Don't Ever...


Behind the counter, Billie-Jo stocks candy, setting bars of Snickers and bags of M&Ms neatly behind plate glass.  Billie-Jo smiles to herself:  She likes to impose order on things.  An ordered life is a safe life. 

She hears the tell-tale ding and looks up to see a car pull into the station.  She shields her eyes and squints.  It’s an unfamiliar car; a rusted-out car; a car is full of dents and dings, certain proof of the uncertainties of life.  She tucks a final candy bar into place before heading outside.

The driver—a boy no older than nineteen—has rolled down his window.  He nods in time to his loud music. 


She notices the interior of the car is a mass of balled-up fast food bags and empty cans of pop.  

She resists the urge to reach inside and neaten things up.  “Help you?”  She has to raise her voice to be heard.   

He smiles and turns down the radio.  “I guess you better fill it.  I rode in on fumes. ”  He stares ahead.  “Who knows when I’ll find another station?”

“You need to be careful.  What would you do if…?”  But he smiles that smile that only the youth seem to wear and dismisses her concerns.  She puts the nozzle in the tank and begins cleaning his windshield.  It’s mud-splattered and grimy.  Billie-Jo wonders how the child can see to where he’s going.  “Where you headed?”

He points down the road.  Names a destination three towns distant. 

She pulls the map from her back pocket, spreads it open on his trunk.  “Come ‘ere a minute.”
He gets out of the car.  Stretches his lanky frame.  Billie-Jo notices the holes in his tennis shoes; the patches on his jeans. 

He walks to the back of the car and points to the tears along the fold lines of her map.  “How can you read this?”

“I been here her all my life.  I know these roads like the back of my hand.  I don’t need to read it.”

“But this map,” his voice is incredulous.  “It’s ancient.  What if there’s something new?”

“Ain’t nothin’ new around here.”  She traces a finger along a network of black lines, throwing out road names as her finger veers west then north then east again. 

He shakes his head.  “That’ll take me twenty minutes out of my way at least.  I’m planning on heading due north.”  He indicates the route on the map.

She shakes her head.  “Don’t ever go that way.”

 “Why?”  He tosses her a little smile. 

“No one goes that way.”

“Why?”  Again that infernal smile.  She feels small and silly.  But there’s something else too: She feels challenged, and this angers her.  Who is this boy, to question her?

“It just ain’t right,” she says.

He laughs out loud.

The pump click off and he hands her a fifty.  She peels two three singles which he carelessly waves away.  “Keep it,” he says, getting back into his car.

“Whatever you do,” she says, tucking the change into her pocket, “don’t go north.”

“OK,” he says.  “Thank you.”

She nods, satisfied, and folds her map.  She heads inside and put the money into the cash register.

She looks up and sees the tail lights of the car.  And she realizes that the car is going north.  For a moment she feels a pang of regret.  A stab of jealousy.  Perhaps he will find a new way.  Then she shakes her head and dismisses the thought.  She feels a flash of anger.  The youth are always challenging the order of the universe. 

At closing time, she wipes invisible fingerprints from the glass countertop.  She counts the money and put it into the safe.  She closes down the pump and locks the gas station, testing the doors once…twice…three times.

She looks north.  She shakes her head.  No.

In the morning, she will open the gas station and straighten her candy bars and wait for another wayward stranger looking for direction.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Amanda challenged me with "Don't ever go that way." I challenged Chaos Mandy with "Each of your passwords no longer works.  All of your cell phone contacts have been mysteriously erased.  Your social security number, your credit card numbers, your health card number, your bank account, your address...all invalid or unrecognized. In the world of bits and bytes, you no longer exist. What do you do now?".

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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Don't Ever...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Don't Ever...


Behind the counter, Billie-Jo stocks candy, setting bars of Snickers and bags of M&Ms neatly behind plate glass.  Billie-Jo smiles to herself:  She likes to impose order on things.  An ordered life is a safe life. 

She hears the tell-tale ding and looks up to see a car pull into the station.  She shields her eyes and squints.  It’s an unfamiliar car; a rusted-out car; a car is full of dents and dings, certain proof of the uncertainties of life.  She tucks a final candy bar into place before heading outside.

The driver—a boy no older than nineteen—has rolled down his window.  He nods in time to his loud music. 


She notices the interior of the car is a mass of balled-up fast food bags and empty cans of pop.  

She resists the urge to reach inside and neaten things up.  “Help you?”  She has to raise her voice to be heard.   

He smiles and turns down the radio.  “I guess you better fill it.  I rode in on fumes. ”  He stares ahead.  “Who knows when I’ll find another station?”

“You need to be careful.  What would you do if…?”  But he smiles that smile that only the youth seem to wear and dismisses her concerns.  She puts the nozzle in the tank and begins cleaning his windshield.  It’s mud-splattered and grimy.  Billie-Jo wonders how the child can see to where he’s going.  “Where you headed?”

He points down the road.  Names a destination three towns distant. 

She pulls the map from her back pocket, spreads it open on his trunk.  “Come ‘ere a minute.”
He gets out of the car.  Stretches his lanky frame.  Billie-Jo notices the holes in his tennis shoes; the patches on his jeans. 

