Archive for October, 2007

04
Oct
07

Exit at Nowhere’sville

By the time you’re six you know everything. You know that the sky is blue because that was God’s favorite color and that snow is made by Christmas Elves. You know that the scariest thing is the monster hidden under your bed and that your mother knows how to stop cars when you hold her hand across the street. You know that Jesus loves you and that your old dog Sadie went to heaven when she died.
By the time that you’re twenty you know that not everyone thinks that Sadie went to heaven and your mom got hit by a car walking through the Fred Meyer’s parking lot. You know that color is arbitrary and no one can explain cold and that Santa will never visit you because you haven’t had a chimney since you were seven. You know that the scariest thing in the world is dying and that Jesus doesn’t give a goddamn about you. And you wonder if anyone really does.
By the time you’re twenty you don’t know anything.
I spent one summer working at a gas station just off the Interstate. People came and went from all over, stepping crisp and sore from air conditioned cars into the soggy square of shade held up by gas pump pillars. Beyond our station was nothing; foggy blue sky and row after row of dusty barren hill, a tan and teal square of the world’s patchwork quilt. I always wondered what inspired people to stop at our station instead of driving the 15 miles farther to Greensboro, the main city. I don’t know why they call it Greensboro either. Green is a color I’ve never seen around here. But the station was always full of beat up station wagons from the sixties and hay plastered farm trucks, crabby squalling kids and half-drunken truck drivers that made me glad that I had nowhere to go.
Sometimes the driver might talk to me as they handed me their credit or debit or plain paper cash, tell me where they were going, or why they were driving that skinny frying pan stretch. I heard about weddings and vacations, births and friendly visits. But rarely I ever heard about a death. People going to a funeral aren’t apt to admit it to anyone, maybe not even to themselves. I don’t know why people would tell me these things, leaning out their car window with one hand on the wheel letting the cool air out the window and the hot air out their mouth. Maybe secretly everybody hopes that somebody out there cares and they’re willing to try near about everyone just in case it’s that somebody. Or maybe my presence in this overheated despair-hole evoked some kind of muted pride that they were heading off on the road.
I was paused leaning against the narrow air conditioned box where they sell cigarettes talking to C.C. and his lip piercing when his eyes slide to something just behind my head. He nods in that direction. Check them out he says and I turn around to look leaving a fog of condensed sweat on the glass where I was leaning. I don’t know why but the company makes us where a dark grey polo and jeans with our name embroidered in stiff red thread on the left pocket. Everyday around 4 o’clock those polos get to feeling like you’re wearing a jacuzzi instead of a shirt with a decoration waterfall running down your shoulder blades into the small of your back.
I look where C.C. is looking and I see two girls stepping out of a dark blue convertible bug the color of the sky at the edges of the horizon. First thing I think is that it’s too hot to be riding without the AC but I can see from the way their hair is still flying and loose from the ponytails that they’ve been riding top down the whole way. The driver rises from her seat and keeps rising until she’s nearly as tall as I am, the blonde poof of her ponytail just above my eyebrows. She walks around to our side and I can see her long long legs in tight bleached jeans above the hood of the car. Her streamlined body reaches even higher as she stretches each limb as quivering and pale as a swan. A perfect swan and you can see by the way she swings her icy hips that she knows it. The other girl stretches too revealing a flat brown stomach over her shorts. She looks up at Swannie from her compact height and laughs. I admire their contrast which to me is like some sort of colored painting on the stark landscape, the kind of contrast they talk about in high school english. Tall and short. Light dark. North south. Winter summer.
Swannie glances at me and C.C. both looking at her and rolls her pale sky eyes at her friend. Her friend just laughs again. I admire her short short shorts, as short as Swannie’s long long legs are long. A loud splash of color runs down the seam and it shows up sharp and brilliant against her polished brown skin. She is a bell, narrow waist and wide hips all polished copper brown like her flat brown stomach still peeking out between her shirt and shorts.
They begin to stroll toward us, the short one swinging her bell hips and Swannie sailing her frosted hair in a breeze that never existed before in our cement dull-drum.
“How much for a pack of Marlboro Reds?” Swannie asks, cool as that imaginary wind.
C.C. raises his eye brow ring. “Your mother know you’re buying cigs?” he asks.
“My mother doesn’t get a say in these things,” Swannie says without batting an eye. “How much?”
C.C. looks at me and winks. “With a beautiful cold complexion like yours you shouldn’t smoke,” C.C. says to the girl.
“I’m taking that as a compliment. Now are you going to sell me cigs or not?”
“You know those ads about losing weight aren’t true either. If you start smoking I think you might blow away in all the wind we get here.”
Swannie freezes and glares at him through the window. She knows and I know that the only wind around here is the wind that still flies through her hair. I think her eyes must be shooting daggers because I can feel prickles all over but C.C. just sits there and smiles, looking her up and up. Bell starts to wiggle uncomfortably, wagging her round round in those little shorts. It makes me uncomfortable too.
