Lola poured the sickeningly sweet coca cola syrup into the soda fountain, while Paul Peterson sat in the booth with his dirty boots propped up on the faded red leather seats. Paul’s arms were casually folded behind his neck as he regarded Lola with lustful eyes. 6 AM was far too early to wake up, but Paul’s diner was the official stomping grounds for the old folks that wanted their morning cup o’ Joe, later followed by fieldmen who drank coca cola's to take a break from the scorching sun.
Everyone from the small town of Mellswood knew the legendary Lola at the Paul’s Diner where she was bent over tiresome tables from sunset to sunrise. She was the pink bubble gum snapping, hips swinging side to side, beckoning blonde haired beauty that all the boys, men, and even women eyed. Floating from table to table like something out of a dream; Lola was the apple of every man’s eye, the object of desire, the fantasy they hid from their wives in their drawers alongside their crusty old socks. Lola was the unattainable goddess that little boys glorified along with the Chocolate Creme pie behind the glass case at Paul’s Diner. Lola was the role model and end goal for the little girls that pinched the extra skin around their wastes as if baby fat was a flaw. Lola was the venerated demon that women openly despised, calling her whore slut skank to cover up the fact their xxcdd lips were not full, their cheeks were not as rosy, and their skin was not as smooth. Don’s Diner was the fish tank that Lola was confined to seven days a week from 6 AM- 9 PM, open to the public to not only gawk at her through the glass walls but enter the tank.
“Time to flip the switch, lovely,” Paul’s legs were gaping open as he shoved a glazed donut into his mouth. Lola flicked the switch that illuminated the wire sign that read OPEN. The red light casted a soft glow on Lola as she stood in the window. “Good girl,” Paul shoved a second donut into his mouth, this time a jelly one. The jelly oozed from the corners of his mouth so that it looked like he was wearing red lipstick. Lola laughed. Paul scowled. “What’s so funny? Fix your face before anyone comes in here.”
Lola shut herself into the dimly lit lavatory and placed her makeup pouch on the counter. The pouch was covered in little pictures of cherries, given to her by her mother. Her mother had given her the pouch on her 15th birthday after her Dad had left her and her brother. Now you can look pretty, she had said. She didn’t say much these days. Lola pulled out mascara, lipstick, and concealer. Lola leaned towards the mirror and examined the damage. On her left eye she was sporting a reddish bluish shiner. Pulling out concealer, she put on a thick coating under her left eye, covering the damage as best as she could. She then coated her blonde eyelashes in the goopy mascara, her eyelashes sticking together so that they looked like spider legs. Last but not least came her signature red lipstick that she smeared over her full lips, completing her look. Lola then slipped out a plastic bag from her purse and put four small pills under her tongue. Her fist closed tightly around the bag, her knuckles turning white. Lola put her makeup away and left the bathroom, not looking in the mirror.
When Lola came out, an old man with a round belly and a jolly smile was sitting at the bar.
“Ah there you are, darling! I thought you forgot about me,” The man said.
“Forget about you Walt? Never!” Lola said, swinging her hips behind the counter and getting started on Walt’s usual order, a hot coffee with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Lola’s apron did little to hide her figure. Her waist dipping in like someone had carved out all the extra skin, leaving behind a streamline silhouette of a figure eight. The ice cream bobbed in the mug as Lola placed it in front of Walt’s hungry eyes. “Just as you like it.”
“You truly are an angel, God bless you Lola,” Walt said as he dove right for the ice cream with his spoon. Walt never actually finished the coffee, just the ice cream. Lola assumed it was a way of justifying eating ice cream at 6 in the morning. Leaning back on the counter, Lola studied the round old man. Walt was probably her favorite regular, if she had to choose. He just kept to himself and his ice cream for an hour like a little focused beaver munching away at wood. Lola didn’t know anything about Walt, besides that he liked ice cream in his coffee, and he knew nothing about her. Lola imagined that he was a windower that lived by himself in a small farmhouse with a big old bloodhound that was just as round as his owner.
Hours passed by like days, and soon it was noon and all the men were stumbling in coated in dirt and mud from the fields. It had been dead all morning, just the occasional oldtimer. Three men wearing dirty white and ripped T-shirts lugged their large bodies into the stools at the bar. Lola put down the bag of sugar she was pouring into the shakers and took her notepad and walked over to the men. Lola recognized the men, and grew to despise their unoriginal pick up lines and ugly animalistic sounding laughs. The only thing keeping Lola from dumping coca cola on their heads was spelled out in one word; T-I-P-S. That was the one thing they were good at.