He walks to the back of the car and points to the tears along the fold lines of her map.  “How can you read this?”

“I been here her all my life.  I know these roads like the back of my hand.  I don’t need to read it.”

“But this map,” his voice is incredulous.  “It’s ancient.  What if there’s something new?”

“Ain’t nothin’ new around here.”  She traces a finger along a network of black lines, throwing out road names as her finger veers west then north then east again. 

He shakes his head.  “That’ll take me twenty minutes out of my way at least.  I’m planning on heading due north.”  He indicates the route on the map.

She shakes her head.  “Don’t ever go that way.”

 “Why?”  He tosses her a little smile. 

“No one goes that way.”

“Why?”  Again that infernal smile.  She feels small and silly.  But there’s something else too: She feels challenged, and this angers her.  Who is this boy, to question her?

“It just ain’t right,” she says.

He laughs out loud.

The pump click off and he hands her a fifty.  She peels two three singles which he carelessly waves away.  “Keep it,” he says, getting back into his car.

“Whatever you do,” she says, tucking the change into her pocket, “don’t go north.”

“OK,” he says.  “Thank you.”

She nods, satisfied, and folds her map.  She heads inside and put the money into the cash register.

She looks up and sees the tail lights of the car.  And she realizes that the car is going north.  For a moment she feels a pang of regret.  A stab of jealousy.  Perhaps he will find a new way.  Then she shakes her head and dismisses the thought.  She feels a flash of anger.  The youth are always challenging the order of the universe. 

At closing time, she wipes invisible fingerprints from the glass countertop.  She counts the money and put it into the safe.  She closes down the pump and locks the gas station, testing the doors once…twice…three times.

She looks north.  She shakes her head.  No.

In the morning, she will open the gas station and straighten her candy bars and wait for another wayward stranger looking for direction.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Amanda challenged me with "Don't ever go that way." I challenged Chaos Mandy with "Each of your passwords no longer works.  All of your cell phone contacts have been mysteriously erased.  Your social security number, your credit card numbers, your health card number, your bank account, your address...all invalid or unrecognized. In the world of bits and bytes, you no longer exist. What do you do now?".

Labels: ,

12 Comments:

At January 2, 2012 at 7:53 AM , Anonymous Janis Greve said...

Hi Kelly,

I love this little story! Do you view it as complete or is this a part of something larger? You have such a knack for brief but far-reaching character portraits, and for moving characters along in time and space--something I'm not sure I could do (I don't write fiction.)

To me, this story stands on its own. Things that stand out for me are those candy bars that Billy-Jo tucks into place, her well-creased map, the delicately done counterpoint of youth/adventure vs. age/experience which you make so evocative in all the details of this dusty, rural setting.

It's been nice "meeting" you here, as well as on She Writes and Twitter. Happy writing! Would love to hear your plans for this story, or just your thoughts about it.

Janis

 
At January 2, 2012 at 9:28 AM , Anonymous Amanda said...

Very intriguing. Do you have something in mind about what was wrong with going that way? Or is it just as ambiguous to you as it is to us?

Good job. :)

 
At January 2, 2012 at 10:49 AM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

Makes me wonder what's 'up north.' Very intriguing.

 
At January 2, 2012 at 1:34 PM , Anonymous Elizabeth Young said...

Kelly I think you are the greatest example I have personally of someone who lives the motto: 'Practice makes perfect.' The way you hone your craft by doing as opposed to talking about doing, is exemplary, and I plan to 'follow your lead' this year!

 
At January 2, 2012 at 3:45 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. And as always, thanks for reading.

 
At January 2, 2012 at 3:45 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Yeah, me too! Thanks, Tara.

 
At January 2, 2012 at 3:46 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for the prompt - It was a fun one to work with.

 
At January 2, 2012 at 3:47 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Janis,
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. This was just a piece of flash fiction I did for IndieInk. No plans for it. I do a lot of essays/memoir and am also working on a novel, but this piece will probably just stand as is. Looking forward to reading more of your work this year.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 9:06 AM , Anonymous Marian said...

this reminds me of years ago when i was driving in Georgia and stopped at a gas station for directions. the guy was pointing to the map and saying something that i could not understand, directing me around something. i was befuddled and drove straight through, and sure enough, it was some kind of weird government area with signs that said stuff like DO NOT PULL OVER and DO NOT EXIT YOUR VEHICLE and i realized that the guy had been trying to direct me around the "bomb plant." hah!
okay anyway, back to your lovely story: lovely! crap, what happens next!

 
At January 3, 2012 at 3:03 PM , Anonymous Carrie said...

I would have liked to have seen some sort of consequences to going north. Perhaps an aside with a tragedy mentioned.

Still, a great story.

 
At January 3, 2012 at 4:04 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks, Carrie. I'm not sure there *was* any danger to going north. Sometimes cautionary people are cautionary out of routine rather than fact. Who knows?

 
At January 3, 2012 at 4:04 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

That's scary! Thanks for reading, Marian.

 

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