Black Ice – Hayley Notter
Olivia runs her hand up and down the glass. Blue Moon swirls, drops of condensation pooling in the lines of her palm. She wants to wipe her hand on her thighs, but she came straight from work and is wearing a dress. The water droplets will show. She doesn’t want Tom to see.
Her eyes scan his jawline, freckles, blonde facial hair. A face she knows completely and not at all.
Tom had slipped into her booth uninvited, with a line he’d clearly said before, but delivered with a dart of his eyes. Unsure if it would work on a girl who already knew his name, remembered when he was the fattest kid in third grade, and when he became beautiful at fifteen.
He says, “Five years ago, who would’ve thought we’d still be here.” It’s not a question or a joke but he tries to make it both.
He says here and it means this pitifully empty bar, this crumpled shell of a town, the view of flat farmland that drives bats into the darkness of Illinois barns. It means being lumped together, Olivia and Tom, two pieces of driftwood pretending to be from the same tree when they simply failed to find a better creek.
“I’m not really here,” she says, and she needs him to know this. “Just home for the summer.”
He talks on. People from the past listed and reported, with facts of their existences tagged on like afterthoughts. A flood of marriages. Babies. Engagements. Almost engagements.
Tom picks at the table. Olivia’s hand skates across the smooth glass of her beer. The beer is warming. The glass is sweating. Her palm is wet again, water tucking itself into the crevices of skin, like black ice lurking on Plamondon Road in January.
She doesn’t move. Thinks about the palm reader at the county fair who promised her a great love and wonders if Tom has spent these winters alone, if he’s ever found greatness in anything.
Tom says, “I work downtown, you know,” like he expects praise for an hour-long train commute. He shows Olivia his new watch and mentions what his salary could be with a few promotions.
She takes a large sip, knowing that if Tom hasn’t asked her anything about herself by now, he’s not going to. But she doesn’t say anything either, just lets Tom rattle on while she wraps both hands around the glass, imagining her life line and love line drowning in the condensation. Washed away. Eliminated.
Olivia wonders what Tom would say if she showed him, if she peeled her hands away and held them up, palms smooth and worthless now, but glistening in the dim bar light.
Hayley Notter is a graduate of Chatham University’s MFA program, and her work has been featured in “You Might Need to Hear This,” “IDK Magazine,” and on WUMW Milwaukee Public Radio. While at Beloit College, she won the David & Marion Stocking Prize for Best Creative Nonfiction.