Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Heart Pumps

He bent over and his belly kissed his belt buckle. A year of inactivity and beer consumption circled his waist like spaghetti sauce traces a toddler’s lips. He put the nozzle into the tank, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger. He planned his day as his mind paced through his prayers. He straightened his spine and open-mouthed yawned as she opened the door and walked out of the station. Her frame caught his eyes; he got caught up in his emotions. His sorrow flooded his lungs as his stress slapped sadness into his eyes.

She stopped on the apron and slid a shy smile to both sides of her face. She exhaled, stepped on the pavement, and walked to his side. “Hi.”

“Hey.” His fist tightened his fingers on the nozzle.

She shifted her heel and balanced her pumps on the pavement. “I can’t pretend I didn’t see you.”

“Oh Jesus.” He took his free hand and palmed the frame of his car. “Yeah. How are you?”

“I’m well. How are you?”

“Oh.” His eyes shifted and stared across the street. “I’m okay. No. Oh.” His belt constricted his conscience; his sorrow squashed his lungs; his shoes compressed his foundation. “No. I’m okay.”

“What’s going on? You look awful.”

“Well aren’t you little Mary Sunshine!” his pride blurted.

“Mark, how are you? How’s your foot?”

“Oh.” He averted her gaze and looked at the pump. “Oh fuck!” He started to laugh. “Oh my God!” He shook his head and removed the nozzle. His face broke into a goofed grin. “Jesus wept. I just pumped more gas than I can afford!” He put both hands over his face and pulled his pride toward his chin. “Oh my God I can’t catch a fucking break!” He dropped his hands to his hips and hugged the weight that weighted his waist. “I’m okay.” He ceased chuckling as abruptly has his laughter had erupted. “Um. I’m not really prepared to stand here and offer a litany of all the shit that’s going on right now. I can’t stand here and lie and act like I’m happy to see you. No wait. Of course I’m happy to see you. But I’m standing here fat, and broke, and depressed all to hell and, you’re like the absolute one person on earth I didn’t want to see. I mean … take the compliment. I’m just so fucking brokenhearted that I’m seeing you. Okay?”

“Mark …”

“Please don’t do that.” He shuffled his shoes. “Please don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re like the only person who calls me by my name. Do you know how much I miss hearing you say my name?” He shoved his palms into his pockets until his knuckles hit his keys.

“How’s your foot?”

“Um.” He shifted his hip and steadied his stand. “They want to take half of it. I’ve had an ulcer since February and it won’t heal. I can’t ride a bike anymore or walk or anything. That’s why I’ve gained weight. Okay, well you didn’t need to know that. Oh. Well. Anyway, they want to take half.”


He glanced at the gas pump. “I can’t do it now. I can’t afford it.”

“Mark.” She took a step forward.

“No.” He took a step back. “Thank you. Honestly. But no. I can’t do that.”

“I can help you.”

“No. Dead firm.” She knew that was his bottomed line.

“Okay. So what’s your plan?”

“Well, I plan on praying. Um … I guess the surgery can wait as long as I don’t get an infection. Oh.” He winced; his neuropathy pulsated its pain. “It supposed to really help. If I lose half, most likely I can save my leg.”

“A lot of ifs in there.” She straightened the stray shoulder strap and righted her purse.

“Yeah. Biggest if: the skin needs to be healthy to create a flap. The less healthy the skin, the higher they have to go, so the more I lose. Pray for good skin.”

“I’ll pray. How’s the book?”

“It doesn’t look like Diane Lane’s gonna play you.”

“Well, Diane Lane is getting old. I want someone younger to play me!”

He shared her laugh. “I threw the book up on Amazon and hoped for the cash, but that’s not happening either.”

“It’ll happen,” she consoled like a mother soothing a scraped shin.

His tongue trailed his lips until his courage worked the words past his pride. “Are you happy?”

“Happy wouldn’t be the word I’ve had chosen.”

“I heard the wedding was beautiful.” His ran his hand and dusted dirt from the trunk.

“I was a gorgeous bride!” She nervously laughed.

“I’m sure you were.” Propriety placed a smile on his fa├žade. He took a step back. “I … um … I don’t want to talk anymore. Okay? I … ah … I’m just going to go pay and then I’m going to leave.” He pulled his wallet from his pocket. “So, um … I’m going to walk away now because I’m humiliated about how I’ve behaved and I don’t want to make a bigger ass of myself than I have. So. Bye.” He turned and walked toward the store.

He heard her farewell as he whisked the water before the sorrow reached the outside of his eyes.