By Kaitlyn Yang
I wanted to explore the little dialogues we have with ourselves when the parts of us wanting to grow up conflict with those that feel lost, scared, and alone.
A blast of artificially cold air hits me as I step through the automatic sliding doors. I march straight towards the freezers in the back. Ice cream on sale! The sign catches my eye on my way to load up on this week’s worth of frozen pizzas. Exhausted from a week of freshman college finals, I will myself to stay awake and raise a hesitant hand to the freezer handle before feeling a tug on my coat sleeve. I look down. A teary face looks up at me. We stare at each other until she tries to wipe her nose on my sleeve. I yank my arm away.
“What’s the matter?” I ask reluctantly, looking up and down the aisle for a frantic mother or babysitter, but it’s empty.
“I’m lost,” she sniffles.
“Clearly.” I regret my bluntness as soon as I see her eyes fill again. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Don’t cry.” The little girl pouts. “Good. Hold it in. Wait here.” I run to the end of the aisle, but the next aisles over are empty as well. I trudge back.
“I’m sorry,” I shrug. “Maybe wait here until someone—” Her lower lip begins to tremble. How weak, I think for a second, but quickly push my mom’s voice out of my head. Desperately, I throw the freezer door open and grab a carton of Neapolitan ice cream.
“Here. Ice cream.” As expected, she calms instantly.
“Yup.” I plop down and lean back against the freezer, remembering how I was always told to stay put whenever I was left alone for a few hours. I pry open the lid.
“I saw spoons over there,” she announces, and runs over to an unmanned sample stand that holds a styrofoam cup of plastic utensils. She grabs the cup and sprints back. “Here!”
“There are only forks.”
“Forks! Forks are great.”
“No, they’re not.” Another sniffle.
“They’re great!” I insist, forcing a grin. I grab a fork and overenthusiastically stab at the chocolate stripe. “Look!” I shovel the ice cream crumbs into my mouth. The girl wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her bright yellow YMCA summer camp t-shirt and plops down next to me, scooping into the strawberry. I watch as she shovels crumbles of ice cream into her mouth, my chocolate bite slowly melting on my tongue. I wait until she’s taken another bite before speaking again.
“Are you looking for your mom?”
“Do you remember where you were separated?”
“Over there.” She points to the end of the aisle. I don’t tell her that no one’s there anymore. I take another bite of chocolate ice cream and pass the carton over. She holds it between her legs and struggles to break off another piece.
“Here.” I hold the carton down for her.
“I can do it myself.” She tugs the carton away and manages to scoop out another pink bite. She shoves it into her mouth and glances at me.
“You’re not mad?”
“Why would I be mad?”
“Because I sassed you.”
“Yes. You’re supposed to get mad.”
“I’m not.” Just mildly annoyed that my grocery run was taking longer than the fifteen minutes I’d expected, maybe. She eyes me doubtfully.
“You promise?” She sticks her pinky out in my direction. I hook my pinky around hers.
“Promise.” After, she slides the carton back to me.
“You really like strawberry, huh?” I ask, glancing at the canal she carved into the ice cream.
“It’s Mommy’s favorite.”
“You don’t have to,” I say quietly.
“Don’t have to what?”
“Like strawberry just because your mom does. You don’t have to.”
“Strawberry’s the sweetest. Mommy likes it when I’m sweet. She gives me kisses.” What does she do when you aren’t sweet? I want to ask, but shake the thought out of my head. I shouldn’t assume that this little girl’s mom was like mine—and I shouldn’t care. I pass the carton back over and watch as she scoops into the strawberry ice cream until all that remains is a faint pink stain inside a third of the carton.
“Let’s go,” I stand, and brush off the seat of my jeans. She gets to her feet, hands me the carton, and follows me to the cash register, where I hold the carton up to be scanned by a slightly disgruntled cashier.
“Please pay for your items before eating them next time.”
“Sure,” I say. “By the way, this girl has gotten separated from her mother. Do you mind if she waits with you?”
“Alright,” the cashier sighs, handing me my receipt. “Have a nice day.”
“Thanks.” I turn to the little girl. “Wait here, okay?” She nods. I walk away, tossing the sticky carton into the trash can on my way to the exit.
“Mommy!” I hear the little girl yell behind me, and expect to hear a relieved cry in response. But nothing. I step out through the sliding doors, only to notice one remaining sticky swipe of strawberry ice cream on my own cheek, along with a single falling tear.
This piece started as a free write during one of our meetings earlier in the year, then Kaitlyn went back and edited it into a short story. She found art and applied the font treatment, then shared with Meg, who helped tweak it in places for a strong emotional punch.
Kaitlyn Yang is a senior in high school, and a fourth-year mentee at Girls Write Now. A lifelong city girl, Kaitlyn enjoys competitive fencing, editing her school newspaper and baking double-chocolate brownies. She loves to write poetry and short stories, and hopes to one day become a published author.