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Fiction, Short Fiction
by: G David Schwartz
"Probably the last full service gas station in all of Kentucky," Longrun said as he edged the big brown Buick LeSabre next to the pump.
The bony, red headed attendant came scurrying out of the concession stand and nodded to the woman getting out of the passenger seat. She set her legs stiffly on he ground, paid some attention to standing up straight slowly, and stretched wide. She bent her arms over her head, arched her back and let out a little moan.
The attendant was looking in the broad front windshield as he hurried to the driver's window. Two men sat lethargic in the back seat, the way people do during a cross country trip.
"Fill 'er up?"
"Howdy, friend. Yeah. Will you please full it up. Put in the expensive stuff.
The attendant turned a nod of agreement into a swing toward the back of the automobile. He flipped open the lid of the car's tank, twisted off the fuel cap, stepped back as the pressure of emptiness proofed out invisible fumes. He deftly removed the nozzle from the pump and plunged it into the tank. Agile finger fixed it so the gasoline rushed into the Buick. The attendant was already reaching for a squeegee, which was dripping a water solution, and stretching to apply it to the front window.
"What's your name, son?" the driver asked.
"Name's Hogan. Jeff Hogan, at your service."
"Well, son, you do a damn fine job, I'll tell you that. I've been watching you in the rear-view mirror and I've not seen anyone in quite some time who was so quick and sure with all those dials and twists and hoses. Missed a spot there." Jeff pulled out a maroon cloth and rubbed the spot at which the driver was pointing.
"You live around here?"
Jeff said, "Yep, sure do. Right over that hill, in Morgantown." Jeff had heard the question often and was well past the point where he wanted to snarl, "No, I live in Montana. They fly me in every morning for a fucking four eighty-five an hour. They think I'm worth it."
"Well, you do damn fine work."
"Thanks," Jeff said, and walked his squeegee to the rear of the car.
The woman was returning from behind the concession stand, attempting to straighten her wrinkled strawberry mou-mou. As she slid into the front seat, the driver said, "Real nice boy, there. Seems real polite."
Jeff had by now dropped the squeegee into its bucket and, noticing the hood of the LeSabre was not released, asked, "Check your oil?"
The woman leaned across the front seat, maintaining her balance with one hand on the dash and the other on the cushion. "Mr. Longrun here really likes you."
That's nice, Jeff thought. In a couple of minutes this car load of geeks will be around the bend and on their way toward Indiana. He would never see them again and, what is more, did not care if he did or not. They were not like Julie. She just up and left. These people were preparing to go. She was something special. These people are just so many dusty road covered city folk. Called him at home one night and said tomorrow was the day! Gone, without a warning, to Louisville, to make her mark. It's true, she talked about leaving for years. But when it finally happened, what a shock.
Jeff was thinking these thoughts as he stared at the huge pale cleavage sandwiched in the center of the woman's too tight blouse. He was licking his lower lip absent-mindedly when Longrun said, "What's your daddy do for a living, son?"
"Ahh, he's the Zenith repairman over in Morgantown."
"Oh," Longrun said with some surprise, "He repairs radios and televisions?"
"Yeah," Jeff answered, "Of course, he does more than Zeniths. He can do anything electrical. He's got a good understanding for them things. But the sign out front says Zenith. I guess they gave him some money to get started."
Longrun wiped beads of sweat beginning to form at the back of his ear. He twisted his head to the side asking, "Your daddy's got a nice job up there in Morgantown."
"I suppose," Jeff said.
"Why is it, then, that you're pumping gas?"
"Well, it pays better than my old man could pay me. There's more work, too. Tourists passing through, and all."
"You ever thought about going into your daddy's shop?"
"I thought about it," Jeff answered sheepishly, "Hell, I know as much about electronics as he does. He taught me everything he knows. I could do it, if I wanted. But I'm saving money. I'll be going to Louisville soon."
"Ahh, Louisville. Nice big city."
"I suppose," Jeff said, the way people say things when they are afraid to reveal too much, or have just seen what it would be like if their dreams were about to collapse.
"Why don't you get in and come with us?"
"You folks going to Louisville?"
"No, son," Longrun answered, "Not at all. Ain't nothing exciting in Louisville."
"I was going to say! You're heading in the wrong direction to be going to Louisville. Where are you heading?" he asked, despite himself.
"To understand too much is a sin, Jeff. You might want to remember that."
Jeff found the statement a little too enigmatic to respond. He nodded, felt some anxiety building in his knees, and repeated in a bland voice, "Check your oil?"
"No, thanks," Longrun said, "Just had it checked in," he turned to the woman, "Where the hell was that, Lois, Nashville?"
"I think it was, dear."
"Just had it checked in Nashville. Another nice big city."
Jeff nodded, took the credit card Longrun handed him and disappeared into the concession stand. He returned with a four part sale draft flapping in the breeze, holding a red plastic tray in his other hand. He assembled the paper and plastic at the window, announced the total as twenty-three, seventy-six, and pointed where he wanted Longrun's signature.
