Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates
First published in Epoch, Fall 1966. Included in Prize Stories : O
Henry Award Winners (1968), and The Best American Short Stories
Copyright ? by Joyce Carol Oates
for Bob Dylan
Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous
giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or
checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right.
Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who
hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always
scolded Connie about it. "Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You
think you're so pretty?" she would say. Connie would raise her
eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her
mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that
moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother
had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots
in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was
always after Connie.
"Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got
your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your
sister using that junk."
Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a
secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn't bad
enough—with her in the same building—she was so plain and chunky and
steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her
mother and her mother's sisters. June did this, June did that, she
saved money and helped clean the house and cookedand Connie couldn't
do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. Their
father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he
wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper
he went to bed. He didn't bother talking much to them, but around
his bent head Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie
wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all
over. "She makes me want to throw up sometimes," she complained to
her friends. She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made
everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or
There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of
hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when
Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections. The father of
Connie's best girl friend drove the girls the three miles to town
and left them at a shopping plaza so they could walk through the
stores or go to a movie, and when he came to pick them up again at
eleven he never bothered to ask what they had done.
They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping
plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always
scuffed the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin
wrists; they would lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if
someone passed who amused or interested them. Connie had long dark
blond hair that drew anyone's eye to it, and she wore part of it
pulled up on her head and puffed out and the rest of it she let fall
down her back. She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one
way when she was at home and another way when she was away from
home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one
for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike
and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing
music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of
the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh,
which was cynical and drawling at home—"Ha, ha, very funny,"—but
highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the
charms on her bracelet.
Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they
went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a
drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out. The restaurant was
shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on
its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger
aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with
daring, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited
them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn't like.
It made them feel good to be able to ignore him. They went up
through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit,
fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if
they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night
to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. They sat at
the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin
shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made
everything so good: the music was always in the background, like
music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.
A boy named Eddie came in to talk with them. He sat backwards on his
stool, turning himself jerkily around in semicircles and then
stopping and turning back again, and after a while he asked Connie
if she would like something to eat. She said she would and so she
tapped her friend's arm on her way out—her friend pulled her face up
into a brave, droll look—and Connie said she would meet her at
eleven, across the way. "I just hate to leave her like that," Connie
said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn't be alone for
long. So they went out to his car, and on the way Connie couldn't
help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all
around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with
Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. She drew her
shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of
being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a
face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair,
in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his
lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned
away, but she couldn't help glancing back and there he was, still
watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, "Gonna get
you, baby," and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing
She spent three hours with him, at the restaurant where they ate
hamburgers and drank Cokes in wax cups that were always sweating,
and then down an alley a mile or so away, and when he left her off
at five to eleven only the movie house was still open at the plaza.
Her girl friend was there, talking with a boy. When Connie came up,
the two girls smiled at each other and Connie said, "How was the
movie?" and the girl said, 'You should know." They rode off with the
girl's father, sleepy and pleased, and Connie couldn't help but look
back at the darkened shopping plaza with its big empty parking lot
and its signs that were faded and ghostly now, and over at the
drive-in restaurant where cars were still circling tirelessly. She
couldn't hear the music at this distance.
Next morning June asked her how the movie was and Connie said,
She and that girl and occasionally another girl went out several
times a week, and the rest of the time Connie spent around the
house—it was summer vacation—getting in her mother s way and
thinking, dreaming about the boys she met. But all the boys fell
back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but
an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of
the music and the humid night air of July. Connie's mother kept
dragging her back to the daylight by finding things for her to do or
saying suddenly, 'What's this about the Pettinger girl?"
And Connie would say nervously, "Oh, her. That dope." She always
drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls, and her
mother was simple and kind enough to believe it. Her mother was so
simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much.
Her mother went scuffling around the house in old bedroom slippers
and complained over the telephone to one sister about the other,
then the other called up and the two of them complained about the
third one. If June's name was mentioned her mother's tone was
approving, and if Connie's name was mentioned it was disapproving.
This did not really mean she disliked Connie, and actually Connie
thought that her mother preferred her to June just because she was
prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a
sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little
value to either of them. Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost
friends, but something would come up—some vexation that was like a
fly buzzing suddenly around their heads—and their faces went hard
One Sunday Connie got up at eleven—none of them bothered with
church—and washed her hair so that it could dry all day long in the
sun. Her parents and sister were going to a barbecue at an aunt's
house and Connie said no, she wasn't interested, rolling her eyes to
let her mother know just what she thought of it. "Stay home alone
then," her mother said sharply. Connie sat out back in a lawn chair
and watched them drive away, her father quiet and bald, hunched
around so that he could back the car out, her mother with a look
that was still angry and not at all softened through the windshield,
and in the back seat poor old June, all dressed up as if she didn't
know what a barbecue was, with all the running yelling kids and the
flies. Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and
dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the
caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy
she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how
sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but
sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and
when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the back
yard ran off into weeds and a fence-like line of trees and behind it
the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos ranch house that
was now three years old startled her—it looked small. She shook her
head as if to get awake.
It was too hot. She went inside the house and turned on the radio to
drown out the quiet. She sat on the edge of her bed, barefoot, and
listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday
Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she
sang along with, interspersed by exclamations from "Bobby King":
"An' look here, you girls at Napoleon's—Son and Charley want you to
pay real close attention to this song coming up!"
And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of
slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music
itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in
and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest.
After a while she heard a car coming up the drive. She sat up at
once, startled, because it couldn't be her father so soon. The
gravel kept crunching all the way in from the road—the driveway was
long—and Connie ran to the window. It was a car she didn't know. It
was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight
opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her
hair, checking it, and she whispered, "Christ. Christ," wondering
how bad she looked. The car came to a stop at the side door and the
horn sounded four short taps, as if this were a signal Connie knew.
She went into the kitchen and approached the door slowly, then hung
out the screen door, her bare toes curling down off the step. There
were two boys in the car and now she recognized the driver: he had
shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was
grinning at her.
"I ain't late, am I?" he said.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Connie said.
"Toldja I'd be out, didn't I?"
"I don't even know who you are."
She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure, and he
spoke in a fast, bright monotone. Connie looked past him to the
other boy, taking her time. He had fair brown hair, with a lock that
fell onto his forehead. His sideburns gave him a fierce, embarrassed
look, but so far he hadn't even bothered to glance at her. Both boys
wore sunglasses. The driver's glasses were metallic and mirrored
everything in miniature.
"You wanta come for a ride?" he said.
Connie smirked and let her hair fall loose over one shoulder.
"Don'tcha like my car? New paint job," he said. "Hey."
She pretended to fidget, chasing flies away from the door.
"Don'tcha believe me, or what?" he said.
"Look, I don't even know who you are," Connie said in disgust.
"Hey, Ellie's got a radio, see. Mine broke down." He lifted his
friend's arm and showed her the little transistor radio the boy was