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Jan/Feb 2001 Fiction

In the Supermarket, On the 10

by Jason Gurley


You don't know who she is, just another girl in another supermarket at two in the morning, but this time, instead of hesitantly meeting her blue eyes, her brown eyes, her colorless eyes as you pass each other on the cereal aisle, each of you behind lumbering, cagey carts, this time you stop suddenly and cock your head, and with what you hope is a debonair kind of smile, say, "Do I know you?"

And when she snorts and starts walking again, you remember why you don't stop girls in the supermarket at two in the morning.

Back in your car: you've gotta think of something to do, somewhere to go, someone to touch and taste and, well, to talk to, first. So you switch on the green radio, and it stares at you as you drive, a conglomeration of glowing dashes and decimals, and you get annoyed and turn off the radio, but the display still blares the time

2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21 2:22 2:22 2:22

at you, so you fumble in the glove box and weave through three lanes and onto the lumpy, rocky shoulder and back, and then you find the electrical tape and rip a length off with your disintegrating teeth and strap it over the display, and the numbers are gone, and you can drive again.

But you can't, because back there, behind you, are more lights, and this time they are mists of red and blue and some white, swiveling in your head like electric Globetrotters, and you skid to the shoulder, and dust rises past the windows, and the lights filter through it like sunlight illuminating all the things you breathe but don't want to know about.

So he knocks on your window with stiff knuckles, and you open the door, and he pushes it shut again and leans on it, and makes a circular, roll-down-the-window motion, and you shrug and say, "It's broken," and he doesn't hear, so you repeat, and then he steps away from the door, and you open it.

There is a blast of cool, wet evening air, and he stands in the gap between your door and your seat and says, "Don't get up, sir, just stay there," and you haven't even unbuckled, and you tell him so, and he makes a crack about you making a crack at him, so you shut up and stare at your steering wheel and notice a crack in the plastic just under the word airbag, and you now have to worry about the airbag billowing out at you while you're drumming on the wheel to Led Zeppelin.

As if I need to worry about, you begin to think, and then your brain kind of stutters when the cop breathes in your face and says, "Sir, I won't ask you again. Give me your license and registration," so you angle yourself awkwardly in the seat and fumble your license out of the wallet, and then you reach for the glove box, and his thick, California-hairy hand clamps around your wrist, and he says, "What are you reaching for?"

"My registration," you think you say, and you did say it, it just came out a little fuzzy because you're worried now that you've stained your trousers, which is just one more thing on your list of things to worry about, so the cop lets go, and you get the crumpled registration papers and hand them over.

You don't know how long you sit there waiting for the crunch of cop-footsteps to return because you've taped the clock over, which you now realize was a silly thing to do because you'll have to smear away the gum left behind by the tape when you rip it off. So you leave the tape.

The cop comes back, his boots crunching like they did when he walked away, and his body lurches into your lap as he stumbles over a rock, and he scrambles up and apologizes to you, shuffling dust off of his uniform with those annoyingly ugly hands, and when you look at him and think, Well, that was interesting, he interprets it as put-outedness, and he hands your license back and your registration back, and after a quick fumble of fingers, a small snow-pile of shredded paper. "Your ticket," he says, and he crunches away again, and when he falls and goes, "Oof," you close the door and skid away and wonder if you showered him with rocks.

You're on the 10, just driving, the stars buried somewhere beneath radioactive clouds and the roars and flashes of planes cutting through the clouds, trailing pink and yellow jet streams, and you see a girl thumbing it under the Long Beach 10 Miles sign, and you swing off into the dirt and she comes to your window and makes the roll-it-down motion, and you open the door instead and say, "It's broken," and the girl starts to ask, "Where you head..." and then she sees your face, lit up in the cargo light, and she snorts, and you remember why you never stop for runaway girls on the freeway.

 

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