Rudy Crawford crossed his arms and sneered. "What's the difference?"
"10W-40 is thicker, a little better for hot weather."
"I always heard it was the other way around," said Rudy, as he stuck his finger in the left eye socket he emptied while on a bad acid trip several years before. His intention I'm sure was to intimidate and make me sick at the same time. He was succeeding.
"I can go get Daddy, if you'd like."
"No, no. That won't be necessary. Is this the only kind you got?"
"No," I said, and pointed to the front window. "We have Quake State yonder," I said. His eye followed my direction to the pyramid of cans and then slid back to me.
"Good, because this here's too high. How much is that one?"
"You gotta be kidding," he bellowed. "How much are you making off this stuff anyway?"
Just then, Daddy stepped through the adjoining garage door.
"Rudy, if you don't like our prices, there isn't anything here that says you have to pay them. You can go right on down to the dollar store. They have plenty of oil there." Daddy gently took the can from Rudy's hand and set it down on the old oak desk, darkened by time and grease-infused air.
"No sir, Mr. James. I just wanted to know what the difference was in the 10W-30 and 10W-40. I don't think your girl here…"
Daddy grinned, but his eyes were as hard as ball bearings. "My girl here knows everything she needs to know about oil and then some. Like I said, the dollar store is right down the road."
"No sir. That's alright. I think I'll just take this one, thank you."
Rudy picked up the can, handed over two bills and shot me a look as I made his change. The cowbell on the door handle clanked as the door closed behind him.
"I can't stand that boy, Daddy. Every time he comes in here he tries to start with me."
Daddy pulled a shop rag from his pocket and wiped his hands as he stared after Rudy.
"I don't want you waiting on him anymore. Anytime he comes in, you come get me or let Billy or Melvin do it."
I'd heard stories about Rudy harassing the female clerks at Cecil's Jiffy Mart and peeping through women's windows at night. Apparently, Daddy had too.
It was August 1983, two weeks before the start of the fall semester at the local Community College. I could hardly wait to get my education and leave the backwoods crossroads named for a turquoise-colored dirt pit to the east of the town. With a population of three hundred and dwindling, it wasn't quite big enough to rate a map dot.
For now though, I was a full time gas station attendant at the only filling station operating in the black in Blue Dirt, Alabama. My father opened it after retiring from the county. A mechanic by trade, his skills gave him the edge over the only other filling station in the area still open only because of the owner's "good old boy" status.
As I walked to the back of the station to make the courtesy coffee, I heard a familiar voice. "You ain't got that stuff ready yet?"
I turned around to see Billy's stubbly, grinning face and smiled. "Well, I was wondering if you were gonna make it in this morning."
Billy was a junior mechanic; an unofficial apprentice. He was dependable, honest, and brought the customers back. He was twenty-three and had many girl friends, but as of yet, no girlfriend.
He wore his pants under his abundant abdominal girth, rendering his belt ineffective. Daddy said he had Dunlop disease; his belly done lopped over his belt. His tight, white T-shirt was equally as useless because as the day rolled on, the hem of the shirt rolled up. The inadequate function of his clothes revealed three to four inches of rear-end cleavage. Some called him Crack behind his back. Nobody with any sense called him that to his face unless they wondered how comfortable the beds were in the ICU in Mobile. Billy was well over six feet and hardy as a bear.
"Did Rudy come by this morning?"
"Yes, he did. How'd you know?"
"I passed him on my way in. You know, he was real smart when we were younger. Wonder what happened to him?"
"Well, he's not stupid, Billy. He's crazy and he's always trying to start an argument with me."
Billy shook his head. "Yep. He never did take too kindly to girls. I remember when he was going with Nan Pickett in High School. She broke up with him when he started getting weird. He slung a helluva cussin' on her. She had to move because of all the threats he made against her."
"Is that why she moved? I thought she met somebody in Mobile."
"Well, maybe, but I heard it was because she was scared of him."
The old men were beginning to gather on the decrepit bench outside the front window. Everyone in the rural South knows a place for the old men to congregate is good for business, so as a public relations gesture, Daddy gave his permission to drag the eyesore over from old Hunk Deets' abandoned general store across the street. A six-inch split in the dull, red vinyl exposed kernels of orange foam rubber that clung to the seats of its occupants long after they walked away.
The usual crew, Clyde, Fred and Melvin, all long retired from the fields and woods, arrived daily at six-o'clock a.m. and were sometimes already seated before the front door was unlocked. They greeted customers, swapped stories and spread gossip while keeping what was left of the torn, red vinyl seat polished.
