"Ice Cream" - Eric Grant


There’s a gun in the middle of our dining room table. It sits there while we eat, pointed away from me toward the wall. My mother is at one end and my father at the other, each silent and eating a meal just prepared. I eat too, but I am slower and I don’t very much enjoy the lasagna. After dinner we spin the gun. It is my father’s idea as a way to pick dish duty. Nobody likes doing the dishes in our family, but my mother explained once that they had to be done, or else we wouldn’t eat the next night. Today, after it is spun the barrel points at me. I sigh. He laughs softly and my mother is silent as she helps me collect the plates and bring them to the kitchen. “Would you like me to read you a poem while you wash the dishes?” asks my mother, and I say yes. My father is still in the dining room. He is slowly untying his tie from his neck and after he does this he rests his hands on the table and is still and silent and then groans from the back of his throat. I turn the faucet on and start to rinse in circles around the edges, scraping off bits and pieces of pasta and meat. My mother comes back from the library and asks if I want a serious poem or a modern one, which I’ve learned are opposites most of the time, but not all. I say modern, and she opens a hardcover full of Wallace Stevens poems. She says, “I am going to read the Emperor of Ice Cream and after you can have some.” She reads quietly while I keep rinsing. I like the way she reads poetry. My father told me that he likes the way she reads poetry too, but he doesn’t like what she reads. He says that the poet is greedy; they have stolen all the good feelings from people and now everyone hates. My father hates Mr. Dawney next door. He says so a lot. Sometimes I wonder if he hates everyone. “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream,” my mother reads, closing the book with a smile and the faucet goes limp as I turn the dial off. She opens the freezer and hands me a packaged ice cream cone; my father is standing in the kitchen. He has rolled his shirtsleeves up. He walks closer to my mother and whispers something in her ear. She looks a little upset, at least more than after the ice cream poem, but I lick away. They tell me to finish my ice cream and that they will be back. They go in the other room and I can hear the loud hum of voices, but the words blend together. I go back to the dining room to get my napkin from dinner. The gun is gone. There is nothing left to spin on the table, and I wonder who will do dishes tomorrow.