Olfactory adaptation – that’s what Ted should’ve had after years of working at the petrol station, but his sense of smell was impeccable. One day he’d train as a sommelier, he told himself, maybe next year.
For the first hour of every shift, he walked the shop, stacking shelves, taking inventory, and straightening the merchandise. The day staff never did a thorough job and the boxes of confectionary always needed to be replenished.
When this task was complete, he sat down on the stool next to the cash register, the serving hatch on his left, and began to read a book. Occasionally, he’d look up, deep in thought, and gaze through the window. The artificial light illuminated the forecourt, fending off the night in a way that only electricity can keep at bay.
He watched as the flies and the moths kamikazed themselves against the lights, dropping to the ground like rain drops of death. During the day, the odd customer would fill their tank or buy some snacks for the road, just enough to keep the business afloat. But at night there was nothing but time and dreams.
24/7 the sign proudly flickered as Ted’s eyes began to droop. Through the dark, headlights appeared, and his eyes opened; a car pulled in, all sleek and black, fine lines and a finer engine. Ted got up from the stool and straightened the box of chewing gum by the hatch.
The car door opened and a woman in black stilettos and a tight black dress carefully extricated herself from the driver’s seat. She looked up and smiled at Ted as she sauntered over to the hatch. Ted caught himself staring and looked back down at his book.
When she was a few feet away he turned his head towards her and opened the hatch. A whiff hit him, subtle but familiar, as she approached. She lay her perfectly manicured hands on the edge of the hatch, ‘Hey there’ she said with a cool southern lilt ‘a litre of 5W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil, please’.
‘That’s unexpected’ he said, as if anything in this situation was expected. He walked over to the back of the shop, trying to catch her reflection in any surface he could. She just smiled with perfectly white teeth and waited.
He returned with the oil and handed it to her, ‘And a packet of gum’ she said reaching through the hatch. Ted tapped on the cash register and turned the display to show her the total, she handed him a black credit card she was holding.
He gave her the receipt, she twisted the top off the oil and guzzled it, finishing it in one and wiping her mouth on her hand. She opened the packet of chewing gum, emptied them into her mouth and began to chew.
She winked at Ted then strolled back to the car, slipped into the driver’s seat, and shot off into the night. ‘Synthetics’ he tutted ‘I knew I recognised the smell, maybe next year’ he reassured himself, as he fixated on a moth flying around the empty forecourt.