As the coffee dripped, Melvin came in. Melvin was always around to help when we were busy. Although he wasn't formally on the payroll, Daddy gave him cash at the end of each week.
"Hey Missy," he said.
And, Melvin called me Missy. He was the only person who ever called me Missy I don't believe I recall him ever calling me by name. I liked to think it was a sign of affection, kind of his way of marking me as much as a fatherly figure who wasn't actually my father, could.
"How you doing this morning?"
"Fine, Mr. Melvin, and you?" I sat down at the desk and started working a crossword puzzle.
"Alright. You okay Billy?"
"Fine," replied Billy. "Where were you this morning?"
"Aw, had to see the doctor."
My head snapped upward. "You okay?"
"Now, you know I'm just fine. Every now and then I have to have my plugs and wires and oil checked."
A young, black female pulled up to the pump in a mint green, 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit. I pushed the crossword puzzle aside and rose from my seat.
As I put my hand on the door, Melvin tapped me on the shoulder, "I'll get this one, Missy." He flashed his gold tooth and never taking his eyes off the chick, stepped through the door.
At sixty-eight-years-old, Melvin was still a lady's man. Life had only slightly bent his once superior form, and his handsome, symmetrical features could still be appreciated through the patina of old age.
"Watch," hissed Billy. "He's got a lot of young girlfriends."
My eyes rolled involuntarily.
"Really, just watch."
Billy swirled a stir stick in his coffee as I poured a twenty-five cent pack of salt peanuts into my coke. Skeptically, I followed Billy to the window wondering what in the world would a young woman see in an old man?
"Melvin's got money," divulged Billy, as if he'd read my mind.
"Not that kind of money."
"Maybe. He worked at the wood yard all his life. No wife, no young'uns." He cut his eyes toward me, "That we know of, anyway."
So, obscured by the oilcan pyramid, we commenced to watch Melvin execute his smooth moves.
Melvin crouched beneath the driver's side window. I'd never noticed before how good-looking he actually was. Without hearing a word of the conversation, I was nearly as charmed as the pretty young face that beamed back at him.
Billy nudged me. "See what I mean?"
After a few minutes the girl dangled a bill from her fingers. Melvin covered her hand with his and pushed it back inside the window. He exchanged a few more words with her before she, giggling and batting her lashes, drove away.
"What did I tell you?" Billy grinned.
"Unbelievable," I laughed.
We tried to look nonchalant as Melvin came back in and walked past us to the coffee pot. I could swear the recent encounter with the young woman added another full inch to his five-feet-ten-inch frame.
A sugar brown, 1972 Mercury Marquis Brougham two door hardtop missing one of its fender skirts, pulled up to the first pump.
"Want me to get it?" I asked, poised over the chair behind the desk.
"Naw, I'm already up," sighed Billy.
When he was finished, he walked back in and said, "Bubba Miller."
I opened a drawer, located the M's in the shoebox full of receipt books Daddy used to keep up with credit accounts, and handed one to Billy. He scratched a figure onto a page, tossed the book back onto the desk, and then turned over a five-gallon bucket and planted himself on it. I was glad I was sitting face to face with him.
"Slow this morning," he rasped. Billy had a unique way of speaking; clipped and monotone. His voice was gravelly as if he'd downed whiskey and chained smoked for half a century although he was less than a quarter of a century old.
Just then, a high school kid walked in. "Hey, Billy. Where's Melvin at? I didn't see him on the Dead Dick Bench when I came in."
Billy chomped the cigarette in his teeth and turned the other way.
Melvin, who was drinking water from the fountain behind the chip rack, suddenly made his presence known. "What was that you said? The what kind of bench?"
The young man's face turned the color of a Maraschino cherry. "Aw, nothing Mr. Melvin. Just wondering where you were at, that's all," he smiled. He snatched a drink from the cooler and dropped a dollar on the desk. "Keep the change," he said, and hurried out the door.
"Hey, Billy," asked Melvin. "Is that what they call that…" Deep furrows lined Melvin's brow as he gazed through the window at the broken down bench. After a second or two, his tea-colored complexion darkened.
Billy finally exhaled the smoke from his lungs. "Aw, come on Melvin. He didn't mean nothing by it."
"Right," he said.
I winced as I watched Melvin walk out the door. The spring in his step from seconds before had evaporated.
