Anna: A Short Story



By: John Lineberger

It was November outside and I was eighteen, working the night shift by myself in an Exxon gas station at the end of my street. Between the hours of thumbing through Instagram and countless vain attempts to talk with some hotdog craving truckers, I was sure I’d lose my mind in that little hub. It was an old station, certainly older than me at least, right at the corner of the second biggest intersection in all of Mint Hill. But that didn’t mean much at 3 a.m.

My hair was long and I had braces that made me feel ten years younger in the worst ways possible. I had a bad habit of messing with them, like seeing if they came loose anywhere, or just pushing on them for no reason. I was also going on my third straight year of rocking the same light blue nail polish. The name tag on my shirt read ‘Ann’ instead of ‘Anna’ and overall I had decided that I was not just the sole proprietor of this Exxon in the early hours, I was the ghost that haunted it.

Beside the cash register was a big stack of magazines no one ever bought. They dated back as far as 2006. I wasn’t interested in celebrity gossip, especially not ten year old celebrity gossip, but I did like to look through them just for the pictures. I graduated high school in the summer and knew I wanted to do something with photography. The magazines never did much interesting with angles, but I was obsessed with how they got the perfect lighting in every photo, even when it was just a spontaneous shot right as Saoirse Ronan dropped into her car.

The bell dinged, and a heavyset man walked inside. I looked out the window and saw his semi-truck stretched out under the canopy like a dog cooling off.

The man went down the isles picking up candy and a case of Red Bulls. He wandered around and eventually got all the way back to me to say, “Can I get one of those hotdogs too?”

“Sure,” I said.

He looked more awake than I was used too. A small beard, AC/DC shirt, baggy jeans, and a thick coat. I wondered if cargo transport was his dream.

My two best friends moved to attend college at WCU right after high school. Both nursing majors, just like my mom. I wished I had such a straight shoot into my career. I also wished my parents had saved the money to enroll me in college on time. No money, no degree, no job, no money.

I wondered if this trucker had a degree, or if he wanted nothing less than to spend his life riding that mammoth outside down the open road.

I got his hotdog and rang him up. I wanted to say something, but wasn’t sure what.

“You look awfully awake for three in the morning.”

He shrugged. “That’s the job.”

I handed him the receipt.

“Thanks,” he said. I waved him out, watched him go down the pavement and climb up into the front cabin. I suddenly wished I’d taken a picture of it.

Just as he was turning onto the road, I was thinking about plugging my IPod into the radio for some Paramore when a beat up old sedan swerved around the semi truck and parked in front of the station.

Four kids got out, all of them drunk off their asses. I say kids, but they were older than me, probably early twenties. They strayed in, three boys and a girl, and started rummaging through the aisles. I sat back on my bench and waited.

Two of the boys were sorting through chips while the third and the girl went straight to the beer cooler and they were all laughing. Before I knew it, the two boys were in an argument and the tall redheaded one pushed the overweight brown haired one into a Doritos rack and knocked it over.

“Look at what you’ve did now, you idiot,” the redhead said.

The girl and the third boy were coming back around now with a case of Budlight and pulled the brown haired boy off the floor. He looked flustered.

“Let’s get going,” the third boy said.

They came to the counter and I rang it up. The girl paid. She handed me the money and smiled an odd smile like she was sorry for the mess they certainly made, but also drunk and didn’t have time in the world for certainties.

I gave her back the change and the redheaded boy slipped up beside her. He put his arm around her waist with one hand and slid the beer case to him with the other.

“We ready?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said.

They walked out the doors and were heading on down the road seconds later.

I looked down the chip aisle at the overturned rack and the scattered pile of Dorito bags laying everywhere, but before I had the chance to go clean it up a sudden pining settled in me and I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette.

It was a bad habit. I didn’t know why. My dad smoked them my whole life and one day I felt like I needed one too so I took it and lit and smoked it.

It was actually colder than I expected, like forty degrees. I stood outside, leaning against the wall of the station and watching the sky. Ten years ago, I could see thousands of stars when I looked up at night. Today, Mint Hill was doubled in size and lights, and I could barely spot five. The intersection I worked at used to be the biggest in the town, now it’s just another of many. I liked seeing Mint Hill grow, but at the same time I just felt like I needed to get away, move on. It had out grown me, or maybe the other way around.

