“Who’s the perv, Katie?” she says, gesturing with her lipstick to the young man.
“He’s getting toilet paper, Emily,” the tallest replies. She gives him an apologetic look.
There is a brief hush. Then the girls are talking again—about their hair and their makeup, and something more urgent too. But they are fast and liberal with their words, and the young man is better with English one on one. He takes the keys hanging from his belt hook and unlocks a cabinet below the sink. His movements are slow, overly deliberate. This is what he understands of their conversation: they left one party and they are headed to another. Also, they are worried about a brother who is in trouble with the police. It is not the worst kind of trouble. In fact, the mention of police seems to excite them.
The young man balances three rolls above the paper towel dispenser. That’ll do for now. Once they’ve all cleared out, he’ll come back and refill the stalls properly. “Okay,” the young man says, his hand already on the door. “Good?”
Before he leaves, the girl with the mean mouth rushes up to him. She glances once back at the tallest, then extends a twenty-dollar bill in his direction. “Could you get us some beer? Please?” she asks the young man. Then the tallest speaks up: “And I want you to come with us. To a party. Okay?” There are giggles from the others. He pictures himself in the back seat of their Jeep, their indifference to the cold warming him. It is what he wanted, of course. As soon as he saw them pull up to the station.
He meets them outside, after he’s finished mopping the store. They open the rear hatch door for him. The young man climbs in with three six-packs of Bud Light. There are no introductions. They turn on the radio, roll down their windows, light cigarettes, offer him one. The Jeep pulls out of the gas station, and the young man is in it.
They drive past a few motels, a U-Haul depot, and another gas station, and then merge onto the highway. Someone shouts over the radio: “So where are you from, like? Mexico?” He answers, but his voice, soft, is lost in the thunder of a passing freight truck.
They drive on, windows open, farms on either side. He was wrong: the icy wind is as chilling as ever. He does not sense that they are speeding, even though he’s sitting on the floor of the rear compartment. A police car races out of the median and up to the Jeep.
The tall one, the one who is driving, signals right and pulls over. The girls curse and laugh. It takes a long time for the cop to approach. Finally, someone rolls up the windows and turns off the radio. Now they are all waiting in silence, each one searching out the infinite white. Waiting is something the young man knows. Waiting is all that he has ever done. He is waiting for the snow to melt, waiting for a soft ground and a green-speckled sky. Then, the young man thinks, this new life will begin in earnest. Maybe he will move to Chicago. He is twenty-three. Oh he is young, but not as young as he used to be.
Samar Farah Fitzgerald‘s fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in StoryQuarterly, The Southern Review, and Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction. She has an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, where she received the Friends of Creative Writing Award and the August Derleth Prize. She lives in Staunton, VA and is at work on a collection of short stories.
The Ruby Witch | March | The Relapse | Literary Upstart Winner: Penny