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"Excerpt from For Ice Cream" by Nyla Jones



I scream…

Reggie’s grogginess quickly turned into fear as he sped down the stairs into his store. The air was still and quiet, creating a tension that he couldn’t quite understand. The lights were still off, but he swore he heard glass shattering downstairs. He’d grabbed his hand pistol from his nightstand in his panic, creeping downstairs in a thin tee shirt and shorts. He didn’t think to bring a robe with him to fight off the cooler evening weather. Not that it would have helped the chills running up his body.

He arrived at the door at the bottom of the staircase, on the side of the store, gun in hand like he’d seen cops do on Criminal Minds. It felt ridiculous, but it was the closest he could get to protection. He looked at his reflection in the window. His breath fogged up the glass but he could make out his frightened face. The dark circles around his eyes compared to his brown skin made him look like a zombie. His curly hair was flattened against his head from yet another restless night of tossing and turning. His lips were cracked with dehydration. His slightly muscled frame made him look a lot tougher than he was feeling, his body shaking.

He tried to steady his hands, but nothing would stop his trembling. His security system warned him of the suspicious activity and he immediately was on high alert, assuming the commotion to be a robbery. He never had to deal with one of those before. What if he had to shoot them? What if they shot him?

Damn it Reggie you should’ve called the police. How the hell are you gonna handle this if it’s a robbery?

I can handle this.

How?

I got a gun.

But no training.

His heart felt tight like he might have a heart attack, then robbery would be the least of his worries. He turned the corner into the entrance, flipping on the fluorescent lighting of his store. Fear gathered in the pit of his stomach and his breathing almost stopped at the sight of her.

Seven bullet holes–six in the body, one in the head. Glass bits scattered across the front of the store all around her corpse, tangled in the frizz of her hair like gruesome barrettes. Her thick red mane was matted with blood in a dark contrast to her pale, white skin. Her face was embedded with glass shards. She was barely recognizable as a person when Reggie found her. He remained still, staring in horror. His slipper was soaked with the mysterious woman’s blood spilling from the holes decorating her body. He looked away and focused his vision on the pistol in his shaking hands. Instead, his eye fell on the blood beneath him and realized what would happen. Black man with a pistol. White woman on the ground. Instant death penalty. Call the cops, what are you doing?! Just call the police! His eyes find the phone on the counter, waiting. Just walk to the phone! Come on! He doesn’t move. He can’t move.

They’ll kill me. They’ll see her body and kill me. They always kill the Black man.

But you got to do something!

Upon closer inspection, he realized she was not that old. From what he could make out, her hands weren’t full of liver spots. Her hair was not yet gray with age and worry. Her face was difficult to make out with all of the glass and blood, but it appeared to be untouched by wrinkles. Just with hundreds of shards of thick glass. If Reggie were to guess, she looked about eighteen, old enough to be considered an adult under the eyes of the law, but not enough for anyone on a jury to think of her as more than a child.

A white girl? The cops will eat this up!

Reggie’s lungs went dry just imagining the jury. Guilty. Guilty!

She and the pool of blood became fuzzy and Reggie fell to the ground, not caring about his clothes as they became wet with blood. His head swirled just as he emptied his aching stomach. He had never seen anything so red, so sticky. So much. A new surge of panic awakened in him and his mind moved autonomously.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Just breathe.

Breathe! BREATHE!

His eyes darted around the shop, calculating. I can’t let them see this.

I’ll die! I don’t want to die.

I DON’T WANNA DIE.

What do I do? Think!

THINK.

He crawled away from the front window through the mess of glass, despite the sickening cramps in his abdomen. His eyes fell on the huge, walk-in freezer in the back of his store. The body. The freezer. The body. The freezer….

He ran toward the counter, stashing the pistol in the display case, underneath the mint chocolate chip. He had to hurry. He rushed to her body, grabbing her by the arms. Luckily, rigor mortis hadn’t set in. The body must be fresh. He pulled her body toward the back of the store, painting the floor with red streaks. The walk to the freezer felt so long and her body felt heavier, he was worried that he would pull her arms out of their sockets. It took way longer, longer than it should’ve but he finally reached the doors of the freezer. Opening it he looked, trying to find the best hiding space until he had time to bury the body.

Chocolate, cookie & cream, caramel swirl…

He struggled as he grabbed her just below her arms. Her body was so heavy, it took what felt like an eternity for him to push the limp body behind the Neapolitan and butter pecan flavors.

