Ben's phone was warm from business, He glanced at his watch, Four-thirty. It would be after lunch in New York, He fumbled around through his Rolodex, looking for the number he called often, but not enough to have it memorised, He dialled and waited.
A familiar voice answered at the other end.
"McGuinn? Hey. It's Ben here. Hey, listen, what are you doing this weekend?"
John's joy in hearing from Ben was obvious. "Hey, man! Howah ya? No, I've got no strict plans for this weekend. Wet's op? I haven't heard from you for some time."
"I know. Well, what I was thinking was, it's time to get together. What do you say to you and me, taking a little trip to the past. Wanna go to Woodstock? Just you an' me?"
That weekend, Michael Lang was re-staging his Aquarian Exposition, a 25th anniversary of the Utopian festival he helped to create so many years before. The concert list looked promising. Even Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Bob Dylan were scheduled to play. Ben didn't think it would be the same as the first one, but he hoped some of the magic would still be there, and maybe they could pick up on it. Maybe they could lose .themselves in the memories, just this one time, just once more.
John agreed, and jumped in with gusto. Oh, Ben man. You couldn' 'ave asked me a bettah question. When ah you gonnu get heah? I think I want to take that trip, it's time. I'll be waiting at the aeropor', Jus' give me your plans."
When Gertie had. died, Ben and John lost not only her, but each other. Ben became a doer. He organised his business, and set forth in life with Hannah. His draft card never came up. Instead, he rented a small stand in a market, selling his goods. He soon was renting a small shop..Then he bought a two-room store and hired two people, a long-haired girl named Shawna, and a recent arrival from Portugal named Diego to help him in the back room, which they renovated into a production area. He found some decent wholesalers of leather and silver and other details, and started creating.
John's life spiralled in the opposite direction. He spent days crashed on the chesterfield, or in bed. He didn't talk too much to Ben or Hannah, The only one able to enter John's room and have a few words, ironically, was Dave. Mike started running for him, getting him pot and Cigarettes. Ben sometimes would smoke with John, it seemed to be the only way to have a friendship. Cigarettes were. the favoured drug of choice, followed by weed and hash, For everyone else, all other .drugs were forgotten, but for John, they were a vice. He soon had cocaine coming regularly, and other drugs followed. Mike sometimes would do whatever hit it was with John, just to keep him company, but later, John chose to be alone. His work permits ran out and he gave up on any building or jobs of any kind.
He rarely made contact with his family. Usually it was Ben who took the calls. John's sisters threatened to show up and fmd out for themselves, and that was when John would take the phone and somehow convince them that he was fine.
John ended up in the emergency ward on three occasions from overdosing. The last time was a reaction, and the doctor said in the emergency room, "This guy's gonna go out the other door next time." John was nearing death himself, and he didn't care. Nothing mattered any more. Gertie was dead.
Ben and Hannah organised a group to come to the house to pounce on John. They hid the drugs. They flushed the drugs. They kicked John out, and took him back. They had to make John wake up to what he was living. Ben was getting through Gertie's death, but he couldn't live with John's living death, too, and his own health was taking a toll. He smoked too much, and worked too hard. His comfort was Hannah. He proposed to her, telling her he couldn't set a date until John could be his best man, and right now, he wasn't the best man for the job. He wanted things to be okay before he headed down the road to security and maturity. He could put off his parents' life for a bit longer, but he didn't want to put it off forever. He realised that. He now wanted to be secure, with one woman, maybe some kids. He already owned a house. He purchased the share owned by John, and become the legal proper owner of the Ashbury street home. Dave returned to Ohio for a few years, but then returned and bought himself some property near the water.
The war ended. Nothing was ever the same. The decade dragged on, and left many people behind. There was a whole disillusioned section that, like John, found their sad solace in drugs. Many bottomed out, and it was a dark time for everyone.
Disco took over. Electronic beats, cute rhymes. Ben sneered at the new age, as his father had before him. He tried to get into the beats, the sequins, the silks, but he was nearly thirty now, and some of it just seemed so pointless and ridiculous.
On John's behalf, Ben started prompting for legal status. Forms were filled out. He cleaned John out and up for the court appearances. John wanted to be American, and he did try, but it was more for Ben's sake than his own. He went right back to his bad habits when each hurdle was through. Finally, seven years after Gertie's death, John came out of seclusion. He had had the turning point. He'd seen his own downfall, by an image of Gertie. When he woke up from his drug-induced sleep, he saw how ridiculous he was. Gertie had lived through hell, and pushed herself to a new prosperous life. How colourful she'd been. That grin. That grin.
