It is my pleasure to present to you the third of three 3rd place winners from the July 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Geoff LePard’s “Ice Cream”
Geoff gives us a fun story with a macabre tone. Don’t want to say too much – no spoilers!
Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it at the bottom of the post.
THIRD PLACE WINNER
‘Arnold, will you stop that racket?’
Arnold Crump rocked back on his heels, his lips forming a tight line. He had barely started trying to remove the rust from the side of his ice cream van and already his mother was moaning. He placed the wire-brush carefully on the ground and stood up, squeezing his free hand so tightly that his knuckles went white. How hard would he have to squeeze her to stop her whines, he wondered? He began to turn with the intention of shutting out the complaints.
‘What’s got into her?’
Arnold jumped, caught unawares by his neighbour, and quickly unclenching his fist before she could see.
Doris Lethridge approached the fence between their properties, putting down the basket of laundry she had been holding. She folded her arms tightly across her ample bosoms as if trying to stop them escaping. ‘You’re a ruddy saint, Arnie, to put up with her moans.’ She wiped her nose on her sleeve, causing Arnold to pull a sour face. ‘How’s the van? Holding together? You should get a new one.’
His mother’s querulous voice floated out of still open back door. ‘My sinuses are bleedin’ awful and all you can do is make more bloody dust…’
Arnold moved quickly to close the door before turning back to Doris. ‘Oh, she can’t help it. It’s the weather…’ He picked up the brush and turned away, once again considering the side panel of his van.
‘Her bloody sinuses are a law unto themselves. She…’
Arnold wished he could shut a door on Doris as well. ‘I must get on.’ If he gave her any sort of opening, he’d never finish and he needed the van ready for his next shift that afternoon. The rust that had begun to stain the ice cream logo seemed never ending. He tuned out Doris’s final suggestion and began to scrape at the metal paneling. After a few moments, he heard a door click; Doris had taken the hint.
He studied the battered old van and sighed deeply. He knew only too well that however may coats of paint he applied, it would only be a temporary fix. Doris was right; he really did need a new van and soon if he wasn’t going to lose business. The customers in the park weren’t going to accept an ice cream from some tatty old rust bucket. If the outside looked dirty, all those posh mummies would assume the insides were the same and boycott him. And if they stopped buying, then he’d be trapped here forever.
‘Arnold.’ Viola’s voice penetrated the solid door. ‘What have you done with my tissues? You know I need my tissues. If I don’t have my tissues…’
Arnold covered his ears and released a silent scream, straining his jaw muscles until they ached. The tissues were where they always were, as well she knew. As he pushed himself to his feet, knowing that it would be quicker if he ‘found’ them for her, rather than ignoring her accusations, he began to calculate the quantity of tissue it would take to block her mouth and stop the noise.
As it turned out it was twenty-seven.
If rendering his mother mute removed the most immediate of Arnold’s problems, it didn’t pass unnoticed.
‘Your mum’s feeling better, is she?’ Millicent Jackson, who lived at number 37 and whose lazy eye had seemed, since Arnold’s childhood, to be able to read his mind, paused on her way to the bus stop. ‘She’s been so quiet these last few days. Hope that’s a good sign.
Arnold felt trapped, but managed to say, ‘She’s visiting… her sister.’
‘Oh?’ Millicent’s expression suggested surprise, but then she smiled. ‘I didn’t know she had a sister. Well, I’m sure she’ll enjoy the break. Does she live far away?’
Arnold nodded, well understanding the hope that lay behind her question. Everyone would benefit from a few days without his mother around. Before he could answer, Millicent spied her bus. Moving surprisingly swiftly for one build more for comfort rather than speed, she left him pondering what he should do next.
Over the next few days, Arnold developed a plan. He needed to deflect his neighbours’ attention, so he invited them to a barbecue. They all asked after his mother, some solicitous, some just plain nosey. He explained how she would be away indefinitely, due to his aunt’s sudden illness.
‘You’re looking peaky, Arnold. Are you getting enough greens? With your mother away?’ asked Harriet Stromboli from number 33, her permanent scowl suggesting she knew who to blame for Arnold’s neglect.
He nodded. ‘Oh yes. Mother trained me well.’
‘Stop fussing, Harry,’ interjected Martin Paddock from The Coach House, his tweed cap titled at a jaunty angle. He sniffed at the plate he had been handed, his fat lips moistening. ‘You must give me the recipe, Arnie. This chicken is fabulous.’
Arnold looked away. ‘It’s a family secret. Mother always said she’s take it to her grave.’
‘Well, I’d better enjoy it while I can, then,’ said Martin, as he bit gingerly into the lightly grilled escalope. ‘There’s something familiar about this,’ he said, chewing slowly. ‘Garlic? Tarragon? You really do need to say.’
Arnold watched as Martin swallowed a sliver his mother’s buttock. He knew the questions would keep coming; he needed to find an alternative method of disposal. Eating his mother was not going to be the whole answer, even seasoned with rosemary and ground cardamom. And he had to disagree with Martin on one point; his mother tasted nothing like chicken.
