Laid off, I have time and energy for writing assignments: Write a story of unexpected betrayal. When possible, describe emotion as a feeling on the body. What does betrayal feel like on the body? Somewhere in your story, include a little dirt. (Thanks for this one, Ariel.)
The most special thing about Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s was waking up each morning. They lived in a townhouse with a staircase that paused at a window and pivoted before landing. When I descended for breakfast, I felt like a princess in a turreted castle. Queen Grandmommy would give me a good morning kiss. It smelled like Estee Lauder face cream. Then we ate oatmeal with one teaspoon of sugar on top.
When I was little, my parents would send me to Fort Worth, TX to stay with Grandmommy and Granddaddy for two weeks. Some of my earliest memories are of these visits.
Grandmommy would drive me to the store in her yellow Mustang with black seats. She’d park under the sign with the big pink and brown polka dots. The store smelled of sugar cones. I’d skip past the 31 flavors of ice cream, towards the backroom, where I’d find little drawers of plastic cake decorations: a basketball, ice-skates, a pony. With my bare fingers, I’d take out all the charms, play with them, and put them back.
I’d watch Sesame Street on the little black and white TV on a desk. Grandmommy would make me a French Vanilla milkshake, with a banana to make it “healthy.”
Grandmommy was in her mid 40s and petite and pretty, with perfectly coifed hair—high in the back and flipped up over her shoulders—like she could be on daytime TV. And she read about nutrition in Prevention magazine. She liked her kitchen and ice cream store to be perfect and sanitary. She was thrifty and disapproved of letting anything go to waste. (My mom claims Grandmommy counts exactly 4 toilet paper squares before wiping.)
In Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s store, there were unarticulated rules for ice-cream tasting, rules that were virtually unobservable to a child.
I grew tall enough to reach into the buckets of ice cream and saw how Grandmommy and Granddaddy did it. You lifted a sliding glass freezer door with one hand, and with the other, dipped a pink plastic tasting spoon into the flavor you desired. I went for pure creaminess– strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla—and ignored the other 28 concoctions. Butter Pecan and Rocky Road were for Granddaddy.
I had spent enough time around Grandmommy to know I should be thrifty as well as clean, so after I dipped a tasting spoon into the chocolate, then put it in my mouth, I used the same spoon to try the vanilla. I felt the adults glaring at me disapprovingly—not just Grandmommy and Granddaddy, but a man on the other side of the case, a customer. He had said something—something about what I did. It was not “sanitary.”
In the queen’s refusal to come to my defense, she betrayed my innocent yearning for approval. I was too ashamed to enjoy the sample, but I put the plastic spoon full of germy ice cream in my mouth, anyway—I didn’t want to be accused of being wasteful as well unsanitary.
My cheeks were so hot that I did not feel the icy vanilla on my tongue.