Circa February, 2014: I closed and locked the gate behind me as I departed what we affectionately called our redneck country estate — which was located north of the small city of Brenham. I’m leaving because I’d forgotten to bring milk with me for my overnight stay, and coffee without milk doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the alternative.
I turned right onto the main highway and headed north to the even smaller city of Somerville, which was only a couple of miles away. Somerville gave off the same vibe as a town that Walmart had entered, shutting down all local businesses, and then left. Unfortunately for Somerville, there never was a Walmart.
I’m wasn’t going to Somerville to take in the meager sites but am instead aiming for the gas station that sat at the outskirts of town. I pulled up to the station and entered the surprisingly clean building (it was only six months old at this point).
A woman who was probably significantly younger than me — chronologically — stood behind the register with a blank look on her face. I mumbled a greeting. Her lips might have twitched in response but otherwise my entrance went unnoticed.
I grabbed a carton of milk and an orange juice and headed over to pay. Her eyes seemed to regain some of their focus when I set the milk down and she shook her head to clear the cobwebs.
“Is that it?” she asked.
The bags under her eyes were dark, and puffy. As she reached over to scan my items I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be a brand new tattoo on her forearm. The tattoo seemed overly large for her skinny arm. There were no colors, but there were several different shades of gray and black which punctuated the flaming sword that started at her wrist and went halfway up her arm. The ink, and the accompanying scabby coating, seemed very fresh.
She called out the total owed, and that effort appeared to tax her. If a chair had been available she would’ve been sitting. Were it not for the surveillance camera pointed directly at her and the counter beyond she’d be laying down on the floor.
I handed her the money I asked, “Long night?”
She accepted the bills with her tattooed arm and noticed my gaze. “Yeah. I got this done at 3 a.m. Guy cut me a deal since it was after-hours.”
She held up her arm for closer inspection. “Can you believe that this was only $20?”
I agreed that this seems like a very reasonable rate. She then found a second wind and continued on. “I had to get it bigger so it would cover up the tat that was there before.”
I looked harder at the mess of flames tattooed on her forearm. Something did look strange, but there were a lot of options vying for that title. I felt compelled to ask, “What was there originally?”
She now seemed embarrassed as if she’s overshared. She pulled her arm back and looked a bit sheepish. Staring at the floor she replied in a hushed voice, with a hint of sarcasm, “LOL.”