"A Flavor of the Past" by Kelly Ann Gonzales

At a modest ice cream parlor on the other side of the world, the young Fontana served a widow a pint of Love. Fontana cannot recall the exact moment when she first began scooping at the Paradise Fontaine. It was as if she had always been there, molded by condensed milk and butterfat, sprinkles on top.

Her mother, Magdalene, was a jewelry maker. She told Fontana that she had her own business once with a partner who left them both behind, but she kept on making jewelry. Magdalene spent most days in bed starring at white ceilings with a towel on her dripping head. They were comfortable enough to have a thatched roof on top of their heads with walls made of silt. Fontana yearned to help her mother move from their bed, but not much more, because it was all Fontana had ever known of her mother.

Fontana was drawn by an instinct to serve, and at Paradise Fontaine, it was feelings they served. The first client who proffered a sizeable tip, colored bills that spilled out of a glass jar, was a glittery socialite with hairspray locks and an empty heart. She wore a crown strewn together by diamonds and flowers.

Her manicured nails traced the case around the four flavors. “How are you, little girl?” She bent down to Fontana’s height.

“I’m not little.” Fontana elongated her back and stuck out her chest. “In fact, I may be twelve. Or thirteen! I’ll never tell.”

The amused socialite laughed enough for her crown to nearly fall off her bouffant. She chose Joy in a cone. Whenever Fontana tasted Joy, she sensed apricot but tasted ripe strawberry jam. The socialite tasted the jam in the cherry pie her grandmother’s pastry chef used to make her every Sunday. Her eyes glazed over and, for what felt like an hour to her, she stood still, starring up at the ceiling made of silt.

Whether or not they were actually being transported to a moment in time, no one could ever be so sure. It was rumored that the former owner of the shop, a chemist who never reaped a true fortune from the secret sauce in his Four Flavor Feelings, had replicated the elements of hydrogen and helium from the core of collapsing stars. The ice cream was made in the back room. Fontana never asked questions and turned her other ear to the explosions. She’d sample flavors at her leisure to develop her own opinions, familiarizing herself to make better recommendations to her clients.

The twelve-or-thirteen-year-old girl felt her heart liquify every time the social pariah walked through the door. His thick framed black glasses were held together by clear plastic tape. His hair was unkempt and he wore  business casual wear at all times. Fontana sensed roasted coffee beans but when the pariah stepped closer, there was a thicker bouquet of roasted almonds.

“What’ll it be today, stud?” She winked at him.

He knew her unsolicited flirting was a regular occurrence, but he’d still blush every time, nearly ten years her senior. The pariah wouldn’t go down the Lolita road again. He cleared his throat.

“Catharsis, please.”

She handed him the periwinkle blue ice cream in a paper cup. He sat down in the booth by the window to prepare himself for the kickback. One bite and his neck whiplashed. He was standing in the rain. The social pariah and the fledgling neighborhood girl who would never be his. She waved at him from the inside window of a packed car, face wedged between two suitcases, and the sound of tires against wet asphalt.

Her third frequent customer was also the owner. Little was known about the man, but much was said about his speculative life as a wealthy mobster. Fontana didn’t dare to look him in the eyes. When he walked in, she’d start preparing two scoops of Love with chocolate sprinkles, hand it to him and say only, “Sir.”

He’d grunt and nod, finishing two portions in three ravenous gulps. The mobster appeared to be the only individual this side of the world whose mood didn’t change when eating any of the flavors. Fontana suspected one out of two possible and regrettable truths.

She speculated he was immune to the strength of the chemicals in the ice cream. He could no longer feel the warmth of a knitted quilt out of the dryer or taste the family recipe of ratatouille passed down to him by his great-grandmother before her passing. The second theory was that the mobster had never loved anyone in his miserable, lonesome life.

A life without love, to Fontana, sometimes appeared miserable on the outside, and, at all times, gnawingly lonely.  She feared that while she could admire the pariah and most men despite all of their failings, she may never have the opportunity to mutually love another person while on the island. She feared that she could never leave Paradise Fontaine. Fontana would be sentenced to serving a flood of curious strangers pouring into the parlor every week.

She would stare at the man who came into the shop every Tuesday and yet never chose a flavor. The plainly handsome man, pleasant to look at, but if he were walking down the street, people wouldn’t turn their heads or stop in their tracks. He was dressed in the same outfit each time. An untucked, wrinkled lavender button-down with dark green slacks that were one size too large. He sported a watch made of gold but wore the face on the inside of his wrist.

