“Couldya fill it up with regular?”
The man starts to pump it in and Rabbit gets out of the car and goes around to the back and asks, “How far am I from Brewer?”
The farmer looks up with a look of curt distrust from listening to the gas gurgle. He lifts a finger. “Back up and take that road and it’s sixteen miles to the bridge.”
Sixteen. He has driven forty miles to get sixteen miles away.
But it was far enough, this was another world. It smells differently, smells older, of nooks and pockets in the ground that nobody’s poked into yet. “Suppose I go straight?”
“That’ll take you to Churchtown.”
“What’s after Churchtown?”
“New Holland. Lancaster.”
“Do you have any maps?”
“Son, where do you want to go?”
“Huh? I don’t know exactly.”
“Where are you headed?” The man is patient. His face at the same time seems fatherly and crafty and stupid.
For the first time, Harry realizes he is a criminal. He hears the gasoline rise in the neck of the tank and notices with what care the farmer squeezes every drop he can into the tank without letting it slosh over the lip insolently the way a city garageman would. Out here a drop of gas isn’t supposed to escape and he’s in the middle of it at night. Laws aren’t ghosts in this country, they walk around with the smell of earth on them. Senseless fear cakes over Rabbit’s body.
“Check the oil?” the man asks after hanging up the hose on the side of the rusty pump, one of the old style, with the painted bubble head.
“No. Wait. Yeah. You better had. Thanks.” Simmer down. All he’d done was ask for a map. Damn dirtdigger – what was so suspicious about that? Somebody was always going somewhere. He better get the oil checked because he wasn’t going to stop again until he was halfway to Georgia. “Hey, how far is Lancaster south of here?”
“Due south? Don’t know. It’s about twenty-five miles on the road. Your oil’s all right. You think you’re going to Lancaster now?”
“Yeah, I might.”
“Check your water?”
“No. It’s O.K.”
“It’s great. Let’s go.”
The man lets the hood slam down and smiles over at Harry. “That’s three-ninety on the gas, young fella”: the words are pronounced in that same heavy cautious crippled way.
Rabbit puts four ones in his hand, which is stiff and crusted and has fingernails that remind you of those old shovels you see worn into weird shapes. The farmer disappears into the hardware store; maybe he’s phoning the state cops. He acts like he knows something, but how could he? Rabbit itches to duck into the car and drive off. To steady himself he counts the money left in his wallet. Seventy-three; today was payday. Fingering so much lettuce strengthens his nerves. Switching off the lights in the hardware store as he comes, the farmer comes back with the dime and no map. Harry cups his hand for the dime and the man pushes it in with his broad thumb and says, “Looked around inside and the only road map is New York State. You don’t want to go that way, do you now?”