Her B-Flat Future
By Margaret O'Neal
Elisa had been waiting at the Dairy Queen for two hours, hoping he wouldn’t show. She raised one leg, then the other, and listened to the ripping sound of her skin coming unstuck from the plastic bench. The sign on the bank across the street flashed 90 degrees. So hot. She reached into her pocket and felt for her ATM card. She had thirty dollars left in her account and an ice cream would feel good going down her throat. She wanted a fudge ripple cone so bad, but a car door slammed and she heard his boots crunching the pavement. She raised her head, wanting to shout that she wasn’t ready, but she didn’t have to, thank God; it wasn’t him.
No ice cream today. She wouldn’t be able to keep it down anyway.
With her legs crossed, striking a secretarial pose, she must look like a statue: Girl On Bench. Once she had started a collection of Hummel figurines, but Greg had broken six of them in a drunken rage. She tapped the plastic bench. It was better to stick to things that wouldn’t break.
Her stomach growled, but she ignored it. She couldn’t spend her last paycheck on ice cream, even if Girl On Bench deserved it.
A car drove up. It wasn’t Greg’s either. A man got out of his ‘96 Chevy, a man with a beer gut, wearing a NASCAR cap. His face was red from the heat and most surely from liquor. He looked hard at her cut-off jeans and her tube top and tipped his hat. She turned her head.
A block away she saw Greg waiting. She recognized his red running shoes. She knew his walk so well, the pacing back and forth that he did when he was pissed. He kept looking at his watch, looking up and down the street. Her name was on his lips. He was probably cursing her and every other human being who had ever crossed his path.
The door opened and she turned, expecting to be propositioned by the NASCAR man, but it was only a waitress in a green uniform, holding a cigarette between two fingers. The woman raised her head to the sky and exhaled the smoke. Elisa moved over on the bench, making room for her, but the woman didn’t take any notice of the gesture. She just took another drag off of her cigarette.
For ten years, Elisa had worked in bars and restaurants, singing when jobs were plentiful, bartending when they weren’t. She had passed a lot of drinks to men and women like NASCAR Man and Dairy Queen Waitress and wondered how they coped in their one-note lives. Elisa had always had a man waiting to light her cigarettes, someone to open her door or a boyfriend to fall into bed with. She had considered the duet to be a creative arrangement, but in the last few months, she had finally figured it out: The girl in Couple On Bench was stuck.
She glanced over at the bank. Still there. Greg sat on the hood of his Ford Taurus, smoking a cigarette. He hadn’t yet glanced across the street, hadn’t noticed her, but he would. She needed to make a decision fast, before he looked at the huge Dairy Queen sign and thought of a large Coke, a hamburger and a side of fries.
Greg played guitar. On good days he played cover songs for drunken fraternity boys. On bad days he worked the door and checked IDs. There were a lot of bad days.
She had left him once already. That first time, she had even moved to another state. After getting stiffed by a bar owner who promised her half of the door receipts and only paid out in shots of tequila, she had called up Greg from a pay phone at one in the morning. He had cursed her and threatened her, then remembered that he still loved her. Needing the money and facing eviction, she told him where to find her.
For a few days, everything seemed safe and real and she thought maybe, but then the drummer quit right before a big gig, the band got cut out of the Big Wood Festival, and Greg couldn’t get the money for the CD because he had come for her. His face turned blood red and ugly and he screamed for hours. Their relationship just broke into pieces, like one of her precious figurines.
She saw a windshield bust from the heat once. One minute it was whole, and the next minute, it was in pieces. Maybe the heat had gotten to Greg and Elisa.
She had left again after that and, this time, she had been strong, had been ready to sleep in the park. But somebody had ratted. Some frat boys had seen her singing at the Main Street Taco Stand. At two in the morning, the end of her set, she had answered the phone only to hear his slurred voice whispering.
He told her where to meet him. He told her he’d take her home. Their singer had quit, and there was a new gig, and if she would just sing for this one show since she knew the songs, since they couldn’t afford a decent singer, since he would change, then he would replace her Hummel figurines. Yeah, he could afford it. Yeah, he would grow up.
Couple On A Bench.
That’s no way to live.
The Dairy Queen woman looked her way.
“Did you say something, Hon?” Her eyes were bloodshot.
Elisa looked past her, stared at the bank temperature sign. Ninety-three already.
“Were you talking to yourself, girl?”
Elisa stood up. She smiled at the woman and walked into the Dairy Queen.
It was cool inside the restaurant. The counters, the booths, everything was shiny and new. She waited at the counter and read the menu, but she didn’t crave ice cream now. Elisa looked around at the booths full of teenagers and families with babies and children running around the restaurant and laughing. She looked at the long lines of tired, red-faced people. She hoped for a green uniform and a cigarette. Maybe she only needed one note to be whole again, then she could move forward and quit singing the same old blues songs of broken and busted lives.
Margaret O'Neal hails from Georgia. She has stories forthcoming
Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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