(Author's Note: This is a short story I wrote for a writing contest over at the Labyrinth forums. The writing prompt was to take the incomplete sentence: "Many things get the hair on the back of my neck up, but nothing more so than..." and make it into the first sentence of your story. This is my entry for the contest and I hope you like it.)
Eight Hundred and Forty Nine Days Ago
Many things get the hair on the back of my neck up, but nothing more so than having waffle cone on a Thursday. Eight hundred and forty nine days ago, my dad took me to get ice cream at Leopold's on Broughton just like we did every Thursday evening. Just like we did every Thursday evening, we sat outside in the shiny metal seats that I used to think were carved out of recycled spaceships and he answered all of my questions about the universe because he knew all the answers. Sometimes people liked to sit in our seats, so my dad would ask them to move, or else my world would fall apart- as it rightfully should. Eight hundred and forty nine days ago, the seats were open, so he got out the Clorox wipes and cleaned it off for me. Just like we did every Thursday evening, he asked me how many stores we walked past to get here (as if I didn't know) and how many cars we passed that had the windows rolled down (it was six, of course). Just like every Thursday evening, I had the Honey Almond & Cream in a waffle cone and he had… a heart attack.
My mom told me that it was because he was stressed from work, but I didn't believe her. When he came home from the hospital three days later, I asked him myself. He smiled, his one crooked tooth poking out from under his lip, and said, "Must have been some bad juju in that waffle cone, son."
I knew it.
Mom tried to hush him, waving her hand like she could swat the words back in, but he'd let the secret out. It was waffle cone. Since I'd never had waffle cone on any other day of the week, it had to be waffle cone on Thursday. Had to be. Had to be. Had to be.
When I went to school the next day, I told the other kids. I didn't want it to happen to anyone else's dad! Six girls and four boys ignored me. Two girls and three boys laughed. One girl rolled her eyes. The teacher shushed me for interrupting her lesson again. One boy punched me in the mouth. One girl punched him right back.
Her name was Lola. Lola. Lola. Her mom packed her a pimento cheese sandwich every other day and cut the crust off neatly and with exact precision. The off days she had toasted bread with a small jar of Savannah Bee Company honey- always Orange Blossom honey, just like her hair (orange like Orange Blossom). Orange like Orange Blossom. Orange like Orange Blossom. Lola told me afterwards that her grandpa died of a heart attack when she was four. I asked her what that meant. Lola grabbed one of her pigtails and tugged on it while she bit the inside of her lip. It made her hair uneven. After fourteen seconds, she opened her mouth and closed it again and squished her eyebrows together. After two more seconds, she said, "I don't know. But I never saw him again after that. Mom put his name on a jar and keeps it on the mantle, so maybe dying means going on a long vacation and leaving a pot with your name behind. You know, so people can put the postcards from vacation in it."
Later, when I got home from school, I wanted to ask my dad about it, but he was too upset by my big lip with the small cut. He fought with mom the rest of the night, so I went in my room and locked the door. Locked the door. Locked the door. I locked it seventeen times because I fall asleep .2 seconds faster. If I lock it eighteen times, I have to get up and pee at 3:02. If I lock it sixteen times, nothing happens. But I wanted to go to sleep faster. So I locked it seventeen times. Seventeen times. Seventeen times.
After Dad said he was feeling better, we went to Leopold's. I sat in a new seat and ordered a hot fudge sundae and asked Dad about any vacations he planned on taking and told him that I didn't know how many cars we passed with their windows down, even though I knew it was thirteen because it was eleven degrees hotter than it was last Thursday. Since I changed things up, he said he would change things up and went in to get seconds. He came out with two waffle cones so I smacked them out of his hands and screamed for an hour and thirteen minutes. He shushed and yelled and smacked and shook and shook and shook but I did not stop until he drove me home and I went inside and locked the door forty seven times. I had never locked the door forty seven times. But Dad had also never been on vacation. So I locked it forty seven times to keep him from going.
One year and twenty days later, Lola asked me to take her to Leopold's on Broughton so she could see the rocket ship chairs. We were much older then and I, much wiser. I laughed at her and said she was silly for thinking they were rocket ship chairs. She punched my arm so I had my dad take her with us the next time we went. She looked at the display on the counter that showed the cone options. When it was our turn, Dave (I knew because he had it written on his hat) asked us what we wanted. Lola pushed her way to the front to say that something was wrong with the display.
"Good sir," she began, using an accent she'd learned from a movie. "I do say, your display case here seems to have an error."
Dave lifted his lip on the side. Mom told me in the past that it was called a grin, but I'd always had trouble with facial expressions. It looked like he was trying to scratch his nostril with his mouth. "What's wrong with it, young Madame?" He used the accent too and his coworker Tanya laughed.
"It has waffle cone in it. I believe it is unlegal to have it there."
My dad got mad and ushered us out of the line, saying he would get the ice cream himself.
Every Thursday evening after that, I sat in my new regular seat and ordered a hot fudge sundae. Every Thursday evening I told Lola all about the universe because my dad had told me all the answers. Every Thursday evening I told Lola that we passed twenty nine shops, not counting the ones on the upper levels and that nine cars had the windows rolled down. Every Thursday evening I had vanilla, she had strawberry, and my dad started reading the paper from the blue machine on the street.
Four months and four days ago my dad went on vacation. Dave gave him a waffle cone on accident, but my Dad took it anyway because it was apparently an honest mistake (which it was not. It was intentional). I tried to knock it away, but I was too slow. Lola and I screamed then. He got mad and started yelling at us, his face turning crab red and his crooked tooth sticking out. He ate it anyway, and I stopped screaming so he'd stop eating, stop eating, stop eating.
"If you eat it, you'll go on vacation!"
Other customers were staring now and pointing at us. Lola was still screaming and I was crying and my dad was eating, eating, eating. He was eating waffle cone. He was eating waffle cone. He was eating waffle cone. He was eating waffle cone. Lola was still screaming while he ate the waffle cone and I kept crying until he bent over with his hand on his chest.
I don't understand what happened after that. Everyone's faces were weird and they started yelling too. I took that as a sign, so yelled too. They started saying words like, "ambulance," "heart attack," and "emergency." Lola got tired of screaming so she stopped and put her hand over my mouth until I stopped too. Her fingers smelled like strawberries and Orange Blossom honey. Orange Blossom honey. Orange Blossom honey.
I tried to tell the emergency workers who came that it was the waffle cone, but they ignored me and loaded us all up in the ambulance and took us away.
Eight hundred and forty nine days ago, I learned the truth about waffle cone. One hundred and twenty six days ago, I learned the truth about vacations. You never get any postcards from people on vacation.