She wears a nametag—Susan. You want her to be more. To see the gray smudges on the bottom of your pants legs, to put a hand on your shoulder and say, “That snow bank sure seemed solid.” She should notice the gash across your left, index knuckle. Wince at how the wound has turned yellow and brown. “Sometimes we forget to aim the knife away from our bodies,” she should say. Beyond that, she should offer empathy over the alimony you can’t pay, the money you owe the IRS, the foreclosure. “An apartment might be more manageable, don’t you think?” The angle her head rests on her shoulders, the light bouncing off her eyes, the smile she greeted you with when the bell over the front door went ‘ding,’ these things dissolve layers of hatred gathering mold since your wife insinuated you’re a ‘mama’s boy.’ They cancel the sneers in college, the snubs from attractive sorority girls, the signs stuck to your back in high school (Kick Me!).Your father’s fist, once a ton, now evaporates with a chuckle you make as Susan drops a cliché on the counter—“Cold enough for you?” You don’t hear the formality of the situation. You don’t realize this relationship is over the moment you pay and walk out the door.
The creak of your car door slices into your ears and carves canyons in your bones. Did you think the girl at the Kwik Trip would look at you twice? As you turn the ignition and wait for the heater to fire up, watching the fog of your breath splatter against the windshield and shrink, over and over again, you listen to the voice of reason on the radio (“This country ain’t what it used to be!”) and remember how you will spend the night in a motel with nothing but a television, mini bottles of shampoo, small towels, and a Gideon’s Bible that can do nothing to correct mistakes you’ve made your entire life. Mistakes other people tricked you into making—
Your mother, dressing you in clothes from Second Time Around.
Your father, refusing to look at you after you said you had no interest in baseball.
Junior high girlfriends, lovers, and the wife, calling you one form of inadequate or another.
Would Susan be any different? She doesn’t care about you, chump. Look at her now—Can’t you hear the smacking of her bubblegum? She’s in uniform, on the clock, and yet she has her cellphone pasted to her ear. Remember the way she spoke to you, thinking you wouldn’t catch the disregard her cliché revealed?
The car’s warm.
There’s a tire iron in the trunk.
Haven’t you reached that point where you could just drive?