Girlie Girl barreled through the doors of Gary’s Gas-And-Go, clicking the tile in a pair of leopard-print high heel boots. Girlie Girl was a regular, but Judy’d never seen this leopard get up before. Judy looked down at her own sturdy boots, still wet from shoveling snow to free her car from the driveway earlier that night. Some winter shoes, Judy thought to herself from behind the counter, folding her hands and giving Girlie Girl a tight smile.
Before the weather turned, Judy observed Girlie Girl towering over the other customers in white platform heels. The heels were gaudy, but they seemed to match the carefully curled hair streaked with pink, shimmery eye makeup and fake lashes. Girlie Girl couldn’t be a day over twenty-one, so Judy figured the young woman could get away with all this, but Judy didn’t like her much. Unlike most of the other shoppers, Girlie Girl was always very polite, but she rubbed Judy the wrong way. Maybe it was her perfume, which smelled like cotton candy in aerosol form and stayed around for a while. Or maybe it was the way she held her head high, looking straight ahead, like people weren’t staring.
Tonight Girlie Girl didn’t look so good. Judy pretended to organize the scratch-offs while Girlie Girl prowled the store. This was different, too. Girlie Girl normally paid for gas, grabbed a Diet Coke, but she never, ever bought food. She never stayed to browse.
In the snack aisle, Girlie Girl picked up a candy bar and then walked over to select a bag of chips. She stood there, reading the nutrition information of each package with one hand on her hip and a leg jutted out. She was wearing a cropped jacket, so Judy could really inspect her angular body. Her pants were so tight, tucked into those boots that ended just over her knees. Judy wasn’t sure where this food was going to go.
Girlie Girl reminded Judy of a cupcake. Not the kind she made as a kid with Jiffy cake mix and a thin powdered sugar glaze, but those new-fangled ones they sold at the outdoor mall. Judy drove up there once, with a free coupon for something called a unicorn cupcake. Pink champagne flavor, said the teen behind the counter who exchanged Judy’s coupon for a gigantic treat sprinkled with candy hearts and a fat gold horn stuck in the center. When Judy took the cupcake out of the box, she almost dropped it. The cake wobbled in Judy’s hand, top-heavy from the swirl of rainbow frosting. Just like Girlie Girl in those shoes.
Girlie Girl settled on a bag of gummy bears and clomped over to the sodas. She started sniffling and making sad noises as she reached the coolers, then wound back around to the front of the store and up to Judy’s counter. Her eyes were not made up tonight. The bushy lashes were gone, and her naked eyes filled with tears.
“Do you have a tissue?”
“No, but there’s toilet paper in the bathroom.”
Girlie Girl started that way.
“You can’t take merchandise in there,” called Judy.
Girlie Girl walked back to Judy and dumped the gummy bears and a small pink purse exploding with tubes of lip gloss, loose cash, and crumpled receipts on the counter. “Will you watch this?”
Judy felt pleased. Girlie Girl could have set her stuff on the shelf outside the door, but she left everything here with Judy. For safe keeping.
“It’s a little late for you, isn’t it?” Judy asked when Girlie Girl returned.
Girlie Girl looked surprised and Judy felt pleased again. Not many people stuck around to talk these days, but Judy knew her customers. She heard their cell phone conversations, knew who belonged to which family. The cars they drove. Their favorite snacks. She knew where people worked from their logo apparel and their corporate cards.
Judy worked as a cashier at Gary’s for twenty-five years. Back in the day, almost all her customers stopped to chat: “Beautiful evening!” “Thank goodness, our boys won the game!” “Did you hear they’re opening a Walmart?” But as the small town exploded into a suburb for the neighboring city, her customers appeared busier, like they didn’t have extra time to waste. Judy identified with the crumbling grain silos and abandoned barn on the edge of town. She was just another meaningless rural monument. Even Judy’s tiny yellow house, at one time located next to a corn field, was now practically engulfed by a housing development for the people who worked in the city but wanted the newest, biggest home, the three-car garage, and the school district with the good test scores. Gary was long dead, and his son had made some improvements to attract the wealthier clientele, like the gourmet coffee station and the new flooring, but he lived in Arizona now. Judy knew Gary’s son was aiming to sell to one of the big petroleum companies. One day, she wouldn’t be around, and neither would Gary’s. During these overnight shifts, she often pondered which would come first.
“Do we know each other?” asked Girlie Girl.
“No, but you come in a lot. With that nice young man,” said Judy. She knew the nice young man’s name was Dane because he’d produce a gold AmEx from his wallet while not breaking eye contact, flashing a huge smile with his blocky white teeth. Judy had noted that Dane drove one of those fancy Audis and he was always more sharply dressed than the other businessmen, who sported cheap button-down shirts and khakis.