Sometimes the man would come in at lunch time on a Tuesday. Other times it would be in the middle of Tuesday or right before closing time at sunset. It was always a Tuesday.

Fontana offered him Joy because he didn’t look happy. His eyes matched his fading slacks. She thought they reminded her of her own eyes, and she figured he thought the same thing based on the way he stared at her. The next week, she suggested Catharsis. Perhaps he had something keeping him up at night and it troubled him so much that he couldn’t even choose an ice cream flavor?

On the third week, his dark green eyes had become bloodshot. He could have been crying. He could have contracted pink eye. She felt a pull towards him. A certain indeterminate sympathy, a desire to help a stranger who could become a friend. Even if they had nothing in common other than ice cream.

Finally, on his fourth week, as Fontana had been keeping count, she asked him:

“What’s your name?”

He adjusted his sleeves and attempted to smooth out his hair as he told her, “I’m Fontaine.”

“You know, Fontaine, I find the easiest way to figure out the flavor of what you want is to ask yourself what matters the most to you. Most people think they want to be happy, so they ask me for Joy, but the flavor is too strong, too sweet for what they really want.

“What they’re really looking for is a taste for what was. The moment in time that they’re longing to relive.”

She took a wooden teaspoon and dipped it into a bucket of gray ice cream, “Care for our best seller: the Past?”

He looked at her dark green eyes. He didn’t want to look away from her. She deserved to know the truth about why he came to see her every Tuesday. When he bit onto the spoon, the ice cream tasted like mint and lemongrass. He was in the park across the street from Paradise Fontaine.

It could have been ten years ago. His button down was tucked into his pants. His slacks were pressed. Fontaine was pushing his daughter on the swing while she laughed.

When he pulled out of the memory, he fell to the ground and whimpered. This was what he truly wanted, but he was nostalgic for a moment that never happened. He said goodbye to his daughter when she was a baby. She was wrapped in a blue quilt blanket that always smelled like mint and lemongrass because that was the scent of the perfume he made for her mother.

He was a chemist by trade, an ice cream shop owner by accident. He first met her mother when she walked into the shop looking for Love. Fontaine perfected the formula after he met Magdalene. He had too much cinnamon and not nearly enough phenylethylamine.

Fontaine wondered if she truly loved him too, or if he was feeding her too much ice cream. At that time, the prices were barely profitable. He gave out hearty dollops instead of intently measured scoops. The ice cream shop wasn’t popular or fashionable yet. He’d only have a handful of customers a week, all of whom were loyal locals he developed a personal rapport with, so he always gave them a free extra scoop.

Fontaine and Magdalene didn’t have much money, but they were happy. Magdalene enjoyed the company of the man who spooned her Love. Even if, when the phenylethylamine faded, she felt it would just be a temporary fling. Even if, when she was giggling in delight when phenylethylamine was at its peak, they would produce the biggest genuine joy, their Fontana. She had Fontaine’s dark green eyes and Magdalene’s haunted smile, an out of place grin on the mouth of a child.

Magdalene’s mother suggested that she should set her sights on someone like Calisto. Calisto came from a family of real estate developers who had their hands in all sorts of properties throughout the islands on this side of the world. He could provide for Magdalene, for their family, unlike the poor ice cream man with his silly hobby drug shop. Magdalene’s mother died of Stubbornness before she could convince her daughter to follow her pleas.

Now Magdalene would also be a mother. She would decide on what would be right for Fontana, for their family, and a coldhearted brute like Calisto could not be a part of that picture.

Magdalene inherited that flavor of Stubbornness from her mother. Eight months into her pregnancy when she no longer had the pregnant glow so much as stress sweat, they could no longer afford to keep both Paradise Fontaine and their apartment.

Magdalene asked Fontaine, “How will we provide for our child?”

Fontaine put his hands on her shoulders. “I wish you would have more faith in me. We will never be egregiously wealthy, but we will be comfortable. I promise you. I’ve perfected the flavors of the Past! That one is the real winner. Even more than your favorite, Love.”

Magdalene smelled rain, felt the droplets on her head through a crack in the ceiling. The words that came next out of her mouth tasted like frosted steel:

“I think we need help. I know someone who can give us the help we need.”

A man like Calisto, as brutish and unforgiving as he was, had his pick of women on every island. On this island, he had his eyes set on Magdalene because he knew that Magdalene didn’t want anything to do with him. She was a challenge he planned to win.

