- A character who’s a gas station clerk
- “Something’s always missing.”
Cherry comes out of the back holding up a dry mop. With her graying dreadlocks, they could almost be twins. “Ben, what did you do with that bucket?” She asks, throwing her free hand on her hip.
Ben rolls his eyes as he counts change for the huffy mom at the register. “Should be back by the bathroom, just like always.”
“Well it’s not, and the bathroom’s a mess!” she complains, making Ben lose count of the 73 cents he’s trying to count out with shaking hands for the second time.
He manages to keep the smile on his face until the mom drags her son out of the gas station convenience store, not being shy about mentioning that they’ll be late for soccer practice now. As soon as they’re out the door, Ben’s head snaps to Cherry. “Veronica is the one who closed last night, so why don’t you ask her? I haven’t been on cleaning duty in months,” he points to his shiny “Assistant Manager” pin for emphasis. “Find the bucket yourself or get something else that works.”
She turns towards the bathroom and walks away, muttering about how “something’s always missing in this damn place” and that she was “the only competent person around here anymore.” Ben contemplates writing her up, but decides it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, Daniel, the manager, has a crush on Cherry, so all the work would probably be in vain, anyways.
Just as Cherry struggles into the bathroom with her mop and a sloshing storage container she managed to find in the back, the entry door flies open. There’s just enough time for Ben to find his happy face before he finds a gun leveled between his eyes. The man holding Ben’s life in his hands mirrors his smile in some kind of sick mockery that makes Ben want to punch his teeth out. “Don’t make me tell you what we want,” he says, pulling a white plastic bag with “THANK YOU”s outlined in red from his pocket and forcing Ben’s hands to take it. Somewhere, Ben finds the courage to look past the gun to see what he’s facing.
The man standing in front of him has a beard like Santa Claus and a worn-out leather jacket. His eyes hold just as steady as his unflinching gun. At the entrance, another man looks out at the pumps and changes the “open” sign to “closed.” Ben can’t see the third accomplice, but he knows someone else is there by the glass milk bottles shattering on the tile and bags of chips being popped open. The only thought that crosses his mind is how much this damage will cost and how much of it will come out of his paycheck.
“The fuck you smiling for, boy?” Santa growls, letting the gun inch closer to Ben’s temple. As much as Ben knew this was not the time to be smiling, it’s as if a glitch in his brain forces the fake grin to stare down the men he can see, both of whom are (much) bigger than him. The trembles in his hands turn to tremors, and he wonders if he’ll even be able to get the money out at all. Santa cocks the gun and jerks it to the register. “Get to work if you don’t want a bullet,” he grunts.
Ben stuffs twenties and tens and fives and ones into the bag until the register is empty. There’s only about $500 total, and when Ben looks up he sees the greed in Santa’s eyes, waiting for more to come. “Did you want the change, too?” He spits out.
The force of the gun against his forehead sends Ben’s head to the counter, blood taking his vision before he can even realize what’s happened. For a moment, he thinks he’s been shot, but when he hears a girl’s scream so shrill, so goddamn annoying that it could only belong to one person, he finds that he has no such luck. Ben lets his body slump to the ground and closes his eyes just enough that they’ll think he’s unconscious as the men turn their attention to Cherry. The plastic bag crinkles in Santa’s hand as his boots make a right-face. Ben watches the “THANK YOU”s turn into “TNKOU”s as the crack of a gun sends a thud to the floor.