There! Nobody eats those anyway…

He ran to the broom closet grabbing all the supplies he needed: bucket, bleach, broom, mop, and cloth. He threw the bucket in the sink, turning the faucet on full blast as he dumped a whole bottle of bleach into it. He turned to see the bloody streaks and footprints and his slippers left behind and kicked them off frantically, launching them into the closet. He peered behind him from the closet as sirens began to blare in the distance.

The police.

Someone surely heard the commotion that caused this woman's death. Even the deserted streets had ears. The late night passerby probably saw the lights on, a Black man sneaking around, and thought they put the pieces together.

Of course. No matter how long you’ve known them you’re still just another Black man to them.

He grabbed the bucket and ran to the front of the store, almost dropping his supplies. Immediately, he began to sweep the shards off the floor, even getting down on his hands and knees to pick some of the glass out of the blood. After he was certain he picked it all up, he began mopping as fast as he could. He heard the sirens become louder. Closer.

They’re coming. He mopped faster, as though it were an Olympic sport.

I’m not gonna make it. They’ll be here any minute.

Closer. The floor still had pools of crimson and what he did clean still had pinkish stains to it. He dropped to the floor and began to scrub with the cloth soaked in bleach.

The sirens are getting closer. I won’t have time to clean it all up!

He began to hyperventilate.

Think Reggie. Think!

He ran to the light, switched it off, and ducked against the floor. The metallic scent of blood, the strong scent of bleach, and the stale smell of vomit mixed together made his stomach turn again. The sirens were just outside.

He tentatively raised his head and peeked through the broken window to spot the red and blue flashing light passing by his window as if he didn’t exist. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Not me. Not this time.

It was almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Reggie grabbed the blood-stained cloth, dunked it in the bucket, and remained on his hands and knees scrubbing away at the unsightly blemish in his once clean store.

***

“One order of vanilla and– what was it you wanted again Marla?” The old man yelled across the shop to his wife. They were new in town. Reggie could tell. He’d never seen them before. In fact, anyone that came into his store was new to the town. He wasn’t exactly known to have the world’s best ice cream. Reggie remembered when he had first opened his store and would cater ice cream socials or a school carnival. The friendly smiles of gap toothed children and their laughing parents only turned into sour faces, their enthusiasm waned into disappointment. They continued to lick their dessert but were not as happy as when they had first come to his stand.

“How can you mess up ice cream?” he had heard one woman whisper.

Another time a little boy, no more than five years of age, refused to eat anymore even when his parents pretended to have an airplane flying into his mouth.

What kind of kid doesn’t enjoy ice cream?

What kind of ice cream is that bad that even a kid won’t eat it?

“It tastes wrong!” the kid exclaimed. Reggie had heard of complaints stating that the vanilla had no flavor at all and tasted like the cardboard carton it came in. His strawberry tasted closer to what vanilla should be and lacked actual strawberries. For cookies & cream, he had used a cheap, generic cookie brand rather than the Oreos that would have delighted taste buds.

Who wouldn’t want some homemade ice cream? Everyone likes the down-home taste. Well, he wasn’t wrong about that, just wrong about the recipe.

There had been just enough big events in this town that prevented him from hitting total bankruptcy for the first year but things hadn’t really picked up since his last order. People were leaving and no people meant no events. Instead, they were moving to the city a few hundred miles east. Tourism was at an all-time low. All of the attractions had picked up and left town, seeking more populated areas. The lack of scenery or landmarks was no help either. Reggie was barely competing with the other chains around the world, but word about his poor product quickly spread and he was running out of time to make his rent, something he hadn’t had to worry about until he began this business.

Maybe she was right…

***

He drifted into thinking about her. His ex-wife, how he missed her, couldn’t deal with the financial instability.

“Quit?” she had yelled, eyes wide with shock and anger when he told her he was leaving his boring but stable job

“Yes, I’m tired of walking in that office depressed and feeling like I’m going nowhere”

“The reason we aren’t going anywhere is that you pull shit like this! Do you even have a backup plan?”

He had remained silent at that statement.

“Exactly!” Her back facing him, hands thrown in the air. “You didn’t think about how this would affect me– us!”

Silence.

“So what do you plan on doing now huh?” She had dared him to answer.

“I…I saved up enough money -”

“It better be millions because until then we can only live off what I got.”

“For an ice cream shop,” he finished, certain in his actions. It was a strange choice in life, he’ll admit. But it’s one he felt happy with. He had a long talk within himself. And this was the choice he wanted to make with or without her.

