Her name was Sandy and she lived in a small town everybody thought was rotten. A stench of decaying mashed beets permeated the stagnant local air because there was a sugar factory in the middle of the town and half its population was employed there, squashing sugar beets for a living, stinking up the atmosphere. You couldn’t escape from that foul smell, it haunted you like the ghost of somebody you murdered, day and night, ever since the mayor had thought it’d be a fabulous idea to have the sugar factory running twenty-four hours a day every day, to lower the unemployment levels that way and keep the revenue flowing in steadily.
Sandy hated the sugar factory, that appalling mass of white-coated steel sticking out in the landscape like a monstrous zit about to burst, but most of all she despised her parents who’d picked out the shithole town they were living in as their ideal place to start a family. The parents owned a tasteless box-shaped house on the outskirts of the town where they ran a little laundry business, cleaning up the beet-stained clothes of the sugar factory workers, among other things.
Sandy hated her parents’ guts with an almost psychotic ferocity and most of the time, when they were addressing her with their endless scolding monologues, she wished they’d simply shut up and drop dead. She blamed ninety percent of her life’s badness on the fact that they’d decided to bring her up in this town and so she tried to escape the horrible place every chance she got.
Most days, during the vast and dull summer, Sandy would hop onto a train that left every half an hour from her town’s only railway station and that then went all the way down to the city. Now, in the city, things were different.
The train itself ran from an even stinkier little town a couple dozen miles up north where they had a meatpacking plant, and so it was often late and always filled with a deathly odour, both of which unfailingly hacked Sandy off. She detested waiting for that reeking train to arrive at the station, and it seemed to her that waiting for it to take her to the city was like waiting for her adolescence to come to an end so that she could finally, and legally, leave her town for good and never come back.
From Sandy’s town, the train rode through seven insignificant tiny stations at which virtually nobody got off and nobody got on. It made Sandy wonder whether it was actually worth it making stops at those places sometimes, all of them barely even villages; whether it wouldn’t be more reasonable to just forget about them altogether and in doing so get the message across to the people who wished to settle there. The message, of course, would be for those people to go fuck themselves.
Anyway, this being the only mode of transportation that could take her to the city, Sandy was compelled to ride the train. The train moved on slowly, painfully slowly for the short distance it was travelling, and it wheezed from the effort sometimes, making Sandy consider the possibility that it was still powered by steam. Nonetheless, the inside of the car was quite comfortable if you could snatch a seat before others outraced you to it, and then for the oh-ninety-four that Sandy had to pay for her ticket (after discounts) you could get to the city within thirty minutes or so. During those thirty minutes, you could do whatever: listen to music, read a book, stare at the wheat fields outside—there was nothing else besides wheat fields and dark patches of pathless forest between Sandy’s town and the city. Or you could chat with people—strangers, friends, maybe even the conductor. The conductors who worked on this particular train knew Sandy and her family so well that they usually didn’t even check to see if she had a ticket, most of the time. I say that because once in a while, unpredictably, it would suddenly turn out to be Fat Molly’s working shift and Fat Molly didn’t like Sandy one bit, and she would rather pierce her own heart with a wooden stake before she let Sandy ride the train for free. Now, Fat Molly was just being a mean vengeful bitch, far as Sandy was concerned, because Sandy had stolen her boyfriend three years ago (who she’d since ditched), and Fat Molly, who was then just Molly, got so depressed she ate and ate and ate and gained like fifty pounds and grew so obnoxiously huge and nasty she had to take the job on the train because everywhere else she’d just scare people away. And so Fat Molly did the only thing she could to spoil Sandy’s day while she was still confined to the town; that’s how her petty revenge of never letting Sandy ride the train for free came to be.
But whatever, Sandy wasn’t worrying about all that because she knew she was getting out of there forever and Fat Molly could cash her double for all she cared because before long she’d be a city girl and Fat Molly would be riding that dumb old rusty train till the day she died, growing fatter and uglier and making an absolute fool of herself along the way.
