by Phil Lemos
It’s illegal to pump your own gas in Summitville, and I’m the reluctant enforcer. As the attendant of Summitville’s only service station, I’m responsible for ensuring that Kwik-Mart complies with Town Ordinance 14-1989.
Every day I have to deal with Charlie, our station manager, yelling at me for not tackling and wrestling the pump away from “rogue motorists.” Sometimes I ask what happens if we get caught letting the customers pump, and he says nothing. Instead he points to the quarry across the street where he claims either the police chief or fire marshal (it changes every time) watches us, and shudders as if he could face the firing squad. I’ve never seen anyone parked there.
The town can’t be spying on us that closely. We have eight pumps and occasionally they’re all occupied. People get impatient and get out of their cars to swipe their cards and start pumping. Then they jump back into their cars as they screech their tires and slide back onto Route 26, screaming “WOOHOO!” after successfully evading compliance. Charlie comes sprinting out of the store, belly jiggling in his shirt while he shakes his fist and shouts, “Punks! Don’t come back!!!”
Everything changes the day the silver BMW 135i convertible pulls into Pump 7. A beautiful woman with dark, flowing hair down her back, clearly not from around here, is at the steering wheel. I pop open her fuel tank while she’s applying mascara, hoping to make eye contact, flirt and ask what she needs. I start unscrewing the cap and still haven’t caught her attention because she’s texting.
Finally, I rap at her passenger’s side window.
“Fill it up,” she says, with some sort of European accent.
“Cash or credit?” I ask.
“Cash,” she says, before popping out of her car.” I admire her backside as she saunters into the convenience store in her heels.
I punch the red button to notify Charlie to activate Pump 7. I pull the nozzle out of the pump and insert it in her car, then gently squeeze. While I’m pumping, I’m wondering if she’s a supermodel and thinking about how to start a conversation with her after she emerges from the convenience store.
The nozzle clicks and I’m about to pull it out of her car when I get the scare of my life.
“What are you DOING?!?!?”
I turn around and it’s BMW Supermodel, waving her hands and racing toward me as if I smashed out her windows with a crowbar.
“What are you DOING?!?!? You put regular in my BMW!”
Shit. When someone says “fill it up,” 99 percent of the time they want regular grade gas. The one time I don’t ask…”
“I wanted PREMIUM! This is a BMW! You don’t put regular in a BMW!” she says, emphasizing the W as if she were teaching me remedial English. She’s enraged as I continue to stare blankly. She probably expects me to grab a straw and siphon the common man’s gasoline out of her tank with my mouth.
My paralysis leaves me just long enough to blurt out one thing.
“That’ll be $28, please.”
She recoils as if I grabbed her ass.
“What? I’m not paying!” she says. “You put regular in my car and I wanted premium.”
“Your car will still run. It’s not like I put diesel in your tank.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see people beginning to stare in our direction. Gil Desjardins, my neighbor, is patiently waiting at Pump 5 and chuckling as he observes my predicament. Inside, Charlie is panicking at the cash register as he reaches for the pump intercom microphone that always garbles his voice.
“Szzqzzh kzzszxzz shzzghzz,” the intercom says.
I shout at the pump. “I got it under control, Charlie.”
“I’m not paying!” BMW Supermodel says.
“Look, I’m sorry I put the wrong grade in your tank, but you saved money. It would’ve been more expensive for the Premium.”
“I’M NOT PAYING!”
She opens the door to her car, slams it shut and fumbles for her keys. If she gets away without paying for gas, Charlie might take it out of my paycheck. I pound my fist inside her driver’s side window and flash a look that would cause Charlie to piss his pants.
“Listen,” I say. “This can go one of two ways. You can pay me the $28 you owe. Or I can call the police with your license plate number and report you as a gas drive-off.”
At that precise moment I glance across the street and see, for the first time ever, a police cruiser stationed in the quarry. BMW Supermodel’s eyes follow mine and sweat beads down her forehead. She reaches into her wallet, pulls out a $50 bill so crisp it looks like she minted it herself, and throws it at me. I look silly trying to catch it as it flutters around my head.
She begins cursing me. At least I think. I don’t know for sure because she’s speaking in another language, but the tone is venomous. I doubt it translates in English to, “I respect you! You stood up for yourself when I tried to bully you!”
