Now Europa..yeah, her name was Europa. Into everybody's life a little crap must fall, I guess, and hers was her name. There wasn't even anything to make a decent nickname out of. Ropy, I guess, or Yuri, or 'Pa', but she was afraid it'd turn into 'Urine, Ropy and Papa' and she wasn't having any of that. No, she was gonna be Europa or she was gonna die trying.
Partly on account of this, and partly because her parents had kept her on a short leash ever since she'd discovered boys, Europa didn't have a lot of friends. Now you might think that this would make her miserable, depressed, and angsty. Not a bit of it. She was a teenager, so she was miserable, depressed and angsty already.
She used to spend a lot of her time outside in the big vacant lot outside her parent's house. Some local builders were building a biiig mall, but just before they'd gotten to rent out the stores, they ran out of money and they had to close it. Europa liked to go there and wander around the outside, and pretend that she was going shopping with her mama's credit card.
Now the summer of her eighteenth year, she was pretty miserable. This didn't make things any different from the other seventeen years, but for the fact that the summer was unusually hot. There wasn't a cool breeze for miles. People opened their windows, and hung outside, hoping that if they opened their mouths at the right moment they could just catch that little bitty bit of cool as it was happening by. Europa didn't have a whole lot to do in the house, and her mama was real cranky because it was hot. So her daddy took a little pity on her and he gave her five dollars.
"Europa you go on down to the Hess gas station, and you buy your mama somma them Grape popsicle push-ups she likes. You can get yourself a coke while you're there, and you get me a beer, all right?" He picked up the hem of his tee shirt, gone all soft and rolled down at the bottom over his belly, and he wiped his red, sweaty face. "And you hurry back, girl, cause I'm fixin' to melt here."
Europa stoppered up the bottle of Curex nail polish remover and she put the polish brush back in the bottle. When her daddy said to go get something for her mama, it meant that mama was so cranky that even daddy couldn't stand her. So she put some Qwik-Dry on her nails and her toenails, and she put her hair in a ponytail to get it off her neck, and she went down to the Hess gas station.
Now the Hess gas station was a kind of an important place in town. For one thing it was the one place where there was always air conditioning, on account of they had to keep all that beer cool. Europa used to go down there about once every other day or so, and pretend that she was shopping there for something for *her* car, even if she didn't have any car. After a while Micheline, the clerk, let her read the magazines as long as she used the tips of her fingers, so she didn't get the pages all wrinkly and dirty and she talked to Micheline when things got real boring.
This day as Europa walked into the gas station store, Micheline was restocking the cooler where the Arizona Ice-teas were. So Europa watched that for a little while, the green bottles and the bottles full of yellow stuff and brown stuff, and the blue bottles,and the white bottles that weren't really white but kinda clear really if you looked at the bottom of 'em. Then she wandered over and she picked out a box of her mama's favorite push-up-pops, the Grape Nehi flavor. She tucked the package under her arm, and she wandered over and got herself a coke from the back of the cooler where the bottles wouldn't have gotten all warmed up.
"Hey Micheline." Europa gave her the five and picked up a beer that was good and warm and gave it a couple of shakes before she stuck it in the waistband of her jeans to warm it up some more before she gave it to her daddy.
Micheline never made fun of Europa's name. Europa liked that, and as a consequence she liked Micheline just fine. "What's goin' on'?" She opened the coke in the crook of her elbow and she took a good long slug of the coke, till the carbonation made her eyes water. But the cold and the sweet felt so good going down.
Micheline looked over her shoulder at Europa. "Nothin'." She smiled at Europa, with her retainers shining like the break of day.
Europa nodded and wandered over to check out the Elle, and the Marie Claire and the Seventeen. Things were normal, and she could finish her coke and maybe have another one before she had to go.
It was as she was examining the prom dresses in the color spread in the middle of the magazine that she heard the noise. It sounded like thunder from a long way off, a kind of long, sustained growl. It made her look up from her magazine, hoping that maybe there'd been some stormclouds on the horizon, and they were gonna cool things down some. The rain can come real fast sometimes, but when she examined the sky, it was just as bleached-white as old jeans, the sun shining hard and mean, like a hole into hell in the sky.
She studied the sky for a little bit, from the air conditioned safety of the store and she shivered, thinking that she had to go out in that real soon. But the magazines called her back,and she went back to the prom dresses and the acne scrub that was supposed to make your skin look *that* good.
Except that the sound just kept getting louder. She ignored it for a while, figuring it was an eighteen wheeler or something, coming around the corner to have a cold drink and maybe one of those Dixie sandwiches in the plastic before he had to go back on the road. She didn't want nothing to do with no truckers. No way. That was how her mama got herself fat and pregnant and married to her father at seventeen, instead of going to college and being something, like she could've been.
The sound *split* then, moving into component growls, all treble bass and middle bass and basso profundo growls, moving around the corner in this Doppler flare like a big bouquet of sound. Europa found herself working way too hard at ignoring, so she gave up and looked out the window.
They were moving on their bikes, like ghosts on the ground. Their wheels gleamed in the sun, their helmets shone all black and red and yellow, like insect bodies, and there was something in the way they griped those wide handlebars like they were so many bull dancers, waiting for the signal to flip off the bull's back and into the air, flying over those big horns and all that angry bull inbetween. They were all wearing some kinda black, some were wearing chaps and some were wearing pants, but the one in front, he was wearing leather all over.
She thought he looked like Elvis, as he bumped up over the curb and came to a stop in front of the gas pumps. The riders all arranged their bikes in front of the store so they could go inside and get some beer and something to eat, but he didn't. He hung back while the other riders all put their helmets on their seats and walked in..ant men becoming Vikings, all tousled long hair and tanned arms that were running to fat but had a lot of muscle yet.
They came trooping into the store, making the small place even smaller, smelling like sweat and leather, and motor oil. They glanced at her, but she didn't look at them, she was too busy staring out the window. Instead they found the beer and the snacks and they found Micheline, who was happy to spend some time flirting on a hot, slow afternoon.
She watched him, while he filled up his tank, from the pump outside, and paid the clerk in the island. He sat himself down on his seat, not caring if he was blocking a whole lane. He was in charge, and he didn't give a damn.
She pushed her way past a big man who was wearing a Thor's hammer on a thong around his neck, and the emblem of the Grim Reapers on his forearm. He glanced at her, but since she wasn't bothering him, and he hadn't spilled his beer, he went back to flipping through the magazine he'd gotten.