They didn't want to see the conductor again so they decided to kill two birds and find a bathroom where Tandy could get cleaned and where they could both hide out. They squeezed themselves into the phone-booth bathroom, Tandy's bag jammed under the teacup sink. JC sat on the toilet. They were two peas in a very small pod.
"Geez, you have to be careful brushing your teeth or else you'll ram your elbows into the wall." Tandy opened the postage-stamp window and started the hot water, and tore the wrapper off a thin sliver of soap the railroad company had placed on the sink. Steam whisked out the open window. Tandy shucked off a jacket, a sweater, violet satin arm garters, chartreuse suspenders, and finally her shirt. "I wish I had a washcloth. I'm getting water all over the goddamn place." She could only wash her underarms by leaning over the sink, cupping water in her hand, and throwing it up at herself. "How do they expect a person to get cleaned up here?"
"Most people don't take showers on the train."
"Well, if you'd been what I'd been through...." She twisted the faucets off and unsnaked a towel from her bag, a ratty blue-grey towel that had seen better bathrooms, and dried off her upper body. Then she wriggled out of her skirt, washed everything below her waist, and dried herself. Then, like a film in reverse, she quickly snapped her clothes back on, sat on a small ledge by the window, and lit a tattered cigarette dug up somewhere out of a pocket. Smoke streamered out the window. "Well," she said, "now what?"
"You mentioned something about all you had to go through?"
Tandy inhaled deeply and spit the smoke out in a thin line. She threw the cigarette out the window. JC, as the cigarette was caught by the wind and carried away, suddenly realized that Tandy was about her own age and was smoking cigarettes -- her own age and smoking cigarettes.
"I'm an orphan," she said, her eyes following the ground by the tracks. "Parents both killed -- a bomb." She peered cagily at JC with cavernous eyes.
JC stared back at Tandy, her own eyes slightly widened in disbelief. Nobody lost their parents by bombs. Tandy's eyes (they were straw-colored, she noticed, with a touch of green at the edges) crinkled in a little mocking smile.
"It doesn't sound right," JC muttered.
"Your heart's in the wrong place," she replied bitterly. "Of course it can happen. Anything can goddamn happen." She glared out the window, her hands picking nervously at her skirt. He eyes glazed over as she looked at JC, turning a brown like dead needles on a tree. "My parents were Irish. Northern Irish. Know where that is? Northern Ireland?!"
JC tried to conjure up the place from anything Ms. Strong had said, but she couldn't place it. Nothing there. She shook her head no.
"Northern Ireland is a place where a lot of people blow up a lot of other people. I don't know why -- something to do with religion. Anyway, it had nothing to do with my parents. They wanted to go back and see relatives. It was gonna be a great vacation, the three of us..." Her voice clipped off. "The facts. One night, my parents went out with some of my cousins to a bar." Her hands, held together, settled like a lump in her lap. "We were going to leave the next day." She paused. "Know what gelignite is? There was fifty pounds of it in that bar. Fifteen people got killed when the bomb went off." She ran her hand through her hair and snorted. "Been on the road for a long time." She looked at JC. "I must be crazy, sitting in this fucking bathroom telling you my troubles." JC could see the tears welling in Tandy's eyes and she could also see that Tandy wouldn't let them fall. And before she knew it, tears were tumbling down her own face.
"Christ," Tandy said, "I get a Hallmark greeting card for traveling stiff." JC swiftly wiped her eyes on her sleeve, trying to stifle the thick knot of homesickness that rose in her throat. Tandy, for her part, just sat there facing JC, not quite wanting to do anything about her, embarrassed and slightly angry. "Let's eat," she said, standing up. She dragged her bag from under the sink, pushed the door rudely open, (crushing JC's knees), and slid out the door. JC hurried to catch up, but when she got into the aisle she couldn't see Tandy. Then she caught sight of the short figure with the black hair stalking down the aisle of the next car. JC caught her just as she got to the snack counter. Tandy may be rude, JC thought, but she was all she had.