Now, most days when she went to the city Sandy was accompanied by a girl her age called Lola who was a daughter of her parents’ close friends, a ‘very respectable couple’ of church-going small-town fanatics. In fact, Sandy’s parents only let her go out so often because she was always going with Lola and Lola, they thought, would never do a bad thing in her life. What they did not know was that Sandy and Lola never actually talked that much when they went out, and once they arrived at the city station they went their separate ways and only met back up for the train home. Lola had a boyfriend in the city named Zack whose parents worked long hours and were never home, and so Lola went to his place almost daily during the sweaty interminable summer and she and Zack had sex everywhere in the house, for hours on end. Lola had told Sandy once that Zack had a hairy tiny penis, a displeasing wrinkly thing, and that she always tried to look away when she touched it or when it touched her and that she’d just stare at Zack’s face while they were doing it because he had a handsome pretty face, and just to look at that face could make a girl wet, she said. Sandy heard that and thought of her future boyfriend’s penis, which she imagined would be big and nice and clean-shaven and a pure pleasure to look at and, in her heart, she envied Lola a bit.
One day, Sandy and Lola rode the train to the city together as per usual and agreed they’d meet back at eight at the station because it was Sunday and their parents were foolish old geezers who still cared about such things as whether it was a Sunday or not. Lola went to her boyfriend’s and Sandy headed for the city centre where there was a bar she knew next to the Philadelphia Boulevard that sold alcohol to underage kids. Truth be told, Sandy didn’t consider herself to be a kid anymore but the law of the country was stupid and it said otherwise. In fact, the regulars at the bar always told Sandy that she looked more than sixteen, some even gave her twenty-five, and one guy said that she had tits big enough to pass for twenty-seven, on a good day, if she put red on her lips.
On her way to the boulevard, she passed the usual ensemble of city characters: the homeless brigade camping outside a fast-food restaurant, the boisterous office girls on their weekly night out, the creepy dude munching on a kebab near the river. Some tourist was reciting the city’s history to his friends, amusing them with facts and anecdotes, like how the cathedral in front of them had been made of so many bricks they almost never finished it because it became so heavy the ground beneath it had begun sinking. Sandy barely even noticed the existence of these people as she walked past them. She was too busy trying to look like she was from there and nothing seemed new to her.
Her plan that day was to get three or four shots going there in the boulevard bar because they were sold cheap and hit you hard, and then move to a different bar, somewhere cooler, and find some group of people she could hang out with for a couple of hours; maybe also find a tall guy she could eat face with later on, that’d be a pleasurable addition. She longed for that cute sensation of when you’re tipsy and time slows down a bit and you can feel the skin of your tongue much more clearly and it’s just a joy to thrust it into someone else’s moist mouth. That would make for an afternoon well spent.
Al, the paunchy bartender who knew Sandy well and always called her sugar-tits, as soon as she’d walk in, was there behind the counter that day. ‘Hey sugar-tits, what’s cracking tonight?’ he said.
‘Hey Al, nothing new. Two shots of whisky, please.’
‘Starting off hard, huh?’
‘Right. There you go.’
Sandy downed the two shots Al had poured out for her one after another, feeling their heat tingle the thin walls of her empty stomach, a stinging burn which would soon make her world a lot more enjoyable.
‘Ain’t that a bit quick for a girl like you?’ an unfamiliar voice sounded from Sandy’s right. There was a forty-something guy with slick long hair sitting at the far end of the bar, sipping Coke from a glass bottle. He wore a tight T-shirt, greasy leather boots and a black motor jacket.
‘Live fast, die young, cowboy,’ Sandy turned and told him, confidently. Generally, the bar served Sandy as a starting point for her nights out. It was a pretty run-down forgotten old place in a quiet street that the same people frequented every night and the existence of which Sandy treasured like it was her most precious secret. She enjoyed drinking there. True, she could have gotten drunk on the street, with store booze, but that had no appeal to her; if she’d done that, she might as well never have gotten on the train there and just drank herself to sleep in the stinking town she came from. So, being a regular, she was curious about any new faces that showed up in the bar, especially if they were unaccompanied.
