I used to work nights at a gas station

Because I worked alone and because the manager opened most mornings, it was my responsibility to make sure everything was clean and ready to start the new day. In theory, everyone cleaned whenever they got a chance in their shift, but in practice it was rare.

Our public bathrooms were outside, and even though the doors had keys, by the end of the day, especially, the bathrooms were as gross as you’d expect. Transients and carnies seemed to use it to take showers (both men’s and women’s just had a sink, toilet and mirror). In a way that’s anatomically impossible to happen on accident, feces, urine and used toilet paper could be just about anywhere. And for hygienic specifics that need no elaboration, on occasion the women’s bathroom would be far worse than the men’s ever could.

All of this was in addition to the expected grime and trash from the traffic of dozens of people who knew they didn’t have to clean up after themselves.

I had to get things clean for the next day and all I had was a bucket of water, some bleach for the water and a mop; a bleach spray and paper towels for anything on the floor. And latex gloves, which I would have bought myself if they hadn’t been provided.

It was, of course, obscenely gross, and stayed that way always. Especially when the carnival was in town. But, as with all such things, a certain numbness to sensation quickly set in and shock and horror morphed into resigned annoyance. On a good day, it took no more than 10 minutes to clean everything, inside and out. When I was done, I poured out any extra water, set the cleaning supplies back in their places and stood the mop up to drip itself dry in the industrial sink.

Not long after I started, I noticed something amazing. Wonderful. Beautiful beyond words. As I stood the mop up, I saw that at the bottom of the sink were golden beads, rolling one right after another down the drain. Each one was a jewel, pretty and perfect, and if you measured one, it needed no further shaping, and if you strung them on a necklace, they’d be worth a fortune.

Well, not actually. As you may have guessed, the “jewels” weren’t anything more than water droplets from the dirty mop. But when it was clean, the water didn’t catch the light right. Too translucent. Something about the filth and bleach, something about how it dripped and left the strands of cloth and formed before it hit — it was lovely. Many nights I made sure to devote a few moments to watch the golden beads before I went back to the rest of my closing routine.

Lowly born, quicker gone, they made a better place before they slipped out of sight, and what became of them after they left, I have no idea. But they harmed no one while they were here and brought joy until they left.

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