The station wagon is sitting in the sun in handicapped parking, near the front of the grocery store. The car has seen better days. Faded and rusted, a crack runs east and west the length of the windshield. Possibly the tourist stickers are holding it together. The Great Smoky Mountains, SeaWorld, Taos, the London Bridge (a tourist attraction these days in western Arizona), Six Flags of Texas, Mt. Rushmore, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Harvard, Cabo San Lucas.
The rear passenger windows are rolled all the way up and the ones in front are barely open, maybe half an inch. A woman is standing at the window on the passenger’s side, patiently dipping a long straw she’d gotten from the grocery store into a Big Gulp cup she must have brought with her, as there isn’t a 7-Eleven anywhere on the south end of the island. She is 60 or so, careful about her makeup, her clothes, her hair. Not quite old enough to be a sweet old lady, but getting there.
The Big Gulp is full of water and she seals the top of the straw with her index finger and sticks it through the opening at the top of the window, then lifts her finger so the water drops out and into the mouth of a five-pound, bug-eyed mongrel of toy poodle/rat combination whose tongue, when she is not lapping at the water, hangs almost to her feet. The tongue is some terrible mistake, twice again too big to fit into her mouth.
The dog laps at the straw and when the water stops she runs in place, her front paws against the window, and whines for more.
“Just a minute, honey,” the woman said. “I’m hurrying as fast as I can.”
A man on his way into the store sees the woman and stops. He says, “Lose your keys?”
She doesn’t answer at first, concentrating on getting a fresh straw-full of water through the crack. She moves her mouth slightly up and down when the dog laps at the water, the way you sometimes see a mother moving her own mouth when she’s trying to feed her baby that terrible green mashed stuff babies have to eat.
“Oh, they’re not mine,” she says. “I came by and they were yipping.” Them. The man looks more closely and sees the other one, pressed into the door on the driver’s side. This is probably nobody’s idea of a hot day, but the sun is overhead and half an hour ago when he got into his own car, the air inside felt like it was coming out of somebody’s lungs.
She has emptied the long, red straw of water four or five times into the first dog’s mouth. She tries to coax the other over but he won’t budge. The man asks how long she’s been here. The woman doesn’t know, maybe 20 minutes. Twenty minutes inside a car with the windows all but closed, it’s probably 100 degrees.
She moves to the other side of the station wagon. The bigger dog—the female—follows her over. The opening at the top is narrower here and she makes kissy sounds at the other pooch, who looks pretty much like the first one except he is smaller. The woman cracks the straw pushing it in and the water leaks out the middle and drops on the second dog’s head. He lies still, dripping.
The woman, who is almost a sweet old lady but not quite, smiles politely and says, “I hate people.”
The man wishes her luck and leaves her trying to talk the dogs into trading places.
She is still there when he comes back out of the store. The owners of the station wagon have shown up and are standing with the rear gate open to load the groceries. It looks sort of like a date. He is dressed in a blazer, pressed pants, and black boots. The girlfriend is a human wart. A huge, slovenly wart.
“I suppose you’re an attorney,” says the man in the blazer. He is a foot taller than she is, maybe 150 pounds heavier.
“No,” the woman says. “I just said there are laws…”
“She’s ugly,” says the human wart about the Samaritan with the straw. “Old and ugly. Why don’t you f—- yourself instead of bothering us?”
“I only meant dogs can overheat in closed cars. They can die.”
The awful-looking woman laughed out loud. Her stomach jiggled under her shirt.
“You know how many dogs I’ve killed?” the man in the blazer says. “None. I’ve never killed one yet. You think you’re so intelligent…”
“She’s ugly,” says the awful woman. “Just ugly and old…”
“You better just go along on your way and stop harassing people,” says the man in the blazer.
The woman doesn’t leave. The man—the first man—turns around and wheels his own grocery cart back so that he is there more or less beside the woman. She is still holding the Big Gulp, and he sees that she is trembling.
“Another one,” says the awful one, meaning the man. She has moved to the car now—out of the sun—and is sitting in the open front door, her feet still on the parking lot ground, one of the dogs trying to lick her face. The man—the first man again—looks away. He has a terrible premonition that somehow she is going to accuse him of looking up her dress.
“You’re not even from here,” says the man in the blazer.
“And who are you supposed to be?” the man in the blazer said to the first man.
“Oh, I’m from here,” he says.
The man in the blazer turns away to finish loading up the station wagon, threatening to call the police if anybody touches him. The dogs start to bark.
The woman with him begins to say something else—probably you’re ugly or you’re old—but he is in a hurry now, and yells, “Hush!” maybe to her, maybe the dogs. He backs up, almost into the man’s shopping cart, then speeds out of the parking lot.
The woman with him reaches out her window and lifts her middle finger, and they are gone.