Old-Fashioned Lime-Vanilla Ice

Posted on June 21, 2017

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Ray Bradbury was a master of mind-benders or occasionally heart-rippers. He banged out 3000-word gems that were much more impactful than many people’s full novels. One such heart-ripper, The Swan, was wound into the fabric of Dandelion Wine. No story has ever so begged for a sequel. I’m sure there are thousands in drawers and slush piles all over the world. You could run an entire competition on them. Here is mine.

Although ideally, any sequel should stand on its own, I suggest you read the original first. I think the only excerpted version of it online is here on this blog, and I went through some work to make it available to set context for this story. But, if I cannot convince you to spend your time reading a much better author, here at least is the paragraph which inspired my story.

“Some afternoon in 1985 or 1990 a young man named Tom Smith or John Green or a name like that, will be walking downtown and will stop in the drugstore and order, appropriately, a dish of some unusual ice cream. A young girl the same age will be sitting there and when she hears the name of that ice cream, something will happen. I can’t say what or how. She won’t know why or how, assuredly. Nor will the young man. It will simply be that the name of that ice cream will be a very good thing to both of them. They’ll talk. And later, when they know each other’s names, they’ll walk from the drugstore together.”

No trout were hurt in the making of this story. And I promise this is the end of my Bradbury kick for a while.

Old-Fashioned Lime Vanilla Ice

The girl came into the parlor, a quiet storm of lavender and dawn, her loose auburn ponytail flowing down her blue-and-tiny-white polka dot dress like a melted copper river flowing across the night sky. She stood in her black ankle-strapped flats and looked seriously at the list of ice creams, one finger against her lips in thought. “Ooh,” she said, “I think I shall have the ‘old-fashioned lime-vanilla ice.’ I like old fashioned things.”

The man behind the counter, in his red-and-white striped shirt, complete with white arm garters and white suspenders holding up his white pants, was equally serious as he bent to the task, carefully rolling out two small scoops into a small china bowl. She paid and turned around, looking to sit.

In the corner sat a man, side on to her, facing out the window. “Young lady, you are a person of taste and imagination. Also, you have the will power of ten men; otherwise you would not dare veer away from the common flavors listed on the menu and order, straight out, without quibble or reservation, such an unheard-of thing as lime-vanilla ice.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It is very brave to order lime-vanilla in a chocolate world,” he replied, still not facing her as she walked over.

“What an extraordinary and rare thing to say. I bet nobody has ever said those words.”

“Or only said them once before.”

“Imagine, a sentence that has never been spoken before, that has to be the rarest thing.”

“Or maybe the second rarest.”

“What could be rarer?”

“Why the most commonly ever said thing, but with meaning, so that every time you said it was like it had never ever been said before, because it never had.”

“And what would that be?”

“Why, ‘I love you,’ of course.”

She sat down. “What if ‘lime-vanilla in a chocolate world’ had been said before, but only once?”

“Like a quote?”

“Or a code. So that if the person had heard it before and heard it again, they would know whom they were talking to. Maybe they had suspicions before, but at that very moment once they heard it, they would know exactly and forever that this was the one and only very person who had said that same thing before.”

“Deja entendu.”

“Exactly.”

He asked, “How would a person know to be in the right place at the right time to say the right thing to the right listener?”

“They could roam around forever hoping to find that person and say just that one thing.” She looked out the window, in the direction he was gazing.

“Or, they could say it to everybody they meet.”

They both laughed, him still looking out the window.

“Or, they could stay in one place, a place they thought that other person might be drawn to and wait and wait and wait to say what must be said.”

Just then a restored trolley passed by the window going exactly the speed you go when you have no particular destination, but still must be moving on. It went clang, clangety-clang, and passed out of view as if it had driven off of a movie screen. He did not move his head to watch it go.

She took a delicate spoonful of her ice, “And what would draw that person?”

“Something that maybe once you could get everywhere, but now you can’t get anywhere so you searched and searched for it, but didn’t even know you were searching until you found it.”

“Like a sentence everybody says, but only a few really mean.”

“The vagaries of a chocolate world.”

“Verily. But, how do you know this person wouldn’t just give up and become a chocolate fiend? A mocha chip debutante? A rocky road convert.”

“It does not roll off the tongue to say ‘Rocky Road, is very brave in a vanilla world.'”

“Is that all?”

“No. To wait for this person, is to know she has a true heart, and true hearts do not change.”

“Ever?”

“Never.”

“Are you sure?”

“Very.”

“And how long would you wait?”

“One lifetime, maybe two, possibly all of them.”

“What if she had stayed in one place to make her own lime-vanilla ice and wait for you?”

“Her heart is true, but free. She’s not the stay-and-wait kind of girl.”

“Oh?”

“I imagined her in Paris, Tokyo, Sydney.”

“But you are not there.”

“I was there, but I was afraid I would miss her, that she would be someplace I hadn’t been to, or just left the place I was. I went here and there looking and looking. Then I realized that what I sought could not be found, and that being alone anywhere is like being alone at home, so I came back.” He tilted his head back as if reading from a page only he could see:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

She replied:

“Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree”

He raised his eyebrow, “You know your Eliot.”

