All Stories, General Fiction

Ice Cream and Oxygen by Chris Klassen

There are so many people here, in this space.  Where did they come from all of a sudden?  The space seemed empty just a little while ago.  And now it’s not.  It’s packed.  It may not be a problem legally, this crowd, but it must be a problem psychologically.  No proper room to move around, so much bumping and jostling.  It’s unsettling.  It’s a mass of people.  Or maybe a glut.  Is that the right word?  It’s a swarm of bees, a herd of cattle, a flock of birds.  Even a conspiracy of ravens, that’s a good one.  For people, it should be a glut.

“Hey!  Where did all these people come from?”

“What?”

“All these people.  Where did they come from?”

“How should I know?  They’re just here.”

The man that answers has short brown hair and is wearing a short-sleeve shirt with blue and green vertical stripes.  His shorts have red and white horizontal stripes.  And he wears sandals and white knee-high socks.  At some point earlier in the day, he consciously chose his clothes, put them on, and thought, “This is exactly the look I want”.  Is he oblivious or eclectic or just doesn’t care?  He obviously is arrogant.  Why else would he think a random question asked out loud in a crowd of strangers is his responsibility to answer.  No one else answers.  They just look around.

Is there enough oxygen here for all these people?  If oxygen is finite in a specific space, maybe this is dangerous.  Has anyone else thought of this?  What if everyone breathes in deeply at the same time?  All the oxygen could be gone.  It must be a problem.  There has to be someone to tell.

“Do you even care about oxygen deficiency?”  The man wearing stripes looks this time but doesn’t respond.  He seems perturbed.

So many people here, packed in.  Also filling the space, in a different way, is music.  It’s loud and tinny and overwhelming.  But no sign of its source.  Just like the crowd, it seems to have spontaneously developed.  It birthed itself.

“Hey, where’s the music coming from?”

This time, ignored completely.  No one answers or even looks.  They’re too busy, apparently, in their own worlds, milling about and jostling for space.  And eating ice cream.  Why is there so much ice cream?  Almost everyone, it seems, holding cones, sugar or plain, with a blob of ice cream on top, then moving their arms up and down, up to their mouth for a lick, then away again, a few inches back from their face, like a practiced maneuver.  They’re doing their best to consume it tidily but melting drops stream down their fingers and hands.  It looks ridiculous.  Grown adults fighting with melting ice cream.  They have small napkins but they’re not up to the task.  It’s a hot day.  Also trying to consume the ice cream are the wasps that spontaneously appear.  At this time of year, the wasps, like the people, are slow, stupid, sluggish but persistent.  Wasps come in a swarm.  People are a glut.

“Mommy, a wasp stung my tongue!”

“That’s ok, dear.  Eat your ice cream.”

A group of young girls sit on a curb at the periphery, next to the sidewalk.  They’re all talking and looking at their phones at the same time, reading something, maybe the same thing.  It’s not really possible to do two things at once.  Talking and reading at the same time is impossible.  If they thought about it, they’d realize this.  They’re wearing shiny yoga pants, black shirts with spaghetti straps, and sandals.  All the same.  Could this have been spontaneous like the appearance of the wasps and the sound of the music?  The girls just showed up wearing the same clothes?  Or is it the accepted uniform of the moment for young girls?  Or are they on a team?

“Hey, do you like it here?  Why are you dressed the same?”

Only one girl looks up, but with disdain.  She then exchanges glances with the others.  They all scoff and look at their phones.  And their ice cream.  They have ice cream too.  Everyone has it.

“Where’d you get the ice cream?  Is it good?”

Of all the girls in the group, the one that looked up must be the friendliest.  Or the most arrogant.  She looked up, after all.  For the first question, anyway.  No one looked up after that. 

“Why are you all wearing the same clothes?”

They stand in unison, eating ice cream, looking at their phones, scoffing in unison, and walk away.  Into the glut.

“Where’d you get the ice cream?”

Interrupting the screech of the music and the noise of conversation and the screaming of children is a siren, an ambulance siren, approaching from behind.  The ambulance can’t drive very fast.  It’s at the whim of the people and the speed with which they decide to shift to the edges of the street.  They shift slowly.  Gluts don’t move fast.  Gluts don’t care much.  The sound gets louder, then extremely loud, as the ambulance passes by.  It drives less than a block, then stops and paramedics get out.

A grey-haired man is lying on the ground next to his ice cream.  It’s being consumed by wasps. They must be so happy.  The man isn’t conscious.  The paramedics pick him up and lay him on a stretcher, securing him with a couple straps.

