Marc Kipniss

 

Filling Station

     The door swings open with a jangle of bells. The white-haired attendant limps toward my car. A ray from the setting sun quasars off his glasses.

     Premium? he asks.

     Please.

     The nozzle trembles in his veiny fist. I watch him undo the gas cap in my side mirror, listen to the tank filling, smell the fumes. A crow flies by and I notice the redness of the sky. Suddenly, there is a dense lather of clouds. I hurry to roll my window up, but a few drops land on my arm. There are eyes in the drops in miniature, eyes I've seen my whole life.

     The attendant flips his squeegee, skims the clouds off in long swaths. I see the sky again and unroll my window.

     Check the oil, son?

     No, I reply, that's okay.

     He wipes a spot on the windshield with a rag, nods. His face darkens, and I watch his features change. He looks familiar, like family, my father . . .

     The attendant removes the nozzle, hangs it up, locks the pump with a key. He comes to tell me how much I owe him. It is more than I expected. I tip him well anyway and, starting my engine, say, Thanks a lot.

     Sure, son, he replies, his face full of recognition. You're welcome. Then he limps to the back door of the car, opens it, gets in.

     You want to go somewhere? I ask.

     Yes, he says, closing the door with a groan.

     Who will mind the station while you're gone?

     Nobody . . . anybody. Let people help themselves.

     His bent forefinger appears over my headrest. It points quiveringly to the other row of pumps, the sign that says SELF.

     All right, I reply, and his finger disappears. I grip the steering wheel, turn it counterclockwise, drive off.