Linda had a way of looking at me that said she was exactly like all the others and thought she had me figured out. I didn’t have me figured out by a long shot and wasn’t in a real hurry to find out I didn’t have anything else to offer so I just kept thinking and gassing up the car. She stared at me across the trunk like she knew I didn’t have two dollars to my name and was about to run off with the gas. “I know what you’re thinking” she said as the pump clicked and the mechanic standing in the garage watched me out of the corner of his eye and I thought honey, I’m thinking about how you were worth it yesterday but not today and how you didn’t look so superior when you came. So I say “Probably best we take our separate ways” when I meant to say “go our separate ways” and she purses up her lips again. She thinks I’m stupid so I go in for the kill: “You were great.”
I smile like I mean it because she is beautiful and for about ten minutes last night I was dumb-struck but I really couldn’t care less now and just wanted the car to myself minus the judgement. The judgment was coming though and when it landed I knew she’d been planning it for forty or fifty miles and maybe as far back as Winnemuca where she got off a broke-down bus and hitched up with me. She started with the fact that she knew the car was stolen or why else would I talk my way out of showing the registration to the copper who pulled us over for doing 45 in a 50 and anyway she snuck a look at the registration when I wasn’t looking and saw the car belonged to a Milton W. Morman. She remembered the name because she’d never seen anybody named Mormon and what did I have to say about that?
“You got me figured” I said. I suppose it’s the same thing I do when I know what women want is never what they really want and kind of laugh as I’m getting laid but it’s also different. I’m not trying to keep them anywhere near me. I really don’t like sleeping with anybody in the bed I’m in and would be just as happy — hell, happier — if she just said thank you for getting her off instead of making something outta the sweat. Only had one woman do that and I was almost taken in but something inside said just wait and sure enough the next time I saw her she wanted to know how long I was going to be in Denver et cetera et cetera. Closest I came to being disappointed in a long time but in the end I just shrugged and said I didn’t know where I was going to be for the next stretch. Fucking nuisance.
“I suppose you’re going to want me to pay for the gas, aren’t you?” she said to drive it home that she had my number. That’s the hill she was gonna die on when I didn’t want anything more than a night and told her so upfront or at least I tried but she stripped herself bare in twenty-five seconds and then we had a good romp but that’s all it was even though she’s yelling how good it feels and where did I learn how to use it like that? Like she’s never had a real fuck before. Didn’t phase me. I’ve seen women go from convent to whore-house faster than me and she was no different but now that she was clean and dry she thought she was different and was going to show me who was really in charge because it sure wasn’t me. I had to laugh because I did need her to pay for the gas not having two dollars to my name or at least go inside to get something so that I could take off but now she was watching me like a hawk because I guess she didn’t want to get left in the middle of wherever the hell we were. Now it was a game I wasn’t interested in playing except I didn’t want her thinking she could make all that ruckus and then turn around like she had any ground to stand on and judge me for being a fuck-up. So what if the car wasn’t mine or if I didn’t have two dollars to my name if I have good friends who don’t sit in judgment and want me around and usually foot the bill because I’m a good guy who knows how to make all kinds of people happy. Ask Jack and ask Allen and they’ll tell you nobody’s wanting me for my wallet and I’m okay with it because they don’t think they know me and always say they never know what I’m going to do next. They don’t give two shits that I’m a fuck-up but one who would do anything for them even take care of them when they’re lonely. There’s nothing original here. Most guys are exactly like me except some are pretending they have it together or say there are certain things they’d never do not even for money but that’s okay because we’re slippery when we have to be. That’s the way we are. It makes me laugh when a woman thinks she’s saying something original by pointing out we’re slippery. Like Linda here with her hand on the car looking like she’s gonna jump in at the first sign of me leaving even though she understands men like me who need the help of women like her. It makes me laugh.
Allen’s like that, almost. Allen fell in love with me or at least thinks he fell in love with me which is fine but he started to think I was his man or something and said a couple of critical things when I just wanted to help him out. I’m letting him know what’s what because I really like him but he makes it so goddamn hard sometimes I think I got to cut him loose too.
So I’m thinking as I top off the tank that I either gotta get Linda to pay for the gas or I gotta get her to go inside and get something so I can get roadside which is really what I want to do. There’s not much time to think because the mechanic is still eyeing me and so is Linda with her cat-that-swallowed look that says she’s got my number which she probably does but not enough to know she can’t win this because I just don’t care if I win or lose as long as it’s just me walking away. Then it hits me: walk. Why not just walk? The car isn’t mine and I don’t got anything important inside it that Allen won’t give me like some slacks and a couple of t-shirts it being Summer and all and that’s when she seals the deal with “It’s been a long time since a woman’s cared, hasn’t it?” Fuck. My insides revolted and I almost smacked her good for the way she said it but I’d never hit a woman and didn’t really even like it too much when things got rough in the bedroom but she set me off with what Allen would call her pusillanimity or at least I think that’s the word and something inside me snapped. She knew it too because suddenly she’s walking around from her side of the car moving towards me like I’m about to run away and she’s gonna stop me. “I only meant” she says but I know exactly what she meant and so did she so she stops walking towards me and thinks for a good second before she points to the cola sign by the station door and says she’s going to get one. She walks away but then says with her back to me “At least leave my suitcase.” When she’s inside I take her suitcase out of the trunk and set it next to the pump and take the nozzle out of the tank. The mechanic is walking towards the pump and rounds it and sees the suitcase sitting next to it. He says how much I owe but I don’t even think about it because I point to the cola sign and say “She’s paying.” He doesn’t trust me and I don’t blame him when he says I won’t get five miles before I get picked up for not paying. I raise my hands and say “No sir.” I’m playing the same game he is and just want to get out of there. The mechanic takes a look at the pump and throws the safety and tells me again how much I owe. He’s still looking hard at me but then turns to go inside the station.
I can see her inside and she’s looking out the window waiting for the mechanic to sell her a cola and tell her how much she owes for the gas and she looks lonely or at least she reminded me of Allen when he was laying there on a cot when everyone else had paired up already and I knew he was hard-up and afraid to ask so I just sidle-up to him on the cot which was stupid and uncomfortable and Jack didn’t like it at all because he knew I was going to fuck Allen and I knew he wouldn’t think that was a good idea because Allen idolized me which was equally stupid but at least Allen got what he wanted and wasn’t lonely. Jack was pissed off the next morning because Allen was over the moon writing poems but what the hell was I supposed to do? Allen needed more than a one-off but I was right there and what was I supposed to do? Let him be lonely when I was right there?
I can see Linda inside where she waves and that wave is so pathetic and sweet that I want to vomit and decide right then and there I’d fuck her one more time. I put her suitcase back in the trunk and slam it shut which she hears as she leaves the mechanic and replaces her wallet in her purse and carries a cola. If she’s smart she won’t say anything because if she says something I walk away from her and the car and go on down the roadside but she gets in and closes the door. I take one hard look down the highway and think how close I came to being a man but she got me. Everybody gets me. I see there’s a hill back from where I came and it would be easy to run that hill over and down. That’s where I came from and where I belong without her and without Jack or Allen who I love as I love the road and know she’s mine as I get in the car ready to run.