Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ice Cream Cone

Photo Credit: Becco
Georgia tossed around the contents of her purse until she found exact change. "Here you go." She gave the kid at the counter his ten seventy-five. The kid was young, and had skin problems. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and reached for her cones. "Oh, that's fine," she said quickly, and threw her change purse into the depths without sorting it. She reached across the counter and pulled the cones from their little holder with the holes in it. Who knew what germs the pimply kid had? She turned and scanned the area. She had left Robert to find a seat for the three of them. She hoped he'd found a place that wasn't in the wind. Granny coudn't take cold, and wind made her cranky. They were in the back, and when Georgia got there she could feel the air coming in from the vent.

"You got mine in a sugar cone, right?" Robert reached over his grandmother to pull the cone out of his sister's hand. Georgia rolled her eyes and pushed the cone at him. Any fool could see it was a sugar cone, why did he have to ask? She sat down at the table. Robert sat down too. His cone was half gone already, and he had a smear of ice cream on his cheek.

Georgia sighed, got up and turned Granny's wheelchair so it faced them. "Why can't you just once look and see how she's doing? How hard would it have been to turn the chair while you were up?" Granny glared at her and bit into her ice cream. As always, it made Georgia's teeth hurt to watch.

Robert pointed. "I figured if she was facing that way, it wouldn't bother you when she ate it. She doesn't know, anyway. I think she likes to see the other people. Let her scare them."

"She doesn't scare you." Georgia handed him a napkin, and he wiped his face with it. He missed a spot, and she shook her head. "Come over here." Robert leaned towards her. She licked the napkin and rubbed it on his cheek.

He made a face. "You didn't have to spit on it. And she did scare me. I was terrified of her when I was a kid."

"If I wanted to get your face clean I did. You always were a scaredy-cat." Robert nodded agreeably, which drove her nuts as always. She took too big a lick on her ice cream cone and grabbed her jaw when her teeth hurt. "Are you still talking to that girl?"

"Lena? Yeah." Robert started biting his cone. He always showed too much of his tongue when he ate. It was disgusting. She hoped he didn't do that when this Lena was around. "She's pretty neat. Her folks own a bakery. She has to get up at five o'clock. . ."

Granny coughed. Georgia balanced her cone between her legs and took Granny's cone away with one hand. She handed her some water with the other. The old lady reached for the cone and knocked the water out of Georgia's hand. The water sloshed Georgia's jeans. "For crying out loud." She turned to Robert. "Take this, please." She gestured with her chin to the cone in her lap. Robert reached for it, and knocked it on the ground. Georgia sighed loudly and stood up. "Great. Just great." She handed Granny back her ice cream cone. The woman looked at Georgia, and took another bite, smiling when Georgia grimaced.

"I'm sorry, sis. Want me to get you another one?"

"No. You'd probably just drop it anyway." She stood up. "This has been about as much fun as I can stand. I'll wait in the car. Bring Granny with you."

Robert nodded and popped the last of his cone in his mouth. He moved around the table so he was sitting by his grandmother. "We won't be long." He turned to the old lady. "Come on Granny, Let's eat up."

Georgia walked out of the store, shaking her pants to try and dry the front. She moved quickly, hoping no one noticed the wet mark. Of course she had to wear jeans today. They would take forever to dry. She sighed when she reached their car. It was an old Oldsmobile Alero. Robert liked to play mechanic with it. At least he kept it running. She looked around. It was an awful car, small and old and it embarrassed her to get into it. It was small, too, and Granny had learned every place she could grab to slow down the process of getting her seated. Robert laughed when they put her in it each day. He didn't take anything seriously. Never had. Life was a big joke. Well, it could be for him. He hadn't been the oldest. He had her to take care of him. Granny sure hadn't done much.

She focused on letting her shoulders drop. Her doctor had told her the stress was getting to her, and would probably get her heart. Just like it did Mama. Mama, standing there fussing when this crazy look comes over her face and she just fell down. Robert had laughed at first. Then he had cried for three days. Thirteen year-old boys should have been stronger than that, but he just cried. He wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, wouldn't do anything. Georgia had to do it all. Granny was as bad as Robert. She just kept muttering about Mama bringing it on herself. Granny never had been right, and had wandered in and out before. Once Mama was gone, so was Granny, everywhere that mattered. Everywhere that didn't make more work for Georgia.

Noise on the window startled Georgia. She looked out. A pretty girl with her hair pulled back in a ponytail was knocking on her window. "Are you Georgia? I'm Lena. Bobby said he might be here today."

Georgia rolled her window down. She squinted at the girl. What did a pretty thing like this see in Robert? And Bobby? Really? "Hi. Robert said you and he talked some. He's in the ice cream store with our grandmother. I don't know why they aren't back yet. He dawdles."

Lena smiled. "I know. Isn't sweet how he's never in a hurry?"

Georgia smiled back, a little. "I guess when you don't have anywhere to go it's nice to take your time."

Lena's smile faded, then returned. "Robert says if you take your time you see the happy places in life."

"Does he?" She had never heard him say something silly like that before. "Have you two known each other long?"

"We met about two months ago." She must have noticed Georgia's shock. "It was at the art museum."

"Art museum? He only started talking about you last week." Of course Robert had time to go to the art museum. She had probably been at home, changing the old woman's diapers and making lunches for Robert to take to work. "I didn't know Robert liked art."

"Neither one of us knows much about it. But we like to look at the exhibits. Everything's so colorful." This girl might be pretty, but she was a little simple. No one waited at home for her to feed them. "I'm meeting him there tomorrow."

"That must be real nice. I'd sure like to go to an art museum sometime. Or anywhere."

