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Guest Writer

She was so tired of it all ...
The shift
by Terry Lopez

orking the graveyard shift was a bitch. Jack was never sure who would come through the smudged glass doors.

On quiet nights when he stepped outside for a cigarette he could hear the horses in the dusty meadow across the street. The blazing lights from the Chevron station and the cars rumbling past on the interstate kept them on edge, quietly snorting and pawing the ground.

Other nights it was a madhouse, everyone in the small hick town converging on the convenience store at once, half drunk and looking for cheap beer and frozen burritos. Those nights he was lucky if he had time to finish all the cleaning before the manager came on at 6 a.m.

Tonight it had been slow, with only his regular late-night beer-and-cigarettes customers and the occasional traveler filling up and getting a free cup of coffee before hitting the road again. The store was empty and he'd already finished mopping and cleaning the bathrooms. Three more hours and all he had left to clean was the garbage-strewn parking lot outside. Jack was making a fresh pot of vanilla nut when she walked through the door.

He looked up when she entered, but she didn't pay any attention to him. Adjusting her dark glasses, she looked around the store as if looking for something.

"Can I help you?" Jack asked politely.

She ignored him.

Great, he thought, another one. He didn't know why all the good-looking women who came into the station ignored him. Just because he worked in a convenience store didn't mean he was a loser. This one was just one more bitch who treated him like he was a nobody.

Even though he hated being snubbed, he forced himself to plant a smile on his unshaven face. He'd already gotten busted last week for mouthing off at a customer. His rent on the trailer in the concrete park down the street was minimal, but jobs were hard to come by. Three more hours, he told himself, then he'd be able to kick back and have a beer for breakfast.

He walked behind the counter and stationed himself next to the cash register. He watched her as she wandered around the store. She had long blond hair and wore her Levi's tight, not like most of the girls these days, with their baggy, torn jeans and snarled hair. Her sunglasses hid her eyes, but he'd bet they were blue. Probably cold as ice, he thought.

Jack wondered why she wore the glasses at three in the morning. He guessed she was one of those uptight women who had to wear a complete ensemble, and the glasses went with her jeans, black leather jacket and red cowboy boots.

He opened the register and pretended to count the money as he watched her. She was still going up and down the three short aisles, but she wasn't stopping and looking at anything. She acted like she was in a hurry, hunting for one particular thing.

He glanced out the window to see what she was driving. A black Datsun 280Z was idling just outside the front doors. He could see the dark shape of a man sitting in the driver's seat and the burning ash of a cigarette. The window was down, the driver's stubby fingers tapping impatiently against the side of the car.

Jack realized he hadn't had a cigarette for a couple of hours. Once the woman left, he'd be able to go out back and suck one down. As she neared the front of the store again, Jack decided to try to hurry her along. Maybe she's just stoned, he thought, and doesn't know what she wants.

"You sure you don't need some help?"

This time she jumped slightly and turned towards him.

"Where's the rice?" she said rudely.

I was right the first time, he thought. She's just another stuck-up bitch.

He told her where the rice was. She'd walked right past it twice before. She picked up a box of Minute Rice and shuffled toward the register. She absentmindedly placed the box on the counter.

"Anything else?" Jack asked as he rang up the rice.

She didn't answer as she held out a five-dollar bill. Jack took it and gave her the change.

"Need a bag?"

Without speaking, she picked up the box of rice and left the store.

"Bitch," Jack said as the sports car squealed out of the lot. "They're all bitches ..."

elanie walked into the Chevron station with dread. She hoped they wouldn't have the rice her husband had sent her in to buy. She looked away as the scruffy clerk greeted her. She was afraid he'd be able to tell she had a black eye even though she was wearing her biggest pair of sunglasses. She didn't want to be rude, but she was embarrassed that her husband had hit her when she burned the rice.

With her luck, the convenience store would have the rice. You could find anything these days, even in a gas station. I'll just pretend to look for it, she told herself, then I'll leave.

She walked quickly up and down the aisles, avoiding eye contact with the clerk. She didn't want his help, and if her husband happened to see him talking to her, she'd get another black eye for sure. One a night was enough.

Still, getting a black eye was better than what he'd wanted to do to her with the rice. She'd burned it until it was brown and smoking, hoping it was late enough so he'd just forget the whole idea. But he had made her get dressed in the jeans he'd bought her, the ones she hated because they were so tight, and drive with him to the Chevron station. At least he was waiting in the car. He wouldn't go in anywhere he couldn't smoke.

That should be long enough, she thought. She wanted to spend just enough time in the store to convince her husband she really had looked for the rice, but not so long that he got pissed at her again. She walked toward the glass leading out of the store. I'm safe, she thought. Home free. No rice, no weird shit tonight.

Just as she made it to the front of the store, the clerk stopped her with a question.

"Are you sure you don't need some help?"

"Where's the rice?" she blurted, too flustered to lie.

He told her and she reluctantly went back to get it.

Great, she thought. Minute Rice. Her feet slowed as she neared the cash register. At least they could have had the slow-cooking kind. That would have given me some time, and maybe he would have fallen asleep before it was ready. But probably he would have just gotten drunker and more pissed off.

She set the rice on the counter, holding a five-dollar bill out to the clerk. She tried to think of some way to escape the situation she was in, but she was just too tired. Crying and begging for mercy took a lot out of a girl.

The clerk was saying something to her. She couldn't be bothered with answering him now. All she could think of was what was going to happen when she got home. She picked up the rice and headed slowly out the door.

As she settled into the car, she turned to look at her husband. He was leering at her, no doubt excited by the thought of what he was going to do to her.

Only you would come up with such a perverted idea, she shuddered. Human sushi-roll sex night.

She sighed as she realized she was just minutes away from being smothered in rice and raw fish by her depraved husband. She was so tired of all of it.

Well, she thought resignedly as the car peeled out of the deserted parking lot, at least he didn't order wasabi.

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