The service station distinguishes itself in the distance, its shape growing more solid against the background of dust and shimmering haze with every minute.  It sits by itself on the side of the road, with little but tumbleweeds to keep it company.  The sign on its frontage might once have identified it as belonging to one chain or another, but the letters have long since faded into obscurity.

As she draws up to the service station, Fields slows the bike, guiding it off the road and onto the expanse of concrete out front.  The rubber of her tire rolls over dusty cracks that craze the surface like the web of a coke-addicted spider.  She comes to a stop next to an old hand pump and kills the engine.  The rumble and bark of the motor is replaced by the whistling of the wind through the run down station.  With the wind comes another sound from inside the building: a man’s voice shouting.

“Get back here boy!”  The door of the service station is thrown open and a youth strides out.  He’s thin and lanky, hovering just over the line between boy and man.  He’s wearing a checked shirt and jeans which hang off his lean frame instead of being filled out by it. He’s determined, looking straight ahead, and his shoulder length hair hides his face from Fields.  She does take note though of the shotgun he’s gripping tightly in one hand.

The door barely has time to bang back against the frame before it’s flung open again.  This time an older man emerges.  His short cropped hair is receded, leaving the top of his head bald and shining.  He’s wearing the same kind of checked shirt as the younger man, and they’re not filled out any better.  With an effort, he collects himself and runs after the youth, catching him before he reaches the corner of the building.  He grabs the shotgun and they both wrestle over the weapon.

“You’ll get yourself killed boy!” the old man shouts as the two engage in the struggle.  “One day you’re gonna be lying face down in the street!”

“This place is dead already! Why can’t you see that?” asks the younger man, both bitterly and rhetorically.  “At least in town there’s good food, nice clothes.  I’m not waiting to dry up here, like you!”  He manages to get a good grip with two hands on the shotgun and gives the old man a shove with it, sending him sprawling on the ground.

Fields watches him stride out of sight around the building, leaving (she guesses) his father to shout curses at his retreating back.  There’s the sharp sound of a small engine starting and the youth reappears from around the back of the service station astride a trailbike.  He guns the bike and it snarls onto the road in a cloud of dust, the sound of it soon fading into a distant whine.

Fields drops the stand on her bike and dismounts.  The old man slowly gets to his feet and noticing her, limps over.  He eyes her suspiciously for a moment.

“Why didn’t you try and stop him?” he snaps.

Fields looks down the road at the distant puff of dust marking the path of the trailbike.  “He wouldn’t have listened,” she replies.  The old man considers this, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, then turns his head and spits into the dust.

“Well, what do you want?”

“Gas.”  Fields nods at the hand pump.  “Can you fill it for me?”

The old man grunts sourly and turns to the pump, grabs the nozzle and shoves it in Fields’ direction.  She unscrews the filler cap and pushes the nozzle into the tank while the old man busies himself with working the pump.

“They’ve all gone mad these days,” he mutters, “and it’s not just the kids.  Everybody wants an easy dollar.”

She pays for the petrol with a couple of crumpled notes that the old man looks over twice before shoving into his pocket and stomping back inside.  She starts the bike and rumbles onto the road, leaving the service station behind her, indistinct against the background of dust and shimmering haze.

~ by Electro-mechanical Man on March 11, 2011.

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