“What can I get for you today guys?” Lola said, knowing the answer that was going to be said. The smallest of the three men gave a smirk.
“You,” He said, and turned to his friends laughing and elbowing them in the ribs. Lola bit the inside of her cheek as she gave a tight smile. Their laughs eventually died down. “Sorry Lols, can’t help myself, you’re just a meal yourself,” more laughter followed. “I’ll have three eggs, runny, and triple sausage bacon steak combo.”
Lola scribbled down the order, then dropped her pen and pad and gripped the counter, hunched over. Her face scrunched up as a sharp pain shooting through her abdomen.
“Woah, I didn’t think my joke was that bad!” The man said, casing a round of laughs from his friends.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Lola said as she quickly ran to the bathroom. Lola slammed the door shut, the laughs muffled, and turned on the water. She splashed her face with water and sat on the toilet.
Lola emerged, her face flushed, and straightened her apron and walked back over to the men.
“That was like ten minutes, what were you doing in there?” The smallest man said.
“I’m sorry,” Lola said. She finished taking their orders, gave them to the cook, and went to go clean tables. Paul came up from behind her.
“Lola, what was that about? We are running a business here not some… some…” Paul said. Lola could tell that Paul’s tiny brain was scrambling for words, but could find none.
“I’m sorry Paul, I had to use the bathroom, it won’t happen again,” Lola said, wiping the crumbs from the table. Paul watched Lola for a few moments, grunted, and returned to his worn-in both where he could rest his feet.
The door to the diner smashed open, causing the bells on the door to make an awful clashing sound. Lola’s quickly looked up, then swore under her breath. Her drunk boyfriend was stumbling into the diner, mumbling inaudible words.
“Owen! What are you doing here?” She asked as she met him at the doorway and took his arm in hopes of stabilizing him. Owen grunted and wrenched his arm away from her. His eyes were half closed and his breath reeked of booze.
“You… Fucking bitch,” He mumbled, and lightly shoved Lola. Lola stumbled backwards and caught herself on the booth. Paul swore under his breath.
“Not again. Take care of this Lola,” Paul muttered and disappeared into the back room. Lola nodded and hurried over to Owen.
“What the hell? What’s wrong? Let’s go in the back,” Lola said, glancing around then pulling Owen to the backroom. Owen pushed Lola off of him again.
“You took the fucking money, you bitch. That was my beer money, you bitch!” Owen said, raising his voice.
“What money are you talking about?”
“The money on the counter.”
“That was my paycheck from last week. My paycheck,” Lola said, glaring at Owen. “I used it to buy my brother foods, not that I even have to explain how I spend my money to you.”
“Your mom should get off her ass and get a job,” Owen said.
“You know that’s not possible, Owen,” Lola said.
“Oh please, like depression is actually an illness, tell her to suck it up,” Owen said. Lola’s face turned a dark shade of red and her hands started to shake. The men were all staring at the two.
“At least she isn’t an alcoholic.” As soon as those words slipped from Lola’s lips, she immediately wish she hadn’t spoken them.
Owen backhanded Lola across the face with all his strength. Lola fell, hard. Her body was flattened against the ground, and she was left gasping for breath like a fish. Owen stared at Lola like he had just woken up from a bad dream. He swore and knelt by Lola.
“Fuck, shit, damn, shit!” Owen said and helplessly lifted Lola’s arm. “I….I…” Owen swore again and backed slowly towards the door than turned around and ran out. Lola closed her eyes as she held a hand to her cheek and throbbing jaw. The men from the counter started to yell, Ohhhhhhhhh! Lola felt two hands lifting her. The strange man was wearing a plain red shirt and his hair was gelled back. Her first thought, He is not from here.
“Are you okay?” He asked, concern painted over his face. Lola was so taken aback that her mouth just formed words with no sound coming out. Finally, she found the words.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Lola said, brushing her apron off. The stranger did not seem convinced. He clearly was not from here.
“That man just...hit you… do you want me to get you something?” He said. Lola looked at the man’s face. His face was kind. He had a rough scruff with soft large brown eyes that reminded her of her brother’s horse. Lola shrugged.
“Yeah, he can be an asshole sometimes. Thanks for helping me up, coffee’s on us.” Lola left the man speechless and hurried to the bathroom and dropped to the floor, bringing her knees to her chest. Tears left streaks on her face and washed away the the concealer covering her black eye. She gasped in pain as another cramp coursed through her lower belly and continued for a few minutes. After the cramps resided, she took out a plastic bag from her pocket and with shaky hands, put two more pills underneath her tongue. She then pulled out a carton of cigarettes and lifted one to her lips, lit it, and took a long drag. In less than a minute, there was pounding on the door.
