The Day the Ice Cream Talked Back
Jules Deward, Royal Oak
Honorable Mention, Fiction
It started out as a great idea, after all. Technology had finally given her the ultimate answer for quick weight-loss woes: The Calorie Counters. She had watched the infomercial with insatiable attention, and for $24.99 a month for the first 12 months, who could go wrong? Plus, they had thrown in a volume control to boot.
The day the box arrived, she signed for it, took it carefully into the kitchen, and placed it on her breakfast table. She stared at it for a few moments, mesmerized, as if her dreams had come true, her prayers had been answered, and her time had come.
This would be it.
She sliced open the duct tape like a hunter gutting his buck, flung out all of the staticy Styrofoam pellets, and gazed at the curious contents. “Hmm,” she mused, “this is rather, well, odd.” She placed the items on the table. There were approximately 100 square flat panels, ranging in size from a postage stamp to a bumper sticker. Thank goodness there was an instruction sheet.
“To operate, simply place one CCS (Calorie Counter Square) on each and every item of food in your entire home. The squares will automatically attach to the can, box, bag, fruit, veggie, or frozen entrée! You can’t go wrong. Soon your unwanted nasty extra pounds will melt away, and you will enjoy a new improved leaner meaner you!”
She spent all afternoon and early evening placing squares. She squared her cereal. She squared her soup. She squared her pasta, potatoes, peanut butter and bananas. She sighed and squared her Oreos, Snickers minis, and her Thank Goodness It’s Not Butter.
And yes, it was difficult, but she squared her 10 barrels of Ben & Jerry’s.
Ugh. Quite the ritual of passage.
By that point, she was so tired and mentally ravaged that she simply fell asleep in her soft comfy bed, with 3 squares left on her bedside table.
The next morning she woke up with bed head and came out of a disturbing dream. It was another one of those high-school dreams that she had never been able to shake or “work through,” as her way-too-peaceful psychologist had once suggested.
In the dream, she had been at her 20th reunion, with the most dastardly fitting yellow smock, and fatter than she had ever been. She had screamed at every one of her friends, and told them she really had lost 45 pounds and was just “trying to lose the last five!” No one believed her; everyone laughed and walked away to party exclusively.
She shook off the dream, climbed out of bed, and headed for the bathroom. The Scale. It was the first thing she thought of, looked at, and stepped on to start her day. She ritualistically held on the edge of the sink (cold!) for support, and gingerly mounted it like a sneaky teen climbing up the stairs after hours.
She got on again after it had cleared.
She sighed the sigh of Olympic defeat, and looked herself straight in the toothpaste-speckled mirror:
“You will weigh 125 by the end of next week.”
The doorbell jolted her out of her mantra. She grabbed her robe and tied it tightly on the way down the hall. There appeared to be a tall man in a brown uniform standing outside of her front door. Ah, the UPS guy. She knew the garb well, having ordered so many products for the past two years. But she had a quick thought that she wasn’t expecting any more packages. “Hello, ma’am. Sign here, please.” OK, first of all, she didn’t like being called “ma’am” any more than she liked “miss” or “honey,” but he was just doing his job, after all.
“Can you tell me where this package is from?” She noticed his cute UPS shorts.
“Ahhh, it looks like it was Parcel II from a package you received yesterday. Sorry about that. Sometimes they get separated in the warehouse.”
She admired his honesty, this darn cute UPS man.
She signed, took the square package, and decided to be bold. She was sometimes bold on 130-pound days. She asked him if he knew Bob, her regular delivery guy.
“Well, ma’am, Bob has been in an accident. I’m filling in.”
She couldn’t help herself. She did feel some sort of attachment to her faithful brown friend. “What happened? Is he OK? And my name is Clara.”
“Well ma’am, uh, Clara, he was riding his truck out to the west side of the state and got rear-ended by a semi. He should be back to work in a few months. Got his leg smashed up in the steering wheel. You have a nice day, now. I don’t want to be late.”
And he left, with the image of his description of Bob floating in front of her. Poor Bob. Just doing his job, and like that, smashed by a semi. She felt a moment of compassion. She wondered if she could track him down at the right hospital, send him a card, or see if he had visitors. What kind of card would they make for a crushed UPS man? “Something not brown,” she mused. And laughed out loud.
