The Right Time for Ice Cream

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story about someone who loses their cat.... view prompt



When I woke up, she wasn't next to me. Instead she sat cross-legged at the end of my bed, reading one of my books and eating one of my ice cream suckers. Even though when we'd both fallen asleep, she'd been naked, she'd since put on her under shirt and my briefs. The book was a well worn copy of JD Salingers' ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. As for the sucker it was the kind made up of vanilla ice cream covered in a dark chocolate shell. I'd compulsively purchased a jumbo box of the stuff during the heat of summer and then forgotten to eat them more often than not. Of the many times she'd briefly been over to my apartment during the holiday she'd declined whenever I'd offered her one. I'd started to think she just didn't like ice cream but when I'd jokingly asked her about it she'd said that she liked ice cream just fine, thank you very much. She just didn't want it all the time. "There's a right time for ice cream" she'd said, peering at me from under her eyelashes like it was a secret. And now finally, the morning after sleeping together for the first time in the dead of winter, she ate one at the end of my bed in a vest as she read a book. In my experience, there are two principle ways to eat an ice cream sucker. There are those who eat the chocolate shell and ice cream at the same time, taking bites of the crunchy chocolate and smooth ice cream all together. Then there are those who pick the chocolate shell off with their teeth and eat it first before eating the ice cream. She fell into the latter group. After eating off most of the chocolate she had carefully begun to chew off the hard to reach bits at the base of the ice cream, around the wooden sucker stick. As she tilted her head trying to get at the chocolate,the ice cream brushed against her brown jaw and left a smear of white. She licked it off with the tip of her tongue. One of the straps of her vest slid off her left shoulder. I started thinking of her venturing through my apartment while I slept and digging through my freezer to get the ice cream. Had she done it because she'd been hungry? Maybe she was too shy to take anything else from my near-empty fridge so she’d ended up taking the one thing she remembered being offered before in the past. Or maybe it was finally just the right time for ice cream. After this thought she seemed to sense I was awake and looked back over her bare shoulder at me. She smiled absently "isn't Phoebe such a lark?" she asked. She'd gotten into the habit of using words and phrases like "such a lark". I wasn't even sure whether she was using it right. She said it came from the books she read. I liked her best after she read things like ‘Little Women’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’, both of which she read often and got "awfully sentimental" about. Things sometimes got to the point where I myself began to talk like 'dear old' Jo March. I nodded vaguely at her quip. Truth be told, I'd gotten my copy of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ second hand after she'd told me she liked it. I'd never actually gotten around to reading it and had no idea who this Phoebe character was and what made her "such a lark". To my relief she neatly folded over the corner of the page she was reading and placed the book on the end of my bed. She'd since finished her ice cream and the wooden stick on which the ice cream had once been now dangled from the corner of her mouth as nonchalantly as a cigarette. Though I'd only seen her smoke once, I remembered it being like that. Nonchalant, like she didn't particularly enjoy smoking. Like she did it out of convenience or boredom. She absently rubbed a spot on the left corner of the bed, near the book, before she crawled over to me and flopped down on my outstretched arm. She tossed the stick from her mouth to the side of my bed in one smooth motion. I studied her face out of the corner of my eye. Her eyes were roaming around the room purposefully. I wanted to ask her whether she was looking for something but she spoke before I could think of a sauve way of doing it. "Where's your cat?" she asked, rolling over onto her belly so that she could look into my face. "I haven't seen her once even though I've been here so many times" she continued. "She ran away," I said. She exhaled a soft "oh" and adopted a forlorn expression. I had no reason to be shocked at how upset she looked at that statement. Of course I knew she liked cats. In fact, I knew from the moment we'd met, before then actually. I had been walking around campus, passing time before my next class, feeling as bored and impatient as only a third year university student can feel, and then I'd seen her. A first year wearing a neat, almost childlike outfit composed of items of clothing all in various shades of yellow. The look was completed by a pale straw hat which dangled behind her head, attached under her neck with a ribbon. She was practically laying on the ground peering under a car. Upon closer inspection I'd quickly figured out she was trying to coax out one of the campus strays with the promise of the energy bar she held in her hand. It had taken me weeks after that to actually talk to her but I observed her a lot after that day. I found out that she visited the cats every day after final period, except on Fridays when she didn't come in due to the absence of first year classes. I also noticed how nicely she dressed. She didn't wear the expensive, fashionable, fitted clothes the other girls on campus wore, but I could tell she put a great deal of effort into how she dressed. It wasn't particularly pretty or flattering but everything always matched in an odd sort of way. If I had to compare the way she dressed to something it would be a child's dollhouse. I'm not sure why, it's not that she looked like a doll or like a child for that matter. She just had this air of innocence and care. While I was reminiscing about dollhouses and straw hats she spoke again. "Did she run away recently?". I thought it over for a second before I answered. "Fairly recently, yes. Around two days ago, I think". I watched her brows furrow out of the corner of my eye and realized my blunder when she said "you think?". It was a rhetorical question but it felt like an accusation. Of course she was the type of girl who would immediately notice if something happened to one of her