I could hear a noise in the background, the same one for the fifth time in a row. I turned around. 7:05am, read my clock. Guess it ignores the fact that I hit the snooze button after awhile. But goddammit, I really didn’t want to get up. Then again, when do I ever want to get up? It’s the same old thing, day after fucking day. I looked up towards the window blinds. Already the sun was starting to peek in. As always, the sun refuses to go against my own wishes. But I’d already had it up to here with that alarm clock, so I figured that it was either get up and finally start the day or break the clock, and I didn’t really want to waste more money on more clocks. So I shut off the alarm, and got up from the bed.
As I looked on the date of the calendar, I saw that it was the sixteenth of July. I tried my best to remember what was so important about today, but nothing seemed to light a spark in my head. It can’t be that important if I can’t remember, I thought to myself. So I simply shrugged it off and went about the tedious process of dressing and eating. Though I couldn’t remember why today might be important, I did manage to realize that I’d been sleeping for one day straight. I guess that’s what happens when you come home completely fucked up from that previous night’s wild adventures. That’s all my life seems to revolve around nowadays: sleeping, trying to go to class or work, and getting fucked up. It’s all I can bring myself to do anymore.
But finally, I fixed the last piercing back where it belonged, grabbed my bag, and walked out the door. I might not have much to look forward to, but maybe the effort might count for something.
Well, that’s what I thought. As I arrived to work, I noticed that something was out of place, though at first, I wasn’t sure what it might be. My coworkers regarded me differently, almost as though I didn’t belong there anymore. That couldn’t be a good sign. As I put my things away, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Can we talk, Alex?”
This really wasn’t a good sign, but then again, there was no way I could weasel out of this one. For a few weeks, I’d been hearing that the manager wanted to speak to me (or more like, corner me and kill me for all the times I’ve skipped out on work), so I’d been trying to dodge the guy. But it seems that today, he finally caught me.
“Have a seat,” he said to me as I entered his office, gesturing towards the empty chair. I took his suggestion and sat down. “Look,” he said as he sat down in his own chair, “I’m going to be frank. Yesterday was the tenth time you haven’t shown for work without even excusing yourself. I can’t have this. I hired you because your sister begged to me practically on her knees.” He took a long, deep sigh, and shook his head. “But I can’t keep you on anymore. I’m going to have to let you go.”
I looked down at my Converse the whole time. To be honest, it’s not as though I hadn’t seen this coming. And yet, even as I told myself I needed to start being responsible and start going to work, I just couldn’t bring myself to. Here, then, was where it all came crashing down over me. So it was a wake-up call. I was finally starting to wake up and open my eyes a little. But it still didn’t seem so bad to me. It was summer, and class would start in about a month. It should matter to me that I no longer had a job, but all I did was shrug it off.
As I walked out of the building, I reached into my pocket for my cellphone. If anything, I did feel bad for my sister, so I figured that it should at least be me to tell her I’d just been fired.
“Oh, hey Alex. What’s wrong? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
I sighed. This wasn’t going to be pretty. “Yeah, about that. Uh, look…I’m really sorry, I am, but…well, I got fired.”
There was silence for awhile. I checked the phone’s screen to be sure the call hadn’t been dropped.
“Alex, you know I do my best for the both of us. And it took me an unbelievable amount of persuasion to convince Kurt to hire you. And this is how you repay me? Look, you know what, forget it. Don’t call me anymore, I’m sick of this. What on earth am I going to do with you?” Click. I slipped my phone back in my pocket.
That’s okay sis. I don’t know what to do with me either. So if you don’t know, it’s not a problem. What am I supposed to do with myself? I just didn’t see the point in…well, in the day to day living, in life, in anything. How am I supposed to figure this out if I can’t bring myself to care? I wish I could care a little about something, but it just hasn’t been the same.