I started looking through Instagram again and saw my friend Hannah had posted herself drinking coffee in a shop on the WCU campus, or somewhere near it. I favorited it and wished badly that I had the money to be there. I inhaled and blew out a puff of smoke mixed with winter breath.

I was scared. I didn’t know where I’d be in a year, or five, or ten. Time just kept moving and yet here I was in the same place doing the same thing. I’d felt like that for a long time now.

When I was fifteen, I had my first boyfriend. His name was Henry. He was kind of short and wore camo a little too much, but I was in love with him. We’d max out our texting plans in a few days, take spontaneous road trips around the metro area, sing songs together as if we knew how to sing, break into dance at random moments, sneak into each other’s rooms. All the cliché stuff. We did it all together.

Henry knew what he wanted. He was going right into electrical engineering like a lot of other boys were. He had his life pathed out, and there was just his way about him. Every time he smiled or laughed, he made me feel like I caused it. He would follow me around on my random walks taking pictures and I’d get a photo of everything he pointed out. He almost fell in a creek once hanging backwards off a little bridge with his arms crossed for me to get a goofy shot of him. I thought we were perfect. Like I said, I loved him, and he seemed to know things about me that I didn’t even know.

Then, a year later, he took a chemistry class. He started spending a lot of time working on projects, staying after school, and just slowly loosening all these threads that had held us together.

He said that he couldn’t pick me up in the mornings anymore to ride to school together because his dad thought he was wasting too much gas. So I was back to riding the bus again for the first time in a lot of months.

One morning, I got to school and it was freezing outside. I was heading indoors when I saw his red corolla still running in the junior lot. I knew he must still be in his car, so I walked over to it and tried to seem him through the frosted glass. He was there, and so was the other girl. Stephanie Black. Freshman. Chemistry project. I stood frozen until he saw me and then he was out of the car and saying things that melted the same as the frost did from my face and I was screaming and then storming away and the principal was outside by then looking at me walk by and then looking at Henry watching me go and then speaking into the void on his radio.

I think the smoking started soon after that. Along with a bunch of other things, like black eyeshadow and music with more of a scream to it. I’m not sure how the blue nail polish survived, but I really did love it.

Now I was five months done with the high school life and torment, yet still here sitting, waiting, wishing.

There was a 24/7 CVS across the street from me. From around one of its corners, I saw a guy come strolling with some trash bags. I thought he must be one of their skeleton shift workers, taking garbage out to the dumpster. About halfway down the building, he stopped, put the trash bags down on the ground and went shifting through them. I thought, what does he think people are throwing away, money? But then when he sat against the wall and started eating something that looked like a candy bar I realized that he didn’t work at that CVS. He had pulled the bags from the trashcans outside and then pulled them around to a side of the building you couldn’t see through the front windows. Homeless.

The realization struck me so hard and soundly I thought that my head had cracked open. I had just mistook a homeless person for someone with the same banal job as me. I looked like a homeless person standing here, loitering around a gas station in my sweatpants early in the morning.

This wasn’t right. I felt his pain, his misery, but I couldn’t let that become me. I couldn’t be destined to stand here wasting away years with this sorrow seeded deep into my gut. I couldn’t breathe in all of this smoke and let it burn away my insides until I couldn’t take another breath. God I wanted that man across the street to be so much more than he was right now. I wanted myself to be.

I dropped the cigarette and went inside. I fixed the Dorito rack. It was still only 3:43 a.m., but I put on my jacket and waited behind the register until seven. I smiled at the clean shaven man a little older than me when he came in for his shift. As I left, the homeless man outside was gone, but the words seemed ingrained on every surface. Swirling out of my mind. It was the words on my lips:

This isn’t it.












She sees someone roaming around by the CVS across the street. Thinks that he must work there, but he’s actually a homeless person.

Anna resolves to make something for herself.

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About the Author

Tierra Holmes is a senior studying Art History and History at UNCC. When she isn’t chained to her computer working on research projects, she enjoys marathoning Korean dramas and spending money she doesn’t have. After graduation, she hopes to curate a museum or gallery and possibly guest-star on Mysteries at the Museum.