I run inside to make change, but when I emerge she’s already burned rubber onto the road and left. I laugh as the customer from hell leaves me my biggest tip ever.
I walk over to pump Gil, but he’s also left the scene. Things get busy again and I forget the whole thing. Two days later, I’m punching out for the day when Charlie calls me into his office.
“What do you know about this?” Charlie says, shoving a letter at me.
From: Roland Dumont
Chairman, Summitville Board of Selectman
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 11:46 a.m., Police Chief Humphrey spotted your attendant allowing a resident, Gil Desjardins, to pump his own gas.
Please be reminded that because of the potential fire hazard, Town Ordinance 14-1989 prohibits non-employees from pumping gas at service stations. Station owners may be fined up to $1 per occurrence.
We hope this was an isolated incident. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
“I can’t be getting nailed for a whole dollar every time you get lazy and let someone pump their own gas,” Charlie says. “If this happens again, you’re fired.”
“That’s it. Now go home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Things haven’t been the same since. Charlie runs out of the store now every time there are more than two customers at the pumps because he thinks the selectmen are out to get him and doesn’t want to write a $1 check to the town. At this rate he’ll drop dead of a heart attack within two weeks. Meanwhile, I’m looking for another job, because even if Charlie doesn’t fire me, I refuse to let him suck me into his world of panic.
Tonight after work I flip on the TV while scanning the help wanted ads when my jaw drops to the ground. There she is, the BMW Supermodel, hosting a reality TV show where potential models are judged on how much of a prima donna they can be.
That’s what I need, I say to myself. I need a job where I can be self-absorbed like BMW Supermodel, and get paid obscene sums of money to bitch people out for no particular reason.
by Matt Black
“My eggs are cold,” said a raspy voice, “Do you like that, baby?”
Jerry used his clam, relaxed tone, “I do, I really do, honey.” He slouched in his chair, his small frame made him look like a child when he sat any way but perfectly upright. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he was very pale. He had short dark hair and his youthful face could not resonate with a haggard twenty-five-year-old body.
He let go of his mouse and laid his chin on his fist, stumped after his last solitaire move. He reached over to his coffee mug and took a sip of the murky brew.
“You’re making my eggs warm.” There was some heavy breathing in the earpiece.
“Oh, I’ll warm up your eggs, honey. I’m gonna take my warm body and mount you so your eggs stay warm. My heat will go deep into your eggs as I thrust.” He opened his inbox and began skimming e-mails.
“I’m thrusting.” On his screen he read: Would you like to increase length and girth?
“Oh my God, my eggs. My eggs.”
Jerry zoned out and agreed with the voice. He went back to solitaire and won on the first try. Eventually the voice became quiet and stopped clicking his mouse.
“Thank you,” the voice whispered.
He leaned back in his seat and stared at the blank walls of his cubicle. After placing his headset on the desk, Jerry put on his blue United jacket with the faded logo. He grabbed his empty mug and proceeded through the narrow hallway between the stocky cubicles. A hairy arm stopped him just before he reached the end of the dim maze of desks and telephone wires.
“Hey, man, you’re just leaving? How long did that last caller take?” On his desk was a small framed picture of the man with his arms around his wife and a young child. In silver ink, “We love you Mike” was etched.
“Twenty-three minutes.” He stared at the floor in front of Mike.
“Yeah, well, I need the money.” Jerry shrugged his shoulder. “Plus fetish calls pay a lot better than those bullshit lonely heart calls.”
“Whatever, man. Fetish people are weird.” Mike started scratching the neck stubble underneath his pasty rolls of chin fat.
Jerry checked his watch, “I gotta go. I’m late.”
“Alright, man. I’ll see you later.”
He sauntered out to his car.
After fifteen minutes of chilly driving, he arrived at the airport. The sun still hadn’t fully risen. Bright silver and white clouds hung over the gray air.
Jerry clipped his laminated badge onto his jacket and hurried to the baggage claim. He waved at the mannish female security officer who promptly buzzed him into the baggage handling area.
After a quick glance at the employee chart, he walked up to carousel four where Alan was already hoisting bags from a line of carts. Alan’s pale blonde hair glowed under the orange industrial lamps.
