Ryan W. Bradley has fronted a punk band, done construction in the Arctic Circle, and managed an independent
children’s bookstore. His novel, Code for Failure, will be published in 2012 by Black Coffee Press. He received his MFA from Pacific University and his fiction has appeared in a myriad of publications including Gargoyle, Word Riot, Annalemma, and Pear Noir! He is the editor of Artistically Declined Press and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.
Right now there are only three of us working at the station. Craig, me, and this girl, Quinn. She’s half-deaf but doesn’t like to wear her hearing aid. Sometimes when she’s standing next to the pumps she doesn’t hear a car driving up behind her.
And she’s obsessed with Nirvana.
“Nirvana’s watered-down crap,” I say when she’s working a swing-shift that overlaps with mine. She looks like she might cry. I don’t stop. “They were the most sugar-coated butt cheese to come out of the grunge era, which is why they had so much mass appeal.”
“Kurt Cobain was a god,” she says.
“Kurt Cobain was the least talented person in that shitty band. Even other musicians in the grunge scene were shocked when Nirvana got signed. They thought of Cobain as a retarded younger brother, who they humored.”
Quinn takes In Utero out of the stereo and returns it to her backpack.
It’s five, which means Quinn should be leaving. I’m here until nine, when we close. But she hasn’t left. We haven’t had a customer in an hour, and neither of us has said a word. She’s just standing there at the dingy, fake marble countertop.
“Want me to blow you?” she says. Doesn’t even look up when she says it.
Even with all the abuse. Or maybe because of it.
I can’t look at her. “No,” I say, shaking my head. I walk out of the office into the ninety-degree evening. Not laughing. Not laughing, but wanting to.
Quinn swings her backpack onto her shoulder, doesn’t bother clocking out, just starts down the street. She’s got her headphones on. Right now she’s probably listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and thinking about cutting herself. But she’s got “chickens out” written all over her.
The next time I see Quinn she tells me she’s going to get me fired. That’s the first minute of my shift. We’ve got four hours and fifty-nine minutes of working together left. She’s got the closing shift this time, because Craig gave me the weekend off. I’m just filling in for the peak hours.
She stands in the office while I take care of every car that comes in. “Think you might want to help a bit?” I ask and she shakes her head. I’m checking a car’s oil when she screams, “You fucking rat bastard.”
I pretend I didn’t hear it. The customer, standing next to me as I wipe the dipstick off with a towel, looks at me like I should have an explanation. “Tourettes,” I say, which gets rid of the staring.
When there’s finally a moment without any cars, I go in the office. “It’d be nice if you decided to do some work today.”
“Asshole,” she says.
“I’m sorry I wouldn’t let you suck my dick.” I can’t help myself.
The bell rings. “What can I do for you today?” I put on my charmer grin and pump the gas.
Quinn gets on her cell phone and starts pacing around the office.
Three more cars pull in.
I walk into the office and clock out. “If you think this is a one person job today, you can have it.”
She stares at me.
The pumps are now backed up with two more cars. “Have fun,” I say.
I call Craig while I walk to my car. Tell him I left work. “You did what?” he says.
“Quinn was sitting around on her cell phone while I hustled my ass off. So I left. Let her do some work.”
“Did you fuck her?”
“No. Ironically that’s the problem.”
Craig lets out a sigh. “She thinks she’s going to get me fired,” I say. “I’m not going to fire you,” he says. “But leaving was unprofessional.”
Fuck that. “I’d had it with her shit. She was yelling obscenities at me in front of customers.”
“Shit,” Craig says. “I’ll see you on Monday.” But he calls me the next day. Wants to talk to Quinn and me. When I get there she’s already in the office red-faced and yelling. I hear her before I even get to the door.
“If you don’t fire him, I’ll quit,” she says. I can’t keep from smiling. Craig would never admit it, but I know he wouldn’t dream of firing me. I’m the first reliable employee he’s had since he took over as manager. He’s said it a thousand times.
“I’m not going to fire him.”
Quinn flips Craig off and walks out the door. Sticks her tongue out at me on her way past.
“Want me to take her shifts?” I ask when Craig comes out of the office. He shakes his head. “I got it. You go have your weekend. I’ll see you Monday.”