The girls are lean. Two toothpicks with arms, legs, and faces. Their communities of bracelets jangle as they gesticulate each word, each syllable. A chorus of jangles. Allen wonders which will take his order as he approaches. The girl with the braid is athletic. When she leans into scoop she braces one arm on the edge of the cooler. Her muscles harden, making spheres beneath her skin. A tattoo stretches on the inside of her forearm. He wonders if her glasses are for fashion or function.
The other girl, short haired, has cat eyes. That’s all he can think to call them, as they creep towards a slow close before she reopens them wide. Or maybe it’s her sharp canines, resting atop her other teeth, that make him think of cats, the way her smile reveals them, as it slides across the plane of her face making two sharp indented lines in her cheeks. He feels a trickle of back sweat. His shirt is dark, a great relief. He’s in love again. That’s twice today.
She’s wearing a striped dress under her cobalt blue apron. The stripes, a light bluish grey with a touch of violet, and a cool grey, almost white, make a ladder to climb up her bony frame. Her hip bones jut out as she leans back with a laugh. He traces the shape of her back and compares it to the spoon in her hand. They are the same shape. The way dogs are with owners. It is a miniature spoon, for tasting. He realizes he’s drifting and lifts his head from its tilt. He can feel the heathered cotton of her dress in his hand. It would come off as easy as a t-shirt, with the spring of jersey. A jangling wrist slides against the canvas of her apron as she wipes her hand against her side. He looks up to her smile, as she asks,“Do you know what you want?”
This catches Allen off guard. He looks down at the bins of ice cream. Pastel orange. Mint green. Several swirls. Light browns, mocha, latte. Double dark chocolate. He organizes the colors, the creams, the creams with chunks, the creams with caramels, the neon sorbets. He decides quickly on mint chip. Its simplicity is familiar, and he can already taste it on the roof of his mouth. It’s been years.
He requests loudly to appear firm with his decision. OK, she says in a low playful imitation, squaring her shoulders and looking extra serious. In swoops her braceleted arm. Her long hand wrapped around the galvanized spoon, the ice cream curling into a wave about to tumble into itself inside it.
“Oh,” she says, looking up, mid-scoop. Cat eyes wide. “Cup or cone?”
“Cone,” he says, wishing this exchange were drawn out, wanting to talk about the colored rows between them. He smiles politely. She smiles back and hands him his cone.
“Have a good day,” he says as he pays.
“It’s hard not to.”
Allen takes his cone to a banquette facing the counter and sits. He’s always wanted to know what it would be like to work in a place like this. Does anyone ever tire of ice cream? When the kids throw tantrums? These girls are in their twenties, probably out of college - living off of each scooped cup and cone. Tips by the hour. Who’s in here on weekdays? How come everyone is so skinny with all this dairy? He used to drink milkshakes in high school. He’d have to find new flavors to hold his attention.
The mint chip drips down the cone and he catches it with his tongue before it reaches his finger. He works his way around the perimeter of the cone and readies it to be bitten. She’s taking off her apron. She’s washing her hands. Now she’s saying goodbye to the braided hair girl and walking towards his bench. She smiles and he smiles back. But her eyes are fixated past him. She whistles as she leaves the room and the sun breaks from behind the grey sky to welcome her.
Allen looks around the parlor to see if anyone notices this. It’s a little less bright in her absence. He gathers his things quickly, follows her into the sunshine. It is several blocks before he realizes he is following her. A sudden panic of sweat. He looks behind him, puts his head down and turns around.