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 nine p.m. 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 numbered 2 and 4, and the grimy car wash buckets, seldom emptied or used, appear to have felt the frost, too. No one is buying gasoline at this time of night.
Systematically, it seems, a few enter for a Wednesday-night liquor run. In and out. As the eleven p.m. closing time draws closer and the liquor runs become less frequent, the night, impenetrable and relentless, remains alive, while 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 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. She was in too much of a hurry to adjust the seat’s position, it seems. 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 or more, maybe.
“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,” she says.
A wiped lipstick print stains the console where there should be an airbag. He grabs a pack of Marlboro Reds 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. “No one liked working there…”
His voice trails off and he coughs; the smoke is thick, even with the window down. The car’s atmosphere consists of one-half Marlboro Reds, one-fourth pine tree-scented car freshener, and one-fourth oxygen.
He slides another box from underneath the loose papers, legal documents, and soon-to-be-empty Marlboro Reds cartons into his hand; it is a thick box.
The inside of the car mirrors the disheveled exterior: in the nearest backseats, a rug carpet dashboard cover is thrown carefully on the seats, spread out, covering the middle. A plastic bag sits depressedly on top.
Two or three wooden baseball bats lay discreetly in the farthest back. Frayed nylon rope and a packed-up tent lie among the oddities, too. Some of the oddities, like the bats and the nylon, look recently used: one bat is missing chunks of its distinctive white ash at the middle, near the end of its black lizard skin grip, which marks the beginning of the barrel—the entrance to the sweet spot. The rope is unraveled and cut-to-shreds.
Despite their condition, the oddities have a settled and well-worn charm. This is unlike the driver, who shakes her left leg as a tic, while her right foot rests on top of the gas pedal ready to accelerate backward, away from here.
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.
“So,” she says, her gaze still fixed on the lights, like a fly drawn to stimuli, “What are we gonna do?”
The lights have her.
He looks at her, half-confused. Closing the glove box, he says, “Well, whatever we got to.”
“Hand me that there in the back, will ya,” he says.
“The bag?” she says, referring to the bag currently cluttering the backseats.
She unbuckles herself and turns around, reaching for the bag. She suddenly stops herself.
“You sure about this?” she asks, her eyes fixed on the bag, her body still as threatened prey.
“I am,” he says. “Hand me the bag.”
He speaks sternly but holds the box loosely and still, like a glass Christmas ornament. The box looks ornamental, too; it is green, pharmaceutical almost.
He shakes the box carefully as if the box did not exist for a moment, and the box and its weight had become a part of his hand. She reaches and slips her wrist through the bag’s loops, and wraps them around her. She brings the bag to the front, gaze melted to the plastic.
“Are you sure that you’re sure about this?” she asks again as she opens the bag and peers at the weighted object 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, ain’t we?” he replies, taking a cigarette as he says it.
He is not much of a smoker but, sometimes, stress overcomes him. This is sometimes. “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 ain’t gon’ 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 and his eyes dart back to 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 pauses mid-sentence to put up his window; looking out it, he scans 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 can’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.
Hayden is a writer from Graceville, Florida. You can follow him here.
Artwork courtesy of Chin H. Shin