Rob looked at his dry, cracked hands, which had an odd, reddish hue from the biting New England cold. When it got this cold, sometimes it hurt the skin on his hands to do simple, ordinary things such as wrapping his hands around a steering wheel or holding the nozzle in the tank of his car at the gas pump. He still couldn’t make sense of why the nozzles were so much harder to hold than they used to be back in the ’70s and ’80s. Why did everything have to be so much more difficult? Why did they remove the small ridges at the bottom where you used to be able to flip the little latch to make the handle stay in the “pump” position? Back then, he could flip the latch and go sit back in the car and wait until the tank was full. It was just a damn gas nozzle. He never bothered to find out why they changed them.
He got back into his car, a light brown 1988 Ford Taurus. Except it wasn’t really light brown anymore. Fifteen years of cheap General Motors paint and exposure to the sun had slowly whittled most of the paint to a sad, worn-out and peeling brownish-gray. Nasty. For a fleeting moment, he thought about what a total piece of shit the car was, then remembered what it was like to walk to work every day for so long. In the New England cold.
He pulled into the parking lot of the The Clipper and got out. He stopped here every day. Just for one. He vowed to never again have more than one before going home. He had responsibilities – for now only his 3 year-old half Doberman (and half some other mutt). It was his only responsibility, but one he took seriously. He loved the dog enough to have its name and picture tattooed on his arm and he made sure to get home every night in decent shape and at a decent hour to make sure the dog was fed. He felt, perhaps, this was his last chance at true responsibility.
He closed the car door and heard the same rattle that he’d been hearing for the past year. He barely heard it anymore, the same way he’d heard about people who lived near the airport not hearing airplanes flying directly over their roof. He thought his own life was like that – that even though he was always around, nobody really saw or heard him anymore. He started walking to the door and glanced at the bumper sticker on the back bumper of the Taurus:
“92.7, The Light.”
At one point, the sticker was probably orange – it also had streaks of darker orange, clearly what was intended to be sun rays. “The Light.” How clever. Time, though, had again bared its teeth and pounced, rendering most of the sticker merely a dark shade of white. The sticker had also split into about five different sections, a result of too many humid summers and too many cold winters. The real sun rays destroyed the fake ones.
He pretended he saw the bumper breathing. Expand. Contract. Expand. Contract. He visioned the sticker splitting into five. Expand. Contract. At one point that radio station actually existed. He walked into the bar and ordered a Miler High Life.