By Tom Eck
It had been a horrendous shopping day, not to be unexpected just two days before Christmas. I don’t usually don’t delay my Christmas shopping, but this year was different. Jenny, my wife of 35 years, my confidant and my love was no longer with me. In March, she had died in a car accident. Until now, I couldn’t bring myself to shop. Six hours of competing with all of the other last minute shoppers, only added to my pain. Peace on earth and goodwill toward men? Not today!
“The mall will be closing in 20 minutes,” blared throughout the mall. As I dragged myself toward the exit, one little shop caught my eye—an ice cream parlor. I hadn’t noticed it before, but I suddenly had a hankering for peppermint ice cream making its Christmas season appearance. Inside, was a young girl behind the counter- no more than fifteen.
“Young lady, do you have any peppermint ice cream?”
“I do have some …and you will be my last customer.”
She looked at me as if she knew me. I thought she,too, seemed familiar. Maybe one of the neighborhood kids who grow up so fast that they’re hardly recognizable a few years later.
“A single or a double?’
“A single, please.”
As she reached over to scoop the ice cream, I noticed something vaguely familiar about the shape of her face and neck. I started to say something, but decided not to.
“ Wow! I’m glad I didn’t order a double. It would have been a frozen heart attack.”
“ How much do I owe you?”
“ Nothing. It’s on the house.”
“Let me at least give you a tip.”
“No thanks, I don’t need the money”.
“Thank you so much. This cone is special to me”.
“And me, too. Enjoy”
I wasn’t sure what she meant. I smiled and left.
Outside the parlor, I found a park bench with varnished oak slats and a shiny black cast iron frame, just like those I often shared ice cream with Jenny. I would devour the soft ice cream in just a few bites, ignoring the oncoming brain freeze. I loved to devour ice cream. I’m not sure why, but it did keep the ice cream from dripping on my clothes. And, I would always finish before Jenny, imploring her with my eyes to share what remained of her cone. It usually worked—but not with peppermint ice cream—her favorite.
I stared at the cone. Little bits of white and red peppermint candy perfused the soft creamy body, painting pink swirls of dissolving peppermint, like wisps of a miniature sunset. But this time I savored it, taking slow licks, furrowing the yielding silky sides with the bits of candy dragged by my tongue. Every so often, I nibbled a small bite to capture the little pieces trying to flee from their inevitable destiny, crunching them with my front teeth to release the intense peppermint flavor onto my tongue. Distant memories of times past loomed before me, morphing the mall into a poignant dreamscape of dancing images of Jenny and me. I felt her touch, her fragrance, her essence. We were together again.
Suddenly, my surrealistic journey ended and I refocused attention on my icy delight, now gone except for what remained inside the cone. With my tongue, I forced the remaining cool, creamy softness into the deep recesses of the pointed tip. My last bite would be perfect.
I popped the crunchy cone into my mouth. The ice cream fused with the cone’s brown sugary taste— a fitting finale to the gastronomical delight that had rekindled some intense memories and had a made them almost real. I had to have another cone. I started towards to the parlor. But there was nothing inside. Not a counter. No chairs. No signs. Only a gray concrete floor and the metal wall studs. I looked around. I took a few more steps down the hallway—no ice cream parlor anywhere in sight.
Once home, I microwaved some leftover spaghetti from the night before. It always tasted better the next day. Jenny said that’s because it had time to marry. Interesting term. But, I guess she was right.
After my snack and some late night TV news, I called it a day–a trying and perplexing one I wrote it off to holiday fatigue and previously unacknowledged loneliness. As I kicked off my shoes, I noticed a small spot, about the size and color of a pencil eraser, on my right shoe. Not sure what it was…almost too exhausted to care. But I picked up the scuffed black loafer to examine it more closely. As I brought it toward my face, I noticed the faint fragrance of peppermint.
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