Eastern Pennsylvanians love their hoagies.
I’d pulled into a gas station after driving six hours north. The place advertised 2 for 1 liters of cola and state minimum cigarette prices. A ‘70s style goose sweeping across a setting sun illuminated above their door. Mosquitoes flocked to its luminance.
I parked the car in the rear of the lot and killed the engine and shot a look at the girl seated next to me. She yawned before opening her eyes, reluctant to exit the nap.
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” came on the oldies radio station. I looked across the center console and reached out my hand to the freckled skin on hers. “Dance with me,” I commanded.
Outside the car, we glided against a circular edge of light cast down from the lamp above, made splotchy by the pile of crispy decaying matter of former flying insects resting at the base of the light’s casing.
“Ever since I first heard it,” I said with my cheek pressed into the border of her bramble of kinky red hair, “I wanted to share a slow dance to this song.”
She pulled her head away to take a look at me, a reaction she’d learned from trusting too many ill-meaning boys. Her eyes began to search mine for a piece of evidence she might use in an accusation that I’d just breathed a line of immaculate bullshit into her ear. The stiffness in her facial muscles sank almost immediately. She’d known me for less than two days, but she knew an honest man’s face once and recognized the truth in mine.
I hadn’t been insincere. Had she been anyone else, I would have switched off the radio and let her sleep while I went inside to get what we’d stopped for.
“No one our age likes Procol Harum,” she said.
Before she propped her head onto my shoulder, I lifted my hand to pull a couple wiry strands of her red-orange hair out of her face. She was wearing a pair of cheap sunglasses she’d found in the passenger’s side door of my car. I’d taken them from a bar in New Orleans the night before I found her. Her hair was caught in the hinge and I didn’t know until I pulled at the strands and felt her scalp tug back.
“Leave it,” she said, her voice cracked and smoldered like the campfire we lit the night before. “Sway with me before we go inside.”
The song’s alway made me feel like I’ve snuck aboard this luxury cruise, surrounded by an infinite number of swanky acquaintances, most notably a tall woman who wears long, white gloves who’s been teasing me with the possibility of an intimate tour of her cabin for two days and I as get up to leave all the fraternal lot of them after dinner on the third night at sea, I curse her. When I get back to my room and she’s sitting there in the armchair by the porthole, like a spotlight on a stage and I never want to blink away the fog from the highballs I’ve been tossing back. I want to stand in the doorway and never have to move.
She felt something hard in the front of my shorts and gave me a curt, head-tilted smile as she patted the taut fabric.
“I can’t promise I won’t use it,” I said, coming out of the trance the song put me under.
“At least try not to,” she said. “This time.”
The song was over. I leaned toward her, intent on planting a small kiss on her forehead when she put her hand out to my chest.
“You should know I hate when people kiss my forehead,” she said.
I pulled away from her, unsmiling, and moved toward the doors of the store, drifting out past the circumference of our yellow dance floor. Our hands dropped away from each other, cinematically, as I left her standing next to my car, reaching into the open window to turn the engine over so we might drive out of the parking lot once I’d rid the register and the people inside of all their hoagie money.