by Tana Buoy
According to God—that’s the name clipped to his purple polo—she’s a classic combo, a one-two knockout with all the fixings. The perfect snack on a late-night Tuesday. He’s a popsicle stick with eyes, brown and bloodshot, crooked teeth in a lazy smile. A messy knot of green hair peeking through the top of a black visor.
God has a manbun.
Marie wonders if he uses this line on all women who order combo meals—women like her who last washed her hair with rest stop hand soap and whose panties are lined with single ply TP because there’s no laundry service when you’re on the run. Marie’s entire life is shoved into garbage bags and stuffed inside a 02 Toyota Corolla.
God leans out the open drive-thru window to count the change scattered on the pavement. $5 in nickels and dimes found in the ashtray and console to pay for:
1 crunchy taco
1 beefy 5-layer burrito
large Dr. Pepper
Marie blames herself. Slippery palms in the summer humidity. The A/C wigged out two states back. One more line to cross, then another. Marie knows it’s out there somewhere, a distant horizon where the skies are more blue than red.
A pickup behind her with obnoxious high beams thumps country music. The driver honks. Let’s go! Let’s go!
God braces the window’s edge, strains his neck up to look at her. “Don’t worry about it none, hon. If you’re not in a hurry, I’ll bring you out some grub. On me, of course,” He winks. “I got your back, Jack.”
As she pulls away, Marie sees in the rearview God holding out an arm, fingers spread wide, blocking the headlights threatening to swallow her. She coasts to the dark part of the parking lot behind the dumpster, pulls into the empty space next to an orange Ford Fiesta. Killing the engine, any energy remaining in her tank settles in her gut. Fumes. She tries to focus on the fireflies blinking their butts in a large tree grove separating Taco Bell from DQ. The country thumper speeds past, slams on the brakes halfway into the street. Marie’s heart lodges in her throat. He’s coming for me, she thinks. Sent someone. They are all looking for me. She holds her breath, presses her body against the seat. The pickup revs, blowing cannon fodder from the tailpipe onto the main drag. My dick’s this big, it says and leaves nothing but white noise in Marie’s ear long after it disappears.
I got your back, Jack.
She closes her eyes and drifts, tries to think of a time when God ever had her back on anything.
At nine she biked around the block with the neighborhood kids, a candy cigarette between her teeth. She blew smoking punks from a ten-speed, threw Black Cats at parked cars, exploding daffodils’ heads. She knew eventually one would blow up in her hand because she never could let things go, like a fist full of five-cent Bazookas stuck inside the jar. Like when she was ten and Uncle Ralph sat her on his lap and put his hand down the front of her pants. She cried on her mom’s shoulder, received a pat on the head like everything was going to be okay. “You have to forgive him, Marie. And mean it. God will know if you lie. You’ll go to hell. Don’t tell anyone.”
Marie shoved as many of those pink bubblegum squares into her mouth as she could, chewed until her jaw hurt, until her mouth was stuck shut, and she sat on the front porch and read through the comic strips that no longer made her laugh.
She startles when God taps his knuckles against her car door. He’s holding three bags—one in his mouth—and two drinks in the crook of his arm and gestures with his head toward the front of the Fiesta. He spreads the feast on the hood. Marie takes her time stepping out, knees aching and crampy from being crammed beneath the wheel. She pulls her jeans up by the belt loops, stretches and takes a quick sniff under her pits, catches a whiff of nothing which doesn’t mean anything except she’s been stewing too long.
“Hope you don’t mind if I take my break with you, Boo,” God says as he turns his phone into a flashlight. “Unless you need to high-tail it outta here.”
The humidity is heavy, ripe for rain, and the aroma of seasonings and beef mince make Marie’s mouth water. She grabs for the Dr. Pepper. Sips slow. She gnaws on the straw until the sudden wave of nausea subsides. The plastic is sweating, a coolness dripping down her arm.
God cocks his head and hands her a cinnamon twist. “You okay?” He leans against the car hood and pulls a burrito from a bag.
“I’m fine.” Marie says, although she hasn’t been okay for a long time. “Thank you for the food by the way. Things are a little tight right now and…” She trails off. “God can’t be your real name?”
He snorts, takes a pull from his iced coffee. “Germanian.” Pull. “Octavian.” Pull. “Dolphinian.” Pull. “Apparently my parents had this thing for fantasy and smut books, and if you came flying out of the womb with a wacked name like that, you’d best believe you’d be calling yourself God, too. But let’s just keep that between us. Hush-hush, thank you very much.”
Hush. Hush. Keep your mouth shut.
