This short story is by Jonathan Ketcham (email@example.com).
The woman at the Circle K
In a Circle K deep in the heart of Texas stood a young broke woman, holding everything she owned in two bags, and after what had happened to her, desperate. Her parents were done with her, with nothing left they could do except point her to something, somewhere else.
She had no car, but the station was full of them waiting to fill up. Her parents, their last attempt to help, pointed out a Mercedes Benz G-Class. The big, boxy kind that seemed familiar, sturdy, comfortable, maybe even kind of awesome. The kind that years ago had been designed to cross the Swiss Alps. And the guy driving seemed nice enough, and the kids well behaved enough. Plus it had room for her and the things she carried.
Following her parents’ direction, she approached and asked, “Can I get a ride somewhere? Anywhere? I need to be somewhere else, anywhere else really. But now, right now.”
“Well, I don’t know you,” the driver pointed out. “And this is a very special vehicle and there’s not room for everyone. But I tell you what. See all of them in there? What sets them apart is they all know how this vehicle works. They know it’s got an internal combustion engine, each piston makes two revolutions. In the first, all the old, burned up exhaust gets expelled. In the second, new, fresh clean air rushes in. If you can explain these two revolutions, and if you really believe that’s what makes this G-Class go, I’ll let you ride. That’s how all these people got in here.”
She hadn’t heard about combustion engines and pistons and the important two revolutions before. And it was too much to take in now. She just needed a ride to somewhere, anywhere really, but now.
Seeing that she wasn’t getting it, the driver thought he’d give her another chance. So he gave her a book, he described it as “like a mechanic’s repair manual. Study this for a little while, it explains it all. I’ve got some parts underlined here and there to help you. Put those together and you’ll get it.”
But she still didn’t get it. And so he took his book back and talked more, louder, yelled even. That she must understand this, she must explain it and believe it if she wanted to get in, if she wanted a ride to somewhere better. No one else in the vehicle said a word while he yelled, they mostly just kept to themselves and smiled. Except for the driver’s oldest son. He joined in the yelling himself, mostly so that he would hear less of his dad’s yelling that he so much despised. And also the driver’s middle son in the very back, who unnoticed was standing in the window smiling at her, naked. But the rest of them, they kept quiet, smiling.
“You can’t get in until you get this! This is important, this is how this vehicle works! How can you expect to ride if you don’t know how it works! Besides, you want to be somewhere now. But we’re going all the way to Fort Bliss, the New Mexico side. So we won’t be there for a long time, not until we cross over the state line.” And that was that.
Scanning the rest of the gas lines, she saw the usual mix, pickup trucks, Oldsmobile wagons, Civics, a Volvo, a convertible. The same types that she had ridden in up to now. The kinds whose drivers hardly seemed any better off than she was.
Also there was a royal blue 1969 Lotus Elan, a timeless classic, valuable because of its provenance. Even so, a team of Fiat mechanics had fully dismantled it in 2002. But its owner had fully restored it, so expertly that it was as beautiful as before, only more so.
No matter, she didn’t see it. It was there all along but it was parked on the other side, blocked from her view by the Mercedes. The driver of the Mercedes saw it. In fact he knew the Elan’s whole story. He had seen it before, even had a book about it. It hadn’t impressed him much, though, and it wasn’t important enough for him to mention to her.
And so she turned, away from the G-Class and the others, and set out down one of those long unpaved Texas roads that people travel from farm to market and back, mostly alone.
As she walked, the G-Class driver shook off the experience by congratulating himself. On how much he understood about how cars work. On having such a well-designed vehicle, with such well-informed people inside. On feeling assured they’d all be together soon enough in Fort Bliss.
And her parents, the ones who had brought her there and directed her to the G-Class, they had already left.
But that Elan. Like the other cars, it had been waiting. But it wasn’t waiting for gas. Though gas could be put in it, it was after all a car, it didn’t need gas. Hadn’t since it had been restored. But it had been there anyway, waiting. And now, now it was coming, coming for her.