Iowa Writes

JOE ALAN ARTZ
Corner Table


Sandwiches finished to crumbs on waxed paper, they linger. She keeps reading, pressing the crease of the folded page until the newsprint lies flat as a field. He slouches, his legs to the outside of the chair, his sneakers en pointe. He picks at the moist label of his beer. His fingertips run the braille of embossing on the bottle, reading the letters of the brand and brushing the bands of bumps round the base. He stretches his legs beneath the table, props his feet on the seat across. He plants an elbow to practice balancing the bottle on his palm. The bottle and his forearm quiver like a flower in a bit of breeze.

Soft music wafts down from a recessed speaker. She comments on something she's read, he asks a question, she answers yes. His eyes stray away, out the window into the street. Headlights come, taillights go, in pairs. Reflected neon trims the rain-slick cars, painting fine lines of red and blue parallel down the side panels, the brush lifting briefly for the dark between cars.

"Finished?"

"Almost." She folds the paper to a new page. He looks up and away down the street, crosses his ankles on the seat of the chair opposite. His lips part, then open wider for the cough he sends in place of words that aren't there. She sips, then finishes her beer in two long-throated gulps. She holds the empty bottle, reading the label. She sets it on the table, twirls the neck between her fingers.

They stand. She pulls on her black woolen jacket, buttons it, steals a last glance at the paper. She follows his eyes to a painting of a clown. He says something, she laughs. She folds up the newspaper, shrugs on her backpack, gathers sandwich wrappers and empties onto a tray, and carries the tray to the trash bin where he's waiting. They disappear into the front room.

Sandwiches finished to crumbs on waxed paper, they linger. She keeps reading, pressing the crease of the folded page until the newsprint lies flat as a field. He slouches, his legs to the outside of the chair, his sneakers en pointe. He picks at the moist label of his beer. His fingertips run the braille of embossing on the bottle, reading the letters of the brand and brushing the bands of bumps round the base. He stretches his legs beneath the table, props his feet on the seat across. He plants an elbow to practice balancing the bottle on his palm. The bottle and his forearm quiver like a flower in a bit of breeze.

Soft music wafts down from a recessed speaker. She comments on something she's read, he asks a question, she answers yes. His eyes stray away, out the window into the street. Headlights come, taillights go, in pairs. Reflected neon trims the rain-slick cars, painting fine lines of red and blue parallel down the side panels, the brush lifting briefly for the dark between cars.

"Finished?"

"Almost." She folds the paper to a new page. He looks up and away down the street, crosses his ankles on the seat of the chair opposite. His lips part, then open wider for the cough he sends in place of words that aren't there. She sips, then finishes her beer in two long-throated gulps. She holds the empty bottle, reading the label. She sets it on the table, twirls the neck between her fingers.

They stand. She pulls on her black woolen jacket, buttons it, steals a last glance at the paper. She follows his eyes to a painting of a clown. He says something, she laughs. She folds up the newspaper, shrugs on her backpack, gathers sandwich wrappers and empties onto a tray, and carries the tray to the trash bin where he's waiting. They disappear into the front room.

From my table, I hear the beep of numbers punched. The cash drawer opens and closes. "Thank you," a man says. A tinkling bell opens the deli to the sizzle of traffic, the cylinder sighs as it pulls the door to.

The two of them pass the window, walking apace in the direction of Drake University. Maybe they're just dating, maybe she's already remarried. I don't believe it's mine to care about. I close my notebook, cap my pen, and on the street, turn the other way.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JOE ALAN ARTZ

Joe Artz, an archaeologist, lives in Iowa City with his wife Cherie, who is also an archaeologist. This is Joe's second published work of fiction. The first, a short story, appeared in the 2009 edition of Tim Fay's Wapsipinicon Almanac. Joe is grateful to Rachel Yoder and June Melby of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program for encouraging his work.

Except for the last paragraph, "Corner Table" was written from direct observation as Joe lingered over a beer with a notebook on a rainy evening at the Beggar's Banquet Deli near Drake University in Des Moines.

This page was first displayed
on May 26, 2010

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