Ice cream is my abusive husband. I couldn’t help myself but pull him from the trash last night. I’m under his control. He smacks me like I’m a dirty boy, and he freezes my brain for ten seconds into a blinding headache. It’s darn near sadomasochistic. I want it, all of it. But how did I end up there, shoving him between my lips over a receptacle that smelled of Modelo and dryer sheet?
I used to work at Golden Udders Creamery back in Alabama just to be near my cold love. Golden Udders let me eat as much ice cream as my fat heart desired while I was employed there, and my darling kept me safe from the hordes of customers who made me anxious. I would hide in my dorm after work or school, lock myself in there, and feast on him until my stomach hurt. A gallon of Rocky Road can melt my worries away, and if you don’t believe it, you haven’t tried it. I got so lost in him, I once ate him during a tornado and didn’t even feel the twister take the roof from the coed floor. I dug dug dug until the last spoonful, until my spoon scraped the bottom, and never heard the winds also digging, scraping the shingles and tar paper off the roof. My love knows no distraction. Once I was finished, I needed more, tornado, or no tornado, or my problems would grow back like warts. If I could eat him all day, I would. But if so, I would become too obese to grab another serving. That’s no hyperbole.
I happened to mention my love while I was sitting on my mat waiting for my yoga class to start. I wanted to take the yoga class, but there are people there, and they want to be talked to like most people, and I was trying to use him to be safe again, just something to chit chat about with the thin body-by-yoga blond girl next to me. She grunted, closed her eyes, and suggested a parlor called Marty McCone’s. “You should try it,” she said. “I’m, like, making healthier choices and stuff.” She sat in the lotus position (something I could never do). “It has, like, zero calories, so it would totally help you out. And plus, it’s ice cream!”
Help me out? She may as well have called me a whale. And ice cream with zero calories sounded as vulgar as Beethoven with an accordion. The fat makes him delectable—so delectable that my boyfriend in Alabama once caught me, cheating.
Boyfriend opened the door to find me on the bed with a spoon in my hand and a gallon in my lap. We got in a big ol’ fight. He demanded I eat vegetables and take spin classes. I told him if he couldn’t live with it, then fine. Who needed him when true love waited in the frozen food aisle? I love ice cream unrequitedly, true, true love. Yes, he looks homely in the grocery store, lumped in the freezer with all those other homogenous containers, but, like I said, I love him for what’s on the inside.
Anyway, not to dwell on the past. I left Alabama and my boyfriend behind for Periscope City, and a new life where I would go to yoga class instead of Golden Udders.
The trash can of my shame was located conveniently in front of Marty McCone’s. It was the only parlor in a town where fewer than a thousand people lived. It had been awhile since the move, since Golden Udders, and I wanted sexy: a hot fudge sundae with nuts, with cherries, satiny, red, dripping syrup on their luxurious bed of whipped cream. Pauline, my dachshund, started arfing right away. The place gave her the willies. We stood at the door, in the quiet, yet to go in. I observed the words on the sign, Marty McCone’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, fashioned in red circus letters, with rust running down the edges of the sign like war paint. But nothing about their ice cream came close to old-fashioned. I’ll get to that later. The sign was affixed crudely above the door and surrounded by burned cedar shingles and busted light bulbs. Yep, it was creepy. The only other places in that strip mall were a bar, a laundromat, and a liquor store, and they were all closed early for the night.
Marty McCone’s looked more like a kebab restaurant than a parlor. I spotted no one in there except a bald man with a mop. But I was jonesing for a sundae.
When we entered, a little doorbell tinkered. Being in a parlor sent me chills in there, naturally, but the chill didn’t feel good. My lungs drowned in thick ammonia. Pop music blared so hard it rumbled my ear drums. The bald man quit mopping. He watched us come in. Tattoos between his thumbs and forefingers meant time in prison, which I’d learned from an episode of Loose Criminals.
He grilled me with the blue-eyed eyes of a lemur.
I asked, “Can I get a sundae?”
Instead of answering, he kicked his way through a backdoor to a backroom. I took that as a no. Where was the greeting? “Welcome to Marty McCone’s. Would you like to sample our summer flavors?” It certainly wasn’t in Golden Udders Creamery, where they used to make me wear a cow costume, wave at customers, and sing a jingle every time I got a tip:
Moo Moo Moo Moo, thank you for the love. Moo Moo Moo Moo, please enjoy the grub. Moo Moo Moo Moo, won’t you come again, Moo Moo Moo Moo, to Golden Udders, friend.
The jingle and thoughts of that costume still make me wince.
And yet, a parlor, there should be some fanfare.
Anyways, a teenage girl kicked the backdoor open, and she plopped herself on a stool behind a register. Her blue eyes were beautiful, and they sparkled with anger. She said nothing, so I said nothing back. I looked for nuts and cherries, hot fudge and whipped cream, or any semblance of a parlor, but all I saw was a glass case full of tubs. The bald man must’ve been the owner. What corruption was he committing in the back? Sizzling meth on a stove? Tying up a cop and dousing him with gasoline? Eating animal crackers? Whatever it was, it must’ve been heinous. I could just imagine him riffing with his cellmate: “Ice cream has always been my passion. Someday after parole, I will open a shop and spread joy to a small town of loners.”
