We stayed open, but the only person who came back was Oscar. He still had a fistful of coupons and not even a neighborhood crime boss can come between a seven-year old and free ice cream.
Between spoonfuls his mouth spilled out information, almost as if getting it out would make room for more ice cream. He had no parents to speak of and his aunt barely got out of bed anymore. She owned a beauty parlor a few blocks away. The doctors say there’s nothing wrong with her, but “she don’t believe them.”
“What happened to your face?” he finally asked Kenneth through a mouthful of ice cream.
“I looked at another woman,” Kenneth said, “and Miss Connie went Kah-pie-yow,” he demonstrated his best high kick, “and kicked me in the face.”
“Really?” Oscar asked.
“And if you want to keep that pretty face of yours intact, you better watch yourself,” I said.
Kenneth pointed at me and whispered, “Feet of fury.”
After he’d polished off his third cone, he held out his coupon for another.
I took the coupon from him. “You eat dinner?” I asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. He patted his tummy. “Three ice cream cones.”
“Sakes alive,” I said, “that’s no dinner for a growing boy. You’re gonna have a stomach ache.”
“Better than nothin’” he said.
“You like pancakes?” I shot back.
“For dinner?” he asked. Clearly this was the greatest form of heresy I could have suggested.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like them for dinner,” Kenneth said with a smile and an exaggerated shake of his head. “No, siree.”
“Why not?” Oscar asked.
“Cuz if you’re not here there’ll be more for me,” Kenneth said with a wink. “Pancakes are Miss Connie’s specialty.”
“There’ll be plenty for you,” I said, jabbing him between the ribs with my finger. “Besides are you sure you’ll have room in there? I think you’ve been tasting your wares a little too much, Mr. Ice Cream Man.”
“I’ve gotta make sure it’s good enough for the customers,” he said. “I’ve got customers with very high standards. Right, Oscar?”
Oscar laughed and nodded.
“All right you two. Go wash up for dinner.” I said.
Kenneth turned the open sign around and helped Oscar off the stool, then raced him to the bathroom. Little Kenny squirmed inside me as I headed up to the apartment above. It had been a wonderful, terrible, amazing, disheartening, encouraging, bewildering, lovely, and scary day.
We laughed all night together till Oscar fell asleep in the chair. Kenneth woke him up enough to get his address then carried him home.
We made love that night. I tried to keep the night from ending, but the dawn came long before I was ready and with it the Duke’s crony.
From the back room I heard Kenneth say, “This’s all I got.” He’d gotten up just after dawn “to make preparations” as he put it.
I leaned against the wall just outside the door to the back. Everything inside me told me to run, but I couldn’t move a muscle.
“A hundred bucks ain’t gonna please the Duke,” Dan said.
“I spent my last two grand fixing the window,” Kenneth said.
“Maybe,” Dan said, “you should have taken a hint, Idiot.”
‘Idiot’ was not the word he used but I’m too polite to repeat what he actually called my husband.
“Give me a few days,” Kenneth said. “Once I get some customers in here, I’ll have your bribe ready.” Kenneth enunciated the word “bribe” extra carefully.
“The Duke don’t take bribes,” Dan said. Dan must have shoved Kenneth as I heard someone bounce off our shelves, and I later found a dent in the freezer door. “But he’d be glad to take any gifts you might wish to freely offer. You’ve got a week before the collection plate comes around again. I suggest you be ready.” Dan headed for the door and slammed it shut on his way out the back alley.