It was an early Saturday morning, still dark out, a little cold. I pumped my gas, cigarette in my mouth, unlit since the sign said no smoking. I leaned back on my black Chevy. It was an old pickup, nothing special, but it had a little weight to it. I was on the pump closest to the street, furthest from the store. I’d paid inside with cash and I started pumping when another car pulled into the pump closest to the store. A girl got out. I should say a woman. She was young, maybe two or three years younger than me, which would put her in her early twenties; a real head-turner.
Couldn’t tell you what she was, but it wasn’t white. I’d grown up around a few of them, so I pegged her for Filipino. She had the tanned skin and black hair and dark eyes. She was something and I couldn’t help but notice it. She had a sweatshirt that had a wide neck on it, so it hung off of one shoulder. She had smooth skin and a slender neck and I liked the way her hair fell over that bare shoulder. She reached up and brushed some of it aside with her small hand, and I wondered what it would feel like to hold that hand. But she looked like a nice girl, not the kind who’d take a second look at me. Me? I was built like my pickup and twice as ugly. I figured her for a college girl. College girls don’t take construction workers home to meet mom and dad.
It wasn’t something I got real bent out of shape about. I’d never been book-smart and I never figured on making any living off of my head, and that was okay. I made honest money and truthfully, I liked construction. But it bit a little sometimes, knowing that a girl like her would never look at a guy like me. Still, I got on.
My gas pump clicked just then. It brought me out of my thoughts and I heard what the guy on the other side of my pump was saying to her. I’d be damned if he wasn’t a college boy himself. They looked as if they’d been up since yesterday morning, wired on energy drinks and maybe something else. He had two buddies in the car with him. The one up front rolled down his window and said something I didn’t catch, but I didn’t like the way he said it. She gave a fake smile and said no to whatever he said. I don’t know much about women, but I know when someone’s scared. She looked scared.
The buddy got out of the car and I closed up my gas tank and pocketed my keys, making sure my hands were free. Out of sight of everyone, I took one look at my hands. The kid pumping the gas said something else I really didn’t like. By then I knew I was going to put my hands to use. They were both on the passenger side of their car now, standing two or three steps away from her. A third guy got out of the backseat, a nasty smile on his face.
“I’m gonna fuck the shit…” he started saying. He closed the door and turned right into my fist. Like I said, I’m built like my truck and he fell right back against the car and slid down it to the pavement. The other two turned and I saw one go pale.
“Get in your fuckin’ car and get out of here,” I said. The passenger, the one who didn’t go pale, told me to fuck off. “I’mma tell you one more time,” I said, “leave her alone and get the hell out of here.”
“Hey man, we don’t want trouble,” the driver said. I threw a foot back and kicked the guy on the ground behind me. He groaned.
“Well he did. And look what it got him.” I gave them five seconds in my head, and if they hadn’t budged by then, they weren’t going to and I’d have to make them. The driver was a small guy and he looked ready to piss himself, so I looked at his buddy. He stood there with his chin and chest out like he thought he was big medicine. So I gave him some. I put my steel-toed boot right between his legs. That took the air out of him and his buddy backed up, hands raised.
“Hey man chill the fuck out,” he said and I squared up with him.
“Get in your goddamn car,” I said, pointing to it.
“Okay, okay, okay. I’m going, man.” I opened the passenger-side doors, grabbed his whining friends one at a time and threw them in.
“I see any of you again and it’ll be your turn next, got it?”
“I’m going man, Jesus fuckin’ Christ, I’m going.” He tore out of there, gas tank still open and pulled into traffic. I turned back to the girl, standing there, staring at me. She looked at me the same way she had looked at the others, like I was halfway to getting at her right there at the station.
“Sorry about all that,” I said. She tried to say something, looking around now. The gas pump clicked off. She hurried to put it back, screwed the gas cap back on and closed it up. She looked at me once more and tried to say three words at once, smiling weakly. A thanks was in there someplace, not that it mattered. “No problem,” I said and I turned back to my truck before she felt like she owed me anything else.
Driving away, I was glad I was on my way to a demolition job. I’d be swinging a sledgehammer in twenty minutes. I needed to destroy something. I’d held back a lot on those guys. It was days like this I just wanted to wreck something. I wanted to ruin those boys. I wanted to break their jaws and noses, their cheek bones, make them ugly and deformed so that everyone would know they were that way inside too. It made me sad, driving to work alone, thinking about that girl and how she’d never wear that shirt again, or do her hair that way. Maybe she’d go an extra ten minutes out of her way to get gas now, so she wouldn’t see those guys again. It made me sad that she’d have to change her life because of men like that, even more at what they might have done to her. I wondered about those boys, and what their mothers would think and feel if they knew what their sons had become.