Hadley Hury’s most recent poem to appear here was “Following the Moon” (November 2016)
Acting at the Ice Cream Parlor
By Hadley Hury
In mid-afternoon there are no other people about,
and he sits as anyone might on a hot day
at one of the three or four tables,
each shaded by its big umbrella,
alongside the homemade ice cream parlor.
At first I think he is reading a magazine,
but as I walk toward the door
and pass within a few feet I see
that it is a crumpled flyer or newspaper insert.
It is upside down, and he bobs his head in animation—
looking down at the ragged pages and then up, back and forth—
and mouths unvoiced words with vigorous expression,
as though perhaps someone sits across from him or stands nearby.
If this were a short story
the narrator would stop at the table on his way in
(perhaps recalling Fitzgerald’s line in The Last Tycoon,
“There are no second acts in American lives”)
and, with tremendously casual off-handedness,
hold out a couple of dollars and say,
“Will you let me buy you an ice-cream cone?
…It’s pretty warm out here”—
not staying, not even lingering, just a quick passing offer,
a small thing, something cool to accompany one’s reading.
Instead, when I leave a few minutes later,
he has just risen and is beginning to walk
in sandals patched with duct tape.
Our paths cross diagonally,
and there is the briefest, very civil, exchange of glances.
In the unforgiving glare of the sun one of us
—lines forgotten, out of character—withdraws toward a car,
while the other strides down the street, a spring in his step,
pages furled neatly under one arm like a jaunty broker’s Journal—
face open with a daring smile.