Ice Cream

"Here you are, which do you want: lemon-yellow or rose-pink?"

He had bought two ice creams and with a sad look on his face was offering them to her so she could choose. The woman at the cart pocketed the money he had just handed her and was already serving other customers, all the while calling out: "Best ice cream in town."

It was always the same: as the moment of parting approached, it seemed as if a bucket of sadness was being poured over him and he would hardly utter a word during the time they had left together.

As the long afternoon was just beginning to unfold before them, he had sat beside her in the park, beneath the whispering trees and the splendor of the sun, happy and communicative. The band played the Lohengrin prelude, and they listened to it religiously, hand in hand. The ducks and a pair of straight-necked swans floated, as if made of plastic, across the blue-crystal lake. The men, women, and children seemed like walking, smiling figurines that were moved by some delicate mechanism in an artificial landscape made for real men.

As the sun began to set they sat on a green bench beneath the damp shade of a linden tree, and, filled with a mixture of shyness and emotion, he presented the engagement ring to her: a small diamond with a clearly visible imperfection. "Swear to me you'll never again take it off." She spread her fingers to look at it, stretched her arm out, and turned her hand from side to side. With secret regret she thought about her hand only a moment before, without a ring, nimble and free. Her eyes welled up.

They left the park and were walking arm in arm, toward the entrance to the metro.

"Here, take the rose."

She took it and felt her legs grow weak. They walked a few steps. "Rose, rose . . . " Suddenly she trembled and a blush swept over her, all the way up to her hairline.

"Oh, the ice cream." She had let it drop on purpose to hide her agitation.

"Want me to buy you another one?"

"No."

Rose, rose . . . please, don't let him notice. Why are you eating the roses? And now we'll get married, and I'll have to burn the letters. All of them, even the one from February 15th. If I could only keep it, together with the dried roses. Are you eating the roses? I was holding a bouquet and he was kissing me as we laughed and walked along. He held me by the waist. His hat was tilted to the side and his eyes shone. I was eating a rose leaf. If you keep eating rose leaves, you'll turn into a rose. That night I dreamed I was born from an old vine that hugged the wall and little by little I opened out into petals of blood. He grabbed my arm furiously: Throw the roses away, throw them away. I looked at him with half-closed eyes and kept on chewing the rose leaf. My love. When I climbed the stairs I knew where I was, where I was going and why. An old man opened the door and stepped back to let us inside. No, that dark room with the faded screen and frayed rug gave off no particular smell. It was sordid and sad. Don't be afraid. When I opened my eyes I saw his jacket on the back of the chair and his tie on top, green with red stripes. You don't seem to recall that we have to deliver the violets. The workshop manager scolded me the following day when I was late. I used a wire to string the purple leaves together. How tight he held me! I got a bruise on my arm and had to wear a blouse with long sleeves. When I come back we'll get married, the first letter said. Do you still eat rose petals? I'll have to burn them all, as well as the cretonne-lined box. And this ring that hurts my finger. He hasn't written me in two years, two years with no news. Married? Maybe dead. And if he came back, I'd do the same . . . The morning I cried so, the concierge brought the milk up to me: That's life, and you can thank your lucky stars he didn't leave you a souvenir. Seventeen letters, seventeen letters I waited for deliriously, sick with so much waiting. Why are you eating the roses?

"What are you thinking?"

"Me? Nothing."

Copyright Mercè Rodoreda. By arrangement with the estate of the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Martha Tennent. All rights reserved.