by Andrew Stancek
It was that ice cream cone that made it all happen. The memory of Father laughing, as we stood outside the sweets shop in the August heat with cherry ice cream dribbling down our chins, filled my mind. This was no day for a piano lesson; I had to go there again. I meandered through leaf-strewn streets towards the Danube, peeked into store windows, admired the miniature train running through the toy store, glanced at sweaty classmates kicking a soccer ball around the Dunajska playing field. I threw a crown coin into the hat of the accordion player waltzing and grinning at his usual corner. The sweets shop across from the National Theater yawned empty while a black-clad waiter swept and the wind whipped the half-rolled umbrellas at the deserted tables.
I went in, and as before, ordered a cone, “Make it a double, please.” The dimple-faced server’s chubby arm scooped again and again planting perfect half-balls as I searched for a clever line, even Father’s clever line, to make her laugh. Looking at her I ached, throat dry, tongue paralyzed. My eyes ticked around the cavernous shop, ending in a corner that was not empty like the rest. Mother, smiling, leaned into a man who was clasping her hand in both of his, as she stared into his eyes. The peonies on her familiar blood-red scarf winked at me. The girl called out “Your change” to my back, as I bolted out clutching the unmelting cone, suddenly unappetizing.
I ran to Father’s work, desperate for his laughter. I hurled the cone towards the bin overflowing with smelly mysteries. It splattered on the ground where pigeons hopped to the feast. At Father’s office he was, as always, surrounded by cooing women. I wanted to scream at him, to cry out but instead pretended to read the sports scores, watched and listened, as a hundred times before. The women laughed at Father’s jokes as Mother had laughed in the shop. No one was alarmed.
“Father.” I cleared my throat. He looked up. “Tonight, at supper, you’ll be there?” He nodded, grinning. I dragged my feet walking home. The rain was coming harder; my face was wet. Going by the sweets shop again I peeked in. It was totally empty except for the server. She looked up; her smile dazzled. Maybe tomorrow I could come back. Maybe I’d have a line. Maybe I could clasp her hands in mine. Tomorrow.
First published in Apollo's Lyre http://apollos-lyre.tripod.com/id232.html Published here with permission