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
holding, and now Connie began to hear the music. It was the same
program that was playing inside the house.
"Bobby King?" she said.
"I listen to him all the time. I think he's great."
"He's kind of great," Connie said reluctantly.
"Listen, that guy's great. He knows where the action is."
Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for
her to see just what this boy was looking at. She couldn't decide if
she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the
doorway and wouldn't come down or go back inside. She said, "What's
all that stuff painted on your car?"
"Can'tcha read it?" He opened the door very carefully, as if he were
afraid it might fall off. He slid out just as carefully, planting
his feet firmly on the ground, the tiny metallic world in his
glasses slowing down like gelatine hardening, and in the midst of it
Connie's bright green blouse. "This here is my name, to begin with,
he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the
side, with a drawing of a round, grinning face that reminded Connie
of a pumpkin, except it wore sunglasses. "I wanta introduce myself,
I'm Arnold Friend and that's my real name and I'm gonna be your
friend, honey, and inside the car's Ellie Oscar, he's kinda shy."
Ellie brought his transistor radio up to his shoulder and balanced
it there. "Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey," Arnold
Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his
eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't
think much of it. The left rear fender had been smashed and around
it was written, on the gleaming gold background: DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN
DRIVER. Connie had to laugh at that. Arnold Friend was pleased at
her laughter and looked up at her. "Around the other side's a lot
more —you wanta come and see them?"
"Why should I?"
"Don'tcha wanta see what's on the car? Don'tcha wanta go for a ride?"
"I don't know."
"I got things to do."
He laughed as if she had said something funny. He slapped his
thighs. He was standing in a strange way, leaning back against the
car as if he were balancing himself. He wasn't tall, only an inch or
so taller than she would be if she came down to him. Connie liked
the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight
faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled
his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt
that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his
arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work,
lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular. And his
face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks
slightly darkened because he hadn't shaved for a day or two, and the
nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going
to gobble up and it was all a joke.
"Connie, you ain't telling the truth. This is your day set aside for
a ride with me and you know it," he said, still laughing. The way he
straightened and recovered from his fit of laughing showed that it
had been all fake.
"How do you know what my name is?" she said suspiciously.
"Maybe and maybe not."
"I know my Connie," he said, wagging his finger. Now she remembered
him even better, back at the restaurant, and her cheeks warmed at
the thought of how she had sucked in her breath just at the moment
she passed him—how she must have looked to him. And he had
remembered her. "Ellie and I come out here especially for you," he
said. "Ellie can sit in back. How about it?"
"Where're we going?"
He looked at her. He took off the sunglasses and she saw how pale
the skin around his eyes was, like holes that were not in shadow but
instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that
catch the light in an amiable way. He smiled. It was as if the idea
of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him.
"Just for a ride, Connie sweetheart."
"I never said my name was Connie," she said.
"But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of
things," Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still
leaning back against the side of his jalopy. "I took a special
interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about
you—like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I
know where and how long they're going to be gone, and I know who you
were with last night, and your best girl friend's name is Betty.
He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting
the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fine.
In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not
bother to look around at them.
"Ellie can sit in the back seat," Arnold Friend said. He indicated
his friend with a casual jerk of his chin, as if Ellie did not count
and she should not bother with him.
"How'd you find out all that stuff?" Connie said.
"Listen: Betty Schultz and Tony Fitch and Jimmy Pettinger and Nancy
Pettinger," he said in a chant. "Raymond Stanley and Bob Hutter—"
"Do you know all those kids?"
"I know everybody."
"Look, you're kidding. You're not from around here."
"But—how come we never saw you before?"
"Sure you saw me before," he said. He looked down at his boots, as
if he were a little offended. "You just don't remember."
"I guess I'd remember you," Connie said.
"Yeah?" He looked up at this, beaming. He was pleased. He began to
mark time with the music from Ellie's radio, tapping his fists
lightly together. Connie looked away from his smile to the car,
which was painted so bright it almost hurt her eyes to look at it.
She looked at that name, ARNOLD FRIEND. And up at the front fender
was an expression that was familiar—MAN THE FLYING SAUCERS. It was
an expression kids had used the year before but didn't use this
year. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something
to her that she did not yet know.
"What're you thinking about? Huh?" Arnold Friend demanded. "Not
worried about your hair blowing around in the car, are you?"
"Think I maybe can't drive good?"
"How do I know?"
