They sit in his pick-up outside the IGA. Her Honda waits across the parking lot. The security light flickers above, its cover filled with the black confetti of dead bugs. The vinyl smells like cigarettes; the floor mats are pocked with gum. The radio’s missing its face. Still she suspects he’s cleaned out the trash, vacuumed. She wonders how a truck can feel so much smaller than a sedan.
“You want to head out for a drink?” he asks. Shadows pool under his eyes, between his lips, the crags of his skin. They had a round of drinks once after work.
She says she should be getting home.
He digs into the front pocket of his jeans. The knuckles on his right hand are ratcheted. An accident with a threshing machine, he’d told her, from three or four lives ago.
“For you,” he says, handing her a small plastic bag.
Her first thought is drugs, but whatever’s inside isn’t weedy or white. The bag weighs nothing. She holds it to the windshield to catch the light. A few slivers, a faint glint.
“Gold,” he says.
“You mined this?”
He nods. “There’s still some out there.”
She imagines him squatting on the bank of a stream, sweating under the brim of a cowboy hat, his fingers numb from the water. He mines weekends when he isn’t stacking produce at the IGA.
“I can’t take this,” she says.
“You’re not taking it. I’m giving it.”
“But you worked hard for this.”
“So say thank you like a lady.”
She should never have come back to the foothills. After San Francisco she thought something would reveal itself here among the scrub oak, the yellow pastures, something to ground her. But there’s nothing for her here. She doesn’t want to end up like this.
“You can set it in a pendant or earrings. It would suit you.”
She nods, knowing she won’t.
“If I had the money, I’d do it myself.” He rubs his crooked fingers against the thigh of his jeans. “I admit I’m nervous. It’s been a while. You forget what to do.”
She wants to hold her hand up, to stop the conversation now. She should’ve seen this coming: the oiled hair, the pressed shirt, the stiff jeans. Of course, she’s seen it coming, and ignored it.
He looks out the windshield. “So you want to make a go of it?”
She looks at her car waiting in the corner of the lot just beyond the reach of the security light.
“You’re a little too….”
“Old,” he interrupts.
She’s used to misdirection, boys who point one way while slipping the other hand up her shirt. He’s different, a man. There’s no way to dodge such honesty in a truck cab.
“You’re old enough to be my father.”
He snorts. “I’m forty-one.”
“Sorry. I thought older.”
He nods as if to say it’s a fair comment. “I drink too much. I smoke. I know
I’m not much to look at. Just thought it was worth a try. There, done.”
She tries to give back the bag.
He reaches for his cigarettes. “Keep it. You might need it sometime.”
Allison Alsup lives in New Orleans and helps her husband to renovate Crescent City’s never-ending supply of lovely rotting cottages. Her prose, which has appeared in numerous literary magazines and contests, often centers on her native California. She also teaches writing at Urban League College Track, a college-
bound program for local, under-resourced high school students.