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Philip DiGiacomo“Can I ask you a question?”

A small woman had appeared from behind the gas pump as I was putting twenty dollars worth into my Volvo wagon’s tank.

“No, you can’t,” I replied.

Jesus Christ, how many wackos had hit me up for spare change in the past week? I jammed the nozzle back onto the cradle and ripped the receipt as it curled from the pump. She had pissed me off.

“Can you help me buy myself a wedding ring?”

That got my attention as I screwed on the cap and shut the flap. She was at least seventy, grey hair in a blunt cut page boy, decked out in a thick white sweater, black slacks and a child’s red sneakers. A big clear vinyl purse hung from her shoulder crammed with God knows what. She smoked a long thin cigarette.

“No, I can’t buy you a wedding ring and you might want to smoke that somewhere else, this is a gas station.”

My wife Karen watched this from her side mirror while she waited in the passenger seat. I walked around to my door and the smoking lady moved in front of the car, dumping her purse on the hood and pointing at Karen through the windshield.

“She looks like a doctor, can I ask her a medical question?”

I had to laugh, little did she know, my wife collects doctors. We have an extra Rolodex at home just for her favorite specialists. I leaned down and smiled at Karen through the driver’s window.

“Hey, Babe, this lady has a medical question for you.”

Karen beamed me her “Thanks, asshole” look and rolled down her window. Smoking Lady came around to her and was so short she could look right at her.

When I overheard the question I realized this was no ordinary panhandler.

“Is it possible for a sixty-seven year old woman to get pregnant?”

Karen became Florence Nightingale right before my eyes.

“What’s your name dear?”

“My name is Agnes.”

“Well Agnes, it really isn’t possible for a woman that age to become pregnant.”

I got behind the wheel and could see Agnes’s confusion and disappointment at that news as Karen rummaged around in her own huge purse and pulled out a five spot. It seemed overly generous to me but I was glad to be moving on, then Karen handed me the bill.

“Terry, be a doll and get us two waters, would you?”

I sat there like a big lug holding the money as Agnes piped up.

“I like Coke.”

Karen squeezed my knee and offered her best smarmy look.

“A bottle of Evian and a Coke please.”

Okay, I deserved that, but I didn’t like it. My Dad’s slow Missouri drawl sounded in my head from many years past.

Women! Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.

I headed for the snack shop afraid to look back. If Agnes was in the back seat I was going to have to kill two women.

I set the bottles on the counter and the clerk paused, his hand suspended above the register. He resembled a teenage Yasir Arafat.

“She prefers the can.”

Did I hear him right?

“The old lady likes her coke in a can, sir.”

__________________________

PHILIP DIGIACOMO is a former painter and actor from New York. Twenty-seven years ago he moved to a bluff on Pacific Coast Highway where he lives with his wife, the painter Hilary Baker. It’s where he writes, reads, cooks, and sometimes races an old Porsche.

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