After Ice Cream

They had decided to jump with an air of sudden jocularity. All week they had commiserated over the hundred little tragedies that stained their lives: He complained that the Peterson account went to Bixby because Bixby had married a partner’s ugly daughter; she countered that the price of nylons at Schuneman’s had gone beyond the reach of her secretary salary; he told her that he suspected his wife was fooling around with the milkman; she had caught her fiance in bed with a streetcar conductor named Bud; he had wasted his youth, and looked forward with dread to the long gray hours of middle age; she detested her youth and wished she had been born old.

When I was an undergrad, I wanted to be a poet. Which is probably not that unusual, though my taste in poetry–Yeats, Eliot, Hopkins, Andrew Hudgins–tended toward the formal and unfashionable.

Then I took a seminar with Kyoko Mori at the Main Street “Eat” in West DePere, Wisconsin (I don’t know what this little cafe was actually called; it had a giant sign outside that said “Eat” and it served bottomless pots of black coffee). We were supposed to produce a piece of our own to share every couple weeks, and also find a published work for everyone to read, and I ended up in a short story rather than a poetry mode. I’m not sure why I made that switch, but looking back at some of the poems I wrote back then I think it was for the best.

Strangely, though, I didn’t keep up with it. I went to grad school for my MA in American Studies, falling into a more analytical and sociological way of deciphering the world; then entered the work world, landing accidentally in a technology career; and then a wife, a house, kids, dogs … the world is too much with us, whether one is trying to carve out space for writing poetry or stories.

But I eventually drifted back into writing stories, a decade and a half later, when I started bumping into some interesting on-line literary journals. In the early ’00s, there seemed to be a new journal going up every week, often slap-dash, funny, contentious, and wild, like the punk ‘zine culture of the ’80s and ’90s but a lot easier to find if you took a little time to root things out. After reading a few, I thought, “Hey, I can do this!” and gave it a try again.

After Ice Cream was published in Eyeshot in April 2004. It was inspired by the photograph above, taken at the top of the Foshay Tower. At the time, I didn’t know who the unhappy couple were (on a later visit to the Foshay, I learned a little more), but I imagined there had to be a story in that picture.

I don’t think this is a great story, but it was a fun and easy one to write, and getting it accepted at a favorite site just encouraged my bad behavior.

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