New Orleans Perspectives: Counter Action

19:06 January 19, 2015
By: Debbie Lindsey

Olivia had a snowball’s-chance-in-hell at ever tasting the daily special–club sandwich, fries, and Coca-Cola for only sixty-five cents. The cup of coffee sitting before her literally took an act of congress to receive.  Now it sat cold, and until today it was the only thing black the waitress had ever served.  Olivia stared at the clock, just above the glass display of lemon meringue pies (sure’d be tasty with that special) and thought it must be broken.  Twelve-thirty- seven. Haven’t they’d been there forever and a day?  The waitress certainly seemed to think so.

Forget the clock and look at something else, she determined, but not at her friends. Surely, they will see how weak she is--see her fear.  The glass shaker of sugar goes unnoticed and so will she. Olivia sits and stares at the white crystals and tries to forget the white folks, hoping to sweeten the moment, wishing she could be as white as the sugar, if only for this moment. It was the Reverend’s fault that she was here. He’d whipped the congregation into a righteous frenzy last Sunday with his talk of “taking our place at the table.”  Of course Olivia clapped and sang and wept for a better seat at that table, but it was Bobby Farrell she really wanted to sit next to, and if he was willing to go to Baton Rouge and see about getting a cup of coffee, so would she.

Olivia was head-over-heels clumsy for Bobby Farrell.  But it was high time for her to snap out of it, or so her mother reminded her. It was one thing to get the stupids around a boy, say, in high school. But she was two years into college and studying to be a teacher–just what kind of example could she set for her students if she kept walking into walls every time Mister pretty boy came around… or so her mother thought.  Well, maybe momma was right.  Surely being here in this diner right now was flirtin’ with the stupids; even riskier than Bobby’s “oh I love ya baby” maneuvers in the backseat of a car.  But she’d gladly risk her virtue just to be away from the angry stares; hell, right about now she’d give anything just to be headed home with or without Bobby, safe at the back of the bus and this time enjoying the fumes. Tempted as she was to see if the clock’s minute hand had moved forward, she remained focused on the sugar shaker with its greasy smudges all about it and the slightly damp crust of sugar that puckered the lip of the shaker.  You’d think the damn waitress could clean it now and then–sure wouldn’t wanna see her home, a real pig sty she bet.  Don’t worry, Olivia thought, I wouldn’t wanna drink from any water fountain after you either.

Sitting stock still, despite the stool’s ever wobbling tilt to the right, Olivia’s bottom was numb and her feet had gone to sleep.  Her neck was downright stiff from her vigilant watch over the shaker.  She could no longer smell the country fried steaks or the charred bits of ground beef crisping on the grill; all she could smell was the starch melting from her dress.  Fear poured down her back. How much longer?   “I’ve waited a long time for this cup of coffee,” came a voice seated to her left. And then, just like that, a hand covered hers. A bit bony, very wrinkled, dark-as-earth and etched with talcum powder, maybe Wind Song – she would smell her own hand later to find out.  The sugar spell was broken. The clock would resume ticking; Bobby Farrell would continue to dog her, maturing into a good husband and father; and her teaching certificate would provide a career of mentoring…but for now, all that mattered was this old woman and the comfort of her hand.  And not wanting to wait, as the old woman had for so many years, Olivia ordered two slices of lemon meringue pie.

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