“An ice cream shop? You took our life savings….for an ice cream shop…” Her voice had fallen off into a whisper that was calm. Too calm. The kind that was beyond anger and beyond words. She had become quiet. A silence that had followed her out the door, leaving him alone in his empty house for the past year and a half. He couldn’t bear the thought of his wife leaving, but he couldn’t take the sinking feeling of depression every time he went to the office even more.

She was just trying to look for a way out.

Now it was Reggie’s turn to look for a way out of his mess.

I just wanted to sell ice cream. How could this happen? Why me?

***

He stood staring at the display case of ice cream tubs. He had moved the gun from there and thrown it into the freezer with the body. He stayed up all night cleaning the rest of the floor, not that he would’ve been able to sleep anyway. The floor was clean of vomit and red streaks, but no matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t get rid of the pink splotches by the window. Reggie cleaned until his fingers burned with bleach and he was about to pass out, but the blood seeped into the grout between the tiles making the chore harder on him. In the end, he opted to place the big welcome mat to the right of the door instead of its usual center. It looked weird, but nobody would come inside to notice.

Perks of being unpopular I suppose…

When he had finally gone home to his small apartment, sneaking upstairs after the incident, praying he didn’t run into his neighbor. He moved quietly into the entrance of his shoebox size sanctuary. It was the only thing he could afford, the store taking most of his money. It wasn’t the worst living conditions, unlike when he lived in the city as a child. Rats and roaches running around everywhere. At least here he only had to deal with roaches. That he could handle.

Although now roaches are the least of my problems.

The sun was just a few minutes from rising. The hardware store was still not open yet, so he had to wait as the minutes slowly ticked by. He desperately needed to change out of his pajamas. They stank with the mixture of fluids from the night. So grabbing his soiled slippers and threw them into the half-full trash bag hanging from his front door. He stripped off his clothes and did the same. Taking a deep breath he went into his bathroom and took a steaming hot shower, desperately trying to erase all traces of the woman from his body. And his mind.

Someone definitely realized she was missing. The thought popped into his mind.

There’s no way they can’t.

Everybody knows everybody here.

That made Reggie pause. Wait… do I know her?

I don’t think so…

What if I do?

No, no there’s no way I could.

He spent the better part of his morning like that, trying to quiet his thoughts with music, coffee, anything. But they just kept coming.

Reggie sat in his small armchair staring at a blank television screen, unable to move

I can’t go back out there

You have to! How else are we going to get rid of the body?

They’re suspicious. They’re all suspicious!

Who’s suspicious? Who even knows what you did?

I can’t. I just can’t.

Well, you can’t just stay here! You’ve got to finish the job.

Just let the police take me away…

Reggie shook his head at the thought. No. He worked too hard to let it all go like that, especially if he didn’t even commit the crime. He stood up and quickly walked to his nightstand, filing through miscellaneous items until he found it; his lighter, a small red gun-like thing.

I wonder if the gun was this small…

Stop.

Thoughts so gruesome would only slow his mind down.

I need to hurry up.

He grabbed the clothes from the bag and placed them on the stove. It was tricky sometimes, so he turned on the gas and lit it with his little torch. Reggie piled the clothes onto the stove and waited for the fabric to catch fire. He looked at the kitchen ceiling as the smoke began to gather in the air. Sunshine broke through his closed blinds as the flames glowed on his face, the brightness stinging his eyes. He refused to blink, wanting to witness every thread vanish in the heat of the fire. The kitchen was filled with thick, black smoke, and the fire alarm went off. But he refused to leave until he witnessed the complete burning.

The flame rose too high. Shit! Reggie dashed to the window, throwing the blinds open and pushing the window open as wide as it could go. The smoke flowed outside making the air gray. Reggie ran to the cabinet, throwing aside all the useless pots and pans until he found his soup pot. Turning to the sink, he filled it with water and threw it into the fire. The makeshift bonfire exploded and singed his nose hairs and eyebrows. He had tried to pat the flames out but it was useless. His arms were getting tired and his vision was beginning to wane when the fire department burst in.

“You need to go!” shouted one of them. “Now!”

A second one grabbed his arm and dragged him outside into the corridor. Then down the stairs into the street with his neighbor. The woman next door, Kennedy he believed was her name, wearing a satin robe draped over her as she impatiently checked her phone. She was glaring at Reggie while he tried to act nonchalant while waiting for the firemen.

This wasn’t the first time Reggie pissed off his neighbor and it more than likely won’t be the last. This was his second fire this month. Once he was trying to make Jiffy Pop, but the game came on and he got distracted for two minutes before the corn nearly burned the place down. “Keep an eye on your food next time you idiot!” the building manager had yelled.

