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ICE CUBES • by Gwyn Ruddell Lewis

Autumn was late and the nights were hot and sleepless. On an indecent September night, Henry had gone to the bathroom for a glass of water. When he returned, Lilly was naked with the cotton sheet kicked to the foot of the bed. She was waiting for him, just as she had done all Summer, her nakedness sparklingly suggestive. The window was open. They were both young and unashamed.

He kneeled over her, leaning in to kiss. He stopped. Screams came from next door. A baby. He closed the window.

He again leaned towards Lilly. She turned away and pulled the sheet up over her. The closed window had not done much to stop the noise. He lay next to her and stared at the ceiling, chest undulating with the heavy breath of wasted arousal. There was too much energy to sleep — the tension of late summer, the warm flush of their bodies and the screaming of next door’s baby.

He heard Lilly whisper, “Mojito.”

“Mojito?” he said.

“Just suddenly fancy one.”

Henry reached over and placed his arm next to hers, both of them now holding her middle.

“Remember Cuba?” he said. “Let’s go make some. Beats lying here, listening to this.”

***

In the kitchen, Henry set up a makeshift cocktail bar: two tumblers, limes, mint, club soda, Havana Club white rum, sugar, Angostura Bitters with its yellowed oversized label ripped at the top, and the muddler they had, in their enthusiasm, bought after their trip to Cuba. He surveyed the table — everything he needed and nothing more.

“Ice,” Lilly reminded him.

He checked the freezer. There was no ice.

“We’re all out,” he said. “Do without?”

“I need ice. Really, that’s what I want more than anything.”

“I don’t know what to say. We’re clean out and it’s two in the morning. We’ve got cold beer. Dos cervezas?”

“Next door’ll have some.”

“Next door? Yeah. I’ll just go round, knock on their door. Sorry guys. Know you’re having trouble with your baby, but could I get some ice?”

“Steal it. Break in. Be decisive. The back door’s probably open.”

“You steal it.”

He laughed. She narrowed her eyes and pinched her mouth. He stopped laughing. He knew better than to mess around when she was like that. Her quiet persuasiveness had gotten them out of difficult situations in the past — dealing with the police in New York, Cuzco, Rome, anywhere he had managed to lose his wallet. People did not argue with that face.

“You’re serious?” he said. ‘The baby?”

“The baby’s stopped crying.”

He tilted his head towards next door and stared at her. She stared back. She was right, it was silent.

***

The back door was open. Henry considered lying, telling Lilly it was locked. He knew she would see the open window and make him break in that way. He eased the door open. The kitchen was small and narrow, a black counter stopped at a large stainless-steel fridge freezer. He left the door ajar behind him. On top of the fridge freezer sat three toy white elephants. One small baby elephant and two larger elephants. He bent down and opened the freezer door. The top two shelves were filled with frozen white plastic pouches. They had been dated with a black marker, ‘Expressed 9 Sept.’ A range of dates ran back to the start of August. The ice had to be somewhere on the top shelf. He moved the pouches aside, holding the edge of the plastic between the tips of his fingers. Behind the pouches he found an open bag of ice. He had not planned this far ahead and was now faced with the prospect of taking the entire bag or carrying loose ice cubes. As he weighed up his options, the baby screamed. He stood rigid and listened. The parents were arguing.

“It’s your go. I settled him earlier,” the father said.

“You go. I’ll have to get up early to feed him,” the mother said.

“He probably wants to be fed.”

“He hasn’t needed feeding in the night for months, he should be sleeping through.”

Henry heard the father’s resigned footsteps, a door being opened, and the baby quieting. He folded up the bottom of his T-shirt to form a pouch, loaded it with ice and made a quick exit, careful not to disturb the once again still night.

***

Back in his own kitchen, he emptied the stolen ice into two tumblers. Lilly sat, arms crossed, not moving. A lit cigarette sat in the ashtray. Unsmoked, it had burned down its length, leaving a long perfect cylinder of ash.

“You should see what they’ve got in the freezer there,” he said breathlessly.

He fixed the mojitos and she sat waiting, looking out to their well-sculpted garden. He had gotten her just what she needed. With the drinks made he sat down and took big gulps of the mojito, calming himself. She took an ice cube from the tumbler and crunched on it. One after the other, she ate the ice cubes without touching her drink.

“You’re just eating the ice. You okay?” he said.

She rubbed her stomach and said, “There’s nothing to worry about. I feel fine.”


Gwyn Ruddell Lewis is a full-time father, writing when he can. His work can be found in publications including Bartleby Snopes and The Portland Review (online).


