Becks entered fluorescence and murky red and yellow tiles. To her left were rows of flavors hidden by the reflective metal walls of semi-portable freezers. Today she wanted something different. Why, she didn’t know. Today her thoughts jumbled with work and traffic, or tightness in her mid-back, or should she get her dog some vanilla? The skinny young man behind the counter called “Next!” She approached, tried to smile, ordered one cup of strawberry (sorry, poochie). The kid stared blankly until he processed her order, and started filling it. Her mind lingered on an odd get-together in 1996; odd for being relatively uneventful. These casual gatherings were regular, usually with her group of friends at the time, many of whom she still spoke to: Marsha, Tim, Jacinta, Alexander, Dave. They sat in one of their apartments, drinking cheap whiskey (no ice) out of the cleanest available glasses. Early evening and already conversation had lulled, and to say something, Becks mentioned an idea she’d read or heard that day, “scientists estimate that in twenty years they’ll uncover the secret to immortality.”

Then Tim and Alexander became grandiose specters in gym shorts, like it was they who slaughtered the Bull of Heaven, often absent, sometimes sudden, apparent and unrelenting. Their boisterous attitude always a little much for Dave, who talked to Marsha. Becks saw the kid finally scoop the strawberry left-handed, fingers fixed like a claw. Eight years earlier Marsha had died in a car wreck in winter. She’d slid 150 feet, spraying snow as the wheels skidded in the path of the car’s momentum, carved new tracks in the ice on the highway. Everyone was at the funeral (except Dave, busy with his daughters) and stayed for a while. Becks and Jacinta were there all night making plans. Tim and Alexander made plans, too: what to do with their wealth, how to manage an aging body, what they’d do with their adult great-grandkids. Pound some brews, they said, and Dave announced he’d out-drink them both, and their lightweight grandkids. Everyone laughed.

The next spring, Becks’ and Jacinta’s plans were in order (a month-long hike, just the two of them), started by the highway. By then Tim had a knee implant, and Alexander a coronary bypass. On the seventh day of hiking they met a naturalist, whom they then thought was just a bather. Jacinta approached first, laughing. Becks followed. The three agreed to share his campsite; he’d leave the next morning. He was old, at least late fifties, and lumpy. Even so he said his body was a tiny universe. That night at his camp, Becks saw his once-clean feet had soles as black as night. Becks paid, smiled, tipped the kid, and left. In 1996 the specters embraced, and swore their sons won’t be lightweights. The old nude man left; his backside vanished in the leaves, Becks said she’d miss it. Outside the shop she admired the real seeds in the ice cream and decided to sit in the sun.

Truman Miller