Tin-tap drops of rain hitting the roof of the car, the burned-dust old carpet smell coming from the heater. My breath creating a film of condensation that fogs the edges of the windows where the vents can’t or don’t want to reach. Jerry’s exhales, loaded with carcinogens and that tangy smell of his peculiar brand of foreign tobacco. I’m drumming my fingers on the cardboard box in my lap, but no one minds because the weather is louder.

We’re waiting for an exchange in an otherwise empty parking lot outside an abandoned supermarket. A few of the shops are still open in the strip mall that extends like a broken spine from the east wing of the old grocery, the lights from their storefronts warbling against the blowing sheets of water. A dollar store, a debt consolidator’s office, and a check cashing service all in a little cluster, an epicenter of blight.

“They should have a liquor store,” I say, and Jer just nods along to the bass beats pounding on the inside of his head. He’s been gripping the wheel since we parked, and his knuckles gleam white in the grey light. A hand appears between us, an oily joint pinched between overlong and dirty fingernails. The smoke curling off of it reminds me of the same from a sleeping cartoon dragon’s nostrils. I watch it for a moment, then it quivers, a signal from the guy in the back seat to either take a toke or leave it. Jer doesn’t seem to notice; he’s still bopping along to his inaudible rhythm. With half-hearted reluctance I take the joint and give it a perfunctory puff, not really wanting to be high right now but not seeing any alternative. As soon as I inhale, I realize I’m going to need something to drink, then maybe something to eat, and the annoyance at having to acquire those things hits me hard. I pass the joint back a centimeter shorter.

“Good?” the guy in the back seat asks.

“Sure,” I say, blowing the word out alongside a whooshing lungful of smoke. “You got anything to drink back there?”

An unopened bottle of neon green sports drink appears in the same manner the joint did, and I accept it with more enthusiasm than the previous offering. “Thanks,” I say, cracking the seal and taking a sip. It tastes like electrolytes, salty and a little artificial, but it takes care of the cotton mouth and eases the harshness in my throat.

“Where the fuck are these guys?” Jer growls, the words less of a question and more an expression of frustration.

“If you wanted punctuality,” I say, “you probably should’ve gone into a different line of work. They’ll either be here, or they won’t. It’s not like we’ve got anything better to be doing.”

“Not until five, anyway,” says the guy in the back seat.

I check my watch. “That gives us three more hours. It’ll be worth it if they show, even if we have to wait the whole three.”

“Just feels like such a heat-score sitting here,” Jer says.

“Then why the fuck did you park in the middle of the lot?” asks the guy in the back seat.

“So that they’d see me?” Jer asks, the challenge clear in the tone. The guy in the back seat doesn’t take the bait.

The high starts to creep in and I can feel my tension easing. Maybe it was a good idea to take that toke. The rain sounds like it’s pounding on the outside of my skull, and I close my eyes and let the world spin. A voice starts to ask me what I think I’m doing with my life, but I shut it up and drift further away. I won’t be able to ignore it very much longer, but at least I can stifle it enough to enjoy the moment.

There’s a loud rapping on the window, louder than raindrops, and I open my eyes to the black business end of a wet revolver.

2014.12.11 – 2023.07.13

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