Stop At Nothing
by Kurt Nimmo
Gas. You need it. So into the station you steer your ten year old car. It has bad tires and multiple internal problems. You inch up to the pump. Cut the engine. It shudders and dies. Open the door. Get out. This is Texas in April. Sweltering at ten o’clock in the morning. Sun comes down hard like a vendetta. You plod over to the store. It is a small rectangular building fronting large windows festooned with colorful advertisements teasing products you will never buy.
Inside an Indian man nods hello. You move toward him. Remove a frayed wallet from your back pocket. Your wife gave you the wallet as a birthday present twenty years ago. It has outlived her. It is the only thing connected to her that remains. Everything else – clothes, furniture, a lifetime of possessions and memories – went in the yard sale last year after she died from pancreatic cancer. Surprisingly you can hardly remember her face without looking at a photograph. You vaguely remember blonde hair framing a small round face. Blue eyes. She is somehow like an unfinished portrait now. Every year less will be remembered. More information will be removed from the canvas.
Twenty on two. The Indian man smiles. He taps a device at his right. Debit or credit he says. His voice is singsongy and pitched an octave or two above what you might expect for a man of his size and stature. Debit. You say it slowly and split the syllable. Please slide your card. You do. Please enter your PIN. Your index finger dances across the keypad. The little buttons feel soft and gummy. There is a pause as a computer somewhere distant verifies your existence. As you wait for unseen machines to finish extracting small increments of your life you hear traffic outside. It is a monotonous sucking sound. Ocean-like. Nearly primordial. The machine to the right of the singsong man from Bahadurgarh or Najafgarh suddenly clinks and chitters. A narrow white strip of paper rolls out and the man rips it away from the machine and hands it to you. Good day sir. You nod. Turn away and move toward the door. One swift motion and you are outside moving across hot asphalt toward your soon to be dead car.
Remove the nozzle. Push the octane button. It lights up announcing your choice in a bewildering world of choices ultimately meaningless. Flip open the gas tank door and unscrew the black plastic cap. Let it dangle there on a noose. Grab the nozzle and shove it in the hole. Pull the trigger. Hear expensive liquid slosh into the guts of the nearly dead car. At this point you usually glanced over to see your wife there in the passenger seat. She would be poking her smart phone with a bony white finger. Blonde hair draped over the right shoulder. Her profile even then sickly in harsh and unforgiving Texas sun.
Heat sizzles. Draws beads of perspiration down the side of your face. God awful place Texas you think. It took your wife. Now it is taking you in small nearly imperceptible increments. One day it will have all of you. Nothing will remain but a motionless host for bacteria to feast. This thought does not disturb you. It simply is.
Clunk. The nozzle jerks under your hand. The numbers on the pump freeze into place. 20.00. You slowly lift the nozzle out of the hole. Toxic driblets of precious gold liquid fall from it. You fit the nozzle back in the pump. Screw and tighten the cap. Slap the fuel tank door closed. Walk around the side of the car. Open the door. Get in. At this point you usually said something to your wife. She smiled thinly but did not take her pale blue eyes off the screen of her phone. Now the seat is empty. You look at the emptiness there and have the urge to say something small and insignificant but you resist the temptation.
Twist the key. A tired engine stirs to make what you perceive to be a resentful growl followed by a tinny grind. Something will break soon. You press down on the brake pedal with your right foot and slide the shifter into place. You move your foot over to the gas pedal and steer toward the street where the rest of humanity jostles and competes. A few seconds later you are driving blindly right into the sun.
Kurt Nimmo is a writer living in Austin Texas.