The only way I can describe the girl behind the counter is that she had no hands. I’d come in to replace my windshield wipers—the rubbery parts had slowly torn themselves away from the plastic, exhausted with the task of removing winter debris, and now my windshield allowed only a glimpse at the road through a clean patch of glass. I didn’t notice the girl’s non-hands until she flipped open Absolute Auto’s paper advert and set her finger—the only finger attached to her little stump—on a photo of a shiny-looking wiper with the word tech in its name. She said, “We’ve got a thing going on this week.”

I told her I’d take the deal on the special wipers. She tapped away on the keyboard, searching for my make and model, filling the dead air with some mumble-speak about the exact size of the wipers, undoubtedly aware that I was staring with dumb fascination at her two fingers, plugging in data faster than I could do with ten. The chipped remnants of red nail polish were suddenly engrossing, the thought of clipping a watch around one’s wrist like something only a magician could manage. I allowed myself a glance at her gray polo shirt to check her nametag: Gwen. No title.

“There we go,” she said, letting up on the keyboard and turning the screen my way. “You need a twenty-two inch and a seventeen inch. The seventeen’s only going to run you eight bucks.” I fumbled through my purse for the cash as the digitized jangle of the desk phone cut into the quiet of the shop. “Hey, Chris?” she called to a goateed employee shuffling through a box of metal parts on the rack behind her. “Can you take that? I’m with someone.”

The man groaned and plucked the phone off the cradle. I caught an eye-roll from my woman, and she saw that I’d caught it, and she smiled a little. Snorted. Whispered, “Are there really seven more hours of this?”

I laughed, kept eye contact, and told myself that later, when I would tell people my amusing lunch-table anecdote about the cool handless girl I’d met, I’d need to remember this moment, the one where we bonded as women, or as humans who happened to be occupying the same few squares of tile at an auto parts store. Either it would mean something, or I’d feel like even more of a shitsack for making an object of her.

She asked, “Do you need me to put those on for you?”

For a moment, I didn’t know what she was talking about, and then remembered what I was there for. I slid the cash across the counter. She tucked it into the register. I nodded. “Sure,” I said. “If you have time.”

She opened her arms and looked dramatically around the store, silent save for the fuzzy Coasters music crackling through a speaker in the corner. “Nothing better to do,” she said. Her arms, tipped with those solitary fingers, reminded me of pterosaur wings.

Everyone’s favorite part of the story is where I describe how she installed the wipers on my car. They want to know how she handled the clips and the packaging with only two fingers.  She just did, I say. And then I tell them she saw me off by formally introducing herself, thanking me for not being one of those greasy gearheads who stares and makes comments, and suggested that if we ran into each other somewhere down the road, we’d share a coffee and talk about something other than the cost of a seventeen-inch windshield wiper. But what she really said was, “Have a good one,” and walked back through the door.

Richard Hartshorn

Richard Hartshorn

Richard Hartshorn lives on the Rensselaer Plateau. His work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Gambling the Aisle, Hypertext, and other publications.
Richard Hartshorn

Latest posts by Richard Hartshorn (see all)

  • Gwen - January 2, 2017