It never happened. Most things don’t.
He stopped in at what passes for a gas station in America, now. Had to pee – long drive in the heat and a steady diet of soda will do that for you. It was a mini-mart sort of affair: some groceries, soft drinks, beer, candy — all overpriced. Convenience is something for which one will pay and pay, and pay some more.
As with most things.
First thing was this when he walked in: a guy, looked as if he hadn’t bathed in days, permanently grey, scruffy face, hair slicked as if he’d wandered out of the 1950s right from a Brill Creme ad aimed at mechanics — this fellow cut him off with a sort of wide headed greenish broom affair. And no wonder. The man’s tea shades were flat black and the lighting in the store was fluorescently next to non-existent.
Talking, talking, talking while he worked, diligently moving the invisible dirt around.
Maybe one of those phones people jam in their ear.
Our friend’s second, and true, thought in these situations was always, “…or schizophrenia,” though. Not that it worried him. Instead, he stepped around the broom-man and proceeded towards the men’s room… only to be cut off at the pass at the end of the narrow lane of shelves by the broom again.
He’s gonna walk right in front of me, slow, all the way down that damned hall to the men’s room.
And, yes, he did. Jabbering all the way, only to stop at the cooler door, inexpertly snap it open, stick his head inside and yell, “Anybody in here drinking it up?! Heh, heh, heh.”
The other man, bladder unyielding in the face of attempts at humor, demanded he slide by the comedian, go into the men’s room, and release the torrent.
Guy’s not wearing the corporate smock.
Great. He didn’t see anyone at the counter, either when he came in. Broom man didn’t work here. Maybe he killed the cashier. Maybe there were looters poking around in the back and this guy was the lookout.
He’d seen beaucoup drunks at this joint and witnessed a couple of brawls. It happened. Anything was possible, though not likely enough to sweat over. Finishing up, he went to wash his hands. The soap in the dispenser was thin, watery, an odd amber color. For a moment, he imagined Brill Creme standing on top of the toilet pissing away into the liquid soap giggling like a child.
Too late – his hands were sudsy-ish, so he rinsed them in the spit-warm water and turned to the air dryer. Broken. Covered in deeply etched graffiti, none legible, skillful, or towards any point other than as evidence some anonymous person had been there to mark territory.
He shook his head and hands and wiped them on his jeans. Exit back into the store to the soda cooler.
At the counter, Brill Creme was chatting up the cashier – maybe – who was a worn, thin woman, the brown corporate smock hanging from her frame three sizes too large. He stepped between the broom man and the counter, set down the soda, and produced three bills from his pocket.
“How are you today?” he asked with some sincerity. Are you being robbed? Is this fool here aggravating you? Or is he some drunk you’re making work off a stolen beer. Or worse, your husband who’s just hanging around taking sips off the Aqua Velva bottles when no one’s looking?
Her weary, dark eyes betrayed no emotion at all, but she managed a bit of a smile.
“Fine,” she said, passing him the change.
Back out into the heat, back into his beat up Toyota lacking air conditioning. He cranked her up, twisted the lid off the Diet Coke and took an unsatisfying swig before rolling out into the 6:37 PM Saturday evening traffic. South Texas was not a busy place at such times, not in the direction he was headed, but the speeding, reckless drivers had to be watched.
Time to mow the lawn. Time to listen to Pete Townshend on the headphones and walk the lawnmower around the uneven back yard, watch the grackles descend to pick off newly revealed bugs and such.
12 June 2017
Richard Van Ingram