Issue 7 - Fall 2013
  • I had just pulled off the exit to a town I never intended to come back to, the industrial lights of the Texaco station brave, their high-pitched hum like an alarm left on in an empty room. Late summer, late night, the end of a drive from a small town outside of Vail to West Texas. The phone in my apartment, I knew, had not been turned on yet. I’d gone ten hours without the radio after ending the summer when I pulled out of the gravel drive that afternoon toward the spiraling road on the way to Leadville, the long descent to New Mexico, the curves of Ratan Pass, the flattening out of the landscape, then the straight highway and the middle of the night. My black Jeep packed with mismatched suitcases, boxes of books, my oscillating fan, my Mac Classic II, my Ragdoll cat, Mr. McBeavy, and the last five hundred and ninety-two miles. The sky clear, the moon full.

    I drove right up to the corner of the station, not even closing the door when I got out, stretched, and took off the blue sweatshirt I had needed in the mountains. I dialed Kenny’s number, my AT&T long distance code and password, listened to it ring three times. He answered, sure it was me, asked about the trip, how it felt to be back. “It’s hot here,” I said. He told me not to get too absorbed. I remember it clearly. Kenny knew before I did I’d get lost there  ............

  • again. “Don’t get too absorbed.” And I told him I wouldn’t as I squeezed the receiver, stared out at the ongoing cotton fields of the Panhandle, missed the silhouette of the mountains, the sound of the river running outside my window. There are no rivers in the Texas panhandle, just the hiss of massive irrigation systems churning over fields. I hung up, headed inside the glare of the station, bought a dollar scratch off and a soft pack of Marlboro Lights from the bearded guy behind the counter, undid the thin strip, and tossed the plastic into the trash next to the door. Outside, I watched the lights of cars flash by on the highway, noticed Mr. McBeavy curled, asleep, on top of a pile of blankets and my pillow. I went back to sit in my Jeep.

    Propping the door open with my left foot, I pulled a penny from the cup holder, ran it across a tic-tac-toe board and won a free ticket, breaking even with a chance to gamble again. Then I wiped off the gray residue from the ticket and blew it from the creases in my shorts to the ground below. I grabbed the lighter from the dash and lit a cigarette, sighing out the smoke, staring at the pay phone.

    I couldn’t go far, that rigid silver cord taut, unyielding. Just  ............

  • moments ago, I had held the hookswitch down with two fingers to clear the line. When I let go, the dial tone hummed a separation. Once, I saw the black handle of a pay phone propped across the cradle, as if the call—or a decision—were on hold. No one around. Maybe someone couldn’t bring themselves to hang up.

    I knew I’d be back in the morning, punching all those numbers again, convinced as long as I could hear Kenny’s voice on the phone. I had only come as far as the gas station, my new apartment only a few blocks away and classes starting in a week. A blue car with Oklahoma plates pulled into the far pump on the right side.

    Maybe I was unwilling to leave the station because I sensed that within a few months, I’d open the phone bill, the list of calls to Minturn, Colorado diminishing, then disappearing. I must have suspected that after enough time back in Texas I’d let the phone ring until the machine picked up, or I’d turn off the ringer, the volume on the machine. But on this night, as long as I stayed in the parking lot, I was still halfway between him and Texas.

    A thin woman in glasses pulled up in a white car, took over the  ............

  • bearded guy’s shift after a smoke on the opposite corner of the station. I wondered how much longer it would stay dark.

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