Customer Service

“That smile…where did you get that smile?”

I looked up from the newspaper I was reading behind the gas station counter. An older lady stood in front of me. Her skin looked like parchment and she smelled heavily of cloves. Her hair was wispy like strands of smoke clinging to her scalp. She was staring at me in horror; her jaw trembled. I hadn’t been smiling.

“I beg your pardon ma’am?” I replied.

“Where did you get that smile!” She screeched it out. It wasn’t a question.

“Do you need help pumping your gas ma’am?” I asked as I walked around the counter to her. She kept quietly whispering, the only word that I could make out was smile. I gently took her arm and was pleasantly surprised when she let me lead her out to her car at the pump. I sat her in the driver seat and filled up her tank. The boss wasn’t going to like that another customer was going to get a full tank of gas pro bono, but there wasn’t much I could do if I couldn’t communicate with her, and I wasn’t about to let her run out of gas after she stopped at the only gas station on a 500 mile stretch of road. After the tank was full I tapped on the hood and told her she was good to go.

She didn’t leave the pump until I’d gone back inside. She was the fourth person this month. I still had bruises from the last guy. I still couldn’t figure out what any of them meant by asking about my smile. It confused me all the more because I hadn’t smiled at any of them. I don’t have much to smile about working all alone at a gas station in the middle of a vast stretch of boring.

Attempting to push this most recent encounter out of my mind, I sat back down and resumed reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee. Customers came and went. Some of them bought sodas. Most of them just paid for their gas. None of them ranted to me about a smile. It looked like it was shaping up to be a better day.

Three cups of coffee later and I felt a familiar need take hold. A locked up the front door and flipped the sign to show I’d be back in a moment. Grabbing the newspaper off the counter, I made my way to the commode. Settling in, I leafed through the sports page briefly before settling into the lone comics page. It passed the time. After finishing, I stood in front of the mirror washing my hands. That’s when I finally saw it.

Floating directly behind me in the mirror was a large disembodied mouth tangled in a rictus grin. I spun around, but it must have been too fast for me. Somehow it managed to stay behind me. I bolted from the bathroom. I ran out to the lobby of the gas station, struggling with the door until I remembered I had locked it. With a click I was out into the parking lot and under the pumps where several cars had lined up waiting to fuel up. They all looked at me like I was crazy when I told them to save me from the smile. A couple of them wrestled me to the ground. They bound me. The smile seemed to have gone.

“Thanks, guys. The smiles gone you can let me go now,” I said.

They didn’t. They called the cops. Now I’m in a cell under psychiatric evaluation.

I can see the smile behind me in every reflection.


Apropos of: This Prompt

-Crouse

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