by Amanda Forbes Silva
I stretch on tiptoes to inspect the choices behind the glass. Although I am only six years old, I already know my passion—chocolate chip. Besides, the Northville A&P doesn’t have as many choices as Custard Time, so there aren’t any new flavors to distract me from the tried and true combination of chocolate flakes folded into vanilla ice cream. Mom pulls a ticket from the deli counter while I wait for my cone.
I am the oldest child and the only one who can help Mom run errands. For that, she treats me to an ice cream cone before we scan the aisles for Similac, diapers, and dinner ingredients. A single scoop is a nickel and I can already feel the coin in my palm growing warm and sweaty.
“Here y’are.” The man behind the counter extends the treat towards me, and I can tell the scoop is just barely balancing against the edges. I hand him the nickel, eager to cup the cone with both hands, determined to fix the wiggle with a quick push of my tongue.
“Say ‘thank you’,” Mom reminds me.
“Thank you.” I repeat, turning toward the shopping cart. I’m ready to help Mom find everything on the list, which is long, and we have more errands to run after this.
I take two steps away from the counter, trying to secure the scoop in place with my tongue. I fail, feeling the mound tilt. In an instant, a dripping chocolate chip flower blooms on the scratched linoleum by my toes.
Heat rushes up my neck and spreads across my face. Mom brought me along to help and I’m making a mess.
“Oops! What happened?” Mom swipes a few napkins from the metal holder on the counter and scoots around me. She spreads one over the splatter, picking up the melting mound in her right hand, and zips another over the rest with her left. “There we go, honey,” she says, rubbing a few drips off the toes of my saddle shoes. She strides over to the trashcan and pushes the runny napkins into the barrel. I just stand there, empty cone in hand.
“Let me see that.” She takes the cone from me and approaches the man behind the counter. “Excuse me? Can we please have another scoop of chocolate chip ice cream? The last one got away from her.” She tilts her head in my direction and smiles.
The man bends, disappears to the sound of metal bouncing against metal as he lifts the lid against the cooler. Mom leaves another nickel on the counter and turns around to face me with a new cone. The ice cream is sitting on top like a figurine on a wedding cake. Mom notices, too. “Just be careful, I don’t think he pushed it down hard enough,” she whispers.
I nod, about to explain how that was the problem the first time, but I stay quiet. We have shopping to do. I take the cone and lift it to my lips. Mom wraps her hands around the cart handle and we maneuver our way around the displays and deals. The towering boxes of crackers and cookies and the rows of polished fruit distract me, and my second lick sends the ice cream into a free fall before it meets the floor.
I am horrified. We are still in plain sight of the deli counter and haven’t even pulled one item from the shelves. Next time, Mom should just leave me home and bring the babies instead. Oblivious, she chooses tomatoes, sliding each one into a plastic bag. I don’t want to tell her. But I have no choice. I can’t reach the napkins on the counter, so I will never be able to clean this up on my own. Leaving it here isn’t an option either. I could never eat the sugar cone fast enough to distract anyone from the evidence on the floor.
“Mm-hmm.” She still hasn’t noticed. I stand there, wordless, until she spies the hollow cone in my hand. Her brows furrow. “Again?” I look down, manage a quick nod before Mom brushes past me and I hear the snap snap snap of the napkin holder as Mom yanks out a bunch and cleans up my mess.
I don’t even want ice cream anymore. I just want to get away from the deli and out of this store. My eyes cloud up and heat rushes the back of my neck. Crying will just prove that I am a baby, but the faster I try to blink and hold back the tears, the harder they push forward.
Mom leans her palm into my shoulder and guides me back to the counter. The same man stands there, hairy arms resting on each other over his chest. He reminds me of a muscled man I saw on a poster when the circus came to Northville last spring. He has seen the whole thing happen for the second time but doesn’t register any expression of surprise, aggravation, or even amusement.
“Me again!” Mom chuckles and pulls another nickel from her wallet. She takes the cone from me and hands it to him. He leans toward the vat, scoop in hand, silent. “Do you think you can really push it down into the cone so it doesn’t fall again?” He nods, but emerges with another precarious looking creation.
Mom eyes it, one brow raised, but takes it and bends down to face me. I wait for the reminder to be more careful, but instead watch as Mom pushes her tongue onto the ice cream until I am sure the cone will crack. She moves her tongue around the top and edges, flattening the initial drips into a neat little mound before handing it to me. Her lipstick somehow remains intact after the process and she straightens up, beautiful, confident against any obstacle.
“Everything takes practice, honey.” She winks at me, rises, and leaves the nickel on the counter. “Thank you very much,” she says to the man. Smiling, she takes my hand, and leads me back to our cart.
I spend the rest of our shopping trip mimicking Mom’s control. I think I’ve done well, finishing the cone and depositing the napkin that once secured it into the trashcan on our way out to the parking lot. But, I’m disappointed when I climb into the car and catch my reflection in the passenger window. The smeared ice cream around my mouth reminds me of the circus clown who made balloon animals and I try not to think about how much practice I need.
Amanda Forbes Silva received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Her work has been published in bioStories, Empty Sink, Emrys Journal, The Riding Light Review, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, later anthologized in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012. Amanda spends times away from her own pages working as an adjunct professor and freelance writer. Interested readers are invited to check out her website at: www.amandafsilva.com.