Cold Kindness

Mateson stands at the gas pump debating. The early morning cold is enough to tingle the mucus in his nose as it freezes. When he left his house this morning, he had only enough money to fill his gas tank and perhaps buy lunch. The gas tank would get him to work for the rest of the week— at least until payday— but he was going to have to practice how to be hungry again. 

His stomach clenches in contemplation of this.

It isn’t the first time his obligation to his mother has cut him short.

Mateson lets out a billow of white breath and pulls his wallet from his back pocket.

Just then a flashy, red, foreign sports car pulls up to his pump on the opposite side. Mateson pauses to look and admire, and also out of curiosity, because it’s the wrong time of year for such a car to be out of its temperature controlled environment.

A young man in a sleek winter coat jumps out and begins patting his pockets. A worried look crosses his face, and he bends over to peer into the car again. Mateson has forgotten about his own gas and watches as this dance spirals into a panic.

“Oh, crap… Oh Craaappp… You gotta be kidding me.” The sound of things thumping back and forth comes from the open car door.

Mateson steps up and pokes his head around the pump. “You okay, kid?” he asks.

The kid, red faced and frightened, backs out of the car and grasps his hair. “I forgot my wallet, and I don’t have my phone… I got maybe ten miles left on this tank and like a hundred miles to get home.” Tears glisten and threaten to freeze on his eye lashes. “I’m such an idiot.”

“Well, calm down. It’s not the end of the world,” Mateson says, stepping over the concrete divider. “How much do you think will get you home like twenty— twenty-five bucks?”

The kid’s brows rise into his forehead and the panic falls from his face. “Uh— it should, I think.”

Mateson walks up to the card reader. “Better pop your cover.”

The kid jumps like he has been whipped in the butt. He bends over and pulls the lever for the gas cap. “Thank you, man…. This is like the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

Mateson smiles to himself as he runs his debit card. “We all forget things sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times I have.”

The kid accepts the pump handle that Mateson hands him, and for a moment, he regards Mateson with bewildered eyes. “I really appreciate it, man. You have no idea.”

It perturbs Mateson that the kid is so shocked and impressed that someone was willing to help him. He steps back over to his own pump and returns to debating whether he should fill his own car or not. He does some mental calculations. 

“I cut it off around twenty-five,” the kid says, poking his cherub face around the pump. “Thanks again, Man.” The kid holds out his hand, and Mateson accepts the handshake.

“Don’t mention it.”

The kid returns to his ride and starts the engine with a throaty purr. He rounds out of the pumps with a wave and peels his tires exiting the station. Mateson echoes his wave and then stands still for a moment feeling the tingle of the cold seep through his clothes. He lets out a waft of white breath and runs his card.

©️ 2022 Katie Baker


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