When he walked up to the ice cream shop, he was, for the first time, dressed in casual wear. Gone were the suit and polished shoes. He wore a pressed button-down shirt, dark jeans, and combat boots. His dark hair was slicked back and although Magdalene went out of her way, for the first time, to appear purposefully presentable to him, he looked right through her as he stepped over the threshold. She played with her thick hair that, normally curly, she straightened vigorously for an hour with their clothing iron.

Instead, Calisto shook Fontaine’s hand and asked for the full tour. Fontaine showed him the ice cream bar. At the time, Fontaine also had other flavors including vanilla, chocolate, and rocky road. There were too many seats and not enough tables. The walls were painted in mauve. Calisto asked Fontaine if he was happy running this place.

“You know, Calisto,” he scratched his head, “I am but a chemist. I had hoped that this place would bring me joy and relative financial comfort. Instead, all I have become is broken and tired.”

Fontaine looked at his love standing to the side, silver earrings hiding behind her dark strands. “Magdalene can’t stand to look at me anymore. I’m becoming a stranger to my own daughter by spending more time here than with my family.”

Calisto knew the market. Fontaine’s business would be better off without Fontaine. Their family would be better off without the father who wasn’t fit to be a dad.

Calisto paid Fontaine and Magdalene a third of what the shop was worth. He bought the building, the furniture, the fixtures, and the formulas. Fontaine no longer had access to the ingredients to recreate the Four Flavor Feelings.

In the middle of the night, when baby Fontana cried for Joy and Magdalene was itching for Love, Fontaine could no longer offer them what they were looking for. Fontaine wanted to offer them the world, and he did for a point in time, until it was taken away from their family. He wanted to offer them the promise of his sweet creations in exchange for their solace, but he could only assure them with comforting words—no substance.

Magdalene considered herself a reasonable citizen on this side of the world. She took care of the four walls and their child. When they still had their business, she tidied up the shop. When she wasn’t tying up loose ends at Paradise Fontaine, she was working on her own jewelry business. She was fueled by the high on Love. Now when she needed that fix, her dealer was out of supply.

Suddenly the ceiling leaked too much. She tripped over herself and the crib when the lights went out because they couldn’t pay their bills on time. While she shivered in two or three sweaters, Magdalene packed a suitcase and put Fontana in a cloth sling. Magdalene left Fontaine her half of the money from Calisto. She left the money and a note on the counter assuring him it should last him a while now that he only had himself to take care of. She rolled out of their four walls and knocked on the double doors of Paradise Fontaine.

Calisto greeted them in a pinstripe suit. He smelled like firewood and bourbon. She licked the Love off his tongue, two chocolate sprinkles coated with phenylethylamine.

He had a crib ready for the babe. A silky length of negligee hung for her behind the door of his bedroom. The first time they made love, Magdalene stared up at the tray ceiling, counting all the cracks that needed to be fixed in the grandest residence on their island. She listened to Fontana cry in the corner, but Calisto had the Help take care of her. Doting women in uniform fed Fontana dollops of Joy to keep her quiet through the night, and all the nights that followed.

When Fontana was old enough to walk, Magdalene and Fontana moved out of Calisto’s mansion. Calisto didn’t beg for them to stay, and he was glad he would have his privacy back again among his loyal Help, waiting in the wings. They moved to a 500-square-foot apartment in the only neighborhood they could afford now that Magdalene was actively making jewelry again. Magdalene pieced together bracelets slowly. The gems didn’t seem as vibrant as when she was on Love.

Rumor had it that Fontaine moved out of their family home and bought an apartment to become Fontana’s next-door neighbor. Rumor had it that Fontaine was fixing and flipping small homes to get by now that he didn’t have the shop anymore. During the years that Fontana was growing up, they never actually saw Fontaine to confirm or deny the rumor.

Calisto still saw Magdalene every week in the same silky length of negligee. He gave her weekly checks and gems to support her jewelry business. When Fontana entered puberty at the ripe age of twelve-or-thirteen, Calisto hired her as an ice cream scooper at Paradise Fontaine.

Fontana took pride in her work. When all her friends were driving back and forth to the beach, taking trips in between to get their fix of the flavors she served, she worked the counter. Fontana knew the owner as Calisto, and he asked her to call him Daddy. She smiled and handed him his weekly dose of Love, only referring to him as “Sir.”

