She had seen them a few times in a store she occasionally visited as a treat. It was an Italian grocery store and filled with the promise of Europe.
Just walking through the door was like going on holiday. It had large, grey marble flagstones that kept the shop cool in the heat and a couple of ceiling fans describing lazy circles in the air. The store smelled of fresh bread and cheeses and its shelves were stacked full of excitement and mystery.
Her husband had never been there with her.
‘What do I need with some fancy-pants deli?’ he had asked. ‘The stuff in there is bound to be over-priced – these places can’t compete with the big supermarket chains. I can get everything I need at the supermarket – that way I only go to the shops once. One shop, BANG! I’m done’
‘Well they have some nice stuff there,’ she had offered, ‘you know, nice jams and different cheeses.’
‘Jams?’ he snorted. ‘Jams are just sugar and fruit boiled up – just because they have a French name and weird-shaped glass pots, it won’t mean they taste better, just that they will be double the price.’
So she had left it, but every now and again she would drop in to browse – to see the tiny marinated mushrooms crammed into their tall jars, the salted peppers preserved like red seaweed or to listen to the women gossiping in Italian behind the deli counter.
She was looking at the ice creams one day – gelati, they were called – when she saw a small carton on the top shelf.
Bambino Cones, the label declared – and sure enough, through the plastic she could see there were baby ice cream cones, each about the length of her thumb with six different colored heads in assorted flavours.
When she was younger she always used to make mini-cones whenever she bought a soft serve ice cream. She would snap the bottom of the cone and scoop a head of the ice cream into it, making a tiny double of the one she had. She loved doing this, even though it meant she had to eat the main ice cream much faster afterwards, trying to beat it as it melted through the hole in its bottom.
The Bambino Cones were fourteen dollars for the box of twelve. She could hear Frank’s voice already.
‘How much? That is more than a dollar a piece! And they are stunted – like your brain! What did you buy these for? You could get four tubs of Cookies and Cream for that!’
Frank loved cookies and cream flavoured ice cream. It was his favourite. He called it C&C.
‘Dammit,’ she decided, and slipped the box of bambino cones into her basket. They would be her treat. She was supposed to be on a diet, but she would only have one at a time, and they were so small – it would almost be like eating diet ice cream.
She hid the box at the back of the freezer, behind the other tubs.
Over the course of the next few weeks, she would treat herself to a baby cone when she needed a lift. It was great – a little escape. She would have a bad day at work, or Frank would be grumpy, or the weather would get her down, but she could just say to herself, ‘I think I need a little trip to Italy,’ and she would open the freezer and there they would be, little frozen coloured jewels just waiting for her.
‘Ciao, ciao, Bambino,’ she would say as she selected one, and popped it in her mouth where it would melt, releasing a sudden burst of cool flavour before she chewed down on the cone and the tiny drop of frozen chocolate at the bottom.
Then one day she opened the carton and realised there were only two left. One of them was the pistachio flavour and one the lemon. Of the two, she definitely preferred the lemon, it had a sharper, cleaner taste – the pistachio always ended up tasting a little dull, like the muted green of its colour. She looked at the little lemon head. The colour reminded her of an Italian boy she had known briefly in college. He always wore bright T- shirts that showed off his deep brown eyes. When he saw her, he would smile and say, ‘Ciao, Bella!’ and she would smile back, but that was as far as it went. At the time she was happy being single and soon after she met Frank, anyway.
She held the lemon ice cream in her hand, then put it back.
‘I’ll have the pistachio today,’ she decided, ‘and the lemon tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday and I will have it as a treat at the end of my week.’
But the next evening, when she opened the freezer, the carton was not there. At first she thought it might have fallen down the back and pulled some of the other cartons out.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Frank.
‘I am looking for something I bought,’ she replied, ‘Frank, have you been in here?’
‘Yeah,’ he replied, ‘I was thirsty as hell when I got home, so I fancied some ice cream.’
‘You ate my trip to Italy!’ she gasped, horrified.
‘I did what?’ he said. ‘No, I just went in for some C&C and there was like this one small ice cream in a big box by itself, so I ate that while I was waiting for mine to soften up. It was some weird flavour.’
‘Lemon; it was lemon,’ she whispered.
‘Yeah well I don’t know about that. But it was yellow – and you know what they say about yellow snow,’ he said, ‘don’t eat it! Must be the same with ice cream.’
He laughed at his own joke, ‘Why did you buy such a small ice cream for? I like put it in my mouth and, BANG! It was gone!’
‘Never mind,’ she said.
‘Anyway I thought you were supposed to be on a diet?’ said Frank. ‘I did you a favour. But there is still plenty of C&C if you want it.’
‘No that’s OK,’ she said, ‘I had the pistachio one yesterday.’
She picked up the carton from where Frank had left it on the side and dropped it in the bin.
‘Ciao, ciao, Bambino,’ she said.