Still Life Under a Cola Sign
by Tricia Louvar
She wiggled her toes inside the black high heels. Her toenails, painted cotton candy pink, poked out of the peek-a-boo toe box. In two hours she would see him. But for now, she was going to eat at her usual stop.
The diner overlooked rusted-out fences and endless cornrows. Telephone wires ran the distance as if a cat had got hold of a ball of yarn. In a mowed-down patch in the field there was a boy, fourteen maybe. He wore his baseball cap turned backwards, and a bow clung to the side of his cheek. He steadied an arrow. Whatever he was aiming at she couldn't see.
She looked back at the menu, which was still one-sided and long. It fit between her hands as good as a postcard. She glanced over the options to see if they had changed. They had not. She ordered the usual: turkey club, side of fries, iced tea.
By her calculations, this was her twenty-second trip to see him. She had figured it out the night before while crossed-legged in sweatpants, drawing hash marks and columns on the dating scorecard she'd made. He had come to see her four times during their two years of togetherness.
The four-hour drive she knew by heart. Along the two-lane highway the radio signals overlapped. A maiden of Jesus denounced sin, and a country singer cried about love being a possession. Intercut together, the message became: Down With Love. Then she lost the signals altogether, only to pick up a new one, and everything still looked the same on both sides of the car.
They were the commuter couple that had met online and fallen in love through words and emoticons and photographs, rather than expressions and gazes and held hands.
There wasn't much to do while she waited for her food. The wi-fi didn't work. Twiddling her thumbs seemed so 1930. She invented things in her head—that is to say, she used her imagination.
Today she took the paper liner from the straw and tore it into tiny pieces, rolled it between her fingers, and constructed a solar system on the table. The salt shaker was the mighty sun. She rearranged the paper planets in relationship to one another. Some were far away from the others and some very close. She'd constructed this map by choice. She was making all the decisions here.
Her food came. She dug in and looked back out the window to see the boy carrying into the clear a foam-block deer, with an arrow in its side.
He was practicing for the real deal, waiting for his big day to take one down. Everything up until that point was slow and lame. She bit into the sandwich and poked at her fries.
With leftovers in hand, she paid the bill and stepped outside onto the gravel parking lot. The sky was velvet-lined like the inside of a jewelry box. She felt the urge to do something bold and real: twirl, skip, hula, something impish and inappropriate. But her feet hurt too much. Stupid shoes.
In the car the chopped-up music started again. On her way back home, she decided to find a gas station that sold postcards. She had a note to write. She was sure he would get it in a few days.
Originally published in Daily Palette, curated by The Iowa Review