Self-Service

The bathroom inside the PullenGo belonged in a horror movie. From the dangling light bulb that flung Noah’s reflection around a fun house mirror, to the flies buzzing over the mystery liquid on the concrete floor, the smears on the concrete wall, It belonged on a set. But it was the smell, the smell was the feature presentation, and it caused Noah to cover his nose with his shirt to block the rancid sting and press forward on his mission.

He wasn’t there for the toilet, but the vending machine.

A quick breath, Noah reached into his pocket for quarters. He inserted the quarters, ignoring the scrawl of phone numbers and misspelled vulgarities. He turned the lever, harder, through the rust. Another turn, then…stuck.

Stuck? No. No, no, no. Noah gripped the lever tighter, pushing through the thoughts of bodily fluids and the many sticky hands that gave the lever its slippery film. He put his weight into it—all 142 pounds. Nothing.

This could not happen. Noah turned his head at the sound of a cackle from the other side of the door. He thought about his car around the side of the store, Jenny sitting alone, waiting, wondering. Noah patted his pockets. He’d only brought the four quarters…

And this was his only hope. At sixteen, the PullenGo had been etched into his memory, since he was ten. The sharp scent of gasoline. His father pumping gas, tapping his foot, when Noah had to run in to use the bathroom. The bathroom. The smell, the light, the mirror, he couldn’t remember. Just the four slots (ribbed, lubed, spermicide, XXX-traBig). And now, after all this planning, he’d chosen the wrong one.

Noah pivoted, shoes squeaking. He pushed out of the door, took a pull of fresh air. The heavyset woman at the counter was talking to a tall, thin man in overalls. Something about a wreck on Route 460. Eventually, the man tapped the counter twice and thanked the lady—Charlotte, he called her—and the bell on the door jangled as he shuffled off.

Noah took a breath, pulled out his wallet, and stepped to the counter, clearing his throat. “Excuse me, could you change a dollar?”

The woman gave him a long, lasting look. “Change?”

“Yeah, um, if that is all right?” He smiled, unable to match her stare. Charlotte chewed on something in her mouth, glanced over his shoulder and back. “You were just in the bathroom,” she said, like he was guilty of something horrendous. “Don’t you think I know what you’re doing, what you’re after? How old are you, anyway, fourteen?”

Noah gulped. “Eighteen.”

“Pfft. Eighteen my foot. Boy, I know what you kids are doing with those condoms.”

She said condoms like condemns. Noah however, wasn’t finding the humor, but looking to the exit as Charlotte set a thunderous forearm on the counter and leaned into her words, shaking her head. “If you’re eighteen, I’m Brittany Spears.”

Noah was without a clue as to who Brittany Spears was, but he wasn’t about to bring up the point, or discuss with this lady what he was going to do with a condom. Her top lip pulled, revealing her barren gums. Not that Noah was judging but the lack of teeth caused her to spit and flake when she said words like “Spears.”

Noah nodded. He wanted no trouble. “Okay, well, I’ll just be…”

Charlotte caught him by the arm. Noah gasped, surprised by Charlotte’s nimble movements. Her eyes looked like they belonged to someone else, coming alive in their sockets. “You think I don’t know? You stupid kids, putting these things up your nose? I heard all about it on the radio.”

She jabbed a finger towards the all-knowing radio, sitting on the counter beside a pack of cigarettes, it’s bent antenna tuned to the know.

“Noah looked at the woman’s hand on his arm, the flab still jiggling from the movement. “Uh, Miss, please. I’m on my way out.”

“Not if you’re in there tampering with the machine.”

“Tampering?”

The bell jingled and Charlotte let go of Noah’s arm. A short, plump man walked in, “Howdy Charlotte,” he said, his mustache going for a ride with his smile, which quickly fell when he saw how Charlotte was worked up into a ball of red wrinkles. “What’s going on?”

More finger jabbing. “This one here, he’s back there messing with the machine.”

“The machine? What mach—ohhhh, right.” The man’s eyes widened. He turned to Noah. “Whatcha doing in there, huh?”

“You know what they do, it’s like those Tide Pods. These stupid kids are eating the condoms.”

Noah shook his head. “This is a misunderstanding. I was asking for change…”

“Why you need change anyway, huh?”

“I told you,” the woman barked. “or them condoms. He’s eating ‘em.”

“I’m not eating condoms, okay?” Noah looked around, confused. “My girlfriend and I, we’re…” It was all so ridiculous. He broke away, determined to leave when the door jingled.

Jenny stopped, eyes wide at the commotion. The man saw her and straightened. Charlotte gasped and stumbled back. “Oh…Oh! They’re…” She reached down and came out with had a bible, of all things. “Kids, we need to have a talk, right now.”

The man nodded furiously. Jenny, with a smirk cracking at the edge of her lips, looked at Noah and mouthed, “What in the world?”

Noah shook his head. “Look, I need—”

Charlotte flipped through the well-thumbed book, shaking her head and muttering. “I never thought this could happen. I mean, you hear about it…” She licked her finger and got down to business. “Corinthians. When you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can endure it…”

The man had his hat off, still nodding. “Amen.”

 

 

–PeteFanning/2018

 

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