They’re still racing out at the Trestles. Mary can hear the sounds from her bedroom, low and relentless, the murmur of the crowd, the revving of the engines, the sudden silence as a girl drops a scarf and then the roar as it all starts again. One night Mary was that girl, one night she dropped her scarf into the dirt and spun around as the roar took her over, laughing with her hair floating around her and the roar of the race in her ears. One night Mary was that girl. She isn’t anymore.
At least she’s trying not to be.
Long after midnight the sound dies down and Mary gets up from her restless bed. She wanders downstairs and stands on the back porch, listening to the quiet night. A car cruises by, headlights flooding the alley behind her house, and she flinches until it passes and leaves her in the dark. When she goes inside she hears her father call, “Mary?”
“Who else would it be, Dad?” she says as she walks into the kitchen. She flinches again at the look on his face. She knows who listens for every night. He’s the only man in town who doesn’t know why her mother left, who still thinks she might come back. He’s the kindest man in town, or Mary would tell him herself. Instead she says, “Worried about the big test tomorrow?”
Her father smiles at her. “Don’t laugh at me – it’s not only students who worry. I want them to do well.”
“They will,” Mary says. She smiles at him and hooks her bare foot in the rung of the chair. She reaches up and twists her hair in her hands, holding it away from her neck. “You worry too much.”
“Your mother always said that,” he says. “In this light, with your hair up like that, you look like her.”
“Dad,” Mary says. She drops her hands and lets her hair fall.
“All right,” he says mildly. “But you do.”
She closes her hand around the locket at her neck but doesn’t reply. They sit together for a while. Her father drinks his tea. Finally he says, “What’s keeping you up?”
“Oh, a guilty conscience,” Mary says lightly. She doesn’t mention the noise from the street races out on the edge of town. It only upsets him.
“Must be something terrible,” her father agrees. “You’ve been up late a lot recently.” He’s starting to sound anxious again so Mary says,
“You’re right, it is awfully late. I think I’ll head upstairs.”
It’s only a couple of hours until clear light starts to streak the darkness outside, and Mary can go to sleep. If she waits until it’s light out, she doesn’t dream.
The days float past in a fever dream as Mary sleeps most of the day, rising before her father returns from work, then sitting up all night waiting for the sounds of the races to subside and the light to return. It works, for a while.
Then she starts dreaming during the day.
It’s the same dream every time, the only dream. It’s only a dream now, Mary tells herself, though she knows that if that were true she wouldn’t wake panting and shattered, her hands around her throat. It was only one night, and it’s a dream now.
Since she can’t sleep during the day Mary walks outside, miles and miles, through empty side streets, widening circles that cover the whole town except for one spot. She walks without thinking about where she’s going, only about where she doesn’t want to go. She walks without thinking and so she’s surprised when she walks right into Toby.
“Mary!” he says, and he sounds so purely glad to see her that she drops to one knee and pets his dog, hiding her face.
“How are you?” she asks without looking up.
“You haven’t called me back,” he says. “I’m worried, I’m upset, I know I have no right to be after what happened, but – if you’d just talk to me, if you’d just let me say – “
“What?” Mary says, standing up to look at him. He looks away, biting his lip.
“Just – that I’m sorry. That night – I never should have taken you out there, it’s no place for someone like you. I thought – I’d never been out there myself, I thought it would be fun, I didn’t think it would be like – “
Toby glances at her and looks away again. “The people, I didn’t think they’d be like – I’m sorry, all right, I’m really sorry. It’s just – you didn’t – Mary, you didn’t have to go with him.”
Mary waits until he looks at her. “You lost,” she says simply. “He won.”
“It was – that was just a joke, I didn’t mean … Nobody took it seriously, you can’t have really though - even he didn’t take it seriously, he didn’t really think you’d - ”
“You don’t know what he thought,” Mary says. “You don’t know what I thought.”
“No,” Toby says after a minute. “No, I never did.” He stands watching her go, a tall man with a leash in his hand. No one would think he looked pathetic if they didn’t know.
