“What’s that one, momma?” said the child in her pajamas as she pointed to the chilled box. The agitated flies quietly flew around the drab store. The mother turned to look at her daughter.
“That’s chocolate, sweetie.”
“Yes, the nice one you have on special occasions. Do you want?”
She hummed as she shifted to see another glistening container. The mother followed her gaze.
“That’s vanilla. It’s the one you eat at home all the time—you know, after you finish your veggies.”
“I have that a lot.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s nice. What’s the pink, momma?” she said, pointing to a third container.
“The berry one?”
“The red fruit, right?”
“Daddy’s favorite, right?”
The child’s face was pressed against the box, her round eyes flitting across the range of available flavors, and when she stepped back, her cheeks left foggy imprints on the glass. She rubbed her forehead with her stubby fingers to block the sweat sliding down her nose and to shoo away a fly crawling over her hair. It tickled her. Even with the conditioning in the store cranked up to the highest setting, the air was sweltering. She licked her lips.
“Are you thirsty, sweetie?”
“Do you want vanilla?”
“What about strawberry?”
“You only want chocolate?”
“So, you’re sure about chocolate?”
“Pleases,” the child said, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet. The mother smiled.
“One chocolate and…one vanilla with strawberry too. She’ll have a small, I’ll have the large,” she told the server. He drew a sharp spoon from behind the register and the child watched as he effortlessly scooped the brown and pink and whitish globs out of their brimming containers, leaving three wet holes in the perspiring frozen yogurt. The server gave the two cups to the mother, who gave the smaller one to her daughter. As the mother reached for her credit card, she instead chose to pay with cash. While she counted the crumpled bills, her child strolled outside to eat in the little shade provided by the strip mall.
The mother eventually came outside to sit by her daughter on the warm bench. The parking lot in front of them was vacant save for a sedan, which was still equipped with New Mexican license plates that said, "Land of Enchantment," now almost illegible with rust.
“Do you like your chocolate, sweetie?” said the mother.
She nodded vigorously, smirking with chocolate-smeared lips.
“Sweetie, please don’t eat so messily.”
The mother pulled a napkin out of her purse and wiped the spare chocolate off her daughter’s face. Her own yogurt was beginning to melt, the vanilla and strawberry pooling into a bright pink confection. She didn’t notice. She was looking at her daughter, who slurped her own desert with childish gusto.
“Where are we going, momma?”
“We’re going on a trip, honey.”
“It’ll be fun, like an adventure. We can use it, you and I.”
“He’s un-coming, I’m afraid.”
“Why is he?”
“He’s not, he’s busy.” She gently tried to press a fly near her eye, dragging her fingers to catch its would-be corpse and flick it away.
“How much do you like your chocolate?”
She bared her wobbly teeth as she yawned. The mother wiped some more chocolate off her nose and chin with her hand. It also smelt of dust and Johnson’s face cream.
“I miss daddy.”
“I do too.”
“Will we have more ice-cream?”
“It’s not….Yes, we will, I’m sure,” she said.
The two sat on the bench and together watched the road in the distance. The mother decided to go back inside.
She walked to the counter and politely asked the server for another drag before she and her daughter left. He gave her the remains of a crumbling cigarette they had lit up. She sucked the smoke deep into her lungs before exhaling.
“It’s okay, you don’t need to ask. It was good.”
She was secretly relieved he understood. He was the only person she had met who was willing to understand.
“You…going to be okay, here?”
“It’ll be…less action packed, I guess.”
“You’re not the first.”
“I’m not the first?”
The server turned around and put his apron on. She noticed it had been hanging there the whole time since he took it off. It felt forever since he took it off for her.
“I won’t ask.”
She was at the door when the sever said, “Do you want to take some?” He was holding a handful of Marlboros. “For the road?”
Her daughter was stretching her tiny tongue to lick the last remaining drops of chocolate in her cup when she arrived.
“All gone, momma!”
“Did you like it?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” she said, taking the trash from her daughter.
“And what’s yours, momma?”
“What about mine, honey?”
“Did you like it?”
“Oh, yeah…of course, I did,” the mother replied, striding over to the waste bin and throwing her untouched, liquid froyo to the bottom. Inside the server was fixing his belt and wiping his zipper.
“C’mon, sweetie. Now hold my hand. We need to cross.”
The child waddled up to her mother’s leg and held her mother’s hand as they both stepped into the high heat and walked to their parked car in the middle of the lot. Behind them, a swarm of flies had begun to nibble the leftovers, scurrying over the large and small paper cups.
Written by Abhinav Tiku
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