Literary

Returning

It’s three hours from Vegas to Barstow. Eileen made the drive in

two. She was just outside the city when her car began to blink

—a red light beneath a single bar of fuel. She slowed down. She held her

breath. She looked up—distant lights; dreary forms.

Far away.

She bit her nails. She hit her steering wheel. She scanned her

surroundings. A sign appeared: GAS – LODGING. She pulled off the

freeway and plunged into a plumy darkness.

She searched for the salvific light of a Chevron Station or the

muscular neon of a Mobile-Mart but nothing of the kind appeared.

Only squat houses—wood-framed—and slim signs—handdrawn—

passed by in the night, offering little sense of geography. She steered off

the road, turned off her car. The engine hissed. Dirt settled. Crickets

chirped.

She shifted in her seat, pulled out her phone.

7:18.

She found her location: Newberry Springs. She looked for a gas

station: nothing nearby.

She stared up at the moon. She scratched her head. She squinted her

eyes.

Far away.

A big-rig passed, rattling the thin frame of her vehicle. The power

startled her, took her breath. She hit her steering wheel. She bit her

nails. She had to get back. Back to her job, her boyfriend, her family,

her friends; away from Vegas, the noise, the smoke, the plastic, leaving

it all behind in a haze of fifteen-hundred dollars and a handful of fetid

memories.

Her phone rang—an unknown number. She didn’t pick up.

She started her car and moved on, intent on getting to the city even if she stalled outside of it. Five miles down the road she spotted a tall

Texaco sign—red and black and rotary. She hit her steering wheel. She

broke a smile. She drove up to an empty pump and swiped her card.

Declined. She tried another. Declined. She looked around. The station

was empty. Curious, she stepped inside.

“Hello?”

No one was there.

“Hello?”

She stood next to a clothing rack full of camouflage fatigues.

Fluorescent lights buzzed above her. Speckled tiles spelled grim designs.

Motes of dust floated through the air. She bit her nails. She looked

around. She stepped outside.

She tried her card again but it still didn’t work. She turned it over,

found a number on the back: 1-800-TO-WELLS. She called it. She was

put on hold. She sighed, paced, stared up at the Texaco sign, watching it

swirl and shake and spin in the thick blank night.

“Hello, this is Mary from Wells Fargo, how may I help you?”

“My card isn’t working and I need to use it. Now.”

“All right miss, may I have the card number please?”

Eileen moved into the light but the numerals were too faint to read.

She strained to see them. She spoke in stops and starts. When she was

finished she was asked to provide her social. She forgot the number and

had to fish it out of a tattered Hello Kitty wallet that said HAPPY in

bright gold letters.

“All right and what transaction are you trying to make?”

“What? I couldn’t hear what you said.”

“What are you trying to use the card for miss?”

“To buy some gas. My tank is empty, I need to get home.”

“Okay, I think I might see the problem. Give me one sec.”

Empty tones of muzak. Still shapes of night. Crisp wisps of wind.

Eileen bit her lip, rubbed her eyes, kicked the ground. She was hungry.

She was tired. She had to piss.

“All right miss, I’ve just approved use of your card beyond the

monthly limit.”

“So, it should work now?”

“Yes, just keep in mind that you’ll be paying more interest.”

“What?”

“Your account is maxed out but I’ve approved you for more money.”“I understand that part. What was it you said about the interest?”

A call was coming through. The same unknown number. Eileen

stared at the screen. She didn’t pick up. She tried to resume with Mary

but they were already disconnected.

“Hello?”

No one was there.

“Hello?”

She swiped, filled up, approved the amount and entered her car. Full

tank. Green light. Open road. She was three miles away from the Texaco

Station when she remembered she had to piss—dull pressure; dim pain.

She tried to find a suitable stopping point but everything around her was

dark and foreboding and dingy. So, she ended up under the light of the

Texaco logo again, pulling into the same spot as before.

She got out, locked her car, and headed inside. The store was

still empty. The tiles were still sinister. The lights were still buzzing.

She found the bathroom in the back, hidden in the small space of an

adjoining Subway. She looked up at the menu options. She looked down

at the food. She was hungry. She was tired. She had to piss.

She did.

When she got out she heard something behind the counter—a deep,

numb drone. She stopped, stared, listened. The noise faded out. Then

it started again: a dishwasher, lodged in the back—white and drab and

wide. She bit her lip. She rubbed her eyes. She studied the menu. She

wanted everything on it.

“Hello?”

No one was there.

“Hello?”

She left through the front and found her car. She got back on the

freeway and listened to the radio—static bursts; frayed voices. She stayed

in the left lane. Cars sped past her. Lights whirred by. Cities coalesced

and collapsed; faint margins fleeting in the dark. She tightened her grip

on the steering wheel. She squinted into the night. She turned off the

radio.

Barstow was behind her now. Home ahead.

She descended the peak of the fifteen, moving through the wide

maw of the mountains and noting the cars in the nocturne. Vast gaps of

space. Long swarms of color. Tumid flows of tail-lights. She was tired.

She was hungry. She was driving.Her phone buzzed, throbbing against her thigh.

She plucked it out of her jeans and held it to the steering wheel. The

same caller. The same number. She answered, afraid.

“Hello?”

A scratchy silence. Then…a shrill voice.

“Congratulations, you’ve just won a free cruise with Royal Caribbean

to the destination of your choice. Log on to literacle.com to

claim your prize and you’ll be—”

Eileen hung up, threw the phone into the empty seat beside her.

She bit her lip. She rubbed her eyes. She stared forward—into the

road, on through the night, back to the world. Home. Safe. Happy.

Vegas was two-hundred miles away.

One thought on “Returning

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