By Dorothy Crawford
She hated pecans.
She hated the way they looked – like little, shriveled-up brown brains. She hated the way they smelled – like sweet, buttery dirt. She hated the way that everyone else loved them – like they were some amazing thing that she just didn’t ‘get’. But mostly, she hated the way they sounded when they bounced off the roof of her car – like little rocks pinging against the fiberglass. Or maybe like great big rocks thrown with malice of forethought, hard enough to leave dings and loud enough to be heard from her front porch, fifteen feet away.
Another thump told her that another pecan had just been thrown.
“Stop that!” She glared up at the squirrel that sat on the branch of the pecan tree. “And stop laughing at me!” It might have seemed ridiculous to anyone else, but she could swear the little fuzzy-tailed rat was giggling.
She stomped over to her car, ignoring the next two pecans that bounced off and the chittering squeal that she was convinced was teasing laughter. The pecans weren’t completely ripe yet – the long summer drought had delayed their development – and every one that splatted against her paint left a greenish-brown smudge of pecan goop behind. As she was inspecting the most recent smudge, another pecan pinged against the car, less than an inch from her nose.
“I will shoot you.” She glared up at the squirrel again. “You’re awfully brave for someone who tastes that good with gravy.”
The squirrel hissed at her as if it understood the threat, and she smiled to herself as she climbed into her car. “Stupid squirrel,” she muttered. “Car wash, here I come.”
As she backed out of the driveway, one last pecan thudded against her windshield.
The car wash wasn’t far away, but it did add time to her morning commute. She’d left the house ten minutes earlier than normal, and she figured that getting in and out shouldn’t take more than seven. How busy could the car wash be at 7:30am?
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” she muttered as she made the turn into the parking lot. “Is everyone’s car covered in pecan goo this morning?”
She pulled into line behind the three other cars and waited her turn. She spent the next six minutes alternating between looking at her watch, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, and cursing psychotic squirrels and their pecan-hurling ways. Once the last car had pulled into the bay, she moved into place at the payment station and rolled her window down.
She’d just put in the last dollar bill and pushed the button to choose her wash when she heard the man’s voice.
“Excuse me? Miss? Ma’am?”
She jumped in surprise, and her foot slipped from the brake pedal. She reacted quickly and stopped the car just inches away from the rear end of the jacked-up pickup – the clearly against the rules posted above the car wash entrance jacked-up pickup – in front of her.
“What?” she demanded angrily of the man who’d walked up next to her window.
“I’m sorry, but … your tire. Your back passenger tire. It’s flat.”
She closed her eyes and let her head fall forward. “Thank you,” she muttered. “I’ll take care of it.”
She rolled up her window just as a perfect storm of mud, leaves, and sticks started flying out of the wash bay and splatting against her windshield.
“No mud trucks!” The driver couldn’t hear her, but she doubted he’d have cared if he had. “It says right there, no mud trucks. Stupid mud trucks. Stupid damn squirrel.”
Two more minutes passed, and the jacked-up pickup pulled out of the bay. She moved forward slowly, watching until the green light turned red, and then shifted into park. For two minutes – two blissful, quiet, peaceful, uninterrupted minutes – there was nothing in the world but her, the scent of the soap, and the sound of the shammy strips smacking the sides of her car.
All-too-soon, it was over. She pulled forward, timing her movement to take full advantage of the forty-five seconds of dryer time, and then she was out.
Luckily, the car wash had an air hose just around the corner, so she could air her tire up without losing much more time. She pulled up next to it, spent a few seconds digging in the ashless ashtray for quarters, and got out. It was an automatic air hose, one that measured the pressure in the tire and put exactly the right amount in; it was her favorite kind. She dropped the quarters in, twisted off the tire cap, and put the nozzle in place.
After two seconds, the machine beeped – seven pounds. She had seven pounds of pressure in a tire that needed thirty-five.
“Damn.” Her eyes widened in surprise. How had she not noticed before then that her tire was going flat? “Bet it was that damn squirrel,” she said to herself. “Bet he slashed my tire this morning. Because he’s just that big of a dick.”
She watched the numbers on the pressure gauge climbing slowly and resisted the urge to look at her watch yet again. She was already going to be ten minutes late for work, and there was no point in dwelling on it. There wasn’t anything she could do about it, anyway.
Suddenly, the pressure gauge started beeping, loudly and obnoxiously, and the air stopped coming out of the hose.
“What the …?”
A quick look at the display told her that she wouldn’t be getting any more air out of that hose. The display screen was blinking back and forth between the number “20” and the word “error” in bright red letters. She threw her head back and let her arms fall to her sides.
“Oh, come on!”
She unhooked the hose, screwed the cap back on the valve, and threw the air hose back at the machine angrily.
“I am gonna shoot that squirrel.” She climbed back into her car, started it up, and headed for the gas station that was – luckily for her still-too-low tire – just up the street. “I haven’t had squirrel gravy in years. Stupid damn … maybe I’ll pick some of those pecans up and throw them back at him. I’ll put anti-freeze in the bird food he keeps stealing. I’ll cut halfway through that branch he’s always standing on.”
She was still mumbling to herself about all the ways she could imagine to kill her adversary as she pulled up next to the air machine at the gas station.
It wasn’t one of the good ones. It didn’t have an automatic display of the tire pressure. It didn’t even have a tire gauge attached to the hose. Which meant she needed a separate tire gauge to know how much air she was putting in her tire. Which she didn’t have.
“Jesus H. Christ!”
She got out of her car, for what she hoped was the last time, and slammed the door. She stormed across the parking lot, paying no attention to the jacked-up pickup as she walked past it. There were some loud bangs coming from inside the building, but she ignored them. Her phone started ringing in her purse, and she paused just long enough to pull it out. The caller ID said it was her boss calling, and another glance at her watch told her why – she was twenty minutes late and she hadn’t called.
She clenched one hand into a fist around the handle of the gas station door as she pushed the “answer” button and put the phone to her ear.
She didn’t know what actually registered first – her boss screaming in her ear, the cashier screaming behind the counter, the blood on the floor, or the shotgun that was pointed directly at her chest as she walked through the door.
“I hate that fucking squirrel.”