The Ghost Of Hemingway And Ice Cream
He stood over my shoulder as I dug into the hard-brick frozen ice cream with an ordinary tablespoon, frowning a bit at the icy resistance of the strawberry, blinking as some mica-like flecks of ice shot outwards, landing on my face, going down my shirt. I knew he was there, and it did not bother me one bit.
His voice did not sound the way I expected it would. It was normal and rough. I had thought he would be high and mighty in tone, sonorous and echoing as if he was speaking from a very high mountain or at the bottom of a wide canyon.
I said nothing. The ice cream was unyielding.
The dogs barked from out on the porch. It was getting dark, and it was becoming September all to quickly. I ignored the dogs.
"I don't have all night."
I snickered a bit at his impatience. He who had all the time in the universe. Or, at least, I assumed he had all the Time in the universe. I could have been wrong. Finally, I managed to dislodge a chunk of ice cream and deposited in the blue-glass bowl I had set up.
He had his arms crossed and looked as if he were about to go fishing. He even had the floppy hat on, though he was inside. He looked impatient still, raggedly impatient which was exactly how I thought he might look.
"You're not screaming." he said.
"Why should I scream?"
"Oh, most people would."
"But why would you visit most people? Most people are snobs, remember?"
"Ah, now you're confusing me with cummings."
He raised an eyebrow and uncrossed his arms simply to cross them once again. I smiled. I showed my teeth, which usually I would have been afraid to do.
"I didn't think you were familiar with cummings."
"I am familiar with him."
I turned back to my ice cream, wondering when Mother would come home, and if he would still be there when she did. Mother would not scream either, I realized. She would be a bit alarmed, I guessed, but she wouldn't scream.
"So that ice cream is more interesting than me?" He challenged.
The dogs barked. I smiled again and showed my teeth. I didn't like to show my teeth because one of my front teeth is crooked. Not much, but just a bit from when I fell of my bicycle. I was seven when I did it, and I had already lost my baby teeth. So I usually smiled with my mouth shut. But not this time.
"It's hard to spoon out." I told him.
"Is that my fault?"
"Of course not. I never said it was."
"Don't you want to know why I'm here?"
He was sounding petulant now, like I would have expected him to sound. I wasn't paying him mind simply because I wanted to see how he would act. After all, how often would I get an opportunity like this?
"It might be nice to know."
He was quiet. I turned again, wiping my hand on my skirt to dry it from the ice that had melted. The spoon was bent like the ice cream was telekinetic aside from being extraordinarily cold and hard.
"You're going to make me pry it out of you, right?"
The dogs barked loudly. The big one jumped against the screen, her paws pattering heavily and thumping like twin june bugs. The little one yapped loudly and I imagined she was sitting next to the big one, head cocked pathetically.
"Don't they ever shut up?"
"I guess they don't like you here."
He was quiet once again. I went back to the ice cream.
"Fine. I need a copy of my book."
I turned to him again, leaving the bent spoon stuck upwards from the strawberry ice cream, lodged like cement.
I allowed myself to be incredulous. I figured I had a right to be incredulous. He uncrossed his arms again and clasped them at his waist. His face was tanned and his eyes were wrinkled at their corners, as if he had smiled too much over his lifetime, but I wondered if that were really the case. The sun had done it. He did smile though as I stared at him my mouth open a bit, showing my teeth.
"Would you like me to repeat?"
"No. No that's all right. Why your book?"
"Because I don't want to buy it."
The dogs stopped barking. Things were nice and nightly and the last crickets of summer were utilizing the beginning warmth of September to compose lasting concertinas that we would all remember and mourn about in December. It was nice of them, really. Because it's wonderful to have something to mourn about. I supposed he understood that.
"Why would you have to buy it?"
I wanted to know the politics behind this.
"Because they don't give the dead discounts."
"Really. I would have assumed they did."
"Nope. You'd be surprised."
"I am. This is interesting. We used to give senior discounts at the restaurant."
"Well…I was sixty when I died."
"Yes, I think that would work. Are you sixty now?"
"No. I think I'm about forty."
"Nice age. So why would you want your book? I'm still a bit confused about that."
"Do you have it?"
"Yes, of course."
And to prove my point I walked away from the still-unyielding ice cream to the kitchen table. His complete short stories was sitting there, catching the light from the dark wooden fan. I picked it up to show to him.
He gave me a smile and his eyes crinkled at the corners.
"Can I have it?"
