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The Emperor of Ice Cream
There is a strange man in the kitchen. His muscles ripple as he slowly turns the handle. The tattoos spiraling up his arms twitch in a rhythmic song to the crunch of ice. A single drop falls from his bowed head into the mixture; a tiny drop of salt to try and melt the hard edges of the ice. His thick fingers swipe quickly at his eye.
The halls are infested with the once young girls. A quiet hum surrounds them like a drugged hive of bees. Gossip flies in that way that only happens with women who have spent their whole lives together. Each appears appropriately distressed, but their heads are more filled with the pinching of their fancy old shoes on their toes.
The door creaks open as another overgrown boy enters. The only boyish thing left on the tall slightly doughy figure is the downturned eyes and look on his face. The same expression that matches the others in the living room. He too holds a bouquet of flowers in his outstretched hands. Last month's newspaper makes an embarrassing crinkle between his fingers as his eyes dart around the room for a place to dispense his offering.
The clocks tick as another minute passes and nothing changes. The strange man pretends his mind is numb and that his tears are just raindrops eroding a hole in the pain. The once young girls mutter of the past, ignoring what is right above their heads. The grown boys search for rolled cigars, anything to fill the gaps between their fingers.
Time slips past unnoticed till someone makes the trip first. Then slowly one by one they voyage up the steps pretending it is only duty, and not morbid curiosity that pulls them towards the room.
He is the last to reach the top. The room is empty of living but they mingle outside, watching from the corner of their eyes. With purposeful steps he strides to her old dresser. It is the one from her childhood and the cheap wood is painted with chipped roses that were once red but are now a bit more charred black in color. His back makes a loud crack as he bends down to pry open the bottom a drawer. When it sticks, he gives it a harsh tug and falls back in surprise as yet another glass knob pops off into his hand. Quickly righting himself he feels the flush of heat spread over his throat and chest.
Finally his fingers make contact with a crispy cloth he hasn’t seen in years. Pulling it out he flicks his wrist and the fabric smoothes. He leans forward unaware of those in the hall also straining forward for a peek. His broad thumb strokes the curlicues and flowers she once embroidered with such effortless care.
He stands, swivels on his heal to face her, and drops the cloth to cover her head and body. Only her feet stick out. He knows those feet; he knows what they have gone through. They learned to walk, and stomped in frustration the first time they heard "No". They danced across the grimy floor while her fingers were tight in another's. They slowly crept up the steps for one last time. Now they are still; nothing but flesh and bone.
The guests amble back down the stairs and stand waiting for something but unsure of what. He then brings out her last wish. It fills the random bowls and cracked mugs he found in the cupboards. He passes them around and tongues flicker out, timid at first. The cream melts in their mouths and slides easily down their throats.
It washes away the women's petty gossip and it fills their eyes with bittersweet tears. It is the taste of a time lost but now almost remembered. It washes away the men's awkwardness and they move forward to comfort one another with pats on their backs. It washes away his desperation and faked numbness. Now the good memories are awakened, not the ones of death. When the last spoonful is swallowed, the taste of ice cream remains in each of their mouths. It is the taste of life for each of them.
The blanket of night is pulled over their heads. The beam of the forgotten lamp shines down on her empty and cold body. The life they pretend to live slips into the shadows of the quiet house and out the half open doorway. Go live now, live while you can. Be careful. Sip slowly at life so that it doesn’t numb you like quickly gulped down ice cream. Because someday it will all ends the same way. The light is pointing towards death.