Billy poured another cup of coffee while I re-filed Bubba's credit book into the shoe box. We sat quietly for a little while watching our chagrined friend dump the murky liquid from the window wash bucket and replace it with fresh fluid and water.
The crisp early morning swiftly gave way to the hot, smothering, South Alabama humidity. With a belly-full of coffee and the equivalent in gossip, Billy stretched exposing his enormous belly that was no more attractive than his derriere.
"I better get on them brakes. I'm not getting paid to do nothing." He stepped through the garage door and closed it behind him.
I glanced at the window. Melvin leaned against the other side of it, leaving a conspicuous vacancy on the bench.
At that moment, I caught sight of the baby blue, 1976, C10 Chevy pickup with white wing mirrors, out of the corner of my eye. My new romantic interest was early today.
I leaped from my chair, ripped off the blue work shirt with James emblazoned on the left pocket, wadded it up and threw it on an upper shelf at the back of the store. I tore the rubber band from my hair. Some long, black strands came out with it, tangled around my fingers and hindered my attempt to fling the piece of elastic into the trash can.
I glanced in the mirror to check my cleavage in the low-cut, pink tank top. When I looked up, I noticed I had forgotten to remove the navy issued horn-rims my recently discharged brother had given me when my glasses broke. Without them I was blind as a one-eyed mole. I'd have to fake it. I tossed them up on the top shelf too.
I noticed Melvin, still standing, and his two cronies, seated on the newly labeled bench, had been watching with obvious curiosity. Their heads moved with my steps from the inside of the store to my stumble over the threshold. I regained my composure and ignored the stifled laughter at my back. I could practically feel them elbowing each other as I made it to the pump island.
Trudging through my self-consciousness, I asked casually, "How much?"
"Filler up," he smiled. His voice, smooth as velvet, caused a fluttering in my belly.
When I turned my back to him and lifted the nozzle from its cradle, three pairs of eyes from the front of the store were riveted on me. Of course, I couldn't tell for sure. I couldn't see that far, but just in case they were, I gave them a hard squint.
I replaced the nozzle and headed into the store with the blue-eyed man at my back. As we passed the crew, I stuck out my tongue.
He took a seat in the straight-back, wooden chair facing the window and stared straight ahead, while I made his change, handed it to him, and then sat down on the metal office chair behind the desk.
"It's hotter than Hades outside, isn't it?" I said.
"Wonder if it's going to rain soon? It's been nearly three weeks since the last time, hasn't it?"
"Mmm, hmm," he agreed.
Let's try sports, I thought. All guys like sports. "The Braves are really doing well this season. You like baseball?
And, that's how it went for a full ten minutes. After exhausting my conversation starters, I gave up. When the drink cooler shut off, the silence increased ten-fold.
Abruptly, he stood. "Well, see ya later."
As the door closed behind him, I let out a long exhale. What a weirdo, I thought. And, then I got a back view. His light, cotton shirt, damp with perspiration, clung to his wide shoulders defining with a darker shade, a deep ridge down the middle of his well-muscled back. A worn spot the size of a wallet was stamped on the right hip pocket of his snug-fitting Levi's. In less than a second, his status went from weirdo to wow.
Billy came in from the garage as the blond man climbed back into the vehicle that matched his eyes so perfectly and grabbed a bag of chips off the rack.
"Billy, do you know him?"
Billy twisted his head toward the window. "Who, that blond-headed fella?"
"Yeah," I said looking after the blue truck as it disappeared around a bend.
"Curtis Doherty. Why?" he asked.
"Just wondering. I don't recall ever seeing him until about a week or so ago."
"Believe he lives on the other side of Willow Springs. I've only seen him a time or two." Billy raised his now grimy white tee to wipe his face. I averted my eyes.
Billy walked out and Melvin came in. "You better get that shirt back on before your daddy gets in here, Missy." I sensed a tad of disapproval in his tone.
"Oh yeah!" I said, and jerked the blue work shirt from the shelf. The glasses clattered to the concrete floor. I picked them up and slapped them back on my face and shrugged the shirt back over my shoulders.
"You like that boy, don't you?"
"Who, Mr. Melvin?" I asked, as swept my hair back into a ponytail.
He turned his head toward me with a raised brow. "Girl, you know who I'm talking about." He waited to see if I'd admit it, and then resumed, casually adding, "I know his daddy. He's a pretty good fella. I believe the boy's a surveyor. Surveyors make good money, you know."
