Harold walked around to the back of the giant ice cream cone and ducked inside its tiny door. He turned on the register and pulled the float out of the tin can he kept hidden in one of the empty ice cream pails. Then he slid open the serving window and sat down with his book.
Greg yelled at him from the go-cart track across the parking lot. Harold waved and went back to reading and then Greg was at the window. He said, “Those fuckers say I’m greasing up their shitter. They don’t want me using their can no more.” Harold marked his place with a finger. “They want me to get porta potties to put by the track. You know how fucking much that will cost?” Harold made a noise that might have been commiseration. “They treat me like a fucking second-class citizen. We all work together here to help each other, man. My carts bring in business for their fucking putt-putt. It’s fucking synergy. Fuck man, this is the shits. Give me an ice cream sandwich, eh?”
“I keep telling you. You can pay cost but I can’t give it to you for free. It’s a buck-fifty.”
“I don’t take nothing for free, man. You can use the carts anytime.”
“I own a car. If I feel like driving for fun, I will do it in my car that I am the owner of.”
Greg said “Fuck you, man,” but fished some change out of his pockets and slapped it down on the counter. He walked back across the parking lot, fingering the Fun Center on the way by. Harold put the change in the till and went back to his book.
An old guy who’d just finished the par three course pulled a cart full of clubs to the back of his car and left them there. He came over to Harold’s window and said, “You weren’t open earlier.”
Harold put down his book. “Oh, no, sorry. There’s not much call for ice cream before noon.”
“I would have bought one. It’s a shame you don’t open earlier.”
“Can I get you one now?”
“It’s too late for ice cream.”
“That’s funny, most people like to have their ice cream after lunch.”
“I like to have something sweet before lunch.
“I’d like a hot dog now.”
“Sorry, I just have ice cream.”
“I know that. I’m going to go get a hot dog in town.”
Harold watched the old guy shuffle back to his car and struggle to roll his golf bag into the trunk. He got it in, eventually, and then gave himself a minute before stretching his body up to pull the trunk down. He got in the car and nothing happened. Harold was about to go check on him when the engine fired up. The car made a beeping noise as it backed up.
A car pulled into the parking lot. A woman got out set up some balloons on one of Harold’s picnic tables. Other cars and a van came in and then there were a dozen adults and twice as many kids running around. Someone took out a cooler and a bunch of two litre bottles of soda. One of the moms said, “Oh fuck,” and looked around. She walked up to Harold’s window. “You got any plastic cups?”
“No, but I sell soda.”
“We got our own, we just need cups.”
“Sorry, can’t help you.”
She went back to Harold’s tables and said, “He didn’t have none.” One of the dad’s drove off and came back a few minutes later. Then the kids split up, a bunch went to the putt-putt and the others over to the go-carts. They left all their coolers and food on the tables. When they were all done they came back and had sandwiches out of the cooler and chips and more soda and then a cake came out with candles and sparklers. One of the kids asked for ice cream.
A dad came up to the window, “Hey, give me a couple drumsticks and a couple those ice cream sandwiches.” Harold pulled them out of the freezer and rang it up. The guy said, “Jesus. Three bucks each?” Harold shrugged and the guy said, “You can do better than that. They’re like, a buck at the corner store.”
“Sorry, that’s the price.”
“But I’m buying four.”
Harold held out his hands. The guy paid and went back to the tables. Harold heard him say “rip-off” and his wife said something that ended with asshole. They all piled back into their cars and took off. Harold ducked out the back door and threw all their garbage into a bag.
Greg came over. “You see that one lady with the birthday party.”
“She was into me. I seen her at the Oak last week. She recognized me.”
“I should have got her number.”
“I thought you didn’t date women with kids?”
“Who said anything about dating?”
“Right. So how’re you going to see her again?”
“I’ll look her up in the phone book. She told me her name was Linda, and one of the kids called her Mrs. McAlister.”
“Fuck, they keep their husbands name sometimes.”
“But you don’t know?”
“If a guy picks up, I’ll hang up.”
“Fuck you, man.”
It got busy. Harold tucked his book under the register and scooped out ice cream. Greg was busy digging go-carts out of the tire walls, and there was a line at the first hole of the putt-putt. Harold ran out of Rocky Road. He locked up the till and ran over to the Fun Center basement where he kept his extra stock in a couple of deep freezes. The owner’s son Randy was down there with his buddy, who also worked at the Fun Center. They were both high. Randy said, “Hey, ice cream man.”
Harold asked him what was up. Before Randy could answer his dad shouted for them to get the fuck back to work from the top of the stairs. Randy started laughing, but his buddy at least looked like he thought he should do something. Then Randy’s dad was down there and told them to get the fuck out on the driving range and pick up the balls. Randy made a joke about picking up his balls that was a little too loud. His dad heard and started laying into them about fucking around and how he had a good mind to whoop both of them. The shouting got quieter as they got further away, but the last thing Harold heard was, “… end up like Harold.” Harold slammed the deep freeze and headed back across the parking lot.
“Harold, you still work here?”
“Yeah, well, I bought it a few years ago, so I’m the owner now….”
