The boys throw rocks at us, and one of the rocks hits me on the side of the head. They boys are leaning out of windows and hiding behind bus shelter advertisements. Adam says we should move to a new town, but we don't go to Rehoboth like he wants but to a place neither of us has been before. We book a room in a motel where you can pay by the week and the motel manager talks to you from behind bullet-proof glass, but people in town smile at us as we walk past. Adam says they’re only doing that because they don’t know who we are. Adam only has two weeks' worth of money for the motel, so one or both of us will have to get a job or start turning tricks. When I try to get a job at the movie theater, the manager asks me why I'm not in school, and I tell him that I'm older than he thinks I am. From a side window in the movie theater you can see the Catholic school boys crossing towards the strip mall even though the traffic signal says don’t walk.
I get back to the hotel and Adam says he met a girl named Madeleine in town. They want to go to a hayride this weekend. Adam likes her, and I tell him: "You better not tell her what you do to earn side money." Adam laughs and says he wants to use part of next week's motel money for the tanning salon since he thinks Madeleine can convince her boss to give him a job. He thinks Madeleine will be more attracted to him if he has a tan. Adam goes to the tanning salon that night, and I watch a movie on television about a woman who goes under cover as a high-class escort to avenge her brother who's in a coma in the hospital. The next morning, Adam tells me to meet him at the clothing store where Madeleine works. He gives me the address, and I write it on the back of a bus ticket. Outside the window, the trees are changing color and the drug addicts are talking about how they don't go on hayrides anymore.
I'm on a hayride with Madeleine's friend Ford, who tells me that he can find me a job as a groundskeeper at his aunt and uncle's house. I don't want to do it since I graduated from college and a groundskeeper seems like something I shouldn't do. Ford has his mother's family name as a first name, and he refers to his uncle as Mr. Ford. The Fords are anonymous rich people. Mrs. Ford looks like the prettiest girl on page 17 of the high school yearbook, and her dark hair falls in long tresses onto her shoulders. L'Oreal 6A. Light ash brown. That's the kind of hair dye she uses, and I know that because she hires me that day and sends me to the pharmacy to buy things for her. After I get back from picking up the things she wants, Mrs. Ford tells me I can start officially tomorrow. She tells me to follow her into her bedroom because she wants to pay me for today. She me gives more than I’m expecting because she has no concept of money. She just gives it away. As she's fumbling through her drawer, I glance inside the walk-in closet where I can see the things that she's thrown on the floor: monogrammed white lingerie, a dress with the image of love-lies-bleeding, a door's brass fittings, a feather duster, a wide-brimmed pink hat, a porcelain figurine of a well-dressed woman with a hair-crack down its back, a fox fur stole, a terrifying orgy of dolls.
Mrs. Ford hands me the money and ushers me out of the room with fairyland kindness. Ford shows up just as I'm leaving, and he's soon talking to his aunt and uncle. He briefly turns to glance at me, and then he returns his gaze back to his aunt and uncle, who are talking about how nice he looks in his collared shirt and khakis. Mrs. Ford rests her hand against the small of Ford’s back. I leave, and I can see Ford watching me walk down the street through the window. Before I reach the motel, I stop at the half-abandoned strip mall because the 60-watt light bulb went out in the motel room bathroom. I buy the light bulb in a pharmacy, and as I'm leaving the store, a girl wearing an unseasonably heavy coat comes in and the employees immediately surround her and start shouting at her. She's well-known around here, but I tell the employees to leave her alone, and I walk her out of the store. When I ask her outside if she was planning on buying anything, she says she just needed a needle-and-thread kit since she has a tear in the back of her skirt. I go back in and buy it, and she thanks me when I come out. She tells me to walk her to her truck, which is parked far back in the strip mall lot. The truck has a three-inch lift, which is illegal in this state.