“Hey, Jerry, where you been?”
“Sorry I’m late, got stuck talking to some woman.” He grabbed a brown leather suitcase and dropped it onto the carousel’s sliding belt.
“Was there anything kinky, or was it just normal boring shit?” Alan flung a green duffle bag onto the belt.
“There was this lady that had a thing for eggs.” He then dumped two black bags onto carousel.
“Eggs?” Alan asked between lifting two particularly heavy cases, “Like eggs as in ovaries?”
“I’m not really sure; she might have just been talking about regular eggs. While swinging a bulky brown bag, one of the handles snapped and the bag fell on the pavement. Jerry squatted down to heave the luggage onto the belt.
“I’ve seen some weird egg shit before, man, like on the Internet. That shit is not cool.” Alan grabbed the last bag and laid it onto the belt. Both of them leaned up against the carousel.
“Whatever. I don’t really pay much attention anyway.” Another truck pulled up with five more carts of baggage. The earmuffed driver grinned as he unhooked his truck and rolled off. Jerry and Alan each gave the driver the finger and returned to lifting.
Alan smirked as he shoved several bags onto the belt. “You don’t get off when you’re working or any shit like that?”
“Not really.” Sometimes I have to shut my mic off so they don’t hear me laughing.” He grabbed a bag without a ticket and placed it on an empty cart.
On his drive home from work, the early afternoon sky was still bleak and gray. Jerry’s apartment was simple and cramped. There were no paintings or pictures on the walls, and the only light was the blinding ceiling fixture. He had nothing on his coffee table or the kitchen counter.
His refrigerator had half a dozen notes on it including one written in purple marker that stated, “Call Mom.” Other notes were mostly recipes for various single serving meals.
For dinner, he cooked a greasy omelet. While frying it, he thought back to his most recent phone sex client and threw the whole pan into the trash. That was his only pan. He ate Corn Pops dry, out of the box.
After a shower and a shave, Jerry went to bed. His thick blinds shielded against the glow of 3PM.
It was dark when his alarm began hissing at him. It read “9:00PM” in narrow red bars. He got dressed, made a quick cup of coffee and rushed out the door.
On his way to his cubicle, he waved to Mike who looked especially entranced in his conversation. Mike offered a nod and pressed his hand onto his headset.
Jerry took off his blue coat and sat at his desk. Gingerly, he fitted his headset. He then tapped a flashing button on his elaborate looking phone. In his calm, casual voice he spoke, “My name’s Big J. and I’ll be taking care of you tonight, honey.”
“Hi Big J. my name’s Annie.” The voice was soft and sweet.
“Tell me what you want me to do to you, honey.”
He spoke for his usual three-minutes and ended after the moaning was so loud he had to hold his headset away from his ears. In his earlier years, he might have pushed another couple minutes out of her but there was a professional courtesy when people paid by the minute, at least there was for Jerry.
A five-minute coffee break and Jerry was back on the wires. After pressing another flashing button, a new voice was on the line.
“My eggs are cold.”
Jerry jumped at the raspy voice. He peered out of his cubicle to see if Mike was waiting with a smirk and a hand over his mouthpiece.
“My eggs are cold. Hello, are you there, baby?”
“I’m here, honey. It’s Big J. Tell me about your eggs.” Jerry did not open a solitaire game. He leaned his chair far back with one hand behind his head.
The voice wheezed in excitement. “You’ve had my eggs before.”
Jerry sat up in his chair. He held his breath and tried to stay very still.
“You had my eggs last night, and you took good care of them.”
Jerry ducked low in his cubicle and covered his microphone with his hand. He carefully leaned over toward his telephone and rested his finger on an unlit button.
“Maybe you want somebody else. How about my buddy “Todd: The Rod.”
“No baby, I want you taking care of my eggs. You do such a good job with my eggs,” the rasp moaned.
Jerry did not move right away. His hand rested on the telephone for several seconds. He moved his hand away and leaned back in his chair again. “Alright then, let me take care of your eggs.”
Alan was already packing the plane when Jerry showed up. It was starting to get lighter outside. Both of them were wearing day-glow yellow vests and earplugs.
