What It’s Come To
by Wolf Hartman
The gas station climbs out of the dark.
Every step rattles my broken bones. A rib and my nose for sure. The ankle could just be a sprain but that doesn’t stop the mean throb from busting my stride. I limp, throwing myself forward then dragging the rest up behind. The tarmac shreds my bare feet. The night’s cold sits like new skin, thin and wet, on my naked arms and neck. The rest of me is hot with blood. Soaking my clothes. Drenching my jeans, my hair. Drying my tongue and cracking when I blink pink sweat out of my eyes.
Trees stipple the highway shoulder. Like fingers closing into a fist around me. The air is pregnant with the musk of firs, melding with the far off smell of fire and ashes. The sky is red-orange. The color of bad blood. The fires will burn the whole city. There’s no one left to put them out.
A tangle of highway behind. A ringing in my ears. But I’m here. I’m alone in the dark. On this road. In these woods. But I’m still here and the gas station fights the dark with all its lights still on. Come in. Say hello. Take a load off.
The hard pain grinds in my side and I stumble forward.
The gas station is pitted against the forest. Its pumps sit like tombstones covered in a mold of cigarette and Coke ads. Buy 2 get 1 free. The surgeon general warns. Cars sit beside them. Quiet like mourners. The gas station’s convenience store glows and hums.
I shuffle into the forecourt. The fluorescents cut sharp and my vision tilts. I squint to save myself. Hands on my knees and sick breathing until it passes.
A man hovers by one of the pumps. Dressed in a navy blue jumpsuit stained with oil at the chest and knees. He’s young. Clean-shaven with skin colored like spoiled milk. He holds a squeegee in one hand and a bucket of soap water in the other. He stares at me dumb.
‘Hey,’ I say. ‘Hey. Excuse me.’