That grin. She never gave up. He was sick, disgusting, and lazy. He was weak and useless. This wasn't what Gertie was. She'd be revolted by John's lack of strength. So he gave up on the drugs. He stopped smoking and went for a walk. Ben went with him. The sun felt good. The walk felt good. He made Ben take him to Ben's shop. He'd never been there. He was picking up his .life. It was still there around him. He could take it, and make it good. It wasn't easy, John slipped a few times, but he was supported, not only by Ben and Hannah, but by a sweet, calm redhead named Sarah. She was a classmate of Hannah's. John soon found himself spending many relaxed hours with her, and his life began pouring out to her, more than ever before. She listened to it all, and once he'd let it all go, his resolve was strong. He kicked drugs for good. He drank socially, and he had to admit that the odd joint was smoked, but he even stopped smoking cigarettes. Ben gave up smoking, too, he never knew why or when he had even started. He gave up liquor, too, though he couldn't pass up a joint ... Hannah gave it all up, but wine. Even Mike was clean. He became a youth counsellor, and worked for the local youth hostel, which Hannah volunteered at on weekends. She'd been taking courses to be a psychiatrist catering especially to teenagers, and was nearly a full-fledged practicing doctor. She had a job in a ward as an assistant doctor, presently. Dindi was heard from occasionally. She and .her husband and Velvet had settled in Austin, Texas, and Dindi was enjoying home life. She made some extra money by cutting hair in her own home. Myla married a businessman named Paul Laker and settled in the outskirts of L.A. She went back to university and took history courses, and began working at a T.V. studio that made historical documentaries. Shake retired from his businesses and travelled around the country with a camper and a silver-haired lady he found at a concert, of all places. David married, and had three kids, all girls.
In 1980, in full celebrations, Ben and Hannah were-married, and John stood with Ben. The Adams clan all arrived for the wedding, and Ben's mother and father were obviously having more fun seeing the sites than anyone ever could have guessed. They had the wedding outside, under a flowered gazebo, with a judge and all their friends.
In 1980, John became an American citizen. He'd emerged from the decade with drive and a new appreciation for life, and became serious about the Green card. They had a party to beat all parties to celebrate the wedding and John's sobriety.
The following autumn, John and Sarah moved to New York. John still had a nice feeling for the city and started his own business of a photography gallery. Of course, he made his own frames. He offered classes, as well, and made enough money to sponsor a showing.
In 1981, Ben and Hannah had their first child, a girl called Caitlin Rose, and then had a boy, John Christopher, the following year. John and Sarah flew to San Francisco for both births. Ben and Hannah reciprocated for the wedding in New York in December or 1982, where Ben finally met John's sister Paula and their father. John and Sarah had a quiet wedding in the Catholic Church he had relented to for Sarah's sake. It felt right anyway, somehow. He sure felt his mother there, standing at the altar.
John and Sarah soon had playmates for Ben's kids. In 1983, Matthew Anderson was born, and in 1985, they had a little daughter they name Katie Francine. Both children would honour loved namesakes, just by being.
No-one ever forgot Gertie. The photos hung on the walls in San Francisco, Ben would never take them down. The 'sixties seemed like a fabulous dream now, completely intangible. He'd ended up in that same familiar dad role that he'd eschewed so long ago. Gertie had touched Ben and John too deeply to fade very much. They could still hear her. Sometimes they could still see her in a flash of mixed time and space, like the ghosts from the past they'd spoken about years before. 'In one cathartic talk, Ben and John both agreed that it maybe was better that Gertie would be remembered as a child, for in some ways, that would be her legacy. She couldn't have grown up anyway, they couldn't picture it.
John had finally told Ben all the details .he'd been entrusted to during Gertie's life, and Ben's tears came as fast as John's had. He suffered the pain of knowing, and for having not known when he might have been able to help. And he mourned her childhood as well as her adulthood. But he celebrated the seven years he'd been her Water Brother, and she his Spirit Sister. It was the way it was now, they couldn't go back, but those memories would never be taken away. When his kids were older, maybe they would be interested in the life that their old man had been through during those turbulent years.
And now the 'sixties were cool again. People were sporting painted flowers and bell-bottoms and headbands. After the big protest of the Gulf War, they saw the spirit hadn't been lost completely. Folk- rock played all over the airwaves. The groups from the 'sixties reformed and toured. Posters sold of psychedelia, of Jim Morrison: of Malcolm X. Marilyn still reined as sex-goddess. Ecology became the new Movement. Ben even saw a couple of old painted VW buses. John had sold his in 1976 for drug-money, and Ben wondered what ever happened to it. His own Indian still held ground in the new garage he'd built up, and he tinkered with it on Saturdays, just like an old married dad. This thought made him grin. The 'sixties had been so new, so fresh, so different, and now they were so old, so past, and yet being rehashed for a second time. Incredible. Where had all the time gone? He surely didn't feel thirty-six. He'd travelled through some kind of time warp when he left his house in Ohio nineteen years ago. But he wouldn't change that. He was grateful for the incredible journey. No-one would ever see a decade like that again, and no-one would get to travel the journey that Ben, Gertie, and John had travelled.
"The right place at the right time," he said out loud to his empty office and the framed photo of his wife and his two beautiful children on his desk.