"You could come with us."

Georgia smiled, but didn't feel any niceness in her. "Oh no. I'm afraid I can't. I have too much to do. There's the laundry to do tomorrow. And of course Granny. Granny doesn't much care for art."

Lena squinted. Georgia thought she could see a stray thought make its slow way across her brain. "That's funny. She seemed to like it when we took her the last time."

"What on earth are you talking about? Robert's never taken Granny anywhere. I have to do every--" Then she remembered. The week before she had been sick. Not like she normally was, where she was miserable but could still get up and do everything that needed doing. This was in her belly, and there was no pushing through it. Bathroom, bed, drink of water, bathroom, bathroom, bed. That was all she could manage. Robert had come in and wrinkled his nose at the sick smell in her room. She had made him take off work and be with Granny, since she couldn't do for her. 'You'll have to clean her up and feed her. I know you won't bother to straighten anything up, but at least make sure she survives the day. It's not hard. You should be able to manage it.' Robert had said ok, like he didn't want to, but had not fought her. Maybe because he was afraid to spend too much time in the room for fear of getting sick himself. A few minutes later he had brought in one of Granny's valium and a glass of water.

'It might make you sleep, sis. Probably help you get through this thing faster.' He hadn't flinched when she'd asked him what in the world he was thinking. 'The sleep will do you good.'

'Who's gonna change me when I puke all over myself? You?'

Robert had looked at his feet, just like he did when he was a boy and got caught doing something stupid. 'I'll always help you, sis. You know that.' She had snorted, then had to run to the bathroom again. When she came out he was gone. Granny hadn't started yelling like she did if lunch came late, so Georgia had not looked out all day. By nightfall, she had taken that Valium, and sure enough, it helped her sleep. When she woke up she was mostly better. She remembered being surprised the house was not more of a mess. It looked like he had even tried to load the dishwasher. He did it all wrong, of course, and she had to redo it. It would have been better if he had just left it alone.

She shook her head. The simple girl was still there. She seemed to be studying Georgia. Picturing Granny in an art museum, full of quiet people admiring things, was hard. When she got irritated, she started to cuss. "How did Granny--er, our grandmother, do?"

Lena smiled again. Georgia could see what Robert saw in her. Her smile kind of lit up her face. "Oh she loved it. We pushed her all around, then took her to the cafe. She had a little cake and a cup of tea. Bobby got her laughing at some pictures of kids. He really liked those pictures because of your dad."

"He talked about our father?" Robert knew better than to bring up Daddy in the house. That was a sore that still hadn't healed in fifteen years. He had died. Robert was too young to remember anything about him.

"He told me about the car accident." Her face fell. "I wasn't supposed to mention it to you."

The car accident had been stupid, just like everything that happened to the men in her house. He had been driving too fast in the rain, and had slid across the road into the lane going the other direction. She was relieved when Lena kept talking.

"It must have been awful hard, losing your dad that way." Lena reached in the window and took her hand.

Georgia pulled her hand away as if Lena had scratched her. "I got on. That's all you can do. We don't talk much about it. Just brings up things that are gone."

Lena looked around her. "He sounded like a great man. Bobby showed me some pictures he drew. He had a lot of talent. I saw the picture of you."

Georgia set her mouth so she wouldn't cry. She had told Robert to throw those things out. The picture Lena mentioned was Georgia in a little blue dress, with her hair pulled back just like this girl's was now. She had a little gap-toothed smile. It was a drawing of a little girl who had never lost anything but those teeth. He had drawn it on her birthday, and two weeks later he was dead. Mama had changed then. She'd seen the pictures Daddy had drawn of her mother, holding her or holding Robert, and smiling. She didn't think Mom had ever smiled after Daddy died. She certainly hadn't smiled at Georgia.

"I don't know what Robert would want with those pictures. He was just a baby. He couldn't remember it."

Lena squatted so she could lean on the window. She studied Georgia until it made the other woman uncomfortable. "I think he keeps those pictures to remind him that you were happy once. He worries about you, you know. He'd like to do more for you, but--"

"Lena. I'm so glad you're here. Granny and I found a place that sold hats. How do you like hers?" Robert had Granny decked out in a sequined baseball cap. Granny was grinning from ear to ear. Probably had gas.

Lena laughed. "She looks great. Shiny definitely suits her."

Georgia noticed his other hand had an ice cream cone. "One wasn't enough for you, huh? Or is it for your best girl here?" Georgia didn't like the cut in her voice, but couldn't seem to help it.

"How right you are, sister dear. I know you said you didn't want one, but I figured if I brought you another cone, you could always change your mind. Life is too short to miss ice cream, don't you think?"

Georgia took the cone, and licked it carefully. Robert was lifting Granny, easing her into the car. Maybe he was showing off for Lena, but Georgia noticed he didn't have to pull at her like Georgia always had to. She watched him reach across the old woman's lap to fasten her seat belt, and remembered how his arm had fallen over her own waist when he had cried over Mama as a boy. She hadn't fussed at him then, but later she had. Fussed and fussed until he stopped crying around her. Now he laughed and went to art museums and could make Granny behave. Maybe she would see about going with him the next time. They could take Granny, and she could watch how Lena treated him. She closed her eyes for a minute, remembering every detail of the picture her father had drawn of her. When she opened her eyes, Robert was standing beside the car, his nose buried in Lena's hair.

Georgia felt her heart relax like it did when she was a little girl on her daddy's shoulder. "Hey Bobby! Come on in. You had ice cream on you, and now it's probably in that poor girls's hair. This car won't drive itself, you know. Granny needs her medicine soon."

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