The sun rose on the beautiful desert landscape, just like it had the day before, and like it would the next day. A city dweller unused to such a site would have been in awe, but to Bud Green, a cashier pulling the graveyard shift at a 24-hour gas station on a lonely stretch of highway outside Las Vegas, it was just another day.
Day after day he sees the same thing, and longs for something different. A lost movie star, a camera crew from one of those “slife-of-life” TV shows, an explosion — anything.
One nondescript spring day, just after sunrise, he lazily looks up from his sci-fi novel to see a black car kicking up a cloud of dust and heading his way. He notices as it draws near that it’s a jet-black Buick Regal Grand National. He watches as it passes the station, wondering at its tinted — no, at its *black* windows. “Been ages since I’ve seen one of those,” he muses, before returning to his book.
A few moments later, Bud looks up to see the same car returning to the station from the other direction. *Must have seen that “Check Your Gauge” sign the boss put up,* he muses, and returns to his book yet again, figuring that the driver will pay at the pump with a debit card like just about everybody else.
A few moments later, he hears tapping at the window of his booth. He looks up from his book, and his mouth falls open in shock at what he sees. Or, that is, at what he *doesn’t* see.
In front of him, just outside his window, he sees assembled an assortment of accessories he would expect to see on or around a female face, but without the face. First is a floating baseball cap. Below the bill of the cap hovers a pair of Ray-Ban shades. A little further down is what appears to be floating lipstick. And just below the shades’ earpieces are two stud earrings, floating as if attached to something, but there is nothing there.
Then, while Bud continues to stare, a voice comes from the air, apparently from between the vicinity of the lipstick. A voice that sounds like it could be attached to a cute girl.
“Excuse me,” the voice says, “but pump number 5 won’t accept my card.”
Bud stares without registering that someone is speaking to him.
“Hello?” the voice says, as something unseen taps against the booth’s plexiglas windows.
“Huh? — Oh, I’m sorry,” Bud sputters, snapping out of it, or trying to.
“Pump number 5 won’t accept my card,” the voice repeats.
“Um, yeah, something’s wrong with the card reader,” he says. “How much gas do you want?”
“Fill it up, I guess,” the voice says.
“I’ll need the card,” Budsays. “When you finish pumping the gas, you’ll have to come back here and sign the charge slip, is all.”
The floating accessories turn to face the car, and as they recede he sees, below them, tube socks and white sneakers. Between the accessories and the footwear, a nicely-filled pair of white shorts.
Bud watches in rapt attention as the hatch over the Regal’s gas cap swings open. The gas cap floats out and comes to rest on the trunk lid. The nozzle at pump number 5 floats from its hook, and inserts itself into the gas tank nozzle. Bud’s imagination, though, is racing to fill in the blanks, so much so that he forgets to release the pump so his unseen customer can pump her gas.
“Hey!” the voice calls out. “I’m not getting any gas here.”
“Sorry,” Bud calls out, and releases the pump. His attention wanders again, as he wonders what his unseen customer would look like, if he could actually see her.
The tank stops when the tab hits $20, and the nozzle removes itself from the Regal and returns to its hook on the gas pump. Then the gas cap returns to *its* rightful place, and the walking, talking accessories return to Bud’s booth.
Bud can’t believe what he sees, or doesn’t see. He knows he wanted something *different*, but this is just too different to believe. He decides to improvise a little, just to make sure he’s not dreaming the whole thing.
“Well?” the voice says. “Aren’t you gonna give me the charge slip to sign?”
Thinking quickly, Bud fibs, “Uh, there’s a problem with that drawer. You’ll have to come around to the door over here.”
Bud stares as the accessories move over toward the door on the side of his booth. He grabs a clipboard and a pen and swings the door open, staring down into the shorts as the entire assemblage approaches. Holding out the clipboard, he says, “Just sign by the X at the bottom,” letting out an unintended gasp when the clipboard floats out of his grasp. The pen does likewise, holding itself against the charge slip and signing the name “Charlotte Hill.”
