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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

     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?"

     "No."

     "Why not?"

     "Why should I?"

     "Don'tcha wanta see what's on the car? Don'tcha wanta go for a ride?"

     "I don't know."

     "Why not?"

     "I got things to do."

     "Like what?"

     "Things."

     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.

     "It's Connie."

     "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 himhow 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?"

     "Where what?"

     "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

     youlike 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.

     Right?"

     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."

     "Sure."

     "Buthow 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 familiarMAN 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?"

     "No."

     "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

     walked by?"

     "What sign?"

     "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 olderthirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to

     pound faster.

     "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

     eitherhe 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

     his ear.

     "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

     to him.

     "No. I got things to do."

     "Hey."

     "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 meanI 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 uhthey'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 bitchnothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother's

     helping some fat woman with the corn, they're cleaning the

     cornhusking 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.

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