It was her junior prom. Billy said he was sorry. Couldn’t help himself, tired of waiting, and they went to church the next morning, sandwiched together between their respective parents. Marie sat in the pew, blood stains in her underwear. God’s always watching.
“You got awfully quiet,” God says. “Where’d you go?
Marie nibbles on the cinnamon twist. “Where I’d been.”
“Stayed too long.”
God glances at the time on his phone. “Don’t we all.”
“Am I keeping you? I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
He takes off his visor and pulls his hair out of the band, the green waves hit his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter if my break runs a little late. Not like they’re going to fire me. See?” He points over at the Help Wanted banner in the window. “They’ll be fine without me for a while longer.”
Marie see’s the row of headlights at the drive-thru and thinks deep down, he really does care. That they need him in there.
Billy said he needed her, too. “I can’t imagine life without you in it.” He slipped his class ring onto her hand. It didn’t fit her finger, hung off her like his apologies. “After I’m done with college, I’ll get you a diamond. Promise.”
When Marie’s period didn’t come, she stared at herself in the mirror while waiting for the pregnancy test results and touched the bruise near her right temple. It was still visible beneath the layers of makeup.
“He’s a hardworking kid from a good Christian family. Someone willing to provide for you,” Dad yelled. He’d invited Billy over for dinner to try and salvage a relationship Marie wanted no part of. “My daughter deserves more than some deadbeat punk flipping burgers for a living.”
“Make it right, Dear. God brought him into your life for a reason,” Mom whispered as she stroked Marie’s hair.
“Men never ask. They just do and take and waltz inside without asking permission. Nobody cares what I have to say, and I’m so fucking tired of it. I want something my way, on my terms.” The words fall out of her. Words she wanted to say to her parents. To Billy. Never has she spoken so bold aloud, so sure of herself.
God purses his lips and nods in agreement. He pulls his hair back up into a bun. “So, tell me what you want.” The way he says it is mostly serious, a little playful.
“I bet you say that to all the women who come through here,” Marie says.
He laughs. “Hardly.”
And Marie believes him. A silent conversation happens in the way they look at each other. He has a cross tattooed on his forearm. There’s a small scar above his left eyebrow.
As she starts to feel self-conscious about her own appearance, the rain comes down hard without warning, and they try to salvage what they can of the food before plunging into the backseat of his car, wet and laughing. God turns on the dome light, as he sets the bags up front. He leans over the front seat and puts the key in the ignition. Music plays from the speakers and cool air streams through the air vents. Marie notices the bulging backpack on the passenger’s seat, an A&P textbook on top. Black Bean Chalupa Supreme wrappers and Diablo Sauce packets litter the floormats, the seat cushions sprinkled with lettuce and cheese. “Sorry about the mess. I don’t have a lot of time between classes and work,” he says as he sits back down. “You have beautiful eyes. Has anyone ever told you that before?”
His tongue is brown from his iced coffee. Marie wants to taste him. She’s never kissed anyone except Billy.
She sets her now empty cup in the center console where it refills itself on melting ice cubes. She feels the urge to drink, to melt the cotton in her mouth, and the blue Christmas tree from God’s rearview has no scent. The pregnancy test came back negative. A sign for a fresh start. No looking back.
Marie reaches out, touches his cheek. He doesn’t move while her fingertips trace along the light stubble along his jaw line, his chin. He doesn’t move until she asks, and time ceases to exist when God wraps her in his arms and holds her like she’s the only thing that has ever mattered. When Prince’s voice sounds through the car, Marie finds herself struggling out of her damp jeans, lifting her ass off the seat. She suddenly remembers the toilet paper. Panic. Hope he doesn’t see it when it drops to the floor. God sees everything.
He's pushed himself up against the door, giving her space. Marie positions her right leg up over the headrest of the passenger seat, coral-colored cheekies dangle off her ankle. Aware of her unshaved legs and pubic hair—the delicate skin between her thighs has never been happier—she hopes God doesn’t mind.
He removes his shirt and lays it out beneath her. It doesn’t bother Marie that he reeks heavily of the kitchen fryer. She smells like a prison break. When he places his mouth on her, grasping her hips in his hands, she huffs like a criminal, a hit and run. Because for once in Marie’s life it’s about her. She barely makes out the words God whispers inside her, “You taste like heaven,” and the neon bell cries purple rain onto the windshield.
Tana Buoy is a writer from Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2021, she received her MFA from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her work has appeared in Cloves Literary, The Flat Water Stirs: An Anthology of Emerging Nebraska Poets, and The Viridian Door. She is also a micro and flash fiction editor for The Good Life Review. You can find her on Twitter @ThrowMeABuoy.