“When did you know you were lost?” he asked. He wore a green vest that partially obscured the peaceful beach scene on his t-shirt. The brown and blue wavy lines sharply contrasted the meticulously parallel aisles in this little gas station somewhere in western Nebraska. The cashier propped himself up on the counter between us using both of his tattooed arms.
“On Easton. The third time I passed that barn with the tractor mural. Any idea where 12774 is?” I handed over my credit card to pay for the gas and a packet of sunflower seeds.
“Easton’s tricky. Ends at Owen Road and doesn’t pick back up for seven blocks. Might be time to invest in a GPS, bud,” and then he walked my card over to a machine tentacled with wires that stretched out over every surface of his workspace. Two off-key notes chimed: bing bong. We both looked toward the door.
A woman—her face, eyes, mouth, even her nostrils all circles—stood in the center of the main aisle. She and the cashier stared at each other for a long moment.
“Amanda? What the fuck? I’m working.”
“I found it, Darrell. I found all of it! And don’t think your sorry ass is staying at my place no more. I have kids to think about. I don’t want them anywhere near that. Your shit’s in the parking lot.” She turned her back to us. Two dings—more accusatory than the first —sirened as Amanda shoved the door open with both hands. Darrell ran out after her screaming something about how whatever she’d found helped him to pay the rent. He made a point not to name his transgression.
I was left with the rurrs and whizzes of the six refrigerators chilling more drinks than there were residents in the county. I checked the counter for my card. When I stepped behind it to search further, I heard the rising intensity of their muffled argument through the bulletproof glass.
They stood off about halfway between the station door and the first pump. Amanda had her back to me, hands on hips. I could tell she was looking at her still-running car as Darrell yelled at her, jabbing my credit card in her face on every third word. Fumes escaped from the car’s tail pipe as if fleeing the scene of a crime. To the left of the car sat two open diaper boxes and a scratched-up motorcycle helmet. The decal on the side of the helmet was of a woman’s breast, a jeweled charm dangling from its pierced nipple.
I vacillated. I didn’t want to get involved; I also didn’t want the argument to escalate any further before I could get my card back. Two more dings rang out like the beginning of a boxing match. Ding ding.
“You have my card, man,” I said as rationally as I could.
He stopped gesticulating and turned to me. “Stay the fuck outta this.”
“I don’t want the fuck in it. Just give me my card back and I’m gone.” A car door slammed. Amanda. She gunned the engine, spraying gravel toward us. Darrell sprinted after her managing to pound her trunk once before the cornfields of Route 71 hid her from sight.
Darrell’s shoulders fell when he finally gave up running. He scratched his head and turned around. When he got back to me, I asked him what he was going to do.
“Boss has a cot in back he uses to sleep off hangovers before he goes home. Don’t think he’ll mind if I use it a few nights. I’ll be fine.” He handed me my card without stopping. I heard two soft dings uhh hemmm, then I was alone.
For a second I wondered if he’d even charged me for the gas, then I figured it didn’t matter. I put the nozzle back in its cradle, screwed the black cap onto my tank. When I drove by the front of the store on my loop out of the station, I saw him sitting head-in-hands on a low pallet of pork rinds.
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