Ice Cream and Possibilities
Ruth owned a tiny convenience store and lunchroom that smelled like sloppy joes as soon as you walked through the banging screen door. It was stuffy in there; a round oscillating fan with dirty blades continually whirred on the counter, stirring up dirt and sand tracked in by the bare feet of the lake’s marina patrons.
A waist-high candy rack stood beside the counter next to the cash register. Sometimes in very hot weather Ruth kept all of her chocolate bars in the refrigerator so they wouldn’t melt, leaving the chewing gum and lifesavers to withstand the heat as they sparsely manned the rack.
Everyone called the store “Ruth’s” for lack of a better name. It was a summer place; she opened on Memorial Day and closed on Labor Day. Young and old tromped inside in wet swimsuits, dripping all the way. She didn’t mind, and in fact invited them to sit at her lunch tables on yellow vinyl chair seats and drink cold club soda or root beer, or enjoy a quick sandwich made from the sloppy joe meat simmering in the crock-pot.
“C’mon in, you must be starved! How’s the skiing today?”
Ruth’s left cheek wore a splotchy red birthmark that crept up her eyelid and into her hairline. She tried to tame her spring-loaded gray curls by pulling them tight against her head with hair clips, while rebellious bangs willfully tumbled over narrow wire-rimmed glasses into laughing eyes. She was comfortably pudgy, and her smile oozed with genuine optimism.
“If I could ever stay away from that ice cream freezer, I might lose a little weight,” she’d confess. “Winter’s not so bad, but in the summer I CANNOT resist.” Everyone knew Ruth just wouldn’t be the same if she wore anything but those billowy tent-like housedresses. No one wanted her to change.
One morning the rusty spring on Ruth’s screen door creaked just enough to allow a little girl named Sugar to squeeze through. She was wearing a ruffled lime green and pink swimsuit, and had walked barefooted to the store from her cottage about a quarter of a mile down the road. Ruth looked up from the book she was reading before the store got busy, something entitled, “Romance on Pine Hill.”
“Hi honey, been swimming yet this morning?”
Sugar hid both hands behind her back. “I’ve got something to show you, Ruth.”
“Sure honey, I’m all eyes.” It was already hot and muggy. Ruth wiped beads of sweat from her forehead with a corner of her sloppy-joe-spattered apron, then leaned over with her elbows on her knees.
“Which hand?” Sugar asked.
“THIS one.” Ruth pointed to Sugar’s left arm.
“Ok, then the OTHER one.”
“Here. I caught him myself, down by the inlet.”
Sugar offered a turtle about two inches in diameter. His little green neck craned desperately while his legs thrashed.
“OH! Just for me?” Ruth asked.
“Yep. Just for you.”
“I am SO LUCKY.”
“Does he have a name?”
“Raymond is a very nice name for a turtle.”
“Thanks – I thought you’d like him.”
“I like him so much I’m going to put him here on the table in a big pan for everyone else to see. Then tomorrow I’ll set him free in the lake. Okay?”
Sugar’s face lit up. “That’s a great idea!”
“Now, do you want anything else?”
“Can I have an ice cream sandwich?”
“Only if I can have one with you.”
“Okay!” Sugar giggled, and handed Ruth a nickel.
“Okay is right! Here you go, and here I go.” Ruth distributed the two frozen rectangles. “Best breakfast on the planet.”
“Just don’t tell mom, okay? I’m not supposed to have ice cream until after lunch.”
“No way, honey. My lips are sealed.”
Sugar’s scrawny, tanned legs swung back and forth over the edge of her chair while she licked vanilla ice cream from between the two chocolate wafers. “So Ruth, what do YOU like best about summer?”
“That’s a big question, honey. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I just wondered.”
“I count my years in summers, you know. Because summers are so full of possibilities, just like this … eating ice cream for breakfast with you!”
“That’s a great answer.”
“I thought so, honey.”
“See you later. Take care of Raymond, okay?”
“Sure … if you find Ray’s brother or sister, come show me, okay?”
“Okay Ruth, I will.”
“Yup. Got it. Bye, Ruth.”
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