She’s so tired when she gets home. She’s walked forever, all over town, almost all over, she’s so tired. That’s her excuse when she falls into her bed. Even she doesn’t believe it.
When she sleeps she dreams. The same dream, the only dream, that night again. Toby drives them out to the Trestles, the noise growing as they reach the edge of town, out past the glow of the streetlights. As they drive up the hill the night is dark, unrelieved, until they crest the hill into a harsh burst of light. Headlights, from the cars circled around the edge of the strip, waiting for something. Waiting for us, Mary thinks wildly as the sounds of the small crowd hush as they drive by, as people turn and watch them silently. Waiting for me, Mary thinks as she kneels up against the seat of the car, watching as everyone watches her.
“Sit down,” Toby says. He sounds nervous. Mary’s never heard him nervous, she thinks, he always knows what to do. He’s never been here before, though.
At the edge of the strip a car pulls up in front of them, cutting them off. A young guy in a black windbreaker jumps out of the passenger side, already talking as he rushes towards them, motioning for Toby to roll down the window.
“Nice car, man,” the guy says. “First time out, right? Don’t think we seen you here before, and not anywhere else either, right? We pretty much run all over the tri-state, don’t think we’ve seen you. Wouldn’t forget this car, right? You gonna run tonight?”
“Me?” Toby says. “I don’t – I didn’t think – “
“First time, you gotta run, right?” The guy grins. “You know the rules, right? You come out here in a car like that, you gotta run it. It’s a sin not to, a sin and a shame, and besides, it’s the rule – “
“Sonny,” someone says. Mary looks over and the driver’s out of the car, leaning against the door. He’s older than Sonny, she thinks, though she can’t tell how old he is. He’s wearing jeans and a leather jacket and dark glasses even now, when there’s no sunlight to hide from.
“This guy says he’s not gonna run,” Sonny calls. The driver walks toward them.
“Hasn’t had a chance to say much of anything, the way you can’t shut up,” the driver says. He leans against their car and looks at Toby. “You gonna run?”
“What’re the stakes?” Toby asks. Mary looks at him, surprised, but he’s looking steadily at the driver of the other car.
“Pinks,” Sonny says, and when Toby looks puzzled he laughs and says, “title, pink slips – your car.” Sonny laughs again and says, “What, a rich boy like you, probably got another just like this sitting in the garage at home. Or at least you can get another, pretty easy, right?”
“Sonny,” the driver says, and Sonny shuts his mouth. “What action you looking for, man?” Toby pulls out his wallet and shows his cash. The driver thinks a minute, then says, “Sure, we’ll take it.” He starts to walk back to his car and then turns. “Sonny was right about one thing, though. Rich boy like you, doesn’t mean much for you but the stakes are a little higher for us. You should sweeten the pot a little bit.”
“What action are you looking for?” Toby says. His voice is harder than Mary has heard it.
The driver smiles, just for a moment. Mary can’t see his eyes behind the glasses. “Your girl,” he says. Sonny starts to laugh again and then shuts his mouth when the driver looks at him.
Mary starts to say something but before she can Toby says, in the same hard voice, “Let’s go, then.”
“Come on, sweetheart,” Sonny says, “they don’t want you and me in this.” He opens her door with an exaggerated bow and Mary gets out. Toby doesn’t look at her.
“Here,” Sonny says. He pulls the scarf that’s holding her hair back out and stuffs it in her hand, then lifts her arm high. “I’ll count it out – when I point at you, drop the scarf.” He grins again. “Be careful, though – it’s about to get fast and loud.”
He’s right. He counts and points and Mary drops her arm, lets the scarf fall to the ground as the air explodes around her, the sound spinning her around so she almost falls herself, spinning her around and then washing over her. Behind her she hears Sonny laugh, not like he laughed before but a high pure sound, exultant, and she laughs too, her body humming and her heart suddenly full.
It’s over so fast. So fast, and she should have known, should have expected that the car screeching to a stop in front of her would not be Toby’s. She should have expected that but she hadn’t expected anything, hadn’t thought of anything as she waited on top of the hill for one of them to come back. The driver leans over and pushes open the door on the passenger side.
