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Creative Nonfiction American






A jagged rock cracked its way through our bus window waking us all from a dead sleep.

“Dutchie! What the hell was that?!”


The sound of broken glass and my mother’s shouts woke my brother and me up. Bleary-eyed and startled, my brother Karma and I rushed to the front of our home, an old greyhound bus.


“Karma, Wildflower- go back to bed! Aurora and I will clean up this mess, be cool and go back to sleep.”

******


Mom and dad never used our government-issued names, instead, we went by our commune names. At birth, my brother and I were John and Edie, on the commune we were Karma and Wildflower. The long-running joke was that dad named me Edie because it was short for edible. The picture box under mom’s bed held many photos of my great aunt Edith. Logic said my name came from her, counterculture stoned mom and dad said otherwise. After a night under the moon and stars, under the influence of one too many edibles, passion ignited and I was conceived. Mom and Dad were always referred to as Dutchie and Aurora by other commune members and by us. According to Dutchie, calling them by their commune names was how we could “dismantle the traditional family construct that society imposed on us."


Wayne “Dutchie” McIntosh and Loretta “Aurora” McIntosh arrived at Sunburst twelve years ago. They were starry-eyed and ready to live off-grid, away from taxes and corporate greed. After they abandoned their government-issued names, they found Sunburst. Love of one another led them to a life in a community where they could share work without any of the constructs of a hierarchy. Dad had a green thumb and oversaw the commune’s garden, seeing that all crops were disease-free and abundant. He got his nickname for the crops of marijuana that Sunburst used as its medicine. Mom was proficient in feminist studies and soap making. She taught the kids on the commune all about non-violent communication, about feminism, and patchouli smelling soaps.

******


“What’s painted on that rock, Dutchie?” Karma couldn’t help himself asking as he eyed the yellow and black dollar sign painted on the rock.


The dollar sign was a message in the form of hate against capitalism, and it broke out an entire window. Karma was two years younger than me and was terrible at following any kind of directions. Dutchie and Aurora wanted us to question everything. They also wanted us to pick up our hemp rope sandals from the floor. Sunburst members believed that everything should be questioned. Even if it was in the face of your free love-promoting parents. Karma didn’t have a fear of authority. He asked a police officer once how he could carry a gun knowing full well it killed people. That’s the kind of person Sunburst had cultivated my baby brother into. One who challenged the police instead of daydreaming of becoming one in his boyhood. Given the choice of being a cop or robber in an innocent game of make-believe with the other kids, he’d always be the robber.


“Aurora, shit. This isn’t good. Go wake up Jazz-he’s gonna want to hear about this.”

Aurora nodded in slow motion. She might have still been blazed out. Or she was exuding more of that nonviolent communication she was so damn good at.


“Do you think this has anything to do with that last batch of Bush we moved?” Aurora asked in a hushed whisper.


Dutch gestured with his head for her to go to Jazz.


Aurora put her shawl over her bare shoulders as the commune was brisk in the middle of the night. Nudity was normal around here, Aurora often slept without many clothes on, preferring to let her small teardrop breasts remain free like many other women on the commune.


“You two. Dutchie and I have this all under control. Back to bed.”


Aurora shut the door to our bus, using the long extended handle with a rough cranking gesture of her arm. Dutchie gathered the shards of glass into an old coffee tin, getting almost every piece. He realized he’d missed a piece when his breath sucked in through his teeth in agony. The blood trickled down his heel leaving a mess on the brown and orange paisley upholstery


I watched as Dutchie turned the rock over in his hand searching for some sort of clue. There was no a-ha moment in his eyes and no fear either. Dutchie was not a fearful man, he was a resourceful man, the kind of man with chin-length, sunkissed hair, and a good work ethic for living in a place like Sunburst. People think of communes and everyone wants to assume that we’re a bunch of free love, orgy-centric, drug smoking hippies.


They are right, mostly.


All free love activities aside, Sunburst was a place where many families like mine were able to carry out a vision. Dutchie’s vision was the perfect blend of executing capitalism on his terms and living among others who were averse to being on any government’s grid. Once Jazz saw what kind of cannabis Dutchie could grow, the two of them cultivated two acres of Sunburst into lush rows of cannabis plants. It wasn’t long before there was far more hash than they knew what to do with. Aurora used the hemp byproducts to make soaps and other textiles, and the hippies, well they smoked it whenever they could.


Being in a group of other like-minded hippies bears a level of perspective that most civilians with social security numbers and photo identification cannot get behind. For Dutchie though, his ingenuity was always bigger than the confines of the commune. His gift for growing the green hash was inherent. Dutchie could grow anything; A family, a beard, a community, and ganja- and it would flourish.


