Gas Station Sonnet
Gas Station Sonnet
Of course, it had to happen tonight. Jerry is never going to trust me to run the station alone again, and I really need the money from this overtime. Hopefully he doesn’t go through the tapes—I was right in sight of those cameras he put in last summer. He’s still obsessed with those. I can’t stop looking at them.
It’s just been such a long day. For some reason, the register drawer kept jamming, and I kept having to pry it open with anything I could find on the counter: pens, keys, and even my credit card (remind me, I have to get a new one now).
I had my credit card in there, finagling it around while this trucker buying some lotto tickets shook his head. “Shouldn’t ya know how to fix this, kid?” He grabbed some beef jerky, peeled back the wrapper and ripped off a hunk. “This too, and I’ll pay in cash.”
That’s when she walked in. I heard that stupid, mocking bell chime and looked over to see who else would be making my life hell tonight, but seeing her face made my credit card crack. The trucker groaned and took another chomp at his jerky, and when I turned my eyes back to the door, she was already walking down aisle two. Her shoulders hunched over, and her strides were quick and short. I noticed that she didn’t bend her knee enough when she took a step with her left foot.
When she came to the counter, I couldn’t speak. She had a can of Diet Pepsi and wanted twenty dollars’ worth of gas, paying in credit card. Policy says I’m supposed to suggest pre-paying at the pump when I put a credit card through, but I didn’t dare offer that to her. She left without saying a word more than she had to.
Jerry must not have looked at the tapes because he didn’t say anything to me when he handed me my paycheck. He even told me I could keep working the night shift. I guess the day shift would be a little safer, less lonely too, but it doesn’t pay as much. He said that I’m a better fit for the night shift anyway, something about “communication skills” or whatever.
She came in again tonight. It was earlier in my shift, and there was a line. God, why does there always have to be a line at the worst times? She was three people back, and two more were behind her. The drawer was fixed (probably by Sherri who works the first morning shift).
She stood there, not even seven feet in front of me, with her right arm hanging loosely at her side. Her left hand held her Diet Pepsi. If she held it any tighter, the can would dent in her grip, but if she lightened her hold at all, it would slip from her short, unmanicured nails. Such a normal action, but somehow, it seemed so magical. Again, I didn’t say a word. Just twenty dollars of gas and a can of Diet Pepsi. On credit card. She left, and I was mesmerized.
She came in tonight, but later in my shift. I can’t figure out her schedule. I should start marking down the times.
She and I were the only ones there; well, not counting the couple of guys in jeeps filling up at pumps two and three. I watched her walk in, with her short left step, and head straight to the back towards the refrigerators. I lost sight of her behind a display of what claims to be the highest rated night-vision roadster glasses. There’s a life-size cutout of Jeff Gordon wearing the dumb goggles and giving two thumbs up to no one in particular, but in my direction. I hate Jeff Gordon.
I counted slowly, and after seven seconds, she reappeared in the next aisle over, to the left. Twenty in gas, and a can of Diet Pepsi. While I slid her credit card through, she stood there expressionless. I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me, or at the cigarettes behind me, but in her blankness, I felt that she could see into my soul. I wonder what she saw.
Her card was declined. I mumbled, “Didn’t work.” Great, out of all the pick-up lines I’d been rehearsing the past three nights, that’s the one I went with. But before I could think of something else, she was already trading out the card with a different one.
She still hasn’t come back. I asked Jerry if I could work a little more, maybe a couple more hours a shift, or a couple more nights a week. He said he didn’t care and to work it out with Joey, the other night guy. I got him to take the last day shift I had, so now I got this night too. Maybe I’ll catch her tonight.
She came back in! She drives an old green Dodge. Somehow, I pictured her in a Ford. Or maybe a Chevy. I couldn’t hold back my excitement as I watched her come in. I told myself last night that if she ever came back in, I was just going to do it: I was going to ask her out. I can’t afford too many places in town, but maybe we could order in or something.
You’ll never guess who came across the parking lot from nowhere, though. That damn trucker beat her to the door by less than three paces. He came straight to the counter with some lotto tickets to scan, and I couldn’t see around him to watch her walk to the back like I always do. And instead of leaving after seeing that he’s stuck in this little town for at least until the next drawing, he grabbed a stick of jerky just as she was walking up. “Don’t go breaking your credit card now ya kid!”
I snuck a quick look at her, to see if she heard, but I don’t think she did. She was digging around in her purse and pulled out a stick of lipstick. With one swift motion, she painted where a smile should be.
Just before I slid her card through tonight, I felt the indents of the number and her name. Looking down, I saw “Veronica Maconi” written right on the front. Her card expires in a couple months. I thought that maybe I should tell her, but then I’d probably end up mentioning the pay-at-the-pump thing. No chance I’d let that happen. For tonight, it was enough that I could look at her and say her name in a million different ways in my mind.