“Get in,” he says. “Not you, Sonny.”
Mary hears Toby’s car pulling up behind them as she gets in the other man’s car. She should wait, she knows, there’s no reason for her to get in with him. Even at the last moment she thinks of turning back, but he smiles at her under his dark glasses and she pulls her skirt inside and shuts the door.
“What’s your name?” he says.
“Mary,” she says, and hears it echoed from his lips, low, as he smiles again. “Mary.”
“Mary,” her father calls, and she wakes with a jolt, sitting up amidst the tangled blankets.
“What? What is it?”
“Nothing, I just thought you might want some dinner. You’ve been sleeping a long time.”
“No,” Mary says, smoothing her voice out, “no, thanks anyway, Dad. I’m really tired – I think I’m just going to sleep.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” her father says. “Have a good night.”
It is not a good night, but it is a long one, as Mary sits in the window, huddled in her blanket. She doesn’t need to sleep to know how the dream ends. They drove a long way in the dark, all the way out to the old bridge. The driver’s hands on the wheel were steady but his leg shook as his heel tapped against the floor. Mary watched it and didn’t say anything.
The car stopped just under the bridge, abandoned since the train stopped running through town. It was falling apart now, moonlight shining through the gaps in the wooden planks. The driver leaned over past Mary, not touching her, and opened her door. When he got out Mary followed. He took his jacket off and threw it over the hood of the car. He offered Mary his hand, a strange courtly gesture, and Mary climbed up and sat, the car warm beneath her. She expected him to follow but he leaned against the side of the car, looking at her. In the streaks of moonlight his arms were pale, shivering a little in the cold, but his face was in shadow.
“Why did you bring me here?” Mary said.
He said, “Look up.”
Mary did. Past the peeling weathered boards of the bridge she could see patches of the night sky, thickly dark, the stars sharp clear stabs of light against it. It was so quiet she could hear her skirt rustle in the wind, could hear the driver breathing next to her, the murmur of the cooling engine below her. Below all those sounds, beyond them, was something else, a sound so deep at first she thought it was her own heart beating. The sound surrounded her, pressed against her, and she looked around and then looked up at the sky. It seemed closer here somehow, the darkness, and the air seemed thinner, lighter, the stars so bright she closed her eyes and raised her face to them as if for warmth. “Beautiful,” she breathed, and felt the driver move closer to her.
“Where are we?” she asked without opening her eyes.
He said, “You know.”
“The stars,” she said, “they’re different, they’re not the same. Where is this?” When he didn’t answer she said, “Why did you bring me here?”
“You know,” he said, and Mary opened her eyes. The driver took her hand in his, the same gesture as before, and turned it palm up. He kissed it, his eyes still shadowed by his glasses, and then her wrist, and the bend of her elbow. “Oh, bright,” he said. His hand opened over her throat, covering her necklace as he leaned in to kiss her. Mary closed her eyes again and sank back into the darkness, into the warm relentless hum of foreign stars.
As the sun rises Mary moves to her bed and lets sleep take her, her head thrown back on the pillow, open to the dream. Today it eludes her. When she wakes she gets into her car and drives aimlessly until sunset. She stops at the beach and stands at the edge of the water, shoes in her hand, her bare feet licked by the waves, until the moon is up. She stands looking at the stars, familiar to her since her childhood. Then she turns her back on them and walks to the boardwalk.
A small shack sits at the far end of the boardwalk, nestled in the dunes. On one side someone has painted an eye, wide open and blue, and several shooting stars. Between the stars it says, “Madame Marie,” and Mary goes inside, pushing through the beaded curtain.
“Tell your fortune, pretty lady?” a young woman says in an exaggerated accent, and leads her into a back room. She’s dressed in a brightly patterned shawl, her hair loose around her shoulders. Mary sits down and offers her palm. The woman takes it and studies it for a moment, then stands up suddenly and leaves the room. She comes back with another woman, older, plainly dressed with a black lace mantilla covering her hair. The older woman sits down and takes Mary’s hand.
