I rapped on the trunk.
“Back soon Rube. Call of nature.”
There was no reply. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. Or maybe I couldn’t hear him. Which was just as well, didn’t want my precious cargo attracting any attention. I began the walk to the service station, my goddamn bladder kicking me for pulling up in such a far, secluded spot of the carpark.
Washing my hands after attending to the necessary, I glimpsed myself in the smeared mirror. Between the speckles, I thought my grey eyes looked darker than they did this morning. The frown line deeper. The flickering bulb making a few more white hairs glimmer. I had visions of myself looking about ten years older than my 52 by the end of the day. But my heart was lighter, if beating faster. The plan I’d spent about a year cooking up was finally coming to the boil.
Pushing the door I stepped back out into the heat of the day. A young couple emerged from the service station shop, a dark-haired woman complaining because her guy was strolling on ahead of her, jangling his car keys, leaving her carrying the bags of water and soda. Seeing those bags seemed to draw all the moisture from my mouth.
I shielded my hand and looked for the car. Yep, still there, idiot.
Little Reuben could probably use a drink too.
It was decided, I was going in. Hadn’t planned this long a pit stop, but hey, I like to think I’m a reasonable, adaptable dude.
I held the door open for a bent over, hobbling woman. Public persona: polite at all times. Inner monologue: “hurry the fuck up, ya old bitch”. While I waited months for her to inch over the threshold, I looked around the entrance. Sunglasses stands looking like rows of blank eyes judging me. Beach ball containers a blaze of neon. Plastic buckets and spades taking me back to when I first met Reuben when his Frisbee landed near my feet on the beach that day. His hair soft as the golden sands and his eyes blue like the ocean. Observing his tiny shell fingernails as I handed over his toy. That perfectly formed mouth saying thank you. Words that warmed me in places the sun couldn’t touch.
I blinked and glanced around quickly, so sure that my vivid recollections had been so forceful they’d penetrated the minds of other customers. The old nanny goat was fumbling at a puzzle book and in still holding the door I was only letting out all the air con.
I went down to the back of the shop where they kept the chilled drinks. I opened the door to grab a bottle of mineral water for myself. But then I spotted iced tea. I could use one of those as well. I clucked my tongue in frustration while I waited for the door to want to open again.
What to get little Reuben? He was a healthy, glowing child, he probably isn’t allowed cola too often. But would presenting him with a fizzy thirst-quenching prize endear me to him? So far today he’d been quite resistant to attempts to engage him. Vocally too. That is why, regretfully, I had to fix on the strip of gaffer tape, praying it would result in no damage to those delicate lips.
Ah, the tape, of course. Perhaps a drink with a straw would be the best option. Then I would only need to make a small indentation to allow the straw to pass through, meaning any screams would turn into mere whistles, would they not?
I balanced both of my drinks in the crook of my left arm and grabbed a carton of orange juice with my right. But what if he hated oranges? I had a tug of war with the door again before taking a carton of apple juice. I looked forward to learning all the answers to these mysteries as I got to know my little angel.
I navigated through the maze of book stands, flowers and alcohol, wondering if there was anything that shop didn’t sell, and made my way to the cashier. I put my items on the counter, noting the teenager’s fingers flying across his phone as he presumably finalised a message.
“Be with ya in one sec,” he mumbled.
I swallowed my huff of annoyance and consoled myself with thoughts of the manners I would instil in my boy. Glancing around while I waited, my eyes were drawn to the undulating movements of a slushy machine.
The cashier was finally ready, but I’d been thrown into an icy quandary.
I picked the juice boxes back up off the counter.
“Just a moment please,” I told the teen.
I stood in front of the machine. All children were thrilled by slushies, surely. The perfect combination of drink and dessert. And they came with straws. It was the perfect solution.
Only which colour?
I looked at the red one. Red for excitement. I looked at the blue one. Blue for calm, blue like those glorious eyes. But red…for love? Blue…for boys?
“Y’know, you can have a mix of both colours.” Apparently the teen wasn’t entirely oblivious to the world around him. “Makes purple,” he added, unnecessarily.
“Excellent, I’ll go with that option. Thank you.”
“Small, medium or large?”
Christ, not more choices, I thought.
“Medium,” I spat, growing conscious of how long I’d been away from my car and its contents.
“Sure thing. Comin’ up.”
The old bitch had moved quicker than the slush coming out of that wretched machine.
I slammed some money down and told him to keep the change. I hurried out the door, this time not bothering to check for any septuagenarians behind me that might need assistance.
I was panting by the time I was halfway to the car and it wasn’t just the sun’s fault. I had a feeling, a tiny pinprick of doubt, a fear that grew with every step. They talk about women’s intuition, but I consider myself very in touch with my feminine side and I knew before I saw the thing that confirmed it that there was something very off about this picture.
A backseat door was open. Losing grip of my bag, bottles went rolling across the asphalt. I ran the rest of the way.
My perfect angel had flown from me. Examining the backseat, I realised something I’d missed in all my planning. The hatch behind the armrest that allowed access to the trunk. Oh, he was a clever one, my boy.
I jumped into the driver’s seat, put the car into reverse and drove for the exit. Perhaps I still had a chance to catch Reuben. In the wing mirror I watched a pool of purple slush vanishing behind me, twinkling as the sun drank it up.