"Twenty three, seventy six," the driver repeated as he moved the pen. He was finished scrawling his name before he completed the utterance. "Here ya go, son."
Jeff took the tray, checked signatures and said thanks, enjoy your trip as he handed the card back to Longrun. He stepped back from the car as the V8 engine started with a gargle, which turned into a low moan.
"You can still come with us if you want," Longrun said.
"Naw. But thanks. Where are you headed?"
"Up this road," Longrun smiled, "We'll get to the end of this road and we'll see what's around that bend. There's sure to be a bend up there somewhere. Get around that bend and then we'll take highway this or that, or state route one or another, and cruise to here or there. There's nothing but adventure out there, Jeff. Nothing but adventure and fresh discovery."
Jeff smiled his sheepish grin. "Now, why would I want to be chasing all over the country with you?"
"I have a good feeling about some people," Longrun grinned, "You want more out of life than this no-horse town can offer you. You can have it all, son. You just need to make the right connection. All I am's a connection maker. I take you here or there, where ever you want to get off, and you can chase whatever dream it is that you just haven't dreamed yet. I know you've dreamed a lot of them that you've just had to let go past."
"Here's you chance, boy. We can make this town and every sad thing you've known in it disappear in exhaust fumes. You know you want to."
Jeff stepped back, up onto the narrow island, his lanky six-foot frame against the green cylinder trashcan. He leaned his elbow on the rum, ignoring the painful head, trying to appear casual and precise. He betrayed his action when he lifted his arm to rub the elbow.
"What's in it for you?" he asked Longrun.
"That's what I said," Jeff spoke with authority, "What's in it for you?"
"Hell, son, two things. In the first place, the more people you share an adventure with, the better the experience."
"What's the other reason," Jeff asked skeptically.
"Quite simply, I need a full service man."
"What?" Jeff asked without comprehension.
"I need a full service man for my car," Longrun emphasized, "Hell, I can't keep asking Lois to get out in this blistering sun and pump gas or clean the windows, or check the oil. You do that for me and I'll provide separate room and buy your meals wherever we go."
"You want me to go along with you to be a gas boy?"
"You make it sound so exploitative."
"Hell, I can stay here and pump damn gas. I don't need to drag all around tarnation to do that!"
"Son, I want you to go along with us to do what you do. All's I'm asking is that you do what you have been doing, but have some adventure attached to it. If you discover you have some other capacity, hell, we can work it into the bargain."
"Bargain!" Jeff snapped the word into two crisp syllables.
"That's right, son. I'm offering you a lifetime of travel and adventure, and all you have to do is keep doing what you've been doing. Furthermore, you'll only have to service one single car. Mine. Hell, I'm offering you a rest as you earn, learn as you test yourself in that wide, wide world away from Morgantown. Just do like you been doing. Hell," he jerked his thumb toward the back seat, "We've got John-Paul to do all out cuisine cooking for us, and Ramon to tend to any gardens we come across that need tending."
Jeff stared at the man incredulously.
"It's important to keep the world beautiful," Longrun answered his look, "It doesn't matter whether we own a spot of land or not. What matters is that we make it attractive and appealing."
"Why should I go with you."
"I envision the day," Longrun continued, as if he had not heard Jeff's question, "when we have to sell this Buick and buy a bus because our little community, and that's what we're building, Jeff. We're building a community, a community on wheels. I envision the day when we have every type of person we need, all getting along, telling jokes, having fun, and discovering what it is that's out there. And everyone of us will be learning from one another as well."
Jeff stared into the window, not saying a word.
"Suit yourself," Longrun finally said, "Time's getting short, though, and letting this engine idle is doing nothing but eating up gasoline. And that," he added as an afterthought, "is bad for the environment."
Jeff wagged his head. "This is crazy," he said.
"Crazy," Longrun repeated.
"It's just crazy."
The third time he said the word 'crazy,' he knew he was going. He pulled the warm chrome door handle and fell in between the cook and the gardener. They put up their hands to steady his fall. As his body rocked between them, Jeff heard his own voice saying: To understand too much is a sin. Lord knows he did not want to commit the sin of wisdom. The puffy, yet worn, blue velvety seat felt cool against his elbows. The air conditioner was on, and as Longrun raised the electric windows, he gunned the engine, and the car took off toward Indiana.
"Well, now," Longrun announced, "You know what's hard to find around these parts? A geologist! I'm surprised, but you would think that in the hills of Kentucky, geologists would be falling all over themselves. But this just ain't the case. I don't think we've seen a single geologist since we started this trip, have we, Lois?"
"We sure haven't, dear. And I'd like to see one of them people, too. Maybe just as soon as we've heard all the stories Jeff here can tell us. I'll bet a geologist would have plenty of stories to keep us entertained." As she said this, she glared at John-Paul, as if her remarks were an insult.
"Yep, a geologist," Longrun said, and turned the heavy vehicle off the highway onto a gravel road leading into the blue mountains.
"Let's go get one," he said, and the car went up the path in a blue and gray swirl of fumes like a rocket ship.