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Kim Dallas


Kim Dallas readingFanny’s

Karly sprinted through the white screen door, letting it slam shut behind her. Her grandpa John ambled up from behind, barely noticing the weathered barn wood sign that read “Fanny’s.” However, if he rested on the stoop and studied it a little longer, he might have seen that the ‘r’ had been there at one time, so “Franny’s” could show through.

Inside the small coffee shop, at the end of the pink counter, Floyd took a long drag off his Marlboro cigarette and tap, tapped it into the olive green ash tray that sat next to his expired breakfast. Faint yellow swirls of dried egg mixed with bacon fat sat congealed on his white ceramic plate. His blue-green work pants were littered with toast crumbs scattered across his lap from one crunchy bite after another.

“It’s gonna be a hot one,” he said between puffs.

“You betcha,” John said, taking a stool next to him. 

“Nothin’ like in ’57,” George said, sighing from the stool next to them. As he opened his mouth to say something else, he erupted into a series of deep, tight coughs. His large, weathered fist barely covered his mouth as he bent over gasping for air. At the same time, a large blue vein stretched tightly across his forehead threatened to burst from his burgundy colored face. Karly stood near the Coke machine peering from beneath her Chicago Cubs hat. Her sky blue eyes riveted on the gentle man, no doubt wondering if she would witness her first death at the coffee shop.

After coughing and sputtering for a few minutes, he sat up and the familiar pink shade regained control over his face. From his back pocket, he withdrew a navy kerchief and dabbed at his teary brown eyes.

“Oh my,” he gasped, to no one in particular. “That was a bad one.”

Karly looked away and opened the red cover of the Coke machine, shoving her hand into the ice cold water. A&W Root Beer, Orange Crush, 7-Up, and Coca Cola bottles clinked together as she sorted through them. Holding up an Orange Crush, she watched the clear water cascade off the bottle and back into pool.

“Can I have this Grandpa?” she asked, turning to him.

John twisted slightly, looked over his shoulder and smiled. Swirls of cigarette smoke traced the movements from his left hand. “Sure,” he said, “you can have anything you want.”

“Thanks!” she said, bringing the drippy cold bottle to her delicate cheek. Small droplets of sweat from under her temples mixed with the ice water forcing her eyes to close as if she were standing under a waterfall after a long trek through the desert. Long delicate eyelashes fluttered slightly as she began running her tongue across the bottom of the bottle and up toward the white cap. Without realizing it, she let the bottle slide into her tiny mouth. When the metal cap’s sharp edges touched her tongue, her eyes shot open and she spit out the bottle. As if to punish it, she thrust the bottle into the opener on the side of the oversized cooler, gave it a quick snap and let the cap fly to the ground, where it danced and spun like a top. Chasing it down, she stomped on it with her white Keds’ tennis shoe as if she had just killed a roach running for cover.

These were not her last steps as she rushed back to her swivel seat, hoisting herself up next to her grandfather. Slamming the bottle on the counter, she stared through the rectangular hole behind the counter that showed off a grey haired woman in a hairnet scurrying back and forth from cast iron skillets to stainless steel pans, to the sink and finally, to a squatty white fridge. Every so often she would look up, swipe her brow, turn from the griddle and let a large window fan blow furiously up her dress from the weathered, sticky floor beneath her.

From behind the kitchen, a robust woman dressed in a tight pale pink dress, marched over, holding a coffee pot mid-air daring any man at the counter to challenge her authority. Over her left breast pocket, stitched in bright pink thread, read “Ethel” in formal cursive writing. 

“Come on boys. One cup ain’t gonna do ya,” she said refilling every white ceramic cup along the counter. “I got more where this comes from.”

They chuckled in unison. “I’ll bet!”

“Now, stop Dick.” She paused, tapping her bright red polished index finger on his plate. “You got work in the field to do today. That there wheat ain’t gonna come out of the ground on its own.”

Dick, took a deep breath, raised a scraggly eyebrow to Floyd and said to her, “How about if we go out and hand pick it together?”

“Oh you,” she giggled. “Save that sweet talk for your wife.”

Small ringlets of smoke danced toward the overhead fan, leaving a faint haze over the faded yellow flowered wallpaper. Karly took a long swig of pop next to her grandfather.

“Can I get a cinnamon roll?” she asked.

John flashed his bright blue eyes at her and thumped his stained, yet finely manicured finger on the counter, mumbling. “Didn’t you get Corn Flakes at home?”

Karly shrugged in silence, picking at the fringe of her denim cutoffs.

“Ethel,” he said. “We need a roll down here.”

One hand on her hip, she sauntered over to him. The plastic brown coffee pot dangled precariously from her right hand. “Now, John. You can’t be havin’ two breakfasts. That’ll disrupt that six-pack belly of yours.”

John grinned and glanced down at his stomach protruding comfortably from his mint green polyester shirt. Using the edge of his grapefruit half as an ashtray, he tapped a snakelike ash into the pink flesh. “Honey, this ain’t for me, it’s for my granddaughter.”

“Why of course, John,” she said sweetly, sashaying to the kitchen.

Karly didn’t hear them. She was spinning round and round on the bar stool staring at the fluorescent lights above her whizzing by.

“Whoa there!” John said, bringing her to a halt. “You’re gonna get sick. And, if you don’t, I will.”

Karly braced her hands against the edge of the counter as if the world were still spinning. “Okaayy,” she said quietly.

John sucked in another long drag off his cigarette and held it for a few seconds, before blowing the smoke out in a steady stream toward the ceiling.

In minutes, Ethel plopped the cinnamon roll down in front of the girl. “Here you go, Sugar.”

Thick white frosting oozed over the sides of the swirly golden brown sweet dough. It nearly took over the entire plate. Here eyes widened as she dabbed her finger into the gooey center, coating it, then sucking it clean.

“Ummm,this is good,” she said, swiping at the frosting again, followed by two big gulps of pop.

John gave her a once over. “Hurry up. We still got chores to do.”

She picked up the roll with two hands, balancing it as if it were a saucer and took a big bite. When she set it back down on the plate, it looked as if only a mouse may have nibbled at it. “This is a big roll,” she said, chewing with her mouth open.

“You betcha,” John replied. “Ol’ Francis, back there makes ‘em herself from scratch. You won’t see her poppin’ anything out of a can.”

Karly nodded, gulping down another swig of her pop. After taking another bite, she spun slowly around on her stool. “Grandpa,” she said after her first rotation. “I’m full.”

“Oh, Karly,” he grabbed her belt loop, stopping her from going around again. “I knew that’d happen. Your grandma is going to kill me.”

He looked down the counter, put his golden yellow Dekalb cap on, and snapped his fingers. Ethel looked up and winked. “I got it John, you go on.”

“Thanks, Ethel,” he said, snubbing out his cigarette into the grapefruit half.

“Let’s go sport,” he said, grabbing Karly’s hand in his. “We got work to do.”

Before anyone realized they were gone, the two were side by side in the front seat of his rusty Ford pick up, driving lazily down the road checking out the corn fields.

“Some day, I’m gonna be a farmer, Grandpa,” Karly said.

“You are, are you,” he replied.

“Yep, then I can come to the coffee shop just like you every day,” she said.

He chuckled. “Is that all you think I do?”

“Naw,” she replied. “It’s the only fun thing you do.”