No way. That man was packing (and I don’t mean Pistachio Nut). But I minded my business and browsed those flavors. I saw Honey Ginger, Lavender Cream, Marshmallow Beeswax …. No sign of chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla anywhere.
I tried to keep an open mind, but I drew a line somewhere at Watermelon Daffodil. That vegan girl from yoga class had to be smoking crack if she preferred to eat Grasshopper Mint over, say, Cookies ‘N’ Cream.
I kept scanning the dingy little cards stuck in the frame of the glass, and obviously written by a second-grader: Peach Sandalwood, Cherry Frankincense, Peanut Butter Sage, Chocolate-Covered Beetle, Cinnamon Nag Champa. Mint Chip, Butter Pecan, and Pralines and Cream also appeared to be persona non grata, as there were no little dirty cards for them either.
If you want my honest opinion, I thought everything—from the girl to the music to the eccentric flavors—was a front for trafficking. Anything to misdirect customers from his secret plot. And if I were to guess, he wanted to hemlock the town, then rifle through the ol’ homesteads for the secret jewels that could reverse gravity, or give everlasting life. But Periscope City Police would’ve called me delusional.
And yet, I kept moving to the next card. Either I was too desperate or I trusted that girl in yoga class. Something told me the former. I asked the teen behind the register, “Don’t you have basic chocolate?”
“Just what you see here,” she said, a curt answer to an innocent question. She had to speak little, or she might’ve let slip enough information so that I could’ve foiled his plans.
I was about to press on the choices when Pauline began to pant and wag her tail and arf at me in a hissy fit.
“Don’t you worry, poopskie,” I said, “We’ll leave soon.”
“Hurry the heck up,” the teen said.
I was flummoxed for a minute at the lack of parlor decorum, and then, shushing Pauline, I bent again to the cards. That’s when I found Birthday Cake—not Aloe Birthday Cake or Chamomile Birthday Cake, just plain ol’ Birthday Cake, between Pumpkin Saffron and Blueberry Turmeric. I darn near salivated at the site of canary yellow chunks of French Vanilla. Why was it there? I went to little Miss Employee of the Month, and I asked her, “Can I get a sample of Birthday Cake?”
Her eyes jumped like crickets, as if I’d uttered a password. She hopped her stool, handed me a white spoon as tiny as a pinky finger, flipped back the freezer lid, and made me shovel him out myself.
When he entered me he blinded me with a cold giddy rush of pain, making me excited. My molars crunched the jimmies, white icing slid down my throat, the chunks bounced like sponges against my gums. He was perfect birthday cake transformed to whipped frozen heaven. His creaminess had me reminisce over my first date, my first kiss,—Ronnie Messmaker, left tackle for the Gibson High Argonauts, at my senior prom, in white dress covered in rainbow jimmy spangles.
“Give me three scoops,” I said. “Now.”
She handed me a scooper, a pair of latex gloves, and a waffle cup made of chia seeds.
After I scooped him out, I set him next to the register.
“Place it on the scale,” she said.
A scale, huh? Cover: blown. Drug money clearly kept the business flowing. So the mop man used the scale for something else besides bricks of cocaine, to fool the cops. What if he’d laced the ice cream? It didn’t matter since my Birthday Cake lover tasted so amazing.
After paying for him, I began to leave. I stopped just before reaching out to the knob to take-up my spoon and thrust another taste of him again into my mouth, and as I did I heard a blood-curdling scream from the backroom, so I hurried outside dragging Pauline behind me, spoon still clasped against my tongue. What was that sound? Whatever it was, it didn’t stop me from eating. He melted into me and his aftertaste struck me with euphoria. I forgot my whereabouts. He sent me the right chills in the dry heat, on another plain ol’ peachy night in Periscope City. The air smelled fresh, the moon resembled an orange sea, and those eerily-closed-early businesses began to shine before my eyes in vibrant colors.
But with ice cream comes guilt—or is it paranoia? Half of me felt dazed, the other half scared. Ice cream, no matter what it contained, shouldn’t have tasted so sweet. And whatever was going on in there, I didn’t want to know. I’d lost my discipline outside the store that night, was too willing to be too overindulgent, and darn near ate all three scoops. But something, the way the moon swam in its orange sea, or the way I could feel the teen girl’s eyes boring into my back from the other side of the dingy parlor window, sobered me up. I took my lover by his collar and threw him into the trash can standing there, in the spot it was meant to be, bathed in the orange moonlight, and started to flee that strip mall with Pauline. But as I’d said, ice cream is my abusive husband. The farther we went, the more intense was the itch to do the most shameful thing I’d ever done. I crawled right up that street, right to him. And I knew I always would.