She had forgotten about the package in her hand. She went back inside, and set it on the table. She sat perched on her favorite chair. The cat began to meow indicating complete and total starvation. “Shush, Missy, Momma’s going to feed you. Hang on.” She went to the cupboard and grabbed the can of Missy’s favorite Iams: Chicken with Fresh Salmon. Gross. The second she pulled back the lid, the loudest, most vibratory voice screeched out, “240 calories!” Oh My God. Number one, the CCS worked, and number two, she had inadvertently squared the cat food. Oops. Missy was nowhere to be seen.
She ran to Parcel II and ripped open the box. In it was a remote control, and one bookmark looking instruction card with a WARNING at the top in red:
“Your Calorie Counting Squares are initially set at the highest volume. Please initialize them by pressing the set-up button at the bottom of your remote. Aim the remote towards the part of your room that contains the highest concentration of squares. They will all assimilate. You can then adjust the volume to your liking by simply pressing the up or down arrows. A slightly lower volume will be beneficial for those with roommates, late-night eaters, or people who need a more soothing reminder. A slightly higher volume setting is appropriate for those who listen to loud music, have noisy children, or live in construction areas (Michigan residents).” No batteries needed.
Phew! She stood tall, held the remote at arm’s length like Annie Oakley, and pressed the set-up button. She didn’t hear anything at first, and then heard an almost imperceptible humming sound, like the winged creatures in the Butterfly and Hummingbird Sanctuary at the zoo. Then, the humming stopped. She pressed the DOWN arrow ten times, and figured that would be an acceptable volume.
Missy appeared on the counter, and resumed her meowing. She cautiously opened the lid a bit more, and put the creamy cat food into her bowl. At the precise moment that Missy announced her “thank you” meow, she thought she heard a POP coming from the fridge. The last time that had happened, the fickle appliance needed a small repair. In the meantime, all of her food had slowly spoiled. Before she could respond, the phone rang. She knew who it was without looking: Jen.
Jen’s calls came like clockwork at 8 a.m. during the week. She called on her drive in to work to give her the latest updates on her frazzled newly married life. Clara didn’t mind. It was just what she did every weekday morning. And she didn’t have to worry about the phone bill. Jen lived in Florida, and faithfully called her without regret.
“Hey, Jen. Tell me the latest.”
“Clara, I need some advice. Ricko tied one on again last night. He’s really starting to drink a lot. I barely got ready this morning. I hardly slept. He reeked and threw up three times.”
Clara paused. Again. Always the same, but she couldn’t tell her how she felt: that she thought Ricko was a madman, a control freak, and a full-blown alcoholic. Clara was her only close friend, and she needed to remain compassionate. Secretly, she knew Jen was aware of what to do. Both girls were recovering alcoholics themselves, and after being sober for five years, the smell of beer made them both nauseous. There was nothing worse than trying to sleep next to someone with vile beer breath when you hadn’t had a drop in so many years. She summoned up her comforting response:
“I’m so sorry, Jen.” (for what?) “Can’t you tell him how disgusting his drinking is and how tired you are in the mornings?”(yeah, right) “Didn’t you tell him you missed work on Monday?” (nope)
“I can’t. He tells me that drinking is my problem. Can you believe that? I haven’t had a single beer in five years, and it’s still my problem. I think he’d like me better if I drank right along with him. And believe me, Clara, I almost want to.”
“Jen, you’re scaring me. Why don’t you go to a meeting?”
“I go to church. I get more out of it. And I can’t tell him I missed work because then he’d tell me he made it in with a hangover and I have no excuse.”
Oh brother. She rolled her eyes at Missy. Missy grinned and pranced into her lap.
“Well, how did it end this morning? He must’ve felt sick and not wanted to go to work.”
“Oh no! That’s the kicker. He bragged about how great he felt and had me make him a lunch. He didn’t remember a thing he said to me at 3 a.m. last night. Not even the psycho-bitch, I-should-divorce-your-ass diatribe.”
She had run out of responses. She simply told her friend that maybe he’d be in a better mood today, she hoped he’d stop drinking, and that she didn’t want her to end up drunk herself, or worse, found floating in the Gulf.
Jen thanked her for her concern, and said she had to race into the office. Before Clara could get a read on whether or not her murder comment bothered her, they had hung up.
Breakfast. This was her favorite meal of the day, but when she weighed in at 130 or above, she didn’t feel like eating. Instead, she decided to do a workout on Fit TV, one of the benefits of having satellite channels. She was just in time for the Caribbean Workout: Come on, people, who looks like that year round?
She really did enjoy the ocean view, the tanned trainers, and the Calypso music. After an hour with commercial interruptions, she was sweating and really hungry.
