* I thought I’d try my hand at a short story. I found a site,StoryaDay.org, that gave writing prompts for May and decided to give it a try. I’m not necessarily taking their challenge to write a short story and post it every day. I never know if I’m supposed to count the title in word count on these challenges. I didn’t, so it’s 1201. Does anyone know the rule of that?
I hated those muggy, summer-night shifts at the gas station, Every smell hung heavier in the air, especially the gas and diesel. I couldn’t get around that. Sometimes it seeped into my pores, I swear, and my arms and legs puffed up like the Michelin logo that creaked outside on rusty loose screws. I could’ve fixed it, of course. Any of us could. I mean, the screwdriver was right there in the front drawer with jumbles of other junk. But it got so as the night wore on that I didn’t notice it. So what the heck. By the end of my shift, I was guaranteed a headache from the creaking sign and the fumes of gas and diesel. Sometimes some lady would come in reeking like heavy perfume she probably took a sample of from a makeup counter at the mall she’d just left. More “headache matter.” So most days it was me and my migraine as I counted out the cash at the end of the night.
I was also the only female on the entire staff, so I had to get used to being razzed a lot by the guys and customers. Stuff like, “Hey, kiddo, can I talk to your dad?” or “Whatcha doin’ after work?” One time some guy, a regular, walked in with a big, cheap-looking, blue bear, slammed it on the desk like it was the severed head of an enemy he’d just beaten and told me he won it for me at the fair. I knew I was supposed to be all complimented and squeal in delight, but—not the right environment—or guy. I told him I was allergic to stuffed animals. He stared at me for a few seconds, tilting his head from right to left like maybe he heard wrong—then gave a grunt, grabbed the bear from the counter, turned and stomped out of the station. Ringing those annoying made-in-India bells above the door that tinkled any time someone went in or out.
One night, about ten minutes before closing, some old blue Chevy, rusted all over the passenger-side fenders, drove in. I was catching up on the last few paragraphs of an article in Enquirer magazine when the ding, ding of that hose everybody drove over let me know they were there. I peered out the big, front window at them. There were more Miller moths on the window than I could count. I was glad Bert wasn’t still on duty or he’d have made me wash those suckers off. But he’d left early, had to pick up his kid at the dance. Normally, the “boys” wouldn’t let me at the station alone. I first noticed this guy turned toward his passenger, waving a fist filled with money at her. She kept shaking her head, “No” to what he was saying really fast like her head was on the “spin-dry” cycle. I couldn’t see her face, but I could his and it was lit up with anger. All scrunched and red, teeth clenching a cigarette that bobbed up and down as he spoke out of one side of his mouth. I kept thinking she should find another ride, get out of that car, but she stayed put like she was velcroed to the seat, frantically moving that head.
Finally, he got out, hitched up his jeans and stretched, money still clenched in his left hand, before he plodded over to the pump. His white t-shirt was torn on the bottom left side and he was whistling something—Country Western, I think. I was more interested in the girl, anyway. Something about her with him just didn’t seem right. She was rocking back and forth, biting her lower lip, her brown bangs so long they almost covered her whole eye. Periodically, I could tell she peeked over at him through those bangs. Once she looked at her watch. Once she bent toward the CD player like she was going to change the song, but then jolted a bit and let it be. Once she looked at me. Or I thought she did, anyway. Hard to tell with those bangs. I smiled at her and gave her that half wave you give to a person when you don’t really know if you should wave or not but you don’t want to be rude. I just wanted her to know I’d seen her. I felt like she needed someone. She gave a shrug and turned her head facing straight now. Except to put one bare foot, the right one, on the dashboard, I don’t think I saw her move again.
If Bert were there, I maybe would have gone outside for some cockamamy reason, maybe wash those Millers off the window or check the women’s room, just to have a better look and make myself feel more at ease, but he had told me not to leave the building—not to make myself a sucker. So I stayed put. He was my boss. But that feeling of her needing someone’s help stayed put, too, and I started to get a little nauseous. Aw, she’ll be all right, I thought, just a little lover’s spat or something. . . maybe he’s her big brother. Could be lots of things. But I’d read articles about girls getting themselves into all kinds a precarious predicaments and the idea kept tugging at me that she was one. Maybe she didn’t know how to get out of it. Maybe he was a molester who picked up hitchhikers and left their carved-up, battered bodies in a pile by the granite quarry. Maybe he ran a slave ring. Maybe . . .
The chime from those stupid Indian bells jerked me to attention before I had time to finish my last thought. I smelled his sweat long before seeing he was picking up a packet of peanuts from the shelf and a can of Budweiser and some RC Cola from the cooler. He plopped them onto the counter. His hands were dirty with black grime, really pressed in. Made me shiver a bit. He had a scar between two knuckles and maybe a bite mark on his forefinger. No wedding ring. Who’d marry him anyway? He put down a ten and said, like he’d been driving over treads, “Just these. Paid at the pump.” I couldn’t help but think of that girl in the car. How long was she going to have to smell and listen to that man? He dropped the change into his pocket and stuffed the bills there, too, before he swiped up his “goodies.” As the bells were tinkling in the door, he turned, leered at me, gave a wink, and started whistling again.
I had told myself I was calling the police the minute he left, but suddenly his face wasn’t clear. In my anxiety, I forgot to get the license number and, curiously, the more the car faded from view, the more my headache reconquered my thinking. “What a day. I can’t wait to get home and lie down,” I sighed as I counted the last quarter from the till and turned to lock up for the night.