So very cold. And so very blue.
The first slurp stabbed my brain. I blinked and pinched the bridge of my nose in the age-old custom of the Liberty Street/Talbot Avenue gang: the first Icee of the season always hits you the hardest.
I had not stopped into the little convenience store close to my childhood home in a long time. Not much has changed; the walls are still covered in wood panelling, the letters above the dairy cases and beer and soda fridges are still in a font the 70s forgot.
The important thing is that the Icee and ice cream machines are the same. After spending a little while at my mother's house, leaving, as I do every time I stop by, with a car full of memories, I needed a drink. And only one drink would do: the artificially colored and flavored frozen concoction that I nearly lived on every summer as a child. I needed a blue Icee.
The lady at the counter was, I would suspect, a convenience store lifer. Sure, I am occasionally waited on by someone who just works at the AmeriStop part-time or on a transient basis. But I can always tell when the Icee barista is someone who is making a career of this as opposed to a surly youth simply working his way through school. This particular convenience store has a habit of drawing in ladies who haunt the register for a decade or more. When they wait on you, they do it with pride; they pump the handle on the Icee machine with a practiced precision that guarantees the Icee is at the peak of the rounded lid, with just the right ratio of syrup to frozen carbonation. It's a lost art.
The lifers are also proud of this old little store and its claims to fame.
"Did you see we have banana today?" the cashier says, as she hands Ainsley and me our red- and blue-striped cups full of impossibly cold goodness. I look at the ancient soft-serve machine and see what used to be my favorite sight in the world: a little hanging sign advertising that most rarely-served flavor of convenience-store ice cream.
"Oh, wow. I did not see that. I had my heart so set on that blue Icee I didn't even think about the ice cream. I grew up around here, and the banana was my favorite."
"Did you know that's the one flavor they make here in the store?" she asks, nodding her head toward the back office. "They mix that up in the back with real bananas. They mash 'em themselves and put the bananas into mix. That's why it's so good. All day we've had people calling asking if we have it. People are going to stop in on their way home from work. It'll be crazy in here in a few minutes."
We chat for a while and the memories flood my heart in a way I almost can't bear. I am ten years old again, and my best friend and I have been trusted to walk here by ourselves on a hot summer evening. I am bringing home a 2-liter of Coke, a can of cat food, and a pack of Vantage Light 100s. For my efforts, I can get either an ice cream or an Icee. I almost always choose the Icee. There's enough of my own pocket change that I can throw in a pack of Skittles. The cashier, who I know by name and who has seen my shadow darken the tile floor since I was three, does not even bat an eye that I'm getting cigarettes. Carol knows they're my dad's brand. I see the reflection in the glass door of two tan girls leaving, with paper bags under their arms and Icees in their hands, giggling. The best part of the adventure is always the walk home. We will stick out our Icee-dyed tongues at each other and make fun of our blue teeth. We will ride the sugar high well into the dusk. And the next evening, we will comb through our couches looking for lost change so we can make the trip back for more Icees or soft-serve banana ice cream cones swirled so high they defy gravity.
A young mother comes in to get a treat for her daughter and the spell breaks. I am firmly back in the present. I thank my new friend and Ainsley and I head out to the car, Icees in hand, mouths already blue.
"These are better than I remember," Ainsley says from the back seat.
Yes, Ains. They are.