excerpt from Flood
(as a kind of poem)
Everything froze and stopped moving, stood cold
and still for a week in the clean, cold sunshine. Clouds
rolled in and coalesced overhead, and I could feel their
shadows on my arms, and inside me, deep inside, under
the skin, then over and behind my shoulders as I
walked, pressing in from behind, then everything
brightened with wintery silver light that seemed to
fall out of the clouds and onto the cars and streets and
patches of new grass near the gas station where
I’d taken employment. I replaced the gas cap on a
rusted Ford truck and hung the nozzle in its notch. I
blew on my fingers and took the customer’s credit card
into the tiny outbuilding with raw particle board walls
and physically forced the roller over the charge slip
placed over the card and wrote in the figures, foregoing
writing down the guy’s plate number. Other cars were
turning in, trailing puffs of exhaust. A woman with red
hair simply pulled alongside my little makeshift hut
and batted her eyes at me. But she wasn’t flirting.
“I can’t see,” she said, pouting. Then she pushed her
washer fluid button as explanation. This action caused
a grinding noise but no fluid. While customers waited
at the pumps—there were eight full-service pumps—I
replenished her washer fluid—the reservoir was
bone-dry—and then we watched together while she
happily squirted the blue fluid onto her windshield
and flipped on her wipers. Somebody honked.
Someone else pulled up to the diesel pumps.
The woman smiled. This small triumph made her
very happy. She opened a leopard skin purse and
began fishing around for a wallet. “Don’t be ridiculous,”
I said, and waved her off. She made me happy.
(Happy women make me happy, I remember repeating
that sentence in my mind.) Then I went to wait on
the pain-in-the-ass who kept honking the car horn.
“You are such a dear,” I could hear the woman shout,
before pealing away in her little red Datsun. The gray,
whistling air was alive with little spits of snow. In a way,
it felt good to be out in it, dressed in layers, prepared
for the cold, and with so much to do. Later in the
afternoon, near the end of my six-hour shift, I saw
Sheryl scoot past in her Mustang, right down Sheridan
Avenue and under a yellow light that had just turned red . . .
I took off my Red Sox cap and shook it, letting my
hair blow around in the cold gusts, then replaced the
hat snugly. The thing was covered with grease. I missed
Sheryl, sure, hell yes I missed her. But I was busy
pumping gas, smashing a roller over plastic credit cards,
puffing out clouds of air while the customers signed
for gasoline, handing them a copy for their records.
There was a lull in business, and more snow, too early
in the year for so much of it, flakes gathering in bunches
on top of orange leaves that had fallen and stuck in
between the branches of the cedars planted decoratively
near the air pump and the open air public telephone.
I went into the shack and warmed my hands in front of
the electric heater Bolton’s brother loaned me (“You can
use this. I bought it because I’m a pussy about the cold
when I get out of the shower in the winter. It’s stupid.
Here. Take it away from me. You don’t even have any
insulation in that thing,” he said). Then he loaned me
a book about “this chick who has enormous thumbs,”
he said. “It’s good though. She hitchhikes with them,
and there’s lezzie stuff, and everyone’s just trying out life.
It’ll make you wanna quit this job. But don’t.” It was called
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. And that’s when Hawkins
showed up with Penny MacCalester in tow. They pulled
up to the small window in the shack and I slid it open.
“This is a stick up,” Penny said, and she was pointing a
curved banana at me. “The genius here is that we can eat
the murder weapon,” Hawkins said. “Or most of it.”
But then another impatient customer pulled up, revved
his engine too hard, shut his engine off, and sat there visibly
tapping the dashboard. So in this manner I read the book
and thought about the future, all while managing to
watch the clock, a habit I would never really break as
Literary radicals and revolutionary acts
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