“That’s cool. You’re like your own boss. Must make money?”
“I do okay. Can I get you something,” And it came to him, “Chet?”
“Yeah, I’ll take three double cones, one peppermint, chocolate on two of them, and my little boy wants that tiger stripe shit.”
Harold bent down into the freezer and scooped out the ice cream. He handed the first over the counter; Chet passed it down to his kid and asked, “So, you still playing in those bands?”
“Here and there.”
“Cool. Doing any records?”
“We record sometimes.”
“You ever on the radio or anything?”
“You know, we’re not really a commercial band.”
“Oh, cool. Like, indie stuff.”
“Sure. I didn’t know you had a kid.”
“Yeah, this is Chad. Three years old now. Thank the ice cream man, Chad.”
Chad stared up at Harold. Harold smiled and waved. Chet said just a second and went down to the picnic table where a large woman swung a purse over her belly and fished around for money.
“So, who’s the wife?” Harold asked when he got back.
“What do you mean? That’s Barb.”
“Hey, fuck you man.”
“No, I didn’t mean that, it’s just I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“Yeah, well you’re probably pulling in prime pussy with your fucking ice cream shack.”
“I didn’t mean—“
Chad grabbed Chet’s arm and pulled him away. Harold watched them get into their car and leave. He went back to his book.
Something was banging outside the shop. Harold opened the little back door and saw a kid on the putt-putt course hitting one of the fibreglass animals, a deer, with a club. Harold walked up to the fence that separated the parking lot from the course. He said, “You probably shouldn’t be doing that.” The kid looked up at him. He was red in the face, freckled, and sweaty. He swung his club around and let it go. It landed in one of the flower beds. The kid walked away.
Things slowed down around six. Harold sat at one of his tables and ate a sandwich while he read. A group of teenage girls were playing putt-putt. Harold didn’t pay much attention but noticed when one of them bent down to pull a ball out of the hole. She stood up and they made eye contact for a second before Harold looked back at the page. Harold heard some whispering and they all started giggling. He glanced up when they were at the next hole and one of them was crouched down with her back to him. Another one of them was leaned over her golf club stretching and she smiled when she saw that he was looking. He nodded and tried to go back to the book. They went around the course like that, stretching and bending and smiling. One of them waved and he thought maybe one of them blew a kiss. They giggled a lot.
When they went into the Fun Center to return their putters Harold went around back and ducked into his ice cream cone. Two of the girls came up to the window. One of them asked what sort of ice cream he had.
“The usual, rocky road, mint, vanilla….”
“Two dollars a scoop.”
She stuck a hand in her pocket. He could see her fingers moving around where the pocket stuck out the bottom of her shorts. She said, “I only have a dollar. Do you think maybe that would be okay?”
Harold guessed it could be.
The other girl asked Harold what his name was. She said she really wanted some ice cream, Harold, but didn’t have any money. He gave them both a cone. He watched them walk back to the others. They all started giggling again and he heard one of them say, “you slut,” to the one who had the short shorts.
They got in their car and left. Across the parking lot, Greg grabbed his crotch and shouted something at Harold that he didn’t try to make out.
It was getting late and a bunch of guys in their late teens were drinking beer on one of Harold’s picnic tables. They’d just finished up a round of putt-putt. Greg hadn’t let them on the go-cart course and now they were sitting around talking about what a faggot skid the go-cart guy was. After a bit, Harold said, “Come on guys, there’s kids around.”
They all looked at him. One of them said, “You wish there were kids around, faggot.” They all laughed and high-fived the guy that talked.
Harold shook his head and went back to his book. The guy who called him a faggot came up to the window. He was shirtless and had a six pack. He said, “So, did you go to ice cream school to get this job.”
Harold put down his book. “It was ice cream university, and I did a post-grad.”
“So is that why you think you can tell me what to do, ice cream fag.”
“That’s Dr. Ice Cream Fag. And, look. There’s like, nine cameras in this parking lot recording what’s going on. I presume one of you is going to drive, and I’m almost positive not one of you are sober, on top of which, you’re maybe 18 at the oldest. It would take me literally three seconds to ruin your night, so you all should get the fuck out of here.”
The kid started to look around for the cameras so Harold picked up his phone and made as if he were dialling. The kid said, “You fucking rat.”
Harold smiled and said into the phone, “Hello, police?” The kid told his friends they needed to get the fuck out of there. They peeled out of the parking lot. Harold waved goodbye.
Harold waited for the last family on the putt-putt. When they left without buying anything, he started to close up. He printed out the day’s receipts, noted the amounts in his book, and put a deposit in an envelope. The float went back into the tin and then into one of the empty ice cream pails. He slid the window shut and ducked out the back door and padlocked it behind him.
He got into his van. Greg was working on one of his carts and stood up and shouted for Harold to hold on a second. Harold waved out the window and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway.
Michael Melgaard is a writer and editor living in Toronto, Canada. His work has previously appeared in Front Magazine, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and a piece is forthcoming on the Bookends Review. When not writing, he is a non-fiction editor at an independent Canadian publishing house.