“You’re late,” Alan shouted.
“Sorry, got held up again.” Jerry climbed into the plane and started stacking bags.
“Another fetish?” He scooted a bag up against a wall.
“Same lady.” Leaning on a red suitcase, he motioned for the ramp attendant to slow down. “We talked for almost six hours. I had to skip my lunch break.”
Alan looked up after breaking a wheel off a suitcase. “That is deeply disturbing.”
“I kind of got into it, but I still don’t understand what “eggs” she was referring to.” He kicked one of the bulgy bags until it was flat enough to lock the cargo net in place.
The ramp attendant waved for the two to get down after they finished with the baggage. “We need to ditch about ten or fifteen bags. The captain said they’re too heavy.”
Alan offered a fisting motion to the attendant, and then he and Jerry climbed back into the cargo hold. They unlocked the first cargo net and pushed a pile of bags out. Most of the bags fell off of the loading ramp and onto the tarmac.
After work, Jerry went home and made dinner. All he could think about was if the egg woman would call again. He decided against the eggs for fear of them being somehow tainted by phone sex, and his only pan was still in the garbage. In the freezer was half a box of Eggo waffles. He cooked them all. The ones he couldn’t stuff into the toaster he microwaved. He wolfed them down, showered, shaved and went to bed.
The alarm went off and Jerry sprung out of bed. Turning in early had cured him of his usual drowsiness. The dark circles under his eyes had vanished, and he was not as pale as usual. With a quick cup of coffee, he put on his blue jacket and headed to work.
Mike was already leaning on Jerry’s cubicle before he arrived. The walls leaned under his chunky frame. Jerry quickwalked to his seat and took off his coat.
Mike had a goofy grin and was winking at various operators passing by. “So what’s the deal with the egg chick?
Jerry jumped. “What?”
“She called earlier asking for you.”
Jerry refused to make eye-contact with Mike. “I have a repeat client, so what?” He tried to sit down casually. His heart was beating so hard it made him twitchy.
“She said only wants you.” He was still grinning.
“Did she?” Jerry’s face went hot, and his arms turned rosy.
Jerry put on his headset and took a few short calls. He failed eleven times at Solitaire. Then he pushed one of the flashing buttons and heard a raspy voice say, “My eggs are cold.”
His face went flush. He didn’t say anything.
“Big J. my eggs are cold.”
“I, I think I love you.” Jerry sighed heavily but could still feel his pulse pounding in his arms and chest.
The line went dead.
“Hello? Shit.” His pulse quickened further. He scrambled to the receiver and checked the dial tone. Jerry pushed a few lit buttons but hung up after not hearing the rasp. He slid off the headset and put his palms on his face. He lay there for only a few seconds. With his blue jacket under one arm, Jerry ran out of the building and to his car.
His apartment was dark. Jerry didn’t turn on the ceiling fixture. He sat in silence until everything became faintly visible. The bare walls were blue in the low light.
Jerry walked over to the trash and pulled out his pan. He laid it in the dingy sink. The white refrigerator had a smattering of square, dark notes. The “Call Mom” note was the only legible one. He peeled it off and picked up the phone that lay on the counter.
Jerry rapidly dialed and leaned on the counter with both elbows. He had the phone in one hand and the note in the other. It rang twice and a voice answered.
“Hello?” The rasp was as heavy as ever.
Jerry didn’t say anything.
The voice coughed. “Hello? I’m up. Is someone there?” the rasp had tapered off and now the voice was soft.
Jerry hung up. He threw the note in the trash and went to bed.
His clock read 12:00PM when he got up. The blinds had a bright yellow aura, but his apartment was still blue and dim. In his kitchen, his answering machine was flashing. Jerry pressed a button and, after a beep, the voice spoke.
“Jerry, this is Carl. I don’t know why you didn’t show up to work today. Also you’ve been late a lot recently. We can’t have our baggage handlers just decide when they want to show up. We’re going to have to let you go. Your last paycheck will be mailed to you.”
Jerry wrote a note in marker and stuck it to his refrigerator. It read “Find New Job” faintly in the blue light.
Matt Black was born and raised outside Denver, Colorado. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a BA in Creative Writing in 2010.