“He’s not that nice.” Girlie Girl’s eyes filled with tears again. “Excuse me for a minute!” She ran back to the restroom.
Judy waited for what seemed like a very long time for Girlie Girl to come out of the restroom. There was only one, a small room with a toilet, sink, and decorative cabinet which held cleaning supplies. Judy was worried the morning rush would start with this delicate young woman still holed up in there. It started getting busy around 5:30, and Lamont didn’t come in until eight. Judy didn’t want to be alone with a potential situation in the bathroom, so she went to check on Girlie Girl.
“Is everything okay? Do you need some help?” Judy asked as she gently rapped on the door.
After no response except crying, Judy tried the handle. It opened. Girlie Girl was sitting right there on the bathroom floor with her back against the wall and those scrawny legs splayed out. She had taken Judy’s decorative porcelain doll off the cabinet—one of the few things Judy had brought to Gary’s over the years to homey up the place—and was hugging the doll and crying into its coarse hair. Judy kept this bathroom pretty clean, but she wouldn’t go around grabbing just anything in here. There wasn’t a lid on the toilet, and even Judy knew that germs could spray at least six feet in the air after flushing.
Judy bent over. “Is there somebody I can call? Someone to come get you?”
Girlie Girl cried harder.
Judy wet some paper towels and gave them to Girlie Girl for her face. Then, Judy helped Girlie Girl up, taking the doll and setting it back on top of the cabinet, next to a vine of fake ivy and a decorative basket. This set up matched the still life scene repeated over-and-over on the wallpaper border Judy put up in the ’90s. The doll was okay to look at when you were taking a dump, Judy thought, but she would never hug the darn thing. She released a squirt of Lysol to clear the air.
“We got in a fight, and he took my phone, and said I had to leave the house,” Girlie Girl said as Judy helped her from the restroom, depositing Girlie Girl into Gary’s old office chair that Judy kept covered with a large fuzzy blanket. Girlie Girl was hiccupping in between sentences because she’d been crying so hard. “So I put a bunch of clothes in my car and left. I was driving around listening to music, but the roads are bad.”
“Don’t you have any family around here? Some friends?”
“Not really. My family is down in Florida, and Dane’s friends aren’t exactly my friends. I don’t have anywhere else to go!”
Judy frowned, but she could kind of relate. After her brother Louis passed away, she didn’t have any family left either. Louis was always sick, and her parents were old, and Judy took care of all of them until one-by-one they died. She didn’t know much about boyfriends, though.
“Well, what did you argue about?”
Girlie Girl dropped her eyes and started making sad noises again. She looked small sitting there in Gary’s chair, wiping her eyes on the ends of Judy’s blanket.
“Look, I need to do some stocking before Lamont comes in,” said Judy. “You’re welcome to hang out, I guess. You wanna stay up here? Or you could help me get some stuff out of the back?”
“I can help,” she sniffled.
Girlie Girl followed Judy into the backroom. When they stepped thorough the swinging plastic doors, Girlie Girl looked wide-eyed at the tall shelves lining the walls packed full of merchandise.
“Do we have to put all that away?” asked Girlie Girl, pointing to the pile of boxes sitting on a pallet in the middle of the room.
“No, but we’ll have to go through it to find everything we need,” said Judy.
Girlie Girl walked back over to the swinging doors and peered out the plastic window.
“What if someone comes in?”
“No one’s going to come in. Most people go to the Speedy Mart over on Central Ave. They have better snacks. Pizza. Hot food.”
“I came in,” said Girlie Girl.
Judy grabbed two metal utility carts from across the room and rolled them to the pallet. She pointed to a stack of plastic crates in the corner.
“Grab a couple of those, will you? And set them on these carts,” she said, pulling out a box cutter from her back pocket and quickly opening boxes. “Last year, someone came in here really late, kind of like you did. Very dramatic. But crazier.”
“What happened?” asked Girlie Girl, as she arranged the crates in a row on the cart.
“Oh, this freaked-out guy came tearing in here with a golf club. I thought he was drunk at first,” Judy said, tossing a few open boxes at Girlie Girl’s feet. “We’ll do candy and snacks first. Grab a couple handfuls of crap out of each of these boxes and add them to the crates. We’ll load up and roll everything out to the floor.”
Girlie Girl bent down to rifle through the boxes, teetering on her heels.
“I didn’t think much of it at first. People try to bring weird stuff in here—pets, bikes, whatever. But then I realized, this guy was high on something. He went up to the soft serve and looked at it for a long time. A very long time. He didn’t touch anything, grab a cone, nothing. Just stared. I finally said, ‘Can help you, sir?’ He turned to me, and he held up that golf club high in the air like a sword and said, ‘I killed the devil, and now I’m going to kill you.’ And he swung the golf club at the machine so hard he knocked the handle straight off, and soft serve started spraying everywhere.”