“Charlotte,” Bud repeats, hoping for some reaction. “That’s a pretty name.”
There is no reaction. After signing the name, the pen and clipboard position themselves as if being handed back to him, so he nervously takes them and starts back into the booth.
“Hey!” the voice says. “What about my copy, and my card?!”
“Sorry,” Bud says sheepishly, holding the card and bottom copy of the charge slip out towards… empty space. Both are taken from his hand, upon which the charge copy wraps itself around the credit card and they slip themselves into a front pocket on the shorts.
The shorts and accessories walk a few steps away from the booth, stop, and turn back toward Bud. But now Bud is back in the booth, watching his unseen customer.
“Excuse me,” the voice says, “but do you have change for a dollar?”
“Uh-huh,” Bud replies, dropping four quarters onto the tray on the front of the cashier’s booth and sliding it outward.
“Thought you said that was broken?” the voice says, in a slightly accusatory tone.
Bud is quiet for what seems like ages, trying to come up with an excuse to cover his lie. Finally, he decides to just tell her the truth. “I’m sorry, miss,” he says, “but, um, we don’t get many, uh, invisible customers out this way. I guess I just wanted to see if my eyes were playing tricks on me.”
The unseen customer is silent for a few seconds. Bud hopes she’s only letting this all sink in and deciding what to say next. He begins to realize that since he can’t see her face, or any other part of her for that matter, she could be doing just about anything.
He imagines her turning around and walking over to his booth, where he’d meet her outside the door and she’d kiss him, poking her tongue into his mouth, and he’d stand there, wrapping his arms aroud this unseen woman and emptying his soul into her through a kiss.
Instead, the accessories went over to the soda machine, where the floating quarters deposited themselves into the vending machine. Seconds later, a Pepsi floated out of the machine and proceed to empty itself into… thin air. The clear plastic bottle was open, but the soda was disappearing.
Finally, the bottle launched itself into a recycling bin. Then the accessories and footwear drew near to the car. The Grand National’s driver door flew open but, before the unseen driver climbed in, her voice called out, “Excuse me, what time do you have?”
Bud checked the clock over his head. “Ten minutes to six,” he replied.
“Omigod! I only have ten minutes before –” The voice stopped as the accessories moved as if leaning into the car. When the unseen wearer straightened again, the cap and shades were missing, as a wad of black-and-white cloth tumbled about in the air above the white shorts. The cloth was pulled down over nothing, resolving itself into a tube top over ample breasts. Bud silently wondered why she didn’t do this closer to the booth, where he could have gotten a better look.
The outfit then darted into the car, after which the engine started loudly, as Grand Nationals do, and with much spinning of tires it was off.
Bud watched as the Regal quickly became a black speck in a receding cloud of dust, wishing that he had somehow been able to work his way into that car, speeding down the road of life with an invisible woman at the wheel. Anything had to be better than the graveyard shift at a gas station at the edge of the desert.
In all Bud’s daydreaming and staring, he never notices until much later that, along with the charge slip, there’s a card. With a phone number, and a name. Charlotte Hill.
Comment reposted from my old blog:
Another strong little episode…
“…wishing that he had somehow been able to work his way into that car…”
Interesting premise for the beginning of a relationship with an FI (that info he notices on the charge card slip).
I wondered if this is the same gas station where “Full Service” is set…?
If there was any justice, this would be the opening scene of a movie.
Bryan said…Yeah, I’d love to see something like that as the opening scene of a movie. But if it happened it would probably be a big letdown once the story proper actually begins.
Bryan said…I should probably use the main comment box, since I’m posting this to WordPress in 2009,
but since the comment being replied to was not ported… Anyway, this could conceivably be the same station as the one in Full Service, but if they are the same, Bud’s story would take place earlier than Full Service.