Perhaps it was the way the woman in name brand stilettos ostentatiously flipped her hair over her left shoulder, but Ruby knew she already hated the bitch in front of her at the fancy, brightly lit gas station-restroom stop-coffee shop-snack bar-lunch counter-convenience store that had grown, as if from a seed, in a dilapidated corner lot near her “garden” apartment on Traverse Street. Gas stations used to smell like fuel with horrid, unkempt restrooms that confoundingly required a key. Coffee used to be acceptable in the form of dissolvable crystals stirred in to hot water, recipients grateful for a warm cup and a listening ear. Snack bars used to have several kinds of candy, snuff, and bait. Lunch counters used to have vinyl-covered stools with short order cooks in white caps, and tuna melts on the list of daily specials. Convenience stores used to be places to stop on the way home from work to get toilet paper when you couldn’t stand the thought of driving out of the way to the mega grocery store on the outskirts of town and standing in a long line of people writing carefully signed checks.
Ruby was not about to complain about a good, clean restroom with operational plumbing and a pleasant, just-washed scent, but honest to god, what was with these people who pouted, as the stiletto woman in front of her did, when told the grab-and-go pasta entrees were not available in gluten-free pesto, and the cheesesteak was not made with certifiably free range beef. Used to be that it was the local drunks (before alcoholism was a thing people talked about and a disease and something to go to rehab for) who were the only ones pitching a fit when they lost track of time and argued against the blue laws that didn’t let the proprietors sell them any alcohol until afternoon on Sundays. Now a whole slew of new people had arrived on this side of the tracks, with their man buns and penchant for vintage clothing.
Ruby was tired, the kind of tired that settles in your bones without any intention of leaving unless long, uninterrupted naps are substituted for a weekend of household chores. After changing linens and making beds and scrubbing tile and vacuuming carpets and carefully folding toilet paper into the management-preferred deep V shape and emptying wastebaskets and collecting the recyclables and other items left by “guests” who treated their hotel rooms as their personal MMA match rings, Ruby wanted nothing more than to buy some aspirin for the headache that started after seeing what one traveler had left behind in the whirlpool tub, and some ice cream to chase it with before settling in to the couch for a Netflix binge-fest. Alas, stiletto woman was keeping her from such bliss.
With a sigh, Ruby headed off to the shelves and soon returned to the register where she plunked down beef jerky, cheese in a can, and crackers while yelling, Have THIS for dinner you god-damned entitled gentrifying witch. It’s on me.
Ruby slammed down enough bills to cover the stiletto woman’s meal plus the aspirin and ice cream, before striding out of the store in her slippers, Aloha t-shirt, and ripped sweatpants. In retrospect, she was glad she left her bra at home.
Sarah Bigham lives in Maryland with her kind chemist wife, their three independent cats, and an unwieldy herb garden. Find her at www.sgbigham.com.