Ice Cream

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Ice Cream

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I liked a lot of things when I was eleven. Ice cream, for one. And I couldn’t wait to grow up.

Everything existed so obviously in Montana. I remember my mile-and-a-half morning pilgrimage to middle school, down the leafy sidewalks and past the odd adobe house; and there was my little white house, our big brick school, the green mountains that surrounded me wherever my feet could take my wide eyes. The people I knew were the only people. One day when I was really little, I asked my sister how many of us there were in the whole entire world. She thought there might be a hundred. That seemed reasonable. And each person I encountered smiled at me.  

Our sweet Wednesday errand was something I looked forward to every week. Any sane eleven-year old couldn’t turn down ice cream, and I was no different.

Town was quiet on that November night as we drove to the local ice cream shop. Shadows on the street melted into the asphalt and frost took their place. All the Canadians that filled the bars in August were long gone. Even Sweet Peaks was empty, save for the girl behind the counter. She smiled, though, when I jumped up to the front of the line ahead of my sister.

“Umm. . . could I get a salty caramel in a cup, please?

“In a cup? Sure!”

I nodded as she flipped the glass cover with practiced ease and dug into the corresponding tub with a clean scoop. She molded a generous helping into the waxed cup, grabbed a spoon, and handed it to me over the counter.

“Thanks!” I said. The girl smiled. It was Mom’s turn to nod.

Already happy, I snatched the ice cream off the counter and shoved a large spoonful in my mouth before taking a seat by the window. I could never really taste the “salt” part of the salty caramel, but it didn’t really matter. I liked the sweetness.

I was so lost in the ice cream that I didn’t notice my Mom gesture to me, shake her head, and leave with my sister. There were a few maps made out of words on the walls, and they caught my eye as ice cream slid down my chin. I thought it was pretty neat how they arranged the words to make lakes and roads and trails.

What wasn’t neat was that I struck plastic bottom in my cup. And Mom started honking at me.

I jumped up and yelled thank you again to the girl behind the counter. I don’t remember if she said anything. As I was tossing my spoon into the trash, I saw an old man walking  up to the shop. I was going out; he was coming in. Why not open the door for him? Old people like things like that.

I swept up to the entry and grabbed the door handle, pulling the door toward me and to the wall. I was a little too early, though. The man was walking slower than I thought. In fact, he had a pretty bad limp. He was hunched over, and ne of his legs didn’t bend. He swung it forward every other step, and when he planted with it, his hips jutted sideways. Warm air must’ve rushed outside, because he looked up. His pale blue eyes squinted at me. I stared back, and I felt my jaw relax. It took me a more than a moment to realize he was offering a smile. Usually a person’s eyes gave it away.

It disappeared as quickly as it had come. I waited while he climbed the two steps. He propped his hand out to the wall and latched on to the railing. When he reached the top, I could feel his breath. Short.

“Thank you,” he said. His smile returned.

“O-of course, sir.”

I watched as he made his way over to the counter. The girl behind the counter turned and smiled at him.

I turned and walked down the steps.

It was only after I had crossed the street and gotten into the car that I realized how cold I was. A t-shirt was not enough for November.

My mom shifted into drive and made a u-turn–it was the fastest way.

The ride was quiet.

When we got home, I grabbed my backpack and headed to my room. I had a couple of Language assignments to do. That was a lot for a fifth grader. It was okay, though. I was a tough kid. I prided myself in my positive attitude, something that never really went away. People smiled at me; I smiled back.

My mom stopped me in the hallway.

“Are you okay, hon?

I smiled. Then I started to cry.