by Martin Cahill
Illustrated by Galen Dara | Edited by Brian J. White
We sit on grass on a hill and eat ice cream.
“I’m thinking aliens,” you say, through a mouthful of Rocky Road.
I shake my head. “Not aliens. I’ve got a bet with Allen. If it’s aliens, I’m out five grand.”
You raise a perfect blonde eyebrow. “Five grand over aliens?”
I shrug, wiping my chin. “If the world is ending, I figure ‘go big or go home.’ ” You still don’t believe me.
There is a rumble of something immense and metallic, bearing down on poor, little Earth filled with poor, little people. “If it’s giant robots, I’m going to be really put out.”
You nod, agreeing with my nonsense. It’s why I love you. You stare at a new carton of ice cream with a passion I’ve only seen you reserve for Welsh Corgi puppies and Kill Bill Vol. 2. Wordless, you show me: Neapolitan.
I can’t help it. I start laughing.
“What?” you say, narrowing your eyes, frowning.
I wave my hands in the air, unable to find an answer. “It’s just kind of funny,” I say. You don’t buy it.
You hold the container in your hands, reverent. “When I was a kid, before Steve was born and Mom went on her sugar-free power trip, this was my life.” I put my spoon down. This is a moment of your Secret History. Even as the world dies, I’m still learning so much about you.
You nod. Your beautiful, blonde curls dance. “Every week, one flavor. I’d devour chocolate first, because it’s an immediate satisfaction sort of thing. Then, I’d tackle strawberry the next week, because it grew on you, and was harder to love. And then—”
“Vanilla.” You sigh with relief, like sighting an old friend in a crowd, or finding a lost, lucky penny. “Vanilla was the hardest to love, and I loved it for that.”
“Best for last, yeah?” I say.
“Yeah.” You bite your lip.
An explosion rocks us to our cores. If the shaking doesn’t stop, something will be knocked loose. But it does. The smell of oil and cordite and ash is heavy on the air. It is very still.
“Better eat your vanilla, love,” I say. “Because it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a next time.”
You kiss me on the cheek, before digging straight to the vanilla within. I wait a moment, wait for the susurration of moans and wails and metallic rattling to die, before I turn back to my own container of vanilla.
“Think about it. Some day, hundreds of years ago, someone realized that freezing a combination of dairy, ice, salt, and sugar could give you something delicious. And then, they added vanilla! Before that, ice cream was just frozen milk! My god! And then all these other flavors start coming out, and everyone forgets about poor little vanilla! Too boring, some say! Too bland, others say! One guy even told me it was plain. Plain! You know what’s plain? Frozen fucking cow milk!”
I sprawl on the grass, laughing from the insanity of it, and crying from the insanity of that other thing, that whole end of the world thing. I can feel it coming this way. “Vanilla is sublime. And it only took the end of the world to realize its worth.”
You snuggle into the crook of my shoulder. We eat our vanilla ice cream, this beautiful simple little flavor that no one loves but us.
“We never did get married,” you say.
I look at you, feeling the brightly burning, beautiful taste of vanilla slide down my throat. “Did you want to?”
I gesture with my spoon to the growing cloud of debris and smoke coming towards us. “I’m sure there’s an Elvis down there. If you’re of a mind.”
I can see your brow work. You really think it over. And then you smile. “Nah.”
A few hours go by. There are more explosions, more screams and more ice cream. We’re down to our last container of vanilla when a woman runs up the hill. Her clothing is scorched. There is a bloody gash down her face. She almost runs by us, when she sees the ice cream.
I offer the container. “Want some?”
She tells us we’re crazy. She begins to cry, about how her family is dead and there is no one left. When she mentions the fleet of killer androids sent here by so-and-so, you and I throw our hands in the air, groaning.
“Knew it,” you say, shaking your head.
“This is lame,” I say. “Now I really want the world to end.”
She’s gone when we look back. The thumping and thunder and lights are getting closer now.
“She passed up some perfectly good vanilla,” I chide.
“And she thinks we’re crazy,” you say. Our mouths find each other in the darkness. We taste like freezers, and long summer nights, and plastic spoons, and precious vanilla, a vanilla so strong; it drowns out the taste of smoke on the wind.
“Don’t know where she’s headed,” you shout, above the howling wind, the roar of nearby gunfire. I can barely see you. “Doesn’t do any good to run from the end of the world.”
“Yeah,” I say, coughing on ash. I cup your cheek and we kiss for a final time. I put my forehead to yours, our noses almost touching. Our lips smell of vanilla. “But we don’t have to run towards it either.”
Your smile cuts through the gloom like a shining sword. “One more for the road?” you ask.
We both take one last bite of ice cream and hold it in our mouths. We let it melt, holding each other tightly in the darkness that is the end of the world, letting the brightly burning, beautiful taste of vanilla lead us away into the night.