I returned the following morning. I always do, or try to, after a night like last night. Sometimes I leave something behind.
Once I found my shirt hanging from a tree. I asked some local boys to throw rocks at it to knock it loose. They happily obliged.
Another time I left behind the smashed window in the door of a butcher’s shop. The next morning, the owner was taking inventory and I offered to help sweep up. He shrugged and turned away. I whispered an apology and then bought the last fresh ham from his wife. I had a bit of a stomachache, but knew I would eat it later.
But this morning at the gas station, I couldn’t find any evidence of misbehavior. In fact, I couldn’t find any evidence that I had been there at all, no hairs in the grass or footprints in the mud, no stray clothes or broken windows.
Was this the right gas station? It had been a gas station, hadn’t it? I checked my empty pockets for one of the notes I sometimes wrote to myself.
The pumps and the hedges and the little store looked familiar. I walked toward the drainage ditch that ran around the back, the direction I would have gone. The grass was not matted down, but looked as if someone had brushed it back into place. And the mud had been smoothed over.
I crouched to look more closely and noticed something shiny: a small blob of metal embedded in the dirt under a branch. I used my fingernail to pry it loose. It felt hot in my hand and I cradled it in the cuff of my sleeve so it wouldn’t touch my skin.
“Find something?” A man’s greasy voice behind me arched my back. I stood and turned. “No.” I shivered and slipped the thing into my pocket.
“Lose something, then?” He wore sunglasses and smiled broadly, standing with his feet spread apart while swirling a small bit of coffee in a large paper cup.
“My… My glasses.” I stuttered, brushing dirt from my jeans.
“Last night?” He asked.
“Uh, no. Two nights ago.”
“Hunh. So why are you looking here now?”
“I… I’ve already looked everywhere else.”
He took a step closer and over his shoulder I caught the eye of a woman pumping gas. But she had no sympathy for me. I started toward the road, but the man stepped in my way. “You know, I lost something last night.” He said. “I wonder if you saw it while you were searching for your glasses.”
He waited for me to ask him what it was, but I just stared at the road, planning how to leave without calling attention to myself. I don’t like being remembered.
The man finally said, “A bit of jewelry. My wife’s. She had a silver necklace with a small… well… sort of bullet-shaped pendant. Well… We had a fight and she tossed it out the window toward that grass there.”
I avoided looking at him. “Didn’t see it.”
“Are you sure you weren’t here last night? There’s something familiar about you. Almost… A smell.”
I tried to laugh. “You’re starting to creep me out, man.”
“Well that makes two of us.”
Standing as close as we were I could smell his breakfast on his breath.
He lowered his shoulders and exhaled slowly. I stepped around him and walked away without looking back.
That night I would have to be much more careful.