Petrol.

A blinding wash of artificial white light, piercing the windscreen from high above, flowed over her as studied her wearied palms. Turning them over cautiously as if checking that they still had skin on both sides, Meggy surveyed the rouge bruising and raised blisters at the base of eight twig-like fingers. The realisation dawned upon her for the first time that she was old- or rather, ageing, a feeling that she had only felt during her time in London. Pale and meagre like the undersides of lobster legs, her fingers swayed one by one in a synchronised chromatic wave as she flexed them curiously. Once upon a time, they were used for things other than gripping wooden broom handles, sweeping dusty corridors, making impossibly long, cheap carpets look vaguely presentable. Now, all she knew was 4am starts, 1am finishes and movement. So much movement in London. Two buses here; three trains there. The first week she worked for the agency, she told her mother how many trains she needed to get to work. ‘I hope they’re paying you for all of that?’, her mother quizzed sternly in Polish. ‘All that travelling can’t be good for you Meshka- why don’t you move closer?’. It seemed that all anyone wanted for Meggy was to move somewhere. She cupped her hands over her nose, exhaling spent breath in an attempt to warm them, before rubbing them together and clapping three times; a strange vestigal ritual that styaed with her even in adulthood. Winter had come quicker than Andrej had predicted, and although her body had re-acclimatised to the drop in temperature, every now and then it seemed to weaken on her. She scanned the forecourt of the Petrol Station for other human life, but saw no-one else. Just like the complex of roads; motorways and overpasses that surrounded their flat, all human life ceased to exist within the sacred window of night that she seemed to know all too well. Work required more employees since the strike, and she felt as though turning down hours would make Andrej suspicious, especially as the deposit for the new place was due in two months. Taking more shifts seemed like the only solution for a rather resilient problem. She eyed the central system of the car; its moulded plastic interface lined with veneered brown wood. Tapping each of the coloured buttons: blue, red and yellow, in a hope to activate the central heating, she clicked passively with her prods. Nothing happened. She repeated, this time faster, and faster still until she struck the steering wheel in anger, shaking the chasis of the car, surprising herself at her own strength. The small blue pine tree air freshener, worn by the rear view mirror’s skinny neck, swayed like it’s namesake in a storm. Meggy watched him, as he traversed the aisles of the Petrol Station. His narrow, harshly shaped head sailed between row after row of produce, at a rate that was excruciating to follow. Meggy did not love him. They both knew it and had both accepted it. On their third date, at a TGI Fridays in Park Royal, Andrej proposed to her. Under the pressure of the situation, she bit her lip and said yes infront of all of the wide-eyed strangers and cheering waiters. Later, in the dead of night, she woke him and told him that she did not love him. He wept for nearly an hour, before she initiated sex with him. It was their first time, and Meggy’s first time with a man. It couldn’t have gone worse, and if anything only confirmed her repellence of him. ‘Can you... stop breathing so much- on my face? It’s really distracting’, she said. He looked aghast, even in the dim light of the bedside table.‘I’m sorry... how about now?’ He altered his posture, before trying to enter her several times. She was dry and no amount of incessant questions, excruciating dirty talk or exhaling bad-breath was going to change that. When he was finally inside her, she focused on the memory of receiving oral sex from her teenage best friend at a mutual friend’s birthday party, six years back. As she expected, he finished some three minutes later, coming over her chubby stomach and lay there crying for a further twenty four minutes. She shushed him soothingly, stroking his soon-to-be-vanishing hair, with an air of maternity that she never knew she had. ‘In time, Andrej, in time. All good things need time, and we are no different. You’ll see.’
She Skyped her cousin Kristina the next day. She was in hysterics. ‘What’s so funny; why are you always so upbeat when my life takes a turn for the shit?’. Kristina went silent.
‘To be honest, your life took a turn for the shit, the day you left Krakow’. Meggy sighed aloud, rubbing her forehead. ‘Meshka- you can get any man, and you pick him? After everything back home; you chose this job, and this man? Obudzić się! I’m sorry, but you asked’. Meggy had asked nothing, in reality. She seldom heard from Kristina after she married for the third time- he was a Russian banker,  wanted by the Hague for involvement in a number of events in Croatia. Last Meggy had heard (from her mother, in tears), Kristina was in witness protection.

Meggy found herself staring ahead; zoning out within an abstraction of nothingness. Some ten metres away there was a Carwash. She shifted her posture, sleep cutting her eyes. The more she gazed at the sterile light lining the shiny plastic box, beyond translucent glass panels, the more medical, alien and futuristic it seemed. Three doubled rows of lights flashed yellow softly, as if to indicate an emergency. The acrid, harsh essence of raw petrol snuck its way into the climate of the lightless car, along with the biting cold of the night. Holding her numb fingers together in a clamped embrace, Maggy pressed them against her sternum and began to remember.