Well, I thought, maybe I should grab some food. That might make me feel better. I looked into my wallet, to see how much I had. Except that I didn’t have any money on me at all. I even checked the change pocket. Nothing. I just remembered that today was pay day, but since I hadn’t shown my face to work in a week, I probably didn’t even have a paycheck. So not only did I not have a job anymore, but I had no money. And I know my debit card had nothing on it either. Great, this was just great. I could go back to my dorm, but why bother? There was nothing to do there, and I probably had little to no edible food.
So, I was jobless, broke, and it seemed that I was now sister-less. At least my parents aren’t alive, because otherwise they could disown me too. And I didn’t even want to think about Marie.
After walking for awhile, I finally decided to sit down on a bench. I looked at my watch. It read 5:18 in the afternoon. I guess I’d been drowning myself in my self-inflicted misery for so long that I lost track of time. I wasn’t even exactly sure where I was in the city. Looking at a sign or two would fix that, but I didn’t really care at the moment. All I wanted to do was sit and just stop thinking. If I kept thinking about it all, I just knew that it’d really come crashing in on me.
Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Here.” I looked up. A young woman was standing next to me, smiling kindly and holding out a cone of ice cream. I wondered what time it was, since the sun was already half-done setting over the tall city buildings, but honestly, I didn’t care to even look at my watch anymore. What was far more intriguing at the moment was this random woman, who was pretty damn good-looking to begin with, offering me some free ice cream. Well, I was broke and hungry, so maybe this was just a little bit of luck. Or maybe the ice cream was poisoned. So I reached out and grabbed the strawberry ice cream that was seemingly being offered to me for free.
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
“I’ve been watching you sitting out here by yourself and you looked pretty sad,” she said as she sat down next to me. “And ice cream is always great to make people feel better.” Paying a bit more attention, she looked like she could be in her mid-twenties, young and vibrant. It was the total opposite of how I felt about life at the moment. “So tell me, what are you doing here anyway?”
I shrugged. “Wasting time. I don’t really have anything else to do, to be honest.”
“Come on, you look like you’re younger than me, how can you say something like that?”
“Well, it’s not like I’ve got anything to live for.”
Silence hung in the air for a few moments. I wondered if maybe my intense depression was clouding things up and scaring her off. I didn’t really care though. She asked, so I answered. This ice cream was pretty damn good though.
“Did you lose it?”
I looked at her. “Huh? Lose what?”
“Your reason for living…did you lose it somewhere?”
I hesitated. The answer probably hurt more to say than anything else, because I could never bring myself to say it. “A long time ago I did. But that’s done and over with. It’s not like it matters anymore.” And I realized I still wasn’t ready to really say it. I didn’t have the courage to yet.
Lifting a hand, she brushed some hair out of my eyes. The nice thing about my hair was that it just fell into place no matter what. Life, however, had proved to be the exact opposite of my hair. “Have you tried to find a new reason yet?”
“No. I can’t seem to find something.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean you should quit. As long as you’re still walking, talking and breathing, that means you’re not allowed to quit and stop trying. The reason you’re looking for might not be all that apparent right now, but if you’re able to sit here, eating free ice cream, wasting a valuable day away, you can also find your answer.”
I wondered. Had I not quit already? Somehow, I could’ve sworn that I’d just thrown the towel in on that day, giving myself up for dead pretty much. What should stop me from not quitting yet?
“How’s the ice cream?” she asked.
“It’s pretty good,” I said as I finished the last bit of it.
“If you can still enjoy something as simple as ice cream, you’ve still got it in you to find your reasons and your own answers.” She stood up, smiling again. “So promise me you’ll come by my shop again,” she said, pointing in front of her. The entire time I’d been sitting in front of an ice cream store, and I hadn’t even noticed.
I smiled. “Sure.” I felt my pocket to see if I had any change. Wishful thinking… I thought to myself. “Would you happen to have any change you could lend me? It’s for the bus home. I don’t want to walk…”
She laughed. “Here,” she said, handing me a few quarters. “That should get you where you need to go.”
“Thanks,” I said as I stood up. “This’ll really help me out.” I walked away, towards the next bus stop, waving behind me. Oddly enough, I felt a bit more lighter than usual. Or maybe the ice cream was just that good. I guess I would probably need to come back eventually.
