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SODA FOUNTAIN DAYS
One hand slapping time
on the green Formica countertop
to Ricky Nelson on the juke box
–Well, hello Mary Lou…
the other hand absently spinning
an empty stool, round and round.
Ricky fades, gears whir, platters change
–You can’t sit down…
A poodle skirt brushes against his hand, “I can’t?”
His eyes jerk up,
the brunette with a shoulder-length page boy
Oh, God, was he subconsciously singing aloud?
Fire races up his cheeks.
He yanks his hand off the stool
which continues to whirl.
She halts it with her bare knee.
He notices the knee,
stocking stopping just below it,
hemline hovering just above it
In one fluid movement,
she drops her books on the counter,
sweeps her forearm under her skirt, and sits.
He studiously focuses on the gray pate
of tightly permed curls reflected
in the mirrored wall behind the counter,
on the woman bent deep in the frost rimmed freezer
scooping hard packed ice cream into fluted glass dishes
and chrome milk shake cups
while cold vapor escapes around her short arms.
His blushing visage is in the reflection, too,
and next to that, a girl wearing
a pink Orlon sweater, a size too small.
Or intentionally bought like that?
Either way doesn’t matter; it’s the same effect.
The old lady turns from the freezer case
and asks what she wants
“Large or small?”
…a quick glance his way, “Large, please.”
She gives her best cheerleader smile.
The waitress doesn’t care, it’s been twenty years
since she’d been the girl on the stool.
Her motions are routine,
shovel ice in the Coke glass,
pump the syrup plunger with her palm,
put the glass under the chrome spigot,
pull on its black Bakelite handle.
Soda water rushes out in a noisy torrent, washing
the thick syrup off the ice cubes in brown eddies.
From under the counter materializes a bottle of vanilla,
a couple of shakes, a few drops fall,
then a quick stir with a long silver spoon.
She sets the glass on a paper lace doily
and lays a straw next to it, “15 cents.”
Carbonation bubbles effervesce above the rim.
The girl fiddles with the gold clasp on her change purse.
He swivels a quarter turn in her direction and eyes the Coke
wishing for all the world he knew the magic to change it
into a malt with two straws.
Richard Gartee, Gainesville, Florida
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