"He doesn't talk very much."
"He don't need to. He ain't coming all the way from Willow Springs just for gas."
"Annie!" called Daddy.
"We're falling behind. You're gonna have to put the oil in that cab for me."
Surely he couldn't have meant the cab of that eighteen-wheeler. "Sir?"
"I already emptied it. The oil's out there."
"But, Daddy, I…"
"Go on, now. The man's gonna be here to pick it up in thirty minutes. I have to get this carburetor put back on," he said, and turned back toward the garage.
"Billy's busy," he snapped and closed the garage door behind him.
"I can't wait to start school and get out of this nasty, old grease pit," I muttered. I hated playing grease monkey. I had to wash dishes every night to get rid of the black grit from under my fingernails and suds my hair at least three times to wash the stink of oil and gasoline out of it.
I stepped through the door and asked Melvin to keep an eye on the pumps. "Daddy says I gotta put oil in that cab over there," I whined.
"Well, you gotta do what your Daddy says," he said with a single nod of his head.
The hood was already up, so I grabbed a can of oil and a spout and climbed onto the bumper. I'd just taken a seat on the frame when Rudy returned.
"Annie, is that you up in there?"
"No, it's J.R. Ewing, Rudy. Who the hell do you think it is?" I shot back. With my oily hands occupied and a drop of sweat refusing to relinquish its hold on the tip of my nose, my fuse began to smolder.
I hadn't noticed Curtis had pulled in until he was stepping out of his truck. As he headed in my direction, I tucked my head under my arm to wipe the sweat from my face and push my glasses back up. My glasses! Those awful, black horn rims were still on my face. If I could have poured myself in after the oil, I would have.
I shoved the spout into another can. The gathering audience had given me a bad case of stage fright, and I spilled some of the oil onto the engine.
"Oooo, that's gonna smoke. Look-it! She's spilling it all over the engine!" whooped Rudy and slapped his hands on his thighs.
"I am! How am I supposed to concentrate with you over there flapping your gums and braying like a donkey?"
"Don't worry about it, Annie. It'll burn off," Curtis smiled. The lone dimple in his right cheek had a devastating effect on me. I put my head down to hide the blush I felt burning up my face.
"Well, I'll just be damned," cried Rudy. "A girl changing oil on a rig. Beats all I've ever seen!"
While Rudy was ranting, Melvin shouted, "Rudy, you're gonna have to move that vehicle. You're blocking the pumps."
Rudy turned back to me, narrowed his eyes, and then left us to move his red, 1974 Datsun pickup with the Bondo-ed right front fender. Melvin stood there with his arms crossed until Rudy started the truck.
The familiar odor of axle grease and diesel fuel clung to my father as I stood in the doorway of the restroom and watched him slather his blackened hands with Gojo. "Billy and I have to take the wrecker and pick up a truck in Willow Springs. We'll probably be gone a little while, but it's slow."
Still facing the mirror, he reached into his back pocket for a six inch comb to rake through his once full head of black hair. "Melvin'll be back around if it does get busy, but I don't think it will."
"Where is Melvin?" I asked.
"He went over to Cecil's for a few minutes." The lone table at the back of Cecil's Jiffy Mart was another hot spot for senior men.
The town, let alone the station, was dried up dead at two o'clock on Wednesday afternoons and this hot summer day was no exception, so I pulled my deck of cards from the drawer.
I had just finished setting up seven little piles, when the beat up, red Datsun pickup returned. Rudy. A terrible feeling of dread crept over me. Where was Melvin? I wondered fretfully. The cowbell clanged against the front door.
"Your daddy here?"
"No, but he'll be back in just a minute." I put all the emphasis on just.
"Where's your boyfriend?" He folded his hands across his chest and began to twist from side to side, a peculiar posture for a grown man.
"Yeah." His voice took on an oddly babyish tone.
"He's with Daddy."
"So," he lifted a finger to his enucleated socket and began pulling at the outer corner of it. "You're here all by yourself?"
"Melvin's around." I lied, biting my lower lip to keep it from quivering.
He took a step closer. "Where is he?"
"He's on his way back here right now." I lost control of my voice. It wavered like I was talking into a window fan.
"He's eating his lunch at Cecil's. I was just there."
"What can I do for you Rudy?"
"A pack of cigarettes. Salems."
I pulled a green and white pack from the shelf behind the desk. "Seventy-five cents." I lifted the end of the sentence like a question.