The young girl had a mental rolodex of flavors people loved and hated. She could tell within seconds whether someone wanted more of Nostalgia or when the Past became too much for them. As Fontaine curled into a ball on the floor and screeched, Fontana put her hand on his shoulder.

“May I suggest you take a moment in one of our booths? We have a bathroom in the back if you’d like some privacy.”

“I know this place, Fontana. This was our place. I lost you, my sweet girl. I lost your mother.”

“Sir,” she said, pouring ice water into a glass. “This will help.”

He took the glass, lapped at the water with his tongue like a cat. His rapid tongue dipped in and out of the glass. He wouldn’t get up from the floor. Another customer walked in, and then another. They stared at the man on the floor.

They whispered hushed judgments to each other. Customers walked out together. Fontana had never seen a client walk out without so much as asking a question. This was the place to be, the corner of the world where socialites, social pariahs, brutes and scholars gathered, all looking for the ingredient to cure them.

Fontaine continued to shriek despite drinking the ice water, “I just, I just, I c-c-can’t do it anymore. I am alone. I am so alone. I want to die.”

Underneath the cash register was a big red button. On Fontana’s first day, she was instructed to only press the button in the event of a robbery, overdose, or death threat. Fontana reasoned that this man’s self-inflected death threat in combination with his accidental overdose, and the side effects of the overdose including scaring clients away and therefore robbing the owner of profits, should warrant pressing the big red button. The local police were silently alerted.

Paradise Fontaine’s line rang within seconds. Fontana cradled the phone in between her shoulder and ear. A husky voice followed,

“This is Calisto, owner of Paradise Fontaine. Is anyone hurt?”

“Hi, Sir. This is Fontana. Everyone’s OK.”

“Then why am I being bothered? Am I losing money?”

“Yes, Sir. There’s a man threatening to kill himself and he’s scaring the customers away.”

Deep sigh. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” The sound of a zipper. “I’m on the other side of the island.”

When Calisto arrived, he stared at the disheveled man on the floor. The hair had thinned out, the waist was several inches thicker, but the dark green, wet eyes were both the same. Calisto picked him up off the floor by his collar.

“I told you to never step into this goddamn ice cream shop ever again.”

“So,” the man choked, managing to finally cease weeping, “why did you never change the name?”

Calisto delivered a swift smack across Fontaine’s face. Blood ran down Fontaine’s nose. He tasted iron in his mouth, ran his tongue along his teeth.

“Well, why stop there, Calisto? If you’re going to deliver me pain, sign and seal it.”

“I will not hesitate to kill you in front of her.”

“Hit me.”

“I’ll do you one better, you worthless lowlife.” He held a 45mm gun to his head.

The local police surrounded the ice cream parlor. In walked the chief of police, brandishing her own 45mm gun, two officers by her side. She kept her hand on her holster. “What seems to be the problem here, boys?”

“Brenda.” He put his gun away. “This lowlife was just threatening my employee. I was defending my business and her life.”

Fontana turned red and stood breathlessly still.

Fontaine barked, “That’s not what happened!”

The chief of police aimed her weapon at Fontaine, a limp finger on the trigger. “I’m going to have to ask you to calm down. Are you aware of your rights?” Her flanking officers held out handcuffs.

“Fontana,” his voice cracked, “help me, please. I’m your real father.” They locked his wrists and the woman in charge kept her gun against his temple.

Fontana remained in the corner behind the bar. Calisto stroked her hair, whispered to her about how proud he and her mother were. She spooned dollops of Joy into her mouth to quiet her thoughts and all the thoughts that followed.

She was no longer in Paradise Fontaine. She was on a different island, a different world altogether on the far side of the universe. Fontana hummed along to the beating of drums and the harmonic strumming of a thousand guitars. The floating and isolated release of a portable cannon. Fragments of calcite and collagen, protein plasma. Fontana inhaled black powder, the taste of steam and sulfur, the sound of the green-eyed man telling her he was finally home.

Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 2.27.21 PMBorn in the Philippines, raised in New Jersey, & currently living in New York City, Kelly Ann Gonzales works in the hotel industry. She is also the Editor-In-Chief of ALPHA FEMALE SOCIETY. Her published works include the novels VIDEO GAMES (2014) & THROUGH AN OPAQUE WINDOW (2018), & short fiction publications featured in the Penultimate Peanut, Write Launch, and Rigorous literary magazines. She has an insatiable passion for travel, hospitality, and all things written and to be read.