She reached out her hand to grab the card, and it was paler than even his sister’s, and she hardly ever leaves the house. He watched her hand until it disappeared with the card inside her purse.
I almost didn’t recognize her when she came in today: she had her hair up in a loose ponytail under a ball cap. It was red and had a white embroidered letter “B” on it. He didn’t know what team that was for.
When she was up at the register, a road-tripping family came through the door and set off the chime. You heard it echo throughout the store. Veronica’s head glanced to the left towards the noise and I couldn’t help being amazed by her dark hair bouncing with the motion. It didn’t move as one, but as individual clumps, all going their own way and seemingly defying the laws of motion.
When she handed me her credit card tonight—for twenty dollars in gas and a can of Diet Pepsi—I saw a tiny speck of blood on her sleeve. It almost wasn’t noticeable, but I saw it. The redness of the dot against her white coat contrasted, and when I looked up into her face, I imagined that I saw color going to her cheeks.
I wonder what she would look like embarrassed, with her cheeks a rosy red, with a contrast against the paleness of the rest of her skin. I wonder what she would get embarrassed about.
When Veronica came in today, there was a long line already. I almost missed her when the door faithfully chimed. I should explain to Jerry that it doesn’t work as an alarm when that’s the only damn noise I hear all night.
When she got to the end of the line, there were six people in front of her. All of them were grumpy and irritated. I could care less. Those people didn’t know that there was an angel standing among us.
When she got up to the counter, she leaned against it with her left elbow. She huffed out an exhausted sigh, and I could tell that she had just eaten Doritos. She looked down at the packs of gum, but I silently wished she wouldn’t pick one up. I didn’t want her to change anything. She left with twenty dollars’ worth of gas, and her can of Diet Pepsi, but no gum.
Her phone rang right as she was reaching the counter tonight.
“Hello, it’s Veronica,” she answered the phone the same way I do, but somehow it sounded so much better. She lowered her voice and mumbled some directions to whoever was on the other end. I didn’t understand what in the hell she was talking about, but I felt jealously well up throughout my body. I felt it all the way down to my toes. She was talking to someone, someone other than me.
I should be on the other end of that phone, not the bozo she was talking to.
Her voice was gruff and she was obviously distressed by the call. I wanted to reach out, ask her if everything was okay, but I stayed silent and slid her card through the machine. She hurried out the store when I gave it back, and she didn’t even put the card back in her purse. She just clutched it in her right hand.
I listened to the uneven thumping of her leg over the awful cover music that Jerry sets a little too loud. Her footsteps would make the most wonderful song. I started humming to the rhythm of her steps.
We were alone again. I knew I had to say something—anything—to make her remember me.
“Twenty dollars’ worth, right?” Yeah, not my best opener, but hey, better than last time.
“You got it. Oh, and this,” she handed me the Diet Pepsi like there was a chance I had forgotten.
“So, when am I going to be seeing you again?” I blurted it out as she was putting her card away, and was answered by a questioning look on her face.
“I guess when I need gas next.” She said it lightly, and with almost a laugh.
The first thing I heard when I woke up, before I even opened my eyes, was Jerry’s voice: “Yeah, I just got done watching the tapes with the cops. I knew it was gonna be worth the money for those things one day. Cops already got the guy, too. Some kid from downstate a ways. They said he was crazy or something. Well, crazy and desperate. I guess William knows him from somewhere. The guy kept saying, ‘Gotta get Billy back. Teach him to do that to me.’ The cops said the only connection they could find was that they were both over in Bellevue for some time. Man, I bet William wasn’t expecting this. His mom told me he was doing better, keeping up with his journal and all, and then taking on all those extra hours down at the station. Hey, you’re a regular, how do you think he was doing?”
“I can’t say I ever noticed that much. Well, anyway, he’s lucky that trucker found him on the floor when he did, otherwise it probably would’ve been too late. I see it all the time, every night, here in ER. The time between life and death is shorter than any of us could ever imagine. He certainly is very lucky.” It was a familiar woman’s voice. I knew that voice. I opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful sight: Veronica leaning over and looking at me. Her face held more expression and passion than I’d ever seen. She was serious, but focused and determined.
“How are you feeling, William?”
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“The EMT found this in your pocket. They thought it might be important since you kept it so neatly folded and right inside your jacket.” She pulled the piece of paper I ripped from my journal from her white coat, and put it in my hand—the one without the IV in it. She turned to leave, but this time, I finally did call out to her, and she paused to look back.
“Veronica, actually, this is for you.”
She came back and sat in the chair beside the bed. I think that maybe I saw her cheeks get a little red, but I couldn’t tell if that was from embarrassment or the fact that it was so damn hot in there.
She read aloud:
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.”