fiction, poetry & more

Honorable Mention


by Aja Brooks

I love the smell of gasoline. Diesel too. The good shit, not the mystery kind that’s ten cents cheaper than everywhere else and home to rows upon rows of old candy and buckets of ninety-nine cent lip gloss. I like my truck stops modern. I refuse to work anywhere that sells cheap gas.

My truck stop is the size of a small school, with a parking lot big enough to accommodate the charter buses full of students and tourists whose interest in New Jersey doesn’t go further than a place to piss and decide between KFC or Taco Bell to take for the remainder of their trip to New York City.

When they pass by, I like to think that my deep breaths send the wind from their conversations in my direction, so that I may be treated with the sweet sound of a Southern accent to accompany the euphoric whiff of premium gasoline. Much to my dismay, this particular group contains no Southerners, but is not lacking in women sporting neon Crocs and the kind of men who find “rock on” to be an acceptable thing to say.

Though the sight of the bald men with their barbed wire tattoos and ankle socks is enough to make me wish for blindness, I’m thankful they aren’t my customers. Well, at least not today.

Clay, my current customer, is waving at me from the ATM, mouthing the words, Do you need anything from the store? My answer is No, as it will forever be until hard liquor or unleaded, scented scratch-and-sniffs are sold inside. I’m much more excited about Clay allowing me to fill up his semi-truck while he thumbs through cheap iron-on souvenir shirts and custom name keychains.

I’m pretty sure at this point in my life I’ve committed every sin sans the violent ones, and I cannot think of a single one worthy of receiving a plastic keychain bearing my name in all caps. The beep signaling a full take interrupts this day-mare right as a group of tourists passes me, each armed with either fried chicken or shitty burritos commingling with the sweet smell of diesel, thus fucking up one of my favorite parts of this job.

Shortly after, Clay returns with a plastic bag that reads THANK YOU (THANKYOUTHANKYOU) in bright red letters. I hear the tell-tale sound of plastic and metal falling toward the bottom of the bag, and I lose a little faith in humanity.

“I found a keychain that has Brittani with an ‘I’. My wife’s going to love it.”

What a sadistic bastard.

The inside of Clay’s semi smells like black ice car freshener, another statement about the state of our society, given black ice is both odorless and not exactly something one would want to experience while in a car. But I digress. At least it smells decent and isn’t strong enough to compete with the smell of over thirty vehicles being refueled.

Clay places the THANK YOU (THANKYOUTHANK-YOU) bag on the dashboard between us, and a thin barbed wire tattoo peeks out from beneath his Georgia Tech T-shirt. I realize this is the first time I’ve seriously contemplated suicide since my mother made me sit through an entire Daughtry concert.

“Well sweetie, I took out three hundred because I didn’t know if you charge for anal.”

I smile my first genuine smile in weeks. I’d sooner be sore in the ass for ten years than look at that tattoo for ten more minutes.

I take the money, not bothering to count the twenty dollar bills, given my theory that any man married to a woman who would truly love a personalized keychain from an Exxon doesn’t possess the mental capacity to short me, or further realize that he has overpaid.

I glance up to see Clay smiling at me. “Wow. I didn’t think you’d agree so quickly. I usually have to talk women into it.”

I doubt this man has ever talked anyone into anything aside from questioning where his parents went wrong, but I hide this doubt with a smile and proceed to undress.

“I’m going to assume you have a condom.”

“Of course I do, little lady.” Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed that the condom he pulls out of the THANK YOU (THANKYOUTHANKYOU) bag doesn’t have CLAY stamped across it.

“Well . . .” I bend over. “Rock on.”


Aja Brooks is a 21-year-old breakfast cereal enthusiast who is completing her bachelor’s in creative writing and advertising at Texas State University-San Marcos. She is an English tutor who spends her spare time researching the evolution of LGBT portrayal in the media, evading the monotony of day jobs, and waiting for the era of reality television to end.