“Oh my god! What did you do?”
“Well, first I hit the panic button which calls the cops. Then I started talking to him. Asking him about why he killed the devil, what did the devil do to him, et cetera. By the time the cops got here, he was lying on the floor sobbing, covered in ice cream.”
As Judy took items out of boxes, she could see Girlie Girl organizing the candy bars into neat rows, being careful of her long fingernails, each of which were filed to a sharp point and painted black. Judy threw a couple more boxes over to Girlie Girl.
“You need to go faster. Just throw the boxes on the cart. We’ll work out of them instead.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry,” said Girlie Girl and started piling boxes on the cart. “That must have been so traumatizing.”
“It was mostly a pain in the ass to clean up.” Judy frowned as Girlie Girl put a large box on top of a smaller one, the bottom box crunching under the weight. “I’ve also been robbed before. And there are shoplifters all the time. I used to try to stop them, confront them, but now I don’t care. I figure they need something.”
“Like food? Like they’re hungry?”
“Maybe. Or maybe they need something else, like they need to feel alive or get away with something. That’s why I wasn’t so torn up about the druggie. I doubt he even knew what he was doing. Maybe he did the next day. But I don’t think he wanted to hurt anyone. Maybe he was hurting,” said Judy.
“Wow. Dane would never let any of that slide. I literally saw him pull a gun on someone once.”
“Really!” said Judy.
“Yeah, I work in a lounge, and this sweet guy used to come in to see me and leave me really big tips. I shouldn’t have told Dane about him, but I did, and one night Dane showed up and threatened the guy. Told him to stop coming in or he’d kill him. He did it right in front of me.”
Judy tried to picture Dane pulling a gun from his beneath his coat, a gun he probably kept tucked against his satiny pants and thin sweater. Judy imagined him whipping out the gun fast, like how he always flashed his credit card, while grinning with those big teeth.
“How did you feel about that?” asked Judy.
“At first I thought it was hot, like maybe Dane wanted to protect me. To show the guy that I was his woman. But after I thought about it for a couple days, it made me super sad. I mean, I felt bad for the guy. I think he was my friend? We enjoyed talking to each other, and he was always respectful. Like, didn’t hit on me or anything. But he never came back.”
Judy nodded, “I wouldn’t have come back.”
“Yeah, me either.”
They worked for a while moving boxes and stocking the aisles and then moving to the coolers. Even though it was late, and she’d had a rough night, Judy thought Girlie Girl was a little slow to catch on. She didn’t seem to grasp the concept of combining the extra stock into one tidy box instead of three or four half-full ones. The floor was scattered with open boxes and crates.
After getting corrected several times, Girlie Girl abandoned her cart and started following Judy around the store, telling her life story. How Dane found her working an auto show when he was down in Florida, and how he brought her here. Girlie Girl was only twenty. She wanted to be a fashion designer—go to some school in California—but now she felt even farther away from that dream.
Girlie Girl sat on a display of beer, leaning back on her arms and swinging her legs. Even without her makeup, she was still very pretty. Judy realized why she hadn’t liked the young woman before. She was too pretty. No one needed to be so attractive. Judy indulged in a quick fantasy, deciding that Dane broke up with Girlie Girl for being high maintenance and spending too much time on herself. Girlie Girl also talked too much and obviously didn’t like to exert herself. Judy then felt bad for thinking that. Girlie Girl put up with Dane—which had to count for something.
“So, you said you work at a bar? You a bartender?” asked Judy.
“No, cocktail waitress. I’m also a nail artist part time—”
“Well, don’t look at mine! They’re a holy mess. I clip ‘em and that’s it.”
“Oh, I see lots of nails. People who’ve never had a manicure in their life usually become my best clients. It’s super addicting,” said Girlie Girl. “You should come in and see me sometime! Get pampered. We could try out some cute colors.”
“Nails are what I went to school for. Before I left Florida. But, yeah, I work a few shifts a week at the new craft cocktail lounge by the sushi place.”
“I don’t know anything about sushi or craft whatevers.”
“Dane’s friend owns the lounge. It’s super chic. The people are kind of fucked up, though. The other girls steal my tips, and the customers are rude. But the money is really good. Much better than nails.”
Judy laughed, “I do know about that.”
“Do you make good money here?”
“No, but the customers are rude here, too. They barely talk to me. Like I’m invisible,” said Judy.
“You don’t make good money and people aren’t nice. Why do you stay?”
“I know the work.” Judy gestured to herself, “Plus, there aren’t a lot of options for me. I’m old! I mean, I don’t feel tired or worn out or anything, but it’s probably too late to learn to do something new.”
