To my surprise, Mary showed up the next day like normal. Neither of us said a word about the night before and she just got to sorting out our jobs for the coming week like she did every Saturday. It got to an hour before I was due to meet Hart’s Papa, so I handed her the keys and told her to lock up when Big Steve finished fixing one of the cylinders on the Pontiac.

She didn’t say a word when I went to go, just nodded and followed me to stand outside. We waited together for a minute while she fished round in her pocket and pulled out some cigarettes, lighting one for herself and offering one to me. I took it, lit it up, and watched her as she blew smoke up towards the sun, like she could block out some of its heat.

“John,” she said, slow like, “Bobby took me out last night and I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Betty was out too, dancing with Walter Davies. They looked real close.”

Normally when Mary and I talked she’d be watchful and just nod when she agreed with me, or shake her head when she didn’t, but it was my turn to stay quiet today. Suddenly everything got clear. I was chasing something impossible – that picture of Hart’s granddaddy was probably him with some relative of Mary’s who just happened to look like her. And while I’d been running round trying to make that photograph into something else, my first love was being stolen from me by that idiot, Davies.

“Thanks, Mary,” I said, eventually, when I saw she was looking at me strange. She just nodded again, finished her cigarette and walked back inside. I looked down at mine and it had burned right back to the butt. I let the whole thing fall to the ground and watched as the ash collapsed in on itself and went sailing into the dry summer air. Then, I got into my car.

Folk still don’t understand what the road really is, but I saw it that day as I sped out towards the Davies’ place. I had an L35 Oldsmobile back then – a sports coupe – and I really let the engine run. The way I understood it, that searing lunch time, made me ease off the gas a little. The road out of town was suddenly my life – if I came off it at all, I was as good as dead, but if I stuck in, followed the bends as they came, then it’d take me any place I wanted to go.

And to my great surprise, that wasn’t the Davies’ ranch. I’d sped out there with a mind to Talk to young Walter, but I pulled over real quick when I discovered it wasn’t Betty and him that bothered me. That damned picture of Mary had set me onto thinking she was something Other, something from beyond, and I knew she sure as hell wasn’t a demon. If I’d learned anything from a life time of Sundays in baking hot churches it was that demon’s didn’t work real hard – sloth, I think they called that sin – but Mary worked harder than anything I’d seen before. So it was the idea of my angel secretary with Bobby Wilson that set my blood to boiling – Bobby, who I’d known from being a kid to pull the wings off bees so he could watch them fail to fly.

I looked at my watch then and figured that if I ran my engine flat out, I could still make it back to town in time to meet Hart’s papa. I turned the Oldsmobile around and pushed my foot to the floor, careful to stay on the road.

* * * *