a flash-fiction narrative (with coda)
The sign read OPEN 24 HOURS. It hung beneath a giant red and yellow scallop that wheezed each time a wind pushed across its cracked and sun-blasted surface. Dave Mannion, former stock car racer and one-time owner of a ’56 Corvette, was standing at its base scuffing the weeds into heaps with his soiled work shoes. The station grounds had been neglected, weeds jostled through the chaps in the ill-laid asphalt paving. Dust was accumulating everywhere. The dry hot wind was ceaseless, and the Carson City weather made no mention of rain. He felt heavy in his body and slow in his mind. Even the ant hills, the ones he thought to smother, seemed long for activity.
“Allow us the letterhead, deny us the pride,” he voiced aloud despite his dry throat, and that no one was listening. And what about the pumps, he thought. Ten years if a day. And the tanks, they’re twenty. And probably leaking!
A pick-up approached, its wipers clearing dust, and pulled up beside the pumps.
“Sammy! Swami!” he called, as though the bell would fail to summon the attendant, now appearing from out of the shade. “One day I’m gonna own this place. And I’m gonna kick your brown butt right outta here! Damn spit is everywhere.”
The slender, dispassionate attendant was then hurried to complete his sale, and then was hurried back into the shade, pleasing only to avoid the sunlight. He was as yet unable to decide, or to decode, whether the man’s voice suggested real intentions or just a lame attempt at amity.
He slipped his coins into the soda machine. He inspected the bolt that held it fast to the signpost. And as he raised his head to drink, his eyes happened upon the giant scallop throbbing above him in the sunlight.
Then something pricked his memory. His eyes involuntarily were closed. He lit a cigarette and drew the smoke in deep then rushed it out with a sudden haste.
It was only at such moments, as when he let himself off guard, that the dream returned to torment him. Nearly a month had gone by, and the details had all but lost their spell, then once again, early that morning, he climbed those unfamiliar flights of stairs and found himself paused at the landing, and seeing into that long sunlit room, where the woman is undressing.
She is lowering her jeans. Her thigh is tan and smooth. On top she wears a navy leotard, its line is clean above the curve of her behind, round like a moon, and disappears beyond her slender hip.
He smothered out the cigarette, feeling his pockets for the keys to the deficient Skylark he was charged to plunge grease into.
Mannion was without a wife. And he was without a lover. And he had someone to blame. She was over in the next town, he knew because he still kept tabs on her. He could call her, maybe, maybe even plead.
And start that shit again. . . ?
He knew it was not the woman but the satisfaction she gave him that he longed for.
His hand engaged the pressure valve and with a whoosh of air the Skylark began its ascent. He loaded his grease gun.
Sammy rose from his chair in the shade of the garage and with his sandaled foot pushed back on it as though to signal, to whomever, that he was now a standing man. He slipped his hand into his pocket and withdrew into the daylight a tarnished metal case. The case had three compartments. The first compartment held a mustard-colored tar, the second was packed with small brown-colored leaves and the third was filled with orange-colored berries.