It started with Ed’s party.
Tubs and tubs of it.
“Help yourselves, guys,” Ed said, gesturing at the array of neapolitan astronaut ice cream lining the long table in Seminar Room #16.
“Does it melt?” we asked, peering into the tubs. The colors of the ice cream, if it could even be called that, were all dull. The white for vanilla was more a scuzzy gray, as if dog hair had floated up from the humming ventilation system in the rear of the room to coat the ice cream.
None of us wanted to offend Ed. So we all put a little scoop of the ice cream on a plate, stuffed the serving into our repulsed mouths and forced ourselves to not just swallow the neapolitan but also declare to Ed that it was even more delicious than Earth-bound ice cream.
Ed beamed when he heard our praise.
“I knew you’d all be skeptical,” he said, “but I had to eat this every day for lunch.”
Eyebrows knitted, we asked him what he meant. No one had to eat astronaut ice cream, we pointed out. Besides astronauts, of course.
“You don’t understand,” he replied. “When I was a kid, I told my mom and dad that I was going to be the next big astronaut. Repairing Hubble. Doing a spacewalk within miles of Mars. Heck, first human to walk on Mars. So I went to space camp.”
We waited for him to continue, but he didn’t, so we asked, “Aaaand?”
“Never mind,” he said. “You know how the rest goes.”
Ed worked as our main telemarketer for twenty-eight years. He didn’t have to. He has a B.S.
“Okay, fine,” we replied. “You’ve written yourself a sob story. Go cry on your own time.”
Ed didn’t glare or yell or show any of the usual signs of being pissed-off. If this was a bad movie, he would’ve made the convenient announcement at that moment that he’d poisoned the ice cream, that it was going to give us dysentery and we’d all hit the restrooms in a race but that nothing could save us and our sorry stomachs.
But Ed stayed silent. Until, by the time it was time for us to return to neverending meetings and sleepy conferences and, for the lucky few, some quality time in front of a phone or computer screen, he said, “Hoped you liked the ice cream, guys. Half my paycheck for last week went into buying it.”
Stupid old man, we thought as we trooped out Seminar Room #16. Trying to make us feel guilty. What do we have to owe him? In the restrooms we chattered among ourselves about how horrific the so-called ice cream had been.
“Like fricking dry toothpaste,” Rachelle said.
“More like pus coated in sugar,” Martin said. “Like popping all your zits when you were 15 and then collecting the liquid, freezing it, and calling it something else.”
“Like ‘astronaut ice cream.'”
Again, if this had been one of those weepy movies, this would’ve been a good time for Ed to overhear us and overreact to it. Do something drastic. Never leave the seminar room. Go on a hunger strike. Heck, kill himself.
Ed, though, never heard a word of it. Ignorant geezer bid farewell to the young women working the reception desk and made his way outside, cardboard box embracing his belongings in hand.
A week later, we learned he had died. Natural causes. Well, sort of. The coroner said he had binged on astronaut ice cream one lonely afternoon. He still had tubs and tubs of it crowding his freezer. Together we had ate less than a fifth of one tub out of ten.
It ended with Ed’s party.