“When are you going back to college?” Eat a spoonful of ice cream.
“Early August. In a few weeks.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Ah.” Two more.
“You?” Put the spoon in the half-empty bowl of ice cream. Stare at it. See the flies from the corner of your eye. Swat them away from the table. Think. You?
“I go back at the end of August. I’m ready to go back, to be honest. I just want to get out of this shit ass town again.” Look up. Look at them. Make eye contact. Do not look away when they don’t flinch from the eye contact. Like you. Like how you flinch. Don’t look away.
“I feel that.”
“Yeah.” Look down. Pick up the spoon. Eat a spoonful of ice cream. Another.
“It’s not fair, you know?”
“We go to college, we work. We come home, we work. We try to make connections with people that we haven’t seen for a while or people we’re seeing for the first time, but we can’t because we work.” Stir the melting ice cream with the spoon. Listen. Know that this is what’s happening now. “And while I understand that’s how life is supposed to be, I know we’re supposed to work and have a job and have money, it’s just so exhausting. I’m so exhausted.”
Nod. Eat a spoonful of melted ice cream. Look away towards the street. Count the colors of cars. Two red, three black, one blue. Think.
“And we just have to be okay with it.”
Nod. “I know.”
“How are we supposed to be okay with that?”
Look back down at the melted ice cream. Look at the plastic table it rests on. Look at the gouges in the table. Wonder how they got there. Now forget about it. It doesn’t matter.
“We’re not.” Answer. Sigh. Eat a spoonful of melted ice cream. “We’re just supposed to deal with it. To just do it without any argument.” Another spoonful.
“They expect so much from us.” Nod. Listen. Understand. You’re the same, you understand what they’re going through. Put the spoon down in the empty bowl. “They expect us to be able to run for miles and miles when we just started learning how to walk. How is that fair?”
Blink. Again. Wonder. Think. Don’t know. No answer. Shake head. “It’s not.” Sigh. Shake head again. “It’s not fair. But we have to do it anyways.”
“We’re only nineteen.” Nod. “We aren’t even old enough to buy alcohol or book hotel rooms or rent cars.” Nod. “But we’re supposed to have our whole life figured out by now.”
Nod. Don’t speak. Think, and listen. Please listen. You need to listen. You don’t need to reply. The only thing that needs to be done is to listen. Listen to the quiver in their voice. Listen to the restrained sound as if they were holding back emotions and fears and the weight of the world. Listen to them. Understand. But do not reply. You would want someone to listen to you if you were getting all of your thoughts out into the open. Count the colors of cars again.
“What happens when we graduate from college?”
Think. Don’t know. “Then we’re on our own. Fully.” Answer. Guess.
“We’ll have to deal with it all ourselves?” Nod. “Do they want us to fail?”
Shake head. “No. They don’t.” Think. “They want us to succeed.” Trace the gouges in the table. Rigid, ragged, torn, and hard. It doesn’t hurt.
“By leaving us alone? By pushing us into our own failures? By not helping us?” Shake head. Shake head. Shake head. It doesn’t hurt.
“By letting us try.” Answer. It doesn’t hurt. Feel the weight of the world pushing down on your shoulders. It doesn’t hurt. Feel the lump rising in your throat. It doesn’t hurt. Feel the knot twist in your stomach. Gasp for air. “They’re saying it’s okay for us to fail. Because we’re young. We’re supposed to fail.” It doesn’t hurt.
“I don’t think that’s fair.” Nod. Look away.
“It’s not.” Count the colors of cars. Nine red, thirteen black, eight white, four blue, one green.
“People from my college have more help than we do.” Nod.
“They’re not from a small town.” Point out. “They’re not from our town.” Know this doesn’t make sense. Point out anyways.
“Do you think they sit at the small ice cream shop in their small town with someone they haven’t talked to in four years? Do you think they learned how to get from one side of the town to the other when they were ten because that was the only thing they could do? Do you think they grew up in a square that takes only twenty minutes to reach from one end to another?” Stop talking. It means nothing. Rambling. Stop rambling. Remember, it doesn’t hurt.
“No.” Nod. “I see your point. It’s different for us.”
“It’s different for everyone.” Sigh. “We’re just subjected to what our town expects of us.”
“Are you done with your ice cream?” Nod. “Ready to go then?”
Nod. Stand up. Throw the empty bowl away. Leave.
Holley Ziemba is a writer of fiction from a small town in northern Ohio. She aims to write stories about emotions that are not always talked about but are felt by many. She is currently a Creative Writing major at Bowling Green State University.