Another mile or two down, there are houses, covered in blinking candy canes or twinkling blue and silver. But here, the only lights in the world are the dim yellow outlines of the petrol pumps on the lot. You stand in blackness, inhaling fumes of winter and gasoline. You are sixteen and miserable: it is Christmas Eve and your shift is only half gone. When another twenty Decembers pass, you will still count this as your favourite job, but there is no way to know this now. You love wearing jeans to work and will never know the hell of fast-food issue polyester slacks. You love being the only girl. You can scratch out song words in Bic pen to your heart’s content and smoke anything you want. You can practice your guitar, because no one will hear you save for a few raccoons in the bin out back. There are headlights bobbing now through the trees, and you reach for your hat and mittens. But it is not a customer in need of gasoline, it is the red boss van. Your heart skips the way it always does as you wait to see who is on duty. If it’s Jim, fatherly and kind, he will have fresh hot coffee for you from the Donut Diner. Tonight, maybe, a handful of his wife’s gingerbread babies, too. But it might be Gareth. If it’s Gareth, he will be aloof and polite and distract himself doing a product count or checking on your change. Anything to avoid your eyes, even though you never did tell a soul that he kissed you this past summer. Right here. Even though you wish he would do it again. But tonight he is not looking away. He is looking right at you. His face is uneven and strange. You are about to make a smart remark, ask if Santa missed his stocking, but you say nothing instead. We’re closing early, he tells you finally. It’s Jim. We found his van this afternoon. He did it to himself. They found Jim. He shakes out a Rothman’s King in the sadness between you, offers it to you, pulls another out for himself. Lights them both. He was such a nice man, Gareth says, because it is true, and it is a phrase you will hate forever from now on. You picture Jim’s wife, looking up from her baking at the knock of the door, thinking it is carollers or the kids come home early. You wonder how a man’s life can just be erased, one moment to the next, no rhyme or reason. It is what you are both thinking while you stand there in that silent night.