"You're a hard girl to handle. How come?" he said. "Don't you know
I'm your friend? Didn't you see me put my sign in the air when you
"My sign." And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They
were maybe ten feet apart. After his hand fell back to his side the
X was still in the air, almost visible. Connie let the screen door
close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music
from her radio and the boy's blend together. She stared at Arnold
Friend. He stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed,
with one hand idly on the door handle as if he were keeping himself
up that way and had no intention of ever moving again. She
recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his
thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight
shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy
dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn't
want to put into words. She recognized all this and also the
singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a
little melancholy, and she recognized the way he tapped one fist
against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him. But
all these things did not come together.
She said suddenly, "Hey, how old are you?"
His smiled faded. She could see then that he wasn't a kid, he was
much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to
"That's a crazy thing to ask. Can'tcha see I'm your own age?"
"Like hell you are."
"Or maybe a couple years older. I'm eighteen."
"Eighteen?" she said doubtfully.
He grinned to reassure her and lines appeared at the corners of his
mouth. His teeth were big and white. He grinned so broadly his eyes
became slits and she saw how thick the lashes were, thick and black
as if painted with a black tarlike material. Then, abruptly, he
seemed to become embarrassed and looked over his shoulder at Ellie.
"Him, he's crazy," he said. "Ain't he a riot? He's a nut, a real
character." Ellie was still listening to the music. His sunglasses
told nothing about what he was thinking. He wore a bright orange
shirt unbuttoned halfway to show his chest, which was a pale, bluish
chest and not muscular like Arnold Friend's. His shirt collar was
turned up all around and the very tips of the collar pointed out
past his chin as if they were protecting him. He was pressing the
transistor radio up against his ear and sat there in a kind of daze,
right in the sun.
"He's kinda strange," Connie said.
"Hey, she says you're kinda strange! Kinda strange!" Arnold Friend
cried. He pounded on the car to get Ellie's attention. Ellie turned
for the first time and Connie saw with shock that he wasn't a kid
either—he had a fair, hairless face, cheeks reddened slightly as if
the veins grew too close to the surface of his skin, the face of a
forty-year-old baby. Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her at
this sight and she stared at him as if waiting for something to
change the shock of the moment, make it all right again. Ellie's
lips kept shaping words, mumbling along with the words blasting in
"Maybe you two better go away," Connie said faintly.
"What? How come?" Arnold Friend cried. "We come out here to take you
for a ride. It's Sunday." He had the voice of the man on the radio
now. It was the same voice, Connie thought. "Don'tcha know it's
Sunday all day? And honey, no matter who you were with last night,
today you're with Arnold Friend and don't you forget it! Maybe you
better step out here," he said, and this last was in a different
voice. It was a little flatter, as if the heat was finally getting
"No. I got things to do."
"You two better leave."
"We ain't leaving until you come with us."
"Like hell I am—"
"Connie, don't fool around with me. I mean—I mean, don't fool
around," he said, shaking his head. He laughed incredulously. He
placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he were
indeed wearing a wig, and brought the stems down behind his ears.
Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in
her so that for a moment he wasn't even in focus but was just a blur
standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he
had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere
before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and
even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.
"If my father comes and sees you—"
"He ain't coming. He's at a barbecue."
"How do you know that?"
"Aunt Tillie's. Right now they're uh—they're drinking. Sitting
around," he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the
way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard. Then the vision
seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. "Yeah. Sitting
around. There's your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels,
the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother's
helping some fat woman with the corn, they're cleaning the
corn—husking the corn—"
"What fat woman?" Connie cried.
"How do I know what fat woman, I don't know every goddamn fat woman
in the world!" Arnold Friend laughed.
"Oh, that's Mrs. Hornsby . . . . Who invited her?" Connie said. She
felt a little lightheaded. Her breath was coming quickly.
"She's too fat. I don't like them fat. I like them the way you are,
honey," he said, smiling sleepily at her. They stared at each other
for a while through the screen door. He said softly, "Now, what
you're going to do is this: you're going to come out that door. You
re going to sit up front with me and Ellie's going to sit in the
back, the hell with Ellie, right? This isn't Ellie's date. You're my
date. I'm your lover, honey."
"What? You're crazy—"
"Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will," he
said. "I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it's real
nice and you couldn't ask for nobody better than me, or more polite.
I always keep my word. I'll tell you how it is, I'm always nice at
first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you
have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you
can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll
give in to me and you'll love me "
"Shut up! You're crazy!" Connie said. She backed away from the door.