People who drift into gas stations either have a lot on their minds or nothing at all. They wander through the isles like a wasteland, one lethargic hand reaching out for a bag of chips, one pair of feet stopping in front of the candies, hesitance coloring the Sour Patch Kids Decision. Sometimes I imagine what they must be thinking, what their problems are and how they’re trying to fix them, and if they think beef jerky will help. It might, for all I know.
Once, a dude bought a pack of cigarettes from me, mumbling the brand and tossing his credit card in my direction with a sigh of absolute resignation. When I held out the pack of Camels, he just stared at it, then looked up at me.
“I haven’t smoked in fifteen years.”
He left with the cigarettes in hand.
That’s the fugue state of gas stations. Time doesn’t mean anything, and the rules of smiles and thank-yous and fifteen years are muddled by a fog of exhaustion.
I don’t exactly like working here—I’m getting paid minimum wage and the air smells like piss and asphalt—but it numbs me, and I do like that. My head, a constant anxious whir of an overheated laptop, powers down, and any job that helps me to not think about my disaster of a life is good enough for me.
The second I walk out those doors, though, it all floods back on me, and by the time I’m wedging the door open to my tiny, dark apartment, I’m biting my lips and the tremor in my hands has started.
My roommate is sitting on the couch, or perhaps more in the couch, given the way the cushions fold around her. She’s tying her shoes, looking zoned enough to be in her own private fugue.
“We should get maintenance to look at the door,” I say.
“Got warped in the humidity, I think. They probably just need to sand down the doorframe so it doesn’t get stuck, but good luck getting them to do even that, huh?”
I flop down next to her. The seat of the sofa is broken, so I hit the bottom of it hard and the cushions envelop me too. “Going to work?”
She finishes tying her second shoelace and leans back. “Yeah.”
“I made you dinner to take with you.”
She closes her eyes.
“I made you dinner.”
I watch her take one, two seconds to pull herself from wherever she’s retreated, and then she opens her eyes and takes two more to find a smile. “I saw that, kid. Thanks a bunch.”
“No problem.” I burrow myself further into the couch and pull out my phone.
We sit there for a couple minutes. “You’re gonna be late,” I say. It sounds nagging, and Deanna’s a goddamn adult, but my second-hand anxiety over the thought of consequences doesn’t allow me to be silent.
She says, “People can wait a few more minutes to get drunk,” but she pulls herself up, swipes her purse off the counter, and grabs her Tupperware dinner from the fridge. “Later, dude.”
I give her a finger gun and a wink and watch her struggle with the water-warped door.
“We should call maintenance about that,” she says.
“Yeah.” The repetition isn’t worth mentioning.
The door slams shut. The reverb echoes through my shaky hands.