It took about fifteen minutes before the bulky firefighters came out giving them permission to go back inside. Reggie rushed upstairs, jumping steps two at a time to immediately check the stove for any evidence. There were a few firefighters in the kitchen gathered around the stove. NO! He moved next to them just as they looked up. One had Reggie’s pajama top in his hand with a quizzical look etched on his face.

“What happened here?” He asked. It sounded accusatory to Reggie. He didn’t like it.

He knows.

He knows nothing.

“I uh….I was cooking and my sleeve caught on fire.” The lie came too easily.

The two looked at each other.

“I got scared and took off my shirt. Threw it off and it landed on the stove. I tried to stop the fire,” He pointed to his now-burnt pot of water. “But it didn’t work out.”

“Didn’t you know not to pour water on a gas fire?”

“I just panicked.”

The fireman took a deep sigh, “Stop, drop, and roll next time.”

Reggie nodded sheepishly as they cleared out. The kitchen walls were covered with black soot. He’ll have to clean this up later. The smell of the apartment made him gag, it smelled like burnt cloth

..or burnt blood.

He shuddered at the thought and tried to go about his routine. He moved without feeling, robotic-like. Brushing his teeth, not tasting the sting of the mint on his gums. He went to make breakfast. He stood in the middle of the kitchen staring at the scene. Black and gray streaks formed on the white cupboards like it was changing colors right before his eyes.

I should’ve gone to the police.

No. No! His head felt full and began to hurt with the heaviness of this argument. He dragged his feet to the front door. There’s work to be done.

Step one: drive to the bank. He sped down the road, surely risking at least two tickets. The sun had fully risen and started to shine in his eyes, burning his face. He parked in the front to have a quick getaway as if he were robbing the place. He spotted the silver ATM in front of the door. Don’t be suspicious.

Shut up.

He put in his card, put his pin in, and looked at his account. He’s running low, not enough to make next month’s rent, barely enough to make half of it. And surely not enough to keep paying for his car. Sighing he withdrew $200. He went to his car and rushed off to step two: to the hardware store. Don’t be suspicious.

Home Depot had its usual smell of wood and paint. He walked to one of the clerks in a bright orange apron. He was a short, sturdy man with red hair, surprising for an older man such as himself. Red hair like hers.

“Hi, I’m making a garden for my wife. Her birthday is coming up soon and I want to surprise her. Where do you keep the shovels?” Nice one!

Quiet.

“Aisle fifteen,” the clerk responded, his voice had a southern accent hidden in it.

“Thank you, sir. And lawn bags?”

“Aisle thirteen.”

“Thank you.” A wooden board, hammer, and nails he needed were in aisle four.

He walked briskly to aisle thirteen, looking through all of the bags. Most were paper, barely big enough to stash a tree branch. He continued scanning the shelves until he spotted plastic bags. They’ll fit her. He snatched a box and headed to the shovel section. Quickly grabbing the first shovel he could find, he rushed to the wooden boards.

You didn’t measure the window, did you?

Well, it’s kinda hard when hiding a body in the dark!

His eyes looked at all sorts of boards until he found one that looked about the size of his window pane at the parlor. Close enough. Hammer and nails were the last items on his list. He paid at the register with the same clerk.

“Hope your wife likes the garden.”

“Huh? Oh yeah. She’ll be so surprised. She’s been hinting at it for months.”

“Oh I know how that goes…the wife wanted me to build a bird feeder for about a year before I actually got it done. Heaven knows why we need one…”

“Really?” Reggie feigned fascination.

“We don’t even really get birds in the yard, but she wanted one. She’s a bit strange, but she’s mine,” He laughed.

Reggie faked his laughter, paid for his materials in cash, and rushed to his car.

He remained distracted on the road until he walked through the threshold of his store. He flipped on the lights, closing his eyes for fear of what he’dsee this time. Empty. A sigh of relief. I have to get rid of the body. He pushed the shovel and bags into the broom closet and then walked to the front of his store. Holding the board, he realized it was short a couple of inches. It doesn’t matter. He began the chore of hammering the board on the broken window pane. Then tend to the rest of his shop as normal. He cleaned the counter, hands shaking. No one saw you last night. No one saw you. Just get through to closing and you’re home free. The door chimes sounded as an old couple came in. The old man and his wife stopped in front of Reggie, staring at the menu board.

“Hello, how may I help you?” Reggie asked a little too loudly.

“I have sensitive teeth and my dentist says I need to be careful of what I eat,” He said to himself more than to Reggie

Pretty sure those are dentures.

