West and This is It
The pump clunked. Dena fought the urge to top off the gas in the rental car. The nozzle trigger went slack in her hand.
The tank can overflow if you do that. Trust the machine to know what you need. It's not the apocalypse, or anything. You can always fill up again.
That's what her dad had said when she was sixteen, before he got sick. He’d taught her to drive, pump gas, check the oil, change a tire. Everything you’ll need to know, he’d said.
But he didn’t know everything. Dena gave the trigger one extra squeeze. She’d learned there was a lot of variety when it came to apocalypses.
On the other side of the gas station parking lot, in front of the KFC-Taco Bell hybrid, Chris paced with his phone pressed to his ear. Even from a distance, Dena could spot the big-eyed, scrunchy-eyebrowed look of irritation he always wore when he spoke to his father. Dena swiped Chris's debit card. She punched in the PIN--1991. The year Chris was born.
What an idiot.
Chris stomped towards Dena, his rage undercut by the squeak of his ratty Chuck Taylors.
"What did he say?"
"He makes me insane, I swear."
"Did you tell him the new RV fuel pump's going to be way cheaper than paying for this rental car all the way back?"
"Yeah. He knows. He's going to help us out."
"Then why are you all arghghgh?"
"It's just like--now we owe him. He even said so. 'I've invested in your journey, and I want to see you make something of it.' Fuuuuuuck," Chris said, splaying his body over the hood of the rented Ford Fiesta.
Dena’s stomach gave an angry twist. The tornado of emotional options set its whirring path straight for Dena's gut. She could say: At least you have a father. She could say: I realize that my father dying of cancer does not make your relationship with your father any less real or difficult. She could say: Your dad’s right. What the fuck are we doing with our lives?
Instead she said:
"I think we should get some Kentucky-Fried-Tacos now."
Dena had met Chris’s father a few months before when he invited them to dinner. Chris had spent the whole day brainstorming ways they could get out of it and complaining about his father’s expectations.
“What, are you afraid he won’t like me?” Dena asked as they pulled up in his father’s driveway.
"No. It’s not that. But Dad’s going to want the story of everything. Of how we met. Our first date. That kind of crap."
"Just--it's important to him. So we're going to say we met on the quad and then I asked you out on a coffee date to Blackbird, okay?"
Dena and Chris had not met on the quad. They had met when Dena's usual drug hookup was low on supply, and he'd referred her to Chris. She grumbled at the inconvenience of it--Chris lived on the other side of town--but she'd spent the afternoon at her dad's chemo appointment, and she just needed to bliss out in her dorm room and stop feeling things.
And there was Chris. He believed in try-before-you-buy. He told her she was beautiful and intriguing. She told him about the shit day she'd had. He didn't try to fix her. He didn't say it would all be okay. He just said, "I think you should maybe stay here," so she did. And then she never really left.
So when they rang the doorbell and Chris's father answered, a salt-and-pepper Chris with nicer clothes, she'd gone with the story.
"He bought me a cup of tea and a muffin, and we just connected."
Chris's father had smiled. He’d poured more wine and told endearing Chris-as-a-toddler tales that involved Chris trying to flush foreign objects down the toilet or dumping an entire bag of flour onto the kitchen floor to make snow angels. He’d told his own stories: backpacking in Europe. Dropping out of school and getting really lucky in the tech boom. Healing from his divorce from Chris’s mom by getting into meditation and bluegrass music.
As Dena bit into her crunchwrap supreme, she decided that his dad’s "make something of the journey" spiel was just more of the same. The importance of the narrative. The story of how we met, the story of how we fell in love, the story of how we drove into the unknown and changed our lives.
But that’s not how our generation does it, Dena thought. "Going steady" begat "dating" begat "going out" begat "talking," and now most of the relationships Dena knew had been formed through a few flirtatious text messages, then hanging out until both parties realized accidental exclusivity had set in. And, so far, the other stories in her life had been just as haphazard.
Chris was three-quarters of the way through a bowl of potatoes layered with Kentucky fried chicken, corn, cheese, and gravy. He stopped to blow a straw paper at her.
Some rules stayed the same through the generations, though: when a person supports you through the death of your father, through the funeral, through sitting on the floor with a lockbox of insurance papers way beyond your comprehension level, that person gets to stay.
"Dude, I think this chicken-bowl-of-death was supposed to come with a cookie," Chris said.
“Short-shifted by the man!” Dena said.
Her phone buzzed.
R we ordering the part, or nah?
“Should I tell Jennifer yes, then?” she asked Chris.
“Word,” he said. “Let’s do it. Long live the Chinook. My dad owns us either way.”
“Trust the machine to know what you need,” Dena murmured.
“Nothing. Go get your cookie. Actually, make it two.”
Yup, order it, she texted Jennifer. She watched Chris approach the counter, then give his place in line to a woman with three little kids. His t-shirt was tucked into his ironic Pokemon-print boxers on one side. He talked to the cashier for a moment, then turned around and gave Dena a double thumbs up.
Long live everything. She gave a thumbs-up back.
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Rob Gregory
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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