“What the hell Lola? No smoking on the bathrooms! That’s your last warning!” Paul’s muffled voice came through the door. Lola got up and stuck the end of the cigarette in a puddle of water, enjoying the sound of it fizzling out.
An hour later and the stranger was still sitting at a booth, pretending to read a newspaper. Lola acted like she was unaware of his presence and wiped down the counter, preparing to close early because of Paul’s daughter’s 12th birthday party. It was very rare that Lola would get to leave early, and Paul could not have picked a better day. Lola’s face was throbbing and the makeup was not doing the best job covering her bruises anymore, regardless of how many times she reapplied it. The diner was spotless and the only customer there was the stranger, so Lola leaned back on the counter and indulged herself in a few of the maraschino cherries. Lola stared at the clock; It was almost 5 o’clock and then she could go home. As she started at the clock, she was unaware that the stranger had moved to the counter. He had run out of coffee some time ago, so Lola splashed some fresh coffee into his mug. The man smiled and nodded in thanks. Lola resumed her cherry eating, then winced as another cramp coursed through her body.
“Are you okay?” The man asked, his brow pinching together in concern. Lola just nodded and shut her eyes as she waited for the cramp to pass. The man sat staring at her. When Lola’s cramp passed, she examined the man a little more. He was wearing a large sparkly watch and an obnoxious sports jacket. Lola imagined that the man was from the sparkling and glamours New York City, or maybe here on business from LA. Seeming to read her thoughts, the man said,“I never introduced myself, my name’s Andrew,” and stuck out his hand. Lola accepted his hand, her hand dyed red with cherry syrup.
“It’s a pleasure. What brings your here?” Lola said, glancing around in disgust at the diner. Andrew laughed.
“It’s a cute place. I’m an auditor, so I’m auditing the milk factory just down the street.”
Lola popped another cherry into her mouth.
“Milk police,” she said, which caused an undeserving laugh from Andrew. Lola smiled politely and watched as the clock struck five. Lola walked over to the sign and flicked it off.
“I guess that’s my cue to leave,” Andrew said and made no motion to get up. Lola gave a forced laugh, just as Paul barged out the front door without saying goodbye. Andrew drank the last of his coffee. Another shooting pain coursed through Lola and she kneeled over, gasping. Andrew dropped his mug and ran over to Lola where who was hugging her stomach. Lola put up her hand to stop Andrew as he lifted her to her feet. Lola ran to the bathroom and slammed the door behind her, locking it. She fell onto the toilet, tears streaming down her face as she felt herself release the last of her womb into the toilet. Lola fell to the floor and brought her knees to her chest, shaking and covered in blood. She tried to take deep breaths but she just winded up gasping for air. Pain coursed through her body, but also a feeling of immense relief. This decision was her decision, no one else’s, and as she sat on the cold tile floor as helpless as could be, she had never felt so strong in her life. A short laugh escaped out of Lola’s mouth. She quickly clamped her hand over her mouth in embarrassment at her ill timed humor. She cleaned herself up the best she could and when she got out of the bathroom Andrew was standing feet away from her. “What the hell?”
“We’re closing, Andrew, you have to leave,” Lola said. Andrew stood speechless.
“Hey, I know something is wrong. Why don’t you come with me and I can take you out to eat and we can talk. Then we can see what happens after that,” Andrew said, taking a step towards Lola. Lola let out an exasperated laugh, and smacked her hand on her knee.
“Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,” Lola continued to laugh. Andrew stood, puzzled.
“I'm not some broken little thing that needs you to swoop in and save me. Guys are either trying to fuck me or fix me. In your case, both.”
Andrew looked like he had gotten slapped across the face. He was quiet for a moment, then in a matter of seconds his whole demeanor changed. Andrew looked down at Lola as if she was a mere ant on a sidewalk that he was just waiting to crush with his boot.
“Well you don’t have to be a bitch about it,” Andrew grabbed his jacket and walked out the door. Lola watched him leave, smiling to herself. She hopped up onto the counter and popped another cherry into her mouth. As the newfound silence of the diner set in, she gently rested her hand on her abdomen.
“When the time is right,” She whispered, as a hot tear leaked from her eye and landed on her pants, staining the jeans a dark blue. Lola pulled out her phone and brought it to her ear. “Hey, mom, it’s me. I’m coming home tonight,” Lola said softly into the phone.