Rolling Stones Van
by Louis Malloy
It was probably 1965, because I still had the cortina which was on the way to its final breakdown. I'd stopped for petrol and there was a van which held at least six people on the other side of the forecourt. A group of young men were walking across to the shop to buy chocolate and cigarettes and I wondered if they were The Rolling Stones. There were a lot of young men like that appearing out of nowhere at the time, with the hair and the unfriendly grins and the heads which seemed to be too big for their skinny bodies. I didn't like the music, but I'd read about these groups in the paper.
I'd guess that these boys weren't The Rolling Stones, because they would have been famous by 1965 and travelling in something better than an old blue transit, but I can't say for sure because I didn't look at the faces too closely. They laughed with each other on the way back to the van and made gestures to the fat man in the shop who waved them away and made his own gestures. When the van started there was a bigger laugh from inside and then it accelerated away. That was when the girl ran out of the shop, put her thin arms in the air and waved. She was smiling with her mouth but not with her eyes.
"Oh. Oh no."
Her voice was weak and she looked around at me, still with the empty smile.
I looked down at the chamois leather which I was wiping my hands on and thought that I should have been carrying a rag in the car rather than spoil a good chamois. I wanted to sell the cortina and get a newer one, but everything was just a few hundred pounds too expensive for me in those days. The girl was still staring and it didn't feel like she would stop.
"What's up?" I said.
"The boys just went without me."
"Why?" I knew why. I already knew enough about them and about her.
"They must have forgotten. Or maybe they think I'm under the blanket." Then she laughed as if she'd found a better reason. "It's probably a joke."
She looked out at the road again and waited for a minute. I wanted to go and I probably would have done if I hadn't been imagining the trouble that might follow if something happened to her. They'd find me and ask what I was doing leaving a girl in the middle of nowhere, all alone apart from the fat man in the shop. We both stared at the road, we both hoped that the cocky young men would come racing back.
After a few minutes I said I could give her a lift, as long as she was going south.
"We were going to London," she said.
"Where in London?"
"I don't know. To the next gig."
So they were a band.
"I'm staying with them on tour. We're going all round England." She smiled and now her eyes shone under the orange light by the petrol pumps.
"How long have you been travelling with them?"
"Two days now." She said it very proudly. "Can we go? My name's Jennifer- Jenny."
"But where will you go in London."
"I can find them. I've got the poster for the tour in my bag with all the venues."
"Do your parents know about this?"
"I'm seventeen," she said. "Come on, please. Can I have a lift with you? We might even catch them up."
She sat in the front and had forgotten about any abandonment. All the talk, which was all her talk, was about London and tracking the boys down. She had no thoughts about finding a place to stay, she was convinced she'd be fine when she found the boys.
"Have you ever been to London?" I said.
"Yeah." She laughed. "Of course I have."
"And you're sure your parents would be alright with this."
"I told you, I'm seventeen. Don't worry, I can look out for myself."
"I'm not going into the centre of London you know. The best I can do is drop you somewhere north."
"That's okay, I'll get a train."
"It'll be late when we get there."
"So I'll sleep in the waiting room, don't worry."
I was worried; not because I cared about her or liked her or thought she was anything more than a stupid girl in love with a rock and roll band, but because you have to be worried about these things, otherwise you put yourself in line for the blame. We drove on and she sang softly and out of tune, probably one of the boys' songs. She pulled her knees up to her chest, put her feet on the seat and closed her eyes while she sang. We drove for an hour and I was getting tired after almost a whole day on the road in my whining cortina. Jenny wasn't helping.
"I need to stop for a coffee," I said.
"Okay. I haven't got much money."
"It's alright, I'll get you one."
"Thanks," she said. "What's your name?"
"Thanks Frank. Frankie." She laughed and I raised my eyebrows.
"Oh lighten up," she said. "Lighten up man."
We stopped at a roadside café. When we walked in, the woman behind the counter looked at us and it made me think that Jenny, in her light pink dress, might have looked like a prostitute. I wished she'd be quiet but she kept giggling and singing and talking her nonsense. We sat down in the corner, drank coffee and ate slices of fruit cake.
"Have you ever had hash cake?" said Jenny. The woman was looking over, her pale face wrapped up into an expression which said nothing good about us.
Jenny sank her head down to the table and looked up at me, pretending to be furtive, flirting in a vague way.
"Do you ever smoke reefer?" she whispered.
"And nor do you," I said.
"How do you know?"
"You're not the type. You're pretending you are, but you're not."
She looked embarrassed. Then she tried to look angry but she couldn't think of anything to say. We finished our coffee without talking any further and went back to the car.
She sat in the back, then lay down and went to sleep. It was a relief but it was going to make dropping her off more difficult. When we were half an hour from London I woke her.
"What's your plan?"
"I told you, I'll get a train."
"To where? You don't know where you're going."
"Into the centre of London. I'll be there by morning."
"You'll freeze." She had no other clothes with her.
"I left my stuff in the van. Anyway, it's still summer. I won't freeze."
"You'll still be far too cold just wearing that." I wanted to shout at her, shake her, slap her really.
"Who are you, my dad?"
"No, I'm not your bloody dad. But someone needs to tell you that you're being stupid. You can't go into London dressed like that with no money and nowhere to go."
"I have got some money actually." I looked into the mirror; she was scowling. "Anyway, what's the alternative?"
"I don't know." I was really tired now and I wasn't going to take any more responsibility for her, but I knew that whatever happened I wouldn't sleep well.
"Well there you go Frank. Let's stick to my plan shall we?"
I pulled off the main road when we were as near to London as I was intending to get and followed the signs to a railway station. There were still trains coming in.
"Okay." She was less confident now.
"I've got a waterproof coat in the boot, You can have that," I said.
"Thanks." She looked out of the window at the empty street and the lights of the station.
"Are you sure you're going to be alright?" I said.
"I suppose so." She made no sign of wanting to open the door.
"Good," I said.
Then she got out and I gave her the coat.
"You can call your parents if you get stuck can't you?"
"And you've got enough money for the train home?"
"Yeah." She made a last attempt at bravado. "But I can dodge the fare. I usually do."
"Right. So you'll be alright."
"Look, I'm going to find the boys anyway, so it doesn't matter. I'm not some silly little girl who can't find her way around the city."
I wasn't going to tell her about the boys, maybe it would do her good to find out. The boys, loud and harsh and not giving a damn about anything, who were just starting to own the world; it all started back then.
"See you then," I said. "Good luck."
She went off, wrapped up in the coat and for the first time I wanted to call her back and put her on a train back to wherever she'd come from. But she'd argue and I'd be even later home and I'd have to ring her parents or even the police. I let her go. I hope that now it's just a memory for her, a story she tells while her husband shakes his head and teases her about it. I hope she wasn't one of those thousands of lost daughters of the sixties.
I got back into the car and watched her until she'd disappeared into the station, beyond the sounds of the trains and the loudspeaker.
About the author:
Louis Malloy lives in Nottingham, England. He works as a computer programmer but prefers to play music (visit www.moosemalloy.com) and write fiction. His recent successes include publications in 'Subway Lit', 'The Paumanok Review', 'Aesthetica','Eclectica', 'The Richmond Review' and a winner's prize in a BBC short story competition.