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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Wait -- A Short Story

They waited out the morning in a sad little coffee shop just off the interstate, one of those places 200 miles from nowhere that claimed it was famous around the world for is special chili and pecan logs. It had looked like an exciting place to wait for the weather to let up, but it was just another tired diner with dirty floors and bad coffee. Like motels, she thought. They seem so nice, but when you get there and check into your room, there's always one pubic hair in the tub.

"I wonder if anybody famous ever stopped here," she said, looking around at the rows of shelves with ceramic praying hands and little glass bells with gold lettering telling one and all that Oklahoma is the OK state!

A metal stand offered personalized name plates for children's bicycles. Do kids even ride bikes anymore? She couldn't remember -- Jane, Matthew, Amanda, Johnny -- not a Pilar among them. Mother wanted a special child with a special name.

"Those names are so common," she'd said. "We're different."

Pilar picked at her salad -- iceberg lettuce with freezer burn, a mealy tomato and a slice of hard-boiled egg.

"If you're not gonna eat that, I'm getting a go box," said Joe. He reached across the table. "Want that egg?"

"You know I don't eat eggs," she said, and sighed, her eyes on the door. "You know that."

It was on a road trip to the coast the summer she was five. Her brother got carsick and threw up in the pail her mother had brought along for such emergencies. It was hot in the car. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck and a wet film on the backs of her legs made the plastic seat covers slippery as she tried to get purchase on the seatback in front of her, searching for fresh air that didn't smell like bile. Tried not to hear it.

Her mouth full of rubbery egg, she suddenly couldn't swallow.

"Spit it in the bucket," Mother said.

But, she couldn't lean into that bucket. She couldn't spit it out and she couldn't swallow, and she was trapped in the car and began to cry until they finally pulled over and she tumbled onto the macadam, where she spat and wretched, and pee ran down her legs and soaked her socks as an 18-wheeler blew past. It blew its horn and rocked the car with a sudden blast of heat that felt like rage.

No more eggs.

"You know," said Pilar, "if it wasn't for people needing to pee, this place probably wouldn't even be here. Why can't we ever stop someplace nice?"

"Get a job and we can stop someplace nice," said Joe through a mouthful of Reuben on rye. A fat drop of greasy cheese dripped down his chin.

He watched as the rain mixed with sleet outside.

"Can we go by that little town with the square on the way home," asked Pilar.

"We got to get back early," said Joe. "I want to wash the salt off my truck."

The truck. Joe spent every weekend on the truck -- changing the oil, adding mud flaps, bug guards, trailer hitches.

"Must be something bad wrong with that truck," said Don next door. "Never saw anything like it."

"They missed a spot with the clear coat up here by the mirror," said Joe, pointing to the door. "See?"

"Nope. I don't see it," said Don.

"Look. Lemme pull it into the garage. If you lay down on the ground and look up the side of the door into the light, you can see a spot right there."

"Nah. That's okay," said Don, shaking his head. "I've got stuff to do."

"If they don't fix it, it'll rust out. Be a big problem down the road," said Joe, as Don waved him off and went back into his house.

"You pay $30 grand for a truck, they better make it right," said Joe, his voice getting louder.

"Nothing's ever perfect," said Pilar. "Why is it always like this? Always so unpleasant?" She knew there would be a fight at the dealership. Just like the time they painted the house. Like the time they ordered carpet. She'd come to dread the words, "I want to talk to your supervisor."

"If they'd get it right the first time, it wouldn't be," said Joe.

Joe pulled the ticket for the food from beneath the napkin box. "Let's go."

He examined each item. The leathery little woman who'd waited on them sat behind the register by the door.

Pilar wondered where she lived, where she went when they closed, way out here in the middle of nowhere.

"I wonder who's buried in that little graveyard over there," said Pilar. "There's not even a church out here. Why's there a cemetery? Nothing around for miles except a place to pee and die."

"They probably died waiting to get some service in here," said Joe. The woman at the register slammed the cash drawer and shoved his change at him. Pilar pretended not to hear.

On the way out, Pilar bought a souvenir, an ashtray with a little green snake coiled around it. Written in the base: A pot to hiss in.

Back on the entrance to the interstate, they edged forward behind a line of other cars.

"I wonder where all these people are going," said Pilar. "Sometimes I want to pick a car and follow it, see where it goes."

"I need you to follow me to the body shop in the morning," said Joe. "I want them to check a valve."

"I used to dream of driving past school in the mornings," Pilar said. "Just keep on going until I found a place to stop and start over. Be someone new. You know?"

"Where'd you put my toothpicks?"

"You left them in the console."

They pulled back onto the road, merging with traffic as the car found its speed and eased into a rhythm between the seams on the roadway. Pilar thought about her best friend from school, wondered where she was and what she was doing.

A teal-blue Honda crossed in front of them and took the next exit. Pilar watched as it rolled down the ramp and turned left onto the straightaway that stretched off into the distance.

*story and photo by Elodie Pritchartt