Girlie Girl was quiet for a few seconds, “So, that’s kind of what we got in a fight about. Dane told me I was looking haggard. Said I should get Botox or fillers or something. I said I liked how I looked, and I didn’t want to spend my money on more beauty treatments. And if I did, it would be my decision, not his. I’ve literally never stood up to him before.”
Judy stopped what she was doing to listen to Girlie Girl. “Well, you look great, and you’re right, you definitely don’t need it. What the heck does he want, you to look like a freaking 15-year-old?”
“I actually think he might like that,” said Girlie Girl. “Hey, I’m going to go sit up front again, if you don’t mind.”
Judy watched Girlie Girl head up front and collapse in the comfy old chair. She put an arm on the counter and rested her head. Judy felt like she should give her a hug or offer some advice about Dane, but she didn’t know what to say. Judy thought about going up to sit with Girlie Girl, to keep her company, but decided she better get back to work. It was time to sweep and mop before the morning rush, and talking to Girlie Girl had put her behind.
As she worked on the floor, Judy wondered where Girlie Girl was going to end up. They hadn’t talked about it, but Judy’s shift would be over soon. Judy felt worried about what was going to happen to Girlie Girl. Maybe she should suggest Girlie Girl find a motel room? Or maybe she should take Girlie Girl to the yellow house? There was an extra bedroom. Judy wondered what it would be like to live with Girlie Girl. It could get annoying with all the clothes and makeup and talking, but it might be fun to have another person around. Judy realized she hadn’t lived with anyone for almost thirty years. She’d never lived with someone she wasn’t related to. She felt exhilarated and sort of nervous thinking about sharing her home with a glamorous person like Girlie Girl.
As the morning rush approached, Judy took her position behind the counter. Since Girlie Girl was now curled up and asleep in Gary’s old chair, Judy perched on the tall stool and waited for her morning regulars. At this time of day, the sun peeked through the graphics on the windows, giving Girlie Girl a gentle glow. Judy leaned in and looked closer at Girlie Girl’s black pointy nails, which were glinting in the early sun. Tiny diamonds were affixed to the end of each of the nail tips, and Judy could see the polish wasn’t actually black. It was deep purple, painted with faint silver and gold diagonal stripes. Girlie Girl’s nails shimmered like little masterpieces. Judy leaned back on her stool and watched a car pull in the lot. She never realized nails could be so artistic. They were fancy announcements for your hands. Judy figured it probably took a long time to place all the gems exactly right and to decide where to put the different colors. Judy felt a surge of warmth and suddenly wanted to touch the jewels, but she resisted the urge to take Girlie Girl’s hand.
As customers rushed in the store for their morning goods, and the chip and newspaper vendors stopped by to replenish their displays, Judy could tell people were being much kinder now that Girlie Girl was with her.
The young police officer, who was usually standoffish when he came in for his energy drinks, now gave a curious but approving glance at the sleeping Girlie Girl.
Judy felt excited to have someone with her who attracted so much attention, but this was the problem, Judy decided. People couldn’t see the real you. Just the highlighted hair, the trendy clothes, the trim body. They couldn’t see the effort and thought that went into it. Judy had spent a few hours getting to know Girlie Girl, and Judy felt like Girlie Girl didn’t need all that pressure. Didn’t need Dane for sure.
“This is my granddaughter, visiting from California. She’s studying to be a fashion designer. Full ride to San Diego,” said Judy to another regular, a man who was staring at Girlie Girl as he paid for his coffee.
“What an accomplishment,” said the man. Judy knew he was the CEO at an important bank in the city. He really did look impressed.
“She came to visit me at work. Don’t you love having grandkids?”
“Yes, I do!” He pulled up a photo on his phone of him sitting on the floor surrounded by five little kids. “These are my angels.”
“What precious babies.”
“I hope you and your granddaughter enjoy your time together.”
Judy beamed. She decided that when Girlie Girl woke, Judy would ask if she’d like to stay in the yellow house until she got back on her feet. Judy could just imagine it. The two of them watching shows together in the living room, Judy sitting in her comfy recliner with Girlie Girl perched on the overstuffed arm. If Dane came looking for Girlie Girl, Judy would yell at him to buzz off, or maybe not answer at all. They’d laugh and laugh behind their hands while Dane knocked on Judy’s door with his big dumb knuckles. And Judy would hold onto Girlie Girl while they giggled, help keep her steady so Girlie Girl wouldn’t fall.
M.A. Boswell (she/her) is a 2021 graduate of the MFA in Writing program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art and works in design and communications. M.A. has fiction in Taco Bell Quarterly Volume 6 and creative nonfiction in Hobart. Find her on Twitter @ma_boswell.