JC found herself in a run-down part of the city. Not exactly run-down, just old. There was a cafeteria near the station but they hurried past that, past a bookstore stuck below the level of the sidewalk, past two leather stores, a shoestore with wooden shoe tree hanging in the window, an office equipment store piled high with wooden swivel chairs, a clothing outlet with a "Going Out Of Business" sign that looked fifty years old.
They walked down South Street until they reached Kneeland. JC wanted to rubberneck, despite her leg, but Tandy hurried on as if JC weren't there. They came to a large highway and crossed it and suddenly they were in Chinatown. They passed a bakery and JC glimpsed mooncakes with black eggs. She wanted one so badly her teeth shivered, even though she'd never eaten one in her life. The telephone booths had pagodas on top. Every sign was in Chinese and English and they must have walked by a dozen restaurants that offered a luncheon special. She was tired and starved and had trouble keeping up with Tandy.
Then, like a new slide in a slide-show, they were on a street with a lot of theaters and strange title like "Come Once, Come Again" and "Sinsational Sineramas". Posters showed people twisted together like pretzels. The bars all had pictures out in front of women with enormous breasts, each wearing tiny little cups with tassels on them or something that looked like panties but weren't. Women, dressed in tall platform shoes and tight shorts and short dresses and hiphuggers and tube tops and halters lounged in front of the bars. Sometimes a woman would go away with a man. For a moment she forgot her hunger and fatigue and stared. She'd never seen anything like it. What in the world were peep shows?
She came to and saw Tandy up a block waiting for her. She ran, suddenly afraid that someone -- one of the men or a woman or someone else she couldn't see -- would grab her and she'd disappear forever. By the time she caught Tandy, they were standing on the corner of Tremont and Boylston, near the Boylston subway station. "C'mon," she said. JC hardly had time to catch her breath before Tandy was off and running. "What is this, a goddamn race?" she muttered to herself, and was quite surprised she'd said it. It felt sort of good. "Where're we going?" she yelled.
"Just follow me."
JC stopped, dead on her heels. They were just inside the Boston Commons. "I've got to rest. I've got to rest." She sat down on a low wall.
"Suit yourself. I'm the only one who's got friends here." She turned and walked away.
"I don't care, I don't care," JC yelled, raising her arms. "Go fuck yourself." She let her arms collapse into her lap.
Tandy stopped short. "What'd'ya say?"
"You heard me."
"I don't like what I heard."
"Well, I'm not some dog" (she imitated a dog panting, holding up her hands like little paws). She paused, noticing the pigeons scrabbling around her. "I'm tired. I'll eat pigeons." She growled at a couple who pecked her shoelace. They scattered a few feet, then settled down. "You go home. If you have a home. For all I know, you'd sell me for a meal." JC just sat there, deep in pigeons, feeling the sun ripple over her hair and shoulders and listening to the odd quiet of the rumbling noontide traffic and the click-slap-shuffle of people's shoes on the pavement. For a moment she felt calm.
Tandy, in the meantime, stood on one foot, then the other, her face either scarlet with rage or loose with frustration. JC saw her nervous irritation and sat for a moment longer, relishing the small victory that Tandy needed her, then got up and joined her.
The Commons was beautiful. The asphalt paths curled through the tall trees, some of them elms slowly dying. The sun careened off the ground and bright drops of it clung to park benches and water fountains and congealed into flowers. To her right was Tremont Street and ahead of her was Park Square, where the church steeple knife the blue sky. Old men and women, some alone, some cluttered with the inevitable pigeons, young children strapped in strollers and waddling on bowed legs, young women snappily dressed to the tops of their heads, Hari Krishna singers, street musicians playing guitars -- all of this clustered around her like eddies while she flowed silently through them. In front of her was the State House, its bald gold dome barbered by the sun. She stopped and craned her neck backward. It was the most impressive thing she'd ever seen. Tandy, as if she had a pebble in her shoe, sullenly waited for her to start walking again.
When they had climbed the stairs by the State House and after JC had rubbed her hands on the statue of the dead Union soldiers, Tandy took JC by the sleeve, dragged her across the street and down the Beacon Hill to Joy Street, then up a sharp hill to a small brick building.
"This is where we're at," Tandy announced.
The building actually had three levels to it. The basement apartment had a small door in a tall brick wall that looked like something Alice would have gone through. Just over the wall she could see a maple tree. The second and third apartments were entered up a flight of stairs that was encased by a round brick arch with a piece of granite at the keystone. "Which one?" JC asked.
"Follow." Tandy slipped a key into the door in the wall and without any ceremony walked in. JC followed, not quite sure if this was polite, and shut the door quietly behind her. They were in a sort of patio. The tree was in the corner formed by the wall. Hanging plants sprouted all over the place. Plant stands full of coleus and asparagus ferns and strawberry begonia were scattered around. Some wrought-iron furniture, white, and a couple of Parsons tables completed the tidy picture.
