Friday, December 27, 2013

Gas Stop

Dust flows in through the open tailgate window. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” blares from the dash. Some think Hank will be a star. I know he will. He speaks my language.

My temperature gauge is pegged as I spot the shape of a Texaco sign on the horizon. I push the shift lever up to neutral. We coast. I steer to the closest pump. Ethyl is twenty-eight cents. The thieving bastards.

I count the change in my pocket. A handful of quarters from the slots I left eight hours ago. I wonder how much the café wants for a beer. My back goes from soaked to dry and dusty as I fill up, the west wind blowing with a vengeance. The owner starts out the screen door. It slams against the wall and I hear him curse. I wave him off, and he doesn’t argue.

I hold my straw Stetson to my head as the wind tugs at it. I duck my head and walk to the café. The screen door pops from my hand. The owner curses again as I pull it shut.

“Sorry,” I offer. “Got a cold beer?”

“Miller, Pabst, Lone Star.”

“Whatever you put in first.”

I hear him dig through the icy water. He fishes out a Pabst. I wish I had said Lone Star.

He pops the cap. Foam erupts and flows like cold white lava.

From a corner booth a female voice reaches my ears, not soft and sexy but like the crinkling of a can in a fist.  “Hey, Cowboy. Buy me a beer?” Her aged features tell me this isn’t the first time she has asked that question.

“Sure. Beer for the lady,” I tell the owner.

“Lady? That’s my wife.”

“So?  Pull her a beer.”

Husband reaches, grabs the first one, pops the cap and sets it harsh on the counter. I watch the foam cascade down and pool. I grab the bottle and walk to her leaving a spotty trail. I hand it to the wife and turn back to the counter.

“You can sit a spell if you like.”

I walk behind the counter and fish out a Lone Star. I hold it up and give her a look. She nods. I grab a second beer and walk to her booth. I eye her husband. He seems not to care.  I start to sit across from her, then slide in next to her. Her perfume reminds me of that Avon stuff my ex bathed in. It smells good. Cheap. My kind of woman.

“Where you goin’?” she asks. I like that. Most women want to know where you been.

“South,” I tell her.

She looks out the plate glass window, shifting her head around the spidery cracks mended with electrical tape. The ends flap in the wind, the adhesive sides brown from dust.

“Nice car,” she offers. I wonder if she’s fishing.

“Chrysler,” I tell her.

“Why a wagon?” she asks. Figured you a rag-top guy.

I grin. “Cozy sleeping on cool nights. Desert gets cold, you know. Sometimes I like to sleep with my head out the tailgate. Watchin’ the stars. Off the ground, away from the snakes.”

“Looks roomy back there.” She is fishing. I tilt my head to her and nibble her lips. She nibbles back, and more.

Wife nudges my hip with hers, the sign for me to get up. I scooch out; she follows. She rubs a breast across my arm and winks. I watch her denim cheeks sashay to the counter, to the register. She gives a button a pop, and the cash drawer flies open. She picks at the bills, lifts the drawer, and pulls out a C-note.

“Hmm. Holding out on me, Harry?” she says as if to no one in particular. She tucks the money into her cleavage, turns to the cooler and fishes out two more longnecks.

“I’d like to say it’s been fun, Harry. But I can’t.”

“You’ll be back,” Harry offers. “You always come back.”

She gives the screen door a shove. The wind cracks it against the wall, and I follow her to my car like a trained dog.