By the river, the Verde, in the extra hot days when the mesquite was lush with airborne pepper, I saw Shandy B. hitchhike on the interstate in a wild bikini. It had ties on the hips and a big, gold ring separating the top, with green swirls on a laser lemon background. The three psychedelic triangles masking her sex, under the clear azure dome of Arizona, contrasted with her deep tan and incandescent teeth in such a way that there was no doubt she was a Roman candle, sprung from a perfect Endless Summer vision-vortex. We were all sixteen. Us girls loved how she set herself apart from the hot bunny stereotype. She always had the answer, ever-shooting retorts smarter than smart. She’d correct a teacher, or she’d say something to a boy who wanted her breasts like a birthday present, but had no hint of who she was.
Things led up to Shandy, waiting on that bend of highway. Maybe the sexual revolution played a part, but that was the least of it. Cars weren’t what she was looking for. She’d run hard to the highway; the hill mud squished underneath her feet and cracked dry a minute later from the heat. Black inner tubes, set to ride the Verde, roped to tops of small cars, flung around the dirt roads and past cattle guard gates. Shaggy boys, the kind with chin stubble and oversized belt buckles, threw brutal hoots at her from backseat windows. She looked past them.
She was never allowed out anywhere real. Her mother, first-generation Italian-Catholic, constantly yelled and picked. Shandy stayed behind a heavy kitchen door with an extra tight spring that whacked hard against the sill. That door slapped people away. Sometimes we’d see one brown eye inside three inches, and she’d shake her head No, can’t.
She worked on her tan on the cheap lounger in her backyard, with shots of iodine and baby oil—the poor girls’ Coppertone. That yard was her altar for homework and impeccable report cards.
Suspended there on Interstate 87, her thumb stiffed sideways, I sensed heavy doors would soon open for Shandy; her life force couldn’t be blocked forever. At school, we shared clothes with her: Indian skirts, tube tops, and the bikini. And on the highway, she wasn’t showing off. She was an accidental nova—her long hair streaming like a beautiful, blonde squid in the summer wind.
If silly boys would stop throwing rocks at her bedroom window, they might grasp, for a just a second, who she might be. But Shandy couldn’t know them. That she was allowed at the river that day was a farce; her mother had gone down the street to a neighbor’s. Shandy filled a big, suede bag with an old towel, cutoffs, paperbacks, lotion, cigarettes, and tangerines and ran. We met her behind a mini-mart.
Unwanted attention from poor fools made her a little cracked. All the fawning—some too harsh, some over-sweet, came to her in sick rushes. But she imagined her life would fast-forward to something else. Under the olive trees at school, yet another boy tried to wrap himself around her, so she began Rudyard Kipling’s poem, the one about rape. The boy looked dizzy, as though Shandy cast a spell on his family. She laughed too hard and snickered for the rest of the week.
That day, before she ran up to the blacktop, we’d been down by the east bend of the Verde, a popular bank with ceaseless parties. We were shiny on towels, with a little, black radio on the dirt. She fanned pages of a beat poet on the terry cloth. Friends left, floated on puffed tubes, heading to another bank for a few hours. I was sun-tired in a baggy T-shirt, and Shandy read. We stayed back, numb, and serene. Everyone besides us moved down river.
It was this moment, when the sun started to dip just a fraction, glancing beyond the dark tree line, when the worst boys came in an oversized truck. The wind whipped behind the rear bumper, like a devil’s zap pushed them. The week before, Shandy had said something too flippant—something that gave them a terrible idea when they saw her on the towel, stretched out, in that bikini. The one boy looked ruthless with patchy skin. He dragged a loose joint and fixed his gaze on her bare back. The truck came as close as it could, next to the wash we were north of.
“Hey, Shandy, let’s go for a ride.” Shandy tightened, like her brain couldn’t solve what was set to unfold. She knew these boys would go farther than anyone before who’d hurt her— farther than her mother, the handsy teacher, the lechy neighbor who threw rocks at her window, even the nicer boys who didn’t understand a thing. We felt pre-violence hang in the air, right next to the mesquite pollen, scratching against us, our peace—this time.
Her eyebrow flicked, she had the idea. I already knew. She had to tear through the dense groves that led up to the highway. She ran, powerless, but like a genius rabbit, up the embankment. She took off, and I went invisible. Eyes from the truck glass followed Shandy as she ran into the thick. I ran behind a line of rocks and scrubs and willed myself to mix with the slope. I used different footing and stayed imperceptible. Then the boys tried to turn their tires around, but fishtailed, giving Shandy a shot of time. When they slammed doors to run for her, the divide was steep. They were slow and stoned. Shandy ran again, relentless.
She made it to the rim of the highway, and I waited. I knew exactly what she was doing because we’d talked about the big diesels earlier. We knew gray beards usually manned them. When her sandals slapped asphalt, she ignored station wagons and cars. I didn’t yell for her, because that would’ve blown it. We knew the big wheelers came like clockwork and would hurtle over the pass. They were giant, the biggest things I’d ever seen swaying across the mountains, and with a single soul inside. In less than a minute, a 17-ton truck bent around the curve of the highway, with a beautiful, grizzly man at the wheel. The wall of Palo Verde Mountains that circled the interstate had white caps on them—jutting elevated and neutral, and they shrunk Shandy, the highway, and the wild bikini. As I crouched behind the pale scrub brush, I heard the brakes squeal high, their harmonics bounced off the heat of the sunlight; and the internal, enormous clutch made all eighteen wheels, as though God had to gradually wield it, slowly come to a tight stop.
The driver, with his forearms bent to the wheel, looked entirely shocked. With eyes like fried eggs, he waved his flannel arm, directing her to the high side step as he leaned over to open the door. Shandy, with a small fraction of whom and what she really was, with all her summer magic, manifested seventeen tons of moving steel to an inactivated pause. The boys landed on the blacktop and watched as the wheeler ate the horizon in front of them—their mouths slacked. Now slung to the clear sky, Shandy B. was going somewhere.
Bonnie Lykes has been published in outlets such as Crack The Spine Literary Journal, The Penmen Review, The Coachella Journal, Jonah Magazine, and Bluestem Magazine. Her work was also chosen for the annual book collection Crack The Spine VI. She is also featured on the Strange Recital podcast.