"Nice place, huh?" JC agreed. Tandy opened the sliding glass doors with another key and went in. JC followed. After her eyes adjusted she could see the nice furniture and wall hangings, and the thick carpet soothed her feet. She just stood there, not quite sure what to do, waiting for Tandy's lead.
There was a stirring in a room off the living room and a voice thick with sleep called "Who's there? Murray, is that you?" Tandy, giving JC an impish smile, said "No, darling, it's Alice and the Incredible Hulk."
Sounds of feet hitting the floor, a bathrobe thrown on. A woman, about twenty-five, her black hair tangled over her ears, shuffled into the room. When she saw Tandy, her face flamed into a smile. "Marci! You..." She ran to Tandy and embraced her. Tandy, to JC's surprise, hugged her back hard and had to bury her face in the woman's robe. The woman held Tandy at arm's length and inspected her quickly. "God, you stink!" she laughed. "You look tired. Where have you been?" Before Tandy could answer, the woman hugged her again.
Tandy extricated herself and pointed to JC. "This is JC. We met on the train. I'd like you to meet my sister Lin." JC shook Lin's hand firmly.
"You two must be starving." She shepherded them into the kitchen and made them thick sandwiches with mayonnaise and cheese and lettuce and tomato and mustard. JC's sandwich was gone before she knew it, and a second one, lubricated by milk, quickly followed the first. Tandy told Lin all about the train and Lin listened and laughed and lectured. JC just sat there and smiled, glad to be in someone's kitchen eating food.
After they'd finished eating, Tandy told Lin about JC's leg and Lin shoved JC into the bathroom. Tandy, meanwhile, went into the spare bedroom. JC gingerly pulled up her pants leg. The Barbie's dress she'd tied there was red. Lin carefully untied the string and lifted off the bandage. Next, she took Betadine soap and a cotton ball and dabbed away all the old blood.
"How'd you get hurt?"
"I----" She hesitated, wondering how much to tell. "I fell down."
"A truck driver."
"Oh." Lin took another cotton ball. "Why were you doing that?"
There wasn't much left to keep JC from telling Lin the whole story, so she did, and it all sounded so stupid in a stranger's bathroom hundreds of miles from home.
"You have to call your parents as soon as we're done here." JC nodded yes. To change the subject she asked Lin why she'd called Tandy Marci.
"Because that's her real name."
"That's not what she told me. She told me her name was --
"-- Tandy, right?"
"That's her traveling name." Lin sat back on her haunches and surveyed the white bandage that clung to JC's leg. "Marci is the only part of my family that's left. Our parents were killed."
"In Ireland, right?"
"Ireland?" She seemed puzzled, then smiled. "That's a story that Tandy tells. No, they did not die in a bombing."
"So you know?"
"I know how our parents died. Their death struck Marci hard. Nothing seemed right with her then. She ran away and no one was able to find her. One day we got a letter and she showed up on our doorstep. Lord knows how she ever made it but there she was. I wanted to keep her with me but every time things felt too close, she ran. She'd lost one mother already and she wasn't going to chance it again, even if it was only her sister. You follow?"
"I think so."
"She invented stories to make things easier. There's the pub story. And then there's the one she tells about how her parents kicked her out when they were in Europe and she had to find her way back. There're more stories, but in each one there's a little truth. That little bit is Marci's way of being true to herself, and the made-up part is for the rest of the world. Like blowing smoke in a person's eyes -they can't see you and you can get away unhurt."
JC sat there, full of food, full of thought. "Why did you let her go? She could've gotten killed. Or worse."
"It was Marci's choice. We didn't give it to her, she just took it. Every time we'd put her someplace, up she'd fly."
"Murray, my husband. She just slipped away. She takes care of herself, obviously. And in some ways she's older than I am. I hope she'll stay someday. Until then...." She stood up. "It's time to call your parents."
The phone call didn't go as badly as JC thought it would. Yes, her mother was angry and upset and worried, but Lin talked to her and assured her that JC was in good hands and that within the next day or two Lin would personally see that JC got on a bus for home with plenty of money in her pocket. She got yelled at a couple more times, just to make sure she knew how her mother felt, and then Her mother told her she loved her.
Lin helped JC to the bedroom, where Marci was already in one of the twin beds. She was reading a book by some man named D.H. Lawrence, but JC couldn't see the title. Lin grabbed the book out of her hands and put it in her bathrobe pocket. "Not for another few years. I'm home today. Day off. I need a nap. So do you. Don't make any ruckus." She pulled the shades and the room turned deliciously dark.
Lin shut the door and JC stared at the ceiling. Marci's breathing was regular, heavy sleep-breathing. "Sleep well, Marci," JC said with a smile. Marci grunted and turned to face the wall. JC, full of food and the comfort of clean sheets, was only a few seconds behind.