As Penny held the gas pump, she felt a man approaching. She reached for her phone in her hoodie pocket, as if her friend was physically there; like a hand to grab. She froze, realizing Max was 604 miles away and could not do a damned thing to stop this man approaching. She started to feel it as her breathing changed, shallow and slow. She started to sweat, all of her body responded like muscle memory.
The man got inches closer to her and asked if he could help fill her tank. She calmly said, “Nope. All good.” Before she could take a breath he said, “I bet you are. Good.” He inched even closer. She backed up, but the car stopped her. She was cornered. He grabbed for her shoulder and smiled. His touch damp, hot, thick. She dodged to the side losing her footing on oil. He followed her to the car door, opening it for her. She looked around noticing how isolated she was in this gas station. She reached for her phone again. It was buzzing. Vibrating texts from Max.
Penny pulled her phone out. The action spooked him. He walked backwards away from her car. He walked backwards so that he could keep looking at her with an expression that made her stomach churn. He got in his pickup truck and drove away, smiling at her. Penny felt nauseous. Bile rising up in her throat. And then release.
She got back into her car, locked the door, took a breath that turned into a cry when the fury washed over her. She watched as the man pulled away and, before she could process, she texted. Telling Max all the details, unformed sentences, emotional punctuation, tears streaming down her face. She was shaking too much to speak when he called. She raged on about every instance when a man had approached her like that, touched her, rubbed past her, luridly commented on her very existence as if it was theirs to comment on. These incidents happened always in public, in the open, where anyone could hear or see. Penny complained about it like there would be an answer Max could give her about why men do this. There wasn’t. Max was silent. He let her sob and thunder. He asked her if she was safe, where was she now? Max calmly took a breath, and said one word, “GODDAMMIT.”
Taking deep, meditative breathes to calm herself in rhythm with music she could feel but not hear, Penny drove back home and made her family a baked spaghetti casserole for supper.
Margot Stillings is a storyteller, cocktail napkin poet, and photographer. She is a reader/editor at Roi Fainéant Press and an absolutely ridiculous human being.
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