Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
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She’s only five minutes away from her apartment when the fuel light comes on, but she pulls into the service station anyway, too cautious to risk it. Motorcycles are parked in a row by the defunct public pay phone, their riders loitering on the curb around the corner and out of the attendant’s sight. Cases of window solvent, bundles of firewood, and canisters of propane are lined up in front of the station. The station’s windows advertise the price of milk, offer deals on coffee. Cigarettes are $11.29. She remembers when they were as low as $2.89, though she can no longer recall the taste of nicotine. She parks at the pump and heads inside to pay. She prefers the personal touch. She still makes phone calls, writes letters, sends cards—she never texts. Old lady, her friends tease her. Relic, they call her to her face.

The door is locked this late at night. Barricaded behind a bulletproof window, crowded in by packs of cigarettes, gum, and condoms, waits an attendant whose name is full of more consonants than she can decipher. She greets him, but he’s deaf until she asks for twenty on pump five. He pushes out a clear plastic drawer. She reaches into her handbag for her cash, and out with it comes an old receipt. She drops a twenty into the drawer. The attendant retracts it, rings her up, and turns away.

After filling up, she replaces the cap and nozzle. Back in her car, she holds the receipt to the overhead light. It’s from last October, from her last date with her last boyfriend. Ink smudged from too much handling, the restaurant’s receipt is all a blur, the tally and tip too faint to read.

What an awful night that night had been. Who would guess that offering to pay for herself would have wreaked such havoc? She’d been trying to present herself as a partner, but he’d accused her of emasculation. Insulted, he’d left her there at the restaurant, alone at the table with the check she’d tried to split.

She balls the receipt, stuffing it into her cup holder before pulling out of the station. She can’t remember how much her half had been, and the blurred total won’t say, but she doesn’t need it to know what that meal cost her. She is paying still.  

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