Reggie’s eyes were immediately distracted by the little old woman that wandered away from her husband and began looking around the parlor. She had thick glasses that could look through just about anything and that’s what made him jittery. She had started walking around the store looking over the pictures on the wall. His store had a 1950’s look to it: checkered tiles made up the floor with bright, red, pleather seats created the booths. There were stools at the front by the counter, much like a bar or truck-stop diner. There were pictures of America from across the decades sprinkled around the walls so it wasn’t unlike new customers to look around at the decorations. But she was looking a little too much for Reggie’s liking. What if she knows that girl? What if she knows she’s missing? What if she suspects something?

“Sir?” The man interrupted his spiraling thoughts.

“Huh?”

“The temperature of the ice cream?” What kind of ridiculous question is that?

But Reggie smiled, “Uhh zero degrees. Unless you want soft serve.” He was sure the old man would ask the temperature of the soft serve but she wasn’t listening, still distracted by the wife walking toward the spot where the body was only a few hours ago.

“What kind of toppings do you have?” The man was becoming insufferable. What does she see?

Reggie evened his voice and forced another smile “Nuts, gummy bears, and sprinkles.” Not many customers, so what was the point in having a lot of toppings?

The man began contemplating his choice, looking at the toppings to see what he could digest. No nuts because he was allergic. No gummy bears–too sweet. No sprinkles because something about it getting caught in between his chompers. Then he went into a long-drawn-out story about why he and his wife were in town. Something about traveling across the states in an RV. It took all Reggie could muster not to scream at the man to shut up. It went on and on…All for just plain vanilla in a cup.

“Marla, what do you want?” The man asked his wife a little louder than necessary.

Marla didn’t respond, instead looking at the window with a large board covering it up. A sign with a picture of a smiling ice cream cone saying “Oops we have a spill. Please be cautious” hung from it. Technically not a lie, just glass, and a body spilled, rather than a child’s melted cone.

“Marla!” The old man yelled, capturing both of their attention. She looked at her husband in confusion. “What do you want?” He repeated his question.

“Oh you know, my usual,” she said, turning back to the window. Reggie began to sweat, looking below the woman’s feet at the mat. I’ll have to try again later.

“Yes, so one large vanilla in a cup, and one small Neapolitan in a waffle cone,” The man continued, not noticing the distraction in Reggie’s eyes. That’s when Reggie finally heard the order. Neapolitan?! The sudden weight of the man’s words made the scoop heavier in Reggie’s hand.

“One moment. It’s in the back, not many people order it,” he mumbled to keep his voice from trembling. Keep calm, they don’t know anything. He nearly sprinted to the back freezer but breathed slowly and walked to the back briskly.

He opened the freezer door, the cold temperature was nothing compared to the ice-cold blood that ran through his veins. There she was. Shoved crookedly between the containers. Her head lay on top of the Neapolitan container. Her eyes were still wide open, staring at her shooter. The crimson river that flowed from her head-hole had become frozen to her forehead like a waterfall stuck in place. He carefully shifted her head off the container lid as he moved to open the ice cream. A thick, frozen, red stream sealed the lid to the bucket. His stomach turned at the horrific image, it almost made him vomit again.

“Uh, sir my ice cream?” Marla called, her head poking over the counter.

“Coming right up,” he answered just loud enough for her to barely hear him.

With a little more effort the lid was forced open. He grabbed the warmed scoop and hurried to fill the woman’s cone. He turned to face his customer, handing the little old woman her ice cream cone when he spotted it all too late.

The strawberry part of her treat had bits of red in it. His eyes swelled in horror as the couple finished paying for their order. He wanted to tell her that the ice cream spoiled, been contaminated, anything to get her to stop licking her cone. Calm down. Calm. Down. It could just be the strawberries poking out. But he knew he was lying to himself. He tried not to gag as Marla’s tongue slurped the red flakes, leaving spots of it on the corner of her lips.

Reggie stared, mouth agape. When they finished, they cleaned up their spot and left the store. He held back a shutter as the two walked out of the store into the summer heat. He didn’t stop her. Why didn’t he stop her? Because cannibalism is bad for business.



Nyla Jones is currently an Honors Senior English/Creative Writing major, French and playwriting minor at Howard University in Washington D.C. She is studying to become an author, poet, and scriptwriter. In 2015, her poem “Darkness” was published in the anthology, Emerging Voices, which explores the voices of teenagers all around Montgomery County, Maryland. Since then, she has had her poems in Howard University’s Sterling Notes.

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