Anna convinces me to drive back to her house since she thinks people from the store will follow her and throw rocks at her car, and I know what that's like. To get to Anna's house, we drive past the Church of St. Rose of Lima, the 4-H club, and the house porches overflowing with dirty children. A never-ending waltz of dirty children. We reach Anna's house, and in her yard are abandoned things: a horsehair sofa that Anna doesn't want anymore and keys that birds have stolen and dropped. Anna removes her shabby coat and her scarf, and I suddenly realize that she's beautiful. She's lithe and tanned and has dark hair that's wavy at the ends. On the wall are hung paintings of men in feathers. I ask Anna who they are, and she says that they're her relatives since her grandfather was a chief of a band of Onondaga Indians. For some reason I want to cry but I don't. Anna leads me to the couch and then she marches to a cupboard, which she opens. She removes a board game and brings it back to the table where I am. I tell her that I need to get back to Adam at the motel, and she says: "No, Abel, I need you to stay." She's trying to find her uncle who's missing, and she wants my help. I ask her how she thinks I can help her, and she grabs me by the forearm and leads me out the screen door in back of the house to the yard. She drags me to a patch of earth, and I watch as she gets down onto the dirt in her dress. She ravages the dirt with her fingers, and she digs a hole about a half-foot deep. "I'm trying to find my uncle. He's down here," she says. Ten feet ahead of us is a rose bush under the shade of a twisted, broken tree. I leave Anna and approach the rose bush, where I see that the mouths of the roses remain defiantly closed.
"You have roses growing here," I say.
Anna's still digging into the ground with her hands. She'll dig until her fingertips are bloody.
"I know I have roses growing there," she says. "I didn't plant them. Everything grows here because there's blood in the soil. There were wars here in the old days and there's blood in the soil."
Anna raises her head to look at me as she says this, and her don't-you-dare-leave-me-alone-here eyes plead with me. But then she lowers her head again and returns to digging her hands into the red, red land. I pull Anna back into the house and coerce her into the kitchen. I place her hands under the faucet of the sink and turn it on. She winces as the water runs over her fingers, and the fluid that dances down the drain is red-tinged tap water. I ask her where the band-aids are, and she says that she doesn't need them because she does this all the time and her hands heal just fine. I tell her that one day she'll wake up with stubs instead of fingers and then what will she do? She won't be able to feed herself or push buttons. The evening comes and we eat Miracle Whip sandwiches, since that’s all Anna has in the refrigerator. Miracle Whip. Anna is in no state to drive me back to the motel, so I tell her that we’ll have to do it first thing in the morning.
Anna drives me back to the motel, and in the parking lot a man is taking a picture of his girlfriend sitting in her shorts in the cab of his truck. Adam is waiting for me at the door to the motel room, but he doesn't ask me where I’ve been. I tell him I think I can become someone different in this in this town and I need to become someone different in this town, but he doesn’t say anything to that. All we know is running, running, running. The afternoon at the Ford place is humdrum. Mrs. Ford hands me a printed list of the things she wants done, and her arm and hand have a non-distinct rich person smell from her upscale perfume. Mr. Ford has already placed all the tools and supplies I need against the brick retaining wall of the property. The Fords don't acknowledge me the rest of the afternoon, and I can see them in the house from where I’m working in the yard. It’s dark when I get back to the motel, and Adam says Madeleine arranged a second hayride.
Madeleine picks us up in her RAV4 and drives us to the Gorodetsky farm where we meet her friends again. The girls are named Julie and Lisa, and Lisa’s boyfriend Frank is there also. There's already a tractor and a cart waiting in a field, and Ford says that he's driving the tractor since he's been here before and he's already arranged with the owner to handle the hayride. After we're all seated in the cart pulled by the tractor, Lisa reminds us that this is the Gorodetsky farm, which she tells us was the site of the Gorodetsky Hayride Accident of 1981. Adam makes a ridiculous joke about Godzilla, but no one's listening to him but me.
The cart we're riding in has too much hay and I'm uncomfortable, and Ford turns around and laughs at me. "Keep your eyes on the road, buddy," Frank says. Frank's wearing a shearling jacket, and he puts his arm around Lisa who he calls Lise. We all become silent as we approach the barn at the back end of the Gorodetsky farm, since this is where the accident happened if Lisa is to be believed. When we reach the barn, Frank chases Lisa into the woods. Ford walks into the barn with Julie, and after a pause I follow them though they don’t see me. Through the cracked barn door I can see Julie and Ford talking. Julie’s pretty, but it looks like she’s more interested in Ford than he is in her, poor thing. As I lean my ear towards the gap between the barn and the barn door, I hear Julie say to Ford: "You're not scared of me, are you?" They’re sitting on hay bales under farm tools and horseshoeing equipment.
"I just think you're coming on a little strong, that's all," Ford says.
Julie’s laugh is deep and confident.
"I'm sorry if you think I'm coming on a little strong, but I like you and I don't want you to run away," she says.
