Flash fiction / Writing

Crushed ice

This is no ordinary part-time job. I serve frozen yoghurt with a side of espionage and a dash of family mystery.

Image: Piqsels

Working at the frozen yoghurt shop was no ordinary part-time job.

I mean, there were often weeks and weeks of dull monotony. But at Her Majesty’s Secret Sherbet, there were oftentimes very intriguing encounters.

They would usually go like this:

“Good morning, what can I get you today?”

“Can I get a chocolate swirl and a cup of crushed ice please?”

Crushed ice wasn’t on the menu.

Image: Janne Moren

“Sure thing. What kind of syrup with the ice?”

“Durian, thanks.” Sometimes it was aniseed, or starfruit, or any one of the many flavours we didn’t have. But it was important.

I’d deliver the crushed ice in the special cups we had for the occasion, and after a minute the customer would return to the counter complaining that it tasted disgusting, and I’d take it back. 

Then I would pop out the compartment in the bottom of the cup, stash the revealed piece of paper in my apron and put it into the cup of the next person who asked for crushed ice with durian syrup.

My friend Isabel had got me the job, and she was the one who passed on the ice system to me. I’d never heard any of my other colleagues speak of it. Isabel was gone now.

Did I ever read the messages? Of course.

He says he thinks of you.

September is the anniversary.

Happy birthday.

I assumed that there were codes that the recipients understood, perhaps in the number of folds in the paper, or the type of paper, or codes in the handwriting I couldn’t decipher.

My father had taught me how secret codes worked, a long time ago. The meaning of the written phrase was never important. But I’d long since forgotten how to read them.

The only odd thing was that the birthday message arrived two days before I turned 18.

*

One day, when I received a complaint about the palm syrup on a cup of crushed ice, there was no message inside. 

Then I noticed that the bloke who left it had stormed out and left a case on the floor instead.

Of course, I opened it.

It was a trumpet. Small and bright gold. It looked so similar to my one, but newer. Mine had gone in the fire.

I searched, but there was no message. Nothing in the instrument, nothing in the case. Until I peeled up the velvet lining and inside was paper. Blank pieces of airmail paper.

*

I met Isabel at college. She had taken the first few weeks, but left after the first term. 

As I tossed and turned that night, I recalled a conversation from just before she quit our course.

We were sitting at the back, and she was doodling on her airmail pad. She always used airmail paper.

“Are you going home for the holidays?” She’d asked.

“Nowhere to go. Could go to my aunt’s, but I know she doesn’t want me there.”

“What about your parents?”

“Mum ran off when I was small.”

“And your Dad?”

“Fire,” I said shortly.

“I’m sorry. What was he like?”

“He… we disagreed on a lot of things. But that never got in the way of… us.”

“What did you disagree on?”

“I don’t know… he kept a lot of secrets. I suspected more than I knew.”

“That’s… a curious thing to say.”

“I didn’t know anything, basically. And I didn’t like being kept in the dark.”

“And he died? In the fire?”

I nodded, and glanced over at her. Her expression was kind, understanding.

But then she said,

“Are you sure?”

*

The airmail paper seemed to be asking the same question. 

Are you sure?

I wasn’t sure about anything. Never had been. Not sure about what my father did, what he did well enough for us to live in central London with a big car with tinted windows. Not sure why he had “business visitors” every hour of the day or night who would show him great deference.

Not sure who Isabel really was, and what she wanted from that brief conversation. 

Who was she? Was she looking for him? Was he alive?

*

“Can I get a chocolate swirl and a cup of crushed ice please?”

I looked up. I hadn’t even noticed the customer come in. My eyes found his eyes. The exact same shade of blue.

The shop was empty but for us.

“You…” I said. “What are you doing here?”

His hair was gone. He had grown a beard over his lean chin.

“You wanted to meet me. Here I am.”

“But the fire? And the trumpet? The paper? That was Isabel, the woman looking for you?”

“Oh, she found me,” he said complacently. “It’s a family business, what we do.”

“Wait, what?”

“She is the daughter of a woman I’d loved… when I loved your mother. When she figured out who I was, she went looking for me. She wanted in.”

“In on what?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it? I was never sure it was for you, and I wanted you to be safe and happy.”

“So you… you set the fire?”

“I’m sorry about that. I will replace everything. I started with the trumpet.”

“The trumpet…”

“I never wanted to lose you. I still don’t. But with what we do, you’re either in, or you’re out.” He paused. “So, are you in?”

“What? I can’t just agree when I don’t know, I just finished college, I have a job-“

“Well… I own this shop. If this is what you want, then you can have it, turn it into a real shop. But if you enjoyed your taste of… mystery, espionage, and excitement… you should come with me.”

“I-“

I had so many questions. But I knew him. I had to agree, to say yes, to get the answers. 

“I’m in.”


Crushed ice is a short story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2021, with the writing prompts: Spy (genre), a frozen yoghurt shop (setting) and a trumpet (object). Never written a spy story before and setting it entirely in a frozen yoghurt shop was a challenge!

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