You can do this. Today is the day. She would not go to Starbucks and get an almond latte or maple scone. Eggs would suffice. How exciting.
Objectively, she had nothing to fret over. She had lost those 45 icky pounds that she had gained from junior year in high school through sophomore year in college. “At 5’9”, her doctor told her repeatedly that weighing in the 120s would be too thin. But it was the number. She liked the sound of 125. She liked the size six of 125. And she liked that at 125, she would be more approachable at the age of 37 than her 20-something rivals with their pooch bellies hanging out of their low-rise jeans. She certainly wasn’t desperate. She had been married right out of college, divorced right after her master’s, and had a series of long-term relationships. Guys always noticed her. Yes, she was currently in a dry spell, but no hoochie-mama was she, and she wanted to do this for herself.
She had grown up naturally thin, and her weight gain of years ago was directly proportionate to her old drinking habits. She used to party with her friends and eat after. Sometimes even two small pizzas at a time. Ew! When she met her ex, she instantly began to lose weight. She had the flush of young true love, and her metabolism had gone on overdrive. She knew it was over when one married day he found some old photos and exclaimed that he couldn’t believe he met her and liked her when she was “that fat.” He warned her that he would leave if she ever got ”that way again.” That was truly, and painfully, the beginning of the end. Married and divorced by 26.
Years later, she still struggled with ancient fears: fears of drinking again; eating too much; and never finding the more mature true love of her life. She had come a long way, but still had miles to go. And she didn’t want to meet her soulmate until the magical numbers appeared on the scale. Then she would have it all.
Eggs. In the fridge. She grabbed the remote just in case, and slowly opened the door. They were sitting on the top shelf, in a yellow packaged rectangle, just as she had left them the night before, with a square stuck to the top of the box. She pulled them out and set them on the kitchen counter. Here we go. She opened the lid.
“45 calories each,” a tiny voice said. A very pleasant, non-offensive voice. Neither male nor female, human nor alien, just a metallic tiny voice, like a music box would sound if it could speak. And then, the remote lit up. The screen at the top showed a glowing 45, with an ENTER icon. She picked three eggs out, pushed the icon three times, and got her total for the eggs: 135. How easy. With new inspiration, she started the eggs, and grabbed the box of OJ from the fridge. As she unscrewed the lid, the pleasant tiny voice spoke again: “120 calories per serving.” She swore she heard a smile this time. Fascinating! She poured a glass of juice, scrambled her eggs to perfection, and sat down to eat. Lovely. She breathed a genuine sigh of relief.
She got through her workday without a fret, and realized she actually enjoyed teaching her late-morning Acting I class at the local community college. No one complained about their character assignments, and only two students were absent. She left the campus feeling content. On her drive home, she contemplated her loose dinner plans with Nina. If she went out to dinner, she would have no way of reporting her calories into the remote, and she wanted to finish one day with the counter. She called Nina when she got home, and it was no big deal. Nina had just met a new “perfect” guy online, and wanted to meet him tonight. Off the hook.
Her normal afternoon consisted of a pleasant nap. She never ate lunch. It seemed unnecessary, despite what the nutritionists suggested. She settled into the giant comfy bed, wearing only her ratty tie-dye T-shirt, and Missy joined her near her feet. She slept dreamlessly for about an hour and a half, and then awoke to the sounds of the noisy neighbors arriving home next door. She liked them, she really did, but when the three kids all came home simultaneously after extracurriculars, she wished she could use a volume control on them. Missy peered at her out of one sleepy eye and shared her sentiment. “Well, girlfriend, I guess we should get up and start dinner.”
She hated this time of day: The limbo between afternoon and twilight that was just so utterly depressing. If she had a boyfriend again, she could merrily prepare a nice dinner for two, watch Oprah, and start to contemplate the next day’s class assignment.
Alas, she would have to settle for a frozen dinner for one and either work out, chat on the phone, or hit the Internet. Bo-ring.
She approached the freezer and remembered her new Counter. She grabbed the remote, just in case, and foraged for a tasty sounding frozen dinner. Ah, the choices: a two-month old Hungry Jack chicken ensemble; a grossly frostbitten Lean Cuisine lasagna, and a Healthy Choice Salisbury steak with corn and a tiny apple crisp. Choice three it was. She opened the box and heard the tiny tin voice say “445 calories.” Not bad. She happily nuked it, ate it, and decided to work out. She found her favorite program on Fit TV, and this time it was all aerobics with weights. She decided to challenge herself with the eight-pound weights, and to her amazement, she was able to complete the program (with commercial interruptions) without passing out or quitting. Even Missy looked impressed.