cats. Meanwhile, the only reason I had Princess was because her owner, my aunt, had died and no one else would take the poor thing. Eventually I offered to take her even though I had no particular affection for the creatures. Old Princess and I got along well enough for about a year after that, before the running away incident. I fed her in the mornings when I ate breakfast and at night when I had dinner and despite that she rarely let me pick her up or touch her (though to be fair I rarely tried). The height of affection in our relationship was her habit of sleeping on the corner edge of my bed every night. Because of this there was always a vaguely circular patch of white fur stuck to my sheets at the foot of my bed. This time she broke me out of my thoughts with a sigh. "Have you tried looking for her? You told me her name was Princess right?" she questioned. I shrugged. I really didn't like being interrogated like this. Just because she liked cats didn't mean she could judge the relationship between Princess and I. She didn't know how things worked between us. On the evening I realized I hadn't seen the old cat for a day or two, I'd quickly deduced that she'd run away or gone missing and that was that. I couldn't see how going to look for her would change things. After all, she'd never really been fond of me. And besides, as a fourth year, I was just too busy. "I doubt she'd come if I called her, she's shy remember? I couldn't even get her to show herself on any of those times you came over" I tried to explain. She rolled her eyes in an infuriatingly condescending manner. "So you haven't tried to find her at all?". It was my turn to roll my eyes. "I wouldn't even know where to start, I don't know where she went in the daytime'' was my lame excuse. "If you scatter her used kitty litter around the area, she'll smell her own scent and be drawn back to her territory" she suggested. I blanched at this piece of information. Scattering the used toilet sand of an animal sounded like the worst thing in the world to me. Especially around the yard of the apartment which I'd spent two years working for the money to be able to move in. I wanted to ask her just how she even knew that but instead I said : "she didn't have a litter box, she just went outside, I never saw where". At this she widened her eyes before clenching them shut. The exasperation poured off of her in waves. I thought for sure she'd tell me off then, that she'd call me out for animal abuse or accuse me of lying about ever even having a cat in the first place. The second possibility made me especially upset. Of all the things I hated between untidiness, being interrogated and being called a liar, the last one was certainly the one I most detested. I was thus pleasantly surprised when instead what she said was "we'll go looking for her as soon as the weather clears up". Now, even though I didn't particularly care about finding Princess and going out in the cold to do it, I didn't Not want to find her either. And the fact that my girlfriend wasn't breaking up with me also made me pleasantly warm inside, even though I'd been so annoyed at her just a moment ago. If it was any other time I would have found her commanding tone annoying and wouldn't have hesitated to defy her in the manner of any proud young male university student. Instead I just kissed the top of her curly head. I would never have admitted it to myself back then but I really did lead a lonely life in those days and was terrified of being completely alone. If I had started an argument and chased her away, I would have been left with neither a cat nor a girlfriend. Subconsciously, this was unbearable to me. Though despite my desperation to keep at least one of them around, I didn't really care an awful lot about either of them. Princess was easy and there to greet me in her own special way every afternoon. But even then, the closest I ever got to loving her was in winter when she warmed my feet. And on the topic of love, I'm sorry to say I didn't particularly love my girlfriend either. She was an interesting, sweet little thing and I was quite fond of her but we didn't really have much in common and frequently annoyed each other in this aspect. It seemed like we always remained a few feet apart in mind and heart. I suspect she only stayed with me on that Winter morning because she wanted to make sure I got Princess back. I recalled when just a few minutes earlier she'd stroked the end of my bed. When I thought about it I realized she must have been patting Princess' spot, the patch of white hairs. And then when she'd been laying on my arm and looking around the room, she must have been searching for the owner of those hairs. At this point I was sure she was only with me for my cat. Unfortunately for her, the night after we'd first slept together I'd made it glaringly obvious how incompetent a cat owner I was. I kissed her curls once again and she returned the gesture by looking up at me with a tired smile. "Are you so worried about my old cat?" I ventured. She sighed and shrugged. "Yes and no. I keep thinking about this animated Russian short film. It's by this Yuri-something guy”. I stayed quiet until she elaborated because I honestly didn't know what to say to that."There's this hedgehog who gets lost in the fog and he sees a horse, and when he finds his way out of the fog, he thinks about the horse. He worries about whether she's alright out there, in the fog". I let her speak haltingly, she often went off like this about one thing or another. Some people avoid talking about things they know others don't know or aren't interested in. Like for example most readers wouldn't go too into depth about books to people who don't like reading. She wasn't like that. She would often tell me these strange stories about the strange ideas she collected from the books, and apparently Russian animated short films, she so ravenously consumed. After she was done speaking I glanced out of the window opposite the bed. "Well there's no fog today, just a little rain. And you didn't get lost in it, did you?” I said fondly."I assume you're the hedgehog in this analogy" I added after a moment. She shook her head "it's not an analogy, just a thought I had.I'm not sure why I thought of it just now".She stared out the window too. "Though I am worried about poor Princess" she added after a moment. And then, in a strange, distant voice : "how is she there… In the fog".

February 26, 2020 14:52

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.