I thought about that for a moment. I liked the book. I really liked the book and I had spent some of my paycheck buying it. But…he was standing in my kitchen, and really. It was his book. Perhaps he deserved it.
I handed it to him. He turned it over and looked at the cover with a smile, another smile that reached his eyes. He looked a very stable man when smiling, and then I remembered he had gone out into a field and stuck a rifle in his mouth. That made me sad for a moment and I looked at the ground.
He seemed to know what was wrong.
"Hey. It was my choice."
"Ya, but…you were still good."
"And aren't I still good?"
"Then what's the harm?"
"There must have been plenty of harm!"
"At the time I guess. All the wars had been fought, kid, and what was I to do?"
"Well, besides steal quotes from Fitzgerald?"
I laughed and so did he.
"Ah, Scott wouldn't have minded."
"Oh I think he would have minded very much."
"He didn't copy write it."
We laughed again and I could see him shoot himself in the mouth, and it wasn't sad for some reason, it was simply fitting. And really, could he have died any other way? It wouldn't have made sense, not at all.
"I like you." he told me.
"That's something. Mind if I quote you on that?"
"I don't think anyone would believe you."
"Ya, you're exactly right about that."
I turned back to my ice cream and found it to be a bit softer. I scooped some more out into my bowl until I realized that I had enough and I put the ice cream back into the freezer. Out of the refrigerator I took a can of whipped cream and decorated the quickly melting strawberry ice cream in my bowl.
"Want some?" I asked, capping the whipped cream again.
"Then get it yourself, it took me a half damned hour to get this much out."
He rolled his eyes and I handed him the spoon. I sat down at the kitchen table and picked up an anthology of French poets. I turned to Verlaine and started reading. After a few moments he sat down across from me, a bowl full of strawberry ice cream, but no whipped cream.
"How did you do that so quickly?"
"I'm a man."
"Oh yes, I'd forgotten."
"No whipped cream?"
"Nah. It ruins the ice cream."
That was one of those comments where there is absolutely nothing to say in response. He knew that, I figured, which was why he had used it. We ate our ice cream in spoon-clinking silence, with me reading Verlaine still and he was reading himself. Every so often a spoon would clink or a page would turn or both at the same time. The dogs weren't barking and it was pleasant, really, something that was so outrageously irregular that it was normal. I smiled.
The door opened. It was Mother.
"Should I leave?" he asked, looking up.
"You haven't finished your ice cream." I told him.
"Oh! right." he went back to eating.
Mother's keys could be heard rattling in her hand and a sudden whiff of cigarette smoke and air conditioning flew into the house. He smiled at me like a child. I wondered if he had done this before.
"Marlena? You home?" Mother asked from the other room.
"Of course, Mother, in the kitchen." I called back.
Mother walked into the kitchen, smoking a cigarette even though she was supposed to have quit ages ago. She had just been in Grandfather's house I realized, because Grandfather kept his air conditioning on until the first day of autumn, no matter how far downward the temperature dropped.
"Hello." he smiled, wiping his mouth and standing up, clinking his spoon against the glass.
Mother stared at him.
"Why…hello. Nice to meet you."
She didn't scream.
"He wanted his book. So I gave it to him. Now we have to go back to the book store and pick up a new one." I explained.
"All right. We can do that tomorrow. I'm going to sleep." She nodded politely at him and walked into her room.
"Shock." I explained.
"Ah. Of course." he recognized.
The dogs barked.
"I should be going now." He said and brought his dish and spoon to the sink. I followed suit.
"It's not sad, that you killed yourself." I told him.
"I never would, though." I explained.
"Well you're a poet. You'll either die a consumptive alcoholic or you'll get hit by some sort of automobile or something."
"Welcome to the life."
He slipped his book into his pocket and smiled once more. It was a nice smile, and I imagine he probably would have smiled like that before he stuck the gun in his mouth. It was a smile that spoke volumes of depression and failure, but was grafted in an almost pride of that. Like looking into a deep wound, knowing it was your own, knowing it was important because it was your own, and being entirely pleased with going to war with the world. Being a casualty was something for the character. I imagined that was why it was all right he killed himself. Why it wouldn't be all right for anybody else, but it was all right for him.
"Well thanks for your encouragement."
"I'm not used to giving it."
"Good-bye. Apologize to your mother for me please, I didn't mean to shock her. And thanks for the ice cream."
He disappeared. I walked to the screen door and let the two dogs in, laughing to myself as they tripped over themselves and as they yipped happily for being inside. I walked to the table and put my ice cream dish next to his and turned on the water.