With their combined talents and distaste for capitalism, Dutchie and Aurora parked their old greyhound bus at Sunburst. It was painted with psychedelic neon-colored flowers on it, hidden away in a place the normals- tax-paying folks from town, called Burner Canyon. The waxy green ivy now grown up on the sides of the tired old bus that used to cruise the old routes, hid the cheeky sign, “Hippies use the side door,” from the general eye. Most of the sun-dwelling desert stoners at Sunburst didn’t need a sign to tell them to use the side door. Doors were gateways to rules they had no desire to adhere to anyway.


If Aurora was going to wake up Jazz, the leader of Sunburst I knew something was off. Jazz was the final say on all commune decisions. like whether we bartered with certain businesses in town, or if we would take in new members or not. Jazz had the say-so on any activity at Sunburst.


******


“Dutchie, why don’t we work for money huh?” I needed to know what was so bad about money that my family and about 300 other people on a commune would do almost anything to avoid getting a job to earn it.


“Wildflower. Money is a terrifying thing. It makes men greedy and women needy. Nothing good ever came from having money. What we have here is better than any amount of money, it’s freedom darlin’.”


“But Dutchie, money isn’t all bad is it?”

“Promise me, Edie, that you’ll never let the world tell you how a thing should be done. You do it the way your heart and brain tell you to. Always remember too, that sugar and salt look the same. Just because something's sold as sweet doesn’t mean it is.”


My dad got philosophical only once in a while, but when he did he often said the most profound and true things. He’d braid my hair while giving me these soft spoken, but complex talks. He'd talk about things like harmony among people in communal spaces. Then he'd lament the notion that big government could bring no good to man.


******

The next morning Jazz called the entire community to the circle of peace. This area of the Sunburst was a large circle of rocks laid out in the shape of a peace sign. Morning meditation started at 4 am with Transcendental Terry and his crew of meditation misfits. The sounds of their throaty chants woke the whole compound in tandem with the rising of the sun every day.


Jazz moved to the center of the peace sign holding his place as the overseer of peace.


“Family. Last night Dutchie’s bus was vandalized with this rock.”


Jazz held the rock above his head, moving in a circle to show the members the symbol of capitalism painted upon the rock. I noticed that directly below Jazz’s feet was a missing rock in the shape of the rock he held in his hand. Dutchie taught me that there were hidden messages in everything if I looked close enough.


“Who here knows anything about this rock? Come forward now. Your punishment will be lessened if you give yourself up now. We don’t accuse our family of capitalism. Not here at Sunburst.”


Dreadlocked heads moved left to right, looking at the person next to them. Arms gripped shoulders in a move to show camaraderie. If I had learned anything in my 12 years of growing up on Sunburst it was that if there were anything worse than being a capitalist it was being a rat. I don’t know why Jazz even bothered trying to coerce a confession out of any of these people he called family. Loyalty was worth more than an ounce of reefer around here.


Dutchie and Aurora stood side by side, with Karma and I cross-legged at their feet. I braided a daisy chain of flowers while Karma drew out scenes in the dirt with his fingers. Dutchie carried a sadness about him. As if he were sad that anyone would ever accuse him of such an atrocity as being a capitalist. Aurora leaned into Dutchie as her long braids fell over her chest. They disappeared underneath her shawl she wore from the night before. Jazz dismissed the community. He gave a warning that violence was not tolerated here at Sunburst.


******


As I made my way back to the greyhound hushed tones caught my attention. I overheard Sunny and his partner Lorelei whispering about Dutchie.


“Who do you think threw that rock at Dutchie and Aurora’s place?”

“Lorelei, whatever Dutchie has himself wrapped up in it can’t be good.”


I ducked away so as not to give up my eavesdropping station slipping into the side door of our greyhound. The beaded curtain stopped and swayed before me. It stopped me from going any further as I eyed Dutchie and Aurora deep in conversation.


“Aurora. They’ll never know I threw a rock at my damn bus.”


“Dutchie, they’re gonna figure it out once they see the crops.”


I often wondered what would get Dutchie kicked out of Sunburst faster when the serrated rock made its way through our bus window last night- his loyalty or his ingenuity. Hiding in my bunk, I knew that these two had created their own rules. The shine in his eyes and the smile on my mom's lips told me so. No one could accuse him of making money if he grew the very product that benefitted the entire compound. He was loyal to a fault, but he also had big ideas that clashed with the commune lifestyle. I guess he was right, sugar and salt do look the same.

June 11, 2021 18:29

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21 comments

Shea West
18:04 Jun 12, 2021

Full disclosure, this story doesn't have much story as a few have pointed out... I think I'm finding that sometimes I don't always have a full story in me- But I'm trying to write out sentences anyway. I so admire all of you who have been at it much longer, and your feedback/insight is part of the reason why I just keep giving this whole thing a try.

