Mariel smoothed the convertible into a parking space and opened the door, on her way to pick up some water and an apple from the Red Rooster chicken joint. Just a snack for the road. She was headed south. She considered whether it would be prudent to raise the car’s roof, for security. This was a seedy-looking parking lot, weeds in the cement curb, a discarded chicken box, a garbage can that hadn’t been emptied for quite a while. Still, she’d only be a minute. She left the top down on her white Chevrolet.
A man’s voice with a strong Southern drawl startled her a little as she turned to walk towards the fast-food chicken place.
“That’s a fine auto yo got there!”
She saw a smiling face admiring the car, a man of indeterminate age with lank, long hair, greying and a little greasy. A skinny guy in overalls.
“Oh, it’s a rental,” she said, smiling back, though not too much. Friendly, but not encouraging.
“Ha! A rental! Well, I’m thinkin’ I wouldn’t be rentin’ anything so fine, not with seven young ‘uns.”
“Seven!” said Mariel.
“Yup. And jest about all of ‘em over there in the van.”
The man gestured with his thumb to a battered blue van parked a few spaces along.
“The missus has jest gone in to git the chickin an’ fixins to feed them hungry mouths.”
The man chuckled. He spoke gently and seemed rather proud of his large family.
Mariel nodded, and went on her way into the chicken place. When she’d bought her water and apple, she walked back towards the white convertible. The skinny man was over at his van, which had emptied through several doors spewing out an effusion of loud children, badly dressed and needing hair cuts. Some kind of argument appeared to be underway, concerning a can of Coke and a mobile phone.
Back at her car, Mariel saw that it had attracted another admirer. A short stumpy woman stood on the curb looking at it. She wore pale fawn trousers and a loose top patterned in muddy blue and green. She had sandals on her feet and carried a worn brown tote bag. Her hair was unshaped, showing grey, and needed a wash. She had spectacles on her nose, and through them she thoughtfully considered the convertible; then, looking up, the van surrounded by noisy kids; then, finally, Mariel.
Mariel paused. She looked across at the van, where the kids were now helping themselves to a bucket of chicken. She looked back at the woman and met her eyes. Then she walked to the passenger door of the white car, opened it, and gestured to her.
“Like to take a ride?” she said.
The woman glanced again at the van, then gave Mariel a complicated smile. She climbed into the low seat of the convertible, and Mariel took the driver’s seat. She started the engine, and they drove off smoothly, turning out of the parking lot towards the open road.
“Seven young ‘uns,” the woman said.