"That's too much!" he screamed as he sank his finger the rest of the way into the gaping hole below his left eyebrow. "They're only sixty cents in Willow Springs! You and those heifers at Cecil's! Always overcharging me!"
He edged around the desk. My heart pounded in my ears.
"I don't make the prices, Rudy. See?" Without taking my eyes off of him, I pointed to the sign in back of me.
"Bet you don't charge your boyfriends, do you?"
"Here, take the cigarettes, Rudy. They're on me." I held out my hand. He slapped it and the cigarettes went flying. As he moved closer, tears stung my eyes.
"Bet you don't charge them for anything." He was upon me now. I could feel his breath on my face as he spat, "Give it away for nothing, I'll bet."
"What are you…?" Suddenly, both his hands were around my neck, cutting me off mid-sentence. I scratched his face and clawed at his hands, desperately trying to pry his hands from my throat.
"Where's your daddy now, huh?" he roared. "Where are all your boyfriends?"
An overwhelming panic took hold of me and grew in intensity. I did no groaning, no rasping. My wind was utterly obstructed. I heard the metal chair topple and clatter as Rudy continued to spew words, cruel and odious.
Then, all of a sudden, my panic ebbed along with the light. I became detached, anesthetized. And, just as I was about to submit to the engulfing darkness, Rudy flew away from me.
I sucked in a lungful of air.
As my senses returned, I saw Melvin smash his fist into Rudy's face twice in quick succession. He hauled back to strike again when Rudy snatched his wrist in mid-air.
Soon, the much younger, insanely powerful Rudy pummeled Melvin. Blood sprayed from Melvin's nose and mouth leaving crimson droplets across the desk and the wall. In seconds, Melvin was on his knees. Then, Rudy planted a kick to the center of Melvin's chest sending the old man sprawling backwards. Rudy was on him, his fist poised over his victim's battered face.
"You're killing him!" I screeched, searching madly for the .38 I knew my father kept in the desk drawer. I'd forgotten he'd moved it to a locked drawer in his tool chest. I slammed the drawer.
Then, I saw the metal chair. With strength I never knew I had, I lifted the heavy chunk of steel on wheels and swung it with all my strength, hitting Rudy square in his back. He rocked forward a little and then, thankfully, raised himself from the now unconscious Melvin. He turned to me with a look so horrifying my knees began to buckle.
Suddenly, I heard a terrible crash from behind me. Rudy put his palms up and stepped backward, stumbling a little over Melvin's body. I steadied myself on the edge of the desk and glanced behind me. There in the doorway, stood Curtis with a shotgun cradled to his shoulder. Rudy's face contracted into a bizarre grin as his retreat was halted by the cooler. He crumpled into a heap, covered his head with his hands and whimpered.
With remarkable composure, I dialed the number stamped on the orange sticker plastered to the phone. Then, I ran to Melvin. Blood flowed from his mouth and nose. I kneeled and maneuvered my arm under his shoulders. I raised him up as far as I could until the ambulance arrived.
The red, white and blue streamers came together in the center of the ceiling above a string of cardboard letters that read WELCOME HOME MELVIN. I had placed the plastic stems in the cups of the fake champagne glasses and had the sparkling grape juice chilling in the drink cooler. A copy of the Blue Dirt Dispatch with the story of Melvin's daring rescue sat prominently on top of the desk.
Billy, Curtis and Melvin's buddies, Fred and Clyde, waited with me for Daddy's white 1964 F-100 Ford pickup to return from the hospital with Blue Dirt's most recent, if unlikely, hero.
We gathered near the passenger door. Daddy got out and came around the front of the truck. Billy opened the door for a weak, but otherwise healthy-looking Melvin. A touching silence fell over us all as Billy offered an arm for his old friend to lean on. Melvin carefully stepped down out of the truck and smiled. The moisture in the old man's eyes glistened in the sunlight.
Overwhelmed by Melvin's never-before-seen emotion and my own gratitude, I reached my arms around his neck and pressed my light brown cheek to his dark one, and then backed away as Curtis stepped forward with his right hand extended. Melvin took it. They stood there for a few seconds and said nothing.
I poured the juice and we toasted to our good friend's valor and health with a dull clink of our plastic glasses. Melvin was seated in the straight-back chair, Daddy sat behind the desk and the rest found places against the drink cooler and windows as I read the newspaper's account of Rudy's attack aloud.