‘And what brings you here, old man?’ she asked the guy.
The man raised his eyebrows like Sandy had offended him and finished his Coke. Sandy stepped closer. She didn’t mean her question to come out the wrong way, see. The guy was actually kind of good-looking, she thought, and definitely unusually well-built, strong and muscular, like he worked with his hands a lot. His face was rough but in an attractive way, rugged and enticing.
‘The road,’ he answered and ordered a beer.
‘The road?’ Sandy repeated.
‘Yeah. Passin’ through.’
‘You got a nice car out there I bet?’ she asked.
The man pushed the empty Coke bottle over to Al the bartender. ‘Yeah. A Camaro,’ he said.
‘Wow, hot stuff. That cost you a lot?’
The man smiled and turned to face Sandy directly. He had very sweet black eyes, she noticed. ‘Sort of,’ he said. ‘But I parked it in front ‘cause I saw it was going to rain soon and I wanted to take a break from drivin’. Drivin’ tires you out, you see.’
‘Rain? You kidding me, in the middle of summer? Here?’ Sandy laughed.
‘Don’t believe me? Look outside.’
‘Alright, old man, let’s go out on the patio together, let’s find out. You got a cigarette?’ she said, putting her hand on his arm.
The man got up and pulled a pack of red Chesterfields from the back pocket of his jeans. ‘I got some.’ He put a cigarette in between his lips and handed the pack to Sandy. They both lighted up and sat on the patio which was this narrow space at the back of the bar where you could relax outside and drink your beer and smoke in peace and take in the sunlight, if the weather was good.
‘Motherfucker!’ Sandy said when they seated themselves. She extended her hand forward and felt drops of rain falling on it. Soon, the single drops turned into a drizzle and then into an outright downpour. Puddles were beginning to form in front of them but they were safe under a roof, on dry land. ‘How did you know?’ she asked the man.
The man took a long drag from his Chesterfield and leaned his back on the wall, placing his massive arm delicately around Sandy’s naked shoulder. ‘You just know these things, once you’ve spent enough time starin’ at the sky,’ he said.
Sandy eased herself quietly into the man’s embrace and when she next opened her mouth the two of them were almost touching noses. ‘I guess you do, huh?’ she said. The man let her sip his beer. ‘But this is fucked up, man! I was gonna go out tonight and now I might as well go back home already,’ Sandy whined.
‘Where d’you live, I could give you a ride,’ the man said.
‘Yeah, and what ‘bout that beer you’re drinking?’ Sandy asked.
‘I’ve done worse,’ he said, pausing. ‘So?’
‘So where do you live? Ain’t like I got better things to do, and you seem like a nice girl.’
Sandy looked into the man’s eyes. She appreciated that he was being kind to her and at the same time she was feeling the whisky from before beginning to make her kind of soft inside and she let the man stroke her hair with his hardened fingers. ‘Listen mister,’ she said with her thin lips curling into a playful smirk. ‘I don’t even know your name. What would my mama say to that?’
‘It’s Mike. Nice to meet you,’ the man said. ‘And you are?’
They both finished smoking then and threw their cigarette butts out into the rain and Sandy was feeling snug and at ease with the man’s arm wrapped around her waist, enveloping her girly body. The rain was pounding on the ground and Sandy stared at the man’s extraordinarily masculine jaw and the slightly blackened cheeks and his lovely eyes like dark pebbles and thought maybe she wouldn’t have to look very far tonight. ‘Well then, Mike,’ she spoke softly, ‘I guess yeah, I could let you give me a ride.’
The man was silent for a second. ‘Deal then,’ he finally said.
After that, a few more minutes passed and Sandy and the man who called himself Mike walked over to his Camaro, got inside, and then the car doors locked.
At the train station, at eight o’clock, Lola was getting nervous. The announcer said the train was about to arrive and there was no Sandy to be seen at all.