The previous night echoed in a headache of tequila shots and karaoke. Driving home, golden arches served as a beacon of reprieve in the bright spring morning. JoAnne dreamed of hash brown patties and egg biscuits to soak up the fatigue before she drove the remainder of the way home to her own bed, aspirin, and quiet. It was a lie. McDonald’s stopped serving breakfast at 10:30. After sitting through the drive thru, the digital clock on the dash of her Kia Rio read 10:42. She maneuvered the Rio amongst RVs and F350s in a football field sized parking lot which separated fast food from Walmart. Finding a secluded corner she dropped the Rio into park. JoAnne debated eating the McChicken sandwich she reluctantly bought. The globs of warm synthetic mayonnaise oozing from wilted lettuce were not helping. The stink of her own stale hangover mixing with the vapors of fried pre-formed chicken patty caused an uneasy fog within the cabin. She stared at the sandwich. It was a standoff. A game of ‘chicken.’ Who would give first?
Short rapid knocks, like that of a woodpecker, freed JoAnne from fixating on the sandwich. She turned her head to see a lithe middle aged man in blue jeans and a plain white shirt carrying a red plastic gas can. The man said something at the window but the words didn’t make it past the glass. JoAnne made a face to indicate she did not understand and then depressed the button that controlled the power windows. Fresh air displaced the cabin’s funk.
“I asked if you were gonna eat that,” said the man.
JoAnne looked at the sandwich then back at the man. “Um, I’m not sure.”
The man nodded. “Right, right,” he said then gazed off into the distance. JoAnne’s dehydrated brain grappled with the impromptu interaction. After another beat the man broke from his meditation and bounced on his heels, “So, yeah, do you maybe have a few dollars I could have for gas?” He held up the gas can and smiled.
“I don’t have any cash, I’m sorry.” JoAnne scrunched her brow not sure what she was sorry for.
“It’s cool. I get it. Some guy comes up to you in a Walmart parking lot and asks you for money. I’d be doubtful too. I’m not going to use it for beer or anything, if that helps.”
“No,” explained JoAnne. “I really don’t have any cash”
“It’s because we’re strangers, right? Never talk to strangers. That’s what my mom always said.” The man sat his gas can down on the asphalt then leaned his forearms on the window ledge of the Rio’s driver’s side door. “But then how does anyone meet anyone, right? If no one ever talked to strangers, we’d all just be strangers.”
JoAnne leaned away from the window. Her seat belt pulled tight against her waist.
“My name is Samuel.” The man reached an open hand into the Rio’s cabin. “But you can call me Scooby. Everyone does.”
JoAnne looked at her keys that hung from the ignition. She looked at Scooby. She looked at his arm that separated her from the steering wheel. “Um, hi.” She did shake the intrusive hand.
“That’s not how it works. No.” Scooby retracted his arm but remained leaning on the driver’s side door. “I say ‘I’m Scooby’ and you say ‘hi’ and give your name. That’s how people meet, right?”
JoAnne didn’t make eye contact. “I gonna get going now.”
“Okay, okay, the money isn’t for gas.” Scooby ignored her. “It’s so I can pay my damn Obamacare payment. You know what I mean, right? They call it the Affordable Care Act, but it ain’t affordable to me.”
“What?” Did JoAnne miss something? She did say she was going and now politics?
“Fine you must be the rare left-y who wanders into a Walmart parking lot. You know, normally the Obamacare thing kills around here.”
JoAnne’s headache came in waves making it difficult to comprehend Scooby’s line of reason. “Are you still trying to get money?”
Scooby bowed his head mumbled a few things to himself then stood to stretch, removing him from direct contact with the Rio. Despite her hangover, JoAnne recognized her chance and started her car. With her other hand she hit the button to roll up the window.
“Ahh, Come on! Where ya going?” Scooby asked as he placed his hands on the edge of the rising glass.
“Get off my car.” JoAnne demanded.
Scooby ignored her. The windows electric motor whined against the pressure. He leaned his head to fill the empty space between the door frame and the glass. “Where are you going?” he asked again.
With the window half open, JoAnne scooped the McChicken sandwich with her right hand and slammed it into Scooby’s face. Mayo and lettuce exploited across the man’s cheeks and into his eyes.
Scooby released his grip. “God damn it.”
JoAnne reversed the Rio out of the parking spot, rolling over the red gas can. Scooby shrieked.
The Rio rolled out of the parking lot and towards the freeway leaving Scooby in the rearview mirror. JoAnne’s headache subsided into steady fuzz. She longed for sleep.
*Joshua Swainston has worked as a mechanic, merchant sailor, courier, loan shark, club promoter, Ryder truck rental agent, McDonald’s grill cook, taxi driver, valet, coffee roaster, wine distributor, psychologist assistant, UPS man, Disney Store stock boy, and played Santa Claus. His short stories and flash fiction are printed in Out of the Gutter, The Frist Line, Revolt Daily as well as others. While writing editorials for the Weekly Volcano, he won a Washington Press award for his piece about Ivan the Gorilla, “The Silverback of South Tacoma.” His first novel, The Tacoma Pill Junkies, was released in February of 2013 and can be found at tacomapilljunkies.com.