You rolled down the window to flick your cigarette's ash into the concrete below us, segmented and uncaring. Some of the floating embers melt into the slight wind, consuming themselves all too quickly. The ones that survive the flight settle on the concrete, on the rubber pylon, on the pay mechanisms, tiny compounds of dying fire in the wilderness screaming out for survival against all unfavorable odds down the barrel of inevitability's gun.
I look up from the embers to see your face. You and me, girlfriend, are dying fire too.
You're hunched over in the back left passenger seat, behind my driving. When we are in motion you are always catching up, a mere two feet constancy making up in distance what we lack in time. It's either I'm out of step or you are; you're tapdancing and I'm standing still. Disunison. Disillusion. Illusion.
"Hey, come on. Put out your cigarette."
You belch out something between indignant glare and apathetic stare, delivering it on cue. You are the run down roadside convenience store whose quarts of milk sit stagnant on the bottom racks, consistently sour. I'm living in your backroom icebox somewhere between the indecipherable cubes and wedges. It's positively suffocating me.
"No, seriously. This is a gas station."
And before I turn to gauge your dose of apathy I envision first my hands engulfed in flame. Then my entire body. Then your body. Then my car. Then the entire gas station. Then the neighborhood. City. State. Country. World blazing from a charm bracelet of fire circling the wrist of oblivion.
I am holding the gas nozzle in my hand and imagine what your lungs must look like. Like the underbelly of my car after we hit the soft wet construction tar five miles back. Like a stretched-out water balloon stained urine-yellow from chemicals I can't even pronounce. Like the smouldering ruins of cities smashed, a rash of ash orbiting the sad sac with which you breathe.
Just then, you flick some more of your disintegrating brand-name tobacco product onto the gas station grounds and I watch the exhaust part from your lips the same way hot geysers vomit vapors from fractures in the earth.
"I'm not going to put it out," you say.
And there's nothing else I can do, girlfriend. I've sacrificed this thing the experts call dignity and this thing the pundits call self-respect. I've prayed at your altar and slaughtered in your name too many times. I've been your mercenary and your whore. I've been the delivery guy at your door. I have forfeited every shred of myself to be with you. You have forfeited nothing.
The gasoline has traveled from mysterious metal tanks beneath the concrete through a stretchy opaque tube into the eleven gallon tank. The flow is cut off now; the nozzle has run dry. Yet still I cannot pull out.
You finish your cigarette and flick it away into the cold inconceivable wasteland that lives outside the realm of your immediate needs. Your fingertips were a soft pink three nights ago wrapped up in the vortex of my embrace. Now they are yellow and rough, like cheap snakeskin. You know, the kind you see in casino gift shops and desert highway truck stops. The kind hustlers buy wholesale.
"What's wrong, baby? It's time to go," you say.
What's wrong, baby.
And that was the moment I first realized, girlfriend.
Even if you manage not to carelessly set us ablaze.
It's time to go.