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ICE CUBES • by Gwyn Ruddell Lewis, 3.3 out of 5 based on 28 ratings
Posted on July 10, 2013 in Literary, Stories
Tags: , ,
  • Michael Stang

    I got a little nervous at “just suddenly fancy one”. Had to go over it a few times before it dawned. What a well written flash. The clues presented in a seamless fashion. Nice.

  • Alison

    Really well written – I could see the pair of them in the kitchen as I read it. Would have swapped the 2nd sentence to be the first to grab attention and set the tone.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    What’s indecent isn’t clear – bringing in a baby or stealing or both?

  • Trollopian

    Um, I’m sorry to say that I just don’t “get it.” I’m guessing that (i) the bags “expressed” on dates in August-September are breast milk, and (ii) Lilly is pregnant and subject to cravings. Is that it? Or something far more sinister?

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Some refrigerators have an inner attachment for the water condensed during the defrost cycle to be turns into usable ice. The “expresser” is often on the outside door of the refrigerator and when a lever there is pulled ice tumbles into any placed receptacle. The ice cubes were expressed into freezer bags date by date, then used. The empty bags were then left for reuse in the freezer. Its very unlikely that any woman would express her own milk to have her husband feed it to the baby. What a very considerate husband might do when its his turn to get out of bed is carry the baby lovingly to his wife to feed in her arms in bed and when the baby is satisfied, carry the baby back to its own bed.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A lot of people don’t realize that in the old days men were, equal with women, involved in making babies. Today is much more technologically advanced but if an addition of a new baby was not officially given approval according to census count it might, along with stealing, be considered indecent (not approved).

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I guess the manufacture of cradles for bedside use is no longer economically wise or profitable since they are so rarely needed now.

  • Rob

    Wow, a whole book in 1000 words. I loved the interwoven details. His surprise at the frozen breast milk is amusing since that’s what’s liable to be in his fridge in 1+ years. Her insistence that he steal ice next door adds a lot to the characters and speaks volumes about their relationship.
    Very well done. Thanks.

    #5 Roberta- I’ve known many working mothers who ‘pump’ and freeze their milk either to be used by daycare providers or by dads when Mom just isn’t there for some reason. freezing, bagging & tagging is a logical storage solution.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Rob – I thought that’s what formulas were for. Or am I getting too modern for the story?

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Anyway I see no reason for the suggestion “Lilly is pregnant and subject to cravings” so she herself drank whatever it was in the bags which were described as white plastic. White bags as opposed to clear might delay warming and therefore melting of ice.

  • JenM

    Uh-oh! I don’t think Henry’s ready for this. Funny story, thank you.

  • Joanne

    I get the Hemingway allusions (Hills Like White Elephants: the last line, the white elephants on the fridge, the drinks and the locations) but I need to think more about how that relates to this couple and the references to Lilly’s stomach. I’m sure I’m missing something. Engaging throughout, though.

  • Rob

    Roberta#9
    Actually, just the opposite. People migrated to ‘formula’ more than half a century ago. So much so that medical professionals didn’t even pass on breast feeding info to my Mother’s generation. Then they found out how much they lost. Studies showed that the formulas weren’t as good, there were arguments over weight control for babies who were bottle fed VS breast fed. And even more, immunities are passed from mother-to-child through breast milk. Huge battles have raged so that the ‘modern’ info being passed on to my daughter’s generation is to make sure babies nurse for at least the first 3 months. Its for health considerations not convenience.

  • John Brooke

    Man was this an obscure coded tale of our modern times. It was a really difficult read for me to really get the point of this detail filled bit of failed fash for me. Obsure to say the least for an old grandfather to grasp. If this was frozen human breast milk, God help this generation.

  • Tina Wayland

    Oh, ice cravings. How I remember those!

    I loved this story. I especially loved how subtle it is, giving hints and suggestions and then letting us connect the dots. It created a beautiful, heartfelt picture of two families and what it’s like to have a baby change the picture. There’s nothing most unsatisfying than a story that does all the work for you, and this one made us think.

    And of course the bags in the freezer contain breast milk. Few mothers today can both breastfeed (which is highly recommended by health organizations) and go back to work in just a few weeks, as is the case in many developed countries. Freezing breastmilk lets someone else feed baby with the best possible food when Mommy’s not around–or when Mommy’s had 3 hours’ sleep in 3 days. It’s not God help this generation, but thank God for these conveniences.

  • Tina Wayland

    * more unsatisfying

  • Trollopian

    Thank you, Tina, for confirming the hunch that I oh-so-diffidently mentioned above! Not have experienced pregnancy, I do know secondhand about cravings (the most-mentioned seem to be olives, pickles, and ice cream), so I’ll add ice cubes to the list. Now the story snaps into place.

  • Trollopian

    Sorry, not “having” (not “have”) experienced pregnancy. Wish there were an edit function.

    Four stars.

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