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Claire Lewis
14:03 Jun 12, 2021

What an intriguing story! I like that it feels sort of free-flowing, almost stream of consciousness. It fits the subject matter well. And while there isn’t much that happened necessarily, there’s that underlying tension and mystery of who threw the rock and why. Well done :)

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Shea West
18:05 Jun 12, 2021

You're so right, there isn't much happening here. I couldn't seem to drum that up, but I think I feel okay with that for now. I might revisit the story. I told Scott above that I actually lived on a greyhound bus as a small girl, not on a commune or anything...but there were lots of green plants LOL

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Claire Lewis
18:34 Jun 12, 2021

I honestly didn’t mind the slower pace but I’m partial to quieter stories That’s so interesting haha! I love random facts like that! My parents lived in a converted barn on a ranch when I was born. I don’t remember it but I have lots of baby pictures with the horses lol

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Shea West
18:41 Jun 12, 2021

Hippies, all of 'em! HAHHAH

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Scott Skinner
20:02 Jun 11, 2021

This was an enjoyable read that had humor throughout. Not much happens in the story, but you did such good job of painting the commune lifestyle that I was sucked in from the very beginning. I think it helps that you choose the names Karma + Wildflower and introduced them as living on a bus. Then you just expanded on that. I loved the little details you added to make it very clear what life at sunburst was like - talking about hemp sandals, being nude, the line where you say, 'They are right, mostly.' I lol'd at this line in particular, "T...

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Shea West
20:19 Jun 11, 2021

I have plans to come back and add something to this story. I know it's missing a story that goes a bit deeper than what I put up for sure. You're right about the hash part. I swear if you could see my Google search engine you'd probably LOL at that too. "Is mom looking up alternative names for pot again???" Thanks for reading and all the corrections, I will fix those. Fingers crossed, time willing I'll add something to this story. Fun fact, I lived on a greyhound bus for the first few years of my life.....my dad may have also had a green...

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Yolanda Wu
10:54 Jun 18, 2021

This was such an interesting story! I love the exploration it made into living in a commune. I loved the names, they were what got me hooked to keep reading. Sometimes, I just like reading plotless stories, about characters who interest me. I love your prose, and how everything flows together in such a smooth manner - that last sentence was especially punchy, and a nice way to end the story. Wonderful work, Shea!

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Shea West
16:53 Jun 18, 2021

Thank you Yolanda. Communal living has always been fascinating to me, as a spectator not as something I'd actually want to do. I wonder about the power dynamics and if it can actually be "successful" or if it's just to much a pipe dream. Thanks for the love on the last line, I do love a good ender :)

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Yolanda Wu
00:14 Jun 19, 2021

Yes, agreed! I've always been intrigued by that as well. You're welcome about the last line, I love a good last line as well.

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Salma Jm
09:37 Jun 18, 2021

Great description.

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Shea West
16:53 Jun 18, 2021

Thanks so much

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Beth Connor
16:30 Jun 15, 2021

I was so drawn into this! I'm not sure this story needs a "story", it kind of fits the no rules society it depicts. The tale almost felt almost nostalgic. I never lived in a greyhound bus, but I did live in a campground for 6 months as a kid, and a VW bus as a young adult!

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Shea West
17:55 Jun 15, 2021

Yea, I think it was just one of those no ending point kind of stories for sure. That's so cool. I always love hearing about where people lived throughout their lives. If you get a chance listen to Rainbow Valentine's podcast called Disorganized Crime. It's about her parents being drug smugglers back in the day- SO GOOD.

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Beth Connor
19:30 Jun 15, 2021

Oh my goodness- true crime and hippies- I LOVE it! I've lived in a lot of places...But I've been just north of Seattle for the past 15 years (we decided it would probably be nicer for our kids to stay in one place while they were in school! But moving around again is oh so close!)

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H L Mc Quaid
09:54 Jun 14, 2021

Hi Shea, Great details about the bus, felt like I was there. And no wonder it's so vivid, you lived on one, wow! As other have said, this is more of vignette, slice of life, story than one with a dramatic arc (nothing wrong with that, just a different kind of story). :) A few small things.. should be 'on' here not 'own': Aurora often slept without many clothes own, extra word here..or?: The beaded curtain stopped swayed before me. Nice story, felt like I was transported to the Summer of Love. Peace out.

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Shea West
18:13 Jun 14, 2021

Thanks Heather! I'll make those changes now. As always, thanks for the read and the eagle eye!

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B.T Beauregard
01:31 Jun 12, 2021

I was immediately hooked. I love how you managed to weave so much personality and family history into such a short story, I feel like I really got to know some of your characters. The setting is also so unique, and it keeps the reader absorbed in the writing, desperate to know more. And that title!!! So good. Keep writing!! :)

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Shea West
17:59 Jun 12, 2021

Hey thanks so much T.C. This was definitely more of a "let's just get words on the page" kind of story for my own sake this week. I will head over to your stories soon, which would you like me to read?

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B.T Beauregard
18:18 Jun 12, 2021

Hey!! I would really appreciate it if you checked out my latest story. :)

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B.T Beauregard
18:18 Jun 12, 2021

Hey!! I would really appreciate it if you checked out my latest story. :)

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