27 Degrees

About the Author
Barb White was last year’s Mark Twain Essay Contest winner and also won an Honorable Mention in 1992. She lives in Herrick, S.D., with her husband Bill, who drives for TSI Kansas of Clay Center, Kan., and their two children, Samantha and Will.

The truck pulled up to the diesel pumps and dropped a load of dirty snow around its perimeter. Every bumper was loaded with slush, and the antenna was an ice dagger. Janet muttered a curse when her feet slipped.

“I hate today.”

The pump’s face was a smear of ice, and she removed one glove to melt a spot over the numbers.

Today had definitely turned out to be one of those days. A dispatching snafu had brought her out of her routine and to this hole-in-the-wall diner, and Janet was already making a list of people who would pay. Right now her dispatcher was at numero uno, but the lady behind the fuel counter was moving up fast.

“Hey! Turn it on!”

The nozzle was out, the lever was up, the button was pushed, and Janet’s hand was freezing. She looked everywhere for an intercom button, but no luck there.

“Turn the pump on!” she yelled.

The fuel counter was one lane and a plate glass window away, but Janet might as well have been in a different world. Behind her, the reefer kicked on and she jumped. She hated that thing.

Janet did not pull reefers. Beginning and end of story.

“Don’t send me to the East Coast, and don’t give me a reefer,” she had told them in the office. “I’ll take a dry van anywhere.”

Mountains? Fine. Winter driving? No sweat. But hell was a load of produce bound for New York City.

“I won’t do it,” she told them. “You can fire me instead.”

Now here she was, halfway to hell, listening to the reefer roar through its cycle behind her. The wind was picking up, and she hid her face from sleet missiles. So far so good. She was depending on last night’s prediction of sleet with a low of 30. Most people think that freezing happens at 32 degrees, but the roadbed absorbs heat and Janet knew it wouldn’t freeze until the air temperature dropped to 27 or 28 degrees.

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She slapped the silent pump and decided to march in and tell the woman behind the counter a thing or two. The ground was slick with new ice, and it made her even angrier when she had to settle for gingerly picking her way to the door.

Her name tag said Mabel, and she wore a pink starched waitress uniform that looked like a relic from 1971.

“Hello darlin’, what can I get ya?”

“Could you turn the pumps on? I need to fuel up and get out of here.”

“You won’t want to drive in this,” Mabel said. “It’s getting colder. That slush on the road is turning into pure ice right now. You’re lucky you pulled off when you did.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been through worse. Snow or no, I’m driving.”

You play the hand you were dealt, Janet said to herself. That was one lesson she had learned often and well. There was no use crying over anything.

“You’re half froze,” Mabel went on. “You sit right down, and we’ll get you a cup of coffee.”

“I’m only half froze because I had to stand at the pump for 10 minutes.” Janet ignored the steaming cup on the counter. “Could you just turn it on?”

Mabel moved down the counter.

“Well, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when a little slip of a thing like you is out in a storm and

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