In the summer heat, flies buzz in dazed loops, circling, searching for a pocket of relief never found. The shades are drawn, long stretches of manila that glow like bricks of gold under the relentless sunlight pounding through the windows. A man stands at the counter, waiting, looking through a thick pane of glass laying atop post cards from every place in the world one would rather be—Hello from the Grand Canyon, Christmas in Denmark, a bright red thong strolling along a white beach in Costa Rica. Again, he rings a tarnished bell, and the sound coming from it is flat, dull. Perhaps even the metal has succumb to the heat.
The space behind the counter remains empty. The wood-paneled door stays closed. Bob leans forward to sneak a peak at an old television monitoring two security cameras. One is fixed on the gasoline pumps, the black and white screen turning his silver coupe a dull gray. The other stares at an empty lot in back of the small building. Dying weeds lean and wilt. Dust lies in waiting, anxious for a breeze or trudging boots.
He leans back, rings the bell again and again, and sees a sticky note. It’s yellow color is faded and layered with dust. Failing adhesive struggles to keep it stuck to the wall. Scrawled across the paper is a single word: Tuesday.
Below the note, a light switch flipped off.
Bob looks around and waits. The air inside the old, neglected shop is heavy and stale. A confused fly buzzes by, buzzing left, buzzing right, questioning the meaning of life. His eyes land on the note and switch again. Tuesday stares back, and curiosity grips him. Bob searches, sees no one, and leans over the counter. Stretching, reaching, he flips the switch on.
It clicks up.
A humming passes through the walls, low and distant. Somewhere nearby, a door opens with a thump. Bob looks to the cameras again, hoping for a glimpse of what could be. His car waits, gas nozzle dipped into the tank but not pumping. The back lot remains empty, the dust still waiting.
Then she’s there, stepping through the small shop like a ghost thrust back into the land of the living, awkward and confused. Her plastic hands articulate. Her legs, metal rods with humming servos and tiny hydraulics, thump-thump across the worn linoleum. The lenses set within her eye-sockets adjust and focus with subtle clicks. The robot stomps through the small shop quickly and exits, the small doorbell clanging with her passing.
With his mouth hanging open, Bob stands and blinks. He looks at the security monitor and sees the robot approach his car, test the nozzle, and turn to the pump. He watches in amazement as the robot begins servicing his vehicle.
“The hell!” shouts a voice as the door behind the counter slides open. A middle-aged man appears with sandbags under his eyes and confusion on his face. “What’d you do!?”
“The pump,” Bob says, struggling with the words, his eyes locked on the aged television. “I needed gas.”
“No shit,” says the man. “Didn’t you see the sign? We’re closed!”
Bob shakes his head and moves his lips, but no words follow. Outside, the robot checks his tires, cleans his windshield. “That’s amazing,” he finally says in an astonished whisper. “Do you call that Tuesday?”
“No, numbnuts,” the man behind the counter says. “I call it trespassing. Now get the hell outta my shop!”
Seeing the robot diligently remove the tiny spots from his windshield, Bob nods. “Yeah, sure.”
Seeing his words unheard, the man glares. “Did you hear me!?”
Bobs nods again.
“That’s it,” says the man. He leans down and speaks into a microphone behind the counter. “Tuesday, perform operation Scratching Post!”
“Scratching Post?” Bob asks.
The man smiles and mimics a cat clawing at invisible furniture. Bob looks to the screen and sees Tuesday pause in her windshield cleaning, re-orientate, and then drag metal fingers along the side of his car. On the monitor, the deep gouges in the metal appear as white lines. From the windows, slipping in through the manila shades shining like gold, he hears the shrill shrieking of metal on metal.
“Helluva Tuesday,” Bob says.