I’d forgotten how much I hated small talk until we hit the interstate. Three hours into the trip I pull into a truck stop to buy Meredith a Milky Way and some headphones. My hope was that the caramel might paste her teeth together. Or that maybe she’d listen to her Mahavishnu Orchestra cassettes on her antique boombox and stop talking. But she just smacks her lips and talks louder.
As Memphis recedes in the rearview mirror, I glance at Meredith and try to recall what attracted me to her in the first place. Other than her looks, I can’t really remember. She’s a librarian but hates to read. What she does love is knitting, singing out of key, and cheating at crossword puzzles. And she smokes a lot of pot.
I watch her play air piano on the dashboard and tell myself she’s not that pretty.
“What?” I say. Apparently she was talking while I was thinking.
“I have to pee again.”
“Didn’t we just do that?”
She shrugs and gnaws off another section of candy bar. I steer onto the next off-ramp and look for a clean restroom. Meredith shouts over the tinny sound of what might be a drum solo, something about her aunt needing gallbladder surgery.
“What?” I say again, mostly out of habit.
“There!” Meredith says. “Pull in there, the car wash.”
“I thought you said you had to use the head?”
“It comes and goes.” She’s wearing the headphones like a scarf now. “But your truck needs a bath. Like, in the worst possible way.”
“So do you,” I say.
She thinks I’m teasing and snuggles up to me.
The place is abandoned but I ease into the last stall. Meredith feeds quarters into the little gray box, then aims the wand at me. I used to like it when she flirted; now it mostly annoys me. She puts her headphones back on and dances around as she douses my aging F-150 with pink suds, using the wand first as an air guitar, then as a giant penis as she mimes taking a man-sized leak into the truck bed. She keeps almost spraying me. I just stand there, daring her not to, craving cigarettes and a different life.
When the water times out, Meredith is talking again.
“I said vacuum.” She points to the row of spindly hoses across the parking lot and says, “Got any more quarters?”
I shake my head.
“Pull over to the hoses,” she says. “I’ll meet you there.” Meredith ducks into the cab of my truck and retrieves a small sledgehammer from behind the seat. “Go on, now. I’ll just be a minute.” She sees something in my expression and adds, “God, you’re such a prude sometimes.”
She’s giggling like mad as I climb in and fire the engine. Meredith tests the heft of the hammer, tucks her tongue into the corner of her mouth, then takes aim at one of the piano hinges on the coin box. I put the truck in gear, hear the first clash of metal, and ease out of the stall toward the vacuum stand. But I don’t stop at the vacuums. Hell, I don’t even slow down. Instead, I veer the truck onto some nameless two-lane in some nowhere town in Arkansas and drive away. It’s hard, but I resist checking the rearview, just in case she’s giving chase. She really is that pretty.
Michael Snyder lives just outside Nashville, TN with his amazing family. His three novels were published by Harper Collins and his stories have appeared in The First Line, Relief Journal, 100 Word Story, Toasted Cheese, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Cease Cows, Greater Sum, and certainly not least…Every Day Fiction.