It was sill three ungodly o’clock in the morning on Interstate 66 when Gemmy pulled over into the cracked parking lot of an abandoned Esso station. Her PhD work kept her going at odd hours — consultations with farmers in India in the middle of the night, conference calls with her European advisors at dinner time. And, then, of course, trying to fit in meals with Paris and the kids, teacher conferences, bedtime stories, a pap smear once a year, a dinner now and then with a friend.
She’d found a little pie store, between her industrial park office and the Eastern hives, a pie store that made OK coffee.
Not good coffee, and not great coffee, but OK coffee. Coffee that did what a drug was supposed to do: it went warm down your throat and into your stomach. It gave you a reliable kick three minutes later and, by the time that you were pulling down your next gulp, your veins would begin to hum and your body would respond faithfully, as it had morning after morning for years, to the great Goddess Cafina.
The coffee — well, the coffee and the tapioca-studded blueberry pie — worked their magic and kept Gemmy coming back, early morning after late night, after dark sky, after just a hum on the northeast horizon. If she wedged the go cup between her backpack and the passenger seat and drove for three minutes to the abandoned station, she could count on a few minutes of absolute peace and quiet, often the only ones in her long and busy day. “Just a few minutes to myself,” she’d say as she turned off the engine, rolled down the window, and took a gulp of the pre-dawn air.
A few minutes to think of nothing at all, to just be. Not be Paris’ wife, or Chessy or Herne’s mom, or Professor Mele’s star pupil, or the member of the coven who could always call Water, or even the woman in the spacesuit who came and moved the hives to new farms. To just be her, Gemmy — the person she sometimes worried had been lost forever.
A swallow of the coffee and two bites of blueberry pie. The darkness and the silence were dear old friends. She’d manage the exhaustion. She’d give herself just a few minutes and then she’d listen to voicemail between here and the office. She’d wake them up halfway across the globe and get things going. She’d remember to call Herne’s dentist.
And, then, starting slowly and building, she heard it. A nightingale singing in the dark, here in the parking lot of the abandoned Esso station, in between weeds and concrete, next to the almost silent I 66.
Picture found here.