(This is post 2/100 of my #100days of writing)
“Your hair looks sunshine!”
“Oh. Oh, why thank you.” The mail carrier was blonde. He never thought of it as anything special, certainly not in a town where everybody looked just like him. He broke into a smile nonetheless and he watched Brenda walk past him on the sidewalk.
The day was sunny and warm and her skirt and blouse felt cool and soft on her skin. The rubber soles of her sneakers bounced with each step and she would bend to the side to smell roses as they past or chrysanthemums in the flowerbeds by the fences. The sum of her plans for the day involved the very thing she was doing so she took extra time dallying with each interesting plant or friendly pet that she uncovered on the walk.
At the end of 5th street, right where the highway curves through town, the houses and green yards give way to gray concrete and a laundromat and speeding cars and the gas station. Brenda reached her hand out to the last tree on the street to let it’s bark slide across her palm and then she found herself on the pavement of the gas station.
She paused, briefly, to allow an SUV to pass in front of her as it entered the station and pulled up to get in the queue for a car wash. Just beyond the yellow paint on the ground where the SUV stopped was a woman sitting with her back against a propane tank with her legs splayed out onto the sidewalk. Brenda walked up to her.
“Change?” the woman looked up at Brenda’s face.
“You want my loose change?” Brenda looked down.
The woman shook the Big Gulp cup to reveal a small collection of unsorted coins.
“Friend, you’re not going to earn much just getting change. Why don’t you ask me for a hundred-dollar bill?”
The woman’s hand ceased jingling the coins and a heartbeat later her whole body leaned back and she let out a guffaw. Brenda smiled.
“I mean, while you’re at it you could be collecting some serious dough out here. How are you going to get a house and a nice car and take a nice vacation every year with just change?”
The woman’s smile revealed few teeth but the expression draped all across her sun-kept skin from her chin to the edge of her hairline and from ear to ear.
“Hey, I told ya’ lady, you gotta sit someplace else!”
Brenda looked up to see a tall Pakistani man walking toward her. Behind him the double glass doors of his gas station closed slowly.
“I’m not tryin’ to be a jerk here. I just can’t have you bothering everybody.” The man was visibly conflicted.
“I’m Brenda.” She was holding out her hand to him. “Gul.” He shook it gently.
“I’m Mary,” said the woman still seated on the ground. The name didn’t help them guess the woman’s age. Brenda turned to Gul.
“I was just telling Mary here that she should be asking for more than loose change. Like twenties and hundreds.”
Gul gave her a patient but uninterested and somewhat condescending smile. Mary, strangely, give her the same.
“What? Why can’t she ask for more?” Brenda’s body language started to lose it’s happy-go-lucky demeanor as she shifted her weight on her feet and looked back at the two other people.
“Yeah, sure, that’s actually a good idea,” Gul said, “and I hope it works. Look, I’m shorthanded today and I don’t need this. I gotta go run the car wash.”
Gul walked off with his shoulders low and Brenda reached down toward Mary with an eager, mischievous gesture. She waited until Mary grasped her and then, pulling the very frail woman up off the ground, she led them both in the direction Gul had walked.
He was talking to somebody inside the SUV through the driver’s window as Brenda and Mary snuck past him into the attendant booth of the automated car wash. Brenda placed Mary on the tall black barstool in the middle of the small room and grabbed two blue-and-white striped train engineer hats off a hook on the wall. The controls were actually pretty easy to figure out — there was only one big green button and three toggles for what kind of soap or rinse or wax the driver wanted.
Gul turned from the car to see Brenda standing in the doorway of the booth with one of his novelty hats on. “The hell you doing, lady?! Get outta there, I have work to do and you’re gonna break my store!”
“Just a moment, Gul! Hold on, I think we can do this. Look, it’s just a single button and some switches, right? Tell me what the customer ordered and I’ll make sure it’s done right. No cost. You can go back inside and work the till.”
“No, I don’t –”
“Just one car, okay? Promise.”
Gul made no move for few seconds and then blurted out “I’m not paying you!” as he handed Brenda a small card and turned on his heels and swept back to the store. Brenda heard him add something like “and no tips!” before his voice was lost.
The car lurched forward and fan noises and whirs emanated from the car wash facility. Brenda rushed inside to see Mary gleefully spinning on her stool and flipping one of the switches. The green button was now lit and Brenda read the notes on the card to turn on simonize waxing and turn off the other toggles. Then she opened a little door that led from the booth to a walkway that followed along the side of the washing facility and pulled Mary off the stool.
They walked sideways, slowly along the little hallway between a concrete wall and a glass one. On the other side of the glass was the SUV, red with Oregon plates, making its way just as slowly through the system. In the backseat were two young boys in booster seats pointing and, Brenda presumed, squealing at the swishing of long ropes of fabric that look like linguini that took the the windows like an octopus swallowing the car at the bottom of the sea. Fans danced water droplets across the windows of the car and then a giant rolling pin with arms spun up the windshield and over the car. Mary pointed out to Brenda that the simonize wax was the last application, just after the last rinse. As the streams of wax coated the car Mary opened the door at the far end of the hallway and led Brenda out to where the car was leaving.
The last thing that the young boys in the car saw was two ladies standing and waving at them, wearing the hats of train engineers. The boys waved back their thanks.