This story was originally published in Flash Fiction Online in September 2018, and also won a local short story competition at Leeds Writer Circle.
Ice Cream and English Summers
by S Dean
Six months pregnant, and I should have been happy. Six words to fire me, and I should have been angry. Instead, I drifted in a fugue. Spring faded, summer swelled, and our lives were falling apart.
“I’m hungry,” you said.
“I’m hot,” I answered.
So we went for ice cream. June heat, dirty pavements, crowded store. Still better than being inside. We bought treats with dwindling money because what’s a little bit less, when you haven’t got anything anyway.
“This strawberry syrup tastes fake,” I said.
“I’ll swap you my vanilla,” you answered.
We swapped. For a moment I was happy, and I think you were, too.
I used to think Rapunzel was a stupid story. Why would you risk pissing off a witch for radishes?
Pregnancy soon corrected that naivety. I craved ice so badly I dreamed about licking snow off car roofs. About trekking to Antarctica and gulping down glaciers. No snow or glaciers in late June, but we bought ice cream every day. We’d walk out, dip into the store, sit on the bench outside.
“How’s the job search going?” you said.
“People don’t hire heavily pregnant women,” I answered.
The Cornetto seemed to peel its own wrapper. It wanted to be eaten. The cone had a texture like cardboard, like the boxes in our living room. We were packing, moving, the rent too high without my job.
I bit my cone and imagined I was chewing those boxes up to spit them out again because I liked the house we had. I think you liked it, too.
Ice cream became routine. Tuesdays were for Twisters, and I always saved the sticks, little souvenirs of joy. You made some into finger puppets, for when the baby comes.
“What if she chews them?” I said.
“Then I’ll make more,” you answered, and I almost smiled.
Wednesdays and Thursdays we bought whatever was on sale. I’d never tried choc ices till that summer and they tasted like poverty; cheapest of the cheap. They melted in the August heat even faster than our savings.
On Fridays, we’d try something new. I developed a minor addiction to Callipos.
Magnums were an expensive treat for Sundays and my birthday and also the day we moved—from a good house with a garden to a basement flat that leaked. The only thing I unpacked was the crib and some furniture. Didn’t want our books ruined by the damp.
“Where will she play?” I said. “We don’t have a garden anymore.”
“There’s always parks,” you answered. “How about we go for a walk?”
We finished our ice creams and drifted in the park, catching sunshine through the trees. If I kept moving my feet, I could believe we had somewhere to go. I think you believed that, too.
Something was wrong.
We went into hospital three weeks early and waited, waited, waited. You bought me an ice cream from the cafe, and I couldn’t finish it. Not until I knew she was going to be okay. So you held it for me while it melted with the last of summer’s light.
The baby died.
I didn’t cry.
It rained some in September.
My clothes smelled of leaking milk, and I couldn’t speak at the funeral. You spoke for both of us, every word eating into you. Small bodies make scant ashes.
Afterward, we found a cafe near the church. The kind of place where tea costs more than a mortgage. How much did the ice cream cost? My child, I guess, since we wouldn’t have come here otherwise.
“I’m not hungry,” I said. “November’s too cold for ice cream.”
“It’s not about eating,” you answered. “Here, let me open it for you.”
Yorvale, organic and local; honeycomb flavour. It tasted of dust. We sat together by the window, looking through it, looking away.
We should have talked about her.
We should have talked.
Instead, I threw the crib out. No child to use it, nowhere to store it. We meant to put the finger puppets on her grave but couldn’t bear to touch them.
Christmas came and went, the season of celebrating newborns. Our flat stayed freezer-cold. The people upstairs had their baby, and you sat awake at nights, listening to it cry. I bought earplugs and avoided parks. In the new year, I found a new job. You lost yours.
“Nevermind; jobs come and go,” I said.
You didn’t answer.
Lent bled into Easter. Spring was around the corner, and the ice in me started to thaw. I no longer dreamed of snow. You started taking walks—going out every day, in fact. Spending hours in the cemetery.
I thought you were thawing, too.
I thought wrong.
You were melting.
I’ve drawn the curtains back. I hope that’s okay. It just seems a shame for you to sit here in the dark when we’ve already lived so long without the light. I made a box of memories, like we used to talk about doing. I put in the puppets you made, the clothes she never wore, and that book we wanted to read her; it’s sat untouched all winter.
And I’ve brought you an ice cream, the kind that comes in a tub with a wooden spoon. I know you’re not hungry—you never are anymore—but like you told me once, it’s not about the eating.
It’s about sunlight on dark days and ice cream on hot ones. It’s about sweetness that lingers when everything is bitter and making puppets from the trash. It’s about all the words you said to cheer me up whenever I fell down.
I want to say those same words back to you and maybe talk about our daughter, if we can. I want to go on walks and unpack our books and remember how to thaw without collapsing.
I want to have ice cream in summer again, and I think that you do, too.
Here, let me open it for you.