“What you sought could not be found?” She said, undeterred.

“No, for it was her who must do the finding of that thing which she does not know she is seeking.”

“What does she seek?”

“That one thing that everybody says.”

“But nobody means.”

“Until somebody says it for the first time.”

“You waited for me. Was it hard?”

“Not very.”

“Did you have a family, did you die young?”

“I managed it.”

“Did it hurt?”

“Not as much as the living did. Do you think that is terrible of me?”

“No. I think every love has a lifetime, and that love had that lifetime.” She took another spoonful of the ice cream. “Tell me a story.”

“I fell off a cliff once and got caught in a tree halfway down.”

“Oh, when was that?”

“The falling was long ago, the catching happened just this now.” She put down her spoon, he reached for her hand, groping, still not turning. “What are you doing? You are crying. I saw a swan cry once, and I shan’t want to see it again.”

“A swan?”

“A woman. You.”

“But if we were together forever, of course you should see me cry!”

“No, never, each tear I would brush away with a gem, a flower, a story, a joke, an enigma, a miracle, or maybe just a goofy face.” He made a face so contorted, that only seeing half of it, she still laughed.

“What if I like a good cry every now and then?”

“I could just be me.”

She laughed again. It was like the tinkle of ice into a glass on a hot day. “Are we playing parts in a play?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Neither do I. That’s what makes life interesting. Look at me,” she whispered, but it was yet a command.

He turned slowly, the far side of his face sliding inexorably into view like the waxing of the moon, one tortured crater and ruined meteor strip at a time, his white eye a polar cap, his ear a worm hole into space time. Her eyes were grey, no green, no blue. Perhaps they were violet. It was like staring at the water over the gunwale a boat as you floated down a river. Were there flecks of gold there on the bottom? Was that mote a trout and him merely her dream passing by overhead?

“What happened?”

“A dragon ate me.”

She looked serious “Were you the hero in a fairy tale?”

“In my years, one thing I have discovered – I am not a hero.”

“I want to hear that story.” She reached over and touched his cheek. He did not flinch, but held her eye.

“Today? The first day of summer, with the sun out and the dust dancing in its beams like sand in a wave, the trees rustling like they are breathing, just warm enough for ice cream, but not hot. Today you want to hear the story of how a dragon ate me?”

She laughed. “Don’t be dramatic. It didn’t eat you, it ate your face. Men fall in love with faces. I even once heard of a silly man who fell in love with a photograph. Women fall in love with men.” She moved her hand down and put it on his heart. “Is the man in there the same man?”

“I cannot say. I do not remember the man before.” Too quick to stop her, she bent across the table and kissed him full on the mouth, her perfect lips against his ruined ones.

“Well, I do, and he is, or one better, and I want to hear that story, but not today. First I want to hear all of your other stories. One each day, in order, like beads on a string or charms on a bracelet until we get to that day, and then every day until today. I want to drink them up, your memories like summer days stored away to warm me through and through even in the cold, dark winter days.”

“Are we bottles of dandelion wine? To take down off the shelf and crack open to drink of sunshine and cool green shadows, get drunk on each other, hungover, forget the pain, and do it all over again?”

She tilted her head. “Or left up high in a dark basement, untouched, saved for when it’s safe, opened in some ungluttonous twilight to find the pale gold light has rusted to brown and fallen to dust in the bottom of the bottle? We would be mad not to take a sip.”

“Or mad to do it. You could regret it forever. Drinking is always a bad idea masquerading in a good idea.”

“Don’t wrap your cowardice in pretensions for my well-being.”

“Such wisdom from youth.”

“And don’t change the subject. They say men are logical, but that is not true. You know what you want but you argue yourself out of it with honorable-sounding fallacies.”

“How so?”

“The only way to know ruined wine is to taste it. If you wait until you are old, then that shadow flavor will never fade and you will turn it over and over in your mind, regretting it until you die. If you try it when you are young, true the taste might be bitter, but it would fade over time. Consider, though, what if it wasn’t spoiled and instead filled you with so much light that there is no room for any other regrets at all, forever and ever, in this life or the next or the life after that? That is really the question, how could you risk missing that? If not to drink the wine, why did you come back here?”

“I had no choice. They say you cannot go home again, but that’s not true. Home never lets go of you. You become part of the place you are from, body and soul.”

“Blood and sinew,” she replied.

“Marrow and bone.”

“You should be a writer.”

“I thought I wanted to be a writer. I was never a very good writer, but maybe I was a better writer than I was a man. But I quit. Because, what do writers do? They invent people and live their lives. I decided to live my life. I am a much better ice cream parlor proprietor.”

“I just thought: If I am a part of that home, too, I must be part of you.”

He looked at her, the sun in her hair, her even white teeth when she smiled. Oh, how he wanted to make her smile. “To be whole again, to feel that, to be alive. That’s why I came home.”

“To live in the hearts we leave behind is to never die.”

He looked down, “Your lime-vanilla has melted; do you have time for a cardamon-orange-licorice-spice?”

“A Chianti rose?”

“With raindrop dew.”

“In that case, at least a lifetime.”

 

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