Lilly loved an Ice Cream Cake!
I had discovered it on the day she had fallen off her new pink bike, scraping her entire left knee and getting a large dent right above her elbow.
Even today, when I close my eyes, I can picture myself standing by the pavement on that hot summer afternoon, wearing my favorite yellow dress and watching in mute horror as Lilly cried her lungs off. I still wonder, why as an 8-year-old, I didn’t cry or even panic at the sight of the small pool of blood that had formed in the middle of the road. I guess I had been too distracted by Lilly’s theatricals and maybe found it rude to interrupt her performance with my own crying. Also, as much as I now hate to admit, I think in that moment I was just too busy envying her ability to collect the entire neighborhood with a single scream.
I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, when her mother came or if she ever scolded us for cycling in the middle of the main street, when we were clearly told to play in the backyard while she was busy feeding Lilly’s little brother and putting him down for a nap.
I do however remember, later that evening sitting in Lilly’s kitchen watching her mother bring over two large plates of Ice Cream Cake.
It had surprised me even then, how quickly Lilly’s crying had stopped. The sobs lost somewhere in her throat as she had reached out quickly for the plate with her freshly bandaged arm. The few remnants of dirt and dried tears on her face hadn’t been able to hide the joy that had flushed her face a tomato red as she had taken her first bite.
Even in all my naïve glory, in that moment I had felt it safe to declare to myself that, Lilly truly loved an Ice Cream Cake.
This however did not really remain a secret for long, for if you were lucky enough to have had the pleasure of meeting the young Lilly, this is the third thing she would have told you about herself after of course telling you her full name and her exact age in years and days.
So, it wasn’t really surprising that almost everyone in our little town knew of Lilly’s sweet affliction, including the pretty woman who had just moved into the big white house that decorated our town’s otherwise dull edge.
Lilly and I had never really bothered learning the woman’s real name, because to us calling her by any name other than pretty woman seemed a mere insult.
Looking back, I am not even sure if she was really that pretty, for all I know she may have had the most peculiarly unattractive face but I think we would have still found her to be the loveliest woman we had ever seen. You see, back then we lived in a modest little town where most women overflowing with children couldn’t be less bothered about their looks. They walked around wearing baggy clothes that promised to hide their bodies, bodies they were always complaining about. And dressing up and putting on makeup seemed to have been secretly agreed upon as a big hassle, worth engaging in only for fancy parties or the kids’ school functions.
So, no wonder, to our naïve young eyes the woman walking around in the prettiest dresses with perfectly blow-dried hair and a well done up face every day seemed like the most beautiful woman in the world, or in our own town at least.
Each evening as we played in our town’s only park, the lingering scent of her lavender perfume would let us know she was on her way for her evening stroll.
Walking right past us, she would always go and sit pretty with one leg over the other on the corner park bench. Then she would gently smile and nod at us, as if giving us permission to look at her and start admiring her right away.
No matter how busy we were playing Hopscotch, our favorite game, Lilly and I would always stop to smile and nod back. It was partly due to us remembering our manners but mainly because we were eager to check if she had remembered to match her lipstick with her dress that day.
Sometimes when we would stop to catch a breath, she would walk over to us in her kitten heels and ask us about school. Sometimes she wanted to know what we had been learning, and other times she would just ask if we had remembered to have fun at school that day.
Some days she would talk to us straight for 20 minutes and other days she would politely ask about our parents’ well-being and then smile and walk away. But if ever Lilly or I had something to say, she would always listen patiently with great interest as if the woes of two 8-year-olds actually held some significance in her own fancy existence.
Looking at the other women around us who were all mostly stuck in long loveless marriages burdened with kids at a young age, solemnly repeating the trajectory of their own mothers’ lives and secretly hoping their daughters won’t have to do the same, it’s no surprise that even at that early age, we somehow knew we didn’t want to be like any of them.
Maybe it was something as frivolous as her makeup or the fancy clothes she wore or maybe, just maybe it was us unknowingly falling in love with the freedom her life seemed to promise or, a kind of freedom everyone aspired for but never really attained.
Whatever the reason was, I remember Lilly saying to me one day, “Let’s promise each other that when we get older, we won’t be like any of these women, instead we will grow up and be just like that pretty woman, and then we can wear nice makeup every day, and sit together in this park for hours. And the best part you know”,
She would always add in the end, “We could eat lots of Ice Cream Cake every day.”
The thought would always make us giggle with joy, the thought of someday actually living this beautiful future together. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.
The year we were to start our fourth grade, everything changed.