This time Ford laughs. He says: "You make me sound like a puppy. Like you're adopting me from the animal rescue, and you’re afraid I might run off."
"A lot's changed since I moved back to town," Julie says. "I'm working at the travel agency. I helped my brother tear up the linoleum in the kitchen and put down tile. I'm tired of all the games. I'm living alone now. I'm not living with all those girls like I was before."
Julie passes a hand through her hair and trips in her heels as she's started walking across the hay-covered barn floor, looking for a mirror. There isn't one. She wears a shirt with rounded collars like Shirley Temple. The shirt is baby-blue cashmere with a white collar, and it's tucked into Julie's blue jeans.
Ford and Julie continue their minuet of mindless foreplay, and Julie begins to unbutton her baby-blue cashmere shirt. She looks around for a comfortable place for second base, whatever that means in these parts. Ford takes off his shirt too, and it looks like he must have gone to the tanning salon like Adam since he's really tanned. He follows Julie to the spot she's found. They start making out, and I can't watch them without feeling disgusted with myself. I turn to leave, but then I hear Julie shout at Ford and storm out of the barn. She's so angry that she doesn't notice me.
When I walk into the barn, Ford’s getting dressed, and he says: "My aunt and uncle love you. I've been meaning to ask you if you like working for them."
"I think they’re all right."
"I mean, I know groundskeeping isn’t what you want, but they can get you a job at the bank if you’d like that better. That's probably where I'll go to work when I graduate college next year. We can both be bank tellers."
"Tell the bank robbers to watch out."
"That’s right," Ford laughs. "Tell the bank robbers to watch out."
I walk with Ford back to the tractor and cart, and Ford drives us back to where the cars are parked. Ford drives Adam and me back to the motel, and as we pass a church I remember the house where I grew up with its yellow and red stained glass on either side of the house door. When we reach the motel, Ford hangs around to talk. Adam agrees with Ford that we should meet again this weekend, but as soon as Ford leaves he tells me we're leaving town tomorrow.
"Abel, we have to get out of this fucking town," Adam tells me that night.
He wants to go to Rehoboth after all and show off his tan. The next morning we find Ford standing outside our motel room just as we're leaving with our things. Adam tells Ford we're hitting the road jack and pushes past him with his duffel bag. Ford tells me that he thought I wanted to start over here, but I walk past him and don't say anything. The motel rooms open onto a dilapidated external arcade like they do in all cheap motels. There's a family in the parking lot that must have been living at the motel because they're tucking boxes of teddy bears and children's furniture into the back of their car. When I was a kid and we used to move around a lot, I remember my mother introduced me to a man who said he wanted to talk to me and that he knew me, and I kept telling myself: "Please don't let this be my father."
Just as I reach the parking lot with Adam, Ford says: "You're just gonna up and leave without saying anything?" He tells me things could change for me here, but I know it’s not true. Things don't change for certain people. Adam shouts: "Abel, let's go!"
I start to walk away from Ford, and he grabs me by the forearm.
"You can’t leave. You just got here," he says.
Then I say: "The world's a terrible place. We have to keep moving."
Ford grabs my arm again, and I push him roughly away. But I trip on a bottle as I’m backing away, and I fall and smack my head on the macadam. I'm knocked out, and as I wake up I can feel the motel mattress beneath me. Adam's grabbing onto my shoulders and shaking me awake. I wake up, and I can see Adam getting dressed. He’s tanned from the tanning salon he went to last night, and he tells me I need to meet this girl named Madeleine at a clothing store. We just got here yesterday, and no one in town knows about us.
"They're nice here because they don't know who we are," Adam says.
Madeleine drives Adam and me to a field for a hayride. I'm sitting on the cart with Ford, and the woman driving tells us about all the issues she's having with the tenants she’s renting her house to because they’re students. They have parties all the time, and one of the girls has dropped out of school to become a trapeze artist. The girl hasn't moved out. She just stays home all day and swings from the ceiling like a maniac. The woman drives us past an abandoned strip mall, the Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a marten farm, an illegal mink farm, and a patch of roses planted outside a cosmetic surgery clinic. Ford tells me his uncle and aunt are looking for a groundskeeper, and I don't want to suggest myself since I think it's beneath me. But Ford says he wants to help me so I agree to meet them. It's funny because his name's Ford, and his uncle and aunt are called Mr. and Mrs. Ford.