I pay for my food and approach quickly, yet tentatively. There is a woman there refilling a sweating, waxy cup with four extra pieces of ice and diet cola. The cup begins to fold in her hand, transforming the circular top of the cup into an aching grimace, a yearning from this single use utensil to be retired, tossed. The third refill is a chore, a tax on its very being. She turns and walks away just as I reach the station, glancing behind her momentarily with what must be a look of relief- she had kept no one waiting.
I have two cups to fill, and so I hurriedly begin filling one with ice, peering down into the cup, realizing that I have gotten too much ice, dumping the cup out partially, and acquiring a few more cubes from the ice dispenser, as I poured too much out on the first attempt. I repeat this process with the second cup as I simultaneously begin filling the first cup with the chosen beverage. As the cup fills with streams of carbonated water, sugary syrup and mountains of fizz, I pull the second cup from under the ice dispenser, dump some ice, and move the cup to its appropriate beverage dispenser and begin the eternal task of filling it. I sense movement behind me, and a cautionary glance yields the horrible truth- another customer is fast approaching. I turn my attention back to the cups in great haste to check their progress. The fizz appears to be increasing, actually, and I stick a finger into each cup in an effort to make it recede more quickly- an old wive's tale, an urban legend. This act produces no result, short of leaving both index fingers cold and sticky.
The millions of bubbles, indifferent to any sort of social couth, patiently wait and pop as they please, taking pleasure, perhaps, in the act of waiting their soon-to-be consumers must endure while they act out their tiny, insignificant lives in tandem with one another. If only to be in one of those tiny bubbles of air- vast civilizations clinging valiantly to the smooth, curved surface of the cup, then- up, up, pop.
There is now a woman with a small child directly behind me, waiting, talking to the impatient child- making the need for an expedited end to this carbonated tenure that much more pressing and desperate. I push the first cup back under the nozzle and attempt to finish filling it, but my impatience has cost me- the cup has overflowed, and soda and bubbles and shame streak down the side of the cup and gather for laughs and the process of becoming flat in the grey, plastic gulley beneath the wire grate that catches ice and holds cups. I shake my hand back and forth once, quickly, as a cat does when it steps in its water bowl, to rid myself of the errant liquid, and turn back to the second cup to repeat this process. The woman sidles in next to me, quite craftily, and had I not been acutely aware of her presence, I would have been wholly unaware of her altogether, until the sound of the ice machine cranks up in masses of churning and volume. Horror- my first cup is under the very nozzle that she is intent on using. She eyes me peripherally, noticeably, and I give the first cup one final push under the nozzle. I can only hope, at this point, that the cup is filled to my liking.
The steady sound of rushing water and carbon dioxide filling the woman's cup mere inches from me burns my ears and causes the rest of the blood in the nearby vicinity to flood my cheeks as I look at my own cup that is only three quarters full. I take a half-step back in her direction, determined, momentarily, to finish filling the cup to its potential, but I decide against it in mid-stride and turn around again. My second cup, now calm from the storm of repeated onslaughts of cold soda, sits sparkling and glowing on the grate, triumphantly full, though not without beadlets of brown liquid lining its outer surface- wounds from battle not soon forgotten.
I begin fumbling with plastic lids, attempting to affix them in their proper place- atop the teeming ocean of life, death and refreshment below. I hear the woman shuffling down the line, drinks full, sips taken sans lid, the brown tray her food rests on scraping along the metal rails glued to the formica countertop. The child reaches for a straw.