It was maybe the last day of our school break, we had been playing in the park till late. The streetlights were starting to come on and almost all the other kids had left.
“Just one last game of Hopscotch and then we will go”, I had said or maybe Lilly had. It doesn’t matter now, what matters is that she was there, the pretty woman asking us why we were still out playing.
I don’t know what we had said and then what she had said in response. I had just been busy thinking why she wasn’t wearing her lavender perfume, when I had heard her say,
“Why don’t you guys give the game a break for now and come over to my house for some homemade Ice Cream Cake.”
I hadn’t even bothered looking at Lilly for I already knew what she was going to say. But I wanted to play one more round and anyways, we were not really allowed at that time to go to someone’s house all by ourselves. So, I had replied for the both of us,
“Thank you, but our parents won’t allow it.” I had also quickly remembered to add a smile to seem polite, I didn’t want the pretty woman to not like me.
“My mother wouldn’t mind.”, Lilly had blurted out immediately.
I had looked at her and felt both a little shocked and betrayed not only because it was untrue but mainly because she didn’t really have to disagree with me in front of the pretty woman. However, the little tension between us had been quickly broken by the woman’s laughter, “Sweetie…”, she had said looking at me,
“Why don’t you go and ask your mother for permission and then you know what, you can have a large plate of that cake with hot chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top, I know chocolate is your favorite.”, she had added with a little wink.
My innocent little heart at the thought of that plate of Ice Cream Cake with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, had decided it was wise in that moment to let go of any bitterness and instead just focus on the sweet image of that Ice Cream Cake
“You go and ask your mother and I will wait for you at the park gate, then we can all walk together to the white house.”, Lilly had smiled and said, making me completely forget about our little tiff moments ago.
I still remember how I had almost lost my breath running back home. Mom hadn’t been too happy with the invitation but I had told her Lilly was waiting for me, so she had given in after making me promise that I wouldn’t eat too much, spoiling my appetite before dinner.
I had sprinted back to the park eager to walk with Lilly to the pretty woman’s house but no one was there. Lilly had already left without me. I had been so angry. I knew she loved her Ice Cream Cake but was it even more important than me? She had said she would wait for me then why didn’t she?
Too upset and too scared to walk all alone to the white house that seemed pretty far, I had gone back home. Mom had asked what had happened but I didn’t say anything, I had just gone to my room and cried.
That night I had promised myself that I would never talk to Lilly again.
And I never did.
She didn’t come to school the next day or the day after that. Our little town that had never been famous for anything was now all over the news.
Mom and dad wouldn’t tell me anything but one day I saw it, Lilly’s face on the news along with a sketch of the pretty woman. I remember crying and asking mom where Lilly was, but she wouldn’t tell. She had just held me in her arms and said she was glad that I had come back home that day. I didn’t understand at that time what had happened, why had the pretty woman taken Lilly and where?
I didn’t want to call her pretty anymore, I hated her. I just wanted Lilly back.
I really missed Lilly. Every night in bed, I would bargain with God about how I would turn into the nicest kid ever and listen to everything that my parents said, if and only if Lilly came back.
But she never did.
We never saw her or that woman again.
Everything changed after Lilly was gone. Mother became too protective and would never let me go anywhere except school. Even then, she would always be standing outside, wary of every person that she didn’t remember seeing before.
Wherever we went to any town picnic or party, I would always hear the adults having the same conversation again and again,“Oh you know she always seemed too good to be true. You just can’t trust anybody these days.”
I always knew they were talking about the woman because since that awful night, nobody ever talked about anything else.
The town hadn’t ever really been a very happy place and now the stench of the tragedy that had occurred and the fear of something like it happening again, had left in the air a bitter taste, taking away any and all reasons to stay.
We moved away to the big city soon after.
Slowly life became normal again. I made new friends, and found many new parks to play. With time, slowly but surely my memories of Lilly faded away. Soon she became as real to me as my imaginary childhood friends.
It has now been many years since that night, I am all grown up. And I don’t really think that I turned out to be like any of those women in my town, so I guess in some way I kept a part of my promise to Lilly.
But I would never become like that woman, the woman who took Lilly away.
I never really found out what happened with Lilly, and I guess I never will. A part of me is actually glad that I don’t know any of the tragic details.
But even today, whenever I think about that terrible night and that excited 8-year-old…
I just can’t help but wonder, if that night, that poor baby ever got to have her Ice-Cream Cake.
*Nupur Joshi is a poet, writer & filmmaker whose work has appeared in American publications like “Literally Literary” and “Written Tales”.
You can watch her poetry films at https://www.youtube.com/@nupur_joshi