"Are those your brother's shoes?" Jo Ann glanced back at her daughter in the back seat. Carol looked down at her feet and scrunched her mouth. She turned back to look out the window and the expanse of blue with patches of cottony white. "Answer me, dear," said her mother.
"They don't fit him no more," said Carol.
"They're not very feminine," said Jo Ann. "Also, it's 'They don't fit him, anymore. Aren't you learning anything in school?" Jo Ann shook her head, looking through the rearview mirror.
Carol wriggled, arching her back, then got up and knelt on the seat and thrust her head out the window into the buggy summer air.
"Get down, girl!" said Jo Ann. Carol slumped back into the seat and crossed her arms. "You had better behave, you hear?"
"Yes mother," said Carol.
"Straighten your dress. The crinoline is showing."
Carol sighed heavily, then yanked down at the hem of her dress, folding herself in two and letting her arms then drape over the side of the seat.
"Sit up! Good grief!"
Carol sat bolt upright, stiff, and thrust her back into the seat. She straightened her arms by her side.
"Now I don't want anymore trouble from you. Let me focus on the road."
"It's a straight road, and there aren't any cars on it."
"Don't talk back to me now."
"Sorry, mother." Carol turned her attention back to the calming blue. Then she asked, "Why doesn't Dean have to come to?"
"You're brother's old enough to look after himself at home."
"I'm old enough," said Carol.
"No you're not, and don't say 'yes I am'," said Jo Ann. "You're father would have agreed with me. We're almost there." They passed then next few minutes in silence except for the hum of the engine and the sound of the tires on gravel.
They arrived at the diner five minutes early.
"Can I wait in the car?" asked Carol.
"No," said Jo Ann, fussing about flyaway hairs in the rearview mirror. "Roll up your window."
Jo Ann got out, and waited patiently for Carol to do the same.
"Don't slam the door," said Jo Ann.
"I wasn't going to," said Carol. She closed her door slowly, then used her shoulder to make sure it caught on the latch.
"Go wait on the porch. Don't touch anything. Don't talk to anyone. Stay in the shade. I'm not buying you a Coca-Cola if you get hot. We can't afford it."
"Yes mother," said Carol. She slouched towards the six inches of shade offered by the porch roof. She stood stiffly against the wall. Her nose was illuminated in sunlight.
"I don't know how long I'll be," said Jo Ann, "but wish me luck." She flashed an optimistic smile and giggled, before opening the door to the diner. It jangled with a little bell at the top. She disappeared in to the dark inside.
Carol relaxed her posture. She sat down cross-legged on the porch. There muffled sounds from inside the diner, voices and cutlery clinking. Across the road there was an empty, silent gas station. A uniformed attendent slept by the door in a chair. Behind the gas station was a fallow field dotted in the distance with black cattle. Carol caught a faint whiff of manure.
There was a ball of dust in the distance down the road. Carol watched the car get bigger. Across the street the attendant yawned, stretched his arms, then stood. The car pulled into gas station, then stopped. Three teenage boys got out, including Dean. Carol stood up and waved to him. He turned and saw her, but didn't wave back.
"Fill 'er up," said the boy that was driving.
"Yes sir," said the attendent. "Would you like me to check the oil for you?"
"I'm going for a soda-pop over there," said the third boy. "You want anything?"
"Nah," said the driver.
Dean shook his head, glancing at Carol. The third boy nonchalantly crossed the road. Carol watched him approach. As he walked, he took a comb out of his pocket, spit on it, then combed his hair back. He leered at Carol when he reached the porch.
"What'chyou lookin' at?" he said.
"Nothing," said Carol, staring at him intently.
"Weirdo," he said as he opened the jangly door.
"Creep," said Carol to the slamming door. She turned back to looked at Dean. He was leaning against the side of the car smoking. He had one hand on his hip. He bent down to check his hair in the side view mirror. He glanced at Carol out of the corner of his eye. She waved again. He turned to face his friend. They started chatting and laughing. Carol stepped back to the diner wall. She pressed her back into it, and turned her head to get her nose out of the sun. She pulled the skirt of her dress tight, and pressed in in under her thighs. She looked down and saw Dean's shoes, graying canvas and dirty, frayed, knotted laces. She stood on the tips of her toes, taller, teetering.
The third boy burst from the door and ran towards the road, a Coca-Cola bottle frothing over in his hands. He staggered, swearing, to keep the soda from staining his pants. When he reached the other side he took a deep swig.
The gas station attendent let the hood of the car fall with a heavy thunk. The driver paid him with wadded up cash, then the boys got back in the car, and it sputtered back to life. The attendent waved at them as the car pulled out, spitting back gravel. They didn't wave back.
Carol watched the car disappeared behind a veil of dust. When it was gone, with only a brown haze in its wake, she stepped down on the soles of her feet. She realized she had been holding her breath. Her eyes were stinging.
The door jangled open again, and Jo Ann flounced out.
"I got it!" she said exuberantly. "I got it, hun!"
Jo Ann scooped up her daughter, hugging her while Carol squirmed, then kissed her cheek.
"Do I have to come here every day with you?" asked Carol when Jo Ann released her.
"I'm afraid so," said Jo Ann. "Until the end of summer when you start school." She smiled broadly.
Carol started to cry. She covered her eyes with her forearms.
"Now, now, dear," said Jo Ann. "It won't be that bad. You can bring your jacks and play out here."
"I don't want to play jacks!" sobbed Carol.
"Well, bring your dolly then."
"I don't like dolls," said Carol.
"Now I won't stand for crying. You're embarrassing me in front of my new employer. Get in the car," said Jo Ann.
Carol pulled angrily on her door handle, then jumped inside, throwing herself across the back seat. Jo Ann closed the door behind her, then got in the driver's side and started the car. They pulled out of the diner parking lot and started back down the gravel road the way they came.
"Sit up," said Jo Ann. "And wipe your face."
Carol slowly pulled herself up into a sitting position, leaning against the inside of the door. She laboriously unrolled the back window. The smell of manure was stronger.
"Wipe your face. Crying makes you look ugly," said Jo Ann. "Don't you want to be a pretty girl?"
"No," said Carol.
"None of the talking back, do you hear?" said Jo Ann.
"Then why'd you ask me a question?"
"What did I just say?"
"No talking back," muttered Carol.
"Now what do you have to say to me?"
"I'm sorry mother."
"Why you don't want to be a little lady is beyond me," said Jo Ann after a few moments.
Carol looked down at her feet. She gripped the seat with her hands, and shoved off her shoes with her feet. They dropped to the car floor with dull thumps. She reached down and picked them up. She looked at the back of her mother's head. Jo Ann was looking straight ahead and the straight road, humming to herself.
Carol got up on the seat, then flung the shoes out window. She leaned out window, looked back, and watched them bounce into the tall grass the lined the road. For a moment, she smiled.