She quickly showered and settled into her teacher work. All she had to do was record grades from today’s improv challenge, and she was done within an hour. She flicked through her favorite sequence of channels that included AMC, the local networks, and the newest Lifetime Movie Network that seemed to play movies at all times. Repeatedly. She got as excited as a single 30-something can get when she discovered they were replaying the cheerleader mom murder movie from years ago. What fun!
Suddenly, ice cream sounded like a great match for the movie. She had been extra good today, hadn’t she? Her Counter showed that she was even under for the day for her own planned out total. Dare she? She did.
She marched right over to the freezer and opened it with confidence. There it was: her decadent favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor. The flavor to beat all flavors, the ultimate mix of peanut butter and chocolate and candy bits and some kind of goo that was just, well, perfect. She had to. It was, after all, her only vice.
She tore the plastic rim off carefully, and opened the lid.
She couldn’t believe it. She must have heard it wrong. She put the lid back on the lovely ice cream, grabbed the remote, and turned it up a few notches.
“Piglet,” the voice said, in a new and not at all pleasant way.
Once again, she replaced the lid and turned the volume up again.
“You will never lose those five pounds, big bootie.”
She was shocked, devastated, and frozen like the ice cream.
In a very small voice, she spoke back: “You are supposed to give me a Calorie Count; nothing more.”
“Ha,” the ice cream said, rather antagonistically, “looks like you got a few of the advanced experimental Squares in your precious package.”
“That’s right, sister, ice cream will never be the same again. Go ahead. Take a bite. I’ll be there with you for every fattening scoop you stuff into your piggy mouth.”
Oh my. This couldn’t be happening. Did someone slip something into her anti-depressants? Missy was in the corner, hissing at the voice. She raced over to the direction booklet, and read it again. There was nothing in it about talking back!
She dialed the 1-800 number. “Hello, you have reached Calorie Counter Square Central. We are currently experiencing technical difficulties with some of our shipments. Sorry.” Click. Oh no, this fight was not over.
Her whole life she had been stomped on like a trailer-park doormat. She had gotten over the high school pranks, which had included the duct-taping of her large bras to the choir room chalkboard. She had forgiven her sister for lying to her mother and blaming her for the beer puke in the laundry basket. She had even stopped shying away from kids with casts on their arms due to her trauma in the third grade when her biggest crush ever erased his name off of her own cast due to peer pressure. She had been a geek, then a chubby teen, had been called four-eyes, Clara the Cow and even the Wrecking Ball, but she would not be taunted by ice cream. She was going to win this fight, fair and Square.
She opened the lid again.
“Do it. Gain back all the weight you lost over all those years.”
OK. This was getting personal. “Hey there, little Square, how’d ya like to be torn into shreds and fed to the cat?”
“It won’t work. I am indestructible. Chunky Lunk.”
She took a bite. And savored every creamy swallow.
“There you go! Off to the fat races again. That’s about 50 calories right there.”
“Oh, so you can count.” She took a larger spoon out of the drawer, and dug into the now-melting and even more yummy ice cream.
“Wow, girl, you got it goin’ on! That’s about 145 more. Congrats, fats.”
Suddenly, she had an idea. Perhaps it was the euphoria of the Ben and Jerry’s, or maybe the years of resentments, but she had to try. She grabbed the remote. Turning down the volume all the way would be too easy. She decided to crank it up. All the way.
She then took the cardboard container and chugged like she used to as the Beer Bong Queen of the dorm.
The most ear-piercing, neighborhood waking, mortar sounding noise filled the air like giant pop rocks: “YOU WIN! I LOSE! I AM DESQUARED!”
Well. That was that. The container exploded (fortunately after she had finished her chug), and the other squares started popping in sync, like an orchestral recital of bubble wrap. There were little pieces of Square everywhere, but it didn’t matter. She simply filled out the form for a “Full Refund if not Completely Satisfied,” swept the squares into a neat little pile, closed the blown-open cupboard doors and fridge, and stuffed the pile back into the box. She used her last piece of packing tape to seal the box, and set it by the door to mail back to the evil company.
Oh, before she crawled into bed for the night, she and Missy both got on the scale. And together they weighed 130. That was OK. It was a nice square number.Send comments to [email protected]