by Mary Akers
What Lisa Smith misses most--and she thinks of this almost every morning, waking hot and dry with the island dust coating her teeth--is ice. Or, more generally, refrigeration. Lisa has learned to make do without cold, fresh milk. She has learned to buy eggs in town, in small numbers, as she needs them. She has learned to cook only what her family will eat in a sitting. But in the morning, when she wakes, her whole body wants a Dr. Pepper, on ice. For eleven years it was how she started her day, every day, from the age of nine. And now, going on five years without, she still craves it. A cold Dr. Pepper over ice was her cup of coffee, her jump-start to the day.
Lisa could get a cold bottle of Coke on the island--several places would sell you that (even if it was terribly expensive)--and the Coke tasted good, to be sure, but it just wasn't the same. Sometimes, at night, in her dreams she will open a can of Dr. Pepper (click, psshht) and hold it above the glass, pouring slowly as the ice crackles and settles and the foam rises to the top, doming the lip of the glass and the dreaming Lisa will suspend her face above the fizz and breathe in the specific, cooling vanilla scent, then raise the glass, foam and all, and take a long swallow. Delicious.
And this was always the point at which she awoke, parched and angry. Lisa had tried expressing this desire and disappointment to Claude but she couldn't seem to describe the longing without making it sound silly. The first time she told him about the dream, Claude had laughed and hugged her as if it were a joke she had concocted to express her own silly Americanness. The second time, he turned her desire sideways, and made it about something else entirely, which had been a nice diversion, but still left her feeling oddly...unaddressed.
By the third (or was it fourth?) mention, Claude's standard laughing reply--which she has come to believe he wields as a tool to avoid conflict--had a sharpened edge to it, and when she persisted, he moved toward anger, answering her longing with his own peculiar defensiveness, as if she were accusing him of having stolen this pleasure from her. And, of course, Lisa had to remind herself that Claude couldn't understand such a thing, such a joy, as ice. So she let it go and didn't mention it after that, although the dream continued to plague her, slipping into her subconscious at least once a week.
This morning Lisa woke from the ice dream (as she has come to think of it) and it promised to set the whole day off wrong. To be married to someone who couldn't understand a basic, physical need, a craving if you will, was frustrating at best and, and alienating at worst. Lisa finds herself fighting down her anger as she takes a loaf of bread from its wrapper, places it on the oilcloth-covered table and cuts a slab for each of her daughters. From the "pantry"--a row of cinder block and board shelves she had constructed along one wall--she retrieves the peanut butter jar and spreads a thick layer on each slice.
When she lifts the cover on the water pail she sees that Claude must have returned in the night and drank it dry, yet again. She checks the water in the tiny wells around the table legs--jar lids of water in which the table legs rest as a moat which the ants cannot cross--and sees that they are nearly dry, too. So Claude has left already for his job at the cistern and left them with no water for the day. She will either have to pay a Haitian to make the water run for her (and her pocketbook is as dry of money as the table wells are of water), or lug the bucket and the girls through the dusty streets again. Fortunately, for this morning's breakfast there is still a pair of sugary, colored drinks left over from a trip to the grocery when Lisa and the girls had encountered Nassa and left with the extra treats that Nassa always insisted on buying for them.
Lisa lifts the last two plastic miniature barrels and peels the foil back. Claudette prefers the green and Lisette the purple, so Lisa mentally seats them according to color. At least the girls will be happy. Perhaps, she thinks, they are lucky like their father, to have never known the joy of ice.
About the author:
Mary Akers' work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Awakenings Review, Literary Mama, Ink Pot, RE:AL, Pindeldyboz, Literary Potpourri, Bellowing Ark, Compass Rose, Westview, and Wisconsin Review. She received a 2004 Bread Loaf work-study scholarship, and will be a returning work-study scholar in 2005. Originally trained as a potter, Ms. Akers is a graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program in creative writing and co-founder of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology located in Dominica, West Indies.