"Bail was denied for Mr. Crawford. He was remanded to Sercy Hospital for a full psychiatric evaluation prior to his pre-trial hearing which is scheduled for September 15th at the Willow Springs County Courthouse." The small audience applauded the story's finale.
After another few minutes, Daddy offered to take a grateful Melvin the rest of the way home. He had the fatigued look even healthy people have after a week of being shut in all day and awakened all night.
"You better get well quick, Melvin. We're getting tired of holding up your end of the boat," Billy joked.
"It won't be long," Melvin grinned. He straightened and looked Billy in the eyes. "If I was you, I'd take this time to rest a spell, just like you been doing 'cause when I get back the vacation will be over."
We laughed. Billy gave Melvin a final pat on the back as Daddy led him outside.
"'Bye, Mr. Melvin. Let me know if you want to get out of the house for a little while. I'll come and get you," I called.
"Yeah, take it easy Mr. Melvin," added Curtis.
Melvin shook hands with the bench crew as he passed them, and then allowed Daddy and Billy to help him back into the pick-up.
The oppressive heat gave way to a milder evening. I tore the banner and crepe paper from the ceiling and stowed the plastic sleeve of fake champagne glasses on the top shelf at the back of the store. It would probably have been safe to toss them into the trash. After all, how often was there an occasion for sparkling grape juice in Blue Dirt, let alone a filling station? Pack rat that I am, I saved them anyway.
Curtis returned just before closing. Assuming he would take a seat and impose another prickly silence, I was surprised when he asked, "Is your Daddy here?"
"He's out in the garage."
"Well, I'll just wait here, if you don't mind."
"I can go get him for you."
"No, it's not that important," mumbled Curtis.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep, I'm sure."
I shrugged. "Well, okay. He should be coming in any minute."
I pulled out the top drawer and took a stenographer pad. "Excuse me a minute, will you?" and walked out to the pumps to get the meter readings. I was aware of his eyes on me and wondered if my gait was normal.
Normal? I shook my head, amazed at the effect Curtis Doherty was having on my sanity.
My hand shook as I jotted down the numbers. I re-read the scrawls I'd made and knew I'd have to transcribe them for Billy who doubled as our bookkeeper.
Daddy and Billy had already stepped in from the garage when I returned with the readings.
"Yes sir," said Curtis. "I'm booked almost a full week out, but I can get to it next week, if that's okay with you."
"Sounds good." Daddy stuck out his hand and Curtis grasped it.
"Would you mind if I took Annie home tonight?"
Daddy raised his eyebrows at me.
I must have said yes, because the next thing I knew, I was climbing into the passenger side of the baby-blue pick up. The dimple that caused the commotion in my stomach every time I glimpsed it remained on his face as we made our way down the road, leaving my daddy and the Blue Dirt Filling Station in a haze of orange-red dust.
I started college that year and married Curtis the next. Our love affair made it through eighteen years of marriage and three children before we became another sad statistic. I live in the big city of Chicago now and my down home drawl has faded. I go back to Blue Dirt twice a year to clean Daddy and Mama's graves. I realize with wistful acuity how much has changed.
Pumping gas, airing tires, and checking oil was a service performed free of charge. High-octane ethyl has been replaced with super unleaded, motor oil comes in plastic bottles and the strangest thing to me is the fifty-cent charge to air one's own tires! Full service stations are such a thing of the past that if a clever entrepreneur opened one today, it would be considered an original idea.
Billy opened a garage in Mississippi. It thrives to this day. Fred and Clyde are long gone, and Rudy Crawford was released from the state hospital four years after his assault on Melvin and me. He had been free for nearly ten years when he murdered Nan Pickett after seeing her at their twenty-fifth high school reunion.
Dear Melvin now stands in front of a convenience store hoping someone will stop and engage him in conversation. Each time I come home, I gaze into his ancient eyes, now blue with cataracts, and oblige him. He calls me Missy and I feel a tug at my heart. I resist the urge to throw myself into his arms and cry.
I drive to the next town to gas up for the long trip back to Chicago. As I head north on Highway 17, I can still make out the old, vinyl bench in front of the kudzu-covered window, resting in the shade of a now rusted canopy. It dawns on me the Blue Dirt Filling Station, overgrown and abandoned more than twenty-some years ago, still holds the record for the only filling station in town to operate in the black, and I smile.
M C R
Excerpted from the book-in-progress, Blue Dirt Filling Station.
This work is copyrighted by the author, Aimee Dearmon. All rights reserved.