It was obvious, when you thought about it, Arnold said to himself as he sat in the basement the next day. Becoming a cannibal was fine, so far as it went, but it was never going completely to remove his mother from his life. Beyond the mountain of flesh that now inhabited one of his chest freezers, normally home to ice lollies and cornettos, there were the bones, the blood, and the inedible-looking viscera. Arnold wasn’t given to panic. He knew that, given time, inspiration would come.
It was a hot Tuesday just after the schools finished for the day and Arnold sat in his van, watching the queue of mewling infants and their fractious parents grow, while he pondered this dilemma. Absently he handed a cone topped with whipped ice cream to the next customer, a sticky-faced girl of about seven with an eye patch.
‘Mum, why doesn’t he have strawberry sauce? I want strawberry sauce.’
Arnold smiled at the gobby little madam, imagining how her complexion would itself turn strawberry if only he could ram the cone into her yapping mouth. She’d become a small, monocular version of his mother if someone didn’t stop her soon.
He drove home that evening, trying to ignore the clanking transmission and the unsettling rattle from the front bearings. He had the beginnings of a plan.
Arnold did things with a deliberation borne of years of having his patience tried. When Doris asked after his mother, he told her, with a shy confidence that she was being well taken care of. Using the hot weather as an excuse, he retired to the basement to ‘work on a little project’.
He pooled his scant savings and the money his mother had hidden in her sock drawer, which he used as a deposit to buy a new van on hire purchase. Carefully he drew a new logo and script on the side panels.
‘You come into money, Arnie?’ Doris stood by the fence, her folded arms apparently restraining her chest, as if she was fighting two small mammals, trapped underneath her cardigan.
He smiled. ‘Been meaning to do this for ages.’
‘Your mum would be proud. She’d like the new logo.’
He managed a small nod and went back to his preparations.
A week later and Arnold was nervous, but also strangely euphoric. He drove to the park and set up, waiting for his first customers. It was another hot day, perfect for selling ice cream.
His first customer was the gobby girl with the eye patch. Perfect. Arnold didn’t usually engage in conversation, but this was to be the new him. He pulled his thin lips back across his teeth, hoping he didn’t look like the big bad wolf. ‘I’ve a new topping, dearie,’ he intoned. ‘Just for you.’
In Arnold’s limited experience, seven year olds were naturally suspicious creatures, but when he held out the cone the girl’s eyes widened. Whether it was the sight of the thick ice cream or the dripping red sauce, or perhaps the the sticky sweet scent that hinted at vanilla with a tinge of burger, he couldn’t be sure. While her mother fiddled with her phone, pleased, no doubt, to be free of the constant whining for a moment, the girl tested red sauce with a pointy little tongue that made Arnold think of snakes and chimeras.
A wide smile broke across her usually disgruntled countenance. ‘This is yum!’
Word spread and the queues curved into the distance. People came from miles around. The mother of the little girl – a banker with a famous company – congratulated him on his entrepreneurial approach to ice cream. ‘You have a winning formula, Arnold. What inspired you?’
Arnold smiled knowingly and tapped the picture on the side of the van. It was an image of his mother emerging from a cone.
He gave himself a moment to recall the toil of the last few weeks, closing his eyes as he did so: how he had ground the bones in an industrial-sized pestle, having drained the marrow into vats which, together with the contents of the spleen and lower intestines, he had whipped into a frothing cream; how he had then flavoured this confection, half with vanilla and the remainder with a variety of banana, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon; how he then thickened the blood, to which he added his own concoction of spices and sugars, assisting its natural tendency to clot with the setting agent, pectin; and finally the most gratifying of his culinary achievements: how he had taken his mother’s skin, grateful for her ingrained indolence and the resulting cellulite which he had stretched and dried, baking it until he had the consistency just as he wanted it, before moistening it and creating a range of uniquely dimpled waffle cones.
‘I owe all this,’ Arnold said slowly, a sigh of real satisfaction escaping as he spoke, ‘to my mother.’
‘She must be some woman.’
‘Indeed. She just keeps on giving.’ As he spoke, his attention was caught by a wave. Doris, Millicent, Harriet and Martin were approaching the van.
The banker held Arnold’s gaze. ‘You should think about expanding. If you need help…?’
He smiled that thin-lipped smile. ‘Oh I’ve already given that a lot of thought. If you’d excuse me these are my friends. I’m very much hoping that, over time, I will be able to involve them directly in this business. Knowing them I’m sure they’ll throw themselves, body and spirit into this venture.’
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: Did you love it? It’s difficult to introduce a story like this and not give away some of the good things in it, so I didn’t – but I really liked this story.
It reminded me of an Alfred Hitchcock movie or something from his TV show. Good fun with an eerie undertone. Or overtone, I guess. The guy didn’t waste time getting down to business.
Good stuff from Geoff again, and I’m so happy he sent it in!
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for more winning stories and profiles as we feature our other third place winners!
We will continue next week and beyond until all the winning stories and profiles have been run (unless they don’t send them, in which case we won’t; hopefully they do).
and much more!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our third of three 3rd place winners, Geoff LePard!
See you tomorrow!