“Hey, what happened?  It was because of the oxygen, right?”

“What?” one of the paramedics barks.  “Can you step back please?  Just step back.  We need space.”

“There’s not enough oxygen.  Everyone’s breathing it at the same time.  That’s what happened.”

“Just step back and give us space.  You can’t be this close.”  The paramedics slide the man and the stretcher into the back of the ambulance and slam the doors.  They get in the front and begin the slow drive through the parted crowd and away.  Away means no more sound of siren.  It takes a few minutes to get away.

Nearby are some large speakers and a man on stage.  So this is where the music comes from.  It wasn’t spontaneous at all.  One question answered.

The group of girls walk by.

“Hey, did you see the ambulance?  It’s because of the oxygen problem.”

They laugh, looking at their phones and talking.  They’re not taking the problem seriously.  But their ice cream is gone, that’s new.

“Are you getting more ice cream?  Where do you get it?”  This time they turn and glare in unison, like it’s a practiced maneuver.  They must be on a team.

Further on, past the man with the speakers on the stage, is a little fenced-off area with some goats.  It’s a herd of goats.  Supervising is a woman wearing overalls and a straw hat, trying to look rural.   It costs money to be allowed to go through the gate to be with the goats.  To feed them pellets from a white paper cup costs more.  A few kids are in the enclosure feeding the goats.

“Hey, do you like feeding the goats?”

“Yes it’s fun,” a little boy, without ice cream, answers.  He seems nicer than the man with the stripes.

“Are you friends with the goats?”

“Yes, they like me.”

“People eat goats.  They taste great.  Would you eat these goats?”

“Mommy!”  The little boy starts to cry.  He drops the cup of pellets.  A goat eats them straight off the ground.  The child runs to his mommy, grabs her hand.  She glares and they disappear into the glut.  Other children look unhappy and search for their mommies too.  Only the goats stay content, as content as they can be trapped in a small space on a hot day with a woman dressed as a farmer.

The group of girls reappear accompanied by two police officers.  They all look and point, not on their phones this time.  The officers look too, then slowly approach after apparently saying “thank you” to the girls who smile collectively.  They’re definitely on a team.  Is there a proper name for two police officers?  Maybe a squad?  No, not enough people for a squad.  A squad has to be more than two.  Maybe they’re a team then, like the girls.  But just a small team.  No, they’re a couple.  Of course.

“Hey, who decided to bring goats here?  And what happened to the man that fainted?  No oxygen, right?”

The dark-haired officer replies, “I think it’s time for you to go.  People are complaining and you’re upsetting the children.  Just come with us and there won’t be any problems.”

“The goats and wasps use up oxygen too.  It’s not surprising people faint.  Eventually we’ll all faint.  Then it will be a massacre.  A glut of dead people is a massacre.”

“Be quiet and come with us.”

“It’s not a good space here.  Too much bumping and jostling.  It’s not healthy.  Can’t you see?”

“The children are upset and the parents are angry and those girls said you’re stalking them.  Just come with us.”

Slowly through the glut, stepping on half-consumed ice cream and swatting wasps, music softening, and finally reaching the security barricade where the police officers stop and instruct, “Time to go.  Just keep walking.  Don’t come back.”  Where all the ice cream came from remains a mystery.

Through the barricade and down the hill toward the park, there’s so much space and quiet.  It’s cooler.  Trees provide shade.  It’s so comfortable and nice.  One single bench that’s great for resting.  There are no annoyances.  No striped shorts or dripping ice cream or hungry goats or tinny screeching music.  No gluts.  But maybe too much oxygen?  Is that possible?  Breathe softly, just in case.

Chris Klassen

Image – Pixabay.com

7 thoughts on “Ice Cream and Oxygen by Chris Klassen”

  1. I love the juxtaposition of something superfluous and something necessary (ice cream and oxygen)! And the simplicity of the prose produces an undeniable poignancy.

    Like

  2. I also felt as if I were immersed in a dream world. I liked the straight-forward writing style used to depict strange imagery and weird happenings and people. I think the girls and cops did the MC a favor by getting him the hell outta there.

    Like

  3. At the beginning I thought this was just another tale about a dream or some alternative reality, then I realised it was from the viewpoint of someone with a very different perception of everyday events and that of course made it all the more striking and powerful. Another one that will stay with me!

    Like

  4. Hi Chris,
    Dream-Like has already been mentioned but I also found myself considering the dynamics of individuals in a crowd being explored in albeit a very interesting and unorthodox way!!
    There is one thing my fine friend, this one stays with us!
    Hugh

    Like

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