November 23, 2016, somewhere in Florida, Thanksgiving Eve, 9:00 PM.
A Florida frost forms on the window of a GMC S-15 Jimmy. The frost’s presence is strange, certainly; it is November. Usually, the frost waits until January, when the rest of the United States is recovering from December, awaiting Spring’s due date in March or April. The frost does not encase the window; Florida frost does not do that: it huddles in the corner and forms neat little snowflakes, cuddled and melded together in a small, white pre-Thanksgiving frost.
The car idles outside a convenience store–an Express Lane. It is 9 o’clock PM, but it might as well be midnight. The dusty light tubes inside the store illuminate the sidewalk mostly, in front of the 99-cent newspapers, periodicals and real estate brochures; some light reaches the dusted edges of pumping stations 2 and 4, and the grimed car wash buckets, seldom emptied or used, appear to have felt the frost, too. No one is getting gasoline at this time of night. Systematically, it seems, a few enter for a Wednesday-night liquor run. In and out. As 11:00 PM draws closer–that is when the store closes–and the liquor runs become less frequent, the night, impenetrable and relentless, remains alive. The dark is persistent in its rough, abrasive continuity.
Two figures, male and female, sit inside the Jimmy, idling, waiting.
“If we keep sittin’ here, we’re gon’ need to ask that boy inside for ten on pump 2,” the male figure says.
He is talking about the cashier inside–a young man of nineteen or so, who took the night shift because it helps pay rent and it is an easy job, for the most part. He takes it easy on customers by not carding them as often as he should.
The female figure sits on the driver’s side. The seat is positioned just a little too far for her feet to reach the pedals, so she sits bent forward. The radio plays with the volume low enough to maintain a conversation. They are both buckled in still; they have been sitting there for ten minutes.
“Shut up,” she says back to him. “I don’t need your smart-ass mouth right now.” She presses a button on the console beside her and lets down her window.
“Hand me a pack out of the glove box.”
A wiped lipstick print stains the console where there should be an airbag. He grabs a pack of Marlboro Red out and tosses them at her. They land in her lap. She grabs a cheap Bic lighter out of the cup holder and lights up.
“Those’ll kill ya, I heard,” he says.
“God willin’,” she whips back, smiling a thick cloud from her lungs as she does so.
“Thompson’s ain’t ruin ya completely, sounds like,” he says through a suppressed chuckle.
He coughs as he says this; the smoke is thick, even with the window down. The car’s atmosphere consists of one-half Marlboro Red, one-fourth pine tree-scented car freshener and one-fourth oxygen.
The inside of the car mirrors the disheveled exterior. In the nearest back seats, a rug carpet dashboard cover is thrown carefully on the seats, spread out, covering the middle. A plastic bag sits depressed on top.
Two or three wooden baseball bats lay discreetly in the farthest back, frayed nylon rope and a packed-up tent lying among the oddities, too. Some of the oddities, like the bats and the nylon, look recently used but as well they have settled comfortably, unlike the driver.
The cigarette burns to the end. She pinches it with her index and thumb and flicks it outside onto the ground. She puts the window up, staring forward through the frost at the light tubes inside the store, meanwhile.
“So,” she says, her gaze still fixed on the lights like a fly drawn to stimuli, “What are we gonna do?”
He looks at her, half-confused.
Closing the glove box, he says, “Well, whatever we got to.”
Beforehand, he slid a box from underneath the loose papers, legal documents and a Marlboro Red carton into his hand. It is a thick box.
“Hand me that there in the back, will ya.”
She unbuckles herself and turns around, reaching for the bag then stopping.
“You sure about this?” she says, eyes fixed on the bag, her body still as threatened prey.
“I am,” he says. “Hand me the bag.”
He talks sternly but holds the box loosely and still, like a Christmas ornament. The box looks ornamental, too; it is green, like medicine. It is designed similar to the Marlboro Red carton in its ‘corporate-ness.’
He shakes the box carefully as if the box did not exist for a moment, and the box and its weight had become his hand. She reaches and slips her wrist through the bag’s loops and wraps them around it. She brings the bag to the front, eyes stuck to the plastic.
“Are you sure that you’re sure about this?” she says as she opens the bag and peers inside. The tube lights illuminate the metal of the hammer and chamber, contrasting the black of the polymer grip. She ties the bag closed.
“Well, why wouldn’t I be? We done this before, hadn’t we?” he replies, taking a cigarette as he does it. He is not much of a smoker, but sometimes stress gets the best of him. This is one of those moments. “We’re pretty good, too,” he adds.
She sighs, completely emptying her chest of Marlboro and faux pine, and says,“I reckon.”
Her eyes go back to the tubes. She is holding the bag like the green box.
“What?” he says. “You havin’ second thoughts?”
He lights the cigarette and puts his window down.
“I cain’t do this if you won’t; you know that. I won’t do it without ya.”
His eyes dart toward the tubes, too.
He throws the cigarette out. He coughs. His eyes dart toward her.
“Listen, we need to head back to Tuscaloosa, OK? I got family there that’ll help us. But that’s about two-hundred or so miles from here. Call me crazy–or whatever–but I don’t reckon we got enough money to make it there. We spent most of it gettin’ out of Lakeland,” he says as put his window up, looking out it, scanning the store’s perimeter.
His eyes dart toward her again.
“…and now we’re here in God-Who-Knows-Where, Florida, and people are lookin’ for us. We need to head north–way farther than Tuscaloosa, where Jamie is; maybe Mecklenburg County, uh, uppin’ North Carolina, up near one of them Indian reservations, where they don’t ask nothin’–but we cain’t unless we got money; you know that. This ain’t about gettin’ rich–it’s about survivin’.”
His hands remain loose and still while holding the box; hers tighten around the bag. The tube light flickers. She looks at him.