I pushed the glass door open, not thinking about it too much. A few days had passed, and somehow, I’d felt compelled to come back here. Looking around, that young woman was nowhere to be seen, so I simply looked through the glass counter, at the different ice cream flavors the store had to offer. There was everything from simple flavors like vanilla and chocolate to strangely enticing combinations like mint Oreo and fruit punch. Seeing all these offerings made me wish my financial status were a bit more stable so I could buy something. From a short distance, I heard a jingle of sorts.
“So you’re back,” said that vibrant woman to me, smiling. “I was hoping I’d see you again.”
I looked at the clock behind the counter. It read 8:15pm. Since I was jobless, penniless and it was still summer, I had nothing better to do than to walk from my dorm room all the way here. When not screwing around, I had a relatively boring life.
“I was bored,” I replied off-handedly. “And when I realized that I had no money to actually buy more ice cream, I was already almost here anyway.”
She smiled again. “Don’t worry about it, have another cone on the house. I’ll join you this time. Oh…” She looked out the window. I followed in suite, and realized that it’d just started to rain. “Oh well, we can eat in here. Sit while I get the ice cream ready.”
Obediently, I found a two-person table right next to the window. I always thought the city looked more surreal at night, and especially when it was raining. The water would just pour over it all, blurring everything sight, making things seem less real than they should be. It reminded me of my life, which was nothing but a day-to-day basis of unreality.
“Here you go,” she said, mimicking her gesture from a few days earlier as she gave me my ice cream. “It’s cotton candy this time.” I took a lick. It really did taste like cotton candy, only better since it was less sweet. As she sat down, I noticed the woman had vanilla ice cream.
“So tell me,” she said, “what’s your name?”
“It’s Alex,” I said as I swallowed. “And yours?”
“Just Ren.” It seemed like a very simple name for someone so seemingly profound, but it fit her quite well.
“So tell me,” she said as she slowly ate her ice cream, “anything new in life?”
“Not really,” I said as I shook my head. “I guess I’ve just been wasting this impromptu free time. I have no job, I have no money, and class doesn’t start again for another month.”
“You’re a student?”
“In college, I suppose.”
“What do you major in?”
“Graphic arts, specializing in drawing. It’s really the only thing I’m honestly good at, even if my art’s lacked inspiration or beauty for years.” I shrugged. “I mean, it still meets my professors’ standards, and people think it’s really great stuff. But to me, it’s nothing special. Nothing about anything I’ve done since I started has impacted me, and I really hate it.”
“Does it have anything to do with not finding your reason?” she asked.
“I guess.” I continued to eat my ice cream thoughtfully. This was honestly the best stuff I’d eaten in awhile. It was just right, not too soft or hard, not too sweet or devoid of sweetness. It was a perfect balance of everything that made ice cream great, and it made me both appreciate Ren’s kindness and enjoy this sort of treat for once.
“What was your reason?”
“It’s not important anymore.”
“It is if you basically have no life in you anymore.”
I hesitated, focusing my attention on the streets outside. Perhaps for showing me kindness twice without really knowing me, it might be worth it to tell her. She is asking me, at any rate, and I guess it would be rude to say no.
“My parents died when I was very little. I barely knew them. My older sister, who was sixteen at the time, basically took care of me and my twin sister afterwards, even when we moved in with a single aunt of ours. If not for her, I would be worse than I am now. But even more important was my twin sister. We were inseparable, always. Whatever she did, I did, wherever I went, she went. We always knew what the other was thinking, and we always had each other’s backs.”
The outside seemed to blur more. I could almost feel myself slipping between my unreality and what was actually going on outside.
“It was funny, because I was the one who could draw, and she was the one who could sing. Her voice was beautiful, always. It always cheered me up. All I had to do was look at Marie, and she’d sing for me. Clara loved it too. Even though we loved each other very much, there were things that I never knew about Marie though, and they became more apparent as we got older.”
Now my voice was shaking. I didn’t want to keep going, but my voice couldn’t stop at all.
