In a gas station one hundred miles inland from the coast of America’s bay state, a cashier is nodding off to the lullabies of Celine Dion coming from the transistor radio behind the counter. The evening sluggishly pulls on, and a few customers visit the gas station, but leave without purchasing an item or awakening the clerk. They, like most patrons of this business, are out of towners just filling up their tanks and continuing on the road towards places of inferior beauty and high population densities. In these places, souls float through city blocks and rarely brush shoulders, eyes meet for split seconds and faces are forgotten in less. People are gray molds, whose faces wrinkle under the eyes, and are smooth from the sides of the nose to the corners of the mouth. The horizon is blocked by massive structures whose designers are praised for the beauty they have given the world.
The cashier jolts as the chime of the doors warns him of a new customer. A girls pushes past an older man moving half her pace. The young girl skips through the aisles searching for a candy sweeter than anything nature could provide, and stops when she finds her beloved skittles. Tropical; a flavor foreign to the landscape of green and brown that holds our small gas station. The old man nods at the cashier and he reciprocates, blinking repeatedly to remind his eyes that they are awake. He turns to look out the window and sighs gratefully, he didn’t sleep through the sunset. A glorious peach sky shines through the glass wall, and the old man shields his eyes as he sorts through newspapers. The little girl puts down the bright teal package of candy and runs past the clerk to the window. Her face and hands pressed to the glass leave delicate smudges that the cashier will never feel to wipe clean. Mesmerized, she forgets she ever wanted any candy. The radio antennae, intoxicated by the scent of gas and sunlight absorbed, slowly falls to the side. Resting there, Celine Dion is replaced with white static. The gas station falls asleep.
At this moment, all six eyes are fixed on the landscape, the old man has put down his paper, awakened by the lack of nineties ballads. The cashier doesn’t dare take his eyes off the window, he no longer feels the hard seat underneath him, he doesn’t hear a sound but the gasps and squeaks of the little girl blissfully observing what is usually his sunset, and his alone. Unaware, they all smile together. The edges of the old man’s mouth slowly turn upwards, fighting against years of frowns perpetuated by gravity and a catholic marriage. For a moment the clerk has a father, and a little sister. And soon their spirits huddle behind the glass and stand shoulder to shoulder, as if the passage to heaven was being exhibited for them, and they looked into the orange and saw old friends. They saw parents, and lost stuffed animals. They saw wives, and grandmothers. Through the gold they picked out memories; images of God. A strong bearded man in a white robe. The old man; who only saw this sunset.
The three all sagged in their stances, until the man let out a small grunt of satisfaction. The white fog drifted out of the cashiers eyes, and he let out a deep breathe that seemed trapped in his lungs. He began to speak but his voice had to find its way back over the hump in his throat. He managed to get out a small:
“Where you headed?”
The old man chuckled, “Speak up, son, my ears have heard too much”
He smiled and looked downward, “Worcester or Boston?”
“Boston,” he answered, “this one has school soon.” He patted her head and she grabbed his hand.
“Ah, enjoying the city life.” The cashier tried to hide his disappointment that these friends were leaving his side.
“Ha, if you want to call it that,” he replied, “I just call it the city.”
By Peter Duffy