Jesse and Peetsy had seen them a few weeks before, on a Sunday, in front of the town’s only theater. They had walked by while the boys were checking out the posters in front. It was always closed on Sunday; the preachers had seen to it. The whole town seemed desolate. No one else was even walking around in the two blocks that shared the traffic light. No cars were parked on the streets and only an accidental one would pass through. It could have been the backdrop for an old ghost town, except for the light poles.
The whole conversation was short and bizarre, and the taller one had spoken first as they walked up: “Hi. Are you driving your own car?” There still wasn’t a car in sight. Maybe she hadn’t noticed. Peetsy was about to say “yes,” until Jesse nudged him. Some things can’t be lied about – something as big as a car. Both girls were wearing jeans and blouses – mostly reds and blues, sandals with no socks. And bright red toe nails.
“No,” Jesse said. “Not yet. But I’m getting my license this summer.” He was lying, too. And stuttering. He always stuttered when he was nervous.
“Do you need a ride someplace?” If she had said yes, he didn’t know what he would have done. Maybe given her directions to Pascal’s taxi stand. Sometimes old Pascal sat around to answer the phone in case somebody wanted something. He cut his eyes toward Peetsy, who was smirking. Peetsy was sixteen and had his learner’s permit already; a year ahead of Jesse.
“Not really. It’s just a nice day and we want to ride around a little. Do you think we’re pretty?”
That got their attention and Jesse almost choked saying “yes.” He barely got it out. Not even his girlfriend at school had ever asked him that. They were very pretty, and they were as big and tall as any girl in his ninth grade class; but they did seem more grown-up.
“My skin is darker than yours. Do you like my skin,” she asked, looking at Peetsy. He took his turn at stuttering, wondering why she was asking such odd-ball questions; so Jesse talked for both of them: “Yeah, it’s kind of pretty. How come you’re asking?”
She ignored the question, but gave an explanation anyway. “It’s because we’re Indian. Not like the Indians in your movies. Real Indians, from India. And in India, I’m a princess…”
“Oh,” said Peetsy, pretending to get it. He didn’t know exactly where India was and didn’t ask. She had an accent but it was one that sounded like the Yankee tourists who came through and sometimes stopped to buy stuff at the service stations. Or maybe from south Florida. They all talked like Yankees down there, and that was a fact. Everybody said so. U.S. 41 – from Miami to Maine – ran through town, and lots of Florida Yankees stopped at Jesse’s dad’s Pure Oil station now and then to buy gasoline and maybe a few snacks. And brag. They always bragged. Jesse had overheard one bragging at the station two days ago. He said he had worked in a machine gun factory in Detroit during the war and invented another machine gun that was better than the MG-50. No one listening knew what an MG-50 was. But when he left, Jackson, a veteran, mentioned that he was probably referring to the fifty-caliber machine gun; and that nothing anywhere was better than that one.
“We must be going now. We see you later?” It was a question. And maybe she had a real accent after all. “Yeah, maybe so,” is all he felt like saying.
Jesse was pretty sure she was lying, but couldn’t figure why. When they walked away neither boy said anything for a while. They just stood and watched as the girls passed by the Methodist Church, and disappeared beyond the slight rise in the sidewalk. Peetsy spoke first: “Hot dang, did you see that? You were doing most of the talking. Why didn’t you ask them to meet us somewhere sometime?”
“Aw hell, Peetsy,” said Jesse, mockingly. “She was just lying. India, my foot! And princess? My foot, again. There’s a bunch of new trailers and campers parked by the fairgrounds. And they’re all hanging out signs about fortune tellers and palmists and Madame Maria and all that crap. I’ll bet that’s where they’re from.”
“Might be,” Peetsy agreed. “I’ve seen them, too. And they got tags from all over the place: Florida, Maryland, and New York. I saw one from Arizona.” He looked again down the sidewalk where the girls had disappeared over the hill. “They didn’t even tell us their names.” He paused, and added, “I ain’t buying all that stuff, either. For all we know, they might be going down to the orange groves in Orlando.”
Now, four weeks later it was already dark and still warm at about nine o’clock the first time the boys walked past the elementary school auditorium. It was a Friday night and there was a gospel sing going on inside; they had heard the music half a block away when they came by the first time. Several cars were in the parking lot and nobody was walking around outside.
Gospel singing was popular. Big names like The Blackwood Brothers, Sunshine Boys…even the Klaudt Indian Family from the Dakotas would sometimes stop by for a mixed concert. The four churches in town would encourage their congregations to go out and support them. Another way to spread the gospel, they all agreed. But only minor groups were at the school that night.
Neither one had talked much about the girls since that Sunday and had almost forgotten about them – or pretended to. They had gone into Mr. Bostick’s big yard and had taken a few apples from his trees, and were walking back towards their own homes. The small apples weren’t very sweet, but they were okay.
As they passed the school again, some of the quartets were already loading instruments and stuff into their cars, getting ready to leave. Jesse and Peetsy crossed to the other sidewalk, hoping to get a close-up look at a few of them. Both had been to the City Auditorium in Thomasville a few times before, and knew some of the singers by sight. There was a big sing there every month. Peetsy saw them first: “Hey, look over there. The Indians!”
Jesse saw them, too. Both girls were walking past the auditorium, and looking around as if they were trying to be seen. One had a yellow dress and the other a white one. And they were holding small purses. “I wonder if they’re looking for us,” he said, smiling. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Peetsy was smiling, too.
The lead singer for one of the groups was tall with sandy-colored hair and easy to spot under the street lamp where their car was parked. He and three others were packing stuff into a big Cadillac. The girls had turned and were walking back toward them and got to the car a several steps ahead of the boys.
They watched, dumbfounded, as the girls began talking to the lead singer. They were too far away to hear very much. They didn’t make out what the girls said, but heard his loud voice reply, “… going to a nice hotel in Valdosta. Ya’ll get in if you want to go.”
In a flash, reality came charging at them, and what followed made it undeniable. Jesse said, “Well, I’ll be dam…!” Peetsy concurred, matter-of-factly: “Ain’t that a crock!”
They got into the back seat, and when the others in the group walked up, nobody was seen protesting.
With four singers, two girls, a guitar and amplifier, the loaded Cadillac eased from the curb and stopped for a red light at the Highway 41 intersection three blocks away, with the left blinker flashing. When the light turned green, the car sat still for several long seconds before finally turning. Neither boy mentioned it, but both had been secretly hoping the long pause meant they had changed their minds.
Later, Peetsy would give his own verdict: “Maybe they really do like to go riding.”