This one human moment — the man sitting alone, eating his mountain.
After spending a long day mixing, creating, and serving his ice cream cones, parfaits, shakes, and sundaes, he finally takes his cone in hand, fixing it exactly to his liking. He picks through the stacks of cones, finding one without cracks, or dents or chips. He places his hand gently on the lever to the ice cream machine, he steadily pulls the lever and the chocolate-vanilla swirl drops smoothly into his awaiting cone. He moves his cone back and forth, letting the chocolate and vanilla pile high. He pulls the lever to a steady stop, leaving the top a perfectly pointed peak.
Next, he moves to the dressing table. He plucks the walnut and m&m pieces out of the chocolate sprinkles tray. Gently he rolls his mountain in the chocolate sprinkles. He then lets the hot fudge faucet flow into an awaiting container, letting the impurities run out. When the stream has turned smooth, he lets it run over his mountain.
He holds the cone in both hands, just looking at it with a boyish grin. He walks from behind the counter, his eyes not moving from his mountain. Somehow, he manages to make it through the throngs of people milling around him, not once removing his gaze from his creation. He finds a table in the corner out of everyone’s way, secluded and private. He takes one hand off his cone, and pulls a chair out from under an abandoned table, wipes off food debris. He gingerly sits down, wincing from his sore back.
He places his empty hand on the cold metal table. He breathes a heavy sigh, smiles, and looks longingly at his cone. The mix of chocolate and vanilla swirl, a careful balance, each chocolate sprinkle placed just so; the fudge syrup tumbling down over the sprinkles like hot lava. He takes one tender lick, almost painful from the absence of flavor for so long. Slowly he consumes his mountain with as much skill as he created it.
Finally, one last crunchy bite finishes it off. He closes his eyes in pure satisfaction. His apron still on from the day’s hard work. All the people bustling around, yet to him, they’re at a distance. His eyes weary, glasses half slid down the nose, a bristled mustache, brown with speckles of white hovering over his lip. A line of white cream gathered along the tips of the whiskers, where it escaped his lips. If I could cry for the world, I’d cry for the man sitting alone eating his simple mountain.
(c) E. A. Willard 2015
Original version c. 2002
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I wrote this as a teenager, I can still remember sitting in the food court at the mall, near the ice-cream place, at the cold metal tables, people watching. Some how this image was planted in my mind, and the story unfolded in my imagination and stayed with me for weeks until I wrote it.
This story was always a favorite of my family, and for years I thought I had lost it, fell through the cracks when a computer died, or a floppy disk got lost. Then, recently, I found a copy of it in one of my many teenage-years notebooks. Again, forever grateful for my obsessive cutting and pasting and writing, documenting and archiving.
This was originally published in my high school literary magazine – and this version posted here is only slightly edited from the original.