Monday, May 20, 2013

A Red Bull, a Diet Coke and a Bag of Pretzels to Share

It had to be the earrings. Every time Martha wore them, certain women wanted to be her friend. Every time she wore this pair, the one with the amber hanging down slightly from the lobes, girls with bit down fingernails and covered over scars wanted to talk to her. Tell her things. Like this girl behind the counter of the Fast Mart that Martha and her sister Emily stopped at. Emily was topping off the tank and making sure the tires had air and the tail lights worked. Emily was cautious when she was driving this late at night. Martha was getting the drinks and snacks. It was a fair trade of labor.

She went to pay and the girl at the register, all one hundred pounds and broken brown hair, smiled like she had just discovered the skill. It was an ugly uneven smile, filled with uncertainty. The girl said, “I wish I had a pair of earrings like that. I think I would.”

“Got them at a craft fair in Maine, some woman with a booth did it. Or she got it from China. I don’t know. I like them fine.” Martha put down her snacks and waited. She looked out the window. Emily was still tanking up. She had some time, she decided.

“Maine. Wow. I bet that’s nice. I bet that’s got to be better than here.” The girl scanned the drinks and the pretzels.

Martha got her wallet from her bag. “Maine’s good. It’s fine here too. Just not at this hour. You got to get some sun some time.”

“I would love to go to the beach. Not that it’s warm enough. I know. But maybe take a walk on the sand. My boyfriend doesn’t have gas money to take me. He picks me up when my shift’s done, but that’s it, he says. I don’t have my own car.”

Martha gave the girl a ten and waited for change. “Cars are great,” Martha said.

The girl looked hard at Martha like she was going to answer an eternal truth for her. Like Martha had an equation for happiness dangling just under her ears. “It must be awesome to just tank up and ride. You going anywhere? You heading to a late night party?”

Martha took the change and put it back in the wallet. “Sorry honey. I’m actually working. Me and my sister do odd jobs. We do this and that. We were asked to drive a package down the road. 300 miles I think it will be when we’re done.”

“Wow, you’re like FedEx.”

“Not really. We have a guy wrapped in duck tape in the trunk. We’re getting paid to bring him to people who want to talk to him. People who don’t want to be caught transporting him. They figure, who would bother two nice young women all dressed nice and driving the speed limit? It’s a long drive, but the radio works and now we have drinks.”

The girl obliged Martha by going pale. “What did he do? Who wants to see him?”

“I don’t know. We just drive. We don’t know him or who wants him. Its good that way. It’s nice to realize that certain things aren’t worth knowing. You’ll figure that out. Can I have a bag, please?”

The girl put the items in the bag and Martha left. Martha could feel the girl’s eyes on her, gazing at her with equal parts disgust, disbelief, and envy.

She got in the car and opened the Diet Coke for her sister.

Emily started the engine. “Everything looks fine on the car. Thanks for the drink.”

“Always,” said Martha.

“I hate convenience stores at this hour. Too sad.”

“They’re okay.”

“I like those earrings,” Emily said as the car purred in anticipation..

“Yeah, me too.”

“You always are wearing them when we got a run like this.”

“Do I?” Martha asked. “I wouldn’t know.” Behind her, from the trunk, there was a thud and a rustling. “I guess he’s awake, we should hit the highway.” Emily put it in gear and they were gone.