“One day she was fine…and the next, she wasn’t. I didn’t know she had that…that disease. I never quite knew how she got it, but I can imagine. We were fifteen at the time, and there were days that she wouldn’t come home, or answer her phone. But she was still fine. It was just a cold. It shouldn’t have been so bad. But it was, and there was nothing I could do. I’d see her at the hospital every day, and I’d talk to her, and I’d tell her of all the new sketches I did so she could see them when she woke up, but she never woke up, she never opened her eyes again, and I never heard her voice again even though it was all I wanted even though it was all I lived for and she’s gone and I just don’t know why I’m still alive and she’s not!”
All of it, all of those words and a whole lot more just stumbled out before I could stop myself. Or more like, I couldn’t stop myself. It was all a bunch of bottled up feelings that I’d been carrying around for so long. I never said any of this to anyone, not even Clara. I stayed silent at the funeral. And for the next five years I’d simply detached myself from most everything in life. All this lead me here: in an ice cream shop, past 8pm, with a woman I barely know, confessing my life story, with my life completely in shambles. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was why on earth had I not killed myself yet.
“Hey, come on, calm down…” I felt her hand on my shoulder. It seemed to be pulling me back to the reality I’d so wanted to return to. It felt so good. I wasn’t sure how long I was there in that chair, face buried in my arms, almost incomprehensible. After awhile, I just remembered getting up, that hand of hers guiding me out the door and to her car, and at some point, walking into her apartment and falling asleep on her couch.
After a few hours, I woke up, a bit startled. But then I remembered what’d happened. I looked at my watch. It read 12:11am. I sat up, and saw Ren sitting on a chair, illuminated slightly by a soft lamp next to her. All of a sudden, I had a great idea. Getting up quietly, I grabbed a piece of paper in the kitchen, a pencil, and a sturdy phone book. Sitting back down just as quietly, I contemplated this relaxed Ren. She honestly was beautiful, simple in her appearance, with short black hair, a simple white dress, and a pair of sandals. It contradicted my own appearance: chin-length blue hair (dyed of course), a vintage punk rock shirt, studded jeans and Converse sneakers, plus a multitude of piercings.
Smiling to myself, I put pencil to paper and began to draw first the face...
…and finally done, I looked at it. It was beautiful, just like Ren. It actually meant something, the first sketch to mean something since Marie died. I liked it. Signing it, I wrote a note on the back as I got up.
Ren, thanks for listening. Enjoy the drawing.
P.S. I also…borrowed some change so I could get back home. I’ll pay you back.
I opened the door of the shop. It was 9:14am on a Sunday, a couple of weeks after I’d last seen Ren. Being summoned by the door’s jingle, I could see Ren’s form walk in.
“Well well, if it isn’t Alex. What brings you here so early?”
I smiled. “I wanted some ice cream. Plus, I kinda owe you money,” I said as I pulled out a few dollar bills.
“Don’t mention it,” she said, taking them. “So what’ll it be?”
“I’ll take a double-scoop strawberry. I need to do some late celebrating.”
“Oh? What was the occasion?” she asked as she gave me my cone.
“My birthday. That day you gave me ice cream over in front of the store was my birthday. I’d completely forgotten until the other day, and since Friday was payday, I figured I’d come by and treat myself a little.”
“Well, in that case, have this on the house too,” she said happily. “I’m glad to hear you have a new job.”
“Yeah, it should tide me over.”
“That’s good. I’m glad.”
I took a lick of my ice cream. It was just as delicious as the first time around.
“Have you found it?”
I looked at her. I noticed her eyes were blue. It matched her perfectly.
“No. But I may as well try now.” I hesitated, not sure if I could say it, but figured, what the hell. “Thank you.”
She smiled. I loved that smile of hers now. “Thank you for that sketch.”
I turned towards the door, waving behind me. “I’ll be back soon…when I find my answer.” I walked out of that ice cream shop, down the sidewalk. I couldn’t say everything was right and perfect again, and I didn’t think it would be for awhile. This isn’t some movie, after all.
But the ice cream was, as usual, practically perfect.