by Jane Hammons
When the boy went back to Stanford in the fall, he sometimes rode his motorcycle into San Francisco. He'd pull up in front of the Peoples Temple on Geary. He hoped the girl might see him and come to the door. But she never did. He'd read about girls like her in novels and short stories, and sometimes, without understanding it, in poetry. But until the summer he'd gone home to work in his father's law office, he'd never met one.
He was shooting pool at the roadhouse the first time he saw her. The girl was pestering a drunk at the bar. She asked again and again, “Did he save her, Rawley? Is she saved?” Her hair was cut short like a little boy's. Girls who went away to college wore theirs long and straight. The ones who didn't still wore flips and ponytails with bangs.
The girl chugged Rawley's beer and licked the rim of his salted mug when she was done. Rawley had come home from Vietnam to discover that his wife had got religion and joined a commune. He grabbed the girl by the shoulders and began to howl. The boy clutched his cue and stepped up to the bar. The bartender knew how to deal with all kinds. He shot the college boy a warning look and gave Rawley another beer.
“You get,” the bartender said to the girl, “I don't want your daddy in her looking for you.” The bartender yelled at her when she refused to move. “Get!”
She turned to the boy. “You the one with the motorcycle?”
He nodded. His blonde hair fell across his shoulders.
“I heard you ride up.” She looked out the door. His motorcycle was parked in the big gravel lot in front of the roadhouse. She took his hand and led him out the door. She sat behind him on the motorcycle and wrapped one arm tightly around his slender waist. She slipped her other hand down between his thighs and held on like she had known him forever.
For the rest of the summer they rode his motorcycle. In the morning he worked in his father's law office. In the afternoon he picked her up down by the railroad tracks. He didn't know exactly where she lived. She said her daddy didn't like motorcycles, so she walked through the field that bordered the tracks, picking green beans and corn and squash along the way. Sometimes they ate the vegetables raw; sometimes he jammed them into his pockets; sometimes they tossed the stuff along the highway.
They'd ride out past the roadhouse to Bottomless Lakes State Park, take off their clothes and sit by The Devil's Inkwell, smoking pot.
“You think they're really bottomless?” she'd ask every time. She stretched out like a lizard across a hot slab of sandstone.
“Some people think the water runs into the Carlsbad Caverns.” With his fingertips he traced the white quarter moons of skin beneath her tan breasts.
They'd throw things—a rusty thermos, a beer can full of dirt, an old shoe—into the lake.
“How will we know if that stuff goes to the Caverns?” she asked.
“Then what's the use of throwing it in?”
One afternoon they rode the 70 miles to Carlsbad, dropped the hits of Orange Sunshine he'd brought home with him from California, and went down into the Caverns to see if they could find the beer can, the thermos, the shoe. They wandered through the Big Room, mesmerized by the translucent, calcite soda straws in the Doll's Theater, transfixed by threads of aragonite—sharp as needles—that spun around The Temple of the Sun. They gazed into pools they came across here and there, until a park ranger asked them to move along. Nothing they'd tossed into The Devil's Inkwell surfaced.
“I bet that stuff floated up into a cave nobody has discovered yet. They're always discovering new parts of the Caverns,” she said later when they were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the snack bar at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. “Did you know that?”
He pictured the bottom of The Devil's Inkwell, dark and murky and full of junk.
“You don't really care, do you?” She folded her arms across her chest and pouted.
Sometimes he found her tiresome. He got up and walked out the door. He didn't look back until he got on his motorcycle.
She watched him out the window. He straddled his motorcycle the way he did when he wasn't planning to stay wherever he was for very long. His hand was on the throttle. She dropped the crusts of peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hurried to the door. When she got on the motorcycle, she kissed his back with kisses so small and light, she didn't know if he could feel them. But he felt her there, nibbling like a kitten.
The last time he picked her up out by the tracks she wanted to go to the football stadium.
“Why?” He lit a joint and passed it to her.
“To see that preacher,” she said, taking a hit, “he's from the place where
Rawley's wife went.” She let the smoke drift slowly from between her parted lips. They were dry and a little bit chapped. “I can go by myself.”
“I'll take you,” he said.
The girl climbed on behind him, and they sped fast along the highway until it turned into Main Street. Then he slowed down and obeyed the limit. When they pulled up outside the chain link fence that separated the parking lot from the football field, he was surprised to see it full of cars, people crowding through the gates.
She got off the motorcycle and stood close, waiting for him to follow. A warm breeze blew his soft blonde hair across her cheek, brushing her lips. His hair felt like corn silk, tasted like roots.
He pulled on a long white thread that dangled from her cut off jeans, his finger slipping inside against her thigh. “Let's go,” he said, leaning into her, his lips brushing hers. Her breath was like summer.
He put his hand on the throttle.
She walked through the gates.
The boy finished college and then law school. When he graduated, he went back home and joined his father's law firm. Occasionally, when he was drinking in a bar or dancing at the high school reunion, he'd ask people if they remembered the girl. No one did.
The war ended. The roadhouse closed.
In the headlines: Jonestown.
He checked the papers every day as the list of names grew longer: hundreds of names, none of them hers. Some people, the newspapers said, had escaped into the jungles of Guyana.
He took his new motorcycle out of the garage and rode out into the country, down the highway along the railroad tracks, past the boarded up roadhouse to The Devil's Inkwell. He lay down on the bed of sandstone. He could taste her there—wet and salty and blue as the sky.
In the forests she hid among tapirs. Fondling their snouts, she lay with them in twilight along cool riverbanks beneath the falls. The sun rose and she ran with ocelots. In the afternoon she crept into termite mounds and napped with snakes. When she woke, monkeys pawed through her hair.
He mounted the motorcycle and drove hard and fast over the rim of the lake, plunging into the murky waters of The Devil's Inkwell. Through underground channels and caves unexplored, he sped toward the jungle, certain that when he surfaced, she would meet him there.
All rights reserved.
This was published in 2008 in Gander Press Review. The link is to an essay, which Fielding McGehee, the editor of The Jonestown Institute's website, asked me to write for a column they have on how Jonestown is represented in the arts. He read the story here at Fictionaut.