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- 2nd Memoir

2018 'SHORT TAKES'   PROSE COMPETITION

CATEGORY B - Memoir
Second Prize

An Ice Cream at Bondi by Barry Riley


   There are some terrific things about summer in Australia; cooling off in the pool, colour returning to the gardens, the girls emerging butterfly-like from their winter-woolly cocoons to the delight of every male.  Then there’s the heat.
   On one of those 40-degree-plus days in my first week in Australia I took a girl I fancied to Bondi beach.  We spread out our towels and I’d just taken my sandals and socks off when she decided she’d like some ice-cream.  Eager to please her I set off for the shops.
   Nobody told me the sand would be hot. Sand wasn’t hot back home in England, but here people happily walked around on it barefoot. Why weren’t they leaping into the air like me?  What were their feet made of?  Aussies are accustomed from childhood to going around barefoot and develop asbestos-coated soles, but my delicate English feet had spent their entire, sheltered lives encased in cool leather.
   The sand grew hotter at each step.  I couldn’t keep my feet on it for more than a second at a time, and I incurred the wrath of several beefy blokes as I used the edges of their towels for a soothing moment.  Just what they thought of this pale-skinned immigrant and his leaping dance across the sand while uttering little whimpering noises I can only imagine.
   The car park and the road were even worse.  I made desperate dashes from one tiny patch of shadow to the next, and crashed into half a dozen innocent pedestrians while attempting to levitate across the road.  When I finally reached the shade of the shop awnings I remained there for a few moments, gasping, and cooling my scorched feet.  I half expected when I looked down at them that they would be charred and blackened stumps with flames still licking around the remains, but they looked normal.
   I could have stayed in the ice cream shop all day with its cool tiles and refrigerated air, but the girl I wanted to impress was waiting for me on the beach, so I bought two ice-cream cones and set off back to her.
   I don’t know if the temperature had risen ten degrees while I was in the shop or whether my first foray had burnt a layer or two of skin from my soles, because the trip back was hellishly worse.  The ice-cream began to melt before I’d even crossed the road and it was running down the cones and onto my hands by the time I reached the beach.  Once again I dashed and hopped from towel to towel.  Once again I was abused and threatened when I remained on one too long.  Unable to take any more agony and afraid I might scream like a girl I postponed returning to my companion for the moment and shot across the sand to plunge my burning feet into the sea.
   Aaah! Such blessed relief!  I’m sure I heard them sizzle as they cooled off, no doubt raising the ocean temperature a degree or two. I received some odd looks from swimmers as I stood in the shallows, fully clothed except for my feet, with my eyes closed in rapture and my raised arms decorated with melted ice cream, but I didn’t care.
   When I felt normal again I wiped the sweat out of my eyes with an ice-creamy forearm and searched the beach for the girl.  I located her in the distance and set off towards her.  But the gods had decided I had not yet suffered enough because when I reached the place it wasn’t her, and I couldn’t see her anywhere among the million sunbathers.  Just as I was about to give in and run squealing back to the sea I caught sight of an arm waving at me and did my now familiar leaping dance from towel to towel across the burning sand.  When I reached her I flopped backwards on to my towel where I lay gasping, with my feet and hands in the air like an upturned beetle.  My appearance was not improved by my ice-cream striped arms and the blob of ice-cream on my eyebrow where I’d wiped away the sweat.
    My date took the ice-cream, her mouth curling up at the sight of the soggy ---and by now empty---cone.  Later, when I suggested we do this again sometime, she declined.

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