BY Ryan Clowe
A woman stands at a gas pump outside Circle K, fueling her black hatchback. I am drawn to her pink zip-up jacket, a bright fashion statement against the dreariness of overcast sky. I finish pumping my own car and walk over. We greet each other and I get a better look at her: she is older, maybe late 50s, early 60s, with straight brown hair that brushes the lapels of her hoodie, and glasses that rest atop her nose. There is a roughness to her face: her skin is wrinkled, with sharp creases contouring her neck and cheeks, and her frame is slim, but lacking the fragility one might suspect of an older woman – she has dealt with her fair share of life’s misgivings, and persevered.
She tells me she’s from Bishop’s Falls and is visiting St John’s with her husband. “He’s in the store,” she says. Her brother-in-law is getting married tomorrow, so she drove out a day early. I ask if she’s excited for the wedding. There is a grimace, and a hand is run through her hair. I ask with a laugh if that’s a no. “No!” she says, “I just wish there was better weather.”
I ask about her job. She’s a Customer Service Associate, or CSA, at Circle K. I glance up at the giant red ‘K’ behind her. “Like this one?” I point. She nods, “But in Bishop’s Falls.” She tells me it is a great place to meet people, especially from different countries. Just recently, she’d met some customers from Australia and Britain. “You can tell by the accents.” But the job has its downsides. “Like what?” I ask. “Everything else.” Working in senior sales and acting as assistant manager, she has to deal with vendor and customer issues, excessive garbage, and spilled gas. Management is required to clean-up bio-spills, and she tells me about the time one guy defecated in the urinal of her brand new store. “It’s not that I don’t like it,” she says with a flip of her wrist, but she leaves the thought hanging.
I prompt her about the economy, and she asserts that it’s a rat race: inflation and no time for family because, “Hey, ya gotta work.” And she loves her family. Lives only with her husband right now – “No time for a pet! Always working!” – but she has one son in St John’s and another in Grand Falls who has given her three grandkids.
Her take on politics in Newfoundland? She says there’s no time for it and no reason to get involved. “Never no one good to vote for, right?”
I inquire about her spare time. “I visit my grandkids and my family. And I read.” She loves science-fiction and crime novels, but her most beloved are fantasy. RA Salvatore and Kelley Armstrong: Icewind Dale and Women of the Otherworld, respectively. I ask if there’s a reason why those two. She doesn’t give one. I don’t say it, but I wonder if, in this landscape of soiling economies and frozen politics, she reads to escape the harsh realities life offers to hard workers who have little time for much else. Families move to find work, escaping to larger urban centres away from the rural suburbia of long-time islanders, much as her kids left Bishop’s Falls behind.
I ask if she’s going to do any shopping while she’s here. “No shopping. No money,” she says. There is no defeat or regret in her voice; there is an understanding of family over material goods.
She finished pumping gas some time ago, fuel nozzle locked in its spot and paper receipt billowing in the breeze. Her husband walks up behind her and says they have to go.
As we say our goodbyes and I leave them to their wedding, I wonder how many others like her – who love their families, who love literature, who would like to make time for a pet, and attend weddings, and go shopping – how many are encountered and ignored or forgotten each day?
As they drive away, I notice stains of oil on the ground, and realize that someone who works here will have to clean them up.