"You got any money?" she whispered to JC. JC hesitantly slid her dollar bill out of her pocket. Tandy took it, gave her an "isn't-there-any-more?" look, and when no more money came, took a dollar out of her own pocket and turned to the man behind the counter. "Two Cokes," she ordered, "and two bags of chips."
The young man grinned at her and asked how she was. She answered by asking him how he was, and he said, Fine, fine. He reached over with the two Cokes and told her to take a bag from a chips display at the front of the counter. She said she wanted a bag from one of the boxes up on the shelf. "They're fresher," she said. "I'm particular about my chips."
He plainly didn't like the idea.
"I bet you would do it if we were adults," Tandy said, her voice halfway between sugar and sarcasm.
He shot her a look but turned to get the chips. As soon as he turned three bags fell off the display and into her bag. The man more or less handed the bags of chips to her, handed her the change from the dollars. "Have a nice day," he said, clearly not meaning it. She smiled and stuck her tongue out at him, turned on her heel, and, nudging JC, moved quickly but calmly down the aisle.
"What if he notices?" JC whispered.
"Idiots!" she hissed. "The world is full of fucking idiots!"
They moved into another car and sat. JC didn't want to eat the potato chips Tandy had stolen, out of a sense that somehow eating them made her as guilt, but she was so hungry that she found her hand grabbing even when her mind told her not to. Outside, rows of old houses, some abandoned, some with dark people pasted onto the stoops and windows, slid by. She realized, with another twitch of panic, that she didn't know where she was headed.
"Where're we going?"
"Boston," Tandy replied. "Good city. Know some friends there. We'll be okay."
"Boston. I thought I was going to Ithaca."
"Ithaca. There aren't any trains that go to Ithaca." Tandy snorted, her mouth full of crumbs. "You really thought this train was going to Ithaca? Jesus!"
Boston. She'd never been to Boston. What if she lost Tandy? The adventure was getting more complicated, more dangerous. She was hungry and tired and without any money and not at all happy. Her thoughts were a merry-go-round, with not much merry and a lot of go-round. She wanted to sleep, forever.
A voice over the intercom shouted "South Station". Tandy suddenly climbed over JC, whapping her with her bag, and was off at a run. JC managed to trip only once as she rushed after her. Other people began to jostle her, she lost sight of Tandy, the Coke and chips sloshed in her stomach, her eyes widened with panic and drooped with fatigue, and she'd just about given up when she popped out of the crowd into South Station, right in front of an old man propped up on a bench. His eyes were runny, like a sick dog's, and she smelled like sauerkraut. He peered at her, peered through her, as if she didn't exist. As much as she wanted to run, she stood, cemented to the spot, wanting to prove something to him, until a hand curled around her elbow and pulled her off balance. She was so nervous that she wheeled around to defend herself and almost clobbered Tandy.
"C'mon," she whispered, tugging, "we gotta get outa here." JC followed, stumbling past a vendor's cart full of pastries and out the heavy iron door into the street.
Satisfied that no one was behind her, Tandy released her grip on JC's arm. "You never know with these assholes. Sometimes they leave you alone and sometimes they don't."
JC was in no mood. "What's the idea of pulling me along like a sack of onions? And why did you almost kill me getting out of the seat?" JC was close to tears but wasn't going to show it. "You tell me about your parents and then bam!, off you go like nothing happened."
"Nothin' did happen," Tandy laughed, "and you have a lot to learn. My parents," she waved her hand, "nothin' at all. You'll see." She paused. "Goddamn, look at your leg." A red splotch bloomed on JC's knee.
JC hadn't noticed it but when Tandy pointed, she glanced down and almost immediately the throbbing began. "Hurt?" Tandy asked. JC, her bottom lip tucked in her teeth, nodded yes. "I banged it when I fell down...a long time ago."
"Let's go. We'll get you some help." JC, with a slight hobbled, followed Tandy down the street.