Lines of Credit


“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.


Go on over to my friends at yeahwrite to read more great homecooked fiction like this!

38 Replies to “Lines of Credit”

  1. Wonderful story, had me wondering from beginning to end at what was going on. Kept wondering what would happen to that poor guy, the attendent seemed just a tad dishonest! Great read.

  2. Another great story from you. This one told by piling up strings of intricate little details that suddenly pop with meaning. Like everyone else I loved the door chimes a lot. Nice job!

  3. I love damn near everything about this. Especially the way you keep us in the same state of what-the-fuck as the narrator, focusing on the little details, trying not to listen but helpless not to. (For future reference, though, artists use palettes, and a pallet is a wooden structure you stack boxes on. Stupid homonyms.)

  4. I loved how the sound of the door chime took on different inflections as the tone of the story changed (like everyone else did, I guess :D). Your description of the helmet was also incredible – so outrageous but so realistic at the same time.

    1. Thanks for saying so, Brian. That sentence about his helmet was the one I kept pulling out and putting back in. I finally decided to keep it for what I thought it added to the tone.

  5. I really liked how you used the subjectivity of the narrator’s descriptions to convey the story – the bell on the door rings over and over, yet it becomes accusatory, like a boxing match or a softer uhh hemmm, depending on the circumstance.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Blake. I put it in the first time to announce Amanda’s arrival in the scene and then I realized I’d have to include every time they opened the door. Good to know I turned a negative into a positive!

  6. Your dialogue is so natural and your descriptions are vivid. The sounds of the inside of the gas station — you captured it all! And my favorite is the palette of pork rinds…what a slice of America. Well done, as always, my friend.

  7. This is great! I like how we don’t really know exactly what she found (I am a little curious, though). I was right there in the awkwardness of the situation, which couldn’t be escaped because the guy had the credit card.

    1. thanks for saying that. I had the narrator ask him what she found, but edited it out because there’s no way that narrator would dare. I don’t think many people would!

  8. What they said. Loved it. Loved the bell sounds, the refrigerator sounds (and that line about there being more drinks than residents!), the way you set the scene without it sounding overly narrated. Very natural – and wonderful characters!

  9. I love this! Excellent voice and excellent storytelling. And I love the way you use the sound of the bell almost as punctuation. Very nicely done! 🙂

  10. For a moment, I thought Darrell was going to beat you black and blue and you’d never see that credit card ever again, but I’m glad you left with a full tank.
    It was like watching the start of a movie. Well written, kept me hooked, and wanting to know what happened next.

    1. I did have them pushing each other in an earlier version. And the narrator isn’t me; this is completely fictional. But I’m proud that it came across as true to you, Hugh. Thanks for reading!

  11. Really fine writing. I was pulled right along and could “see” it unfolding in front of me. I did have some anxious moments for that credit card! I love how you made us feel sympathy for all the characters.

  12. You have a really unique voice Nate. Could really picture the whole scene here like a movie. Could really picture the characters, the voice, everything.

    1. I was thinking drugs. But realized that I hear conversations sorta like this on the subway and have had to walk away without finding out about them. That’s kinda what I was going for with this story. THanks for reading, K. Renae!

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