Ice Cream That Never Melts
At two-forty in the afternoon, the man gets up from his desk, opens the office door he always keeps closed and walks to the freight elevator used by messengers so that he will be less likely to run into co-workers.
He works as a copy editor for a dessert magazine on the tenth floor of a midtown Manhattan office building, his window facing Radio City Music Hall and overlooking an intersection that swells to capacity every afternoon at lunchtime. He usually tilts his chair enough to watch the river of people flowing by on the streets below him like a stream of syrup, pedestrians seeming to eddy in front of restaurant orifices, trickling in empty-handed and spilling out again with plastic bags, paper cups lanced with straws and handheld Styrofoam containers. True to the avoidance tactics he practices in life and love, he always waits until late in the afternoon to slip out of his office in search of sustenance—long after the congested canal of lunch seekers has reduced itself to a tiny tributary.
Standing in front of a fountain half a block from his office building, he waits for inspiration. In a city of so many food options, his mind is often short-circuited by indecision. As he stares into the undulating ripples of the fountain, close enough to feel the mist from the water tingling into his hands and face, a scent drifts into his consciousness—something sweet and pungent, redolent of cured meat marinated in bourbon and basted with brown sugar. Seeking its source, he turns in a circle and the smell becomes momentarily stronger before it diminishes, like it’s passing him by. His stomach groans, urging him to discover its source and partake of it. Eyes clenched, the man takes a few steps—dangerous in the city of so many fast moving people with short fuses—and hopes for success.
He finds the fragrance and his stomach rumbles as he turns toward it. Opening his eyes, he expects to see one of the ubiquitous metal food carts that materialize at first light to service pedestrians for breakfast and then vanish by the time nine-to-fivers are taking lunch. Already fishing for his wallet, he is surprised to find himself looking into the face of a striking woman instead. Long and lean, her skin radiates sun-drenched hues. Above an amused smile, her wide, dark eyes are studying him with intensity.
“Why are your eyes closed?” she asks with equal notes of intrigue and humor.
He knows immediately that she is a recent transplant to the city of concrete and mortar. A seasoned New Yorker would have given any man walking with his eyes closed a wide berth, just in case he proved to be dangerously crazy—as opposed to just crazy. And even if they stopped to watch him (doubtful), the very last thing they would do is engage him in conversation. There is an innocence that hovers around her like a halo. It takes just a moment for him to be drawn so deeply into her that his sense of space, time and equilibrium begin to diminish, as if he is being wrapped in a sweet but mind-numbing cocoon of cotton candy.
Excerpted from: The Sound of Silk at Midnight