants, in fact, back in the acres behind the fields. This was different, though. As they smoked they talked about cosmic transcendence and the true nature of God and all those things. It was a dream come true for Connie. These were the kinds of deep conversations with mystical people she’d always longed for.
All the hippies had cool names like Heavy, Song, and River. They’d been travelling a long time together, they said. Long before the “hippie thing” got popular.
The driver didn’t say a word for a good twenty miles. Connie almost forgot he was even there by the time he said, “The hippie trip’s leading to a dead end.” His voice was soft but perfectly audible because everyone in the van went silent when he spoke. It was almost as if they could sense he was about speak just a moment before he did.
“Their trip’s got an expiration date,” he went on. “Not ours, though. We ride to the end.”
He turned to look at her. He was beautiful in a boyish way, with long, unkempt blonde hair, the bluest eyes, and a smile like something out of an old swashbuckler tale.
The girl sitting in the front seat, Gypsy, smiled. “This is Eros,” she said. “God of love.”
Everyone in the back of the van cheered and hugged each other. After the moment passed, they didn’t let go. They rested in each other’s arms and gently stroked each other, first at the head and shoulders and then down to lower places.
Connie was righteously stoned, so much so that the subtle, rising sexuality of the scene didn’t bother her at all. Truth is, it seemed beautiful.
What did get her attention, though, was the dirt she’d just noticed under all their fingernails. It wasn’t like the dirt after a day of working on the farm. She could tell it had been caked there a long time, uncleaned.
From their dirty fingernails her attention spread to the rest of their bodies. They kept their faces clean but the rest of their bodies and their clothes were absolutely filthy.
Connie looked up to find Eros’ eyes on her in the rearview.”Why don’t you come up and join me in the cockpit, Husker,” Eros asked.
For just a moment, the laughter broke. Gypsy’s expression, especially, fell. She looked angry, wounded, almost afraid. It all passed very quickly, though, and she was sliding into the back with the others.
They all cheered and pushed “Husker” up to the front.
As Connie stumbled up to the front seat, she realized she was beyond stoned. Something else had been in the grass.
Colors ebbed and pulsed all around her. Connie started to fall, but then gravity itself flung her forcefully into the passenger seat. Except, some distant part of her mind said, that wasn’t gravity — it was Eros pulling you up by your hair.
Connie looked back into the van. The laughter and had ceased. The passengers all looked exhausted, filthy, and terrified. They were emaciated. She hadn’t seen that at first because she didn’t want to see it, but they were.
Husker looked over to find Eros staring at her. How was he driving without even looking at the road?
“I’m no ordinary man,” Eros said, as though reading her thoughts. “Do you know what true love is, Husker?”
“No.” Connie said through the static, and as she said it she realized it was true.
“True love is submission,” Eros said. “Submission forever and ever.”
Connie looked out at the highway. They were no longer on the highway heading west. They’d turned north, up a smaller road.
“Submission,” she whispered. It seemed so poetic, so noble and utterly worthwhile.
On the horizon ahead gathered a black vortex of roiling clouds. It was the beginnings of a bad, bad storm, maybe even a tornado.
In Connie’s glazed eyes the mass of clouds looked like a perfect flower blossoming infinitely and beautifully out into the world.
Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak