[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Mark Sarvas, has ended. Original price: 25 cents. Final price: $41.]
When I was seventeen, I was expelled from high school. My father, reasonably enough, gave me a choice: Get a job or get out. The only job for a 30-mile radius was the night shift behind the counter at an Amoco station on a deserted back road off the interstate. Scott, the owner, told me I probably wouldn’t see a customer most nights. He was chubby, hairy and, at 26, overly proud of himself for owning a gas station.
Back then, gas stations had no mini marts, no hot dogs, not even Gatorade. It was mostly candy bars and smokes, if you weren’t picky about your brand. Gas fumes mingled with the scent of cleaning fluid used to wipe down tools. I had an AM radio with lousy reception and, on his way out the door, Scott tossed me an Amoco yo-yo for entertainment. Ahead of his time, he was branching out into branded swag.
Four nights into the job, Scott’s prediction had held up. I was fiddling with the yo-yo, which had become an obsession. There was something soothing about the bouncing repetition, and it helped pass the time. I was watching it travel up and down the string when I heard a girl’s voice.
“Walk the dog?”
A customer. My age, perhaps a bit older. Her skin was red and flaky, her teeth gappy and her clothes sized for someone fifteen pounds lighter. But I was 17 and she was a female who talked to me and that was that. I looked up blankly. She indicated the yo-yo.
“Can you walk the dog?”
I shook my head and her disappointment was palpable. She bought some Bubble Yum and a pack of Parliaments and was gone.
I spent the entire summer practicing walking the dog. I wrote away to the Duncan Yo-Yo company and they sent me the instructions. Hour upon hour, not just at the gas station but at home, in the street, everywhere, I walked the dog. I knew she would come back. I was right. When she returned to the station, I was ready. She nodded at me when she walked in, with the easy familiarity of old friends.
“Hey,” I said. “Watch this.”
I flicked my wrist and sent the yo-yo hurtling down the string, which chose that moment to come undone. I watched in horror as the hunk of black plastic rolled away and disappeared under a rack of motor oil, leaving a limp string dangling on my middle finger. I couldn’t bear the pity in her eyes so I busied myself with fishing it out, and it was only after I heard her leave that I emerged with it, dust-covered, in my hand.
The next day, I learned that Scott, my fat, hairy boss, had slept with her. A week later, I left for New York City, mended yo-yo in my coat pocket.