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.
“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.
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
She nods, satisfied, and folds her map. She heads inside and put the money into the
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
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: flash fiction, Indieink Writing Challenge