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Louise John stared glumly at her slowly sagging arm’s skin layers which seemed to hang lower and lower each time she steadied her left hand to lift herself out of bed. The old woman sluggishly edged her veined feet over her bedside, and glanced at the mirror to find herself looking older than she did the previous night. Sun sprinted from her window into sunny heaps along her bed sheets. She straightened the silken night gown over her hunched figure, brushed her stringy, dulled blonde hair, and tied it up strenuously with a periwinkle ribbon, using her cracking elbows. With a strain, Louise moved quickly once she lifted herself from her empty bed. She bent slowly over, each vertebrate at a time, and clasped a pearl necklace around her frail neck. Once the bits of silver and pearls were fastened around her hunched neck, she retrieved a small green and red card. She made her way over to the phone, dialed a number, muttered a few words in to her shaking hand, waited and placed the phone back in its place. Staring blankly, she hung up the cold phone and lowered herself into a roughly edged wooden chair. She flipped open the stained-gold latches of her guitar case. The curved body, like hers, of the acoustic oak, fitted itself to her knee. She moved her bony fingers over the first steel fret, and then to the third and then the fifth. She took quick breaths as the sweet sound of music was muted as each string moistened from the beads of sweat forming across her clammy palms. Louise’s heart ran a marathon within seconds. A few minutes later, within the quiet white house, there was an old lady splayed across the ground with a guitar and a pearl necklace across her chest, an envelope slipped within the strap, and a still heart that beat no longer.
The sky was a peach color, a tainted orange, and the sound of a scratchy radio occupied the room, full blast. Louise John, a rose scented and perfumed, 70 year old woman, hair hanging in two tangled blonde braids, was preparing a pair of sunny-side eggs. Like every April morning, she slipped on a blue plaid dress, applied her rouge, and headed quickly out of her small white house, waved hello to the block, and took a stroll down the creaky boardwalk, it’s creaky slots soft with fungi. She heard the rings of store bells, children slurping up their ice creams, and a young man with a head of freshly groomed brown hair and a young woman with blonde hair clasping hands, Romeo and Juliette. Louise smiled warmly as she passed the two, caught between their desiring gazes. Her plaid dress swayed rhythmically over her aching knees as she walked into her morning job at the local old-style creamery. Trying to balance, as she dodged the small children and teenagers flailing their sugary finger tips around, she tied on her apron and scooped chunks of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream until her aged arms gave out about seven hours later. As Louise was closing up the parlor, a young girl, about eight years of age, walked in to the checker-walled store. Louise, turning off the coolers and emptying the many buckets of melted cream, told the girl that Jack’s Ice Cream had already closed.
The small girl continued to make her way into the parlor and asked, “May I please have a double coop of cotton candy ice cream in a waffle cone? Could you add rainbow sprinkles too?”
Louise placidly answered, “Sorry darling, but Jack’s just closed. Come back some other time, we’d be glad to have you.”
“Why?” questioned the small girl, as her locks of gleaming scarlet hair shifted sideways.
“Jack’s has no more ice cream, and that is why. Now go home,” Louise grunted.
“But you were just emptying buck-Can I ask a question?” asked the girl, her eyes growing larger.
“Oh Lord. Go ahead.” Louise answered, steadying herself to take a seat in one of the many small red booths in the shop.
“My name is Kate just in case you were wondering. Why is the name of this place, called Jack’s Ice Cream? There is never a man working around here unless he died or something-Oh.” Kate stopped short.
“Oh good heavens, child. There used to be a fine young man working here back in the day who founded this old place. His name was Jack John. Oh child, he could tell you ever kind of ice cream there was, and have a conversation with a customer for hours. You don’t give two hoots, so why so many questions honey bee?” Louise found herself in a daze, remembering Jack after so many years of forcing herself to forget about the past, and almost forgetting about Kate’s presence. Little did Kate know, Jack and Louise, a once young and desiring engaged pair about fifty years ago in the very same small town, spent all their money to open the small parlor in the epicenter of town, and paint it up all nice for the children, as Louise dreamed of her own with Jack someday. The two were engaged when the shop opened, and so incredibly in love.
