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WHERE ARE YOU GOING

By Kim Clark,2014-06-12 09:58
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WHERE ARE YOU GOING

     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

     (1967).

     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 fixedwhat 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

     enoughwith her in the same buildingshe 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

     not.

     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 outher friend pulled her face up

     into a brave, droll lookand 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

     anything.

     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,

     "So-so."

     She and that girl and occasionally another girl went out several

     times a week, and the rest of the time Connie spent around the

     houseit was summer vacationgetting 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 upsome vexation that was like a

     fly buzzing suddenly around their headsand their faces went hard

     with contempt.

     One Sunday Connie got up at elevennone of them bothered with

     churchand 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 herit 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'sSon 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 roadthe driveway was

     longand 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."

     "What?"

     "You're cute."

     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