Friday, August 01, 2008
#8 Meal with Diet Coke
A stocky black man sits down at the booth across from the Ice Cream Ladies, the larger of the ladies hasn't had her coughing fit yet. The ladies sit, licking their cones in silence with their customary look of exhaustion. This is retirement. This is what things sink into. The houses empty first of children, then of spouse, and now the hours have settled into an early-morning wake-up, the spoiling of a dog of manageable size, and, once lunchtime comes around, regular meetings here at the grease-stained corner on 10th street. "Gosh, it's hot out," one of the ladies manages to say.
"I'm from 125 miles out of Dallas," the man says, "x miles from Texarkana." I'm busy with my crossword and miss out on the expression of the Ice Cream Ladies, who continue licking. I think, somehow, that this statement, which has been left out there on its own, is in relation to the temperature outside, the humidity, and how it compares with the no-doubt more intense Texarkana sultriness, but perhaps not.
"Raised on a farm," he continues, after quite a long period of silence, filled only with the shooing of flies, which still plague the place, and the licking of vanilla soft-serve. "Near East Dangerfield."
To my eyes, this commentary has gotten no response from the Ladies whatsoever. ""Christmas. Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July. Those were the biggest days of the year. I still appreciate em. And movies. 9 cents to get in and 5 for a Coke."
"What happened to those days?" One of the ladies says, without any change in her resigned expression. Several more people walk in, refer to the menu board. The ice machine rattles.
"Had a good mother and a good daddy. No disrespect. No cussing. None of that." The talking man has not stopped with his fries. "And I tell you. You may not believe it. There was no such thing as 'I don't want that' or 'can I have...' You got what it was without questioning."
"If they said jump," the lady who didn't cough halfway through her cone spoke up, "you said 'how high.'"
"Those days have disappeared." the man says. Silence. "Nice talking to you." With no further words, he picks up his tray, tips it over the trash cans, and walks out. The ladies lick their cones.
"My dad," one of the ladies says finally, "had an apartment building, and when they passed a law saying you had to rent to em, if one of em would come to see the place, Dad'd say it was already rented and wouldn't even show it to em." The comment sank slowly beneath the accumulating layers of fast-food orders at the counter and the 80s pop music on the PA. The sun slants through the glass.
"Everyday he's here," one says, glancing at me. The other doesn't bother turning.