“C.C. just give her the cigs,” I say at last. “You’re acting retarded.”
Swannie doesn’t even blink, but Bell gives me a beautiful grin. “Yes,” she smiles. “Please.”
C.C pauses and looks at me. There’s a dimple around his lip piercing from being annoyed. “I’m going to have to ask for your I.D. Maybe I’ll find your phone number so can call your mom.”
“Seriously man.What are you doing?” I say, shrugging off C.C.’s glare. “Don’t give them a hard time. They know what they’re doing.”
C.C. stops and looks at me again, looking hard and thinking. A twisted grin splits his mouth drawing the skin around his piercing tight. “Don’t listen to this loser.” C.C. tells the girls. “He doesn’t even know what he’s doing.”
I glare at C.C. but now Swannie’s looking at me. “J.D.” she reads off my pocket. “Do all you guys go by your initials?”
“No,” I start quickly but C.C. cuts me off.
“How old are you now, twenty?” he says with disgust. “When are you ever going to go do with your life? You’ll be an old man pumping gas.”
“Hey, you’re still here too,” I snap. “Why don’t you go do something with your life?”
“’Cause I already did and I crashed and burned,” C.C. replies, smacking his lips with relish on the “b” of burned. His piercing draws tight. “Besides I don’t pump gas. I sell cigs.” He sits back smug like he won something.
“How is that different?” I start to demand but Bell is asking a question and the words die on my lips.
“Well what do you want to do?” Bell turns and looks up at me with her warm pudding brown eyes. It makes me feel all squirmy inside like spaghetti before its been rinsed.
“Dunno.” I mutter.
“Are you going to college?” Bell asks.
“No.”
“Going to school?”
“No.”
“Got a girlfriend?”
“Jesus, no. Its not your freaking business!” I practically shout, stumbling not to cuss. “Do you want regular unleaded or plus?”
“Neither. I didn’t come for gas. I came to pick up something to smoke.” All this time Swannie’s been watching us with her sky eyes rolling back and forth. She whips out her I.D. and slaps it on the stained counter.
“It’s probably fake.” C.C. says. He doesn’t move.
“Prove it.” Swannie hisses, leaning on the counter and staring him down. He stares back non-plussed. Bell begins to swing again.
“Fine. There you go. Reds. Go die of tar poisoning.” C.C. leans back and glares at all of us, his lip piercing protruding sulkishly.
“Thanks,” Swannie answers, grabbing the pack without even looking at it. She throws some wadded bills from her tight little pocket onto the counter and turns around. “C’mon Julia. Let’s get outta here.” Julia, Julia, the swinging bell.
“Where are you going?” I ask her as she starts to follow the icy swan trail back to her car.
“Road tripping,” she replies, smiling and bringing a flood of warmth back. I can feel sweat squeeze out my neck and trickle down my spine. “Our last chance before college.”
“Where to?” I ask.
“I don’t know exactly. We just sort of find out as we go. Its all part of the fun I guess.” she shrugs and smiles. A ringlet curl sticks to her forehead.
“Oh,” I say and start to watch her cross the cement square, leaving. “Hey,” I say impulsively. “What’s your number?” The words slide out fast before I can think and go swimming over the drowned cement.
She stops and doesn’t say anything for a minute and I know she’s going to see my sweaty grey polo and gasoline slick hair and say no. “Why?” she says instead.
I fumble. “I just wanted to talk to you sometime. Y’know. You seem pretty cool.” Someone’s turned the heat up even more and suddenly I’m melting in hot and sweat like that wicked witch turned into just a gray polo shirt that says J.D. in red thread.
“Okay,” she says. Two little pink roses blushes in each cheek, the petals spreading onto the sides of her nose. She pulls a little notebook from her purse and scratches down her number. The paper is magenta.
“Thanks,” I say and all at once I can’t stand the sticky gasoline stench that seems to sneak into my pores and clog my nose with heat and dead animal particles, dampening the pink paper with dirt. I repeat it. “Thanks.”
Julia turns away and jumps into the blue bug the color of the dark sky. Swannie’s had the motor running since she got in and the little car jumps as she backs it out. Julia turns and laughs through her seat belt at me, hair flying, out onto the Interstate to wherever. To nowhere. To part of the fun.
I watch them go and then start scrubbing dead flies off some old guy’s windshield who’s been griping about how only the young girls get attention these days and what a pity it is that the newest generation has no manners.
I’m twenty years old. I don’t know if there’s a heaven for Sadie to go to or why my mother lost her power to stop cars in that Freddy’s parking lot one day. I don’t know if color looks the same to everybody or if there’s cure to world violence. I don’t know why strangers off the Interstate leaning out car windows wasting fossil fuel tell me all the silly details of their silly lives. I don’t know if anyone cares. I don’t.
But I sure as hell know that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life washing the bugs off some hairless old man’s window. I hand the old fellow his rag and say “Wash it yourself.” He goes to sputtering and I walk right past him to lean back against C.C’s box. He looks at me with some amusement.
“What’s going on, partner?” he asks.
“Quittin’” I say, and nod as if that makes it more real.
“Where’re you off to?” he asks. “There’s nowhere else to get a job in this shit hole.”
“Don’t know,” I say. “Somewhere. Nowhere. I don’t know.”
“Sounds kinda aimless,” C.C. says.
“Yeah,” I say. “But that’s part of the fun.”
I’ve got Julia’s number clenched tight in my hand.