There was a fast rapping from above, and Louise’s gaze shot up to see Kate tapping her finger nails on the empty freezers behind the counter, perhaps interested. Louise thought twice about forcing the small girl out of the parlor, so she, herself, could get home for an early snooze. Yet, she sat quietly watching the young girl bounce around the quiet parlor. The air conditioner filled the silent air of the chilled shop. Kate looked up at Louise, about to speak, but then thinking.
“But where is he now? Jack, I mean. Did he leave?” asked Kate as her voice rose.
“We were in love, honey bee. Nothing could have ever separated us, except for a good for nothing disease that destroys your immunity, which means you get sick real easy. He caught influenza, and moved away to have the proper treatment in his condition, but I stayed behind.” Louise folded her hands together, locking her gaze on her ring finger as if there was something to see. Long ago, both Louise and Jack were living off everything they had as a source of income when they first decided to unite their lives in one, including the parlor. Jack sold his Chevrolet to buy a train ticket, even though that would be an additional risk to take. The lightly tanned lad purchased a pearl necklace with the leftovers from savings just before he left Louise behind.
Louise could still picture the necklace around her young neck, and his toasted fiery hands brushing against the chilled hairs along the back of her neck when he clasped the silver with a small click of the metal. He, wearing a white button up shirt, gray pants, mahogany loafers, and a medical mask, touched his mask lightly up to Louise’s shaking jaw. Louise, wearing a brightly patterned floral sundress, became spattered in the dust of the slowly departing train, and grew draped in layers of her tears.
“Why didn’t you go with him? Did you see him again? Did you find him? You should have Miss John.” Kate stated as she shook the empty tip jar. Louise’s eyes connected like a rubber band with Kate’s for a moment, but the band snapped as soon as Louise’s gaze became weak. Louise knew if she’d sold the necklace to have had the chance to be on the departing train that slipped into the distance like a letter into an envelope, she feared that she wouldn’t have the strength to forget him. She kept the necklace to try and remember the moments when they’d walked down the very same boardwalk during the time it had just been built and the wood had been new. The once young toe head blonde kept the necklace to try and remember him. It would have been like he never existed if she’d handed it away, if that is, he is still alive.
“We didn’t have anywhere near the cash needed for me to travel with him, baby girl. Any who, get going, please! It’s late. Please Kate, come back anytime sweetheart.” Louise found herself lost in her words, and realized that re-speaking and refreshing the memories brought new life and color to them. Within a few seconds, the transformation happened. Louise no longer felt like a seventy year old lady running an ice cream parlor, but a twenty four year old young woman getting ready to meet her date.
The next morning, she woke up, glanced in the mirror, and in the reflection she saw that her hair seemed to have grown so golden blonde over night that she could picture her younger self standing next to her young Jack. When she made the call, a phone buzzed at Great Oak Homes, but an auto-message answered with a street address name. Louise’s skirt bounced over her young knees as she walked more rapidly to retrieve a pen. She scripted a hand written calligraphy letter addressed to Jack John, and signed it; love, Louise. She sealed the enveloped with a beautiful scarlet red stamp with the letter J on it she’d saved from fifty years ago in a dusty drawer. She watched each atom in the ink dry, swept it upward with her young hands, and mailed it as she headed to town the next day.
The clock in the parlor seemed to tick a little faster, as Louise seemed to scoop faster, sweep faster, change frets faster in her free time, and leave the parlor faster only to come home to an empty home with an empty mailbox. Only was the dulled red flag on the mailbox standing erect one rainy night.
Louise stepped inside, dodging a large puddle just before her front door’s mat, holding the soaked envelope. She kicked off her rain scrubs, removed her socks, and unbuttoned her sunny rain jacket even thought she neglected to take it off. With drips of water racing down the edges of her rubber coat, she sank into her wooden chair so fast she bruised her tailbone at the time she realized wooden chairs do not sink. A silver letter opener lay shining on the side table next to her acoustic, which she grabbed and slid under the envelope’s flap. Inside, she could see only a card colored red and green.
Inside, there was only typed writing that read; Please Call Great Oak Homes. Our machines may have had a problem fulfilling your request. Louise’s face went sheer white as a porcelain doll. Her muscles suddenly tensed, aching, as she could feel her age creeping back through each vein underneath her translucent skin. In one way, Louise wanted someone to wring out the lines so she could sooner hear the voice she wanted to, but otherwise, she wanted to keep it a mystery. Louise decided to call the new phone number printed on the small card the following morning when the phone lines would not be wrapped in water.