“Who are you?” Mary says.
“Madame Marie,” the woman says.
“Then who’s she?” Mary asks, nodding at the younger woman.
“What, is she for the tourists? Should I be impressed I’m getting the real deal?”
“No,” Madame Marie says, “she has the gift, like me. It’s in the blood. But even she will admit that sometimes, a little more experience, a wiser head, can prevail. She doesn’t like to admit it, though – you know how mothers and daughters are.”
“I don’t,” Mary says. “My mother left when I was a baby.”
“Yes,” Madame Marie says. “I know.” She cradles Mary’s hand in both of hers, tracing the lines gently with her thumb. Then she looks up at Mary. “What you’re doing,” she says. “You should stop. It’s dangerous.”
Mary pulls her hand away. “What am I doing?” she says.
Madame Marie says, “You know.”
“Very cryptic,” Mary says. “How do I even know if you – “
“He let you go once,” Madame Marie says. “When mercy is offered, you should always accept it.”
“It wasn’t mercy,” Mary says, so sharply she surprises herself. Madame Marie sighs.
“Why did you come here, if not for my advice?”
This time it’s Mary who says, “You know.”
Madame Marie closes her eyes and sighs again. After a long moment she says, “There are places where the worlds draw close together.” Behind them her daughter says, “Mama,” and Madame Marie holds up her hand. “There are places where one can cross,” she says.
“What do I have to do?” Mary says. “How can I do it, how do I – “
“Crossing over is not the hard part,” Madame Marie says. “You know where to go. He’s waiting for you. The hard part is coming back. Myself, I know no one who has done it.”
“I’ll risk it,” Mary says, standing up.
“Yes,” says Madame Marie. “Of course you will.” Mary looks at her and doesn’t ask. “Your mother said the same thing to me once. As I said, it’s in the blood.”
In the anteroom Mary offers the daughter money and she takes it, tucking it into her pocket. “Where will you go?” she whispers, her accent abandoned. “She won’t tell me.” Mary shakes her head and leaves without answering.
Out in the car Mary sits for a long time, listening to the relentless swell and fade of the waves. If she waits long enough, she knows, the night will fade too, the darkness swallowed up by sunlight. If she waits long enough, everything will fade. She could wait that long, she thinks, if she tries.
Instead she drives out to the edge of town, leaving her car at the far side of the clearing while she walks to the abandoned bridge. She sits down beneath it, her arms around her knees, her shoulders hunched against the cold. She closes her eyes and waits. She opens her eyes when she hears the thrum of the car engine. She stands up and walks over.
“You came back,” he says. He smiles at her.
“I had to,” Mary says. “After all, you won.”
He stops smiling. “No,” he says. “Some things, no one can win for you. Some things you pick for yourself.” He leans over and pushes the passenger side door open.
After a long moment Mary walks around and gets in. She closes the door after her. “Let’s go,” she says.
“There’s one thing,” he says. “You have to leave something behind.”
“All right,” Mary says. “What do I have to leave?”
He shakes his head. “I can’t tell you. After all, I’m just the driver now.”
Mary thinks for a minute and puts her hand to her throat, covering her locket. Beneath her hand, beneath the cool silver, she can feel her heart beating, and beneath that something deeper, older. She reaches back and unfastens the catch, then holds the necklace out to him. He shakes his head again and Mary raises her hand and lets the necklace fall through the open window, down into the dirt. “All right,” he says. “Let’s go.”
Before he can start the car Mary touches his arm. “Please,” she says, “before we go. I want to see your face.”
The driver says, “All right,” and lifts his hand to his dark glasses. Mary’s mind spins beneath a sudden burst of images, the kitchen table where her father sits, a necklace spread out in front of him, Toby walking endless empty streets with a leash dangling from his hand, a shack burning while the daughter curses and Madame Marie stands staring past the flames into the night sky. Then the driver takes off his glasses, and Mary can’t see anything else.
“Oh,” she says. “Oh, bright.”