Petrolandia – A Man and His Son
It was one thirty in the morning when they came in.
It’d been a quiet night and I’d fallen into the lull, letting my guard down after too many hours where nothing had happened. I glanced up from my laptop as they entered – the man in his early fifties or late forties, his son maybe ten – and immediately went back to the laptop. I had a write-on and kept an eye on them only to make sure they weren’t going to steal anything.
Their car was some sporty red coupe, the proof of a midlife crisis. The man was eager and his son was tired as they prowled the shelves, looking for something that they could not find. The man kept looking at me like I should ask him something but seemed put off by my silence and apathy, which only told me he’d never worked retail.
“What are your specials?” he asked. I glanced in his direction.
“Specials?” I glanced around. The soft lighting lit the interior, the plastic shelves and metal framing, the dull glass slightly fogged up from the warmth of the store and the cold of the fridge. I’d been working gas station graveyards for six months and no one had asked for anything aside from their change or the key to the bathroom.
“I’m sorry,” I said, then paused. “Specials?”
“Yeah, specials,” he said, impatient. “Drinks, candy bars, what?”
I glanced around. Red print on yellow backed stickers stood in front of what deals there were. I indicated them and went back to my laptop, sighed as he approached the counter.
“You’re telling me you don’t know what your specials are?” he asked.
“This is isn’t a restaurant,” I said, stowing the laptop. “I’m not a waiter.”
“But you work here,” he drawled. I made a point of looking at the shirt I wore.
“Huh. It appears I do. And?”
“You should know what your specials are,” he said.
“Sir, I don’t care,” I answered. “I get paid minimum wage to sit here six nights a week. My literal job description is to protect the cigarettes from heroin addicts. Anything else I do is a bonus.”
The man stared at me.
“My job description is to protect the cigarettes from heroin addicts,” I repeated, glancing outside. “Anything else I do is a bonus.”
“There many heroin addicts around here?” the man asked, mocking.
I kept looking outside. South of the gas station was a drug building. West of me was a drug building. North of me was a series of motels that were also drug buildings. South-west was the First Nations Reserve. East was a series of twisted alleys and small businesses that closed early and, in the dark, various addicts used them to shoot up, get high, and pass out.
This was supposed to be an affluent neighborhood during the day, but at night…
“You’d be surprised,” I answered.
He stared at me, then waved over his son.
“You’d be surprised, I think,” he said. “Do you know who I am?”
“Someone who is trying and failing to impress a graveyard shift employee at a gas station?”
“I’ll have you know that I’m very important to this community,” he said, puffing himself up.
“Good on you,” I said, glancing at my laptop. “Let me know if you want to buy something.”
“Did you hear?” he asked, turning to his son and laughing. “This guy is supposed to protect cigarettes from heroin addicts! What an idiot!”
His son and I shared a look. Bleary-eyed as he was, the son understood things his father never would.
The man was still mocking me when the doors burst open and the heroin addict rushed inside. He was a twitchy withered thing, greasy hair and skin browned from street dirt. He sprinted to get behind the counter and at the shelves of cigarettes. I was already on my feet, met him in the crack that separated the back from the rest of the store. He weighed nothing and pushing him back felt like pushing a sickly scarecrow. He stumbled back into a chip display and flailed to the ground, shambling to all fours and hissing at me. I stood my ground, cautious, waiting.
He sized me up, then bolted from the store.
The man looked at me in horror.
“What,” he paused, licked his lips as the addict ran past his car. “What was that?”
“Heroin addict,” I shrugged. “He’ll be back in a few hours to try again. Are you going to buy anything?”
The man shuffled out, taking his son and some small purchases with them.
A month later, I would recognize the man’s face on a campaign poster. I would not vote for him.